Contact the author: email@example.com. All comments are welcome.
Note: This story takes place between the first season episodes "Cor-Ai" and "Enigma."
Copyright Notice: The characters and situations of Stargate: SG-1 are the creations and property of Showtime/Viacom and MGM, among others. Used without permission. No copyright infringement is intended.
copyright (c) 1998 by Becky Ratliff
"They're going to cut us off, ma'am, we'll never get back to the Stargate if they do!" Joey Maxwell's voice held an edge of near-panic.
Timmonds steadied her youngest SG-4 teammate with a firm hand on his shoulder and a few quiet words. But the truth was, this mission had been a major charlie-foxtrot from the beginning. They'd had no idea they had come through the 'Gate fifteen minutes after a Jaffa "harvesting" squad -- much less that they had followed them on a cross-country hike over briar-covered hills and through the swampy little streams that flowed through every valley. The Jaffa must not have been expecting their human prey to have discovered gunpowder, either. Just as SG-4 had approached a village of thatched huts, a couple of hours ago, all hell had broken loose between the villagers and the Jaffa.
She had called a retreat to the Stargate, but the Jaffa had the same idea, and what was worse Dr. Milner had got himself spotted. He'd never known what hit him.
Timmonds and the Jaffa commander understood each other's position perfectly. Who ever got control of the Stargate first would take their kids home. The other would be trapped with the angry locals on one side and a 'Gate open to enemy territory on the other. They had made a slow fighting retreat for the Stargate, but there the situation had settled into a stalemate.
Neither SG-4 nor the Jaffa had been able to secure the 'Gate, but they had found positions they could defend from one another as well as the villagers. The locals had taken cover in some abandoned ruins about 200 meters uphill from the gate, where they were keeping their heads down and taking an occasional potshot at anyone they spotted ... they didn't seem to be making any distinction between the Jaffa and SG-4. She figured all Gate demons must look alike to them ... and the only good one was a dead one. No one could afford to waste ammunition or firestaff charges, so there wasn't a lot of shooting now, just when someone thought they might have a clear shot.
Timmonds answered confidently, "They've got us pinned down, but we've got them, too. We're overdue now. All we have to do is hold them here long enough for our reinforcements to come through."
Maxwell gulped. "Yes, ma'am!"
Anyway, Timmonds hoped their reinforcements would be the first to arrive....
SG-1 gathered in the briefing room overlooking the Stargate, still pulling on their gear in the wake of an 0300 scramble. General William Hammond, the commanding officer of the secret facility at Cheyenne which housed Earth's Stargate as well as its keepers and explorers, had been hurried out of his bed as well. He gratefully accepted a cup of scalding hot black coffee as he pulled up several images from the M.A.L.P. probe on screens around the room. The remote probe often brought back data about hazardous conditions on the worlds they found through the 'Gate, but this was the first time they had used it for battlefield recon. It had come back with quite a few dents and scratches, but it had got the job done. The room silenced as soon as Hammond started to speak.
"OK, here's the situation, people. Looks like Col. Timmonds has got herself pinned down in the rocks here. We've got five Jaffa, maybe six, behind this wall. Neither side can get to the Stargate. Now in this image, Lieutenant Kyle is obviously firing away from the 'Gate, so we're assuming there are more Jaffa in those ruins straight ahead of the 'Gate. No idea on their numbers. Jack?"
O'Neill considered the situation. "However many there are now, there might be more in five minutes. We don't know where they're converging on the 'Gate from. The priority is to get SG-4 out of there and close the iris behind us, then we can figure out what the hell is going on. Sir, I suggest that we launch smoke through the 'Gate into this whole open area and follow with grenades over that wall where we know the Jaffa are. That should create enough of a distraction for Timmonds to get her kids out of there."
Hammond considered the plan for flaws, and nodded. "Sounds good."
"Okay, Jackson, Carter, your job is to take out those Jaffa and secure that area, then lay down a covering fire so we can get any of Laura's kids who might be wounded through the 'Gate first. Teal'c, you set up a machine gun position immediately to the right of the 'Gate behind those rocks. Same deal. It's also going to be your job to keep me informed of who has gone through the gate. I'm going to catch up with Colonel Timmonds to make sure we don't leave anybody behind. She and I will be the last ones through, so Daniel, Sam, when you hear me tell you we're going that's your cue to boogie. All right, any questions?"
Sam and Teal'c, of course, understood the orders perfectly. Jack expected a lot of questions from Daniel, but the young man just shook his head. Go through the 'Gate into the middle of a shooting war and kill whoever tried to stop them from bringing their people home? No problem.
When O'Neill had first met Jackson, the young man had been a gentle, curious scientist. In the years since then, Daniel's wife and brother-in-law had been snatched away by the Goa'uld, and in the running battle through the 'Gates that had been going on since, they had watched far too many good people ... good friends ... die. Now, when he looked at this serious young man who had become a friend, far too often and especially now O'Neill saw the cold eyes of a soldier who could kill without remorse. He damned the enemy, and he damned himself, for that.
"OK, people, let's move."
O'Neill heard Teal'c open up with the M-60, and kept low as he raced to the rocks where the probe had last spotted Timmonds.
