Sibling Rivalry
by Carlyn

Oh, for the love of…
The echo of a sigh reverberated through Samantha Carter’s mind. She longed to free it, but past experience had shown that the colonel would either ignore her or become annoyed. Neither event would get him out of her lab.
“So, this thing does what again?” Jack O’Neill asked for the third time. Leaning his elbows on the worktable, he inched a hand towards the alien device dominating the surface.
Instinctively, Sam wrapped her hand around his. “You really shouldn’t touch that, sir,” she advised. Isn’t there an unspoken time limit on drop-in visits? she wanted to say. As happy as she was that he had stopped by, she really wanted to get on with her work.
His fingers spasmed, entwining loosely with hers. Too startled to snatch them from his grasp, Sam watched as his eyes traveled in a deliberate arc from the device, to their conjoined hands, and finally, to her face. The corner of his mouth lifted in a bemused grin.
Her breath stilled, heavy in her chest, as though she was drowning in the dark chocolate pools of his eyes. A raucous ringing got her breathing again, the din eliciting a surprised gasp. Sam shook her hand free, and shoved away from the table, diving for the phone on the wall behind her.
“Carter,” she coughed. “I’ll be right there, Sergeant.” Shooting a glance in the colonel’s direction, she hung up the phone and started towards the door. “That was General Hammond’s aide. The general wants to see me in the briefing room.”
“I’ve got nothing else to do,” O’Neill said. “I’ll come with you.”
Her lips twitched, a grimace disguised as a smile. “Yes, sir.”
On the colonel’s invitation, Sam slipped into the elevator ahead of him. Turning, she fixed her gaze on the glowing red numbers ascending in order as the elevator dropped. This isn’t at all awkward, she tried to convince herself.
The colonel had held her hand. The general’s summons had given her the perfect opportunity to flee, to put space between them and work out what it meant. Damn the man for not giving her that.
Truth be told, he hadn’t given her much of late.
It’s your own fault, you know. How many times has he gone all charming on you and you’ve blown him off with some flippant remark? If he was serious, he’s probably lost interest now and moved on to someone else.
Yet, it wasn’t all that long ago, he admitted he cared about me more than he was supposed to. Okay, it was the only way to prove we weren’t both programmed assassins for the Goa’uld, but still…
And something happened during those time loops, I just know it. He can deny it all he wants, but that look he gave me when Daniel asked if he’d done anything crazy… did we finally give in to this… whatever this is between us?
Sure, he pulled back from me after that fiasco involving the Enkarans, but that was understandable. He nearly killed his best friend—and I provided the means for him to do it. Of course, he’d want to keep his distance for a while. Who’d want to be reminded of something like that?
I know we got close again on P3R-118. I don’t remember much of the false personality Calder had seared into my brain, but there are remnant sensations—body memories, voice imprints—that I can’t shake. While we were confined underground, with only the dim light filtering through that ice encrusted dome, the colonel held me against the cold.
Then, once we got back to Earth, he turned colder than that perpetual winter we’d been trapped in. In the last five months it seems he hasn’t come within ten meters of me unless duty required it.
Which is why that brief contact this morning caught me by surprise. Maybe it’s not too late. I’ve just got to change the game plan a bit. Stop hiding behind smartass replies and let him know how much I appreciate his attention.
The elevator doors opened, and Sam strode from the car behind the colonel. She’d managed to find time to herself after all, even if it was only in her head. Unfortunately, she was no closer to figuring out exactly where she stood with him.

“You wanted to see me, sir?” Sam automatically straightened her spine as General Hammond turned to her, admiration and respect as much as protocol solidifying her posture.
“Major Carter, I—” Hammond’s brow jerked upward. “Colonel O’Neill, I don’t believe you were invited to this meeting.”
“No, sir,” O’Neill quickly acknowledged, “but, I was in Carter’s lab when the call came in, so—”
“The colonel was inquiring into my progress on the backward engineering of the Travian moisture collector.”
O’Neill’s face pinched as though something unpleasant had passed under his nose. “That’s what that thing was?”
“I see.” Hammond’s eyes shifted, one to the other. “Colonel, shouldn’t you be preparing for the inductee orientation instead of disturbing the working members of your team?”
“Orientation’s not until tomorrow, sir. I’ve briefed what, two hundred newbies in the past four years? There’s very little preparation necessary; I’ve got it down to a ‘T.’”
Hammond snorted softly. “I suppose you do. Very well, Colonel, if you’d like to sit in, I have no objection.”
“What’s the meeting about, sir?” Without further prompt, O’Neill pulled out a seat and dropped into it.
Sam slid into the chair next to him. It bucked slightly, and, adjusting her foot to compensate for the shift, she flinched when her knee bumped something solid. Heat rose from her core at the momentary press of the colonel’s leg against hers, but years of discipline snapped her attention back to the general as he began to speak.
“Major Carter, SG-8 has just returned from P8X-708. I spoke with Major Callahan in the gate room and he believes they’ve found a heretofore unknown type of alien technology. This discovery falls squarely under the jurisdiction of the science department. I’d like you to give it high priority. You know the sort of technical information you’ll need to determine who is best qualified to work on this project, so feel free to ask questions during the debrief.” Hammond glanced at O’Neill, his normally composed expression tinting towards amused. “Of course if you have anything to add, Jack, I’d welcome your comments as well.”
“Thank you, sir,” O’Neill replied flatly.
There was an underlying groan in the colonel’s response, and Sam battled to prevent her grin from blossoming fully. The general had caught him in his own game. Having invited himself to the briefing, there was no way for the colonel to gracefully retreat; he’d have to sit through it no matter how much he loathed the subject.
“Yes, sir, thank you,” Sam added brightly, hoping the colonel didn’t mistake her enthusiasm for mockery.
Voices drifted in from the hallway, and Sam twisted in her seat to greet the members of SG-8. Leading his team into the briefing room, Colonel Allen pulled up short. “Jack. Didn’t expect to see you here.”
“Didn’t expect to be here,” O’Neill grumbled.
“Take a seat, gentlemen,” Hammond invited. “Your video is cued. You may begin when ready.”
The members of SG-8 arranged themselves around the table. Seating himself in front of the video cart, Major Callahan plucked up the remote.
“This was a standard recon mission. Upon exiting the wormhole, I performed the usual tests. Environmental scans showed everything was just as the MALP had recorded. Then, when I checked for energy readings…” With a small dramatic flourish, he switched on the equipment. The monitor glowed with soft gray light, the imageless surface like a canvas awaiting the painter’s imagination to bring it to full life. “… I received a faint signal. It led us to a cavern in the side of a ridge approximately three kilometers south… where we found this.”
Sepia flowed through the gray, a wall comprised of reddish brown stone materializing on the screen. The camera skimmed across it, on its way to another subject. A white flash washed out the picture for a second, before it resolved into the image of a large cylindrical tower.
Apparently composed of some highly reflective material—the blaze had occurred when the team’s flashlights scanned the device—the tower was split into four distinct sections, one on top of the other. The topmost section flared out, sitting like a crown on the other, uniformly sized divisions. The whole thing looked like an inverted flashlight.
“The cavern is a few meters above the floor of a grassy plain. It didn’t look as though anyone had been there in quite some time; we had to create our own handholds in the cliff. The entrance is pretty inconspicuous, basically just a break in the rock.”
“You think someone was trying to hide this device?” Hammond queried.
Callahan shrugged. “I suppose it’s possible, sir.”
Sam rested her arms on the table, curiosity drawing her closer to the monitor. “What kind of tests have you run? Do we have any idea what it’s made of?”
“Not naquadah,” Callahan replied. “It didn’t register on any of the equipment I had with me.”
“Is this planet on the Abydos cartouche?”
Callahan glanced at his report. “It is.”
“That’s surprising. If this is Goa’uld technology, it should contain naquadah. I have a more sophisticated scanner. I’ll try again when we get there.”
“When?”
Startled, Sam glanced over her shoulder to the source of the outburst. The colonel pushed himself higher in his seat and Sam surmised that, true to form, he’d slumped in boredom during the techno talk. It seemed they had his attention now, though.
“Sir?” she queried.
“You said ‘when,’ Carter. Let’s not jump the gun, here. You’re not going anywhere until I…” The corner of his mouth lifted in a chagrined grimace and he tipped his head towards the general. “… we sign off on this mission.” He turned a hard gaze on Callahan. “What about the planet? Any signs of life?”
“No, sir. Near as we could tell, the place was completely abandoned. The UAV showed a ruined city about twelve kilometers west of the ‘gate, but there were no signs of inhabitants.”
“That is curious,” Sam said. Excitedly, she turned to Hammond. “Sir, with your permission, I’d like to take a science team back to run some additional tests on this device. I’d also suggest we schedule someone to check out those ruins.”
“You think whoever lived there built this thing?” Hammond asked.
“The best way to determine that is to check it out.”
“Wait a minute.” In serious danger of hijacking the meeting from under his CO, O’Neill quickly turned to the general. “Sir, if I may.
“Go ahead, Colonel.”
“Just because SG-8 found no indication of life does not mean there’s no danger. There might be someone on that planet just waiting for a bunch of science geeks, hopped up on the thrill of discovery and clueless about threat assessment, to wander into their territory. Why don’t you wait until the rest of SG-1 can go with you?”
“Teal’c’s still recovering from his encounter with Tarok. He’s not due back from his retreat with Bra’tac until the end of the week. You’ve got troop orientation tomorrow and Daniel’s busy with that translation for SG-16. I’ve got nothing else that requires my immediate attention. I’m a trained combat officer as well as a scientist; I know how to protect my team. We could make it a quick jaunt—get in there, do our survey, and be back before you’ve vetoed your first recruit.”
“A quick jaunt? Like Daniel’s little exploratory missions are quick jaunts?”
Uncharacteristically, she bristled at the comparison. “I do know how to monitor myself, sir. I will bring the team back at the appointed time.”
“That still doesn’t address the issue of safety. I trust your skills implicitly, but even you’d be spreading yourself a bit thin keeping an eye on four civilians, watching out for threats, and studying this technology.”
“Need I remind you, sir, that some of our best scientists are also trained—”
“Major,” Hammond interjected, “Colonel. How about a compromise? Major, you pick two scientists to carry out your survey. I’ll assign the other two members of your team, whose only job will be to monitor the surroundings and warn you of any unforeseen threats.”
“That’s acceptable to me, sir,” Sam readily agreed.
“Colonel?”
O’Neill pursed his lips, clearly considering whether additional argument would yield him a favorable result. Giving in less than graciously, he huffed, “Yeah. Alright,” before slumping back into his seat.
“Good. Major, I’ll get those names to you later today. You’ll ‘gate out at 0900 hours tomorrow.”
“Yes, sir. Thank you.”
Hammond nodded. “Dismissed.”
Standing as the general began to rise, Sam moved around the table, intent on finding out everything Major Callahan knew about the device. She glanced up as the colonel headed for the exit. Catching his eye, she mouthed thanks. His lips pulled back in what, to anyone else, would appear a conciliatory smile. But Sam knew her CO far better than the casual observer and that tight grin told her he was not happy.

“I promise, sir,” Sam laughed lightly, “I have everything.”
Turning away from her CO as she crossed the threshold of the ‘gate room, Sam eyed the young airman extending a P-90 in her direction. Thankfully, he appeared not to have noticed the oddly coquettish lilt of her response to the colonel’s query regarding the contents of her pack.
It had been no great surprise to find him waiting for her outside the gear up room; every time one of his kids went off-world with another team, Colonel O’Neill provided a personal escort to the ‘gate room. He also habitually grilled said team member with an aim toward ensuring he got them back safely. This morning, though, the colonel’s inquiry had turned decidedly playful.
“Extra socks?” he challenged, his scarred eyebrow waggling expectantly.
Sam’s heart thudded against her breastbone. Is he flirting?
“Would you like to check my pack?” she parried.
“Can I?”
Discomfited by the genuine smile that accompanied his reply, Sam turned away. Her face warmed, and she made a show of donning her cap to mask what was surely a fierce blush. “My team is waiting, sir.” The colonel only half a step behind her, she marched determinedly to the group standing beneath the control room window.
