HEAVEN AND EARTH BY DARCY & SAMI-J


Gen: Story Portraying the Strong Friendship between Jack O'Neill and Daniel Jackson.
Rating:  PG for a few bad words
Category: AU, kid fic, angst, drama, etc.
Season/Spoilers
Thor's Hammer
Synopsis:

“Heaven and Earth” is the fourth story set in the Much Abides universe, where Jack and Sara are still married, Charlie is alive, and ten (now eleven) year old Daniel Jackson has joined the O’Neill household. This story picks up where the previous fics left off and winds up certain outstanding issues on both the home and SGC fronts.

Warnings: None
Length
879 kb


Notes:

Darcy Notes: I’d like to sincerely thank everyone who is following this series and those who have had time to send us such generous feedback. It is so appreciated. This installment will be the last fic portraying the boys at their current age. The next story will feature Jack and Sara dealing with Daniel and Charlie during their dreaded teen years. It should be loads of fun.

 

Special thanks to friends and family who pre-read and helped beta another long story. You know who you are. And to Cathe, my incredible co writer, for her encouragement, inspiration, friendship and seemingly unlimited patience.   

 

Cathe (aka sami-j) Notes:  Who could’ve imagined what a couple e-mails would lead to? A few years later we’ve got a full-blown saga! It’s been a complete blast writing this universe with Darcy – who originally created it way back when. Thanks *very* much, partner, for letting me come along for the ride and share in all the fun. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.





Chapter 1

 

“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 looked delicious.

 

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 disappointed.

 

“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 mischief.

 

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 prodded.

 

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.

 

 “To the O’Neill family!” Charlie held up his glass of Coke.

 

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 absence.

 

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 office. Hammond’s assistant 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 C.O.’s absence.

 

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 behind him.

 

“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 SG-2, sir.”

 

“They’re not due back until tonight.” Jack frowned.

 

“Yes, sir.”

 

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.”

 

“What?”

 

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 demanded.

 

“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 sure?”

 

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.

 

Two days.

 




 

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 the cake.

 

“Do I even have to ask your recommendation, Colonel?” Hammond laid the report on top of the other three and looked across the desk.

 

“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 covert operation.”

 

“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.” Hammond 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 was.

 

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 future.

                                                                                                            

“Colonel?”

 

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 demanded.

 

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 the Air Force Academy.

 

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 backs.

 

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.

 

“Colonel,” Hammond 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 for that.

 

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, Colonel.”

 

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 needed Hammond’s 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 Hammond’s 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 political waters.

 

“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, Jack.” Hammond gave him a severe look but his amusement shone through.

 

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.”

 

“Yes, sir.”

 

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.

 

 

Chapter 2

 

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. Daniel’s specialty.

 

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 enthusiastically.

 

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 cocktail.

 

"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 that.

 

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 flavor.

 

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 after.

 

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 Brick.

 

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, Charlie.

 

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 Academy instead.

 

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 speculating.

 

Lieutenant Greenberg and Sergeant Thompson seemed like they were opposites but they were still really good friends. Kind of like himself and Jack.

 

“... Don’t know enough to draw any conclusions.”

 

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 excitement.

 

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 table.

 

“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 looks.

 

“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 searching look.

 

“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 General.”

 

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 surprised.

 

“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, right?”

 

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 squeeze.

 

“Absolutely, kiddo.”

 

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.

 

“So how did you hear about the mission?” He tried for a casual tone.

 

“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 me anything.”

 

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 overheard them.

 

“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 ASAP.”

 

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 concern.

 

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 heading.

 

“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. Good.

 

“Colonel?” Confusion clouded the Major’s eyes.

 

“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?”

 

“No, sir.”

 

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 teammates.

 

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 did.

 

“So if your men were sitting around in, say the commissary, and were overheard discussing classified information, whose fault would that be, Major?”

 

“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.

 

“Daniel.”

 

“Oh, shit,” Kawalsky whispered, immediately understanding the implications. “I’m sorry, Colonel.”

 

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?”

 

“Yes, sir.”

 

“Good. Dismissed.”

 

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 circumstances?

 

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.

 

Damn it!  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 Daniel.

 

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 classified information.”

 

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 wouldn’t tolerate.

 

“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 non-secure location?”

 

“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.   

 

“Lieutenant?”

 

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 designated.”

