By Rebecca Ratliff
SPOILERS: Abyss, Stargate: The Movie
SEQUEL/SEASON INFO: Season 6, Gates of War Series, follows "Sirikat"
RATING: PG-13 (language, violence)
SUMMARY: SG-1 discovers the legacy of a long-dead race.
CATEGORY: action/adventure, angst, some hurt/comfort
AUTHORS NOTES: Loosely inspired by Sting's video of the same title.
" " = normal conversation
+ + = host/symbiote conversation
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. No infringement of those rights is intended. This story is for entertainment purposes only and no money exchanged hands. No copyright infringement is intended. The original characters, situations, and story are the property of the author. This story may not be posted without the consent of the author. This disclaimer was shamelessly copied from the 'Heliopolis' site.
P2X-947 didn't appear to have much going for it. The stargate was set in a square of cracked paving stones with knee-high grass growing all around and between the rocks. Piles of stone debris were gravestones for the temples and homes that had once surrounded it. To the north, one small, lonesome section of city wall still stood like a menhir. Beyond that, the lush green grass extended to the horizon in all directions, undulating like ocean waves in a light breeze. Blue vining flowers perfumed the air. The place was well and truly abandoned, except for some gophers and little gray lizards.
Jonas knelt down to brush one of the nearer stones clean. "Looks like Jaffa weapons fire to me. Teal'c?"
The Jaffa studied the cracked, blackened stone. "I concur. Apparently the reports the Tok'ra found were correct. Ra scoured this world long ago."
Jonas said, "Colonel, suggest we collect some preliminary plant and soil samples."
O'Neill looked around. Once the Great Plains must have looked something like this. "Sounds like a deal to me," he replied. "Teal'c, do you see any evidence that anyone's been around here lately?"
"No, O'Neill, none whatsoever."
Carter said, "It would be really good if we could get a water sample. They had to have a well or something around here."
She and O'Neill started looking for a water source. It was hot, and persistently annoying little brown flies kept trying to bite. Carter captured a few specimens, then went back to their search.
O'Neill saw a round depression in the center of a ruined building that was somewhat larger than the others, and climbed over the rubble of the outer walls. He looked over the edge and dropped an experimental pebble into the inky depths. Sure enough, there was a splash.
"Got it, Carter!"
She abandoned her search and headed his way.
Rocks shifted under O'Neill. "Watch it, Carter, this stuff is-- Whoa!" He shouted and scrambled for purchase as the ground gave way beneath him. Several big rocks preceded him down the well shaft. About five meters down he plunged into very cold water and swam up, spluttering. "Damn it!" He swore loudly. Three heads appeared in the opening. "Colonel, are you okay?"
"Yeah, drop a line!"
"You'd may as well get the sample while you're down there."
Still swearing, he kicked to stay afloat while he got out a sample jar, filled it and closed it. Then he climbed the rope that Teal'c threw him.
While the others gathered samples, O'Neill poured water out of his boots and sat down to field-strip his rifle and sidearm. In the hot, dry air it didn't take long for his BDUs to dry. After that, he didn't have an excuse not to work. He took several core samples of soil and labeled them.
O'Neill thought he heard wood creaking, and looked up to find himself in the middle of a busy marketplace. The ruined buildings now stood in all their glory, whitewashed stucco walls and roofs of brown clay tiles. There were baskets of grain and several pottery jars near the stargate, which was guarded by two Jaffa. O'Neill didn't recognize their tattoos.
A man carrying a huge heavy barrel on his shoulder headed straight for O'Neill. "Hey! Watch where you're--!"
The man continued on, walking right through O'Neill.
...."Colonel, are you all right?"
O'Neill blinked. "Yeah, I--for a minute I thought I saw this place the way it was before. There were people and buildings and a guy with a barrel--"
"Did you hit your head when you fell?" Jonas looked worried.
"No, but I swallowed some of that water." Wonderful. That was going to mean Fraiser would be doing all kinds of tests on him to find out exactly what it was. "OK, let's head for the barn."
Janet Fraiser finished the last of a series of drug tests and took the results back to O'Neill. She wasn't surprised to find Quinn there passing the time.
"Got anything, Doc?"
"The standard tox screen came back clean. I'm running some other tests, but it will be tomorrow before we have any results back on those. How are you holding up?"
"If I hear one more 'Timmy's down the well' joke, I'm gonna hurt somebody. Other than that I'm fine."
"It could just have been some sort of delayed stress reaction," Fraiser said sympathetically. "Have you had any other hallucinatory episodes since you escaped?"
"I already told you about the weird deal with the flashbacks, right? This was different. There wasn't anything particularly unpleasant about the vision or whatever it was, other than seeing it in the first place. It was just an ordinary day in this marketplace, people were doing their everyday thing."
Quinn suggested, "Maybe it wasn't something in the water after all. Didn't you collect some core samples?"
"Right, just before this happened."
Fraiser inspected his hands and arms for any bites or scratches, found nothing of note. "I'll look at the core samples, but, Jack, you know, it's possible that you had a genuine retrocognitive incident. Trauma can make us more sensitive to psychic phenomena, and couple that with falling down that well, it's possible. If so, it probably won't happen again."
"So I can leave?"
"Yeah, but don't go too far until we get the rest of those tests back."
O'Neill headed for his quarters to write up his mission report, and by then he was hungry. He just had time to get to the cafeteria before the serving line closed.
He was in line behind a pretty 20-something lieutenant, he thought a minute and placed her as one of the SG-16 new fish. She was African American, with her short hair done up in cornrow braids, and she filled out her uniform very nicely. Jack's very next thought was that he was old enough to be her father. When the hell had that happened?!
They both reached for a slice of pie at the same time.
....Car headed straight for him left of center on a mountain road. Swerve, skid, overcompensate, car fishtails and skids along the guardrail for a moment then breaks through, goes end over end a couple of times before coming to rest wheels up in a ditch. Strong smell of gasoline. His arm stings fiercely as he fights the seatbelt to get the hell out of the car. A jagged, bleeding cut ran from wrist to elbow.... Red lights and sirens, a paramedic asking....
...."Are you all right?"
O'Neill recovered fast. The young lieutenant was giving him a very concerned look. "Oh--yeah, I'm fine. Long day." He let her have the pie and picked up something else instead. He caught a look at her arm. There were several fine lines of scarring.
He went through the serving line on autopilot.
Now what? So much for Fraiser's reassurance that it probably wouldn't happen again. What he should be doing was reporting this second incident. If he did that, he'd be locked up in the infirmary again, not doing something to find out what was happening. Was this the mysterious reason Ra had killed the inhabitants of P2X-947? He sure wouldn't have wanted any psychics among his slaves. The answers were as likely to be in the scrolls the Tok'ra were studying or back onworld, as in the samples they had brought back with them.
Seeing things that had already happened could have its uses, but not if it was going to happen without warning, and not if he couldn't control it. A distraction like that in the middle of a fight could get him and the rest of the team killed. And if the NID found out about it, he'd probably find himself playing lab rat somewhere.
Well, there was no way he was going through the gate again until all of Fraiser's tests were done. Maybe she would come up with some answers. In the meanwhile, he decided to play it smart and keep what he had seen to himself for now.
Janet had told him not to go too far, but she hadn't confined him to base. He decided it would be better to go home rather than risk another incident like the one in the chow line.
0800 rolled around fast. Everyone stopped whatever they were doing and came to attention for the national anthem. One of the daily rituals of military life, Janet pretended a certain nonchalance but she never had got impatient with it. She got back to work. One of the lab techs asked, "Do you want some coffee or a danish?"
"Cheese danish if you're going, thanks, Ellie."
Janet held up a test tube containing replicated DNA from plant material that she had found in Jack's water sample. There was enough to run the test she planned. She transferred the DNA sample to a series of test containers, which she placed in the incubation cabinet.
She heard a door. "Janet!"
"Lab 2, Jack!"
"Tell me you've worked some magic for me, Doc."
"Let's say I'm working on it," she replied.
Her foot came down on a piece of cellophane and slid. She reached out to catch herself and slammed her hand down on the empty test tube, cutting her palm deeply.
O'Neill took her arm to help her up. "Janet, are you okay?"
"Yeah, it doesn't look too bad. Wanna play nurse?"
He laughed at the double entendre. "Sure. What do you need?"
Under her direction, he cut her latex glove off and removed it.
"Squirt some saline on it to get the blood off." Once that was done she inspected the injury under a bright light. "Looks like there's just that one piece of glass. There are forceps on that tray."
Once the glass was out, she checked again with a magnifying glass to be sure there were no more splinters in the injury.
"That won't need a suture. Just put a sponge on it."
Ellie brought her danish. "What happened?"
"I slipped and cut myself on broken glass. No biggie."
"I told you it was a Monday."
"Right. Next time I'll definitely believe you instead of the calendar."
Ellie laughed. "Dr. Young wants me to help him with a patient, unless you need me?"
"That's Nichols' burn, isn't it?"
Jack threw his gloves in the trash. "Why did you need me here?"
"Routine vitals, that's all."
"Hey, if one of us takes a fall on base, we gotta fill out about fifteen pages of reports before we can go back to work."
"Right, but since I'd be turning the reports in to myself, I'm giving myself permission to fill them out later. Exam 1. Scoot."
Jack went along with the exam with a minimum of horseplay. Everything was going fine until Janet took his wrist to check his pulse. She turned dead white and almost fainted. Jack caught her and sat her down in the chair.
"What's wrong, Doc?"
"I think we can definitely conclude that it was something in the water." She sounded really awful.
"Janet, what happened?"
"I had a flash."
She shook her head and said something evasive.
"Three guesses what's happened to me lately that would freak out somebody having a psychic moment."
"I thought your report was horrendous, but...we don't even know the half of it, do we?"
"I was writing a report, not an encyclopedia," he replied. "I'm sorry you had to see that."
"Don't apologize, Jack. If I could hand you that rat bastard's head on a silver platter, I would. You know that, don't you?"
"I know. It happened, Janet. It's over, and I'll be damned if I'm going to have the rest of my life defined by that. I'm OK with talking about it."
"I'm here whenever, as your doctor or as your friend."
