“I’d like to propose a toast for this
officially official occasion.” Jack O’Neill raised his
glass and beamed as he looked around the table.
His wife, Sara, rolled her eyes and
sighed, though she couldn’t suppress a smile. Their
twelve-year-old son, Charlie, groaned but his eyes
sparkled with excitement. And Daniel... Jack’s throat
tightened at the sight of the eleven-year-old’s
expression. Seldom had he seen those young features so
unguarded, so openly happy.
Jack’s gaze caught Daniel’s big, blue
eyes. “You’ve been part of this family since the day
you walked through the front door, but as of today its
official, Daniel O’Neill Jackson.”
He took a gulp of his soft drink to hide
the moisture gathering in his eyes. It was hard to
tell which of them had been more nervous and excited
waiting for this day.
Jack remembered his conversation with
Daniel two weeks ago. He had known something was up
when the kid knocked on his door; Daniel rarely
visited Jack’s office at the SGC. When he heard what
Daniel had on his mind, Jack was glad the boy had
taken the initiative.
Daniel had decided to take O’Neill as his
middle name. He had explained with glistening eyes
that being Daniel Jackson honored his parents and
being Daniel O’Neill Jackson honored his new parents.
Jack had pulled him in for an emotional hug to show
him just how okay it was and to assure him Sara would
be just as thrilled. His kid was amazingly thoughtful.
“Now you’re stuck with us forever. No
matter what.” Charlie punched Daniel’s arm. “Even the
judge said so.”
Daniel winced and resisted the impulse to
rub his arm. In his excitement, Charlie had punched
him a little harder than usual. It was no big deal,
the punch was one of the ways Charlie showed
affection. What was a little pain between brothers?
“I like being stuck with you guys.”
Daniel grinned at his family gathered
around the table. He didn’t think of them as his new family,
just as his
family. Even though it hadn’t been ‘official’ until
the judge said so this morning, he knew the O’Neills
had been his family for months. He had survived the
darkest of days and had made it back into the light.
After his parents had died he was sure he’d never find
happiness or unconditional love again. How could he
ever be happy? He’d loved them with all his heart and
they’d loved him back just as much.
Yet here he was, surrounded by Jack and
Sara and Charlie. It had been a long and painful
journey but his life was happy again. Not just happy,
thanks to Jack and the Stargate Program, his life was
incredible, beyond his wildest dreams. He’d
experienced things only a handful of people on Earth
were privy to. He’d been to another planet. It was
thrilling and at the same time comforting to have
found his place in the universe, to know with
certainty where he belonged, to be exactly where he
needed to be.
Wherever his parents were, he was secure
in the knowledge they still loved him, they were proud
of him, and somehow, they were happy, too.
“Hey, you okay?” Jack nudged him.
Daniel nodded. Before he could explain
what he’d been thinking five members of the wait staff
gathered around their table and began to sing and clap
in unison. One of them held a cake. They were in El
Charros so the song was snappy with a Mexican flair
and it was sung in Spanish. When they finished
singing, Jack and Sara and Charlie joined in the
clapping as the waitress set the cake in front of
Daniel. It was decorated by a simple border and a few
flowers with a single lit candle in the center. It
Daniel bit his lower lip when he read the
words, ‘It’s officially official’ with his new name,
‘Daniel O’Neill Jackson’ written below. He looked
around the table and tried not to cry. Charlie would
think he was crazy so he bit his lip harder and smiled
at his family.
“Blow out the candle so we can cut it.”
Daniel grinned at his impatient brother,
grateful Charlie had broken the emotional mood. They
all laughed and Sara waved her hand in the air.
“Go on, make a wish!”
It took a few seconds for Daniel to
decide on an appropriate wish. He wished his new
family would stay safe, especially Jack who always
seemed to be in the most danger, and that they’d
always be as happy and close as they were at this
exact moment. When Daniel was satisfied it was a good
wish he blew out the candle and Jack didn’t waste any
time cutting the cake.
“Hey, what was that song about?” Charlie
asked after shoveling in a huge bite of cake. “It was
in Spanish so they could’ve been singing about
anything since they don’t know you speak Spanish.”
“It mostly translated to ‘congratulations
on your accomplishment’, that type of stuff.” Daniel
gave him a confused look.
“Really? That was it?” Charlie sounded
“I could teach you how to speak Spanish,”
Daniel teased, knowing his brother would turn up his
nose at the suggestion. “I mean more than what they
teach in junior high Spanish.”
“Hm, maybe.” Charlie jabbed another bit
of cake with his fork. “Yeah, I’d like that.”
“Really?” Daniel was shocked. Maybe he
didn’t know Charlie as well as he thought he did.
“Sure.” Charlie’s eyes sparkled with
His brother sounded sincere but Daniel
wasn’t quite buying it. Why would Charlie suddenly
want to learn a foreign language?
“You really want to learn Spanish?” he
Charlie glanced across the table,
checking to make sure his parents were still involved
in their own conversation before answering in a
whisper. “It’ll come in handy when I’m in Special Ops.
The more languages I know the better, right?”
“Right.” Too bad I can’t teach you
Goa’uld, Daniel thought and shoved a bite of cake into
his mouth to keep from giggling.
Daniel had told Jack and Sara he didn’t
need to celebrate his official day because he already
felt like part of the family. So instead, they’d
decided on a small, intimate family dinner at the
restaurant of Daniel’s choice. He chose El
Charros because it reminded him of when he’d first met
Sara at the hospital and she’d brought him a takeout
burrito. In those days, he’d been so lonely the simple
gesture had seemed like an incredible act of kindness.
Now he experienced that kindness on a daily basis. He
counted on it and on them.
Another thing he could count on with
absolute certainty was that his life as a member of
the O’Neill family would never be boring.
the O’Neill family!” Charlie held up his glass of
Chuckling, Jack and Sara raised their own
glasses and Daniel did the same. “The O’Neill family,”
they said in unison before breaking into laughter.
Looking around at his family, his family,
Daniel thought he may never stop smiling which was
fine with him.
At 0600 Jack was back at the SGC. Hammond was in Washington
for a few days and as second in command it was Jack’s
responsibility to assure things ran smoothly in his
There had been no overnight incidents
reported and SG-4 had returned during the night on
schedule without mishap. So far so good. He checked
the pile of paperwork and dealt with anything that
needed to be done in a timely manner and happily left
the rest for the General.
It was a quiet morning so he spent some
time working out with Teal’c. That was always a great
stress reliever. Afterward, feeling loose and relaxed
he strode up the steel stairwell. He checked his
watch, he had a pre-mission briefing with SG-3
scheduled in half an hour and he wanted to review the
details one more time.
When he reached the control room he saw
Sergeant Davis returning to his terminal. He nodded at
the man and continued up the final flight of stairs
that led to the conference room and Hammond’s
wasn’t at his desk so Jack took out his key card and
swiped it through the scanner. The door to the
General’s office clicked open and Jack stepped inside.
It was odd how Hammond’s absence
lessened the impressiveness of the room. Jack picked
up the folder from the desk. He was glad the man would
be back tomorrow, the place never felt right in his
Jack pulled the door closed behind him,
made sure the lock engaged and headed out. He’d only
taken a few steps when the klaxons sounded and the
strobe lights flashed throughout the complex. He raced
down the stairs to the control room. When he burst in,
he went immediately to Davis whose
fingers were flying over his keyboard.
“What is it?” Jack demanded, stopping
“Don’t know yet, sir. Wait, something’s
coming through.” He typed rapidly and after a few
seconds a familiar code flashed on the monitor. “It’s
“They’re not due back until tonight.”
Leaning over the Sergeant, Jack studied
the codes flashing across the monitor. “Open the iris.
Are they in trouble?”
“They haven’t indicated any problems,
Colonel.” The technician punched in another set of
codes and the iris spun open.
The klaxons bellowed and the Marines
flooded into the gateroom, taking their usual
defensive positions. Tension filled the air as they
waited. There were any number of reasons SG-2 could be
coming back early and most of them were no big deal.
Since the team hadn’t indicated any trouble, it was
likely all was well. Still, Jack hated surprises.
He spared a thought for his young genius
of a son who was probably at the mountain by now. Jack
had sent a car for him rather than rouse him at 0500
after the big celebration yesterday. Hopefully he
was with the scientists rather than alone in his
office. Like everyone else in the complex, Daniel
would hear the alarms and worry. His kid always knew
which teams were off world at any given time.
He refocused as members of SG-2 appeared
out of the event horizon. Jack counted automatically –
one, two, three, four. Thank god, all accounted for
and no obvious injuries.
The last man through the gate raised his
head when he hit the bottom of the ramp. Major Charles
Kawalsky’s face was streaked with dirt and sweat but
there was no evidence of blood. Jack caught the eye of
an obviously relieved Sergeant Davis and gave him a
pat on the shoulder.
“Fast work with that keyboard, Sergeant.”
“Thank you, sir.” The technician smiled.
Jack ran downstairs to catch up with SG-2
as they headed for the elevators. SOP, first stop
after returning from a mission was the infirmary for a
post-mission check-up. When Kawalsky saw him, he
gestured at his team.
“Go on, I’ll catch up.”
Captain Lou Ferretti gave him a
two-fingered salute. “Okay, Major,” and grinned at the
approaching O’Neill. “Colonel.”
Jack nodded at him before looking at
Kawalsky who was standing square in the middle of the
corridor, obviously waiting for him.
“Why are you back early? Problems?”
The Major shook his head. “Just the
opposite.” He grinned and Jack raised his eyebrows.
“Okay, you’d better get to the infirmary
before Fraiser starts looking for you. When we debrief
“Jack,” Kawalsky cut in, lowering his
voice as he took a step closer, “there’s something you
need to know. Now.”
The Major glanced around to make sure
they were alone. “We met the natives, they don’t speak
English but Greenberg was able to communicate with
them.” His eyes were bright with excitement which
surprised Jack. It took a lot to shake his old friend
from his habitual, laid-back view of life. Even life
through the Stargate.
“And that’s important because?” he
“Greenberg found out there’s a huge party
scheduled in a few days to celebrate the planet being
‘saved’ – ” Kawalsky’s voice thickened with disgust,
“from the previous conquerors. Their current savior is
going to be there. Jack, it’s Apophis!”
Jack stared. “Apophis will be there? For
Kawalsky nodded emphatically. “Yeah, and
not just Apophis, his entire family is supposed to be
there with him.”
“His family...” Jack repeated slowly, the
implications making his heart race.
“Klorel and Amonet,” the Major confirmed.
He kept his voice down but there was no missing his
exhilaration. “Skaara and Tracy. They’re going to be
there in two days!”
Two days. In two days they would know the
exact whereabouts of Skaara and Sergeant Tracy Waring.
“Get to the infirmary.” Jack tried to
tamp down his excitement. “We’ll debrief in an hour.”
Kawalsky nodded and disappeared into an
open elevator. Jack watched the doors slide closed.
Mid-morning of the next day Jack sat in
his C.O.’s office, waiting for Hammond to finish
reading the last of SG-2’s mission reports from their
aborted mission to P139-485. It would be the General’s
call, as always, but Jack intended to do everything in
his power to persuade the man to allow him to lead a
team through the Stargate tomorrow in an attempt to
rescue their two MIAs. And if during the rescue he was
able to target Apophis, well that would be icing on
“Do I even have to ask your
recommendation, Colonel?” Hammond laid the
report on top of the other three and looked across the
“You already know what it is, sir.”
“Yes, I do.” Hammond
contemplated the neat pile of reports before him. “I
assume you’ve taken into account the fact that if
Apophis and his, family – ” he made a face at the last
word – “are
there, they’ll be accompanied by a considerable enemy
force to protect them.”
“Yes, sir.” After the debriefing with
SG-2 yesterday, Jack had spent hours with Kawalsky,
Ferretti, Teal’c and Carter formulating a plan.
Teal’c’s intel in particular had proved invaluable.
“We can’t match the number of Jaffa
who’ll be there, not man for man,” he acknowledged.
“The only way we’ll be able to succeed is with a
“I take it you have a plan?”The General
sat back in his chair, his pale blue eyes questioning.
“As a matter of fact,” it was Jack’s turn
to let out a deep breath, “yes, sir, I do.”
For the next forty minutes Jack laid out
the plan they’d come up with last night. When he
finished, he fell silent. He had made every effort to
remain neutral while laying out the details and
answering the General’s questions. When Skaara and
Waring had been kidnapped, Jack had promised to find
them and bring them home. He knew the odds were
against him yet he’d still made the promise.
Suddenly those impossible odds were blown
out of the water. In a little over a day he’d have a
chance to keep his word. There was no way in hell he’d
let this go. It might be their only chance.
“Say everything goes according to plan.”
spoke slowly, as if thinking out loud. “There’s no
guarantee things will also go according to plan when
you get to...”
He hesitated and Jack suppressed a grin.
It was nice to know he wasn’t the only one who
occasionally had difficulty remembering the
computer-generated identification of various planets.
“The natives call it Cimmeria,” he said.
“And there’s no reason to think anything will go
wrong, sir. We dialed their gate yesterday and
confirmed that the hammer thingy is still there. Based
on what happened the last time, when we gate into
Cimmeria, our MIA’s will be zapped to the cave and the
damn Goa’uld will be history. Then we can bring our
people home, whole and free.”
He hoped he sounded confident. It was
amazing to realize the success of their plan hinged on
Robert Rothman’s actions during their first visit to
Cimmeria, actions that had been in deliberate
violation of orders.
Even now Jack felt a chill when he
recalled the desperate hand-to-hand combat he and
Teal’c had waged against the Unas in the cave. That
Teal’c was able to kill the Unas’ symbiote by holding
it in the alien device proved how lethal the hammer
He had ordered Rothman to destroy the
device but instead of shooting the doorway, he had
used the staff weapon to fire repeatedly at the wall
just inside of the Hammer until he blew a hole in it.
Jack hadn’t bothered to pay attention to
Rothman’s later explanation about the structure and
curvature of the cave wall revealing a weakness that
the Egyptologist had noticed and exploited. The relief
of stepping through the hole in the wall and getting
out of the cave was enough to keep him from killing
the scientist for disobeying orders. Then Rothman
insisted, this time with Carter and Teal’c backing him
up, that blasting the wall a few more times to
collapse the hole while the inner cavern and alien
device remained intact, would allow the Hammer to
remain as a viable weapon against the Goa’uld in the
Damn it, Jack couldn’t believe he’d let
his attention wander. “Sorry, sir, just remembering
our last visit to Cimmeria.” He leaned forward in his
chair, the better to press his argument. “I don’t have
any concern about that part, once we get them there.”
“And you’re comfortable committing
basically all of our SG teams to this mission?” Hammond
Jack had known that would be a major
issue. They had four operational SG teams and two more
in the planning stage. To risk almost the entire
resources of the SGC on this one mission was nuts. Or
would have been nuts, if their mission objective was
anything other than what it was.
“Only SG-1 and 2 would be actively
involved in the mission.” That at least sounded better
on paper. “SG-4 would stay behind to guard the gate
and SG-3 would remain at the SGC as back-up.”
Hammond considered this, one hand
lightly tapping the pile of mission reports. Jack
couldn’t argue with his superior’s concerns but felt
he’d been able to satisfactorily address each one.
SG-2 had been to the planet, had
contacted the native population and obtained the
original, critical intel. They were the closest thing
they had to experts and that made them the obvious
choice to be part of a rescue mission.
The main problem with the obvious choice
was Charlie Kawalsky. Kawalsky knew Waring’s family;
hell, they’d practically adopted him when he was at
Jack had nightmares about his friend’s
uncharacteristic and dangerous behavior on Chulak when
they’d first encountered the transformed Waring with
Apophis. Though the Major had promised during the
discussion last night not to make the same mistake,
Jack was concerned. Still, he preferred SG-2 backing
up SG-1. He and Kawalsky and Ferretti’s bond went back
to the days of their old Special Ops missions, and
Jack trusted them implicitly. As long as Kawalsky
stayed in control, there was no one he’d rather have
at his side.
