Disparities – Part II

Episode 11

Written by SGC Gategirl and Charli Booker

Authors: SGC Gategirl and Charli Booker
Status: Complete
Rating: 15+
Category: Angst, action/adventure, drama
Summary: Negotiations between the Tok'ra, Free Jaffa and Tau'ri heat up when the SGC finds itself playing host to an assassin, particularly when that assassin has only one aim in mind—the killing of General O'Neill.
Spoilers: Everything up to the end of S8, plus the first half of VS9.
Warnings: Child abuse
Authors' Notes:

SGC Gategirl: Well, it took a while, but it got done. Woohoo. Thanks to Charli for her sanity while I ended up running all over creation and trying to write at the same time. Also, thanks to the beta readers. You all must be saints. Well kids, we've hit the halfway mark. It's all downhill from here…

Charli Booker: Many thanks to Dee and to Team VS9.  Who knew being a 'groupie' could be such fun?

Archive: Jackfic. Otherwise, do not archive without the author's express permission.
Disclaimer: The characters mentioned in this story are the property of Sci Fi and Gekko Film Corp. The Stargate, SG-I, the Goa'uld and all other characters who have appeared in the series STARGATE SG-1 together with the names, titles, and back story are the sole copyright property of MGM-UA Worldwide Television, Gekko Film Corp, Glassner/Wright Double Secret Productions, and Stargate SG-I Prod. Ltd. Partnership. This fanfic is not intended as an infringement upon those rights and solely meant for entertainment. All other characters, the story idea, and the story itself are the sole property of the authors.
 

Disparities — Part Two
By SGC Gategirl and Charli Booker


"Let it be an alliance of two large, formidable natures, mutually beheld, mutually feared, before yet they recognize the deep identity which beneath these disparities unites them."
—Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Friendship,” Essays, First Series

 

*~*~*

"Was?" Gregor Weisz sleepily grumbled into the phone.

As the grating voice on the other end of the line began to tell him exactly 'what,' Gregor opened his eyes to pitch black. Blinking away sleep, he squinted at the clock on the nightstand. 9:47 glared crassly back at him in glowing red. Despite the fact it was morning, the room was dark and he was still tired. It had been a late night, and with the drapes drawn, he could have easily slept another two hours.

The heavily accented voice pulling him back to the moment at hand, Gregor rolled away from the warm body against which he'd been spooned. As he waited for the Frenchman to finish his diatribe, he eased his long legs over the side of the bed and stared at a vertical sliver of light running the length of the blue velvet curtains. Suppressing a shiver, he pressed the soles of his feet together and pulled the comforter over his legs. "This is an unsecured line," he mumbled as the disgruntled caller finally ground to a halt.

"You think I do not know that?"

Squeezing his cell phone in a tight fist, Gregor forced a calmness he did not feel into his voice. "When did this occur?"

"Less than two hours ago."

There was no need to ask where Favre had gotten his information. The mere fact the man was calling him with the news, instead of the other way around, meant Gregor's own contact was going to be the recipient of a severe reprimand. "And you are certain he is not dead?"

He held the phone away from his ear as Favre angrily yelled, "Of course, I am certain! Why else would I contact you?"

Why, indeed. As his wife shifted in her sleep, Gregor sighed and reached back to affectionately pat her hip. "How badly is he injured?"

"What does it matter?" Favre replied more calmly. "The fact remains, we were guaranteed the…assignment would be a success."

"Yes, but—"

"I am holding you responsible."

"Me?"

"You made the arrangements. You—"

"We were all in agreement," Gregor hissed, interrupting the snide Frenchman.

"True. But, you are the one who convinced us to go with her."

Gregor scrubbed a hand through his hair. He should have known. "She is the best there is. Trust me."

"Trust you?" Favre snorted derisively, and Gregor suddenly wondered if the woman they'd hired was available for another hit. Despite the fact she'd apparently botched the assignment, he'd still be willing to give up his apartment in Nuremburg if it meant he could afford even a shot at arranging for the assassination of Fernand Favre. No political motivations this time; it was strictly personal. "Trust you...," Favre repeated. "Trust me—you alone will be held responsible. I have already spoken with the others and it is unanimous: if word of this gets out, you are on your own."

"Why am I not surprised?"

With a sharp, French huff of disgust, the connection was broken. The phone still pressed to his ear, Gregor silently stared at the expensive drapes. As with many other things here in Munich and in Nuremburg, they were yet to be paid for. Sometimes, these trappings of privilege weighed like a millstone around his neck, threatening to tow him under international waters teeming with like-minded power-mongers. He lowered the phone to his lap. Just when things had been coming together….

"Was ist los?" Rica carelessly mumbled from under a mound of down-filled comforter. 'What's the matter?'

Exhaustion deadening his limbs, Gregor lay down and snuggled tightly around his wife's familiar form. "Es nichts, meine liebe." He tucked the covers over her smooth shoulder and lowered his face into the perfumed strands of her soft hair. "Es nichts," he reassured her. 'It is nothing.'

*~*~*

She'd been dreaming, and in her dream, the sirens had blared but her father had been alive. He'd been wearing the blue suit they'd buried him in. The only suit he'd ever owned. And he'd been smiling at her. The early smile—the smile that said he'd always be there, that no one and nothing could possibly harm his only child as long as he walked the face of the Earth. The first smile. Not the later one. Not the one that had whispered of possession and lust and unconscionable secrets. Not the one aimed at the seduction, the destruction of a child.

Amy gasped and sat up, disturbing a strange darkness. She wasn't sure where she was, but she wasn't home. At home, even in the middle of the night when she was awakened from her dreams, her condominium was open and bright. A sprawling, urban space on the thirtieth floor of a refurbished apartment building, her home consisted of high ceilings, tall windows, and broad vistas. Like many things in her life, it had been painstakingly designed to hold back the lurking demons. But this? She shivered and lay back down on a too-hard mattress, curling her long frame into a fetal ball. This space was oppressive and confined. Coffin-like, it squeezed the life from her.

She flinched at the sharp rap of something—a buckle perhaps—striking a metal surface. Pressing her face into the cradle of her curled form, her lips silently formed the words to a childhood chant fashioned long ago for protection.

"Miss Chao?"

Panting nervously, Amy frowned at the soft voice.

"Ma'am?"

Slowly, cautiously, she lifted her head and stared into the surrounding blackness. Blindly, she stretched out a hand and felt the smooth surface of a bedside table, a book, the cool base of a lamp. Protecting her eyes with her other hand, she flipped the switch and squinted at flat gray walls and meager furnishings.

Stargate Command. Secrets buried far beneath the surface of the Earth…just like her father.

The rapping returned, emanating from the steel door located ten feet away across a bare, cement floor. Without hesitation, Amy gracefully uncoiled herself and padded barefoot across the room, cracking open the door to reveal a handsome, young Airman.

He ducked his head, smiling politely. "I'm sorry to disturb you, ma'am, but Colonel Reynolds requests your presence in General O'Neill's office."

"What—" Stopping, Amy frowned as she realized she was seeing lights swirling through the hallway. She brushed away the image of a row of police cars and a single ambulance parked outside a middle class, suburban home. "What time is it?"

The Airman glanced at his watch. "It's just shy of two in the morning."

She nodded, her thoughts still muddled by sleep and the past. "Did you say Colonel Reynolds?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"What's going on?"

"I'm sorry, Miss Chao," the Airman said, his gaze drifting downward, "but if you could get dressed, I'll take you to the Colonel."

Amy followed the Airman's eyes and glanced down at her long, bare legs. Schooling her features, she smiled. "I'll be right with you." Closing the door, she wondered what had happened and tried to remember if she'd met a Colonel Reynolds.

*~*~*

Major Warren Ellis trotted through the empty streets of the Ancient city, Captain Chad Peterson at his side. Captain Edmund Bosco and Senior Airman Simon Wells were exploring another, similar road about a quarter of a mile away.

At first, he'd been elated to discover the city—standing distinct from the landscape, its tall, thin, white spires arching over the tops of the trees, clearly visible from the steps of the Stargate. It was beautiful, the sun's rays reflecting off of the towers, a brilliant jewel amongst the green.

But after several hours—several long hours—he wasn't so sure this had been a good idea.

It was a dead city. Whatever—or whoever—had lived here was long gone. There was no breeze, the air a lukewarm temperature hovering somewhere between dry and humid. The sun was shining brightly, no clouds marring the purple-tinted sky. Vegetation was abundant, but had yet to encroach on the ruins of the city, as if the very stone and steel kept the foliage at bay. Maybe the Ancients had discovered a new high-tech method of weeding. His wife would be happy if that were the case. Apart from the coloring of the sky and the dead city, Ellis wouldn't have minded spending time on the planet.

The silence, however, was unnerving. With the city in such good shape, he half-expected someone to step out from a doorway and offer a greeting. He could almost hear the laughter of children, hear the voices of conversations long past, and feel the presence of a vast people.

What had happened here? Why had they gone? What had made the Ancients abandon this beautiful city?

"See anything, Peterson?" he asked, his eyes scanning the structures around them, fighting down the feeling they were trespassing where they didn't belong.

"Nothing, sir," the other man replied, glancing over his shoulder. "Do you feel like you're being watched?"

Ellis' head turned, eyeing the Lieutenant. "What do you mean?"

Peterson sighed, shaking his head before glancing back. "It's just that I've never seen a city so…complete that wasn't teeming with people. It's like they all just picked up and left. I'm used to following one of the archeologists as they run over piles of rocks and ruins. This," he said, his hand gesturing wide, "is not normal."

"Normal?"

Peterson smiled. "You know what I mean."

"I do," Ellis said, returning the smile as his eyes slid back to the silent buildings around them as if their walls could tell them the secrets uttered a very long time ago. His mind, however, continued to go back to the reason for their trek. "But why were the Tok'ra here? What were they doing? What did they find?"

"Even if they found something, I don't think they could do anything about it. Besides the gates and the rings, I don't think I've seen any other kind of Ancient technology the Tok'ra could use effectively."

"I agree," Ellis said nodding, a sense of foreboding settling over his mind. "But what if they did this time? If they came running to the SGC, it can't be good."

"Another weapon?" Peterson suggested, his forehead furrowed in concentration.

Ellis shook his head. "No. They'd keep that to themselves."

"Well, they didn't exactly tell us about this planet either."

"True."

"Actually, the Tok'ra don't share anything. But this time, it was different. It's like they were scared, worried." Peterson frowned, the hand gripping his P90 tightening. "They found something, that's for sure."

"But what?"

"Whatever it is, we need to figure it out—fast."

*~*~*

His heart hammering madly in his chest, Colonel Gary Reynolds placed the telephone handset back on its base and settled himself in the unfamiliar chair. Dammit…his hands were trembling. Of course, it wasn't every day someone tried to kill your commanding officer in his own office and you had to personally brief the President of the United States on the incident. Nervously shifting his weight, Reynolds ignored the ominous creaking of O'Neill's leather office chair and averted his eyes from the fresh stains on the carpet.

"Colonel?"

He glanced up at the tired looking man standing in the open doorway. "What is it, Sergeant?"

"Miss Chao is here to see you, sir," Harriman quietly informed him.

"Send her in."

"Yes, sir." Walter turned to go.

"And Sergeant," Reynolds said, causing the other man to stop and look back at him.

"Yes, sir?"

Reynolds smiled. "Go to bed."

"I don't thi—"

"Walter, you're exhausted. There's nothing more you can do here. Get some sleep. That's an order."

Hesitantly, reluctantly, the Sergeant nodded. "Yes, sir."

Staring at the door through which the man left, it dawned on Reynolds just how broad-reaching tonight's events would be. It was true Jack O'Neill had made lots of enemies through the years, but he'd also made a lot of friends. Despite how anyone felt about the man, Gary imagined a lot of people would lose sleep tonight over what had happened to the General.

"Colonel Reynolds?"

Gary flinched, suddenly aware the woman from Washington was standing in the spot recently vacated by Sergeant Harriman. When he met her gaze, she smiled. He knew she'd been sound asleep mere minutes ago, but you'd never know it by looking at her. Her dark hair was neatly pulled back from an attractive face, and she was dressed much as she had been when he'd seen her earlier in the day—in tailored slacks, silk blouse, and wool jacket. Envying her composure, he wondered if she always looked unruffled.

Standing, Reynolds motioned her to an empty chair in front of the desk. "Miss Chao, I apologize for the lateness of the hour."

Pulling her eyes from the dark, damp patches on the carpet, Amy Chao frowned and took a seat. "What's happened?"

Reynolds cleared his throat and resumed his place behind O'Neill's desk. "That's why I called you here. Sometime between zero and oh-one-hundred hours this morning, General O'Neill was attacked."

Initially, the only sign she'd heard him was a slight paling of her smooth skin. Mere seconds later, her lips parted as if she would speak, but she remained silent. As he watched, her left hand tightened on the arm of the chair and her eyes briefly drifted back to the bloodstained floor.

"He was attacked," she finally said, forcing her eyes back on him.

Reynolds nodded. "Doctor Jackson found him."

"Was he…"

"Killed?" Gary grimaced and rubbed a hand across his forehead. "No, thank God."

"So," releasing the arm of the chair, Amy smoothed her hands across her slacks, "he's okay."

"Does that look 'okay' to you?" he snapped, indicating the wet carpet.

Amy blushed and immediately shook her head. "No. No, it doesn't. I'm…I'm sorry, Colonel. It's just, this is such a shock."

Reynolds sighed. "No, I'm sorry, Miss Chao. I'm tired, I'm pissed, and I'm out of line."

"So," Amy offered him a conciliatory smile, "how is he?"

"I'm still waiting for an update from Doctor Warner, but from what I saw as they wheeled him out of here…well, it didn't look good."

"I spoke to General O'Neill right before I left the reception. If he was attacked shortly after midnight, it couldn't have been more than ten or fifteen minutes after I left."

"According to Doctor Jackson, Colonel Carter, and members of the cleaning crew, he left shortly after you did. Alone."

"And no one saw or heard anything?"

"No. Not even Sergeant Harriman who'd been sitting at the desk in the briefing room. The Sergeant spoke to O'Neill then left on an errand. He was gone less than five minutes. Apparently, that's when the attacker struck"

Amy frowned. "I don't understand. How could someone get in this office without being seen? There are video cameras all over the base."

"Yes, but the one in the hallway outside this office was apparently disabled earlier this evening. We're still reviewing the footage trying to determine the exact time that occurred."

Without speaking, Amy glanced up at the camera mounted inside the office over the door.

Reynolds smiled and shook his head. "It was disconnected long ago." In answer to her unspoken question, he continued. "The business conducted in this office, the conversations held—they're off the scale of 'top-secret,' Miss Chao. This is considered sacred ground."

"Obviously, someone doesn't think so."

"Obviously."

"So, now what?"

"Now?" Gary sighed. "Now, we determine who did it."

"How? The killer is probably long gone."

"The would-be killer is here," he assured her. "The mountain was immediately shut down. No one in or out. And, the last person to log out did so at twenty-three forty-seven. At the very least, thirteen minutes before the attack, not counting the time it takes to get from here to the surface. No," he shook his head. "The attacker is here. And, we'll find him. Or her," he added.

"And the treaty negotiations?"

"On hold for now. But, I still need your assistance."

"For?"

Reynolds smiled and nodded toward the window looking into the briefing room. Amy turned and glanced out. Bra'tac and Thoran were seating themselves at the conference table under the watchful eyes of Teal'c and three heavily armed security guards. Miss Chao swung back around and studied him.

"You think one of them orchestrated the attempt," she stated doubtfully.

"Perhaps 'orchestrated' is a bit strong. But, do I think one of their people did it?" Gary shrugged. "It's the obvious choice."

"A bit too obvious."

"Maybe. But, it's a good place to start. To begin with, I want to know the whereabouts of every single Jaffa and Tok'ra during the hour leading up to and the hour following the attack on O'Neill."

"And you want me to help you interrogate them."

He stared at her. "You've read the files, ma'am, and I'm pretty sure you're not stupid."

"Thank you," she grinned.

Ignoring her, he continued. "That being said, I'm sure you must realize there's a lot more going on here than meets the eye." When she didn't respond, Gary pushed himself upright and waved a hand toward the door. "Shall we?"

*~*~*

Captain Bosco was tired and hungry—never a good combination. He'd teamed up with Wells to survey the Ancient city and it was starting to give him the creeps. Peering into several windows, he saw chairs pushed away from tables, their surfaces covered with dust, a look of orderliness and careful abandon. In one window, he spotted a single garment hanging from a hook on the wall, a pair of shoes carefully aligned on the floor beneath. How they were still in such good condition was a question he'd like answered. They were from thousands of years ago, but looked as if they were just picked up at Target a week ago.

It was as if they'd just left everything behind, walking away in the middle of a Sunday afternoon. How someone could walk away from an afternoon brunch was beyond him, but that was immaterial at this point.

"So, Wells," Bosco said, pointing toward the rounded building the street was leading to, "what do you think is behind door number one?"

The Captain shrugged, his eyes narrowing as he studied the structure in the distance. "It could be anything."

"Thank you, Captain Obvious," Bosco replied, sarcasm dripping from his words, the casual banter belying the combat readiness they exhibited, their weapons drawn as they surveyed the area. "I mean, this road along with several others seem to end at that building. What could it be? City hall? Governmental offices?"

"Maybe," Wells replied, nodding slightly. "If we follow that line of thinking, it could be any kind of public building. It could be a train station, for all we know."

"But, if it's a public building, we should be able to get some kind of information from it. Even if it's a train station, maybe there are maps, signs, or newspapers of a sort—something so we can try to figure out when they left and where they might have gone." Bosco did a quick survey of the nearest building, returning to the middle of the street a few beats later after confirming it was yet another empty, deserted home. "It's not like we can get a whole lot of information from these small houses. We need to find the big buildings."

"Like that one," Wells said, pointing with the end of his P90.

"Exactly," Bosco replied, smiling. They scouted several more buildings, their steps drawing them closer to the end of the street. Nothing was out of place, nothing different from the houses and buildings before. The only thing changing was his hunger. He'd been pulled away from a turkey sandwich in the commissary and he had yet to get something decent to eat since.

And, the protein bars littering his pack were cardboard. He was sure of it, even though the ingredients list tried to convince him otherwise. He really needed to complain to the General when they got back. There were some protein bars out there that actually tasted like something. For some reason, wet cardboard wasn't on his list of culinary delights.

"Wells, do you have anything in that pack besides MREs?"

"Yes…" he began, his tone guarded. "What are you looking for?"

