by Rebecca Ratliff
DATE: September 2003
ARCHIVE: If I haven't submitted to your archive, please ask. (I'll say yes, I just like to know where it is.)
SPOILERS: Fragile Balance
SEASON/SEQUEL INFO: Season 7 before Evolution pt. 1. This story is part of the Gates of War fanfic series, and won't make any sense unless the reader knows who Sirikat, Jonathan and Jamie are. Previous stories in this series may be found at http://buckeyebelle.tripod.com/
SUMMARY: Jonathan and Sirikat are the best hope of the SGC when an alien takes control of the base and its personnel.
DISCLAIMER: All Stargate SG-1 characters are the property of Stargate SG-1 Productions (II) Inc., MGM Worldwide Television Productions Inc., Double Secret Productions, Gekko Film Corp and Showtime Networks Inc.This story is for entertainment purposes only and no money exchanged hands. No copyright infringement is intended. Anybody that you don't recognize is probably mine, so if you borrow them please send me an email to let me know where they are and have them home by midnight. :)
FEEDBACK: Much appreciated.
"Sierra Gulf One-Six-Two, this is Sierra Gulf One-Six-Niner."
"Two," came the weary acknowledgement.
"Anything else over toward the river?"
"Negative, just some foundation stones here and there."
Major Josh Bowen eyed the thunderhead on the distant horizon. "Looks like a hell of an electrical storm's headed our way. Finish up and we'll meet up back at the gate in twenty."
"Copy that, One-Six-Niner!" Reed replied happily.
Bowen grinned. That was the most enthusiasm he'd heard out of his young 2iC since they'd first set foot onto this godforsaken piece of real estate. Sere grassland stretched as far as the eye could see. The air was thin, and with any exertion at all he felt like he'd run a marathon. Except for the artifacts they'd found near the gate, there was nothing left of the people who had once lived here.
"Wrap it up, Ian, I want to get us the hell out of here before that storm gets here. Tornadoes weren't part of the mission briefing."
Dr. Ian Borgstrom followed his gaze to the horizon. "That does look rather unsettling, doesn't it? Right, well, if you'll finish up getting the rest of this wall fragment on video, I'll pack up my kit so we can be off."
Borgstrom looked the part of a Viking, tall and blond with blue eyes, but his soft-spoken British accent gave it away that his family's journey from Scandinavia to the SGC had included at least a generation or three in London. Great Britain hadn't made a lot of demands about specific positions on the SG teams the way Russia had. Rather, they'd sent a few qualified people and left it to the SGC to decide where to use them to best effect.
Bowen felt fortunate that Borgstrom had come along to fill the open slot when his former 2iC had been sidelined by a back injury and moved to the lab full time. It was always difficult to integrate a new person into an existing SG team, but Borgstrom had proven to be a good match.
SG-16 beat the storm to the stargate with a good five minutes to spare. Bowen explained having cut the mission short, and General Hammond agreed that there was no reason to risk staying out in a severe storm on a planet with such meager prospects.
Ren'auc turned in the artifacts they'd found to Dr. Lee. He checked to see that they were properly sealed and scanned them for harmful radiation. "They're clean. We don't have any more room for them in here. Put them in the storeroom down the hall."
"As you wish." The Jaffa found shelf space at the rear of the room and got their finds settled in their new home. She checked that the door had locked behind her, then hurried to meet the rest of her team in the infirmary.
Jack O'Neill kissed his three-year-old son goodbye. "See you this evening. And I'd better not hear any more about you biting people, I don't care if Jeffery did call you a poopie-head."
Jamie grinned and promised and ran off to play with the other kids. Jack watched him for a minute before he went back to his truck.
It was a routine Friday morning at Cheyenne Mountain. He spent the morning writing reports, then there was a team leaders' meeting that afternoon. By the time that let out, routine had developed into a full-blown case of boredom.
He headed for Carter's lab. He could always get a rise out of her by handling something that looked fragile. The same thing worked on Daniel too. They trusted him to set a C-4 charge with the precision of a surgeon, but when it was a doohickey or a rock, they were like mother hens protecting their chicks. After all these years, they still fell for it every time. Grinning in anticipation of a little fun, he got off the elevator and started down the corridor.
As he passed the storeroom, he heard a noise from inside. Carter and Jackson had raised his opinion of geeks several notches over the last few years, but he still wasn't totally surprised that one of the eggheads had managed to get locked in the storeroom somehow. He swiped his card and opened the door.
Central High hadn't changed a bit since last year, but two months into the fall semester, the whole place seemed smaller somehow. Jonathan O'Neill glanced at the menu posted by the cafeteria door. Didn't look like the food had improved any either.
He got his tray and went to his usual table. Nancy and Lydia were already there. They started in on a lively discussion of the history class they'd just left. The teacher, Mr. Caswell, was an unapologetic male chauvinist, a good old boy transplanted to Colorado Springs by way of the United States Air Force about twenty years ago. Jonathan had a lot of respect for him, but he'd taken Nancy's side when Caswell had ridiculed her ambition to become a combat pilot.
He couldn't tell Caswell why he felt the way he did. Serving with Sam Carter and the other women of the SGC had forever changed Jack O'Neill's opinion of women in combat. But he hadn't been the only guy in class who had challenged Caswell's attitude.
Nancy was still royally pissed. Lydia told her, "He's an old dinosaur. Ignore him."
"You want me to ignore somebody who could cut my grades to keep me out of the Academy?"
