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* TITLE: Starting Over
* AUTHOR: Redbyrd
* EMAIL: redbyrd (at) mindspring (dot) com
* RATING: PG-13
* CATEGORY: drama, missing scene
* SUMMARY: Jack's POV, missing scenes- movie, COTG and the time in between
* SPOILERS: COTG, movie
* WARNINGS: Language- this is Jack's POV.. and I couldn't entirely censor his *brain*.
* AUTHOR'S NOTE: I thought there was some unexplored territory during and after the movie that I wanted to poke around in. There are some differences between the movie and the TV series which I had to decide how to handle. Kawalsky and Ferretti were Lieutenants- it didn't make sense that they would be Majors a year-plus later, so I made them Captains. For most things I went with the TV canon.
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.
Jack carried his end of the heavy pallet full of rocks and suppressed the urge to bitch, moan and complain. After all, for the first time this trip they had a plan based on enough intel to maybe actually work. Even if it did feel like he'd spent the last three days hiking to and from this effing pyramid.
Of course if he'd stuck to his guns with West in the first place, and proved that Jackson was full of shit when he said he could get them back, none of them would be here. At the time it had felt like too much effort. At the time he hadn't cared enough to think too hard about the team he'd be taking with him. It had seemed so simple. Go, send them back, die honorably in the line of duty.
He hadn't reckoned on the archeologist's blithe assumption that the return address would be somewhere conveniently to hand. Hadn't reckoned on the city full of people who'd welcome them as honored guests, however mistakenly. Hadn't reckoned on a bright-eyed boy who'd look at him with the same trust and admiration that Charlie had. Hell, the hostile aliens were about the only thing he had reckoned on. But he hadn't planned to leave Ferretti and the base camp team to face them alone. Jack couldn't remember the last mission he'd been on that was this screwed up. East Germany, probably.
Certainly he hadn't reckoned on a civilian full of fearless curiosity and unexpected courage. He'd thought they were both dead anyway, when they were captured and hauled before Ra. He made his move thinking any action was better than doing nothing. He hadn't expected to survive. Hadn't guessed that the civilian nuisance who had stranded them here would fling himself into the line of fire to save O'Neill's worthless life.
He heard Jackson yell behind him and the shot and thud, and he turned, already knowing he was making a mistake. Jackson wasn't breathing, couldn't be breathing with a hole burned almost through the left side of his chest like that. But there was no time for thought, just action, and he turned back to shoot Ra, raising the alien weapon only to find that his child-servants had surrounded him, shielding him with their bodies. Their wide dark eyes reminded him of the boy Skaara and his friends. Jack hesitated, and his shoulder exploded in pain as the guard knocked him down. Then his momentum was well and truly lost. The guard's blows drove him into the floor and darkness closed over him as he knew he'd failed. Failed his men, failed his mission and gone to his death without accomplishing anything...
A shock of cold brought him awake and he gasped, inhaling filthy water as hands grasped at him. He struck out blindly, choking, conscious only of hurting and wondering why he wasn't dead yet. The hands weren't hitting back, though, they were dragging his head out of the water. He coughed and finally registered Kawalsky's voice. "Colonel! It's me. Are you all right?"
Jack managed a shaky nod, and found his feet on the slimy bottom of the cell. He looked up at a metallic noise overhead and found the guard closing a grating far above their heads. Jack looked around, eyes adjusting to the dimness. Kawalsky, Ferretti, Freeman.. were they all that was left? Kawalsky's eyes widened as he realized Jack was alone. "Where's Jackson?"
Jack stared at him for a moment, torn beween resentment at Daniel for taking his death, and a piercing sense of loss. Daniel, brilliant and driven, full of restless energy and youthful enthusiasm, hadn't deserved to die. In place of him, it was a brutal travesty of justice. "He..he didn't make it," Jack said. He rubbed a dripping hand through his hair, feeling sharp pains from the bruises where the guard had hit him. Bleakly he said, "He saved my life. The guard's shot would have hit me, but he jumped in the way."
"Deliberately?!" Ferretti said skeptically.
"Yeah." If Jack looked as bad as he sounded, it was no wonder the other three looked so scared. "What's our situation?" he asked.
"It sucks," Kawalsky said. "Only way in or out is that grating up there. Walls are smooth and covered in slime."
Jack looked around. "Then we have to go up." With four of them.. they might be able to reach, right? They built their human pyramid, with a certain amount of cursing and falling. Jack and Freeman took the bottom. Kawalsky got up on their shoulders, and then Ferretti climbed gingerly atop them, as the two men on the bottom cursed and locked their knees against the weight. Ultimately it proved fruitless.
"It's not just a grate," Ferretti reported, with all of them miserably hip-deep in icy water again. "There's some kind of electronic lock, and I can't even see it, let alone reach it from in here. We're screwed. We're just screwed."
Not even Kawalsky could think of anything else to try. "Hey, at least we're alive," he said.
"I wonder what they want with us?" Freeman asked.
Oh, gee, I dunno. Could be Ra's a little pissed about the bomb.. Jack shrugged. "I expect we'll find out. Eventually." The other men fell silent.
He, Ferretti, Kawalsky and Freeman spent a miserable sleepless day and night huddled together in the icy cell. Porro's body floated nearby. He had died quickly, before Jack and the others had even been captured. The deep burns on his chest filled the dank air with an pungent smell of burnt flesh. Jack felt numb and more depressed than ever.
After thirty hours of solitude it was a surprise to have them drop a ladder into the cell. It seemed to telescope down from the ceiling, the same way the guards' armor had of folding in on itself. They climbed up clumsily under the watchful eye of the guards, and were even given some water. They were all desperately thirsty, but none of them had been willing to drink any of the water they were sitting in. It had smelled about like what you'd expect, musty with more than a hint of raw sewage. After drinking, they were prodded to the ring transporter, and marched to the door. After the dankness of the cell, the light was blinding, and the three prisoners had to blink away tears. For an insane moment, Jack thought they were being turned loose. Instead, they squelched soddenly down the ramp until the guards gestured to them to stop and face the door.
After the icy misery of the cell, the hot sun of Abydos actually felt welcome. For about ten minutes. Their uniforms steamed as the water evaporated out of them and they felt pleasantly cool. People were starting to trudge over the dunes. They collected in little clumps, staring at the strangers on the ramp.
"What's going on?" Ferretti hissed.
"Public trial?" Freeman speculated out of the corner of his mouth.
"Or execution--" the guard jammed the head of his weapon against Ferretti's neck and charged it, making the man yelp and flinch. As non-verbal communication went, it was very clear. They stopped talking. As much as he wanted not to care, while some of his team was still alive, he had a responsibility. Jack stared ahead emptily, but his brain started ticking over again and he took in the guards, the people and tried to think of some way to turn their position to their advantage.
It became hotter and more uncomfortable while they waited on the ramp for the crowd to assemble. The numbers grew until the Abydonians blanketed the dunes in a sea of beige. The chilly cell began to seem like a welcome refuge compared to the heat. Finally, they saw movement at the head of the ramp.
More guards came out. Ra followed in full regalia. Jack remembered the inhuman cruelty written on the boy-man's innocent face. Only the cruelty showed on the golden mask he wore before his worshippers. And finally, a familiar figure in dull green. Alive. Unbound. Walking. Looking as calm as if Jack hadn't seen a hole blown nearly threw his midsection the day before. He was vaguely aware of Kawalsky's curious sidelong glance, but he couldn't take his eyes off Daniel.
Then the guard was handing Daniel a staff weapon. Whoa. And Daniel walked down the ramp toward them. As he approached, Jack felt a growing uneasiness. The open candor that seemed to be his usual demeanor was buried underneath a frozen stillness. All of a sudden, Jack was wondering how calm Daniel was, really, and what might Ra have done to him during those long hours of waiting. And if Jack had thought that things couldn't get any more screwed up, then he was wrong again, because a live Daniel pointing a weapon at them with icy resolve was almost worse than Daniel lying dead in a pool of blood.
Daniel's eyes flickered past them, out into the crowd, and then returned to Jack. He met Jack's gaze with an unreadable look and charged the weapon. He might have intended to convey something, but all Jack noticed was that behind the glasses his eyes were the color of the winter sky in Colorado, and about as warm. The staff was pointed straight at him, and even as much as he'd wanted to die, his heart didn't know it because it gave an enormous thump and started hammering a mile a minute. This sure wasn't the death Jack had expected.
And it wasn't the death he was going to get, either, because that was when Daniel spun around and fired at Ra. A little low, but he'd probably winged a guard. And the shot kicked up enough dust to confuse things so Jack could get up and put all that adrenaline to work running like a bunny, with Daniel chivying them down the ramp and toward a group of natives holding robes to camoflage them and those weird looking animals to run away on and how the hell Daniel had managed to arrange this, when he was Ra's prisoner, Jack was damned if he could figure.
Freeman went down to another of those staff blasts and Kawalsky tried to stop for him, but Ferretti pulled him onward. Jack winced at the loss of another team member but with a shot like that, Freeman was dead or dying and there was nothing they could do to help. He kept running, swerving to the animal that Skaara was urging him toward.
He scrambled up onto the creature, holding tight to the harness, and turned to drag Daniel up behind him. He could see Kawalsky and Ferretti on another animal. The crowd was running in every direction screaming as they tried to get away from the guards and their fiery weapons. One of the automatic weapons fired, and the animal Jack was on lit out across the desert in some random direction. He let it run-- best to get out of sight of the pyramid before turning toward the city. Which turned out to be a problem, because he couldn't find any way to stop it or even turn once the animal was traveling at full speed. All Jack could do was clutch the harness and cling on with all his strength while the creature jolted uncomfortably beneath him.
When at last the mastage had stopped running, they slid to the ground. The animal was panting and turned its head around toward them so they could smell its hot stinky breath. Jack's knees felt like water and the insides of his legs were nearly rubbed raw, but he felt more alive than he had in weeks. Daniel moved around to the side of the mastage, and fumbled with the harness. Jack wondered if he needed to hang onto it to hold himself up.
"You okay?" Jack asked, laying a hand on his shoulder.
