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TITLE:  A Permanent Condition

AUTHOR:  Tiv'ester

E-MAIL:  tivester@lycos.com

CATEGORY:  Angst, Drama.

SPOILERS:  Multiple.

HONORABLE MENTIONS:  The Dirty Dozen, The Abyss, The African Queen, The Twilight Zone, The Energizer Bunny, Doctor Dolittle, Nine Lives and The Banana Boat Song.

SEASON/SEQUEL:  4th, sequel to "Listen When The Heart Speaks" and "Soldiers Follow Orders, But--"

RATING:  PG

CONTENT WARNINGS:  A few words, parasite possession, a few fights, political intrigue, a massive decline in coffee drinking.

SUMMARY:  The conspiracy takes an odd turn as a new target is chosen for removal from the SGC.  Can a stranger with a shadowy past be the hope SG-1 is searching for in their quest to root out the conspiracy before one of them falls?

DISCLAIMER:  I do not own Stargate SG-1.  Stargate SG-1 and its characters are the property of Showtime/Viacom, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Productions.  I have written this story for entertainment purposes only.  No money has exchanged hands.  No copyright infringement is intended.  This story may not be posted elsewhere without the consent of the author.  Pictures can be found at P3X595 and StargateFan.

AUTHOR'S NOTES:  This is the third story in "The Conspiracy Series."  If you haven't read the first two, this one won't make much sense.  Many thanks to Lems and Luke427 for the wonderful job they did betaing this story.

 

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Sometimes I think our lives are like the life of that Greek guy Daniel told me about once.  I think his name was Sisyphus.  He was a king who murdered people, then he chained up some god of Death so the folks he murdered couldn't go into the Hereafter.  Hades got tired of his antics and took Sisyphus down to the Underworld himself.  Once he got there, Sisyphus had to roll a stone up a steep hill only to have it roll back down the hill.  Then he'd have to do it all over again for the rest of eternity because he just couldn't get it over the top.  That is definitely what I call an experiment in futility, and that's what our lives had turned into.  Somebody killed Daniel, they got away, we had to try to find them.  Somebody tried to take over the SGC, they got away, we had to try to find them.  Somebody stole goodies from our Allies, they got away, we had to try to find them.  Somebody kidnapped Daniel, they got away, we HAD to find them.  That stone just kept rolling back down that hill, and we had to start all over again.  Luckily, for us, we got that stone over the top of that hill and put things to right.  Mostly.  I don't think Sisyphus ever did.  He's probably still down there pushing that rock.

I guess I can't complain too much.  You have to expect some sneaky dealings when you're involved with top-secret government programs and people who don't officially exist.  The snakes come out of the woodwork, you think you've gotten rid of them, but another rears its ugly head just waiting for the right time to bite you in the butt.  I've seen a lot in my time, most of it since I've been at the SGC.  I've seen and done things no one would believe: walked on another planet, transported through metal, flew through space, switched bodies, almost been goa'ulded, grew real old real fast -- but flushing out snakes was never in any of our job descriptions.  Funny, but I think we've gotten good at it.  We exterminated a lot of the snakes, but there were others still out there, waiting for us to let our guard down, waiting to strike back at us for what we did.  Life isn't a baseball game.  It's one strike, and you're out.  Kaput.  Finished.  Down for the count.  Dead.  And, with only a few exceptions, death is supposed to be a permanent condition.

From the personal diary of Colonel Jack O'Neill

 

**************************************************

 

Monday morning, Washington, in a park near The White House.

Six months after Daniel Jackson's rescue from General Thayer.

The two individuals on the bench seemed by all appearances to be strangers.  The man on the left, a well-dressed civilian in a suit and tie, was reading The Wall Street Journal.  The man on the right, his military uniform crisply pressed and the stars on his shoulders mostly hidden by his jacket, was sipping on a cup of coffee and eating a bagel.  Neither looked at each other except when one sat down after the other had already taken his seat, the first acknowledging that the seat was not reserved for anyone.

For a long while, neither spoke.  Both politely ignored the other as they observed the practice of respecting nonexistent privacy.  By all appearances, they were just two strangers sitting on a park bench early in the morning.

However, when in Washington, it was wise to remember that appearances are oftentimes deceiving.

The General's voice was low when he finally spoke.  "Has the plan been initiated?"

"Three plans," the civilian answered just as quietly.  "One of our operatives will be in place in a few days.  He'll carry out two of the plans.  An outsider has been chosen to accomplish the third task."

"Third task?" the General asked as he reached for another bagel.

"A last minute decision by the upper echelons, sir.  The first two attempts were not forthcoming.  A third could have a better chance of success if we employ a small scale attack."

"And you're choosing an outsider?" the General asked, his voice clearly showing his displeasure with that idea.  "Is this wise?"

"Yes, sir.  This outsider can be relied upon.  Money is no object."

"He's a mercenary."  His disdain could be felt as well as heard.

The civilian didn't turn his head or change his demeanor -- just in case anyone was watching them.  "It's a necessary move.  The individual we're bringing in is above reproach or suspicion.  He'll do the job."

"And will he be dealt with afterwards?"  The General hated loose ends.  There had been far too many in this assignment, and they were no closer to success than they had been months earlier.

"That would be an unwise maneuver with this individual, sir.  We might have need of someone like him in the very near future.  Given the events of the past, it would be advantageous to have someone like this outsider working for us."

The General had no choice but to allow the events to flow as he had been directed. "Very well.  Keep me posted."

The General took his coffee and bagels and left the civilian alone on the bench.  As the General walked the rest of the distance to The White House, the civilian hailed a taxi.

As the civilian climbed into the taxi, the driver asked the age-old question. "Where to, mac?"

"NID Headquarters."

 

**************************************************

 

Early Thursday afternoon, French Riviera; early Thursday morning, SGC time.

Being rich was nice.

It was definitely better than being poor.

If there was a demand for a commodity that only you could supply, you could ask any price you wanted.  Limited supply easily increased the demand, thereby creating a larger market wanting the commodity no matter what the cost.  The profits would roll in without you breaking a sweat.

Being rich was nice.

Staying rich -- now there was the problem.

Retirement had a way of decreasing one's income.  It wasn't that Gus was bored with retirement; on the contrary, he found it very much to his liking.  He could relax anywhere in the world (with the exception of a few third world countries and one or two South American cities) and live off the interest from his Swiss bank accounts without worrying about little things like necessities.  Like today, lounging on his personal beach on the Riviera had its advantages over saving the world from drug smugglers, gunrunners, or the latest would-be dictator who wanted to take over the planet with the threat of not only nuclear annihilation but also the destruction of the Internet.  What would the world do without the ease of pointing and clicking?  It would be the end of civilization.

Luckily, today, he hoped that no one needed the expertise of one retired mercenary.  The phone call he had received the day before had been cryptic.  His former superior had told him that there was a rumor going around certain circles that Gus would be needed for an assignment in the very near future, within days in fact, that could assist in the apprehension of even larger prey that had eluded them for many years.  Once he knew the mission parameters and the individuals involved, he would know how to proceed and would receive further instructions after he was acquainted with the true objective of the job.  It was a chance to accomplish a mission that had been placed on hold for some time.

That was informative.

Oh, well, until then he could lie in his hammock, sip on his margarita, listen to calypso music, and soak up the sun's rays without worrying about being chased, beat up, shot at or shot.

Forget being rich.  He would be happy with an uneventful, comfortable, quiet retirement and all the margaritas he could drink.

"Colonel Jennings?"

Uh, oh. Someone called him 'Colonel.'  This was not good.  So much for soaking up some sun.

Gus peeked out from behind his sunglasses to see a four-star general wearing his dress uniform, looking entirely out of place on the beach, who was looking down at him with a disappointed frown on his face.  A four-star?  Damn.  Guess that meant he really was being pulled out of retirement.  He couldn't say he hadn't been warned.

"Actually, it's Major Jennings, and I'm retired."

"Not any longer.  Your commission has been reactivated, you've been given a promotion to Colonel, and you've also been assigned the highest security clearance the United States Government can bestow.  We have a job for you."

"Like I said, I'm retired, General.  I quit that line of work some time ago."  Gus told him.  He really wanted to get back to his margarita.

"Yes, Colonel.  This isn't one of those types of missions.  This is a very simple investigation.  I was informed that you could handle this job easily."

"Informed, huh?  And just who informed you?"

"That information is classified."

"Then we have nothing more to talk about."

The General heaved a quiet sigh.  He had been told that Jennings was a difficult man, and that he would have to cater to the professional soldier's whims.  Sometimes, following orders was a laborious chore.  "I was sent here by my superiors on the advice of Samuel Kellaher and Vincente Montoya."

Those names got Gus' attention.  Montoya was a name he had not heard in a few years.  Over eight, to be exact.  And Kellaher, if he was involved as well, then that meant....oh, hell.  Here we go again.  "What's the job?"

"It's probably one week's work.  You will be paid for your services, and you will receive the pension due a Colonel instead of a Major when you return to your retirement."

"One week, huh?  I take it that means I don't have to kill anyone?"  Gus asked him.

"No.  Just remove a certain General from his present position.  He is to be investigated and found guilty of the charges that have been leveled against him.  Any other information is on a need to know basis."  The General handed Gus a thick file folder.

"Guilty until proven innocent, huh?"  Gus took the file folder and opened it to the first page.  "General George Hammond, commanding officer of the Cheyenne base under NORAD.  Distinguished military career, decorated by three different presidents, a few incidents of disregarding orders but nothing to get in a snit about.  Sit down, bub.  I don't like it when people stand over me.  It gives them a false sense of superiority."

The General was taken aback by the Colonel's rough manner, but he had been told to expect it.  This was one person who did not take military protocols and regulations seriously.  The General had also been told not to take it personally.  The Organization needed this man's assistance in removing a thorn from their backside.  He could do it quickly, efficiently, and no one would ask any questions.  He sat down.

"I take it you want me to find this General guilty of...?"

"The charges are there.  He's accused of dereliction of duty, failure to report an attempted takeover at the base in a timely manner, failure to protect the civilians at the base, sharing sensitive information with foreign powers among other things.  You will investigate the accusations and write the report that will state you find him guilty of all charges.  My superiors will then have him removed from his position.  You see, Colonel, you have the rare distinction of being above question and reproach.  No one would dare challenge your authority.  That is exactly what we need at this time."

Gus ignored the General's attempts at flattery.  "And who will be taking over his position?  Or is that on a need to know basis?"

"No, Colonel.  I will be accompanying you to the base, and I will be the acting commander until a final decision is made."

"What about Hammond's second-in-command?  Won't having a brown-nosed pencil-pushing geek like you come in and take over tick him off a little bit?"

The General refused to react to the insult.  "Yes. I'm sure it will.  However, we are attempting to keep this investigation as unobtrusive to base operations as possible.  We will make it known that I am there only in a temporary capacity."

"But you're not.  You plan on being a permanent fixture."

"No one needs to know that."

Gus had already decided that he didn't like this General.  He didn't like the sneaking around and the back-stabbing.  That was one reason he left the military and went into business for himself.  Whenever the military came knocking on his door for help, he made sure they paid a high price.  Instead of voicing his opinions to the pencil-pushing geek, he focused his attention back to the folder.

"Colonel Jonathan "Jack" O'Neill, Black Ops, Iraq, Iraqi prison, looks like he played in several playgrounds.  Second-in-command of Cheyenne base, heads up a team called SG-1."  He looked at the General.  "SG-1?"

"It's quite a long story.  I'll inform you of Cheyenne's main purpose on the way there.  We have a plane waiting at the base to take us back to the States."

Gus turned to the next page.  "Major Samantha Carter, theoretical astrophysicist, Desert Storm, flown everything including the kitchen sink.  Second-in-command of SG-1.  I take it that SG-1 is going to cause me some headaches?"

"Yes.  They are unusually devoted to Hammond.  In your terminology, we're messing with him, they'll mess with us.  The entire base may take it personally that we're investigating their General, but SG-1 will be the ones most likely to act.  We've already taken steps to keep their attention diverted away from the investigation by planting one of our operatives in their midst.  If the plan works, this operative will either create a tangible amount of confusion or enough dissension in the ranks that SG-1 will either be too involved in re-establishing their unit or too angry with each other to be creating interference between you and our objectives."  The General pointed at the folder.  "Most of what you'll need to know is in there."  He had been warned ahead of time that Jennings would want to know what he was getting into before he even got out of his hammock.  He had been ordered to let Jennings dictate how the conversation went.

"Teal'c?  Big guy, expert soldier.  No background."  Only one paragraph?  He looked at the General.  "Most of what I need to know is in the folder?"

"There is some information that we can't deliver in written form.  There's too great a chance that someone could obtain it.  I'm to tell you everything about the people you'll be interacting with once we reach the security of the plane.  These are just their personnel records"

Gus flipped the page over.  He didn't know why he should have been surprised, but he certainly didn't let it show on his face.  He knew that he had to act like he didn't know anything.  This was a surprising turn of events, but one he felt he could turn to his advantage.  "Doctor Daniel Jackson, archaeologist, anthropologist, linguist.  Assigned to the base for the last five years with one of those years tacked on as a field representative outside U.S. jurisdiction.  Civilian working with SG-1."  He looked back up at the General.  He really didn't like this pencil pusher, and he had been forced to deal with a lot of cowardly, useless pencil pushers during his career.  They were all as useless as an umbrella in a hurricane.  "Who are you exactly, and why are you wanting this guy Hammond out of the way?"

"I am General Coleman Westerly.  I work for a special unit at the Pentagon and am the military liaison for the Cheyenne Mountain Senate Subcommittee.  Our primary goal is the safety of this planet.  General Hammond is a major obstacle impeding our attempts at obtaining that goal, and he must be removed."

"Since when do the spooks in Washington care about what happens to the planet?  You guys are usually only concerned with what's going on with the interests of the good ole' U.S. of A."

"We're fighting on a different battleground these days, Colonel.  I will explain everything to you when we are on board the plane.  This private beach of yours is too public to go into detail of classified information."

Was that a veiled insult to his pretty little stretch of beachfront property?  There was no doubt about it.  Gus definitely did not like this General.  He wasn't telling him something, and Gus did NOT work under those conditions.  The last military jerk that twisted his chains found out very quickly the error of his ways.  Wasn't that fellow on permanent disability now?  "Just which special unit at the Pentagon do you work for?"  That was an easy question to answer, wasn't it?

"That is also classified," Westerly explained.

"Then we don't do business," Gus told him flatly as he handed the folder back to the General and then picked up his margarita again.  There was no way he was going to do anything...not to this General Hammond and not to this group called SG-1 without knowing exactly who was wanting him to do what and why and for whom.  He had the what and the why.  Now he wanted the who.  He'd been on too many missions that had turned into certified disasters because of the lack of information.

Westerly looked put out.  This conversation was not going the way he had intended even with Jennings leading the way.  He had been warned that full disclosure may be necessary to ensure this mercenary's cooperation.  So be it.  "I work for a group called the Organization."  That got Jennings' attention.  "Our job is to enable our military to be anywhere at anytime for any reason in order to assure U.S. dominance in foreign matters involving U.S. concerns.  We --"

"Save it for your recruitment posters, bub."  Gus did not put down his margarita.  "I've met your kind before.  Hell, I've even locked horns with some of your Organization cronies.  You're not much of an organized organization, are you?"  Gus realized that he was not going to get the satisfaction of an argument from the pencil-pushing geek.  "Correct me if I'm wrong, but basically, you want me to submarine a good General with false accusations so you guys can waltz in and take over the base for your own underhanded reasons, and it all looks completely legit.  And the only reason you're here begging for my help is because you guys have botched the job so far and you're running behind schedule, and to top it all off, this SG-1 has managed to outfox you guys each time and you can't figure out why.  You need a pro.  Right?"

Westerly had never before been the subject of such insubordination, but since Jennings wasn't in the Air Force any longer, there was not much he could do.  The Organization had been ordered to reserve the services of this man by any means possible bar kidnapping.  He was the best, and the last people that kidnapped him, well, the rumor was that pieces of them were found over a twenty-mile stretch of ground.  Jennings was not a man to be trifled with.  Westerly could afford a little indignity.  "That's basically it.  I was told that you would take the job."

"And who told you that?"

"I was told that Samuel Kellaher recommended you.  I believe you know him?"

"He's kind of like a Secretary to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  He's got the cahoots to call up the President and invite him and the missus out to lunch.  Lousy politician, but one hell of a poker player even if he does still owe me $75.  Yeah, I guess you could say I know him.  How did he get involved in your little party?"

Westerly seemed a little uncomfortable mentioning this, but he knew he would have to.  If Jennings found out he had been lied to in any fashion, they would be finding the General's body parts in some remote areas of the globe.  "My superior was contacted by Kellaher through an intermediary.  He highly recommended you as the one person who had a colorful enough reputation with the military no one would question your appearance at the base.  Also, you are expert at doing a job and then disappearing.  That's all we want you to do."

"Disappear?" Gus asked him.  "You do realize that if I do take this job and disappear afterwards under anything other than my own power, you'll be dead before rigor mortis sets in?"

"I have been informed of the unique method in which you operate, Colonel.  I will not get in your way.  You won't get in mine.  We're just here to do a job."

Gus finally put down his margarita and stood up.  Damn, but he really hated leaving that hammock.  It was too comfortable for his own good.  He stood next to the General, towering over him by a good three inches.  "Three more things, General Westerly," he used his full name for the first time.  "First, who is this operative you've planted at the base and what exactly is he going to do?"

"For reasons of security, I'd like to keep that secret for now.  He will be in position by the time you arrive, and I can tell you his identity then.  You are both working on the same agenda, but each of you are trying to achieve different objectives.  If one fails, the other will undoubtedly succeed.  This particular agent is experienced in undermining team morale and unity, even a team as closely knit as SG-1.  He should be able to keep them busy enough so you can do your job unhindered."

Something in the General's voice caused Gus to pause.  "Should be able to?  I take it this is not the first time you've put a plant in the base to throw a wrench in the works."

"No.  His predecessors were discovered and met untimely ends.  They failed to achieve their objectives."  Westerly thought that maybe that was enough explanation.

"And second, exactly who was this intermediary that Kellaher used to tell your boss about me?"

"If you really must know--"

"Oh, I must."

"Colonel Quinton Darby.  He was the aide to General Malcolm Thayer until an unfortunate turn of events forced General Thayer from his position at the Pentagon.  Due to those events, it was considered prudent to keep Colonel Darby out of the public eye temporarily, but now he has been reassigned to act as liaison between the Organization and anyone else we deem appropriate to work with but inappropriate to deal with on a face to face basis.  That I will explain to you on the plane.  That information is even more classified than the base at Cheyenne."

Gus was not looking forward to spending several hours cooped up in a plane with this toy soldier hearing about top secret this and top secret that.  "And three, exactly who is your boss?"

"That information is classified," Westerly told him.  Didn't this man ever follow security procedures?

"Westerly, I know everything before going on a job.  Either talk or find yourself another shooter."

Westerly looked very uncomfortable.  He had not been authorized to reveal that information, but he also knew his orders.  "My immediate military superior is General Baxter.  I'm currently attached to the Senate subcommittee that keeps track of the events surrounding the Cheyenne base.  Senator Joshua Mercer chairs that committee."

General Baxter?  Aw, hell!  Keep your mouth shut, Gus.  Talk about the other guy.  "Subcommittee, huh?  Who has the final authority with your Organization?"

"In truth, Colonel, even I don't know that.  We are compartmentalized.  In the event of capture, the Organization, as a whole, is safe.  We have enemies in many corners."

Immediate military superior?  Attached to the Senate?  There was a story there.  And enemies?  Gus refused to tell him that he didn't even come close to knowing who the Organization's enemies were.  That was better left unsaid.  He briefly wondered if this General knew what a miserable liar he was.  "Great.  You're a four-star who takes orders from a Senator by order of a General.  Only in the government.  All right, General.  Let's go, but don't be in any hurry.  We'll have to make a few stops along the way to pick up a few things and one of my associates.  And you had better have some current movies on this flight.  On my last plane ride, I was entertained by a collection of Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland movies, and I'm really not into musicals."

 

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Afternoon, P7L-525; early Friday morning, SGC time.

Caught as they were setting explosives on the archway that led into the temple and hands bound behind their backs, they were marched into the antechamber by the four Jaffa guards.  Their eyes were still adjusted to the brightness of the outdoors, so they had to wait a few moments to be able to see clearly what awaited them.  The nearly empty room was artificially lit while needless torches flickered against the golden hued walls.  The senior Goa'uld, a minor System Lord of no consequence, sat on his throne amidst the barren splendor with some type of rifle balanced on his lap.  He enjoyed the threat a visible weapon posed on those in his power, and the weapon he held in his lap seemed to demand more of his prisoners' attention than the ribbon device did.  His visage was a glimpse into the egotistical persona that believed himself the soon-to-be ruler of the universe.  The two junior Goa'ulds stood on either side of him, not looking entirely happy that they were the junior Goa'ulds.  Two more Jaffa guards flanked their Goa'uld Overlord, each aiming a weapon at the head of a Tok'ra prisoner.  Apparently, the Tok'ra plan to infiltrate the Goa'uld temple and assassinate the Goa'uld leaders didn't work quite as well as planned.

They were forced to kneel before the Goa'uld, two of the Jaffa guarding them, the remaining two taking position at the door.  Their weapons lay before the senior Goa'uld who seemed quite unconcerned that armed troops were fighting outside.

Six Jaffa.

Three Goa'ulds.

Six prisoners.

Those odds sounded even, didn't they?

The senior Goa'uld gazed at his prisoners, noting the signs of battle apparent on their uniforms.  Their blood-spattered fatigues bore testament of the conflict raging outside the temple.  Sounds of battle continued to ring through the halls of the temple, cries of his dying Jaffa wailing on the wind as they tried to keep the Tau'ri from reaching the nearby base.  The Goa'uld forces that were loyal to him were bravely trying to gain the advantage, but reports stated that neither side was gaining any ground.  These prisoners kneeling before him were the instigators of the insurrection.  They were the reason so many of his troops now lay dead and wounded on the field outside.  Yet, despite the fact they were the authors of the destruction of so many Jaffa, they would be the key to his ascension to a grand status among the System Lords.  Their deaths would be proof of his power.

"My Jaffa found these two Tok'ra hiding among the dead bodies.  Why do you think that is?" the senior Goa'uld haughtily asked his prisoners, appearing distracted by a loose thread on his garment.

The Tau'ri leader glanced at the Jaffa in the room.  "Your guys are lousy shots?"

One of the Jaffa hit the Tau'ri with his staff weapon.  "You will show respect, slave."

"What for?" the Tau'ri complained.  "He's your boss, pal.  Not mine.  We gave up on that false god stuff a long time ago."

"The Tau'ri have long been an irritant to the Goa'uld," the Goa'uld muttered loudly.  "The four of you have repeatedly offended us.  Now you have offended me."

"And to think, we weren't even trying," the Tau'ri leader rudely told him.  "Makes you wonder what we could do if we really put our minds to it."

"These slaves are known to you?" junior Goa'uld #1 asked.

"They are.  Their likenesses are well known to all of the Goa'uld.  They dare to challenge us.  They have tried to create rebellion on many of our worlds, to little or no success."

"Says you," the Tau'ri leader spat out.  "Last time I checked, we've kicked your butts every time.  What have you guys done lately?"

Junior Goa'uld #2 took stock of the prisoners.  They did not look capable of such vexation to the greatest of his kind, but he and many of his companions had been exiled from the courts of the System Lords for many years.  Their new master had only recently rescued them.   It was possible that some scrap of an intelligent life form could have proven to be trouble, but it wasn't likely.  At least, it wasn't likely this quartet had the ability.  The leader obviously had no knowledge of the danger he was in because he spoke without permission and in an insulting manner to his master.  The Jaffa with the leader wore the insignia of Apophis, but no slave would dare raise a hand against that System Lord.  Even Ra and Heru'ur had respected the authority of Apophis while hating his existence.  The woman had been blended once.  He could sense the faint trace of a symbiote in her.  The other one, the younger man, was a host.  There was the sense of understated power, but he was the not a vessel for a god.  No true Goa'uld would allow himself to be under the command of someone as lowly as a mere slave.  He must be a Goa'uld loyal to one of his master's enemies.

"Who are you?" junior Goa'uld #2 asked the blended human.

"Oh, I guess we haven't been properly introduced.  Well, I'm Daniel Jackson.  This is Jack, Sam and Teal'c.  We're peaceful explorers from Earth, and --"

"Which god do you serve?"

"Apparently not the same one you do," Daniel answered . "Like he said," he jerked his head toward the Tau'ri leader, "we don't serve false gods like the Goa'uld.  We just kick their butts."

"You dare think yourself superior to us?"

'........Yes.......'

Daniel looked around to see who had spoken but saw no one he could name.  Only the junior Goa'uld had been speaking.  He looked up at the face of the Goa'uld.  "Funny, I could ask you the same question.  Biologically speaking, since Goa'ulds require a host, that makes you an inferior sub-species, doesn't it?  And since we are a species, that means we're not an inferior sub-species so we're better than any of you.  Evolutionarily speaking, that is.  And we're famous.  Everybody knows us, but I guess you've been too busy to watch the news lately.  You'd think that after all the snakeheads we've run into, you'd know--"

The Goa'uld glanced at Carter.  "I know the female has been blended."  Then, to Daniel, "You have a symbiote.  Who sent you?  The other System Lords?  The Tok'ra?"

Didn't Seth say something like that?  That was just great.  This was the first time in months they had actually got into a face-to-face confrontation with any of the bad guys, and all he wanted to know was if Sam and Daniel were card-carrying members of the Blended Club.  He didn't even know who they were!  How insulting was that?  Was this guy living in a cave all these years?  Daniel knew he'd better answer before the Jaffa standing beside him decided his itchy trigger finger needed scratching on the controls of a staff weapon.  "We don't work for the System Lords.  They've been classified as pathetic excuses of reptilian life forms, and as far as the Tok'ra go, I've got no use for them.  How about you?"

The senior Goa'uld sneered at him, and then rose from his throne and started to walk off.  "Insolent cur.  Kill them," he ordered his Jaffa.

"Wait a minute!"  Daniel's voice stopped the Goa'uld in his tracks.  "That's not how you're supposed to do it."

The senior Goa'uld turned around, obviously confused.  "What?"

"You weren't at the meeting?  Of course not.  We didn't see you there.  I guess you and your friends had better things to do."

Jack was not going to let a chance to bait a Goa'uld go by without his contribution.  "You'd think that if the Goa'ulds were as advanced as they always say they are, they could at least keep track of their own meetings.  Maybe they need one of those little computerized calendars that keeps track of dates?"  Keep it up, Daniel. We'll follow your lead.  Not for the first time, Jack thanked whatever force that watched over his friend for letting Vaelen of the quick wit and slightly sarcastic bent be the Kha'ti to possess him.  This held the promise of being a performance worthy of an Oscar.

"I do not believe that their needs would be better served if they recorded their engagements on calendars," Teal'c explained to them.  "In my experience, I have never known a Goa'uld to have the presence of mind necessary to remember trivial matters such as recording the dates of events.  They would find such a device to be of little use."

"I have to agree with Teal'c, sir," Sam added her share of the verbal banter.  "That technology may be too advanced for the Goa'ulds.  Since they'd have to input the dates into the database themselves that means they'd actually have to do some work."

"Right.  Like any of them know how to," Jack muttered.

Then, turning back to the Goa'uld, Daniel explained.  "Anyway, if you had been there, you would have been told exactly what you were supposed to do.  But even if you weren't at the meeting, you would have gotten the memo."

Forget looking confused.  The Goa'uld was completely baffled.  "Speak plainly."

Jack picked up the explanation.  "The memo.  You can't say you didn't get it.  It was sent out to all the departments.  I even got my copy.  It was very specific."

"Explain yourself."

Daniel cleared his throat.  "It's the new rules the System Lords negotiated with the Tau'ri about what a Goa'uld is supposed to do in the event of capturing Tau'ri prisoners.  Tying us up and dragging us here is allowed, but you completely forgot about the plot exposition."

The Goa'uld advanced on Daniel, his eyes glowing in anger.  "What ruling is this?"

Daniel glanced out of the corner of his eye and saw the two Tok'ra were waiting for the right moment to strike but had to good sense to remain still, not allowing their captors to know that something was amiss.  Jack had worked his hands free and was eagerly anticipating the Goa'uld's stereotypical "stupid move."  Daniel couldn't tell what Sam or Teal'c were doing.  He had to talk fast.  "The new one, Einstein.  Now is the time you're supposed to go into a long soliloquy about what you're going to do with us and why and what you're planning to do, that sort of thing.  It's plot exposition.  It has to go somewhere, and the System Lords thought this was as good a place as any to put it in.  And we're telling you the truth.  Everyone got the memo."

The Goa'uld reached down to yank Daniel to his feet by his collar, but with a speed and strength he had yet to fully understand, Daniel broke the bonds that had held his hands behind his back and slammed his fist across the Goa'uld's chin with such a tremendous force that he heard his attacker's neck break.  The Goa'uld fell hard, his head contacting the floor which would have effectively knocked him out if he had not already been dead.  Without warning, Jack grabbed the Goa'uld's rifle and fired on the Jaffa that were guarding them.

The stunned Jaffa could not fathom what was happening in front of their eyes.  Being in exile for many generations had allowed them to forget that prisoners can and do fight back.  Their hesitation was all the opening the prisoners needed.  As the Tok'ra attacked their Jaffa captors, keeping them busy while Jack and Daniel pulled their knives and released Sam and Teal'c from their bonds, the remaining Jaffa finally shook off their surprise and finally entered the fray by charging the Tau'ri.  One found himself on the wrong end of Teal'c's flying fists while the other discovered what a shish kabob felt like by being impaled on the sharp end of Sam's knife.

Taken completely by surprise, the two junior Goa'uld ran from the throne room.  Slaves weren't supposed to fight back!  It wasn't the way things worked!  Jack and Teal'c retrieved their weapons and were about to follow when what felt like a missile strike shook the throne room and all but collapsed the hallway the Goa'uld had just used for an escape.

"What the hell was that?" Jack yelled over the echoing rumble.

"Perimeter explosives," Teal'c answered.  "The Goa'uld will destroy this temple by their own hand in order to stop us from following them."

Sam picked up an extra staff weapon and handed it to Teal'c.  "I don't like this, sir.  Those two acted confused.  I've never seen a Goa'uld run away from us like that before."

"Me either.  Think it was something we said?"

"They must be heading for the ship," Neumar, the first Tok'ra surmised.

"I thought you couldn't get to the ship from here," Jack complained.  He was getting exasperated with the Tok'ra.  "You said they didn't have any transport rings or tunnels that led there, and it was too far away to run to."

The sound of distant transport rings engaging echoed in the hallways.  "Maybe the Tok'ra Intel wasn't quite as accurate as we were told," Daniel commented quickly, not sparing a glance to their Tok'ra companions as he stripped the ribbon device from the dead Goa'uld's hand and shoved it into his pocket.  What was another lie to the many the Tok'ra had already told them on this mission?  It was a sad day when you could trust the enemy to kill you more than you could trust an ally to work with you.

"We still have operatives at the launch field," Neumar told them.  "We have to rendezvous with them and take the ship before more troops arrive.  If we go now, we may be able to overtake the Goa'ulds that just escaped."  He started to climb over the debris and follow the path the Goa'ulds had taken when O'Neill stopped him.

"Hey, in case you haven't noticed, our people are getting theirs kicked out there guarding the Stargate.  That's not fireworks we're hearing.  We're going that way," and he pointed toward the temple entrance.

Before the team could leave the throne room and rejoin the fight, Neumar objected.  "Colonel O'Neill, our main objective is to obtain or destroy that ship no matter what the cost.  Those were our orders.  I'm sorry, but your people are expendable.  The mission isn't."

Both Tok'ra flinched at the murderous looks he received from SG-1.  "Expendable?  Since when?"  O'Neill asked him.  "Well, get this and get it good.  We aren't the expendable ones.  We don't leave our people behind to die for no good reason.  You lied to us to get our help.  You wanted that ship and are more than willing to sacrifice all of us for it.  Fine.  In the interests of the Earth/Tok'ra Alliance, we'll play it your way so you'll have no room to complain.  You follow your orders, and we'll follow ours.  You can go get that ship yourselves.  Our orders, which incidentally you told General Hammond we were needed for, are to destroy the base by any means possible, and that's exactly what we'll do."  Another explosion shook the room, bits of tile and rock fell from the ceiling.  "You want to jump ship mid-stream, that's your problem, not ours."

"Colonel O'Neill --"

"This is your game, pal.  We're just playing by your rules." O'Neill sent a contemptible look their way and followed his team out of the throne room and back into the melee.  Running full speed over the dead and dying, they skirted through the forest until they reached their forces battling for control of the Stargate.  What they saw wasn't encouraging.

SG-4 lay down cover fire as SG-7 attempted another advance on the generator controlling the protective shield around the Stargate.  If SG-7 could take out the generator, the SG teams could hold the Stargate long enough to send word back to Earth and get reinforcements to attack the Goa'uld base camp, but the intense return fire from Jaffa staff weapons protecting the generator had SG-7 and SG-4 pinned down. A stalemate.

SG-2 took position on SG-4's right, keeping the approaching Jaffa reinforcements from making any headway, but they were about to be flanked.  Major Feretti had already radioed his situation to Colonel O'Neill as soon as he saw SG-1 burst from the forest and take up firing positions on the approaching Jaffa troops.  He briefly wondered what happened to SG-1 after they were captured, but knew he'd have to wait for that information.  They had more pressing issues to be concerned with.

O'Neill's gun was firing nonstop, only pausing long enough for him to reload.  It didn't seem to matter.  The more Jaffa that went down, the more took their place.  Were they springing up from the ground?  These weren't just reinforcements to help Apophis.  This was a full-fledged army joining up with him!  No wonder the Tok'ra didn't want to assault the stronghold by themselves or tell the Tau'ri what was really there.  Only an idiot would attempt an assault on such a fortified stronghold.

To his right, he saw Carter and Teal'c returning fire, trying to keep the Jaffa at bay.  Over their heads, he saw the new advanced Goa'uld ship they had inadvertently helped the Tok'ra liberate fly off.  A quick radio transmission from Neumar confirmed that the Tok'ra had achieved their mission objective.  Damn them.  They were acting true to form.  As soon as the serious fighting started, the remaining Tok'ra managed to escape to the ship and now they were leaving the SG teams that had come to help them in some serious trouble with no appreciable back up.  Somebody was going to pay for that.

Somebody was going to pay big.

And O'Neill was going to collect.

O'Neill spared a glance to his left.  Daniel was crouching behind a large boulder, firing his AK-47 with the same expert marksmanship and rapidity his team leader was known for.  Although Daniel had always been a decent shot before Vaelen's introduction into his life, he was now a deadly marksman.  This reputation bothered him, but he had no problem utilizing this particular skill when the occasion warranted.  He could rationalize survival.

Jack's attention focused on one of the leaders of the Jaffa.  He wasn't a First Prime, but he was definitely one of the higher-ups.  Jack concentrated his firepower on him, but even as the Jaffa fell, another took his place and took command of the troops.  This was not good.

'.......ribbon.......'

What was that?  Daniel heard the voice again.  He glanced around him and saw only soldiers returning the Jaffas' weapon fire.  He had heard someone say ribbon.  He suddenly remembered the ribbon device.

When the firing on his left stopped, Jack did a double take when he saw that Daniel was digging the ribbon device he had taken off the dead Goa'uld from his jacket pocket.  What was he doing?

"Teal'c!"  Daniel yelled over the massive weapons fire.  When he saw that he had Teal'c's attention, he yelled, "Throw me a staff weapon!"

Jack thought that maybe Daniel was out of ammunition and just needed another weapon.  When Teal'c threw him a spare staff weapon, Jack had to return his thoughts to the battle at hand.  He could see with his peripheral vision Daniel digging the staff weapon's power cell out of its casement and forcing it into the back of the ribbon device.  It was when Daniel was putting the ribbon device on his hand that Jack decided he had better find out what was going on.

"Daniel, what the hell are you doing?"

Daniel flexed his fingers, his face a mirror of disgust, as he yelled back, "Stop firing!  Let the Jaffa get closer!"

"Are you crazy?  We'll be overrun!  We're outnumbered about 5 to 1 here!"

"Trust me, Jack.  I know what I'm doing!"

Trust him?  Oh, yeah, he trusted him, but this was tantamount to suicide!  Still.....he grabbed his radio.  "All teams.  Cease fire.  This is Sierra Gulf One Niner.  Cease fire!"  He only hoped that he was doing the right thing.

Very quickly, the SG teams quit firing.  The Jaffa didn't.  They kept firing their weapons, advancing on their position.  This was not good.

"Uh, Daniel, whatever it is you're going to do, you'd better do it quick!  They're almost on us!"  Sam yelled to him.

Daniel aimed the ribbon device at the left flank of the Jaffa and let the weapon fire.  The massive energy wave blasted from the device and literally bowled the Jaffa over.  They fell and didn't move.  Jack saw Daniel's body flinch when the ribbon device discharged.  Daniel changed positions behind the boulder and fired again at the right flank, repeating the effect. Jack saw his body quake that time.  Daniel aimed for the center as the Jaffa were less than twenty yards away from him and charging them at full speed.  He discharged the ribbon device, completely obliterating the Jaffa directly in front of him, severing in two the Jaffa on the edges of the blast.  His body was shaking visibly, tears almost falling from his eyes.  With an almost Herculean effort, he climbed to the top of the boulder he had been using as a barricade against the advancing troops and held his hand up above his head.  He aimed toward the battlefield and let two more rounds fire from it.  Most of the bodies of the Jaffa were crushed under the power of the blast.  Those closest to their position who hadn't been dead before were dead now.  The remaining troops, both the wounded and the ones lucky enough to have been out of range of the ribbon device, fled from the battlefield back towards the Goa'uld stronghold.  Alone, Daniel had decimated the enemy numbers.  Unfortunately, he didn't have the strength to fire another round at the generator powering the shield that kept them from the Stargate.  They would have to manually deactivate it.

The ground started to move -- or at least it did from Daniel's perspective.  Jack and Teal'c were there, helping him down from the boulder before he could fall and setting him on the ground when they realized his legs weren't going to support him.  He clutched his head in his hands, willing away the pain that was wanting to render him unconscious.  Not good, not good.  "Damn," he whispered through clenched teeth, not noticing the change in his voice.  "This didn't happen last time."  Migraines didn't hurt that bad.

"Carter," Jack didn't yell her name.  He knew that a loud sound that close to Daniel's ears would do more harm than good.  "What was that?"

"He increased the power output of a ribbon device, sir.  A ribbon device normally operates on a small grade power source that also acts as an intermediary conductor between the symbiote and the device.  The drain the output places on the symbiote increases exponentially as the device draws on the mental ability and acuity of the wearer as it's being accessed via the power cell.  The greater the power source, the greater the drain on the user.  I'd say that the increased output drew on his mental faculties far greater than he was prepared for."

The blank look in Jack's face faded when he saw Daniel still clutching his head and heard his raspy breathing.  "Danny?"

It took a few seconds for Daniel to gain enough control to look up at his friends.  When he did, he had a surprise for them.

"Oh, boy," O'Neill said.  "Daniel, I don't mean to worry you, but your eyes are glowing."

"I know.  I can feel them."  Daniel didn't seem too worried, but Jack could hear the despair in his voice even though it was altered by the metallic double-echo.  "Must be from using the ribbon device.  It drew Vaelen out."  He looked up at Jack and shook his head.  "I'll be okay. I just gave myself a killer headache.  I'll be fine right here.  You'd better go get those other Goa'uld before they can get away and join up with Apophis."

Jack wouldn't leave an incapacitated team member alone.  He spoke into his radio again.  "This is Sierra Gulf One Niner.  All team leaders report."

The report was very encouraging.  Most of the wounded were still able to move and could make the final charge.  A few were killed, a few were unconscious.  They could take the base without calling for reinforcements.  What O'Neill heard next answered a few prayers.  "This is Sierra Gulf Two Niner.  I've got no casualties, just two wounded, still conscious."

"Daniel, I'm going to have Feretti's guys stay with you, okay?"  He didn't have to see Daniel nod his head to know that Daniel was not going to argue with him.  He was in too much pain at the moment.  "This is Sierra Gulf One Niner.  Feretti, get the two wounded to our position.  Then join Sierra Gulf Four Niner, take position on the ridge and advance to Goa'uld base.  We'll be on your six.  Sierra Gulf Seven Niner, destroy the generator and hold the Stargate.  Get the wounded personnel moved to your position.  All other troops will act as second wave on the attack."

Daniel kept hold of his head.  "Don't try that stunt at home, boys and girls.  Leave it to the professionals."

Jack smiled.  If Daniel could crack a joke, he would be okay.

"You've got this under control?" he facetiously asked his friend.  They were still a little leery about letting anyone else know about these random after-effects Daniel kept experiencing especially since Daniel still had no control over them whatsoever.

Daniel shook his head, trying to clear it, and then looked back at Jack with clear, normal, blue, non-glowing eyes filled with pain.  "No, I haven't got it under control, but it's gone.  It's still a little early to be scaring people, don't you think?"  His voice was normal as well.

"Yep.  Besides, I don't want you to spoil the surprise I'm working on for the Halloween party, and that's still a month away."

Feretti helped his two wounded soldiers over to SG-1's location, taking great pains not to exacerbate their wounds -- mostly flesh wounds but the kind that really hurt -- and sat them on the ground near Daniel.  They would have been able to make the charge, but Feretti had guessed what Jack was wanting.  He had seen the look in Daniel's face when he was firing that ribbon device and knew he wasn't going anywhere.  Feretti knew pain when he saw it.

"Keep an eye on Doctor Jackson," O'Neill ordered them.  "As soon as he's able to walk, I want all three of you to get over to the Stargate.  If we fall, you and SG-7 get back to Earth.  Is that clear?"

Both airmen answered "Yes, sir" and held their guns at the ready.

"Daniel?"

"You're wasting time, Jack," was the archaeologist's barely mumbled response.

"Right.  Let's go."

Daniel was in too much pain to even look up again and watch his team go after the remaining Goa'uld and Jaffa encamped on the other side of the ridge.  Blasted ribbon device.  There had to be a better way of doing things like that.  Pulling stunts like that one could do some serious damage to his brain since he didn't have a symbiote doing the work anymore.  He didn't think that his ability to heal quickly would help if too many brain cells were destroyed.

 

**************************************************

 

Same time, secluded base.

The reports were good.  In fact, they were better than good.  After all the setbacks and confusion, after all the luck both good and bad, he had been sent good news.  Finally.

General Thayer eased back in the uncomfortable chair that sat behind a jury-rigged desk in a makeshift office.  It was a far cry from his previous style and status at the Pentagon, but, as the old saying went, needs must when the devil drives.  One must make the best of things when faced with adversity, and General Malcolm Thayer had experienced enough adversity in the past months to say that he had become an expert at making the best of things.  Turning lemon into lemonade.  Thayer truly hated clichés but found that there was more truth in them than anyone gave them credit for.

"Good news, General?"

Thayer motioned for Anderson to enter his office.  Anderson was one of the few people that Thayer even marginally trusted.  Quinton Darby had hand picked Anderson for several jobs, and Thayer had not found any reason to doubt his friend's judgment.  The man standing before him was an excellent soldier.  He followed orders without question.  "Yes.  Good news at last.  The latest plan has been put in motion.  Our contacts will be shipping supplies and fresh troops shortly, perhaps even within a day's time.  Make certain that everything's been set up to receive them."

"Yes, sir.  Right away."  Anderson snapped a sharp salute and left.

New troops, fresh supplies, and perhaps even a respite from the interminable boredom that had permeated the base.  Although there was much to be done every day in order to survive since they were cut off from all of Earth's resources, the tasks had become rote and redundant.  How many times could you clean weapons when they weren't used at all or practice drills that you could already perform in your sleep?  The troops needed variety.  The poker games had lost their amusement quality.  Simple football games outside the base were no longer interesting.  Knowing that any use of their Stargate on Earth would be instantly detected and tracked by the sonic resonator Major Carter had built, every one of the off-world bases had abolished all transportation to and from Earth.  Knowing that Earth's allies would undoubtedly be watching for any movement, all use of the Stargates had been prohibited even among the off world bases.  There was no movement.  There was no variation of schedule.  The troops were bored.

Soon, perhaps today, everything would change.

Today, they would have the means to block anyone's detection of their Stargates' transmissions. 

Soon, the bases would be fully operational.

Soon, he would have his revenge on both Daniel Jackson and General Vaelen.

And as the old cliché stated, good things come to those who wait.

 

**************************************************

 

Early Saturday morning, SGC time.

Doctor William McElhannon stared in utter disbelief at the massive stone structure as the chevrons lit up and the inner circle spun and locked in place.  In complete amazement, he watched the wormhole form blue and shimmering in a dance of light and liquid motion.  Even more surprising to him was the emergence of over 100 people through the surface of the vortex.  Every one of the soldiers were dirty and weary, clothes torn and bloody, some being helped by others just to walk, some carrying lifeless bodies.  Doctor McElhannon suddenly realized that he was witnessing the troops' hopefully victorious retreat from some alien battlefield.  The sight was astounding, even if he had witnessed the Stargate in operation several times in as many days.

General Hammond's voice sounded over the din of bustling activity.  "Colonel O'Neill, how did it go?"

"Came, saw, conquered.  You know, General, business as usual.  Pretty routine stuff."  McElhannon could not know this, but Hammond noted that the remark held a forced sarcasm, a strange enough occurrence when soldiers had died in battle.  There was something O'Neill had to talk about when an audience wasn't present.  What McElhannon did notice was O'Neill guiding a squinting Doctor Jackson down the ramp.  Jackson seemed to be in pain, but McElhannon saw no wounds.

"What about the Goa'uld presence on P7L-525?"

"What Goa'uld presence on P7L-525, sir?"

That seemed to answer the General's question.  "Good work, Colonel. Welcome home."

Doctor McElhannon watched as the medics started swarming around the dead and wounded.  Doctor Fraiser and Doctor Warner were there setting up the triage.  Fraiser approached Doctor Jackson who waved her away.  Apparently his injuries, whatever they were, were not severe enough to require a doctor's immediate attention.  McElhannon watched as SG-1 tiredly walked out of the embarkation room and met General Hammond in the hallway below the control room.  He couldn't hear what was being said, but the body language he witnessed expressed an anger that went beyond the usual post-battle reaction.  General Hammond's expression displayed sheer irritation.