If Hammond okayed
SG-2 going with SG-1, it made sense for SG-4 to guard
the gate. Jack had the utmost respect for Major
Reynolds and his team; they’d proved themselves
repeatedly during the last few months. It would give
everyone a confidence boost to know SG-4 had their
SG-3 would remain on the base, on alert,
waiting in case the shit hit the fan. Being left
behind wouldn’t sit well with Colonel Makepeace but
someone had to be the cavalry. It wasn’t that Jack
didn’t trust SG-3, just the opposite. If things went
to hell, the thought of SG-3 coming after them was a
reassuring one. He hoped that wouldn’t be necessary
but if it was they’d be covered.
interrupted his thoughts. “There’s no way I can
authorize this mission without clearance from my
superiors. I strongly suspect they’re not going to be
willing to commit what are essentially all of the
resources of the SGC in an endeavor that does not
appear to have a high rate of success.”
There were few things Jack hated as much
as politics, especially when it meddled with the
military’s attempt to do its job. If the politicians
interfered this time then people, their people,
would be abandoned. He’d be damned if he’d sit still
He spoke from his heart. “Sir, if we’re
willing to leave our people behind when we have the
opportunity to bring them home because retrieving them
would be risky, then we’re not who we claim to be.”
“Things aren’t always so simple,
Jack ignored the warning tone in his
superior’s voice. “Some things are, General. At least
they should be. The Goa’uld have no problem throwing
people away when they no longer serve a purpose or
become an inconvenience.”
Hammond’s eyes narrowed. His C.O.
knew where he was going but that didn’t stop Jack from
finishing his thought.
“General, we claim to be better than the
Goa’uld. Well, my father told me something when I was
a kid that I’ve always remembered. Actions speak a lot
louder than words.” He met his C.O.’s gaze. “It’d be
nice to have our actions match our words.”
“You like to push the envelope, don’t
you, Colonel?” Hammond’s lips
thinned until they were almost invisible.
“Only when it’s important, sir.”
The General was good at masking his
emotions but Jack knew he had riled him. He didn’t
regret speaking his mind but he had to be careful. He
support for this mission to happen.
General Hammond had proven to be a superb
commanding officer and, more important, a decent man.
Jack didn’t doubt the man’s heart wanted to go along
with the plan but for a mission this involved, he
didn’t have the leeway to make the decision on his
own. That was the real weakness in Jack’s plan. Beyond
military superiors would be the politicians.
He had a sudden thought. There was one
politician who had already proven to be a stalwart
supporter of the SGC, despite occasionally rocky
“Can I offer a suggestion, sir?”
“Could I stop you, Colonel?” Hammond
gave his 2IC a wry look.
Jack pretended not to notice the dry
tone. “The President is a big believer in this
program. Maybe you should take this up with him?”
The General rubbed his chin. “Tell me,
Colonel O’Neill, how would you feel if a junior member
of an SG team ignored the chain of command to speak
directly to you about a problem?”
Damn, the man was good. Jack tried not to
wince at the direct hit. Hammond knew
perfectly well he’d go ballistic if someone blatantly
ignored chain of command. Okay, so going straight to
the President over the head of the Joint Chiefs was
not a good idea.
“Understood, sir. But considering I’m
requesting most of the SG teams for this mission,
wouldn’t it make sense for you to discuss it with him?
I mean, after you’ve talked to the usual higher-ups.
He’s very interested in our work, isn’t he?”
“That’s rather Machiavellian of you,
gave him a severe look but his amusement shone
Cheered by the use of his first name,
Jack grinned. “Uh, thank you, sir. So...?” He allowed
his voice to trail off and raised his eyebrows.
Jack waited. He’d played his hand, showed
all his cards. The decision was Hammond’s.
“Let’s go through it again,” Hammond
said. “From the beginning.”
Jack fought back the excitement. He
needed to remain level-headed and alert in order to
meet any of his C.O.’s concerns but the fact Hammond
wanted to go over the plan again was a good sign. Jack
did his damndest to give the General all the
ammunition he had in order to win over his superiors.
Daniel walked into the commissary and
scanned the room for familiar faces. It was already
one-thirty and he was just getting around to eating
his lunch. Jack wouldn't like that but Daniel had been
having so much fun working on a translation with the
other linguists they had all lost track of the time.
It wasn’t until Dr. Kerrigan had looked
at his watch and his face scrunched in astonishment
that he had shooed Daniel out of the lab, right in the
middle of some ancient Egyptian language theories.
Despite his frustration at being sent
away at such a critical point, he couldn’t help but
giggle when he remembered the linguist’s expression.
Dr. Kerrigan must have been worried Jack would call or
stop in and ask about lunch. Jack did that sometimes
but Daniel knew something Dr. Kerrigan didn’t know.
Today Jack was in a big meeting with General Hammond.
Of course, Daniel had no idea what the meeting was
about or how long it would last. If only he could be
part of SG-1, then maybe he'd be at that meeting, too.
How exciting it must be to go off world all the time
like the SG teams did.
No use thinking about being on a team
now. Jack had made it clear he’d have to wait until he
was a lot older.
Daniel sighed as he went through the
line. He wrinkled his nose at the paltry offerings
left over from lunch. Most everything was gone or
picked over except for the chipped beef over toast.
There was probably a good reason why that particular
hot tray was still full. Before he could choose
between hot beef or cold shriveled pizza, Linda the
lunch manager appeared.
"How about a grilled cheese sandwich,
Daniel?" She was the best cook in the Mountain and she
always made the best suggestions.
"Yes, please." Daniel nodded
Grilled cheese was his favorite,
especially when Linda made it up fresh, just for him.
Daniel scanned the large room while he waited for her
to emerge with his lunch. It was pretty much empty
except for a few tables of soldiers. Two women in
uniform talked and occasionally chuckled at the far
end of the room, and a Captain looked like he was
having a meeting with two Lieutenants at another
table. Neither group looked like they’d want company
or appreciate being interrupted.
Two other soldiers at the opposite end of
the room sat hunched over the table talking and eating
what appeared to be the chipped beef. They didn't seem
to mind it one bit. Soldiers were funny that way.
Major Kawalsky had once said that soldiers tended to
eat what was put in front of them without much thought
or comment unless it was exceptionally bad or
exceptionally good. Scientist weren't like that, at
least not the ones Daniel knew. They liked good food
and good coffee or they commented. Loudly.
He moved to the side to let a couple of
newcomers pass by. While he was scanning the room and
waiting for Linda to return, he recognized the two
hungry soldiers at the back table. They were
Lieutenant Greenberg and Sergeant Thompson from SG-2,
Major Kawalsky's team.
Daniel smiled to himself, remembering the
first time he'd met them. It had happened the day he'd
been delivering baked goods on his first day back to
the Mountain after Abydos and
Chulak. They hadn’t seemed all that pleased to find
him standing by their table but Major Kawalsky and
Captain Ferretti had been happy to see him and that
seemed to change their minds. Since then he'd seen
them around the base, usually with the Major or
Captain Ferretti and they’d been to the house for the
Christmas open house get together. They were friendly
now and always said "hi" whenever they saw him. Maybe
he could eat with them.
Linda emerged from the back with a gooey,
perfectly grilled cheese sandwich that made Daniel's
mouth water. Also on the tray was a small bowl of
tomato soup with a hunk of cheese melting in the
middle of it. Next to that was a cup of fruit
"There ya go, sweetie. Enjoy.”
"I will." He hoped his blush wasn’t
noticeable. Linda liked to call him ‘sweetie’. Girls,
even grown up girls, could be funny about things like
Promising to enjoy his meal was an easy
promise to make. Daniel hadn't realized how hungry he
was until the luscious smells of his lunch tickled his
nose. He added a carton of milk to his tray and headed
toward the back of the room where Sergeant Thompson
and Lieutenant Greenberg were sitting, then stopped a
few tables away. They looked like they were in the
middle of an intense conversation.
After a minute of uncertainty Daniel
changed his mind about joining them. Instead, he
decided to sit down where he was, two tables away so
as not to bother them. He took the first bite of his
sandwich and savored the cheesy goodness. Linda had
thrown on a few strips of bacon. No one made a grilled
cheese sandwich better than Linda. Not even Sara. Sara
wouldn’t like the idea of adding bacon. She wouldn’t
think it was healthy but it sure added a lot of
Daniel swallowed a gulp of milk and then
dug into the still steaming tomato soup. He let his
mind wander back to the language problems they were
having in the lab. What had Dr. Kerrigan called it?
Gobbledy-gook. He snickered at the memory. His mom had
postulated how there might have been a
cross-pollination of ancient cultures, which could be
the reason behind some puzzling anomalies. Daniel’s
dad had urged her not to publish the theory until she
found proof for what would certainly be a
controversial claim. The Accident had happened soon
He sighed and stirred his soup. Mom
hadn’t had a chance to find that proof, but the more
artifacts they came across at the SGC, the more
certain Daniel was that his mom had been on the right
track. The broken pieces of pottery that they’d been
looking at this morning showed evidence of both
ancient Egyptian and, according to Dr. Rothman and Dr.
Shaw, pre-Mayan influences. There was also something
else, another influence affecting the language they
were trying to decipher. Maybe from an alien culture?
There was no way to know at this point.
It was a puzzle. Luckily, he liked puzzles.
Daniel’s wandering thoughts stopped short
when he heard Tracy Waring’s name spoken at the corner
table. He froze and sat up a little straighter. Why
were the men from SG-2 talking about Tracy?
His heart pounded as he prayed nothing bad had
happened to her or to Skaara. Surely Jack would have
told him if any of the teams had heard any bad news.
Sergeant Thompson was doing most of the
talking. Lieutenant Greenberg was listening.
Sergeant Thompson was young with thick
dark hair and twinkling green eyes. When they’d first
met Daniel thought he was a little scary. Later,
Daniel had to smile because his first fears seemed
silly after he knew the soldier a little better. That
brief misunderstanding only reinforced his belief that
it was best not to judge a book by its cover.
The Sergeant was big and burly with lots
of muscles and a short jarhead haircut even though he
wasn’t a Marine. Those aspects made him look
intimidating but when he smiled or laughed he wasn’t
scary at all. He could even be kind of silly when he
did his impersonations of famous cartoon characters
and even people from the base. His friends called him
Daniel knew that because at the open
house Christmas party he’d asked the Sergeant about
the nickname even though he assumed it was because the
Sergeant’s muscles were as hard as bricks or because
he was as strong as a house of bricks.
Major Kawalsky had overheard their
conversation and chimed in that it was because the
Sergeant was as thick as a brick. He had tapped his
teammate’s head as he’d said it. It was very mean and
Daniel had opened his mouth to say so when Sergeant
Thompson and the Major both laughed. Even though it
didn’t seem to bother the Sergeant, Daniel still
didn’t think it was very nice of the Major. And it
turned out that Brick wasn’t even a nickname. It was
the Sergeant’s real name.
Who would name their child Brick, Daniel
had wondered. Someone had and he later decided it
might be nice to be born with a ready-made, built-in
nickname. He discovered that Brick loved the military
and sometimes acted like a big goofy kid. In a lot of
ways Brick Thompson reminded Daniel of his brother,
Lieutenant Aaron Greenberg, the other
member of SG-2, was Jewish but Daniel had discovered
during the Christmas open house that, unlike Dr.
Rothman, he didn’t practice Jewish customs like
Hanukkah. He also didn’t talk much about his life
before he came to the SGC but from the bits and pieces
the Lieutenant had let drop, Daniel had the impression
his parents weren’t very happy that he had joined the
military. Sergeant Thompson had once mentioned
something about Harvard but Lieutenant Greenberg had
quickly cut him off. Maybe the Lieutenant had been
accepted to Harvard but he had chosen the Air Force
Daniel had no support for his theory,
although if he was right it explained a lot of things.
Not that he’d ever ask Lieutenant Greenberg. It was
none of his business, though he couldn’t help
Lieutenant Greenberg and Sergeant
Thompson seemed like they were opposites but they were
still really good friends. Kind of like himself and
“... Don’t know enough to draw any
Lieutenant Greenberg’s quiet words pulled
Daniel back to the present. He was tempted to go over
and ask them what they were talking about but he
didn’t. If he was supposed to know Jack would have
told him. Since he didn’t know, they probably wouldn’t
tell him anything and if it involved Tracy,
he really needed to know.
The soldiers weren’t talking loud but if
he sat very still and strained he could make out most
of what they were saying.
“Colonel O’Neill... odds of going against
Apophis’ army?” Thompson muttered.
“... Waring and the Abydonian kid...”
Greenberg said and the Sergeant shook his head.
Daniel listened intently, barely
breathing as he put together the jumble of words he
overheard. Tracy and Skaara were going to be somewhere
in a few days. It sounded as if some of the teams, led
by Jack and SG-1, were going to attempt a rescue. His
heart pounded. Was this the chance they’d been waiting
for? The chance that his friends would finally be
freed and come home? The possibility filled him with
But then there was the other part, going
against Apophis’s army.
The blood pumped fiercely in Daniel’s
ears as the reality of what that meant hit him full
force and fear crowded out any excitement.
Jack was going to face Apophis.
“When?” Daniel nearly knocked his chair
over as he jumped up to question the soldiers at the
“When what?” Lieutenant Greenberg turned
to face him.
“When are you going?” Daniel’s breathing
was ragged and he had trouble getting the words out.
“When are we...? That wasn’t meant for
you to hear, Daniel.” Lieutenant Greenberg spoke
softly as he and Sergeant Thompson exchanged horrified
“Never mind, I’ll find Jack!” With the
words Daniel raced out of the commissary.
“We are so screwed,” Greenberg whispered
to Thompson as they watched him go.
Daniel paced the corridor at the foot of
the stairs that led to the briefing room. Jack’s
meeting seemed like it was lasting forever.
People kept asking him what they could do
for him, if he needed anything, and he wished they’d
stop asking and leave him alone. No one could help. He
needed to talk to Jack. So he answered with a polite,
‘no thank you’ and wished Jack would hurry up. Maybe
they were up there planning the rescue right now. He
contemplated running up the stairs with a made-up
excuse when he heard footsteps descending and Major
Kawalsky and Major Reynolds appeared.
“Is Jack still up there?” Daniel tried
not to sound frantic but it was difficult.
“Yeah, he’s going over a few more things
with the General. You okay?” Kawalsky gave him a
“I’m fine. I just need to talk to Jack.”
Major Reynolds nodded at both of them and
disappeared down the corridor.
“Why don’t you wait in the Colonel’s
office?” Kawalsky suggested. “I know for a fact that’s
where he’s heading when he finishes up with the
That was a good idea. He couldn’t very
well blurt out what he’d heard right here in the
hallway. They could talk privately in Jack’s office.
“Okay, I think I’ll go wait there.
Thanks.” The Major looked puzzled and concerned so
Daniel gave him a weak smile then took off toward the
elevators worrying about the possible outcomes of the
mission. If it was successful it would be the best
thing ever. If it wasn’t... He opened the door to
Jack’s office and sat down on the chair beside the
desk, not wanting to think about that possibility.
He waited and waited. It felt like he’d
been waiting for a couple of hours but when he checked
his watch only fifteen minutes had passed.
The door opened and Jack walked in
wearing a frown. When he spotted Daniel he looked
“Daniel, what – ”
That was as far as he got before Daniel
jumped up from his chair, ran over and wrapped his
arms around his waist.
“Hey, what’s going on?” Jack hugged the
boy close then gently pushed him back a step to get a
better look at him.
“I know about your mission,” Daniel
blurted out, his eyes huge with worry.
Jack stared at the kid, stunned. Daniel
couldn’t possibly mean the rescue mission. How could
he know about that?
“What mission?” he asked, fearing he
already knew the answer.
“The mission to rescue Tracy and Skaara.”
Damn it! Jack silently cursed the heavens
above. Daniel was the last person on Earth who needed
to know about this mission. The boy would suffer. He’d
anguish every second they were off world.
The mission was classified. Daniel wasn’t
supposed to find about it until Jack and the teams
were safely out of harm’s way.
Heads were going to roll.
“I know you’ll save them.” The soulful
blue eyes looked up at him.
“We’re going to try,” Jack finally
answered. There was no point in lying, Daniel wasn’t
guessing, he knew.
“And you’re going to be really careful,
Jack heard the fear in the soft question.
