Jackfic Fiction Archive Story

 

The Hell Series Part Two:

Hell Revisited

by JodiMarie aka Shootem




National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction, Dec. 2002

www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2002/12/WMDStrategy.pdf

AB Ali Al Salem, Kuwait, 386th Air expeditionary Group

AB Ahmed Al Jaber, Kuwait

www.globalsecurity.org/military/facility/index.htm

DTRA The Defense Threat Reduction Agency

www.dtra.mil

Inhumane treatment of prisoners in Iraq

www.humanrights-usa.net/reports/iraq.html

LOSAT: Line Of Sight Anti-Tank Missile (Lockheed-Martin)

www.missilesandfirecontrol.com/our_products/antiarmor/LOSAT/product-LOSAT.html

Author's Note: This story was inspired by the increased tensions in the Mid East and subsequent elevation of the United States Alert Status to Code Orange on Feb 7, 2003. Several people from my place of employment were called to active duty and sent overseas. If you know anyone who is serving in the military, pray for them. The descriptions of treatment and torture of prisoners by the Iraqis are from eyewitness accounts and not a product of my imagination. In no way is this story intended to make light of recent events or the atrocities committed.

Friday 02.07.03

Hammond couldn't have looked more stern, or more sad. He had called for an impromptu gathering of all available SGC personnel in the Gateroom. It did nothing to forestall the somber mood infusing the command of late. Every television set on the base was turned to one of the national news channels for information regarding terrorist threats and the possible declaration of war. The senior staff knew what was going on at higher levels but most everyone else as well as the large number of civilians knew nothing but what they heard on the news.

So now the Gateroom was solidly packed with people. Everyone wondering why it was Hammond had called them together. He finally appeared in the control room and slowly made his way down the steps and through the crowd of people. He stepped up the ramp far enough to be sure everyone could see him.

O'Neill had quietly followed his CO from his office and now took his place at the General's side. He acknowledged the presence of his team with a silent nod. The General raised his hands to quiet the murmurs in the crowd before him.

"Good afternoon, everyone. I will get straight to the point here. As you are all aware, the National Terrorist Threat Level was recently upgraded to status: orange. This is the second highest level possible, only below red, which would indicate an imminent attack. All U.S. citizens and Diplomats in the Mideast are being urged to return immediately. In light of the international crisis we are facing as a nation the President has decided that the resources of the SGC would be better utilized at this time if our offworld efforts were curtailed. We will not desist in all offworld activities but missions will be limited to scientific, archaeological and diplomatic follow up on planets where we've already been. We will not be visiting anywhere new for a while."

"In effect, people, all possible military personnel will be immediately reassigned to other bases, including the ones in Kuwait."

He paused and looked at the stunned faces before him. "Several of you will be receiving your orders before the end of the day. I cannot tell you how to deal with this. You know you are Air Force first, SGC second. You knew the day might come when your country needed you to move beyond this Command. That day has come, you are needed today. Be aware that I have personally requested each and every one of you be given the opportunity to return the SGC when our international concerns return to more normal levels, and in the event of any increased threat from other than earth bound forces, you will immediately be recalled. Until I receive additional information, that is all I can say. Thank you." Hammond turned to his 2IC and extended his hand. O'Neill's face was devoid of emotion as he clasped the older man's hand. "Good luck, Colonel. May God go with you and those who follow." The men released hands and offered each other a stiff salute.

The room filled with voices, sad, shocked, distressed but none complaining or whining about the turn of events. SG-1 as a unit moved forward toward the ramp where Hammond and O'Neill still stood. Before Carter could say a word, the General nodded to her and moved off. He needed to escape the room before he was assaulted with questions on all sides.

She stopped directly in front of O'Neill, "Sir. You're going?" The shock in her voice was unmistakable. He nodded grimly.

Jonas stepped in, "You're leaving? What will happen to us? To SG-1?"

O'Neill sighed and glanced at Teal'c. He noted that this man who usually showed little emotion was in obvious distress also but still managed to hold his tongue. He appreciated the Jaffas quiet acceptance and understanding of the how's and whys of duty and didn't think he'd ever be able to convey how much it meant to him to have a warrior brother if you will. Someone who lived with duty and service and hard choices every day. He turned back to Carter who was opening her mouth to speak again and raised his hand to quiet her.

"Not now." He spoke softly. Then to all of them he went on, "Let's get out of here."

He plowed on past the several people still in the Gateroom and purposefully walked straight to his office. Once there he moved over to his desk but did not sit. He turned and stood facing his team. Even amid the hustle and bustle in the hallway he knew they'd fallen in step behind him and followed him all the way. It gave him pleasure that he knew them so well, could trust them so much. He gestured to the door and Jonas quietly shut it.

As he remained silent, Carter took the initiative, "Colonel, are we being reassigned?"

He looked up from the mouse pad he'd found so interesting a moment before and faced her. "No. As the first contact specialist team of the SGC you will remain here and carry on. It helps that two of you were not born on earth. Jonas, you are welcome to continue in your research and studies as you are able. Teal'c you may leave the SGC if you think your duties would be unacceptable given this change, but honestly I rather hope you'll stay. You'd be the most experienced military mind in the command including Hammond and I expect he may occasionally need to bounce a few ideas off you as he does with me now. Major, you are needed to continue developing Naquadah technology and applications here."

The Major lowered her eyes momentarily blinking hard, then raised them to look directly into his, an unspoken question there. He looked away, "I, however, being a soldier with no academic usefulness, am being sent to Kuwait City. I'm being reassigned to Special Forces."

"And you're going?" Carter blurted out. " You could retire, serve as a civilian consultant or something. You're gonna let them send you back to-"

Her voice was failing so he finished it for her, "Iraq."

She took an involuntary step back and landed right against Teal'c who was behind her and he grasped her shoulders tightly. Her vision blurred as she recalled the several times while offworld O'Neill had awakened in a sweat or suffered through a nightmare. He'd get up and go off by himself for a while, working through the memories. His hatred for confinement would often bring these things to the surface and a few times she was privy to more than she should have been.

After his torture by Ba'al he'd had terrible nightmares. It didn't help that he was suffering withdrawal from the sarcophagus as well and more than once she was witness to the aftermath as she sat with him in the infirmary. One night she had been there and had to call for him to be sedated. He awoke disoriented and cursing in a foreign language, which the nurse informed her was an Iraqi dialect. She'd heard it before when she was stationed in Kuwait during the war. She refused to translate much of what was said and Carter didn't push it when she noticed the woman was blushing, but she gleaned enough to know the Colonel had been mercilessly tortured and denied food and water.

Teal'c knew, too, about the Colonel's past history with the foreign nation in another war, years ago. He had a few late night discussions with Daniel Jackson about that very thing. He had wanted to better understand this human who was the first that ever in his service to Apophis had given him reason to consider the successful displacement of a false god. It wasn't a question of physical or mental strength. Of that Teal'c was certain. Yet this brash, unconventional and frequently irreverent man had something within that was far stronger than any Goa'uld or their armies. After all this time he still wasn't sure what it was. The closest thing he'd ever seen to it was only in movies when being introduced to the culture of the Tau'ri. It was called being a hero. Not in the sense of a man trying to impress others with his own idea of greatness, but in a quiet resolve to achieve what is just. Many people would know what is right but would be unable to follow through and do it but the hero was always victorious and always survived, and never stayed around to get the glory.

Teal'c was used to Goa'uld and Jaffa alike wallowing in glory at every given chance. It was quite a concept for him to grasp true humility. He thought this quality might be part of O'Neill's strength, but knew the Colonel would brush off the idea and never discussed it with him. Now he stood tall and locked eyes with the first human to slay a god, the only man the Reetou would trust, who even the Asgard considered to be their ambassador of choice. Twice a symbiote had entered his body to make him a host and yet he stood here, free. They communicated silently, O'Neill was doing something he felt was 'right' again, and he was entrusting the safety of Major Carter, Jonas and the SGC to Teal'c. The Jaffa lowered his eyes and nodded his head once in acceptance of the mission.

When he looked back up to O'Neill's face something had changed. There was a bit more sorrow perhaps, or fear, but his resolve remained.

By the next morning O'Neill was ready to ship out. His affairs were already in order given the uncertainty of offworld missions and he'd implored his neighbors to empty out his refrigerator and kitchen cabinets of any perishables. He even had someone lined up to do some long-term yard work. In the event he was listed MIA the house would be kept up for a minimum of two years that could be extended by his designated POA (Power of Attorney) who was General Hammond. His car and truck were in storage so he called for a cab to take him to Peterson Air Force Base for the flight out. While he waited he familiarized himself with updated files, satellite imagery and current unit deployments in the area.

The paperwork he'd received with his transfer orders included a copy of the 'National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction' just recently composed in December 2002. He already knew the contents but read through it anyway. The National strategy consisted of three principle parts: Counter Proliferation, Strengthened Non-Proliferation and Consequence Management.

The first part involved scientists and intelligence, the second, diplomacy and the third, was protection, remedial and rapid response. Or in more common words, prevent, deter and defend. Obviously he was part of the latter.

He heard a vehicle pull up in the drive and without looking grabbed his gear and headed for the door. It was with a shock that he almost walked right into his now former 2IC.

The Major was on her best military behavior all prim and proper but he could see the discomfort in her eyes. "Carter! Sorry, I wasn't expecting to see you."

She looked down sheepishly, "I know, Sir. I thought I might drive you to the airport."

His eyes narrowed a bit and he looked around like there might have been a spy in their midst. "How did you know when I was leaving?"

"There are only two flights out of Peterson with troops bound for the Mideast, one today and one tomorrow afternoon. I figured you'd be on the first one."

He nodded at her logical deduction. "Well, no time like the present they say." He looked at her and felt a pang of guilt for avoiding saying goodbye to his friends, "Come on in, I'll cancel the cab."

After a quick phone call they exited the house and he locked up, taking one last look around. "You've still got that spare key, right?" He'd always taken the precaution of giving a house key to his CO and 2IC after returning from too many missions to find broken windows, water pipes and other assorted minor disasters. "I'm having the place checked weekly and my neighbors have the phone number to the base if anything unexpected comes up."

With no response from Carter he felt a need to keep up a bit of banter as he tossed his gear in her trunk and slammed the lid. "You want me to drive?"

She shook her head, "Nope. Got it."

Luckily it wasn't a very long drive and the runways of Peterson Air Force Base were soon in sight. Carter had been a clam the whole way and O'Neill had run out of things to say. Short of 'God, I wish I didn't have to go.' that is, but he wouldn't say it, he had to maintain a positive attitude, now even more so in front of her. When they arrived he was somewhat surprised that instead of driving to the drop off point she turned the car into the parking lot.

"You don't have to stay and see me off, Carter."

"No, it's okay. I want to. It's Saturday, I don't have anything else to do." She rolled her eyes and mentally slapped herself, good move Carter, 'didn't have anything else to do?' Nothing like making your CO feel insignificant. Or your former CO.

He looked at her only for a moment then looked away, suddenly feeling a need to fiddle with something he took off his sunglasses and cleaned the lenses.

They walked in and after his bag was checked, made their way out to the waiting area at the gate. Neither wanted to sit so they stood at the huge glass windows and watched the planes come and go. There was much more activity than usual with increased training flights scheduled.

O'Neill looked around the waiting area at the personnel with whom he'd be spending the next several hours on the plane. He noted that sorrowful looking family members accompanied every one of them. As his eyes fell upon the woman at his side he thought how similar they would appear to everyone else. Carter had dressed in civvies for the day, opting for jeans, a pullover and a light sweater instead of a uniform. Only a couple of the departing people would recognize her and know she was military. No one was paying attention to them any way, being caught up in their own concerns.

He was thoughtful for a moment then spoke to her, "Thanks for coming out, Carter. You know you didn't have to, I'm not even your CO anymore."

He saw her stiffen and swallow hard. Oh, yeah, she'd already thought of that. She forced herself to stare out the window and pretended it was the sunlight making her eyes water as she blinked several times then closed her eyes.

"Carter? You okay?"

He could see the muscles in her neck tighten, "You could call me Sam." Her voice was barely above a whisper.

His eyes closed as he considered her words. He knew she was still not looking in his direction, waiting for a response.

Before he could even formulate one the overhead speakers announced boarding would commence for the flight. Their eyes locked as the speaker fell silent and people began to head toward the ramp.

He couldn't move. It was like they were in a bubble separated from the noise and confusion around them and the seconds ticked by. He finally cocked his head slightly to one side and gave her a crooked smile. "Sure, Sam."

She felt the moisture welling up in her eyes again and blinked it back. He stared at her face and was suddenly back in that dark hallway, separated from her by a shimmering blue force field and watching her tell him to go. But there was no force field today, not this time, and he did what he couldn't do that awful day.

He closed the small space between them and circled his arms around her, letting her tears wet his shoulder as he pressed his cheek into her hair. It wasn't the first time he'd hugged her, but certainly the first time in public. She held him in return just as tightly and they did not move from the embrace for several long moments. They separated finally but he kept hold of one of her hands as they turned back to the window and the less-than-cheerful sunshine outside. Soon the speakers came to life again announcing the final call for the flight.

She pulled her hand away and quickly wiped her face, blinking back the remaining tears with great effort. He smiled again at her, "Take care, Sam."

"You, too. Be careful over there, Sir."

"Jack. You can call me Jack."

She nodded and replied, "Goodbye, Jack." Her forced smile faded as soon as the words were out of her mouth but his face lit up anyway. He gave her shoulder a squeeze and on a whim, gave her a quick kiss on the cheek then turned away and strode up the ramp. She didn't see it but he was smiling. What a dumb thing, he thought, on my way to who-knows-what and I'm happy. Got to be a fool or-. Well he wasn't prepared to think about what else it might be.

Air Base Ali Al Salem, Kuwait.

Monday 02.10.03

It had been a long journey with a few changes of transport along the way. Colonel O'Neill was finally at his destination, a facility endearingly nicknamed by its occupants 'The Rock'. This was little more than a group of tents located beside an airfield, which unfortunately was less than 40 miles from the Iraqi border making the installation the forefront of any campaign. Not a good place to be if conditions were to escalate.

Still, O'Neill was in an element he could understand. He was to command a Special Forces unit attached to the 386th Air Expeditionary Group. The overall purpose of the base was to provide surveillance by working in concert with AWACS Aircraft patrols and supplying 24-hour radar coverage of Iraqi airspace.

Of course this air surveillance was only part of the mission. The base was prepared to provide combat support and rescue and medical evacs, as well as ballistic missile defense. They had maintained combat readiness and were still able to launch a Patriot missile within two minutes of a scud warning. Quite impressive for a bunch of tents out in the desert, he thought.

He was greeted by an aide who took him to his assigned quarters in the officer's tent. No personal quarters here, it was like a portable dormitory. He sighed at the lack of amenities, no wonder troops appreciated the larger Ahmed Al Jaber base just north of Kuwait City. They had permanent buildings, recreation rooms and even a pool. None of that here he thought as he walked past a portable toilet.

Ah, well he wasn't here to work on his tan, might as well get to work. The aide offered to show him around and after a short break he was escorted to meet his new CO. Brigadier General Charles Pike was a man not much older than O'Neill himself, being only one step in rank above. He warmly greeted the Colonel, and welcomed him to the Command.

"You've got a colorful history here, airman. What there is of it I'm allowed to read, that is."

O'Neill answered flatly, "I've gotten accustomed to more neutral tones of late. Not a problem I take it?"

"Oh, no, just wondering what kind of man retires, comes back, then after sitting around in a cake job for a few more years gets a bee in his bonnet and wants to get back into action."

O'Neill's eyebrows shot up. 'Cake job' and 'Stargate Command' were not words he would put together. Too bad he couldn't tell his new CO that. So this guy thought he was washed up and gone soft. Maybe both in body and mind. "Not exactly, Sir. Wasn't given much of a choice, if you know what I mean."

"Yes. I see that your skills are highly regarded in places of mighty thin atmosphere. I understand you've been personally selected by the President on more than one occasion."

"We see eye to eye on certain things."

"Don't bother with the false modesty, if it weren't for your refusal to accept promotion, you'd be a two star by now and my boss. Can't stand the paperwork?"

"I've always considered myself to be a man of action. Pushing a pencil is not exactly my forte." He noted the stacks of papers on the General's desk and realized he just indirectly insulted his CO. "Uh, not that it isn't important to some bureaucra-, er, people."

"Sit down." The man smiled and gestured to a chair. "Let me be frank with you, Colonel, we've got some serious Intel that something big is up. Hussein is not just gearing up with biologicals, he's got access to some pretty advanced technology, probably stolen from us. When the reports were taken to the Pentagon, they selected you. I don't think they sent you out here to the desert because they like you. Or don't like you. Or because you've got a good bit of experience under your belt. Let's face it; running this undercover crap is for men younger than us. I'd bet there is something in the censured part of your file that would answer a lot of the questions I've got but I won't press it. I learned the meaning of classified a long time ago."

He stood and walked around his desk, "You want to meet your team? You're gonna love this, two of them are, of all things, scientists."

O'Neill's head jerked up. "What? Pardon, Sir but what the hell are scientists doing out here? Since when are scientists considered field personnel?"

"Since your Command came through, airman. Just be glad none of them are women."

O'Neill found that he was actually impressed with his assigned team. Five men, all officers, all with at least some Special Ops experience. His 2IC would be Major Thomas Corbin, not a scientist, but a well trained obsessive kind of guy who was an ordnance and demolitions expert. He actually built custom explosives in his spare time. He had a couple reprimands in his file for 'inappropriate device usage' which included things like singeing a General's cat when he tried to kill a mouse by adding a small explosive charge to a trap and using real gunpowder to make birthday candles more exciting. O'Neill chuckled as he wondered what kind of little surprises the guy could come up with for the Goa'uld.