"A granola bar, chocolate, anything. I'm about ready to gnaw my arm off."

"Now?"

"Do you see anyone else here? Would you rather I start with your arm? It looks meaty."

Wells smiled and nodded. "I have some homemade trail mix—M&Ms, peanuts, and raisins. Want some of that?"

"Yes, please. You can have my firstborn."

"Thanks, but no. Right now, one is enough." Wells paused, turning so his backpack faced Bosco. "It's in the outside pocket. Just reach in and grab it."

He rooted around, finding the Ziploc bag quickly. Closing the pocket, he patted Wells on the shoulder and they resumed walking down the street, Bosco's P90 dangling from the clip on his vest, his fingers already deep in the bag.

"So, how's little Janet doing?"

"Very busy. Keeps both of us on our toes."

"And yet, you continue to do this."

"Do what?" Wells asked, turning to look at the Major.

"This," Bosco replied around a mouthful of peanuts, waving his free hand. "The whole job, the danger, the off-world missions. Shouldn’t you be home with a nice desk job so you can raise your family? You should leave the dangerous stuff to us confirmed bachelors."

"You know the answer, Bosco. I couldn't stop doing this any more than you could. Once I knew what was happening out here, what we are fighting for…" Wells shook his head, "I couldn’t just walk away. General Hammond talked to me after I was injured, told me I could leave the program if I wanted, but that was the last thing on my mind."

Bosco nodded, his mouth full. The silence between then stretched out to match the sound of the city surrounding them, the white building arching up on either side, their tall, white spires a striking contrast to the purple-hued sky.

They walked until they reached the steps leading up to the entrance to the large building, Bosco popping the last handful of trail mix into his mouth before zipping the plastic bag closed. He reached around to tuck it back into Well's pack.

"So, what do you think?" Bosco asked after washing down the snack with a sip from his canteen.

"I think we should see what's inside."

"If we can get in," he replied, already heading up the stairs. When they reached the entrance, Bosco only expected to be able to look in the windows before possibly forcing open one of the glass-paneled doors in order to get inside. Instead, the doors slid aside, welcoming the two men to the darkened interior. The movement startled them, stopping both of them in their tracks.

"Did those…" Bosco started, his gun held tightly in his hands.

"They did."

"How?"

"Don't know."

"See anything?"

"No. You?"

"Nothing."

"We go in?"

"Sure. We’ve lived this long," Bosco replied, moving forward as he flicked on the light on his P90, illuminating the darkness within.

As soon as his foot crossed the threshold into the building, however, the lights in the foyer started to rise, the gradual increase in illumination making him pause. "Did I do that?"

"What did you touch?"

"Nothing…yet." He paused, surveying the area. Not seeing anything threatening, he decided to continue. "I'm moving in."

"Understood," Wells replied, his tone all business. Bosco knew the other man was watching his back, making sure nothing bad happened to it. It was comforting, especially as he took more steps into the alien building and the lights continued to brighten with every step, flooding a larger and larger area.

"Do you see that, too?"

"Affirmative," Wells replied. "It's almost as if the building knows we're here."

"A smart building? Come on."

"We have sensors that open doors. Why can't aliens have ones that turn on the lights?"

Bosco shrugged noncommittally. "Anything?"

"Nothing's jumping out at me, if that's what you're asking," Wells said, and Bosco could hear the other man's grin in the tone of his voice. A quick glance over his shoulder and he caught a glimpse of the smirk on Well's face before he turned to survey another part of the building's foyer.

They proceeded deeper into the structure, the doors swooshing closed behind them, the brightening lights throughout the ground floor enabling them to see hallways branching out in several directions and a series of monitors and tables in the center of the cavernous room. A flicker on one of the screens drew Wells' attention.

"What do we have here?" he said, his voice coming from several feet to Bosco's left.

Turning, his weapon aimed, his finger poised and his whole body prepared for danger, Bosco spotted the other man hovering over one of the flat tables, Wells' eyes jumping between the screen in front of him and the surface below his hands. "What?"

"I think this is an interface of some kind," Wells replied, glancing over his shoulder as Bosco approached.

"An interface?" As the Major drew closer, he could see that Wells was standing before a huge console of some kind, not a table like he'd first thought.

"Yeah. It reminds me of a huge computer interface, but I've never seen anything remotely like this."

"Me, either," Bosco said, his eyes roaming through the now brightly lit room. "Did you touch anything?"

"Not yet."

"Don't. I think Ellis and Peterson should see this." At Wells' nod, Bosco clicked the call button of his radio twice before speaking. "Bosco to Ellis, do you copy?"

The reply came almost immediately, the Major's voice sounding small through the radio's speaker. "Ellis here, Captain. What've you got?"

"We reached the end of the street and decided to enter one of the bigger buildings, sir, and it looks like we've found some sort of computer interface."

"And?" The tone of warning was clear even at this distance.

"And, no, we didn't touch it, but everything came on as soon as we entered the room."

"Okay," Ellis replied after a brief pause. "Peterson and I are nearing the end of the block and it looks like the street is dead-ending into a huge building. Where are you exactly?"

"Inside that structure, sir. The doors should open as you approach."

"We'll be there in five. And Bosco?"

"Yes, sir?"

"Don't touch anything else."

Bosco turned back to Wells who'd started walking around the room while he was on the radio with Ellis. "Did you hear?"

"Loud and clear. You usually have a problem with touching things, I take it?"

"Not exactly," Bosco admitted as he began making his own circle around the room, their voices getting louder the farther they ventured from each other. "Colonel Reynolds tends to be just like the General when it comes to alien artifacts and technology, not that we always listen."

Wells' chuckle filtered across the room. "All SG teams have the same problem, I think. Why is it that we all want to play with the stuff we find, whether we know what it does or not?"

"Gadget geeks?"

"Maybe," Wells agreed. "Either that or we all have a death wish."

"There's only one problem with that."

"Oh?"

"We're not the General or Doctor Jackson. Those two seem to have more lives than cats." Bosco paused, glancing out the glass doors far to the right of where they entered. "I think I see them."

"Already?"

"Yeah. They must have been closer than they thought."

"Either that or Ellis figured the something you touched might blow up in less than five minutes," Wells joked.

"Very funny." The Captain shook his head, looking back to watch the other man make his way back toward the center of the room.

Wells shrugged. "I tell it like I see it."

"Remind me to talk to the General when we get back."

"Why?"

"So he doesn't assign you to our unit on a temporary basis. I don't think I can take this kind of abuse," Bosco said as he heard the swoosh of opening doors. Turning, he watched his other team members walk into the room with their weapons held high and their eyes scanning the interior. They relaxed a few beats later when they caught sight of Bosco and Wells walking to meet them.

"What did you find?" Ellis asked as he maneuvered through the room, his eyes glancing at the various tables, screens, and consoles littering the room, the majority of them near the center. Bosco pointed toward the screen Wells had discovered—it seemed to be the only active one in the room. He let the Major lead the way.

"It looks like some kind of computer or control console in my opinion, sir," Wells said, glancing over his shoulder as the three men followed him.

"An Ancient computer?" Peterson asked and Bosco could imagine the Captain's brown eyes lighting up in anticipation. Chad wasn't partial; he loved any kind of technology he could get his hands on.

"But, you said everything turned on when you entered the room?" Ellis asked.

"Yes," Bosco replied, glancing over his shoulder toward the Major. "As soon as we approached the doors, they opened. The lights came up as we stepped inside. Some of the screens were already active. We didn't have to touch anything this time, sir."

A light sigh was Ellis' only reply. A few seconds later, Wells stopped in front of the console that had grabbed this attention.

"This was the screen that was active, sir," Wells reported, his wide hand gesture taking in the entire console and display. Bosco didn't think he could get used to these see-through screens though.

Ellis paused beside Wells, his eyes crawling over everything, his hands tightly gripping his P90. "Do we have any idea what it does?"

"No, sir," Wells replied.

"Okay, we're going to need to get another team here, preferably with someone that can read Ancient," Ellis said, his mind obviously already making plans.

"You might want someone who can use Ancient technology ,too," Peterson said, his voice thoughtful.

Bosco glanced at the Captain, his eyebrow raised. "We should be able to use most of this stuff, no?"

Chad shook his head. "I'm not sure. A lot of Ancient technology reacts fine to non-blended humans, but there are certain systems that can only be run by Ancients—or those who have their gene." Peterson paused, his forehead scrunching. "Whatever the Tok'ra were able to get out of these systems had to be minimal, but it must have been enough to get them worried, or at the very least, desperate enough to talk to us. If we can get into the systems they can't access, we'd have an advantage."

"I agree," Ellis replied, nodding. "Peterson, you and Bosco head to the gate and report in. Ask the General to send whoever he can. If he could pull himself away from the talks, I'm sure he'd jump at the chance to gate here himself. This city is amazing and nearly all of it's intact."

"I’ll make the suggestion, sir," Peterson replied, already moving toward the door. Bosco followed, his mind already thinking about the hike they had ahead of them and glad he'd gotten a little snack. Maybe he could ask them to bring some sandwiches through at the same time. Maybe.

"Good. Wells and I will continue to explore. Radio in as soon as you get an answer from the SGC."

"Yes, sir," Peterson said, a smile on his face. "Who knows, maybe General O'Neill will be with us when we get back. He'd use any kind of excuse to get himself away from those treaty negotiations."

Ellis' chuckle was echoed by the other men. "That's the truth, Captain. He'd use any excuse to avoid diplomatic talks with anyone—even more so when it involves the Tokr'a and the Jaffa."

*~*~*

Tired of pacing, Daniel ducked into the nearest men's room. His purpose was twofold—he found the heavy contingency of security forces roaming the hallways disconcerting, and watching Sam gnaw on her fingernails was just not as entertaining as one might think. Besides, his hands still felt sticky. For the third time in less than an hour, he strolled to the sink and lathered up. Biting his lower lip, trying not to think about what might be happening with Jack just down the hall, Daniel scrubbed. When the flesh of his hands began to turn pink and tender, he rinsed with scalding water, reached for a handful of paper towels, and caught sight of himself in the mirror.

God, he looked like crap. He was still wearing the black suit he'd worn throughout the negotiations yesterday. After nearly twenty-four hours, it was rumpled and limp, sagging wearily against his tall frame. The tie—a birthday gift from Teal'c two years ago—had long since been loosened and tossed aside somewhere. He wasn't sure where.

His eyes looked like watery blue beads shot through with red veins, and his skin and lips were as pale as alabaster. He'd never realized flesh could look so tired. His hair, too, appeared exhausted, draped limp and lifeless as a shroud over his head. Not even his smudged glasses were immune as they perched crookedly on his nose.

Glancing at his aching hands, Daniel opened tight fists he'd formed without realizing it. He stared down at the half-moon shapes which his fingernails had gouged into his palms and was reminded of dentate—a type of pottery decoration made by pressing toothed bone or wood or stone into wet clay. It was an apt analogy, because right now, he felt about as fragile as an ancient vessel; he felt like a poor replica of himself.

Closing his eyes, shutting out the harshness of the fluorescent lights, the mirror and his own weary image, Daniel was once again assaulted by the vision of Jack sprawled like a dead man on the floor of his office. He smelled the unmistakable, coppery odor of blood, and he watched as indirect light from the briefing room brushed past him, carelessly glistening on the surface of the dark pools congealing beneath Jack's head.

Opening his mouth, struggling not to inhale the stringent combination of pungent air freshener and harsh cleaning solvents, Daniel tried to regulate his breathing. When he'd stared down at his friend's lifeless form, he'd felt as if his insides were suddenly yanked out. And, in the hours since, they'd been placed high on a shelf in a canopic jar, and he was being slowly, impossibly, mummified alive.

When the bathroom door banged open, Daniel jumped.

It was one of the nurses, a middle-aged man named Jim who'd been a fixture on the infirmary staff for as long as Daniel could remember. "Sorry, Doctor Jackson," Jim said.

Nodding numbly and forcing a tight, habitual smile, Daniel picked up the wad of paper towels he'd dropped. In an effort to avoid conversation, he made a production over tossing the towels into the waste bin before quickly making his way back out into the hallway where Sam waited.

At the sight of her, Daniel paused mid-stride, totally taken aback. Surrounded as she was by the armed men guarding the entrance to the infirmary, Sam looked timid and diminutive. Something he would never have associated with her. Or, perhaps it was only because Doctor Warner was there, as well. The physician was talking and gesturing with his hands as Sam listened and watched intently. Daniel hurried his steps and caught only the worrisome "…direct trauma…" before Warner spied him and stopped talking.

"Doctor," Daniel nodded a terse greeting, "how is he?"

"He has a brain injury, Daniel."

Glancing worriedly at Sam, Daniel quickly looked back over at Warner. "Is that true?"

"As I was telling Colonel Carter, General O'Neill has sustained what's called a coup contusion in the center of the temporal lobe of the brain."

Daniel frowned and briefly wondered if this was how Jack felt whenever he and Sam began debating some ambiguous scientific principle. "What does that mean?"

"To put it simply, brain contusions fall in one of two categories: Those which result from deceleration—say, someone who's involved in a motor vehicle accident or a boxing match. That type of injury is called a contrecoup contusion. The head is in motion, and the brain is contused at a site opposite the point of impact. Then, there's direct trauma—a coup contusion. With direct trauma, the head is not in motion, and the contusion forms at the location of actual impact. For instance, someone who's struck by a falling object."

"So, you're saying General O'Neill was hit over the head with something," Sam clarified.

"No."

"But, you just—"

Warner held up a hand, silencing Sam's protest. "Actually, it's unclear what caused the General's injury, but he definitely was not struck. He has a deep gash just above his right eye, but that doesn't correspond with the location of the brain contusion. He does, however, have a minor first degree burn in the middle of his forehead."

"A Goa'uld ribbon device," Daniel said.

"No." Warner shook his head.

Daniel felt the frustration of the past few hours suddenly coalesce, and he opened his mouth to bark out a demand that the Doctor just spit it out when he saw Sam frown and stare off into space. He swallowed his anger. "What? What is it?"

"An Ashrak," she murmured. Blinking, she focused her eyes on him. "Someone used an Ashrak torture device on him." She looked at Warner. "Doctor?"

Warner frowned and considered it before hesitantly replying, "Possibly. But, without one to study, I can't be certain. All I know for sure is that, considering the amount of internal trauma compared to the relatively minor soft tissue damage, we can rule out a ribbon device."

"So," Sam smiled at Daniel, "that's good news."

"That's good news?"

"Yeah. Because it means we can rule out the majority of the people on base. Daniel, only someone who's been blended with a Goa'uld could operate that device. That narrows it down to me and less than a dozen Tok'ra."

Daniel sighed as he realized that like he often did himself, his friend had gotten caught up in the excitement of her discovery. "Well, I agree that's helpful. But, right now, I'm more concerned about Jack."

Sam blushed as Warner cleared this throat. "As I said, the MRI reveals a contusion on the temporal lobe. There's currently no indication of hemorrhage, but that may change over the next twenty-four to forty-eight hours. We'll keep him under close observation, and do repeat MRI's at regular intervals, particularly if the depth of coma does not improve."

"Coma?"

Warner nodded. "We measure level of consciousness using the Glascow Scale, with three being the lowest or worst score, and fifteen being the highest. The General scored a nine, which puts him in the moderate range."

"So," Daniel shrugged, "that's good? Bad? What?"

"It's always difficult to predict with head injuries, but best case scenario: the contusion resolves itself and the General wakes up in a few hours with nothing worse to show for it than a headache, some nausea, and a mood more foul than usual." Warner grinned.

"And worst case?" Sam said, as if she hadn't heard the Doctor's bad joke.

Warner grew serious. "Worst case: the contusion progresses in size. In that event, we could see hemorrhaging, convulsions, any number of symptoms. Even death. And, remember, the temporal lobe controls reasoning, speech, movement, and emotions. Damage to that lobe could affect any or all of those areas, either temporarily or permanently. It depends entirely on the severity of the injury."

"What about all the blood I saw?" Daniel said.

"It wasn't as serious as it looked. The capillaries in his ears, eyes, and nose burst. And when he fell, he apparently struck the corner of his desk. As I said, he had a deep cut over his right eye, as well as a split lip and a bloody nose."

"Bottom line…is Jack going to be okay?" Daniel watched Warner hesitate over the question. "Come on, throw us a bone. What's your gut feeling?"

"My gut feeling is, it's going to be a long forty-eight hours." When he saw the other two begin to protest, Warner silenced them. "Please. I'm not trying to be difficult or evasive here. It's just…in cases like this, it's impossible to predict the outcome. Right now, with the damage we're looking at, I would say he's going to look and feel like he went several rounds with a platoon of angry Marines, but he should make a full recovery. However, you need to understand—that can change drastically at any given moment."

Despite the dire warning, Daniel felt a surge of relief. According to Warner, Jack hadn't been as severely injured as Daniel had thought when he'd seen him bloodied and lifeless on the floor. Besides, Jack always managed to beat the odds, even when they were stacked against him. "I think we get the picture. So, can we see him?"

Warner gave them a sympathetic smile. "Sure."

Moments later, having penetrated the guarded entrance, Daniel stood at Jack's bedside and wondered if his relief had been premature.

"Damn," Sam whispered before looking over at Daniel.

'Damn' was right. Jack looked terrible. The skin of his forehead was angry and raw looking, and his entire face appeared sunburned. An inch-long gash above his eyebrow had been glued shut and smeared with what Daniel assumed was some sort of antibiotic ointment. Jack's right eye and his upper lip were badly swollen, and both eyes were turning black. A nasal canula was in place, as were an IV line and various wires running to several machines that beeped and hissed and buzzed annoyingly.

Daniel leaned closer to his friend. "Jack? Jack, wake up."

There was nothing to indicate the comatose man had heard him, not even a quickening of the rhythm of the machines.

"Dammit, Jack, who have you gone and pissed off this time?"

*~*~*

The door closed quietly, the barest click in the darkness. The welcoming whisper was harsh.

"What took you so long? This meeting was by your request. I expected you to be punctual."

"I was working. Right now, any movement beyond the norm is going to call undue attention to us. We can't risk this. Not now," she replied, her own harsh words hissed through clenched teeth. She moved cautiously, the diffuse illumination from the lone, flickering, overhead nightlight was barely enough to see the large shelving surrounding them. The last thing she needed was to kick something or knock something over causing the over-observant SFs to come running.

"If the humans continue their investigation, they are sure to discover us."

"Not if I have anything to do with it. If you had done your job right, we'd have one less thing to worry about," she scolded, the memory of the base-wide klaxons still screaming in her head.

