Title: No Matter the Cost
Author: Hoodat Whatzit
Category: Drama, Challenge Response for the 2004 Jackfic-a-thon
Spoilers: Out of Mind, Into the Fire, Zero Hour
Content Level: 18+
Content Warnings: Some language, violence, and minor character death.
Summary: SG-3 has been missing in action for nearly six weeks. When the SGC receives word from its allies that the missing team has been captured by a Goa’uld, Jack authorizes a rescue mission. It’s business as usual at Cheyenne Mountain… or is it?
Disclaimer: Stargate Sg-1 and its characters are the property of Stargate (II) Productions, Showtime/Viacom, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Productions. This story is for entertainment purposes only and no money exchanged hands. No copyright infringement is intended. The original characters, situations, and story are the property of the author. This story may not be posted elsewhere without the consent of the author.
File Size: 325 KB
Archive: Jackfic, Cartouche, Heliopolis, Others please ask.
Author’s Note: My thanks to the person who issued this particular challenge. I have truly enjoyed coming up with a response. My thanks to everyone that helped inspire and encourage me to finish – if only a little late. Dee… you have my thanks for coming up with the idea for the Jackfic-a-thon and my heartfelt gratitude for being such a fantastic IMbeta, fellow writer, and part-time slave driver. I have just one request. Can we get our assignments earlier next time? Oh yeah, before I forget… final count: 18,498 (not including header or end notes)
General Jack O’Neill stared at the open files spread across his desk. Colonel Reynolds, Majors Bosco and Peterson, and Lieutenant Satterfield – MIA almost six weeks ago and not a trace of what might have happened to them until just over thirty hours ago when SG9 had returned from a meeting with a few of the key Jaffa rebellion leaders. A report from a rebel Jaffa placed deep within what remained of the forces of Olokun indicated that Reynolds and his team had been captured and transported to another planet – to become pawns in Olukun’s negotiations with Ba’al.
One by one, Jack closed the four files and gathered them into a neat stack in the middle of his desk. He looked up, staring through the glass star map and into the briefing room beyond where Carter, Ferretti, Harper, and Dixon stood waiting for him – waiting to receive the order that would send them on a mission to rescue SG-3.
Jack stood and quickly walked to the door. He yanked it open and stepped through. “At ease,” he ordered, before the assembled group of team leaders even had a chance to come to attention. “Have a seat.”
Jack sat and the others took their usual places. Not for the first time he wished he was back in one of those seats looking at Hammond at the head of the table. He wondered if Hammond had similar regrets in Washington. Considering the pile of crap they were in currently, Jack guessed the feeling was mutual.
“What did they say?”
Well wasn’t that the twenty-thousand dollar question? Unconfirmed intelligence, possible disinformation, potential risk… acceptable losses.
“They said a lot.”
“Come on, General,” Ferretti interjected. “Do we have a go or not?”
“There are concerns –”
“Aren’t there always?”
“General, every minute we wait just increases the chance that Ba’al will reach Olokun ahead of us,” Carter said. “We have to act now.”
“Forget it, Sam.” Ferretti crumpled the empty Styrofoam cup in his hand and flung it in the general direction of the trash can. “The Pentagon boys have their heads so far up their collective asses they’ve cut off the blood flow to their brains. They’re gonna let John and his team die – or worse – while they dick around second guessing us.”
Not us, Jack thought although he didn’t voice his opinion.
“We’ve gone on riskier missions than this,” Dixon pointed out. “How is this different from anything Hammond would have authorized?”
“It’s the boy who cried wolf,” Carter answered. Heads swiveled to look at her and she shrugged. “Ba’al bluffed about capturing Teal’c, Daniel, and me…”
“She’s got a point,” Harper said. “We could be walking into a trap.”
“And if the information hadn’t come from M’zel I might consider that possibility too,” Ferretti argued. “Ba’al contacted us directly when he said he had SG1. We don’t have any evidence that Olokun is already allied with him. Olokun’s done nothing but lick his wounds since the battle with Anubis. He’s scrambling to secure a position and hopes a gift of a few Tau’ri will smooth the way with Ba’al.”
Privately, Jack agreed. The crappy thing was that Olokun’s plan would work. Ba’al would be looking to give back some of his own after the deal for Camulus had gotten him nothing but a dead ZPM for his efforts. That smooth bastard would jump at the chance to get his hands on SGC personnel. Getting another flunky minor Goa’uld like Olokun in his camp was just an added bonus. Unless some of those Pentagon boys turned out to be right and Ba’al already had them outflanked…
“Lou, there are risks,” Jack cautioned, although he hated himself for saying it. “They’d like to see proof; get confirmation of the intel – something definite.”
“If we don’t go now it’s the same as if we’d turned them over to Ba’al ourselves,” Ferretti said.
“I know,” Jack said.
“Then what the hell are we still doing here? Jesus, Jack! You of all people should –”
“It’s General… Colonel,” Jack said, cutting Ferretti off. “And nobody here knows better than me what’s at stake. If you think I liked sitting on my ass in that office for the past thirty hours trying to convince the DC brass that we should be out there looking for them instead of waiting for a confirmation that’s never going to come then you don’t know me as well as you thought, Ferretti!”
During the long moments of silence that followed, nobody at the table would meet Jack’s gaze. Just as Jack was starting to wonder if he should say something, Ferretti lifted his head and looked Jack in the eyes.
“I’m sorry, General.” Jack nodded but Ferretti continued, “I wasn’t trying to imply that you… I mean –”
“Drop it, Lou,” Jack said softly. “I know you weren’t.”
“It’s just that…” Ferretti shook his head. “Olokun has them. I feel it in my gut. This is the only chance we’ve got to get them back.”
“That’s why we’re going after them.”
The SGC didn’t leave its people behind.
Not on his watch.
Ferretti grinned. “Well, why didn’t you say so in the first place?” He pushed his chair back and started to stand.
“Hang on just a second, Colonel,” Jack ordered, motioning for Ferretti to sit back down. “Don’t kid yourself. This thing could blow up in our faces. It’s risky as hell and you know it.”
“Sir, we know the risks,” Carter assured him. “It’s a chance we’re willing to take.”
“They’d do the same for any one of us,” Dixon added.
Jack nodded. “I know they would,” he said quietly. “Look, I don’t want anyone with second thoughts going through the gate. If any member of your teams isn’t one hundred percent—”
“Are you kidding me?” Ferretti asked.
“No, I’m not,” Jack replied. “There will be no repercussions if anyone wants to refuse. Am I understood?”
“Assemble your teams in the gateroom at 1300. Dismissed.”
* * * * *
Jack rounded the final corner and stopped in front of the two SFs stationed outside the gateroom door. They stood there gaping at him until one of them suddenly seemed to come to his senses and remembered to salute.
“General O’Neill, sir!”
The second airman snapped to attention and saluted as well. Jack snapped off a quick salute in return. “At ease,” he ordered.
He swiped his card and the doors opened. As he stepped through the doorway, the buzz of conversation in the gateroom ceased as Jack moved to stand next to SG1 waiting at the bottom of the ramp.
“Jack, what are you doing?” Daniel asked.
Jack snapped the clip of his P90 strap onto his vest. “What does it look like I’m doing, Daniel?”
“I… uh…” Daniel turned to Carter. “Can he do this?” he asked.
“Are you going to tell him he can’t?” she asked in return, smiling.
“I am most pleased to have you accompany us once again, O’Neill.”
“Thank you, Teal’c.” Jack slapped his friend on the arm. “It’s nice to know that someone has missed me.” Jack took a few steps up the ramp and turned to face the assembled teams. “Folks, let me have your attention, please.”
There was a shuffling of feet as everyone turned to face him. Jack waited until he was certain everyone was listening before continuing.
“We have no way of knowing for certain what we are walking into here. The information we received that SG3 is being held by Olokun is unconfirmed. If the report is accurate… then Ba’al may be on his way – or already there. Anybody that goes through that gate is taking a huge risk. I won’t order you to do it.”
“Sir,” Ferretti called out. “We’ve already discussed this. We’re ready to go. Just say the word.”
Jack stared out at each of the faces before him and nodded. He looked up at the control room. “Dial the gate!” he ordered and stepped back down to the bottom of the ramp as the chevrons began to engage.
“General O’Neill! Sir!” Sergeant Davis’ voice over the loudspeaker sounded a bit panicky. Jack glanced up at the control room and saw Davis leaning over the microphone.
“I’m a little busy right now, Davis!” Jack shouted.
The last chevron locked into place and the wormhole whooshed into existence.
“Sir, it’s General Hammond. He’s on the phone.”
Damn, Jack thought. Who knew ol’ George checked his email so regularly?
“Sir, should we hold?” Carter asked.
Jack shook his head. “No. We go.” He looked back up at the control room. “Take a message!” he shouted.
Jack turned his back on Davis and walked up the ramp.
“General O’Neill!” Davis sounded like he might have a breakdown any minute. “Sir, you just can’t leave!”
“SG1, you’re with me. Harper, Dixon – bring your teams through next. Ferretti, I want SG-12 to cover our sixes.”
“General, what am I supposed to tell Hammond?” Davis asked, his voice rising.
“You’re a bright guy, Walter. You’ll think of something.” Jack clicked the safety off on his P90 and approached the event horizon. “Follow me,” he ordered and stepped through.
* * * * *
The explosion sent dirt and debris in all directions and Jack ducked his head to protect his eyes as it rained down on them. A wave of heat washed over them and he heard the whine of the glider’s engines as it banked and turned for another pass.
Acrid smoke hung thickly in the air making his eyes water and his lungs burned as he breathed it in. The attack had splintered the SGC forces and in the smoke and confusion he and Satterfield had lost track of the rest of their group. Satterfield began coughing, her whole body shaking as she struggled to breathe and Jack swore inwardly.
Crap! If they’ve sent foot patrols in after us we’re toast.
Jack reached down to his waist and unclipped his canteen. He passed it to Satterfield just as another blast from the glider overhead ignited the foliage about 300 yards from their position.
Toast seems to be just what they have in mind. Jack dismissed his momentary worry about foot patrols. The glider pilot seemed intent on setting fire to every tree and bush he could see. Jack doubted he’d be hearing the sound of armored feet any time soon.
He had to give the Jaffa commanding the attack credit. They were trying to burn the SGC forces out of the narrow gulch, thick with growth, which had seemed like a good place in which to take cover. It was a smart move on the part of enemy. Why risk your troops in head to head combat when it was unnecessary?
The fire will either do the Jaffa’s dirty work for them or the smoke will drive us out where we can be mopped up easily.
It was a cautious strategy considering the usual tactic for the Jaffa was strength in numbers.
Jack twisted his body so he could face the lieutenant. Her face was bruised and streaked with grime, her dark hair matted and tangled with dirt and sweat. She was holding the canteen out to him.
“Thanks,” she said.
He took the water from her and took a drink himself before returning it to his belt.
“How are ya’ holding up, Lieutenant?”
“Just fine, sir.” Satterfield rolled over until she was on her belly. “You know, General, as many times as I’ve imagined you racing to my rescue… this isn’t exactly how I pictured the whole thing playing out.”
“Too much information, Lieutenant,” Jack replied, unable to stop a grin.
“I knew someone would come for us,” Satterfield said. “I just never thought you’d be with them, General.”
Jack’s throat tightened. That’s the thing the folks in Washington hadn’t understood – the faith that every member of the SGC had that they wouldn’t be forgotten. Every man and woman who went through the gate had to do so armed with the knowledge that someone would be there to watch their sixes. That rescue would come and that nobody would get left behind.
Rather than try to respond to her comment, Jack pulled his radio out of his vest pocket. He thumbed the switch and spoke, “This is SGC-niner, SGC-niner. All units observe non-emergency radio silence. Rendezvous at checkpoint two. Repeat. All units observe non-emergency radio silence. Rendezvous at checkpoint two. SGC-niner, out.”