"I came home to a lot of folks including you who helped me get my life back. Uh, Janet, there's...something else you ought to be aware of." Jack came clean about the chow line incident.
"You know....This is starting to make a strange sort of sense."
"If you're reading a person, you get...I don't know, some traumatic experience they've been through. Maybe a defining moment. But if it's a place or maybe even an object, you just see something at random." Janet had regained her composure, but those were a few seconds that she would remember for the rest of her life.
"That does make sense," he agreed. "What now?"
"Good question," Janet replied. "First off, I need to report to General Hammond and get P2X-947 restricted to prevent anyone else from being infected." She scowled. "Then we cross our fingers that this is all it does."
Ten minutes later, they were sitting at a conference table with General Hammond and the rest of SG-1.
Hammond asked, "Colonel O'Neill, why didn't you report the cafeteria incident last night?"
"Sir. Because as soon as something goes into a written report and on the computer, it's available to some rogue NID operation or who knows what else," O'Neill replied. "I'm sorry, sir, but I don't want to end up as a lab rat unless it's for a real good reason. I reported it to Doc here as soon as it became relevant to her research."
Hammond nodded. The NID's penetration of base security was still a sore point with him. Since the security breach had resulted in Carter's abduction and near murder, he had on several occasions made a direct report to the President, either over a secure line or standing in the Oval Office, rather than trust sensitive information to the usual channels. It was a royal pain in the ass for all concerned. "OK. Dr. Fraiser, any ideas yet what we're dealing with here?"
"I was infected by some broken glass that was contaminated with DNA from a plant that I found in a water sample. My theory right now is that somehow it's unlocking natural psychic abilities that all humans have to some degree. But I must stress that this is very preliminary."
Quinn said, "It would add up. The well was located in the ruins of a structure that seemed larger than the ones around it. That may have been a temple. The Oracle at Delphi had her visions of the future after breathing vapors that came up through a fissure in the earth. Something similar may have been happening on P2X-947."
Fraiser said, "I'm going to need more samples, both the water and the plant life growing around the well. May I suggest that, since Col. O'Neill and I are already infected, we should collect those samples. I also need copies of anything the Tok'ra have managed to translate concerning the planet, other than what they've already sent us."
Carter said, "If they give us any static, I can get Dad to help me persuade the Council that we have a need to know."
O'Neill said, "Jonas, you go with Carter in case you end up having to make copies of a lot of stuff. Teal'c--"
"I should accompany you and Dr. Fraiser, O'Neill. I believe that my symbiote will be able to protect me from any contamination."
"I was about to say that," O'Neill replied.
Hammond said, "All right, you have a go."
Fraiser looked around. "You know, I don't think I can say very much for this place. It looks a lot like what you'd see out my granddad's back door--only without the cows."
She unloaded sampling equipment from the FRED. Jack said, "That's a fishing pole."
"Yes, it is. You already fell down the well, I think I'll skip that." In lieu of a fish hook, she clipped a sampling container and a couple of sinkers to the end of the line.
"Why didn't I think of that?"
"That's why they pay me the big bucks," Fraiser grinned.
It was high noon local time and getting miserably hot, especially since they were wearing gloves, masks and protective visors to avoid further contamination. Fraiser worked with a quiet competence. She had O'Neill capturing more insects and taking air samples. When he was finished with that, he took a stroll around the outside perimeter. He wasn't sure what he was looking for, just anything out of the ordinary.
About fifty yards from the gap in the ruins of the city wall that had once evidently been the town's main gate, he found something that qualified. Grass was growing around several large pieces of rusty metal. It looked like aircraft wreckage to him, a death glider to be specific.
He didn't expect to find the cockpit intact. It would have taken a forensics team to recover the charred bone fragments that were all anybody could have ever found of the pilot. Experimentally, he took his right glove off and picked up a small piece of wreckage.
Apparently it wasn't that easy to activate his newfound talent on purpose. He concentrated on the feel of flying one of those birds. It was more similar to a Russian MiG than an American warbird. You could do a crazy Ivan in a death glider. Thanks to the inertial dampers, you could fly the plane at its limitations, not your own. And he had never flown a more responsive aircraft. He tried to place what must have happened. Had the pilot been flying off a hat'ak or had he threaded the needle through the stargate? Either way his trajectory had taken him right over the middle of town....
....as screaming, terrified people fled the town square for whatever pitiful cover they could find. He took a strafing run down the main road, mowing down dozens of people, men women and children alike, who couldn't get out of the way for the stampeding crowd. There was a man standing fearlessly on the city wall, holding a staff. It wasn't a Jaffa staff weapon, it was something else entirely. The last thing he saw was a ball of green fire that engulfed his glider.... Breathing hard, O'Neill threw down the piece of metal. He made a mental note to himself, do not read old death glider wreckage. It was one thing to know that a long time ago the people here had been murdered. It was something else again to live through watching thirty or forty innocent people die with his finger on the trigger. Geez.
O'Neill had always felt two ways about sending that nuke to Ra's hat'ak. There had been innocent people on board that ship, collateral damage that he would just have to live with for the rest of his life, and he knew that Daniel had never quite forgiven himself for that either. But in that moment it became crystal clear to him that he had done what had to be done, one of the things he had been put on Earth to do. Otherwise first Abydos and then Earth would have come to the same end as this godforsaken place.
That nameless Jaffa pilot had enjoyed killing the villagers. It had been just target practise for him, no more than killing rats. Sayonara, asshole.
Teal'c asked, "O'Neill, what did you see?"
"This death glider crashed and burned. Couldn't'a happened to a nicer guy."
"Point is, I was able to do it on purpose. I just picked up a piece of junk and concentrated. Let's get back, it looks like Janet's wrapping up."
When they got back to the FRED, O'Neill told Fraiser what he had seen and done. Fraiser looked around. "Let me try something." She picked one of the smaller structures at random and sat down. She closed her eyes and concentrated. What had the building been and who had lived there?
After a moment, she got a fleeting impression of a hot kitchen with a woman baking bread. This had been the town bakery? She poked around and found the remains of a hearth, traced the stone with her fingers. This time the vision was clearer and lasted longer. She could feel the heat as the baker opened the oven, smell the rich fragrance of the bread, hear snatches of the woman's song as she put a new loaf in the oven.
"Hey, it worked. Jack, if you have a question in your mind before you start I think you get an answer."
"I haven't had any more surprise episodes, you?"
"No. Maybe once you get the hang of it, it doesn't happen that way. Have you ever seen that Sting video, Fields of Gold?"
"You mean the one where the guy is walking around some ruins and every time he looks through a doorway or something, he sees the way it used to be?"
"Yeah, that's what this feels like." She stood and dusted off her pants. "Let's get this stuff back home so I can get to work."
"Just so we're clear, the idea is to get rid of it?"
"Crystal, Jack." Janet smiled. He had the strong impression that she wasn't in as much of a hurry to do that as he was.
They got back to find Sam and Jonas already home from the alpha site. The Tok'ra had translated the last scroll, which mentioned that the priests of the rain god received visions and wondrous powers after drinking from the sacred well. The scroll was a collection of hymns of praise to the rain god, who as far as they could tell was a locaity whose identity had not been coopted by a Goa'uld. They were trying to figure out how much of the hymn's lyrics consisted of real information rather than poetic license. It was times like that when Sam missed Daniel the most. Two physicists weren't much good at interpreting ancient poetry. They had enlisted one of the anthropologists from another team, but there wasn't that much to work from.
"What about the guy on the city wall who shot that fireball off the end of his staff at the death glider?" Jack asked.
Jonas shook his head in frustration. "That could be a coincidence. It could have been a weapon, it could have been something else entirely besides the compound that triggered your retrocognitive abilities. There just isn't anything here to explain it."
He left them alone to do their work shortly after that. He had some paperwork to get caught up, and straightened his office up a little. And then there was nothing for him to do while SG-1 was on stand down. He headed for the gym and found Teal'c already there.
A couple of days later, Fraiser's lab work started to give them some answers. She isolated a compound in the plants and in their blood that seemed to be the key. Blood levels of this compound were steeply declining as time went on, and exhaustive tests showed no other effects, good or bad.
Hammond decided to give it until the beginning of the week and told them to report back on Monday morning. Jacob had come through the gate with some information on an unrelated thing, and decided to spend the weekend with Sam since things were relatively quiet back home. Jack spent some time Friday evening on the firing range, he had requalification coming up.
Saturday O'Neill woke up with a headache, but ran some errands anyhow. He intended to stop at the diner for the special. By the time he got in and out of the bank just before it closed at noon, the thought of food made him nauseous. The town looked washed out, like an old photograph, as if some necessary component had been bleached out of it, leaving only the dull and the commonplace. There was something missing that he wanted, no, needed.
He had experienced physical dependency and withdrawal a little too recently not to recognize the signs. Something was really wrong.
O'Neill climbed into the cab of his truck and sat there for a while, hoping a rest would make him feel a little better. He got out his cell phone and looked up Fraiser's number. It rang about six times, then she answered it, sounding a little out of breath.
"It's O'Neill. Doc, have you noticed anything out of the ordinary today?"
"No, nothing," she answered, way too quickly.
He scowled. "I guess it could be a flu bug...."
"What do you mean, uh, headache, fever?" She asked. She definitely sounded hyperactive.
"Headache and nausea, no fever."
Momentary silence, then a long, thoughtful sigh. When Fraiser answered, she was all professionalism. "Come on up here and we'll get you checked out."
O'Neill turned the key in the ignition and wound through town to the highway. This was why he hated to come downtown, he hit every damn red light all the way to the on-ramp. He pulled out into light traffic. By now he was sweating and his hands felt shaky. Damn! He hadn't been this strung out since about a week after he had escaped from Ba'al. He knew it was the well water. Some drugs, you could get addicted after just one dose. Cocaine affected some people like that. And, some drugs, quitting cold turkey could kill. For a moment he seriously considered pulling over to the side of the road and having someone come and drive him in. If traffic had been any heavier, he would have. As it was, he slowed down and drove very carefully until he came to the Cheyenne Mountain turn off. He stopped and got out and puked in the ditch. He wiped his mouth on a paper napkin. The smell of the burger and fries that it had shared a bag with yesterday evening just about sent him back to the ditch.
