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* TITLE: No Return
* AUTHOR: Redbyrd
* EMAIL: redbyrd (at) mindspring (dot) com
* RATING: PG
* CATEGORY: drama, missing scene, humor
* SUMMARY: Tag and missing scenes for Beneath the Surface and Point of No Return. Jack O'Neill is preoccupied by his experiences on the ice planet while he looks for the source of a security breach in Montana. Meanwhile, a group of illegal aliens are trying to gain access to Earth's stargate, but they are stunned to find a Jaffa among those hunting them. Has the USAF been infiltrated by the Goa'uld?
* SPOILERS: Point of No Return, Beneath the Surface, small for Watergate, Window of Opportunity, the First Ones, Crossroads, Divide and Conquer, Nemesis, Small Victories, Legacy.
* AUTHOR'S NOTE: I didn't particularly like either Point of No Return or Beneath the Surface the first time I saw them. On rewatching them, I started thinking about what they were missing that might make them more meaningful for me. BTS needed some more wrap-up. PONR needed a lot of things- most noticeably for the actions of the aliens to make sense- but also it had some resonances with BTS that weren't really brought out in the episode. And the lack of team interaction in the episode bugged me.
As implied background for this story, O'Neill is the first Tau'ri to get a price on his head- placed by Heru-ur, who took the trouble to find out who he was (that knife through the hand in Secrets really annoyed him- especially after having first met Jack during Thor's Chariot). I theorize that it is Heru-ur who first singles out O'Neill as a 'pain in the mikta' and offers a reward for him personally, as Apophis was probably more preoccupied with Teal'c's defection. After Fair Game, Chronus and the other System Lords likely put bounties out on all the Tau'ri members of SG-1 individually.
Note: English as the galactic lingua franca breaks the suspension of disbelief for me. In my version of the Stargate universe, the common language is a version of ancient Egyptian, and anyone who goes offworld learns it. It doesn't cover everything in canon, but I consider it an acceptable compromise between the dramatic requirements of TV and the intellectual requirements for good science fiction.
The characters mentioned in this story are the property of Showtime and Gekko Film Corp. The Stargate, SG-I, the Goa'uld and all other characters who have appeared in the series STARGATE SG-1 together with the names, titles and backstory are the sole copyright property of MGM-UA Worldwide Television, Gekko Film Corp, Glassner/Wright Double Secret Productions and Stargate SG-I Prod. Ltd. Partnership. This fanfic is not intended as an infringement upon those rights and solely meant for entertainment. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author.
Colorado, late May, 2000
The sirens blared and Hammond took the stairs from his office down to the control room as fast as he could without looking like he was rushing. Even though he was. There wasn't anyone due back right now- "Unauthorized offworld activation"- blared over the intercom confirming that- and that meant someone was in trouble.
As he entered the control room, Harriman looked up from his console. "No incoming travelers, sir, but we're receiving a transmission. It's P3R-118, sir." The ice planet where his flagship team had disappeared over a week ago.
The general nodded and spoke into the microphone. "This is Hammond of the SGC. Have you found some sign of our missing people?"
The video link cleared to show Hammond a wholly welcome dark face. He was wearing a filthy sleeveless tunic that was ripped at the neck. "Stargate Command, this is Teal'c." Hammond was barely conscious of Major Griff entering the control room at a dead run, then breaking stride at the face on the screen.
"Teal'c!" Hammond leaned forward. "What-"
"All of SG-1 are alive and well, if a bit confused." Teal'c reported. "We were taken prisoner by Administrator Calder and subjected to a procedure that suppressed our memories."
Griff hissed something under his breath, the only part of which Hammond could hear was "lying bastards". He was using the offworld Egyptian dialect spoken by nearly everyone on base these days. Even the marines picked up Egyptian profanity. Hammond wondered irrelevantly why Jackson had included profanity in the language instruction course he had created. He'd have to ask him some time.
Teal'c was continuing, "-do not have our GDOs, and we have a vast number of slaves who we have assisted to free themselves from Calder's tyranny. We request SGC assistance to relocate them- Colonel O'Neill has suggested P8X-672 as a suitable location. Their numbers dictate that they should be transported there directly rather than brought to the SGC first. We have one wounded who we would like to send back now for medical treatment."
Hammond remembered 672- a tropical paradise, and a top candidate on the running list they now kept of worlds suitable for relocating indigenous populations in need of new homes. "Agreed." Hammond said. "I'll send SG-2 through in-" Griff turned around and held up ten fingers- "Ten minutes, to hold the fort. Then I want all of SG-1 back here for debrief. Can your wounded wait that long?" Griff was on his way out the door and Harriman was paging SG-2 to the gear-up room without waiting for orders.
Teal'c nodded. "She can."
"Then I'll see you in just over ten minutes. Hammond out."
As Hammond turned away from the video link, Harriman said, "SG-2 are in gear-up, sir, and the infirmary is standing by."
"Well done, sergeant." Hammond couldn't suppress a faintly smug smile. Despite the controlled insanity that was Stargate Command, his people were on their toes. And by the sound of it, SG-1 had just pulled another miracle out of their pockets.
SG-2 was in the gate room, fastening straps and checking ammo clips, but basically ready to go in seven minutes flat. They'd spent days scouring unlikely corners of P3R-118 looking for SG-1, including a number of hours out on the treacherous and bitterly cold glacier. By the look of it, they were all furious about the way their comrades had been treated.
"SG-2, you have a go." Hammond said, after giving them a brief recap of the situation. "It seems unlikely that we'll still have diplomatic relations with these folks after this, but try not to start a war."
"Yes, sir." Griff said crisply. A good man, Hammond thought. He'd keep order, despite his own anger and resentment.
Jack stood in front of the gate, still wearing Jona's dirty quilted jacket. The sight of Griff's crisp khakis had given him a flood of fragmentary memories. Jack brought Griff up to date, and looked over to where Carlin and Therra- no, Daniel and Carter, he reminded himself, were assisting Brenna. "Ready to go, campers?" he asked.
Therra's - Carter's brow creased at the still unfamiliar term, but she said, "Yes, sir." Teal'c and Daniel nodded. Mendez dialed Earth.. Once the wormhole settled into the shimmering circle, they all took a step forward. "Wait." Jack said. They all stopped and looked at him curiously. There was something- some reason they had to wait.
"What's wrong?" Daniel asked.
"O'Neill." He turned to Teal'c. "Lieutenant Verrazano has sent the IDC and received clearance." He pointed to the green lights showing on the device on the woman's arm.
"Okay, then." Jack said. "Let's go." He was conscious of a light sweat breaking out on the back of his neck. He flashed on a memory - //Teal'c saying, "-iris will be closed. They will be crushed." And his own reply, "Surprise!"// He swallowed hard as he stepped into the wormhole. Through the familiar rush and cold, he thought about his team stepping into the shimmering surface without remembering their GDOs.
Then he was stepping out onto the familiar/strange metal ramp. The bald man- Hammond- stood at the end of the ramp to greet them. A dizzying rush of memories tumbled through his mind as more chunks of his past fell into place.
"Welcome back, SG-1!" Hammond said with a broad smile.
"It's good to be back, sir," Jack replied, almost automatically. His tone was flat, sounding strange even to himself. The iris was scissoring shut behind him. He turned to see his team members standing on the ramp with slightly dazed expressions. Daniel was looking at the gate with a mixture of awe and longing that took Jack back to a younger, shaggy-haired Daniel staring at the gate in wonder as he saw it for the first time.
Hammond's voice drew his attention back to his commanding officer. "Report to the infirmary. Debriefing is in one hour." The smile had faded and been replaced by an expression of concern.
Montana, 4570.03.02 (late May, 2000, Tau'ri reckoning)
"We have to go back home." Martin said.
Tanner sighed. "That's what you always say. It's been two years." Over two and a half years in the date system used by the homeworld, but no one remarked his use of the Tau'ri year. They had all grown accustomed to it. Tanner had wondered at first if they would grow so accustomed that they wouldn't want to remember the homeworld, but in the face of the complex and often bizarre culture of the Tau'ri, the five deserters had clung together in exile, their common origins more binding than their differences were divisive.
"Isn't the ship fixed yet?" Martin asked.
"Latest sensor readings agree with the original report from damage control that estimated three years. It might be longer without a human there supervising." Scott MacClaren, the engineer put in.
"That means no." Tanner translated that into Martinese without waiting for the smaller man to speak again. Martin was frighteningly single-minded when he got an idea into his head.
"Oh." Thankfully Martin seemed to be abandoning the subject. He brandished the tabloid paper that he was reading. "Did you know, they're saying that meteor that crashed into the Pacific was really an alien ship, and the aliens had a shootout with a Russian submarine?"
"Martin," Scott said. "That stuff is made-up trash. Everyone knows that."
"But it's not like we don't know that aliens really exist." Martin persisted.
"Sorry I'm late." Robert said as he dropped into a chair. "Server crashed and I had to reboot it before I could leave. I swear, I'm going to lock out all internet radio sites. We just don't have the bandwidth for it." Robert continually cursed the primitive Tau'ri information systems, which seemed to take a lot of work to keep running. But he'd mastered them well enough to become a sysadmin for a local business.
"We were just saying that the ship won't be ready for another year," Scott filled him in.
"How do we know that the homeworld has another year?" Martin asked.
"How do we know that they haven't already won the war?" Tanner countered.
"Maybe we should make contact with the Tau'ri." Robert suggested.
John, who had been silent up until now, said, "We're living among them, aren't we?" The state of Tau'ri weaponry had been a severe and unwelcome shock to him. From being convinced that they must be concealing higher technology somewhere, he had become the pessimist of the group.
"I mean with their government, the people who run the chappa'ai," Robert clarified.
"That's not necessarily the same people," Tanner pointed out. "Most of their government has no idea. They couldn't keep it a secret if they did."
"But they must have some idea of the state of the war." Robert said. "And they could contact our world. We wouldn't have to wait for the ship to be fixed. If the shipyard at home has been rebuilt, they could fix the ship faster there."
Martin supported him eagerly, apparently encouraged by the first sign that everyone else wasn't contented to just sit back on Earth until the ship fixed itself. "He's right, they could."
Scott nodded slowly, "That's true. But do we really want to go home?"
Four of the men tried to glance around the table without meeting one another's eyes, while Martin looked directly at each one of them.
"Actually," Robert said. "I wasn't thinking of going home, exactly, myself." He coughed. "Ah, I was thinking that since Martin is so eager-" He looked at Tanner.
Tanner knew what he meant. If they could send Martin back that would probably be for the best. He was the most discontented of any of them, and the most likely to do something crazy if balked. Not to mention being the only one who seriously wanted to return home. The rest of them would really rather have more information on how they would be received before they made a decision.
Tanner surveyed his four companions in exile. "We'd have to be very careful," he said slowly. "I'd rather we tried to get some of them out of the mountain, and well away from their support base before we contacted them. Preferably with some kind of cover that would let us scope them out before they know who we are." His gaze fell on Martin's tabloid paper, and the beginning of a plan faintly took form. "Conspiracy theorists, maybe."