Daniel turned toward him holding up a baglike affair and yanked out the cork and drank. "Ah," he sighed in pleasure, then offered it to Jack. "It's water."
Jack took it, shaking his head. "I can see we got a rescue with all the amenities." The water was warm and flat and sour, and flavored with something that Jack sure hoped wasn't the organ of whatever animal had been sacrificed to make the waterskin. It tasted marvelous. "How'd you do it?"
Daniel turned a startled blue gaze on him and then grinned, "You'll have to ask Skaara, Colonel. I didn't do anything. I'm improvising." He looked around at the desert, frowning.
Jack saw the godawful hole in Daniel's fatigues. There were faint stains around it and the edges of the fabric were blackened. He reached out and touched smooth skin beneath. Daniel jumped away from the touch and looked down. "Uh, good as new, it seems."
"Jesus." Jack said. "That was..uh, you were.."
"Dead," Daniel said. "Yeah, that was weird. They put me in this big gold box thing, a sarcophagus, and it healed me. Ra said that one of the reasons he chose humans for slaves is we're easy to fix." He looked down at the stained fatigues. "One of the slaves washed my shirt, it was pretty messy."
Jack pictured the charred hole in Daniel's chest, oozing blood, and shuddered. "You have no idea."
Daniel looked embarrassed. For god's sake, how could the guy be embarrassed about being dead? "Uh, I guess not," he said as he looked around at the desert again.
"The city is that way," Jack said, pointing in the direction he'd dubbed south.
"Sha shay ti yu," Daniel said, looking east.
"What?" Jack asked. Wait a minute.. wasn't that what Kasuf had called the--
"Sandstorm," Daniel said. "At least it should make it harder for Ra to find us."
Jack looked eastward, and could see the reddening of the sky. Sandstorms seemed to be damned frequent here. And the sun was going down, which was going to take the visibility down to zero. It was already getting colder. "We'd better hang onto the animal," he said. They got the mastage turned in the right general direction for the city and plodded along, hanging onto its harness.
The storm wasn't as violent as the one they'd sheltered from the day before, which was a good thing, because if it had been, they'd have been dead. As it was, they were scourged by the wind, pummelled and battered. Jack was exhausted, and Daniel was staggering. He might have escaped the watery cell, but he hadn't seemed especially rested, even at the start of things. Stupid with fatigue, it had taken Jack three steps to realize Daniel had disappeared.
"Jackson!" he yelled. He turned around and saw him huddled on the ground. He slogged back and found him passed out cold. There was no way he could carry the kid. And even if he could get him back on the animal, he wouldn't be protected from the wind-- his lungs would fill with sand. Jack hunched himself over the civilian and tried to arrange their robes to filter as much of the stuff out as possible. A sudden thought occurred to him, and he reached for Jackson's shirt. He looked at the location of the staff blast, but the skin underneath was pale and unmarked, with no sign of any injury. So he really was healed. Jack shook his head. Probably just exhausted then. He laid his cheek down against Daniel's back. They were both cold, he realized, as the proximity started to generate some heat. And then he dropped off like a rock.
He was awakened by robed figures shaking him and shouting incomprehensibly. The others hoisted Daniel to his feet, though he wasn't better than semi-conscious. They seemed to be taking a lot of his weight. Jack walked on his own, and in a surprisingly short time they reached a cave. The robed figures proved to be Skaara and some of his gang of kids, the same kids who had helped them to escape. There was a fire going, and smells of food cooking. Jack moved closer to the fire, seeking heat, and realized that Kawalsky and Ferretti had beaten him to it. Skaara called out something to the others, and they roused a feeble cheer. Skaara turned to Jack and spoke again, holding out his gun. Jack accepted it numbly.
Kawalsky patted the seat next to him, "Here, Colonel." He grinned and gestured to the kids. "So, what do you think? They're not exactly Special Forces, but they sure were eager to join up."
Jack looked at him in horror. Kawalsky couldn't be serious? These were children. Jack wasn't going to put children in the line of fire. Never again. He dropped his own gun and reached for the guns that the young natives were holding. They surrendered them, looking puzzled and worried. He snarled at Kawalsky. "Take the guns away, Captain, before they hurt themselves."
Kawalsky was looking at him like there was something unclear about that, "Sir?"
Jack said coldly, "You heard me. Send them all home."
"There's no place for these kids to go," Kawalsky said bluntly. "Anyway, we could sure use their help, right now."
Jack demanded, "For what?" He glared at his second in command. "Huh? To do what?" Kawalsky was staring at him like he'd gone nuts.
"Why don't you just tell them everything?" Daniel asked. Jack looked up in surprise. He was wrapped in a blanket and sitting up. The water and rest seemed to have revived him. The cool disappointment in his soft tone stung. When the hell had he given Daniel any cause to expect anything? Hell, when had he started thinking of the kid as Daniel instead of Jackson? Daniel went on relentlessly. "Why don't you tell them about the bomb?"
Kawalsky looked sharply from Daniel to O'Neill, "What's he talking about?"
There was no reason to keep the secret now, he supposed. Jack said, "My orders were simple. Track down signs of any possible danger. If I found any, blow up the stargate. Well, I found some." He returned Daniel's disappointment with stubbornness.
If it fazed the archeologist, it certainly didn't show. Daniel stared back at him and said, "Well, your bomb is his now. And tomorrow he's going to send it back to Earth, along with a shipment of that mineral they mine here. And when that thing goes off, it's going to cause an explosion a hundred times more destructive than that bomb alone is capable of."
Jack's eyes widened as he realized what that could do. It wasn't a huge nuke, but it was a nuke... Jesus, the bomb alone would destroy the mountain and contaminate a huge swath of Colorado. And if Daniel was right about the magnifying effect of the ore, Colorado Springs could be in range of the direct blast effects. Paralyzing fear blasted though his veins. Sara. The thought of his wife in the line of fire made his tone rough. "I'll intercept that bomb before he can send it through." He'd have to. That was all there was to it.
Kawalsky demanded, "Why wasn't I told of this?"
Jack said harshly, "Because there wasn't any reason to tell you, Kawalsky, you weren't even supposed to be here. You were all going to go right back through with Daniel. I was going to stay behind alone and blow up the stargate and that's exactly what I'm going to do."
Daniel said, "It's the gate on Earth that poses a threat. That's the one we have to shut down." His look was accusing and Jack suddenly realized why he was worried. This planet was *made* of that ore, and Nagada was even closer to the pyramid than Colorado Springs was to the mountain. Any way you sliced it, a lot of people were going to die.
Jack's nerves were jangling. And he'd thought this mission was fucked before. 'Please god, don't let Sara get dragged down with me.' He retorted, "You're absolutely right. But since you don't know how to get us back, we don't have that option, do we?"
Kawalsky and Ferretti had the smarts not to follow him when he got up and walked away from the fire, but Jackson seemed decidedly lacking in self- preservation instincts. He followed Jack and instead of talking about the bomb or the kids or the alien or any sane subject that anyone else would have chosen... instead of that, he'd sought the center of O'Neill's festering despair with sharp-edged insight. "Don't you have a family?" he asked.
'I had a family...' In one sentence, O'Neill told Daniel more than he'd told anyone, than he'd told West, than he'd told Sara, for god's sake. And Daniel's soft pitiless voice cut through the fug of grief, shame and self-pity he was drowning in, and straight into the heart of the man he used to be. 'I don't want to die. Your men don't want to die. And these people here don't want to die. It's a shame you're in such a hurry to.' He'd expected sympathy or pity or even an awkward attempt to comfort, something he could have angrily rejected. And Daniel hadn't given it to him. If he'd said, 'get off your ass and soldier, soldier', it couldn't have been a more effective rebuke. And with Skaara's eyes on him, bright with concern and hero-worship, he got off his ass and soldiered.
He ate the spicy dish that Skaara had brought him, and managed to smile at the boy in thank you. The Abydonians were short, as rule, and Skaara not overly tall even among them. He decided that the kid was probably a couple of years older than he'd thought at first. Fourteen, maybe fifteen. Still too damned young, but Kawalsky was right, curse him. They had to play the hand they were dealt. And the most likely outcome of this was that Skaara was dead anyway. All roads led to despair... sacrifice a hundred fifty thousand people on Earth or five thousand here. Evil was like infinity, it was hard to picture one infinity as larger than another. It was freakin' terrifying when the least evil he could imagine was to lead these kids into a battle that might kill them all.
All he could do was keep moving forward and hope for a chance to improvise. He shouldn't have needed Daniel's example to remember that sometimes opportunities presented themselves unexpectedly. He felt a tiny glimmer of hope. By all rights they should be dead already. Maybe they'd get another break. He returned to the other room and joined the group by the fire. "We have a bomb to stop, and not a lot of time," he said without preamble. "What do we have so far?"
Kawalsky took in his expression and wisely didn't ask any questions. "Well, first off, we need to get to the pyramid, preferably without a running firefight. The kids say that there are ore deliveries. Usually the ore is sent through the stargate, but Ra has commanded that two-- lots?" he looked at Daniel.
"Um, pallets?" Daniel said. "Or loads, perhaps." He asked a question, the fluid local tongue already sounding comfortable on his lips. "About a hundred pounds per load," he finally guessed.
"Okay, two loads of ore are to be brought to the temple," Kawalsky said. "So we go in disguise and try to infiltrate the temple and grab the bomb." Daniel frowned and Jack and Kawalsky exchanged an unhappy look. They both knew that their first duty was to Earth. That meant sealing the gate at any cost. Daniel wasn't going to like that aspect of the plan, not a bit. Jack turned the subject to their approach.
They talked about routes. Skaara sketched out a map in the sand, and with Daniel interpreting, they plotted a route to the mine that would avoid both Nagada and any notice from Ra's forces. Jack looked at Kawalsky. "You and Ferretti also need to instruct our troops here on how to handle their weapons. The last thing we need is someone shooting themselves in the foot." Daniel gave him a suspicious look, as if he thought the comment was directed at him. It hadn't been, actually, Jack had been impressed by his steadiness in facing down the guards.. Jesus, was that only yesterday? The days on this planet had to be over thirty hours long. He'd never been so tired.