There was a series of things he was going to have to do. Drive to the parking lot. Park the truck. Pass through the security checkpoint. Walk to the elevator. Ride down to the SGC levels. Walk through the corridors to the infirmary. It was the walking parts after parking the truck that had him concerned.
The MP glanced at his ID and opened the gate for him. O'Neill remembered getting on the elevator and pushing the button. Then he about half remembered something weird about the corridor floor coming up and smacking him in the face when the elevator doors opened.
Jonas was hanging out with SG-16's Lt. Reed. She was smart, funny, and he agreed with O'Neill that she filled out her uniform very nicely. So far he hadn't talked her into a date, but on the other hand she hadn't told him to stop bothering her, either. When the elevator opened up, it surprised the hell out of both of them when O'Neill took a half-step out and keeled over unconscious. Jonas flew over to check his pulse and breathing while Reed yelled for a medic. Jack came to right away, and batted Jonas' hand away from his wrist. "Damn, you been swimming in ice water or something?"
"Lie still. You're burning up." Jonas looked seriously scared.
Fraiser and a corpsman got him down to sickbay. The corpsman shut a door in Jonas' face. Fraiser quickly got his vitals while a nurse started an IV. Fraiser drew several tubes of blood, then injected a couple of things into the IV bag that reduced the fever and kept the nausea at bay.
When the nurse stepped out of the room, Jack grabbed her wrist. "Janet, you took more of that stuff."
"I can't believe I did that! Jack, please don't report me or I'll be out of the Air Force for sure."
He took a deep breath. Ruining Fraiser's career was absolutely the last thing he wanted to do. ";You were exposed after I was, so it would make sense if you started showing symptoms after I did. But no more of that junk, or I will report it. I'm not joking."
She promised, looking scared. "I swear, Jack, I'd already injected myself before I realized what I was doing. This is unbelievable. I never even smoked pot in college!"
"If we'd got high on it, we would have had a better idea what to expect," O'Neill pointed out.
"That's true...." Fraiser admitted.
"So now what?"
Fraiser reached for her clipboard and pen. "Tell me about your symptoms."
"It started this morning with a headache...." He went on to describe everything, up to losing consciousness in the elevator. "Was that similar?"
"Up to the point where I injected myself, yes," Fraiser admitted, deeply ashamed.
"Doc, for what it's worth, if I hadn't just been through this, I doubt I would have realized what was happening. You reacted, that's all."
"Be that as it may, I still would rather crawl in a hole and die than have to admit what I did to Cassie."
"You won't. Just play it cool, and when you start feeling strung out, report it like it was the first time it happened. We've all made mistakes. Most of the time, there isn't a problem unless you start making the same mistake over and over again."
"Yeah." She still didn't look happy with herself, but O'Neill figured that was probably a good thing. Unlike him, Fraiser just wasn't cut out for spending most of her time skating on the edge of a court martial.
When Fraiser left the room, Hammond, Teal'c and Quinn were lined up in the corridor like Ben, Hoss and Little Joe. "He's doing pretty well, considering. It appears that the P2X-947 compound is physically addictive."
Jonas said, "You mean he's in withdrawal again?"
"I'm afraid so."
Jonas said something in his native language that needed absolutely no translation.
Hammond asked, "What about you?"
"When and if I begin to experience symptoms of withdrawal, I'll relieve myself of duty. Since I've been exposed to much less of the compound, it might be that I can kick it cold turkey. We should get some valuable data from that."
Hammond looked in the door to see for himself that Jack was OK, then he got back to work.
Quinn and Teal'c came in. "Colonel, how are you feeling?"
"Like I got up here dragging behind my truck instead of in it, but it'll pass."
Quinn said, "I'm going to have another go at the scrolls. I can read them fairly well now without depending on the Tok'ra translations. Maybe I'll come up with another angle on one of the earlier ones. I'll be right around the corner, page me if you want anything."
"Do you want me to call Carter?"
"No, don't do that. She doesn't get to spend much time with Jacob."
"OK." Quinn left the room.
Teal'c pulled a chair over to O'Neill's side of the room. Jack turned on the TV and found a baseball game. Like the last time, one of his team would be there 24/7 to see him through this.
Teal'c kept him distracted and interested in the game, and later in a couple of movies. That was about when the cramps started.
The mild ones, O'Neill mostly ignored. Sometimes he had to concentrate on deep breathing to keep control. Then a really bad one hit. He could only clench his jaw to keep from screaming and ride it out. When it eased off, Teal'c waited patiently for O'Neill to release his death grip on his hand. His joints were locked, it took a real effort of will to straighten his fingers. Lost in exhaustion and memory, he lay back.
Teal'c put a damp washcloth over his forehead. "There is an army of your brothers in arms between you and any harm, my friend."
"Teal'c, if the NID gets wind of this...."
"Their path goes through General Hammond and then through me, O'Neill. None shall pass."
O'Neill read the truth of that statement in every line of his friend's face. He let his body take the sleep it craved.
In a couple of hours, he was wakened by the bustle of getting another patient settled in the next bed. "Teal'c?"
"I am here, O'Neill."
"Is that Doc next door?"
O'Neill took stock. He must have been cramping while he was out, if soreness was any indication, but the rest had helped.
Quinn tapped at the door but then saw the nurses busy at the other bed. He waited in the corridor until they finished getting Fraiser settled in and opened the curtain between the two beds.
O'Neill asked Fraiser, "How's it goin', Doc?"
"Sick as a dog, but I'll live."
"That sounds about right." O'Neill noticed that Quinn had one of his notebooks with him. "Have you got something, Jonas?"
"I just might. Are you guys up to hearing about it?"
By way of an answer, Fraiser located the other chair behind her curtain and pushed it in Quinn's direction. He straddled the back. "With all this poetry, and no working knowledge of how the language was actually spoken, it's difficult to get an exact translation. I'm not saying the Tok'ra got it wrong, but when they were working on these early translations, the working hypothesis was that the stuff about fantastic powers was poetic license, not literal truth. They didn't discover the psychic compound when they were on P2X-947, either because they didn't come in contact with it or because their symbiotes prevented them from being affected. They were translating one phrase as indicating that a statement was true in a religious sense. Now if I translate that phrase as meaning literally true, it changes the whole meaning of several passages, and what it boils down to is that whoever drinks twice of the waters of the gods will himself become a god among men."
Fraiser choked on her water.
"Are you OK, Dr. Fraiser?"
"Uh--yeah, I just got water down the wrong pipe. What else does it say?"
"Well, pretty much what we already figured out. As long as you don't go back to the well again, the way they describe the rain god's punishment sounds a lot like withdrawal. They say from the setting sun until the setting sun, and P2X-947 has a thirty hour day."
O'Neill glanced over at Fraiser. "Just out of curiosity, Jonas, what does it say about the people who go back again?"
"Something about the gift of the god. They pass through the cleansing fire and learn if the god has chosen them for the path of the seer or the path of the warrior. That's all interesting, but I wouldn't suggest trying the experiment."
Quinn saw the way O'Neill and Fraiser were looking at each other. "What?"
Fraiser said, "Some idiot already did that experiment."
"Are you serious?"
"Oh, yeah. That 'cleansing fire' thing has me a little worried, Jonas."
"I'll keep working on it, but, doctor, this is speculation at best, and it's completely out of my field."
"I understand that."
Worried voices receded as another wave of pain crushed O'Neill in its iron grasp. This time he had enough presence of mind to grab the bed rail instead of anyone's hand.
Fraiser paled as she realized this was way worse than simple withdrawal. She reached for her call button and got up to see what was going on. O'Neill was fighting to control muscle spasms that convulsed him as if he'd grabbed a high voltage wire.
"Jonas, hold his feet down. He could snap his own bones. DAMN IT, ELLIE, GET IN HERE!"
The nurse practically flew through the door. Fraiser ordered a muscle relaxer. Jack didn't even feel the needle go in his vein. A few seconds later, the drug took effect and he relaxed into blessed merciful unconsciousness.
Only then did Ellie put Fraiser back in her own bed. "Doctor, do you want a shot before that starts?"
"N-no, we can't be sure it'll affect me the same way. Just if you hear the call button--"
"I'll get in here on the double, I promise. Jesus Christ, as if the Goa'uld weren't enough to worry about!"
"Ellie, make sure Ben knows how bad that was. He's got to be right on top of it."
"I'll make sure he understands. Get some rest while you can, Janet. I expect the colonel will be out for quite a while."
Quinn sat down and looked for the notebook he'd thrown aside during the emergency. Added to the growing collection of unwelcome images that he could never hope to delete was the expression of absolute agony written in the lines and angles of O'Neill's face. How many times did a person get to come back from that? Jonas pushed a sick, helpless feeling aside by getting back to work.
A couple of hours later, Jacob, Sam and Cassie got home from shopping, pizza and a movie to find the house dark and empty.
Cassie said, "Make yourselves at home while I check the machine. Mom probably left a message."
They heard the machine squawk and then Janet's voice. Cassie came back. "Mom's in the infirmary."
Sam immediately went through a list of who was off world and what they were doing. "Who got hurt?"
"No, I mean, she's IN the infirmary, as a patient. It must be the--you-know-what."
"Can you take me up there?"
Sam said, "It's late, visiting hours are over. Dad, could you stay here with Cassie while I run up there and find out what's going on?"
"I can stay by myself."
"Honey, that girl got raped and strangled just three blocks from here, and I never saw where they caught the guy. I swear, I feel safer through the gate. At least there the guys have my back."
"I keep the dog inside and carry a knife when I'm here by myself."
Jacob said, "No problem, Cassie, I'll stay. They aren't going to let the whole tribe of us land in your mom's room anyhow."
Sam kissed them on her way out. "I'll call you as soon as I find out what's going on."
"Drive carefully, honey," Jacob said.
Selmac worried, +I do hope they're all right. Jack has been through so much this year, it just isn't fair.+
+I know, Sel.+
Sam got there just as O'Neill was starting to wake up, in the grip of another set of muscle spasms. The drug moderated it enough that he could control it with deep breathing. He knew the drug would wear off before he would be allowed more, and that was going to be a bitch.