He wished that he had more faith in Martin's acting ability. Really, it would be better if Martin actually believed he was alone. Tanner had read all about the Bill of Rights, but he wasn't prepared to gamble that American intelligence agents wouldn't be willing to use force to interrogate Martin. A pity there wasn't a way to send him home without revealing the presence of the others.
An idea struck him. With the right combination of drugs and hypnotics, he could make Martin believe anything they needed him to. Tanner let the conversation go on without him until Martin excused himself to go to the men's room. He turned to Scott. "You still have the medical kit we brought with us, right?" The kit had drugs that were intended for use to combat battle shock, but Tanner's intelligence training had covered a myriad of other applications.
"Yes," Scott replied.
Tanner nodded and outlined his idea. The others looked a bit shocked.
"So you think we should go ahead and see if the Tau'ri will send Martin back through the chappa'ai?" Robert asked.
Tanner nodded. "I'd certainly be happier to have some kind of idea of what conditions are like at home before we try to send the ship back. And Martin is becoming a liability."
"Becoming?" Scott said drily. The others laughed, a little uneasily. Annoying or not, Martin was one of them, a tie to home.
"We won't harm him." Tanner said. "It's for his own protection, really. And he's been saying for two years that he wants to go." As Martin came back toward the table, he changed subjects smoothly, "- how many times do I have to tell you to use English? The Air Force doesn't call it a chappa'ai. Our intelligence reports said they call it the 'stargate'."
Colorado, June, 2000
O'Neill slumped in his chair, feeling groggy and tired. He'd spent what felt like the whole night dreaming. Funny that he'd joked about mining dreams when he thought he was a subterranean manual laborer, and now he couldn't shake the dreams of being Jona. He glanced sideways at Teal'c. It was at times like this, that he could actually see the point of Junior. It would be really refreshing not to have to dream for a while. Of all the team, Teal'c seemed the least affected. As usual.
They'd spent the last two days helping SG-5 and SG-9 relocating the last of the workers from the ice planet. The ones who'd chosen to leave, anyway. Somewhat to his surprise, nearly a third of them had chosen to stay, not even the revelation that they had been enslaved enough to make them give up their commitment to serve.
They'd been back a week, completely stopped calling one another by the wrong names four days ago, cleared for duty day before yesterday. Still, they all seemed to have been rather thrown by the memory stamps. Unlike their usual practice after a tough mission they'd avoided one another as much as duty allowed, trying to surround themselves with Earthly things that would bring back their real memories.
Or was sticking together really still their usual practice? Jack wondered. The mission before P3R-118 had been about as traumatic as it could be for a successful mission where no one got hurt. Actually, several missions in the last few months had been brutal. If he wasn't dreaming he was Jona, he'd be dreaming about Anise questioning him in Latin over and over and over, or Teal'c inhaling a gaseous alien form and telling him that he was leaving SG-1 to teach Junior to sing. Or God help him, an Unas dragging Daniel through a building full of dead Russians while Jack pushed a button to blow up the facility.
He and Daniel had spent a couple of days being unnaturally polite following the debriefing on the Enkaran/Gadmeer mission. They'd sorted it out, with the help of an overheard conversation. Ironically, while he'd been feeling guilty about nearly killing Daniel, Daniel had been blaming himself for putting Jack through a harrowing experience. But they'd still been feeling a little awkward when they had left on the mission to the ice planet. It struck him as significant that they had avoided one another on P3R-118 even when they couldn't remember why they were uncomfortable together.
Why was it always SG-1 that had to run into the aliens with mind-scrambling technology?, he wanted to know. In retrospect, Urgo seemed innocuous and fairly tolerable by comparison. At least then he hadn't dreamed about his team stepping confidently into an event horizon and going splat against the iris because they'd forgotten they were SG-1 and they needed a GDO. Yeah that was another contender for top ten on the nightmare hit parade. Fishing. He really, really needed to go fishing.
Jack glanced up as Carter returned to the table with a glass of water. "Does anyone know what this meeting's all about?" She sounded tired and cranky. As well she should. Not even Jack was thrilled at being called to a meeting at 0630. That he'd been awake when the call came to his on-base quarters wasn't that astonishing. That Daniel and Carter had been awake, showered and already at work at that hour was a little disturbing.
Daniel said, "No, but I hope it's important. I was working on translating the cuneiform tablet we found on P3L-255." Make that, they both sounded tired and cranky. More passengers on the Dreamland Express, for sure.
Carter continued to complain, "I still have to finish recalibrating MALP 3-K sensors for long-term reconnaissance on P5X-3D7."
Even Teal'c was joining in, "I was unable to complete my Kel'no'reem."
Jack figured he ought to show solidarity with his team. He put his head down on the table, "I was just about to do something important."
They listened to Hammond's bizarro tape and after only a brief discussion, the general told them to get on the road. Jack perked up a little. His team was due for a boring, uneventful mission. And at least it wasn't paperwork. Montana. They had lakes in Montana, didn't they?
Tanner turned to Robert. "Well?"
"He made the call early this morning. Surveillance on the house is in place. Now we just sit back and see how they react."
John and Scott exchanged glances. "Well, he doesn't seem to remember anything, or feel there's anything unusual going on, other than the conspiracy crap we programmed him with. Where'd you get all that stuff, anyway?"
"Don't you watch the X-Files?" Tanner asked. "So he's responding to the drugs as we predicted?"
"Well, we adjusted the dose after the incident at the television station. So far, it seems okay," Scott said. "I'd be happier if they weren't combined with the local crap you got for him. Medical technology here is awfully primitive. Who knows what the combination is going to do?"
"It's only temporary." Tanner said. "I told you, I want the option to just pull Martin out of there, and have the locals dismiss him as a crank who somehow got hold of a tiny amount of classified information. That means the drugs have to be real if they're analyzed. A standard analysis will just confirm that the drugs contain what the bottle says. They won't find any additives if they aren't specifically looking."
The others nodded. Tanner sighed. "Well, now we watch and wait. Keep an eye on Martin- any sign that he's starting to hallucinate from the drugs again, and I'll call him in to my 'office' and adjust his meds."
Robert nodded. "We'll take shifts on the house cameras. I've set a motion detector to let us know if he moves in the house. You're sure you don't want to try and track him outside the house?"
"Not remotely." Tanner said with assurance. "If the military finds he's bugged, it doesn't matter whether the bugs are our tech or homegrown, they'll know there's something up. John will monitor the meeting site visually, but that's all." He looked with a certain amount of affection at this random assortment of deserters who had become his team. "I know waiting is hard. But this is going to work. You'll see."
They scattered to their various assignments and Tanner sighed. He wished he was really as confident as he sounded. It wasn't as if he was any kind of leader. Mostly, he was just making this up as he went along, just as he had ever since he and the others had stolen the badly damaged warship from the repair yard and fled the Goa'uld massacre. He remembered those early days...
// 4567.10.23 (1998, Tau'ri reckoning)
The five deserters gathered in one of the crew's common areas on the enormous ship. Somehow, none of them had the gall to suggest meeting on the command deck.
"Status of damage control?" the putative leader asked.
"Life support and hyperdrive are working at ten percent of capacity. That's more than enough for the five of us. Everything is in bad shape, but the self repair mechanisms should be able to handle it." The junior engineer looked self-conscious to be giving a report to the acting captain, but he was the closest thing they had left to a technical person. Never mind that their acting captain was barely more senior than any of the rest of them."
"Now what do we do?" the weapons tech asked.
The captain wished he had an answer. He was as clueless as any of them.
They looked at one another in dismay. "I can't believe we actually got away with this." One of the others ventured.
"I think we should go back. It was wrong of us to leave." That was the junior member of the crew. The captain tried to remember if he knew what the other man had done Before. Some kind of clerk or minor functionary, he thought.
"We can't go back." He said starkly. "We're deserters."
"We have to go somewhere." That was the information systems tech, without whom they could never have hijacked this ship, no matter what it's state of disrepair.
"But what if they need our help?" the clerk asked.
"Five people can't possibly make that much difference in the battle against the Goa'uld," the captain said.
"The ship might." The weapons tech said. "If we gave it some time to repair itself."
"How long?" the captain asked. They all looked at the engineering tech.
"Um, maybe four or five years." The tech said. "Without shipyard capabilities anyway."
"With the homeworld in Goa'uld hands, the only shipyards left belong to the Goa'uld." The infotech said.
"Maybe not." The captain felt the first lightening of spirit he'd had since they had seized the ship, crippled in one of the first battles against the Goa'uld. "We aren't the only ones ever to have fought the Goa'uld. What about the Tau'ri?"
"I thought the First World had been lost for centuries." Objected the infotech. "It's only a story."
"Perhaps." The captain had been a very junior intelligence officer, but he had helped in the interrogation of a group of slaves rescued from the wreckage of a Goa'uld ship in the service of Heru-ur. "The First World was lost years ago, but we had intelligence that it wasn't because of a natural disaster. The inhabitants rebelled and buried their chappa'ai."
"So?" The infotech challenged. "That's no guarantee that they'd have a shipyard capable of helping us. Even if they hid their chappa'ai too well to be found, the Goa'uld still could have gone there in ships. Anyway, we don't even know where it is."
"We do, actually." The captain said. "The Goa'uld ship we shot down had the stargate address, and we can estimate the planetary location from that.
"Apparently there was some infighting among the Goa'uld at the time of the Tau'ri rebellion. Ra came out on top. He claimed the First World as his own, but never made any serious attempt to regain control. We have intelligence that the Tau'ri reopened their chappa'ai quite recently." He looked at his miniscule crew. "They lured Ra to one of the more remote worlds in his territory and killed him, and when Apophis attempted to attack them in retribution, they destroyed his two tel'taks before he could even begin his attack." He paused again for emphasis. "That was half a year ago. Reportedly, the System Lords are up in arms about that and other incursions the Tau'ri have made into their domains. They've even put a price on the head of one Tau'ri." He told them the alien name, pronouncing it awkwardly, then continued, "I don't know whether the high command ever had a chance to act on it, but there was some talk of approaching them as allies."
"So the Tau'ri might have yard capabilities that would help us to repair the ship faster?" The weapons tech asked.
"We should go there!" The clerk said. "Look, if the high command has talked to them, we can get the ship repaired so we can bring it back to help in the fight. If they haven't, well we'll have gone in search of allies. We weren't deserting, we were going for help." The small earnest man almost pounded his fist on the table in his vehemence.
"We can't change our motivations for running after the fact." The engineer said bleakly. "But maybe we can make it count for something."
"How do we know they won't just destroy us when we show up uninvited in their system?" The weapons officer said.
"There's only one way to find out," the intelligence officer/acting captain said. They had to go somewhere, after all. And the Tau'ri looked like their best hope for aid.
They went into orbit around the yellow sun near the fifth planet. "Why haven't they hailed us?" the captain asked. "We've been here for hours?"
