At the End of All Things
by Winterstar
Category: Drama, Angst, H/C
Warnings: Violence
Rating: R

Author’s Notes – Part of this was beta’ed (of course the better part) but the rest wasn’t –sorry about that. After such a long hiatus, I just decided to go ahead and post it.

 

            Jack doesn’t ask Daniel, he stopped asking months ago. When Daniel shuffles through the door, his head bowed, his hands hidden in the drapes of his robe, Jack only nods and gulps down his water. He’s not sure how long it’s been since he checked in on his people, since his mind has sharpened and kept tabs on the people under his command. All he knows is his indecision, his voicelessness is causing Daniel to die.

            To be sure, it is a slow, inch by inch death, one Daniel is earning day by day. Jack grimaces and looks away as Vala enters the hovel they call a home, a cell. She follows Daniel everywhere nowadays, when she can, when she is allowed. He doesn’t quibble about it. He never says a word at all. Jack grimaces at that thought.

It is Vala’s assigned duty in this place, this planet that used to be their home. Vala grips Daniel’s arm to guide him to the corner cot in the room. It is the only bedding they have. By mutual unspoken agreement, they save it for Daniel each and every day.

            He barely hears Sam’s feet as she slips over to the pair. Jack calls her Sam now, what is the use of calling her Carter? What is the use in pretending who they were anymore? His former colleague sets the pitcher and bowl on the floor, pours the cool water into the bowl, and sinks the small cloth into the liquid. Ringing it out, she hands the rag to Vala. They all know Daniel can’t be touched by anyone but Vala now. Once, Jack tried to help Vala clean up Daniel after one of his sessions. They didn’t take too kindly to his administrations. Daniel paid for it the next day. From then on, the only thing any of them ever attempted was handing the cleaning items to Vala. They each take turns. It is their way of telling Daniel without words that they care.

            He wonders if he does still care. Shoving away from the light, Jack huddles in the corner and cups a hand over his forehead. Christ, what the hell is he doing here? Where else would he be? This is Earth, but not his Earth. This is the Earth taken over by aliens they never guessed were lurking. In the slang of the End days, the aliens were called the Lurkers. What else could they call them? Some called them Bees, others called them Ants. But he can’t bring himself to call them either of those names. It just conjures up images of old B movies. They aren’t insects on steroids at all; they are something far worse.

            He smirks, if only it was the replicators. Fake mechanical bugs would have been so much easier to deal with, so much easier to take then things giant hornet like creatures.

            He shivers and cowers in the corner. Jack hates himself more and more everyday. Glancing across the room at his friend, Jack only wants to hear Daniel’s voice. He wants to scream at Daniel to shut the incessant jabbering up. There aren’t any lectures to shut up anymore; nothing to stifle. Daniel is silenced.

            Across from him, Mitchell twists and moans. He throws a spare shoe at the man. If anyone would have bet him that Mitchell might go a bit whacked when incarcerated by big bugs, he would have gambled with confidence that it would not have been the flyboy. He would have pegged Sam or Vala. Glimpsing the pair, Jack notes it would be impossible for either of them to lose it. Both of the women have their uses to the bugs, both of the women are busy.

            The bugs have no use for the men. No, that wasn’t entirely correct. They have no use for the military men. They use Daniel, they use him every damned day. Jack curses again, but he does not curse the bugs, instead he curses the fear seeded in his heart.

            He tried, tried at first to lead a rebellion against the invaders, the occupiers. It was useless in the end. Once they captured Daniel, all bets were off. Jack surrendered, gave his people over and signed a pact to keep his friend alive.

            Alive.

            Jack hangs his head. This isn’t alive, this isn’t even close. The shell shivering in the corner as Vala ladles soup into his slack mouth is not his friend, not his confidant of all these years. He makes himself look at Daniel, really concentrate on the thing that wears Daniel’s face. Jack winces as he notes the scars running along Daniel’s hands and feet. The feet are the worst. The bugs burned the soles when Daniel tried to escape once. The toes are bent at strange angles from being broken and broken again. Jack avoids Daniel’s face, but curses himself. He forces himself to look up at Daniel and see what is not there.

            Daniel is not there.

            Vala lifts the spoon again, but Daniel turns his face away. The light shaft from the tiny bulb in the ceiling glints off of the input port in Daniel’s skull. There are several netted over his head. The day the bugs brought him back from that session, Jack went berserk. It didn’t help. Nothing does.

            Vala tries to offer the food again, but Daniel bats the hand away and scrunches up in a ball. His hands curve over his stomach and he retches up what he’s eaten. Neither Sam or Vala are squeamish about the vomit. They set about cleaning him and the bed. Daniel can barely eat anymore. It is a crap shoot to figure out what days the bugs haven’t fooled around with his system, figure out what days they will allow him to eat. They’ve tried to ask Daniel to tell them. He tried to signal his answer once. He paid for it, and the price was something more than Jack could stand.

            He hears Sam whispering to Vala, “Not today. Maybe tomorrow.”

            “It’s been three days. They need to let him eat, that’s what they need to do.” Vala stares up at the ceiling of their cell. They all know there’s listening and viewing devices concealed somewhere in the room.

            Sam reaches over to Vala and gives her arm a squeeze. “They need Daniel too much to let him starve to death. They’ll let him eat tomorrow.”

            Vala nods but curses as she moves to help Daniel settle in for the night. Jack turns his face away, stares at the shadows of the room. He wants to fade away into those shadows.

            A sharp sting across his face startles him back to reality. Sam sits next to him, her eyes angry and determined. She hisses in a bare whisper, “What the hell is wrong with you?”

            He says nothing. What is there to say?

            She slaps him again, this time ricocheting his head against the wall of their cell. “He’s dying, and you’re doing nothing.” She glares at Mitchell as he mumbles in his half crazed state. “What the hell good are you men if you’re not going to help us?”

            His hand comes up slowly, but not to rub his cheek. He catches her hand just as she is about to swing for a third shot. “Watch yourself Captain.”

            “It’s Colonel, General,” she sneers.

            “Not if I have anything to do with it,” he says and jerks her arm. She nearly growls at him, but some of the tension drains out of her as they sit and stare at one another. “Now Colonel, what would you have me do?”

            She drops her head, and murmurs into her shirt. They learned long ago the bugs are not good at detecting whispers. “He’s failing, sir. I’m not sure how long they will keep him alive anymore.”

            He turns his head to the wall and keeps his voice a ghost. “You said they need him to help with the translations.”

            “Yes, sir.” She sighs into her words. “But he fights translating any of the intel they gather from different worlds.”
“That’s Daniel,” he comments.

            Her round eyes look up at him, and he sees the earnest plead in them. “Do you blame him? He doesn’t want what happened to Earth to happen to those other worlds.”

            Jack peers at Daniel as he curls into a ball on Vala’s lap. “It’s a wonder he can fight them at all.”

            “With all the implants they have connected and interlaced through his brain, I can’t believe it either,” Sam says. “But the fact they still beat him, don’t let him eat, whip him is a testament to his strength.”

            He doesn’t remark that it could be that the bugs are just sadistic monsters that like to torture their prisoners. Jack nods in agreement, he needs to give her something, let her believe in something.

            “We need to get out of here soon, if we want him to survive.”

            Jack wholeheartedly agrees with that assessment. He has no idea how or what to do.

