A few personal warnings. First off, I know very little about the military, and arbitrarily picked a goddess who I hoped was relatively minor for the beginning of this... but I could be wrong. I got to the point where I just didn't care anymore, so please ignore all the implausibilities. It's a fanfic.
Thanks to Peregrine and KrazieKat for their suggestions that got this story rolling. For SG-1, this is set in the third season, between "Legacy" and "Point of View." And I do spoil a thing or two. For PR, it's during first-season PRiS, although it primarily deals with the original Rangers. Translated dialogue is bracketed in ^^. Rated PG for language, some violence, and a bit with a Goa'uld that might bother the squeamish. Feedback is appreciated. Always. Just tell me you read the stupid thing!
Things like this were just not supposed to happen on a routine mission.
The dark, narrow chute suddenly opened up, and the young lieutenant plunged feet first into murky water. He surfaced a second later, gasping for air as he treaded water, somehow managing to hang on to his weapon in the process. The water was ice cold, a sharp contrast to the heat of the planet they were on. It was a moment before his vision readjusted to the dim light, and he thought he could see something straight ahead. The underground chamber was lit by the golden glow of the overhead lighting, glowing orbs set into the ceiling.
He suddenly realized that there was a current, very slight, but he could feel it tugging off towards the left. There was no opening that he could see, which meant it was beneath the surface. Taking a deep breath, he dived under the surface again, swimming towards a bright blur. As he reached it, he realized that the water was emptying out through a grate. With both hands, he gripped the bars and tugged, to no avail. The grate wouldn't budge.
Surfacing again briefly, he ducked under, swimming against the current to the opposite end of the underground pool. Again his searching fingers found a grate, and again it failed to budge. Lungs burning, he gave up on the grate and swam for the surface, gasping for air when he came up. He was grateful for even the stifling air of the chamber. Stale though it was, at least it was circulating. Which meant there was some sort of exit.
His eyes had fully adjusted to the light now, and he could clearly make out a ledge several feet away. The water was freezing, and swimming to freedom was not an option. Trying to ignore the chill, he started paddling for dry ground.
Finally, his hand made contact with solid stone. Ignoring the numbness that was setting into his limbs, the young man pushed himself up onto the ledge, flopping onto the dry stone like a dead fish. For several moments, he simply lay where he was, trying to get his bearings.
Easing himself up to a sitting position, he stripped off his vest and jacket, trying to rub some feeling back into his arms and legs as he reviewed the situation. His commander and the two others assigned as backup were probably still in retreat, unless they had already been captured. Colonel O'Neill and Dr. Jackson hadn't responded to any communications, which meant they were probably prisoners as well. The only reason he wasn't locked up with them was because the floor had disappeared beneath his feet a few moments ago.
Options. He needed options. Major Carter, the Jaffa named Teal'c, and the rest of the SG teams were probably still waiting by the Stargate. They probably remained unaware of the situation. Only three hours had passed since the teams had split up, and until five hours passed, they would do nothing. That left two full hours until the cavalry would even attempt rescue. And there was no guarantee that they wouldn't be fooled just as well. The probe had incorrectly indicated that the citadel was deserted; obviously, the Goa'uld who lived here had some kind of technology that would screw up their readings. The remainder of the SG teams would probably come in expecting a ghost town, and be ambushed just as they had.
Or not. If what he'd heard was true, Teal'c might be able to detect the deception ahead of time. The Jaffa apparently knew a hell of a lot about how the Goa'uld operated. Even so, the Goa'uld might wise up and kill their captives, or worse.
Right now, the best option in his condition would be to get moving as quickly as possible. Using the wall to steady himself, he staggered to his feet and checked his supplies. His sidearm was intact, although he couldn't tell if the water had done any lasting damage. So he would just have to trust that it didn't, for now. Sighing, he picked up his vest, shouldering it despite the dampness and checking the pockets. The radio was obviously shot to hell, but everything else was relatively intact.
The ledge he stood on went around the perimeter of the room, leading off to his left. Although it was hidden in shadow, it appeared there was a passageway connected to the ledge. It was rather narrow by the looks of it, and he would have to squeeze his way through.
Sighing, Lieutenant Jason Scott shouldered his weapon and began to ease his way along the edge.
* * * * * *
"Well," Jack O'Neill commented, surveying their quarters. "This is just peachy."
He was standing in the middle of a fairly spacious cell, the dungeon of yet another Goa'uld stronghold. As dungeons went, it wasn't all that bad; the stone walls and floor were bone dry, and there was plenty of space to move. The ceiling was supported by thick columns scattered around the chamber, with ledges at the base to sit upon. In retrospect, it resembled the room they'd been locked up in during that first mission to Chulak, when Teal'c had defected and saved them all.
But Teal'c, of course, wasn't here. As far as Jack knew, the Jaffa was still waiting near the Stargate with Major Carter and a good portion of SG-3 and SG-5. Daniel was walking around the chamber, inspecting the walls and trying to make sense of the symbols.
"This looks familiar," Daniel murmured absently, echoing Jack's thoughts. "Like the dungeon on Chulak."
Jack snorted, glancing around at the scattering of natives sharing the dungeon with them, huddled in corners and peering at them with incomprehension. "Yeah, and we know what they had planned for people they threw in there. Can you do any better than that?"
Daniel sighed heavily. "Well, there's some contradictions here, Jack. I did catch a bit of the conversation between the guards - they used the feminine honorific speaking of their ruler, so we're dealing with a female Goa'uld."
"Oh, god, not another Hathor," Jack moaned.
"What puzzles me is the symbols here can't be right," Daniel continued, ignoring the interruption. "Most of the forms and symbols depict anthropomorphic forms, often with the head of a ram - the symbol of Banebdjetet, the ram god of Lower Egypt. Also known as the Ram of Mendes."
"Not female," Jack finished.
"Exactly." Daniel began to pace as he spoke, becoming entirely wrapped up in the discussion. "What gets me is that Banebdjetet, in most translations, died. The cause sort of varies, but it's always the same effect."
"So another Goa'uld's taken up shop in his place?"
"I suppose, although that puts us back at the beginning - wait a minute!" Daniel stopped mid-pace, his eyes lighting up. "Of course! She's barely mentioned in the texts, but if she were still alive she would still rule over his holdings!"
Jack rolled his eyes. "Can we skip to the punchline, Daniel?"
"Hatmehit," the Egyptologist responded. At Jack's blank look, he proceeded to explain. "Banebdjetet's wife, sometimes referred to as his consort. She's a dolphin goddess in most incarnations. It's rather fitting, considering part of this structure was built over the river. As far as they go, she's a relatively minor goddess."
"Fascinating," Jack said dryly. "So we've been captured by an amateur."
"That's probably not such a bad thing," Daniel pointed out. "She's much less likely to have recognized us as Tau'ri. The less prominent Goa'uld would naturally be left out of the loop."
"Daniel, that's strangely not comforting."
"Well, I tried."
Jack sagged against a pillar. "Yep, this is definitely a bad day."
He didn't get a chance to continue as the heavy doors of their prison suddenly creaked open. Three familiar figures were roughly shoved inside, landing unceremoniously on the hard, dusty floor. The doors promptly slammed shut behind them before Daniel or Jack could take a step towards the threshold. Not that any attempts to escape would get past the two armed Jaffa outside.
Coughing, the three began to pull themselves to their feet. Recognizing them, Jack sighed and went to help the men up. "I take it you fell into the same trap we did."
Colonel Makepeace nodded, coughing the last of the dust from his lungs. "You could say that."
"You didn't happen to get a message through to the others?" Daniel prodded hopefully.
"Negative," Makepeace sighed. "The rest of my team is still waiting at the Stargate with Major Carter and Teal'c. They probably don't even know anything's happened."
"Not that we have much of a chance of getting a message to them, much less getting to them," Jack pointed out.
Daniel glanced about them, eying the stone walls of the cell. "Well, this isn't exactly the most sturdy foundation I've ever seen. We could--"
"Even if we could tunnel out of here or whatever you're plotting, it wouldn't work," Makepeace interrupted. "We're not familiar with the layout, and we don't have any weapons."
"Yeah, well, I remember the last time I was thrown in a dump like this," Jack muttered, standing up as well and looking around. "We were on a waiting list for Goa'uld hosts." He stopped, noticing that there were only two soldiers with Makepeace. "Not all of your men accounted for? Who's missing?"
Makepeace sighed. "Lieutenant Scott. One minute we were being pursued by the Goa'uld, the next he was gone. The floor opened up beneath him. We must have triggered some kind of mechanism."
"Scott?" Jack hesitated, trying to place the name. "Isn't that the one who was just assigned to your command last month?"
"Yes, that's him," Makepeace admitted. "Although he's got more common sense than most green kids I've seen. Just needs some experience."
Daniel turned away, his mind whirling as he tried to piece together what he knew about their captor. "I think perhaps Teal'c mentioned something about this. They wouldn't do it in an arid climate, but over a river..." He trailed off.
"Daniel?" Jack said after a moment of silence. "You have something to tell us?"
"Maybe," Daniel responded, starting to pace. "I think Teal'c was talking about certain traps that some Goa'uld employed just for their own amusement. You know, have the floor disappear under a servant they didn't particularly like." He brushed his hair out of his face before continuing. "Usually, these would lead to a relatively safe landing instead of a fatal one. In this case, perhaps an underground sewer of sorts. In crises, it could be used as an escape hatch."
"So you're saying he may still be alive," Makepeace concluded.
Daniel frowned. "Theoretically. That is, of course, also assuming he hasn't been caught yet."
With a groan, Jack found the nearest dry place to sit and flopped down gracelessly. "So right now, our only hope of reaching the outside is a rookie. Great." He sighed. "I take back what I said. This isn't a bad day. This is a lousy day."
* * * * * *
Thank God the upper levels were warmer.
Jason crouched behind a column, trying to ignore the chill of his damp uniform. Four armored guards marched down the corridor, oblivious to his presence. He waited a second before following, keeping well out of sight. After several turns, they stopped at a pair of ornate golden doors. As the doors slid open, Jason got a glimpse of the chamber inside. He got an especially good look at the table in the center of the room, large enough for a human body, with restraints built in. Even a newcomer to the SGC could figure out what that meant. They were preparing to take hosts.
He pulled back behind the column he was using as cover just in time to avoid being seen. At least now he knew what the Goa'uld planned to do with their captives. Unfortunately, it looked like they were going to be doing it very soon. While he actually thought he recognized the corridors he'd been passing through, there wasn't time to find his way out and get help. As far as time went, his best option would be to find the others before the Goa'uld took them as hosts.
Of course, he didn't have a clue where the SG teams were being held. Hell, he wasn't sure if his only weapon was working, and testing it out would only give away his position. The safest thing to do would be to find his way out and warn the backup at the Stargate. But by the time he brought the cavalry, it might be too late. The travel time alone would be enough to allow the Goa'uld to take them as hosts. He couldn't leave his commanding officer as well as the commander of SG-1 to that fate. How he was supposed to find, much less help them, he didn't know. This was crazy. He couldn't possibly do this himself.