"I don't know." The infotech said. "I wish we had a real comm specialist. The only things we're picking up are some primitive slower-than-light signals."
"Perhaps their technology is too advanced for us to detect their communications?" suggested the weapons officer.
"Perhaps." The captain drummed his fingers on the table. "Monitor what communications we can."
"Ah." The infotech said, "That may be a problem. The dominant language is something I've never heard before. And I don't detect any signs of our language or Goa'uld."
"Then we'll have to learn theirs," the captain said. "Let's stay quiet and see what we can find out."
"No sign of faster-than-light travel at all?" the captain said. "Are you sure?"
"Nothing." The infotech displayed an image of a primitive chemical fueled craft with stubby wings. "This appears to be their most advanced manned craft. They call it a shuttle." He flashed through some more images. "Once we realized that they didn't have any advanced comm capability, we orbited a receiver around the First World to relay signals faster than light and eliminate the time delay. That let us also access their planetwide information system. Primitive, but effective and very flexible."
The weapons tech said, "I thought they had a chappa'ai."
"Oh, they do." The engineer and infotech said in unison. The infotech continued. "It appears to be located in a polity called the United States of America, in a mountainous region known as Colorado. We can detect it's operation. But there appears to be no public acknowlegement of its existance. We can't find any trace whatsoever in their information systems of data on the chappa'ai itself."
"True." The captain said. He'd spent hours poring over the data from their 'internet' himself though, and knew that the infotech was right. "And we don't know that these people would help us even if they can."
"So now what do we do?" the clerk asked.
They all looked at the captain. The junior intelligence officer stared at the readout, and tried to sound decisive. "We infiltrate. Land in an escape pod, and try to blend in. Find out what these people are like. Then we can decide."
The infotech said, "Well, they don't seem to have any idea we're here, cap-"
"Speak English. And call me Tanner." He said. "Always use your Earth names. We need to get used to them."
"Tanner, then." The infotech said. "The hypnotapes we prepared have given us all adequate mastery of the language. Our false identities are holding up well, we have all gotten employment . We know a bit more about the chappa'ai. They seem to have completely prevented any mention of it from reaching the public. Most people here regard travelling to other planets as the stuff of fiction. But the location of the chappa'ai is a U.S. military base, Cheyenne Mountain. It is probably kept deep underground, for security." He paused. "We've also confirmed that the Tau'ri you mentioned is employed there. Colonel Jack O'Neill, the leader of the Tau'ri that the System Lord Heru-ur wants dead is actually a middle rank officer in the United States Air Force."
Tanner sagged little in his chair. He'd had hopes that anyone who'd been enough of a pain in the mikta that the System Lords put a bounty on him would be an important leader among the Tau'ri. "It seems clear that they may have a chappa'ai, but they don't have any other technology of significance."
"Maybe they're keeping that secret too?" suggested the weapons tech hopefully.
Tanner shook his head. "They may have a few odds and ends they've acquired from the Goa'uld. But if they had anything of significance, there would be some sign of it in their society. They appear to have opened their chappa'ai fairly recently, so it's not surprising that alien technologies haven't been implemented in the general population yet."
"So now what?" Asked the engineer.
"We have to go back home," the clerk said predictably.
"We can't. We'd only get killed." Tanner said. This was it. End of the line. Either go home in a crippled ship and be killed by the Goa'uld or be punished by their own people for leaving. He was suddenly too tired to move. He had never wanted to be in charge. Yet, now that he was, it was hard to let go. He carefully unclenched his fists beneath the table. "I guess we stay here, at least for a while."
There wasn't the kind of protest that he'd expected. In orbit near Saturn, they had thought that Earth was hopelessly primitive. Actually, it was probably only a century or two behind their own world. While sometimes inconvenient, it was certainly comfortable enough, at least in civilized areas like the United States.
Only the clerk, Martin, protested. "But-"
A look from Tanner silenced him. Or possibly it was the infotech kicking him under the table. The others looked at him. "You're outvoted, Martin," The infotech told him.
Tanner said, "The damage control systems will repair the ship in about three years. When it does, anyone who still wants to go home can take the ship and go." Before landing in the escape pod, they had deorbited the communications relay and let it burn up in the atmosphere. The ship had been left in a minimum energy orbit in self-repair mode. No point in leaving any hardware that might attract the attention of a passing Goa'uld.
"And what if home isn't there anymore?" Martin asked. "We were losing the war."
"Then we can use it to find a better place to hide," Tanner said. //
Two years later, Tanner was fairly sure that there were no better places to hide. The three small colonies that his people had started were known to the Goa'uld and probably had been wiped out. What better hiding place could there be for five humans- even of extraterrestrial origin- than among the teeming billions of the Tau'ri? Yet this world was frighteningly defenseless from the Goa'uld. He was quite sure that Robert, John and Scott were as ambivalent as he was about returning home. Martin wanted to go. They would let him go back and check out the conditions first. Probably they would have to give up the ship, but that was only fair. After that- after that, he decided, they'd just have to see what came up.
Jack had never been to Billings, Montana before. Couldn't see much of reason to come back, either, though the pie was decent. When SG-1 had arrived, the special ops team the Air Force had flown in from the west coast had already set up camera surveillance inside the diner and arranged for one of SG-1 to pose as staff behind the counter. They'd also tested the datalinks and put the truck full of surveillance equipment in position. They'd had Teal'c in place the night before, both to make sure that he wouldn't do anything out of character, and in case the bad guys had a good feel for who was on staff there and who wasn't. Carter and Daniel had gotten a quick rundown on all the equipment in the surveillance van while Jack had given the backup team their orders.
The restaurant staff were all making a valiant attempt to behave normally, and not try to spot whoever the military was so interested in. What they probably didn't realize was that the military staff they'd talked to were just as wildly curious as they were. It wasn't every day you got orders to back up another special operations group in the middle of an American city.
The officer in charge had made one attempt to find out what was going on, despite the gag order that had come with the assignment, with the perfectly truthful statement that he couldn't prepare adequately if he didn't know what they were facing. O'Neill had shaken his head, "Sorry, but don't ask means don't ask. Period." He had accepted the driver that came with the surveillance van, but other than that, had told the rest of the backup team to withdraw from the area.
Jack finished his second cup of coffee and looked at his watch, glancing around the busy diner for any sign of the man he was to meet. He'd been here since ten minutes of eleven and now it was nearly eleven-thirty. The guy was late.
A little balding guy came up to the table, "Colonel O'Neill?"
Jack looked up at him, "Yeah?"
"Sorry, I'm late. I think I was followed." He looked around furtively.
Jack looked around as well, "You sure?" Cheerful waitstaff were walking briskly around serving customers. No one paid them any attention. Yeah, this guy was a fruit loop all right.
"Yeah. But don't worry. I managed to lose 'em," the smaller man assured him.
"Very professional. What's your name?" Jack asked.
"You can call me Martin," he replied.
"Okay, Martin. What's this about?"
"If you don't mind, Before we get started-" Jack blinked, then recognized a detector for hidden transmitters. Good thing they'd decided to go with parabolic mikes. Jack stood patiently while the guy waved the detector over him. From the look of it, it was Radio Shack's finest.
Martin said, "Just like to check you for transmitters."
Jack conversed with Martin on autopilot, now thoroughly convinced this was a waste of time. He only turned his attention back to Martin when the little man started talking about the stargate. "-top secret government program involving instantaneous travel to other solar systems, by means of a device known as a stargate."
"Sounds like a good idea for a TV show. If you're into that sort of thing." Jack suggested. It was less of an effort than it should have been to pretend boredom. He suppressed a yawn. Okay, there was definitely some kind of a leak. What kind, remained to be seen.
"Colonel, let's not play games. If it isn't true, then why would you come all this way?" Martin asked.
A good question, and one Jack had mentioned when he had suggested to Hammond that they just ignore this guy. Since that wasn't an option, he'd thought up an answer. "Okay. The truth. There is a top-secret government program called project Stargate."
"I knew it!" Martin crowed.
"But it has nothing to do with space travel." Jack was actually a bit proud of what he'd come up with.
Martin asked, "What does it have to do with?"
Jack leaned in conspiratorially. "Magnets." One of several rumors that the NID had circulated about the program was that it was a research project to develop electromagnetic pulse weapons and other high-tech toys for disrupting enemy electronics. Jack's answer was close enough to the disinformation to lend it credibility, while maintaining his carefully cultivated persona as a thickheaded military clod.
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?!"
Of course it was probably a little over-subtle for Alien Boy here. "Nope, I've already said too much." Jack told him.
"Colonel, you're not taking this seriously." Martin protested.
'Gee, how could you tell.' "No, I'm not," he replied honestly.
"I need help."
'Now that I believe.' "Why? What seems-"
"I have to go through the stargate!"
'Whoa.' Jack was a little non-plussed. Who knew the guy was going to ask for something that was actually physically possible? If completely out of the question, "Marty, I don't-"
Martin interrupted, "No, I mean it. I've come to realize that I don't belong here. For the longest time, I was obsessed with all those alien conspiracies-"
Jack exchanged a fleeting humorous look with his own alien conspirator, Teal'c, who was monitoring the conversation from across the room.
"-crop circles, cow mutilations, the Apollo cover-up."
Jeez, which one was that. "I thought the lunar landings were a hoax," Jack said, straightfaced.
Martin wasn't fazed, "No, that was the story created by the government to direct attention away from the real cover-up. Everybody knows that! Anyway, one day, I'm online, and I find this conspiracy chat room, and they're talking about something called the stargate. Most of it was disinformation , but the word "stargate" stuck in my head. It triggered what I later realized was a suppressed memory. You see, Colonel O'Neill, the truth is, I'm not just interested in outer space- I'm *from* outer space!"
'Yeah, somewhere to the far left of Pluto, by the sound of it,' Jack looked for the waitress. "Check, please!"
"Nonono!" Martin protested. "You can't just go."
"Actually, that's not true." Jack said.
Marty looked across the table with desperate intensity, "So, you still don't believe me? I'm an alien!"
Jack sighed, "You look pretty human to me." 'Moreso than a few polititians I have known, anyway.' Jack pictured introducing Kinsey to Martin, and smiled faintly. On second thought, that would be too mean to Martin.
The self-professed alien was babbling on, "No, what I believe, is that thousands of years ago, people were taken from earth, maybe as part of some experiment, maybe as slaves, who knows. But the point is, there are entire civilizations up there descending from those original humans."
Now that was creepy. How the heck could this fruit loop have known that? Jack tried to shrug it off, "Now, that's just crazy talk!"
Martin babbled something about proof, while Jack started to brush him off. He broke off when he saw the message on his check. 'We've got his address, stall him.'
Stall him? Jack suppressed a groan. If he found out that his team had stuck him with Martin on purpose just to twist his tail, he was going to give them grief for a month. He finished smoothly, "But, as you know, it never hurts to be thorough. So, show me."
