This fanfiction is not intended to infringe on any copyrighted material or characters of Gekko, MGM, Showtime, Fox, the authors, or God him/herself. No profit has been or ever will be made from this story. The plot and nonseries characters, however, are mine. Feel free to print and share, but only with the disclaimer, author's name and email address included. Please do not post on other sites without the author's permission.
My appreciation to Linda H. for her most astute editing.
Rating: PG, language; smarm rating: 2; setting: late first season.
Summary: The dullest planet the SG-1 team has seen has a little surprise for them when they get home.
PN42N33 was the quietest, most normal planet SG-1 had the misfortune to step onto from the Stargate. The land was pretty, but not captivating, a series of green, easily sloped hills punctuated by dark stands of deciduous trees. The Gate stood on the highest hill within sight, thick grass growing right up to its base, a watery blue sky framing its hard, foreign lines. At least the hill provided a good view of the surrounding land. Colonel Jack O'Neill wished-not for the first time-that someone would hurry up and invent the equipment that scanned for life signs on Star Trek. And that Hammond would approve the use of something with wheels for getting around faster. O'Neill sighed. He'd never much wanted a dune buggy before. Was he getting too old for this kind of stuff?
Nah. It was just this boring assignment. Carter was the only one with a real job. She burrowed into the thick grass for a soil sample, while Teal'c assumed a sentry's role, moving around the Gate, and Jackson stared at the land as if he'd never seen green before. True, they hadn't seen many places this mellow, this . . . . dull.
"Carter, can you hurry it up? I got a date tonight," O'Neill said.
The captain's face turned up, her blue eyes catching the light and the edge of a grin twitching at the corner of her mouth. "Really, sir? A real date?"
Teal'c turned to O'Neill. "The date is October 16th on your world, and the month of Ty-"
"No, no, Teal'c, a date, not the date," Jackson said. He strode over to Teal'c to explain. O'Neill sighed. Now there were two people with something to do.
Still on her knees, Captain Carter poured some smelly chemical over the dirt in a test tube. A minute later she tossed out the liquid contents with a snap of her wrist and packed up the equipment.
"Not it, huh?"
"Nope." She tucked the small kit into her pack, then dusted off her hands and knees. "It fit the description, so it was worth a look." She raised her eyebrows and shrugged with one shoulder. "Four down, six to go. Assuming we have the lucky numbers instead of SG-3."
"All right, kids, let's go. Daniel, phone home."
"Yeah, okay, Jack. Coming."
General Hammond had sent them all on what O'Neill thought of as "a wild-goose chase." Strictly speaking, that was not true. The planet they looked for apparently contained some wonderful new chemical that O'Neill, while understanding its value, still couldn't work up much enthusiasm for. First of all, they had to find the place again, and secondly, the chemical had to live up to its initial test results. The chemical was on a planet that SG-7 had accidentally visited a few weeks earlier. Not until SG-7 returned with notes and video data, and not until their clothing was sent through the standard decontamination process had it been discovered that the world's soil held the unusual chemical.
Captain Samantha Carter made the discovery by tripping over it-literally. She trod on a rock-hard dirt clump lodged in the Gate's mesh ramp. Unfortunately, she seemed to think that anything she could feel through Air Force issue boots was worth investigating. O'Neill shrugged. Well, considering the toughness of those boots, he probably would have taken a second look, too. That was how she found that the dirt clod was growing tiny green shoots. She'd had to work hard with the small samples knocked from SG-7's boots to learn why.
Tests so far indicated that the chemical had the unusual ability to increase the growing rate for the plants that provided much of Earth's grains: wheat, oats, rye, even barley and hops. The prospect of increasing the world's beer supply was enough to bring smiles to the faces of O'Neill and several others in the briefing when Carter explained the significance. The only problem was that SG-7's "talent" was a young Ph.D. linguist who had yet to master the intricacies of the DHD, but who had not thought to mention that little detail. He had dialed in by mistake and could not remember all of the chevrons that had put them there. As if that wasn't enough, the computer recording each dial-out had suffered a crash and failed to record the chevrons. The young linguist was able to remember at least most of the chevrons. Fortunately, he was much better about getting them home.
Well, that's a scientist for you. Focused on precision-until it came to their own errors, and then they could waffle with the best of them. General Hammond hoped to find the accidental landing place by the process of elimination. SG-1 was given the task of checking out ten of the possible chevrons that the linguist couldn't remember, while the other teams split the rest. O'Neill had a bet with the SG-3 team CO that SG-1 was listed as "one" for a good reason. He had to do something to liven things up.
The team stood back as the energy field washed out and withdrew. Carter didn't seem to notice. She stared across the surrounding land, the soft breeze lifting her blond hair, her eyes wistful.
"Carter, let's go," O'Neill prodded. He settled his cap more firmly on his head and tucked away his sunglasses.
"It's pretty here, isn't it. So peaceful," she muttered.
O'Neill did a double take. "Carter, you okay?"
She spun to face him, one eyebrow cocked with puzzlement. "Why?"
"Nothing. Let's go! You're holding up the party."
They made two more stops with similar results, but on rather more exciting environments-one frozen solid, the other with natives who persuaded them not to wait around to even think about getting a sample. As they stood on the ramp picking souvenirs of rock chips and feathered dungballs from their clothing, Hammond announced that SG-6 had come up with the right address. O'Neill couldn't have been more pleased. He got to stop looking and keep his money. Everyone else seemed equally as satisfied, especially Carter, who headed straight for the lab with a bucket of the soil that SG-6 handed over with pointed expressions of relief, and Jackson, who was already dissecting the strange blowgun ammunition one feather at a time.
Three days of downtime lay ahead. And a date with an interesting librarian, not that he told anyone she was a librarian. In fact, he was sorry that he'd mentioned it at all. Jackson kept shooting speculative looks at him and Teal'c kept insisting that he explain what happened on a date.
The sun spread a buttery light across the mountain slopes beyond the complex as O'Neill aimed his Jeep toward the Springs. The new gold of the turning aspen glowed liked chased metal against the velvety green of the pines. The air held the crisp promise of a chilly night. The road snaked into the deep shadows like a dark river.
Stargating was a hell of a job, O'Neill thought. It reminded him of a description he'd once heard of police work: 99 percent boredom, one percent stark terror. Well, maybe not that bad-or that good. Lately their "one percent" was more like 50 percent. He had to admit, however, that these quiet assignments meant he brought his team home in one piece. That wasn't easy with Daniel around. He smiled as he reached for the tape player's "on" button. The chattering of a squirrel stopped his hand. The Jeep's tires sang on the pavement. Maybe he didn't need jazz after all.
Sam Carter hit the "enter" button to transmit all of her soil research processes and findings to the agricultural department that would conduct more extensive tests on the soil. Daniel had cleaned up and gone home a couple of hours before, taking Teal'c with him for a three-day weekend. Daniel wanted to show the Jaffa Mesa Verde National Park, although Carter thought the trip was more for Daniel's benefit than Teal'c's. The park was a full day's drive away, which would restrict their sightseeing to just one day. Daniel had worked it out so that they could squeeze in another half day by leaving from the complex, and dragged Teal'c off, saying it was time he found out what Motel 6 was all about.
Carter smiled as she moved around the lab cleaning up and shutting down monitors and lights. It was nice to see the team taking a break. Daniel had been wanting to visit the park for months. And how about Jack! A date. Good for him. It was about time.
She headed for the elevators. Her own plans were not as concrete. She and Melissa Reid, the British archaeologist who held Daniel's position for SG-5, had scheduled a shopping trip into Denver, complete with dinner and a movie, if they weren't dead tired after they cleaned out Tabor Center Mall. For the rest of the weekend, she wanted to do a lot of nothing at all.
Leaving the security kiosk, Carter headed toward the deep twilight waiting outside the high arc of the tunnel entrance. The concrete tube arched around her, magnifying the jangle of her keys, the thud of her boots. As she cleared the tunnel, a cold burst of fear shocked her to a halt. Cheyenne Mountain crowded against her shoulder blades, sneaked a frosty hand onto the back of her neck, breathed into her ear. She caught her breath in terror and sprinted back into the tunnel's well-lit opening. Her heart pounded as she stared at the looming bulk of the mountains that soared away from the asphalt, great, dark, threatening hulks. Carter's hands shook and her throat felt dry and scratchy. She closed her mouth and tilted her head back to see the mountain tops around her. The handle of her briefcase slipped in her grasp.
Carter jumped with a small squeak and she rounded on the man. "Don't you ever sneak up me like that!"
"I'm sorry, sir. Uh, ma'am. But . . . are you all right?"
"Yes! Why shouldn't I be?"
"No reason." The guard's head tilted, his eyes narrowed below his dark beret.
"I was just heading out," Carter said unnecessarily, trying to get her breathing under control. Gripping her briefcase tighter, she took a step forward, then stopped and moved back. "I just have one question, Sergeant. What are those . . . those things out there?"
"Things?" In a sudden smooth move, the guard slipped his rifle from his shoulder, his finger on the trigger. "What things?"
Carter pointed up. "There. And there."
"Ma'am?" The guard squinted into the thickening darkness, then back at her. The yellow vapor lights shone on the sharp corner of his jaw.
"Up there. Big. Dark."
"Ma'am . . . , those are mountains. Maybe I should just call-"
"No! Mountains . . . . Okay, I knew that." She swallowed and felt her face flush with embarrassment. "It's a joke, Sergeant. Uh, maybe it just hasn't gotten through the whole complex yet. Good night."
She strode out wondering why she'd been so silly, but in the parking lot she had to think for a moment to remember which vehicle was hers. When the key worked, relief washed through her. What the hell was wrong with her? Vacation. Of course she needed a vacation. They'd been on for twelve days straight.
While Daniel liked driving, taking Monarch Pass in the dark was much less fun than during the day. For one thing, it deprived Teal'c of a spectacular view, and for another the curves tended to appear more abruptly in the limited scope of the headlights. However, if they didn't go now, in the fall, they'd have to wait for spring, as Monarch under ice could by no stretch of the imagination be called "fun."
Daniel's tension had settled in his shoulders, and he found himself hunched over the wheel as if he could see better by leaning forward a few more inches. The spectacular daytime view came from high, sheer cliffs that fell away from the road's shoulder. Darkness didn't mean they went away. Not that he was driving on the canyon side. Outside Teal'c's window, the rocks and trees rose right from the roadside.
Teal'c was busy trying to see everything at once. He'd been into Colorado Springs and Denver, but as far as Daniel knew, not into the mountains. They'd left the complex early in order to get a few hours down the road. Daniel was aiming for Gunnison, approximately half-way to Mesa Verde and well past Monarch.
The mountain peaks were still light, but along the road the dusky twilight deepened. Teal'c had run out of questions, which was good because he had about exhausted all of Daniel's answers and most of his patience. And for some reason, Monarch was getting to him. With only the sound of the engine filling the car, Daniel's concentration heightened. So maybe the road was trickier in the dark and he couldn't see the drop-offs, but the concept was the same: stay between the dashed line on the left and the solid line on the right. What lay beyond those lines shouldn't really matter.
The dark closed in around them finally. Even the dim, rosy glow on the rocky peaks disappeared, leaving only snapshot glimpses of the passing pines in the strobe flash of the headlights. The evergreen scent spiced the sharp, thin air. Since his arrival in Colorado, Daniel had not allowed himself to enjoy the state. Everywhere he turned, he saw things that would have dazzled Sha're, and it seemed like an act of disloyalty to take in such beauty without her beside him. However, being so close to the only national park dedicated to ancient man nagged at him. He finally surrendered.
His first view of the highway into the Rockies had exhilarated him, and he knew he would have to make more trips, even without Sha're. Then he would know where to take her later. Or perhaps he was becoming a master of rationalization. He snorted.
"What did you say, Daniel Jackson?" Teal'c's voice rumbled out of the dark. Daniel glanced over. The dash light limned Teal'c's broad nose and the cut of his heavy lips. The golden gleam of the emblem on his forehead was hidden by a dark wool cap.
"Nothing. Just thinking. Are you warm enough?"
"I am fine, Daniel Jackson. Thank you."
"Teal'c, have you ever tried just using the first part of our names? Like, just saying 'Jack' instead of 'Jack O'Neill,' for instance."
"But is not Jack O'Neill his name?"
"Well, yes it is, but we usually shorten a person's name to make speaking faster." He wasn't about to explain that "Jack" was a nickname.
"Why would I want to do that?"
"Uh . . . because everyone else does?"
"I have heard Jack O'Neill say that is not a sufficient reason to do something."
"Well, uhm, he's right, but sometimes it's okay. Certain situations call for a person to do what everyone else does. Social situations, for example. How you use someone's name is a social thing."
"So you are saying that I should call you 'Jackson' like Jack O'Neill does?"
"Well, yes, you can. 'Daniel' would be more customary, since we're friends."
"Then, when would I call you 'Jackson?'"
Daniel wanted to kick himself for bringing up the subject.
As usual, Tabor Center was jammed with people. As malls went, it was small, a long, two-storied building in the heart of Denver's downtown. The shops were a step above the usual mall chains, and the prices matched. If Melissa had not wanted special gifts for her family in Britain, they might not have come here. The fascinating Larimer Square shops were just around a corner, too, in case Melissa wanted something handcrafted or imported.
"So Jack really had a date last night?" Melissa said as they headed for the food court, her plastic shopping bags bumping against her denimed thigh, the ebb and flow of crowd noise surrounding them.