Look beyond that, he told himself.  O'Neill was speaking to Hammond in a way that exhibited signs of not-so-defined roles other than Hammond was the man in charge and O'Neill was his second-in-command.  There was a steady give-and-take one might not expect to see between two people in their command positions.  Other than that, the relationship appeared complimentary and friendly.  The two men were at ease with each other.

Carter added a comment only when O'Neill had finished speaking, but clearly disagreeing with him on several points.  There was no animosity or fear of repercussions.  Another steady give-and-take.  Again, a complimentary and friendly working relationship.

The alien, Teal'c, stood there quietly.  He answered any question he was asked but also offered comments when he wasn't asked.  His movements indicated a deference to Hammond, an earned respect.  Hammond listened intently to anything and everything the Jaffa said.  There was trust between the General and the alien soldier.

Jackson was the walking contradiction.  Since he was obviously in some pain, his movements were more withdrawn and harder to read.  Reportedly a very talkative man, he seemed to rally enough to only give the General a quick yes-or-no answer, no long-winded explanations of anything.  He was rumored to be a peaceful man with a quiet hatred for the Goa'ulds that was almost unmatched by anyone else at the SGC.  One report stated that he had destroyed a symbiote tank holding a group of infantile Goa'uld symbiotes.  Another report indicated his willingness to become a host in order to be with his wife after she was taken by the Goa'uld despite his verified aversion to being a host.  His opinions of being a host for a Kha'ti were unknown.  No, McElhannon could make no distinction about Jackson.  Not yet.

O'Neill was the leader, Carter was the scientific authority and second-in-command, Teal'c was the strong backbone, but Jackson was the enigma, the undetermined factor.  His achievements were self-explanatory but contradictory.  One conclusion that McElhannon could make about this group was the fact that they were a cohesive unit able to work with each other in varied situations and who were well versed in each others' idiosyncrasies and habits.  It was difficult to tell where one person ended and the other began.  They knew each other in a way only a close-knit unit could know each other.  Everything he witnessed was exactly as the reports indicated.  No surprises.

McElhannon couldn't clearly hear what was being said, but seemed to gather that the standard debriefing would take place in several hours instead of after they were cleared by the medical team.  He surmised that these returning soldiers needed a cool-down time, a chance to gather their wits and information before giving the General his debriefing.  Observing these people would be very interesting indeed.

 

**************************************************

 

General Westerly waited impatiently on the plane as his "charge" disembarked to make another phone call.  What should have been a simple transatlantic flight lasting a few hours had stretched into two days.  Jennings had forced the pilot to make several landings, each time meeting an individual Westerly couldn't see or identify and making more phone calls.  This was supposed to be an easy assignment, but General Westerly was beginning to understand how Matthew Augustus Jennings was still alive.  No one could guess his plans or what he would do next.  Westerly was utterly confused by the Colonel's actions, but if they helped remove Hammond from the SGC, then perhaps the delays were worth it.  His own phone call to his superior had been met with the unexpected advice to "do whatever was necessary to get Jennings there."

General Westerly did know how to follow orders.

Finally, Jennings reboarded the plane with another man in tow.

"Colonel Jennings?" Westerly questioned him.  "Who is this gentleman?"

Jennings glanced back at his companion and pointed his thumb at him.  "Him?  No one you need to be concerned about.  Just that associate I told you we were going to pick up."

"Colonel, do I need to remind you of the seriousness of this operation or the security --"

"Don't get your britches in a bunch, bub," Jennings told him.  "You guys need me, and I need him.  If you've got a problem with that, you can just put me back on my beach.  That hammock's still waiting for me."

Westerly knew he had no choice.  "Very well, Colonel.  I'll debrief him on the major points --"

"Already took care of that.  The truth is, General, we're involved in this little soap opera of yours.  Have been for about eight years.  We've just been waiting for an opportunity to get even with some of the players.  We're gonna fly the rest of the way to Colorado Springs.  You're getting off here."

Westerly was certain that he had not heard Jennings correctly.  He would be taking command of the SGC during the investigation, therefore he had to be present when Jennings showed up.  "Excuse me, Colonel?"

"Look, bub, running operations like this is a what we do for a living.  You couldn't run a bluff if your life depended on it.  You ain't got what it takes.  For this to work, we go in first, do the investigation, and you show up after the charges are sitting on the JAG's desk.  You go in now, and it'll look too much like a conspiracy.  Those folks back at the SGC can smell one of you guys a mile away.  You've screwed up one too many times, and they're watching for you."  Jennings expression left no room for argument.  Westerly was out.  "Now, just so you don't think we're keeping you in the dark, here's the game plan.  We'll go in there in a couple of days.  That'll give me time to get everything ready.  You are not to show up or contact either one of us.  We'll contact you when it's time for you to show up.  Any questions?"

"Colonel," Westerly started to protest.

"Any questions?" Jennings asked him again, his voice quiet with a hint of subtle irritation.

"No.  I'll inform my superiors of your intentions."

Jennings' associate checked his watch.  "We'll have to leave now if we're going to reach the next checkpoint on time.  General, there's a hired car at the hanger.  The driver will take you wherever you want to go.  And you don't have to tip him.  He works with us."

Westerly stood flabbergasted for a few moments before collecting his wits and his belongings.  He didn't think that his superiors had meant for him to let Jennings go off on his own, but what choice was there?  As Westerly left the plane and walked to the hanger, he watched the plane taxi down the runway and then take off.  The driver came up to him, a hard case by the look of him, a man who had lived through too much and had too much taken away from him.  He was another professional soldier.  With a motion of his hand, he led the General to the car.  His orders were to drive the General to any destination he named, but there was no rule that said he had to rush.  Colonel's orders.

On board the plane, the newcomer watched Jennings as he paced the length of the aisle repeatedly.  Gus was acting a little out of character, but that was not an uncommon occurrence when one considered exactly who they were up against and what was being asked of them.  The man was actually worried.  Curtis Moore felt like they were way out of their element after glancing through the reports Gus had been given.  Stargates, wormholes, alien parasites, Jaffa, Goa'uld, Tok'ra, Nox, Tollans, and on and on and on....

"Have you read the personnel list?" Gus asked him absently, his mind already ten steps ahead of his friend's.  He had to get a plan worked out, a way to salvage as much as he could without sacrificing very much.

"Yes.  Do we have them evacuate?"

"No.  If it were just the two of them....damn.  I would call D.J. and have him get the other two out of the base -- I can't.  I don't want to take any chances with any lives, but we can't take the chance of being found out.  Too many have fouled up what should have been an easy assignment which is why we've been hired.  Hell, one mess up, and there'll be a bloodbath."  Gus gazed out a window, his once well-understood world now a complete puzzle.  Amazing how a little thing like interstellar travel and intergalactic bad guys can change your world view.

"What about D.J.?" Curtis asked him.

"He wouldn't leave even if I asked him to.  He's too far into this to turn his back on it and let me handle things.  He'll want to be right in the thick of it to run interference for us."

"Can we protect them?" Curtis wanted to know.

"I've got our people watching the people we know about, and they'll put other personnel on the ones they find out about.  We'll have as many of the group as possible under surveillance so we can deal with them if we have to.  That's the only way I can think of to protect them right now, at least until we know more of the players."

Curtis kept going over the paperwork and found Doctor Daniel Jackson's file very interesting.  He still could not believe it!  "It's too weird to not be true," he commented, trying to get Jennings' mind off his anger and onto something more productive.  "He was right all along.  They thought his theories were insane ramblings but he never backed down."  So many intelligent people had laughed the scientist out of academia when the most classified secret in the United States proved he was right.  Curt could only imagine the heights the archaeologist could have climbed if the academic world had realized the truth themselves.

"Yep.  But now he's landed in the middle of everything.  And the Organization's up to its old tricks.  And then they come after ME to help THEM!"  Jennings slammed his fist in his hand.  "This is a weirdest case of irony I've ever seen."

"Yes.  This entire set-up landed right in our laps.  And it's the best opportunity we've ever had!  Dammit, Gus, we couldn't have gotten any luckier if we had planned it!  Last time, you almost lost your kids.  This time, we'll bury the bastards so they can't try to kill them again."

"No, Curt.  Eight years ago I almost lost them.  Last time, I wasn't there to protect anyone, and it cost D.J. big time.  Burying is too good for them."

"So we'll make them pay for what they did."  Curt's voice became low and menacing when he said "And none of them will make the mistake again."

The vehemence with which his companion spoke brought home to Gus the dire nature of this mission.  One misstep, one person unwatched, and the whole thing would fall down around their feet and innocent people would be hurt -- a couple of these innocent people he had sworn to protect from the dangers of his livelihood.  His failure to achieve his objective years before had already cost too many people too much, and it would not happen again.

"This time, Curtis, we can't fail.  Come hell or high water, we're taking down whole damn group."

 

**************************************************

 

Saturday evening, SGC

General Hammond walked into the briefing room earlier than necessary.  He wanted to be the one waiting on SG-1 instead of them waiting on him for a change.  Thinking he would have a few moments to himself, he was surprised to find Daniel there staring out the window at the Stargate, cradling a large cup of coffee in his hands.  Hammond could tell that the younger man was still suffering from the headache he had brought back with him from P7L-525.  Despite the obvious pain, Daniel was going to attend the debriefing.  Hammond knew better than to ask him to abstain from the meeting.

The General walked up beside Daniel and joined him in staring down at the Stargate.  More often than not, Daniel's attention could be caught wandering to things other than the tasks at hand, but Daniel couldn't tell anyone what these other things were.  Too many people wouldn't understand.  Some of the thoughts meandering through the paths in his mind were not always his, some not his secrets to tell.  Others, perhaps Daniel himself didn't understand.  He seemed somewhat distracted, maybe even bored?  Thor had noted that Daniel was no longer as young as the rest of the Tau'ri at the now infamous meeting determining Daniel's home address.  The General couldn't help but wonder if Daniel was feeling somewhat out of place.  But, wondering or not, he had discovered that sometimes when something was bothering Daniel, he had to be George, not General Hammond -- basically someone not acting like he was military.  There was a small corner of Daniel's personality that had always responded better to friendly conversation than to a commanding officer assessing a situation.  Add that to the fact that Vaelen had been in every way General Hammond's equal, and good old George sometimes had difficulty seeing this Daniel as someone still under his command.  There was too much of Vaelen still in existence in the young man, and sometimes Daniel could tap into that part of his extensive memory cache that remembered what it was like to be a General.  There was an understanding between them that had not existed before Daniel had been killed.  General Hammond enjoyed the change if not the reasons for it.

"Doctor Fraiser released you?"  Hammond asked conversationally.

"Yes, sir, this afternoon.  The real wounded in the infirmary needed the doctors more than I did.  I just came home with a headache, not a bullet or a zat blast or a tagger discharge.  It's just something that has to wear off."  Daniel answered, his voice tired.  "Personally, I think she doesn't want me in there because I like to terrorize the symbiote."

"Oh?  Have you been misbehaving, and am I going to hear about it?"

"Not really misbehaving.  First, Janet hates the fact that I argue with it.  It's not my fault I can understand all those screeches.  I just can't stand listening to it tell me what it's going to do to all of us when it gets free and takes a host.  And then it starts swimming in circles when you bang on the aquarium's glass because you're really angry at it, and it takes hours for it to calm down again.  I don't think Janet appreciates that very much."

The General didn't need to say anything regarding the rights and wrongs of abusing the symbiote.  Maybe he couldn't translate what the creature said, but the idea that the creature actually existed and was housed at his base was almost intolerable.  If only that reptile didn't have any scientific value....but it did.  Doctor Fraiser and Major Carter had discovered vast amounts of information from it.  Yet, despite the symbiote's usefulness, Hammond had been caught banging on the glass himself once or twice.  Not that he would ever admit to it.  "I've heard a rumor that the symbiote's finally been named.  After an extensive name-picking contest, that is."

"Very extensive," Daniel laughingly agreed.  "There were a lot of runners-up.  Sneaky, Slinky, Ka, Sir Hiss, Useless, Roadkill, Deadmeat, Fishbait.  Davis suggested One-eyed Jack, but that didn't go over very well with a certain Colonel.  Sergeant Siler wanted to call him Some'thing."

The General waited a moment before asking "What did Siler want to call him?" when Daniel did not tell him the name.

"Some'thing."

"But what was the something?"

"No, sir.  His name would be Some'thing.  Capital S, maybe an apostrophe after the E to make it look Goa'uldish."

Ah, enlightenment.  If you have to call somebody something, then call him Some'thing.  "I see the Sergeant's been exercising his rather out-of-shape sense of humor.  Any others?"

"One or two interesting names with some very good stories behind them.  Feretti had a good one, but you're going to have to ask him for the story.  He actually uses sound effects."

Hammond laughed softly.  He could easily imagine Major Feretti's story.  He was the second best bullshitter on the base, second only to Colonel Jack O'Neill.  Speaking of which, "Rumor has it that Colonel O'Neill won the contest."

"No rumor.  He started calling it Nuisance, and the name stuck.  Considering some of the other names that were tossed around, that one seems to be the most polite."

"I did hear a few of the other less politically correct names," Hammond commented smugly.  "I think Nuisance is acceptable.  At least we can write that name in reports and not get into too much trouble."

The quiet settled back on them again.  The General noticed that Daniel's eyes had that faraway look in them again.  With a sudden inspiration, the General reached into his pocket and pulled out a penny.  He handed it Daniel who took it absentmindedly.  Looking down at what lay in the palm of his hand, Daniel then gave the General a sideways glance, raising his eyebrows in a silent question.

The General almost smiled.  "The last time I checked, that was what thoughts cost."

Oh.  The General was trying to start a conversation.  "Inflation doesn't figure into it?"  Daniel asked him.

"Not yet.  According to policy, it's still a 'penny for your thoughts; throw in your two cents worth; stop on a dime; another day, another dollar.'  Until I'm directed otherwise by the President or the Pentagon, the going rate for asking what's on your mind is a penny."

"Have you been taking lessons from Jack, sir?"  Daniel almost smirked.

"Son, believe it or not, I wasn't always as 'by the book' as you see me today.  I could come off with the smart ass comment myself from time to time and have been known to do so, even to a superior officer."

"I see.  That might explain how you and Jacob ended up on report so many times.  Or is that in so many bar room brawls?"  Daniel asked smartly.

Hammond shook his head and rolled his eyes toward the ceiling.  "I'm going to make Jacob pay for telling you those stories.  How can I command a base if everyone knows about my less-than-perfect past?"

"Don't worry about that, sir.  Your secrets are safe with us."  Daniel shoved the penny in his pocket thereby accepting the General's invitation to talk.  "All those so-called misadventures, and both of you still made it to General."

"Surprising, isn't it?  There may still be hope for Colonel O'Neill."  They stood quietly for a moment before the General asked again, "So what is on your mind?"

"This last mission."  Several quiet moments passed.  "I can look down at that Stargate, and I can tell you how it was made, more or less.  I couldn't make one myself, but I know the general processes the Ancients used.  I can go to any one of hundreds of planets that we've never been to, and I can tell you everything from its climate conditions to where the best fishing spots are.    I know where species worse than the Goa'uld are, and I know of species who would make better allies than the Tok'ra or the Tollans if they'd even consider joining up with young races like us.  I can speak more languages than I ever thought possible and translate some that have been dead since before the first mammal ever showed up on Earth.  I've got all of these facts in my head that could undoubtedly help us defeat the Goa'uld, and I can't tell anyone about most of them.  The Tok'ra wouldn't think twice about using what I know, but we're the ones out there fighting.  We're putting our lives on the line every day.  We're the ones that need that information."  Daniel's voice had reached an angry level, and he quickly regained control of his temper.  Or was it Vaelen's temper?  "Every time I go through the Stargate, I feel like I'm letting everyone down by not telling everything I know.  And it feels worse every time we have to work with the Tok'ra.  They keep you in the dark because of whatever reason they can think of, and I'm the one that has to tell you what we're walking into.  And every time I do that, Garshaw's about ready to force me off the planet into exile and pull out of the Alliance.  And this last mission was just another example of it."

That was quite a lot for a penny.  Hammond guessed he got more than his money's worth.  "And despite the restrictions our Allies have put on us in regard to Vaelen's legacy, you've managed to keep your promise not to reveal any big secrets while at the same time informing us of every pertinent fact concerning the Goa'ulds and other civilizations we continually come across.  You've told us about every planet Vaelen knew about before we go there.  You've told us what to expect.  You don't volunteer any information unless someone asks you a direct question, and no one here has asked you any inappropriate questions that I know of.  You haven't exposed us to advanced technology, but you have stopped us from making some serious mistakes during much of our research.  And all of that is in line with the agreement we made with the Tok'ra, the Tollans and the Asgaard.  You've balanced yourself on that double edged sword very well."

Daniel pinched the bridge of his nose, trying to make his headache go away.  It wasn't working.  At least it wasn't as bad as it had been.  It was now more of a sharp pain slowly working its way into a dull ache.  "Maybe.  I've always understood why they never wanted to give us advanced technology.  I can't argue with the decision, especially now, but it's just so damn frustrating.  I've fought more battles than any ten of them put together.  I've seen things that they can only dream about and made enemies that comes right out of their worst nightmares.  I know better than they do what's at risk, and they still think they have the right to dictate their antiquated standards to me.  That's one of the reasons we never regretted leaving and going off on our own.  It wasn't all because of Garshaw.  Sometimes, you have to fight, no matter what the cost.  Garshaw, the Council, the others like them will never understand that."

Hammond realized that Daniel was vaelening.  He was used to it.  Daniel would still occasionally talk about Vaelen's experiences as if they were his own, feeling the emotions the symbiote undoubtedly experienced, sometimes using phrases that the listener wasn't sure related to the conversation at hand or a past occurrence.  "Did something happen on P7L-525?  Something that you want to talk about?"

Daniel fidgeted from foot to foot.  He didn't know why this was bothering him so much.  It wasn't like it was the first time it had happened.  "I used a weapon Vaelen knew how to construct."  At Hammond's unasked question, Daniel answered, "It wasn't anything to worry about, sir.  It was an old weapon.  Nothing out of the ordinary or too advanced for Garshaw to have a fit over."

"Does this weapon have anything to do with your headache?"

"It's what gave it to me."

"I see."  He didn't, really, but somehow he didn't think that was important at the moment.  "Did something happen with the weapon?"

Daniel opened his mouth as if to speak, and then closed it as if he couldn't find the right words.  A few of the same repeated movements, and finally, he said "Yes, sir.  A lot of things happened.  For a few moments, I wasn't there.  It was like I was on the inside looking out again.  Like..."

"Like instinct took over?" Hammond suggested.

"No, sir.  Like habit took over.  I don't have many of Vaelen's instincts or abilities, just his memories."  Sometimes, he wished he could do what Vaelen did, then other times he wished he were just the old Daniel Jackson again.  He would never admit this to anyone, not even himself, but there were times when the thought of going to Cimmeria and walking through Thor's Hammer would dance just on the fringes of his consciousness.  He would quickly squash any mental whispers that even remotely suggested destroying the remains of the Kha'ti.  Vaelen fought against the utter destruction of his people, and Daniel wouldn't betray that sacrifice.  He turned back to the Stargate, using it as a focal point.  "For a few moments during the battle, it was like I was a host watching my symbiote do whatever it wanted and was powerless to stop it.  It was like I could almost hear Vaelen's voice.  I think that's significant, but I don't know why.  I do know I don't want to go through that again until I can figure out why it happened, but I don't see my staying out of situations that bring it about."  But what about this kept bothering him?  Why?  It seemed as if the answer were right on the edge of his mind, tantalizing him to find it hiding somewhere behind a memory.

Hammond understood confusion, but he also knew that for the young man standing before him, confusion was an enemy to be fought.  Something was definitely troubling him.  Hammond sensed that Daniel didn't know what it was.  Perhaps he was thinking that the SGC was not the best place for him any longer.  Perhaps he truly was older than the Tau'ri.  Hammond hoped not.  He did not want to lose the best archaeologist on the planet.

Hammond was spared further introspection when he heard the other members of SG-1 approaching.  "I don't know what to tell you, son, only that we'll support whatever decision you make.  If you need some time off --"

"No, sir, but thank you.  It's hard to explain, but this is where I want to be.  I think here is where I'll find the answers.  What I need is to be able to do my job without interference."

The reference to the Tok'ra did not go unnoticed by the General.  He agreed wholeheartedly.  Perhaps future events would help with this situation.  In any case, he had a debriefing to conduct.  Hammond made a mental note to start looking through the Tok'ra/Tau'ri Alliance agreement and find a loophole that might keep his first team working harmoniously with the Tok'ra while keeping the Tok'ra at a respectable distance from his first team.  He didn't want relations deteriorating past the point of retrieval.

The debriefing was anything but quiet and orderly.  Keeping up with Colonel O'Neill and Major Carter's point/counterpoint discussion interspersed with Teal'c's subtle commentary would have been a stenographer's worst nightmare.  The only missing element was the Jack O'Neill/Daniel Jackson rapid fire verbal sparring that was such a trademark of their friendship and working relationship.  Of course, on the rare occasions when the two were in agreement, only one needed to speak.  This was one such occasion.

"There's no such thing as cooperation when we work with the Tok'ra, sir.  They're always after their own agenda and using us as cannon fodder."  O'Neill was in rare form, and Hammond was exhibiting an even rarer concession by allowing his second-in-command to vent his frustration freely.  "They lied to us from the very beginning, sir.  This reportedly small Goa'uld outpost with maybe one Goa'uld and fifty Jaffa guarding a supply of weapons grade naquada turned out to be seven Goa'ulds and their fricking armies with advanced weapons and an even more advanced ship going to join up with Apophis!"

"Colonel, I understand your feelings on this matter --"

"Do you, sir?  Meaning no disrespect, General, the only reason we found out what the Tok'ra were really after was because Daniel knew that the little guy -- what's his name?"

"Oltis," Daniel answered behind half-closed eyes.  The headache still pounded between his ears.  He poured himself another cup of coffee, wishing that it were the miracle cure for headaches.  Actually, if Jack would just stop shouting...

"Yeah, Oltis was lying.  Something about him stuttering every time he lies.  Seems that none of the Tok'ra were too thrilled about the fact Daniel was there and suggested that he return to Earth.  When they wouldn't say why, Daniel played hardball.  He got the whole story out of Oltis.  The Tok'ra could have told us they only wanted to steal that damn ship and that they were planning to use us as the distraction.  An expendable distraction, too.  No one said anything about some minor System Lords wanting to team up with Apophis.  No one said anything about hundreds of Jaffa training at that base.  We ditch the head Goa'uld, and then we're on our own fighting what's left while the Tok'ra steal that damn ship and run off with their snaky butts tucked between their legs.  The soldiers at the Alamo had better odds than we did."

"But you did make it back alive, Colonel.  With minimum casualties.  I'd say you fared better than the defenders of the Alamo."

"Only because we had a weapon the Goa'uld didn't know about."  O'Neill muttered, still angry about the entire mission.

"And that weapon was --- ?"

Carter answered.  "A multi-grid frequency oscillation dispersal unit, sir."

Of course.  What else could it have been?  "And what is that exactly?"  Hammond asked his first team, thinking it must have been the weapon Daniel had mentioned.

"An ingenious weapon utilized by small attack groups involved in guerilla warfare, General Hammond," Teal'c offered.  A look of admiration was on his face as he told Daniel, "I had never before seen the weapon used in such an effective manner."

Hammond looked completely baffled.  "Would someone care to explain exactly what this weapon is?"

Daniel pulled the device out from his pocket where he had kept it hidden.  As per the agreement with the Tok'ra, the ribbon device would have to be back in its original state before being turned over to the armory.  Hiding smaller items in his pocket was the only way he had found to keep certain curious colonels from accidentally finding them and discovering how they operated.  "It was the weapon I told you about, General.  I used a simple trick a lot of guerilla units use.  You take a ribbon device, manually boost the power output with the power cell from a staff weapon, change it from a directed beam to a wide dispersal pattern, and let it fire.  It's powerful enough to knock out anything in a 90-degree arc that's less than a few hundred feet from the source.  Once the majority of the Jaffa were down, the teams didn't have a lot of trouble getting to the rest of them."

"The Goa'uld didn't like it anymore than the Jaffa did when we came tearing over the hill and wiped them out," O'Neill added.  "In short, sir, they ain't no Goa'uld no more, and the Tok'ra were absolutely no help."

Hammond released a sigh.  It wasn't just SG-1 who was becoming increasingly less patient with some of the mission objectives lately.  Everything was fine as long as the teams only had to depend on themselves, but when the Tok'ra were involved on a large scale, things had a way of deteriorating rapidly.  And lately, the Tok'ra had been more and more willing to work with the Tau'ri.  Hammond knew that Garshaw was behind this.  In her eyes, this was the only way to get the last laugh on Vaelen.  By keeping a Tok'ra presence on as many missions as she could, Garshaw was going to make sure that Daniel did not give anyone any advanced technology even though she not only had Daniel's assurances to keep what secrets he had secret but also General Hammond's word that he would never ask for the designs of any item that could be considered technologically advanced.  Well, he hadn't asked, Daniel had not really given out any secret designs for new weapons, and what she didn't know wouldn't hurt them.  But, command imperatives and diplomatic assurances dictated that he had to ask.  "Doctor Jackson, is it safe for me to assume that the Tok'ra operatives left early in the fight and are not aware that you built this weapon?"

"It's safe, General."

"And you would not consider this a breach of your agreement with the Tok'ra not to give us youngsters any advanced weaponry?"

"No, sir.  This isn't advanced.  We've studied a lot of Goa'uld technology like ribbon devices and staff weapons, and Sam has been experimenting with them to see what happens when she uses alternate power sources.  I just did a live experiment with her research without telling her that the Kha'ti had already researched this particular possibility."

"This will have to be documented, of course," Hammond said quickly.

"It's in our report, sir," Sam answered smugly.  "Dated, signed, initialed and in triplicate.  No one can raise any objections over what happened."

"They'll try," O'Neill grumbled softly.  At Hammond's look of reproach, Jack backed off.

Hammond held in a grin. He didn't need his best people to know how amused he was at their ability to walk the fine line between following orders and keeping agreements.  Yes, Daniel had technically kept his promise, but he wasn't fooling anyone.  There wasn't any way he was going to stand by and watch people die when he had the knowledge to save them especially after they had been left to die by the Tok'ra, the very people who put them in the situation in the first place.  Hammond was going to have a long talk with Garshaw about this.  First the Tok'ra complain about Daniel risking his life and Vaelen's memories in suicide missions, and then they leave him and the rest of the SG teams to die on an alien battleground.  Forget a long talk.  Maybe they should have a very long, very loud argument -- no. Not a good idea.  If it just weren't for that damned interplanetary diplomacy, Hammond could have a field day.

"Did anything else happen that I need to know about?"  Hammond pressed the team.  Knowing glances and raised eyebrows told the General that more happened during the battle than would be written in the report.  "Who'd like to volunteer?"

Sam cleared her throat, and looked apologetically at Daniel.  "When Daniel used the ribbon device to stop the Jaffa, he.." she sought the correct terminology, "vaelened out, sir."

"Vaelened out?"  That one word was beginning to have a great many meanings to the small group sitting around the desk.  The discomfort in the room was a palpable feeling.  Was this part of what had been bothering Daniel earlier?  "I know I'm going to regret this, but what exactly does that mean in this particular context?"

"Glowing eyes, weird voice," Jack answered him in a distracted voice, his attention anything but distracted.

"Doctor Jackson?"  Hammond got the scientist's attention.  "Any explanations?"

"Not exactly, General.  Sam thinks that maybe the technology used in items like the ribbon device drags..." this time he searched for the right words, "Vaelen's DNA?... to the surface."

Hammond thought this through for a moment.  "You reacted to the device the same way you did with General Thayer's sarcophagus?"

"Yes, sir.  Only it was a lot more painful."

Painful?  That word was an understatement for the pain the General had witnessed Daniel suffering through.  Ever since Daniel and Jack had revealed the secret of what had happened when Daniel was released from the sarcophagus, Hammond had been concerned about the political, diplomatic and military ramifications of possessing such an ability whether it was controlled or not.  For those reasons alone, only the five of them and Doctor Fraiser knew the truth, and all had agreed to keep the secret for the time being.  Agreement be damned.

"General," Sam added hopefully, "since the ribbon device is controlled by the wearer, it is possible that Daniel could duplicate the effect without the technology if we could isolate the exact --."

"We've already tried, Sam," Daniel interrupted her.  "I can't vaelen out on my own.  It's only happened with an overpowered Goa'uld gadget."

"It would be advantageous if you could control this ability, Daniel Jackson," Teal'c suggested.  "Other Goa'ulds sense a symbiote within you.  There have been occasions when --"

"Yes, Teal'c, I know."  This was an old argument, one that Daniel had held with himself time and time again.  "There have been times when my passing for a Goa'uld would have saved us a lot of time and trouble.  There have been times when my passing for a Goa'uld could have sped up the mission."  How could he explain this to people who had little to no basis for reference?  "There's a reason I can't control it, and I don't know what it is.  I can feel myself when I'm vaelening out, I know how it's happening, but I can't make it happen on my own.  There's something blocking it out."

Sam's head jerked up at that Freudian slip.  "You've never said that before," she noticed.

"Said what?" Daniel asked her.

"That the ability is blocked.  What do you mean?"

Daniel shrugged his shoulders.  "I don't know.  That's what it feels like."

Jack could see the wheels turning in the two scientists' eyes.  He could almost hear the next scientific conversation they would have covering the methods used in recovering blocked memory.  He didn't think that was a good idea, at least with him in the room.  "Before we start waxing psychological, is there anything else we need to go over?  Anything not having to do with scientific mumbo jumbo?"

No one volunteered anything.

General Hammond seemed as pleased as Colonel O'Neill.  Those scientific discourses between Major Carter and Doctor Jackson occasionally went too far over his head.  "Good.  Then, shall we --"

The klaxons started to sound throughout the structure.  There were no teams due back.  The General and SG-1 quickly headed for the control room.

Lieutenant Harriman was watching the rapidly aligning frequency indicator to determine if the incoming signal was friendly.  "General, it's the Tok'ra signal.  Transmission only."

A few moments later, the decoded transmission was there for all to hear.  The Tok'ra High Council was sending a representative to discuss the events on P7L-525.  Due to the many commitments currently engaged in by their forces, the representative could not be spared from his duties for a few days but would arrive at the SGC before the end of the week.

"Well, that's something to look forward to.  This is going to be a rotten week," Jack quipped.  "And to think I've always liked the weekends."

"We've done this before, Colonel," General Hammond told him.  "This is, what, the eighth time they've wanted to discuss a mission?  We'll give them their copies of the reports, duly censored so none of our security is breached, and hold the obligatory meeting as usual."

"This is getting ridiculous," Daniel said, not realizing he had spoken aloud.

"Doctor Jackson?"

"Sorry, General.  I know, it's the terms of the agreement.  I'm just sorry there has to be an agreement about me with the Tok'ra."

"It's not your fault, son."  No, it wasn't Doctor Jackson's fault.  It was the fault of over-inflated egos camped on all sides of the situation.  Daniel was not a victim, he had refused to allow himself to be one, but he truly was the only innocent bystander in the drama.

 

**************************************************

 

Doctor McElhannon gripped the telephone in frustration.  He knew how to do his job, hearing some pencil pusher explain to him how to do his job was almost insulting, even if the person on the other end of the phone was his superior.

"Yes, sir...I know...They've only just returned today.....General Hammond will make the schedule, but I don't think I'll be seeing any of them until Monday at the earliest....They were in a battle today, sir.....No, sir....None of them came back to Earth in body bags....With all due respect, sir, I'm here to do a job, but I am at the mercy of their schedules....Yes, sir, I'll keep you informed."

He took this assignment because of the incredible opportunity to study survivors of near death experiences, not just to undermine SG-1.  His interests were not going to be compromised by anyone, not even the Organization.

 

**************************************************

 

Meeting in the commissary for a midnight snack....

"Do you think maybe we could be off-world when he shows up?"  Jack asked his team as he viciously cut the pie into triangular pieces. Mmmm, coffee and chocolate pie.  Just the thing to make you feel better when you're really pissed off.  This was only the fourth chocolate pie they had stolen from the commissary that month.  Twice it had been apple.  Once it was blueberry.  The kitchen staff had begun leaving extra pies in the refrigerator after SG-1's third kitchen raid.  No one at the SGC was slow on the uptake.

Jack knew the question was pointless.  They knew they had to be there to speak with the Tok'ra, but there were some psychological advantages to making them wait for a change.

"There aren't many legitimate reasons for us to be anywhere but here on time, sir," Sam answered sadly.  "Last time, we were able to use Cassandra's school play as the reason to be late, but the Tok'ra just waited for us to show up.  I don't think we'll be able to pull that stunt again."

"We are scheduled for a mission to PB8-346 on Thursday.  Perhaps we should extend our stay there," Teal'c suggested between bites of pie.

Sam nodded her head in agreement.  "Preliminary reports show a variety of indigenous plant and animal life as well as strong indications of a previous settlement.  I don't believe General Hammond would mind if we ran extra tests along with the mineral survey.  That could take up a little time.  At least an extra day or two."

Jack snatched the largest piece of pie for himself.  "That's provided he still lets us go anywhere this week.  He's about as eager to play the happy host with the Tok'ra as we are.  The only time we get a break is when they let Jacob come."

Daniel reached over to the counter and picked up the coffee pot.  "I don't think Garshaw wants Jacob coming anymore.  She doesn't think he's objective enough."

"You mean Selmac's not objective enough," Jack said as he shoved his cup over to the coffee pot for Daniel to fill.  "Seems to me that since Selmac and Vaelen were pretty tight, Garshaw might be worried that the reports she gets from him aren't on the up-and-up.  Maybe Selmac's covering for us because of Vaelen."

"Well, we all know how honest the Tok'ra are," Daniel pointed out as he poured everyone coffee.  "Selmac's one of the good guys, but he can be unpredictable.  That's what Garshaw's afraid of.  I just don't think anyone's seen that side of him since Vaelen left the Tok'ra."

"Unpredictable?" Jack asked.  He would never call Selmac unpredictable, but he knew the introduction to a good story when he heard one.

"Yeah, and he'd kill me if I told you any of those stories.  Let's just say that Selmac and Vaelen had a similar history to Jacob and General Hammond.  A few bar room brawls here, a few misunderstandings with superiors there, the occasional willful display of creativity and disregarding orders....there's a very colorful history going on there."

"And you're not going to tell us any of it, are you?" Jack remarked.

"What?  And waste what little extortion material I've got?  No.  Dig up your own dirt."  He had to dodge the hand that tried to hit him in the back of the head.

Sam scooped up a bite of pie and asked, "Exactly how much dirt do you have on Garshaw?"

"Enough to bury her, but as long as she's not trying to put me in the Tok'ra version of the Witness Protection Program, I'll keep my mouth shut."  Was this Belgian chocolate?  The pie was delicious.  He needed more coffee, though.

Jack had worked out one contingency plan for that.  "Maybe you ought to write down everything you've got on her, and have General Hammond lock it up somewhere.  That way, if something ever happened to you --"

"You'd have everything you'd ever need to blackmail her?"  Daniel mockingly finished for him.  "You're the one that's always saying I've got too much work to do.  Between the Kha'ti project and all the translating I've got sitting on my desk that needs to be done and all the other little projects that keep cropping up, you want me to set all of that aside just so I can start on another project that gives you the heads up on their dirty laundry?"

Teal'c looked completely confused.  "Why would we wish to search through the Tok'ra's soiled garments?"

Jack just waved his hand at the Jaffa.  "Soiled garments, dirty laundry, dirt -- all means the same thing.  We want to know all the bad stuff they've done."

"And you would threaten to expose this information to force them to do as you wish?"

"That's what we call good, old-fashioned blackmail, Teal'c," Jack explained.

Amidst the conversation, Daniel glanced down at his coffee cup.  He swirled the liquid around, a memory dancing around his mind suddenly demanded attention.  What was it, something just beyond his reach, just past recognition.  He saw his reflection in the drink, his eyes slightly off-center as his thoughts started sifting through the massive filing system of his memory.  What was it about coffee?  The taste?  The smell?  No, something far less tangible but a good deal more obvious.  His thoughts found the memory buried almost as deeply as the nightmares he refused to let surface.  Coffee, pain, light, dark, pain, falling, climbing, pain, Vaelen, pain, freedom....

Oh, no.

No way.

Not coffee!

"Daniel Jackson, is something wrong?"  Teal'c asked him.  He saw the look on the young Tau'ri's face as sudden realization struck.

"It's the coffee."  Daniel continued holding the cup and gazing into it's murky depths.  "That's what's wrong."

Jack glanced at Sam, noticed her shrugging her shoulders, and glanced down into the coffee cup in question.  "I'll admit it's not the best on the market, but it runs a real close second.  Goes great with the pie."

"No, Jack, I think it's the coffee that keeps me from vaelening out on my own."  Daniel could see that Jack and Teal'c had no idea what he was talking about, but he saw the a look of understanding from Sam.  She put two and two together quickly.

"Of course.  The caffeine.  That was what affected Vaelen," she surmised rapidly.

"Okay, I'm officially lost here," Jack interrupted them.  "Anybody want to toss me a roadmap?"

Sam was smiling at the revelation.  "Remember when Vaelen drank the two cups of coffee, and that allowed Daniel to speak to us?" she asked him.

Just before the Dervan attack.  The first time Daniel had spoken to them in eight months.  "Yeah.  That's when we found out about Roberts being a bad guy.  What about it?"

"Our theory was that an energized body gives the host control over the symbiote.  That's understandable when you consider the effect on the host mind when a symbiote completely suppresses the host and takes control of the host's nervous system, thereby preventing the host from experiencing any tactile, auditory or visual stimulus whatsoever.  The host would instinctively seek out any type of stimulus because the human mind requires it in order to function properly.  It would actively seek out those neural pathways that would allow it to interface with the stimuli no matter what the extent.  When the symbiote has direct contact with the host's sensory network, the neural interface makes it much more sensitive to stimuli that we take for granted.  From what I've been able to learn, the symbiotes can't withstand great amounts of external pain, hence why they suppress themselves when struck by a zat gun blast, but they can filter out any causes of internal irritation depending on the strength of the host, symbiote and foreign substance.  I can't speak for the other groups of symbiotes, but Vaelen's reaction could suggest that the Kha'ti might have had a lower tolerance to ingested stimuli like caffeine because of the host's terminated condition, perhaps producing the same effect as a massive distribution of external stimuli like a zat gun blast.  You realize, of course, that I can only theorize about that since we only have the one event and no quantifiable data to --"

"Carter!"  Jack stopped her mid-sentence.  Scientists!  "The coffee?"

"Yes, sir.  That time, caffeine energized Daniel enough to emerge and forced Vaelen below.  If our theory is right, caffeine must keep Vaelen's...contributions...subjugated chemically so it can only be brought out by technological means.  Without the caffeine --"

"Danny could vaelen out whenever he wanted?" Jack asked, almost happy that he could follow that thread of scientific logic.

"Perhaps." Sam was already thinking ahead. "Caffeine may be only one of the mitigating factors that blocks Daniel's control."

"Then why is he so strong?  Isn't being able to bench press Buicks a symbiote thing?"

"Not quite, sir," Sam tried to explain.  "In the briefest terms --"

"Yes, by all means, be brief," O'Neill begged.

"Daniel's physical strength is not a randomly occurring factor like glowing eyes or a secondary physical adaptation like the double voice.  It's a constant factor, not exactly something he has to willfully control.  It just...is.  For instance, we don't control our involuntary muscle action.  Many of Daniel's abilities may be voluntary, therefore beyond his control due to his energized state because of the caffeine.  We've only witnessed a few minor physical similarities Daniel's experienced that are comparable to a blended human, but we haven't considered them to be much more than byproducts.  It could be that Daniel is unconsciously trying to control the voluntary physical aspects Vaelen left him."

Jack, of course, had to press his advantage.  "And this means, what?"

Daniel knew the answer. He knew even before he had spoken up about the coffee.  He knew the risks.  So did Sam, and it was evident in the way she was grinning.  She was enjoying this!  Did any one of them realize that his worst fear was that he could be dragged back to the dark depths of his mind if he wasn't energized?  He may remember very little about that time if any of the memories actually survived, but he was sure he wouldn't have liked it if he did remember them.  That was one of the reasons he was drinking so much more coffee than he ever had before, just because of a simple, irrational paranoia that all of their medical science would have proven meaningless.  Even if his fear was rooted in his imagination, it was still very real to him.  "There's no way, Sam.  Forget it.  I'll do a lot of things.  I've done a lot of things.  I've fought and died.  I've walked right into firefights, but there is no way I'm giving up coffee.  There are some sacrifices I just won't make."

Sam pleaded with him.  "It wouldn't be for long, Daniel.  Maybe just two days?  We can attempt a few controlled experiments.  Please.  It's worth a try."

Daniel only stared at his friend.  He knew she was right.  He had to try to control all aspects of Vaelen's legacy, even the ones that worried him.  But no coffee?  For two days?  He thought for a moment, turning the problem over in his mind.

Did the benefits outweigh the inconvenience?  Maybe.

Could he have a little fun with this or would he be the one being tormented?  Probably both.

Could he manage two days without his favorite drink?  Yes, he could.

Okay, he was a big enough individual to make the sacrifice, but it was going to cost them.  "Two days?  All right, I can go two days without coffee.  I've done it before.  But I don't want to hear one word out of anybody when the caffeine withdrawal starts kicking in."

Sam had to bring up one more thing that Daniel hadn't considered.  "And no sugar or chocolate, either.  After tonight, I mean.  That would also artificially energize you."

Whoa.  That was more than Daniel was even willing to consider.  "No coffee?  Fine.  No chocolate, I'm telling you, Sam -- them's fighting words.  What am I supposed to eat over the next two days?"

"You might want to try eating real food.  Vegetables, fruits, breads, meats.  There are four food groups other than caffeine and chocolate."  Sam didn't cringe at the look Daniel gave her.  They knew his eating habits well enough.  They had kidded him about them many times.  "Daniel, please, just two days.  After that, I'll buy you all the Starbuck's coffee you can drink."

Daniel refilled his cup again, daring Sam to say one word.  She did say 'no more after tonight,' so he'd better drink as much as he could and enjoy it.  "I'll hold you to that, you know."

"I know.  Just don't bankrupt me."

 

**************************************************

 

Sunday morning, after midnight

The plane continued on course to New Mexico.  Gus had given the pilot orders to take the most indirect path to Santa Fe and to take his time getting there.  Hopefully, if anyone were keeping track of his movements, this would keep them wondering at his actions.  Gus did enjoy confusing everyone.  He didn't like being confused, however.  He kept rereading several mission reports.  So much was so unbelievable, and he truly hated the planetary designations.  Hadn't the military ever heard of location names?  Those designations made keeping up with the missions and events extraordinarily difficult.  Still, he plowed through the massive amounts of paperwork, taking copious notes as he went, tying them in to the charges set against General Hammond.  There was so much information in the reports that Gus wanted to read before landing and switching planes.  It was a subtle subtext to his plan, but when he flew into Colorado, he was going in style, not on some borrowed military transport.  Besides, he wasn't going into the SGC for a couple of days yet.  He had time to read all of the reports and make himself appear as a Pentagon flunky at the same time.

Gus was rather amused at Curt's occasional "Do you believe this?" and "Whoa!"  Curt had already perused the reports from the beginnings of the SGC and a few more current ones.  Mission report after mission report was imbued with the almost daredevil stunts committed by the SG teams in order to stay one step ahead of the Goa'uld.  SG-1 seemed to have the most eventful reports.  Several times, Curt just looked up at Gus, utter disbelief showing plainly on his face, and all Gus could say was "I know.  I know."

Curt finished the report on Apophis' attack that had been subverted by SG-1.  Going against orders and following the symbols Daniel Jackson brought back from the alternate universe, SG-1 stopped an all out attack from Apophis, Klorel and two pyramid ships with not much more than guts and grenades.  The story was one of the many incredible ones that Curt had perused.  "Gus, do you have any idea what we're walking into here?  These people are too cagey to let you pull a scam on them.  They'll submarine you before you can sit down."

Gus placed the file he had just finished back onto one of the piles of folders stacked around the plane.  "I've thought about that.  I've run through a lot of scenarios, and there's only one I can see working.  I'm only worried about the collateral damage."

"How do we minimize it?"

Gus thought for a moment, and then picked up the satellite telephone.  "You can't damage something if it knows you're coming," he said as he started dialing.  "Guess I'd better make a phone call."

 

**************************************************

 

Early Sunday morning, SGC

Daniel knocked on the General's door and waited for the expected "Come in."  He opened the door to find Jack there as well.  The expressions on their faces were not happy ones.  Did he walk in on a conversation he shouldn't have?  "Oh.  Sorry.  I can come back if..."

"No, Doctor Jackson, come in."  The General waved his hand motioning him to enter the rest of the way.  "Actually, I'd be grateful for any reason to postpone our conversation for a few moments.  We were just about to discuss some unpleasant things."

"Unpleasant?" Jack echoed.  "Why do I think that's an understatement."  Jack surreptitiously laid a folder under his chair hoping that Daniel didn't see it.  It wouldn't be a good turn of events if Daniel saw that they were hiding his medical file before either of them knew why the General had given it to him.  Even though Daniel probably had seen the move, he didn't say anything.  "I was telling the General about the little experiment you and Carter are gonna try, and he told me that since we've seemed to have forgotten that it's a Sunday and that we're supposed to have the day off and we're all on base, we're gonna have a team meeting in about thirty minutes.  The experiment sounded like a lot more fun."

"A meeting?"  Daniel asked them as he walked into the office.  The General's expression depicted more than just ordinary base business.  "Something else has happened?"

"Oh, yeah," Jack muttered angrily.  "The General says that we'll love it when we hear about it, but he's not going to spoil it for us.  He was going to tell us yesterday, but he thought maybe we had had enough excitement for one day.  Now he says we'll have to wait for the meeting."  A guarded acknowledgement passed between the two officers, but nothing else was said on the matter.  Jack decided that another subject needed to be broached quickly.  "We did get into an interesting discussion about what to do with our little friend in the infirmary.  Maybe you could explain to the General our ultimate plans for Nuisance?"  There had been a quick change of subject.  Both men looked too serious to have been humorously discussing the symbiote.  Daniel played along.

"You mean the plan where you want to take it fishing?"

"Yeah.  That one.  The General doesn't like that idea very much, but it might be how I explained it."

Daniel sat down in the chair next to Jack.  "Exactly how did he explain it to you, sir?"

"Colonel O'Neill mentioned something about fulfilling a life mission, but he fumbled the words a bit."

Jack elbowed Daniel in the arm.  "So you explain it to him."

In a mock lecture tone, Daniel said, "Jack and I were discussing the purpose of life in general, but the discussion wound its way to determining the purpose and ultimate destiny of Goa'ulds."

