Vengeance is Mine

Episode 14

Written by Dinkydow

Authors: Dinkydow
Status: Complete
Rating: 15+
Category: Angst, action/adventure, drama
Summary: An old adversary of Jack's shows up.
Spoilers: Everything up to the end of S8, plus the first half of VS9.
Warnings: Torture and general Jack whumping
Authors' Notes:

Thank you to Dee for keeping this project going – through tough times and bad. I've battled a massively stubborn muse to write this but it seems to be cooperating once again.

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.
 

Vengeance Is Mine
Episode 14

*~**~*

"Ambition and revenge are always hungry."
Danish Proverb

Prologue – Present time in an underground prison cell somewhere in Russia

Reshap stretched his host's stocky legs as he paced the length of the cell that had been his prison for more than a year. The stout body had thinned from the daily diet of watery soup and bread. It went without saying that his host, the former General Miraslov Kiselev, had eaten far better fare in the past as the Russian Defense Minister.

The symbiote sent a barb of anger directed toward the skulking shadow that gibbered in fear where it had fled – a tiny corner of the host's brain. His lip curled in disgust at the whimpers emanating from the soul of the man who had once wielded power over thousands.

This body had served him well at the time, however, thanks to the impudent Tau'ri running The Trust and the American SGC, their brilliant plan to commandeer the American Stargate Command had gone awry. They had been so close to fulfilling their dream of world domination. So close . . .

"Kree! A curse on the heads of all who would defy their true god!" His eyes flashed white as he tipped his head back and roared at the white tiles covering the ceiling. Shaking his head in disgust; his pacing resumed when he realized the guard had ignored his outburst… again. They always did. Were the swine deaf and blind that they could not believe the evidence of their own senses?

Rummaging through the well-worn memories of the general, he had no choice but to agree with him, the mighty armies of Russia were a thing of the past, and only ignorant peasants drunk on the wine of free enterprise were left.

A light bulb in the hallway outside his cell flickered, and then blew, leaving the passage dark. In the past year while Reshap endured his exile in a rectangular cell covered in white ceramic tiles this had never happened. Perhaps this might provide a welcome diversion to the boredom he'd battled for too long.

He sidled up to the steel door and peered out the small window. When the sound of his own breaths interfered with his hearing, he resorted to shallow puffs of air. The crunching sound of glass underfoot told him that the guard was investigating the anomaly.

Reshap nodded, that was to be expected.

A surprised grunt and the blue-white flare of a discharging zat'nick'tel were not.

As he calmed himself, he heard the whine of two more discharges. That meant whoever wielded the weapon believed as he did – a missing guard would cause fewer questions than a dead one.

His ears picked up the sound of crunching that approached his door. However, he saw nothing but footprint-shaped crushed glass. He stepped back for the door and checked the camera that hung from one corner of the ceiling. Yes, the green light still glowed.

The air shimmered in front of him and then a human shape materialized. "I have come for you," he said. Golden eyes flashed as the elderly face smiled, his teeth bared like a wolf sizing up its prey.

"Of course," Reshap nodded. The Trust had done well when they'd recruited the host Kinsey to their cause. Given his near pathological hatred for the Stargate Program and their commanders, the symbiote Horon had been a perfect match for him.

"Stand back," ordered Horon as he aimed the weapon.

Reshap obliged, stepping to the far corner, under the camera's gaze. Three short bursts and the steel cell door disappeared, leaving behind a border of scorched and cracked tiles.

Somewhere in the distance, an alarm clamored for attention.

Reshap strode forward confidently, his hand held out for the weapon. "Come, the fool guards will be here soon."

Horon stepped back and barked a laugh as he pointed the zat at him. "No, you are not coming with me."

Reshap's eyes flashed white. "You owe your existence to me, Gonach! Bow before your god."

"No." Horon's answer was soft and all the more deadly for it. "My master does not tolerate failures – and you failed him." He smiled grimly and aimed the zat. "The price for failure is death."

***

Reshap's cry of denial bounced off the tiles to mix with the whine of the zat as it fired once, twice, then three times. The camera whirred, as its impassive mechanical eye recorded the image of the disappearing assassin. Obediently, it followed the sound of crunching glass as the footsteps receded in the distance.

When the guards arrived seconds later, they found only a bare cell.

***

Three days later – Stargate Command, Cheyenne Mountain Complex

General Jack O'Neill exited the elevator and automatically reached for his mug of hot coffee, the one that Walter always had waiting for him – albeit along with his too-full schedule book and a list of things that had to be done yesterday, if not sooner. Still the lure of the steaming coffee kept him coming back and went a long way toward forgiving Walter for doing his job – keeping Jack on-schedule and on-task.

"Morning, Walter." He sipped the hot brew as a blissful smile replaced the frown.

"Good morning, sir." Walter made a show of checking the already memorized schedule. "Your first meeting is in two hours, but I had to pencil in the Russians."

Jack eyed the oily surface of his coffee and dipped his forefinger into the cup. With a show of distaste, he eyed the minute particle now on the end of his dripping finger, and then flicked it off.

With his peripheral vision, the general studied his aide's face to determine why the Russians suddenly took priority. Walter's face was blank, and Jack had to admit that in all likelihood, he knew just exactly what his boss was doing.

Crap, what was going on with the Russians? Not that he hated them . . . not really. He just didn't trust them, that's all, too much bad history – go figure.

As he walked down the hall, he took another sip of his coffee. "Anything else cookin'?"

"No, sir. How was the fishing?"

"Great, as always – didn't catch any fish, but caught some serious zees out on the dock. In spite of Daniel's annoying habit of calling me every fifteen minutes to check if I'd kicked the bucket yet." He turned to the silver-haired sergeant. "You didn't have anything to do with that, did you?"

Walter looked startled. "What? Oh no, not me, sir." He paused. "Though I do understand why he'd be worried about you."

Jack scowled. "In spite of what you mother hens seem to think, I can take care of myself, ya know."

When Walter didn't react to his barb, he decided to drop it – the topic would come up again, though, he'd make sure of it.

"You should try it sometime . . . just you, the pole, and a lake full of fish." Jack smiled. "There's nothing like it."

"I'll do that, sir."

Walter grew serious. "Colonel Chekhov seemed pretty worried. That's why I put him on your schedule first thing this morning."

"I trust your judgment. Just can't help but wonder what the Russkies are up to his time. Trouble seems to follow them like a bad smell when they come to call."

"He didn't say anything more than what I've already told you, sir." The sergeant consulted the schedule. "You have fifteen minutes before you meet with him."

"Of course I do, Walter." Jack entered his office and sat down behind his desk while his aide remained standing.

"Nothing like an unscheduled emergency to get the blood pumping." O'Neill's arms reached for the ceiling as his wrists peeked out from under his BDU shirt and his joints popped. "Why can't people have their crises on schedule?"

Walter looked puzzled. "Sir?"

"No, really. I want a memo sent out to all department heads, ASAP." Jack paused and framed an imaginary headline with his thumbs and forefingers. "Henceforth, no emergencies will be allowed unless scheduled twenty-four hours ahead of time."

Walter's mouth hung open as his pen hovered above his notepad. "Sir?"

"What?" Jack's eyebrows climbed to meet his hairline. "Doncha think it'd work?"

Harriman pursed his lips and shook his head. "No, sir."

Jack looked wounded. "What's the matter? Too over the top?"

"Yes, sir."

"Back to reality then." Jack sighed and took a sip of coffee, swallowing loudly. "Send Chekhov in as soon as he gets here."

"Yes, sir."

Jack opened the first file in his inbox and looked up when Walter didn't move. "Anything else?"

"It's good to have you back, sir," Walter added with a smile.

Ten minutes later, Jack was engrossed in Carter's assessment of their newest discovery, The City of The Ancients. To put it bluntly, they still didn't have a clue as to why it had been abandoned in the first place, let alone what had scared the Tok'ra so badly.

Jack had the feeling that he could figure it out if given the chance to gate there, but so far, he'd been ordered to stay put. Not only that, when he'd protested, he'd been informed in no uncertain terms that that particular order had come from the top. Crap, he hated it when that happened.

Walter knocked on the door. "Sir, Colonel Chekhov is here to see you."

Jack closed the file and put it to one side and looked up with interest. "Show him in."

Harriman stepped aside to allow the Russian to enter and then left with a final backward glance.

Chekhov nodded and lumbered into his office, a VCR tape and file in his hand. "Thank you for seeing me on such short notice, General O'Neill."

Jack gestured to the chair in front of his desk. "Have a seat, Colonel. You said it was important?"

The Russian sat stiffly in the chair and opened the file. "Early this morning, my government notified me of the death of our former Minister of Defense, General Miraslov Kiselev."

Jack's eyes narrowed as he focused on what the Russian was saying. "Wasn't he the one that was involved with The Trust?"

"Yes, he was – and up until three days ago he was confined in a top-secret facility in my country."

"What happened?"

Chekhov picked up several photos and glanced down at them nervously. "According to my government, he was killed three days ago."

Jack's fingers tapped his desktop impatiently. "Do they know who did it?"

"A camera inside his cell recorded his death and his killer. They sent a copy of it to me. In the interest of our alliance, I was instructed to show them to you," he added as he placed the pictures into Jack's outstretched hand.

Jack looked at the picture on the top of the stack. It showed an angry robust man's face. "Mirashov?"

"Yes, he called himself Reshap."

"His snake's name?"

"We believe so."

The second picture showed Reshap again, only a full body view. The man looked like he'd lost weight, no surprise there. Russian prisons weren't known to fatten up their prisoners with gourmet cuisine.

Jack went on to the next photo – and froze. It showed two men, Reshap and another.