Martin nodded and Jack rolled his eyes as he followed. This was definitely a complete waste of time. He still thought that as they drove a short way out of town and Martin led him into the woods. They tramped for fifteen minutes with Martin babbling inanely all the while. "It's just over the next ridge. The ship's supposed to be buried, but I know exactly where it is."
'Of course you do. Jack forced himself to scan the undergrowth alertly. If Martin wasn't such a little dweeb, he'd have immediately suspected that he was being set up for some kind of attack. But he didn't think that Martin was the type. Of course, that wasn't to say that he couldn't have friends who were the type. Wondering why he felt Martin was honest if deluded made him curious as to why Martin was telling him this. "Marty- what makes you think you can trust *me* with all this?"
Martin looked at him earnestly, "I can't explain it Colonel, I just have a gut feeling. Like, we have something in common."
Jack's mind flashed to Martin's earlier comment about suppressed memory, then he dismissed it. He was just a little touchy on the subject of amnesia this week. "Well, that's very flattering, but I'm not an alien."
"I know that! Something else." Martin said impatiently.
"Right." Jack said quietly. He followed the man deeper into the woods, wondering just what it was that Martin thought they had in common.
Tanner opened his cellphone, "Go ahead." They knew the Tau'ri cellphones were not secure, but knowing that, they were careful to avoid names, words or phrases that NSA computers might be programmed to note. As long as they were circumspect, their signals disappeared into a sea of other transmissions, indistinguishable.
"He's taking him to the site." John said. "Isn't it too soon?"
Tanner scowled. Martin had been programmed to suppress the memory of the pod's location except as a last resort to prove his story. The memory shouldn't be coming back this soon. "May be it was the only way to convince him." Of course, with any luck it was going to take them a while to find it. The pod had landed hard, plowing deep into the ground in the middle of the clearing. They had covered it with soil, and two years of weeds over the top made excellent camouflage.
"What do you want me to do?" John asked. "Stay with them?"
"No. Too great a chance you'll be spotted. Break off and return home." He waited for John's acknowlegement and clicked off. John had already followed them further than Tanner had instructed.
Tanner wished that he wasn't quite so worried about Martin. The powerful hypnotics they had given him were reacting strangely with the Tau'ri medications they had inserted them in. If he took them for too long, they would destroy his memory permanently. Martin had assimilated the subconscious directions they had given him even more thoroughly than they had hoped, but the combination of drugs and mental programming had given rise to a number of worrying incidents that could have drawn attention to them, including an inexplicable desire to protest in front of a television station. Fortunately, it had only cost them a small fine to have him released. And the criminal record did lend verisimilitude to the role that he was playing.
Robert was beckoning Tanner over to the computer.
He came and looked over Robert's shoulder at the monitor. "What have we got?"
"Activity in the house."
Tanner said, "Looks like Martin's got visitors." He cursed silently. These people were more efficient than he'd expected. Half an hour after the initial meeting, and Martin was already leading them to the pod while they prowled around his house. They must have gotten Martin's license number at the diner, he realized, and traced it back. Not that he wasn't prepared, but it was all a lot faster than he had expected.
Robert shook his head, "That's not all. See the big guy? Watch what happens when I get a thermal scan- Definitely not human."
Tanner looked at the image of the Goa'uld on the screen and felt his clever little plan unraveling before his eyes. "This changes everything." Living in the deceptively peaceful atmosphere of America, Tanner had been lulled into almost forgetting the war. The image was a chilling reminder that nowhere was safe from the enemy. He was grateful they'd put in the thermal sensors- they'd only wanted to be able to monitor Martin's movements in the dark.
Robert looked up at him. "That's a Jaffa. I think the Air Force has been infiltrated by the Goa'uld."
'And Martin is in more danger than we ever imagined.' "At best." Tanner said bleakly. Robert turned to stare at him. "At worst, they've been completely taken over. Who knows how far up it goes?" Tanner felt sick. He'd tried to send Martin home, but instead had delivered him to the Goa'uld, drugged and helpless to protect himself. "We need to convince them he's not an alien."
Tanner sat in the false psychiatrist's office they'd set up. He'd considered just cutting and running, but he was still hoping to salvage something from this mess. After recovering from his first panic, he'd started to become curious. Infiltration wasn't really the Goa'uld way. They tended to prefer outright domination. But there had to be some explanation for the Jaffa at Martin's house. He needed information. So he was sitting in his phony office, preparing to play the role of psychiatrist and see what he could find out from his interrogators.
In some ways, he was sorry they'd gotten this far. It wouldn't take them a lot of investigation to find out that he wasn't a real psychiatrist. The false records that Robert had inserted in the computer network would back him up for now, but any attempt to confirm them with a real person would reveal them to be forgeries. It meant that sooner or later, the military was going to figure out that there was more going on here than just a single crackpot. Fortunately, Martin had returned home without finding the pod. If he had led them to it, Tanner could not have risked this interview. As it was, they still had a slim chance to convince the military that Martin was just a garden-variety crank who had coincidentally hit close to home.
He looked at the small monitor in his drawer. Two of the military agents from the house were entering the office building. His hidden instruments told him that neither of them was a Goa'uld, but he was getting some odd readings from Carter. Perhaps she was carrying an alien device. That would account for the trace of naquada.
Tanner wasn't sorry he was going to get to talk to them. He was more than a little curious to meet the enemy face to face. He stood up and smiled genially at his two visitors as they entered his office. "Hello, I'm Dr. Peter Tanner. I'm sorry, my receptionist is out today. What can I do for you?"
"I'm Dr. Daniel Jackson, and this is Major Samantha Carter."
Tanner leaned forward to shake hands, concealing his unease. He hoped Jackson wasn't a medical doctor. He wasn't sure he could bluff a real medical person. He motioned them to chairs and went back around to sit behind "Dr. Tanner's" authoritative desk. "I must say, your phone call piqued my curiosity. I don't often get requests for information from the military."
"Well, this concerns a particular patient of yours, Martin Lloyd." The major was pleasant and professional.
Tanner ventured his first stalling gambit. "Oh, I see. Of course, you understand that doctor/patient privilege prohibits me from discussing the case history of a client."
Major Carter replied. "This is a matter of national security, Dr. Tanner. The privilege doesn't exist in this case."
Tanner wondered if that was true. Despite having spent the last couple of years doing research of one sort or another, he was far from an expert on the local legal system. If you could call it that. He smiled and stuck to his script. "National security involving Martin?!" He chuckled. "I find that hard to believe."
Dr. Jackson asked, "Why do you say that?" Jackson's tone was polite and noncommittal, a professional tone that would have suited the psychiatrist that Tanner was pretending to be.
Tanner maintained his expression of tolerant amusement and trotted out the plausible line of psychobabble he'd constructed with the help of a couple of websites, and several hundred hours of television drama. "Let's put it this way, people like Martin sometimes compensate for their feelings of insignificance by creating elaborate fantasies in which they are the center and focus of all the attention. These people are usually harmless, although they may try and draw others into their illusions. That's what's happened here." He glanced at the two military agents, trying to gauge their reaction to his implication that they'd been fooled.
Carter made a tiny motion that accepted the possibility, then glanced at her companion. "Even so, we have to ask."
Jack hung up the phone after talking to Hammond and sat on the bed, staring at the hokey SF movie Teal'c had selected from the limited offerings of the motel cable system. He didn't really think that Martin Lloyd was worth wasting SG-1's time, but the drug tampering suggested that there was more going on here than just a nutcase who happened to have gotten a hold of a few rumors about a classified project and made a few lucky guesses.
The people on Calder's world would have called him 'nightsick', he thought idly. Jack froze. But people who were nightsick weren't sick at all- they were remembering. He didn't really think that Martin- That was just stupid. He was a fruitcake. You could find them on any street corner. The coincidentally accurate guesses that Martin had made were setting off his alarms, but coincidence was all it was. Wasn't it?
The rattle of the bed died, and Teal'c came forward and extended a hand for more coins. Jack dug into his pocket, looking forward to telling Daniel and Carter about this. Who knew their big alien friend would find a vibrating bed the nadir of Tau'ri technology? The vibrations resumed. He checked his watch. Carter and Daniel should be checking in within the hour.
He heard a knock on the door and a familiar voice saying, "Colonel O'Neill! .... Colonel O'Neill, are you in there?"
Jack muted the TV and went to the door. "Martin?"
"Please! I have to see you!"
Jack threw Teal'c his hat, and waited while his friend donned it with a flourish before turning the deadbolt.
Martin dashed in as soon as the door was open. "Oh, good. You're here. You have no idea how-" He stopped abruptly when he caught sight of Teal'c. "Who's he?"
Jack opened his mouth to say 'Tor', and then had to grope a moment to remember the name they'd put on Teal'c's ID. "Um- my friend, Murray."
Teal'c waved without getting up, looking inscrutable under the floppy hat. Anyone else would have looked silly, O'Neill thought. Teal'c just looked calm and dignified as always.
"You trust him?" Marty asked.
'With my life.' "Oh, yeah."
Martin conceded. "I guess it's okay."
"Good, glad you're comfortable." Jack wondered why Marty was here. He watched the other man cross to the window.
"Don't you want to know how I found you?" Marty asked, peering worriedly out the window and closing the blinds.
'Not really. I'd rather go fishing.' "Uh, okay." Jack replied, with a noticeable lack of enthusiasm.
Martin went nervously to the window and started to close the curtains, "I noticed in your car there was a map from the Sleep-Rite Motel Chain. I checked every one in town."
"There's two," Jack pointed out
Martin said, "I'm surprised a man in your position wouldn't take more precautions to maintain your cover."
"Marty. I'm not undercover." Jack wondered what Martin wanted now. To drive him crazy, probably.
Martin locked the door. "You think I'm making this all up. Look at this." He held up a toothpick.
Jack took it, looking a little suspiciously to check that it hadn't been used. It appeared to be a perfectly ordinary sliver of wood. "Yes, it all makes since now," he intoned in a spooky voice.
"I propped it up against the inside of my door." Martin explained. "When I got home, it was on the ground, meaning someone was there."
"If you prop it up against the inside of your door, how do you get out?" Jack asked.
Martin looked at him like he was the crazy one, "Through the window. You think I'm so stupid, I go out my own front door?!"
Jack wondered whose front door he would go through. 'Oh, right. Mine.' "So, you leave the window unlocked?"
"That's right. I put a hair on the inside of the window sill, and when that's gone when I-"
Jack wished he would just get to the point. "Marty!" he barked in best intimidating tone. It worked better on Martin than it did on his team.
"The point is, someone was there. They're after me. Help me, please! I'm running out of time."
Jack sighed, "What do you *want*?"
Martin said, "I wanna go home." His voice cracked pitiably. "You have to take me through the stargate."
Jackson said, "Dr. Tanner, it may be true that Martin is delusional, but there are still some unanswered questions here."
Tanner asked, "Such as?"
"Well, he seems to be taking a lot of medication."
They were still on the script, since Tanner had allowed for the possibility that the medication would lead them to his office. "No more than is necessary," he answered.
The woman raised her eyebrows, "Doxipin, Haliperdol, Prophenazine, lithium, Valium...?"