Figuratively speaking, the General almost fell out of his chair in astonishment.  The very idea that Colonel O'Neill would talk about a subject that profound was mind-boggling.  "The purpose of life?"

Daniel nodded his head.  "Yes, sir.  Actually, we were talking about how life is too short to not have any fun, how a bad day fishing is better than a good day at work, things like that...anyway, we couldn't come up with any particular reason why the Goa'ulds exist or which link they inhabit on the food chain, so Jack thought of something that would give a symbiote's life some meaning."

"Some direction," Jack added.

"He thinks that they might make good fish bait, and he wants to test his theory on Nuisance."

"Only because Garshaw isn't available," Jack mumbled under his breath.

"Wanna bet?" Daniel asked him.  "You wouldn't believe what Vaelen knew about her."

"Doctor Jackson --" the General started, almost appalled at Daniel's remark.

"And it is a good theory, sir," Daniel jokingly interrupted.  "And I know the perfect place to try it out.  There's a river back home on Abydos where the fish grow as long as your arm.  They'll take just about any bait you want to throw at them."

"As long as your arm?" Jack asked.

"Colonel O'Neill --" the General tried again.

"Why wasn't I told about this river?" Jack asked his friend.

"Because then we'd be going to Abydos every weekend.  Not that I'd mind that, I miss the place, but you could wear out your welcome pretty fast.  The last time you were there, you insulted the baker.  That's not really a problem, but my house is down the street from him, and I'd like to stay friends with my neighbors.  You were my guest.  That makes you my responsibility.   If he gets too mad at me, I won't ever be able to barter bread from him again, and I'll have to go back to grinding my own flour.  That's hard work, you know."

"Since when have you ever ran from hard work?" Jack chided him.  "I thought you thrived on the stuff."

"Gentlemen!" General Hammond stopped the discussion right then and there.  "While I agree that using Nuisance as fish bait is a rather amusing notion, we can't lose the only chance we've got to experiment on a live Goa'uld.  Doctor Fraiser has discovered a great deal about symbiote physiology, biology and neurology.  I should let the two of you read the reports she's sent me.  She's even suggested developing a bacteria that kills the symbiote while it leaves the host alive, and should we be so fortunate as to develop such a weapon, we might need Nuisance to test it on before experimenting on a blended host.  I'm afraid you'll have to try your fishing experiment with another symbiote."

Jack leaned over to Daniel and loudly whispered, "See?  I told you he didn't like it much."

An amused twinkle sparkled in Daniel's eyes.  "The General?  No, look at the expression on his face.  He loves the idea.  I think he's just angry because he didn't think of it himself."

The General watched the pair as they continued their good-natured conversation even if they were jokingly aiming at him.  Verbal cues again.  Jack had mentioned something just out of the ordinary stream of conversation, and Daniel had no choice but to pick up on it.  He had known for some time that some of these Jackson/O'Neill debates were for his amusement.  It was an old game for them.  Keep the General happy, and everybody's happy.  These two were successful in that endeavor.  "Colonel, I'm sure Doctor Jackson did not come in here to discuss fishing trips with you.  What can I do for you, son?"

Right.  The point of the visit.  Hammond was not going to like this, not one little bit.  "Um, General, I'm afraid I have some unpleasant news for you.  I can't tell you very much because I don't have all the information yet, but I received a phone call last night from someone I didn't even know was involved with the Stargate project.  He's an old friend of mine, been in the military for thirty years.  I've known him since I was a kid."  Daniel glanced at the two men, the knowledge of what he had to tell them becoming an old tale.  "He warned me that there's going to be another attempt to take over the SGC by the same group that tried before, only this time, they're using a method that might actually work."

"What?"  Jack exclaimed angrily, his voice raising in volume and pitch.  "Again?  What's with these guys?  You'd think they'd get a clue.  Who told you this?"

"Colonel," Hammond admonished him, his own voice growing louder.  "Anger won't help.  Doctor Jackson, exactly what were you told, and who told you?"

Daniel winced at the loud voices.  This headache just wasn't going away fast enough, but at least it was going away.  It was just the loud noises that bothered him.  "This friend of mine is the brother of a foster mother Erin O'Malley and I lived with when we were 15 years old.  Actually, he's the one who talked the foster care people into letting us stay with his sister and brother-in-law.  He's been stationed at the Pentagon off and on for the last several years.  He doesn't officially exist so I can't tell you who he is.  The last time I saw him was a little over a year and a half ago when I went to a surprise party for his sister.  Actually, it was about a month before I got killed.  Anyway, he said that the same group that tried before is going to try again.  The first thing they're doing is sending in a mole, and he may already be here.  My friend didn't know who it was, though.  He said his contact decided that secrecy was the better part of a successful mission.  The mole's supposed to cause some problems for SG-1."

"That's original," Jack said sarcastically.  "When weren't these bozos trying to cause trouble with us?"

"This mole's supposed to be a professional troublemaker," Daniel told him quickly.

"He said the first thing's the mole, huh?  What was the second thing the bad guys are planning?" Jack grumbled.

Daniel shrugged.  "I don't know.  The conversation didn't last that long."

Hammond stood and gazed at the two men, all traces of jocularity gone from them.  He saw annoyance in a set of brown eyes and blue eyes.  They were so tired of this.  It was about to begin again.  Round 3.  Maybe they could prove that the 'three times and you're out' theory actually worked.  "Doctor Jackson, can this informant of yours be trusted?"

"I wouldn't trust him with my spare change, but I would trust him with my life.  He has connections, and people know not to lie to him.  The results aren't pleasant, if you take my meaning.  If he says they're coming, then they're coming."

"Did he say what we can expect?" Jack asked him.

"He said he'll tell me more later.  It was a very short conversation, Jack.  He didn't want it to be traced back to him.  He could only give me the warning.  That's why I'm here."

Hammond sat down on the edge of his desk, acting very un-General-like.  "To tell me something that you don't have all the information on yet?"

"Yes, sir."

"There's more, isn't there?" Hammond knew Daniel well enough to know when he wasn't being completely forthcoming.

"I honestly don't know, sir." Daniel was definitely telling the entire truth with that statement, but he seemed genuinely puzzled.  "For him to have called me.....I don't understand how my friend's involved or how he got the information.  I know he's not involved with the conspirators, so he might have heard the news from someone on the fringes.  How reliable would that information be?"

"I don't think that really matters," the General told him, his hopes that they had sufficiently, adequately and temporarily derailed the conspirators last time now just a pipedream.  "If they are coming, then we have the advantage of being warned beforehand.  We just have to make sure we don't lose that advantage."

Jack shifted in his seat, trying to find a more comfortable position.  "I hate to bring this up, but why didn't this friend of yours warn us before the bad guys shot you last year?"

"He only recently became involved with the Stargate Project and didn't know about the conspiracy until now.  The last time I even knew where he was assigned was a few months before I got shot.  He was on a special assignment.  Now, he's been transferred back to the Pentagon and assigned to us."  Daniel could read the disbelief that Jack was trying to hide.  "He's not lying, Jack.  He's one of the good guys.  He saved my life once.  Besides, if he let anything happen to me, his sister would kill him."

Jack wasn't reassured by Daniel's confidence in this unknown informant.  No one knew who was on who's side or what this person would do or that person would say or who would be aiming the gun at the back of someone's head.  It was deja vu all over again.  Then, something Daniel said suddenly registered with Jack.  "Wait a minute.  Why does it surprise you that your friend called?  If he is your friend and working at the Pentagon and discovering another conspiracy, why wouldn't he call?"

Daniel considered his answer for a moment.  For a very long moment.  There were very few times when Daniel was speechless, but this was one of them.  When he didn't say anything, Hammond answered for him.  "You can't tell us very much about him, can you?  You said he doesn't officially exist, and, I realize I'm stretching logic here, but the only Earth related event you haven't been allowed to tell us about is your expedition to Peru where you first crossed paths with Thayer.  You can't tell us about your friend because he's somehow involved with Peru, isn't he?"

When Daniel didn't answer, Hammond knew he had hit the nail on the head.  Both Hammond and Jack had tried to convince Daniel that whatever he told them would remain secret, but Daniel had expressed his opinion that if we were to tell them a secret he had been ordered to keep quiet about, how would they ever be able to trust him with any sensitive information ever again?  They couldn't argue with him.  When Daniel was right, he was right.

"The truth is, General, I just don't know what's going on yet, and I don't know how all of this is going to connect with what happened in Peru." Daniel said sorrowfully.  "I don't know who or what we're dealing with.  We may not know until they make their move.  Until then, we just have to wait.  I think it's a good thing that Erin and Captain Hendricks are on a mission with SG-9 right now.  If this does have something to do with Peru, there's no point in placing them in danger."

Daniel, the sacrificial lamb, had offered himself up for the altar again.  If the events in Peru were contributing factors to this next takeover attempt like they had been in the past, Daniel was prepared to deal with the dangers himself and protect any others.  Jack was constantly amazed at the lengths Daniel would go to protect someone.  "The only other person to have survived Peru was that sergeant.  What about him?"

"My friend said not to worry about him."

"And we're just supposed to believe this mysterious friend of yours just like that?"

Daniel didn't look hurt, like Jack was not believing just...because.  He understood the mistrust for anything and anyone representing an unknown variable in the equation.  "I can believe him just like that.  I know this guy.  I trust him."

Jack nodded his head, and then turned to Hammond and said, "That's good enough for me, sir."

Hammond thought long and hard about this one.  Daniel trusted this informant, the General trusted Daniel.  So many pieces of the same old puzzle lay scattered before Hammond, the pieces constructing a terrible mosaic that he had seen before.  This all went back to Peru.  There was a missing piece of the puzzle as yet uncovered, and even Daniel didn't know what it was.  Or at least he wasn't telling.  Yet....sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith when someone you trust is trusting someone else.

"And to think my mother wanted me to be a lawyer," Hammond commented quietly to himself.

Jack suddenly found a string hanging from his sleeve very interesting.  Daniel had found a button on his shirt just as fascinating.  It was them versus the conspirators again.  Same old, same old.  No idea who the players were, no clue about the rules, not an inkling of the danger they knew would be coming their way very soon.  Just the old 'wait and let the bad guys make the first move' routine.  It was an old routine.  Law school really didn't sound bad to anyone right then.

"Did your friend give you any good news?" Hammond asked him quietly.

Daniel's face lit up in that 'I just heard something, and I can't believe what it was' expression.  "Just that we've got one card up our sleeve that we don't know about yet."

Jack yanked at the string that had his full attention.  It broke off with a loud snap.  "Good thing I didn't make any plans this weekend.  Looks like we're gonna be real busy.  Mission to PB8-346, Tok'ra rep, another attempted takeover, yep, real busy.  Don't think I've got room to pencil anything else in."

"Could be worse," Daniel warned him.

"Mind telling me how?" Jack asked angrily.

"The accounting department might have scheduled their audit for this week instead of last week."

"Good point." Jack agreed.  He had spent two days explaining SG-1 expenses to the accountants.  All the expenses for minor items like first aid kits seemed to be a major topic of conversation.  "So, what do we do this time?  Play cards and twiddle our thumbs until they decide to hit us like last time or make the preemptive strike?"

"The problem is we don't know who's coming for us or when.  Last time, we knew it was Thayer.  This time, it could be anybody," Daniel reasoned.  "Thayer was able to evacuate a lot of people when he left Earth, but that may have been mostly muscle.  There's no way to know who was left here, what their agenda is, and none of the prisoners we caught wanted to tell us any information."

Jack couldn't help but think about their last confrontation with the would-be revolutionaries.  They had waited for the bad guys to make the first move and had been taken by surprise when Daniel was kidnapped not only for Vaelen's knowledge but revenge as well.  He had a feeling that the reasoning behind this takeover attempt wouldn't be so cut-and-dried.  He hoped he was wrong.  Before, Thayer had needed Vaelen's knowledge in order to help establish their defenses on their off-world bases and gain a better knowledge of the Goa'uld.  This time, who knew?  It was a brand new ball game.  They couldn't be caught unaware again.  The fallout could be fatal for many.

Hammond's thoughts were running along the same lines as his second-in-command's.  "I was going to wait for the meeting to tell you this, but while you were attending to your mission on P7L-525, we received reports from our Allies concerning the resurgence of missing technology.  Certain items have just disappeared, and I mean that quite literally.  The disappearances started yesterday, and the items are presumed stolen.  Unfortunately, there haven't been any witnesses or any sightings of our unaccounted for military personnel."

"Oh, that's just great!  And I suppose we're supposed to go after them again?" Jack couldn't believe this was happening again!  Didn't these bad guys ever take vacations?

"No, Colonel.  This time, our Allies are quite content to track down their stolen items and the thieves themselves.  They're satisfied that the SGC is willing to go to any and all lengths to rectify such situations, but since this situation is obviously occurring out there," he waved his hand innocuously at the ceiling indicating space itself, "and not here on Earth, we won't be involved until the individuals have been captured.  We'll take custody of them and charge them with the appropriate violations."

Jack really couldn't believe what he was hearing.  "They trust us?"

Hammond understood all too well the irony of that statement.  "Yes, they do.  According to Jacob, we have a certain Kha'ti general and Tau'ri archaeologist to thank for that.  Vaelen had a following with many different cultures including the Tollan and the Asgaard.  Knowing that some vestige of Vaelen still exists inside the mind of a man who has proven himself to all of our Allies has helped our reputations a great deal."

If Daniel didn't owe Vaelen so much, he might have taken exception to what the General said, but he did owe Vaelen his life.  However, that didn't excuse the problem.  "They trust us now because I had Vaelen inside my head, not because of anything we've done."

"Makes you feel really appreciated, doesn't it?" Jack asked him.

Hammond didn't comment on Jack's snide remark.  "What concerns me is the thieves' behavior.  It was believed that the conspirators had decided to suspend their operations for a time.  Wait until things settle down a bit before resurfacing."

"Are you still thinking that all this quiet we've been hearing from the bad guys for the last few months was just a contingency plan, sir?" Jack asked him.

"Yes.  It makes sense, doesn't it?" Hammond commented.  It did make sense.  "They got caught before.  We know more about them than I'm sure they're comfortable with.  They would have had to restructure their internal network to maintain security and reestablish their primary objectives before making their next move."

"If they changed their primary objectives," Daniel said to himself.

That got the attention of the two older men in the room.  "Excuse me?"  Jack looked at the General, both of them knowing that what Daniel was suggesting wasn't exactly characteristic of your average conspirator.  They would have changed everything from security codes to the front door keys once they knew the SGC was on to them.

Daniel, however, was seeing the problem in a much broader sense than Jack or Hammond were.  He had a little more experience to draw from and a memory.....some memory.....he couldn't quite remember it.  This was something that had begun bothering him lately.  He had discovered a small pocket of memories he knew existed but couldn't access, but there was a solitary memory hiding in the shadows of his mind, and it held the key to so much.  He was sure.  Did it have something to do with the problem at hand?  He wasn't sure, but there was something....hidden....

He quickly broke that chain of thought and thought back to the matter at hand.  "Think about it," he explained to them.  "The conspirators' primary goal was and probably still is to set up a ring of off world bases to help protect the Earth from a Goa'uld attack.  I don't think they would've changed their minds about that.  According to Thayer, the bases were practically completed when they kidnapped me.  They could steal all the technology they wanted and smuggle the items here through the homemade Stargate or distribute what they stole to the other bases.  They can't contact their people on Earth anymore because they don't know if their homemade Stargate they used here on Earth is with their associates or with us.  They can't take the chance that we have it.  They must know that we have the homemade Stargate from PTX-952, but they would have written that base off because they're too smart to go back there since we know of its location.  Regardless, they must know by now that we can track the wormhole signal, so they won't take any chances by trying to contact their people.  It would give away their position.  Their associates on Earth can't allow that to continue, they can't afford being out of the loop for much longer, so they need us out of the way and both our Stargate and the two homemade ones to get back in business.  They'll be the ones controlling the traffic."

What Daniel said made sense.  Jack thought for a moment, "So in order to get back into a business they know that we know about, they're willing to try taking over again to start their business back up."

"Yes," Daniel agreed, wondering how they ever managed to have conversations with such confusing arrangements of words.  "If that's what they're doing, tactically speaking, it's a brilliant move.  Under normal circumstances, we wouldn't be expecting them to do that."

"No, we wouldn't," Hammond viciously agreed.  He had not considered that option.  He silently whispered a thank you to Vaelen and wondered if Daniel ever realized when he was relying on Vaelen's tactical knowledge and military experience.  "They know we'd be watching for them to make a completely different move."

"Right.  And from what we know about them, they would probably think that we wouldn't think they'd try the same thing twice." Jack's mind started swirling until he saw the frown on Daniel's face.  What else was Daniel thinking?  "Danny?  What else have you got?"

"I was thinking about how they were going to try taking over.  The first time they killed all the civilians and put their people in our place.  The second time, their people tried to cause a lot of problems between the civilians and the military while they regrouped and finished setting up their bases."

"Your friend said there was a mole here that was supposed to disrupt SG-1." Hammond concluded that this attack would be very specific, very well aimed.

"Similar methods each time," Daniel said absently.  "They create just enough dissension to keep everyone off balance while they put their people in position."  Daniel couldn't fathom the lack of imagination in their opponents' schemes.

"We can handle moles, sir," Jack assured the General.  "If what they've thrown at us already is any indication of the type of people they're recruiting, we'll be all right."

Hammond wasn't necessarily confident in that statement.  He knew his first team.  He knew they could weather any storm fate sent their way.  He wasn't sure what he would do if the conspirators decided to permanently separate members of SG-1 from the living.  He set his worries aside for the moment.  In some dark, adventuresome corner of their souls, SG-1 thrived on the dangerous and unexpected.  Goodness knows they dealt with it enough times.  As before, they were flying in the dark by the seat of their pants.  They didn't know what to expect or when to expect it.  At least they knew to expect something.

"If you say so, Colonel.  But I want all of you on your toes for this.  Be careful, but no heroics."

Both men readily agreed with him, and for a moment, he saw that all too familiar shadow fall across Daniel.  How much could one person endure before he faltered?  With any luck, this attack would not be targeted at Daniel.  Just once, Hammond hoped that the bad guys would change their objective.

Hammond saw his plaque of medals hanging on the wall over Daniel's head.  George had earned those medals, every one of them won by a heroic act of courage.  That sounded so strange.  He had heard once that a hero was just a scared person in an insane situation making a suicidal decision.  He'd done many things in his career and had been rewarded for them, but he had never considered himself any kind of a hero.  No, the real heroes were like the younger men sitting in front of him.  Those who survived the mighty onslaughts life and fate conspired to bring down upon them.  Those who didn't surrender to the forces that threatened to drag them to the depths of despair.  Those who purposefully trudged forward down the path knowing that certain death awaited them.  Those who dealt with these forces day in and day out and remained optimistic.  Daniel Jackson, a simple, humble man who had survived the very trials and tribulations that would have broken much stronger individuals, and Jack O'Neill, a man who carried more dark secrets in his past than the General was aware of and had moved through them to become one of the finest officers he had ever served with.  Here sat two of the truest heroes the General had ever encountered, ready to face battle once again on an unknown battlefield.  Hammond wished he had more soldiers like them under his command.  Just maybe not quite as trouble-prone.

"Have you told Major Carter and Teal'c about the phone call from your friend?" Hammond asked Daniel.

"No, sir.  I thought you needed to hear it first."

Military consideration coming from Doctor Daniel Jackson?  Would wonders never cease?  "We'll tell them in the meeting.  Along with all the other good news I have to share with you."  Hammond's phone rang, and he dismissed the two men with a wave of his hand.

"Good news?"  Daniel asked Jack now that they were out of the General's hearing range.

"An early morning attempt at sarcasm.  We've got more problems on the way.  Hammond wants to tell us all at the same time.  There's more heading our way than just another takeover attempt.  In case you couldn't tell, he wasn't too happy."

"I didn't think it was my imagination.  He did look a little angry."  Daniel led the way back to the debriefing room.  Surprisingly, the coffee pot had been removed.

"Uh, Jack --" Daniel started to say, but was interrupted mid-sentence.

"You agreed, Danny.  Two days, no coffee, no chocolate.  I just had all the coffee pots removed from your usual haunts here at the base.  Maybe if you can't smell it or see it, you won't want it as much."  That was sound reasoning, wasn't it?

What?  "Where did you get that idea from?"  Daniel asked him.  He wanted coffee so badly, he could chew coffee beans to get the caffeine.

"From Mama O'Neill's rulebook of raising kids.  It's the old 'out of sight, out of mind' theory."

Daniel almost wanted to slap that smug look off Jack's face.  This was going to be a lot harder than he thought.  "And have you ever known this theory to work?"

"Nope.  But I figured with me, Teal'c and Carter ready to tie you to a chair if you go near a coffee pot, you can handle it.  Just remember, there's always decaf."

Decaf?  Ugh.  "Gee, thanks a lot, Jack."

"That's what friends are for."

Meetings and paperwork were the lifeblood of the military.  Hammond had suffered through enough of them.  However, he was always amused by the many twists, turns and wordplay he enjoyed when talking with SG-1.  Even today, when the information wasn't good.

After the news of the upcoming takeover attempt had been argued through, Hammond delivered more bad news.  "People, yesterday I received a request from the White House to voluntarily submit the entire base to psychiatric evaluations."

"What?"  O'Neill blanched, his words sounding over his teams' moans.  Not the brain pickers again.  "General, I don't think there's a shrink alive today that's qualified to --"

"I don't believe qualifications are an issue, Colonel," Hammond interrupted him quietly.  "I was informed that this will be a quarterly event to gather information, and Doctor McElhannon is not here to evaluate individuals per se.  He's to get an overall view of what we go through here on a daily basis as well as conduct a personal study for his own research which is also of great interest to the people back in Washington.  The President is hoping that, in the years to come if the SGC is still in operation, we will have qualified psychiatric personnel who understand the nature of the work here available to any of the staff who might be in need of their help."

"We're lab rats?" Jack asked.

"Yes, Colonel.  We're lab rats."

"What are lab rats?" Teal'c asked.

"Test subjects," Carter answered him.  "They must think that testing all of the personnel that has Gate travel experience is a good way to gauge the stress levels and coping mechanisms we've developed over the last several years."

"McElhannon?"  Daniel asked.  The name was not familiar.  "Why not MacKenzie?"

"After Doctor MacKenzie's complete misdiagnosis of your Machello-induced schizophrenia, it seems no one here trusts him.  In fact, since that incident, only three people have agreed to see him even after being ordered to do so by their commanding officer."  Hammond did not mention the fact that these three people only saw MacKenzie because they were lying immobile in the Academy Hospital and couldn't get away from him.  "Doctor McElhannon wants to talk to the SG team members first, and with SG-1 in particular.  He would like to see the four of you individually as soon as possible and then together in a group setting."

No one volunteered.

"All right," Hammond almost regretted this, but... "Colonel O'Neill, why don't you and Major Carter talk to him tomorrow morning?"  The General noticed that Daniel kept pinching the bridge of his nose.  That headache wasn't going away any time soon.  He could buy Daniel a few extra hours, at least.  "Doctor Jackson and Teal'c can see him tomorrow afternoon.  I get the impression that Doctor McElhannon is a little nervous about meeting anyone not originally from this planet, and he seems a little too eager to meet Doctor Jackson."

"Too eager, sir?" Carter asked quickly before any of the others had a chance.

"Yes, and let's just say he's been asking too many unusual questions, Major."

"How unusual?" Jack pressed him, his overprotective instincts kicking in.  A psychiatrist being sent in from the Powers-That-Be who was specifically interested in interviewing Daniel did not provoke any friendly feelings.

Hammond glanced around to make sure that no one was in hearing range.  "Let's just say that they're not the types of questions I believe a psychiatrist should be asking."  The gazes he met were clearly telling him to go into a little more detail, please.  "They seem a bit odd to me.  He's asked about the weapons SG teams have been wounded by, not how many times the teams come back with wounded.  He's asked about who the teams have met through the Stargate, not what happens when they meet someone.  What has me concerned is his preoccupation with near death experiences."

That statement alone was enough to capture everyone's attention.

"Near death experiences are of great interest even to the Goa'uld," Teal'c added quietly.  "Those who have died and been revived in a sarcophagus have described great revelations during what they call transcendent sleep.  They believe that only the gods have the ability to continue on after death and wish to know what awaits them.  There are those among the Goa'uld researching many aspects of the experience even though it is considered a divine ascension."

"Great," Jack grunted.  "Even snakeheads have religious experiences.  Is nothing sacred?"

"It would depend on your viewpoint, sir," Carter slipped into her scientific mode.  "From what we've been able to learn from other cultures, most have a belief in an afterlife, and the reports of near death experiences are universal.  Many believe that the near death experience is merely the brain flooding the body with endorphins at the moment of death in an attempt to restart and sustain the life processes.  Others believe that it's the soul beginning on the final path only to be brought back because it wasn't that person's time to die.  Some have stated that it's the separate consciousness remerging with the collective consciousness.  It would seem that regardless of ancestry, there is a belief among most intelligent life forms of an existence beyond the physical."

Jack considered this for a moment, then asked, "So, even snakeheads have religious experiences?"

"Yes, sir.  They're intelligent, they've died and been revived.  I'd say they would be able to explain what they experienced very clearly."

Daniel cleared his throat, clearly uneasy at that prospect of being questioned about his own experiences.  This was not his favorite topic of conversation.  "Please tell me he's not going to ask about our own near death experiences, General."

"I wish I could, son, but I can't.  It seems that there were several psychiatrists Doctor MacKenzie had to choose from, but apparently even he has an interest in the topic.  Doctor McElhannon is the leading expert in this particular field of research which is the reason Doctor MacKenzie gave him this assignment.  We have more people here who have suffered through a near death experience than you can find in any situation, and there are a few stationed here that have gone through the experience more than once, yourself included."

"And you think this fellow's targeting Daniel because he has the most frequent flyer miles to the Great Beyond and back?" Jack said sarcastically.

The General continued on.  "Apparently.  McElhannon cornered Doctor Fraiser yesterday and almost threatened to go to MacKenzie if she didn't give him Doctor Jackson's medical file."

"She didn't, did she?" Jack asked him.

"No.  As a matter of fact, she was able to smuggle it to me for safekeeping.  He doesn't want to accept the fact that she's not going to divulge any medical information of a civilian to a civilian without authorization from the patient.  We've both told him that Doctor Jackson would have to give his permission for Doctor Fraiser to divulge any of his medical information.  Now he's threatening to go to Doctor MacKenzie if we don't surrender the information to him."

"So he can't just come in and take the information?" Daniel asked, perplexed.

"Since he's a civilian, there are some constraints I can impose on him.  And since you're a civilian, I took the liberty of imposing those constraints.  You can tell him what you want him to know."

Now Daniel understood why Jack was hiding his medical file earlier -- not that he was supposed to have seen Jack hiding his medical file.  The General had entrusted it to him.  It was comforting to know that even the General wasn't above covert actions.

"I do not understand," Teal'c commented.  "This doctor is not military and has not served here.  How is it that he has any authority?"

"MacKenzie probably gave it to him," Daniel surmised.  "Medical officers can override a General's authority if necessary.  Right?"

"Yes, under certain circumstances, they can," Hammond agreed with him, "but this won't be one of them."

Jack was not happy, not one little bit.  "And who's brilliant idea was this, anyway?  MacKenzie pretty much leaves us alone these days.  I don't think he'd have the gumption to suggest it."

"No," Hammond told them, "but he did endorse it to the President.  This was actually suggested by Senator Joshua Mercer.  He heads up the Senate subcommittee that keeps track of the goings-on here as well as making sure we have enough money in the budget to keep all of you in Colombian coffee."

"I said this was going to be a very bad week.  Didn't I say that?" Jack grumbled loudly.

"Yes, Colonel, you did say words to that effect.  Unfortunately, it's going to get worse," was Hammond's answer.

"Worse?"  A chorus of four voices chimed together.  How much worse could it get?

"While you were on P7L-525, I received a phone call.  It seems that certain events are coming under review, and another investigator is being sent out.  He's supposed to arrive early this week."

This time, a chorus of three voices noted their displeasure, but one voice asked the question, "Excuse me, an investigator?"

Daniel's puzzlement was to be expected.  Daniel had not had the misfortune to suffer through the last investigator.  Jack explained exactly why another visit from one was not welcome news.  "The Pentagon sent a snoop in here a few weeks after you....left.... looking into the reasons why 52 civilians just....left.  They were blaming the General for it.  Said he wasn't fulfilling his duties to the non-military personnel on the base."  Jack still had trouble saying dead to Daniel's face.  He didn't know why, just that he sensed Daniel was not exactly willing to discuss some small aspect of that particular event lately.

The General had come under review?  Daniel realized that more had happened during his absence than anyone had told him about.  Or were willing to tell him about?  "They blamed you because they thought we had resigned?" he asked Hammond.

Hammond could only affirm the past.  "Yes, they did."

Sam took up the explanation.  "The General took a lot of flak for that.  A few of his superiors at the Pentagon were complaining about why he hadn't foreseen the event or persuaded any of you not to resign before we were left, um, shorthanded."  Sam didn't explain to Daniel, in fact no one had ever even mentioned to him just how angry the military personnel were when they found themselves without the support of the very capable civilian scientists.  So much work was left undone, half-done, and ignored by their replacements.  A vast feeling of almost violent betrayal had permeated the base only to be replaced with torrential waves of guilt when the Kha'ti arrived in the bodies of the scientists who had resigned.  "Of course, the investigator was grateful that someone at the Pentagon had the foresight to expect such an occurrence and had people ready to move right into your positions.  The General received a written reprimand for his oversight in the matter."

This was the first time Daniel had heard of this.  "What happened when your superiors found out what really happened to us?  I mean, the superiors that weren't part of Thayer's group."

General Hammond told him flatly, "The reprimand was reworded to say that I should have investigated the disappearances of the 52 civilians immediately after I received your resignations.  I agree with that.  I even said as much to Colonel O'Neill.  Had I investigated, perhaps the conspiracy would have been uncovered earlier and the participants punished before creating the intergalactic incident involving the Tok'ra, the Tollans and the Asgaard.  As it stands now, this investigator is looking into the Dervan attack, your kidnapping, the extent of the Tok'ra involvement, the agreement with the Tok'ra, Tollan and Asgaard concerning the limited access we're allowed to Vaelen's knowledge --"

"They're investigating situations the conspirators brought about due to their activities, but you're the one being held responsible for them," Daniel uncharacteristically interrupted the General, a light gleam of anger glinting in his eyes.

"I am in command of this base, Doctor Jackson.  Everything that happens here is ultimately my responsibility even if I am not ultimately responsible for the situation itself.  I know you understand that."

The gleam of anger had risen to righteous indignation.  "Understand it?  Absolutely.  Agree with it?  Absolutely not.  Garshaw tried the same tactic with me a few times," Daniel vaelened.  "She found out just how far I was willing to push back when she started blaming me for problems she created in her attempts to take over the Council.  Selmac and I tried to stay ahead of everything she was doing, but we couldn't keep up with all of her schemes.  She cost us operatives, time, materials we couldn't spare --"

"You fought back?" Jack asked him.  "How?"

"Yes, we found...."  Daniel stopped talking mid-sentence, noticing how his friends seemed very interested in what he was saying, realizing that he was talking about another's life again.  He tried, but lately the situations he found himself in made it increasingly difficult to remember that he was just Doctor Daniel Jackson, archaeologist, not General Vaelen of the Kha'ti.  "I'm sorry, General. Forgot who I was for a moment."

"It's all right, son," the General said sympathetically.  "I know how you feel.  It's one of the burdens generals bear as a consequence of taking command.  But you don't have to apologize.  Let's just say we appreciate Vaelen's insights into the Tok'ra political structure.  Besides, I wouldn't expect anyone who hasn't had their morning cup of coffee to be on top of their game." Hammond playfully commented.  He also felt the frustration.  So much opportunity shined when Vaelen stepped through the Stargate all those months ago, so much trouble bloomed when the aftershocks of the truth came forth.  The conspirators had tried to sow the wind, but it was the SGC who was reaping the whirlwind.  There was one whirlwind that was going to have to be dealt with soon.  "We've got at least a day or two until the investigator arrives.  I don't know what he'll want or who he'll want to speak with, but I have no doubt SG-1 will be high on his list of priorities.  What type of schedule is your team looking at, Colonel?"

Jack thought for a moment, then said, "Tomorrow's Monday, so we get to do our usual Monday stuff.  Tuesday, Carter and Daniel are doing some experimenting."

Carter saw a prime opportunity to pester Daniel.  "We could always reschedule the experiment, sir."  She ignored Daniel's angry glare.  "Perhaps we should focus our attention on the investigator."

"Ordinarily, Major, I would agree with you.  However, given that Doctor Jackson normally has drank an entire pot of coffee by this time of day, and he has gone without any coffee whatsoever since midnight, I would suggest you continue with your experiment.  I don't think he would be interested in repeating the preparations."

"No, General, he wouldn't," Daniel said readily, staring angrily at Sam.  "You're getting one shot at proving this theory, Sam.  Take it or leave it."

Jack leaned over to the General and loudly whispered, "That's the early morning emotional plea from the caffeine deprived."

"And it's going to get worse," Daniel sulked.  "I told you last night, Jack.  I don't want to hear one word from anyone about anything when I start getting really cranky.  This was all Sam's idea, remember?"

"You can't blame Carter because you have a problem, Daniel.  You know, there are people you can talk to about that."

"I do not have a problem.  I just happen to like coffee."

"To the exclusion of everything else?"

Thus was initiated another Jackson/O'Neill debate, much to the amusement of the other three people in the room.

 

**************************************************

 

Another phone call held Doctor McElhannon's attention.

"Yes, sir....Tomorrow, sir.....All four of them....Given how close they are, I have a feeling more than two sessions with them will be necessary....Yes, sir....I know.....Like I've already reported, I've took care of the sonic resonator....Yesterday....It looks like it's working, but it's not....Yes, sir, you're still safe for the moment, but I would be very careful....No, sir, all I'm saying is that even though I've disabled the resonator, that doesn't mean my tampering won't be discovered and repaired...Yes, sir.  Understood, sir."

Damn officers.  They always had to have their noses in everything whether you needed them there or not.

 

**************************************************

Monday morning

Daniel missed his coffee pot.

The empty spot where his beloved coffee maker once stood kept drawing his attention.  He longed for the sound of the water as it cascaded through the filter into the pot, magically transforming into a liquid so pure and necessary as to be vital to his continued existence.  He missed the small drops of water splashing against the outside of the glass, slowly dripping down onto the hot pad, drop by drop, and meeting a sizzling demise.  He craved the smell of the heady aroma that flowed around him in a tantalizing dance.  He'd gone more than 32 hours without coffee.  Without the sight, sound and smell of coffee.  He kept telling himself that he had agreed to this.  He had willing subjected himself to this controlled experiment of Sam's in order to gain some control over his Kha'ti-given abilities.  He had gone into this knowing full well what was being asked of him.  He only had himself to blame.

He really missed his coffee pot.

Trying once again to get his mind on anything other than the coffee he so desperately wanted, Daniel annoyingly glanced over another MALP printout.  He was one of the first to see the printouts just in case he knew anything about the planets under consideration for a visit.  Out of a stack of twenty, he had information on twelve of them.  He made little notes in the margins for the leader of the SG team going to PRQ-983:

     Planet name: Daurigas.  Climate: Warm year round.  Indigenous life: rodents, reptiles, birds.  No known permanent settlements of sentient life forms.  Has been used as a refuge for smugglers and bounty hunters in more recent times.  Once in the domain of Anuket, Nourisher Of The Fields, later merged with Nephthys, Friend Of The Dead, maybe mother of Anubis who served Osiris.  Anuket abandoned the planet about 500 years earlier due to lack of useable resources.  Possible scientific value: rich vegetation, abundant water, some geological anomalies.

 He also included hieroglyphs depicting Anuket and Nephthys.  He had gotten into the habit of writing down the most important facts about deserted planets and going into extraordinary detail on planets with a known population.  That was what the team leaders wanted, so he accommodated them.  Extra information could be found in the SGC database if extra information was wanted.

The next planet was easy to describe:

     Planet name: Vargas.  Climate: Humid, jungle.  Indigenous life: Training planet for DERVANS.

That was all he needed to write.  That planet would be avoided.  No one really wanted to go one-on-one with another Dervan.  It took a few weeks to get all the damage repaired from the attack that killed the Kha'ti.  No one was eager to run into another one.

A tentative knock at his door caused him to look up.  A sergeant was bringing him a few more files.  He had been told by others on the floor to go easy on Doctor Jackson because something was wrong with the easy-going scientist.  He was in a volatile state.

"Lieutenant Harriman and Major Carter just finished compiling a few more MALP readouts, sir.  They wanted me to bring them to you."

Daniel snatched the files from him angrily.  Absently, he said, "Thank you, Sergeant."  He tossed the files into the nearby chair and went about attacking the next readout.  When the visitor didn't leave, Daniel asked, "What?"  His voice sounded terse and abrupt.

Genuinely concerned, the sergeant asked, "Sir, are you all right?"

"Why?  Don't I seem all right?"

The sergeant took a step back towards the door.  "Well, sir, you seem a little out of sorts.  I was wondering if I could bring you anything."

A brief, crashing anger hit Daniel, but he took control.  The sergeant was only trying to help.  He didn't deserved to be yelled at.  It wasn't the airman's fault that Daniel wanted to rip the steel off the walls.  "No, Sergeant.  I'm sorry.  Colonel O'Neill took away my coffee pot, and I am feeling a little out of sorts.  Just...don't pay me any attention until after tomorrow."

"Oh," the sergeant said, understanding a little better now.  He was a coffee fan himself.  "Why did Colonel O'Neill take your coffee pot, if you don't mind my asking?"

Daniel sized up the soldier.  He was young, and, if Daniel remembered correctly, recently transferred to the SGC.  He was still a relative newcomer to the ways and habits of the personnel.  "Sergeant, after you've been here a while longer, you'll discover that Colonel O'Neill and I enjoy tormenting each other.  This is just his latest attempt to get at me."  A little white lie to dissuade the interested?

"Yes, sir," the sergeant acknowledged.  "Is there anything else you need, sir?"

Daniel looked around, trying to rein in his temper a little more, trying to remember that this sergeant meant well even if he was annoying the hell out of him.  "No, Sergeant.  That'll be all.  Thank you."

After the soldier left, Daniel glanced at the file folders now sitting in the opposite chair, staring at him.  Academia, the military -- nope, no difference.  Paperwork existed everywhere.

Another knock at the door broke his control.  "Go away!" he yelled at the offender.  He hoped whoever it was valued his life enough to leave.

"Knock, knock," Jack walked into Daniel's office with two cups of decaffeinated coffee and a box of doughnuts.  Jack was going to do the opposite of everyone else who had been giving Daniel a wide berth and avoiding him at all costs.  It seemed that even the brave (or was it foolhardy?) Colonel had heard that a rumor was going around that Daniel's temper was slightly out of control, and he was lashing out at anything that moved.  Other than the sergeant that had just left, only Jack had the courage to approach him, and he was enjoying himself immensely at Daniel's expense.  Come to think of it, Carter and Teal'c had been scarce that morning.  With an annoyed glare, Daniel took the coffee, took a sip and made a face at the taste.

"Hey, it's your experiment.  I'm just here to show some support." Jack held up his own cup.  One more day.  They only had to drink decaf for one more day and then they could go back to real stuff.  "I just wish you had decided to do this when we didn't have to go see a psychiatrist."

"Right.  I almost forgot about him.  You get to see him first, don't you?"

"Yes, and am I looking forward to it," Jack told sarcastically with a fake grin on his face.  "I just love for someone to let their fingers do the walking through my brain.  Makes you feel all warm and fuzzy."  He glanced at the printouts and file folders sitting in his favorite chair, and he picked up the entire pile of paperwork and put them on the floor.  There just wasn't room for all of them and him.  "So, exactly why did you agree to do this experiment right now?"

Daniel shrugged.  "Seems like as good a time as any?"

"Nope.  That won't fly.  You're gonna have to do better than that."

Daniel didn't want to talk about this. He knew that one of the reasons Jack had stopped by was to try to get him into an argument.  His friend knew that it as not a wise choice to talk to Daniel until someone had checked his coffee pot to see how much was left, and he didn't even have a coffee pot anymore!  Jack was baiting him.  Well, he wasn't going to give Jack the satisfaction.  He could control his temper as long as he had a goal.  He did.  Jack had doughnuts.  Daniel wasn't going to kick him out of his office until he had his fill of doughnuts.  "I honestly don't know why.  I just know that I need to be able to control this, or it may get us into trouble on a mission.  Look what happened last time.  That Goa'uld thought I was one of them.  It's hard to deny you're hosting a symbiote when they can sense one."  Daniel had hoped to leave the explanation there, but knew Jack wasn't going to allow him that luxury.

Jack grabbed a doughnut after Daniel opened the box to find absolutely no chocolate covered or chocolate filled doughnuts, just glazed.  He ignored the slight tremor in Daniel's hands.  It was all part of the decaffeination process.  "Remember, no chocolate.  Carter said you could have two doughnuts, and that's all.  She figured you probably hadn't eaten breakfast this morning."  He took another big bite of the doughnut, savoring the taste.  "You know, we haven't had any real trouble yet," he said.  "Seems to me that you're handling things pretty well."

"You mean I'm handling the fact I can bench press a Buick and can tell you the best fishing spots in the galaxy?  I'm can deal with that, but Teal'c's right.  There have been a few times when my being able to act like a Goa'uld would have saved us a lot of trouble and ammunition."  He picked up the two biggest doughnuts before Jack could claim them for himself.  "Maybe it's just something in my life that I might have some control over."

There it was.  Control.  Jack had thought as much.  Daniel just wanted control over some part of his recently uncontrollable life.  Daniel's attention was definitely absent as he chewed his doughnut and gave the appearance of looking through MALP printouts.  It was a look that Jack was getting all too familiar with lately.  Something was definitely on his friend's mind.

"Are you okay?" Jack asked Daniel, noticing that he was staring off into space.

"Yeah, fine."  There was the patented Daniel Jackson answer.  He was always fine.  Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on who was asked, Jack was quite capable of knowing when Daniel really was fine and when he was only saying he was fine.  This time, it was definitely the latter.  He wasn't fine.

"Uh, uh.  Spill it.  Something's been bugging you for days."

Damn.  Jack knew.  "You've noticed?" Daniel asked him.

"It's hard not to when you look like you're shell-shocked.  Let's just say you're not your usual happy self, and that's been going on since before you stopped drinking coffee.  What's wrong?"

Daniel knew that Jack was not going to let this go.  He wasn't letting anything go anymore.  It was a strange new wrinkle in their friendship, and it was both annoying and comforting to know someone cared enough to even ask.  "I can't remember something, and it's bothering me."

"You can't remember something," Jack repeated.  "You've got thousands of years tucked into your brain, and it bothers you that you can't remember one little thing?"  Jack just shook his head.

"Okay, I know it's a little ridiculous, but it's worse than having a song stuck in your head.  There's something I'm supposed to remember for some reason, but I can't."

"Is this a Daniel-something or a Vaelen-something?" Jack asked him.

Daniel looked at Jack as if he had just grown another head.  "It's a Daniel-something.  Vaelen's life is clear as a bell.  The problem is that I can't figure out what it is I'm trying to remember."

Jack took another sip of coffee and made a face at the lack of taste.  Tomorrow, he was stopping by Starbuck's on the way to the base and buy a few quarts of the real thing for them to drink after the great experiment Carter had planned.  No, wait, Carter had mentioned something about buying all the coffee Daniel could drink.  Between him and Daniel, the coffee wouldn't last long.  He enjoyed a good cup of coffee as much as Daniel did, he just wouldn't admit it.  Watching his friend as he went through the motions of work, Jack could tell that Daniel was as unconcerned about the paperwork sitting on his desk as the fly on the wall.  It wasn't boredom, there were other things on his mind.  Daniel could cope with a great deal, but the one thing he had no tolerance for was when his nearly photographic memory couldn't be accessed.  He would worry about this on all levels of that multi-layered brain of his until he found the answer, even if it drove him to distraction.  "Do you think it's something important?"

"I don't know.  I just know it's there, and I don't know why I have to remember it.  I just know I have to."

"And why?" Jack prompted him.

Daniel shook his head.  "I don't know. It may be nothing."

"Or it might be the cure to the common cold?" Jack was getting sarcastic.

Daniel laughed out loud.  "No, nothing quite so earth-shattering.  I'll remember it eventually.  It's probably nothing more than my not remembering where I put the remote for the television."

Daniel reached into the box for another doughnut, and Jack confidently slapped the offending appendage away.  "Carter said two.  No more.  You've had your two.  I'm eating the rest.  And you've lost your remote?  To the big screen TV?"

"That's the only television I have, Jack.  You know that.  How many hockey games have you watched on it over the last few months?"

"One or two," was the answer.

"Or three or four.  Every weekend.  You're lucky I've developed an interest in hockey or I wouldn't let you come over and completely take over my TV set."

"Like you don't take over my television when you're at my house?  If I have to watch one more documentary on the Lifestyles of the Rich and Dead Pharaohs --"

"Hey, pal.  Turnabout's fair play."  Daniel quickly snatched another doughnut, much to Jack's surprise.  "Remember you took the biggest slice of pie Saturday night.  The doughnut's mine."

 

**************************************************

 

Gus and Curt left their "borrowed" plane on the runway with Westerly's pilot.  Gus' personal plane was waiting in the hangar but the biggest surprise was the pilot that was waiting on them.  It was an old friend of theirs they had originally met in Vietnam.

"How do, Colonel!" was the greeting Gus heard when he and Curt entered the hangar.  "You're looking good."

Gus gripped the extended hand in a warm handshake.  "Damn, Farley, I didn't know you'd be the one meeting us.  How are you?"

Farley was a little older than Gus, a little taller, a lot more grizzled.  If there was a word to describe his appearance, 'mountain man' came the closest.  He always looked like he'd spent far too much time out in the weather.  "I'm doing fine, Gus.  Just fine.  Can't believe the head honchos brought you back in and made you a Colonel to boot.  What gives?"

As Curt stashed the boxes of files onto the plane, he said, "You're going to love this one, Farley.  It's right up Gus' alley."

"Oh?"

Gus leaned close to Farley and whispered, "It's the Organization.  They're up to their old tricks."

Farley knew what that meant.  "Enough said.  What are you orders, Colonel?"

"Curt and I are going to Cheyenne base--"

"Under NORAD?"