Satisfied that the Jaffa wouldn’t be able to track their positions by monitoring their radio chatter, Jack thumbed off his radio and returned it to his vest pocket. Checkpoint two was one of the rally points they’d reconned when they’d arrived. Any SGC personnel who were able would make their way there so they could regroup and plan the next step.
“We should move,” he said, the order punctuated by yet another blast from the glider’s canons.
“No, down. Less smoke,” he explained. “Besides, this ravine opens up somewhere behind the gate.”
“Wouldn’t that make it an obvious place to wait for us, sir?”
“Yeah, well… we’ll worry about that when we get there.”
“Good plan, sir.”
“Satterfield, is that sarcasm I hear in your voice?”
“No, sir! It’s the awe I have for your vast knowledge of military strategy.”
“Of course it is,” Jack replied. “Keep your head down, Lieutenant.”
Jack shifted the strap of his P90 until the weapon rested on his shoulder and began a slow belly crawl down the slope.
* * * * *
“Son-of-a-bitch!” Jack muttered.
“Teal’c is right, Carter. Ba’al’s Jaffa are coming through the gate.” Jack lowered the binoculars and ran one hand through his sweat-soaked hair.
“Ba’al is coming? Here?”
“I do not believe so, Daniel Jackson. It is unlikely that Ba’al himself would deign to honor Olokun with his presence.”
“No, but he obviously doesn’t mind sending a few dozen Jaffa as an escort now does he?”
“It appears he does not, O’Neill.”
“Ba’al’s gonna be pissed when he finds out Olokun lost SG3,” Carter observed.
“Right now I’m more worried that Olokun’s Jaffa know we haven’t gone through the gate yet. They’re going to be looking for us.”
“And now they have help,” Daniel added.
Jack shimmied his body back into the undergrowth.
“Let’s get back to the others and fill them in. Looks like we get to play hide and seek, kiddies.”
* * * * *
Jack’s eyes snapped open at the sound of Dixon’s voice.
“Yeah, what is it?” he asked, sitting up and blinking against the darkness. He could just make out the colonel’s profile in the dim light and could hear the soft sounds of hushed conversations as Wells roused the rest of the camp.
“There’s a patrol heading this way, sir.”
“Damn it! Don’t these guys ever sleep?”
“Sure doesn’t look like it, sir.” Dixon moved back to give Jack room to gather his gear. It didn’t take him long; they kept themselves ready to move at a moment’s notice. After three days of cat and mouse, Jack had seen more of this planet than he’d ever intended. The constant movement had kept them alive… if not exactly all in one piece.
“How’s Bosworth?” Jack asked, rolling his shoulders to work out the kinks.
“Conscious for now,” Dixon replied. “He drifts in and out. I think the staff weapon wound to his leg is infected. He’s feverish.”
Well, that’s just wonderful, Jack thought.
“Still moaning and groaning about how a person can escape unharmed from a Goa’uld prison and manage to break an arm by falling in a ditch.”
“No kidding,” Jack agreed. To be fair to Peterson, Jack had to admit he’d been dodging glider fire at the time. But did it have to be the arm he shoots with?
“Where to, sir?”
Jack thought for a minute, picturing the terrain they’d covered over the past few days in his mind.
“Let’s angle back toward the gate,” he decided. “We’ll cut behind that ridge we skirted the other day.”
“Yes, sir.” Dixon got to his feet. “I’ll pass the word along.”
Jack checked his watch and sighed. They’d only been holed up here for about four hours. At the rate they were going, they’d all simply collapse from sheer exhaustion and save the Jaffa the trouble of a fight.
He scrambled to his feet and went to check the condition of the sling they’d rigged to carry Bosworth.
* * * * *
“Teal’c, Ferretti… take Wells and Reeves and establish a perimeter.” Jack ordered. Reynolds and I will stand watch. The rest of you… get some shut eye.”
There was no conversation as those remaining dropped where they stood. Jack hoped they’d get more than a few hours of downtime before having to move again. His teams were looking more than a little rough around the edges.
Jack moved slowly around the small clearing, watching silently as those around him gave in to the weariness and drifted off into sleep. Daniel was already snoring and Carter…
Jack shook his head and crouched down beside her.
“Hey, Carter,” he said softly. He placed a hand on her shoulder and shook her slightly.
Her eyes fluttered open and she jumped, startled by his touch.
“Carter, while I appreciate your dedication to remaining combat ready at all times, I think you might want to consider taking off your pack.”
Her mouth hung open slightly and Jack swore he could almost see the brain cells churning in her head.
“Oh.” She sat upright and released her pack straps. It thumped to the ground and she shoved it to one side and flopped back down on the ground, eyes already closed again. As Jack stood up again, he heard her mutter a soft, “Thanks, sir.”
“Any time,” he replied, although he wasn’t sure she was still awake to hear him.
* * * * *
Jack ducked under a low hanging branch and turned to pull it out of the way of Colonel Harper and Wells who were carrying Bosworth in the sling.
Their radios crackled to life as Wells passed by him.
“SGC to SG teams. Do you copy?”
Hammond! Jack was both relieved and slightly terrified in the same instant. He grabbed for his radio and thumbed the switch.
“Receiving you loud and clear, SGC.”
“What’s your status?”
“We’ve been dodging Jaffa for the past five days, sir. SG3 is alive and well. Bosworth took a staff blast to the leg. He’s alive but needs medical attention. Peterson broke his arm; we have a few other minor wounds here and there and we all need some sleep. General, there’s at least two dozen Jaffa guarding the area around the gate and maybe another four chasing our butts all over this planet.”
“Understood. Jack, we have to make this quick; the M.A.L.P camera shows we’ve got a couple of Jaffa heading for the gate. Can you reach the gate by… 0830?”
“We’ll be there, sir!”
“We’ll send –”
There was static as the transmission ended abruptly.
“They must have taken out the M.A.L.P.,” Carter said.
“Every Jaffa in the area will be heading for the gate,” Reynolds added.
“And we have to be right behind them.” Jack gestured for everyone to gather around him. They looked tired, battered… but for the first time in days Jack saw hope in their eyes. “Hammond is sending reinforcements –”
“A rescue for the rescuers?” Ferretti quipped. There was ragged laughter from some of the group and Jack nodded.
“Very funny, Ferretti. We gotta be in place and ready to move when they come through. We hit the Jaffa from both sides and hope we catch a break.”
Peterson groaned, “Bad choice of words, General.” He nodded at the arm that was bound to his chest.
They all laughed again and Jack found himself grinning as well.
They were going home.
His smile faded as he realized just what Hammond’s presence at the SGC might actually mean. He’d probably be better off surrendering to Olokun. Jack glanced around at the now smiling faces around him.
Satterfield stepped in front of him. “I knew you’d get us home, General.” As she turned away, Jack caught Teal’c staring at him. His friend inclined his head in the old familiar gesture and Jack felt the worry for what he might be facing slide away.
No matter the cost… it was worth it.
* * * * *
Jack ran along the tree line, firing short quick bursts at the three Jaffa closing in on Reynolds.
One of the Jaffa went down. Jack barely had time to reflect on the stupidity of a Jaffa who left his faceplate down before one of his companions returned fire with his staff weapon. Jack dodged and felt the crackle of energy in the air as the shot passed close by on his left.
Zat fire followed and Jack ducked back under the cover of the trees.
Reynolds was yelling something at the men struggling with Bosworth’s stretcher. They surged forward, picking up speed and Reynolds turned and fired. The shot ripped across the staff wielding Jaffa’s legs and he went down.
As the third turned to deal with Reynolds, Jack took him out with an extended burst from his P90 and he waved Reynolds on ahead. He heard the chatter of weapons fire as the teams Hammond had sent through did their best to clear a path to the gate. The gate was less than 500 yards away. He could just make out the curve of metal through the trees.
His radio squawked to life. “O’Neill! Where the hell are you?”
“Griff, we’re coming in from three o’clock! We’re almost there!”
“You’d better get a move on. We’re taking heavy fire. I don’t know how long we’ll be able to hold the gate.”
A shadow fell over him and Jack looked up through the trees. Shit! An al-kesh! Where the hell had that come from?
“Move! Move!” he yelled. Ahead he saw his teams look up. Satterfield faltered and stumbled. “Get your ass in gear, Lieutenant!”
Teal’c turned back and hauled her to her feet by one arm and they both took off running again.
Overhead, Jack heard the whine of glider engines.
Jack thumbed his radio, “Griff, get your people out of here!”
There was no response except the sound of several explosions near the gate. Jack gave up on the radio and ran harder for the break in the trees. He could see Ferretti, Carter, and Bosco firing their weapons at something just beyond the tree line.
“Go! Go!” he yelled. They’d have to make a break for the gate. Speed was their only hope now or the al-kesh and gliders would make a quick end of them all for sure. They ran.
Jack cleared the tree line and did his best to assess the situation. There was a knot of fighting near the gate, where Griff and his team were engaged with half a dozen Jaffa. Several other SG teams spread throughout the clearing began laying down a line of covering fire along a path to the gate.
Jack fired at the Jaffa surrounding Griff’s team – his P90 fire was quickly joined by the whump whump of Teal’c’s staff weapon. He heard Griff yell for someone to dial the gate.
A glider roared overhead. It banked, turned, and fired.
The world exploded.
The concussion from the explosion slammed Jack to the ground. Ears ringing, he shook his head and scrambled to his feet, stumbling slightly as a wave of dizziness washed through him.
“O’Neill!” Teal’c was running towards him.
“I’m fine,” Jack yelled. “Cover them,” he ordered, waving at Harper and Wells struggling to maneuver Bosworth’s stretcher and Peterson firing a sidearm with his off-hand. Teal’c adjusted his course and fired at the Jaffa hounding the group.
The sound of the gate activating was absolutely beautiful to his ears.
“We’re clear!” Reynolds shouted.
It was all they needed to hear. Jack saw Daniel, Carter, and Satterfield run for the gate. Carter turned and fired at the nearest Jaffa while Daniel and Satterfield ran through the event horizon.
“Get outta here!” Jack yelled. “Through the gate now!”
A glider made a strafing run through the center of the clearing and everyone scattered. He saw Ferretti take the steps to the gate two at a time and shove Carter through ahead of him. More people followed them.
The sky darkened overhead and Jack cursed as the al-kesh lined up for its attack. Jack slowed as he reached the DHD and turned, willing those that hadn’t yet made it through the gate to move faster.
The Jaffa scattered – friendly fire casualties in the service of the Goa’uld weren’t uncommon and these boys apparently knew better than to take the chance the al-kesh would pick and choose its targets.
The glider fired off another shot that knocked Wells off his feet, sending Harper sprawling and the stretcher tumbling to the ground. Teal’c ran to assist them and Jack saw Reeves and Major Pierce from SG-15 break stride and turn to follow Teal’c.
They never saw the canon blast from the al-kesh.
* * * * *
Jack stepped under spray of water from the shower head and closed his eyes as the heat pounded its way into his skin.
He braced his hands against the slick tile and leaned forward; letting his head drop so the shower’s pulse could massage the muscles in his neck. He heard the water start in the stall next to him and opened his eyes.
The water pooling shallowly at his feet before it slipped down the drain was a muddy gray.
Sighing, Jack reached for the soap. He was happy to be washing away the filth and grime of a week on the run but the pleasure was muted by the memory of Pierce’s screams as he’d died. Mercifully, it hadn’t taken long.
Reeves had never known what hit him.
Jack scrubbed viciously at his skin, ignoring the sting of the soap in the many cuts and scrapes on his body and the dull ache of the bruises and overworked muscles. He rubbed until his skin was red and the water ran clear. He heard the showers shut off in the adjoining stalls and still he stood under the water…unmoving.
No matter the cost.
