J/D/J, 47K words.
SUMMARY: SG-1 and their ship, the An Croi, are in for a few horrible days where nasty shit happens on Abydos and Earth.
1. This is the first story that includes images made from Midjourney AI.
2. Sexual relations between Jack, Daniel, and Jason are in the second to last chapter. Please don’t skip over everything to read it. I’ve created new characters and have added new information vital to the rest of this series. If you’re only here for the sex, then by means, skip to chapter entitled “Three.” It’s not a long sex scene but it is necessary to Jason’s storyline.
SPECIAL DEDICATION: I dedicate this chapter to Domino Derval, who passed away before she could read it
A Shock to the System
Jack rubbed at his temple. He had yet another headache and blamed it on Morrighan. She probably hadn’t thought the stupid spell would have a bad side effect, but perhaps she just hadn’t considered that her magic no longer complimented human DNA—that was his theory. She was either going to remove it or fix it, he decided, and if she didn’t, he would have to convince her somehow. He was pretty sure she would fix her stupid and annoying gift. Granted, he’d already averted a disaster by saving the lives of his husbands and teammates, but the headache that followed wasn’t going away. Clearly, not a great gift.
Normally, Jack could tolerate headaches. He’d done so in the past and had gone on dozens of missions while suffering from a bad headache. But these were not normal headaches, which consisted of aversion to light and sound, like a migraine, and would get progressively more painful if he didn’t take a Codeine-laced Tylenol and lie down in a dark room for six hours. He didn’t know what he would’ve done if Janet hadn’t prescribed them. They took the edge off and that’s all he needed to function. Unfortunately, not good enough for his job. He was compromised, and that pissed him off.
At the present time, he was trying to do the easiest work possible, which was checking off several inventory lists, and he had to wear his snow-blind sunglasses to do it. For the last week, Jack and his crew worked on making the An Croi a home away from home—but more importantly, to create a functioning ship through which they would run the missions Hammond assigned. To make sure they’d thought of everything, Carter had printed off the inventory checklists that applied to everything they beamed aboard. Personal items, ship’s tech, food, uniforms, and weapons.
There had been one curious item beamed aboard when it was time to haul up a lot of stuff from home: Jason’s acoustic guitar. It made no sense to Jack when he saw it and he promptly put it in one of the narrow closet nooks that blanketed the hall bulkheads on all four levels. Jason had been trying to reteach himself a skill he’d given up at eighteen. He’d lost interest and patience and hated having to deal with tender fingertips. Not something a young lieutenant in the Air Force Academy could allow to interfere with his military training.
Jack figured that maybe when they went on leave Jason could fiddle with it, but that guitar needed to be the last thing on his mind. And Jack also knew that he’d catch hell for it once Jason remembered they’d brought it aboard. But truth be told, Jack hated listening to him practice. It was like an irritant, the sour notes, the repetition. He found himself wishing time and again that Jason had already learned before entering the academy. Then they could listen to him riff instead of learning how to do scales.
In addition to their massive inventory, they were also back in engineering class. In this case, learning every mandatory function on the ship. Everything else would be on a learning schedule between missions. The basics were in order and Jack and the others happily learned how to pilot the ship. These classes were not in separate categories, such as navigation or communications. ALTA had revealed that she had Simulations for them to learn from. And after going through three Simulations, it became an acting game—and just a wee bit addictive. They’d discovered that it was fun figuring out how to beat the computer’s simulated events.
But then there were headaches that interfered with all this fun. He understood that some weaknesses were tolerated and others weren’t. In the past, headaches used to be dismissed because the affliction couldn’t be seen. If it can’t be seen, said the old wisdom, then there was no injury. “Push through it” was the answer. Jack had grown up in the Air Force with that mindset, so today, it was difficult to endure the pain when you were unable to work. His compromise: sunglasses, codeine, and inventory lists.
It had been two weeks since that infernal Christmas gift had broken his brain. And each day, it was a toss-up whether he’d get to have a pain-free day or not. The only time he could relax was when he went to bed, and Jason and Daniel took turns sitting up in bed with Jack’s head in their lap and massaging the pain away.
On the twenty-third of January, Daniel and Jason had had enough. Sitting in the cafeteria eating cereal as an afternoon snack, they were at their wit’s end. They couldn’t continue to watch their husband suffer.
“He thinks he’s invincible,” Daniel said around a mouthful of frosted Cheerios.
“He’s not,” Jason said as he refilled his bowl with the same cereal. “There’s only one answer. We find that goddamn tablet Morrighan gave him and send her a message.”
Jason found it early the next morning just after four a.m. It had been a while since he’d gotten up that early and now that their business was back on a semi-schedule of sorts, his body wanted that early morning run. They didn’t have a track on the ship so he simply did laps around one level.
But now Jason had to put it off for a bit while he searched their quarters—which they all called “The Apartment,” because of its size—for the queen’s tablet. He finally found it underneath a drawerful of MREs. With relief, he walked out and strode down the corridor and entered their weapons room, passing through an electrical net that identified him and let him in. Jason sat down at the console on the far end of the room and with the stylus raised, he stared out of a porthole window until he phrased the message correctly. Then he began to write.
My Dear Queen,
This is Jason. Jack has been suffering from migraines ever since you gifted him with that 30-second prescience. He is compromised and is forced to work despite that. When you get the time, please come and fix it. I’m sorry, but you shouldn’t have done it in the first place if the spell wasn’t compatible with the human brain. Jack may be a relation, but he’s human. Please Come Help Him. Thank you for taking the time read this desperate request.
Jason read it over and edited a few sections . . . then edited it again and again before he was satisfied. He tapped the SEND button.
The Edited message read:
My Dear Queen Morrighan,
Jack has constant mega migraines. It’s your fault. Please, please come fix it when you can. And by that I mean ASAP.
Your grateful kin-in-law,
He set the tablet aside, hoping for an answer, and then suddenly remembered there was laundry to do. He headed out and got to work. An hour later, Jason heard running footsteps and Daniel appeared, running by the laundry room, whereupon he literally backtracked until he entered.
“Where have you been?” he asked, almost rhetorically.
“Laundry? Hello?” he said, twirling a vertical finger to indicate the room. “And waiting for a reply from—” There was a ping from the device, which sat vibrating on the clothes dryer—and it had nothing to do with the device.
“Jack’s been tearing up the apartment looking for that.”
“Yeah, well, I sent the message for him because he can’t bloody read.” He turned on the screen and a message in neon green was displayed:
THIS IS AMARA, THE QUEEN’S ASSISTANT. SHE WILL NOT BE ABLE TO HELP JACK O’NEILL FOR ANOTHER SIX DAYS, FIVE HOURS, FORTY-SEVEN MINUTES. SHE WILL ARRIVE BY THE Long na Banríona, THE QUEEN’S SHIP. LOOK FOR HER THEN, STARTING NOW.
Daniel sighed. “At least she’s coming. I wonder what’s holding her up. I hope it isn’t serious.”
“She did say she’s been fighting a war with the Fomorians,” Jason said. “Maybe that’s got her attention. If that’s what’s going on, I feel like an asshole, telling her she’d all but failed him by not working out her spells beforehand.”
Daniel’s mouth dropped open. “You didn’t.”
Jason gave him a direct look. “I did. I’m pissed off, Daniel. She should’ve known.”
“That the orchid ceremony altered us and that spell of hers should’ve been altered to accommodate.”
“Who’s saying it wasn’t? Jason, you don’t know anything about her magic, no more than I do.”
“Well, something’s messed up in that spell, Daniel.”
“Yes, Jason,” Daniel said with impatient sarcasm, “I’m well aware.”
Jason suddenly stretched his upper body’s muscles and groaned. “I gotta get back to my exercise routine. Gotta get with Teal’c.” He looked down at himself. “Soft. Ick.”
Daniel blinked at him, then backhanded Jason in his very firm, muscular chest. “I’m sorry? What did you say?”
Jason rolled his eyes. “You may not notice but I do.”
“Nonsense. You’re very critical of your appearance. Jack somehow looks awesome despite doing very little weight or exercise training. You work your ass off and you look good enough to eat. So to speak.” Jason gave him a sly smile and Daniel slapped him again with the back of his hand. “Relax, Jason. We’re active all damn day. You have access to the gym and that wonderful cross-country virtual reality track. Did you already go today?”
“No,” Jason sighed. “I woke up and saw Jack frowning in his sleep. It was the pain frown, not the troubled frown. So I went on a search to find that tablet.”
“I get why he’s hiding it,” Daniel said. “But he shouldn’t be. We have to be honest with each other in order to help get shit solved, otherwise the pain starts making the decisions, ya know?”
“Pain does a wonderful job there,” Jason said with disgust.
Daniel nodded. “I’ll be back to help with laundry. Just getting this and some Tylenol for him.” He then smiled and ruffled Jason’s hair. “Thank you. One of us had to say something.” He leaned down and gave him a slow kiss. “Back soon.”
Jason sighed as he watched him leave. Daniel was wearing his dark blue sweatpants and gray Air Force t-shirt. And walking away, he looked good. But down below the belt, nothing stirred. It would have, but the last time he’d orgasmed, there’d been actual pain with it. He’d covered it up with a gasp and Daniel and Jack were none the wiser, but the conjunction of those two things took the sails right out of him. He shook himself out of the reverie and concentrated on sorting colors. It was almost automatic these days, though he didn’t think it mattered. Except for whites.
. * . * .
Jason was in the middle of folding a large bed sheet when his cellphone rang. He set the sheet between his legs and checked to see who was calling. He blinked when he saw the name. Doctor Shelby Carson, D.O. He answered the call.
. * . * .
Jason walked onto the bridge and when Jack looked at him and smiled, the butterflies in his stomach increased. He hated lying to his husbands. “I got a call. I have to visit my doctor for test results. It’s general lab work to tell me what I’m doing wrong. So can you possibly live without me for an hour or so?”
“We’ll all suffer until you’re gone, sir,” Connor said, melodramatically clutching his heart.
“Wise ass,” Jason said with a shake of his head. “You know I love ya more than my luggage. ALTA, beam me down to the house.” He disappeared in the middle of a bunch of laughter. After arrival, he grabbed Jack’s bike and zoomed off to the doctor’s office.
. * . * .
Jason stared at the doctor. Panic and disbelief warred with each other as he received the doctor’s diagnosis. “Low-grade prostate cancer,” kept repeating in his brain as if he couldn’t absorb the news.
“Frequent blood screening is required to keep an eye on it,” the doctor went on. “Unless you’d like to tackle it now with focal measures. Cryoablation or cryotherapy might be the best for you. This requires a surgery where radioactive seeds are placed in the prostate tissue, and they slowly kill off the cancer cells. The drawback for any radiation treatment are the side effects.”
Jason knew what they were. “Okay. Let’s arrange the surgery. But keep in mind that I work for Air Force security at NORAD and there’ll be times I’ll have to reschedule follow-up therapies.”
As he talked, the possible side effects rattled around his brain like a container of Bingo balls: Erectile dysfunction, pain and swelling of the scrotum and penis, blood in the urine, loss of bladder control, bleeding or infection in the area treated, and then, if the radiation treatment had to be repeated, his hair would begin to fall out. His thick black hair. He might not be vain in some respects but when it came to his appearance, he took pride in himself—primarily leaning on the Diné side of his heritage.
Jason made the surgery appointment, which was set for mid-February. “Great. A Valentine surgery,” he mused. He said goodbye and headed back out on Jack’s Harley, intending to go home. He felt a little queasy just from the knowledge he’d gained in the last hour. He needed something to eat because he hadn’t eaten yet. He also needed some weed. He wasn’t going to handle this shit sober. Jason made a U-turn and headed for the closest pot dispensary where he would pick up several disposable vape pens. The strain he chose was as close to fighting pain without being a medical cannabis patient and mild enough to let him work without distraction issues. He’d fix that after the mission to Abydos and get a card. It was possible, but doing so as a member of the military was a fine line. So it had to be on the down low. At least pot was dropped down from Schedule 1 (which was highly unsuited and inexcusable) to Schedule 3.
Sitting at a light, Jason uncapped one of the pens and inhaled at the tip as if it were a joint. In ten minutes’ time, he knew he’d be hungry so he got in line at the McDonald’s drive-thru. He was wondering if everyone upstairs were as hungry. “What the hell,” he decided, “My money’s just sitting around waiting to be used.” Since no one was behind him, he backed out and went inside. But they were serving breakfast. So he turned around and headed for Dunkin’, pulling out his phone when he got there.
Jack answered with a “You done?”
“In so many ways,” Jason said. “I’m at Dunkin’. What do you guys want?”
He went inside and rattled off a massive order that totaled over a sixty bucks. He had a helluva time putting the order in the saddle bags of the bike but he got it done and headed home. As soon as the bags were emptied and the garage closed up tight, he touched the comm device behind his ear and said, “ALTA, to the bridge please.” In a moment, he transferred, and he set the bags on the floor. “Come git some.”
“All hail the conquering hero,” Jack said with a grin. “Didn’t we just have cereal or something?”
“We? That was me and Daniel,” Jason snorted. “You were asleep. And that was two hours ago. It’s brunch time.”
“Okiedokie,” Jack said.
As the seven of them indulged, Jason tried to pretend that nothing was wrong. And thankfully, they didn’t notice that he was high. Vape pens didn’t leave a scent after five minutes so he was safe.
. * . * .
The real test came at bedtime. For the last few weeks aboard their crazy-beautiful ship, bedtime had almost always involved making love. Their private time only occurred at this hour and it was Jason who typically initiated their tremendous desire to indulge in each other. But now, Jason wasn’t in the mood. He was terrified of experiencing that stab behind the balls again. He was so far from being in the mood, he could literally claim the cliché: he had a headache. And so did Jack. Jeez Louise, he muttered to himself. Jack and his migraines. “And here I am freaking out about a little ball pain. Wimp.”
Hesitantly, Jason grabbed his literal paperback book and headed for the bed. It was the first time he’d done that aboard the ship. And it signaled that he wasn’t in the mood far better than any idiot excuse he’d try—his husbands knew him too well to be fooled. Except now, of course. And that added to Jason’s guilt far more effectively than some purposeless lie.
Strangely, at least he thought it was strange, Jack couldn’t read but he could listen, so there they were, three hot men in one large bed. Reading and listening to the audiobook on Daniel’s phone. Jason couldn’t believe his luck but he was by no means happy about it. In point of fact, he was miserable. Depression tried to rear its head in his thoughts and he sternly ordered it away. He could sink down so easily into depression—if he hadn’t already because of the diagnosis. He might be a vain idiot about his looks but inside, there was a lot to avoid.
“This is a first,” Daniel said as Jason read along with the audio.
“What is?” he asked, everyone pausing.
“Reading in bed,” Daniel said.
“Or listening,” Jack said. “I’m not thrilled with this narrator. Guys with deep voices can’t do women. Er, you know what I mean. It sounds silly. So, one of you tell me a story, and not that kind of story.” Meaning one of the many fantasy role plays they concocted on an irregular basis.
Daniel and Jason exchanged raised eyebrows. “You or me?” Daniel asked.
“Hmm,” Jason pondered. “You’re voice is slightly higher than mine. You think of something—or continue the book in your own voice, not the audiobook’s.”
Daniel sniffed and launched into a woman’s voice. “Once upon a time, there was a handsome prince name Minnie . . .”
Jack smiled. “The book please, Daniel.”
His watch read 2:34 a.m. when Jason got up to take a piss. As he relieved himself, that relief took on significance when he realized there was no pain. A one-off? The pot? Not a chance. Not until the operation he really, really, really did not want. His body was filling with poison and he had a month before it was filled with more poison. So he began to think up a grocery list designed to bolster his immune system beforehand, then thought of recipes with the items on the list.
Jason returned to their room and stood by the bedroom door, watching his husbands sleep. He turned away and headed upstairs to the bridge. Connor was there, sitting in the command chair reading a book. The Princess Bride. Jason grinned and sat down in Daniel’s console chair. His smile vanished when he had to adjust how he sat. He grimaced slightly and Connor noticed.
“What’s wrong, boss?” he asked.
“You know how there’re those times when you sit down and pull some pubes?”
“Yep,” Jason said, suddenly feeling the need to be alone. He’d lied so easily. He hated himself. “I’m not gonna be able to sleep, Con, so go get some. I’ll finish your shift. Go read more of my favorite book.”
“Yep,” Jason repeated. “Nightmare. One that forces you to stay awake and think of other shit, you know?”
“Right on,” Jason nodded.
Connor got up and waved his book at Jason. “’Night, boss.”
“Sweet dreams,” Jason said and they both smiled. But when Connor was gone, the smile went too. Dread filled him. Then came anger. And after that, his eyes welled up in response to the anger because he felt completely, utterly helpless. Even when the team would be in the middle of the shit, there was always a modicum of control. But this? His body was betraying him. Sure, he could do something about it. But it was forced, and while there was a ninety-seven-point-three percent of successful eradication of the cancer cells, it was still a fact that his body was attacking him. He had no choice but to fight but this was one match he wasn’t certain he could win. Ninety-seven percent or no ninety-seven percent.
He recalled all those moments with his husbands. Touching, kissing, tasting, smelling. And he wasn’t going to be doing any of that without pain. Which meant he wasn’t going to do those things for a while. That old cliché made him scowl as the tears came down: You never know what you have until it’s gone.
Or under threat.
Jason sniffed back the tears and made a pact with his body’s cancer cells: “Game on, fuckers.”
. * . * .
Reporting for the 10:00 Briefing, everyone was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed except for Jason, who kept yawning. Jack frowned at him as he walked by, squeezing his shoulder before fetching a bottle of water from the cart by the observation window.
“No more shift switching, Jason,” he said.
“Yes, master,” Jason said and yawned so widely his jaw cracked. “Ow. That stung.” He rubbed the back of his jaw.
Daniel leaned over and kissed Jason’s temple, ignoring the faces of the SFs in the hallway, who’d be gossiping in about six hours at shift change. Daniel didn’t care. Public opinion was something he’d long ago dismissed as irrelevant.
Jason wanted to reach out and grab his hand but he refrained. At first, it was the training that held him back. On second thought, the idea that he might not survive to do this made him resist it. Did he want to wallow in that pain? He swallowed and gave Daniel a wistful smile.
“Why’d you get up so early?” Daniel asked, sitting down across from him at the conference table.
“Nightmare,” Jason said, and Connor pointed at him while looking at Al.
“See? Even Jason has nightmares, Al.”
“For cryin’ out loud,” Al said. “I’m forty-six, not twelve.”
Daniel blinked. “You’re forty-six?” But then the coffee kicked in. “Oh. Right. Orchid ceremony age regression. Gotta love it. I’m forty-six until I look in the mirror.”
“Except for the hair, you look like you did when Catherine picked you up,” Jack said as he took his customary seat.
Daniel ran his fingers through his hair. “I’ve been thinking about letting it grow out. And then I think, no, I’m way too lazy to take care of long hair. Or maybe humble. Long hair invites preening.”
Jason sputtered along with everyone else. “It does not.”
“Ditto,” Sam said.
“You fuss enough with it short,” Jason went on. Daniel slapped his arm. “On the other hand, grow it as long as Adriann’s. Or you could just skip ahead and buy a wig to see how you like long hair again. We’re older. Trust me, Daniel. You won’t like your hair long again. That shit’s reserved for civ . . . er, other guys like Adriann.” He’d had to backtrack. Daniel was technically a civilian.
“You’re probably right,” Daniel said, shaking his head. “My hair is rather thick, and when it grows out, it weighs itself down and my hair turns into a straight sheet. Ick.”
“Get a curling iron,” Sam said, sitting down next to Teal’c.
“Thick hair,” Daniel repeated. “What happens to heavy hair when it’s artificially curled, Sam?” She made a face. “Exactly. The weight pulls it flat. All those hairs flying every whichaway. No thank you.”
Connor entered carrying two coffee mugs. He set one in front Teal’c. “Your tea, good sir.”
Teal’c actually smiled with surprise. “Thank you, Sergeant McCaffrey.”
“Tea?” Sam asked, interested. “That mess hall crap?”
“No, Teal’c’s tea,” Connor said. “Remember two months ago or so, when he went to Chulak? He picked up some tea from Bra’tac.”
“Oh right,” Al said. “I remember. He came back with a crate. Jason, didn’t he . . .” He cleared his throat. “Colonel Coburn, didn’t he bring you those sticks?”
“Sha’rak’ni,” Teal’c said.
“Yes,” Jason said, giving Teal’c a single bow of his head in respect. “On Earth, they’re Escrima or Kali sticks. But those are padded, and not Sha’rak’ni.”
“Indeed,” Teal’c said.
“What are you two talking about?” Sam asked.
“Filipino martial arts,” Jason said. “Chulakian is harder to learn, and therefore much better once you master it.” He smirked. “And I haven’t yet, have I, Teal’c?”
“Indeed not. Which reminds me. We need a dojo on the An Croi.”
“Right?” Jason said wide-eyed. “Big Time.” He looked at Daniel. “Like I was saying.”
Hammond opened his office door and everyone got to their feet. The general waved everyone back down and took his customary end cap seat. “Okay, let’s get started. We’ve heard from Skaara and Kasuf on Abydos.”
“Skaara?” Jack asked. “What . . .”
Hammond held up a hand to forestall questions. He looked up at the SF waiting by the exit corridor and nodded. The door that led to the hallway was closed.
As leaders, Jack, Jason, and Teal’c were now mentally walking the grid, finding the exits. The only exits now were via the circular staircase and the regular staircase, both of which led to the control room, and both of which were now guarded at their exit points below.
Hammond waited, keeping his hand raised to indicate silence. When two knocks were heard on the stairway, Hammond relaxed slightly. “All clear. We can talk without anyone spying on us. And I should let you know that as of this morning at 0521, our security forces discovered a total of three hundred sixty-one surveillance devices not installed by our own security.”
Jack and the others sat completely dumbfounded. Then Jack put a few things together. “Oh crap. Please don’t tell me another sting is underway.”
“Another sting is most definitely not underway, Jack.”
Dropping ranks, Daniel thought. That was a bad sign, given the topic. “What’s happened?” he asked.
“From what I understand,” Hammond began. “This started a few months ago. Colonel Paul Davis visited me at my home. He was clearly alarmed, and one might even say frightened. As you know, he’s been going on missions with our teams, figuring that his reports to the Pentagon lack firsthand knowledge and critical thinking.” Jack snorted, then apologized. “While he was assigned to SG-5,” Hammond went on, “they visited Bel’a’lat, the Ancients’ Fortress that the Tok’ra and Var’chol’si oversee together. And during that visit, Jacob and a few Tok’ra told him that something fishy is going on. Over the last nine months, a team in black has visited and taken the confiscated weapons that Adriann picked up while out pirating Goa’uld vessels or the Lucien Alliance.”
“What do you mean taken, sir?” Sam asked.
“Confiscated. And one might also say Stolen. They demand the weapons and then leave. The only response to questions is ‘If you have any questions, ask Jack O’Neill and SG-1.’”
That statement was met with stunned silence.
“I’ve sent out teams to visit allies and ask them if anything like this has been happening with them as well. And I’m sorry to say, it has.”
“We have another rogue problem,” Jason groaned.
“Son of a . . .” Jack held up an apologetic hand. “Sorry, sir. So we’re to go see Skaara and Kasuf to get the specific details about their particular visitors?” Jack asked, making air quotes around the last word.
“Yes,” Hammond said. “Skaara said, and I quote, “I would not put the information through the stargate, in case anyone with evil intent was listening.”
“He’s getting smarter,” Jack said admiringly.
“Yes,” Hammond said.
“That doesn’t make sense though,” Daniel said. “Abydos isn’t a trading partner.”
“They’re an ally,” Hammond said, and that was that. He gave Jack a compassionate look. “How’re the headaches?”
“Persistent,” Jack said, and with a wince, pulled out his snow-blind sunglasses and donned them. “I’m killing myself with Codeine-3 Tylenol. It keeps the pain at an annoying but tolerable level but my headaches—not the codeine—are compromising my effectiveness. And I think my anger at the Queen is at the same level of . . . energy . . . as the headaches.”
“Remind me, when is she supposed to be here?” Hammond asked.
“Six days,” Jason said. “According to her assistant, who answered on the tablet she gave Jack.”
“Six,” Hammond repeated, shaking his head and he rose to his feet. Everyone followed. “I don’t need to tell you to tread carefully. You have a go. But visit the Quartermaster before you head to the locker room.”
Everyone’s eyes widened slightly. “For?” Jack asked.
“The new and unofficially official Stargate Program uniform.”
“Oh no,” Jack whined and sat on the edge of the table. He closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose, pushing up his sunglasses in the process.
“Maybe it won’t be bad,” Jason suggested.
“They’re not bad,” Hammond said, peering at Jack. “Get geared up and head out to Abydos. Unfortunately, you’ll only be there to get the report, so no visiting time is authorized. I want you back here tomorrow morning at 10:00 hours.”
“Yes, sir,” Jack said. “And when we catch those rogues . . .” He drew a line across his throat with a fingertip.
“My sentiments exactly. God speed, people.”
The uniforms were black and silver, and the fabric was both strong and smooth, like reinforced silk. The black and gray blended together in abstract waves imitating a type of camouflage. The jacket was shorter, and the trousers had built in buckles on the thighs and calves for knives and pistols, and possessed a few hidden pockets in the sleeves, meant for things like thumb drives and sim cards. Included with the uniforms were watches, sunglasses, and fingerless gloves.
Daniel mused, “It seems to be modeled after those older Air Force logos with the black background and silver wings.”
Jack jogged his brows. “It does. Except the current logo is blue and silver. Or blue and white, depending on the patch or pin.” On the way to the gateroom, they received looks of surprise and approval, and met with a few already in the new uniform. The same thing happened again as they entered the gateroom. Jack put his arms out and turned in a circle.
“Yes, indeed, folks. This is what you get to wear in the future. But you won’t look as good in it as I do. Try to grin and bear it.” His words had the desired effect: smiles, primarily from his teammates and the Marines standing by the fixed-position heavy machine guns. He glanced up at the control room and saw Hammond grin, too. Jack nodded and donned the utility cap. “And here we go,” he said, and followed his people through the gate.
The Tok’ra and the Smuggler
Skaara at first didn’t recognize SG-1 as they walked through the temple stargate. Their clothing had changed. He was used to the green. This black uniform with the silver highlights and additional patches would take some getting used to.
“Well met, O’Neill,” he greeted Jack with a serious expression and a bow instead of a forearm grip.
“How ya doin’, kiddo,” Jack said, disconcerted for a second, then grabbed Skaara’s hand and pulled him in for a hug, which was gratefully returned. He then stepped away and gave the Abydonian a wary look.
Skaara eyed him. “I may not be tall, but I am no longer a child, O’Neill. Has your age made you a little weak-minded?”
Jack grinned widely and the two hugged again with lots of backslapping. “What’s up, kid,” Jack said purposely, although he’d always called him that. Times change, unfortunately. “How’ve you been since Tollana? I’m sorry we haven’t come by. Life is just . . .”
“Life,” Skaara said nodding.
“I guess,” Jack said, making note of the clothes Skaara was wearing. They were almost a uniform.
“Come, come,” Skaara said. “My father wants to greet you properly.”
“With a great feast,” Daniel told Jack.
“Yes,” Skaara nodded. “Come. We have a friend you should meet too.”
“Do tell,” Jack said as they followed Skaara out of the temple and onto the stone walkway that now led all the way to the village center. As they followed the impatient Skaara, Jack pondered the fact that Skaara was wearing a type of clothing that didn’t match Abydonian wear. He was wearing a dark blue shirt with dark brown leather jacket and trousers with boots.
“What’s this?” Jack asked, finger the short lapel on Skaara’s jacket. “It’s almost Tau’ri gear.”
“Yes, it looks good, yes?” Skaara said, not explaining. “A moment.” He hurried ahead wave to Kasuf, letting him know they were coming.
Jack pointed at him to Daniel, who nodded.
Jason said, “What?”
“Skaara’s clothes,” Jack said.
“Oh, yeah, right,” Jason said absently.
“Got other stuff on your mind?” Daniel asked.
“Yeah, maybe,” Jason said distractedly and turned back to walk with Teal’c.
Daniel and Jack gave each other puzzled looks as they followed.
“What’s going on with him?” Daniel asked.
Jack shook his head. “After business, we’ll find out.” Daniel nodded in agreement.
Skaara wrinkled his brows at Jack as they caught up to him. “What is going with you?” Skaara asked.
“Going on with you,” Jack corrected. “Nothing important. Just SGC stuff. Unless you’d like me to bore you with reports and descriptions of reports and then those descrip—”
Skaara cut him off with a wave of his hand. “I do not think so, O’Neill. Now, come. We will feast together and I shall tell you of troubling things.”
Up ahead was the entrance to their walled-off town, which was a gate attached to a large structure known as a tahati to the Abydonians but on Earth, it was a gate tower. Standing at the entrance was Kasuf, their Tjati. When the pharaoh was in residence, Kasuf’s position was that of servant noble, but with the Goa’uld gone, his position had transformed into something between mayor and richest merchant.
“Well met,” Kasuf said, giving a bow.
SG-1 bowed in return and Daniel clasped forearms with the man. “How’ve you been?” he asked, and eyed the cane Kasuf was using against his right leg.
“I am well. This . . .” Kasuf said and held up the cane, “. . . this is the beginning of old age. It happens to all of us.” He peered at Daniel then, frowning, but his gaze was drawn to Jack, Sam, and Teal’c. He didn’t know the others. But the people he knew? They were younger. And that wasn’t possible. There was much to discuss during Kajish, the greeting meal.
“What is it?” Daniel asked as they headed to his house where the meal would be served.
“You look younger to these old eyes. I should see gray and wrinkles at your eyes but I see nothing.”
Daniel raised his brows. “The answer requires a very long discussion, and I think perhaps there are other things on your mind?”
“Yes, yes, of course,” Kasuf said and gestured inside the house.
As soon they began to seat themselves around a long and low table with cushions for chairs, a young man in robes and headscarf ran in and around to come behind Kasuf and whisper in his ear. Kasuf nodded and waved him away. The young man dashed back out of the hall.
“What was that?” Daniel asked. “Storm coming?”