Jonathan said, "He won't do that, Nancy, he could get into too much trouble. Besides, only an honest man would have the guts to be politically incorrect. A hypocrite would smile and spout the party line to your face--but it would be a real bad idea to turn your back on somebody like that."
Nancy said, "Well...that does make sense...in an O'Neill kinda way."
"Hey! What's that supposed to mean?"
Alvin almost spilled his tray on the table.
"What happened in Caswell's class? There are about a dozen girls outside the guidance counselor's office having kittens!"
Jonathan said, "He dared to defy the local cell of the women's liberation front."
Nancy whacked him with her notebook. "That...jackass spent half the period on all this b.s. about why women shouldn't be combat pilots." On second thought, she whacked Jonathan again, harder. "Women's liberation front, indeed."
"Hey! I'm on your side, remember?"
Alvin snickered. "Caswell's dog meat for sure as soon as the school board finds out about it."
Jonathan said, "Now that's just plain wrong. Discrimination is one thing. But he's entitled to his opinion even if he does have his head up his--"
Jack started. He was usually aware of his surroundings, but he hadn't noticed that Principal Morgan had been on cafeteria duty, or that he had walked up behind them and overheard the conversation. "Err, hi, Mr. Morgan. Anyhow, you know what I mean."
"I certainly do. I believe the discussion was about academic freedom in a politically correct environment. Not about the presumed location of anyone's head." From anyone else, that might have sounded pompous, but the laughter in the man's dark eyes revealed that he didn't take himself too seriously. Morgan took the sting out of the rebuke by resting his hand on Jonathan's shoulder for a moment before continuing his rounds of the lunch room.
Morgan didn't know that Jonathan was a clone who carried around the memories of an Air Force Colonel thirty-five years his senior. Jonathan would have sworn that the principal knew something was up, but he took Jonathan on his own merits anyway. That meant a lot.
After lunch, they all had a study hall together. They stopped by the lockers so Lydia could get some books.
"That's really weird," she commented.
"I get funny vibes from Cheyenne Mountain all the time, but this really is strange. There's a big spot up there that's just--weird! That's the word for it."
Alvin said, "Geez, Lydia, you're not getting started on that psychic stuff again, are you?"
"It's real!" She replied hotly. Then she gasped. "Oh my God! There's something up there, a monster!"
Alvin said, "OK. Monster. Yeah, right. You mean like Dracula, or Godzilla, or Freddy?"
"I mean like something horrible! This isn't a joke, Alvin, there's a-a thing up there and it's evil, I swear!" She had gone pale under her freckles.
Jonathan opened his cell phone and dialed Jack's number, meaning to quickly reassure Lydia that nothing was wrong. But the phone just rang and rang.
Lydia said, "We have to get out of here."
She was really shaken. Jonathan didn't know about Lydia's supposed psychicness, but something had just scared her very badly. And Jack didn't ignore his cell, not when it might be a problem with Sirikat or Jamie. "OK, we'll go to my place and you can call your mom at work from there." Her mom could handle it--she was even more into new age stuff than Lydia was. And then there was always Sirikat...who might just know what was going on.
Sirikat was probably the only reason Jonathan was taking Lydia any more seriously than Alvin did. He personally had met the girl only once at Mrs. Murphy's, but he had all Jack's memories of her, including her magic. While he'd never seen her "far-see" as she called it, Jack had heard her mention that it was possible.
As with all Jack's relationships, Jonathan had to separate himself from Jack's paternal feelings about her before he could sort out what his own status with her should be. Uncle didn't quite cut it, they were too nearly the same age. He had learned with Sam to just give it time and let things settle on their own. Already she seemed different than Jack's memories of her, no longer a child, stronger, more sure of herself.
They hurried to get out of the building before the end of lunch break. Whatever trouble they got into for cutting school was probably nothing compared to the kind of trouble that added up to weirdness at Cheyenne Mountain.
Eyes. O'Neill remembered a pair of glowing eyes...but not like a snakehead, these had been solid white with no apparent pupil. And an old, dark, malicious presence in his mind. Sickened, he got as far away from it as he could, and the sensation as he escaped it was like sliding out from under something slimy.
What the hell was he doing on the stairs outside the gate control room? The last thing he remembered was opening the storeroom door up on the lab level. Why weren't the gate technicians at their posts?
General Hammond wasn't in his office.
O'Neill looked down into the gateroom. There were a couple of SFs down there. He was about to ask them what the hell was going on, when he saw their eyes.
It felt like swimming upstream against a flood, but O'Neill managed to slam his hand down on the foothold alarm. The complex went into lockdown. He was reaching for the phone when his body froze and he knew it had him again.
"What have you done, human?" The voice whispered in corners of his mind that should have remained private, reedy, dissonant, alien. Every muscle in O'Neill's body went into spasm at once.
"Your...little invasion...stops right here," he grated.
"You will reverse this!" The voice in his head demanded, with all the intensity of fingernails on a chalkboard.
The pain grew worse. Black spots danced before his eyes as his chest muscles contracted, forcing all the air out of his lungs. Moments before he would have blacked out, the alien forced a deep breath into him. "Open the doors!"
"Screw you! Whatever you are!" Dagar, he remembered, its name was Dagar.
The alien let him breathe freely as it forced him to walk down the hall to the elevator. O'Neill watched his own fingers push the button for the infirmary floor.
Sam met him inside. Her eyes were blank, devoid of all recognition. Janet looked the same. Just like the guys in the gateroom. Now he knew what he'd looked like, before he had snapped out of Dagar's control.