He dived into their bolthole to find her lying in the arms of one of her men, her fatigues soaked with blood. "How is she?"
Maxwell had a bandage pressed to a wound in Timmonds' side. "Real shocky, sir, we have to get her back to the doctor!"
"That's what we're doing, son." O'Neill forced all the reassurance he could manage into his voice. "Where are the rest of your team?"
Maxwell said, "Dr. Milner didn't make it. McKinnitt and Lt. Kyle are over there!"
"Go get them, son, and get yourselves back through the gate. Teal'c will be to your left with an M-60, and Jackson and Carter are behind that wall where the Jaffa used to be."
Daniel's voice came over the radio. "Jack! Whatever you're going to do, let's do it! This smoke is starting to clear!"
"Laura's down, give me a hand with her!"
"On my way." Daniel took a deep breath to steady his nerve, then he jumped the wall and ran hell for leather over to the rocks. "Jesus, what hit her? It doesn't look like a Jaffa weapon did this -- looks more like a shotgun?"
"Let the doc worry about that."
Timmonds focused her eyes on O'Neill. "Jack -- not the Jaffa -- the locals -- they're the ones up in the ruins!"
"Okay, Laura. Take it easy. Daniel's gonna get you home. I'm going to make sure the rest of your kids are right behind you -- then we're all out of here. Take her and go, Daniel."
Jackson made one last check to be sure Timmond's bandages would hold. "It's going to be a rough ride, Col. Timmonds," he apologized. "You just hold on and we'll be home in a minute."
"Roger that," she replied. Her voice was forced through what must have been tremendous pain, but she was back with them and fighting to stay alive. Jackson decided that was the time to move. "Teal'c, Sam, I'm headed for the 'Gate! Don't shoot me!"
Timmonds cracked, "The military phrase is 'hold your fire,' Daniel."
"You want correct military terminology, or legs?" He shot back. As carefully as he could, he lifted her to his arms.
O'Neill watched them disappear into the smoke. He didn't realize he had been holding his breath until Teal'c's voice sounded over his headset. "Daniel is through the gate with Colonel Timmonds!"
The other three of the SG-4 team got there, carrying Dr. Milner's body. O'Neill sent two of them ahead, when they were through he ordered Sam to fall back to the Stargate. He and Joey Maxwell were about to follow.
Maxwell suddenly dived in front of him, yelling, "Look out, Colonel!" There was a tremendously loud gunshot. Maxwell went limp and folded up against him. O'Neill looked up into the wild eyes of a man who was bringing up the second of a pair of flintlock pistols for another shot. O'Neill was faster, he fired four or five shots until their attacker's dead body fell back into the smoke.
O'Neill wasn't sure if Maxwell was alive or dead, and this was no place to try to find out. He lifted the young man's limp form and ran for the Stargate.
Dr. Frazier threw both teams out of the infirmary, there were too many people in the way while the trauma teams were trying to work. O'Neill stared through the glass until he felt a hand on his arm. He turned around sharply, saw General Hammond and made himself relax.
"You okay, Jack?"
"Yes, sir. Not a scratch."
"What went wrong?" Hammond asked.
"SG-4 got caught in the middle of a fight between the Jaffa and the locals. The locals decided to kill 'em all and let God sort 'em out. Laura got hit. Then when we were just about to get out of there, one of the locals got the drop on me. The SOB came out of nowhere, sir. Maxwell took a bullet that had my name on it. He jumped in front of me."
Hammond said, "Shit."
"It was my fault."
"No, it wasn't. Jack, it was Maxwell's decision. I can only stand here and hope that I would have had the courage to make the same decision under those circumstances."
Timmonds sat up carefully and pulled her robe around her hospital gown.
"Are you sure about this, Laura?"
She grinned at the Doctor's anxious expression. "You said yourself I've got to start walking today. Got a better idea than paying Joey a visit?"
Frazier hesitated. "No, I guess not."
"What aren't you telling me?"
"That infection you picked up?"
"Yeah? I took a gut full of pellets. That wasn't exactly a clean injury."
"That's right as far as it goes, Laura, but you have an exceptionally strong immune system. Maxwell doesn't. The infection isn't responding to antibiotics and it's getting worse."
"We're losing one of my kids because we don't have anything that will kill this alien bug? Is that what you're telling me, Doc? Why can I fight it off and he can't?"
"I don't know," Frazier admitted bluntly. "There's a lot of individual variation to begin with, and you've been exposed to a lot of conditions that we know nothing about. Maybe something weakened his resistance ... or maybe something else gave you a degree of immunity to it. Or, hell, maybe his injury got contaminated with some organism that yours didn't. All we can do at this point is treat the symptoms and hope his body can fight off the infection on its own."
Timmonds winced and clenched her jaw, she turned white as a sheet and sweat broke out across her forehead as she forced herself to her feet. Frazier steadied her with a hand on her arm, but Timmonds did not take advantage of the opportunity to lean on her.
