See disclaimer in Part One.
Carter lowered her rifle when she recognized O'Neill. "Daniel, Teal'c, here he is! Sir, we're going to have to duck for a while, this place is crawling with Jaffa and they have a Goa'uld with them. They found the gateroom door unbarred, they know someone's been here."
"There's a place--" O'Neill's voice sounded very loud in his own ears. He started again. "This whole place is as full of holes as Swiss cheese, there are dozens of secret passages."
"I know, we found them too."
"There's a way in down here."
They ducked into the passages and O'Neill led the way up a level. They came out in a small inside room that was only a little larger than a closet. A candelabra with crystals instead of candles lit the room with a soft glow. It gave off warmth, too, it was the first time they had felt warm since they had got here.
Daniel gave O'Neill a long look in the eyes. "What happened to you, Jack? What's wrong?"
O'Neill suddenly felt very tired. He sat down on a heavy wooden bench and leaned his head back against the wall for a moment. Then he told them about how the old man had lured him into the crypt, about Kefri, and finally about Timok-set and his plan to infect them with the plague.
No one interrupted, and when he met their eyes he saw them looking back at him in shock and fear ... for him and of him. Sam's hand was halfway to her rifle -- anyone who might be a Goa'uld needed to be under guard -- but he was her commanding officer and she trusted him. Daniel was pale in the soft glow of the crystals, O'Neill saw his own funeral in his friend's eyes. Even Teal'c, normally the most stoic person O'Neill had ever met in his life, was obviously at a loss. Not one of them was daring to allow the slightest seed of hope to take root and grow, that Kefri's crazy idea might actually work.
"Damn it, stop acting like this is some kind of a freakin' support group meeting! Can I remind you people for just one minute that this place is lousy with Jaffa? Get it together!" He gave them a couple of seconds to do just that, then he went on. "Priority one is to find out if there's any truth to this plague story, and if there is, to get the information back home. If it's true we'll need to secure the area and get a team from the CDC out here to neutralize the threat.
From now on, I don't want you to trust anything I tell you without confirmation, is that understood? Carter, I'm relieving myself of command, as of now. Get us home."
Daniel leaned against the wall, and slid down until he was sitting on his heels. Hatred of the Goa'uld conflicted with terror for Jack. He squashed both emotions, he had to look at this objectively somehow! He reminded himself that trust had nothing to do with it. The hypothesis was that the Goa'uld were working on some kind of biological weapon. Now they had to take every precaution they could to protect themselves, and test the hypothesis. "Okay, so what do we do now? If Kefri is telling the truth, then Timok-set has to be taking some kind of precautions to avoid spreading this plague back home."
O'Neill paused a moment. "He says they keep all their samples in sealed containers ... it sounds a lot like NBC protocols back home."
Teal'c asked, "What does this have to do with television?"
Daniel said, "What -- oh, not television. That's military alphabet soup for nuclear-biological-chemical."
Carter asked, "Does Kefri know where they set up camp? If he does, we've got to get in there and swipe some of those containers -- the treatment too. Maybe we'll get lucky and it will be easy to produce a vaccine."
Teal'c said, "Any Goa'uld camp is going to be heavily guarded. We are not going to be able to just walk in there."
"Maybe we can," Carter replied. "It depends on how much Kefri knows about the camp routine, guard schedules and so forth. Cross-referencing that with what you know about their standard operating procedures, we should be able to pull it off if we can keep the advantage of surprise. They can't be sure who came through the gate -- they don't know it's us, or they'd be trying harder to get their hands on us. They won't be expecting a quick in-and-out raid, and it's the last place they'd expect Kefri to come back to."
Jack laughed. "He wants to know if we're all out of our minds."
Daniel said, "Well -- yes."
"Give me a sheet of paper." Jack found a pencil and started to draw out a sketch of Timok-set's camp, the rest crowded around. "Kefri says they're using one of Apophis' temple complexes, from the way he's talking it sounds like it's about five miles northwest of here. The locals think it's haunted and leave the place alone. The lab is set up here in this building and he's got guards patrolling here and here...."