These two weren't going to give anything away by their line of questioning, that was clear. Tanner decided it was time to start making impatient motions. "Major, please! I don't have time to discuss the benefits of psychopharmacology. This interview is over." He stood up.
The woman didn't move. "Dr. Tanner, we obtained samples of Martin's medication and ran an analysis. Apparently, the drugs have been laced with some indeterminate chemicals."
That was an unwelcome shock. They had been a lot more thorough than he had expected. How had they that spotted that so fast? They had only left the house a couple of hours ago! He let his real surprise show on his face, and then misled them as to the reason. "That's absurd! There must be some mistake!"
"The tests were very thorough."
Tanner cast about for a plausible diversion. "I don't know anything about this. I mean, I just write the prescriptions. I don't make the drugs."
That seemed to divert them. "We're not accusing you of anything. We're just looking for answers," the woman replied placatingly.
Time for more diversions. Tanner sat back down. "You realize that this investigation is only going to fuel Martin's paranoia," he said urgently. Tanner's mind was racing. If they had already found the drugs, they might figure out that Martin's amnesia was part of a setup to gain access to the stargate. And if the Goa'uld had a covert presence on this world, they could quietly use domestic agents like Carter and Jackson to squash Tanner and his people like bugs.
Major Carter said determinedly, "We have no choice. Now we're going to get to the bottom of this with or without your help."
Risky or not, he needed more information. How deeply had the Goa'uld penetrated their organization? He mentally flipped through his contingency plans. He was going to have to interrogate one or more of them. Now, if he could just get them to do the asking- "I- don't know what else I could tell you," he said, with just the right inflection of hesitation mixed with willingness-to-cooperate.
Jackson asked, "Does he have any friends, or relatives we can contact, anyone else?"
Bait taken, Tanner suppressed a sigh of relief and got up and rummaged through his mostly empty file cabinet. Forturnately they couldn't see into the top drawer while they were seated. He peered into it and wrote down the name of the warehouse they had been using as a staging and storage area. Fortunately, it wouldn't take long to pack most of their gear into the escape vehicle. "This is his work address." He handed the paper to Major Carter. "That's the best I can do."
He watched them leave with polite concern, then pulled out his cellphone. Robert answered on the second ring. "Pack up everything in the vans," he ordered.
"What's going on?" The infotech asked.
"We're going to capture a couple of them for questioning." Tanner told him. He thought a moment before neutrally phrasing his orders. "We'll use the space you're in. And call the others back. We're going to need everyone."
"All right." Robert's voice was hesitant. "We've got some bad news."
What now? Tanner suppressed a sharp sigh of impatience. "What is it?"
"Martin went back to his house."
Tanner said, "That's good, isn't it? We needed to find him."
"But he left again before we could get there," Robert told him.
"So where is he now?" Tanner demanded. He wished, not for the first time, that he wasn't the only member of the group with intelligence training.
"We don't know."
Martin was pacing back and forth anxiously. "I knew it would come to this! They'll do tests on me, they'll dissect me like one of those demented high school biology experiments ---"
Jack tried to slow him down. "Marty!" It actually reminded him a bit of Daniel in the middle of a fit of excitement. Actually, how long had it been since Jack had seen his friend enthusiastic? Goa'uldworld, that would be it. And look how that had turned out- they were all so damned *tired*.
The small man would not listen. "I'm never going to get home! I want to ---"
Jack barked, "Sit!" in his best military manner. He was gratified to see that it worked on Marty. "Look, you gotta relax. Nobody's going to do anything to you, I promise." He paused, reluctant. But he wasn't going to get any more information without engaging in dialogue. "Now, if- and I stress the word IF- there is such a thing, what makes you think your way home is through this- stargate?"
Marty looked up at him helplessly. "I- I- I don't know! I get these ideas. Flashes. It's a little confusing. I don't even know for sure why I want to go, it's just- a- a feeling- I'm somebody there. Like, like there's- something important for me to do there, more important than anything I can do here. Can I have a glass of water?"
Jack felt a chill like icewater down his spine as he stared at Martin and flashed on a conversation he'd had less than two weeks before.
//'Look I just think I'm supposed to be doing something more important.' Carlin said earnestly.
Therra gave him a puzzled look. 'We're helping our people survive an ice age.'
Jona nodded. 'What could be more important than that'
Carlin looked frustrated, struggling to put his unease into words, 'I don't know. Look, I just have this feeling that all of us are part of some bigger, grander thing.'//
"Yeah." Long experience kept Jack's face impassive, but he was inwardly shaken as he got up to get Marty his water. This was stupid. There wasn't anyone using memory stamps on Earth. Marty was just nuts. Wasn't he? He had certainly found out something. Jack just wasn't sure what yet.
He handed Martin the glass, watching him dig in his pockets and produce a bottle of medication. Hammond. He froze, staring at the bottle. No memory stamps, but Hammond had passed on Janet's speculation that whatever had been added to Martin's meds was what was making him crazy. He reached for the bottle. "Let me see those." He glanced at the prescription label for Haliperdol. "You should go easy on this."
"But-" Martin started to protest and Jack gave him his best sincere look.
"Just for a while. Trust me."
Martin asked, "What about the symbols?"
"What symbols?" He could hear a train whistle in the distance, a sound that always made Jack think of his childhood in Chicago.
Marty said, "It's one of the things I see in the flashes. There are seven of them. I wrote them down." He handed a folded scrap of paper to Jack.
Seven symbols? It couldn't be. This guy was a nut job. Jack teased it open, looking down on the crudely drawn markings. Six symbols, all recognizably from the stargate. The last symbol was as familiar to him as his own name- an inverted V with a circle - the origin symbol for Earth.
Tanner watched Jackson and Carter, if those were really their names, on the monitor. Probably phony IDs, he decided. They were exactly the same kind of bland, common, Anglo-Saxon names his own team had chosen to avoid drawing attention. They found that the door was unlocked and walked into the empty warehouse unhesitatingly.
Carter said, "Hello?!"
Jackson asked her, "This is the place?"
"Yeah. This is the address he gave us." The others were moving into position.
"But, it doesn't look like anyone's place of work, there's no one here." Jackson said.
Carter turned around and saw Scott, John and Robert. She raised her hands. "Except for the guys with guns."
Jackson turned around as well and put his hands up. The two of them regarded their captors with more interest than apprehension. Definitely professionals. Tanner wished he could handle the interrogation himself, but had decided he wanted to keep his face hidden for the moment. Let them think the psychiatrist had been real for now.
"I beg your pardon," Carter said. "It wasn't our intention to trespass. The door was open."
"May we speak with whoever is in charge?" Jackson asked in a mild, reasonable tone.
"Shut up and turn around." John said. He'd made it his business to obtain and master the primitive handguns, Tanner remembered. They'd all practiced with them enough that they wouldn't shoot themselves in the foot, but only John was really expert.
"Or we'd be perfectly happy to just leave quietly?" Jackson offered, ignoring the instructions.
John moved around him and pressed the gun against the back of his neck, as he patted him down. "Or I could just shoot you in the knee to motivate you to follow instructions."
Jackson shut up.
Tanner continued to watch as John frisked them. They were both carrying weapons in shoulder holsters, and Carter had a set of metal implements that Tanner guessed were lockpicks in her pocket. Robert took their possessions and brought them out for Tanner to examine. They both had military ID as well as civilian, and all of it matched the names they had given Tanner.
"Sit down." John instructed, and Scott used plastic ties to bind them. When they were secured, John said, "Now. We have a few questions we'd like to ask you."
Jack held the phone to his ear and ignored Martin's babbling as the call first rang and then went straight into voicemail. 'I hate it when this happens.' "Carter's not answering her phone," he told Teal'c.
Teal'c was as aware of the call-in schedule as he was. "Should they not have contacted us by now?" The sharp alertness in his voice told Jack that he was having the same bad feelings about this as his team leader.
"Yep," Jack replied economically. 'It's all fun and games until half of your team goes missing.'
Marty said, "You know, guys, it would be a really good idea if I took some of my medication now."
Whatever that medication was, Jack didn't think it was helping. "I don't think so."
"The thing is, if I go too long without it, I tend to get a little nervous." Marty told them. He looked at the impassive expression on Teal'c's face. " No, really."
'Ouch. I bet you do.' Jack still remembered Daniel coming down off massive doses of unnecessary antipsychotic medication. Still, it wouldn't kill him. And Marty was their only clue to what had happened to Daniel and Carter. "Marty, sit down. Let's- talk- about these symbols."
"They mean something, don't they?" Marty asked eagerly.
Jack ignored the question. Getting information without giving anything away was going to be tricky. "Right now, I need you to think very carefully. Where did you see them?"
"I told you, I have these visions. I don't know where they come from." Marty said impatiently. "Maybe it has something to do with my implant."
Jack flashed on Urgo. "Excuse me?"
"They put an implant in my head. I always thought they were sending me symbols."
Then again, maybe not.
Teal'c asked, "To whom are you referring?"
Marty replied, "You know- them. The secret government. The New World Order, black helicopters, underground bases- don't you guys read the papers?"
Teal'c looked slightly puzzled. Jack put his hand over his eyes. "Marty! For God's sake!"
Marty looked as serious and earnest as ever. "You don't believe me. My neurologist didn't believe me either but that's only because the implant is so small, it can't be read under normal x-ray."
It was impossible to tell what of this stuff was real, and what was born in the mish-mash of urban legend and X-files that was Marty's brain. He turned to Teal'c. "All right, this is going nowhere. I'm gonna go look for Carter and Daniel." He handed Marty's pills to the Jaffa. "Keep an eye on him."
Behind him, he heard Marty protesting, "Hey! Where are you going?" as he left the room.
Tanner had been prepared to coach John on what to say, but he'd been a law enforcement officer before the war and seemed to know the ropes. John's voice on the monitor sounded a little anxious to Tanner, but he was covering it with a hint of aggression. "Okay. Let's keep this simple. Who are you?"
"Who are you?" Carter returned the question smoothly. Definitely professionals. Take control of the interrogation away from the interrogator was rule number one in everyone's training manual.
Fortunately, John was too bright to fall for it. "We're the guys with the guns, which means you answer our questions. So, once again- who are you?"
Jackson gave in gracefully. "I'm Dr. Daniel Jackson. This is Major Samantha Carter." From his courteous tone and faint smile, you'd never have guessed he was tied to the chair.
"We're with the Air Force," Major Carter added. Well, either they were telling the truth, or they were consistent liars. Time would tell.
John seemed a bit thrown by the easy answer, and demanded, "Well, what are you doing here?" Tanner frowned. The interrogation had barely started and their captives had John off stride.
Carter shook her head. "Classified," she said pleasantly but firmly. She was wearing a crisp professional expression that remained unruffled by threats and questions alike.
John wisely moved on to his next question, starting to regain his rhythm. "What do you know about Martin Lloyd?"
Carter cocked her head, and in a faintly puzzled tone said, "Never heard of him."