"He said he did. I thought it might be with you."
"Me?" Melissa laughed and tossed her dark hair. "Not bloody likely."
Sam grinned wickedly. "'Methinks thou doth protest too much!'"
"Oh, don't start quoting the Bard at me! Really, all you Americans think of is romance." She waved at a bank of garishly-printed novels as they passed a bookstore. "Look at those! Sex and romance."
"I bet you've read a few."
"I have not!"
"Oh, sure, you just curl up in front of the fire on a cold winter's night with an archaeology journal?"
"And why not?"
"You should be dating Dan-" Sam blushed. "Sorry. Never mind. Sometimes I forget he's married."
Melissa muttered something under her breath that Sam missed. She thought she knew anyway.
"So what do you want to try for lunch? Looks like you can choose anything from Chinese to chicken. Or there's a Mongolian barbecue place just down the street."
"What? Mongolian barbecue? Like Texas barbecue? Isn't that a bit of an oxymoron?"
"I don't know. I wouldn't know Mongolian from dirt. You're the one who knows that part of the world."
"Tibet is not Mongolia. No thanks, I'll try the chicken place. Look," Melissa pointed across the crowded tables. "There's someone leaving, we better get it."
They settled in and took turns to get their food, Melissa first. Sam had never known the Tabor Center not to be crowded on a weekend. She tucked her small purse onto her lap and looked around. The trouble with sitting was that it allowed the fatigue to catch up. She hadn't slept well, awakened by every small noise and several large ones as the neighbors shouted and crashed their drunken way into the apartment next-door. In some ways, she was just as happy to not spend a lot of time at home. At this very moment, however, that's exactly where Sam wanted to be.
She had the thick, sluggish feeling of an oncoming cold. If she'd felt that way before they left the Springs, she wouldn't have risked exposing Melissa. Maybe it was just exhaustion. Or, God forbid, she'd "caught" Daniel's allergies. Sam pulled off the blue sweater she wore over a light turtleneck.
"Samantha?" Melissa's blue eyes were fixed on her as she put down her tray. "You really don't look well. Are you ill?"
Sam groaned. "I think I'm catching a cold. It's a wonder, the way Janet keeps us doped up on stuff."
"Yes, you do look fagged out. Er, tired out. Sorry." She reached out and laid the back of her hand on Sam's cheek. "Definitely feverish. I think we better take you home."
"No, it'll ruin all our plans."
"And Janet will ruin us if we ignore it."
"Let me see how I feel after I eat."
The food helped and, while not exactly a ball of energy, Sam declined the early abandonment of their shopping, but agreed to forego dinner and a movie. The fever subsided, but she arrived home exhausted and irritable. The place looked all wrong somehow. Sam sighed. It was a sad state of affairs when work was more home than home. Shivering, she put on a robe and lit the gas fireplace.
Jack O'Neill's hand closed on the cold grip of the pistol he kept on the nightstand and he leaped from bed. The house had trapped a soundless chill within its walls. He heard the wind brushing through the pines on the south side. The big oak in the back rattled its leafless branches. Jack dropped the corner of the kitchen window's curtain. Nothing out there. It was a dream. He stared at the pistol he didn't even remember grabbing. No wonder Sara had left. No wonder his son . . . . Determinedly he turned his thoughts elsewhere. The clock in the living room glowed 2:30 in square, red numbers. He'd had to apologize to Deborah for dropping her off so early. Barely eleven. He should have known better than to plan a date on a Friday after twelve days straight work.
She'd been more understanding than he would have were the situation reversed. He'd liked Deborah. She was smart and funny. And safe. She was headed for a librarian's position in a Pacific island school in July or August.
He couldn't go back to sleep. He tried-dutifully crawling back into his warm bed and closing his eyes. Minutes later he was up again, patrolling each room. No one there. The third time he thought he'd heard something, he pulled on his flannel robe in the dark and sank onto the couch with a beer.
He'd never had a burglary there. It wasn't the house Charlie had died in. It made no sense, but Jack wasn't ready for a fourth jolt of adrenaline. He sat there thinking mostly of nothing. Finally, he built a fire in the big, rock fireplace and took another beer from the fridge. Cold beer, hot fire. Weird combination.
When he woke the next morning the sun was high, the fireplace cold, and his neck cricked from sleeping with his head on the arm of the couch. Stiff muscles and a muggy head. He felt as if he'd been on a two-day drunk. He shambled into the bathroom for a hot shower.
At eleven on Saturday night, six hours after she dropped off Melissa, Samantha Carter was back in her car headed down the dark highway. The yellow lights of Cheyenne Mountain's utilitarian, surface complex hazed the night sky above the tunnel's entrance. Carter carried her briefcase and a Starbuck's coffee in from the parking lot, but as yet the case was empty. Dressed in her BDU's, a black turtleneck and a long overshirt, she was ready.
The entrance guard didn't blink twice at her appearance. Carter often kept odd hours. The excuse she had ready went unspoken at each checkpoint as she took a series of elevators deep into the complex.
The gray corridors were empty, the lights dim enough to obscure the pipes and conduits overhead. Unless an emergency arose, the place would be nearly empty of staff. All she had to worry about were the three guards in the embarkation room and the night technician in the control room. Carter went straight to the armory. She left her briefcase around the corner and made small talk with the guard before using her card key to gain access. When she left, she noticed the guard's sharp eyes on her.
"The inventory list is wrong," she said to him with a shrug. His hard stare would have bothered her if it wasn't so practiced. "Everything in locker fourteen is there. I figured as much, but you know how it is. Had to make sure."
"Yes, I've had that feeling myself now and then. But Captain, it's after midnight."
"Yes, Corporal, it is. You must be new here. Good night."
He got the message and issued a snappy salute. She returned it and departed briskly.
Picking up her briefcase, Carter stepped into a nearby room and transferred the items tucked in her waistband to the case, with the exception of a small pistol. Then she headed for the control room by way of the lab, where she picked up a couple of items and heated the coffee in the mircrowave.
She knew who was on tonight.
"Evening, Susan. Quiet night?"
"Hey, Cap'n. As usual."
Carter set the cup in front of the woman. "Present for you."
"What's the occasion?" Susan took the top off and sipped. "Wow, latt. Thanks, Captain. Yeah, even the guys down there can't stay awake." Susan nodded her cornrowed braids at the glass overlooking the embarkation room.
Carter shot her a look of alarm. "But they are, right?"
Susan grinned, her teeth bright against her dark skin. She flipped a switch on the board and a blast of rap erupted from the speakers. The three men below jumped a little and looked up at her. Susan waggled her long red nails at them and blew them a kiss. One of the men flipped the bird at her. Susan leaned toward the microphone. Carter edged back.
"Same to you, Marcus, baby," said Susan's contralto Southern accent.
He grinned and saluted.
"I see." Carter smiled. "Pretty effective."
"You're up late. I thought you had days-off," Susan shut down the music.
"Uh, yeah, but I was in such a hurry to get out of here last night that I left some things hanging. You know how it is."
"Yeah, I know what you mean. The latt is great. So, like I said, what's the occasion?"
"Sympathy for the night shift." Susan'd never believe that. Carter added with a rueful grimace, "And we had one left over."
"That sounds more like it. Thanks, anyway." She sipped.
Carter waited, moving from one monitor to another. She glanced at her watch. Not much longer.
"Hey Susan, have you noticed the signal fluctuation on this screen back here? What's going on?"
The technician set her coffee aside. "Where? What fluctuation?" She left her chair. Half way across the room she stumbled and reached out. "What the hell? So dizzy . . . ."
Carter steadied her. "You okay?"
Susan rubbed her face. "Yeah," she said remotely. "Fine. Must be-"
Carter caught her before she hit the floor and made her as comfortable as an unconscious person could be.
Taking the woman's seat, Carter dumped the coffee in the trash and went to work on the computer. When she left twenty minutes later, the computer had an entirely new group of settings on a time-delay execution command and Carter had five minutes to deal with the guards. From the briefcase, she extracted a gas mask from the lab's emergency equipment. She used her key card at the door and as soon as it opened, she pulled the pin and tossed the gas cylinder into the room. She flattened against the wall, her pistol ready. The guard-Marcus, Susan had called him-burst through, rifle at the ready. Carter thrust her pistol in his ribs.
"Hold it!" She had to yell to be heard around the mask. Reaching over, she pulled the rifle from his grasp and moved around front. "Inside." She pushed the muzzle against his chest. Marcus planted his feet and looked past her. White clouds of gas curdled around their feet.
"Fine, don't move, then."
Marcus glared at her and maintained his position. Seconds later his knees buckled and he sagged into the gas. Carter stepped back, grabbed his collar and dragged him into the room. The door rolled shut behind her. That had been easier than she expected. Three minutes and this would all be over.
The Gate came to life and the huge wheel moved toward the first chevron. Carter smiled, a jolt of excitement raising the hair on her arms. It was working. Once all seven chevrons were encoded, the computer had been instructed to delete the records of the new destination. They would never know where she'd gone.
The energy wash startled her. Most of the gas was gone, filtered out through the room's ventilation system. The system's alarm remained quiet, adding to Sam's feeling of accomplishment. Cautiously she removed the mask and after a few clear breaths, tossed it into a far corner. She headed up the ramp, an expression of pure rapture lighting her eyes and lifting the lines of her face.
The room's door rolled open and boots pounded on the cement. Carter spun, shocked that her activities had been discovered so quickly. The soldiers dropped to their knees and took aim. Carter turned again to the Gate. They'd never shoot her.
"Captain Carter, halt!"
She knew the voice. Major Garcia headed the night watch for the entire complex. Hellsfire. Carter leaned forward and sprinted. The watery energy field rippled before her. She was almost there. Garcia was still yelling at her. Two more steps . . . .
A solid weight hit her from behind, knocking her onto the ramp face first. Her chin hit hard, but she squirmed and struck at the man whose arms squeezed her waist, his body heavy on her legs. Someone caught her free arm and she went wild, twisting and biting. More hands clamped down and she was pinned. Beyond an airman's shoulder, Carter saw the energy field dissipate and the Gate shut down. She screamed until her throat hurt.
The soldiers hauled her bodily to her feet and secured her arms behind her. She kicked out. Major Garcia's face loomed in hers. He was trying to talk to her. He didn't understand, had no idea what he had just done to her. She screamed until his large hand clapped over her mouth.
"Carter, calm down or we'll tranq you!"
Carter glared, tears of fury tracking her face, sweat matting her hair. She could barely breathe.
"That's better," Garcia moved his hand.
"You have to let me go!"
"God bless it!" he muttered as he tried to quiet her again. She bit his hand and he swore for real. "Jenson, bring that hypo!"
Carter never felt the needle through all the hands that held her still. Seconds later she subsided into paralysis, still vaguely aware of her surroundings. Garcia got to his feet.
"Get her to a holding cell. And call a medic."
Carter slipped into darkness.
With his room key dangling from his curled fingers, Daniel paused outside the door to stare at the brown, sage-covered land rolling eastward from the highway. The mountains lay in the opposite direction, barely noticeable from there. Daniel took a deep breath of the morning's crystalline-chilled air.
They'd found a room on the outskirts of Gunnison, a small town that revolved around its ranches and its college. In an effort to offset their late arrival, they'd agreed to sleep in, but Daniel was up early anyway. To avoid disturbing Teal'c, he'd strolled around the motel in the gray dawn and watched the sun flame the pewter clouds as it rose. Near town he walked around a decent-sized park, then over to the college hunched in manicured grass on its hillside.
Wintry weather kept him moving and he'd returned to the motel cold and windblown. Daniel pushed open the door and found Teal'c up and dressed. The Jaffa gave him a slightly inquisitive look, but he accepted Daniel's off-hand explanation as they packed.
After a heavy, cholesterol rich breakfast at a Main Street cafe with Teal'c watching the odd mix of students and cowboys, they were ready to hit the road. Main was a long, straight street with flat-topped buildings, showcase windows and angled parking-a distinct '50s look.
It could have been any town in the west. A town where he didn't belong. He squelched the irrational thought. Of course he didn't belong there. He was living on the eastern side of Colorado, not here on the Western Slope. He slid into the driver's seat, glad to be out of the sharp wind. He got turned around as they left, heading back to Monarch until Teal'c pointed out the error.
They had to stop twice before Teal'c let them pass Blue Mesa Lake, once to look at the fishermen in their boats and once to explain the dam. Then as the rocks closed around them on the winding, two-lane through Blue Mesa Canyon, Teal'c wanted out again for a better view. Looking at the map earlier, Daniel had wondered if Cerro Pass would be a repeat of Monarch, but the steady climb four miles to the top had none of the thrills and chills of the previous night's drive.
Montrose was lovely-another small town. Above its wide, green valley the rugged San Juan Mountains shimmered blue in the noonday sun. Teal'c was silent as they coasted down the main street stopping at each red light, looking for the highway to Ridgway. Daniel stopped for gas and while Teal'c took his turn in the men's room, he peeled off his jacket and sweater. Montrose was busier than Gunnison and considerably warmer.
He leaned against the fender sipping his coffee and staring at the distant peaks. Picture-postcard perfect. Stunning. Luminescent green fields against Wedgewood blue mountains.
It was all wrong. They were in the wrong place.
The coffee nauseated him. Daniel tossed it out, slid onto the seat and twisted the key. They would have to pass the reservoir again, not to mention the long road through Blue Mesa Canyon. Well, it couldn't be helped. He pointed the car the direction they'd come and turned into the traffic. Once clear of the town traffic, he relaxed a little. He would tell Teal'c there'd be no stops this time.