Daniel was trying to be brave but he was obviously
terrified. He gave the small shoulders another
A little of the fear faded from the boy’s
expression but not enough. There was nothing Jack
could do about that because he wasn’t about to lie.
Daniel had been with them on Abydos and
Chulak. He knew more about the dangers that existed
through the Stargate than a lot of the adults working
on the base, which was the main reason Jack hadn’t
intended to tell him about their plans.
how did you hear about the mission?” He tried for a
“No one told me, Jack,” Daniel said
earnestly. “I heard Sergeant Thompson and Lieutenant
Greenberg talking about it in the commissary. I tried
to ask them about it but they said they couldn’t tell
Jack took a deep, steadying breath; he
needed to stay calm for Daniel’s sake. He knew Daniel
thought he was covering for the men by explaining they
hadn’t divulged any information to him, after they’d
already divulged way too much.
He fought back rising anger. What the
hell was wrong with them? Since when did Kawalsky’s
teammates feel comfortable sitting around the
commissary discussing classified information where
anyone could overhear them? Where someone had
“When do you go?” Daniel asked.
“Tomorrow.” Jack sighed at the boy’s
attempt to be brave.
“That’s pretty soon.”
“Yeah, it is.” He ruffled Daniel’s hair.
“Why don’t you get back to the lab and we can talk
about this later. I have a few things I need to take
care of right now.”
Like ream out a certain Major.
Daniel nodded obediently and turned away.
Jack had a sudden thought. “Hey, Daniel?” The boy
stopped at the door. “Remember this mission is
classified so don’t mention it to anyone.”
“I know, Jack. I won’t.”
And that was the thing. Daniel wouldn’t
tell a soul. Knowing that made Jack even more furious.
His kid could keep a secret better than trained
military personnel. What was wrong with this picture?
He waited a few minutes until he was sure
his son was gone, then he hit the base intercom.
“Major Kawalsky, report to Colonel O’Neill’s office
Jack had no need to yell at a
twenty-something wet-nose, newbie Sergeant or a green
Lieutenant. He’d leave that to Kawalsky. They were the
Major’s men and his responsibility. The security of
the base and being the father of an eleven-year-old
genius were Jack’s top priorities.
“Reporting as ordered, sir.”
Jack had to hand it to the man, he’d made
it there inside of two minutes. He didn’t offer
Kawalsky a seat and the Major’s smile faded. He
shifted and straightened to stand in uneasy silence.
“Jack?” Kawalsky’s brows rose with
Despite his attempts to calm down Jack’s
fury was still burning a hole in his gut. He raised
his hand to wave off the familiarity. Right now he
wasn’t Charlie’s old buddy, Jack. He was second in
command of the SGC and one very pissed-off Colonel. He
rose and stood face to face with Kawalsky, taking full
advantage of his slightly superior height.
“Major.” He used his friend’s rank to
assure the conversation would stay on track. “Do you
understand the meaning of the term ‘classified’?”
Kawalsky’s eyes widened but he must have
heard the anger in his CO’s tone because he answered
without asking any questions.
“Yes, sir.” He kept his eyes level and
steady, no doubt wondering where this conversation was
“What is it?” Jack demanded. He could be
intimidating when he wanted to be and by the way
Kawalsky squirmed he knew his tactics were effective.
“Colonel?” Confusion clouded the Major’s
“Am I not speaking clearly? Classified
information. I want you to tell me what it is.”
Kawalsky took a deep breath then rattled
off the military definition. “Classified information
is official information that has been determined to
require, in the interests of national security,
protection against unauthorized disclosure and which
has been so designated.”
Jack nodded. “So if you were briefed with
classified information would you feel comfortable
discussing that information in an unsecure location?”
“No, sir. Of course not. Can I ask what –
“I’m not finished, Major,” Jack snapped.
“What about your men? Would they feel comfortable?”
Jack ignored the confused look and
pressed on to make his point. “Just how well do you
know your men, Major?”
He could tell by Kawalsky’s eyes that he
was beginning to get an idea about what must have had
happened, given the line of questioning.
“Well enough, sir. They’re young but
they’re good men.” Kawalsky stubbornly defended his
Jack took a minute to admire Kawalsky’s
loyalty, sticking by his teammates despite guessing
where this conversation was heading. Team loyalty was
an important characteristic that helped make the
military, and particularly the SGC, work as well as it
“So if your men were sitting around in,
say the commissary, and were overheard discussing
classified information, whose fault would that be,
“Mine.” Kawalsky didn’t hesitate. “I’m
the team’s C.O.”
“Bingo.” Jack stared hard.
“Overheard by who?” For the first time
there was an edge of nervousness in Kawalsky’s voice.
“Oh, shit,” Kawalsky whispered,
immediately understanding the implications. “I’m
Jack wasn’t ready to make nice. “I don’t
want you to be sorry, Major. I want you to fix this
and make sure it never happens again. If it does
happen again, I’ll fix it. Understood?”
Ordinarily Kawalsky would have left
immediately but he hesitated. He wanted to stay and
talk about the situation. He’d been a team leader for
less than three months and nothing like this had come
up. He’d never had to formally discipline one of his
teammates. What would be appropriate under the
Normally, he’d ask the Colonel but Jack
was in no mood to discuss anything, and when it came
to Daniel the man wasn’t always objective. Kawalsky
thought about Major Reynolds. Reynolds was an
excellent officer and he had more experience at being
a team leader.
No, he decided. He was in charge of his
team and he’d take care of this himself.
He realized he was still standing in
front of the Colonel so he nodded and hastily left the
office. He needed to think this through and figure out
the best way to handle this situation on his own.
When the door closed behind the Major,
Jack slumped back down in his chair. That had been
fun. Not. It hadn’t been as satisfying as he’d hoped
and it did nothing to help the overall ‘Daniel’
problem. No matter how much he raged there was no way
to make this situation better.
Kawalsky had been wrong about who would
be at fault if truly damaging classified information
was leaked. It didn’t matter who leaked it, as second
in command Jack would accept the blame, though
realistically the responsibility would ultimately rest
with General Hammond. That’s the way the military
worked and that was why it was so important to pick
the right personnel – from the Airmen to the officers,
right on up the chain.
Jack had no doubt Kawalsky would address
the problem with his men and take appropriate action.
It was time to let it go and move on.
Except Daniel was involved.
Now Daniel would worry and fret, his stomach
would be in knots for the duration of the mission.
Sara and Charlie would certainly notice and that would
make it doubly hard for all of them. Shit.
Jack felt the need to punch something and
he was glad Charlie Kawalsky had already left his
office. Maybe he’d go down to the gym and get in
another work-out. Better yet, maybe Teal’c was still
down there and in the mood to beat the crap out of
him, but not before Jack could get in a few good
licks. Sparring with Teal’c was a great method for
letting off steam.
Kawalsky sat in his tiny office and went
over the paperwork on his desk. It had been two hours
since he’d left the Colonel’s office for what had to
be one of the worst meetings he’d had in awhile. It
was the worst one he’d ever had with Jack.
It had taken this much time for him to
think through what he needed to do. Greenberg and
Thompson would be here in less than ten minutes.
When Kawalsky had informed them that they
needed to report to his office at 1500 hours, they
didn’t seem all that surprised and he wondered if they
knew what this was about. If they did, he wished they
had come clean so he would have had a clue when he’d
reported to the Colonel’s office.
Kawalsky had come to what he considered
to be a fair decision. Written reprimands would be
placed in their personnel files. It was a black mark
on their records but if no other instances occurred
over the next year, the reprimands would be removed.
Thompson and Greenberg were young and
relatively inexperienced. To be fair, it wasn’t the
first time team members had whispered about missions
in the commissary. They needed to be more careful. You
had to know for a fact no one could hear you if you
were going to discuss classified information. It was
better to follow rule number one – only discuss
classified matters in a secure location. He intended
to make sure they received that message loud and clear
during this meeting.
It was no surprise when they showed up
precisely on time.
“Have a seat, gentlemen.” Kawalsky had
decided not to get in their faces like Jack had done
to him. It was personal with Jack because it involved
He rested his hands on top of their
personnel folders. “I want to know what happened in
the commissary today. Apparently there was a leak of
Both men sat on the edges of their
chairs, obviously uncomfortable. The young Lieutenant
opened his mouth, hesitated, and closed it again.
Thompson gave him a sideways look and cleared his
throat before diving in.
“When we sat down no one was around, sir.
Honest, we checked. The place was pretty cleared out.
Daniel must have slipped in...”
“I don’t want excuses,” Kawalsky
interrupted with growing anger. That was one thing he
“No, sir.” Thompson sat up a little
straighter. “To be fair, sir,” he swallowed hard, “I
was the one doing most of the talking.”
Kawalsky nodded. “And you, Lieutenant? At
no time did you think it prudent to stop your Sergeant
from rambling on about a classified mission in a
“I didn’t think...” Greenberg started but
then thought the better of it. “No, sir.”
Kawalsky paused, trying to get this
right. It was more difficult than he had imagined.
They’d been out for a team night of sorts yesterday
for steaks and beers. It had been a lot of fun.
He wanted them to gel as a team, to rely
on each other and trust each other as he and Ferretti
and the Colonel did. Maybe he’d been too easy-going,
too informal. He knew going in that being a team
leader was a huge responsibility. It was a lot harder
than it looked. Ferretti was a seasoned soldier but
these two kids were different. It was his
responsibility to train and educate them. This was
part of their training.
“Do you know what classified means?”
Kawalsky decided to take a page out of Jack’s book
though his tone didn’t quite match the sarcastic level
of the Colonel’s.
“Yes, sir.” They both nodded.
“What’s the definition, Sergeant?”
The Brick blinked at him in surprise then
turned a light shade of pink. He had to have known the
precise definition when it was on the tests but he
must have forgotten.
Greenberg was practically sitting at
attention. “Classified information is official
information that has been determined to require, in
the interests of national security, protection against
unauthorized disclosure and which has been so
“And you understand what that means?”
Greenberg looked miserable while Thompson
was still slightly pink. Kawalsky knew he’d made his
He took out the reprimands for the two
men to sign and date, acknowledging that they’d seen
the forms. They looked surprised for the first time.
“Is this going in our personnel file,
sir?” Greenberg picked up the pen beside the document,
“Yes. Read it over and make sure there
aren’t any discrepancies. If the statement is accurate
then I expect you to sign it.”
The statement didn’t mention details or
Daniel. The details weren’t important as far as this
meeting went. It didn’t matter that it had been
Daniel. It shouldn’t have happened, period.
It wasn’t until they both signed that
Kawalsky gave them a glimpse of the light at the end
of the tunnel.
“These reprimands will remain in your
personnel files until next year’s evaluation. If there
are no further incidents, they will be removed.”
Without changing expression, he added, “If there are
further incidents, the reprimands will become a
permanent part of your files.”
He didn’t bother adding that would be a
moot point. If there were any more problems he knew
Colonel O’Neill would personally kick their asses out
of the SGC so fast they wouldn’t know what hit them.
Both men were relieved at the news that
this need not be a permanent blot on their record.
Working in a secret base and not being able to keep a
secret wouldn’t do much to further their careers.
There was a knock at the door and
Ferretti stuck his head inside. “Hey, you guys having
a team meeting without me?”
“We’re almost done here. Give us a
Kawalsky used his ‘Major’ voice and
Ferretti got the message. The Captain glanced around
the room at the grave faces and then disappeared as
quickly as he’d arrived.
It was obvious his men were itching to
get out of his office but he had another issue to
“One more thing. You must have known
Daniel overheard you when he ran off.”
“Yes, sir,” Greenberg answered. Both men
were having trouble meeting his gaze.
noted how Greenberg was answering the questions now
that everyone was in serious military mode. He was the
Lieutenant. Thompson was low man on the totem pole.
“And it never occurred to either of you
to come and tell me what had happened?” He didn’t wait
for an answer. “It would have been nice to be
informed. In the future, I expect you to come to me
with any problems. Understood?”
If nothing else, Kawalsky could have at
least avoided being blindsided by Jack had his men
sought him out and confessed their mistake.
“Understood, sir.” They answered in
They nearly tripped over each other in
the small space to get to the door.
“And, Sergeant.” Thompson turned back to
face him. “The next time I ask you for the definition
of classified information I expect you to be able to
recite it without hesitation.”
Kawalsky could envision Jack running into
Thompson and putting him on the spot. The
kid needed to be prepared.
“Yes, sir. I will.” With the words the
two men fled his office.
Kawalsky picked up a pencil to twirl.
He’d never doubted himself as a soldier but being a
team leader was a whole new ballgame. He wished he
could ask Jack, his friend and mentor, if he’d handled
this situation correctly. He wanted to ask how the
Colonel managed to balance work and missions with
friendship and camaraderie and make it all look so
easy in the process. That conversation would have to
wait for another day.
He was still thinking about it when
Ferretti came in and slid into the seat recently
vacated by the Brick.
“So,” he said, cocking an eyebrow, “what
was that all about?”
After Kawalsky gave him a brief synopsis
of what had happened Ferretti let out a low whistle.
“Holy shit. Poor Daniel. I bet the
Colonel’s a little pissed.”
“Saying the Colonel is a little pissed is
like saying Ra liked wearing a little jewelry.”
“That bad, huh?” Ferretti laughed.
“Worse,” Kawalsky confirmed with a sigh.
“I don’t know, maybe we shouldn’t go out like we did
last night. Maybe we’re being too familiar. They’re
young, maybe they can’t handle that.”
“No, come on, that’s not it.” Ferretti
slapped him on the arm. “That has nothing to do with
this. That would mean there was a lack of respect and
I know they respect us. Don’t doubt yourself, Charlie.
This isn’t that kind of problem.”
“No? Then what kind of problem is it?”
“It’s a lack of experience,” the Captain
answered calmly. “First of all, you and I know better
than to discuss classified matters in public. Second
of all, even if we had been that stupid, if you or I
had been sitting there we’d have spotted Daniel the
second he walked in. Greenberg and Thompson are still
green, at least compared to most of the personnel on
base. They got involved in a conversation that,
granted, they shouldn’t have been having in the
commissary, and they didn’t keep up with their
surroundings. They’re young. That’s all it is.
Besides, I like team nights. Greenberg’s the only
person I can beat in darts and watching the ladies
fall all over the Brick is loads of fun.” Ferretti
Kawalsky smiled but still looked
“Give the kids a chance.” Ferretti made a
fist and lightly tapped his friend’s shoulder as he
stood up to leave. “I guarantee someday they’ll make
Jack adjusted his vest and reached out to
close his locker door. He caught a glimpse of himself
in the shaving mirror hanging inside and froze.
Dressed in black, his face streaked with camouflage
paint, he didn’t look much like a husband and father.
He looked like a career soldier, trained to follow
orders, trained to destroy anyone and anything
designated as an enemy by his superiors.
Where was this coming from? This sure as
hell wasn’t the first mission he’d led. Since the
Stargate became fully operational a few months ago, he
had been leading his team through it two or three
times a week.
The answer to his question stared him in
the face. This was their chance to rescue the two
people who’d been lost during that first mission to Abydos.
He hadn’t been able to save Skaara from
being kidnapped on Abydos. Worse,
he’d been forced to stand aside in the Chulak prison
while the boy was dragged off to a fate worse than
Knock it off, O’Neill. It was time to
focus on the plan, not to dwell on past decisions.
Skaara’s fate was horrific, so was Sergeant Waring’s,
but neither was irredeemable. Thanks to the discovery
of Cimmeria and Thor’s Hammer there was a way to
rescue those whom the Goa’uld possessed.
Jack’s gut tightened. What he wouldn’t
give to drag every human infested by those snakeheads
through the gate to Cimmeria and watch the Asgard
Hammer work its magic, killing the snakes without
harming the hosts.
He took a few deep breaths to get it
together. There was no time for emotion. The mission
required a cool head and rational thinking. He
couldn’t let the fact that the mission objectives were
a Sergeant under his command, and a boy with whom he’d
forged a special bond, cloud his judgment.