Inhaling deeply, he forced himself to focus on the task at hand. This was the big leagues now. This wasn't his first alien encounter, but then... well, to be honest, he'd had a lot more to work with as a Ranger. But the experience had to count for something. He could pull this off. He just had to think. Wherever the others were being held, it couldn't be far from the room where they actually implanted the host. It stood to reason that one didn't want to drag a prisoner all the way across the citadel, not with the possibility of escape.
From behind the doors, a woman's voice could be heard, loud and imperious. Jason couldn't understand what she was saying, but she didn't seem in the least bit happy. Jason could hear a panicked scream, which cut off abruptly with a snapping sound. He suppressed a shudder.
The doors swung open again, and three guards came out, supporting a lifeless body between them. A fourth emerged, and spoke briefly to the others before they parted ways. Jason watched the three drag the body away before turning and watching the fourth retreat. Suddenly, he had an idea. A crazy idea, but an idea nonetheless. Checking to make sure no one was in sight, he followed the Jaffa down the hall.
* * * * * *
The Jaffa had rounded a corner when he heard a faint tapping nearby. He stopped, gripping his staff weapon expectantly. His other hand held a zatnicatel, which he opened with the flip of a switch. Another tap sounded, then another. It sounded like it was coming from one of the alcoves in the wall behind him. Trying to hear better, he retracted his helmet, approaching the alcove cautiously.
A sound startled him, and he whirled only to receive a blow to the face from the butt of an MP-5. Stunned, the Jaffa staggered back. He was momentarily blinded for a second as his helmet retracted. Kicking the zatnicatel out of the Jaffa's hand, Jason dived for it just as his opponent's vision came online. He grabbed the zatnicatel and rolled, just in time to avoid being blasted in the back. The blast from the staff weapon struck the floor instead, the explosion sending up a cloud of debris and dust.
That coupled with the explosion was enough of a distraction. Jason rolled onto his back, the zatnicatel in his hands.
He was fortunate enough to fire first.
* * * * * *
"Eighty-five bottles of beer on the wall, eighty-five bottles of beer..."
"Jack, knock it off. Someone's coming."
As the door creaked open again, Jack fell silent as a pair of armored guards entered the room, helmets retracting as they surveyed the group huddled there. "I think we stick out just a bit here," Makepeace murmured.
Jack snorted. "Ya think?"
Behind the two guards, another stepped into the room, this one carrying a staff weapon in one hand and a zatnicatel in the other. Instead of joining the others, the guard lifted the zatnicatel, opening it. Hearing the whine-hiss of the weapon, the other two began to turn, but they were too late as they were enveloped by bursts of crackling blue energy. Unprepared for the assault, they collapsed to the floor, armor clattering against the stone. The remaining guard glanced down the hall before closing the door behind him.
"Who--" Daniel began.
The guard's helmet retracted to reveal a damp yet familiar face. Despite himself, Makepeace grinned, saluting briefly. "Lieutenant. Took you long enough."
Jason returned his commander's salute as best he could. "Sorry, sir, but I had to do a little swimming to get here."
"I told you," Daniel murmured, elbowing Jack. Jack merely rolled his eyes.
* * * * * *
Major Samantha Carter studied the far-off shape of the citadel through her binoculars. "How much time do we have left?"
"It's been four hours and eleven minutes, Major," the nearby sergeant responded. "What's the situation?"
"Nothing... I thought..." She stopped, squinting at something. "Wait a second! Teal'c!"
The Jaffa was at her side in a moment, peering out at the horizon. "Major Carter, what is the problem?"
She handed the binoculars over. "I saw some movement down there. Not sure, but it looked like a Serpent Guard. Helmet was a little off."
"A Serpent Guard?" the sergeant echoed as Teal'c squinted through the lenses. "Didn't the probe indicate that structure was abandoned?"
Carter nodded as Teal'c suddenly paused, picking up something in his sights. "Exactly."
Teal'c lowered the binoculars after a moment, handing them back to her. "You are correct, Major. Although the helmet is not that of a Serpent or Horus Guard. I cannot make out the formation." He frowned.
"But it's Goa'uld," Carter concluded, and Teal'c nodded. "No wonder they've been gone so long."
"Most likely ambushed," the Jaffa replied, standing up. "We must rescue them before it is too late."
Pocketing the binoculars, Carter got to her feet as well. "Funny, I was thinking the same thing."
"Damn, I forgot how uncomfortable these things were."
Daniel sighed. He'd opted to play the role of guard, with Jason and Jack beneath the other two suits of armor. Jason only remained in the armor he'd stolen because there wasn't time to change over. Makepeace and the other SG members were their "prisoners," along with the four or so natives they'd managed to calm down. Once Daniel had communicated the situation, the other potential hosts had calmed down enough to play their parts fairly well. So far, they'd passed through the halls unmolested, despite the occasional smartass remark from Jack.
Beneath his helmet, Jason coughed. "Try it after you've had an ice bath. Sir," he added hastily as Jack turned to glare at him beneath the helmet.
One of the SG-3 members stifled a chuckle, and Daniel smiled. While he was nowhere near Jack's level of sarcasm, Jason occasionally seemed to have the same tendency to make wisecracks. In his case, it was quite a bit more subtle. And Daniel was getting the distinct feeling that the younger lieutenant was only trying to mask his true condition beneath the sarcasm. Whatever he'd gone through to find his way back to them and take out a few Jaffa along the way, it had definitely taken a lot out of him. Dr. Fraiser was sure to pounce on Lieutenant Scott the moment they returned through the Gate.
Daniel had to agree with Jack on one thing, however. The suits of armor were less than comfortable, but they were almost identical to those worn by the Serpent and Horus Guards - with the exception of the helmets. True to the Goa'uld that the Jaffa originally served, the guards' helmets were shaped like the head of a ram. He should have picked up on that the moment they were captured.
"Heads up, boys," he heard Makepeace murmur. Glancing back up again, Daniel almost stopped in his tracks. The open courtyard was maybe twenty feet away; he could see the open land through the windows up ahead.
But between them and the exit was a serious obstacle. An imperious, irritated, ribbon-device-wielding obstacle. From the way she moved and the amount of jewelry she wore, not to mention the symbols, Daniel guessed that Hatmehit herself was storming towards them, flanked by her personal guard.
He was struck somewhat by her appearance, her attire obviously meant to play on the images of water associated with her. In a way, she looked like the polar opposite of Hathor. Her long black hair was partially braided up into an intricate headdress decorated with turquoise gems, letting the rest of her locks fall down her back like an ebony waterfall. The gems matched her flowing blue robes, which trailed to the floor. Her features were sharp and narrow, her skin pale and delicate. She was not pretty, but striking - and she was less than pleased.
He turned to face her as she strode up to them, surreptitiously placing himself at the head of the group. If any one of them was going to be able to understand and respond to her comments, it would be him.
She addressed him sharply. //What are you doing, Jaffa? Why are you taking these hosts from our stronghold?//
Time to play dumb. //My queen, we are only doing as we were ordered.//
Her eyes narrowed. //And what were your orders?//
//To take these prisoners into the courtyard and dispose of them.//
//What?!?!// She spun to face her entourage. //Which one of you ordered this?//
None of her personal guard responded. She stormed over to them, glaring fiercely at each one in turn. //Answer me!//
Still no answer. She hesitated, then turned back to face Daniel, looking over the group suspiciously. As her gaze met his through the helmet, Daniel bit his lip. She knew. How, he wasn't sure, but she knew. "Jaffa!" she shouted, slipping into English. "Attack."
Before her guards could move to obey, the outer wall cracked and burst under a barrage of staff weapons fire. Through the gaping hole, several uniformed figures could be seen taking cover at the far end of the courtyard, trading fire with the few sentries that were posted outside. Their cover blown, the escapees scattered, diving for cover.
Makepeace waved at Daniel, pointing to the other prisoners. "Get these people out of here!"
"Guess they figured something was up," Jack muttered as he fired a few staff blasts at Hatmehit's entourage.
The guards moved to surround Hatmehit, and a flicker of rippling light played about the Goa'uld, the sign of a personal energy field. Hosts or no hosts, their first directive was to protect their queen. And the attacking force outside was making that task a bit more difficult. While the rest of the teams traded fire with the guards, Daniel herded the natives out a side exit, moving them out and around the outer perimeter of the courtyard, trying to stay low. It wasn't easy in the borrowed armor, but there was no time to stop and shed his disguise.
A few of Hatmehit's guards took the brunt of staff blasts, and the rescue team was closing in. "We're going to have to make a break for it!" Makepeace shouted over the din. "We can't hold out forever!"
"You first!" Jack shouted back. "They might mistake us for the enemy!" He tossed Makepeace a zatnicatel. "Head for the treeline! We'll cover you!"
Makepeace nodded, beckoning to the two others still in uniform. As Jason and Jack provided cover fire, the three men made a break for the trees. By the time they were halfway across the courtyard, most of their cover fire was being handled by Teal'c, Carter, and the rest of SG-5. Jack thought he could actually catch a glimpse of the Jaffa's bald head for a moment before ducking back down again. To his immense relief, Makepeace and the other two made it across, disappearing behind the stand of boulders Teal'c was using as cover.
Jack dropped down again, waving to Jason to do the same. "We're going to give them a second," he ordered the lieutenant. "Don't want our own men firing on us." He beckoned for Jason to follow. They moved closer to the edge of the courtyard, staying under cover. Hatmehit had momentarily forgotten about them, and her guards were focusing all their attention on the enemy on the other side of the courtyard.
They crouched behind a pile of rubble, which had been a statue only moments ago. "Think you can run in that?" Jack asked, gesturing to the borrowed armor.
Jason shrugged. "I guess I'll find out, sir."
"All right, on my mark," Jack murmured. "One, two, three... mark!"
They dashed out into the open as the ground around them erupted in energy blasts. Fortunately, running wasn't as impossible as Jack had feared, and Makepeace had gotten through to Teal'c and Carter. "O'Neill!" Teal'c shouted, popping up briefly. "Here!"
Jack finally made it across the open area, diving behind the first solid piece of cover he could find. As he headed up the hill, he heard the sound of a staff blast striking the ground, accompanied by a cry of pain. He turned to see Lieutenant Scott hitting the dirt, felled by a shot to the leg. The young man struggled to get to his feet as Hatmehit, flanked by two guards, strode across the field towards him. She'd activated an energy shield, and was unharmed by the weapons fire as she reached the fallen soldier.
One of the guards bent down and grabbed Jason by the scruff of the neck, activating the control to retract the helmet. It took both guards to forcibly flip Jason over and hold him while Hatmehit opened her hand, shining the ribbon device into Jason's eyes. As the light met his eyes, Jason's struggles ceased and he went limp, succumbing to the paralysis induced by the device.
"Dammit!" Jack cursed, about to leap up and go after the kid. But suddenly, Carter, Makepeace, and two other soldiers were there, hustling him up the hill into the cover of the trees.
* * * * * *
"What are you doing?" Jack yelled once they were out of sight. He yanked off the helmet, throwing it to the ground. "We've got to go back and get Scott out of there!"
Makepeace sighed. "Colonel, you'd have been captured for sure if you went back there. The kid knew the risks."