Daniel's eyes slid sideways. The passenger seat was empty. "Dammit all to hell!" He hit the brakes and the car slewed onto the shoulder, eliciting a long honk from the car behind as it passed. Daniel yanked the wheel and left skidmarks as he turned the car back to town.
Teal'c was waiting, leaning against the glass beside the Seven-Eleven's door. He registered Daniel's squealing stop with raised eyebrows.
"Get in!" Daniel shouted.
Every head turned their way. Teal'c flashed his friend a glare, something rarely seen on his face, and walked stiffly to the car.
"What is wrong?" he asked as Daniel backed the car away.
"Wrong? You didn't get in the car, that's what's wrong." Daniel snapped out each consonant, his eyes on the traffic.
"I could not get in a car that was not there. Where did you go?"
"Nowhere." Daniel's teeth clenched around the words.
"You are in some distress, Daniel Jackson."
"Right now my only distress is your persistent, half-assed questions!"
Teal'c frowned. "What is half-assed? As I understand the term, it is not possible to apply that word to the word question. To my knowledge, a question lacks the necessary anato-"
"Teal'c, shut up! Is that a word you understand?"
The big man frowned. "Clearly."
Out of the last stoplight, Daniel floored the accelerator pushing the sedan fairly close to the speed limit until they were once again climbing Cerro Pass.
"Does 'shut up' mean that you do not want me to point out that we are once again going the wrong direction?"
"Yes, it most certainly does."
The number of beers Jack had consumed was directly proportional to the number hours he'd gone without sleep. He was, however, still awake. And still sober. It pissed him off. At three o'clock on Satur-no, Sunday-morning and he had yet to get a full night's sleep. No matter how many times he told himself that the house was secure, he didn't believe it. He was up every twenty minutes.
The house felt funny. Not "funny" good. "Funny" odd. "Funny" not normal. Or maybe he was losing his mind finally. If this kept up he might as well go back to work. Especially when that many beers weren't making a dent.
Jack stretched out and switched channels. That must have been when he fell asleep because the next thing he knew the phone was ringing. He swore while he tried to find the cordless's receiver. It was under the couch and the answering machine kicked in before he got to it, so he skipped the whole thing.
"I'm fine, what is the big deal all about?" Sam sat on the edge of the bunk and suppressed the urge to rub one of the many bruises she'd found on her body. Janet Fraiser tucked away her stethoscope.
"Well, you weren't last night." Janet's brown eyes held a mixture of reproach and concern.
"I don't believe it! Why would I do something like that?"
"We were hoping you'd tell us."
Sam dropped her aching head into her hands. "The last thing I remember was lighting the fireplace and feeling like I was catching a cold."
"A cold? And you didn't call me?"
"Janet, lighten up. It came on really fast and I had a little fever for maybe an hour or so and it went away."
Janet swore, shocking Sam. Ever since she'd adopted Cassandra, even Janet's occasional swearing had disappeared.
"You know better than that! Anything unusual gets reported."
"A cold isn't unusual. I used to get them all the time."
"Operative word is 'used to.'" Janet stepped back as if to calm herself. "Furthermore, I haven't see any symptoms of a cold." Her voice softened. "But of course I've run some tests on the blood sample I took while you were out. If that tranquilizer skews the results, we'll have to start over, though."
"This isn't the kind of thing I do!" Sam's voice rose an octave.
"Tell that to Susan Hatfield. Whatever you gave her left her with a king-sized headache."
"Omigod, poor Susan." Sam rubbed both hands through her hair, leaving it as tangled as before. "Look, even Melissa said I had a fever. Ask her."
"I will." Janet sighed and turned to the door. "You know you have to stay in here till we get this sorted out."
"Yeah, I know." Sam stared at the floor. "I want you to get this figured out. You know what they're saying can't be true."
Janet pulled open the heavy door. "Sam, I saw the security video. Look, try to get some real sleep. You know we'll be doing everything we can for you."
"Except letting me out," Sam muttered at the door's lock snicked.
"Well, Doctor?" General Hammond looked as pressed and fresh as if he always showed up at 4:00 in the morning. His tone was remarkably even.
"It'll take awhile to get the results and I'd rather not take any chances. I want the whole team in for further testing." They walked side by side through the dim corridor, leaving the guarded door behind them. The low, off-hours lighting gleamed on the general's bald head.
"Half the team has flown the coop," he said. "By now they're in the southwest corner of the state. You know what Jackson will say if I call him back from his trip? Are you sure that's necessary?"
Dr. Fraiser's lips thinned. "They all underwent the same exam every team gets after a mission, but our equipment and expertise are only applicable to what we already know. There's always the chance that something we can't measure will get through."
"You're convinced it's physical?"
"Stress? Too many days on?"
Janet shrugged. "It's possible, but do you want to take the chance if it isn't?"
"That's not an option. Call in Colonel O'Neill and run another physical on him. I'll contact the Park Service.
Janet winced. "Can't you call him?"
The corner of Hammond's mouth twitched. "I believe in an even division of the dirty work, Doctor."
"Yes, sir, I was afraid of that."
Teal'c had given Daniel Jackson all the leeway he could stand. The car tore at a breakneck speed up the side of the imposing mountains with their green and gold foliage. Not easy considering that the third lane that appeared on the steepest grades had a nasty habit of suddenly disappearing just as their car approached much slower vehicles.
Whatever was wrong with Daniel had gone beyond mere distress. He was feverish and, if possible, even more irritable than before. His hair fell in damp strings, obscuring his forehead, half over his glasses. How could he see where he was going? The car shot around a curve, the wheels screeching a small protest. It's not that they were going so terribly fast, since the Daniel's car was old and not given to much power anyway, from what he had seen, but it felt too fast for that road. Up ahead Teal'c saw a wide, dirt parking lot.
"Daniel Jackson, please pull over up there."
Daniel shot him a surprised look, his eyes overbright behind the lens.
"Please, I . . . ." What could he say that would sound plausible?
"Are you carsick?"
"You know, upset stomach? Cold?"
"Yes, yes that is it. Quickly before we pass it."
The car slid into the turnout and skidded on the dirt and gravel. Teal'c watched a small stone wall at the canyon's edge coming at them. He pressed back in his seat, holding his breath, pulling in his chin as the wall neared. His lips formed a final prayer.
The car tapped the stone with a small jolt. A cloud of dust swirled around them. Daniel twisted the key with a savage gesture.
"There! Are you happy?"
Teal'c swallowed and let his stomach muscles relax. "Very." He wasted no time getting out. A middle-aged couple who had been looking over the deep vistas beyond hustled into their large, rectangular vehicle and drove away. Teal'c couldn't blame them. He took several deep breaths of the bracing air and uttered words of thanksgiving. They were on a good-sized dirt area with a green sign that said "Monarch Pass Summit" with some numbers under it. Teal'c went to Daniel's side of the car and opened the door.
The archaeologist just sat there, both hands on the wheel, his head bent. His breathing sounded labored, but Teal'c felt he was only one who'd earned the right to sound like that.
He used his command voice. "Daniel Jackson!"
Daniel's head raised and Teal'c saw his suspicions confirmed. Sweat poured down Daniel's face.
"You are ill."
"Yes, I think so."
The response was oddly meek considering his previous comments. Teal'c pulled him from the car and half-supported him until he could lean against the back fender. Daniel looked up, his expression unfocused.
"I feel like shit," he said clearly.
Teal'c opened the back door and helped him sit.
"You have caught something," Teal'c said, squatting beside the open door.
"Thank God! I thought I was going crazy."
"Is this why you are in such a hurry to return to Colorado Springs?"
"You can just say 'Springs,' and I'll know what you mean."
Teal'c nodded. "Perhaps it is time you taught me to operate this vehicle."
Daniel blanched. "We're at eleven thousand feet, Teal'c. We have at least six thousand feet to go and it's all downhill. I don't think now is the time."
"Your measurements mean nothing to me."
"Then take my word for it, it's a hell of a long way down. No parachutes."
"Perhaps if you slept for awhile. And drank plenty of fluids."
"Sounds like Janet."
"Yes, I learned that from her." Teal'c stood and rustled in the front seat for the water container. He uncapped it and held it out to the archaeologist.
Daniel squinted up at him in the bright sun. "No time. I've got to get back. How do you feel?"
"I am fine, thank you."
Daniel took a long, sloppy drink. He handed back the canteen and brushed at the water that soaked the front of his t-shirt.
"It's cold up here." His teeth started to chatter. He scrabbled for his sweater and pulled it on. Then he wobbled to the front seat and adjusted it backwards "Okay, Teal'c, you want to drive? Get in." He leaned over the backrest from the back seat. "See the two pedals on the floor? The left one makes you stop. The right one makes you go. You steer with the wheel and you must stay between the lines. The lines on the road. The broken line, the dashes? They go on the left, unless there's two lanes. Then you always stay in the far right lane. But don't drive over the cliff. Don't go over the middle line because of the cars coming the opposite way.
"Oh, and the stick over here? That controls whether you are parked, like now, see the 'P?' 'P' is for 'park.' Hear the same sound? 'R' is for 'reverse,' meaning backwards."
"I know what 'reverse' means, Daniel Jackson."
"Good, 'D' is for 'drive,' which in this instance is another way of saying 'forward.' Hold the brake pedal down, there on the left, to hold the car still when you change directions with the stick. Then push the pedal on the right down slowly and the car will move."
"What are the numbers for?"
"They don't matter. You don't need them. Just press the brake-on the left-a little when you want to slow down, hard when you want to stop. Why don't you practice some here. Go ahead, turn the key. You've been watching me, right? Then you should have the main idea. We'll change after awhile. Just put it in 'R.' Press down. See? Not so hard! Now 'D' and turn. Just go in circles for awhile. Small ones! Slower!. Yeah. Keep doing that till you feel comfortable." Daniel sat back and closed his eyes, his arms crossed on his chest against the shivering.
After awhile, he suggested Teal'c go the other way, then back and forth.
"When you're out on the road, just go slow and remember that the faster cars have the right to more of the road. Just get out of their way. Don't drive down the highway. And whatever you do, don't go into Salida." Daniel curled onto the seat and pulled his coat over his shoulders like a blanket.
Frowning, Teal'c steered the car to the edge of the turnout,. Don't go down the highway? But he had to. And what . . . ?
"Daniel Jackson, what is a Salida?"
A soft snore was the answer With a small shrug he looked both ways and slowly headed the car onto the black road.
Feeling dragged out and more than a little annoyed, Colonel Jack O'Neill drove to the complex. At least at this hour, the traffic was light. He deliberately wore engineer boots, jeans and a flannel shirt over a long-sleeved t-shirt to dispel any notion that he would be working. He was too tired to work.
Even so, he was quietly relieved to be going. It was the first thing all weekend that felt right. Too tired to analyze it, or the unusual call from Janet Fraiser, Jack simply drove.
The sight of the tunnel evoked a sense of homecoming, and he began to relax into the long strides that took him from the parking lot to the second security check. Sunrise was still an hour away and the tunnel lights cut through the dark like a beacon in through fog.
Jack cycled through the check-in stations and headed for the infirmary. Janet was quite specific about her reasons for calling him in-a second physical-but the undercurrent of tension in her voice had alerted him to expect something unusual. He passed the corridor to the embarkation room and on sudden impulse, doubled back.
The guard was surprised to see Jack when he walked in. He snapped to attention until Jack returned his salute and moved aimlessly around the room, trying not to look at the Stargate.
"Can I help you, sir?" Another guard rose from his corner seat.
"No. Uh, no, I was just checking things out." Jack kept moving.
"Can't sleep, sir?"
Jack whirled on the man, his heart pounding, every nerve on edge.
"Why do you say that?" he barked.
"No reason, sir. I'm sorry, sir."
Jack's shoulders eased. He took a deep breath. "Yeah, too used to getting up early, I guess."
He dallied until the guards relaxed a bit. Then he turned and stared at the silent Gate. It exerted an almost physical pull on him and it was all he could do not to run up the ramp. He examined every chevron, every ridge and bump and smooth plane of its surface. His stomach muscles loosened and he felt every minute of the last two days he had not slept. Maybe he should be talking to Janet. He was probably catching a cold or something.
He pivoted, every muscle tensing again. Janet Fraiser's white lab coat glowed in the dim lights.
"I was expecting for you in the lab." One of her dark eyebrows pulled down a little. "The guard told me you were on the way, but . . . ."
"Yeah, I'm coming. I just thought I'd check out the Gate since I was going by it anyway."
Fraiser's frown spread to both brows. "Why?"
Jack shrugged as he glanced around. "No reason. Just habit, I guess."
"Okay. Have you checked it out enough yet?" Janet's hand swept toward the door.
"Uhm, yeah, sure." Hands in his pockets, he ambled out.
"Normal, General. Not even a temperature." Janet Fraiser ignored protocol and flopped into the chair in front of Hammond's desk. "He says he's had trouble sleeping, but that's probably just from having been on duty too long. Jack's more workaholic than not; it always takes time to adjust to off-duty."
Hammond leveled his pale blue gaze at her. "Doctor, it's Sunday morning. He should have adjusted by now. Or are you saying I'm working my teams too hard?"
"No, nothing like that," Janet was in need of a few more hours of sleep herself. "I mean, sometimes you do, but not without good reason. After all, that's what they're here for."
"Have you told him about Captain Carter?"