Maxwell looked very small and still in the hospital bed, nothing like the live-wire kid that Timmonds and Frazier were used to. They were suddenly reminded that nineteen was half their age ... still very much the boy he had been a little more than a year ago. He breathed with difficulty in spite of the oxygen mask he was wearing, and although his eyes opened and closed at random he seemed unaware of them.
Dr. Frazier asked, "Do you know of any friends or family? There's no one in his records."
Timmonds sketched a shake of her head. "Just some foster parents. There was an older couple who took care of him when he was a little kid, he was really attached to them but they passed away a few years ago. Then he was placed with another bunch that I'd shoot if they were worth the powder and lead to get rid of them. He signed up the day he turned eighteen. You know he finished two years of college last year? He wants to go to officer's training, he wanted to become a pilot before he was picked for the project. There's no one, Doc, we're his family now."
Frazier sighed and took his chart from the foot of the bed, her expression was not hopeful.
"You mind if I sit with him for a while?" The colonel asked.
"No, go ahead. I don't know if he's consciously aware that you're here, but I think he knows, on some level." Frazier brought a chair over. "When you get tired, Laura, ring for the nurse and someone will walk you back to your room."
Her attention was on Maxwell. Timmonds answered absently, "Sure, Doc, thanks."
Frazier replaced the chart and closed the door most of the way behind her.
Hammond studied O'Neill with a worried scowl on his face. The man didn't look like he had slept in days. Time off was not helping. He set a cup of coffee in front of his friend. "Colonel, get your team together and pull the next standard exploration. I'm sick of looking at you moping around here. You're not helping anyone, least of all Maxwell or yourself!"
For a moment, O'Neill's expression was pure relief, then his guard came back up. "Yes, sir. Thank you, sir." His gesture meant for the coffee, but Hammond knew he meant a lot more than that.
O'Neill got his bearings quickly as he exited the Stargate. The gloom of a large chamber built of massive stones was lit only by two narrow windows slashed through the walls high up near the ceiling. There was a doorway twice his height immediately in front of him with a set of heavy iron-bound wooden doors. The air was cold and heavy with the scent of dust and decay. Now and then as the wind howled around the corner of the building, it swept through the open windows and set his teeth on edge. Except for the rest of the team, the room was empty. His eyes swept up to the rafters of the timbered roof, then down around the stone floor. Something there caught his attention. "Whoa, what's this? Grand Central Station, people."
Sam followed his gaze, the dusty floor showed signs of heavy traffic not too long ago. Teal'c joined them and drew the toe of his boot through the dust on the floor as he studied the tracks. "These are Jaffa bootprints," he confirmed. "I think they a few weeks old -- the dust as already started to collect in them. Look, you can easily distinguish our footprints from these."
"H'mm. Do you think they went back through?"
Teal'c pointed out tracks going both ways, overlapping each other. "There was a good deal of traffic back and forth, Colonel. Whether or not they are still here, I cannot say. It looks like no one else has been in here for years."
"That's what it looks like, but the place still has a roof on it," O'Neill pointed out. "The doors don't look dry-rotted either."
Jackson commented, "Whoever built the place wouldn't have to get near the Stargate to keep the building up."
"Might have been the idea," the Colonel replied. "Let's see where we're at." He crossed to the doors and found them locked from the outside. "Okay...."
Carter looked up at the nearer of the two windows. The sill was about twelve feet off the floor, much too far to jump. But the walls themselves were made of huge blocks of stone with crevices between them. She tried it.
Teal'c moved to her side. "Go ahead. I will catch you if you fall."
"That works for this side, anyhow!" She grinned back. She scaled to the window and peeked over the sill. It overlooked a snow-covered courtyard, there were similar windows all the way around. About three feet below her was the roof of a colonnade. She reported that and swung her legs over. Satisfied that the roof would hold her weight and that there wasn't a slick layer of ice under the snow, she crossed to the edge and slid down the nearest column. Snow had piled deep beneath the edge of the roof, undoubtedly it had been shaken down by the vibration when the gate opened. She sank to her knees in the fresh drift and hauled herself out of it, stamping snow off her boots onto the flagstone floor of the colonnade.
There was a heavy bar blocking the door. It took all her strength to lift one end of it and when it slid free, it almost hit her. But the door swung open. She dusted snow off her pants legs as the rest of the team joined her in the colonnade.
Daniel gasped as the icy wind blasted him in the face and started sneezing violently. "God, I miss Abydos!"
"Gets cold there at night, too," Jack reminded him.
"Yeah, but it doesn't snow!"
Teal'c reported, "None of the rest of these doors seem to be barred. It seems the bar is intended only to inconvenience travelers through the Stargate."
O'Neill looked at the bar. "Yeah, it's new, too." He scowled. "We're going to have to be more careful from now on. Sooner or later the Goa'uld are going to get the idea to booby-trap a 'Gate for us."
Jackson replied, "Yeah, do you really think? I've been expecting to step on a mine for months now."
"First you said about it."
"The only thing I care about is getting Sha're and Skaara back. If I pull that off and buy the farm five minutes later, I don't give a damn."
O'Neill turned around and looked at Jackson. That had been a simple statement of fact. "We'll get them back, and nobody's buying the farm," he replied. "We're here to study this snowball, let's study it so we can go home and get warm!"