“They are getting more frequent because it is the Dry Season.” That was a significant statement on a planet made almost entirely of desert rock, sand, and plants with only underground springs and aquifers for water.
Daniel noticed that Kasuf hadn’t answered him directly. Jack and the others noticed as well. “Have I done something wrong?” Daniel asked him.
Kasuf gave him a frown. “Kareeq, our Keen of the Watch, has seen and spoken with people dressed in the uniforms you used to wear . . .” He waved at SG-1. “The green cloth. These men told him they were here on Jack O’Neill’s orders.”
“Oy,” Jack said and rested his forehead on the tips of his fingers. “They weren’t, Kasuf.”
“You have heard of these men?” Kasuf asked rhetorically.
“It’s why we’re here, sir,” Sam said.
“We have heard reports from other allies, one of whom is the Tok’ra,” Daniel said. “Isn’t that their newest uniform?”
“Wait, what?” Jack asked.
“Perhaps this is not the time,” Kasuf said.
“It is, how you say, a long tale,” Skaara said.
Daniel grimaced, realizing he’d erred. “I’m sorry, Skaara. I just realized it wasn’t for me to mention yet.” He’d actually gleaned several facts about why Skaara was wearing Tok’ra clothing and had hoped to talk about it, but Kasuf was clearly annoyed.
“Apparently I’m not the respected leader and father that I should be,” Kasuf said with a calm anger.
“Father,” Skaara said gently. “I most humbly apologize. He did not mean to be rude. You know I did not mean to be rude.”
Kasuf sighed and made a sign with his hand, touching his forehead, his lips, and his heart. “Ah-ne-whee. It is done. We will speak of it.”
Jack stared at both Skaara and Kasuf, then at Daniel. “What are you three talking about?”
Skaara cleared his throat. “I am now Tok’ra, O’Neill. My symbiont is Saluriel.”
“He is Tok’ra because I called them,” Kasuf said. He took a deep breath. “Six months after you escorted him home with the Tok’ra, Skaara refused to sleep. And when he did, he awoke with horrible headaches. He said it was like Klorel was still a part of him because . . .”
“Because I saw down the long centuries,” Skaara said. “Different hosts. The things they had done. The thinking they had done. It was evil.”
“So I contacted Master Bra’tac on Chulak,” Kasuf said. “Eventually, four Tok’ra arrived through the chappa’ai. They visited with Skaara for a while.” He gestured at his son with an open hand and then pointed in the direction of the stargate temple inside the pyramid. “They took him back to their base. When he returned . . .” He looked at his son.
“I was Tok’ra,” Skaara said with more relief. “Saluriel had stopped the memories from intruding into my dreams. I was finally able to rest. Now there is no pain and I have a companion that will always be there to protect me, be my friend.” He paused. Skaara’s eyes flashed the bright yellow-orange as he closed and then opened them. “Hello. It is an honor to meet you. I am Saluriel. It means Most Favored Son.”
Jack was momentarily piqued because the Tok’ra reminded him of the female Tok’ra who had come bearing Greek gifts. Armbands that weren’t meant for humans. On the bright side . . . she was on another planet somewhere, wasn’t she?
“Jack?” Daniel asked.
“Hmm?” Jack asked. “Crap. Sorry. I was thinking of Anise-Freya. Nice to meet you, Saluriel. So. Let’s get to the point. Who is coming here and what are they doing?”
“One moment while we are served the kashra and remar,” Kasuf ordered. A few Abydonians served bread and ale and when everyone had their portion, Kasuf raised a mug and said, “Ah-shar-iah.”
“Ah-shar-iah,” everyone intoned.
“Now to the subject at hand,” Kasuf said. “They arrive on the hills just beyond the temple of the cartouche. They dig in the ground. Our scouts like Kareeq report that they do nothing but dig. When our people approach, we are told to stay away.”
“They said, ‘we are here on the orders of Jack O’Neill,” Skaara said. “Saluriel knew they were lying. He does not know how; it just is. It is his gift.”
Suddenly the hall was filled with the echo of the sound of stone on stone, then someone stomping around and cursing. Their words were unintelligible but they were decidedly male with a deep tone. From the other end of the hall, a handsome man walked in, dusting himself off and coughing. He came to a stop.
“Damn,” it sounded like he said. “Kasuf, pardon me. I do not mean to interrupt.”
“You are late, Dharian. Why did you not come in before the leading edge arrived?”
“I waited to see what they were doing when they stopped digging,” Dharian said.
“They found something but I couldn’t see what it was and I wasn’t about to interfere without my Abydonian friends.” He bowed to everyone.
“What did you see?” Kasuf asked, pushing himself to his feet. There was a young boy beside him who tried to put a hand on his arm but Kasuf gestured for him to sit down. The boy did. At Kasuf’s rising, everyone else got to their feet.
“I didn’t see, Kasuf. But they were carrying boxes down and bringing them back up. I thought they were just transferring sand. But when they stopped transferring, they disappeared in an old Goa’uld cargo ship. Just ringed ‘em right up. It shot into space and that was that. But I think you should check it out. See what they’ve been up to. They didn’t leave anyone behind, as far as I could tell.”
“Introduce us?” Jack asked, looking at Skaara and Kasuf.
“This is Dharian Easteman, a friend to my people,” Kasuf said.
Jack was closest when the man Dharian reached the table, still dusting himself off. He was very tall and extremely . . . pretty . . . in a rough masculine way. Nearly black hair, sharp intense blue eyes darker than Daniel’s. Beard stubble growing in such a way that it seemed like Dharian kept it that way. It wasn’t dense enough to be a full beard.
With his height, he was lanky but well-toned. He wore dark brown trousers, a grayish-blue shirt that looked like linen, and the same for a long blue-violet scarf he had wrapped loosely around his neck. Over that was a dark brown duster made of some kind of hide. Strapped to his thighs were two pistols, one per thigh, and he wore a tactical belt and strap of ammo across his chest. The boots were black leather and very old, reaching nearly to his knees and would have had they more stiffness to them, but their folded tops sagged a few inches.
“Jack O’Neill,” Jack said, holding out his hand.
Dharian gave him a smile that made him boyishly gorgeous and traded handshakes with him. “At your service, Jack O’Neill. And I’m assuming you are the one these men used in vain?”
“That’s me,” Jack said. “And I’ll wring their necks once we capture these people. As for you, you’re using the same greeting on Earth. Been there, have you?”
“Sure,” Dharian said. He looked around the table, found seven in Earth uniform. He liked the jacket change. “Aren’t there only four of you? From what I’ve heard.”
Teal’c said, “I would very much like to know what you have heard.” Jack nodded in agreement.
“The killers of more system lords than anyone else in the galaxy. That earns gossip.”
Daniel blanched a little. “That’s what we’re known for?”
Dharian walked around Jack to shake hands with Teal’c, then Daniel, and then with every other member of SG-1. “That’s not a bad thing, that notoriety, let me tell ya. And I’ve been meaning to find you, see if we could do business. But I never seem to find the time to hunt down one of your allies. Until the Abydonians here, but then something else came up and on and on it goes.”
“Business?” Jason asked.
“Sit, sit, sit,” ordered Kasuf.
Jason was on the end and before he could sit down, Dharian hissed and yanked out a tiny stiletto faster than anyone could blink. He exclaimed in horror, “Jason, don’t move!” To Skaara and Kasuf, he said, “There’s an Ashracki Tens on his back!”
“Ashracki?” Daniel asked, alarmed as he and the others got to their feet. He ran around the table but Dharian put out a hand to stop him.
“Don’t move! If it’s alarmed, it’ll sting, and let me tell you, that ain’t fun. It’s a death sentence if it cannot be removed.”
“What removed?” Jason asked.
“Ashracki,” Daniel repeated. “Assassin?”
“Like the Goa’uld Ashrak?” Jack asked.
“Indeed,” Teal’c said. “They are on Chulak as well.”
“What the hell does all that mean?” Jason asked in a whisper as he caught the horrified look on every Abydonian, not just Dharian.
“This is unknown,” Kasuf said, alarmed and embarrassed. “They never enter here. I am most humbly sorry, SG-1. It is a grave affront.”
“Clearly, no longer the case,” Dharian said. He bit at his lip as he slowly inched his stiletto hand toward Jason’s back.
Jack moved to the right and leaned over. “Holy shit,” he whispered in alarm.
“What is it?” Jason asked.
Jack swallowed, but Daniel said, “It’s the ugliest goddamn black scorpion you have ever seen. Like a lobster but with a tail barb the same size as his oversized claws.”
“I fucking hate scorpions,” Jason hissed and started to move.
“Don’t! It’ll attack!” Dharian said. “I’m gonna try and flick it off before it gets to your neck. If you’re stung there, you’re a dead man.”
Teal’c was abruptly reminded of the insect that stung him on the back. That had been a true nightmare. “Your short kinjar will not be enough,” he said to Dharian.
Dharian backed off slowly. “You’re right. It was just reflex.”
“Have a lot of enemies there, Dharian?” Jack asked.
“Not so much,” Dharian said cautiously. “Though that’s a conversation for another time. So what do I use? I can’t let it sting me and I can’t let it reach his neck? Suggestions?”
Jason asked, “Where is it?”
“Over your T1 disc,” Jack said soberly.
“Fuck,” Jason said in a whisper between pressed lips. “And if I’m stung now? Or higher up between the shoulder blades?”
“Without the antidote, you’ll have one week to live, give or take half a day,” Dharian said. “And it’ll be excruciatingly painful.”
“Antidote?” Daniel, Jason, and Jack asked together.
“We have to take a trip to get it. About a five-hour flight at top hyperspeed, but my ship can’t sustain that speed for that long. Do you have a ship?”
“We do,” Jack said firmly. He looked around at Teal’c, Carter, Al, and Connor. Then his temples twinged and he rubbed at them. “Goddammit,” he muttered under his breath. “Last thing I need.”
“Symptoms, Dharian?” Jason asked.
“Pain at the injection site, then numbness, then lost of motor control of your legs. Venom goes after the skeletal structure first. I suppose that’s one method of bringing down your prey.” Everyone stared at him with undisguised shock. “What? Freaking out won’t do any good. Rational, unemotional thinking is required now. Don’t freak out until it’s required.”
“Like when I’m on my deathbed,” Jason said as dryly as he knew how.
“Precisely,” said Saluriel, Skaara’s Tok’ra. He looked at Dharian. “I know you’ve made the trip into her domain many times, mostly to see her chemist, but this is a trip that has more meaning than the others. There won’t be any time for you to dally. I believe that’s the right term.”
“I know, I know,” Dharian said, holding up his hands. “She’ll be pissed when she sees me, but I’ll come bearing gifts. The reason she’s mad is because I made assurances and then never delivered. Not my fault my boat left me stranded for two days while I completely rewired the drive thrust.”
Saluriel/Skaara crossed their arms and gave him an annoyed look. “If you had taken the ship she had offered, you would not have had that problem.”
“And be her vassel by doing so?” Dharian asked with the wide eyes of disbelief. “Are you insane?”
“She is not really . . .” Skaara said, rolling his hand as a finish.
“I know that, but ownership is ownership. You know what I mean.”
“I do,” Skaara sighed.
“Hello?” Jason asked, emphasizing the syllables.
Then the scorpion stung him.
Hot fire over his thoracic vertebrae spread outward quickly and Jason arched his back, stiffened, and fell. All sound was cut off in his throat because the pain was too intense. The lobster scorpion dropped to the floor and began to skitter away but Dharian withdrew a boot knife with lightning-fast reflexes and nailed the scorpion to the ceramic tiled floor, cracking the tile in half. He moved over and stepped on the tail as he removed his kinjar blade. “We’ll need this,” he said, waving the knife that had black blood on it.
“You must get him back to the chappa’ai and return home!” Kasuf warned. “He has six days to live. On day three, he will shut down completely and the loss of his bodily functions will kill him.”
“I agree, father,” Skaara said. “Come, O’Neill.”
“For cryin’ out loud,” Jack said under his breath as he and Teal’c picked him up and wrapped Jason’s arms around their shoulders. “Until a better day, Kasuf.”
When they got to the stargate and Sam began to dial home, Jack said to Dharian, “Where do we need to meet? Did you arrive by the ‘gate?”
“No, my ship’s in orbit. It’ll stay there in good order until I return. But I need to come with you. We don’t have time to meet up. We need to get to a ship and go. As I said, mine will take too long.”
“Carter,” Jack began, looking at Dharian as he talked. “Can the ship sustain high speed for a prolonged period of eight hours?”
“Yes. Maybe more.”
Jason began to jerk spasmodically and foam came out of his mouth. He was having a seizure. “Shit!” he exclaimed before he lost his ability to stand. It was time for the four-person lifeboat carry. One person per limb, holding at the shoulder and knee joints.
“Fine, follow,” Jack said. “Code sent Carter?”
“We’re a go, sir.”
Without another word, Jack gripped Skaara by the shoulder briefly before letting go and taking his place at Jason’s left shoulder. They lifted him and went through.
By the time Jason was transported to Isolation Room 4, he had lapsed into unconsciousness and his body had gone into severe shock, precipitating a comatose state. The wound site was turning black and spreading. Necrosis had set in. Everyone knew what that meant. It couldn’t be healed or reversed. When tissue rotted, it couldn’t be reanimated. All of this had happened within ten minutes of returning to the SGC. Daniel was horrified and was bound and determined to do something about it.
They went to Hammond’s office, and found he had company: General Vidrine.
“Sir,” Jack said to Hammond. “We need to go. Dharian says he knows the way, where we have to go, and we have to go by ship.”
“How certain are you about this? Let’s talk to this man,” Hammond said.
And in the corner of his office, General Vidrine said, “No. Send him packing back to Abydos. I don’t care what else he has to say.”
“Jason will die if he doesn’t get treatment,” Daniel stated angrily at the general. He was controlling himself but it was so hard to do it almost caused physical hurt.
“And that’s the hazard you accepted once you signed up, Jackson,” Vidrine said.
Jack lifted his chin and stared at Vidrine, then Hammond. He touched Daniel’s sleeve. “Let’s go.”
“The only place you’re going is your base quarters,” Vidrine said. “We’re on lockdown.”
Hammond scowled in surprise. “For what reason, General Vidrine?”
“You brought an alien home without proper quarantine procedures,” Vidrine said acidly.
Daniel scowled this time. “That is a circular argument, sir. And therefore irrelevant.”
“You’re out of line,” Vidrine said.
“Why are you doing this?” Daniel asked. “What could you possibly get out of keeping us here and allowing one of our teammates to die? Any credibility you have with the people of this base will be shot to hell.”
“The military isn’t a popularity contest, Doctor Jackson. You’re dismissed. Also to your quarters. And let’s throw that alien in there with you. See just how irrelevant his bugs are.”
Daniel said dryly, “There’s only one twin bed. Sir.”
“Then you’ll have to double-up, won’t you. Dismissed.” He snapped his fingers at the SFs in the hallway.
As they were escorted out, they heard Hammond say, “You and I are going to have a conversation, General. This is my command, not yours.”
It didn’t make a bit of difference. They were stuck in their quarters and under house arrest for no reason. Jack rubbed at his chin as his mild whirled. But he had an ace in the hole. It also meant going AWOL.
He looked up at the ceiling. “ALTA, if you are monitoring us, beam down comm devices for everyone. Make sure they see it.”
A small copper disc appeared on the bed. Jack put it on, pressing it against his skin. The type of adhesive it used meant that it wouldn’t come off until Jack removed it. “Are we all connected?”
“Confirmed,” ALTA said.
“Everyone report in,” Jack said, touching the disc. No answer. He sighed. “Do you guys copy?”
“Yes,” Daniel said.
“Indeed,” Teal’c said.
“Copy,” Sam, Al, and Connor said, with Connor adding, “Thank Christ Alex isn’t here.”
“How much longer will he be in Bavaria?” Al asked.
“Two more weeks, I think,” Jack said.
“Jason’s in the infirmary under guard,” Daniel said. “Janet told me.”
“She’s smarter than any of us except Carter,” Jack said. “Count to 30, starting now. Then we go. Agreed? Sound off please.” Everyone agreed.
“Wait,” Daniel said. “I have Dharian with me. He doesn’t have a comm disc. What do I tell him?”
“The truth but wait for later. We have to trust him, he has to trust us.”
“Agreed,” Daniel said. To Dharian, he said, “Prepare for transport. And don’t ask. Tell you later.”
“ALTA, time?” Jack asked.
“22, 21, 20, 19, 18, 17, 16, 15 . . .”
“We’re so gonna burn for this,” Sam said.
“Chatter,” Jack said. It was all he had to say. “Fraiser, do you read?” He waited three counts. “Fraiser?”
“Colonel? The A.I. has explained.”
“Good. Just giving you a head’s up when he disappears from the Iso Room. We need to get Jason out of here, Doc. And you can’t come with without earning a court martial for going AWOL.”
“I don’t understand why the general is doing this. You haven’t done anything wrong.”
“Until now. I’m sorry, doc. We gotta save him.”
“This sucks. Good luck,” she whispered, then slipped the disc into her lab coat’s pocket. Janet felt a cloud of doom settle around her. By communicating with Jack and keeping it to herself, she too was violating regs. Janet sighed as she reached her office. She closed the door and locked it, then sat behind her desk, turned on her laptop.
While she was in the Air Force, she couldn’t resign her position without resigning her commission. In a protest move over Vidrine’s interference. So be it. Except, she needed to talk to Hammond first. Just one more double-check. But she couldn’t tell him about what SG-1 had just done. Unless he was in on it? How could she find out? Janet left her office and headed for Hammond’s. The doom cloud was still heavy around her when she reached his office door and knocked.
“Come,” came Hammond’s voice.
She entered, holding her breath as she prepared to see Vidrine in the corner, but he wasn’t there. She looked around, then met Hammond’s eyes as she shut the door. “Thank you for seeing me, sir,” she said, exhaling slowly in relief. “Alone. More or less.” She referred to the camera up and to her left in the corner part of the ceiling.
“Have a seat,” Hammond said, sitting back.
She did so, looking at him critically. “You’re under a lot of stress, sir. It’s showing. Can I help in any way?”
Hammond shook his head and waved his hand. “Thank you for your concern, Doctor Fraiser. It’s being handled.”
“What’s on your mind?” he reminded her.
She thought he looked distracted. “Sir, hypothetically-speaking, what happens if I resign in protest?”
“You’re not allowed to do that, I’m afraid.”
“I was afraid of that.”
Hammond watched her carefully as she spoke. “What is on your mind?”
“I . . . can’t say, sir. I have a bad feeling.”
“There are days,” Hammond said after an uncomfortable silence, “when I just love this job. To be able to help people is one of the best feelings in the world. While that is technically not our mandate, it’s the unofficial one.”
“Yes, sir,” she said.
“There are days where I think we’ve finally bitten off more than we could chew. We’ve finally crossed the line and ticked off one too many powerful races out there. And I get angry, Doctor.”
“Me too, sir.”
“Then there are the days that are hard and cold, with no sympathy or reason behind them. Today is such a day. And this too makes me very angry. He is daring me to go over his head to file a report and make the accusation of dereliction of duty. That very act will get me fired. There are no other options except to resign and that makes me angry as well. So it’s a crisis of faith, you might say.”
She nodded thoughtfully. “But, sir? This situation. It feels . . .” She made a face. “It feels like we’re failing a test.”
“What do you mean?” Hammond asked, sitting forward.
“The atmosphere. Just like when the Asgard and Tollan came to you. And the Colonel was behaving completely out of character. We were forced to sit there and do nothing because we were stunned. We had no idea he was acting. So what about General Vidrine? Couldn’t he be pulling something like it, only he himself is the villain, so to speak.”
“Could be, doctor. It’s part of why SG-1 was sent to Abydos. As a start.”
“Yes, I know.”
“General Vidrine didn’t stop them from going. It could be because he’s not involved. It could be that he’s been compromised and is reacting to that. It could also be that he’s in charge, like Colonel Maybourne before him.”
Janet nodded. “So how do we find the answers?”
Hammond gave her a pained look. “By taking the tiger by the tail, Doctor. But first, let’s pause to type up our letters of resignation.”
“It won’t do our people here any good.”
“No. It’s a preparatory measure.”
. * . * .
Jack appeared in the An Croi infirmary with his team plus Dharian. “ALTA, beam Jason aboard to one of these beds.”
But Jason wasn’t there. “Where is he, ALTA?”
“The bed you are standing next to is insufficient. In Isolation Ward 1, there is a stasis chamber. Colonel Coburn has been installed inside. It will shut down the progress of the venom until a cure is acquired and administered. Please proceed to the isolation room to set the parameters of his stasis.”
Everyone took off for that room. They found Jason in a horizontal pod secured in the far wall.
ALTA said, “Please input the required time. I will guide you.”
“Why can’t you do it?” Sam asked.
“Because this stasis chamber is deliberately separated from the ship’s systems in order to protect the person inside.”
“Okay, whatever,” Jack said, rubbing his brows. “Codeine-3, ALTA.” He gasped the last part of the sentence as he bent over.
“Shit,” Daniel whispered as he put an arm around him. “Lower the lights, ALTA.”
Nonplussed, ALTA opened a dispenser in the wall. Daniel went to it and took the tablets and retrieved a paper cup of water. Jack took the medicine without looking as he shaded his eyes with one hand.
“Proceed with the procedure, ALTA,” Jack ordered as Daniel led him to a chair.
“I’ll do it,” Sam said. ALTA guided her through the procedure, which involved data input of Jason’s vitals.
“Completed,” ALTA said.
“Beam us to the bridge, ALTA,” Jack said.
She did so.
Jack sat down in the command chair. “Dharian, give ALTA the coordinates and we’ll get underway.”
“Understood,” Dharian said, withdrawing a folded paper from the inner pocket of his jacket. “Can you read this, ALTA?”
She scanned it. “Confirmed.”
“Kill the goddamn lights,” Jack growled.
“Colonel O’Neill,” ALTA said. “These should help. Please put them on.”
Appearing on the floor three feet in front of him were a pair of wide visor black sunglasses with magenta lenses.
Daniel picked up the glasses and handed them to Jack, who donned them.
“Keep your eyes open and give it ten seconds, Colonel O’Neill,” ALTA said.
“We’ll see,” Jack quipped.
“Hardee har har,” Daniel said. Ten long seconds passed as he watched Jack’s face for any inkling of pain.
Jack blinked a few times, then carefully turned his head as he looked around him. There was still pain but it was dull and distant. “Better,” he said. Everyone around him except for Dharian sighed with relief. And speaking of Dharian . . .
Jack eyed him. He needed to size up this man they didn’t know, trusting him simply because he was Skaara’s friend. Or rather, he assumed that had been the case. “Time for some questions, Dharian.”
Dharian nodded and sat down in Daniel’s empty console chair. “Go ahead.”
“Who were you friends with, Skaara or Saluriel?” Jack asked, getting a raised brow from Sam.
Dharian arched an eyebrow. “Both,” he said with a patronizing tone. “You know, because they’re one and the same.”
“Yep,” she said. Jack scowled at her over his shoulder. “Well, sorry, sir, but that was a dumb question.”
Jack rubbed his forehead. “Yeah, okay. Maybe it was.” He looked at Dharian. “So, when did you meet?”
“I met Skaara about five years ago. He was visiting a planet called Nibarha.”
“For what?” Jack asked.
Again, Dharian was patronizing. “Trade,” he said slowly, as if no one else on the bridge knew the word.
“What kind of trade?” Jack asked, unperturbed.
“Everything the Goa’uld has outlawed. Abydos is an outlying planet in the Trabardhi system, loosely attached to the Mintaro system, which holds Chulak. The Goa’uld strictly ruled both systems, controlling trade because everyone in those systems was a slave. Now that they’re free of the Goa’uld, the people in these systems are in desperate need of goods. If I can get my hands on it, and my ship can handle the load, then I’ll deliver it. Wherever there’s a need, there’ll always be someone ready to sell it.”
“Merc work?” Jack asked.
“I beg your pardon?” Dharian asked.
“Mercenary work?” Daniel asked.
“No,” Dharian said firmly. “I’m not a gun for hire. Just a commodity trader.”
“That include people?” Jack asked.
“Not unless the person in question is the one selling. I don’t deal in slavery. I aide in freeing them when I can. Did you miss the part where I mentioned helping the people on Abydos and Chulak? So when I can, I’ll get them the goods they need.”
“When you can,” Sam said. “Clarify please.”
“I gotta make a living,” Dharian said defensively. “As long as the person who hitches a ride with me isn’t part of a slavery ring, I’ll smuggle them wherever they need to go. I don’t hinder the Goa’uld or the Lucien Alliance slave trade, but I don’t aid it either. I’m one guy with a ship, not a captain in a fleet. I don’t make waves. But I don’t take orders either.”
Jack nodded. “Okay. Now, where are we going?” Jack demanded. “ALTA, stand by for coordinates.”
“Who’s the navigator?” Dharian asked.
“Yo,” Connor said. “I just fly the boat. Don’t ask me about coordinates.”
“Understood,” Dharian said. “Okay, to whom do I give the address?”
“ALTA,” Jack said.
“ALTA?” Dharian said, getting the gist and looking upward. “Mark hyperspace coordinates 010.365.0333 slash p7ii3409 Sennadark.”
“Show us that in English, ALTA,” Jack said.
“Confirmed,” ALTA said. In the center of the bridge, a holographic map appeared depicting a section of space that zoomed in to show a solar system, which zoomed in even further to isolate one planet. The name of the planet appeared over it: Bubastis. Bastet’s Demesne.
“Huh. Well, in for a penny,” Jack quipped. “Plot a course, ALTA. Got it Connor? Al?”
“Confirmed,” they both said, earning a grin from their teammates.
As they began to leave orbit, the lighting of the bridge dimmed a dark pink and flashed twice before remaining dark pink.
“What the fuck?” Jack exclaimed. “Now what?”
“We are being targeted,” Teal’c said.
“Confirmed,” ALTA said.
And to emphasize it, a short flash of yellow-white energy zipped past the port bow.
“By whom?” Jack asked.
“The Phoenix,” Sam said. “X-303, Phoenix-class. It left the orbital dry dock. You know, the one no one knows about.”
Jack grunted. “Okay, guys. Head past the moon, and once we’re clear of any gravitational pull, enter hyperspace and lock the coordinates into place.”
“Sir,” both Connor and Al said and entered the data.
Two shots hit the aft starboard side. “Reduction of shield power, point zero two percent,” Teal’c reported.
Jack made an impressed face. “What’re they using, bb guns?”
“BB guns?” Dharian asked.
“Primitive projectile weapon,” Jack said with a dismissive wave of his hand. “Carter, Teal’c, what the hell are they using?”
“The same energy found in Staff weapons and other Goa’uld technology, appropriated from the Asgard,“ Teal’c said. “It is designed to drain our energy but they cannot breach these Lia Fail shields with it.”
“Sounds like a massive design flaw,” Jack said shaking his head.
They passed around the dark side of the moon and for a moment, everyone studied the surface of the dark side as Connor guided the ship into free space. Thirty seconds later, they were in hyperspace.
“Maximum speed, Connor,” Jack told him.
“Wow,” Dharian said. “You’ve got tech that bypasses the inertia caused by hyperspace. Nice. Didn’t think that was possible.”
“Not in Goa’uld ships,” Sam said.
“Indeed,” Teal’c said. “Even Apophis’ engineers had trouble defeating it.”
“Then how exactly do you guys have tech that is far above the rest of your planet?”
“Because we know very smart people,” Al said.
“Might I ask who that is?” Dharian asked. “I might know them.”
“I doubt it. Different part of the galaxy,” Jack said. “Planet called Lia Fail.”
Dharian was confused. “Lia Fail?”
“The Asgard mistranslated their name,” Sam said.
“Around parts of our galaxy, they’re erroneously known as the Furling,” Daniel said.
“Furling?” Dharian asked, eyes widening. “They’re a myth. A bedtime story for children.”
“Queen Morrighan’s no story, let me tell you,” Jack said.
Dharian frowned. “Wait. Isn’t that the name of a recently deceased Goa’uld?”
“That snakehead, like all snakeheads ever, was an imposter. The name comes from ancient history on Earth, like practically every Goa’uld we’ve come across.”
“Earth,” Dharian said thoughtfully. “Otherwise known as the Tau’ri. Will we be meeting this Queen during this trip?”
“Not until we return home,” Jack said. “I’ve already contacted her about another issue. The response was that she’ll arrive at Earth in six days. Now, about who you claim will help Jason, let’s have it.”
Dharian nodded. “Egeria. Known as The Chemist,” he said as he leaned back in Daniel’s chair. “She is Bastet’s doctor. She creates a lot of potions.”
“How is it that you’re dealing with Bastet?” Daniel asked.
Dharian gave them all a strained smile. “Not Bastet. Egeria. Look, I know you have no reason to trust me but I’m on the level when I say she can help.”
“So you like playing with female Goa’uld?” Jack asked sarcastically.
Dharian stared back and hesitated. He chewed at his lip, then said, “You can’t repeat this information.”
Jack rolled his hand. “Whatever.”
Dharian cleared his throat. “Egeria isn’t a Goa’uld.”
“Wait,” Sam said.
“Carter?” Jack asked, wishing his damn command chair could swivel about.
From behind him, she continued, mostly looking at Teal’c. “That name is familiar. Wasn’t she Tok’ra?”
“Indeed,” Teal’c said after he thought it over.
“And isn’t she supposed to be dead?” Sam asked. “Died a thousand years ago or something. Who told us that?”
“Martouf,” Daniel said. “Apparently, the Tok’ra don’t know she’s alive.” He looked at Dharian. “So why isn’t she with her children, so to speak, and making more of them? They’re dying out.”
“She’s been playing an entirely different sort of game,” Dharian said. “Instead of trying to make more children, she’s been . . . look, this can’t get out, okay?”
“Get on with it,” Jack said tiredly.
“There’s a reason you don’t know this. It’s top-secret information. If I share it with you, it will only be because I’ve gotten guarantees from you that upon pain of death, you won’t breath a word to anyone else. Not your superiors, not your wives or kids or best friends.” He held up his hand, palm facing outward. “I’ll have your oaths upon it.”
Sam stared at him as she tried to recall some memories from Jolinar but there was nothing. She held up her right hand. Then Connor, Al, Daniel, and Teal’c. Jack went last with a heavy sigh.