"Not a word. I gave him something to help him sleep and sent him off to his quarters to rest. Told him I wouldn't let him drive home like that."
"Good. Let me know when you have test results back."
Janet rose to leave. She paused at the door. "One more thing, General. Probably nothing. I found Colonel O'Neill in the embarkation room staring at the Stargate. He said he was just checking it out."
Hammond blinked. "He's allowed, Doctor."
"Of course, sir. I just thought you should know."
Sleep, hell. Not with that thing itching at his every nerve ending. Jack hadn't swallowed the little yellow pill. It hid between his fingers as he went through the motions in front of Janet. The seven a.m. change of guard would work to his advantage. The techs and other staff members wouldn't be there until eight or after, depending on traffic.
No one else wandered the halls to the control room, and by the time he used his key card on the first security door, he still had seen no one. The lighting was better in this short hall. He moved quickly except within range of the security camera where he tried to saunter casually-but not too casually. His office was up there, so his presence was not likely be considered unusual.
The door to the control room opened and a technician he didn't recognize came through it. The man, tall and lanky with a long pony tail, grinned at him.
"Morning. Where's Susan?"
"Sick. They called me in to take her place."
"Ah. Probably that cold that's going around."
"I'm going for a snack in the canteen. Can I get you something?"
"No, no thanks." Jack nodded toward the door. "It's covered?"
"Of course, sir."
"Very good." Jack turned away and at the door, he inserted his card.
He stepped inside. From the right, a young helmeted guard suddenly pivoted to bar the way, his rifle held across Jack's chest.
"At ease, Airman!" Jack barked. "I'm Colonel O'Neill, SG-1."
"I know who you are, sir. This area is off limits for now, sir." The soldier's brown eyes stared over Jack's shoulder.
"Not to me, Airman."
"Begging your pardon, sir, but it's off limits to everyone." The muscles in the man's jaw tightened. Clearly he didn't like what he was doing.
Jack half-turned, gesturing at the door at his back. "What about the tech?"
The soldier's eyes shifted and Jack snatched the rifle, driving the butt up into its owner's jaw. He went down in limp heap at Jack's feet.
"Never allow yourself to be distracted, soldier," he said, and bent to drag the man out of the way. In a supply drawer Jack found a roll of duct tape and insured the soldier's immobility and silence. Then he sat down at one of the computer stations and entered the first chevron.
The huge Gate came to life, the wheel of chevrons rolling with a smooth metallic sound that was music to Jack's ears. A burst of elation warmed his chest. He locked in the process and headed for the door, stopping to recover the soldier's key card. The man was awake, glaring fiercely, but unable to do more than wriggle. When the door closed behind him, Jack pushed the card into the slot and snapped it off with a bit of repetitive twisting. He would have to move fast.
He pounded through the corridors to the embarkation room, bouncing on his toes with impatience as he inserted his access card. The door rolled back and he charged in the instant it was open enough. A hard blow turned his vision black. He went down flat, out cold before he hit the concrete.
Above him, the Stargate ground to a halt on the fifth chevron.
"I don't see why you had to hit him so hard," Dr. Fraiser muttered. She flicked a light into O'Neill's eye as she held up the lid. To the nurse, she said, "Equal, reactive." She slid her hands around the back of his neck, her fingers probing.
Hammond sighed. "I want to know what's going on. He just did the same thing Carter did and I want to know why, Doctor."
Warned by his tone, Janet swallowed the comment that came to mind.
O'Neill snuffled a bit and opened his eyes. She watched him struggle to focus his vision.
"How are you feeling?"
"You lied to me, you know," she said and turned half around to the nurse. The bed behind her rattled once and something closed hard around her throat, hauling her backwards. She glanced down. A plaid flannel arm closed off her air. Mostly what she felt was astonishment. At first, anyway. Then she was clawing at the arm, gasping for air. O'Neill's chest felt like warm steel against her back.
A crescendo of glass and metal reverberated around the room as an instrument tray spilled. O'Neill shouted something that she couldn't hear around her effort to breathe and he propelled her toward the door. She wasn't much help. The pressure on her throat hurt. He had her head twisted as far as it could go to the side, her esophagus in the crook of his elbow. The back of his wrist pressed the mastoid bone behind her ear. It hurt.
In med school she had studied the effects of oxygen deprivation. And of broken necks. As the panic eased, Janet realized that it was the latter possibility O'Neill used against her co-workers. Her friends. She hoped they were her friends. She didn't dare refuse to walk for fear that if she fell, she would break her own neck. What she could see best was the ceiling.
They left the infirmary, alone, Hammond somewhere behind them. Janet thought of Cassandra. Of her aging parents. Of how little air she could get. If was funny how clear her mind felt. What in heaven's name was wrong with Jack? Hail Mary, full of grace . . . The embarkation room door slid open and O'Neill propelled her through it. His voice made a slight vibration against her spine. She watched from the corner of her eye as the guards lowered their weapons, eyes wide, lips parted.
From behind came a small pop. O'Neill whirled, a growl bursting from deep inside. Janet was dragged with him, struggling to keep her feet under her. Her air supply closed off. What felt like an eternity later, the grip on her throat released and she collapsed, her fall broken by O'Neill's body. Her lungs wheezed as she sucked in great gulps of air, her heart pounding and her hands shaking like aspen leaves in a high wind.
One of the soldiers scooped her up and carried her away from the scene. He set her in a chair and knelt in front of her, hands on her shoulders, his lips moving. In a few seconds what he said began to make sense.
"I'm fine," she rasped. The airman moved a fraction of an inch away and stood at parade rest.
In front of her, Hammond rose from a cluster of olive green backs, his blue uniform standing out like a beacon.
"Doctor, I know what you've been through, but we need you. He's not breathing."
Sam had been pacing for so long that she figured she'd worn away a millimeter of concrete. Pacing was no longer containing the welling bubble of fury and need that threatened to explode inside her. She was hungry and couldn't eat, thirsty and couldn't drink. Soon, any minute now, she would have enough power to rip the heavy metal door from its hinges and beat the guard senseless with it. With a fierce scream, she threw herself at the door and pounded her hands against the window. Soon, grotesque red flowers blossomed on the glass.
Not even the horns woke Daniel. Teal'c proceeded at a steady pace down the mountain-the needle on the dash bounced between the 20 and 30-hugging the inside of the curves and the yellow stripe when the curves went the other way. At first he did his best to let every faster car get around him, but an impressive drop-off at the edge of the roadside gravel put a stop to that. He didn't have a good feel for where the far side of the car was, so he stolidly ignored the growing trail of vehicles behind him and pressed on at a comfortable speed.
Occasionally he was able to pull over. The road had a number of wide places where other cars were parked while their drivers admired the dramatic scenery. Teal'c had not seen one for awhile now, but the terrain did seem to be leveling out. His ears had stopped requiring the annoying popping process Daniel had taught him on the way over.
One by one the cars found the opportunity to get around him, defying the important rule of not crossing the center line. Teal'c shook his head. This world was sadly deficient of enforcers of the law.
Janet lunged to her feet, and the attentive airman caught her as her knees gave way. He steadied her until she pushed off and stumbled to O'Neill, happy to let her knees give up and dump her on the cold floor beside him. Her well-trained instincts took over.
He had a pulse but Hammond was right: no respiration. Without hesitation she checked his throat, tilted back his head and put her mouth over his. Behind her, she heard Hammond on the phone ordering a medical team to the embarkation room.
Both the number of buildings and vehicles had grown. The light had taken on that yellow look it got just before the sun went down. Teal'c felt much more comfortable behind the wheel now, but the increasing traffic posed a new puzzle. He remembered what the red and green lights meant, but the bewildering confusion of intersecting roads and signs and store lights destroyed his concentration. Sweat tickled the back of his neck.
"Daniel Jackson, it is time for you to wake up. You must drive." Teal'c risked a quick look over his shoulder, having learned earlier that not looking at the road every minute could get him in trouble. "Daniel Jackson!"
The car swerved. Teal'c hastily corrected, slewing the car into the other lane and evoking a blast of obstreperous noise from someone. He would have to stop to rouse the archaeologist. Teal'c trod heavily on the brake and the car squealed to an abrupt halt. Seconds later a screech caught his attention and a huge thump knocked the entire vehicle forward. Teal'c's head snapped back with the impact. In the quiet aftermath, Teal'c discovered that something hurt.
Hammond stood out of the way as Janet and her crew worked on O'Neill. He winced as they inserted the airway. One of the nurses cut away the t-shirt while another attached electrodes to O'Neill's bare chest. Frustration made a knot in his throat. What in hell was wrong with his team? First Carter, then . . . Carter!
Hammond spun from the room, bellowing at the guards. They trotted through the corridors to the detention wing. Hammond stared at the blood on the door's small window.
"Get that door open."
Two airmen went in first, rifles at the ready, one high, one low. Hammond saw Carter sprawled on the floor beyond them and pushed between the men, still angry that the man posted there had not seen the bloody window. He knelt, his fingers searching for Carter's pulse under her jaw. He relaxed only a little when he found it. She was breathing. A bruise had formed on her forehead, partially hidden by the wild profusion of her blond hair. He ran his hands along her arms and legs, then belatedly turned up her palms. Even though he expected it, the blood shocked him. How could a person pound their hands to a bloody pulp? Hammond leaned back.
"Nothing's broken. Let's get her to the infirmary."
"I'll get her, sir," offered the larger of the two airmen. Hammond nodded and moved away. The airman lifted Carter as if she were made of glass and carried her from the room.
The infirmary was relatively quiet when they burst in. Dr. Fraiser turned from O'Neill's bedside and Hammond saw the look of horror flit across her face and dissolve into professional demeanor. She followed them to the second bed, issuing orders. Hammond heard her demand for the respirator.
"She's breathing, Doctor," he told her. He started to point out Carter's hands, but Fraiser had already caught sight of them. Gently she uncurled the captain's fingers. Her head came up and her eyes met Hammond's. The lines between her brows deepened. "I know, Doctor. The guard will be reprimanded for not responding earlier."
He moved away to let her work, heading to O'Neill's bedside. The colonel was still on a respirator and a number of machines beeped and hummed around him-machines he had always associated with life support. Restraint belts wrapped O'Neill's wrists and ankles. Hammond could feel his shoulder muscles tightening. He was still staring at O'Neill's face when Dr. Fraiser appeared at his shoulder.
"It's not as bad as it looks, General," she said. "There's no indication of a concussion from the earlier blow as far as we can tell now, and his only problem is respiration. He's reacted badly to the tranquilizer. Some latent allergy, maybe. Once it wears off, I expect he'll be breathing on his own again."
"Good. And Captain Carter?"
"Good job, Doctor." He peered closely at her. "And how are you?"
Fraiser smiled briefly. "I think I've worked through the reaction, sir. Thank you. Have you heard from Daniel and Teal'c?"
Hammond's already lowering expression darkened even further. "The Park Service says they've not seen them enter the park. It's entirely possible that they could've gotten there before we contacted them. They have his license number, but so far . . . ."
"Can you get your license for me? We have an ambulance on the way, if you'll just stay in the car, sir. Are you in any pain?"
Teal'c studied the officer's young face. "Not enough to be concerned about."
"Okay. Your license and registration if you can, please."
"I do not have a license," Teal'c said.
"Uh, no driver's license?"
"Is this your car?"
"No, it is not."
The officer's expression changed and his hand moved to his weapon.
"Okay, just wait here."
Teal'c watched in the mirror as the officer conferred with his partner, who headed immediately for their car. Teal'c opened the door.
"Really, sir," the officer insisted, hustling toward him, "you should stay put till the paramedic has a look at-omigod." This as Teal'c stood up.
"What is a paramedic?"
"They come with the ambulance. Like a doctor." The officer spoke slowly and clearly, as if to a child.
Teal'c chose to ignore the insult and reached for the back door. "Good. I would like for her to-"
The officer pulled out his pistol, aiming it with two hands and taking a wide-legged stance, his knees bent. "Freeze, sir. I mean, freeze!"
Teal'c examined him, his head slightly tilted. "It is not that cold."
"Don't move. Put your hands on the car."
The second officer pelted toward them. It made no sense to Teal'c. He'd done nothing to deserve such action. Clearly they did not understand that Daniel Jackson was in trouble. He reached for the back door handle. Both policemen leaped on him.
Surprised, Teal'c brushed off one man as if he were a mosquito and tried once again to make himself understood. Siren screaming, another police car arrived and disgorged another officer, who leaped into the fray. The ambulance arrived. A man from the growing crowd waded in. In the end, five men pinned Teal'c to the asphalt while his hands were cuffed behind him. The cuffs just barely fit. They let him up and pushed him face first against the side of the car. A man from the ambulance hovered nearby, his hands gripping red boxes. Teal'c hoped they would not pull the wool cap off his head.
Rumpled and panting, the arresting officer recited a litany of sentences that, although Teal'c understood the words, their purpose escaped him.
"Do you understand these rights as I have read them?" the officer finished.
Finally, a question Teal'c could answer. "No."
"What?" It was more of an exclamation than a question.
"I do not understand what you are talking about," Teal'c elaborated.
The officer gaped at him, but turned away as another approached holding papers, saying, "The car belongs to a Daniel Jackson, Colorado Springs."
"Dan-" Teal'c began, aiming his words over his shoulder.
"Hasn't yet been reported stolen," the second officer continued.
"Hey! I need a paramedic over here, someone's in the back seat!"
The two officers guarding him pulled Teal'c away from the back door and opened it. One crawled part way inside, rustled around and re-emerged.