O'Neill disappeared into the shadows under the eaves of a storehouse while a pair of Jaffa guards walked by on patrol. Once they had gone by, the four of them hurried across to the building they were calling the lab. There was a Goa'uld lock on the door, more crystals.
Kefri, do you know the combination to this one?
Yes, I often worked here, keeping a record of the experiments done inside.
OK, do your stuff, get the door open. We're right in the open out here.
Daniel was startled when he saw Jack open the lock, but he squashed the reaction and ducked inside, rifle ready. He swept the room quickly, confirming that no one was inside. "Clear!"
The rest hurried inside and quickly shut the door. They were in a long corridor, two stories tall, with catwalks along either side halfway up.
Jack said, "Kefri says the room we want is down here. Let's move!"
They came to a stop before a wide set of the same heavy wooden, metal bound doors that they had come to expect from the architecture around here. There was yet another lock, with a row of hieroglyphics.
Sam asked, "What's that?"
"Oh, warning, forbidden, death to people who go in there without permission, that kind of thing," Daniel replied. "Jack, are you going to do your thing with the door lock, or what?"
Distracted, Jack said out loud, "God damn, Kefri, what do you mean you aren't sure you remember the combination?"
I'm trying! Kefri protested. His first try failed and Jack got a panicky image of setting off an alarm and guards coming.
Jack could see right now that panic could be contagious. But so could control. He reined in his own sudden impulse to get the hell out of there. Try again.
Kefri concentrated and this time the lock opened. Once again they got inside.
The room inside was two levels high, with narrow walkways at the midlevel just like outside, and filled with miscellaneous Goa'uld lab equipment that they couldn't begin to classify. The catwalk extended across the room at the half-way point. Daniel explained, "I think it was a granary. When they filled up the bottom of the room they started using the catwalks."
Along one wall were clear sarcophagi, each lit faintly from within by several glowing crystals and each one containing the naked form of a disease-ravaged corpse, floating in some amber liquid.
Daniel stared back and forth between the bodies and Jack. "Well, I'll be damned...!"
Jack remembered, that had been more or less his own reaction when he had begun to suspect that Kefri might be telling the truth. He said, "Everyone, stay the hell away from those. We don't have much time, Kefri thinks he might have tripped an alarm when he screwed up opening the lock the first time. Remember what we're looking for are black cylinders with that symbol I showed you on them in red. Spread out, find 'em."
They quickly divided the area into quarters and started searching. Jack drew a rear section, away from the door, and hit paydirt. He stuffed two of the cylinders into a belt pouch. Where's the antidote? Come on, Kefri, there's no time!
Look around, let me see the area! It would be right here-- Kefri sorted through the images that Jack sent him. There, on that shelf--!
Jack grabbed a handful of the small boxes that Kefri indicated. There were scarabs incised on the lids, he vaguely remembered Daniel saying something about scarabs representing life. Maybe that was the local equivalent of a red cross. "OK, people, I got it, let's boogie!"
Jack opened the door and almost got his head taken off by a firestaff blast. Acting on instinct, he ducked back and ignored Kefri's mental scream of pure terror. He sprayed the corridor with suppression fire and glanced out again, saw three or four Jaffa diving for cover. They've got the front door blocked, Kefri, is there another way out of here?
At the other end, yes, but wouldn't there be more guards there?
Maybe! I'm worried about these first! Jack ordered the rest out. They stuck to the cover under the catwalk and returned fire from the Jaffa whenever they saw where it was coming from. Neither side hit anything, they had learned too much respect for each other's weapons for that.
At the far end, they met more Jaffa. Kefri said, I told you there would be more guards down here! What do we do now?
You're the one with the bright ideas! Jack shot back. What's through the next door?
It's just a maintenance room, there's a generator in there that supplies power to all of the buildings -- Jack caught a glimpse of one figure whose armor was red and gold -- Timok-Set. Kefri lost it, sending a flood of chaotic images which starred all of them dying in a variety of slow, painful ways. The rest of the team had immediately opened fire on Timok-Set, their sudden "kill-the-snakehead" attitude didn't do a thing to calm Kefri down any!
Damn it all to hell, Kefri, don't you freak out on me now! Get the door open!