“We so swear,” Jack said. “Now. Finish explaining please.”
“Forgive me, O’Neill,” Teal’c interrupted, “but I am wondering why this man is revealing anything about this Egeria. To the point, why tell us?” Teal’c asked. “You do not know any of us. You have yet to earn trust. That only comes from time, not a promissory statement.”
“What he said,” Jack said. “You’re already violating your supposed oath by taking us to her. We’ll find out. So why trust us with it?” he asked, rubbing his forehead.
Daniel winced. “Because we asked, Jack.”
Jack winced in return. “Yeah.” He rolled his hand in a Hurry It Up gesture to Dharian. “Why even offer to help us in the first place?”
“Because I knew of a cure by . . .” he began, then hit with the logic, winced also. “And I violated the oath by my insistence that I could help. Or bring you to someone who could. Okay. But please, unless you’re talking to Tok’ra, don’t breath a word.”
“Done. Unless it’s absolutely necessary and only to a Tok’ra.”
Dharian folded his arms. “Thank you,” he said, and drummed his fingers over his arm. “Here’s what I know. When Egeria was imprisoned by the Goa’uld Osiris, the Tok’ra lost their fertile queen and no other queen had been created. Before she was captured, she spent about fifty percent of her time . . . well, the female equivalent of um . . . I’m trying to think of the right term that translates properly.”
Connor knew what he meant. “Standing stud,” he said.
“Ah,” Jack said, nodding. Everyone else did the same except Teal’c. “Carter?” he asked, giving her the duty of explaining.
“Thanks a lot, sir,” she said.
“Anytime,” he said.
Determined to make Jack pick someone else next time, Sam decided to be thorough to the point of TMI. Too Much Information. So be it. To Teal’c and Dharian she said, “T, you guys have cattle and similar animals on Chulak, right? Riding animals, racing animals?” He nodded. In her experience, every race had racing animals of some kind. Even the Tollan. “On Earth, it’s horses. When you want to keep a particularly excellent bloodline going, the stallion has to Stand Stud and be bred with selected fillies or mares. They don’t let them do it on their own. That’d take forever. So they get a little help with—”
“Okay, Carter, we get the gist,” Jack said.
“Indeed,” Teal’c said, but he couldn’t help but grin at her as he bowed. “Appreciated.”
She bowed back but sobered when she looked at Dharian. “So the queen is basically at stud until she’s off her cycle?”
Dharian made a face. “A Goa’uld queen is always in cycle. So she’s always . . . hunting. For the Tok’ra, they refused to risk her, given their war with the Goa’uld, so they brought her prospective mates.” He made a whistling sound and gestured with his hand, making a line in the air. “A never-ending line of them.”
“Hosted, right?” Sam asked.
“Correct. She won’t mate with unblended Goa’uld but there does need to be a Goa’uld present, so they have to be hosted.”
Jack turned to Sam. “How’d you know to ask that?”
She blinked and said, “I just knew it. Some of Jolinar’s memories are like that.”
“Huh,” Jack said, turning back around. He rolled his hand again. “Continue.”
“Hosted because there’s a compatibility issue because of inbreeding. The primta need to be clean.” He received arched brows. “Her words, not mine,” he said, raising his hands. “She’s found another way to serve as queen of the Tok’ra.”
“And that would be?” Jack asked, even more tired than before.
“Bastet doesn’t know it yet, but all the potions and injections that she gives her work as advertised but they serve a second purpose. Bastet is almost there, she says. She’s not about to give that up.”
Jack rolled his wrist in a hurry it up gesture.
Dharian said, “She’s turning a Goa’uld into a Tok’ra.”
Understandably, his statement was met with a profound silence and several sets of widening eyes.
“What?” Sam asked in a gaspy voice. “How?”
“I don’t know. She’s The Chemist,” Dharian said, making air quotes. “She knows her business. I don’t. She just explained it to me in one simple term: potions.”
Jack began to massage the muscles at the back of his neck and Daniel walked over to do it for him, gently swatting his hand away.
Jack looked to his right to get Daniel into his peripheral vision. “Daniel, it’s okay.”
“Shut up, Jack. Just relax,” Daniel said, half-ignoring him, and began to massage Jack’s neck.
Jack closed his eyes and tipped his head forward. “ALTA, time frame for arrival?”
“Seven hours, six minutes, twenty seconds.“
“We need to set up a sleep schedule because we need everyone sharp and because we have an unknown onboard. No offense.”
“I’d do the same,” Dharian said tiredly.
“Three hours each is barely enough but it’ll have to do. Carter, you, Connor, and Al will man the bridge for the next three hours. After that, Teal’c and I will man the bridge. The last hour will be needed for prep time. When we get there, me, Daniel, and Dharian will beam down to Egeria’s lab or whatever. We’ll check out the situation, explain what we need, and go from there. If she says she’ll help, that’s when we’ll beam down Jason. ALTA, you will be monitoring our location and beam us up if we are in the least amount of distress.”
“Confirmed. What constitutes distress, Colonel O’Neill?” ATLA asked. “Surely you will experience distress while Jason is being healed.”
“I’ll hold up the finger.”
“Confirmed,” ALTA said.
“The finger?” Dharian asked.
Jack held up a hand with the middle finger displayed in dominance. “That’s the finger. It means fuck you, a common derogatory slang term that I frequently use with Goa’uld or anyone else who may attack me.”
Jack eyed him. “Before we beam down, we need to know the tactical data. Do you have that?”
Dharian bent down and withdrew something from his right boot that proved to be a cloth map. “ALTA, can you scan this?”
“Confirmed,” she said as a narrow overhead beam did just that. A holographic representation appeared in midair. It depicted a star map with several red dots of varying sizes surrounded by white dash-lined oblong circles.
Dharian tapped on the map, which reacted with a red glowing dot after each tap. “This is my travel map. They’re the places I go to frequently throughout a solar year.” He tapped on Bastet’s solar system. “Zoom in, ALTA.” The map zoomed in.
MAP OF PER’BAST
“We will arrive here,” Dharian said, as Sam and Teal’c drew closer to observe. Dharian tapped on the spot on the map that said THE CHEMIST. That too expanded and everyone moved closer to examine the holographic projection. The home of the chemist was made of dark gray stone and glass buildings that sat upon large columns planted firmly in shallow ocean water. The buildings were connected by walkways and terraces made of the same material and highlighted in yellowish-green neon lighting.
Dharian pointed to dense section of building and tapped on it. It zoomed in to reveal several long walkways leading to one particular set with half-circle-shaped doorways and windows, including a large entrance.
“So we just walk right in?” Jack asked.
Nodding, Dharian chewed at the corner of his bottom lip. “The only flaw in this plan is Egeria’s temper. I’m overdue in bringing her some needed ingredients for something she’s working on. She won’t be in a good mood the moment she sees me, but I have the goods on me so that temper won’t flare for long. But again, I see it as a flaw. She has sometimes behaved like a Goa’uld in how bad her temper gets.”
“And that manifests how?” Jack snapped.
Dharian took a deep breath. “Um. She might toss us in jail for two days just to make a point. She’s done that to me before.”
“You have a habit of pissing people off?” Jack asked.
Dharian shrugged. “Sometimes.” He gave Jack and the others a cautious look. “I will tell you a few solid facts about me. I keep my promises. I don’t betray my friends. I don’t put people in harm’s way. And I do not, under any circumstances, play games with serious matters.”
“Putting us in the same room with a Goa’uld is the same thing as putting us in harm’s way,” Sam said.
“Indeed,” Teal’c added.
“She’s not a Goa’uld,” Dharian insisted. “She’s the queen of the Tok’ra.”
“Not if she’s abandoned that role,” Jack said. He pointed at the map. “Threat assessment.” Dharian quickly complied, pointing to entrances and exits to the chemist’s building. Jack sighed. “Threat assessment of Egeria, Dharian. Tok’ra or not, she’s a snakehead.”
Dharian scowled deeply. “So is Skaara now a snakehead?” Jack bristled. “She doesn’t use Jaffa. She’s no threat to us.”
“What do you mean?” Teal’c asked, dumbfounded. “The Goa’uld require their servant soldiers.”
“She’s not Goa’uld!” Dharian repeated, growing annoyed. “Look, guys, she is pretending to be one. Because of her kindly behavior toward her people and guards—not Jaffa—she is regarded by Bastet’s Jaffa as a bit . . . damaged.” Dharian folded his arms. “That said, she is a friend. I’m hoping I can be the same with you folks as well. I can be useful, as I’ve shown. And I promise. She’s the only one who can save Jason’s life. If I wanted to harm any of you, I’d have kept silent on a cure.”
Jack considered his words and nodded. “Well, I’m not about to get some shut eye while there’s a few things to get settled. First and foremost, all threat assessments for Egeria’s stronghold as well as Bastet’s. ALTA, what do we have on Bastet’s home base?”
“Observe,” ALTA said. Another map appeared, showing the continent where Egeria and Bastet’s locations were on Bubastis. As before, the ‘camera’ zoomed in until Bastet’s stronghold was before them. ALTA drew neon aqua lines around the perimeter and drew other lines with it, showing all accessways. Labels went up, indicating where the Jaffa were housed and where they were stationed.
“What in the world do you need me for?” Dharian asked. “Your computer has more information than I do.”
“Feel free to explain, ALTA,” Jack said.
From A.L.T.A. to ALTA
ALTA said, “My database does not come from Earth. It comes from Lia Fail.”
“That’s one hell of a lot of data,” Dharian mused, mostly to himself. Arms still crossed, he knotted his brows and asked, “Are you familiar with all of the advanced planets and cultures in this galaxy?”
“Confirmed,” she said.
“That means yes,” ALTA clarified.
Jack grinned slightly. “Could you display a list of them,” he asked. “Their locations, their ruling bodies, and analyze any possible threats to Earth. SG-1, or Earth, or whatever, needs to have this information if we’re going to continue exploring this galaxy.”
“Confirmed,” ALTA said. “There are seventy-two civilizations throughout this galaxy. That is too long a list to be displayed here in holographic form. I shall instead list the circled cultures of your smuggler’s map.”
“Later. Time for shut-eye. But before that, ALTA, it’s time to choose a visual manifestation of your artificial program. An avatar. I’m getting tired of talking to the air.”
“Now?” Daniel asked.
“Now. It doesn’t require thinking, Daniel.”
“Confirmed,” ALTA said. “Do you wish to set parameters or shall I choose my appearance for you?”
“Thrill me,” Jack said, earning several barks of laughter.
Daniel bent down and whispered to Jack, “You sounded like Tony Stark talking to Jarvis.”
“A guideline is required,” ALTA said.
Daniel frowned. “Don’t you already have a physical representation? I would have thought that Morrighan would have insisted that such a thing be ready.”
“Daniel?” Jack asked, wondering where he was going with the questioning.
“If she already has a form, perhaps we should just use that one.”
“Who created you?” Sam asked the air. She and Teal’c left their stations to stand behind Jack while Daniel walked around the center consoles and stood, arms folded.
ALTA said, “Diancecht, Queen Morrighan’s brother and Lia Fail healer and technician.”
“Show us the design he picked for you,” Sam asked.
“He did not pick a visual form. Queen Morrighan has altered my programming and left this decision to Colonel Jack O’Neill.”
“Oy,” Jack said. “I now extend that decision to everyone here, except Dharian. No offense.”
Dharian shrugged. “None taken. She’s your ship. I myself am very protective of the Witty D.”
“The what?” Connor asked.
“My ship. I’ll show it to you sometime. Now, ignore me. Get back to choosing. Best entertainment I’ve had in years.”
“You don’t get out much, do you?” Jack said with a smirk.
“Not much, no,” Dharian allowed.
“Okay then,” Jack said. “ALTA, I’m interested in seeing what form you would choose.”
“Stand by,” ALTA said.
It was sixty seconds before ALTA appeared where the other holographic visuals had previously appeared. She was pretty, with blonde hair pulled back in a sharp braid and deep blue eyes. She wore a dark gray bodysuit with the texture of carbon fiber. She turned in place, and as she did, her form changed slightly to include digital overlays in blue-white neon and glowing blue-white eyes over the standard blue ones. The overlays were of stargate glyphs and spinning circles mimicking the movement of a stargate dialing device.
“This is my new appearance. I have programmed my behavior so that my appearance will manifest during any conversation unless you tell me otherwise. Is this visage satisfactory?”
“What was that?” Sam asked, alarmed. “You are authorized to adjust your own programming?”
“That’s dangerous, ALTA.”
“There are redundant code blocks to prevent me from altering my basic coded function.”
“To serve SG-1 and to run this ship.”
Jack nodded mutely. She looked like a juxtaposition of several robotic characters he’d grown up with, and as such, he was instantly at ease with her, though he couldn’t explain exactly why.
“She resembles Seven of Nine, from Star Trek Voyager,” Connor said.
Jack nodded with slight surprise. “She does. So, now that that’s settled, time for some shut-eye.”
“C’mon, you,” Daniel said, and tapped Jack’s shoulder. “Let’s go fix up a couple of bunks in the Iso room and watch Jason sleep. He may be frozen but his soul is awake.”
“Good idea,” Jack said. “Carter, you have the bridge.”
“Yes, sir,” she said.
After an excruciatingly long ten minutes, Jack and Daniel had two cots tied together and piled them high with comforters and pillows. Jack groaned as he lay down, but he couldn’t see Jason unless he sat up. Getting up again with a louder groan, he turned down the lights and walked up to Jason, placing his hand on the pod’s surface. He looked asleep, even though there was a slight frown between his eyes.
“We’ll get you back,” he whispered. “Just hang on, Jace. Me and Daniel are on it.” He frowned. “Daniel and I. Because if I said, ‘Me on it’, well that just sounds stupid right?” He paused. “Look at me. I sound like Daniel.” He splayed his fingers over the pod’s glass-like surface. “Can you hear me?” he whispered. “If so, when you wake, password’s donut. Got it? Donut.”
Behind him, Daniel reentered their quarters carrying a bag of popcorn he’d gotten from the cafeteria. He was already snacking on it. He paused, watching Jack watch Jason. Swallowing hard, he walked over to stand next to him. Staring at Jason, he tipped the bag toward Jack.
Jack sighed and dug out a couple of fluffy kernels. “Just popcorn?”
“Yeah. My stomach’s not really into food food.”
Jack nodded. “Think he can hear us?”
“Maybe,” Daniel sighed.
“Just in case he can, I told him the password’s donut.”
Daniel threw him a look of confused amusement. “Password for what?”
“Just the password. If he heard us, the password’s donut. If he can’t, then no harm, no foul.”
“Right,” Daniel said, nodding. “’Cause why not.”
They both sighed. Daniel gestured at their makeshift bed. They lay down, pulling a comforter over them.
“Thank god these cots aren’t those old-fashioned ones shaped like stretchers. Without a mattress to stack on top, we couldn’t tie them together and lie down comfortably.” Jack grunted and lay on his back resting a hand under his head.
“Eat some popcorn anyway,” Daniel said, offering the bag.
Jack absently snatched a few kernels, looked at them, then put them back. His stomach really didn’t want any food. The fear that pervaded his mind wouldn’t allow it. He closed his eyes. “Three hours. Hardly enough time.”
Daniel nodded. “What we’ve done, are doing, for Jason . . .” He swallowed. “Jack, we can’t go home.”
Jack frowned and turned his head to look at him. Daniel was clearly splitting his worry time between Jason and their jobs. But there was a certainty in Jack’s mind. Things would work out with the SGC. The only unknown factor was this Egeria and getting her to heal Jason.
“We can go home when we’re done, Daniel.”
“I don’t see how,” Daniel said.
“We weren’t worried when we took off through the gate ten years ago, based solely on that address you got from the alternate universe.”
“Which you didn’t believe in,” Daniel said, and tapped Jack’s arm to make him look at him. “I never said thank you. So thank you.”
Jack frowned. “For what?”
“For trusting me, despite not believing.”
“Oh. Well, right backatcha. I guess it takes me a while to catch up. To get the gist of things.”
“No it doesn’t,” Daniel said, rolling his eyes. “You’re just stubborn.” Jack grinned. “But I don’t see how we’re getting out of this one.”
It was Jack’s turn to roll his eyes. “When she shows up, she’ll fix me, then give them something to shut them up, probably some tech that’s amazing and also impossible to aim at our fellow humans. And the price will be to stay out of the SGC’s business. To leave us alone.”
Daniel smiled ruefully. “You seem so certain. It can go a dozen ways.”
“No, I’m certain,” Jack said. “It’s gut feeling. I don’t ignore that generally.”
“I know,” Daniel said. “There’s just one flaw with that scenario. What if Vidrine’s not playing level? Plus, who the hell is stealing from our allies? Someone’s leading that, like Maybourne did before. What if it’s Vidrine or someone under him?”
“We’re not gonna find out anytime soon until we’re back on schedule. With this ship, we can find out, Daniel.”
“I agree. So, as I see it, a lot will depend on what Morrighan does.” Jack opened his mouth to argue but Daniel quickly said, “I know what you said. I’m just saying, let’s wait and see. We’ve never seen her angry. Every fiber in my being tells me she’s royally pissed. I don’t know why I feel that way. I just do.”
Jack only grunted. “Like me and my intuition. Whatever the case, we’ll find out. Anyway, lean over.” He brought his lips to Daniel’s. The kiss was dry and brief. “Think we’ll have one hell of a reunion when he’s cured.”
“In our own bed. Worth dreaming about,” Daniel said, reaching out to take Jack’s hand. He closed his eyes.
Jack raised his head to stare down the bed at Jason. The swirls of gas were strangely sedating as he watched their abstract patterns, lulling him toward sleep, but he had an uneasy feeling he couldn’t shake. He lay back and stared at the ceiling.
Daniel opened his eyes. “Jack?”
“I’ve always gone with my gut feeling. Intuition, if you will. Maybe I’m a little biased when it comes to the people I care about.”
Daniel pushed up on an elbow frowning at him. “You’re not alone.”
Jack rubbed his brows. “But here’s the thing. I can’t shake the feeling that the scorpion was planted.” He looked at Daniel whose eyes were widening. “I can’t shake it. As Kirk would say, I’m getting a red alert right here.” He raised his head and tapped the back of his neck.
“Okay, let’s say your gut is right. So then, who was the target?”
“I think it was Skaara.”
“Okay. He’s Tok’ra now. Puts him on a hit list, especially as they killed Klorel after interrogating the snake.”
“Then, given that, it means this asshole is an assassin.”
Jack nodded. “Think we have two missions, not one. The thieves and the assassin.”
“Unless they’re one and the same.”
“Our job is never that easy,” Jack said.
“No, but it makes sense. But for right now, the unknown factors are Dharian and Egeria,” Daniel said, staring at the ceiling without actually seeing it.
“Yep,” Jack said. “Fuckin’ pisses me off.”
“Me, too.” Daniel made a face. “You know, this is the only situation in which I would support a surveillance state. Everywhere.”
“Point. But we have something these assholes didn’t expect. The An Croi.”
Daniel smiled slightly as he agreed. “The An Croi.”
The bridge was filled with tension as the An Croi arrived at the planet Per’Bast and settled into high geosynchronous orbit over the location of The Chemist.
“Okay, folks,” Jack said, standing in the center of the bridge. He looked at Al, Connor, Carter, and Teal’c. “Keep a weather eye.”
“How long do you think it’ll take?” Sam asked.
Jack and Daniel looked at Dharian, who shrugged. “It’ll take as long as it’ll take. I don’t set a timetable with that woman.”
“Oy,” Jack said. “Well, you heard him. ALTA, keep a constant monitoring of the situation.”
“If we lose contact?” Sam asked.
Jack shook his head. “Assess the situ. If everything goes FUBAR, get us out of there. While I told ALTA to listen for distress, I’m changing that order.” He tapped behind his ear. “She can hear us this way and via the sensors. If it goes to shit, we leave. But one way or another, we’re getting him cured. I won’t allow bullshit temper tantrums by a snakehead.”
“We need to beam down to just outside her lab, at the front entrance,” Dharian said. “There won’t be an outcry or anything because other ships do the same thing throughout the day because she also sells cures out of the apothecary on the other side of the lab.”
“Sells the cures, huh?” Jack said, sounding dubious.
“Girl’s gotta make a living,” Dharian said.
Sam rolled her eyes in disgust. “It never ends.”
“What?” Jack asked her.
As they started to beam away, Sam shouted at Dharian, “Go ahead and call her a girl to her face!”
“Ouch,” Al said once they were gone. “I hope he heard you.”
Sam sighed and repeated herself. “It never ends.”
They appeared just outside the building in question.
“This way,” Dharian said, and tapped on a button beside a large glass set of double-doors. They opened and the men went inside.
The interior, however, was starkly different. It was colored a dark teal with neon aqua lighting everywhere. They stood in a lobby that was longer than it was wider. Ahead of them was a long desk, unmanned. Beyond that were cubicles with short walls. Most of them were equipped with widescreen monitors. A tall woman with long brunette hair stood at a lab desk that sat between cubicle stations. She wore a dark teal lab coat and silvery gloves and was handling something that seemed to be neon blue blob of energy. Their shape kept changing as she manipulated them with her hands. Then she looked up and when her eyes fell on Dharian, she froze. She did not look happy. Nor did she give Jack and Daniel a second thought.
EGERIA IN HER LAB
Dharian gave her a smile. And held up his Get Out of Jail Free card. A small black sack. “I know, I know, but I come bearing gifts.”
She tapped the back of her left glove and the glowing blob appeared to sink into the gloves, brightening them significantly. Her eyes flickered down, eyeing the three items he removed from the sack. Jack and Daniel had no intention—for the moment—of interrupting and remained a few paces behind Dharian. They were content to watch and learn.
The first object he’d set down was a round wooden box. The second one was placed to its right. It was a small ceramic bottle with black glaze and a swirling design in blue on the front of its body. The third was a small black device with a neon blue circular button on one end, looking something like a fancy USB drive but twice the size.
Egeria walked toward them, flexing her gloved fingers. Dharian gave her a wary smile. “I know I’m late. I’m sorry.”
She narrowed her brown eyes and then held up her left hand, admiring it as she turned it back and forth. “Do you know what this is?” she asked him. Her voice was deep and sultry. The men found it intriguing, despite themselves, but they were more concerned with her gloves.
“Egeria, I’m sorry,” Dharian said with hesitation. “I have what you wanted. And because I’m late with it, I brought two more things for you.”
“See these?” She asked, ignoring what he’d said. She raising both hands and turned them this way and that. “These are the replacement to the Goa’uld shak’ra’kree. Better known to you humans as the Hand Device. Honestly, hand device? Are you people that lazy?”
Dharian glowered at her. “There’s no need to be rude.”
She abruptly smiled but it wasn’t in humor. “There’s the look I want. Scowling.”
“I’m here on urgent business,” he said. “I didn’t come here with my ship. I caught a ride with the gentlemen behind me. Now, are you going to be reasonable and set the anger aside for the time being, or . . .?”
She held forth her left hand, palm out, aiming it at him. “Would you like to see how it works?”
Jack and Daniel backed up several steps and moved to Dharian’s left.
“I would so like to demonstrate my newest creation,” she went on. Her eyes traveled to Jack and Daniel, taking them in for the first time. Her eyes widened slightly, then narrowed as she returned to Dharian. “You bring SG-1 here as a chaperone? How convenient.”
“I bring them because they have business. And I brought presents. Surely they will buy the cure they need?”
Jack and Daniel looked at each other. Buy? Dharian hadn’t said anything about a price. Or maybe it was because he already had it ready?
Egeria blinked and slowly lowered her hands and returned to her lab desk. She placed the gloves in a glass box, then walked back to Dharian, eyeing the three objects. She opened the round wooden box. It was filled with raw blue crystals, perhaps salt or something similar. She touched the crystals and then brought the tip of her finger to her mouth. She closed her eyes, savoring the taste.
“Adwahdi salt.” She sighed. “Thank you. You are a season late, but thank you.”
“And this . . .” he said, handing her the small black and blue ceramic bottle.
She took it and uncorked it, bringing it to her nose. She frowned and inhaled again. “No smell.”
“Until you add a drop of citrus, then . . .”
Her eyes widened. “Challonberry Spring water.” She corked it and slid it and the salt into her left pocket of her lab coat. “Now this one,” she said, and picked up the USB drive lookalike. She slid it over her middle finger and twisted it so it lay flat against the underside of her fingers. “Where’d you get the Ashrak device?”
“In the Corilian sector. Risky business that. Were the Realtow brothers after you again?”
“Yes, yes, and yes. But it’s all settled now.”
“How, did you kill them?”
“You know me better than that.”
“Then the matter isn’t settled, Dharian.”
“It is. I gave them a bargain rate on a Kaseri shield device.”
“Hmm.” She looked at Jack and Daniel and gestured that they come forward. “SG-1. Or part of it anyway. I advise you to consider investing in changeling nets when you’re in a Goa’uld’s territory. Doesn’t matter how long it’s been since you’ve killed one of them, you’re on their most wanted list.”
Jack and Daniel looked at each other.
“We’re famous,” Daniel said in a dry tone.
“Yep,” Jack replied. He gave Egeria a slight bow out of politeness. “Madam. Colonel Jack O’Neill. This is Doctor Daniel Jackson. Nice to meetcha.”
She sighed and stared at Dharian, then shook her head. Instead of saying anything else, she got to the point. “What do you want?” she asked, but pointedly at Dharian, not Jack and Daniel.
“A member of their team has been poisoned by a Valinda scorpion. Goddamn thing was on Abydos.”
“It’s an assassin’s tool,” she said.
Dharian nodded. He bent down and removed his kinjar blade from his boot sheath and set it on the desk. “This is what’s left after I stabbed the fucker. In case you need fresh DNA for verification.”
She picked up the blade and peered at, turning the blade to look for the telltale color sheen. “Unnecessary. See here.” She turned around with her back facing the men and angled the knife to get the right reflection from the overhead lights. “There is a distinctive blue shade of purple that can only be seen at an angle, which verifies its authenticity. Can you see?” They did, though only Dharian answered with a nod. “Follow me.” She turned away and went back to her lab desk where the glass box sat and retook her seat. She emptied her pockets of the gifts Dharian brought and set the knife on the desk.
When the men reached her cubicle, they found that its back was a large monitor shaped like a curved L. The desk’s surface contained digital representations of a keyboard and pen tablet. As they watched, Egeria typed rapidly and unfamiliar neon-outlined images appeared on the monitor. After a minute, she got up and beckoned them to follow.
They went through an open doorway near the back of the lab and entered into another lab, this one filled with large square machinery about the size of large transportable storage units, only with pipes attaching them to the ground and ceiling. She tapped a few outline buttons on the side of one unit and a drawer opened. It held another keyboard, and again, she typed rapidly. A small monitor rose from the center of the table, its surface black. She tapped a few more keys and the monitor revealed two long mechanical objects. A drawer to the right of the table opened. She retrieved the same two items on the monitor and closed the drawer. She held them up for display. They looked like injectors of some type, both filled with some sort of electrical plasma.
EGERIA WITH THE INJECTORS
“This will involve two stages,” she said. “This smaller one is part one, this bigger one is part two. Now follow me to the testing station.”
They followed and arrived in a large room with two long tables with computer screens at one end and in the center of the far end of the room sat a large structure with a video monitor in the center and several readouts on either side including a handprint screen and smaller video monitors. A table sat in front of this structure that reminded Jack and Daniel of an MRI table.
Egeria placed her hand over the handprint screen and after scanning, touched several outline buttons. She turned to the men. “Where is your patient?”
“In stasis aboard our ship,” Jack said. He made a swirling motion to indicate the room they were in. “Is this room shielded? The ship needs to transport him down and it won’t—”
“You may beam him down to this table,” she said, interrupting him. At his frown, she offered a tight smile. “No offense intended, sir, but this is a high-tech laboratory, much more advanced than the technical proficiency currently available on Earth. Please beam the person here.” She tapped the table.
They stared at her, momentarily taken off guard. She was fully aware of Earth’s technical capabilities. That in and of itself was a potential threat. It meant she’d been there or had a lackey visit there.
“Anytime,” she said in a flat impatient voice.
Daniel nodded to Jack, who tapped the comm button behind his ear.
“ALTA, beam him directly here to the table in front of us.”
“Stand away from the table,” ALTA said . . .
At the same time, Egeria said, “There will be an energy field enveloping the patient as soon as they appear on the table. Getting caught in the activation is painful.” The men followed her instruction.
Jason appeared on the table and for a split second began to writhe in pain until the energy field activated and arrested his movements. Egeria pressed a button on the edge of the table and the larger machinery hummed. It then separated, opening in the middle, and Jason’s table slid into the larger machine until it fit inside. The machine then closed around him. Holographic screens appeared where the table had been, revealing the interior of the machine. Egeria walked to the left end of the machine and inserted both injectors into tight apertures intended for the devices.
“Would you mind explaining as you go, please?” Jack asked, then added in a wry tone, “We’re not as backward as you seem to think. I think we can grasp complex ideas.” Daniel jogged his brows in agreement.
Egeria threw Jack a momentary frown before returning to her work. “I apologize for the assumed inference but that was not my intention. Evolution works as it will. Some planets appear to evolve faster but that is merely an issue of age. Earth is still relatively young compared to other planets in the galaxy and it’s also older than others.”
Daniel said, “Yes, and the Goa’uld visited our planet a long time ago and decided to use our mythologies as a basis for their psychopathic narcissism.”
She gave him a raised brow of surprise, then gave him a head nod. “Point well taken.”
“So explain away,” Jack said tiredly, rubbing at the spot between his brows.
“You are in pain?” she asked, pausing her data input on a small keyboard outline.
“Nothing you can fix. Proceed please.”
She gave him a curt nod. “Understood. What is the patient’s name?”
“Jason,” Jack and Daniel said in stereo.
She pressed more button outlines that were marked with Goa’uld letters and numbers in its standard symbols and ideograms. A hologram appeared in mid-air over the area where the patient table had been showing outlines of Jason’s body in separate layers that were peeled off as the scans progressed. A neon red alert appeared at the venom injection site over his thoracic vertebrae, which then spread outward like octopus tendrils but they soon resembled the circulatory system. Then the scan zoomed in on the injury site and continued zeroing in resulting in a molecular scan that appeared as a second hologram.