 

“And you understand what that means?”

 

“Yes, sir.”

 

Greenberg looked miserable while Thompson was still slightly pink. Kawalsky knew he’d made his point.

 

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, resigned.

 

“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 minute.”

 

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 address.

 

“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.

 

 Kawalsky 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 unison.

 

“Dismissed.”

 

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 winked.

 

Kawalsky smiled but still looked doubtful.

 

“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 ya proud.”

 

 

Chapter 3


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.

 

Left behind.

 

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 death.

 

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 there.

 

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 approached him.

 

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 it.

 

“We 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.

 

“Sir?”

 

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 O’Neill again.

 

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 here.

 

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, nothing.

 

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 ordered.

 

“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 case.

 

“Yeah. We’ll decide when it goes off, no one else.”

 

“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 confidence.”

 

“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.

 

“The trigger?”

 

“Right here.”

 

“Good.”

 

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 high priority.”

 

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 worried.

 

“That is not the Jaffa way.” Teal’c spoke with certainty. “If the Chappa’ai had been guarded, they would have attacked when we arrived.”

 

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.”

 

“Indeed.”

 

“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 trail.

 

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 Teal’c.

 

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 decided.

 

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 added proudly.

 

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 professional tone.

 

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 like foothills.

 

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. The Jaffa silently walked back to fill him in and Jack rose to meet him.

 

“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 feet.”

 

“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 soldiers.

 

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 immediately below.”

 

“How many?” The thought of an enemy patrol this close was disconcerting.

 

“Four.”

 

“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 gate.

 

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 join them.

 

“Another twenty yards that way, sir.” The Lieutenant pointed in the direction they’d been heading.

 

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.”

 

 

Chapter 4

 

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?”

 

“Indeed.”

 

“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 up here.”

 

“Sir?” The Lieutenant crawled up beside them.

 

“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 building.”

 

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 asked.

 

“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.

 

“Move out.”





 

“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.

 

Jerks.

 

“What’s going on?” someone said.

 

Karen thought she recognized the voice and risked a glance over her shoulder. Yep, it was Charlie O’Neill.

 

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 to answer. 

 

“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 cafeteria.

 

“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 charming grin.

 

“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 tray.

 

“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. “Anything.”

 

“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 second.  

 

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 could answer.

 

“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 Mountain but he knew it was something big. Daniel had a lot on his plate.

 

“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 was sick.” 

 

“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 involve Cheyenne Mountain. “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 loud.

 

“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 expression.

 

“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 home.

 

“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 kids?”

 

“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 time.

 

“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 fine.

 

“I’m not sure why.” Charlie chose his words carefully. “Is there a reason for her to be worried?”

 

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 just...”

 

“Distracted?”

 

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 tell me.”

 

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, too.”

 

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 bugging you?”

 

“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, that’s all.”

 

“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 easy.

 

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 about it.”

 

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 wrong.”

 

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 room crying.

 

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.

 

 

Chapter 5

 

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 that way.

 

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 their toes.

 

“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 look.

 

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 eyes.

 

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 know better.

 

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 phase.

 

“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. The Jaffa 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 binoculars.

 

“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. More Jaffa 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 intense gaze.

 

“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 guarded.”

 

“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 her.

 

“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 ideas?”

 

The Lieutenant hesitated. “I’m not sure. It’s not one of the more common symbols.  Daniel might know.”

 

“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 more information.

 

“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 need.”

 

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 patrols.

 

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 and sweat.

 

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 Amonet,  walking beside Apophis and surrounded by Jaffa – going into the building a couple hours earlier and it had rattled him.

 

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.

 

Now what?

 

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 waited.

 

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 Apophis’ Jaffa lined up in the town square in front of the city hall. More Jaffa 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 next.

 

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 Goa’uld.

 

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 voice.

 

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 of Jaffa staring each other down.

 

Kawalsky waited a beat then crawled over to Greenberg.

 

“Who the hell is that and what’s she doing here?”

 

“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 question.

 

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 in Goa’uld.

 

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 figured.”

 

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 staff weapon.

 

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?”

 

“No one.”

 

“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 me?”

 

“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 voice. 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 that thing?”

 

“I did not hit him over the head, O’Neill.”

 

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?”

 

 “It is a Goa’uld weapon called a zat’n’ktel.”

 

“Right, should’a known. How does it work?”