O'Neill saw Carter standing in the doorway. She was wearing civvies, jeans and a sweater. "I thought you were with Jacob."
"Yes, sir, I was. We took Cassie to the mall. I don't think Selmac knew what to make of that. We didn't get your message until just a little while ago."
Janet asked, "Where's Cassie?"
"At your house. Dad stayed with her."
"Oh, good. I was really worried about her being alone at night with the strangler still running loose."
"My sentiments exactly. What do you think of getting her a cell phone?"
"I'd feel safer if she had one."
O'Neill moved his feet to make room for her to sit on the bed while they explained.
Carter rolled her eyes. "People, we need to corner old Murphy and have a nice long talk with him. And, Janet, I'm sorry but that was--"
"Really unbelievably stupid, I know. And if you ever tell Cassie-- !"
Sam assured her, "Your secret's safe with me."
Jonas reported, "I've got this next passage figured out. Janet, it says, fear not the flame which burns but consumes not. Behold, the ways of the divine are good. He gives his children the knowledge of past, present and future. A mighty sword he gives into their hands."
"OK, so why did only the one old guy fight back when Ra's air raid started?" Jack asked.
"Good question. One of the other scrolls mentioned a falling away from the faith and condemned the worship of false gods. Colonel, you saw Jaffa guarding the stargate. I'll bet some Goa'uld started a new religion and wouldn't let the people go to the well any more."
Ellie came in. "There are too many people in here. One of you can stay."
Jonas said, "I will, I'm going to be awake working on this anyhow."
"That is unnecessary, JonasQuinn."
O'Neill said, "He's right, Teal'c. You've been here all day and we've still got tomorrow to get through."
"Very well, O'Neill."
Quinn left for a while to give Carter a chance to visit for a few minutes. He got a cup of coffee from the pot in the nurses' station.
Dr. Young asked, "How's it going in there?"
"Thank the gods for muscle relaxers. The colonel slept until a few minutes before Carter got here."
"Is someone staying tonight?"
"I am. I just stepped out for a little while so Carter could visit."
"Good. Dr. Quinn, that dose will give out at least half an hour before we can give him any more. It's going to be rough."
"There's nothing you can give him?"
"He's maxed out. He could stop breathing."
Jonas finished his coffee a little while before Sam came out. She said, "Listen to me, Jonas, if Colonel O'Neill is unconscious when he has one of those episodes, you be very careful how you approach him. He could kill you bare handed."
"I got that but I'll take my chances. There is no way in hell anybody is putting him in restraints."
Carter nodded. "I'll be back tomorrow, unless you need me before that."
"Sam, he's going to be OK. I'd like to know what lesson the universe thinks it's trying to teach him, but you know even better than I do how strong he is."
Sam nodded. "I'm going back to Janet's place. As late as it is, I'll just crash there for a few hours. Call my cell phone if you need me. I'll be back here first thing tomorrow."
Quinn went back inside. The lights were dimmed on Fraiser's side of the room, and she had dozed off. The last thing he and O'Neill wanted to do was wake her. She would need the rest soon enough. They held to the hope that it wouldn't be so bad for her, but there was no way to know ahead of time. Jonas opened the bathroom door a crack to let a little light in, and quietly went back to work on his translation, keeping one eye on O'Neill the whole time.
Even so, he wouldn't have known O'Neill was having another episode if his arm hadn't shuddered and shaken the bed rail. Quinn followed his lead and didn't create a disturbance, just silently laid his hand on O'Neill's wrist. Muscles and tendons corded like steel cable. Quinn found the damp cloth on the bedside table and wrung it out as best he could one-handed.
O'Neill's whole awareness had narrowed down to overwhelming pain, and the struggle to draw one breath after another, and to lie still-- he wasn't sure whether he believed Doc about convulsing so violently that he could break a bone, but he wasn't taking chances. He was just counting seconds until he passed out, which wasn't happening anywhere nearly soon enough. Somebody had told him once that a human being couldn't faint lying down. He was pretty sure that one wasn't true--but right now it seemed like it.
Then he felt a reassuring hand on his arm, a cool cloth on his face. Someone was there for him. He hadn't been alone in Ba'al's dungeon and he wasn't alone now.
One more breath. Another. Another. Finally, his exhausted body refused to sustain the muscle spasms any longer, and he melted back into the hard hospital mattress. He wondered what time it was, and how long till his next shot, but it was just too much work to find out. He started to chill, and someone pulled the blanket up.
He opened his eyes. Quinn had a look of weary compassion in his eyes that was out of place on a kid in his twenties. "You've sat up with sick people before, haven't you?"
"My dad and my sister died of something like your influenza. Then a few years later, Mum fell in the yard and cut her leg. It got infected, and by the time she agreed to call the doctor, it had gone septic. She lost her leg and it took her about a year to really get better."
O'Neill remembered that Kelowna didn't have antibiotics. Earth's pre-penicillin history was full of stories like that. "I'm sorry, I didn't know."
"Long time ago, Jack. Another lifetime." They spoke in hushed voices. Quinn asked, "Do you think a heating pad or something like that would help?"
Jack shook his head. "You're probably on the right track, but I don't know where I'd put the damn thing first."
Janet's voice came softly from behind the curtain. "Jonas, there's a blanket warmer. Whoever's on the desk can get you a hot blanket."
"Thanks. I'm sorry we woke you."
"You didn't. Could you ask Ellie to come in here for a minute?"
"Sure." Jonas stepped out into the hall, and returned presently with the nurse and a hot blanket.
The heat soaked in like a sunny day at the beach. O'Neill went with that image, remembering an afternoon several years ago spent fishing in the surf and admiring the girls jogging on the beach in their bikinis. He could almost hear the cries of the gulls that wheeled and dived overhead, in hopes that some fisherman would leave his bait bucket uncovered.
He heard the nurse pull the curtain and switch on Janet's light. "What did you need, Doctor?"
"My back is burning. Do I have a rash?"
"Roll over a little more, let me see. Yes, you do, it looks just like you'd really scalded yourself."
"That's what it feels like, too."
"I'll get some cream." Ellie stepped out of the room for a second, and then they heard some quiet rustling around as she tended to Janet. "Ma'am, this is spreading. Dr. Young should have a look at this."
"I guess now we know what that scroll meant, Jonas," Fraiser commented.
"I'm afraid so," Quinn answered.
Jack winced in sympathy. All of a sudden the episodes he was having didn't sound so bad. As hard as they were, they only lasted a couple of minutes and it was fifteen minutes or so between them. Anything that could be described as similar to being scalded didn't sound like a hell of a lot of fun.
Dr. Young came in about ten minutes later and inspected the rash. "A first-degree burn is exactly how I'd describe it, Janet."
"Janet, you're the patient, I'm...."
"What part of 'do you see any blisters' don't you understand, Benjamin?" O'Neill and Quinn stifled snickers. It didn't make the slightest difference that she was 100 pounds soaking wet and dressed in a hospital gown. This was her infirmary and would be as long as she was breathing. Young didn't know it yet, but he was going to be doing exactly what Fraiser told him to do.
"No blisters, so far it's just red. Darker in the center."
"OK, you'll need to take skin biopsies. Damn it, I should've had Ellie do that before she put that cream on."
"Well, we'll do it now."
"That's funny, I would have expected the reaction to be most severe at the site, but there's nothing."
They lapsed into medicalese for several minutes. Young left the room briefly and returned with a tray.
O'Neill felt another episode starting. He had lost track of time and resigned himself to seeing it through. It was a surprise when he heard Young telling Quinn, "Hold his arm steady, or I'm never going to get the needle in." Seconds later there was a momentary sting and then the drug took hold.
Young nodded and dropped the syringe in the sharps container, then left with the tray.
Fraiser pulled the curtain open. "Jack, how's it going?"
"I'm good to go as long as the drugs hold out. How about you?"
"It hurts, but not as bad as that time I went to sleep in the sun a few years ago." Fraiser left unsaid that it was at the moment confined to her back. It would get worse, a lot worse, as it spread.
O'Neill told her, "We'll get through this, Doc."
Quinn learned something about leadership that night, as he watched the fear in Fraiser's eyes turn to confidence. He had already known he would have followed O'Neill into any battle, anywhere. Now he understood why. It wasn't O'Neill's die hard attitude so much as his ability to inspire that same outlook in the people around him. He believed there was always a way to overcome any challenge that came their way, and he made his people believe it too.
Quinn checked on Fraiser, and replaced the cold towel she had lying across her back. O'Neill was sleeping when he looked over there again. Between changing her towels every ten or fifteen minutes, Quinn worked on his translations. About 0200h, Young came back and it was obvious that something serious was up.
"Ben?" Fraiser's voice was a little slurred from weariness.
"Janet, I put those slides under the microscope and there are some cellular changes. If you're up to it, I'd like another set of samples and an MRI."
She woke up. "OK. While they're doing the MRI, print out the slides for me."
"Roger that. Do you want something for pain before you go to radiology?"
"If I'm mutating, I don't know what might poison me, now do I?"
Young's eyes flew open wide. He hadn't thought of the term "mutating" or of the ramifications it might have as far as treating her were concerned. He examined her rash. The redness had spread all over her body. There was no way for her to avoid lying on it. He wouldn't know about internal changes until after the MRI, if then. "That's right, Janet. It's up to you if you want to take a chance, though, I'm not going to tell you not to."
"Well, I guess we'll see when I get back."
Quinn had been sure to translate the parts that made it clear the natives of P2X-947 expected to survive the mysterious transformation, but Young didn't know how closely related they were to humans. All they could do was wait and treat the symptoms.
O'Neill asked, "Jonas? What's going on?"
"They're getting ready to take Doc for an MRI. I have to go out in the hall for a minute while they move her."
Ellie and another nurse pushed a gurney in and pulled the curtains around Fraiser's bed. O'Neill heard her cry out softly, a sound she quickly muffled in her pillow. Ellie said something in a comforting tone, not quite loud enough for him to hear. They tried again and this time Fraiser didn't make a sound.
Quinn came back bearing two cups of coffee. "Sorry, it's decaf, that's all they'd let me have for you."