            “They have me tune their array every eight days,” Sam whispers, her head bowed as if in prayer. She even folds her hands as if she is reciting a vow to God.

            “Right,” he says. He knows they use Sam to assist in keeping their array set up for their communications back home. She does her duty and returns to their hovel every eight days. She never fails her duty because Jack told her not to fail.

            “The Tok’ra come tomorrow.”

            Like some damned Red Cross or intergalactic peace keepers, the Tok’ra brokered a deal with the bugs to allow them access to all the prisoners of war on Earth. Every few months, the Tok’ra come and bring supplies. They are worthless, yellow bellied cowards. They’ve done nothing to save Earth, and everything to save themselves from the invasion of the galaxy.

            He twists his face in reply, but awaits her point.

            “Teal’c.”

            Jack startles and looks up stunned at her.

            “We can get a message to him through the Tok’ra.”

            He shakes his head, they’ve been through this before. He knows she is grasping at the wind if she is bringing up this plan again. “Won’t work,” he whispers. “Tried it.”

            “Not like this.” She covers her mouth as if she is yawning and says, “I figured out the coded links in the array. I can upload the satellites to have a blank spot in their scanning of near space. Shouldn’t be hard since they are deep space telemetry and communications satellites anyway.”

            It is one of those ironies that Sam ended up doing deep space telemetry and communications in the end.

            “Blank spot,” he murmurs as he draws dots in the dust on the floor leaving a area that isn’t touched.

            She nods as she looks at it. “Near space, they can’t see well anyway. It is almost like they are farsighted with their satellite array. They can detect and see things far away, but not close.”

            “Not close.”

            “Tell the Tok’ra. Just tell them.”

            “Tell them what?” His voice almost rises, almost pushes the limit of what they know is safe.

            “Tell them it’s time to save Daniel,” Sam says through clenched teeth, then rises and stalks off. He knows she’ll give him the details later, but she’s too agitated by his seemingly compliant attitude.

            Jack realizes she doesn’t know him, never did. He isn’t compliant, he hasn’t surrendered. He’s just dead.

II.
Vala sits most days in their cell, but somedays the Loquata make her accompany Daniel during his daily sessions. She hates those days but longs for them at the same time. It is the only time Vala can offer her support immediately, but cannot say a word until they are finished with her Daniel.

            It is one of those days. The Loquata guard drags her out of their cell mid-morning, some hours after Daniel had been taken away. She never knows when they are coming or if they are coming at all. The first time she was taken, Vala thought they were planning on killing her. Instead, they sat her in front of Daniel as they beat him because of his insolence. Each time, they haul her away from their cell, her heart thrums up in her throat threatening to choke away her breath before they even get to the long torture room where Daniel lives most of his days.

            He is hooked up to a portal. Several probes are connected to his skull, in a manner that reminds her of the Earth movie “The Matrix”. Daniel fights it, jerks and tears at the probes stuck in his head. They use electrical prods to keep his hands away from his head. They are sadistic in their actions. They could just bind his hands, but they don’t. They give him the choice to acquiesce and not fight. He won’t stop fighting it until pure exhaustion takes the choice away from him.

            The guard squeaks at her, and it still takes all of her self-control not to say something sarcastic about their high pitched voices. They are brutish insect like monsters, thick armor, massive joints and limbs, large bulging eyes, clamping mandibles. But their voices bring up images of helium induced tones. She has to squash a smile at the thought of them all sitting around the multitude of computers sucking helium from balloons. It is almost too much, but the sight of Daniel stops her.

            In silence, he fights translating for them. When they were first captured, they allowed Daniel to do everything as he’d always done it. Literally translate for them, but when the Loquata realized Daniel was leading them astray, they ended his act and forced him into this unimaginable servitude.

            She can see the electric prods have done their damage today. He has burns all over his hands, arms, and chest. She knows eventually he will give in. Silently, she prays it will be sooner rather than later. His eyes open for a moment and focus on her. It is startlingly enough that she gasps in front of them. They spin on their long three legged stance and glare at her.

            She keeps her eyes averted; she doesn’t want them to see Daniel. In his moment of clarity, which is so rare, he begs her with his expression. His mouth forms words, slowly, painfully. No voice comes out. They’ve taken that away from him. Daniel is just a cog in the mechanisms of their computers now.

            Vala watches his tongue lick dry, cracked lips. She sees the light stay in his eyes as he forms the words. She hopes the words will give her something, she feels strangely selfish for hoping against hope that Daniel knows something to free them, to free himself.

            She reads his lips. The words are simple, straightforward, and sinking in their aspect.

            Kill me, please.

            She drops her gaze, cannot find the strength to lift her eyes. Tears well up and fall from her face in splashes. She thinks of nothing but the plea. She’s too weak to look back up at him right away. How can she look at him, when she cannot give him what he so desires? Swaying, Vala nearly falls over from the strain, the ache deep in her chest.

            She finds her self again, finds the resilience that always resides within her reserves. It is what kept her sane when she was a prisoner of the Goa’uld; it is what keeps her breathing now. Glancing up, she sees she has lost her chance to connect with Daniel. His eyes have glazed over again; he stares at words filtering in his head through the contraption plugged into him. His body slumps and his mouth slacks open. Exhaustion is his enemy and his friend. At least now, they will access the information hidden in the depths of his skull. No computer program can do what Daniel can; no computer program possesses the nuances of skill with language that Daniel does.

            It is some time before he is released from the portal. She sits quietly, not making a noise but never letting her eyes stray too long from her Daniel. He might need her, and she needs to be there for him. After a stretch of hours as the lighting turns more artificial than natural, they release him from the purgatory Vala knows he has been in.

            Daniel collapses to the floor. They point at her and command her to take him away. This is the hard part for her. Although Daniel has lost body mass and muscle over the time they have been imprisoned, he still weighs too much for her to handle on her own. But she has too, there is no other choice.

            Lowly, she kneels next to him and whispers for him to listen to her. It takes some time before he jars awake. He swats at the air, almost hitting her and their captors make noises about her that she can only conclude must be some horrible substitute for laughter. She doesn’t react to them, but it bubbles up inside of her. She wants to punch them and beat them. She wants a gun, a P90, so that she can spray bullets all over them. Instead, she leans down and helps Daniel to his feet.

            He moans a little when she asks if he can make it. He’ll need to make it; she has no other way to get him to their home, their cell. As they exit the control room, Sam joins them. She takes up Daniel’s other arm and helps Vala through the hallways. The guards encircle them and they strike up a strange entourage down the long dark hallways of the hive as Jack has come to call this place. Vala almost questions where Sam has come from, why is she there? But then Vala recalls that it was the day for Sam to play with the arrays.

            Glancing sideways, Vala studies Sam and hopes to get some indication that their plan has worked. Sam is steady; she lost a lot of her emotional edge she used to wear like a badge of honor in the days of the SGC. She doesn’t give off any clue what has happened today. Vala picks up the pace; she needs to know if there is any hope at all. Sam nearly stumbles at the uneven pace and glares at Vala as if to ask her what the rush is. They have grown accustom to their own silent language.

            It is then, when their eyes meet that Vala can see Sam comprehend her rush to their cell. It is then, Sam smiles. It is momentary, too fleeting to catch. It barely touches her lips, yet it sparkles her eyes. Vala knows, knows there’s hope.