His first thought was to try to wake them up. But then he saw the scalpel in Carter's hand, and he realized they wouldn't be able to stop Dagar from using them. He'd just have to watch their horror at the things the alien would force their hands to do to him. It was better this way. They wouldn't remember.
Maybe they would never find out.
Jonathan looked around his kitchen table at his friends. Lydia had tried unsuccessfully to reach her mother, but she wasn't at home. She didn't want to be there alone, so they had all decided to stay here with her, but none of them were sure what to do for her.
Lydia grabbed her head, eyes wide, a scream frozen in her throat. Jonathan told her, "Stay with us, tell us what's happening so we can help you."
She focused on him. "Oh, God--Jonathan, that monster is torturing someone, and I--I think it's making his friends do it. We've got to get in there and make it stop!"
Jack said, "I'm going to. You've got to stay clear. If I don't make it, you're the only one who can convince General Vidrine what's happening in there. He's the guy at the Pentagon who's in charge of the program. He's either already here or on his way from Washington."
Nancy said, "Alvin, you stay here with Lydia and if you have to run for it, go somewhere that Jonathan and I wouldn't know to look for you."
Jonathan told her, "You're staying too."
"Well, you're not going by yourself."
"Look, Nancy, there's a lot going on here that I can't tell you about--"
Nancy had clearly had enough. She was usually fairly easy going and didn't tend to push things unnecessarily, which Jonathan had appreciated greatly over the last few months. He knew she was a very intelligent young woman and that not much got by her. He had always had a sense about her that she was marking time in high school the same way he was. This, however, was the last straw. Instead of the girl she had been, he saw the woman she was quickly becoming. "Stop. Just stop! Do you think I was born yesterday? Here you are, no parents, living in the shadow of that mountain, check from the Air Force every month--did you think we haven't known something was going on that you couldn't explain to us? Why did you think we've never asked for an explanation? And just exactly who do you think you are, Superman? You're not taking on some crazy biology teacher or pushing a kid out of the way of a car! Those people are military up there and you won't be able to fix whatever's gone wrong if they blow your head off! I don't know what top secret crap is going on up there and I don't freakin' care if I ever find out, but you're not going in there without somebody to watch your back!"
Jonathan opened his mouth as he tried to find something in that to argue with.
Before he could get a word out, Alvin said, "We're all going. Lydia's the only one who has any clue what's happening in there, and I'm the only chance you have to get past their computers and stuff. And as for this General Vidrine--by the time he gets out here and listens to Lydia--if he ever does listen to a high school kid who claims to be psychic--it'll be too late."
Jonathan had to admit they were right. "Two things--first, you're risking your lives. Nancy's right. The people up there are the best Uncle Sam has, and they will shoot to kill. Besides them, we don't even know yet what Lydia's monster can do--but the mountain's apparently been locked down because of it. The odds against anyone who goes in coming out again are pretty long."
"I'm still in," Nancy said.
"Me, too," Lydia agreed.
Alvin said, "Right."
"And the other thing. When we get in there, it's going to get crazy. I might tell you to do things that sound completely insane, but you've got to be willing to trust me and follow orders. If you don't you could get us all killed."
They nodded seriously.
"OK. Nancy, go downstairs and get together all the rope you can find. We're going to need all we can get our hands on if the easy way down is no good. Alvin, make sure you've got everything you'll need."
"What am I up against?"
"Electric fence around the perimeter, motion sensors, cameras, doors with sensors and alarms on them. Probably a few things I don't know about."
"I'll do what I can, but it sounds like they've got everything but the kitchen sink," Alvin said.
Nancy took the keys and ran down to the garage while Alvin dumped his backpack on the table and stuffed it with everything he could imagine needing, from tools to duct tape.
Jonathan opened the lock box and got out his Beretta. He hoped to God he wouldn't need it--at least, not until he came up against the monster. Even so, he carefully loaded his extra magazine and put an unopened box of ammunition in his backpack.
His cell phone rang. "Hello."
"Jonathan? Sirikat. I'm sorry to bother you, but do you know why I can't reach Jack? The city shut the water off!"
"I don't know why, they just did. That isn't important. Jack isn't answering his phone, and he didn't have to go...out of town...today."
"I don't know where he is, but I was just about to call you. Something's wrong up there big time."
"I'm going," Sirikat told him.
"Wait there, I'll pick you up. It'll be faster. Get together everything...useful...that you've got lying around."
"All right, but hear me, I expect a full explanation when you get here."
"You'll get it, I promise."
As the four of them headed for the door, Lassie, Jonathan's big shepherd mix dog jumped up to go with them. He checked her feed and water containers, both held enough for a few days. "Sorry, girl, not this trip. I really don't think you'd like the kind of mountain climbing we're probably going to be doing today."
The dog whined a couple of times, but when the door closed, she went back to her little rug in the kitchen and lay down to wait. Dogs being what they were, she had no doubt that her master would be back soon.
Jonathan envied her that assurance. He could be walking into a hell on earth, and taking his best friends with him. Nothing in their background prepared them for this--nothing but compassion for some unknown person's suffering and the astounding courage to face a monster to stop it.
Jack focussed on the infirmary ceiling panels, as he had done so many long sleepless nights here before. This must be what curare poisoning was like. He couldn't lift a finger or take an unregulated breath. The only freedom he had was where he chose to focus his eyes. Dagar couldn't read his mind anymore, not now that he had snapped out of the alien's control, but he could still communicate.