"I fulfilled the mission."

"But you didn't complete the assignment," she retorted, her whispered words threatening to rise in volume. "He's still alive."

Even though she couldn't see him, she could clearly feel his disdain across the darkened room. It dripped in his softly spoken, "Barely. He won't survive the day."

"You know this for a fact? The doctors think he'll pull through. And what then?"

"If you are not satisfied with the outcome, perhaps you should consider other alternatives."

She sighed. "It's not easy—"

"Nothing is easy, but much is advantageous. I, however, am pleased with the outcome."

"Pleased? Pleased?" She took a breath and turned aside, using the moment to push down her mounting temper. "How can you possibly be pleased? Don't you get it? He's. Not. Dead. Not dead. Alive. And, he might very well be able to walk away from this whole incident without a single scar. You need—"

"I need to return to my room before my absence is noticed," he said, cutting in smoothly, sharply. "While you may have freedom of movement, I do not."

"Wait," she hissed as he moved by her, the fabric of his shirt brushing her hand. "You still have the device—"

"It requires additional energy which I am unable to provide. We were fortunate to discover the device in the state it was in. Had it not been functional, our plan would not have worked as well as it has."

"What do you expect me to do?"

"You are the one unhappy with the results of my actions. The next step is one you need to carefully consider, since I shall have nothing more to do with this. Good day to you. Do not contact me again." She could make out the shadowy turning of his head, and sensed his gaze fall on her. "I would suggest waiting several minutes before departing," he added.

The door opened quickly, a shaft of light from the hallway illuminating the small storage room briefly before it was once again plunged into near darkness. Taking a deep breath, she let it out slowly, her mind whirling in anger and frustration while another part of her brain was already working on the puzzle.

He was right. She did have freedom of movement. Perhaps that would work to her advantage.

Right now, however, she needed to get back to work before she was missed. Stepping into the corridor, she held her head up high, her heels clicking confidently along the concrete floor as she strode to the nearest elevator. The beginnings of a plan were already forming in her mind. A plan that, if she had her way, would ensure O'Neill was dead before nightfall.

*~*~*

The walk back to the gate wasn't hard, but now that they had a mystery to solve, it seemed as if every step through the silent city was talking twice as long as when they'd arrived, as if the very walls and roads were somehow moving, preventing them from exiting.

Peterson knew it was just his imagination, his own screwed up perception of time and space, but he still couldn’t shake the feeling someone was watching them. Maybe it was the ascended Ancients. Maybe they were still looking after their city, observing what their descendants did.

Or, maybe it was just his imagination playing tricks on him. But, the fact that this city still stood—and in such complete perfection—was mind boggling. The Ancients left this part of the galaxy thousands of years ago and there was only a thin layer of dust on the surfaces within the structures. It was almost as if they'd left the power on, knowing they'd be back.

What if the Ancients weren't gone like everyone believed? What if they were still using the city, maintaining it? What if they were trespassing?

Bosco's voice jolted him out of his reverie.

"So, what do you think?"

Chad glanced to his side, catching the eye of his teammate as they walked side-by-side back to the Stargate. "About what?"

"All of this," Bosco replied, his right hand gesturing at the city around them. He narrowed his eyes at the other man. "And I can tell there are wheels turning in your head just by taking one look at you. Give."

"Nothing," Peterson said, shaking his head, his eyes watching his boots kick up a little bit of dust as they finally made it to the edges of the city where the dirt road met stone. "I'm not sure what to think, really. It's almost like they left the light on for us or something."

"I know. The place creeped you out, too, eh?"

"I'm not sure if that describes it either," Chad replied, shrugging a little. "I'm curious as to why the Ancients left in the first place, and where they went and when. I also want to know what the Tok'ra found, since they've been here before. While that screen is great to find, if we can't figure it out, we're back at square one."

"We will. We'll get Carter to hook her super-computer up to the system and she'll be able to give us an answer right quick. And while she hooks up the laptop, Doctor Jackson will take one look at the buttons on that interface and tell us what everything is and what we should push so we don't electrocute ourselves," Bosco said, his P90 bouncing with every step as his hand gestures widened. "And then, if nothing works, the General will just put his hands on it, think a little, and presto! We'll have all the answers we need. See? Easy as pie."

Peterson shook his head, a half-smile on his face. He could see the top of the Stargate in the distance through the trees. They still had a ways to hike, but at least it wasn't that much farther. "I wish it were that easy."

"It will be. Why do we always think everything is so complicated?"

"Because it usually is?"

"Not so, my friend, not so!"

"Oh?" Peterson glanced at the other man, his eyebrow raised. "Would you care to enlighten me on a time that it was easy?"

"Well," Bosco answered, his voice petering out a little.

After a few beats, Peterson tilted his head. "Well?"

"I'm thinking."

"Try not to hurt yourself."

"I didn't expect you to make me prove my statement."

"Obviously," Peterson said as he turned his attention to the rising grade of the trail before them. "Think while we hike to the top of this hill. Then you can fill me in on all of your revelations."

Bosco muttered something under his breath, making Chad pause and throw the other man a surprised glance. He didn't just hear what he thought it did, had he?

"What?"

"What what?"

"Did you just say something?"

"No."

Peterson stopped, crossing his arms over his chest. "No?" The tone of his voice made it clear he wasn't buying Bosco's answer.

It took a few seconds, but as soon as Peterson saw Bosco's shoulders drop, he knew the other man would fess up.

"I said you were a bastard and if Carter were here, you wouldn't make her prove what she said."

Peterson's lips twisted a little. He turned and headed up the hill, throwing his words over his shoulder. "You're right. I am a bastard." Chuckling to himself, he heard Bosco sigh and follow him up the slope a few seconds later.

"Remind me again why we're friends."

"Because of my charming wit and engaging personality," Peterson replied, stepping over several roots that lay exposed along the path. Why the path to the Stargate wasn't clear, he couldn't figure out. This was a major mode of transportation. Why wasn't there a more direct way to get to it? Why wasn't the gate in the city?

"Okay," Bosco commented, sarcasm dripping from his words, "that wasn't it. Try again."

Chad glanced over his shoulder as he rounded the bend in the trail. "Because Reynolds paid me to be nice?"

"Nope, that's not it either."

"Free beer and pizza on Friday nights?"

"That might have something to do with it," Bosco replied. "But, when was the last time you bought dinner?"

"Oh? I didn't think it was my turn to buy."

"It's always your turn."

"Why? Are you a woman now?"

"No. I mean, when was the last time we got together for beer, pizza, and movies as a team? The last time we did it, Reynolds paid. I paid the time before. And Ellis before that." Bosco's voice took on an insulted tone. "It is your turn. And here you are, trying to weasel out of it."

"Who said I wouldn't? I'll buy. If I could find a pizzeria I'd get you a slice right now. I'd even let you have the middle piece of the Sicilian. Hell, you could even play with the stupid little table they put in the box."

Taking the last few steps at the top of the trail, the Stargate rose in view, the DHD sitting serenely several paces from the last bend in the path. Now, it was just a matter of dialing in, sending their code, and waiting for the additional personnel.

Moving to the DHD, Peterson began punching in the gate address. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Bosco pause beside him, pushing up his sleeve, his fingers hovering over the GDO keypad. The whoosh of the opening wormhole was loud in the silence. Peterson held up his finger, indicating that Bosco should wait before sending the code. Counting slowly to ten, Chad nodded and the Captain clicked the buttons and hit send, transmitting SG-3's iris code. A few seconds later, Peterson opened up a channel to the SGC.

"Peterson to Stargate Command. Do you read?"

"We read your signal, SG-3," came the reply. It sounded as if Alberts was on duty. "You're not scheduled for a return until later today. Is there a problem?"

"Not a problem. We need SG-1 actually," Peterson replied, "and the General if he'd come. We found something and we need their technical expertise to get it working."

"SG-3, can you hold a moment? Colonel Reynolds is on his way down from the briefing room."

"Sure," Peterson said, shrugging his shoulders as Bosco's eyebrows drew together, the puzzled glance aimed at the other man. Chad shook his head. "What do you think Reynolds wants?"

"Maybe he missed us," Bosco said, whispering.

Peterson started chuckling as Reynolds voice came across the channel. "Peterson, everything okay?"

"Fine, sir. As I was saying to the Sergeant—"

"You found something," Reynolds cut in, his voice hard and sharp. "Where's Ellis, Wells, and Bosco?"

"Bosco's with me, sir. Major Ellis stayed in the city with Wells. They were doing some further recon."

"I need you to pack it up and come on home."

"Sir? We've found something big here," Peterson replied, trying not to say more than he should over the open channel. There was no telling who was in the control room and the General had wanted to keep this whole mission quiet.

There was a pause, the static and white noise growing in volume before Reynolds came back on, his voice tight. "There's been an…incident. I need you here to help with the investigation."

"Sir? What happened?"

"It's the General."

Peterson could feel the color draining from his face. "Is he all right?"

"Too soon to tell. We're all hoping that he pulls through."

"But?"

"If you believe in anything, start praying now," Reynolds commented, a long sigh following his words. "How long until Ellis and Wells can get back to the gate?"

"Less than an hour."

"Good. Come on home. SGC out."

The wormhole closed with a snap-hiss and Peterson turned to face his friend whose shocked expression probably matched his own. "The General…"

Bosco shook his head, his eyes wide. "Damn."

*~*~*

Colonel Reynolds fiercely rubbed a hand across his face as he listened to the shouts echoing down the stairs into the control room from the briefing room above. Sitting at the main computer console next to Alberts, he needed a break.

The investigation was not going well.

Each side was accusing the other and they both, in turn, were yelling at him and Chao and anyone else that set foot in that room.

But, if what Doctor Warner, Carter, and Jackson said was true about it being some kind of Goa’uld assassin’s device, the culprit was pretty clear.

It couldn’t be one of the SGC people—unless they had a snake in their head. Most everyone had been scanned recently—at least the ones that went off-world regularly. Everyone else was more or less safe. But, if push came to shove, every member of the SGC would be getting up close and personal with an MRI. In the meantime, Carter was conducting her own informal survey of base personnel, checking to make sure there were no stowaways. They had to be sure.

As for the Jaffa, Carter and even Bra’tac had assured him—in private and on separate occasions—that Jaffa, even with a snake in their pouch, could not operate the kind of technology she had in mind.

That only left one group. And technically, they all had snakes in their heads already. Of that, there really was no question. They were allies based on a technicality: their snakes, supposedly, didn’t want to enslave the galaxy.

Supposedly.

But, what was the point? If the Tok’ra were behind this whole thing, what was there to gain? Where was the advantage to be gained? Killing O’Neill wasn’t about to change what the SGC did on a daily basis. And frankly, this kind of thing only made humans more ornery.

The Tok’ra and the Jaffa claimed—loudly, often, and for several hours now—that everyone from their respective parties was accounted for during the hours leading up to and following the assassination attempt.

And, with the cameras in the immediate vicinity of the General's office out of commission, there wasn't much to go on. The preliminary reports on the cameras in other hallways on level twenty-eight weren't much help either. Those didn't see anything out of the ordinary at all, which made things even more difficult.

According to the cameras, only authorized personnel were in the area. It even showed the General arriving on the elevator, Walter leaving and returning, and then Daniel arriving. The hallways were quiet that night. Dead quiet. It was as if the attacker had appeared out of thin air.

Granted, that was always a possibility when aliens were concerned, but according to intel, neither the Jaffa nor the Tok'ra had access to that kind of technology. Only Asgard beams could penetrate this far down into the ground, and it was silly to think one of the Asgard wanted O'Neill dead.

So, that left something a little closer to home.

The attacker hadn't crawled through the air ducts—there were cameras in them and they were still working. He would have had to go through the hallways, but the cameras hadn't shown anything, which meant that someone had gotten their hands on cloaking technology. So much for their intel.

And, if this farce went on much longer, Reynolds was going to do two things. First, he was going to confiscate every item either group brought through the gate so SGC personnel could tear it apart to ensure it wasn't a cloaking device of some sort. Then, he was going to conduct a complete sweep of the base with TERs.

Honestly, he wasn't looking forward to either event.

Footfalls on the steps leading up to the control room from the hallway pulled his attention back to the present and he watched as Walter wandered into the room.

"What are you doing here? I thought I told you to get some sleep."

The Sergeant's eyebrows drew together and he paused for a moment before responding. "I did."

"You did?"

"Yes, sir. It's been twelve hours."

"It has?" Reynolds pushed back his sleeve to look at his watch, the hands on the dial corroborating Walter's words. "Damn. No wonder I'm hungry."

The other man moved to the phone on the wall, his movements not hurried, but quick. "I'll get something sent up immediately, and ask Doctor Warner to send up some ibuprofen for your headache. Do you want coffee or something else?"

"You don't need to do that, I'm fine," Reynolds said rising to his feet, but he paused at the wave of Walter's hand.

"It'll be down in fifteen minutes tops, and from the sound of things, you could use the break. Has Miss Chao eaten? Or our guests?"

Reynolds shrugged. "I don't think so. We've been…discussing the situation for a while now."

Walter nodded. "I'll get the commissary to bring something to the briefing room. A little food might help everyone's state of mind."

"You do this to the General, too. Why do you insist we have to eat?"

"Habit, I guess. Things always go better on a full stomach. I'll get that set up now. After that, just tell me what else needs to be done."

Gary nodded and tuned out the other man as he spoke into the phone, already making plans with the cook to get food to the briefing room. Without Walter, this place wouldn't run nearly as smoothly as it did. Sometimes, it was as if the Sergeant appeared out of thin air just when you wanted something. In fact, the General swore Walter could read his mind.

"Colonel?"

Reynolds glanced up, surprised to find the Sergeant staring down at him. "You're done?"

"Yes, sir. Food will be brought down in fifteen minutes. I've alerted the guards someone would be coming. I said you'd given your approval."

He nodded. "Yeah, that's great. Thank you."

"You're welcome, sir. Now, what else needs to be done?"

"You're not going to like it."

Walter tilted his head, his eyes widening a little. "Sir?"

"I want you to verify the locations of the Jaffa and the Tok'ra during the time in question."

"Is that all?"

"Yes. There's a lot of video to go through, so pull whoever you need." Reynolds stopped as soon as the other man started nodding.

"I know a few people who'd be perfect for the job. Anything else?"

"No, but the sooner you can verify their locations, the faster we'll get answers."

"Consider it done. Now, sir," Walter said, his face serious, "please do yourself a favor and take a few minutes to freshen up and eat. You'll thank me later, and I think you'll feel a whole lot better."

"Bad?"

"No, sir, but necessary."

*~*~*

The corridors were quiet, the atmosphere of the SGC very different from when she'd stepped foot inside only twenty-four hours ago.

And here she thought it would be a simple assignment.

Instead of the simple diplomatic discussions she'd anticipated, Amy Chao found herself at the receiving end of two ranting aliens who both insisted the other one's people were at fault. At this point in time, she'd be happy to shoot all of them if it meant she could get a little peace and quiet. But, she was fairly certain Colonel Reynolds—while probably in agreement—would officially disapprove.

After the food arrived and they'd all taken a few minutes to eat, she'd decided she needed some time to herself. With Reynolds still dealing with whatever had happened with the incoming wormhole call he'd received, she was the one in charge, and frankly, she was tired, cranky and needed a break. If the bickering and finger pointing hadn't been so annoying, it would have been laughable.

So, she'd called a brief recess and started walking—leaving Bra'tac and Thoran under guard in the briefing room. They weren't happy, but she didn't care. She wasn't happy either.

Taking the stairs up several levels, she exited through one of the heavy fire doors, her heels clicking against the concrete floor, the sound echoing down the empty corridor. Where was she? She wasn't sure exactly; somewhere above the briefing room was as specific as she cared to get right about now.

It was amazing how quickly things could tumble out of control, how things could change in the matter of minutes, how the best laid plans could get screwed up in the course of a few precious seconds.

Sighing, she turned a corner. The emptiness of the hallway made her pause. She stared down its oppressive length and caught sight of one of the security cameras mounted near the ceiling approximately halfway down the corridor, its blinking red light indicating it was working. Gathering herself, she started forward, surreptitiously watching her inanimate watcher. As she passed, the camera silently followed her progress, recording her passage down this non-descript corridor inside one of the most classified installations on the planet.

Shrugging off the disturbing notion of her every move being monitored, she concentrated instead on Colonel Reynolds. What did he think about all of this? At first, he'd seemed understandably shaken, especially when he'd first talked to her, but as the morning progressed into afternoon, his face had closed off, hardened. So, what was he thinking? Did he believe Thoran and Bra'tac? What was going on behind those carefully guarded eyes?

Each faction had motive and opportunity, but which side had the most to gain? And, what could be gained that would outweigh the risks? Nothing obvious, at least so far as she could tell. But, if she could come up with an answer, she could come up with a viable suspect.

Unfortunately, at this point, the only thing she was certain of was that Reynolds was right: there was something much bigger going on here. The question was, did the Colonel know what something was? That was the real question.

Several corners later, Chao found herself in a busier section of the base, a place thick with the distinct scent of disinfectant. The infirmary. She hadn't meant to come here, but since she had, she decided to see how the General was holding up—that is, if the mean-looking Jaffa guarding the door would let her in.

"Teal'c?" she said, drawing his attention to her as she approached. He turned to her, his eyebrow raised in question.

"Miss Chao. Is something amiss?"

"No, nothing," she said, stopping beside him and offering what she hoped was a sympathetic smile. "How is he?"

"Unchanged."

"Has the Doctor—"

"He has not."

"Can I see him?"

Teal'c cocked his head, his eyebrow rising further. "That is not for me to decide."

"Who then?"

"Doctor Warner is in charge of O'Neill's care. You should take up your request with him." Adjusting his feet slightly and crossing his hands across his chest, Teal'c went back to the imposing stance he'd had when she arrived, his expression settling into a menace, as if that would scare off the fainthearted.

In the SGC, however, no one was fainthearted.

*~*~*

Walter Harriman pulled the warm sheet of paper off the top of the color laser printer and quickly jotted down the name of the Jaffa in the screen capture from the security camera. The fairly detailed descriptions of all the participants were helping to match names and faces. While many of the pictures weren't perfect—a little fuzzy at the edges—they were clear enough to make a positive identification. He added the page in his hand to the sheets already strewn across the huge table he'd set up in one of the unused conference rooms on the upper levels. It had taken some doing to get the computers and the networks hooked up, but he knew the right people to call. And, when they heard what it was for, things moved even faster.

Sometimes, name-dropping could shave days off of projects. In this case, every second counted.