"The killer?" He looked at Chekhov, his face grim.

"Yes." The Russian had the grace to look embarrassed. "The other photographs show him shooting Mirashov and then leaving."

"Did you catch him?"

Chekhov looked at his hands that clutched the tape and folder. "Regrettably – no."

Jack reached for his phone, held the phone to his ear and punched in some numbers. "Walter? I need Daniel, Teal'c, and Carter up here, ASAP. We've got another crisis."

As he hung up the phone, he muttered under his breath. "Dang, didn't get that memo out soon enough."

Jack looked up in time to catch the look of confusion on Chekhov's face. "Sorry, private joke." He smiled and just as quickly sobered. "I want to thank you for bringing this to my attention so quickly."

"You are quite welcome, General O'Neill."

***

Teal'c watched Jack out of the corner of his eye as he sipped at his now cold coffee and scowled and set the cup down on the table. The Jaffa's eyes assessed the occupants of the table and noted that their eyes were glued to the TV screen as they watched the assassination of Russia's former Defense Minster by the ex-Vice President of the United States.

Teal'c's obsidian eyes flickered in Jack's direction. "This is most disturbing."

"Ya think?" Jack's eyebrows met with is hairline.

Meanwhile, on the TV monitor, they watched as the assassin's eyes glowed before he disappeared. With a remote in hand, Jack turned the monitor off and then swiveled his chair so he faced his former teammates.

"Questions anyone?" His lips thinned, a match for his pokerfaced expression.

To no one's surprise, it was Daniel who spoke first. "Well, that was certainly enlightening." He cleared his throat. "In light of the embarrassment Kiselev represented, the Russians are probably grateful for his death. However, the fact that he was killed by former Vice President Kinsey, places the monkey squarely on our shoulders."

"There is that," Jack agreed.

Carter chewed her lower lip. "Kinsey mentioned his master. Can we assume that he meant Baal?"

Teal'c nodded. "Indeed we can, Major Carter. He alone is the surviving member of the System Lords and as such wields the most authority. A minor Goa'uld would do well to insinuate himself into Baal's minions."

"But why has he returned now?" Daniel looked around the table and held up his hand to call attention to his words. "I mean, Kiselev was no threat to Baal, so why would Kinsey, or Horon as he calls himself, come back? Killing Kiselev doesn't seem like a good enough reason."

"I got nothin'."Jack shook his head and then gestured for Daniel to continue.

"The clue might lie in the name Kinsey used in the tape." He looked around the table and then settled into his lecture mode. "Horon is the Phoenician god of the underworld. Since he is a relative newcomer, he would immediately gravitate toward the System Lord with the most power. And since we've killed off most of them – that would be Baal."

"That can't be good," Jack acknowledged.

Daniel stood to pace, too excited about his topic to sit any longer. "No it isn't. Think about it. A megalomaniac like Kinsey paired with a Goa'uld – a self-proclaimed god of death no less – out to make a name for himself and will let no one stand in his way."

"He came here for another purpose," Teal'c had heard enough to confirm his initial suspicion.

"And? Therefore?" Jack waved his hands. "Come on, spit it out."

"Who does Kinsey hate the most?" Daniel slid into his chair once again.

Teal'c nodded as his team's eyes settled on the man sitting at the head of the table.

Jack feigned surprise. "What?"

"Don't you see, Jack? It all fits. Horon's next – and most important target – is you."

Jack paused a moment in thought. "I never did like him, you know. Now that he's going by an alias, I like him even less," he grumbled and rubbed both sides of his head before continuing. "Moron – at least his name suits him."

Teal'c's military mind swung into action as he mentally reviewed security procedures for the SGC. Since the last attempt on Jack's life, it had been tightened, but he knew he could not afford to relax his vigil – the stakes were too high. The life of his brother-in-arms depended on it.

His friendship with this Tau'ri had taught him much – though O'Neill made light of the situation, he was confident that his brilliant military mind even now mapped out a strategy to deal with the new threat. However, even this man had a blind spot. He remained unaware of the important role he played in the continuing fight against those who would enslave his people.

The Jaffa knew this was O'Neill's weakness – one he believed Horon would exploit. Therefore, if fell to him to take the necessary steps to thwart the Goa'uld who would bring harm to him.

"Based on the evidence from the security cameras, we know he must be using stealth technology. That's how he was able to get to Kiselev so easily," Carter added earnestly.

"Do we have enough TER's for our security staff?" asked Jack.

"We do," Teal'c assured him with a nod.

He felt relieved that his warrior brother finally accepted the personal danger this new Goa'uld embodied. However, more was needed before he would be satisfied.

"Good, distribute them to the staff at all entrances to the SGC," ordered O'Neill. "Maybe this is one snakehead we can head off at the pass. That would certainly save us the trouble of looking for the danged thing down here."

"I shall do it at once for this Goa'uld has the memories of his host to draw upon and will be acquainted with our usual security measures."

"That's true," agreed O'Neill.

"Therefore, I shall endeavor to present this false god with unusual security measures."

"I have a better idea," he raised his voice and indicated the room with one hand. "Attention all snakeheads in general and Moron in particular, show yourselves now." He paused. "Come on, don't be shy."

Silence reigned in the room, while Carter exchanged a glance with Daniel Jackson.

Jack shrugged. "It worked before, didn't it?"

"Yeess, it did, or so Sam tells me." Daniel wrinkled his nose and adjusted his glasses. "But that was different, Jack. And don't change the subject, this is serious."

"Yes, it is, Daniel. And I have the utmost confidence in any security measures Teal'c puts into effect. That is one snakehead that doesn't stand a snowball's chance in Netu in getting to me." He paused and smirked. "Oh right. We blew that up. See?"

Major Carter wasn't so easily distracted. "But, how did he get back here? We had assumed that he was killed when the Prometheus destroyed The Trust in their Al'kesh," she reasoned. "It would mean he has access to a ship of his own."

"Baal would present an assassin in his employ with a vessel to ensure success of the mission," said Teal'c.

"We haven't had any reports from Prometheus about any unknown ships lately hanging around our planet, have we, Carter?"

"No, we haven't sir. If his ship is cloaked, we would only detect it when he uses the transporter or rings."

"Get on it, Carter. Teal'c, let me know when you catch him. I wouldn't pass up this opportunity to gloat for anything."

"Yes, sir. I'll contact Colonel Pendergast and brief him on our concerns," Colonel Carter assured him.

"Great, well that's it then." O'Neill rubbed his hands together in satisfaction. "We'll meet again this afternoon to review the progress you've made." He pushed away from the table, a clear dismissal to all.

Teal'c waited until the others had left before he approached O'Neill, the better to spare his pride for what he was about to say. Knowing him as he did, he was aware that his next words would cause his friend – great distress.

"I would have words, with you, O'Neill."

"I figured as much. Why don't we talk in here?" Jack raised one eyebrow and waved him into his office. "That way if we want to throw around some ideas, we have some privacy."

Teal'c inclined his head and followed. "I do not understand – why would we choose to hurl words at one another? Are we not friends?"

"It was a joke, T. I was just kidding around."

Teal'c inclined his head again and sat in the chair facing his commander. "I understand. You often use humor when faced with a dire situation."

"You wanted to talk to me?"

"Indeed. I have further concerns regarding the security of Stargate Command."

"Go on."

"It regards the threat this Goa'uld poses to your safety."

O'Neill pursed his lips, a sign in the past that he was uncomfortable.

"I believe that this Horon will come to our facility with the sole purpose of causing harm to you. Therefore I believe it necessary to post a security guard with you at all times."

"No." O'Neill uttered the single word softly.

Teal'c cocked one eyebrow. "It is necessary."

"Why?"

"You are valuable to many and your enemies realize this, even though you do not."

O'Neill stood and began pacing the small confines of his office.

"I don't like it. It . . . it's undignified . . . and . . . and a waste of taxpayer's dollars."

"More would be lost and wasted if harm were to come to you," Teal'c countered. "Do you not trust my judgment in matters of security?"

The man in front of him stopped and faced him, his face pinched as if he had bitten something sour. "I do – but . . ."

"You find the idea of a guard to be distasteful?"

"Ya think?"

"Know this, my brother. I will designate a guard for you. However, I would prefer to have your cooperation in this matter. For I know you would be capable of escaping even the most diligent eye if such were your desire."

"You got me there, Teal'c." He returned to his desk and slumped into his chair. "Oh, all right. I'll put up with having a watchdog – for now." His face became stern. "But the minute we de-snake this place, the babysitter goes."

"I understand." Teal'c nodded and rose gracefully to his feet. "I shall send you a watchdog at once."

***

Horon smiled to himself and stroked his goatee. The abbreviated beards were all the rage now and he knew he looked good with one – as good as his master, Baal – or so the fawning slaves assured him.

His cause for good humor walked past him in the hallway, all unknowing – Jack O'Neill – now a general with stars on his collar – stars he did not deserve swore his host – and commander of the SGC.

The Goa'uld permitted his host an inner roar of frustrated rage before silencing him. He could afford to allow his host to voice his anger and dismay, for their shared knowledge had been the key to unlocking the security of Cheyenne Mountain Complex.

His prey was so close he could have ended his hunt now – but that would have robbed him of the joy of the chase. His host squirmed in the corner of the shared mind where he had been consigned and reluctantly agreed. Now that his prey knew he was hunted – and who was the hunter – the chase would become more . . . interesting.

Horon allowed a chuckle of amusement to escape his lips and the sound echoed in the empty hallway. Thus far the Tau'ri had proved to be incredibly easy to foil, their vaunted planetary defense system ridiculously simple to penetrate.