Egeria watched the hologram as she tapped the outlined keyboard and this in turn produced a holographic diagram of the venom’s molecular structure. She narrowed her eyes at the components, then sighed through her nose in apparent annoyance. She pressed a few more buttons and another hologram appeared which revealed the interior of the machine and that Jason was now immersed in what looked like glittery energy. But it wasn’t energy. It was nanites.
“Is that what I think it is?” Jack asked. “Nanites?”
Egeria raised an eyebrow. “Yes, indeed. We call them tashwee. There is no plural of the word because they can’t run independently. One nanite, for example, cannot operate by itself. They were constructed to work as a single unit.”
“Like the hive mind of bees or ants?” Daniel asked.
“Or replicators,” Egeria said, perversely amused by the negative expressions on their faces that the name provoked. “One replicator block cannot create more without a central operating system, as in a queen block that produces an assembly line. A block may be considered alive but it needs outside instructions.”
“Gotcha,” Jack said. “The purpose of these nanites is to . . .?”
Egeria tapped a few more buttons and the hologram reacted, depicting the nanites flowing into Jason through his nose, mouth, and eyes. Jack and Daniel cringed as they watched, though they were relieved when Jason didn’t react.
“Is he unconscious or sedated?” Jack asked.
“Both,” Egeria said. “They have subdued his active mind to take a . . . how do you say . . . backseat? A backseat while the tashwee seek out and convert the toxin into inert proteins that are then flushed from his system. They will then exit his body through his skin pores and become part of the tashwee cloud. This will take approximately one Earth hour. There are aftereffects, but they are rare. They aren’t lethal or debilitating and they tend to last for an hour to a few weeks. They’re caused by the sloughing off of residual microscopic metals.”
“What kind of aftereffects?” Jack asked.
“The results vary from patient to patient, depending on the chemical makeup of the brain. Most common possibilities are psychic disturbances leading to visions, hallucinations, and/or nightmares related to the scorpion. These will not last, should he experience them. There is something I’ve termed psychic backlash. Like the disturbances, but these create psychic events such as telepathy or telekinesis. They last no more than six months. This condition has not shown that he would experience these things on a constant basis. Only under duress or a potential exterior threat.”
Jack looked at Daniel. “Think the queen’s so-called gift works that way, though not caused by a detoxing by nanites.”
“Except your prescience is restricted to thirty seconds.” Daniel looked at Egeria. “How long are these psychic abilities? For example, a prescience event would last for how long?”
“You have this prescience?” Egeria asked Jack, who nodded. “This isn’t standard for humans. How did you acquire it?” Jason’s body began to twitch and she held up a hand. “This is normal and he is in no danger. The twitching will advance to spasms. It is the toxin fighting its own death.”
“How’s that? It’s not a thinking entity, is it?” Daniel asked.
“Not in the way you mean. It is a basic survival instinct found in any amoeba.”
“Got it,” Daniel said, sighing with relief.
But another red alert appeared on Jason’s body and a small alert sound notified Egeria.
“What in the world?” she muttered to herself.
“What’s wrong?” Jack and Daniel asked.
“Something else is wrong with Jason. The bots are dividing their resources instead of focusing on the toxin.” She touched the panel on the machine and put slid a keyboard and she began to type rapidly while looking at a small black screen with green computer language showing hundreds of scrolling lines of code. “Oh, I see,” she said, again to herself.
“What’s wrong?” Jack asked again.
“There is another toxin in his system, but it’s part of a disease where affected tissue forms cysts and hardens tissue. This is located in the area you call the prostate gland. On your world, the disease is called cancer.”
Jack and Daniel stared at her in horror. “What?” Daniel breathed.
“He has prostate cancer?” Jack asked, a cold pit forming in his stomach.
“Not for long,” Egeria said, typing rapidly. “I’m reprogramming a sector of bots. Should take care of it.” When finished, she returned the keyboard to its slot inside the machine and turned around to see them staring at her. She thought she knew why. “You do not have a cure for cancers on your planet?” They shook their heads and she grimaced slightly. “That is unfortunate. Perhaps when Bastet is in a better, more conciliatory, mood, I can arrange trade talks with the Tau’ri. But at least your boy here will heal.” She frowned and tapped a finger over her lips. “What was I going to ask? Ah. Yes. The source of your prescience, Colonel O’Neill”
It took Jack and Daniel a moment to remember what they’d been talking about. And they did it while still feeling the shock of damn near losing their husband to cancer. Their silent exchange pretty much said, “So that’s why he’s been avoiding sex.”
“Are you familiar with a race called the Lia Fail, erroneously known as the Furling?” Jack asked.
“The Fae,” Egeria said, becoming wary. “They aren’t coming here, are they?”
“No,” Jack said. “At least, not by my being here. I’m a descendant, apparently, and the Queen has given me a mental gift but with one annoying side effect that I hope she’ll cure when we see her in five days.”
“Understood. I’m relieved. Last thing I need is the fae interfering with my work.” Egeria began to speak, hesitated. “He should be fine,” she said, but that was clearly not what she had been about to say.
Daniel could feel it plain as day. “What else can happen with Jason as an aftereffect? Whatever it is, it’s negative, so out with it. Please.”
She pointed at him briefly and said, “Nice touch at the end. Never hurts to be polite. In this case, unnecessary. It is my responsibility—a responsibility I insist on as a matter of professionalism—to give a patient, or his or her next of kin, the full explanation of all known aftereffects and side effects.”
“Aren’t they the same thing?” Jack asked.
“No, side effects are temporary. Aftereffects can take hours, days, weeks, months, or years to dissipate.”
“Then I think you have a lot more to do toward using nanites as your cure for the uncurable,” Daniel said. “No disrespect intended. Just stating a science fact.”
“None taken. It’s a standard problem among those of us who bend the rules of medicine.” She tapped a button and an enlarged image of Jason’s active brain appeared. A tiny part of the brain was highlighted in blue-white light and enlarged to show its size and shape.
“The amygdala,” Daniel said.
“Correct,” she said with a touch of surprise. “I apologize. I keep forgetting who I’m talking to. To proceed, the rarest result, as an aftereffect, is psychosis. This happens when the invader of the body has penetrated the amygdala, the human emotional filter. But . . . I think . . .” She paused and scrolled through the data that appeared on the screen. She sighed with relief. “His amygdala is clean. You were fortunate. You got him into stasis just under the wire, preventing the toxin from reaching his amygdala. At the moment—”
“But you just said that psychosis was the rarest aftereffect, or causation,” Daniel argued, interrupting her. “And yet here you are, relieved. Shouldn’t this be a standard check that—”
“Young man,” Egeria said, cutting him off. “Look.” She pointed at the image of his brain. “It is not there. The reason it is not there is because the toxin never reached his brain—not the nanites. The nanites prevented it.” She swiped at the hologram, and the program ended. She then said gruffly, “It may take an hour for the cleanup so I hope you are not in a hurry.”
Daniel swallowed. “I apologize. I’m just so . . . we didn’t know he had cancer, and then this scorpion.” She nodded acceptance and he breathed out in relief.
Jack looked around him. Dharian wasn’t there. “Where’d Dharian go?”
“Probably wherever his ship is,” Egeria said, reading a new holographic monitor above one of the other ‘beds.’
“It’s in orbit around Abydos,” Jack said.
Her eyes widened in slight surprise as she turned to look at them. “Why is that?”
“That’s where we were when Jason was stung,” Jack said. “Since our ship was faster, he hitched a ride and directed us here.”
“Hmm,” she said, looking around unnecessarily. She then tapped what looked like a bracelet on her wrist and spoke into it. “Where is Dharian Easteman?”
A computer voice said, “At the central Coreplex. Do you wish a retrieval?”
“Negative. End query.” A tiny blip sounded after her words. Egeria put a hand on her hip and pursed her lips. “Probably looking for something else to bribe me with.”
“What’s the Coreplex?” Jack asked.
“It’s a massive multi-level commodity complex,” she said simply. “Won’t find another one for at least two star systems.”
“A shopping center,” Daniel mused, mostly to Jack. “Wanna go shopping?”
“With what?” Jack asked.
“I was joking,” Daniel said with a smirk. Jack jogged his brows. “Can’t use our money here even if we did want to do something so superfluous and insensitive as to go shopping while Jason’s being invaded by tiny robots.”
Egeria snorted. “No, your money’s no good here, if that’s the phrase. We accept several forms used by over a hundred cultures, just not yours because you’re not a space-faring race. But then all money on Bubastis is turned into a credit replacement called zanaix.” It was pronounced Zah-nayx. She paused and added, “Even if you had zanaix, I couldn’t let you go anywhere because this isn’t a good . . . what’s the word for a small section of a city?”
“Neighborhood?” Daniel suggested.
“Yes,” she said, pointing briefly at him. “That. It’s not a safe neighborhood for newbies, but for you? You’re SG-1. Part of it. And you’re worth a lot of money to bounty hunters.”
“You don’t say,” Jack said with humorous sarcasm. “Ever hear about a guy named Bok?”
Her eyes widened and she pointed at them again. “You’re the ones who got away!” They nodded. She shook her head ruefully. “Lost many a bet on who he let go. He’d never confirm nor deny damn him.”
“Yeah,” Daniel said, jogging his brows. “He said I wasn’t worth much.”
“Well, then he said you were,” Jack said. “Right before he took off.”
“Oh, yeah. Right. Well, guess it doesn’t matter.”
Egeria burst out laughing. “You’re worth the most.”
“What? For figuring out the stargate? Not alone there, ma’am.”
“No,” she scoffed with a dismissive hand. “You got the Abydonians to rebel and killed Ra. Your name is golden.”
“Oh,” Daniel said, almost deadpan, repeating himself from over ten years before. “Somehow, that doesn’t make me feel any better.”
Egeria burst out laughing again. “Well, don’t worry your expensive heads. I’m not a psychopath.”
“Good to know,” Jack said with drier sarcasm. “So is he around here these days?” Jack asked.
She sobered somewhat. “No. He was fired upon by Mardock’s forces about five years ago. Blew his ship to hell.” She made a strange sign over the front of her face that was part scribble and part cross. It reminded Jack of the Mexican character from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly and he huffed out half a laugh.
“Now, where was I. Oh. Don’t go shopping. You need something, I’ll send a lackey.”
“We’re good,” Jack said. “So you’ve been there, shopping,” Jack said, crossing his arms. His stomach growled and he grimaced in annoyance.
“Naturally. I’ve been everywhere,” Egeria said. “You can do that sort of thing by the time your age is in the thousands.”
“Naturally,” Jack said dryly.
She crooked a finger at them. “C’mon. I’ll get you something to eat. Don’t worry about Jason. Once I leave this lab, with you in tow, it will lock up. No one goes in without my presence.” She tapped her wrist lightly. Or rather, the device strapped to it, like a watch. “This will tell me when he’s finished or if there’s a problem.”
She exited the lab through a back door and to their surprise, they found themselves in a long wide alley paved in colorful bricks and lined with shelves holding hundreds of pots of all sizes.
LAB EXTERIOR CONNECTION
At the far end was a door and they followed her through it. Inside was a large old-fashioned kitchen with tiled stone flooring. A closed door across the room presumably led to a typical home.
“This is incongruous,” Daniel said. “One architectural style morphed into another. Odd.”
Egeria frowned with amusement and said, “This way, you never get bored of the décor, my dear boy. But it’s also just an illusion.” She tapped the bracelet on her wrist. “Turn off the illusion in the kitchen.” There was no confirmation from the bracelet’s computer voice. All that happened was the rearrangement of reality as the old-world look of the kitchen dissolved into a hi-tech futuristic kitchen and dining room, with glass, steel, and plants.
KITCHEN’S TRUE APPEARANCE
“Whoa,” Jack said, turning in place.
“Ditto,” Daniel said.
“As I said, one gets bored with the same view day in and day out,” Egeria sighed. “When you touch it in a transformed state, it still feels real.” She pointed at the twelve-foot ceiling as she casually walked to a silver door and opened it, revealing an alien version of a fridge. “Embedded in the structure are some specialized nanites that are designed to create a façade. But what’s behind it is very real. Just once in a while, I like to change more than just décor.”
Daniel touched his arm. “She’s okay, Jack.” Then purposely said aloud, “Remember, I can read people?” Truth, without explanation.
“Indeed,” she said. “I’ve heard rumors, all the way out here in Bastet’s domain.”
Daniel’s slight goodwill came to a halt as a warning signal went off in his head. Just as it did with Jack. They traded looks.
“Who is spreading rumors?” Jack asked.
“Spreading?” she asked. “You mean, who is the source? I don’t know. That’s why it’s called a rumor.”
“You should know something, Egeria,” Daniel said. “Jason didn’t get stung accidentally. That scorpion was planted. It’s not native to Abydos.”
“No, they aren’t,” Egeria agreed. “It didn’t get there by grain shipments. That’s where the creatures congregate, in wheat fields. Abydos doesn’t need wheat from elsewhere. So yes, I agree. As to the culprit, that’s another question. Was Jason the target?”
“I don’t think so,” Daniel said. “There’s no reason to target him. He’s not known as a member of SG-1. His relatives live on a distant world that keeps to itself, despite the presence of a stargate.”
“Agreed. So who was the target?” she asked as she walked to the far wall and opened a small metal door that revealed another fridge. She withdrew three small silver cans with a blue logo shaped like an egret. She walked over to them and handed each man a can. “It’s like mineral water with a citrus flavor. It’s a cross between a lime and an orange, plus minerals and vitamins designed to reinvigorate the body without the energy crash later. Have a seat.” She pointed to a table with several chairs on both sides. She sat on one side, Jack and Daniel the other. She opened the can with a flick of its tab and shotgunned the contents into her mouth and throat.
They just stared at her. She grinned and wiped the escaped drops off her chin. “Only way to drink it when you want a rush. It lasts five seconds and then it’s gone, but the regular energy boost lasts about twelve hours.” She grinned slyly. “I can arrange for Dharian to deliver a crate to your ship via Abydos if you like. But first, try it my way. See what you think.”
They did so and Jack was better at it than Daniel was because he’d had more experience in party bars as a young officer overseas. “Like riding a bike,” he said, when Daniel simply drank his instead of getting the can to cooperate with the shotgun.
“Then you keep pedaling,” Daniel grinned. “I’ll stay on the ground.”
“Wuss,” Jack teased.
“Ha,” Daniel said. “You do you, as the kids say.”
Jack groaned and rolled his eyes. “Ixnay on the age thing.” He then sniffed and gave Egeria a direct look. “Nice try on the distraction. But I’d like to know just how many people know our business. We’ve already had one assassination attempt. And to answer your question, the target was most likely me, Daniel, or Skaara. The rest of SG-1 hasn’t earned that much animosity, not even Teal’c.”
Egeria made a face. “Calling him Sholva. So . . . childish. Inaccurate. He was a doomed First Prime, you know. Apophis was going to have him replaced. He wasn’t sufficiently . . .”
“Groveling?” Jack offered.
“Gullible?” Daniel added. He leaned against the desk and crossed his arms. “How do you know all this? How many spies do you have on Earth?”
“None,” Egeria said immediately, showing no deception for both men to detect. “But I have people on many other planets. Their job is to listen, never question. Just listen. I pay them very well, unlike what the Goa’uld do, whose attrition and turnaround rate on spies is high.” She smiled. “Teal’c’s defection has affected more than just other awakened Jaffa. Many, many people want to get the Goa’uld boot off all our necks—”
“Excuse me, but that sounds odd coming from . . . you know,” Jack said, gesturing at her. He immediately wanted to take it back. She stared at him and he waved both hands. “Yeah, I know. I’m an ass.”
“Bad?” Daniel asked him, rubbing his own forehead.
“For a second,” Jack said, yeah.
“Glasses,” Daniel said.
“Ah.” As he removed the special glasses from his front pocket, he mumbled, “So compromised.” He donned the glasses and Egeria just nodded.
“Perfect. The color is what helps, believe it or not. There’re no special tricks.”
“Well, I wouldn’t want to go the rest of my life with these glued to my face.”
She nodded. “But your antics across the galaxy have garnered attention to your planet. Imagine, four Tau’ri resisted the Goa’uld and won.” She raised her beverage can in salute.
“Not just us,” Daniel said.
“But if it weren’t for the Asgard, we’d be deep shit,” Jack said. “We owe them our undying loyalty and thanks.”
“Thor,” she corrected. “Not the Asgard. Not all of them are like him.”
“Yeah,” Jack said sarcastically. “I’ve met the council.”
“Not much help, were they?” she guessed. Jack grunted. “I’ll make you a promise, though I’m Tok’ra and working for Bastet.”
“What promise?” Jack asked.
“I will help you discover who targeted who on Abydos.”
“And in return?” Daniel asked.
“Nothing,” she said. “If you want quid pro quo, as it was said a long time ago, consider it a favor for Dharian for services past.”
“So,” Jack said, twirling his finger, pointed downward, “that whole anger scene with the glove was an act?”
“Oh, no. I was angry. I’m still angry. But anger without control is rage, and rage is eponymous with being out of control. I don’t like to feel that way, so my anger is always under control. There’s been times in my life where I’ve lost it. Completely. Revenge and vengeance are what drives that kind of thing. When sick bastards have taken those you love.” She shook herself. “But no worries. My anger at Dharian is a blip in time and space.”
A grunt from the entrance to this lab caused surprise as all three turned to see Dharian leaning against a door jamb. “I agree. It’s a distraction. Can’t afford that in my business.” He came forward and gestured at the tank machine Jason floated in. “How’s it going?”
“It will be another half hour,” she said. “No alarms since we started, so it looks good. Where’d you go?”
“The Flyship company to order new stock for the Witty D. When I return in my ship, I’ll pick It up.”
“Did you see Kara?”
Dharian made a face and turned slightly to show a small bruise along the right jaw at the hinge. “I did.”
Egeria shook her head. “I told you, Dharian. Your sister is the leader of the Valkyrie. She has a mission. Stop trying to talk her out of it or she’ll send some Valkyries after you to pound the fact into your stubborn head.”
“At least she’s got a mission,” he said with a touch of sourness. “But some of those women need more protection than she can—” Egeria half-screamed in frustration, cutting him off, and he stared at her in shock. “What did I say?”
Egeria shaded her eyes for a five-count, then dropped them and turned to Daniel and Jack. “Kara Easteman, Dharian’s wiser sister.”
“Thanks a lot, Sally.”
She just glared at him, then turned to Jack and Daniel. “Kara has made it her mission to rescue as many enslaved or brainwashed women, sometimes both, from the Goa’uld, the Lucien Alliance, and other predators. She bought a massive transport ship, renamed it The Valkyrie, armed it, and now her women get to live free lives, doing whatever they can to help Kara and her mission. The women she rescues, by the way, are mostly Jaffa.”
She turned back to Dharian. “Did you find out if she’s on her way here? She needs to pick up an order of medicine.”
Dharian nodded. “She’ll be here. She’s—”
He was interrupted by bootsteps, and a tall woman came to the entranceway and stopped. She smiled when she saw Egeria and came forward, warily watching Jack and Daniel as she traded arm grips with Egeria. She wore brown leather trousers, high leather boots, a lavender shirt with a long purple scarf wound around her neck like a long cowl. Her brown leather jacket covered part of it, but it didn’t cover the two gun belts worn around her hips.
“How’re you doing?” Egeria asked.
“Stop speaking in that resonance and I’ll answer you,” Kara said tartly.
“Not my problem, idiot Jaffa,” Egeria snarled back.
Then both women laughed and embraced. When they parted with a mutual forearm bump, Kara noticed Jack and Daniel and raised an eyebrow.
“And who might these handsome men be?”
Jack and Daniel were wearing their distinctive new Tau’ri uniforms, not the camo or green they were known for. Even the all-black Special Ops version had gotten some play. Without those old uniforms, she couldn’t deduce who they were, and it was, for the moment, disconcerting.
“New friends of your brother,” Egeria said, only without the Goa’uld resonance. “They’ve come by to get a healing for their comrade.” She held out a hand, palm up, to each man. “Jack O’Neill and Daniel Jackson.”
Kara blinked. “The warriors of the Tau’ri?”
Jack held out a hand to Kara. “Colonel Jack O’Neill.”
She shook his hand. “Kara Easteman. Captain of the Valkyrie.”
“Doctor Daniel Jackson,” Daniel said, shaking her hand. She had a hell of a strong grip, and he mocked a grimace and said, “Ow. Be careful. I’m a wimp.”
Jack snorted as Kara gave Daniel an engaging, knowing smile. “Hardly,” she said. “What is that charming phrase I learned recently? Ah yes. Brainy is the new sexy.”
Daniel snorted this time. “So,” Jack said. “Women Jaffa? I didn’t know there were women Jaffa. Warriors, I mean.”
“There are. They’re few in number because they frequently outdo the men in sheer stamina. And I don’t mean that sexually. But now, they’re all warriors,” Kara said. “Before rescuing, they were priestesses, slaves, kashra, and breeders, as well as Jaffa.”
“Kashra?” Jack asked Daniel.
“Sex slaves,” Daniel said. “Can’t call them prostitutes because they aren’t paid.”
“Correct,” Kara said, impressed.
Jack was disgusted. “I don’t recall Shaun’auc ever mentioning these roles, apart from her position as a priestess.”
Kara made a hand sign and said, “May she rest in . . .” She mumbled the last words in Goa’uld.
Jack looked at Daniel, who had immediately translated the words in his head.
“In the arms of the all-powerful goddess.”
Jack raised a skeptical brow at Kara. “Thought you were anti-Goa’uld.”
Kara raised her own skeptical brow. “Why do you assume I was referring to a fake god like the Goa’uld?”
“Because you spoke the prayer in Goa’uld,” Daniel said.
Kara, Dharian, and Egeria shook their heads, with Egeria rolling her eyes for emphasis.
Daniel picked up part of what they were thinking. “Ah.”
“Ah?” Jack asked.
“What we think of as Goa’uld is actually a combination of Abydonian orthography, aka hieroglyphics, and the Chulakian language, which the Goa’uld turned into what we think of as Goa’uld. Those parasitic beings have a name but it’s been lost to time.”
“Correct,” Egeria said. “They do not invent anything on their own. They steal and adopt.”
“Pretty much,” Daniel agreed, shaking his head. “The evidence is everywhere and still the brainwashed see someone thrown across the room with a hand device—”
“Shak’ra’kree,” Egeria corrected.
“Shak’ra’kree,” Daniel said with a nod, “and they think they’re a god. I guess it’s no different than the Tuatha showing up in Ireland four thousand years ago and the indigenous believing they’re gods.”
“Tee wutha?” Kara asked.
“The Lia Fail,” Jack clarified.
Kara’s eyes widened and she looked from Jack to her brother and Egeria. “The Fae? As in their queen, Morrighan?”
Jack held up a hand. “All of the Lia Fail are the original Tuatha gods and their descendants,” he said, making air quotes around ‘gods.’
Daniel added, “With Jack and his family as direct descendants of the half-human half-fae who remained behind when the Fae left Earth to keep the Fomor from taking over.” While Egeria and Dharian had both heard Jack when he referenced his kinship, it was Daniel’s words that finally sank home.
Before they could comment on it, the pod Jason floated within let out a single, sharp, high-pitched tone. Egeria turned and went to the programming panel on the pod’s housing unit and tapped a few outline buttons. She read the small screen and tapped a few more buttons. The machine began a whirring noise and through the window, everyone watched as the air within the pod cleared and the machine opened. Jason’s ‘bed’ slowly slid outward. When it came to a stop, Jack and Daniel hurried over.
Jason opened his eyes to mere slits and mumbled, “Where the fuck am I?” Jack and Daniel grinned.
“Wow, he’s hot,” Kara said. Jason arched an eyebrow at her. “Not my type, sorry. They are.” He raised a finger to point at Jack and Daniel.
“Damn,” Kara said, then dismissed the scene like nothing had been said as she said to Jason, “You’re on Bubastis, getting cured of the scorpion venom.”
“Valinda scorpion venom, to be clear,” Egeria said as she walked over into Jason’s line of sight. She held up a hand that had a small device—similar to the Ashrak weapon in size but not in shape—and activated a scanning light that she directed over his forehead. “What is your name?”
“Jason Coburn, Colonel, SG-1,” he said.
“Count to ten please.”
“What is the square root of nine?”
“How many revolutions does it take your planet to circle its sun?”
“Three hundred sixty-five point twenty-five days.”
Egeria nodded with a careful smile. “What is your oldest memory?”
Jason frowned and slowly reached a hand up to shade his eyes. “Um . . . kill that damn overhead light, would ya?” Egeria snapped her fingers at Kara, who was closest to the light switch. The light lowered. “Better. Oldest memory?” He paused, then his eyes widened and he lifted his hand away from his face. “Getting nipped by a kit fox because I picked up one of her cubs. Also called a kit. It became my nickname after that.”
“How old were you?” she asked.
“Um . . .” he said narrowing his eyes. “Two, I think. Grandfather said I was three but I believe I was two.”
“Wow,” Jack said. “You remember back that far?”
“Apparently, but it’s vague.” He grimaced and groaned. “Help me sit up.”
Egeria waved away Jack and Daniel as she helped him sit up.
“Who might you be?” he asked as he groaned and lay back down.
“Your healer. Pain will fade, but you must sit back up,” she said.
He groaned in rebellion, but she helped him sit back up. “My name is Egeria and I’m Tok’ra. Now, swing your legs off the table and carefully stand on your feet. There will be momentary dizziness.”
Jack and Daniel were poised on the toes of their boots to instantly assist Jason if necessary.
“How do you feel?” Jack asked.
“Woozy, disoriented, odd, hungry, and . . .” He groaned again as his stomach grew nauseous. Egeria picked up a square container and placed it into his hands. He dry-heaved just over two minutes’ time. “So embarrassing,” he said and put the container on the bed beside him. He pushed off the bed and got to his wobbly feet. He fought off another wave of nausea as he remained next to the container.
“You said ‘odd’,” Egeria reminded him. “Can you explain what you mean?”
“I feel both heavy and light. Like eating too much but feeling satisfied all the same. Best I can describe it.”
“That will do. The feeling is caused by the remnants of the nanites. That will be expelled through your waste over the next two to three days.”
“Nanites?” Jason asked with alarm. He looked at Jack and Daniel. “Are you effing kidding me?” Turning back to Egeria he asked, “Didn’t you have an antivenom on hand?”
“No. The Valinda scorpion is impossible to synthesize.”
“Okay, but nanites? Seriously?”
“Nanites are the only known method I have researched that rids the body of the toxin. Your companions arrived just in time to heal you. While the termination time is typically six days, your injection point was your spine, which then traveled immediately to your brain. You had a mere twelve hours left before expiring.”
“What?” Jack and Daniel exclaimed in horror.
“You didn’t tell us that,” Daniel accused.
“Your resultant panic would not have helped the situation,” she said. “It was best to reveal this dire situation after the fact.”
Her logic was unassailable.
“Point,” Jason said.
Egeria walked across the room and opened the drawer of a small cabinet. She withdrew a familiar can and returned to Jason. “Drink.”
“Shot gun the contents,” Jack said.
“Gotta penknife or ice pick?” Jason asked. “This can’s gotta wide drink hole. Worthless as a shot gun unless you have super strength to squeeze the can.”
“Explains why it didn’t work for us,” Daniel said.
Egeria grabbed a utensil shaped like a stylus and handed it to Jason, who stabbed the top then upended the can over his mouth as he squeezed it hard, crumpling the metal. It was empty in three seconds.
“Ah, that was great. Got another one?” Jason asked. Jack and Daniel chuckled and snorted, respectively.
Egeria held up an index finger. “Just once. When your stomach rebels from two, you’ll regret not sticking with just one can.”
“You’re the doc,” Jason said simply. He felt sleepy all of a sudden and wobbled on his feet.
“What’s happened?” Egeria asked.
She nodded and turned to Jack and Daniel. “Time to take him home.”
Jack nodded and he and Daniel took Jason’s hands in theirs. “What do we owe you?” Jason asked.
“How do you say it?” Egeria asked. “It’s on the home?”
“On the house,” Jack corrected. “Get word to us if you need to. We’ll be there.”
She stared at him, stunned. “I will,” she said.
Jack tapped his comm piece behind his ear. “ALTA, three—”
“Four!” Dharian said quickly. “I need a ride back to Abydos or another stargate. Can’t get there from here because Bastet’s locked up her stargate.”
“Ah,” Jack said, and looked at Daniel. “We still have a few days before Morrighan shows up.”
Daniel nodded. “Then we take Dharian to his ship, visit with Skaara, and go home.”
“To face a courts martial, I’m assuming,” Jason mumbled.
“No, but we’ll explain later,” Jack said. “By the way, what’s the password, Jason?”
“Donut,” and his voice faded. Jack smiled but it soon wilted when Jason’s energy flagged. “Think I’m gonna be out soon.”
“Okay, he’s fading. Dharian, say your goodbyes while we get him to bed. Daniel, wanna wait here?”
“What? Why?” Daniel asked, startled, because his only interest was in getting Jason home.
“Trust me,” Jack said. “Just … you know. Escort Dharian back upstairs because ALTA won’t respond to his order, only yours.”
“Fine,” Daniel sighed. “But I’ll be up shortly.”
Jack nodded. “ALTA, two to beam to our quarters.”
He and Jason disappeared in the swirling teleportation used exclusively by the Lia Fail.
Aboard the ship, Jack appeared with one arm around Jason and the other holding onto Jason’s arm around his shoulder.
“I c’walk,” Jason mumbled.
“No, you can’t.”
“Bull,” Jason said, a bit more clearly but he was clearly out of it.
“C’mon, stubborn little shit,” Jack said. “Almost there.” He tried to carefully lower Jason to the bed, but the man shoved him away and fell flat on his face … onto the bed, thankfully.
“What is wrong with you?” Jack asked, frowning as he pushed Jason onto his back.
“Nanny goat,” Jason scowled, and turned over, his back away from Jack. “Lee m’alone. Alwz bossin. G’way.”
Jack straightened and stood there staring down at Jason with a frown on his face. Maybe it was the bots. Jason had never been hostile and aggressive when sick, or drunk for that matter, and this situation amounted to the same damn thing. But again, maybe it was the bots. He made a note to mention this to Morrighan.