"He's out cold, what'd'ya do to him?
"He is ill," Teal'c said. They moved back as the paramedics pulled Daniel from the car with efficient, practiced movements. Daniel's head lolled, his glasses were gone. He didn't look well at all.
"Who is this?" the officer barked.
"That is Daniel Jackson. He is ill. That is why I was driving." Teal'c spoke slowly, hoping to calm the excitable young policeman.
They stood back as Daniel was moved from the pavement to a bed on wheels, similar to ones Teal'c had seen in the complex. They cut off the sweater and t-shirt. The routine looked familiar, the men doing what he had seen Dr. Janet Fraiser doing-on Daniel, often as not. The young policeman hovered. One of the paramedics looked up.
"He's right. High fever, erratic pulse, shallow respiration. No physical injuries so far. We're moving him out."
Teal'c lunged forward. "Where are you taking him? Release me!" His muscles strained and his face screwed up. The cuffs snapped. Teal'c shoved men out of his path and tried to follow the gurney. Every able-bodied male in the crowd of onlookers piled on him.
Jack's throat hurt. He woke with a terrible gagging, fighting whatever it was that held down his arms and legs. The nurse on duty hurried to extract the airway. He lay back with his heart still pounding from the panic of choking. Dr. Fraiser appeared in a moment, speaking soothingly and going through a routine examination. Jack calmed a little at the normality of her expression and the small smile she gave him.
"What the hell is-" he rasped painfully.
"-Is going on? You attacked me."
"I what? No w-"
"Yes, way. You also tried to get through the Stargate."
"We were hoping you'd tell us." An odd look flitted across Fraiser's pleasant features as she said that. Jack heard a soft sigh.
"I don't have a clue. Is this some kind of-"
"No, it's not a joke."
"Will you let me finish my frigging sentences!"
"You shouldn't talk for a bit. Let your throat rehydrate. Here." She held up his head and pressed a straw against his lips. He swallowed, unaware until then how thirsty he was. "Do you remember any it?"
"What's the last thing you do remember?" Fraiser was unhooking machines as she talked.
"Sleeping on the couch and the phone rang. You."
"Nothing else? The drive here?"
Jack kept waiting for her to release the straps on his wrists. Instead she pulled a light blanket up to his chin.
"Nothing. Hey, are you going to let me up? What about these things?" He rattled the belt on his right wrist.
"Sorry, Colonel. Not for a while yet."
Jack struggled to keep his jaw from dropping. He watched as Fraiser moved to the bed off to his left. A flash of blond hair gave him a cold feeling. What was Carter doing there? He watched as Fraiser checked pulse and blood pressure, making notes on a clipboard. Before she tugged the blanket back into place, Jack saw the belt on Carter's right wrist. Without thinking, he tried to sit up.
Fraiser was at his side in a heartbeat. Unconcerned whether she saw his worry or not, he demanded an explanation.
"Jack, we don't know what's happening." She pressed him back into the pillow.
"She'll be fine. So will you."
"You don't know that."
Fraiser pressed her lips together. "Okay, we don't know that. I'm still waiting on complete test results. So far, nothing unusual has shown up except your behavior."
"Last night Carter drugged Susan Hatfield, gassed the guards and tried to leave through the Gate. Today you clipped Airman Wittig on the jaw with his own rifle and tried to leave through the Gate." She went on, filling in the details. "Hammond's going to kill me for telling you, but I don't see any point in your building this into something else in your head."
"What day is it?"
Jack lay back, trying to make his muggy brain fit the facts into something he recognized. Fraiser watched him with a sympathetic expression. Was the whole team was acting like maniacs or just him and Carter?
"Daniel?" he whispered. "Teal'c?"
'We haven't found them. They went to Mesa Verde, but the Park Service hasn't seen them yet."
A swarm of possibilities hit him, none of them good. He tried to get up again. Fraiser's hand came down on his shoulder.
"No, Jack, just get some rest, okay?"
Janet felt like she'd put in a week's worth of work in the last twenty-four hours. O'Neill was sleeping finally. Alarmingly, Carter had still not awakened. Janet needed a moment's respite. She called Cassie at the home of a friend whose parents understood the nature of Janet's work. When she replaced the phone, it rang under her fingers.
"Doctor, we've had a call from Teal'c. They're in Salida."
"Well . . , Jackson's in the hospital with a fever and Teal'c . . . ."
Janet finally prompted him. "Sir?"
"Teal'c's in jail."
"I've sent a helicopter out of Fort Carson for them. We'll have them back here in a couple of hours. We'll bring them straight to you." The phone clicked.
Janet stared at the wall in front of her. Then she put her head down on her desk and closed her eyes.
They arrived at dusk, Daniel wheeled in on a gurney closely followed by Teal'c. Janet's mouth fell open. Teal'c sported a puffy eye, a scraped cheek and wore a cervical collar that he kept tugging at with one finger. Although prostrate, Daniel looked to be in better condition than the Jaffa. The archaeologist was awake, but by the way his eyes tracked every odd movement, he didn't appear to be completely present. The flushed skin and too-glittery eyes told her immediately that the fever was not gone.
She directed the settling in, wishing she had the time to check Teal'c over. Still, she had to ask.
"We had an accident," Teal'c said helpfully.
"No kidding?" God, she was starting to sound like O'Neill. "How? What kind?" Janet noticed Hammond's pointed focus on the Jaffa. Why was he letting her play inquisitor?
"A car hit us from behind. The enforcement officers accused me of stealing Daniel Jackson's car."
Janet paused, staring. "That doesn't explain how you . . . . never mind, I guess it does. Why would they accuse you of that?"
"They did not know Daniel Jackson was in the back seat."
"The back seat!" said two voices at once.
"Bread and butter," Janet muttered superstitiously. Hammond shot her an irritated glance.
"Who," said Hammond as if he already knew the answer, "was driving?"
"I was. That is what upset the enforcement officers."
"So you hit them?"
"Certainly not. I tried to show them Daniel Jackson and they hit me." He looked around. "Can you please explain why Captain Samantha Carter and Col-"
"Come with me and I'll fill you in," Hammond interrupted.
"I want to see him when I'm done," Janet said and turned to Daniel.
"Wha's going on?" he asked plaintively. Janet wanted to scream.
Monday morning arrived all too soon. They'd all had some sleep, Janet probably more than anyone else except her patients. Hammond assembled his staff in the infirmary where they managed to take up every last bit of space. Except for a concerted but feeble effort by Daniel to leave the room, the morning was uneventful. Janet had examined the test results to find only elevated enzyme levels and slight imbalances of some minor chemicals, nothing that would explain Carter's coma, Jackson's fever or O'Neill's paranoia and depression. Only Teal'c remained unscathed-at least by the same malady that effected everyone else on the team.
She studied Teal'c thoughtfully while Hammond outlined the events and their possible causes. If the Goa'uld larva had prevented Teal'c from being affected, could she not deduce that the cause was viral or bacteriological rather than chemical? Mental aberrations not seated in physical events could theoretically effect Teal'c as much as anyone else. The same could not be said about anything connected to the immune system.
But if the problem originated in the immune system, why did each one of them have different symptoms? Except for the fever which had been mentioned by Carter and seemed untreatable in Jackson, the only other common denominator was their unreasonable migration to the Stargate. They were as bad as lemmings driven over a cliff . . . .
Janet squeaked. She looked up to find all eyes on her, O'Neill's unblinking brown gaze being the most unsettling.
"I have it. I think I have it." She turned to O'Neill. "What do you want the most right now, this very minute?"
O'Neill paused, his gaze crossing the other faces in the room. "Well, it sounds ridiculous, but I want to go to the Stargate."
"Daniel?" She shook him awake, ignoring the General's stifled protest.
"Me? I need to go to the Stargate, too." He turned over and curled into sleep.
"Teal'c, do you feel the same?"
"No, I do not."
"Okay. Colonel O'Neill, why?"
He shook his head. "I'm not sure. I never know why Teal'c feels what he does."
"I don't know, I just have to."
Janet nodded. "Lemmings," she stated emphatically. "Somehow they're being called to one of those places they've been to recently. Like lemmings. Or salmon or something."
Hammond's pale eyebrows rose. "Doctor, would you like to elaborate on that?"
"No." She avoided Hammond's eyes. "I don't think we have time. They need to go soon."
O'Neill was frowning at his knees. "If what you're saying is true, if we do go, we won't be able to come back, right?" He looked up at them, his face devoid of expression.
Janet licked her lips. "I'm not sure. It took a few hours for the symptoms to kick in. You could be here for short periods. Look, this is only a theory-a, an hypothesis, really. I'm not even saying that going back there will cure these odd illnesses. If it doesn't, then . . . then we haven't really lost anything because I have no idea how to help them. If it doesn't work, they just come back."
Hammond scratched his chin, then looked at O'Neill. "It's your call, Colonel."
Before O'Neill could do more than open his mouth, Janet spoke up. "Actually, sir, with all due respect, as your ranking medical officer, it may be my call. I think Sam is dying. Her blood pressure's dropped, pulse is faint, erratic. If her respiration gets any shallower, I'll have to get an airway inserted."
"Ick," said O'Neill.
"They have to go."
"Go where, Doctor? SG-1 visited seven worlds in four days. Do you want us to send them to all seven or just pick one?"
"Ja-Colonel O'Neill knows."
O'Neill's eyes widened. "Me?"
"Yes, you had the Stargate set when the guards stopped you. So did Carter, but she can't exactly tell us."
"I'm not sure I can either." O'Neill frowned. "It's not like I remember any of this."
"I don't think you need to remember. General, if we let him up, he'll just go."
Hammond looked at the two occupied beds. Carter's breathing could be heard all around the room.
Hammond nodded curtly. "Go."
Janet pounced on O'Neill's restraints. A nurse soon brought his boots and a fresh, black Air Force t-shirt. While Janet directed Carter's transfer to a gurney, O'Neill dressed and eased off the bed.. He headed straight for the door with two soldiers and Hammond at his heels. Belatedly they realized which door. O'Neill turned.
"Look, kids, if you must come, fine, but I'm perfectly capable of visiting the little boy's room on my own."
"Make it snappy," Hammond growled, his round face flushing.
When he returned, O'Neill went straight to Carter. He stood there for a long moment before moving on to Jackson.
The younger man muttered something and pulled the blanket up to his face. O'Neill crossed to Teal'c.
"You okay, bud?"
"O'Neill, get on with it."
The Colonel turned to Hammond and said with none of the friendly tone, "Don't you think I would if I could?" His voice still had a gravelly sound. "Where'm I supposed to go?"
Hammond gestured helplessly and his gaze fell.
Janet turned to him. "You don't feel driven to go to the Gate?"
"Not at the moment. Should I wait till I am, or just go?"
"Wait, I think. If you don't, you probably won't know what address to dial in."
O'Neill found a chair and plopped into it. He rubbed his face, the line of his shoulders held rigid. Janet and Hammond exchanged glances. Someone's feet shifted. Janet moved over to Jackson's gurney and used the digital thermometer. She didn't like the numbers.
Nothing happened. Janet had done everything she could. Everyone except the airmen had found a place to sit. O'Neill slumped in his chair.
"Maybe if we talk about something," he suggested finally.
Jackson sat up and, before anyone could get to him, slid from the bed. He held himself up, squinting a bit without his glasses. Then he staggered toward the door. No one expected him to get far, but O'Neill moved anyway. When Jackson pitched forward, O'Neill caught him. Janet was there a second later, her hands under Jackson's head as they eased him to the floor. Then he erupted, wriggling and kicking with his bare feet. Janet threw herself across his chest as O'Neill reeled back from a knee to the chin.
"Gentlemen, some help here," she called, even as the men moved toward them.
The airmen in the room, always happy to be in the fray, converged, but Jackson fought back with unexpected strength. Janet moved out of the way until she could secure wrist and ankle restraints. She turned to Hammond, who stood with his hands clinched and his eyes narrowed. He pivoted to speak to O'Neill.
"Colonel, if you don't . . . . Colonel?"
O'Neill was gone.
"General, that's good!" Janet grabbed the general's arm as he headed for the door. "He's probably headed for the Gate. The control room has got to let him in, let him set the chevrons."
"I just hope that's where he's really headed." Hammond reached for the phone.
"I'll get these two ready to travel." She swept the hair from her face and turned back to Jackson.
"Can I have my clothes?" he asked.
"Later, Daniel, we'll put some in a bag for you. Kurtz, get my gear, I'm going with them."
O'Neill never appeared at the control room. Hammond paced the floor behind the bank of computer monitors. Below him in the embarkation room, he saw Fraiser paced the alley between the gurneys holding Carter and Jackson. Teal'c stood by with his staff weapon, one hand prying at the cervical collar.
Through the speaker system he heard Fraiser's voice. "Stop it, Teal'c! You need to wear that with a whiplash injury."
"I cannot move well in it, Doctor Fraiser. It will be difficult to fight. Can you not remove it until after we solve this difficulty?"
Fraiser stared at the floor. "I can give you something for the pain."
"There is no need. The pain is not as bad as what it might be if I cannot fight."
Fraiser nodded and reached for the collar, stretching on her tip-toes.
As she set the collar aside, Hammond heard a faint muttering. The doctor turned to Jackson. Even from here, the general could see that the archaeologist's skin shone with sweat. Fraiser checked his temperature, then picked up a phone to the control room, turning to look up at him.
"It's 104.5 and still rising. Have you seen the colonel?"