Kefri followed Jack's orders without thinking, jamming the terror into the back corners of his mind to give him nightmares later -- if there was a "later." They got inside and scrambled for whatever cover they could find, holding the door.
It wasn't lost on anyone that they were trapped, pinned down in here. Jack expected the Jaffa to throw a grenade through the door, that was what he would have done to secure the area. But Kefri replied back they wouldn't do that, for fear of releasing the plague.
It turned into a shooting war. They took down the first few who got through the downstairs doors, but then more Jaffa started coming through onto the upper level. Jack could see there was no way out except straight through.
Timok-Set was carrying a wand tipped with a red crystal. It was a weapon that none of them had ever seen before. Light arced from it to hit Carter, she went down hard and lay still. O'Neill fired a burst at the Goa'uld and saw him thrown back as several shots impacted off his armor -- but he recovered and got to cover. O'Neill knew that armor would stop small-arms fire a lot of the time, he doubted that he had done Timok-Set any real damage. More firestaff blasts forced O'Neill to duck as well, he heard Jackson cry out but couldn't see what had happened to him. When O'Neill looked up, Teal'c was down as well, with his firestaff lying beside him.
O'Neill knew it was only a matter of time before he got caught in a crossfire, there were a group of Jaffa moving into position along the catwalk. The only chance he had was to take out Timok-Set first. Teal'c's firestaff was the only weapon they had that would certainly get through the Goa'uld's armor. The weapon was lying about twenty feet away, but O'Neill knew it had might as well be twenty miles, for all the chance he had to cross that open space to get it. He spared a few seconds for a deep regret, but only that. Kefri, how long will it take you to be able to use your powers on those guys if we finish this thing?
No time, but Jack-- Kefri's mind-voice rang with all the protest he couldn't put into words.
We're out of time, partner. They'll have us as soon as they get into position along that balcony up there. They just haven't figured out yet that they'll have cover if they hug the wall. Ruthlessly he went on, If they get hold of us you know what they'll do -- chop me open like a can of sardines to get you out. That isn't how I want to go out, Kefri. O'Neill forced his side of the barrier between them to dissolve, and waited.
Kefri cast about desperately for another way, any other way, and didn't find one. Finally he accepted what Jack already knew and, full of bitter regrets that he hadn't succeeded in getting Jack out of it safely, accepted the joining. There was one last flare of pain and then they were ... almost ... one person. There was no longer the slightest separation of emotion or memory. Communication was instantaneous, no need existed any longer to form words and phrases. But there was still a fine, almost invisible line, one side of which was Kefri, and the other, Jack. If they ever wanted privacy, they could still see where the barriers would go.
No time to think about that now. Jack sent a mental image that, before, Kefri had been sitting in a nice safe little room watching everything on closed-circuit TV. Now he'd been booted out in the cold! O'Neill's eyes glowed as psi powers matched up with reflexes and strategic sense. Kefri pulled the crystal over his hand. He had never been in a fight in his life, but self-preservation is universal. Light shot out from the crystal and the Jaffa leader went down.
Immediately he took advantage of the confusion to dive for Teal'c's firestaff. Kefri was still broadcasting an absolute certainty that they were going to be dead before the next few seconds were up, when Jack's hand closed around the firestaff. Timok-set went down in a smoking pile. O'Neill's second shot hit the generator, and the explosion took out three or four of the Jaffa up on the catwalk. O'Neill threw himself flat to protect himself from flying debris. The two Jaffa who were left finally fled.
O'Neill checked on the others. The shrapnel from the exploding generator had mostly gone over them, except for a few cuts and scratches. Sam and Daniel were still unconscious, but already starting to come around. Kefri thought they would be weak and nauseated, but no worse, in a few minutes. Teal'c had some nasty looking burns from a too-close encounter with a firestaff blast, but he would heal quickly. They would survive.
As soon as they were able they made a run back for the Stargate, but it seemed Timok-Set's death had created enough havoc to cover their retreat.
O'Neill decided not to tell the rest of the team, quite yet, what he and Kefri had done. He didn't want them risking their lives in some harebrained scheme to save him. Now that Kefri knew what kind of information he'd been hiding, he understood why it was worth their lives to preserve its secrecy.