"The one and the same," Gus conceded.  "I need you to look like you're in the military, fly us there, land someplace where you can fool the air traffic controllers into thinking you're having mechanical trouble and will need to do repairs, preferably in one of the smaller hangars where you can blend in with everyone else, then take off again in a few days letting them think that Colonel Jennings is on board and heading for the east coast.  I don't know what I'm going to find at the base, but I've got a feeling that I don't want the people that hired me to know what I'm doing and when.  I want to keep them off balance, and the only way I can be sure of that is to make them think I'm doing exactly what they told me to do.  Can you do that?"

"With my eyes closed.  When do you have to be there?"

Gus checked his watch.  "Tomorrow morning.  That means we have time for breakfast before we finish with the preliminaries.  Know a good place to eat?"

"You bet," Farley said, his chest puffed out proudly.  "Welcome to Chez Farley.  The best place for hot coffee and ham and biscuits this side of the Mississippi."  In the phoniest French accent either man had ever heard, Farley said, "Gentlemen, I will be your maitre'de zis morning.  If you will follow me to your table, I will have ze chef prepare what can only be called ze finest cuisine you have ever tasted."

 

**************************************************

 

Jack met McElhannon in the small office the psychiatrist had been issued during his hopefully very short stay at the base.  Jack had already formed an instant dislike of the man before they had even met.  He never had much use for psychiatrists.  He never went to one after his ordeal in Iraq or after any of the various misadventures he had come back from for the last four years.  This examination was going to be interesting.

As Jack entered the office, McElhannon shook Jack's hand and smiled what Jack had to call a very fake smile.  "Colonel O'Neill, please, sit down.  I must say that I've been looking forward to meeting you and your team for some time."  He had been looking forward to meeting them? Yeah, right.

"You have?"  Two could play this game.

McElhannon seemed genuinely astonished at Jack's surprise.  "Of course.  SG team reports are standard reading at the Academy Hospital, and SG-1 reports are the ones we've always looked forward to seeing."

"You guys read our reports?"  That was a surprise.  Their reports were supposed to be classified.

"Absolutely.  We're trying to build a database of causal factors for many of the psychological disorders that may develop due to Gate use and interplanetary travel.  You must admit that there is a great deal of stress the teams have to deal with on a daily basis, and this database can help us diagnose and treat whatever problems may arise."

Jack thought that the answer was just a little simplistic for a psychiatrist, not to mention the doctor had used a bit of forced enthusiasm.  Yes, a little too eager, a little too....naive?  Jack didn't like what he perceived.  How do you diagnose a problem from a database of generic data when every trip through the Stargate is a smorgasbord of surprises?  Time to pick the brain of the brain picker.  "Exactly how many reports have you read?"

McElhannon waved his hand as if dismissing the question.  "About two dozen or so.  That's not really important, though, is it?"

Two dozen or so?  His team had been through the Stargate a few hundred times over the last several years, and with more than 15 teams not to mention the scientific expeditions going through the gate every week, the missions were numbering well over one thousand.  "Which reports have you read?" he asked the doctor.

McElhannon obviously didn't want to talk about the reports.  "Colonel, I can assure you that you have no reason to have any worries about your performance on any of the reports we've read.  Your leadership skills have raised the standards which we judge by."

Standards they judge by?  Who did this guy think he was that he could judge the combat skills of a veteran soldier?  "I'm that good, huh?"

McElhannon started scribbling down notes on a large writing pad.  "Tell me, Colonel, do you judge your own skills by comparing them to the other SG team leaders?"

Jack shook his head.  "No.  We're called teams for a reason.  You have to have a leader, but it's a group effort.  What happens on a mission reflects on the team, so any mission where you come back alive is a good one for the team."

Again, McElhannon scribbled down some notes.  "I see.  Then you've had some bad missions where people don't come back alive?"

"It's happened.  We are a military base.  Military people go into battle.  Battles mean people get killed."

More scribbling.  "But what about your people?  Your team?"

"What about them?"

"Ever had any bad missions with them?"

Jack still wasn't sure where this guy was going with these questions.  Wherever it was, Jack didn't like the way the wind was blowing.  "We've always come back alive.  I'd say those were good missions."

"But Doctor Jackson has been killed on several missions, on your watch.  Do you not take responsibility for those occurrences?"

Jack riveted the doctor with a stare that had been known to destroy most enlisted personnel and many officers who dared suffer his wrath.  "In case you haven't noticed, Doctor, Daniel Jackson is very much alive and well.  Those occurrences you're speaking of were not permanent."

"No, but he is a civilian and your responsibility.  Didn't you feel as if you had neglected your duties as a commanding officer when you failed to protect him?"

Did this guy want a fight?  Was he trying to provoke him?  Jack wasn't sure, but he wasn't about to give this shrink the satisfaction.  He kicked himself into military mode.  "If Daniel condemned me for any action I took or didn't take which brought about one of these occurrences, then I'd say I probably failed in my duties.  As it stands, he'd be the first to tell you that what has happened has been the result of unforeseen events, not because of any negligence on my part."  Who said he couldn't throw out a few big words now and again?

"So you admit that there has been negligence on your part that has helped bring about his deaths?"

Forget being a psychiatrist.  This guy was acting like a prosecutor at a court martial!  "No, there's been no negligence.  If you had actually read any of those reports you were talking about, then you'd know that.  Every action I've taken has been reviewed by a few dozen people in Washington.  Haven't heard any complaints yet."  Jack was starting to get just a little angry with this man.  His professional military facade was about to break down.

Again, more scribbling.  Jack couldn't read what the doctor was writing, but it didn't really matter.  He had decided he really didn't like this guy, and he wasn't going to let him get him angry.  Or at least any angrier than he already was.

"Still, it must be difficult for you leading such a team."  McElhannon started tapping his pencil on his writing pad, oblivious to the fact that he was doing it.

"What do you mean?" Jack asked him as he quickly yanked the pencil out of the Doctor's hand.

"Well, what I mean is..." the Doctor had the good sense to choose his next words very carefully.  He realized he was walking on some very thin ice with the Colonel.  "You are a career military officer with a history of highly classified missions.  Now, you're here leading a rather unusual team.  Granted, they may have a collectively higher intelligence than any other team you've ever commanded, but we're still talking about a civilian archaeologist, a theoretical astrophysicist who is also a woman, an alien --"

"Major Carter is a theoretical astrophysicist, but she's also career military.  That's why she's a major.  Teal'c may not be from around here, but he has more military experience than the entire JCS put together.  And Daniel is a civilian and an archaeologist, but he's also the reason we even have a Stargate Program.  He's the one who opened the gate.  What you call my unusual team is the flag team for Earth.  I couldn't have asked, begged or bribed anyone for a better group to work with.  Now, do you want to ask me any valid questions or do you want to keep wasting my time?"

McElhannon couldn't say anything for a moment, he was too surprised, and Jack took advantage of the doctor's lack of answers to make a quick exit.  "Doctor, when you want to do the job you were brought in here for, let me know.  Other than that, I guess I'll see you at the group meeting."  Jack opened the door and left.

Outside the office, he found Sam waiting to speak with the psychiatrist.  Jack signaled her about what to expect in there and then hurried off to see the General.

 

**************************************************

 

"Come in, Colonel."  Hammond motioned him inside his office.  "You know, when they write up the job description for generals, they ought to include a paragraph about all of the paperwork that's involved in the job.  Everything has to be signed and initialed in triplicate."

"We certainly appreciate your devotion to your job, sir," Jack complimented him.  "If it weren't for you --"

"If it weren't for me, you might be the one doing the paperwork, right?"

"My reports do get talked about."  Jack sat down in the chair when Hammond motioned him to sit.

"Only because certain people have read Major Carter's and Doctor Jackson's reports.  After their thoroughness and scientific explanations have been read through, I believe your brevity is greatly appreciated."

Jack's eyebrow raised as General Hammond put the paperwork away.  No harm, no foul.  Just the General making a little joke.

"Jack, I need to talk to you about Daniel.  How's he doing on the missions?"

"Fine, sir.  He's got a little more military savvy these days, but he's still Daniel."  Jack knew that the General had read all of the mission reports.  Daniel's work was exemplary as always.

"Something happening on the missions that wouldn't go into a report?  Anything you might have noticed but haven't given any thought to?"

"No, sir.  Like I said, he's Daniel."  Jack watched Hammond as he waited for the Colonel to expand on his explanation.  "What's wrong?"

"Other than the fact he is overly frustrated with not being able to tell us everything he now knows, he seems a bit distracted."

"I've noticed that, too.  I asked him about it this morning.  He said he's trying to remember something he forgot.  It's bugging him.  You know how Daniel is.  He'll worry about it until he remembers it.  You've seen him do that before."

"Yes, I have," the General agreed.  "But this is a little different than his trying to retrieve some obscure myth from antiquity that he might have heard from his parents when he was 5 years old."  The General stood, walked over to the door and shut it.  This conversation was not to be overheard by anyone.  "Colonel, I haven't brought this up because I know SG-1 has been keeping a close eye on Doctor Jackson, but have you noticed any negative changes in his behavior?"

"Sir?"  Negative changes in behavior and Daniel were two ideas not particularly suited to each other when used in the same sentence.

"What I mean, Colonel, have you noticed him exhibiting any behavior that would cause you to worry?"

Jack thought for a moment, and then said, "No, sir, nothing more than he's a bundle of nerves this morning, but that's because I stole his coffee pot.  Something has you worried?"

Hammond had felt a little more concerned than usual.  "Yes, you could say that.  Given some recent...his behavior of late seems to be showing some early signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder."

That was the problem?  "Uh, no, sir.  Everything's fine.  He's had a few moments, but he talks to me, Carter and Teal'c.  I know he's talked to you about some of Vaelen's experiences a few times because it relates to being a general.  He's vaelened out a few times recently, but we've been pretty busy lately.  There's been nothing to worry about.  Well, nothing out of the ordinary.  Why?  What's wrong?"

"Jack, you know the symptoms as well as I do.  We've both seen what can happen to soldiers in stressful situations.  I'd say that Doctor Jackson has seen more than his fair share.  He's handled recent incidents with a strength I can't even begin to understand, but some of his behavior lately has me concerned."

"How?"  Now Jack was worried.

"Now, don't take this wrong, Jack.  I'd trust Doctor Jackson with my life.  What has me worried is his almost complete dismissal of his latest death.  There's been no reaction that I've seen to it, or --"

"He hardly remembers any of it, sir," Jack explained quickly.  "His last memories are being shot -- he really remembers being shot, said it hurt like hell -- being thrown through the Stargate, lying in the snow and seeing Vaelen coming toward him.  The next thing he's really clear on is what happened eight months later."

"And that's what has me worried.  I'm not an expert, but I have been told by experts that we never forget anything.  Everything that happens to us is filed away in our memories and as long as nothing traumatic happens, all the memories can be recalled.  Right now, Daniel can't remember being dead.  He's been trying to remember something that's eluding him with no luck whatsoever, and you can see how that's bothering him.  We have a psychiatrist here whose pet project is near death experiences.  If he brings up Daniel's memories of that time before he's ready to deal with it, then..."

"Then Daniel could be in for a tough time," Jack finished for him.  He had not really considered the problem before.  Daniel seemed to be able to handle all of this.  "Daniel can handle shrinks, sir.  If nothing else, he can outtalk him.  But it's been months since Daniel came back.  Wouldn't he have remembered something by now?

"There's no way for us to know.  Has there been a reason for him to remember anything during that time or even the event itself?"

Event?  That was a good word for being taken as a host.  Jack didn't have an answer.  Psychology wasn't his strong suit, but being able to read the civilian member of his team had become a necessity.  "I don't know.  He hasn't ignored being killed, he just hasn't talked about it much since he can't remember most of it.  The few times any of us have discussed it, Daniel's never backed off from the subject.  He said it was like going to sleep and waking up every now and then and going right back to sleep.  You might say it's reached the status of a non-event."

The General could only nod his head.  "That's what has me concerned.  He says he's trying to remember something.  If those memories are the ones trying to surface....and with this psychiatrist here....I've had a bad feeling about McElhannon ever since he's been here.  He hasn't done anything to warrant my sending him back to MacKenzie --"

"Yet," Jack added.

"Yet.  I have a feeling your meeting was less than helpful to him?"

"I don't think he got exactly what he was looking for, sir.  He didn't seem at all interested in what happens on the other side of the Gate.  It was almost like he was trying to make me feel guilty about certain things."

"What would you have to feel guilty about, Colonel?'

"Daniel's deaths.  All of them."

"None of those events were your fault, Colonel."

"Maybe not directly, but I was there for most of them and couldn't stop them.  I don't feel guilty about it, but that shrink was trying to make me feel that way.  And then, to top it all off, he almost said I was dense."

Hammond's eyes grew wide in surprise.  "Dense?  In what way?"

"I've got two certified geniuses on my team and an alien who's smarter than most folks around here.  It must be a strange feeling to be just an average Joe."

"Ouch!"  Hammond felt little sympathy for Jack.  The Colonel relished the fact that he had the smartest team going, even if he wasn't in the higher I.Q. ranks himself.  "Who's in with McElhannon now?"

"Carter.  She was waiting outside his office when I left.  I've got a feeling she'll run circles around him."

 

**************************************************

 

"Excuse me?"  Carter couldn't believe that someone she had assumed was an intelligent, educated man would say something so idiotic.

"I was wondering how being the only female on the first contact team reflects on you ability to perform your job."  McElhannon repeated.

"What does my being female have to do with how well I do my job?"

"I just meant that being a female may have some....disadvantages which --"

"Doctor McElhannon, I am a Major in the United States Air Force.  I am a theoretical astrophysicist.  Those aspects of my life affect my job performance because they are an integral part of my job.  My being female is merely a matter of a double X chromosome.  It does not in any way affect my job performance."

"Of course not," McElhannon said condescendingly and started writing again in his notebook.  "Now, about your relationships with your teammates?"

Sam waited, but the McElhannon didn't go any further with his question.  "Yes?"

"Tell me about them."

Sam should have known the minute she stepped in this room what this interview was going to be like.  She knew how to deal with small-minded chauvinists like this.  The military had its fair share of characters like McElhannon.  "Colonel Jack O'Neill has been my commanding officer since the SGC was formally initiated before the second mission to Abydos.  Doctor Daniel Jackson and Teal'c are friends and colleagues who became formal members of the team after the first mission to Chulak."

"And?"  McElhannon prompted her.

"And what?" she challenged him smoothly.

"Come now, Major.  You don't expect anyone to believe that the brass would allow a woman on a first contact team without...incentive, do you?"

Carter refused to show any anger or disgust with the man.  She knew how to play the game.  She briefly wondered how well Colonel O'Neill had played.  "Around here, Doctor, any insinuations made that incentives were used to further someone's career are immediately dealt with.  Everyone at this base is here because they're very good at their job."  She almost added unlike you.  "If you don't like the idea of competent people being on the first team, I suggest you take it up with General Hammond, who, coincidentally, made sure that I was on the first contact team because of my technical knowledge of the Stargate."  She wasn't being too careful about being impudent with this arrogant little jerk.  She was actually enjoying it.  It's a good thing that only the two of them were there.  That way, if there were any accusations leveled against her, it would be his word against hers.  And who would the brass believe?  It was bad enough this little rodent thought she slept her way to the top, but to accuse her of it?  That was going too far.

"Of course he did," McElhannon started writing things down again.  This was getting annoying.  "It must be very difficult for someone like you to have to take orders from someone like Colonel O'Neill."

"Meaning?" she prompted him.

"Well, as you pointed out, you are a theoretical astrophysicist.  All of your tests rank you in the top 1 percentile with a genius I.Q.  Colonel O'Neill is a competent commander, but he's not quite the scientist you are, is he?"

Carter gave him her most beguiling smile.  "No, Colonel O'Neill is not the scientist I am.  In fact, he's not a scientist at all.  I'm sure you understand how that feels.  At least the Colonel has the rare ability and intelligence to respect the people he works with and to trust them in their own scientific fields even though he is not well versed in that particular discipline.  But you are correct about one thing.  He is a competent commander.  His first thought is to protect his team even at the risk of his own life.  We know we can trust him to get us back alive.  Is there anything else, Doctor?  I really have some work I need to get back to, and you're wasting my time."

McElhannon looked like he swallowed a brick.  This was not the Major Carter he had been expecting to meet.  Her character profile strongly stated that she was a very military personality.  She would follow orders from a commanding officer and would never utter an insult.  "There is the matter of the group session I'd like to hold with SG-1 on Wednesday."

"On Wednesday.  I'll be there, Doctor.  Don't worry about that.  I wouldn't miss it."

McElhannon watched as Major Carter stood and left without permission. Her behavior had been confrontational, very much like O'Neill's, and not at all what he had expected.  Glancing back over the notes he had written and over the reports he had been given to study, Major Carter's behavior had been every bit as confusing as Colonel O'Neill's.  Both had given better than they got.  They had even used similar words and phrases.  No one had foreseen that. McElhannon formed the hypothesis that the members of SG-1 led very integrated lives, blended to the point where they could actually guess what each member would do in a crisis, what each was thinking and could even finish sentences for each other.

The afternoon meetings with Teal'c and Doctor Jackson should prove interesting if they follow the same course as their teammates.  It would seem that SG-1 had been underestimated.  Again.

 

**************************************************

 

Teal'c sat up straight in the chair, his stare uncomfortably focused on McElhannon.  He watched as the psychiatrist fidgeted a bit, tapping his pencil on his writing pad, apparently unaccustomed to one such as Teal'c.  It was almost as if the man didn't know which question to ask first and wanted to ask them all at once.

"Ah, Mr. Teal'c, it must very unusual being the only alien here."

Needless to say, Doctor McElhannon's interview with Teal'c was surprisingly short.

 

**************************************************

 

The good doctor was unaccustomed to being left waiting, but since he had just been informed that Doctor Jackson could not come to him, he would go to Doctor Jackson.  Someone in Washington had asked Hammond to put a priority on some translations found on some planet they were interested in.  Doctor Jackson had been asked to accommodate them as quickly as possible.  McElhannon was definitely not used to searching for a patient, but he had not thought that he would find his prey working in such a cluttered environment that was known as Doctor Daniel Jackson's office.

This is the genius that opened the Stargate and translates other languages at the speed of light?  This looks like a pig sty!  Of course, McElhannon didn't voice his opinion out loud.  There was no need to get off on the wrong foot with this patient.

He listened with intense interest to the monologue going on in the office.

"What was I thinking when I wrote that?  Why didn't the computer's grammar checker catch that?  Right.  I'd been awake for almost 48 hours when I wrote this draft.  That's what happens when you're too tired to distinguish between the language you're translating from and the language you're writing to.  In English, the adjective goes before the noun.  Just because I'm translating some ancient texts doesn't mean I get to change the rules for English.  Okay, the rest of the paragraph looks good.  That is not the way you spell iconocology.  That does it.  I am not writing any more reports if I've been awake for more than 24 hours.  Wait, this is a completely different language than the other one.  Where's that book?"

The psychiatrist quietly walked into the room and was astonished at the sight he beheld.  There was the object of his search flipping through a tome far too large and unwieldy to carry, but he wasn't having any trouble holding it.  The reports did mention that Doctor Jackson's strength had increased substantially.  The words were tumbling out of Daniel's mouth faster than he could follow, one rapidly descending upon the other in an effort to translate the most current mystery.

"Doctor Jackson?"  McElhannon finally announced his presence.

Daniel looked up from behind the large tome of Phoenician translations, his brow furrowed in concentration.  For a moment, he seemed a bit perturbed at being interrupted, but then....Damn!  He had forgotten about his appointment with McElhannon.  He quickly put the volume down and motioned the psychiatrist in.  Remember, you're only edgy because you haven't had any coffee.  Be polite, and get him out of here quickly.  Preferably without ripping his arms off.  "Doctor McElhannon.  Come in.  I'm sorry.  I lost track of the time.  General Hammond needs this translation before he thought he would, and it's not ready.  It hit a snag, and I got involved --"

"Of course, Doctor Jackson.  I was informed that you were working on a special project that was needed rather quickly."  Then, completely dismissing the fact that Daniel was working on a project that was needed rather quickly, he walked over to the desk and quickly shook Daniel's hand.  He noticed a slight tremor, a certain agitation in Daniel's stance.  He seemed a bit anxious.  "May I say that it is a great honor to meet you.  I've wanted to do so since I first read your file."

"You have?"

"Absolutely.  You've forged a fascinating career for yourself here."

"I have?"

"Yes.  Your career is quite...what's a good word?  Colorful?  Eventful?  I've actually read reports that state the only reason the Earth is still here is because of your intellect and intuitive leaps of logic.  The incident when Apophis and Klorel came in pyramid ships, it was your trip to the alternate universe that allowed you to bring back the coordinates where the attack was going to originate."

Daniel shrugged.  "I was lucky I got back at all."

"Lucky?  I wouldn't have thought that a scholar like yourself would believe in luck."

"You don't have to believe in something for it to be real," Daniel stated confidently.  He could never explain how he got out of all those scrapes still more or less intact.

"I overheard someone say that Colonel O'Neill would call that typical Jacksonian luck.  The Morris-The-Cat version."

"Colonel O'Neill would call it that." Daniel explained.

"I don't understand," McElhannon stated.

"There's a running joke around here that Jack started that says I've got nine lives."

"I see.  Were you aware that one of my main fields of study was near death experiences?"

Daniel turned away from the psychiatrist while trying not to look like he was avoiding the subject.  Jack was right.  Today was not a good day to be low on caffeine.  He had to control his temper until tomorrow.  "I believe General Hammond may have mentioned it."  Okay, he just knew that being polite was about to become difficult.

"That was another reason why I was so interested in meeting you.  Your experiences would be a great help to my research.  Death is truly the final frontier we each get to explore.  To know what a person actually goes through during those last few moments --"

"Doctor McElhannon," Daniel interrupted him, his voice louder than he meant it to be, "there is no way you could ever understand what it feels like to go through a near death experience unless you've died yourself.  There are no words in any language that can possibly describe what you go through.  People have tried, but words can't duplicate the experience."  Not to mention that talking about seeing the wife you loved more than life itself for a few heart-wrenching moments before being yanked back to the breathing world was too personal to discuss with just anyone.

"Perhaps, but it's the only place we scientists can start.  I have to say that your latest NDE is by far the most intriguing, but I believe that two of your experiences involve protecting Colonel O'Neill's life.  The first time was in Ra's ship shortly after the two of you had met, the second time was on Klorel's ship.  The Colonel's debt to you --"

"Doesn't exist," Daniel told him matter-of-factly.  "And those experiences are not something I'd like to talk about with you.  Especially the most recent one."

This was odd.  An uncommunicative Doctor Jackson?  That was unheard of.  "Talking about them is one of the best ways to deal with them."  McElhannon unfolded a thick writing pad and sat down in the chair opposite Daniel.  "I understand that another experience was directly connected to your sarcophagus addiction.  All of you were in shackled in chains in a naquada mine, an opportunity to escape presented itself, the others were freed and started to run, but your chains were still intact.  Upon escaping, a guard fired a weapon that brought about a cave-in injuring you severely.  According to the medical reports, you actually died before being put into the sarcophagus, yet all of that wouldn't have happened if Colonel O'Neill had waited until you had been freed from the shackles before escaping."

Daniel stared at the psychiatrist.  This man had the gall to blame Jack for that?  That little incident had been dealt with and apologized for from both sides.  It was none of his business.  This man had just overstepped his bounds.  Oh, yes, McElhannon was a quack, a highly paid, government appointed quack.  Daniel didn't usually have any reservations against psychiatry, he just believed some of the last people who should be allowed to practice the science were psychiatrists.  This quack proved he was right.  "Your point?"

"My point?" McElhannon asked, perplexed.  "What do you mean?"

Keep your temper, Jackson.  Think of the messy paperwork if you mangle this sorry excuse of a doctor.  "You're going to great lengths to talk about something I just said was off-limits at this time.  Either you weren't listening or English is not your first language.  Which is it?"

Rude and argumentative.  Definitely not like Doctor McElhannon was expecting.  "Why would these incidents be off limits, Doctor Jackson?"  McElhannon blatantly ignored answering the question.

Daniel hated this type of psychiatric evaluation.  No matter what was said, the psychiatrist was going to ask another question, never answer one.  If this doctor knew so much about him, the he should know that Daniel had studied psychology in several undergraduate courses.  He knew the game and could refuse to play it.  Or change the rules.  He didn't answer the doctor, just stared at him, his gaze never leaving the doctor's. McElhannon couldn't maintain eye contact.  Maybe being antsy from a caffeine-low was a good thing.

"Doctor Jackson, we won't get anywhere if you don't cooperate," McElhannon stated as he tapped his pencil on the writing pad.

Daniel pointed toward the pencil.  "That's a nervous habit, Doctor.  How long have you had it?"

"We're not here to talk about me.  It's you."

".......don't......."

There was that voice again.  Daniel still couldn't discover where it was coming from.  He knew he wasn't hearing voices, he knew what that felt like, so it had to be his imagination.  He had learned to heed his imagination because it wasn't just his any longer.  "All right," Daniel almost exploded, but he did keep his emotions at bay.  "You're supposed to talk to every member of the SG teams to determine what problems are faced every time we go through the Stargate and help those who have difficulties facing some of these situations.  Fine.  Here are the problems every person on an SG team faces.  You go to an alien planet, you don't know who or what you're going to run into, each time could be the last time because you could easily end up dead.  Permanently.  You lose friends, people you care about.  You get wounded.  You kill.  You can be taken as a host.  You could lose someone you care about to a symbiote.  Those are the problems we face on a day-to-day basis, and those are the ones you should be concerned with.  All others are not subject for in-depth analysis unless the person wishes to discuss it.  Any questions?"

McElhannon just sat and stared.  Jackson was truly an enigma.  This reportedly agreeable man had become just as confrontational as the others, even if he was being slightly more polite.  That wasn't in the personnel reports.  "Doctor Jackson, if I could just --"

"Doctor McElhannon, when you're interested in discussing the dangers we face, we'll talk.  Other than that, we have nothing to talk about.  Now I have a great deal to do and a very short time to do it in.  If you would please close the door on your way out?"

McElhannon had just been summarily dismissed!  He hadn't been treated that way since that time he had angered that General at the naval base years ago, but that incident really wasn't his fault.  Something very strange was going on.  Their reports on these people were not entirely accurate.  A new investigation would have to be mounted as soon as possible.  If Intel was this far off, what else could be incorrect?

 

**************************************************

 

This time, McElhannon initiated the phone call.

"Sir, the reports on SG-1 were vastly incorrect.  Every profile and report I've read about them never even suggested the kind of behavior I've seen them exhibit!....No, sir, but I think you need to rethink your plan...I'd be very careful before making any moves, sir.....Our Intel has been wrong from the beginning.  That's why we can't get a hand up on them....I'll keep my eyes open, and I'll send you daily reports of what I observe...Sir, we can't afford any more mistakes.....Yes, sir.  I'll be careful."

Their superiors might as well throw their timetable into File 13.  With the evidence he had observed, the Organization was definitely in trouble, no matter what precautions they had taken.

SG-1 was more formidable than anyone had given them credit for.

 

**************************************************

 

Daniel stormed over to O'Neill's office.  He found he wasn't the only one there.  "What the hell was that all about?" he wanted to know.

"You just got to talk to McElhannon, didn't you?"  O'Neill asked, clearly amused by the anger he saw in Daniel.  The only thing missing in Daniel's demeanor was glowing eyes.  That would have topped off the sight beautifully.  Sam and Teal'c had already been complaining about their experiences with the psychiatrist.  Of course, their anger wasn't also fueled with an almost instinctual need for coffee.  Daniel was more agitated than he had been earlier that morning.  Shouldn't he have been better by now?

"No, we didn't talk.  I kicked him out of my office.  I take it he overstepped his bounds with everybody?"  Daniel's hands were in constant motion.  He was extraordinarily agitated.

The consensus was unanimous.  Sam was the first to speak up.  "He started questioning me about how being a woman interferes with my job."

Teal'c was equally unimpressed with the psychiatrist.  "He seemed quite interested in determining how my being a Chulakian undermines team cohesion."

"He wanted to talk about being dead," Daniel mumbled, noticing that Jack had also removed his coffee pot.  He really needed a cup of coffee.  "I told him that subject was off limits.  He wouldn't listen."

"I've got you all beat," Jack told him.  "Apparently, I'm to blame for everything that's gone wrong whenever SG-1 has gone on a mission, all of Daniel's deaths, and I'm not exactly the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree."

Daniel was actively pacing the office now.  The others knew it was nervous energy.  Daniel probably hadn't slept at all the previous night because he wanted coffee so badly.  "Daniel," Jack called for his attention.  "Sit down.  You're wearing me out.  You've been without coffee before."

Daniel looked back at them surprised.  "Yeah, but not lately."

Jack seemed surprised, then he remembered.  Damn, Daniel was right.  Even on missions, he always had an unending stash of instant coffee in his pack.  But this was a little different than any other time Daniel had been without coffee, even on missions.  Then, he would just want a cup.  Right now, he looked as if he could kill to get one.

"Daniel?  Are you all right?"  Sam walked over to her friend, noticing that he was shaking more than she had realized.

Daniel leaned against the wall and pinched the bridge of his nose.  The headache from the ribbon device had gone away, but a new one was starting to creep in, taking its place.  "No. Everything feels....wrong.  I was okay until McElhannon came in, then everything just got....bad.  Real fast."

"Wrong?  Bad how?" Sam asked.  She was getting very concerned him.  Daniel shouldn't be having these kind of withdrawal symptoms.  It was reminiscent of the sarcophagus.

"I don't know.  It just feels wrong.  It feels like..."

They knew to wait.  Daniel was trying to find the words to express what he was feeling.  How many times had they listened to him explain to Janet about some new physical aspect of Vaelen's legacy that had been discovered?  Sometimes, it just was.  Explaining how one of those aspects worked by using a vocabulary wholly unsuited to such descriptions was difficult.

Finally, Jack walked over to him.  Daniel was staring at the floor, trying to decipher what was going on with him.  "Daniel?"

"Something's there.  I know it.  I just don't know what.....I just know something's....It's almost like...."

They hated these (thankfully) rare moments when Daniel seemed lost to them, even when he was standing in the same room.  None of them knew what to do for him or how to help him.  Sometimes, the best thing to do was get his mind off whatever was troubling him and, hopefully, the situation would correct itself.  It had worked in the past.  Jack used the old tried-and-true method of distracting the archaeologist -- feeding him.  "Okay.  Enough's enough.  We're done here for today.  Grab your coats, folks.  We're going down to the Roadhouse for steak."

Daniel hated this diversion, but he was hungry.  "At the Roadhouse?  You don't want to try O'Malley's again?"

"We're banned from there for life, remember?  Hell, even General Hammond apologized and offered to pay for all those damages.  That still didn't get us back in."

"I was surprised by General Hammond's actions."  It was yet another Tau'ri behavior that Teal'c found puzzling.  A Jaffa leader would have assessed blame to the rightful parties and forced them to pay retributions, not undertake the expense himself.  "He assigned responsibility for your behavior to the armbands and Anise not explaining their side effects fully although she had no data on how they would affect Daniel Jackson.  Should not the Tok'ra have been held accountable for the damages incurred during the time you were under the armbands' influence?"

"I don't think that would have worked, Teal'c," Sam explained.  "Even if we were under an alien influence during an experiment conducted by the Tok'ra, I don't think O'Malley's accepts Tok'ra money."

"Definitely not a unit on the foreign exchange list," Jack noticed.  Seeing that Daniel was receptive to the idea and was probably receptive to any idea that might help get his mind off his current worries, Jack pressed the issue.  "So, what do you say, Danny?"

Daniel forced himself to calm down.  He could handle this until tomorrow.  "Steak?  Your treat?"

"Yeah.  Steak.  That way, you can take a knife and completely destroy a fine piece of meat instead of picking up a knife and carving up a psychiatrist.  No matter how much more enjoyable that would be." Jack had that smug little smile on his face, the one that none of the others trusted.  It always meant he was up to something...interesting.  "Besides, whatever's on your mind, sometimes the best way to remember something is to not think about it.  Medium rare steaks, baked potatoes, good music and cold beer could just do the trick."

"But no dessert," Carter reminded him.  At Daniel's almost uttered retort, she said quickly, "Remember, no sugar.  It could hurt the experiment."

"You're paying for this, Sam.  You are so going to pay for this."  Daniel warned, smiling.  He still felt jumpy, but he did feel a little better.

 

**************************************************

 

Tuesday Morning

General Hammond carefully opened the door to Major Carter's laboratory.  He immediately saw Colonel O'Neill standing by the doorway putting his finger to his lips in a quick gesture to keep quiet.  Teal'c stood at the opposite side of the room in the event he was needed to assist Major Carter in restraining Daniel Jackson.  Daniel sat in the middle of the room, his arms strapped to the arms of the chair, his expression blank as a light flashed toward him in cadence with a ticking metronome.

"How are things going?" Hammond asked Jack in a barely audible whisper.

"It took a while, but Carter finally got him under.  It seems that Daniel's not easy to hypnotize, sir."

"Do you think it will work?"

"They've gone through a lot of experiments this morning trying to get Daniel to vaelen out.  Nothing's worked so far.  Carter thinks that maybe it really is a blocked memory since the lack of caffeine hasn't helped.  I hope this one works.  Daniel's about at the end of his rope, and I don't think I could take much more of this."

"Colonel?"

Jack lowered his voice even more when he saw Carter give him a quick glance, definitely telling him to keep it down.  "They're using the Energizer theory.  Daniel usually has so much caffeine in his system that he could outlast that little pink bunny.  He's gone over 48 hours without a drop of coffee, and he's been almost impossible to be around.  He acts like he's got enough energy to burn, but he is definitely not energized.  Now if they're right, Daniel should be able to reach the part of him that's Vaelen.  Carter's hoping that by hypnotizing Daniel, he can remember how to make himself look and act like a Goa'uld without the help of a gadget."

"But what can't you take any more of?"

With a dismayed countenance, Jack remarked, "Sir, have you ever been around Daniel when he was completely decaffeinated?"

"No, I haven't.  As a matter of fact, I didn't see him at all yesterday." Hammond had also heard the rumors of Hurricane Daniel and decided that perhaps he should keep a low profile himself.

"Count yourself lucky.  You may have noticed that there are a few people walking around here without their heads.  Yesterday was bad enough, but today....let's just say today he's made Apophis look like a boy scout.  One more day of this, and I'd kill him myself.  It's been worse than the sarcophagus withdrawal."

O'Neill liked to exaggerate, but in this particular case, Hammond believed that his second-in-command was being generous.  The General also knew that this generosity would only be awarded to Daniel.  It wasn't every day the younger man would voluntarily give up his favorite drink to try an experiment.  Hammond hoped it worked, for Daniel's sake.  Glancing at Jack, he knew that the Colonel didn't care if it worked or not.  He saw the large promised carafe of Starbuck's coffee sitting on the table for them when this was finished.  Daniel had suffered enough.  Not to mention everyone else.

"How long do you think this will take, Colonel?"

Jack shrugged his shoulders.  "I don't know.  Carter wasn't sure.  Why?"

"I received a call just now.  The investigator is coming today.  I still don't know who he'll want to talk to, but I have no doubt SG-1 will be at the top of his list."

More good news.  It just never ended, did it?  "Did they say when he'll get here?" Jack wanted to know.

"Not really," Hammond admitted worriedly.  "Just sometime today.  Also, we just received a communication from the research facility on M67-294.  They need Major Carter and Doctor Jackson immediately to get their on-site generator working again.  Their technician had to return here a few days ago with pneumonia.  I explained that they were involved in an important experiment that couldn't be abandoned, but they would be there today.  The generator just needs to be fixed before nightfall there."

"Is this that same generator we picked up from that Goa'uld junkyard a couple of months back?  The one all the engineers were so gung-ho about because the power supply lasted so long?"

"That's the one.  It's had a successful field test so far, but Captain Phillips tried to readjust a few controls, and now it doesn't work."

"I'll tell them the fun's over after this one," O'Neill agreed.  "A simple repair trip might be just what we need."

"Colonel?"

"Sir, I know we're not scheduled for any downtime, but with the investigator coming, McElhannon yanking our chains, the Tok'ra making an appearance, a survey mission on Thursday and the latest edition of Takeover Weekly, I think a short, easy trip might be just what the doctor ordered.  You know, a last minute breather before everything hits the fan."

They would all need a breather before this week was over with.  "That's what I was thinking," Hammond told him quietly.

"You know how it is, sir, great minds and all."

Another stern look from Sam quieted both men.  She was ready to begin.

Sam kept her voice low and steady.  "Daniel, can you hear me?"

Daniel's voice was void of emotion, flat and lifeless.  "Yes."

"Daniel, I want you to listen to what I say.  I want you to remember that you're safe.  That you're in the SGC.  Nothing can hurt you here.  Do you understand?"  She saw him nod his head, his eyes not focusing on anything.  "Good.  Now I'm going to ask you a few questions, okay?"

"Okay.  Questions."

"Yes.  Daniel, I want you to think back to a time when you felt safe and happy."  She waited a few moments.  "Can you remember such a time?"

A few moments passed, then Daniel answered "Yes."

Carter silently sighed.  So far, so good.  "Good.  Can you tell me where you are."

Daniel looked around the room but in his mind's eye was seeing someplace completely different.  "I'm on the beach."

"Which beach are you on?"

Daniel looked down, his hand reaching down and moving in a scooping motion.  His fingers splayed apart, wiggling slowly like he was letting sand flow through them.  "On the Southern Continent.  We've been here almost a month.  Marae wanted us to have a little time to ourselves.  She says that we've been too busy with the war to attend to other things."

Uh, oh.  These weren't Daniel's remembrances.  Carter had tapped into Vaelen's.  "Can you tell me who Marae is?"

Daniel looked almost content, a calmness centered in his eyes that Sam had not seen since the first time she saw Daniel look at Sha'uri.  "My wife.  She chose a beautiful host.  Dark eyes, dark hair.  She loves walking by the ocean."  Daniel's tone changed suddenly.  "She's so much like my Sha'uri.  We would go walking by the river near Nagada.  Sha'uri loved to walk barefoot in the wet sand.  They were both taken from me."

Sam had to redirect this line of thought quickly.  She didn't want Daniel to relive the loss of either woman.  "That's good, Daniel.  I need you to remember the feeling of safety you felt on that beach while I ask you some more questions.  Can you do that?"

"Yes."

"Good.  I'm going to ask you some questions about Vaelen.  Can you remember when you first met him?"  Sam hoped that this wasn't going to be too much for Daniel to bear.  Her memories of how she "met" Jolinar were not quite pleasant.  She didn't like to be reminded of them.

Daniel's brow furrowed in a look of abject horror.  "It's cold...dark.  They're coming.  Goa'ulds...so many of them.  Crawling over us.  It hurts.  One's coming straight for me.  I've got to get away.....can't move.  So much blood....I can't..breathe --"

"Carter," O'Neill called to her, "get him past this one."

Speaking quickly, Sam said, "Daniel, it's all right.  Remember, you're safe.  You're at the SGC with us.  Just remember that none of this is actually happening to you.  You're just an observer."  She watched as Daniel quieted.  She had to move him past that time.  "I need you to go beyond the time you were made a host.  I want you to remember a time when Vaelen had control of your body, to a time when he used his physical abilities."

Daniel got very still.  "It's dark.  I can't see anything.  I can't feel....I think I'm moving, but I'm not."

Sam knew what he meant.  She endured moments of complete sensory isolation, not just subjugation.  Jolinar was only trying to survive but was also trying to protect Sam.  Pushing those thoughts aside, she asked, "What do you hear?"

"Voices.  Goa'uld voices.  A roar."

A roar?  Sam didn't think that was important at the moment.  She mentally filed the comment away for future reference.  "Can you tell me if Vaelen's talking?"

Daniel cocked his head to one side, listening to words only he could hear.  "Yes.  He's angry.  The death gliders have done so much damage.  We've had to kill so many Jaffa.  They just keep coming.  Dervans.  Dervans are leading them.  We don't have enough munitions for a prolonged battle...."

"Okay, Daniel.  Listen to me.  You're only an observer.  These things aren't happening."  Daniel relaxed somewhat.  "Can you concentrate on Vaelen?  Are his eyes glowing right now?"

Daniel looked at Sam without seeing her, his eyes taking on a slight glow.  "Yes."  Even his voice held the faint tremor of a double-echo.  Daniel had tapped into something.

"Good.  Now I need you to remember how this feels.  Can you sense how Vaelen is making his eyes glow and his voice echo?  Do you know how he's doing it?"

Moments passed.  Quiet, tense moments passed as the occupants in the room watched Daniel sort through the memory of sensation.  Finally, he said "Yes.  I know how he's doing it."

"Can you remember how he's doing it?"

Sam waited with bated breath until Daniel nodded his head.  "I can remember."

Sam drew a deep breath.  Now was the real test.  "Daniel, I want you to remember that you're safe.  You're at the SGC.  Think back to how safe you felt on that beach with Marae."  She paused as Daniel's shoulders relaxed, then said, "Now I want you to remember when you emerged from the sarcophagus after Thayer had kidnapped you.  Your eyes glowed and your voice echoed.  I need you to remember what that felt like."

Bad suggestion.

With a fierce growl, Daniel snapped the straps restraining him and launched himself from the chair in the same manner he jumped from the sarcophagus that day.  He pushed Sam away and tried to run toward the door.  Immediately, Jack and Teal'c tackled Daniel to the ground before he could hurt anything or anybody, including himself.

With an incredible display of strength, Daniel threw Teal'c away from him, stood and grabbed Jack by the throat and lifted him completely off the ground.  Teal'c rushed him, knocked his feet out from under him and tripped him up.  Both he and Jack pinned him to the floor but were having little effect.  Daniel was fighting them, and they were losing.

"Daniel," Sam rushed over to him and yelled his name.  "Wake up!"

Daniel grew very still very suddenly, taking both Teal'c and Jack by surprise.  He was very much out of his trance, but he was still being held in his friends' viselike grips.  "Whoa.  That was...intense."

"That's an understatement," Jack commented as he loosened his hold on Daniel's arms but didn't relinquish it altogether.  "You almost went into orbit.  Are you okay?"

Daniel sat up and took stock of himself.  "Yeah.  Fine.  I really don't want to do that again."

"We would also wish not to repeat this," Teal'c agreed.  "I believe your strength is even greater than we had first estimated."

"Ya think?" Jack reached for his throat.  It wasn't bruised, but it was sore.  "Remind us not to get you mad at us.  Ever."  Then he asked Sam, "He won't have to do this again, right?"

"Maybe not," Sam answered hopefully. "Daniel, do you remember?"

Daniel looked at her as if trying to remember what they had been in there to do.  As he was looking at her, his eyes glowed briefly but not very brightly.  "Yes, I think so," he said in an almost double-echo voice of a Goa'uld.  Then, his eyes returned to normal and he pinched the bridge of his nose.  "That's going to take a little getting used to," he told them in his own voice.  "That uses muscles I didn't even know I had."  The pain was tantamount to a migraine but was thankfully brief in duration.

Jack put his hand on Daniel's shoulder and gave it a squeeze.  "Well, don't overdo it.  Maybe it just takes practice."

A steaming cup of hot, wonderful, rich, nerve-soothing coffee appeared in front of him.  Daniel's surprise did not go unnoticed as General Hammond handed him the cup.  "I think you've done enough for one day, Doctor Jackson.  It may take time for you to learn to control this talent of yours."

"Talent?" Daniel echoed the General.  "I could think of a few other words to use than that."  He gulped down the coffee like a man dying of thirst finally given water and eagerly took the carafe from the General to refill the cup.

Oh, sweet elixir!  Ambrosia!  Pure nectar from the gods themselves!  The dark life-giving life-sustaining liquid!  Then and there, Daniel swore he was never giving up coffee cold turkey ever again.  It wasn't worth the trouble.

"Daniel Jackson, perhaps O'Neill is correct about your need for coffee." Teal'c suggested forcefully.

"I am?" Jack asked incredulously.  "Really?"

"I have long noticed that the Tau'ri are dependent on many foods and drinks not necessary for nutrition.  Such addictions are detrimental to a person's well being.  Perhaps --"

Daniel held up a hand to stop Teal'c's next statement.  "Teal'c, I love coffee.  I live for coffee.  I exist because of coffee.  Therefore, coffee is a mainstay of my diet.  Since I'm still alive and kicking, currently that is, I'd have to say that coffee is healthy.  It must have some nutritional value."

Helping Daniel to his feet, Teal'c asked, "What value would that be, Daniel Jackson?"

"Easy.  I drink it, I don't feel like killing anyone.  People stay healthy."

"Teal'c," Jack admonished him, "you've backed yourself up into a losing battle here.  Better cut your losses while you can."

Hammond watched them joke back and forth, the ease with which they did so.  Everything was back to normal for the time being. How long would that last?

 

**************************************************

 

Mid-Tuesday afternoon

General Hammond hated waiting.

The only thing he hated worse than waiting was the reason why he was waiting in the first place.

Someone was spreading lies about his ability to command.

The latest report he had received via fax minutes earlier was full of lies.  These particular lies had all been gathered during a particular eight month period and had been levied against him before a particular final showdown took place eight months ago, so he knew who the someone was.  Yet, regardless of the nonsensical quality of the allegations, despite the fact that the White House backed him entirely, despite the fact it had taken them eight months to move on these allegations, the Pentagon (oh, goody) was still sending out this investigator.  Hammond had weathered investigators before, but he didn't know how he was going to deal with this one.

Colonel Matthew Augustus Jennings.  The "Gus-Buster."

His reputation preceded him.  He was one of the few individuals so high up in the food chain that he didn't officially exist, a Covert-Ops specialist of the highest caliber, a deadly trained killer that could be certified as a lethal weapon -- if he officially existed, that is.  It was rumored that no one stood in his way, no one could defy him without facing deadly consequences.

The report also indicated that this was the man who personally requested the President and the Joint Chiefs for clearance and permission to conduct this review of the command structure of the SGC.  That didn't ring true for Hammond.  Why would someone who didn't officially exist put himself in such an obvious position to be seen by anyone and everyone?  Jennings was not an easy man to read.

General Hammond sat in his office waiting for Jennings to arrive, and he hated waiting.

Finally, Lieutenant Harriman entered Hammond's office, escorting Colonel Jennings and his assistant, Captain Curtis Moore, into the General's office.

Hammond politely welcomed his guests.  "Colonel Jennings, it's an honor to meet you.  I've heard --"

"Yes, General, I'm sure you've heard a lot of things about me.  Let me assure you that 99% of the rumors are false.  They serve to keep my enemies confused.  I'll admit that I did parachute into Cambodia and brought out seven American POWs in 1980.  That's one mission I will take pride in.  However, we are not here to discuss my past activities.  We're here to discuss yours."