"That kid single-handedly busted us out of the dungeon, Makepeace!" Jack exploded. "Or have you forgotten that already?"
"Scott was under my command," Makepeace snapped. "He's a--"
"A casualty?" Sam finished. "Isn't that what you said about Colonel O'Neill when Hathor captured us?"
Hearing this, Jack turned back to glare at Makepeace. "Excuse me?"
Since the revelation had startled both commanders into silence, Sam took the opportunity to interrupt. "You're also forgetting the potential security risk, sir. If a Goa'uld takes an SGC member as a host, it has access to that person's memories of--"
"I know the risks, Major!" Makepeace snapped irritably. He lapsed into silence, looking away for a moment. "I know. We owe the kid this much. But going back for him would be suicide."
Jack looked up as Teal'c stepped from the shadows of the trees. "They know of our presence here. They will expect a rescue attempt."
"Yeah, I know," Jack admitted.
"They will not expect the rescue attempt to come from Tok'ra access tunnels."
That got everyone's attention. "Access tunnels?" Makepeace asked skeptically. "You're kidding, right?"
"I do not kid," Teal'c informed him. "The citadel looked familiar when we arrived, and if what Daniel Jackson has told me is accurate, the structure may remain unaltered from previous Goa'uld files. It should be simple to find any tunnel systems."
There was a moment of silence before Jack finally asked, "What?"
"It's doubtful Hatmehit's altered her fortress since her husband's death," Daniel replied. "She's not very original, apparently."
Jack jumped, whirling to see his friend standing there, wearing his usual uniform. The borrowed suit of armor was gone. "Don't DO that, Danny!"
In spite of himself, Daniel just grinned.
Shaking his head, Jack turned back to Teal'c. "So you're saying that we could sneak in and she wouldn't even expect it?"
Sam looked thoughtful. "Maybe. If there are Tok'ra access tunnels or the remnants of them, they would provide a back door. It's either that or swim, sir."
Jack looked at Daniel. "Hey, if this doesn't work, I can dog paddle pretty well," the Egyptologist dead-panned.
"I'm in." Surprised, the SG-1 team turned to stare at Makepeace, who shrugged. "Hey, you're gonna need someone to back you up when everything goes to hell."
"All right, kids," Jack said with a grin. "Now all we need is a plan."
* * * * * *
Waking up strapped to a metal table was a bad sign in itself. It didn't help that the throbbing of his wounded leg was what roused Jason from his trance. As soon as he was conscious enough to feel the chill of the metal and the tension of the restraints, he knew he was in trouble. The sight of Hatmehit standing there, looking over him critically, only compounded the sense of doom that was settling over him. His borrowed armor and vest were gone; he was wearing just the black t-shirt, pants and boots. Worse, Jason realized, he was still damp, and the metal was freezing. His leg was throbbing painfully where it had been grazed by the staff blast.
Hatmehit grabbed him by the chin, turning his head towards her. Jason jerked his head back, but not before a satisfied smile crept over her face. Oh, hell.
She turned and barked a command to the Jaffa nearby, and he stepped forward. As she reached into the pouch, Jason turned away in revulsion; just the sound of it was enough. Hatmehit turned back to him with a writhing, squealing black serpent in her hand. Jason paled. This was only his third mission, but he'd been briefed enough to know a Goa'uld symbiote when he saw one.
"NO!" He struggled against the restraints, trying and failing to break free as she stepped towards him, holding the symbiote over his chest as if scanning him with it. After a moment, she nodded and grabbed his head again, jerking it roughly to the side as she let the symbiote drop to the table.
Jason screamed as the Goa'uld penetrated through the back of his neck.
* * * * * *
"I don't believe it," Makepeace murmured for the fifth time as the rescue team crept through the Tok'ra access tunnels. "How'd he know about this?"
"Banebdjetet was widely suspected of allying with the Tok'ra," Teal'c replied. "Such was the reason for his demise."
Daniel frowned. "I'm surprised Hatmehit didn't share his fate."
The Jaffa frowned. "Rumor has it that she had him killed before the other System Lords could investigate and take retribution. They rewarded her with isolation."
"Sounds like a sweet lady," Jack muttered. "Hey, Carter! You sure you know where you're going?"
Sam was in the lead, her attention focused solely on the tunnel structure. "The tunnels have to lead uphill to avoid the water level," she reasoned. "The higher the elevation, the closer we get to the center of the fortress."
"The chamber they used to implant hosts is usually central," Daniel explained. "At least, the one they were using when we broke out was."
"Let's hope they didn't move their operation elsewhere," Makepeace muttered.
* * * * * *
No... God, no, it's in my head...
It was worse than he'd imagined. Much, much worse.
got to fight it... got to fight it... got to fight...
Jason could *feel* the thing entering his skull, trying to wrap around his spinal cord. He wanted to reach back there, claw at it, pull it out before it could take hold. Yet it was all he could do to remain conscious as the pain started for real. It felt like dozens of flaming knives shredding his flesh while burning him from the inside out. He screamed again, unable to keep silent. The worst of the pain subsided as he felt the alien's tail disappearing into the back of his neck.
Then the assault on his mind began.
The burning pain faded away, to be replaced with a cold, relentless presence, flooding into his mind like a black fog. Jason wanted to scream again, to fight, to somehow tear the Goa'uld from his flesh. Externally, however, he could do nothing. All he could do was lie flat on his back, gasping like a fish, barely seeing the ceiling of the chamber he was in as the alien presence pushed its way into his mind. He was vaguely aware of Hatmehit and her entourage sweeping out of the room, presumably to wait for the symbiote to take hold.
He couldn't let that happen.
It wasn't just the thought of that - that thing controlling him. Maybe he was just a rookie, maybe this was only his third mission, but already he knew enough about the Stargate program for him to be useful to any of the Goa'uld. He couldn't allow that knowledge to be used against them. It would defeat everything he'd worked for as a Ranger and now as an SG member.
As a Ranger. The realization chilled him. Forget any knowledge of the SGC - if the Goa'uld learned about the Rangers, they were all screwed.
He'd been slipping, but the sudden recollection of what was at stake brought him a second wind. Zordon, the Morphing Grid, all the former Rangers - to let the Goa'uld know all about that could be devastating. What if Hatmehit was inspired to pursue former Rangers for information? Kim, Tommy, Trini, Katherine, Rocky, Adam, Zack, Aisha, Tanya, Billy - their faces paraded across his memory. The thought of having any of them at the mercy of the Goa'uld was terrifying.
It was terrifying enough to keep him struggling against the other consciousness that was threatening to drown him. The seconds ticked by with agonizing slowness as he lay there, desperately fighting against the intruder in his head.
He was vaguely aware of Hatmehit returning to check, frowning when she saw he hadn't submitted yet and yammering at her guards. Jason didn't know what she was saying, but she sounded impatient. Seeing that he was still fighting, she swept out again in a huff.
Jason dismissed her from his concerns, closing his eyes tightly. He had worse problems to deal with than an impatient Goa'uld queen. Little by little, he was slipping. Panic surged within him, and memories of his friends surfaced, unbidden. Of Zordon, the first time they'd received their Power Coins.
"May the Power protect you."
The words seemed to trigger something inside Jason. Deep within him, something seemed to snap, to break, like a lock or a bolt shattering. Darkness was enveloping his mind, but suddenly he thought he saw a pinpoint of light appear, growing in intensity. It flared with red-gold fire. Instinctively, Jason moved towards it like a moth drawn to a flame, or just seeking warmth in a black void.
Again the light flared, this time reaching out to envelop him. Jason didn't fight it as the spark became a blast of fiery energy, overwhelming his senses. Unlike the burning misery he'd felt when the symbiote had first entered, the heat of these flames was painless. It brought with it a sudden rush of euphoria, brief but incredibly familiar.
It couldn't be! Could it?
Jason didn't have time to consider the implications as the flame grew brighter, seeming to drive back the darkness that was threatening to take over. His eyes flew open, and his jaw set in determination. If the Goa'uld wanted a fight, it was definitely going to get one.
* * * * * *
"It's clear," Makepeace announced quietly, slipping back into the concealed tunnel entrance. "We're right smack in the middle, all right. Damn, why didn't we know about this before?"
"Because Teal'c wasn't with us to connect Banebdjetet with the Tok'ra," Daniel replied.
"And if I remember correctly, that was because someone didn't think we needed him along for an abandoned fortress," Jack muttered, glaring at Makepeace.
Sam interrupted before Makepeace could rise to the bait. "Sir. We don't have time for this."
"All right," Jack sighed. "Teal'c and I will take point. Carter, Daniel, you're right behind us. Makepeace... you get to watch our backsides."
"Must be my lucky day," Makepeace muttered.
They headed down a familiar series of corridors, ducking out of the sight of Hatmehit's guards, before reaching the entrance to the implantation chamber. Jack barely managed to duck behind a column as Hatmehit herself swept out of the room, flanked by guards as usual and looking visibly irritated. "Something tells me things aren't quite going her way," Daniel murmured as she disappeared around a corner.
"My heart bleeds for her," Jack replied quietly, checking his weapon. He waited several moments before signaling the others to move to the door.
Jason was lying flat on his back, strapped to a metal table. There was only one Jaffa standing guard. Jack nodded to Teal'c, and at once the two men burst into the room. Before he could sound the alarm, the guard was on the floor, unconscious. Sam and Daniel entered the room next, and Sam was immediately at Jason's side. "What do you think she was so mad about?" Daniel asked.
"Dunno," Jack replied. "Maybe the snake didn't take or something."
"He's been implanted," Sam announced, and Jack cursed. "But I don't think it's taken hold quite yet." She turned Jason's head to face her, trying to get through to him. "Lieutenant. It's Major Carter. Can you hear me?"
Amazingly, his eyes seemed to focus. "Major... the Goa'uld... it's..." He broke off, his features contorting in pain.
"I know. Lieutenant, you're going to have to fight it. We'll try to get you out of here." She turned back to the rest of SG-1, who were standing by the door. Makepeace was reluctantly serving as lookout in the corridor. "He's still in there, sir."
"But for how long?" Daniel muttered.
Sam looked thoughtful. "It seems he's been fighting off the symbiote for a surprising amount of time, and he's still holding his own."
"Which is probably why Benny's widow was pissed," Jack observed. "Think we can get him out of here?"
"I will be able to restrain him if the need arises," Teal'c informed them.
"Okay," Jack decided. "Let's do it."
Daniel undid the restraints while Jack and Teal'c had to nearly drag Jason off of the table. The young lieutenant was investing all of his energy in fighting the Goa'uld inside him, and he did not resist as Teal'c bound his hands behind his back.
Suddenly realizing something, Sam tore a strip of fabric from one of the curtains hanging in the chamber. "Lieutenant, we're going to have to gag you in case the Goa'uld tries to call for help. Do you understand?"
With more than a small amount of effort, Jason nodded. Bound and gagged, he was hustled out of the chamber with Jack and Teal'c flanking him. That is, Jack had a zatnicatel pointed at the lieutenant's back while Teal'c held his forearm in an iron grip. The sight of them emerging from the chamber caused Makepeace to do a double-take. "What the hell?"
"We're going back to the Gate," Jack hissed. "I'll explain on the way."