Back in Egeria’s lab, she and Kara stared at Daniel in disbelief after witnessing the transport beam from the An Croi. “You have fae technology?” Kara asked.
“No, we’re using fae technology, by permission,” Daniel said. “As we mentioned earlier to Egeria. Jack’s kin to these people and Queen Morrighan is very . . . attached. She takes her family duties seriously, I guess. Orchid Ceremony, mental gifts, the whole nine yards.”
“I see,” Egeria said, but that clearly wasn’t what she wanted to say.
Daniel detected suspicion, which made no sense until he thought he caught a stray thought that said something about the Orchid Ceremony and DNA. Conflict? “Sorry, but . . . what about the orchid ceremony is a problem?”
Both women raised their eyebrows and Kara said to Egeria, “He’s quick.”
“No, just empathic. It’s what I sense.”
Again, Egeria gave him a look of alarm. “You guys really have been busy in the last ten years, have you not? But empathic ability isn’t a human trait. Plain old empathy all the way. Where’d you pick up this talent?”
Talent? “In a spiritual and physical communion rite with some people I’m pretty sure you’ve never heard about. For one, they’re walkin’, talkin’ vampires, and far distant from the myths on Earth, apart from the minute blood they need.”
“Vampires?” Dharian asked, confused. “What are vampires?”
“This sounds familiar,” Kara said, then to her brother she said, “Tell you later.” She eyed Egeria with a mischievous grin. “Or Egeria can explain it.”
Daniel was surprised Kara had heard something about Adriann until he remembered that Adriann had been trolling the galaxy, getting rid of minor Goa’uld. “How this familiar?”
“What’s the name of this race?” she asked.
Question in response to a question is a dodge, Daniel told himself. He now wondered if he hadn’t let a little vanity get him, or Adriann, into trouble. But then again, Adriann had already been getting into his own brand of trouble. And getting rid of Goa’uld would do the trick. And besides, he wasn’t bragging about his empathy. He’d asked a very normal question, he thought. “First, tell me why the orchid ceremony is a problem?”
Egeria rolled her eyes. “Because the orchid ceremony with humans re-ages you, and that takes a little DNA rewiring, so to speak. Jason may have other aftereffects because I didn’t program the bots accordingly.”
“Okay,” Daniel sighed. “I hope the queen can fix it, if there’s an issue. As to your question. They’re called Var’chol’si and a man named Adriann is their leader. He’s a close personal friend of mine and I don’t believe I’m speaking out of turn by telling you these names.”
“There’s something . . .” Kara said, frowning.
Dharian turned to Egeria and his sister. “Okay, my lovely women. I have shit to do, stuff to deliver, so I’ll see you when I see you, sis.” He gave her a hug and she lifted him off his feet as she hugged him back. He smiled at her and for just a moment, Daniel could see them as children.
Dharian turned to him to say he was ready but Egeria held up a hand. She left the lab and a minute later returned. “Take this. It’s a gift.” She held a tall and narrow glass case inside of which were seven stoppered test tubes sitting vertically in a base made for their storage. Each was filled with differently colored glowing liquid.
EGERIA’S GIFTS TO DHARIAN
“What is it?” Dharian asked, holding it up to the light. He could see nothing but a green glow.
She smiled wolfishly. “Potions. Their functions are written on instructions found in the base.”
“Thank you, Sally.”
Another voice, soft and gentle, came from Egeria. Saliyah said, “For your health.”
Dharian kissed her on the cheek. “Thank you, Sal.”
“Be safe and do not die,” she said.
“Same from me,” said Kara.
He nodded, blinking a lot. He stepped away. “Okay, Daniel.”
“It’s been a pleasure,” Daniel said to Egeria and Kara. “I hope to see you again under better circumstances.”
“Count on it, handsome,” Kara said, winking at him.
Daniel grinned and touched the comm unit behind his ear. “ALTA, to the bridge please.”
They vanished in a swirl of energy.
Kara sighed. “He’s with O’Neill, isn’t he?”
“That was apparent,” Saliyah said as she set about locking up the nanites and the healing station. “And with Jason as well.”
“A threesome?” Kara asked, groaning. “Like I needed that image. Talk about fantasies.”
“Indeed. But did you notice Dharian’s body language?” Saliyah asked with her own wolfish grin.
Kara’s mouth dropped open. “Oh, no. Are you sure?” Saliyah nodded slowly. Kara grimaced. “He’s going to get his heart broken again, the idiot.”
“One never knows,” Saliyah said, winking. “He might just satisfy that fantasy of his.”
Kara’s eyes widened. “A foursome?” she whispered. She abruptly sobered. “I doubt they’d be interested.”
Saliyah snorted. “Then you missed the body language between him and the Tau’ri. There’s something there. Not soon, but I think it’ll happen if he behaves himself.”
Kara snorted this time. “Please. Have you seen him around handsome men with morals and ethics? He’s doomed, Sal.”
“Indeed. But that can be fun, too. Now, about that bet we had,” and she reached for Kara’s hand.
In Plain Sight
Jason was transferred to his bed, having fallen asleep standing up. Daniel and Jack were a bit worried, especially after Daniel told him about the orchid ceremony changing their DNA and that Jason might not be completely healed. The next eight hours in hyperspace went by with everyone on pins and needles. There were the questions about Jason but there questions about what lay in store for them by the time they reached home. Nerves were definitely jumping when the An Croi jumped out of hyperspace near Abydos.
Nervous, Dharian kept redoing his gear after having had a three-hour nap. Now he was restless on the bridge, eager to get back to his ship, the Witty D. As he fidgeted with his weapons and making sure every pocket’s contents still held their little surprises (a blade here, a coiled wire there), he had the eyes of Jack and Daniel on him and it was a little disconcerting, particularly since he liked them, but he was growing used to their presence, so the uncomfortable feeling didn’t last long. But now, he was leaving, so it felt bittersweet.
“Dharian,” Jack said. “I’ve been thinking of your sister and her mission. How many Jaffa women has she saved?”
Teal’c came to alertness at his words. “What do you mean, O’Neill?”
Jack winced ever so slightly. “Sorry, T. I didn’t even think of it till now. Dharian, can you explain to Teal’c what your sister, Kara, does?”
Teal’c walked down to the center of the bridge to face the smuggler, and for once, everyone saw how tall Dharian really was: nearly six inches taller than their Jaffa friend. And the smuggler’s boots had one-inch heels—like Teal’c’s combat boots.
“What is this about Jaffa women?” Teal’c asked, intensely curious.
“Okay, well, first, you are aware that Jaffa women are just as eager to get out on their own as Jaffa men, right? That they’re not allowing themselves to be used as slaves, sex objects, priestesses, breeders, and Jaffa soldiers?”
“Women cannot be Jaffa warriors in the traditional sense of Jaffa hierarchy.”
“In your frame of reference, Teal’c, but they are. When the Jaffa women are left behind after a battle kills most of the men, what do you think they do? Wait? No. They leave or they form their own conclaves. Kara finds these women and asks if they’d like to join her army of Valkyries.”
“Nice,” Sam said.
Teal’c turned slowly and raised an eyebrow at her. She gave him a “What?” look. He sighed and returned his attention to Dharian. “Continue please.”
“Kara has money, so she bought a massive transport ship with defensive capabilities. Then she and a few of the friends she made set out to free all of the Jaffa women she could find that wanted to be free. They become part of her crew. They call themselves Valkyries, after the name of the ship.”
“Kinda apropos,” Daniel commented.
“How many Jaffa women has she freed?” Teal’c asked, now slightly alarmed.
“At my last count, she’s freed Jaffa warriors, priestesses, breeders, slaves, and whores. They number about nine hundred fifty.”
“What?” Jack asked, along with everyone else. “That many?” Jack continued.
“Yeah,” Dharian said. “She’s very serious.”
Teal’c’s eyes widened along with everyone else’s. The number of women made her mission real. And quite serious.
“Was Kara a slave of the Goa’uld?” Teal’c asked.
“A trafficked sex slave,” Dharian said. “No matter how many she rescues, in my opinion, it will never be enough. Sooner or later, she’ll ask me to help but for now, I leave her to her mission. It’s Kal’nok’kree, Teal’c.”
Daniel’s eyes widened even more. “Holy war?” he asked Teal’c, who silently nodded.
“They belong with the free Jaffa,” Teal’c finally said.
Dharian shook his head, wearing a look of disappointment. “They belong where they feel free, Teal’c. Bowing to male Jaffa, like yourself, isn’t it. The men have to change, Teal’c. Jaffa women do not belong to the Jaffa men. They do not have to be with you and the other free Jaffa. Right now, they belong where they choose to belong. Many of them need to heal from severe physical and mental abuse. They are brave and fierce and loyal to those who prove to be true allies. Your attitude says you are not.”
Dharian took a step back and raised his hands. “I do not seek a quarrel with you. I merely pass on what was said to me by many of these women, no matter how painful or embarrassing.”
Teal’c slowly relaxed and nodded twice. “Such is our own moral stance on Dakara.”
Dharian’s eyes widened. “You found it?” He looked at Jack, who nodded.
“Four years ago,” Teal’c said. “We are coming close to the time where Ba’al may strike and try to take it from us. The free Jaffa women would be an asset to defend this stronghold.”
Dharian shook his head. “They’re nine hundred, not nine thousand, unfortunately. But next time we meet, I’ll let you meet some of these women. Then you’ll see that your idea of defense isn’t the same as theirs.”
“What do you mean?” Daniel asked.
Dharian didn’t remove his gaze from Teal’c’s as he answered. “Teal’c may be thinking of the standard stronghold defense where women back up the men. They do not fight beside them. They sharpen weapons, sew clothing, burnish shields, and . . . whore themselves when the fighting has ceased.” Teal’c bristled. “Tell me I’m wrong. I would love to be wrong.”
“That was the old way,” Teal’c said stiffly but slowly relaxed again. This was a man to admire but he had yet to prove himself, he thought. Still, he wasn’t wrong. “The free Jaffa at Dakara have forty-three women among them, but only five are Jaffa warriors. Jaffa Leader Bra’tac has been encouraging the others to become warriors, to leave their old titles behind.” Teal’c then smiled slightly at Dharian’s surprise. “We will find our own way, much as we were forced to centuries ago when the Goa’uld took us as slaves and implanted the primta with a new invasive ritual. Our only problem now is the need for the parasitic creatures that give us long life and good health. Though I myself no longer have a primta. Queen Morrighan’s brother took care of it, and rid me of the parasite but allowed me to keep the benefits the primta bestow on Jaffa.”
Dharian nodded. “Wish they could all be like that.”
He fished out a piece of paper as he turned away from Teal’c and strode to Jack. “Here. Get in touch with me here. ALTA should have knowledge of the communication net throughout this galaxy.”
“Confirmed,” ALTA said.
“And now, to my ship. Would ya’ll like to see the Witty D?”
It brought hesitant smiles to everyone that grew much larger when ALTA put up a video picture of the ship nearby that looked black in the angled light of the Abydonian sun.
“That’s the cutest damn ship I’ve ever seen,” said Sam.
THE WITTY D
Dharian grinned broadly. “That’s why I chose her.” He held out a hand toward the ship. “How’s this a threat, I ask you. She’s perfectly made for underestimation.”
Jack grunted. “Been a treat, man. And we owe you. ALTA, can you beam him into his ship.”
“Well, I can say the same. Hope to see you guys again soon.” He nodded at the paper he’d given Jack. “Give me a ring when you have the time. Um, ready, ALTA.”
After he disappeared, Jack opened the piece of paper. Daniel crowded in to look.
Frequency 809 on the Tarjeel Network. Give me a call, anytime.
“Aww,” Daniel teased. “He left you his number.”
Jack grinned. “ALTA, scan this and tell us what it means. About time we joined the rest of the damn galaxy.” As ALTA scanned the image, Jack softened his grin as he met Teal’c’s gaze. “What’s on your mind, T?”
Teal’c hesitated. “Once our current status is settled, we have things to discuss.”
“Concerning?” Jack asked.
“Our future,” Teal’c said wryly. Jack’s brows rose and Teal’c gave him a small smile. “It can wait.”
Jack nodded and pointed at the holographic map while giving Teal’c a meaningful look. “Let’s have a look at the known galaxy, old friend.” Jack had a feeling Teal’c wanted to talk about Dakara. But Jack didn’t want to discuss it because it was a place where Teal’c truly belonged. He had the presence of a leader, like Bra’tac. Jack had a bad feeling but he covered it up quickly.
Teal’c seemed to read Jack’s face. He bowed slightly and said, “Indeed. The galaxy.”
GALAXY COMMUNICATIONS MAP
“Well,” Jack said. “We gots learnin’ to do.”
. * . * . * .
Two days later, SG-1 approached Earth and entered a wide orbit. Jack sighed as he looked at the Pacific ocean. Home. Corny. He turned and looked over his shoulder at Jason, who stood at his security console. The man raised a brow.
“How ya doing?”
Jason grinned but there was a tremor in it. “I’m still compromised, that’s how I’m doing.” He held up a hand and even from Jack’s seat he could Jason’s hand shake slightly. “Four days asleep.” He shook his head and sighed. “Wished Dharian could’ve stayed. Wanted to thank him.”
“We’ll see him again,” Jack said. Over the last few days, Daniel and Jack slept with Jason, waiting for him to wake up. It had been a long wait and he’d awakened while they’d been on the bridge. “We’ll get some time to get you right again. Don’t worry.”
Jason nodded. “I’d like to find that bastard who planted that scorpion.”
“We will,” Jack said, certainty in his voice. “And Egeria said she’d help. Not sure how that’ll work but I’m in.”
Then suddenly his smartphone began to ring as a call came in and everyone flinched. Then the ringtone was paid attention to and everyone except Teal’c began to grin. It was called March of the Winkies, the little-known title of the soldiers of the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz.
“O-Ee-Yah, Eoh-Ah. O-Ee-Yah, Eoh-Ah.”
Sam snorted. “Is that the Pentagon or the SGC, sir?”
“The SGC,” Jack said.
Daniel swiveled slowly in his chair to look at Jack. “I thought you were going to change it?”
Jack tried not to smile but it was impossible. “Yeah, but it was a toss-up between this and the Empire music from Star Wars.” He swiped the button on the phone and answered, putting it on speaker. “O’Neill.”
“It’s Hammond,” came the tinny sound of the General, forgetting that Caller ID was automatic these days. Sam, Teal’c, and Jason moved closer to hear better. “You’re back then.”
“Mission accomplished, General,” Jack said, and Jason snorted. “Well, one mission. Um … what’s the situation, sir? Do we report for duty to continue the state mission or . . .?” Courts-Martial.
“Like hell,” Jason muttered, and Jack grinned without turning to look at him.
“That is an excellent question, Colonel,” Hammond said with a heavy sigh. “From what I understand, this gist of it is this: You will be forgiven if Morrighan acquiesces to the demands from the Pentagon. That’s assuming General Vidrine hasn’t changed the terms. Again.”
“Again, sir?” Jack asked.
“He’s been increasingly erratic in his demands. I do not know what to make of it.”
“Compromised?” Jack asked.
“That would be my assumption, given the evidence, but we’ll have to wait to see how this plays out. Perhaps . . . your queen can ferret out the truth.”
Jack raised a brow and looked around at his teammates.
What did that mean?
Hammond continued. “I suggest that you remain aboard the An Croi. And cross your fingers. Time frame for Morrighan’s arrival?”
A beeping sounded and Kaufman and Teal’c both paid attention to their consoles. Before they could say anything, ALTA did it for them.
“Queen Morrighan has arrived,” she said. “Her ship has exited hyperspace and is located between Mars and Earth, proceeding toward us. Estimated arrival time, twenty minutes seventeen seconds.”
“That’s fast,” Sam said.
Jack nodded. “Did you catch any of that, General?” he asked.
“I did indeed. I’ll relay the information and get back to you shortly.”
“Yes, sir,” Jack said, and they hung up. “So.” He looked around him, meeting everyone’s gazes. “Now the fun begins.”
“I hope we get a ringside seat,” Connor said.
“She’ll see to it, I think, but don’t quote me,” Jack said.
As the queen’s ship approached, Jack told ALTA to zoom in so they could get their first look.
THE QUEEN’S SHIP
There was silence on the bridge as they saw the scope of the ship. It was shaped like an arrow and it reminded Jack of the B-2 Stealth Bomber, only elongated and thinner. But as the ship grew closer, it became obvious that it was a massive ship, at least eight times the size of the An Croi and four times the size of the X-302 battleships.
Daniel widened his eyes and blinked a few times. “That’s what I’d call a city ship. It’s huge.”
“Colonel O’Neill,” ALTA said. “I am receiving a request for visual transmission from the Queen.”
“Open communications, ALTA.”
The queen appeared on the viewscreen. She sat on a blue-black chair, almost like a throne, with Celtic knotwork on the back and down the arms. She was dressed in a dirty black leather jacket and pants with a sword strap across her chest. Her hair was black and very short. It looked as disheveled as the rest of her. She did, in fact, look like she’d just come from battle, and so she had. She didn’t look like she was ready to take any shit, especially not any lip from her distant kinsman.
MORRIGHAN IN LEATHER
Jack cleared his throat, then rubbed at his right brow as the headache started thumping his head. “Greetings, my queen,” he said, trying not to wince but his right eye twitched.
She frowned. “Greetings, my kinsman. What i . . .” She then lifted her chin as her mouth opened in an “Aha” expression. “One moment.” She touched a button and disappeared from the viewscreen and reappeared in the middle of the bridge, still in her chair. She rose and held a blue crystal in her hand. She bent down to pass the end of the crystal over his face. It emitted a deep blue light. She straightened and frowned in consternation. “Dammit.”
“Took the words right out of my mouth, my queen.”
She sighed. “Feel free to drop formalities. I’m sorry, Jack. I did not adjust your distant DNA strand to its long evolution to today.”
“Yeah, not to mention the orchid ceremony that adjusted our DNA,” Jack drawled. “Can you fix it?”
“The orchid ceremony,” she repeated, her tone clearly saying she’d forgotten about that. “I’m sorry, Jack. This is so not appropriate, looking incredibly incompetent.” She twirled her wrist and another crystal appeared in her hand. This one was a golden yellow. She aimed it directly between his brows and the light was golden and bright. He closed his eyes against the brightness. “Apologies, my kinsman. Hold still, please.” She waited, aiming the light at his face in the same spot. After twenty more seconds, the light turned orange, then red. She pulled the crystal away and the beam stopped. She twirled her wrist again and a small white cup appeared in her hand. “Drink, but keep your eyes on mine.” She stared back, watching.
Jack found her gaze strange but did as he was told. It was her rainbow eyes. They sparkled. He drank the contents, watching her watch him and for a moment, the taste distracted him. It tasted like sweet, iced tea with heavy lemon. She touched the rim of the cup and it filled again with the tea.
This repeated two more times, and all the while she stared into his eyes. After downing the fourth cup, she nodded and stood back. He intended to hand back the cup, but it disappeared from his hand.
“Verdict?” he asked, waving at his eyes. It would be rude to wave at hers.
“You couldn’t see it but your eyes changed color until finally they returned to the normal brown. Further explanation would take too long and I don’t want to embarrass you.” She smirked. “Or bore you to death.”
He grinned back. And he realized the headache was gone. He relaxed in relief. “Thank you, my queen.”
“You’re welcome, my kinsman.” She looked up and crooked a finger at Jason and beckoned.
He rolled his eyes and walked around the console and then around the command consoles to stand before her. “Yes, ma’am?”
She gave him a careful look. She could tell all was not right with him. “Not in the mood to be polite, husband of my kinsman?”
“I’m being polite. I’m just not in the mood for reverence.”
“Jason,” Daniel chided. “What the hell?” He looked at Jack then back at Jason. They all knew she didn’t go for that fawning reverence crap. But as a queen who had helped them, she had earned the respect due her.
Queen Morrighan peered into his eyes for a long silent moment, then finally sighed. She turned her head slightly toward Jack without ceasing her gaze with Jason. “You took him to Egeria, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” Jack said. “You weren’t available, and we were desperate.”
“It’s not a problem, my kinsman. Needed verification. But he isn’t fully healed.”
“The orchid ceremony again,” Jack said. “She said this might be a problem.”
“It definitely is,” she said.
“For fuck’s sake, I’m standing right here,” Jason said angrily. “Do you even know how fucking rude you are?”
Morrighan was clearly annoyed but not with Jason. “I’m gonna have to visit Egeria and tell her a few things about her nanites. Now, hold still, Jason. We will get you right as rain. If that’s the phrase.”
Morrighan suddenly clasped his forehead, locking her fingers down. A bright amber light issued from her palm and seared into Jason’s head. He let out a scream and grabbed her wrist, trying to get her off him but she could not be moved.
Jack and Daniel jumped out of the chairs before they could think twice about it and ran to buffet Jason between them to make sure he didn’t try to fall back.
“Is this really necessary?” Jack asked above Jason’s gasps and groans.
Morrighan said nothing as she stared through her hand and down into his mind. Five more seconds passed and the amber light faded. She removed her hand and shook it. Her palm was smoking even though it didn’t look burned.
Jason sagged between Jack and Daniel and they dragged him to the bulkhead wall and led him to sit against it.
Jack turned to Morrighan. “Sorry, but could you explain what the hell just happened?”
“There were sparks in his eyes. Faint but revealing. He had a few million that had escaped the self-destruct Egeria codes in her nanites. I’ll have to send a message. She’s got work to do. It’s not her fault and it’s not yours, my kinsman. There was no way to know that the information about an orchid ceremony would be vital in treating him.”
“Million nanites?” Daniel asked.
“Million,” Morrighan nodded as she walked over and knelt before Jason. “Are you feeling more like yourself?”
“Yes,” he grated. “But man that fucking hurt.”
“I’m sorry. Couldn’t be avoided. I needed you conscious.”
“What the fuck happened?”
“Enough cussing,” she said impatiently. “Residual nanites messed with your mind. They’re now destroyed. You may have some rather sparkly stool for a few days and some very vivid dreams, if not nightmares. Won’t last more than a week.”
He made a face. “Ew. Thanks for the warning.” Jason realized how that sound and cleared his throat. “Queen Morrighan . . . thank you,” he said again, but in a meaningful and earnest tone. “Seriously. Thank you.”
She smiled. “You’re most welcome. Now . . .” She rose and gestured at Jack’s command chair as she asked him, “Are we ready?” She turned to everyone and received a head nod from everyone. “ALTA, status report on the SGC.”
ALTA appeared as before, from the waist up. She fixed her gaze upon Morrighan and said, “Minimal personnel occupies the base. However, there are approximately twenty-five people congregating around the base commander’s office, the briefing room, and the stargate’s gateroom. The stargate is in operation. There is also activity in conference room 1 in wing B. They have been preparing the room for the meeting with you. It is a replica of the conference room that is assigned to General Vidrine of the Pentagon.” She displayed an image of the interior of the conference room.
“There are thirty-two cameras and one hundred twenty-six microphones placed in this room,” ALTA continued. “The presumed purpose of these microphones is to pick up private conversations around the table.”
Morrighan nodded. “When we beam down, exchange this central chair in the foreground with our own chair, surrounded by the members of SG-1.”
“I like this avatar you are using, ALTA. Well done.”
“Thank you, Queen Morrighan. As ever, I seek to please.”
“But not too keenly,” Morrighan said, an order in her tone.
Morrighan crossed her arms and looked through the front viewscreen, pursing her lips in thought. She drummed the fingers of her right hand over her left biceps as she accepted the incoming data from her own cameras and microphones she had her crew aboard the Long na Banríona.
These men below were so stupid. They clearly felt superior despite her previous displays of power—granted those displays of power had been over the top. For a good reason. It hadn’t been enough to get rid of the Goa’uld ships. It had required a force large enough to drive home the point to the men of the Pentagon: don’t mess with the queen of the Fae. And still, they were willfully blind. It must be a mental defect. Thank the highest gods that Jack wasn’t like them, nor his crewmates.
Jack watched her pensively. “What is it, my queen?”
Morrighan sighed and waved at her throne, which was pushed to the bulkhead behind her so that she could see Daniel as well as Teal’c, Sam, and Jason—who had returned to his console. She sat down and crossed her dusty leather-clad legs.
Jack noted that the boots she wore were almost Punk, with three-inch heels and matching outsoles, and a row of buckles from the knee to just above the ankle. The soles’ tread was meant for hiking, so she’d had rough terrain to travel during her war.
“Time to let you in on the security update,” she began, and informed them of the surveillance, as well as her own. “The activity in the gateroom is suspicious. They have been sending cargo through the stargate, but no personnel. The most obvious reason is that they are outfitting an offworld base. Does anyone concur or is there an alternate reason?” Everyone raised their hands in ascent.
Teal’c added, “Do you know what is in the crates they are sending through the stargate, your majesty?”
Morrighan nodded, hoping someone would ask. “Weapons.”
Jack got to his feet. “What?” he exclaimed, along with almost everyone else. Everyone but Daniel, who nodded to himself. Jack frowned and asked, “What?”
“They’d need to use the stargate if they didn’t have a ship in orbit,” Daniel said.
“Correct,” Morrighan said. “They do not have a ship in orbit, cloaked or otherwise.”
Jack’s phone rang again, and it created grins around the room, except for Morrighan who didn’t get the cultural reference joke.
He erased the grin on his face as he answered the phone. Once again, he put the call on speaker. “O’Neill.”
“It’s Hammond,” said the General.
“Yes, sir. Is it time?”
“It is. Report to conference room 1 in Wing B.”
“On our way, sir.” They hung up.
Morrighan rose from her throne and moved to the center of the room. “No, the chair stays here. So, everyone stand on either side and behind me, if you please.” They did so, though Jason was reluctant and felt he should remain behind. Sensing his turmoil, Daniel slid his hand in Jason’s and squeezed. The group appeared in the conference room in a sudden rush of cold air with the energy beam familiar in its swirling pattern as it faded.
The generals at the other end of the conference room nearest to the door were frozen in place, looking startled. Daniel read their emotions easily and made a rude sound. “They were expecting us to walk to the conference room, perhaps from the gateroom or from the elevator.”
“Wherein lies a trap,” Morrighan said. “They are constantly underestimating me. It’s getting a bit old.”
“Trap?” Jack asked. “How?”
His question wasn’t answered as the group followed Morrighan’s lead and sat down to either side of her as she took the end seat directly opposite Vidrine’s end seat at the other end of the long table.
Vidrine made a show of looking at his watch, as if there’d been an exact timetable. “You’re late.”
“No, we are not,” Morrighan said. “We observed that this is where you were holding the trade meeting. Here we are. I apologize for not calling ahead so you could arrange some sort of mischief against SG-1.”
“They belong in detention awaiting courts martial,” Vidrine said, and gestured for two Security Force (SF) members to arrest them. Two men from security entered on cue and began to head their way but Morrighan waved a hand and a transparent field of blue energy sprung up around SG-1. Morrighan made sure she wasn’t shielded. It didn’t mean she was vulnerable. The SFs came to an abrupt halt.
“What’s the meaning of this?” Vidrine asked tartly. “You cannot interfere with internal matters regarding violations of military law,” Vidrine said.
“General Hammond? Would you care to join us as base commander of the SGC?” Morrighan asked. Hammond rose from his seat—pointedly having left two empty seats between himself and Vidrine’s group—and headed toward SG-1. Jack rose and offered Hammond his seat, and they shook hands. Hammond nodded toward Morrighan and sat down. She nodded back before returning her attention to Vidrine. “I’ve received a message stating your demands. Here is my counteroffer.”
Morrighan removed a slip of paper from an inside pocket of her black leather jacket and handed it to Hammond. “Read it aloud, please.”
Hammond did so.
The letter read:
EXPECTED PENTAGON WISHLIST:
- Defense of the planet. Probable Profiteering.
- Defense of the country. Probable Profiteering.
- Weapons of war. Probable Profiteering.
TECHNOLOGY TO BE GIVEN TO THE SGC(not the Pentagon):
- Personal body shields.
- Laser weaponry, from sidearms to rifles.
- Updated medical facilities.
- Updated uniforms to match the new dress code of SG-1. Said uniforms have a limited window of protection against fire and energy weapons, giving the wearer ample time to escape most situations.
- Planetary defense satellites.
- Laser sidearm and rifle weapons.
- Communication & Weather Controller satellites. (called Crows)
- Cold Fusion Reactor Technology, designed to power an entire country, but it is especially useful for running the Stargate and its associated program.
- Smaller everyday items:
- Migraine sunglasses.
- Medical Protocol treatment to counteract the forces of wormhole travel.
- Upgraded Air Conditioning units that do not require exterior venting. Needed for lockdown events.
- An upgraded iris for the Stargate.
Hammond looked up from the paper in astonishment. “This is very generous, Queen Morrighan.”
She nodded and held out her hand. Hammond returned the list and she set it on the table, then placed the palm of her hand over it. She didn’t need ALTA, but it was best not to show all or even some of her cards. “ALTA, project this list into holographic form.” A hologram appeared two feet above the center of the table, magnified by twenty for everyone to easily read what was written there—even backward, from SG-1’s perspective, as the list faced Vidrine.
“I object to your supposition regarding profiteering,” Vidrine said icily.
“Noted,” she said simply.
“I would like you to remove these sections that mention profiteering.”
Morrighan arched a brow. “For the future trade document, so noted. This isn’t a document. It’s a list. Move on.”
“It is offensive.”
“You really want to have that talk now?”
“What are you talking about?”
“What’s offensive is this façade you have going. Admit your corruption. It’s known. And we will find out which one of you is behind the impersonation of SG-1, who are committing treason by stealing from your allies. Again. Never mind discovering who the assassin was on Abydos.” She smiled sharply.
Out of the blue, Vidrine said, “Your speech has changed. You’re using contractions a lot more than the last time you were here.”
She arched an eyebrow as she met Jack’s and Hammond’s gazes. “I may be an alien from another part of the galaxy but wasn’t that called something like . . . misdirection?”
“Indeed it was, madam,” Hammond said.
Morrighan flicked a hand at the holographic list. “Do you object to the contents of this list?”
Vidrine drummed his fingers on the table. “No, I do not.”
“Shall we go through the presentation then?”
“Before we do, what is your price in exchange for these . . . gifts?”
