TITLE: Soldiers Follow Orders, But--
CATEGORY: Angst, Drama
SEASON/SEQUEL: End of 3rd? Definitely before "The First Ones," sequel to "Listen When The Heart Speaks"
RATING: Possibly PG
CONTENT WARNINGS: A few words, attempted parasite possession, kidnapping, a lot of coffee drinking.
SUMMARY: As SG-1 comes to terms with the events brought about by the conspiracy, the search continues for proof of General Thayer's participation. Can the people who conspired to take over the SGC and murder the civilians be brought to justice before an even worse fate befalls Daniel Jackson?
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 Gatewatcher.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: This story is a direct sequel to 'Listen When The Heart Speaks.' This tale had started out as two separate stories but merged when the muses decided that they could combine and forge a stronger story together. I hope you like it.
Hurry up and wait is the old soldier's maxim.
I'm not that young anymore, but I don't think anyone would say that patience was one of my stronger virtues. For over two months, I waited to nail that sorry-ass excuse of an under-rock life form that ordered Daniel killed even if he was a General, and yes, I know that using officers for target practice isn't exactly a good idea if you want to stay in the Air Force. I've been a soldier all of my life. I've followed orders I would never have given, and given orders I wouldn't have followed, and yes, I know that following orders is the way things are in the military. I chose this life with my eyes wide open, so I can't blame anyone but myself when I have these little problems.People have always asked me how I could ever follow or give an unconscionable order, and I always gave the answer that no commanding officer would give such an order, but it's a lie. They do. On that first trip to Abydos, I disobeyed my primary orders to detonate that bomb. I never regretted it, and explaining my actions was never a problem. It wasn't until Daniel made a simple comment that put what I did in perspective for, well, for a lot of people, not just me. He said that soldiers follow orders, but good soldiers know when not to. I think that's where the problem started. We didn't have enough good soldiers.
From the personal diary of Colonel Jack O'Neill
Five weeks after the Dervan attack, early Friday morning SGC time: Washington D.C.
The building was easily identifiable. Its five-sided configuration expressed its name in its physical form far more eloquently than the human voice could ever describe.
Deep within the walls of the Pentagon, in an office far removed from the main corridors of traffic, sat a man only a few people knew or even knew existed. He was a shadow figure, following the orders of a shadow government. He collected and collated data from thousands of sources to be used by his shadow troops when they were needed. Officially, he did not exist, but unknown to him, his presence had been felt by those he sought to exterminate and by those who aided his would-be victims. To them, he existed. They knew his name. He did not know that they were preparing for the war he was secretly planning to wage against them. He knew only that his plans had been derailed by unexpected sources and must be dealt with accordingly. He would not be stopped so easily.
Walking into the office with a thick folder tucked under his arm was another man only slightly better known than his superior. His goals were the same as his commanding officer's; only his was the hand that executed the brilliant plans developed by the other's inscrutable mind. He did not sit in awe of his superior for they had been through the fires of hell together and had passed through the flames whole and intact. There was only respect, unfailing loyalty and a deep abiding friendship that transcended rank.
The first man did not bother to read through the massive amount of paperwork the second man brought to him, the paperwork that listed the catastrophic results of his latest endeavor. Instead he left the mass lying on his desk. "Just tell me the highlights, Quint. How bad is it?"
"Bad. Hammond was extraordinarily thorough with his housecleaning. All but three of our operatives have been found out and taken into custody or removed. We know that Roberts was imprisoned on Abydos, the reason was interplanetary diplomatic relations. I believe, although I can't confirm, that the President himself agreed to the terms of his incarceration even if I can't find any evidence of a trial for him. The others were tried by a secret court martial and found guilty of murder, collusion and treason. They were sentenced to life in prison, but no one knows where they've been incarcerated. Given the current climate of the SGC, I would venture a guess that they've been taken off-world for safekeeping for the time being. A few others that escaped the trials have been reassigned to unknown sites. We're trying to find them now. They know about our Stargate, but not its location. They know about the organization, the structure, the backing, many of the personnel. They know the NID is involved. And from what Hammond was overheard to say in the gate room when Roberts left, they know my name. There's no evidence they know about you."
Suddenly, in the blink of an eye, his anonymity was gone. "They know. They're just not broadcasting it yet. Our superiors will not like this outcome. I've already been contacted about contingency plans to keep Hammond from digging for sources higher than me. I've been given permission to use any and all means I deem necessary to protect the network." General Malcolm Thayer paced slowly around his office. To meet defeat twice at the hands of one person was intolerable. "What news do you have about Jackson?"
Darby kept a close watch on the General as he explained. "It's too early for complete Intel. The first two weeks after his infamous resurrection, he and the rest of SG-1, most specifically Major Carter, were sequestered from the rest of the SGC while they went through the paper trail Roberts had carelessly left behind. Jackson's main interaction was with SG-1, Hammond and Fraiser. The following two weeks, SG-1 went missing. The cover story was that they were attending a diplomatic meeting off-world. I've found out that they were on vacation in Hawaii. They only returned this past weekend, and since then Jackson has been catching up on the last nine months. That means he's buried himself in his office and refuses to be disturbed. Since he's not interacting with many of the other personnel on a daily basis yet, our information is sketchy. Reports all say that he has Vaelen's memories, but we only have rumors as to what extent he has them. Apparently, they are stronger than the memories Major Carter has from Jolinar. They're more accessible. He has information that would be beneficial to us, unfortunately, he is being watched 24/7. A member of SG-1 is always with him. Currently, he is not a viable target for retrieval and detainment."
"What does he remember about his final moments?"
"There's been no indication that he remembers any of it. We may be safe on that point."
"Are you willing to risk our lives on that?" Thayer asked him.
"For now? We have no choice," Darby reasoned. "If they had any concrete evidence on us, they would have come after us by now. I know Hammond's aware of my involvement, and that means the President knows about me as well. Knowing about me could lead to you, but if they couldn't convict us of anything with the information they gathered from Roberts, then they won't be able to level any charges from us from a man whose memories are suspect. Jackson was dead, after all."
"Yes. Dead." Too bad he didn't stay that way. Thayer stared at the paperwork sitting on his desk. "Have you sent word to our people that they are not to try to return to Earth through our Stargate and for Timmons to relocate to the new base site as we discussed?"
"It's done. I've also temporarily deactivated our Stargate in case the SGC finds a way to track it down. I've set up a schedule for activation in cases of emergency, but it's contingent upon the times the SGC engage their Stargate." Darby could see his friend working through another puzzle.
"Jackson has the knowledge we need to keep earth safe. We're going to need him, but not before we're ready. I want you to make contact with Colonel Timmons once more. I want him to set up an extra room in the new base. Tell him to set up item 1472R. That way, it will be out of the way of the rest of the personnel. Do you understand?"
"Perfectly. Even with the building materials we've sent him, Colonel Timmons has limited resources to work with. It will be some time before he can have the base stocked and the surveillance equipment up and running. According to his reports, the area was greatly damaged from the aerial attack. Repairs are underway, but he won't move his troops in until he can be assured of at least a minimum level of security," Darby told him.
"What's your best estimate?"
Darby thought for a moment, his brow furrowed in concentration. "I'd rather err on the side of caution. To be safe, let's say one month."
Thayer sighed audibly. Time was of the essence, not to be wasted, but what else could he do? "I'd like to move sooner than that, but we'll plan for a one month time table. What is the status of the weapon schematics? Have they been able to decrypt the encoding yet?"
Darby frowned. "Timmons communicated that they broke the code last night. He sent his initial analysis a few hours ago. The plans were good, but they were for weapons we already have. The schematics our contact transferred were for zat guns and staff weapons. The people at the SGC have already backward engineered those designs and have been building them as they've collected enough of the raw materials needed to produce them."
Thayer kept a tight rein on his temper. Anger was not going to avail them anything. Cool heads were needed. "That was all we received? We went through all of that and only received plans for weapons we already had?"
"We were double-crossed as well."
"All of that work for nothing. We've lost people, weapons and time. This puts my plan months behind schedule. Is there any more bad news I don't want to hear?"
"One more item. Hammond has been making a concerted effort to re-establish a civilian community within the SGC, and he's already recruited scientists from several different fields. I have no doubt they've been made aware of the fate of the last group of civilians working there."
"And what is the mood of these new employees?" Thayer asked him.
"They've made themselves at home, Malcolm. We're back where we started."
Thayer had to think. Everything was spinning out of control, out of his control. It had seemed so simple: remove the civilians permanently, place his own personnel in their place at the SGC, learn enough to accuse Hammond of any dereliction of duty he could think of, force the Senate Subcommittee and the President to remove Hammond and offer to take command of the Cheyenne base himself so he would have no interference establishing an off-world base under his, and only his, command. So simple. So easy. His spies had gathered a sizeable number of offenses against Hammond when the Kha'ti had appeared and sank all of Thayer's hopes of an easy victory. To make matters worse, the leader of the Kha'ti had taken Daniel Jackson as a host and brought him back to life, most likely with every memory intact. That one setback could hammer the nails in his coffin. "You said we still have three operatives on site. Are they on their own?" He did not want any more mess-ups.
"I took the liberty of sending a spotter to the base to deal with any problems that might arise. If it looks like Hammond is getting too close, our agents will be expedited in the most efficient and expedient fashion."
"Anyone I know?"
"Anderson. He's done this type of work for me before," Darby informed him. "Malcolm, even with three operatives and a spotter, the situation is static. If we move too soon, Hammond will strike. If we move too late, we lose everything. If they know more about us than we suspect, it's only a matter of time before they close in. What do you want to do?"
Thayer sat and thought. He had to retake control of the situation. He knew that he had lost any chance of taking command of the SGC, but he had not lost his chance to establish a fully self-contained, self-sufficient base of operations whose main goal was to gather Intel and technology to protect earth from extraterrestrial enemies without the interference of the Government. Unlike Timmons, his resources were sizeable, but not unlimited. He knew what needed to be done; it was the planning to get it done that was critical. "Quint, I want us to work under a new assumption."
"And that would be?"
"That Daniel Jackson does indeed remember his last moments, that he knows who shot him, and that he's told Hammond everything he knows. Hammond may be trying to lure us into a false sense of security by not coming after us so we'll make a mistake. I don't have to tell you what will happen if and when we get caught. It won't matter to Hammond or O'Neill why we've done what we have or that it was in the interests of planetary security. We won't live to see a trial.
"Standing orders concerning civilians still apply, but put all operatives' efforts in watching every move SG-1 makes. Once everything is ready at the new base, I want to be able to have Jackson transported there at a moment's notice without any interference from O'Neill, Carter or the Jaffa. Kill them if you have to. Once we have Jackson safely secured at the new base, we'll use the technology at our disposal to collect the symbiote's memories for our own use and utilize them to our best advantage. I want everything operational and completed before I show any results to the Joint Chiefs. When we have their approval, we'll already have enough personnel and munitions assigned to the main off-world base that would rival the SGC." Thayer mulled this thought over in his head. He wanted Jackson dead, would even like to pull the trigger himself, but watching him suffer from a memory probe had its advantages as well. "For now, we will just have to bide our time. Make sure our people are warned to be as invisible as they possibly can and that they have one month to find their time window in which to act. Since Jackson is under constant surveillance mostly by his own team, they might want to consider a more obvious approach. I don't think SG-1 will be expecting anything straightforward. I don't want any more mistakes, Quint."
"Neither do I. Those replacements were my people. I trained them. I don't want to lose any more of them, but I don't think our people will be able to remain invisible. Hammond's leaving no stone unturned. If they make one mistake, they're caught. And we may not be far behind."
Thayer could only agree, and he understood. After all, he was a soldier, too. He had led, followed, but he had never gotten the hell out of the way. It was not his nature to do so.
Same time, SGC
He lay there on the cold, snow-covered ground helpless as the creature slithered its way toward him. The frigid wind bit into him as death began to chill his very being. He couldn't move, couldn't scream, his body refused to cooperate. Muscles could not follow the brain's commands. The blood kept pouring from the bullet wounds, his life was seeping out of him as each drop of the precious red liquid soaked into the snow. He felt himself dying, heard his heart valiantly trying to sustain the fragile life left within him. He saw the creature crawl over the dead bodies scattered on the ground around him, coming doggedly towards him. He felt it crawl up his stomach toward his mouth. The darkness was there, clouding his vision. He could barely see the creature. It's head reared above his. He saw its eyes glow. He--
Daniel jerked his head up from his desk. Desk. Paperwork. Office. SGC. Earth. He wasn't a host anymore, and he was very much alive. It was only a nightmare. He looked up and saw Jack standing there looking worried.
"Same bad dream?" the Colonel asked him. There it was again. There was that look in Daniel's eyes that Jack couldn't describe but was seeing more and more often. There was a sorrow reflected there that Jack couldn't understand, and Daniel wouldn't talk about.
"Yeah," was the only answer he could articulate at that moment. He knew that Jack must have been able to hear his heart pounding in his chest.
"You know, it occurs to me that you might not have these dreams if you didn't exhaust yourself by pulling all-nighters like I told you not to do in the first place. It's your first week back to work and you've already worked two 48-hour shifts," Jack admonished him jokingly. "I've caught you dozing twice already. So what's wrong? Don't like your new apartment?"
"Yes, I like my new apartment. It's better than my last one. I've actually spent some time there. And before you ask, yes, I like my new car, too and, no, I've haven't slept in it because I was too tired to drive to my new apartment." Daniel assured him as he shoved the paperwork on his desk away from him as if it were offensive. "The truth is, I've seen what kind of work has been coming out of the archaeological department for the last several months, and there's just too much work that needs to be done along with all of the other work that's just popped up. I haven't got any time to waste."
"Sleeping is not a waste of time, Danny. Look, there's a hell of a lot of work that's going to have to be done and redone and resubmitted and whatever else you have to do to it. Roberts and the others did a crappy job, and when you read some more of the reports, you're going to find out that they cost a few people their lives. Keeping us healthy wasn't exactly on their agenda, you know."
"No kidding." Daniel pulled up a listing of mission reports on his computer. "I've found over fifty translations that he deliberately misread. Deliberately! There are seven instances here where his misreadings nearly killed you, Sam and Teal'c because you didn't have a clue what you were walking into. And the archaeological finds! You won't believe what I've found that he ignored! There's no way to tell how much information we must have lost because of him. We've probably missed any chance we might have had at conducting excavations on some of these planets. He cost the SGC a lot."
You have no idea what he cost us, do you, Danny? Still can't see your own worth, can you?
"Well, you're back where you ought to be, Hammond's managed to round you up an archaeological staff any dig would kill to have, and every one of you will have to go through this huge mess Roberts and his friends left behind and see what you can salvage. But," and he punctuated every word with a jab of his finger, "you do NOT have to do it all in one day. I mean what I'm telling you here. There's plenty of time to get this stuff done. You're not going to start pulling all-nighters again. You've even got Carter doing the same thing."
"I didn't have anything to with that." Daniel saw instantly that Jack didn't believe him. "Well, I didn't have much to do with that." He got up and, of course, headed straight for the coffee pot. The General had placed a standing order with the purchasing department for good coffee, and Daniel had been taking advantage of the endless supply of the dark, sanity-saving liquid. If the truth be told, he was a little scared that Vaelen might resurface if he wasn't 'energized,' so he always had a cup of coffee with him even though he knew that the symbiote was undeniably dead. How sane did that sound? What was even worse was that he had discovered the painful way that he had to be more careful when he picked up items like the coffee pot. He had a little more strength now and found that things broke a little easier if he didn't pay attention to what he was doing. The more fragile items had a tendency to shatter. Janet thought that he might be stronger because Vaelen had given his muscles more of a workout hunting for food and gathering wood than Daniel normally gave them studying artifacts. He was overcompensating, but he'd get used to it. Given time, he'd get used to any and all of the changes that he was undergoing, even the changes he had not told anyone about.
"Did anyone tell you that we had a visitor last night after you went home who requested that we do some research."
"Anyone I know?"
"Believe it or not, it was Thor."
"Thor?" Jack asked. That was a switch. Usually, the Asgaard would only talk to him and convince him that he was the only one that could help them. Maybe they were learning that the rest of SG-1 could be relied upon as well. "What did he want?"
"It seems that some Asgaard technology has disappeared without a trace. The Tollans have been complaining about the same thing. A lot of items just keep getting misplaced."
Oh, damn. This sounded familiar.
"And?" Jack prompted him.
"And since you did such an impressive job finding the moles last time, we've been asked to track down the rogue Tau'ri personnel that must be behind the thefts since the Tau'ri are the most recent beings anyone's dealt with who has a history of covert stealing." Daniel was amused to see Jack just shake his head in disbelief. "Only this time, no one's going undercover to smoke out the traitors. Hammond was firm on that point. He didn't want a repeat of what happened last time, especially this soon after my reappearance. He didn't think the team could handle much more stress right now. Anyway, Thor has agreed to let us deal with the situation any way we see fit, so Hammond wants us to track them to the source and put them out of business no matter who the trail leads to."
Jack could almost hear the sarcasm coming from his friend. "I guess no one told Thor that we already have a good idea who's behind the thefts, huh?"
"Make accusations without proof or based on the non-coherent memories of a dead man?" Daniel said with a grin. "No. Hammond suggested that there were a few people in high enough positions to mastermind the thefts, but we would have to be given free rein to find out whom the real culprits are. Want coffee?"
"Yes. Please. Unless you've got anything stronger?"
"Nope. You'll have to settle for this."
Taking the offered cup, Jack asked, "So how did Hammond suggest that we track down these robbers since we don't know where they are?"
"Not the robbers. The source. Thor told us that there would be 'others' who would take care of the thieves. We just have to find out how things are being transmitted to and from Earth without using our Stargate and stop it. I think Thor sees this as a good faith gesture on our part that we'll try to keep this sort of thing from happening again. Anyway, that's where Sam and me pulling all-nighters come in. She was asking me about the homemade Stargate again, and I remembered a few more things about it that should help lead us to it."
"Like it was smaller. The wormhole was green, not blue. The pitch of the vortex was higher than the one here. Things like that." He took a long drink of coffee and refilled his cup. He still delighted in being able to do things for himself. The novelty of being able to control his own body had not worn off yet. "Given those aspects, it's easy to see that there are differences in the quantum shifts accorded to the size and existing power source available to engage the wormhole. Sam thinks that they should be easily detectable. She's trying to develop a type of sonic resonator that can track the differences in the harmonic resonances created by incoming and outgoing wormholes. Once we can distinguish the differences between the echoes, we--"
"Whoa! Danny, you're Vaelening again." Jack was always too eager to come up with those strange new words that made light of a traumatic experience. "Try again in English this time, and take a breath occasionally. It helps."
"Oh. Okay. Sorry." He sat down again and tried to phrase his explanation without the benefit of Vaelen's extensive input. He still had some trouble remembering where he ended and the Kha'ti's knowledge began. "Think of the Stargate system like an AM/FM radio. You have to be on the same frequency and close enough to the source to pick up the station. If you're not, you just get static unless you have some kind of booster to enhance the signal. Stargates run on frequencies, too. Most Stargates begin on the same frequency, but that frequency is altered by the time the transmission reaches its destination depending on where it's located in relation to the galactic center. The Stargates are designed to compensate for the frequency alteration, but only to a certain extent. At some point, the distortion would be too pronounced to compensate for, and the two gates wouldn't be able to connect."
"Say what?" Jack was losing the conversation.
Oh. He had left Jack in the dust. Daniel tried again. "Remember the theory that there's a black hole in the center of the Milky Way that balances out the massive gravitational forces exerted by all of the stars?"
"And remember when that black hole caused us so many problems like slowing time down and almost sucking the SGC right into it?"
"You think I'm going to forget that little party? I did not enjoy myself on that one."
"Never thought you did. Anyway, if a Stargate is closer to the center of the galaxy, the frequency it sends would be slower than the frequency of a Gate that's closer to the rim of the galaxy, like ours, because it's being affected by the gravitational pull of the black hole that our scientists haven't been able to prove exists yet."
Jack was beginning to see where this was going, he thought. Now he was getting worried. Always worry when you can understand Daniel, he thought to himself.
"Now," Daniel continued, "when we dial out, we have to dial out to a Stargate that can pick up our frequency. We've had trouble dialing to certain planets even when we know they have a Stargate, but it's not always because it's buried or destroyed. Sometimes, it's because it's tuning in to at a different frequency than ours. The distortion is too great to be compensated for, so the two can't connect."
"And that's because of how close one of the gates is to the black hole in the center of the galaxy?" Jack asked him.
"Yes. We can dial to the other side of the galaxy, but we've had trouble dialing to the planets half a galaxy away. To get there, you'd have to dial to a Stargate somewhere halfway between Earth and the destination because it would be running at a frequency somewhere in-between but able to connect to both Stargates."
Jack had to process this little bit of information. "You mean it's kind of like a bus schedule. To get across town, you have to take three different buses."
"More or less."
"But what does that have to do with the homemade Stargate?" Jack asked him.
"It was smaller, pitch was higher, vortex was green. That means it's running at a much faster frequency than ours. The faster the frequency, the fewer planets it can connect to, and those planets would almost have to be on the outer rim of the galaxy. Also, it's too small to handle a large power supply, so that means the eligible planets they can gate to and from would have to have a lower gauged power source on their end. Remember what Roberts said? That they could dial out but they had trouble dialing in?" Daniel waited for Jack to remember that conversation. When Daniel saw that he did, he said, "Most Stargates would be too powerful for the homemade one to handle. It would probably explode with that much energy coming through it."
"That could be painful," Jack commented, although finding out that Darby and Thayer had been dealt with by an explosion held some not-too-unpleasing thoughts.
"Very," Daniel agreed with him.
"And all this is going to help us track it?"
"Well, yes. We know when I was sent through that gate to PTX952. That planet is on the edge of the galaxy, and obviously its gate can pick up both our gate and the homemade gate's frequencies. Sam is trying to track down the frequencies that were present during those minutes when their gate was open. Once she eliminates all of the known wavelengths, we should be able to narrow down the one it runs on and, hopefully, any nearby Stargates that can pick up that particular one. Then, when she finishes this sonic resonator she's working on, we should be able to detect the Stargate and triangulate its position the next time they use it and determine which Stargate they went to. We don't have many other choices since it's not big enough to cause an earthquake when it's dialing. Anyway, that's why Sam's worked double shifts a couple of times. Simple, huh?"
Jack nodded his head. "Sure. When you explain it like that. So we sit here twiddling our thumbs and wait for them to make a move. Right?"
"Well, regardless of the fact that we've been drafted to find bad guys again, and we have to wait for them to do something, that doesn't mean either one of you is off the hook. I don't want anybody on my team going on a mission without a few good nights' sleep under his or her belt. That definitely includes you."
"Okay, I...what? Mission? Seriously?"
"That was one of the reasons I came down here in the first place, Sherlock. Frazier gave you her medical seal of approval to be returned to active duty. Personally, I think she just ran out of tests to try out on you, and since she's found out that no one's going to dare ask you to see MacKenzie, she can't keep you grounded any longer. Anyway, we're going gating on Monday, and you're going, too. And you can forget about working this weekend. It'll all be here when you get back."
Back on active duty. Daniel didn't know what to expect since he came back. He knew that he still had the job of chief archaeologist and linguist at the base, but since there had been no civilians assigned to the SGC during his unfortunate demise, he felt that he was walking on eggshells sometimes. Even now, the base population was mostly staffed with military personnel, but Hammond's determination had changed the demographics with the inclusion of civilian personnel at all levels of the SGC. He had already accepted Daniel's recommendations to hire certain scientists and had already assigned a few to SG teams. Now, Daniel was really going back to work.
"On Monday?" he asked his friend, still not quite believing it.
"Yep. Nice little uninhabited planet just begging to be explored. Incidentally, there are a couple of ruins near the gate, but we're only getting two days for you to go digging in the dirt. Just thought you might like to know." Jack was grinning ear-to-ear. There was no way he was going to throw them into a dangerous situation until Daniel had a chance to get back into the swing of things. This planet seemed perfect to do just that.
Daniel could not believe what he was hearing. After all, this was Jack O'Neill he was talking to, and this was the same Jack O'Neill who was talking about exploring some ruins. Should he be worried? "You think you can handle two days of being bored out of your skull?"
"Sure I can. Just remember that I do take bribes. You buy the pizza for tomorrow's hockey game, and I promise not to complain once."
"Not once?" Daniel asked him.
"Not once." Jack replied.
"I guess that means that you're going to complain twice, three times, four--"
"Very funny, Danny. Buy the beer, and I won't complain at all, but this will be the only trip I won't complain on. All the others are fair game. Deal?"
"I suppose it would be too much to ask for your help if I happen to find something that needs digging out of the dirt?"
Jack didn't even have to ponder that question. "Way too much. Way, way too much."
"Okay. Deal, but I'm going to hold you to it." Daniel was about to get another cup of coffee when he realized that O'Neill had said something else. "Did you say that my being put on active duty was only one of the reasons you came down here?"
"Yeah. Hammond wants us at a meeting in about, oh, ten minutes or so. Since you weren't at your apartment when I called, I figured you were here." He grabbed Daniel by the arm and pushed him out of the room towards General Hammond's office. "And I'm serious about you taking the weekend off. You need to kick back and relax, get away from all of the stress. What do you think about going hang-gliding?"
General Hammond walked toward his office. He was not looking forward to this meeting, no matter how necessary it was. Telling bad news to people who had suffered more than their fair share of it was not his favorite duty. Sometimes, being a general was not as much fun as they had described it in the brochure.
As he neared his office, he heard the two voices he still had not grown weary of hearing every day. He had missed the continual friendly banter of the two most stubborn men he had ever met, and now that it was back, he almost never stopped them when they started ripping into each other. They were just too much fun to listen to.
"Trust me. It's fun."
"No way. Forget it, Jack."
"Come on, Danny. Live a little."
"I plan on living a lot, thank you very much. I've been dead before, I didn't enjoy it, and I don't want to do it again any time soon. I know that won't happen if I even thought about trying such a boneheaded stunt."
"It's not boneheaded. Besides, I would think that anybody who can go scuba diving in shark infested waters--"
"That's different! They weren't man-eaters. I was wearing a shark suit, and there was a cage to swim into if things got too hairy. Besides, haven't you ever heard of underwater archaeology?"
"Sure, but that's a lot more dangerous than--"
"Since when? At least you can swim in water. You're talking about falling who knows how many feet--"
"Only if you slip."
"Thank you for making my point."
"Oh, for crying out loud! I was not making your point! All I'm saying is---oh, hi General. What's up?"
Hammond wasn't fooled by the innocent looks O'Neill and Jackson gave him or by the fact Major Carter was trying hard to suppress a laugh. Even Teal'c was grinning, well, as much as the Jaffa could grin. He turned to Major Carter and asked, "Anything I want to know about?"
"It's mutiny in the ranks, General," O'Neill sputtered.
Composing herself, Sam said, "Colonel O'Neill is trying to convince Daniel that hang-gliding is a fun and safe sport--"
"It is!" Jack interjected.
"And he's also trying to convince Daniel that it's safer than scuba diving." Carter finished.
"This guy," O'Neill jerked his thumb at Daniel, "went swimming with the sharks when we were in Hawaii. Didn't even blink an eye at patting one on the head--"
"They weren't feeding," Daniel explained quickly, giving the General that innocent, little boy look that always got him out of trouble.
"And he's complaining about hang-gliding being too dangerous. Can you believe this?"
Teal'c had learned to include his two-cents worth if he was going to enjoy himself during a Jackson/O'Neill argument. "I must agree with Daniel Jackson, O'Neill. The equipment used in hang-gliding is unsafe and inappropriate to the task. There are no fail-safe measures that may be taken in the event of an emergency."
"There. See? Even Teal'c agrees with me. Go argue with him." Daniel told Jack.
"Thanks, Teal'c. Now see what you've started?" O'Neill asked sarcastically.
"I have not started anything, O'Neill. I have merely disagreed with you on the safety of the equipment utilized for the activity." Teal'c said flatly.