 

“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 subject.”

 

“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 said.

 

“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 minded.

 

“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?”

 

“Zat’n’ktel.”

 

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 their Jaffa 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.”

 

“Yes, sir.”

 

“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.”

 

 

Chapter 6

 

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 on.

 

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 toward them.

 

“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 Jaffa. 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 here ASAP.”

 

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 the room.

 

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 and gaudy.

 

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 easily.

 

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 attention.

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 night.

 

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 did.

 

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 comfort.


Hold on.

 

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 bored.

 

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 officially scrapped.

 

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 the same.

 

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. Hmm, interesting.

 

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 know.”

 

“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 prompted.

 

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.”

 

“What!”

 

“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 mission specialist.

 

 “I’m 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 his stuff.

 

“Ra and Apophis are supposed to be deadly enemies, right?”

 

“That’s correct, Colonel.” Rothman looked momentarily impressed.

 

“So how likely is it that one of Ra’s kids would come here to celebrate Apophis’ victory?”

 

“Extremely unlikely,” Rothman agreed.

 

“Colonel?”

 

“Yeah?” He’d almost forgotten Kawalsky was listening in.

 

“When I contacted Four last time, Reynolds said when this Sekhmet came through the gate her Jaffa blew away Apophis’s guards.”

 

Damn.

 

“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 ordered.

 

She moved away.

 

“You wish to speak with me, O’Neill?” Teal’c was at his side.

 

“Yeah. Any ideas what Sekhmet is really here for?”

 

“There are several possibilities. Sekhmet may wish to conquer this world for herself.”

 

 “She 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?” Jack asked.

 

“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 his Jaffa.”

 

“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?”

 

“Indeed.”

 

Swell.

 

“Talk about bad timing,” Rothman muttered.

 

“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 Sekhmet’s arrival.”

 

“Since that hasn’t happened, Apophis must be even more suspicious,” Jack mused.

 

“Indeed. By now his First Prime has sent other Jaffa to the Chappa’ai to discover what has happened.”

 

“And when they get to the gate...”

 

“Sekhmet’s Jaffa will attack.”

 

“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 will survive.”

 

“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 Apophis’ Jaffa 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 darkness.”

 

“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 intentions.”

 

“What will happen with Skaara and Waring when the fighting breaks out?”

 

“Apophis will send them to safety,” Teal’c said with confidence.

 

“Alone?”

 

“They will be accompanied by several Jaffa.”

 

“What would happen if one of Apophis’ Jaffa is found dead?”

 

 “Apophis 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 forces.”

 

“Cool.”

 

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 radio.

 

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 next step.

 

“All right, this is it. Let’s move into position. Stay alert.”

 

 

Chapter 7

 

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 Sekhmet.  Her occasional interruptions were laced with jealous hostility.

 

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 some more.

 

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 radio.

 

“Two, One. We’re about to begin.”

 

“Two is ready for you,” Kawalsky answered crisply.

 

“Carter, you and Rothman up for the diversion?”

 

“Yes, sir,” she said and hefted her staff weapon.

 

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 his Jaffa 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 Jaffa 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 second one.   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 each other.

 

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 forward.

 

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 staff weapons.  

 

Breathing hard, Jack reached the top of the hill and almost ran into Kawalsky.

 

“Let’s go!” Kawalsky grabbed his arm to steady him.

 

“The rest of the team,” Jack broke away from the strong grasp.

 

“They’re all here.” Kawalsky pointed to his right.

 

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.

 

“Thompson.”

 

“Yes, sir?” The Sergeant hurried up beside him.

 

“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 the suggestion.

 

“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 breaks loose.” 

 

“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.

 

Ah, crap!

 

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 their prisoner.

 

“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.”

 

Sonofabitch.

 

“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 eyebrow.

 

Kawalsky grinned.

 

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 beside him.

 

“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 for questions.

 

She must have realized that, too, because instead of asking she nodded and moved up to walk behind Thompson.

 

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 behind them.

 

Jack dropped back and yelled at Ferretti. “Move forward!”

 

Obediently, the Captain picked up his pace.

 

Darkness was complete, just in time to hide the number of Jaffa coming after them.

 

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 range yet.

 

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 Teal’c, Jaffa 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. 


He ducked when more blasts exploded behind him. They were getting closer.

 

 On to Part Two


 

 

 


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