            Vala sighs her relief. For tonight, for today she will not have to answer Daniel’s plea. She can hold off until she knows there is no hope.

III.
He wonders if they understand, if they know. He lies on the bed of cotton and wood, his arms aching, his hands curled into claws from the burns. He stares up at the darkened ceiling and never sees the light bulb. He sees little these days of the outside world.

            His inner world has overwhelmed all else. He wonders if his team mates understand now what has happened, what these aliens have cost him. They stole his voice, stole his dignity, stole his freedom, and yet he could have survive all of that. Now, as the words stream endlessly in his brain, as the breakdown of language collides into its particles like atoms smashed into their most fundamental bits, he wishes for death.

            The aliens stole something more precious than life from him.

            He wants to cry, but he cannot. The most he can offer to the world around him is a thin moan. This alerts his team mates of his awakening, and Vala is there. She tends him with such care that it surprises him still. He cannot thank her for her ministrations; he cannot touch her and hold her. His limbs are broken to his commands. He is only a robot of their design now.

            “Come, Daniel, eat some soup,” Vala says and ladles the broth to his mouth. She says in her most girlish voice, “Today is a good day. You can eat today.”

            He opens his mouth and lets her spoon it in. It is salty and warm. It drops in his belly like hard mud but he moans in response. He encourages her in this way. She knows the only way he can communicate is by moaning now. He wonders if she has figured out the different tenors of his moans, can she tell what he is trying to say?

            A leap in his chest thumps his heart, and he drops his eyes away from her for a moment. He does not want to feel hope. There is no hope. They’ve taken that away. And still that is not the worst they robbed from him. He shivers and opens his mouth.

            Words, in columns of languages, fall all about him, cover his sight and existence. He can barely make out the features of Vala’s face. The strong angular lines, the thick mass of dark hair, it is a blur from the snow storm of words.

            Words are power. He has always known this, since he was a little boy. Words tell stories, let people understand, let people kill, let people forgive. Words give and take. Words are power. The aliens know this as well. It is their own mantra. They will not give him power over his voice, because of what he knows. Words. He has seen all of their words.

            Strategy, plans, vulnerabilities. All of these come down to simple words. Words. He knows them. All of them. He knows their plans. They’ve taken his voice away, his ability to communicate with his friends, his family. He cannot tell them he knows how to save them.

            He knows how to save the world.

            He can say nothing.

            And yet, it is not this that he hates the most about what the aliens took from him. It is so simple and so beautiful, so insidious and so easy. They took his ability to talk, to communicate, but they did not take his ability to understand.

            He hates this. He does not want to know.

            He wants to know nothing, he wants to be ignorant now. He wants to forget, to go insane like Mitchell. |But they keep him sane, alive, and aware with the capacity to comprehend what he has lost.

            He knows how to save his family. He knows how to save the world.

            He can do nothing. He hates language now, he hates his talent for it; he hates his failure. He is nothing now. He cannot save his family, his world. This is what he hates the aliens the most for. They’ve shown him his failure; that he has all the talent, the ability, the resources to save every last human being still on Earth and he cannot do it.

            He does not hate himself. Daniel loathes, despises, abhors himself.

IV.
Jack curses as a Tok’ra enters their cell. It has been over two months since his plea for the Tok’ra to contact Teal’c. Two months. Daniel is withering away, his skeletal features twist Jack’s guts until he can barely stand to look at his friend anymore. In fact, he never acknowledges when Daniel is actually in the room anymore.

            It doesn’t really matter, anyway. Most of his team doesn’t even care if he exists anymore. He spends most of his time getting Mitchell to move. The man is the most stubborn lunatic Jack has ever known. But he needs Mitchell to recover, if they are going to get out of here. He needs Mitchell to watch their six as they all (and all of them) get the hell off of this world.

            Both Vala and Sam ignore Jack’s attempts to bring Mitchell to a sane state of mind.  Jack doesn’t mind it, at least they don’t bagger him with good ideas or methods to bring the crazy man around. It might help, but Jack doubts it. Jack is proud of his progress so far. At least Mitchell sits up, eats, nods to them as they move about the room.

            When the Tok’ra enters the cell, Mitchell shudders, but Jack holds up a hand as if he is commanding a dog to stay. It is almost like that anyway, Jack has used what he knows about dog training to slowly bring Mitchell around to the straight side of the road.

            The Tok’ra delivers some cleaning supplies, some blankets, a few bandages and antiseptic. He’s also brought a few medicinal supplies for Daniel. He hands this to Jack. Jack rifles through the bag, checking to see if there is anything else of use. It is good to see the supplements for Daniel, the medicines for his burns. It isn’t good that there isn’t any type of message in the bag to tell them that the Tok’ra actually listened to them.

            The lurker guard stands close to the door, watching everything. God damned bug won’t leave the Tok’ra in here for a second. It took all Jack’s creative timing and some unique hand signals to get the Tok’ra to understand the message last time.

            Jack eyes the Tok’ra again, his concentration is fierce. The eyes of the host lock on Jack. Jack raises his hand and scratches his face, then slips a hand over his brow to make the symbol of a serpent. It looks only as if Jack is rubbing away the worry, the stress of being incarcerated.

            The Tok’ra shifts his shoulders as if he is pulling out the strain of carrying the heavy bag of supplies. The host has blue eyes, not like Daniel’s, but a gray blue like the color of the ocean at the horizon. He starts to speak, listing the items that were included in the bag.

            “You have some vitamins and some burn meds. I noticed Daniel had burns the last time I was here,” the Tok’ra says in the host’s voice. Jack doesn’t know the name of the host. “There’s two days supply of antiseptic.” The Tok’ra notes the guard behind him and says, “It’s morning out now, so you should be good until nightfall in two days.”

            Jack nods, his hands are shaking. He fists his fingers but the bag nearly slips out of his grasp. Teal’c is coming in two days, at nightfall. He glances to the corner where Sam sits; he can see she’s holding her face in her hands. Her head is bowed as if she is praying. He knows the smile on her face is hidden from the guard, from the cameras.

            “Thanks, I know you did what you could. Thanks,” Jack says and offers his hand to the Tok’ra.

            The guard rushes forward and whips Jack back. The stinging flay of his energy weapon discharges. Crying out, Jack collapses onto the floor and curls around the slash mark on his chest.

            The Tok’ra never reacts; he looks down at Jack and says, “Take care, make sure you make it last.”

            Jack hears the words but understands them to mean – take care and make sure you last until it’s time. He grunts out a reply, “Yeah.”

            They are left in the cell. Only the soft snore of Daniel in the corner on the bed interrupts the quiet. Jack knows they have to fall back into their routine, the routine they perform after every Tok’ra visit.

            Mitchell is first to come to his sense, or maybe he just doesn’t realize what just happened. He moves over to Jack and says, “Sir, you okay?”

            These are the most words Mitchell has uttered in five months, and before that Mitchell’s entire repertoire consisted of four letter words that he would never have said in front of his sainted grandmother.

            Jack grumbles and staggers to his hands and knees. Vala and Sam are there to assist Mitchell as they get him to his feet. Jack points at the discarded bag. “Two days supply.”

            “We can last until nightfall in two days,” Sam notes.

            Vala glances at Daniel’s prone form. “Oh, we’ll make sure of that. My Daniel can make it that long.” She seems to purr at them as if she is a lioness checking over her cub. Jack is glad she is on their side.