The heretofore-unlamented deceased System Lords had been soft and deserved to fall before the Tau'ri. It was only just that the strongest of their race survived to rule the galaxy.

His plan involved more than the mere assassination of the commander of the SGC, vengeance demanded no less; that and his master, Baal. The Goa'uld had made it clear that the insolent Tau'ri – O'Neill – who had escaped his dungeons and had the impudence to mock him was a priority target.

However, the powerful Goa'uld had decreed that killing O'Neill would earn little advantage to the assassin; that to kidnap him for the secrets of the Ancients and their weapons would assure whoever accomplished this feat would set well in the graces of the next ruler of the galaxy – Baal.

Over a year ago at Dakara, so great had been the need that Baal himself had aided in the weapon's recalibration in order to destroy a common foe, the Replicators. He had even stooped to cooperate with the Tau'ri female called Carter and the Tok'ra, Selmak.

According to his sources in the Free Jaffa, O'Neill had been instrumental in deactivating this device, rendering it useless – for now. The fact that this Tau'ri had activated and used the weapons of the Ancients to destroy the fleet of Anubis showed him to be no ordinary man.

Horon was nothing if not a good listener and his host's hatred of this particular Tau'ri only fueled his belief that accomplishing this deed was the mode by which his fortune would be made. As for Baal's conviction that he alone would rule, that fallacy would be remedied when the time was right.

That Baal knew of his aspirations, or at least suspected, was of little consequence. Political intrigue was second nature to those of his race. If he had professed to have no ambition to reign – that would have been questioned.

As for his mission, Horon had the advantage of other Goa'uld in that, courtesy of his host, he knew exactly how to best spirit away O'Neill. His host had visited the SGC many times as part of his duties. With the aid of the Asgard transporter technology, it had been easy to beam down to a vacant storeroom and by-pass all the security checkpoints that led to the lower levels of the Cheyenne Mountain Complex.

Horon paused in the silent hallway as the memory of his meeting with Baal replayed in his mind.

After much maneuvering, Horon had been granted a private audience with Baal in his chambers. Dressed in an ankle-length black brocade coat that made his own host cringe, Baal had sat on his throne as if he were born to it – which he had.

Swallowing his pride and schooling his facial expression to one of respect, he had approached Baal and bowed as was expected. Baal bestowed a smile on him, his eyes wary behind steepled fingers.

"Thank you for granting me this audience, my lord Baal."

Baal waved one hand with impatience. "Dispense with the inane pleasantries – you and I both know they are meaningless."

Horon pursed his lips and inclined his head. "As you wish."

"What do you want?" Baal's dark eyes glittered as he picked up a stiletto and used it to clean the fingernails on one hand.

The veiled warning taken to heart, Horon paused to gather his thoughts. "Only to serve you, my lord."

"How do you propose to do that?"

"What do you want?"

"To rule, of course." Baal pointed the stiletto at Horon. "I warn you, do not waste my time with riddles."

Horon thinned his lips in a half smile. "I would not presume to waste your time. What else do you want? Or should I say . . . who?" He paused. "And the who would lead to how."

Baal remained silent, his pearly white teeth bared in a scowl.

"I can acquire him for you."

In a clear effort to relax and give nothing away, Baal sat back in his chair. "Who?"

"The Tau'ri, O'Neill."

Baal stiffened and gestured with the stiletto. "Walk with care, Horon. You are but a small hunter in a sea teaming with those with much larger appetites than yours."

Horon's unctuous smile remained in place. "You want him?"

"He is nothing to me."

This time Horon remained silent.

"You don’t believe me?" Baal raised an eyebrow and continued his manicure.

"Let us say that I believe that I would want him in your place."

"Ah." Baal paused and licked his lips slowly. "And if you were in my place, why would you want him?"

Horon's answer was immediate for this was the moment he had rehearsed and hoped for. "For revenge and for the power he commands."

"Ah yes, revenge. That I can understand – but power? He is but a pitiful Tau'ri – born to be nothing more than a slave to serve us as we see fit."

"It was he who controlled the weapons of the Ancients – on his world as well as on Dakara."

Baal shrugged negligently. "Of that I am aware. I also know that the power for the weapon on his world is depleted. The weapon on Dakara was deactivated – leaving them both useless to me."

"He can awaken the weapon on Dakara once again."

"Can he?"

"If he is given sufficient . . . motivation."

Baal bared his lips in a feral smile, his teeth gleaming in the flickering torchlight. "Motivation?"

"Which you would supply."

"Your proposal is tempting."

"He who controls O'Neill, rules the galaxy . . . and the universe." Horon leaned forward and licked his lips. "Even the Asgard would bow before you."

Baal stood and walked down the two steps of the dais toward Horon until they were face to face. "Why do you tell me this?" The Goa'uld spat out the words.

"You have ships at your disposal that would allow me access to O'Neill's home world." He sighed heavily with feigned regret. "I do not."

Baal smiled and turned to walk back up the dais and leaned back in his throne negligently. "So you propose a bargain? A partnership?"

Horon ran his tongue over his lower lip. He sensed a trap. "A partnership . . .? No. I would not be so bold . . . or foolish." His eyes flickered away and down. "I only wish to further my Master's interests."

Baal laughed, and it echoed around the darkened room. Horon fancied the stained glass windows vibrated with it. "You are cautious and know your place – that is good." He cocked his head. "And what furthers my position would be to your benefit – yes?"

"Yes."

"Your idea has merit, I shall think upon it." He laid down the stiletto and waved one hand. "You are dismissed."

Horon straightened and glanced around. He had much to do before he was ready to take what was rightfully his. To make the most impact on the foolish Tau'ri, he needed to choose the time and place well. This was a subject that both he and his host agreed upon.

***

"Whatcha' doin'?"

Lieutenant Colonel Samantha Carter jumped and bumped her elbow against the table where she'd been studying the contents on the monitor of her laptop. Without looking, she knew who'd asked her. She'd know that voice anywhere.

"Sir?" She turned toward the voice to see General Jack O'Neill, his face shadowed as he leaned against the doorframe. Hurriedly, she smoothed her rumpled uniform.

O'Neill straightened his lanky form and stepped into her lab, his hands stuffed in his BDU pockets. "I asked what you were doing, Carter."

"Oh, I was working on the latest records sent back from city of the Ancients. It's really quite . . ."

Jack held up one finger. "Ack! You're working, right?"

Sam looked puzzled. "Sir?"

Jack tapped his watch. "Were you or were you not supposed to meet me in the commissary for lunch?"

Her face fell. "Lunch? Sorry, sir. I guess I got distracted."

"That's okay, I've been working on the budget and couldn't get away either."

"Oh."

"But I have time now . . ." Jack patted his stomach with both hands and it growled in response. "And I'm hungry."

Sam looked longingly back toward the laptop. "But these results are so interesting . . ."

"Carter," Jack said in admonishment. "You do need to eat. And Walter said they had cake." His arms spread wide as his smile.

"Oh, in that case . . . sure. I guess I am hungry." With one hand she shut down the computer. "I can look these over later."

"That you can." Jack half bowed and indicated she was to precede him out the door. She waited until he drew level with her before continuing on her way with him.

When she noticed the SF keeping pace behind them, she hid her satisfaction. Knowing him as she did, she recognized he'd have fought that extra security measure tooth and nail, but she was relieved that Teal'c had done it anyway.

However, it seemed that the general's way of dealing with it was to pretend the guard didn't exist. Well, if that was what he needed to do, then so be it. But at least he seemed to be cooperating and hadn't tried to ditch the guard yet.

"By the way, has the Prometheus noticed any strange ships loitering about?"

"Thus far they've reported no anomalies, but it is likely that any vessel the Goa'uld is using would be cloaked."

"Didn't you figure out a way to track cloaked ships before?"

"Yes, we did, and if the ship uses its transporter device, we'll be able to spot it right away."

"So, no luck so far?"

"Sorry, sir."

"Yeah, I'll admit I'd feel a lot better after we catch his smarmy ass."

Sam sighed in frustration. "So will I, sir. So will I."

They continued in silence through the hallways and into the commissary.

Sam watched with amusement as O'Neill dipped his finger into his coffee, and then wiped it fastidiously on a napkin.

"What?" Jack looked naive and dumb, an act that she no longer bought into.

She'd done some digging on her own and from what she'd gathered from his file; he had more education than he let on. Instead she smiled and played along.

"You're always sticking your finger in your coffee. What do you see in it?"

Jack eyed his coffee suspiciously. "Stuff."

"Stuff, sir?"

"Yeah, stuff. You know, as in unidentified floating objects, mystery matter, and hitherto unknown substances – stuff, Carter."

Sam hid her smile by drinking from her own cup. Then she grew serious as she cradled it in her propped hands.

"I still can't believe that Kinsey is a Goa'uld, sir."

Jack avoided her gaze as he forked off a piece of chocolate cake. "Believe it. Personally, I feel sorry for the snake."

She cocked her head. "Really?"

He slid the cake into his mouth and closed his lips around the fork, the better to get every last bit of frosting.

"Yes, really." He paused, fork at half-mast. "Don't get me wrong. I wouldn't wish a snake in the head on anybody. But with Kinsey, he was already such a power-hungry, self-righteous, smart-ass that anything, even being snaked, would be an improvement."

Carter's mouth hung open, her blue Jell-O ignored for the moment. "How can you say that, sir? Even with the bad blood between you two . . ."

She dug into her bowl of Jell-O and stirred it around. "When Jolinar took me, even though she was a Tok'ra, it still wasn't my choice. I had no say in the matter. At least in my case, she let me talk with my own voice. Kinsey doesn't have that choice." Her eyes averted, she studied the mess she's made of her dessert. "Not anymore."