"Better than nothing," O'Neill said. "Fraiser sounded pretty bad when they were moving her around."
"She looks like she dived head first into hot water," Quinn replied.
"If I'd been more careful around that damn well, none of this would have happened."
"It was an accident. And that broken test tube was another accident."
"Yeah, I know, but the fact is, I was careless and now Janet gets to pay for it."
"Collecting samples right then was my idea, Colonel. There's plenty of guilt to go around."
O'Neill laughed. "You sure you're not Irish Catholic?"
Quinn replied with a laugh of his own. "I don't think so--not in this lifetime, anyhow."
"Coulda fooled me." O'Neill carefully hitched himself up in the bed. He wondered what it was about hospital beds that he always ended up with his feet hanging off the end.
"The nurse wanted me to get you to eat something."
O'Neill thought about that. If whatever he ate was going to come back up, better it should be now, while his meds were working. "Yeah, see if you can find me some chips."
"Sure, I'll be right back."
Quinn headed for the nearest snack machine and fished for change.
There was no one at the nurses' station. That wasn't unusual on the night shift, when there was no ward clerk on duty, but there was activity on one of the monitor screens.
Quinn frowned. That wasn't right, the work station should have been locked down if no one was there.
He checked it out. Someone was remotely accessing the infirmary files using Dr. Fraiser's log in. They were trying to hack into O'Neill's medical records. Quinn logged in under his admin ID. Then he set another level of password protection on everything except the cover sheet, which contained very little private information anyway, and called up an array of IC (intrusion countermeasures) to wall off the leak and identify the hacker.
He traced the intrusion to a Seattle hub before the hacker got wise and went offline. Immediately Quinn gathered all the information he could on the intrusion before the hacker had the chance to cover his, her or its tracks. Meanwhile, he got on the phone to security and reported the incident. As soon as Quinn was sure someone was on the alert for another attempt, he sent them the log of everything he had done so far. He picked up the bag of chips and went back to O'Neill's room.
"What's going on?"
"I caught a hacker trying to get your medical records."
"Jonas, you can stand down. The NID isn't going to try to kidnap us out of the infirmary."
Quinn realized he was keyed up for exactly that. He handed the chips over and sat down.
"What did they get?" O'Neill asked.
"Just the cover sheet. I let them have it to keep them busy while I ran some ice. All I got was that they were going through a major internet hub in Seattle, and they logged in using Dr. Fraiser's ID."
O'Neill scowled. "Someone must have dropped a dime since she was admitted."
"If they called from here, we'll know which phone they used."
"What if they used a cell?"
"Wouldn't matter," Quinn explained. "You know that package of stuff you download to your phone as soon as you get clearance for it? There's a repeater that sends the signal up to the antenna farm on top of the mountain. Otherwise the signal would never get out. But that gives us a chance to log the calls."
"Maybe our mole didn't know that either."
"We can hope," Quinn replied.
"Shit!" O'Neill grabbed the phone and dialed Carter's cell. It rang twice, three times. "C'mon, c'mon!"
Quinn asked, "What--?"
"Where do you think they got Fraiser's log-in?"
"Her home computer. They would've expected the house to be empty."
At last, O'Neill heard a welcome voice on the other end of the line. "Carter."
"O'Neill. Is everything OK there?"
"It is now. Dad surprised a burglar. The cops are here. How did you know, sir?"
"Some hacker just used Doc's password, they had to get it from her computer. Is everyone all right?"
"Yes, we're fine! Dad got nicked in the arm, but it really was just a scratch. I returned fire and the guy jumped out the window. There was a squad car in the neighborhood, they were right here before we even had the chance to call 911. Cassie was in her room. Sir, how's it going there?"
O'Neill said, "OK, they got their foot in the door is all."
"Colonel, we all thought it was the strangler. I need to tell the cops it was something else."
"All right, Carter, but you make sure you've got everything secured there before you come up here."
"Roger that. Sir, are you and Janet--?"
"We're doing fine, you and Jake are the ones getting in the middle of a shootout."
They hung up. O'Neill was silent for a moment. The old SG-1 luck still seemed to be working. He couldn't imagine too many situations more dangerous than walking in on an armed operative who was carrying out an illegal mission. He said a little prayer for the Colorado Springs police while he was at it. Those guys wouldn't hesitate to shoot a cop who got in their way.
After the excitement over the hacker, things quickly settled down to hospital routine for the rest of the night. When Fraiser got back from her MRI, she was exhausted and obviously in terrible pain. "Ellie? Ben? I can't see!"
Young said, "We're right here, Janet. Your eyes are OK, they're swollen shut."
"Sweet Jesus, I didn't know anything could hurt this much! Listen, I need for you two to get busy with those tests. Get me some data to work with."
"You got it," Young promised.
"Janet, I clipped your call button to your pillow."
"Do you want me to stay for a while, ma'am?"
"Thanks, but I'll manage, really."
"All right. I'll check on you again in a little while."
Quinn finished the translation he had been working on and put the notebook down.
"More of the same. If anything else is there, I can't see it. I'm more decoding it than translating it. Without really knowing those people or how they thought, I'm just taking my best guess at a lot of it."
O'Neill observed, "It probably doesn't help that you're translating from one foreign language into another."
Quinn nodded. Just when he thought he had it all figured out, something else happened to remind him that he was living in a foreign land. For a while now, though, he'd been feeling more like an immigrant than an exile.
There was a clatter and a splash from Janet's side of the room. "Damn it!"
Quinn went over there. "What's wrong?"
"I knocked my water glass over."
He opened the plastic wrap around another cup and found her a new straw. "Here, let me help you."
"Do you want some more wet towels?"
"That would be great."
"I'll be right back." Quinn went out in the hall and liberated a stack of towels from the maid's cart. He was probably breaking some kind of regulation but who cared. He let the water in the bathtub run cold and wrung the towels out.
Janet's breath hissed through her teeth when he removed the old towels. "Doc, I'm sorry."
He was very careful not to drag the new ones across her back, just laid them in place. And he tried not to think about what it must feel like, lying on the rough draw sheet.
"Jonas, could you do something for me?"
"Sure, what do you need?"
"Some ice. The ice machine here isn't working, you'll have to go to the cafeteria."
O'Neill finished off the bag of chips. "Bring some more snack stuff while you're going."
"Sure." He left, and a few minutes later O'Neill heard the elevator door. For a few minutes everything got really quiet. They were the only patients in here, and Ben and Ellie were in the lab a good little way down the corridor.
Janet's bed creaked, and she stifled a cry in her pillow as the movement burned. Jack got up carefully, he knew how drugged up he was and he didn't want to worsen the situation by falling. He sat down next to the other bed and took her hand--more like let her small hand rest on his, any pressure at all would hurt.
"Jack, you shouldn't be out of bed."
"Well, I am anyway."
"I just wish I knew how long this was going to last."
"Doesn't matter," he advised. "All you have to worry about is this minute right now."
"This minute I'd rather be just about anywhere else," she admitted wryly.
"Yeah, well, you can be. Distract yourself by thinking about where you'd rather be. Sounds like some stupid new-age thing, but it works."
"OK, my sister's place in Massachusetts. She's got this great little B&B right outside Gloucester."
"What's it look like?"
"It's a big old two story house with white siding. She has it furnished with antiques. If you ignore the phone and the television, it's like walking into the Colonial days. She has these fabulous old quilts and sailing memorabilia. It's on the water, you can sit on the back porch and watch the fishing boats coming and going."
"Spend a lot of leave time up there?"
"A couple of times a year."
"Did you go last fall?"
Frazier tried to move and the bed sheet rasped across her skin. She gasped and knotted her fist in the sheet. "Oh, God, Jack!"
"Hey, if Jonas walked back in here and heard that, our reputations would be shot."
Fraiser laughed in spite of herself. "It'll just have to be our little secret."
"The visualization thing was working till you moved, wasn't it?"
"Yeah, it was."
"The more detail you remember, the better it works."
"OK, let me try that again. Thank you, Jack."
"Shh. You were telling me about your sister's place."
Fraiser took a deep breath and let herself drift back in time, remembering her last visit. "It's called Burton House, after the sea captain who built it in the 1700's...."
Quinn came in about twenty minutes later and found them both asleep. O'Neill woke up briefly, just enough to see who had walked in, but once he knew there was no cause for alarm, drugged exhaustion won out. Quinn set the ice and snacks down and got O'Neill's blanket for him, then he sat down by the door.
The Carters got there about 0400. Jonas met them in the corridor.
Sam asked, "How are they?"
"Thank God for that," Jacob said. "Did the doctor tell you anything?"
"I don't think they really know anything yet." Jonas leaned against the wall, fighting to keep his eyes open. He was going on a thirtysix hour day, but Sam and Jacob hadn't had a chance to rest yet either. "Jacob, I hear you didn't duck fast enough."
"That was Sel," he grinned. "I was trying to get forty while I had the chance. She heard a noise in Janet's study and thought the dog was in there tearing stuff up. She thought she'd sneak over there and let him out without waking me, but as soon as she opened the door, bang! She hit the deck and Sam here fired right over my head. That was a weird thirty seconds when I first woke up, let me tell you."
"I'll bet! Did you hit him, Sam?"
Sam shrugged. "I think so, but he must've been wearing a vest. We never found the slug or any blood, anyhow. He went right through the window and booked. The cops are checking the hospitals, but I'll bet he's long gone. Dad, I lost about ten years when I saw you go down."
"About like I did when I thought you got hit by the same bullet that tagged me."
"Almost doesn't count," Sam said.
"Jonas, between us we've got enough adrenaline going to light up the Vegas strip. Why don't you pack it in? We've got it," Jacob said.
Quinn's first instinct was to stay right where he was, but Jacob was right. He was no good to anyone asleep on his feet. "Right, but let me know if anything happens."
"We will," Sam promised.
"Teal'c will be here pretty soon. Col. O'Neill's medicine has been giving out about half an hour before they can let him have any more. It'll probably be about 0530. Dr. Fraiser is just--it's bloody hell when she's awake, and since they don't know what's going on with her, they're afraid to give her anything."