            Vala disengages and moves to Daniel’s side. She slides into bed with him, cradling his head on her chest. They don’t have long before the bugs come to get Daniel for the day.

            Sam works on Jack’s burn mark as Mitchell hands her the antiseptic.

            “Now what?” Jack whispers.

            “We wait.”

            “Array?” He chances the word, knowing full well that if they make out what he is saying there will be no escape.

            “Done,” Sam says and points to the gauze. Mitchell pulls out a few pads and gives it to her.

            “Nothing else.”

            “Nothing.”

            “Easy as cake?” Jack asks, leery of the watchful eyes of their captors. He hisses as she dabs some antiseptic on his seared skin.

            “Cake is never easy,” Sam says. “Out of a box, maybe, but from scratch you are talking about a whole new recipe. Figuring out the temperature of the oven, what ingredients you need, how much.” She shakes her head. “Just isn’t easy to bake a cake.”

            He heard her coded words, understood that it had been difficult for her to tune the array so that the bugs would not see them. “So, you’ve baked from scratch.”

            “Absolutely.” She smiles as she jabs the gauze one more time, and he thinks she took lessons from Fraiser. How to be a Nazi doctor in one easy step. “Delicious, you’ll see.”

            Well, no he doesn’t see. He has no idea what this escape really entails. He knows that Sam had tuned the array so that there would be a blind spot. A spot that Teal’c somehow has to find on his own because there is no way that they can communicate with him. Teal’c has to use that blind spot to fly into so that their captors will not see him, then he has to figure out how to get them off the planet. Easy as cake.

            Needless to say, Jack tries not to think about the fact to start this whole endeavor off Teal’c has to have a ship in the first place. How the hell is he going to do that? Jack glares at Sam, but she says nothing. Humming, she continues to clean his wound.

            For the first time in days, Jack peers at Daniel’s mangled form. There isn’t really any other choice. If this doesn’t work, Daniel’s dead. Once he’s dead, they all will be. He is the only reason the aliens keep them all alive.

            Daniel’s eyes crack open. For each first second of each day when Daniel wakes up, Jack swears he can see his old friend again. But then the wall slams down and Daniel is gone. It takes a few minutes as Daniel searches the room. His gaze stops as he finds Jack. There is a soft comfort in Daniel’s eyes, a recognition before the imprisonment of his brain takes over.

            Jack sighs. Hell, this better work, he thinks.

V.

            To be sure, the ease of the rescue would have been increased if Colonel Carter had been able to elaborate specific details on her method and her idea for the escape. The only information relayed to Teal’c had been simple but, somewhat less than straightforward.

            Don’t look into an eclipse of the sun.

            From all of Teal’c’s research, he fails to discover an eclipse of the sun which would be useful for an immediate escape of his fellow team mates. It had been Bra’tac, as Teal’c and his old teacher sat on the dunes of Dakara contemplating the words of the messenger Tok’ra, who said, “The sun can blind one to the truth.”

            Teal’c slowly smiles. He understands the message and sets about discovering a way to bring SG1 home.

            With some care, he maneuvers the ship into the moon’s orbit around the Earth. It is close to the Earth, in comparison to the planets they’ve traveled to through the Stargate. The ship settles and he flies it to intercept the sun. There he waits, knowing from Colonel Samantha Carter’s information, scant though it was, that the Loquata cannot detect him at this orbit or in the position. Their sensor array must have a defined limitation, causing them to have a weakness at close range. He understands this type of weakness. Certain weapons, certain ships are designed for long range capabilities. The alien invaders that conquered the Earth have no need for near space detectors in any large fashion because they have already neutralized their targets. This left a small hole for him to scurry through in order to save his friends.

            The newly modified Goa’uld cargo ship hovers in space. He needs time to retrieve his team mates. At the orbit he positioned the ship in, Teal’c will not be able to use the newly installed Asgard beaming technology to rescue his team mates. He will need to fly in closer to the planet and this put him in considerable peril. There are limitations to the Loquata’s limitations.

            His first order of business is to discover the whereabouts of his team mates. It would not be an easy task due to the fact their signal transmitters for locating them had been long since deactivated. It had been Doctor Carolyn Lam and Doctor Bill Lee who had offered a solution, though it was not an optimal one.

            Teal’c tunes the ship’s sensors. He was looking for what Doctor Carolyn Lam called the proverbial needle in a haystack. He still did not understand why one would set about to engage in such a useless endeavor. Slowly, he quantifies the sensors and sets the limits of detection. He will be near the edge of the technological abilities of the scanners. He could very well think he is detecting his team mates when in fact he could be detecting some other form of radioactive transmission.

            It had been Doctor Bill Lee who had posed the question when they were determining how to retrieve the lost SG1 members. The rotund scientist asked hadn’t Daniel Jackson refused to have the locating beacon implanted at first due to the fact it had a small radioactive core. Colonel Samantha Carter had allayed his fears of the radioactive substance by informing him it was no more radioactive activity than the isotopes they routinely used to get evade the scanners on Goa’uld ships. The lifetime exposure rate would be as small or smaller. This had quelled Daniel Jackson’s concerns, concerns Teal’c considered well founded.

            This small point referred to by Doctor Bill Lee brought a flurry of activity at the newly established off Earth base, called Tara to many and Delta site to others. The residual radioactive signal could be detected, but they had to separate it from the noise of the other signals. It had taken nearly two months for Doctor Carolyn Lam to conclude there was a residual physical change in the cellular structure of the living tissue near the implanted locating device. This tissue change, a signature in the DNA, would serve as Teal’c confirmation that the radioactive signal was correct. If the radioactive core was damaged or the tissue degraded because of death, then there would be no way to detect the signal, or confirm it as his team member. He would need to detect the DNA without actually sampling the tissue. The refinement of the Asgard technology to do so had been swift, yet Teal’c was unsure of its reliability.

            Due to his uncertainty, it takes Teal’c many more minutes to refine the signal to noise ratio to make sure he is in fact detecting the radioactive signal plus the small bleep of the DNA mutation. He counts the number of signals he has.

            One, two.

            Three.

            Four.

            For several minutes, he searches for the last signal. He cannot find it. His heart sinks, and alone, Teal’c allows himself to shutter his eyes closed. They have lost one of their own. He is too late.

            There are only four to rescue.

            He has failed before he has even begun.

VI.
The time’s all wrong. She keeps saying it over and again in her head. It can’t possibly be three days. It was supposed to be two days at nightfall. It is the third day, so Vala knows it can’t possibly be right. Muscles wouldn’t fail them, she knows this. She doesn’t question this, not this time, not now as she glances up at her Daniel.

            Yet, she cringes, flinches and looks away from him. There is something horrid about him now, she likes to sit in the torture room with him and remember the first time they met, remember the days they were fighting a winnable war against the Ori. But today, as the aliens force her to sit and watch, Vala closes her eyes and wishes.

            Her skin heats as she makes the wish. It sears her and she knows her cheeks must have hot red dots blushing them. She hates her wish, but what else is there? As she stares at the ghost that is Daniel, Vala wishes only one thing now.

            Since it is day three and the rescue was supposed to happen on day two at nightfall, since Daniel’s body is giving out, since she cannot stand to sit here another day watching Daniel suffer, Vala wishes Daniel would die.