The sound of the fork clattering on the plate drew her attention to the man sitting opposite her at the table.

"I'm being too harsh?" The words were uttered softly but his eyes glittered dangerously.

Sam shrugged and looked down at her mangled Jell-O.

"You think I am, right?"

His dark brown eyes bored right into her, dissected her – and to her discomfort – found her wanting.

"Uh . . . yes . . . no." She sighed heavily. "I don't know. I mean . . . it's so complicated. I hated the man too. Every time he showed up here, he found something wrong with our program. He ignored our successes and concentrated on our mistakes. At every turn he tried to subvert our program and use it for his own interests." She stuck her spoon into her Jell-O and left it there, like a pole without a flag. "But it's hard to feel sorry for him, even though he's a Goa'uld now."

Jack leveled his gaze at her; his chocolate brown eyes level with her blue. "Yep, a man of no redeeming qualities playing host to a snake bent on destroying our race. It's a hard thing to say, but if anything, Kinsey as a snakehead is even more dangerous than he was before. They're paranoia squared. And the fact that he knew just about everything there is to know about our program, now that's scary."

She shivered. "And now he's after you."

"That's the one thing that hasn't changed. Kinsey had me in his sights a long time ago. The only difference now is that his tactics will change."

As she raised a questioning eyebrow, he continued. "A new mind is calling the shots."

"Horon's."

"Yes, Moron – as in what a maroon." He hooked quotes around the last words. "Well, the great Bugs Bunny had a saying for that too, didn't he?"

"Sir?"

Jack huffed and spread his hands wide in disbelief. "You didn't watch the Great Bugs?" His fingers hooked quotes around the name.

Carter dimpled and ducked her head to smile.

Jack smacked his forehead dramatically. "Of course you didn't. How could I not know? You probably had your head stuck in a book all the time instead of watching Saturday morning cartoons on TV like any normal kid."

She leaned across the table and pled her case with her eyes. "So . . . aren't you going to tell me?"

He looked blank. "Tell you what?"

Sam swatted his hand playfully, whereupon he snatched it back and rubbed it.

"Ow!"

"Sir?" She wheedled.

"Oh, all right . . . I'll tell you." He muttered. Then he smirked and stuck up his forefinger in a dramatic pose. "Of course you realize . . . this means war!"

Sam bit her lower lip to hide the smile, and then gave it up.

"Ah, my work here is done," smiled Jack with satisfaction. His grin showed off his dimples in a most distracting fashion. "And now a death worse than fate awaits me – the budget."

He stood and scooted his chair under the table. And so . . . I'm off."

Sam stood and smiled. "That you are, sir. That you are."

"Why Carter, I'm touched."

***

Jack sighed with frustration and rubbed the back of his neck. He still didn't understand how George had managed to run the SGC for as long as he did and make it look easy. At least he had Walter's assistance. Without the aid of that gray-haired sergeant he would've sent in his resignation a long time ago.

That wasn't all that was bugging him though – even through his BDU shirt and t-shirt, his shoulders itched from the eyes that constantly watched him. The cause for this particular affliction stood just outside his door, his own personal babysitter. Crap, it still rankled. A part of him knew Teal'c was only watching out for his best interests, but . . . the last thing he needed was a bodyguard, for crying out loud.

He'd only agreed to put up with the indignity of having someone follow him around to placate Teal'c. And he'd sort of promised not to give the SF the slip – again for Teal'c. Crap. He was so not a happy camper.

He leaned back in his chair and stretched his arms over his head. As usual, his chair squeaked when he performed this maneuver. Siler had applied every lubricant on earth – and some that weren't – to get rid of that sound, all to no avail. He'd finally decided it was something he'd have to put up with – either that or requisition a whole new chair. But the chair was comfortable – the noise notwithstanding. So rather than risk getting a squeak-less chair that left his backside feeling like raw hamburger . . .

Like a genie out of a bottle, Walter appeared in front of his desk holding a stack of folders along with his schedule book. Jack eyed his aide with suspicion.

"Those aren't for me, are they?"

"I'm afraid so, sir." He juggled the schedule book and placed the folders in his in-box. "The monthly supply requisitions are due and your senior officers completed their yearly staff evaluations. You only have to review their findings."

"Well, gee. That shouldn't take more than an hour or two, right?"

Harriman pursed his lips. "If you say so, sir."

Changing tactics, Jack indicated the stack of folders in his out-box. "I finally finished up the budget requests for the next fiscal year. See that you get it faxed off to George ASAP. We wouldn't want them to turn off our power, would we?"

"No, sir. I'll get right on it." He emptied the out box and piled the folders on top of his schedule book. "SG-1 is waiting for you in the briefing room to update you on their progress."

Jack peered around Walter. "So they are." He picked up his coffee cup and peered into it. "Tell them I'll be right with them. And while you're at it, could you get me some more coffee? I emptied the pot in there."

"No problem, sir. I'll have some sent up." He turned to go, and then paused. "Anything else?

Jack stood and stretched again. "No, I don't think so. Might as well get this show on the road."

He watched as Walter left his office, then his eyes widened in recognition as a figure appeared in his peripheral vision – right next to him.

"Kinsey!"

"No, fool Tau'ri. Horon," the Goa'uld answered.

Time seemed to slow as his mind cataloged the scene – the Goa'uld had a zat that was primed to fire. He lunged toward the threat, but it was too late. The zat fired at him – point blank. His mind knew he couldn't dodge this one; it was too close. Nope, this time he was going down – hard.

As his body continued on its forward trajectory, his muscles shuddered with the electrical discharge – no longer his to control. God, he hated those things.

Dimly he heard a shout and knew it was Teal'c. Then his world went black.

***

When the Goa'uld appeared in O'Neill's office Teal'c's eyes widened in horror; recognizing the threat for what it was. His body sprang into motion as he skirted the briefing room table and shouldered past a startled Walter at a dead run.

"O'Neill!"

Even as he as the word left his lips, he knew he'd be too late. The Goa'uld fired – once only – and his friend's body crumpled to the floor, to lie hidden behind his desk. Horon moved to stand over his target and cast a look of triumph his way. He touched a button on his wrist and disappeared in a flash of white light.

A second later, the Jaffa stood in the commander's office; as expected, his friend, O'Neill, was gone, transported to an unknown location by the Asgard technology.

Someone had pushed the intruder alert and the klaxon blared out a belated warning.

"Shut it off," Teal'c advised in a tired voice.

The SF picked up the phone – O'Neill's – and told them to stand-down.

Colonel Carter grabbed the phone. "They must have transported up to his ship. I'll contact Prometheus."

Teal'c nodded, but he knew it would be too late for that too. Still, they had to at least try.

She barked out her orders. "Contact the Prometheus. Alert them that a transport was just made out our facility . . . destination . . . unknown – probably to an orbiting vessel."

Then she dropped the phone and took off at a run for the control room.

Teal'c followed at a more leisurely pace. What was done . . . was done. With luck, the Prometheus would prevent the vessel from going into hyperspace. But with O'Neill onboard, the vessel could not be destroyed.

When he arrived, the silence in the control room told him the story. Carter sat before a computer console; her shoulders slumped in dejection.

When she saw him, she swiveled around and took a deep breath. "The Prometheus reports an unknown vessel in orbit went into hyperspace just as they received our call." Her white knuckles dug into her knees, as if to keep herself upright. "According to the report, the vessel uncloaked just before making the jump to hyperspace. They were hailed and told to stop . . ." Her misty blue eyes met his. "They knew we'd spotted them." She took another deep breath. "They knew it, Teal'c. It was like . . ." Her voice trembled. "They wanted us to know they had him."

"The Prometheus was unable to follow?"

"No," she admitted.

Teal'c was implacable. "Then we must ascertain their destination." He held out his hand to Carter, which she latched onto with gratitude.

"Yes." She turned to Walter who looked shattered. "Contact Colonel Reynolds and have him meet us in the briefing room. Looks like he's in charge again."

He nodded. "Yes, ma'am."

Teal'c followed Carter up the stairs to the briefing room. She appeared to be in control of herself once again. He was not surprised – though a female, she was also a trained warrior and was strong and could be trusted to carry out her duty. Though he knew from past experience, even she could not hold her emotions at bay forever.

For now, though, she would perform admirably.

Daniel Jackson met them at the stairs, his face begging for good news. Carter mutely shook her head. Together they took their seats at the table, their eyes automatically seeking the figure seated at the head – only to find the chair empty – a mute reminder of what had just transpired.

Teal'c schooled his face to impassivity and ruthlessly pushed away his feelings of failure. While it was true that he had failed his friend – to dwell on this now would only benefit their foe. Calm reason was needed now, the better to determine the destination of Horon and his human cargo.

Jackson looked upset and pushed his glasses back on his nose. "Do we even know if Jack is alive?"

Teal'c turned to him. "We do. O'Neill was felled with one zat blast – no more – and then transported aboard his vessel with Horon. If Horon had wished O'Neill's death, he would have fired twice and left the body."

Then Colonel Gary Reynolds appeared at the top of the stairs and hurriedly walked to the table. He grimly nodded at the occupants already there and as if by common agreement, avoided the chair at the head of the table.

Walter followed him, the schedule book clutched uselessly in his hand. His gaze settled on Teal'c and he bit his lip. "I'm sorry, Teal'c." He hung his head, eyes lowered. "If I hadn't been in your way, you would've been able to stop him."

Teal'c held up his hand. "Enough. The fault lies with the false god who abducted O'Neill – and with me." He folded his hands on the table and inclined his head. "However, now is not the time to decide where the guilt lies, but instead determine where O'Neill is being taken and why. I believe when we ascertain the why, we will also discover the where."