Senior Airmen John Travis, Curtis Stawinsky, and Erin Kerby were set up at the three computers, scanning as much of the security camera feeds as they possibly could, as quickly as they could. Walter had Kerby working on the initial identifications. He wanted to make sure he could account for every Jaffa and Tok'ra on the base, and the best way to do that was to positively identify each one of them first. The next step was to confirm their alibis and movements during the hours in question.

Erin was great. The feed from the gateroom was going to be their original reference, but with all the movement, it had been difficult to get clear images of everyone who stepped through the wormhole. That meant she had to rely on the other security camera feeds—especially those in the hallways just outside the conference rooms and the guests' on-base accommodations. She'd only been at it for about two hours and already Erin had been able to give him clear pictures of nearly the entire contingent of visitors.

Both Stawinsky and Travis were tracking everyone's movements, which took a lot of patience and a good eye for detail. Some of the Jaffa began looking alike after a while.

The whirl of the printer meant another image was coming through. Turning, Walter waited as the page was fed through the device and came to a rest on the tray on top. As he picked it up to put it on the table, the click of the opening door drew his attention and Doctor Jackson poked his head in. He looked awful. Bloodshot eyes stared out from behind smudged and dirty glasses, the lenses only emphasizing the darkness of the shadows beneath. His suit was rumpled—at least what was left of it. The tie was gone, the jacket was missing, and the top two buttons on the shirt were open. While Doctor Jackson's eyes scanned the room, Walter wasn't sure how much he was actually seeing.

"Sir?" he asked quietly, moving toward the open door, drawing the other man's attention to him. "Can I help you, Doctor Jackson?"

Jackson's red eyes took a moment to focus on him before a tired smile slowly formed on his face. "No," he finally replied, shaking his head. The printer behind Walter whirled again and he could hear the sound of several sheets of paper sliding into the tray. The other man paid no mind to the noise. "Colonel Reynolds mentioned what you were doing, and I wanted to see if you'd made any progress."

"We're working on it, Doctor. It's going to take some time though."

"I know, I know," the other man replied, his attention already being pulled to the computers where the security camera feeds were being viewed. "I just…" He shrugged as his voice trailed off.

"How's the General?" Walter asked, trying to fill the silence, his inquiry drawing the weary man's attention.

The archeologist straightened and stepped further into the room before leaning against the wall. "The same. Warner is hopeful he'll pull through, but he's not even sure of the amount of damage that may have been done."

"We're going to find whoever did this to him."

Jackson offered a tight, tired smile. "I wish there was something I could do, but I keep remembering—"

"I know. So do I." Walter took a breath and stepped closer, his hand on the other man's upper arm. "You should probably try and get some sleep."

"Tried that. I ended up pacing the hallway in front of Teal'c."

"Is that why you're here?"

Jackson nodded. "I was starting to drive Teal'c crazy." He raised his head, his bloodshot eyes meeting Walter's, the corner of his mouth twisted upward. "And you know how much it takes to drive that Jaffa insane."

Walter chuckled lightly as he pictured the Jaffa's intense look of disapproval as the Doctor's pacing ate up the floor outside the critical care area of the infirmary. The other man pushed himself away from the wall and slowly approached the table where all the images were laid out, his eyes scanning each picture and his fingers tracing the names Walter had scribbled below each one.

Stepping to the printer, Walter pulled off the pages that had accumulated. He'd have to match these with the records he had on file, but he could do that once Doctor Jackson left.

A tapping against the doorframe turned him around again and Walter found himself face-to-face with another member of SG-1. "Colonel Carter, were you looking for Doctor Jackson, or can I help you with something?"

She shook her head, taking a few steps into the room. "No. Teal'c mentioned where Daniel had headed off to, so I figured I'd stop by and see how things were coming along."

"Slowly, Colonel. As I mentioned to Doctor Jackson, it takes time to go through all the footage and with so many personnel on security detail…"

"I know," she nodded, her eyes tired. "I've walked almost the entire mountain in just a few hours. I think I've seen every one of them personally, but I needed a break so I decided to stop in to see the General." She gestured to the archeologist with a tilt of her head. "I'm surprised to find him on his feet."

"Barely," Walter said, a slight smile on his face.

"What else do you have?"

Daniel's tense voice quickly brought Walter and Carter to his side. Glancing down at the pile in his hands, Walter held it out to the archeologist, letting the other man rifle through the pages, his eyes narrowing as he passed one in the middle. Jackson looked twice and then continued on, his eyes shifting from the images on the table to the one he held in his hand. But, he kept returning to the same picture. Again and again and again.

"I don't remember him," Jackson finally said, pulling out the offending sheet of paper and shoving it in Walter's hands. "He wasn't at any of the sessions or at the cocktail party."

"Are you sure?" Carter asked, her voice tight.

"Positive. I spent far too long sitting in those rooms. I remember everyone who was in there. And this is a face I wouldn't forget."

Walter walked over to the three Senior Airman and put the piece of paper on the table beside them. "I need to know where he went and where he is now. Find him for me."

"Yes, sir," Travis replied, his answer quickly echoed by the other two. Walter turned back to Daniel. "Didn't he come through with the rest of the diplomatic party?"

"Yes." This time, Carter answered. "I remember seeing him in the gateroom, but not since then."

"Erin," Walter called, getting the other Airman's attention, "where did you get that image from? What feed?"

Kerby turned back to her computer, checking her information before answering. "That image came from the camera outside the Jaffa on-base quarters. I wasn't going to print it, but it was the clearest one of the bunch."

"There were others?"

"Yes," she nodded, her fingers moving quickly over the keyboard. "Just before the evening party there was another sighting of him on the conference level."

"Can you show me?"

"Of course," Kerby nodded. A few seconds later, she pulled up the feed from outside the conference room. In the shot, he could see the General talking with Daniel outside the room they were using for the Jaffa peace talks. Erin paused the recording and pointed to something down the hall. "See, he pops up here for a few minutes. He doesn't do anything, just stands there. He moves away as soon as Doctor Jackson goes into the room."

"He was watching us?" Jackson's voice was angry.

"It seems that way, Doctor," she replied, glancing up at the other man.

"Have you seen him somewhere else?" Carter asked.

"Sirs," Stawinsky said. "I think I have him here."

Walter moved to stand behind the Airman, Jackson and Carter on his heels. "Where?"

"It's not current, but once I saw the picture I remembered I'd seen him before." Curtis pointed to the screen. "He's going to come around this corner in a few seconds. I didn't think anything of it originally, but now…you might be surprised at who's with him. And, it's not the only time."

Walter, Daniel, and Carter exchanged a brief glance before turning back to the screen. Sure enough, he turned the corner, his long robes swinging.

Amy Chao was at his side.

*~*~*

It was a little strange to sit at General O'Neill's desk—especially when the all too recent reminder of what had transpired was far too glaring. But, business had to be conducted. A base had to be run, and he couldn't very well do that from the control room or the briefing room. Although, with Thoran and Bra'tac escorted to their respective quarters and under guard, they could have had this meeting in the briefing room. It would have been a lot more comfortable, but Reynolds wanted some additional privacy.

With both doors closed, Colonel Reynolds had the members of SG-3 spread throughout the small room. They were avoiding one side of the room and Gary couldn't blame them. If he could move the desk he would. But their eyes…their eyes kept drifting to the stain, the blemish. There was no amount of scrubbing or rubbing that would get it all out. There would always be that slight hue if you held your head a certain way in the right lighting. You'd see it when you least expected it. Out of the corner of your eyes, it would appear…as if by magic. It would be a continual reminder of what had occurred here.

Suppressing a shiver, Reynolds turned his attention back to SG-3 and their report. From what they'd already described, the city was everything they were looking for—just missing the people who actually ran it. Without additional equipment and several people who were sensitive to the Ancient devices, there wasn't much they could do. Not that he was letting anyone out of the mountain until this whole attempted murder thing was resolved.

"So, did it seem like the Tok'ra had been able to get any information from that device you discovered?" Reynolds asked, his eyes shifting to each of the team members.

Peterson shook his head. "I don't think so, but I didn't examine it all that thoroughly. So far, we haven't found a Tok'ra who could operate the Ancient devices. This might be along the same lines."

"But, it might not be."

"We really won't know until we investigate further, sir," Bosco replied, catching Reynolds' eye. "Honestly, until we can access its records, we won't know whether the last time it was turned on was a few months or several thousand years ago."

"And for that," Ellis said, picking up the conversation from the Captain, "we need Doctor Jackson and Colonel Carter."

"…and General O'Neill," Peterson added, his voice quiet, his eyes downcast.

Reynolds nodded in agreement, but he knew that possibility was the furthest from reality. "Right now, I need both Doctor Jackson and Colonel Carter at the SGC. I could send Sergeant Harriman or Siler with you, but until we know what happened here, I can't in good conscience let anyone through that gate. We could be giving the culprit an escape route. Besides," Reynolds continued, "there's no guarantee that either Harriman or Siler would be able to access the information you're looking for. We have no idea how strong they are or if this gene therapy will give them the same…access privileges as someone who has the gene naturally occurring."

Before he could add anything, a sharp knock on the door leading to the hallway sounded, breaking his concentration. "Come," he called, the door opening to reveal Sergeant Harriman, flanked by Jackson and Carter. "Walter?"

"We found them."

*~*~*

"I want this done quietly and quickly," Colonel Reynolds was saying, his fingers hovering over the SGC blueprints. "We don't want them to know we're onto them, so we're going to do this at the same time. Two groups, two targets. Miss Chao has some explaining to do, that's for sure." He glanced up, meeting the gazes of all those present around the briefing room table.

Carter nodded. His plan would work; it was something she'd do in his place—with one change. "I think we need Teal'c to be involved."

"Why? Shouldn't we leave him with the General?" Peterson asked, turning to face her.

"No, I agree with Carter," Reynolds answered, nodding. "I should have thought of it earlier. If Acken decides to be uncooperative, Teal'c would be the best to deal with him in close quarters and disable him."

"Sir," Ellis said, his face showing his conflicting emotions, "I hate to ask this, but how do we know for sure he's the one? Just because he decided not to go to the sessions on the first day of the peace talks doesn't make him a murderer…or attempted murderer."

"But, that's what they're all supposedly here for," Daniel said, his arms crossed tightly over his chest, his normally blue eyes bloodshot. "There's no reason for them to stay in their quarters."

"Was Bra'tac able to vouch for him?" Reynolds asked, turning his attention back to Carter.

Shaking her head, she met his gaze. "I don't know. Miss Chao was in charge of that part of the investigation, and she didn't speak to me about it. I can ask him directly if you want."

"No," he replied, his fingers scratching his chin. "We can't risk mentioning it to Bra'tac just in case he tips off Acken."

"Bra'tac would never—" Daniel began angrily, only to be interrupted by the Colonel.

"Not intentionally, no. But, some of the members of his party, he did not choose directly. He mentioned that early on. All of the Council members offered recommendations, but the Jaffa Council as a whole selected the final nine accompanying him. "

"You think the Jaffa Council had something to do with this?" Peterson asked.

His eyes narrowed, and Carter could tell the Captain was considering the ramifications of that statement. If the Jaffa Council was behind it, a nation the SGC was supporting.… There would be some very pointed questions posed to Teal'c and Bra'tac if that were the case. And, Carter doubted the two would ever be fully trusted again by the Pentagon.

As much as the Jaffa probably hated to admit it, General O'Neill was possibly their biggest advocate here on Earth. If they'd planned this with the sole intent to kill him…Carter shook her head. The thought was nearly impossible for her to wrap her mind around. By killing O'Neill, or even attempting to, they were destroying any hope they had of strengthening and growing their fledgling nation. After all, it was already plainly obvious they were not very adept at ruling themselves. Maybe it was too many centuries of slavery. Maybe it was because of the bad examples of the System Lords—the only model they'd known until now.

But, what if Acken was acting alone? In a way, that was even more worrisome. How many others like him were there in the universe? Probably too many to number.

Reynolds shrugged. "I don't know, but right now I have some questions to ask Acken and Miss Chao." He paused, glancing around the room, his mouth a thin line. "Carter, how about you, Daniel, and Peterson pay Miss Chao a visit. Escort her directly to one of the holding cells on level sixteen. I'll take Ellis, Bosco, Wells, Walter, and Teal'c with me. I don't want to get any others involved if I don't have to."

"Who do you want to get Teal'c? I assume you don't want this over the loudspeaker," Carter said, her mind already starting to work on how they'd "ask" Chao to accompany them.

He paused for a moment before replying. "Walter, can you stop and talk to Teal'c, and tell him what we need to do? We can all rendezvous at the armory on level twenty and take it from there."

"The armory, sir?" Bosco asked, a single eyebrow raised.

Reynolds was grim. "I have no intention of going up against a Jaffa empty-handed—especially if he's the one responsible for the General's current condition." He paused, glancing around the room. He nodded once, the gesture stiff and short. "Okay, people, let's move out."

*~*~*

This was not the time for backing down, for hesitating. She knew what had to be done, what had to happen in the next few minutes. There was no turning back. There was no giving up.

She had what she needed; the capped syringe was hidden deep within the folds of her jacket, the cylinder already filled and the needle primed. She patted the outside of the pocket for the fifth time, once again reassuring herself it was still at her side, that she hadn't left it behind in her haste. She'd only had a few minutes alone before one of the nurses or doctors would walk into the dispensary.

She'd gone over the plan several times. She knew the layout of the infirmary and the routine of the nurses on duty. The doctors were between rounds. She had just enough time to slip in undetected.

Everything was in place. So, why was her stomach churning?

If only she had that device…then she wouldn't have to worry, but he'd used the little energy that had remained, and she couldn't risk becoming visible in the middle of the hallway, appearing magically where no one had stood only a heartbeat before.

No. This she had to do herself.

Walking down the corridor, hurried footfalls echoed from somewhere behind her, a striking counterpoint as her own heels clicked against the floor. As the sound got closer, prudence overcame curiosity and she ducked into one of the restrooms, thankful it was empty. She didn't want any more contact than absolutely necessary. As it was, she might have to explain herself. She didn't want to be asked why she was in the infirmary again.

Pressed against the door, she listened as the footsteps rushed past.

One minute passed, then two. The quiet beyond the door was enticing, but she was determined to wait.

Three minutes slowly turned to four, and as the second hand of her watch clicked over to five, she held her head high and opened the door, her stride confident. She couldn't show her uncertainty, her hesitation.

She knew what had to be done and what it would mean for the future.

Turning the last corner, a surprise awaited her: Teal'c was gone and the corridor was empty.

Now was the time.

*~*~*

"Are you certain?" Teal'c asked, his eyebrow raised as he strode beside the Master Sergeant, confusion plain on his face. "I do not believe any Jaffa would be a party to such actions. All know these treaties will bring the Jaffa Nation much benefit. And, O'Neill has always treated us with honor and respect."

The other man glanced up at him, his eyes wide behind the spectacles he wore. "I wish I had better news, but Acken's actions throughout the time he's been here have been highly suspicious. And, we can't figure out where he was during the time in question." Master Sergeant Harriman paused, glancing down the deserted hallway. "If it is a misunderstanding then we should be able to clear it up quickly. But, just in case it isn't…"

Teal'c nodded, understanding the human's thoughts on the matter. In a similar situation, Teal'c would do the same. "Colonel Reynolds decided upon this plan?"

"Yes," he replied with a brisk nod and a small glance aimed upward. Teal'c could see indecision on the man's face.

"You are concerned?"

"No, not concerned." Harriman paused, the muscles in his jaw tightening slightly. "Bra'tac was unable to give us specific information about Acken. He claimed the Jaffa Council decided who would attend these meetings. Do you know anything about him? Could you vouch for him?"

"I cannot," Teal'c replied, a bead of worry forming. "Bra'tac did not know of him?"

"No, but there were others he didn't know either. Not just Acken."

"Tell me more of this Acken."

*~*~*

"Sam," Daniel asked, huffing to keep up with the Colonel as she moved quickly down the corridor toward the armory on level twenty, "how exactly do you plan on doing this? It's not like we have proof she did anything wrong. She's supposed to talk with the Jaffa and Tok'ra."

"I know," she replied, glancing over her shoulder. "But, despite the fact she was sent by Washington, we really don't know anything about her, and Bra'tac can't give us any information on Acken. Besides, why were they in that corridor just prior to the cocktail party? And, why didn't he go to the party or the sessions earlier that day?"

The archeologist looked at the grim faces around him. "This just feels wrong."

"Daniel," Sam said, pausing in her headlong rush down the hall, "if we're wrong, we'll apologize, but if we're right…. I don't want to let this get past us. We have the element of surprise. After this, they'll be expecting us."

"If I were 'them,' I would have been expecting us to come as soon as we locked the mountain down."

She sighed, closing her eyes for a moment and shaking her head. "If you'd rather not do this—"

"No, I'm fine," he replied quickly. "I'm just…trying to look at this from every angle."

"So, keep looking," she replied turning, her feet already moving her down the hall. "In the meantime, I have some questions for Amy Chao."

*~*~*

Bosco was tightening the bottom strap of his zat holster around his thigh when darkness walked into the armory in the form of a brooding Jaffa with a harried-looking Sergeant Harriman close on his heels.

"Colonel Reynolds," Teal'c said, "I suggest we proceed with caution. If what Master Sergeant Harriman says is true, Acken may not be who he appears."

"What do you mean?" Reynolds asked from the back of the armory where he was pulling several zats from their place in storage.

Teal'c moved toward the collection of staff weapons. "After careful consideration of the events which transpired, I do not believe it is within the ability of Acken to attack O'Neill."

"Doctor Warner's best guess is that he used some kind of device—"

"Yes, and I concur. There are two devices which come immediately to mind, both of which are Goa'uld in origin."

"And?" Reynolds asked, his lips forming a hard line as his hands clenched around the two weapons he'd grabbed. From the expression on his face, Bosco knew he was following Teal'c just as everyone else in the room was.

"Jaffa cannot operate either of those devices."

"Are you saying we have a Goa'uld in the SGC?" Bosco asked, shaking his head at the very possibility.

Teal'c turned to face him. "There is that possibility, yes. However, there may be other devices capable of inflicting similar damage of which I am unaware."

Reynolds was quiet, his voice deadly. "Gear up, people. This just got interesting."

*~*~*

Slipping into the dimly lit infirmary room, she breathed a sigh of relief when she discovered it empty—apart from herself and O'Neill. There was always a chance that a nurse or doctor or even another, authorized visitor would be present. But, under the circumstances, she had little choice, and she considered it an acceptable risk—one she would easily have taken care of.