"Damn, she's good." Tanner muttered. Not a flicker of recognition. He kept his eyes on the monitor.
John countered her assertion. "Yesterday, you were conducting an illegal search in his house."
Jackson immediately denied it. "No, we weren't." He gave his interrogator an open, candid look, for all the world like he not only wasn't hiding anything, he had nothing to hide. John seemed a bit taken aback.
Deceptive, that. Jackson had one of those open-looking faces that people instinctively trust. If Tanner hadn't talked to them in his 'office' and seen the tape of them at the house, he'd have started wondering by now if they hadn't grabbed the wrong people. The intelligence officer reminded himself that primitive wasn't the same as simple. They might not have the technology his own people did, but he shouldn't underestimate them.
John was looking from one to the other, trying to read them. Tanner was pretty sure that he wasn't going to find out anything that way.
Carter asked pleasantly, "So, who are you guys, really? CIA? NID?"
John leaned forward and repeated harshly. "What do you know about Martin Lloyd?"
Carter said, "I told you, nothing."
Tanner shook his head. This was going to take a while.
Jack let himself back into the motel room, his earlier worry escalated to outright fretting. "Psychiatrist's office was completely empty, like no one had ever been there," he told Teal'c. The Jaffa was reading a tabloid.
Teal'c asked, "So, what now, O'Neill?"
'Now we wait for the NID to run Tanner's record. And I'm so good at waiting.' "I got some people on it. Where's Marty?"
Teal'c said, "He became insistant in his demands for medication."
Jack heard a knocking from the bathroom, and a plaintive voice called, "Uh- Murray? Listen, uh- I'm really sorry I tried to bite you, and I realize it was totally out of line, but I was wondering if I could come out now? Or I could just stay in here. That's good too. It's just, I'm getting a little dizzy."
He tried to bite *Teal'c*? Gotta give the little guy credit for guts. Jack said, "I don't get it. How does a nut job like that get a set of gate coordinates?"
They heard a thud from the bathroom. Jack frowned, "Marty? Marty!" He went over and knocked. "You all right?" He opened the door. "Oh! Crap!" O'Neill went and knelt beside Martin, checking for pulse and respiration. Both were normal, if a little fast. "Marty?! Marty!!?!" Jack slapped his face gently. "Come on, Marty!"
"In hindsight, perhaps we should have given him his medication, O'Neill." Teal'c suggested gravely.
Martin's eyes fluttered open. "Colonel! I remember where my ship is."
They'd been at it nonstop for a couple of hours, the same questions over and over. Jackson and Carter weren't just pros, they were very good pros. Or they'd stood up to interrogation before. Or both. They kept the same smooth, consistent answers, an easy flow of patter between them as they double-teamed John.
John took a break while Scott asked questions for a while. "I don't think they're going to tell us anything." John said. "Do you want to move on to drugs?"
"I'm putting that off as long as possible," Tanner said. "We don't have anything of terrestrial origin, and as far as they know, we're locals. Note the question about NID or CIA? They're thinking that we're part of another agency of their own government, just like we planned." He paused, drumming his fingers on the table. "Robert. Have you found anything?"
Robert looked up from the computer. "Well. They seem to be who they say they are. I've confirmed a Major Samantha Carter assigned to Cheyenne Mountain. She's an astrophysicist."
"Just the sort of person you expect to find interrogating people about a security breach." Tanner said.
"Not really, but definitely the sort of person you'd expect to be working with an advanced piece of alien technology." He smiled faintly. "She's published some allegedly theoretical work about wormholes."
"Ah. Is it any good?" Tanner asked.
Robert shrugged. "Maybe John could tell. I don't understand the mathematical notation systems they use here."
They were getting off the subject. "What about Jackson?"
"He was a lot harder to find out about, because the name is so common. But if I've got the right guy, he's an archeologist."
"A what?" Tanner wouldn't have been surprised to find out the man was a psychologist, you found them sometimes in security work.
"An archeologist." Robert repeated. "Guy who digs up old stuff?"
"What's he doing here?"
Robert said, "Well, his specialty is Egypt." He met Tanner's eyes. They'd been struck by how much Goa'uld influence there was on Tau'ri history. It astonished them that the Tau'ri seemed to have no inkling of the truth. "He apparently gave a lecture that was very controversial- something about the dating of the pyramids and development of primitive languages. But he got associated with the idea that the pyramids were built by aliens." Robert shrugged. "It isn't terribly clear from publicly available records. I only found out that much because there was some discussion about him in a newsgroup- and there could be a lot of misinformation there. Anyway, his colleagues thought he was crazy."
"More fools them." Tanner said.
"Yeah." Robert laughed. "Then he completely disappeared for awhile, and was declared dead." He tapped a few more keys on the laptop. "The date is suggestive." He turned the screen to Tanner.
Tanner did the conversion in his head. "Um, about the time Ra was killed?"
Robert nodded. "Very close. Then he turned up again about a year later, and has been living in Colorado Springs ever since."
"He joined the agency that operates the stargate."
"What about intelligence background?" Tanner asked. Archeologist? Astrophysicist? These two could *not* be amateurs.
"Impossible to say." Robert shrugged. "There's no sign of any prior connection with the government, though it would explain how he got accepted to work on a top secret program like the stargate so fast."
"No record of any intelligence work for her, either, but then there wouldn't be. I can't crack her records. They're seriously classified, going back quite a ways."
"So we have no idea what her training and abilities might be?"
"Yeah." Robert hestitated. "Though from what I can tell, it would be kind of unusual for her to both be a scientist and also have intelligence training."
Tanner stared at the screen thoughtfully, then turned back to John. "Show them the videotape. That may get us past the pure denials. And we still won't be showing them anything that betrays our origins."
John took the laptop and carried it out into the larger room of the warehouse. Tanner returned to the monitor. "We know you were in Martin's house, because we got you on video," John said. He put the computer down on the table and turned the screen so they could see it. "What can you tell us about *him*?"
Jackson replied smoothly. "He's an associate."
John said, "Yeah, we know that. We also know that he's not from around here."
"Not from Montana?" Jackson asked in a tone of such pure innocence, Tanner had to smile. Jackson knew they had him, but he wasn't going to give them an inch.
John smiled as well, but said, "I think you know what I mean."
The dynamic of the conversation shifted very subtly when they showed Carter and Jackson the tape. They were still giving an award-winning performance of having no idea what John was asking about, but Tanner thought they were more playing for time than actually believing they could talk their way out of this.
"Who is he?" John asked for the fourth time.
"Sergeant Murray?" Major Carter asked. "He's a technical sergeant in the U.S. Air Force."
John varied the question, "So, you're telling me, this man is an ordinary technical sergeant?"
Jackson replied. "I wouldn't say ordinary."
"He's very good at what he does." Carter added.
Tanner observed the way they traded the conversational ball back and forth, alternating sentences without missing a beat. Not only were these two good, they'd been partners for a while. That rapport wasn't something anyone could have developed overnight. They could play this game indefinitely, he realized. He turned to Scott. "Tell John it's time to get out the needles. We're not going to get anything out of them without pharmaceutical assistance." He gathered up the supplies he would need, keeping half an ear on the conversation.
"What's his area of expertise?" John had asked.
For the first time he seemed to have caught Major Carter offstride. She paused, then said, "Speechwriter."
John switched the view to show the symbiote on the thermal scanner. "What about this?"
Jackson said, "Oh, that's very good! Did you draw that yourself?" His tone indicated polite interest with a hint of condescension.
"What is it?!" Carter asked with a good counterfeit of bewilderment.
"That --- That's a duck, isn't it?!" Jackson was moving from condescending to outright sarcastic.
Scott whispered his message to John, who turned off the laptop. The three of them came back to confer with Tanner.
On the monitor, Jackson was saying in an exaggeratedly polite tone. "We'll just wait here."
Jack was restraining an urge to pace back and forth. The backup team, comprised of the special forces unit from the west coast and people from the local air base, had responded extremely quickly to his call. Either Montana was an excruciatingly boring duty post, or someone had been very, very impressed by the level of authority that Jack had backing him up. Probably both.
Jack was wishing he'd brought full backup from the SGC in the first place. Using an outsider as a driver for the surveillance van had been one thing, it had been easy enough to keep the sergeant away from anything sensitive. The fact that he'd been the one to tell Hammond that they shouldn't bother with an all-SGC team seriously rankled. He'd thought they were going out to interview a harmless nutcase and do a background check or two. He hadn't been expecting them to be digging up a goddamned space ship. Anticipating the round of debriefings and security checks that this was going to require afterward was already giving him a headache.
He made a mental note to review the backgrounds of several of the techs that were helping them, to see if they were SGC material. Not only would it make the security easier, but they were damned good, taking this extremely wild assignment in stride. He stared at the image of the ship the tech had extrapolated.
So now they had the ship, or the escape pod or whatever it was. And they probably also had another three or four aliens roaming around. Aliens who didn't want to be exposed. And who had grabbed his team.
Marty was babbling on, and Jack tried to sift fact from fantasy, though Martin was sounding increasingly lucid, at least to people who knew what he and Teal'c knew. "Our home world was under attack. We were sent out to find allies, then we realized you weren't advanced enough to help us." Marty told them.
Jack said, "Oh, we have our moments."
Martin seemed to be almost in a trance. "The enemy was too powerful. They wanted to make us slaves. They wanted us to worship them like gods."
Three guesses who that was. Teal'c looked to Jack for permission and Jack nodded . "The Goa'uld," Teal'c said.
Marty stared at him. "Yes. That's it!"
Jack looked at Teal'c's hat. "Show him."
Teal'c said, "The enemy of which you speak enslaved my people, murdered my father, and banished my wife and child from our people. I am branded with the symbol of this false god." He removed his hat to reveal the gold serpent of Apophis, glistening on his brow.
Marty mouth dropped open in real fear and astonishment, "Murray!"
One of the eager beavers from the local air force base poked his head into the tent. Teal'c quickly concealed his tattoo. "Colonel, we've completed the radiation sweep. We're ready to open the hatch."
Jack said, "All right. Let's do it!"
Martin suddenly burst out, "Wait, wait! You can't! The pod has remote sensors. If you penetrate the hull, they're gonna know about it."
Teal'c looked at him, "Perhaps this can be used to our advantage O'Neill."
The young air force officer looked curiously from Martin to Teal'c to O'Neill as Jack asked, "What do you have in mind, T?"
Tanner paused to listen to their captives' low-voiced conversation as he brought in the drugs.
Carter was saying, "I don't get this. These guys know what a symbiote is, but if they were really NID, they'd know that Teal'c isn't a security threat."
Jackson replied. "I don't know. That's why I hate working for the government. Every department has its own agenda, its own little secrets."
Tanner figured that was as good an entrance line as any. He said, "Very true , Dr. Jackson."