Daniel pulled off a glove to rub his eyes. He had been copying the hieroglyphics he had found for too long in the dim light, the eyestrain combined with his usual travel allergy had given him a pounding headache. Nearby, Sam was entering some data into her palmtop computer. Down the hall, O'Neill and Teal'c had found a more sheltered alcove to keep guard and be bored. Neither of them had any real idea what they were keeping guard against, since so far the place was as quiet as the tomb it appeared to be and there had been not a single sign of any threat.
A flash of movement at the opposite end of the corridor brought both of them wide awake. With only a glance at each other, they grabbed their weapons and ran down there. "Halt!" O'Neill yelled.
Daniel and Carter reached for their rifles and followed. They skidded to a halt to find O'Neill staring at a stone statue of a woman dressed in long flowing robes with a garland of flowers around her head. At her feet was a large urn, similar to another one that they had opened. That one had contained ashes and bone fragments, as well as a smaller urn containing something mummified. Jackson had re-sealed the urns and disturbed no more of them.
It appeared that the local people now cremated their dead, but preserved some portion of the remains, most likely the heart (which would be weighed by the gods to determine if the soul was fit for the afterlife.) Jackson was fascinated by this evolution of belief from physical to symbolic preservation of the remains of the dead. However, now was not the time to indulge his curiosity!
Carter asked, "What is it, sir?"
O'Neill poked his rifle barrel ahead of him as he looked behind the statue. There was nothing but dust and an abandoned cobweb. "We saw someone standing down here," he replied.
Teal'c confirmed, "It was a rather small person wearing a light-colored robe."
The wind outside was sailing ragged clouds, like tattered kites, across a full moon. Moonlight played across the statue's skirts, even this close it appeared to set the sculpture in motion. Jackson said, "There's what you saw."
Teal'c and O'Neill exchanged another glance, mirroring uncertainty. Teal'c said, "I'm sure I saw...."
O'Neill said, "I was pretty sure too, Teal'c, but there's nothing here now."
Jackson said, "We're going to have to set up more lights if we're going to get any more work done tonight."
"Let's just find somewhere out of the wind to make camp. I don't know about the rest of you but I'm starving," O'Neill decided. "Since Teal'c and I are seeing things, you two can have first watch."
"Gee thanks," Daniel said. He and Carter went back to collect their gear while O'Neill and Teal'c found them a place to set up their camp.
Sam's head jerked up. "What was that?"
Daniel looked up from his study of a cartouche. "What was what?"
"Thought I saw something down there," she replied.
Daniel hesitated, then reached for his rifle. "Might be Jack and Teal'c's ghost," he grinned.
"I can't imagine the colonel seeing a ghost. Or Teal'c either, for that matter."
Daniel said, "It's a dark, creepy old building. Your eyes play tricks on you at night. I'm sure all they saw was a flash of moonlight on that statue."
"If Col. O'Neill said he saw someone moving, he did. There's nothing spookier than a battlefield at night, Daniel, you learn fast not to let your eyes play tricks," Sam replied.
"That's why we're checking it out, right?" Daniel replied.
"I'll take point," she said.
"By all means, Captain Carter."
The end of the hall appeared to be empty. Carter poked carefully into the alcove that she had thought was a cross passage. It was just an archway containing another statue -- this time a of an old woman with a severe look on her face. Daniel said, "Hey, that looks like Mrs. Pratt -- my eighth grade homeroom teacher."
"I wonder if Mrs. Pratt left this?"
"Left what?" Daniel glanced down at the scuff mark in the dust near their feet. "Someone wearing sandals?"
"It isn't a Jaffa or Goa'uld boot print," Sam pointed out. "But where did he go?"
Jackson poked around the statue.
"Daniel, wait, don't mess with--"
Too late. He pushed "Mrs. Pratt" aside, the statue and its base slid aside to reveal a narrow hidden corridor. He scowled and touched something, smelled it. "Bacon grease. Hasn't been here long enough to get rancid, either."
Carter swept the passage, weapon ready. It was empty now. "Let's report this now. This place could be honeycombed with these secret corridors. We never know when this person's going to graduate from spying on us to something worse."
"I think you're right. They wouldn't have gone far." Daniel craned his head into the passage, looking as far down it for their mysterious visitor as the beam of his light would allow. Then he hurried to catch up with Carter.
It can't be the Jaffa, and I hardly think the woman would work out very well either. What do you think of the other two men?
Neither of them is you, Tiamon. I do not want to do this. I would rather go with you.
Life is full of things we do not wish to do. One day I hope you will understand, and forgive me.
I will never understand but of course I forgive you, if there is anything to forgive. You choose. They are the same to me.
O'Neill swore. How had he managed to get himself lost?! So far, backtracking to try to find out where he'd made the first wrong turn, he'd managed to make three or four more, and now he was in a part of the mausoleum he'd never seen before. Sarah always had got impatient with him because he never would stop to ask directions.... "Daniel! Sam!" He called softly. No answer. Well, that was stupid. If he yelled loud enough for them to hear him, so could anyone else. Damn it!