Hammond strove to keep the tension out of his voice. "I have men combing the complex. All I can say for sure is that he hasn't left."
"What if he's developed the fever and passed out somewhere?"
"That's why we're looking. We're doing all we can."
"Yes, sir, I know." Fraiser hung up.
They were there long enough that Fraiser had her BDU's brought from her locker and unself-consciously changed out of her civilian clothing while the men turned away. Minutes later she were pacing again, then lunged for the phone.
"We can't wait, General. Let's pick one of those seven places and go. Start with the last one and hope."
"That could be a huge gamble, Doctor. Request denied."
The electricity went out. The emphatic "yes!" that echoed around the room was distinctly feminine. The airmen in the room moved into corners and behind the metal shields set up for cover. In the control room, the technicians and soldiers got out of the way, sharpshooters taking up strategic positions in case O'Neill came in firing.
Alarm and lock-down systems were off-line, doors completely accessible. Hammond disliked the arrangement. It was tantamount to throwing open the gates of Ft. Knox and hoping only those who belonged there walked through them. The emergency power kept the computer screens glowing. Dim crises-lights glowed in the embarkation room They waited.
O'Neill didn't appear.
The soft-edged voice muttering a litany of curses turned out to be his. Hammond stepped from his hiding place, picked up the phone and ordered all the security systems realigned and activated.
"We're making it too easy for him. Colonel O'Neill will be suspicious if he has no resistance," he told Fraiser when she called. His radio interrupted them.
"We've got him, sir. He's in the armory. Got a hold of someone's key card, sir."
"I'm on my way." He turned to Sgt. Harriman and pointed at the room's access corridor. "Keep that corridor unsecured. Tell Fraiser to stay put. We're going to herd him up here. I hope."
Followed by four airmen, Hammond pounded toward the armory. As he rounded a corner, a burst of gunfire pitted the wall near his face. He backed up and crouched, turning enough to make eye contact as he gave the orders. "Gentlemen, no tranq darts, no decent aims. If you have to return fire, make sure you miss. Just . . . don't look like you're trying to miss."
The men behind him exchanged startled glances.
Hammond called a second unit to flank O'Neill's position with the same orders. He chose to ignore the revealing silence that preceded the lieutenant's acknowledgment.
Seconds later O'Neill let out a roar that echoed off the concrete walls and charged down the corridor, laying down cover fire with an AK-47. Hammond shouted and the group hurled themselves toward the cover provided by the next intersection. O'Neill turned in behind them, still firing, but his full-out run interfered with his aim.
As they slid into the next corridor, Hammond realized it was just another shooting gallery. No cover there. They tore along, two of the men firing in shifts at O'Neill's feet to slow him. At least they were headed toward the embarkation room, not away from it. An elevator door hushed open at the end of the corridor and the five men crashed in, lining up along the walls in the meager shelter of the doorjamb. O'Neill hadn't slowed or stopped firing. He had stopped yelling, however. Bullets pinged off the metal housings and buried themselves in the back wall. As the doors rolled shut, the bullets peppered their other side. It reminded Hammond of the occasional sound of Goa'uld invaders hitting the Gate's closed iris. He pulled radio from his waistband to warn the others. One of his group had a line of blood on his upper arm.
Within minutes Harriman reported that O'Neill was spotted in the control room's corridor. Hammond hit the elevator's button that would return them to the Gate's level.
The chevrons were locking into place. Janet was too busy to express her relief at seeing her theory confirmed. She was scrabbling for a gas mask-three gas masks, actually. O'Neill had capitalized on Carter's tactics. While they'd half expected it, Janet was still surprised. She felt that she was moving through cold molasses to get Daniel's mask fitted. Teal'c moved smoothly and efficiently at Carter's gurney. Why couldn't she be like him? She just hoped O'Neill would not feel the urge to mow them down when he barreled in.
Fear blossomed at the thought. Until then, she hadn't considered the possibility. Being killed-especially by a friend-was not on her list of things to do today. She had no more time to think about it. The door scraped open and O'Neill rolled in, coming up on his knees and sighting his weapon. Janet froze, bent over Daniel's chest on the gurney, unable to think what to say to stop him from firing. She wanted to be alive to hear the door close again.
She was. The white gas boiled around their feet. Anyone slow to pull on a mask lay on the floor. The Stargate locked and the energy wash erupted, its odd blue glow reflecting on the walls. Janet glanced up at the control room. She thought she saw Hammond's distinctive head in the pale lights. The air exchanger kicked on with a hum. The Gate energy rippled within the ring. Janet didn't move.
O'Neill stood and crossed the room in long strides, straight for her, head lowered as he sighted his weapon on her. She stared at the opening in the barrel. Not very big for something that tears gaping holes in flesh. The colonel leaned over and ripped away her mask. It caught her hair and scraped her cheek. She buried her nose in her sleeve, trying to hold her breath as long as she could. It wasn't enough. Janet slid to the floor, into a now thinning layer of gas. She knew she hit her head, but didn't feel it.
Through a fading consciousness, Janet watched as O'Neill bent over Daniel, apparently unconcerned about Teal'c. The air cleared enough for O'Neill to remove his mask.
"Teal'c, can you bring him? I'll get Carter."
Teal'c approached, watching O'Neill as if he might need to defend himself. O'Neill wheeled away, slinging the rifle's strap over his shoulder. Teal'c pulled Daniel over his shoulder, then paused beside Janet, balancing his load, only the heavy lids of his eyes angled toward her.
"Do not worry, Doctor, I will take care of them," he said and headed up the ramp, following O'Neill with Carter in his arms. They stepped into the field and disappeared. The Gate shut down.
Odd, Teal'c had called her "doctor" without reciting her name.
The relief that Jack felt the moment his feet touched the grass almost made him drop Carter. He tried to put her down easy, but his knees had gone watery and they plowed into the grass with a hard thump. Teal'c arrived moments later and carefully laid Jackson beside Carter. Above them, the men met each other's eyes with an unspoken understanding of their situation.
The breeze blew across them, ruffling Carter's bangs, teasing the hem of Jackson's hospital gown. Both lay still, eyes closed, Carter's face turned away from Jack's knees. As he looked at the softly sloped, green hillsides spreading into the blue distance, Jack recognized the world. He'd thought it was supremely dull on the first trip. Carter had liked it, he recalled. He looked down at his jeans and black t-shirt. The AK-47 still hung over his shoulder. He let it slide down his arm, caught it and put it in the grass.
No additional ammunition. No food or water supplies. Not even anything with long sleeves. He hadn't exactly arrived prepared.
Just exhausted. For two cents, he'd curl up in the grass beside Carter and sleep. Teal'c continued to sit on his knees, hands on his thighs. He looked like one of Daniel's Egyptian paintings, except he was dressed in proper BDU's. At least one of them was prepared. O'Neill rocked back on his butt, bent his knees and put his elbows on them.
Neither were willing to ask aloud the question they were thinking: Now what?
Jackson stirred and muttered. He raised a hand to shade his eyes, then propped himself up on his elbows and stared around.
"This doesn't look like Mesa Verde." His head swung toward Teal'c. "That's the last time you get to drive," he said dimly. The thin cotton of the hospital gown was damp. Teal'c pulled off his jacket. The sunlight gleamed along the Jaffa's brown, muscled arms as he pushed Jackson down and tucked the jacket around him. Jackson faded again.
"I don't suppose he has any clothes," Jack said.
Teal'c shook his head. "They were in a bag, but I did not think to take it."
"It's all right. I guess. Wonder how long till night. We should locate some shelter or . . . somewhere to . . . , well, to camp."
"I will look. You stay with them." Teal'c rose gracefully, picked up his staff and headed down the hillside.
Jack realized he was staring at Jackson's bare feet. He swore half-heartedly. The other really bad news was that he could now remember everything he had done in the past three days. Why still made no sense, but that didn't make him feel any better. He'd threatened Dr. Fraiser. Jeez, he'd even shot at General Hammond. He looked up at the Gate looming over him. He wasn't sure he could ever go back through it, go home again. Considering what he'd done, he wasn't sure he should anyway.
Someone shook Jack awake just as he was feeling chilly enough to wake up on his own. His arms were crossed tightly on his chest, his knees drawn up. The grass under his cheek prickled.
"Sir? Colonel O'Neill? C'mon."
Jack opened first one eye, then the other. Carter was bent over him, pushing at his shoulder with her elbow. The light had gone dim, the sky a wash of faded-denim blue.
"Are you all right?" Jack unfolded and worked on getting to an upright position.
She didn't look it. Her hair hung in her face, her skin had an unhealthy lack of color. She sat cross-legged, her bandaged hands limp in her lap. Behind her sat Daniel, looking impossibly young without glasses, his stringy hair smoothed back, Teal'c's olive jacket looking lumpy and oversized on him. His expression was a little dazed, but he was up, he was conscious. They were both okay.
The realization almost brought tears to his eyes. Astonished, he looked away for a moment, then back. Carter hadn't taken her eyes off him. He reached for her, hoping that both of them could hold it together. She leaned against him for only a couple of heartbeats, her face in the crook of his neck. Her shoulders were as rigid as an iron bar and he could almost feel her holding her breath.
"Sam, you're allowed," he said into her hair. She pushed away, her lower lip trapped between her teeth. He didn't let her go. Instead he used his free hand to turn up her hands, inspecting the bandages. It was the only way he could say what he wanted to without saying it at all.
Jackson watched them with a smug lift at the corner of his mouth. He loved it when Jack had to abandon his cynical, smart-ass facade. Too bad. Chalk one up for Daniel's side. Jack shifted away from Carter and gave Jackson a good once-over.
"You look like an escapee from a mental institution," he said.
"Beats the hell out of a raggedy-assed Air Force colonel sleeping in the grass," Daniel sketched a small grin. "What the hell did you do with my clothes?"
"Figured you'd go native the minute we got here. We left 'em home."
"You, uh, you wanna loan me your boots? I heard the Air Force has leather feet."
"Sorry, boy, that's the Marines." Jack reached out to pat the side of his face, enjoying the resulting surprise on Jackson's face. Then he pressed his palm to Jackson's brow. "Feels normal."
"Yeah, I think so. And I'm starving."
Jack looked out over the countryside. "There's not a single MacDonalds in sight. Has Teal'c been back?"
"Yeah, he thought he'd found what you wanted. Said he was getting firewood." Jackson tried to suppress a shiver.
Damn, the sun was going down and the air had a chill edge. For some reason Carter still had on her fatigue trousers under the smock Fraiser must have put on her. She was also wearing boots. While that made her rather better dressed than Jackson, it wasn't enough for an all-nighter, especially if the temperatures dipped much further.
Jack looked at the towering circumference of the Gate. Even the tiniest thought of returning to Earth made his stomach heave, but there was no reason that Earth couldn't send through a few necessities.
"Hey, Daniel, give me that little notebook you carry."
He held his hand out, still focused on the Gate. When nothing happened but the rustling of fabric, his attention returned to Jackson.
"Uh, Teal'c doesn't seem to have anything like that in his pockets." Jackson was frowning at the odd collection of small things he'd excavated. String, coins, the plastic top to a pen, pebbles, a cigarette lighter, a bit of aluminum gum wrapper, several paper clips, a twisty-tie.
"Shit." Jack rubbed his face. There was nothing else for it. He or Teal'c would have to go back. He looked at Carter. She was suspiciously quiet, staring down at her hands. "Carter?" He tilted her chin up for a look at her eyes.
He hadn't seen that expression-or lack of it-for years, and then only during combat. Carter was the last person he would have expected to see it on. Even if she had spent most of her career doing research, she'd repeatedly proven herself in combat, even hand-to-hand. He could only conclude that whatever affected them had hit her harder.
"Daniel, stay with her," Jack creaked to his feet, joints stiff from the cold ground. He was glad to see Teal'c climbing steadily up the hill to them. Jack went out to meet him.
"You look better, Colonel O'Neill. I am pleased."
"Thanks, Teal'c. I'm not so sure about Carter. Daniel's better, why isn't she?"
"I do not know. I have found a grove of trees near some rocks. It's not much, but it is better than the open ground. We should move there and start a fire."
"I want you to go back through," Jack went on. "Get some supplies, food, water, Daniel's clothes. Let 'em know we're okay."
Teal'c nodded. "Will they know how to send me back?"
"Just tell them it's PN42N33. They'll have the coordinates in the file if they don't have it from this last jump."
"We should move them now. I may not be back before dark."
"Okay, lead on, MacDuff."
Teal'c's eyes narrowed. "Are you sure you are well, Colonel O'Neill?" His voice rumbled from the depths of his broad chest.
"Yeah, just fine. Basically."
"But I am not MacDuff."
Jack waved his hand. "It's . . . another one of those things, Teal'c."
Jackson shivered visibly as he picked his way carefully across the ground. The grass looked a lot softer than it was, and it concealed little booby traps. Jackson periodically sat to extract them from his feet. Teal'c had offered him a piggy-back ride, but he'd emphatically refused. Carter periodically roused and made small talk, sounding fairly normal for long enough that Jack began to think his concerns were unfounded. Then he would turn at Jackson's heads-up to find her sitting in the grass, staring at nothing. The last time Teal'c simply scooped her up and, when she surfaced again, he ignored her demands to be put down. It was too bad her boots were too small for Daniel.
The grove was not far, maybe only a mile, but by the time they reached it, they might as well have traveled ten times that far. Teal'c used the lighter to fire up the wood and leaves he had left ready. Jackson's chattering teeth were clearly audible, but it was an "up" moment for Carter. She took over fire duty as Jack walked a few yards with Teal'c.