Jackson replied, "Oh, yeah. Yep, didn't see that one coming-"
Tanner assumed that he was being sarcastic, since he didn't look surprised. "I understand your reluctance to cooperate. In situations like this, information is on a need to know basis. The fact of the matter is; we're running out of time, I'm running out of patience-" He was unpacking a classic black bag full of vaguely threatening-looking devices. "-And I *really* need to know." For emphasis, he snapped open a spring-loaded rod, of the sort recommended for self defence. It expanded with a satisfying schwing.
In the dramatic pause that followed, Jackson asked thoughtfully, "You're not a real doctor, are you?" It neatly deflated a great deal of the tension Tanner had built up. 'Archeologist? Yeah, right,' he thought.
Tanner noted with some interest that both of them stayed quite composed as he strongly implied that the interrogation was moving on to the rough stuff. Possibly there had been a little flicker of resignation in Carter's eyes. No bravado, just the confidence of people who had stood up to torture before and not broken. His heart sank a little. He was getting the impression that he wasn't going to pry anything out of these two without doing serious damage. And possibly not even then.
It occurred to him a lot later than it should have, that if they were used to dealing with the Goa'uld, then these people could have already experienced considerably more brutality and cruelty than he was prepared to dish out. He hesitated. If the few words he had just overheard were any indication, the Jaffa was an anomaly, not an indication of Goa'uld infiltration. But he couldn't risk his team on the chance that was true.
A beeper went off. John checked the instrument at his belt and said, "Looks like the experiment's been discovered. What do we do?"
They found the escape pod? Tanner realized that Martin must have remembered after all and gone back. He muttered a curse. What was that Tau'ri saying? 'Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong'? There was no chance now that they could conceal their alien origins. And he'd decided long ago that as soon as they found the pod, that was their cutout. He wasn't going to hang around while they flooded the area with agents searching for his team. But that meant there would not be enough time to finish the interrogation and find out if these people were on the level or not. Tanner ordered, "Get the van."
Jackson asked, "We're going for a ride?"
"Not exactly." Tanner prepared a couple of syringefuls of a terrestrial sedative instead of the interrogation drugs he had originally planned on. He glanced at John, who leveled a gun suggestively at them while he administered the drug. They slumped with gratifying speed.
"Now what?" John asked. "Take them somewhere we can finish the interrogation?"
Tanner shook his head. "Kidnapping them is going to attract way too much attention. We go to the backup plan."
"I thought this was the backup plan." John protested.
"The other backup plan." Tanner said patiently. "I wanted information, but this is getting too risky. I say we leave these guys here, rescue Martin, blow up the landing pod and go to ground. With Jaffa running around and now that they know for sure we're extraterrestrial in origin, it's too dangerous. We'll have to hide and wait for the ship to repair itself."
"We can't just leave these guys." Robert objected. "It could be a month before anyone found them."
"They'd escape before that," Tanner said. He looked at the mutinous expressions of his crew. Nobody wanted to risk it that they wouldn't be found. If it came to that, he didn't want that himself. "But you've got a good point. They'll look for us a lot harder if their people are still missing." He thought quickly. "Okay, they only have a couple more people here, right?"
John nodded. "Carter, Jackson, O'Neill and the Jaffa. Plus there was another guy driving the van when they were parked outside the restaurant. That's all I saw."
"Robert, both vans are sanitized, right?"
Robert nodded. "We bought them used from a vendor of illegal vehicles, and I forged their registrations myself."
"Then we load up our stuff on one. Park it at the limit of transporter range and set the transporter so we can activate it remotely," Tanner said. "We go out to the pod and get Martin. Get him alone if we can, stun the other guys if we can't. They only just popped the hatch now- they can't have had time to get any backup there yet. We set the self destruct on the pod. We bring Martin back to the warehouse, leading the Air Force to their people and escape using the transporter."
"Why don't we just get to Martin and activate the transporter from there?" Robert asked.
"That's our fallback. But want to get them away from the pod before we blow it. We don't want to take Jackson and Carter with us- the military might just try to grab us if they realized we had their people. Also they're likely to have fewer sensors trained on us when we transport if we drive away from the pickup point. I'd rather not give them any more free information. They've been entirely too quick to follow up every lead we've allowed them so far.
"And last but not least, they'll think we had a reason to lead them back here, and may waste a lot of time looking for our escape route before realizing that we got out using advanced technology," Tanner said.
He felt rewarded by the respect that crept into his team's eyes and straightened their spines. They hadn't wanted to abandon Martin or to hurt any possibly innocent people. His plan was going to let them rescue their comrade, get as many people as possible away from the exploding pod and let them release their captives unharmed to boot. He was suddenly grateful that he hadn't had to torture Carter and Jackson. He knew the theory of hostile interrogation, of course, he'd had it in his training. But he'd never actually had to put the techniques into practice.
Jack sat in the surveillance van and listened to Marty complain. The van smelled like coffee, like any place that Daniel had spent a lot of time in. His thoughts drifted back to the ice planet and he wondered what was worse. Having your whole team under your eye but not remembering that you had to protect them, or having half of them missing so you *couldn't* protect them.
Marty sounded agitated, "This is *not* a good idea- did I mention this is not a good idea?! I don't really appreciate being used as bait."
Jack leaned in to the microphone, "Hang in there, Marty! And stop talking into your lapel."
Naturally that didn't stop him. "Oh, it's easy for you guys, all nice and cozy back in your van eating your crullers and your bear claws."
Teal'c gave O'Neill a puzzled look, and O'Neill replied with the headshake that meant, 'I'll explain later'.
Martin was continuing. "I'm the one standing out here, risking my - We got company!"
The microphone wasn't sensitive enough to pick up the other men's remarks, but Martin came through loud and clear. "I'm not crazy, and you're not a psychiatrist. You see this?" There was a brief pause. "This is what brought us here. I remember now!"
The tracer showed Martin moving toward the road. "Nice van! What do you call that color? Kind of a greyish-green, huh?!"
Jack watched the monitor with satisfaction. "All right, they're moving." The satellite imagery was astonishingly good. They could track the van easily, even if they found the transmitter.
Marty was still talking. "So, you're gonna drug me again?" A murmur that O'Neill couldn't make out. Then, "You're not gonna kill me? You know how many people know about this, now? What about Major Carter and Dr. Jackson? Are you gonna kill all of us?"
O'Neill listened while Martin argued with the other aliens, finishing with an impassioned plea. "We can all just go home! They have a stargate!" Then he abruptly fell silent and didn't speak again.
Tanner kept up the flow of comments implying they were part of some anonymous government agency while he listened to Martin insist that the Tau'ri would send them all home by stargate, then made a decision. He reached inside Martin's jacket and pulled out the microphone, muffled it in a rag and scrambled to the front of the van to dump it in the cab.
Martin had been staring down into his black bag, but he looked up abruptly when Tanner returned and said, "You don't get it. You don't have to do this. None of us do!"
Tanner slapped a length of duct tape across the mouth of the bewildered man. "Tie him up," he instructed John.
John did as he asked, while Robert drew him aside and whispered, "What are you doing? I thought we were rescuing him." John used more of the handy plastic ties to bind Martin's wrists and ankles. He joined them in time to hear Tanner's reply.
Tanner said, "I'm going back to the original plan. The one where we let them send Martin home."
John shook his head, looking baffled. "I thought we thought they were controlled by the Goa'uld."
"Do you still think so?" Tanner asked quietly. "I had my doubts talking to Jackson and Carter. O'Neill is supposed to be an enemy of the Goa'uld- Heru-ur has a price on his head. I'm finding it easier to believe that the Tau'ri have a Jaffa on their side, than I do that these people serve the Goa'uld."
John nodded. "I know what you mean. They aren't fanatics or afraid. They weren't even afraid of us, and we were holding them prisoner. They just kept trying to figure us out. That doesn't sound like Goa'uld."
"Martin thinks that they'll let him use their stargate to go home," Tanner said. "That's what we wanted, a chance to get a message home. Why don't we let him try?"
"What do you want to do?" Robert asked.
"Follow the plan, only leave Martin with Jackson and Carter. They'll either send him home or they won't." Tanner said.
"What if he tells them about the ship?" John asked.
Tanner shrugged, "Martin's already starting to remember. A few more days and he'll be able to tell them anything about us he wants. I don't think he'll betray us. Anyway, I don't think these people have the technology to find the ship even if Martin told them where to look. And if they don't send him home, we can find him again."
It was easy to tell they were in the north. The already long summer day was even longer in Montana. It was eight in the evening and they still had full daylight. Jack watched the van via the satellite feed and opened the radio link to his special ops backup team, "They've stopped. Get to them!" The second van closed with them, and they pulled up to the warehouse together. Jack told the driver, "Seal off the area. No one in or out." The men were puzzled, but willing.
O'Neill and Teal'c entered the building. The van they had followed was parked in the middle of the vast empty space. As his eyes adjusted to the dimness, Jack felt his heart miss a beat at the two slumped figures in the chairs. No blood, he thought. That has to be a good sign. He whispered, "Carter?" and only started breathing again when he saw her lift her head.
He dug in his pocket for a jackknife, wishing he had his normal offworld gear. "You all right?" He sliced the plastic tie that that bound her hands.
She nodded yes, and he saw with relief that Daniel was also stirring. He cut Daniel loose and watched as his friend started to shake off the drug. Both okay, not a scratch. Jack took a deep steadying breath. He might someday have to go home a team member short, but today wasn't the day. Thank God.
He looked at Teal'c. The Jaffa had opened the back of the van. There was a sound of tape being peeled and Teal'c was releasing the bound and furiously protesting form of Martin. As soon as the tape was peeled off his mouth, Martin said, "Oh, Murray! Am I glad to see you! Oh -"
Jack asked, "Where are your friends?"
Martin replied, "I'm not sure."
Jack spoke into his radio, "Sergeant? Any sign of the targets?"
The reply came back immediately, "Negative , sir!"
"They just disappeared?" Jack enquired of the universe in an aggrieved tone.
Marty answered him, "They're aliens, right? I have more evidence. Look." He produced some kind of electronic gadget.
"What's that?" Jack asked.
Martin said, "A mobile computing device. I snuck it out of Tanner's bag. It has multiple functions, see?"
The device beeped and Jack could see some kind of pulsing circle that vaguely reminded him of something.
"Uh-oh!" Marty said.
"What?" Jack asked.
Marty replied, "Guys, we'd better get out of here. This thing is counting down."
Yeah, that's what it had reminded Jack of- the self-destruct mechanism in Aris Boch's Goa'uld transport vessel. Jack hesitated only long enough to make sure all of his team were bolting for the door, before he hit full stride himself. He bellowed "Clear the area!" as they all dove down the flight of stairs outside. Jack put his face to the pavement as he waited for the explosion. And waited. And waited.
Finally, he picked up his head to look at Marty and said, "Well?"
Martin was looking at the device. "That's weird. I'm sure this is a countdown for some sort of detonation."
The four members of SG-1 picked themselves up and brushed off. "Okay, what was that?" Daniel asked.