He’d been so self-righteous – certain of his decisions. General Jack O’Neill, the rebel with a cause and willing martyr of the SGC. What was the career of one newly pinned General against the lives of the men and women under his command?
Teal’c’s voice startled Jack out of his thoughts.
“What?” Jack replied, frowning a bit at the curtness he heard in his own voice.
“Are you well?”
“I’m fine, T.”
“Then I shall leave you.”
Jack relaxed again, satisfied that Teal’c knew better than to bother him further.
“We can’t just leave him in there all day!”
“I have done as you asked, Daniel Jackson, and inquired as to his well-being. He is… fine.”
“Are you kidding me?”
“I am not.”
“He’s not fine, Teal’c. We’re his friends. We should… talk to him.”
“I do not believe O’Neill desires to talk.”
“So what… we’re just going to let him stand in the shower until he shrivels up into a giant prune?”
Oh for the love of –
“He does not wish to be disturbed.”
“Too late!” Jack bellowed, twisting the knob that turned the water off. He yanked back the curtain and stood naked and dripping in front of Teal’c and Daniel.
Daniel took one step backward.
Jack snatched the towel draped over the bar and began rubbing himself dry. “Was there something you wanted, Daniel?”
Daniels mouth opened and closed in a remarkable imitation of one of his fish. “I, uh… that is you… you were in there for a long time, Jack.”
Jack wrapped the towel around his waist and walked over to the bench where he’d left his fresh clothes.
“Colonel Carter is meeting us in the mess hall. Do wish to accompany us, O’Neill?”
Et tu, Teal’c?
Tossing his towel into the laundry cart, Jack pulled on his boxers and sat down on the bench.
“I’ll be along shortly,” he said. “I want to swing by the infirmary first and check on Bosworth.”
Jack nodded and turned his attention to getting dressed. It was as close to dismissal as he could get without making it a direct order.
Without another word, they turned and left him alone.
* * * * *
Pushing thought the double doors of the mess hall, Jack was surprised to find it crowded. Carter, Teal'c, and Daniel were there as well as several members of the other teams. It was the near total silence, however, that slammed into him like a fist to the gut that steals the breath away.
“Jack! Over here.” Daniel’s voice cut through the silence and people looked up from their plates.
Jeez, Daniel. Where else would you be? Jack nodded and headed for the serving line. Jack took whatever he was offered first, caring little for what it might be so long as it was edible. He poured himself a cup of coffee and carried the tray to the table.
He sat down and jabbed a fork into the food on the plate. Beef steak, he realized as he lifted the fork to his mouth and took a bite. He slugged it back with some coffee. Lumpy potatoes and tasteless gravy followed – an SGC specialty. He was making progress on the peas and carrots when Daniel cleared his throat.
Jack dropped his fork onto his plate and picked up his coffee cup again. He took a sip and set the cup back down. He swiped at his mouth with a napkin and cocked an eyebrow upward.
Daniel’s eyes widened slightly and he looked at Carter who seemed to suddenly develop a strange attraction to her dinner roll. Daniel rolled his eyes slightly and turned his attention back to Jack.
They stared at each other across the table.
“Are you going to just sit there or are you going to talk to us?” Daniel finally blurted out.
“Sure, Daniel. Let’s chat.” Jack threw up a hand. “How are you? Is your food okay? Did you have a nice day?”
“Lovely weather we’re having, don’t ya think?”
“Jack! Stop it.”
“Come on, Daniel. What’s the problem? You wanted to talk…we’re talking. Or at least I am. You, on the other hand, don’t seem to be holding up your end of the conversation very well.”
“It wasn’t your fault.”
Carter’s head snapped up and even Teal’c faltered momentarily as he lifted his juice glass.
“How, Daniel? How is this not my fault?”
“Gee, I don’t know… maybe Olokun and Ba’al had something to do with it? Why are you so hard on yourself?”
“Two men dead and third maimed for life. Bosworth is going to lose his leg. Who should I be hard on?” Jack realized he was raising his voice and he took a deep breath before continuing in a lower tone, “It was my command… my decision. Everything that happened was my responsibility. It’s part of the job.”
“I’m sorry about Pierce and Reeves,” Daniel replied. “And Bosworth,” he added. “But as much as you don’t want to hear it right now, he’s alive. Everyone on SG-3 is home… and alive. We’re alive. We knew the risks.”
Jack had been trying to convince himself of the same thing and hearing it from Daniel wasn’t exactly doing the job either. He was tired – too tired to argue about it. He’d rather just eat his meal in peace and be left alone. Hoping Daniel would take the hint, Jack picked up his fork and took another bite of beef.
“You can’t shoulder the entire burden yourself, Jack.”
Damn it! The man simply did not know when to shut up! Almost as if to prove Jack’s point, Daniel continued, “The Joint Chiefs must have thought the mission was worth the risk; they approved it.”
Jack set his fork back down on his plate and leaned back in his chair, rubbing a hand over his face and through his hair.
“Did they?” he asked, shaking his head.
“Well of course they did! We weren’t going to abandon –”
“Sir?” Carter interrupted. He could see the dawning understanding in her eyes as she put the pieces together.
“What? What is it?” Daniel asked, obviously knowing he was missing something.
“The answer to the question you are trying oh so very hard not to ask, Carter… is no.”
“You want to explain it to him?” Jack asked.
“Would one of you please tell me what is going on?” Daniel demanded.
“The mission wasn’t authorized by the Pentagon.” Carter looked Jack in the eyes. “Was it, sir?”
“Got it in one, Colonel.”
“So General Hammond is here –”
“In all likelihood to relieve me of command,” Jack finished.
“This does not change the fact that it was the right course of action, O’Neill,” said Teal’c, speaking for the first time since Jack had sat down at the table.
“You think so, Teal’c?”
“I do,” he responded. “As will you again if you but allow yourself the time to consider the matter objectively.”
Jack pushed his chair back and stood up.
“Are you a betting man, T?”
“Jack, where are you going?” Daniel asked.
“To try and get some sleep,” Jack answered. “You all should do the same.”
Without waiting for their responses, he walked away from the table, through the doors, and into the corridor.
* * * * *
Jack lay on the bed stretched flat out on his back and eyes wide open in the darkness. He’d thought his body had long passed the point where it could stay awake but it looked like he’d thought wrong. It had been easier to fall asleep on the ground while being hunted by a horde of Jaffa.
Maybe he should give it up – go see how much paperwork had stacked up over the past week. That usually put him in the mood to lie down and take a long nap.
Of course, the paperwork probably wasn’t his problem any more.
There’s a bright spot… a break in the clouds… a blue sky… the silver lining…
When life gives you lemons you make lemonade, right? How’d that tune go? Jack began humming, trying to remember the melody. He soon picked it up and his voice rose up in the darkness.
“Always look on the bright side of life.” He tried the whistle too. It needed work. “Always look on the bright side of life.” The whistle was better the second time around.
“For life is quite absurd, and death's the final word. You must always face the curtain with a bow! Forget about your sin and give the audience a grin. Enjoy it – it's the last chance anyhow!”
Jack groaned and rolled over onto his side. He was really cracking up. Too keyed up to sleep but too tired to do much more than lay here. He could almost here Daniel’s voice adding, ‘feeling sorry for himself.’
It wasn’t losing his career. He was sure of that at least. It was the self-doubt he hated. Had he been so eager to thumb his nose at the brass that he’d ignored the dangers?
He hadn’t thought so at the time but now…
Jack slowly let out a long breath and forced his limbs to relax. He couldn’t lay here all night thinking in circles. He had to sleep.
He concentrated on the rhythm of his breathing and pushed aside all the what-if’s and might-have-beens. He closed his eyes and felt at least some of the tension leave his body.
Jack let himself fade and his breathing evened out in a more natural rhythm.
* * * * *
Two sharp taps on his door yanked Jack out of his sleep. He groaned and rolled over so he could see the digital clock on the bedside stand.
Twenty minutes. He’d been asleep for a lousy twenty minutes.
Maybe he could pretend he hadn’t heard.
The knocks sounded again.
They weren’t going to give up. He knew it had to be at least one if not all three members of SG-1. Nobody else would even think about bothering him right now. Daniel had probably convinced Carter and Teal’c that he needed to talk some more.
“Go away!” he yelled.
A shaft of light from the corridor fell across the bed as the door was slowly eased open a crack.
“No more talking! Can’t a man sleep in peace?”
At the sound of the voice, Jack jerked upright.
Hammond poked his head around the door. “I’m sorry to disturb you but I think we need to discuss a few things… before tomorrow’s official debriefing.”
Jack swung his legs off the bed and flicked on the table lamp. He squinted in the brighter light and rubbed his eyes.
“Sorry, sir. I thought you were SG-1.” Jack waved a hand at a chair tucked under a small table by the wall. “Have a seat.”
The general entered the room, closing the door behind him. Jack tried to gauge Hammond’s mood as he watched him pull the chair out and sit down. It was impossible to guess what the man was feeling.
“Well, Jack…” Hammond’s voice trailed off.
“So you got the email?” Jack said cheerily.
Hammond laughed and then shook his head saying, “There’s really nothing funny about this, Jack.”
“No, no there isn’t anything funny about it all, sir.”
“You really did it this time, son.”
Jack’s throat tightened and he nodded. “I knew that when I made the decision, sir.”
“I almost had the Joint Chiefs convinced. If you had just waited –”
“SG-3 would have been long gone from that planet if we had,” Jack countered.
“This might have been salvageable if you hadn’t decided to go along for the ride.”
“You did it for us once,” Jack replied.
“Things were different then,” Hammond admitted. “The SGC is under a lot of scrutiny these days.”
“You mean since I took over.”
“I won’t lie to you, Jack. That’s part of it. But you knew it would be like this when you accepted,” Hammond reminded him. “You deserve the command but you have to admit you’ve shown a preference for operating… outside the normal rules of the game at times.”
“Something like that,” Hammond agreed. “Did you think nobody but me would notice you’d left the planet?”
“No, not really.”
“You’ve put me in pretty tough spot.”
“Look, sir,” Jack said looking away from Hammond’s gaze. “If you’re trying to tell me that you’ll be ordering an Article 32 –”
“I don’t want to, Jack.”
“I haven’t really left you much choice.”
Hammond didn’t answer. It wasn’t necessary.
“None of them knew,” Jack said. “I want them clear of this.”
“As far as I’m concerned they were following orders from their commanding officer. You made sure you were the only one that would be facing charges but they’re hardly ‘clear’ of it.” Hammond paused and Jack lifted his head again to look at him. “SG-1 already came to see me.”
“I told them to get some sleep,” Jack said.
“They are worried, Jack. To be honest, I’m more than a little concerned myself.”
“Don’t be, sir. I’ll be fine. I’m not so sure it isn’t for the best anyway.”
“I can’t agree with that, son,” Hammond argued. “And when word gets out I don’t think you’ll find many around here that will.”
Jack thought of two sheet-wrapped bodies in the infirmary’s morgue and Bosworth doped up to the gills while he waited for the orthopedic surgeon to arrive from the Academy Hospital. “I can think of a few people that might,” he said.
“Jack, if you want even a chance of getting through this you can’t keep second guessing yourself. You did what you thought needed to be done. You achieved your objective and you brought SG-3 home.”
“I can tell you’ve been talking to Daniel,” Jack said.
“I don’t need Daniel to tell me what’s important when things go to hell,” Hammond countered. “I didn’t think you did either.”
As criticisms went, it was a mild one. Nevertheless, Jack felt the sting of the rebuke.
“I thought I knew what was important,” Jack admitted. “I’m just not sure anymore that it was important to me for the right reasons.”
“You think you made the decision because you felt you had something to prove about your ability to command this facility?”
“I don’t know.”
Hammond sighed and stood up. Jack stood as well but Hammond shook his head and motioned for him to sit back down. “Don’t get up, Jack,” he said, walking to the door. “Get some rest.”