Leaving her father to sit with O'Neill and Fraiser, Carter walked to the elevator with Jonas and continued on to the labs to see if Dr. Young had any new information. He more or less repeated what she already knew. She went back to the room and sat on the floor beside her father's chair.
There was one thing she was sure of. She hated hospitals.
O'Neill was first aware that his legs hurt, especially his bad knee. He had got several weeks out of it from Ba'al's sarcophagus, but just like every other time he eventually reinjured it, thanks to a congenitally weak tendon that none of the futuristic methods of robbing the Grim Reaper had ever fixed so far. He was still in the chair, must have fallen asleep himself when Fraiser had. The last thing he recalled was helping her put her top sheet over the cold towels that were all she was wearing. It didn't look like she had moved an inch since then, not that he could blame her. Sam and Jacob were there. He got back to bed carefully before it could get really bad, moving quietly so he wouldn't wake Fraiser.
It was a surprise that neither of the episodes he experienced before 0600 rolled around were all that serious. Aside from that, he was feeling a lot better. His fever was gone and he was actually hungry. That confirmed what Dr. Young's tests had already shown. He decided to hold off on any more drugs in order to be able to get up and walk it off.
When O'Neill saw the relief in Sam's expression, he gave himself another mental kick for being stupid enough to fall into the well in the first place and start all this. Scaring Carter was something he really tried to avoid doing. There was so much that was too complicated to unravel, love and duty and honor, silence that expressed so much that must remain unspoken, glances that skated on the edge of lines that must never be crossed. Sometimes they let themselves think of a time after the war, and sometimes that hope was all they had, hope that could never be acknowledged but refused to flicker out, no matter how starved for fuel. It was inevitable that each of them lived through moments of sheer terror when it was necessary for the other to go in harm's way. He felt like an absolute bastard for putting her hope in jeopardy, even for a moment, over something as idiotic as failing to watch where he put his damn clumsy feet. As if that weren't enough, as usual, trouble had mushroomed. While he landed like a cat and came out of it more or less okay, Janet was in a bad situation because of him, and it didn't make a damn bit of difference how much everyone tried to exonerate him.
Jacob went with him, and Sam moved over to sit by Janet.
By the time they got to the end of the hall, moving around really started helping. O'Neill knew he was out of the woods when he caught himself wondering when Young would let him out of here. He wanted to know exactly what had happened the night before at Fraiser's house, so Jacob got to tell his story on Selmac again.
+No one thinks you did anything wrong.+
+I'll have you know I've been a field operative since before your ancestors left the old country.+
+As control,+ he replied. +You're a spy master, not a spy, honey. You didn't start doing field work again until you and I got together, and then you've been sitting back and letting me get the job done. We don't have that luxury. Trouble's coming to us. You aren't always going to be sitting at the safe end of a radio transmission and you might be in the front seat when it finds us. You can't count on me to take over when the heat's on. It takes us too long to hand off. You can't count on using my memories, either, because when something goes down, you have to act, not think. It has to be instinctive. This has to be something YOU can do. When we get back, Bra'tac's giving you a refresher course.+
+Jacob, you _wouldn't._+
+To keep you safe, watch me. This is twice in a couple of months the same damn thing happened. This time, we're alive because Sam had my back, otherwise that son of a bitch would have nailed us before you got to my sidearm. One to the head and we're both gone. Nothing ever happens to you if I can help it.+
Selmac felt the love behind both the harsh assessment and the fierce declaration, and just stopped arguing, replying with emotion too deep for words.
The exchange had been so quick that Jack hadn't noticed. He was saying, "I gotta tell you, I've had it with this bullshit."
Jacob said, "So you think this definitely was the same outfit that kidnapped Sam?"
"It's got to be, Jake. There's no way they got a mole in here after 9-11. It has to be a deep cover agent who's been here for a long while."
"Besides SG-1, who knew Fraiser had been admitted?"
"I don't know yet, but it won't take me long to find out. I passed out in front of a dozen people, but Fraiser was already here when she went on sick call, and there were a limited number of people in here. Did you or Sam tell anyone? Or Cassie?"
"Sam and I didn't. You'll have to ask Cassie, but I think she went straight up to bed after Sam called us to let us know how Fraiser was doing."
General Hammond had been heading for the room, but he changed course when he saw the two of them at the end of the hall. "Colonel. I wasn't expecting to see you up and around."
"It's wearing off, General, I'm fine. Have you seen the security sheet this morning?"
"Sir, with your permission, I'm going to need a list of all outgoing calls and emails from the time Dr. Fraiser was admitted until the break-in at her house. Somebody had to drop a dime, and I hope it was from here. We'll also have to question everyone who was on this level during that time, and everyone they talked to."
Hammond gave his 2iC a long look. O'Neill wasn't about to just wait for someone to grab him the next time he stepped off base. One way or another, Hammond knew O'Neill was going to take the fight to them. "If you're sure you aren't going to take another header off the elevator, it's all yours."
"Worry about Doc, sir."
Jacob interrupted, "Could Dr. Fraiser's telephone line be tapped? Or any of yours, for that matter?"
"Sure they could," O'Neill replied. "For that matter, our places could be bugged."
Hammond said, "I'll notify security and have a sweep done."
O'Neill headed back to the room to shower and change clothes. Hammond took the chance to talk to Jacob.
When Dr. Young started to give O'Neill static about leaving the infirmary, he was able to truthfully say he had the General's OK to track down the security leak. Before Young could think up an argument, he asked, "Ben, did you tell anybody that Doc had been admitted?"
"Not that I recall. The two of you kept us busy in the lab all night." Fraiser deflected Young's attention by waking up and asking, "Do you have any results yet?"
"We need the results of your DNA tests, but that's going to be a while." He pulled her curtain as he went over that way.
O'Neill took advantage of the opportunity to escape the infirmary and head to his office. Breakfast was coffee and donuts at his desk, then he got in touch with security about the investigation. There were a limited number of people to question. Jonas hadn't mentioned anything to the science staff, and Cassie hadn't telephoned any of her friends. No one who had been on duty had said anything. That really wasn't surprising, due to the top secret nature of the facility people just didn't talk about what went on there, even for the most part the non-classified stuff.
The security team sent to do a bug sweep found nothing and all the phone lines were free of wiretaps.
Security sent up the phone logs. O'Neill flipped through the list of calls for any made by a relatively short list of people who could have passed along information about Fraiser to someone on the outside.
There weren't any suspicious outgoing calls. Of course, anyone who finished their shift could have called from anywhere off base or met with the burglar in person. The lack of a questionable call didn't exonerate anyone. It just meant there wasn't an easy solution.
O'Neill pushed his chair back and stood, pacing his office to walk off another set of cramps.
He knew everyone on that list, some of them well. The SGC was a small, very close-knit group. Everybody knew everybody else, from General Hammond down to the lowliest enlisted personnel. The quirky, brilliant civilian science staff, every man and woman of them, could stand side by side with the Minutemen who had heeded their nation's call at Lexington and Concord. The only new people were SG-16, and they had been off-world most of the time in question.
O'Neill had spent most of his life between Viet Nam and the first mission to Abydos in duties that required suspicion as a way of life. Even from the most jaded perspective he could draw from those days, there wasn't one of these people that he suspected of treason. Too many times they had proven their patriotism in blood and fire. They trusted their lives to one another casually, with the confidence that anyone who lived and worked inside this mountain would walk in front of a bullet for any other, without hesitation and without regret. Courage above and beyond the call of duty was commonplace. Someday the world would know what it owed to these people, not just those under his immediate command but all of them.
O'Neill was absolutely certain that no one on the list of names was a mole. All the same, somebody had told someone that Fraiser wasn't going to be using her computer, therefore it would be safe to use her log in. Someone had told somebody about the mutagen.
O'Neill went back to the phone log. There were no outgoing calls. But there was an incoming one.
He dropped the log on his desk and headed back to the infirmary.
O'Neill took advantage of the opportunity to check on Fraiser. Carter and Cassie were there. Fraiser was sitting up in bed wearing loose fitting scrubs that had washed out soft. The redness had faded considerably. She was wearing dark glasses, which meant that she could open her eyes now.
"Doc, how's it going?"
"OK, Jack, but what the hell is going on around here?"
"I'm working on it. Did you or Ben consult with anybody outside SGC?"
"No. We have a procedure in place, the request comes to me and if I agree that we need to consult with someone from the outside, I submit a request to General Hammond. After these people kidnapped Sam here, I can't imagine anyone here who would go outside channels and take a chance like that with everyone's safety."
"I know, I'm hitting the same brick wall. There's just no one."
Sam said reluctantly, "It's possible a zat'arc..."
"I'm the only one who's been compromised and that was one of the first things I made sure of when I got back."
"Well, I'm glad we can rule that out."
"Right. I'll have to talk to everyone. There aren't that many people, Doc, I'll get to the bottom of this."
O'Neill went looking for Dr. Young next. He found out that Young had gone home, which sounded reasonable. Except that no one was answering the phone at his house.
O'Neill got security started on a background check, then found Teal'c and they changed to work clothes to leave the base. Teal'c asked, "Do you believe Mrs. Young to be the traitor?"
"I'm not prepared to make an accusation like that. For all I know she asked Ben to pick up a gallon of milk on the way home, and that's most likely what happened. We just have to check it out, that's all."
"O'Neill, are you able to drive?"
"I got up here in the first place, didn't I?"
"Mrs. Young is actually Dr. Charlene Young, she's an infectious disease specialist at County General. She and Ben have only been married for a few months. Take that with the phone call yesterday, and I've got warning bells going off."
O'Neill pulled into a driveway beside a brick house in a comfortably well-to-do part of town. The houses were set back from the street on spacious, shady lots. Except for someone mowing grass down the block, the neighborhood was quiet. They got out of the truck and walked up to the door.
It gave way under O'Neill's knock. He and Teal'c immediately went on the alert. Even in a nice neighborhood like this, people didn't leave their doors hanging open. They drew their weapons and Teal'c pushed the door the rest of the way open with his foot.
The living room was empty, but Ben's jacket was lying on the sofa and his keys were on the coffee table. The house was as quiet as a church. No TV or radio played. There were none of the ordinarily unnoticed little sounds of an occupied house. O'Neill figured they were about to have some really embarrassing explaining to do when they walked in on Ben and his wife doing what newlyweds do.