"That was us panicking over nothing." Jack replied. He felt tireder than ever. Even Daniel had managed a better landing than he had. He groaned as he inspected his scraped knees through the tears in his pants. "I feel like I'm eight and just fell off my bike." The jacket was a loss as well, though at least it had protected his elbows from the same treatment. His radio chirped. "O'Neill." He listened for a moment to the report from the USAF security guards who had been left in the field, then looked at the others. "It was the escape pod that just blew. Left a fifty foot diameter crater in the field."
The four members of SG-1 slouched in the airplane seats. For the trip home, the Air Force had supplied a small passenger jet. As soon as they had taken off, Daniel and Jack had swiveled their seats around to face their teammates in the row behind them. Martin was curled in one of the rear seats, withdrawal from the drugs hitting him hard after the manic state he'd spent most of the day in. Jack had thanked any benevolent deities who might be listening after the escape pod had exploded. If Martin hadn't warned them about the sensors on the pod, there would have been USAF teams crawling all over it when it blew.
Jack relaxed bonelessly into his chair, feeling the stinging in his skinned knees and bruises from his dive onto the pavement as Teal'c concisely narrated the day's events after Carter and Daniel had disappeared.
Daniel said, "I wonder what his homeworld is like."
"If those coordinates are any good, we'll find out soon enough." Jack said lazily.
"It was under Goa'uld attack and losing," Teal'c pointed out sombrely. "There may be nothing left to find." There was a long silence, as they contemplated a society advanced enough to build starships, fighting the Goa'uld as they were, wiped out forever.
"We'll see." Daniel said.
"What made you believe him, sir?" Carter asked him idly. "The gate coordinates?"
Jack shrugged. "That was part of it." He hesitated for a moment. The others waited without impatience. "It was also something he said. He told me that he felt there was something more important he was supposed to be doing." Carter and Teal'c looked a bit puzzled.
Daniel said. "Like we felt on the ice planet when our memories were erased."
"Like you felt on the ice planet." Jack corrected. There was long silence. They hadn't really talked about the memory stamps and the mission to Planet Icebox. Jack wondered if they were going to continue to avoid discussing it now.
Carter broke the silence. "I feel so stupid," she said ruefully. "There I was, fixing things, working hard. If they hadn't refused to listen to me, I'd probably have stayed there a year, never looking beyond the next problem."
"The memory stamp could wipe out some things, but not everything, not if they wanted us to function." Daniel pointed out. "It couldn't change who we are."
That struck a chord in Jack. 'It couldn't change who we are.'
"But that's what I mean." Carter said. "I should have seen it. I knew what the power plant capacity was. I should have seen that there was a lot of power going somewhere and wondered about it."
"But wondering about things outside your area is one of the things that the stamp was deliberately intended to prevent." Daniel argued.
"You wondered." Carter blurted.
'What she said.' Teal'c had remembered before any of them, the memory stamp not working very well on the Jaffa, and gotten restamped for his trouble. But Jack and Carter had bought into it totally. At least until Daniel had raised the question. Or rather the questions, relentlessly, one after another after another. Then Carter had turned her active mind loose on the problem and together they had torn gaping holes in the facade. They had dreamed about SG-1. Jack had dreamed about the Simpsons. 'It couldn't change who we are.' Was that the most important component of his identity, a piece of mass market entertainment? He didn't want to think so.
Daniel was focused on Carter, thoughtfully piecing together his argument. "Yes, I did wonder. But that had as much to do with my education and training as you fixing the machinery did with yours." 'It couldn't change who we are.' Even when she was Therra, Carter had called him 'sir'. Daniel had bombarded him with theories, questions. He had listened with a mixture of impatience and skepticism that was eerily familiar, memory or no memory. They'd tried to convince him, tried to get him to lead them. Surely that said something? But about them, or about him? He watched Carter and Daniel.
It was at times like this, that Jack envied Daniel the gift of gab. He could order Carter to stop thinking, and joke around until she smiled, but Daniel would use logic to argue her out of feeling guilty. It was one reason he'd been avoiding talking to Daniel about what had happened on Calder's planet. He knew Daniel would talk him out of some of his guilt, and he wasn't ready to be let off the hook yet. Jack wished he could get Daniel to turn that analytical clarity and sense of fairness on himself once in a while, but Daniel's overdeveloped sense of responsibility got in the way.
Daniel had only paused to breathe. "See, Sam, your training is in solving problems. Hand you a problem, especially a technical one, and you'll focus all your attention on it. You had something to do." He gestured to himself. "I didn't. I didn't even have anything to read. I kept finding myself squinting at the markings on the pipes, just desperate for the sight of print. If they'd dropped me in a library, I'd have been the one who didn't think about anything else for a year. But they didn't. Sam, I was *bored*. And that was the first wrongness- if all I had ever known was mining, why did I have this craving to read?"
That actually made sense to Jack, who had known Daniel to bring reading material to the grocery store, in case he had to wait in the checkout line. If he didn't have a book in his pocket, he'd compulsively read the back of food packages. He read at meals, in the elevator and walking through the halls of the SGC.
Daniel was saying, "So with nothing else to do, I started trying to put together a coherent picture of the society. When the small slice we could see didn't make sense, my instinct was to broaden my focus, look for factors I hadn't observed yet to explain the anomalies. Yet every time I tried, I kept running up against more holes. Way too many to ignore." He looked at Sam intently. "Do you see what I mean?"
She nodded slowly. "I was reacting like an engineer. My training taught me to focus on the problem, neglecting as many variables as practical to get to a solution. Yours taught you to try and construct a model that was consistent with *all* the observed facts. Yours was the approach that was better suited to seeing through a setup like Calder's."
"More than that. Archeologists are in the business of putting together coherent pictures of societies from limited data. They couldn't have picked anyone with a worse background to try to fool the way they did." He glanced over at Jack. "There's another factor to consider as well."
"What's that?" Carter asked.
" 'It is my honor to serve'," Daniel quoted softly. It sent a shiver down Jack's spine. His friend looked over at him with clear-eyed understanding before turning back to Sam. "I didn't choose to study archeology because I thought it would help me save the world-"
Involuntarily, his teammates smiled and Daniel flushed as he realized what he had just said. "Uh, you know what I mean. I chose archeology selfishly, because it interested me. You and Jack chose to serve in the Air Force. The idea, the *ideal* of service is especially powerful for you. It's not surprising that it resonated." He turned deliberately to Jack. "And in some ways, Jack was worse off than you were."
"What?" Jack and Carter asked at the same time. Jack tried to warn Daniel off with a glare. He wasn't in the mood to be psychoanalyzed. Ever. The look had about as much effect as it usually did, which was to say, none at all.
"Jack had the whole service thing going. And there was nothing there to trigger his special skills. No threats to assess, nothing attacking us. Overtly, there was nothing wrong. If you noticed, Jack was the slowest to remember of any of us. But what happened during the fight with Calder?"
Teal'c answered, "O'Neill reacted effectively and without hesitation. And he immediately began to regain his true memories."
Daniel nodded. "Exactly. But until then, there had been very little to start the memories coming back."
Jack blinked. The worst part of the whole experience had been realizing how easily he could have let his team down because he'd forgotten that they *were* a team. But when Calder had pointed a gun at them, his response had been automatic. And the first thing he had truly remembered was Calder threatening his team, consigning them to the underworld. Believing that a obvious threat to his team would have started his memories coming back earlier- well, that was profoundly reassuring. He remembered hesitating at the wormhole, not remembering the GDO, but sure that there was something wrong, his people were in danger. Not only had he not let them down, he wouldn't have. He felt a knot of inner tension start to melt away.
'It couldn't change who we are.' Jack looked from Daniel to Carter to Teal'c. Friends. Family. Team. No piece of alien tech could change that. He shook his head slightly. Thinking. Too much thinking. He needed a fishing pole for this.
"Hey, you okay?"
Jack turned to Daniel. "What? Fine." He was perfectly aware that Daniel's words of reassurance had been as much for him as for Carter.
Daniel was watching him with a flicker of concern in his eyes.
Jack put on his grumpy-colonel face. "Two days in Montana, and I've got to rush back without even checking out the fishing."
Daniel gave him a you're-not-fooling-me look and then let it go, with ease of long friendship. "You've got the X-302 trials next week. Maybe you can squeeze in a trip after that," he suggested.
Jack brightened at the thought of the flight tests. And even more at the thought of vacation afterward. "It's a thought."
"I have a question," Teal'c said.
"What is it, T?" Jack replied.
"When we were in the van, Martin Lloyd said that we were eating 'crullers and bear claws'. We were not eating anything. Is this a Tau'ri colloquialism with which I am not familiar?" Teal'c asked.
Jack and Carter grinned, while Daniel answered the question seriously. "No, Teal'c. Crullers and bear claws are pastries, like doughnuts. Doughnuts are the traditional food that one eats while on stakeouts."
Teal'c looked thoughtful, and Jack wondered if he was going to ask why there was a special food for stakeouts, but instead he said. "We did not have doughnuts." His ponderous tone suggested that it was probably a terrible faux pas. His teammates all laughed.
"Next time, for sure, T."
Jack walked out of the event horizon behind the stunned form of Martin. He looked up at the General in the control room and shook his head. "No go, sir. If there are any survivors there, they aren't anywhere near the gate."
Hammond spoke through the microphone, "The UAV covered a ten mile radius around the gate and saw no signs of life."
"Gone." Martin said. "It's all gone." There was a shimmer of moisture in his eyes.
Jack steered him in the direction of the infirmary for the usual post mission check. "I know." In an effort to distract him, Jack asked, "So, did you remember what it was that you thought we had in common?"
He climbed up and settled himself on one of the examination tables, frowning at O'Neill. "Oh. Yeah, I did."
"So what is it?" Jack asked.
"We're both soldiers. Soldiers who have fought the Goa'uld." Martin's voice was still shocked and a little too quiet.
Jack and Teal'c exchanged a look over Martin's head. "So we are." Jack said, without cracking a smile. "So we are."
Epilogue, Three months later:
Robert looked up from the computer with a relieved grin. "Found him!"
Tanner looked up from rereading Martin's message once again. "Where?"
"Running a real estate business in Nevada." Robert reported.
Tanner looked down at the email they had received at the address designated as a communications backup. 'Stay away. Govt is watching. Have been to homeworld. Everyone is dead, nothing left. Recall device is safe. Martin'. He'd been livid when he'd realized that Martin had stolen the recall device from them. Without it, they would have no chance of getting back aboard their ship when it had fixed itself.
He said, "Keep track of him. He's still got the recall device. We're going to need it in a year or so when the ship comes back."
Robert looked bewildered. "But if the homeworld is gone- where will we go? What can we do?"
Tanner shrugged. "Check out the colonies, see if we can find some survivors somewhere? I don't know. Maybe nothing. I just want to have options. We've brought ourselves to the attention of the Tau'ri now. They know we're here. They have to be looking for us. I want us to be able to escape if we need to."
He looked at John, Scott and Robert, who were watching him with trust and confidence. A good leader always looked like he knew what he was doing, and he always had a backup plan or three. And if worst came to worst- he'd just have to improvise.
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