The others were barely on their feet. Jack keyed the sequence into the DHD and sent the recognition code. A few seconds later they were home, and Jack watched the iris close behind them.
He unfastened his webbing and carefully unlaced the pouch containing the plague samples. Very carefully he handed it over to Dr. Frazier. "Whatever you do, don't drop that. The cylinders contain samples of the Goa'uld's latest biological weapon. The little boxes are the cure."
He turned and handed over his weapons to General Hammond. "Colonel? What the hell is this?"
Quietly, O'Neill told him. Except for the final sounds of the Gate falling dormant, the whole place fell completely silent.
Shock, grief, resolution flashed across Hammond's expression. He handed the rifle and webbing off to a nearby airman. "Take care of those, son. I want a full report right now."
O'Neill knocked at General Hammond's door.
"Who is it?!"
"O'Neill, sir, you wanted to see me?"
The general's voice moderated somewhat. "Enter."
O'Neill opened the door to find Hammond facing away from him, staring at a picture of the Viet Nam Veterans' memorial. He had never asked the general what personal meaning that photograph had for him, or which of the thousands of names held memories for him. Hammond didn't enlighten him as he turned around. "At ease, Colonel."
O'Neill's eyes flickered across the General's desk. An envelope which had held sealed orders was crumpled into a ball. The orders themselves were lying face-down on the desk. "The other shoe dropped?" He asked quietly.
Hammond nodded, grateful that he didn't have to break the news. He pushed the sheet of paper over to O'Neill. Even though it was something that Jack had been expecting every day since they had returned, looking at his own death warrant was still a shock.
Hammond said, "Jack, I want you to know I'm going to fight this right down to the wire. I'm going to talk to the president. There has to be another way."
O'Neill's mouth had gone dry. "You know there isnít, sir."
"If there's one thing that's been true ever since I met you, Jack, it's that you are a fighter. You've never once given up, or accepted anything as inevitable. Donít start now."
"I'm not giving up. I don't want to die any more than anyone else does! But it's just a matter of time until those two Jaffa who got away tell Apophis what happened. After that, he'll figure out some way to get his hands on me. You know as well as I do you have to follow your orders."
General Hammond slammed his fist on his desk and yelled, "God damn it, no, Jack. I've had to do things in my career that made me sick of looking at myself in the mirror, because it was necessary, but this isn't necessary. We can put you where the Goa'uld can never find you. There are bigger security risks than you'll ever be running around loose in Washington D.C. every day. I'm not going to order you taken out like a dog and shot because you and some Gou'ald freedom fighter did what you had to do to get the plague samples back here! Kefri proved his loyalty by turning it over! For all I know he saved the life of everyone in or on this mountain -- and who knows how many other people if the plague had escaped the facility!"
O'Neill almost grinned. Hammond, wily old player that he was, had started to put the best possible spin on it already. Kefri the shy little scribe -- cast as a freedom fighter? "General, you don't have any more of a choice now than I did then. I had to get this information back here. But now that I have, I'm a walking time bomb. I'm a psi now, but I'm nowhere nearly in the same league with someone like Apophis or Hathor. Either one of them could use my own psi abilities against me to force me to tell them anything, betray anyone, do anything. I'll never know for the rest of my life when that time bomb will blow up in my face, or who will get caught in it. The rest of my team? You? How can I do my job knowing that? How can I live my life knowing that?!"
Hammond came around the desk and put his hand on O'Neill's shoulder. "Any one of us could be captured. What if they overran this base and captured me? There are half a dozen scenarios that end up that way. How long do you suppose I could hold out under torture before I gave them anything they wanted? Besides," Hammond said gruffly as he released him, "I can't order you terminated until after we debrief Kefri. It could take him a hell of a long time to give us eight hundred years worth of information on the Gou'ald homeworld. And I damn well am going to be the one who decides when I'm finished debriefing him."