Standing at the foot of the bed, she took the time to study him, burning the memory of his features in her mind—a swollen lip and eye, dark bruises around both eyes, a livid gash above his eyebrow, and an angry and raw wound on his forehead. Acken had done well, but some things required a woman's touch.

She glanced at the multitude of machines surrounding his bed, her eyes hovering on the heart monitor. That readout would be changing drastically in the next few minutes then everything would be very different.

Everything.

She moved quietly, her heels clicking lightly against the floor as she maneuvered her way to the IV hanging near his head.

She reached into her pocket and pulled out the ten-cc syringe, removing the protective cover over the needle. Tilting her head a little, she glanced at the unconscious man and the corner of her mouth lifted in a tiny smile.

Finally.

Reaching out, she grabbed the IV line and aimed the needle, plunging it into the IV port with one swift movement. The syringe emptied and a few seconds later, she pulled it out and re-capped it, shoving it deep within her pocket.

Patting O'Neill's arm, she turned and walked to the door, the slowing sounds from the heart monitor music to her ears.

Closing the door behind her, she smiled. It was done.

*~*~*

With Teal'c in the lead, the heavily-armed party strode down the hall, the security guards along the side looking on with quizzical expressions. No one stopped them. No one would dare, especially given the intensity of the expression on the Jaffa's face.

Hell, Bosco wouldn't question Teal'c about anything even on a good day.

Turning the final corner into the section where the Jaffa were bunking, Reynolds quickly moved to the lead, gesturing to the SFs at the end of the hall to move to guard the doors their small group couldn't cover. Teal'c was already in place, his back to the wall, his staff held lightly in his hands and aimed in the general direction of Acken's room. Reynolds would approach Acken while the others provided cover and support.

He hoped it didn't get ugly, but something told him it would.

Knocking loudly on the metal door, the Colonel waited, his eyes flickering to Ellis who stood beside him. He waited a few beats then knocked again. A door down the hall opened instead and a curious Bra'tac ventured out only to be stopped by Wells.

"Sir, I'd suggest you return to your room."

"What is happening?" Bra'tac asked instead, his eyes searching for a friendly face and finally landing on Teal'c's. "Tell me. What is happening here?"

*~*~*

Doctor Warner rubbed a hand across his face and tossed the latest report on his desk. He wished it showed something better, something more substantial. At least it was positive. He didn't think he could face SG-1 without some kind of good news.

At his present rate of improvement, it looked like the General would be fine. It would take time, a lot of rest, and very little stress, but all indications looked good. Real good.

Turning his wrist, he looked at his watch, gauging the time. It was early, but he might as well start rounds. He had a few patients in the infirmary and the quicker he checked on those, the sooner he could check on the General.

As he rose to his feet, the alarm on the cardiac monitor sounded, drawing his immediate attention. The display had gone crazy, the heart-line no longer the steady beat it had been a few minutes ago. And, it was getting slower by the second.

As if the devil were on his heels, Warner ran for the critical care unit, yelling to the nurse standing just inside the infirmary doors. "Matthews, I need you now. Let's move!"

*~*~*

Knocking on the door to the VIP room, Carter glanced at Daniel, catching a glimpse of the grim faces of the rest of the security detail as she did so. Peterson raised an eyebrow and offered a half smile to her just as the door opened.

"Miss Chao," Carter began as soon as the other woman pulled the door back. Dressed as she had been in the briefing room, Amy Chao was the picture of composure. Her clothes, her steady hands, and even her hair—neatly pulled back with every strand in place—reeked of calmness. 'Too calm perhaps,' Sam could almost hear the General mutter. "Ma'am, would you come with us, please? We'd like to ask you a few questions."

"Colonel, what's going on?" Chao's eyes narrowed as she studied the group in the hallway—all armed and serious.

"We have some questions we need to ask you about your association with a Jaffa named Acken. It'll only take a little while, if you'd come with us." Carter gestured down the hall, her eyes remaining on the woman, before adding a curt, "Please."

"My association with a Jaffa," she softly repeated. "Colonel, I've spoken with twenty aliens over the course of the past twenty-four hours. Could you please be a little more specific?" Chao paused, her face and attitude becoming colder by the second. "And, need I remind you, I was asked by the Pentagon to join these diplomatic talks, and speaking to all persons involved is part of my job?"

"Ma'am," Peterson said, stepping forward, "if you would just follow us, we could speak in a more private location."

"Private? Is that what they call holding cell these days, Captain?" Brusquely, she turned back to Carter who was obviously in charge. "I want to speak with Colonel Reynolds immediately."

"Miss Chao, it was Colonel Reynolds who ordered us to speak with you," Carter said, her patience nearing an end. "If you do not come willingly, I will have you removed from these rooms."

A manicured hand still clutching the open door, Amy Chao quietly stared at each of the men before returning a hard gaze to Carter. "Am I under arrest?"

"No, but if you continue to be uncooperative, it may come to that."

A tight smile graced the attractive face as the woman defiantly lifted her chin. "Then you may as well consider me uncooperative, Colonel, since I'm not leaving until I speak with your superior officer."

*~*~*

Acken emerged from his quarters with fire in his eyes and a roar in his throat. Aiming for Colonel Reynolds, he used the element of surprise and quickly overpowered him. With an arm around the man's throat, he activated the Colonel's zat and placed it against Reynolds' temple, using the struggling man as a shield against the rest of the security detail.

His voice gave him away as the distinct timbre of a Goa'uld informed them, "I will kill him."

"If you do, you will not draw another breath," Teal'c calmly replied, his staff weapon poised and armed, seemingly oblivious to Reynolds who was gasping for air.

"I will release him if you guarantee me passage off this planet."

"No deal," Ellis replied, his own weapon carefully aimed.

Acken's eyes flashed. "You will comply!"

Bosco wasn't sure what happened, what communication passed between the Colonel and Teal'c, but suddenly Reynolds was free, sagging to the ground, and fire was in the air.

*~*~*

Doctor Warner threw back the door and a symphony of sirens and alarms greeted him. Anne Matthews slid quickly past him, pulling the crash cart into position as Warner immediately moved to the General's side.

"Call a medical emergency. We might need more support," he ordered, already pulling the gown away from O'Neill's chest.

"Yes, sir," she replied crisply, striding to the bedside call button.

Warner tuned out the sirens that began to blare as an inhuman voice announced a code blue in the critical care unit, and instead he concentrated on his patient. How had this happened? The General had been doing so well.

Before he could fully comprehend the sudden change in the General's condition, the heart monitor gave a final sigh. A second later, its alarm shrieked. O'Neill flat-lined, just as Warner feared.

With a practiced hand, Warner lowered the side rail on the bed. "Anne, give me a number eight shiley. I need to intubate," he said, pulling the pillow from beneath the General's head and checking for any obstruction. The plastic tube appeared in his outstretched hand a moment later and was quickly inserted. The ambu bag was attached a second later, with Matthews positioned on the other side of the bed preparing to ventilate.

Pulling out his stethoscope, Warner checked both sides and after making certain the tube was correctly placed, he nodded to Anne. His hand immediately checked O'Neill's pulse, and finding none, he moved to the next step.

Positioning his hands, he started compressions, mentally counting them off while praying it was enough.

Hurried footsteps in the hall outside marked the incoming troops. The first nurse in the door took up a position at the crash cart. Another appeared at his elbow. "I need to see his ECG now, and get me Atrophine. I need one mg IV push. And, somebody turn off that damned alarm," he said over the flat scream of the monitor.

A sudden silence fell over the occupants as the nurse moved to comply, quickly returning with the drug and the document in question. Another nurse smoothly moved in to continue compressions, and Warner stepped back, allowing the nurse to administer the Atrophine while he began examining the ECG.

"It's in," she reported, and his eyes turned to the cardiac monitor.

"Pulse?"

The nurse quickly stopped, his hand dropping to O'Neill's wrist. "Slight, sir." The monitor showed a heartbeat, irregular, but there. "He's in v-fib."

"Okay, we're gonna have to shock him," Warner said, tossing the ECG strip to the side. Studying the results would have to wait. "Give me 300."

"Charged, Doctor," one of the nurses reported and he moved in, pulling the paddles from the machine.

A squirt of gel and he was set. "Clear."

"Clear," came the echoing reply, and the General's body jumped under the charge.

As one, Warner and the nurses watched the monitor. Still holding the paddles, Warner swiped the back of his hand over his sweaty forehead and joined his staff in heaving a quiet sigh of relief when O'Neill's heartbeat settled into a steady rhythm. But, the crisis was far from over.

"I need a complete blood workup…now," Warner said, depositing the paddles back where they belonged. "And, prep him to be moved to the ICU, and I want a guard present at all times."

"Sir?" Anne asked, drawing his attention.

"He was doing fine. This wasn't a complication."

*~*~*

Amy Chao refused to pace. Instead, she sat on the unforgiving metal chair at the small matching metal table with her legs neatly crossed and her hands resting lightly on the cool surface. The only movements she allowed herself were the lazy swing of one foot and an occasional tug on the sleeve of her wool jacket.

Beneath the lined fabric, she could still feel the bite of the plastic cuffs which had secured her hands. Her biceps still burned with the rigid clutches of Captain Chad Peterson and Colonel Samantha Carter as they'd escorted her through the corridors to this small, utilitarian holding cell on level sixteen. Of all the things she'd done and imagined doing throughout her lifetime, somehow this had never factored into her dreams. It was unexpected, and if it were possible to catch Amy Chao off-guard, last night's and today's events had done just that.

Itching to glare up at the camera winking at her from high in the corner of the room, she instead forced her gaze downward and with a studied frown, she straightened the crease in her slacks. She wished she'd been allowed something to read. If she'd known they were going to leave her sitting here this long, she would have insisted on it. She wasn't sure how much time had passed since the door had slammed behind her—knowing they were watching her every move, she refused to allow herself to check her watch and for tactical reasons, there was no clock on any of the cell walls.

As inexperienced as she was at this particular component of the routine, she knew this was just one small step in an elaborate dance. A dance Amy Chao had danced—had orchestrated, many, many times before. If Colonel Reynolds wanted to believe he was leading her across the SGC dance floor, he was in for a surprise.

Decades of manipulating men and women far more sophisticated than the good Colonel had taught her a thing or two about grace under fire. And, when these amateur sleuths realized their mistake—which was inevitable—they'd find the only guilt rested on their own shoulders, not hers. She was sure of it.

Having had plenty of time to think about it, she knew there was nothing, not a single inappropriate thought or action, which could be pinned on her. So, despite her own circumstances, her mind churned with every word and gesture from the two alien leaders—Bra'tac and Thoran—and what those words and gestures might mean as far as their own culpability. At this point, able only to apply what she knew of human psychology and behavior, her best guess was that neither man could be behind the attack on General O'Neill. However, she knew that even if she failed to prove that either of the leaders had hatched a plot themselves, they might inadvertently reveal something that could point to which of the two groups had motive.

Acken...one of the Jaffa in Bra'tac's group. He hadn't been at the negotiations, of that she was sure. She remembered the face, name and mannerisms of every single alien and human involved in the talks. That left only a couple of brief meetings with the handsome, robed Jaffa. One had been nothing more than a hurried conversation in a corridor. The other….

Spying a blinking red light out of the corner of one eye, Amy schooled her features into impassivity. The surveillance cameras.

Well, that would explain why they were interested in talking to her. If Acken were somehow implicated in the assassination attempt, they'd be looking for anyone he might have associated with while on base. Amy tried to recall her second meeting with him. Had they even spoken? If so, what had they said? It couldn't have been anything significant, or she would have remembered. In fact, beyond an abbreviated, alien version of 'how do you do,' she couldn't recall anything specific about either exchange.

So, even under the tight scrutiny she knew Reynolds would give the meetings, there was nothing to connect her to the Jaffa. More importantly, there was absolutely no way to tie her to any plot against the General…which was probably one of the reasons she was still waiting.

She pictured her soon-to-be interrogators reviewing what could only be a few brief moments of film footage. Maybe they'd even called in a lip-reader—not that it would do them any good. What kind of fool would openly discuss a planned assassination in the hallways of one of the most secure military facilities in the world? She couldn't speak for Acken, but she could speak for herself, and while she was many things…stupid wasn't one of them.

She also knew another reason for leaving her here was to make her sweat. In Reynolds' shoes, she would have done the same thing. Unfortunately, what Reynolds didn't know was that Amy Chao didn't sweat. Not even in her worst moments…and this certainly didn't qualify as one of those.

No, as far as she was concerned, the sooner she was released from this temporary prison and allowed to get back to her real reason for being here, the better. For everyone. Well…almost everyone. Anticipating the moment when Reynolds would have to face her and concede defeat, Amy lightly rubbed one tingling wrist and for the first time since she'd arrived, she looked up at the camera.

*~*~*

A few hundred feet away on the same level as his prisoner, Colonel Gary Reynolds stared straight into the stern face of Amy Chao then rubbed his gritty eyes and sighed deeply. Truth be told, he should have relieved himself of duty hours ago. They'd all be better off if someone more rested, someone a little less…volatile, was in charge of these proceedings. He punctuated the thought with another sigh and, touching the tender bruise Acken—the Goa'uld—had left on his throat, he glared tiredly at Sam Carter, Erin Kerby, and Daniel Jackson. With the exception of the young Airman, they were all done in and needed sleep. But, despite wishing he were somewhere else, there was no way he'd trade places with Ellis and Harriman, who were dealing with the minute details of documenting the killing of a visiting alien within the confines of the SGC. Nor did he envy Teal'c, who had the task of determining how Bra'tac and the Jaffa Nation had managed to bring a Goa'uld masquerading as a Jaffa through the gate.

"So," he summed up, pushing himself away from the row of monitors and out of the line of fire of the accusing gaze of the Washington liaison, "we have nothing."

"I wouldn't say it's nothing, sir." Carter stared down at the single sheet of paper containing a transcription of the conversation between Acken and Chao.

Although it hadn't helped their case, Reynolds supposed—in a perverted kind of way—he should be grateful Lieutenant Ploughman's sister was deaf. It meant the man had been able to quickly decipher the brief conversation between their suspects…well, one suspect anyway. As Carter once again read through the transcript, Reynolds shook his head. She could read it twenty times, it didn't change the fact the conversation between the two revealed absolutely nothing.

As Daniel tugged the paper from Carter's hand, she glanced over at Reynolds. "True, they didn't discuss anything relating to the attack on the General, but it also doesn't exonerate them."

Jack O'Neill had once told Reynolds that Daniel Jackson was the only person he knew who could roll his eyes without actually rolling them. The sharp memory of the then Colonel's comment, shared over a long night sprawled on their stomachs observing a group of hostile natives attempting to flank their teams' positions, flashed through his mind as Gary suddenly witnessed the eye-rolling feat for himself. "Are you kidding?" Jackson said.

"What?"

Ignoring Carter's defensive tone, Jackson squinted down at the paper. "She said 'hello,' he grunted. She said, 'I haven't noticed you at the talks,' and he responded with, 'You are correct.' She introduces herself; he glares at her a moment then mutters his name." Daniel looked over at Carter.

"So?" Sam shrugged and irritably snatched the paper back.

"How do you get 'it doesn't exonerate them' out of that? I mean, they were being polite. Barely."

"Do you honestly think they'd discuss their plans right in the middle of the hallway?"

Crossing his arms over his chest, Reynolds turned his back to the monitors and tipped his chair back on two legs. "When I met with Miss Chao in O'Neill's office, she was immediately aware of the video cameras. All of them."

Daniel's eyes flashed briefly, angrily, as he swung his gaze from Carter to Reynolds. "So, because she's observant, she's an assassin." Not rolling his eyes again, Daniel mumbled, "Yeah, that makes sense."

"Listen, Daniel, just because they acted like they'd never been introduced, it doesn't mean they didn't know each other. I mean, come on," Carter shook the paper for emphasis, "you don't find it the least bit strange that they just happened to meet in that particular hallway when they did?"

"Actually, no I don't. I don't find it strange at all. And, I'll even go one step further: I also don't find it strange that when they did meet in that particular hallway, she spoke to him. In case you hadn't heard, it's called 'common courtesy.' Even Jack engages in it from time to time," Daniel snapped.

Reynolds dropped his chair onto all four legs, the metal resonating loudly against the tile floor. "Okay, okay. We're all tired." At least Carter managed to look slightly abashed; on the other hand, it was obvious Jackson had his heels dug in on this issue. Jack was right: the archeologist had mettle. And, he was stubborn. "So, what do have?"

Daniel's lips moved, but Reynolds could only guess what the man was saying. Frowning at her teammate, Carter turned her gaze on her commanding officer. "I think we should talk to her."

Chewing his bottom lip, Reynolds avoided Jackson's defiant glare and swiveled to observe the image of the woman on the monitor. Miss Chao was still seated at the table; she still appeared calm and unruffled. If her steady hands neatly folded on the table were any indication of her guilt, they were holding an innocent woman.

"Has anyone even considered the possibility Acken was working alone?" Daniel softly asked.

Reynolds turned back to the other occupants in the small surveillance room. He looked briefly at Airman Kerby who appeared to be concentrating on the monitor in front of her. "I agree with Carter. Since we have Chao in custody, we might as well make good use of our time. Let's talk to her. See what she knows." Gary pushed himself to his feet with a soft grunt. "Carter, take a break. Jackson, you're with me."

*~*~*

Standing in the open doorway, arms crossed over his chest, Warner scowled and watched as the nursing staff settled their patient in ICU. Glancing his way, Anne Matthews slipped the needle into the port on the IV tubing and, at the physician's curt nod, she pushed the plunger on the hypodermic.

"Let's watch for signs of hypotension, people," he softly cautioned.

Obvious injuries aside, the General's condition was not looking good at the moment. Even as his eyes drifted to the heart monitor, Warner witnessed the jagged trail of another arrhythmia. Eyes dropping to the numbers on the digital display, he noted O'Neill's pulse rate, which was irregular and slow.

Still awaiting the results of the lab tests, Warner was currently operating solely on instinct, and it was that instinct which told him to administer an IV bolus of calcium. He'd seen this before—these symptoms—and if he was right, the contents of the needle which Anne had emptied into the General's bloodstream would counteract the muscular malfunction of O'Neill's heart, at least temporarily. At best, they had a window of perhaps an hour before the arrhythmias resumed in earnest…before O'Neill's heart failed again.

"Doctor?"

Clearing his mind, Warner looked at Anne. "What?"

"You should take a look at this." She nodded toward the General's arm, at the site where the catheter of the IV pierced his skin. "It may be nothing, but…."