            Shame bubbles up inside of her, and forces her to gulp down her bile. Tears brim at her eyes as she watches the last vestiges of Daniel jerk in the torture chair as the aliens use him. Vala knows the others will hate her, will turn on her, will accuse her of not loving Daniel. Yet, it is the firm, deep seeded love within her for her Daniel that she decides. She vows to do it. She knows how.

            She’ll kill Daniel tonight.

            Being the host of a Goa’uld has given her knowledge. Killing him with her bare hands will be easy. She nods, her eyes gaze at Daniel, but she is not seeing him. Vala visualizes what she needs to do. How she needs to place her hands on his throat when everyone else is sleeping. The pressure she will need to apply, how much and where, she reviews. She won’t suffocate him; he might struggle too much. She wants it clean and fast.

            She glances down at her hands, thinks of them as instruments of death, and feels the shock of hell deep in her chest. Her heart won’t let her breathe as she sees Daniel dead in her arms. Closing her eyes, Vala whispers to herself. She needs to do this, no one else is damned brave enough to do it. They’re all cowards.

            Heat flares up again, but this time it is an anger. Why can’t the mighty SG1 do something to help Daniel? Why didn’t the great General O’Neill save his friend? Why does she have to kill Daniel? Why does it have to be her?

            She wants to cry, she needs to give up. There is little strength in her now, her bones don’t feel like they are put together right. It feels like she is strung all wrong, her joints are slippery and loose. When she kills Daniel tonight, it will be with the last of her strength. If they kill her in return, she thinks it will be okay. She can accept it.

            She sighs, then rights her shoulders, and stares up at the shell of the man before her. She mouths his name and hopes he will acknowledge her. But he drowns within the network connected to his brain as the Loquata hover close to him. Just a little while now, she thinks, and it will be all over.

            The slight grip within her, the tingle invading her muscles, and nerves tells her. She bolts upright, realizing in one instant that she is being transported with Asgard technology. In the second instant, Vala sees that Daniel is being left behind, he is not being rescued. In the last instant, as the aliens blast weapons at her, she launches herself onto Daniel.

            She hears his screams as they vanish and disintegrate.

VII.
The scream rips out of his throat, feels like his limbs are being torn off. The scream has teeth of its own, puncturing and gnawing away at his very bones. He shudders as it takes over him, as he realizes he bleeds all over the deck of a cargo ship. There’s blood everywhere, on everyone. It spatters Vala’s face, hands, and chest. It stains Jack’s hands as he grips Daniel to try and still his flaying body. Daniel’s breath comes in short gulps, the blood bubbles up in his nostrils, out of his mouth. He drowns in it. He claws the air, trying to find purchase as if he is sinking into the undertow. Another burst of blood purges from him, and he whimpers as his guts twist and rebel.

            Jack restrains him as Mitchell holds clothes to his mouth and nose. The blood keeps coming though, they can’t stop it. He feels the low throttle of the cargo ship lurching from a battle. He hears Jack yelling commands, yet Daniel cannot make out what they are. All he knows is that he is away from them, the aliens, his tormentors. All he knows is that he can die in peace.

            Mitchell curses as the blood soaks through another clothe, and calls out to Vala for help. She is there, she is always there for him. Jack has disappeared and Daniel lets out a low whine. Vala cradles him in her arms, rocking him slowly and pressing clothes to his abused face. She is kind and gentle but he still recognizes the edge, the sharp pointy edges of the walls she built up. Daniel paws the air and she touches the hand, brings it in close, toward her heart. She lets him in, into those walls, those barricades. He knows once he is there, that he is safe. Finally. Safe.

 

VIII

            Jack rubs a hand down his face and tries to blink the sleep out of his eyes. That is one misnomer, if anyone was to ask him. Which, of course, they didn’t? How can he have sleep grit in his eyes when he hasn’t slept in over 48 hours? Shaking his head, he looks up at the rest of his people, the last remnants of SG1.

            Brown streaks of blood smear over their clothes, only Sam and Teal’c are spared such adornment. They had both been working to evade the Lurkers as Daniel nearly died during their escape. He still hates to think about it. The blood running freely like a untrained river. It ran from his nose and out of his mouth. They had no idea why, they couldn’t stop it. He was sure Daniel would die from blood loss, but just as easily as it started it stopped. They sat back and watched him during the long trip home to the Delta site.

            Now, they sit in the infirmary of the new home for the Tau’ri and await word from the doctors. There isn’t much equipment here, the surgical suite is nothing compared to what was available at the SGC. They are scraping around in Daniel’s head with the barest of tools. They might as well be using flint chipped knifes.

            How long did it take to get from Earth to the Delta site? He cannot remember. He wonders why none of them have cleaned up. Is it because having a bit of Daniel stained upon them made them feel more connected, made them feel as if they could will Daniel to live through that connection?

            Jack scrubs his face again and sinks back into the chair. He wants this to be over, he wants to remember what it was like to sit home with his thick ugly socks on and sweats, watching hockey and drinking beer. He wants to play chess. He wants to play chess with Daniel.

            He curses low in his throat.

            The swing of the door at the end of the gray corridor alerts him to the doctor’s approach. She’s never been warm to him; he wonders if she has ever been warm to anyone? Even her father?

            “Nice to see you General,” Lam says. “It’s great to be able to hand the reins of this place over to someone with some idea how to mount a resistance. I’m a doctor not a soldier.”

            He knows Doctor Carolyn Lam has done her best to lead the small group of SGC survivors. Since her father died in the first wave of invasions, and since the fall of each off planet site, Lam has had to take on more and more responsibility.

            “Can you tell us about Daniel?” Vala’s words are soft, but not kind.

            Lam purses her lips, shakes her head, then says, “I think you need to see for yourselves.”

            Lam leads the way, her strident walk commanding acquiesces and obedience. Jack wonders if he should keep her in charge of the base. But his thoughts stop as he moves through the double doors to the small ward of injured and dying.

            Sitting against the back wall, Daniel is propped up on pillows. His features ashen, he looks all the more skeletal and gray. Jack swallows hard and forces himself not to look away from the nightmare image of Daniel. They’ve shaved Daniel’s head and there are gross scars criss crossing his scalp. Tubes and wires encase his friend, but Jack is startled when Daniel looks at him.

            He sees recognition in Daniel’s eyes. It is so rare, so precious, Jack nearly stumbles. Unlike all the days of their confinement, the recognition does not fade away. Lam understands his stunned like expression and says, “They put in several devices to impede Daniel from outside interference.”

            “Outside interference?” Sam asks.

            Lam holds up a thumb tack sized device. “The Loquata use these implants to keep their subjects under control. These are deeply embedded in the cortex of the brain and at several other regions.” She walks up to Daniel. His eyes have closed. “Daniel has quite a few of them. They are used so that the subject can concentrate on his task.”

            “Daniel’s task being to interface with their communication systems and-,”

            “Act as part of the communication system,” Lam huffs a bit as she completes Sam’s thoughts. “Really quite ingenious, essentially they’ve learned how to harness the brain for all its plasticity and potential. Instead of designing a computer system or program to do what they need to do, they just find a brain, be it human, Loquatian, or other alien with the right abilities and hook them up.”

            “Yeah, but what does it do to Daniel?”

            Lam folds her arms and purses her lips before answering, “Precisely the problem, General. I’ve no idea what it does to Loquatians but for humans, how they’ve modified the neural connections causes the person to become almost a savant.”