He took a seat opposite General Hammond; Captain Moore and Lieutenant Harriman standing behind him.  He was meticulously dressed, his air and manner professional.  His manner of speaking very direct and to the point, an obviously cultured man.  This was truly a military soldier in every sense of the word.  "You are aware of the gravity of the charges against you?"

"Yes, I am, but --"

"Good.  I hate talking to an ignorant audience.  Are you also aware of the identity of the person or persons who have made these allegations?"

"I have a pretty good idea."

"I'll take that as a yes."  Jennings reached into his briefcase and pulled out a folder.  "Here is the written list of charges I will be investigating.  As you can see, it is an original of the fax you should have received several days ago.  You may prepare any reason, excuse or defense for any of your actions.  I am to be given full access to any and all information required to conduct my investigation.  Do you have any questions?"

"No."

"Good.  Then I'll start my investigation by speaking to SG-1 immediately."

"SG-1 is currently on a mission to one of our off-world research facilities.  They're not due to return for a few hours yet.  If you'd like, we could try to contact them, have them return early."

Colonel Jennings considered this for a moment.  He drummed his fingers lightly on the arm of the chair, each tap in perfect time with each other.  "This will not put me behind schedule.  However, when they do return, I wish to see them as soon as possible.  I have no intentions of wasting my time.  Are there any other events scheduled for today that I should be aware of?"

"Not today," General Hammond told him.  "A Tok'ra representative is scheduled to arrive sometime this week.  The meeting has to do with the joint Tok'ra/Earth mission to P7L-525 late last week."

Captain Moore pulled out another folder and handed it to Colonel Jennings who started flipping though the pages.  Gus didn't tell Hammond that this particular report had been faxed to him early that morning.  He was going to let the General think that every bit of information was known and available to him and sitting comfortably with the rest of the paperwork he had brought with him.  "P7L-525.  According to what I have here, this was originally a mission to destroy a Goa'uld base.  The Intel was not correct, and four SGC teams and armed reinforcements were attacking a Goa'uld stronghold and the protecting army.  This was a diversionary tactic for the Tok'ra to steal an advanced ship.  Why is that?"

"Why is what, Colonel?"

"Why did the Tok'ra steal the ship?  Where were the Earth forces?"

General Hammond sat back in his chair.  No one, not even someone like Colonel Jennings was going to insinuate that the Earth forces were derelict in their duties, and that's what Jennings sounded like.  "Colonel, the Tok'ra did not tell us the entire truth when they asked for our assistance.  We were told it was a Goa'uld base with one Goa'uld and less than 50 troops guarding a storage facility containing weapons grade naquada.  The truth was somewhat different.  There were seven Goa'ulds, their armies, a fortified stronghold with an almost unbreachable defense grid, and that ship all about to join forces with Apophis.  By the time my people knew the full extent of the enemy forces, they were fighting for their lives against superior numbers while trying to hold the Stargate.   The Tok'ra used that time to steal the ship, leaving the SG teams on their own --"

"And most returned alive." Jennings turned to a page near the end of the report.  "It's written here that Doctor Jackson employed a Kha'ti technique to even the odds.  Isn't that an unexpected move from a civilian archaeologist who has a reputation of having no patience with the military and who has no business being a member of a front line unit?"

"Doctor Jackson is one of my best people.  He's proven himself countless times.  It's because of him we even have an SGC."

"So I've been told.  I'm sure you understand that Doctor Daniel Jackson will be one of our topics of conversation."

"I see that what happened to him and the other civilians last year has been added to the top of your list of charges, Colonel."  Hammond said abruptly.  "I'm sure the people and events surrounding that time have been thoroughly investigated by your department after we uncovered the extent of the conspiracy.  I'm not sure what else I could add that your investigation didn't find out."

Jennings head didn't move from its position, but his eyes looked up at Hammond.  This General was no fool, not like Westerly.  Put a problem in front of this one, and the problem will cease to exist in double-quick time.  Hammond plainly saw Gus as a problem.  Gus decided he did like this General.  Under other circumstances, they might have been friends or at least friendly associates.  "We shall see, General.  Since it will be several hours before I can speak with the members of SG-1, we'll take the opportunity to acquaint ourselves with the layout of this base.  Captain Moore and I do like to familiarize ourselves with our surroundings.  With your permission, of course."

Hammond knew that the last statement was added as a rhetorical stab.  As long as Colonel Jennings was there, he was the effectual commander of the base.  He could override the General's orders if he wished as long as Hammond was under investigation.  His last comment was just a reminder that Hammond would only look like he was in charge.  "Lieutenant Harriman is a very good tour guide, Colonel.  I'll have you informed the minute SG-1 returns."

They didn't salute, shake hands or ask to be dismissed.  Jennings and Moore turned their backs on Hammond and left the room, an almost embarrassed Lieutenant Harriman following them.

 

**************************************************

 

Late Tuesday afternoon.

Doctor Fraiser tried not to notice everyone's reaction to Colonel Jennings' presence.  For hours, rumors had been circulating through the base's grapevine that the Gus-Buster was there to investigate Hammond.  For hours, everyone had been trying to stay out of his way.  He was an imposing, intimidating figure, but his reputation alone would have sent the bravest of them scurrying for hiding places.  As he walked around the infirmary and the lab, ostensibly inspecting the layout and the equipment, Janet noticed his intense interest in the Goa'uld symbiote lying quietly in the aquarium in the laboratory.

Gus quickly walked over to Janet and pointed over at the aquarium that could only be viewed if you stood diagonally across from the doorway.  "That is a Goa'uld symbiote?"

"Yes, sir.  We've been studying it the last few months.  We're hoping to find some weakness in its physiology in order to better fight the Goa'uld."

Gus and Curt walked closer to the tank, each amazed at the creature.  It resembled an unusual looking snake, but the head was...different.  Very different.  They watched as the creature moved around the tank, undeniably bored.  It glowed its eyes at them and hissed.

"Think we've just been cussed out?" Curt asked him quietly.

"Wouldn't doubt it," was the answer.  "Ugly little bugger, ain't he?"

The word ugly didn't equal the visual sight that was the symbiote.  "That's a face even a mother wouldn't love," Curt pointed out.

The warning klaxon rang out to the base the news that someone was arriving through the Stargate.  Both Jennings and Moore moved back into the infirmary and waited for Harriman to explain.

"That alarm that you just heard was probably SG-1 returning from their current mission.  They're the only ones scheduled to return today.  They're a little early, so I have no doubt that their first stop will be the infirmary.  We can meet them here if you wish."

This made things extraordinarily easy, Gus thought to himself.  "I do."

The sight that greeted both men as the team entered the infirmary was not unexpected to anyone who knew the way SG-1 did business.  All four were dirty, their clothes showing signs of a battle.  His shoulder wounded and bleeding, Colonel O'Neill was helping a limping Daniel Jackson into the infirmary, the latter sporting a staff weapon blast in his leg.  Major Carter and Teal'c had minor flesh wounds and each had several odd looking weapons in their hands which they were describing to their SF escorts.  Gus remembered reading that part of the SGC's mission was the recovery of advanced technology.  The team had obviously done just that while visiting a research facility?  General Hammond was walking with them, listening to an abridged version of the mission report.

"It was a piece of cake, General," O'Neill explained to him.  "Should've seen the lovely weather back on M6-whatever.  Nothing but sunshine and angry snakeheads."

"You had trouble back on the planet you were reconnoitering, Colonel?" Jennings asked him.

"Nothing out of the ordinary, Colonel.  Definitely nothing we couldn't handle.  Just a long range Jaffa ship that ran out of fuel and wanted to crash the party.  We don't like gatecrashers.  And if you don't mind my asking, who are you?"

General Hammond handled the introductions.  "Colonel Jack O'Neill, Major Samantha Carter, Doctor Daniel Jackson, Teal'c, this is Colonel Matthew Augustus Jennings, the investigator from the Pentagon.  Colonel Jennings, this is SG-1."

"THE Matthew Augustus Jennings?" O'Neill asked him.  "Everyone in the military has heard of you."

Carter added, apparently in awe of the man standing before them, "With respect, sir, I thought you were a myth."

"Indeed," Teal'c agreed with her.  "I have heard of your exploits as well, Colonel.  Your ingenuity is admired among many of the Tau'ri soldiers."

"You're joking, right?" Daniel asked him.

Carter had the good sense to look abashed.  "Daniel, Colonel Jennings is --"

"I don't need anyone to explain my actions to a civilian, Major."  He approached Daniel and stood staring him directly in the eye.  Neither one blinked.

"What if I said I don't particularly care for civilians?"

"I'd say tough."

"And if I said that a civilian has no place on a front line SG team?"

"I'd say get used to it."

"And if I said that no civilian should be stationed at this base?"

"I'd say that attitude could get you killed real fast."

"And would you shed a bitter tear?"

"Depends."

"On what?"

"On who gets custody of the '65 Mustang."

The stunned looks on the faces of the people around them turned to confusion when Captain Moore started laughing.  It was mass confusion when Daniel and Jennings joined in.

In an unprecedented move, Jennings grabbed Daniel in a strong bear hug, his delight in seeing the younger man evident on his face.  "It's good to see you, you know that? And damn it, I can't believe you're still in one piece.  You wouldn't believe some of the things I've read about you.  Then again, maybe you would.  You're the one who had those things happen to you."

"Since when did you believe everything you read?  And why shouldn't I be in one piece?" Daniel seemed equally happy to see the Colonel.

"You would not believe the pile of reports I've had to read.  Let's just say that SG-1 is rather entertaining.  You guys get into a hell of a lot of trouble.  Big boys out in the wild blue yonder all want a piece of your hides."

Daniel stepped back, astonished.  "You actually read a report?  Gus, are you feeling all right?  You don't even read your speeding tickets that you get when you're driving my car."

Starting to laugh again, Gus exclaimed mockingly, "Oh, we're back to that, are we?  Look, D.J., the car's mine.  You know the rules, finders keepers, losers weepers.  Possession is nine tenths of the law.  Early bird --"

"Pay a sea captain enough money and he'll transport my car overseas?"

"My car.  Say it enough times, and you might actually believe it."

Curt was starting to laugh a little harder now.  Trying to regain control of himself, he stammered out, "Will you two stop it already?  You'll be worrying about that damn car until the wheels fall off."

"The wheels?" Daniel asked.  "Gus, what have you done to that car?"

The Colonel actually looked a little worried.  The precision soldier that had stood before General Hammond was gone, and in his place was someone who exhibited no military bearing at all.  "Nothing!  That car's still in mint condition."  Then to the Captain, "Can it, Curtis."

The Captain stopped laughing, but he just couldn't stop grinning.

Seeing Daniel's skeptical look, Jennings promised him, "I swear, D.J., that car is in showroom condition.  Candy-apple red with shiny chrome.  There's not a scratch or a dent on my car."

"Your car?"

"Yes, my car.  I bought the parts for it."

"I put it together."

"I pay the insurance."

"You're the one who stole it and had it shipped over to Europe.  You ought to be paying the insurance on it."

"Oh, boys," Moore's voice cut into the argument.  "As much as I love listening to the two of you debate -- for the umpteenth time -- vehicle ownership on a pile of steel I wouldn't have if my life depended on it, we were sent here to work on a problem."

"What problem?" Daniel asked with a grimace.

"The one the investigator came to investigate.  I'm the investigator, remember?"  Gus was being just a little too cocky for his own good, especially since he could see that Daniel was in more than a little pain.

"You're the investigator."  Daniel repeated.  "I should have known.  You know, you could have told me when you called me."

"And spoil my fun?  You should have seen how Hammond reacted when I met with him earlier.  He's the first officer I've ever come across that didn't want to run for the hills.  I'll tell you all about it after you get finished in the infirmary."  Changing the subject, he pointed toward Daniel's leg and asked, "Does that hurt?"

"Yes, Gus.  It hurts.  Staff weapon blasts have a tendency to do that."

"How bad is it?"

With a disinterested shrug, Daniel commented, "Not as bad as it could have been.  It's a deep flesh wound.  It's healing."

Jennings nodded his head.  "Right.  I read that you heal up fast these days."

"Comes in handy at times, but it does take a while to work.  It'll be pretty much healed in a couple of days.  I won't even be limping in a few hours.  It's a symbiotic by-product."  Daniel told him, the look on his face clearly indicating he was a few points ahead in the game of comical one-upsmanship with the mercenary.

"Speaking of which," Gus grabbed Daniel by the arm and almost dragged him over to Nuisance while being very careful with his wounded leg.  "First of all, I heard you were dead when you and this Vaelen character met up.  Is that true?"

"Yes, it is.  Some folks in the military decided that they didn't like me or the rest of the civilians here at the base and wanted to get rid of us.  Permanently."  Daniel's voice showed no signs of animosity or anger.  He was just relating facts in a very detached manner.

Gus stopped in front of the aquarium.  He jabbed a pointed finger at Nuisance.  "That.  You.  All tucked up in your noggin?"

"Yes.  Only that's a Goa'uld.  Mine was a Kha'ti.  Sam had a Tok'ra in her head for a few hours."  Daniel was still speaking with all the concern of a man ordering breakfast.  Could events like possession be such a common occurrence that no one worried over them?  "Goa'uld aren't nearly as much fun."

Gus threw up his hands and ignored Curt as he started softly laughing again.  Daniel Jackson was one of two people who could upstage Gus in front of people without the worry of being taken down.  Permanently.  "Fun, he says.  A snake curls up around his brain stem, and he says it's fun."

Nuisance started thrashing and hissing at Gus, his view of the infirmary obstructed by the man.  He settled down when Daniel bent down and glared at him.  He hissed a few more times at Daniel.

"I don't care," Daniel told the symbiote as it continued to hiss at him.  "You're not destroying anybody or anything.   Just curl up and be quiet."  He thumped the aquarium with his knuckles, sending the symbiote to the far side of the tank.

Curt moved closer to the tank, his eyes never leaving Daniel.  "You can understand it?"

"Yeah.  It's just another language I know how to translate.  Not that he ever has anything to say that I'd want to hear, and I came a little too close to having to listen to him for a very long time.  Teal'c's symbiote is polite.  He actually said 'Please' one time."  He now found it to be a moral imperative to gain the upper hand with Curtis as well.  "You mean you can't understand him?  It's a very simple language."

A simple language?  Who was D.J. kidding?  "He's squawking!"  Curt exclaimed, rather loudly much to Doctor Fraiser's dismay.  Using a lower tone of voice (especially after getting the evil eye from the good doctor), Curt continued with "Those are hisses and raspberries.  I know you're good, D.J., but that's bordering on the edge of Doctor Dolittle status."

"Gentlemen," Doctor Fraiser stepped into the conversation, "I'm sure this is all very interesting, but I have a post-mission exam to run on SG-1.  I would like to have my infirmary back."

Thoroughly chastised and with a subtle "yes, ma'am," Curt skulked back to stand beside Gus.  Noticing the unusual look Gus gave him, Curt said, "Well, it is her infirmary."

"Yes, it is." Gus agreed amusingly.  "And it's always a good idea not to get the local sawbones too pissed with you."  To Daniel, "We'll talk later, D.J..  You've got to catch me up with what's been going on with you lately."  Then, to General Hammond, all traces of the Gus-Buster gone, "General, it's too late for us to discuss anything today.  We can do this tomorrow.  We're going to need a place all of us can talk privately.  Any suggestions?"

He was asking him?  "Yes.  The debriefing room."  The General looked just as confused as everyone else.  The Gus-Buster, the terror of Covert Ops, the killer who could crack everything but a smile was joking with Daniel and had been doing so for several minutes.  He wasn't acting quite like the mercenary Hammond had heard about.  "SG-1, you're on stand down for now.  As soon as Doctor Fraiser clears you, you can debrief me about your mission."

"With D.J. around, is it safe to assume that you've got a pot of coffee percolating around every corner?" Jennings asked the General.

"There is now, Colonel," Hammond answered warily, still unsure what to make of this unexpected behavior from the Gus-Buster.

"The Air Force is providing us with Colombian these days," Daniel volunteered.

"Good.  Now, if we can round up some doughnuts, we'll be living high off the hog."

"You're going to be as big as one if you keep scarfing down the doughnuts," Daniel kidded him.  "Didn't your doctor warn you about the dangers of high cholesterol levels?"

Captain Moore spoke before Gus could.  "Yep.  The doc warned him his numbers were high enough to stop a charging rhino.  You should have seen his face when Gus told him what he could do with his diet ideas."

"Keep it up, Curt.  I'll use your teeth for shrapnel."

"Yeah.  Right.  I'm really scared, Gus."  Then Curt turned his attention to more important matters.  "General, we're going to need a place to sleep tonight.  Our offer to come here didn't include any extras."

Lieutenant Harriman, tired of feeling absolutely useless in the face of utter confusion, spoke up.  "I could take them to the visitor's rooms, General.  We have a few available."

"Very good, Lieutenant.  See to it that the Colonel and the Captain have everything they need.  We'll continue this in the morning."

As they followed Harriman out the door, Gus was quietly discussing his breakfast menu with the Lieutenant.  That left one doctor, one general and three of the four members of SG-1 looking stunned.

Quietly to Daniel and out of the hearing range of everyone else, Hammond demanded, "What the hell just happened here?"

Daniel sat down, his leg finally letting him know it wasn't going to hold him up any longer.  "General, you just met the wild card stuck up your sleeve.  Gus is here to help."

"Help?  How?  Doctor Jackson, that man is a very well known mercenary.  He was sent here to investigate and I'm sure he's been paid handsomely for his services.  What makes you think he's going to do anything any differently?"

Daniel was the only one not confused.  Without betraying any secrets, he said, "General, think about it.  I know him.  He called me and warned me about the upcoming takeover attempt.  The only thing you have to do now is wait to see what he'll tell you.  Remember, I'm not allowed to say anything."

Hammond knew.  Holy buckets, he knew.  Daniel couldn't say anything, but what he wasn't saying screamed louder than a sonic boom.  More pieces of the puzzle fell into place.

The realization was not shared by the others who had not heard the quiet conversation between General and archaeologist.  "Uh, Daniel," Jack's attention was fully concentrated on the corridor, "Gus?"

"Yeah.  Gus.  That's his name."

"And you're on a first name basis with a guy who maims, kills and destroys for a living?"

"I've known him for 20 years.  Why wouldn't I call him Gus?"

"Oh, no reason." Jack took a last glance down the corridor.  "You've got some interesting friends there, Danny."

 

**************************************************

 

The Gus-Buster was going to ruin everything!

McElhannon paced his small office waiting for his superior to answer his questions.  His complaints were basically ignored.

"Sir, this individual is not the type of person we need in here right now...I know he's good at what he does.  He's a legend....SG-1 will not let Hammond face Jennings alone.  It's too soon.  They'll overlook any confusion, doubt or anger I've managed to instill in them to face off with Jennings together....This is very bad timing, sir....No, I have a group session with SG-1 tomorrow....I'll try to disrupt them further, but I doubt I'll have any effect on them.  Jennings will have undermined any of my attempts just by threatening to go after Hammond and they'll close ranks....Yes, sir....I'll do my best...Sir, I realize that you've stopped deploying....may I suggest we not have specific extraction and embarkation times?  Just go as soon as we can....We may need the flexibility if we're going to remain a going concern...Yes sir."

McElhannon really hated officers.

 

**************************************************

 

Very early Wednesday morning

O'Neill grabbed his keys and had just reached his door when his phone rang.  He did a quick about-face and picked up the receiver.  He hoped it was just someone wanting to sell him vinyl siding or long distance service or something else he really didn't need so he could just hang up and head to the base.  He didn't want to be late for breakfast.

"Hello?"

"Colonel," Sam answered him, "Daniel just called in and said he wouldn't be coming in to work today."

"Okay, he's not coming in today.  It's not like...oh, damn, we've got that meeting with Jennings, and we have to talk to McElhannon today, don't we?"

"Yes sir, but that's not the problem.  It's the way he sounded, sir.  He was mumbling, not making sense.  Something's wrong, but he didn't want to tell me what it was."

Something was wrong with Daniel?  Now was not a good time for anything to be wrong with him.  "Okay, Carter.  I'll stop by his place on the way in and see what's going on."

Hanging up the phone, he thought that maybe he could stop somewhere along the way and grab breakfast.

 

**************************************************

 

Jack knocked on the door.  "Daniel, you home?"

He heard some noises coming from the apartment and waited.  He finally knocked again.  "Daniel?"  There was no answer.

Jack pulled out the spare key Daniel had given him and unlocked the door.  It opened to show a very disheveled Daniel Jackson wearing the same clothes he had worn the day before, sitting against the wall, staring into space.  He looked like he hadn't slept in several days.

"Daniel?  Are you all right?"  Jack walked over to his friend, noticing the state of the apartment.  It was in shambles.  Furniture was overturned, cushions were thrown across the room, lamps were broken, luckily not a single artifact was disturbed.  Only the newer belongings were the recipients of whatever armageddon Daniel had inflicted.  Daniel wouldn't have to mourn over the fact he had destroyed some precious piece of history.

Looking again at Daniel, Jack saw signs all to familiar to him.  He'd seen them in the faces of countless soldiers, even times past when he dared look in the mirror.  Eyes blood shot from lack of sleep, shaking hands, averted gaze, look of fear.  The General was right by suspecting that Daniel might one day experience something like this, but since this was Daniel and not just anybody, this seemed different.  Jack believed this was more than just the usual run-of-the-mill flashback because Daniel's past experiences were anything but run-of-the-mill.  "What happened?" he asked again.

Daniel shook his head and shrugged his shoulders, his entire demeanor indicating that he didn't want to talk, leave him alone and, lock the door on your way out, thank you.

Jack knew that he needed to get Daniel talking.  The archaeologist could handle anything if he either didn't think about it and just acted or talked the issue to an early death.  A quiet Daniel was not a good sign under any circumstances.  "Danny?"

An agonizingly slow few moments passed before Daniel almost yelled, "I got pissed and trashed my apartment.  Is that all right with you?"  Jack expected that angry outburst, but he wasn't expecting the tremor in Daniel's voice.  It almost sounded like....

"Yeah.  It's all right.  It's your apartment.  You can trash it if you want."  Jack sat down next to him.  "I kind of did the same thing myself a few times after I got back from Iraq.  I took a sledgehammer to the lawnmower.  Chopped up the bushes with the hedge clippers.  Threw a couple of coffee mugs in the fireplace.  Went to the firing range and destroyed a lot of targets.  Helped a little."  Jack sat quietly for a few moments.  "Sometimes it helps to talk.  Sometimes it doesn't."

Daniel almost ignored Jack's open invitation.  Almost.  He didn't know what to do, how to deal with this one.  He had been able to deal with everything else, but this...he just didn't know.  "I fell asleep on the couch last night."

Okay.  That was a beginning.  Jack took small notice of the big screen TV, the much beloved big screen TV, with a gaping hole in the center of the screen.  A very heavy object had been thrown through it.  No more hockey games on that set.  "Watching a movie?" Jack asked, deliberately keeping his voice light.

"Yeah.  Rerun.  It was The Abyss, the director's cut."

Danny's voice sounded a little better. Had to keep him talking.  "Good movie," Jack said.

"I've always liked it." Daniel got quiet again.

"Did you watch it all the way through?"

"No.  I got to the part where the two characters were trapped in one of those mini-subs at the bottom of the ocean and only had one pressure suit to escape in."

Jack nodded his head.  "Right.  The guy put on the suit, and the lady allowed herself to drown in the freezing water because he could drag her body back to the underwater rig and resuscitate her better than she could do the same for him.  Must have been a tough scene to film."

"Probably.  It got to the point in the movie where the minisub was completely flooded, and the lady drowned, and there was this sound."

"Sound?" Jack asked him.

"Yeah, this underwater sound.  The one where everything sounds muffled.  Like a roar."

Jack glanced at Daniel, the younger man's eyes looking at something that had nothing to do with movies or muffled sounds.  He had mentioned a roar before when he was under hypnosis.  No one had thought anything of it at the time.  "I think I know the one."

"That's the sound.  That's all you hear.  From the moment they take you over until the time they're gone, that's what you hear.  It's always there in the background.  I didn't know anything, I wasn't aware of anything.  There was only that noise."

Okay.  Jack had no idea what Daniel was talking about.  "That's what you heard?"

"No.  That's all there was.  That's all I was.  Trapped, helpless, and just that damnable noise."

Trapped?  Helpless?  Oh, hell.  "Daniel, what happened?"

Daniel just sat quietly, not talking.  When Jack placed a comforting hand on his shoulder, he finally muttered, "I remembered."

"Remembered what?" Jack asked him.  What could possibly shake Daniel this much?  When his friend didn't answer, Jack tried again.  "Please, Daniel, talk to me.  Let me help.  What did you remember?"

It took a while for Daniel to answer, but his answer was not what Jack was expecting.  "I remembered those eight months."  Daniel couldn't look at Jack, he couldn't focus on anything.  His eyes were looking at anything but what was before him.

Double hell and triple damn.  This was not going to be easy to hear and doubly hard for Daniel to explain, but he needed Daniel to talk more.  He needed to understand.  He needed Daniel to be all right, but all he could do was listen and be there for him.  "I thought you already remembered those eight months," Jack commented quietly.  Keep it calm and light, O'Neill.

"No, I remember what Vaelen did during that time.  I never remembered until now what I did.  I remember being dead."

Jack guessed that what Skaara had told him about the horrors of being a host wouldn't compare to Daniel's experience.  "I can only guess that it wasn't pleasant," Jack said lightly.  Damn.  Daniel had not been able to remember much of anything that had happened to him during that time, and for that, Jack had been grateful to whatever Powers-That-Be who looked after accident-prone archaeologists.  As far as Daniel had been able to remember, he had been lying in the snow, watching the symbiote slither toward him one second and then he was going to the SGC in the next second.  Very few events between those two points in time had penetrated the nothingness in which Daniel existed.  He had a vague memory of Feretti and SG-2 arriving on PTX-952, the final battle with the Jaffa, and then going through the Stargate.  After that, he was becoming self-aware and the memories were his and Vaelen's.  He had been shocked to learn from Vaelen that eight months had passed.

"You don't know what it's like.  It's a life sentence in a sensory deprivation tank.  That's why most hosts don't recover after being taken as a host.  The Kha'ti couldn't put anyone through that."

Daniel stopped talking.  The emotions that were just beneath the surface came forward.  He started shaking, his voice catching, a tear slowly threading its way down his cheek.  It was too much to take in so fast.  "Five seconds more, and it would have been over with."

Jack had to listen carefully for that last statement.  "What do you mean?"

"I was so close to being dead.  If Vaelen had blended with me five seconds later, I would have been.  There wouldn't have been a Daniel Jackson for Vaelen to bring to 100% cohesion.  I would have made it across the river."

The apparent truth of that statement did not need further comment.  Jack had thought about it many times, Daniel truly being dead.  Losing his best friend for good and all time.  Those few hours between the meetings where the Kha'ti had told them how they came to have possession of the civilians' bodies and when Vaelen had come to his office to explain that Daniel was still alive had been a horrendously painful eternity for Jack.  The thought alone was almost alien to his way of thinking.  After a few minutes, Daniel spoke again.  "And there's more."

More?  Jack did not need to hear that.  Everything he was being told seemed to be enough to deal with.  If there was more...

"What is it?" he prompted Daniel.

Daniel turned to Jack, and the Colonel found himself looking at the glowing eyes of a host.  "I can control it," he said with the double-echo voice flowing from his throat.  That tremor in his voice had been from the Kha'ti abilities.  "I can sustain the voice for a while, maybe even several hours.  The eyes are more complicated."

Oh, boy.  Jack felt like he had just entered the Twilight Zone.  Couldn't they ever have a normal, ordinary day?

"No headache?" he asked him.

Daniel shook his head and let his eyes return to normal.  When he spoke, it was with his own voice.  "Whatever it was about me not remembering that time must have been what was keeping me from being able to control it."  Daniel's body almost shuddered with the memory again.  This memory was almost physically repulsive to recall.  There was just so much the Tau'ri didn't know about the Goa'uld, how could he explain his revulsion?  He had to try.

Jack sat there, staring at Daniel, waiting for him to explain and not pushing him faster than he was able to go.  "It's okay, Daniel.  Take your time.  Just tell me what you can."

Daniel sat quietly for a few minutes, and then started at the beginning.  "When a symbiote joins with a host, there's a moment when it connects to the host.  They have these small antennae that attach to the brain stem and spinal cord.  There's...I guess you could call it an electrical shock for lack of a better term, when it connects.  I was dead, Vaelen joined with me, there was that shock, and it brought me back."

"Like a defibrillator?"  Keep talking, Danny.

Daniel barely nodded his head.  "Maybe.  I don't know.  At that moment, the symbiote deposits the chemical neural conductors needed to maintain a bond with the host.  These...conductors...suppress the host's immune system so it can't reject the symbiote, separates the nervous system from the host's direct control, gives the symbiote access to the host's memories.  With the Goa'uld and the Tok'ra, it's that simple.  A Kha'ti only took dead hosts, so they also had to take control of the involuntary muscles.  They had to make the circulatory and respiratory systems work.  To do that, they had to force a low grade electrical current to flow through the body at all times to keep it functioning at a level they could use."

Daniel got quiet again.  His eyes mirrored the horror that must have been there in that nothingness.

"Was it painful?" Jack asked him.  Just keep talking, Danny.

"You have no idea.  Even if I wasn't connected to my body or couldn't feel anything else, and I was just floating..."

Jack kept coaxing him.  Something else was there.  "Floating. And?"

"When he joined with me, it felt like he was ripping my insides out.  A Kha'ti can't join with a live host because it can't moderate how much energy to use in order to blend with a live host.  They don't know how to adjust the synaptic activity.  That electrical shock was too powerful, there were too many chemical conductors.  He couldn't compensate for it.  I remember that I buried myself so deep in my mind to try to keep my sanity, I thought I was going crazy.  I know Vaelen tried to protect me and to make things better for me once he realized I was there, but he didn't know how.  The only thing he could do was separate me completely from reality while he suffered through the physical problems that existed because of it.  That's why he was so desperate to make me strong enough so he could move to a new host."

"But you were talking to him.  How could you be doing that and be buried at the same time?"

Daniel almost laughed, but it was choked with emotion.  "Vaelen was going through on-the-job training.  He had finally learned how to minimize the electrical current and reduce the amount of chemical conductors by the time we came to the SGC, but he couldn't let me come forward.  I was still buried.  Every now and then, I could break through to him to talk to him, and he'd try so hard to keep me there and not let me fall back down, but he didn't have the ability, and I didn't have the strength.  The only way out of that prison for me was for Vaelen to leave me for a new host."  Daniel's shaky fingers combed through his hair.  "What scares me is that I didn't mind being his host."

Jack's eyebrow raised at that comment.  "Oh?"

"Don't get me wrong, Jack.  You couldn't pay me enough to be a host again no matter what.  It's just that I didn't mind being Vaelen's host.  He wasn't your run-of-the-mill symbiote.  I just knew I could trust him, and there aren't that many we can trust."

Jack gripped Daniel's shoulder tighter and could feel the tremors still running through his muscles.  This was probably the first time Daniel had ever commented on the relationship between Vaelen and himself.  Sam had felt the loss of Jolinar keenly.  Daniel had almost not reacted at all.  He was up and running almost as soon as he had regained consciousness after Vaelen's death.  A flashback, survivor's guilt, and a bout of what he knew was PTSD had given his friend a very difficult time.  Those, Jack understood all too well.  Yeah, Danny. I've been there, done that, got the T-shirt and the franchise rights.  "I'm not going to lie to you, Daniel.  I don't have a clue what you've been through, but I do know what it's like to go through hell.  I know what it feels like when the anger and the fear swell up so bad all you can do is explode.  I know what it feels like when you can't run away fast enough because you always take the memories with you.  I can rattle off the old sayings of 'it'll get better, give it time' kind of stuff, but you'd probably just deck me into next week if I did that.  Of course, now you actually can deck me into next week."

That brought a slight smile to Daniel's face, a genuine smile.

"But," Jack shook Daniel's shoulder, forcing him to give the Colonel his full attention, "I can tell you that you can deal with it.  I can tell you that it'll take time.  I can tell you that you might want to invest in unbreakable furniture."  The laugh finally made it's way through Daniel, but it was a sad, defeated sound.  "I can also tell you that there's not a chance in hell I'm going to let you go through another hypnosis session because that's probably what helped this particular memory along.  That and the movie.  You had something a little more powerful than a major flashback, Danny.  This may be the only one or you might have more.  That's the way it works sometimes."

"There's no escaping stress, is there?"

"Not in our line of work.  Truth is, I've always wondered why everyone at the base doesn't suffer from it."

"Easy.  We're used to it."  Daniel explained more to himself than to his friend.  "We all have more or less the same experiences, and over time, we've gotten used to what happens."

"Sounds good.  I don't think that'll get us out of work though, do you?"

"About as much a chance as bringing a note from your mother," Daniel answered.

Jack noticed that Daniel's shaking had almost stopped.  His breathing was returning to normal.  His gaze was more alert.  The flashback and the anxiety were winding down.  Now that Daniel remembered, he would be able to deal with the events.  With Daniel, it was the not knowing that bothered him.  It always had.  He had wondered where he was during those eight months.  He would be the one to take this new knowledge and put it to use.  Now, he just needed a while to get things in perspective.  A while?  For Daniel, a day or two would probably be long enough to at least get back up to walking speed.  Daniel had always been incredibly resilient, but Jack doubted if Daniel would be given the time before life struck him with the next blow.

Jack took another look around the apartment, noticing that Daniel was doing the same thing.  "You did a real good job on the apartment," he told him.

"Real good." Daniel's voice was steadier.

Thankful for the not-so-small favor that Daniel was all right for the moment, Jack turned his attention to another far less pressing issue -- his appetite.  His stomach was growling, and it gave him a good idea.  "Tell you what.  I'm going to the deli down the street and get some breakfast for us, then we'll clean all of this up.  I'll call Hammond and let him know that we might not be in today."

"You don't have to, Jack. I can take care of this." Daniel explained.

"Yeah, but you don't have to do it alone.  Besides, I think that bookcase would be a little heavy even for you.  It's pretty solid, you know.  How in the world did you manage to get it to the other side of the room without having your neighbors call the cops with all the noise going on in here?"  He saw Daniel shrug his shoulders.  Ah, well...."I'll be back in a few minutes.  You're okay, right?"

Daniel nodded his head as Jack stood and walked out the door.  There had been a reason for Jack leaving for a few minutes.  Daniel needed those few minutes to pull himself together, and Jack needed to make that phone call.

General Hammond picked up his phone on the first ring.  His morning schedule was already falling behind because two members of SG-1 had not arrived yet.  Colonel Jennings was waiting patiently, and now he would probably be stuck on the phone for an hour.  "Hammond," he said into the receiver.

"Morning, General."

"Colonel, Major Carter informed me that you were going by Doctor Jackson's.  Is everything all right?"  Hammond knew he was right to have been worried about what was going on with the archaeologist.  He knew the danger signs as well as anyone even if Daniel had not expressed many overt symptoms.

"Uh, almost, sir.  Daniel had a bad flashback last night and decided to redecorate his apartment in early demolition."

"What kind of flashback?"

"The kind that involves where he was and what he was doing for a certain eight month period."

"He remembers?"

"Yes, sir.  I think we can safely say he remembers all of it.  The memory hit him pretty hard, and I don't think he was prepared for it.  It's another bad memory on top of a lot of memories he wishes he doesn't have.  Plus, there's an added extra."

"And what would that be, Colonel?"

"Daniel can do a magic trick, sir.  It'll be great around Halloween."

Hammond would not comment over an open phone line.  He knew what O'Neill was talking about.  Daniel had control of Vaelen's...physical abilities.  "Is he all right with this new trick?"

"It's too early to tell, sir.  Let's just say he's relieved to be able to perform this trick without hurting himself."  Jack was almost at the deli.  "Sir, I'm going to help Daniel clean up the mess he made.  I wouldn't expect either one of us to come in this morning.  He needs some time to digest all this.  And breakfast, too.  He'll eat, we'll talk, he'll be okay."

"Is there anything I can do?"

"Yes, sir.  Don't tell anybody.  I'm not putting Daniel at the mercy of McElhannon again after this.  He needs his wits about him before dealing with this shrink.  He's trying to cause trouble."

"Trouble?"

"Yes, sir," Jack said quietly.  "That was one of the things I wanted to talk to you about this morning since yesterday was a little busy.  He's trying to cause major problems on my team, trying to get us to blame each other for things that weren't our fault or question our abilities.  If I were to make a guess--"

"Don't guess, Jack.  We'd both be making the same one.  He's the one they sent to cause trouble.  If you and Doctor Jackson could make it in today, we need to discuss this.  I'll reschedule the group meeting with McElhannon anyway.  If you can't make it in today, I do want you both here tomorrow morning.  I want this stopped before it gets too bad."

Jack reached the deli's door and paused before entering.  "Bad?  Sir, I think things have been bad for a year and a half.  I'll try to get us both there later today, but this morning is definitely out.  I think if Daniel gets anywhere near anyone we think isn't on the up-and-up, he might just wring his neck first and ask questions later.  He's a little wired."

"He's that far over the edge?"

"No, sir.  As a matter of fact, I'd say he's firmly away from the edge with both feet planted on solid ground.  He really is all right, just incredibly pissed off and sort of unglued at the moment.  I think what would piss him off worse is the fact that we know who the trouble maker in question is, and after this flashback, I think Daniel could carve him up without too many problems ethical or otherwise."  Perhaps vengeance wasn't a typical Jackson characteristic, but Jack sensed that there was something inside his friend ready to explode if given the right incentive.  Just gazing at his wrecked apartment was testament to that fact.

Jack could almost picture the look of understated annoyance on the General's face.  "All right, Colonel. I'll keep our troublemaker out of everyone's way today, but I won't be able to put him off for long.  I'll inform Colonel Jennings that we may have to reschedule.  Somehow, I don't think he'll mind."

"Me, either.  I think it might be a good idea to let Daniel decide what to tell him about certain things.  At least as far as Vaelen, Thayer and the conspiracy are concerned.  If he really is here to help, we can't turn it down."

"Agreed.  I'll see what I can do in the meantime."  Hammond placed the phone back on its cradle.

When it hit the fan, it all hit at once, didn't it?

 

**************************************************

 

Hammond had cancelled his session with SG-1.  McElhannon didn't know what was going on, just that he had to find out what.  He was going to use this session to try to anger them into an argument.  He couldn't tell his superiors that his first attempts had been less than successful, but he knew that he planted a small seed.  They would be thinking about what he had said, a small grain of doubt edging its way into their minds.  O'Neill should be questioning his ability as a team leader, Carter should be wondering if her placement here was because she was good at her job or because of favors she may or may not have given to her superiors, Teal'c must be thinking how his being so very different from everyone affects other people's perception of him, and Jackson, well that session had not gone as planned, but perhaps he might be looking at his relationships with his team members in a new light.  McElhannon had to act when everything was fresh in their thoughts.  But now, the point was moot. Hammond had cancelled his session with SG-1 and had not rescheduled it.

This was very inconvenient.

 

**************************************************

 

Wednesday afternoon

Gus stared down at the Stargate in amazement.  So that was what had claimed D.J.'s attention for the last several years.  The boy had been right.  History was a lot older than anyone in mainstream archaeology wanted to admit, and the archaeological heavy hitters had banned him from the archaeology game because they couldn't handle the truth.  That was a tough break for the kid.  You discover the secret to the universe, and you can't tell anyone about it.

He watched as the chevrons lit up and wormhole formed.  He watched as the SG team walked up the ramp and fearlessly walked through the event horizon.  He wondered what it would be like to touch the soil of an alien planet, see the sunrise over an alien horizon, taste the water from an alien stream.  Sounding almost poetic there, Gus my boy.  Better watch it.  Folks will start thinking you're going soft.

While Gus amused himself with the extraordinary view, General Hammond had been quietly looking over the folder with the list of charges levied against him again.  He had never thought that the conspirators would try this route to remove him from the SGC.  It was almost legal and having someone with the clout of Matthew Augustus Jennings to carry out their plans was an almost positive recipe for success.  The planning was brilliant, but why did something seem a little off?  There was a hitch in the conspirators plans, some small corner that had been overlooked, but Hammond couldn't quite put his finger on it.  Yet.

As he sat there, he regarded Colonel Jennings.  His infamy and notoriety preceded him, but the behavior Hammond had witnessed in the infirmary between the Colonel and Doctor Jackson had completely confused him.  The Gus-Buster was not known to have friends or to be friendly.  Even those who worked with him had reportedly feared him.  Captain Moore seemed quite at ease with the Colonel, just as Doctor Jackson had been.

"One thing about being a mercenary, General," Gus said before turning around and noticing Hammond watching him, "you grow eyes in the back of your head.  It increases the chances for survival."

"I'm sorry, Colonel.  I didn't mean to stare."

Gus took a seat opposite the General and regarded him with the same intent.  "But you do want to ask me some questions, don't you?"

Hammond put the papers back in their file folder and sat back.  "Something about this doesn't make sense, Colonel.  You, the investigation, the charges --"

"It's all a scam on both sides," Gus flatly interrupted him.  "I'll tell you the whole story once D.J. and the others show up, but, in short, the bad guys want you gone.  I was sent in to see that happened.  They've come up with a pretty good plan."

Hammond had his wish.  The conspirators had chosen a new target.  Him.  He'd deal with that bit of treason if it spared Daniel.  The boy was owed much more, but that was all the General could offer at the moment.  "I'm sure I'll enjoy hearing it," Hammond admitted sarcastically.  He had met professional soldiers like Jennings before.  One minute, they're acting like your best friend, the next they're scattering your bones to the four winds.  But this one...something was different about him.  Hammond had no doubt he earned his reputation, but this man was not like the heartless killers he had crossed paths with in the past.  There was much more to him than being a mindless killing automaton.  "I must admit that your acquaintance with Doctor Jackson has piqued my interest.  Is there a story there?"  As much as he hated the sport, Hammond had discovered that fishing for answers had become a near-Olympic event around the SGC of late.

Gus leaned back in the chair and propped his feet up on the desk.  "There's a hell of a story there.  I can't tell you a lot of the particulars 'cause then I'd have to kill you, but I can tell you a little of how I met him."

Eager to learn a little more about the mysterious connection between his ranking civilian and the mercenary, Hammond urged, "Please, go on."

Gus always loved having a willing audience.  It made the storytelling so much easier.  "About twenty years ago, I was doing a job, I can't tell you what, but it involved me going undercover at a racetrack.  While I was there, I came across this 14 year old kid who was homeless at the time.  He would make money by helping people out at the racetrack, hunting for money in the bleachers, finding and pawning what he could in the infield, that kind of stuff.  He didn't know it, but he helped me out with my job by acting as a messenger.  After the job was over, I did a little checking into the exactly who this 14 year old kid named Daniel Jackson was.  I found out he was a foster kid who ran away from a foster home with another foster child by the name of Erin O'Malley.  I guess the polite thing to say is that the home was not conducive to their good health.  They were both living on the streets and working on their Master's degree by attending a college on a full scholarship that didn't cover sleeping arrangements.  It seems that the foster care people had discovered that both D.J. and Erin were certified geniuses and tried to keep them together for as long as possible.  To make a long story short, I got both D.J. and Erin assigned to my sister and her husband.  I think that was the first foster home they lived in that actually felt like a home and not a temporary stop over.  When they were 16 years old, they went to a lawyer and had themselves declared emancipated minors.  I think you pretty well know the rest of their stories."

"Yes, I do.  I know neither one of them had happy childhoods," Hammond admitted the Colonel.

Gus started popping his knuckles, an act that irritated Hammond, but the General refused to say anything.  "I don't think they've had a lot to be happy about in their lives, and when they get a chance to be happy, it gets yanked away from them.  I think the universe has it out for those two.  Look at their track record.  Erin was up for the Nobel Prize one day, then she was on the skids the next.  D.J.'s at the top of his field and then gets tossed out of the gravedigger's club after figuring out what was going on with the universe without ever even seeing your Stargate.  They both lost their families.  It's not fair the way life's dumped on them."  Gus watched the activity in the gate room for a while before speaking again.  "O'Neill did say he and D.J. were going to be here this afternoon?"

"Yes, that was the plan.  Doctor Jackson had a few things to deal with this morning.  They should be here any time."

"Was there anything wrong with D.J.?  When I first saw him in the infirmary, he didn't seem like himself."

The General wasn't sure how much to reveal to the Colonel despite his friendship with Doctor Jackson, so he decided that discretion was the better part of valor.  "You'd have to ask Doctor Jackson about that.  But I can tell you that he's not the same Daniel Jackson anymore.  Too much has happened to him.  It's left a mark on him."

"It's bad?" Gus asked, his worst fears seemingly coming true.

"It depends on your perspective.  In some cases, the changes have been the only reason SG-1 has survived.  Other times, I can tell that Doctor Jackson is suffering through them.  Sometimes, he'll behave as a general would, giving orders or detailing missions.  Other times, he's developing tactical plans I could never think of.  Then, there are times he's Doctor Daniel Jackson.  He's more of a mystery than you can imagine, and he's got a great deal of memories to rely upon.  Regardless of our understanding of them, they're a blessing and a curse from Daniel's standpoint.  I know there are times he wishes he had never met Vaelen."

"Then he'd be dead."

"And he'd be with his wife which has been the one immutable need surrounding him since the day I met him."

"From what I've read, Sha'uri was an extraordinary woman.  It must have been hard on him when he lost her."

Hammond knew the pain of losing his own wife.  To have had to suffer through what Daniel and Sha'uri had suffered was unimaginable.  "I thought we would have lost him then.  I think the only reason he stayed then was to keep the promise he made to his wife to find her son.  If it hadn't been for that promise, he might not have returned from Abydos after her funeral.  Kasuf didn't want him to leave, but I understand Daniel told him that his brother-in-law and stepson were still out there and had to be found."

"D.J. found a family, and it all got ripped away from him.  And he never left."

"No, and for that, I am grateful."

It was another hour before Daniel and Jack arrived.  Much to Hammond's relief, Daniel seemed fine.  Much better than expected.  There was an ease in the relaxed stature that had not been there before, which had not been there for some time.  There was also a hint of sadness and distraction, but not the distraction he had been witness to lately.  Hammond might not have been eager to allow Daniel to go on a mission for the next few days, but he had no trouble realizing that Daniel had remembered whatever it was that had been plaguing his thoughts.  Even Major Carter and Teal'c could see the difference almost instantly.  There hadn't been time to explain anything to them as yet, but the General felt certain that they would undoubtedly be told what happened by Colonel O'Neill.