Warner glanced at the two armed guards who had silently arrived and were now staring worriedly into the General's room. Meeting his gaze, the female gave him a respectful 'sir' before both SF's turned and effectively blocked the door. Guards at the infirmary entrance, guards here…hopefully, it would be enough this time.

Stepping between the busy nurses, Warner moved to stand at Anne's elbow. "What is it?"

The nurse nodded again. "Is it just my imagination?"

"No," he said. "You're right." He studied the reddened skin and the slight swelling around the spot where the large needle disappeared into the back of O'Neill's right hand—subtle signs which would be all but invisible to the layman's eye. Subtle signs which told him his suspicions were likely correct.

"Excuse me."

Glancing up at the distinctive, childlike voice of Maggie Richards, the head lab technician, Warner hurried to grab the thin sheaf of papers from her hand.

Maggie grinned. "You'll never guess. It's—"

"Potassium poisoning."

"Dang it!" Maggie muttered then smiled. "Just once I'd like to get to the punch-line first."

Without looking up from the thin columns of figures, Warner barked, "We're going to need to push glucose. And, Anne, call Spiner at Academy. Make arrangements to get a dialyzer here, stat."

"You think it'll come to that?" Maggie questioned, suddenly serious.

Vaguely aware of Anne brushing past him on her way out of the room, Warner finally looked up at the technician. "Just a precaution."

Following Maggie's gaze, Warner looked at his patient—unhealthy pallor, bruised eyes taped shut, a deep gash and first degree burn marring the forehead, intubation tube. As he stared, O'Neill's left index finger twitched, curling slightly inward, and Warner mentally scheduled a repeat MRI and another round of tests to re-grade the depth of the man's coma. As soon as he was stable. But, for now, Warner had a call to make. Reynolds would need an update.

Nodding dismissively at Maggie, Warner glanced back at the two nurses who hovered over the General's lifeless form. "I'll be in my office. Let me know if there's any change. Even slight," he stressed. Pushing past the guards, Warner wished—not for the first time—that Janet Fraiser was still alive.

*~*~*

She was eight when her father raped her for the first time. It had happened on Christmas Eve while her mother was downstairs preparing the traditional duck dinner they ate every year. She still remembered the sound of her father's grunts punctuating the distant sound of her mother singing White Christmas. She still remembered thinking there could not possibly be a Santa Claus in a world where things like this happened. And, if there was, she hated him.

The next day, when she'd angrily thrown her fork across the dining room table in the middle of an otherwise perfect family dinner, her father had punished her by locking her in the linen closet for over an hour. Sent there to contemplate the crime of acting like a spoiled brat, she'd instead relived the private moments between herself and her father, and tearless, shivering with fear at a world gone suddenly, terribly wrong, she'd pondered her own culpability in the crime. To this day, she wasn't sure what she'd done to deserve his attentions, what had happened to change the way her father viewed her. To this day, the smell of roast duck nauseated her, and she detested holidays, confined spaces, and Christmas carols.

Did she have issues? Obviously. She couldn't imagine anyone who wouldn't under the circumstances. Anger? Not so much—at least not any more, and nothing she couldn't manage. Nothing she couldn't redirect, using her work as an outlet. Disgust, distrust, disdain? Absolutely. As far as she was concerned, she hadn't met a man yet who didn't deserve to be used. Sure, she'd had 'boyfriends.' Actually, she'd had a lot of them, very few of whom she could remember beyond a face, a name, why she'd stayed with him, and why she'd left. But, she did remember she hadn't loved any of them, and as soon as she'd gotten what she'd needed—be it money, position, companionship, safety—she'd left them without looking back.

Did she have issues? Amy smiled at the thought. She didn't need a degree in psychology or the confirmation of every therapist she'd ever consulted to know that she did. It was interesting, though, that out of five therapists, only one—the sole male—had thought it telling that she'd gone into a profession where manipulating men virtually guaranteed her success. Of course, it was also interesting that he'd made that observation only after she'd taken him to her bed then had told him to leave.

Preoccupied with tamping down old memories and repressing old fears revived by the shrinking walls of the tiny holding cell, Amy flinched when the door finally opened and Colonel Reynolds and Doctor Jackson entered the room. Walking stiffly, Reynolds looked angry, while Daniel Jackson appeared resigned, hesitant. Both men were obviously exhausted.

She didn't move; her only greeting was a dead glare.

Colonel Reynolds pulled out a chair across the table from her and sat down with a bare acknowledgement of her presence. "Miss Chao," he nodded.

With a soft clearing of his throat, Doctor Jackson took the seat immediately to the left of the officer and, setting an unopened bottle of water on the table, he pushed it toward her with a soft smile. "I thought you might be thirsty."

She rewarded him with a cold smile before turning it on the man in charge. "Good cop, bad cop? That's rather clichéd, isn't it? Even for a military man like yourself."

Reynolds sighed and glanced around the room then back at her. "I apologize for the accommodations. I imagine you're accustomed to better."

"Meaning?"

"Meaning," he opened his mouth then closed it, apparently reconsidering his response. "Meaning nothing. It's just that, unless I'm mistaken, I'd guess you rarely find yourself under suspicion of conspiring to assassinate a general in the United States Air Force."

"You think?"

Inexplicably, Doctor Jackson laughed before quickly smothering it behind a fist and a dry cough. He dodged Amy's questioning glance and Reynolds' annoyed glare.

"So," the Colonel said as he dragged his eyes back to Amy, "first things first:  my apologies for keeping you waiting. It wasn't intentional, I assure you."

"We both know that's not true, Colonel. Therefore, not only is your apology insincere, it's unnecessary. In your shoes, I would have done the same thing." Amy allowed herself a tight smile. "Besides, I'm a master of the waiting game."

"Yes," Reynolds conceded, "I suppose you are."

"We have footage of you speaking with someone named Acken. Did you conspire with him to assassinate General O'Neill?" Daniel Jackson blurted.

Reynolds appeared taken aback by his colleague's bluntness, causing Amy to chuckle. "Leave it to the civilian archeologist to cut through the military doublespeak and dig straight to the heart of the matter."

"Did you?" Jackson repeated.

Having had plenty of time to think about it, Amy was curious. "What makes you so sure Acken was even involved?" Neither man responded. "You have proof?"

Daniel Jackson finally opened his mouth as if to speak, but Reynolds was quicker. Never taking his eyes off Amy, the Colonel snapped out a hand and grabbed Jackson's wrist, silencing whatever the Doctor had been about to say. Amy watched the exchange with interest. Reynolds was worried Daniel Jackson would lay all their cards on the table, which meant….

"You know Acken tried to kill General O'Neill. Now, you're trying to determine if he acted alone or in concert with someone. I take it, then, he's not talking." Not getting a reaction from either man, she studied the tired eyes which were focused on her and thought about everything she knew about O'Neill, the SGC, and the aliens. "It would almost certainly have to be someone who has access to the facility. Someone within your own ranks."

"Not necessarily," Reynolds mumbled bitterly.

Amy smiled. "Acken didn't attend the negotiations or the reception. I would have remembered. In fact, that's what struck me most about him when I met him for the first time—that I hadn't seen him before. I didn't even remember his arrival with Master Bra'tac and the other representatives from the Jaffa Nation."

"So," Jackson said, "you're saying the first time you met him was in the corridor outside the meeting room on level seventeen, just one floor beneath this one?"

"Yes."

Jackson looked at Reynolds and shrugged. The Colonel ignored the gesture.

"Look," Amy pressed her palms on the smooth surface of the table, "I often go for walks. It clears my head. Helps me to think." Feeling the walls closing in, she added, "Although, I must admit I prefer to take my strolls in the great outdoors. But here—well, as we all know, getting in and out of this facility is not the easiest thing in the world."

Reynolds straightened in his chair. "Is that what you were doing when you met with Acken the second time? Out…walking?"

Again, she nodded. "Yes. Late last night."

"In a hallway on level twenty-eight," Daniel stated softly, kindly. "You know that's the gateroom."

"And the armory," Reynolds added pointedly.

Amy sighed. "Yes. I know."

"You know." Reynolds crossed his arms and leaned his elbows on the table. "Then, would you mind telling me what you were doing there?"

"I got turned around." Reynolds smirked, and Amy felt her patience slip under the combined pressure of fatigue and being buried in this room deep in the intestines of an underground silo. "My quarters are on level twenty-six. Leaving the reception, I mistakenly took the elevator to twenty-eight instead. In case you hadn't noticed, this place is confusing. A maze. I'm thinking of suing the architect."

Daniel Jackson grinned, but Reynolds frowned. "So, what was Acken doing there—so close to the armory and just one level below where the General was attacked?"

Amy shrugged carelessly. "I have no idea. You'll have to ask him."

"Unfortunately, Miss Chao, I can't do that," Reynolds snapped just as the door opened and a young Airman stuck his head inside.

"Excuse me, Colonel. There's a call for you. It's Doctor Warner. He says it's urgent."

As Reynolds slipped from the room, Amy studied Doctor Jackson whose face reflected his renewed worry. Taking a deep breath, she gathered her composure. "So, how is he?" When Jackson looked at her, she nodded toward the door. "General O'Neill."

"Um," Jackson rubbed his eyes tiredly. "He's holding his own. Well," he looked in the direction Reynolds had gone, "he was anyway."

Amy studied the man seated across from her, trying to reconcile the kind archeologist with the tough pseudo-soldier whose name appeared in so many of the reports she'd been given to read before coming here. Daniel Jackson was a mystery, but no more so, she supposed, than his associates—the beautiful, intelligent Colonel Carter, the regal alien Teal'c, and the calloused General O'Neill. They were all enigmas, but rightly so when one considered the realities they dealt with on a daily basis.

"Miss Chao, did you notice anything odd last night on the way to your room?"

Forcing a tired smile, Amy shifted in the merciless chair and allowed her weariness to show for the first time since being deposited here. "Do you mean other than getting lost in a secret government facility where I've been assigned to mediate between two groups of aliens from different planets?"

Jackson acknowledged the irony with a nod. "Yeah, other than that."

Amy pulled the water bottle closer. "You believe me, don't you?"

He hesitated only slightly before admitting, "Yes, I do."

"Thank you," she said softly, gratefully.

"No need to thank me. Besides, you might not want to put too much weight on my trust. Jack says I have a tendency to be a little free with it," he explained. "He's also been known to say it'll probably get him killed some day."

Amy grinned. "The General sounds like a pretty special guy."

Daniel nodded. "Absolutely. He's infuriating, annoying as hell, and if there's anyone you can trust with your life, it's Jack. That's what makes this so disturbing. A Goa'uld, a Jaffa, a Tok'ra…I can understand one of them wanting to kill him, but one of our own?" He shook his head.

"There is any number of reasons people kill one another, Doctor Jackson. Very few of them logical or understandable."

"Yeah," he replied, "I know. Still…." Reaching over, he uncapped the bottle she was still clutching. "So, did you see anything suspicious last night? Anyone, besides yourself and Acken, wandering around who shouldn't have been?"

Amy thought back, wanting desperately to provide Doctor Jackson with the answers he needed. Finally, conceding defeat, she shook her head. "No. Sorry. The only other persons I saw were the General's aide and the guard posted at the gateroom."

*~*~*

He paced relentlessly. He walked along the back wall of his office—right shoulder chilled by the large expanse of glass overlooking the busy avenue four stories below—turned and marched to the oak bookshelf, he curved back to his desk, stepped around the chair, and moved once more to the window. It was a circuitous route which, like his thoughts, ultimately led nowhere.

"Mein Herr?"

Startled, Gregor flinched as he turned to look at the young secretary who had opened the door and was staring at him, her forehead crinkled with worry. "Was?" he barked.

She nodded toward his desk. "Das telefon, Herr Weisz."

He followed her gaze, his eyes drawn to the blinking light of one of the incoming lines. Someone was on hold. Reluctantly, he looked back up at her.

"Es Herr Favre," she informed him. When he didn't respond, her frowned deepened. "Mein Herr?"

"Uh," Gregor cleared his throat and waved her away, "danke. Alles wird gut." Hesitantly, the secretary backed out, shutting the door behind her. Walking to his desk, his eyes on the blinking light of the phone, Gregor wiped a sweaty palm on his trousers. He could only hope what he'd told her—that everything was going to be all right—was, in fact, the truth.

Unfortunately, that remained to be seen. All he knew for sure was the money was gone. All of it. As instructed, the final installment had been deposited directly into the account. There was no way of retrieving it—he had checked. And, word from his contact in the States was that a woman was being held for the attempted assassination of General Jack O'Neill.

Taking a deep, steadying breath, Gregor picked up the phone, punched the blinking light, and injected emotion he didn't feel into his voice. "Monsieur Favre, what a surprise!"

*~*~*

Gary Reynolds moved up the short flight of stairs, his eyes flickering toward the window overlooking the room below. Jackson was still there, conversing with Amy. There really was no other way to say it. The archeologist was about the last person on the base who could interrogate someone. Now, talking them to death was another matter entirely. But, when you got down to it, long lectures from the good doctor might make anyone confess to just about anything if only to make it end.

At least, that's what he'd been told.

Nodding to the Airman, he picked up the phone at the far end of the room and leaned against the wall, allowing it to hold up his exhausted body. "Reynolds."

"Doctor Warner, sir. I'm sorry to interrupt, but we had an incident in the infirmary I believe you should know about."

Reynolds closed his eyes, feeling a sensation of weariness sweep over him. He almost asked, 'what now?' but instead took a breath and rephrased his response. "An incident?"

The doctor paused for a moment before answering and Gary almost spoke again to make sure they were still connected. "The General was poisoned."

"Poisoned? How? Who did it? How is he? And when were you planning on telling me this?"

"I believe that's what I'm doing now, Colonel," Warner replied, fatigue clearly evident in his tone. He paused again, taking a breath before continuing. "It took us some time to get the General stabilized and we've moved him to the ICU. I wanted to make sure he was out of the woods before I left him with the nurses. I’d like to request continual guards be posted so this won't happen again."

"Agreed. But I thought there were SFs posted earlier? How could this have happened?"

"I don't know, sir. I know Teal'c had been standing guard and another Airman was supposed to replace him. Apparently, there was a delay before the replacement reported to his post."

"I want two Airmen there at all times. We can't have this kind of thing happening again. What's General O'Neill's current condition?"

"We've been able to identify the substance and we've administered the counteragent. We won't know the extent of the damage the poison may have caused until we run further tests."

"What was used?"

"Potassium."

"Potassium? Where did it come from?"

"We're attempting to ascertain that as we speak, sir. I have my staff going through the on-base medical stores to find out if it may have come from there. If everything is accounted for, then we'll have to assume it came from outside the base."

"But we've been locked down for nearly twenty-four hours—nothing in or out."

"Then, it may have been part of a back-up plan, something to make sure he was dead. If it weren't for the quick reflexes of the medical staff, General O'Neill would not have survived."

"Understood. Make sure he's never left alone, and report in as soon as you have more information."

"I will, sir. And, one other thing," Warner said, hesitating slightly. "We're about ready to perform an autopsy on Acken. I wanted to make sure you knew."

"An autopsy? Is that really necessary? We know what killed him."

"It's SOP, sir. And we'll be able to confirm our original hypothesis."

"What? That he was a Goa'uld? That's one thing I'm damn sure about, Doctor. If you feel it's necessary, then fine. Give me the report when you're done."

"I will, sir. Also, it may be time for a more thorough check of base personnel."

"You think there might be more than one Goa'uld in the SGC?"

"This might be a case of better safe than sorry, sir. I can have personnel available for the screenings within the hour."

Reynolds sighed, rolling his eyes toward the ceiling. "Start with the medical staff, Doctor. I'll send someone to help you organize everything."

"Thank you, Colonel. Warner out."

Reynolds slowly hung up the phone, his free hand moving to scrub his face. Letting out a breath, he closed his eyes, wishing he could turn back time, wishing none of this had happened. The swish of fabric alerted him to someone else's presence in the room. Opening his eyes, he caught sight of a hesitant Master Sergeant, pausing on the edge of the room beside the Airman standing guard.

"Walter, you wanted something?"

"I just heard about the General, sir."

"News travels fast," Reynolds responded with a half-smile. "I need to let Doctor Jackson know what's going on."

"I took the liberty of asking him to join us."

Reynolds nodded. "Thank you." A few beats later, Jackson plodded up the stairs and Gary gave him the news. The archeologist dropped into a nearby chair, his bloodshot eyes wide.

"When did this happen? Who did it?"

"About an hour ago, maybe a little longer," Walter replied, his voice quiet. "Doctor Warner wasn't sure exactly when it happened, but that's his best estimate based on the General's condition."

"Then that complicates matters, doesn't it?" Daniel softly commented.

"What do you mean?" Reynolds said, his eyebrows drawing together in question.

"An hour and a half ago we were standing outside Amy Chao's quarters talking to her. And I believe you were with Acken. That means neither one of them had anything to do with Jack's poisoning. We're holding the wrong person."

Reynolds' jaw tightened. "Or, there's more than one assassin at the SGC."

*~*~*

Chad Peterson leaned against the wall outside the quarters of the visiting Jaffa. The medical teams had come and gone, taking the body of the Jaffa…Goa'uld—whatever Acken had been—to the morgue. Wells and Ellis had followed them so they could get a complete report for the Colonel. One more report for the ever-increasing file on the assassination attempt on General O'Neill.

Once Colonel Carter and Doctor Jackson had gotten Miss Chao to accompany them—under guard and in cuffs—Chad decided Bosco might need some back-up. Honestly, he was curious about what had happened. Someone had mentioned staff weapons fire and that was far more interesting to him than the morgue. For some reason, that place always gave him the creeps.

But now, looking at the bloodstained corridor and seeing his friends' pale, pinched face, Chad knew things had gone from bad to worse in a hurry. Bra'tac, standing off to the side, looked downright perturbed. Although, perturbed seemed to be the typical expression of most of the Jaffa he knew. This time, however, it was slightly different. It was almost as if someone had pissed in his cornflakes this morning or something. Finding out that a member of your diplomatic team was a Goa'uld assassin could obviously put a damper on your day.

"Teal'c," Peterson said as the Jaffa moved past him, his voice thin as he tried to phrase the thoughts running through his mind into a coherent question.

The Jaffa paused, his face hard as he turned to Chad, but his expression softening slightly as their eyes met. "You are worried."

Chad nodded, his eyes drifting to the maintenance men who were getting to work on the stained floor. "How does this happen?"

Teal'c turned, taking in everything in the small, cramped hallway. Bra'tac approached them on silent feet, Bosco not far behind. The older Jaffa answered, his words weary. "I do not know."

"But, he was part of your delegation," Bosco exclaimed, the hissed words condemnatory. "You should have known."

Bra'tac's eyes were hooded, heavy with understanding and guilt. "Although I agree, I fear you will discover there are many things of which I should have been cognizant. Acken's background is only one such item."

"What do you know?"

The Jaffa turned toward Teal'c, his eyes studying his former student's face, searching for what Peterson didn't know. He found something he liked, Chad guessed, as Bra'tac's tense shoulders loosened a little. "Little and clearly not enough. Acken was added to the delegation early on, a choice of the Jaffa Council. He came from a highly respected family. Much intelligence had been gained through him during our fight against the Goa'uld. I had no reason to question his allegiance or the Council's decision."

"He helped the Jaffa resistance movement? A Goa'uld?" Chad shook his head, his eyes drifting back to the door at the far end of the hallway, the smell of disinfectant beginning to overtake the area. "That doesn't make any sense."

"No, it does not," Teal'c concurred, clasping his hands behind his back. "Do you recall who proposed his addition to the delegation?"

Bra'tac shook his head. "I do not. His name was proposed along with several others. Acken was one of several selected at the time."

"There were others?" Bosco asked, drawing the Jaffas' attention. "Who else?"

"Kel'moc and Fic'tiv agreed to join the delegation. Gra'ac declined, as did Bor'nak. Both are involved with the relocation project."

"I know Kel'moc. Of him, I am certain," Teal'c replied. "The others…I have only heard their names in passing."

"But can we trust them?" Bosco asked, crossing his arms over his chest. "Can you vouch for the rest of the delegation?"

Silence settled over the small group, the sound of the clean-up crew and the whoosh of the air conditioning vents above their heads providing background music. When Bra'tac finally answered, Peterson knew the events were wearing heavily on the Jaffa. He could hear it in his voice, see it in his posture.

"I swore to O'Neill that the delegation from the Free Jaffa were hand-selected, that they posed no threat to the Tau'ri homeworld. I swore on my honor, but things have turned to…bite us in the ass, wouldn't you say?" Peterson caught a glimpse of humor in the Jaffa's eyes. He could even hear the General's inflection in Bra'tac's words and delivery. Bra'tac must have caught the similarities as well, because his expression quickly sobered. "Am I to doubt the word of my fellow brothers? Am I to treat my brothers as the enemy?"

"We know you didn't want this to happen," Chad said, wanting to make the older Jaffa feel better. Needing to. "It's not your fault—"

"But that is where the blame lies," Bra'tac responded, his dark eyes firm.

"No." Peterson shook his head. "You're not to blame. You had nothing to do with Acken's attempt on the General's life. Maybe this is what he wanted—to cast blame on the Jaffa, to drive a wedge between our peoples. You cannot be responsible for another man's actions."

Bra'tac held Peterson's eyes for a moment before turning away, his gaze distant. "I wish I were as certain of that as you are."

*~*~*

Slumped in chairs around a table in the far corner of the commissary, SG-1 was huddled around their coffee cups. Too wired to sleep, too tired to move, and barred until further notice from the infirmary, they had settled on another favorite haunt instead. Sooner or later, Daniel knew, someone would arrive to try to kick them out of here, too; to try to convince them to get some sleep.

Reynolds had been catnapping when he could, grabbing a few minutes here and there so he could keep going. Gary was worried. It was obvious to Daniel in the way the Colonel stormed around the SGC and gingerly occupied Jack's office. And, the increasing complexity of the situation only made him crazier. Reynolds was living a nightmare—as were they all.

Sam had talked to General Hammond several hours ago, giving him an update while Reynolds slept. He'd managed thirty minutes that time before he was up once again, reviewing reports. Screenings had begun a few hours ago, the medical staff getting a clean bill of health. It was only a matter of time before everyone was scanned.

But, would it matter in the long run if they found a stowaway? The damage was already done.

"Daniel?" Sam's voice cut through the fog that had settled around him, her hand warming his arm where it rested. "You okay?"

He nodded, his fingers caressing the hot, ceramic mug in his hands. "It's like we're running in circles."

"I know how you feel," she agreed, her words punctuated with a sigh.

He glanced up, his eyes tracking toward the counter on the far end of the room. A sole member of the kitchen staff was quietly filling the refrigerated case with ready-made salads and sandwiches alongside bowls of vanilla and chocolate pudding and various colors of Jell-O.

"And what do you hope to accomplish with that activity, Daniel Jackson?"

He chuckled lightly, more out of rote than humor. "I don't know, Teal'c. It's just that everything seemed to point to Chao, until all of a sudden it didn't."

"I still don't trust her."

"Now you're starting to sound like Jack," Daniel said, pulling his attention to the blonde-haired woman across the table. "He doesn't trust anyone from the Pentagon."

"O'Neill trusts General Hammond."

"That's different," Daniel conceded to the Jaffa. "It would have been nice and easy if Chao were to blame, because it would have kept the SGC free and clear. Now…." Daniel shrugged. "Now, it could be anyone, even one of our own. But, it's supposed to be different with us, with SGC personnel. We're supposed to be a family. We're supposed to stick together, not go around trying to kill each other."

"It is…unfortunate that this has occurred, but should we not welcome the opportunity to purge the SGC of the traitors within our midst? They have not succeeded in killing O'Neill and, according to Doctor Warner, he will recover."

"Still," Daniel said, "this shouldn't have happened in the first place. We should have been more aware, more cautious of what could happen, of just how many people don't like the Tau'ri politics."

"To what end? If we become fearful of every decision made, we become impotent. No, the Tau'ris’ strength relies on its ability to react quickly to changes."

"Well, I wouldn't have said it quite that way…," Daniel began, but Sam cut him off.

"The real question is: how can we prevent this from happening again? If we shouldn't change the way we do things, how do we know this won't be an isolated incident?"

"We do not. In fact, this may only be a small part of a much larger plan to which we are not privy. But, what have we ascertained as of yet?" Teal'c studied each of his comrades briefly before continuing. "That O'Neill was originally assaulted by Acken, a Goa'uld passing himself off as a member of the Jaffa peace delegation. That another, as yet unidentified individual attempted to assassinate O'Neill a second time, which in turn has cleared Miss Amy Chao of wrongdoing. Since the lock-down of this facility remains in place, the second assassin must be within the SGC. Therefore, it is only a matter of time before he is apprehended."

"Wait a minute, Teal'c," Daniel said, frowning a little.

"What?" Sam asked turning to the pensive man.

He paused, his eyes taking on a slightly far-off glaze. "The base…something's not right."

"What is it, Daniel?"

"Amy…she mentioned seeing a guard in the gateroom the night of the diplomatic reception. Most of the security detail was in the upper levels of the base. There was the guard assigned to the control room, of course." Something they all knew was SOP when there were no teams scheduled to depart or return. The control room guard is responsible for keeping an eye on the gateroom.

"And?" Sam prodded.

"And, Amy mentioned seeing a guard in the gateroom that night, but she couldn't have. There was no one on duty that night in the gateroom."

"Then who did she see?"

"Walter and an unknown security guard."

"I believe it would be advantageous to discover the identity of that security guard."

*~*~*

"So, you think this…person that Miss Chao remembered seeing in the gateroom might have something to do with all of this?" Reynolds asked as he sank into one of the briefing room chairs. These fifteen-minute catnaps he kept snatching were not amounting to much.

"Why was there a security guard in the gateroom? No one was assigned to that post that night. We checked the duty roster," Carter replied, leaning forward in her chair, her elbows resting on the table.

"Someone could have been walking through. Wasn't that what Miss Chao claimed she was doing?"

"Yes, but how many people walk through the gateroom on their way to anywhere? And, at that time of night?" Daniel chimed in. "It shouldn't be difficult to find out who she saw."

Reynolds nodded. "The security cameras will show us whether she's telling the truth. Right now, I have Sergeant Harriman working on the infirmary camera feeds to try and find out what happened while we were busy with Acken and Miss Chao."

"Perhaps we can view the tapes in question."

"If that will answer your questions, go right ahead. I'm sure Walter can show you how to access the recording for the gateroom."

Jackson, Carter, and Teal'c rose to their feet, their dogged determination to find an answer a testament to their strong friendship with the General and their own sense of justice. Reynolds knew that if he were responsible for O'Neil's condition, there was no way he'd want to come face-to-face with the anger those three had simmering beneath the surface.

But then, with one possible exception, he knew their reaction was echoed amongst all of the SGC personnel on base. Whoever was responsible would pay dearly for what he'd done. Of that Gary was certain.

*~*~*

His head was coming off.

He heard himself breathing and his head was coming off.

"General O'Neill?"

The female voice, coming from somewhere far away, ricocheted annoyingly inside his head. Bouncing from one side of his brain to the other, the sound became drawn out and distorted, merging and twisting around the sounds of the speaker repeatedly saying his name.

He wanted to move, but he couldn't feel his body and his head was coming off.

He breathed, he dozed, and he wondered where he was and what had happened. But, ultimately, nothing mattered except the fact he was tired.

"General?"

A male voice this time, much closer, startled him.

"That's great, sir. Can you do that again?"

He breathed, and wondered what he'd done and what was wrapped around his head, pressing down on his skull with a paralyzing weight. It was a miracle the bones hadn't shattered under the pressure, the shards penetrating his gray matter like shrapnel in mashed potatoes.

"Sir, can you squeeze my hand again?"

So, that's what he'd done. Jack wanted to comply with the request for a repeat performance, but he hurt. More importantly, he wanted a situation report and he desperately wanted an aspirin. But, mainly, he needed to sleep. So he did.

"I don't know, but I think he's waking up," a man said.

He felt different. Not only could he feel his body, he could feel the sheet touching each pore. As his lungs slowly pumped, he felt the drag of starched fabric against the individual hairs on his chest. Tiny veins pulsed in protest around the large bore needle of an IV penetrating the back of his right hand. His forehead stung and there was a dull throb above his right eye. The skin of his face felt tight, too warm, swollen, and his entire head ached miserably.

Just as he realized he'd been hearing the rhythmic hiss and beep of various machines, he also heard the low groan of himself in distress.

"I think you'd better get someone. A nurse or something," a woman said.

"Our post—"

Unable to stop himself, Jack groaned again under the crushing, writhing object squeezing his head.

"Go!" the female ordered.

He opened his eyes—his left one anyway; his right one didn't want to cooperate.

A woman stood over him. Someone who looked vaguely familiar.

"General," she said, leaning close, "are you in pain?"

Jack blinked. One of the members of the security detail.

"If you don't mind my saying so, sir, you don't look so good."

Jack struggled to put words to the pain and sensations reverberating through his body. Instead, another groan oozed up from the depths of his parched throat.

The woman smiled kindly. "Let's just see what we can do about that."

As she reached for the clear tubing of the IV, Jack wondered what a guard could possibly do for him, but before the thought could coalesce into rationality, his eyes closed and he sank back into oblivion.

*~*~*

Walter Harriman hovered behind Senior Airmen Stawinsky, Kerby, and Travis who were hard at work sorting through several hours of footage from the infirmary cameras. He had them looking at a few angles, trying to see who didn't belong and how the individual who poisoned the General had gotten through without notice or fanfare. At first thought, Walter suspected someone from the medical staff. They had easy access to the pharmaceuticals and to the entire infirmary. Who questions a nurse or doctor walking around on their own turf? But, Walter was keeping his options open. His orders were simple: find the person who did it.

Sorting through hours of video footage was no easy task even when they had a basic idea of when the suspect may have entered the infirmary. It hadn't helped to discover that the General's bed wasn't directly on camera. Instead, they were having to rely on the camera in the hall outside the General's room and the ones posted throughout the level. But, trying to pick out the one person who didn't belong was difficult.

At least now there was a camera focused directly on the General's bed in the ICU—just in case someone got the urge to try something. Walter had put that feed on one of the top monitors, his eyes drifting to the screen every so often. Two guards had been posted with orders never to leave the General alone with anyone, not even Warner himself.

Reynolds was serious. He obviously had no intention of allowing the General to die on his watch.

Major Ellis had stopped by to check on their progress and drop off the newly finished duty rosters. They'd chatted for a few minutes, each voicing their own concerns about the situation before Ellis was off again with another errand to run for the Colonel before reporting in again.

To his right, Colonel Carter had commandeered another workstation nearly an hour ago. Doctor Jackson and Teal'c sat at each of her shoulders. It hadn't taken long to give her basic instructions on how the digital recordings worked, and she'd found the right feed after a short search. Then, it was just a matter of going through the recordings until they found who they were looking for. If SG-1 were right about their hypothesis, then their suspects would match.

Ideally.

Walter leaned over, his eyes scanning the three screens before him. "Anything?" he asked, his voice hushed, just loud enough to reach the ears of the three Airmen. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught Teal'c stiffening a little, tilting his head to listen. He'd forgotten about the Jaffa's sensitive ears.

Kerby replied without taking her eyes from the monitor. "A few possibilities, but nothing concrete."

"Anyone we know?"

"We know them all, sir. I just can't believe any one of them would have anything to do with this."

"I know how you feel, Erin, but we have to put our personal feelings aside. It could be anyone."

"I know," she replied with a sigh. "It's just that…wait a minute. I thought Doctor Warner reported there was no guard on duty when the General was poisoned."

"That's what he assumed since there were none posted when the General began to code. He mentioned there was no one to relieve Teal'c when he went to assist Colonel Reynolds. Why?"

"Look here," she said, pointing to the screen as she re-wound the recording. Teal'c silently appeared at Walter's elbow. "Teal'c left only a few moments before with you, Sergeant. Then one of the security officers appears." Erin began fast-forwarding through the footage. "The guard stands there for a few minutes before entering the room. Not even two minutes later he's back in the hallway, heading away from the camera and toward the elevators."

"Can you get an ID?"

"Sure," she nodded. "Give me a minute."

Walter glanced up at the Jaffa. He knew Erin was onto something when he saw the look in Teal'c's eyes. "Recognize the guard?"

"I believe I do."

"Gotcha!" came Daniel's exclamation a beat later. "Can you get closer, Sam?"

Teal'c turned, his attention drawn to the two scientists. "What have you uncovered, Daniel Jackson?"

The archeologist glanced over his shoulder. "I think we found Amy's missing SF. He knew where all the cameras were and managed to avoid nearly all of the ones in the gateroom, but it looks like he forgot about one of them."

"Sir?" Kerby's voice was thin, pulling Walter back to the Airman. "This is the best image I can pull up, but I think it's going to be enough."

Leaning down, Walter squinted at the image before him, his memory slower than normal due to his distinct lack of sleep. "Isn't that…?"

"Captain Martha Bixley," Teal'c responded, his voice tense. Walter glanced to his right expecting Teal'c to be hovering over him, but the Jaffa was perched in the chair beside Colonel Carter.

"She's assigned to the infirmary, isn't she?" Walter asked, drawing several pairs of eyes his way. "I remember her. She came highly recommended and had high clearances. One of her duty stations is the infirmary. The other is on level twenty-seven. Major Ellis just gave me the duty rosters for the next twenty-four hours. I think her name was on it."

"Where is she now?" Jackson asked, his eyes wide as Walter grabbed the pages from the nearby desk, flipping through them quickly.

"Sir," Travis said, his arm raised toward one of the top monitors. "I think we found her."

They watched in stunned silence as one of the guards left the ICU, moving quickly through the door and into the hallway.

Captain Bixley was alone with the General.

*~*~*

As the sirens began to wail above her head, Martha pulled her left hand away from the plastic IV tubing before touching it, her breath catching in her chest as her eyes scanned the room. She was still alone, Shaw on his way to get a nurse or doctor to help O'Neill. Unfortunately, the General had sunk back into unconsciousness without her intervention. If only she'd been quicker, he would have felt the burning in his veins as the second batch of poison entered his system. Now, with him unconscious and the base on alert for something, she'd have to wait, bide her time. It wasn't fair, though. The damn man must have nine lives or something. He just wouldn't die.

Sliding the second syringe back into her uniform pocket, she stepped away from the bed, positioning herself in the middle of the room facing the door, her hands on her weapon.

She was prepared to defend the General against any incursion. She had to. She wanted to be the one to kill him.

*~*~*

Reynolds thundered down the hallway, two SFs not far behind. Rounding a corner, he met up with a wide-eyed group composed of Colonel Carter, Teal'c, Doctor Jackson, and Sergeant Harriman, their flushed faces only emphasizing their haste through the SGC.

"Where is she?"

"In the room with the General," replied the Sergeant.

"You warned Doctor Warner?" Reynolds asked, not breaking his stride as they hurried toward the ICU.

"Yes, sir. He said he'd have a team standing by."

"And she's one of our own?"

"Yes, sir. From the Pentagon. Came highly recommended."

Reynolds shook his head and rolled his eyes. "So much for background checks."

As they turned the last corner, Senior Airman Shaw appeared, coming at a run from the opposite direction, a medical team on his heels. Reynolds nodded sharply at the young airman. There would be time later for a discussion about following orders.

"Teal'c," the Colonel said, gesturing with his hand for the Jaffa to move ahead of the group as they slowed down, approaching the closed door to the ICU with caution. Reynolds paused, leaning against the wall while Teal'c took up a similar position on the other side, a Zat gun held at the ready. The rest of the group settled in, their various armaments in hand.

Catching the eye of each team member, Reynolds turned finally to Teal'c. Giving him a firm nod, they moved in and the quiet of the infirmary was shattered by the shouts of several heavily armed men and women.

*~*~*

When all was said and done—Martha Bixley arrested and escorted to the brig—Sam Carter could only sit back and shake her head in disbelief. The woman had had the gall to look confused when they'd stormed the ICU. For the briefest of moments, Sam had thought she might actually fight back. And, for the briefest of moments—her trigger finger tightening around her pistol—Sam had hoped she would.

After they'd pulled a cuffed Bixley from the room, Doctor Warner had conducted a quick evaluation of the General and found him resting comfortably. He'd taken more blood samples—just in case—but according to the Airmen watching the security camera feed in the observation room, Bixley hadn't had the opportunity to do anything to the General when she was alone with him. Pulling the alarm had done what they'd hoped: scared her just enough so she'd be on her best behavior.

Even as they were carting her away after discovering a syringe in her pocket, Bixley had professed her innocence—quite loudly—claiming a set-up. She'd find it hard to argue with the video footage they had though.

That, and the long-range communications device the security detail had found while searching her quarters and on-base workstation, made the case nearly airtight.