            “A savant?” Vala asks. She’s standing the closest to Daniel’s bed as if she is waiting for him to wake up, as if she wants to be sure to reassure him.

            “For wont of a better term, an idiot-savant. This is an older term used for some people suffering from Autism Spectrum Disorders where the autism is severe and mentally crippling in some causes, yet the person has an uncanny ability, genius level, to do a specific talent such as play a piano by ear or count cards.”

            “Like Rain Man,” Mitchell chimes in and, for the first time, Jack sees the man’s wild stare has settled, that he seems more himself than he has in months.

            “Exactly,” Lam nods.

            Jack claws at his temples. Really his brain is about to explode with all this information. He needs a shower, a beer, and a million years off. He can have none of them. “Please explain how Dustin Hoffman has anything to do with Daniel?”

            Lam drops her head before she answers. Then she stares up at him and says in her most professional voice. “What the Loquata did to Daniel was to turn on one part of his brain at the expense of all of the others. He is essentially suffering from Autism now.”

IX

            “Autism?” Vala says and grips the sheets of Daniel’s bed. She wants him to wake up now. She wants to hold his head in her lap like they did every night. She wants to be back in the cell again. “What’s this Autism? Some kind of temporary amnesia. Right? Right?”

            Sam shakes her head, and Vala sees tears glisten in her eyes.

            But it is Jack who interrupts and doesn’t let Sam explain. “No, no, no. I’m sorry, Lam but that can’t be it.” He points at Daniel, who has opened his eyes again. Sleep fogs his attention as he sighs. “When we came in here, Daniel recognized me. He saw me. I knew a kid that was autistic and it doesn’t work that way.”

            Carolyn nods her head. “You’re right, of course. He can still interact to a degree, but his focus has shifted to an obsession with language and translation.”

            “So, how is that different than what he’s always been?” Jack asks.

            Vala watches as the General shuffles from foot to foot. He wants Daniel to be okay, he needs Daniel to be okay. But she knows, as she looks upon her Daniel, that he isn’t. She can see him now, his eyes flickering in their gaze as if he is watching fireflies dance about him. She wonders at the words, the sentence construction he observes. It is all such a pitiful waste. And at some time in the past, she would have said, what a waste of good, handsome skin. Now, she mourns his passing.

            “Go back,” Daniel whispers and stops all conversation about his condition, whether it is autism, amnesia, or whatever the hell.

            She stumbles back and says, “What, what?”

            “He’s talking now?” Jack says at the same time.

            “We’ve learned quite a bit about these implants that the Loquata are so keen on using,” Lam reports. “We can, with some very skillful talented hands, turn them off.”

            “What the hell?” Jack says. “Then turn them all off. What the hell are we talking about his condition, if we can reverse it?”

            Lam holds up her hand as if to shield herself from a fierce wind. “It isn’t that easy.”

            Daniel repeats, “Go back.”

            “Why isn’t it that easy?” Jack is boiling. Vala steps away from him towards Daniel’s bed. “What, you want to experiment on him some more?”

            “General!” Sam yells.

            “Go back,” Daniel cries out. Tears are streaming down his face as they all stop and turn to his shadowed bed.

            “What, Daniel, what is it?” Vala takes his hand, petting it.

            “Go back,” Daniel said, his hands clawing at his throat as if he is trying to scrape away the pain. “Back. Earth.”

            “Oh, no, no, no, Daniel. We just got back,” Vala says and shakes her head, stilling his hands. She leans over and stares into his unseeing eyes. “We’re free, you’re free, Daniel.”

            His focus snaps to attention. The blue eyes rivet her, make her gasp as he speaks in halting, pain driven words. “Back, Earth. Save. Know how.”

            “Sweet Jesus,” Mitchell says. “He knows how to do it.”

            “I believe you are correct, Colonel Mitchell,” Muscles chimes in from his corner in the infirmary. She likes his shadow, his presence. So cool and so solid. “Daniel Jackson knows how to save the Tau’ri homeworld of Earth.”

X
The months of captivity must have fried something in their brains. It is all Jack can think as he listens to the cacophony of voices, a litany of noise, and all of it focuses on one thing. Enacting Daniel’s plan. He doesn’t know who to label as certifiable at this point, them or Daniel. At least, Daniel knows there’s something desperately wrong with him, at least Daniel looks plaintive and subdued.

            Right now, you would think it is Christmas morning at the Delta site, the way they are all jabbering on. Jack shakes his head. It took them over an hour to actually figure out what Daniel’s plan was, then all hell broke lose. His ever inventive second, began spinning ideas at a rate faster than the proverbial speeding bullet. Mitchell jumped up and paced the room, as if his skin was too tight for him. Only Vala and Teal’c had the decency to actually sit calmly in what they called the briefing room of the ramshackle base.

            “I sure by implanting the virus into the webbed network the Loquata essentially built in Daniel’s brain, we can cause massive enough damage to their computer systems to take it out,” Carter says. Her eyes are bright, her voice lilting with energy she hasn’t had in months.

            “You sure they won’t detect it?” Mitchell says. He still hasn’t figured out how to contain his excitement and walks the perimeter of the rectangular tent.

            “Fairly sure,” Carter replies. “By planting it in Daniel’s subconscious, even he won’t be able to access it. The trigger will be the Loquata’s computer program itself. When it tunes to Daniel’s neural network to access his translational abilities, the virus will be triggered.”

            “The question still remains as to whether the Loquata will even trust Daniel Jackson to insert him into their computer system again,” Teal’c points out.

            “They’ll do it,” Vala murmurs. She isn’t looking up. Her demeanor over the months, months of watching them torture Daniel, has softened. She looks up. “Power hungry monsters always think they have the upper hand. I know.” She raises an eyebrow as if to challenge any of them as to her knowledge.

            They all stay quiet.

            After a moment, Carter says, “Then that settles it, I’ll start working out the details of the virus program.”

            “Over my dead body,” Jack states.

            Everyone at the table freezes in the act of rising. Mitchell stops his incessant pacing.

            “Sir?”

            “You heard me, Carter,” Jack says. “Over my dead body.” He glares at each one of them and adds, “Need I remind you that Daniel is barely functional? He can hardly put a simple sentence together. He still needs to be hand fed. You’re going to send him back and feed him to the wolves. Think again, find another way.”

            Teal’c does rise and turns to him. “O’Neill, I too share your deep concern regarding Daniel Jackson’s condition, yet I cannot discover a better way to infiltrate their defenses. The free Jaffa nation, the Tok’ra and many others have banded together these many months looking for a way to free the galaxy of this curse. We have found none.”

            Jack bows his head, he thinks of his weakness all those months. He sees Daniel’s tortured and mangled body in his memories. The broken bones, the bruises, the burns and he still cannot forgive himself. Now, he must sacrifice Daniel again to save Earth. How?

            It is Vala’s voice that breaks the silence. “I’ll go with him.”

            “What?” Carter says. “Why?”

            Vala rises, but puts her foot in the bench. She folds her arms and leans on her one knee. “They’ll hurt him, first. We all know that. It’ll be bad.” Her words are low and whispered as if she speaks a revered prayer for the dead. “Daniel might not survive, especially if he’s alone. They’ll know that, they’ll take me back just for that reason. I’ll nurse him back to health again.”

            “And how does this help us, except for sacrificing two of you instead of just one? You know they’ll dig those beacons out of you instead of just deactivating them like they did last time.” Jack says, fisting his hands. Why the hell were they all crazy?