Makepeace slid into the rear of the group, but not before casting a startled glance at his lieutenant. Jason did not meet his gaze; his eyes had gone out of focus again, presumably as he battled the creature in his head. Jack and Teal'c half-dragged him across the hall and into the shadows, hustling their unresisting captive through the concealed passageway into the dim tunnels.
* * * * * *
Hatmehit strode imperiously into the implantation chamber, ready to accept her new consort... and stopped dead. Her ice-blue eyes took in the scene: the Jaffa guard lying prone on the floor, the obvious signs of a scuffle, and, most prominently, the empty metal table in the corner. She didn't know exactly how it had happened, but the outcome was clear - the host was gone.
With a swish of blue-green robes, she spun on her heel, barking orders to her guards left and right. One didn't have to know the language to know what she was saying. Hatmehit had been waiting for her consort to mature, and she wasn't very patient. And after all that time, she wouldn't be pleased if it was all for nothing.
There would be hell to pay.
* * * * * *
"Can't believe no one spotted us," Makepeace muttered as they made their way down towards the concealed entrance. "This is too easy."
As if on cue, Jason's knees suddenly buckled, and he seemed to convulse in pain. "What the?" Jack exclaimed.
The fit caught Teal'c off balance, and the Jaffa's grip loosened for a moment. Which was all their captive needed. Jason broke free from the restraints, shoving Teal'c back and spinning to deal a well-placed kick to the Jaffa's stomach and knock the zatnicatel out of Jack's hand. Teal'c stumbled back under the suddenness of the attack, and Jason ripped off the gag before turning on Jack. Before Jack could raise his gun, the lieutenant's hands were already wrapped around his throat. Jason's eyes flashed gold, the sign of Goa'uld possession.
"You had to say it, didn't you?" Jack coughed as he struggled against the inhuman grip that was threatening to crush his windpipe.
Jason - or, rather, the Goa'uld controlling him - glared fiercely at Jack. "Tau'ri. You were fools to come back. Now you will join your friend."
Jack could only gasp in response as black spots danced on the edge of his vision. He vaguely recalled hearing something about the kid being a black belt, and cursed himself for forgetting that. His lungs were fairly burning from the lack of oxygen.
"Drop him, Lieutenant!" Makepeace barked. "Dammit, kid, fight it!"
Suddenly, the vicelike grip loosened, and Jack fell to the floor, gasping for air. As oxygen flooded into his lungs again, the room came back into focus. Sam was by his side, helping him get to his feet as he turned back to his attacker. Jason was hunched over, gripping his head in his hands. He looked up at them, pain and terror etched into the dark eyes. "Colonel... kill me," Jason gasped. "Please."
"Lieutenant, listen to me," Sam told him, keeping her voice steady. "You have to keep fighting the symbiote."
"I..." He broke off with a moan of agony, gripping his head again.
After a moment, he straightened up abruptly, the control he had managed gone as the Goa'uld again stared out of his eyes. "Who are you?" Daniel asked suddenly, stalling for time.
"I am Tal'mek," the Goa'uld sneered. "You will bow before your god--"
"Oh, stuff it already!" Jack interrupted. "You're not going anywhere. Not in that man's head."
Tal'mek actually seemed to find that funny. "Your friend is too weak. He cannot stop me."
The stalling was starting to work. Teal'c had gotten to his feet and was stealthily moving around behind Jason, and Makepeace was following suit, trying to box him in. Behind Jack, Sam and Daniel were blocking the path back up to the citadel. Realizing he was surrounded, Tal'mek took a step back, casting about him with surprise. "Looks like we can, Bucko," Jack snapped.
With a snarl, Tal'mek spun, launching a roundhouse kick at the nearest target - namely, Makepeace. But he pivoted on the wounded leg, which hadn't completely healed yet. Instead of kicking Makepeace in the head, the kick knocked the gun from the colonel's hands, and the two soldiers crashed to the floor. Makepeace tried to go for his gun, but Tal'mek was quicker, grabbing the colonel in a headlock as SG-1 surrounded them. "Move an inch," the Goa'uld hissed, "and I break his neck."
"Hey, I wouldn't miss him," Jack muttered.
Makepeace gasped, his face turning bright red. "O'Neill... he's not kidding!" he choked.
Jack glanced around at his team. None of them seemed sure of what to do. Sam slowly drew the zatnicatel she'd retrieved, only to have Makepeace splutter as the headlock tightened. "Teal'c?" Jack muttered.
"If we let him go, he will surely alert Hatmehit," Teal'c responded.
"And if we don't, he'll kill Makepeace," Daniel reminded them.
At that moment, something strange happened.
The golden glow in Jason's eyes suddenly flared, taking on a reddish-orange hue. Tal'mek released Makepeace, letting the other man slump to the floor. Clutching his head in agony, the Goa'uld let out a howl of anguish. Daniel quickly helped Makepeace out of his reach as the Goa'uld's cries of pain intensified; Tal'mek was oblivious to their presence. "Teal'c, what's going on?" Sam asked.
Teal'c stared at the pain-wracked form before them in shock. "Major Carter, I do not know."
The lieutenant jerked up then, and Jack suddenly realized that it was not Tal'mek who was in control. "Get..." Jason gasped, "out... of... my... HEAD!!"
Again he screamed, but this time it was hard to tell which one was crying out as he collapsed to the floor, motionless. Cautiously, Sam approached the inert form, and gasped in shock. "Colonel!"
"What?" Jack asked, coming up beside her just in time to see the Goa'uld literally eject itself out the way it came, shooting a few feet across the stones. Reflexively, Jack jumped back. "Whoa! Carter, are you nuts?"
The symbiote, however, did not attack. It lay there, writhing and keening in agony for a few moments before going entirely limp. Carter stared at it for a moment. "I don't believe this. It's dead."
"Jack. Colonel Makepeace." Daniel was kneeling next to Jason, checking for a pulse. The lieutenant was staring into space, his breathing shallow. "He's still with us, but I think he's going into shock."
"Can't blame him," Jack muttered. He turned to Teal'c. "Any idea what just happened here?"
"None." The big Jaffa hesitated, listening. "I would advise that we move quickly, O'Neill. The death cries of Tal'mek may have alerted the guards."
"Come on," Makepeace decided. "Let's get the kid out of here. We can figure out what happened later."
For once, Jack was inclined to agree.
The control room was uncharacteristically silent as General George Hammond stood there, hands behind his back, looking out anxiously at the dormant Stargate sitting in the Gate room below. SG-5 had returned without the other two teams, and in the two hours since he'd heard the reason why from the team commander, Hammond had been locked in that place and in that position, waiting for the return of SG-3 and SG-1.
He had to admit, he wasn't entirely surprised. Going back to rescue a soldier was Colonel O'Neill's M.O., all right. It wasn't exactly characteristic of Colonel Makepeace, but then again, Makepeace had commanded the mission to rescue SG-1 from Hathor's clutches. Although he probably wouldn't admit it, Hammond mused, Makepeace was probably as hot to trot to rescue his own lieutenant as O'Neill. The question was not why they planned to do it, but how. The minutes were dragging by interminably, and Hammond was beginning to fear that they had not, in fact, succeeded.
His fears were proven wrong once again as the alarms went off. "Incoming traveler!" Harriman announced. "It's SG-1."
As he spoke, the iris retracted, and the Stargate activated in a bright plume of blue-white energy particles before settling back into a stable wormhole. Hammond turned and hurried down the steps and into the corridor, heading for the Gate room. By the time he entered, all but one of SG-3 had crossed the event horizon. Hammond opened his mouth to ask Makepeace where the rest where when Jack and Teal'c stepped through the wormhole, carrying a limp form between them. "We need a med team!" Jack shouted.
The guards on duty hurried to obey as the two men carried their load down the ramp. Sam and Daniel were the last to exit the wormhole, which shut off behind them. Dr. Frasier entered the Gate room at that moment with three other medical staffers and a gurney. As they loaded the inert form onto the gurney, Hammond recognized the young lieutenant they had gone back for. He was alive and breathing, but his unfocused eyes and slack expression indicated a near-catatonic state.
Frasier checked his vitals as Hammond turned back to the two team commanders. "What's going on here?"
It was Makepeace who answered. "The Goa'uld attempted to take Lieutenant Scott as a host, sir."
"Attempted?" Hammond echoed, confused.
"Well, it's kind of hard to explain..." Daniel began.
Jack cut him off. "Sir, the snake didn't take. It's a long story."
Hammond looked at Sam, but the Major looked to be bereft of an explanation for a change. "All right, then," Hammond sighed. "Briefing is at 1400 hours. I'll expect to hear the whole story then. In the meantime," he added, looking them up and down, "you'd better get yourselves checked out in the infirmary as well. Looks like you need it. Dismissed."
As Hammond left the Gate room, the rest of SG-3 and SG-1 began to disperse. Only SG-1 hung back, watching as Jason was wheeled out of the room towards the infirmary. "So..." Jack began after a moment. "Any idea how we're going to explain this one, Carter?"
"Frankly, sir," Sam sighed, "I honestly don't know."
"There's a first," Daniel observed as they turned and left the Gate room.
"...and using the abandoned Tok'ra tunnels that Teal'c discovered," Sam finished, "we were able to infiltrate the fortress and retrieve Lieutenant Scott."
Hammond frowned. "Why didn't you use that means of escape earlier?"
Jack shot a look at Makepeace. "Colonel, would you like to tell him?"
Makepeace sighed. "Teal'c was initially with Major Carter and SG-5 guarding the Stargate. My men... would have been uncomfortable having him along."
"And yet Davis and Johnson remained at the Gate as well," Hammond observed, looking at Makepeace dangerously.
"Sir, if I may," Sam interrupted, "in light of Johnson's ambivalence towards Teal'c in the past, it was probably better that Davis stayed behind as well." To make sure Johnson didn't start a fight, she added silently.
Hammond got the point. "Never mind, then. Let's get back to the topic at hand." He thumbed through the report for a moment. "Lieutenant Scott had been implanted when you found him, correct?"
"Yes, sir," Sam replied.
"And yet Dr. Fraiser reported that he was not in possession of a Goa'uld when you returned," Hammond concluded. "Care to explain?"
"Well," Makepeace began after a moment, "we can explain the how, but not the why."
At Hammond's quizzical look, Teal'c spoke up. "When we attempted to return through the tunnels, the Goa'uld gained control of Lieutenant Scott and broke free. It attacked Colonel O'Neill and was holding Colonel Makepeace hostage when the symbiote was rejected."
Hammond stared at him, astounded. "What? How?"
"The snake shot out the way it came in," Jack answered. "It screamed, he screamed, and it just... shot out of there."
"We honestly don't know what could have triggered it," Daniel added.
Still amazed, Hammond shook his head. "No concealed devices? Like those Machello employed?"
"None that I know of, sir," Sam told him. "To all appearances, it looked as though Lieutenant Scott fought the Goa'uld off completely unaided."
"Of course, we don't know that," Daniel pointed out.
Teal'c raised an eyebrow. "I have never heard of such a thing before."
"Well, there's only one person who can tell us," Hammond said after a moment. "Unfortunately, he's currently in no position to."