Gus sat at the head of the table, everyone's attention riveted on him.  "Okay, folks, I'm going to give you the condensed version of what's going on and how I'm involved.  About ten years ago, an Interpol agent named Vincente Montoya had come across some members of the American military involved in a major smuggling operation.  You name it, they smuggled it.  Montoya contacted Samuel Kellaher who was and still is what we call a covert secretary for the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  Kelleher and his group decided that a covert undercover unit would be the best option to ferret out the smugglers, so my group got the job."

"The smugglers called themselves the Organization -- I know, real creative, ain't it -- and they were pretty well hidden everywhere in the military.  We were able to take down a lot of them, but not nearly enough to put a kink in their chains.  A couple of years later, reports came out of South America that the Organization was working on a major haul down in a restricted area in Peru, but they had to keep a low profile for security reasons.  Negotiations with the archaeological community finally convinced the Peruvian government to temporarily rescind the off-limits order, but only archaeological researchers could go into that area.  I needed information, and there was only one way to get it.  We arranged for a museum to promote an expedition, and I asked D.J. and Erin to go along since they knew the local languages and knew the difference between military personnel and civilians.  I even arranged a military unit disguised as grave robbers to go with them to protect them.  It was a really simple job.  I just needed them to tell me if there was any other activity in the area.  They should have been safe where they were --"

"Gus," Daniel didn't let him fall any further into self-recrimination, "it wasn't your fault.  You did everything right.  It's just your Intel was lacking."

"Yeah, it was.  And because of that, both of you almost became permanent members of the harp players guild."

"Almost doesn't count," he said confidently and just a little mockingly.  "You ought to know by now we're a tough breed and a hard kill.  Erin's survived a few close calls herself."

"Yeah.  Where is she, by the way?"

"She's on a mission.  So is Hendricks, in case you were interested," Daniel told him.  "We do work a little bit around here, you know."

Gus ignored the comment.  It just felt good to be picking on each other again.  Too bad Erin wasn't there.  She could really rip into him.  "Anyway, somebody attacked the camp, I flew them out of there, then I did some digging of my own.  Tried to find out who was behind the shooting.  You can say a lot about the Organization, but you have to admit they have good security procedures.  It took a couple of days, but I found out it was Colonel Malcolm Thayer that had led the attack and that his knee had been shattered by a lucky shot from an archaeologist who shall remain nameless."

Sam poked Daniel in the ribs with her elbow, a smug grin on her face.

"Thayer was promoted to General, moved up in the Organization food chain so he'd be sent to the Pentagon, but was kept on the more terrestrial problems.  I know now that he was introduced to the Stargate Program a few months before the civilian murders.  He had been kept out of it by Senator Joshua Mercer who just happens to be General Coleman Westerly's superior, or so I've been told.  And before you ask, General Westerly is the goon that contacted me for this job."  Daniel noticed the edge of disbelief in Gus' voice.  Something wasn't making sense to him.  "The paperwork that I was given suggests that the Senator didn't want Thayer in the Stargate program because he was worried about his loyalties.  Thayer has a reputation of going off on his own.  This paperwork, which incidentally reads like it was written recently, makes a statement that leads you think that the real reason Mercer didn't want Thayer involved would be because he would go after D.J. if he knew about him, and that wouldn't be a good thing because it seems like D.J.'s important to the project.  It seems that anyone involved in the Stargate Program that's high enough to have access to some really top secret material knows the particulars about the SGC's senior staff.  Thayer would have been high enough to have found out about D.J. being in Peru, the timing, put two and two together and figured out that Daniel was the one responsible for his being taken out of the field.  Given that there's no written record of what happened in Peru, I rather doubt that reason.  Unfortunately, when others involved with the Stargate project lobbied Mercer to allow Thayer in, he had to let him."

Daniel was mentally categorizing everything Gus was saying even though he was already aware of a few points.  Something else was amiss.  What was it?

"Now we get to my being here today.  I made a lot of phone calls on my way here.  My contacts told me that Montoya contacted Kelleher about a massive arms shipment being sent to some place in Arizona from South America.  Rumor was they were earmarked for the Middle East.  Kelleher knew that the Organization was behind it and decided that there might be a better way to go after them.  He needed to put me in a position to do the most harm to them.  He knew we couldn't go for a direct approach, so we were going to have to hit them sideways.  Word around certain circles was that the Organization was also about to take over some secret military base, so Kelleher suggested to an intermediary, namely D.J.'s 'old friend' Colonel Quinton Darby, that I be the one to help them take over.  Darby and friends made the arrangements with the Organization who sent out General Coleman Westerly to recruit me.  With my reputation, no questions would be asked.  So here I am."

Now, General Hammond understood all the finer details.  There it was.  The missing link to Peru.  This is the man that Daniel had been protecting.  He might not necessarily agree with the mercenary's methods, but he would protect his friend no matter what.  Daniel had been silent because of the greater good.

"And you're being here means, what?" Jack asked him, respectfully, of course.  There was no need in upsetting the mercenary.

"Simple.  I've been after these folks for a long time.  I could never get my foot in the door to find out who's who with them.  So Kelleher gets me recruited by the Organization, and I get information I didn't have access to before like names and places.  I've found out who's the tallest hog at the trough.  I've got my people in position watching some of their people that we know about.  I stall for time here while my guys get all the Intel they need to bury the little bastards, and then we hit them hard and fast before any one of them starts asking me for my report on Hammond's investigation and before the arms shipment can make it east."

Teal'c understood Jennings' logic but questioned his methods.  "Colonel Jennings, are you not engaging in what theTau'ri consider 'burning both ends against the middle'?"

"Yep.  Sure am.  My coming here is just a smoke screen.  I'll play their little game if I have to, but I'll make sure that the brass knows Hammond ought to get a couple of new medals before I'm finished.  I've got just enough clout in Washington to keep anybody there from removing anybody here.  I just need time to get everything set up to nail the gunrunners.  In the meantime, I might be able to help you guys out.  They're coming after you, and they're not going to stop until they win.  We've got to find a way to convince them that this mountain isn't worth the climb."

"Good idea," Jack decided, "any idea just how we're going to do that?  These guys aren't stupid."

"Wanna bet?" was Gus' reply.  "Thayer was a brain.  There are a few others that could qualify for MENSA, but the rest are muscle and yes-men.  Like Darby.  A chunk of that group went with Thayer when he ordered the withdrawal through his Stargate.  I'd say that maneuver hauled off about two-thirds of their fighting force.  What got left behind is basically the rear guard that protects their rear end while the rest, uh, reassess and redeploy."

Interesting concept.

"So, how do you suggest we catch them?" Jack wanted to know.  All this sneaking around was really getting on his nerves.  "I'd say the bad guys have a few more toys to play with than we do."

"No kidding.  That stash you folks brought back from PTX-952 -- you know, you really ought to give planets a better name.  These P's and M's just don't work -- anyway, if that stash there is anything like what they've got stowed away at their other bases, catching them won't be easy."  Gus stood, walked over to the observation window, and pointed at the Stargate.  "Take a Stargate, for instance.  That's definitely what you could call a technological marvel.  You guys are always finding out new things about them.  D.J., all the reports say that Thayer built a bunch of homemade Stargates.  Any ideas how he did that?"

"Not a clue.  Why?"

Gus paced a bit, trying to figure out the mind of a genius.  "We know what Roberts said.  Thayer got the naquada through the second Stargate when Maybourne was using it, but he had to be able to rig up that gadget.  That'd take a lot of heavy machinery and a hell of a lot of naquada to build a bunch of them.  Any idea how those contraptions are built?"

"Vaelen saw the Ancients build a Stargate once, but even the Tok'ra don't have the technology necessary to build one.  The Asgaard do.  The Tollans are a different story.  They built one, but it's a little different than your run of the mill average Ancient's Stargate.  They had to take a few shortcuts.  Make a few modifications."

"Vaelen saw one built?" Sam asked incredulously.  "When?"  This was good news!

"Long time ago."  Daniel answered her absently.  "Gus, there's a little more involved in building a Stargate than taking a large chunk of naquada and chiseling out a big round ring.  There's wiring, alignment, spatial anomalies, galactic gravitational forces--"

"In other words, it's a little more involved that putting together a '65 Mustang."

"A little bit, yeah. I think you'd have more luck splitting an atom with a carving knife.  We just don't have the equipment."

Damn.  "So what you're telling me is that even if we had the know-how, we don't have the how-to."

"Exactly."

Sam knew where this was going.  "So all this begs the question, how did General Thayer build his Stargates?"

Gus chuckled.  "Why do I get the feeling you folks have already hashed that question over a few times?"

"Because we have," O'Neill said tiredly.  How many times could they go over this topic?  They were only spinning their wheels.  "We've got the one we picked up on PTX-952 when we rescued Daniel, and the one they used back at Area 51.  None of the prisoners were willing to talk to us about how the gates were made, so we just don't know."

Sam's frown indicated deep thought.  "One possible option is that the smaller Stargates already existed, and Thayer's people stole them.  Once they found out the smaller ones could act independently of the main Stargate system, they had their own network of Stargate addresses they could use to smuggle alien technology to Earth."

"Captain Roberts was quite adamant that the Stargate at Area 51 was built on Earth," Teal'c included.  "And I have never heard of the smaller Stargates."

"Does that mean Major Carter's theory doesn't hold water?" Gus asked him.

"It does not.  The Goa'uld did not tell the Jaffa all of their secrets."

"Which means we still don't know how these smaller ones got built -- or exactly how many they built.  For all we know, Thayer may have stashed a couple more Stargates around on Earth," Gus said again.  "D.J., Vaelen's got to have a few ideas.  What's he saying?"

Completely baffled, Daniel asked, "What do you mean, what's he saying?"

"Just that.  He's got to have a few ideas how to jury-rig a gate.  If he saw one built, he's got to know more than we do about how the little ones are made.  Now, can we count on Vaelen's help?" Gus innocently asked Daniel.

"Vaelen?" Daniel did not believe what Gus was saying.  He really didn't want to hear this.

"Vaelen.  He's hooked up to your noggin.  Can we get him to come out and play or is he wanting to stay underground for this?"

Gus didn't understand the confused looks he received with that question.  Something strange was going on here.  "What?"

Daniel tapped his temple.  "I'm the only one in here, Gus.  Vaelen's dead.  He died during the Dervan attack eight months ago."

Curtis picked up another folder.  It seemed that these two old soldiers had not had enough time to memorize everything and were being subjected to conflicting statements.  "Report dated March of this year says that General Thayer questioned Vaelen at the base on PTX-952 in an effort to -- "

"Captain, exactly where did you get that report?" General Hammond wanted to know.

Curt went to the last page and found the name.  "Report was sent to Senator Joshua Mercer."

"Can I see it?"  Daniel shouldn't have bothered to ask because he reached out and snatched the folder before Curt could answer him.  O'Neill abandoned his chair and was reading over Daniel's shoulder.  "Prisoner showed all known signs of symbiote possession: glowing eyes, double voice and added strength.  He was also capable of resisting the Tok'ra memory enhancer which is theoretically a trait enhanced by the symbiote."

"How would they get that kind of information?" Sam almost whispered.

"Who would have sent such information to Senator Mercer?" Teal'c asked.

Jack kept reading the report, muttering as he went, "How would anyone know this unless..."

"...Unless someone sent Mercer a different report of what happened on PTX-952.  Ours doesn't say anything like this."  Daniel finished for him.  Terrible scenarios were running through his head, each one as unbelievable as its predecessor.

We report what we want the brass to know, the Senator has a slightly skewed version of the truth.  He must have read our report at some point.  He has to know we'd refute this --- unless he hasn't read our report.  Unless he's relying on reports from some unknown source to keep him informed.  Or unless he thinks that the report he has is the one we wrote, and it isn't.  Maybe he didn't give Gus this information.  Someone is feeding Mercer Thayer's information and someone else is using it to further their own ends, to get what they want done.  The members of the Organization can hide in plain sight, which may also mean that certain people in the Organization don't even know they belong to it.  They're used as go-betweens without realizing they're being used.  They're following orders not realizing the orders are from the Organization.  If that's the case, then Mercer's been told that Hammond is an incompetent General and must be removed.  He's in charge of the subcommittee.  He can get things done.  He would have given the order to Westerly to have General Hammond investigated, just as the Organization wanted, but the Organization would be running the investigation.  Makes an illegal act legal.  That would explain a lot.

"Gus, how deep is Mercer into the Organization?" Daniel asked quickly.

"That's been bothering me.  I don't know.  No one's been able to find out.  Other than a few of his acquaintances being heavily involved in it, we can't find any evidence that he's involved."

"What if he isn't?"

"Isn't what?" Gus asked him.

"Isn't involved with the Organization.  Think about it.  He chairs the Senate subcommittee.  He's the last word in whatever happens to this facility.  Officially, Westerly is on his staff, but he's also on the Organization's payroll.  So --"

"So the Organization is using Mercer without him knowing it," Jack exclaimed.  This did make a little sense.  "His signature is on everything, so he'd be the fall guy.  Everything would trace back to him, and since he wouldn't know anything about the Organization, he couldn't tell anyone any names."

"That's a big leap, D.J.," Gus told him.  "How do you get from me telling you Mercer is Westerly's superior to him only being a pawn?"

"Easy.  It makes sense.  Thayer never had his name on anything.  All the paperwork out of his office was signed by the colonels under his command.  We know Darby works for the Organization, but we don't know very little about the others.  Thayer would have let the colonels take the fall if the connection was ever discovered.  It seems only natural that anyone else in the upper echelons of the Organization would do the same thing.  It'd be standard operating procedures.  The only problem they had was getting you in here, and the only person that could drag you out of retirement is a general with more than a couple of stars on his shoulders.  They don't know about your involvement in Peru or in the mission to stop the Organization.  Mercer gets told these lies about General Hammond and sends Westerly out to find someone to investigate the charges.  They didn't think that sending Westerly to recruit you was in any way going to tip their hand.  So, think their way.  They want you at the SGC, they send their lapdog that also works for the chairman of the SGC subcommittee to get you, everything looks legitimate.  You probably wouldn't question any of it if you hadn't been involved in Peru or hunting down the Organization."

Daniel finally stopped for breath.  "That makes sense, Colonel," General Hammond readily agreed.  "That also means someone is funneling Senator Mercer false information.  Where would that be coming from?"

No one had an easy answer for that, but that didn't stop Daniel's mind from accessing that incredible storehouse of information and creating a plausible answer.  "Gus, how many of your people are watching how many of their people?"

Gus though for a few moments, even started counting on his fingers.  "I've got a team of nine people keeping an eye on 27 of the Organization's top dogs in Washington.  There are others stationed around the world.  I figure when we get ready to move, my guys can eliminate their guys fast."

"You've been watching The Dirty Dozen again, haven't you, Gus?" Daniel had to ask.

"What gave me away?"  There was the patented Gus grin, that little grin that had melted the hearts of many ladies all over the planet.

"What is The Dirty Dozen?" Teal'c asked.

"Movie," Jack answered him. "Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson, Telly Savalas, bunch of others.  It was a World War II movie.  The Allies sent in a group of convicted military criminals to blow up a chateau that always had a bunch of Nazi higher-ups visiting.  They were figuring that if they killed off enough officers, it could do a lot of damage to the Nazi war machine.  Disrupt communications.  Things like that"

Curt enjoyed a good movie, and The Dirty Dozen was also one of his favorites.  "We've actually gotten a lot of our scams from old movies.  We pulled a stunt one time when we were in Vietnam.  Took out one of the VC's gunboats by turning our boat into a floating torpedo.  You can guess which old movie that one came out of.  But the Dirty Dozen is classic.  Gus is planning the same thing.  Maybe by destroying enough of the senior members of the Organization, we can damage it enough to put it out of business."

Hammond had been watching his people along with Colonel Jennings and Captain Moore.  Colonel Jennings enjoyed the cloak-and-dagger ploys routinely associated with being a covert operative.  He lived for this!  This truly was a man who could put things right.  In a burst of inquisitiveness, Hammond asked, "Okay.  An all out attack on the individuals involved is acceptable, but what about Mercer and Westerly?  And Darby?  They seem to be the most visible members so far.  What do we do with them?"

The senator, the turncoat and the lapdog -- what were they to do?  Daniel thought that was an easy one, at least as far as Darby was concerned.  He'd never forget that day, the smug look on Darby's face when he had ordered the soldiers to fire.  Darby had to pay, some way, for his crimes, but the others were a different story.  "If Mercer really is being used, he might not know it.  He'll have to give up any information he may not even know he has.  Gus' people will have to pick him up if we need him."

"Think he'll roll over on his buddies?" Curtis didn't quite like the way this scam was going, but he knew it wasn't going to be dull.  Grabbing politicians was a risky venture at best, and one best left unthought of.  If they did grab Mercer, it was going to have to be a last ditch effort to stop the Organization.

"If we give him no choice," was Gus' answer.  "The problem is, we need to get the person funneling misinformation to him."

Teal'c had been considering this problem.  Speaking aloud, he suggested, "Would not General Westerly be the obvious choice?  The reports Senator Mercer has received are military in origin.  General Westerly would be the liaison between the military and the Senator, would he not?"

Gus jerked his head at Teal'c and said to Curt, "I like this guy.  He's smart."  Gus pulled a few other pieces of paper from the pile that had seemed to accumulate on the desk and handed them to Teal'c.  "This report is the only thing we have that connects Westerly to the Organization and might prove that Mercer doesn't have anything to do with it."

Teal'c quickly glanced through the report.  It confirmed his suspicions.  "This is a requisition from General Westerly to Senator Mercer for materials used in constructing barracks and mobile camps.  It was to delivered to Area 51."

"Yep.  The main launching pad for the Organization's transgalactic railroad.  I checked.  The materials reached Area 51, and then conveniently disappeared.  If you look at the signature, it's not Mercer's. It looks like a forgery.  And look at the date."

Teal'c turned to the last page.  "It is dated last week."

"And last week, the Organization started looking at you guys again.  They're planning something, and their gearing up for it.  The problem I'm having is how they're coordinating with Thayer and his goons off-world.  You guys have their Stargates."  The puzzle had plagued Gus since he had found that report.

Teal'c supplied the answer.  "Colonel Jennings, have any of your people reported finding a steel ball, perhaps the size of your fist, in anyone's possession?"

Jack looked at Daniel in surprise.  Why hadn't they thought of a communication sphere?

Curtis slapped his hand on the desk.  "Payne.  He mentioned seeing a steel ball in Colonel Darby's briefcase."  Then, to Daniel and Jack, he said, "Payne, he's a major we've got stationed at Area 51, saw Darby and General Baxter meeting there a couple of days ago.  Baxter's an advisor to the Chairman of the JCS.  A four-star, to be exact.  He gets to see the reports from the SGC before most other folks do.  And he's on the phone to Westerly several times a day."

"Baxter?" Daniel whispered.  "Are you sure?"

Curt and Gus stopped talking.  "Oh, hell, D.J., I'm sorry.  We haven't mentioned him.  He's Westerly's superior."

In a low, scary voice, Daniel said, "He's also the son of a bitch that ordered us to keep quiet about what happened in Peru.  And he knows about the SGC?"

"Yes." Curt told him.

"He knows I'm here.  He knows what happened in Peru and who it happened to.  He knows Thayer.  The only thing he doesn't know is who flew us out of the area.  Gus' name has never been mentioned."

"Which would explain why there was no opposition to the Organization hiring Gus.  Baxter doesn't know about him."

"And he has to be one of the top people in the Organization," Daniel began thinking aloud.  "To throw all this together...it's not the work of a rank amateur.  Too many things have happened that show whoever's behind the conspiracy has clout."

"Where is this General Baxter?" Teal'c asked.

"He works at the White House," was Gus' answer.  "He's also an advisor to the President."

"Then that's it," Jack commented as he sat back down again.  "Tell me if this sounds like a plan: Thayer contacts Darby through the sphere, Darby cooks up the fake reports, gives them to Baxter, Baxter sends Thayer's reports to Mercer through Westerly pretending that they came from the SGC, and bingo!  We're sitting ducks.  Any ideas what to do about it?"

Daniel's mind was racing.  Of course, it was so simple.  Ridiculously simple.  All he had to do was --- damn!  If he did this, he'd be breaking his agreement with Garshaw!  Daniel threw the file across the room, stood up and paced the floor like a very angry man.

"Doctor Jackson?" Hammond wondered what was going on.

Daniel stood still for a moment, looking out at the Stargate, wondering.  He weighed the pros and cons, the benefits and disadvantages, and came to a decision.  "Gus, I need you to contact Payne.  Have him gather some paperwork that Baxter's been sending to Mercer before he actually does.  We'll need to know what it looks like and how it reads.  Then tell him to replace the steel ball with a replica and bring me the one Darby has."

"Why?" Curtis asked for both of them.

Daniel looked at Jack and there was a conspiratorial grin on both their faces.  "One - we've never been sure if we got all of Darby's people out of here, so I'm willing to bet that there's at least one or two left spying on us.  Things have happened that could easily lead a person to believe that Vaelen is still alive, and that report is still floating around some heads in Washington.  We have to find whoever it is that's still here, and I have no doubt Baxter's paperwork will lead us to him-her-them.  Two, once we know what Mercer thinks he knows, we might be able to use it.  Maybe funnel information to Mercer that would trap others in the Organization.  Third, that little steel ball is a communication sphere used for intergalactic communication.  I think we need to be the ones to answer it the next time Thayer calls.  And fourth, I'm about to break an interplanetary agreement that's going to get a lot of people very angry with me."  Daniel told them.  "Sam, we need to use your sonic resonator and realign the receptors to receive communication frequencies.  Can we do that?"

Sam thought for a moment.  "Yes.  The frequencies are unique.  It won't be difficult to triangulate them.  Then all we have to do is wait for Thayer to contact Darby through the sphere and trace the call."

"Exactly.  And since their Stargate network is independent of the main line, the spheres may be as well.  They couldn't take the chance that the Goa'ulds might eavesdrop on their conversations.  If we can trace the call to just one of their bases, we might be able to patch into their communication network and track down the others with the sonic resonator.  They wouldn't be stupid enough to ever switch the spheres off.  They'd have to be running all the time in order to get the messages.  That simple."

"Great!" Jack commented.  "So we just trace the calls, then what?  We lucked out on PTX-952 because they weren't expecting us.  They won't make the same mistake twice.  How do we get the drop on them this time?"

Daniel shrugged his shoulders.  "First, let's see if we can find them.  We'll worry about catching them later."

"You know," Jack complained smarmily, "this whole thing is getting complicated."

"And it just might get worse, Colonel," Hammond advised him.  Around every turn, hiding under every rock, there was another aspect of the conspiracy that they hadn't considered.  "This has grown from what we believed was a retaliatory attack on Doctor Jackson coupled with a takeover attempt to an intergalactic undercover operation.  This just --"

Just then, the klaxon started to sound.  Lieutenant Harriman's voice sounded in the debriefing room.  "Incoming traveler.  It's the Tok'ra."

The people in the room watched as the wormhole formed and a single traveler emerged.

"Is that who I think it is?" Jack asked, clearly hoping he was not recognizing their visitor.  "What's his name, Hackensack?"

Sam had been aware of the Tok'ra first from Jolinar's memories and then met him on several occasions afterwards.  "Not quite, sir.  It's High Councilor Toban.  And his host's name is Hakensk."

"Hakensk, Hackensack, whatever."

Daniel watched as Toban walked through the Gate room and was conducted in their direction.  Toban.  High Councilor.  Not one of Garshaw's best friends, but he was on friendly terms with Vaelen.  Maybe this meeting wouldn't be so bad after all.

"General," Daniel asked in a very low voice, "are we still scheduled to go to PB8-346 tomorrow?"

After a major flashback like the one you suffered through this morning?  "No, Doctor Jackson. I giving that assignment to SG-6."  The near-groans of disappointment were evident.  "I'm sorry, but with everything's that happened this week and what I believe is still going to happen, I think it's in everyone's best interests if SG-1 remains here."

"In that case, sir," Jack groaned again, "do you really need us to talk to Toban or Hackensack?"

"That's Hakensk, Colonel," Hammond corrected him, "and it's the polite thing to do."

Gus watched the small group, each with a resigned look of annoyance, prepare themselves for yet another meeting.  "General, if it's all the same to you, how about just you, me and Curt talking to this guy?  Give these folks a break.  Besides, D.J. and O'Neill look like they need one after whatever it was that happened this morning."  D.J. looked tired, like he was about ready to sink through the floor and disappear.  "Besides, I'd like to see just how annoying a Tok'ra can be."

Annoying?  The Colonel was in for a rude awakening.  The Tok'ra could be much more than annoying.  "Very well, Colonel.  We'll talk to him first, but SG-1 will have to talk to him as well.  I'm afraid it's part of the agreement."  Then, to Jack, "All four of you need to stay on the base.  Where can you hide for a little while?"

"We'll be in my lab if you need us, sir," Carter volunteered.  "I'm going to see how well the sonic resonator can be adjusted to track sphere transmissions."

"Just don't tell Toban what we've been talking about," Daniel cautioned.  "I'd rather keep some things secret until we know for certain what we're dealing with."

"Understood.  That will definitely be taken under advisement." Hammond agreed.

Leaving Hammond, Jennings and Moore alone to face the daunting task of dealing with an alien politician, SG-1 walked hurriedly down the back stairs that led from the debriefing room.  These stairs had been installed for just such emergencies.  It wasn't until they reached the elevator that they felt they could speak freely.

Sam turned Daniel to face her.  "Are you all right?  That phone call this morning --"

"I'm fine, Sam.  Really."  Daniel could see that a little more explanation was in order.  "A few things happened last night.  Nothing really serious."

Neither Sam nor Teal'c were convinced.

Jack stepped in to rescue his friend from two overly concerned mother hens.  "He's fine.  He was just practicing for Halloween."

"Sir?"

With a wink and a nudge, Jack told Daniel to show their friends his special trick.  "Just don't tell anyone yet.  Jack's wanting it to be a surprise."  Without further ado, Daniel's eyes glowed, strongly and brightly.  And for quite a while.

"Wow!" was the only exclamation Carter to utter.  "You've got it.  You can control it!"

In the now easily attainable double-echo voice, Daniel said, "I can control it."  The eyes returned to their normal blue.  "The voice is much easier to maintain, but I can get the eyes glowing for a few minutes at a time."

"How did this happen?" Teal'c was curious.

Jack didn't know just how much Daniel wanted them to know about what happened or his choice of decorating schemes, so he left the explanations up to Daniel.  "I had a flashback last night, a fairly big one, and when it was over, I could control it."

Teal'c and Carter exchanged astonished glances.  "I was not aware that flashbacks had to potential of enhancing physical capabilities," Teal'c commented.

"They don't usually," Sam explained.  "Flashbacks are vivid memories relived as real experiences.  The flashback helped produce the effect we were trying to create in the hypnosis session."

"I think the hypnosis helped him remember whatever it was he was trying to," Jack added in his opinion.  "I just don't think we're going to do it again any time soon."

"Come on, Jack, you were just disappointed because I didn't bark like a chicken or cluck like a dog."

"Now, THAT would have been interesting.  Oh, Can you understand dogs and chickens?  Captain Moore did compare you to Doctor Dolittle."

"No.  Contrary to popular opinion, animals don't talk."

Jack waited the obligatory few seconds to add, "Nuisance does."

Daniel waited his few seconds to NOT respond.

 

**************************************************

 

"No, sir, Doctor Jackson and Colonel O'Neill came in late and spent quite a while with Colonel Jennings, Captain Moore, General Hammond and the rest of SG-1...No, sir, I don't know what they talked about...You'll have to ask Colonel Jennings...Right now, General Hammond and Colonel Jennings are meeting with the Tok'ra representative...No, sir, I don't know why the Tok'ra is here....I'm not privy to that information....SG-1 have made themselves scarce...Last time I saw them, they were heading for the elevators....No, the group session has not been rescheduled.  It probably won't be until after the Tok'ra is gone...They are notorious for quick trips, sir....No, sir, no one has discovered the resonator yet....Yes, sir, I'll keep you informed."

McElhannon hung up the phone in disgust.  The assignment was to disrupt SG-1, not be an errand boy.  The General was just going to have to wait for any further reports.

McElhannon had repeatedly gone through the reports gathered on SG-1.  Very little was correct.  He marked with great interest the notes he had written in the margins of the reports contradicting the findings of previous investigations.  And still, he had no idea what made SG-1 work so well together.  They could easily become the focus of a lifetime project for anyone studying behavior in small subgroups of the military.

It was very bewildering.

**************************************************

Gus and Curt wisely remained quiet and allowed General Hammond to direct the conversation with Toban.  Having only met Teal'c, the two men's experience of talking to aliens was non-existent.  Watching Toban talk in a very animated fashion with Hammond, and then having his host, Hakensk, apologize for his symbiote's behavior was very amusing.  One moment, they were talking to a normal human being, the next, they were talking to a double-echoed alien voice inside a human being.  Gus vaguely wondered what D.J. and Major Carter had experienced as hosts.

"General Hammond, I assure you that what happened on P7L-525 was not intentional," Hakensk continued.  "The individuals involved were not authorized by the Tok'ra High Council to mislead you the way they did.  Neumar felt that the only way to secure your help in attacking the base was to not scare you by telling you exactly how formidable the opposition was.  Neumar had never fought alongside the Tau'ri before.  He was not aware of your capabilities."

"Perhaps not, but once we were there, Doctor Jackson had to force the truth out of one of your operatives.  It seems that none of the Tok'ra were happy to see Doctor Jackson present."

"No.  Putting Doctor Jackson in such a situation must be avoided at all costs.  We cannot jeopardize losing Vaelen's insight.  His knowledge and expertise is far too valuable to risk." Hakensk went on to say.  "I can only apologize for what happened."

"Apology accepted," General Hammond told him, "but how do we keep it from happening again?"

Hakensk's head dipped, and when it rose, his eyes glowed briefly.  Toban had retaken control.  "General, our concern is to protect Doctor Jackson.  Although I understand fully his desire to remain on SG-1, his importance in the struggle against the Goa'uld cannot be underestimated.  Since he will not yield to the suggestions of those with more experience to remove himself to a safer location, perhaps it is within your discretion to assure his safety.  It would be prudent to ask him to remain on Earth and --"

"Councilor Toban," Hammond interrupted, "I can't tell you how many times I've had this conversation with the Tok'ra.  What Doctor Jackson does with his life is his decision.  The fact that he has made himself and some of Vaelen's memories available to us and our allies is strictly his own prerogative.  His experience and expertise is exactly what is needed on SG-1.  I will not now nor will I ever ask him to remain here if it is not his wish.  What happened on P7L-525 is regrettable, but it is also in no way our fault.  We were requested to help the Tok'ra liberate weapons grade naquada.  We were lied to.  Colonel O'Neill made it very clear in his report, the one which you haven't read yet by the way, that our patience does have limits.  We wish to keep the Tok'ra as allies, but such behavior by your operatives does not inspire trust.  I'm sure you understand exactly how important it is to trust one's allies."

Tit for tat, eh General?  Gus though to himself.  He had the feeling that the Tok'ra threatened to withdraw from the Alliance should the Tau'ri not cooperate with any and every whim that passed their way.  Hammond just turned the tables on the Tok'ra.  He really did like this General.

Understanding thoroughly, Toban nodded his head.  "Yes, General.  Trust is necessary.  I will inform our operatives that such behavior in the future will not be tolerated.  We would like to accompany you on some of your missions, if that would be permitted.  I believe it is a wise idea to blend our forces as much as possible, in light of the Tok'ra/Earth Alliance."

Quid pro quo, Gus thought.  The Tok'ra had been adequately chastised, but nothing had been changed.  Gus wondered just how many times this little charade had been played out. Politics.

It was almost a relief when the phone rang.

Gently replacing the phone in its cradle, Hammond said rapidly, "Gentlemen, I'm being called away for a very urgent matter."  His urgency was apparent.  "If you'll excuse me," and didn't wait for an answer.  Hammond swept out of the room.

A very palpable silence followed.  Gus, the best known stick-foot-in-mouther on the planet, had to ask, "Just out of curiosity, why did you become a host?"  Subtlety was not one of his strong points.

Hakensk had to laugh.  "The Tau'ri have a difficult time understanding why anyone would want to become a host.  They feel almost disgusted by the idea."

"Can you blame us?" Curt asked him, quite eager to know the answer himself.  "The idea that you've got a snake in your head is enough to put anyone off his food."

Hakensk knew that Toban had reservations about these two Tau'ri since they were new acquaintances, but he decided to give them a chance.  Some of the Tau'ri were absolutely amusing, some annoying, all confusing.  He had never before met a group of people so...so...lively.  Jacob Carter had certainly been an interesting man to get to know.  "Perhaps.  But there are benefits to being a host.  I will live a great deal longer, barring accidents or catastrophic illnesses.  My body heals at an incredibly fast rate.  I have access to all of Toban's knowledge.  I have a friend for life.  That is a powerful benefit indeed."

"But you still have a snake in your head.  Can't you feel it?" Curt asked.  To hell with being polite.  Here was a human being that allowed himself to become a porter for a reptile.

Hakensk had not thought about that since he had blended with Toban.  "At first, I did, but the feeling that something is there goes away almost immediately.  The symbiote blends with the host.  In a very real way, they become one.  I don't feel the symbiote at all.  Physically, I could not tell you that a symbiote was there.  Mentally, I am always aware of him."

Gus jumped in with an almost angry "And you're okay with that?"

"Yes, Colonel.  Toban and I have spent countless hours conversing with each other.  We do get along.  He is very wise, and I have always been interested in politics.  For his part, he has always been interested in medicine, and my being a doctor has fascinated him.  We are a well-matched pair.  I know that symbiotes must have a host in order to live, but I really couldn't imagine how empty my life would be without him."

Hakensk almost made it sound like a marriage.  To be brutally honest, blending with a symbiote was a much more intimate union than a marriage.  One knows all about the other.  There was no privacy.  Gus couldn't understand it.  To be in a situation where the loss of control could be imminent almost unnerved him.  "Did you have a choice in the matter?" Gus asked him.

"Yes.  The Tok'ra were looking for hosts.  They only accept volunteers unlike the Goa'uld who just take hosts.  I had nothing for me on my home world other than my job, so I offered to become a host.  Not all of the volunteers are chosen.  If there is time to choose, there needs to be a mental compatibility.  Toban was in his previous host, Corliss, who had aged past the point of healing.  Toban had spoken to many potential hosts, some had not been compatible with him or he had not been compatible with them.  When I spoke with him, we talked for hours.  He even wanted Corliss to approve of me, and he did.  We decided that a blending between us would be very agreeable.  I was lucky enough to have the time to take care of my personal business on my home world before traveling to the Tok'ra base.  I lived there for several weeks before Corliss' health began to fail rapidly.  The Tok'ra wait until the last moment to leave their dying hosts so they would not rob them of one moment of life granted to them.  Just as Corliss was breathing his last, Toban transferred to me.  I have had a very fulfilling life since then."

Hakensk seemed so contented with his life.  That was very rare.  Gus was almost envious.  Hakensk felt just like Gus did when he was lying stretched out in that hammock sitting on his beach while he was drinking his margarita and listening to his calypso music.  True contentment.

"I do not mean to be rude," Hakensk continued, feeling that his presence was not exactly a welcome one to the two gentlemen seated with him, "but will SG-1 be available for me to speak with them?  I would like to know their opinions of what happened on P7L-525."

"And I'm sure that they'd like to share their opinions with you about P7L-525," Gus told him, "but a few things have happened today that they have to deal with.  They're here on the base, just indisposed at the moment."

"Are they upset over the events that occurred there?"

Gus and Curt didn't quite know what to say, so Gus said "I don't think upset is really the word I'd use."

No, upset wouldn't be the word at all.

 

**************************************************

 

Sam lifted the outer facing of the sonic resonator and showed Hammond the internal wiring.  "You see these two wires?  They've been replaced by two non-conductive wires."

"What does that mean, Major?"

"What it means is that the resonator is receiving power but no transmissions.  It looks like it's working, only it's all for show."

The sonic resonator wasn't working.  How long had it not been working?

As if reading the General's thoughts, Sam brought up the security tapes recorded by the cameras.  "After we made the discovery, I started looking through the tapes.  I know the resonator was working properly before we went to P7L-525.  I've run all of the logs since then.  There's nothing on them showing anyone tampering with the device.  I ran a diagnostic on all three security levels.  There was nothing.  Then Daniel suggested that I try accessing the fourth level."

Fourth level?  "Major, we don't have a fourth level," General Hammond pointed out.

"Uh, General?" Daniel called for his attention.  "We do now."

"Major computer changes are supposed to be signed off by me," Hammond said angrily. "When did this happen?"

"I put it on the system a few months ago, sir," Daniel told him sheepishly.  The anger he saw in the General's eyes was unmistakable.  "I'm sorry, General.  I didn't tell anybody about it.  It's just a routine subfolder for the level three security system.  Everything that is recorded by the third level is recorded into the fourth level.  The only difference is if someone changes the third level recordings, the fourth level isn't affected."

"May I ask why you did this without permission, Doctor Jackson?"

Awkwardly, Daniel fidgeted from one foot to the other.  "No offense, General, but I'm still having a difficult time trusting the military as a whole.  I just thought that another security level that no one knew about was good insurance for the civilians.  Just in case."

Oh.  That sounded plausible.  Even Hammond still had concerns about the civilians under his command.  He didn't want a repeat performance of the murders.  Still, he was going to have a very long talk with his ranking civilian when events allowed it.  "Major?  Is this anything that could cause us any computer problems?"

"No, sir.  It's just like Daniel said, a subfolder that saves everything the level three system records.  It's so simple, I'm thinking of putting the same subfolders on levels one and two.  Anyway, I checked the fourth level, and let me bring up what was recorded."

As Sam worked, Hammond turned his attention back to Daniel. "Doctor Jackson, have you done anything else that I should be made aware of?"

Daniel thought his answer over. "I haven't done anything to the computer system.  I have been tinkering around on a few projects."

"Should I be worried?"

"No, sir.  There's nothing there that can blow up.  It's just a few odds and ends that Vaelen would have considered basic equipment."

Okay.  "And these things are kept under lock and key?"

"Not quite.  They're just scattered around my office.  Just waiting to be found."

"Found?"

Daniel gave Hammond that innocent little boy look.  "Yes, sir.  The agreement clearly states that I can't give you any advanced technology, but we can keep any technology that we find.  There's also nothing in the agreement that says we have to find the technology on other planets.  Should something slightly advanced be found in my office, then I guess it would belong to the SGC."

He had done it.  Daniel had found a way around part of the agreement.  "You're sneaky, Doctor Jackson."

"Me?  No, sir.  What would give you that idea?"

Jack loved working with this group.  They were so much fun.  "Don't worry, General.  We'll go scavenging for technology later.  We'll brave the jungles of Daniel's office.  Maybe we should go in MOP2?"

"Sirs, the recording," Sam reminded them.

The monitor showed Major Carter's laboratory.  The scene didn't change for several seconds, and then they saw Doctor McElhannon enter the room.  They watched McElhannon jimmy open the resonator's chassis and replace the wires.  He then replaced the chassis and walked out of the lab. The entire operation took less than one minute.

"The time stamp on the recording shows that he replaced the wires on Saturday before we retuned from P7L-525.  There's also evidence of tampering with the security recordings.  He didn't touch this one because no one knew about it."  Carter had frozen the picture on the monitor just as the scene showed McElhannon walking out the door.

Hammond was angry.  Very angry.  "Is the resonator working now?"

"It is, General Hammond," Teal'c responded, "but the news is surprising."

Jack had been sitting by the resonator, not thinking about the last time they had crowded around the little gadget, when he showed the General what Teal'c was talking about.  "You see this little red light?  When it's flashing, that means that a homemade Stargate's been activated."

And what did you know?  The little red light was flashing.

"How?" Hammond wanted to know?  "We have their Stargates here, and neither of them is being used."

"No, sir," Jack agreed readily.  "Those aren't being used."

Those?  Is that what Jack said?  "You mean that there is another Stargate on this planet?"

Jack shrugged his shoulders, but Carter expressed her opinion.  "That's the only explanation, General.  Somewhere on this planet is another homemade Stargate.  I'd say they've been utilizing it for the last several days."  She turned the resonator around so Hammond could see the other side of it.  "I built the resonator to record the frequencies emitted by the homemade Stargates.  The red light means that the frequency has been used.  The indicators on this side of the box depict time, source and destination of the frequency signal.  According to these readouts, their Stargate has been used many times since Saturday, but hasn't been used in the last 16 hours."

"Do we know where this Stargate is?"

Turning a few dials and flipping a few switches later, Sam said, "It was at Area 51 when it was activated, sir.  I have a feeling that there won't be anything there now.  I have no doubt that it would have been moved."

The conspirators had another Stargate.

On Earth.

Thank goodness Doctor Jackson still had doubts about the military.

"I'll take your best estimates, people.  What do you think they're doing?"

Teal'c spoke first.  "Given the amount of time that has transpired since our last encounter with the conspirators, I would assume that General Thayer would be requiring basic resources.  His movements would be discovered by our Allies who are also trying to acquire their off-world locations if he attempted to establish a wormhole from his base."

"McElhannon created a window of time for them to get whatever they needed from here," Jack added himself.  "They've had five days to transport items through their Stargate.  You can get a lot through a wormhole in that length of time.  Like materials to build barracks."

Daniel and Sam didn't have to say anything.  SG-1 was in agreement.

Pushing his luck, Jack asked, "General, is this enough to kick McElhannon back to MacKenzie?"

Hammond thought about the situation.  "No. I'm going to keep him here for a little longer.  If he sees Major Carter and Teal'c moving around the base, he might not get suspicious.  I want you and Doctor Jackson to go see Doctor MacKenzie.  Don't phone him.  For all we know, the phone lines may be monitored.  Go see him. He's at the Academy Hospital.  Don't ask any questions that would even suggest that McElhannon is working with the conspirators.  Just go and find out what you can about our visiting psychiatrist."  He gazed back at the resonator.  "What about tracking the signals from communication spheres?"

Sam shook her head.  "I'm going to have to do some repair work.  McElhannon did more than just change the wires.  There's some damage to non-essential circuits, but I can repair those."

"All right.  Anything you need, Major, just get it done.  And Colonel, I'm expecting you to be on your best behavior when you're talking to Doctor MacKenzie.  Understood?"

"Absolutely, sir.  I'd never say anything about his misdiagnoses, lack of professionalism, utter stupidity in --"

"Thank you, Colonel.  Just go.  And don't get into any trouble."

 

**************************************************

 

"Sir?  Are you kidding me?...No, sir....No, I'm not disobeying a direct order...It's just that there's no way to....Yes, sir....General, that site is guarded....Here?  He's coming here to get it?...Yes, sir....He's already here?...Yes, sir.  I'll be waiting.  Will I recognize him?...I'll get it, sir....Yes, sir, I know we're out of time."

McElhannon looked around the small office.  It was small, cramped, dull, dim, dingy, gray.  He was a scientist, not a thief or a soldier.  The General couldn't expect him to be able to follow those orders!  He wasn't any good at that kind of activity.

He resisted the urge to throw his coffee against the wall.  Not that it wouldn't add some color to the drab interior of the room, but it was the last of his coffee.  Besides, he had to plan a heist.

 

**************************************************

 

Wednesday evening

Gus hurried into General Hammond's office. The General had already decided to forget that there was any such thing as military protocols where Colonel Jennings was concerned since Gus had a tendency to forget that he was on a military base.  "General, I just received word.  A lot of the bad guys my people were watching have mysteriously disappeared."

"Disappeared?"

"Mysteriously.  The last reported sighting of any of them was almost 24 hours ago.  They went to Area 51 and haven't been seen since.  I got this report from some of my people who are at Area 51.  No one knows where they are."  Gus was feeling a little out of his element.  Aliens and wormholes weren't anything like tracking gunrunners in Apache helicopters.

Hammond knew this was coming.  He knew as soon as SG-1 told them their theory.  The conspirators had been escaping through another Stargate.  "Colonel, we believe that there was another homemade Stargate in use at Area 51 since Saturday.  Our detection device had been disabled by one of their personnel just before then.  Major Carter will be able to repair it, but it looks like we're too late.  This new Stargate has already been shut down."

"Shut down and...what?" Gus demanded.

"Just shut down, Colonel.  I have no authority at Area 51.  I wouldn't be able to get a team in there to search the base.  And our information is very sparse on the subject."

Where Hammond's hands were tied, Gus' were not.  "Do you think this Stargate they've got will look like the other ones?"

Gus was asking Hammond questions he couldn't answer.  "I would suppose so.  From what Doctor Jackson and Major Carter have explained to me, the homemade Stargates would have to be small enough in order to connect only with the ones in their own network and not dial in to a larger Stargate like ours."

"Could it be hidden anywhere?"

Hammond thought about that for a moment.  "Perhaps not.  According to wormhole physics, the Stargate produces an energy field that not only can be detected but could also disrupt some types of less sophisticated computer systems miles away.  A home computer system could be susceptible.  For that reason, our gate room is shielded and 28 levels underground to help avoid that particular situation.  They would have had to store the Stargate deep enough underground to protect their activities."

"Deep underground?"

Hammond saw where Gus was going.  "Yes.  Several stories at least."

"I'll have my people start looking.  If they find this Stargate, what do you want them to do with it?"

The General had given that some thought.  They had two already.  Moving one surreptitiously would be almost impossible.  No one could just move a big round stone ring without drawing attention from people you didn't want to draw attention from.  Destroying it would also draw attention.  Tough decision.  "If your people could secure it somehow, somewhere out of the way --"

"Until your guys can go get it?" Jennings finished for him.

Hammond knew that would be impossible.  Once the Stargate was discovered, there would be no way to secure it away from the Organization.  Anyone near the Stargate would likely be executed on sight.  No, there was only one way to assure the fewest people getting killed.  "It will have to be destroyed, Colonel.  And that's not an easy prospect. Stargates have withstood meteor blasts."

"The big ones have.  What about the little ones?"

Hammond had not considered that option.  He quickly picked up the phone and called Major Carter and Teal'c into his office.  Once having been apprised of the situation, they considered their options.

"Colonel," Sam began to explain, "naquada is one of the most resilient building materials we've ever come across.  It absorbs weapons blasts.  I don't believe destroying it is possible with our current technology."

"Teal'c?  Any ideas?" Hammond asked.

"I agree with Major Carter.  There is no device on this world that would effectively destroy a Stargate."

"But there is one off-world," Sam was inspired to say.  "All we have to do is dial in to that particular Stargate from an off-world Stargate, one that is powerful enough to disrupt the energy fields supporting the wormhole.  The homemade Stargates can't handle the ensuing overload of power.  It would literally buckle the naquada.  In theory, the homemade Stargate could suffer a meltdown due to the intense electromagnetic waves generated by an exploding wormhole.  Sir, I don't have to tell you the opportunities afforded by liquid naquada."