The next in rank was Captain Bradley Tucker, Scientist, PhD, Techno-geek. Hopefully dealing with Carter had prepared him to interact with this man. The other scientist was 2nd Lieutenant Mitchell O'Connor. He was not much of a scientist considering the ones O'Neill had spent time around in the SGC. His main focus was biological warfare. This was the guy they'd depend on to keep the team out of harm's way should they have to deal with Saddam's warehouse of chemicals.

The last two members were 2nd Lieutenant Cory Tolbert, a huge honkin', Chicago born, bulldozer of a man who could go a few rounds with Teal'c and maybe win one, and 1st Lieutenant Joey Lambert, just a kid with potential. He'd serve as an aide and communications specialist. Not a bad team considering he wasn't able to handpick them.

The General had mentioned they would be due for some fresh Intel in two days time and suggested O'Neill freelance the men a bit. They needed to become a close-knit team in a very short time and O'Neill knew just the way to accomplish his goal. Get them in a fight.

He managed to have the team assigned to take part in a several hours-long training update on Chemical Weaponry that would bore the tears out of all of them except possibly O'Connor who he was sure knew all the stuff anyway. Afterward he got them to meet in the Officer's Club for a meal. He had seen the deployment orders for a group of Marines and was not disappointed to see them enter the facility.

O'Neill suggested a game of pool and when there were no takers he sauntered over to the Marines for some action. One of them was a man O'Neill thought he recognized as a possible recruit to the SGC. He'd been passed over for numerous counts of insubordination and failure to follow orders. In a way O'Neill felt sorry for the kid, he just had to learn which orders could be ignored.

So, O'Neill feigned being slightly more tipsy than he really was and invited the Marine to a match. When he was ignored, he 'accidentally' bumped the man and sloshed a drink on him. The man was instantly on his feet and glaring at the gray-haired airman with contempt. "Why don't you round up your 'Geeks' and get the hell outta here old man."

That was the opportunity O'Neill was waiting for, "*My* Geeks? I'll have you know its Geeks like them who will save your cheesy butt out here. It takes a guy with an IQ above his waist size understand that." The two men stared at each other for a moment, the Marine not sure if he wanted to deck his assailant or not. He got this desert duty as a disciplinary action and who knows what else they might do if he stepped over the line again. O'Neill smirked as he saw the man weighing the options and made a move to push him over the edge, a low blow to be sure but he had to escalate the encounter. He moved in close and stood eye to eye with the man and jutted out his chin, "Semper. Fi. My. Ass." He stuck his finger into the Marines chest with each word.

That did it. The Marine's fist shot out and clipped his jaw before he could get out of the way. It only helped a little knowing it was coming. Corbin was on his feet and running as the Colonel came back to the Marine with a well-placed uppercut, knocking him off balance. All the other Marines were now on their feet too and Corbin was cussing audibly, "Shit, shit, shit." The General would be mightily displeased if their new CO was put out of commission on his second day in Kuwait.

He engaged the closest Marine by tapping him on the shoulder and taking a jab as the man wheeled around. Two of the Marines had the Colonel pinned face down against the pool table and were preparing to yank him up and do some damage when O'Neill caught the eye of Tolbert, the Chicagoan, and remembered something from his file. The man had wanted to go pro football but had a family crisis at the time and didn't make the cut. He remembered seeing the team sweatshirt in the guy's pile of clothing. O'Neill raised his head a little more and shouted, "Go Bears! Hey, a little help? Season tickets?"

Tolbert wasn't beyond a little bribery and flashed a toothy grin to his CO. It wasn't as if he'd mind a little jarhead whumping anyway. A moment later and two Marines were on the floor. Spurred by the support of the largest member of the group, the other two lieutenants, Mitchell and Lambert entered the foray jumping on the biggest Marine together. Corbin had neutralized his quarry by lighting a flash of something right in his face then shoving him into the wall.

Captain Tucker was still back at the table and finally stood with a sigh, "This is so a bad idea." He'd been called a Geek his whole life and would have let the incident slide and didn't think he'd be able to connect with this hard core Colonel anyway, so what was the point? He stepped in front of a Marine who was preparing to take another swipe at the Colonel and simply peered at the irate man through his glasses and waited for the inevitable. The Marine took him by the shoulder only intending to shove him out of the way but gave an ample opportunity to the black-belt trained Tucker who quickly introduced him to the floor tiles. Tucker then reached his hand out to the bent over Colonel and offered an assist. "Sir, maybe we should leave."

O'Neill was still hunched over from a blow to his stomach and accepted the hand gratefully. He called to Corbin, "Everybody out, now!" Tolbert came over and grabbed his other arm as they headed for the door.

The Jeep ride back to base was uneventful, the team not wanting to disturb their injured CO who now staunchly refused to go to Medical. The two youngest Lieutenants conversed quietly in the rear and Tolbert was driving. O'Neill was in the front passenger seat, trying to ignore the complaints from his bruised body as the Jeep trundled along hitting numerous bumps in the roadway. Tucker had snagged an ice-cold can of soda on the way out and handed it to O'Neill with a gesture to his already slightly bruising jaw. O'Neill accepted it and held the cold metal to his face.

Tucker turned to the Major sitting beside him and smiled, "That was some diversionary tactic you had there, Sir. Blew up the cat when you were a kid, did you?" Corbin smiled back, "No, it was at the Academy and a General's cat too."

Tucker grinned and held out his hand, "Friends call me Tuck." Corbin returned the handshake. "And when did our scientists start taking up the Marshall Arts?"

Tuck laughed, "Oh that started back in high school, when I first had to wear glasses."

O'Neill sighed back into his seat, listening to the friendly banter, mission accomplished. They weren't quite a team yet but the ice had been broken. A few bruises were a small price to pay for the security of dependable backup any day of the week.

The next morning O'Neill was in the General's office taking a beating of another kind. "Dammit O'Neill, I said you could freelance the men a bit, not get into bar fights. What the hell did you think you were doing anyway? I ought to have you brought up on charges and shipped back to wherever you came from because apparently the rules are different back there. We are in a war zone here, no mistaking that and I will not tolerate such blatant disregard for protocol! Understood, airman?"

O'Neill stood stiffly at attention and returned a firm "Yes, Sir."

Seeing the contrite expression on the Colonel's face, Pike leaned back in his chair and relaxed slightly. "Jack, I don't know if that stunt was the stupidest thing I've ever seen or the smartest. I do not think it just happened. I realize you have been involved in quite a few unusual missions and being that you were forced to come besides, I am leaning toward cutting you some slack. Just promise me you'll *try* to stay within boundaries or at least give me a heads up when you're not going to? I've been in need of a 2IC for this base and I thought it might be you."

O'Neill looked closely at his CO's face, "Not what I'm here for, Sir."

"No, you're right, it's not why you're here. That Intel I told you about will be delayed another day whilst some specialist is flown over from stateside. You've got another day with your men, and Colonel, I don't want to see any more bruises on you, or them. Dismissed."

"Understood, Sir. Thank you, Sir." O'Neill spun on his heels and quickly exited the room only to find Tuck hanging out in the corridor.

"A little harmless eavesdropping, Captain?"

"Sir, no, Sir. I just, ah-"

"Don't sweat it. I deserved it after all."

"Sir, about that, what the General said about it being the smartest thing he'd ever seen?"

"That's not exactly what he said." O'Neill started walking away.

"Yeah, well, partially." Tuck hurried to catch up, "I mean, you did set us up back there didn't you? That was a plan to get us to start working together."

O'Neill kept walking and didn't return the airman's gaze. They were outside the building now and Tuck continued, "May I speak frankly Sir?"

"Always, Captain."

"Helluva way to start a Command, Sir."

A smile momentarily flicked across O'Neill's face. "Maybe so. We only have two days to get up to speed, Tucker, I'm not having someone watch my back whom I have never seen in action."

"Likewise I'm sure. But I get the distinct feeling it was more for us to get to know each other than for you. And it's Tuck."

O'Neill let a smile broaden as he was reminded of another most perceptive scientist of his acquaintance. "Okay, Tuck it is, how about we go find the guys and see what they're doin'? We've just been given another day to do some intensive training."

Tuck was horrified, "Sir, you know it's supposed to be nearly 125 degrees today, what sort of training did you have in mind?"

"Submersible recognizance, Captain."

Tucks eyes widened even more and his voice cracked slightly, "But we're in the middle of a *desert*, Sir."

O'Neill put his arm around the younger man's neck and spoke quietly into his ear, "And Al Jaber has a pool."

Tuck mentally filed away his observations of this most unusual CO and allowed himself to be led to the barracks.

The next day the team was once again at the larger base and O'Neill wondered why they weren't just assigned quarters there until further notice. Today they'd get the Intel about the mission and have to listen to another drawn out lecture from most likely some stuffy academic who thought they knew more than anyone else in the room. Unfortunately from previous experience, O'Neill knew they might be right.

His team was already seated at the tables set up facing the front as in a classroom. The General was there and a few other scientific/ intelligence sorts who may be involved or have something to add.

O'Neill paused at the front of the room eyeing the figure in desert cammo who was bent over away from him going through a box on the floor. He blinked and thought those were awfully nice hips for some soldier or even scientist. Suddenly the head came up revealing tousled blonde hair. He took a step further into the room, 'can't be.'

As if feeling his scrutiny the scientist turned around and looked directly into his eyes. Brown eyes met blue with complete and utter shock.

He crossed the distance between them in two long strides and grasped her arm. He swung her away from the assembled group and hushed his voice as much as he could. "Carter! What the hell are you doing here?"

She was glad to see him but managed to maintain her military decorum, "Colonel, they reassigned me here. For the short term, anyway. Something came up after you left and the Pentagon decided I needed to come. I should have guessed it would be you who'd be heading up this mission."

His eyes narrowed requesting a bit more from her. "In short, Sir, according to Intel, Hussein may have gotten his hands on a small quantity of Naquadah."

"I already knew about that, kinda why I'm here. So what's he going to do with it? Blow himself up? He doesn't have the technology to exploit it and might I add it is stupid to bring someone with the expertise to use it so close to the front lines."

"Too late, Sir. Two scientists from Area 51 are missing, they were assigned to the Naquadah/Naquadria Project."

He lowered his head and cursed, he didn't know about that. "Shit, Carter, could it get any worse?"

"Uh, well, two of the mimic devices are gone too."

O'Neill sighed and noticed the General was now watching his encounter with the Major. He abruptly took a step back. "We'll talk later, you've got a briefing to give." He nodded to the General and quickly took a seat at the back of the room avoiding any more eye contact with his CO.

As usual, Carter's briefing went over the heads of most everyone present. She neatly referred to the stolen substance as rare metal 'N' circumventing any questions about Naquadah and generally described it as a conditionally unstable metal with the ability to potentiate any explosion. She was able to give them a relatively good idea of the uses and risks of dealing with the substance while not giving away all the classified information she knew about it. The briefing concluded with Carter answering the many questions posed by the scientists in the group.

Finally over they were dismissed and most everyone headed for the commissary and lunch. General Pike had a number of observations with which to deliberate with O'Neill and commandeered a nearby office to continue in private. Unfortunately one of the observations included O'Neill's encounter with the Major before the briefing.

"I take it you have met Major Carter before."

O'Neill had been waiting for the ball to drop and here it was. He avoided looking the General in the eye and replied, "Yes, Sir. We've served together before."

"You seemed to have a bit of a problem with her presence here."

"No, Sir, not at all."

"O'Neill, you're a lousy liar. Well whatever the problem is, I expect you to get over it, and I do mean now. Her expertise involving this mineral, metal or whatever is far above any of the other intellectuals around here and your scientists will need to work closely with her to develop the most feasible mission plan. Make use of her knowledge now while you have the chance, the success of this mission is dependent on it. Now go on, take a break, but be back at Al Salem this afternoon with your team."

O'Neill returned to the briefing room to find Carter and Tucker deeply in conversation about matter energy conversions or something equally incomprehensible. He broke into their discussion, "I thought everyone was going to lunch?"

Carter shrugged and looked at her watch, noting the time was well past 1400. "Actually I'm starved. Is the commissary any good here?"

"No Jell-O."

Tuck looked at his CO. "Jell-O?"

"It's a long story, come on, let's eat." With that the trio set off for some refreshment.

Tuck was first through the line and scooted in beside Corbin at the table. Tolbert was directly across from him and the Lieutenants O'Connor and Lambert were at the far end of the table having gotten into a deep discussion about a local sporting event.

When O'Neill and Carter were through the line instead of joining the others at the table they moved off to a corner by themselves where they could talk privately. Major Corbin had picked up on Tuck's interest in the Major during the briefing and decided a comment was in order when he noticed the man staring at the two across the room. "Smart lady."

"Huh?" Tuck had been lost in his thoughts and had barely touched his lunch.

"Major Carter. She's a smart woman."

"Oh, yeah. God, smart isn't the word; I think I learned more from her in fifteen minutes than I did in a whole semester in college. She's amazing."

Yep, Corbin had seen that coming, "Whoa, boy. How'd she go from 'smart' to 'amazing'? Don't you go getting any ideas about that one."

Tuck turned to him, mouth agape then looked back at the Colonel and Major. "What? Why not? You think they've got history?"

"Oh, Yeah. Even a blind man could see it. Believe me, that is one unavailable female."

"You're imagining things."

"I think not," he pretended to be insulted, "keep watching."

As they continued to observe, the Colonel must have said something witty because the Major suddenly burst out laughing and reached out to grasp his right arm. He did not move away but instead covered her hand with his left. Her face then softened into a million dollar grin as their hands moved back from the brief contact. They sat not talking, just smiling at each other.

"Aw, crap." Tuck lamented, "Remind me in the future to keep my mind on the mission. You sure he's not her father? He's got to be old enough."

Corbin smirked, "Tuck, you're hopeless, no dad looks at his kid like that! I mean look at them, if it wasn't for all the people in this room they'd be makin' out right where they are."

Carter immediately dove into her sandwich when they finally got to a table. O'Neill decided he wasn't all that hungry after that talk with Pike and opted only for a coffee and cake.

"So rare metal 'N', who came up with that one?"

"I know it's lame but it's the best we could come up with on short notice."

O'Neill sighed, "We've got a lot to talk about, but not here." He shifted gears into small talk, "Anybody else shipped out back home?"

They continued to chat and O'Neill related the 'training exercise' he'd engineered in the bar eliciting a whoop of laughter from his former 2IC. They fell into a companionable silence for a little while, not disturbed by the din of people moving around them.

"The General asked me to come out to Al Salem and look over their lab."

Surprised O'Neill responded, "You're staying in Kuwait?"

"Don't worry, I'm supposed to head back by the end of the week, I'm just here to get your guys up to speed." She wagged a fork at him. "You gonna finish that cake?"

Later that afternoon, O'Neill was summoned to the General's office. It seemed he was more than impressed with the Major and wanted her to stay on for an extended time.

"You can't do that General!"

"And why the hell not? Colonel, after the briefings today I am more than convinced we are dealing with a highly unstable material and we can use all the expertise we can get to handle it. I don't think she can teach your men enough in the next day or so to pull off this mission."

"Sir, that level of expertise is needed only when you get into research and development, not search and recover missions, besides we already have someone on the team who is more than familiar enough with the properties and potential hazards associated with the metal."

Pike eyed the Colonel warily, he'd suspected as much. "You know, her file is almost as classified as yours and you both transferred out of Cheyenne Mountain? I take it *you* are the one you're referring to?"

O'Neill considered he may have already said too much but admitted, "Yes, Sir. I am."

"Well the decision is out of my hands anyway- it seems some of those high-altitude friends of yours pulled the strings on her too. The transfer papers have already gone through, with regards from the Pentagon. She's on your team. I'm told she's got some specialized covert skills you could use."

O'Neill knew he was fishing for more information but he'd said all he was going to say at this point. There was no way in hell he was going to allow Carter across the Iraqi border but if Hussein did in fact have access to those shape shifting devices Carter's know-how would really come in handy. He hated it but had to relent at last. "I won't condone orders sending her into hostile territory." He said flatly.

"And I hope it won't come to that." Pike let his shoulders sag a bit, he really did like this Colonel but his patience had a limit. "Let's just play it by ear for now, Colonel, and see how things pan out."

O'Neill nodded curtly and was dismissed by the General.

He headed for the women's barracks and was escorted to the Major by an enlisted female assigned to assist her. Carter had only packed a small bag thinking she would only be there a day or two at most and was already settled in.

She looked up when he came in. Despite the fans and air conditioning she was perspiring a little. "I forgot how hot it could get here on earth."

"Oh, this is nothing, just wait 'till the breeze dies down, there's hot and there's Saudi hot. I may yet learn to appreciate Antarctica." He grinned at her. "You got some time we can talk about stuff?"

"Actually I've got a meeting with General Pike in a few minutes, he's been cleared to be briefed on the missing men and even about the missing devices. Maybe we should all meet together, then I wouldn't have to go over it all twice."

"Sure, I don't think the General would have a problem with that. One thing though, he knows we've worked at the same base before but I haven't enlightened him much beyond that. I've been walking a fine line with clearance issues."

"Understandable." She walked with him outside the portable building. "Hopefully I can resolve some of that. I've got permission from General Vidrine at the Pentagon to tell him quite a lot about Area 51projects, I just can't tell him where the technology really comes from."

"By the way have you been, ah, informed of any updates to your assignment?"

"No. Should I have been?"

"Yeah, well, the General was quite taken with you in your briefing, he seems to feel you could be of some help if you stayed on."

"Gee, thanks." She rolled her eyes.

"Sorry, Carter. He doesn't think 'us boys' can do it without you. Not only are you staying, you're on my team."