He and Teal'c cleared the house methodically, room by room. The lower floor was empty and in order. O'Neill gestured for Teal'c to cover him as they ascended the stairs.
They cleared the bathroom and a guest bedroom, then the master bedroom. Charlene was naked on the bed, with the rope that had strangled her still twisted around her neck. Ben was lying on the floor in a pool of blood. The killer was gone, and the door was open to a small second-story porch overlooking the back yard.
Teal'c had been checking Charlene, he shook his head. O'Neill knelt at her husband's side, sure he was about to make the same pronouncement, but to his surprise Ben's eyes opened and he forced enough air into his lungs to whisper, "NID." Then his eyes went vacant and staring. Even as he started CPR, O'Neill knew it was useless. Teal'c called 911, then knelt to help him.
The paramedics and the cops got there almost immediately. The paramedics took them in, but told O'Neill that was a formality, they would be DOA.
While the police were getting Teal'c's side of the story, O'Neill used his cell phone to call General Hammond. "O'Neill, sir. I'm reporting a code black."
"Damn. I'll get security down there. Are the locals on the scene?"
O'Neill showed the police his ID and told them, "The male is Ben Young, he's one of ours. The female is his wife Charlene. I have reason to believe that this may be connected with a matter of national security. Our people are on their way. We'd appreciate any cooperation that you can offer."
"Col. O'Neill, you're aware that we've had a similar rape/murder in Colorado Springs?"
"Yes, officer, I'm aware of that. I wish I could be more forthcoming with you, but Dr. Young was involved in classified work that I'm not at liberty to discuss."
"I understand, sir. Did you see the suspect?"
"No. We cleared the entire house, and no one else was here."
"Was the male victim still alive when you arrived?"
"Did he give a statement?"
"I can't discuss that without clearance. The sooner you let me run this through channels, the sooner I'll know how much detail I can give you. I understand that this is a murder investigation. The Air Force wishes to cooperate in every way that national security will allow."
The police officer was clearly unhappy with that, but he had been with the CSPD long enough to understand the procedures when the civilian and military worlds overlapped. No one would willingly interfere with getting a murderer off the street unless they had a very good reason.
Two Marines got there shortly afterwards, but courteously waited for the civilian crime scene investigators to arrive. O'Neill had a few nervous moments expecting the police to wonder why Teal'c was wearing his watch cap in the house, but one of the police officers answered a radio call and they were told they were free to go.
They reported directly to General Hammond's office as soon as they got back to base. For a minute O'Neill just sat there with his head down. "We couldn't have been more than ten or fifteen minutes too late."
Hammond shook his head. "What happened?"
O'Neill reported emotionlessly. Until they heard back from forensics, a few sentences covered the whole thing.
Teal'c said, "Could we be reading into this what we expect to see? Is it not possible that Dr. Young surprised the strangler and only suspected NID involvement because we always lay everything suspicious at their doorstep?"
Jack said, "That's how it could've happened. But I'm telling you, it was them. What I want to know is, what are we going to do about it?"
Hammond had to tell two sets of parents that their children were dead. He was no stranger to that duty, but under these circumstances, it was intolerable. He said in an icy voice, "Gentlemen, we are going to make sure it never happens again."
"That will be all for now. Inform me as soon as we have any forensic evidence to go on."
"Yes, sir. Permission to inform Dr. Fraiser personally."
"Granted," Hammond said.
Both men stood at attention for a moment before leaving the room. "Teal'c, get together with Sam and Jonas. I want to know everything that's out there on the internet about Ben and Charlene. If Sam has to go off base to do some of that, you and Jonas stick to her like glue. I don't want them making an end run and grabbing her again while we're worrying about an attempt on Janet and me." "It will be done, O'Neill."
O'Neill found Fraiser in her office, catching up on some paperwork. The sunglasses lay on her desk, and her eyes looked a lot better.
She asked, "Jack -- oh, my God, something's happened."
"Ben and Charlene are dead, Janet."
"But--how--I just talked to him a few hours ago."
"They were murdered. I think Ben was unintentionally the leak."
"Charlene was the mole?"
"Probably, but if she was working for them willingly, why would they kill her? I'm thinking she tried to get out. My impression of what I saw was that they made it look like she was killed by the strangler. Ben walked in and they shot him. He lived long enough to accuse the NID. That's all I know until we start getting forensics back. For now, just tell your people that they were murdered. I don't know what details are going to be official, but I didn't want everyone to hear about it on TV."
Fraiser nodded. "Thanks, Jack. Could you...give me a few minutes?"
"Sure. I'll be in my office, at least until more information starts coming in."
"Are your hands tied? I mean, there's something you can do, isn't there?"
He nodded. "I don't know what yet, but yeah, I'm going to do something."
Fraiser looked into the eyes of an assassin. Inexplicably the man who had gently held her hand and talked her through hell, strong enough for the both of them, was there too. "Jack?"
She stood on tiptoe to kiss him on the cheek. "After you get the bastards who did this to Ben and Charlene, make sure you come back here in one piece, do you hear me?"
"I hear you."
A few hours later, O'Neill knocked on Hammond's office door.
O'Neill shut the door behind him. "Sir. I have the preliminary forensics reports that you wanted."
His 2iC dropped the printouts on top of the neat stack in his inbox, then straightened to deliver a summary of the information. Hammond knew right then that something unpleasant was coming. O'Neill usually only stuck to formal protocol when they were in public. "The police ballistics lab matched the bullet that killed Ben with the one that hit Jacob last night. But there's more, General. They matched hair and fiber samples found on Charlene's body with samples from the girl who was murdered last week."
"It looks like they killed that girl to make it look like Charlene was the second victim of a serial killer," O'Neill said.
"Cassie was supposed to be victim number two," Hammond said. "If the Carters hadn't intervened, we would have been chasing a psycho. We wouldn't have realized that Dr. Fraiser's log-in information was compromised."
"It was just luck that Jonas happened to catch them red handed hacking my medical records," O'Neill agreed.
Hammond told him, "My orders are to terminate the activities of this rogue operation by whatever means necessary. If you can bring in prisoners, I have the highest assurances that they won't get back out to do it again, and I'd like to know how high this goes. I want to send a message CFB that I will not tolerate any further attacks on my people, and the higher we can strike in this organization, the more effective that message will be."
"I understand, sir."
Hammond leaned his office chair back. "Any ideas how to put that into practice, Colonel?"
O'Neill finally relaxed and sat down. "Well, sir, we've got two possibilities. Either they've decided to cut their losses now that we're onto them, and they've left town. Or, they're even more determined to complete their mission. That would be to capture me. If they're still here, I can lead them into an ambush."
"They don't need you, they just need a sample of your blood," Hammond pointed out.
"I know that. But I'm going to make it quieter for them to try to grab me than to attract attention by making an attempt on my life in a public place. First we need to make them think we believe they've abandoned the operation, I'm still working on that part. Then we set up in the old freight yard. It's right over the fence in back of the mall so I'll have plenty of witnesses around until they make their play, there's plenty of room to keep civilians out of the line of fire, and we can use the abandoned railroad cars for cover."
Hammond tapped his pen on his desk blotter while he thought about it. "They don't have to think we believe they're gone. They just have to think I do. Now if they see SG-1 and SG-3 say...flying a transport plane up to Area 52 and picking up a shipment of something...."
O'Neill nodded. "They'll think we're back on regular rotation. And they'll be anxious to make their attempt before I go through the gate again. Good thinking, General."
"In your estimation will you need SG-3 for this?"
O'Neill figured they were up against a small team. The NID wouldn't send more than three or four at the most, or they would run too great a risk of attracting attention to themselves. The same logic applied when the hunted became the hunter. "SG-1 can handle it."
"Very well, then, SG-3 doesn't need to be aware of the counter operation. I'll have them standing by in case you need to call in backup, but hopefully we won't have to involve anyone else in case the mission gets blown."
"Yes, sir. Another alternative might be for me to claim I decided to set a trap for them on my own, I doubt I'd have any trouble at all selling that one. In that case we could just call the police if we need help. It would be better for purposes of deniability if the responsibility stopped with me if this does get blown, and I doubt there would be serious trouble with the locals if I did pull something like that. I'm sure it would be possible to extract the NID operatives from police custody later if it came to that."
"True. I'll arrange for you to have something to pick up at Area 52. You and your team get some rest tonight, you're going to have a busy day tomorrow."
SG-1 got together at 0600h the next morning for a mission briefing. "Carter, did Jacob go back?"
"Yes, sir, about half an hour ago."
No wonder she was wide awake, she'd got up to see her father off.
Carter continued, "I believe I've discovered the link between the NID and Charlene Young. During her residency, her supervisor was a doctor named Haskell. Dr. Haskell was involved with classified bioweapons research in th eighties and nineties, research which is now under the umbrella of the NID. My theory is that Haskell recruited Charlene. When she started to suspect him of working for the bad guys, he had her killed. Ben was just in the wrong place at the wrong time."
O'Neill agreed that it looked like she had figured out the most likely scenario. He outlined the plan. "Jonas, do you understand what this mission is?"
Quinn summed it up in one obvious word. "Payback."
"Oh, yeah. But there's more to it than that. If this goes south, it was my idea and no one outside this room knows anything about it. Depending on how badly it goes south, we could all four end up on death row."
"OK," Jonas said. "If I were that concerned about ending up on somebody's death row, I wouldn't have committed high treason, or made a habit of pissing off the Goa'uld. Not that I'm planning to screw up."
Teal'c said, "O'Neill, if the mission is a failure, the NID could conceivably end up with the sample that they desire."
O'Neill shook his head. "Doc says the chemical is out of my system except for a trace amount. They might be able to detect it, but they couldn't get enough to experiment with it."
Carter asked, "What about a recon of the train yard?"
"Tonight after it gets dark. Unless there's some unforeseen reason why we can't use the switching yard after all, you three will stay there and get set up. I'll give the mall the once over and figure out exactly how I want to play this."
Carter said, "We should have a sniper on the mall roof. They might."
"That would be you."