Daniel would remain here on Earth. That
was the biggest difference between the first mission
and this one. Tracy Waring’s kidnapping proved Earth
was not as safe as they’d once thought, but with the
iris in place it was far safer here than it was out
Jack headed out of the locker room
remembering Daniel’s face this morning when they’d
separated at the elevators on sublevel 21. He’d been
expecting more of the pleading that had gone on since
the boy overheard Kawalsky’s men. Instead, he’d been
surprised and relieved when Daniel gave up his efforts
to persuade them to take him along.
He pushed his feelings aside. It was time
to concentrate on the mission.
When he turned the corner Kawalsky and
the rest of SG-2 were waiting at the elevators.
Greenberg and Thompson looked a little pale and
avoided his gaze.
There was no point in dwelling on past
mistakes. He needed every man out here focused on the
here and now. He’d had his say. The incident in the
commissary was over and done with and he made sure his
first words reflected that.
“Gentlemen, you ready to rock and roll?”
He scanned the four of them with a nod.
“More than ready, Colonel.” Kawalsky’s
expression eased into grim amusement.
“Good. Let’s get this done.”
The rest of his team was already in the
gateroom, along with SG-4. SG-2 moved over to stand
with the others, except for Kawalsky. Lt. Colonel
Makepeace was also there, standing on the opposite
side of the room with his arms folded. He didn’t look
happy, though he uncrossed his arms when Kawalsky
A quick survey of the teams assured Jack
everyone had been issued night vision goggles. Rothman
seemed to be having trouble with the straps;
fortunately, Carter noticed and went over to help him.
Jack stared at the scientist for a
minute. If he had to pick the last person on the
planet who should be on an SG team, it might well be
Robert Rothman, Ph.D. Granted the man was tops in his
field but that was light years away from being able to
function in a military, first-contact team. And yet
they wouldn’t be here today if not for Rothman’s quick
thinking on Cimmeria.
The Stargate exploded open. This was
their opportunity. All he’d ever hoped for was a
chance and this was it. He was determined not to waste
good to go, sir?” Kawalsky was back at his side.
“Yeah.” The Major moved to stand by his
team and Jack looked up at the control room, expecting
to see Hammond.
What he didn’t expect to see was the small figure
standing beside the General.
Jack blinked again but the image
remained. Damn it. He had hoped the boy would still be
in his office where he’d left him an hour ago. He
should have known better.
Despite standing beside Hammond
and being surrounded by the crew in the control room,
Daniel looked alone. Jack shook off the thought. His
son wasn’t alone. He had Sara and Charlie and friends
here at the SGC who loved him.
“Colonel?” Hammond’s voice
echoed through the loudspeaker in the gateroom. “Are
your teams ready to go?”
“Yes, sir.” Jack tore his gaze away from
his son’s sad blue eyes.
“Then you have a go. Godspeed.”
Jack turned to the waiting teams. “SG
teams 2 and 4, move out.”
As Kawalsky led his team up the ramp,
Jack turned and gave Daniel a thumbs up. The boy
didn’t immediately respond. Come on, kiddo, don’t make
this harder than it already is. He raised his thumb a
little higher and shook it. Finally Daniel raised both
hands and laid them flat against the window and
flashed his best smile.
Jack grinned back, feeling better.
He glanced over his shoulder. The other
teams had gone through. Carter, Teal’c and Rothman
were waiting for him. Jack glanced up at the window
once more and gave two thumbs up before turning away.
“Let’s do this,” he ordered, and led them
through the Stargate.
There was always a brief moment of
disorientation when he arrived on the other side.
Carter had explained the physics behind the feeling
which undoubtedly made sense to her and possibly to
other scientists. Jack blamed the sensation on the
molecules and atoms in his body shaking off the shock
of gate travel while they reassembled into Jack
Despite the disorientation, he was moving
as soon as he came through. Even though they’d left
Earth at 0800 hours it was dark here, which was
exactly why they’d chosen this time. Because of SG-2’s
intel, they knew 0800 Earth time was nearly midnight
Tonight it was almost pitch black with no
moon or stars visible. Jack pulled his night vision
goggles in place and the blackness disappeared. He
could see again, albeit everything was tinted green.
Once upon a time he’d thought the tint was kind of
eerie; now he took it for granted.
Around him, he heard soft calls of
“Clear.” So far so good.
The Stargate was in the center of a small
field surrounded by a thick forest. The only break in
the trees was a broad dirt path that, according to
SG-2, led away from the gate to the nearest town.
Everyone had their assignments but there
was no harm in repeating the orders now that they were
here. Jack ordered Reynolds to return the MALP and
then retreat into the forest to keep an eye on the
Stargate. Then he turned to Kawalsky.
“How far do we follow that path before we
can break away?”
“Just under two miles, then the forest
opens up and we can go around the town.”
Jack took a deep breath. “All right.
Teal’c, you and Ferretti take point. Let’s move.”
Though broad, the dirt path didn’t allow
for much spreading out. Jack and Kawalsky stayed some
distance behind Teal’c and Ferretti while the
remaining members of the teams brought up the rear,
keeping a measured pace.
Everyone was quiet. They were
concentrating, watching, listening for anything out of
the ordinary. During the quiet of the night, it was
sound more than vision that would most likely provide
the first hint of danger.
Thanks to the night vision Jack had no
trouble seeing. He kept his main focus on the two men
walking point. Kawalsky was beside him doing the same.
The dark forest pressed in on them from both sides so
that the only clear view was straight ahead. The
forest blocked out everything else.
It was a little nerve wracking and Jack
absently stroked the radio fastened to his vest. They
were maintaining radio silence unless trouble erupted.
Silence equaled success as far as communications were
concerned. Something about the silence here bothered
him. On Earth, nighttime was rarely this quiet. Even
out in the wild the wind would rustle the leaves and
branches and there would be the faint noises of
creatures moving about. There was none of that here,
not even the buzzing of insects. He heard the faint
impact of their boots striking the dirt. Otherwise,
A mile from the gate Jack ordered them to
a halt. He turned to Carter and Thompson who were
carrying most of the explosives.
“Set up a line of claymores here,” he
“Yes, sir,” they both responded and
Thompson pulled off his pack.
“Do you want it deployed in controlled
mode, sir?” Carter asked as she helped the Sergeant
remove the innocuous-looking convex green plastic
“Yeah. We’ll decide when it goes off, no
“Yes, sir.” Carter followed Thompson to
set up the explosives.
“Uh, excuse me.” Rothman came up behind
him. “Was this discussed in the briefing? Because if
it was, I don’t remember it.”
Jack gritted his teeth. The Egyptologist
often had that effect on him though he’d be damned if
he’d admit it. “Call it a command decision.” Why did
Rothman have to question everything? “In case
we’re in a hurry when we come back this way.”
There was silence for a minute. Before he
could congratulate himself on shutting the man up,
Rothman added, “This isn’t exactly filling me with
“Hell, Doc, it’s SOP for SG-1, isn’t it?”
Ferretti laughed and slapped the scientist on the
shoulder. I mean, don’t all your missions end with you
guys running for the gate?”
Jack glared at the Major. Ferretti was a
fine one to talk, given SG-2’s record. He was tempted
to defend his team but Rothman spoke first.
“No, Major, not usually. If I recall
correctly, SG-1 has the highest rate of successfully
completed missions to date.”
Jack listened with amusement. Who’d a
thunk the scientist would be protecting the
reputations of his military teammates? Not that
Rothman probably thought of it in those terms.
“All set, Colonel.”Carter returned with
Thompson trailing her.
They resumed their trek with Kawalsky
falling in step beside him.
“So it’s been two years since the
Goa’uld’s last visit?”
“Yep, that’s what they said.”
Jack grimaced. SG-2 had garnered that
intel from the residents. The Jaffa visited the
planet every few years to ‘choose those who are worthy
to serve our god, Apophis, before his throne’.
His skin crawled at the thought. They all
knew what that meant, although it was obvious the poor
folks on this planet had no clue. They thought it was
a great honor to be ‘chosen’.
The memory of what had happened when they
were imprisoned on Chulak still haunted Jack. There
had been a ‘choosing’ there, too, but no one in that
prison would have called it an honor.
He reminded himself they were here now to
change things, to ‘unchoose’ Skaara and Tracy Waring.
And, if they were really lucky, they’d turn Apophis
into road kill. Jack knew the higher-ups would love to
get their hands on the Goa’uld; who knew how much
information they could get out of the bastard? Hammond
had said as much; if it was possible to grab Apophis,
they were supposed to try. Jack didn’t know if he’d be
able to restrain himself if he got the slimy snakehead
in his sights.
“Colonel? You okay?”
“Fine,” he muttered.
They continued walking until Jack heard
two soft clicks from his radio. Teal’c and Ferretti
had reached the edge of the forest. He clicked twice
in response, waited a count, then clicked again to
tell them to stay put. A few minutes later the teams gathered
together. Just beyond the last line of trees, Jack saw
the countryside open up as the forest thinned out.
“So?” He looked at Kawalsky.
“The closest town is two miles northwest
of here.” The Major gestured with his MP-5. “Due south
is where they grow their crops. If anyone’s up and
about it’ll be there.”
“Then we won’t go that way.” Jack turned
to Teal’c. “Any ideas where Apophis will station his Jaffa?”
“One group will remain with him at all
times. Another group will most likely be spread
throughout the village. There will also be a group
guarding the Chapp’ai.”
“There’s no guard at the gate so we’ll
assume we’re the first to arrive.”
“I concur,” Teal’c nodded.
“Are we sure he’s not here?” Ferretti
asked the question on everyone’s mind.
“You spoke of preparing lines of
defense.” Teal’c directed his response to Jack.
“Controlling the Chappa’ai will be their first line of
defense and their first point of attack. It would be a
He spoke in a measured voice and no one
was about to question the expertise of the former
First Prime of Apophis.
“How likely is it there was a patrol
guarding the Stargate when we came through and they’re
watching us, keeping us under surveillance?” Carter
“That is not the Jaffa way.”
Teal’c spoke with certainty. “If the Chappa’ai had
been guarded, they would have attacked when we
Jack agreed. In his limited experience,
admittedly a lot less than Teal’c’s, Jaffa
liked to shoot first, last and always. They weren’t
big on surveillance and subtlety.
“So.” Jack turned to Teal’c. “Since the
gate isn’t guarded, it’s a safe bet we beat the
snakehead to his own party.”
“Good enough.” So far the
intel SG-2 had gathered during their first visit was
holding up. He glanced back at Carter.
“Lay out another line of claymores here.”
“Yes, sir.” She gestured at Thompson.
They pulled off their packs and spread out along the
Jack studied his team while they waited.
They were alert and prepared for anything, with the
possible exception of Rothman. The civilian member of
SG-1 was standing beside Greenberg and he shifted
uncomfortably when Jack caught his eye. Greenberg was
the closest thing to a cultural expert on SG-2 but he
was an amateur compared to Rothman. The scientist’s
expertise might enable him to spot something the
inexperienced kid might miss if he took point with
Jack discarded the idea. Expert or not,
Rothman was still a civilian, and his experience on
SG-1 of the past few months didn’t change that fact.
They needed to keep the scientist as safe as possible.
They were going to need that expertise later on;
besides he wasn’t sure the scientist would recognize a
threat if he tripped over it.
He turned his attention to Kawalsky. “You
said there’s a way to get around the town so we can
approach from the rear?”
Kawalsky turned to Ferretti. “Yes, sir,”
the Captain answered. “While the Major and Greenberg
were making nice with the town council, Thompson and I
went exploring. We found an old path that took us
almost all the way around before it dead-ended into
the mountain. We were able to come out almost directly
behind their...” He hesitated and Greenberg spoke up.
“From what our guide said, I think it’s
basically the equivalent of their city hall.”
“Yeah,” Ferretti agreed. “That’s it. It’s
also where all the big happenings happen, including
the big bash for Apophis.”
“Then that’s where we head,” Jack
Carter and Thompson returned to the
group. “All set, sir.” Carter picked up her pack and
slung it over her shoulder.
“Yeah, the Jaffa can march
right over it and they won’t notice a thing,” Thompson
Jack glanced at the young soldier and the
Sergeant cleared his throat no doubt wishing he’d kept
his mouth shut. “It’s all set, sir,” he confirmed in a
Kids. Jack suppressed a sigh.
Since Ferretti and Greenberg were
familiar with the path he decided to spell Ferretti to
keep everyone sharp and ordered Greenberg to take
point with Teal’c. At least he didn’t have to worry
about Teal’c needing a break. The Jaffa’s stamina
and concentration were amazing, nothing fazed him.
Teal’c was always calm and in control. No muss, no
fuss. The SGC teams could definitely learn a thing or
two from their resident alien.
They continued walking in silence for
another half an hour until Teal’c spotted something in
the shadows. In the distance, Jack barely made out the
outline of a town, set in a shallow depression or
valley and butting up against the most massive
mountain range he’d ever seen. Between the darkness
and distance, it was impossible to see any details but
there was no mistaking its size. The range made the Rocky Mountains back home look
Speaking of foothills... the trees were
spread further apart here and small hills now dotted
the countryside. He
lowered his goggles and was reassured by the darkness.
So far, everything was quiet and proceeding according
to plan. Then again, that always made him nervous.
Up ahead, Greenberg raised a hand.
Everyone dropped to one knee and gripped their weapon.
The Lieutenant turned to Teal’c and said something.
silently walked back to fill him in and Jack rose to
“Lieutenant Greenberg insists we stay on
the left side of the path. The right side will begin
to drop precipitously from this point forward.”
“How precipitously?” Kawalsky asked.
“Very,” Ferretti answered as he came up
to join them. “Eventually it’s almost a straight drop.
Because of the underbrush and trees we couldn’t see
how far down it goes, but it’s at least a hundred
“All right,” Jack said. “Good to know.
Ferretti, make sure everyone else knows.”
“Yes, sir.” The Captain faded back and
quietly passed on the information to the other
Their progress slowed as the path dipped
down and filled with debris, fallen leaves and the
occasional branch, rocks and exposed tree roots made
footing treacherous. The town was now hidden by the
terrain and a faint smell of a wood fire permeated the
air. When the echo of voices drifted over the ridge
Jack tensed, realizing how close they were to the
town. It was on the other side of the next hill.
Teal’c signaled everyone to stop then
crawled up the ridge and peered over the crest. He
raised his hand and dropped flat on the ground.
Everyone followed his lead, cradling their weapons
beneath them. Jack kept his eyes on the Jaffa,
waiting for the next signal. If they needed to retreat
in a hurry he was ready.
He crawled up the hill and settled in
beside the Jaffa
then took a quick look around. Down below was the dark
bulk of a building. They were practically on top of
the town. Teal’c turned his head to face him and
whispered, “A Jaffa patrol just exited the structure
“How many?” The thought of an enemy
patrol this close was disconcerting.
“I thought Apophis hadn’t come through
yet?” Crap, was it already time to go to Plan B?
“He has not or there would be many more Jaffa
visible. This is likely an advance squad to ensure
there is no danger.”
Teal’c’s calm should have been comforting
but considering Teal’c was calm in the midst of
pitched battles, Jack wasn’t sure how comforted he
should feel. If Teal’c had seen four Jaffa,
it was likely there were more around.
This wasn’t unexpected. They knew there
would be Jaffa,
in fact, their plan hinged on it. There was no need to
go to plan B, yet. They were still on track. It would
get even more dicey when Apophis came through the
As close as they were to the town it
wasn’t close enough. “We’re going to need to get
closer,” he muttered. It was tempting to move down the
hill into the town from here, the building would
provide some cover but he had no idea what was inside.
For all they knew the building could be where the Jaffa
congregated when they weren’t out patrolling.
“Where’s that city hall you talking
about?”Jack asked Greenberg who had crawled over to
“Another twenty yards that way, sir.” The
Lieutenant pointed in the direction they’d been
Jack considered his options. Maybe later
they’d have to strategize on the fly but for now
they’d stick to the plan.
“Any other signs of activity?” he asked.
“None,” Teal’c answered.
“Let’s move out.”
They resumed their quiet, covert circling
of the town. It took a full thirty minutes to reach
their goal. Twice they had to stop to wait for Jaffa
patrols to pass. Finally, they were peering down the
hill that overlooked the center of the town.