A flash of white at the edge of his peripheral vision caught his attention. "Okay, Dr. Jackson, if this is your idea of a practical joke, you're about to find out the meaning of the word escalation," he grinned.
He followed the "phantom" down the corridor. He knew he could only be a short distance behind. So he was brought up short by another of the burial alcoves. This one contained the statue of a young warrior in chain armor -- with an ankh symbol on his shield!
O'Neill got suspicious. A bored Jackson was a dangerous Jackson, but with all this stuff around to study, he wasn't likely to be bored. In fact he would be absolutely fascinated by way the Egyptian culture had changed to adapt to a colder climate, and to allow for several centuries of technological improvements ... entirely too fascinated to waste time playing pranks. Much more cautious now, he drew his sidearm as he approached the alcove.
There was a small square of linen fabric caught behind the statue. O'Neill discovered that the statue moved. Someone must have caught the hem of his kilt in the secret door!
The passageway beyond was a steep narrow staircase with a room at the bottom. He advanced carefully, but one of the treads of the staircase clicked underfoot, and the statue slid back into place. He headed back up, it wouldn't budge! He was trapped in here.
"Oh ... crap!"
I would not shout if I were you. Timok-set might hear you, and you do not want that to happen.
O'Neill turned around. Standing at the bottom of the stairs was a man dressed in a linen kilt with a tunic that matched it but didn't look Egyptian worn over it. Around his shoulders was a warm cape. He looked very aged and frail.
"Who are you, and what do you think you're doing locking me in here? Get this door open."
I am afraid that will not be possible. My guest will need a new host very soon, and I have chosen you.
"Your -- what?" O'Neill's sidearm didn't waver. "You're a Goa'uld! The hell I'm going to let that thing have me! Give me a good reason not to shoot you right now."
I can give you three. First, you are trapped in here, and the air will only last a short while. Secondly, if you fire, Timok-set will hear, and I assure you that he is a Goa'uld in every sense that you use the word. Finally, it would be a waste of good ammunition, since I'm dying anyway.
O'Neill stared a minute. Goa'uld, maybe, but this one wasn't giving him any of the attitude he had experienced from the others he had met. All of them had treated him as if he had been some kind of animal, perhaps a useful one or a dangerous one as the case might be. None of them had ever simply spoken to him as one person to another. He holstered the pistol and sat down on the top step. "Okay, who the hell is Timok-set and why aren't you with him?"
I was. Timok-set is a lesser warlord, a vassal to Apophis. I see you know that name? Timok-set is young and ambitious -- some would say too ambitious for one who is not a son of Apophis. But he has the cunning and the ruthlessness to match his ambition, so maybe he is not too ambitious after all.... If he gains enough favor, Apophis could always give him one of his daughters in marriage.
I am a scribe among my people. I was brought here as part of Timok-set's retinue. A few weeks ago I had a chance to escape, so I took it. It has been many years since I have had a family or even a real home, for that matter. There was nothing to stop me, so.... The old man shrugged. They look for me now and then, I suppose it hurts their pride that I escaped. But I happened onto these secret passageways and so far they haven't found them. I was going to see some of the places I've heard about, but some damned fool barred the doors to the gate room... and I fell ill.
Jack looked around. "Didn't the Goa'uld build this place?"
If we did, it was long ago. I think it's more likely the people here built it. They still have some knowledge of the old technology -- not much, but enough that even the great ones treat this place with some caution. I suspect they would have purged this world long ago if it wasn't valuable to them as a source of certain life forms.
"What, they're, uh, harvesting these people?" Jack demanded.
That isn't what I was talking about. I meant ... I don't know if you'll understand this ... very tiny living things that cause illness when they're breathed or swallowed.
"We know what germs are. Is that what Timok-set's doing here? Collecting germs?"
Yes. There is an illness on this world that causes periodic epidemics. It can spread widely because it takes people who catch it a while to fall ill, but they are very very contagious for a few days before they show any symptoms. Then in the last stages they rapidly become extremely ill, fall into a coma, and most of them die in a day or two. What's more, someone who contacts the remains of someone who died of this plague can fall victim to it also. Unburned corpses can remain contagious for a very long while.
O'Neill could see how an illness like that could become a powerful biological agent, since one soldier who didn't know he had been infected could go back and spread the disease through his whole outfit. He didn't want to think if a civilian got it ... riding the subway to work, shopping in crowded malls, eating out, contacting thousands of strangers in the course of living a normal life.
The Goa'uld nodded. Exactly. Timok-set's intention is to expose slaves to the disease, then place their corpses near the Stargates on various worlds your people are likely to visit, making it look as though they had been killed by bandits. You would think them to be natives of that world and try to find out what happened. Then you would return through the Stargate and take the disease back with you. Your explorers would undoubtedly catch it from one another, and if the disease annihilated your whole species besides, Timok-set would consider that a bonus. He hopes to gain great favor with Apophis if his plan is a success.
"Is there a treatment?"
Of course. The people here have medicines that work against the disease. Timok-set wouldn't risk starting a plague back home. Hosts are immune to it, but it would be lethal to most humans who have no Goa'uld symbiotes.