The weapons lesson was abbreviated, so they could all get some sleep. At last Jack rolled himself in a blanket, and stretched out on the unforgiving ground, feeling about twice his age. His last sight of Daniel was of him sitting down to help one of the natives grind grain.
Kawalsky shook him awake. "He found it, Colonel! Goddamnit, he found it!"
"What?" Jack said grumpily. He felt unbelieveably stiff and sore. Between the brutal beating the guards had administered and the wild ride through the sandstorm, his body was one giant screaming ache. Legs still tender and raw, exposed skin also raw, and he was gritty all over. He peeled off a sock, and shook it. Sand sifted out. He cursed dully. He was going to have to do that with all his clothes. For now, he just jammed his boots on and wrinkled his nose. Not that it was going to help the eau de unwashed male and smelly animal that permeated the outfit. He'd have killed for a hot shower.
Kawalsky waited impatiently for him to tie the laces, then put out a hand to haul him unceremoniously to his feet. Jack stifled a groan as sore muscles shrieked. "The seventh symbol, Colonel. Daniel found it. We can go home."
Jack stared at him. "What, was it lying around the cave?" He looked around and saw Daniel talking animatedly to Skaara, Sha're and Nabeh, hands moving descriptively. He was depressingly full of energy.
"Almost!" Kawalsky laughed. "Skaara drew something like it, and Daniel figured it out." Jack thought sourly that Daniel was obviously a lot younger than him if he'd gone to sleep later and still awoken early. He couldn't quite wrap his brain around the news.
"That changes everything," he said slowly. He could send the team home. What was left of it. And just maybe he could get Skaara and the other kids safely to Earth with the others. At least it would be a few less victims.
"Yeah," Kawalsky said. "If we can hold the gate long enough, we can just take the bomb back and dismantle the gate at home instead of blowing up the gate here."
Huh, it seemed their civilian had been busy. Jack was willing to concede that it might be a remote possibility, but it was unlikely that they'd be able to hold the gate that long. To be sure of protecting Earth, Jack was still going to have to go through with it. But if it would get Kawalsky, Ferretti, the kids, and Daniel-- Jackson, to safety, he'd pretend to go along. But first they had to get in. They refined the basic plan they'd come up with the night before as much as they could in the time before they had to start for the mine.
They took out the guard without a single casualty, though Jack worried for a moment that Kasuf would try to interfere. "Let's go," Jack said.
Kasuf was saying something to Skaara, and the boy was answering back with a stubborn glint in his eyes that Jack remembered well from his own parenting days, not to mention from the other side during his teenage years. Kasuf called out to his people and they all sank down on their knees, apparently praying. Jack didn't care, so long as they didn't send someone running to tell Ra what they were up to.
Then Daniel turned back and walked back to the native leader. "Kasuf!" He called out to the people in the native language, then went to the dead guard and pressed the control that retracted the helmet. He said something else to them, and turned back to the others. Kasuf was staring at the human face behind the helmet in surprise. He rose and walked forward to look. The other Abydonians rose as well and came closer. They looked shocked and bewildered. A low muttering spread through the crowd.
Jack gave Daniel a surprised look, "What did you say to them?"
"Gave them something to think about," Daniel replied. He moved forward to take hold of one of the pallets and lifted with the others. The four Americans and their friends walked steadily into the desert, carrying their pallets of ore.
Daniel's form ahead of him was indistinguishable from the Abydonians except for his greater height, but Jack could hear him still talking quietly with Sha're. It seemed like Daniel had been talking non-stop ever since he figured out the language, if not with Sha're, then with the boys. Jack was amazed that he hadn't lost his voice. And he had to be as sore as Jack from the ride through the sandstorm. He hadn't complained once that Jack could remember, at least not about the physical hardships.
It belatedly occurred to Jack that as an archeologist, Daniel had probably spent more time in the desert than all the soldiers put together. Even without knowing the language, he'd seemed at home in Nagada and taken the strange food and unfamiliar customs with unruffled equanimity. Even the chicken-lizard had only thrown him for a moment.
They crested a dune and caught sight of the enormous ship, now completely concealing the massive pyramid beneath it. He looked around at the rest of the team. All the Americans were well-wrapped to conceal their pale skin and short hair from the guards. Long before they reached the bottom of the ramp, O'Neill called, "Showtime! Button it up, people." Daniel said something in Abydonian that must have been a translation, because the kids hushed up just as quickly. They walked the rest of the way in tense silence.
At the bottom of the ramp, the guards motioned for the first pallet to come up. The kids had told Daniel the delivery would be made that way, so Ferretti and Kawalsky were supposed to wait for their signal and take out the outside guards. Like the best laid plans however, this one didn't survive contact with the enemy. The guards looked suspiciously at the hooded ore-carriers and started yanking them down to reveal the faces underneath. Jack shifted his grip on his weapon, and when the guard yanked down his hood, he was ready. "How you doing? Hmm?" he asked pleasantly. The guard froze for a puzzled moment at the friendly tone and Jack pulled the trigger, sending a stream of slugs through the man's body. The guard staggered back under the impact.
They'd considered several possible outcomes to the plan, and this was neither the worst nor the best of them. It was a plus that they had gotten inside. But Jack had a bunch of civilians without enough ammo and weapons they weren't familiar with against highly trained armored guards. At least the vigorous resistance seemed to startle them. Jack quickly exhausted the clip on his gun and traded it for the first guard's staff weapon. He didn't see how you'd aim it to hit over any distance, but at this range it scarcely mattered. The Abydonians were making a distracting amount of noise, but he saw them only make one kill between them. Jack took out a second guard and saw Daniel firing his handgun steadily, and surprisingly accurately at the third. His victim dropped before Jack could bring his staff weapon to bear.
There was a grinding thud and crash, and Jack realized the guards had shut the door before Kawalsky and Ferretti could join them. Shit. Jack checked over his troops. Two of the Abydonians were down, but Daniel and Sha're seemed unhurt. He was pretty sure there was only one more unfriendly that he'd seen and they were all under cover. Jack jumped out, aimed and shot. At least when the staff hit, you knew the target was going down. The last guard staggered back under the blow and then hit the floor with a metallic ringing of armor.
In the sudden silence, Jack could hear gliders launching and hoped to god Kawalsky and Ferretti had found some cover. His memory promptly presented him with a picture of the bare dunes in front of the pyramid and he cursed under his breath. There was nothing he could do for them now. "Let's go," he said.
He led the way to the gate at a jog, astounded and relieved to see the bomb sitting directly in front of the gate. About time something went right. He turned it over, slotting the pieces of the assembly together. Daniel and Sha're came in behind him. Daniel was carrying a staff weapon, probably he had run out of ammunition too.
"What are you doing?" Daniel asked.
"Completing this mission," Jack replied.
Daniel said in a mild, bewildered tone, "I thought we agreed to dismantle the gate on the other side."
Jack looked at him steadily, "And you will. That's your job now. I'm going to stay here, make sure this goes off." Daniel leveled a disappointed, accusing stare at him. Jack couldn't meet his eyes. He turned and set the timer, flipped the switch. "You've got seven minutes." He looked back at Daniel, who hadn't moved. Jack couldn't help feeling guilty. Daniel had saved his life, and here he was throwing that impulsively generous gift back in his face. Jack looked back toward the deadly bomb ticking away the last seven minutes of his life.
There was a familiar crackle from the doorway, Sha're yelled, "Daniel!" Both men turned. Sha're was facing the guard, gun raised, but she was a fraction of a second slow, eons too late and Jack could only watch in horror, reaching for his pistol and knowing he would also be too slow to save her and probably too late for Daniel as well.. but Daniel had a staff weapon in his hand, and he raised it and fired in one smooth motion as Sha're fell. The guard went down and it was all over.
As Jack's hand closed around the handgun, Daniel dropped his weapon and went down on his knees beside Sha're. He felt for a pulse in the neck and listened for breathing, but Jack didn't have a lot of hope. She was wounded in almost the same place Daniel had been. He watched the same conclusion cross Daniel's face and he glanced up at Jack, eyes full of pain, then back down to the girl, the hand leaving Sha're's neck to caress her face.
Jack didn't know what to say except they had to open the stargate and get Daniel the heck out of here while they could still save someone. Then Jack heard the sound of the ring transporter. Daniel scooped Sha're's still body into his arms and darted into the circle just before the rings came down. "What are you doing?" Jack demanded in alarm, walking toward him. "Jackson!"
"Wait for me." Washed in the blue glow of the rings, Daniel's face was set with determination. Then the transporter dissolved him into light and he disappeared.
Jack's mouth fell open and he twisted around to look at the time on the clock. Six minutes, six seconds.. but it was the wrong question. He should have remembered to wonder who had activated the transporter. He wasn't left in suspense for long. The head guard materialized in front of him and bashed him with a staff weapon. Jack lost the handgun when he went down, and then just fought for his life. The guard was huge, fast and unbelievably strong, as well as wearing armor that concealed many of his vulnerable points.
Jack was better trained, but not that much better, and the guard was fast and hit like a sledgehammer. They were all over the room in the struggle. He lost weapons as fast as he could pick them up. The guard raked his back with a clawed glove. His breath hissed between his teeth as he crashed onto his face, the pain singing through his lacerated flesh. His gaze fell on the bomb. Three minutes and change. He made a dash for it, but the guard caught up with him before he could disarm it. Damn it, all the guard had to do was fire the gate and toss it through. Jack could kick himself for leaving it armed and ready like that. He should have just blown it.
He slugged the guard as hard as he could, several times in succession, driving him back. He'd been good using the staff weapon, or the clawed glove thing, but pure fisticuffs seemed unknown to him. Jack's knuckles hurt. The guard went for a bear hug. That was a bad move against someone with Jack's training. He put a foot behind the guard's leg and they both went down, Jack on top. He realized that he had the guard pinned half over the transport device. He picked up the hand with the control on it. "Give my regards to King Tut, asshole," he said and mashed the control against the floor.
The guard looked surprised as the light illuminated him, then terrified as he realized he was only halfway in the circle. He struggled frantically, but Jack held him, only backing away as the first ring came down on his chest with a juicy crunch. He was screaming, but Jack watched panting as the rings whisked half of him away and replaced him with-- Daniel and Sha're! Jack felt a sickening lurch in his stomach as he saw them both lying there, then Daniel moved and Jack realized he was still alive. Live! The bomb was still live. He turned and went back to it.