"You see, General? Mutiny! They used to make folks walk the plank for that."
"Into shark infested waters?" Daniel asked innocently.
"You wouldn't be able to make us walk the plank anyway, sir," Carter told him. "Your requisition for one got turned down by purchasing last week. They considered it an unnecessary expense."
Hammond could only grin and shake his head. You couldn't describe this bunch--you had to experience them. "As much as I hate to interrupt this highly intellectual discussion, I didn't ask for all of you to report here to debate the merits of swimming with sharks or hang-gliding or walking planks. Something else has come up."
As the General took his seat, SG-1 took theirs as well. In an instant, the playful bickering had ceased, and everyone became the consummate professionals that they were.
"What's going on, sir?" Jack asked him.
"I have no doubt that the four of you have been talking, but just to make sure that we're all talking about the same thing, I want us to put all of our cards on the table. Colonel, is it safe for me to assume that you and Teal'c have been briefed about our visitor last night?"
"Yes, sir. Thor came calling. Hear he wants us to play hide and seek again."
"Hide and seek?" Teal'c asked, obviously oblivious about the game.
"Hide and seek," Jack answered. "They hide, we seek."
"I see." Teal'c agreed.
General Hammond continued. "In a manner of speaking, yes. It seems that the SGC has earned the trust of our allies, but our superiors haven't. The five of us have been requested to root out the people behind this latest...escapade. Thor did mention that the President should know about the situation from the beginning this time. I think he wants to establish some trust between the Asgaard Command and the White House."
Teal'c raise an eyebrow at that statement. "General Hammond, if this mission is to be undertaken in secrecy, is it wise to inform anyone of our intentions?"
"I would say that it isn't, Teal'c, but the President is our Commander-In-Chief and needs to know of any problems we're facing in regards to our alliances so appropriate action may be taken." Hammond told him bluntly. "I don't like it either because I don't like operating this way, but we do have some advantages that we didn't have before."
"And that would be...?" Jack asked him.
"All of you working together which should have anyone with any intelligence shaking in their boots. Add in Roberts' confession, and we already know who's behind the thefts. All we have to do is find irrefutable proof of their crimes, find them and bring them in."
Jack almost laughed out loud. "Sir, I don't mean to be a wet blanket here, but I don't think Darby or Thayer will have left any bread crumbs for us to follow. We haven't even been able to link them to the conspiracy yet. They're not going to make this easy on us."
"No, they're not. That's why Major Carter is designing a sonic resonator to track down their Stargate which is undoubtedly being used in the transport of illegally obtained technology. Colonel, in all likelihood, we will never be able to convict them of murder, but we might be able to get them on treason."
"With all due respect, sir," Jack was getting a little irritated, "that stinks. They murdered 52 people, then dumped their bodies on some ice cube of a planet, and they're going to get away with it?"
"No, Colonel. They're not going to get away with it. I have every intention of seeing these people pay for what they did. It's just that this is one of those times we have to pick the battle we can win." General Hammond felt as frustrated as the Colonel. He would have loved to complain along with O'Neill, but instead he turned to the younger man. Daniel had not been very vocal on his wishes for Thayer and Darby. "Doctor Jackson, what are your thoughts on all of this? You're the one who's been most affected by their actions."
"General, I'd be lying if I said I liked settling for less, but I don't see that we have any other choice." His voice betrayed his disappointment. He always knew that the bad guys could get away with murder, with his murder, if the military machine worked the way he had seen it in the past. There would be diversions and distractions, paperwork and brick walls protecting the perpetrators. There would be those who would close ranks and circle their wagons around the offenders. He had not expected it, but he had hoped that Darby and Thayer could be apprehended for the crimes they were guilty of. He should really know better by now.
"Daniel, don't." Jack warned him. "We still might be able to get them for murder."
Daniel knew that a little Vaelen-like reasoning was needed here. Jack seemed to respond to that better than anything else. "How? There's been no physical evidence connecting them with our deaths. Roberts is the only one to even mention their names. None of the others gave them up to commute their own sentences. We don't have anything to use against them."
Daniel could see the anger seething in his friend's eyes. Okay. So much for reasoning. "Do you honestly think I want this? Do you think I'm not so angry I could spit bullets? Believe me, I don't have any ethical objections about watching Teal'c rip them apart joint by joint. Slowly. For three days. With them screaming for mercy that they're not going to get. They killed us, and they enjoyed doing it! I remember the soldiers laughing while I was lying there dying. That's not something you ever forget, and Darby and Thayer were behind it all. I want them to go down for the crimes they committed, but if I can't have that, I'll settle for them just going down. Period." Then, in a lighter tone, he said, "Hey, the Feds caught Al Capone on tax evasion, we'll just have to get them off the street on an unrelated charge, too. They could still be executed for treason. Right?"
That did not satisfy Jack. He was tired of seeing Daniel forced to give up on something he wanted because what he wanted was not convenient for everyone else. Daniel may have not truly desired revenge, but he definitely wanted justice for the 51 people who didn't come back. Jack had been witness to a few bouts of survivor's guilt Daniel had already suffered through. Well, he'd gone through that a few times himself, and time doesn't erase everything. Seeing that Daniel was not going to argue the rights and wrongs of life itself and the fairness of the universe in general, Jack sighed. "All right. We'll get them for illegal gadget trafficking." That hurt to say.
"Colonel?" Sam didn't have to ask the question.
"Alive, Carter. No zatting or shooting. No matter how appealing that sounds or how badly they deserve it. So how are we looking on security right now?"
The General took the advantage of the change in subject. "Better than we were. Since Vaelen's death, I've been doing some clandestine research. What I've found out is disturbing."
"And that would be..." O'Neill ventured.
"We know that there were more people involved in the conspiracy than just the 52 replacements the Pentagon sent in and the ones we rounded up afterwards. I've been going through all of the personnel records of everyone here at the base, most specifically anyone who has been transferred here within the last year." He brought out two folders and gave them to O'Neill. "I've had Major Carter pull a complete background check on these people as I've found them, and I've been making sure that they're not in a position to do any more harm." His look told the team not to ask about the details. He'd tell them what he could. "I think we're narrowing the field down somewhat, but that's just going to make finding whoever's left a good deal harder to locate. It took me a while to find these latest two. Major?"
Sam took her cue. "These people have worked for Darby in the past or had their transfers initiated from the Pentagon by other people under Thayer's command. There was an almost invisible paper trail the General and I had to follow. I'm was still working on leads for these two yesterday when I found the connection."
"One of the nurses?" O'Neill asked her as he opened the first folder.
"She was brought in here about three months ago on the recommendation of Colonel Thackery, SG-10's team leader. There's no direct link between her and Darby, but her transfer papers were signed by a Colonel Patterson who is under the command of Colonel Billings at the Pentagon. Billings' commanding officer is General Malcolm Thayer. All three have served together for quite a few years. And if that wasn't enough, I've heard a few rumors about her treatment of patients. I don't think it would shock anyone to know that her bedside manner leaves a little to be desired especially when she's taking care of a civilian."
"Surprise, surprise," Jack muttered. "From what I've heard, Thackery treats civilians like they have the plague. I'd say he's one of Thayer's moles if he's recommending someone who was sent in here by one of his grunts. If she's anything like him.....what do we do about her? We can't tip our hand too soon or we'll drive Darby and Thayer to ground."
"I've taken care of her by removing her like I've been able to do with some of the other unfriendlies that I've found," General Hammond said. "There's been a sudden need for extra personnel at the hospital. Since this individual have the least seniority, she were sent there. For the moment, she's out of our way. As far as Thackery goes, we've found no proof of any collusion on his part. We are still looking."
Daniel had been glancing at the folders as Jack leafed through them. "Maintenance personnel?"
"We've found one, so far," Sam answered. "That doesn't mean that there aren't more."
"And where is he now?" Daniel asked the General.
"He's been asked to help rewire all of the wiring on level one. It seems that a power surge hit one of the main lines and melted the connectors. I hear that the job could take a while."
"A power surge, sir?" a skeptical O'Neill asked him. "Aren't our systems protected from those?"
Sam answered. "It was a massive one, Colonel. No one knows how it happened."
Jack nodded his head. He saw the shifty look in his second-in-command's eyes. No one knew. Right. If a power surge doesn't fall from the sky, get a theoretical astrophysicist to create one. Nifty. "That's two of them. What else have you found out?"
"One of my sources has just confirmed that someone very high up at the Pentagon has been inquiring about the location of the replacement personnel and their friends."
"I hope they have a good long distance service," Jack commented. "What's the cheapest rate these days? Ten cents for the first twenty light years, five cents for every light year after that?"
"Only if you call after 5:00 p.m. and on the weekends," Daniel told him. "General, how certain are we that we're the only ones on Earth who know where they are?"
"Well, Doctor Jackson, I wish I could tell you with absolute certainty that the five of us and Lieutenant Harriman were the only ones, but after everything that's happened, I just can't be sure anymore. We didn't make a secret of Kasuf taking Roberts, but we did try to maintain secrecy with the others. I've had security tightened, but undoubtedly Thayer still has people here loyal to him. He's still getting information. We may have made things more difficult for the conspirators, but not impossible."
"Roberts is on Abydos, the Tok'ra are keeping the others temporarily," Sam said quickly. "They can't send Darby and Thayer any information."
"No," Daniel agreed with her, "but Darby and Thayer still have that homemade Stargate tucked away somewhere. If they find out where their people are, they might be able to gate there--even if they have to make several connections along the way--and pick them up. The Tok'ra can take care of themselves, but I don't want Kasuf or the other Abydonians in any danger if Thayer is able to get someone to Abydos."
"If he does, we'll be able to capture anyone he sends. Kasuf promised me that he would have the gate guarded 36 hours a day," Hammond told them. "Jacob has sent six Tok'ra to help out. They'll stay on Abydos until we catch all of the conspirators." He knew that this did little to reassure Daniel of the safety of his father-in-law and his people. "Daniel, even you and Kasuf agreed that keeping one of the conspirators on Abydos was a good idea if it meant a possible rescue attempt by Thayer. It could be a way to track him."
Daniel nodded his head. "I agreed to it. I still don't like it. I wish we could have put an SG team there instead of the Tok'ra. I don't think they're concerned about protecting the same things we are."
Jack would have laughed had the situation not been as distasteful as he found it. "No, but think of it as sweet revenge on them. How many times have we been the butt of some intergalactic joke where the Tok'ra were the only ones who knew the punch line? There, they get to experience hot, sunny days and cold, teeth-chattering nights while enjoying the finest cuisine of mastage meat in vernala sauce. They can join in the local pastime of grinding their own yafetta flour. They can learn about the local customs like sand skiing behind rampaging mastages, a sport made popular by their once-resident archaeologist. It's not just an assignment, it's an adventure." Jack didn't return Daniel's almost withering glare. Instead, he threw the folders back on the General's desk. As Hammond took up the folders and returned them to his desk drawer, Jack added, "All I'm saying is that it's a good thing the Tok'ra like hot, dry desert air. This could take a while. We still don't know much more than we did when this whole mess started."
"That's why we're being careful, Colonel," Hammond explained again. He knew the frustration his best team was feeling. He felt it himself. Something was about to happen, no one knew what, but they could all feel it coming. "Remember, Thayer is Air Force, but Darby is NID. If we don't play this scam exactly, they'll come after Doctor Jackson again before we can stop them. You know as well as I do that they'd want Vaelen's memories if they knew how available they were."
"Which they probably already know. That's not really something we've tried to keep secret. With all due respect, General, I still say this whole thing stinks," Jack complained. "I hated all this sneaking around when I was with Covert Ops, and I can tell you, it hasn't gotten any better. I say we go for the good, old-fashioned frontal attack."
Colonels! "Sir," Carter interjected, "as much as I wish we could do that, that won't root out all of the conspirators."
"Maybe we shouldn't try," Daniel suggested.
"Say what?" Jack asked. "You're agreeing with me?"
Daniel shrugged his shoulders, a silent way of saying, 'Yeah, sometimes it happens.' "I know there's no way we're going to catch everybody. Too many of them are too well hidden. General, the more time we spend trying to find their people gives Thayer and Darby more time to plan whatever they're going to do next. It'll be bad, whatever it is. Jack's right. We're sneaking. We need to be taking the offensive for a change."
"Conflicting Vaelenism?" Sam asked him.
"Big one," Daniel answered.
A conflicting Vaelenism. That was the term Sam had started using when Vaelen's memories came forward and conflicted with the military mindset surrounding his former host. With all of that experience tucked away in his mind, Daniel had an even greater wealth of information to draw from, no matter what the situation.
"What do you have in mind, Doctor Jackson?" Even the General had learned to listen to the conflicting Vaelenisms.
"They probably think they're safe for the moment. No one's come after them, and they're still alive. They'll be making plans. Thayer will be, anyway. Darby's just not the type to come up with any coherent ideas."
That was the closest Daniel had ever come to actually calling someone stupid. Daniel never called anyone stupid. That was the Kha'ti's influence being felt again. Jack had learned the hard way that Vaelen, although polite and well-mannered, could be as vocally blunt as himself when the situation warranted it, just not as often. He even taught Jack a few new words. It was interesting to note Vaelen's vocally blunt style tempered with Daniel's reserve.
"Darby did a reasonably good job getting rid of all of you," Hammond told him.
"General, how bright is it to kill 52 people at the same time, in the same place, and send them through a homemade Stargate being stored in an unsecured room at Area 51? And then to have those 52 people murdered by the agents who took their places? Roberts said that Thayer gave Darby the order to get rid of the civilians, he just didn't tell him how to do it. Darby chose the method. The fact that we were all gone at the same time should have sent off warning bells that could have been heard all the way over in Fiji. Darby should have known that conspiracies work best when only a few people are involved. He had an army of over 70 people here. That we know of, that is. Darby's brain just doesn't fire on all cylinders, sir. All he does is follow orders. It's Thayer we have to worry about, and he won't be the easiest to hunt. He's too good at this game."
Sometimes, lately, Hammond felt that he was listening to Colonel O'Neill when Doctor Jackson was speaking. He had to keep reminding himself that Daniel was still assessing the damage done to his psyche by events of the past year. Colonel O'Neill had shared some of the more amusing anecdotes of Vaelen's sarcastic but rarely heard sense of humor and cynicism displayed when they were trying to resurrect Daniel's memories. Evidently, Doctor Jackson was tapping into those deeply buried aspects of the symbiotes personality and didn't know it. Amusing as it could be, Hammond did not always know what to expect from the younger man. "What do you mean?"
"I've only met the man once," he glanced over at the Colonel, "and no, Jack, I still can't tell you anything about that because I was ordered not to by someone the General would call 'sir,' but it seems to me that a lot of people thinks he's a military wizard. General, you said yourself that you've read a lot of reports concerning him, and even you think he's brilliant."
"He is. He's initiated new standard operating procedures that have revolutionized modern warfare. Some of his tactics are ingenious." Hammond had to admire the man regardless of his heinous attempts to kill one of the best people he had ever known.
"Exactly. He's the mastermind behind everything. He devises the plans, Darby carries them out. Every bit of paperwork we've found has someone else's name on it. We haven't found a scrap of paper yet that has Thayer's signature, have we?"
Hammond immediately saw where this was going. "No. It's always one of the colonels under his command."
"See? Thayer can fall under the plausible deniability defense. We can't touch him. We can only target the colonels working for him, and they won't roll on him. We've been so focused on getting his people together and out of the SGC, we've ignored him."
"And in ignoring him, we've given him a chance to create new inroads into his own network." Sam stated. "He's probably so entrenched behind red tape and paperwork we'll never be able to reach him."
Hammond knew he had been right. Being a general was not fun sometimes. Seeing a silent consensus had been reached by the team, he asked, "So what do the four of you suggest?"
Teal'c answered first. "General Thayer has found anonymity and a sanctuary in his position. We will not be able to attack him while he is safely hidden within his own territory."
Sam added, "We have to force his hand so he'll be exposed and vulnerable. The problem is getting him to act. He must know that we're on to him and will have shut down his operation temporarily. We have to force him to use his Stargate as soon as the sonic resonator is built."
"The problem is that Thayer's not the type to panic. He'll have back-up plans for his back-up plans," Daniel muttered. "We've got to scare him so he doesn't have time to think. Somehow."
"That's easier said than done," Jack answered him. "It'll take time just to figure out what would scare him."
"I agree," General Hammond commented. It was still too early in the morning to think this much about counteracting conspiracies without a major intake of caffeine. "Our best option may be to exploit his greatest fear. I'll look into that. Major, I'd like you to continue researching the personnel records and find anyone else that may have slipped through our net. I want as few of his people on my base as possible." He gazed at his first team for a moment. They seemed to have rediscovered that mysterious rhythm that merged them into the best unit under his command. Still, there was the specter of the symbiote shadowed in their eyes, the ever-present reminder of how fragile and strong their intertwined lives were. "As for this weekend, I am issuing all four of you an order to stay away from this base. You have a mission on Monday, and I don't want any one of you back here until then." He waited for the protests to start.
"General," Major Carter objected, "I need to work on the sonic resonator. We may not have a great deal of time before Thayer makes a move."
"Indeed," Teal'c agreed with her. "With our assistance, Major Carter could complete her task more quickly."
When Daniel didn't speak, Hammond knew something was up. "Doctor Jackson? Do you have any objections?"
"No, sir," was his answer. "I'm taking you up on the offer. I've already made plans for this weekend." Then, for Jack's benefit, he added, "That do not include hang-gliding."
"You don't know what you're missing," Jack said quickly.
"And I intend to keep it that way," Daniel told him. "Sometimes ignorance is the way to go."
The General smiled. He couldn't help it. "Good. Like I said, Major, you all have the weekend off. That means that at 1700 hours today, I can assume that I won't see any of you here. In the meantime, have a good day." And he dismissed them.
As they were filing out of the room, Hammond heard Jack ask, "Okay, no hang-gliding. Have you ever tried parasailing?"
Hammond did not have to hear the rest of the conversation to know how Jackson would answer that question.
Eight weeks after the Dervan attack, Monday morning, SGC time: P9X743
Doctor Erin O'Malley, double PhD holder, former nominee for the Nobel Prize, archaeologist/anthropologist/linguist extraordinaire, stood in the midst of the massive ruins standing a few yards from the Stargate on P9X743. Even from the MALP's pictures, the site was an archaeologist's dream. The Stargate was positioned on a huge pedestal at the center of the ruins. Lying scattered and broken around the Stargate were the remains of mighty obelisks, their colossal size not diminished although they lay in pieces around the area. Ancient stone structures, houses and temples encircled the Stargate pedestal. Pottery and rotted furniture could be seen through the doorways of some of the buildings. The most impressive ruin was the remains of what might have been some sort of arena eclipsing the horizon. Erin would be able to make a better estimate when she got a closer look at the remains. A lifetime wouldn't be enough time to study what the inhabitants had left behind, and she would probably only have a few hours.
Luckily, she did not have any military personnel bothering her or getting in her way this morning. Colonel Thackery had taken all of his personnel to scout the area and left Doctor O'Malley on her own. Thackery was like a few of the officers she had encountered since joining the SGC. He had no use for civilians or scientists, and he had argued against ever having one on his team. He had reluctantly followed orders only after General Hammond had put his foot down. Hammond wanted civilian scientists on the teams, he was going to have civilian scientists on the teams, and any commanding officer who didn't like it didn't have to command an SG team. So, there Erin was, on the mission but she was all by herself on an alien planet and actually getting some work accomplished. When General Hammond discovered that a civilian had been left unprotected in an unknown and possibly hostile environment, he would place Thackery on KP duty for a year.
She had been more than a little surprised when she learned that General Hammond had come down so hard on the military personnel at the Cheyenne base after the debacle involving the murders of the civilians working at the SGC. She had never considered that an Air Force General would have taken the attack so personally. Of course, at the time she was unaware that the General considered Daniel Jackson as a close friend. It was evident that he had been appalled by the series of events and was going to make sure that anything like that did not happen again without a trip to hell being the payoff. 52 dead scientists, 52 military replacements, and every one of those replacements had been involved in the plot to 'remove' the scientists. It had happened Hammond's watch. This would never happen again. To prove his point, Hammond informed every person at the SGC that not only would more civilians be stationed at the base, but more would be assigned as permanent members of the SG teams. No argument. He was determined to do everything in his power to make things right even though his efforts would not help those who were killed.
Only a few of the officers grumbled at the command. Many of them had no problems accepting and following Hammond's orders. They were accustomed to the civilians being a part of the normal routine at the base. Many of the commanders were begging for certain scientists to be on their teams even if they were already assigned; Erin O'Malley and Joel Frederickson were chief among the civilians being bargained for. O'Neill would not let the subject of Daniel Jackson enter into the discussions. He was SG-1's linguist, and that's all there was to it. Colonel Jason Thackery was one of the most vocal opponents to the idea, although he tended not to be very vocal around superior officers anymore after an argument about the nuisances of keeping civilians around nearly had him getting up close and personal with Jack O'Neill's fist.
Erin had felt the animosity flowing from Thackery since she joined SG-10. She had tried to follow orders like a "good little soldier," but she always seemed to be in the wrong or in trouble. She knew that Thackery had complained against her presence on the team, but apparently General Hammond had heard all he was going to in the matter. As Hammond had told her when she had voiced her concerns, she had come highly recommended by one Doctor Daniel Jackson, the ranking civilian at the base. Her work had proven to be superb, and she was extraordinarily easy to work with. Hammond wanted more people like her out there, and no matter what the costs, he was going to have them.
Daniel Jackson. If he had not been one of her closest friends since childhood, she would have turned down the offer to work at the base. Erin did not particularly care for the military, but she had been experiencing some bad luck professionally and financially and needed the money. Daniel's offer had come at just the right time. She had resisted the idea at first, but when he told her that their friend Joel Frederickson had recently joined them at the base, Erin readily agreed. The three of them together again might make the military atmosphere more bearable. Maybe that was the way lifelong friendships worked. Their companionship had always helped them cope with the foster homes they were placed into when they were children. Anyway, she couldn't complain too much. She walked into the job with her eyes open. Daniel had told her before she started to work there about the murders and that some of the people still did not like having civilians at the base. She could easily find herself involved in a situation she would rather not be in. She was just glad that she had not been there when the truth about the massacre came to light. She did not believe that she could have dealt well with Daniel's death.
Now, here she was some weeks after taking the assignment, alone on an alien planet with a group of people who were indifferent to her safety. She might not have cared for some of the people, but she loved her job. She just wished she could have been assigned to a team that worked together as well as SG-1. Daniel was lucky. Well, he needed some good luck. His life had not been a lot of fun lately.
She was reloading her camera to take more pictures of the area when Thackery and the rest of SG-10 came back. Erin saw that they were not running or shooting, so obviously there was nothing chasing them.
"Pack it up, Doctor," Thackery ordered her. "We're leaving. Tompkins, get the Gate."
Erin watched as the soldiers took their positions. "So soon? We only arrived twenty minutes ago," she said as she scooped up her pack and stuffed the camera inside. She never really argued with Thackery, it didn't do any good, but she did want to know why he gave an order sometimes.
"Twenty minutes is long enough, O'Malley. We're going. No arguments. Get moving."
The wormhole engaged, and SG-10 headed for Earth.
Monday afternoon, SGC
Erin waited the rest of the morning and most of the afternoon for Colonel Thackery to finish his mission debriefing with General Hammond. Since the Colonel felt that her contribution was not needed, Erin no longer attended the debriefings. She wrote a report on what she observed and studied about the planets they visited and delivered the reports to General Hammond. The General had promised that he would try to 'adjust' the Colonel's method of operations, but he did appreciate that Erin was trying to avoid causing any friction on the team when they were off-world or any dissension when they were on Earth. He only asked her to please be patient and try to keep any confrontations to a minimum. He knew that the Colonel could be difficult, but he was a good soldier. That was easy for the General to say. He didn't have to work with Thackery on a daily basis and had no idea how difficult the man could be. She knew that she couldn't enlighten the General, but she hoped someone would. She also knew that the request she was going to ask of Colonel Thackery was probably going to create a confrontation that would cause a lot of friction and dissension.
She decided that the debriefing was going to take longer than usual, but she didn't know why. The planet had nothing to offer anyone except archaeologists. There were no Goa'ulds, no inhabitants around the Gate, nothing but ruins. The meeting was taking several hours longer than necessary. Maybe the General was adjusting the Colonel's method of operations. She could only hope.
Erin made her way toward Daniel Jackson's office. There, she could find a sympathetic ear and a hot cup of coffee. Funny, but their relationship had not changed dynamics much since they were children in the first foster home they had shared together. He would always listen, always help, always try to protect, yet there was a distance between them now, a masking of certain things caused by time and events. Given everything that had happened to him, it was natural that he would gravitate toward the other members of SG-1. He needed them as much as they needed him. Talk about symbiotic relationships! It was too bad that there were not more people in the world like him, but could the world stand more than one Daniel Jackson? If there were more than one, Colonel O'Neill's hair would not only have turned completely gray, but would have probably fallen out by now worrying over more than one errant archaeologist.
She saw that his door was open, and there was movement inside. Daniel was there, but before she entered his office, she saw Colonel Thackery walking down the corridor.
"Colonel," she called to him. She saw out of the corner of her eye Daniel looking up at her as she rushed past his door.
"Yes, Doctor?" Thackery turned to her and crossed his arms. His very stance showed that talking to her was not high on his Things To Do list.
"The ruins on P9X743. When will we be sending a team back to study them?"
"We're not. They're just ruins, Doctor. No one's interested in studying them." Thackery turned to leave, but Erin grabbed his arm and pulled him back.
"Colonel, the ruins there are unlike anything anyone in the SGC has ever seen. The writing on the obelisks looks more alien than a variation of any script we have on Earth. I only saw them for twenty minutes, and I've looked over the pictures I took, but I'm certain that the language didn't originate here. Some of the evidence I saw suggests that the site wasn't just abandoned. The people left in a hurry. The structures show signs of damage indicative of laser weapons. If we could learn more about what happened to the people--"
"Doctor," the Colonel said tiredly, "the people who lived there are dead, and no one here cares how they died."
"On the contrary, Colonel, it's what we've learned from ruins that even allows us to use the Stargate as effectively as we do. We've learned as much about the Goa'uld from the records of the people they've tormented as we have in nose-to-nose confrontations with the snakeheads." Erin waited for a moment, the Colonel had to see sense in what she was asking.
"Doctor," his voice spoke with a hint of snide sarcasm, "if you want to go to P9X743, you can go to P9X743. If anyone's crazy enough to go with you, you can even lead an archaeological team there if you want to. Now, we've got some leave time coming, and I don't plan on coming back until Thursday morning. I don't want to hear anything more about missions until then and neither will any of my team. In fact, don't look for anyone to be back here until Thursday morning at starting time. Got it?"
"Got it." Erin watched him leave, a little confused, wondering why everything had to be a battle. She turned back toward Daniel's office.
"You heard?" she asked him as she took the cup of coffee he handed her and sat down across from Daniel as he finished packing a few things into his backpack. She knew he was trying to escape before anyone could stop him with a new project.
"I heard. I saw the pictures you took. Impressive."
"I hate to ask this, but did you get a chance to study at the script?"
Daniel shoved a few more indistinguishable items into the side pocket of the pack and zipped it closed. "Yes. I think you're right--that it might be alien. It'll probably take a while to translate it."
"Well, since I have to get a team together, you could always cancel your trip and come along," Erin teased him. She glanced over the top of her coffee cup as her friend gave her a dirty look.
"No way. I'm going home for a couple of days. Skaara's coming home, too. Besides, if we miss any more celebrations, Kasuf's going to have our hides. He ripped both of us new livers last time we saw him. He'd like to see his sons occasionally, and he made Hammond and Jacob Carter promise not to stop us from showing up for this festival. It's a 'let's-celebrate-a-good-harvest' festival. Those are a lot of fun, and I think Kasuf told Hammond that I needed this after the year I've had. I think he's one of the few people the General won't argue with."