O’Neill greeted the pair of Marines Hammond had chosen for the mission. “Captain Olsen, Sergeant James. Drew the short straws, did you?”
Olsen shared a pained look with his fellow ‘guardian.’ “It’s a dream assignment, sir,” he said.
The pleasant grin Sam flashed was as false as the Captain’s statement. To his credit, though, he had managed to infuse his response with some sincerity.
“Yeah, well, watch yourselves,” O’Neill advised. “Dreams have a bad habit of turning into nightmares.”
“So noted, sir. Don’t worry, we’ve got their backs.”
“Has it occurred to any of you testosterone-ridden military types that it will most likely be the scientists who win this war with the Goa’uld?” Half a foot shorter than both O’Neill and Olsen, Doctor William Tsai tipped his head back and gazed at them over the rounded tip of his nose. “Without us, you’d have no way to determine if this technology is one of those, how do you say it, ‘big and honkin’ space guns’ you overgrown boys are so fond of, or just a specialized silo for grain storage.” Satisfied he’d made his point, Tsai spun on his heel and strutted to the end of the ramp.
James snorted. “I’d judge that one a little light in the loafers.”
Sam glanced at Captain Olsen, who, though he was James’s immediate superior, took a step back, ceding to her status as team leader.
Turning to James, Sam pierced him with a glare. “You have no authority to judge anyone, Sergeant,” she snapped, careful to keep her voice low. “Especially not a civilian.”
Brow drawn in a severe knot, O’Neill moved into the Marine’s personal space, eying him critically. “Do I have cause to pull you from this mission?”
James blanched even while pulling himself to attention. “N-no sir,” he stuttered. Looking to his colleague and finding no support there, he quickly added, “It was an inadvertent slip of the tongue. It won’t happen again, sir. I swear.”
O’Neill slid his considering gaze from the Sergeant to Captain Olsen, then to Sam. She nodded faintly and, though he backed off, apparently content the Sergeant was genuinely contrite, he growled with emphasis, “I had better never hear of anything like that coming out of your mouth again, am I understood?”
It seemed impossible, but James stiffened further. “Yes, sir.”
“Because if I get the slightest whiff that you’ve harassed anyone under this command, I’ll make sure that you’re reassigned to a place so remote there won’t be anyone around to harass. Are we clear?”
“Most definitely clear, sir.”
“Colonel, is everything alright?”
Taking a step back, O’Neill smiled blandly at Hammond, who peered down at them from the control room. “Everything’s fine, sir. Just giving a few last minute instructions.”
Returning his gaze to the Marine, the colonel watched him a moment longer before turning away. He marched off a few paces, and Sam followed.
“Thank you, sir,” she said.
“It’s not that I think you couldn’t handle him, Carter. But, the last thing you need off world is to worry whether you can trust the guy who’s supposed to be watching your back. I just wanted him to know I support your stance on the topic. I don’t think he’ll be giving you or Doctor Tsai any grief.”
“I agree, sir.”
The issue of James’s indiscretion handled, O’Neill grinned mischievously. “So.” He flicked his fingers at the third member of Sam’s survey team, Lieutenant Ellen Van, who stood by the MALP conversing with Tsai. “Went Hammond one better, huh? Chose yourself a scientist who is also a combat trained officer.”
“Military training notwithstanding, Lieutenant Van is one of the brightest minds in the science department.”
“Giving you a run for your money, is she?”
Sam erased all expression from her face. “I don’t know what you mean, sir.” Glancing to the control room window, she nodded to the general. Immediately, the Stargate began its cycle.
“Come on, Carter. You love competition. I’ve even seen you trying to one up Daniel, and he’s one of your closest friends.”
“Chevron One encoded,” the ‘gate technician called.
“There’s nothing wrong with a little healthy competition, sir. And Daniel’s just as likely to challenge my viewpoint as I am to challenge his.”
“Point taken. You’re expecting big things from this little field trip, huh?”
Sam shrugged easily. “You never know,” she said hopefully. “The energy readings are very low, but it was enough to lead SG-8 to that cave in the first place.”
“I know,” O’Neill groaned. “I was at the debrief.”
“Right. Anyway, the placement of the device in a cave with a well camouflaged entrance, together with the fact that the nearest city has been abandoned, makes this too good a mystery to pass up. Plus, it’s not like anything we’ve encountered before. I’m just going to get a good look at it, take a few readings—”
“But, you’re not going to actually touch anything, right?”
Sam beat back a responsive frown. That’s the sort of thing he generally says to Daniel. “Not unless I’m thoroughly convinced it’s safe to do so,” she hedged.
Obviously expecting the response, O’Neill rolled his eyes slightly, his mouth tipped in a knowing slant. “Wish I was going with you,” he said spontaneously.
Sam snorted. “No, you don’t. Though you may yet get the chance to join us off world.”
“I may?”
“Well, you and Daniel. He was just so disappointed to learn that SG-8 hadn’t done a thorough scan of the cave for signs of writing, I promised him I’d keep an eye out.” She shrugged, offering an apologetic grin. “If we find the slightest smudge or impression, I’m to call him in.”
O’Neill sighed, but bobbed his head in understanding. Sam and Daniel were kindred spirits when it came to discovery.
Eager to lighten his mood again, Sam blurted a little too enthusiastically, “What are you going to do with yourself while I’m gone?”
“Oh, you know, the usual. Paperwork. Meetings.” He twitched his eyebrows slyly. “Good thing Daniel will be here to break the monotony.”
Sam jolted, surprised by a sudden frisson of jealousy. When the colonel was bored, he was just as likely to come to her lab as to Daniel’s. For the next few days he’d only have Daniel to bug, and, strange as it seemed, she didn’t like the thought that Daniel would have his undivided attention, distracting as it often was.
You’re being ridiculous, she chided herself. Daniel and the colonel are best friends. Of course they should spend time together.
“Chevron Seven, locked.”
Preoccupied, Sam looked up sharply when the wormhole gushed forth. Her recovery nearly instantaneous, she gestured her team through the ‘gate, tagging on to the end of the procession. She paused at the event horizon and turned back.
The colonel lifted a hand in farewell. “Have a good time,” he called and flashed a grin, his dark eyes shining amiably.
“Yes, sir,” Sam replied by rote. Shaking herself from the spell his easy manner seemed to have cast on her, she spun on her heel and strode through the ‘gate.
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Wandering the corridors on Level 18, Jack contemplated James’s ill-advised outburst and his own response. He’d made the right decision in allowing the Marine to accompany the science team. Jack had put the fear of God into the guy. Plus, Carter could handle him. James would behave himself on this assignment. Still, a remark like that couldn’t be ignored, and Jack made a mental note to have a long talk with the sergeant when he came back.
Course of action chosen, he put the incident behind him as he neared Daniel’s office. “Hey,” he automatically hailed as he crossed the threshold.
“Hey,” Daniel returned, his attention never wavering from the book he perused. “Sam get off okay?”
Sauntering up to the work table, Jack picked up a small statue. “Yeah. And I have to say, as much as I hate lending out members of my team, I am glad that, for once, it wasn’t you.”
Lifting his head, Daniel met his gaze evenly, a brief knotting of his forehead the only acknowledgment of Jack’s admission. He shot out a hand, plucking the artifact from Jack’s grasp, and went back to his reading.
“I’m just saying,” Jack continued, completely unfazed by the repossession, “it was different, saying goodbye to Carter. You didn’t mind, right?”
Daniel glanced up again, his open-mouthed regard a sure sign of confusion. “What, that you escorted Sam to the ‘gate room and made sure she had everything? No, Jack. You’re her team leader; you’re supposed to watch out for her welfare.”
Unhappy with the response, Jack frowned, and Daniel sat back, eyeing him speculatively.
“Did you expect me to be jealous?”
“Well,” Jack challenged, “I was attending a beautiful woman while you sat here in your dimly lit office with your nose in a dusty old book—”
“SG-16 needs this research for their next mission.”
Jack shrugged disinterestedly. “Whatever. Carter sure seemed to appreciate my gesture.” He slanted an eyebrow, a roguish grin lifting the side of his mouth.
“What exactly does that mean?”
“I don’t know,” Jack conceded, abandoning the intrigue now that he had Daniel’s full attention. “It was kinda weird, actually. She was acting all… moon-eyed—”
“Moon-eyed?”
“Yeah, you know, all kinda…” Jack flapped his hand, searching for the right word. “Fangirl-ish. Awestruck.”
“By you?”
“What? You don’t think I can strike awe?”
Daniel captured his bottom lip between his teeth, trying unsuccessfully to bite back a grin. “I’m sure you can. What you’re describing just doesn’t fit Sam.”
“I know! That’s why it was weird.”
“Look, I’m certainly not discounting your immense charm here, but maybe your observations were a little skewed by your state of mind.”
Considering the comment, Jack leaned a bit closer, lowering his voice. “You mean because we…”
“Apparently, early morning sex agrees with you,” Daniel concluded with a slightly reproachful smirk.
“I’ve already apologized for waking you.”
A gentle smile curved Daniel’s lips. “Yes, you did. Sorry I brought it up again. But now you’ve got to go or I’ll never finish this report in time for SG-16′s briefing with the General. Besides, isn’t there a room full of eager new inductees awaiting your considerable pearls of wisdom?”
Jack backed away from the table. “Yeah. I should be through by lunch.”
“Come and get me when you’re ready,” Daniel agreed. Pulling his book closer, he reached for a notepad.
Pleased with the reply, yet annoyed that Daniel had immediately delved back into his research, Jack slipped out of the room, leaving his lover to his work.
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“Look at these readings,” Lieutenant Van chirped. “There is definitely something out there.” Marching along at Sam’s left, Van thrust out her handheld device, placing it side by side with Sam’s more advanced diagnostic implement to compare the readings.
“I’d say we’re very close,” Sam agreed with a supportive grin. The young redhead was practically vibrating with excitement. Sam well understood the feeling; it had been a few years, but she still remembered the rush engendered by her first glimpse of the Stargate. She searched the barren expanse that surrounded them. “It’s a good thing we have the capability of scanning for energy. You sure couldn’t guess from the surroundings that there’s anything interesting nearby. According to the report, the cavern is in that hillside.” She cocked her head towards a steep ridge approximately one and half kilometers across the grassy flatland stretched out before them.
“My first alien technology,” Van enthused.
On point, Captain Olsen glanced over his shoulder. He cast a quick gaze over the three scientists, acknowledging Sam with a quick grin, before passing a significant look to his counterpart, who brought up the rear.
“Ah, ah,” Tsai scolded, “Remember the rules, Ellie.”
“No running ahead. Go where the major tells me. No touching anything unless requested to do so by a superior officer. Leave without question or complaint when the order is given.”
The recitation was given without the slightest bit of resentment, and Sam nodded approvingly.
Not surprisingly, she thought of Daniel. From the beginning, her teammate had balked at such heavy restriction. His years working with the military hadn’t suppressed that tendency, either; he still tested limits, toeing the figurative line the colonel drew at every opportunity, and more than once, boldly crossing over.
She’d pushed a few boundaries herself, of course, but, lately, it seemed the colonel was more tolerant of Daniel’s little rebellions.
Maybe he’s just tired of fighting, she mused with a sigh.
Or, a voice in her head immediately countered, maybe he’s more inclined to cut Daniel some slack in the field because of a change in their personal relationship?
Sam frowned, instantly recognizing the voice as her more practical side.
You’ve had the feeling he’s moved on to someone else, the voice continued. And Daniel is right there.
Memory transformed the open plain into the enclosed space of an SGC elevator. She stood inside with her father looking into the hallway as a clearly flustered Daniel, struggling with his heavy pack, trailed behind an impatient O’Neill. Once the doors closed the men snarked at each other—not an uncommon event—but then something so unexpected occurred that Sam squirmed with embarrassment. A sly grin pulling at the corners of his mouth, the colonel reached out and pushed Daniel’s glasses further up his nose. The gesture was so intimate that even Daniel was momentarily discomfited.
Unsettled by her role as interloper on their private moment, Sam looked to her father for support. Rather than comfort, Jacob’s patently sympathetic frown had only lent credence to her suspicion.
That’s why you shut him down when he tried to talk to you about it later, the voice accused. Good thing he was called away or you might not have gotten off so easily.