"You're kidding, right?"

"Well, I'm not that bad to work for am I?"

"No, that's not what I meant." It was her turn to apologize. She shook her head and smiled at his feigned insult. "It's just, here we are, on the other side of the planet, in a completely different situation and you're still my CO."

He shrugged, "Can't get enough of a good thing?"

She ignored the comment, "Aren't we supposed to be somewhere?"

The General looked up from his desk and seeing the two officers waved them in. "Colonel, weren't you just here?"

"Sir, some of the information the Major plans to brief you on has a direct impact on the mission. If you don't mind I'd like to sit in."

Pike nodded. Maybe the Colonel didn't know as much as he'd originally thought. That idea was dispelled as Carter discussed advanced technologies, Area 51 projects, and the missing scientists, O'Neill didn't bat an eye. None of this seemed to be new information to him. The General, himself, however went from surprise to astonishment to utter disbelief.

"And you're saying these 'devices' can completely alter a man's appearance, down to the smallest detail?"

"Exactly, Sir. They can be programmed with the information using any laptop computer with the right software, and we're not sure if that was taken as well."

The Colonel leaned back in his chair, "Oh, they've got it alright. That's probably how they kidnapped the scientists, didn't you say there was no evidence on the security cameras that they ever left the base?"

"You're right, Sir. It may have been easier to disguise them than to circumvent the cameras. What we don't know is if they left willingly."

The General's expression was dire; "People are allowed to work with these things when their loyalties are not assured?"

Carter quickly answered, "Of course not, but there are 'factions' within our own government who are not always in agreement with the current focus of research and development."

"CIA?"

"Sometimes, but mostly NID."

Pike glanced at the Colonel, "None of this is news to you?" O'Neill only shrugged.

"Very well. This mission has just gotten a whole lot more complicated. We've gone from a little retrieval mission to search and rescue, and retrieval of not one but two very different items. Rescue of the American citizens will be the priority, then the metal and the devices. If retrieval becomes unattainable you will destroy the metal and technology, though I'd love to see it work."

O'Neill and Carter were dismissed to begin planning the complex mission.

Carter spent the rest of the day with Tucker and O'Connor explaining some of what the scientists had been working on. O'Neill met with his 2IC, Corbin and the two Lieutenants Tolbert and Lambert discussing the destructive power of the rare metal 'N'. He could see Corbin was salivating with the desire to obtain some of the metal and try it out for himself.

"You say it can potentiate any other explosive device by a factor of one hundred? How is that possible?"

"You'll have to ask the scientists that one." O'Neill admitted. "Just let me say I have seen it myself and you do not want to be anywhere around when it goes off. Our mission is to retrieve it but if that's not possible we'll have to detonate it, safely."

The large Tolbert blew out a soft whistle, "Ain't nothin' safe about that stuff. From what you're saying we'd be fools to set it off."

"It can be done, but that's why I'd much rather retrieve it and get it back where it belongs, in American hands."

The team got together and O'Neill laid out the surveillance Intel the base had gathered over the past few days. They had a good idea of where the scientists would be, and that the metal would be at the same location. It was not known where the other devices would be though. That part of the mission might be impossible to complete. They broke for a late evening meal and sat together at the same table to eat. Conversation was muted as they couldn't discuss much of the mission in public and it had been a long day anyway.

O'Neill said goodnight to the Major at the door to the commissary. "Satellite photos should be in early tomorrow, you want to meet back here for breakfast then go check them out?"

"Actually there's something I'd like to talk with you about, before we get too far into the planning process."

He looked at her, questioning. "Now?"

"No, I'm beat, jet lag and all. How about first thing in the morning?"

"Okay, they serve breakfast 'till 0800, so, how about 0715 at the lab?"

"Sounds good, see you then." She gave him a tired smile and headed to the barracks.
The next morning bright and early O'Neill was in the lab waiting for Carter with two steaming cups of coffee. The desert air was chilly and since they weren't going directly to breakfast he figured it would be welcome. She loved her coffee almost as much as Daniel used to.

Carter pushed the door open with her shoulder, lugging her laptop in one arm and an assortment of folders and papers in the other. "Ooh, is that coffee I smell?"

"Yabetcha." He cleared a spot on the large center table for her load and set the cup in front of her.

The coffee was of the dark, rich, slightly bitter variety and she added some creamer to it to smooth it a bit. She sat down and nestled the cup in her hands warming them and let her eyes close as she inhaled the aroma.

He smiled at her, "So what's up?"

"Oh, yeah." She flipped open the laptop and powered it up then picked up a flat zippered pouch about the size of a small book. She unzipped it on three sides and opened it flat to reveal eight 'memory stick' cards for the computer. As she went through her pockets looking for something else he slid one of the plastic strips out of it's slot and held it up.

"This is a memory card for a digital camera, right?"

"Almost, very similar, could be used for one, but it holds a lot more information." With that she produced another flat black case a little smaller than the first and unzipped it. She opened the case and laid it on the table so he could see the two mimic devices she'd brought.

"General Hammond thought these would be useful. He had to call in some favors to get permission for me to take them out of the country." She took out a long cable and plugged one end into the back of her computer and the other into a small adapter, which snapped onto one of the devices. She took another quick sip of coffee and tapped her fingers as she waited for something to come up on her computer screen.

The computer beeped and she reached over and took the card from O'Neill. "Watch this."

She slid the card in its slot and her fingers flew over the keyboard inputting a command line. As he peered over her shoulder, a 3-D image of an ordinary-looking man of Middle Eastern descent appeared on the screen, complete with robes and a turban.

Carter tapped a few more keys and announced, "That's it!" She disconnected the device from the adapter and held it up by the edges.

"That's all? You're telling me you just programmed it, just like that?" O'Neill was amazed and reached out his hand. She gave it to him but warned, "Don't let the back of it touch your skin or it will activate."

He eyed the device warily, "So how long is it good for?"

"Approximately five minutes, maybe more."

A sly grin crept onto O'Neill's face; "I've been told the General usually skips breakfast- he's probably in his office right now."

"You're not thinking-"

"He did want to see this work."

"And you're just gonna stroll into his office, like that?" She gestured to the device.

"No." He raised his eyebrows and played at being indignant. "Do you have your sidearm?" O'Neill knew everyone was expected to carry some form of personal protection here on the front lines.

She took her Berretta out and set it on the table with a smile.

He nodded approvingly, "Good, just in case someone stops us, Major, you just captured a spy. Let's go." With that he slid the device under his shirt at the collar and touched it to his skin. It latched on and his body morphed into the form of the Arab.

They immediately headed for the door and walked straight into Tuck.

"What the hell? Major are you alright? Who is this man?"

O'Neill decided to get into character and answered him in a perfect Iraqi dialect. Carter had been first through the door and now her hesitation to answer was all it took to send Tuck over the edge. He grabbed the man and quickly shoved him face down to the floor and pulled his hands behind his back.

"Shit, Tuck! Get off me, that hurt!"

Tuck jerked off the man, astonished to hear a familiar sounding voice come out of him. He looked at the Major in confusion.

"It's okay, Tuck. This is a friend. We were on our way to see General Pike. You want to come along?"
She gave Tuck a completely innocent look and reached her hand out to O'Neill to help him up.

Tuck stood up, still unable to process what was going on and nodded to the Major. He was really confused when she pulled out the gun and pointed it toward the man, making him walk in front of her. They marched the short distance to the General's office with Tuck following like a puppy.

Luckily, due to the early hour it wasn't difficult to get inside. With only a minute left Carter knocked on the General's door.

"Come."

The door opened and to the General's complete surprise an unknown Arab entered his office. He was already calling for security before he noticed Carter and Tuck behind the man.

"What's the meaning of this?" He spoke as he leapt to his feet. He turned to Tuck who was still looking dazed and roared, "Who is this man?"

O'Neill thought he'd take a chance Pike could at least understand a little Iraqi and bowed deeply, voicing a common greeting in the foreign tongue.

Pike glared back and forth between Carter and Tuck. O'Neill stood and held his hands up to the General in an effort to show him there was no danger yet not give himself away just yet.

There was silence in the room for several seconds when suddenly the Arab man shimmered.

Pike took a step back and so did Tuck who was standing so close he was nearly touching the man.

The image shimmered again, then changed to reveal the form of Colonel O'Neill.

Pike didn't know if he should be furious, relieved, or impressed. He opted for somewhere in between. "Damn, Colonel, that's twice! One more time and I swear-" He breathed a sigh of relief.

"Sir, you did request a demonstration."

Pike glared at him but instead of going into a tirade, he burst out in a laugh of relief, running his fingers through his hair. "Colonel, I give up. I just thank God you're on our side."
The rest of the day was spent going over Intel. Who was where, what their schedules were, how heavily guarded the buildings were. It was still a daunting task they had set before them, but if the Intel was good, it was a doable thing.

By that evening they were near ready to go. The Department of Defense had wanted to make sure anything they might need was already enroute when O'Neill was chosen as the mission commander several days before Hammond's speech back at the SGC, so they had him meet with a representative of the DTRA (Defense Threat Reduction Agency) while still in Cheyenne mountain and give them an idea of what equipment would be needed in addition to the regulation supplies and weapons the Air Force would issue them. O'Neill had, in his usual fashion, given them an extensive list of gear, heavy on armament, of course. They had come through with flying colors as far as O'Neill was concerned, every item on his 'wish list' was accounted for and then some.

Corbin was in his element, as he looked over the available ordnance, everything was state of the art. They'd be carrying P-90's at O'Neill's request and Corbin tested the weight of the weapon in his hands and nodded as he adjusted the silencer. O'Neill had made a good choice.

The scientists were being held in an unmarked building with three floors. The sleeping quarters were on the second level and the lab, presumably with the 'N' was in the basement of the structure. Apparently someone thought they might be more careful with the substance if they were in close proximity to it at all times.

The plan was to be dropped in by helicopter as near the target complex as possible and divide up into two teams. One team would enter the rear door and take out the single guard there. They would then sabotage the power and phone lines. They also would have the capability of setting up a device to interfere with radio transmissions but wouldn't be able to use it until they were sure the 'N' wasn't booby trapped in some way. A radio signal or the lack thereof was known to set off any number of mechanisms.

The second team would take out the two front guards and enter the structure there. They'd need to move quietly and subdue at least one more guard in a security center on the main floor and another in the second floor hallway. They expected to find an additional guard within the sleeping quarters.

After securing the release of the scientists, team two would move to the main floor and hold there while team one went to the basement lab. If necessary for access, one of the scientists might have to accompany them. Once in the lab, they'd either remove the 'N' or set a tiny explosive charge. They needed just enough to set it off, although it would likely still level the building or worse.

There was still no Intel on the whereabouts of the mimic devices and O'Neill was hoping the scientists would be of some help.
O'Neill ordered team one to consist of himself, Tuck and Lambert. Team two would be Corbin, Tolbert and O'Connor.

Carter noticed her name was conspicuously missing from the roster. "And where do you want me, Sir?"

"You will coordinate pick up in the chopper."

"Sir, I really think I'd be more helpful on the ground."

"Major, you are not getting off the helicopter! You got that!"

She bristled with indignation, "Sir, a word?"

He motioned to a small office to the back of the lab. She entered first and he followed closing the door behind him.

"Colonel, I think I've proven myself in combat situations. I mean, it's not like we're dealing with the Goa'uld here!"

"You're right. They're not Goa'uld. They're Iraqi- in a lot of ways that makes them worse."

"With all due respect Colonel, you need me out there. Do you realize how many holes are in your plan? What if the scientists are working with the Iraqi willingly? What if they don't have access to the lab? Besides that, if you need to use the mimic devices, you'll need me to program them."

"You can program them in advance, and as far as the lab in concerned, if we can't get in, we'll just blow it."

She folded her arms across her chest and glared at him. "Right, just blow it up. Do you know what we had to do to obtain that Naquadah in the first place?"

"Yes, I do. If you recall, I have been the second in command of the SGC for some time. It just may be that very little goes on around there that doesn't generate a report that comes across my desk."

"I didn't know you'd become such an avid reader."

She was getting nasty now. His eyes blazed as he prepared to lash back at her. He glanced through the large window to the central area of the building and frowned. Quite a show they were putting on for the guys.

He lowered his voice and forced some control there. "Carter, look, I know you are an able soldier, but you are much too valuable to be put so directly in harms way."

Her glare had softened somewhat into a frown. "I should go, Sir."

He moved to the corner of the room away from the window and motioned for her to come near. Out of sight of the rest of his team his expression softened greatly. "Not this time."

She wasn't done yet. "I can get you into the lab, no matter what kind of lock they've got on the door. We really need that Naquadah."

"Tuck could probably do it."

"I'd be faster."

Ooh, he was so losing this argument. A moment of hesitation showed on his face and she immediately ran with it. She spoke with the calmness of one with the upper hand. "They'll have security cameras and you'll need someone to circumvent them, cutting the power would be too noticeable, we need to get someone inside who can disable the network quickly and without attracting attention from any monitoring stations."

He sighed, considering her words.

She continued, "I can wear one of the mimic devices when I first go in and neutralize the guard before he knows what's going on."

Shit. She was right. Only Carter could make it happen. He leaned forward holding her eyes in a captive stare. His voice had that deep tone she'd only heard once or twice before, like when he ordered her to leave Cassie behind in the bunker. The growl of an order that *will* be obeyed. "With me, and absolutely no heroics. Carter, so help me, if you make me regret this-"

She blinked quickly and responded, "I won't." She bit her lip, looking for a reply.

His eyes didn't release her yet and he nodded ever so slightly. "We've got work to do."

O'Neill ignored the knowing smile on Corbin's face as they resumed ironing out he plans for the mission. At 2100 Hrs he ordered them all to get some rest and meet at the helicopter pad at 0100, the mission was a go for Valentine's Day, 02.14.
Everyone was early as O'Neill expected, but they looked reasonably rested at least. The hangar had an area set aside for them to kit up and check their supplies. They could only take along what they could carry on their backs and given that speed was going to be of consequence here, the packs would have to be light.

Everyone was dressed in flat black with black ball caps and smudged faces. Tolbert, being of a dark skin tone really didn't need it but applied some anyway to cut the shine.

They took off at 0200 and immediately the helicopter was in stealth mode. Flying as low as possible the craft took a somewhat non-direct route to avoid populated areas and military installations. After an hour they were within sight of the drop zone.

Luckily the area was near previously bombed out buildings that had never been rebuilt after the Gulf War, they stood abandoned and provided minimal cover for the descending craft. This would be the primary pick up if their luck held and If not they'd have to sprint a good ways due west and get to the roof of another abandoned structure.

O'Neill motioned for them to power up their night vision goggles and prepare to disembark. They had already gone through a radio and secondary weapons check moments before. The craft set down and with a firm nod to his 2IC, O'Neill gave the order to move out.

Major Corbin was first on the ground, crouching and moving swiftly away to the shadows. The others followed in single file with O'Neill being last. As he stepped off he turned to the pilot and shot him a glance.

O'Neill had chosen this man to fly them when he recognized his name on the pilots roster. They'd served together many years ago in a situation far more similar than either wanted to admit. They both knew there was a possibility the mission would fail and the team would not survive. The same now as it was then.

The pilot quickly saluted the Colonel, who returned it with a nod. Unspoken words passed between the two veteran soldiers, 'Come back for us.' 'I won't leave you behind.'

The complex was well guarded but the team was able to stay hidden in the shadows and made good time to the correct building. They divided off into their respective groups and O'Neill knelt facing Corbin, whispering final orders. Corbin nodded, he really didn't need any additional instructions but he had led a few incursions himself and knew it was as much for O'Neill's benefit as his own. He motioned to Tolbert and O'Connor to follow him. Tolbert smiled showing his white teeth, "Showtime."

O'Neill now turned to his own group, and pointed to an alley leading to the back of the building. "Tuck, on point. I've got the six."

Crouching and moving in short spurts, they turned the corner and approached the entryway. O'Neill tossed a stone across the yard and Tuck leapt up behind the guard and deftly chopped the man at the base of his neck, rendering him unconscious. Lambert whipped out plastic ties and bound the man's hands and feet then he and Carter dragged him around to the alley where she taped his mouth to keep him quiet if he awoke. Tuck was already clipping the telephone lines and putting a small charge on the power cable. They'd decided not to disable the power right away as first planned but it was still a backup option.
Corbin's team held at the front entrance as ordered and waited for an all clear from the security camera room. He hadn't been in on just how Carter was going to get into the room and subdue the guard with no help. He'd objected strongly thinking O'Neill had gone daft sending in a woman, but was over-ruled by both the Colonel and the Major herself.

The Colonel charged Lambert with keeping an eye on the alley only to keep him busy for a few minutes while Carter prepared to go in. Tuck, being already privy to the shape-shifting technology was allowed to be there. He'd been told in no uncertain terms by the General that the information would go no further. He knelt beside the Major as she took out one of the devices and attached it to her skin just below her collarbone and
watched her image morph into that of a young Iraqi man.

She looked at the Colonel who nodded his approval and pulled a small plastic box out of his pack. It looked like a first-aid kit but in fact contained several syringes pre-filled with a powerful sedative. O'Neill pointed to his radio and made a hand motion reminding her to click twice when she was in position.

She nodded and left the shadows for the door. Only a few minutes later O'Neill's radio came to life. And he moved straight for the doorway, not wasting any time. He whispered into his mike, "Lambert, to the back door and hold, now."

In the security room Carter was already familiarizing herself with the setup. The Colonel was satisfied it was secure and radioed the other team. "Corbin?"

"Here Colonel."

"Cameras are secure, move in."

Corbin's team quickly took out the front guards and moved into the house and up the steps quietly. Before they made it to the top heavy footsteps were heard coming in their direction. The guard leaned slowly around the corner with his gun out in front, ready to fire.