"Your father-in-law seems to know how to persuade people, even generals. Look, no one can blame you for wanting to get away for a few days. SG-1 has had some interesting missions lately." Erin sipped at her coffee again, then asked, "It wouldn't have anything to do with some hovering team members, would it?" Everyone had noticed how the other members of SG-1 had kept an eye on Daniel since his last death and especially on missions. He had a shadow practically from the time he woke up until the time he went to bed. SG-1 always had to know where he was. She couldn't blame them, though. Daniel was too important to lose, and everyone knew it. She sensed, she did not know for sure, but she believed that they were watching over him because of some local threat and not just out of fear.
"Hovering? Helicopters hover. Birds hover. Bees hover. This is an entirely new extreme. Jack earned the title of mother-hen-from-hell, but now Sam and Teal'c are vying for the same role." He poured himself a cup of coffee and sat down with her, his packing finished. "And it's not that I really mind it. It's just that I've had to get used to it, and I still haven't gotten used to it. I mean, you remember what we lived through when we were growing up with the foster parents, orphanages, and social workers. Neither one of us ever felt like anybody cared. We got so used to being on our own that we both learned how to deal with things better when we knew nobody cared about us." Both were quiet for a moment, their memories not the best to reminisce over. "Now, I've got these friends who are as close to me as any family could be, they're all watching me like hawks--like I'm going to disappear, and they are about to drive me crazy."
"They lost you, and it hurt. They don't want to lose you again," she told him. "They care."
"And you love every minute of it." Erin finished for him.
"I appreciate every minute of it." He knew Erin wasn't going to believe that. "Okay, I'll admit it. It's nice to know that someone cares if I live, die, grow, shrink, or explode from spontaneous human combustion. I like knowing that there are people out there who'd risk their own lives to save mine. It's a good thing to have people watching out for me, but I need a break. Do you have any idea what I had to promise Jack just so I could get three days off to go to Abydos by myself?"
"He made you swear that you'd call home every day?"
"He was trying for every 12 hours. I told him if I did that I'd be spending all of my time walking from my house to the Gate and back. I did agree to call every morning. Every Abydonian morning, that is. We have 36-hour days back home. He just worries too much."
"And you wouldn't wish it any other way." Erin grinned.
"No, I wouldn't, but you didn't come here to talk about my trip home. You want to talk about this little excavation you talked Thackery into."
"Okay. You got me. I was wanting to get your help talking Thackery into an archaeological dig since he has a bad habit of not listening to me, but since he's letting us go, I was wondering if you'd do something else for me."
Daniel saw that glint in her eye that meant she was up to something that the higher-ups might not give her permission to do otherwise. "What?"
"I was wondering if you'd stop by P9X743 on your way home from Abydos on Thursday and pick up the pictures and videos I'm going to take. Maybe you could start working on a translation for me..."
"And give you an idea where the best places to dig might be so you don't waste any time digging in unproductive areas thereby increasing your chances of a successful haul before Thackery pulls the plug on you? And given my history of getting into trouble, General Hammond and Jack might be a little reluctant to let me visit if we asked them beforehand?" He had to laugh when Erin almost jumped out of her seat with glee. "No problem. I'll have to let Jack know I'll be dropping in on your dig or he'll go ballistic. I've seen him do that before. It's not a pretty sight."
"Don't you think your commanding mother-hen will stop you from going if you just tell him?"
"Maybe I could just leave him a note." Daniel and Erin grinned conspiratorially. Just like old times. Almost.
Erin glanced around the room. It was a much larger office than the one Daniel had been issued before his death. His possessions had found a new home in the newly installed shelves that Colonel O'Neill had ordered before presenting the room to Daniel. At least O'Neill had no arguments against civilians being on the base, and he would argue keeping one civilian in particular no matter what. Erin had heard tales that things were difficult for her friend after Vaelen had died even though O'Neill had gone to extraordinary lengths to help Daniel reestablish his life both on and off base. Some rumors held that his ability to continue working with SG-1 had been questioned by the Pentagon, but no one believed it. SG-1 would have moved mountains to keep Daniel on the team. This office was just one of the small bits of evidence proving how much SG-1were involved with each other's lives. Erin turned serious for a moment. "How are things with you these days? You seem almost fine to me, but you're right when you say that your team keeps watching you like they expect you to blow up any minute. There's no chance of that, is there?"
That question hit too close to the heart of the matter for him. Erin noticed his fidgeting right away. Daniel never fidgeted.
"Almost fine?" he asked her.
"I'd be lying if I said there weren't any differences. You've changed a little bit."
"Oh, yeah. I've changed. In some ways, I'm a lot better. My allergies are gone. I'm stronger. My physical stamina has improved. If we're being chased by Goa'ulds, I don't have any trouble keeping up with the others. Janet says that I've got a very unusual protein marker in my system that's not the same as Sam's, so I have no doubt that will have its own set of problems. I have noticed that my eyesight is getting a little blurry again. I don't know why that's happening." Daniel took a deep breath. Discussing this was hard with anyone except Jack, Sam or Teal'c, but Erin was one of the few people he knew he could trust. Really trust. He fought the inclination to keep quiet. It wasn't easy.
"It was confusing after Vaelen died. At first, I thought I was fine, then after a few days, some strange things started happening to me. I mean my experience was nothing like Sam's after Jolinar died. For a few days, I didn't do much more than sleep and eat and try to look through paperwork. Fraiser called it delayed exhaustion and told me that it would pass soon enough. Then I went for a while where I couldn't sleep at all. After that, I could sleep but the nightmares started. I had a hard time separating Vaelen's memories from mine. Once, I was having a conversation with Sam discussing the possible atmospheric conditions of a planet from the pictures a MALP sent back, and suddenly I'm was telling her about the time I was there with Tae'nor fighting the Goa'uld in a vicious thunderstorm. We had zat guns and taggers; they had death gliders and staff weapons. We were outnumbered about 15 to 1. I was five minutes into the tale when I suddenly realized that I was quoting Vaelen's life, chapter and verse, like it was my own. Sam knew what I was doing, but she didn't say anything about it. None of them ever did when I got like that. When I still get like that. They've accepted it as normal for me since I've got Vaelen's memories. He was a General, you know. He left me those memories, too. I can argue with Jack about military strategy and actually know what I'm talking about and convince him I'm right. Teal'c and I have been discussing Goa'uld military history like we were the ones that wrote the book. It's been...confusing."
"But you're better now?" she asked him. Of course he was. He had hired her.
"Yes. I think I had....too much bottled up inside me. Jack and I had a few too many beers one night about two weeks after I came back, and he said I got talkative. I remember the first part of the conversation. I was too drunk to remember the last part of it. After I sobered up, I seemed to be handling things better. I must have dealt with whatever it was that was bothering me. Jack won't tell me what I said. He said it's for my own good because look at the results. The memories are there, but I can distinguish between Vaelen's and mine a little better that I was able to for a while. I know who did what and why. I go off on my own wild tangents now, not just Vaelen's. It's made writing down the Kha'ti history a lot easier if I can see it more academically instead of personally. I seem to be more 'me' these days and less 'Vaelen' than I was a month ago, so things have gone more smoothly than I would have thought." Then, he added, "But there's still a lot of Vaelen in me. Sometimes I don't know where I end and he begins."
"How much have you written about the Kha'ti?"
Daniel looked over his shoulder at a separate computer that had been moved into his office. "That computer holds a 20 gig hard drive. I've filled up about a quarter of it, and I'm not anywhere near being finished. They had a very rich history."
"And their military?" she asked him innocently.
"Extensive. I write it down, Jack looks it over. He's actually gotten good at proofreading those reports and rewording parts of them into military language. I know it, I understand it, but it's damn hard to deal with sometimes. Vaelen lived a soldier's life. He gave me all of that, too."
"And O'Neill still worries about you?"
"He's going to worry until I really am dead, and even then he'll wonder if I'm okay."
They were interrupted by the ringing telephone.
"Jackson....yes, Lieutenant....I'm on my way.....be there in 5 minutes." He placed the phone back on its cradle and picked up his pack. "That's my cue. I've got to go, and I'll see you on Thursday."
"Right. I've got to get the team together. I'm going to take Joel. He'll enjoy this one. Colonel Dryer won't let SG-12 ever stay any place long enough for Joel to do any studies. He said that lately he's just a fifth wheel that takes up space. I guess I know how that feels."
Daniel paused at the doorway and turned back to Erin, whispering. "Look, you know what's going on here between the civilians and some of the officers. It's not everybody that's against us. The best thing you can do is watch your back and keep your mouth shut about everything."
"You gave me that advice when I first came here," she whispered back to him.
"That advice still holds. If you see or hear anything strange or if anything starts setting off your alarms, tell Jack or Hammond. Got it?"
"Got it. Just promise me one thing," she said.
"Tell me exactly what's going on here one day? You know, the part that SG-1's been keeping secret?"
How did she know? Oh, well. "I've got to go." With that said, Daniel turned and left.
Erin could only wonder what her friend was not able to tell her.
Daniel ran into the gate room just as the second chevron was encoding in place. Naturally, just as he knew they would be, his mother-hen committee was there to see him off.
"Do you still believe that traveling to Abydos alone is a wise decision, Daniel Jackson?" Teal'c asked him. He had not forgiven himself for not being there when Daniel was shot. After all of the pain Teal'c's actions had visited upon the younger man, this one lapse haunted him more than the others. Now Daniel was to be off-world for three days without the rest of SG-1. Teal'c's protective instincts were on red alert. There was no guarantee that Daniel wouldn't be followed by those who had killed him.
"Yes, Teal'c. I think it's a good idea. For one thing, I promised Kasuf I'd be there, and I'm not breaking any more promises to him. I've broken too many as it is. And second, it's not a good idea for the Elder's sons to always arrive with a tagalong. Even Skaara has managed to talk Jacob into staying behind. We're just going home. Don't worry."
Jack placed two zat guns in Daniel's pack as well as stuff another clip for his 9 millimeter in with it. "What? Us? Worry? What would ever give you that idea?"
"Oh, I don't know," Daniel told him. "Could it be because you keep handing me weapons?"
"No. Has nothing to do with it. We're just protecting our investment."
"Expect us to worry, Daniel," Sam told him. "You have a tendency to run into trouble."
"Maybe, but have you ever noticed I only run into trouble when one of you military types is with me? I hardly get into trouble when I'm by myself. I mean, I've never been mugged at the gas station."
Jack wasn't going to let that challenge go unanswered. "You don't called getting shot and killed with 51 other people trouble?"
"That doesn't count. I was with a bunch of you military types at the time. Who knew?" That stopped Jack from his expected retort.
The fifth chevron was encoded. Daniel remembered his promise to Erin. "Jack, I'm going to be stopping by Erin's dig on the way home on Thursday. She wants me to pick up some photos from her so I can start work on a translation." The sixth chevron encoded.
"Now wait a minute. I put our deal about you going off by yourself in writing. Stop-offs are definitely not anywhere on the page."
"You didn't read the fine print," Daniel said smugly with a mischievous grin on his face.
It was too late for Jack to do anything now. Since Vaelen, Daniel had been a lot more fun to argue with even if Jack lost a lot more arguments. That didn't matter. He'd lose every argument if that meant he could still have Daniel around. Besides, he was a grown man, non-military and could make his own decisions even if those decisions royally pissed off his commanding officer--like making a last minute stop-over at another SG team's location without permission beforehand.
The seventh chevron locked, and the wormhole engaged. Daniel took off up the ramp, ignoring Sam's laughing and Jack's protest on his change in his itinerary. Just before he went through the gate, he turned back and yelled up at the control room.
The lieutenant spoke into the microphone. "Yes, sir?"
"Put me down for five dollars."
"Five dollars in the will-he-or-won't-he-get-hurt betting pool. Put me down for 'just before he goes through the Stargate on his way home'." And he stepped through the wormhole toward Abydos.
The remaining members of SG-1 heard the snickering of the other people in the gate room. "He knew," Jack muttered to himself, although everyone in the room could hear him. "The little bugger knew."
Tuesday morning, SGC
Jack threw another folder into his "OUT" box and stopped himself from looking at his watch. Again. There were hours left before Daniel had to check in with him. Quit worrying, he kept telling himself. He'll be fine. Right. Daniel could find a way to turn a paper cut into a trip to the emergency room. Jack knew what was worrying him. For the first time in two months, Daniel was not in a place where the rest of the team could back him up in case of an emergency, and Jack just knew that trouble was heading their way. That was the way their luck ran.
So what was he going to do?
The General had given them all a few days down time, and given the stress levels of their recent missions, Hammond had ordered them to relax. However, he also mentioned, down time was a good time to catch up on overdue paperwork.
Hint, hint, Jack. George could be as subtle as a brick falling on your big toe.
The backlog of paperwork was not entirely his fault. Their last few missions had been nerve-wracking, time-consuming, Goa'uld-escaping marathons. The mission they had returned from on Saturday had been a five-day-long diplomatic nightmare. Daniel's negotiating skills had been put past the test and threaded through the wringer. They had been captured by the locals who thought that SG-1 were demons come to capture their souls. Daniel, being Daniel, talked their way out of another situation that could have easily turned into a bloodbath. For days, he spoke with the leaders, tried to get them to understand that SG-1 were peaceful visitors. For days, he explained over and over again their purpose, and, in typical Daniel fashion, he had done all of this negotiating with a slight concussion. After he had finally convinced the chieftains that SG-1 was not a threat, they had been given a feast in their honor. Jack had to admit that their hosts even outdid the Abydonians when it came to throwing a party. Even though the rest of the team got to enjoy themselves, Daniel had suffered through some sleepless nights and exhausting hours working to ensure the agreement between the two worlds was satisfactory. Sam told Jack that, in the end, the work was worth it. The trade negotiations had borne a fruit (Jack swore it was a silly fruit) that would produce many positive ramifications. The locals would trade many of their medicinal plants for (Jack still couldn't believe this) clothes. The natives went nuts over fatigues! Five days to exchange baggies for beans! By the time they had returned to the SGC, Daniel was mentally and physically exhausted. He needed a couple of days off desperately, and O'Neill had promptly asked the General for a few days downtime that just happened to coincide with that festival on Abydos.
So there sat Colonel Jack O'Neill, savior of planet Earth, friend of the Asgaard, team leader of SG-1, chief SGC cynic, doing paperwork and wondering if his friend was going to remember to call. That thought brought back some bad memories. Don't go there, O'Neill. This time, he WILL call because he's NOT dead.
He glanced over at the coffee pot, thinking that now would be a good time to replenish his caffeine level, when he saw a folder lying there. More work? He decided that he definitely needed the caffeine and promptly headed for the coffee pot. Once his brain got a jolt of energy, he picked up the folder. He saw instantly that it wasn't anything he had to sign, fill out or forward to anyone. It was from Daniel. The first page was covered with his friend's strong handwriting.
Jack, you wanted to know more about the third battle Vaelen fought against Heru'ur a few thousand years ago. I finally had enough time to write down a rough outline. I'll tell you more about it when I get back.
Outline? Daniel's idea of an outline would probably be someone else's idea of a dissertation. Forty pages did not an outline make. He reread Daniel's note. He finally had enough time? Oh, boy. After Vaelen's death, Daniel had devoted much of his time to writing down the Kha'ti history, but lately he had been forced to help the other linguists with the artifacts that were brought back from other worlds. Daniel had been conscripted to translate instead of transcribe just to keep up with all of the work that was coming through the Gate. The Kha'ti project was falling by the wayside. Jack recalled a recent conversation they had shared.
"Hey, Danny-boy. Let's go. We've got just enough time to grab a pizza and some beer before the game starts. You ready?"
"Uh, no, I've got to catch up on some work here. You go ahead."
"Uh, uh. No way. I've had these tickets for the last two weeks. We are definitely not missing this game. What's so important that can't wait until tomorrow?"
"I've got to work on the Kha'ti project. I've put it off for the last few days."
"Danny, you said it would take a lifetime to write it all down. Even Vaelen took breaks when we were trying to resurrect you which was a lot more important. So trust me, he wouldn't mind you catching a hockey game once in a while."
"Jack, I need--"
"Uh, uh, uh. We're going. Switch off you computer and grab your jacket or I'll haul you out of here myself."
They had gone to the game, and Jack did not let Daniel feel guilty about putting off working on his project. There had also been an ulterior motive. Daniel had already written so much about the Kha'ti that the people who were utilizing the information were experiencing overkill. There was detailed writing and then there was detailed writing. No one could ever say that Daniel Jackson was not thorough in his research.
Jack settled back and started to read the report. He had been interested in the story ever since Selmac had told him about it. Granted, SG-1 had pulled off some miraculous last minute saves and rescues, but Vaelen had destroyed four pyramid ships with ten small carrier ships. After reading the paper for an hour, Jack decided he couldn't wait for Daniel to get the full report written. This was interesting stuff!
A knock at his door took his attention away from the space battle he was reading about.
"Yeah, yeah. Come in."
Sam and Teal'c walked in and sat down.
"Don't you two have paperwork to do?" he asked them.
"We have completed our work," Teal'c told him.
"Actually, sir, we weren't that far behind," Carter explained.
"Showoffs," the Colonel muttered under his breath. "So, did you two come in here to gloat?"
"No, sir," Sam said quickly. "We were finished with our reports, and thought maybe...."
"We are concerned about Daniel Jackson, O'Neill. He is quite capable of falling into danger."
"Okay, you two. For one thing, Danny's a big boy. He can take care of himself. A lot of the time, that is. Abydos is safe enough, and there are people there who will look after him and keep him out of trouble." That last statement garnered some very suspicious looks. "All right. You think that I don't want to go after him? You think I'm not worried? Hell, it's taking everything I've got not to dial up Abydos and go check on him, but Daniel doesn't need that right now."
O'Neill realized that maybe he had said too much, but at least it was to Teal'c and Carter. They could keep it secret. "You two know that things were a little rough on Daniel after he came back. The one thing I don't think he expected, and I never even thought about, was that the trust wasn't there anymore."
"Did Daniel Jackson think he could not trust us any longer?" Teal'c asked.
"Not us, Teal'c. There were...others...here that felt that Daniel wasn't Daniel anymore, or thought he was a Goa'uld. Some folks around here treated him like he had grown an extra head. It used to be that his word alone was good enough for some people. There have been more than a few times where he's gotten me to give someone an order when before they would have granted his request. He mentioned to me once that it was like he was being treated by the SGC the same way he was treated by the archaeological community before they booted him out. And given the way we've been acting, I'm sure he thinks that we don't trust him completely either."
"The way we've been acting, sir?" Carter asked him.
"Yes, Carter. We're always checking up on him or not letting him go off on his own somewhere. We've been watching him closer than the gold at Fort Knox. I know we're all worried that the bad guys are going to snatch him, and in case you haven't noticed, we're driving him crazy. Add that to the fact that he's practically climbing the walls waiting for Thayer to make his move and you've got one very on-edge archaeologist. We know he's having a few problems, but he's dealing with things in his own way. We haven't made it any easier on him. He needs to know that SG-1 is still the same as it was before Vaelen, and letting him go to Abydos by himself is one way to do that."
"And you are not concerned that he will find trouble?" Teal'c countered.
"Concerned? I'm expecting it. Why else do you think I started the pool that Daniel was going to get hurt? It's just a matter of when, where and how badly. I think the only thing I didn't put into the pool is the how. That's just way too many things to bet on."
Elsewhere on the base...
Joel Frederickson was almost bouncing off the walls from excitement. A dig. They were going on an actual dig. An honest-to-goodness, real-life, too-good-to-be-true dig! It had been a long time since he had been on a real excavation, and he was about to burst from the news. And the site! The grounds around the Stargate on P9X743 looked more than promising. They would get to study some ancient buildings, alien script, and everyone on the team wanted a look at what Erin called The Arena. For once, the scientists were going to get to do their job.
The only drawback anyone could see was that SG-10 was the military detail going with them. It was no secret that Colonel Thackery had little to no patience with scientists or anything scientific, and the length of their stay on the planet was in question. Still, he had told Erin to get a team together, and they would go on Thursday morning. They would just have to make the best of it.
"I'll just bet you're already packed and ready to go," Erin crept up on him and startled him.
"You'd win that bet," he said. "It's not every day we get to go digging. I'm going to enjoy it."
"I wish I could have talked Daniel into joining us, but I think he needs the vacation worse than he needs an excavation."
"You know Daniel. He might just show up when you least expect it. You did say he was dropping by, didn't you?"
"Yes. He'll be there on Thursday to get pictures of the script and start translating them, but I don't think he'll be in on the dig itself. No, change that. I don't think SG-1 will let him out of their sights long enough to go on a dig. That would bore O'Neill to tears." She thought for a moment, then said, "But it would be fun if they showed up. O'Neill is a lot more fun to pester when he's bored. He's such an easy target."
"Him? Fun? I've heard stories about O'Neill that would curl your hair. I don't think 'fun' was ever mentioned."
Erin had to laugh. She knew she held the enviable position of being only one of two people at the SGC who could argue with Colonel Jack O'Neill and not be ripped apart at the seams. "He's a good guy. Granted, he probably knows over one hundred ways to kill the enemy, but he plays a mean game of poker. He's almost as good as me."
"Well, you watch your Ps and Qs around these folks. Things still look a little shaky. You think Thackery's letting us go on this dig out of the goodness of his heart? Hammond probably ripped into him for leaving you behind on P9X743, and this is his way of apologizing." Joel told her.
"He'll never apologize. Maybe he's trying to earn brownie points with the General by letting us have this dig."
"You don't trust him, do you?" Joel asked.
"No. He's out for himself. He considers me a nuisance and would not be opposed to my being taken as a host. He won't be leading SG-10 for very long if he keeps up the attitude, especially around General Hammond. Then we get to go through that wonderful adjustment period of breaking in a new C.O., and around here, there's only a few people here I would trust with my life."
"Maybe you'll get a good one this time." Joel suggested.
"If that happens, I have a feeling that Hammond will ask O'Neill to choose the team leader."
"You think O'Neill can be trusted?" Joel asked.
"Absolutely. Daniel trusts him completely, and he's made the right decision. Daniel told us both when we signed up here that we may not always know our friends, but we better be able to pick out our enemies. I think the bad guys have orders to make our lives miserable. We have to be careful and pick our allies. O'Neill is one of the better ones we've found. He's already helped fight a few of our battles for us. There's more going on here than anyone's willing to tell us, but if we've got people like O'Neill and Hammond in our corner, we might be all right."
Joel couldn't argue with her.
Tuesday morning, SGC time: before dawn, Abydos time
The little house had never seemed so lonely before.
Daniel knew that he should be sleeping, knew he should be trying to sleep, but sleep wouldn't come to him in his own bed. There were too many memories there. There were too many memories in every corner of the house. He couldn't escape them even in his dreams.
He had first awakened in the middle of the night and had missed the warmth of the other body that had once shared the bed. He had reached for Sha'uri, then, touching nothing but empty air, he remembered that she was not there anymore. She would never be there ever again. Sleep had eluded him since.
He finally decided that lying in the bed was a futile attempt at sleep, so he sat before the hearth, feeding the fire. More memories came to mind. Sha'uri laughing, Sha'uri smiling, Sha'uri in his arms--uh,uh. Don't go there, Jackson. That is not a good place for your mind to be wandering right now. Luckily, none of Vaelen's memories had disturbed him. He didn't think that he wanted to deal with them as well as his own. He had suffered even more grief than Daniel had.
He left his small house and went for a walk. Few people were milling about his neighborhood at that time of morning. He saw the lookouts posted on the walls surrounding the city, he heard mothers tending their hungry babies, he smelled yafetta bread sifting through the air from the baker's house. The neighborhood had not changed since he and Sha'uri had lived there, but he had. Too many things had happened to him in four years of traveling through the cosmos. Of course, dying had to be the biggest change he had been forced to endure, and dying several times over was definitely no picnic! Death, possession, shootings, body switches, addictions, torture, and far too many trips to Fraiser's infirmary had a way of placing their invisible mark on him. He was beginning to feel the weight life had buried over him.
He kept wandering around the streets until he came within sight of the communal mastage pens. Every family had their own stables, but not everyone could contribute the time or resources needed to rear their own mastages full time. Some families rented space in the pens by working for the stable keeper a few days a week as payment. In return, he fed and cared for their animals. A great burden was lifted from a great many people who utilized the pens when the stable keeper was given a full-time worker. His sole task in life was to care for the mastages, feed them, and clean out the pens. Oh, how the mighty have fallen, Daniel thought to himself as he watched the former Captain Hiram Roberts go about his early morning routine of bringing water from the river for the animals to drink. The look on his face was one of pure and utter misery. Then it occurred to Daniel that punishment is sometimes something that is perceived in the mind of the accused, not in the reality of the judgment. Roberts undoubtedly considered his mundane tasks to be horrendous hardships, but Daniel wondered if he realized the he was doing nothing more than what the Abydonians considered everyday chores. If nothing else, Roberts would learn how to milk a bovine-like animal. What amused him the most was the sight of one of the Tok'ra guards petting one of the mastages like the family dog, his nose crinkled up like he couldn't stand the smell. Undoubtedly, that particular aspect of Abydonian life was a little more rustic than the Tok'ra was accustomed to. How many of them ever got their hands dirty, Daniel mused.
"Dan-yer?" Skaara walked up behind his brother-in-law and saw what Daniel was looking at. "Father says that Roberts works well now. When he first came here, he was a problem. That didn't last long."
"No, that wouldn't. Not with Father around."
Skaara noticed how quiet Daniel was. Knowing how his own recovery after being possessed by Klorel had progressed, Skaara knew that Daniel was still suffering from some of the long-term effects: uncertainty, times of not knowing exactly where or who you are, feelings of helplessness, the aftermath of being kept in a dark place for a long time. These all pass with time, but since Daniel had been dead when he had been taken host, his symptoms were a little different. If Skaara had to put a description to it, he would have said that Daniel seemed uncertain of himself at times. Other times, he was a little too overconfident. He knew that everything would balance out in time. When he and Kasuf returned to Earth with Daniel to negotiate a new trade agreement with General Hammond, they would be able to see for themselves how Daniel was coping with his life at his other home. Maybe they could help him in some way.
"Are we going to stay here all day and watch Roberts or are we going to the Chappa'ai and contact O'Neill?" Skaara asked him. "The festival starts soon."
"Yeah, I know. I guess I'd better call Jack before he sends the troops out to search for me."
As the two brothers started to walk toward the city gate, Skaara made an off-the-cuff comment. "Father told me that Bi'era had invited the three of us to dine with her at the festival. He accepted, but he said that he could always change our plans if you had any objections."
"Are you two trying to play matchmaker with me and Bi'era again?" Daniel asked him. At Skaara's indifferent shrug and not well hidden smirk, he said, "She was Sha'uri's best friend when they were growing up. I was friends with Bi'era's husband. Sha'uri and I were their daughter's godparents. I don't think of her in that way. She's like family to me."
"Maybe she could be family. Her husband is dead, Sha'uri is gone, and a decent amount of time has passed for both of you to think about finding new mates."
"Whoa. Hold it. Mates? Look, Skaara, I haven't even thought about marrying again. When I think of a wife, I think of Sha'uri, no one else. I'm just not ready to consider anything like that yet." How could Daniel explain the pain in his own heart when he had trouble dealing with it himself?
"But it's fine with me if we eat with her at the festival. She is a friend of the family. And she's a good cook."
Skaara did not say anything; he just nodded his head and hid another little smile. Perhaps Daniel would change his mind. With Sha'uri, his brother had learned that the one rule he had lived by since he was a child was wrong. There was nothing worse than being alone.
Same day, Abydos, early evening
The sun dipped low in the sky as the festival began to wind down. It had been an enjoyable event. After a while, Daniel was able to shake off some of the melancholy that had surrounded him for so long, a feeling he didn't really know he was suffering from until he started to enjoy himself. Kasuf noticed that Daniel actually laughed at some of the antics going on. Yes, he had been right. His son needed to get away from everything that reminded him of his death and Vaelen. Daniel had been around constant reminders of that dreadful time and did not realize the negative effects it was having on him. Coming home was not a permanent solution, but it was a beginning. If Daniel could only have enough time to recover and heal before being thrust back into the position of linguist for SG-1, he would be fine. His son was strong, of that, Kasuf had no doubt.
Kasuf was also pleased as he watched Daniel and Bi'era together at the festival. They sat together, talked together, ate together, perhaps something good would take root for both of them. There was no reason why two young people who were alone and clearly cared for each other should not be together. Besides, Kasuf approved of Bi'era. She would be a good wife to his son if and when Daniel decided that it was time to move on with his life.
For now, Kasuf gazed over his small family. Skaara was sitting in the shade, tired and dozing after the many dances he had joined and the great amount of food that he had eaten. Daniel sat nearby in much the same condition as his brother. They seemed contented, the strains of responsibility leaving their countenances for a short while. Kasuf had been adamant about having his sons with him for this festival and without their shadow-like bodyguards. It wasn't that he did not trust Jack O'Neill and Jacob Carter. They were both good men who followed their orders, and they took meticulous care of his sons, but they didn't realize that Daniel and Skaara needed some time to be Daniel and Skaara, not the late Doctor Jackson and Klorel's former host, and Kasuf needed to spend some time with them. It had been too long since he had known that his children were safe under his roof. Only one was missing, but she could no longer be there. There was no sense dwelling on what could not be.
The sun kept on its downward path, and the heat that had been present during the day began to disappear. Night would fall soon and with it would come the bone-numbing chill. Being the good father that he was, Kasuf woke his sons and headed them all toward home.
If only he could be the good father every day and not when he had to bully two generals into doing what he asked of them.
Maybe one day.
Wednesday morning, SGC
Sam Carter stood before the screen that showed pictures of the latest planet they were investigating. General Hammond had asked her to look at the telemetry reports even though she was on down time. Actually, it was just to keep her busy. SG-1 had been haunting the base since Doctor Jackson left. Hammond knew that they were waiting to see who was going to win the pool, each one of them hoping that no one would. "The readings show that area around the Stargate on PLN869 has received over 400 inches of rain in the last six months alone. What we're seeing is, in effect, a swamp."
"Oh, goody. Sounds like a great place to visit," O'Neill said sarcastically. "Snakes, skeeters, gators, Swamp Thing, Adrienne Barbeau. Sounds like fun."
"I agree, Colonel," was the answer he received from General Hammond. "I'm going to send SG-3 to explore this one. I'll be sure to tell them not to reach down and pat anything on the head, especially if it has teeth."
"Good idea, sir. Teeth could hurt. Looked like it did on 'Jaws'."
"All right, people, anything else?" When he did not receive any answers, he continued. "Well, I have something. I want the two of you and Teal'c to go someplace. Anyplace. Go into town and get a hamburger. Take in a movie. Walk in the park. Feed the pigeons. Basically, I want the three of you to go away for the day. If anything happens, I'll send for you."
Stunned was a good word to use to describe the looks on his subordinates' faces. "I mean this. Take a break. Go out and enjoy yourselves. Now I know you're all worried about Doctor Jackson being out on his own for the first time, but he is on a planet that he lived on for over a year. It was his home. He's safe. Let him be." General Hammond stood and started to walk out of the room but turned just as he reached the door. "That was not a request, Colonel, Major."
Jack and Sam sat there for a few moments, then Jack asked, "So, anything good playing at the movies?"
Elsewhere on the base...
Erin O'Malley stood in the equipment room and glanced over her list and the items she had already collected. Luckily, everything she was going to need was there and at her disposal. The other members of the team had already stopped by and packed away their portion of the equipment. They were ready to go. In less than 24 hours, they would be doing what they loved. She still did not know how long they were going to be there, but she kept reminding herself that Thackery did tell her that if she wanted to lead an expedition, she could. She wondered if he knew just how long an expedition could take, even on the SGC's abbreviated time schedules.
"Anything else, Doctor?" Sergeant Siler asked her as he helped replace the last box of items Erin had been searching through.
"No, that does it. The only thing we have to do now is wait until tomorrow morning, then off we go."
"Into the wild blue yonder?"
"Oh, yeah. Have you ever gone through the Stargate, Sergeant?" she asked him, suddenly realizing that Siler was always at the base, but she had never seen him with an SG team.
"A couple of times, but I'm assigned here. Boldly going where no Tau'ri has visited in 10,000 years might work on a TV show, but I think I'll keep my feet on terra firma. I don't end up in the infirmary near as much, not that I haven't been there a few times." Siler locked the cabinets and helped Erin lift the box she had carefully packed. "Let's face it, the SG teams, one in particular, give Fraiser a lot of business."
"I see. I can't blame you there. I've been there once or twice myself." Then, in a low voice, "So what did you bet on?"
In an equally low voice, he answered, "I bet on an hour after he left. How about you?"
"I bet on the hour before he comes back. The funny thing about the pool is that Daniel placed a bet himself."
"He did?" Siler asked her. "He wasn't angry about it?"
"Daniel? He appreciates the joke." She just hoped that no one would win the pool.
Wednesday morning, SGC time: before midnight Abydos time
Daniel would have to return to earth tomorrow. He gazed out onto the flat horizon beyond Nagada, committing the sight to memory. He loved this place and these people. His home. His people. The old saying was right. No matter where you were born, home is where your heart is. A large part of his heart lay buried in a grave outside the city. That was the part that he cherished more than any other. Another part was forever entrenched with the people he could claim as family. Father, brother, aunts, uncles, cousins, even grandparents abounded on Abydos. A very large part of him wanted to stay. Another large part of him, a newer part of him, knew that staying on Abydos wasn't the answer. The dangers hiding in the night sky were too many and too diverse to hide from for very long. They would come knocking at earth's door one day. He wasn't alone in knowing the dangers so intimately that the nightmares were more like horrific premonitions, but he was the only one on Earth that knew the extent of the evil lurking behind the stars.
He buttoned up his jacket to protect against the encroaching cold of the desert night. The stray memories that always crept up on him at moments when he was alone came again--the warmth emanating from the hearth in their little home as he and Sha'uri would snuggle together in front of the fire, the smell of fresh baked bread coming from the homes, the pealing laughter of children as they played in the shadows, the feel of Sha'uri's hand in his as they walked home, the strange feeling of home that was always there whether he was in their own little house or Kasuf's tent. He had lost so much in such a short time. That was when other, darker thoughts started creeping into his mind. Betrayal, pain, loss, death, the political jockeying of a certain Tok'ra for domination of the High Council--stop right there! He would not let Vaelen's memories interrupt his own. Later. He would pull out Vaelen's nightmares and deal with them later. Not now. That's what tomorrow was for.
Kasuf had walked out into the night to search for his son and found him quietly sitting outside the gates of the city. Daniel's silence had worried the older man, but not as much as the feeling of foreboding that seemed to surround his son. It was as if he were waiting for something to happen, and whatever it was, it could not be good. He couldn't escape it even through the Chappa'ai.
"You are troubled, good son," Kasuf joined him in studying the night sky. "What is wrong?" He did not think that Daniel was willing to talk just yet, but he had to try.
"Nothing. Something. Everything." Daniel glanced at Kasuf and saw the confused look only his father-in-law could bestow. "I'm sorry. If I knew what was bothering me....I just don't know. I don't have any answers. I don't really feel right anymore."
"What is right?" Kasuf asked him.
"Like me. I don't feel like myself anymore. I don't know how to describe it. I feel like a stranger to myself. Thoughts and sentences are coming out of me, and they're not mine, they're Vaelen's. Memories come out of nowhere. I'm not anywhere. I can't seem to find myself in all of this."
Kasuf regarded Daniel for a moment. Skaara had been correct when he had said that Daniel needed guidance, he just didn't know what kind. "I asked Skaara once about Klorel. He said that having the demon removed from him only freed him from his slavery, not from his nightmare. He told me that he is not the same person he was before and did not think he ever could be again. He has been changed by his demon, as you have by yours."
Daniel nodded his head, but didn't say anything.
"You cannot go back, my son. I wish all three of you could have lived your lives without the demons taking you. I wish the three of you could have lived out your lives here in peace, but that right was stolen from you. Sha'uri is gone, but you and your brother have to go on with the new knowledge you possess. You have the unique perspective of the demons. You can help stop them by using their knowledge against them."
Kasuf always tried to make situations sound far simpler than they actually were, a rare talent Daniel could appreciate. "I hope so."
"But there is something more, isn't there? Something has happened that has scared you?" There was something in Daniel's eyes that Kasuf had seen. Everyone else was either ignorant of it or ignoring it, probably pretending that everything was just fine with him. There was a shadow, a longing, some shade of sadness reflected there.
Quite unwilling, the words came out of Daniel's mouth. "Father, have you ever wondered what it's like to be dead? What's on the other side?" That's good, Daniel. Nice way to start a conversation.
Kasuf thought carefully for a moment. They had avoided talking about Daniel's murder because Roberts might hear that Daniel was troubled by it, and neither man wanted to give the murderer the satisfaction. Perhaps talking about the murder itself was what he needed to do? "I have wondered. My wife is there, Sha'uri as well. All who we have loved and has gone before is there. Whatever is there, I know they wait for us. But, yes, I have wondered what it is like."
"It's hard to tell anyone about this. I don't think Jack would believe me. Sam would say that it was a rush of endorphins in the brain. I don't know what Teal'c would say about it."
"About what?" Kasuf asked him.
"When I was shot, I did die before Vaelen joined with me. Everyone seems to be under the impression that I wasn't quite dead, but I was. I know it only lasted an instant, but it seemed like a long time. I went to the river. I remember walking by the water. I remember that I wasn't wearing any shoes. I saw the river flowing, and I followed its path. I saw a boat through the reeds on the riverbank. Sha'uri was by the boat waiting for me. She ran out to greet me, and then we both got into the boat and started to drift with the current. She said the river would take us to the far shore." Daniel had to take a breath. This was hard. "We were halfway there when the boat stopped midstream and started to drift against the current back to the bank. I asked her what was happening, and she said that there had been a change. I didn't understand why she looked like she was about to cry. We reached the bank, got off the boat and waited. Then, I felt myself starting to fade away. I couldn't hear everything that Sha'uri was saying, but I know she said that she would be waiting for me when it was my time to stay. I almost made it across, father, but I got pulled back."
"And now, I keep wondering how long it will be before I go back. She was the first good thing that ever happened to me, but she's over there. I didn't feel the danger there that I feel here, and sometimes I wonder if any one of us can really make enough of a difference to do any good over here." Damn, but that admission was hard. It was not something he could ever say to Jack. Definitely not something he would ever say to someone like MacKenzie. That particular psychiatrist would probably throw him back into that padded cell. How do you say something like that without sounding suicidal?
"Dan-yer, you have died several times, have you not?" Kasuf watched as his son-in-law nodded his head. "You have returned every time. You once asked me why death was no longer a permanent condition, and I could only answer that I was glad that, for you, it was not. I know little of these things, but I believe that your life force is very strong. You have a purpose that the gods need you to live for, and until that purpose has been met, I do not believe they will let you stay dead. You must understand that what the gods decree, we as mortals can only perform."
"That doesn't sound like a lot of fun," Daniel told him. He had to stop spending so much time around Jack. He was starting to sound like him. "Vaelen told me something like that. He said he knew I had a purpose. He didn't want to interfere with it."
"He was a wise and caring demon. Even our old ones say that your path is a long and difficult one, my son. I will not say that you were meant to walk it alone. If that were so, you would not have friends and family that care about you." Kasuf hoped that he knew the right words to say to Daniel. He would never admit this out loud, but sometimes his son's intelligence intimidated him. O'Neill had confessed as much to Kasuf not long ago. Daniel knew so much, was so wise in so many things that he was never at a loss for words. Yet, as both men had discovered, despite Daniel's dizzying intellect, he sometimes did not see the truth in someone's heart. How could he? He had been alone for so much of his life that he could not remember what unconditional acceptance from another person meant.
"Is this what has been bothering you?"
"It's part of it. I still miss her, father. Being dead brought me so close to being with her again, and that was taken away from me. And now I have all this extra baggage running around my head that it scares me. I've learned so much in such a short time, and I don't like what I know now. There's so much out there to be worried about, and we're helpless against so much of it. I don't even know how to begin. It seems like the universe is conspiring against me sometimes. It won't ever let me be happy even for a little while."
"A wise man once told me that you'll never get everything you want, so you have to be happy for what you're lucky enough to have." Kasuf said.
"Who said that?"
"You did. Right after you married Sha'uri. Remember?" Kasuf was rewarded by a slight smile.
Kasuf decided that Daniel needed to wrap his very nimble mind around more pleasant topics. "Now, tell me about some of things you can show Skaara and me when we return to Earth with you. I intend to keep negotiations between myself and General Hammond very brief so I can have time to enjoy myself on this holiday."
Daniel smiled as he began to describe many of the wonders back in Colorado.
5:00 a.m. Thursday morning, SGC
Lieutenant Harriman held his morning cup of coffee close to his chest. The smell alone did wonders to wake him that early in the morning. He clutched his chocolate donuts in his other hand, and with his newspaper tucked under his arm, he was anticipating a quiet morning before the General arrived. Well, perhaps anticipating was not the correct word. Hoping would be a better word. At the SGC, it was rarely quiet.
As he was approaching the corridor that led to the control room, he heard voices in the distance.
"My folks are taking care of my kids for the next two weeks. They've got horses and a lake to go swimming in. Julie and Becky love it. After that, they're going to camp." The female's voice sounded a bit familiar.
"I had to pay my landlord two months rent just in case this dig takes longer than most," a man's voice sounded. "He didn't want to take the chance that I might be out of town when the rent came due."
"But two months? We'll be lucky if the Colonel will let us stay more than two days," another male voice answered.
"Speaking of the Colonel, where is he? He and the rest of the team should be here by now. Thackery's the one who always insists we go on missions at 5:00 in the morning." That voice Harriman knew. It was Doctor O'Malley. A mission? He didn't know anything about a mission.
"Don't worry, Doctor, he'll be here. He might have been detained." That sounded like Major Temple. "Even if he doesn't show up, you've got me and Captain Hendricks here ready to go. We don't always have to have a colonel commanding these types of expeditions. Hammond may let us handle things."
"With respect, Major, not this time." That was definitely Captain Hendricks' deep baritone voice. "Both of our teams are on stand down for the rest of the week. Officially, I was under the distinct impression that we volunteered to be grunts. Hopefully, we're going to get to help out on a dig and be military support only if it's necessary."
"You may find this dig boring, Captain." Doctor Joel Frederickson, it had to be. He had a slight Southern accent.
Doctor O'Malley had to agree. "It won't be like the last one you were on with me seven years ago. That time, there were people for you to talk to when we were busy. This time, it's just going to be us grave robbers."
Harriman turned the corner and saw seven people dressed with packs, rifles, tents and--picks and shovels? They were definitely prepared to go on a mission.
They saw him coming and watched him expectantly.
"Morning, Major. Captain. Everyone." Harriman saluted cautiously and clumsily. That early in the morning with no General around, the military protocols were slightly more relaxed, but salutes were difficult when your hands were full of food. "Is something happening that I should know about?"
Major Temple answered for the group. "Doctor O'Malley is taking a team back to P9X743 this morning to explore the ruins near the Stargate. It'll be on your roster. Colonel Thackery cleared the mission. We're just waiting for him and SG-10."
"I'm sorry, Major, but there are no missions slated for today. I've already checked."
"Perhaps there was a mix-up in the time for the mission?" Doctor Frederickson suggested.
"Not on my part," Erin told him. "Thackery said he'd be here on Thursday, and I could take a team back to the planet. He knows all missions commanded by SG-10 leaves at 5:00 a.m. He's the one who set the time. Lieutenant, would you please double-check your roster? Maybe the mission is on the computer but not on the hand-written schedule."
"Of course, Doctor. Right away. I'll only be a moment." Harriman hurried up the small staircase into the control room. He quickly put down his coffee, lamenting that he would not be able to enjoy it while it was hot, and quickly logged into the computerized mission rosters. There was no listing of a return to P9X743, but there was a note remarking that Colonel Thackery had called in and asked for an extra two days off. There was no reason given. Doctor O'Malley was not going to like this. Neither was anyone else standing in the hallway. They were already agitated having to wait for the Colonel. Harriman knew Thackery; he had seen the officer treat the civilians with utter contempt. It would not have surprised him if the Colonel had not registered the mission and then asked for the days off on purpose. Harriman had been ordered personally by General Hammond to anonymously report any behaviors by any of the officers who were mistreating any of the civilians. This could be considered a mistreatment, he supposed. The look in the scientists' eyes showed clearly that they were looking forward to this expedition, but there just wasn't one listed. It might have been a mistake, Doctor O'Malley had forgotten the time......no. She was too good at what she did. She would have known the exact time they were shipping out. Reporting this was not going to look good in Thackery's files. Still, orders were orders. Reluctantly, he picked up the phone and called General Hammond's home telephone number.
The ringing phone finally woke the General. His first meeting was not until 8:00 and, for once, he was sleeping until 6:30. But, no, someone had to disturb his sleep.
Just once, he thought to himself, just once I'm going to sleep late. I worked for it. I owe it to myself, and no one is going to deprive me of it!
"Yes?" he asked sleepily into the phone.
"General, It's Lieutenant Harriman. I'm sorry to disturb you, sir, but we might have a situation here."
Harriman. It had to be important or he wouldn't be calling. "And what would that situation be, Lieutenant?"
"Sir, there's a team standing downstairs ready to go on a mission--"
"There are no missions scheduled for today, Lieutenant."
"That's what I read on the roster, sir, but Major Temple and Captain Hendricks are with them--"
"Them being who, son?"
"Erin O'Malley, Joel Frederickson, Susan Foster, Eric Madison and Robert Rothman. Sir, they said that Colonel Thackery was to command an expedition back to P9X743."
"What? Thackery wouldn't do that! The planet is crawling with Jaffa!"
"Sir, I don't think anyone else knows that. They're waiting on him now." This was not good.
"Stall them, Lieutenant. I'll be there in 30 minutes!" Hammond almost slammed the phone down on its base and got out of bed. "What the hell was he thinking?" he muttered to himself. "First he tells me that the planet is overrun with Jaffa, and then he plans to send a bunch of civilians there. This is not going to be a good day."
Hammond dressed quickly, then picked up the phone and started dialing. If he wasn't going to get any sleep, then no one else was either. "Colonel O'Neill? General Hammond...yes, I know...I need you at the base in thirty minutes...I think we may have another problem. I'll brief you when you arrive."
5:30 a.m. Thursday morning, SGC time: P9X743
The three men stood at the base of the Stargate and searched for any other sign of life. It did not take long to realize that they were alone at the site.
"Perhaps we have arrived before your friends?" Kasuf asked his good son.
"Possibly," Daniel answered him quietly. "Thackery's usually a martinet about punctuality. They should have been here about thirty minutes ago. I guess we wait."
Skaara picked his way through some of the debris off to the right of the gate and found a small metal globe with alien letters peppered across its surface. The symbols were unfamiliar to him despite the knowledge he had gained through Klorel. Then again, Klorel was very young and had not seen much of the world. "Dan-yer, do you recognize this?"
Daniel took the globe and studied it for a moment. "I don't know what it says, but I'd say it's native to this planet. It looks like the script Erin found and wants me to help translate."
He tossed the globe back to his brother-in-law and began trying to decipher the writings and pictures on the stone obelisks lying around the area. "The script is unlike anything I've ever seen before."
"Had Vaelen ever seen it?" was Skaara's innocent question. Surely one as ancient as the Kha'ti had been had crossed paths with similar cultures
"No, I said I hadn't..." he looked over at Skaara, an apologetic look to his eyes. "Sorry. No, Vaelen never saw anything like this."
Skaara walked over to the man he loved like a brother and placed a comforting hand on his arm. "I understand, Dan-yer. Sometimes, even I don't know which memories are mine and which ones are Klorel's, and he didn't die inside of me. I think it's better never to apologize for the confusion. It's not our fault we suffer from this problem."
Daniel appreciated that more than the younger man would ever be able to know. "When did you get so smart?" Daniel asked him.
"I had a very good teacher," Skaara answered. "Look, I think Father's found something."
Daniel glanced in the direction Skaara was pointing at. Kasuf was holding up what looked like to be a large metal shield, and on that shield were the tell-tale markings of Goa'uld writing. Erin hadn't mentioned seeing anything like that.
"Uh oh," both of them said at the same time.
5:45 a.m. Thursday morning, SGC.
The team that was prepared to go through the Stargate 45 minutes earlier now waited in General Hammond's office. Lieutenant Harriman's news that the mission may have hit a snag and that General Hammond was on his way in to find out what that snag was did not sit well with anyone. Erin mumbled that she should have known that Thackery wouldn't have agreed to let her do anything without making it extraordinarily difficult. Now, here she sat wasting time when she could be sifting through the rubble of the remains of a once great city. What was the holdup?
General Hammond and an annoyed looking, sleepy Colonel O'Neill entered the office, neither one seemed too pleased at the sight of seven people outfitted for a trip.
"Major, Captain, Doctors," the General motioned for them all to relax. They noticed that the General was forcing himself to stay calm. "I understand that you believed that you were scheduled for a mission to P9X743 this morning. I suppose by now all of you realize that the mission is not on the roster. Could you please tell me how this mission came about?"
Major Temple, the ranking officer, stepped forward. "General, we were informed that Colonel Thackery approved an archaeological mission back to P9X743 to determine the fate of the inhabitants that lived there. Captain Hendricks and myself are on down time, and we thought that it would be good experience to go on this mission. We volunteered to help Doctor O'Malley and the others with the excavation."
General Hammond and Colonel O'Neill shared an 'uh-oh' look between them. "And tell me, Major, if you ran into any trouble, how would two soldiers and five civilians deal with it?"
"Sir, there are to be two soldiers, five civilians and SG-10 on this mission. We will be at the Stargate, so if there is any trouble, we'll be able to dial out quickly. Hopefully."
"General," Erin said, "P9X743 seems to be a peaceful planet, at least that was the way it looked from where I was standing in the ruined city. From the growth of the vegetation and the condition of the city, I would guess that no one had been there in quite some time. I won't say we'd be perfectly safe there, we never are safe anywhere we go, but we probably won't run into any problems of the snaky kind--if you get my meaning."
Both General and Colonel looked surprised. Their eyes spoke volumes, and the text did not look good. "Yes, Erin, we do." Colonel O'Neill answered her, all sarcasm put aside. "It seems that we have some information about the planet that you don't know about." He approached Major Temple. "Major, what do you know about P9X743?"
Temple frowned at the Colonel. He didn't think he was any trouble, but trouble was brewing. What was going on here? "Not much, just what was in the data base. It has a rich vegetation, some animal life, no other inhabitants that we know of yet. That's about all we know. There wasn't a lot of time devoted to researching the area in depth. Colonel Thackery returned 20 minutes after arriving there, sir."
"And does the report indicate why he and SG-10 left so suddenly, Major?" the General asked him.
"No, sir. His report hasn't been loaded into the computer yet. All we have is Doctor O'Malley's report, and she's always more than accurate in her descriptions." Major Temple turned to Erin. "Doctor, you were there. Why did Colonel Thackery leave so soon?"
"He didn't say. Truthfully, I thought that he got bored since there was nothing to interest him or shoot at. He's not overly fond of looking at rocks."
O'Neill saw the accusing glint in her eye. Erin had teased him on more than one occasion about calling an artifact a rock and encouraging others to do so. She could handle a bantering session with him as well as Daniel could. That was probably why they got along so well. "Let me ask you this, Erin. Whose idea was it to go back to the planet?"
"Mine. I asked Colonel Thackery if we could go back. He said I could get a team together, and we'd leave on Thursday because that was the day he'd be back. Jack, I was told that we could do this, go on this dig. Please tell me that there's a good reason why we're being delayed?" She watched Hammond and O'Neill fidget. Why were folks around here getting the fidgets this week?
General Hammond answered her. "There's a very good reason, Doctor. I believe that you may have been made the target of a practical joke. Like the Major said, your written report is the only description we have cataloged in the computer at the moment. Colonel Thackery's report has not been submitted at this time. Major Temple's description of P9X743 is as your report describes it. The MALP confirms it. However, Colonel Thackery gave me quite a different story at the debriefing, and his version was backed up by his men. I know you were left on you own at the ruins and did not witness what the rest of your team saw--Colonel Thackery has been reprimanded for his negligence--but when the rest of your team went into the forest surrounding the ruins, they saw several hundred Jaffa in the distance. It's a Goa'uld outpost."
"But there were no signs of anyone but SG-10 having passed through the area," Erin protested. "The grounds around the Stargate were undisturbed.
"The Jaffa had death gliders. Undoubtedly, there was a pyramid ship in orbit around the planet. The markings showed that they were loyal to Heru'ur."
Joel Frederickson was not a happy camper. "Why would Thackery have allowed this mission if he knew it was dangerous?"
"I don't know, Doctor," General Hammond answered him, "but I'm going to find out."
He picked up his telephone and called Security. "This is General Hammond. I want Colonel Thackery found and brought to my office immediately....Yes, I know he requested a few more days off, that is now rescinded...Just find him and get him here, Colonel. Understood?" Apparently whomever he spoke with understood because the General placed the telephone back on its base. "I'm going to have a long talk with Colonel Thackery and get to the bottom of this. I realize that none of you are to blame, but I'm afraid your mission has been scrubbed, people. I'm sorry, but this never should have happened."
Naturally, the complaints started. Susan Foster told the General how she had to move mountains to arrange for her children to stay with her parents on such short notice. Eric Madison was angry about having to empty his bank account to pay two months rent early just in case he was out of town when the rent came due, and he was not happy even though General Hammond promised to reimburse the expense. Robert Rothman had been forced to call in some big favors to get his work rescheduled so he could have the time to go on this dig. Erin, however, was fuming. She had been excited about going on an excavation--a real excavation. She had been relegated to basically being the outsider on her own team, and now this.
She was NOT going to lose her temper.
She was definitely NOT going to lose her temper.
Hell, YES, she was going to lose her temper.
This was intolerable! That insufferable, overbearing, dimwitted, mental fur ball! That peawitted dunderhead! How dare Thackery belittle her work! What she did was every bit as important as anything the military did. The man had an ego the size of Texas and the brain the size of a flea. How could anyone...no, something else was wrong. What was it? Think. Think. Think. Thackery? No. Planet? No. Death gliders? No. Jaffa? No. Goa'uld? What the--oh, no!
"Daniel!" Erin almost screamed at the top of her voice.
That, of course, silenced everyone in the room and brought about O'Neill's mother-hen response. "What about Dan--Shit! He was supposed to gate over to your dig on his way home from Abydos today, wasn't he?"
"He was supposed to get the pictures we were going to take and start working on a translation!" Erin answered quickly.
This was bad.
O'Neill didn't wait. He ran out of the office while General Hammond grabbed the phone again. "Lieutenant Harriman, dial up Abydos! Immediately! Contact Doctor Jackson and inform him that he is NOT to go to P9X743! Colonel O'Neill is on his way now!" He slammed the phone down and followed O'Neill's path, not glancing back to see if he was being followed.
Erin was practically on Hammond's heels, but she was traveling alone. She overheard Major Temple and Captain Hendricks convincing the others to stow their gear back in the ready room and to let General Hammond handle the situation. As soon as they knew anything, they would let the other scientists know.
This was supposed to have been such an easy assignment, and that idiot of a Colonel completely messed it up.
Hammond and O'Malley entered that gate room in time to hear the conversation over the vid-link between O'Neill and an Abydonian. Thank goodness the MALP's audio transmitters were turned on 'loud.'
"They left not long ago, O'Neill. Kasuf wishes to speak with General Hammond and is returning with Dan-yer. Skaara is traveling there as well. Dan-yer told me that he would use the Chappa'ai to travel to another place first to meet a friend then travel to your world. The Tok'ra guards agreed that the trip should be uneventful. Is there trouble?"
"I hope not, Nabeh. I'll let you know. Thank you." O'Neill ended the transmission and the wormhole closed. "We're too late, sir. Daniel, Kasuf and Skaara have already left for P9X743."
Hammond did not need to be told what he already knew. "Lieutenant, prepare to dial up P9X743. Have Major Feretti and SG-2 ready to go now! Pull in SG-4. They're on stand-by. Colonel O'Neill, get Teal'c and Major Carter and go with them."
O'Neill started to leave when the Stargate activated. "Incoming traveler," Harriman told them. "SG-1 signal!"
Instead of heading towards the phone to call the officer's quarters, Jack ran into the gate room, nearly running over some of the Special Forces crew. The iris was open, the wormhole active, but there was no sign of the traveler yet. General Hammond joined Jack and waited those eternal seconds until Skaara came running through the vortex. His arm was bleeding heavily from a staff weapon blast, and there was blood trickling down the side of his face from a scalp wound.
Skaara, somewhat dazed, stopped on the ramp and was met by Jack.
"Skaara! What happened?"
In a rush, Skaara said, "We were coming here, but Dan-yer needed to meet a friend. When we arrived, Jaffa attacked us. I was wounded. Dan-yer stepped in front of a shot meant for our father. We dialed up Earth. I didn't want to leave them, but Father pushed me through the Chappa'ai. He went back for Dan-yer." He was breathing hard, the pain clearly showing in his eyes.
Harriman had called for medics as soon as the SG-1 signal had been confirmed. They took charge of Skaara who refused to leave the gate room until he knew that the rest of his family was safe.
In the control room, the computers started reading the wormhole's signals again. Harriman announced into the gate room "More travelers coming through."
The Special Forces guard readied their weapons in the event that any Jaffa came through the wormhole. The wait was intense. SG-2 ran into the room and as soon as Feretti saw Skaara, he knew there was trouble, and that trouble had to involve Daniel Jackson. Didn't this guy ever get a break?
Suddenly, Kasuf came crashing through the wormhole, blood from a leg wound soaking his robe, and falling on the ramp as soon as he landed. Daniel was behind him, locked in mortal combat with a very big Jaffa. It was apparent to everyone that the self-defense lessons Jack O'Neill had drummed into him had paid off. He was able to trip the Jaffa and force his upper body to fall into the wormhole. "Shut it down!" he yelled to Harriman, who complied immediately. The wormhole shut down, taking the upper portion of the Jaffa with it, but leaving the lower portion that housed the Goa'uld symbiote lying on the ramp.
One of the first rules of dealing with Jaffa: juniors should never be underestimated. As soon as the Jaffa was dead, the symbiote leapt from its pouch and headed directly for the nearest place it thought it would be safe--the back of Daniel's neck. Its head penetrated the nape, but the very angry archaeologist grabbed its body and did not let it make any progress.
"Not again!" he yelled at it. The pain was intense. He could feel the creatures mind already trying to overtake his just as the implantation was beginning. Damn, that thing had teeth! Quickly, two more hands were helping him pull the symbiote from his neck. "Shit!" was all that Daniel could hear over the roar of blood in his ears. He felt the excruciating pain as the symbiote was finally pulled from him, and he collapsed back onto the person who had helped him, trying to keep conscious despite the sickening feeling spreading through him.
Jack held the symbiote tightly in one hand and had the other on Daniel's neck trying to stop the bleeding. It was then he realized that Daniel had been shot in the side as well. "I could use a little help here!" O'Neill yelled to the medics. Two of the medics tried to lead Kasuf off the ramp, but the older man refused to leave Daniel behind. "I'll bring him myself, Kasuf," O'Neill told him. "Go with them for now. It'll be fine."
If O'Neill said he would look after his son, Kasuf knew he would. He reluctantly left for the infirmary with the medics, Skaara following, his eyes never leaving his wounded brother.
As soon as they were out of hearing range, Daniel said to O'Neill in a low voice full of pain, "Hammond doesn't pay us enough for this."
O'Neill gave the symbiote to a medic who had brought a container to place it in. The snake was not happy about the change in accommodations, but who cared? This was the chance of a lifetime--to have a live Goa'uld to experiment on was a dream come true.
Jack noticed Daniel's tremors as he held his hand on the back of his friend's neck in an attempt to stop the bleeding. He was going into shock. "Easy, Danny. Here comes help."
Two medics brought the gurney to Daniel's side, and Jack helped them lift the trembling form onto it. Two blue pain-filled eyes watched as the symbiote was removed from the gate room. "Jack?" his voice sounded far away.
"Right here, Danny. What is it?"
"Tell Harriman I won. I bet five dollars on 'the way home', remember?"
Jack had to laugh. "Be careful what you say, Danny. The General can hear you. He might think you did this on purpose just to win the bet."
"Don't worry about that, Doctor Jackson," the General said as he moved next to him. "I had placed the same bet myself before you even left."
That was rich. Even the General was getting into the act. Any other time, Daniel might have appreciated the humor, but blood loss and dropping adrenaline levels were having a profound effect on him. He was losing consciousness fast but, true to form, Daniel fought the approaching darkness to warn O'Neill of danger. "They weren't there, Jack. Erin and the others. No one was there."
"Don't worry, Daniel. They're here. They're safe. Don't worry about anything. Let's just get you fixed up, and I'll tell you about it later." Jack found himself talking to himself. Daniel had passed out.
Thursday afternoon, SGC
Kasuf sat uncomfortably in a stiff-backed chair between his two sleeping sons. Thanks to Doctor Fraiser and Major Carter, he and his boys were going to be fine. The object Major Carter called a healing device had worked miracles on the wounds, but both young men had lost a lot of blood and had to be transfused. Doctor Fraiser had been very happy to tell him that Daniel and Skaara would be fine, they just needed to rest. She had given them both sedatives to help them sleep. She had prescribed the same for Kasuf, but he was too angry to rest and politely refused her kind offer. He had overheard a rumor that the people Daniel was to have met had been tricked by a Colonel who knew about the Jaffa presence but had kept it secret. There had been no mission. The three of them had walked into a trap. This was inexcusable.
Beside him sat Colonel O'Neill throwing cards one by one into a garbage can. Earlier, he had taught Kasuf poker, and the two men had spent several hours playing the game and discussing the many strategies. O'Neill had said that playing cards was a great way to pass the time. Eventually, poker became boring, and they had to find other ways to amuse themselves.
"45 cards," O'Neill said as he gathered up the scattered cards. "Your turn." He handed the deck to Kasuf who began to toss the cards into the target.
General Hammond entered the infirmary. He needed to speak to Doctor Jackson, but was reluctant to wake him. He was hoping Daniel would wake up on his own. The General saw Jack and Kasuf sitting there, luckily the look on their faces was expectation, not worry. They were waiting for the two sleeping men to wake up.
"Colonel O'Neill," the General said quietly as he walked in. "Master Kasuf, how are you?"
"I am well, Hammond. My leg is healed. We survived a Jaffa attack. My sons are alive, and your Doctor Fraiser tells me that they will be fine." He looked again at his two sleeping boys. "All three of my children have been taken from me by the demons before. All three have returned to me. I have buried one child. I have no desire to bury two more. This almost happened."
General Hammond sat down in a nearby chair. From past experience, he had learned that to talk to Kasuf, one must approach him with the respect due a leader and the attitude of equality. He was the Elder of Nagada. In some ways, the older man outranked the General. In others they were equal. They both were responsible for many lives.
"Master Kasuf," General Hammond said quietly, "I need to know what happened on P9X743. I'll have to ask Doctor Jackson and Skaara when they wake up, but any information you could give me would be appreciated."
In a quick change of topic, he asked the General, "Do you have any children, Hammond?"
Strange question. "Yes, I do," the General answered him. "I have a son and a daughter as well as two granddaughters." Let's just see where he's going with this conversation.
"Do you take pride in them?"
"Yes, I do. My wife and I were very lucky. We had two good kids who never got into any trouble. Well, any serious trouble."
Kasuf nodded his head, smiling. "Serious trouble? My children have always been very good at finding serious trouble, but I was always told that I was a lucky man to have three such fine, spirited children. It took this old man some time, but I soon realized that they were right. My daughter is gone, and I will mourn her until the day I die, but I still have my two sons, and today I felt such pride in them that I was overwhelmed by it."
"Overwhelmed?" O'Neill asked him. "I'd be the first to say you've got good reason to be proud, Kasuf, but overwhelmed?"
"When we reached the planet Dan-yer was to meet his friend on, there was nothing but ruins. Dan-yer thought that perhaps we were early and should wait. He and Skaara started studying the art-i-facts," O'Neill smiled at Kasuf's careful pronunciation of the word, "and I had just found a metal plate with Goa'uld writing when the Jaffa came from the forest. They recognized Skaara and Dan-yer and started firing their weapons at us."
"Skaara was shot almost immediately. Dan-yer knocked him to the ground and fired his zat gun at every Jaffa he could see. I saw him rise and run toward me, knocking me from behind a large stone where I had taken refuge. He had seen a Jaffa target me with his staff weapon. Dan-yer received the shot that would have killed me. He gave me the GDO and told me to take Skaara and dial Earth. He would hold off the Jaffa for as long as he could."
Kasuf paused for a moment, the memory difficult to put into words. "He was bleeding from the wound in his side, but even I know not to argue with him in situations like that. I know my son. He would surrender his own life to protect us. I was shot in the leg when I reached Skaara. He had a demon's weapon as well and was firing it at the Jaffa. Neither of my boys missed their targets. Skaara and I had to help each other to the DHD. Once the Chappa'ai was engaged, I pushed Skaara through. He did not want to leave us, but I would not take the chance on all three of us dying there. Dan-yer was running toward the Chappa'ai, but a Jaffa stopped him. It was a close fight, but my son was able to shoot him with the zat gun. Dan-yer lay on the ground. He was in great pain. He yelled that I should follow Skaara, but I went back for him. I helped him to his feet, and we ran as best we could for the Chappa'ai, but a Jaffa stood in the way. Dan-yer grabbed my arm, pushed me past the Jaffa, the Jaffa took hold of Dan-yer and was dragged with us as we followed Skaara. You saw what happened when we appeared here."
That was the most Kasuf had ever said at one time in English as far as O'Neill knew. He was not a talkative man, always brief and to the point especially in any language other than his native tongue, but he wanted them to know how proud he was of his sons. They fought the enemy, risking their own lives to save his, and he was very proud of them both. Kasuf turned to the General and stood. The politician in the General saw that protocol was to be observed and stood as well. Kasuf was face-to-face with the General, his gaze fixing Hammond's in an unmovable stare. "They fought bravely. I know the courage my sons have. I have seen it before. Now I hear that their sacrifice should never have been necessary?"
There were few times in General Hammond's life that he felt uncomfortable. This was one of them. "I don't know yet. The information I have is incomplete, but it would appear that the people who were to go on this mission had been misinformed. I need to speak to Doctor Jackson to find out what he knows. He may have some information about what happened that no one else is aware of." That explanation did not satisfy Kasuf, but he did understand that Hammond needed all possible information before taking action. He was a leader, and that was what leaders did.
"Fraiser's got them both on pain killers, General," Jack told him. "They might not be awake for a few more hours."
"Ordinarily, I'd defer to the doctor's authority in these matters, Colonel. As it stands, Colonel Thackery is on his way in now."
"General, I'd like to be there when you talk to Colonel Thackery," Jack said.
"I want both you and Master Kasuf there when I talk to him. He'll know exactly how much trouble he's in. But first..." General Hammond motioned Doctor Fraiser over. "I know you don't want to do this Doctor, but I do need Doctor Jackson's report. I think we can wait for Skaara to wake up on his own."
Janet quickly took Daniel's vitals. "His numbers are good, just don't ask him too many questions if we do wake him up. Get to the point quickly. He won't be awake for long." It took her a few minutes, but Janet finally succeeded in rousing the sleeping archaeologist.
Daniel looked around the room, then muttered, "Oh, yeah. Infirmary." His eyes fell on Skaara sleeping in the next bed. "Is he okay?" he asked Kasuf. "Are you?"
"Skaara is well. As am I. We were lucky. General Hammond has to talk to you."
Oh. General Hammond's here. I wonder if I'm in any trouble? He unconsciously touched the back of his neck where the Goa'uld had tried to gain entrance. He could barely feel the scar. Daniel could remember brief glimpses of consciousness while Sam had used the healing device on him. That was why the scar was gone. He guessed that he could operate the healing device as well. He'd have to try it when he felt a little more awake. Then he remembered that the General was there. "Did I do something wrong?"
"No, Doctor Jackson. From what Kasuf has told us, you did everything right. Not only are the three of you alive and in one piece, you managed to get a symbiote that our people can experiment on. I was wondering if you could tell me how Doctor O'Malley got permission to go to P9X743." The General waited a moment. Daniel was still a little groggy and was having to process the request.
"She asked Thackery when a team was going back there to study the ruins. He said that she could get a team together, and they could go through on Thursday when he got back. She wanted me to stop by on my way home from Abydos to get the pictures they were going to take. Wanted me to try to translate the writing, get a better idea of where to dig." He was starting to fall asleep again. The sedatives were still working very well.
"Daniel," Jack shook his arm a little to wake him up. "Did you hear Thackery give Erin the go-ahead for the mission?"
"Yeah. They were right outside my office when they were talking about it. That was on....Monday....before I.....left." His voice drifted off. That was all. Daniel fell back asleep.
Hammond did not know who was angrier. The House of Kasuf had almost been destroyed that morning. O'Neill had almost lost his best friend. Again. Twice. The General had been disobeyed by an officer.
"Gentlemen," he addressed both O'Neill and Kasuf. "If you would follow me, we have a Colonel to interrogate."
Colonel Thackery sat in the debriefing room. He had been 'requested' to return to the base immediately, and he had been under guard since his arrival. Something was terribly wrong, but he had no idea what the problem was. Surely the General was not going to reprimand him again for leaving that scientist alone on P9X743. Because of her, he had an official complaint against him in his personnel file. Other than that, his record was spotless. Damn civilians. They'd be better off without them. Once the administration at the SGC changed, they would be gone and not a minute too soon.
General Hammond entered the room followed by Colonel O'Neill and an older man. The older man looked familiar, but Thackery could not remember seeing him before. Also joining them was Major Carter and Teal'c. What was going on? The group took their seats opposite of Colonel Thackery. For some reason, Thackery thought that he might be in trouble.
"Colonel Thackery," General Hammond said in his most professional tone, "tell me about your mission scheduled this morning for a return to P9X743."
Thackery was confused. "Sir, there is no mission to return there that I know of. It's a Goa'uld outpost. It would be suicide to go back."
"I agree. That's why I want to know why you approved another mission to go back without asking or informing me." The General was not a happy man.
"I didn't, sir. I wouldn't have." What was the General talking about?
"Then can you tell me why Doctor O'Malley would, on your orders, organize an excavation team to go back there on a mission set for this morning?"
"No, sir, but I don't understand her most of the time anyway. If she thought that she could go back to a Goa'uld outpost, she certainly didn't get it from me. I never gave any such order." Now what had that little bitch done? If she had gotten him in trouble again, he was going to do everything in his power to get her off the team.
Colonel O'Neill had to comment on that one. "That's interesting, Thackery. According to what we've heard, you told O'Malley she could lead a team back there on Thursday morning. That was when you were scheduled to return to duty. Originally."
"Sirs, I don't know what O'Malley told you, but I swear to you that I gave her no such order or approval for any mission to P9X743. That place is a deathtrap." Thackery had to salvage this situation somehow. He was being blamed for something he did not do! "If you gentlemen will allow me, I'll find out exactly what's going on, and if I find out that Doctor O'Malley has overstepped what little authority she has, I will see to it that she is properly reprimanded." He was about to salute and walk out in search of the irritating scientist when he saw the guards approach him. They obviously did not want him to leave.
"Sit down, Colonel," the General ordered him. As Thackery sat down, Hammond had the odd sensation that the Colonel did not know what they were talking about. Yet. Selective memory? "Monday afternoon, after our debriefing, did you or did you not have a conversation with Doctor O'Malley when, at that time, she asked you if another trip to P9X743 was scheduled? And during that conversation, did you not tell her that she could lead an archaeological team on Thursday morning because that was when you were scheduled to return?"
Thackery thought for a moment, and then he did remember the conversation. "General, I did not tell the good doctor that she could go there. I was making a joke. When she approached me about sending a team to study the ruins, I didn't think she could be serious. She knows it would have been impossible with the Jaffa running around. I did tell her that I was leaving and wouldn't be back until Thursday morning."
"Your report about the planet has not been written or entered in the database, Colonel," Carter told him. "The only report we have is Doctor O'Malley's which states that she saw no other life forms or proof of any habitation."
Hammond added "In case you've forgotten, she was left alone to study the ruins by the Stargate on P9X743. She did not go with the rest of the team, and she did not see the Jaffa or their ships. Since you did not tell her about the Jaffa and your report is not listed, how was she to know that the planet was a Goa'uld outpost?"
Thackery did a quick double-take. The girl was that stupid? "Sir, there was no reason she shouldn't have known. We left after 20 minutes--"
"Without giving her an explanation," O'Neill interrupted.
"We explained everything to the General in the debriefing, Colonel," Thackery was quickly becoming indignant.
"A debriefings that you did not allow Doctor O'Malley to participate in so she could have no first-hand knowledge of what we discussed nor has the rest of your team been very conversational with her," the General reminded him. "She was never told about the Jaffa. She asked you about sending an archaeological team there to excavate the ruins, and whatever you said in that conversation led her to believe that you would escort an expedition there this morning. Knowing how well Doctor O'Malley tries to follow the rules, I have no doubt that she believed that you would get the go-ahead from me. When she wasn't told otherwise, she went ahead and planned the trip."
"General, I would not have done anything like that." Thackery was firm in his denial. This little upstart was not going to ruin his career.
"We have a witness," O'Neill told him quietly. Let's see how he likes them apples. Thackery's arrogant attitude had already ruined his chances of talking his way out of this one.
"Then I'd like to talk to this witness," Thackery told him flatly.
"You can't right now," Carter explained. "He's in the infirmary with his brother-in-law recuperating from a staff weapon blast he received when he stopped by P9X743 to meet Doctor O'Malley."
Thackery's mind finally started moving, thinking. This older man sat there staring at him, hatred filling his dark eyes. He still looked familiar. Kasuf. That was his name. He was Daniel Jackson's father-in-law. What did Carter say? A witness and his brother-in-law in the infirmary. Who--oh, no. This could NOT be happening. "Are you telling me that your pet archaeologist is the witness, O'Neill?"
The vein on O'Neill's neck was starting to throb visibly, and he did not trust himself to answer.
Teal'c, however, had no such problem. "You and Doctor O'Malley held your conversation outside Daniel Jackson's office. He has explained that he overheard the conversation. He upholds Doctor O'Malley's statement." Thackery knew he was in trouble, and that little remark about the 'pet archaeologist' had not helped him one bit.
Now O'Neill had enough control to talk. "She asked Daniel to stop by the planet on his way home from Abydos to get some more pictures from them so he could start translating the writings. He had a little company when he got there. Barely made it back alive. And human. One of the little monsters thought Daniel might make a good host. Again." O'Neill stood up, using his height to its full advantage. "Not only did you lie to Erin, you jeopardized their lives," he pointed his thumb at Kasuf, "and this entire facility. Daniel is a senior member here and has enough information in that brain of his to give the Goa'uld free access to everything we've got. That would make for a very bad day, wouldn't it?"
Thackery swallowed hard. He saw no friendly faces in the room. Well, what did you expect, stupid? You just found out you messed with SG-1's favorite son and didn't even know about it. You're dead. He had to make sure he was not blamed for this. Salvage it somehow. He put just enough anger in his voice to make himself sound convincing. "Sirs, I had no idea this was happening. If I had known that O'Malley was serious and did not know the situation, I would have explained it to her right then and there. I will personally apologize to Doctor Jackson for the incident, and I'll see to that nothing like this is ever repeated by anyone on my team. I'll make sure that an official reprimand is placed in Doctor O'Malley's file, and I'll tell her that she will no longer be allowed on any SG team."
"You seem to be missing the point, Colonel," General Hammond told him. "Let me spell it out for you. Your behavior from the very beginning has been reprehensible and has not changed despite several warnings from me. Your treatment of Doctor O'Malley and the other scientists here will no longer be tolerated. I would have removed you long ago, but both Doctor O'Malley and I had hoped that you would come around at some point and be an effective leader. This latest behavior from you insulted the scientists, ignored their work and endangered not only three lives, but could very well have done great damage to this facility and this planet if Doctor Jackson had been made a host by the Goa'uld. You are no longer in command of SG-10, and you are no longer a colonel. We will discuss what your final disposition will be later. Right now, you will be escorted to your quarters. Consider yourself confined to them. Dismissed."
The guards led Thackery out of the debriefing room. After he had left, he kept his eyes on the back of the guard in front of him. That girl had done it again. She had brought shame down on his good name. And the General was saying that his behavior was not to be tolerated? What about hers? His superior officers at the Pentagon had been right. The civilians had no place around the Stargate. They all had to go. Thackery believed that he had done his part as ordered. He had helped create a wall of mistrust between the soldiers and the civilians. He had shown other officers how unnecessary the scientists were to the SGC. There were others who thought as he did. Perhaps they could do nothing to help him, but they would do everything to ensure the safety of Earth and the SGC. They would carry on his work. No longer a colonel? That would not last long. Once word of this reached certain ears, he would be transferred out of the SGC so fast, it would make Hammond's head spin. He would get his rank back as well as a nice place to spend his days until he could come back to the SGC--with all the civilian scientists gone. He would have to make sure that his current report on Daniel Jackson was sent to the Pentagon somehow. General Thayer needed to know about this latest occurrence.
Thackery did not notice an extra pair of eyes watching him as he was being marched to his quarters.
Back in the debriefing room, another conversation was taking place. Tempers were ragged.
"What will you do with this man, Hammond?" Kasuf asked him.
"Right now, I don't know. I've been informed that the Tok'ra are relocating to a new base and will contact us soon. We'll have to find another place to isolate Thackery. I don't want anyone communicating with him for now, and I won't put Abydos in any further danger by hiding him there. I'll decide what to do with him later. Major Carter, did you find out anything new about Thackery?"
Sam brought out Thackery's personnel folder and handed the General one of the pages. "We know that his transfer was signed by a Colonel Heller who's under the command of Colonel Billings, but this was missed on our initial sweeps, sir. I found evidence that he was stationed at Area 51 by Colonel Billings at the time of the murders."
"Thank you, Major. We all know who Billings works for."
The General could almost feel the anger sweeping from O'Neill. "There's another one, Jack. Another colonel. It seems the thorn in our side is collecting a lot of brass around him."
"Yes, sir. I wonder how many more we're going to find before someone ends up dead. Again." Jack did not need to go into any detail about who the someone was. They all knew.
Thursday night, SGC time
Hammond stared at Thackery's hanging body. He had used his bed sheets as a noose and had promptly hanged himself.
The General could only stare. The attempts to gain information from Thackery had been a waste of time for both him and O'Neill. Thackery had claimed ignorance of any conspiracy and denied all insinuations that he was a part of said conspiracy. The names Thayer and Darby were not mentioned.
I should have been a cocker spaniel, Hammond thought to himself. I just keep chasing my tail.
As the medics carefully took down the body and laid it on the gurney, the General asked Doctor Fraiser, "Well, Doctor, are we looking at a murder or a suicide?"
Fraiser shook her head. "It's too early for me to guess, but," she placed her hand on Thackery's head and felt around the back for a few moments, "there is a lump back here. I'll have to do an autopsy to see if he was helped in any way."
"Your best guess?"
Fraiser just shrugged. "Don't hold me to it, sir, but I'd say you may have a murder on your hands." She then followed the body out of the room.
For one of the few times in his life, Hammond did not know what to do. Thackery was a solid chance to find a trail to Thayer. He could not accuse General Thayer of any crimes without tangible proof, and he could get no tangible proof because there was no concrete evidence of the crime. It was a Catch-22. All they had to back of the claims of the conspiracy was hearsay and circumstantial at best. Signatures on transfers do not convict. Neither does sharing the same commanding officer. The full measure of evidence would be thrown out of the JAG's office before anyone got near a court martial. Hammond knew they had been lucky when convicting the 52 replacement personnel. They had Daniel Jackson as an eye-witness to his own murder. His testimony alone had convicted the murderers. Now, Hammond knew, they were going to have to catch the perpetrators in the act. O'Neill's idea of a frontal attack was becoming more of an option.
Things just kept getting better and better, didn't they?
Friday afternoon, SGC
Daniel sat on the bed in the infirmary as Doctor Fraiser completed the last of the tests she had wanted to run on him. He kept telling her that he was fine, that everything was in good working order, and he really wanted to leave now, thank you very much. He had wanted to listen in to the negotiations between Kasuf and Hammond, but Janet had put her foot down. Just because his wounds had been nicely taken care of by the healing device, he was still almost made a host. That brought up a myriad of medical considerations that she needed to think about, and he was her latest guinea pig, you're welcome.
Oh, well, at least Kasuf had been able to trade naquada for irrigation equipment.
At that moment, the rest of SG-1 entered. Jack, in his usual flippant way, had to ask, "How's he doing, Doc? Can he come out and play?" He almost stopped dead in his tracks when he saw the captured Goa'uld symbiote staring at him from the aquarium the medics had encased him in. Its beady little eyes glowed for a moment, then it swam to the far side of the tank and coiled up on the bottom, blatantly ignoring the human interest story going on around it.
Janet knew that once Daniel was conscious and mobile, he would be conning Jack for help in asking for his release from the infirmary. She didn't know which one of them was worse. So now Jackson was conscious and mobile, and he was about to drive her crazy with his "Can I go now? Please?" every few minutes.
"Yes, Colonel, you can take him with you. I've run about every test I can think of at the moment, and I can't find anything new wrong with him."
"That might be a matter of opinion," Jack muttered, only to get a punch in the arm from Daniel.
"Do you mind? I'm trying to get out of here."
Janet spoke up. "And I'm trying to get rid of you, Daniel, but you might want to hear what I've discovered from all of these annoying tests I've been performing for the last two months. No one's asked me why I've been running so many. There is a method to my madness, you know."
Teal'c spoke up, eager to assist the frustrated physician, "Doctor Fraiser, allow me to ask why you are conducting such a variety of tests. Have you found an inconsistency that has you concerned?"
Janet showed them several monitors with magnified images of blood samples. "I've found a very interesting inconsistency that I can't explain. These are blood samples of people who have had a symbiote in them to varying degrees. All the evidence we have suggests that symbiote possession shows up in the physical arena in a very specific way. This monitor is a sample of Colonel O'Neill's blood. When Hathor tried to implant a Goa'uld in him, he was cryogenically frozen, and the symbiote died. My theory is that, at the moment of death, there is some sort of chemical release from the symbiote that imprints the protein marker into the host. We've thought that since the symbiote failed to blend with Colonel O'Neill, there was no protein marker left behind. I'm realizing now that full blending may only be part of the answer. I'm assuming that the freezing process and the lack of rapid blood flow stopped the imprinting of any protein markers into his system when the creature died by prohibiting the chemical release. His blood work is normal. You'd never be able to tell the incident happened other than a small scar on the back of his neck."
"There's always the nightmares," Jack muttered under his breath.
She moved to the next monitor. "This is a sample of Skaara's blood. He and Klorel shared the same body, but the symbiote was removed. He has no protein marker, so that seems to suggest that my theory that the symbiote has to die in order for any physical reminders to remain in the host's body might be confirmed. Other than memories he was able to retain from that time, Skaara doesn't have any physical symptoms of possession other than the entry wound. His blood work is as normal as Colonel O'Neill's."
At the third monitor, she enhanced the image even more. "This is Major Carter's blood sample. Since Jolinar died inside her, she has the very prominent protein marker in her system. It's easy to detect. We've all seen the aftereffects of Jolinar's possession, so I don't think I need to go into any long descriptions of her contributions to Sam's physiology."
"And here," she indicated the fourth monitor, "is Daniel's sample. His situation is somewhat unique. He was dead when he was possessed, and he wasn't completely alive when Vaelen died, so I had been working under the assumption that there was a definite absence or lack of rapid blood flow. Apparently that assumption was wrong. There was enough movement in his veins after the Dervan attack to conduct the byproducts of a dying symbiote in the time between Vaelen died and Daniel took back control. I was expecting his results to be similar to Sam's, but it actually looks and reacts more like Colonel O'Neill's. That alone contradicted my earlier findings."
She accessed another picture showing a more recent blood sample. "Here's something else very confusing. At first, his blood work looked normal and even acted normal, but when you look at this later sample and magnify it even more than I did with Major Carter's blood," she moved a few dials, and the group watched the pictures grow larger, "there's a definite change. The protein marker in Daniel's system is present, but it's practically undetectable if you don't know what you're looking for. It's not reacting in the same way as Sam's. Certain chromosomes from his and Vaelen's DNA have merged or replaced each other to form some very human, slightly altered proteins. They act and react identically to completely human proteins, but....well, to make a very long story short, Daniel is undeniably human with some Goa'uld physical characteristics."
"And that's significant...how? And why don't I like the sound of that?" Daniel asked her. That sounded just like Jack. He really had to stop spending so much time around him.
"Vaelen told Colonel O'Neill that he believed a Kha'ti's healing abilities for a live host were dormant, but he believed he did possess them. Your wounds were healing rather quickly before Sam started working on you with the healing device. Sam's wounds heal at a normal human speed, yours seem to heal much faster."
"Faster?" Daniel asked her. "Don't tell me. With the speed of a symbiote."
"Yes. You seem to have developed that aspect of Goa'uld physiology. Also, your strength has increased. Remember the coffee pot you broke because you held it too hard? And in case you don't remember, yesterday you fought against several Jaffa and won. That one in the gate room was even bigger than Teal'c, and you had very little trouble stopping him."
"But all I did was trip him back into the wormhole."
"Uh, no, Danny," Jack commented. "You didn't just trip him. You were putting up one hell of a fight."
Janet continued. "Your vocal chords have been slightly altered. You wouldn't be able to see the difference on a routine exam, but on a very close examination, they've developed an underlying layer which, I think, may help produce the echoing voice of a Goa'uld."
"And you think this because..." Jack asked her quickly. He did not like the sound of what he was being told about his friend.
"It's an assumption, Colonel. It's not like I've had the opportunity to study a Goa'uld or a Tok'ra for as long or as thoroughly as I would like. Even the Kha'ti weren't overly eager to allow tests to be performed on them. It seems that soldiers aren't the only ones with an aversion to doctors."
She turned her attention back to Daniel. "This morning, I found another interesting aspect of your condition. When exposed to certain types of electromagnetic energy, you blood begins to take on a luminescent effect. If my assumption is correct, then I wouldn't be at all surprised if you could make your eyes light up like a host's." As a scientist, she was thrilled to have such a unique puzzle to solve. As a human being, she truly felt for Daniel. She knew when she saw the crestfallen look on his face that he already knew what she was going to say, maybe he had even guessed at it himself but just didn't want to believe it. "My preliminary tests are showing that Vaelen didn't just die, he made himself a part of you. Almost as if there's a part of him still living inside you only without the consciousness."
"Well, that's interesting. Not comforting, but interesting," Daniel murmured. "And all of this means?" He already had an idea what it all meant. He just needed someone to say it out loud.
"That could explain the memories," Sam told him, her face showing that she had just had an inspiration. "You said yourself that Vaelen's memories seem like your own, that there are times when you can't distinguish your life from his. If he merged with you at the cellular level, this is literally a case of two people becoming one person. Psychology theorizes that coherent, recallable and unconscious memory doesn't just lie within the mind. It also lies in the senses and the physical part of a person. What he knew and felt he passed on to you."
"Point being?" Jack asked her.
"My point, sir, is that any scholar or writer could put pen to paper and write about the Kha'ti from stories that have been passed down and retold, but to have the actual physical memories as your own and write from the viewpoint that all events experienced concerned you would be the only way any of the truth would be able to be remembered accurately by anyone considered alien. It's almost as if Vaelen were making Daniel a Kha'ti so he could--"
"Remember the Kha'ti for future generations," Jack finished for her. That's what Daniel had said that night when he had finally told Jack about Vaelen's legacy. Looking at Daniel, Jack knew that he had been aware that there were changes in him, just not the exact nature of them. Daniel looked absolutely lost.
Vaelen, old buddy, it's a good thing you were a friend or I'd have chopped you up and used you for fish bait for this if I'd known.
Daniel's suspicions had been confirmed. No wonder he hadn't felt right since Vaelen died. Vaelen hadn't left him! He sat down hard in a nearby chair. "Damn," Daniel muttered. "You mean that there's no way to get Vaelen out of me? I'm stuck with this?"
Sam stared at her friend incredulously. For them, this was an incredible opportunity, but she did sympathize with him. "I know this is hard, Daniel, but Vaelen left you all of the knowledge he possessed for a reason. Maybe it was his way of helping us fight the Goa'uld. You may know more about the symbiote races than anyone else here."
"I probably know a lot of things I didn't know before. No offense, but how much do you enjoy those brief glimpses into Jolinar's life? I don't have glimpses. I've got the editor's cut, wide screen edition." He knew right away that he shouldn't have said that. Sam meant well, but their experiences were just a little different. "Look, Sam, I know it's fascinating, and if it had happened to anyone else I'd be driving them up the walls asking questions, but I don't like it. Maybe it's because he was a soldier, and I'm not. Maybe it's because of how we met, but I've got to tell you I really...don't like it. When he asked me to help him, I said yes. I thought it was the least I could do since he was trying to get me back to the land of the living. He just didn't tell me what he was going to do or what I'd have to deal with to help him. That seems to be a symbiote trait we've run up against once or twice already." Daniel was more than frustrated. This was the way it was going to be for the rest of his life. He was hoping that the memories would fade in time. He could deal with everything else, but Vaelen's memories were almost too much for him to handle.
Okay, the pity party was over. He had to find something he could use to be able to deal with the situation. He thought for a moment. There had to be something of significance he could turn into a positive. "Of course, given that I have a tendency to get hurt a little more often than the rest of you, that entire fast healing bit might be useful."
"And being able to throw a Jaffa over your shoulder will definitely come in handy," Jack commented snidely. "You might actually know how to duck now."
Sam's contribution only added to Daniel's turmoil. "I can tell you that you sense like a Goa'uld to me, not just like someone who has been a host, and I don't mean that to sound like an insult. If you could sound like one, we might have an advantage we didn't have before. You might be able to pass for a Goa'uld."
He really didn't want to hear that, but he knew she meant well. "Maybe, but those memories really are things I'd like to live without. You have no idea what he went through."
"Yet Vaelen gave his memories to you, Daniel Jackson," Teal'c admitted. "He was a wise and trustworthy symbiote who knew that you would honor his last wishes."
"I'd do that anyway, Teal'c," Daniel said defensively. "He was one of the good guys. I probably would have been friends with him if we had the opportunity to...really talk. A live host trying to communicate with a symbiote who can't communicate well with a live host is just a little difficult."
"Teal'c's getting really good with those guilt trips, isn't he?" Jack asked Daniel.
"Have you been giving him lessons, Jack?"
"Who, me?" Jack showed off that chow-eating grin of his.
General Hammond almost stormed into the infirmary, an exasperated look shadowing his features. "As far as lessons go, Doctor Jackson, have you been giving Kasuf lessons in negotiating?"
"Something wrong, General?" Jack asked quickly, clearly amused at the General's expression.
"Wrong? No, Colonel, nothing's wrong. Why would anything be wrong? I've just spent this entire morning negotiating an agreement with Kasuf about trading naquada for irrigation equipment, and I'll be honest with you, I think that man could sell someone the Brooklyn Bridge. I'm lucky I still have the silver in my teeth."
"Then you are lucky, General," Daniel answered him. "All that proves is that Kasuf likes you. Normally, you wouldn't have even kept your teeth."
Hammond refused to respond to that comment. "Right now, I've asked Major Feretti to escort Kasuf and Skaara around the base, basically keep them busy for a while. Doctor Fraiser, I need to be rude and ask for the use of your infirmary for a few moments, if you don't mind."
That was a polite order. "No problem at all, sir." She gathered up some paperwork and quickly left the infirmary, closing the door behind her.
Hammond started pacing. This was not good. "I asked Doctor Fraiser to keep this quiet until I could talk to the four of you at the same time." He stopped pacing and faced SG-1. "Last night, Colonel Thackery was murdered. He was hit on the back of the head and hung from the ceiling. Do you have any idea what this means?"
"We've lost another chance to link Thayer to anything?" Jack asked.
"Colonel Thackery would not have surrendered General Thayer or Colonel Darby under any conditions, O'Neill," Teal'c observed.
"But we might have been able to convince him otherwise, Teal'c," Sam said despairingly.
"He's gone, but there's another one out there," Daniel told them. Oh, yeah, this was turning into a really great day.
"Say what?" Jack did not want to hear that.
"Who killed him? It had to be someone who thought he might've talked."
Damn. Jack didn't think of that. There was another killer amongst them, and there was no guesswork needed to know where the killer's loyalty was. "General, murdering someone on a military base as heavily surveilled as this one would take someone with an extraordinary background, if you take my meaning."
"I do, Colonel. I'm having every bit of surveillance film checked. We're due for some good luck. Maybe this time we'll be able to cash in on it." Then he noticed Daniel. His hands were clenched into fists, his knuckles were white with pressure. He looked angry. "Doctor Jackson?"
The General's voice barely registered with the young man. "This is just like before."
"Daniel?" Jack called out to him. "What's just like before?"
Daniel blinked his eyes, remembering where he was. "Sorry. I was just...Vaelening again. Something very similar happened to me--him a very long time ago. He was betrayed by someone he was supposed to be able to trust. He couldn't go after her or stop her. Every time he tried, he kept running into a brick wall. The memory just hit me pretty hard. It doesn't have anything to do with us." He grew very quiet.
"What do you propose we do now, General Hammond," Teal'c asked him, quickly changing the subject for Daniel's sake.
"First, Major Carter, how is the sonic resonator coming?"
"I finished it this morning, sir," she told him. "I've located the frequency the homemade Stargate emits when engaging a wormhole. The resonator will detect the frequency the moment the first chevron is encoded, and we'll be able to triangulate its position within thirty seconds. We'll also be able to determine the same information from an incoming wormhole to the homemade Stargate."
"Good. Then I would suggest that Colonel O'Neill's frontal attack be initiated. We start dropping hints that we have proof of Thayer and Darby's involvement in the conspiracy to kill the civilians. We definitely use their names. We also let everyone know that they are involved in Maybourne's scheme of stealing alien technologies. Let's force them to run. We'll have to track them when they do. Let's just hope that they'll take the bait."
No one said that maybe they should have taken this course of action in the first place. Events and circumstances dictate decisions, and whether these decisions are good or bad, only hindsight can tell.
Same time, Pentagon
General Thayer pounded his fist on his desk. "Quinton, are you telling me that Anderson expedited Thackery inside the SGC?"
"He had no choice. The idiot made a mistake that almost cost us Jackson. Anderson thought Thackery would talk once Hammond let the Jaffa take over the questioning."
Another mistake. Another costly mistake. Hammond would be forced to move against him now. He was so close. The new base was almost complete. Only a few more days, then...no. There would be no more waiting. He had to act now. He knew they were coming. "How is Jackson?"
"He's fine. The symbiote was restrained before it could complete implantation. He's been in the infirmary since yesterday."
This was too close. Kha'ti and Tau'ri knowledge in the hands of the Goa'uld would mean the end of all of them. That knowledge was his, and his alone! "Quint, we start getting things ready to move tonight. I want all equipment and personnel sent through the Stargate to the new base as soon as Anderson picks up Jackson and brings him to us. Everyone goes at one time."
"1472R won't be completed for at least another day. Timmons has that on first priority, every one of his people are working on it. If we take Jackson now, there won't be--"
"Has item 1506B been backward engineered?
"It has, but I have to warn you against it. Its effects on Jackson could be detrimental to our plans. Given his past, I don't know if we can take a chance on using it."
"I don't care what it does to him physically or mentally. It just has to confine him for however many hours it takes to get 1472R operational. If he truly has the strength that's been reported to us, ordinary means of containment won't work. We'll have to use 1506B. After I get the Kha'ti's memories, Jackson's going to die. And I'm going to enjoy watching him suffer. Just take care of it."
Early Friday evening, SGC
Captain Hendricks walked almost timidly down the hallway to General Hammond's office. With the death of Colonel Thackery, the events of the past couple of months had finally fallen in place for him. He knew what was going on at the SGC, regardless of the General's superior ability to keep secrets from the rest of the staff at the base. For hours, he had contemplated what he should do. He had been ordered to keep quiet, ordered to never reveal the occurrences in Peru, but keeping that information quiet could bring about the end of the SGC as they knew it. Worse, it could bring about the death of Daniel Jackson. That thought alone convinced Hendricks that, this time, silence was not a virtue and strict adherence to a direct order was not possible. Okay, this could cost him his career, but to do anything else could cost the Earth its first, last, best and only means of defense from interstellar enemies.
He tentatively knocked on the General Hammond's door and heard a brusque "Enter" come from the office. Hendricks entered and saw that General Hammond was meeting with Colonel O'Neill. Oh, hell, this was not going to be easy.
"Yes, Captain?" the General asked him.
"General, there's something I have to tell you." He shuffled on his feet, his eyes not quite meeting the General's. "It might help you with what's going on around here."
The General knew too well how to play the game. "I don't think I know what you mean, Captain."
Hendricks suddenly found the pen lying on the General's desk very interesting. He did not see the quick glance the General gave O'Neill.
"Sit down, Captain." The General's invitation was a welcome one. Hendricks thought his legs were going to give out on him.
"Apparently, you believe that there is something going on that I need to be made aware of. So what is it you'd like to tell me?" Hammond asked him quietly. "If you would like, I can have Colonel O'Neill wait outside. That is, if you think that what you have to tell me is that confidential."
Hendricks took a deep breath. "No, sir. Actually, Colonel O'Neill should be here. This problem involves him personally, sort of. Indirectly, I guess. Sirs, I have to let you know that my coming here like this to tell you what I know is disobeying a direct order I was given seven years ago."
Why does seven years ago sound so familiar? "Then maybe you shouldn't say anything that could get you into any trouble," O'Neill told him.
"I can't do that, Colonel. There's too much at stake here if I keep quiet. A long time ago, Doctor Jackson said something to me, and I've never been able to shake it off." He saw the questioning looks the superior officers sent his way. "He once told me that soldiers follow orders, but good soldiers know when not to. I've been a soldier most of my adult life, but now I've got to be a good soldier and not follow an order. I owe Doctor Jackson that much." Oh, yeah, he had their complete and undivided attention.
"What do you want to tell us?" General Hammond asked him.
"For starters, and meaning no disrespect, it doesn't take a genius to figure out that there was a much bigger conspiracy behind the 52 murders. You got the muscle in jail, but you didn't get the brains. Now I did a little checking on my own, and these replacements all worked for a Colonel Darby. I know that Colonel Darby works for General Thayer at the Pentagon. They're the brains of the operation, and you can't touch them. You know that they're still sending people in here, Thackery was one of their latest attempts to mess things up, but you don't have much more than circumstantial evidence. And you think that if you knew what was motivating them, that might help you stop them. Am I right?"
Hammond stared at the young Captain. If the grapevine had this much information, then there would be no chance of stopping Thayer. "How many people are thinking along the same lines as you, Captain?"
"You don't have to worry, General. I'm the only one to know enough about the players to guess what's been going on, and I thought that you needed to know. Like I said, I owe Doctor Jackson."
A very uncomfortable silence settled on them. Hendricks knew that he might be throwing away his military career, but there was a greater justice that needed to be met. O'Neill was almost ready to shake the Captain until he spilled everything he knew, and Hammond was having difficulty believing that this young man might have the answers to a lot of questions even Doctor Jackson had been unwilling to share. "Very well, Captain," Hammond said. "Tell us what you know."
"Thayer's out for power, and he's got his eye on the SGC as the way to get it. He's military to the bone, he doesn't like civilians, and the scientists here could prove to be a problem if he were to take over. He can't deal with civilians, so he planned to kill them and replace them with his own people. The other thing is that he's got a vendetta against Doctor Jackson, so going after the civilians here was the answer to two of his problems."
This was not the way to begin. Start over. He cleared his throat and began again. "I don't know how Thayer got to be power hungry or why, but this hatred of Doctor Jackson started about seven years ago. There was an archaeological expedition in Peru. Daniel Jackson and Erin O'Malley were there with a team from some museum to conduct a dig. They were there because the two of them knew the languages in that region. My troop was ordered to go in as escort. There had been some unrest with some of the local tribes, and the higher-ups decided that the group could use some added protection. We didn't have much to do. They knew the area and the people and fit in great. I felt like a fifth wheel, but this was the first group of civilians I ever escorted where I wasn't treated like a bug. They always said good morning, offered us coffee, meals, taught us the customs of the local tribe, actually involved us it the dig instead of telling us to go clean our guns. I can honestly say that it was the most enjoyable assignment I ever had."
"We'd been there about a month, and everything was going smoothly. One morning, the entire valley was awakened by gunfire, a lot of it. We couldn't see who was shooting, but we set up a defensive perimeter around the camp and covered the tribe as they started retreating into the jungle. That's when we saw them. Covert Ops. They were firing into the village and our camp. I was shot, most of the rest of my troop was killed, and we didn't know the condition of the rest of the people. We were taken by surprise."
"All of a sudden, there was Jackson acting more like he was career military than a scientist. Personally, I think it was some sort of survival instinct kicking in because the guy had no military training. He pulled a wounded sergeant behind a fallen log and grabbed his rifle. He dragged me behind a boulder at the edge of the camp. I told him that it was our guys, and he said our guys aren't supposed to kill innocent people. That's when I saw some of the bodies. Women, children, old folks, they were lying on the ground. In their own blood. They weren't lucky enough to get away. Found out that Doctor Jackson had called for an emergency evacuation for us, and we had to get to the rendezvous point. I guessed that he had friends watching out for him and were on stand-by in case he called. When O'Malley came for me and the sergeant, I heard her say that the rest of the villagers had escaped and we were the only ones left alive. Then the firing started again, and it was aimed at us. The sergeant was unconscious, I was still there, sort of, and those two scientists held off a Covert Ops troop. By themselves! I found out later that they had to undergo some weapons training before they were allowed into the area, and all they had done was fire in the general direction they thought the shooters were. They knew how to handle AK-47s a lot better than I would have given them credit for under the circumstances."
"Anyway, at some point, they dragged us from the camp and took us...someplace. A helicopter was landing. That's when I saw just how bad our situation was. The chopper had taken a hit and was leaking oil. O'Malley had been hit pretty badly, but she were still moving. Doctor Jackson only had some superficial wounds. That machine was loaded with equipment and medicines for a MASH unit headquartered farther up the valley and wasn't going to carry all of us. The sergeant had to go, he was hurt the worst. O'Malley was going to need medical help and soon. Jackson and I were hurt the least and volunteered to stay behind until the pilot could come back and get us. I don't know who that pilot was, but Jackson did. They got into an argument about him staying behind, but Jackson finally convinced him that we didn't have any choice. We hid ourselves in the jungle again before the chopper took off. I couldn't stay conscious, but Jackson didn't leave me there to die. When we had to move, he threw me over his shoulder and hiked us out of there. I was awake when the chopper came back for us. I do know that there was gunplay while we were waiting. Jackson had gotten shot in the leg, but it wasn't life threatening. He doesn't even have a limp. He was a civilian in a gunfight, and he refused to leave me behind to save his own skin. I never thought I'd ever see that kind of behavior out of those scientists. Daniel really surprised me, but if you've ever watched him, he does know how to take care of himself in a fight."
It seemed that Daniel was good at surprising people even then.
"About a week later, at the field hospital, I found out from sources that I can't tell you about that the Covert Ops team had been led by a Colonel Thayer. According to what I was told, a bullet had shattered his knee and he was going to be given a promotion and put on desk duty at the Pentagon. As for why they were in the jungle, no one ever knew. I heard rumors that he had been ordered to move the tribe, but he interpreted his order to mean to permanently move the tribe to the next life. I did hear that Thayer's career had been sidetracked by a well-placed gunshot wound fired by a civilian, and everyone figured that this civilian was looking at a lot of trouble."
"And this one particular civilian that ended Thayer's Covert Ops career wouldn't happen to be a fellow named Jackson, would it?" O'Neill asked him.
"The one and the same. I was ordered to keep quiet about everything that happened in Peru. So were the other survivors. But I can tell you that Thayer knows how to hold a grudge. He's using his influence at the Pentagon to cause all of the troubles we've had here, and he's targeting Daniel Jackson himself. If you want my opinion, sirs, and this is entirely my opinion, Thayer is going to grab Daniel and run after this latest incident. He won't take the chance of Daniel getting killed before he gets what he wants. He'll run."
Thayer's greatest fear? Could it be so simple? Could Daniel be the key upon which Thayer's downfall hinged? Although Hammond was grateful to have the information, he was now troubled by another problem. "Captain, you do realize that you've created a breach of security? That you may have jeopardized your own career?"
"Yes, sir. And I wouldn't have except that Thayer's still out there. I know what your thinking, sir, but I would never betray the SGC. I know why this place has to be kept a secret. That order I was given seven years ago was to protect Thayer. That order is in conflict with the security of this base, and as the commanding officer, you have the right and the authority to know of anything that might jeopardize the SGC. Thayer would do anything to get revenge on Doctor Jackson and better his own position at the Pentagon. With respect, sir, I believe that Thayer may be a threat to the SGC. Think about it. The people he's sent here can't be trusted. They've killed some of our people, and they've tried to make the base unfriendly to the civilians. I know you've tried to make things better, General, but it's just not enough. Thayer will keep hitting us until he gets what he wants, one way or the other."
Colonel O'Neill picked up a file from Hammond's desk. "Captain, do you have any idea why Doctor Jackson wouldn't tell us about what happened in Peru? Let's face it, following orders isn't exactly at the top of his list of ten favorite things to do."
Hendricks thought for a moment. "Two reasons. One is the pilot that flew us out of there. I don't think Thayer knows who the pilot was, and Doctor Jackson may be protecting him. The second reason is all of us. We're under orders to keep our mouths shut about Peru. If Doctor Jackson ever said anything, that would start an investigation and put me and that sergeant in a situation where our careers really could be damaged."
Knowing Daniel as well as he did, Jack did not doubt that his stubborn friend would do everything in his power to protect these people. He had protected every member of SG-1 in the past.
"So, your coming in here and telling us this was because....
"Like I said. I owe Doctor Jackson, Colonel. He saved my life. And I have a responsibility to the SGC. Both of those obligations are being threatened, and if we don't stop Thayer, we're going to be hurting. Big time. On a global scale. Hell, an intergalactic scale. Sirs."
The General approached the Captain and uncharacteristically shook his hand. It looked like they might have another piece of the puzzle. "Thank you, Captain. I know that telling us this was a hard decision for you to make. For now, this conversation will not leave this room."
"Thank you, sir. I appreciate that. The person who told me to keep quiet made it very clear that even the buzzards wouldn't find my remains if I talked." With a salute for his commanding officer, Hendricks quickly left the office.
Hammond's attention turned to his second-in-command who was busy re-reading the file folder he had picked up. The folder held the written record of the life and times of one Doctor Daniel Jackson. "What do you think, Colonel?"
"Daniel told me that he couldn't say anything about Thayer, and he didn't know anything about Darby. His file mentions a trip to Peru seven years ago, but that it ended when several of the personnel were wounded. There's no mention as to the nature of the wounds. If Hendricks is telling the truth, I know a few discrete people who can find out the details."
"And do we confront Doctor Jackson? I don't think he'd lie to us."
"I'll talk to him after I tell him he's under protective custody. He might not be able to tell us anything, but he'll let us know if we're right or wrong."
"I don't want him thinking that we're questioning him, Colonel. If he's protecting someone, those undomesticated equines of yours wouldn't drag anything out of him. Just let him know that we need to have only enough information to maintain security. I don't think he'd object to that."
"No, sir. I don't think he would either. But you're right. If he's protecting someone, nothing will force him to talk." That much, Jack knew for certain.
1:00 a.m., Saturday morning, SGC
Daniel was gone.
He had disappeared seven hours earlier. Kasuf had mentioned that he wanted to try something called barbecue spare ribs that he had heard O'Neill rave about, and Daniel had driven down to The Barbecue Hole while Kasuf and Skaara finished their exploration of the SGC. His car had been found lying sideways in a ditch just three miles from the base.
Daniel was gone.
Jack was well past worried and was bordering on frantic. He knew this was going to happen. He just knew it! That's why Daniel hadn't been out of their sight since he came back. He knew that Thayer was going to do this. That damn General had kidnapped Daniel. There was not one shred of doubt in Jack's mind that was what had happened. Not one scrap, not one iota, not one crumb of a shadow of any doubt. The bad guys got him. Now they just had to find him.
"Anything yet, Carter?" he asked as he ran into her lab.
Kasuf and Skaara were there staring at the sonic resonator, worry so deeply etched in their eyes that it was almost palpable. Kasuf was blaming himself for Daniel's abduction. He had only wanted to try spare ribs, and the result was the loss of his son. If Jack didn't know better, he would almost swear that Daniel and Kasuf were blood related. He had thought that taking on guilt for events that you had nothing to do with had to be genetic. It wasn't contagious like the measles. Yet, here stood Kasuf, feeling exactly the way Daniel would have if their positions were reversed. Like the others, Kasuf refused to think that Daniel was dead. He was far too valuable. They all knew that Daniel would be moved to a more secure area as soon as Thayer had him, and moving for Thayer meant using the homemade Stargate. It wouldn't be a wise move or a safe choice for him to do otherwise.
"They haven't activated their Stargate yet, sir. As soon as they do, we've got them." That was not even slightly comforting. These people had killed Daniel once, they could do it again. It was what they would do to him before they killed him that scared her. He had already been their prisoner for seven hours.
"We've got the go ahead from Hammond to move the second we've got a location. He's on the phone with the President right now. Let's just say it's not a pleasant conversation."
"What is your President saying, O'Neill?" Skaara asked him.
"Find Daniel, get him back, capture Darby and Thayer preferably alive, and hope they're going to the planet all of the stolen Asgaard and Tollan technology has been stowed and recover it. In that order. If we're lucky, we'll have enough to bury the bastards." There was venom in his voice. To those who knew Jack, they would have said that fear was there as well. What he was scared of most of all was the fact that he didn't know what items had been stolen by Thayer's people or what they already had in their possession. They would need Daniel alive, but there was nothing prompting them to keep him unharmed and in one piece. Thayer could do some real damage before they could find Daniel.
Teal'c stood silently nearby. Finally, the waiting became intolerable. "We should have stopped General Thayer and Colonel Darby after we had obtained Captain Roberts confession."
"We couldn't, Teal'c," O'Neill said angrily. "The brass would have let them go because we didn't have any proof."
"I did not mean to imply that we should have arrested and convicted them, O'Neill. In my culture--"
"I know, Teal'c. Dismember them. I like it. It's a good plan. Quick, subtle, to the point. No room for misunderstandings there. I'd have gone for it. I would have agreed to having them hung, drawn and quartered. Buried alive in a fire ant bed. Ripped apart by a pack of hyenas. Anything that would have caused them the greatest amount of pain. Unfortunately, it wasn't my decision."
All talking ceased when the sonic resonator began to work. A scanner tracked the frequency of the homemade Stargate as it connected with the one site no one had thought to consider, the one site where Daniel might actually have an advantage.
The resonator hummed for a moment, then locked onto the coordinates that gave them all hope. "We've got it, sir! We know where they're going!" Carter exclaimed.
"All right! Come on, people. Saddle up. We've got a space monkey to collect and some rodents to exterminate." O'Neill was the first out of the door.
Watching them leave the room, Kasuf prayed that his son would be all right.
Where was he? It was dark. Okay, that was obvious. What had happened? He was driving to the Barbecue Hole, then what? Oh, yeah. One of the guards had driven after him and ran him off the road. Before he could even get out of his car--his brand new car, mind you--the guard had run up to him and hit him with something. And now he was here. Now where was here?
He was in some sort of box? He couldn't tell. He felt too disoriented to have a rational thought. His hands worked, though. The inside of the box was smooth, familiar. The crispness of the air was almost soothing. The disorientation was dissipating. He felt rested, but he needed something else, something he couldn't identify. He just didn't know what.
On their own, his hands found some sort of switch above him. Some sleep-muddled memory told him that he needed to press the switch. Suddenly, the box lid began to crack in the middle, crack and separate. The two halves split apart, and he knew where he was. He almost rocketed from the sarcophagus. No, this was not good. Now he knew what he needed, and he really didn't want to go down the painful road of withdrawal again, but he could feel it coming. He REALLY wanted to get back in the sarcophagus. He wasn't going to do that, though. He knew he was already in a little too much trouble.
Once out of the living coffin, he glanced around the room he was in. He felt heavier than he should, and he had traveled enough to know that the different feel in the gravity meant that he was on another planet. How could he have been taken to another planet without Hammond knowing----right. The homemade Stargate Darby had hidden away. The expected had happened. They had nabbed him and moved him to another planet. Cute. Now, he just had to figure out which one. He tried categorizing what information he could. He was alone in a small room in the back of a cave. There was no symmetry to the walls or the ceiling, just clumps of rock that had been chiseled away. The smell of the air seemed strangely familiar. It was cold and clean. No pollution. He could see his breath in the frigid air surrounding him. He moved around the small room not only to try to keep warm but to also jog his memory. Musty, damp, cold, heavy, every sensation was screaming familiarity. He touched the cave wall. Cold rock. Familiar rock. An almost unheard of specimen in the field of metallurgy. It was a naturally formed specimen of volcanic naquada. Oh, no. He was back on PTX952. He really hadn't seen that one coming.
Knowing that an escape would not be forthcoming any time in the near future or under his own power due to the weather outside and the guards undoubtedly standing just out of his sight, he did the soldier-thing and took note of his surroundings. A soldier always works out the best avenue of retreat should an escape became possible. Too bad he wasn't a soldier even with Vaelen's experience. He looked around the small area. The only items there other than himself and the sarcophagus was a small, low-powered artificial light that was definitely of alien origin. Well, he had light however pitiful it was, he might as well take a look at the offensive coffin. If Jack were there, he wouldn't let him get near the contraption, but Jack wasn't there and his curiosity was running rampant. He leaned over and took a long look at the sarcophagus, and he did not believe what he saw or, rather, what he was not seeing. There were no markings or hieroglyphs. There was no solid gold casement. The outer casing was made of reflective steel.
This could not be happening.
These idiots had gone and done it. They had built a homemade sarcophagus. This wasn't going to be a good thing. Talk about messing with forces you don't understand. He knew that the next few days were going to be rough for him.
He tried to stand again, but the dizziness threatened to throw him to the ground. He reached his hand up to his head, and his fingers came into contact with something cold and metal at his temple. Damn it! He had one of those Tok'ra memory enhancing neural implants on his head. He didn't enjoy the gadget the last time he had been subjected to it. Not only was it uncomfortable, the device had an annoying habit of going off at the most inappropriate times. Given his current situation, that was going to be an inconvenience.
Then he saw his reflection in the steel and took a good look at himself. His eyes were glowing then not glowing. Glowing then not glowing. They weren't supposed to do that!
"What---" he didn't have to even complete the sentence. His voice wasn't his voice. It sounded like a symbiote's voice. It had that metallic echo he hated so much.
Okay, think, Jackson. Think. How could this happen? He wished Sam were there. No, he didn't. That would mean she would be a prisoner, too, but he could certainly use her expertise about now. Janet said that I had symbiote qualities. A sarcophagus enhances a symbiote while suppressing the host. I was in a sarcophagus, so my human DNA has probably been suppressed. Vaelen's is the one that's in control. Okay, maybe I can bluff my way out of...no. I couldn't bluff anybody. I can't even play poker very well. Too bad I don't know how to control this. This could come in handy. He almost kicked himself. Here he was, a prisoner of the people that had murdered him less than a year ago, and he's having a running monologue about his eyes glowing. Jack would probably--
Damn! Jack would be well past annoyed, left worrying trailing in the dust, running neck-and-neck with angry, and gaining on going ballistic with a murderous rampage just ahead right about now. The Colonel was getting more than a little upset when his team members kept disappearing without a good reason. Well, he'd never hear the end of this one.
He could hear Jack's voice clearly. Nope, Danny, we're not going to let you out of our sights ever again. You go to Abydos for a few days and almost end up a host. You go out for spare ribs, and you get kidnapped by the bad guys. We're just going to have to invest in a heavy-duty leash.
"Hello, Doctor Jackson."
Startled, Daniel turned to face whomever had come up behind him. He should have remembered the acoustics problem. Vaelen had complained that his people should make noises when they walked through the caves they had cleared for their base camp. Sound did not travel well in the dank, dark holes they had dug for themselves, and sneaking up on someone was not the polite thing to do in any situation. Noisy or not, Daniel found himself face to face with a man he barely recognized but felt he knew all too well. He was gratified to see Thayer take a few steps back when he saw Daniel's eyes. "I assume you are General Thayer," Daniel said with his double-echo voice. Maybe he could convince these people he really was Vaelen. It was worth a try.
The older man nodded his agreement surprise evident on his face. He wasn't expecting to be talking to anyone but Daniel Jackson.
"Would it do any good to ask why I'm here?" Daniel asked him.
General Thayer hastily motioned for two heavily armed soldiers standing back in the shadows to join him. The newcomers were military officers, both looked like they had seen some hard service. Each held a rifle that they seemed to enjoy pointing at him. One of them was the guard from the base, the one who had run him off the road. His name tag read 'Anderson.' "You have me at a disadvantage, Master Vaelen. I had been informed that you had perished during the battle with the Dervans. Apparently, we have received misinformation. I did not know you were alive or that you could blend with a live host. If I had known, I would have taken greater care in contacting you. You're here because I need the information you possess."
"And what information would that be?" Daniel already knew the answer but he was trying to buy some time.
"Everything about the Kha'ti and the other symbiote races, of course. As well as any military information I might find useful like bases, weapons, strengths, weaknesses, capabilities." Thayer had that certain aura about him, the one that said 'I said this will happen, and it will happen.'
"And if I do not happen to share your interest in disclosing that particular information to you?" Daniel just knew he wasn't going to like the answer.
"Then, unfortunately, I would have to persuade you to answer. I know Daniel Jackson is alive, and I do not think that you would wish him harmed in any way. I believe a Kha'ti holds the same affection for their hosts as the Tok'ra do."
"Do not compare my kind to the Tok'ra. We are a very different species." Daniel forced his voice to convey utter disdain for the Tok'ra. Maybe he could make Thayer believe that there was some friction between the two groups. Who knows? It might confuse him. "We respect our hosts for they have lost their lives in order for us to have a vessel in which to exist. We respect the emotions felt for our hosts by those we may encounter who knew them before. We do not try to interfere nor do we try to hurt any of our hosts' former associates. It is not in our nature to willingly cause emotional pain to another due to our blending. For myself, I am only now beginning to understand the harmonious coexistence of symbiosis that is possible with a live host. In time, I have no doubt that our blending will become a welcome event, not one that may be considered unwanted by those who are uncomfortable with the idea of symbiote blending. Why did you put us in a sarcophagus?"
Thayer looked very uncomfortable and taken off guard. "It was merely a means of containment, I assure you. Our base wasn't completed, and I could not take the chance on Doctor Jackson escaping or being harmed in any way before we were ready to question him. Of course, I had no idea you were still alive. My reports were in error on that point. This particular base will be completely operational in another day. With your cooperation, we can make this base the primary headquarters for the off-world Tau'ri forces battling the Goa'uld."
Daniel couldn't believe the gall of the man. He was building a base with complete autonomy for himself. Right, like he was going to help this lunatic in any way. "My cooperation?"
"Yes. The Kha'ti fight the Goa'uld, as do we. I am offering you a place here in which to rebuild your army and stage your attacks. The Goa'uld have already been here. Why would they come back?"
"The Goa'ulds would have no reason to return, General. This planet holds neither military advantages nor technological resources adequate for their use. The Dervans, however, always leave traps behind."
Daniel was rewarded with a scared shudder behind Thayer's eyes. He knew all too well the capabilities of the Dervan. Thayer knew about the near invincibility of one Dervan in particular. He was going to let Thayer's imagination run away with him.
Trying to retake control of the conversation, Thayer commented, "I don't believe you have any need to worry about anything left by the Dervans. For the sake of your host, you should only concern yourself with answering our questions."
Daniel glanced at the two men standing behind Thayer. They were hardened military. Just that one glance was enough to tell him that they weren't just soldiers, they were hired guns. "So, you threaten to harm my host in the hopes that I will cooperate?" Just act like Vaelen, he told himself. Maybe you can get out of this without getting hurt too badly. Yeah, right.
"Let's just say that I wish to assure your cooperation."
Play for more time, Jackson. "You must know that Daniel Jackson has been assisting me with my attempts to write down the history of my people. I was told that the Pentagon would have access to that information."
"We do. I've seen some of the reports, but I have a feeling that you are accommodating Doctor Jackson's interest in history because he has been the one writing down the information. I'm sure you understand that what he believes to be important has little military value to me. You are a general, sir. And a soldier. You know the importance of good and correct information.
"We have written down some of our military history as well."
"Yes, you have. History. That does not help me or my plans today. I have no doubt that you find some interest in the historical aspects of your people, after all, it is your history and you do have an archaeologist as a host, but even you can see how worthless that particular information is to our purposes."
"Our purposes?" Daniel asked him.
"Yes. The ultimate defeat of the Goa'uld regime."
Okay, this guy was not only arrogant, he was suffering from delusions of grandeur. This one small pocket of resistance fighters wasn't going to be able to stop the entire Goa'uld army. Of course, with the weapons they had undoubtedly stolen, they could cause some problems for Earth and their fragile alliances.
"How do you propose to defend this small outpost against one pyramid ship? Against an armada of ships? You are alone, General. Your recent actions have made it impossible for you to contact Earth or any of the Tau'ri allies for assistance. You have few weapons and even fewer technological resources to wage a battle. You seem to think that any information I could give you would increase your chances of survival. I fail to see how you can accomplish this great task you have set for yourself."
"Then allow me to show you, Master Vaelen. You may be impressed and more willing to talk to me." Thayer led Daniel from the small room and into the larger part of the cave. This had been the primary living area for the Kha'ti. Thayer had converted it to a weapons storage locker. Tollan cannons, walk-through-walls gadgets, Asgaard weaponry, Tok'ra hand weapons, staff weapons, zat guns, ribbon devices, ship parts, communication spheres, grenade-like bombs, even some items that Thayer could not possibly know their function or purpose. Thayer's people had hit the mother lode.
Then he saw it. In the far corner of the cave, poorly hidden behind some crates, was another homemade Stargate. This one was larger than the one on he had seen at Area 51. They had built a DHD and an enhanced power source for it. This one, Daniel knew, could reach quite a few more planets than the one they had hidden on Earth.
Darby noticed his interest. "Another Stargate my people engineered. I suppose you could consider it a back door in case of an emergency. I refuse to be caught without a way out."
He quickly engaged Daniel's attention elsewhere. "As you can see, we are already well equipped to sustain ourselves in a fight. We have personnel more than capable of using these weapons. We have more cannons and shield generators hidden in the snow surrounding this base. They make a very effective perimeter defense. I have personnel stationed at other bases, some temporary, others not so temporary, each with a functioning secondary Stargate built from our own naquada stores. Every base has several fully functional death gliders to help combat an air assault. You can rest assured that I have procured pilots well-versed in their capabilities to fly them. From here, from this base, we can stage guerilla attacks as well as full-scale battles and monitor multifunctional communications frequencies. Once we're fully staffed and operational, we will have a perimeter defense around Earth that not even a fleet of Goa'uld ships could break through."
"You have no faith in the treaty the System Lords have with Earth? That they will not allow any Goa'uld to attack the planet without fear of reprisal?"
"I have no faith in anything, Master Vaelen, least of all any agreement made with the Goa'ulds. We can trust no one but ourselves."
This was going nowhere. "Believe that if you wish, General," the symbiote's voice said. "You have dictated your own death sentence in this place."
"We shall see. Colonel Timmons," Thayer motioned the officer over to them. "This is Vaelen, the last of the Kha'ti. I am trying to convince him that helping us would be in his best interest. At least, in Doctor Jackson's best interest."
Daniel knew this man. He had seen him at Area 51 when he had been killed.
"Excuse me, General, but I was under the impression that Vaelen was dead." Timmons was a direct individual, wasn't he?
"That was the information we were given. However, he is very much alive. He is not interested in helping us yet. Please take him to the room you've prepared for him. I think you can convince him that helping us is the right thing to do." Thayer left Daniel in the very capable hands of three killers. Daniel was really going to have to talk to Hammond about increasing his paycheck.
Daniel was led to a very cold, very Spartan...laboratory? Only a steel table and a screen were visible. He started to feel the deep, aching need to get back in that sarcophagus. Great. He was going to go through withdrawal while having somebody traipse around his memory with the blasted memory enhancer. Fortunately, he knew a few tricks that could keep that particular piece of technology from working very well if he could work through the shakes, the tremors, and the DTs. It was amazing how Vaelen's knowledge came in handy at the worst possible times, even when he started to feel himself shake from deep within. A homemade sarcophagus. What were these idiots thinking? They had to know about his little episode a couple of years ago with the shiny gold coffins. This was not good. Not good at all.
Colonel Timmons stopped short, apparently aware that 'Vaelen' had taken no notice of the equipment in the room. "I'm sure you're aware of how the neural implant works?"
He was right. Timmons was a very direct individual. "Of course. We have experienced this technology before." Hadn't Sam said that once? Yes, when they were on their way to Netu to rescue Jacob. He kept his hands clutched to his side to hide the fact that they were beginning to shake. Shouldn't the withdrawal symptoms at least wait a few days before hitting him? Remember, it was a homemade gadget, not a home grown one. Nothing was going to be the same this time around.
"Good. Then there's no need to explain what's going to happen to you. I will tell you that you will answer all of our questions. All of our bases will be operational and on-line within the next few days. We will have all pertinent information necessary to mount an adequate defense or attack. You will supply that information. However, I know you won't."
"I won't?" Acting like Vaelen had only bought him minutes. That wasn't enough. He knew that he was going to be hurting worse in a very short time, and it was going to last hours. He tried to keep his trembling hands still. Oddly enough, he wasn't scared. He was becoming preoccupied with his shaking hands. The withdrawal symptoms were becoming more noticeable to him.
Timmons walked him past the laboratory and into a smaller room. This one was completely empty. It had just been recently dug out from the frozen naquada, shards of rock littered the ground. Now what?
"We want everything you know, Vaelen. Are you going to cooperate or not?"
"You are asking me? I thought you had already decided that I was not going to cooperate freely."
Timmons watched as the two men trailing behind Daniel suddenly grabbed his arms. "You're right. You won't have a choice in the matter. The neural implant has been programmed to retrieve all non-human memories; however, it works best if you can't fight it. These two gentlemen are well practiced in the art of pain, and once your host is in pain, neither of you will be able to withstand or influence the enhancer."
He directed his instructions to the senior of the two officers. "I need the host alive and at least semi-conscious. Do whatever is necessary to hurt him. That will keep him occupied when we gather Vaelen's memories. We should have the system primed and working in about 15 minutes. I'll call you when it's time to bring him in." Timmons then turned and walked away, paying little heed to the sounds of fists hitting flesh behind him.
Daniel hurt. Every muscle, every bone, every inch of him was in pain, but it was secondary to the pain he was feeling from the withdrawal. He was shaking, drenched in sweat, almost exhausted. Despite that, he refused to cooperate. Still, he had to keep breathing shallow because a deep breath allowed him to feel every rib in excruciating detail. Even speed healing took time, and damaged bones took longer to heal than a staff weapon blast. He knew that if he didn't think too hard, he could forget that he was lying down, strapped to a table with that abomination trying to dig memories out of his mind. He tried to keep his mind occupied with the events of the previous hours.
So Timmons thought his two goons were going to beat him into submission. The Colonel had been more than surprised when he returned to find that his two goons were lying on the floor, one was unconscious and the other barely breathing from the blows Daniel had levied on them. Another guard had tried to assist his two friends, but found out how painful four broken bones could be. When an additional two soldiers decided to help their friends subdue one man, Daniel had lost whatever advantage he had been pressing. He had been beaten even though he had put up a fight. Oh, yeah, that extra symbiotic strength of his definitely came in handy. Strange, but fighting them had seemed a great deal more satisfying than fighting one Jaffa, just a lot more painful and not quite as successful. He would have to talk to Jack about what kind of fighting skills the military was teaching its recruits these days.
Then came the torment. For three hours, Timmons had tried to find that vast wealth of symbiote knowledge he knew was buried deep in Daniel's mind, but so far, he had been completely unsuccessful. First, Timmons had blamed the system, but a quick diagnostic showed that every circuit was in good working order. Then he blamed the implant in Daniel's temple. It was quickly replaced. The only explanation left had to be Vaelen or Daniel. One of them was able to block the symbiote memories from the implant. That was when the punishment by electrical shocks started. What the hell did these guys use--a cattle prod?
His body was still processing the sarcophagus energy, but his symbiote qualities were still dominant. As far as Timmons was concerned, Daniel had not been there, but Vaelen himself had taken the brunt of the torture. He had mentioned to Thayer that torturing Vaelen was not a good way to go, especially if the Kha'ti knew how to disrupt the neural implant. When Thayer had mentioned that perhaps it was really Daniel they were interrogating and that he was putting on a show, Timmons pointed out that the screams had been in the symbiote voice. Daniel knew he couldn't take much more of this before his symbiote qualities shut down and his Tau'ri qualities took over. The effects of the sarcophagus couldn't last much longer.
Come on, Jack. Now would be a real good time to show up. The sonic resonator was working, wasn't it?
"Vaelen, I have no wish to harm you or your host," Thayer told him.
"Liar." Daniel didn't trust himself to say more than that.
"However, I am finding your resolve to keep quiet extraordinarily tedious. I believe that I would have more luck discussing these issues with Doctor Jackson." He brought out a zat gun and aimed at Daniel's body. "After I have the information I need, I may find you useful and let you live. For now, I wish to speak to Jackson."
Daniel felt that zat gun blast hit him at point blank range. It hurt. It hurt more than he remembered a zat gun ever hurting before. It was counteracting some of the effects of the sarcophagus. He felt himself reemerge from wherever his Tau'ri self had been buried inside him. He wondered briefly if he could switch qualities on his own or if alien technology had to be present in order to do that.
Moments passed, and he heard Thayer tell Timmons, "I don't think you'll have any more trouble with him. Jackson isn't a soldier. He's not trained to withstand torture. Get me that information."
Timmons turned the neural implant up full force, delighting in the screams of pain emanating from Daniel's throat.
Still, they could gather no information. Daniel thought that Vaelen would be proud.
Three groups of transport rings appeared and revealed the small attack force deploying its members in attack position for an assault on a land base. Tau'ri, Tok'ra and a few Tollans were united in what was an unprecedented temporary alliance to stop what O'Neill called illegal gadget trafficking.
Jack wasn't ignorant of the fact that not one single Tau'ri in the group completely trusted the Tok'ra or the Tollans in a fight, but he had made it clear on board Jacob Carter's ship that getting Daniel back was their first priority. Their equipment was secondary. They had already wasted precious hours waiting to rendezvous with the Tok'ra ship.
Oh, but that had lit a fire under the self-righteous, self-important, ego-inflated, oh-so-superior allies. He had been informed that, under no uncertain terms, could any of the technology be allowed to fall into the hands of the very young. Teal'c, in a very uncharacteristic fashion, had informed them that if any of the assault group dared to save any technology before Daniel Jackson was safely with them, they would become the recipient of three zat blasts. There would be no exceptions. They had argued, but when Jacob Carter and Selmac both agreed with Teal'c, all protests stopped. There were strategic advantages, and there were strategic differences, but Daniel Jackson was a living breathing human being and didn't fall under any category except a person who needed help. End of discussion.
The teams advanced through the heavy snow toward what had once been the Kha'ti base on PTX952.
Thayer had no one to blame for the failure but himself. Daniel had tried to tell him that he couldn't reach Vaelen's memories and that any attempts to try and extract them would be unsuccessful. He had refused to tell them why. He really didn't think that they would understand that Vaelen's memories were now his memories. They had integrated themselves into his own mind. There were no non-human memories for the enhancer to lock on to. Thayer didn't care. Daniel knew that the General was happy just to inflict pain on him. So much for alien technology. T hat was when the fight truly started.
Thayer lost what little reserve he had. Removing Daniel from the table, the General had ordered some of his men to give Daniel an 'attitude adjustment.' Thayer thought that Daniel would be an easy target for abuse. He didn't know that Daniel had survived worse than the small, petty officer who would be General. Daniel gave his abusers back worse than they gave. He was deep in the throes of withdrawal. Everything hurt. Nothing made sense. Everyone was the enemy trying to hurt him. He didn't even stop to think, he didn't stop to act. He reacted. One came at him with a fist, Daniel broke his arm with a well placed chop on the bone. Another tried to kick him in places that were better left unkicked, and Daniel grabbed the ankle and twisted the leg until he heard a snap. He could easily fight one-on-one, he could even remain standing with two-on-one. Three-on-one was proving difficult. He was tired, hurt, and recovering from several hours of intense, painful questioning. He was at a disadvantage despite the madness.
Daniel didn't see the fourth soldier come up behind him, but he certainly felt it when that cattle prod jolt hit him square in the back. He hit the ground, hard, and could not move. He felt the boots kicking him in the stomach, heard the curses, and then he heard the shooting. Not guns. No, it was cannons firing. The cannons positioned outside as a perimeter defense were firing and being fired upon. He heard explosions. The cannons blowing up? Why not? Then there was gun fire. Then silence. He heard shouting, then more shooting. What was going on?
He waited a moment. He tried to push aside the pain for one moment to really listen. Yes, he was hearing shooting. Zat guns, taggers, 9 millimeters. What was that other sound? Rifles? He didn't even flinch when the boots that had been kicking him suddenly ran away after zapping him one more time with the cattle prod. He hurt too bad. He had to lie still for just one minute. Not longer than that. Just one minute. Then he would get up and try to get away. Just one minute.
He kept thinking that all of this was going to equal another trip to the infirmary. He was really tired of that lumpy mattress. Maybe he could talk Janet into investing a little of her budget into more comfortable beds.
He sensed, rather than felt, gentler hands turning him over and examining him. It didn't matter. It had to be an enemy keeping him trying to hurt him, trying to seize his memories, trying to keep him from the sarcophagus. He struck back, his fist finding some mysterious target, only to find himself immediately pinned down.
"Danny, it's us. Take it easy." Now Jack showed up. Where the hell was he a couple of hours ago?
"Daniel Jackson, we will not harm you." That was Teal'c.
"Easy, Daniel." Jacob's voice? Maybe. It sounded like him.
"Dad?" Who yelled that?
"Over here, Sammy. He's hurt pretty bad, but a couple of healing devices on full blast will take care of him. We'll have to get him back up to the ship."
Ship? Why did they come in a ship? Why didn't they just gate here? Daniel didn't try to process the thought any further. Unconsciousness sounded real good about then.
Daniel had been lucky.
The wounds he sustained by the hands of his captors were not major or life-threatening, just very painful. The healing devices had done their job is short order. Even the enhancer wound on his temple was gone. The worst part for Daniel was a short bout of sarcophagus withdrawal. Jacob had kept Daniel unconscious so he could sleep through the worst of it. Jack had asked for a private room on board the Tok'ra ship that Daniel could stay in.
For several hours, Jack didn't leave Daniel's side while the symptoms ravaged through him. He sat through the hallucinations, the tremors and the nightmares just like he had before. Jack felt that Daniel knew he was there on some level. It was over surprisingly quick, but it had not been painless. Perhaps the fact that the sarcophagus had been handmade and not the real item was a factor. They would never know. The minute Jack had seen the obscenity, he had destroyed it with a staff weapon. He just didn't have any use for the damn things unless someone was dead. This time, Daniel had not had to live up to his reputation.
When he woke, Daniel was completely confused. He had no idea where he was. He managed to move his head to the side, realizing too late that his head did not want to be moved or else it would retaliate with blinding pain, and saw Jack sitting nearby in one of the funniest looking chairs he had ever seen. Jack had obviously been there for a while.
"Hi," Jack said as soon as he realized that Daniel was awake. "How do you feel? You look terrible."
"I feel terrible. It's a set." He tried to find a more comfortable position. Whatever it was he was lying on was every bit as uncomfortable as the beds in the infirmary. "Can I take this to mean that we didn't destroy a store room this time?"
"No, no storeroom. You did manage to sucker punch Jacob pretty hard. He's still sporting a shiner."
"Jacob? What was he doing there?" Now that he was more awake, Daniel realized that they were on a Tok'ra ship. What was going on?
"When you were taken, Hammond contacted Thor. Thor got his 'other' group that was going to track down the thieves together, us included, and zapped us on board a borrowed Tok'ra ship. Seems that Thor's is in the shop. We followed the trail with that gadget Carter built and found you in a toe-to-toe slugging match with some folks who looked like they had better days. How's that for an explanation?"
"Needs work. Did you get Thayer?" Please, please, let them have caught Thayer.
Jack became very quiet very quickly. That was never a good sign. "No, he got away. He had another homemade Stargate ready to go. I think he got out the second the shooting started. We don't know where Darby is either. We don't even know if he was on PTX952 or if he's hiding out on Earth somewhere." Jack didn't sound happy. They had lost their chance to end this once and for all.
"I didn't see him, but I didn't see a lot of people." Daniel told him. "We'll probably run into them again."
"I know," was the archaeologist's answer. "Thayer and Timmons both told me that they had several bases around Earth, each with its own homemade Stargate. They've set up their own little network. I don't know where the others are. Unfortunately, the resonator can't track the frequency they use unless they gate to the one on Earth."
More homemade Stargates? This wasn't over yet, not that Jack had expected it to be. Darby and Thayer would just set up shop at another location. At least, they might be able to relax for a while. With every SG team, Tollan, Tok'ra and Asgaard keeping an eye out for them, they'd be found eventually since the SGC wouldn't be able to track them with the resonator that had worked so well tracking Daniel.
Jack was amazed that Daniel was thinking as clearly as he was. He could see his friend's hands still shaking, his eyes still having trouble focusing. Funny, but he thought that after a symbiote had been inside him, Daniel's eyesight would be 20/20. His eyes had been slowly reverting back to their nearsighted state. This little bout with the sarcophagus had helped his poor vision come back nicely. Nope, Daniel was never going to get that break that life owed him.
"We'll worry about that when we have to. We'll find them." Oh, no, not that promise again. How many times had he promised Daniel that? "In the meantime, we're taking the Tollans back to Tollana before we gate back home. Think you'll be able to handle a trip through a wormhole?"
"I guess so. Did everyone get their stuff back?" Daniel asked.
Jack almost laughed out loud. "Oh, yeah. And you wouldn't believe what they're complaining about. Some of their equipment's been completely taken apart. Some of it's demolished. Some have been merged with other alien gadgets so they do things they weren't designed to do. It's been interesting to watch them try to get everything back to their original condition."
"I thought I heard voices in here," Jacob said as he entered the small room. The black eye was fading slowly. He looked down at Daniel noticing the circles under his eyes, the tiredness, the disbelief. He had seen that look before. It wasn't quite shell shock, but it was related. Imagine being in a building that's falling down around you while you're standing in the middle trying to juggle twelve torches standing on one foot. You don't realize that the building's gone until after you've finished juggling the torches, and all you can do is stand in the middle of the destruction and stare at it, wondering how that mess had gotten there. It was the reaction of too much happening too fast while you're standing still. It would pass.
"Yeah, Sleeping Beauty here just woke up. I was giving him the quick run-down of what happened," Jack told him.
Daniel pointed to Jacob's eye. "I'm really sorry about that. I didn't know--"
"Don't worry about it, Daniel. Selmac will have it all healed up by the time we get back. Besides, I've been hurt worse in bar room brawls."
"You mean George has never told you guys about some the wild stunts we pulled when we were starting out in the military?"
"George?" both Jack and Daniel repeated.
"You'll have to tell us about those sometime," Daniel said with a smile. Oops, he realized that he better not smile too much. Even his facial muscles were sore.
"In the meantime, maybe you can explain something to me," Jacob said to Daniel. "Some of our prisoners have been talking about how they had captured Vaelen, and he was the one they were questioning. Any idea where they'd come up with that?"
Daniel looked at both General and Colonel, each clearly expecting a very concise explanation. Shrugging his shoulders was the only answer Daniel was prepared to give.
Apparently, Jacob wasn't prepared to accept that answer. "Daniel, Sammy told me about the protein marker in your system. About Doctor Fraiser's suspicions. Son, if there's something we need to talk about--"
At that moment, the Tok'ra Aldwin entered. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt. We're approaching Tollana now."
"We'll be right there," Jacob answered. When Aldwin didn't leave, Jacob realized that Daniel was not going to say anymore. "Daniel..."
"Forget about it, Jacob. It's not that important anymore." Daniel had no intention of telling anyone about his glowing eyes or his echoing voice until he knew more about it himself, and he had absolutely no intention of telling anything to anybody when someone like Aldwin could eavesdrop.
Jacob almost bought his lie. Jack didn't, but he knew that Daniel wasn't going to say anymore with Aldwin present. Daniel, ever-trusting Daniel, the man who would extend his hand in friendship to any alien they happened upon was not wanting to trust a Tok'ra.
Jack was determined to find out what that was about before this was over with.
Several days later...
Jacob Carter sat at the far end of the conference table, amazed at the absurdity of the situation. As a General, he had been forced to undergo enough staff meetings to make him wish for retirement, but this was one meeting that should never have been called. He knew that it was going to backfire. The Tollans, Tok'ra and the Asgaard were united in their convictions and very eager to assist the Tau'ri by any means at their disposal to make sure that Daniel Jackson would not have to endure an abduction ever again. His status as the last living receptacle of Kha'ti knowledge had raised his value in the fight against the Goa'uld considerably, but, as Jacob was learning more about his daughter's friend, Daniel did not see himself in the same light as everyone else saw him. He was the most humble and honest man Jacob had ever met, and he had met a lot of people in his time. Daniel honestly did not know what all of the fuss was about, and if Jacob were to place a bet on what was truly going on in the brilliant mind of the young man, he would have bet that the Tok'ra, the Tollans and the Asgaard were about to be given a revelation of astounding proportions.
The past few days had been very quiet for a change. Daniel had been released from the infirmary less than an hour after their return to Earth. Janet had said he would be fine and could recuperate elsewhere. Despite several attempts to talk to the young man, Jacob had not been able to find out what really happened on PTX952. He had his suspicions, but he had no proof. He wouldn't go looking for any, either. Daniel had been through enough. He didn't need to suffer through an inquisition.
Earlier in the week, a message had been sent from the Tok'ra High Council stating that representatives would arrive in two days for a meeting on the events that had just transpired. During that time, SG-1 had been given the time to entertain their guests. Needless to say, a certain Abydonian Elder had held some serious discussions with two generals about family considerations and responsibility and the need to have an uninterrupted family reunion every now and then.Now, in the SGC conference room, SG-1 was present, as was General Hammond, but only the General would be allowed to speak for the interests of the SGC. Garshaw, Narim and Thor were sitting at the table also. Jacob rounded out the group, but this entire episode was reminding him of the last two meetings he had attended in this room. The first was when Vaelen had explained his presence in Daniel, the second when he had asked Hammond to allow the Tok'ra to have temporary custody of the replacements and their cohorts until the rest of the conspiracy could be uncovered and the conspirators apprehended. Selmac still mourned his friend Vaelen, and Jacob's only option to help ease his symbiote's pain was to offer assistance in capturing the people who had started the whole mess.
Reflecting on the rescue, Jacob knew that they had been fortunate. There had been no casualties on their side, Thayer's forces lost half of their numbers. Many of the missing items had been recovered, but Thayer and Darby had disappeared. The current belief was that Thayer had escaped through the homemade Stargate during all of the commotion and fled to one of the other bases in parts unknown. If Darby were there, he would surely have gone with the General. That just meant that they would be back for another round. Further reflection on the issue was halted as Jacob's attention returned to the matter at hand.
"This situation only reinforces our position," Garshaw calmly stated. "Vaelen's memories are all that is left of the Kha'ti and cannot, must not, be jeopardized. Their travels covered the entire galaxy. The Kha'ti had military intelligence concerning every aspect of our battle against the Goa'uld that must be preserved. The Tok'ra have the technological capabilities necessary to avoid a second occurrence of Daniel Jackson's abduction."
Narim, the Tollan representative, also agreed. "If living amongst the Tok'ra is not to Doctor Jackson's liking, which it might not be given his likely aversion to associating with those with a host/symbiote combination, we would be honored to have him with the Tollans."
Thor was slightly more diplomatic about the subject, but no less in agreement on the matter. "The Asgaard, and I have been given the authority to speak for the Nox, can conceal Daniel Jackson more efficiently than either the Tok'ra or the Tollans. Our desire to protect his knowledge is as great as yours. He is no longer as young as the rest of the Tau'ri, and he could easily coexist with any of our races without discomfort."
"Excuse me," General Hammond interjected, "I think we're getting a little ahead of ourselves. All of your concerns have merit, but until we have more information about the consequences posed by having access to Vaelen's knowledge, they are a bit premature."
"Premature?" Garshaw asked, astounded that the General could make so incorrect an observation. "General Hammond..."
Daniel was ignoring them. In fact, he had lost track of the conversation early in the meeting. He let them argue, lending only half his attention to the debate since no one had asked him his opinion. Like Daniel, Jack was ignoring everyone and everything except the chess game he and Daniel were involved in. Daniel was two moves to checkmate, and Jack was hoping to get a poker game started immediately afterwards. If only Teal'c and Sam would quit giving him hints on moves. Okay, so he had never beat Daniel at chess before. There was always a first time, and he would like to do it on his own.
Lieutenant Harriman entered the room and made a beeline for Daniel. Speaking quietly, he said "Doctor Jackson, that phone call you said you were waiting for is on line 3."
"Thanks, Lieutenant." As Daniel reached for the phone, he turned and said, "Harriman, when am I going to get my money?"
Harriman looked at him, confusion written clearly on his face. "Sir?"
"From the pool? Remember?"
"Yes, sir. What with all of the excitement lately, we were a little behind schedule tallying up all of the bets. Looks like you and General Hammond are the winners. We can get you your money today."
Daniel turned his attention to the phone call, blatantly tuning out the argument that had increased in decibels behind him. Jack couldn't overhear the telephone conversation, but he had a pretty good idea who was on the other end of the line. On a hunch, he thought that he was about to be witness to a long overdue confrontation and put away the chessboard and pieces.
"Jack," Daniel placed the phone back on its cradle, "it's ready. Can you give me a ride over to the dealership?" He was almost bouncing on his toes.
"Sure." Jack could see Daniel's eagerness. And why not? The kid had never owned a new car before. His previous automobile had been a used seven-year-old model. Even though this new one had some damage due to being run off the road, it was still new. "Do I get to drive it?"
"Hey, pal, we're scared to let you drive your own car. I'll get the dents on it myself if you don't mind."
"Is that a comment on my driving skills?"
"You have driving skills?"
Ignoring the urge to slap his friend on the back of the head, Jack followed Daniel as they headed for the door, only to be noticed before they could make their escape.
"Doctor Jackson, where are you going?" Garshaw demanded to know. "There is much that needs to be discussed before any of us leave."
Daniel directed his full attention to her, his manner indicating that his full attention was on her and her alone. "There is?"
"Of course. What do you think we've been doing for the last few hours?"
Daniel's brow furrowed in a frown. In the most innocent voice he could muster, he said, "I know what you've been doing, Garshaw. I just don't know why."
Jack was certain that he could have heard a pin drop. Not only did their guests looked stunned, but so did the locals. The Colonel stood by quietly, motioning to Sam and Teal'c to stay out of the fray. Daniel couldn't physically intimidate anyone, he didn't have the looks for it, but he could confuse an adversary to exasperation. Jack had been the unfortunate recipient of Daniel's irritation before and he loved to see it directed elsewhere. It was about to be directed at Garshaw.
"Why?" Garshaw almost sputtered. "You don't know why we are concerned with your safety?"
The amazing Jackson patience was brought to the forefront. "Not really, no. It sounds good, but if I were going to place a bet, I'd say that you're not all that concerned with my safety, Garshaw. You're just worried about what I'm going to do with the information I'm carrying around in my head. You're concerned about who gets that in the grand scheme of things provided that the Tok'ra are the who and everything is the what."
"I don't know what you're talking about," she denied. "Yes, you have Vaelen's memories, and out of respect for him, you must do everything in your power to keep his memories safe. That means you must be kept away from the Goa'uld and those who desire to do you harm. We cannot allow any of his knowledge to fall into enemy hands."
"Enemy hands or Tau'ri hands?" Although his visage held a display of utter calm, Daniel was getting angry. Jack could see the vein throbbing on his forehead. "Selmac and Vaelen already had this conversation before I was anywhere in the picture. Right here, in this room, and it was resolved to everyone's satisfaction. At least, I haven't heard any complaints from anyone."
"Doctor Jackson," Garshaw's voice took on a more congenial tone. "You misunderstand us. There is no dissension among us that some of the less advanced technologies can and probably should be shared with your people. Vaelen was correct in his assessment of the need to assist the Tau'ri since they have placed themselves at great risk, sometimes at our request. It would be a most natural inclination for you to divulge the basics of certain technologies to your friends at the SGC. We are concerned that others would attempt to gain that knowledge in the same manner as General Thayer. It is not only the societal risk of early exposure to advanced technology that we are trying to prevent. There are those acquainted with you whose objectives are not the same as our own. Vaelen's knowledge of adv--"
"Isn't worth squat," Daniels voice was raised, his eyes almost shooting daggers at the woman. Wisely, no one interrupted. "Vaelen was a soldier, a general, a damned fine leader, but when it came to all the little technical gadgets, he was the Jack O'Neill of the Kha'ti."
"Beg pardon?" Jack asked him. Had he just been insulted?
"Face it, Jack, you could go in the mess hall and build an explosive from what you find in the kitchen in under a minute, but you can barely program your VCR."
Oh. It wasn't an insult. He was making a point.
"Vaelen could build taggers, zat guns, staff weapons and hand shields, but that's about it. Oh, he could slap a bomb together if he had enough time. I mean, he was a soldier, not an engineer. I don't have any memories about how to build things, so I'd be willing to bet that Vaelen couldn't build a lot of things. I can't expose anybody to any technology of that sort, advanced or otherwise."
Garshaw was not going to let this subject alone or let Daniel get in the last word. "Be that as it may and placing all matters technological away from this discussion, Vaelen was a superior tactician and strategist. Those abilities now reside within you and must be safeguarded. We must determine the safest place for you--"
"We?" Daniel's voice spoke low in the menacing whisper that had frightened Roberts. It had the same effect on Garshaw. "When did we have any input on anything I do? The last time I checked, I am the only one responsible for my life."
Daniel could change tactics in mid-speech as well as Garshaw could. "It's not that I don't appreciate the concern, it's just that it's misplaced. There's a lot more out there to worry about than me. Believe me, I know. And even if I did decide to hide away for the rest of my life and be a hermit, I don't think I'd be very comfortable on the Asgaard or the Tollan home world. It is a well known fact that all civilized societies have coffee. You can have the most sophisticated technological doo-hickeys ever built, but if you don't have coffee, you're just not civilized. They don't have coffee. I can't live like that." Daniel was rewarded by a very confused look on Garshaw's face. Good. "Now, the Tok'ra are a completely different matter, even though you don't have coffee either. There's the whole 'what would Vaelen want' issue. I have to take that into consideration." Okay, he had Garshaw right where he wanted her. "Let me make my point. Jacob, when you and Selmac disagree, what do you do?"
"There are two of us. We compromise."
"Exactly. Garshaw, if there were two of us, if Vaelen were here, I'm not sure he'd cast his vote to go with the Tok'ra because of his feelings for you. But if he were here, he could choose for himself because he'd be in a different host. A dead one. I'm alive, remember? And Kha'ti can't have live hosts. Since he's not here, I don't have to consider him in any decision I make for myself. I only have to consider his wishes for the legacy he left me and still make my own decisions."
"The Tau'ri are very young, Doctor Jackson. As a Tau'ri, you could not possibly comprehend the dangers in full--"
"Wrong." Daniel's voice was quiet. "You heard Thor. I'm not as young as I used to be. I understand better than anyone the dangers out there. I know better than you. I could tell you horror stories about creatures that you thought only lived in Tok'ra mythology, the ones that hide under your beds and in your closets. All of the things that go bump in the night, but I know that those things are real. You see, Vaelen fought the bad guys, you didn't. He met them. He killed them. He didn't back down from a fight just because it conflicted with whatever schedule he was under at the time. That's why he chose me for a host."
That got Garshaw's undivided attention. "What do you mean he chose you for a host?"
"Simple. I'm one of the four most wanted individuals on the Goa'uld hit parade. Vaelen recognized me when Darby threw me through his Stargate. He'd seen our pictures. He knew who I was and what I had done. Since he was the General, he got pick of the litter when new hosts became available. He knew that taking a host that was familiar to the Goa'uld could be a definite advantage to him, get him into places he couldn't get into before, get him to individuals he wouldn't have ordinarily been able to meet. It was a military objective on his part. An enemy of the Goa'uld in the body of a man who was one of the greatest irritants of the Goa'uld would have been an interesting combination if Vaelen had lived long enough to pursue that. I mean, he thought about it. We even discussed it, but I wasn't interested in a partnership."
"He knew I fought the Goa'uld just like he did. He knew I would take any chance I had to in order to save a single life and that I have. He knew he could count on the Tau'ri to do whatever was necessary on any battleground to stop the Goa'uld. He said that the Tok'ra were not the greatest assets in battle, especially you. In his words, you sat on your hands with your head up your ass while you forced everyone else to do the fighting for you. At least, that's what Vaelen thought. That's one of the reasons he left the Tok'ra and took the main fighting force with him. I won't desecrate his memory by even considering the Tok'ra."
"Doctor Jackson, you are jeopardizing the alliance between the Tau'ri and the Tok'ra. You have no choice---"
"Enough!" Now Daniel was getting angry. He could almost hear Vaelen's words yelling at her in his mind. "Do not DARE take that up that argument with me, Garshaw. Whenever the Tok'ra try to con us into doing something we don't want to do, you threaten to pull out of our alliance. I am not threatening anything. You are. If you think my address is going to make a difference in what happens in the universe, you're badly mistaken. If I had my choice, I would be living on Abydos with my wife, a couple of kids, digging out more tunnels that Ra left behind, and pretty much putting Abydonian history back on the map. Since I can't have that, my second choice is a great, new apartment in town. It came with all the amenities, too. Burglar alarm, fire alarm, microwave, has everything including the kitchen sink. That is where this discussion ends."
As Daniel turned to leave, Garshaw was on her feet, blocking his exit from the room. "That is not where this discussion ends, Doctor Jackson. You cannot stay here. You cannot be protected. What you called Vaelen's legacy must be maintained."
"Don't worry about that. He'll be maintained. We'll take care of what's left of Vaelen. Actually, we're pretty good at taking care of ourselves. We've had to." Daniel told her bluntly. When she didn't move, Daniel realized that more drastic measures would need to be taken. "Garshaw, face it. You lost. Vaelen won. He died, and you'll never be able to apologize to him for what you did. For the sake of the Tok'ra, he never told anyone other than Selmac what happened. Now, if you don't drop this, I'm going to go against Vaelen's wishes and tell every Tok'ra I see about your crimes. How long do you think you'd be a leader among the Tok'ra if they found out the truth?"
"You wouldn't dare," her voice became menacing.
Daniel heaved a sigh. "Try me. I've recently found out that I've inherited Vaelen's very volatile temper and a short fuse that no one knew he had, and I don't think there's any need for me to pull my punches as far as you're concerned. At this point, I don't even think Vaelen would have either."
The silence was unbearable. Everyone in the room sat in rigid expectation of the challenge, each hoping that Garshaw would take him up on it.
"You wouldn't dare," she repeated.
"Doctor Jackson?" General Hammond tried to defuse the very volatile situation. He knew he didn't have a prayer.
Garshaw did not move.
Daniel didn't hesitate any longer. He had given her a chance. "Garshaw was trying to take over the High Council. Selmac and Vaelen opposed her, but she still set up a trap to get rid of Vaelen since she knew she could influence Selmac. In the end, she killed Vaelen's wife. That's why he took the Kha'ti and left the Tok'ra. Vaelen said that he wasn't going to work with the bitch that destroyed his family." He glanced back at his audience and saw the shocked look on their faces. "He lost any pretense of politeness when it came to her."
This silence was even worse than before. Daniel thought for a moment. "Think about the implications if he had revealed what Garshaw did when she did it. It would have caused chaos in the upper ranks of one of the few groups that opposed the System Lords. The Tok'ra are ruled by a council, but there also used to be a Triumvirate that headed up the High Council: Garshaw, Selmac and Vaelen. Garshaw decided that maybe a single leader would be better than three so she started sabotaging every project or mission that she wasn't involved with. Selmac and Vaelen were the only two who knew what was really going on, but they didn't let on about it. They didn't want to cause any trouble, and no one had been hurt by her actions. Then, one day, word came back that a Tok'ra ship had been heavily damaged somehow and had to make a forced landing. There were no survivors. Vaelen's wife was serving on that ship. Vaelen knew that Garshaw had been behind it, somehow. Afterwards, he gathered the Kha'ti together, and they took off on their own. Apparently, they liked the Tok'ra well enough, they just couldn't stand Garshaw."
"And Vaelen kept this secret for all of these centuries?" Teal'c asked.
Selmac answered him. "For millennia. We couldn't take the chance of such internal turmoil. It would have split apart all of the Tok'ra. We both agreed that the information should only be used in the event of an emergency. Jacob agrees that this is an emergency. Garshaw wishes to have a final victory over Vaelen, and harnessing his immense wealth of knowledge would be a devastating blow to his memory. It cannot be permitted. This conversation should be ended because I will not allow Garshaw or anyone else to force Daniel Jackson to go into hiding, and Jacob believes that this particular memory is difficult for Daniel to speak of."
Daniel nodded his agreement. "It was the only thing we disagreed on. He could never forgive Garshaw for killing his wife. He couldn't understand how I could forgive Teal'c. It was the only bone of contention between us that we had time to discuss before he died."
Jack thought this over. "That explains why Vaelen wasn't too happy to go live with the Tok'ra even though his people were. They didn't know the truth, and he would have to live at the same base as the person who murdered his wife."
"How dare you!" Garshaw hissed. "How dare you!"
"I didn't do anything, Garshaw. I warned you, remember? Besides, if the Tok'ra keep going the way they're going, you're going to have bigger problems than worrying about getting the last laugh on Vaelen. There are a lot more bad guys out there than you can imagine. You'll have to deal with them someday. More of your people are coming around to Vaelen's way of thinking. Sometimes, you have to do the right thing no matter what the personal cost or what covert missions you have going on at the time."
As he started for the door again, no one stopped him. He paused when he reached the door. "Did you know that he died protecting the Tau'ri? He knew that it was the Kha'ti's fault that the Dervans had come through the Stargate, and he knew it was their responsibility to try to stop them. Vaelen wasn't going to let us die without a fight. He knew what we were capable of doing, and that alone meant our continued existence was more valuable than his own life. They would have ran into the gate room to defend this base against the Dervans even without a general to lead them because it was the right thing to do. That's why he never wanted to rejoin you. He couldn't deal with the way Tok'ra do business. He wouldn't let you take advantage of his people when he was alive. I won't let you do the same thing to him now that he's dead. Be grateful that Jacob's the only Tok'ra here. He'll keep the secret. So will everyone else in this room. Force this issue, and I'll make sure every one of your people knows the truth."
Daniel and Jack left Garshaw standing speechless and withering under the gaze of the others in the room.
Once they reached the elevators, Jack whispered, "A little extortion there, Danny?"
"Not really," Daniel answered. "Vaelen always wanted to confront her about his wife, but he knew that would cause a lot of problems. I figured my saying those things was a way of paying him back for what he did for me."
"And getting in a few shots at Garshaw and that Tok'ra attitude we find so irritating?"
"Think it was a bit much?" Daniel asked him.
"No. Actually I think it was just right. Got any more secrets about them hidden away in your noggin?"
"One or two. If you want to know about them, you should know that I do take bribes."
"Yeah. It's your turn to buy the pizza and the beer. Besides, I think there's a hockey game on tonight. Did I mention that I bought a big screen television?"
Saturday afternoons were definitely created for barbecues.
Jack was in his element. He had command of the barbecue grill. He didn't know how many times he had explained the workings of the device to Teal'c, the Jaffa was still utterly fascinated by it's simplicity. Of course, he also had a weakness for medium-rare sirloin as well and observed that O'Neill could not judge when the meat was cooked to that particular degree. General Hammond and Jacob Carter were handing out barbecuing advice quite readily, listening to a laughing Skaara as even he attempted to tell Jack how a piece of meat should be look and taste, even if it wasn't mastage.
Kasuf sat at the picnic table, the Abydonian finally eating his barbecue spare ribs, an O'Neill house specialty. Daniel sat across from him also enjoying the normalness of the day as well as a few spare ribs. He could hear Janet, Sam and Cassie talking quietly at the other end of the table. He could ignore the mock argument the others were having at the grill. He felt...like himself.
Finally, Jack relinquished command of the spatula and the tongs, letting the two generals argue with each other over the best way to cook a steak. He picked up a bottle of beer and went to sit beside Kasuf who was tearing into another rib with great relish.
When he had picked that rib clean, Kasuf watched his son with great interest, noting that O'Neill was doing the same thing. Daniel, obviously ignorant of the attention he was receiving, was at ease with the day and with the people. There was no apprehension, no discomfort. "You are better now." Kasuf said, easily sensing that his son was not quite as confused as he was when they were home.
Daniel nodded his head. "Yes. I think I am."
"Then you have found yourself?"
Jack was completely lost. What did Kasuf mean?
"More or less. I may not ever be who I was again, but I've got a better idea of who I am now. It'll take a little getting used to, but I'll be all right."
Now Jack knew what he meant. He just kept quiet and listened.
"And do you like who you are now?"
He thought for a moment before answering. "I'm me, only I'm more than that. I think that was what I didn't understand until I confronted Thayer and Garshaw. Everything just came together. I'm Daniel Jackson with a little extra included. I think I can learn to like that."
"That's good. I need more ribs." Kasuf rose and quickly walked over to the grill.
The older man amused Jack. "Is he always like that?"
"No. Sometimes he's downright abrupt. You know that Kasuf doesn't mince words. He's always been direct and to the point."
"Unlike his son-in-law who is an expert at avoiding direct questions." Jack knew he had struck a nerve. Daniel's face grew noticeably paler. "Daniel, you know that whatever you tell me won't go beyond me."
Daniel fidgeted just a bit. What was it Erin had told him? She had never seen so many people with the fidgets. "I know. It's not that I don't trust you, I do. It's just that Vaelen didn't trust very many people, especially a select few who shall remain nameless. He didn't talk very much about anything to very many. I'm afraid that I'm feeling all of that, even with the people I know I can trust. I'm trying to get around it, but it hasn't been easy."
"What Vaelen felt, you feel. It's the same way with a Tok'ra symbiote. That's the way Martouf explained it to Carter. I don't think Vaelen would have come to me for help if he hadn't been able to pick up on the fact that you trusted me." What was it that Jacob had said about Garshaw? Oh, yeah. "If it makes you feel any better, Jacob told me that Selmac doesn't exactly turn cartwheels when he sees Garshaw. He agreed with Vaelen but stayed behind to try to keep Garshaw from becoming too powerful. He always kept the secret. So has Jacob. You know you can trust him, too." Jack waited patiently. He knew there had to be a way to help Daniel, even if all he could do was listen.
Finally, Daniel decided that his spare rib was not interesting any longer. "When I was released from the sarcophagus that Thayer put me in, my voice was echoing and my eyes were glowing. That's why Thayer's men thought they were questioning Vaelen. When Thayer shot me with the zat gun, it went away." That wasn't so hard.
Boy, oh, boy. Vaelen, what have you done? "Can you make the same thing happen on your own?"
"I haven't tried. Haven't wanted to. I was hoping that it would go away. Actually, I keep hoping that it was only a direct result from the sarcophagus and the zat gun."
"It might have been. Look, Danny, I'm not going to tell you what to do, but do this. There are people here you can trust with your life. You know that no matter what Vaelen might have thought. You've got me, Sam and Teal'c, and you know none of us would breathe a word of this to anyone if you don't want us to. Not even to General Hammond, but it might be a good idea if you let him in on it. We both know that not talking about something won't make it go away, and I know that no one here will be able to help you very much because no one here is in exactly the same boat as you are. Even Carter. But you're not alone." That didn't elicit a response from the younger man. "Might come in handy on Halloween."
Daniel had to laugh at that one. "Right. I could dress up as Death with the cowl and sickle. With the eyes, I could really scare the kids."
Yet there was a practical side to this entire episode. "You know, if you're able to control this ability in any way, you'll have an advantage no one else has right now, not even former hosts. You could pass for a Goa'uld, and maybe in some crazy odd way, this might not be a bad thing. Militarily speaking, that is."
"You had to throw that in, didn't you?"
"I'm a Colonel. It's in the rulebook."
"And you just have to get in a wisecrack, huh?"
"Of course. It's why I get paid the big bucks." Jack turned very serious for a moment. "I know how big this is, Daniel. I know you've got to be more than a little worried about everything that's happened to you, but the sooner we know what's going on, the sooner we can figure out if it's temporary or here to stay. Carter and Fraiser may be your best bet on figuring that one out."
"Maybe. It's bad enough that the NID knows that I've got Vaelen's memories. I don't want them finding out that I might have some Goa'uld abilities as well."
Jack didn't have an answer to that one. Hell, he'd been scared of that one fact since the moment Daniel told him that he had Vaelen's memories. Jack knew the dangers. He also knew that he and his team would die before letting the NID rats get Daniel. He knew that Daniel knew it, too. He just didn't want to give the rats any more ideas.
At the grill, Jacob and General Hammond were discussing the finer points of charcoal stacking when Kasuf returned for seconds. "How is he doing, Kasuf?" Jacob quietly asked the older man. Daniel was never going to know that the three men standing at the grill had dreamed up the idea of a barbecue so that, maybe, Daniel might relax enough to talk to someone. Seeing him and Jack talking meant that maybe their plan worked.
"My son is well. He has dealt with many of his nightmares and Vaelen's memories and has made a peace with himself. Are there any more ribs?"
General Hammond placed another half rack of baby back ribs on Kasuf's plate, chuckling at the Abydonian at the same time. "I do believe you have a fondness for barbecue, sir," Hammond told him.
"I have never tasted meat of this kind before. It is good. I wonder if pigs would be able to survive on Abydos. I should include them in our next negotiations."
Hammond rolled his eyes. Another round of negotiations with Kasuf? He didn't think his teeth would be able to survive it.
Back to the Lion's Lair
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!