Jack lifted the safety latch, and flipped the switch that would shut down the timer before hustling back to Daniel, heaving a sigh of relief. Then he double-checked the timer and got scared all over again. It was still counting down. It wasn't supposed to do that. Jack yanked the top component, then started disassembling the mechanism. The red numbers still shrank on the readout. It couldn't do that. There were failsafes.. unless they'd been tampered with. And Jack was pretty sure he knew who. That was just the sort of thing General West would think of as insurance against cold feet.
The temple rocked and shuddered and the windows that had been covered by the ship abruptly lightened. Jack struggled with the recalcitrant mechanism.
Daniel stumbled over to look out the window, then came back to Jack. "How much time do we have left?"
"Forty-five seconds," Jack said, trying to undog the main assembly.
"He's leaving," Daniel said insistently. "Turn it off."
Jack didn't need convincing. "I'm trying to. I can't disarm it."
"What?" Daniel said.
"I can't stop it, they've got it rigged," Jack explained. He was pissed. All of this, and they were going to die anyway? He looked at Daniel, who was looking from him to the bomb in concentration.
They heard a gasp from Sha're, who had regained consciousness to be confronted with the severed lower half of a guard in her line of sight. The ship rumbled overhead. Jack and Daniel looked at each other, at the ring controller still on the guard's hand, back to one another and spoke in unison, "I've got an idea!"
Jack picked up the bomb, while Daniel ran to tug Sha're off the transport ring. He was waiting by the control when Jack deposited the bomb on the pad at twenty seconds. Daniel hit the control hard as Jack dove out of the way and they watched the clock tensely as the rings came down. "Nine, eight, seven.." Daniel counted aloud, and the bomb turned white and disappeared.
Daniel grabbed Sha're and all three of them ran for the door, Daniel still counting, "Four, three, two, one.." There was a sickening pause and Daniel said, "Plus transport time!" when the sky flashed brilliant white and Jack saw spots. It belatedly occurred to him that rushing outside to watch the nuclear explosion wasn't the brightest thing he'd ever done. He'd have to hope that the atmosphere had protected them.
A huge cheer went up, and Jack was stunned to realize that the dunes were black with people. Kawalsky, Ferretti and Skaara were down at the foot of the ramp along with a bunch of the other kids who'd been part of their irregular forces. There was a glider on the ground just past the columns. Jack wondered how they'd pulled that one off.
Skaara walked solemnly up the ramp, wearing an Air Force equipment vest over his robe. He stopped halfway up and saluted. The other kids followed suit. At the base of the ramp, Kawalsky and Ferretti, looking filthy, sweat-stained and decidedly the worse for wear, grinned at one another, stood at attention and saluted as well. Jack couldn't help the smile that twitched the corners of his mouth as he stood straight and gave them all a crisp salute back. Another huge cheer went up.
Jack grinned, the first real smile in a long time for him and looked to see what Daniel thought of it. But Daniel obviously had his mind on other things, since he and Sha're were looking into each other's eyes, and starting what looked like a seriously long kiss. Jack raised an eyebrow and shrugged, wondering when that had happened and if he'd just been too preoccupied to notice it. He felt light enough to float off the ramp, as if the weight of a planet- or two- had just been lifted from his shoulders. He couldn't believe he was still alive. He was even more astounded to feel glad about that.
Kasuf held up his hands and eventually the crowd noise faded to silence. He yelled something. "Ra is dead, we are free." Daniel translated at his shoulder. He and Sha're were standing with their arms wrapped around each other, but they'd evidently decided to come up for air.
"That was a quick turnaround on their part," he said.
"They had never before seen the faces of the gods," Daniel said. "Not so impressive up close and personal."
"Not to mention, dead." Jack said.
"That too," Daniel replied, smiling. "I wonder if there's anything to eat around here. I'm starving."
Kawalsky and Ferretti were coming up the ramp and caught that last. "I think your prayers are answered," Ferretti said. "I see what looks like a fire." He pointed to bunch of people piling up wood.
"Did you see any of our equipment in there?" Kawalsky asked. "We could really use some medkits."
"Skaara will know," Daniel said. "They dug out some of the the base camp, and I told them to look for the medical stuff." He turned and called to Skaara, sketching the outline of a box in the air. A few minutes later one of the kids came running up to Ferretti with a medkit.
People were milling up the ramp and stopping to bow and say unintelligible but cheerful-sounding things to the visitors. They wandered into the pyramid. Sha're tugged at Daniel's sleeve and pointed to O'Neill. "What?" Jack asked.
Daniel turned his shoulder to look at his back. "You're bleeding, Colonel."
"Oh, call me Jack." He tried to look over his shoulder. "The guard had that clawed hand thing. It stings."
Sha're spoke to several people and they scattered, evidently to do her bidding. One of the kids brought her a first aid kit and a container of water, which Daniel took from her. "Sit down," he instructed.
"Look, why don't we just go back through the stargate now?" Jack suggested. "Plenty of medical staff back on Earth."
Daniel paused. "I need to talk to some people. I guess we could send you back."
Jack gave him an irritated look. "No, I don't leave until my team does."
"Well, you're bleeding now. So why don't I at least stop that, and you can see a real doctor on Earth?" Daniel said reasonably.
Jack flapped a hand. "Whatever."
He gritted his teeth as Daniel peeled the shirt back carefully. "You know what you're doing, right?"
"Stopping the bleeding?" Daniel said. "I've done first aid before; it's not rocket science."
"Ow!" Jack yelped as Daniel rinsed the wounds. "Shit!"
"That's great, Jack. Skaara will be very impressed," Daniel said in a voice pitched to his ears alone.
Jack turned to give the boy a wave and a grimace. "Just finish, will ya." He gritted his teeth as Daniel rinsed it thoroughly and smeared antibiotic cream on bandages, taping the whole thing down securely. "It doesn't have to last that long," he said, keeping a neutral expression for the benefit of the kids.
" I want the adhesive to stick. It's a desert, you're sweating like a pig," Daniel said.
"Thanks for the news bulletin," Jack replied. He washed his bloodied knuckles at Daniel's prodding, but refused to bandage them. "They're fine." He looked at Sha're, who was sitting on the side of the ramp looking tired. "How's Sha're?"
"Good as new," Daniel said cheerfully. "Tired though. Dying really wipes you out."
Jack was about to say that Daniel had ridden across the desert on a mastage for hours and walked hours more after he died. Then he recalled that Daniel had also passed out. "I bet she's hungry too," Jack said. "The healing thing probably doesn't add missing tissue, just rearranges what you have."
"Conservation of mass?" Daniel said. "That would make sense. I've been starving pretty much ever since I was in the thing." He went over to say something to the girl and Jack wandered back inside to retrieve the uniform shirt he'd shed with the disguising robes in the gate room. The stray weapons had already disappeared. Jack wondered what they thought they were going to do with them without ammunition, but couldn't really get up the ambition to care. The Air Force could afford to lose the supplies, and certainly the people here could use some of them.
Jack went back outside to find someone distributing strips of seared meat. He took one and munched gratefully. A bunch of people had apparently started the long walk back to the city. Others were moving the wounded into the pyramid. Ferretti was helping administer first aid using some of the Air Force supplies. "Do we have to leave right away, sir?" he asked when he saw Jack.
"Soon," Jack said. "Why do you ask?"
"I want to get Daniel to explain antibiotics to these folks," Ferretti said. "And I think there's a first aid manual.. these people can use the help."
"Sure," Jack said, wondering just when his military team had turned into a committee. He decided to blame Daniel. "We can stay a bit longer."
"Great!" Ferretti grinned at him, and he saw that a lot of the anxiety-driven pessimism had subsided. Only seeing it gone did he realize just how petrified Ferretti must have been this trip. God, had he ever had his head in the sand. So to speak.
Daniel was talking seriously with Sha're and Kasuf when he came out. Jack saw Kasuf put his hands on both the civilian's shoulders, beaming. Daniel was smiling back and taking Sha're's hand. Jack had a premonition that he wasn't going to like this. "What's going on?" he asked.
Kasuf slapped Jack on the shoulder and turned away to talk to some other people. Daniel was wearing a rather funny smile. "Um, well. I'm staying."
"You're staying?" Jack repeated stupidly. "Here?!"
"Actually, Nagada, probably," Daniel said. "I, uh, got married. To Sha're."
"You what? Now? Wasn't that a little fast?" Jack asked.
"Actually we got married the other night. I was just a little slow to catch on. Language barrier," Daniel said. "See, when we arrived, Kasuf thought we were emissaries of Ra--"
"I got that part," Jack assured him. "Fast forward to 'married'."
"Well, Kasuf wanted to give me a gift," Daniel said. His face was reddened enough from the sandstorm to account for the color, but Jack was sure he was blushing.
"He gave you a girl?"
"His daughter," Daniel said. "Couldn't get much more honored than that."
"I suppose not," Jack said. "How's Sha're feel about it?"
Okay, now Daniel really was blushing. "She's um, pleased."
Jack turned around to see Sha're giving him a slightly wary look. Daniel followed his gaze and smiled at her. She instantly forgot Jack existed and smiled back at Daniel. "Pleased, right," he chuckled and watched Daniel blush harder. His expression turned more serious. "You've only known her for what, four days?"
"Four days full of situations very revealing of character," Daniel said, with a curious lift of his eyebrow that suggested to Jack he wasn't only talking about Sha're. He smiled. "I do know what I'm getting into, Jack."
"Daniel, this isn't some quixotic impulse on your part... I mean, if he told you that you have to stay..."
"No. I want to," Daniel said. "I like it here."
Jack looked around at the barren desert, scattered with debris. Three moons rode in the sky. "You like it?"
"Yeah," Daniel was unapologetic. "Always have liked the desert. Egyptologist, remember?"
"Hot showers? Indoor plumbing? Television?"
"All of which I can and have lived without. I've never owned a television in fact," Daniel said.
"Never? Holy crap." Jack said. "Um, chocolate, coffee?"
Daniel winced, "Okay, you got me there. I don't suppose the Air Force does care packages?"