Jack was still having a lot of trouble getting used to the flood of information he got now. Along with the implacable determination he sensed in Hammond to save his life in spite of himself, Kefri's years and experience told him this was one of those things he could not change and might as well accept. The alternative was suicide, and that was no longer an option. He would leave a hole in too many lives now by doing that. He opened his mouth, shut it, and then simply said, "Yes, sir."
It didn't matter anyway. Hammond could stall for a while -- debriefing Kefri was indeed important -- but before too long someone would take the whole thing out of his hands.
O'Neill hadn't any more than stepped out of the General's office when his pager went off. The message was simply "Infirmary ASAP." He headed down there as fast as he could go.
A nurse directed him to Maxwell's room when he got there. Dr. Frazier was with him. "Doc...?"
She shook her head. "We nearly lost him just now. He'll never survive another seizure like that. Laura had to go home to check on her father. She's on her way back, but it will take her a few hours to get here and I don't think Joey has that long."
Jack considered a lot of things ... the death warrant hanging over his head ... the consequences if he fell alive into Apophis' hands, both for himself and for everyone else around him. Kefri's certainty that, yes, he could probably save Maxwell's life.
"Doc, get General Hammond down here. I have an idea."
Hammond and Jackson were trying desperately to pull some idea out of thin air when Frazier's call came through. Jackson went with the General down to the infirmary.
When they got down there, O'Neill outlined his idea. "Kefri can save Maxwell's life, if he takes Maxwell as his host instead of me."
Hammond looked back and forth between O'Neill and Maxwell. "What do you mean -- transfer that Goa'uld from you to Maxwell? What's that going to solve? Then I'd have the spooks wanting him dead too!"
"Sir, with all due respect, Maxwell doesn't know anything that could be considered a security risk. By the time that's a consideration, he'll have time to learn Kefri's psi tricks and he'll be able to defend himself from the other Goa'uld."
"I can't argue with that.... Kefri. Has a host ever survived without his symbiote?"
That particular possibility had not even occurred to O'Neill. Jackson's head snapped up and it was the look of naked hope that lit his eyes for just a moment, that convinced O'Neill he was doing the right thing. If they learned something that might help Sha're and Skaara, it would be worth it for that alone.
Kefri usually communicated through Jack, but when the General spoke to him directly, it startled the Goa'uld into answering aloud. That got the attention of everyone in the room, because it wasn't Jack's voice at all. There was a marked accent, but there was none of the cold edge that they had come to associate with Apophis and others like Hathor. "Very, very rarely, and any other Goa'uld around would certainly kill them."
Frazier said, "We thought separation was always fatal for the human partner."
Kefri corrected, "Nearly always. There's no chance unless the Goa'uld cooperates, and how often do you expect that to happen? Those who view their hosts as chattel take no further care for them after they have no more use for them." Kefri paused. "But no matter what I do to minimize the physical injury that I cause, the psychic shock will still probably be fatal. Itís like saying sometimes people survive being struck by lightning."
Daniel said, "Let's face it, this is the only chance you guys have. Otherwise either some government assassin or Apophis' people will catch up to you. Even if it's one in a million it's better than nothing." He put his hopes for a cure for Sha're aside for now, there was no way they would get Apophis' queen to cooperate with anything. Jack's situation was immediate and maybe this was a way out -- that was all that mattered right now.
Kefri asked, "General, do you agree with that assessment?"
Hammond said reluctantly, "I'm afraid I do. I don't know how good Apophis' people are -- damned good if Teal'c is any indication -- but I do know how good our people are." He looked at O'Neill and for the first time it really dawned on him that right now, he was looking at Kefri. "Hell, you don't have to take my word for it, ask O'Neill."
Frazier said, "There's another consideration. This is the only chance Maxwell has at this point, too, but it isn't a sure thing. He might not survive implantation. Where would that leave you, Kefri?"
Kefri said, "That's hardly an important consideration now, is it? All three of us are taking the same chances here. As far as Airman Maxwell is concerned, my greatest concern is this: when he wakes up, how will he feel about having had this decision made for him? It may be that his choice would be to let nature take its course. Jack doesn't know him well enough to say one way or the other, any more than I do, and the young man is too deeply unconscious for me to find out."