“Just think about one thing for me, would you?” Hammond stopped at the door and turned around to face Jack again. “If you don’t believe yourself to be fit for command then perhaps you should just submit your resignation and save the Air Force the time and effort of a court-martial. But I want you to ask yourself why you went after SG-3 in the first place… because when you have that answer, you’ll know what to do.”
Hammond opened the door and left the room before Jack had a chance to reply. As the door snicked softly shut again, Jack reached over and turned of the table lamp. He stretched back out on the bed, his mind a jumble of thoughts and emotions.
* * * * *
Jack hesitated as he reached his office door. The gold nameplate – Brig. Gen. J. O’Neill – glinted in the fluorescent light.
Jack knocked sharply three times, slightly surprised at how odd it felt.
He heard Hammond’s muffled, “Enter!” and went inside. Hammond looked up from a stack of paperwork as Jack snapped to attention.
“Forget that,” Hammond said gruffly. “Just tell me where the requisitions are from the head cook.”
“Don’t tell me,” Jack said, laughing. “He forgot to order the ice cream again?”
“Prunes,” Hammond explained. “Have a seat, Jack.”
“Can’t have that,” Jack said, sitting down. “I can just imagine the panic if word gets out that we have a critical shortage of dried fruit.”
“Don’t laugh. Apparently no kitchen should be without them.”
“Try the bottom drawer on the left,” Jack suggested. “Sergeant Bradley always ends up revising his orders so I hold them a day or two to give him time to change his mind.”
Hammond pulled open the drawer and seconds later held up the folder containing the requisition.
“Guess my job here is done,” Jack said.
“Is it?” Hammond asked.
“Ah… well, not in the larger sense, sir.”
Jack smiled. Hammond wasn’t going to let him off the hook so easily.
“Meaning I made the decision I felt was right for the men and women of this command,” Jack said. “And meaning I’d do it again.”
“So you’ve decided you want your office back?”
Hammond nodded. “Good. Now you just hold that thought, Jack, because you’ve got a rough ride ahead.” He reached for one of the files on the desk and flipped it open. He slid a sheet of paper across the desk toward Jack. “This is your official written notification that I’ve requested an Article 32. They’re sending an investigator from Washington. It was generally agreed that finding an impartial investigator within the SGC is a difficult prospect at best. You’re confined to base until further notice.”
“I understand, sir.”
“I’ll do everything I can for you, Jack.”
“I know you will, sir. Thank you.”
“Thank me when it’s over,” Hammond said.
* * * * *
Word spread through the mountain faster than an Asgard ship with a hopped-up hyperdrive.
Within hours, Jack was confronted by a seemingly never-ending stream of SGC personnel expressing everything from shocked disbelief to indignant outrage but each conversation ended in the same way. They supported Jack…and the decision that he had made.
It was starting to get embarrassing.
He’d resorted to hiding out in his quarters which had been fine at first but being bored out of his skull with nothing to think about but the end of his career was rapidly losing its appeal. He needed to be doing something.
This was the most free time he’d had since taking command. Sure, he complained – loudly to any and all that would listen – about the endless paperwork, meetings, and minutia involved in running the mountain but he had to admit it sure made the day fly by. But he still missed many of the routines he’d developed as leader of SG-1. He simply didn’t have the time anymore to spare for many of the things he’d come to take for granted over the years.
It had just been a day or two before the news about SG-3 had come in that he’d had to turn down Teal’c’s offer of a boxing match.
Now there’s an idea, Jack decided.
Already warming to the prospect, Jack was on his feet and out the door in record time.
His trip through the corridors was relatively painless. Only two people stopped him to talk before he managed to knock on Teal’c’s door.
The door swung open.
“O’Neill,” Teal’c said, greeting Jack with his usual exuberance.
“Hey, T,” Jack replied. Jack leaned to one side to peer over Teal’c’s shoulder. The room was aglow with candlelight. “Are you busy?”
“My task may be put aside for now,” Teal’c answered. “Please, enter.” He stepped aside and Jack went into the room. Teal’c gestured for him to sit.
“Hope I didn’t interrupt anything important,” Jack said as he sat down. He picked up one of the sheets of paper on the table. It was half covered with elegant and smoothly flowing symbols – Goa’uld writing. “What’s this?”
Teal’c pulled the sheet out of Jack’s hand and quickly gathered up the other pages strewn across the table.
“SG-9 is scheduled to return to Hak’tyl in two days time. Lieutenant Grogan has agreed to carry my greetings and well wishes to Ishta.”
Jack grinned. “Love letters, T? You’re writing love letters?”
Teal’c managed to look slightly offended.
“It is not a trivial matter, O’Neill. A woman must be certain she is not far removed from a warrior’s thoughts or the flame of passion dims and grows cold.”
“Sorry, Teal’c. You’re right. You definitely should do everything you can to keep the um… flame… kindled.”
“Have you come with a purpose, O’Neill?”
“Way to change the subject, Teal’c,” Jack muttered. “You remember a week or so ago you asked if I was up for a sparring match?”
“I recall the occasion. You were unable to leave your duties.”
“How about now?” Jack asked.
“It would be most pleasurable,” Teal’c answered.
“Great! Say, Teal’c,” Jack said, standing up. “You know I didn’t mean anything by the love letter crack, right?”
Teal’c raised one eyebrow at him but didn’t say anything.
“Right, Teal’c?” Jack watched Teal’c turn away and move to open the door. “Teal’c?”
Teal’c glanced back at him as he went out the door and Jack swore he could see a slight smirk on his face.
* * * * *
Jack slipped on his shirt, feeling the pleasant ache of his muscles. One thing he could count on with Teal’c was that the Jaffa wouldn’t cut him any slack.
It had been a great work out. Something he’d needed. His head felt clearer than it had in weeks.
“I enjoyed our bout, O’Neill,” Teal’c said, closing his own locker door. “I have missed our times together since you received your promotion.”
“Me too, Teal’c.”
“Perhaps when you return to your duties, you will be able to regularly schedule such activities?”
Jack felt a little of his good mood slip away. There was just no getting away from the subject, he realized.
“Teal’c, you do understand what’s happening, don’t you?”
“General Hammond has explained it to me,” Teal’c said. “There will be an investigation.”
Jack nodded. “Did he explain what might happen if they decide what I did was wrong?”
“That will not occur.”
“I am confident, O’Neill.”
“It’s not that simple,” Jack said. “The military doesn’t –”
Jack and Teal’c turned to find a red-faced sergeant standing in the locker room doorway.
“General Hammond sent me, sir. Major Trask has arrived from Washington.”
* * * * *
The office door was open and as Jack approached, Hammond waved him in. As he entered the room, Trask stood and saluted, her expression unreadable. Jack cocked one eye at Hammond but returned the salute without comment.
“General O’Neill, sir. It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m Major Denise Trask.” The major extended her hand and Jack shook it briefly. “I’m sorry it’s under these circumstances.”
“As am I,” Jack said. “I don’t suppose you are sorry enough to just forget the whole thing?”
Trask actually smiled before shaking her head. “No, sir. They’d have me up on charges if I did.”
“If you don’t mind my asking,” Jack said, as he sat down, “how’d you catch this assignment?”
“It’s a fair question,” Trask replied, taking her seat again. “I got the case last night along with a personal phone call from the President asking me to look into it. I can tell you that he expressed a certain amount of frustration with the whole thing. He said he liked you, General, despite the fact that your methods are little out of the ordinary and that he hoped the whole thing would blow over quickly. But he also said that if it turns out that you ‘screwed up’ then he would support the official findings – even if they lead to a general court-martial.”
“Colonel, I understand you have been aware of the SGC for some time,” Hammond said.
“Yes, sir, that’s correct. Several years now.”
“The way they’ve been handing out clearances lately,” Jack said, “I wouldn’t have been surprised if they’d told her about us as they loaded her baggage on the plane.”
“I think news that not only do aliens exist but that a secret military base has regular contact with them via an ancient alien technology that allows near instantaneous travel across the galaxy is not something they wanted to hit someone with at the last minute,” Trask countered.
“Jack, I requested someone who was already familiar with the program. It would have taken time to bring someone who had just received clearance up to speed and I think we can all agree that the sooner this is handled the better it will be.”
“Yes, sir, and we should probably get started. General O’Neill, I need to advise you of your rights in this investigation.”
Trask picked up a leather briefcase sitting by her chair. Balancing it on her knees, she opened it up and removed a handful of files. She pulled out two sheets of paper and handed one over to Jack.
It was a memorandum officially notifying Jack that Trask would be conducting the Article 32(b) investigation, advising him of his right to counsel, and listing potential witnesses.
“General O’Neill, by order of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the President of the United States, I have been appointed investigating officer under article 32(b) of the Uniform Code of Military Justice to investigate certain charges against you.” Trask glanced down at the paper in her hand. “The charges allege in general, the offenses of violation of UCMJ Article 86 in that Brigadier General John O’Neill did on August 3, 2004 absent himself from his appointed duty station without authority for a period of six days.”
“Depends on how you define duty station,” Jack said. “Our field of operations is a little larger than most you know. So, now what?”
“I’m not done, sir.”
“Of course you aren’t,” Jack replied. Trask gave him the look. The one that made him feel like he was in fourth grade again and had just belched during the history lesson. “Go on,” Jack said, waving his hand at her.
“In addition, violation of UCMJ Article 92 in that the accused failed to obey a lawful general order or regulation. Specifically, that Brigadier General John O’Neill was derelict in the performance of his duties in that the accused had certain duties; knew or reasonably should have known of the duties; and was through neglect or culpable inefficiency derelict in the performance of those duties.”
“That’s a load of bullshit!”
Jack looked up at Hammond, surprised at the general’s choice of words.
“Jack, I’m sorry,” he said. “I had no idea they’d pull a stunt like this. Dereliction? They’ve lost their minds!”
“It’s not your fault,” Jack said. “You didn’t have a choice. I know that.”
“You can bet they are going to hear about it. I’ll make a few calls –”
“General Hammond, I advise you not to interfere,” Trask interrupted. “It could be seen as a violation of Article 98. Interfering with this investigation is not the way to help General O’Neill.”
“She’s right, sir,” Jack added. “We’re just going to have to let this play out. I don’t want to risk you going down with me.”
“Jack, this feels off. Someone has an agenda and they’ve seized this as their opportunity.”
“Sirs,” Trask said. “I hope you understand that if anyone does have a hidden agenda in all this it’s not me. I have a job to do and I intend to do it to the best of my ability. I’m simply here to investigate the charges and make a recommendation as to their disposition.”
“So my career is in your hands?”
“I can only make a recommendation, sir. I don’t have the final authority. Why don’t you let me finish the official notification and if you have still have questions afterward, I’ll do my best to get you the answers?”
“Let’s get this over with,” Jack agreed.
“Alright,” Trask said. “I am now going to advise you of your rights in this investigation. You have the right to be present throughout the taking of evidence so long as your conduct is not disruptive. You will have the right at the proper time: to cross-examine all available witnesses against you; to present anything you might desire in your own behalf, either in defense, extenuation, or mitigation; to have a lawyer represent you at the investigation; to have me examine available witnesses requested by you; to make a statement in any form at the proper time, to remain silent, or to refuse to make any statement regarding any offense that you are accused or suspected of, or concerning that which you are being investigated. In addition you are advised that any statement made by you might be used as evidence against you in a trial by court-martial. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” Jack replied.
Trask nodded and continued, “As investigating officer, it is my duty to thoroughly and impartially investigate the charges against you. This investigation shall include inquiries as to the truth of the matter set forth in the charges.”
The truth of the matter? Trask was still talking but Jack tuned her out. The truth was he’d done his job. The truth was he’d had to throw the rulebook out to do it. The truth was he’d pissed off the wrong people this time. He’d given them an opening and they’d taken it.
* * * * *
“Jack, are you crazy?”