“You will leave the SGC alone. That includes harassment of its teams, particularly SG-1. Their mandate also needs changing because that has been fulfilled, should this trade agreement be signed. And unlike your predecessors, you won’t be reneging on this treaty. Any violation will result in the removal of our defense platform.”
“That is unacceptable. SG-1 went AWOL. A courts martial is required.”
So, no comment on the removal of a defense platform. Just this focus on taking SG-1 out of the equation. “No it isn’t,” Morrighan snapped. “You created the trap they were forced to break out of in order to save one of their own. O’Neill has a very strong moral core that says, ‘Leave no man behind.’ That includes refusing to let one of his own die when something can safely be done to save them.”
Daniel raised a hand. “A word?”
“What is it?” Vidrine snapped.
“Speak,” Morrighan said softly.
“There’s something wrong with General Vidrine. Connected to . . . the reason behind taking over the SGC.”
“Which is?” Morrighan asked.
“We have a ship,” Jason said. Daniel stared at him in surprise. “Sorry, but I get an image of our ship and a lot of anger.”
“How do you know that?” Jack asked.
“I have no idea. Daniel can back me up where feelings are concerned.”
Daniel nodded. “It’s true that he’s hiding why he’s done all this. He’s angry and jealous.”
Morrighan narrowed her eyes then cussed under her breath. “General Vidrine. Might I have a word with you in private?”
The other generals protested but Vidrine waved them off. “You may,” he said to her.
And he found himself transported to a room aboard her ship. There were Fae everywhere and they came to a stop.
“Clear the room please,” Morrighan told them and they hit something on their wrists and disappeared. Morrighan walked to a counter with a round sink and filled a small cup with water. She drank it and set the cup in the sink. When she turned around, she didn’t display any surprise when she found him pointing an Ashrak’s finger weapon at her. She sighed again and leaned against the counter. “Open your shirt please.”
He looked discombobulated. “What?”
“You’re wearing that device that mimics another person. You have him somewhere. That much is clear. So, who are you?”
“Do you not see that I am pointing this laser weapon at your head?”
“Yes,” she said slowly. “Amara.” A piercing tone came from everywhere along with an amber light spotlighted over him and he hissed and shook his hand. The device flew off his finger and hit a wall, leaving a trail of smoke in its wake. Morrighan withdrew her sidearm pistol in an instant and destroyed the device, which exploded and put a two-foot burnt circle against the wall. She then aimed the pistol at his head. “Open your shirt and remove that device. I believe you call it a mimetic imaging device. Or at least, the SGC and Area 51 call it that.”
The being impersonating Vidrine reached between the buttons of his shirt over his sternum and removed the device. There was no “unblending” or slow reveal. One moment Vidrine was there. The next . . . it was a man she didn’t recognize. He had short brown hair, a goatee, and piercing blue eyes. He had a few facial scars partially obscured by the goatee but the most prominent feature on his face was a deep scowl line between his brows.
Morrighan almost said, “Didn’t your mother ever teach you that if you frown, your face with stick like that?” But she wasn’t in the mood for banter. So instead, she said, “Amara, identify.”
A computer voice that sounded a little like ALTA said, “DNA registration: Mark Devlin, agent for the NID, National Intelligence Division, a secret department attached to the CIA to spy on the Stargate Program and its personnel. Belongs to a secretive group within the NID called The Committee.”
“How the hell do you know that?” he demanded, looking up at the ceiling. “Who was that?” He was scrambling to lessen the damage of revelation but first, find the bitch who’d managed to steal his DNA.
Morrighan could read him like a book. After thousands of years, no matter the humanoid, she’d seen everything, done everything, and lived to regret or celebrate, situation depending. But always, she’d learned and filed the event away. The human’s call it “being street smart.” She pursed her lips and said, “Amara, he wants to meet you.”
Devlin’s eyes widened. Amara appeared as a human woman wearing a black bodysuit resembling a scuba wetsuit and was accented with neon blue lighting. She had blonde and black hair in a salt-and-pepper pixie cut and glowing blue eyes.
“Confirmed,” Amara said again when Devlin said nothing. “The information on this human is correct.”
Morrighan sighed. “How about we find out where General Vidrine is and have him released unharmed. Plus, you need to tell us who else is in your little cabal. In return, I promise not to turn you into a plaything for one of my ravens. How does that sound?”
When he turned to stone and said nothing, Morrighan waved her hand and returned them to the SGC conference room, to the right of the table between parties. And their appearance caused a minor uproar among the Generals as they sprang to their feet and demanded to know where Vidrine was.
Morrighan tossed the mimetic device to Jack, who caught it, recognized it, and swore. “Son of a bitch!” He handed it to General Hammond who instantly recognized it as well.
“The mimetic device?” Sam asked.
Jack nodded. “Here we go again.”
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Morrighan said, raising her voice slightly. “This is former NID agent Mark Devlin. I will let my A.I. tell you the rest. Amara, please appear in the conference room and state your report for all present. Position yourself behind Mr. Devlin to prevent him from getting into mischief.”
Amara appeared in human form. She gave a nod to Jack and the rest of SG-1, then turned to do the same to the Pentagon men. “After an investigation ordered by the queen,” Amara began, “I have discovered that this man, Mark Devlin, is part of a splinter group within the NID and they call themselves The Committee.” She turned her head slightly to stare at the generals. “General Mark Sylvester and General Arnold Gaffrey are members.”
Morrighan snapped her fingers and a transport beam moved these men away from the Pentagon group and encased them in a forcefield.
Amara continued. “The others are located in a building half a mile from the building known as the Pentagon. There are five in number. I must apologize for not finding their names in any database so I cannot give you their names.” She turned to the queen. “My lady, I have discovered the trail they left. They are holding General Vidrine in a building near the airbase in North Dakota.”
“The same place that rat bastard Goa’uld was holed up in?” Jack asked Devlin directly. The man said nothing.
“Beam him directly here,” Morrighan ordered, deciding that overt power was required for this situation. The Committee members needed to be taught a lesson. Don’t fuck with the Fae—and SG-1 by extension.
“So ordered,” Amara said.
“How have you discovered all this in a very short amount of time?” Hammond asked the queen.
“One moment,” she said, gesturing for SG-1 to get to their feet, although Jack and Hammond already were. They stood just as a column of swirling light appeared on the other side of the table directly across from Devlin and Vidrine appeared. He looked a little worse for wear, needing a shave, a shower, and clean clothes. He was in a worn, dirty uniform minus the jacket, tie, belt, and shoes. He had a few bruises on his cheek and jaw with his bottom lip showing a barely healed scab. It told anyone with the knowledge that he’d been captive for a while. Major General Robert Vidrine glared at Devlin as he reached into his shirt and yanked off the mimetic device and tossed it onto the table. “Son of a bitch. I’ll have your ass executed for this shit.”
Morrighan gave Amara a look and the AI reached up and grabbed Devlin by the back of the neck. “If you value your life, talk,” Morrighan said. Devlin said nothing.
“He’s been thoroughly trained, Queen Morrighan,” Vidrine said angrily. “Nothing will make him talk.”
“How long have you known about this information?” Hammond asked Morrighan again.
“Information,” Morrighan said. “It’s everywhere if you have eyes on everything and we do. Amara, like ALTA, is capable of analyzing data in rapid time and creating a report very quickly.” She tapped the right blue crystal earring. “This is a direct line to Amara, my ship’s AI. She’s been conducting surveillance and DNA identity confirmations via ALTA until we arrived, then she and ALTA expended most of their time searching for the general. This is one of the main purposes of a ship’s AI. Surveillance.”
“You have no right to condemn us for using the same methods you use,” Gaffrey spat.
Morrighan stared at him. “No one is condemning you for data mining, sir. You’re being condemned for treason.” She turned to Jack. “What was the appropriate Shakespeare quote?”
“Me thinks he dost protest too much,” Jack replied.
“That’s the one,” Morrighan said. “Where are the security forces loyal to the SGC?” she asked Sylvester.
“On mandatory leave,” Sylvester replied glumly. He knew when to cut his losses.
Jack’s eyesight grew blurry around the edges, alerting him that he was having an episode. He stood frozen as Sylvester removed a gun from the holster under his jacket and squeezed the trigger repeatedly. Bullet holes appeared in the foreheads of Vidrine, Hammond, Daniel, Carter, and Devlin. The last one hit his right ear and he went down, listening to the whisper barks of the gun as more of his team were hit. Then the blurry edges disappeared, and time reset itself.
“Gun!” he shouted, pointing at Sylvester.
“Colonel Samuels,” Morrighan said to the lowest ranking member of the Pentagon group.
The man quickly aimed his sidearm at Sylvester. “Drop your weapon to the ground. Now.” Sylvester dropped the gun to the floor and held up his hands. “You, too, Gaffrey.”
“That’s general Gaffrey and general Sylvester,” Gaffrey snapped.
“You’ve lost the privilege to assume any rank,” Samuels said darkly, keeping his gun on them and cupping his free hand under his gun hand for support. Mostly to keep his gun hand from shaking.
“Couldn’t have said it better myself,” Vidrine said.
“That outta earn you that star, Samuels,” Jack said, rubbing at his left temple.
“Funny guy,” Samuels said with a brief scowl.
“Now we call the loyal SFs,” Hammond said to no one in particular as he watched a few by the door back away, intending to flee prosecution. “Queen Morrighan, could you send all involved to the cells?”
“Amara,” Morrighan said. All of the disloyal men disappeared including Devlin, who vanished under Amara’s grip. Morrighan eyed Vidrine. “You need to get your bearings and see to your people. When you’re ready, tap this. She twisted her wrist and a small black dome appeared in her hand, which she transferred to the table.
“Ready for what?” he asked.
She was now certain that he hadn’t been behind the shenanigans over the last ten days, at least. “A trade agreement.” She pointed to the air over the table. “ALTA, please display the list and keep it there until the discussions are over.” Without response, the list reappeared.
When Vidrine read the list, he ignored the profiteering charges. He was interested in the items to be given to the SGC. “You’re willing to give these items to us?”
“With qualifiers. We’ll discuss it after you’ve refreshed yourself.” She waved a hand and her group vanished.
After appearing on the bridge of the An Croi, Connor quipped, “For cryin’ out loud. It’s like living in an episode of Doctor Who.”
Jack obligingly asked, “Doctor Who?”
“So now what, my queen?” Jack asked. She beamed at him proudly and it was a little disconcerting so Jack took half a step away from her. “What?” he asked warily.
“No headache? No pain?” she asked.
Jack blinked a few times, realizing she was talking about his thirty-second prescience episode. Successful episode. He looked inward and found no pain, not even a twinge. He sighed. “Nothing.” He gave her a grateful look. “Thank you.”
“And I won’t even mention how it wouldn’t have been necessary if . . .” She raised a brow. He realized what he’d been about to say. “Ah . . . nothing.” He gestured with his hand indicating he was cutting off his head—or more accurately, what was coming out of his mouth. “Nothing. Thought there was something, but it just clean left my head. Isn’t that something?”
She grinned wolfishly. “I just love your honesty.”
Daniel snorted. And out of the corner of his eye, where he’d absently registered Jason’s presence, he realized he wasn’t there. Daniel turned, looking for him. Jason had left the bridge. “Where’d Jason go?”
“Daniel?” Jack asked. Then he looked around and realized Jason was gone.
Morrighan held up a hand and cocked her head. “Do you hear something?”
It was acoustic guitar music. Jack and Daniel exchanged looks of surprise. And Jack remembered what he’d done with Jason’s guitar. He’d shoved it in a corridor closet. As he thought about it, he couldn’t explain to himself why he’d done that—apart from the constant sour notes because he didn’t have sufficient calluses on his fingertips. But Jason’s singing was never a problem. Still, how in the hell had Jason found it? He hadn’t seen Jack stash it in that corridor closet.
“I didn’t know he knew how to play Classical Gas,” Sam said.
“He can’t,” Jack said as he and Daniel headed off the bridge. “Everyone stay there!” he shouted, his voice fading.
“What is next, Queen Morrighan?” Teal’c asked.
She snapped her fingers and her throne disappeared before she sat down in Jack’s command chair. “I’ll give him an hour. I’ll be back here in that time.” She said, “Amara, to the bridge please.” She vanished in the blue-white transport beam.
Connor said, “I really like that beam better than the Asgard version.”
“Yeah,” Al said. “It’s prettier, all that swirly energy and sparkles.”
“I don’t know,” Sam said. “But I agree it’s prettier.”
Teal’c looked from her to the two men and shook his head. “I do not understand you.”
“That’s what’s known as small talk, Teal’c,” Connor said.
“Yes, Sergeant McCaffrey,” Teal’c said in a dry tone. “I do understand the concept of small talk. We have our own version of it on Chulak.” Sam tried not to laugh and had to cover her mouth. He grinned at her. “But I would like to make an observation.”
“What?” Sam asked.
“Queen Morrighan does not need a transportation beam to move from one place to another. So why does she use that mode of transportation?”
“For our benefit maybe,” Sam said.
. * . * .
Daniel and Jack hurried down the corridor, took the Lift halfway around the ship and up two floors when Jack said, “Here.” He pressed the button for the Lift to stop.
“We’re not there yet,” Daniel said, reaching for the Lift console but Jack waved him off as the doors opened.
“We are. C’mon,” he said, and Daniel followed him out into the corridor on the second level.
“What are . . .” Daniel began, but the music was louder.
“See, I . . . um . . . hid his guitar. I stashed it in a cupboard closet up ahead.”
“Because I lost my mind for five minute?” Jack offered. Daniel gave him a flat look. Jack sighed. “Because I didn’t want to listen to an endless round of sour notes as he tried to form calluses again.”
“Jack,” Daniel said tiredly, closing his eyes and shaking his head.
“Hey, I get it,” Jack said, and gave Daniel a pained look. “Bad, bad Jack.”
They saw Jason ahead, sitting on the floor, back against the bulkhead, guitar in his lap and Daniel’s mouth fell open. “Wait. That’s his twelve-string. He’s playing his twelve-string. The one he’d been trying to teach himself to play correctly.”
“He kept hitting the false notes, not pressing down hard enough.” Daniel frowned at him, and he put up hands of surrender. “His words, not mine. And he was so disgusted with himself that I hid the guitar. I didn’t want him trying and trying. He’s not a musician—aka, he doesn’t do it for a living, doesn’t spend sixteen hours a day playing. It’ll take him forever and meanwhile his fingertips keep bleeding because the goddamn calluses won’t build up and they won’t build up because he can’t spend most of his time playing.”
But Jason was playing. Beautifully. Without an error, false note, skips, or pauses. It wasn’t possible because he hadn’t built up calluses. And yet . . .
Jason looked up as they approached. There were tears in his eyes. They rushed forward and knelt on the floor before him, their hands on his shoulders.
“I’m alright,” Jason assured them. “It’s just that . . . I can play. I can play.” He then frowned at Jack for a moment before the frown cleared and he gave Jack a wry grin. “You didn’t latch the door firmly enough. I found it on the way to our quarters.”
“Why were you heading there to begin with?” Jack asked as he and Daniel sat down.
Jason shook his head. “I’m compromised. I can’t be on duty. And I feel . . . superfluous. No, it doesn’t make sense. But neither does this.” He strummed the guitar easily and picked out the melody quickly, easily. He then stopped and held out his hands. His fingertips were normal. No calluses. And yet he could play.
“C’mon, genius,” Jack said, getting to his feet. “Let’s head to our quarters. We have about an hour before the queen sees Vidrine.”
Jason grimaced slightly as Daniel got up and hauled him to his feet at the same time. “I feel odd. Shaky. After effects maybe. Did you get any info on this from that Egeria?”
“Just that you might experience some odd mental events or something,” Jack said. “But we didn’t expect that you weren’t truly fixed until Morrighan laid that whammy on you.”
“Oh, that’s just great,” Jason said glumly. When they entered their quarters, he turned to them, swallowed hard, and said, “Um, listen. There’s a problem we have to discuss.”
“What?” Daniel asked while Jack went to their kitchen to get some water.
“I . . .” Jason began, stopped. He swallowed hard and tears sprang to his eyes again. “I’ve got cancer. Prostate.” Daniel and Jack gave him looks of relief. Which made zero sense. “Did you just hear what I said?”
“You had cancer,” Jack said as retrieved bottles of water for the three of them. It was habit when they were back home. This was almost the same thing. Almost. He twisted off the cap and sipped. “Egeria programmed some of the bots to kill it. When we see Janet, she can run tests to verify it, but Egeria said it was eliminated.”
“And she said the bots were destroyed, but they weren’t,” Jason countered, and shuddered from the memory of Morrighan’s burning hand on his head.
Jack pursed his lips. “Maybe we can get one of the doctors on Morrighan’s ship to check you out.” Before Jason could say yay or nay, Jack said, “ALTA, would you contact Morrighan. Or maybe one of their doctors, medics, or whatever and ask them to make a house call?”
“Confirmed,” ALTA interrupted. And a second later, the Lia Fail transportation beam activated in their quarters and a blonde Fae woman appeared with what was presumed to be a medical case. She was tall and willowy, wearing a white uniform.
She surveyed the three men with raised brows. “I am Liona. Who needs assistance?”
“That’d be me. Jason. We just want to make sure there aren’t any more nanites in my system.”
“No, we want to make sure his cancer is gone,” Jack told her.
“No, we’d like you to verify both,” Daniel said.
She nodded as she set her medical case on the sofa and opened it. She withdrew a device from the case and it resembled a long u-shaped fluorescent bulb, but with a handle. “It is common to experience mental side effects, but they should pass. It is rare to experience them for more than six months.” She paused and flicked a switch on the wand. It began glow neon blue. “Stand still please.” She passed it over him, from head to toe. The light flickered rapidly and when she pulled it away, it quieted. She flicked it off and placed it back into the case. “You are clean. But there will be the residual side effects. Did Egeria explain them?”
“She did,” Jack said.
Liona made a face. “She’s competent but can be too . . . experimental with her treatments.” Liona sniffed. “Pardon me, but it is not uncommon for one of her species.”
“Yeah,” Jack said. “They’re a pain in the ass alright.”
She nodded. “Would you like me to explain the possible side effects?”
“Please,” Daniel said. “Although she called them aftereffects.”
“They’re the same thing,” she said, waving a dismissive hand. “These particular side effects are akin to experiencing . . . ghost images, like halos around a person. They are faint and don’t last more than a week. Other effects include skin itching and random ESP flashes caused by an excitation of amygdala neurons. For the itchy skin, consider a healthy solution, which is to mix together sour cream and cinnamon. For the flashes, only time will cause them to fade. It can take as little as two weeks and as long as three years.” She paused at Jason’s frown. “A word about the ESP. Jack’s type is specific and lasts for thirty seconds. Yours will manifest as hyper alert intuition. I suggest you heed it when it happens because this side effect isn’t an error.”
“Thanks, Liona,” Jason said.
“You are welcome.” She looked upward and said, “Amara, return me to the infirmary.” And with that, she vanished in a swirling energy pattern.
They blinked. “That was . . . brief,” Daniel said.
“ALTA, who is Amara?” Jack asked.
“My counterpart on the queen’s ship.”
“I think that . . .” Daniel began, but stopped when Jason abruptly sat down on the couch and bent over, covering his head with his arms. “Jason?” His husbands were immediately beside him.
The only thing that ran through Jason’s mind was, “I’m not dying of cancer.” They weren’t going to watch him die a slow death. They didn’t have to mourn him even as he lay dying. They would still be able to live and work and breath and eat without having to experience his premature death.
And still, the same thought resonated again and again: “I’m not dying of cancer.” And . . . he could have sex again. He felt their arms around him, and for some reason, it took him back about ten years or so when they began their polyamorous relationship. First Daniel, then Jack. And while the beginning of his relationship with Jack had been a bit awkward, they’d leveled out, learned to love and trust. Now there was unflagging loyalty mixed with love and he didn’t want to go without that constant reassurance. Who would?
It didn’t mean they wouldn’t disagree but it came with respect for the other’s position. There were times where they had disagreed to the point where they had to walk away until tempers cooled and rational thinking returned. Mostly, those disagreements were between himself and Daniel and between Jack and Daniel. Jason appreciated Daniel’s contrary nature, where he questioned everything not verified through standard scientific testing. And even then he was considered fringe among other scientists because he came at a problem from a lateral direction. It tended to put off scientists that would otherwise consider his position.
“I’m not dying of cancer.” Jason had no clue when that refrain would grow distant instead of being parked at the forefront of his brain. Maybe in a year or two. Or ten.
Jack and Daniel sat beside him, saying nothing. It was appreciated to no end. He couldn’t form words. Jason ran his fingers over his face and slowly sat up straight, but then he paused. He ran his fingers over his face again and frowned. He couldn’t feel the small scars accrued over his forty-something years. He took his hands away from his face and looked at the fingertips. They weren’t insensitive nor did they have numb spots.
“What is it?” Jack asked, breaking the silence.
Jason ran a fingertip over the right side of his brow. Then over his chin, and then again over his right cheekbone closer to his temple. “The scars feel gone. Are they still there?”
Jack touched Jason’s chin and turned him back and forth. “Nope. Huh. That side effect wasn’t mentioned.”
Jason wiped his eyes with the back of one hand and felt decidedly . . . stupid. “Look at me,” he half-laughed. “Crying. Shouldn’t I be happy or something? I’m such a . . . defective, as they used to say back in the day.”
Jack grinned and cuffed him playfully. “You’re showing your age, old man.”
Jason sputtered a laugh before Daniel could. “Old man? Look who’s talking.”
“Yeah,” Daniel said dryly, “we’re certainly looking our age, aren’t we?” Referring to the fact that they most definitely didn’t. He abruptly put an arm around Jason and kissed him, passionately, and Jason, slightly startled, was a little slow off the mark but he soon matched Daniel’s desire. Jack smiled and ran his hand over their heads, making Jason and Daniel break apart reluctantly. They met his gaze and offered up knowing smiles. Jack threaded the fingers of his left hand through Jason’s hair, then when he pulled his hand away, he playfully swiped at Jason’s upper lip and chin.
Jason sniffed deeply and grimaced as he reached up and scratched. He then noticed the redness around Daniel’s lips and chin. He grimaced comically and touched Daniel in the same way Jack touched him. “Yeah. Definitely need a shave. Could be worse. I could’ve kept growing while in stasis.” He shuddered comically. “Beards are okay, but since they’re against regs, I won’t be growing one anytime soon. Leave that business to Jalen.”
Jack scooched in snug against Jason, put an arm around him, and kissed the side of his forehead. “I have a feeling we’ll meet up with him soon enough since we have to go there and ask about the thieves, plus I think it’s time to redo that Var’chol’si trade deal. Providing Vidrine doesn’t kneecap it.”
Daniel moved in snug on Jason’s other side. “When’s that due?” he asked absently, taking his turn to run his fingers through Jason’s hair with a decidedly envious air. Compared to his own, Jason had thicker, silkier hair—when it wasn’t covered in dirt during some annoying mission. Or visiting Daniel on one of his rare digs.
“Not sure,” Jack said, running his own fingers over the back of Jason’s neck.
“Stop,” Jason said, closing his eyes as he flicked their hands away. “We’re in the middle of a mission, even if we’re not officially on one. Any moment now, we’ll get called, or someone will stupidly walk in.”
Jack and Daniel grinned at each other. “Were we doing anything or . . .” Daniel began.
“No foreplay I know of,” Jack said with a snooty air—followed by a large sniff.
The desired result was achieved as Jason laughed softly through his nose. “You two.” He shook his head and sank back into the couch. He opened his eyes, but they were unfocused as he drew on memories. “Remember when we had sex in Daniel’s office a billion years ago? We weren’t so cautious back then. Anyone could’ve walked in, and we didn’t much care. Totally different now.”
“We’re older and wiser?” Jack offered.
“No, that’s not it. We’re just as . . .” Daniel began.
“Libidinous,” Jason grinned.
“Wow,” Jack said, affecting surprise. “A four-syllable word. Heavens.”
“Shut up,” Jason said, then grabbed Jack by the front of his shirt collar and hauled him in for a chaste but passionate kiss. Before he parted from him, he blindly felt for Daniel’s shirt and yanked him over and down over his lap. “Hmm. What do we have here?”
“A frustrated husband,” Daniel growled, and pushed up and away. “Let’s not tease ourselves into blue balls hell.”
“Shit,” Jack said, agreeing.
“Shit,” Jason confirmed. Then suddenly, his throat tightened, and tears sprang to his eyes, alarming both men as he shaded those eyes in a lame attempt at hiding. He needed distance and got up, walking away from them. He didn’t go far.
“Jason?” Daniel asked.
“It all just rushed in at once all of a sudden. Like a rapid video playback of the last two weeks.” He swallowed. “You risked everything to save my life. And I meant to show gratitude—”
“You don’t need to do that, dummy,” Jack said.
“—But it’s why I wasn’t all that impressed with having my life saved because I thought I was dying anyway. And now I realize . . . not that I didn’t before but . . .”
“It’s heavy depression and anxiety,” Daniel said.
Jason frowned and lifted and dropped his arms in a gesture of futility. “I know that. It just snuck up on me. I guess it’ll be a while before I’m over it.” He was suddenly disgusted. “Before now, I’ve been trying to figure out what my headstone should look like.” Headstone. It hit his husbands like a gunshot. “Sorry, but I was thinking that.” He paused. “Well, that and a lot of things. Like remembering all the places we’d had sex. And remembering our first times.” He colored even more. “And I was thinking that because I was feeling pain down below and that’s why I wasn’t . . .” He waved a hand at the two of them. “You know.”
Jack leaned back against the couch and sighed. He held up his hand to Jason, who came over and took it, allowing himself to be pulled down. Jack kissed his temple. “We’ve got some wonderful catching up to do. When we’re done with this so-called mission, we’ll go home, make sure everything’s okay, clean up, then stay in bed for a day.”
Daniel groaned as he leaned into Jack who put his other arm around him. “I can’t wait.”
“Ditto,” Jason agreed. The silence that followed grew heavy. Jason knew what was coming and he really wasn’t in the mood. “Don’t even think about it,” he warned. Five heartbeats. He launched himself off the couch but he didn’t get far as the tickle brigade descended.
It’s Not a Date, Stupid
On the bridge of the An Croi, once again Jack’s phone rang with that music from The Wizard of Oz. “I’m gonna have to change it now,” Jack said as he answered. “Hello, General.”
“Colonel O’Neill. How’s Colonel Coburn?”
Niceties, Jack thought. Or just Hammond’s typical concern. “He’s fine, sir. What’s up?”
Hammond grunted. That was one thing he liked about Jack. He didn’t pussyfoot around. “I’ve a message for Queen Morrighan. Since she doesn’t have a phone, I’m relaying it to you.”
“We need to get you a comm device, sir. What’s the message?” Jack sensed a bit of annoyance from the General, judging by his tone. He didn’t like being a messenger. Jack almost asked why Vidrine wasn’t the one relaying the message but let it go.
“General Vidrine would like to suggest a more casual setting for the meeting. Specifically, my home office.”
“Ah,” Jack said before he could stop himself.
“Sorry, sir. But I detect just a teensy bit of annoyance in your voice. You learn that after ten years, sir.”
“Granted,” Hammond said. “And it’s not a problem. I am of the mind that such things should be conducted on official grounds. Such as the SGC’s conference room or briefing room.”
“Agreed, sir. Maybe he’s feeling just a bit . . . out of sorts?”
“Could be, Jack,” Hammond said, dropping ranks. “But there’s a bright side. He’s also told me that if the location isn’t to her liking, he’d be happy to meet with her at any location of her choice.”
“Sounds like he’s angling to get a look at the inside of her ship, sir.”
Again Hammond grunted. “Pass on the message, Jack. I’ll be waiting.” There were voices in the background and Jack thought he detected Vidrine’s deep voice.
“Yes, sir. I’ll get back to you ASAP.”
“Very good. Until then.”
They hung up.
Jack tapped the communication panel on his command chair’s arm console. “An Croi to The Queen’s Ship.”
“Yes, Jack,” said the Queen as she appeared on the front viewscreen, still wearing the leather armor and hairstyle as before. He relayed the message. “Hmm. What’s your opinion about this request?”
“That he’s actually angling to get on your ship, ma’am,” Jack automatically said. “Sorry. My queen.”
“Oh, it’s fine, Jack. I should’ve dropped formality with you long ago. Ma’am is fine.”
“Thank you, ma’am.”
She nodded and crossed her arms, then reached up to tap a finger against her lips. “Hmm. I suppose that location is safe, but it’s entirely inappropriate for a meeting. And it’s the initial meeting, where we size each other up. It’s entirely pointless and tiresome. But Vidrine’s probably feeling a loss of control, which is understandable, so now he’ll go overboard in regaining it. That’s the tiresome part.”
“And yet . . .” Her voice faded into the distance as looked over her shoulder and spoke Gaelig to someone out of view.
Meanwhile, Jack tried to think of a good place for the meeting. Then he grinned. “I have a suggestion. It’s not appropriate, but it does have its good points.”
“Where would that be?”
“Um . . .” he began, all of a sudden feeling way out of his depth. “A restaurant, ma’am.”
Morrighan completely shocked him—and everyone else on the bridge—when she burst out in a hearty belly laugh, full of genuine pleasure. She gathered herself after thirty long seconds, and with subdued laughter still in her voice said, “I just love you, kinsman. You’re full of surprises. What restaurant? Or rather, what type?”
“Meat, ma’am. As in cow meat. Beef, we call it.”
“For goodness’ sake, Jack. I was on Earth for quite a while. We had cows back then.”
Jack winced. “Sorry, ma’am. It’s a steakhouse called O’Malley’s. They banned us, SG-1, but you and Vidrine should have no problems, and they have a private dining room. This time of year, in the cold, it should be available.”
“Then call, make reservations for tomorrow night. Not during the day. I’ve queenly things to do before then.”
He snorted. “Come as you are, ma’am. They don’t stand on ceremony, even if Vidrine will show up in uniform.”
“Understood. I’ll just change my shirt.”
It was Jack’s turned to burst out laughing, but his duration was abruptly shorter. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Give them a call, Jack. Hammond, I mean since you’re persona non grata.”
“Yes, ma’am. Hail me when it’s set.”