Tolbert was the one in best position to fire on the man and made eye contact with his team leader for permission to do it. Corbin blinked his eyes slowly and deliberately giving his consent to the use of lethal force.

Tolbert's P-90 came to life in a single muffled burst and the Arab man fell, the weapon clattering on the floor as he went.

O'Neill and the other's could hear it from their location and he frowned. He keyed the mike, "Report."

The Major answered with a hint of irritation in his voice, "We're okay. One of the guards made us. No choice."

'Dammit', O'Neill cursed under his breath. There were still one of two more guards, not counting any more that may be asleep on the next floor up. They couldn't afford to alert them. He keyed the mike again, "Keep moving Major."

Corbin didn't bother to answer but silently moved un up the steps, two doors were open to empty rooms, the third closed. If only the occupants were asleep they'd be okay.

He waited for Tolbert and O'Connor to take up backup positions beside him and unlatched the door. The room was lit only by a shaft of moonlight coming in the window and the two sleeping forms did not stir.

The men stepped into the room and Corbin motioned to each of his men to take one of the sleepers. Barely in position, the sleeping men suddenly came to life, fighting. They hadn't yet been alerted to something being wrong in the house, and the Lieutenants were well trained and easily subdued the men with minimal noise.

Corbin clicked his radio, "Colonel?"

"O'Neill, go."

"We've got two men, I believe they are the scientists we're looking for."

One of the men slipped out of O'Connor's grasp and made a dive for freedom through the door but Corbin was too fast and stepped in with a right cross. The man fell to the floor unconscious.

Tolbert looked at his charge with eyes of steel. "So, you got any ideas too?"

The man held his hands up and croaked out a plea, "Wait. No, don't hurt me. We were forced, you see-"

Corbin was in his face, "And you are?"

"Doctor Wallace, Fred Wallace. I'm an American, a scientist. He's Dr. Locke."

"We know who you are, and we've got an idea what you are doing. We just don't know why."

"Really, it wasn't the money, not at first. We had some ideas to take the research to the next level but were not permitted to do what we wanted."

Corbin was disgusted. These scientists they were supposed to rescue were traitors! He keyed his mike, "Colonel, we've got them. All clear to come down?"

"All clear. Tuck will meet you at the stairs."

A few minutes later they met in the security room. O'Neill faced the scientists with disdain on his face after hearing Corbin's report. "You know why we're here. We intend to take back what is ours- with your help or not. Your rescue was first priority. Notice I said 'was', if you help us it will be noted in our reports and may send some leniency your way at your hearings. If you don't choose to help us, we will make no extreme efforts to bring you home safely. Be advised I'm inclined to shoot you right here and get on with our mission."

The older scientist spoke up, "What do you want?"

"First, access to the lab."

"We can't, we've only been allowed in there when one of their own senior scientists accompany us. Really, we can't help you."

O'Neill glanced at Carter and she offered an observation. "Sir, on the video it looks like a fairly simple pass code setup. We only need to find the right codes."

"No, no. It's much more than that," Wallace blurted out. The other scientist shot him an icy look.

O'Neill stepped between the men obscuring their view of each other, "Then what is it?"

Contritely the man continued, "There is a palm scanner, too, at least one of the senior scientists must be present."

"Carter, can you get past that?"

"I can try, Sir."

Tuck wasn't about to be left out this time- he'd already hacked into the computer and found some personnel files, including ones of a very senior looking scientist. His ability to read fluent Iraqi was a major advantage he had over Carter. "Sir, I can do it. We've got files and detailed info. Maybe we can use one of your toys to impersonate one of them."

Corbin's head shot up. "Toys?"

"Need to know, Major. Need to know." O'Neill growled.

Corbin was pissed but held it behind narrowed eyes.

O'Neill turned away from him. "Tuck, Carter, do what you can. We don't have a lot of time- like twenty minutes, maybe. If it doesn't work, we blow it."

The kindred minds both with blue eyes nodded and set to the task. Carter set up her laptop and gave quick instructions to Tuck. All they needed was a palm print, not the whole person. He dug through the files and came up with a possible match.

Carter busied herself with her computer until Tuck found something useful, then ran the file through a translation program and converted it to English. O'Neill checked in with Lambert at the rear entrance and O'Connor who was up front, leaving Corbin observing the monitors and Tolbert in control of the prisoners.

O'Neill returned and paced, occasionally eyeing the prisoners, "Carter."

"Just a few more minutes."

"Carter, we're due for a patrol to check in soon." He tapped his watch.

"Just a few more- I need to alter the parameters, I never anticipated only doing a partial pattern. Got it, I think!" She quickly snapped the device into the clip and pressed the keys to complete the programming.

Corbin was having a hard time keeping his eyes on the monitor and not watching what Tuck and Carter were doing. He caught a glimpse of a small round silvery object Carter was hooking up to her computer though. Noticing a scowl from O'Neill he turned his eyes away and back to the monitors.

O'Neill, Carter and Tuck then headed to the basement. The first couple of doors were easily picked locks, then came the final door and the scanner. Carter attached the device to the base of her neck and nothing happened. She readjusted it and waited, looking at her hands, expecting something. "I don't get it. This should be working."

Tuck reached for the disk, "I think I understand a little of the programming and you're right, it should have worked."

He grasped the disk and pressed it forcefully to his forearm. Immediately his hand began to change. He looked at his two hands oddly, one was his, but the other was weathered and of a darker, Middle-eastern skin tone. He marveled at the change.

Carter was fascinated as well, she expected that the only part that would change was the programmed part, but it was amazing to see.

O'Neill shook his head at the easily sidetracked scientists and grabbed Tuck's hand and stuck it to the scanner. The panel immediately lit up and the door to the lab slid open with a whoosh.

Inside was a fully equipped, state of the art laboratory. O'Neill stepped in and gave a low whistle. "Never woulda guessed."

He looked back at Carter and Tuck who were now entering the room and noted their expressions. "Now before your eyes gloss over, remember why we're here. Carter, what kind of storage are we looking for?"

"Not very big necessarily, but fortified with lead and steel, likely."

"Like a vault of some kind?"

"Like this?" Tuck was standing beside a tall metal box that looked like a gun safe. "There were numerous warnings written on it in Iraqi.

"Yeah, just like that." Carter crossed the floor to him.

"So if it's not radioactive, why store it like this?"

"Because radioactivity can set it off."

"Oh." Tuck was embarrassed, he should have thought of that.

O'Neill was getting that creepy feeling something wasn't right and scanned the room, the tip of his weapon following his eye movements. "Carter, now would be a good time."

They both nodded to him and forced the small vault open, the Naquadah was only a small quantity but she could barely lift the four-inch rectangular blocks.

Tuck was amazed, "How can something so small weigh so much?"

O'Neill cut off Carter before she could answer, "What about the rest?"

Carter looked around the lab, "I don't know, Sir. Could be anywhere I guess."

"So what are we looking for?" Tuck asked.

"Two more of those." Carter pointed to the mimic device still on Tuck's arm.

"Aw, crap! Saddam's got access to these things?"

"Well, I'm guessing he doesn't know how to use them. Not yet anyway."

"Okay, we really are short on time here." O'Neill had an idea. "Please, tell me you reprogrammed the other device and it's ready to go."

"Actually I did, Sir. It's in the case by my laptop."

He grinned. "Carter, you always make my day." He then turned to the side and spoke into his radio, "Corbin?"

"Here."

"Okay, Major. Now you need to know. Have you been watching the time?"

"Yes, Sir. We're due for a patrol any minute now." His voice revealed his worry that they may be discovered.

"Right. Open the case next to Carter's computer and take out the silver disk thingy. Touch it only by the edges. Who up there speaks Iraqi?"

"Tuck's the best, but he's down there with you."

"Anybody else?" Damn, no time for this.

"Uh, myself and Lambert does a little."

"Okay, you'll do. I want you to take a position up near the front door and wait for the patrol to approach. Carry one of their weapons, not ours, understood?"

"Colonel?" His voice was blatantly fearful now.

"Corbin! Relax, that's an order! The device is a disguise. I'll tell you everything you need to know to make it work. Think of it like a hologram. It will make you look like an Iraqi for maybe five minutes. To activate it, you need to place the flat backside of it in contact with your skin. Don't use it too soon because of the limited time. When you're ready, put it under your shirt on your chest."

"You're kidding me, right?"

"Wish I was. Now get out there and make sure they don't suspect anything. Try not to talk too much, just a standard greeting and some praise Allah stuff. Do *not* get into a conversation and do *not* forget the time limit."

Corbin was gulping and shaking. He was about to go face to face with two or three Iraqis with only some weird device hiding his face from them.

While O'Neill had been giving instructions to Corbin, Carter and Tuck started opening drawers and cabinets.
They virtually ransacked the lab and found nothing. "Maybe they're not here, Sir. This probably isn't the only lab set up to study this kind of technology."

"It would have been nice to wrap up all our packages together, you know. All right, partial mission success, best we can do." He was thoughtful for a moment. "Carter, break out the C-4."

"You're gonna blow the lab?"

"Yep. You want them to keep this going?" She had no answer to that one so she dropped her pack to the floor and laid out several of the blocks. They each took some and set the charges around the lab, then O'Neill gave the order to head out. They'd have to be at some distance to destroy the lab and not detonate the Naquadah.

Tuck wrapped up the blocks of strange metal and stuck them in his pack then shouldered it. By the time they got to the top of the stairs he was panting heavily. O'Neill had everyone check in and found Corbin indeed had to face a small patrol and they'd gone on their way oblivious to the American presence.

It was time for them to head out. Dawn was fast approaching and the sky was already a dark shade of grayish-blue. Tolbert had been given the duty of carrying their heavy prize out to the pickup since he was the most muscular of the group. Corbin took point and had Lambert call via satellite link for the evac at the drop coordinates.

Everything was going according to plan until Locke decided they might actually get away with it. The younger of the rescued-but-didn't-want-to-be men decided he'd rather take his chances with the Iraqis than spend the rest of his life in a cell back home. He started struggling and yelling curses at them; he knew the dawn patrol couldn't be far away, it was likely the break in at the lab was being discovered right now.

The sound of many feet and the clatter of metal was more than enough alert they were in trouble. O'Neill nodded to Corbin who was carrying the detonator and he pressed the buttons. In the distance they heard multiple explosions and even felt the shock wave as it went by. The Iraqis were set into confusion and it afforded the group time to make it to the extraction point, but the helicopter wasn't there. It was too open and indefensible to stay and wait so O'Neill ordered them on to the secondary evac. When they got within sight of the building he sent Lambert and O'Connor to run on ahead and set up the Satellite link to contact their ride about the change of plans.

'Damn', O'Neill thought, that rat-face Dr. Locke was still fighting and drawing attention to them. He stopped to dig out another dose of the sedative, holding back the urge to just shoot the bastard and be done with him.

"Corbin, get everyone else and head on up." The extraction point was on the roof of an abandoned building where the helo could possibly get to them more easily.

Wallace was being cooperative realizing he'd certainly be killed even if the Naquadah was reclaimed by the Iraqis and now kept pace with them. Corbin followed Wallace and Tolbert up the steps.

That left O'Neill, Carter and Tuck with an unconscious man. O'Neill made to lift the insensible man and realized he'd not be able to carry him all the way to the top. He struggled under the weight and Tuck put out his hand to assist. Carter was a few steps up and looked back at them.

"No, first, get Carter out, you can come back for me."

The slim Major bounded back down the steps, having heard him. "Colonel, let me help, then we can all go."

O'Neill lashed out at her, he could hear the helicopter approaching the building. "Carter, I'm giving you a direct order to get up to that evac! Go!"

"No, Sir. We don't leave anyone behind, right?"

"Shit, Carter, I'll be right there." He made a gesture to her pack, "We can't afford to let any more technology fall into their hands. Make sure everyone is secure aboard the helicopter then hold it for me. Now go!"

Her shoulders squared as she intended to argue again but Tuck's strong hands were on her upper arm, pulling her up the steps. He'd been taken with the Major at their first encounter but over the past few days had seen the connection between these two was set in concrete. His eyes met the Colonel's, "I'll be back in one minute, Sir."

With that he pulled the Major more forcefully and made her climb the narrow steps. Near the top they saw debris blowing about as the helicopters blades created a small tornado on the roof. The sound was deafening but above the din another sound was clear. It was the last thing she heard for a long time, the sound of concussion grenades going off at the base of the stairway.
Tuck leaned over her and pulled the blanket up to her neck to keep out the cool night air of the desert. They were still in the chopper, just three minutes from Al Salem airfield. The grenade had likely not caused any permanent damage but the Major was still unconscious. Tuck was glad of it, he needed the time to decide how to tell her what had happened.

When the grenades went off a column of air was forced to surge up the stairwell pushing the two occupants upward at a frightening pace. They were thrown onto the roof landing several meters away from the stairs. Major Corbin was standing at the side of the helicopter urging everyone to get in quickly and dashed to Carter's side as soon as he saw her hit yelling for Tolbert over his shoulder. Tuck rolled as he landed and was a little disoriented when the Lieutenant dragged him to his feet.

"Can't. Go yet. Colonel. O'Neill." Tuck forced the words out while trying to catch his breath.

Corbin waved to the aircraft, "O'Connor! Come get her! Tolbert, get Tuck on the helo!" He turned from the Major and ran to the top of the stairway. Dust was still pouring out of it in a thick musty cloud and he fell to his stomach trying to peer through it.

He clicked the radio and yelled into it, "O'Neill! Colonel! Do you read?" When there was no answer he abandoned it and cupped his hands around his mouth to amplify his voice as he called down the steps. He knew he was giving away his position but he didn't care, "Colonel! You've got to come now! Can you hear me?"

The only sound from below was the tramping of many booted feet, moving around on the lower level of the building. He dropped his head into his dirt and gravel covered hands for a moment, then crawled up to his feet and started to descend the steps. Maybe, just maybe there was a chance the Colonel had gotten part way up. He only stopped when a flashlight was shone up toward him accompanied by an angry Iraqi voice. He slumped to the wall away from the light and as it moved on he crept back up to the roof and the now frantically waving pilot.

He ran the distance between the opening and the helicopter in record time. The pilot noticed he was alone and leaned back in his seat. When Corbin got on board the pilot threw him a headset and motioned for him to put it on. The Major complied despite the urgency of the situation. He knew what the pilot would be asking him.

"Where's the Colonel?"

"He didn't make it."

"Are you sure? Did you see him go down?"

"No, I didn't, but there's no way- "

The look on the pilots face said it all. Sometimes we do leave people behind. He spat a curse and turned to the controls. The helicopter lifted off, rapidly putting some distance behind them. Once on the way two Air Force jets provided a diversion, flying close enough to spook the inhabitants and scooting out before anti aircraft batteries could be manned.

Corbin had removed the headset and tossed it aside. He definitely didn't want to talk to anyone right now. He'd just left his CO in enemy hands.

Despite the fact that he would probably have gotten killed and the likelihood that Colonel O'Neill was already dead, his guilt could have filled an aircraft hangar. He kicked a support beam in the craft and ground his fists into his eyes. Damn. Got to find a way to go back. He looked at the pilot's back and knew he'd have at least one volunteer for a rescue mission.

Tuck was seated beside Carter, one hand protectively on her shoulder. He was looking down at her but only seeing O'Neill's face when he told them to go. Tuck had promised to go back. A promise he broke.

The three Lieutenants were silent too, trying not to make eye contact with either Tuck or Corbin. A very, very big rule from their unspoken code of conduct had been broken and no one wanted to face the consequences.

Just before they landed Carter started to rouse. The first thing out of her mouth was O'Neill's name.

"Just rest now Major, we're almost home." Without headsets, he had to yell to make himself heard.

Carter blinked away the disorientation and looked directly into Tuck's eyes. "Colonel O'Neill?"

Tuck looked away and right at Corbin, then back. "Didn't make it."

"No! He'll live. Are you doing CPR?" Tuck had to push her shoulders back down to keep her from getting up.

"Can't do that." He sighed heavily. "He's not here."

Her eyes opened wide and with a sudden burst of adrenalin she shoved Tuck aside and grabbed the side of the bench to get up. Corbin was on his feet and reaching out for her when she froze, half standing, and glared at him. "You left him." Her voiced was angry and choked with disbelief. She forced herself to an upright position and held on to an overhead support. "We're going back now if I have to fly this damn bucket myself."

Corbin shook his head and pointed to the landing strip lights ahead of them, "No can do, Major, we're already home."

She held on, swaying as the helicopter lurched and swung around to land. As soon as the skids were solidly on the ground she let go of her handgrip and turned away from the men. Her eyes looked out across the vast empty desert and her vision blurred with moisture despite the dry air.

That bastard, Locke, weighed a ton unconscious. O'Neill struggled at first but realized there was no way he'd get the man up a flight of stairs without help. Maybe down stairs, but definitely not up. He knew they'd been seen and it was only a matter of minutes until a local patrol would search this building and find them.

The telltale blast and flash of concussion grenades going off in the front room was clear indication time had run out. He turned to make a dash to the stairway but stopped short as two concussion grenades were tossed in the room. His only recourse was to go to ground and cover. He knew the soldiers would be on him in a moment but he'd rather be conscious than unconscious when they found him. The blast faded and he jumped to his feet, heading for the exit. Before he made it to the foot of the stairway he was cut off by a pair of very angry men. He stopped short and held his hands out to his sides to show them he was hiding no weapon. The sound of the helicopter leaving was unheard after the arrival of their friends and the impact of a gun stock to the back of his head.