It wasn’t enough that they’d invaded his quarters, demanding to know the latest details and refusing to give him a moment’s peace. Did they have to question his sanity too?
“No, Daniel, I’m not. Thanks for asking.”
“Sir, why would you decline counsel for the investigation?” Carter asked, her voice rising.
“Because there is no way this isn’t going to a court-martial! The investigation is a formality.”
Jack leaned back in his chair while his three former team-mates considered his words.
“You’re saying Trask has already made up her mind before she even begins?” Daniel asked.
“No, I’m saying her hands are tied.” Jack set his coffee cup down on his table. “What’s she going to find out? I did leave the base without a direct order, you know.”
“That may be, O’Neill, yet I do not believe your actions in this matter can be considered derelict.”
“Jack, you have to defend yourself! You can’t just… just…”
“I’m not rolling over, Daniel. I want the court-martial.”
“What? How does that make any sense?”
“Because I’ll have a chance to convince the members of the panel that I did what was right.”
“But don’t you think you should request counsel now?” Carter asked.
“No, not now,” Jack answered. “If things go as I think they will, I have someone in mind.”
* * * * *
Over the next few days, the entire mountain seemed to be caught up in the investigation. Under Hammond’s command, business continued as usual. Teams gated in and out and the day-to-day operation of the SGC was uninterrupted.
The feeling in the air was inescapable, however. It was as if every man and woman on the base was holding their breath – waiting.
Jack sat in on each witness interview. He was impressed with Trask’s attention to detail and the way she handled the barely concealed hostility of men and women reluctant to play a part in the potential end of their commanding officer’s career.
Of course, some were more hostile than others.
Naturally, Jack had warned SG-1. They had behaved…mostly. Teal’c had done his best ‘Fear me for I am Jaffa’ impression. Carter seemed to be practicing ways to resist enemy interrogation; speaking only when spoken to and limiting herself to one word replies whenever possible. Daniel, on the other hand, took the opposite approach. His diatribe on the absurdity of the military mind-set and the slavish devotion to an inherently fallible hierarchical structure of power had even worn down the unflappable Trask.
“Does he always talk that much?” Trask had asked after Daniel had been dismissed.
Trask worked tirelessly; true to her promise to conduct the investigation as quickly as possible. Jack had been forced to remind her to break long enough to grab a bite to eat.
It was on the way back from the mess hall that Jack ran into Ferretti waiting for the elevator.
“It’s Jack right now, Lou. I’m not exactly on duty at the moment.”
“Temporary, I’m sure,” Ferretti said, as the elevator doors opened and they boarded. “I’m up next. I was just on my way down.” Ferretti punched the button for their level and the doors closed. Don’t worry, Jack. That cold-hearted little bitch won’t get anything out of me.”
“Damn it, Lou! Give the woman a break!”
“Oh come on, Jack. Everybody knows this is a crock!”
“I have no complaints about Trask. She’s just doing her job… and she’s good at it. She deserves a little respect.”
“Fine, fine. You respect her all you want. The rest of us will hope she’s not as good at her job as you think.”
The elevator slowed and stopped. Ferretti brushed past Jack without another word and Jack sighed.
It was going to be a long day.
When Trask finally packed up and left to return to Washington and complete her report the mood around the mountain lightened noticeably.
Until Hammond received the phone call confirming the general court-martial was a go.
* * * * *
“I hope you’re happy,” Daniel said. “You’ve got your court-martial and you could be facing fines, imprisonment, or worse!”
“I know what I’m facing.”
“You know what you’re facing? That’s all you have to say? I did some research, Jack. You sure weren’t sharing all the information. This is bad… very bad.” Jack remained silent and Daniel threw his hand up. “You could be dishonorably discharged!” he yelled.
“Sir, I think Daniel has a point. This is going a lot farther than I thought it would,” Carter said.
“Perhaps it was not wise to place your trust in Major Trask’s objectivity,” Teal’c suggested.
“Stop!” Jack shouted. “All three of you just… shut up.”
“Daniel!” Closing his eyes, Jack held up one finger. “For once, would you please just hold that thought?”
“Uh uh,” Jack warned. “Not… another… word.”
Jack risked opening his eyes. All three members of SG-1 were staring at him.
“Major Trask didn’t recommend the court-martial,” Jack announced. “I received my copy of her final report this morning.”
“What?” Daniel asked. “Then how?”
“Trask’s job was to investigate and make a recommendation. You might want to know that she did recommend I forfeit two-thirds of my pay for the next six months for leaving the base.”
“How generous,” Daniel said dryly.
“It is actually,” Jack told him. “She found no grounds for the charge of violating the Article 92 because there was no direct order given not to authorize the rescue mission.”
“Okay, I realize I don’t always understand the inner workings of the United States military but if the person they assigned to investigate determined the charges are bogus then why are they going ahead with a trial? Why aren’t you setting up a budget for the next six months?”
“Daniel, the investigation is just that, nothing more,” Carter said, jumping in. “Trask examines the evidence and makes a recommendation but she doesn’t have the authority to make the final disposition of the charges. Now normally, that’s an immediate superior but this has been out of General Hammond’s hands from the beginning.” She turned to Jack. “It had to come from higher up the chain of command.”
“There are folks in Washington who would rather not have me in charge. They were going to be looking for any excuse and I’ve given it to them. They aren’t going to throw away their chance.”
“Do you believe Robert Kinsey to be involved?” Teal’c asked.
“Possibly,” Jack admitted. “Hammond made a couple of discreet phone calls. He couldn’t find out much but it would be just like Kinsey to whisper the wrong words in a few key ears.”
“I can’t believe there is anybody left in Washington that would listen to him,” Daniel said.
“His type always seems to somehow bounce back,” Carter told him. “There’s no way we can out him – prove he’s manipulated the decision?”
“It’s not that straightforward,” Jack told her. “First, we have no direct evidence that he’s even involved, just our suspicions. Second, he’s not forcing anybody’s hand –”
“That you know of at least,” Daniel pointed out.
“Wake up, would ya? Kinsey would have barely had to lift a finger to convince some of the Joint Chiefs that I was a less than ideal choice for commander of the SGC. For all I know he’s not involved at all and the only person I have to blame for all of this is yours truly.”
“Sir, do you think you have a chance of coming through the court-martial?”
“Yes,” Jack said. “Trask was simply looking at the evidence and she didn’t agree with all of the charges. We just have to get two-thirds of the panel to see what she saw.”
“I hope you don’t mean ‘we’ as in us,” Daniel said. “You are getting an attorney, aren’t you?”
“Yes, I’ve already requested someone,” Jack told him.
“Who is it?” Carter asked.
* * * * *
Jack stepped off of the elevator and walked down to the checkpoint station where Colonel Robert Hillman was waiting to be cleared.
“General O’Neill,” Hillman said, snapping to attention and saluting. The two SF officers on duty turned to face Jack and did the same and Jack returned the gesture.
“At ease,” he ordered. “Hello again, Colonel, I thought I’d meet you here and escort you down. The first time can be a little intimidating.”
“No, really? I hadn’t noticed,” Hillman replied. One of the SF officers handed him back his badge and he clipped it to his jacket.
“He’s cleared, General.”
“Thank you, Captain. Colonel, if you’ll follow me.”
“Yes, sir.” Hillman picked up his briefcase. “They took my suitcase,” he said.
“It will be waiting for you in your assigned quarters,” Jack told him. “Nothing comes on the base without a thorough search.”
“Understandable,” Hillman said. “For a moment back there I thought they might order a cavity search.”
“Around here we generally use an MRI scanner.” Jack swiped his card to recall the elevator. “You made good time getting here.”
“They told me you’d requested me, handed me a stack of files, and had me on a plane within the hour,” Hillman explained. The elevator arrived and they boarded. Jack punched the button as Hillman continued. “General, if I may ask… why me?”
“I remember you,” Jack told him. “Your work on the prosecution of Maybourne’s little band of entrepreneurs?”
“Sir, we barely spoke. Truthfully, your evidence had those cases sewn up pretty tight. I’d have had to have been incompetent to have screwed that assignment up.”
“General, I’m just a little surprised that you’d entrust your career to the hands of a man you barely know.”
“What do you want me to do, look up a lawyer in the yellow pages?”
“Well, no. I suppose that –”
“How many military attorneys out there have knowledge of the SGC, Colonel?”
“Not many,” Hillman admitted.
“And of those, how many do you think I’ve had the chance to see in action?”
“One, sir?” Hillman replied, smiling.
“Two actually… if you count Major Trask.”
“I know the major. I’ve already read her report. She’s not going to be happy that her recommendations were so completely disregarded. In fact, I was planning to speak to you about how that might affect your case.”
The elevator stopped at Level 11 and the doors opened.
“Let’s get you checked in and assigned some quarters,” Jack told him. “We’ll discuss strategy later.”
“I thought I was checked in,” Hillman said.
“Eleven floors down,” Jack said as they stepped off the elevator. Two more SF officers were waiting. “Seventeen to go. Hope you aren’t claustrophobic, Colonel.”
* * * * *
“I have to ask…” Hillman said, shaking his head at paper he held in his hand. The case files were spread out across the table. “Why did you email General Hammond before you left?
“Well, I figured he might notice I was gone when Sergeant Davis was the only person around to answer my phone.”
“So you did, in fact, notify your commanding officer of your intent. Were you counting on Hammond to cover for your absence?”
“We didn’t expect to be gone that long,” Jack said. “How many times do we have to go over this?”
“As many as it takes, sir.”
“You said General Hammond took a similar course of action at one time?”
“He convinced the president to authorize a rescue mission when my team and I were captured by Hathor. The rescue team ran into some trouble.”
“And then he ‘gated out himself after being expressly ordered to not take any further action by the President and the Joint Chiefs?”
“They were unwilling to send reinforcements, so he went alone.”
“Any punitive action?”
“Not that I’m aware of,” Jack replied.
“Okay, I’ll check with General Hammond,” Hillman said, jotting notes down on a legal pad. “The Article 92 violation hinges on the assumption that you were under orders to take no action. Dee Trask didn’t buy that and if we play our cards right, the panel members won’t either. Tell me again about your last contact with the Joint Chiefs.”
“I reminded them… again, that time was the critical factor if we had any hope of retrieving SG-3. They felt more substantial intelligence was needed and said they needed time to consider the matter.”
“So they never specifically ordered –”
A knock at the door interrupted Hillman. He got up and answered it, revealing SG-1 in the corridor, loaded down with trays of food from the mess.
“Colonel Hillman, I’d like to you to meet SG-1,” Jack said. “Kids, you’re slipping. It only took you…” Jack checked his watch, “three and a half hours to barge in here.”
“Sir, we’re sorry to ah… interrupt…” Carter began.
“We believed you and Colonel Hillman would be unable to cease your discussion in order to partake of a meal in the mess hall,” Teal’c said.
“So we brought it to you,” Daniel finished. “Mind if we join you?”
* * * * *
Over the next few weeks, Jack learned more about the legal process than he had ever cared to know.
He hoped whoever was footing the bill for his hanging was satisfied.
It turned out that convening a court-martial for someone within the SGC was a logistical nightmare. Finding a military judge, prosecuting counsel, five panel members, and a court reporter who either had either had clearance, or could be cleared, took nearly three weeks.
Arranging the participation of all key witnesses presented additional problems. Not only did they have to arrange for Mo’ac, the Jaffa who had passed the intelligence about SG-3’s capture but they also had to determine just exactly how an alien could be officially sworn in at a court-martial.
Teal’c had protested the necessity when asked how to handle the situation saying to Hillman, ‘I have sworn an oath of allegiance to the Tau’ri. Do you doubt my veracity?’
In the end, however, he’d been convinced that some sort of statement was necessary and he agreed to explain the proceedings to Mo’ac when he arrived to avoid any Jaffa temper tantrums.