"General West? Caring sort of guy, not." Jack said.
Daniel nodded. "I see your point." He shrugged philosophically. "Oh, well, I'll deal."
Jack didn't doubt for a minute that he would. A guy who'd competently dealt with a primitive culture, hostile aliens and a suicidal colonel, death and rebirth.. yeah, Daniel would deal. And at first, he'd thought the kid was a dweeb. Damn.
"Speaking of West," Daniel said. "Are you going to talk to him about the bomb?"
"I don't know," Jack said. "I'm a little worried, to tell you the truth."
"This is the guy who decided that unless the other side of the gate proved to be an uninhabited wilderness with nothing more dangerous than a fluffy bunny in it, we should nuke it," Jack said.
Daniel raised both eyebrows. "Ah, Jack. You bought into that agenda."
"Well. He was not entirely wrong, Daniel. The nuke was certainly useful in the end."
"The very, last twenty seconds sort of end, yeah." Daniel said. "And aren't we glad the transporters reach as far as orbit? We'd have looked pretty stupid sitting there pounding the ring controls with the bomb on the pad if the ship had been out of range."
"Not for long," Jack said blandly.
Daniel gave an unwilling choke of laughter, "I suppose not. Even so. You were worried?"
"That West will decide even though Ra is dead this place poses a threat. And next time Ra won't be in orbit so you can ring the bomb away before it explodes," Jack said.
Daniel gave him a startled look. "You think he'll send another bomb?" Then his expression became thoughtful, in the same concentrated way Jack had seen him consider other problems. "Of course you do. Hmm. We're going to have to close the gate here then."
"Close it how?" Jack said.
"Same way the ancient Egyptians did," Daniel said. "We'll bury it in rocks." He turned to a group of kids and started talking quickly. A bunch of them scampered off in all directions. Daniel turned back to Jack. "They'll put the word out, and we'll start hauling rocks. It may take a day or so."
"I think we can buy you that much time," Jack said. "I'll make it clear there's no immediate threat, and check us all into the infirmary with a severe case of sand in the navel. If I can delay the debriefing a couple of days, you'll be fine. I'm sure Kawalsky and Ferretti will be up for it."
"Thanks!" Daniel said. "I'll have to owe you one."
"I think you're still punting on credit, actually," Jack said dryly.
Daniel gave him a puzzled look.
"Little matter of a staff that would have burned a hole through me if you hadn't got in the way?" Jack said.
"Oh. But um, that w-wasn't... I didn't really... Anyway, Ra had the sarcophagus.." Daniel stammered.
"He didn't use it for Porro. Or Freeman. I'm guessing he only revived you because you were the one he could talk to," Jack said.
"Actually, I think it was because of the amulet," Daniel said. "He seemed to think I was impersonating him or something."
"Whatever. Dead isn't usually something you get a second chance after."
"I know," Daniel said, glancing off distractedly in Sha're's direction.
"Well, then. If you're sure..." Jack believed that Daniel was serious about this, and even that he would be happy, but he was still reluctant to just leave him here.
"I'm sure," Daniel said. "When do you guys want to head out?"
"Well," Jack looked around. "I guess now is good. If Ferretti's done administering first aid."
They went to find out. "Bus home's leaving, campers," Jack announced.
"Daniel!" Ferretti said. "I've been looking for you. I think we should translate some of this medical stuff before we go."
"I'll take care of it later," Daniel said.
"What?" Kawalsky said.
"I'm staying," Daniel told them.
They both looked at the colonel. Jack shrugged. "His decision."
Kawalsky looked from one to the other. "Daniel, are you serious?"
Daniel said, "Absolutely." He smiled. "After all, who's better qualified to live in an ancient Egyptian culture?"
"I can't think of anyone," Kawalsky admitted. "But they're going to bury the gate on Earth. You won't be able to get back if you change your mind."
"I know," Daniel said. "I won't change my mind." He led the way back into the gate room. Daniel looked at the gate. "This is going to be interesting," he said.
"Why do you say that?" Kawalsky asked.
"We don't have a ladder," Daniel pointed out, looking at the top chevrons. He walked over to the gate, and tugged on the inner ring. It moved, reluctantly. "It's going to be a sonofabitch to move."
"Guess we should get started, then." Jack said.
Actually Daniel went and rounded up some help, while Jack briefed Kawalsky and Ferretti on the plan to close the gate. "I think West will send another bomb if they leave it open," Jack said bluntly.
Kawalsky and Ferretti exchanged a glance. "That would be a damned ungrateful gesture after the people they lost saving our butts, Colonel," Kawalsky said. "Count me in." They both looked at Ferretti.
Ferretti glared at them. "Of course I won't say anything. If you think I'm gonna stand by and let them kill Daniel and all these kids.. and the whole damned city... Well. I won't. If you want to tell West it's the home of Santa Claus and the Easter bunny, I'll back you up." He hesitated. "We really leaving Daniel here, sir?"
Jack shrugged. "He seems pretty happy with the idea. It's for sure he doesn't have a lot to go back to. And Sha're is downright delighted."
Kawalsky and Ferretti grinned. "That was some kiss, all right," Ferretti said.
Kawalsky said plaintively, "So Colonel, just how is it that the three heroic military officers get booted out on our asses while the geek in glasses gets the girl and the kingdom?"
Jack shrugged and Ferretti said wickedly. "He's a linguist. Obviously the boy is good with his tongue."
Kawalsky groaned and Jack covered his ears. "Too much information, Ferretti. Ew. I don't wanna go there."
Daniel came back shortly with half-a-dozen Abydonians who lent their muscle power to the endeavor. They laboriously turned the inner ring until the first symbol locked under the first chevron. It stayed lit after they leaned on it to press it in.
At Daniel's request, one of the kids fetched in a long pole from a litter they had used to bring in the naquada. They used it to press in chevron three, but it wasn't long enough to reach chevrons four and five and still exert any force. Kawalsky hoisted Skaara up on his shoulders to reach the fourth and fifth chevrons. After they were pressed, he knelt and the boy jumped nimbly down. "You weigh a ton, kid," he said. The sixth chevron was reachable from the ground.
By now they'd collected a small crowd watching them turn the gate. Jack shivered as he realized just how inadequate the seven minutes he'd dialed on the bomb would have been. Dialing the gate manually this way took nearly twenty-five minutes. Jack leaned against the wall and realized all over again just how long the odds had been for them to have survived.
"Move it, Kawalsky," Daniel instructed.
The captain gave him an irritated look. "What for?"
"You're standing where there's a wormhole about to form," Daniel said. "It can't be healthy." He tugged Kawalsky out of the way by the sleeve and pressed the seventh chevron in. The gate shook, though not as much as the one on Earth. Jack wondered why that was. It blew out a sideways fountain of not-water. Jack shook out his beret and put it on.
The goodbyes were surprisingly hard. Jack shook hands with Skaara, who looked disappointed to see him go. Ferretti was saying to Daniel, "I always knew you'd get us back..."
Daniel laughed, "Yeah, right."
"...later," Ferretti drawled.
Kawalsky shook hands and said simply, "Thanks, Daniel."
They walked up the ramp and disappeared. Daniel was smiling as he said goodbye, but there was a trace of wistfulness as he watched them step into the event horizon. Jack had to ask one more time, "You sure you want to do this?"
"Yes, I'm sure," Daniel said seriously.
Jack still hesitated. "You going to be all right?"
Daniel looked back at Sha're, who smiled shyly at him, joy shining in her face. Beautiful, Jack had to admit. And courageous. Daniel said confidently, "I'm going to be all right." He looked searchingly at Jack, "How about you?"
Jack knew he wasn't talking about the cuts on his back. He thought about it for a moment, testing the feelings that he normally bottled up and ignored. Grief and pain, yes, but they didn't weigh as heavily as they had. His somewhat atrophied sense of humor was back. He didn't want to die anymore, in fact, he quite strongly wanted to live. To go home. To hold his wife. "Yeah." He smiled. "Yeah, I think so." He shook Daniel's hand briefly, and then started for the gate.
Daniel didn't let go of his hand, but pressed the Ra amulet into it. "Tell Catherine this brought me luck."
"I will," Jack promised, closing his hand around it, and pocketing it carefully. He was strangely reluctant to say goodbye. So even though it didn't seem likely, he substituted, "I'll be seeing you around... Dr. Jackson." He stepped into the wormhole, and the rush of speed and cold. It wasn't so disorienting, second time around, nor was it as rough. But Jack remembered the story that they were planning to pitch, and it didn't take a lot of faking to overbalance coming out of the wormhole and somersault down the ramp. Too late, he remembered his back and yelled as he rolled onto it. "Shit!" Ferretti had gone for total verisimiltude and was puking over the rail. Kawalsky was sitting on the ramp looking realistically dazed and queasy.
The wormhole shut off behind them. "Stand down," West called off the guards. They lowered their weapons and stared at the three teammates. Next to the crisply uniformed guards, Jack, Ferretti and Kawalsky looked even grubbier and more disheveled than they were. Considering what they'd faced, it was lucky anyone had made it back. The people watching didn't know that, though. For the first time, Jack was acutely conscious that he was bringing back less than half his team, and none of the prodigious load of equipment they'd hauled through the outgoing wormhole.
Jack squinted at the control room. The civilians that had been there when they left were gone. All the people there were military. The sole exception was Catherine Langford, who was watching from the conference room window. Jack hauled himself to his feet, slowly and painfully. "Colonel O'Neill." General West spoke into the intercom. "We were beginning to wonder if you had made it. Where are the rest of your team?"
Jack didn't have to fake the slump of his shoulders. "They were killed, sir. There's no threat to Earth, but..." He shrugged.
"You're certain there's no threat to Earth?" West asked.
"Yes, sir. We set off the bomb, as ordered." He could see West relax. "I see. Are you injured?"
Jack looked at his two remaining team members. "I'd be grateful for a little time before we debrief. We're all hungry, tired, queasy, dehydrated, and suffering from heat exhaustion."
"And you need to get those cuts looked at, sir," Kawalsky said, loudly enough that the senior officers could hear.
"Yeah, we should probably all see a doc," Jack said, a bit grudgingly.
"Dismissed to the infirmary then," West said. "We can debrief at 0900 tomorrow."
Jack checked his watch, which told him it was nearly midnight Mountain Time. Oh-nine-hundred would be too soon. He glanced at Kawalsky and Ferretti. "Ready?" They hauled themselves up, and staggered to the infirmary. The doctor on duty looked at the three of them with wide-eyed surprise.
Jack looked down. They were quite a sight. Kawalsky and Ferretti were filthy and soaked with sweat. Their shirts crackled with frost, just starting to melt. Ferretti was shivering. Jack wasn't quite as filthy, at least on the outside, but everything was full of sand. "Um, maybe we can shower first?" he suggested.
"Uh, sure, sir," The man's name tag read Warner. He looked at the door. "Um, I understood there would be more of you?"
"The others are kind of beyond medical assistance, doctor," Jack said. He pointed. "That the shower?" The man nodded. "Me first then." He looked down. "Got anything else for me to wear?" He took the proffered scrubs with him into the shower.
He soaked Daniel's neat bandages without remorse, though they had a tendency to drip. He was covered with a spectacular sunset of bruises, covering most of his torso and legs. The insides of his thighs were chafed and tender. No doubt the stargate transit, the beating, the long ride, the sandstorm, the fight and the second stargate ride had all made their contributions. Clad only in the scrub pants, he padded out to the exam area. He gritted his teeth as Warner peeled off the bandages and tsked. "Ah, these are deep and quite nasty, Colonel. I'm afraid we'll have to clean them. And I'd like to put in some stitches."
Jack hadn't thought that they were so deep that they'd need stitches, but he was looking for delay. And this would take hours. "Ah, I have a debriefing at 0900," he said. "General West won't be happy if I'm late."
The doctor responded just as he expected. "I'll speak with him, Colonel. I'd like to keep all three of you overnight. Kawalsky and Ferretti are quite dehydrated, and you're going to be in considerable discomfort with that back."
"You're the doc," Jack said meekly.
The cleaning was just as unpleasant as he expected, and he got almost sixty stitches, which was quite a bit more than he'd bargained on. Those were going to itch like fury in a few days. Warner had them X-ray his hands, too, to make sure he hadn't cracked any bones in his bare-knuckle brawl. At the end of it, he wound up in a bed next to Kawalsky near dawn, all three with matching IV's. Jack's had something extra in it for the pain. He was floating nicely when West stopped in. "Sir," he said.
"Jack," West gave him a look of what might have been genuine concern. "How are you feeling?"
"Me? Oh, fine." Jack said. "S'all superficial." Bloody spectacular, but superficial.
West's gaze lingered on the black and green splotches that nearly covered his chest. "If you say, so, Jack. I just wanted to let you know that we're putting off the debrief until 0900 tomorrow. But if you could give me some idea what happened.."
"We went. We saw. I said, time to leave. Jackson admitted he had no idea how to get us back. Sir."
"He said he figured the glyphs would be engraved somewhere, like they were on the coverstone. Which, fortunately for the little dweeb, they were, but we had a hell of a time finding them." He thought about his language for a moment, then decided he was too tired to care. "Anyway. While we were off chasing Jackson's disappearing glyphs, base camp was hit by a hostile."
West leaned forward. "A hostile."
"Alien. High tech. Great big honking spaceship. Liked to think he was a god. Things got complicated." Jack hadn't planned on giving the cover story while strung out on pain medication but hoped any goofs could be covered later. "He hit the base camp. Captured Ferretti, Porro, Freeman. And the bomb."
"Jackson, Kawalsky, Brown and I came back the next day. Walked right into it. Brown was killed when they captured us. The alien, Ra, he wanted to execute us publicly. So he called an assembly of the natives."
"More aliens?" West asked.
"Human natives. Brought as slaves from Earth, originally. At least that's what Jackson said. He made friends with them. Convinced them that Ra wasn't really a god. They helped us escape. Then they helped us get our weapons back and smuggled us back into the pyramid...the place where the stargate was."
West looked impressed, "How'd you get them to do that? What did you tell them?"
Jack smiled tiredly, "Nothing, sir. Mostly, I think they did it because they liked Daniel."
"So you found the glyphs. Got back to the gate. Your team members?"
"Porro was wounded when Ra captured him, and died before we could escape. Brown was killed getting captured. Freeman died during the escape. Jackson made it nearly all the way back to the gate." Jack's heart rate was up, and he was sweating. He was severely conscious that trying to spin a tale while hooked to a heart rate monitor was like having a lie detector operating. Fortunately, the subject matter was inherently stressful. "I let one get behind me. Jackson saw it.. jumped in front of it. Took the shot and saved my life. But he didn't make it." The best lies had a generous admixture of truth. He looked West in the eye, miserably. "I couldn't save him, sir." The quiet beeping had speeded up, belying his attempt to keep his expression neutral.
"I see." West said. "And the escape?"
"We made it into the gate room, barricaded ourselves in. Set the bomb. Started dialing out." Jack hesitated, then decided to tackle the issue brazenly. "We did have a really bad moment, there, though. I'd set the bomb for plenty of time, but it took us longer to dial than we expected." His heart rate shot up again as he remembered that endless desperate minute in the pyramid, when he'd thought it was all for nothing. "Those rings are a bitch to move. I tried to shut off the bomb, give us a little more time, but it wouldn't shut down," his tone was accusatory, and West looked uncomfortable.
"We just wanted to make sure that if you felt the need to set it, someone else couldn't undo your work," West said finally.
"It would have been nice if you'd told me that," Jack said sourly. "It almost cost you the rest of this team." Not to mention missing Ra, but if he explained that, he'd have to say more than he really wanted to. He tried to suppress a quite genuine yawn. West took the hint. "Well, I'd better let you get some rest."
Jack was sitting on the bed when Catherine came to see him the next day. "Colonel O'Neill."
"Jack," he said. "They called me out of retirement for this, and I'll be going back after I debrief."
She nodded. "Jack. I will be attending the debrief, but I couldn't.. what happened to Jackson?"
"Daniel.. didn't make it." Jack said. He reached over stiffly to open the drawer beside the bed. "He wanted you to have this back."
She took the amulet, looked down at it. "I hoped it would bring him luck."
Jack felt like a complete shit, but didn't dare tell her anything inside the mountain. "Maybe sometime we can get together and I'll tell you the stuff that doesn't go in the official report."
"I would like that," Catherine said. She wrote down her address and phone number for him, and they walked to the debrief together.
After the debrief, Jack went down to the lab containing the cover stone. The room had been cleared up, the papers covered with drawings of glyphs that Daniel had left spread across the floor were stacked tidily on the table. Books he had last seen strewn lying open on the moving stair next to the coverstone were lined up on the shelves. Daniel's two suitcases were sitting in the corner. Apparently he'd packed his clothes and left them there. Jack sorted through the books, finding that the ones belonging to Daniel had his name on the flyleaf in neat script.
He opened the cases, finding clothes jammed in every which way. He put the books in, repacked the bag. There were a couple of framed photos.. one showed a much younger Daniel riding a camel with pyramids in the background. The other was of a couple Daniel's age, though their style of dress suggested the picture was thirty years old. Daniel's parents, Jack supposed. He knew from Daniel's security file he had no close family. He felt a pang of unease at having left the archeologist on Abydos. What kind of life had he had, that after only four days he could walk away from everything like that? He hoped fervently that Daniel wouldn't regret the impulsive decision.
"He doesn't have any family, Jack," West said.
Jack jumped and turned to face the man who'd entered quietly behind him. "Er, no, I don't think so. I was thinking there might be friends or something..."
"We were just going to throw that stuff out," West said.
"Would you mind if I took it and tried to find someone who'd want it?" Jack asked. He shrugged self-deprecatingly. "He saved my life, I can't help feeling like I owe him something."
"Go ahead, Jack," West said. "You're sure I can't persuade you to stay on?"
Jack shook his head. "Nah. I've really had enough. Unless you're going to make that an order.. "
West smiled briefly. "Not this time, Colonel." He held out his hand. "You did well out there. I'm glad you were the one to go."
Jack thought about the bomb and considered refusing to shake the proffered hand. But what would be the point now? The handshake was brief and firm. "Thank you, sir," Jack said, on his best behavior. This was the last hurdle. Now all he had to do was get to his truck and drive home to Sara.
Jack left the mountain a full week from when he'd last entered it, carrying the bag with his uniforms. Daniel's suitcases were already in the truck. He'd have run except he was still too sore. He couldn't wait to get home. To see Sara. To start trying to put his life back together, somehow. He climbed stiffly into the truck and drove the familiar winding path down the mountain. He looked up at the first stars coming out in the twilight and wondered if the one that Daniel and Sha're and Skaara were circling was visible from Earth.
Everything seemed brand-new and twice as intense as normal. He felt reborn. He wrinkled his nose at the smell of cigarettes in the truck and opened a window. Now that he wasn't smoking any more, he found the smell repellant. The radio was too loud over the noise of the window and he shut it off. He tried to think what he was going to say to Sara. 'I'm a jerk,' seemed a little too brief, no matter how true it was.
He turned off the highway and along the quiet side streets until he reached his own pleasant neighborhood. The house was dark, and Sara's car was missing. Jack was all at once let down and relieved. He had wanted to make a start on his new life tonight, and yet if Sara had stepped out for dinner or to see her father or a friend, he could at least get unpacked before he faced her.
Jack climbed out of the car and went up to the house, automatically checking the mailbox. It was stuffed full, and he frowned uneasily. That was a lot of mail for just one day. Perhaps Sara had gone to stay with Mike? He hoped his father-in-law was well. It would be awfully hard on Sara if there was something seriously wrong. He dropped the bag in the hall and went to the kitchen counter, where they normally left notes for one another, turning on lights as he went. There was a bundle of papers on the counter. Jack slowly dropped his keys and picked them up.
He flashed on a disturbing echo of the disbelief and resentment he'd felt when he realized the bomb couldn't be disarmed. All of this, and they were going to die anyway? Not that he could blame Sara. She'd struggled with her own pain and grief to try and reach him and he'd pushed her away at every turn. He must have been miserable to live with. And how funny that he could see that now.