The alien had learned a lot about how human bodies worked. Like where a small shallow cut would expose a nerve center, and where a little alcohol would burn like liquid fire. It burned for a long time.
Jack was as determined not to cry out as Dagar was to prevent him from doing so. If Sam and Janet snapped out of it, the alien wouldn't be able to use their knowledge any longer.
Jack refused to look and see what Carter had in her hands. Whatever Dagar was about to force her to do, he already knew it was going to be bad. Jack figured the best thing he could do was just take it as it came and get through one thing at a time.
Something pinched. He focused on his little spot on the ceiling. Right this minute it wasn't so bad....
Then the pinch turned red-hot. He could smell searing flesh. He fought reflexively for more air. Then whatever-it-was ripped away, taking charred skin with it, leaving a raw open wound. God, oh God, that hurt so bad.... He prayed to pass out, knowing he was still hours away from losing consciousness.
Dagar told him, "Tell me how to open the iris, and your pain will end."
Jack dredged up defiance and replied, "Go to hell!"
Another pinch, this time on the inside of his upper arm. He wanted to breathe through it, but Dagar hadn't left him that much control. It started to burn again. The zombie-like look on Carter's face was worse.
Anger was strength. No, that damn thing wasn't getting out of the SGC. Not on his watch. As soon as he figured out how to cut whatever strings Dagar was using to turn him into a marionette, he was going to kill it.
Sirikat came running out to the car and handed in a heavy backpack and a blanket-wrapped bundle containing her bow and sword, then crowded into the back seat. "Jack is absolutely going to break my neck for this, but I brought his 9-mil. Does anyone else besides me know how to use it?"
Nancy raised her hand, and when Sirikat handed her the weapon, she very competently made sure there wasn't a round in the chamber, then checked the magazine. "My mom bought us guns and we started going to the firing range when my ex-dad got scary. Funny, he quit bothering us after the time my ex-uncle saw us shooting."
Jonathan said, "Hide that, Nancy, I'm going through a drive-thru up here and getting us some chow."
"OK, wait." She stuffed it in her jacket pocket and folded the jacket so it wouldn't show. "If anyone saw a car with a gang of armed teenagers in it, they'd throw us in jail so fast we'd never know what hit us."
Lydia shook her head. "Jonathan, I swear you eat for three people, I don't know how you keep from getting fat. But how can you think of food at a time like this?"
He explained, "Because things are gonna get hectic and we might not get a chance to eat later."
Once they had the sack of burgers and made a stop at a mall for some things, Sirikat said firmly, "Now, about that explanation we were discussing earlier?"
Lydia told her about the vision. "I've always known when the phone would ring, things like that. But every once in a while I get these visions...like today. The guys here know I'm psychic, but I haven't told any of you everything. I'm sorry, but you didn't believe me about being psychic, and I didn't want you to think I was crazy. But none of the visions I've seen before were of--of awful things like this."
"I believe you. My grandmother sees visions in the firelight. Could you tell anything else?"
Lydia shook her head. "Just what I've told you."
"Jonathan, how much have you told them?" Sirikat asked.
"Just that there's a lot that I can't tell them."
Alvin said, "Jonathan, maybe you'd better slow down. You've only had your license a few weeks now."
"Yeah, but I already knew how to drive. That's part of, well, what I can't tell you. Sirikat, call the day care and tell them to call a Plan A."
Sirikat got out her cell phone and called Mrs. Murphy. "Gloria, this is Sirikat. I don't want to scare you but I think something's wrong on base. You probably should start Plan A just in case....No, I don't know what's wrong, but I'll call you if I learn any more. Yes, I will be careful. Goodbye."
Jonathan drove up a dirt road that led to an abandoned barn and hid the car inside. "We'll have to go from here on foot."
They divided up the gear. Lydia and Alvin were unarmed. This whole thing was insane...the only thing more insane would be doing nothing, and waiting for whatever had locked the mountain down to come after them.
Sam's scream broke through a haze of pain and fever. O'Neill wasn't sure how long he had been drifting, but apparently it had been long enough for Dagar to get frustrated and sacrifice his ability to read Carter's mind in order to use her against him.
Her blue eyes were wide with horror and a terrible, undeserved guilt as she realized there was nothing she could do to stop this. That gave O'Neill the strength to speak.
"Carter ... not your ... fault."
"Nobody ... to blame ... but ... that ... freak."
Dagar's cold voice whispered in their minds, "Release the lockdown and open the iris."
"Seen any flyin' ... pigs ... around here ... Carter?"
"Well ... there ya go."
Carter refused to watch what her hands were doing. It was the only form of defiance she had available at the moment. It didn't go very far, because Dagar could still see through Fraiser's eyes, but it was something.
Carter struggled to keep her voice as nearly normal as possible. There were small cuts and raw, open burns all over his body. Individually, none of the wounds she could see looked that bad. Taken as a whole, though, O'Neill needed for her to distract him from what must be incredible pain. "You hit the panic button?" She asked.
"Yeah ... no phone call."
That meant that everything below level 16 was sealed off, and NORAD was prepared to evacuate, but unless something started to get out of the SGC, it would be presumed that they were handling the problem internally. It also meant that NORAD would have apprised General Vidrine of the situation. He would be on his way, and eventually the base would be infiltrated. But it would be at least several hours, maybe as much as a day before Vidrine would have enough information to do that. Carter understood that O'Neill was doing his level best to hold out until the cavalry came over the hill.
"Carter ... Why didn't he just ... have you ... or somebody ... open the iris?"