By the time they converted one of the large storage rooms on Level 17 into a make-shift courtroom, arranging the space to allow the men and women of the SGC who could do so to attend the proceedings, Jack was just ready for the entire thing to be over and done.
* * * * *
Jack brushed non-existent lint from his jacket for the third time in as many minutes. Behind him, he could hear the murmuring of the gallery as they waited for the session to begin.
Now that the moment had arrived, he actually had a knot in his gut.
He’d walked away from his career before – twice, in fact – but to have it taken from him now… the possibility pained him more than he cared to admit.
What he was doing at the SGC… what they were all doing… it mattered.
When it came right down to it he wasn’t ready to lose it.
The lieutenant that had been assigned to assist with the proceedings entered the room.
Jack stood and watched as the military judge entered. Lt. General William J. Somers was a distinguished-looking man with thick thatch of snow-white hair. He had arrived two days ago for the arraignment. It had taken less than ten minutes for the charges to be read and for Jack to enter his plea of not guilty. It had been his only contact with the judge until now.
Somers sat at the desk that had been provided and looked around the room.
“This court martial will come to order. You may be seated.”
As the judge entered the court-martial’s convening order number into the record and named the individuals who were present, Jack’s gaze was drawn to the five members of the panel.
Three male and two female officers had been detailed. The panel was comprised of members representing both the Air Force and Marines; it included two colonels, two brigadier generals, and a major general; and the combined total years of knowledge the five had with the Stargate program came to a whopping nine – the Marine major general being the old hat among the group having known about the SGC for five years. The female colonel and the male brigadier general each had two years under their belt. The two remaining members had only been told of the existence of the Stargate program within the past two weeks.
Jack would have preferred to seat members with more awareness of the SGC but their options had been limited.
Lt. Colonel Matthew Nelson, the trial counsel, stood up and Jack’s attention was drawn back to the proceedings as the man spoke. “The prosecution is ready to proceed with the trial in the case of United States vs. Brigadier General John J. O’Neill, who is present.”
“The members will now be sworn,” General Somers ordered.
“All persons please rise,” Nelson said. The panel members stood and he continued, “Do you affirm that you have answered truthfully the questions concerning whether you should serve as a member of this court-martial; that you will faithfully and impartially try, according to the evidence, your conscience, and the laws applicable to trials by court-martial, the case of the accused now before this court; and that you will not disclose or discover the vote or opinion of any particular member of the court-martial upon the findings or sentence unless required to do so in due course of law, so help you God?”
There was a chorus of ‘I do’s.’
“Be seated please. The court-martial is assembled.”
Colonel Nelson retrieved a folder from his table and began distributing a set of papers the panel members.
“The charges in this case include violations of UCMJ Article 82, absence without leave, and Article 96, failure to obey a lawful general order or regulation. You have the specifications before you.”
“Members of the court-martial,” Somers said, “at an earlier session the accused was arraigned and entered a plea of not guilty to all charges. Will the prosecution make an opening statement?”
“Yes, Your Honor.”
“Members of the court, Stargate Command is the single-most important military facility on the planet. In fact, it’s the most important line of defense in our galaxy. The life and death decisions made by its commander do not affect only the men and women of this facility; the consequences for failure do not end at the very formidable walls of this complex. No matter how deep underground we are,” Nelson said, gesturing to indicate the sixteen stories of concrete and metal above, “what happens here has the very real potential to affect every man, woman, and child on Earth.”
Jack took a deep breath, preparing for what was sure to come next.
“With so very much at stake – our very existence as a race – can we take the risk of allowing a man who can so blatantly and eagerly disregard the chain of command?” Nelson asked, turning to face the defense table.
Jack kept his gaze steady as their eyes locked for a long moment before Nelson continued, “The evidence will prove that General O’Neill is guilty of the charges that have been brought against him. The facts when revealed will prove that not only did he negligently place lives at risk, he violated standing orders when he did so. And as if that wasn’t enough, he abandoned his command.”
Nelson turned again to face the panel members.
“You will hear many things about General O’Neill during these proceedings. He is a hero to the men and women of his command; he is well-respected, even admired. They would die for him.”
Jack stiffened. At his right, Hillman shifted forward in his seat to catch Jack’s line of sight. He almost imperceptibly shook his head as he lightly touched Jack’s forearm with one hand. Jack flicked his gaze briefly to Hillman, a silent acknowledgment that he understood the warning, and returned his attention to the prosecutor.
“They would die for him,” Nelson repeated, “and they have. The evidence will prove that had General O’Neill respected the chain of command and followed orders, those deaths may not have occurred.” He let the words hang there as he looked each of the five members in the eye, before turning away and walking slowly back to his seat.
“Will the defense make an opening statement?” the judge asked.
Hillman stood. “Your honor, the defense would like to make its statement after the prosecution has rested.”
Jack heard someone in the audience gasp and there was a low buzz in the room as the men and women observing realized what was happening.
The judge paused, waiting for the hushed whispering to end. “Proceed,” he said, when it was quiet once again.
“The prosecution calls as its first witness, Master Sergeant Norman Walter Davis.”
Davis entered the room and all heads turned to watch him as he made his way to the witness chair and sat down. Nelson moved to stand in front of him.
“Do you swear that the evidence you give in the case now in hearing shall be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?”
“I do,” Davis replied, his voice low.
“Please state your name, organization, grade, station and branch of service for the record.”
“Master Sergeant Walter… um… I mean Norman Walter Davis.” His face reddened and he looked at the judge. “I… it’s my middle name,” he explained.
“I see,” Somers told him. “Continue, Sergeant.”
“My grade is E7. My organization is Stargate Command which is part of the Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station. I am a member of the United States Air Force.”
“Do you know the accused?”
“Please point to the accused and state his name.”
Davis pointed at Jack. “General O’Neill,” he said.
“Thank you, Sergeant,” Nelson said. “Now, could you please tell the members of the court what your duties are at the SGC?”
“I am part of the support staff,” Davis began. “I assist with the operation, monitoring and maintenance of our stargate’s computerized dialing system.”
“And since General O’Neill took over command of this facility, have you had any additional duties?”
“Yes, General Hammond felt that I could assist General O’Neill while he uh… settled in.”
“In what ways do you assist General O’Neill?”
“I help him manage his schedule,” Davis explained. “I help to organize the paperwork; relay messages… that sort of thing.”
“In a way you are his aide – is that correct?”
“Yes, I suppose you could say that.”
“So then you, as General O’Neill’s aide, have knowledge of the events that led up to his decision to send a rescue team to retrieve a missing SG team?”
“Everybody on the base knew SG-3 had been captured,” Davis replied.
“How was that information known?”
“They’d been missing for six weeks,” Davis said, his voice flat. “General O’Neill had sent search parties to P5X-492, the planet they’d ‘gated to, but there was no sign of them. He had finally declared them missing in action and issued standing orders for all SG teams to be on the lookout for any information. SG-9 returned from a meeting with the leaders of the Jaffa rebellion with intelligence that suggested SG-3 had been captured by Jaffa soldiers in the service of Olokun, a former System Lord, and transferred to another planet.”
“Did SG-9 return with any proof that the missing team was still alive?”
“They had spoken with a Jaffa named Mo’ac who had been in contact with a Jaffa warrior acting as a spy in Olokun’s ranks.”
“Did SG-9 have proof that SG-3 was captured alive and were in Olokun’s custody?”
“You mean something besides the word of one our allies?” Davis demanded.
“Sergeant, did SG-9 return with any tangible evidence confirming the information about SG-3’s location?”
“No,” Davis said, reluctantly. “They did not.”
“What action did General O’Neill take when he received the information about SG-3?”
“He said he had to call General Hammond,” Davis replied.
“Do you know what General Hammond advised?”
“No, I do not. I didn’t speak to him.”
“Isn’t it true General O’Neill made several phone calls to General Hammond over the next thirty hours and had a number of phone conferences with members of the Joint Chiefs as well?”
“The General did make many more phone calls,” Davis said. “But I didn’t place them for him and I certainly don’t know what was said.”
“Did General O’Neill speak to you at any time about the calls?”
“We didn’t discuss specifics. I entered his office just as he ended one of the calls.”
“What did you discuss?”
“It wasn’t really a discussion,” Davis said. “It was more of a… statement.”
“What sort of statement?”
“General O’Neill expressed his frustration with the delays.”
“What were his exact words, Sergeant?”
“He felt Washington didn’t understand –”
“His exact words, Sergeant. What did you see and hear when you entered his office?”
“He… uh… he slammed the phone down and said he’d be glad when they decided…”
“Decided to what, Sergeant?”
Davis sighed and looked at Jack, his expression grim.
“He said he’d be glad when they decided to get their heads out of their asses.”
“The Joint Chiefs.”
The Marine general on the panel let out a short laugh that became a sort of coughing noise as he covered his mouth with one hand.
“Sergeant, tell the court what happened as the rescue teams were preparing to leave.”
“General Hammond called to speak with General O’Neill,” Davis said.
“Where was General O’Neill when the call came through?”
“In the gateroom.”
“I see. Was he there to see the rescue team off?”
“Well, I thought he was but he wasn’t…”
“I don’t understand, Sergeant. Was General O’Neill in the gateroom in order to see the rescue teams leave?”
“I assumed that’s what he was doing.”
“But that wasn’t the case, was it?”
“When you arrived in the control room to inform him that General Hammond was on the phone, what was General O’Neill actually doing at the time?”
“He was preparing to accompany the rescue team on the mission.”
“You are his aide, Sergeant. Didn’t you know that he intended to go off-world?”
“No, sir. I was not aware of his plans.”
“You said he was preparing to go off-world. Did he speak with General Hammond when you informed him of the phone call?”
“They had already dialed the gate,” Davis said.
“Sergeant, it’s my understanding that a wormhole will remain active for a period of thirty-eight minutes. Did General O’Neill speak with General Hammond?”
“No, sir. He did not.”
“What did he say when you told him about the call, Sergeant?”
“He told me to take a message.”
“And what did he do next?”
“He stepped through the gate.”
“Sergeant, who does General O’Neill place in charge of things when he’s called away for extended periods of time?”
“Colonel Reynolds, commander of SG-3… the team that was missing?”
“So, General O’Neill had not informed you of his intention to leave the base and his 2IC was one of the missing?”
“So who was in charge, Sergeant?”
“I don’t know.”
* * * * *
As he entered Hillman’s quarters, Jack loosened his tie and flopped into one of the overstuffed chairs.
Hillman didn’t speak as he crossed the room to reach the coffee-maker he’d insisted on having and poured two cups. He handed one to Jack and sat down as well.
“I’m fine,” Jack replied. “Why?”
“You don’t seem to be yourself,” Hillman replied.
“You’ve known me all of two weeks and you’re already an expert?”
“I’ve never seen you this quiet. You usually have a comment for everything,” Hillman told him. “And frankly, I didn’t think it was possible for you to sit so completely still for that long.”
“I think they’ve heard enough of my comments already,” Jack said.
“We talked about Walter’s testimony. He didn’t say anything we weren’t expecting.”
“I know. I just didn’t expect it to sound so…damning. Hell, if I was sitting on that panel I’d probably find myself guilty.”
“We’ve only just started,” Hillman reminded him. “Don’t pack your bags just yet.”
* * * * *
“General Hammond, it’s a simple question. Did you give General O’Neill authorization to accompany the rescue team through the Stargate?”
“No, I did not, but I didn’t –”
“Thank you, sir,” Nelson interjected, cutting Hammond off. “You’ve answered the question. Your Honor, I have no further questions for this witness.”
“Colonel Hillman, you may cross-examine,” the judge said.
“Thank you, Your Honor. General Hammond, did you order General O’Neill not to accompany the rescue team on the mission?”
“No, I did not.”
“General, Colonel Nelson has gone to a great deal of trouble to discuss every possibly questionable act in General O’Neill’s service record. Let’s talk about your own record for a moment, sir.”