"In the meantime, we could pull his medical records," Sam suggested. "See if he's been exposed to anything that could have triggered this kind of reaction."
"Whatever it is," Jack muttered, "I'd like some of it myself."
She should have known.
Hatmehit scowled as her guards fanned out through the ancient network of Tok'ra tunnels. Until now, she had never been entirely sure whether or not her husband truly had connections with the Tok'ra; his death had merely been a means to keep the System Lords from destroying them both. But now the proof was before her very eyes. For all his faults, Banebdjetet had never been a fool, and the Tok'ra tunnels would not have escaped his attention.
But it escaped yours.
Her scowl deepened as she mentally swatted back the persistent whisper in the back of her mind. Weak as the host she had chosen was, every so often that remnant would surface, taunting her, trying to play on her weaknesses. But she was too smart for that.
The tunnels were cleverly hidden, she reminded herself. Had it not been for the faint howling of her new consort drifting up to the lower floors, the passageway might not have been discovered. And even with that clue, it had taken her guards a few hours to discover the entrance. Perhaps if the symbiote had taken hold, her consort would have stood a chance against his kidnappers; mere humans were no match against a Goa'uld.
As she reassured herself with those thoughts, she continued down the corridors until suddenly, she felt something, a stirring. Could it be? Shouting orders to her guards, she marched in the direction of the sensation. But when she came upon what was left of her consort, her confidence dissolved.
The cry alerted all of her guards to come running. When they reached her, the personal guard of Hatmehit saw something they had never seen before: their queen, kneeling on the ground, her features frozen with horror. In her outstretched hands was the lifeless husk of a Goa'uld symbiote.
For several seconds, she did not move. Then she lifted her head, and the horror on her face twisted into fury as Hatmehit let out an enraged scream.
Jason opened his eyes, blinking in confusion at the ceiling. Disoriented, he lay flat on his back for a second, unsure where he was or how he'd come here. The last thing he remembered was being hustled down the Tok'ra tunnels, and then that thing had taken control...
With a gasp, he sat bolt upright, regretting it immediately as the room began to swim. His head felt like an overripe watermelon that had just been dropped twenty stories. Trying to shake it off, he was relieved to see a familiar face come into his line of vision. "Lieutenant, calm down," Dr. Janet Fraiser said, pushing him back down on the cot. "It's all right. You're in the SGC."
"Thank God," Jason croaked. He was surprised at how hoarse he sounded. "What happened, Doc?"
"We were hoping you would know." At the confused look he gave her, she proceeded to explain. "You were in shock when you were brought through the Gate, and you've been unconscious for nearly six hours. How do you feel? How's the leg?"
Jason shut his eyes briefly. "When the room stops spinning, I'll be better." He shifted his weight and winced at the ache in his wounded leg. "Well, at least I can feel it."
"Nothing's broken, fortunately," Fraiser told him. "But you've got a couple bruised ribs as well." She hesitated before adding, "The Goa'uld symbiote managed to partially heal your wounds, but not enough to guarantee a clean bill of health. I'm recommending that you spend another 24 hours in the infirmary at least to make sure you don't go aggravating your injuries."
Jason grinned weakly at that. The last thing he wanted to do was get up and move around. "That's fine by me."
"I'll have to inform General Hammond that you're awake," she sighed, standing up. "He's anxious to find out just what happened on P9X-4244." Jason groaned, and it was Dr. Fraiser's turn to smile. "I don't think you're ready for an interrogation just yet, though."
"Thanks. I appreciate it."
She nodded, turning and walking away. Alone again, Jason let his head drop back down on the pillow, staring up at the ceiling blankly. The thought of being questioned by General Hammond made him feel queasy. Then again, moving his injured leg made him feel queasy, so that wasn't saying much. In the short time that he'd been assigned to the SGC, Jason had discovered that the General was surprisingly open-minded, compared to some commanders he'd served under. He didn't expect to be coddled, but he didn't think Hammond would give him the third degree.
But it still worried him. He knew what Hammond wanted to know - how did he manage to expel the Goa'uld? The question would come up, of course, and Jason wasn't sure how to answer it.
He knew what the answer was, though. At least he thought he did.
That burst of flaming energy was the key. It had seemed familiar then, and the memory was clearly familiar now. He'd felt that same rush with every morph, first as the Red Ranger, then as the Gold Ranger. It had been within him the entire time, a spark, a remnant of the good old days. And when the symbiote attempted to take over, it was as if the spark had struck a pool of gasoline. The Goa'uld was unable to withstand the assault.
Somehow, his exposure to the Power made him immune to implantation.
In a way, it made sense. But not when it came to explaining it to a superior officer. To someone who'd never seen the Power Chamber, someone who'd probably only seen or heard of the Power Rangers through the media, the explanation would sound purely ridiculous. Besides, he couldn't simply explain that he was a former Power Ranger. It was bad enough letting the secret slip without Zordon's consent, but letting it fall into military hands was even worse. Hell, it wasn't to say the folks at the SGC weren't trustworthy. It was the rest of the military that worried him.
Still, he couldn't just go and lie outright. The General would see right through that. Jason inhaled deeply, ignoring the soreness in his chest. He was going to have to tell them something, though. Well, why not the truth?
Not the whole truth. He'd just tell them what he thought he'd seen and felt, but not what it really meant. With luck, they might dismiss it as hallucination. Even if they didn't, it would buy him a little time.
Impulsively, he reached back with his free hand, feeling the back of his neck as if he expected to find the symbiote back there. Instead, his fingers brushed the entry scar, and Jason shuddered at the memory. If he hadn't been a Ranger, he doubted that he would have been able to fight Tal'mek. He'd come so close to being possessed by a Goa'uld...
But he hadn't. That was what mattered. Pulling his hand away, Jason closed his eyes against the tears of relief that welled up. For the first time, he realized the magnitude of what had happened, and just how incredibly lucky he was to still be alive and be in control of himself. Any interrogation was preferable to possession. Whatever the next morning had in store, he was sure he could handle it. He silently thanked Zordon for choosing him in the first place before sinking into a grateful sleep.
Jack took the next card from the deck and laid the king of diamonds down next to Teal'c's pair of fives. Daniel groaned. "Oh, great."
Teal'c raised an eyebrow. "A bad move?"
"Not for you," Daniel replied, eying the queen of spades and the four of hearts in front of him. "Fourteen. I always get these lousy numbers."
Jack drummed his fingers on the table. "We don't have all day, Danny boy. Your turn."
Daniel sighed. "What the hell. Hit."
A six of clubs landed beside the queen, and Jack scowled. "Damn."
Someone knocked on the door, and the three men turned to see Sam standing at the door. "Hi. Am I interrupting something?"
"Just a second," Jack said, reaching for the deck. He drew an eight of diamonds and made a face. "Twenty-three. Bust."
"Pay up," Daniel told him, grinning as Jack fairly threw the chips at them.
Sam sat down beside him. "Teaching Teal'c how to play blackjack?"
"Well, Jack's been teaching him how to lose for about twenty minutes," Daniel replied.
"Hey, I was on a roll there until these two started getting lucky," Jack retorted.
Teal'c almost smiled. "I believe it was you, O'Neill, who said that luck had nothing to do with it."
Jack was shuffling the deck. "Want to play, Carter?"
"Maybe later," Sam answered, standing up. "Before you risk it all again, sir, I thought you'd like to know that Lieutenant Scott's awake."
The deck was immediately discarded.
"I haven't found anything out of the ordinary to explain this," Dr. Fraiser explained as Jack and Teal'c followed her into the infirmary. "There's no evidence of any diseases, pathogens, or drugs of any kind that might affect the symbiote. I've run every test I can think of."
"Which is why we didn't find out about this until now," Jack surmised.
Fraiser had to smile. "Colonel, it was difficult enough getting him to agree to all the tests I had to run. I didn't need you getting in the way."
Jack looked a bit put out, so Teal'c took the opportunity to speak. "How has Lieutenant Scott fared?"
"He complained non-stop throughout the testing, so I'm guessing that's a good sign," Fraiser answered. "The staff blast he received in the leg is not as severe as it could have been; the Goa'uld symbiote managed to speed up the healing process." Jack nodded uncomfortably as Fraiser went on. "He's also got a couple of bruised ribs, and he's been scratched up pretty well, but nothing that won't heal. I'm keeping him under observation just to be safe."
"Wait, wait, wait," Jack protested. "We do have to talk to the kid, Doc."
Fraiser sighed. "I suppose he can leave the infirmary for a short time, but I want him brought back here afterwards. 24 hours under observation should be enough."
"And after those 24 hours?"
"Sir, I'm recommending that Lieutenant Scott be temporarily relieved from active duty for a few days. Give him some time to get back on his feet."
Teal'c and Jack exchanged glances. "I don't have a problem with that," Jack admitted. "It's all up to Hammond, though."
"We will see," was all Teal'c said.
"Find anything yet?" Sam asked.
Daniel removed his glasses briefly to rub at his eyes. "Nothing out of the ordinary. You?"
"I've been going through his case history," Sam sighed, pulling a file out of the cabinet and sitting down. "Apparently joined the Army after high school, presumably to pay for college." She continued to skim the file. "Hm. That's interesting. I didn't know that."
"Know what?" Daniel asked, glad for the chance to turn away from the medical records on the computer screen.
"Got in here on a recommendation from Colonel Masterson," Sam replied. "Masterson's recommendation said that Scott was 'the right kind of soldier to deal with something this out of the ordinary.'"
Daniel sat down, curious. "Does it say why?"
"File's kind of sketchy," Sam sighed. "Looks like an accumulation of good performance rather than one glowing assignment. But there's nothing here to indicate any reason for rejecting the symbiote like he did."
"Nothing in the medical records, either," Daniel admitted. "Have you checked pre-military records yet?"
"I'm working on that. Civilian records obviously take a little longer." She tapped a finger thoughtfully on the file in front of her. "The little we have is interesting, though. Born and raised in Angel Grove, California."
Daniel waited for the punchline, but none came. "So?"
Sam stared at him. "Where have you been? Angel Grove. That's where all those monster sightings and claims of aliens have been springing up since '93."
"What?" Daniel chuckled incredulously. "You're not talking about those Power Ranger stories, are you?"
"What's so funny?"
"Oh, come on, Sam. It's an old hoax that no one's really taken seriously. You've seen the 'footage' of these attacks - they can't be real."
Sam bit her lip. "You know the aborted moon expedition back in '93? The one that supposedly unleashed these attacking aliens?" Daniel nodded. "Well, that at least wasn't a hoax. NASA recorded the astronauts' last transmissions after they opened an unidentifiable container. We don't know what exactly was uncovered, but the tape implies it did away with the astronauts."
Daniel frowned. "I didn't hear anything on the news about this one."
"That's because NASA didn't want it to get out," Sam replied. "It was publicly blamed on faulty equipment and a computer error. Those two men went and opened that thing against orders, and got themselves and the shuttle blown up as a result."
"NASA didn't want to admit that?"
"They also didn't have a clue what was going on either. Not until the bizarre news reports started coming out of Angel Grove." Sam flipped through a report. "I think there were a few investigations conducted early on, but they didn't turn up very much - and the 'attacks' never occurred outside of the city limits. Washington eventually decided it was wasting its time."