"His control over us must not be complete. We must have been fighting him subconsciously even when he was reading our minds. That's probably how you broke out long enough to lock us down."
It went in a cycle. First a pinch, then burning pain that came on slowly then spiked and eased off as nerves stopped firing--then whatever instrument it was ripped away letting the air hit raw flesh in yet another place.
Now that alien bastard stopped controlling his breathing, let him scream real loud for Carter if he wanted to. Like hell he would. He breathed through it, rode it out until it let up enough to get lost in the background noise that was the pain of previous injuries.
"Carter, no matter what that son of a bitch does, you don't give him the time of day to get me out--that's an order."
"Yes, sir." Her face was wet with the tears that he was still too proud to cry, but there was fire and resolve in her eyes. This was a battle that neither of them had ever imagined having to fight, but they were in it together.
How many times had he ducked when he should have run and landed here in this room, staring up at these same ceiling tiles, with Carter right where she was now? He'd got through it then. This time wouldn't be any different.
Carter put something warm in his hand. In a choked voice she told him, "Not our fault, sir."
"Oh, hell, no--Sam--" For the first time he got a look at what she'd been using on him, pliers with some kind of insulating tape wrapped generously around the handles. Wires led out of his range of vision, and there was a switch.
"Colonel, don't look at it. It's better that way."
O'Neill couldn't remember who said, bravery isn't about not being scared. It's about what you do while you're scared. Whoever it was, he must have known Sam Carter.
"Hold on. It hurts like hell but it doesn't last long, and this kind of stuff will heal up. You've been through worse lots of times."
"Nowhere near as bad as a staff burn," she agreed.
O'Neill fought not to let the alien pick up his reaction. The last thing he wanted to do was encourage it to use her to get to him anymore. Hell, let it think he was glad he wasn't the center of attention.
Carter didn't catch on to what O'Neill was doing until Dagar forced her to pick up the pliers again, and she saw relief rather than fear in his eyes.
Jonathan stopped just short of the perimeter fence and climbed parallel to it for a couple of hundred yards until he found the spot where he'd crawled under it before. He waited until the guard went by then whistled for Sirikat to bring everyone up. It was starting to get dark.
"This is an electric fence. It's got a mean bite if you touch it, but worse than that, it will set off an alarm if you move it. Then there are motion sensors at random spots on the road and for several feet on either side. What you need to do is put your stuff under, then wiggle through on your back so you can see what you're doing. Then once you're clear, put your pack on and sneak across the road real slow."
"Have you busted in here before?" Nancy asked.
"Not right here, but I did bust out this way once before. Oh, hey, nobody get any ideas about digging that low place out any deeper. There's a buried wire, and you'd hit it for sure."
Sirikat said, "I go first, those bushes?"
"Looks good to me."
With a last, careful look around, she eeled under the fence and picked up her bow and quiver, then crept across the road as light-footed as a kitten. She hid in the bushes and whistled for the next person to come through.
Jonathan sent Alvin, then Lydia. He and Nancy were going to have a harder time of it, since they were the biggest. Nancy got about halfway through and froze. "Jonathan, I think my jacket's caught. Left side, right by my belt. If I pull it loose and there is a motion sensor on this fence--"
"OK, hold on. Yeah, it's hooked."
"Crap. I'm sorry. Can you back it off or cut it or something?"
"I think I can cut it. Hold still." He slipped his knife out of its sheath and carefully slit the denim until she was free to wriggle the rest of the way under the fence. She rolled over on her stomach and gathered up her pack, then crept across the road.
Jonathan checked his watch to make sure he had time to get across before the guards came around again, then followed. He was very careful not to get his clothes caught on the fence, because if he did he'd have to get himself loose. He made it to the other side and found cover just before the guards came by.
A chipmunk or something got the guards' attention, and Jonathan was glad the others saw the no-nonsense way the SFs' rifles preceded them into the brush to check it out. That was a very convincing demonstration that these guys took their jobs seriously. He'd already told them three times that if anyone yelled at them to stop, to do it no questions asked. But that gave them a lot more reason to respect the SFs.
Lydia stopped. "Guys, something really bad is going on in there, I'm not kidding."
Jonathan told her, "I know. We're getting down there to help as fast as we can."
Sirikat asked, "Can you far-speak anyone in there?"
"I don't think so, I just see what's happening, like a TV picture."
Jonathan assured her, "That's what we need right now, some intel. What exactly do you see?"
"I'm trying. Wait." Lydia bit her lip in concentration as her eyes went unfocused. Her visions were a transitory and unpredictable thing. Trying to control it gave her a hell of a headache, but she told herself that was nothing compared to what was happening to the people in there. She kept trying.
"It's a big room--like a hospital. I can see a man--oh, dear God, it's Jack. And Sam's doing something to him. My God. He's got some kind of marks all over him."
"Sam? Jesus Christ." He forced himself to save the sympathy until they had the situation under control. "That sounds like the infirmary. Anybody else in there?"
Sirikat decided someone was dead, he just didn't know it yet. She was horrified and very frightened for Jack and Sam both. She knew about far-seeing, but had never had much of that gift herself. Reading omens was one thing. Actually seeing into other times and places was something else.
Lydia said, "There's another dark haired lady, she's a lot shorter than Sam and she's wearing a lab coat."
She was breaking out in a sweat. Jonathan said, "OK, Lydia, that's enough for now. Get outta there."
She put her hands over her eyes for a moment. "We should go."
"This way. I'll take point. The rest of you follow Sirikat."
Sirikat said, "Nancy, watch our six."