She nodded. Aside from O'Neill, she was their best marksman. "I'll need something better at range than my P-90."
"Right. I'll get anything we need from the arsenal. At close range we'll use zats. We need to take prisoners. Teal'c, we'll need one of the freight cars for a holding area."
The flight up to Area 51 and back was a milk run. Ferretti caught on that O'Neill was up to something. He leaned on a crate that they were waiting to load on the cargo plane. "Whatever ain't goin' on, Colonel, just say the word and I'm with you."
"Any time." Ferretti touched a match to a Camel, then ground the match under his boot and took a long drag.
O'Neill got some sleep on the way back. When they got back, they made a show of guarding the shipment, giving anyone who was watching a chance to recognize them. He knew full well he was giving a sniper a free shot. He was gambling that they would figure it would be easier to take him alive. But he still couldn't relax until they were safely back under the mountain.
About midnight they stowed away in the back of a delivery van. They got out in town when the truck made another delivery and checked out the train yard. There were several abandoned boxcars near the back of the mall. O'Neill judged the time it would take to climb over the chain link fence that separated the mall from the train yard, and how much trouble the single strand of barbed wire at the top would be. Considering that the NID boys weren't contending with a sore knee, he decided not to chance it. He clipped the fence and went through the hole a couple of times to be sure he wouldn't get stuck.
The solid weight of his sidearm was a reassuring presence as he checked out a narrow service alley between two mall buildings. Everything was quiet back here, the traffic on the street was distant.
The mall lot was almost deserted, except for a police car on routine patrol. O'Neill planned what he would do in the morning. He would try to find a parking space with enough cars around that no one could pull up beside him. He would go in an auto parts store next to the alley for cover while the NID boys closed in. With any luck, he could identify them by then. If not, he would stop at the ATM. As soon as he made one of them, he would rabbit down the alley away from innocent bystanders and lead his pursuers straight to Teal'c and Jonas. That was the plan, anyway.
Carter tied off a grappling hook to a line and swung it to catch the edge of the roof. The false wall at the front was about four feet high. She checked out the top of an air conditioner. If she moved as little as possible, she and her rifle would blend into the unit's uneven lines. She had a good vantage point to keep an eye on the whole parking lot.
O'Neill and Carter got back to the boxcar where they planned to hold the prisoners. Carter took out her rifle and checked it out, adjusting the sight and making sure the action operated freely. It was an old fashioned bolt action. The rifle was much heavier than the P-90 she was used to, and in the hands of a marksman, hellishly accurate even at extreme range. The mission would be completely fubar if she had to shoot, but if she had to fire to protect O'Neill, this weapon would get the job done. She would also be carrying a zat gun as a sidearm, to take care of any of the NID operatives who climbed up on the roof.
O'Neill called a cab from a local nightclub district and got out at a motel not far from the mountain. Instead of going inside, though, he hiked up to the parking lot where his truck was waiting. There was no way to get inside without being seen, so he spent a long cold night in the truck cab.
Just before 0900, he drove to the mall. He switched on his radio and made sure it was working. He took a deep breath and got out of the truck. He walked across the lot and casually put his sunglasses in his pocket, which covered pushing the talk button on the radio. "Anything?"
Carter's voice came over a nearly invisible earphone. "Half a dozen possibles, nobody stands out. The closest is an old guy in a denim jacket coming around the silver SUV. Could be Haskell."
"OK, I see him. What's that in his hand?"
She sighted through her scope, but couldn't get a good look. "Can't see from this angle, but I don't think it's large enough to be a knife or a gun."
"Stand by...false alarm, it's a key ring."
The old man paid no attention whatsoever to O'Neill as he went in the bakery outlet store next to the auto parts store. Just a little old man buying stale bread to stretch his social security check.
O'Neill thought, Screw it. He went in the auto parts store and made a couple of purchases. Then he went back to his truck and glanced to be sure no one was hiding in the bed and moved the truck over by the alley, between him and any innocent bystanders.
He put the hood up and pretended to be working on the truck. Actually, he could see most of the parking lot under the hood through the truck windows. Carter watched a few more customers come and go.
A woman came up the sidewalk. "Can I call a tow truck?"
"No, thanks, I've got it."
Carter's voice came over the earphone. "There's a black van crawling up the fire lane. I do not, repeat do not, have a clear shot." There was a wide awning over the sidewalk.
O'Neill saw a glint of sunlight off something in the woman's hand. It was a syringe. He twisted sideways to avoid getting jabbed, then shoved the woman into a big guy who jumped out the side door of the van. Without waiting to see if the two of them had regained their footing, he took off down the alley and dived through the hole in the fence. Carter scrambled for the other side of the building to get a vantage point overlooking the train yard.
O'Neill ran between two lines of train cars, past the car where Jonas and Teal'c were hiding. He turned around and zatted the woman, who was closest. Teal'c stunned the man. O'Neill helped get them into the train car.
Carter warned, "The van is going around the block to get in the train yard. I can see the driver and a passenger."
And however many were in the back of the van. They waited until it pulled up beside the fence. The two men got out and headed over to the line of boxcars, guns ready. They started checking every car as they came to it. O'Neill signalled Teal'c and Quinn out the other side of the boxcar and up on the roof. They zatted one of the men, but the other one rolled under a car on the next set of tracks and opened fire.
Jonas stiffened and fell to the roof of the car. He'd been hit in the shoulder and there was blood on his hand, but he gritted, "Get that bastard!" Teal'c jumped down and dived under the car, the shooter was gone. He looked around, no sign of the man. He came out zat first and looked up and down the row of cars.
O'Neill figured out where he went and swung over the side into the boxcar. Sure enough, the guy was in there cutting his unconscious buddies loose. Both of them fired at the same time. Jack's leg burned like fire but the gunman went down. After that they were on the clock. O'Neill keyed the radio. "Get my vehicle out of there, the keys are in it!"
Teal'c got the van while O'Neill helped Jonas down from the car roof. They loaded their unconscious prisoners into the van and got out of there just minutes before the train yard turned into a sea of black and whites with lights and sirens going. They would find blood and brass, but no bodies, and hopefully no witnesses who would remember anything identifying. Jack figured his truck would be identified, so he needed to come up with a story for the police. They pulled into an alley between two brick buildings and he took his truck back from Sam.
"Sir, you're hit--"
"Yeah. How's Jonas?"
"Teal'c got the bleeding stopped. It didn't look that bad. You'd better let me check that out."
His pants leg was soaked. He needed to have a matching blood stain on the truck seat since he obviously hadn't been successful in stopping the bleeding very quickly. "Listen, I'm going to the ER with it. I'm sure my truck was made, so I'll have to call the cops before they come after me. I'm going to tell them that a bunch of guys chased me, I don't know who they are or what it was about, unless it had something to do with the strangler. I got shot but managed to lose them in the train cars and circled back to my truck. As far as I know they must have got back into their van and got away. So be sure you don't get stopped for speeding on the way back to the mountain. Have the gate guard contact the General and he'll get the van inside and the prisoners squared away. Hopefully that will be the end of it with the cops." He turned over his radio and the zat.
It took a long time at the ER to get a bunch of stitches, and a longer time with the police, but when Ferretti and one of his Marines came down to get him, acting like they wanted to ask him some serious questions, the cops let him go. Since the witnesses they had managed to round up confirmed the attempted kidnapping and had heard shots fired, and since there was no gunpowder residue on O'Neill's hands-- thank you, zat gun--they didn't have anything to hold him on. Ferretti neatly grabbed the keys to O'Neill's truck and tossed them to Sgt. Talbot.
O'Neill's stitches pulled as he climbed into the hummer. "Lou, what's the sitch?"
"The doc is digging a bullet out of Quinn but he was complaining too much to be hurt that bad. The Old Man took custody of your prisoners. Glad I ain't them. That's about all I can tell you."
O'Neill leaned back in the seat and shut his eyes. Mission accomplished, even if it had got a little hairy at the last. "Try to miss a few of those pot holes, will ya, Lou?"
"You got it, sir."
O'Neill made a beeline for the infirmary to check on Jonas. He had a big bandage on his shoulder and his arm was in a sling. He was teasing Fraiser about being worse off than her patients, she was peeling as if she'd had a sunburn and she was trying not to scratch.
"Colonel, how's the leg?"
"Not bad, they didn't hit anything important. I got a bunch of stitches. Doc, I just had a tetanus shot, so don't ask me for about another ten years."
She laughed. "I'll be sure to put that in your records."
O'Neill was used to black ops missions where he only knew the part of the story that directly concerned him, not the beginning or the end. Considering that he and Jonas had each taken a bullet over this one, he wished he knew how it came out. But he had enough sense that he wasn't about to poke into it without a lot better reason than curiosity. All General Hammond could tell them was that one of the men they had captured had been positively identified by a DNA match with the strangler. Two days after that, a gas main explosion that destroyed a biotech lab outside Seattle made a brief mention on CNN.
Hammond sent SG-1 for a week's leave at the alpha site, out of the way of possible revenge from any of the rogue NID agents who might still be running loose. Haskell was believed to have been killed in the biolab explosion, but not having seen a body, Hammond wasn't too confident about those reports. At the end of the day, he could only hope that they had made enough trouble that anyone who had the same idea would think twice. If anyone messed with them again, he and O'Neill would start kicking in doors from here to Capital Hill, and he was fairly sure the appropriate parties knew that by now.
"Mom, are you sure you want to do this?"
Janet Fraiser reached in the back seat for a plastic bag full of soda cans. "I don't have a choice, Cass. Nobody knows what happened to me or how to fix it. I need to know what I can do now. What I am now. I can't go to the general with this until I have something to report. You've been through this, sort of."
Cassie looked around the box canyon. They were officially out in the middle of nowhere. "OK. Where do you want the cans?"
"Set three or four of them on that rock over there." Janet figured that was close to handgun range.
Cassie set up the cans and sprinted back.
"OK, here goes," Janet said nervously. She took a deep breath and pointed at the first can.
A ball of green energy formed and shot to its target.
The rock, cans and all blew sky high. Both women threw themselves flat and covered their heads with their arms until the dust started to settle.
"Uh, Mom, I think you're going to need a lot more practice with that...."
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