            She straightens up and says, “Doesn’t matter. I’ll be the way out.” Turning to Carter, Vala asks, “Can you modify the ship’s sensors to detect the Goa’uld protein left in my blood stream?”

            “Yes, sure.” Carter blinks several times and nods. “Yes, I’m sure of it.”

            “Then you write this virus program, make sure it has some kind of signal or alert or bell or whatever to tell you that it’s delivered. Once it’s done, send in the horses to get us.”

            “Cavalry,” Mitchell says.

            “Yes, whatever. Send them in, detect the signal in my blood, I’ll make sure I get Daniel.”

            “What if you can’t get to Daniel?”

            Silence drops over the room, and Jack feels like a lead fist just punched him in the gut. He knows he has no other choice. He can’t sacrifice a whole world for Daniel, Daniel would hate him if he did.

            “Try your best,” he whispers and leaves the tent.

 

XI.

            He feels the engines move beneath his feet. He rocks as he sits awaiting word. He is of two minds. One awaits word that he will be disembarking the ship onto a world with a Stargate, a world infested with the Loquata. The other awaits the same, yet it waits in rapture, knowing he will be going home. Daniel fight this other part of his mind, blinks away the tears.

            Yet, it becomes stronger. The part of him longing to be home with the Loquata, hooked up to their computers, interfaced into the world of words and light aches to be back there, yearns to be with his masters.

            Silently, Daniel wonders if he will be able to deliver the virus that Sam so carefully delivered into the neural networks encompassing his brain. He wonders at his resolve as the yearning inside of him grows.

            He jerks at her touch. She comforts him, but Daniel does not want her comfort, her soothing touch anymore. The physical need for the network connection streams through him like electricity. He sweats and murmurs. He needs to be back in the network. This feels like the sarcophagus addiction all over again. He giggles to himself.

            Vala looks at him quizzically. “I’m glad you can find something so funny about this, Daniel. Personally, walking back into a den of murdering cockroaches isn’t my definition of fun.”

            Daniel ignores her. He knows the plan. They will be dropped off on a planet currently defending itself against an incursion of the Loquata. Once there, they will make their way to the Loquata and conveniently be captured. The rest should be fairly easy – if the Loquata still find a need for Daniel, and if they will keep Vala with him. They will be transported back to Earth, Daniel will be hooked up again, and then he will deliver the virus. Once the Loquata are silenced from their communication with the far distant mother hive, the attack will occur.

            The entire plan hinges on Daniel’s devotion to Earth, to his friends. Yet, there is something deep inside of him, that other part that needs to be hooked back up. He hates the Loquata, his logical mind tells him. Shivering, he wraps his arms around his abdomen in his signature self hug. If only he could be connected for a day, just a day, he thinks.

            Yes, that is what he will do. He’ll wait. Daniel hates the Loquata as much as any of his friends. But it will hurt nothing to wait a day or two. He nods to himself as Vala takes a towel to clean his face. Yes, yes, he’ll wait a few days to deliver the virus. Just be connected up for a day or two. Maybe a week. Maybe he will be able to convince the Loquata to just leave him connected. No need to disconnect. No need. He won’t need food. Not in such short a time.

            Right, right, he thinks. This is what he will do. He looks up at Vala. Her eyes are seeking but harsh. She’s seen too much. Daniel knows she won’t understand.

            He doesn’t care.

            He only yearns to be connected to the web again.

            He needs to be connected to the web again.

            Need.

XII

            She is surprised by the first blow. Vala wasn’t surprised when they shackled her for the transport back to Earth after the Loquata captured them both. She wasn’t surprised when she remained locked up in a dark cell for some time after they gated back to Earth. When the Loquata entered her cell, she was certain they’d come to bring her to Daniel. Yes, they brought her to Daniel, forced her down on her knees in front of him as he gazed absently into the fog of his brain. His hands twitched as he stared outward yet saw nothing at all, except for what the machine fed him.

            As she stares up at him hooked up to their computer network, the first blow hit her. They swing at her with their armored claws, raking her and breaking her. She feels the blows, yet feels nothing at all. The numbness of being beaten, abused in front of Daniel, while he does not react, does not try to help her, stops every sensation except for one.

            It doesn’t matter if they make it out of here. It doesn’t matter at all, she realizes. Daniel is already dead. His brain is where it belongs. She whimpers for this pain more than the pain of the brutal attack.

            They tear and rip at her. Heedless of her cries, they ravage her flesh. Vala goes to that place she knows all too well within her own mind, a place she hid when possessed by a Goa’uld. Within the confines, she saves herself, huddles, and waits for the pain to end, the beating to end.

            Vala knows as they leave her panting on the floor in front of Daniel, that they did this not to hurt Daniel. He is untouchable. They did this in front of Daniel for her. They did this to demonstrate how Daniel is theirs. He belongs to them. Though he might not look like one of them with their insectoid heads, hunched bodies, they’ve won his mind.

            “Oh Daniel,” she whispers and closes her eyes against the tears.

XIII.

            The attack will be mounted within the hour. Teal’c sits quietly in the bay of his ship. No one else is with him. The others of SG1 are manning ships that have been gathered from across the galaxy. If they are successful with their initiative against the Loquata forces, the galaxy will be released and freedom will reign once again. The few ships that they have mustered for the attack are pitiful and small in comparison to the Loquata’s formidable armada. He acknowledges this weakness, though does not dwell on it as he checks the instruments of his small ship.

            It is not about size. He smirks a bit. Teal’c understands the joke that O’Neill used as they designed the plan to be implemented as the virus is downloaded from Daniel Jackson’s brain. In order to vanquish the Loquata, it has been determined that the best mode of action is to divide and conquer as O’Neill explained. Samantha Carter clearly outlined the need of the Loquata to maintain a continually contact of the outlying daughter hives, as she called the colony on Earth, with the mother hive which resided far outside the known galaxy’s plane. By attacking the arrays of deep space communication satellites, they could effectively isolate the Loquata on Earth. This Samantha Carter hypothesized would lead to mass confusion with the inter-dependent species. It may open the opportunity to hit key targets left vulnerable due to the ensuing disorder, thus allowing the small force to take control over the situation.

            Teal’c leans back in his chair, awaits word that he should engage the hyperdrive. The tiny fleet will jump and leave all at once, to appear close to Earth in the ‘hole’ or ‘blind spot’ in the Loquata’s sensors. They have all been assured by Samantha Carter that the Loquata would not be able to adapt to the fault in their sensory system in such a short period of time. They should be safe.

            It is this that Teal’c considers and ponders as his hands deftly touch the console before him. He wonders if his friend and family member of so many years, Daniel Jackson, will be safe. He worries Daniel Jackson will be left behind, something abhorrent to him. But he must trust in the woman who has taken care of Daniel Jackson all of the months of their confinement.

            The signal comes and he takes a deep breath. He will not let anyone else see his apprehension, this is a private concern for a warrior such as himself. He nods to himself, gathers the strength and fortitude that he needs, and then Teal’c touches the console panel again. The ship takes off, ready to engage hyperdrive, his next stop will be Earth.

            Time will tell if their plan will blind the Loquata enough to permit the planned attack, taking out the vulnerable areas to eventually allow a ground invasion force.

            Teal’c closes his eyes as the ship jumps, this is their last chance.

 

XIV.

            “Carter, tell me you have them?” Jack says as he leans over her shoulder. She shrugs, obviously not comfortable with his closeness. There was a time he knew she treasured it. Now, after their months with the bugs, she seems to seethe and shiver anytime, anyone comes close. Being a prisoner of war will do that to you.

            Jack points to the screen in front of Carter and asks, “What’s that flashing light mean?”

            She slaps his head away, huffs a bit, and then shakes her head. “It’s my lock on Vala.  Isn’t as strong as I thought it would be.” She starts mumbling to herself about protein conformations, sequences, and protein detection methods.

            “Can you tell where she is?” Jack asks, hoping that she will tell him that they are close to Daniel as well.

            “No, not this far out.” Carter taps a few keys. “Once the attack starts, we’ll move in and pick them up.”

            Jack stands up straight, crosses his arms, and says, “Pick up Vala, you mean.”

            Carter glares at him over her shoulder.

            “You know and I know that this was a stupid plan, that there was no real reason to believe they would let Vala anywhere near Daniel again,” Jack says. “I’m surprised her signal is even on Earth.”

            Carter doesn’t say anything, just concentrates on her computer and its little squiggly lines and graphs. What it all means, well true be told he could probably figure out, but he doesn’t care. All he cares about is the fact that Daniel is lost to them. Unless the pitiful ground invasion they’ve managed to pull together gets to him first, he is as good as dead.

            Jack sighs and walks away. It doesn’t matter, he tells himself. The Daniel he knew is gone, has been gone for months anyway. When they take Earth back, it will be without Daniel. Daniel will be remembered as a hero, but whatever is left of him will be unrecognizable.

            “Sir, the attack has started,” Carter reports. “We’ll move in as soon as the satellites are blown. I’ll confirm, then take us in.”

            He nods. It only means Daniel is truly dead.

XV.

            When the feeling of disintegration overcomes her, Vala realizes that Daniel will be left behind. Curled into a ball, she lets the light take her. The Loquata removed her from Daniel some time ago, nothing worked out right, she knows. Hands are on her as she moans. Someone is checking her, making sure she is alive, though she is not well. She is far from well.

            Vala hears yelling from beyond the periphery of her vision. The invasion has begun, there are calls of celebration, calls of urgency. The joint forces of the galaxy are on full assault, taking back Earth and vanquishing their enemy. She should be happy, as someone tends to her wounds. She does not recognize the medic that washes the cuts, sutures them. Someone offers her water, and she accepts.

            In the distance, Vala hears Jack O’Neill say, “We’ve lost him, then?”

            She does not hear the answer, her eyes flicker closed. She has failed.

            Her body is lifted from the hold and she is gently laid on a gurney. There have been disappointments in her life, silly bumps in the road and horrible occurrences. This moment, though, burns into her soul. She failed her Daniel. Vala doesn’t let the tears come, she stays firm, resolved, unmoved. It is part of her image, her composure. She wouldn’t want anyone to know, she can’t let anyone know.

            A shadow falls over her as Vala is pulled into sick bay. A hand touches her broken fingers. It is soft and tender in its aspect.

            “Vala.”

            She opens her eyes to see Sam standing close to her, leaning over the bed. Her blue eyes wide and hopeful, she offers Vala strength. Vala turns her face away, if she lets Sam look at her too long, she might break, her façade might shatter.

            “Vala,” Sam whispers again, insistent.

            Oh Hell, Vala thinks. She blinks first, making sure no tears are gathered in her eyes. She bites her lip and turns to Sam. “Sam?”

            Sam gives her one of her patent Samantha Carter smiles. Vala hasn’t known her long, but she knows that smile.

            “Sam?”

            Her friend’s eyes twinkle. “We got him. Daniel’s aboard. We got him.” Sam hugs her, but doesn’t hold tight as if Vala might crack into the pieces she is so frightened of showing.

            “How? How?” Vala asks again and again. Her brain spins around the idea of Daniel not being dead, lost to them.

            “The implanted neural network in Daniel’s brain caused a specific brain pattern different from any other human being on Earth at the time,” Sam says. “I was able to configure the sensors to the resonant patterns. From there, I focused the-.”

            Vala waves Sam’s explanation off. “Daniel’s alive?”

            Sam gives her the smile again. “Yes, not only that but the plan worked. The Loquata are totally confused like single cells in the body. They can’t function properly without the cohesive unit of tissues, organs and body of the mother hive. We did it.”

            “We did it,” Vala murmurs. For once, she lets the tears flow and does not try and stop them.

XVI.

            He sits quietly at the end of the dock. He knows the others will want him to come in soon. The Autumn sun is setting, his headache still throbs. With probing fingers, Daniel touches the last remnants of the ports still scarring his skull. He tears his fingers away, trying not to be horrified by the feel of the scars. Daniel’s eyes water as he stares into the last rays of the sun perched over the edge of the tree line.

            Daniel hears the swing of the screen door, the slow shuffle of feet. He recognizes the sound instantly. “Lucky the bugs didn’t find Minnesota too interesting. The cabin isn’t in too bad shape.”

            Daniel bends his head and looks at Jack. Words still feel sticky in his throat. “Yes, yes.” He knows instantly this wasn’t his normal reply. His friend was expecting something else.

            Jack ignores his failings, sighs, and says, “Lam wants you inside, thinks it’s too cold out, and you’re too early in your recovery.”

            He nods his head. He’ll go in, just not now. Daniel is lucky that Sam and Carolyn figured out that once the Loquata were essentially cut off from their mother hive, the links in his brain failed. The living neural network they grew in his head withered and died. He can’t but imagine it as a thousand worms burrowed into his brain, making holes everywhere, making him into something else.

            “I’ll come in soon.”

            A hand falls on his shoulder, squeezes imperceptibly. “We’ll wait dinner for you.”

            Daniel nods again. He smiles. He watches as Jack exits, goes back into the log cabin. Jack had the chance to take over the world, to be the leader of Earth when they won the war. He respectfully (well as respectfully as Jack could) declined it. What they will all do now, Teal’c, Carmen, Sam, Jack, Vala, Carolyn, Bill, and himself – he isn’t sure. Right now, as the wind ruffles through the short locks he has grown in the intervening months of his recovery, he doesn’t care. He just wants to feel this freedom.

            “Hey,” Vala says as she appears from her hike with Sam. Sam nods to him and goes into the cabin.

            “Hey,” he says.

            As always, Vala jumps to the point. “You know, there’ll be an awful lot of opportunity to make some significant earnings in the next few years. We should tap our resources and go for it.”

            Daniel smiles. He knows this is the way she uses to remind him who she is, who he is. He remains silent for a minute, but then says, “What will we do?”

            The Stargate is known now, the Earth is part of an interstellar community. His experience will be sought after.

            She shrugs at his questions, puts her head on his shoulder as they sit on the dock together. “Who knows, why plan?”

            Daniel smirks, she’s right. Why plan?  He is free of them, free of the web that entangled his brain, turned him into something other than himself – a part of them. He is free, yet he is not alone.

            As if to read his mind, she lightly combs her fingers through his hair.

            He knows he is not alone. If it takes another ten years for him to feel like himself again – whatever that is – they will all be here with him. He is home, on Earth, with his family.

            And the sun sets to leave them in the twilight of their new day.

 

THE END.

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