Jack paced down the stairs. This was evidently a family crypt, there were statues and burial urns all around all four walls. "So tell me something, I thought Goa'uld hosts lived forever."
There is no forever, came the quiet reply. Eight hundred years is not long by our standards, but I have a rare condition that has made it impossible for my guest to completely prevent me from aging. My time is nearly at an end, my years are catching up with me very quickly now. I will not see the next dawn.
"This is nuts, you know. I'm not letting that thing in my head."
If that's your final choice, then you will die here because you cannot open that door. And your people will die because the warning about the plague will die with you. I think that you will decide to live in order to protect your people, and so my symbiote will live as well. I am very tired. I believe that I will rest now.
Teal'c was surprised when O'Neill was not with Jackson and Carter. "I thought that Colonel O'Neill had rejoined the two of you. He found some carvings that he thought you would wish to see."
Daniel looked at Teal'c, and saw his own sudden apprehension mirrored in the Jaffa's dark eyes. "We never saw him."
"Wait, someone's out there," Carter said. She looked through a carved stone window screen into the courtyard. "Hey, guys, it's half a dozen Jaffa and some guy who's probably a Goa'uld, it looks like they're coming this way!"
Daniel experimentally shoved the statue. "Quick, in here!"
Teal'c objected, "Colonel O'Neill--"
"Would really appreciate it if we let those guys spot us and stir up a hornet's nest in here! Come on! We'll find him and get the hell out of here as soon as they go by!"
They ducked behind the statue and Daniel pulled it most of the way shut. Weapons ready, they watched the enemy pass by. The Goa'uld was wearing an ankle length robe and, like his Jaffa guards, had his helmet up. Intent on whatever they were doing here, they went past without noticing any signs that the three of them might have left.
As soon as it was clear, the three of them began to search the sprawling burial complex for O'Neill, a search that grew more frantic as the hours passed by without success.
O'Neill sat on the bottom step, taking a rest. At the very least he hoped his anger and resentment were giving the Goa'uld one hell of a headache. He had tried every way he could think of to get that door open during the hours he had been trapped in here, to no avail. It had a lock on it, those crystals that the Goa'uld used to magnify their psionic abilities. He couldn't do anything with it. He had extinguished the old man's lamp a long time ago, leaving the room lit only by a few scattered glowing crystals. The air was getting stale and he was having a hard time breathing, so he had finally decided the smart thing to do was sit still and conserve oxygen. The rest of the team would find him. All he had to do was stay calm and wait.
The old man was deeply unconscious. O'Neill had stayed well away from him for the most part. He knew that a Goa'uld could spring a respectable distance, like a snake striking, to surprise a victim -- and it could easily conceal itself in the folds of the old man's robes. It looked like he was telling the truth about having one foot in the grave, but there wasn't anything O'Neill could do for him -- especially since he'd locked them in here.
If there was one thing he had learned about Goa'uld, it was that they didn't ask permission. This one had some manners. That didn't mean this whole thing hadn't been set up to get to him and his knowledge about the Stargate Program.
Most of the Goa'uld he had met were arrogant, and so overconfident where "inferior beings" were concerned that their plans often had exploitable loopholes. On the other hand they were not stupid. If they had cooked up this whole idea as a trap for him -- why would they expect him to fall for it? There was no reason he should trust this Goa'uld ... and every reason why he would not. As far as he knew, it was likely that nothing but an empty shell remained of a Goa'uld's human host. Faced with that prospect, the logical thing to assume would have been that he would probably shoot first and ask questions afterwards. Instead, Dr. Frazier had been wanting a live Goa'uld to study. He'd be perfectly happy to deliver this one gift-wrapped ... assuming the rest of the team got that door open.
He decided not to think about his shrinking list of options if someone didn't show up to rescue him.
The old man coughed a couple of times and then lay very still. O'Neill approached warily, with his sidearm in hand. He could see it was too late, he knew he was looking at a corpse before he reached out left-handed to touch the pulse point at the old man's throat. Nothing.
But then the dead man's mouth opened, and O'Neill got out of the way. The Goa'uld's head appeared and it crawled free of the body. It gave him a look he couldn't begin to fathom, then just ignored him. It stroked its cheek along the old man's, making a high-pitched keening sound that was nothing like the little chirps and squeals he'd heard the immature ones make. Any sentient thing would have recognized that sound as a cry of mourning. More confused about the situation than ever, O'Neill moved as far away from the Goa'uld as the cramped room would allow and sat watching, pistol still at the ready.
After a while, the alien fell silent, and then a little later it took an interest in him. Are you going to shoot?
O'Neill had little enough experience with telepathy, but that was a different voice than the one he had heard before. Well, I'll be damned, he thought, I guess I was talking to the old man before.That's right. His name was Tiamon. He was a good man.
"Considering he stuck me in this hole in the ground, with you for company, I have a different opinion. No, I'm not going to shoot you, as long as you stay over there on your side. I think I want you alive."
Something in the way he said that scared the Goa'uld badly enough that it went shooting over to the opposite side of the room -- until it was brought up short by the stone wall. And there they waited, neither daring to take his eyes off the other for even a moment, while the air in the chamber grew thinner.