Some time later O'Neill awoke. He was in a cell, certainly, but there was not even a speck of dust on the floor. A bit clean considering he knew where he was, or at least in what country he was. He stood and realized he'd been relieved of his vest, jacket and all equipment, right down to his shoes and socks, leaving him barefoot. The room was windowless, possibly a storage closet he thought. Maybe they were holding him until others could be dispatched to pick him up, and this was the closest place.

Unfortunately he also noted the door was quite well sealed and though there was a small vent near the floor and another one near the ceiling, he could feel no air flow through them. Must be some cross ventilation though, he thought. There was a drain in the middle of the floor and the light was from a single bare bulb overhead. The time wore on and his stomach started to growl. Not quite their MO to let him die without trying to extract at least some information.

After several hours he'd dozed off and was awakened by the door being unlatched. Two soldiers entered and roughly escorted him out of the cell. He was stunned to find himself in a lab instead of a prison. Not nearly as large as the other one, but similar, and no windows either, probably underground he thought. Thanks to his training he was already making mental notes of all the exits, and anything that might be of use to him in the future. He looked around at the equipment and back at the guards. "So is this when the torture starts?"

The older of the men swung his weapon around catching O'Neill in the thigh and spat a command at him to be quiet. Presently a well to do looking Arab man entered the room.

He gave orders to the men to back off but not leave the room. O'Neill pretended to look confused even though he understood every word.

The man now turned to him, "Sit, American!" and motioned to a plain metal chair. O'Neill complied, no point in making any moves just yet.

"You will tell me what it is you are doing in my country."

O'Neill just looked at him passively.

"What have you done with the scientist Wallace?"

O'Neill continued to stare.

"It is no matter. He was most likely on your helicopter. The one we shot down early this morning. There were no survivors, so you see why it is I am asking the questions of you." The man paced slowly with his head up in an air of aristocracy. He brushed a piece of lint from his sleeve.

O'Neill glared at him this time. No way was that the truth, he knew his team had made it, they had to.

"What is your name, American?"

"O'Neill."

"Rank?"

"Jaffa."

His captor looked at him with narrowed eyes, "You want to play games with me? Very well, Jaffa O'Neill, I teach you some good games." He barked some orders at the guards who dragged O'Neill to his feet and down a hallway through some doors and into another room.

'Oh, this looks more like it' he thought noting it was much less sterile than the lab environment. Also less inviting, with chains on the walls, a couple of rings imbedded in the ceiling and a long steel table against one wall. A long chain ran from a clip in the wall through one of the ceiling rings and swayed as they entered.

He was shoved into the center of the room and winced as one of the men clamped handcuffs on his wrists and tightened them down. The hanging chain was unceremoniously hooked to the short chain between the cuffs and his arms were suddenly jerked upward over his head. He was held in a position where his feet were on the floor but supporting little of his weight unless his stood up on his toes.

The proprietor of the lab walked around O'Neill slowly assessing him and came to a stop in front of him. "Now, you will tell me what I want to know."

"Go to hell." His arms were already aching at the strain of the unnatural position of his shoulders.

"Oh, I don't think so, Allah willing. I am Bashir, and this is my lab, so was the other one. You have stolen from me and killed several of my people. It is only right that I require an explanation. Now tell me your rank."

"Supreme Commander."

Bashir motioned and the guards pulled on the chain lifting O'Neill completely off the ground. He squawked as his shoulder joints pulled and his wrists bore his full weight in the cuffs.

"How can I trust what you say if you will not answer even simple questions?" He motioned to a guard again who picked up the end of the long chain and swung it so that it impacted O'Neill's ribcage wrapping around him like a whip made of metal. His breath blew out as he tried to cringe away from the pain but had nowhere to go, dangling there from the ceiling. The second guard had moved to his left and now stepped in and jabbed him firmly mid stomach with the butt of his rifle. The momentum caused him to swing back and as he came forward the guard did it again. If he'd had anything in his stomach it would have come up right then.

O'Neill's breath was coming in short gasps, "Colonel, I'm a Colonel. You son-of-a-bitch." He didn't really want to give up any information, but well, rank was expected even by the Geneva Convention, wasn't it?

Bashir motioned for them to let him down and they released the chain at once dropping him all the way to the ground in a heap. He groaned as his knees hit hard and then his hands, weighed down by the heavy chain.

"You see, I am a merciful man. We will talk again later, the outcome will be up to you." With that Bashir turned and left the room followed by the guards.

O'Neill lay on his side on the floor for a long time it seemed, knees drawn up, holding his still manacled hands over his stomach. One of the guards returned and set a simple saucer in front of him and poured water into it, letting some slosh over onto the floor. He tossed a chunk of hard bread into it, splattering even more water onto the floor. He then spat into it and walked out.

O'Neill inched his way the few feet to the saucer and removed the bread, the bottom of it now sopping with liquid. He turned it toward his mouth and sucked at the water, swallowing bits of soggy bread with it. There was little left in the bottom of the saucer and it was too flat to pick up without spilling so he scooted up closer until his head was directly over it and sucked and licked at it like a dog, trying to get every last drop before it evaporated and was gone.

His thirst temporarily sated, he pushed himself to a seated position and looked over the room. Why were these places always painted gray? His situation was not good but this Bashir guy was an amateur in the torture department. By Goa'uld standards, that is. Once you've been tortured by them everyone else is a distant second. O'Neill smirked, they'd stopped and he wasn't even unconscious yet, and they'd fed him the first day. Yeah, rank amateurs. But even an amateur could do a lot of damage.

He turned his wrists under the metal cuffs and tried to rub away some of the soreness. The metal hadn't cut his flesh yet but if he was hung up there many more times it surely would. He rubbed his feet a bit too as they were cold from the concrete floor. He stiffly rose up and saw how far he could go still tethered on the long chain, not very far. After working on the chain for a few minutes he was able to disconnect it from the cuffs so he could walk freely about the room. He could see through the small window in the door that one of the guards was standing just outside the opening.

It felt good to move and stretch a little and he walked around the perimeter of the room. If he could just find a scrap of metal or something he could pick these locks with he'd be happy. Seeing that it was unlikely he'd escape, at least this early in the game, his mind wandered in other directions.

Why was he here instead of in one of the more common, and dirty prisons? The one he was in during the Gulf War was hideously filthy. It stank, and not just of sweat and excrement, but rotting flesh. The mental torture from having to endure the conditions was almost as bad as what had been done to the prisoners. He'd watched several good men die, more of neglect than forced injury or execution.

This 'different' kind of internment made him wonder if his capture had even been reported up the chain of command to Baghdad. Maybe old Bashir didn't want Saddam to know he'd lost some major technology and at least one of the men who knew how to make it work. Of course maybe Saddam didn't even know about the technology, or even the lab. No, that would be too unlikely.

The questions just raised more questions in his head. After several hours the lock on the door was turned and Bashir was back, looking way too relaxed.

He patted his stomach and belched. "Ah, it is always good to feast with my friends and family. My brother roasted a lamb on a spit for us, it was most delicious."

O'Neill looked in his direction without seeing the man at all. Keeping his emotions under a tight rein. Perhaps he should have eaten that hard crust of bread.

Bashir continued, "So now, O'Neill, tell me, how did you locate this lab?"

"I followed the stench and knew I'd find the rats."

"Rats you say, maybe when we are done here I will feed you to some rats. Maybe I will put you on my brother's spit and let you roast slowly for a day. I would enjoy hearing you beg for mercy. I could videotape it and send the tape to your General Hammond so he would know what a coward you really are."

O'Neill didn't flinch, didn't even blink, but inside his mind kicked into high gear. What had those bastard scientists told Bashir! If he knew about Hammond, he probably knew about the Stargate and a lot more.

Bashir was a bit put out that he didn't get the response he wanted from O'Neill. "You see I know much of your governments secrets. So tell me how much of this Naquadah do you have?"

"What's that?"

Bashir motioned to his men who advanced on O'Neill and dragged him over to the steel table, which was now moved out from the wall. He was forced to lie on it face up. Heavy straps were tightened across his knees and hips and the cuffs were removed but only so heavy straps could be fitted around his wrists and tied together under the table, so his hands were pulled over the edge. Somewhere along the way they ripped his T-shirt off leaving his upper body bare.

One of the guards draped a length of chain across his neck and pulled it tight down to the table. Bashir walked around it, as if he was checking the restraints to his own satisfaction, but O'Neill guessed it was really just to enjoy the feeling of power over another human being.

When he reached the head of the table he gave the neck chain a harsh jerk making O'Neill gag and sputter. His chest heaved up off the table as he tried to pull in a breath.

A technician entered the room with some long clear tubing and what looked like one of those old-fashioned glass IV bottles they used before everything medical went to plastic. O'Neill wondered if he was about to be drugged or worse, though it wasn't the Iraqis method of choice, for torture anyway.

The technician set up the bottle and hung it on a hook in the ceiling. The end of the tubing was hanging straight down over his chest and O'Neill could see it was way too short for an IV.

Bashir was watching with some interest from the other side of the table. "Tell me your security code for Cheyenne Mountain."

O'Neill couldn't help but snort. Was this guy serious? Bashir snapped his fingers at the technician, who nodded then fiddled with the tubing for a moment. Satisfied, he stepped away. Bashir leaned back against the wall and waited. Although he was showing irritation, apparently patience was something he had in abundance.

O'Neill felt something drip onto his skin right in the center of his chest. At first the sensation was cold, like water but within a minute it was stinging. Another drip fell nearly in the same spot as the first. It splattered a tiny bit and felt cool at first then warm.

Bashir now watched in amusement as O'Neill tilted his chin down straining against the chain so he could see better what was happening.

Another drip fell. It smarted at once and O'Neill finally realized the liquid was doing something to him. 'Shit' He thought, they were dripping acid on his skin. As another one hit he made a grimace and started to try to wriggle away from the hanging tubing.

Bashir just laughed. "Tell me your identification codes while you still have skin O'Neill!"

O'Neill shot him a glare. "Sure. Three point one four one five ni- Aak!" the guard yanked back on the chain around his neck at Bashir's request. Well they weren't as stupid as he'd thought.

The guard leaned heavily on the chain and O'Neill began to struggle at his bonds, unable to get a breath. Finally the man released his grip and O'Neill sucked in air, wheezing through his bruised airway.

Bashir snapped his fingers at he technician and nodded. "I will give you something to think about for the night, tomorrow if you are alive you will talk with me or I will give you more to think about."

With that Bashir turned and left the room followed by his entourage. O'Neill was left alone, strapped quite securely beneath the little dripping bottle.

He struggled as hard as he could but the straps were too tight and as he moved around all he succeeded in doing was allowing the acid to hit on previously untouched areas. Eventually the liquid started running down his sides and pooling beneath him on the hard surface of the table. Luckily the bottle had not been a large one, obviously Bashir intended for him to experience pain, not death just yet. O'Neill considered leaning his weight back and forth and tipping the table over, but he figured he'd surely break or even crush one of his arms in the process.

O'Neill didn't know when the bottle's contents were finally exhausted, by that time he was numb from the pain. His sides were raw where the acid ran run down his skin and his back was beginning to blister where he'd lay in the pool of liquid all night, but the worst by far was the front of this chest. Before half the bottle was done the skin over his sternum had already blistered. Now it looked more like a third-degree burn, or a staff blast, the flesh crusted with now coagulated blood and body fluids. That part of the human body didn't have much muscle and with the skin gone, the bone was nearly exposed. He knew it was going to be bad when he noticed it didn't really hurt anymore, the nerve endings had been destroyed.

It may have been morning, he really didn't know, but a couple guards came and dragged him off to the small cell where he'd been before. He was tossed in without so much as a word from them. They treated him to another platter of water and stale bread and left him alone. He was tempted to use the water to rinse off his skin but it was really more important to maintain hydration at that point so he drank greedily. He rubbed his sore shoulders and lay against the wall, allowing himself to rest from the ordeal.

Ali Al Salem Saturday 02.15.03

Carter had spent most of the day arguing with General Pike in an attempt to mount a rescue mission to get O'Neill out. He reminded her a great many times that the success of such a mission would be negligible, given that the Iraqi were now aware of their interests. Most likely O'Neill had been moved to the main prison in Baghdad, right under Saddam's nose. Pike considered sending her back to Cheyenne Mountain immediately, she hadn't been part of the team originally and now that the rest of the mission was a scrub, she wasn't needed anymore.

That notion met with heated resistance and Tuck and Corbin were backing her all the way. Pike wouldn't relent without orders from above though and the trio was off to Ahmed Al Jaber to meet with the next General up the chain of command. He, however, was more interested in procuring the remaining pieces of technology than with a search and rescue mission. In his opinion, O'Neill was MIA, and probably under such intense security they'd have no chance of getting him out. He told them they'd have to wait until the diplomats could get involved and work out a release.

Carter did manage to get one string pulled. Her only ace in the hole. The Major General had agreed to allow her to contact General Hammond via a secure link and inform him personally of O'Neill's status.

Hammond was sitting in his office awaiting the call as it had been set up a several minutes earlier by intermediaries. His red phone rang and he answered, "Hammond."

"General, Sir. This is Major Carter."

"Major, this is quite unexpected. I take it something has happened to warrant your going to these measures?"

"Yes, Sir. You know the reason the Colonel and I were transferred out, correct?"

"Yes, I was cleared by the President himself at the request of Nellis and the DTRA. They considered with the unusual nature of your mission, more than just the personnel resources of the SGC may be needed."

"They were right. Possibly. Our mission was only partially successful. We were not able to retrieve the two smaller devices, and likely one of the scientists is either dead or back in the hands of the Iraqis. But, Sir, that's not the real reason I'm calling you." She paused and caught her breath, "Sir, Colonel O'Neill is missing and presumed to have been taken prisoner."

Hammond felt the color rise starting in his neck and going all the way to the top of his head. "Major, I don't know what to say. Is there any hope of rescue at this point?"

"That's why I'm calling you. The Air Force is denying the incident and as far as they are concerned the Colonel went MIA during a skirmish at the border. They said now it's a matter for the diplomats." She spat the last word out.

"Well I'm not sure what I can do on this end, there's only so far the President can go given the current state of International affairs. But I'll talk to him."

"I don't really expect the President to authorize a search and rescue, I'm not actually looking for any help from our own government." She paused. "Sir, we have access to other allies."

Hammond stood and slammed his hand down on his desk. "Consider the call made, Major. I'll contact you in Kuwait as soon as I hear something. Just in case the Tok'ra or the Asgard aren't available, are you working on another plan?"

"Not much of one yet, Sir, but I've got plenty of volunteers."

"Good, I am going to call the President with this information, we'll need a go ahead for whatever plan you come up with. And Major, were going to get him out."

"Yes, Sir, thanks. I'll be here."
Sunday 02.16.03

It seemed O'Neill was spending a long time in the small cell. They had turned out the light and it was hard to judge time but he could guess from the stubble on his face about how much had passed. The overhead bulb flicked on and the door was opened by one of the guards. Instead of dragging O'Neill out for another go around, they forced another man into the room and slammed the door. O'Neill eyed him closely. Caucasian, maybe late forties, and no signs of torture, not yet. Maybe he'd just been caught and hadn't met Master Bashir yet. The man looked frightened and huddled in a corner away from his cellmate.

"I'm O'Neill. Who are you?" O'Neill forced his mouth to work right despite the swelling and dryness of his mouth.

"Parker." The man was looking over O'Neill's injuries. "You been here long?"

"Nah, just a couple nights. Thought I'd extend my stay awhile though, I'm enjoying myself so much."

Parker looked at him warily, "They've been asking me stuff about some weird technology, but I don't know anything. I think they're gonna kill me if I don't offer them something soon. Do you know what they're talking about?"

"Nope."

"So, they've obviously tortured you. What have they been asking you?"

"Oh, name, rank, email, favorite color."

Parker shook his head; the sarcasm was lost on him, "But nothing about the devices?"

"What about 'em?" Oh, that was a slip. His head must be more foggy than he thought. He knew better than to trust even a fellow prisoner with Intel.

"So you do know something. If you tell them, maybe they won't hurt you anymore."

"I don't know anything."

"Sure. Well at least you could tell me what I'm going to be tortured for. You know they'll do to me what they did to you, and I really *don't* know anything."

"How'd you know to ask about a device? It could have been anything, a weapon, a chemical formula, a computer program, anything." O'Neill closed his eyes. The puzzle pieces were fitting together even as he spoke.

Parker shifted his position. "Okay, I know a little. But you know a lot more. If you haven't noticed these aren't Iraqi regulars, they're like scientists or something. A little information might go a long way with them."

O'Neill thought, 'not Iraqi regulars', he wondered if that was the truth. "Parker, where did you come from?"

"Uh, New York City." He spoke it in a stilted way and O'Neill noticed the distinct lack of a New York accent.

"No. I mean how were you captured?"

"I was on a border patrol, and I was picked up."

"So why are they asking you, a border guard, about technology?"

"I don't know. Maybe they ask everybody. You know what it is, don't you? Why don't you tell me?"

O'Neill was certain now he was being interrogated. He repeated wearily, "I don't know anything."

Parker was getting angry now, "You do."

O'Neill was tired of this conversation and lay down against the wall intending to rest in preparation for his next meeting with Bashir. He closed his eyes and ignored the source of his irritation.

Parker stood and spat a few curses at him.

O'Neill spoke with his eyes still closed, "You swear well in English, given that it's not your native language."

The curses now came forth in Iraqi, much to the dismay of the Colonel. He'd so hoped he was wrong. He opened his eyes to see the man remove the silver disk from under his shirt and morph. He was not Bashir but he was definitely Iraqi.

Damn, what would they try next? The man pounded at the door and was released with a scowl from the guard.
Carter, Tuck and Corbin were discouraged, no, scratch that, disgusted. And with their own government, no less. It was afternoon now and they'd gotten no further at all with the higher ups in command. Everyone understood, but no one would help. The whole mission was so classified it was entirely off the books and completely denied. So when Carter got a message that a call was coming in for her from stateside she literally ran down the hall to get it.