“Your Honor, I object. General Hammond is not the one on trial here.”
“Your Honor, General Hammond was commanding officer of this facility for more than eight years. It’s not beyond reason to assume that General O’Neill’s method of command is in a large part patterned after the example set by his commanding officer.”
“I’ll allow it,” Somers said.
“General, is it true that you were faced with a situation similar to the one presented in this court-martial?”
“I’ve been faced with similar situations on many occasions,” Hammond answered. “To which are you referring?”
“The incident involving SG-1 and the Goa’uld known as Hathor. They went missing on a mission?”
“Three of them were missing – Colonel O’Neill, Captain Carter, and Dr. Jackson. Search parties sent when we lost contact found Teal’c unconscious and near death. When he awoke three weeks later he had a vague recollection of a group of Horus and Serpent guards but no memory of what might have happened to the rest of SG-1. When he learned that we had called off the active search, he left the SGC and returned to his home world.”
“You had called off the search parties?”
“I had. There was no sign of SG-1. We had no information to go on.”
“But that changed?”
“Yes, the Tok’ra told us that SG-1 had been captured by Hathor. They had an operative on the inside. She was able to provide us with detailed blueprints of Hathor’s base.”
“What did you do next?”
“I ordered all available teams to assemble in the gate room in two hours.”
“A rescue mission?”
“Yes, that’s correct.”
“Were there any objections to the mission?”
“Major Davis, the liaison from the Pentagon, was reluctant to commit so many resources on behalf of a single team.”
“What happened next, General?”
“I called the President. The rescue teams left two hours later.”
“Were they able to retrieve the missing members of SG-1?”
“They located Captain Carter and Dr. Jackson,” Hammond said, “but they were cut off from the gate and needed reinforcements.”
“Did you send them?”
“I was ordered not to,” Hammond said, his tone dark.
“How did they make it home, General?”
“I went through the gate myself, contacted Teal’c, and the two of us flew an obsolete death glider through the stargate to Hathor’s planet where we helped take out the remainder of Hathor’s forces.”
“Did you have authorization to go through the gate?”
“Nobody told me I couldn’t,” Hammond replied.
“Sir, when you returned, did you face any punitive actions?”
“No, I did not.”
* * * * *
“Major Harper, did you believe General O’Neill had received authorization for the rescue mission?” Nelson demanded.
“He never actually said it had been authorized.”
“What did he say, Major?”
“He said there were concerns and that the intel hadn’t been confirmed.”
“Did he say it was risky?”
“There are risks with every mission, sir. This one was no different.”
“I see,” Nelson said. “So just how often does General O’Neill lie to his team leaders before sending them into almost certain danger, Major?”
Hillman stood up. “Your Honor, I object!”
* * * * *
“I am Mo’ac of the White Forest, a free Jaffa under the command of no man. I stand beside my brethren as an equal as we strive together to overthrow the yoke of the false gods.”
“Do you know the accused?”
“I have that honor.”
“Please point to the accused and state his name,” Nelson said.
“Do you not have knowledge of his identity yourself?”
There was a scattering of laughter throughout the room. Jack smiled; apparently Teal’c hadn’t quite been able to explain to Mo’ac everything about taking the stand.
“I uh… of course I… Your Honor?”
“Sir, we know who he is but we have to ascertain for the record that you do as well. Lieutenant Martin over there has to see you point to the accused and hear you say his name so she can enter it in the official record.”
The Jaffa slowly inclined his head. “I have been told of this. She is to inscribe every word I speak.” Mo’ac pointed to Jack. “He is O’Neill of the Tau’ri, warrior-brother to Teal’c of Chulak and friend of all free Jaffa.”
“Let the record show that the witness pointed to the accused when stating his… name.” Nelson moved to stand closer to Mo’ac. “Sir, how did you gain the information that SG-3 had been captured by Olokun?”
“I was given this knowledge by Dur’ok of the Three Rivers, a warrior –”
“Yes… yes, thank you,” Nelson said quickly. “Dur’ok is in Olokun’s service?”
“Dur’ok is a free Jaffa. He has chosen not to reveal his allegiance to our cause so that he may discover information that will aid us in our battle to overthrow the Goa’uld. It is a treacherous path he walks. Should Olokun discover his true belief, Dur’ok would be named a shol’va. He would face torture and death. His wife and children –”
“I think we understand,” Nelson said. “How did Dur’ok pass the information to you?”
“Is this not what I am attempting to explain? You do not let me speak!” Mo’ac turned to the judge. “Is this rudeness to be tolerated?”
“Colonel, a little leeway for the witness might be in order,” Somers said.
“Yes, Your Honor.”
“My apologies, Mo’ac,” Somers said. “Please, continue.”
“It has been arranged for Dur’ok to attempt to reach a specific location at regular intervals. It fell to me to meet him on the last such occasion. Dur’ok informed me that Olokun was believed to have warriors of the Tau’ri in his possession. It was also known to him that Olokun desired an alliance with Ba’al. Dur’ok believed the Tau’ri would be sent to Ba’al as a gesture of Olokun’s good will.” Mo’ac paused and looked at Nelson. “You may speak now,” he said.
Again, there was scattered laughter throughout the room.
“You said Dur’ok believed that Olokun had SG-3. He never saw them himself?”
“Dur’ok does not serve within the walls of Olokun’s palace. He was told of the existence of Tau’ri prisoners by another warrior.”
“So he had no way of knowing for certain if they were alive or dead?”
“If dead they would be of little use to Ba’al,” Mo’ac said, “therefore any warrior, should he have the capability to reason as even the smallest child, would conclude that the prisoners were alive.”
“When you met with SG-9, what did you tell them?”
“I told them what I have spoken here,” Mo’ac said. “Dur’ok believed the missing Tau’ri were being held by Olokun in anticipation of a possible alliance with Ba’al.”
“Those were your exact words?” Nelson asked. “That Dur’ok believed –”
“Ha’taaka! Kegalo!” Mo’ac stood and stepped towards Nelson, who backed away quickly. “Di’dak’dida, ha’shak? Have I not given my oath to speak the truth? You dishonor me! It was done as I have said and in no other way. Mid’cha.” Mo’ac sat back down, still glaring at Nelson.
The attorney straightened his shoulders and smoothed his jacket down with his hands.
“I have no more questions for this witness,” he said, quietly.
General Somers actually smiled as he turned to Hillman. “Do you wish to cross-examine?”
Hillman cleared his throat as he stood up. “No, Your Honor. I have no questions for this witness.”
As Hillman sat back down, Jack whispered, “Smart move.”
“Ya think?” Hillman said, grinning.
“Mo’ac, thank you. You are free to go. As long as this trial continues, do not discuss your testimony or knowledge of the case with anyone except counsel – Colonels Nelson or Hillman,” Somers explained. “If anyone else tries to talk to you about the case, stop them and report the matter to one of the counsel.”
Mo’ac stood and nodded his head once at the judge. “I understand,” he said. “I will not speak of this matter with anyone.” He turned and quickly exited the room.
Somers watched him go before speaking. “Well,” he said lightly, “I think we could all use a little break. We will reconvene at 1530. The members are again reminded not to discuss the case with anyone. Do not consult legal references and avoid any exposure to matters relating to this case. This court-martial is in recess.”
* * * * *
“Colonel Ferretti, when your first reconnaissance of Olokun’s prison revealed that it would be difficult for the rescue party to slip in unnoticed, did General O’Neill ever consider abandoning the mission?”
“We felt we could handle it,” Ferretti said.
“Did anyone suggest you should wait for a better opportunity?” Nelson asked.
“It might have come up. We were just throwing ideas out. You know?”
“Who threw that one out?”
* * * * *
“Colonel, why did you suggest delaying the rescue attempt?”
“What? I…it’s my job,” Carter said, “to present options.”
“Did General O’Neill consider your suggestion?”
“SG-3 was running out of time.”
“But you didn’t know that for certain, did you?” Nelson pushed.
“No,” Carter admitted.
“What did General O’Neill say when you presented the option of delaying the assault on Olokun’s prison?”
“He said it wasn’t necessary. We had the advantage of surprise. We would move in quickly and be out before they knew what was happening.”
* * * * *
“The prosecution calls as its next witness, Senior Airman Jake Bosworth.”
Jack clenched his jaw, trying to remember that Nelson was just doing his job. He knew he shouldn’t hate a man for performing his duty but as the door opened and one of the nurses guided Bosworth’s wheelchair to the front of the room, he had no other word to describe what he felt for the prosecuting attorney.
The young airman had put on his dress jacket over his infirmary scrubs. While Bosworth was sworn in, Jack found himself staring at the bandage-wrapped stump of the man’s right leg. They’d had to amputate just above the knee.
Jack forced himself to meet Bosworth’s gaze as the airman identified him for the record. He was pale, Jack noticed, and there were deep circles under his eyes. Although people changed the subject whenever he around, Jack had overheard Dave Dixon speaking with Griff about the nights when Bosworth woke up screaming.
* * * * *
Jack bumped his door closed with his hip, still slightly amazed that he’d made it all the way to his quarters without someone in tow. Daniel had looked hurt; Carter had said she understood; Teal’c, of course, had said nothing. Hillman had tried to convince him to go over his testimony once again, but Jack had declined.
Jack placed his dinner tray on the desk and unbuttoned his jacket. He slipped it off and tossed it on the bed. The tie followed.
One more day – two at the very most, and it would be over.
* * * * *
“Colonel Hillman, is the defense ready to make its opening statement?”
“Yes, Your Honor.”
“Members of the court, in his opening statement Colonel Nelson told us that Stargate Command is the single-most important military facility in our galaxy. He’s right. There has never been a command like the SGC. There is no military manual… no guide… for the types of situations the men and women of this facility face on a regular basis.”
Hillman walked slowly back and forth in front of the panel members as he spoke.
“At Stargate Command, they have to make it up as they go along because they never know what they might be facing next. General O’Neill was the first… the first to step through the stargate and into the unknown and since that original mission to Abydos he’s been the one that has helped to create the rulebook.”
Hillman paused and turned to look at Jack.
“General O’Neill is the commander of the SGC – not General Hammond, not the Joint Chiefs, and not even the President. Does he have a responsibility to those higher up the chain of command? Of course he does but he also has a duty to the men and women who serve under him and when the fate of the entire planet is at stake there isn’t time to take a committee vote when decisions must be made.
“Time can cost lives.
“Derelict in his duty?” Hillman shook his head. “I think not. General O’Neill understood his duty when nobody else could see the larger picture.” Hillman turned to face the panel members again.
“It was his decision – his command. He did what needed to be done.”
* * * * *
“Colonel Reynolds was confident we would eventually be found,” Satterfield said. “We don’t leave our people behind.”
“Lieutenant, it had been weeks since your capture. You were no longer on P5X-492. What made you think there was any hope of rescue?” Hillman asked.
“General O’Neill wouldn’t have given up on us, sir.”
“Why are you so certain of that?”
Satterfield was silent for a moment and then she shrugged her shoulders. “Because,” she said, “that’s just who he is.”
* * * * *
Peterson glanced down at his plaster-encased arm still supported by a sling. He looked back up at Nelson and frowned.
“Yeah, I broke my arm when we came under attack from the glider,” he said. “But that’s sure as hell better than what Ba’al would have had in mind. Things went bad. It happens. It wasn’t General O’Neill’s fault.”
“Major, the defense counsel had you tell the court about the daring rescue and the valiant battle of survival that took place over the next five days as you tried to evade the enemy. I do have a question, however. How did Olokun’s Jaffa become aware of the presence of the rescue team in the first place?”
“They got lucky.”
“Surely there was more to it than that, Major. What happened after the rescue team located you and released you from your cell?”
“We couldn’t find Colonel Reynolds.”
“What do you mean?” Nelson asked.