Are you really going to sit there and suffocate?
"At least if I do, I'll die as myself," O'Neill said. "But my friends will get me out of here."
If they find you in time. If Timok-Set has not already caught them.
"Why don't you just shut up?!"
Why should I? I am going to die trapped in a tomb with the most obnoxious, rude, stubborn human that I have ever had the misfortune to meet. Don't you even care that Timok-Set is trying to kill all your people with the plague?
"If I believe you, and I don't see why I should."
I have no reason to lie. You are already light-headed from lack of oxygen. You are going to pass out anyway in a few minutes! Then if I really wanted to take you against your will, you could do nothing to stop me.
O'Neill realized that was true. It was probably what was going to happen if he didn't kill that thing right now. But he couldn't take that chance ... there was just enough of a possibility that it was telling the truth about the plague! He drew a deep breath to steady his nerves, and then had to concentrate not to start hyperventilating. The alien was right, there wasn't a lot of oxygen left. He stared at the creature, trying to tell somehow if it could possibly be telling the truth. The Goa'uld stared back at him, and an involuntary shudder rippled down its back as he approached. He squatted beside it and reached out to touch it. There was something ... almost human ... about the way it clenched its jaw and stared at him with eyes wide open as his fingers brushed the top of its head. It was a toss-up which one of them was going to scream and make a mad dash for cover first, he thought.
The alien's nerve broke when he reached for his boot and pulled his combat knife. It darted for the pitiable shelter of its old host's dead body, and then it did the last thing that O'Neill ever would have expected. It rested its head on the old man's shoulder and closed its eyes and lay there shivering ... ready to join its old friend in death.
Jack O'Neill laid the combat knife on the stone step beside him and stripped off his webbing and vest. "I wasn't gonna use that on you, Ugly. If I'd meant to kill you, you'd be dead by now. Your host was right. I have to get out of here to warn my people about the plague. I need your psi abilities to activate the door, and you need my hands to move the crystals. So you get your wish, you get a new host, for what that's worth."
The alien looked up at him, reading the rest of it. The classified information Jack O'Neill knew made him too dangerous to run around alive with a Gou'ald inside him. After he saved his friends' lives they would have to kill him. With difficulty, it sent, Then what do you need the knife for?
"I've heard about what happens when you take a new host. Hurts like hell. If I do any yelling, I'll give away our position to your friends out there. That'd make this a real short joyride, now wouldn't it? I'm going to bite on the hilt to try to keep from screaming."
And that was the moment when O'Neill became a real person to the Gou'ald ... a person who faced pain and death with dignity and courage, not just an incomprehensible alien menace. It stared at him for a long, long time. Tiamon made this devil's bargain because he wanted to save me, but ... I must be mad. I can't destroy your life to save mine. I'll get you out of here, O'Neill, but I won't complete the joining. That will be ... very painful, but ... when we are back at the Stargate, I will leave you. Without a complete joining, you should survive. It looks like I'm going to die either way. There's no reason for you to die with me. All I ask is that you do not turn me over to your scientists -- don't let them cut me up or any such thing.
O'Neill had a hard time answering around the lump in his throat. "It's a deal. I'll never forget this."
The Gou'ald dredged up bravado from somewhere. My people say, Today is a good day to die!
"We say that too."
O'Neill finished removing his shirt and lay down on the cold stone floor. He couldn't help flinching as he felt the alien crawl onto his back. The Goa'uld seemed to be trying to be gentle ... but he could feel it moving. The temptation to tear it free of him and smash it against the wall was nearly unbearable, it took all his will power to lie still.
Then the pain started for real. O'Neill wasn't sure if it was shredding his flesh with that mouthful of fangs, or using some psi trick to burn him alive from the inside out. He bit down onto the grip of the knife as agony radiated outwards. He felt the end of the alien's tail disappear into the small wound in his neck, and after a time that horrible sense of movement stopped. Whatever it was doing to him, anything that hurt that bad had to be permanent ... he steeled himself to face the assault on his mind that would follow as the alien tried to take him over.
It never came. The worst of the pain eased back, until it only felt like someone was pounding on the inside of his head with a hammer.
Gradually he became aware that not all the emotions he felt were his. There were fear and physical pain, twins to his own, but the aching grief was the alien's. For the old man. A friend closer than a lover or brother for eight hundred years, now he was gone and not even Jack could fill the void he had left.
"Yeah. What do I call you, anyhow?"
Kefri. You don't have to talk out loud. I can hear you if you just concentrate on me when you talk. That's enough to get past the barriers.
O'Neill thought that would be a big help, if they could communicate without making noise for the Jaffa to hear. Like this?That's good.
O'Neill reached for his clothes, and had to bite down hard on the knife hilt again. He curled up on his side, arms clasped around himself. Silent tears coursed down his face, but he didn't make a sound.
At the same moment, Kefri's mind-voice pled, OH GODS! Don't move yet! I can't stand any more--
You and me both, O'Neill replied. What the hell is doing this?!