"Major Carter here." Her voice was stern and militaristic.

"Sammy?"

"Dad? Where are you?"

"Well, George put out the call for us and I just happened to be in the neighborhood, so I came on over."

She knew he was lying. Since things had gotten so much better between them, he would jump at any chance to take a more active part in her life. A great improvement from before. She mentally calculated how long it might have taken Hammond to get a response and then how long until Jacob would have arrived. "So you came by ship- not by gate? Just how hard did you have to push your engines to get here?" She knew he couldn't have been *that* close.

"Almost burned them up."

"Dad." He could almost see her shaking her head through the phone. "Have I told you I love you?" She felt a bit of moisture in her eyes as she remembered another time she needed his help.

> The doors slid open before them and Jacob stepped forward, furious. "Are you out of your minds? What the hell are you two doing here?" He directed the question toward Sam and Daniel and after a short conversation, is that what you call it when your father yells at you? She'd uttered one short sentence as an explanation. "Colonel O'Neill and Teal'c need your help." He went from livid to calm in a split second, and gave his answer, "Good enough." >

"I love you too, kid. Now tell me what's going on." Selmac was urging him to get on past the pleasantries. "George has already given me some background and let me tell you I am less than thrilled by the fact my only daughter has been put in some serious harms way."

"Oh, Dad." She griped. "They really needed me and I had plenty of backup, besides, the Colonel was here." The implication was left unsaid, that if O'Neill was anywhere around, she'd be safe.

Jacob didn't argue the point. It was time to face the reason he was called. "Do you have any idea where he's being held?"

"Not really, but I've been going over some of the Intel and I've found some very interesting things." She purposefully dropped the sentence right there.

Jake had been around enough to pick up on the fact that she was talking about some high level classified Intel- something she couldn't discuss on the phone, no matter how secure the connection. "Sam, I'm here to help. I can be there in two hours."

"Aren't you at Cheyenne Mountain?"

"Sure, but I did come by ship, you know. It'll take George longer to get me an appropriate uniform than it will to get to your location. I can ring down to a secluded spot. Just get me coordinates."

Carter's eyes lit up with hope. Maybe, just maybe, this whole affair would be over soon. The relief was evident in her voice as she ticked off numbers to him. "See you soon, Dad."
After the failure of the 'interrogation' session, Bashir was getting irritated. It was now evening and they'd gone another round of pompous superiority versus sarcasm and O'Neill was wondering if they still cut out people's tongues for insolent words. If so he was well on his way to becoming mute.

"Damn, don't you guys ever come up with something more interesting? You're boring the hell out of me."

Their latest effort had been in the chain room again. O'Neill was locked into the rings on the wall forcing him to stand with his arms outstretched. The guards had already been given orders to do their worst to him and they proceeded to beat him until he was unconscious then shake him and splash on water to wake him up again and again.

Bashir wasn't even asking questions any more. He just sat back in a chair and watched the guards have their sadistic fun. O'Neill occasionally caught a snippet of their conversation- things like, 'for Allah', and 'filthy American pig.'

The exposed skin of his chest and sides that was untouched by the acid now was an assortment of colors, none of which was pink flesh. They'd also opted to go with a more barbaric torture using something he swore was an electric cattle prod. Whenever it touched his skin a jolt of electricity caused him to spasm and lurch uncontrollably at the restraints. They had found a particular delight in his alternately screaming curses and moaning when they jabbed him in the groin with the thing. The pain was unimaginable and he could only hope it wasn't doing any permanent damage. He resorted to kicking out at them with his knees and bare feet as long as some strength remained.

They were insistent and continued until he was unable to fight back anymore. It was more than any human could possibly bear and his shaking legs gave out, allowing his body to sag downward against the wall. His head drooped forward and he wept quietly before the men, ashamed that he'd been so quickly broken. Even Ba'al hadn't brought him to this point.

They released him from the wall and bound his wrists and ankles tightly. He was left in the middle of the floor lying in his own blood, sweat, spit and tears. His chest heaved and shook as more tears ran silently down his face and dripped to the ground. Exhaustion finally claimed him and he was thankful to give in to unconsciousness one more time.
At Al Salem Airbase, Jacob had arrived the night before and was glad to see his daughter unharmed. She'd been pleased to see her father, too, but her grief at the situation facing them was obvious. That afternoon an aide had arrived at the base and delivered a package to General Pike who had scheduled a briefing almost immediately. Major Corbin and Captain Tucker were permitted to attend as well.

The General's expression was sorrowful as he put a tape in the VCR and turned it on. "Before I begin, what you are about to see is going to be difficult to watch. The content, however, has been verified."

He started the tape and sat back to observe the reaction of the assembled officers. He'd already seen the tape through, more than once, and had no desire to see it again. The atmosphere in the room tensed as the tape played and the content became evident. Carter had to force her gasping breaths to quiet, and she squeezed her father's hand until her fingers were numb. His were too, but he didn't let on.

At one point Selmac had quietly taken control, allowing the human half of their bond to rage inside his own head. His eyes narrowed as he noticed the man's chest with a horrible burn, reminiscent of a staff blast but bloody and blistered around the edges instead of charred. From Jacob's knowledge of Iraqi torture methods he realized it must have been from some kind of corrosive agent. It was hard to tell where the burn ended and where the other bruising began, there was so little uninjured skin on the man's body. His legs would probably be in a similar condition under his trousers.

They watched in horror as the Iraqis demonstrated their ability to inflict even more pain with electricity, probing him repeatedly in every sensitive part of his body. The man screamed and jerked spasmodically as the current went through him. Selmac could feel from deep within the fury of several hundred years seeing sick and perverse individuals such as these force their will upon those unable to fight back. Not weak, just temporarily overcome. He felt a hatred he'd rarely ever let surface before, surprising Jacob at the intensity of it. This would not be allowed to go on. Tok'ra or not, blessing of the ruling council or not, fire from hell or heaven, this would end.

He glanced at Carter and felt a sudden tenderness seeing she could no longer watch the display and had closed her eyes. They snapped open again as a familiar voice was heard agreeing to give the torturers anything they wanted. The face was badly bruised and swollen, but the identity of the unfortunate man was clear to them all. The final scene was of O'Neill, bound and lying in the middle of the floor, sobbing.

Selmac's attention was now required to hold Jacob in check even more. The idea of degrading a man to this point was unbearable, to both of them.

When the tape was over it was Carter who broke the silence first, though her voice cracked as she spoke. "It's a fraud. There is no way Colonel O'Neill would be compromised like that. Whoever checked that tape was mistaken."

Corbin reached his hand out to her, "From what they did to him, no one would blame him. He's just trying to survive."

She pulled away from him like he was poison, "That's exactly why he wouldn't give them what they wanted." She was clearly fighting back tears now. "You don't know him. The more they hurt him, the more he would resolve to hold the line against them. He's done it before and he'd do it now." Her jaw was quivering as she spoke and she turned into her father's shoulder to hide her loss of composure.

Selmac used the opportunity to exchange places with Jacob and he turned his attention to Pike. "She's right. I know this man, and though I'm sure the torture did in fact take place, those are not the words of Jack O'Neill. Recheck the tape. Have the voice analyzed for changes in inflection and any possible splicing." Pike nodded an acknowledgement.

Tuck was at a loss. He'd heard of Iraqi atrocities but never witnessed them, even on tape. He looked at the father and daughter grieving for O'Neill and felt another pang of guilt for leaving him behind. He resolved right then and there he'd back these people any way he could. He thought O'Neill had gained the respect of his team very quickly and after seeing the devotion of these two who knew him much better, realized the man had a depth he could only guess at. If they trusted him, he would too. "Sir, I've got a contact over in surveillance, he does a lot of work related to authentication. Let me take the tape to him. If something's not right, he'll find it."

Pike looked to Jacob for his approval then nodded and handed the tape to the Captain. With that done, Jacob herded his daughter out of the room to a more private place they could talk.

Once they were alone she was embarrassed to have shown so much emotion regarding her CO, and forget the other guys, in front of her father, no less. "Dad, I'm sorry. I was pretty unprofessional back there." As she spoke she wiped away a streak of mascara from her lower eyelid.

He had been in constant physical contact with her in one way or another since the video began and now had his hand resting on her shoulder. He gave an audible sigh, "Sam. Don't be." He paused and sighed again. Selmac was warning him to speak cautiously. "There may be some things I dislike about Jack, but SG-1 is possibly the best team I have ever seen in all my years. Even Selmac agrees it's remarkable. And one thing I've learned is that though everyone contributes, no team can excel beyond its leader. He's too valuable an asset to lose."

"Dad, it's not-" She began to chide him for talking about the team when he knew well and good it was about O'Neill and no one else, but he cut her off.

"Besides, Sam, I really, really do like him. If I didn't, I wouldn't be here. If getting him back is gonna make my little girl happy, then I'm gonna get him back."

She looked at him with a shock on her face. Did he just say what it sounded like he said? She let him pull her into a tight hug and rock her gently like she was a child again.

<Happy now, Selmac? I've just given her permission to be with him. > Jacob snorted in his mind.

<No, I'm not entirely happy, and no you really didn't. That was a little vague, don't you think? Besides, we're a long way from a successful rescue. If we wait much longer the healing device will be of little use, he'll need a damn sarcophagus. > Jacob was obviously a bad influence on Selmac.

The point was made but Jacob lingered enjoying a moment of closeness with Sam. She reminded him so much of her mother at times like this, when they needed each other.

"What does Selmac think of all of this?"

The question caught him off guard and he answered truthfully despite himself, "He thinks I'm being a pain in the ass, as usual."

Carter smiled into her father's shoulder, she had an idea that some of her father's softening up was the result of Selmac's nagging. Not that she minded.

After another jab from Selmac, Jacob relaxed his grip, "We've got a lot to do, Sammy. What say we get started?"
After many hours the tromping of boots was again heard outside the door. Bashir entered, looking quite refreshed. "So, O'Neill, what shall we talk about today?"

O'Neill didn't meet his gaze. He could barely move, it had been over a day since he'd had any water at all and the dehydration was adding to his growing list of bodily damage.

The dark man stroked his beard and slowly circled O'Neill, coming to a stop directly in front of him. "I fear if our discussions are not fruitful soon I will be forced to conclude you are not worth my continued attention. You realize you have been treated better then most in your position. Because of the lab, I enjoy a certain leniency from my superiors, but their patience is limited as is mine."

He leaned forward slightly to look him in the eye. "Perhaps you are not one is who is persuaded by physical means. I have something to show you."

He stood up and exited the room. The guards dragged O'Neill along, out to the lab area. There he was dropped into a chair and Bashir motioned to a video screen. He pressed a button on the remote and a clip began to play. It was a security video of the lab the night of the break-in. O'Neill pressed his lips into a thin line as he watched himself and the others ransack the lab. His voice was clearly heard giving instructions to Corbin as to how to use the mimic device. His eyes narrowed. He thought they'd disabled all the cameras and were in the clear.

"You see how I know you are familiar with this technology. There is no point to denying it. We are also adept at certain technologies." With that, Bashir changed the tape in the machine and started a different clip. This one left O'Neill aghast at the sight of a man being tortured. As he watched he suddenly realized he was looking at himself on the screen. He was shocked that he didn't even recognize himself at first, there was so much blood and bruising.

There was another thing too, the sound was all wrong. He heard himself saying 'tell you everything' and 'praise Allah'. It was his voice but he was saying things he knew he never did, or maybe so, but not at that time or in that way. From the angle of the shot it could not be clearly seen whether he was speaking or not. His lack of food and exhaustion was interfering with his ability to think straight but he realized they'd taken the audio from the security camera and spliced it to make him seem to say what they wanted.

The tape went on and his voice was speaking again, "I'll give you everything you need, a weapon, a chemical formula, a computer program, anything." O'Neill cursed under his breath, they'd recorded his words in the cell with that imposter, too. The video was actually quite impressive, and quite damming to be truthful. He knew the Iraqis were not above blackmail and this would serve them well.

"I see you are impressed with our work. Are you not?"

"So you want me to talk or what? You're gonna send that tape to my boss?"

"You misunderstand, O'Neill. You have already spoken. A copy of this recording has already been allowed to be confiscated by Kuwaiti forces. You see, you are either a traitor or you are dead to your own people. Your only bargaining power for your life is the knowledge you possess, which your government now believes you have given to us." He smiled wickedly.

O'Neill could feel a little stinging in his eyes. Bashir didn't want information; he only wanted the pretense of obtaining information. As the realization sunk in, all hope O'Neill had of ever leaving here was dashed to pieces. "I won't tell you anything, you might as well kill me now, save yourself the trouble of keeping me." His eyes looked down to the floor, defeated.

"All in good time, O'Neill. For now you amuse me." He turned and barked to the guards, "Take him!"

They took him back into the room and chained him up. He barely lasted through an hour of their attentions. This time they added a new twist. They heated up an iron rod with a propane torch until it glowed and then touched it too his skin, effectively branding the imprint of the metal into him. He didn't know what hurt more, the electrical burns or now the thermal ones. Added to that, at some point he'd bitten his tongue in the midst of a spasm and it was now swollen and bloody. When he passed out for the third time they left him alone.

Many hours later he'd awakened to blackness and had to convince himself he was still alive. It wasn't too hard; really, death could not possibly hurt like this. That rest of that day and all night they left him chained to the wall. His arms were supporting his weight and it felt like the limbs were coming right out of their sockets but he had no strength in his legs to stand. So he just hung there, drifting in and out of consciousness.
Jacob was quite impressed with the level of available Intel. He, Sam, and Corbin had been going over movements in and out of several Iraqi prisons and had concluded the Colonel was not interned in any of the usual places.

It was late that evening when Tuck burst through the door, waving a file around with his hand. "I knew it! I knew it! Boy have I got something to show you guys!" He laid out the file and started passing reports and graphs to them. "The tape was spiced. At least the audio portion, anyway. Here, look-" He pointed to a discrepancy marked in red on a chart. "Here the Colonel's voice is under stress with an uneven breathing pattern, and here, just-" He quickly scanned some information from the page, "0.06 seconds later his voice is relaxed, conversational, almost sleepy sounding they said. The background noise doesn't match either. The tape is a definite fraud."

He sat back in a chair and folded his arms across his chest, quite pleased with himself. Carter gave him a weak smile, she knew he was trying to help, but in her mind it was already a certainty the tape had been altered. Nothing had changed.

Corbin opened his mouth and said what she didn't. "This is great, Tuck, but how does it help us find him?"

Tuck frowned, at first deflated, and then thought for a moment. "They told me it's almost unheard of to find work of this quality in Iraq. They were pretty sure it's not through regular government channels."

Jacob's ears perked up. "You mean it could have come from some sub-level of their government, perhaps an offshoot?"

Sam gave him a crooked smile, "Like an Iraqi NID?" Her eyes went to Tuck and Corbin, then back to her father.

The older man nodded to her, "I think it's time I met this 'scientist' you rescued."
The next morning Jacob was given permission to speak with the man.

Doctor Wallace was sitting in the interrogation room with Jacob across the table from him when General Pike arrived in the next room where they could be observed. Carter was already seated and listening intently to the conversation on the other side of the one-way glass.

"So you admit selling out to the Iraqis."

"Yes, but you can't know the frustrations of working with all this wonderful technology and not being allowed to really see what it can do. The research was taking too long, we were held back all the time."

Why didn't you request a transfer to the NID? They are a lot less strict than the command at Nellis and you might have been able to freelance a project if they found it interesting."

He hung his head. "I tried. They said I didn't have high enough clearance. Said I had to work my way through the ranks for a while yet."

"So you took a short cut. You found someone else who would listen."

"It was one of them, the NID, I mean. He asked me if I'd be happier working in a small off-site lab, away from so much government protocol and I jumped at the chance. I didn't know it would be in Iraq."

"You're saying you were still working for the US government while in a lab in Iraq?"

"Well, no, that's how I got here. They're working together but the Iraqis wanted me to keep the research back from the NID. I got stuck in the middle, they offered me money and any equipment I wanted just for some weapons research. I only gave them the stuff we already tried, it was a dead end."

"So why were they keeping you?"

"The other scientist, Locke, thought we could just enhance Iraqi weapons with the Naquadah and they'd be happy. He needed me to validate his work. I tried to pursue other areas but the Iraqis were insistent, they would have killed me if I hadn't agreed to help Locke."

"You know he's dead. His body was left near the border, some kind of warning to us, it seems."

Wallace grimaced, he suspected they'd never be believed if they went back after the break in. If he'd tried like Locke, he'd be dead too.

So you were completely separated from the NID or any other US government contact at that point?"

"Yes, but-" He wavered and bit his lip. "I always suspected the NID and the Iraqis were still sharing information, or at least information was still getting back home. I don't know." He pounded his fist on the table.

Jacob glanced at the glass where he knew Sam was seated. He nodded slightly. They had a lead at least. Maybe the NID did have a contact at the lab, and just maybe that person knew where O'Neill was being held.

Jacob concluded the interrogation and met up with his daughter outside. Pike had given her permission to contact Hammond again, but this time she wanted a more secure connection than the military could supply. They went to a secluded part of a hangar and Jacob activated the rings to his ship still cloaked in orbit. Carter used the ship's communicator to contact Hammond and relay the NID involvement. Within minutes he had spoken with the President and obtained permission to get full cooperation from the NID. In no time he had the locations of three secret labs in Iraq and an NID contact in each one of them.
O'Neill didn't know how long he'd been left, but it seemed like quite a long time. He woke and then drifted back off several times and his limbs were getting increasingly stiff from lack of motion. They'd offered no more water and his mouth was so dry he couldn't even lick his cracked lips. He was sorry he'd cried if only because he'd lost the precious water from his body.

He tried to stand up and relax his shoulders but his legs would still not obey, he was almost completely numb from the hips down. He noticed a pungent smell from his chest where the wound was now draining a sticky yellowish fluid; it was badly infected, as were the numerous burns and lacerations on his skin. The concrete of the cell had felt uniformly cool earlier but now with the combination of dehydration and fever from the infections, his temperature was fluctuating. Sometimes he felt extremely hot and at other times he shook uncontrollably from the chill. He estimated it might have been a week since his capture, but he couldn't be sure. One thing he was sure of, he wouldn't last a second week at the hands of Bashir.

His mind wouldn't stay clear either. He would lapse into delirium and then pass out again. During those times when his mind gave way to the fever, he did find some peace.

He remembered being hot with fever before, and Carter was leaning over him, dressed in some kind of isolation suit. He could barely see her face through the mask. She was asking him to do something but he couldn't quite make it out. He remembered saying yes to whatever it was. Then there was movement and he was carried off.

Then he recalled being freezing cold, wet and shivering. And Carter was there again and he was holding onto her as if his life depended on it. The memory was comforting and he relaxed enough to fall into a deep sleep. His breathing became slow but was still labored as his lungs had started to fill with more fluids his body could not replace. His organs were shutting down as his body inched closer to death.
Jacob and Carter returned to the base and after briefing Pike, got together with the rest of the team. One of the labs on the list was the one they had destroyed so it was down to just two choices. The NID 'moles' were supposedly sent word to locate and reveal the location of Colonel O'Neill if they were able.

As they waited for a response from the infiltrators, the team planned. Jacob insisted it was too dangerous to take helicopters in again, both labs were well within Iraqi borders and an incursion would be more than just a one-night affair, besides, something of that magnitude would likely start an all-out war. He contacted Hammond again, this time via regular channels and made an unusual request.

An hour later he had his response. O'Neill's entire team, including the helicopter pilot had their clearance level raised. He contacted Sam and gave her the word, it was time to introduce the team to their ride.
With more explaining than she really wanted to offer, Carter had convinced General Pike to give them use of the hangar at the far end of the airfield. It was cleared of all aircraft and personnel as soon as they were able to manage it.

Jacob now stood at the head of a long table in the seemingly empty hangar. General Pike was in attendance, sitting at the other end of the table, and Carter was to the right of her father. The rest of the team was gathered around, intently listening.

"As of right now, all of you have been given additional security clearance. What you are about to hear and see stays within this group. You will not discuss it with anyone else, no matter how many stars they've got on their shoulders. You thought you were part of an elite group before, mark my words, you have no idea what 'elite' is. But you will in a few minutes."

He paused and scrutinized the faces at the table. "Our primary mission will be the extraction of Colonel O'Neill from enemy hands. It has been determined that an incursion by land or air by usual means is unfeasible in this case. However, we do have a way. I have at my disposal a stealth aircraft capable of transporting us to a designated location deep within Iraq."

"Captain Hastings, I'm told that if it's got wings, you can fly it. Am I right?"

Hastings nodded, wondering what the General had in mind.

"Lieutenant Lambert, your specialty is communications, you will assist the Captain aboard the craft. The rest of you need to do some in depth mission planning. Major Carter has all the Intel we've gathered thus far. Now if you'll excuse us, General, the Captain and Lieutenant need to become familiar with the aircraft."

They stood and followed him as he motioned out to the central area of the hangar. Hastings shrugged his shoulders back toward the team, as there was no aircraft here for him to see. As they walked further Jacob activated a device on his wrist and the Teltac decloaked several meters in front of them. Jacob smiled at their reactions as both Hastings and Lambert jumped in shock at seeing a ship appear out of nowhere.

Carter moved to the head of the table and waited for the men to quiet. She thoroughly enjoyed seeing the awe in their eyes. It was something she missed in herself, she'd become so accustomed to alien technology she sometimes forgot the wonder of it all. "That, Gentlemen, is a Teltac. It's a type of cargo ship capable of air and space flight, and as you saw, can be cloaked. It is virtually undetectable by any technology we have on the planet. The ship also carries a device called a 'ring' transport. This device will put us down behind enemy lines and extract us while the ship stays safely in a low orbit several miles above. We will need coordinates as exact as possible to do this. Once inside the Iraqi stronghold, we must locate Colonel O'Neill and get him out. We will then return to the Teltac and direct weapons fire upon the lab. Our secondary mission is to destroy the third lab before returning home."

The General spoke up, recovered from seeing the ship appear. "Now I see why you requested the LOSATs. But they're not really meant to take out something as large as a building, you know."

Mitchell looked up a bit confused. "What's a LOSAT?"

Tolbert grinned, "Line Of Sight Anti Tank missile. Coolest thing you've ever seen. Brand spankin' new too. They've just been added to our armory this month."

Carter nodded at his enthusiasm and touched several keys on her laptop before turning the screen to face the men. At the touch of one last key a short video played showing a Hummvee outfitted with LOSATs. The missiles being compact and light did not need to be carried by tanks or other heavy equipment. In the video one of the missiles was fired and Carter provided some narration.

"As you can see the LOSAT can be launched from virtually any platform. The reason is that the explosive force needed for a launch is minimal. Three seconds after the missile exits the chamber, a rocket motor ignites and as you can see it literally accelerates until the target is impacted. It's nearly impossible to intercept."

Corbin was on the edge of his seat with delight, he'd never had the chance to shoot off something this much fun, he couldn't wait.

Carter had something more for him to ponder. "The substance we recovered in the first mission is called Naquadah, and it doesn't potentiate explosive power by a factor of one hundred as you have been previously briefed. It can create a blast one thousand times the power of the base explosive."

Tuck gasped, "I was carrying that stuff and you didn't see fit to tell me?"

Carter was truly sorry she couldn't divulge more information earlier. "Captain, we told you as much as we could given the level of security." She turned to the General, "We're going to enhance the LOSATs with Naquadah. Not only will they take down buildings, we're gonna have to be careful to not take out a whole block."

"Our first task is to mount a launch platform for the LOSATs aboard the Teltac. You will find all the necessary equipment and supplies already here. General if we may?"

The General left them to their work and before they were done responses came in from the two moles. O'Neill was being held near the Al-Rashidya prison just north of Taji. The other lab was at Al-Shamma'iya prison just east of Baghdad. Apparently these fortified locations made an excellent location for lab facilities. They enjoyed all the benefits of increased security without attracting attention.

The moles were instructed to leave their respective vicinities and prepare to escape back to allied territory or simply vanish into the local population, their choice. But they were warned to be as far away from the labs as possible.

They spent the rest of the day planning and in Captain Hastings case, flight training. The team had been dismayed to not be able to watch the aerial exercises as Jacob had kept the ship cloaked the entire time. It was now nearing dusk and General Carter slapped his hands on the table and ordered everyone to go rest for a couple hours. The mission was a go for 2300 hours.

He literally had to drag his daughter to the commissary for a break. He got them each a simple sandwich and coffee. Didn't need anything too heavy on the stomach right now.
Carter only nibbled at her meal. "Dad? If the Intel is off, we won't have another chance will we?"

"Sam, don't do that." He shook his head. "It's gonna be all right." He reached across the table and took her hand. She was surprised when his head dropped signaling Selmac's appearance. When he spoke his voice was with the normal tones of the host.

"You fear we are already too late."

Carter nodded silently, still not quite sure if it was her father or Selmac.

"Be assured, child, he is alive. We are certain of it, but you are correct, if we fail, he will have run out of time. These people rival the Goa'uld in the atrocities they commit and he has been without medical care for some time now, so you must be prepared to act quickly." He slid a dark leather pouch across the table to her.

As she picked it up she could feel the shape through the covering and she knew exactly what it was, a healing device. She shook her head, "You can use this a lot more effectively than I can."

"True, but we are likely to be occupied. You must go directly to him and make sure he is stable enough to travel."

She started to shake her head again but Selmac continued. "Your presence will be as important as your ability to use the device."

The kindness in his eyes made her melt and she looked down at her plate with a flush of embarrassment. It was sometimes hard to remember Selmac had been around for several hundred years and was most perceptive when it came to reading between the lines, blunt too. She clutched the healing device tightly and forced a small smile.

After a droop of his head, Jacob was back. He raised his head to look again at Sam but did not speak. He, of course was aware of the full exchange between Selmac and Sam and a tiny part of him felt he should be embarrassed to have urged her with so obvious a point. Then again, it wasn't him, it was Selmac. It just was so damn confusing sometimes.
At 2300 hours sharp the group assembled in the hangar, kitted up and ready to go. Jacob and Hastings were already aboard checking the flight systems. Hastings had taken to the ship like a duck in water, relishing every minute in control of the craft. He and Lambert would stay aboard during the mission allowing the others the task of the extraction. This time the pilot swore he'd rather ditch the craft itself than leave without the Colonel. (Jacob hastily assured him it would not come to that.) Lambert would handle air to ground communications and activate the rings at the proper time.

By 0015 they were already in position above Al-Rashidya. The lab would hopefully be deserted except for two or three guards this time of night. One would be at the entrance to the underground bunker and the other somewhere within, presumably at O'Neill's location. The prison section would be well guarded and their response time to an emergency within the lab was only a guess at this point. It would have been preferable to enter the structure in a way that was less dramatic than the rings but it was a calculated risk that the unusual sounds and vibrations would confuse the Iraqis.
O'Neill was awakened by a strange sensation in the wall to which he was still chained. Not exactly an earthquake, more like a large engine was somewhere nearby, humming. He could hear the noise now too, a quick whump, whump, whump. Five times or was it six? It was so familiar, but his fevered brain couldn't quite place it. There was something fearful about the sound but something comforting as well, it certainly didn't belong here in Bashir's Palace of Horrors.

He heard a voice yelling in Iraqi and someone running then there was muffled weapons fire. Now that sound he knew well, even muted with silencers. He struggled to maintain some level of awareness, listening as the sounds drew near. He wanted to stand or at least raise his head to see who was coming but his body was far past obeying him now and his head lolled on his shoulder, impossible to lift.

Overhead and far away an alarm sounded.

More sounds, soft and nearby, a clink and a chunk then the door swung wide and two figures dressed in black darted into the room. Tuck unlocked one of the cuffs then handed the key to Carter so she could get the other one. He wasn't very surprised at how easily he held the man up in his arms; he'd lost so much weight. After the cuffs were loose he lowered O'Neill to the floor so Carter could make a quick physical assessment before they could move him.

Stretched out on the floor, if it wasn't for his length he would have looked slight. Carter bit back tears as she surveyed the broken body. Seeing the film had not done much to prepare her for seeing it in person. His condition was worse than in the video, if that was possible, now his torso was almost completely dark purple from the bruising. Between the bruises, the dirt and blood, not a patch of pink skin could be seen. His eyes were sunken, staring forward. The normal deep brown vibrant color had been replaced by a grayish haze. She could feel the heat of fever before she even touched him.

"Colonel! It's Carter, we're here." She held his face in her hands and wiped some of the blood and dirt away. "Colonel, look at me." With one hand she gingerly felt his neck for a pulse, it was so weak it took her a minute to locate the right spot. She could see his chest rising unevenly as he breathed but heard too the rasping and moisture-laden sounds of pneumonia. One side of his chest wasn't moving in unison with the other like it should and she suspected a collapsed lung or at least some broken ribs.

Tuck looked back at them and grimaced, "Major, you can't do anything here, let's get him out."

She took in a deep breath, "Not just yet." She took the healing device out of her pocket and after seating it in her hand, held it over the center of his chest. Just like CPR, she thought, address the most necessary things to sustain life first. ABC, airway, breathe, circulate. She ticked off in her mind what she wanted the device to do.

It was a strain but desperation set in and as she concentrated the soft yellow light broke free from the device and flowed to his chest, repairing the damaged heart muscle and bruised lungs. Tuck was having trouble keeping his eye on the door, he was so fascinated by this latest piece of technology.

Soon O'Neill was breathing evenly and much more deeply. Tuck reached for his wrist and checked the pulse, finding it strong. He smiled at the Major, "Nice trick. He's gonna be okay."

She slumped for a moment from the strain but quickly regained her composure and pocketed the device. She once again held O'Neill's head in her hands and encouraged him to wake. His eyelids fluttered and then opened slowly. She could feel his face breaking into a smile under her fingertips when he recognized her. "Knew you'd come."

The words were hoarse and barely above a whisper but it was his voice and her emotions threatened to burst forth. Unable to answer aloud she nodded several times as she bit her lip and blinked back the tears. He reached up and ran his fingers across her cheek where some of the tears had escaped leaving a rivulet down to her chin. "Don't cry, S'okay."

She clasped his hand and pressed it more firmly to her cheek. Tuck had backed off to give them a moment of privacy and now clicked his radio. "Tolbert, give me a hand, we'll have to carry him out."

In another minute the large man darkened the doorway. O'Neill turned his head to see the new arrival and waved his hand. Tolbert at once smiled that big toothy grin that lit up against his dark skin and crossed the room. The two men easily hefted O'Neill to his feet and carried him through the door. He wasn't yet able to bear any of his own weight but it didn't matter, they wouldn't have let him anyway.

They wasted no time in returning to the site they'd ringed down. Jacob, Corbin and Mitchell had cleared the area of another two guards and were now standing ready to address any other threat. The claxons continued to blare overhead and muffled shouts and footsteps were heard on the floor above them.

The trio couldn't help but feel relief as their comrades arrived. "Hurry up!" Corbin shouted, "They're coming!"

Once they were gathered closely together Jacob signaled the ship and the familiar hum of the rings permeated the small space, the sound bouncing off the concrete walls.
Once on board Jacob took a look at O'Neill's injuries. "Jack, you've looked better."

O'Neill looked up at him just then realizing Jacob had brought a ship and rescued him. "Well you've just made my top ten list of favorite people. Where'd you come from anyway?"

Jacob laughed. "Hey, I thought I was already on that list! I was in the neighborhood, just passing by. Try to rest, we've got some unfinished business with your Iraqi friends, I'll get back to you in a few minutes. Okay?" He glanced at Sam and nodded, she'd be staying with the Colonel. The team could handle the LOSAT's just fine without her.

As soon as they were aboard, Hastings had maneuvered the craft away to the north and down from three miles to just under two and then turned the nose back the way they'd come.

The targeting computer was situated at the co-pilots chair and Corbin finished typing in the proper commands then turned to Hastings. "Ready?"

"Holding steady at 10,000 feet. Fire control at your command."

Corbin touched the keypad and the ship shivered as the launcher ignited and the missiles were deployed, speeding on their way, screaming on their way would be more accurate. As they approached target the speed increased dramatically and in only a few seconds there was a massive explosion on the ground.

Corbin grinned and looked over to Jacob, "Naquadah, huh? I like it!"

The commotion was not missed by O'Neill although he was in no shape to get up and go see about it. "Carter? What are they doin'?"

She smiled down at him. She had been carefully cleaning the caked blood and grime from his face with a wet cloth, the only part of him she thought she might touch and not cause additional pain. "There were three labs. The one we destroyed the first night and two others. The NID already had them under surveillance, that's how we got the Intel on where you were being held. The President wants an end put to the Iraqis doing research on alien devices so part of the mission was to take out the other two labs. The one you were staying in has just become a pile of rubble."

He nodded slowly. "Fitting end, I must say. Those bastards had absolutely no sense of humor."

She grinned, "We're heading to a site just east of Baghdad now, to hit the third lab. Then we'll drop off the guys at Al Salem and take *you* to the Air Force Hospital in Kuwait City."

"Yeah, you want to tell me just what my team is doing aboard a Tok'ra vessel? Doesn't that violate about fifty protocols? Pike will be livid."

"General Pike authorized it after Hammond saw to it that every one of them had clearance. They're a great team; this mission wasn't ordered, obviously, every one of them volunteered, even when they thought we were going in with helicopters again. Hastings is here, too, in the pilots chair, now he thinks he can fly anything."

He smiled, "Shit, he could fly anything before. They're a good group, couldn't have done better if I'd hand picked them myself." His smile gave way to a wince as he shivered.

Carter pulled a blanket over him, "It's pretty bad, isn't it?"

"Just a little." She read his lie easily and opened the med kit at her feet. She quickly found the morphine vial and began to prepare an injection. Lambert noticed her with the syringe and suddenly felt embarrassed. He was the team medic and in all the excitement he hadn't even thought about treating his injured CO.

"Here, let me do that. Sir, I really should start an IV, from the looks of those burns and lacerations, you are probably badly dehydrated, it would make it easier to give you medications, too."

O'Neill smiled at the young man and nodded. "Go to it kid. Carter, could I have some water while he's doing that?"

When she returned the Lieutenant had already placed the IV and was hooking up a drip of Lactated Ringer's solution. As the young man slowly injected morphine into the IV line, Carter helped O'Neill raise his head a little and sip the cool water. In only a few seconds he was already feeling the drug and his head felt heavy against her arm. She handed the cup to Lambert and gently eased him down to the cot.

They were in position to fire the second round of missiles and Carter slipped into the control room to stand behind the pilot's chair. She got as much pleasure from watching the team react to the explosion as seeing it for herself. It was an awesome thing seeing the weapon in action. When she returned the Colonel was fast asleep.
The second target was destroyed as easily as the first and the ship's course was turned towards home, set on autopilot for the time being. Hastings took a break from his pilot duties and went to check on the man he'd been responsible for leaving behind. Nothing could have prepared him for what he saw. The prone form held nothing in common with the vibrant and steely eyed warrior he'd saluted several days before. He'd seen POW's in bad shape before but it was usually due to neglect rather than the outright brutal pummeling this man had endured.

He sunk back against the wall, feeling too guilty to approach further. He could see over Lambert's shoulder as he placed layers of saline soaked gauze over what could only be described as a huge gaping 'hole' in the man's chest. He turned away and looked, unfortunately, into the eyes of Major Carter. It was obvious she'd been crying, the black smudge she used to darken her face for the mission was wiped clean from her cheeks where the tears had run. She looked back at him, oblivious to his crime and subsequent guilt and offered him a weak smile before turning her attention back to the Colonel. Hastings never considered himself a coward but he literally ran the few steps back to the control room, no way could he face her too.

When they arrived at Al-Salem Carter was insistent they get O'Neill off first. For the sake of secrecy he'd be moved to a helicopter and airlifted to the hospital in Kuwait City. It was just too problematic to 'ring' down near the facility. Jacob, however, wanted the team to go first- he staunchly stood his ground against his daughter. She finally relented realizing that in pursuing an argument they were wasting valuable time.

The team was gathered and sent to the surface leaving only the two Carter's with O'Neill.

"All right, *Dad*" She laid the sarcasm on thick, "You got your way, now let's go."

"Not so fast Sam. You know it just could be I have a reason."

She glared at him sensing another delay coming and watched his head bow signaling she would next be talking with Selmac.

"Major Carter, this is my doing. Do not be too hard on you father. Give me the healing device."

Carter dug the item out of her pocket and handed it over suddenly feeling a twinge of guilt. Was there something Selmac knew that she didn't? Had her efforts not been enough?

"You're going to use it on him again before we go?"

"I believe it is imperative. While Colonel O'Neill is presently stable, thanks to you, I am concerned with his recovery. Do you recall the tape General Pike allowed us to see?"

Stupid question. "Of course."

"But you didn't watch it all, did you?"

Carter shook her head, not sure where this was going.

"The same was true for your father. He became emotional-" Selmac paused with an odd look on his face, allowing Jacob to admonish him, then resumed. "He became angry at the sight of such atrocities. As you are aware, I intervened. I did watch- closely, and I believe some of the injuries inflicted are of a more permanent nature, at least as far as human medicine is concerned."

Sam interjected, "The acid burn on his chest."

"Yes, for one. Jacob tells me the treatment would involve a long process of skin grafting which would most likely leave behind deep scars."

"There's more?"

With a nod but not offering any more information, Selmac walked over to O'Neill's side and pulled the blanket away, frowning at the sight of the gaping wound. "You know, for the number of injuries this man sustains on a regular basis he really should consider being blended. It would save everyone a lot of trouble."

Carter grimaced. What was that? Symbiote humor?

Without another word he circled his hand over the area allowing the warm light to flow out of the device. Sam was awe struck at the rapidity of the healing. While she had repaired some serious damage, the results had been almost entirely internal, the surface injuries had remained unchanged. Now, almost magically, fresh pink tissue grew and filled in to close the wound. Selmac didn't stop until it was gone leaving only a hazy pink blotch across center of the affected area. There was still obvious bruising but it was time to move on to other areas.

With a great sigh Selmac lowered his hand. He didn't even glance at the Major as he reached out and ran his hands down both sides of O'Neill's chest, testing the ribs. Satisfied with the results he began to press lightly on several areas on the stomach. The frown returned when he pressed on one spot and elicited a moan from the unconscious Colonel. He quickly undid the clasp and zipper of O'Neill's BDU's and felt the lower portion of his abdomen.

Sam arched an eyebrow. If O'Neill had been awake and realized Jacob was feeling all over his belly he'd have a friggin' royal fit. Luckily the morphine was doing its job and he didn't stir. Despite Selmac's stern demeanor and Carter's understanding of the seriousness of the situation, she couldn't help but envision the Colonel waking up right then. It'd be a hoot.

He shook his head, suddenly bringing her back to reality, "There's severe trauma here. His abdomen is hard, probably full of blood. He's on the verge of going into shock and there's no way to tell if something is still bleeding inside."

Selmac noted the burn marks he suspected he'd find and knew it would be much worse lower down. "Major, perhaps you should give me a few minutes here?" He motioned to the far side of the room.

She glared at him but complied. Selmac moved some of the clothing out of the way to get a better look then immediately covered him again.

<God damn fucking bastards! >

<Jacob. I told you what to expect. >

<God damn, shit-faced, no good ass- >

<*Jacob! * >

How do you glare at someone who is inside the same body? Somehow they figured it out.

<You must control yourself. It will only impair our ability to use the healing device. >

<Okay. Right. >

<We must begin. >

Carter watched as her father closed his eyes and composed himself then circled the device over the lower part of O'Neill's body. The yellow light spewed forth even brighter than before and after a short time the worst of the purple bruising began to fade. The deep burns closed leaving patches of new pink skin.

What really only took a few minutes seemed like hours to Sam. Finally the light faded and Jacob took an uncertain step back, catching his balance. He reached over and pulled the blanket back up, "Let's get him moved."
The flight was short and the Emergency crew was ready and waiting for them. O'Neill was prepped for emergency surgery but it was delayed when the X-ray and lab results came back far better then the doctors had hoped. He still had a fair amount of overall bruising and a laceration on his head that required stitching, and his lungs were not quite up to par just yet. Tests showed he still had some blood in his abdomen but he was stable enough the doctor's didn't think there was any active bleeding. His blood work was nearly normal considering what he'd been through and he was given antibiotics only as a precaution, and some painkillers. More than anything he just needed IV fluids and rest.

Several hours later he was dozing quietly in bed. Something made his nose itch and he reached up to find one of those oxygen tubes stuck on him. He yanked it off and rubbed his nose furiously. Awake now, his hand moved to rest on his chest. No bandages there, he could feel only intact skin beneath the thin hospital gown and patted around several areas finding only normal sensations. There was no pain, only a little stiffness in his shoulders, and he was tempted to rip away the sheet covering him just to make sure everything was back to normal when he noticed the mop of yellow hair lying on the bed. It, of course was attached to a body that could only belong to one person.

He smiled and lightly brushed his fingertips over the hair, he didn't want to disturb her just yet. The smile dropped momentarily as he looked around the room and saw they were not alone. On the other side of the bed, leaning back and snoring softly, was Tuck. Stretched out across a long seat under the window was Corbin, and beside him, leaning precariously and looking like at any moment he would fall onto Corbin's head was- Hastings? He wasn't sure, but it had to be.

He scanned the floor looking for any more and found Tolbert sitting on the floor, with a deck of cards quietly playing Solitaire.

"Hey, T." He whispered to get the Lieutenants attention. "What's all this?" He gestured around the room.

Tolbert looked up and grinned with every tooth in his mouth showing. He silently rose and came to the bedside, whispering back, "Just wanted to make sure you were okay, Sir. Lambert and Mitch are here, too, they went for coffee."

O'Neill shook his head and smiled, then remembered the big man carrying him out of the cell. He reached out to shake his hand, "T, thanks."

The slight movement in the bed was enough to wake Carter and she raised a sleepy head. "Colonel? You're awake?"

"Carter." He grinned as she tried to rub the sleep out of her eyes.

She looked around the room embarrassed. "When did all these people get here?"

"Beats me, I just woke up."

A sleepy voice answered from the far end of the room where Corbin was just sitting up, "I think we all came one at a time and well, nobody left." He poked a finger into Hastings arm, making him twitch and wake up.

Tolbert nudged Tuck with his hip and he almost fell off the chair he jumped so hard. The missing lieutenants entered the room and smiled at the change from only several minutes before. "Glad to see you're up Sir. They said you couldn't have any coffee if you woke up but there's juice, and ice."

The Colonel would have accepted anything wet at this point, and thanked the young man. They passed out the remaining coffees and a friendly banter ensued among the group. Everyone was glad to see the Colonel awake but were surprised he looked so well after the mess he seemed to be back on the aircraft.

"Ah, you know modern medicine, they work miracles all the time." Then on a more serious note he added, "The real miracle was getting me out of there." He scanned the room pausing to look each one of them in the eye, stopping at Hastings. "It's good to know I'd never be left behind. All of you saved my life."

The silence in the room was broken when a nurse walked in and nearly dropped the tray she was carrying, "What are all you people doing? You're not supposed to be in here!"

Corbin ducked his head, "Oops."

Everyone slowly made their way out of the room under the wary eye of the nurse; stopping to shake O'Neill's hand or salute before leaving. As the room cleared O'Neill groused, "Can't even *one* of them stay?"

Obviously this nurse was one who enjoyed having power over her charges. She arched an eyebrow at him, "One."

He turned his head to Carter and motioned his eyes to the side of the bed, then back to her. She smiled and took a seat where he'd indicated. The nurse made a huffing noise and hurried the rest of the visitors out, letting the door close harder than necessary as she left.
"So."

"You're back."

"Yeah." He patted down his chest, "and in one piece, I think." She momentarily dropped her eyes and he caught the meaning. "Touch and go there for awhile, huh? Sorry."

She looked at him, "For what? Staying alive? We were the ones who left *you*, remember?"

His eyebrows arched upward. "I think I remember making it an order. That changes things."

"Not enough."

"C'mon, Carter. I'm okay. It's over. Party time. By the way, is there anything to eat?"

She giggled. "I think I can scrounge up some Jell-o if you'd like."

"Where'd you find Jell-o? I thought there wasn't any in Kuwait."

"Remember this is a hospital. They've always got Jell-o, but it'll probably be green."

"Ew." He stretched out a few sore muscles and then settled back into the bed. "So, tell me, how'd you get me out? You know I had the weirdest dream about it."

"Of?"

She was looking way to innocent and he lifted his head to look her directly in the eye. "Transport rings."

"Oh, well, that wasn't a dream, Sir."

"Tell me, how did you manage to get clearance for something like that? You're telling me I was rescued by ship, and not one of ours?"

She squirmed a bit in her chair to his utter delight. He actually did remember some of the rescue, mostly the part before the morphine.

"When we got back we tried to get clearance for a rescue but top brass wouldn't touch it, so I called Hammond. And *he* called my Dad."

"Jacob brought a ship here? To rescue me?"

She grinned and playfully touched his arm, "He likes you a lot more than he lets on, you know."

"Maybe. I had a lot of injuries, too. So unless I've been unconscious for several weeks, there's no way I could be this much better. Jacob have something to do with that, too?"

"Yeah, he did. He brought a healing device with him, wouldn't let you off the ship until he had a chance to use it."

It suddenly occurred to him that she and her father must have put a lot of effort into getting him back not to mention butting heads with several Generals and bureaucrats in the process. He frowned, "I seem to always be making you come after me." He took her hand and squeezed it tight. "Thanks, for every time."

She looked back at his intense eyes and smiled, squeezing his hand in return.

There was a soft knock at the door and Jacob walked in. O'Neill didn't move but let Carter yank her hand back as she quickly stood and backed up from the bed. "Dad! I thought you were spending the day at Al-Salem with General Pike."

"We finished up a while ago. He's a good man." He extended his hand to the Colonel. "How's it going, Jack?"

"Not bad, Sir. Not bad at all." The men shook hands.

Carter smiled back at O'Neill, "I, uh, I'm gonna go see if I can find that Jell-o."

After the door shut, O'Neill clasped his hands in his lap and regarded the older man. "So, Jacob? Sam tells me you were responsible for putting me back together."

"Sam did her part, too, she stabilized you so we could move you out of the cell. You were in pretty bad shape, you know."

"She got the healing thingy to work for me?" He grinned, then became serious again. "Jake, I was a lot more aware than you might think while they were torturing me, even at the end. I know everything they did to me. I had a lot of injuries- all over."

"Yes, you did."

He made a face, "And you saw-"

"I did."

"Ah." He paused and looked down at his hands. His eyebrows rose in unison, then went way down. He closed his eyes and added, "She didn't-"

"No." Jacob chuckled, "But she's got a pretty good idea. You can't keep much from her."

"Uh, huh." Ooh, he did not do the embarrassment thing well *at all*. O'Neill crossed his arms over his chest and glanced at Jacob then looked down. He was perfectly still except for one foot that just wouldn't stop moving. Somehow he knew this would be easier if Jacob were somebody else, like maybe a doctor, but *not* a USAF General, Tok'ra liaison, and father of the incredible woman who was his 2IC. Uh, wrong train of thought. Not going there. He made a pouting face and glanced at the door to make sure Carter wasn't returning. "And you-" He was purposefully letting Jacob finish his sentences.

"Jack." Jacob smiled at the totally pitiful state the Colonel was in. "Don't sweat it so much. It was actually Selmac who was running the show. Its like I was in the room but not actually *doing* anything. I wasn't even fully aware of your injuries until Selmac pointed them out. I've never seen him so angry."

Confused, O'Neill continued, "So, why?" He tried not to sound ungrateful, because he was, he really, *really* was, but he just had to know.

At that moment Carter walked in bringing a flush to the Colonel's face. Couldn't she have waited a measly two more minutes?

Jacob continued unphased by her entrance. "Selmac was concerned primitive Tau'ri medicine wasn't going to be enough this time, can't have a eunuch running around the SGC."

That did it. Even the foot stopped moving. O'Neill felt all the color drain from his face but in reality he was getting redder by the second.

"Besides, we had a perfectly selfish reason."

He risked a cautious look at the older man who was grinning like the proverbial cat who ate the canary and was already heading for the door.

Sam was looking back and forth between the two with suspicion, "What are you talking about?"

"Selmac and I. We'd like to have more grandchildren someday. See you later kids."

Oh. My. God.

The Jell-o made a loud splat and the spoon clattered to the floor. Two mouths gaped opened like a couple of goldfish.

A long drawn out, "Uuhhh. Carter?" He jutted out his lower jaw and clamped his teeth together then wagged a finger at the now closed door, "Did he just say what I *think* he just said?"
Epilogue;

O'Neill had another unexpected but pleasant surprise waiting for him that evening, a satellite video link from General Hammond.

The older man's image appeared before him already smiling. "Colonel O'Neill! Great to see you, son. How are you doing?"

"Not bad considering. Very glad to be on the right side of the border though."

"I imagine so. Since your mission has been completed both you and Major Carter will be receiving transfer orders back to the SGC by the end of the week. Are you up for travel?"

"You know Jacob's still here. We could be back tonight."

"Missed us did you?"

O'Neill paused and looked down at his hands, suddenly serious. "General, let me put it this way, I'd rather deal with the damn snakes than men who just act like them."

Hammond noted the change in his tone and felt a twinge of sorrow for what the man had gone through. There was still some obvious bruising on his face. "I'll keep that in mind, Colonel. Anything I can do for you here stateside?"

"Maybe there is. Carter told me you got my team's clearance upgraded so Jacob's ship could be used as transport, right?" He nodded to her standing just out of sight of the screen.

"Yes, I did. Had to make a few phone calls but all of them had top notch recommendations and it wasn't a problem at all."

O'Neill's eyes brightened. "In that case, Sir, I've got a recommendation of my own. I'd like to offer each of them a position at the SGC. They're good men with a lot of talent to offer."

"It's true we've taken some heavy losses." Hammond looked thoughtful. "Five of them, correct?"

"Six, I'd like to include Captain Hastings, the helicopter pilot, he's already taken first seat on Jacob's ship."

"Permission granted. Tell them all, they've got a job here, if they want it."

O'Neill grinned, "Thanks, Sir. See you soon."

The link terminated and he let Carter wheel him back to his room. "You do know I can walk."

"Not just yet, 'till the Doctor's say so."

"I could make it an order."

"My papers have already come through. I am not presently under your Command and you're not back on active duty anyway."

He was quiet the rest of the way back to the room. When they arrived he eased himself back into the bed, thankful he hadn't walked, his muscles were still sore. He leaned back and closed his eyes.

Carter stood for a minute at the foot of the bed watching him then crossed the room to the window and drew the blinds. "You need to rest."

He perceived the darkening of the room through his eyelids. "That an order?"

"A suggestion."

Some expression crossed his face she couldn't decipher. "I spent a lot of time alone, in the dark."

"I'm sorry." She hadn't thought about that. "I'll open them."

"No. Don't. Just don't leave, okay?"

He felt the mattress dip under her weight as she sat on the side of the bed facing him. He sat upright and scooted over to make more room.

"I'm not your CO." He stated matter-of-factly, looking toward her but not at her, their shoulders lightly brushing.

"Nope."

"Good." He shuddered as a painful memory intruded and his hand responded by reaching out for her, stopping just short of touch. He hovered for a moment, uncertain, then leaned over to lay his head on her shoulder and let his arms encircle her tightly. He took a deep breath and blew it out slowly.

In a spontaneous reaction she hugged him back. This was not exactly what she was expecting and her brow knit with concern. She vaguely recalled his escape from the cryogenic chamber. He'd been hurt and scared and his guard was down. Just like now.

He shuddered again and she hugged him more tightly and rubbed her cheek into his hair. "It's okay. It's over."

He held on for a minute then relaxed his grip. They say it's good to cry, therapeutic even. God knows he cried enough the last few days he should be able to turn it on at will, and this would have been a good time, but he couldn't. Not now.

He sighed heavily and leaned back on the bed, looking so lost and sorrowful she could have cried for him. Instead she turned so she could lie beside him with her head on his shoulder and her hand on his chest.

She closed her eyes and felt him breathe and after a long while she thought he was asleep. His chest rumbled as he spoke.

"How many."

"How many what?"

"Grandchildren."

Her hand involuntarily reached up and pinched her own nose.

She shook once. And again. And made a sound. Was that a snort? She was giggling.

He elbowed her with mock irritation.

"Hmmph."

Funny, that didn't seem to come from Carter. And what was that tapping noise? He opened one eye to venture a look.

She was back, a figure in white, hands on her hips, tapping her foot incessantly. "Mr. O'Neill! Really!"