Colonel Reynolds tapped his tablet with a pen. "Didn't you say that Horon's master was probably Baal?"

"Yes, we believe that Horon's mission was to assassinate Kiselev in Russia and then target Jack. At the time, we thought he would try to kill him – turns out we were wrong." Daniel licked his lips and adjusted his glasses before turning to Teal'c. "Do we know where Baal is now?"

"We do not. Perhaps Master Bra'tac has intelligence from the Free Jaffa on Dakara."

"But why take Jack alive?" Daniel looked apologetic. "Don't get me wrong. I'm not complaining . . . but Teal'c's right. Why would Horon or Baal, for that matter, want him so badly?"

"O'Neill possesses the gene of the Ancients. Baal would pay much to gain control of such power," explained Teal'c.

He looked around the table and saw that none disagreed with him.

"But the power source for the weapon at Antarctica was depleted." Carter reasoned. "Baal helped us recalibrate the weapon on Dakara, but General O'Neill deactivated it. Baal would know that."

"I believe we will find an answer on Dakara. Perhaps Bra'tac will have heard something." Teal'c paused and passed his gaze over everyone at the table. "And there is this. What has been disabled can be activated once again."

Teal'c could see that his words had stuck a chord of fear in his fellows as they considered what could happen if Baal were to gain control of such a weapon.

Daniel sighed. "That wouldn't be good."

"Indeed it would not. O'Neill also is aware of this and will fight to avoid being used as a pawn. However, he is but flesh and blood and subject to all its frailties."

Teal'c watched as eyes were lowered in thought – and fear for their commander.

"That makes it imperative that we get some intel about the whereabouts of Baal's current stronghold ASAP. Agreed?" Reynolds looked around the room and there no one disagreed with his assessment. "Good, I'll send SG-1 and 13 along with you, Teal'c. They're familiar with the site and the situation there."

"No, I think it would be better if I went alone due to the tensions between the Free Jaffa and outsiders. I will contact you when I know more."

The Colonel looked unhappy but thankfully was aware of his limitations. "Very well."

"I shall depart within the hour."

Reynolds stood, the meeting clearly over. "Good, contact us in twenty-four hours and update us on any progress you've made. In the meantime, I have a phone call to the President I've got to make – and I'm not looking forward to it – though Lord knows I've had way too much practice at it."

***

When Jack opened his eyes, the sight was disturbingly familiar – gold-leaf walls covered in hieroglyphics. That could only mean one thing – once again he was being held prisoner by a Goa'uld.

From his place on the floor he surveyed the room around him – thus far it held no surprises. The only doorway he could see seemed open, but sparkled with hidden energy – probably a force-field. The hum he felt through his body meant he was onboard a space vessel of some sort.

That couldn't be good.

He appeared to be alone in his cell – that could be good – or not.

Rather than get to the business of bugging the local Jaffa, he remained on the floor for a few more moments in an effort to catch his bearings. That and the all-too-familiar residual ache in his muscles that signaled he'd been on the receiving end of a zat blast again.

His arm flopped across his eyes and he noted the camouflage pattern of the BDU shirt he'd put on that morning. Then he wiggled his toes and was relieved to feel the familiarity of his boots. At least they'd let him keep his clothes and boots. That would go on the plus side.

With his boots, he could escape if the opportunity presented itself. Amend that – not if – when.

The Jaffa – and their resident snake – could darn well wait while he figured out what in the heck he'd gotten himself into this time.

He cast back into recent memory to reconstruct how and why he'd gotten stuck in the hoosegow of the indigenous snake again. This didn't seem like any mission he'd been on lately – which might explain why he was the only one in the cell.

When his stomach growled, he remembered the chocolate cake he'd had with Carter – and the conversation that'd gone with it. She'd been worried about him, but why?

Then he remembered – Kinsey and his current snake roomie – Moron. Crap!

Turned out Carter and Teal'c had been right about the main target being him.

For crying out loud, why couldn't they just leave him alone? And what did he have that they wanted? He knew it must be something – otherwise why bother keeping him alive? It would've been easier to zat him a time or two more than to beam his ass up to their ship and high-tail it out of the solar system with the Prometheus in hot pursuit. Or at least he hoped so. If not, he was in deep doo-doo, as in up the creek without a paddle, in deep kim che, and the fat lady was getting ready to sing and go out for drinks with Elvis.

"Well, ain't this just peachy?" he muttered as he hoisted himself to a sitting position on the floor. Funny, but his back and knees never ached this bad when he first started doing this gig – must be getting old.

But, in the meantime, he wasn't getting any younger and he had a reputation to uphold.

A deep breath later and he was on his feet. Warily he approached the shimmering curtain that identified the force-field. He knew he shouldn't but he couldn't resist. He reached out his forefinger and touched the force-field – and jerked it back when it shocked him.

"Ow!" he sucked on his finger and then shook it. "That hurt."

"As it should, foolish Tau'ri," said the Jaffa guard on the other side of the force-field.

"I don't suppose you'd turn that thing off?" He turned on the charm and smiled.

The Jaffa glowered and said nothing – neither did he move to turn it off.

"Didn't think so, but I had to ask," he muttered.

A clanking sound in the hallway signaled the arrival of reinforcements – or a cement mixer – but he'd put his money on the first choice.

"Right on schedule." He rubbed his hands together with mock enthusiasm. "Mustn't keep his royal snakiness waiting . . . right?"

"Stand back," ordered the Jaffa, the First Prime by the looks of the gold inlaid tattoo on his forehead.

The Jaffa reminded him of a cross between Teal'c and Bra'tac with his well-muscled ebony skin and the skullcap.

"Why?" asked Jack.

Their answer was to shift their staff weapons from the upright position and point them toward him.

"Oh . . . well, why didn't you say so?" He complained as he backed away.

"My master wishes to see you." He pushed a button and the force-field disappeared.

"Of course he does."

He stood still as the contingent of Jaffa filed in and around him; he sized them up. The odds were bad – six against one, so he decided to go along with them – for now. Hopefully later the odds would improve.

The Jaffa's all wore the same tattoo – one he was all too familiar with – Baal's. So far Teal'c was batting a thousand with his guesses. Did he ever mention he hated it when his Jaffa friend was right about these things?

He settled in to walking between the first two of his six-man escort. They didn't seem to mind, as long as he kept his mouth shut. Well, that was about to change, after all, he had a reputation to protect and his rep was not about being quiet.

"Hi, what's your name?" He asked the Prime with a smile so innocent it dripped honey.

"Silence!" The Jaffa glowered.

"Just trying to make conversation," Jack pouted.

All too soon they arrived in the throne room. It had the usual over-the-top gold-leaf décor with torches shedding an eerie glow around the room. He'd always wondered about the torches. It just didn't make sense to light the halls of a starship like that. He'd tried mentioning it to the last snake he'd run into – but would they listen? Noo.

Like a toad upon his stool, sat Kinsey with a snake in his head. He was hardly recognizable as the former Vice President of the United States in his traditional snake garb – black and red brocade.

The eyes were the same though, ice blue and calculating – and Antarctica cold.

It was the goatee that nearly had him laughing. It didn’t suit him – at all – though the snake probably thought it did. His wispy white hair was slightly longer and had a bit of a curl to it. All in all, the effect was if the Village People had decided to play dress-up with their favorite – or not – centenarian great uncle.

"Isn't this a new look for you?" He smirked.

Horon didn't say a word, just nodded his head minutely. The next thing Jack knew he was on his knees on the floor and the head Jaffa's staff weapon had returned to its upright position.

"Bow before your god, foolish Tau'ri," intoned the Jaffa.

"For crying out loud, Moron, ya could've asked, ya know."

"You would not have obeyed," replied Horon. "This saved valuable time."

"Got some place to be, do ya?" Jack grimaced and struggled to stand. He was stopped by hands pressing down on his shoulders, one on each side. "But it might have saved wear and tear on my knees."

In an attempt to rid himself of the twin hands, he shrugged his shoulders. That didn't work either. "Or I could just stay here – for now."

He settled for hunkering back on his haunches; that left his hands free. "So, Moron, what's up?"

"Silence! I ask the questions." Horon shifted forward on his throne and his eyes glowed.

Up until that moment, Jack could pretend that this was Kinsey he was dealing with –dressed a little bizarre, but still the same pompous fool he'd grown to hate through the years. Once he saw Kinsey's eyes glow, though, he had little choice but to admit he was up against an alien entity that just happened to wear the body of a man he loathed.

"Let's get this over with then. My knees hurt and I've got a date with a hot tub later."

He shrugged his shoulders again, the hands didn't budge one inch and so he settled for glaring at the Jaffa who were holding him down.

"Silence!" Horon stood and extended a hand encircled with a glowing hand device. The beam shot forward and centered itself in the middle of Jack's forehead.

"Arrgh!" he moaned.

A moment later, it stopped and Jack slumped forward, resting his forehead on the cooler floor. The ever-so-helpful Jaffa hauled him back up and onto his haunches where their hands on his shoulders served to keep him upright.

"Do you not wish to know why I brought you with me?" Horon was seated once again and stroked his goatee.

O'Neill said nothing; instead he concentrated on remaining vertical. He knew Moron would tell him; he couldn't help himself. One thing every snake he'd had the misfortune to meet so far had in common was an over-inflated ego. They loved to brag about how powerful they were and what they planned to do to their prisoners.

"It would have been far easier to kill you. Instead, I have granted you life – for now." The Goa'uld paused dramatically. "However, this can change at any time."

"Yeah, sure, whatever," muttered Jack.

The next thing he knew he was facedown on the floor and his mouth was bleeding. The Jaffa that'd backhanded him was that fast. Dang, this was so not his day!