Sirikat blessed Colonel Parker, the Army Ranger who had trained her and the other warriors of Daltregon. "It's like a clock, and twelve o'clock is ahead of you."
"Oh, OK." Nancy took up the rear, glad now for all the hours her mother had insisted that they spend on the firing range. She was comfortable with the mechanics of carrying a weapon. But she was by no means comfortable with the idea that she might have to shoot somebody with it.
It was a long climb up the mountain.
There were four guards on the emergency exit. Jonathan cursed, but he had figured they would have that entrance guarded, with the base on lockdown. They were going to have to get in through the old rocket silo, right into the gate room. That had been the reason for bringing all the rope, though he had hoped to avoid this.
He hoped they did a good enough job of saving the day that Hammond would forgive him and Sirikat for letting a bunch of kids in on their big secret.
The rocket silo didn't look like much from topside, just a couple of concrete doors.
Nancy whispered, "I always heard there were nukes up here during the cold war."
Alvin asked, "Is it true the Roswell flying saucer is here too?"
Before Jonathan could answer, Lydia said, "Don't be a dork, everyone knows it's in Nevada, at Area 51. There was a guy who saw the bodies and everything before the Air Force shut him up."
Sirikat snickered, thinking that the government here hadn't been anywhere nearly as good at keeping aliens a secret as they thought they had. "Jonathan, how were you planning on getting into the shaft?"
"There's a trap door for maintenance. You guys stay here while Alvin and I get it open. I'm not sure what security they have on it."
Lydia commented, "I knew there had to be a good reason for all that rope climbing in gym."
Sirikat watched them cross to the trap door and carefully bypass the alarms before they opened it. While they were working, she had nothing to do but worry about Jack. She knew how strong he was, and that if anyone could come through it he would be the one.
But she had also been awakened several times when he had cried out at night in the grip of some nightmare, of Lord and Lady only knew what. She had never asked him, but she knew the sound of the language he cursed in during some of those dreams, and she had heard it again on the television news coverage of the war in Iraq. And she knew enough to have decided that Ba'al had better hope he was never at her mercy, because she would have none to spare for him.
Nancy had been keeping a lookout back the way they had come. "Psst! Jonathan! There's a hummer coming up the road!"
"Shit!" He figured they must have set off an alarm. He and Alvin quickly dove for the nearest cover. Jonathan reached for his Beretta. God, he so didn't want to be in the position of considering a shootout with a couple of SFs.
The hummer crawled up the access road. The two SFs got out and looked around. They poked around the trap door for a while. One of them bent over and picked up something. "See? What'd I tell you? Another doggone ground squirrel. I'm gonna cook me up a big mess o' squirrel stew!"
"Tell you what," the other replied. "Better look around just in case."
They did so, but Jonathan and Alvin held completely still as one of them swept his flashlight over the brush where they were hiding. After a few minutes, the two SFs got back in their hummer and left.
Jonathan let his breath out in a whoosh. That had been an unbelievable piece of luck. He didn't know how they hadn't been spotted.
After that, he and Alvin made short work of getting the trap door open. They all got down onto a maintenance catwalk. When Nancy closed and locked the trap door behind her, it was pitch dark in there. Jonathan made a line fast to the catwalk and checked it carefully, then launched himself into the darkness.
O'Neill fought to contain a scream as the pliers closed on his foot. He felt a bone crack and a long string of oaths escaped. Before the room even had a chance to stop spinning, the makeshift instrument clamped on the other foot.
O'Neill was starting to cramp in response to being held motionless for so long, and thirst was becoming a serious problem. Worse, for the first time, he had to fight down the unreasoning panic that would do just about anything to make it stop. For now he could do that. He didn't have to hold out forever, just until Vidrine or someone got here to find out what the hell was going on. Someone would get them out.
"Hey, Carter, did you get a look at this son of a bitch?"
"No, sir, the last thing I remember was you called me down to the storeroom to help you with something. Then I remember these...eyes. That was it until it let me go."
"Same here. Wonder if--Ahhh! God!--if it can catch someone it can't see." He cursed himself for crying out, but that really hurt.
"That's what it sounds like to me."
"Sam, I'm sorry. I let my guard down and got you into this."
"Not your fault, Colonel."
"Yeah. Once it had the both of us, we could've lured the rest of the guys back there or just dragged them, I don't know."
"It probably caught everyone one or two at a time. Thank God you hit the panic button before it got NORAD and Homeland Security." Right there were two very good ways this mess could be much worse.
Agony seared up his leg again, and once more he cursed to keep from screaming. God, for some water right now!
"Jack...I know you're going through nine kinds of hell right now and I'm not sure if this means much, but none of the burns look too dangerous. Hold on, and we'll make it out the other side."
She'd called him by name, something he held onto for all he was worth because it was so rare she slipped and called him that. "You bet we will, Sam."
"Maybe if you let yourself zone out again, he'll leave you alone for a while."
"Sure he would, he'd start in on you again. Not gonna do that unless I really am about to spill the beans, so don't ask me again."
After all these years, she knew he meant that. She had seen him draw attention to himself, away from the rest of them, too many times to think anything else. "Yes, sir."
"They'll figure something out a long time before it comes to anything like that, Carter."
"Yes, sir," she replied, putting all the faith and courage she could into those two words.
One minute at a time, he thought. That was what they both had to do --hold on one minute at a time.
Jonathan's feet found the bottom of the shaft. As soon as he was on solid footing he signaled with his flashlight for the next person to come down, then got to looking for the access panel down into the SGC.