"Don't forget my glasses," Daniel called after them.
Jack shook his head. Why hadn't the guy ever gotten contacts?
The small fire sputtered with every piece of wood he added, as if it resisted consuming anything the planet produced. In fact, O'Neill often felt that the ground itself was alive, exerting an inexorable pull on his soul. Along with it came a misplaced feeling of contentment that he resisted, knowing it was not natural, that it was something generated by this place to keep him there. As if the physical reaction to his home world wasn't enough.
Daniel slept through the night, curled on his side, snoring slightly. Carter sat with her knees drawn up to her chest, shivering slightly and staring at nothing with great intensity. Somewhere in the depths of the night, he woke Daniel and guided Carter to a place on the ground where Daniel could curl around her to keep them both warmer. Trying not to think beyond the next piece of wood, O'Neill refused to analyze the situation-or to hope for anything more than warm sunshine.
Where in the heck was Teal'c? What could be taking so long?
By Earth standards, Teal'c was away from the team for just under two hours. Hammond had anticipated their needs and packed an equipment cart with the basics-plus clothing for Daniel Jackson and Captain Carter. The delay in returning was largely due to Dr. Fraiser. She had interrogated him thoroughly about the team's physical condition, then insisted he leave a blood sample for her. From the pharmacy she had chosen several of the medicines that her world held in high regard. She had even requested that she be allowed to accompany him back to PN42N33, a request that the general had unequivocally denied. Dr. Fraiser did not argue. PN42N33 was not likely to have any additional visitors.
At last Hammond gave him a small tape recorder with a message for O'Neill, and the Gate's portal sent Teal'c and the cart back.
He arrived in warm morning light. Were the nights so short on this world? Or had much more time elapsed there than on Earth? With the cart's remote in hand, Teal'c headed for the campsite, eventually finding that his fastest pace outdistanced the cart enough that it shut down. Irritably he waited for it to catch up. The unaccustomed anxiety eased only when he saw O'Neill's lean silhouette crossing the green land toward him.
"It's about time, Teal'c!" O'Neill growled.
Teal'c noticed that the colonel needed a shave. "This cart is very slow," he said.
O'Neill did a classic double-take. "All night?"
"I was on your world for two hours only. Is everyone all right?"
"Cold and hungry as hell. C'mon."
Daniel was pretty much back to his normal self, glasses in place, wearing clean, warm clothes and boots. He finished up his second helping of MRE's and leaned back against the rock with a distinct feeling of well-being. A short lived feeling of well-being. O'Neill's face was a study in frustration and resignation. He hadn't yet shaved, but he looked more comfortable in his BDU's and jacket. He was feeding Sam, coaxing her through every bite. She seemed better to Daniel, but when he said so, O'Neill thought he was just trying to placate them.
They needed to talk about it, Daniel decided. Or, maybe, he needed to talk about it.
"Do you feel something kind of strange about this place?"
"Like what? Carter, you have to open your mouth."
"Like, uhm, a connection sort of. A pulling?"
"It's called gravity. If I feel anything more than that, I don't want to know about it. Ah, Sam! What is with her?"
"Jack, I think you should just let her rest. Every time she's normal, it lasts longer."
For some reason, O'Neill set the food aside and tucked a thermal blanket around Sam. Daniel was impressed he'd listened. He optimistically tried again.
"D'you think we can go back at all? Maybe for short periods?" Daniel asked.
"You're welcome to try." O'Neill began to clean up
Daniel's reaction to the idea was immediate and violently negative. His stomach contracted sharply. It frightened him almost more than the idea of never going home, as if something else was thinking for him. Daniel shuddered.
"Well, uh, maybe later."
O'Neill stopped what he was doing and cocked his head. "Yeah, right."
Daniel glanced at Sam, but she didn't appear to be listening. He wished she would come out of her half-catatonic state and put that sharp mind of hers to work. O'Neill often paid more attention to her suggestions than to his.
"I know what you're thinking, Daniel, and it's not true. I listen to you. Lotsa times."
Daniel blinked. "You're not usually so . . . intuitive."
"You mean, are we getting telepathic? No hocus pocus about it. You're fairly predictable, in your own way. And I predict that you're going to help me get camp set up right now."
"Oh, big surprise."
A couple of days passed before Daniel was brave enough, and had the time, to return to the subject.
"Just how long do you think before we know?" he asked, shattering the tense silence. Outside of their noisy fire, they had yet to see or hear a bird-or any other animal, for that matter-and the evening's quiet was starting to get to him.
They had a nice, organized camp set up: a small tent for each of them, foodstores and equipment in a separate tent, a latrine, even a camp stove on a folding table and camp chairs. They had not, however, moved away from the grove Teal'c first located. Unable to go home, the team was also unable to put much distance between themselves and the Stargate. That said more to Daniel than any of O'Neill's noises about scouting for a water supply and a more secure site where they could possibly built better structures. "Better," as in "permanent"?
Daniel tried to imagine them in little stone-and-wood huts with vegetable gardens, all taking turns "dating" Sam after a hard day tending the fields or hunting-if they ever found anything to hunt. Or worse, yet, waiting for their biweekly supplies of batteries, medicine, toilet paper, letters and newspapers from home until one day nothing came through the Gate. Or the next day. Or the one after- Daniel shut down his imagination.
"You can't leave it alone, can you? Know what? That we're stuck here?" O'Neill barked.
"Or when we can go home." Daniel was the only one who would use the word home. Everyone else said back as if they would jinx it somehow by giving Earth the more emotional designation.
O'Neill looked like he might continue baiting Daniel, but then the line of his shoulders dropped subtly and he blew out a long breath.
"Gotta remember what's ten or so hours for us is only a couple for Cheyenne Mountain," was all he said.
"As if we could forget," Sam murmured. She'd been the most affected by the cold that first night.
"Dr. Fraiser is doing her best," Teal'c's voice rumbled from the ground at far edge of the firelight. He didn't fit well in the webbed chairs.
Sam's voice softened. "We know she is. It's just that . . . well, I knew we could get stranded somewhere, but I never really thought we would."
"An' I don't want you thinking that way now," O'Neill said, a deceptively laconic sound to his voice. He straightened in his chair and dropped his feet from the rock he'd been using for a footstool. Daniel perked up. He suspected O'Neill had made some kind of a decision and just wasn't letting it out yet. "It may take awhile, but they'll get it figured out."
Daniel's expectation dropped a couple of notches. Was he wrong about the change he sensed in the colonel?
Sam stared at O'Neill as if she wanted to challenge him on his optimism. The firelight painted her forehead amber and struck gold into her bangs. She slumped back in her chair, pulled her blanket tighter with the hand not holding her coffee.
Daniel persisted. "So how long should we give them before we . . . start building, or . . . or whatever." He wanted to kick himself for the weak finish of his sentence. Lack of assurance always brought out the worst in Jack.
"As long as it damn' well takes," O'Neill barked. "Look, kids, let's not rehash this subject. We agreed on a month in this camp unless the weather or hostiles drive us out. Since we haven't seen any hostiles, I've had it with sitting around." O'Neill shot from his chair and squatted in front of the bare dirt they'd worn around the firepit. "Tomorrow we're going to start doing some long-range exploration. Carter, you and Daniel will head south. Teal'c and I will go west. Take supplies for three, four days. Walk out as far as you can for one day. Map it. Get an idea about the geology, plants, water, you know, a general survey.
"When we start back, we'll each make a ninety degree turn, go for half a day, then head for camp in a straight line, barring changes in the terrain." O'Neill fished a stick from the woodpile and etched lines into the dirt. "You two'll go east on the first turn, we'll go west." The lines in the dirt looked like an offset bow tie. "Back here we'll compare notes, send Teal'c back for a report. If the situation's unchanged, we'll do it again starting east and west."
As he headed for his tent, Daniel was pleased with O'Neill's command as much as with the fact that it had been made. He seemed to be coming out of the funk he'd been in since camp was completed a few days before. For awhile, Daniel would've been hard put to say who was more depressed, Carter or her commander. At least tomorrow they would have something to do besides mope. Daniel included.
Three days to obtain all the test results done on Daniel in the Salida hospital and to arrange time on the University of Colorado's electron microscope felt like eternity, but Dr. Janet Fraiser didn't let the time go to waste. She shipped out the team's pre- and post-trip blood samples to Atlanta's Center for Disease Control labs under the same government order that she used to get time on the microscope. Then, she and her best technician spent two days in Boulder. Leaving Angie in Boulder, she drove back to Cheyenne Mountain, discretely escorted by a Special Forces jeep. Fraiser was not only exhausted, she was depressed. She knew what CDC was going to tell her.
The problem was not a virus, not a bacteria. It was a parasite. A particularly nasty parasite. The tiniest parasite she'd ever seen. Maybe she was wrong about CDC. They might not ever find it. In the briefing room, she headed for a secure phone line even before reporting to General Hammond.
He showed up as she replaced the handset and collapsed into the nearest chair.
Janet leaped to her feet, her hand making a snappy salute. Hammond interrupted before it reached her forehead.
"Leave off the formalities, Doctor, and tell me what you know."
"Yes, sir." She gave him the short version. "It's some kind of a blood-carried parasite. Angie's trying to isolate a few to see if we can get a chemical read on them. I left her in Boulder and commandeered the DU's best microbiologist." Janet made a face. "He's thrilled about it. 'Course we told him it came from Somalia."
"Sit down, Doctor." Hammond poured out two cups of coffee and followed his own advice. "How can a parasite dictate behavior like it seems to have done for those people?"
"I've been thinking about that all the way down from Boulder. I can think of only one possibility."
"It's sentient. A parasite?"
Janet shrugged. "The idea sort of grows on you." She winced. "God, what a terrible thing to say. What I mean is that . . . well, we've seen a number of things come through that Gate that were just as improbable. I can't rule it out."
"All right, let's suppose it is. Unlike that thing from the dead moon that got O'Neill, I don't expect to be talking to it. What do you suggest?"
Janet swallowed her coffee. As usual, it tasted awful. She put her cup down, straightened in her chair, and met Hammond's eyes. "I plan to find something that will annihilate it as fast as possible."
Hammond visibly relaxed. "O'Neill's reports indicate very few animals there. Mostly insects, a few reptiles and, so far, exactly three rodents."
"Three varieties? Squirrel and rabbit types, I expect. They seem to be pretty resilient on most places."
"No, Doctor. Three rodents-tree dwellers, all the same species. Description sounds like a cross between a 'possum and a chipmunk."
Janet tried to picture such a creature. She shook her head. "Hmm. Parasites prefer mammals."
"Are these things doing any physical damage to the team?"
Janet swallowed the rest of her coffee. "Angie should have some data on that when she gets here. I know heartworms can take months, even a years, to kill an animal. You do know what those are?"
Hammond nodded. "Big problem with them in Texas."
"Yes. Spread by mosquitoes. Wait . . . you said the team reported insects there?"
"We can hardly keep them in repellent now that it's warmed up."
"Excuse me, General, I've got an idea. I need to call Angie. And Atlanta again."
Angie returned to Cheyenne Mountain by helicopter, carrying frozen specimens in an insulated bag with dry ice. It was her first helicopter ride, but when Janet met her at the elevator, she said she'd slept through it. Angie still looked tired. Her glasses slid down her thin nose and her fine, straight hair was swept straight back by an elastic band.
"Your theory was pretty close," she told Janet as they walked. "They seem to be rather similar to heartworms in behavior, but more like the Plasmodium parasite. I can't imagine that they're sentient, like you suggested, but I'll bet they are fairly analogous to homing pigeons.
"We finally got a chemical analysis, but . . . it's . . . well, it's not something I would rely on. There's chemicals in there we have no name for. Either that, or they're screwing up the chemicals we do know."
"But you found something to kill them?"
Angie stopped and pushed up her glasses even though she was staring at the floor. "Yeah, we found something."
Janet shifted from one foot to the other. "What? Angie!"
"Arsenic. The same thing that kills heartworms." Her small face was bleak. " "How much arsenic? We know the human body can stand to take in a little. Arsenic is the standard treatment for dogs with the problem."
"Yeah, in carefully measured doses over three days and a month of no activity. This needs a large, single dose to do anything at all. Arsenic trioxide works best, but . . . ."
Janet swore. "Did you try any chemo treatments for cancer on it?"
"Didn't faze it."
"All right, let's find out exactly what combinations of the molecules in the trioxide works and dilute them in 15 percent increments until we isolate the weakest solution that will kill the parasite. Then dilute that by half and find out if a multiple application might work, like it does for dogs."
Angie cleared her throat. "There's one more thing. Dr. Ballard, the microbiologist from Denver? He put the parasite in with a dish with bits of organs. The parasite burrows. Just like heartworm. Only it prefers the liver."
Janet closed her eyes.
"It's pretty slow, though. If we find something soon, they have a chance."
"Then let's get to work."
"Sam, I'd swear you're looking a bit peaked," O'Neill said. He'd been wondering how to bring the subject up and before he knew it, the words were out of his mouth. In the shade of a large tree, they ate lunch on the gentle slope of a hillside overlooking a long, narrow valley that surely would have a stream in it. Although it rained almost every afternoon just as the heat reached an unbearable level, the team could not collect enough water to satisfy their requirements.
"Yes, sir. I think it's jaundice," Carter said quietly. She hated telling him. It seemed a sin to utter any words against this place. It was a beautiful, serene world. If not for her family on Earth, she might consider stay-no, she couldn't allow herself to fall back into that dream.