"No, Major, you don't." Hammond knew that liquid naquada was a rare find under any circumstances.  "First, let Colonel Jennings' people find it.  I'd like to reduce the number of deaths produced by an overcharged wormhole.  Then, Major, do whatever you need to do to bring this about."

"Yes, sir," Sam answered quickly and filed out of his office with Teal'c and Jennings.

Gus moved up beside Sam and asked, "Uh, Major, is it always like this around here?"

"No, sir.  You caught us on a slow week."

 

**************************************************

 

McElhannon made his way along the dark corridors, trying to stay in the shadows and away from prying eyes.  He had just seen Major Carter and Teal'c separate themselves from Colonel Jennings.  He still didn't understand the Colonel's actions.  There had been only one meeting between him and his quarry, why was he delaying?  Hammond had to be removed quickly, and SG-1 distracted.  This was not happening.

McElhannon waited in the shadows for a while waiting for the traffic in the corridors to dissipate.  Then, clutching a small duffel bag to him, he started walking toward the infirmary.

He, at least, would be successful in his assignments.

 

**************************************************

 

Academy Hospital, same time

Daniel hated the place.  He really hated the office he was sitting in.  Perhaps it was because he didn't really care for the person who inhabited the office.  Doctor MacKenzie had not exactly inspired any trust after Daniel's schizophrenic episode nor had he gone to any trouble to apologize or try to regain SG-1's trust.  For him, it was just an unfortunate incident best left alone.

For Daniel, it was one of the darkest moments of his life.  And MacKenzie wouldn't even acknowledge his contribution to the many mistakes made that day.

Jack just didn't like psychiatrists.  He never had.  He had been subjected to their tried and true methods of mental and emotional examination many times in his career, but he resented every opportunity that even put him in the same room with one.  MacKenzie just reaffirmed his belief that he didn't like psychiatrists.  His misdiagnosis of Daniel was just the icing on the cake.  He didn't trust this man, no matter what the situation.  And now, here he and Daniel sat, waiting to talk to the man who sent one of the bad guys amongst them.  He had better not have known about McElhannon or Doctor MacKenzie would be the one needing a doctor.  A medical doctor.

Finally, Doctor MacKenzie joined them.  "Colonel O'Neill, Doctor Jackson, I'm sorry if I've kept you waiting.  I was seeing a patient."  He took his seat, put down his paperwork, clasped his hands together on top of his desk, and gave his two visitors his full attention.  "Now, what can I do for you gentlemen?"

Jack shifted uncomfortably in his seat.  Whenever he had to sit across from a doctor, he always felt like he was twelve years old and being sent to the principal's office for causing a water bomb war.  "You could tell us everything you know about Doctor McElhannon," Jack started off saying something not quite so polite but thought better of it.  He was, after all, a Colonel -- not to mention an adult.  Sometimes.

Doctor MacKenzie seemed perplexed.  "Doctor McElhannon?  He's an excellent psychiatrist.  He came with the highest recommendations from the Pentagon.  His work with emotional trauma patients is unorthodox but highly successful.  His references were impeccable.  Let me guess, Colonel, you're not very fond of him?"

"I'm not fond of doctors in general.  But I'm sure you can understand that."

"Indeed."

"What we'd like to know," Daniel interjected, "is why you sent him to the base.  Was there some particular reason he was chosen?"

MacKenzie knew that when SG-1 started questioning anything, then something was up.  He reached over into the file cabinet next to his desk and pulled out McElhannon's transfer papers.  "I can tell you that he is the most qualified for the job, Doctor Jackson.  He deals with patients suffering from extreme stress and emotional trauma.  His theories and research into near death experiences are revolutionary.  When these particular fields of study became everyday occurrences at the SGC, the military decided that they should fund research in those areas.  McElhannon's name was at the top of the list of doctors to choose from."  He glanced through the transfer papers.  There was nothing out of the ordinary.  "His papers are in order, Colonel."

"So you didn't recommend him for the position?" Jack asked.

"Not in the way you mean.  He was recommended to me, and I recommended him to General Hammond."

"Can I see those transfer papers?" Jack asked him.

MacKenzie handed Jack the folder and sat back in his chair watching.  Since he didn't know what was going on, the conversation the two men held was confusing.

"McElhannon's been a consultant for the military for two years," Jack observed readily.

Daniel pointed to something on the page.  "Can you read that signature?"

Jack looked, he turned the paper sideways and looked, he even turned it upside down and looked again.  Righting the paper, he answered, "The first letter looks like a B."

"Is that an X?" Daniel asked.

"Baxter," Jack deciphered.  "MacKenzie, did General Baxter send McElhannon to you?"

"Yes.  General Baxter has actively recruited many civilians for consulting positions for some time now."

Daniel pulled another page out of the stack.  This one had a picture on it.  "Doctor, who is this?"  He showed MacKenzie the picture.

"Um, Doctor Jackson, that is Doctor McElhannon.  I take it he doesn't photograph well?"

Both Jack and Daniel looked at the picture.  "Doc," Jack muttered, "had you ever met McElhannon before he came here?  I mean, wasn't he transferred to the SGC from this hospital?"

"No, I still haven't actually met him, Colonel.  All I had was his paperwork.  He was sent directly to Cheyenne Mountain from Washington.  Why?"

"No reason," Jack lied unconvincingly.  "Doc, for your benefit, maybe it's better if you forgot that Daniel and I were ever here."

MacKenzie knew that whatever secret these two men were working on, it would be considered beyond top secret.  "You can be assured of my discretion, Colonel.  Is there anything else I can help you with?"

Daniel and Jack looked at the doctor, looked at each other, then looked back at the doctor again.  "No," they said in unison before leaving.

Left alone, MacKenzie glanced at the transfer papers once again.  Everything was in order, wasn't it?

 

**************************************************

 

Before going back to pretending to be the Gus-Buster, Gus walked into the infirmary laboratory where the symbiote was just to take another glance at Nuisance and found he wasn't alone.  Toban was staring at the symbiote.  There was no mistaking the feelings between the two.

"Is it just me or do you two really hate each other?"

Toban nodded his head.  "He is Goa'uld.  One day, we will eradicate them."

Nuisance took umbrage at the comment, hissed, and turned its back on the two onlookers.

"Oh, yeah, I see his mama taught him manners."  Gus didn't know quite how to talk to a Tok'ra.  Well, it wouldn't be the first time he'd shoved his foot in his mouth that day.  Might as well do it again.  "Are you Tok'ra are different from them?" he asked, indicating the Goa'uld.

"Yes.  We co-exist with our hosts.  We do not subjugate them.  We try --"

"No.  I mean, you Tok'ra.  Are you different from them?"

"You mean physically?"

"Yeah."

"No.  We re descended from the Goa'uld so therefore have the same physical properties and needs.  Our politics, however, are entirely different."

Gus took another look at the symbiote.  "Son, that critter's got to be three feet long.  I'm still having trouble believing that something that size can cuddle up next to someone's brain stem."

Against his better judgment, Toban rather liked the brusque, outspoken Tau'ri.  Hakensk already did, but his host was predetermined to try to like everyone.  There was just something about Jennings.  He was practical yet amusingly creative.  "Yes. I will admit it's a rather snug fit, but we can get all three feet of us to 'cuddle up' next to a brain stem."

Gus thought about that for a moment.  "Sheesh.  Just the thought of that is enough to give me the willies.  You do know how disgusting that sounds, don't you?"

"I had never thought of it before," Toban confessed.  "Like all intelligent creatures, we wish to survive.  In order to do so, we must live in hosts.  Unlike the Goa'uld, we only ask willing hosts to accommodate us.  We work together in order to help effect a positive change against our enemies.  For us, taking a host is a vital part of our existence.  For you, yes, I could see why you would think it a disgusting venture.  Having something inside your head must be disconcerting."

"Uh, actually, I was thinking about what you had to do to get there."

"Oh," was all Toban could say.  "I suppose when you actually think about the process...."

"So you don't think about it?"

"Uh, no.  I try not to."

"I can understand that," Gus agreed.

Again, there was a companionable silence.

Toban decided he needed to try his luck at small talk.  "Have you always been a soldier?"

"Yep.  All my life.  Even when I wasn't a soldier, I was a soldier.  Know what I mean?"

Toban did indeed, but that was not what was puzzling him.  "I mean no insult, but you do not seem to be the same sort of soldier as General Hammond or Colonel O'Neill."

"Nope.  They're career military.  I'm a professional soldier," he said proudly.

"There's a difference?"

Gus wondered that himself at times, but in definition, there was a difference.  "I guess you could say I get paid to do the jobs no one would ask Hammond to do."

"You're a mercenary then?" Toban inquired.

"You can bet your scales on that, bub.  Only the word mercenary isn't very PC these days.  Some of my colleagues prefer to be called professional soldiers."  Gus tapped his finger on the aquarium, sparking an angry response from Nuisance.  It was fun to aggravate him.

"And what do you prefer to be called?" Toban wanted to know.

"Retired.  I only took this job because it allowed me to finish up an unfinished job.  And D.J. was in some trouble.  And I figured I could help."

Toban regarded his conversational companion.  "Doctor Jackson means a great deal to you?"

"Hell, he and Erin O'Malley are like my own kids.  I've tried to look out for them when I could, but I've usually been somewhere they're not when they're in real trouble."

"I have no doubt you have done what you could," Toban observed.

"Damn straight.  I try, but sometimes it's just not enough.  I asked them to do me a favor once a long time ago and promised to be there no matter what.  I was, but part of my asking for a favor led to Daniel meeting Vaelen.  I think that's one event he wishes had never happened, and it wouldn't have if I hadn't asked for that one little favor."

Toban smiled at the irony.  "From what I have witnessed, Doctor Jackson considers you a great friend.  You must take prodigious care of them."

"I try," Gus sighed.  "I'm all for ripping folks new ones when they pester my kids.  Right now, the Tok'ra are topping the list."

"I have noticed some hostility from some of the Tau'ri including yourself.  May I ask why?"

"May I ask why the Tok'ra are so interested in keeping such a close eye on D.J.?"

Toban thought the answer obvious.  "We are concerned for his welfare."

"And?"

"Should something happen to Doctor Jackson, the Kha'ti would be lost to us forever."

There it was.  The tip of the iceberg.  The other shoe dropping.  "Lost to you?  What do you think the good folks at the SGC would lose?  In the grand scheme of things, a live Daniel Jackson is much more important than a dead snake's memories.  To butcher a famous bard's lines, Vaelen had his hour on the stage, and now the curtain's fallen on him.  O'Neill and his bunch look after each other, but that gets difficult to do when you guys gum up the works.  This last trip of theirs nearly got screwed because the Tok'ra there lied to them.  They could've all been killed, and the Tok'ra would've been the ones that put them in a situation to be killed to begin with.  These folks have a hell of a lot more to lose."

"But if our presence helps --"

"Which it doesn't," Gus interrupted.

"We must ensure that advanced technology --"

"Whoa.  Hold it right there, partner.  That dog won't hunt.  D.J. promised you guys that he wouldn't just hand over advanced technology, which he doesn't really have too much to begin with, to a less advanced...us.  I guess you don't understand that when D.J. makes a promise, you can bet the bank on it.  But you guys had better understand one thing.  D.J. will not sit back and watch people get hurt when he knows a way to stop it from happening.  Situations have cropped up around here where his advanced knowledge was the only thing that saved them.  He may not have always kept the letter of the promise, but he sure as hell kept the spirit of it."

Toban suddenly felt ashamed of himself.  "I know he has.  Doctor Jackson is an honorable man.  Garshaw feels --"

"Tell Garshaw she can sit and spin.  Last time I checked, Hammond ran this outfit, not her.  And since we're all supposed to be allies, she'd better start acting like it.  Like Hammond said, trust is a two-way street."

Toban started laughing softly and couldn't seem to stop.

"I said something funny?"

"No, Colonel, not funny, but what you said was very reminiscent of Vaelen.  He didn't trust easily, but he would always be the first to extend the hand of friendship.  He would allow people the opportunity to show their quality.  He was quite different from Garshaw.  She always wants to be in control of everything.  That was, what did Selmac call it, a major bone of contention for them."

Gus saw a small glimmer of understanding.  "You knew Vaelen."

"Yes.  He was a very good friend which is probably the reason why Doctor Jackson tolerates me.  You must understand, Colonel, many of us were friends with the Kha'ti and were proud to fight by their side and under their command.  They were very good at what they did.  We lost a great deal when they left."

"And if something were to happen to D.J.?"

"We lose them again and for all time.  You may believe me when I say that our motives and Garshaw's motives are entirely different."

Different, but with the same result.  "Look, bub, motives don't make any difference to me.  You're strangling these guys.  They don't have any room to breathe.  The Tok'ra have gotta back off."

Resignedly, Toban agreed.  "I will discuss what may be done when I speak with Doctor Jackson.  General Hammond informed me earlier that Doctor Jackson and Colonel O'Neill were forced to leave the base temporarily, but would be back in a few hours.  I have no doubt we will reach an amicable agreement."

"I hope so.  I get the feeling that D.J. and the others are willing to be reasonable.  As long as the Tok'ra are, I don't see a problem."

Again, they watched the symbiote.  It was like watching a lobster in a tank at a seafood restaurant.  It just sat there and stared at whoever stared back, acting like he didn't care in the least what happened in the world beyond his tank.

Gus knew that looks could be deceiving.

 

**************************************************

 

Finally, McElhannon could make his move.  The only people in the lab at that moment were Colonel Jennings and the Tok'ra representative.  It was now or never.

Taking a small handheld weapon from his pocket, the doctor entered the infirmary, duffle bag in hand, and sneaked into the lab.  Pointing the weapon at the two men, he ordered "Step away from the symbiote."

Gus and Toban turned to face the intruder.  Toban was shocked.  This was not the way to treat guests.  Gus was annoyed.  No one ever pointed a gun at him and lived to tell the tale.  "And you are?" Gus asked him, thinking he probably already had the answer.

"We work for the same people, Colonel.  I suggest you allow me to do my job."

This had to be the operative Westerly mentioned.  Even if there had been any doubt in Gus' mind before, this definitely proved that Westerly was an idiot.  He hadn't told this agent just how dangerous mercenaries could be.  Especially him.

"And your job is, what?  Point guns at people who could rip your heart out with their bare hands?"

"Please remove yourself, Colonel.  I'm to take the symbiote."

Rule one: grunts do not have the authority to order mercenaries to do anything.

Rule two: when a grunt breaks rule one, the grunt pays.

Perhaps this grunt didn't understand just how thin the ice he was walking on was.  Then again, perhaps he did.  A movement of McElhannon's thumb changed the setting on the weapon and he shot Gus with what looked like a charge from a zat gun.  It was no more than a stun blast, but it had the desired effect on the mercenary.  He fell to the floor hard and landed with a loud thump.  He couldn't move, he could only watch.  With another move of his thumb, he switched the weapon back to the kill position.

Toban was a politician, Hakensk a doctor, but neither of them had the sheer presence of mind to realize that they were in way above their heads on this one.  They didn't realize just how big the conspiracy was or how desperate McElhannon was to complete his task.  To prove it, Toban had to say, "The symbiote cannot be removed.  It is too dangerous to even make the attempt."  He was scared.  Gus could tell.  Toban was shaking as he helped Gus to his feet.

"I don't think that's worrying him," Gus commented brightly, his voice still working despite the fact he couldn't move.  "You're taking it to Westerly?"

"Not hardly, Colonel.  Westerly is just a highly placed officer.  Nuisance is going to his superior."

"And you don't mean the Senator."

"Not hardly.  The General."  McElhannon motioned the gun away from the aquarium.  Seeing that they had few options at that moment, Toban helped Jennings move away from Nuisance.  The symbiote took great interest in the goings-on outside his tank.  That was a change.

"You realize that I'm gonna make you pay for this.  I don't care what Baxter's orders are."  Gus tried to trick McElhannon into revealing something.

Sometimes it worked.

This time it did.

"General Baxter will be very pleased with this catch, and we'll both walk away from this rich men."

"You are in league with this man?" Toban demanded to know.  "A common thief?"

"No.  I'm not."

McElhannon turned quickly at Gus' words.  Not a good thief or experienced assassin, his resolve and control wavered when he realized that the mercenary was working on his own and not for the Organization.  In a few moments that stretched for an hours, his finger tightened reflexively on the trigger on the strange looking weapon.  Toban, seeing what was happening and not willing to see who he knew to be an innocent man die, lunged in front of the blast.  Gus tried shoving Toban out of the way and reach McElhannon, but it wasn't to be.  He couldn't get his arms to move.  The blast sped through Hakensk's body and slammed into Gus'.  Both men fell back, hard, and didn't move again.

McElhannon turned back to the tank and addressed the symbiote.  "I know you can understand me.  I'm under orders to remove you.  Once we're safely away, a host will be provided for you as long as you don't give anyone any trouble.  Are we agreed?"

Nuisance may have been young, but he wasn't stupid.  This was his best chance to escape and make the Tau'ri pay for their insolence in torturing him for the last six months.  He squawked at this stranger and waited.

Believing that the squawk was a confirmation, McElhannon opened the duffle bag and pulled a container out.  It was nothing more than a large thermos, but it would suffice.  All it had to do is carry a symbiote out of the infirmary.

Lifting the tank cover, he placed the thermos inside and filled it with water.  The symbiote swam inside and found a comfortable position in which to travel.  He would bear any indignity in order to escape.

McElhannon tightened the lid and replaced the thermos in his duffle, and without a glance at the two men lying on the floor, he quickly left the infirmary.

The walk to the infirmary may have seemed long, but the walk to the appointed meeting place was even longer.  He had the symbiote but knowing that Jennings wasn't on their side was going to prove disastrous.  He just knew it.

McElhannon turned a quick corner and entered a small storage room at the end of the hallway.  Waiting there was a thinly bearded technician wearing the nametag "BRADY" on his shirt.  McElhannon passed the duffle to the technician.  Quickly, the tech opened his toolbox to show McElhannon that it had been converted to a portable aquarium equipped with an odd oxygen apparatus.  Opening the thermos, he dumped its contents, water and symbiote, into the 'tool kit'.  He quickly resealed the box so Nuisance couldn't escape his new prison.

"Did you have any problems?" the tech asked the doctor.

"Yes, sir.  I was forced to kill Jennings and the Tok'ra."

The tech stopped moving for a moment.  "You killed Jennings?  Here?"

"There was no choice, sir.  He declared that he wasn't working with us.  Given his behavior over the last few days, that doesn't come as a surprise.  And it was the only way I could get the symbiote out of the infirmary."

Then there was no choice.  Perhaps it was just a joke life was playing on them.  Life had been laughing at their expense for some time.  The technician withdrew a zat gun from his pocket and fired three shots at McElhannon, disintegrating him.  Without another word spoken, he left the storage room and traveled in the opposite direction.  The one loose end the tech had just destroyed had created many more by his utter incompetence.

Now, he had to escape the base without being detected.

 

**************************************************

 

The elevator doors opened, and SG-1 stepped off onto Level 21.

"Well, that was a monumental waste of an afternoon," Jack muttered more to himself than the others.  "We should have just made a phone call.  Would have saved a lot of time."

Carter wasn't amused either.  "It wasn't a complete waste, Colonel.  The picture in Doctor McElhannon's transfer papers is not a picture of the man running around here impersonating Doctor McElhannon.  I think that was worth the effort."

"From your description, Doctor MacKenzie based his recommendation solely on the report he received from General Baxter," Teal'c observed.  "Is it not Doctor MacKenzie's responsibility to thoroughly investigate any medical personnel before allowing them access to the SGC?" Teal'c asked.

"Those are the rules, Teal'c," Jack told him, "and as we all know, rules are made to be broken."

Jack had noticed how quiet Daniel had been on the drive back to the base.  Discovering that McElhannon had been sent in by General Baxter bothered him.  General Baxter had his fingerprints on every aspect of the conspiracy, and Daniel was trying to clarify the situation in his own mind.  That, or get control of his temper.  He was pissed.

A group of people ahead of them parted to let a bearded technician through, a technician wearing a shirt with the nametag reading "BRADY."  No one really noticed him, but suddenly Daniel, Teal'c and Carter stopped still in their tracks.  Something was amiss.  Daniel turned his head slowly to the side and tracked the technician with an eye like a targeting laser.  That feeling, that awareness....oh shit!

"He has the symbiote," Daniel whispered.  He saw the eyes, the face, the stature of the man he knew was hiding Nuisance.  He knew who it was who had the symbiote.  He knew!  It was the moment he had dreamed of for eight months.  He had a chance!

"DARBY!" he yelled at the top of his lungs, startling everyone around him.

The technician realized he had been found out and was in trouble.  Without hesitation, his eyes locked with Daniel's the latter's eyes glowing with a vengeful fire.  He had been found out.  Life just played  joke number one on him.  Darby ran back the way he had come.

"Darby!" Without waiting for permission, orders or backup, Daniel tore out after the man who had ordered his murder.  Yells coming from behind him to clear the way gave him an unimpeded path as he sped toward his quarry.

Legs pumping, feet pounding, his arms hugging the toolbox close to his chest, Darby ran for all he was worth, all the time knowing that Jackson was gaining on him.  The red alert klaxon sounded, overlaid with the warning that Colonel Quinton Darby was on the base and must be captured.

SF troops were already converging on the floor.  Darby knew he had to break off their pursuit and escape to the surface.  He could hear Daniel behind him, the voices of the other members of SG-1 blending into the background.  He was running out of time.  He ran toward a stairwell only to smash into a human wall.  Curtis Moore had headed him off.  The two men collided, Darby dropped the toolbox and shattered the lid open.

Nuisance was free.

"Curt!" Daniel yelled as he lunged for the symbiote, completely ignoring Darby for the moment.  He wasn't fast enough.  Nuisance leapt from the floor and imbedded itself into Curt's neck, taking over almost immediately.

Without thinking, acting only on millennia-old impulses, Daniel shoved a shocked Darby over to some SF troops, and then faced the creature now dominant in his friend.  Only the sounds of guns being set to the ready could be heard.

"Give it up," Jack ordered Nuisance.  "You've got nowhere to go."  He backed up his statement by sighting him with the barrel of his pistol.

Nuisance turned "its" head toward Jack, eyes glowing in contempt.  "On the contrary, O'Neill, you're going to allow me to leave this place."

Jack didn't blink an eye at the veiled threat.  He gripped his gun tighter.  "Or else what?"  Nuisance was standing too close to Daniel who was blocking any escape attempt.

"Or else I put this host in extraordinary pain."  Nuisance looked at Daniel, his eyes never blinking at the former Kha'ti host.  "You know my meaning, do you not?  I touched your mind once.  I know the truth.  Vaelen wasn't always the kind soul that you know.  He was once one of the mightiest of the Goa'uld.  He knows how to dominate a host."

Daniel stood his ground.  "He was never a Goa'uld.  He never took an unwilling host.  He never deliberately hurt innocent people.  Mind games won't work with me"

"With Vaelen, no, but with slaves, the Goa'uld have always held complete control."

Nuisance was talking, stalling for time, needing the time to better dominate Curt.  Daniel couldn't give him that time.  Daniel's eyes took on the eerie glow, his voice the metallic echo.  "Curt's a soldier.  He knows the rules.  Leave him, you'll live.  Stay there, and I will personally rip you out of him with my bare hands."

"Kha'ti scum," Nuisance spat at him.  "I will personally send you to Netu!"

Quickly, Nuisance launched himself at Daniel who punched the Goa'uld in the jaw with the force of a sledgehammer, knocking him back.  The Goa'uld retaliated with a kick to the stomach.  Daniel countered by grabbing the Goa'uld's ankle, twisting it and forcing him over.

Watching two symbiote-strengthened individuals locked in mortal combat was a rare sight.  The symbiote dragged up Curt's lethal fighting skills, Daniel easily channeled Vaelen's close combat prowess.  Despite the ease with which Daniel countered every move, the SF troops kept their guns leveled on who was once Curtis Moore.

"Hold your fire!" Jack ordered.  The troops surrounding them stood back, giving the two combatants room to fight.  No one wanted to be within hitting distance of slamming fists.  Jack could tell Daniel was pulling his punches, trying to subdue Nuisance in order to save Curt.  He was determined not to lose another friend to the Goa'ulds.  Yep, Danny sure could fight these days.  This spectacle gave everyone an idea of the power behind a physical fight between two System Lords.  Such strength behind the blows -- no mere mortal could survive such a confrontation.

"You were once quite formidable, Vaelen.  You've lost what ability you once had by blending with this human."  Nuisance was having a hard time catching his breath.  Such fighting skills in a Kha'ti?  He would never had considered such an eventuality.

Daniel clearly had the upper hand.  He round housed Nuisance and grabbed him in a headlock.  "Don't flatter yourself.  Vaelen's dead."

Nuisance tripped up Daniel, causing them both to fall to the floor.  Each regrouped quickly, squaring off before each other, sizing each other up.

"Perhaps not quite as dead as you wish to believe," Nuisance told him, charging him at full speed.  Daniel sidestepped, Nuisance passed him and hit the railing at full speed.  As he fell over the side, he gripped the railing and held on as he hung over the edge.  Jack rushed to the railing to help Daniel rescue the flailing body.  Just as they reached over and grabbed his wrists to pull him back over, Nuisance lost control of Curt for a moment.

With a tremendous effort at subduing the demon inside him, Curt gasped out the words, "D.J., tell Gus it's been one hell of a ride."  He forcefully yanked his wrists free of the two men and fell the distance to the floor below.  He landed hard and was gone.

Quiet.

For a moment, no one moved.

No one said a word.

For a moment, no one dared breathe.

Finally, all turned from the grisly scene below to the dramatic scene before them.

"Colonel Quinton Darby," Jack approached their prisoner who was trying very hard to become invisible.  The man had grown a beard in an effort to hide his identity, but it hadn't been enough to fool Daniel.  Of course, trying to escape with a purloined symbiote and passing by three people who could sense symbiotes was definite proof that this man was a complete idiot.

Colonel Darby refused to answer or even acknowledge Jack's existence.

"You stole our snake," Jack accused him. "We had big plans for him, you know. We were gonna take him fishing one day."

Still, Darby said nothing.

"Now the question that's just begging to be asked is what are we going to do with you now since you ruined our fishing trip.  On some planets, that's a capital crime."  Darby couldn't meet Jack's eyes.  Yep, just as Jack thought.  Darby was nothing more than a highly placed clueless grunt.  Not a smart man at all.  "Unless you'd rather talk about murder?"

Darby still refused to speak.  He saw Hammond arrive moments earlier, quietly dismissing the majority of the SF troops when he saw the situation was well under SG-1's control.  He stood by silently as all eyes turned to the renegade Colonel and Daniel.

Predator and prey, prey and predator, each watched the other with a disdain that was almost palpable.

Daniel had continued to stare at Darby, his eyes the only objects betraying his inner turmoil at seeing one of his own murderers.  There was no hint of anger, not even a need for vengeance.  The archaeologist didn't seem at all disturbed by the events that had transpired only a moment ago.  In fact, his calmness was downright eerie.

"Daniel Jackson?"  Teal'c had often considered what Daniel would do if he ever crossed paths with Darby again.  The fact that Daniel had done nothing more than stare unmoving at the man worried the Jaffa.

Carter reached out and placed a hand on Teal'c's arm, a silent plea to let Daniel handle this himself.  "He needs this, Teal'c.  Like he needed to confront Roberts," she whispered.

Daniel's voice had returned to normal.  "Your being here makes this entire episode worth the trouble.  You just might have been able to pull it off if you had stayed away."

At that moment, Darby knew what Daniel was talking about.  The plan had seemed so perfect!  How could his being caught give it away?  Easy.  They had known from the beginning about the takeover attempt.  SG-1 probably knew even more than that.  For once, they had the upper hand from the beginning and probably didn't know it.

Suddenly, without warning, Daniel grabbed the Colonel by the shirt and promptly hung him over the railing -- over Curt's body.  Darby had a bird's eye view of the distance beneath him.

"You told me once that my presence was no longer required," Daniel shook him a little as Darby clawed at his arms trying to pull himself back onto the platform.  "Remember?"

Darby tried hard not to speak.  He wasn't going to give Daniel the satisfaction.  Finally, his resolve broken, he realized that his life depended on begging.  "No!  Please!  Don't!  Pull me back!"  Darby finally found his voice.

Darby was afraid.  The look in his eyes mirrored the look Daniel saw in 51 pairs of eyes that day...that miserable day that changed his life forever.

"Why?"

"You can't just kill me!" Darby was almost panicking, kicking his legs in empty air.

"You killed us."

Barely able to grasp a terrified breath, Darby choked out "I was following orders!  I had no choice!"

"No choice?  You forget who you're talking to.  There's always a choice."

Darby was beginning to turn blue with fear.  The only thing holding him was Daniel's grasp.  Damn, he was strong!  Darby had not anticipated this.  "Please, General.  Pull me back.  I'll tell you any information you want to know.  Please!"

Hammond walked over to the railing, looked down and saw the medics gurneying Captain Moore's body away.  "Colonel, you will definitely tell us everything.  If you don't, I will order Doctor Jackson to throw you off this mountain, not just off a platform.  Is that understood?"

"Yes, sir.  Perfectly, sir."

Hammond wasn't fooled into thinking he'd ever hear the truth from Darby, but neither was he going to let Daniel become a murderer no matter how well deserved the killing might be.  Darby was scared enough right now to swear to do anything just to live a few minutes longer.  Once he wasn't afraid, the real show would begin.  "Doctor Jackson, I believe he may be more use to us alive.  Would you please pull him back over the edge?"

Pull him back?  At first, everyone wondered if Daniel would obey the request.  He just held Darby out over empty air, watching his face reflect the fear as it grew out of control.  Finally, Daniel practically threw him over his shoulder.  Darby landed against the wall with a thud, but he was definitely not hurt -- much to everyone's dismay.

"Captain," Hammond ordered one of the SF troops, "take Colonel Darby to a holding cell.  He is to be isolated, and no one is to talk to him.  Is that clear?"

"Very clear, sir," the Captain answered.  There was not one person on the base who didn't know now about Darby's actions.  More than one person would have been very happy to have executed him.

Once the SF troops had left with their prisoner, only SG-1 and Hammond were left.  The clean up crew was taking care of the remnants of Curtis Moore's fall below them.  Daniel had a tight grasp on the railing and watched them intently.  The others stood by quietly for a moment, contemplating their silent friend.  Finally, General Hammond placed a hand on Daniel's shoulder.  "Are you all right?" he asked him.

"He was scared.  Not just of dying, but of me."  He stared at Hammond, his gaze never once wavering or apologetic.  "I've wanted to see that for months.  Just once, I wanted him to know what we felt like that day.  To know that you're going to die at the hands of people who didn't care."  He gazed back down to the distant floor below them.  "It wasn't worth the price."

"We'll have to find Colonel Jennings and tell him about the Captain," Hammond mentioned quietly.

"We can tell him that he doesn't have to ask Payne for Darby's communication sphere," Daniel commented quietly as he turned away from the railing.

Jack's eyebrow lifted at that statement.  "I thought we needed it to track down the bad guys."

Daniel reached into his pocket and pulled out the sphere in question.  "Darby had it on him."  He handed it to Sam so she could start work on the resonator.  As he was doing so, he admitted, "Another one of Vaelen's many skills.  He was a very good pickpocket.  I seemed to have picked up that trick as well."

"Cute trick," Jack told him. "Just how long have you been --"

The red alert klaxon sounded. "Now what?" Hammond uttered in frustration.

"General Hammond, SG-1, report to the infirmary immediately.  Medical emergency."

 

**************************************************

 

Life still existed in their bodies, but it was slipping away like quicksilver.

Hakensk's breathing became more shallow and fractured.  In a raspy, labored voice, he said "Toban cannot heal my injuries." Again his breathing caught.  "Please, don't let us both die."

Hakensk was begging them for a new host for Toban.  Of all the people milling about the base, would anyone volunteer?  Janet looked up from her patient to the group standing nearby.  Both Sam and Daniel looked horrified, their memories of being hosts still too fresh and terrifying in recent memory.  No one looked remotely interested.

"D.J.?" Gus' voice sounded as weak as Hakensk's did.  "What..."

"Hakensk's wounds are too bad for Toban to heal.  They're dying.  We don't know what kind of weapon he used on you, but the healing device won't work on the wounds.  The injuries on both of you are too severe.  You both need a sarcophagus, and we don't have one.  Hakensk's wounds are worse than yours, and he was just asking us for a new host for Toban."

Gus slowly moved his head in the Tok'ra's direction.  Hakensk's face was pale, his mouth starting to turn a rough shade of blue.  Hakensk looked back at Gus, his eyes starting to lose focus.  "Toban can not heal me, but he can heal you."  When Gus didn't respond, Hakensk added, "All three of us don't have to die."

Gus turned back to Daniel.  "Tell me...what it's...like?"

Daniel moved so he stood between Gus and Tok'ra in an unconscious effort to protect his friend.  "I can't tell you what it's like.  Vaelen was a Kha'ti, not a Tok'ra, and I wasn't really there most of the time, at least not in the way you'd think."  In desperation, he turned to Carter.  "Sam?"  He pleaded with her for help.

"My experience with Jolinar wasn't routine either, Colonel.  I can tell you she meant me no harm and died saving my life.  The Tok'ra aren't the Goa'uld.   They share.  They don't dominate.  My dad's been with the Tok'ra for a couple of years.  He seems happy with his situation."

Hakensk stared at Gus, but it was Toban that spoke.  "It is your decision, Colonel.  No one will ask you to go against your own conscience, but if you decide to do this, the decision must be made quickly."

Urgency.  Good thing Gus was quick on his feet.  In moments, Gus did what all good military leaders do.  He weighed the pros and cons and decided.  He wasn't ready to die.  "Damn McElhannon.  All right, but afterwards, don't think I'm gonna...sit on my tail in a...council room with a bunch of blowhard politicians.  I'm a soldier...You'll have to deal with that."

Toban did like this soldier.  "I understand."  To Janet, he advised.  "Move the beds closer.  Time is short."

The medics did as Toban requested.  Everybody stood back to give them room.

Weakly, Toban mumbled, "There is little discomfort. Just open your mouth."

Gus did so but debated whether or not he wanted to close his eyes.  He had looked death in the face many times.  How scary could an alien snake be?  He watched as Hakensk's mouth opened and a small, snakish head appeared.  Quickly, the symbiote emerged from its dying host's mouth, scooting across the mattresses and was suddenly breaking through the thin tissue in the back of Gus' throat.  The initial blending happened so quickly, Gus felt very little discomfort.  He was dimly aware of the nearby heart monitor changing from a steady beep...beep...beep to a continuous shriek.  He saw his hand move under another's power, move up to cup Hakensk's cheek, and felt his mouth say the words, "Goodbye, old friend."  Just before unconsciousness claimed him, he thought, 'What have I done?'

A whisper answered back. ".......Please don't be afraid. Everything will be all right......."

Jack watched in mute fascination as Toban entered his new host.  Carter had watched the same scene enacted with her father and Selmac.  Daniel had watched Klorel being removed from Skaara.  Jack had watched his two teammates as they observed Gus' blending.  Both unconsciously had a hand to their throats, perhaps remembering the physical feeling of having snakes inside their heads.  Teal'c stood by impassively, appreciative of the painless blending of the Tok'ra after having witnessed many painful dominations by the Goa'uld.

Janet upset the silence.  "There's nothing more I can do for Colonel Jennings except monitor him.  Toban will have to heal him.  The medics will keep Hakensk's body down in the morgue until the Tok'ra can claim him.  There's not a lot anyone else can do right now, so why don't all of you go get some coffee.  I'll call you as soon as the Colonel is awake again."

General Hammond took the hint.  "We're searching the entire base for the alleged Doctor McElhannon, but no one's found him yet.  I need to see how that's progressing.  Doctor, I'll be in my office should you need me before then.  I want the four of you to be on stand-by for now."

"I need to finish realigning the resonator," Sam said quietly.  "Since we have the sphere, it won't be difficult to triangulate the correct frequency."

That left Daniel, Jack and Teal'c.  "So," Jack tried to find a neutral subject to talk about since what they had just witnessed undoubtedly brought up bad memories for his friends, "late supper?"

"I am in need of kel-noreem," Teal'c answered him.  "I should return to my quarters."  This was an awkward moment for Teal'c.  The last blending he had been witness to was Amaunet's domination of Sha'uri.  That memory was one of the more regrettable ones he carried.

"Danny?  How about it?  Commissary lasagna?"

"Yeah, I'll meet you there.  There's something I need to do first."

Daniel followed Janet to her office.  She was the only person who could set his mind at ease.  Something was happening, he didn't understand it, and today had just been too eventful to deal with it.

"Daniel, he'll be fine," Janet reassured him as soon as he walked into her office.  "Tok'ra have --"

"I'm not worried about Gus.  I know he'll be okay.  Toban's a good guy.  What I was wondering about was blended humans.  If you didn't run an MRI but only ran an EEG, what would show up?"

Strange question.  "Is there something wrong, Daniel?"  Janet prided herself on knowing when something was bothering her friends, SG-1 especially, but Daniel had become almost inscrutable.

"I don't know.  Right now, I just need some answers."

Oh, boy.  That only meant one thing.  Daniel was discovering another new physical anomaly Vaelen left him.  His habit of late was to ask questions, deal with the fact that he had found this new ability and either had some or no control over it, and then tell Janet about it.  She had gotten used to the fact that Daniel would occasionally talk to his teammates before talking to her.  If he felt more comfortable that way, then who was she to argue?  She had learned to answer his questions, and then wait a few days for him to tell her what was wrong.  "In a blended human, there are two distinct EEG readings.  One is the host's, the other is the symbiote's.  I ran an EEG on Apophis when he was our guest.  The host's readings were suppressed so they read more like an echo but they were definitely there."

Daniel digested this information before asking, "What about me?"

Daniel seemed genuinely interested in a topic he had refused to discuss before.  This was a first.  He had been in denial for the first few months, then he was forced to accept the changes in his body.  He had seemed resigned to the fact that he was now physically unique for some time now, but why these questions?  "Your EEG is different now.  I guess the easiest way to explain it is that there's more activity going on in your brain now than there was 16 months ago.  Why?"

He wasn't going to explain the truth to her, maybe to Jack, but not to the Doctor.  Not yet anyway.  "I was basically dead for eight months.  Vaelen's been dead for eight months.  The timing just got me thinking."

Daniel was still a rotten liar.  "I see."

"So, just out of curiosity, if Vaelen were alive, you would've seen evidence of it on an EEG?"

"Absolutely.  Even a symbiote can't hide brain waves.  Trust me, Daniel.  Vaelen is dead.  You have the protein marker in your blood to prove it."

Daniel breathed a little easier.  "Yeah, I know I do.  There's just a few things that have come up over the last few days.  I was just wondering."

Janet hoped that her answers helped Daniel with whatever problem was going through his mind at the moment.  "From what I understand about symbiote blendings and healings, Colonel Jennings will be unconscious for at least an hour.  Go to the commissary, eat supper, and I'll call you the moment he wakes up.  There's nothing you can do right now, and I have the feeling that the Colonel wouldn't want someone sitting at his bedside worried about him."

"No, he wouldn't.  Gus doesn't like anyone to fuss over him."  Daniel saw his friend sleeping soundly, the monitors all showing marked improvements in his condition.  Toban was doing his job.  "I don't know how I'm going to tell him about Curt.  They've known each other since Vietnam."

"The General could tell him," Janet suggested.

Daniel shook his head.  "No, I couldn't stop Nuisance.  It's my responsibility.  I'll have to tell him as soon as he wakes up."  He turned and walked out of the infirmary, the weight of the world on his shoulders.  What was the use of having symbiotic enhanced abilities if he couldn't save a friend?

 

**************************************************

 

Thursday morning

Gus/Toban allowed Doctor Fraiser to run her many tests.  It was, or so she claimed, one of the few opportunities she had been given to study a blended human.  Most of the others were very skeptical of her abilities.  Not her intelligence, though.  No, the Tok'ra had great respect for that.  They just had no use for doctors most of the time.

Gus couldn't believe the difference a day made. Yesterday, he was just Gus, a mercenary Colonel with a score to settle with the Organization.  Now he was Gus, a Tok'ra, with a High Councilor curled up around his brain stem.  He really couldn't feel Toban, but he knew he was there.  It was a very strange feeling.

'.......No stranger than having to switch hosts.......'

'Right. Like you've never done this before,' Gus thought back to his new friend.

'.......I've done this many times. It's always a stressful experience, but we handled the transition well. I think we're going to get along well together.......'

'So, we're stuck together for the next few hundred years?'

'.......Give or take.......'

The symbiote had started using some of Gus' sense of humor. This sharing of two minds was still a bit strange.  The incredible amount of information deposited in Gus' brain was almost overwhelming.  He knew so much!  He knew all about the Goa'uld, the Tollan, weapons, how to fly a ship -- he really couldn't wait to fly a ship!

'.......Patience. All in good time. We must finish our task here first.......'

Gus wondered about Daniel, about what he knew.  He had Vaelen's memories.  Was it the same with him?

'.......I don't know.  We had always considered it rude to ask him such a personal question.  He seems to respect Vaelen's memory.  We did not wish to importune him.  Perhaps you could ask him?.......'

'Maybe.  That won't be breaking any rules.  Besides, I don't think he'd mind my asking him anything like that.  We're friends, hell, we're almost family.'

'.......Be careful, my friend. That sounds like something a politician would say.......'

'There's no need to get nasty.'

One day's difference.  Yesterday, Curt had been alive, standing at his side, trading jokes and bad puns with him.  Today he was dead, forced to fight D.J. who was trying to save him, killed by his own hand to stop the symbiote from hurting anyone.  Toban made no comment other than he was extremely sorry and that both he and Hakensk had liked Curt.  Toban, now blended with a soldier, understood that Gus had suffered violent losses in the past and had weathered the storms grief brought about.  He understood that sometimes saying 'I'm sorry' is all you can do and offer support when it was needed.  He gave his new host that support, finally understanding what it felt like to lose someone as close as Curt was.  Being a politician didn't foster many close friendships.  Toban now knew what he missed.

"Well, Colonel Jennings, you are in perfect health," Doctor Fraiser interrupted the thoughts of both host and symbiote.  "And I have no doubt you will be enjoying good health for many years to come."

"Great.  I take it this means my cholesterol problem doesn't exist anymore?"

Janet could only smile.  "Your cholesterol's fine.  How do you feel otherwise?"

Gus thought for a moment, disregarding the smug answer that Toban wanted him to say, and finally answered, "I feel fine.  No pains anywhere, even from old wounds."

"That's good.  I have to admit that you're the first Tok'ra I've been able to get a good work-up on.  None of the others will let me examine them."

Oh, damn, that's right.  I'm a Tok'ra now.  People are going to be calling me that from now on.  I'll just have to get used to it.  Toban asked to speak with Doctor Fraiser, and Gus happily moved aside so Toban could have control.  "Doctor, Gus and I were speaking of the difficulties you must have faced in the eight months since Vaelen's death trying to deal with Doctor Jackson's changed physical state.  His is a unique situation that is not even in our experience.  It is not usual for the Tok'ra to allow a doctor to examine us, but we believe that by having more information about a blended human, your diagnoses concerning Doctor Jackson would be easier to determine.  You need this information since he insists on remaining on Earth."

"You're doing this for Doctor Jackson?"

Toban answered quite unequivocally, "We owe him.  I did not realize just how much he must control access to his knowledge until I blended with Colonel Jennings.  I understand now more than before just how difficult the agreement we have concerning Vaelen's legacy has been to maintain.  There must be changes."

Janet couldn't believe what she was hearing, but stranger things had happened.  "I'm sure General Hammond and SG-1 will be very pleased to hear that."

"Are there any further tests you wish to conduct or may we leave?" Toban asked.

Janet checked the last of the entries on her clipboard.  "Actually, we've completed all the tests I had scheduled.  And I would like to thank you again for your cooperation."

"There is no need, Doctor." His head tilted down and then came back up.  This time, Gus spoke.  "It's gonna take a while to get used to that.  You know, you can actually feel yourself switching places."  Right.  Like she would understand.  He didn't until this morning.  "Do you know where D.J. is?"

Janet thought for a moment before answering.  "He may be in his office.  I know he didn't go home last night.  I think he was concerned about you."

"Why?  I'm fine."

"He wasn't worried about your health.  I think he was concerned about how well you and Toban would get along."

Right.  Made sense.  How would a soldier and a politician get along?  Gus gave a mock salute to the doctor and left the infirmary.  He headed towards Daniel's office, both he and Toban whistling the tune to The Banana Boat Song.

 

**************************************************

 

"Babylonian," Daniel's voice drifted along the hallway.  It sounded tired and strained.  After Gus regained consciousness last night, D.J. had told him that a lot of things had happened that day.  He didn't go into great depths with some of the details.  He had stated that he wouldn't want a repeat performance of any of the days' events.  He was bothered by them, and Daniel, when he was truly bothered, could forego sleep until his body just shut down from exhaustion.  Well, the week itself hadn't been boring.  Whatever had been going on behind the scenes had obviously taken a toll on his young friend.

"I thought that was Phoenician," returned O'Neill's voice.  He sounded equally tired.  Knowing what he knew of SG-1 dynamics, Gus guessed that Jack had probably not slept much either the previous night.  There was no telling how much sleep he would have gotten over the last several days.

"Weren't we talking about Mycenaean?" Carter's voice.  Tired, ragged.

"According to Daniel Jackson, Mycenaean is the root language.  However, there are references to Babylonian characters in the transcriptions." Teal'c's voice.  Ever the voice of reason.  And the voice of reason was flat and void of emotion.

What were they doing?  Gus peeked through the crack in the door to see SG-1 sitting around a table, books piled high, papers scattered about, all four of them looking at a picture of a carving projected on the wall.  He saw that D.J. was in teacher mode.

"Mycenaean is the root language.  Somewhere along the way, cuneiform was introduced.  See this carving over here?  It references a story that's reminiscent of the Babylonian epic of Gilgamesh.  They even mention a great flood."

"Flood?" O'Neill didn't like the sound of that.  "That's nice.  Wait a minute.  We've come across Babylon and cuneiform before.  There any mention of Nem or his wife?"

Daniel had actually been looking for that since he was given the picture.  "No.  I was hoping to find out more about Omorocca, but everything on the carving seems to predate her time."

Gus knocked on the door and entered.  A chair was immediately made available for him at the crowded table.  "I hope you don't mind if I crash this party.  I know what you folks do to gatecrashers."