"And then the Stargate was uncovered," Daniel guessed.
"Exactly. Since the Angel Grove happenings never left Angel Grove - even when Apophis sent his ships to Earth - the Pentagon decided to focus on the Stargate program. At least here we had some actual proof, some actual technology."
"All right, all right," Daniel sighed, shaking his head. "I get why it hasn't been looked into. But that doesn't prove it's not a hoax."
"It's something, though," Sam pointed out. "We might want to look through news reports of those attacks to see if the citizens were exposed to anything unusual."
"Tabloids aren't really my reading material of choice," Daniel began, but he stopped at the look Sam shot him. "Never mind."
To say Jason was nervous went beyond even Jack's powers of stating the obvious. It wasn't as though he were fidgeting, or pacing, or worrying out loud; Jason was sitting up straight, attentive, alert, and in far better shape than he had been the previous day. His hands betrayed his inner state; while the rest of him was still, his fingers drummed incessantly against the polished wood of the table. Jack sighed deeply, wondering where the hell Hammond was. Five more minutes and the agitation would become contagious.
Teal'c, as usual, was the picture of serenity, standing by the wall like a statue. Sam, who had just arrived, was staring blankly at the star chart etched into the window between the briefing room and Hammond's office, fixated on the crisscrossing lines. Daniel was nowhere to be seen; he was checking something out for Sam.
After a moment, Jack finally turned to face Jason. "Lieutenant, could you knock it off?"
The drumming abruptly stopped as Jason caught himself. "Sorry, sir."
Feeling a twinge of guilt, Jack opened his mouth to apologize when the door opened and Hammond walked in. "At ease," he said as Sam turned from the chart and Jason tried to stand up. "If you don't mind, I'm going to dispense with the formalities for once. Sit down, all of you."
They took their seats as Jason eased himself back down, wincing from his wounded leg. Hammond noticed this as he set the papers down in front of him. "How's the leg, Lieutenant?"
"It's just a flesh wound," Jason answered. As Hammond gave him a knowing look, he added, "But it still hurts like hell, sir."
Hammond nodded. "Under other circumstances, I would have waited until your injuries were fully healed before questioning you."
"Other circumstances, sir?" Sam echoed.
"Major, I will have to submit a report to the Pentagon about this eventually. The events will get some attention."
Jack scowled. "Maybourne." Teal'c looked grim.
"Not necessarily, but after recent events, I'd like to have a complete handle on what's going on here before R&D comes barging in." Hammond turned back to Jason. "Lieutenant, I know it may be difficult for you to discuss, but when you were - implanted, was there anything out of the ordinary?"
There was a moment of silence before Jason took a deep breath and began to speak.
"Power Rangers save the day again," Daniel yawned. "Can't they at least try to be original?"
He pulled his glasses off briefly to rub his eyes before slipping them on again and peering at the computer screen in front of him. All the stories regarding the Power Rangers seemed basically the same: monsters appeared, the Rangers appeared, the monster grew, a robot destroyed it, there was property damage galore, and all the photos were generally too blurry or grainy to be deemed genuine. "Sam, I'm going to get you for this," Daniel murmured as the database brought up a new article.
Strangely enough, this one wasn't in the same vein as all the rest. MASS DISAPPEARANCE AT LOCAL HANGOUT, the headline read. It was a sidebar to the bigger story, which was the standard Rangers-save-the-day bit that Daniel had come to know and despise. Basically, a few sets of parents who had arrived late to the school Parents' Day had arrived at a local youth center to find it completely abandoned. Two hours later, all the attendees were back, and no one remembered even leaving. The two hours were completely lost to them.
The story had made the paper only because the disappearance had seemingly coincided with the monster attack that took place the same day. Several parents and students were interviewed, and while they didn't remember anything, many of them did recall a brief "blip" in their memories.
The article went on to discuss theories of mass hallucination, but Daniel paid no attention to that. What interested him was the name of one of the people interviewed: Sarah Trevelyan-Scott, who had been there with her husband and son. Trevelyan-Scott.
While it was one heck of a name to hyphenate, that wasn't what got Daniel's attention. He and Sam had gone through Jason's records twice, and he was positive that Trevelyan was his mother's maiden name. That couldn't be a mistake. It wasn't exactly a common name - the only other Trevelyan that Daniel knew of was Andrew Trevelyan, an Egyptologist who was both famous and notorious for continuing to supervise and participate in excavations despite his age. Trevelyan had been one of the few who hadn't scoffed at Daniel's theories. Wonder if there's a connection?
Abruptly, he shook himself, bringing his thoughts back to the task at hand. So Jason and his parents had been there when the entire group was whisked away. Daniel frowned thoughtfully. It wasn't that he believed it, but if it was partially true, this might be what Sam was looking for. He made sure that the network printer was turned on before going to print out the article.
It was definitely a start.
"I can't really explain it," Jason was saying for the third time as someone knocked on the door. The guard on duty opened it to reveal Harriman, who entered quietly, setting a report down in front of Hammond before turning and leaving.
Sam was handling some of the questioning, since she had the most experience with the situation. "Lieutenant, you're going to have to try."
Jason sighed as Daniel eased into the empty seat beside Jack. "All I know was that something kind of - snapped. It was like... it was like I could have fought it off before, but whatever I had just kind of held back."
"Until the Goa'uld attacked Colonel O'Neill," Hammond finished.
"No, sir. That, um, that was just me."
He received several befuddled stares. Hammond frowned. Jack was confused. Daniel looked positively baffled as to what was going on. Teal'c raised an eyebrow.
Only Sam seemed to understand what he was talking about. "By 'just you,' you mean without the aid of whatever... spark allowed you to fight it off for good."
"I - I suppose," Jason replied uncertainly, turning to Hammond. "General, I'm serious. I know it sounds ludicrous."
"I'll be the judge of that," Hammond told him. "Go on. What happened when you rejected the symbiote?"
Jason was silent for a moment, trying to piece the words together. "It felt like something was exploding in my head," he answered in a low voice, looking down at the table. "I couldn't see, I couldn't hear - everything was too bright, everything was too loud."
"Like a full sensory overload," Sam proposed.
Jason nodded, looking up. "After that, I - don't remember anything. The next thing I remember is waking up in the infirmary."
Absolute silence followed his words. Jason glanced around anxiously at the group assembled, waiting for an answer.
He finally got one as Hammond spoke. "Very well, I think that's quite enough. Lieutenant, you're free to go - back to the infirmary, that is," he added, and Jason flinched. "That's an order. I'm not about to let you aggravate any injuries after the ordeal you've had."
Jason relaxed. "Thank you, sir."
"You're welcome, Lieutenant. Dismissed."
Once the lieutenant was gone, Hammond turned back to SG-1. "Opinions?"
"He seemed sincere, sir, if that's what you mean," Sam replied. "Whether or not everything he said was true, he seemed to believe it was."
Teal'c sat down beside Sam. "His account appears to match our observations."
"That's because it was so damned vague it'd fit any story," Jack groused.
The others stared at him in surprise. Teal'c raised an eyebrow. "Colonel," Hammond asked, "are you implying that Lieutenant Scott was lying?"
Uncomfortable at being the sudden center of attention, Jack shifted in his seat. "General, that's not what I'm saying. I think the kid told us the truth, just not all of it."
"What could he be withholding?" Sam asked. "And why? He's been through the whole battery of tests; it's not like he's under the influence of anything or anyone."
Jack sighed. "I don't know. Call it a gut instinct. I just get the feeling he's not telling us something. Scott seemed pretty nervous."
"Well, it goes without saying he's been under a lot of stress, sir," Sam interrupted. "And to have to recall the details of the experience so soon--"
"All right, all right, I get it," Jack protested. "Something just bugs me about all of this."
"For my part," Hammond put in, "I think Lieutenant Scott has told us all he can under the circumstances. I'm going to take Dr. Fraiser's recommendation and put Scott on medical leave for a few days, effective immediately after he's been discharged."
Sam frowned, confused. "Are you sure that's wise, sir? Shouldn't he at least receive some psychiatric treatment?"
"Dr. Mackenzie spoke with him this morning," Hammond replied. "He also recommended a similar course of action. I'll have to inform Colonel Makepeace and the rest of SG-3, but other than that, we're done here. Dismissed."
There was more to it than that, but Jack could tell that now was not the time to question Hammond. As the other two filed out, he hesitated for a moment before heading out of the briefing room and closing the door.
"You lucky son of a bitch."
Jason didn't even bother to open his eyes, recognizing the voice almost immediately. "You got to love the concern for the wounded. Johnson, you want to trade, be my guest."
Several voices chuckled at that, and Jason opened his eyes to see Johnson, Davis, and to his surprise, Colonel Makepeace standing by his bed. He hastily tried to sit up. "Uh, Colonel..." Jason winced as he was reminded painfully of his bruised ribs, and lay back down again. "I think I'll just lie here, if you don't mind, sir."
"Please," Makepeace answered. "If the Doc finds out you're making yourself worse, she'll give us all hell for it."
It was Jason's turn to chuckle, despite his discomfort. "Yeah, well, I'm not exactly feeling very lucky right now."
"You should be," Davis informed him, grinning. "We get to guard a science mission on PT29-something this weekend while you'll be sitting at home watching the game."
This time Jason did sit up, ignoring the pain in his ribs. "What?"
"As soon as you're in shape to be discharged, Lieutenant," Dr. Fraiser said, coming up to them, "you'll be put on ten days leave."
"Hammond himself gave the okay," Makepeace added at Jason's stunned expression. "In a day or two, you'll be heading home."
"Home," Jason murmured inaudibly, still surprised. Of all the responses he was expecting, this was not one of them. A wide grin spread across his face. "That's - that's great. I don't believe it."
"Listen, my man," Johnson said conspiratorially, "if you do get to see the Lakers game, you let us know who won and who scored what, okay? We got a pool going here."
Davis elbowed him. "Knock it off."
Jason had all but forgotten his discomfort by now. "You're going to be all right without me?"
"Sure, kid," Makepeace assured him. "We'll pull through somehow."
He left a few minutes later, leaving Jason with Johnson and Davis. "What was he doing here?" Jason asked once Makepeace was gone. "I mean - that's not the Colonel's style."
Davis shrugged. "I don't know. Think he was feeling kind of guilty. You did save our bacon back there."
"Only because I got dumped down the drain," Jason remembered. "Anyone else would've done the same thing."
"Says you," Johnson muttered. "I'd have gotten my ass out of there first chance I got."
"There's a surprise," Davis told him, punching Johnson in the shoulder before turning back to Jason. "Scott, I don't know what you told Hammond,but you must have said the right things."
"Yeah," Jason answered. "I guess I did."
But his smile this time was uneasy.
"Are you sure this is the right gate?" Adam Park asked his girlfriend for the third time in twenty minutes.
Tanya Sloan sighed. "For the last time, yes. His plane was delayed; it should be here in a minute or two."
Nodding, Adam surveyed the rest of the welcome wagon gathered there. The four exhausted teens were camped out by the gate, having come for a flight that should have landed an hour ago. Rocky DeSantos was slumped in one of the plastic airport seats, fast asleep and clutching the cardboard sign he'd made as a joke. Tanya was sitting by Adam's side, reading a magazine, the only patient member of the group.
She was the complete opposite of Tommy Oliver, who was pacing like a caged lion in front of their seats. "Tom, you're not making the plane get here any faster," Adam informed him.
Realizing what he was doing, Tommy stopped and sighed. "Sorry. I just - Jase didn't sound so great on the phone. Call it a hunch, but I've got a feeling something's wrong."
"He sounded fine to me," Tanya said. "But I only got to talk to him for thirty seconds."
As she spoke, a jet was taxiing down the runway, heading in their direction. "Heads up," Adam said. "We're probably about to find out."
The half-awake woman at the counter jerked awake and grabbed the microphone. "Flight 23 from Denver is now arriving at Gate C12. Flight 23 from Denver is now arriving at Gate C12."
"Finally," Tommy commented as Adam stood up, stretching to ease his stiff muscles. Tanya got up as well, but Rocky was still out cold. "Anyone want to wake up Sleeping Beauty?"
A second later, a rolled-up magazine struck Rocky squarely in the forehead. "Huh? What?" Rocky mumbled, sitting straight up and blinking sleepily. "Who hit me?"
Tanya hid the magazine behind her back and tried to look innocent as Adam hauled Rocky to his feet. "Plane's here, Rocky."
Rocky glared at Tanya suspiciously as the gate opened, letting forth a flood of relieved and exhausted passengers. After about ten seconds of the stampede, a familiar face emerged from the crowd. "Jase!" Tommy cried, and Rocky held up the sign. "Over here!"
Seeing them, Jason waved and started towards them. It was then that Adam noticed the look in his old friend's eyes. Jason seemed lively enough, but there was a sense of exhaustion about him, like a cloud of fatigue had settled permanently over his eyes. He looked fine, yet at the same time he seemed drained of energy. Last time he looked like that was when the Gold Ranger powers were acting up, Adam realized silently. Looking over at Tanya, he could tell that she saw it too.
She didn't say anything as they exchanged hugs and handshakes in turn, but Rocky was nowhere near that tactful. "Jase," he observed, "you look wasted."
Jason, fortunately, grinned at that and punched Rocky in the shoulder. "Yeah, well, they put me next to this screaming two-year-old. It was hell."
There was more to it than that, Adam sensed, trading worried looks with Tommy. "Sounds like it to me," Tommy empathized, patting his friend on the shoulder. "You got any bags to check?"
"I came straight from the base, bro. This," here Jason pointed to the knapsack he was carrying, "is all I've got."
"Good," Tanya declared, pulling her car keys out of her coat pocket. "I actually got a close parking space. Let's get out of here."
Gratefully, the five teens headed out of the terminal, with Tanya in the lead and Adam right beside her. Behind him, Adam heard Jason tell Rocky, "Nice sign, Rocko."
Rocky yawned. "Thanks. Kind of a gag."
"Oh, so that's why you were holding it upside down."
"That's all?" Jack asked when Daniel finished his account.
"What do you mean, 'that's all?' It's the best possible means of exposure we've been able to dig up," Sam retorted.
Jack sighed. "So the kid and his parents were there when everyone forgot a couple hours. Doesn't say anything really happened."
"Well, most of what we have are a collection of news articles," Daniel interrupted. "If we could get some readings from the NASADA base--"
"NASADA?" Jack looked over at Sam for an explanation.
"National Aeronautics and Space Defense Administration," she clarified. "It was kind of NASA's reaction to the sightings. They generally work independently; the division was created outside of Angel Grove just in case something concrete turned up. Needless to say, we're a lot better funded than they are."
Dr. Fraiser was nodding. "You might want to get in touch with them," she suggested. "None of this is any good to us if we can't figure out what Lieutenant Scott was exposed to."
Jack frowned at the medical report with the frown of someone who doesn't understand what he's reading and has better things to do. "If he was exposed to anything. Doc, you said the kid checked out all right. Maybe we should just let this go for a while."
"Let it go?" Sam echoed. "Sir, Lieutenant Scott managed to expel a Goa'uld parasite without any external aid. If we can figure out why, the cause may help us find a way to remove the Goa'uld from the host safely, perhaps even make it possible for anyone to reject the parasite on their own. Imagine if the Goa'uld couldn't take any of us as hosts. That could--"
"I get it," Jack interrupted. "I'm just saying that we haven't turned up much of anything here. If Lieutenant Scott was actually around, it would help big time."
Fraiser sighed. "He's agreed to resume the tests once he's back on duty."
"So let's let it go until he gets back!"
"I agree with Colonel O'Neill," Teal'c added. "There is nothing to be gained from this now."
"I'm afraid it's not that simple," Fraiser admitted. "General Hammond submitted the report to the Pentagon this morning, after Scott's plane departed. If R&D does demand to have a hand in this, it would help our case if we had some possible causes for the rejection when they get here."
"That way, they couldn't insist that testing be done off base," Daniel realized. For Jack's benefit, he added, "Maybourne wouldn't be able to use that in his favor."
Jack's shoulders slumped slightly as he stared at the spread of documents. "All right," he conceded after a moment. "Let's hit the books."
Sarah Trevelyan-Scott looked up from the stove and frowned as she saw the odd expression on her son's face. "Jason? What's wrong?"
Jason was staring at the pot, at the green fettucini noodles that bubbled and writhed in the boiling water. "You're making that?"
"Well, if I'd had more than a day's warning you were coming home," she retorted, "I'd have been able to go out and get burgers. You and John will just have to grin and bear it."
There was a moment before Jason spoke again, softly. "Mom?"
Sarah paused. She recognized the tone in his voice, saw the distress in his eyes. "You really don't want pasta, do you?"
Her searching gaze snapped him back into reality, somewhat back to his old self. "I - I mean, I know you're working really hard and you didn't have a lot of time, but could you make something that doesn't..." He hesitated, then shook his head, turning to leave. "Never mind."
"Stop right there, Jason Lee Scott," Sarah snapped, giving him her best I'm-Your-Mother-And-If-You-Know-What's-Best-You'll-Listen look. "Something's bothering you, and you won't tell me what. Now I know you can't talk about most of it, but would it kill you to tell me why you don't want pasta?"
"This is going to sound really stupid," Jason began, but she fixed the Look on him and he sighed. "Could you make something that doesn't... look so much like snakes?"
John Scott grinned as he paid the pizza delivery boy and set the boxes down on the counter. "Soup's on!"
"Finally," Jason sighed as he, Adam, and Tommy emerged from the living room. They had been watching television and talking for the past hour about everything - and nothing. Despite Tommy's attempts to find out what was wrong with his friend, Jason had remained continually evasive. A lot of it, Tommy knew, was because Jason couldn't tell him what was going on, just because of security. But that wasn't all. Jase wasn't talking about it because he didn't want to talk about it, didn't want to relive it.
Tommy knew from personal experience that wasn't exactly healthy.
Adam strode up to the counter, looking over the pizzas John had ordered. "Doesn't look like any soup I've ever seen. Not that I'm complaining."
"It's an expression, kid," John told him, reaching over to good-naturedly ruffle his son's short hair. "Thank the guest of honor here."
Jason looked uncomfortable. "Cut it out, Dad." He snagged a slice of pepperoni, and accidentally dripped some cheese onto the tile. "Oops."
"Smooth move, Jase," Tommy joked.
Jason chuckled. "Yeah, it's all in the wrist."
As he grabbed a napkin and knelt down to wipe it up, Sarah appeared with a sponge. "First night back and already you're making a mess." She paused as he took the sponge and wiped up the spill. "Jason? What's that on your neck?"
"That." Her fingers traced a thin scar on the back of Jason's neck. It was faint, but clear, almost like an incision. Jason flinched at her touch. "What happened?"
"It was, uh, it was an accident." Jason rubbed at the back of his neck nervously. "I can't really go into detail."
Sarah's eyes flicked over to John, and they shared the same worried glance, but neither parent pressed the subject. "Come on," John said, grabbing a piece of pizza and pulling a couple of soda cans out of the fridge. "I want to see how the Knicks are going to get out of this one."
"Is it too much to ask for you to sit at a table and eat?" Sarah demanded.
"Yes," the four men answered in unison. Sarah shrugged, got herself a slice, and headed for the living room with the rest.
Jason patted his father on the shoulder. "Thanks, Dad," he muttered.
"So when is Kat coming home?" Jason asked.
Tommy blinked. "Huh?"
"Kat. Katherine. Tall, blonde, Australian, wore a lot of pink, you two were joined at the hip. Ring any bells?" Jason chuckled. "Don't tell me you forgot Kat now."
"No. God. I'm not that bad." Tommy sat back, staring up at the night sky. They were sitting on the Scotts' roof, unbeknownst to Sarah, who would have given them all hell if she knew they were up there. "She's coming home Thursday. Said something about being fed up with the dance school."
Adam pushed himself up on his elbows. "How come? You never told me that."
"Snobs," Tommy replied, and both men nodded understandingly. "And something along the lines of not wanting to starve herself. Said she wanted to teach."
Jason smiled. "Yeah. That sounds like Kat."
Adam chuckled. "Remember when she tried to get us into the ballet recital?"
"Vividly," Jason sighed.
"Look at it this way," Tommy pointed out. "You couldn't have been worse than Bulk and Skull."
All three laughed heartily at that. "No one could have been worse than those two," Jason admitted, grinning. "Seriously, though - what happened to them?"
"Bulk hooked up with this kook professor," Adam told him. "Skull's taking classes at AGU, but we don't see either of them much. I think they cleaned up their act. Well, Skull did, anyway."
"About time," Jason remarked. "They were always getting into messes."
The other two nodded, allowing a comfortable silence to settle. "Can you tell us anything, bro?" Tommy asked after a moment. "What happened?"
Jason looked down. "I don't know. It was - weird. I think I just... need a little time. That's what I'm doing back here."
"Yeah, ten days leave," Adam remembered, grinning. "Lucky bastard."
"Not that lucky. Mom's putting me to work." Jason smiled, lying flat on his back. "I don't know. I need to sort it out for myself - exactly what happened. Because frankly, I'm not so sure."
"Well, when you do, we'll be here," Adam told him. "Right?"
Tommy shrugged. "I'm not going anywhere."
"Thanks." Jason turned his attention to the stars.
A nearby window opened a few minutes later. "Jason?"
"Get off the roof. Please. Before your mother kills me."
"In a minute, Dad."
They spent another half hour watching the stars.
He couldn't move. He couldn't fight.
It was inside him... wriggling... burrowing into his brain... in his head... no... the tendrils snaking out like ropes of fire, burning as they wrapped around him, pulling him into the depths... suffocating, blinding... the parasite flooding his mind...
Nothing moved at his command, but he watched and heard and felt another presence controlling his own body. His own hands wrapped around Colonel O'Neill's neck, squeezing the life out of the man with inhuman force. He could feel the flesh and muscle contracting beneath his grip, hear laughter - the Goa'uld's laughter - rumbling inside him.
it's not me it's not me it's not me...