The town square was a small open area
surrounded by buildings. Remembering
Abydos, Jack figured this was a gathering place
for the natives, the place where they greeted their
neighbors and sold their wares and caught up with the
local gossip. And the place where they were bestowed
with the honor of being ‘chosen’. The last thought
made him angry and he pushed it down.
Jack repositioned himself, focused his
goggles and spotted ten of Apophis’ advance guards
stationed around the buildings. There was no way of
knowing how many more were around. He turned his
goggles to Teal’c.
“I know the plan is to grab some Jaffa
after Apophis comes through, but maybe we should grab
some of these guys now.”
“Why now, O’Neill?”
“It’s for damn sure Apophis is going to
arrive with dozens more Jaffa, right?”
“That’s a whole lot more than this
group.” Jack stated the obvious. “Which means it’ll be
tougher if we wait for the whole gang to get here
instead of dealing with the few here now.”
Teal’c’s eyebrow went up. “It is likely
this advance guard will notice someone missing,
considering their fewer number, than when Apophis
arrives with reinforcements.”
Jack weighed the pros and cons of each
option. “Okay, we’ll stick with Plan A for now.
Kawalsky, you said something about a back entrance to
their city hall?”
“That’s right, but I’m not the one who
saw it.” He glanced over his shoulder. “Greenberg, get
“Sir?” The Lieutenant crawled up beside
“The back entrance?”
“Yes, sir.” Greenberg shifted over a
couple of feet before gesturing down the slope. “As I
explained during the debriefing – ”
“The short version, Lieutenant.”
“Uh, yes, sir. The building backs up to
the ridge down there. There’s a door half-hidden by
bushes that will let you inside the bottom level. The
rooms there are mostly for storage and few people come
down. It’s probably the most private place in the
Jack nodded in satisfaction. Going
through all of this during the briefing was one thing.
Going through it again on an alien planet with the
enemy armed and patrolling was another.
He slipped back down the hill, followed
by the others. Once they reached the path he gestured
and everyone drew in closer to hear their whispered
orders. “SG-1 will infiltrate the building and lay
low. According to Teal’c, Apophis and his gang should
arrive...” he glanced at his watch, “in just over four
hours. We’ll keep a low profile until the sun goes
down, then grab our MIA’s and head for the gate.”
“Check-in times, Colonel?” Kawalsky
“Every two hours,” Jack confirmed. “We’ll
do the checking-in.”
The Major nodded at this elementary
precaution. Only SG-1 would know when it would be safe
to use the radio. For the same reason, SG-2 would be
the one checking in with SG-4, not vice-versa. The
plan wasn’t perfect but under the circumstances it was
the best they could do.
“Find a place to lie low,” Jack added
before looking around at his team members.
“I’ll have the p-p-pizza, p-p-please.”
Karen Lindsey cringed when she heard
herself stammering. Thanks to therapy, her speech was
improving but when she was tired, like now, all her
improvement seemed like a figment of her imagination.
A burst of hurtful laughter behind her only confirmed
her feelings of how lame she sounded.
Holding her tray with clenched hands,
Karen walked away from the line and sat down at an
empty table. Try as she might, she couldn’t keep the
heat from creeping up her neck and reddening her
cheeks. She kept her head down and tried to ignore the
familiar painful knot tightening in her stomach. It
had been a while since she’d been openly mocked for
her stuttering and she was surprised by how much it
still hurt. Jocks, she thought. They were all a bunch
of creeps. She willed the two idiots behind her to
keep walking and forget about her.
To Karen’s disgust, they sat down at the
next table. Great. Now what was she going to do?
Should she move or would that only draw more of their
unwanted attention? She could barely breathe much less
eat her lunch wondering when or if they were going to
start up again. They were sitting too close to ignore.
If she had to, she’d go on the offensive and confront
them but the very thought made her nervous. She didn’t
want to cause a scene. If a teacher overheard and the
boys got into trouble, they’d blame her.
“What’s going on?” someone said.
Karen thought she recognized the voice
and risked a glance over her shoulder. Yep, it was
Kyle Turner looked up at Charlie. “What?”
he asked in his bored, whiny ‘I didn’t do anything’
voice he normally reserved for parents and teachers.
“Lighten up, O’Neill, we’re just having a
little fun,” Jason Everett put in. “She doesn’t mind,
do ya, Lindsey?”
Charlie jumped in before she had a chance
“I mind,” he said, his eyes narrowing.
“Karen’s a friend of mine.” He glared at the boys
until they shrugged, picked up their lunch trays and
opted to sit at a table at the far end of the
“They won’t bother you again.” Charlie
sounded confident and Karen assumed he’d have another
chat with them later on and they probably wouldn’t
bother her again.
Instead of leaving, he stood there
awkwardly holding his lunch tray probably waiting for
her to thank him before rushing off to join his
friends. She supposed she should be grateful but she
didn’t feel like thanking him. He shouldn’t have
friends like that. Besides, Daniel would have told
them off, not just nudged them to move along.
To Karen’s shock Charlie set his tray on
the table, pulled out a chair and sat down beside her.
“You could thank me,” he said, flashing his most
“Thank you? Why should I thank you,
they’re your stupid friends.” She didn’t mean to sound
so harsh but she couldn’t seem to stop herself. “And
so what if they won’t bother me. They’ll just go
bother someone else.”
“They’re teammates,” Charlie corrected,
not sounding the least bit apologetic.
“I saw you at the movies with them and
Spencer last weekend.”
She made a face.
“Okay, maybe we’re kind of friends,” he
conceded. “They’re jerks sometimes, but we’re
friends.” The confession didn’t seem to faze Charlie.
“They don’t mean anything by it. They just don’t
understand that kind of stuff.”
“Stuff?” She raised an amused eyebrow and
watched him squirm.
“Yeah, you know, hurt feelings and being
different, that kind of stuff.” He looked down at his
“And you do understand?”
“Of course.” Charlie picked a piece of
pepperoni off his pizza and popped it into his mouth.
“With Daniel as my brother, how can I not understand?”
Listening to Charlie made Karen miss
Daniel even though she’d spent yesterday afternoon
with him. He hadn’t been himself. Something had been
bothering him, she was sure of it, but no matter how
much she’d prodded, Daniel hadn’t wanted to talk about
it. She finally let it drop so they could have fun.
Here at school was where she missed him
the most. Daniel was being homeschooled and, wherever
he was, she was positive he had to be happier than she
was at this moment, sitting alone being tormented in
the school cafeteria.
Charlie’s grin widened and she couldn’t
help but laugh. That lifted the tension and she dug
into her pizza.
“You can go join them, you know. Go talk
about your plays and strategy or whatever you loser
jocks talk about.
I don’t care.”
“It’s okay. I’ve already started eating.”
Charlie shrugged. “Could we just talk about something
else that has nothing to do with jocks or sports or
Kyle or Jason?”
“Sure.” Karen washed down her pizza with
a gulp of milk. “I have something else I want to talk
to you about.”
“Good.” Charlie let out a sigh of relief.
“Daniel.” She didn’t hesitate. “I want
you do tell me what’s wrong with Daniel.”
“What?” Charlie wolfed down his first
piece of pizza in a flash and started in on his
Karen didn’t answer. She folded her arms
across her chest, leaned back in her chair and glared.
“What?” Charlie repeated. “I’m serious. I
don’t know what you mean. What about Daniel?”
“What’s wrong with him?” Karen let out a
sigh. “And don’t tell me nothing,” she added before he
“Okay.” Charlie thought hard but nothing
came to mind. Daniel hadn’t been complaining about
anything lately, though to be honest, his brother
rarely complained. Daniel had been spending a lot of
time in his room. He’d said he had a lot of school
stuff to work on. Maybe homeschooling wasn’t as easy
as it looked.
“You really haven’t noticed anything?”
Karen sounded like a drill sergeant. She let out
another huge sigh that let him know exactly what she
thought of guys and their observation skills. “I’m
telling you, Charlie, something’s wrong him. I know
Daniel and he’s upset. You should ask him.”
“Maybe he’s just... distracted.” Charlie
wasn’t sure exactly what his little brother did at Cheyenne
but he knew it was something big. Daniel had a lot on
“It’s not that,” she insisted. “The way
his mind races, Daniel’s always distracted. It’s
something else. It’s like he’s scared or worried about
something. He’s not sick, is he? You’d tell me if he
“He’s not sick. He’s fine. There’s
nothing wrong with him. Maybe he had a bad day
yesterday. I think he’s been going through a few
tutors.” Charlie laughed. “Maybe it’s something like
that because he seems fine to me. You saw him
yesterday afternoon for a few hours. I live with him.
If something was seriously wrong, I’d know.”
“And you’d tell me?” she asked hopefully.
Maybe, Charlie thought, if it didn’t
“Sure, I’d tell you,” he answered to appease her.
“Okay, good.” She’d have to be satisfied
with that. She’d hold Charlie to that promise if push
came to shove. She took another bite of pizza when a
thought popped into her mind that made her laugh out
“What?” Charlie asked.
“Can you imagine a poor tutor trying to
teach Daniel something about languages or history?”
Charlie nearly snorted out his milk.
“Yeah, that I’d pay to see.”
After school and practice Charlie headed
home. When he walked into the house he smelled
something good coming from the kitchen. He didn’t
always know the names of the things Mom cooked; he
only knew the stuff usually tasted good.
He was tempted to detour to the kitchen
to see if he could sneak a bite. Then he heard his
mother’s voice; she must be on the phone. So much for
getting something to eat. Instead he bounded up the
stairs to his room. He had put off working on his
history report for as long as possible. It was due in
two days; he was running out of time.
Maybe he could enlist Daniel’s help. If
Daniel knew Roman history, and why wouldn’t he, then
Charlie could spend less time reading and researching
and more time writing and finishing. He’d get started
on it now and try to get Daniel talking in that
direction after dinner.
His brother’s bedroom door was half
opened so Charlie decided to say hello and get Daniel
thinking about the downfall of Rome, to ‘grease the
wheels’ as Dad would say.
He rapped on the door and let his knock
push the door open the rest of the way. “Knock,
knock,” he said before he could stop himself.
Sometimes he sounded just like Dad. Weird.
Daniel was sitting on his bed with a
closed book beside him. He looked up with a blank
“Hey, I saw your girlfriend today,” he
teased as he stood in the doorway.
“Girlfriend?” Daniel blinked in
confusion. “I don’t have a girlfriend.”
“I mean Karen.” Charlie bounced into the
room, flopped down on the bed and made himself at
“She’s not my girlfriend.” Daniel glanced
down at the closed book on his bed. “She’s my friend.”
“Duh, I know that. She was having some
trouble but I fixed it for her.” Charlie couldn’t keep
the pride out of his voice. Daniel should be pleased.
“Trouble? What kind of trouble?” Daniel
pushed up his glasses and for the first time looked
interested in Charlie’s ramblings.
“A couple of kids were picking on her
because she was stuttering but I took care of it.”
“That’s so mean! And she barely stutters
anymore.” Anger flushed Daniel’s fair skin. “Which
“Kyle Turner and Jason Everett. They’re
on my basketball team so I told them to knock it off.
And they did. I talked to them later, too. Don’t
worry, they won’t bother her again. She said she
misses you at school.”
Daniel looked bewildered by this flood of
information but keyed in on the most important point.
“I do worry about her. She’s been through enough. Why
can’t kids see that and be nicer to her and Adam? Not
meaner, nicer. I don’t understand that.”
No, of course you don’t, Charlie thought.
Daniel was angry, something he rarely saw from his
brother. Daniel was a nice guy; he was never
intentionally mean to anyone. As much as Charlie
admired that trait he knew he could never be like that
no matter how hard he tried. At least not all the
“It’s funny because she was worried about
you, too.” He tried for a distraction.
“She was? Why?”
Charlie was about to make a joke when he
looked at Daniel, really looked at him. His brother’s
eyes were red-rimmed, not like he’d been crying, more
like he was tired. The book on the bed wasn’t open. So
what was Daniel doing up here? Sitting on his bed
staring into space?
Maybe Karen had a point. Daniel wasn’t
sick though. Charlie refused to believe that because
it didn’t add up. If Daniel was sick, Mom would be in
nurse-mode and she wasn’t; therefore Daniel must be
“I’m not sure why.” Charlie chose his
words carefully. “Is there a reason for her to be
When Daniel looked up, his sad blue eyes
were anything but reassuring. “I’m fine,” he muttered.
Karen had been upset because kids were
giving her hard time. Since she and Daniel were on the
same wavelength Charlie tried that line of questioning
first. “Is anyone bothering you?”
“No. Who would bother me? I’m fine, I’m
Daniel nodded in quick agreement, except
Charlie didn’t buy it. Karen was right, he looked
worried. That was enough to make Charlie worry, too.
“We’re brothers,” he reminded. “If
something’s wrong or someone’s bothering you, you can
When Daniel looked away, Charlie’s worry
spiked higher. He put his hand on his brother’s
shoulder. “Come on, I helped Karen. I can help you,
Daniel offered a weak smile that didn’t
make Charlie feel any better. “I know no one’s
bothering you at school, since you don’t go anymore,
but what about around the neighborhood? Any jerks
“I’m fine.” Daniel exchanged the smile
for his most earnest expression. “Really. No one’s
bothering me. I promise.”
His little brother was a lousy liar.
After a minute of thought, Charlie had another idea.
“The new tutor!” He remembered his conversation with
Karen and tried not to laugh. “Is the new tutor a jerk
like the last two?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t met him yet. And
the other two weren’t jerks,” Daniel argued without
much enthusiasm. “We just didn’t get along very well,
“Because they were jerks,” Charlie filled
in, earning another weak grin from his little brother.
If it wasn’t kids being jerks or the new tutor then
what was it?
“You can’t be in trouble with Dad,
because he’s away on a mission.” Daniel’s face paled.
“Are you gonna be sick?”
“No, I’m fine,” he whispered without much
conviction. “I have some reading I need to finish.” He
glanced down at the unopened book like a drowning man
spotting a life preserver.
Charlie’s eyes scrunched in confusion. He
hated playing twenty questions with Daniel because his
little brother knew way too many words to make it
Daniel’s emotions had welled up at the
mention of Dad. Was that it? Charlie’s heart skipped a
beat and his concern deepened.
“Dad!” he practically shouted. “Is
something wrong with Dad?” Dad had just left this
morning on his mission so there hadn’t been enough
time for something to have gone wrong. Had there? The
thought made his breath hitch and his stomach lurch.
“No” Daniel jumped in. “I mean, I don’t
think so.” He stopped for a minute, then added, “I
don’t know. He’s on a mission.”
“I know about the mission. Why are you so
upset? Is it a really dangerous mission?”
He stopped himself from demanding
answers. That tactic never worked well with Daniel.
“You don’t have to tell me anything about
the mission.” He decided to remain calm and act
mature. “Just tell me if it’s super dangerous. Or if
it’s not, then tell me that, so I don’t have to worry
Daniel looked away, not answering.
Charlie waited a minute until his growing fear overran
his attempt at maturity.
“You’re not going to tell me anything?”
He could hear his voice rising but he couldn’t help
it. “I’m not asking you to reveal any top-secret
information. I’m just asking if Dad’s all right. He’s
my dad, too. I have a right to know if something’s
Daniel blinked and Charlie saw a shimmer
of tears. Crap, that proved it. Something was wrong
with Dad. Very wrong. Maybe Mom knew something or
maybe she could get Daniel to talk.
“I’d tell you!” Charlie shouted with an
edge of anger in his voice. “You know I would.”
The tears began to leak out and streak
his brother’s cheeks. Charlie’s anger dissolved. It
had to be really bad if Daniel was holed up in his
Charlie was the oldest; he should comfort
his little brother and tell him everything was going
to be okay. He should apologize for shouting.
He did none of those things because he
needed comfort as much as his little brother. As much
as he hated to admit it, he was angry, too. He needed
someone to reassure him everything was going to be
okay, that Dad was going to be okay.
Suddenly Charlie didn’t care that he was
twelve years old and practically grown up. He ran out
of the room, leaving Daniel crying on the bed.
“Mom!” he yelled as he hurdled down the
stairs two at time.