He checked the fridge to find that she'd cleaned out anything that might go bad before he returned, and phoned out for pizza. They were out of beer so he had the pizza delivery guy bring soda. The harder liquor he'd pickled his brain in before he left wasn't what he wanted right now. Besides being downright stupid to take with the pain medication the doctor had given him. He took two of the pills with dinner and slept on the couch rather than go upstairs to the bed he'd shared with Sara.
In the morning, he phoned Mike, still not knowing what he should do, but unwilling to let go. "May I speak with Sara?" he asked, through a suddenly tight throat.
There was a long silence, then Mike said. "Jack?"
"I'll see if she wants to talk to you," he said.
"Thanks." Jack waited through several endless minutes before she finally came to the phone.
"Hello, Jack." There was a weary fatalism in her tone.
"Sara." Jack had to force the words out through stiff lips. "I, uh, found the papers you left for me."
She didn't say anything for a moment, then finally, "Is there a problem with them?"
Jack swallowed. "Is this really what you want?"
The strained voice trembled then steadied. "No, Jack. I want our son back. But that's not going to happen, so I guess this is what I'll settle for."
Jack's eyes were stinging and all that bright shiny hope he'd felt stepping into the wormhole on Abydos seemed to have been left lightyears away. "The house is yours," he said quietly. "I'll take whatever I need and get out today." He didn't wait for an answer but cradled the phone gently and went to pack.
The door to Charlie's room stood open, exactly as it had when he'd left. Jack shut the door and continued to the bedroom, thinking about what to take.
Clothes, of course. He pulled his own clothes out of the closet, and piled them on the bed. He'd need some boxes. He thought there were some in the attic, left from their move to Colorado. Sara'd been so happy to get away from his last posting in Alabama. She hated the hot weather.
He climbed up into the attic, shifting boxes until he found the stack of empties, neatly collapsed. The rest of the attic was full of memories, not all of them theirs. Boxes of keepsakes Sara had inherited when her mother died. Christmas ornaments and wrapping paper. Boxes full of Charlie's outgrown things. A few odds and ends of Jack's. He moved half a dozen of the empty boxes downstairs and then went back up for his ice skates and a faded box of childhood possessions.
He packed the clothes quickly and moved them into the truck. Sports equipment, skates- ice and street, and his tools quickly joined them. Two boxes of books. His laptop. He shoved Daniel's two heavy suitcases back to make room. Even so, the bed of the truck was barely covered. It seemed very little to show for sixteen years of marriage. Jack drove to the post office and rented a box, then back to the house to leave a note giving it as his forwarding address.
The plans came fully formed, as if he'd been thinking about them for weeks. He'd buy another house. Something cheap, that needed some work. Fix it up. May be sell it, may be find some other work. He had his pension, which was enough to live on if he was careful. The old house was in good shape. They'd put a new roof on it last year. It should be a long time before Sara had any significant expenditures to make for it. He'd have to make sure she didn't suffer by the divorce.
Jack pulled up in front of Catherine Langford's house and got out of the truck. A nice place but he wouldn't have thought it warranted the maid who opened the door. The hall was stacked with boxes. 'Deja-vu,' he thought.
The maid showed him into the kitchen, which seemed to be the sole outpost of normality.
"You're moving?" Jack asked, after shaking hands with Catherine.
"Retiring," she said, seeming weary. "There's no reason to stay here anymore. I own a house near Boston that I've spent far too little time in. I only came to Colorado Springs for the- for work."
There was something about that statement that bothered Jack, but he couldn't put his finger on it. He felt horribly guilty about not having told Catherine yet. He glanced at the maid. "I was really hoping we could talk."
Catherine followed his gaze to where the woman was fussing with a teapot. "Martha, you can leave that," Catherine said.
"It's all ready, ma'am." The maid transferred the tray to the table and moved quietly to the door.
Jack only waited for the door to shut behind her, before blurting it out. "He's not dead."
The older woman's hand froze on the handle of the teapot. "What?"
"Daniel's not dead. He's fine. He stayed on Abydos."
"But you told General West-" she began.
"A pack of lies," Jack said. "I lied, because if I had told him the truth, he would have insisted on sending another bomb. There were a lot of innocent people on that planet."
She nodded slowly, but her look wasn't friendly. "And exactly why did you leave Daniel Jackson behind, Colonel?"
"Because he asked me to," the truth fell off Jack's tongue without premeditation. He added defensively, "I did try to talk him out if it. But he met this woman-" He looked at Catherine's uncomprehending expression. "Maybe I should start at the beginning?"
He told her almost everything. It poured out of him in a flood and he hadn't realized just how much he'd needed to talk about it. Catherine was a wonderful listener, paying attention to every word and asking questions at all the right places. Somewhere in the middle- Jack thought it was when he was telling her about finding Daniel and Sha're talking in front of the wall of hieroglyphs- she poured him a cup of lukewarm tea, and he gulped it down thirstily.
The only thing he left out was the personal element, his son, and the conversation he and Daniel had in the caves. It must have taken two hours before he finally wound down. "-so I had the guard pinned on top of the transporter, and hit the control to send him up. And Daniel and Sha're both came back down. She was kind of unconscious, but alive again. So I tried to disarm the bomb. West had rigged it-" Possibly he should have omitted that detail too, but he didn't much care at this point. "Anyway, that's when Daniel and I thought of sending the bomb up to the ship." His hands sketched a huge explosion. "Starship go boom! We got outside to find crowds of cheering people.. they'd rebelled against Ra and taken out the guards that were left. And Daniel went off to talk to Kasuf, and then told me he was staying."
"Because he'd inadvertently married this girl?" Catherine asked.
"Because he was nuts about her," Jack said. "And she thought he was wonderful. If he smiled at her, the rest of us ceased to exist."
Catherine smiled and brushed a trace of moisture from her eyes. "I wish I could have seen it, Jack."
Jack couldn't help smiling. "It was something else. The whole trip was."
"I can't help envying you a little," Catherine said. "I've spent my whole life trying to unravel the mystery of the stargate. It's hard to believe it's all over now."
Jack couldn't imagine this tiny white-haired woman hiking on the burning sands. "Um, a lot of it was pretty unpleasant."
"And I'm too old for those kind of athletics," Catherine agreed. "But all the same," she fingered the Ra necklace, once again worn around her neck. "I'm sorry to have missed the end of the story." She gave Jack a faintly puzzled smile. "You seem to have been changed by the experience."
"What, I'm not quite the military asshole you thought?" Jack grimaced. "Let's just say traveling to another planet helped me put some personal things in perspective." He rose, a trifle reluctantly. "I should let you get back to your packing." He offered her his hand and was a little startled when she pulled him into a brief hug.
"Thank you, Jack. For everything. I'll see you tomorrow," she said.
"Tomorrow?" he asked.
"The memorial service?" she replied.
Porro, Freeman and Brown. Jack had nearly forgotten. "Of course," he said. "I'll be there."
Jack pulled up beside the park. He'd had only one beer with Kawalsky and Ferretti after the service before excusing himself. They'd all stood awkwardly in their dress uniforms and listened while a chaplain who'd never known the three soldiers had read a bland generic service that said nothing of the circumstances of their death. Jack wondered if their families would ever find out that they'd been some of the first Americans to visit another planet. Probably not. There had been a fair turnout from the base. Jack stood between West and Kawalsky and listened as impassively as he knew how. He'd exchanged formal greetings with Catherine, but she'd discreetly turned aside to sit by herself with only the faintest hint of a twinkle to betray the secret they shared.
At his newly rented room, he couldn't change fast enough out of the uniform he'd worn for most of his adult life. It was a source of pride and shame, a reminder of courage and horrors. He wasn't sure what he was going to do next, but getting to know the man underneath the uniform had to be near the top of the list. He looked with satisfaction at the unlit path and fumbled in the faded box on the seat beside him. Carefully, he extracted the old telescope that he'd had since he was twelve. He'd meant to pass it on to Charlie when he was a little older. Now he wanted to look through it again himself. He walked out into the center of the park and pointed the small scope at the sky. The stars leapt out at him, more and more brilliant than he could see with the naked eye.
He found Sirius and traced a line down from it, but if Abydos was visible, he couldn't pick it out. He should pick up some books...
A bright light flashed in his eyes and he covered them with a curse, "Ow!"
"Sir, the park is closed," a voice said. Past the blinding light, Jack glimpsed official accoutrements, a badge.
"Police?" he asked.
Jack stood up, holding the telescope. "Sorry, I didn't realize. I just wanted to get away from the lights."
"Try one of the hiking paths," the officer advised. "They're not restricted."
"Thanks, I will." Jack walked back to his truck, feeling cheated. He thought about Skaara and Daniel, so far away he couldn't even pick out the sun their planet circled. He should never have left.
The picture on a travel poster caught Jack's eye, and he stopped to stare at it. The poster was extolling the virtues of exotic Egypt. Jack's own experience of the middle East would have led him to describe it as squalid rather than exotic. Though he supposed the touristy parts might be cleaner. He was startled out of his reverie by a familiar voice.
"I'd have thought you'd seen enough of that part of the world, Jack."
"Huh?" Jack turned away from the travel poster to see one of the guys he occasionally played poker with. "Oh, hi, Andy. How are you?"
"Fine," he smiled. "Thinking of taking a vacation?"
"No, it just reminded me of a friend who used to live there," Jack said. He wondered what Andy would say if he told him he'd visited a pyramid on another planet. Call the guys in white coats, no doubt. "What's up?"
"Oh, same ole, same ole," he replied cheerfully. "Hey, if you're not busy Saturday, come on over for barbecue."
The lawyer looked at him impatiently, "Don't you understand that you're under no obligation to-"
"It's what I want," Jack said.
"The house represents a significant asset," he told Jack. "If you give her the house, you're entitled to an equivalent value from your joint savings."
"If I take the house's value out of our savings," Jack said, "She won't be able to afford to keep the house."
"You have to look after yourself first," Jervis said. "If you come to your senses in six months, you're not going to be able to undo this."
"I'm not going to change my mind," Jack said. "Now are you going to process the paperwork the way I asked, or do I need to find someone else?"