"Why do you persist in your impudence?"

Jack struggled to get up and was helped by the pair of Jaffa at either side. He wiped his mouth with his BDU sleeve and it came away stained with dark crimson.

"Guess I'm just an impudent kind of guy," he murmured and braced for another slap. But none came.

Instead, Horon laughed – hard. "My host assures me that this is so," he explained.

"Well, he would know."

"Enough," Horon held up a hand and turned to the First Prime. "Ugar, return O'Neill to his cell. I am satisfied that he will provide me with what I seek."

"Yes, my lord Horon," intoned the Jaffa.

With an ease that spoke of way too much practice, the two Jaffa shifted their hold to his armpits and they lifted Jack to his feet. He tried to walk between them, but then let them drag him away.

***

Clad once more in floor-length tan-colored robes, Teal'c stepped through the Stargate on Dakara. Waiting for him was his friend and mentor, Master Bra'tac.

Teal'c clasped arms with the Jaffa. "Tec'ma'te, Master Bra'tac."

His fellow Jaffa smiled. "Tek ma'tek, Teal'c."

They fell into step together as they headed for Bra'tac's quarters, their robes brushing the dirt as they walked.

"I fear I bring bad news," said Teal'c.

"I feared as much," answered Bra'tac. "Perhaps the news will sound sweeter with something to drink?"

Teal'c smiled and inclined his head in agreement, the hint taken. They said no more until they reached Bra'tac's quarters. After entering, the door was locked. Acting the good host, he busied himself with pouring wine into cups for them both.

They hoisted their cups and toasted each other. "Shal met."

Teal'c sipped from the cup and traced the ridges on the side absently with his thumb.

The Jaffa Master took a sip and set the cup down. "If bad news has befallen the Tau'ri, it would be best if it were not known immediately," Bra'tac cautioned. "There are many Free Jaffa still who suspect the Tau'ri of plotting to be the new masters of a people inexperienced in the ways of freedom."

"I understand."

"What of your news?" The master looked worn and tense. Clearly, the construction of a nation of Free Jaffa was wearing on him.

"This morning, a Goa'uld new to us, Horon, abducted O'Neill." Teal'c paused.

Bra'tac gasped. "He still lives?"

Teal'c nodded. "We believe he was taken for his knowledge of the Ancients."

Bra'tac stood and faced away, then after a moment turned to face his fellow warrior. "I have heard of this Horon. He is a new-comer to the System Lords and a minion of Baal's."

"This echoes what we have learned."

"Do any here know of Baal's current stronghold?"

"I believe so." Bra'tac's eyes narrowed. "Is this where O'Neill will be taken?"

"It is possible."

"If so, it will go badly for O'Neill. There is much bad blood between your Tau'ri friend and Baal."

"That is my fear." Bra'tac paused again and seemed to come to a decision, one favorable to Teal'c and his Tau'ri friends.

"Rest here for the night, I will mingle with my Jaffa brothers and return with more information."

"Thank you, Master Bra'tac. It has been a very long and disquieting day for us all."

Bra'tac rose and extinguished all but one lamp in the corner. Then he unlocked the door and left Teal'c alone with his thoughts.

***

"You left him in his cell?" asked Horon as he lounged on his throne.

Ugar, Baal's First Prime, bowed his head in reverence as he knelt at the foot of the dais. "Yes, my lord Horon."

"Good, it is time to contact my master, Lord Baal. He must be informed of our good fortune."

Ugar stood, bowed and backed away from the throne. After a moment, the image of Baal appeared on the view-screen.

"Leave us," ordered Horon with a nonchalant wave of his hand.

"Yes, my lord, "Ugar bowed and left the room, leaving Horon alone to speak to the remaining head of the System Lords, Baal.

Baal bared his teeth in a parody of a smile. "You were successful in your quest?"

Horon licked his lips. "In part, my lord."

"Explain yourself."

"The Russian pretender, Reshap was eliminated."

Baal scowled. "And the Tau'ri, O'Neill?"

Horon paused. "He was captured and brought to my vessel."

"I grow impatient," growled the System Lord as his eyes flashed golden.

"He has proved to be resistant to my methods."

"Perhaps he has not been given the proper motivation." Baal steepled his fingers and smiled, like a shark going in for the kill. "I shall meet you at the previously arranged coordinates." He leaned forward, the smile gone as if it had never existed. "Do not fail me in this, Horon. You, above all, know the price for failure."

Horon nodded and bowed. "Yes, my lord Baal."

As the screen went black, he touched a button on the arm of his throne. "Ugar, bring O'Neill to me."

***

Jack was lying on the shelf that skirted one side of his cell, his head cushioned by his rolled-up shirt when they came for him. When he saw them, he unfolded his BDU shirt and put it back on. It wasn't much protection against whatever the Goa'uld had in store for him, but he could use all the help he could get at this point. Even the illusion of armor of some kind was invaluable for his morale.

He'd done this sort of thing before – been interrogated by experts – and had no misguided ideas about what would happen. He'd figured out by now that the Prometheus wasn't coming – the reason why didn't matter. The only thing that mattered was that he had to survive – somehow – until an opportunity to escape presented itself.

He said nothing; just stood where he was until his escort of six Jaffa had encircled him. Then, as one unit, they left the cell. Surrounded as he was by his escort, he used the time to memorize his route, scouting out possible escape routes to be used in the future.

As for what Horon wanted, he was fairly certain he wouldn't like it. He'd pretty much narrowed it down to one or two possibilities. Number one on his list was the knowledge he had of the Ancients. One of these days he'd have to remember not to stick his head inside any head-grabbing Ancients thingys, he promised himself.

Yep, one of these days . . .

Yeah, as if that would happen, he was too much the sucker to play the hero.

The other reason involved revenge – his past history with Baal made that a strong possibility, especially since he'd made a point of yanking his chain the last few times they'd met. And given that Horon was doing some serious brown-nosing with Baal . . .

Nope, he most definitely was not going to like it.

Kinsey, AKA Moron, was waiting for him on his throne, as usual.

Jack swaggered up to the dais. "Yeah, yeah, I know the shtick. Bow before your god, blah, blah, blah. Right, Moron? But could we skip the staff weapon to the knees gig? You and I both know you're not a god, just a scum-sucking snaky parasite with delusions of godhood."

The staff weapon that hit him behind the knees was so fast it was a blur. "For crying out loud, I asked you not to do that," he grumbled. When he tried to regain his feet, hands on his shoulders held him down.

"This grows tiresome," intoned Horon.

"Ya think?"

He braced for a slap, but it never came.

"The ornaments on your collar – I believe they signify your rank?"

"Why don't you ask your host?"

"He has already told me that you don't deserve them."

"So?"

"Remove them," Horon directed.

Ugar moved to comply, but Jack twisted and used one leg to topple the Jaffa on his right. In the meantime, he'd ducked out from under the Jaffa on his left and lunged toward the Goa'uld.

Horon raised his hand device and the jewel in his palm glowed ruby-red as a beam of golden light was emitted, as beautiful as it was deadly, and found its target – Jack O'Neill. The beam propelled him across the room where he impacted on the opposite wall and slid, unconscious to the floor.

"Take him to the chambers that were prepared for him and strip him of his clothing, leaving only his undergarments. Destroy his uniform – but bring the ornaments on his collar to me."

***

The sound of the door opening had Teal'c awake and crouched to attack. He only relaxed his guard when Bra'tac's throaty chuckle broke the silence.

"You have grown lax in your training," commented the Jaffa Master.

"You are not as silent as you once were, old man," Teal'c replied with a smile. They clasped each other's arms in greeting and then settled into chairs.

"I have news."

"Of Baal?"

Bra'tac nodded. "And of O'Neill." He paused, his weathered face grave. "It is not good."

"And will get no better with waiting."

Bra'tac laughed again. "You were impatient as a young pup . . . and still are."

Teal'c inclined his head and poured himself and his Master a hot drink from a pot that was simmering on the stove. He said nothing, secure in the knowledge that his mentor would impart the information he so desperately needed.

"Many of our brothers continue to serve the false gods, the better to pass on needed information."

"Of that I am aware." Teal'c sipped the steaming liquid from the cup and wrapped both hands around the large mug.

"One such brother serves in the ranks of Baal and is even now attached to the newcomer, Horon."

"He sends news of my Tau'ri brother?"

"Yes, he has seen O'Neill." Bra'tac grimaced. "He reports the Tau'ri shows unexpected strength of will." He took another sip. "Horon hopes to bend him to do his bidding."

"He will not."

"Let us pray that he does not. Our spy also reports Baal is gathering his fleet to attack the Free Jaffa at Dakara. He wishes to regain control over the symbol of Jaffa enslavement and once and for all, crush the Free Jaffa and bring them under his dominion. Once here, O'Neill will be forced to reawaken the weapon of the Ancients. The attack is to take place in a day's time."

Teal'c's eyes narrowed in thought. "You have deployed your forces?"

"Yes, however, it was been done in secrecy, for as we have spies in the ranks of the Goa'uld, they have those who curry favor with them."

Teal'c paused as if unsure now to continue. "The Tau'ri would be honored to fight alongside the Free Jaffa."

"I know this is so, and were it left to my judgment, they would be most welcome. However, many of our council distrust the Tau'ri."

"I understand. O'Neill will not aid the false gods. Of this I am certain."

Bra'tac sighed. "The council is not as certain of this as you and I. I have convinced them to await his actions. You must know that if he attempts to reactivate the weapon, he will be killed."

Teal'c sat, the steam rising from his cup unnoticed. "I understand. I must return to Stargate Command and report my findings."