Now, after a few hours of having been left to stew, Colonel Reynolds was having her brought to the interrogation room, the same one occupied by Amy Chao earlier in the day.

Watching from the observation room, Carter wanted to feel pity for the woman. She was young, with a full life ahead of her. A life that would be spent behind bars in one of the most secure facilities on the planet. That was, if they didn't execute her for treason. Given the circumstances, execution seemed likely.

But even as Martha settled into the 'guest' chair, Carter found her eyes narrowing as hatred for a woman she'd never met before welled up from within. Just the thought of what the woman had nearly been able to accomplish…

Sam was happy she wasn't in that room right now. If she was, Captain Martha Bixley would die much more quickly than she deserved.

*~*~*

Reynolds walked into the room, a sense of déjà vu flowing over him. Hadn't he just done this? The illusion was quickly shattered as his eyes fell upon the room's occupant, her handcuffed hands resting lightly in her lap. Nodding to the SF, dismissing him with a wave of his hand, Gary moved closer to the table.

He heard the swish of fabric and glanced behind him, watching as Doctor Jackson and Teal'c entered as well. The door closed behind them with an eerie click. Turning back toward the Captain, Reynolds narrowed his eyes in an attempt to stare her down as he approached. She met his gaze and held it, the anger in her green eyes giving her the courage to be defiant.

What the hell did she have against the General? And why did she go this far? And how?

Pausing at the table for a moment, he continued to hold her gaze, his own anger growing. He'd love to be able to reach over and throttle her with his bare hands, but then he wouldn't know anything more than he did now. It wasn't worth the short satisfaction her death at his hands would bring.

Clearing his throat, Reynolds settled into the chair across from her, rested his elbows on the tabletop, and interlaced his fingers before him. "So, Captain," he began, "what can you tell me about your involvement in the attempted murder of General O'Neill?"

"I want to talk to a lawyer."

"Oh, don't worry, you'll get a lawyer—after we have a nice little chat. And trust me, you're going to need one, not that it's going to make much of a difference in the end." He paused as he saw her flinch ever so slightly. It was time to push his advantage and see just how much of the blame she was willing to take. "With video footage from both the infirmary and outside a small supply closet on level twenty-eight, and with the hard physical evidence we discovered on your person, in your office, and in your on-base quarters, we have enough to make sure a nice little death sentence is in store for you, because of your part in this whole operation. I, on the other hand, would like to know just how and why you got involved in this in the first place. Would you care to enlighten me? Who knows, maybe the review board will feel some sympathy for you if you help us out."

Hardened features and downcast eyes were his only answer.

The quiet sound of movement behind him made his muscles tighten, but Reynolds refused to turn around. They'd gone over this before they'd walked in the door—Teal'c and Jackson were welcome to observe, but he'd do the questioning. Then again, turning the Jaffa loose on her would have a certain…poetic justice, he thought.

"Where did you get the long-range communications device?"

"I have no idea what you're talking about."

"We found it in your desk. Specifically, in the locked bottom drawer of your desk, a drawer for which only you have the key. Would you care to change your answer?"

"Someone must have put it there."

"In your locked drawer?"

"Yes."

"How about the syringe? Where'd you get it from?"

"What syringe?"

"The one found in your right-hand jacket pocket when you were arrested in the infirmary. Where did you get it from?"

"It's not mine."

"Then, whose is it?"

She shrugged. "I don't know."

"You don't know? Was it Shaw's? Or, maybe General O'Neill's? Oh, wait, you were alone in the room with an unconscious General when we arrested you." Reynolds smiled coldly. "I'm pretty sure we both know that when we dust the syringe for fingerprints, we're only going to find one set. So…want to try again, Miss Bixley?"

"Captain," she mumbled. "Captain Bixley."

"Not any more."

"I want my lawyer."

"Why? Do you need someone to hide behind?"

"No," she replied, raising hate-filled eyes. "I don't need anyone."

"Oh? That's surprising. You had to hire Acken to kill the General."

"I didn't need him."

"Seems you did. Actually, it looks like you both could have used some help since neither of you got the job done."

Her eyes flashed. "If he'd—"

Reynolds' eyes widened. "If he'd…what? What were you going to say?"

"Nothing." She turned, refusing to meet his eyes.

"Wait, I know," he said, leaning in, his voice quieting. "You were going to say if he'd only gotten it right the first time, you wouldn't have had to do the job yourself. Isn't that right? You just can’t trust those aliens to do anything right."

She stiffened slightly, but refused to say a word.

"How'd you get paired up with Acken? He doesn't seem your type."

As her jaw tightened, he caught a glimpse of something cross her face. Was it disgust? Interesting. "You didn't have a choice in the matter, did you? You were just following orders, weren't you?"

Bixley glanced up, anger and surprise mixing in her eyes.

Reynolds nodded, her reaction giving him the answer he'd already guessed. "That's what I thought. There's no way you could have been behind this whole operation. You're not exactly…smart enough."

"We nearly succeeded."

"Nearly doesn't cut it, and for your sake, you should be happy about it. Otherwise, lots of people here would have liked nothing better than to kill you on sight." Reynolds paused, dropped his voice, and leaned in closer. "And I wouldn't have stopped them."

"That's against regulations," Bixley replied.

"So's trying to kill your commanding officer, but that didn't seem to bother you, did it?"

"That's different."

"How? Explain it to me."

Bixley tightened the muscles in her jaw, stiffly shaking her head. "You're not going to pin this on me."

"Oh, I think you're wrong. See…we already have." Reynolds raised his right hand, wiggling his fingers toward the silent sentinels behind him. Footsteps approached and several sheets of paper were pushed into his outstretched hand.

He slapped the pages against the metal table, making their prisoner jump. "Take a look for yourself, Miss Bixley. I think you'll notice the syringe we mentioned earlier is in your right hand. As you can clearly see, your left hand is reaching for the General's IV port."

"But that's—"

"And in this picture," Reynolds continued, ignoring the woman before him as he flipped to the next image, "I believe you'll recognize the corridor outside the storeroom and the person exiting the room."

"There's nothing against regulations about going into a storeroom."

"No. But, when a Goa'uld left the same room only a minute before, it does make people ask questions."

"A Goa'uld? Acken was a Goa'uld?"

Reynolds felt the corners of his mouth threatening to rise in a smile. Gotcha.

"You didn't know that?"

Her response was mumbled, barely loud enough to reach across the table, but the surprise was clearly evident in her voice. "I was told he was a Jaffa."

"He was part of the Jaffa Nation's delegation, that much was true, but he was no Jaffa. The glowing eyes and the snake wrapped around his brain stem were dead giveaways. Besides, did you really think a Jaffa could control an Ashrak killing device?"

"I hadn't thought about it, sir," she replied through gritted teeth, her voice subdued.

"Just like you hadn't thought about the security cameras in the ICU. How did you think you could get away with trying to kill the General in a secure facility?"

Uncertainty reigned on her face as Bixley's mouth opened and closed without her uttering a sound. It was as if she'd never honestly contemplated getting caught; as if she hadn't thought about the security cameras being there for a reason. Reynolds could imagine her defense: but it worked on CSI.

Shoving his chair back, he rose to his feet and turned his back on the fool who'd come far too close to killing Jack O'Neill. Striding from the room, Teal'c and Jackson silently flanked him as he made his way to the observation room where Peterson and Carter were waiting. Both shared a similar expression of disgust.

Sighing, Gary dropped into a nearby chair before glancing around the room. "Were we able to find anything in Acken's quarters?"

Peterson shook his head. "No, sir, nothing out of the ordinary."

"Nothing?" Reynolds replied, glancing at the other man.

"No. We were hoping to find the device used on the General, but so far, we haven't found it anywhere. He either hid it very well or he destroyed it."

"Or he passed it off to someone else." Reynolds frowned. "Keep looking."

"You mean, there could be someone else?" Jackson asked, weariness and disbelief making his words sharper than normal. Rubbing his hand over his eyes, he shakily pulled his glasses back on. "You have got to be kidding me."

"Bra'tac has personally vouched for every member of his delegation, as has Thoran. Unless the Colonel wants to do a strip search of the diplomatic personnel…." Peterson's voice trailed off with a tired shrug. "Besides, what's the likelihood of a Goa'uld passing himself off as a Jaffa in collusion with the Tok'ra and someone from the SGC?"

"We've already had part of that scenario, Captain, in case you hadn't noticed," Carter replied. "At this point, what's one more?"

"It is highly unlikely, Colonel," Teal'c replied from his position near the door, his hands clasped lightly behind his back.

Reynolds sighed, rubbing the back of his neck as he spotted Harriman hovering outside the door behind Teal'c. "Come in, Walter," he said, gesturing with a tired wave. "The natives getting restless?"

"You could say that, sir. Thoran and Bra'tac are requesting to depart immediately."

"Requesting?" Jackson chuckled lightly as he leaned against the table. "Don't you mean that Thoran is demanding at the top of his voice and Bra'tac is asking nicely but you know if you don't comply, he'll soon hurt you?"

"Something like that," Walter replied, a slight smile on his lips.

Reynolds nodded and rose to his feet. "Let's get things back to normal. There's not much more we can do at this point, and General Hammond wants the SGC back up and running. Let's get the Tok'ra out of our hair first. Bring Thoran to the briefing room and let the rest of the delegation go to the gateroom. I'd like to talk to him before they leave. Then, we can do the same with the Jaffa."

"Yes, sir," Walter replied, turning on his heels and heading for the door.

"Well, kids," Reynolds said, clapping his hands together, "let's finish this up so we can all get some well-deserved rest. I don't know about you, but I can't wait to give the SGC back to the General. Warner gave me an update before I went in to talk to Captain Bixley. Jack was awake and alert, but he'd fallen back to sleep rather quickly. His prognosis is good."

"Can we…," Daniel began, immediately standing.

Reynolds smiled. "He's probably sleeping, but you're more than welcome to go and visit—as long as Doctor Warner gives you permission. That's up to him."

Muttered 'thank yous’ floated from SG-1 as they headed to the door, quickly leaving Reynolds and Peterson alone.

"Chad, have Bixley transferred to the brig. When you're done, meet me in the briefing room."

"Will do, sir." He moved to the door but paused before he reached it, turning around with a mischievous look in his eye. "You know, sir, I think the General will be very pleased with how you handled all of this. If you aren't careful, you might be promoted again."

"Oh, get going, Chad. And make sure Bixley makes it to the brig without incident. I want to make sure she enjoys her stay in Leavenworth."

*~*~*

"And, I'm going to write a formal complaint to your superiors about our treatment during this crisis," Thoran shouted across the briefing room table, the last in a long list of gripes about the events which had transpired.

If only it wasn't against regulations to punch a diplomat, Reynolds thought, not really listening to the ranting Tok'ra. If the situation were reversed, the Tok'ra wouldn't have been as kind as the SGC.

The rest of the Tokr'a delegation were milling about the gateroom, armed SFs keeping an eye on them in case they decided to do anything—not that Reynolds thought they would. More of a "just in case" measure. After all, at this point, he wouldn't be surprised by anything.

"Thoran," Reynolds yelled back, trying to be louder than the Tok'ra, "I want to thank you again for your understanding during this difficult time, and to offer the hand of friendship once again. I know General O'Neill would be delighted to resume the discussions once he's back on his feet. I'm sure you agree we would be fools to allow this terrible situation to come between allies such as ourselves."

Still scowling, Thoran nodded reluctantly. "I agree we should not give up so…quickly on an alliance with the Tau'ri. Perhaps another time could be arranged."

"I'll relay your request to the General. If you'd be so kind as to leave a gate address where you can be reached, I'll make sure we contact you as soon as possible."

"If that is all…"

Reynolds nodded, gesturing toward the stairs leading to level twenty-eight as he caught sight of Peterson and Bosco in the hallway. "Yes, sir. And please…accept our sincere apologies for any inconvenience and discomfort this whole situation may have caused you." He waved the nearby Airman forward. "If you'll follow Airman Anderson to the control room, you can be on your way."

"I thank you, Colonel, and please give our regards to General O'Neill. I look forward to speaking with him soon."

As the Tok'ra swept down the stairs, Peterson and Bosco edged into the briefing room. "Nice of you to join me," Reynolds said sarcastically as he leaned against the table, crossing his hands over his chest.

"You were doing so well, we didn't want to interrupt," Peterson replied with a smile.

"'Big desk' material, sir," Bosco added.

Reynolds sighed and shook his head. "General O'Neill can keep it, trust me. So, while we wait for Bra'tac, what can you tell me of that planet? We didn't exactly have enough time for a debrief when you got back."

"It's definitely Ancient, sir," Chad replied, pulling a chair back from the table and settling himself into it. "We really need some people with the Ancient gene, or at the very least the gene therapy, to find out what's there. The city is huge and empty. There's only so much we can do."

"So, when is one of you going to try the gene therapy?" Reynolds asked, eyeing two of his team members. "It'd be helpful if at least one of us could turn on some of those Ancient devices."

"Whenever you do…," Bosco replied, quickly adding a "sir" when Reynolds gave him the evil eye.

"Well, I was scheduled to go for a trial run with the new serum Doctor Beckett came up with next week," he replied, enjoying the look of disbelief on the other men's faces. "We received it in one of the uploads from Atlantis and the doctors here were able to synthesize it. It's not supposed to cause any ill-effects in those the therapy doesn't take with—at least, that's what Beckett claimed."

"And you were planning on telling us about this…when?" Peterson asked, crossing his hands over his chest.

"I thought I had. I guess it must have slipped my mind." Reynolds shrugged. "You can probably get in line since I can't very well try it until the General's back on his feet. Ask Warner."

"We will," Bosco said, sharing a look with his teammate.

The clunking of the engaging chevrons pulled their attention to the gateroom below. "I guess the Tok'ra are heading out," Reynolds said, moving to the glass window, Peterson and Bosco joining him a moment later.

They watched in silence as the wormhole formed and the Tok'ra delegation strode up the ramp, vanishing through the event horizon.

"Why do I feel we're letting evidence get away?" Peterson asked, his voice quiet.

Reynolds sighed. "If only strip searches were allowed…."

*~*~*

Bra'tac walked into the briefing room with Teal'c on his heels and his normal scowl replaced by worry and concern. "Colonel Reynolds," he said, his hands reaching for the other man's arms and resting there a moment before being drawn away. "I want to express my apologies once again for the events that have transpired during our stay here. While O'Neill is strong, I fear it will take him a long time to recover from the injuries he sustained at the hands of Acken. Had his duplicity—"

"Bra'tac," Reynolds said, gesturing for the other man to slow down. "I know you had nothing to do with this, and we don't blame you for anything. I'm sure General O'Neill feels the same way. I just wish things had worked out differently. This alliance would have been good for both of our peoples."

The Jaffa inclined his head slightly, acknowledging Reynolds' comment. "I agree, but events have transpired contrary to our wishes."

"O'Neill will not let this alliance fall by the wayside," Teal'c said, stepping forward to stand at his teacher's side. "Of this, I am certain. O'Neill shares many of our hopes for the Free Jaffa. We should consider this to be a temporary set-back only."

"I wish I shared your optimism," Bra'tac replied, patting Teal'c's arm with a strong but weathered hand. "Your government cannot look upon the Jaffa with favor after this incident."

"You're right. There may be some in our government who won't view you in the same manner as before, but they're not the only ones who matter. The opinion of this command carries great weight. And, I'm sure General Hammond isn't one to quickly forget the good the Jaffa have done in behalf of the Tau'ri." Reynolds paused, drawing a breath and making sure Bra'tac was listening. "When we get down to the gritty details, it wasn't a Jaffa who did this. It was a Goa'uld assassin who had help from our own people."

"And I know O'Neill," Teal'c added. "He will not hold this incident, in which you had no part, against the Free Jaffa. We will have this alliance. Of this, I am certain."

Bra'tac glanced between the two men standing beside him before nodding once. "Thank you for your continued support. This is how strong alliances are built: on the faith and trust of a few men. I must report to the Jaffa Council. May I take my leave?"

"Of course. Teal'c, can you…."

"Certainly, Colonel Reynolds," Teal'c agreed, gesturing for Bra'tac to proceed him down the stairs to the control room.

Once they finally disappeared, Reynolds dropped into the nearest chair, his arms on the table. Leaning forward, he rested his head on his folded forearms, closed his eyes and let the silence of the room drift over him. He vaguely heard the gate activating a few moments later and released a long breath, allowing some of the tension to drain from his body. Finally, he could rest.

*~*~*

Jack O'Neill tried to lever himself up a little bit in his infirmary bed, annoyance crossing his face as the pillow behind him shifted. He was still weak and he looked like he'd been through the wars, but he was alive and that was something in his book.

Carter, Daniel, and Teal'c had been in and out several times, although he usually ended up falling asleep on them. Reynolds had been in, too, updating him on what had transpired after the attack. The poor man looked ready to drop from exhaustion. If Warner caught sight of him….

A gentle hand on his shoulder surprised him and he jerked away—at least, as far as he could without falling out of bed. His head came up, his eyes widening as he came face-to-face with Amy Chao.

"I'm sorry, General. I thought you heard me," she apologized, her hand reaching behind him toward his wayward pillow, the gold of her bangle bracelets catching the overhead light. "If you lean forward a little, I can fix that pillow for you."

He complied, willing his heart to stop beating so rapidly. "Thanks," he muttered, settling back as she patted his shoulder before stepping back and clasping her hands before her. "So," he began when she didn't say anything, "what brings you here?"

"I wanted to see how you were doing. Doctor Warner said you were up for visitors."

"Well," he replied, not quite sure what to say, "I'm sure this wasn't the…assignment you thought it would be when you took the job."

"No, sir," she replied, a soft smile on her lips. "This assignment was definitely a little different than I thought it would be. I'm just glad you're feeling better. Doctor Warner says you'll be back on your feet soon."

"It's never soon enough for me," Jack said with a wry grin. "But, Colonel Reynolds mentioned something about plans to reschedule the talks, so it sounds like you'll get a chance to finish what you started."

She smiled lightly. "Yes, he mentioned that to me earlier. I'm looking forward to working with you again. So," reaching out to shake his hand, she took a second to study his face, "until then, General."

"Until then."

Chao turned and walked out of the room, her high heels clicking against the concrete floor. The door slowly closed behind her and Jack shifted again, undoing her work with the recalcitrant pillow as he pulled the blanket further up his chest in an effort to ward off the chill he'd gotten.

Maybe he could convince Warner it was time to let him go home. Sniffing slightly, Jack's eyes drifted closed.

Maybe later.

*~*~* End *~*~* 

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