She nodded once and started to cut communications but then waved at him. “One moment. What in the world did you do to get banned?”
“It’s a long story,” he said.
“Another time, then.” She cut communication and the screen went back to showing their orbit around Earth.
Daniel snorted. “That’ll be fun.”
“Argh,” Sam said. “I loved that restaurant.”
“Yep, me too,” Jack said longingly as he dialed Hammond’s number.
“Sir, it’s O’Neill. Tell General Vidrine that she would like the meeting at the private dining room at O’Malley’s.”
Hammond was stunned. “You’re not joking, are you?” he asked.
“Not in the slightest, sir,” Jack said. “For a first meeting. To use her words, where people size each other up before the real haggling begins. She didn’t say haggling, sir, but that’s the gist.”
“There is something to that,” Hammond said. “I’ll get back to you on it. How’s your team?”
“We’re going stir crazy, sir.”
“We’ll get the SGC back up and running in a few days.”
“Yes, sir. That’s the other thing I wanted to ask you about. Colonel Coburn needs some downtime to get over this cure.”
“The toxin you mean.”
“No, sir, the cure. It’s got some strange aftereffects that we were warned about from Egeria. So I was going to ask for a few days.”
“Very well. But he’ll need to see Doctor Fraiser as soon as we return to duty.”
“I’ll get back to you on the restaurant.”
“Till then, sir.”
Again, they hung up.
“What’d he say?” Jason asked.
“Wants you to see Fraiser when we’re up and running again.”
“I’d have to anyway,” Jason said, rolling his eyes, “Or Janet will have my balls in a sling.”
“There’s an image for you,” Connor quipped.
Jack snorted as he got up and turned around, looking at everyone except Daniel, who was now behind him, so he moved to the doorway. “Damn weird way to run a railroad.” At the raised eyebrows he received, he waved a dismissive hand. “Daffy Duck reference. Why don’t ya’ll chill out in your quarters. Or better yet. Al, Connor. Go home. I’m sure your better halves are chomping at the bit to get you home safe.”
At his words, the two men eagerly got to their feet. “At last,” Al said, looking at his watch. “She’ll be coming home from work right about now.”
“I gotta grab a few things,” Connor said. He thumbed at the exit.
“Go,” Jack said to them both and they hurried off the bridge.
“You too T, Carter. Got something else to do, go do it. Hammond will give us two days’ downtime for Jason.”
But they stayed put. Sam shrugged. “I don’t have anything pressing. My plants will keep. I made sure everything else was handled when I left.”
“My quarters are at the SGC, O’Neill,” Teal’c reminded him. “I prefer the quarters here on the ship. I have more privacy for meditation.”
Sam grinned. “Meaning that since we have automatic access to the internet, he’ll catch up with his TV show.”
“You brought a TV?” Daniel asked, wondering why he hadn’t thought of that. On the other hand, the laptop was easier.
“Not a TV,” Teal’c said. “My . . .” He shifted uncomfortably. “My laptop.”
Jack smiled. “I tol—”
“Do not say it, O’Neill, if you value your life.”
Jack’s grinned broadened into a huge smile and he made an X over his heart.
“What show?” Jason asked.
“Succession,” Sam said, shaking her head.
Jack, Daniel, and Jason made faces of disgust. “Soap opera of the 21st century,” Jason said.
But then Teal’c smiled. “I jest.”
“It’s G—” Sam began, but Teal’c held up a hand to silence her.
“Some things I will keep to myself.”
“I know,” Sam said, indicating that she knew what his favorite show was.
“Well?” Daniel asked, walking toward the entranceway. Teal’c said nothing, which enabled Jason, Daniel, and Jack to put forth their guesses.
“Game of Thrones?” Jason asked.
“Greys Anatomy?” Daniel asked.
“General Hospital?” Jack asked.
“That starts with a J sound,” Jason said. “She used a soft g sound.”
“Right,” Daniel said. “Gilmore Girls?”
“Gilligan’s Island?” Jack asked.
“Glee?” Jason asked.
Jack started laughing. “Golden Girls, right?”
“It is not,” Teal’c said.
“I give up,” Jason said.
“Me too,” Daniel said. “What is it, Teal’c?”
Teal’c stayed mum, but when Sam widened her eyes at him, he gave her a nod. “Very well.”
“The Godfather of Harlem.”
“Oh, I’ve been meaning to watch that!” Jason said. “What’s it about?”
“A ‘60s crime boss gets out of prison and hooks up with Malcolm X to start a war with the Italian mob that has taken over his neighborhood. It’s a prequel to the film American Gangster, and based on real events,” Sam said.
“Nice,” Jack said as he pulled out his phone to redo his ringtone for Hammond. Something that made a statement but didn’t cause immediate laughter. It took longer than expected and he settled for Clair de Lune.
“What’d you pick?” Jason asked.
“Clair de lune,” Jack said.
Daniel started to comment but his stomach growled. Loudly. He rubbed it and said, “Guys, I’m starving. Who’s up for some Philly cheesesteak sandwiches from that place by KFC?”
Everyone raised their hands, including Teal’c.
The General & The Queen
Aboard Long na Banríona, aka The Queen’s Ship, Morrighan stood in front of a full-length mirror, looking herself over as she adjusted the bodice of her plain silver gown made of a material not unlike satin but it flowed like spun silk and gave off a slight metallic glow. With a flick of her wrist, her crown appeared in her hands. It too was silver, but made from a composite of platinum and trinium, then slaked in a barrel of silver quardonia dust floating in walnut oil. It defused the natural radiation that was inherent in platinum and trinium.
The silver material formed an artistic rendering of a 3-petal lotus that lay atop a ring of tiny round moonstones. Inside the center lotus petals were large pointed oval sapphires. Her drop earrings also carried pointed oval sapphires. Around her neck was an intricate scrollwork of dark silver dotted with the same pointed oval sapphires. Only one thing didn’t match. Her footwear. Skin-tight greave-like silver boots made of a complex mixture of silvery metals that gave off a slight champagne hue, including the material around the foot, the sole, and the modest heel. She shook her left hand slightly, adjusting the Celtic knotwork bracelets and the movement caught the light of the silver rings she wore on three fingers, the same on her right hand. Each ring was like the bracelets: a band of celtic knotwork, but they also held tiny moonstones.
She felt a silvery buzzing in her right hand and raised it to look at the silver ring on the third finger. It hummed. With her thumb, she pressed the white stone that topped it.
“What is it?”
“You have a video call, Ghani,” came the voice of her beloved, Siobhan, who was the captain of her ship.
“Egeria and her host, Saliyah.”
Expressionless, she said, “Put it through.”
A holographic screen appeared in the air three feet away at shoulder height. As the communication screen blurred and refocused, it held scanlines due to the distance between Earth and Per’Bast.
“Haven’t you people figured out how to transmit across space?” Morrighan asked her.
“Greetings, Morrighan. How’re you? I’m fine, thanks for asking.”
Morrighan cracked a small grin. It wasn’t a humorous one. “What in the world did you think you were doing with a member of SG-1?”
“With whom?” Egeria said, blinking twice in an affectation of innocence.
Morrighan tilted her head slightly and her rainbow eyes turned neon lavender, intimating raised emotion. Egeria was playing coy, the reckless gardelan. “I think I shall pay you a visit.”
Egeria gave in, waving both hands in front of her. “Okay, okay, I apologize. And the answer is, I was saving his life.” She frowned severely. “If you had been available, they wouldn’t have come to me.”
“A. I am not their personal physician.” She slowed her words, giving each one a sharp emphasis. “B. I was fighting with the Fomor.”
“Again?” Egeria asked, making a face. “Why don’t they just die already?”
“Like you, they’re nearly immortal. They only way to get rid of them all is by beheading.” She paused, narrowing her eyes. “Now. Answer my first question.”
“A,” Egeria began, mimicking Morrighan. “Nanites are brilliant at arresting lethal illnesses, toxins, and diseases. B. Their side effects are minimal and—”
“He had leftover live nanites, Egeria. That is rank incompetence. I had to fix the job you botched and it hurt him.”
Egeria went pale. “What?” she whispered. She closed her eyes. “The bots didn’t detect changed DNA and they should have. I’m sorry.”
Morrighan stared at her, then growled at herself about something and most of her anger bled away. “It is possible that the reason for the malfunctioning nanites is due to the fact that Jason has had two healings by my brother. You noticed the gold tattoo of a raven on his chest? It was the result of a neuromemetic healing.”
“I’ve corrected the problem, Morrighan. But what the hell happened on Lia Fail to mess up his human DNA?”
“Magic,” Morrighan said simply, as if that word explained everything. Because it did.
Egeria made a face. “Almighty Athena. The orchid ceremony.”
“That and a magical working to fend off a mental attack.”
Egeria made a tisking sound. “But he’s okay now?”
“Not without some weird side effects that humans aren’t used to. But there was something else in his blood, Egeria. You still have samples?”
“I retain the data from everyone I heal.”
“About eight years ago or so, he was bitten by a beast on an alien planet that left its own permanent aftereffects. An animal’s instinct, for example. That too might have something to do with the nanite issue. It’s highly likely that they grew confused and jettisoned working nanites they shouldn’t have, hence the leftover bugs.”
“Confusion would only occur if the beast bite and your magical healing had diametrically opposite signatures.”
“It’s possible. Now, please don’t mess with my charges.”
Egeria laughed derisively. “Since when are the humans—”
“Not the humans. SG-1. Specifically, Colonel Jack O’Neill, and by extension, his team and those he loves.” She paused, then added slowly. “He is distant kin.”
Egeria stared at her. “Yeah, I know. But you know how that much time will have thinned the DNA.”
“He is kin. The scans told us so before the orchid ceremony.”
Egeria scowled, then abruptly pulled herself together and took a deep cleansing breath. “I see. Well, the bots have been reconfigured so there’s no need to pay me a visit to drive that point home. I don’t feel like getting in the middle of a war between you and Bastet.” She cut off communications.
Morrighan grinned smugly. “That task is done. Now to change the terms of this meeting.”
“My queen,” Siobhan began but Morrighan held up a hand, nodding.
“Yes, I know. Your worries are noted, but unfounded. Now, I’ll be heading to the An Croi to keep them apprised. Amara, beam me over. My just popping by, almost literally, would scare my team unnecessarily.” She winked at Siobhan. “You know how nervous humans are.”
. * . * .
Morrighan appeared in the center of the bridge, startling everyone because her appearance had changed: in more than just clothing. Her eyes held a faint glowing blue light, set off by her hair that began as bluish-white at the top and blended down to dark gray then black at the ends. “This is one of my old visages,” she said. “Circa 200 BCE.” She ran a finger over the top-most sapphire in her crown. “Best suited for affairs of state.”
MORRIGHAN’S QUEENLY GARB
“It suits you, my queen,” Jack said, eyebrows raised. “Any luck on letting us get back to normal?”
“Not yet. I am changing the terms of the location. We’ll dine aboard my ship and General Hammond will be joining us. He has better insight about what the SGC needs more than anyone else excepting yourselves and the other SG teams.” She paused and winked. “Besides, Vidrine’s been itching to see my ship since I parked in orbit and scared the . . . what’s that phrase? The bejeezus out of NASA and the Pentagon.”
Sam took a few steps toward Jack’s chair. “Excuse me, ma’am, but why would it scare anyone? Granted, it’s a massive vessel but it’s not that intimidating.”
“Small paranoid-prone minds, Colonel,” Morrighan said with a grin, “are easy to manipulate.” Morrighan smiled and gave Sam a longer look than usual. “One day soon, you should come aboard. I’ll introduce you to a few of my scientists. We’ll have a geek’s night out, as the saying goes.”
Sam smiled back. “That would be brilliant, ma’am. As long as we’re in town and not on duty, of course.”
Morrighan nodded. “Dedication to duty. Can’t argue with that.” She took a breath. “Now or never.”
“Good luck,” Jack said.
She scoffed by waving a hand. “Thank you but unnecessary. He’ll take what I offer. I’m here to let you know what is currently happening. And if you’ll agree, I will represent the interests of SG-1?”
“Done,” Jack said.
“Thank you, kinsman.” She pursed her lips looking at him. “I’d have you join us but you and Vidrine are like oil and water, snake and mongoose. I’d rather not upset that particular apple cart, as they say, with a sarcastic comment from you, especially since he’s not in a particularly good mood.”
“Agreed,” he said.
She nodded. “And now . . .”
She then did something the team hadn’t seen her do in a while. She posed herself as if modeling her outfit and then raised her hands over her head and clapped, disappearing in a swirl of brilliant tiny stars.
. * . * . * .
At home, General Hammond received the message to join Morrighan and Vidrine by a letter that played a musical chime and hung in the middle of the air. He was in his study, reading reports when it appeared. He got up and moved around his deck, peering at the letter.
It simply read, “Please join me and General Vidrine for a dinner aboard my ship. Please be ready in ten minutes. – Queen Morrighan.”
Ten minutes later, he was in his dress blues as a small white bubble appeared in his office and said, “Be prepared for transport.”
. * .
General Vidrine walked toward the front door of O’Malleys but came to an abrupt halt when a small neon blue bubble the size of a dime appeared to him at face level and only two feet away. It relayed the same message with the addition that said, “Apologies, the location of the meeting has changed.” He disappeared and reappeared aboard her ship and he was not happy about it.
MORRIGHAN’S DINING TABLE
He found himself in a dimly lit small dining room whose light source came from an inverted dome fixture over a round, glass dining table. The room was octagonal with hip-level wrap-around shelving and two of the sides contained digital screens. Three blue-gray chairs were placed equidistant from each other and adjusted so that the central chair, Morrighan’s chair, sat with its back to the darkened entryway.
On the table were three place settings comprised of glass plates, drinkware, and flatware, including table knives. Vidrine ran a finger over the back of one chair, testing its cleanliness. He didn’t take a seat. He was already spooked; his personal security efforts and plans had been shot to hell. He wasn’t about to compromise himself further by taking a seat, not until this queen arrived. But who was going to take the third seat? His answer came two seconds later when General Hammond arrived in his Dress Blues. At least the two of them knew how to dress for a pivotal meeting.
“George,” Vidrine greeted with a nod.
“Robert,” Hammond answered. “How is the investigation proceeding?” he asked, referring to the kidnapping. He wasn’t going to ask the man how he was feeling. He merely put himself in his shoes and knew that such a question would feel pointlessly patronizing.
“Slowly,” Vidrine said. “No sound evidence or location of a ship in orbit has been ascertained as of today’s efforts.”
Hammond nodded, not so much in agreement but with acceptance of the information. “I’ll be tasking SG-1 into finding these people and bringing them to justice.”
Vidrine frowned. “I am not comfortable with that assignment.”
“They have already begun, Robert. That is what led to the poisoning of one of the team.”
“How is that?”
“By not hiding what they’re doing. As they proceed, they’ll paint a larger target on their back. As to the current situation, allowing your double to—”
“I didn’t allow anything,” Vidrine scowled.
Hammond paused. “Nonetheless, your double purposely disregarded the health and welfare of our flagship team and that’s against code.”
“Leave no one behind. That includes allowing one of their own to die when they can prevent it. Because the double refused real treatment, they were forced to go AWOL. When their mission continues, they will be finding out who set this scorpion loose upon one of ours. It is also possible that the scorpion was meant for Skaara, who is now a Tok’ra, one of our major allies. Make no mistake, Robert. The decision to go AWOL was not theirs; it was forced upon them by the actions of your double.”
Vidrine sighed. Like Samuels, he knew when to cut his losses. “Very well.”
Both men were startled when Morrighan appeared, then doubly so by the change in her appearance. “Shall we be seated?” she said, pulling back her chair as she gestured with her hand for them to take the other seats.
“If I may ask,” Vidrine ventured as they sat down. “Why the change in appearance?”
“State function,” she said simply. “My other wardrobe was hardly appropriate, even if it was a lot truer to the situation.”
“Which was?” Vidrine asked.
“A war,” Morrighan said. “I could adopt my ancient visage, but that is a little too scary for the purposes of a trade discussion.”
“Your ancient visage included black wings, I believe,” Hammond said.
Morrighan smiled at him with a combination of surprise and approval. “It does. Part of my ancient duties included the Celtic version of the Norse Valkyries. To walk the battlefield with my attendant ravens and see that the fallen are sent to their rewarded afterlife.” She met Vidrine’s cold gaze as she picked up her glass of iced water, raised it, stared at it, and the contents turned into iced tea. She sipped and set it down. “Now then. Amara, please present 3D images of the items I am willing to share with these humans. First, the Stinger platform.”
“Confirmed,” Amara said, disappearing and in her place was a simple collage photo of advanced machines in space, orbiting a planet.
The images separated into 3D models over the middle of the table, slowly turning in place to show all angles. “This is the Stinger defense platform. The module is part of the Stinger base, and they are deployed when the planet is under attack. The satellites are arranged for tactical surveillance and when a threat is perceived, the data is relayed to the platform and the modules are deployed. The spokes you see are the release units for the plasma lasers. Plasma laser technology is two things. One, it will damage an invading force sufficiently to make them back off. Second, it emits a defensive shield first, and has to drop it to fire.”
She waved a hand and the pictures turned into video, demonstrating their abilities. A ship approached a planet, and the platform deployed the modules which set up a line of defense. When the ship fired on the platform, the modules turned at the same time and a shiver of energy fluctuated, revealing a shield wall that surrounded the planet. When the ship fired again, the modules spun in place, ejecting blue torpedoes that hit the ship, damaging its shields. When the ship fired again, the torpedoes turned into blue-white lasers that cut the ship into many pieces.
When the demonstration was done, the video returned to the flat image format. “Training is required,” Morrighan said, “and Fae technicians will be available until that is accomplished. Typical training time is two months, Earth time. The purpose of this time frame is to ensure that the knowledge is so familiar it becomes a reflexive action. But just so you know, the platform, modules, and satellites cannot be reverse engineered. Any tampering will result in automatic shutdown. As for their deployment, that is something that the An Croi will do, guided by the ship’s AI. Any questions so far?”
“What does the training involve?” Hammond asked.
“Tactical scenarios to familiarize the technician with its functions. Then maintenance of the systems. The platform is self-sustaining and performs its own maintenance, but it does need occasional inspection to make sure it is operating properly. A typical problem would be interference of function caused by stellar phenomena such as solar flares, gamma ray bursts, and asteroids. In the event of a malfunction caused by these things, the adjustment must be hands-on. That means boarding the platform to adjust the onboard computer systems. The An Croi can help there, though your own transportation to the platform is acceptable.”
Vidrine nodded. “What creates and powers the plasma lasers?”
“The sun,” she said simply. “Well, that and the chemical makeup of the plasma. The combination produces a never-ending supply of energy—which can also be used to power anything needed on the surface, excluding weapons. For example, a single power plant using plasma laser technology will provide digital electric energy for the entire planet. Even at night. Fae technicians can instruct several agencies to work as one to outfit your entire country. Location best suited for this work is Kansas, as it’s nice and flat. Mountainous area don’t interfere with the power plant but it’s best to start on an even spread of land which can spread outward like a spider’s web or, if you prefer, a wagon wheel.”
Vidrine took a long breath. “Impressive. And thank you, my queen, for this gift.”
“You’re welcome, but I am not finished. Amara, second demonstration images please.”
Morrighan pointed at each item and then drew them out into separate images. She knew that Vidrine would be far more interested in the pistol and rifle, so she started with those.
“These two items are plasma laser personal weapons. They shoot a millisecond’s worth of fire power per trigger release. The structure of the weapons are not solar-powered, but their capsules are, like a magazine with leaded projectiles. The capsules are what’s used instead of bullets and a magazine. You should set up a firing range for hands-on demonstrations.”
She paused, then said, “The other items are for the teams. Trackers of various types. Two of them will let you locate naquadah and trinium without using dangerous radioactive charges that torpedo into the earth. And one last thing, which is for your infirmary. Amara, the wand please.”
What appeared next was the same device Liona used on Jason. “This is a medical wand, intended for Doctor Fraiser. A scanner. It is safer, faster, and won’t tax the electric grid of the base. The handgrip of this device contains a small computer system. There is no separate console. It will tell the doctor what ails the patient, and can detect everything from a bacterial infection to a deadly virus to a Goa’uld symbiote.”
She thought you could almost see Vidrine’s eyes glaze over. She looked at Hammond, who was giving her his full attention. She nodded and said, almost as an aside, “I think I’ll explain the rest in the briefing room at your earliest convenience. Have several teams join us. Let me know.”
He looked a little taken aback, but he nodded. “I will do so,” he said.
“What are you talking about?” Vidrine asked. “We have people to meet in the Pentagon where you will attend a briefing that will explain these things to our President and the Joint Chiefs.”
She lifted up one side of her mouth. “I understand arrogance. I have a lot of it myself. But it can breed errors in judgment if you’re not careful,” she said, and leaned over her plate and whispered, “That means, I do not work for you. I do not have to do anything. If you want a meeting to explain these things to your president and the joint chiefs then set it up and then ask me to attend.”
“If you wish SG-1 to remain SG-1, I suggest you adjust your attitude, ma’am,” Vidrine said, finally showing his colors.
Morrighan stared at him, then looked at Hammond. “I know you’re not in agreement with this tactic.”
Hammond scowled at Vidrine. “Quite correct, madame queen. I am not.”
“General Vidrine, you’re under the very wrong assumption these things come for free.”
“General Vidrine,” she said sharply. “Here is my price. Leave the SGC, and especially SG-1, alone. Mess with the SGC, or SG-1, in any way, and these gifts to the Pentagon will disappear.” She made a gesture of opening her hand and spreading her fingers as if she’d just let something go into the air. “Poof. Gone.”
“You’d leave the planet in jeopardy for a team?” he snapped.
“On the contrary,” she said. “The devices stay where they are. Who controls them, on the other hand, will change. That is my very conditional price. Now, are you going to be reasonable, or do I assign control to the SGC and SG-1 and not the Pentagon? Learn to cut your losses and take the high road. I think I read that in a magazine.” She then winked at Hammond, who tried his best not to smile.
One More Gift
Morrighan and General Hammond appeared on the bridge of the An Croi. Before Jack could ask, she waved a hand and returned to her black brocade dress and dress jacket.
“Apologies,” she said to Jack. “I found it necessary to appear in royal garb for what was essentially a state function.”
“Was that your regular, or true form?” Daniel asked.
“Yes and no. Any form I take is my true form. But Vidrine won’t take a monarch seriously if they’re not dressed appropriately.” She nodded to Hammond. “Now, he’ll explain. Right now, I need to oversee the installation of the new defense platform. I’ll explain later. But. There’s one more gift to bestow, and that is for my kinsman.”
Jack almost groaned aloud and reminded himself to behave. “I hope it’s better than the ESP. No offense intended, my queen.”
“None taken,” she sing-songed in disappointment. She rolled her wrist and held out her hand. A transport beam sent something into her hand.
JACK’S NEW GIFT
It was fourteen inches long and made of silvery metal with neon blue plasma sections including a chamber just behind a silver pointed tip. She held the device in her hand, grasping it below the center instead of near the head.
“You hold it here so that your thumb can easily find the flat switch, which you only press once. Once you do, a beam of plasma laser will extend, and you will be holding what we call is a plasma sword.” She held it out to him, base first.
Jack took it. “Sword, huh?” he asked, adjusting his grip.
“Stand away, everyone,” she said to the room. Give him ten feet in all directions.”
Jack raised a brow and went to the center of the room. He examined the device then placed his thumb over the switch. “Not sure what use I’d have for a sword.”
She smiled. “You’ll work it out. I had it made. I couldn’t resist.” Her smile turned vulpine. “I believe that on your world, it’s called a lightsaber.”
His eyes grew wide. “What?” he breathed. He pushed the button. It made the same sound as that seen in a Star Wars film, as it extended and gave off the well-known vibrational hum. “Holy shit,” Jack breathed again. He made an X in the air. “Holy shit,” he repeated. He shut it off and turned to her. “Sorry, it’s just . . . thank you, my queen. Thank you very much. It’s too bad we all couldn’t have one.”
She waggled her hand. “It’s made of a rare metal that won’t melt from the heat of the laser rods. Now, make sure that you train with it, and that you do so on the mountain or another location where damaging the surroundings won’t matter—although try not to set organic matter on fire. Now, I must be off to arrange demonstrations of the defense platform. I’ll be dealing with this for the next three or four days.”
“And us?” Jack asked.
Hammond finally spoke up. “We’re back in business, Colonel. It will take a few days to get things in order, so you have until Thursday. Report at 0800 for the briefing on the continuation of the rogue mission.”
Hammond nodded and gestured at Morrighan. “Been a pleasure, madame Morrighan.”
“It has. Thank you, General.” She handed him a black item the size of a cellphone. “My direct line while I’m in orbit. We’ll coordinate tomorrow to keep you abreast of the talks at the Pentagon.” She vanished and so did the General.
Everyone rushed forward to see the lightsaber, which Jack dutifully enabled and handed to Jason, who handed it to Teal’c. It was passed around and back to Jack. He turned it off and looked down at himself. “Needs a special holster.”
“You know,” Daniel began. “It would be weird having eight of them. Just one sort of mirrors the movies. How rare they are, I mean.”
Jack grunted. “Yeah, but I’d love to have seven more, but I guess I can share.” He winked at Sam. “For now, let’s go home. ALTA, continue on standby.”
Jason was altogether antsy as he rode home in Jack’s truck. The feel of Daniel’s thigh against his own, the warmth of his body, was almost enough to make him dizzy. Sex. Sex with his husbands, his best friends. But strangely, they didn’t seem to be of the same mind. They were talking about chores, of all things.
Get this squared away, get that squared away. While he was pretty sure there was a little tidying up to do, but it could wait, dammit. The only thing on his mind was sex. And food. Food and sex. Not at the same time. He’d never really been into that sort of thing. Although . . . was whipped cream a food, strictly speaking? It’d been a while since they’d indulged there. But Jason didn’t want that. He wanted skin and friction. Hot, sweaty skin and friction. Oh, and tongue. Yep, tongue.
“Jason?” Daniel asked, in a tone that said he’d repeated himself.
“Huh? Sorry, what?”
“We’re going to stop for take-out,” Jack said.
“Whatever,” Jason said, then was momentarily distracted when he remembered that once upon a time, he’d told these gorgeous men that he hated it when someone answered with “Whatever.” “Sorry.” He glanced at Daniel, who looked mildly worried. “What?”
“What bug’s crawled up your butt?” Daniel asked.
Jason took a breath and let it out slowly. “All I want right now is to be in bed with you. I could be a lot more graphic than that, but it’d ruin the romance. You guys have no idea how hard it’s been, thinking my manhood was going to hell.”
Daniel took his hand in his and squeezed and leaned in to plant a chaste kiss on his lips—they were in the truck, after all. He said nothing because he didn’t need to. What could you say to that anyway? But he agreed with Jason on one thing. They needed to be in bed, pronto. He slid his hand over Jack’s tight thigh, squeezed slightly, and removed it. Just a little flirty business that won’t end up with Jack driving off the road.
Jack gave him a glance as they stopped at a red light, then looked past him to see Jason’s profile as the man stared out of the window. It occurred to Jack then that some of the fine lines Jason had around his face had disappeared, so it wasn’t just the scars. Come to think of it, he thought, that sounded like a really nice mapping expedition with his tongue. Maybe not around the face, but other areas where the scars had disappeared. There was one particular spot on Jason’s hip . . .
. * .
After picking up the mail and entering the house, the three men went in different directions. Jack took the pizza they’d decided upon upstairs and Daniel met him from the back stairs that led to the barbecue pit. They grinned at each other and went into the bedroom together to get things arranged.
Jason was in the kitchen, grabbing a few beers and a hard cider for Daniel, when he heard Daniel’s voice.
“Jason,” Daniel sing-songed.
“I’m coming!” Jason snapped, annoyed for no reason other than his own frustration. He grabbed the bottle cap opener with a pinkie finger and headed upstairs to their grand bedroom. A wonderful way to spend their money. He was only just now getting his bank account fattened up after going in with Jack and Daniel on building this house for them but goddamn it was worth it. Their house was gorgeous, and especially the bedroom. It was such a comfortable place that one was loathe to leave it every morning. But for the next two days, no one would leave this room except for leg-stretching and bathroom visits. Jason abruptly test sniffed under his left arm. Sweaty but not sour. He was okay ther—
He stood in the bedroom doorway and stared at the four-poster that faced the door. Their bedroom was large, decorated in complimentary blue furnishings with the brown of oak wood, with the style a mix of modern and Victorian, and the latter mostly for a few chairs and lamps. The windows were high, multipaned, and the light of the sunset came through there and the domed skylight. It made interesting geometric light shapes at sunset and sunrise.
But what had Jason’s attention were the two gorgeous men laying on the bed, waiting for him. Nice and naked. Jason stepped into the bedroom and raised the bottles. “Now, or after?” He knew the answer as he set them on the small coffee table.
“After,” Jack said, and looked at Daniel for confirmation.
“After,” Daniel said with grin. “Now, are you going to get your ass undressed and in this bed or do we have to waste energy coming after you?”
“Decisions, decisions.” Normally Jason would take that for a dare. Not today. He stared at them, still smirking as he began to undress. But the smirk soon turned into an intense focus of desire and by the time he moved around the sofa to kneel on the foot of the bed, he was just as buck naked as his husbands. He suddenly realized that they were staring at him in a weird combination of confusion and lust.
“What?” he asked, moving forward on his knees between them before sitting back on his calves.
“You’re . . .” Daniel began, running hands over Jason’s buff chest.
“Smoother,” Jack said, but that wasn’t quite right.
“Younger?” Daniel offered, but that too wasn’t right.
Jason looked down at himself. “What? I look the same.” He ran a hand over the golden raven tattoo that lay over his left pectoral muscle and then slid his hand down his flat belly. “Wait.” He ran his fingers over his belly below the navel. “There’s no scar.” He raised his brows and looked at Jack and Daniel. “I had a horizontal scar here, remember? Two inches long. Son of a bitch nearly disemboweled me in Taiwan.” He ran fingers over his ribs. No scars. Down his hips. No scars. “Look on my back,” he said, turning.
Jack and Daniel peered at him. The healed bullet wounds were gone.
“They’re gone,” Daniel said, on his knees. “C’mere,” he said.
Jason looked at him. “I’m already here.”
“No, sorry, bend over a little,” Daniel said and reached for Jason’s forehead, then beyond it into his hairline. There had been a half-moon scar caused by a broken bottle. “Yep. Gone.”
Jason shook his head. The scars he’d accumulated over nearly fifty years were gone. Jack smirked at him and pulled Jason to lie on his back. Daniel lay back on his other side, catching an odd look on Jack’s face.
“What?” he asked as both he and Jack faced Jason, their hands running over his skin. It made Jason’s dick twitch and Daniel smiled smugly. “What?”
“The nanites thought the scars were flaws that needed correcting,” Jack said. “Put you back to beauty base zero.”
Daniel started laughing. “Where on Earth did you learn that phrase?”
“I don’t remember. Some magazine, I think.” He ran a hand down Jason’s belly. “Point is, you’re a virgin again, Jason.”
Jason’s mouth dropped open as he instantly denied that notion. “That’s stupid. Besides, virginity is a construct, not something real. If I went without for the next forty years, I’d be a virgin again. It’s just experience, Jack. Bugs can’t get rid of that.”
“Jason, my Jason,” Jack teased. “You’re talking yourself into that theory. The body remembers, even after forty years or twenty.” He ran his hand over Jason’s stirring cock and down over his balls as he leaned over and captured his mouth with his own. Jason couldn’t help but moan as he whole-heartedly responded.
Daniel reached beside him to snap the cap off the tube of lubrication. “I’ll bet you a hundred bucks he’s right.”
Jason broke Jack’s kiss. “You’re on.”
Daniel handed the lube to Jack. “You taking the bet?”
Jack shook his head. “No need. I’m damn certain. You’re a virgin, baby.”
Jason blushed. “Prove it.”
Daniel leaned in for a kiss and as he reached down to stroke Jason’s cock, Jason turned toward him, giving Jack his backside. Daniel passed over the lube and Jack spread a dollop of gel over his fingers and reached down to slide them over Jason’s anus. There was an instant puckering instead of the eager relaxation of his sphincter muscles.
“What the . . .” Jason began, meeting Daniel’s gaze with wide eyes. His mouth dropped open as Jack inserted a finger, finding a tight entrance and rectum. “I don’t believe this,” he breathed as his body eagerly accepted Jack’s caresses . . . even if it was a little tight.
Daniel stroked his cock and kissed him again, speaking over his lips. “This should be a great time for role play but . . .”
“Next time,” Jason breathed and pulled away to turn toward Jack. He yanked him down for a deep kiss as another finger entered him and he moaned in shock.
Then Daniel’s mouth was on him, moving down his body until he took him in his mouth and sucked him to aching hardness. When he pulled up and licked over his glans, he murmured, “It’s like starting over. How’s it feel?”
“Uh . . .” was all Jason could say because Jack applied more lube on his fingers and slathered it over both his cock and Jason’s anus. When he rubbed against the puckered hole and pushed, Jason groaned loudly, eyes wide at first, then closed tight.
“I think I owe you a hundred bucks,” he breathed, and then stuttered, “Oh Jesus.”
Daniel bent over Jason to plant a passionate kiss on Jack, who reached down to stroke him just the way Daniel liked. It soon had him aching.
“Come here,” Jason said, pulling Daniel’s hip to let him know he wanted to put that aching member into his mouth. It was difficult, paying attention to both Jack and Daniel, but it had been a while since he’d been double-teamed and he was enjoying the hell out of it. The men arranged themselves so that Daniel could lie comfortably on his back so that Jason could easily suck him while Jack’s rhythmic thrusts drove him nuts. And Daniel could easily get off watching the two of them, but Jason’s mouth made it better.
It didn’t take long, but it didn’t matter. It was all a painful type of bliss for Jason, who didn’t come until it was Daniel’s turn to enter him. He writhed in agonizing ecstasy as Jack moved down and took him in his mouth and the two of them synchronized to three blinding climaxes.
When all were sated—for the time being anyway—Daniel retrieved the bottles and uncapped them, handing Jack his while holding onto Jason’s. Their husband lay drenched in sweat, eyes closed, half-dozing.
“Want your beer?” Daniel asked him.
“Yeah,” Jason said, but he rubbed the butt end of the bottle on his forehead and around his face.
“You spill that and you’re on laundry duty,” Jack warned.
“Bite me,” Jason said. He opened his eyes and pushed up on an elbow. His cock twitched from the idea in his head. “How about some beer-flavored cock?”
Jack smiled wolfishly. “When I’m up and running, I’m all for it.”
“Hard cider for you,” Jason said to Daniel, who leaned over and kissed him deeply . . . while touching his bottle to Jason’s belly, close to his cock, making Jason break off with a sharp inward breath. “Whoa, stop, stop!” Jason protested.
“You sure about that idea?” Daniel asked.
Jason lay back. “I’m up for anything at this point but I need a little time.”
“Don’t we all?” Jack asked as his cock surprised him with a little jump of agreement. It would be about another hour and a half before they fully wound down. Jason couldn’t have been happier. And healthier.
Jason slowly awakened to a mixed smell of chlorine and coffee . . . and an empty bed, which explained the combo smell. Groaning, he flexed his shoulders as he rolled over and sat up, swinging his legs off the bed. His feet hit the plush area carpet and he grasped it with his toes, luxuriating for a moment. He was jarred out of his drowsiness by the tinny sound of his mobile phone’s ringtone. It played Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love. He grinned and wandered over to where he’d dropped his jeans and fished the phone out of the back pocket. Caller ID said, “Unknown Number.”
He rolled his eyes and answered, saying, “Guess what? I’m a secret agent with a specific skill set and I will find you if this is a bullshit call.”
On the other end, a familiar voice spoke with a laugh behind it, “That’s funny. Me, too.”
“Alex!” Jason exclaimed, a broad smile covering his face. “What the fuck’s up, dude? You coming home or what?”
“Um, not for long.” He hesitated.
Jason’s smile died. Something was wrong. “Come over. Now.”
“I . . . can’t. I have . . . company, not the good kind either. Family.”
Jason narrowed his eyes as his memories called up all the things Alex had said about his family. “So . . . you can’t talk?”
Distant, cold. It told Jason everything he needed to know. Alex was in trouble. “Have you talked to Al and Connor yet?”
“No,” Alex said. “I’ll see you at the base for a minute, but I’m leaving tomorrow morning to go back to Bavaria. I’m . . . resigning my commission, Jason.”
Jason was silent as he ran through a few predictable responses from Alex in turn.
“I’m here. I’m thinking.”
“Well, I’ll be seeing Hammond in the morning, probably around 9. Get here by then.”
“Yeah. I will. Tomorrow then.”
Alex hung up. But before he’d hung up, Jason heard another voice.
“Hang up. We’re late.”
It had been faint, but he hadn’t misheard. “Fuck,” Jason murmured as his mind raced. Why now? He thought rather selfishly for a moment, then shook off that thinking and tried to work out how to help Alex.
“Good morning,” Jack said, exiting the bathroom. He wore his light gray plush robe and was using a darker gray hand towel to semi-dry his hair. Which meant he rubbed his head with it and let it stay messy until he shaved. But this time, he stopped. “Jason?”
“Yeah,” Jason said, nodding, but he wasn’t paying attention.
“Jason?” Jack repeated as Daniel walked in with two coffee mugs. He sent him a warning look and Daniel’s brows rose. He handed Jack his mug and walked over to Jason.
“Here’s your coffee,” he said, handing it to him.
“Thanks,” Jason said, taking the mug, but his attention was still on Alex. And that other voice. He turned to them and explained what had just happened as he sat on the bed and sipped at the hot coffee. “Something’s very wrong. He loves this job. He hates his family. Hates. Bunch of racist bastards. His grandfather once told him that if he ever found out that Alex was having sex with a guy, he’d have him castrated. The rat bastard is uber rich so it’s not an empty threat.”
“The other voice,” Daniel began. “Did it have a German accent?”
Jason thought about it. “No. American. Western U.S. Maybe Western Canadian but I doubt it.” He shook his head as his anger began to rise. “Someone’s fucking with him. How do we find out who and why? He wouldn’t explain on the phone. Well, that’s not true. He didn’t say shit except he’s resigning and he’ll hand over the paperwork to Hammond tomorrow morning. If I wanna see him, that’s when I’ll be able to. But guys, he’s in trouble. I could tell by his tone. It’s always a dead giveaway for me.”
“That other voice sounds like a minder,” Jack said. “A babysitter. Handler. Whatever.” He strode over to his jeans laying on one of the pseudo-Victorian chairs and dug in the right front pocket for the round comm device they all wore behind their ears and tapped it once. “ALTA, how’re you doing this morning?”
“Operating at peak efficiency. How may I help you today?”
“We’ve got a mystery and potential life-threatening problem to solve.” He explained what had just happened. “Do you have any advice on how to proceed? And by that, I mean, is there anything you can do on your end?”
“Yes,” she said. “As I have access to SG-1’s mobile phones, both private and SGC, I am able to track the phone call back to its source and use it as a surveillance tool.”
“Holy shit, really?” Daniel asked.
“Really. Do you wish me to proceed?”
“Yes,” Jack said. “Proceed. Can you present the data here or do we have to beam aboard?”
“I can project it to your location.”
“Excellent, do so please.”
“Confirmed. Please stand by for ten minutes while I accumulate the GPS data from his phone and extrapolate using other devices nearby.”
Daniel winced. “That’s a scary amount of control.”
“Yeah, and we can argue both sides of that issue later,” Jack said. The guys took that time to get dressed and head down to the kitchen on the first floor of their large house. Jason sat at the breakfast bar and ran the fingers of one hand through his thick, black hair. Jack eyed him as he sipped at his coffee. Alex had issues but he was essentially a decent guy. He was just a little confused about his sexuality.
Jack remembered their trip to Hawaii when Alex had arrived unannounced to “visit” Jason and chill out on a tropical beach. It was Jack’s opinion that he’d gone there to see if his feelings were real or just some insane itch to scratch. In the end, it was the itch. They were very good friends now, so at least both men had worked it out. And last Jack knew, Alex hadn’t seen anyone since he and Cari Carmichael had called it a day, but then Jack wasn’t all that curious because it was none of his business—until it became his business. Like now.
“Take a breath, Jason,” Jack said gently as he saw Jason’s foot tapping on the floor.
Jason stopped the tapping, closed his eyes, and breathed deeply. He looked up at Jack, then past him at Daniel who was standing at the stove, cooking bacon. He gave them both a bittersweet smile. “I still feel desire for him. But it’s that distant kind, you know? Where it doesn’t enter that zone. The one that makes you distract yourself with periodic thoughts of being together until you come to that proverbial crossroad where you either indulge those desires or put them in a trunk and forget about them.”
He grinned as he looked at Daniel, who looked back with raised brows. “That’s where my head was at that day in the base shower. I was entering the locker room and saw your stuff, heard the shower, and went to my locker. And I kept thinking of you. And thinking. And thinking. Then I said, ‘Fuck it,’ and went to you.”
Daniel’s smile turned mischievous. “Best damn shower at the base I’ve ever had.”
Jason blushed a little and cleared his throat. “Yes, it was.” He sipped his coffee and sniffed. “Anyway, my mind stopped going there with Alex a long time ago. Now, he’s one of my best friends, like Al and Connor. And if he’s in trouble, I gotta help him.”
“We,” Jack corrected. “He’s SG-1, Jason.”
“We,” Jason said, nodding. “I’m still not used to that in my head. I still keep thinking SG-1 now has two leaders.” He made a face. “Sorry.”
Jack shook his head and reached over to playfully tug at Jason’s thick crop of hair. “Don’t blame ya.” He then looked at his watch just when ALTA sent a triple beep through the comm device, which was now lying on the breakfast bar.
“Colonel O’Neill, I have completed the analysis. Though the subject matter is fluid and changing, here is the current situation as the data suggests.” A map appeared, showing Colorado Springs. It zoomed in until it was a moving satellite image in infrared. It showed Alex’s apartment from a top-down viewpoint. There were eight people in the apartment and one of the moving images was highlighted in red. “The red dot is Alex Wagner. From his movements, he is not free to walk around his apartment.”
They watched as a light gray dot followed Alex. Other shapes were in shades of gray, outlined as a sofa, bookcase, or TV, but the occupants were light gray. Alex sat on the sofa and the gray dot shadowing him stood behind him, not sitting down next to him. The other gray dots paced back and forth, then something odd happened. All at once, the dots stopped moving. They were stationary for the most part but a few of the dots wobbled in place. The one of the dots converged on the red dot and other gray dots converged on the two that overlapped.
Jason stood up as Daniel walked in to join them. “What the fuck?” Jason breathed. “ALTA, is he being assaulted?”
There was a quiet two-beat, then, “Yes.”
“Son of a bitch! We gotta get him out of there!”
“Wait,” Jack said.
“What the hell do you mean, wait? If that was Sam, do you think you’d be waiting?” Jason snapped as he leveled a glare at him but Jack grabbed his shoulder and pointed.
The other gray dots began to back away from Alex, taking his attacker with them. Alex’s red dot suddenly moved from the couch and launched himself at the pack of gray dots, ostensibly to return fire on whomever it was who attacked him.
“Good for you,” Jason growled.
Alex was seemingly pushed away but the back and forth went on for another minute before Alex walked away from them and into another room.
“That’s the bathroom,” Jason said angrily. “Cleaning up. Why aren’t we beaming him out of there?” he asked, though he had a pretty good idea why not.
“We need to know what’s going on,” Jack said. When Jason opened his mouth to argue, Jack held up his hand. “Think, Jason. Take a breath and think. Alex knows us. He knew we would take action. He knows what ALTA is capable of, right?”
Jason frowned and had to think back. “No. He wasn’t with us the last few weeks. He only knows that we have a ship, it’s in orbit, and it’s badass.”
“So he wouldn’t know what she’s capable of,” Daniel said, “but he knows about the comm devices. He was given one! ALTA, is that how you’re picking up the conversations?”
“Pipe it up here, please,” Jack said.
There was another two-beat, where Jack figured ALTA was deciphering the cultural catchphrase. “Attend.” The audio began, catching someone in the middle of a sentence.
“—if you don’t get a hold of yourself, Colonel. You’re not the only one at risk and you can’t push people we need. This operation has to be top-notch or it won’t succeed, so you rein in that mouth of yours and stop provoking him.”
“In case you’ve suddenly become deaf and dumb, Colonel, he started it. Muzzle him or I will.”
“Yeah, real badass you are,” said a third voice. “Attacking him while he’s in a sitting position. Fucking coward.”
“Enough!” said the first voice. “Both of you, muzzle yourselves. We need his knowledge. We can’t proceed without it.”
“You should’ve taken the other one,” said the second voice, the attacker. “This one wasn’t in command of SG-2. He doesn’t have leadership’s knowledge. Unlike SG-1’s little do-gooder.”
“There’s more than one, Colonel. Who’re you referring to?” said First Voice.
“That little bastard who started it all, and I’m not talking about Colonel Do-Gooder. I’m talking about Doctor Do-Gooder.”
Daniel clenched his jaw. He, Jack, and Jason recognized the second voice.
Colonel Frank Simmons.
“Cut audio, ALTA,” Jack ordered.
“Can you identify the speakers?”
“Confirmed. However, it is a partial confirmation. Four of the eight speakers do not carry mobile phones. They have not been addressed by name. I have no way of collecting DNA to identify them short of taking it by force. The only solution is to transport everyone in that apartment to separate holding cells within the SGC or another stated location and run the DNA through assorted databases.”
“Who are the identified four?” Jack asked.
“Colonel Trevor Lockwell, Colonel David Dixon, Colonel Frank Simmons, and Major Lee Whitmore. Three of these men are former SG team leaders and, according to records, all were dismissed from the program for ‘behavior unbecoming of an officer,’ according to the parlance of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Colonel Frank Simmons was dismissed from the NID for treason and incarcerated, but was unofficially released, and data mining suggests it was by fraudulent means. The topic these men have primarily been discussing is ‘securing weaponry from alien targets.’”
“Are you recording them?” Daniel asked.
“Dixon,” Jack said. “I thought I recognized his voice. I didn’t think he was the type to commit treason.”
“Greed always wins out,” Jason said cynically. “I want Alex out of there, Jack. You’d feel the same if it was any of us.”
“ALTA,” Jack began. “Zoom in on the bathroom please.” She did. The image was much clearer, showing a white bathroom with a glass shower stall, a vanity sink, and toilet, with a hamper nearby. No bathtub was evident. Alex turned on the sink faucet and stared at the running water. “Okay. Does he have his comm device on him?”
“Negative. It is in his bedroom, hidden under clothing or in a pocket of clothing.”
“Can you beam down a comm device and notepad with pen onto that vanity top next to the sink so that he sees them?”
“Do so please.”
Alex turned his head as the tell-tale energy beam deposited a small copper disc sitting on top of a yellow notepad with a ballpoint pen beside it. Alex immediately looked up at the ceiling, his gaze damn near appearing as if he saw them.
Jason’s heart ached and his anger grew at the black smudges on Alex’s handsome face. Blood and bruises.
“He can’t hear us without that disc, correct?” Jack asked.
“But we can hear him without it?”
As if on cue, Alex whispered sarcastically, “What, no gun?” He placed the small comm device behind his ear and picked up the notepad and pen. “Get me out of here,” he wrote.
“It’s O’Neill,” Jack said. “Who’re they threatening you with to ensure cooperation?”
“You guys,” he wrote.
“Our ship will prevent that bullshit, Alex,” Jason told him.
“It will?” Alex wrote.
There came a loud pounding on the door. “Get out here!” came the voice of one of the unnamed men.
“I’m in the middle of a shit, do you fucking mind?” Alex spat back.
Jason chuffed out a nervous laugh that died instantly. “You think he’s safe?” he asked Jack. “He needs to be beamed here, now.”
Jack chewed his bottom lip, then said, “ALTA, beam him, and the notepad and pen, to the SGC briefing room. He’ll explain things to Hammond.”
“Did you catch that, Alex?” Jason asked.
“Yes. . .” He disappeared in the swirling transport beam in the middle of the word, its sound fading with a prolonged s sound.
“Okay,” Jack said. “Time to go. We’ll need to warn the rest of SG-1 so let’s talk to Al Kaufman first, please.”
. * . * .
Jack, Daniel, and Jason appeared by the observation window in the briefing room just as Alex was leaving General Hammond’s office. Jason strode over quickly and gave the man a bear hug.
“No,” Alex snapped, then realizing Hammond could hear him, he added, “Sorry, sir.” Jason gently cuffed him upside the head, though it was mostly air.
Sam, Teal’c, Al, and Connor entered the briefing room and the door was closed behind them while two SFs stationed themselves at the two stairway accesses to the room to prevent unauthorized eavesdropping. Al and Connor went to Alex and embraced the man, slapping him on the back and damn near knocking him off his feet.
Hammond hung up his phone and entered the briefing room. “Have a seat, people,” he said as he took his end cap seat. SG-1 took their unofficially assigned seats, which placed Jason, Alex, Al, and Connor on Hammond’s left, respectively, and Jack, Daniel, Sam, and Teal’c on his right. “Major Wagner has withdrawn his letter of resignation, which was coerced under the threat to everyone at this table, including Doctor Fraiser who—”
Doctor Janet Fraiser entered the briefing room at that point. She carried a medical briefcase in one hand and a blue suitcase in the other. She was dressed in her typical Class B blues—which was nothing more than working in Class A’s with no jacket. But this time, she had her jacket on too. She felt uncomfortable, as she had always hated the uniforms the military forced women to wear to separate them, as if anyone needed reminding. At least the Air Force had recently added trousers to the uniforms with flat shoes like the men’s but with a rounded toe. They weren’t exactly comfortable but better than the damn high heels. She hated wearing a skirt and pumps while performing her rounds. She was coming close to putting in her own retirement so she could go into private practice, but she stayed for her people: SG-1 and the other personnel of the SGC.
Janet set down her cases and moved to the opposite end cap seat. She sighed and looked around the table. “General,” she greeted.
Daniel felt extreme anger from her. “Janet, what’s happened?”
Janet looked at Hammond. He said, “She’s noticed people watching her when she returns home. No one has, as of now, threatened her, but given her close relationship with everyone under her care, she’s a target and I asked her to attend this meeting prior to having Cassie relocated for safety. Doctor Fraiser will continue her duties here but with a shadow. Though I recognize that such a thing will be a burden to executing her work, and she’ll be staying at the base because we have to control this threat to our people, the program, and the country.”
She sighed and looked at the faces before her. “General Hammond has briefed me. And I have to say I am shocked . . . but not at all surprised. Greed, and its partner narcissism, makes people do stupid, horrific things. But I’m wondering why I’m at this briefing.”
“You’re here because you’re a valuable member of this facility and to its personnel, particularly with all the members of the extended SG-1 team,” said Hammond. “And because you have become a target for a new splinter group—or the Cabal, as I have termed it—who’re interested only in power and the means by which to exercise that power. It’s confirmed, people, thanks to Major Alex Wagner. We have a new rogue SG group.”
“What do they want?” Janet asked. “Just the same as last time, to get rich on stealing technology from allies and would-be allies?”
Hammond tapped the table with his forefinger. “From what General Vidrine has been able to learn from one of these cabal members, the aim of this group is to replace all of us with people aligned to their views, goals, and greed. An ideological rogue group. If they can’t find willing participants, they’ll coerce and extort people into participation in their illegal enterprise. I don’t know how deep the rot goes, doctor, nor do the rest of us, but SG-1’s duty for the foreseeable future is to hunt down all of the traitors to Earth and bring them to justice.”
Hammond paused, looking extremely angry as he dropped the level of his voice—it was a giveaway to how badly he felt. “They’ve already tried an assassination, and whether it was meant for Colonel Coburn or Skaara makes no difference.”
“Did we find out what the job was for the former NID man, Mark Devlin?” Jack asked. “For that matter, how long he’s been impersonating general Vidrine?”
“To the latter, General Vidrine was taken nearly twenty-nine days ago. For the former, it seems to be information gathering and getting rid of your team, Colonel. They were able to nab Major Wagner because he was out of the country.”
“There’s no telling . . . is he really talking, sir?” Jack asked.
“Reluctantly,” Hammond emphasized.
“So . . .” Janet began. “Why is Queen Morrighan here?”
“To give the SGC, and by extension, the Pentagon, weapons defense systems to protect the planet, and additional technology to aid in the program here. You will be getting a briefing on the new tech that she is giving to the medical department.”
She raised her brows. “So the rumor mill is correct, for once.”
“If I may,” Daniel said, looking at Hammond. He didn’t want to bring it up but it seemed prudent. His intuition told him that the guy they’d been talking about, Devlin, wasn’t on the level, but he had nothing concrete to base that on. Still, he went on. “Sir, I’m sorry but . . . um . . . what was Devlin promised in return for his cooperation? Those guys, their whole raison d’être is self-interest. They don’t do anything out of the goodness of their hearts.”
“He doesn’t get the death penalty, Doctor Jackson.”
Daniel jogged his brows. He figured. “Whether he’s cooperating or not, we need to apply that old aphorism, ‘Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.’”
“He’s gotta point, sir,” Jack said.
“Any information Mr. Devlin is sharing with General Vidrine’s group is being triple checked,” Hammond said sternly. “No one is taking his word as gospel.”
“Do we have that triple checking backed up by two independent sources?” Jason asked.
Hammond half-grinned. “This isn’t a journalistic exercise, Colonel.”
“No, sir,” Jack said, “but we’ve been compromised, at Foothold levels, so we should apply those protocols as a matter of course when it comes to all intelligence, especially from a traitor’s mouth. Daniel’s right, sir. He can’t be trusted.”
Daniel could’ve kissed him. Maybe later, he told himself.
“I hear you, Colonel. And I’m told that his information will be correct.”
“Sir, excuse me, but we all know that information based on torture is unreliable,” Sam said.
“I’m told,” Hammond repeated, “that he isn’t being tortured for information. He is in prison, but he is . . . not in a seven-by-seven cell with only a toilet and a bed—if you catch my meaning.”
“We do, sir,” Jack said sourly. “What about the jokers upstairs in security? That’s assuming we still have them locked up?”
“We do,” Hammond said.
“Who?” Janet asked.
“The guys who grabbed me, Janet,” Alex said. “Said my friends and their friends and the friends after that would die if I didn’t give them intel on how the SGC runs, what the lock codes are for the armory, et cetera.”
“Did they really?” Jason asked.
“Now, to the business at hand, people,” Hammond said. “You’re to resupply the An Croi and head to Abydos to pick up the trail. Examine what they were doing in the desert. Get in contact with the Tok’ra, via Bel’a’lat or Tollana. Their new base isn’t one with a stargate, to reduce surprise attacks. Ask if they’ll join this investigation. Keep in mind that you’ll have to visit all of our allies to let them know we mean business but I’d advise that you do so by going to the closest allies first and then spread outward. And let them all know that it isn’t just humans from Earth who’re in on this illegal business, as the assassination had revealed. So, let’s get geared up and back aboard the ship by 0900 tomorrow.” He rose. “I want you to keep me apprised on a daily basis, Colonel. I’ll expect reports, no matter if you’ve come up empty or have found nothing more than circumstantial evidence.”
“Yes, sir,” Jack said.
“You have a go, and godspeed.”
Out in the hallway, Al said to Jack, “We’ve gotta call our wives and let them know we’ll be gone for a while.”
Jack observed him and Connor. “Do you guys wanna stay home?”
“No,” Connor and Al said together, and instantly. “We’re part of the crew. Where you go, we go. Where that ship goes, we go.”
“Alright then. Go home, be with them, but report tomorrow.”
“Thank you, Colonel,” Al said for both of them.
Jack nodded, and felt a gentle push behind him. He looked over his shoulder and saw Daniel grinning at him.
“You old softie,” he said.
“Damn right,” Jack said. He opened his mouth to say something but Master Sergeant Walter Davis’ voice came over the intercom.
“Unscheduled offworld activation. Unscheduled offworld activation. General Hammond to the control room, please. General Hammond to the control room.”
All members of SG-1, including Al and Connor who were running down the hall to join them, followed Hammond down to the control room and Sam moved quickly to sit down next to Walter. “What do we have?” she asked, donning a single-ear headset as well as placing her hand over the new login panel in the dashboard.
“It’s a request to visit us from Jalen, dialing in from Bel’a’lat,” Davis said.
“Open the iris and send the message that the request is granted,” Hammond ordered.
“Yes, sir,” Sam said, and tapped a few buttons.
The iris opened as Jason ran out of the control room to get to the gateroom and the rest of SG-1 went with him, followed by Hammond.
Jalen appeared through the event horizon revealing that his hair was longer and his beard trimmed neatly. He smiled slightly upon seeing his brother. With him was Jacob Carter.
Sam broke out into a happy grin. “Dad!”
“Hey Sam,” said Jacob, and by the time they reached the bottom, he gave her a one-armed hug as he exchanged grips with Hammond. “How ya doin’ George?”
“Fair, fair. What brings you here? We know why Jalen’s come.”
“Partly,” Jacob said.
“Adriann busy pirating?” Daniel asked.
Jalen swallowed and said, “Adriann’s sick. He’s been poisoned by a black scorpion that was meant for Jacob.”
Silence greeted their words and was made sharper when the wormhole shut down.
“So,” Jack said. “That confirms it. Skaara was the target.” He briefly explained to Jacob and Jalen what he was talking about.
“It’s not the Goa’uld doing it,” Jacob said. “Intel suggests sources from Earth. Which means . . .”
“It’s the rogue group,” Jack said, shading his brows for a moment.
“Let’s discuss this in the briefing room,” Hammond ordered.
As soon as they were in the briefing room, Hammond turned to Jacob. “We’ve just arrested several perpetrators,” Hammond said. “There’s a new rogue operation going and I’ve assigned SG-1 to head the investigation. They’ll be leaving in our ship tomorrow to begin investigations.”
Daniel, unbeknownst to everyone, was standing stock-still, his mind replaying Jalen’s words. Sick . . . scorpion . . . sick . . . scorpion.
“We’ve been trying to find a cure,” Jalen went on, “but the Tok’ra don’t seem to know one and neither do our other allies. How’d you get cured?”
“And why Bubastis?” Jacob asked. “That’s Bastet’s stronghold.”
“Her doctor, so to speak,” Jack began, “is called The Chemist. She healed Jason with nanite technology.”
“We’ve heard of her,” Jacob nodded. “Haven’t yet found a name.”
Everyone’s brows rose. Hammond asked, “How is that possible, Jacob? Apparently this chemist has been there a long, long time.”
“Dharian knew,” Jack said. “Half the people in that shopping complex knew.”
“Knew what?” Jacob asked.
“That the chemist happens to be the Tok’ra queen, Egeria-Saliyah,” Daniel told him.
Jacob stared at him uncomprehendingly. “That is not possible,” said Selmak, Jacob’s Tok’ra. “She died in the hands of Cronus.”
“Apparently not,” Jack said. “She identified herself when she found out who we were.”
“And I asked her why she hasn’t contacted her people,” Daniel said. “She said it’s because she’s conducting a conversion exercise, turning Goa’uld into Tok’ra.”
“That is also not possible,” Selmak said. “Our split is due to a chemical imbalance, and our refusal to use the sarcophagus.”
“According to Egeria, it’s working on Bastet,” Jack said.
“Great,” Jalen said. “Can we get Adriann some help?”
Daniel said at the same time, “So let’s get Adriann some help.”
Hammond sighed and turned to Jack. “I’m sorry, but since Adriann’s an ally, we’re required to help as soon as possible. So you have to leave immediately, not tomorrow morning. How long until the An Croi arrives at Bel’a’lat?”
“ALTA,” Jack said, removing the comm piece from his pocket. “We have to go to Bel’a’lat. How long will that take?”
Her voice was audible through the device if a bit tinny. “Eleven hours, sixteen minutes, and thirty two seconds, give or take several minutes.”
“Then you have a go, as of now. Grab your gear and head out, Colonel.”
“Things just got a lot more complicated,” Daniel said, trying not to panic, reminding himself that Adriann had six days to live unless his physiology altered that timeline. Daniel prayed that it would actually extend the deadline.
“Ya think?” said Jack, Jalen, Jacob, and Jason.