“They had moved him,” Peterson explained. “I hadn’t seen him in weeks. Satterfield and Bosco were still in my area. I would hear them from time to time.”
“Let me make sure I understand this, Major. The rescue team had located you, Lieutenant Satterfield, and Major Bosco and nobody had any idea where Colonel Reynolds was being held or even if he was still alive?”
“He was alive, Colonel.”
“What did General O’Neill do when he found out Colonel Reynolds was not being held in the same area as the rest of SG-3?”
“He split us up,” Peterson said. “SG-1 and SG-12 went with General O’Neill to search for Colonel Reynolds. The rest of us made our way out of Olokun’s base. We were to meet up at a rendezvous point.”
“How long did it take to find Colonel Reynolds?”
“Forty minutes,” Peterson answered.
“Before the group split up, had the enemy become aware of the rescue team’s presence?”
“No, sir. They’d had a few encounters but had taken care of them quietly.”
“I ask you again, Major. How did the enemy become aware of the presence of the SGC teams?”
“General O’Neill called us on the radio. He said they’d been spotted as they were extracting Colonel Reynolds. There were too many targets to neutralize without raising an alarm and they were going to make a run for it.”
* * * * *
“Scott Reeves was a good friend,” Bosco said. “I won’t say I haven’t blamed myself over the past few weeks for his death because I have.”
“Do you blame General O’Neill?” Hillman asked.
“No. Scott knew the risks and General O’Neill gave everyone that went on the mission the opportunity to back out.”
* * * * *
“Colonel Reynolds, do you believe that General O’Neill made the right decision?”
“He saved my life and the lives of my team. I’m grateful for that. But you have to understand that he did exactly what any of us would do.”
“He placed a lot of other lives in jeopardy to do so,” Hillman said. “Colonel, the price of your freedom was the deaths of two men and your commanding officer is facing this court-martial. Do you believe General O’Neill made the right decision?”
“I do,” Reynolds replied. “I only hope that if I was in his position I would have the courage to do the same.”
* * * * *
“Major Trask, you were the officer in charge of the pre-trial investigation?”
“Yes, sir. I was.”
“Is this a copy of the report you completed,” Hillman asked, handing her a piece of paper. Trask took it from and looked it over.
“Yes, this is a copy of my report.”
Hillman took the report from Trask. “Your Honor, I’d like to enter this as Defense Exhibit 1,” Hillman said, handing the report to Somers.
Somers examined it briefly. “Let the record reflect that the Investigating Officer’s Report of charges under Article 32(b) of the UCMJ has been entered as Defense Exhibit 1.” He handed the report back to Hillman.
“Major Trask, what were your recommendations for dispensation of the charges made against General O’Neill?”
“I recommended non-judicial punishment on the charge of violation of UCMJ Article 86, Absence Without Leave, including forfeiture of two-thirds of his pay for a period of six months. I found no grounds for the charge of violation of UCMJ Article 92, Failure to Obey a Lawful Order or Regulation.”
“Do you feel that this court-martial is warranted, Major?”
“No, I do not.”
* * * * *
“Mr. Gilmor, why were you temporarily assigned by the President to work at the SGC?”
“President Hayes wanted to get a feel for General O’Neill’s ability to command the program before officially endorsing him.”
“You were acting as the General’s administrative aide?” Hillman asked.
“For how long?”
“I was on the base for five days.”
“And in that time,” Hillman said, “do you feel that you had the opportunity to make a sound and reasonable recommendation to the President regarding General O’Neill’s fitness for this command?”
“What was your recommendation, Mr. Gilmor?”
“General O’Neill is more than capable of commanding the SGC. I’ll grant you… his approach to problem-solving is, at times, rather unique… but working in this place you don’t exactly run into the ordinary types of problems. Given his history with the Stargate program, there is no one more qualified to serve as its commander.”
* * * * *
“The defense calls Brigadier General John J. O’Neill to the stand.”
Jack stood and walked to the witness chair. Colonel Nelson stood and approached him.
“Do you swear that the statements you give in this case now in hearing shall be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?”
“I do,” Jack said.
“Please state your name, organization, grade, station and branch of service for the record.”
“Brigadier General John J. O’Neill of the United States Air Force, grade O7, commander of Stargate Command at the Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station.”
Nelson sat down and Colonel Hillman took his place in front of Jack.
“General O’Neill, you aren’t required to make a statement before this court, are you?”
“No, I am not.”
“Why did you ask to be allowed to make a statement?”
“Because a man should be willing to stand behind his actions.”
“What is that you wish to tell the members of this court?” Hillman asked.
“All this talk about who is to blame and what orders were or were not given and was this or that decision the right one at the right time and none of it can change anything that happened,” Jack said. “I did what I felt was best given the circumstances at the time. I make no claim to being perfect… or infallible.
“I regret the deaths of Captain Reeves and Major Pierce and the injury to Airman Bosworth.”
Jack paused, staring down at his hands for a long moment before looking up again. “In my years at the SGC I’ve seen many good men and women injured or killed in the line of duty and I can assure you that it never gets easier to bear.”
Jack shifted his attention to the panel members. He saw a few of them nodding in agreement.
“As hard as it is to live with the knowledge that I gave orders that sent good men to their deaths, it would be far worse had I done nothing at all. It’s not the ones that come back on stretchers or in body bags that haunt me.
“It’s the ones that never come back at all.”
Jack shook his head.
“I couldn’t just abandon SG-3 without at least trying to bring them home.”
Jack shrugged. “That’s all I wanted to say.”
“Colonel Nelson, does the prosecution wish to cross-examine?”
“Yes, Your Honor,” Nelson said, standing. He crossed the room and stood in front of Jack.
“That was very eloquent, General O’Neill. I just have one question for you, if you don’t mind?”
“Only one?” Jack asked, unable to stop himself.
“Well, perhaps not,” Nelson admitted. “Why don’t I ask the question and we’ll find out together?”
“Fine,” Jack said. “Ask your question.
“When you told Sergeant Davis to take a message and stepped through the Stargate, did you believe at that moment that your career in the United States Air Force was at its end?”
“Yes, I did.”
“Thank you, General. I have no further questions.”
“Do wish to redirect, Colonel Hillman,” Somers asked.
“Yes, Your Honor,” Hillman answered. He stood up but remained at the table. “General O’Neill, would you make the same decision if you had it to do over again?”
“I would,” Jack said.
“Your Honor, the defense rests.”
* * * * *
“Daniel, sit down,” Jack ordered.
“Why are they taking so long?”
“It’s been less than two hours,” Hillman said. “I doubt they’ll come back with findings today.”
“This is crazy,” Daniel said.
“Look,” Jack said. “I want it over more than anyone but wearing a hole in the carpet isn’t going to make it happen any faster.”
“Colonel, do you think they’ll find in his favor?” Carter asked.
“Nothing is certain,” Hillman told her. “But I feel pretty good about it. We wanted the members to understand that the SGC is not your everyday operation.”
“How hard a concept could that be for them to get?” Daniel said, from the far side of the room. “We travel to other planets every day!” He turned and walked back towards the group.
Jack stood up and blocked his path.
Daniel stopped short. “What?” he asked.
Jack placed his hands on Daniel’s shoulders, turned him to the left, and steered him backwards until he was standing in front of a chair.
“I… said… sit.” He pushed down until Daniel flopped into the chair. Jack raised one finger as a warning. “Now… don’t move.” Jack sat down again and turned to Hillman. “You were saying?”
“I was saying that I think the members realize that normal rules don’t always apply around here.”
“Colonel Hillman,” Teal’c said. “Will our presence be allowed when the members announce their findings?”
“Yes, you can all be there. From what I’ve seen though, you’d better arrive early if you want a seat.”
* * * * *
Jack tugged on his sweatpants and pulled the drawstring tight. He picked up his dress uniform on its hangar from off of his bed and returned it to his closet. If all went well tomorrow, he could be back in his BDUs before lunch.
If it didn’t go well, he’d be in civvies permanently.
Hillman had been right; the members hadn’t finished their deliberations.
Jack wished he was as confident of the final outcome as everyone thought he was but he couldn’t hide the doubts from himself.
Jack pulled back the covers on his bed and sat down on the edge.
There was no use worrying about it. He’d done what he could.
It was out of his hands now.
* * * * *
Jack turned around, taking in the sight of the packed room. It was standing room only. All of the SGC personnel who had been called as witnesses had managed to find a spot. Nobody who had been excluded from the trial seemed to be willing to miss the announcement of findings.
SG-1 was seated in the first row, along with Major Trask who was sitting right behind him.
“Good luck, General,” she said, smiling.
“Thank you,” he said.
Somers entered and took his place.
“The court-martial will come to order,” Somers ordered.
“All parties and members and the military judge are present,” Nelson announced.
“Have the members reached findings?” Somers asked.
The Marine major general stood up. “We have, Your Honor.”
“Are the findings on Appellate Exhibit 6?”
“Colonel Nelson, without examining it, would you please bring me Appellate Exhibit 6?
The major general handed Nelson the folded slip of paper. Nelson handed it to the judge and stepped away while Somers opened and read it.
“I have examined Appellate Exhibit 6. It appears to be in proper form. Please return it to the president.”
Nelson retrieved the paper and carried it back the marine.
“General O’Neill, would you and your counsel stand up please.”
Jack and Hillman stood and faced the members of the panel.
“Would the panel president announce the findings please.”
Jack pulled himself even straighter, his heart hammering in his chest.
“Brigadier General John J. O’Neill,” the Marine said, “this court-martial finds you not guilty of all charges and specifications.”
The room exploded in a burst of noise as the men and women of the SGC voiced their unanimous approval.
General Somers indulged the celebration for a few moments before calling for order.
“Please be seated.”
Jack and Hillman sat down as the room quieted.
“This court thanks the members for their time and their service,” Somers said. “This court-martial is closed.”
* * * * *
Jack stopped as he reached his office door.
Brig. Gen. J. O’Neill – the nameplate seemed to somehow glow in the fluorescent lighting. He reached up with his right hand and ran his fingers across its surface.
The door opened and he jerked his hand back, startled.
“Good morning, General!”
“Hello, Walter,” Jack replied. “Got here early again, I see.”
“Yes, sir. Today’s schedule is on your desk. You have a meeting at 0100 with Colonel Jameson from Area 51 but you’re clear until then. You do still have to finish those evaluations.”
“Thank you,” Jack said. He stepped into his office and couldn’t help glancing around. Everything was in place.
He sat down, slightly amazed at the relief he felt.
He’d never thought he’d miss being a desk jockey.
“It’s good to have you back, General.”
Jack looked up at Walter who was still standing in the doorway.
“I appreciate that, Walter,” Jack said.
“Sir, permission to speak freely?”
“Of course,” Jack replied.
“Respectfully, sir,” Walter said, “don’t you ever do anything like that do me again!”
* * * * *
* * * * *
Translations of Mo’ac’s outburst on the witness stand (My thanks to Denise, Morjana, and Arnise for the Goa’uld dictionary on Jackfic.com!):
“Ha’taaka! [expletive] Kegalo! [silence]” Mo’ac stood and stepped towards Nelson, who backed away quickly. “Di’dak’dida [you dare], ha’shak [fool]? Have I not given my oath to speak the truth? You dishonor me! It was done as I have said and in no other way. Mid’cha [pay attention].” Mo’ac sat back down, still glaring at Nelson.
* * * * *
Time Frame: Season eight
Pairings: Gen only. No ship.
Summary: General Jack is court-martialed for something. Disobeying orders to protect a team would be good – and not necessarily SG-1 because he could be accused of bias. Maybe SG-1 are mere helpless spectators to what Jack decides to do? And I suppose they’d have to do the court-martial at the SGC, because of the secrecy of the base and its goings on; so everyone on the base would know what’s happening and be able to show their support. Or non-support!
Notes: Please make the story to be as authentic as possible.