"Go, I will await your return through the Chaapa'ai. In the meantime, I will meet with the Council. Perhaps I can convince them to accept even a small force of Tau'ri."

They rose and clasped each other's arms. "Chel nok, Teal'c."

"Chel nok, Bra'tac."

***

Jack regained consciousness with his head pounding and the sense that something was – not quite right with his world. The inside of his mouth felt – and tasted like something small and furry had crawled inside it while he was asleep – and quietly expired – a week ago.

He winced as he threw one forearm across his eyes and was initially puzzled when familiar cloth did not brush against his forehead – only bare skin.

"What the . . .?"

With consideration to his sore ribs, he levered himself up with one elbow to survey his surroundings and then swung his bare legs off the bench where he'd been lying. Funny, last time he'd checked, he'd worn his full BDU's – as in pants and shirt. Of course, he'd been busily flying across the room at the time, so he'd been a bit distracted. Go figure.

Now we wore only his t-shirt and boxers. At least they'd left him that much. The thought of someone – slaves probably – undressing him while he was unconscious was – to say the least – upsetting. This was so not his day.

The walls of his cell were the stuff of his nightmares – jaundice yellow – and reminded him all too well of a time he'd tried in vain to erase from his memories. Just the sight of those walls roiled his stomach and bile rose to the back of his throat; his Adams's Apple bobbed as he swallowed convulsively to keep from vomiting.

He stood to get a better look – it was then that he saw the clothes laid out on the bench he'd just left. In and of themselves, they weren't much, and certainly would never make the cover of any men's' fashion magazine. But the similarities to another time and – he hoped – place were eerily striking.

The pants and tunic were simple in construction and colored a dirty brown. They were almost exactly like a previous set he'd worn several years ago. The only things missing were a few strategically placed holes. Not that he was complaining – considering how the holes had gotten there.

"Crap," he muttered as he slowly backed away from them and clasped his hand over his mouth as bile boiled up into his throat and he fought the urge to vomit once again.

Laughter caused him to turn toward the sound.

"I wondered when you would awaken." Horon stood beyond the cell doorway that flickered and shimmered with energy.

His back turned to the door Jack wiped his mouth on his arm, and then stalked to the door while wiping his hands on his boxers, hard. As if they were unclean.

"Hey Moron, is this," he gestured with one hand, "some sort of sicko joke?"

The Goa'uld sneered. "I am not laughing. Are you?"

"I don't think so." O'Neill stood at the door, rigid with fury, his fists clenched. "Where'd you put my pants?"

His captor seemed unperturbed. "I merely wish to make a point, O'Neill." He paused.

"And? Therefore?" Jack tapped his foot impatiently. "Spit it out; got things to do, people to see, ya know."

With an effort he swallowed and reined in his anger. Better to let it ride – for now. If he became too pissed off at the snake's theatrics, his captor would have won a vital battle against him. And he'd be damned if he'd allow that smug, sanctimonious, refugee from the reptile house with delusions of intelligence any sort of victory against him.

"I'm giving you a choice concerning your future, O'Neill," Horon purred. "You can choose to resist my offers of greatness – and remain here, clothed in the garb of a slave," he paused dramatically, "or join with me," one palm pointed to his chest, "and wear the vestments of power."

He smiled again, a mere stretching of lips that reminded Jack of a used-car salesman, or a politician. Well, no change there.

Jack said nothing and folded his arms across his chest.

Horon shrugged. "As for these," he held out his hand and his First Prime laid Jack's stars in his open palm. "They are no longer yours. But then, you never really deserved them anyway. Did you?"

Jack chose to ignore the dig against his rank. After all, his superiors, and Kinsey's ex-boss had made the decision to promote him.

Instead, he changed the subject. "Just what makes you think I would want to ally with you, Moron?" Jack accented the caricature of his foe's name. "I'd have to be nuts, a real maroon. Don't ya think?"

The snake in political clothing shrugged. "It makes no difference to me. But I will obtain what I want." The voice became deadly as his eyes flashed. "One way or another."

He rolled his eyes. "Okay, I'll bite. Just exactly what do you want?"

"Your knowledge of the Ancients' weapon on Dakara."

Jack laughed and shook his head. "Sorry, no can do."

"But I believe you can and I will have it from you – willingly – or not."

"I think – not."

"Very well, but remember it was your choice." He nodded to his First Prime. "Prepare him and then bring him to me."

Then he left, leaving a squad of Jaffa behind him.

Ugar stepped to the door. "You will clothe yourself in the clothing provided."

"And if I don't?" Jack's mouth thinned to a straight line of defiance.

Ugar's answer came in the form of a loaded zat pointed at him.

O'Neill's brown eyes hardened to obsidian as he shook his head.

The First Prime touched a button to the side of the cell door. As for Jack, he'd been awaiting that move. But the zat's discharge caught him in mid-leap – and he crumpled to the floor, writhing in agony as blue bolts of light crackled over his frame.

Ugar addressed his squad. "Kree! Clothe him and affix the manacles and restraining bar."

With one of the Jaffa holding a pain-stick at the ready, Jack allowed them to put the clothes on him. His jaw was clenched with anger as they drew his arms back and the iron bar was passed in front of his elbows as he lay on his side.

When they were finished, two Jaffa grabbed the middle of the bar and pulled him to his knees. "Be warned. If you do not cooperate, this will be your reward." Ugar nodded and the pain-stick was touched to his back.

"Aah!" He screamed as matching shafts of light streamed from his eyes and mouth. When it stopped, he bent forward panting, tears streaming from his eyes.

"Do you understand?"

"Oh, yeah." Jack puffed. "Did I ever mention . . . I hate those things?"

"You have not."

"Well, I do." He huffed. "Go figure."

Ugar cocked his head. "Why do you persist in your insolence?"

Jack levered himself back on his haunches, his forehead creased with pain. "Why do you serve a parasite . . . when you could be free?"

Ugar paused. "Bring him."

***

The klaxon blared. "Unscheduled gate activation."

Carter looked up from her laptop and then saved her work before she headed out the door. They hadn't heard from Teal'c since he'd gated to Dakara yesterday – and she'd been on pins and needles awaiting word from him.

Ever since they'd been informed of the General's abduction, a pall of anxiety and anger had permeated the SGC. Everyone was jumpier than usual and tempers had flared between the best of friends. Thus far, nothing had happened that couldn't be fixed – but the personnel of the SGC weren't used to sitting on their hands. They wanted to do something – anything – to get their beloved leader back. She couldn't blame them for that – she felt the same way.

To a man – and woman – all the SG teams had volunteered for the mission to free their absent commander and only awaited the go-ahead to storm through the gate. The fact that thus far, they had no clear destination did not stop them from forming betting pools with dates and destinations.

She'd refrained from placing any bets – but according to the grapevine, whoever won wouldn't have to worry about paying their bills for a month or so.

As for her, she'd buried herself in her work and suspected Daniel was doing the same. She hadn't seen him since Teal'c left but had heard from others that he was seldom seen outside his office.

Sam wasn't surprised when Daniel joined her in the control room. Walter manned the computer – as he had ever since Teal'c had left. Colonel Reynolds was already there and bending over Harriman's shoulder.

Just the thought that they might have information concerning the whereabouts and condition of General O'Neill made her heart beat faster in anticipation. She was a woman of action and hated the wait for news.

If she'd had a destination, she would've been very tempted to gate there herself – with or without permission. As it was, they didn't even have that much. Hopefully, that would soon change.

"Incoming IDC," he said. "It's Teal'c"

"Open the iris," ordered Reynolds. Then he followed the rest of SG-1 to the gate room as the two remaining members of SG-1 had already doubled-timed it down the stairs. When Sam arrived, she smiled at Daniel, who hugged himself with his arms.

"Nervous?" she asked.

"Um, yeah," Daniel sounded distracted.

"Me too."

Then she took a deep breath to calm herself and turned her attention to the gate. Nothing more needed to be said, Teal'c would come through for them, he always did. By that time Colonel Reynolds, the acting commander, had joined them and gave them a nod.

Together, they scrutinized the iridescent pool that seemed to defy gravity. A slurp later, Teal'c walked through the gate and down the ramp.

"It's good to see you again, Teal'c," said Colonel Reynolds. "We've awaited your report."

Teal'c inclined his head. "I have news of great import."

"Did you find Jack?"

Daniel shouldered in front of Colonel Reynolds who frowned at the gesture. Jackson didn't seem to notice though and continued his questions. "Is he alive?"

"Yes, at last report, he was."

Carter heaved a sigh of relief. "Holy Hannah, Teal'c. That's the best news since . . ."

"Why don't you fill us in on the particulars in the briefing room?" Reynolds suggested with a gesture toward the door.

A few minutes later, they were all seated around the briefing room table. True to form, the SGC grapevine was operating at top efficiency as evidenced by the tray of pastries and pots of steaming coffee that appeared in the room as if by magic. Sam ignored the food; she was too keyed up to eat, but smiled when Teal'c grabbed a donut. At least that much hadn't changed.

After Walter made sure everyone had a cup of coffee in hand, he lingered, clearly reluctant to leave the room.

"That will be all, sergeant," said Reynolds.

"Yes, sir," Walter paused, "If you need anything . . ."

The Colonel was unbending. "I know where to find you."

"Yes, sir," he replied as he left the room.

Teal'c swallowed the last of his donut. "Master Bra'tac was most helpful in gaining information about O'Neill's welfare. As we surmised, he is a prisoner of Horon and they plan to meet with Baal."

Reynolds interrupted. "Their destination?"

"Dakara."

Daniel sputtered as he choked on his coffee. Carter helpfully patted his back as he struggled to speak. "But . . ." he croaked. "Won't the Free Jaffa object to a Goa'uld showing up there?"