Sam shook off the indictment. There was nothing to talk about. The colonel touched Daniel all the time; it didn’t mean anything beyond the obvious—the colonel was helping a teammate. Daniel’s glasses had slid down his face and his hands were otherwise occupied.
Besides, the colonel had demonstrated his affection for her during the Atoneek armband mission, when he’d refused to leave her trapped behind that force field on Apophis’s new ship. He’d risked death rather than leave her. That had meant something. So much so that their subconscious attempt to cover up the incident had led to them being falsely suspected as zatarcs and held in isolation, under guard. It wasn’t until they finally vocalized their feelings that they were released.
The voice scoffed. He said he cares about you. That’s a rather nebulous phrase, don’t you think? I’m sure the colonel ‘cares’ about Daniel and Teal’c, too.
Oh, shut up, Sam snapped. He was especially pleasant this morning. He obviously had more on his mind than just making sure I got safely through the ‘gate. She determinedly refocused her attention to the mission, effectively cutting off any further internal debate.
Captain Olsen pulled up as they neared the ridge. Squinting into the sun, he scanned the cliff side. “What is it we’re looking for?”
“Chips in the rock,” Doctor Tsai reported. “SG-8 cut handholds and footholds. They should be fairly obvious. The opening to the cavern where they found the alien tech is approximately four meters above.”
Olsen turned left and led the march along the rock face. Ten minutes later, he slowed again and pointed just ahead. Invisible from a distance, a set of crudely cut depressions became more distinguishable the closer they approached. The opening to the cavern showed as nothing more than a gash in the stone.
“Okay. Sergeant James, you keep an eye out down here. I’ll go up first. This planet is supposedly uninhabited, but it never hurts to be cautious. I’ll stay up there while Major Carter conducts her tests.”
James glanced up to the cave’s opening. “Yes, sir. Regular radio contact?”
Olsen turned to Carter. “Do we know how far back this device is?”
“SG-8 reported it’s in a chamber approximately fifteen meters from the entrance.”
“I’ll report when we reach the cavern,” Olsen determined. “Once an hour check-ins after that ought to do.” Returning James’s curt nod, Olsen clipped his weapon to his vest and moved to the base of the crag. Choosing efficiency over grace, he quickly clambered upward and disappeared into the rock. A moment later, he poked his upper body through the gap and waved the scientists on. “You’ll have to pass your packs to me,” he advised. “You’ll never get through the opening otherwise.”
Lieutenant Van turned to Sam, entreaty spilling from her excitement-enlarged eyes.
“Go ahead, Lieutenant,” Sam relented. “But wait at the cave entrance until Doctor Tsai and I get up there.”
“Understood, Major.” Securing her weapon and her scanner, Van easily scaled the cliff. She paused at the entrance, anchored herself with her right hand and unclipped her pack with her left. She waited just long enough for Captain Olsen to take it from her and step back before swinging into the opening.
Sending Doctor Tsai after her, Sam brought up the rear. Lieutenant Van was already monitoring her diagnostic device when Sam slid into the small cave that served as a sort of reception room to the main cavern. Only slightly larger than necessary to accommodate the four of them, the cave featured oddly smooth, dark walls.
Sam pulled out her flashlight. A quick scan revealed a tunnel to their left.
“We’re definitely on the right track, Major,” Van reported.
“We’re good to go?” Olsen asked.
“We’re good to go,” Sam confirmed.
Olsen waved an ‘all okay’ to Sergeant James and, weapon at the ready, led the way down the tunnel. Sam motioned the others ahead, moving in to cover their six.
The passage started out narrow, wide enough to allow only one person at a time to pass. Within half a dozen meters it widened significantly, and Doctor Tsai quickly moved into position beside Lieutenant Van.
True to her word, Sam scanned the walls as they went, looking for any sign of writing. Leaving no corner unexplored, she cast the light above, the beam glinting off minute reflective particles in the rock. The circular glow illuminated the entire width of the low ceiling, but revealed no text or significant markings.
“There it is,” Doctor Tsai muttered suddenly, his hushed announcement almost reverent.
Automatically redirecting her light, Sam found her forward view blocked. She canted her head, peering between the two scientists, and just made out an opening in the right side of the tunnel wall, less than two meters distant.
Captain Olsen covered the span in a few hurried steps, Tsai and Van right on his heels. Sending his dubious gaze back and forth between the team members and the fissure in the rock, he queried, “Your tower is in there? I thought you said it was in a room?”
Sam smiled. “What were you expecting, ornate double doors with brass handles?”
“Well, an entrance wide enough to walk through naturally would have been nice,” Olsen returned bemusedly. He shined his flashlight into the narrow gap. “You’re sure this opens into a larger space?”
“SG-8 was able to get in and out without difficulty,” Lieutenant Van pointed out.
“She’s right,” Sam seconded. “You might not be able to see it from this side, but according to SG-8′s report there is a fairly sizeable cavern just through that crevice.”
“Yeah, alright,” Olsen sighed. He frowned at the opening. “Let me go first. I’ll holler when I’m through the other side.”
Skirting the others, Sam moved to the front and held her flashlight on the wall, illuminating the area for him. Olsen sidled into the gap and shined his light down the narrow passage. “It actually doesn’t look too deep,” he reported. Weapon leading the way, he moved slowly forward.
Van and Tsai shuffled closer. Intimately familiar with the eagerness that had propelled them, Sam grinned. She glanced at her watch just as Olsen called out.
“Well, I’ll be damned. SG-8 was right. There is a cavern here.” After another few minutes, he directed, “Okay, Major, send them through.”
“Doctor?” Sam invited.
Tsai hefted his backpack, carrying it awkwardly in front of him, and slid into the opening. He’d no sooner disappeared from view than Lieutenant Van stepped up.
Sam nodded. “Go ahead. I’m right behind you.”
Sweeping her flashlight around the tunnel one last time, Sam followed. The chamber, illuminated by Captain Olsen’s lamp, was clearly visible at the other end of the passage, if partially obscured by those who preceded her. Taking a quick look at the walls, Sam determined it was a natural formation. Straight and narrow, it cut through the cave wall at a slight angle for a distance of three meters.
“Oh my god,” Lieutenant Van breathed.
Hurrying through the last meter, Sam glanced into the chamber. Longer than it was wide, the roughly oval shaped space was approximately the size of the SGC briefing room. Dimpled walls soared upward nearly six meters, the ceiling dotted here and there with small stalactite-like protrusions. Sniffing discreetly, Sam wrinkled her nose at the musty air.
“It’s humid in here,” Tsai observed as Sam moved in behind him.
“Yeah,” Olsen grunted, “and just a bit too warm for my taste.” He shot a finger at the wall, indicating darker patches in the stone. “Did you know about the mold?”
“It was in SG-8′s report,” Sam replied. “They took samples back to the SGC. Preliminary tests didn’t reveal anything remarkable about it.”
“Bet they didn’t test for odor. God, what a stink!”
“Not likely, no,” Sam muttered distractedly. She aimed her beam at the knots on the ceiling. “There’s obviously a source of moisture somewhere. On Earth, features like that are generally caused by calcium deposits from dripping water.”
“Cracks in the surface allowing rain through?” Lieutenant Van theorized.
“That’s a plausible explanation,” Tsai agreed.
“Does it make a difference?” Olsen asked. “I thought you guys were here to check out that tower, not the rock formations.”
Tsai tsked. “The tower doesn’t exist in a bubble,” he replied, taking on the air of a high school science whiz enlightening a dense peer. “The environment has to be part of our survey.”
Looking slightly put out by the civilian’s patronizing tone, Olsen moved back to the crevice. “The cavern is secure. This is the only way in or out. I’ll leave you to your survey and go check in with Sergeant James.”
Flashing a genuinely appreciative smile, Sam nodded. “Thanks, Captain.”
She turned her attention to the far end of the chamber. Set up close to the wall, the alien tech shone softly, its metallic surface sending back their lights in muted reflection. She’d noted the tower on her initial examination, of course. It had taken a great deal of will power to keep her excitement to herself, but, with Lieutenant Van having so recently quoted the unofficial rules, Sam couldn’t very well break ranks and run to explore, no matter how great the temptation.
She sighed internally. If she’d come with her own team, such self restraint would not have been necessary. Once she got the okay to proceed, she would have made a bee line for the technology, the colonel’s teasing, “Carter, is it really a good idea to pant all over that thing?” sounding behind her.
His voice in her head engendered a small smile. As much as she protested such comments, Sam had to admit she enjoyed the fact that he paid such close attention.
“Major?”
Sam blinked, smiling vaguely into the concerned visage of Doctor Tsai. Damn it, Samantha, keep your mind on the job. She turned to Van. “Lieutenant, what sort of readings are you getting?”
“No change,” Van reported. “Steady output. No energy spikes.”
“Good. Based on SG-8′s report, there’s no reason to believe the technology is dangerous, but I recommend caution just the same.” Sam pulled out her zat and cocked it, ready to fire. Spread out,” she ordered. “Let’s move towards it slowly. Keep an eye out for anything that may indicate a defense system, shields or weapons.”
The lieutenant and the doctor each sidestepped away from her a few meters. “Lieutenant, monitor the energy output. Let me know the second anything changes.”
“Yes, ma’am.”
Signaling the advance, Sam placed her feet deliberately, plodding steps moving her forward. She scrutinized the technology as she approached. Just under two meters in height, its circumference approximated that of a rain barrel.
A low whistle pierced the air as they neared the object. Pulling up short, Sam cocked her head at the source.
“Sorry,” Doctor Tsai muttered. “Someone needs to give SG-8 cinematography lessons. Their video did not do the technology justice.”
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Sam agreed. “Still, we don’t know how sound might affect it, so let’s keep the whistling to a minimum. Lieutenant?”
“No change, Major.”
“Okay.” Sam handed over her diagnostic device. “Go ahead and give the tower a thorough scan. Don’t touch anything, though, and continue watching those energy readings. Doctor, do you want to get some better photos?”
Tsai plunged a hand into his pack, coming up with his digital camera. “Absolutely.”
“I’m going to do a quick survey of the walls. I promised Daniel—Doctor Jackson—I’d check for writing.”
“It’s too bad he couldn’t come with us,” Tsai said.
“He’s got a deadline on a translation. Without evidence that there’s something here for him to study, he couldn’t justify the trip.”
“Well, we’re pleased you were able to make it, Major.”
“Me, too.” Leaving them to their tasks, Sam deactivated her zat and turned to the wall. Beginning at the back of the device, she skimmed her flashlight across the stone from ceiling to floor. Noting intermittent dark stains, which closer inspection revealed to be the mold Captain Olsen had pointed out to them, she took another sample as part of their environmental survey.
Sidestepping a few paces to the left, she repeated the sweep with her light and, pushing to her toes, ran her fingers over a small indentation in the rock. She sighed. It was nothing more than a natural depression. Moving again to her left, she continued her survey in the same manner, stopping here and there to investigate any potential markings, until she’d made a full circuit of the room. Promise to Daniel fulfilled, she turned back to the tower.
“Find anything for Doctor Jackson to drool over?” Tsai queried as she approached.
“No. There’s no writing of any kind that I could find.”
Tsai pushed out his lips. The gesture struck her as odd, and Sam found herself wondering if the pout signaled his disappointment that Daniel would probably not be joining them.
So, our archaeologist has charmed him, too. It would be nice to see Daniel with someone. Sha’re’s been gone more than a year. Maybe someone like Tsai is just what he’s looking for. God knows none of the women on base have had any luck getting his attention.
Not that anyone’s getting much of a chance at him since he’s spending so much time with the colonel.
Frowning, Sam cut off her musings and refocused on the task at hand. “What can you tell me about the device?”
“I’ve been looking closely at this shell,” Tsai reported. “I think the lack of luster is due to its age. There are a few spots where the material reflects the light like a mirror. Beneath all the layers of dust and corrosion of who knows how many years, I’d bet this thing shines like the Hope Diamond.”
“Lieutenant, what about its composition?”
“The outer hull is mainly a mixture of trinium and carbon.”
“No naquadah?”
“No, ma’am.”
“But there’s a Stargate,” Tsai commented. “Wouldn’t that make this Goa’uld technology?”