The sun had risen a few hours earlier and
the clearing in the midst of the thick forest was
bathed in sunlight. At the center of the clearing the
Stargate rose in striking, alien contrast to the
natural setting, a beautiful, peaceful sight with the
gate providing an impressive presence.
Beautiful, if one didn’t consider the
evil that all too often passed through it.
“Everything’s quiet here,” Major Reynolds
reported. “No one’s come through since Apophis.”
“Good.” The radio crackled before
Kawalsky added, “Next check-in two hours.”
“Affirmative. Four out.”
SG-1 had moved into position without
incident. It was reassuring to know the mission was
proceeding according to plan. SG-2 was hunkered down,
hidden well enough that a couple of Jaffa
sweeps had passed them by.
Reynolds remained on high alert. SG-4’s
assignment to guard the gate was an integral part of
the operation but as anyone who had ever stood guard
could attest to, it was sometimes difficult to
maintain a constant state of alert while fighting off
the inevitable boredom when nothing was happening.
That wasn’t the case today.
A couple of hours ago, just as the sun
rose above the horizon, the Stargate had opened and
Apophis had come through, accompanied by a crowd of
fancy-dressed Goa’uld and a hell of a lot of Jaffa. So
many that it had been impossible to get an exact
count. He had estimated it to be well over a hundred.
While that was only a small portion of Apophis’
massive army, they still wielded a hell of lot more
firepower than the good guys.
At check in, Kawalsky had taken the news
with little more than a grunt but they both understood
the implications. Stealth was the key to this mission.
A firefight with three SG teams pitted against more
than a hundred Jaffa needed to
be avoided at all costs. So far, things were still
proceeding according to plan. He just hoped it stayed
As expected, several of the Jaffa
had remained behind at the gate forcing SG-4 to set up deeper into
the forest. Since they weren’t about to let the
Stargate out of their sight they were closer to the
enemy than Reynolds would have liked. Talking was kept
to a minimum and never rose above a whisper. At least
the proximity of the Goa’uld presence kept everyone on
“Anything new?” Ed Powell crept up beside
him. Recently promoted to Captain, Powell had proven
himself repeatedly in the field and Reynolds knew he
had lucked out with his 2IC.
“Nothing new,” the Major noted.
“Damn stuff still stings.” Powell rubbed
his eyes, then muttered a curse.
“Serves you right,” Reynolds grinned.
“Stop rubbing at it.”
“Considering my complexion, it doesn’t
seem necessary.” The Captain gave his C.O. a disgusted
They’d used camouflage to cover any
exposed skin to decrease their chances of being
spotted. Even dark skin, such as Powell’s, would
reflect light because of its natural oil. Powell had
made the newbie mistake of accidentally rubbing his
The silly comment eased the tension. “Are
Hu and Graham doing okay?”
“Yes, sir. They’re fine.”
Powell followed his superior’s gaze to
the two other members of SG-4, Lieutenant Peter Hu and
Sergeant Jerry Graham. After they’d settled in, he had
ordered the two young soldiers to get some rest.
Reynolds was relieved to see both men sleeping.
Hopefully things would stay quiet on their end, at
least until the final phase of the mission. He was
under no illusion that getting two members of Apophis’
family off the planet would be easy or that the plan
would run smoothly. He’d been around long enough to
A familiar sound echoed across the
clearing and through the forest. Reynolds straightened
at the same time Hu and Graham jerked upright
clutching their weapons. Grabbing his binoculars,
Reynolds crawled forward to get a better look at the
Stargate. So much for it being quiet until the final
“Sir?” Powell whispered.
“The gate’s definitely dialing.”
“The rest of Apophis’ army?”
“Don’t know yet.”
The inner ring of the Stargate continued
to revolve as chevron after chevron clicked in place.
standing guard backed away and pointed their staff
weapons at the big ring.
“Doesn’t look like they’re expecting
friends,” Hu noted. He and Graham had joined the
senior members of SG-4 and were looking through their
“No.” Reynolds kept the binoculars
trained on the wary Jaffa.
The final chevron locked into place
followed by the now familiar but still awesome kawoosh
of the event horizon opening. Reynolds tightened his
grip on his MP-5.
What the hell? The Jaffa pouring
through the Stargate were firing at Apophis’ guards.
Though sorely outnumbered they gamely returned fire.
came steaming out of the gate to join in the attack.
It didn’t take long for the newcomers to win the short
fierce battle. The guards Apophis had left behind were
all dead, as well as several of the newcomers.
The new Jaffa continued
to come through and took up defensive positions around
the gate. Reynolds ducked deeper behind the cover of
dense trees and shrubs, although there was no risk of
being spotted unless the Jaffa moved
closer to their position. If they did approach... he
threw a quick look over his shoulder and met Powell’s
“Prepare to fall back,” he ordered
softly. Powell nodded and spoke in a low tone to Hu on
his far side.
The Stargate finally shut down. Reynolds
didn’t have an exact head count but it had to be close
to fifty, which meant SG-4 was in deep shit if the Jaffa
headed their way.
“Colonel.” Powell nudged him but Reynolds
had already spotted the newcomer.
Not Jaffa but a
fragile-looking female. A very beautiful female in
elegant draperies. She was slim and dark-haired with
cinnamon skin, looking very self-assured and very
angry as she yelled something at one of the nearby Jaffa.
“Lieutenant.” Reynolds called on Hu to
clear up who this was and what was happening.
The lieutenant was already down on his
belly with his binoculars trained on the female.
“I can’t make out much, sir, but it
doesn’t look like she was expecting the gate to be
“Yeah, I can see that.” Reynolds strived
to stay patient. “Any idea who she is?”
“Maybe if she turned around so I could
get a better look, or... wait a minute.” He turned his
binoculars toward the Jaffa guarding
“Or if I could get a good look at one of
their tattoos...” Hu fell silent and adjusted his
binoculars. “It looks like an outline of an animal...
I can’t be sure. I need to get closer.”
“Negative,” Reynolds snapped. “Any
The Lieutenant hesitated. “I’m not sure.
It’s not one of the more common symbols. Daniel might
“Daniel’s not here.” Reynolds did his
best to tamp down the sarcasm. It still amazed him how
much they depended on an eleven year old kid for the
most accurate intel.
“Give me your best guess.” His patience
was wearing thin. He needed to report this turn of
events as soon as possible but it’d be nice to have
“Yes, sir.” The lieutenant blushed and
went back to scanning the newcomers.
The female shouted what was clearly an
order and most of the group moved toward the path that
led to the town. Half a dozen Jaffa remained
behind and after dragging the dead into the forest,
took up positions around the gate.
“I think the tattoo might be the outline
of a lion.” Hu finally had a clear view and made his
assessment. “The only ancient Egyptian goddess I know
of who’s connected to the lion is Sekhmet.”
“Sekhmet?” Reynolds had never heard of
her and he tried to keep up with the Egyptian stuff as
much as possible. “Who’s Sekhmet?”
Hu lowered his binoculars. “She’s called
the ‘powerful one’. She’s the goddess of war.”
“Great,” Powell snorted. “Just what we
Reynolds ignored him. “Any idea what she
would be doing here?”
“No, sir, except as I said, I don’t think
she was expecting any Jaffa.”
“She’ll know by the tattoo they belonged
to Apophis,” Graham put in.
“Which means what exactly?” Powell
wondered out loud.
Hu shrugged. “There’s no way to know
without more information.”
“Damn it.” Reynolds glanced at his watch.
Only thirty minutes had passed since
SG-2’s last contact so he didn’t expect another
communication for nearly two hours. He couldn’t risk
breaking radio silence but he needed to warn them
about this surprising twist.
His fingers closed over his radio. He
clicked it twice, counted to ten and clicked twice
more. It wasn’t much but it would be enough to alert
SG-2 to an unexpected change in plans. At least he
hoped it would be enough.
Kawalsky lifted his face out of the dirt
and sighed with relief as a Jaffa patrol
disappeared down the path. Even if he hadn’t known
Apophis had come through the gate a couple of hours
ago, he would have guessed it because of the increased
Even with SG-2 was on high alert, only
the faint clank of armor and soft thud of boots gave
them enough time to bury themselves deeper under cover
as the patrols passed.
Kawalsky wiped the dirt off his face and
grinned at Ferretti who was wiping away his own dirt
When Lou noticed he grinned back. “So, we
having fun yet?” he whispered.
Kawalsky ignored his irrepressible friend
and glanced in the opposite direction. Greenberg and
Thompson were on the outskirts of the perimeter and he
was reassured by their “OK” gestures.
They had survived another close encounter
with the enemy and were still undetected. That’s what
counted, not his growing frustration at being stuck up
here, away from the action.
He’d caught a brief glimpse of Tracy – still possessed by
beside Apophis and surrounded by Jaffa – going
into the building a couple hours earlier and it had
The good news was that everything
remained calm, which meant SG-1’s infiltration of the
building had been successful. The updates SG-2
received confirmed this although it did nothing to
ease the knot in his stomach.
Situation status quo. Every two hours
since SG-1 had disappeared into the building this was
the sole message they had sent out.
Kawalsky tensed when the radio clicked
twice. Seconds later he heard two more clicks.
Ferretti raised his eyebrows. They had no
idea what was coming, only that SG-4 was sending them
a warning. As tempting as it was to ignore protocol
and contact Reynolds, Kawalsky resisted the idea. They
couldn’t break radio silence.
With gestures, Kawalsky made sure his
team was on the same page. Then they hunkered down and
A quiet hour passed when suddenly Jaffa
streamed out of the surrounding buildings. Shouts of
warning echoed across the square and Kawalsky pressed
more deeply into the ground. Whatever was happening,
he was sure it had something to do with the alert that
SG-4 had sent.
He waited, wishing Teal’c was around to
explain what the Jaffa were doing.
As much as Kawalsky would like to think the enemy was
just running around aimlessly waving their weapons, he
knew better. The Jaffa had proven
to be a highly-trained and disciplined force during
numerous run-ins with SG teams.
Several minutes later, row upon row of
lined up in the town square in front of the city hall.
lined the streets leading away and, Kawalsky noticed,
they were all holding their weapons in an offensive
position. In Earth terminology, they were locked and
loaded and god only knew what was going to happen
Movement near the entrance caught
Kawalsky’s attention. It was Apophis himself. The
arrogant bastard looked cool and calm. His casual
manner betrayed nothing.
Kawalsky’s hand tightened on his weapon,
his finger curled around the trigger. Fighting the
temptation to fire, he deliberately loosened his grip.
This was not the time to lose it.
Apophis moved easily through the Jaffa
ranks until he was standing in front of them, his
First Prime at his side. From his position on the top
of the ridge, Kawalsky could barely hear what was
being said, not that it mattered, it was spoken in
For an instant, he wished Daniel was
here. The kid would’ve been able to translate –
He stopped himself. No way in hell did he
want Daniel here or anywhere else other than on good
old planet Earth.
The Jaffa suddenly
raised their weapons.
More Jaffa appeared
from the shelter of the surrounding buildings. At the
head of the newcomers was... holy shit, it was a
female. Another Goa’uld?
Line upon line of Jaffa appeared
and took position directly opposite Apophis’ group.
Kawalsky stared. There was quite a crowd but Apophis
still had them outnumbered.
That didn’t seem to faze the female.
After her Jaffa
were in formation she glided up to Apophis. He
appeared unflustered but Kawalsky noted his First
Prime was holding his weapon at the “ready” position
and staring down a huge Jaffa standing
directly in front of him. Maybe that was the First
Prime of the female Goa’uld.
Kawalsky glanced at Greenberg. The
Lieutenant already had his binoculars focused on the
scene below. He
looked back to see the female Goa’uld make a graceful
gesture toward Apophis and speak in a reverberant
Apophis listened, his smile indicating
pleasure rather than enmity. Kawalsky’s free hand
tightened into a fist. What he wouldn’t give to wipe
that smile off the false god’s face.
When the female finished speaking,
Apophis said something in return. Then the two of them
went into the building together, leaving behind a host
staring each other down.
Kawalsky waited a beat then crawled over
“Who the hell is that and what’s she
“She calls herself Sekhmet,” Greenberg
said. “As near as I could make out, she said she’s
here to honor the achievement of the great Apophis.”
“Sekhmet?” Kawalsky shook his head.
“Okay, obviously she’s another Goa’uld but what does
she have to do with this?”
“No idea, sir.” Greenberg said. “Major,
when we were here the first time there was no mention
of any other Goa’uld participating in the celebration.
There must be something else going on.”
He wished he could contact SG-1 about
this latest development but that was out of the
Sonofabitch, he thought. So much for Plan
A. He had no idea what they were going to do now. The
only thing he was certain of was that Jack was going
to be royally pissed.
No one could survive a week in Special
Ops if they weren’t patient. The fact Jack O’Neill had
survived nearly fifteen years was proof he knew the
value of patience. That didn’t mean he liked it.
After leaving SG-4 at the gate and SG-2
on the ridge, SG-1 had made their way down to the main
structure, the “city hall” and slipped inside. Despite
being made of stone, the building reminded Jack of the
mud brick dwellings on Abydos with the
same blocky construction, narrow passages and few
windows. The interiors were usually dark and smelled
of the oil or tallow the local folks burned for light.
No one had been around when they’d
entered the lower level of the building. As expected
the rooms were storage facilities containing a
multitude of clay pots, woven grass baskets and
burlap-like bags filled with various foodstuffs,
decorations, furniture including chairs and tables,
all damaged in some way and obviously tossed down here
for eventual repair or discard.
They laid low in an empty room at the end
of the hall with Teal’c guarding the door.
With all the crap filling the rooms it
had been easy to hide. They had taken cover behind
some of the broken furniture and settled down to wait.
Patiently. More or less.
It wasn’t until Jack had checked in with
SG-2 for the third time that he’d heard the news that
Apophis and his entourage, including a good portion of
his army, had come through the Stargate and were
heading for the town.
It was good news that unfortunately
required more waiting. Eventually, they heard scores
of boots tramping and commands shouted back and forth
Teal’c slipped quietly out of the room
while Jack and Carter and Rothman huddled in the dark
and waited. And waited. The more time that passed, the
bigger the knot in Jack’s stomach grew. He kept
reminding himself that silence was good because he
knew damn well if Teal’c was recognized the silence
would be replaced by a whole hell of a lot of noise.
Heavy footsteps sounded out in the narrow
corridor and Jack prayed that was SG-1’s Jaffa.
The footsteps paused outside the room.
“O’Neill.” The quiet voice was thankfully
familiar. “It is I, Teal’c.”
“Yeah,” Jack returned, equally quiet, “I
He climbed to his feet, wincing as
cramped muscles protested, aware of both Carter and
Rothman standing up as well. Getting his first look at
the imposing figure standing between them and the
door, Jack was glad Teal’c had identified himself.
Obviously, the Jaffa’s shopping
trip had been successful. He was enveloped from head
to toe in the armor of Apophis’ guards and holding a
At that moment the head armor retracted
and Teal’c looked calmly out at him. Although certain
of the answer, Jack had to ask the question.
“No one spotted you?”
“I hope you had a good hiding place for
the guy who was wearing that. The last thing we need
is for him to be found.”
“He will not be found.”
Something about the Jaffa’s tone
tweaked Jack’s radar. “Okay, what aren’t you telling
“Do you doubt my word, O’Neill?”
“Hell, no, but there’s something you
aren’t saying. You’re awfully confident no one’s going
to find this guy.”
“I am,” Teal’c agreed and for a
disbelieving minute, Jack thought he heard amusement
in the Jaffa’s
Which was impossible. Teal’c didn’t do amused.
“Okay,” he repeated, drawing out the
word. “You mind telling me why you’re so sure?”
“I used this.” Teal’c extended the hand
not holding the staff weapon.
In the dim light it was hard to see but
Jack was able to identify a metallic, squat-looking
piece of equipment.
“What? You hit him over the head with
“I did not hit him over the head,
Teal’c’s hand shifted and suddenly the
equipment expanded. What Jack was now looking at was
an S-shaped something or other nearly a foot long.
“What is it?”
is a Goa’uld weapon called a zat’n’ktel.”