"You're paying me for advice," Jervis said, tapping a pencil nervously.
"And you've given it to me. Now I want you to do what I asked," Jack said.
Jack went up the front walk to Andy and Karen's place carrying one bag of beer and assorted soft drinks and another large bag of chips. Typical bachelor fare. He was absurdly conscious of the absence of his wedding ring on his hand. Funny he never noticed taking it off for missions, but now walking around without it made his finger itch.
"Jack!" Karen took the bags and kissed his cheek. "Good to see you."
"Thanks," he said. "You too."
"No smoking in the house," she reminded, as she always did. "There are ashtrays on the deck."
"Not a problem," Jack said. "I quit." He hadn't touched a cigarette since he came back from Abydos. Somehow, he'd lost his taste for suicide, in any form.
She smiled, "Oh, congratulations." She bustled off to the kitchen.
"You're looking better," Andy said cautiously.
"I feel better," Jack said. Then he shrugged. "As much as anyone could under the circumstances."
"I don't know," Jack said. "We split up."
"Sorry," Andy said.
Jack shrugged again. "One of those things."
He asked Andy how his job was, and was laughing at a story of three men arrested robbing a diner when they walked into the backyard. The grill was going full blast and one of Andy's friends was wielding a spatula expertly. Andy was saying, "--owner told them business was so bad, they'd have to sit down and order something before he'd have any money for them to steal, and damned if one of them didn't--" Jack walked into the smoke and the smell of charred meat hit his nose.
//Daniel screamed "NO!" behind him and the crackle of the staff was joined by the smell of charred flesh and the thud as Daniel's body hit the ground...Jack leveled his staff at Ra, but the children surrounded him, looking at him with big dark eyes. Jack hesitated and the guard hit him, and hit him and hit him.//
"Jack, Jack!!" Jack came out of it lying on Andy's deck, huddled against the phantom blows of the guard. His hands were shaking, and from the way things were fuzzing out at the edge of his vision, he was sure he'd just gone an interesting color.
There were a bunch of people looking in his direction. He swallowed and said a little hoarsely. "Way to embarrass myself." He sat up and then climbed determinedly to his feet and jammed his shaking hands into his pockets. "Sorry about that."
"It's okay," Andy looked rather worried. "That looked like a doozy of a flashback."
Jack winced. "Did I say anything?"
"No, just turned gray and fell down," Andy said. "What was that?"
"Can't say," Jack said tersely. "Leave it." He raised his voice slightly. "So, what does a guy have to do to get a beer around here?"
A few minutes saw him seated safely upwind of the grill with a beer in his hand. "Want a burger?" Andy asked.
Jack suppressed a shudder. "Naw, I'll just stick with this salad." He wasn't going to try and eat red meat in front of a crowd of people. Much better to cook himself a burger at home and eat it there. There was an even chance he was going to puke and he didn't want to try it at a party. He was still startled to realize that he hadn't eaten beef since he'd gotten back. He must have been unconsciously avoiding it.
"Jack-" he looked at his friend's worried countenance.
"I'm okay, Andy," Jack said. "Really." He changed the subject. "So, I've been looking around for a new house and I think I found what I want--"
After that, he hadn't stayed late. One beer, a plate of salad. He bought a sandwich and a pound of hamburger on the way home. He grilled a burger for lunch the next day and ate it. It called to mind a vivid mental picture of Porro's body floating in filthy water, but he kept it down and didn't have any more flashbacks.
Jack sprayed sealer over the last section of decking. Finally, he'd gotten a warm dry day to seal the new deck. The small sturdy platform on the roof would be just right as a platform for the new telescope. He couldn't wait to try it out. He looked down from his perch and saw the neighbor's kids playing ball in the next yard. He wondered if Skaara and his friends had ever played anything like baseball. Probably not. Jack wished they could have left the stargate open. It would have been a kick to teach Skaara baseball. And Daniel and Sha're would have children too, in time.
Jack's hand froze on the sprayer. Was he really considering spending time with kids again? Then he was a bit surprised he had to ask the question. He generally liked kids better than he did adults. They were more honest and more fun. He might have spent the better part of the last six months alone, but he wasn't going to turn into a hermit. Jack backed down the ladder, sprayer in hand. He'd always blame himself for what happened to Charlie. And he had a full schedule for this summer finishing the work on the house. Come fall though, he'd check by the rink and see if they needed help coaching hockey.
He glanced up as he put away the sealing supplies. A faint overcast tonight, which was probably just as well, since he really should let the deck dry before using it. He smiled faintly, trying to imagine explaining hockey to Skaara. "First the water gets so cold it's solid..."
The neighborhood wasn't as dark as he would have liked, but at least the light fixtures all pointed down. And on a clear night, he could just barely make out the star that Abydos orbited. The moon was down and the Milky Way was a splash of light across the sky. It was unseasonably warm for February, and the foot of snow they'd had two weeks ago was completely gone. Jack consulted the starchart on his laptop, and looked back into the eyepiece of the telescope. A beautiful night, and the air was winter clear.
If the weather stayed this great, he was going to put off job-hunting for another week, he decided. He could manage without, and really, it was amazing how time filled up if just left to itself. He was coaching hockey tomorrow. He hadn't decided yet about the pottery class downtown and there was that workshop on laying tile Saturday, which would be useful if he decided to redo the second bathroom--
Jack could hear the car pull into his driveway and steps on the walk, but he ignored them in favor of the wonders of the universe he could see through his telescope. There wasn't anyone he cared enough to see to interrupt what he was doing. The steps milled around in confusion, then a man's voice said. "Sir. There's a ladder over here."
The ladder creaked as someone climbed up. A different male voice asked, "Colonel Jack O'Neill?"
"Retired," Jack said, without looking up.
"I'm Major Samuels," the man said.
Jack was mildly curious, but didn't let it show in his voice. "Air Force?"
"Yes, sir. I'm the General's executive officer," Samuels said.
Ooh, exciting stuff. Kind of like death, one papercut at a time. "A little piece of advice, Major? Get re-assed to NASA. That's where all the action's gonna be." He looked dreamily at the Pegasus galaxy, bright in the eyepiece. He really liked this new telescope. "Out there."
Samuels said, "I'm under orders to bring you to General Hammond, sir."
"Never heard of him," Jack said. And couldn't care less.
Then Samuels said the one thing that could make Jack sit up and take notice. "He replaced General West. He says it's important." Fizzing excitement buzzed at the base of Jack's skull but he maintained his pose of careless indifference as Samuels finished, "It has to do with the stargate." It wasn't over. Jack acknowledged the major with only a brief nod, then buttoned up the telescope and locked the laptop in the house before getting into the car with Samuels.
Jack walked toward the holding cells, with the airmen escorting him. He was still sweating after the confrontation with that devious sonofabitch Hammond. One second after he'd seen the bomb on the ramp, he'd known he was being played. And still had no choice but to show his hand. Hammond had laid down his cards like a master. The real question was the alien attack. He rode the elevator in silence, ignoring his escort. Ra couldn't possibly be still alive, could he? And if he was, what did that mean for the people on Abydos? Jack couldn't suppress a vivid mental picture of Daniel, Sha're and Skaara, lying dead on the floor of the pyramid, holes burned into their chests. 'I never should have left them there,' he thought.
He was shown into a cell, which to his mild surprise was already occupied. Kawalsky fairly jumped to his feet as Jack arrived. "Colonel O'Neill, sir."
Jack gave him an ironic look. "I'm retired, Kawalsky. Lose the salute."
O'Neill sat at the foot of the table fidgeting. He wanted to stare at the gate, willing it to turn, but stayed in his seat by pure force of will. 'Jackson could be dead. You don't know what you'd be walking into. Suppose Ra had survived after all and come back? He sure wouldn't be happy with the Abydonians. Hell, it didn't even need alien menaces for something to have gone wrong. What if Daniel or Skaara had gotten sick or injured, with only Abydonian medicine to rely on? It would be ironic if they were all sitting here waiting for Daniel when he'd died months ago.
Waiting for Daniel. Was that what he had been doing this year? He remembered the faint unease he'd felt seeing Catherine moving out. Jack had always sworn that he'd retire to Minnesota. Why was he even still here? He remembered Daniel's set face, washed in the blue light of the rings. 'Wait for me,' he'd said, and Jack would have. If he had been able to disarm the bomb to give him more time. And now it was all happening again; more aliens, another bomb, another General... and Jack, still waiting for Daniel, the last person who'd actually asked him for anything.
At least this time Jack had a better chance of affecting the outcome. He still shuddered to think of the fragile chain of coincidence and inspiration that had led to their survival the last time. The floor trembled and Jack sat up abruptly, water in the pitcher sloshing with the vibration. He rose as the gate started turning and dashed for the stairs.
He paused at the end of the ramp, almost bouncing on his toes. 'C'mon, Daniel...' He was barely conscious of the officers behind him, and the guards poised with weapons pointed at the shimmering blue surface. When the kleenex box popped out onto the ramp and the wormhole disappeared, it was profoundly anticlimactic. Jack walked up the ramp and picked it up. It was empty and coated with sand. He was already feeling a measure of relief as brushed it off to read the large block letters "THANKS - SEND MORE." The kleenex box had been a message only Daniel would understand; the answer was clear to everyone. Only Daniel would have kept the tissues and written that brief colloquial reply in English.
Jack couldn't keep the slight lilt of excitement out of his tone as he turned to Hammond. "Permission to take a team through the Stargate, sir." He barely heard Hammond's qualified approval. He was going back to Abydos. He'd get to see for himself that Daniel and the kids were okay. Hammond already seemed less paranoid than West. Maybe this time they'd keep the gate open. Brown had thought the mineral they mined there was pretty interesting.
He exchanged triumphant grins and backslaps with Kawalsky as they left the gate room. The aliens were a concern, but Daniel would help them figure out what was going on. And Kawalsky and Ferretti would provide a core of experience for the new team-- or teams; Kawalsky was really ready for his own command. Jack couldn't suppress the residual trace of a smile that curled the corner of his mouth. At least he wasn't going to be light-years away from the action any more. Whatever was going on, they could handle it. After all, they'd defeated a ten-thousand-year-old god. What could be harder than that?
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