One by one the rest came down as he and Alvin worked to bypass the alarms on this trap door. Slow and careful was the only way here, one mistake and it would all be over.
Lydia stifled a cry. She had raw, bloody rope burns on both palms, but she'd held on and got down there safely anyway. Nancy bandaged and taped them securely, they had another thirty-five-foot drop down into the gateroom itself.
Jonathan said, "Lydia, I need you to try to see what's in the room directly below us."
She had never been able to control her gift before today, but then, she'd always stopped trying when a headache set in. She had succeeded with the infirmary. She could do this too.
"I'm seeing a big stone ring?"
"You got it," Jonathan replied. "Is anyone in there?"
"No, it's empty. There are windows up at the top, but I don't see anyone in there either."
Jonathan cracked the door open and peered through. There wasn't anyone in the narrow slice of the gate room that he could see from there. Sirikat nocked an arrow and Nancy readied the Beretta to cover him as he opened the trap door all the way and dropped a line, sliding down carefully.
Sirikat leapt to the top of the stargate itself and slid down the side of it, dropping the last ten or fifteen feet as casually as if she'd jumped off a chair.
They covered the door while the others came down. This time Nancy made sure Lydia had a more secure grip on the rope with her legs so that she could better control her descent and spare her injured hands.
Sirikat whispered, "Infirmary?"
Jonathan nodded. "We know Jack and Sam are in there, and we need to find out what's going on."
Lydia said suddenly, "No! Jonathan, we can't go in there, it'll know we're here."
"O...K.... What's your idea then?"
"It's upstairs somewhere. I don't know where, exactly....but maybe I can find it. It won't stop us....Jonathan, it knows I'm here. It's calling me to come to it."
"Why? Lydia, what's it going to do?"
"It wants to control me like all these others. It'll be expecting me, but it doesn't know about you guys. You'll have a chance to kill it. What do you think, will it work?"
Sirikat said, "I think it will work very well--if it can only control one of us at a time."
Nancy said, "That's a big if."
Jonathan asked, "Sirikat, does this sound familiar to you? We've seen the bad guys brainwash people before, but this is something else again."
Sirikat said, "I have never heard of anything like it, Jonathan. But my feeling is that Lydia is right. It surely will pick us off one by one."
"That's what I was thinking," Jonathan said. "Let's go."
Lydia led the way. When Jonathan realized that she was walking with her eyes closed, he took her arm to guide her.
They went up a stairwell, level after level. Finally she stopped, so suddenly that he almost tripped. "This level."
"The labs," he replied.
Alvin said, "They got cameras all over the place down here, but nobody's lifted a finger to stop us."
Jonathan nodded. "It must have everybody under its control, except us."
Sirikat opened the door. "Lead on, then. Let's go kill ourselves a demon."
Lydia followed the twisting passages with a sure step. She stopped near one doorway, apparently no different than any other. "It--it's in there. I'll distract it as long as I can."
"I'll be right here with you. Let's do this."
Lydia opened the door and stepped inside. "All right, I'm here, now what? Come out here where I can see you!"
Something crawled forward. Jonathan got a glimpse of wet, leathery skin--a heavy, squat thing that went on all fours--a mouth full of long sharp fangs.
Lydia screamed, "Don't look at its eyes!"
As Jonathan started firing, Sirikat's bowstring twanged, and an instant later Nancy was beside them, also firing. Arrow and bullets never hit their target, stopped by a force field inches from its hide.
A wave of energy from the creature's eyes knocked all three of them flying.
Sirikat's sword rang from its sheath and she slashed across its eyes without ever looking straight at them. It screamed, a cry echoed by everyone under its thrall. She drove her blade to the hilt between the creature's shoulders, trusting in her friends' marksmanship and her own luck that they would shoot the monster and not her.
Jonathan and Nancy emptied their magazines before they were surrounded by a lot of suddenly-awakened SFs.
O'Neill didn't know which was more disorienting, the sudden absence of the alien's control over him or Fraiser's ear-splitting shriek. Carter threw the pliers up against a wall as hard as she could. O'Neill pulled her into his arms, damn who saw it.
Fraiser shook her head. "M-my God, what happened?"
O'Neill told Sam, "It's OK now. Go find out what's happening, but I'm sure that thing is dead."
Janet rubbed her eyes. "Colonel, what happened?"
"We had a foothold situation. Nobody knows the details yet." He started to get off the bed, but the cold floor suddenly reminded him about his injured feet.
Fraiser shook her head to clear out the cobwebs and got him to lie back. "What the crap happened to you?"
"That pliers get up over there. I hit the foothold alarm. The thing with the eyes? It wanted out of here pretty freakin' bad."
"I should think so. Anything other than what I can see?"
He shook his head. "Not unless that damn thing did something to all our heads."
She took his hand for a second. "Give me a minute to get a tray. I'll be right back."
A few hours later, the SGC was back in order, and Hammond debriefed O'Neill, Carter and the kids in the infirmary.
O'Neill asked, "How the hell did that thing get in here in the first place, sir?"
Hammond said, "Apparently it left a one-way transporter device disguised as an artifact near the stargate for someone to find and take away with them. It must have known what the stargate was, but didn't have any gate addresses. We've made sure the transporter device won't be used again and locked that planet out of the dialing computer. It's over."
Nancy said, "Not quite, General Hammond. Alvin's dad doesn't worry about him staying out all night, but Lydia and I are going to be in a hell of a lot of trouble for cutting school."