“Right, should’a known. How does it
“It uses a different form of energy that
is less powerful than a staff weapon. Although less
destructive it is still quite deadly.” Teal’c lifted
his eyes from the weapon. “It is also much quieter
than a staff weapon. If you discharge it once, it will
disable a subject by causing them great pain to the
extent they will often lapse into unconsciousness.
Twice will kill.”
Jack smiled approvingly. “I take it you
used it twice on the guy you took the armor off of?”
“I used it three times.”
“So…” Unsure what that meant, Jack raised
an enquiring eyebrow.
“Three times will disintegrate the
“Sweet.” Jack stared at the snaky-looking
weapon. “Tell me you have more of these suckers.”
Teal’c reached for his waist. In the dim
light Jack hadn’t noticed the belt-like contraption
that held several alien objects.
“I have two more,” the Jaffa
“Two is good,” Jack assured him, taking
one and handing Carter the other. There wasn’t one for
Rothman but the Egyptologist didn’t look like he
“How does it work?” Carter asked.
“You press here – ” Teal’c showed them.
The weapon compacted into its original squat shape. He
pressed the same spot and it elongated again.
“Very cool,” Jack said, pleased with his
new toy. “What did you call it again?”
Jack shook his head. “Let’s call it a zat
gun.” Ignoring the Jaffa’s raised
eyebrow, he looked at the others. “Carter, you and
Rothman stay put. Teal’c and I are going to get more armor
and maybe a few more of these babies.” He patted the
zat gun. “It’ll make Hammond’s day.
With Teal’c’s help, it wasn’t long before
the four of them were properly outfitted in armor and
donors were no longer around to raise an alarm. Jack’s
first thought was that the Jaffa weren’t
strong believers in the importance of good hygiene.
Damn it was hot and stenchy inside the bulky head
mask. Of course, he didn’t have a snake to regulate
his body temperature.
“Let’s split up,” Jack ordered when they
were as ready and as comfortable as they were going to
get. “Carter, you and Rothman check out the secondary
rooms outside. If anyone approaches you, let Rothman
do the talking.”
“Teal’c and I will check out the main
floor. Remember, our number one priority is to locate
our MIA’s. We’ll rendezvous in one hour on the main
level by the arch.”
When the head armor closed around him,
Jack battled an uncharacteristic surge of
claustrophobia. It felt like he was in a casket shaped
to fit. Not a good thought right now.
He and Teal’c had discovered that the
second level, like the basement, was broken up into a
number of smaller rooms. There was no storage here.
These were preparation rooms; the smell of cooking
permeated everything. In another room Jack spotted
several young girls sewing and in yet another, young
girls and boys were being supervised by a man and a
woman as they put together agricultural-looking
decorations. He recognized hay but the flowers and
bits of greenery definitely qualified as alien.
Jack kept an eye out for Waring or
Skaara. The more rooms he checked out, the more
certain he was they wouldn’t be in here. Everyone he
saw was a native and they were working away at
ordinary, prosaic duties. Something no Goa’uld with
their sadistic delusions of grandeur would waste time
The Jaffa were the
main concern. Some were acting as guards, some running
errands, and some were apparently hiding out down here
to avoid being put to work. Jack felt Teal’c’s growing
impatience with this last group and hoped the former
First Prime wouldn’t feel compelled to lash out at the
lazy bastards. As soon as they finished searching this
level Jack intended to hustle Teal’c out –
Shit. He barely swallowed the curse when
Teal’c stopped in front of a guard standing outside
one of the cooking rooms and growled at him. The Jaffa
straightened, muttered something in return and hurried
up the stairs.
Two other Jaffa walked
“Kree,” Jack muttered at Teal’c. He kept
forgetting to ask what the word meant but it seemed to
work for every occasion. It worked this time, too.
Teal’c turned and spotted the approaching
He took a step forward in front of Jack. Though
annoyed, Jack didn’t react to the protective gesture.
One of the approaching Jaffa
said something that sounded like a question. Teal’c
barked something back. It must have been the right
thing to say because the pair walked away.
Jack waited until they were out of
earshot. “Let’s move it. We need to finish up down
The main level was their best bet.
They made their way upstairs and heard
what sounded like one heck of a party going on.
Numerous Jaffa stood along
the walls doing their version of parade rest. They
posed no threat at the moment so Jack ignored them. It
was impossible to ignore the rest of the room.
Sumptuous furs, fabrics and decorations
filled the large room, draping furniture, walls and
the floor. There were more Goa’uld than Jack had
expected and they were making themselves at home. They
had golden platters filled with food and golden
goblets filled with what must be the Goa’uld version
of alcohol. They talked and gestured with one another
and ignored the common people. The group of natives
were huddled in the corner playing weird looking
instruments that produced a shrill sound that made
Jack want to cover his ears. The planet’s
equivalent of music. The wailing pierced through him.
The main attraction was at the far end of
Apophis. He was seated on what could only
be described as a throne. Jack wasn’t sure if the
ornate piece of furniture was a permanent feature of
the room or something brought in for the occasion.
Either way it was in traditional Goa’uld style, gold
The cool aloofness of the snakehead
wasn’t a surprise. Apophis wasn’t able to hide his
arrogance no matter how benevolent he was pretending
to be. What did throw Jack was the utter contempt and
disdain on the face of the boy standing beside him.
Skaara. Jack had spent time on Abydos and he’d
never seen that look on the boy’s youthful face, not
even when they’d talked about Ra. He wasn’t sure he’d
ever seen a look of such hatred on any Abydonian.
There was a young girl standing beside
him. She was dressed in the skimpy, silky attire that
appeared to be the dress of choice in this place, at
least for this occasion. Despite that, he was certain
she wasn’t a Goa’uld. There was no arrogance to her
posture and the look on her face was one of fearful
awe. Fearful, Jack noted, because one her “gods”
looked like he was about to jump her bones. This
wasn’t going to be a cake walk. Klorel would not go
Neither would Amonet. She sat beside
Apophis on a smaller but no less pretentious, throne
of her own. The way she touched her ‘god’s’ face and
fawned over him made Jack sick to his stomach. She was
rude and dismissive to one of the natives who bowed
low and tried to present an offering. She deemed it
unacceptable and threw the brightly colored vase to
the floor. It shattered into pieces and she laughed as
the man frantically cleaned up the mess, repeating
what must have been an apology. Jack was grateful for
the hot, smelly Jaffa head gear
to cover his disgust and rage at the scene playing out
before him. A
sergeant from the SGC was trapped in there. From their
visit to Cimmeria, they knew the host survived and was
aware despite being possessed by the snake. Sergeant
Waring had witnessed far more than a broken vase at a
village celebration. How many choosings had she sat
through? How many murders? How many were tortured by
her own hand?
This had to end. The plan had to succeed.
Jack was determined. Failure was not an option.
Jack and Teal’c strolled casually around
the large room, studying the people, the activities,
and noting that only the Jaffa standing
guard around the perimeter were armed. It gave him a
boost of confidence that he and Teal’c had succeeded
in blending in. There was no reaction from the guards
or the people or Apophis himself when he and Teal’c
walked the perimeter.
Jack observed two Jaffa standing
guard beneath the arch at the main entry. It was
Carter and Rothman, he’d recognize them anywhere.
Following the plan, Jack and Teal’c took over and
stood as ceremonial guards one on each side of the
arch. Until night fell and the party broke up they’d
hold this position.
Time passed slowly and, despite the
danger, it was difficult to combat the boredom.
Jack reminded himself the Jaffa
were armed with staff weapons and zats and if their
cover was blown they were all toast. That thought
tended to keep him alert. He wanted to look at Teal’c
but chatting on guard duty might draw unwanted
The natives of the planet, the servers
and wait staff and the ‘lucky’ ones who were competing
to be chosen were dressed in their best and moved
around the room with anxious expressions as they
hurried to do the bidding of their gods.
Poor bastards. It was going to be a long
Or maybe not.
Shouting and yelling came from outside
the hall. The Jaffa
lining the perimeter streamed past them to take up
positions with their fellow Jaffa outside.
Jack and Teal’c held their ground. They could see just
fine from here. What the hell was going on out there?
Many of the Goa’uld, who’d been lounging
and indulging minutes earlier heard the commotion and
ran in the opposite direction, disappearing down a
corridor that led deeper into the building. The
natives stayed where they were, unsure of what to do.
It crossed Jack’s mind that this may be
their best opportunity to grab their MIA’s and get out
of Dodge but that ship had sailed. A group of Jaffa
now encircled Klorel and Amonet, their staff weapons
raised and ready.
Apophis himself strode past with his head
held high and his eyes glittering with anger and
confusion. He didn’t appear to know any more than Jack
Scores of Jaffa were facing
off outside. If someone started shooting it would be a
disaster. Jack squinted for a better look at the
tattoo the newcomers sported but he didn’t recognize
it. Teal’c or Rothman might know who it was but there
was no way they could relay that intel now. Daniel
would know but Daniel wasn’t here and that thought was
A woman appeared and moved smoothly
through the ranks of the mysterious Jaffa.
Jack’s eyebrows rose, she was beautiful, dressed in
silken robes. He didn’t see any sign of jewels or
excess flesh. For a Goa’uld, she was dressed down.
Apophis stood with his arms folded,
wearing a faint smile as he watched her approach. His
body language made it clear he was in charge. His
First Prime didn’t look quite as cool. He held his
staff weapon tight and though it wasn’t pointing
directly at the female Goa’uld, it wasn’t pointing
straight up either.
She stopped several yards away from
Apophis and bowed slightly. Extending her arms, she
spoke in a loud, confident voice. Jack didn’t
understand a word as he watched and wonder how this
would eventually play out.
SG-2’s briefing hadn’t mentioned a female
Goa’uld attending Apophis’ big bash. Had they missed
something? Maybe Apophis had invited her personally.
Studying their body language, Jack rejected that
possibility. Apophis was playing it cool but Jack had
seen his surprise. Plus, the two rival groups of Jaffa
were clearly faced off against each other.
So she hadn’t been expected. Jack ran the
possibilities. Was she a lesser Goa’uld trying to
curry favor with Apophis? Maybe this female Goa’uld
was a system lord wannabe looking for support. If so,
what did she have to bargain with?
Jack checked Tracy Waring, no, Amonet’s
reaction. Her posture was stiff and the glare in her
eyes told him everything he needed to know. There was
no love lost between them. He needed more intel.
Klorel didn’t appear as angry as Amonet.
He was lounging back in his fancy chair, looking
Whatever was going on between Apophis and
the other Goa’uld, the earlier tension was subsiding.
A full-on firefight between the armies of rival
Goa’uld was not the distraction they needed.
Or was it? Maybe he could incorporate
them into a plan B now that plan A had to be
He needed to talk to Rothman and Teal’c.
Amonet stormed outside to join the fun.
The unknown Jaffa
nervously fingered their weapons and Apophis’ army did
Apophis remained in control. If anything
he seemed pleased at his mate’s reaction. He put his
arm around her waist and whispered something in her
ear. Then he turned to the rapt audience and gave a
speech. Jack didn’t understand Goa’uld but the tension
eased and the mysterious underdressed Goa’uld smiled.
Apophis was inviting her in.
Apophis and Amonet led the way, the
female Goa’uld followed in a secondary position, then
came the two First Primes and Jaffa from each
camp. Those left outside spread out around the
courtyard. Jack noted that each unknown Jaffa
was accompanied by two or more of Apophis’ soldiers.
Jack was able to get his team’s attention
and they casually drifted across the room and
eventually made their way downstairs. Their original
hiding place was still intact.
Teal’c took up a guard position just
inside the door of the room. Jack dared to remove his
helmet and felt immediate relief. He settled into the
corner behind the makeshift wall of wood and baskets
and dug out his radio.
“Two, One here.”
“Roger, One. What’s your situation?”
“The situation’s changed, as I’m sure you
“Oh, yeah.” Kawalsky had gathered as much
intel as possible. “A wild card by the name of
Sekhmet. Supposedly she’s here to honor Apophis.”
Disgust thickened his words.
“Sek- who?” Jack looked at Rothman and
raised his finger. “The Reader’s Digest version,” he
Rothman gave him a reproachful look.
“Originally Sekhmet was known as the warrior goddess
in ancient Egypt
and was depicted as a lioness. She was the fiercest
hunter known in that time.”
“Great, just what we need.” Jack rubbed
his hand over his face.
The scientist continued as if he hadn’t
noticed the interruption. “Later Egyptian cults
identified her as a daughter of Ra.”
“It was said,” Rothman went on brightly,
“that death and destruction soothed her soul and the
hot desert winds were believed to be her breath.”
“The daughter of Ra?” Jack glared at his
answering your question, Colonel. It’s not my fault
you don’t like the answer.”
“For crying out loud...” What happened to
the nervous, obedient scientist who had first joined
SG-1 a few months ago? Daniel had definitely corrupted
Rothman. Still, despite the smart mouth, the man knew
“Ra and Apophis are supposed to be deadly
“That’s correct, Colonel.” Rothman looked
“So how likely is it that one of Ra’s
kids would come here to celebrate Apophis’ victory?”
“Extremely unlikely,” Rothman agreed.
“Yeah?” He’d almost forgotten Kawalsky
was listening in.
“When I contacted Four last time,
Reynolds said when this Sekhmet came through the gate
blew away Apophis’s guards.”
“Well, that behavior doesn’t fit her
claim to be here to honor Apophis.” Rothman was
thinking out loud.
“No shit.” Jack glanced at Carter. He
wanted her take on the situation. She removed
her helmet and her eyes were dark with concern.
“Sekhmet obviously has a hidden agenda.”
“Yeah, I got that, too.” Everyone was
chiming in to point out the obvious.
“So much for Plan A,” Rothman muttered.
“Carter, change places with Teal’c,” Jack
She moved away.
“You wish to speak with me, O’Neill?”
Teal’c was at his side.
“Yeah. Any ideas what Sekhmet is really
“There are several possibilities. Sekhmet
may wish to conquer this world for herself.”
must know Apophis claims it,” Rothman pointed out.
“Undoubtedly, but she may have thought to
conquer it in his absence.”
“She wasn’t expecting him to be here?”
“According to SG-4, Sekhmet appeared
surprised to find Apophis’ Jaffa guarding
the Chapp’ai,” Teal’c reminded them. “That would
indicate she did not expect to encounter Apophis or
“So now she’s scrambling.” Jack rolled
the idea around. “Trying to come up with a reason for
being here that Apophis will accept.”
“That is likely,” Teal’c agreed. “She may
be hoping to find a weakness she can exploit.”
“Do you think Apophis is suspicious?”
“Talk about bad timing,” Rothman
“The story of our lives,” Jack responded.
“So what do we do now?” Kawalsky’s voice
sounded tinny over the radio but Jack could hear a
faint edge to it.
“I’m thinking.”Jack turned to Teal’c.
“What do you think will happen?”
“The planned celebration will not occur.”
Teal’c’s words confirmed his suspicions.
Plan A was officially down the toilet.
“Apophis will attempt to discover
Sekhmet’s intentions,” Teal’c continued. “This
conversation will likely last for some time.”
“Do you think he knows about his Jaffa
being killed at the gate?”
“If he knew, he would already have killed
Sekhmet and her Jaffa. The Jaffa
guarding the Chappa’ai should have alerted him of
“Since that hasn’t happened, Apophis must
be even more suspicious,” Jack mused.
“Indeed. By now his First Prime has sent
to the Chappa’ai to discover what has happened.”
“And when they get to the gate...”
“Sekhmet’s Jaffa will
“Either way, Apophis will get more
suspicious as time passes.”
“That is correct, O’Neill.”
Jack took a minute to think. “How long do
you think they’ll be in there before Apophis gets
tired of talking and his First Prime starts shooting?”
“That is unknown. Apophis can be very
patient when he believes it is in his best interest.
However, he will meet any challenge to his authority
swiftly and without mercy. His Jaffa
are far more numerous than Sekhmet’s and it is likely
none of her Jaffa
“What about Sekhmet?” Rothman asked.
“Apophis will ensure that her death
occurs over a much longer period of time and that it
is extremely painful.”