The face changed, the features shifting. Now it was Tommy, his best friend, then his old girlfriend Emily, then his mother, writhing in his grasp, clawing uselessly at his arms. He screamed, but the cry made no sound.
it's not me...
Strapped onto a table again, with Hatmehit leaning over him... no, wait, a figure in a white lab coat, several lab coats and masks, and it wasn't the chamber of the citadel, it was a laboratory with bright lights and machines and tubes sticking into him...
One of the lab coats raised a scalpel...
With a cry, Jason tumbled out of bed and crashed to the floor. He lay where he'd fallen, panting, trapped in a sweaty tangle of sheets. Staring blankly into the darkness, he tried to organize his thoughts, tried to make sure it was real. Impulsively, he reached out and snagged a handful of the carpeting, relieved to feel the fibers between his fingers. "Just a dream," he whispered, clutching the carpet. "Just a dream."
After a moment, he struggled to his feet, extricating himself from the sheets and sitting back down on the bed. Without thinking, he reached back again, tracing the rough line of the entry scar with his fingers. It was faint now, hard to see, but all too real to the touch. And not faint enough to escape his mother's keen eye.
"Jason? Honey, are you all right? I thought I heard--"
Speak of the devil. Jason cleared his throat. "Fine, Mom," he called back softly, hoping he didn't sound as out of sorts as he felt. "Just fell out of bed, that's all."
Her head poked into the doorway. "Are you sure?"
"Yeah, yeah, I'm sure, Mom. Go back to bed. And, uh, could you close the door?"
She narrowed her eyes, unconvinced, then sighed. "All right. Let me know if you need anything."
"Night, Mom. Thanks." She closed the door again, and Jason took a deep breath, trying to steady his nerves. It didn't work. He looked down at his hands; they were shaking. He was shaking.
No, he wasn't fine. But how could one be expected to be "fine" after all that?
He lay down again, drawing the sheets and blankets tightly around him. It wasn't just the Goa'uld. There hadn't been any white lab coats in Hatmehit's citadel. Jason looked up at the glow-in-the-dark stars and moons that still remained on his ceiling, and frowned. This had gone on long enough. Classified or not, he had to get outside help. Someone who dealt with stuff like this on a regular basis, someone who might have half a clue about what had really happened to him.
Jason had a pretty good idea where to start.
The shrill ringing of the telephone jolted Tommy out of a sound sleep, bringing a pleasant dream involving Katherine and several cans of whipped cream to an abrupt end. He opened one eye, half-tempted to unplug the machine for a moment as the phone rang again. Groaning, Tommy finally grabbed the receiver. "What?" he slurred.
"Tommy, it's Jase. Bro, I'm sorry, but we've got to talk."
Tommy blinked, still drowning in the fog of interrupted sleep. "It's three in the morning."
"It's about what happened. On base. I've got to find some way to get in touch with Billy."
Hearing that, Tommy snapped back into full awareness. "What? It's that serious?"
"I don't know. It might be." Jason lapsed into silence for a moment or two before continuing. "You don't happen to know... uh... the current group, do you?"
It took him a moment to process the question. "Huh? Yeah, I know some of them. Why?"
Jason hesitated before replying. "I need you to set up a meeting."
It took two days for the other shoe to drop.
"Daniel, the next time we accept a gift from the locals," Jack grunted as they emerged from the wormhole, "let's try to get a chance to see it first, okay?"
"We would have insulted them if we hadn't accepted," Daniel pointed out.
"Yeah, but I wouldn't be about to break my back!" Jack snapped as the iris closed behind them.
The arrival of SG-1 was causing more stares than usual. No one had expected the team to return lugging a massive stone sculpture, the likes of which none of the soldiers in the Gate room had seen. Not even Daniel had been able to determine what, exactly, it was supposed to represent.
As four or five men hurried to help right the statue and take the burden off SG-1, the wormhole shut off and the iris retracted. Relieved, Jack stretched, arching his back and groaning. Sam rubbed her shoulder, and Daniel looked exhausted. The only one who seemed not in the least winded by the experience was Teal'c.
So he was the first to notice when the bay door slid open to admit Hammond. "General."
"At ease," Hammond said absently, staring at the statue. "Good God, what is that?"
"It's a gift from the Wria - the people of PX-2395," Daniel explained tiredly. "As for what it's supposed to represent... frankly, I have no idea."
"They're an agrarian society," Sam explained. "More technologically advanced than some of the agrarian peoples we've come across - they primarily utilize wind and water power for most of their machinery--" She stopped at the looks Jack and Hammond were giving her. "I'll explain it further in my report, sir."
Hammond nodded. "Very well, Major. But that's not what I'm here for. The Pentagon was very interested in the report of the P9X-4244 mission. R&D is sending someone here tomorrow to investigate the details further."
"But Lieutenant Scott is not present," Teal'c pointed out.
"They don't know that. The report mentioned only the details directly pertaining to the mission and the security of the base, not Dr. Fraiser's recommendations."
Jack frowned. "How much time we got?"
"At best, sixteen hours," Hammond replied. "Major, have you or Dr. Fraiser turned anything new up?"
"We have some possibilities, but nothing concrete, sir."
"Find something concrete, then." Hammond sighed. "We don't have much time."
"You sure this is a good place to meet?" Jason asked, glancing around the deserted beach.
Tommy nodded, yawning at the predawn sky. "No one's out here at this hour," he replied sleepily. "No one sane, anyway."
"Since when did we ever claim to be sane?"
"Good point." Tommy shook himself awake, peering down the shoreline. "Great. Right on time."
Jason turned to see five equally sleepy teenagers walking down the beach towards them. Even half-awake, none of them had neglected to wear their signature colors, Jason noted with a pang of nostalgia. The only one who didn't look tired was the long-haired one in the red shirt; the rest were stumbling over the sand.
Grinning, Tommy approached the one in blue, a young black man with a shaved head. "Hey, T.J. Glad you could make it."
T.J. yawned. "No problem."
"Sorry about the time," Tommy sighed.
"No big deal," the brunette in yellow replied with a grin. "Although we had to physically drag Carlos here out of bed," she added, indicating the black-clad teen.
Carlos snorted. "I'm not a morning person, Ash. So sue me."
"'Not a morning person' doesn't even begin to cover it," the dark-haired woman in pink retorted.
The one in red cleared his throat, and Tommy sighed. "Sorry." He gestured to each one in turn. "T.J. Johnson, Cassie Chan, Carlos Vargas, Ashley Hammond, Andros--" He stopped.
Andros was apparently used to this, because he actually cracked a small smile. "Just Andros."
"--this is Jason Scott," Tommy finished without missing a beat. "We were on the first Earth team together."
Hearing that, Andros relaxed a little, and the other four suddenly seemed to wake up. "So what's the big emergency?" Cassie asked curiously.
Tommy looked at Jason, who sighed. "I got into the military a while ago to pay for college," he began carefully. "But last week, I kind of ran into something on duty that's right up your alley."
"Uh-huh," Carlos replied distrustfully, although he was more tired than suspicious.
"Look, I could get court-martialed for telling you any of this," Jason said tiredly. "But it's important. And I think we'd better discuss it somewhere more private."
"Why can't we just talk here?" Ashley asked suspiciously. "It's not like there's anyone to hear at this hour."
Jason turned away, thinking. He didn't know how much any of them knew - in fact, he'd always found it baffling how the Rangers had never run into the Goa'uld, Tok'ra, or any of the other races the SGC had encountered. But then again, the teams he'd known were isolated to a certain planet. This Ranger team was different.
Hoping he was doing the right thing, he finally faced them again. "Have any of you ever heard of the Goa'uld?"
The Rangers assembled gave him blank looks - all except one. Andros' eyes widened in recognition, and the Red Ranger paled visibly. "I think," he said after a moment, "that we should continue this on the Megaship."
"I wouldn't have picked up on this at all if not for the blood tests we had to run last month," Dr. Fraiser explained.
Daniel rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Ah, yes, the quarantine scare. Just goes to show that a hypochondriac has no place on an SG team."
Fraiser smiled at that. "Either way, it proved helpful here. I took blood samples from Lieutenant Scott before and after he regained consciousness. Those two samples looked fine to me, but when I compared them with the older sample I had on file. There's an element in his bloodstream that I can't identify and that his earlier physical tests didn't pick up on. It was present in both samples, but in the more recent samples, it was far more obvious."
"More obvious?" Daniel echoed.
"Whatever this element is, it reacted to the naquid in his system," Fraiser replied. "The naquid is still present, but there are traces of another chemical that I believe was caused by the reaction. It may be what caused him to reject the symbiote."
"What?" Sam exclaimed eagerly. "Can you synthesize it?"
"With this small a sample? No. Besides, I can't even identify this element in Lieutenant Scott's blood that started the reaction in the first place," Fraiser pointed out. "I'm still not entirely sure if this is solely what caused the rejection, either."
Sam nodded. "But it's something."
"Yes. It's something." Fraiser turned away from the readouts. "Let's just hope it's good enough."
"Could someone please tell me what the heck a 'Goa'uld' is?" Ashley demanded, carefully sounding out the foreign word. "Andros, you can't assume we know everything."
The Red Ranger sighed. "The Goa'uld were - are - a parasitic race who thrived by taking humans as physical hosts."
Carlos looked perplexed. "Uh, I know I'm not gonna like the answer to this, but what do you mean, hosts?"
"They could attach themselves to the human nervous system," Andros answered uncomfortably. "Usually by penetrating through the back of the neck."
All the Rangers flinched at that, and Carlos rubbed the back of his neck nervously. "Forget I asked."
Andros nodded and continued. "The story goes that they took humans from Earth and... harvested them on other planets, literally setting themselves up as gods."
"So why haven't we ever heard of them?" T.J. wondered.
"There hasn't been a Goa'uld presence in this sector of the galaxy for centuries," Andros explained. "Most of what I know is history and hearsay. They were driven out of this sector by Triforian, Aquitian, and Eltarian forces."
Cassie cocked her head. "Then what's wrong? If they're not around here--"
"We don't know that," Andros interrupted, looking directly at Jason as he continued. "About a year ago, there was a sighting of two Goa'uld ships entering the sector and heading straight for Earth."
"What??" Tommy exclaimed in disbelief. "Why didn't we hear about that?"
"That was shortly after Zordon's retirement," Andros replied. "Dimitria was just settling in, and the data had to be verified and passed through the proper channels. By the time a messenger was able to get to Earth, there was nothing there but debris. They couldn't conclusively determine that it was of Goa'uld origin."
"Divatox didn't have the SpaceBase then," Tommy mused. "She couldn't have seen it coming either."
Jason nodded, sighing. "Yeah, Apophis' ships. I read about that."
"What do you know about all this?" Ashley asked Jason suspiciously. "And how?"
"I know those were Goa'uld ships," Jason answered slowly. "I know how they were destroyed. I've known about the Goa'uld for the past two months. As for how I know..." He hesitated, then turned his back to them, pulling his collar down to expose the entry scar. "...that's how I got this."
He turned back to face nothing but stunned expressions. "You have the time to listen to this one?"
"Believe me," T.J. said, "we'll make time."