Hammond said, "Considering what you kids accomplished, I think we can come up with a cover story that will smooth things over with your parents. I don't know if Jonathan and Sirikat have made it clear to you just what a debt of gratitude that your country owes you, but it's considerable."
Lydia said, "We couldn't walk away."
"And that makes you special people. A lot of folks would have taken care of number one," the general told her very seriously. "Jonathan tells me you're considering the Air Force Academy year after next, Nancy?"
"I hope you do. We need all the people like you that we can get. If you're at all interested after what you've seen today, you could have a future right here."
Nancy smiled and nodded. "Thank you, sir."
"That goes for all of you. Now, Jonathan and Sirikat already know this, but the rest of you need to understand that all this is classified."
All three of them nodded.
Hammond said, "Lydia's gift could be a tremendously useful one, but it also could put her in a lot of danger if the wrong people find out about it. I don't want anyone putting anything about that in writing, and that's an order."
There was a chorus of yes-sirs.
"And, Alvin. We have some of the best security systems anywhere on the planet, and a fifteen-year-old kid waltzed right through them."
Alvin said, "Well, sir, I wouldn't have said waltzed, exactly. I could have got into the, uh, gateroom?" His voice turned the word into a question, and at Hammond's nod, he went on. "But that's where the security guys would have caught us. Dagar had already made it way easy for me, 'cause he didn't have nobody watching the cameras and whatever else. All I had to do was help get a couple trap doors open."
Hammond nodded. "All told, son, I'd still have to say it wasn't half bad for a first try."
Alvin grinned, embarrassed. He'd so rarely received praise that he was flustered by it.
Jonathan asked, "General, where was everyone?"
Hammond said, "When I woke up we were all crowded into the cafeteria. He probably had us standing in there like a bunch of statues the whole time."
Everyone there was on the edge of exhaustion but even if it was all over but the shouting, there was still some shouting to be done. People were only just now starting to feel the full horror of what had happened, and to realize how close they had come. Just as with the last big foothold situation, they would be a while getting completely back to normal. Hammond had to deal very quickly with his own feelings of outrage, guilt and helplessness so that he could lead his kids through that particular valley.
"All right, we can table all this till tomorrow while we tie up the loose ends. Jack, get some sleep, you damn well earned it."
"Sir." That was all the recognition O'Neill needed or wanted.
Fraiser had him on IV fluids to get him rehydrated quickly, and once his wounds had been treated, he was a hell of a lot more comfortable. After he had been assured early on that Jamie was safe with Mrs. Murphy, only curiosity about what had happened had kept him awake.
Sirikat very gingerly hugged him good night.
"You did good, Punkin."
"I had help."
He looked at Jonathan. "Thanks."
"Any time, bro."
True to his word, Hammond came up with a story to satisfy the school and Nancy and Lydia's parents. It seemed that the kids had been outdoors at the end of lunch and had seen a certain car in which Homeland Security had been very interested. They had been busy all this time with a sketch artist describing the people in the car. Nobody had been told because a couple of people had each thought the other had made the phone calls. Lydia explained away her injured hands by stating she'd tripped and scratched herself in gravel.
Sirikat went with Jonathan to get his car. "Do you want to go back to the mountain, or home?" He asked.
"As I can't be two places at once, I suppose I should go home and see if I can't get the water turned back on. I always thought it was a nuisance to carry water, but then, no one has ever turned the river off."
He laughed. "The bill's been paid. The bank cuts them a check automatically whenever it comes due. It's probably a busted water main or something like that."
"Jonathan, I owe you greatly."
"Goes both ways, Sirikat, without you that thing might have just captured all of us, too."
"Then we share the same debt. In some ways, that defines family."
Sirikat smiled. "You have me at a disadvantage. You know me as Jack does. I know so little of you."
"Not a whole lot to know. Yet."
She laughed. "There will be!"
When Jack woke up a few hours later, the infirmary was deserted. He saw Sam out of the corner of his eye--and damn near had a panic attack. He reached quickly to shut the monitor alarm off before it woke Janet. She was just as worn out as everyone else.
Sam woke up. "Colonel? What's the matter?"
"Nothing. I guess I kinked the damn IV. Freakin' alarm--I just about jumped out of bed." That was a pretty good story, he thought--it covered all the angles.
There was absolutely no way in hell he was going to let Carter find out--ever--that she had triggered a flashback. She was feeling way too guilty about the whole thing already. And now that he was awake, there was nothing. He wondered how long it would take him to figure out exactly what it was about her that was a trigger, so he could desensitize himself to it and get rid of it. This mess hadn't been as bad as Iraq. It sure hadn't been as bad as Ba'al.
He lay back and relaxed. The curtain had the camera blocked. He reached for Carter's hand.
She had one bandage on her arm, from the time Dagar had switched their roles. He was sorry about that, sorry she had been hurt, sorry that she knew what the alien had used her to do to him.
She traced a gentle, relaxing pattern on the back of his hand. "Go back to sleep, sir."
"Yeah," he smiled. "Why don't you pile up on the next bed and get some rest yourself? Janet won't care."
"I know--I'm just--I'm afraid I'm going to wake up, still--you know."
"I know. But it's over. It really is. Move on."
"Open the curtain so I can see you."
She passed out as soon as her head hit the pillow. Jack lay awake for a long while, watching her, letting the blessedly normal sounds of the SGC at night surround him. For once there had been a clear victory. He'd held the line, kept Dagar from getting out of the SGC. That made the memories a lot easier to live with. He closed his eyes and slept.
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