“Not necessarily,” Sam corrected. “Generally, though, where there’s a Stargate, any accompanying technology is naquadah-based.”
“There’s something else, Major,” Van reported. “Some element my diagnostic instrument isn’t recognizing.”
“Isn’t recognizing?” Sam echoed. “You’ve scanned using every setting?”
“Yes, ma’am. Including the one we recently downloaded from the Asgard.”
“So, there’s something here even the Asgard haven’t encountered,” Sam posited.
Stooping, Doctor Tsai set his camera down. He reached into his pack and extracted a small plastic jar. “It might take a while to whittle away some of this sediment, but we really should try and get a sample of the metal.”
“Wait a minute. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” Sam suggested. “I’d like to observe it a while longer before we consider scraping at it.”
“Ellie’s been continuously monitoring the energy output,” Tsai protested. “There’s been no change.”
Lieutenant Van tipped the screen of her diagnostic apparatus in Sam’s direction. “It’s true, Major. This reading has remained constant since we got here.”
Making note of the information displayed on the monitor, Sam strode in a tight circle around the tower. “Have you seen anything that looks like writing? I’d hate set off a trap only to have Daniel tell us later ‘Warning: This is a Trap’ was emblazoned on the side.”
“Wouldn’t Colonel O’Neill love that?” Tsai chuckled softly. “There’s no visible writing, but so little of the device itself is exposed. War and Peace could be etched into the side and we’d never know it.”
Sam pressed her lips together. “You have a point,” she reluctantly acknowledged. Checking the monitor again, she made another slow circuit around the alien device. This was the part of the job she found most challenging—attempting to reconcile her desire to investigate the unknown with her duty to protect her team and herself.
Carefully scrutinizing the tower while she considered all the evidence at her disposal, Sam proposed, “All indications are the device is harmless. There are no lights or obvious switches. It’s not emitting any kind of sound, and the only discernable energy signature is low level.”
“It’s just a big tube,” Tsai remarked. “Even this little fanning on top doesn’t add anything to its appeal.”
In spite of herself, Sam grinned at the comment. “It’s most interesting property does seem to be the mystery element.”
“And, unless we plan to blow a hole in the wall and take it with us, the only way we’ll solve that mystery is by taking a scraping,” Tsai concluded.
“Right,” Sam sighed. She unfurled her zat again. “Work carefully, Doctor. Lieutenant, keep your eyes glued to that monitor.”
“Yes, ma’am”
Tsai delved into his pack again, coming back with a scalpel. He stood slowly, and locked eyes with Sam.
Zat trained on the alien device, Sam nodded him forward.
Perusing the portion of the device that faced him, Tsai chose a spot at eye level. He tucked his specimen jar in a pocket on his tac vest and meticulously scratched off the debris of the ages. Slowly, he unveiled a three by five inch square of highly polished material.
“You were right about the reflectivity,” Sam said. “It is sort of like looking at a large diamond in full daylight.”
“Well, I know my gemstones,” Tsai said, clearly pleased with himself. He fished the jar from his pocket. “Now, let’s see if it’s as hard as a diamond.”
Placing the jar against the device, just under his scalpel, Tsai delicately chipped at the metal. After a moment, he gazed into the container and scowled. “We may have to take it back with us after all,” he said. “We’re sure not going to get a sample this way.”
Van briefly glanced up from her readings. “Do you think scraping harder might help?”
“I suppose I could—ah!”
As one, the teammates leapt backward as the flared section of the device fell slowly open like the petals of a rose in the morning sun.
“Lieutenant?” Sam inquired sharply, instinctively extending the zat.
“There’s no change in the energy level, Major,” Van replied. “The device is maintaining the same low level output.
“Maybe the panels were just shaken loose,” Tsai surmised. “Though, I wasn’t rubbing that hard, and I don’t think I moved it at all.” He shuffled a little closer to the device.
“Careful, Doctor,” Sam instructed.
Lieutenant Van made an adjustment to her diagnostic tool. “Major, I’m reading the presence of naquadah.”
“Could be the power source?” Tsai put forth. “Maybe this material was shielding it before.” He craned his neck and peered over the now-drooping panels. “Will you look at that? Guess we’ll be seeing Doctor Jackson after all.” Turning to the women, he smiled broadly. “There’s writing in here.”
Sam took a cautious step towards the device and briefly scrutinized the script. “I recognize some of those characters as Greek letters, but you’re right, we’ll need Daniel’s help with this.”
“I’m sure he won’t mind,” Tsai returned. “He’s been at Colonel O’Neill’s tender mercies for a few hours now.”
“The colonel will likely come with him,” Van pointed out.
“True,” Tsai conceded. “But, at least here he’ll have something to concentrate on other than relieving his boredom at Doctor Jackson’s expense. It’ll be his job to guard Daniel’s… assets.”
Sam coughed. “That’s enough, Doctor. This is hardly appropriate—”
“Major! These readings are spiking!”
“What?” Sam sidestepped and passed her gaze over the diagnostic tool. A quick glance was all it took to confirm the evidence of increased energy output. She turned back to the tower. “All right, let’s—”
A forceful blow to her breastbone cut off the order. Before she had time to register the attack, agony blossomed in her neck, screaming quickly through her. Sam blinked, and as her consciousness bled away, she stared, unbelieving, at the three small doors now visible in the side of the alien device.
NEXT PAGE

Ducking back into the cavern, Captain Olsen called out, “I tested the radio’s range. You have to retreat about halfway up the tunnel to get a decent signal.” He walked towards the trio surrounding the tower, darting the beam of his flashlight around him as he went. “James says everything’s quiet outside. I took a few minutes to search a little further down the tunnel. It runs another 200 meters, then just stops.” As though the word were a command, Olsen halted and trained his flashlight into the shadows to the right of the scientists. A small mound of rock lay open, its components scattered. “You were digging?” Olsen marveled. “I thought that was the domain of the archaeologists.”
The chuckle rising up from his diaphragm froze in his throat as the trio turned to face him. He hadn’t expected them to be especially amused by his joke, but the subtle sneers they’d all affected hardly seemed warranted.
Shifting his gaze, Olsen gaped at the three cubby holes in the side of the tower.
“Whoa!” he exclaimed. “You opened it? Was that a good idea?”
Her scowl deepening, Carter raised her left hand. Olsen gasped. He had time for one stumbling step backward before his head exploded in pain.

“This had better be good, Walter,” Jack called as he entered the control room. “You interrupted our lunch just as I was getting started on my pie.” He paused on the landing and waited for Daniel to catch up. They walked up behind the ‘gate technician together and Jack craned his neck to view the ‘gate room.
Daniel pointed out the window. “Is that Sergeant James? I thought he went with Sam.”
Instantly, Jack narrowed his focus to the tall figure standing with General Hammond. “What the hell. Where’s the rest of the team?”
Turning in his seat, Walter gaped, the expression a mixture of surprise and dread. “Didn’t the airman tell you, sir? Only Captain Olsen and Sergeant James came back. Major Carter and—”
The rest of Walter’s report was lost in the distance as Jack flew down the steps to the ‘gate room. Rounding the corner, he skidded to a halt next to Hammond. Daniel pulled to a more sedate stop beside him.
“Sir?” Jack inquired.
“Relax, Colonel,” Hammond advised. “Major Carter and the rest of her team are fine. Captain Olsen became ill and Sergeant James escorted him back to base.”
“You left them unprotected?”
“I did protest, sir,” James defended, “but Major Carter ordered me to bring him back. As there’s been no indication of anything dangerous on the planet, she determined they didn’t need our protection. Plus,” he groaned, rubbing his shoulder, “Captain Olsen is a bit of an armful. I’m not sure any of them could have gotten him out of there.”
“What about the rest of the team? Anyone else get sick?”
“No, sir.”
“How is Captain Olsen?”
Jack glanced into concerned blue eyes. Leave it to Daniel to inquire after the injured Marine.
“He developed a severe migraine. He managed to stay on his feet the whole way back to the ‘gate, but didn’t say much. Just did a lot of moaning.”
“Doctor Fraiser has taken him down to the infirmary,” Hammond said.
Daniel nodded. “Has he had migraines before?”
“Apparently, yeah. Never this bad, though. He said it felt like there was an axe buried in his skull.”
“Been there,” Daniel muttered around a sympathetic grimace. “Any idea what caused it?”
“My money is on that cave. It’s pretty rank up there. There’s mold growing all over. Doctor Fraiser said it’s possible Captain James was sensitive to it.”
“Certain smells can trigger headaches in some people,” Daniel filled in.
Jack frowned. “We’re sure that’s all it is?”
“Tests performed on the sample SG-8 brought back found no toxic or noxious properties,” Hammond remarked. “It seems it was just Captain Olsen’s bad luck that the smell triggered a migraine.”
“Doctor Fraiser will take good care of him,” Daniel said reassuringly.
“Yes, sir,” James agreed. “Oh, Doctor Jackson, Major Carter wanted me to tell you they found writing on that device they’re studying. She thinks it might tell them how it works and she was hoping you’d be available to take a look.”
Daniel’s eyes sparkled, and Jack groaned.
“As it happens, Colonel O’Neill and I are both free at the moment,” Daniel announced. He turned to Hammond. “With your permission, of course, sir.”
Hammond nodded. “I was thinking of offering you both downtime until Major Carter returns, but if you’d like to go render your assistance, I have no objection.”
Jack felt his jaw tighten. I object! he screamed internally. Downtime, Daniel! Take the downtime!
Daniel sent him a look of mute appeal.
Oh for crying out loud, Jack disparaged mentally. The last time I saw eyes like that Hammond’s granddaughter was trying to persuade him to keep a stray dog that had followed them home. It hadn’t worked for Kayla—or the dog—Jack recalled, but then neither of them had Daniel’s big blue eyes and long lashes.
Jack sighed. “Fine. James, where is this device located again?”
“Just follow the path across the plain, sir. It leads to a rock face. You’ll have to climb to the tunnel entrance. The cavern is just over fifteen meters down, on your right.”
“Alright. Daniel, let’s go get ready.” Waiting for General Hammond’s nod of dismissal, Jack begrudgingly followed his lover to the gear-up room.

“Chevron Six, encoded.”
Facing the Stargate, weapon cradled loosely against him, Jack sent the ring a dark look. “Can’t anyone do anything without you?” he griped to Daniel. “First you’re snowed under with that research for SG-16, and now this.”
“I’m the linguistics expert, Jack. You heard what Sergeant James said. Sam thinks the text might be instructions to operate the device.”
“There are other linguists.”
“But Sam is my teammate. I want to help her.” He gazed at Jack over the rim of his glasses. “I know sitting around watching me study alien text is not your idea of a good time…”
Jack’s features smoothed out, the corners of his mouth tilting upward. “It’s the waiting that gets to me. I actually enjoy the watching part. Why do you think I keep showing up in your office?”
“Boredom?” Daniel submitted.
Jack slanted his head in concession. “There is that. You’re not afraid this mold might trigger a migraine?”
“I’ve spent plenty of time in moldy caves, Jack. I’ve never had a problem.”
“Chevron Seven, locked.”
The energy plume burst forth and Jack pivoted, tipping his hat to the ‘gate technician. Turning to find Daniel already halfway up the ramp, he quickened his pace, catching up in several long strides. “Geez, Daniel, what’s your hurry?” he gasped, as they moved into the event horizon. Emerging on the other side, he immediately slipped on his sunglasses and followed Daniel to the track worn into the grassland. Matching his gait to Daniel’s accelerated hike, he segued into guardian mode, scanning their surroundings as they walked.
“This is unknown technology, Jack. It could be something that’ll help in our fight against the Goa’uld.”
“The way the Eurondans helped?” Jack’s lip curled, the name leaving a bad taste in his mouth. “Or the armbands Anise presented us with?”
“Exploration doesn’t come with a guarantee of success. True, neither of those encounters proved beneficial, but—”
“Not beneficial? Euronda turned me into a real bastard.”
“For which you’ve apologized.”
“And those damn armbands nearly got Carter killed.”
“It all worked out, Jack,” Daniel reminded him.
“And let’s not forget how well your meet and greet with the Unas went,” Jack pressed on, thoroughly disinclined to let the matter drop. “Or our first contact with those Gag Me aliens.”