Everyone turned to look at General Hammond. He knew Maxwell as well as any of his people -- which was fairly well, especially for the people on the SG teams, composed as they were of loose cannons and even more unpredictable civilians. He had to know what motivated them, how he could keep their loyalty if military discipline wouldnít be enough.
Hammond remembered one snatch of conversation he'd overheard between Maxwell and Dr. Milner. They'd been talking about a car wreck, the passenger had been killed while the driver had lived with extensive injuries. Milner had commented that the guy who'd been killed outright was better off. Maxwell had said then, no he wasn't, life was always better. This kid had been fighting for his life for the last two weeks.
"He'd go for it."
"Then what are we waiting for?" No one was sure whether it had been Jack or Kefri who had said that.
Frazier said, "Give me about an hour to try to bring Maxwell's fever down a little more. That might buy Kefri a little more time to work."
O'Neill went outside, to a nearby forest clearing on the mountain that was a popular destination for the people here at Cheyenne. Everyone went there to smoke cigarettes, and sometimes simply to remind themselves that the whole world didn't consist of the underground facility. It was a clear night, perfect for stargazing.
I do not know any of the constellations from here. Kefri's mind-voice was very quiet.
Jack leaned back against a boulder. That's Ursa Major, the Big Bear. Some people call it the Big Dipper. And that very bright star? That's the North Star. He pointed out a couple of the others, easy ones to see.
Kefri was listening, trying to distract himself. He had barriers up, the first time he'd done that.
O'Neill asked, Scared?
You're supposed to be, Jack told him.
Terrified, no. Scared, hell yes. Jack looked up.
Do you think there is anything more after we go on?
I'd like to. I want to think my son is in heaven. The truth is that I don't know. That's the last big mystery, isn't it? What's really out there? I've been about as close as you can get and still make it back, but I still don't have a clue.
I have learned more of honor and true courage in the past few days than ever before in my life. I only hope that I live up to the example that the rest of you have set for me. I do not want to die today. I want even less ... to die badly, if that makes sense.
I understand. That's how I think most soldiers feel about it, Kefri. Nobody with sense starts a mission intending to be a hero. Things happen, you never know what you're going to do until the decision is in your hands. You just do the right thing when the time comes.
O'Neill stood and walked over to the edge of the trees, looked back down the trail. It would be time to go back soon. He thought there might be people up there watching him, but a little to his surprise there were not. Hammond had silently given him the option to make a run for it, if that was his choice. That made it a lot easier to make the right choice.
I will miss you. No matter how this turns out, Jack, I will miss you. Tiamon chose well.
Yeah, well.... Look, I think you'll be okay and pull Maxwell out of this. If you do, there's something I want you to remember. War never solved anything. I'm not a pacifist, far from it. Sometimes we have to stand up for ourselves. Otherwise we're just cooperating in our own victimization. But if we really want to change things, we can't do that with guns. We need ideas for that.
As long as humans see the Goa'uld as monsters, and your people see us as animals to be used, there's no way this can end up except with one side wiping out the other. Maybe that's the way it's gonna have to be, I don't know. But I do know you aren't a monster, and you know I'm not an animal. For the two of us, right here, right now, the war is over. Maybe someday your people and mine can all start to understand that. Maybe that's what you're here for, Kefri. Maybe that's the lesson you have to teach. It won't be easy, but just maybe the sky's the limit if we all ever really learn it.
Kefri said, That is an... incredible responsibility, Jack. I doubt I'm up to it alone. You must survive to help me.
Gonna give it my best shot. O'Neill took a deep breath. Time to be getting back.
He knew the trail like the back of his hand. He dreaded making that last turn and crossing that last hundred yards of clear ground to the gate. And that was where he found the rest of the team waiting for him. Nobody said a word, they'd gone through the whole goodbye thing a few times before and tonight nobody felt like it. Sam and Daniel just started walking on either side of him, and Teal'c fell in behind them, and they walked together all the way down to the infirmary.
Teal'c and Jackson could have been statues standing on either side of the door. Carter found standing still unbearable, she had paced the corridor so much she thought she had certainly worn a track in it.
The infirmary door opened and Dr. Frazier came out.
Jackson moved so suddenly it even startled Carter. "How is he?"