O'Neill took a closer look. "Take off your sunglasses . . . . Yup, I'd say so. From what?"
"Maybe hepatitis. Except we've been vaccinated against infectious hepatitis. That means a different version, I'd guess. Or malaria, maybe."
"And just when were you going to get around to telling us this, Captain?" He didn't like it when members of his command tried to play hero. "Heroes" made a lot of stupid decisions.
"I had Teal'c take a message to Janet when he went back this morning."
"I repeat, when were you going to tell us?"
Carter cocked her head defiantly. "As soon as I could tell you something definite. If I remember right, certain types of hepatitis aren't generally contagious."
"To hell with contagious! Carter, I swear, I oughta put you on report for this. You of all people know better." O'Neill flung his apple core towards the valley.
"I don't feel bad. I can do what I'm expected to."
"That's not the point."
"Then what is the point? You like everything under your control, I know, but this isn't something any of us can control. I'm fine. A little slower, but for now, I'm fine."
Lines appeared between O'Neill's brows and his lip curled. "Did you just call me a control freak? I'm sending you back to camp now."
Carter jumped to her feet. "I knew you'd say that. I'm not going. We've agreed, no one goes out alone."
"You'll be fine, we know the terrain between here and camp." O'Neill deliberately misinterpreted.
"Colonel, don't pull that on me. I'm going down to that valley. Are you coming or not? . . . Sir." She hoisted her pack and marched off, almost missing O'Neill's last comment.
"I gotta do something about discipline around here. It's shot all to hell." He rustled into his pack and followed.
If not for his thorough training from Bra'Tac, Teal'c might have squirmed under Janet Fraiser's intense gaze. He had seen the same look on her face when she stared at a cage of lab rats. She had dark circles under her eyes, a sign Teal'c had learned accompanied exhaustion.
"Captain Carter is not feeling well. She described her symptoms on that tape," he prompted, nodding at the cassette he had just handed over.
"I'm sure she isn't. Teal'c, I need you to come to the lab with me." Fraiser turned so abruptly Teal'c had no chance to agree. He followed silently.
"Angie, bring up the chemical evaluations from Teal'c's records. Do a comparison with your findings on the parasites. Damn, why didn't I think of this earlier?" She pivoted to face him.
"Teal'c, you're protected by the larva from diseases. What about allergic reactions?"
"As I understand the term, yes."
"You must be protected from parasites, too, but . . . in a way the larva is a kind of parasite." She pulled up a stool and sat at the counter near Angie and her computer. Her brown eyes were focused somewhere in the distance. "Is there anything you're told to avoid, a . . . a food, a type of tree or plant, uhm , medicines. . . ?"
"There are a few things we are told we must avoid. I do not know what name to give them in English. I have never see them here."
"What are they? Foods? Plants?"
"Plants. But they are not plants a Jaffa would normally consume."
"Then why warn against them? Could they be a weapon?"
"No, they could not. They only causes a severe rash. Very uncomfortable. We are warned because it is the only thing that affects us on Chulak."
"Doctor?" Angie sounded as tired as her boss. "There's not a perfect match."
"A few, yes."
"Good. Have the computer construct a chart of the similar and any related chemicals. I want to know which ones and to what degree the similarities exist. Teal'c, I've never taken a blood sample from your larva, have I?" She focused on his midsection, oblivious to his raised eyebrows. "Probably a little tricky, but not impossible. Come with me."
"I think I'm hallucinating, Colonel." Carter stood the sun at the edge of camp, staring in the Stargate's direction, one hand shading her eyes. In spite of the heat, none of them wore shorts, having discovered that their BDU's offered additional protection from the tiny black gnats that swarmed periodically through camp. Carter's t-shirt was stuck to her back with a sweat patch down her spine.
O'Neill reached her in three strides. He'd been keeping an eye on her for the last couple of days, but had seen little change in her condition. Until now. He looked her over carefully. She ignored him.
"Didn't we send out just one Teal'c? Look. There're two coming back." Carter was grinning. O'Neill turned.
Along with the F.R.E.D. loaded with supplies, Teal'c was accompanied by a short figure encased in white. As they got closer, he recognized an environmental suit worn to prevent contamination. As one, he and Carter headed toward them. Jackson, out collecting wood, would just have to be surprised later.
"Well, Doctor, to what do we owe the pleasure? Good news or bad?" O'Neill nodded to Teal'c, whose expression was subtly different, but not anything he could interpret.
"I'm not sure yet. We need a volunteer guinea pig." Fraiser's voice had a tinny quality through the hood's speaker. "Carter, you're it."
"I thought that kind of volunteering only happened in the Army. Is this what I get for telling you I'm sick?"
Fraiser nodded. The hood of her suit did not. "Let's get to your camp. I'll explain to all of you."
O'Neill contacted Jackson on the radio. While they waited for him, Fraiser ran physicals on Carter and O'Neill, peering into their eyes and throats, getting blood pressures. When Jackson arrived, she did the same for him. Then she asked them to sit around the cold firepit.
"The good news is that we now have an accurate test that tells us whether the parasites are still present and whether they're dead or alive. However, after a great deal of work, the only possible cure we have to offer is a concoction we've put together that may or may not kill the parasites. We've tried it on the samples we have in the lab and it appears to work. We've introduced the parasites to rats and eliminated them as well." Fraiser paused.
"So what's the problem?"
From Jackson, of course. O'Neill just wanted her to get to the point.
"We don't have time to test it further. Our research turned up some chemical similarities between your parasite and Teal'c's larva. They are undoubtedly related, but how closely we don't know. That gave us a road to take in determining what could work. Whatever the larva reacts badly to gives us an edge.
"Teal'c pointed out some plants from Chulak that the Jaffa are told to avoid after they acquire their larva. Our tests show that the plants should be harmless to humans. We have, however, mixed with the plant serum a weak solution of arsenic, something we know kills the parasite. We're hoping the combination will boost the effectiveness while diluting the arsenic. Whether these two will mix well in the human body, we have no idea. Whether it will kill all of the parasites, we don't know. How long it will take to work, we-"
"-Have no idea. We get the picture, Doc. What choice do we have?" O'Neill asked.
"We could stay here if it doesn't work, right?"
O'Neill suppressed a sigh. Lately Jackson appeared quite content wit the place. Jackson might not mind staying here, but he sure as hell did-though not as much as he had a few weeks ago. He'd caught himself sketching cabin floorplans yesterday. And enjoying it. They needed to get out of here soon.
"No. I mean, yes, you could stay, that's true. But you won't survive the parasite much more than a few months. The parasites are organ invasive, particularly the liver. Sam's in the early stages of whatever illness results from the burrowing, probably from a virus carried by the parasite."
"Oh, ick." Carter borrowed one of O'Neill's favorite words. She had gone white. O'Neill reached for her.
"I want to do this in two stages. If the reaction from the first shot is minor, in six hours I'll give Sam the second one. Then we'll see how she does."
"You mean, wait for her results before you treat us?" O'Neill was frowning.
"Yes. I don't like it, either, but I need a guinea pig. Like everything else about this parasite, it's hit her harder."
"No way." Jackson stood up. "Did you bring enough for all of us?"
Fraiser took a step back. "That's not smart, Daniel. If something goes wrong, it could happen for all of you."
"I don't care. If Sam takes it, I take it, too."
"It's all of us or none, Doctor." O'Neill interjected.
"No, you guys," Carter protested.
"Shut up, Sam," O'Neill and Jackson said together.
The shot eventually made Carter throw up, but the men experienced only mild nausea and drowsiness. O'Neill tried to stay awake as Fraiser attended Carter, but his seat in the cool shade was too comfortable.
Fraiser shook him awake periodically, took a temperature and blood pressure reading and let him go back to sleep. Under her suit, her sweat-soaked hair hung in strings across her forehead even though she had the cooling unit turned up.
As usual, it rained in the late afternoon and the temperature dropped enough to bring out the gnats that made them all crazy. Everyone retreated to their tents or to the mosquito-netted pavilion they had constructed in the center of camp.
At the end of six hours, Fraiser took blood samples and tested them with her field kit. Must have been good news, because she filled more syringes. O'Neill got his second shot and went back to sleep.
Teal'c woke him soon after. "Dr. Fraiser must leave," he said without preamble. "Her protective suit requires new air."
O'Neill felt exhausted. He could barely process what Teal'c told him.
"Yeah, yeah, is she coming back?" He rubbed his eyes and squinted at the top of the pavilion. A little swarm of gnats buzzed near the peak.
"Colonel? I'll check back in about four hours Earth time. Can Teal'c meet me?"
"I dunno, can he?"
Fraiser ignored him and tied a rubber thong around his arm in preparation for another blood draw. O'Neill wondered if he'd been mistaken for a pin cushion.
"I will meet you, Dr. Fraiser," Teal'c said, and pinned O'Neill's wrist as he tried to pull away.
"Thanks, Teal'c. You've been very patient." Fraiser bent to insert the needle. O'Neill only stayed awake long enough to hear her giving the Jaffa further instructions.
Dressed in environmental suits, the team's return through the Stargate was less than triumphant, Daniel observed to himself. They were exhausted, weak from the harsh treatment, coughing horribly, and in his case, starving. But they were home.
And too tired or sick to celebrate. It wasn't fair.
Everything they took with them stayed behind, and Daniel didn't want to think of the bite that took from the budget. Not to mention that they would be spending the next few days in environmentally secure cells-er, "rooms," Fraiser preferred to say-while she confirmed the effectiveness of their cure and made sure they had not been reinfected before returning.
Once the suits were sprayed by similarly dressed techs, the three of them followed Dr. Fraiser through the corridors to a cavernous room that echoed like an empty warehouse. A long, tube-like unit that reminded Jackson of a truncated submarine took up one side of the room. Cables and cords snaked across the floor and disappeared into it.
"Your home away from home. We borrowed this from NASA. It's an trainer for shuttle astronauts."
"Unlike our illustrious captain," O'Neill said, "I never aspired to being astronaut."
Janet sounded nearly as tired as they were. "Buck up, Colonel. In you go. Put those suits in the airlock and we'll pick them up."
"C'mon, kids, last one in gets the bunk by the bathroom."
Daniel groaned. That usually meant him.
After two days in the NASA trainer, the four were sent straight to the infirmary. Hammond arrived, his expression carefully neutral now, but Janet had seen the elation that lit his eyes when she informed him of the vaccine's success.
"How are the guinea pigs?" he said with a rare display of humor.
Daniel grinned. It made Janet smile. Sometimes Daniel was so easy to please.
O'Neill pulled a face, but his eyes sparked with a glint of appreciation. Sam hadn't stopped smiling since she arrived. For awhile there, Janet's concern for her had gone beyond professional. Whatever that bug had done to Sam, it was different somehow than for the men. Hormone variations? Janet was itching to find out.
"I'm putting PN42N33 on the 'forbidden' list. I also want you to know that some new security measures have been instigated. You may not like the results-they'll be annoying for everyone-but I won't have a repeat of this incident.
"Furthermore, the next time any of you has the slightest anomalous incident, fever, cold, the heebie-jeebies, any of it, you will report it ASAP. Is that clear?"
A chorus of subdued "yes, sirs," circled the room.
"These measures will be reinforced with the other SG teams." Hammond gave each of the team members a stern stare. "Your leave time is well and duly up and we're behind schedule. However, I'm ordering you to spend the next two days on leave before reporting back here ready to go to work. Dr. Fraiser will be contacting you to check on your health. No trips to Mesa Verde, please, Dr. Jackson."
"No problem. I don't know where my car is anyway. Teal'c, where'd we leave it?"
All eyes turned to the Jaffa. He shifted his feet, the first sign of unease Janet had ever seen on him.
O'Neill looked as if he was enjoying it. "Yeah, Teal'c, tell him where his car is."
"'We' did not leave it, Daniel Jackson. I left it."
"Oh. Okay. So, where is it?" Daniel had seen the averted looks but his face shone with innocent expectation. Janet knew he would always give Teal'c the benefit of the doubt.
"It is in Salida."
"Uh, okay. Except," Daniel's attention turned to Hammond. He pushed up his glasses. "If I can't leave town, how can I get it back? Though, I guess I can just wait till our next break."
"You won't be needing to get it back," Hammond said.
Daniel's eyes moved away. They always did when he was about to disagree with someone. Janet thought he would have gotten over that little discomfiture by now.
"Why not?" he asked, his brows raised.
"I think Teal'c can explain that. He was driving at the time," said Hammond.
As Daniel's eyes roved across the other faces, one eyebrow flinched.
"Does the word 'totaled' mean anything to you?" O'Neill said, a mock serious expression on his face.
"Of course it does, it . . . my car has been totaled? Teal'c?"
"It was not my fault. I stopped to wake you up. You said not to drive into Salida."
"Well, that's right, I remember that. But . . . where did you stop?" Two frown lines appeared behind Daniel's glasses.
Hammond cleared his throat. "O'Neill, I'd like few words with you in my office. Captain Carter, Dr. Fraiser." He nodded toward the door.
"What about us, General?" Daniel asked, his tone a mixture of puzzlement and anxiety.
"You can join us after you've explained to Teal'c the full ramifications of his actions behind the wheel." Hammond paused at the door with the team looking on. "If we're still meeting, by then, of course. Good luck, Doctor."
Daniel's frown deepened. "Teal'c, exactly where did you stop the car?" was all Janet heard as the door closed behind them.