“Gadmeer,” Daniel amended automatically.
“Twice in short succession,” Jack continued over the correction, “you were almost killed.”
“I don’t think Chaka really wanted to kill me.”
“Neither did I,” Jack sneered. “But, I damn near did it anyway.”
Daniel skipped out in front of him and, spinning, pressed his hand to Jack’s heart, stopping him in his tracks.
“Where is this leading, Jack? Yes, there were moments during both missions where I thought I might not survive, but that’s a possibility every time we go through the ‘gate. Besides, you said it was the thought of losing me that finally made you admit your feelings were a little more than fraternal.”
“Yes, alright, I might not have told you about… you know, if I hadn’t been so shaken from the fact that I almost blew you up.”
“See. Benefit.” Daniel grinned.
Jack shook his head. “But, we might not be so lucky next time.” Head down, he stepped around Daniel, resuming his trek along the trail.
Coming up beside him, Daniel walked along quietly for a few minutes. “So, what are you saying?” he finally asked. “You want to quit?”
Jack shrugged. “Maybe. Retirement is not a dirty word.”
“Not for some people, no. But I didn’t think it was something you casually tossed around.”
Jack looked askance at him, but declined to respond. Again, they walked along in silence. Twenty minutes into their journey, the path intersected with a sheer cliff. Turning left they walked beneath the shadow of the stone until the trail ended. Jack looked up, peering dubiously at the crack in the rock above them, the only thing resembling an ‘entrance’ that he could see. He squeezed his com. “Carter?”
“Sergeant James said they’re in a cavern fifteen meters into the rock. I doubt the signal reaches that far.” Daniel unclipped his survival pack and thrust it into Jack’s side. “Here. Toss this up to me when I call for it.”
“Wait a minute,” Jack growled, backing away from the pack. “Where do you think you’re going?”
Daniel blinked owlishly. “Up to the cavern. That is why we came here.”
“You don’t take point,” Jack said. “Just because the planet’s proven secure to this point, doesn’t mean there’s not someone or something skulking in the shadows up there waiting to pounce.”
Daniel frowned, but stepped aside. He extended his arm at the wall, inviting Jack to take the lead. “Fine. You go first. I’ll just hang around down here—alone—until I get your signal to proceed.”
Narrowing his eyes, Jack looked from Daniel to the aperture above. He turned his gaze on the open plain behind them. “I’ll go first,” he reiterated. “This is an easier position to defend. Besides, I can always drop back down if you need help, but it might take me a while to get to you if something goes wrong up there.” He fingered one of the shallow handholds, clawing out small bits of rock that tumbled to the base of the cliff like a miniature waterfall.
“Okay,” Daniel conceded. “Be careful.”
Jack twitched a grin. “Back to the wall.”
Daniel complied without argument as Jack stepped up to the cliff. Reaching above for a handhold, he wriggled the toe of his boot into a cutout and pulled himself up. It took less time but just as much pain in his right knee as he’d expected, to reach his target. His P-90 leading the way, Jack clambered into the opening. He snatched off his sunglasses, giving the cave a thorough check before yelling down to Daniel, “Throw me your stuff.”
The pack appeared, suspended before him, at just about the time he called for it. Snagging it from the air, Jack set it aside and watched as Daniel scampered up the wall like a squirrel on his favorite oak.
Tossing him a look of disgruntlement, Jack handed Daniel his pack, aimed his flashlight down the tunnel, and moved out front.
A few minutes later, they pulled up beside the entrance to the cavern. Jack took a step back, considering the fissure. He scanned the length of the tunnel before and behind them.
Daniel stood patiently by, watching. “What are you thinking?”
“I’m thinking whoever built that thing sure went to a lot of trouble to make it inaccessible. You gotta wonder why they didn’t want anyone to find it.”
“Maybe it’s valuable,” Daniel posited.
“Right. Or dangerous.”
Daniel breathed a harried sighed. “Major Olsen just told you they haven’t encountered anything dangerous. Why do you always assume a worse case scenario?”
Jack shot him a silent ‘duh.’ “It’s called doing my job.”
Scowling, Daniel keyed his radio. “Sam?”
“Daniel. Where are you?”
“Close. How’s it going in there?”
“Fine. We’re just waiting for this translation.”
“Copy,” Daniel said. “We’ll be there soon.”
Dropping his hand from his com, he raised his eyebrows, a clear challenge to Jack’s gloom and doom scenario.
Jack held his gaze unflinchingly. “Alright,” he finally conceded. “We’re going in. But I’m not letting my guard down.”
Daniel snorted softly. “Tell me something I don’t know.”
Letting the remark pass without further comment, Jack stuffed his cap into a back pocket and moved into the crevice. Emerging into the cavern, he stepped aside and waited for Daniel to appear. Together, they strode towards the waiting scientists.
The room had an odd odor, smelling faintly of overripe cantaloupe. Jack screwed up his face. “God, I hope we don’t have to spend too much time in here,” he griped.
Daniel shrugged. “Sergeant James did say the room was rank.”
Jack lowered the zipper on his vest. “Rank is one thing. He could have mentioned it smells like rotten fruit.”
“What difference does it—”
“Hold up.” Jack lifted an elbow, as they neared the alien device, blocking Daniel from getting too close. “Carter, any idea yet what this thing is?”
“We’re hoping Daniel can help with that.” Carter gestured towards the top of the device. “The writing’s in there. Some of it looked familiar, but I couldn’t make any of it out.”
Daniel stooped down and began digging through his pack. Coming up with his notebook and video recorder, he took a step forward.
“Wait a minute,” Jack said, this time halting Daniel with a firm hand to his shoulder. “The device wasn’t open like that on the video SG-8 showed us.”
“No, it wasn’t.” Sam said simply.
“Any idea what caused the panels to open?” Daniel asked, more curious than suspicious.
“Well, it happened while I was trying to get a sample of whatever material the casing’s made of,” Tsai reported.
Jack frowned. “You don’t think you might have tripped a switch or something?”
“There aren’t any switches,” Tsai said with a small laugh. “You can see yourself the surface is perfectly smooth, if a little worn with age.”
“It was likely the physical contact, though,” Sam agreed. “That was the only variable not present when SG-8 was in here yesterday.”
“I thought we’d decided you weren’t going to touch it.”
“No, sir, I agreed to thoroughly evaluate the risk before anyone touched it. And, technically, no one did. Doctor Tsai’s scalpel made the contact.”
“Really?” Jack fumed. “You’re going to argue semantics?”
Daniel lifted his hand, a plea for peace. “Jack, it doesn’t look like any harm was done. The device is open. Now, we can stand here and argue whether touching was authorized, or you can let me get on with translating that text.”
Jack glared at Carter for a few seconds more. Relenting, he waved his hand at the device, granting Daniel access.
“Thank you.” Instantly in explorer mode, Daniel approached the device and made a slow circuit around it.
As Daniel came back around, Jack noted the blue eyes were wide, like a child discovering his first butterfly. In spite of himself, he smiled softly, amazed that his lover still viewed the universe with such wonder.
He automatically raised his P-90 as Daniel stepped closer to the device. Daniel’s gaze darted his way and, though they touched his only briefly, Jack warmed at the trust those eyes projected.
“This looks like a bastardized version of Greek,” Daniel announced. “Some of the letters are very similar to those used on Earth. That’s probably why it looked familiar, Sam.”
“I took Greek as an undergrad, and I couldn’t make sense of it,” Tsai remarked.
“That’s not surprising,” Daniel said. “These transplanted languages commonly evolve into totally unrecognizable forms. For example, on Abydos, the people spoke a variation of ancient Egyptian; I didn’t understand them at first, either. The people who wrote this were likely brought here from Earth about the time this language was becoming widespread. They knew enough of it to base their own language on the roots, but it’s diverged from the original.”
Lieutenant Van sidled up to him. “So, can you read it?”
“Well, I won’t know exactly what it says without hours of work,” Daniel grimaced. “But, a few things do stand out. This word here,” he waggled a finger over a group of letters near the rim,” is phthonos.”
“Jealousy,” Tsai translated.
“Yes,” Daniel confirmed. “Though, in this context, I think it’s a reference to the Greek god of the same name. In ancient Greece, Phthonos was the personification of jealousy; in particular the jealousy that sometimes accompanies romantic love.”
“Oh, please don’t tell me this is just a fancy diary,” Jack carped.
Daniel favored him with a sympathetic smile. “I also recognize two other names: ‘Eris’ and ‘Zelos.’ They were also gods and both have been linked to Phthonos in mythology.”
Jack groaned. “Do I want to know which other gods are associated with someone named ‘jealousy’?”
“Eris is discord or strife,” Daniel divulged a bit ruefully. “Zelos is sometimes equated with Phthonos, but he’s also known as the spirit of rivalry, zeal and envy.”
“Sounds like a fun group.”
Taking up her pack, Sam skirted the device and moved to Daniel’s other side, behind the tower. “I remember Eris from the Iliad. She’s the one who tossed the golden apple with the inscription ‘to the fairest’ into a wedding reception. Several goddesses fought over whom the apple was meant for, and that little contest sparked the events that led to the Trojan War.”
“Yes,” Daniel confirmed. “According to Homer, Eris took great pleasure in war and bloodshed. Even after the other gods left the battlefield, she hung around celebrating the havoc she’d wrought.”
“So then, this is some sort of literary work,” Tsai concluded. “A retelling of Greek myths?”
Daniel raised a forefinger, deflecting that thought. “Not exactly.” He found and held Jack’s gaze. “I think it’s a history of three beings that once came to this planet; beings who took on the guises of these particular gods.”
“Goa’uld,” Jack deciphered.
“I think so.”
Jack stiffened and scanned their surroundings. The scientists shifted nervously, Carter rummaging through her pack.
“Maybe we should get the hell out of here then,” Jack suggested. The overly sweet smell of that mold assailed him again, and he waved a hand to disperse it.
“Wait,” Daniel argued. “According to this, they were… forced out, banned from human contact a thousand years ago.”
“Forced out by whom?”
Daniel perused the writing. “I don’t know. Other Goa’uld, I’d presume. There’s reference to internal conflict. I’d really like to spend a little time translating the text. It just might tell us where they went.”
“I don’t care where they went. I’ve got the creeps just knowing they were ever here, even a thousand years ago. I say we pack it up and go home.”
“Jack.”
“Daniel.”
Shaking her head, Carter chuckled. “Listen to you two, bickering like an old married couple.”
Daniel’s eyebrows raced up his forehead. “What?”
“Excuse me?” Jack growled.
Carter turned a devilishly playful grin on Jack. “I can see why you are so enamored of him. That much passion would be difficult to resist.” The smile slid into a villainous smirk as she turned to Daniel. “Of course that didn’t stop him from flirting with this female earlier, before she traveled through the Chappa’ai.”
“Chappa’ai?”
“Carter?”
Blue eyes flashed hot white. “Eris,” she corrected.
Skipping back a pace, Jack raised his P-90. “Daniel, get down!”
With a laugh unlike anything he’d ever heard from Carter’s mouth, Eris stepped from behind the alien device. She placed her right hand in the center of Daniel’s chest and shoved him into the waiting arms of Lieutenant Van, at the same time lifting her left hand towards Jack.
A beam of orange-yellow energy slammed into him, and Jack found himself flying backward. He fell heavily to earth, the impact knocking the breath from his lungs. Almost immediately, he moved to rise, but the ground tilted beneath him, throwing him back into the dirt. Squeezing his eyes shut, he fought the urge to vomit, and pushed hard against the blackness creeping into the corners of his mind.
On the periphery of his consciousness, Daniel shouted his name. Cracking an eye open, Jack saw Doctor Tsai rushing his way. He loomed over Jack, dark eyes smiling.
The eyes glowed briefly, as though lit from within. Tsai snorted disdainfully, his amiable features contorted by a sneer. “Not much of a guardian after all,” he rumbled, the sound seemingly emanating from deep in his head.
Grunting, Jack pressed a heel into the dirt and managed to shift his upper body, swinging the barrel of his P-90 towards the Goa’uld occupying Tsai. The Goa’uld snagged the weapon, wrested it away with surprising ease, and dropped it on the ground behind him. Snarling, he swung back his leg.