"Still alive. Nothing that shows up on our tests explains his condition, so I have to assume that Kefri was right and most of the damage is psionic ... things we don't have the tools to measure yet. My personal opinion is that the next hour or so is critical, and if he gets through that, he should have a good chance."
"How big an 'if' is that?" Carter asked.
"I don't know."
"Can we see him?"
"Only one of you at a time, I don't want a crowd of people in there. But I think it's best if someone does stay with him."
Sam said, "Daniel, you go on in."
"You sure, Sam?"
"Yeah. Go ahead. He knows Teal'c and I are out here."
Teal'c nodded, once. Daniel went inside. They caught a glimpse of a very still figure surrounded by machines before the door closed again. Carter asked, "What about Maxwell?"
"Col. Timmonds just got back and she's with him now. He seems to respond best to her. His fever is still coming down. We're learning as we go along, Sam. I'm going to look in on him now."
Carter nodded and took the spot beside the door that Daniel had vacated. She and Teal'c kept a silent vigil. They could guard against any danger that might threaten from outside, but they were helpless to affect the battle going on within. Frazier crossed to Maxwell's room and disappeared inside.
Blackness started to fade up through shades of gray. Kefri? Kefri! Then O'Neill remembered where he was, and why Kefri didn't answer, and why he had such an unbelievable headache. He tried to open his eyes, but some fool had aimed a spotlight right at his face. "Damn!"
"Jack? Lie still, Jack, the doctor doesn't want you to move around until she's had a chance to do some more tests."
"God, get that light out of my face! Daniel, is that you?"
The light moved away and he could open his eyes a little then. Daniel's worried face swam into focus.
"Yeah, it's me. You made it, my friend." Weary, haggard, Jackson scrubbed at his eyes with the back of his hand.
"What about Kefri?"
"Still hanging in there, the last I heard," Jackson replied. "This crazy idea just might have worked after all.... You gotta lie still a minute, the doc wanted to know as soon as you woke up. I'll be right back." Daniel stuck his head out the door. "Sam, go tell Doc Frazier than Jack's coming around."
"What? Is he okay?"
"I think so, he knows who I am anyhow. Go, go!"
Sam gripped his arm for a second then ran across the hall to fetch the doctor. Daniel went back to Jack's bedside.
"I'm right here. Take it easy, you probably shouldn't be talking too much."
"How bad did I get messed up?"
"Don't know yet. They couldn't do any kind of an assessment while you were out. Your tests all look good so far."
Presently the doctor came across the hall and Daniel had to leave.
If Frazier had her way about it, O'Neill would have stayed in bed for three or four days. But when she went to check on him that afternoon, she found his bed empty. She realized immediately where he would have gone and crossed the hall. Sure enough, he was sprawled in the chair by Maxwell's bed.
He looked up when she came in and raised his hand in a tired gesture to ward off the lecture he saw coming. "Don't get your knickers in a knot, Doc, I'm fine. I'm not up and around doing anything -- I'm just sitting here. OK?"
She made an exasperated noise, but grinned. "I guess. You're recovering from very deep shock, but the worst you have to show for it today is a minor concussion. All I can guess is that you were reacting to a psychic injury, just as Kefri expected."
"How are they doing?"
She checked Maxwell's injury. The infection had seemed to be receding, she had made a small mark at the edge of the red border around the wound the last time she had checked. A smile spread across her face. The inflammation had moved back a good quarter of an inch since then. "It's too soon to be sure, but I think it's working. Can you ... tell ... how Kefri's doing?"
"Sort of. Just an impression now and then. I think Maxwell's fever is really bothering him."
"Yeah. I was afraid of that. It's still coming down, though. We'll see what happens tonight."
Timmonds came in, but started to leave when she saw Frazier. The doctor waved her on inside. "I'm just finishing up my notes, Laura."
Timmonds asked, "How long have you been here, Jack? You should probably get some sleep. I'll be staying for a while anyway, and I'll call you if there's any change."
Frazier said, "She's right, Jack, you really should rest."
"If anything happens, Laura--"
"Anything. I'll get you myself. Go."