He needed the two Goa’uld focused on
killing each other to the exclusion of all else. With any
luck, this would be the last day of Apophis’ life so
Sekhmet might not have to worry after all. And if he
got his sights lined up on her, she wouldn’t have to
worry about anything ever.
“It would be a nice distraction.”
“Colonel?” Rothman raised his eyebrows.
Jack turned to Teal’c to share his plan.
“Sooner or later a fight’s going to break out between
and Sekhmet’s, right?”
“That is a certainty, O’Neill.”
“Okay. Then we need to figure out a few
things. Since the situation’s changed, we need to
re-think how we’re going to grab Skaara and Waring and
when. How much time do we have before the sun sets?”
“Eight hours,” Kawalsky piped up. “Figure
another half hour to an hour after that for total
“There’s our time frame,” Jack said.
“Teal’c, do you think the conversation between Apophis
and Sekhmet will last eight hours?”
“It is possible,” the Jaffa
conceded. “It depends on how much Apophis is enjoying
himself and how skillful Sekhmet is at hiding her true
“What will happen with Skaara and Waring
when the fighting breaks out?”
“Apophis will send them to safety,”
Teal’c said with confidence.
“They will be accompanied by several Jaffa.”
“What would happen if one of Apophis’ Jaffa
is found dead?”
will assume Sekhmet’s Jaffa are
responsible.” Teal’c raised an eyebrow.
“Which will mean...” Jack allowed his
words to trail off and eyed the big guy.
“A battle between the two Goa’uld
Providing Apophis and Sekhmet were
willing to shoot the breeze for several hours, and
providing Amonet didn’t cut the female Goa’uld’s
throat during that time, Jack could see Plan B coming
together. He didn’t like that it depended on factors
he couldn’t control but at the moment it looked like
their best chance.
“All right.” He motioned for them to
gather around and explained the new plan. “Any
questions? That includes you, Major,” he said into the
Kawalsky did have a question. “What about
the timing, sir? There’s a lot of variables.”
“Yeah,” Jack admitted. “But this seems to
be the most likely scenario according to Teal’c and
who knows Apophis better than his ex-First Prime.”
There were no more questions. Jack looked
at his troops. “All right, then. Two, advise Four of
the change in plans.”
“Roger that, One.”
Jack turned off the radio then stood
beside Carter and filled her in.
She didn’t have any questions either and
with everyone on the same page, Jack was ready for the
“All right, this is it. Let’s move into
position. Stay alert.”
Jack kept an eye on the Goa’uld as he
pretended to stand guard. Apophis and Sekhmet were
conversing in what sounded like friendly tones. Amonet was
practically sitting on Apophis’ lap, glaring at
occasional interruptions were laced with jealous
Klorel ignored the trio and concentrated
on his companions. Two more young girls had joined the
first one in fawning over him. They took turns
massaging and whispering in his ear and nervously
giggling when his hands roamed over their bodies.
Jack forced himself to watch as the
minutes crept by. They watched and waited. And waited
Whenever a Jaffa stopped and
addressed them, Teal’c would answer. Rothman spoke
Goa’uld but Teal’c knew how best to respond to any
queries, demands or other issues that arose.
In armor, Teal’c was as anonymous as the
rest of them. His deep, distinctive voice was another
matter. Jack was grateful that none of the Jaffa
had recognized it. At least not yet.
Finally the sky began to darken.
Jack threw out a per functionary “Kree”
and turned away. His teammates followed. He led them
across the room and down the stairs. The rooms in the
basement were empty, the activity had moved up to the
main level. He removed his head armor and keyed his
“Two, One. We’re about to begin.”
“Two is ready for you,” Kawalsky answered
“Carter, you and Rothman up for the
“Yes, sir,” she said and hefted her staff
Rothman didn’t look quite as sure but the
scientist was the Captain’s problem and Jack trusted
that together, they’d get the job done.
“Teal’c and I will move into position.
Once you set off the diversion, all hell should break
loose.” He looked at Teal’c. “You’re sure Apophis will
send Skaara and Waring out the east side?”
“It is closest to where the majority of
are stationed,” Teal’c said. “Apophis will want his
family surrounded by as many of guards as possible.”
“Good,” Jack nodded. He and Teal’c would
make their move to intercept the MIA’s after they left
the banquet room but before they made it outside to
Apophis’ waiting Jaffa.
After suiting back up, Jack and Teal’c
went upstairs. It was now or never. Teal’c
stopped to converse with one of the Jaffa
guards. No one watching would guess they were anything
other than a couple of guards, doing their job,
protecting the building.
They moved slowly toward the east wall.
It was important not to arouse any suspicion.
They made it down the corridor to the
door that led outside before spotting two Jaffa
on either side of the door. Teal’c would inform them
that they were being relieved.
A minute later Jack realized the
conversation wasn’t going well. Neither of the Jaffa
appeared eager to be relieved and their dialogue with
Teal’c had developed an edge that had Jack fingering
his new Zat gun. The staff weapon would be too obvious
and too loud.
He felt better with his finger on the
trigger. He hated testing a new weapon in a volatile
situation but Teal’c had explained how it worked so
he’d be ready if necessary.
Things were going south. Fast. One of the
barked something at his companion and they both raised
their staff weapons.
Jack was a step ahead of them. He pulled
the zat off his waist and activated it.
There was a soft, unsettling whine, then
a small burst of light knocked back the targeted Jaffa.
In one smooth motion Jack took aim and fired at the
Both collapsed to the floor.
Teal’c raised his own zat and fired twice
at one guard, then the other. Both vanished before
Jack’s eyes. Teal’c had explained how the Zat worked
but seeing it was still impressive.
Jack let out a low whistle then followed
Teal’c’s lead and took his position at the door
opposite his teammate. There was nothing left to do
now but wait for Carter and Rothman’s diversion.
It didn’t take long. There was a
shout that sounded like a warning coming from outside.
“This is it.” Jack’s adrenalin kicked in
and it was hard to wait for the Jaffa to engage
Teal’c had heard them, too, and nodded
that he was ready.
The shouting became louder and more
intense. Clanging armor and the grunt of physical
battle drifted down the corridor to them. Any minute,
Jack expected to hear-
There. There it was.
The sound of staff weapons engaging,
explosions, screams – Jack thought he heard a female
voice yell but it was immediately drowned out by the
sounds of combat.
It sounded like Apophis was shouting out
orders as well.
A minute later the rapid tramp of
approaching boots echoed along the corridor. Jack held
the zat ready. It was better for close range and
quieter than the staff weapon. It seemed like the
better option for now.
Close to a dozen Jaffa suddenly
appeared, marching down the corridor surrounding
Apophis’s mate and son. Son of a bitch, Teal’c had
been right. The Jaffa were
escorting Waring and Skaara right into their carefully
laid trap. It was nice when things worked according to
plan. Rare but nice.
Jack aimed and fired and Teal’c joined
in. They fired at will but took care not to zat their
own people. At least not more than once. There was a
look of shock on Klorel’s face. He opened his mouth
and Jack zatted him before he could shout out a
warning. Amonet’s eyes widened for a second before he
zatted her, too.
They collapsed and Jack rushed toward
them. The Jaffa
were dead and thanks to Teal’c’s enthusiastic shooting
they were disintegrated into nothingness.
Teal’c slung Skaara over one shoulder and
Waring over the other while Jack peered out the door.
To his relief there were no Jaffa in sight.
The rest of them must have gone around to the front of
the building to join in the fighting.
“Let’s move,” he ordered.
Teal’c ran for the hill with Jack
following close behind. When several Jaffa
came around the back of the building Jack stopped and
fired the zat. As the last one fell, Teal’c, carrying
the full weight of Skaara and Sergeant Waring,
disappeared into the trees.
The sound of staff weapon blasts were
getting closer. It was time to blow this party. Jack
slowed long enough to make sure no stray Jaffa
had seen them then followed Teal’c into the woods.
So far so good.
He charged up the steep slope, blowing
through the underbrush, swerving to avoid trees and a
couple of large boulders. Something caught his
backpack but momentum and adrenalin pushed him
Jack raised his zat before he recognized
Kawalsky peering down at him.
“Come on, move it!” Kawalsky encouraged.
Good sound advice there. Jack couldn’t
help imagining the whole of Apophis’s army bearing
down on them. The heavy undergrowth might protect them
from view but it wouldn’t do shit against the blast of
Breathing hard, Jack reached the top of
the hill and almost ran into Kawalsky.
“Let’s go!” Kawalsky grabbed his arm to
“The rest of the team,” Jack broke away
from the strong grasp.
“They’re all here.” Kawalsky pointed to
Carter and Rothman were running up the
slope. Sergeant Thompson stood with his MP-5 ready
while Teal’c struggled through the underbrush, the
weight of the two unconscious bodies slowing him down
considerably. Beyond Thompson’s position, Greenberg
jogged ahead with Ferretti directly behind him, both
soldiers on the alert for Apophis’s army of Jaffa.
Jack sprinted down the trail with
Kawalsky at his side. Carter and Rothman reached the
crest of the hill and fell in behind them while
Thompson dropped back to guard their rear.
Speed was their best weapon now. As much
as Jack wished they could run full out the entire
distance, that wouldn’t be possible. It would leave
them too exhausted for the firefight that was sure to
break out before they made it to the Stargate. There
was no way Apophis would make this easy.
They’d slow down once they were a good
distance away, but right now they needed to keep
moving. They jogged in a loose, silent formation as
they hurried along the trail, alert for any signs of
pursuit. So far, the only sound was their own harsh
breathing, and boots thudding against the ground as
they double-timed their way down the path.
It took thirty minutes to reach the
original insertion point. They stopped for a quick
breather just before the clearing. Jack broke away
from the others and focused on the trail, searching
for any hint of movement. He saw nothing.
For now, their luck was holding.
The open countryside was poor terrain for
a covert operation but there was nothing he could do
about that. It was a good two miles before they
reached the forest again, and then another two miles
to the Stargate.
Four more miles and they’d be free with
Waring and Skaara back where they belonged. Jack cut
off that train of thought. Better not to think about
that just yet. Four miles was a long way with a
Goa’uld army on your ass.
“Yes, sir?” The Sergeant hurried up
“You’ll take Sergeant Waring. Teal’c
needs a break.” Jack took a few precious seconds to
get organized. It would be worth it in the end.
“Yes, sir!” The kid was big and
enthusiastic, just what the doctor ordered.
“I do not require a break, O’Neill.”
Teal’c had overheard the comment and was indignant at
“Okay, maybe you don’t require a break,”
Jack conceded. “But I think it’s better to separate
them for now.” He nodded his head in Thompson’s
direction. “And we’re going to need you when all hell
“As you wish.” Teal’c shifted the young
woman into Thompson’s arms.
The Sergeant carefully laid the limp body
over his shoulder.
“Are we all ready?” Jack looked each team
member in the eye. This was it. This would be the
final push that would make or break the mission.
His team nodded as one and he was
satisfied they understood.
“Yes, sir.” Thompson was the only one who
spoke the affirmation out loud. He shifted Waring’s
body and made the transport look almost as easy as
Teal’c did. Of course they were standing still. Jack
decided to check on Thompson again after the four mile
jog to the Stargate.
Kawalsky slid in behind his Sergeant. The
Major had stayed close to Teal’c to be near Tracy.
Now that Thompson had her, Kawalsky changed his
position in their loose formation. Jack didn’t mention
the shift. He understood.
Teal’c took the zat off his belt and held
it in his free hand. The best reason to lessen
Teal’c’s load. If a firefight broke out they would
need Teal’c’s skills as a warrior.
They were moving again.
Jack looked skyward. The sun had set but
full darkness had not yet fallen. He fingered the
night vision goggles hanging from his belt and tried
to ignore the growing sense of urgency. They’d been
extremely lucky to this point but experience taught
him that luck was bound to end sooner or later. If he
were a betting man he put his money on sooner.
Teal’c stumbled up ahead. What the hell?
Jack increased his pace just as Klorel, still draped
over Teal’c’s shoulder, began to move.
Talk about bad timing.
Klorel jerked violently against Teal’c’s
grip and his enraged scream cut through the still air.
A Goa’uld curse, no doubt.
Teal’c struggled to keep the infuriated
Goa’uld under control. Despite Skaara’s slender frame,
the strength-enhanced host ripped free from Teal’c and
stumbled to his feet.
“Ah!” Jack snapped, pointing the zat at
“Tau’ri!” The Goa’uld glared at him. “You
dare to lay hands on your god?”
“Not my god,” Jack growled, “just a
parasite who needs to go back to sleep.”
“No, O’Neill,” Teal’c intervened. “It may
be too soon.”
“Fine.” He holstered the zat.
“You will pay for this – ”
That was as far as Klorel got before Jack
hit him in the face with his forearm. The Goa’uld
reeled backward into Teal’c’s arms and Jack hit him
again. He put all his weight into the blow and Klorel
would have fallen to the ground, unconscious, if not
for Teal’c holding him up.
“Sorry, kid.” He hated the fact it had
come to this. It would have been easier if the teen
and the Goa’uld had remained unconscious.
It was time to get moving. “I believe we
were walking? Toward the Stargate? Any of this ring a
bell?” He looked around at his team with a raised
Carter shook her head slightly. “Yes,
sir. We were walking.”
“Let’s step up the pace, people,” Jack
ordered. “Let’s make this happen.” They were so close
he could taste the victory celebration.
A minute later he caught Carter’s eye and
signaled her over. She quickened her pace to walk
“Keep an eye on Waring,” he whispered.
Her eyebrows rose in confusion. Jack
didn’t have time to explain. This wasn’t a good time
She must have realized that, too, because
instead of asking she nodded and moved up to walk
Kawalsky glanced at Carter then at him.
Jack ignored the look and kept walking. If Skaara had
woken up, Amonet might do the same. Thompson had
passed off his weapon to Hu to get a better grip. Jack
had approved. He didn’t need Amonet coming to and
grabbing for Thompson’s weapon. Then again, the young
sergeant needed someone to watch his back. It wasn’t
that Jack didn’t trust his old friend, he did but if
Kawalsky hesitated, even for a second, it could cost
the entire mission. Carter wasn’t emotionally
invested. She wouldn’t hesitate.
The light had faded from the sky and Jack
put on his night goggles. He turned to check on his
team. Before he was able to utter a word Ferretti’s
voice yelled out a warning.
“Head’s up! Company’s coming!”
As distant shouts echoed behind them,
Tracy Waring writhed and groaned as she regained consciousness.
“Move it!” Jack yelled.
They broke into a run. Despite carrying
Skaara, Teal’c took the lead and moved out front,
ahead of Hu who cursed and sped up. Thompson pounded
along behind the Lieutenant, hanging on to Waring who
was slowly coming around. Beside Thompson, Kawalsky
had his weapon raised and ready, his attention divided
between Waring and the approaching threat. Rothman ran
up beside him, moving with speed and control.
On Thompson’s other side, Carter was
running flat out yet somehow, she still managed to
keep her MP-5 in the firing position. Her attention
was focused on Waring, trusting the others to look out
for the army of Jaffa coming up
Jack dropped back and yelled at Ferretti.
Obediently, the Captain picked up his
Darkness was complete, just in time to
hide the number of Jaffa coming
Thank goodness for the night vision.
Running with them on was a challenge. Jack stumbled
and decided to hell with it. He needed intel. He
stopped and stared at the scene behind them. Scores of
green-tinted blobs were in pursuit. It was difficult
to judge the distance but one thing was clear. The Jaffa
were moving fast.
He wheeled around and ran to catch up
with his team, glad none of them had slowed down to
wait for him. Beyond his teammates, Jack saw the tall
shapes of the trees where the forest began.
It was a relief. Not only would the trees
provide desperately needed cover they also signaled
they were closing in on the safety of the Stargate.
The blast of staff weapons had Jack
ducking as he ran, though he knew they weren’t in
In an even race, with the head start, his
teams should reach the Stargate before the pursuing Jaffa.
But this race wasn’t even. The Jaffa had
superior strength and stamina. According to
thought nothing of twenty-mile forced marches at full
speed over rough terrain. It would be nice to think he
was exaggerating but given Teal’c’s physical prowess
Jack was a believer.
ducked when more blasts exploded behind him. They
were getting closer.
On to Part Two
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