Pain blossomed along Jack’s side, and instinctively he curled in on himself. Almost immediately, he felt his holster tug against his thigh. Once again without conscious thought, he reached for his sidearm, wrapping his hands around the Goa’uld’s wrist just as he released the clip on the holster. The Goa’uld eyed him sharply and, baring his teeth, swung out with his free hand. The fist caught Jack below the eye socket with enough force to jar his teeth. With a grunt, Jack fell back into the dirt, shadows closing in on the edges of his vision. The Goa’uld yanked his Baretta free and, though he mustered his staggering brain cells, Jack was unable to give more than token resistance as the snake shoved him over and slipped his knife from its sheath. He groaned, swallowing hard as the toe of a boot clipped his shoulder, tipping him onto his back again with nauseating speed.
“Jack!”
Letting his head roll to the left, Jack saw Daniel break free from Van’s hold. He started to rise but a rough poke to his midsection kept him in place. The hard steel of the P-90, cold even through his tee shirt, pressed beneath his ribcage, and Jack’s brow tightened in dismay as Daniel stilled utterly, his face frozen in horror.
“Don’t!” Daniel called, the entreaty followed by a harshly whispered, “God, please.”
The corners of her mouth turning up, Eris jerked her head to the side. The pressure on Jack’s diaphragm eased, and Tsai’s Goa’uld took a step back, though the P-90 still hovered menacingly.
The fog in his brain began to clear and Jack cautiously shook his head. Fisting his hands against the painful prickling sensation shooting through his arms and legs, he focused his slightly blurred gaze on Eris’s hand device.
“What the hell was that?” Jack ground out. He sat up slowly, hands raised to emphasize his harmless status. “You have some sort of super charged hand device, or something?”
“Or something,” Eris parroted cryptically. “We couldn’t have you ruining our fun by forcing us to kill you before we even got started. Take their vests and jackets.” She turned to Daniel as her cohorts made sure their captives were disarmed. “That was quite a heartrending plea,” she critiqued, calling over her shoulder, “Don’t you agree, Colonel?”
Jack watched Daniel, who pulled away from Van’s grip, but otherwise ceded control to the Goa’uld as she took his Beretta. His video recorder and journal lay at his feet, no doubt knocked from his grasp in the initial struggle.
“Well, like you said, Daniel is very passionate,” Jack replied, showing more teeth than necessary.
“No doubt he would rather die himself than lose you,” she said significantly.
Jack winced, memory transporting him into the seat of a zatarc detection device where he’d spoken those same words to Carter. He glanced at Daniel, relieved to find his lover’s gaze still fixed on Eris.
Daniel’s eyes narrowed slightly. Though he couldn’t know the significance, something in the statement, or her delivery, had piqued his interest. Suddenly, Daniel cut his gaze to Jack’s and, in spite of himself, Jack flinched.
Masking his discomfiture with a smirk, Jack ripped his gaze from the responsive quirk of Daniel’s mouth and glared at the Goa’uld who’d molded Carter’s face into a smug grin. “So, you’re Eris, huh?” he said. “Strife. A bit of a troublemaker?”
“A bit,” Eris agreed.
“And, I’m gonna guess your cohorts here are Jealousy and Envy.” Jack swung his gaze from Van to Tsai. “Just so we’re all on the same page, who’s who?”
“I am Zelos,” Tsai’s Goa’uld announced.
“Envy,” Daniel translated. “And that would make you Phthonos,” he said to Van. “Jealousy.”
Phthonos smiled and inclined her head to him, as though Daniel was a new friend instead of a prisoner. More in line with her Goa’uld character, she wrapped one hand around his upper arm and roughly guided him from behind the device.
Jack cleared his throat. “So, what’s your story?” he asked, looking from one to the other. “Surely you weren’t just hanging out in here, waiting for some new hosts to stumble by.”
“Ah, yes,” Eris said. “My host knows this tactic. We have you at a disadvantage. Your apparent interest is really an attempt to gather… intel, I believe you call it, and assess what threat we pose.”
Jack’s mouth tightened in annoyance.
“This host—”
“Her name is Samantha Carter,” Daniel ground out.
Silently cheering Daniel’s hutzpah, Jack noted his lover’s nostrils twitch at the same time that sickly sweet smell again inundated his own senses.
“Of course,” Eris conceded with a stiff smile. “This Samantha Carter knows you well, Colonel. Perhaps too well?”
Daniel’s brow shot upward, knotting at the bridge of his nose. “Too well?”
Suddenly wary of where Eris’s response might take them, Jack reclaimed control. “One question at a time,” he snapped at Daniel before turning to Eris. “You still haven’t told us how you got here.”
Eris met his gaze evenly. “We were imprisoned here against our wills. From the memories this Samantha Carter holds, I judge it was many of your centuries ago.”
“What little of this text I’ve been able to read supports that timeline,” Daniel said. He gestured at the unknown technology. “So, this device is some sort of stasis chamber?”
Phthonos spat. “It is.”
“Do you know who built it? Who was it that imprisoned you?”
“More importantly,” Jack tagged on, “why? Not that being Goa’uld isn’t reason enough.”
“When I first arrived on this planet,” Eris began, ignoring the snipe, “I was warmly welcomed. I had become an outcast among the Goa’uld.”
“Couldn’t help living up to the name, huh?” Jack deduced. “Caused a bit of strife among the other Goa’uld and they ran you off.”
Eris cast him a sour look. “That is an accurate, if somewhat crude, interpretation of events. I searched for years for a place I could settle. I learned that the people who occupied this world were brought here thousands of years ago by Hormes. He has been dead for quite some time—killed in battle with Ra—but the people were quite industrious. They had managed not only to survive without their god, but to thrive. They took the knowledge they had gained of science and technology and created this advanced society.”
“I’m surprised that none of the other Goa’uld claimed this planet,” Daniel remarked.
Eris shrugged. “Most of the naquadah was mined ages ago, and it is—how do you say it?—in the middle of nowhere.”
Daniel frowned, the only outward sign of his displeasure, but Jack knew it rankled his archaeologist every bit as much as it did him that Eris used Carter’s body and mind so blithely.
“You said they welcomed you?” Daniel asked.
“Yes. In spite of their sophistication, they still longed for gods to worship. Among them was one who studied their history, including that which their ancestors had brought with them from their original home world. Those ancestors praised Eris for inspiring men to greatness.”
Jack scoffed. “Well, that makes no sense.”
“Actually, it does,” Daniel countered. “Hesiod, a Greek poet writing sometime around the eighth century B.C., differentiated between this Eris and another, one who motivates men through benign rivalry. For instance, if a farmer saw his neighbor was more prosperous than himself, he’d be inspired to work harder in the field trying to surpass him.” Daniel eyed her over the rim of his glasses. “But you’re not the kinder, gentler version, are you?”
“I did try to be. I was gratified that the people worshipped me, even without an army of Jaffa forcing their reverence.”
“But your true nature eventually won out.”
“There was one prominent citizen, Thanos.” Eris’s mouth contorted grotesquely around the name. “He refused to acknowledge my deity. I could have destroyed him with my hand device, of course, but that did not fit with the benevolent role I had adopted. So, I placed in his path the wife of Owen, another equally prominent man.”
“Fortunately, we found Eris here just after that or we would have missed all the fun,” Phthonos piped up, her hazel eyes alight with mischief.
“The townsmen chose to also honor my friends as gods. Of course, it was necessary to deceive them; I introduced my companions as Ponus and Caerus.”
“Ponus represents hard work,” Daniel supplied unsolicited.
“Ah,” Jack acknowledged. “You would be familiar with that one.”
“And, Caerus, I believe, is opportunity.”
“As in taking advantage of an?”
“Clearly.”
Eris grinned indulgently, patently amused by their banter. “Zelos befriended Thanos, which only served to elevate the man’s already heady status. He murmured in Thanos’s ear at every opportunity, encouraging his desire to possess the wife of his rival.”
“I was obligated to draw Owen’s attention to the other man’s untoward devotion to his wife,” Phthonos said. “And question whether she returned the feelings. Discretely, of course.”
“Of course,” Jack snorted dubiously. He shifted, and muscles too long dormant twitched in protest. “Bottom line it for us, would you? My butt’s getting numb.”
Eris wrinkled her nose at the comment. “You should get up, then,” she invited.
Zelos took a step back. He seconded the invitation with a wave of his weapon, and Jack clambered to his knees.
“That’s far enough,” Eris barked.
Instantly, Zelos shuffled forward and shoved the barrel of the P-90 into the hollow beneath Jack’s collarbone. Curling his lip in irritation, Jack settled on his thighs.
Nodding curtly, Eris resumed her narrative, as though his interruption had never occurred. “We fostered animosity between the men. Their hatred and suspicion grew, bleeding over to those nearest them. We moved among the people, cultivating distrust, feeding resentment, until their entire society was affected.”
“To the point they destroyed themselves,” Daniel surmised. He turned a troubled gaze on Jack. “The ruined city.”
“A few dozen survived,” Phthonos said. “We had decided to leave that place—”
“Well, with no one left to manipulate, what was the point of hanging around?” Jack jeered.
“Our thoughts exactly,” Zelos agreed, missing the significance of Jack’s mocking tone. “After a few days, we made our way to the Chappa’ai…”
“Where a small army of Tok’ra waited for us,” Eris concluded indignantly. “One of the survivors had sent out a distress call. We were incapacitated and removed from our hosts. The Tok’ra would have killed us, but those who had once worshipped us devised an even more heinous punishment. They built this device in this most inaccessible place and imprisoned us within it, alive but unable to interact with anyone. Not even each other.”
“Too good for you, if you ask me,” Jack opined. “The Tok’ra had the right idea.”
Zelos growled, his grip on the P-90 tightening.
“What happened to the people?” Daniel called, successfully distracting the Goa’uld from whatever he’d intended.
“We presume they went with the Tok’ra,” Phthonos said. “That is what they told us they would do. They also told us they had left a message warning others not to tamper with this device.”
“Yeah, too bad it was written in a language only one person in the entire galaxy could understand,” Jack muttered peevishly. “Okay, so, you’re free again. Mind if I ask what your plans are now?” He locked eyes with Eris, who glared back at him. Carter’s familiar blues took on a measure of contempt he had never experienced before, not even when she was possessed by Jolinar.
“Now, we go through the Chappa’ai and find other civilizations to conquer.”
“Okay,” Jack snarled, “that’s not gonna happen. You’re not going anywhere with my people.”
Eris sashayed toward him and, detecting the cloying odor again, Jack absurdly wondered if it was Carter’s perfume and not the mold as he had first supposed.
“Colonel, that is so touching,” Eris cooed. “Tell me, are you equally concerned for all three of them?”
“Of course, I am,” Jack declared. “I wouldn’t wish one of you slimy snakes on my worst enemy.”
“Really?” Flashing an impish grin, she turned to face Daniel. “That’s interesting, because, as Samantha remembers it, you recently admitted you care about her very much. ‘More than you’re supposed to,’ I believe you said.”
Daniel gasped softly. “What?”
Flushing with anger at the disclosure, the heat propelling him as inexorably as rocket fuel, Jack surged to his knees. “Shut the hell up!”
Eris whirled on Jack. “You’ve never told him?” she asked in Carter’s voice. Though clearly surprised, her features held a measure of triumph.
“We agreed it wouldn’t leave that room,” Jack found himself saying.
“What room?” Daniel inquired on cue. “Jack, what’s going on?”
“You’re still keeping secrets,” Eris chided, reclaiming Carter’s vocal cords. “A byproduct of your days in special ops, of course. But your professed affection for your second in command isn’t your biggest secret, is it?”
Jack cut his gaze to Daniel, who leaned forward and would likely have come to him if Phthonos hadn’t grabbed his arm. “We deal in secrets everyday,” Jack retorted with forced calm. “The Stargate, you Goa’uld, the Asgard, Replicators… pick one.”
Eris chuckled, but the sound held no humor. “Is that your defense? You can’t help yourself?”
“Defense for what? If you’re accusing me of something, you’re gonna have to lay it out for me.”
With a smug grin, Eris gazed significantly at Daniel. “She knows about you,” she murmured conspiratorially. “She hasn’t admitted it to herself yet—the poor thing is still holding out hope that he’ll choose her instead. But, she’s a smart girl. She’ll figure it out.”
Daniel blinked. “What are you insinuating? That Sam believes there’s something going on between Jack and me?”
“Daniel!” Jack barked warningly.
“What, Jack?” Daniel bit back. “You want to continue playing this game?” Without waiting for a reply, he turned back to Eris. “Ordinarily, I like uncovering my own clues, but right now I’d rather you just tell me, point blank, what it is you think Sam knows?”
Sauntering in his direction, Eris flashed a patronizing smile. “Yes, I bet you would. And I want you to know… everything. But, I’d rather continue playing.” She jerked her head at Phthonos. “Go. Disable the ‘gate. We wouldn’t want General Hammond sending a rescue team to spoil things.”
Phthonos shoved Daniel to his knees. “Promise you won’t take it too far until I get back.”
“My dear friend,” Eris mollified, “you are an essential player. The game would be no fun without Jealousy.” She smiled down at Daniel. Reaching out with her right hand, she caressed his temple, entwining her fingers through his hair. Jaw taut with indignation, still Daniel stared straight ahead, pointedly ignoring the touch.
“Perhaps I’ll let Zelos have this one while we wait,” she announced casually. “I know his host is interested.”
Daniel’s eyes widened slightly, and Jack pushed himself taller, shuffling forward. “Wait just a damn minute,” he growled. Zelos pushed the P-90 into his chest.
“Jack, don’t,” Daniel barked. His cry pitched higher as Eris balled her fist in his hair. She yanked his head back, and moved her hand device closer to his forehead.
“Ah, ah, Colonel,” she cautioned.
With a growl of frustration, Jack slumped back on his haunches. Raking each Goa’uld in turn with a heated glare, he softened his gaze as it returned to Daniel, who met his eyes stoically.
“Yes,” Phthonos said approvingly. “That possession will be all the sweeter now that we know Daniel belongs to another. A fitting prize for our Envy. You’ll tell me all about it when I return?”
“In lurid detail,” Eris purred.
Phthonos patted her hands together like a child anticipating the start of her favorite television show. She tossed a “Have fun,” to Zelos, and hurried out to do Eris’s bidding.
Eris released her hold on Daniel, running her fingers through his hair to smooth down the tresses her fist had disturbed. Daniel ducked his head, moving away from the contact. He sniffed, and his forehead knotted in confusion as he watched her walk towards Jack.
“Lucky you, Colonel,” Eris declared brightly. “You get to watch it all live.”
“If you think I’m going to just sit here while one of you rapes my teammate, you don’t know me as well as you claim you do.”
“My teammate,” Eris mimicked. Again, her voice lost its Goa’uldish rumble. “The cat’s already out of the bag, Jack,” Sam’s clearer tone mocked him. “You can deny it all you want, but I know you’ve been two-timing me with him.”
Jack couldn’t see the look she shot Daniel, but he knew from the sorrow etched in the younger man’s face that it was not an expression Daniel ever expected his friend would aim his way. “I haven’t two-timed anyone,” Jack objected. “My relationship with Carter is strictly professional.”
Zelos hummed. “Can we deduce from the omission that your relationship with Daniel is not strictly professional?”
“Of course it’s professional. I don’t where you’re getting your information, but if I were you, I’d look for a new informant.”
Eris moved towards them, and Zelos raised his weapon, making a show of placing Jack’s head in the crosshairs. Behind her, Daniel shifted, and while Jack hoped that his lover would take the opportunity while their backs were turned to sneak away, he wasn’t surprised when Daniel merely leaned to his left in an effort to maintain eye contact.
Jack looked down the barrel of the weapon, locking brown eyes with its wielder. “I didn’t think Tsai knew how to use one of those things,” he commented dryly.
“I may not have Major Carter’s knowledge of weapons,” Zelos replied. “But, at this close range, even I can’t miss. I suggest that you remain very still. ”
“Give me the weapon,” Eris directed. “I’ll cover your six. You’ll have your hands full with Daniel.”
Without hesitation, Zelos handed over the P-90. Stepping back, he removed his jacket and dropped it in the dirt.
Eris prodded Jack in the shoulder. “Listen carefully, Colonel. You will ‘just sit here’ while my companion enjoys Daniel’s company. So much as twitch, and I will excise your heart with this weapon. That will be the last thing your dear Daniel sees before I put a bullet in his precious brain. Clear?”
Jack dropped his gaze, and found Daniel staring, eyes wide. Daniel’s furrowed brow gathered at the bridge of his nose, and Jack spontaneously gnawed at his lip. Anyone else would read Daniel’s anxious look as fear for himself, given what the Goa’uld planned. But Jack knew Daniel too well; the fear in those large blue eyes was for him. Daniel was asking Jack not to intercede, not to give the Goa’uld a reason to hurt or kill him.
Daniel’s eyes narrowed, his expression hardening. ‘Quit stalling and agree to her terms,’ the look said. ‘I’ll be alright.’
Jack’s belly roiled, the realization of what Daniel was asking making him physically ill.
“Colonel,” Eris barked. “Must I repeat myself?”
Tearing his gaze away from Daniel, Jack shot her a baleful glare. “No,” he ground out. “I heard you the first time.”
Eris’s gaze remained wary even as her face reflected self-satisfaction.
Zelos turned and strolled toward Daniel. Openly leering, he raised his hand to his throat, teasing the skin in long, sensuous strokes. “Though male, this host has a strong desire for other men.” He slid the hand down and across his chest in a slow, seductive caress.
“I know,” Daniel said conversationally. “The generally accepted term is homosexual. We also call it being gay.”
“Gay,” Zelos sighed contentedly. He pursed his lips, appearing to let the word roll around his mouth, seemingly enjoying the feel of it on his tongue. His hand continued its leisurely path, dropping to the contours of his belly. “I have known other Goa’uld whose host had this proclivity, of course, but I have never experienced it myself.”
Daniel merely watched him, and Jack marveled that, for once, Daniel had nothing to say.
Zelos’s hand dipped below the waistband of his BDUs. “Are you aware he is extremely attracted to you?”
Daniel’s tongue skated across his bottom lip. “No,” he said evenly. “Beyond sharing his sexual orientation, Doctor Tsai has never discussed his personal life with me.”
“He told us everything,” Eris chirped, clearly pleased at the chance to share Tsai’s secret. “Said repeatedly he hoped we’d find writing so that you could join us.”
Zelos fell to his knees before Daniel. Sliding his hand from his pants, he reached up and skimmed a tentative touch along the archaeologist’s strong jaw line. “I understand the attraction,” he breathed. “You are incredibly beautiful. I have never seen such a sensuous mouth.” His thumb hovered over Daniel’s bottom lip, never connecting, as though it was one of Daniel’s artifacts, too precious to handle. Pulling away slightly, he shuddered. “The pleasure it must bring.”
“Colonel?” Eris invited, blinking doe-eyed. “Care to weigh in on that topic?”
Jack pressed his lips together, as much in anger at the liberties the Goa’uld was taking with Daniel as in a show of obstinacy. Bad enough she’s wearing Carter’s face, but stealing her mannerisms… Shaking off his disconcertment, Jack focused on Daniel. Don’t fall for it. It’s just another device in her bag of Goa’uld tricks.
Moving in on Daniel, Zelos let his nose follow the path his fingers had blazed to a place just under Daniel’s left ear. He inhaled deeply. “Oh, you smell heavenly. What is that scent?”
Surprised the Goa’uld could smell anything other than the overpowering odor of that damn mold, Jack knew he had to try and kill the amorous mood. “Probably bug spray,” he interjected snidely. “Coats himself in it every time we go off world. Personally, I find it extremely off-putting.”
Eris tsked disapprovingly. “It’s Egyptian musk,” she supplied over her shoulder. “He found a shop in the Springs that specializes in handmade soaps. Completely organic.”
“How environmentally conscious,” Zelos praised. He sniffed again, loudly. “The fragrance definitely suits you.”
Daniel snorted. “I’m so relieved you approve.”
Zelos’s features darkened. Capturing Daniel’s wrist, he pressed the hand into his crotch. “Feel how much,” he growled coarsely.
Daniel reeled back, disgust creasing his handsome features. He tugged against the hold, but, slight though the host body was, Zelos held him fast.
Impulsively, Jack lifted onto his knees, hands fisted. His eyes never leaving the grappling duo, still he sensed when Eris moved closer.
“Colonel,” she warned, waving the P-90 into his line of sight.
The threatening growl enough to draw his attention away from his predicament, Daniel seconded the sentiment. “Don’t do anything stupid.”
Pulling a deep breath that did nothing to calm him, Jack settled and rested his hands on his thighs. His anger channeled to his fingertips, he squeezed, the grip increasing incrementally until Jack could practically feel the bruises blossoming on his flesh.
Daniel backed off his chastising glare, and Jack knew the instant his full attention returned to his molester. His eyelids clenched down tightly, his brow puckered with tension. Full lips flattened to a grim line as his face flamed red.
Zelos teetered forward and cupped his unoccupied hand around the back of Daniel’s head. He dragged Daniel toward him, maneuvering so that their lips touched.
Eyes suddenly wide with alarm, Daniel jerked to the side, pulling away from the kiss. Zelos pursued him, the hand splayed over Daniel’s ear in an attempt to move him back into position. A finger hooked the arm of his glasses, knocking them askew and, no doubt frustrated as much by Daniel’s lack of cooperation as by the barrier the specs suddenly posed, he snatched them from Daniel’s face and dashed them to the dirt floor.
Instinctively, Daniel wrenched backward, but Zelos’s hand shot out and captured him again. His breath harsh from the struggle, Daniel worked his free hand between them and shoved against the Goa’uld’s shoulder. Though insignificant, he managed to put some distance between them.
He stared hard into the dark eyes, horror and loathing intensifying his glare.
Jack noted a subtle softening of Daniel’s eyes just before they narrowed in anger. Anger not for himself, Jack realized, but for Tsai, who was as much a victim of the Goa’uld as Daniel was. Conscious of the Goa’uld’s actions but powerless to stop him, when they got him back—and Jack swore they would get them all back—Tsai would remember every detail.
Daniel would endure the Goa’uld’s attention, would even ask Jack to endure it, knowing they could survive whatever happened. But Daniel could not and would not sit idly by and allow Tsai to be hurt in this manner. His jaw bulged with tension just before the Goa’uld fell backward with a hoarse cry.
Realizing Daniel had taken advantage of the awkward position the Goa’uld had forced him into, Jack winced in sympathy for the host. Still he had to crow, “Looks like Daniel has taken your cohort, ahem, firmly in hand.”
Rising awkwardly to his feet, Zelos struck out, viciously cuffing Daniel on the side of the head. Daniel toppled, and Zelos stepped toward him. He pulled his leg back, clearly intending to give the prone body a brutal kick, but aborted the move, one hand going to his groin. He spun and staggered away. “Clumsy beast,” he growled.
With some effort, Daniel sat up and shook off the clout. Spying his glasses nearby, he plucked them from the dirt, grimacing at their less than pristine condition. Gingerly twisting the frame back to its original shape, he wiped the lenses against his tee shirt and put the glasses back on.
Zelos shuffled to Eris. “You could be wrong about them,” he huffed. “Daniel had no clue how to handle me.”
“I think he knew exactly what he was doing,” Eris sneered, Jack’s taunt obviously still ringing in her ear. She turned a disapproving frown on Daniel. “And Samantha believes you’re such a kind soul. That wasn’t very polite, grabbing poor Zelos like that.”
“Tit for tat,” Jack contended. “Drooling all over Daniel wasn’t exactly what you’d call hospitable.” His nose twitched, and he snorted, that damn decaying melon odor now irritating his sinuses. His vision blurring slightly, he shook his head, noting, to his dismay, the damn stuff was starting to make him lightheaded, too.
“I suppose that depends on who is doing the drooling, doesn’t it?” Eris returned. “No doubt he’s well disposed to your attention.”
“And here we are again,” Jack carped, his discomfort instantly forgotten. “Why do you insist that Daniel and I are having a thing?”
“Empirical evidence,” Carter’s voice answered. “That little gesture in the elevator last week was entirely too intimate.”
Jack looked inward a second, the incident in question coming quickly to the forefront of his memory. “Circumstantial at best,” he argued. “You can’t prove that it was anything more than me helping Daniel right his glasses when his hands were full.”
“But his hands weren’t full, were they?” Carter parried. “You were helping him with his bags, too. Not really the sort of thing a military leader generally does for someone under his command.”
“No,” Jack granted readily, “but it is something a friend would do. I would have done it for Carter, too, if she’d been in that position.”
“Yes, but as we’ve established, your feelings for her are suspect as well.”
The room seemed to tip for a second as the melon odor grew. “You haven’t established anything!” Jack bellowed, his hands balling into fists. “Except that you want to cause a rift in my team. And stop using Carter’s voice. You’re not fooling anyone. These accusations are yours, not hers.”
“On the contrary, each and every charge I’ve made has come directly from Samantha. There is no point in further protestation, Colonel. She has known, since that caress in the elevator, that Daniel has usurped her place in your life.”
“Carter’s place has always been as my second in command. She knows that.”
“Does she? You don’t think she might have read something into your declaration that you cared for her more than you should?”
Wiping his dusty hands against his tee shirt, Daniel raised a finger by way of interrupting. “You said that before. Is someone going to explain it to me?”
Lifting sculpted brows, Eris canted her head in inquiry. “Colonel, would you like to field that one?”
Jack’s lips grew taut, prompting Daniel to add an impatient, “Jack?”
Jack pressed his lips together, a symbol of his reticence to discuss the matter. Knowing Daniel would understand, he shook his head. “Not here.”
Eris scowled and Jack slammed his eyes shut, feeling suddenly as though he was about to tumble off a mountainside. He fell to his hands and knees, clutching at the dirt for something to anchor him. That cloying odor assailed him, and he wondered fleetingly if he’d somehow been immersed in the crap that was causing it. Slowly, the ground beneath him ceased spinning and, pulling a heavy sigh, he rose to his knees. The vertigo was still there, though greatly reduced, and Jack found the gentle swaying mellowing.
He gazed at Daniel, who, apparently also overcome by his exposure to the tainted environment, slowly lifted his head. Even through the fog that clouded his mind, Jack noted Daniel’s expression was oddly relaxed given the circumstances.
Not that his functions were all that reliable. Though he’d just told Daniel this was not the place to discuss his confession to Carter, Jack was disconcertingly unconcerned that he was about to do just that. “It happened during the experiment with those damn Tok’ra armbands,” he babbled. “Carter got trapped behind a force field on Apophis’s ship. I was afraid she would die… I couldn’t leave her.”
“No, of course you wouldn’t—”
“There’s more.” Jack squared his shoulders, keeping his eyes trained on Daniel’s. “Remember the aftermath? Carter and I were suspected of being zatarcs.”
Daniel’s lips parted gently as his jaw slowly dropped. “Yes,” he replied, his gaze narrowing warily.
“I know you’ve wondered how we got out of that. Hammond had the file sealed from all eyes except those who were in that room at the time.”
“I know. He said the Tok’ra were concerned—”
“No,” Jack cut him off. “The Tok’ra had nothing to do with it. That file was sealed at my request. Mine and Carter’s. I didn’t tell you because this was before we got together…”
Daniel’s mouth twitched, but the question perched on his lips remained unspoken.
“Carter figured out that we hadn’t disclosed everything that happened on Apophis’s ship. That’s why the machine thought we were zatarcs.”
Daniel just stared at him a moment, and Jack surmised he was digesting what he’d learned.
“Okay,” Daniel finally said. “What did happen?”
“Oh, this promises to be good,” Zelos muttered.
Jack let out a string of curses in his head. He’d almost forgotten where they were. We shouldn’t be discussing this here. I should just tell Daniel to can it. He’ll understand why I refused to answer him—eventually. Jack inhaled, steeling himself for a fight, and caught another whiff of honeyed air. He sighed, Daniel’s expectant frown dominating his thoughts. Just look at him, so good and so trusting. How can I deny him? His need to reassure his lover suddenly overwhelming, Jack tossed all his rationalizations aside and met Daniel’s gaze squarely.
“When I was trying to free Carter from that force field,” he said, “I experienced certain… feelings.”
“Feelings,” Daniel echoed dully.
“Yeah. And my failure to include that information in the initial test made Anise’s machine think… well, you know.”
Daniel blinked at him a few times then nodded. “So, what did it take for the machine to clear you?”
“I admitted that I cared about Carter,” Jack ground out. “A lot more than I’m supposed to.”
Again, Daniel nodded, his forehead tensing in thought. “As her commanding officer?” he asked. “Or as a man?”
“What difference does it make?”
“You tell me,” Daniel huffed out, going from calm to agitated in under two seconds. “You were the one with the feelings.”
“At the time, yes.”
“At the time?”
Jack flinched at the increasingly strident tone. “What I described was accurate for how I was feeling at the time it happened. But it wasn’t how I felt later, when I talked about it in that room during the whole Zatarc fiasco.”
Daniel frowned. “So, you’re saying you did once have feelings for Sam, but now you don’t?”
“I’m saying…” Jack began gruffly. He reigned in his sudden annoyance and tried again. “Look, you remember what it was like when those armbands pumped that virus into us—all our senses, all our emotions heightened. Kind of like I’m feeling right now, he observed absently. “I do care about Carter. Yeah, probably more than I’m supposed to. But not nearly as much as that armband made me feel it. I have no romantic interest in her.”
“She believes otherwise,” Eris refuted.
“Well, that’s her problem! I’ve never done anything to foster that impression.”
“No? Not even during your time loops?”
“The time loops?” Daniel’s query took on a suspicious edge. “What did you do during the time loops?”
“Nothing!” Jack protested. “She’s just trying to cause trouble. There’s no way Carter could remember anything—”
“She’d remember that shit-eating grin you gave us both when I asked if you’d done anything you might not ordinarily do, knowing there’d be no consequences,” Daniel charged. “I sure remember it. You looked pretty pointedly at Sam, too, as I recall.”
Face burning, Jack bit his tongue against further disclosure. He breathed deeply and the heady waft of air, contaminated with disgustingly sweet smelling mold spores, crowded his concern to the back of his brain. “Again, this was before we got together,” he said without compunction. “And I was bored out of my skull—”
“What. Did. You. Do?”
Jack threw up his hands. “I kissed her, okay? I kissed Carter. And for the record, if we hadn’t found a way out of those loops when we did, you would have been next, and then maybe Fraiser or Walter. I was pretty much loopy myself by that time.”
“You kissed her out of boredom?” Daniel asked through lips taut with censure.
Sighing, Jack nodded. “Not a very professional response to the situation, I’ll admit. But, if you hadn’t put it into my head that I could do anything, without consequence—”
“So, it’s my fault you sexually harassed a junior officer?”
“No, I didn’t say that. And, I can’t believe you’d accuse—”
“Just out of curiosity, why did you kiss her first? I wouldn’t have remembered it, either. You could just as easily have gotten away with kissing me. Why did you choose her?”
“It sounds like I got back just in time,” Phthonos called as she climbed through the opening in the stone. “Though, I don’t think Daniel needs any encouragement in the jealousy department.”
“You!” Jack aimed a finger at her then swung it around to take in the other Goa’uld. “This is your fault! Daniel, don’t you see what they’re doing? They’re trying to turn us against each other.”
“This is your mess, Jack,” Daniel disputed. “Yes, they’re obviously doing their best to make a bad situation worse, but no one’s making up accusations. They’re just bringing to light some things I think we should have talked about long ago.” He folded his arms against his chest. “So, why don’t you just tell me the truth now? All of it.”
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Klaxons sounding around him, George Hammond hurried down the stairs to the control room. “Sergeant?” he called long before he reached the bottom.
“Receiving IDC now, sir,” the technician replied. “It’s Teal’c.”
“Open the iris.” Without breaking his stride, Hammond continued through the control room and descended the steps to the ‘gate room. He halted at the bottom of the ramp, smiling fondly at the large, tan-robed figure ambling his way.
“Teal’c,” he greeted. “Has something happened? We weren’t expecting you for another two days.”
“All is well, General Hammond,” Teal’c assured him. “I merely wished to return early and spend the remainder of my medical leave with my Tau’ri friends.”
“I’m afraid the rest of SG-1 is currently out on a mission. Major Carter took a science team to conduct tests on some alien technology discovered on P8X-708. Colonel O’Neill and Doctor Jackson followed just a little while ago, after the major uncovered some writing.”
“If I may, General Hammond, I wish to accompany SG-1 on this mission.”
Hammond chuckled lightly. “That doesn’t surprise me in the least. But, are you sure you’re up to it?”
“I believe I have recovered fully.”
“How about we let Doctor Fraiser make that determination,” Hammond suggested. “Report to the infirmary. If she gives you the all clear then gear up and report back here.
Bowing silent ascent, Teal’c headed to the infirmary.
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Forty-five minutes later, he returned to the ‘gate room, fully kitted.
“It’s good to have SG-1 fully functional again,” Hammond called to him from the control room. He gestured to the ‘gate technician.
Teal’c canted his head in accord and turned to the Stargate as it began its cycle. He watched the successive chevrons engage, the tech’s verbal announcement all but lost in the great ring’s metallic churning. Automatically leaning forward when the seventh chevron was announced, prepared to mount the ramp as soon as the vortex settled, he stiffened when it failed to lock into place. The ‘gate shut down, and Teal’c sent an inquiring gaze into the control room. A low growl issued at the technician’s confused shrug.
After a moment, Hammond’s steady voice filled the void left by the silencing of the ‘gate. “Teal’c, the technicians are going to have to run a diagnostic.”
Glancing back over his shoulder, Teal’c eyed the ‘gate with dismay. He evened out his features before returning his gaze to Hammond.
“Acknowledged.”
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Standing just to the right of Hammond’s chair, the gate technician tendered an apologetic frown. “The diagnostic indicates that the ‘gate on P8X-708 is the problem. A theory supported by the fact that we’ve since successfully dialed two other ‘gate addresses.”
“When is Colonel O’Neill due to report?” Hammond asked.
“Not for another four hours, sir.”
Teal’c shot from his place at the briefing room table. “Four hours is too long, General Hammond. We must contact the Tok’ra for assistance.”
“Hold on, Teal’c,” Hammond said. “We don’t even know that 708′s ‘gate isn’t working; just that we can’t get a lock from here. It would likely take much longer to get there by ship than those four hours.”
“Sir, may I join this conversation?”
Hammond glanced over his shoulder. Janet Fraiser stood in the doorway, folder clutched to her chest.
“Doctor Fraiser.” He gestured her to a chair. “What would you like to add?”
Offering the Doctor a respectful nod, Teal’c slid back into his chair as she neared the table.
“I’m sorry, sir. I didn’t mean to eavesdrop. I was bringing you an update on Captain Olsen.”
“How is he?”
“There’s been no change in his condition. I’ve given him a dose of Imotrex which generally takes care of his symptoms. This time, though, he’s gotten no relief. It’s not unheard of for a medication to stop working but, given what I just heard, I’m thinking there might be another cause.”
Hammond’s brow wrinkled. “You think something might have happened to him on that planet?”
“It seems likely now. Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll be able to rely on Captain Olsen to confirm it.”
“Why is that?”
“You’ll remember he was nearly nonresponsive when my staff and I collected him in the ‘gate room. Given the level of pain he was experiencing, exacerbated by the three kilometer hike to the ‘gate, I wasn’t overly worried. But, Captain Olsen has recently regained consciousness and he claims he has no memory of being on that planet.”
“No memory? Is that a usual symptom of migraines?”
“It’s unusual, but it has been known to happen. To my knowledge, though, it has never happened to Captain Olsen. And, there’s more.”
“Such as?” Teal’c rumbled.
“I took an MRI to rule out head trauma. There is evidence of intracranial bleeding. It’s slight, but it’s there.”
“Any idea what might have caused it?” Hammond asked.
“The memory loss is still a mystery, but I’ve encountered the minute bleeding and the medication insufficiency before. With Daniel, after he’d been exposed to a Goa’uld hand device.”
“Sergeant,” Hammond ordered without hesitation, “contact the Tok’ra. Doctor, I need to speak to Captain Olsen.”

 

part 2

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