"Indeed. It is Baal's intent to regain possession of Dakara and crush the Jaffa rebellion."

"I thought he didn't have the firepower to do that anymore." Carter said. "Otherwise, he would have done it months ago."

"He believes he can force O'Neill to do his bidding and reawaken the weapon of the Ancients there. The threat of the Ancient weapon would give him the power to subjugate the Free Jaffa once again."

Reynolds nodded. "How much time before the attack takes place?"

"Less than twenty-four hours."

"We can send reinforcements . . ."

"The council of the Free Jaffa does not wish our aid."

There was silence as the personnel at the table digested that bitter morsel of information. Sam swallowed hard, the thought that they wouldn't be allowed to help by their allies was unpalatable.

Daniel sat down the coffee mug. "Don't they realize what's at stake? If Baal defeats them there, the Free Jaffa nation will be a thing of the past."

"The Council's distrust of Tau'ri motives is stronger than their fear of defeat or even death," answered Teal'c. "Bra'tac is meeting with the council to convince them that even a small force from the SGC can be trusted – and may well spell the difference between victory and defeat."

"Any idea when we'll hear from Bra'tac?" Reynolds asked.

"I believe it will be several hours before he is able to contact us. At the best of times, the Council of the Free Jaffa moves slowly."

"In the meantime, I'll put our teams on alert. That shouldn't take much considering that they're all champing at the bit to go already."

"There is other news – news that may not be as welcome," Teal'c added softly. When no one said anything, he continued. "Baal's plan to force O'Neill to reactivate the weapon of the Ancients concerns the Council. They have decided that they will kill O'Neill rather than allow him to reawaken such a dangerous weapon."

Unable to believe her ears, Carter gasped. "That's all the more reason to allow us access to the weapon. They know from experience that no one with a symbiote can be nearby without being killed."

She took a breath to calm herself before continuing. "The only way the general can reactivate that weapon is if he's transported directly to the chamber."

Sam nibbled her lower lip, as she thought out the strategy. "Baal has to know that he can't be there with him without risking his own death. He may send his Jaffa, or Horon, if the Goa'uld doesn't know how it would affect him."

Then she turned to Reynolds. "Sir, General O'Neill will be lightly guarded. The only ones that can rescue him and guard the weapon would be someone without a symbiote – and that would mean us."

Reynolds nodded. "Sound like a plan to me. Teal'c, let Bra'tac know our thoughts."

Teal'c dusted his hands of the remnants of the donut he'd eaten. "I shall return to Dakara at once. Perhaps this plan will sway the Council. Whether or not the Council grants the SGC permission to send reinforcements, I shall fight alongside my brothers. I at least can await O'Neill at Dakara."

***

Two hours later, Teal'c pushed the symbols on the DHD that connected him with the SGC. With a final thunk, the chevrons locked and the empty circle was replaced by a shimmering bluish fluid that billowed out, as if to escape the confines of the Stargate, and then recoiled to its boundaries within the ring of nacquadah.

Once the wormhole had stabilized, he keyed his radio. "Teal'c to Stargate Command."

His answer came a heartbeat later. "This is Stargate Command, good to hear from you, Teal'c." He recognized the speaker. "This is Colonel Reynolds. What's up?"

"I have news from the Council."

"Good news or bad, over?"

"Good. The Council has agreed to allow SG-1 and 13 to guard the weapon of the Ancients inside the control chamber. They were reluctant to permit even this until I informed them of your plan and how it would benefit the Free Jaffa."

"Excellent. SG-1 and 13 are already in the gate room, geared up, and ready to go, though I'll have some pretty disappointed troops who would love to tag along. Over"

"I expected as much. I will close the wormhole and await their arrival here. Teal'c, out."

"Roger wilco and out," Reynolds replied.

***

Colonel Gary Reynolds exchanged looks with Walter and bent over the microphone. "SG-1 and 13 will be gating to Dakara."

While the troops in the gate room alternated between cheers and groans, he headed down the stairs. Though he wouldn't be going through the gate, those that were deserved a good send-off – and he couldn't do that from a microphone in the control room.

Seconds later, he stood in front of the assembled troops. When they recognized him, they gradually quieted. "I know you'd all like to go, am I right?"

The resounding "Hell yes!" left no doubt in his mind how his troops felt.

"To tell you the truth, I feel the same way, but that's all the Council would allow. And since it's their planet, we have to respect that. Still, it's better than nothing."

He turned to the control room window where Walter was awaiting the word.

"Dial the gate, Walter. It's time to get our CO back."

***

Jack slumped between two Jaffa, his arms bent back at an awkward angle over the bar that was laced between his back and elbows. He ached all over and needed a bath – but other than that, he was just peachy.

Yep, just another day – except for the fact that he wore clothes that were the stuff of his nightmares and was on his knees before a snake he wished were dead – preferably at his own hands. What had ever happened to that memo about unscheduled crises? Crap!

The only thing he could take pride in was that Baal seemed pissed. Evidently things weren't going according to plan. Well, didn't that just break his heart – NOT! There was no way in hell – or anyplace else, for that matter – that he would cooperate with that slime ball.

Moron the snake hovered next to the seated Baal and shifted from foot to foot in seeming discomfort. This was ignored by Baal, who only had eyes for his prisoner. Obviously, Baal was running the show now and expected better results than his predecessor. The angry glitter in his dark eyes didn't bode well for Jack.

From his seat on the throne Baal steepled his fingers and stretched his lips in a parody of a smile that wasn't reflected in his eyes. "Why do you resist? It would be much easier if you would join forces with us. Destroy the foolish Jaffa and restore them to their rightful place – worshiping their god."

"Go . . . to . . . hell," panted Jack.

Physically he was exhausted but mentally? He was pissed – and scared; part of him wanted nothing more than to run shrieking from the room. The other part wanted nothing more than to feel his hands around the snake's throat as he slowly squeezed the life out of Baal – with Moron thrown in for good measure.

He comforted himself with that image, as he did his best to ignore the reminders of his past imprisonment with Baal – and his many trips to the sarcophagus. Though so far, he'd not been dumped into one.

Baal nodded and Ugar applied the pain-stick to Jack's back, making him arch in agony, his eyes and mouth screamed incandescent white-hot beams of pain. "Arrgghh!"

When the pain-stick was withdrawn, O'Neill's gasped and groaned as he bent over as far as his restraints and the Jaffa would allow. Evidently Baal had noticed he wasn't paying attention and the pain stick was an ideal attention-getter.

Jack couldn't take much more of this. Where in hell was his team?

Baal sipped from a goblet and swallowed loudly. "Ah, so good."

Jack studied the floor and concentrated on breathing – anything other than how he'd love a drink right about now. A Guinness – cooled to perfection. He allowed his imagination to run wild and could almost see the moisture beaded on the glass bottle.

As he reached for it the image was shattered when Baal spoke. "You are thirsty? You must be. Tell me how to activate the weapon and you can drink your fill." His voice turned soft, so reasonable. "It is so little to ask."

"No," Jack whispered.

"Whether you agree or not, you will help us." Baal paused and took another sip of wine. "You don't believe me?"

Jack said nothing, instead concentrated on breathing away the pain of the pain stick burns. He licked cracked lips and blinked his eyes, with the hope of ridding them of the salty sweat that trickled down his forehead and gathered in his eye sockets.

"You will be transported to the control chamber of the Ancients." Baal's eyes bored into his prey. "Once there, your hands will be placed on the controls – the machinery of the Ancients will guide you – you will have no choice but to activate the weapon." He raised the goblet in salute. "So you see, you will have no choice – you will aid us in our victory, O'Neill."

Jack said nothing but thoughts of what he could do with the weapon at Dakara simmered in his mind. Yes, he would activate it, but that power would not benefit any snakehead. He could and – would destroy them . . . blow them all to hell and back for what they'd put him through. So, yeah, bring it on . . . send him to Dakara.

The Goa'uld stood and addressed his First Prime. "Prepare him for the transport. Horon, you will accompany him to the chamber of the Ancients. Guard him well."

Horon paled. "It is said that the chamber is deadly to our race."

"All the more reason to insure the Tau'ri's cooperation."

Jack said nothing – Baal was right about one thing – he didn't have the physical strength to resist whatever they planned for him. Once he got his hands on that console though – or better yet, melded with the controls in the smaller chamber – he could put his plan into effect.

And if he had help from the SGC, so much the better – no, not if – when they came for him. If anybody could figure out where he was being taken, it would be Daniel and Carter.

***

When Baal's fleet appeared in his view-screen, Bra'tac grunted in satisfaction. It was happening exactly as the spy had predicted. He turned to Ry'ac who had begged to be his aide on their Ha'tak flagship. "Are the other ships readied?"

"Yes."

"Good, inform Teal'c that Baal's fleet has arrived."

Baal's smug face filled their view-screen. "I order you to surrender and submit to the mercies of your god."

"We are well met, false god. But it is you who will surrender this day."

"Then pay the price for your insolence, fool." The screen went blank.

At his post, Ry'ac studied the computer readings. "They've transported something to the surface and they're powering their weapons."

Bra'tac nodded. "Teal'c will be ready for them. It falls to us to dissuade this false god from his belief that we will be defeated so easily."

He looked back at the young man and was pleased with what he saw – a young warrior who would give his all to preserve his fledgling nation. "Fire."

The vessel shuddered as they began the battle to preserve their freedom.

"I'm transferring the battle readings to the view-screen," advised Ry'ac as his fingers flew over the keypad.

Viewed this way, the battle became a child's toy, a series of symbols and numbers – but Bra'tac knew differently. