"Just wondering about setting watches tonight," Jack said, letting Sam know that his mind hadn't wandered completely away. SG-1 had just finished their evening meal, and Jack was looking around at the small garden in which they were sitting. It, like everything else around them, reflected the Oriental heritage of P5X-337's population. The entire city was all neat and tidy from the cobblestone streets, swept twice daily, to the multi-tiered roofs. And it was completely alien and therefore something to be treated with a certain amount of caution.
"Teal'c?" Jack asked.
"I have seen nothing that would indicate hostility since arriving here," Teal'c said after a long moment of thought.
"There's always a risk, sir, but I'd agree with Teal'c. I certainly haven't seen anything threatening. I think we can probably designate this planet as safe."
"Wouldn't be the first time we got surprised, though," Jack said. "They could just be lulling us into a false sense of security."
"These people do not appear to be duplicitous," Teal'c said.
"But then they wouldn't, would they? Not if they were any good at it," Jack said. He looked around the garden again. The last of the sunlight was gone, but gold-shaded lanterns provided a sort of artificial twilight in the central courtyard. As far as he could tell nothing and no one lurked in the shadows along the edges. "I'm just not totally convinced."
"Aren't you going to ask for my opinion?" Daniel asked, glancing sideways at Jack.
"Too bad--you're going to get it," Daniel said as Sam grinned. Jack waved a hand carelessly, inviting Daniel to share. "The texts I've been studying confirm that this is one of Yu's planets. Or it was. As far as I can tell it's been abandoned or ignored for a long time."
"Yu forgot about it?" Jack asked.
"It's possible," Daniel agreed. He finished the last of his tea before getting to his feet, needing to stretch his legs. He continued his assessment as he walked in a circle around his teammates. "There's nothing here of any value to Yu, other than the people. Given his mental deterioration, I suspect that it's all he and his most trusted aides can do to keep the core of his empire together. A distant and relatively insignificant planet like this simply wouldn't be worth the effort."
"Yeah, but just because he's not here in person doesn't mean he's written this place off for good," Jack said.
"I would agree with Daniel Jackson," Teal'c said. "The palace from which Yu once would have ruled has been taken over by the local people. There are no barracks for the Jaffa, and the temples appear to be free of current Goa'uld influence."
"And bottom line--this culture takes hospitality very seriously," Daniel said, coming to a stop just behind Jack. Jack glanced up and back over his shoulder, giving Daniel a skeptical look. "Shen Shaozu has invited us into his home, formally made us his guests. That means he's responsible for our well being. It would take a hostile or criminal act on our part to make him withdraw his protection. Anything less would be dishonorable."
"Well, this house isn't really set up for an ambush. It's unlikely they could try something without at least one of us hearing." Jack nodded his head. "Okay, if no one has any objections, I know I wouldn't mind getting a good night's sleep."
"Didn't get your nap in today?" Daniel asked, looking down on Jack with an innocent expression.
"Just for that--you're with me tonight."
"Excuse me?" Daniel said with surprise.
"If we're not going to set watches, then I want to make sure we stick together," Jack explained. "So you're with me, and Carter...."
"Begging your pardon, sir, but I'm not sharing a bedroom."
"I will remain at Major Carter's door," Teal'c offered. "I will spend the first part of the night in meditation anyway. That will not prevent me from being aware of any attempt to intrude on Major Carter."
"And when you're ready for sleep?" Jack asked Teal'c.
"Open my door part way when you're ready to go to sleep," Sam told Teal'c. "I'm a light sleeper; I'll hear anyone before they could get too close."
"So we have a plan?" Jack asked. The other three nodded. "Good. Let's use it."
Jack twitched restlessly in his sleep. His eyes darted back and forth under his closed eyelids until his entire body jerked, waking him. He raised his head from the desk, unconsciously brushing his fingers against the corner of his mouth to make sure he hadn't been drooling. As he became fully awake he frowned. He'd fallen asleep in an office. Trouble was he didn't know whose office.
"Good day, General."
"What?" Jack said. He turned his head slightly to stare at the major standing on the other side of the desk. There was something.... Black. The major's uniform was black. That was...wrong.
"General?" Jack asked.
"That's usually what all the stars mean."
Frowning, Jack glanced at the nameplate on the desk. Huh. Five stars. Jack O'Neill, five stars. Okay, that was definitely wrong.
"Is there a problem, General?"
"Just a few small discrepancies. Like the fact that I don't recall ever being a general, let alone...five stars?"
"That's easily explained."
"Well, I'd love to hear it." Jack squinted, trying to see the major's face, but somehow the man's features seemed to be just slightly out of focus. He blinked, but while everything else was clear, the man's face remained...unseeable.
"This is not your present reality. It is, however, your future reality, if you so choose."
"My future? A five star general?"
"Why not? Is this not what you've always wanted?"
"Me? No, not particularly."
"Chief of Staff? The power to command your military defenses? The power to protect the Stargate program from interference?"
"It's a lot of paperwork," Jack complained.
"You have subordinates available."
"There is that," Jack conceded reluctantly.
"Just think, General. Think of having all that you ever wanted," the man in black said, gesturing toward the corner of the room. Jack's eyes followed the motion of his hand. He walked around the desk to the double filing cabinet in the corner. Several framed photographs sat on top of the metal cabinet: SG-1, Jack's old unit from his special ops days, his grandfather standing in front of the cabin.
"You can have it all."
"Not this," Jack said, picking up a picture of Sara and Charlie. He stared at Charlie's face, brushing his thumb across the image. When he looked up from the photograph he found himself standing in front of the fire place in his cabin. Jack turned around, still holding the picture. The man in black was standing in the middle of the room.
"Not this," Jack said more firmly, setting the picture back on the mantel. "They're gone."
Jack's attention was drawn to the sound of laughter outside. He went to the window, staring out toward the lake. Sara and Charlie were standing on the dock, trying to straighten out Charlie's fishing gear. They were making a mess, and laughing at themselves.
"I always had to untangle Charlie's line," Jack said to himself.
"You can go on taking care of him."
"Just like that?"
"There is, of course, a small cost."
"Right," Jack said. He turned away from the window with a bitter laugh. "If you're looking to get my soul...you're just a few years too late."
"No, not your soul," the man agreed. "Just the understanding that you may have to undertake a few distasteful tasks."
"That'd be nothing new."
"Then it should be no great hardship."
"What kinds of distasteful tasks?" Jack asked as he walked around the cabin's living room. It looked right, but it felt wrong.
"You may have to make sacrifices, but nothing beyond your capacity. You've already made the greatest sacrifice of all," the man said, pointedly turning his head toward the window, and the woman and child beyond it.
"Exactly," Jack said, jabbing his finger at the man. "And you--whoever you are--can't bring them back. You got nothing to offer me."
Jack turned to storm out of the cabin, a small part of him wondering if he'd see Sara and Charlie when he walked through the door, and then he was falling...straight into Daniel.
"Jesus!" Jack gasped as he felt his dick sink deep. Daniel moaned something deep in his throat, and pushed up. Jack grabbed harder at Daniel's shoulders and moved. Daniel's fingers dug into the muscles of Jack's back as his cock spurted between them. Just as Jack was beginning to think he'd lose himself in the contractions of Daniel's body, Daniel sank back against the mattress, eyes closed and breathing hard.
"He's yours for the asking," the man in black said from somewhere behind them. Jack dropped his head onto Daniel's chest.
"No, he's not," Jack said.
"He is, if you are willing to do what needs to be done."
"No," Jack said. He gripped Daniel tighter, fingers digging in so hard that it must've been painful, although Daniel didn't seem to react. "Daniel doesn't belong to anyone."
"Together we can make him yours...forever."
"If that's the only way I can have, then I don't want him." Jack pushed himself away, forced himself to retreat from Daniel's vulnerable, welcoming body. "I won't take it."
"Stubborn," the man in black said disdainfully. He stared down at Jack, curled up on his side, fast asleep.
"He is unsuitable then?"
"For our plans, yes. Unfortunate. He holds the highest position, the greatest authority of the four." The man paused, studying Jack more thoughtfully. "Still, he may prove to be useful."
"Which one does my lord with to try next?"
"Dr. Jackson, can you identify this device?"
Daniel startled, his daydreams interrupted by a vaguely familiar voice. He got to his feet and looked across the empty burial chamber. A man, dressed all in black, stood in the middle of the room, pointing at a sculpted piece on the far wall. Daniel moved closer to the device, gazing curiously at the man as he walked past him.
"It's...it's a repository of the Ancients' knowledge," Daniel said, needing only a moment to verify the device's design.
"Not just the Ancients. It holds all the knowledge of every race in this galaxy."
"Um...." Daniel looked at the device, then back at the man. "That's...not possible. Is it?"
"Anything is possible, if you are willing to pay the price."
"Price. Right." Daniel shook himself. "No thanks, done the dying thing one time too many."
"Not dying, Dr. Jackson. But such knowledge is an immense responsibility. It would take an equally large commitment from you."
"I've seen what knowledge like this could do to me," Daniel said. He gazed longingly at the machine. A deep desire to possess that knowledge was almost overwhelming, a reaction he couldn't suppress even though he knew the danger. "I've seen what I could become."
"You could become great."
"No, I'd only think it was greatness." Daniel forced himself to turn away from the device. "It's not worth it."
"Even if the knowledge contained in here could protect your planet, your friends, from all the dangers the universe might throw at them?"
"But it wouldn't protect them from me, would it?"
"Perhaps there is one who does not wish to be protected from you."
"What...? God!" Daniel's head dropped to the mattress and he grunted as Jack sank deep into his body.
"It's what you want," the man in black said. "It's what you both want."
"Yes. No. No, it's not right," Daniel said even as his hands clenched and his hips rocked back against Jack.
"It's yours, if you want it badly enough."
Confused, Daniel rolled his head to the side. The man in black was standing next to the bed, watching as Jack continued to drive into what, despite Daniel's protests, was a very willing body.
"No," Daniel gasped weakly.
"You don't want to be alone anymore."
"God," Daniel groaned, shutting his eyes and wishing he could shut his ears. Jack jabbed sharply, and Daniel cried out wordlessly as orgasm tore him apart.
"You do want it, don't you?" the man asked as Jack continued working toward his own release, apparently oblivious to the intruder.
"At what price?" Daniel asked. "What do you want from me?"
"Nothing you aren't capable of doing."
Daniel staggered slightly, suddenly on his feet instead of his back. He looked down his hands: one held a gun, the other some sort of remote control. He heard the dull thuds of marching feet growing closer, and looked up toward the far edge of the wooded glen.
"Daniel, you have to activate the weapon."
"Jack?" Daniel looked behind him. Jack was half lying on the ground, his upper body propped up against a rock. And he was bleeding. Bleeding a lot.
"The weapon, Daniel. You have to take them out now before they get control of the stargate."
"But...." Daniel turned back as he gripped the weapon's remote detonator more tightly. Through a break in the trees he could see Jaffa pouring onto the field of battle, overwhelming the relatively smaller number of SGC personnel. Sam and Teal'c were barely visible through the increasing smoke and dust. "It's not necessary. Without a GDO the Jaffa can't gain access to the SGC."
"But they will control the stargate. And without the gate, O'Neill will die."
Daniel whirled around. The man in black was standing just a few feet away from Jack. His black BDU was pristine, untouched by dirt or blood.
"But our people are out there," Daniel protested. "Sam and Teal'c are out there."
"They are soldiers. Death is their duty."
"Do you not love O'Neill?"
"Yes! But I can't kill someone else to save him."
"You can, Daniel. You are choosing not to."
"No!" Daniel threw the remote to the ground. "I can't!"
Daniel stiffened, twisting his hands in the sheets. Then his body slowly relaxed back into a deep, dreamless sleep.
"Interesting," the man in black said.
"We do not believe Jackson is suitable for our purposes," he said. He plucked the disc from Daniel's temple and tucked it into a pocket. "However, like O'Neill, he may yet be useful. Together, they are vulnerable."
"And the others, my Lord?"
"It is still five turns of the clock before dawn, my Lord."
"Good. Very good." The man in black paused thoughtfully. "And the herb you placed in their food, you are certain that it will remain effective?"
"Absolutely. They will continue to sleep deeply until shortly before sunrise."
"The Jaffa will likely be more resistant to the effects of the herb," the man in black said. "Therefore you will approach Teal'c and inquire as to his comfort. If he awakens at your approach, we will use other means to secure his participation."
"As you wish, my Lord."
Teal'c turned, frowning. A Jaffa slight of build yet, Teal'c sensed, very powerful stood before him. He wore full battle dress of deepest black.
"You know my name, yet I am ignorant of yours," Teal'c said.
"Mine is unimportant," the man said. "I am insignificant before the great rebel Master Jaffa, Teal'c."
"Greatness is an attribute I do not claim," Teal'c said, trying to study his...opponent? Ally? But the man's features seemed to be hidden. Teal'c couldn't even make out the man's Goa'uld tattoo.
"But greatness is yours. Or perhaps I should say it should be yours. You have sacrificed greatly for your brothers. Have sacrificed nearly everything: your family, your position as First Prime, even your home."
"Only out of necessity," Teal'c said. "I do only what I must to free my brothers from slavery."
"And if I told you that you could accomplish that goal with just one, single sacrifice?"
"Then I would like to hear it," Teal'c said, his eyes narrowed in suspicion.
"Would you surrender your soul to free the Jaffa?" the man asked, moving closer to Teal'c.
"Eternal damnation? Unending suffering?"
"If my sacrifice would free all the others, then yes, I would," Teal'c said.
"If you were willing to make such a tremendous sacrifice, then surely if the price were not quite so great...?"
Teal'c tilted his head, puzzled. Behind him, he heard shouts and running feet.
"Master Bra'tac," Teal'c said as Bra'tac ran to him through a disorganized mob of Jaffa warriors.
"Now is the time to act."
Confused, Teal'c glanced at his left hand. Within his grasp was some type of weapon. Its design was unfamiliar to him although he knew somehow, intuitively, how the weapon worked.
"Now, Teal'c, before it is too late," Bra'tac urged.
"I cannot," Teal'c said. Somehow, intuitively, he also knew that using the weapon would mean the likely destruction of Earth. "To do so would be to sacrifice the Tau'ri."
"And I am truly sorry for that," Bra'tac said, resting his hand on Teal'c's shoulder. "But sacrifices must be made in war. Your human friends know this as well."
"You ask me to sacrifice not just the people of the SGC but their entire world."
"To refuse is to sacrifice our world," Bra'tac said. He flung his hand at the Jaffa behind him. "These are your people, Teal'c. Not the Tau'ri."
"Master Bra'tac is correct," the man in black said. Teal'c turned on him, conflicted and angry. "How can you not act to save your brother Jaffa? Save them, and rule over them."
"Rule?" Teal'c said.
"They will owe their freedom to you. Owe you their very existence. You will have the power to shape the Jaffa into whatever form you see fit."
"Teal'c, this is no time to hesitate," Bra'tac said, ignorant of or oblivious to the presence of the man in black.
"I will not take my people from one form of slavery to another," Teal'c said He disarmed the weapon and tossed it far outside the encampment. "Nor will I accept the freedom of one people by enslaving another."
"Teal'c!" Bra'tac shouted.
"I will fight with honor," Teal'c said. "Or I will not fight at all."
"As I suspected," the man in black said, giving Teal'c's sleeping form a disgusted look.
"He is resistant, my Lord?"
"Completely. Let us hope that Major Carter is more...amenable to our needs."
Sam blinked hard before looking around the office again. She rested her hands against the edge of the desk at which she was sitting, frowning at the letterhead on the paper in front of her.
"Er...what just happened?" Sam asked, looking up at her...secretary? Aide? Secret Service agent? Had to be. The black suit, the rigid stillness with which he stood, the...ambiguous features. Yeah, had to be Secret Service.
"You were about to sign the treaty."
"The World Union treaty, ma'am."
"Right," Sam said. She picked up the document and began to skim through it. Still confused, she set it down again before she'd truly started. "I'm the President of the United States, right?"
"And soon to be President of the World Union, once you sign the treaty," the man in black assured her.
"Funny, I don't remember.... I'm a major in the U.S. Air Force. Or, I was the last time I checked."
"That is true," the man in black agreed. He gestured around the office. "This is not yours yet, but it will be."
"It takes a person of vision and the willingness to act to become a great world leader. You have that willingness. You have that ambition, that intelligence, that single-minded purpose. You have the ability to do what's best for the people of your world. You know this."
"Well, I'd like to think so," Sam said hesitantly.
"It will take hard work, dedication, and even sacrifice," the man continued. "But you are not afraid of those things, are you?"
Sam turned her head. Jack was standing just behind her in the control room, disbelief in every line of his body. She glanced at the monitors. There was an open, incoming wormhole and the base was on high alert.
"It's the only way, sir." This was bad. Sam knew that...somehow. She also knew that only one action could save them.
"Daniel and Teal'c are still out there," Jack reminded her needlessly.
"Colonel, we have approximately thirty seconds to detonate or we lose what may be our only chance." Sam glanced at Jack again. "I don't like it any more than you do, but we can either save Daniel and Teal'c--maybe--or save the planet."
Sam watched Jack as his eyes were drawn back to the gate, the shimmering blue surface stubbornly hiding the fate of their teammates. Sam waited until there were only ten seconds left, then pushed the button.
"Shut down the gate," she ordered. Lieutenant Simmons disconnected the gate before the effects of the blast could be transmitted back through the active wormhole.
"There was no other choice," Sam said, turning back to Jack. "You know that."
"I know," Jack said quietly, finally turning his back on the gate. "Doesn't make it any easier."
"That's why we're here, sir: to ensure the safety of all the people on this planet who aren't prepared to face the hard choices. It's our job to make the hard decisions."
"Major Carter will be adequate to our needs," the man in black said, smiling slightly down at Sam's sleeping face.
"That is excellent news, my Lord."
"We will begin the adjustments immediately," the man in black continued. "Then, this afternoon, you will begin to introduce Major Carter to our plans."
"Yes, my Lord."
"Shaozu," the man said sharply, hearing the slight hesitation in Shaozu's voice. "You are fully prepared to carry out your duties, are you not?"
"I have committed all of the requirements to memory," Shaozu said. "I will not fail you."
"No. You will not," the man in black said, a subtle threat in the tone of his voice. He waved a hand dismissively. "Leave us to begin our work. You will remain watchful of the others. Ensure that they do not awaken before we have finished."
"Shen Shaozu," Daniel called. The city streets were crowded in the middle of the day, but people moved about their business in a calm, almost leisurely fashion. They gave way politely as Daniel and Sam hurried to catch up to their host.
"Dr. Jackson, Major Carter," Shaozu said with a small bow. Daniel returned the bow, pausing to catch his breath. "I trust you are enjoying yourselves?"
"Yes, very much," Daniel said. "Liang has been showing me some incredibly beautiful, not to mention very ancient texts."
"Ah, yes," Shaozu said with a smile. "The Chang manuscripts. Hidden by our ancestors during the rule of the alien gods."
"Yes," Daniel said eagerly. "Your ancestors were very wise, and very brave, to have worked so hard to preserve the history of your people."
"I am pleased that you recognize the great worth of this treasure. They excite you, do they not?"
"Excitement doesn't begin to cover it," Daniel said, smiling. He jumped when Sam elbowed him in the ribs. "Ah...right, Sam. Sorry. Master Shen...."
"Not master," Shaozu said quickly.
"I'm sorry. I meant no offense."
"No offense was taken," Shaozu assured Daniel. "However, we have grown to know one another over the last few days. And we are equals. Therefore I would ask that you call me Shaozu."
"Then you must call me Daniel."
"Sam," Sam added quickly from behind Daniel. "Just call me Sam."
"I would be honored," Shaozu said, nodding to Sam. He returned his attention to Daniel. "Now, please forgive me, I interrupted you, Daniel."
"No, not at all. Um...Sam was just wondering if...."
"Of course. The lovely Major wishes to examine some of our technology," Shaozu said with a warm smile for Sam.
"Well, yes," Sam admitted.
"We do not have a great deal in the way of machinery, but I think there are a few items you will find interesting. If you would be willing to accompany me, I will show you myself."
"I don't want to impose on your time," Sam said.
"It is no imposition," Shaozu assured her. "Dr. Jackson, I assume you are eager to return to the archive?"
"It's Daniel, and yes, I am."
"Then we shall look forward to rejoining you at the evening meal."
"Wow," Sam breathed. Nature had done its best to overtake the complex, but naquada didn't decay or erode or rust like other building materials. Sam was certain that if she cut away the vegetation and washed away years of dirt the building would look as pristine as if it was new. "What is this?"
"A secret of Lord Yu's," Shaozu said.
"Secret? How did you know about it?"
"I am the appointed Guardian of my people. For generations, knowledge of this complex and the ring transporter that travels between my world and this moon has been handed down from Guardian to Guardian."
"What about other Goa'uld?" Sam asked. She waited as Shaozu opened the door. He was obviously familiar with the technology of the lock, and given that the doorway was free of dirt or encroaching vegetation, Sam surmised that Shaozu was a regular visitor. Or at least a recent one. A faint hiss of escaping air indicated that the sealing mechanism was intact, protecting the interior from the effects of nature.
"We believe that Lord Yu kept its existence a secret from all but his most trusted servants," Shaozu said. He led Sam down a dim corridor into what was obviously some kind of control center. The walls were lined with panels, subdued lights blinking off and on. Two banks of computers occupied the center of the room, all facing a section of wall which appeared to contain a large screen. Shaozu gestured to one of the seats, and Sam sat down, looking for anything familiar.
"This is Ancient technology," Sam said, looking at Shaozu as he took the seat next to her.
"You are familiar with the Ancient Ones?" Shaozu asked.
"Familiar might be a little strong, but we've certainly encountered them and their technology," Sam said.
"Then I was correct in bringing you here." Shaozu gestured around the room. "This place was built by Lord Yu using both Goa'uld and Ancient technology. According to legend, he believed that he could create a sort of nexus, a node from which he could control an entire network of stargates."
"That could be useful," Sam said.
"More than that, Major Carter. This network would also have allowed Yu to defend any and all planets within the network from attack."
"That would be very useful," Sam said. "How does it work?"
"Unfortunately, we are not certain. Lord Yu himself never finished the work."
"Probably because it wasn't possible. We've run into that problem before."
"We believe it can work," Shaozu said. "Lord Yu did not possess the complete writings he needed to complete the work."
"And you have these missing writings?"
"We believe we do."
"The Chang manuscripts that Daniel's been looking at," Sam guessed.
"Most of the texts are historical documents, but among them are a few, small texts which I believe are related to this machine. Unfortunately, none of our people are able to decipher the writing."
"Daniel can read Ancient," Sam said.
"I suspected as much."
"Have you shown him these texts?"
"I have not," Shaozu said.
"Because I believe that only you fully understand the necessity of taking action."
"Trust me--Daniel would be all over this," Sam said. She was itching to get all over it herself.
"But would he understand the need for secrecy?"
"Secrecy? From who?" Sam said, looking at Shaozu with concern.
"I have talked at length with Dr. Jackson and Colonel O'Neill. It appears that on your world there are many separate entities which can interfere with your mission. Many entities which can override your authority, which will even try to stop you from defending your planet."
"There's a lot of red tape," Sam agreed. "Oversight committees, other governments...it can be tricky at times."
"Would these committees and governments allow the machine to remain here?" Shaozu asked.
"Well...," Sam said slowly.
"Do not misunderstand me, Sam. We are quite willing to allow your people to control the network. But we must insist that it remains here. That is our only assurance that we will also be protected by the network."
"I understand your concerns," Sam said. "I wish I could say that they're completely unfounded, but I can't."
"Then you understand why this must be done in secrecy," Shaozu said. "Once it is done...."
"Presented with a fait accompli they'll have no choice but to accept it," Sam said. It wasn't like SG-1 had never taken matters into their own hands before. "Not that there won't be a lot of arguing and complaining, but...yeah, I think you're right. We're going to have to do this ourselves."
"Only you and me," Shaozu emphasized.
"I have to tell the colonel at least," Sam said.
"Will he fully understand the implications of what we are attempting to do? Will he agree to keep it secret?"
"Probably not," Sam admitted. Try as hard as she could, Sam couldn't think of any argument she could make that would convince the colonel to participate in this kind of covert operation. He didn't trust technology, especially alien technology, and nothing Sam said was likely to change his mind. "Okay, you're right. I'll have to fly solo this time."
"A heavy responsibility," Shaozu said. "But one I am confident you are capable of bearing."
"Nice place, sir. Not much to offer vis-à-vis technology," Jack said, closing his folder. He sat back in his chair and regarded Hammond with a bland expression.
"Which doesn't mean that they have nothing to offer," Daniel said quickly. Jack rolled his eyes but remained silent.
"Dr. Jackson?" Hammond prompted.
"Jack's right, there isn't any unique technology or big space guns on 337," Daniel said. "But they've preserved a rich cultural heritage including manuscripts that date back to before these people were removed from Earth by the Goa'uld."
"Can these texts tell us anything about the Goa'uld that we don't already know?" Hammond asked.
"I don't know," Daniel admitted. "Liang was kind enough to help me record as much of the texts as I could, and I think it's well worth the effort to continue working on the translation."
"Very well," Hammond said. "I believe Dr. Richards is our current authority on Asian languages?"
"Yes, sir," Daniel said. He flipped his mission report closed, resigned. "I'll see that he gets a copy of everything."
"Major Carter, anything to add?"
"Well, sir, it's true that the people of 337 haven't developed any advanced technology of their own. However, there's a substantial amount of Goa'uld technology left behind and currently unused. With your permission, I'd like to return to 337 and work with some of their people to study and possibly reactivate some of the machines."
"Why?" Jack asked with a suspicious frown.
"Some of the machinery may make everyday life easier for Shaozu and his people," Sam said. "It might even help them defend themselves if any of the Goa'uld were to return."
"While I have no objection to lending these people a hand," Hammond said. "I'm not comfortable with the idea of you returning to this world by yourself."
"General, it's as safe as being on Earth," Sam said.
"Safer," Teal'c said with a pointed look at Jack.
"Oh, come on," Jack said indignantly. "It was a little scuffle."
"Colonel?" Hammond said, confused by the exchange between Teal'c and Jack.
"Er...a minor jello wrestling incident, sir," Jack said.
"That I don't want to know about," Hammond said.
"That's good, sir, because I wasn't planning to get into the details."
"Major, I'd be willing to consider your request," Hammond said, collecting the team's preliminary reports into a neat stack. "Write up a proposal and I'll do my best to accommodate you."
"Thank you, sir."
"Now, you're all dismissed. And I suggest you take the next twenty-four hours to get some rest," Hammond said, looking directly at Jack as he spoke. Confused, Jack simply nodded an acknowledgement.
"Do I look like I need to sleep?" Jack asked the others as soon as Hammond had left the room.
"Well, you do look a little...ragged," Daniel said.
"So says the man with huge honkin' dark circles under his eyes," Jack said.
"Don't take it personally," Daniel said defensively. "I just meant that maybe some of us didn't sleep very well on 337, given the accommodations."
"What accommodations? We slept on the floor," Jack said.
"And obviously some of us didn't adapt very well," Daniel said.
"Carter?" Jack said, giving Daniel a dirty look.
"I feel fine, sir."
"Of course you're used to going without sleep," Jack said, dismissing Sam's resilience with a wave of his hand. "Teal'c?"
"I do feel somewhat fatigued, but not significantly so."
"Well, fine," Jack said. "I'll just drag this decrepit bag of bones home and go to bed. The rest of you...do what you want. You always do."
Jack looked at Daniel, puzzled.
"Daniel? What are you...?" Jack stopped because it was obvious what Daniel was doing here. It was his house.
"Are you okay?" Daniel asked. He stepped out onto the porch, allowing the front door to swing shut behind him.
"Fine," Jack said without much conviction.
"Do you want to come in?"
"Okay. So...you drove over here because...?"
"Okay. Here's the thing," Jack said. He took a deep breath, considered the possibility that honesty was not the best policy in this situation, then plunged in anyway. "I don't know why I drove over here. I don't actually remember driving over here."
"I see," Daniel said slowly.
"That's not a good sign, is it?" Jack asked.
"No, I'd have to say it's a little concerning," Daniel said. "You don't have any idea what you were doing?"
"No. Except.... Except that I thought I was supposed to be here," Jack said, his face twisted with confusion.
"Well, I certainly don't have a problem with you being here, but you're usually a little more aware of why you're here."
"I am, aren't I?"
"Don't go anywhere else," Daniel said, holding up his hand. He started to move back into the house. "I'll just grab my keys and we'll go see Janet."
"Crap," Jack muttered.
"Doctor?" Hammond asked as soon as he entered the infirmary.
"This way, General."
Janet led Hammond to the back of the room where Jack was lolling on a gurney, trying to appear unconcerned. Daniel slouched at the bedside, watching Jack trying to appear unconcerned. Jack swung into a sitting position on the side of the gurney as Janet and Hammond approached. Daniel straightened up, watching all three of them with some anxiety.
"What's the verdict, Doc?" Jack asked.
"Your labs are normal, as are your PET scan and MRI."
"So...he's okay?" Daniel asked.
"I can't find any physical anomaly to explain the colonel's behavior," Janet said.
"Meaning I'm just plain nuts?" Jack asked.
"I would like you to have a formal psych evaluation, but the truth is that the preliminary testing we did tonight is consistent with your baseline cognitive function," Janet said.
"Then the colonel isn't disturbed?" Hammond asked.
"Oh, I'm disturbed all right," Jack said. "I'm very disturbed that I would be out driving around without being aware of it."
"Understandable," Hammond said.
"I'd like to run another full panel of tests in twenty-four hours for comparison and get the psych evaluation," Janet said. "But honestly, I don't think we'll find anything."
"Then what do we do?" Daniel asked.
"Nothing. I suspect this was merely a temporary lapse, a transient amnesia. Maybe due to stress, maybe due to the colonel having just one too many things on his mind."
"What about lack of sleep?" Daniel asked.
"I'm not that tired," Jack protested.
"Sleep deprivation could certainly be a contributing factor." Janet shrugged. "As long as it remains a single, isolated event I don't think it's anything to worry about."
"How do you feel, Colonel?" Hammond asked.
"I feel fine," Jack said. "Just a little disconcerted. I'm not usually that easily distracted."
Daniel let out a little snort, then cleared his throat and stared at his feet.
"I'm not," Jack insisted to Daniel. "At least, not to that degree."
"If you have any more of these incidents, I want you to report it immediately," Hammond said. "Otherwise, as long as Dr. Fraiser gives you a clean bill of health, we'll chalk it up to...."
"A senior moment?" Jack muttered.
"It happens to the best of us, son," Hammond said, patting Jack on the shoulder.
"I overreacted," Jack said as he walked through his front door. "I had a little short in the wiring and blew it out of proportion."
"You were concerned enough to agree to let Janet check it out," Daniel pointed out.
"I had to. After all, it's not like aliens haven't messed with our heads before."
"I can't imagine why any alien would mess with your mind only to make you drive to my house."
"Exactly," Jack said. He hung his coat up and paused to sort through the mail.
"Unless, of course, they're into stupid pet tricks," Daniel said, twirling his keys in a distracted manner.
"Ha," Jack said in a flat tone. He tossed the mail on the table unopened. "And wouldn't that be stupid human tricks?"
"I have this sneaky feeling that most aliens tend to see us as little more than pets."
"Yeah, well, if I start jumping through hoops and playing dead, you can start worrying."
"Jack," Daniel said with a muffled laugh. "The military has you jumping through hoops every day. And we've done more than 'play' dead."
"That's sad," Jack said, nodding in agreement. "My life is little more than 'See Spot run. Run Spot run'."
"See Spot kill snakes," Daniel added.
"This is incredible," Sam said, staring at the device. Energized by excitement, she started digging through her tools. "If you help me I think I can get this integrated into the DHD before I have to leave."
"It's going well?" Shaozu asked.
"Yeah, it's going great. I'll have this entire network set up within the week."
"Then we will all be safe?"
"Right." Sam blinked hard. Her memory seemed to get little fuzzy at times lately. "Right, I'll bring your world into the network and you'll be protected."
"And the Ancient texts?"
"I'll take them to Daniel as soon as I get back to the SGC," Sam said.
"He will be willing to translate them?"
"Are you kidding?" Sam asked, looking up at Shaozu. She motioned for him to hand her a small switch. "Throw old alien writings at Daniel and he's in heaven."
"But will he ask questions?"
"Yeah, Daniel asks questions about everything," Sam said. "Fortunately, he's easily distracted. Don't worry, I've got it covered."
"Sam?" Daniel looked up from his desk. Sam was standing just a couple of feet away, leaning against his lab table with an expectant air. "Have you been here long?"
"No, not really. I mean--what's a half hour between friends?" Sam teased. Daniel rolled his eyes and sat back in his chair to give her his full attention. "I have a favor to ask."
"I need these translated," Sam said, handing two small texts to him. Daniel took the booklets, frowning at the writing.
"This...this is Ancient," he said.
"I know. That's why I came to you."
"Where are they from?" Daniel asked. He skimmed the cover page of the first text, pursing his lips as he made a rough translation in his head.
"Does that matter?" Sam asked.
"Might. Sometimes it's easier to translate if I know the context."
"Oh. Well, they're from 337."
"I thought you were working on Goa'uld technology?" Daniel said, frowning at Sam.
"I am. But who did the Goa'uld appropriate most of their technology from?" Sam said.
"The Ancients," Daniel said with a nod of understanding. "Okay, I'll see what I can do."
"Thing is--I need it soon."
"I'm going back to 337 first thing in the morning, day after tomorrow."
"That's less than forty-eight hours," Daniel protested.
"I know, Daniel. I wouldn't ask but my time on 337 is really limited," Sam said. Daniel grimaced. He hated to rush through a translation, but he understood Sam's position. He was all too familiar with the time constraints placed on the scientific interests at the SGC.
"There's a lot of text here," Daniel said.
"They're technical manuals: lots of numbers, graphs, tables. Should be a pretty straightforward translation," Sam said.
"I can't guarantee accuracy with a rush job," Daniel said, weakening.
"You're going to owe me," Daniel said. He couldn't refuse. Well, he could...but he couldn't.
"Owe me big," Daniel warned.
"You got it. Anything you want," Sam promised, her hand over her heart.
"Jack's right; I am a born sucker," Daniel muttered to himself.
"That's what we love about you, Daniel," Sam said with a big smile.
"Get out of here," Daniel said with mock disgust. "Go on, I've got work to do."
"I really, really appreciate this, Daniel."
"Owe me big," Daniel called after Sam as she left the room. He looked down at the texts and groaned. "Yep, a born sucker."
"Daniel?" Jack had been watching Daniel shuffle his feet in Jack's office door for five solid minutes now.
"Jack?" Daniel looked up, frowning.
"Are you okay? You look a little tired."
"Er...yeah. Kind of had an emergency translation. Just finished this morning," Daniel said, waving his hand vaguely in the air. Jack just shook his head. Emergency translation seemed like something of an oxymoron to him, but he knew better than to question Daniel's priorities.
"Any reason you're hanging out in my doorway?" Jack asked.
"Ah...I just wanted to see if you wanted to go grab a beer or a bite to eat or something."
"Not really in the mood to go out," Jack said.
"Oh. Sure, okay. Maybe some other time," Daniel said, turning to leave.
"Daniel," Jack said, raising his voice to catch Daniel before he could disappear. "I meant I don't feel like going out. But we could just grab a six pack, rent a movie and hang out at your place."
"Oh," Daniel said, his expression brightening. "Okay. I'll pick something up on the way home and...see you there."
Jack turned the volume down on the TV. Daniel didn't seem to notice. He continued to stare at the screen, but his brow was creased in concentration.
"Daniel, can I ask you something?"
"Sure," Daniel said, turning to face Jack.
"This afternoon, when you were hanging around my office, you seemed a little...distracted."
"You say it as though that was an unusual occurrence," Daniel said with a rueful smile.
"No, but.... I was just wondering if you'd had a little memory lapse."
"Memory lapse? You mean like your little fugue?"
"No," Daniel said, shaking his head. "No, I knew why I was there. I just couldn't decide if it was a good idea."
"To ask me if I wanted to grab bite to eat with you?" Jack asked.
"No, not that," Daniel said, noting Jack's slightly offended expression. "I knew that was a good idea."
"Then what?" Jack asked.
"Nothing. Really, it isn't.... Just forget it."
"Daniel, you came to see me for a reason. You obviously have something on your mind. I'd like to know what that something is."
"I shouldn't," Daniel said, still hesitant.
"I think you should."
"It always is with you."
"Besides," Daniel said. "It's really kind of one of those 'show, not tell' things."
"So show me."
Daniel shifted position just the slightest bit.
"Daniel?" Jack was immediately alert. Daniel smiled to himself. Jack's thigh was heavy against his own, and Jack's hand rested against his lower belly, holding him in place firmly but gently. Daniel moved again, fitting himself more comfortably within the curve of Jack's body.
"Are you okay?"
"Very okay," Daniel said. He couldn't help squirming just a little again. He wasn't in any hurry for Jack to withdraw, but he was much more aware of the strange sense of fullness than he had been in the midst of the action. And given that Jack wasn't as big now as he had been in the midst of the action, Daniel figured he must have been really hot and bothered. Otherwise he surely would've been more aware. Even...intimidated?
"Don't," Daniel said, reaching behind him to hold Jack right where he was. "Told you I'm okay."
"It's just.... The first time can be difficult."
"Daniel, it's okay. Most guys are a little spooked by the idea."
"I'm not most guys." Daniel felt the explosion of warm breath against his neck.
"Truer words were never spoken," Jack said. Still chuckling he slowly pulled away from Daniel before slumping down face first onto the bed. Daniel rolled to his back and turned his head toward Jack.
"Huh?" Jack mumbled into the pillow.
"This is familiar."
"Familiar?" Jack raised his head out of the pillow far enough so that he could stare at Daniel with one eye.
"I've dreamed this."
"Sweet," Jack said with a smile.
"No, not...." Daniel rolled his eyes. "I mean tonight happened almost exactly the way I've envisioned it."
"So that's a little odd."
"Why?" Jack asked. "You've dreamed about this--which I still think is sweet--and when the opportunity came you acted to make that dream a reality."
"You think so?"
"Sure, why not? It's not like you're reliving an experience in some funky time loop. I mean--this wasn't exactly like your dream, was it?"
"No, not exactly," Daniel admitted. He let out an embarrassed snort. "Thank goodness. That would be a little too bizarre, even for me."
"Kinky?" Jack asked.
"Not unless you have a exhibitionistic streak," Daniel said. Jack raised an eyebrow in question. "There was another man."
"Not with us. In fact, I don't think you were even aware of him. He was just standing there, all black and...strange."
"All black?" Jack asked, tensing.
"Yeah, he was completely dressed in black clothing."
Jack sat up like he'd been spring loaded.
"Did this man in black have a weird face?" Jack asked.
"No, he...he didn't have a face," Daniel said, puzzled by his own recollection. "I mean...I couldn't see it clearly for some reason."
"Is that a bad omen or something?"
"It's a bad something. I've seen the same guy in my dreams."
"The man in black?" Daniel asked.
"Have sex, yes," Jack said.
"Okay, that's weird." Daniel concentrated, trying to find a logical reason for the similarities in their dreams. Logical, of course, being relative when it came to SG-1 in general and Jack and Daniel in particular. "So...either we're psychically linked or...."
"Or the aliens have been messing with our heads."
"No," Daniel said, shaking his head. "There has to be another explanation."
"I don't know off hand, but I don't think we should start jumping to alien conclusions. Like you did when you had your little bout of forgetfulness."
"Actually, exactly like my little bout of forgetfulness," Jack said. "That's what made me drive to your house."
"The man in black."
"The man in black made you drive to my house?"
"Not exactly. I drove to your house because I wanted sex." Jack grimaced an apology. "But it's all linked somehow."
"You're not exactly reassuring me here."
"Not exactly reassuring myself," Jack said.
"Okay," Daniel said, running his fingers through his hair. "Before we completely panic, I think we should talk to Sam and Teal'c."
"You think they've been dreaming about a man in black and having sex with us?"
"God, I hope not."
"Lord Baal, you will answer to me."
Baal turned his head, looking at Oshu with the same distaste with which he might regard a cockroach.
"How dare you speak to us in that tone?" Baal said. He rose from his throne, increasing the height from which he looked down upon Yu's First Prime. "Where is your master?"
"I am here in my master's place. I speak for him," Oshu said, refusing to lower his eyes.
"We have nothing to answer for, to you or your master."
"You said that you would help Lord Yu," Oshu said. "Not usurp his territories."
"Your master is a mindless fool," Baal said, unconcerned by Oshu's insubordinate tone. "Despite this fact we have helped him. We have protected him from his own lunacy. His territories remain, for the moment, his."
"The Chang texts," Oshu said, accusing. Baal sat back down, studying Oshu carefully.
"Shaozu needs to learn the value of loyalty," Baal said slowly.
"Shaozu has been loyal...to his rightful god."
"Lord Yu had an opportunity to create the network. He tried, and he failed," Baal said, dismissing the question of Shaozu's loyalty with a wave of the hand. "Now the opportunity is ours. It is small recompense for our protection."
"If you succeed, for what will you use the network?"
"How dare you question us?" Baal said, glaring at Oshu.
"I speak with my master's voice," Oshu reminded him.
"We intend to allow the Tau'ri woman to activate the network," Baal said.
"Thus you will learn of the worlds with which they are allied."
"Worlds that once belonged to the System Lords, and will again." Baal allowed himself a small smile. "Major Carter will not, of course, realize that we, and we alone, have full control of the network."
"There must be something more," Oshu said.
"When the network is activated, it will allow us to infiltrate the SGC through their computers."
"You will have access to all their knowledge," Oshu said, nodding in understanding.
"They will be completely unaware," Baal agreed. "They will see only the active network on their instruments, unaware that it masks our forays into the very heart of their fortress." Baal sat back with a shrug. "And in time, when we have all that we require, we will destroy the Tau'ri. Then we will reprogram the network to protect our own territory."
"And the territory of Lord Yu," Oshu said.
"Yes, of course," Baal said.
"Lord Baal, you have given your word to help my master."
"There is no help for him. He is too old and too weak," Baal said, his irritation rising again. "We will allow Lord Yu to live to his natural end. We will protect him from humiliation. We will protect him from himself. That is all that can be done."
"Jack, you need to hear this," Daniel said, rushing into Jack's office with Teal'c in tow.
"Would that be your idea of 'need', or mine?" Jack asked. Daniel glared at him before closing the door. Teal'c took a seat in one of the two chairs in front of Jack's desk. "Never mind."
"Teal'c's been having the same dreams that we have," Daniel said, dropping into the other chair.
"The same dreams?" Jack asked, concerned. Because Jack wasn't an exhibitionist and the thought that Teal'c might be watching Jack and Daniel have sex--even in a dream--was beyond weird.
"Well, not the 'same' dreams," Daniel said quickly. "Not, you know.... Just the same kind of dreams."
"You've been dreaming about the man in black, too?" Jack asked Teal'c.
"If you are referring to the faceless entity who speaks to me from within my dreams, then I have."
"That's concerning," Jack admitted.
"We have to go to Hammond," Daniel said, leaning forward and looking earnestly at Jack.
"Let's not get ahead of ourselves," Jack said, leaning forward and looking at Daniel just as earnestly. "There could still be some perfectly logical explanation."
"Yes, like aliens messing with our heads," Daniel said.
"Then why didn't Fraiser pick something up when I had my little 'amnesia' episode?"
"You're absolutely certain that the two things are connected?" Daniel asked.
"I don't remember much from that half hour, but I do remember that guy talking to me in my head," Jack said.
"Did you ever tell Janet about him?"
"No," Jack admitted. "I told her about everything else, but I thought mentioning the man in black might get me a one-way ticket to the funny farm. And does it really matter? If there was something really wrong with me, it should've shown up on the tests."
"Yet you realize that this is not normal," Teal'c said.
"Normal's such a relative term," Jack said. "So we're feeling a little...off. That's not exactly news. And what about Carter?"
"I mentioned my unease to Major Carter the other day," Teal'c said. "She ascribed it to my unfamiliarity with the dream process. I could not refute her theory, however I do not believe she is correct."
"Do you think Carter's having these strange dreams?" Jack asked.
"In truth, she did not indicate one way or the other," Teal'c said.
"We need to talk to Sam," Daniel said.
"Well, we'll have to wait. She's off doing one of her little science projects," Jack said.
"On 337?" Daniel asked.
"Er...yeah," Jack said. "Why?"
"Because...that's where these dreams started for me."
"For me as well," Teal'c said.
"Here's what we're going to do," Jack said, leaning forward. There was no use pretending that something wasn't going on. Something that needed explaining. "I'm going to go talk to Carter."
"On 337?" Daniel asked.
"Should we not notify General Hammond first?" Teal'c asked.
"I'd like to keep this low key for the moment," Jack said. "If Carter hasn't been affected then there's no reason to drag her back here. If she is compromised, I'll bring her back and then we can all go to Hammond."
"I'm not sure about that, Jack."
"Hammond's in Washington until tomorrow anyway," Jack said with a quick check of his watch. "I'll clear it with Sanchez. He's O.D. today. It won't be a problem."
"And what if it is a problem?" Daniel asked. "Not Sanchez, but Sam. Or 337."
"It won't be," Jack insisted.
"We will give you one hour," Teal'c said.
"Two hours," Jack countered. "I don't even know where on 337 Carter's working, so give me a little leeway."
"And if you do not return in two hours?" Teal'c asked, tacitly agreeing to Jack's request.
"Then you tell Sanchez and Hammond everything you know. Everything you suspect. You'll have to consider both me and Carter compromised, and 337 should be regarded as potentially hostile." Jack looked at both of them. "Agreed?"
"Agreed," Teal'c said.
"Agreed, albeit reluctantly," Daniel said.
"I will await your return, O'Neill," Teal'c said. He got to his feet, offered Jack a slight nod of the head, and exited the office.
"No time like the present," Jack said. He got up and grabbed his jacket from the back of his chair. He walked around the desk and waited for Daniel, who was still sitting in his chair, frowning.
"Jack, if our feelings are being affected by an alien source...."
"Doesn't change anything," Jack said quickly. He headed for the door, pulling his jacket on as he went.
"Yes, it does."
"No, it doesn't and we're not talking about it."
"We have to talk about it," Daniel insisted, getting to his feet.
"Do I have to stick my fingers in my ears and sing?" Jack asked.
"We have a problem," Jack said as soon as he heard Daniel enter the kitchen.
Jack had gone straight home after setting a time for his trip to 337. Sanchez had refused to let Jack use the gate immediately because they had a team off world in a place that was brewing up to be trouble. However, that team was due back at 1900 hours. Assuming they returned safely, Sanchez had agreed to let Jack leave for 337 at 1930.
"I know," Daniel said in a quiet voice. "We can't be sure of our feelings knowing that some outside influence was involved."
"No, actually that is not the problem," Jack said, turning to finally face Daniel. "I know what my feelings are. I've known for a long time. A long time before these dreams started."
"But you never did anything about it."
"And therein lies the problem." Jack walked to the fridge and pulled out a bottle of sport drink. He gave Daniel a questioning look, but Daniel waved off the offer.
"So the problem?" Daniel prompted when Jack had taken a drink.
"I was attracted to you. You were attracted to me. But we never did anything about it," Jack said. "We had reasons for not doing anything about it."
"Fear was a part of it," Daniel admitted.
"Me, too," Jack admitted. "It's a big risk--approaching someone. Especially another guy."
"Exactly," Daniel said, nodding his head. "And then there's your career."
"And the fact that we're on the same team, not to mention the fact that by a small technicality I'm your boss."
"When have I ever taken orders from you?"
"I said it was a technicality," Jack agreed.
"So basically, whatever the aliens did to our minds somehow overcame all our reasons against acting on feelings we already had."
"They're valid reasons, Daniel."
"So...what are you saying?"
"I'm saying that while in full possession of our facilities we independently arrived at the same conclusion," Jack said.
"That we shouldn't be together."
"That we couldn't be together."
"And now that we know that someone's been fucking with our heads we should stop fucking each other?"
"Daniel," Jack sighed as Daniel turned his back and walked over to stare out the window. "You know I'm right."
"You're supposed to be the dumb one."
"Yeah, well, trust me to get a clue at the most inopportune moment."
"How are we supposed to do that? Go back to...before?"
"I don't know."
"There has to be another way," Daniel said, turning back to face Jack.
"I'm all ears."
"What if I transfer to another team?"
"Better, although still a little iffy."
"I could quit," Daniel said.
"No, you couldn't."
"I could...at least consider the possibility."
"No," Jack said. He walked across the kitchen until he was standing directly in front of Daniel. "I'll be retiring sooner rather than later."
"And you're asking me to wait?"
"No, I'm not going to ask you for anything," Jack said. He put his arms around Daniel's waist. "What I'm saying is that in a couple of years, maybe sooner, I'll be retired. And I'll be here...if you're still interested."
"That plan sucks," Daniel said, his tone flat. "One or both of us could be dead by then."
"I never said it was a perfect plan," Jack agreed.
"We don't have to decide right this minute," Jack said. "The damage is already done."
"Damage?" Daniel said, looking at Jack over the rims of his glasses.
"You know what I mean. Let's give it a few days. Let's get this alien mind whammy taken care of. In the meantime, maybe one of us will have a moment of inspiration."
"Well, well, well," Jack said to himself. He looked carefully around him, studying the precise construction of the complex, noting the extreme care that had been taken to protect its contents. He ventured along a short, broad corridor and into the command center before stopping dead in his tracks.
"What the hell is going on, Carter?" This was not just a few abandoned Goa'uld machines Sam was tinkering with.
"Colonel?" Sam got up from her work station, glancing around nervously.
"In living color," Jack said, watching Sam. Her surprise at Jack's unexpected appearance was understandable, but nervous? "Now...mind explaining all this?"
"You wouldn't understand."
"Wouldn't be the first time, but why don't you go ahead and give it a shot."
"Sir, really, it's very complicated."
"Carter, I know I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer, and I know I don't always pay attention in briefings, but this," Jack said, waving his hand at Sam's unofficial lab. "This was not in any briefing."
"I'm trying to protect Earth." Sam sat down in her chair and stared at her computer screen.
"From here I control an entire network of gates, including the one on Earth, and...."
"Whoa!" Jack threw up a hand, staring at Sam in disbelief. "You can control Earth's gate from here?"
"Carter, I want you to pull the plug on whatever you've got set up here and return with me to the SGC."
"I can't do that, sir."
"That's not a suggestion, Major. It's an order."
"I'm sorry, sir." Sam jumped a little when Jack's body went rigid, then dropped to the ground. Sam got to her feet and ran around the console to check on him.
"I am sorry, Sam," Shaozu said, tucking the zat back into his robes.
"You didn't have to do that," Sam said, kneeling next to Jack's unconscious body. "I could've convinced him."
"We are nearly finished. I could not risk the possibility that Colonel O'Neill would delay our plans."
"He would've listened to me," Sam insisted.
"Do not worry. He is and will continue to be unharmed," Shaozu said. "He will merely be restrained so that he cannot interfere. A day, maybe two, no more."
"There are rooms within this complex in which he can be held securely. He will be angry admittedly, but unharmed." Shaozu laid a comforting hand on her shoulder. "You know better than I that the colonel will not understand that the actions we have taken are necessary."
Jack returned to consciousness with the all-over achiness that identified a zat blast as the reason for his unscheduled and involuntary nap.
"Damn it," he muttered, rolling to his feet. Groaning softly as his muscles protested the movement, Jack gave the room a quick glance. It was fairly large, more of a hall than a mere room. Large, but empty and dark and obviously long unused. Jack shuffled to the door and began banging.
"Carter! Damn it, Carter, open this door!" Shaking his stinging hand, Jack studied his prison a little more carefully. There was absolutely nothing. No bumps, bulges, grooves--just flat gray walls, a flat gray ceiling and a flat gray floor. A single door with a small light over it was the only notable features in the entire room.
"Carter, this is an order--open the damn door!" Jack yelled. He took a couple of steps back when the door actually opened.
"We believe you will find that Major Carter does not take orders from you anymore."
"What the...? Fuck," Jack spat as Baal entered the room.
"You see, she found someone who gave her orders that were more in line with her own wishes," Baal said. He stepped forward, moving slowly and confidently into the center of the room.
"There is no way Carter would ever willingly cooperate with a snake," Jack said flatly. He backed away instinctively. He didn't want to give Baal the idea that he was afraid. But he was. And he sure as hell wasn't going to allow Baal to get any closer than absolutely necessary.
"Unless a Goa'uld offered her something she wanted," Baal said.
"You got nothing she wants," Jack said, jabbing a finger at Baal.
"Then why is she cooperating with us?"
"You messed with her head. You've been messing with all of our heads," Jack said.
"A convenient excuse," Baal said, beginning to circle Jack slowly. Jack turned in place, never letting Baal get behind him. "Perhaps you simply don't know Major Carter as well as you thought. Perhaps she has needs of which you are unaware."
"Probably. But she'd never cooperate with a Goa'uld," Jack said. "I'd stake my life on it."
"We believe you just have."
When Jack regained consciousness again, face down on the stone floor of his cell, the first thing he saw was Sam. She was sitting cross-legged on the floor right in front of him, plucking nervously at the cuff of her sleeve.
"Come to rub my face in my own stupidity again?" Jack asked, pushing himself up into a sitting position against the wall.
"No, sir. I...." Sam reached out and brushed her finger against the bruise that was forming along Jack's cheek bone. Jack flinched away from the touch, and Sam looked even guiltier. Jack couldn't bring himself to reassure her, not when he'd just been through a 'conversation' with Baal.
"Just tell me how the hell you ended up with Baal."
"B-Baal?" Sam sputtered, withdrawing her hand. "What does he have to do with anything?"
"He's your new boss, Carter. The guy for whom you've been fixing this place up."
"No, that's impossible."
"I would've thought so, and yet, there it is," Jack said, staring hard at Sam.
"Shaozu is the only person I've been working with."
"Then Shaozu is Baal's minion."
"This is Yu's territory, not Baal's," Sam argued.
"Well, Yu hasn't been doing so well lately," Jack said. "I suspect Baal has taken advantage of that fact."
"I don't believe it," Sam said.
"Believe it," Jack said flatly. "What exactly are you doing here anyway?
"We've been working together to get this facility operational."
"For what purpose, Carter?"
"When we're done we'll be able to create a network of gates. We're going to program Earth's gate, as well as the gates of all our allies, into the system. From here we'll be able to control and defend all the planets within the network."
"A whole network of stargates under the control of one person?" Jack asked.
"Yes," Sam said.
"And it never occurred to you that whole set up was vaguely snake shaped?"
Sam stopped short when she reentered the command center of the facility and found two Jaffa standing guard at the doors on either side of the room. Shaozu stood in the center of the room, his head slightly bowed.
"What the hell?"
"Greetings, Major Carter."
Sam spun around. Baal was standing in the back of the room, a smug grin on his face.
"We thought it was time that we speak face to face," Baal continued. He gestured to a chair, but Sam shook her head. Baal shrugged easily and took a seat for himself. "Soon the network will be ready for activation and we will have no further opportunities for discussion."
"I don't understand," Sam said, watching Baal warily.
"You'll have to forgive us for using Shaozu as our intermediary, but we suspected that your typical Tau'ri reaction to the involvement of a Goa'uld would make it impossible to implement this plan."
"You got that right."
"Please, Major...sit." Baal smiled when Sam finally took a seat, in the farthest chair she could. "Tell us, Major, is there anything wrong with the plan? Other than the fact that it came from a Goa'uld."
"There must be. There must be something in it for you."
"Of course there is. We are neither foolish nor careless."
"What is it?" Sam asked.
"The Tau'ri have been incredibly lucky. They have interfered and confounded many of the System Lords' plans."
"We've taken a few of the Goa'uld out," Sam said.
"Your luck will not last. It cannot. You are outnumbered and woefully deficient in technology. It is only a matter of time."
"The network will protect us," Sam said. "But I'm still not seeing how it benefits you."
"You will remain within your network, your alliance, and away from the rest of the galaxy."
"Why should we? Why should we give up exploring other planets?"
"You will have more than enough to explore," Baal said. "And isn't it worth sacrificing some of your personal desires if it means protecting your planet?"
"Of course," Sam said. "This isn't about me. But I still don't understand why you're willing to allow us to remain free."
"We have more important concerns to attend to."
"Like moving to the head of the System Lords," Sam said.
"We are a reasonable god, a rational god," Baal said, tacitly accepting Sam's assessment. "We recognize the value of an arrangement that benefits us both."
"We get a portion of the galaxy, safe, and you get the rest without having to constantly look over your shoulder, wondering what we're up to," Sam said.
"A true compromise. We each give up something we wish, but gain something useful in return."
"Should not have come here," Baal interrupted. "He is not part of the bargain."
"He is," Sam insisted. "You need me to finish this network. More--you need me to make sure that our people will stay out of your way once the network is in place. Isn't it worth sacrificing one of your personal desires if it means being free of our interference?"
"Touché," Baal said dryly. "Very well, we agree...reluctantly. We had such plans for O'Neill."
"You'll get over it," Sam said, suppressing a shudder.
Jack looked up when he heard the bolt on the cell door being drawn. He expected to see Sam. Hoped it was her rather than the alternative.
"Daniel? Teal'c?" Jack scrambled to his feet in surprise.
"Jack, you okay?" Daniel asked.
"I've had better days," Jack admitted. "What are you guys doing here?"
"Rescuing you." Daniel flinched as the door slammed shut behind him, grimacing apologetically. "Can't you tell?"
"Nice job," Jack said. He watched as Daniel and Teal'c each took a moment to study the room.
"You know, I think I saw this in a 'Better Dungeons and Goals' centerfold," Daniel said, his attention returning to Jack.
"Oh, please. I know dungeons; this place wouldn't make the top ten," Jack said. "So what went wrong with the rescue concept?"
"There were Jaffa guarding the ring transporter when we arrived on this moon," Teal'c told Jack. "We were captured immediately."
"We were not expecting Jaffa," Daniel added.
"Don't suppose you would've been," Jack said. "Dare I hope that you two organized a back up plan?"
"Well, before we left the SGC we told Colonel Sanchez everything we knew...which admittedly wasn't much," Daniel said. "But he knows that much at least. And he'll contact Hammond if we aren't back in two hours."
"Which is exactly what I should've done before I came here."
"You thought you could talk to Sam, reason with her," Daniel said, claiming a spot against the wall and sitting down.
"I thought it was impossible that Carter could be working with a Goa'uld," Jack said.
"You are trying to steal our kingdom from us," Yu accused.
"We do not have to steal it from you," Baal said disdainfully. He looked around Yu's personal quarters, the sneer never leaving his face. "You lack the capacity to hold it any longer. We are merely ensuring that your territory does not slip through your fingers and into undeserving hands."
"Do not think that you can trick us."
"Even we would not stoop to deceiving a witless fool."
"You insult us. Be gone."
Yu turned and walked toward the door, preparing to call his attendants. Baal stepped up to the wall, removed a sword that was hanging there, and walked steadily up behind Yu. Without a word, he grasped the hilt with both hands and swung.
"Only a fool would turn his back on us," Baal said to Yu's lifeless body. He looked up as Oshu rushed into the room and stopped short at the sight of his master.
"What have you done?" Oshu pulled a dagger from his robe and turned on Baal.
"We have saved him from insults and further humiliation," Baal said, gazing at Yu's head, lying several feet from his body.
"You promised that you would allow Lord Yu to live to a natural end."
"He was a System Lord," Baal said. He leaned over and ripped a piece of cloth from the bottom of Yu's robes, using it to casually wipe the blood from the sword. "This is his 'natural' end."
"You have betrayed my Lord."
"Of course," Baal said with a dismissive shrug. He slashed through the air with the sword a couple of times, nodding in approval. Then he lowered it to his side, studying Oshu. "You have served your master well and faithfully. We would welcome you into our service."
"If I choose not to join you?"
"You are fully aware of the consequences. Refuse us and you will be taken by another System Lord. If we do not kill you first."
Oshu looked down at Yu's body for a moment before returning his gaze to Baal.
"How may I serve you, my Lord?"
"Forgive me, Major Carter."
"What?" Deep in thought, even Shaozu's quiet voice was enough to startle Sam. She glanced at the Jaffa standing guard at the back of the room. She relaxed and gave Shaozu's shoulder a reassuring squeeze. "No, don't worry. It'll be okay."
"I do not understand."
"The network is still ours. Your planet will be protected." Sam smiled. "We're going to be okay. I promise."
"Your faith is greater than my own," Shaozu said.
"We've beaten these guys before. We can do it again." Sam glanced at the Jaffa again. "But I don't think we'll have to. Baal's a realist. He understands that it's smarter to make some concessions than to continue fighting a battle that never ends in anything better than a stalemate."
"You truly believe that we will be safe from Lord Baal?"
"I do. I know it."
"And your friends?"
"Friends...?" Sam shook her head. "Colonel O'Neill will be fine. I made sure that Baal won't touch him."
"And Dr. Jackson and Master Teal'c?"
"Carter?" Jack said. He got to his feet when Sam entered the cell, but maintained his distance, just as a precaution. Daniel and Teal'c gave him curious looks but followed his lead.
"What are you doing here?" Sam asked Teal'c as the Jaffa guard exited the cell, closing the door firmly behind him.
"When O'Neill did not return to the SGC at the appointed time, Daniel Jackson and I came to assist him."
"Damn it," Sam said, her shoulders sagging in frustration. She waved her hand at Jack. "The colonel's fine. You should've just stayed out of it."
"Did you really think we wouldn't try to help?" Daniel asked incredulously.
"He doesn't need help," Sam said. "Hell, you all should've stayed out of it."
"You're working for Baal," Jack said. "This is not something we can ignore."
"I'm working for the SGC. I'm working for us," Sam said. "It just happens that Baal is necessary to the plan. He's the one who discovered the purpose of this complex."
"Why would he offer this knowledge to you?" Teal'c asked.
"Lots of reasons," Sam said.
"Carter," Jack said sharply.
"Because he wants a truce."
"Baal?" Jack asked, incredulous.
"He wants to rule the System Lords. If giving us a small part of the galaxy will keep us out of his hair, he's willing to deal," Sam said.
"You don't make deals with the devil, Carter, because he always wins."
"Not this time, sir. He needs me as much as we need him."
"Still, why was the knowledge of this place given only to you?" Teal'c asked.
"I...I don't really know," Sam said.
"I think I do." Daniel's expression was vaguely apologetic. "I've been thinking about the 'dreams' I've been having. And I've talked to Teal'c about his. I think it's all about power."
"So...what? Carter's some kind of power-hungry dictator wannabe?" Jack asked.
"Yes, although not quite like you think," Daniel said. He began pacing across the cell. "We were all offered power of some kind. I was offered knowledge, which to me is power. The power to do something that we'd all agree was a good thing: to protect our loved ones and our world."
"I was offered the power to lead the Jaffa and destroy the Goa'uld," Teal'c offered. "But only at the cost of destroying my Tau'ri friends."
"Chief of staff, control of our defenses. But the payoff...." Jack glanced at Daniel. "The payoff was something I didn't think I could ever have. And didn't want if it wasn't real."
"President," Sam volunteered.
"Of the United States?" Jack asked.
"Of the world, actually."
"Impressive," Jack said. "What did you have to do to get it?"
"Just my job," Sam said.
"Were you not asked to make a choice, to sacrifice?" Teal'c asked.
"That's part of the job," Sam said. "Being a military officer means having to make hard choices, having to make sacrifices."
"Yeah, that would explain why Baal chose you," Daniel said thoughtfully.
"No, it doesn't," Sam protested.
"Baal offered power. You were the only one who was willing to take that power, no matter the cost."
"Oh, please," Sam snapped. She looked at all three of her teammates. "Are you telling me that none of you would accept the chance to do what you admit we'd all like to do?"
"That's exactly what I'm saying. Ultimately, none of us wants that kind of power, no matter what pay off." Daniel paused. "Jack's afraid of power."
"Excuse me?" Jack said, his attention diverted from Sam to Daniel.
"You don't trust people in positions of power. If you were one of them, you wouldn't be able to trust yourself," Daniel explained.
"Er...." Jack looked around, uncomfortable, but unable to deny at least the kernel of truth in Daniel's assessment.
"And Teal'c fears power because, to him, power is the Goa'uld. He's reluctant to do anything that would even begin to put him on the same level with them."
"That is true."
"What about you?" Sam said.
"Me...I was shown the potential destruction I could cause if I ever had absolute power. Destruction of my world, and myself. It's not a lesson I'm going to forget any time soon."
"And Carter?" Jack prompted.
"The temptation is obvious and understandable," Daniel said. "Sam has great faith in her abilities. And a lot of frustration because she's not allowed to use her abilities as she sees fit."
"Oh, come on, Daniel," Sam said angrily. "You get frustrated, too."
"Yes," Daniel said, nodding his head. "And if Oma and Shifu hadn't taught me a harsh lesson, I might've been as vulnerable to Baal's manipulations as you were. But they had, and I wasn't."
"I...." Sam's words cut off abruptly as the cell door opened. Three Jaffa entered, their faces impassive. The first one studied each of them in turn, before pointing at Daniel.
"Me what?" Daniel asked, tensing.
"You will come."
"No, he won't," Jack said. The Jaffa stared at Jack, then motioned the other two forward toward Daniel.
"Carter?" Jack said.
"Don't worry," Sam said, putting her hands out in placating manner. Daniel frowned at her but allowed one of the Jaffa to pull him toward the door. "Just...stay calm. It'll be all right."
Jack exchanged a look with Teal'c, wondering if he should resist, try to make a break for it, something. Teal'c held Jack's gaze for a moment, then relaxed his stance just slightly. The door slammed shut, and Jack let out a long breath.
"Carter?" Jack said again.
"They need me. Baal needs me," Sam said. "They can't afford to do anything that would make me angry."
Jack made a sharp, frustrated gesture and paced off to the far side of the cell.
"Daniel's wrong," Sam insisted.
"Is he?" Jack asked.
"You really believe that I would betray the SGC?"
"No. And that's not what Daniel said either," Jack said. "We know you didn't choose to give secrets to the enemy. But you did choose to take Earth's security into your own hands, and now we're compromised."
"We're not compromised," Sam said.
"You're working for a snake and Daniel...." Jack's words trailed off as he stared at the cell door.
"Baal has no reason to be interested in Daniel," Sam said, her eyes following Jack's to the closed door.
"Daniel's the one who was responsible for my escape from his little torture palace," Jack said, pacing back toward her.
"Begging your pardon, sir, but no, he wasn't. We were."
"We were not," Teal'c said.
"Teal'c, we arranged the diversion that allowed the colonel to escape."
"Based on an idea given to me by Daniel Jackson."
"And because Daniel kept me sane long enough to be able to take advantage of the diversion," Jack added.
"It's always about Daniel, isn't it?" Sam said, turning to face Jack.
"No, not always," Jack said. "But come on, Carter--credit where credit is due."
"You'd think I'd never done anything right since joining the SGC," Sam said, her tone bitter.
"Of course you have," Jack said. "Just not every right thing. And you've screwed up, too, just like everyone else. We've all contributed. We've all made mistakes. The key factor here is that you haven't recognized your limits."
"If we all sat around saying that something can't be done...." Sam began.
"It's a fine line, I know," Jack said, nodding. "When does confidence become arrogance? I don't know. I can't tell you where that line is."
"We do not condemn you, Major Carter."
"Sounds to me like you do."
"Carter, you can get mad at us. Blame us. Whatever," Jack said. He ran his fingers through his hair, making it stick up in every direction. "But we don't have time for this right now. We've got more immediate concerns."
"Baal now has control of our stargate," Teal'c said.
"No, he doesn't."
"He doesn't?" Jack asked.
"That would defeat the whole purpose of what I'm doing," Sam said. "Everything in the system is password protected. I'm the only one who has access."
"Well, an upside to megalomania then," Jack said. Sam gave him an angry and hurt look. "Baal still thinks you're happily working with him, right?"
"Yes," Sam said.
"Then keep him thinking that and find a way to get us out of this in one piece."
Sam gave Jack a curt nod, then called for the Jaffa to let her out.
"O'Neill, Major Carter may, in fact, be fully under Baal's control," Teal'c said once they were alone.
"I know," Jack said grimly. "We just have to hope that there's enough of the real Carter in there to resist."
"Is there a point to this?" Daniel asked. He grimaced, pulling at the restraints on his wrists. He was fairly certain that there was no way he could pull free, but he felt he should at least make an effort. He wasn't sure why he should make an effort, but he thought it might have something to do with spending too much time around the Marines.
"We enjoy it. Need there be any further point?" Baal asked, fondling one of his knives.
"For a Goa'uld? No, probably not." Daniel's mind raced, wondering if there was any way to divert Baal from his fascination with sharp, shiny objects. "Tell me something--how did you get Sam to cooperate?"
"It was not difficult," Baal said in an off hand manner. "We could not risk obvious tampering with any of your minds, but Major Carter proved to be delightfully receptive."
"I don't believe that."
"Believe as you like. Major Carter is quite confident of her intellect. And equally confident that you are...insufficient to the task." Baal smiled when Daniel grimaced, stung by the insult. "Truly, her opinion of you, of all of you, is somewhat less than glowing."
"Sam is very bright."
"Yes, she is. Ambitious as well. We speak the truth when we tell you that she needed little encouragement to pursue this plan."
"Then there's something she doesn't know," Daniel said.
"Of course there is." Baal exchanged the knife for one that was shorter, but wider. "Now we grow tired of talk."
"What? No drinks or dinner before the evening's entertainment?"
"We have already dined. For you--nothing."
"Doesn't sound like there's going to be much entertainment for me either," Daniel said.
"One must make do with what one has." Baal paused. "The entertainment would have been greater had you not destroyed our usual venue."
"Me? I didn't destroy anything of yours."
"Lord Yu may have struck the actual blows, but you were responsible for the destruction of my hidden fortress."
"I don't know what you're talking about. I wasn't even around then."
"Oh, you were there," Baal said, moving until he was directly in Daniel's face. "O'Neill spoke to you."
"He only thought he was speaking to me."
"He had entire conversations with you. He called out to you in his moments of greatest need."
"Psychosis will do that to a person," Daniel said. He tried to keep his eyes fixed on Baal's, and away from the knife. "Torture, repeated sarcophagus use--the only surprising thing is that Jack thought he was talking to me and not Homer Simpson."
"You were there," Baal said, stepping back to the middle of the room. "You were there and you interfered."
"Let me guess--this is payback?"
"There is a surprisingly astute Tau'ri saying," Baal said. He turned to Daniel with a smile. "Revenge is a dish best served cold."
"Crap," Jack muttered.
The Jaffa had dragged Daniel back into the cell and dumped him on the floor. The fact that Daniel hadn't reacted to being dropped on a hard floor was concerning. Jack quickly crossed the room to check Daniel over. Teal'c stood over him as he knelt down and rolled Daniel to his back.
"Jack?" Daniel blinked slowly until Jack's face, hovering over his own, came into focus.
"How are you feeling?" Jack asked.
"I've developed a greater understanding for your anger when I didn't help you get free from Baal," Daniel said.
Jack grimaced. "Come on, sit up."
"No," Daniel protested, but Jack and Teal'c pulled him up. Daniel sagged until he was leaning against Jack's shoulder. "Oh, yeah, not the most fun I've ever had. On the other hand, I have to admit that Baal has gotten this torture thing down to an art."
"Yeah, he's a regular Picasso," Jack said. "Are you okay?"
"What do you think?" Daniel was content to let his head rest on Jack's shoulder, his eyes closed. Jack wasn't anywhere close to content. He resumed running his hands over Daniel's torso, pausing when he found a damp, sticky spot on his shirt. Daniel winced and shoved Jack's hand away. "Stop it."
"No, really? And you're not making it any better by poking at it."
"No sarcophagus this time?" Jack asked.
"Maybe it's in the shop. Baal has that hand device. You know, for when he gets a little too carried away," Daniel said.
"Crap," Jack said. He reached again for Daniel. "I need to know what your injuries are."
"Nothing life threatening," Daniel said, starting to push up and away from Jack. Jack finally conceded defeat. He pulled Daniel's head back against his shoulder and pointedly placed his own hands in his lap.
"For what it's worth, I was right," Daniel said after a moment.
"Of course you were," Jack said. "About what?"
"Sam's not acting entirely of her own free will."
"Brainwashing?" Teal'c asked. Daniel nodded.
"Why didn't we notice something?" Jack asked. "I mean--shouldn't we have noticed something?"
"Apparently the Goa'uld learned subtlety after the Tok'ra caught on to the zatarcs," Daniel explained. "Baal did, anyway. He couldn't chance changing parts of Sam's mind wholesale. He looked for aspects of Sam's character that suited his needs, and then he strengthened them."
"So it's the real Carter, just...tweaked?" Jack asked.
"What of us, Daniel Jackson? Have we, too, been...tweaked?" Teal'c asked.
"Not so much," Daniel said. "I had to kind of read between the insults, but I think Baal left our minds alone other than to 'encourage' us to be less likely to question Sam's activities. Otherwise I think we're pretty much us."
"Just how strong is this tweaking?" Jack asked. "Can we break through it?"
"I don't know, but you have to remember that these personality traits are Sam's. They're part of her. My thought is that's going to make it more difficult to convince her that there's a problem."
"How nice," Jack said with a heavy sigh. "We have our own little tyrannical despot."
"We had a deal," Sam said, brushing past Baal's Jaffa guards.
"You will have the network; we will be free of your tedious interference," Baal said.
"We conceded to your demands that O'Neill be unharmed. We will make no more such concessions."
"O'Neill is the one we want. Give him to us, and we will gladly vouchsafe the safety of all your friends."
"Not Colonel O'Neill," Sam insisted. "I won't agree to that."
"Then we will have Daniel Jackson," Baal said with a casual wave of his hand. "Not what we would have wished, but not entirely unsatisfactory even so."
"Is an idiot. A loud, obnoxious, stubborn, ignorant fool," Baal said. "Frankly, we do not understand what a woman such as yourself could possibly wish with one such as he."
"Colonel O'Neill isn't as stupid or obnoxious as he pretends."
"So you say," Baal said, clearly disgusted. "But you would be wise to take our advice. Take him as your mate, father children from him if you must, but do not allow him to hold any authority over you."
"I know what I'm doing," Sam said. "I doubt you can understand human relationships."
"Oh, we understand, Major. We understand that you will have to sever O'Neill from Dr. Jackson before you can even hope to realize your dreams."
"You know what we mean," Baal said. Sam shook her head. "Surely you are not blind to the strength of the bonds between them."
"They're very good friends. Close friends," Sam said.
"Very close," Baal agreed. "Your colonel needs Daniel Jackson far more than he has ever needed you."
"Well, aren't I special?" Jack said as he was brought into the room Sam had claimed as her personal quarters. It wasn't particularly fancy but it had furniture, which was big step up from where the rest of the team was housed. Jack held his bound hands up with a questioning look as Sam ordered his Jaffa escort out of the room.
"Sorry, sir, but I had to make certain concessions."
"So you admit that you're working for a System Lord?"
"No," Sam said immediately. "I'm working with a System Lord."
"Oh, that makes all the difference."
"It does," Sam said. "If you could just think outside your preconceived notions and prejudices...."
"Excuse me, Major?"
"But I didn't bring you here to discuss that," Sam said. Jack bristled, even more insulted by her dismissive attitude. "Colonel, when I'm finished here, when the Earth is protected, what will you do?"
"Not going to happen, Carter. I don't care what story Baal's been telling you."
"For the sake of argument just pretend that it is going to happen," Sam said. "Would you retire?"
"If the Earth was safe.... Yeah, I'd probably retire. I'd certainly think about it."
"Do you have any plans for retirement?"
"Plans?" Jack stared at Sam, puzzled by the question. "Plans is probably too strong a word. More like...hopes. I have hopes for my retirement."
"Do any of those hopes involve me?"
"Well, I'd hope that we'd keep in touch," Jack said cautiously. Sam grimaced and stalked to the other side of the room. "What is this about, Carter?"
"Nothing," Sam said, turning back and studying him. "It's about absolutely nothing at all."
"Then could we get back to the important point? You do know we're prisoners here?" Jack said.
"Temporary," Sam said with a dismissive shrug.
"Daniel's being tortured," Jack said sharply.
"Like I said--certain concessions had to be made."
"You...?" Jack stared, aghast. "You agreed to...? You gave Daniel to that...that...."
"I didn't give him to anyone," Sam said. "I made sure Baal couldn't touch you. He claimed Daniel as a sort of consolation prize."
"And you agreed?"
"I only have so much leverage with Baal. This is the only way to protect you, sir."
"I don't need protecting," Jack shouted.
"Your knowledge, your tactical skills are too valuable...."
"Bullshit!" Jack turned, looking for something to hit. Something that wasn't Sam. After several frustrated moments he turned back. "I've got nothing Baal wants. This is personal, Carter. Baal wants me because he hates my guts. And I can assure you the feeling is quite mutual."
"All the more reason to keep you out of his hands," Sam said.
"So help me, Major, every minute that Daniel suffers because of me...."
"Baal was right about you and Daniel then," Sam said, staring at Jack.
"What?" Jack asked, incredulous. Sam ignored him, walking over the door and opening it. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
"Take him back," Sam told the Jaffa waiting just outside the door.
"Carter," Jack said sharply as the Jaffa grabbed his arm.
"Don't worry, sir. I don't intend to let this interfere with the mission."
"Jack?" Daniel said the minute Jack was returned to their cell. Jack shook his head, staying silent while the Jaffa released his hands. Daniel and Teal'c exchanged looks as Jack stood near the door, waiting until the Jaffa had left.
"O'Neill, what did Baal want from you?" Teal'c asked.
"Not Baal--Carter," Jack said, walking over to join them.
"Sam? What did she want?" Daniel asked.
"She wanted to know what my retirement plans are," Jack said, a confused look on his face. Confused or not it was the safest place to start. Jack didn't think he could tell Daniel that Sam had offered him up in Jack's place. He sure as hell didn't want to tell him that.
"Wanted to know if my plans included her."
"What?" Jack asked.
"Er...no. Under the circumstances I think I'll just stay out of this conversation," Daniel said, wandering over to a corner. He slid down the wall and pulled his knees to his chest, watching Jack all the time.
"Thanks for the support," Jack said sarcastically.
"Jack, no matter how good my intentions are, anything I say is going to look like...."
"Look like what?"
"Jealousy," Teal'c said.
"Jealousy? Daniel's not.... Daniel?"
"Major Carter would likely be motivated by jealousy under the same circumstances," Teal'c said. "She would most likely expect the same from Daniel Jackson."
"Someone want to explain to me what the hell you're talking about?"
"You're not that oblivious, Jack," Daniel said.
"For some time now Major Carter has presumed upon your feelings for her," Teal'c added.
"No," Jack said.
"The same is true for General Hammond."
"Hammond has feelings for Carter?" Jack asked, horrified look on his face.
"Jacob Carter is a close friend of General Hammond's," Teal'c explained, but his tone suggested that he'd prefer to just smack Jack up side the head and be done with it. "I believe the general allows Major Carter greater leeway because of his affection for his old friend."
"Maybe Hammond just respects Carter's intellect," Jack countered. "Maybe he's just afraid of it. I know I am."
"That's part of it," Daniel agreed.
"I do not give Carter special treatment," Jack said when Daniel and Teal'c both continued to look at him, unconvinced.
"Major Carter believes, not without some reason, that you will shield her from the consequences of her actions." Teal'c shrugged.
"And vice versa," Daniel said. Jack turned on him and Daniel immediately looked away, obviously regretting having spoken.
"No, you don't," Jack said, shaking a finger at Daniel. "There are no neutral corners in this room, Daniel. You just accused me of taking advantage of my position and you're damn well going to explain."
"Naquada bomb and the Gadmeer," Daniel said reluctantly.
"Didn't you?" Daniel asked. "Didn't you order Sam to turn that reactor into a bomb because you knew she would do it, if only to please you?"
"I ordered Carter to make the bomb because it was the only option I had. You weren't going to help, even if you'd known how to make the bomb."
"This isn't about me, Jack," Daniel said.
"And Teal'c was just standing around with the 'I do not disagree with Daniel Jackson' schtick," Jack said with an irritated wave at Teal'c.
"You were desperate," Daniel began.
"You don't have to make excuses for me," Jack said. Daniel dropped his eyes and rubbed at his forehead. "I know what I did. I know that Hammond could've had my ass in a sling for doing it, but I was not going to let those people die."
"We never doubted that your actions were motivated by concern for the Enkarans," Teal'c said. "But given Major Carter's feelings for you, the reasons for your orders did appear somewhat suspicious."
"Just so we're all clear on this--I did not, for any reason, assume that Carter would do as I ordered. I figured it was a fifty-fifty shot at best."
"And if Sam had refused? If she'd reported it to Hammond?" Daniel asked.
"I would've been in serious trouble," Jack said.
"And you don't think Sam considered that?"
Jack started to speak, then stopped. He stared at the ceiling, searching his mind for some kind of reasonable response. In the end, he let out a deep sigh and slumped against the wall.
"You think my command is compromised," Jack said.
"I think we all know each other too well. We know how to push each other's buttons," Daniel said, still massaging his temples.
"Such closeness is not necessarily a disadvantage," Teal'c said. "Our knowledge of one another, our concern for each other is, at times, a distinct advantage."
"It's just that--with Sam--it gets a little tricky," Daniel said.
"Fuck," Jack sighed. He slid on down the wall, plopping down next to Daniel, his legs sprawled out in front of him.
"We're not blaming you. Or Sam," Daniel said. "No one is perfect."
"I am," Teal'c said flatly. Jack stared at him, dumbfounded. And irritated by the fact that Teal'c could still catch him off guard like that after all the time they'd spent together.
"Of course, that's what I meant to say. No one is perfect...except Teal'c," Daniel said with a quick smile. "The thing is we have to fix this."
"How?" Jack asked.
"The damage is neither extensive nor irreparable, but first we must deal with the current situation," Teal'c said. "I must cleanse my mind first."
Jack watched as Teal'c walked to a far corner, sat, and smoothly entered a state of deep meditation. As the silence lengthened, Jack finally turned his head to look at Daniel, whose head was resting on his knees.
"So...Carter takes advantage of me?" Jack asked quietly, nudging Daniel with his shoulder.
"No. Not that I haven't tried from time to time," Daniel admitted, raising his head and looking at Jack. "But when I propose a plan you tend to slam me down. I may go ahead with my plan, but I do it assuming that you'll slam me down again...just as soon as you catch me."
"So you're not using my feelings to get what you want?"
"No. Look, I'm only human and yes, there have been times when I've tried to manipulate you, but not because you care about me. Or even because I care about you."
"I do it because we have such contradictory viewpoints that I feel justified in using any means to undermine yours and get my way."
"That's insulting...yet oddly reassuring." Jack felt Daniel tense beside him, just a split second before he heard the steps outside their door. They were both on their feet instantly, Teal'c rising swiftly from his meditation to join them.
"Oshu?" Daniel said as Yu's first prime entered the cell, accompanied by two other Jaffa.
"You will come," Oshu told Daniel.
"Hey!" Jack said, stepping in front of Daniel. "Let's talk first."
"No talking," Oshu said as the other Jaffa pushed Jack aside and grabbed Daniel. Jack tried to push past them but had to take a step back when Oshu pointed a zat in his direction. Daniel gritted his teeth as one of the Jaffa bound his hands behind his back and shoved him toward the door.
"No, wait," Jack said, holding his hands up to show Oshu that he didn't intend to fight. Yet.
"Lord Baal does not like to be kept waiting," Oshu said.
"Listen, Baal wants me, right? So...take me."
"That is not the arrangement," Oshu said.
"Arrangement?" Daniel asked, bewildered.
"Forget the arrangement," Jack said quickly. "Baal wants me. Take me."
"I cannot do that."
"What arrangement, Jack?" Daniel asked again.
"Sure you can," Jack told Oshu. He held out his hands, wrists together. "Just turn Daniel loose and take me. Simple."
"What arrangement?" Daniel demanded, pulling against the Jaffa holding his arms.
"Shut up, Daniel," Jack snapped.
"Sam," Daniel said softly. He stopped struggling, shocked by the realization. Jack would have given anything to be able to deny it, but there was nothing he could say now that Daniel had figured it out.
"No," Jack protested as the Jaffa dragged Daniel out. He started to go after him and Oshu fired his zat. Teal'c caught him as he hit his knees, but all he heard was the door slamming shut.
"He's fine," Jack said. He looked down at Daniel, curled up on his side, his head resting on Jack's thigh. "He'll be fine."
"This cannot continue," Teal'c said.
"Baal will not continue to show even this much restraint for very long." Teal'c paused, looking at Daniel. "Even if an opportunity to escape presents itself, Daniel Jackson may be unable to...."
"He'll be fine," Jack said automatically, brushing his fingers through Daniel's hair. "He just needs a little rest."
"He would be resting but the two of you won't shut up," Daniel said. He pushed himself to a sitting position with a groan, letting his head drop back against the wall.
"We did not mean to disturb you," Teal'c said. "We will be silent now."
"No, it's okay," Daniel said, waving off Teal'c's apology. "I don't suppose we have a plan here?"
"I'm open to suggestions," Jack said.
"Our options would appear to be severely limited," Teal'c said.
"Well, Plan A is that we wait for the cavalry, in the form of the SGC, to ride to our rescue," Jack said.
"They would be unaware of the danger that awaits," Teal'c said. "Most likely they would be captured immediately upon arrival, as Daniel Jackson and I were."
"They won't even know that we're on the moon, not the planet," Daniel added.
"Yep, that's kind of the way I have it figured," Jack said.
"So Plan B?" Daniel asked.
"Plan B is we trust that Carter is more in control of the situation than it seems, and wait for her to get us out."
"Sorry, guys, but I'm afraid I'm not comfortable with that plan," Daniel said in a tight voice. Jack glanced at him, then shrugged.
"Nor am I," Teal'c said. "I believe Major Carter has overestimated her ability to outwit Baal."
"So on to Plan C," Jack said. "We bust out of here."
"There are normally three Jaffa present whenever the door is opened. Not impossible odds, but...." Teal'c looked meaningfully at Daniel.
"I can handle it," Daniel said.
"On a good day it's hard to overpower a Jaffa," Jack said. "You're not having a good day, Daniel."
"I can do it," Daniel repeated.
"We may have no other choice," Teal'c said.
"If we time it just right...," Jack said, pausing to think. "We could use Daniel as a distraction, divert their attention for a second."
"Oh, yippee," Daniel said.
"Come on, Daniel, you love playing bait the snake," Jack teased.
"Just as long as the snake doesn't actually get the bait." Daniel slid down, putting his head on Jack's thigh again. Jack frowned, reaching out to grip Daniel's shoulder.
"Just going to rest a little," Daniel said.
"Okay," Jack said quietly. "You do that. Just...rest."
"Lord Baal." Oshu had just been ushered into Baal's personal quarters aboard his ha'tak. Baal's lotar was just putting the finishing touches to Baal's attire. Given the quality of the clothing, Oshu knew that Baal had important plans.
"Oshu, what is the status of the network?"
"I believe Major Carter is nearly finished. She and Shaozu are currently performing the final tests of the system."
"Excellent." Baal turned to face Oshu, almost preening in his finery. "Today we shall formally claim this world for our own. And we shall take the first steps toward destroying the Tau'ri once and for all."
"Yes, my Lord."
"See to it that Major Carter is finished by day's end. Shaozu can then activate the network."
"And SG-1, my Lord?"
"Kill them." Baal raised his hand. "But not O'Neill; he is ours. The rest you may dispose of in any manner you wish. Make sure that O'Neill witnesses their deaths, then bring him to us."
"He will wish for death by then," Oshu said.
"We may even grant him his wish." Baal smiled. "Eventually."
"Shall I bring him here?"
"No, to the planet. He will serve as an excellent lesson to our new subjects. Indeed, he will serve as a lesson to all who would oppose the System Lords," Baal said. "Hear us, Oshu. Today marks the beginning of end of the Tau'ri."
"It will be a great victory," Oshu said, bowing respectfully.
"It will be a victory to savor."
"What are you doing?"
Sam froze as two arms came around her from behind as she sat at her computer. She barely dared a glance from the corner of her eye as Oshu lowered his face right next to hers, his chin just above her right shoulder.
"System checks," Sam said. "I've had to merge two different types of technology here and the potential for compatibility problems is significant. If I don't run rigorous checks, the whole system could crash without warning."
"Your friends won't last much longer," Oshu said quietly, still staring at the screen in front of them. Sam risked a more direct look at him. "You must all leave."
"Baal promised he wouldn't hurt them."
"Lord Baal lies." Oshu leaned even closer, his mouth at her ear. "He has taken the planet."
"No!" Sam exclaimed, pulling back from Oshu. Nervous, she glanced at the Jaffa guard, but he didn't seem concerned. Sam realized that the sight of a Jaffa scaring a human was one to which he was accustomed. She turned her eyes back to Oshu, regarding him with suspicion. "No. This is a trick."
"It will not take long for him to consolidate his position. Shaozu's people were not prepared to defend themselves," Oshu said, ignoring Sam's protest. "Your friends will die in celebration of Lord Baal's victory."
"Why are you telling me this?" Sam said, still wary.
"Because it would please me greatly to ruin Lord Baal's celebration."
"Because of Yu," Sam guessed. She knew that from their first meeting Teal'c had been reluctantly impressed with the strength of Oshu's devotion to Yu. Although Oshu's expression remained impassive, unreadable, Sam was certain that Oshu's desire to strike out at Baal was genuine and very personal. Which might mean that he would tell her anything to further his own plans.
"Look, I sympathize...," Sam began.
"I have no proof," Oshu admitted. "Only my honor, and I swear to you upon that honor that your friends will not see the end of this day."
"Er...okay," Sam said, taken aback by the intensity in Oshu's voice. "Can you help me?"
"There will only be one Jaffa guarding the cell," Oshu said. He took a zat from his robes. Still crouched over Sam, his body was hidden from the view of the single Jaffa guard.
"When?" Sam asked.
"Now," Oshu said. He stood up and fired twice at the guard. Sam jumped to her feet as the guard fell, dead before he hit the floor. Oshu tucked the zat away and turned back to Sam. "All of Baal's Jaffa are busy on the planet. There are only four remaining at this facility. This is not an opportunity you can afford to miss."
"Can you get SG-1 out of here?" Sam asked. Oshu gave her a look, appraising. Sam held her hands wide, indicating the machinery in the control room. "I have to wipe out the network. I can't let this fall into Baal's hands."
"You will be unable to use it as well?"
"No one will. I intend to blow the place sky high."
"A fair solution," Oshu agreed. "My tel'tac is directly south-southeast of the main entrance. I will send your friends to meet you there. But you must act quickly."
"Fifteen minutes quick enough?" Sam asked. Oshu nodded and walked briskly from the room. Sam paused a second, glancing at the dead Jaffa guard, then exited through the door on the opposite side of the room. "Damn."
"Teal'c?" Jack said, listening intently.
"I hear only one set of footsteps approaching," Teal'c said.
"That's our chance," Jack said, scrambling to his feet. "Daniel, stay here."
"Um...right. I'll stay here," Daniel said, watching Jack and Teal'c take up positions on either side of the door. Daniel remained sitting against the wall directly across from the door, trying to look suitably helpless, but bracing his hands on the ground beside him so that he'd be able to move quickly. Or, at least not too slowly.
Jack flattened himself against the wall as the cell door opened. He frowned when the first thing through the door was the nose of a zat.
"Step away, O'Neill."
"Crap," Jack muttered, but he backed away from the door until he and Oshu could see each other.
"I will not hesitate to kill them both, Teal'c," Oshu said, still standing within the doorway. Jack groaned again, then jerked his head. Teal'c stepped out from behind the door and joined Jack in the center of the room.
"We must go," Oshu said, replacing the zat on the wrist harness. "I have sent the other Jaffa from the building, but we have only a few minutes."
"Er...what?" Jack said, caught off guard by Oshu's apparent defection from Baal's team.
"Can you walk, Dr. Jackson?"
"Yeah," Daniel said slowly, accepting a hand up from Teal'c. He gave Oshu a puzzled look. "What just happened?"
"There is no time for explanations. Major Carter will be waiting."
"Lord Baal will be most displeased," Teal'c observed.
"Then I will have achieved my goal."
"Okay, well...not going to argue with that," Jack said. He grabbed Daniel's upper arm and pulled him toward the door. "Which way?"
"I will lead you," Oshu said, turning into the corridor.
"Teal'c?" Jack said, not letting go of Daniel.
"I have our six, O'Neill."
Sam ran back through the control room, wanting to make one last check. The generator wouldn't overload for another five minutes, which left her plenty of time to grab at least some of her notes. Just as she turned to leave, she caught sight of Shaozu out of the corner of her eye. Puzzled, she walked around the computer console to the front of the room.
"Shaozu, what are you doing?"
"Lord Baal has taken control of my world," Shaozu said, his voice as resigned as his expression. He sat cross legged on the floor, just in front of the main viewing screen.
"I know. I'm sorry," Sam said, extending her hand to him. She waved him forward. "But you can come with us."
"Shaozu, this place is going to explode in about...four minutes," Sam said, checking her watch. "You have to leave."
"I have failed my people. I could not live with myself if I remained free while they were enslaved."
"I am also too great a coward to face my own enslavement," Shaozu continued.
"Don't do this," Sam begged. "You don't have to do this."
"This is my choice, Major Carter," Shaozu said with a weak smile. "You must go now. Your friends will be waiting."
Sam looked at her watch again, her breath catching when she realized just how short the time was. With a last agonized look at Shaozu, she ran from the room.
"This way," Oshu called, jogging through the tall grass south of the complex.
"The rings are in that direction," Teal'c said, pointing at the forested area to his left.
"And they are guarded. As is the stargate," Oshu said. "Lord Baal has taken the planet."
"Then how are we supposed to get out of here?" Jack asked.
"The tel'tac I used to travel between Baal's ship and this base is a short distance away," Oshu explained. "You may use it."
"What about you?" Daniel asked.
"My duty takes me elsewhere."
"Your master will punish you severely for allowing us to escape," Teal'c said.
"My master is dead," Oshu said flatly. Teal'c nodded his head, acknowledging the depth of Oshu's loyalty.
"You know, you could come with us," Jack said. He glanced at Teal'c, getting a nod of agreement in return. "The Jaffa rebellion could always use another straight thinker."
"Indeed," Teal'c said. "Your skills would be most welcome."
"I thank you, but I have an obligation as yet unfulfilled."
"Your choice," Jack said.
"So it is." Oshu smiled briefly. "Teal'c, the tel'tac is less than a quarter mile along this path. Major Carter will join you at there."
"Thank you," Daniel said. Standing beside him, Jack nodded. "And...good luck."
"Whatever happens, do not return to the facility." Oshu gave a curt nod of his head and took off running in the direction of the ring transporter.
"Well, that was cryptic," Jack said. "I mean--why would we want to return?"
Daniel's words were drowned out by a massive explosion. All three men staggered back a step, turning to see smoke and debris shooting into the sky.
"Damn it," Jack said, starting to move. "Carter."
"Jack, no," Daniel said, grabbing Jack's sleeve and pulling him back.
"Daniel Jackson is correct," Teal'c said. "Oshu warned us not to return. And judging by the power of the explosion, it is unlikely that there is much left of the complex."
"Oshu told us she would meet us at the tel'tac," Teal'c said. "I believe we can trust him in this."
"Yeah, well...." Jack looked around, worried. He stiffened when he heard rustling noises closing in on their location. Jack tugged on Daniel's sleeve, signaling him to crouch down and take cover in the grass. Seconds later, Sam came running along the path. Teal'c stood up and reached out silently, grabbing Sam and immobilizing her before she could react.
"Teal'c?" Sam said, twisting her head so that she could verify his identity.
"It is I," Teal'c said, releasing Sam.
"Carter, anyone else?" Jack asked as he and Daniel emerged from the grass on the opposite side of the path.
"No, sir. Just me."
"Good. Let's move."
"Where's Oshu?" Sam asked as she fell into step behind Jack and Daniel.
"He has returned to the planet," Teal'c said.
"I think he's on a mission from God," Jack said. "Or, at least, a god."
"He seeks revenge for Lord Yu's death," Teal'c explained.
"Damn it," Sam said. "He'll just get himself killed."
"His choice, Carter. We offered to let him come with us."
"Master Oshu understood the consequences of his actions," Teal'c said when he saw Sam's pained expression.
"It's not that. Just...Shaozu."
"What about Shaozu?" Daniel asked, turning around to look at Sam.
"He wouldn't leave the complex."
"The complex that just went kaboom?" Jack asked.
"That one," Sam said.
"Why?" Daniel asked. "Why would he do that?"
"He said he'd failed his people."
"You guys and your damned honor," Jack said to Teal'c.
"Shaozu was not a Jaffa."
"No, but he thinks like one," Jack said.
"Thought like one," Daniel corrected quietly.
"Damn it," Jack said. "Come on, let's get the hell out of here."
Jack gritted his teeth when he entered the cargo hold, massaging the back of his neck. Sam was laying out a sleeping bag on one of the empty ledges. The adrenalin pump now off, Jack was almost too tired to make the effort to get ready for sleep.
"Sir?" Sam said, finally noticing his presence.
"What a mess," Jack said, tugging at his hair in frustration.
"Admittedly it wasn't a resounding success," Sam began.
"Success?" Jack said, incredulous. "It wasn't even a resounding failure. It'd have to improve to be a failure."
"Don't you think you're being a little overly pessimistic?"
"You know, Daniel was wrong," Jack said, staring through the hatch into the cockpit. Teal'c was piloting the tel'tac with ease, always alert to potential threats. Daniel sat in the co-pilot's seat. He'd refused, rather vehemently, to let Jack fuss over him. All Jack had wanted was for Daniel to rest, and the way his head was rolling against the headrest told Jack that Daniel had fallen fast asleep, which meant that ultimately Jack had gotten his wish.
"Well, not totally wrong. He just wasn't totally right," Jack said, turning back to Sam. "This wasn't just about power. It was about trust."
"You don't trust me," Sam said, her posture stiffening.
"Actually, I was referring to the fact that you don't trust us," Jack said.
"I don't...? How can you say that?"
"Why didn't you tell me about this plan of yours?"
"If I'd told you, you would've stopped me."
"And I would've been right!" Jack glanced nervously at the cockpit, hoping his angry outburst hadn't woken Daniel.
"Hasn't there ever been a time when you knew what had to be done but couldn't do it because you had to go through the chain of command or a committee or some other interference?" Sam asked.
"There have been times when I felt like that, yes," Jack admitted.
"But you've never just gone ahead and done it and to hell with the red tape?" Sam said.
"I know it's dangerous to trust my instincts alone," Jack said. "That's why we're a team, Carter. Three of us are here to make sure the fourth doesn't go off the deep end. Of course, just to keep it exciting, we never know who the 'fourth' will be from day to day."
"Colonel, if I'd had only a little more time I would've had that network up and running and it would've protected Earth."
"Wasn't going to happen. You're bright, Carter, but not that bright. Baal has thousands of years of knowledge and experience. He knows every dirty trick and double-cross in the book. Hell, he probably invented half of them. He was playing you."
"I was playing him right back," Sam insisted.
"Oh, yeah, good job on that," Jack snapped. He turned to look her straight in the eye. "Daniel knows, by the way."
"That you sold him out."
"It's not like I gave him to Baal," Sam protested.
"Yeah? Explain that to him."
"He...." Sam looked away. "He'll understand."
"Yeah, he probably will," Jack admitted. Wouldn't be easy, but Daniel probably would understand, and even forgive eventually. Jack wasn't feeling quite that magnanimous at the moment.
"Daniel would've done the same in my place," Sam said.
"No, he wouldn't. Daniel would never bargain one of us for another."
"If he had to make a choice...."
"Never happen," Jack said, getting to his feet. He walked toward the cockpit, unable to continue this particular discussion without losing his temper. "Never happen."
Jack looked up from his desk at the tentative sound. Sam stood just inside his office door, looking ill at ease.
"Hey, Carter," Jack said, frowning down at another report. "You've been scarce since the debriefing."
"I've been...busy," Sam acknowledged. Jack nodded to himself. Securing the base after a major near-breach was a monumental task. His own job was to make sure that a similar breach never happened. In order to do that, he needed Sam to finish one of her tasks, which was to analyze the cause.
As if reading his mind, Sam stepped forward and laid a folder on Jack's desk.
"The report you requested, sir."
Jack pulled the folder to him and opened the cover. He skimmed the first page then set it aside to read later.
"Tough one, eh?" he asked, sitting back in his chair.
"Not one of the more pleasant tasks I've been assigned in my career," Sam admitted. Jack merely sat, quietly waiting. "I...I'm not sure what you want from me, sir."
"Checks and balances."
"The team thing, Carter."
"Yes, I.... Sir, I'm not going to stop arguing for what I believe is the correct course of action."
"I'm not asking you to," Jack said. "Daniel's arguments on every damn thing drive me crazy on a daily basis. But the minute I start ignoring him, bad things happen. So go ahead and voice your viewpoint. Just be willing to listen to ours."
"I do listen, Colonel."
"Not always. And not necessarily well," Jack said. Sam stared at him, a stubborn set to her jaw. "Oh, for.... Just tell me--what was your single biggest error in this whole mess?"
"Well, I should never have agreed with dropping the watches on our first trip to 337."
"That's what gave Baal the opportunity use this mind control on us and...."
"Stop right there." Jack pulled a slim folder from the center desk drawer and pulled out the single sheet of paper it contained. He held it up, facing Sam. "Do you know what this is?"
"It's...." Sam leaned over to skim the terse statement. "Sir, that's not fair."
"That's right, Carter, I'm being reprimanded," Jack said, placing the page back in the folder. "The general and I had a long chat and I'm not crazy about it but yes, it is most definitely fair."
"You didn't do anything wrong, sir. Even if you did, you were under an alien influence."
"Of course it matters," Sam said.
"Carter, you want to be a commander some day, lead a team, right?"
"Leadership is all about responsibility, not making excuses. I knew I was breaking protocol. I did it anyway. Now I have to face the consequences."
"And you think I should take the blame for everything else?"
"Let me explain it this way, Carter. Let's say there are two guys, team leaders, both under alien influence, both act in ways that endanger their teams and the SGC." Jack leaned back in his chair, never breaking eye contact with Sam. "Now the first guy comes to me and says 'I'm sorry, Colonel. I failed in my responsibilities.' And the second guy comes to me and says 'I'm sorry, Colonel, but I was brainwashed. I couldn't help myself.' Given this little scenario--who's right?"
"Not who's correct, because we both know that technically the second guy is correct. But who's right?"
"Obviously the first man."
"Do you know why?" Jack held up his hand when Sam started to reply. "No, think about it."
"I get it, sir. Responsibility, not excuses."
"I'm going to give you another twenty-four hours to complete your report," Jack said, pushing the folder back across the desk. "Because I truly don't want to have to write up a reprimand for you."
"Would you give Daniel the same deal?" Sam said, taking the report from Jack.
"This isn't about Daniel, or Teal'c. It's about you. You're an officer, my second, and frankly, I expect better from you."
"Very well, sir. I'll review the report," Sam said stiffly as she rose from her seat. She hesitated, turning to go, then turning back. "Colonel...I'm not a bad person."
"No, you're not. No one's perfect. Well, except for Teal'c, but that's not the point. In this case, Baal discovered your imperfection and exploited it." Jack gave Sam a long look and sighed. "Try to understand, Carter. I'm not holding you accountable for being imperfect. I'm holding you responsible for recognizing that fact, and taking measures to prevent it from being used against you."
Jack walked out onto his deck and handed Daniel a beer before sitting down next to him. They both sipped at the beer, watching the shadows lengthen in the back yard as the sun set.
"Crap, damn and fuck," Jack said. His body was heavy with exhaustion, mostly of the mental variety.
"Oh, it's not so bad. We did manage to avert any serious problems."
"Barely," Jack said, staring at some high clouds. "There's a reprimand in your file."
"Well, it won't be the first one. Probably won't be the last," Daniel said philosophically.
"It's the first one that I put in your file."
"Is this because...?" Daniel waved a hand between himself and Jack.
"No, it's because we fucked up."
"Because Teal'c and I followed you to 337?"
"You do realize that technically we didn't disobey any order," Daniel said. "You never said we shouldn't come after you and Sam."
"I told you to notify Hammond--period. You knew what I meant."
"We violated the spirit of the order, if not the letter," Daniel agreed.
"You're not mad?" Jack asked, finally risking a sidelong look.
"Not really. We ignored your wishes. We pretty much tossed procedure out the window." Daniel took another drink and thought. "But I can't honestly say I'm sorry. I don't really want to think about the possibility of you and Baal going one on one again."
"Well, I am sorry," Jack said. "Damn it, Daniel. I would rather have taken Baal on myself than.... I prefer to fight my own battles."
"Consider it a lesson neither of us will soon forget," Daniel said.
"Fuck," Jack said in agreement, taking a long draw from his beer.
"What about Teal'c? Did you reprimand him, too?"
"Yeah," Jack said with an exasperated roll of his eyes.
"And he was making like he'd been dishonored and shamed and he was going to have to go commit the Jaffa version of hara-kiri or something." Jack gave a soft snort of reluctant amusement. "Then he gave me that sort of, almost, not quite there smile of his and went off in search of pork rinds."
"Pork rinds?" Daniel said with an expression of disgust.
"I've been telling him--without Junior around to compensate he needs to watch the cholesterol, but you know him."
"I wouldn't worry about Teal'c," Daniel said. "He looks pretty good for...what is it now? 104? 105?"
"Something like that." Jack looked up to where the last rays of the sun were catching the tops of the trees, leaving the rest of the yard in semi-gloom.
"What about Sam?" Daniel asked softly.
"Ask me tomorrow," Jack said.
"Seriously, Daniel, I won't know until tomorrow. It'll all depend on what she's put into her report." Jack watched as Daniel studied him carefully. "I'm not giving her special treatment."
"You are," Daniel said. "But I think I understand."
"You and Teal'c are kind of outside the pale in all this. Reprimands aren't going to significantly affect you. Me, well, it's a little late in the game to start worrying about my record."
"But it would hurt Sam's career."
"As bad as this is, she can still turn it around," Jack said. "I want to give her that chance. Especially since, apparently, I'm part of the problem."
"Yes, you should've confronted the issue a long time ago," Daniel agreed. "But Sam's a big girl, Jack. She makes her own choices, and she has to be responsible for the consequences."
"She will be. This is make or break time," Jack said. "She either gets it together, or she washes out. Which way it goes is entirely up to her now."
"Hmmm," Daniel said.
"What about you?"
"What about me?"
"You and Carter," Jack said. When the silence lengthened, Jack risked a quick look. "Daniel?"
"Ask me tomorrow," Daniel said finally.
"Right." Jack took a gulp of his beer. "So that just leaves...."
"Us," Daniel said. He paused. "Teal'c knows."
"I think Sam probably does, too."
"If she doesn't it's because she refuses to know," Jack said.
"So...I'm as bad as Carter," Jack said.
"No. When you break the rules you know exactly what you're doing. You know there's a price to be paid, and you've decided it's worth it." Daniel paused. "Of course, I could just be rationalizing because I really don't want to have to wait for you to retire."
"Reassuring as ever, Dr. Jackson."
"Well, if you were looking for a yes-man...."
"I'd've been crazy to fall in love with you." Jack sighed. "Thing is--we've still got the same reasons for not being together."
"Come on, you're supposed to be Mr. Morals," Jack chided.
"As far as I'm concerned, the ban on gays in the military is amoral. In fact, I'd go so far as to say it's our moral duty to disobey that regulation."
"I'm not arguing with you on that one. But there's still the fact that you're on my team."
"Does it really make a difference?" Daniel asked. "You've never let me stop you before. Hell, you tried to blow me up once when I got in your way."
"You're just never going to let that go, are you?"
"Not as long as I can get some mileage out of it," Daniel said with a smile.
"Christ," Jack sighed. "I know I can still do the job. But something like that--if I had to go through with it--that would be the last time I did it."
"So you're not worried about doing your duty, you're worried about what that duty might do to you."
"In a nutshell--yes." Jack watched as Daniel chewed over Jack's statement. "Well?"
"I'm waiting for the rebuttal," Jack said.
"I don't have an argument for that," Daniel admitted.
"Oh." Jack stared at Daniel, slightly nonplussed. Daniel had an argument for everything. "Er...that's okay because I came up my own rebuttal."
"It's too late. Even if I retired, if we were on separate teams--nothing would change the fact that I'd be finished if anything happened to you."
"I'm flattered...sort of...but...."
"Not an exaggeration," Jack insisted. "I wouldn't curl up and die or anything, but I'd be worthless."
"Of course I could just be over rationalizing because I really don't want to have to wait until I retire," Jack said.
"So where does that leave us?"
"It leaves me on ethically shaky ground...which is not exactly a new experience," Jack said. He looked over at Daniel and raised his beer bottle. Puzzled, Daniel raised his bottle to Jack's, clinking them together. "Here's to rules and the breaking thereof."
"That's a philosophy I can get behind," Daniel said.
"Somehow, I knew that." Jack got to his feet and turned to offer his hand. "Let's go to bed."
"Tired?" Daniel asked, taking Jack's hand.
As it turned out, it wasn't tomorrow. Wasn't even the day after tomorrow. Sam had called the general requesting a few days leave for 'personal' matters. The general had agreed, and Jack hadn't been entirely sorry to postpone his next meeting with his second. Interactions with his team had turned into some kind of weird encounter sessions, and Jack had done about all the soul searching and self analysis he could handle for a while.
Jack looked up. Sam had obviously gotten a haircut in the last couple of days. Her make up was carefully, perfectly applied. But underneath it all she looked...Jack would have to say haggard. He'd seen haggard in his own mirror often enough and that was definitely what he was seeing across the desk from him now.
"Your report, sir," Sam said, placing the folder on the desk. "I believe you'll find it satisfactory."
"Yeah? Good." Jack set the folder on top of his to-do pile. "Rough couple of days?"
"You could say that, yes, sir."
"You don't have to talk about it but if...."
"It's...frightening," Sam said.
"I tried to do the right thing. I was trying to help, to...save the planet. And I never saw when it went wrong."
"That's because it was wrong from the beginning," Jack said.
"I understand what you're saying, but...it sure didn't feel wrong. Not at the beginning."
"Did Daniel ever tell you about the lesson Shifu taught him?" Jack asked. Sam nodded. "Scared him spitless. Scared me spitless. Talk about good intentions and the road to hell, you know?"
"I didn't have any problem seeing that, but...."
"It's always easier to see someone else's mistake," Jack said.
"And a lot less painful," Sam admitted.
"Consider it a learning experience. Not one that none of us would ever choose to have, but maybe it's necessary," Jack said.
"Well, it won't happen again," Sam promised. "I'm aware now. I won't allow my feelings to override common sense."
"Never say never, Carter. That's where you'll get into trouble."
"I'm trying, sir," Sam said wearily.
"That's all I'm asking." Jack smiled. "Still mad at us?"
"A little," Sam admitted. "It still hurts a little, even though I know you were saying what had to be said. It hurts a little...maybe more than a little to accept that Daniel may know me better than I know myself."
"Oh, I so relate," Jack said with an exaggerated wave of his hands. "I think Daniel has always known me better than I know myself, and frankly, it's damned annoying."
"Yes, sir," Sam said with the hint of a smile.
"So...steak dinner at O'Malley's?" Jack offered. He jerked his thumb toward the ceiling. "Teal'c and Daniel are meeting me topside in about thirty minutes."
"I...." Sam paused. "That would nice, sir. Thank you."
"Carter," Jack called as Sam headed out the door. She hesitated, turning to look back. "It's going to be okay. It'll take a little effort, but it'll all work out. We'll make it work."
"No other options, sir?"
"None that are acceptable."
Back to Eos' Home