O'Neill nodded and went back to his bed, even though he knew he would not be able to rest. The next time Frazier checked on him, she assured him that Maxwell was still slowly improving -- and she give him something to make him sleep.
The next thing he knew, Daniel was in the room talking to him. "Jack? Maxwell's starting to come around."
He fought the sedative haze and swung his feet over the side of the bed.
"Whoa, don't fall! Hitting your head would probably not be a good thing right about now!" Jackson cautioned.
O'Neill figured that was common sense and let Jackson help him across the hall. He was glad it wasn't further. Jackson didn't go in, because the room was already crowded. General Hammond, Col. Timmonds and Dr. Frazier were already there. Maxwell had his eyes open. "How are you doing, son?"
"Okay, I think, except I feel like a truck ran over me. Kefri says to tell you he's all right too."
"Great." O'Neill couldn't say anything more for a moment around the big lump in his throat. They had been a lot luckier that time than they deserved.
Frazier shooed everyone out so she could work. They made it as far as a break room a couple of doors down, where Carter, Teal'c and Jackson joined them, as well as SG-4's Kyle and McKinnitt. After a little while, Frazier came in, and her weary smile said it all.
Timmonds nodded for McKinnitt to shut the door as soon as the conversation looked like it was going to get serious. "General Hammond, what's the situation with the Pentagon?"
"They've rescinded the order with regards to Colonel O'Neill. They agree that Maxwell poses no specific security risk, and they're willing to let the situation ride in light of the intelligence we might gather from it. At the same time, they don't want a Goa'uld running loose, so he's essentially on an indefinite probation. I can't imagine a better probation officer than his own CO."
"Thank you, sir!" Timmonds said.
"Don't thank me, just get your butts off sick list and get my teams back up to speed. Understood?"
"Yes, sir!" Timmonds and O'Neill both replied.
O'Neill closed his eyes for a moment, let the relief wash over him. It was over. "Tell me something, Doc. What have we learned from all of this to make the whole damn thing worth while?"
She ticked things off on her fingers."The plague organism, of course. The treatment you brought back seems to be very effective against it, but more than that, it looks like we'll have a vaccine soon. And -- that it's more than a theoretical possibility for a Gou'ald's host to survive removal of the symbiote. Three -- that a lot of the fatalities are caused by the Goa'uld itself -- maybe we can figure out a way to prevent that." Her hand rested on Daniel's shoulder for a moment, she knew that wasn't much but it was at least something to hold onto. "For the first time we got to monitor the entire process of an implantation. I haven't had the barest beginning of an opportunity to start analyzing the data from that, but it's pretty amazing stuff. I'm going to be studying this for a long time to come. There could be a lot of rewards from it. And I have a live Goa'uld to study -- Kefri doesn't seem to mind too much as long as I answer his questions."
Timmonds asked, "What happens to Maxwell now? If he stays on SG-4, sooner or later the Goa'uld are going to figure out what happened, and they'll be after him."
O'Neill said, "Kefri's about as military as my aunt Hattie. He panics when you yell boo. Maxwell hasn't got the experience to handle that."
Hammond said, "Experience is the operative word, isn't it, ladies and gentlemen? Maxwell is too valuable to risk on routine explorations. Dr. Frazier, do you think you could make room for him on your staff for the time being?"
She grinned, an expression of pure greed. "I think I might be able to arrange something somewhere, General."
"Good. If we can buy him some time, maybe he ... they ... can learn to meet the rest of the Goa'uld on their own ground. Give Maxwell some time to come to terms -- and to put Kefri through basic training."
Laughter filled the room with warmth and light -- and hope. Daniel said, "Not to be a wet blanket here or anything.... but the Goa'uld still think Jack is one of them."
O'Neill grinned. "Yeah, they do, don't they? That's real interesting when you start thinking about it. That little miscalculation could really make Apophis screw up big time, couldn't it?"
Jackson reached for his coffee and downed it in one gulp. O'Neill no longer had the benefit of Kefri's telepathy ... and that in many ways was a relief. He was sure he would never have got comfortable with that. He didn't need to read minds anyway, to know that Jackson was wishing the coffee was something much stronger.