"How'd you sneak out of the infirmary?" Daniel asked him.

"No sneaking.  Doc Fraiser let us go.  She ran all the tests she had at the moment."

"Yes.  Tests.  She does love those.  Don't be surprised if we end up in the New England Journal Of Medicine someday," Daniel observed.  "I think she could just about write a book on the genetic integration of human and symbiote DNA with all the information she's gotten from us."

Us?  When Gus said 'us,' he meant Toban and himself.  Assuming D.J. meant data gathered from him and Major Carter, Gus didn't ask any more questions on that topic.

"So how are you?" Daniel asked him, knowing the answer already as far as the physical aspects of the situation went.

"Oh, you know me, I'm fine.  No aches, no pains.  Toban and I haven't gotten into any knock-down-drag-out fights yet.  He'll take a little getting used to, but I can handle it.  And now the pleasantries are over with," he ignored Daniel grinning and ducking his head, "why do all four of you look like something the cat dragged in and coughed up?"

Four very tired sheepish grins answered him.  Unfortunately, being a Tok'ra didn't mean he was clairvoyant or a telepath.  He required verbalization.  He was rewarded by Jack's admission of "We spent the entire night hunting down McElhannon and coming up empty.  The guy's just disappeared.  The only thing we do know is that he didn't leave the mountain."

"I see," Gus was clearly disappointed.  So was Toban.  Losing the symbiote meant different losses to everyone in the room, but Toban kept his thoughts on the subject secret.  Gus was still extremely angry that the man's betrayal had led to Curtis Moore's death.  "Where's Darby?"

"He's cooling his heels in a detention cell on level 16," Jack told him.  "He's racked up enough charges against him that he won't be seeing the light of day any time soon, and that's if they don't execute him."

"He's partly responsible for Curt's death.  He has to pay for that."  The very manner in which those words were uttered sent a chill down their spines.

Sam could sympathize but knew that Jennings probably didn't have a legal leg to stand on if he wanted custody of Colonel Darby.  "General Hammond has issued orders that no one can talk to him yet.  He was searched for weapons and has been kept isolated since last night."

"He won't talk," Gus stated.  "Not to any of you.  You're the ones he's been trying to bushwhack for the last year and a half.  I don't think even Teal'c here could intimidate him.  Besides, he's got a reputation to protect.  And I don't mean his.  His loyalties run deep."

"What do you suggest, Colonel Jennings," Teal'c asked him.

"I'm suggesting that you let me question him.  Who'd be stupid enough to not talk to me?"

All had to admit that the thought had crossed their minds.  Just the rumors of how the mercenary operated would scare any seasoned soldier.  Even Jack knew better than to cross swords with this one.  "We'll have to wait and ask Hammond about that.  He's still trying to track down McElhannon.  He's taken us off the search and put us on calm-down for a few hours."

"Calm down?" Gus had never heard of that reference.

"It's a new directive from the General.  He uses it when there's an outside chance one of us might lose their temper and hurt somebody.  It seems the General is a little worried about what may happen if we found him first."

"Can't imagine why," Gus conceded.  "Just because it turns out he's the troll the Organization sent in, tried to put a kink in SG-1's chains, shot Hakensk and me, stole the symbiote and gave it to Darby, that's no reason to want to rip him apart."

Bad jokes.  That showed just how angry Gus was.  "Look, I know you guys have got a lot to do this morning, but I need to talk to D.J. alone for a minute.  Would you mind if I run the three of you out of here for a little while?"

Politely requested and politely accepted, the other members of SG-1 left for General Hammond's office for an update on the search for their elusive fake psychiatrist.  They had rested, calmed down, and barely distracted themselves by burying themselves in Daniel's office.  Finding obscure subjects to occupy their minds while waiting to perform a task they knew they were best suited to complete in the first place had never been very difficult.  Daniel always had a constant source of material to peruse and discuss even if he was the only one in the room that understood anything he was saying.

"They're a good bunch, aren't they?" Gus commented questioningly.  "They've really helped you out."

"They're the best.  I don't know if I would have made it all these months without them."

"It must have been bad at first," Gus said softly.

Daniel, usually uncomfortable with the subject, seemed more at peace with it.  "It was more confusing that you could have imagined.  You know, even now, it's almost like I can hear his voice, but I know it's just a vivid memory."

Once they were alone, relatively speaking, Gus became more serious than Daniel had ever seen before.

"Look, I know all of you have got more on your plate than you can handle, but I really need to talk to you about something."  Seeing he had Daniel's full attention, he said, "Toban says that the Tok'ra haven't asked you a lot about Vaelen or how you two are connected because they didn't want to intrude, but I've got to know.  What's it like for you?  I've got all this Tok'ra stuff in my head, but I've got Toban in there, too.  I know the memories come from him.  And their genetic memories.  If you've got -- "

"Gus," Daniel interrupted him.  "This is difficult."  How to begin?  Could Gus understand now what Daniel felt?  "When Vaelen died, he made himself a part of me in a way that's very different than the way Toban's blended with you.  You know that my DNA has changed.  According to Janet, Vaelen altered certain physical aspects without changing function and only slightly changing appearance.  Like having increased strength or being able to heal quickly.  Those are documented.  I've discovered other changes over the last eight months.  Some are too subtle to even mention.  The memories are connected to the physical aspects."

"D.J., that makes no sense whatsoever."

"No, it doesn't, does it?"  Daniel had this look of self-deprecation that everyone could immediately recognize as humility.  Daniel didn't like to talk about himself, but to Gus, he could.  This was a man who had rescued him and Erin O'Malley from a bad situation on more than one occasion.  "I'm going to ramble a bit here, so just listen.  I might actually make sense."

Daniel took a steadying breath.  "A symbiote is born with genetic memories.  For the sake of this conversation, let's call that a symbiote's knowledge.  He was born with this knowledge.  His own personal memories start forming from the moment a symbiote is born.  Now, according to psychology, all of our senses are like a library, recording every single sensation we experience.  For instance, smell can trigger memories we've repressed from childhood.  These experiences are somehow encoded into the symbiote's DNA.  That's the only way the personal memories can become genetic memories.  A Kha'ti is connected more....closely...to its host than a Goa'uld or a Tok'ra.  It's more involved in the physical qualities of its host.  When Vaelen died, his body didn't...disconnect...from mine.  He couldn't. Everything happened too fast, I think.  His DNA merged with mine since that seems to be a natural progression from total control to blended inclusion.  Janet's words, not mine.  All of his physical sensations were recorded in his DNA which are now part of mine.  His physical sensations are so tangible that I can actually see what he experienced.  Yes, I have his memories, but I also have the physical sensations that went with those memories.  That's why I can't really separate his life and mine because our lives are now one and the same.  However, I did not get his genetic memories, his knowledge.  That didn't pass on to me.  I can't tell you what every member of his genetic line knew.  In short, if Vaelen didn't feel it, see it, hear it, taste it, or smell it, I don't know how to do it.  And I don't know why I don't have the genetic memories.  I'm just glad I don't."

Gus and Toban considered all this.  It was a quandary.  Toban asked to speak to Daniel, and Gus again moved aside to let the symbiote have control.  "In short, Doctor Jackson, you truly only have Vaelen's memories."

"Yes, Toban.  That's what I've been telling everybody from the beginning."

"And Garshaw actually believes you carry within you all the knowledge of the Kha'ti."

"Only what Vaelen knew about or experienced.  There's a lot I don't know.  My Kha'ti project is full of gaps that Vaelen didn't know anything about.  Garshaw won't listen to me, and look at the tension that's causing."

Tension?  Not quite a good enough word, but Daniel Jackson was nothing if not polite.  In the essentials, he and Vaelen were very much alike.  "Doctor Jackson, is having a Tok'ra with you on your missions a help or a hindrance?"

Daniel knew that they had come to the heart of the matter.  With Gus' help, things might just improve.  After all, how many times does a human who didn't know what fear was blend with a political symbiote?  "It's not that we mind having the Tok'ra help us, sometimes we need them to.  But with them, it's always when they want to.  The Tok'ra are under the impression that if what the Tau'ri are doing isn't important to them, then it's not important.  They've never realized that most of the missions they're concerned with aren't important to us.  Yet they expect us to drop everything at a moment's notice and help them if one of their operatives gets into trouble without returning that particular courtesy.  If we're supposed to be allies, that has to stop.  Recent missions have involved a Tok'ra because of Garshaw's mistaken idea that she was fooling us into thinking that she had my best interests at heart.  We know better, and that has been a hindrance.  If I can see through the lies, then so can everyone else.  If things don't change quickly, relations between the Tau'ri and the Tok'ra could deteriorate."

"A hindrance in most cases, then," Toban agreed.  "I will do everything in my power to reestablish the trust we have lost with the Tau'ri, and I will also try to stop Garshaw from interfering any further."  Toban, looking through Gus' eyes, saw the Tau'ri very differently now.  Yes, they were technologically inferior, yes, they were a most confusing people, but now he saw why Daniel had fought Garshaw so vigorously when she was determined to remove him from Earth, a decision that Toban had supported until blending with Gus.  The Tok'ra were not the type of people that could be trusted easily.  They were methodical, controlling and duplicitous.  They served their own interests in the guise of protecting the interests of those in the power of the Goa'uld by convincing themselves that their way was the right way.  The only way. Daniel knew these shortcomings too well.  Arrogance was a vice and a downfall and would ultimately bring about the demise of the Tok'ra.  The Tau'ri, although a proud group, could not afford to let their pride get in the way of the mission: to free the galaxy from the Goa'uld.  Like Vaelen before him, Daniel saw the advanced powers for what they truly were and yet was willing to work with them for the greater good.  Toban realized now that the Tok'ra way wasn't the only way.

'.......Just figured that out, huh?.......'

Toban didn't answer Gus.  Despite the violent acts buried deep in his new host's mind, he found a rich character with a mighty sense of humor and honor unmatched by anyone else.  Well, maybe O'Neill's famed sarcastic wit was a good comparison, but Gus and he seemed to compliment each other.

Gus took back control.  "So, you think they're gonna let me talk to Darby?"

Daniel shrugged his shoulders in answer.  "I don't know.  General Hammond may be waiting until they can find McElhannon, but we can always ask."

As they were leaving, Gus stopped them in the doorway.  "By the way, why would Darby take such a big risk coming here like he did?  That's not exactly one of the better ideas I've ever heard."

"You're not thinking like a conspirator, Gus," Daniel chided him.  "Darby was a liability.  We know about him, and that makes him expendable.  They wanted the symbiote but couldn't jeopardize any of their operatives by sending them into one of the most well guarded areas of the base.  In short, they sent a fool on a fool's errand.  If it worked, fine.  They'd have a symbiote and Darby would be reinstated to whatever position he was in.  If it didn't work, Darby would more than likely be dead because he would have made a very bad decision and gotten himself killed.  He's very good at making bad decisions."

Gus thought this information over, Toban agreeing with Daniel's assessment, and realized the one thing that Daniel had known from the beginning.  "Darby's an idiot."

"Just figured that out, huh?"

 

**************************************************

 

The area outside the detention area was very busy for a change.  The people discussing the upcoming interrogation were each eager to assist in the questioning.

"Sir, I say let us have a go at him after Jennings gets through with him," Jack pleaded.  "Darby walks into our base, steals our snake, and lest we forget, he murdered Daniel and -- "

"Colonel," General Hammond stopped him mid-sentence.  There was no need for him to get angry.  "I'm well aware of Colonel Darby's transgressions.  I was reminded just how personal his actions have been when Doctor Jackson was holding him suspended over the platform railing yesterday.  I hope to never see that kind of anger from him again.  However, Colonel Darby is more useful to us alive and intact right now.  If Colonel Jennings can obtain the locations of General Thayer's off world bases plus the identities of the remaining members of the Organization, we can better plan our attack."

"But, General -- "

"Jack, let's try it his way first.  If that doesn't work, I'll turn SG-1 loose on him.  All right?"

That sounded reasonable even if Jack didn't like it.  They had one of the two key figures that had murdered 52 innocent people in the next room, and Jack couldn't get his hands around his neck.  Darby deserved to die a slow, painful death.  What was Daniel had told him once?  The murderers laughed at them while they lay dying, murdered per Darby's orders?  This man wouldn't crack under normal pressures.  Something extraordinary would have to face off with him, and, unfortunately, Colonel Jack O'Neill wasn't extraordinary enough.  Yes, Jennings had the reputation to pull this off, but it still irked Jack.  SG-1 had lost more than just an old friend when Darby carried out Thayer's orders.  They had lost Daniel and everything Daniel was.  That alone meant Darby deserved a hideous execution.  Jack never thought he could hate anyone more than the Goa'uld.  He was wrong. Darby even outranked Apophis on the O'Neill hateometer.

Taking a seat beside Daniel, Jack watched the observation screen on the terminal.  Sam, Teal'c and Hammond watched over their shoulders.  They were concerned about Daniel, especially after yesterday's flashback, but since he seemed to be handling things better than they had hoped, they didn't mention it.  They were going to be there for him if he needed them as they listened to what they hoped would be a full confession from the traitor.

Darby, sitting across from Colonel Jennings, probably knew he was being watched and who was watching him, but seeing him stare at an unmoving, unblinking Gus-Buster was gratifying.  Gus knew that Darby was a grunt, not a player.  He just followed orders, he didn't think things through.  He'd break.  He had to.  Darby knew that if he didn't answer the questions asked of him, he would face the wrath of SG-1.  He must have thought that an avenging angel had held him over the railing, and if Darby had any brains whatsoever, he wouldn't tempt fate again.  This time, no one would ask Daniel to not let him go.

They watched for a long time.  Darby couldn't withstand the glare of the Colonel and tried to focus on anything else in his cell.  The Colonel just continued to sit and stare.

For a very long time.

From their vantage point, the people outside the cell couldn't see Jennings' face, just the back of his head.  They had a bird's eye view of Darby.  As the minutes ticked by, they saw him become more and more uncomfortable.  He wasn't quite the type of soldier necessary to carry off this type of intrigue.  He could front for the main players, he could even carry out their orders to some extent, but he didn't have what it took to be a player.  That's why Thayer had kept him around.  He didn't question, just obeyed.

The microphone picked up every word spoken in the cell, each word recorded for later use.

Jennings:  "Where's Thayer?"

Darby:  no answer.

Jennings swiftly reached over and grabbed Darby's smallest finger.  He yanked it back until he heard a pleasing snap.

Hammond glanced away from the monitor at the members of SG-1.  They were watching in rapt fascination the goings-on shown on the monitor.  "Colonel, I think we should rein in Colonel Jennings before he does any permanent damage to Colonel Darby."

"No, sir, I don't think so," Jack respectfully disagreed.  "Like you said, I think we should try it Jennings' way."

Jennings:  "Where's Thayer?"

Darby:  no answer.

Jennings repeated the action and broke another finger.

Jennings:  "Eventually, I'm going to break something you'd rather not have broken."

Darby, despite the pain, didn't utter a sound.

Finally, several broken bones later, Darby was all too willing to speak.  Apparently, he wasn't afraid of dying, but he had no desire to be taken apart joint by joint.

Darby:  "He's on one of the off world bases."

Jennings:  "How many bases are there and which planets are they on?'

Darby:  "There are fourteen bases planned.  Eight are functional, the other six are ready to go online at any moment.  There are almost 700 troops scattered throughout the bases depending on the projects being utilized at the time."

Jennings:  "Where are these bases?"

Darby:  "P59-612, M16-987, PRQ-768, P25-489, PJ4-485, MP5-873, P24-841 and M68-058 are the functional bases.  I don't know the six other planetary designations.  My job was to help keep the completed bases functioning."

Sam had punched in the planet designations as Darby rattled them off.  The corresponding symbols showed on the screen.  Daniel watched the screen intently as the symbols scrolled by.  He knew those addresses.  Another piece of the puzzle fell into place.

"Sneaky," Daniel muttered under his breath.

"What's sneaky?" Sam asked.

Daniel indicated the eight locations as they showed up on the screen.  "These are all part of Ra's buffer systems.  He used them as a defense against other System Lords when they wanted to attack Earth thousands of years ago.  Thayer has ready-made bases already built on most of them.  He might only have to erect storage facilities."

Jack watched the computer screen for a moment before adding, "So all he's had to do is stock them and staff them."

Ingenious.  Sam pointed out PTX-952.  "The planet the Kha'ti ship crashed on is within the perimeter the eight planets construct."

"Thayer's secret headquarters for the 14 buffer worlds."  Daniel surmised as he started punching in a few code designations of his own.  Six other locations showed on the screen.  "These were the other buffer systems Ra used.  If Thayer's smart, and we already know he is, he would have taken over the entire buffer zone.  It's a natural blockade against anything trying to get to Earth, if and when he ever gets completely set-up.  He could put an impenetrable shield around Earth if he's got the equipment."

"So perhaps the homemade Stargates were Ra's invention?  Thayer and the Organization just stole the technology?" Sam questioned aloud.

Daniel shook his head.  "I don't think so.  As far as Vaelen knew, the Goa'uld didn't build any Stargates constructed along the lines of the homemade ones.  Besides, that would mean that Ra would have had to develop a new technology on his own and not share it with the rest of the System Lords.  I don't think Ra was interested in doing that.  They're too symbiotic to not steal from other cultures."

The interrogation reclaimed their attention.

Jennings:  "Where's Thayer?

Darby:  "The last communication I had indicated that he was on P59-612."

Jennings:  "How did you communicate with them?"

Darby:  "I had a communication sphere.  I don't know where it is now."

Jennings:  "How many communication spheres are there?"

Darby:  "For security reasons, I had the only one."

Jack snorted a laugh.  "Like we believe that one."

Teal'c, who had been silent thus far, observed, "I do not believe that Colonel Darby is lying, O'Neill.  If Daniel Jackson's theory is correct, the Organization would have only been able to use one communication sphere dedicated to a particular frequency.  If there were two, the signal would be divided and received in various locations.  The location of the source would interfere with transmission on Earth and could be triangulated with your own radar."

"No joke?" Jack quipped.  "Just once, you'd think Thayer would make a mistake."

"Unlikely, O'Neill.  He has proven to be a very elusive adversary."

No one heard Daniel whisper, "Not elusive enough."

Jennings:  "How did you funnel troops and equipment to the bases?"

Darby:  no answer.

Jennings slammed his fist into Darby's side, breaking a rib.

Jennings:  "How did you funnel troops and equipment to the bases?"

Darby:  "With a Stargate."

Jennings:  "We have your Stargate."

Darby:  "We have another one."

"Bingo!"  Jack smiled.

Jennings:  "Where is this other Stargate?"

Darby:  "At Area 51.  It's in a secluded area away from the main structure, to the west of the base."

Jennings:  "How did you build your Stargates?"

Darby:  no answer.

When Gus barely moved a fist, Darby talked.  He didn't want any more broken bones.

Darby:  "I don't know.  I wasn't there when they built them.  All I know is that they have the raw materials and the technology to build them."

Jennings:  "Where were they built?"

Darby:  "Off-world somewhere.  They were brought here through the Antarctica Stargate and set up.  I wasn't told everything for my own protection."

Jennings:  "Why were you here?"

Darby:  "Retrieving the symbiote."

Jennings:  "Try again."

The monitors showed Darby was scared to death.  He was in over his head, and he knew it.  This was no ordinary interrogator.  He was facing off with Matthew Augustus Jennings, and so far, the Colonel had been incredibly restrained during his questioning.  Darby was caught.  He knew it.  Any further attempts to delay answering would only bring about his own suffering.

Darby wasn't that stupid.

As Jennings loomed over Darby, successfully intimidating him to the point of stuttering, Darby said, "Our o-o-orders were to remove H-H-Hammond, disrupt SG-1 and d-d-disable the resonator. The order to remove the symbiote from Cheyenne Mountain was issued yesterday. I was here to remove the s-s-symbiote after the operative removed him from the infirmary."

Jennings:  "Tell us about your operative."

"This ought to be good," Jack grinned like a Cheshire cat.

Darby:  "Doctor McElhannon was detained in Washington.  His credentials were used but another person was sent in his stead.  His replacement was another psychiatrist we've used on occasion."

Jennings:  "If I have to ask who..."

Darby:  "His name was Halpern."

Jennings:  "Was?"

Darby:  "He was expedited before I was caught."

Jennings:  "How?"

Darby:  "With a zat gun."

"Damn," Hammond cursed loudly.  This was not good.  This was not good at all!  "I'll call off the search for him.  Darby would have zatted him three times."

"That's a real shame," Jack said, not really unhappy at the news.  "I wouldn't have minded being there for his execution."

"Sir, we may have missed Doctor McElhannon's, but we'll get to see Colonel Darby's if we wait much longer to pull Colonel Jennings out of the interrogation room," Sam brought the scene on the monitor to everyone's attention.

Gus had Darby by the shirt, whispering something so low that the microphones could only pick up words like civilians, murder and Kha'ti.  What they could clearly see was the evidence Darby left behind that he was in definite need of a clean pair of pants.

Without further hesitation, General Hammond, regretfully, went to Colonel Darby's rescue.

 

**************************************************

 

Friday morning, SGC

The debriefing room had endured a lot of traffic going through its doors in the last eight months since the Dervan attack.  Most of that traffic had been the Tok'ra coming to air their grievances about certain conditions the Tau'ri were ignoring or arguing about.  Many arguments had been heard echoing off the walls, and if those walls could only talk!  For once, there was no arguing.  For once, there was only the disgusted agreement of letting someone else do the work while the people who needed to do the work were forced to sit by and wait.

Jacob Carter, sent for by his daughter since the small group at the table didn't want Gus to meet with the Tok'ra without an escort, sat at one end of the table while Hammond presided at the other.  Selmac, an old friend of Toban's, had eagerly wished to meet this new host.  Tales of the mercenary were well known to him because Jacob found them so amusing. Jennings had a very lively reputation even among Generals.

"The way I see it," Gus explained, "we know where eight of the bases are and have a pretty good idea where the other six are.  You guys go ahead with D.J.'s idea about tracking down the sphere's transmission with the resonator and see if you can even find a way of listening in on their conversations.  And while you SGCers are tracking the bad guys down that way, we hit those sites with some long-range scans to see what kind of welcome wagon Thayer has ready to put up.  And me and the General here won't tell Garshaw.  I don't know about Selmac, but Toban agrees with me."

"Don't worry about Selmac," Jacob assured Gus.  "There's no love lost between him and Garshaw either.  We'll support almost anything that puts her in a bad light."

"Dad!" Sam couldn't believe that her own father had made that comment.

"Sammy, you have no idea what she's been like these last few months.  All she does is complain about how the Tau'ri are mishandling Vaelen's knowledge."

"That's because she doesn't understand what's really going on, and I think that's she's a little upset," Daniel suggested.  "She's under the impression that I have two distinct sets of memories, mine and Vaelen's.  I think someone needs to sit her down and explain to her that his memories are now mine.  If I have a hard time separating the two, imagine what it's like for someone not inside my head."

"Now there's a novel idea," Jacob mused.  "Explaining something to Garshaw.  I don't think that's ever been attempted."

"Gentlemen," Hammond called everyone to order, "I do realize that your opinions of Garshaw is a favorite topic when the two of you get together, but what are we going to do with the Organization?"

Since Gus had the longest grudge, Jack suggested, "What do you want to do, Colonel?  This one's been your little project for the last eight years."

Gus held up his finger in a very Daniel-like mannerism, the one that says 'hang on, I'm about to explain' and said, "D.J., Jacob and I were talking a little while ago, and we've come up with a preliminary plan if everything goes the way we think it might.  Just remember that nothing's written in stone.  We may have to think on our feet.  My people contacted me.  A lot of the people they were following made their way to Area 51, and then my contacts at Area 51 lost them.  Now, if I were a betting man, which I am, I'd say that most of the Organization is off world and now there's only a skeleton crew left here on Earth.  They'll have shut down their second Stargate so tracking it from here with the resonator won't be possible.  My people will try to find it.  Our best bet in taking down the Organization is to hit every one of their bases at the same time.  Don't give them any room to run."

Jack couldn't even begin to imagine the magnitude of a maneuver like that.  A mission on that scale would take more personnel than the SGC could muster.  "And just how do you suggest we do that?"

"You really are a pessimist, aren't you?" Gus observed.

"Hey, pal, my glass is half full.  It's just that I don't see how we could pull together that many people without raising every red flag on every planet we're talking about invading."

"It's tricky, Jack," Jacob interceded on the Tok'ra's behalf.  "We don't even know if we can pull off a stunt like the one Gus has in mind.  We know it works from the reports of a few of Vaelen's missions that had a similar objective and given what we know about wormhole physics, we're literally taking a tiger by the tail.  Once we know exactly where they are, how many there are and what weapons they have, we'll be better able to judge what we can and can't do.  But from what we know already, there's a chance that unless we hit them at the same time, we won't be able to stop them at all.  How we do it is still in question, but we've been discussing a few options."

Jack just threw up his hands.  If it might work, then it might work.  Jacob said so.  Daniel thought so.  Gus was going to make it so.  What really bothered Jack was the fact that the people with symbiotes were making the decisions, not them.  Granted, Daniel had been part of the conversation, and he would tell Jack everything after the meeting, but this just wasn't the way it was supposed to work.  He was the Colonel!  Shouldn't he have some say in what happens around the base?

"Colonel," Hammond tried to keep the situation calm, "we don't have enough information to form more than a preliminary attack plan.  General Thayer won't allow any of his bases to be taken by surprise like before.  He'll have long-range scanners operating around the clock.  Jacob and Colonel Jennings believe that simultaneous attacks would be the best option at this point, and we should prepare for that contingency.  No one's suggesting that we pursue this one option and ignore the others."  Seeing that Jack agreed with that reasoning, Hammond added, "And seeing that Vaelen had success with missions similar to this one, I think we have a better chance than most for success."

"With all due respect, sir, "Jack argued, "we're back to me saying that this stinks.  We're back to waiting for them to make the first move.  Speaking for myself, and Carter, and Teal'c, and Daniel, we'd like to be on the offensive for a change.  You know, get in the first hit, draw first blood, fire the first shot.  It's our turn."

"I agree, Jack, but there is no way I'm sending anyone in blind."  Hammond redirected his attention to Jacob and Gus.  "What kind of timetable are we looking at?"

"A few weeks.  A month at most, " Jacob answered.  "I can't begin to tell you how complicated the logistics of this operation is going to be, and that's just gathering the Intel."  Jacob looked at the people in the room, knowing the toll this was taking on them.  Jack looked angry, his daughter looked ambivalent, Daniel looked tired, and Teal'c looked like....Teal'c.  Cloak and dagger operations were no one's favorite, and these people had almost reached their limit in frustration.  "It's almost over.  We've got a lot of them under lock and key.  Most of the others are at their bases, and Gus' people will be watching the ones that are left behind on Earth.  We will put an end to this."

"There's just two other things," Gus admonished them.  "First, none of you can give the Organization any reason to believe that anything's going on.  Let them think you're still in the dark...which you are for the most part.  My people are going to get you the paperwork that Baxter and Westerly are passing off to Senator Mercer, and I think your plan of trying to hit them from that angle's a good one.  The more targets we have and the more ways we can hit those targets might just keep us alive.  Besides, I've got a feeling we're gonna need help from every corner before this is over with.  Let's get all the info in one place and see what we can do."

"We seem to have perfected our acting skills," Jack grumbled.  "We've gotten good at acting helpless."  He really didn't like this.  He was right before.  It had been a rotten week.  "By the way, what about that ship the Tok'ra stole off of P7L-525?  You realize you still owe us for that, don't you?"

"Oh, I've got plans for that ship," Gus told him.  "Since the conspirators are stealing technology again, can you think of better bait in a trap?  I think we can use it, thereby not allowing the Tok'ra the use of it.  You'll have your revenge, O'Neill.  I wouldn't want to deprive you of that."

"Not revenge," Jack countered.  "Just our just desserts."

Directing the next question to Hammond, Gus asked, "When did they develop this overwhelming need for pie?"

Hammond, in his usual serious fashion, answered, "It all started with a visitor named Urgo.  They've never looked at pie quite the same since."

"What's the second thing?" Sam asked Gus, eager to change the subject back to the one at hand.

"Give me Darby."  Before General Hammond could object, Toban interjected with "We promise not to harm him, General.  The problem is that every person on this base knows that Colonel Darby was apprehended and detained by you.  Your laws should mandate his punishment.   However," and here, Toban smiled conspiratorially, "in the interests of the Earth/Tok'ra Alliance, we feel it is necessary that Colonel Darby face Tok'ra justice given his actions helped bring about the death of my former host, Hakensk.  Besides, his being in our custody will prevent him from communicating with General Thayer or meeting with an untimely accident before he is transferred over to your justice system."

Good idea?  No, like the rest of the week, it was rotten.  But Jack, learning that sometimes diplomats had to agree to the worst possible outcomes, knew he had no choice but to let them take Darby.  For now.  "You get him first, but we get him last.  We've got a score to settle with him, too."  Jack agreed warily, not just because Darby deserved the worst possible punishment but because Jack never wanted to see that murderous look in Daniel's eyes ever again.  At that moment when Daniel was holding Darby over that railing, Jack realized that even Daniel didn't know the depths of the anger he harbored against the Colonel.  Daniel could kill, he had killed, but wanton murder was not in his nature.  Of course, arguing that murdering Darby was anything less than justified would be a very difficult task.

"Done," Hammond told him.

Gus, taking back control, said, "Hammond, I've informed all my people that I'm gonna be out of touch for quite a while and all Intel about the Organization is to be funneled through you.  Your contact is an old friend of mine named Farley.  He's a little rough around the edges, but he knows all the players on both sides, and he's got a grudge against the Organization.  And he's willing to talk to you.  D.J. can handle the introductions.  Also, Payne will be getting D.J. all that information he was asking for earlier.  I'm hoping by the time we can put our heads together, we're gonna have enough to bury them all."

Whew.  That was a lot to think about, there was a lot to do.  No one was going to get a break.  Yes, it had been a very productive, busy week.  Hammond knew that there would be a pie missing from the commissary refrigerator in the morning.  Maybe he'd join SG-1 for one of their famed kitchen raids.  He felt like he needed to just to sit down and talk about everything in a stress-free environment.  What's more stress-free than eating pie with your friends?

"And," Gus handed General Hammond a folder.  Inside was a copy of the report he sent to Senator Mercer.  "I sent a copy to each member of the Joint Chiefs as well.  If you don't get another star, you should at least get a medal.  I just thought you might want to frame this one and hang it in your office."

If it were possible for Hammond to blush, he would have.  The report was outstanding.  The only fault Colonel Jennings mentioned was the lack of fresh doughnuts.  "Colonel, I don't know what to say."

"You just keep the coffee hot and the doughnuts handy, and we'll call it even."

"And as much as I hate to cut this visit short, Toban's needed back for a Council meeting," Jacob explained.  He ignored Gus' groan.  "Don't worry, Gus. You'll get used to it."

"I'm not a politician, General.  And sitting on my backside with a bunch of other pencil-pushing know-nothings isn't how I get my kicks."

"For one thing, it's not General, it's Jacob.  And secondly, you won't find a single pencil in the entire Tok'ra base.  And lastly, you'll find that you'll be seeing more action than you ever dreamed possible.  Hakensk wasn't a soldier, he was a doctor.  He took care of things after a battle.  Now that Toban has blended with you, he's going to be very eager to not sit in the Council Chambers for very long.  He likes a little excitement just as much as everyone else. You just have to take turns."

"Easy for you to say.  Selmac likes flying around in ships and -- hey, when do I get to fly a ship?"

Jacob knew it.  He just knew it.  Gus was a kid at heart.  Heaven help him, but he was going to be working with an almost out of control Jack O'Neill-like persona for the next few hundred years.  Life did know how to play its jokes on people, didn't it?

"Are you sure you don't want to wait until Erin comes back?  She'll be upset that she missed you," Daniel told Gus.

"Toban says we've got to go.  He can't miss this meeting.  Garshaw wants a report on what happened here, and Toban's the one that has to tell her."

"Oh." Daniel was disappointed, but not surprised.  This was just another person walking in and out of his life again.  He was used to that.  "By the way, whatever happened to that arms shipment that Kelleher and Montoya were worried about?"

Gus' face brightened.  "Good news on that one.  Since most of the Organization are off world, the ones that are still here decided to lay low for a while.  Montoya found their hideout and confiscated the guns and arrested them.  Turns out that his little corner of the world is out of harm's way.  For a while."  Just as they stood to leave, Gus reached into his pocket and pulled out some paperwork and some keys.  "I almost forgot.  Since I'm not going to be allowed to stay here, I've got a few things for you and Erin.  This is the deed for my place on the French Riviera -- it's been put in both your names.  There's a great view from the beach.  Here are the keys to the house.  This is a list of some Swiss bank accounts --you've each got three.  I don't want either one of you ever hurting for money again.  And these," he held up two key rings, each with a solitary key on it, "are the keys to the '65 Mustang.  You two can fight over who gets custody of it."

Daniel took the offerings, somehow seeing them as more than just goodbye gifts.  Gus was forced to move on to a new life, and the chances of the two of them seeing each other very often was less than before.  "I still wish you'd wait for Erin, but I know you can't."  There was no point in delaying the inevitable.

"Just make sure you two stay alive.  This is a pretty dangerous gig you two are into these days.  A lot of things can happen to a person."

"Really?  I'd never thought about that one.  I guess a person could get killed around here," Daniel innocently suggested.  "Wouldn't know what that's like."

"Smartass."

Gus and Jacob were escorted down to the Stargate.  Gus was going to find out what he had only wondered about before.  He would know what it was like to touch the soil of an alien planet, see the sunrise over an alien horizon, taste the water from an alien stream.  Toban already knew, and Gus had those memories dancing around his mind, but he was going to get to do those things himself.  It was a daunting prospect, and he was almost jumping out of his skin in his eagerness to do those things.

'.......You will do all these things and more. I promise. I just have work of my own to do first.......'

Also waiting for them was a gurney with a shrouded body.  Hakensk would be returned to his home world for a proper burial.  Gus had made sure that the body would be ready to go when he and Jacob were.

Jacob took Daniel aside and promised, "I'll look after him, Daniel.  I know you're a little worried."

"Gus can take care of himself.  I'm just wondering what's going to happen when he finds out what it's really like to host a politician.  It's going to be as difficult as my hosting a General.  How do you referee an argument between a host and a symbiote?"

Jacob almost laughed.  "You don't.  This is going to be a lot of fun."  Quickly changing the subject, he asked, "Any messages for Skaara?"

"Yeah, tell him I'm fine, and Father's expecting us at the Solstice Festival.  No excuses this time."

"There won't be any.  That's all Skaara's been able to talk about for the last few days.  That and how he thinks you and a young lady named Bi'era would make such a good match."

Daniel rolled his eyes.  "Skaara and Kasuf have been trying to play matchmaker between me and Bi'era.  I like her, she's a wonderful woman, but I just don't see anything happening between us.  There's a lot of things to consider."

"There always are," Jacob reassured him.  "But just remember the old saying, if you keep the flint in one drawer and the steel in the other, you'll never strike much of a spark."

"You're as bad as Skaara is, you know that?"

Further conversation was not needed, and Jacob went to speak to his daughter as they waited for Darby to be brought to them.

In a scene reminiscent of Captain Roberts transfer of custody to Kasuf some eight months earlier, Darby was dragged into the gate room in chains.  He didn't remember much of what happened after General Hammond had rescued him from Colonel Jennings, but he had awakened in the infirmary.  He assumed that either Doctor Jackson or Major Carter had used a healing device on him because he had no broken bones or open wounds or bruises.  Given his participation in the civilians' assassinations, he assumed the latter had wielded the alien device.  In any case, he was fit and not happy to find himself in the circumstances in which he landed.  He had not been told what to expect any more than Roberts had, but when he saw Jacob Carter, he assumed that he would be seeing a great many of his people soon.

"General Hammond, I demand to know what's going on," Darby's arrogance had returned once he realized that he didn't have any more to lose.

"You're being transferred to General Carter's custody.  If you behave yourself, you might just come back alive.  If not, I'm sure Colonel Jennings will be more than happy to see to it that you're never seen again."

"And just how does Colonel Jennings fit into this?  The man is a traitor."

No one called Gus a traitor.  He loomed over the smaller man, his anger very apparent, and allowed Toban to say in a very low voice, "We are not the traitor, Tau'ri.  You are."

Jennings was a Tok'ra.  Darby was speechless.  They had been beaten at their own game by recruiting one of the opposition to take down one of the opposition.  At that moment, Darby knew, he didn't suspect, he knew that the Organization was doomed, and with it, the Earth.  They were the last, best chance for survival and they had been bested by these...these...rank and file.

Life just played joke number two on him.

As the Stargate was activated and the wormhole formed, Gus was eagerly anticipating the trip through the wormhole.  He wished he could have said goodbye to Erin, but he could say goodbye to Daniel one last time before leaving.  Not that he ever really said goodbye to anyone.

"Toban knows the truth.  So do I.  We'll see to it that Garshaw understands.  You'll take care of Curt's arrangements for me?"

"Already have.  The body will have to be cremated because we can't let anyone get a look at a human with a symbiote in his head, but Farley's going to pick up the ashes before he goes back east.  He said Curt had a sister in Boston who needs to know.  What do you want me to tell your sister?  She always asks if I've heard from you every time I talk to her."

Gus didn't know what to say in answer to that.  "You'll think of something.  Just let her know that I might be out of touch for a very long time.  No guarantees.  She knows what that means."

That was the way life was when you were related to a mercenary.  Never knowing, always wondering.  His sister was a good woman and even though he could never tell her what he was doing, Gus would always let her know that he had a mission to go on.  That was all she wanted to know.

Jacob and Gus each took one of Darby's arms, pushed Hakensk's gurney ahead of them and walked up the ramp and through the wormhole.

Alone in the gate room, SG-1 and General Hammond watched as the wormhole flickered and died out.  Another catastrophe diverted, another one on the horizon.  Another ally in their corner.  More information on the enemy.  More deaths to be accounted for.  More questions left unanswered.  Another game of sit back and wait for the bad guys to make the first move.

"Rotten week," Jack admitted.  "I just knew it."

"Perhaps it was meant to be so," Teal'c told them.  "It is strange the amount of coincidences that have transpired.  The individuals who were involved in the incident in Peru eight years ago have been reunited in a completely unrelated situation.  Events have come full circle."

"But the circle's not complete yet," Daniel observed quietly.  "It won't be finished until one side or the other's dead.  And nothing about this is strange.  Somebody brought about these coincidences.  They didn't happen by chance.   And whoever that somebody is, they're powerful enough to conduct a conspiracy and hide it pretty well."

Enough dark thoughts.  "Okay, campers.  It's Friday, the weekend's coming up, I'm planning a barbecue for tomorrow, and I know for a fact there's an apple pie in the commissary with our name on it."

Sam looked at her watch.  "Sir, it's 10:00 in the morning."

"Time's relative, Carter.  It's 10:00 at night somewhere in the world, and that's close enough to midnight for us to justify a midnight raid on the fridge."

As the team walked from the gate room, Daniel looked back at the General who had remained standing behind them.  "Sir, would you like to join us?"

"Actually, Doctor Jackson, I think I would."

 

**************************************************

 

Same time, secluded base

General Thayer stared at the communication sphere.  Perhaps he was willing it to operate, perhaps he was just angry that he had not received an update from Colonel Darby.  The wait was almost intolerable.

"Any news, sir?"  Anderson entered the office, his concern for more than just his commanding officer.

"Not yet.  It's not like Quint to miss a check-in deadline.  If he hasn't contacted us in another hour, we'll have to assume the worst has happened.  He may have been captured or killed."  And if Vaelen or Doctor Jackson are involved, I'll make them pay dearly for it.

Anderson understood the General's feelings on the matter.  He and Colonel Darby had worked together for many years.  Losing him meant more than just losing a loyal soldier.  It meant losing a longtime friend.  "Meaning no disrespect, sir, but if he were captured, would he talk?"

"No, he wouldn't.  There are few things in this life that I'm sure of, but about that, I'm positive.  He'd rather die than betray the Organization.  We're safe.  He may not be."

"Should we try to contact him?"

"No.  We maintain communication silence with Earth at all times.  We can't afford to be found out by calling at an inopportune moment.  Quint will contact us when he can.  It could be that something's happened that's inconvenienced him."  Several long moments passed.  Finally, Thayer asked, "What about the supplies?  Are we operational yet?"

"We have enough building materials and personnel to more than fill the complement of each completed base.  We'll start moving staff and equipment to the six remaining sites as soon as we can use the Stargates safely.  Sir, what is our time schedule on that?"

Thayer was frustrated.  If they moved at the wrong moment, they could be found out.  If they didn't, they weren't much better off than not having the bases at all.  Sometimes, he knew, you just had to take a chance.  "We'll have to use the Stargates when the frequencies can't be detected, just as we have over the last week.  We took a chance with that first wormhole on Saturday, but that was the only way to get the transmission masking equipment here.  We cannot afford to make such a foolish mistake again.  Some of the new equipment has allowed one of our scientists to determine that some solar storms will be passing near us in a few days.  They should pass close enough for us to use them as an added defense against detection.  Once we have these spatial anomalies to help hide our movements, we'll have to move quickly.  I want the most expedient plan for transporting the most equipment and personnel to the various outposts."

"Begging your pardon, sir, but you don't sound sure about the storms masking our movements."

"I'm not.  It's all theoretical even if we haven't been caught yet, but we have to move soon.  We can't have six bases unable to mount even a simple defense.  Without any access to any of our people on Earth, we're very much on our own.  We'll plan and hope for the best."

"Yes, sir. I'll get that started right away."  Anderson left.

General Thayer returned to watching the communication sphere.  Quinton Darby was the one man he knew he could trust.  No matter what the consequences, he knew that they were safe.

"Where are you, Quint?"

 

**************************************************

 

The civilian sat on the bench in the park outside The White House and started to read his edition of The Wall Street Journal.  Soon, a General arrived and sat down on the opposite end of the bench.  He took a cup of coffee and a bagel out of a bag and began to enjoy his early morning repast.

"What was the final outcome?" the General finally broke the silence that the two men had been observing.

Turning the page of his newspaper and seeming completely unaffected by events of the day, the civilian answered, "Only partial success.  Of the three original plans we instigated, only one was successful.  The resonator was damaged long enough for us to get the rest of our people and several months worth of supplies through our Stargate to the off world bases.  Unfortunately, we were not able to remove Hammond nor were we able to break up SG-1.  We tried initiating a fourth plan of obtaining the symbiote, but that, too, was unsuccessful.  We're not much better off now than we were."

The General did love his coffee and bagels.  His wife had always told him that he needed to eat a more healthful breakfast, but this was his one true vice.  He had no intention of changing his dietary habits even for her.  He compromised by always eating healthy lunches, so his wife was happy.  Even now, the smell of the coffee, the taste of the bagel, his favorite indulgence had just been ruined by some very bad news.  This dismal failure was still a setback.  "Is there any possibility of removing Hammond now?"

"No, sir.  We've exhausted all of our legitimate options, and if we should resort to more extreme measures, I have no doubt we would find out what being shot with a zat gun feels like.  We have accomplished a great deal with the off world bases.  Their defenses are operational on eight, the other six will be running shortly.  They --"

"They can't make a move unless the jamming equipment is fully operational, and that equipment will have to remain in top working order until we've removed the threat the Tok'ra, Tollan and Asgaard represent.  If our people take one step off those planets at the wrong time, they could be detected, their positions compromised, and all hope for Earth will be destroyed along with them. Hammond is still in charge of the base.  SG-1 is still intact.  The symbiote is gone.  And, as I have just learned earlier today, no one knows why your mercenary left with the Tok'ra.  We have no way to communicate with any of them.  We are at a stalemate.  Again."

For the first time in their long association, the civilian seemed troubled.  He was all too aware of the grave situation the Organization was facing.  "We still have the possibility of utilizing Vaelen's knowledge, sir."

"Impossible," was the only answer.  "After all these events, do you think Vaelen would help us in any way?  First of all, they want us to believe that Vaelen is dead contrary to what Thayer told us.  They're trying to keep his existence a secret.  Or he is.  Vaelen has sided with Hammond and his crew.  After studying the interrogation he went through with General Thayer, I'd have to say that Vaelen would do anything to help Daniel Jackson.  Our past actions have proven that we don't have Doctor Jackson's best interests at heart.  I'm afraid that we've made a very powerful enemy."

The civilian folded up his paper.  "And if Doctor Jackson is Vaelen's Achilles heel?  We might be able to use that against him."

"Thayer thought that way, and all he did is lose a lot of personnel and our best stocked base.  Forget about Vaelen and Jackson for now.  For the time being, neither are our concern.  We have to find a way to contact our bases without the SGC knowing. I suggest you work on that.  Should the opportunity arise where using Jackson to get to Vaelen is appropriate, I'll issue the order myself.  I've got a meeting with the President in a few hours, so I'll be out of touch for most of the day.  We'll discuss what options are left open to us tomorrow."

The civilian promptly stood and walked off with his paper tucked under his arm.  As General Baxter sat there contemplating how his plans could be foiled by such a motley group, he looked down at his used-to-be appetizing bagel.  He seemed to lose his appetite for it.  Maybe his wife was right.  A little variety always spiced up life.  He stood and headed off into the direction of the nearest restaurant.

 

**************************************************

 

Daniel was tired. He flipped through the channels on his brand new (even bigger screen, thank you Jack O'Neill) television and found nothing on that held his interest.  He switched off the television and listened to the silence that filled his apartment.  He would have a great deal to do tomorrow regarding bank accounts, beach condos and Mustangs.

'.......Help.......'

Daniel sat up straight.  That wasn't his imagination!  That was the voice he had heard a few times.  He didn't believe in ghosts, not yet anyway, so where was it coming from?  Was it someone's idea of a joke?

'.......Help.......'

He listened intently to the silence and waited for the voice to repeat.

'.......Daniel.......'

Daniel didn't want to believe it, didn't want to admit it, but there it was.  In a very unsteady voice, he said out loud, "Vaelen?"

'.......Help.......me.......Daniel.......'

Daniel lunged for the phone, his mind almost screaming the denial of what it knew to be true. He frantically dialed the only phone number his fingers could remember, and he waited for an answer.

Finally, he heard, "Yeah, what, uh, hello?"

"Jack --"

"Daniel?  It's 1:00 in the morning!  Wait a minute, what is it?  What's wrong?"

"We've got a problem."

Jack didn't like the way Daniel's voice caught.  "You only have problems at one a.m.  What --"

"Jack, Vaelen's alive!"

 



The End?

I don't think so.





     Well, there you go. I hope you liked the story.  E-mail  me and let me know what you thought of it, but please be kind.  I need the feedback!