I told you ... the joining is not complete. We are still two, not one. If we were to allow a link to grow between our nervous systems, the interference would stop and there wouldn't be any more pain. But I wouldn't know how to break a link without killing you! It's the only way out of this for you, Jack -- we've just got to do it, that's all.
OK. We can't stay here. There can't be much air left in this little hole. Grit your teeth or whatever it is you do, because we're just gonna have to learn to live with it! Very carefully, O'Neill sat up on the step. He felt Kefri try to steel himself mentally, pretty close to the same thing he was doing, even though he knew another seizure like that would knock them flat again. He took a couple of deep breaths.
He could feel an unfamiliar weight when he turned his head, and he knew that was Kefri. His mind rebelled at the sense of horrific violation that welled up from somewhere deep in the dark corners of his soul. For the first time in years, he was nearly overcome by a full-out panic attack.
Jack! Listen to me. I can touch your flesh, but not YOU. Your barriers are too strong, even if you were in your deepest sleep I'd never be able to join minds with you unless you decided to let me. Do you understand?
Yeah. I know what you're saying, Kefri, and it helps. He tried to send the emotions that reinforced the truth of that. After a moment his racing heartbeat slowed to somewhere near normal. It's just that I don't know if I can make that much of a distinction. I can't think of it any other way than that you're inside me.
Tiamon was the same at first. Once again, O'Neill felt Kefri's raw grief, like a huge dark pit where half of the alien's soul had been ripped out by the roots ... a wound that hurt too much even to bleed.
Kefri, I know, he said with more compassion than he had ever thought he would feel for a Gou'ald. My son died. Images flashed, of his hands leaving the gun lying -- _just for a minute_ -- his son's small hands reaching for it -- grief and guilt that still hurt just as much all these months later, that still screamed in protest that God should have taken him instead because he was the one who had screwed up. You have to remember the good times. First birthday. First bike ride. The sheer joy on the kid's face that time he hit the four-bagger at the family reunion. The fuzzy brown puppy. Christmas trees and candy canes. Stomping mud puddles. That's what we get to keep, that's what lasts. The memories of the good times. Over eight hundred years, you and Tiamon must have put together a hell of a lot of them.
That was what Tiamon said. He always was the -- what is your phrase -- brains of the outfit.
What makes you different? Was it him or you? While the conversation had Kefri distracted, O'Neill started to pull his clothes back on, gingerly, as if every small movement might break glass. There was a lot of pain, but nothing truly unbearable, for either of them.
Kefri cringed, expecting any minute to get blindsided they way they had before. When that didn't happen, he answered, That was Tiamon. I came to him just as arrogant and conceited as any other new adult of my kind. Tiamon was a scholar and a poet when he was taken away from his people. He had a very strong will, and he learned very quickly to use my own psionic ability against me. I found myself walled up inside my own barriers until I learned that I was not always going to have my own way. Oh, I was resentful at first. After a while, though, I began to notice the wonder Tiamon found in every living thing. He was curious about everything, from a blade of grass to the worlds beyond the gates. He taught me to truly see. After that, what could ever be the same?
O'Neill put his knife back in his boot sheath. No wonder his jaw ached. There were bite marks scored deep into the leather handle. He collected the rest of his gear. OK, let's get that door open.
Kefri said, Wait -- get my crystal.
What do you mean?
My crystal. If you need me to do anything other than open doors, I will be very limited without it.
O'Neill shook his head as he got a sudden image of one of the jewelled gloves containing a crystal that he had seen the Goa'uld use as weapons. He knelt by the old man's body and removed it from his hand. It was too small, O'Neill could wear it only awkwardly. He put it in a belt pouch for safe keeping.
It doesn't seem right just to leave him here.... Kefri said.
Jack replied, It's a burial place, Kefri .... holy ground and all that. He closed the old man's eyes and drew a fold of his cloak over his face. There's a lot worse things you can do than die of old age in your sleep, partner. Unless we want to join him sooner rather than later, we need to get some air in here now.
Yes, you're right, of course.
He climbed the stairs carefully. If he let himself black out now, it would be the last mistake he ever made. Kefri, can you see what you're doing?
No, not without a link. Only what you show me.
O'Neill replied, I'm staring straight at it. What do I do?
Put your hand over the crystals. Go ahead, touch them. You'll feel energy flowing through your fingertips, but don't worry, it won't hurt you. When the crystals light up, push in on them. The door should open right up.
Here goes nothing. O'Neill made sure the safety was off his sidearm before he put his left hand over the crystals. He could feel Kefri concentrating to hold onto the image Jack was sending, gather the psi energy, and feed it around the barriers through his body into the crystals. The first time, he failed to focus it, and O'Neill felt the energy flood through him like warm water, disappearing into the air around him without effect.
I'm sorry, Jack.
No harm done, it looked to me like you just need a little practise working around the barrier. We have time. Calm down and try again. Keep your eye on your target! O'Neill's mental image of the firing range helped Kefri concentrate on what he was doing, that time the crystal glowed brightly. Instantly O'Neill's attention snapped to the possible danger outside, he pushed the door open a crack and drew several deep breaths as cold fresh air flooded in.
The corridor was empty. Once they were outside, he holstered the pistol and reached for his rifle.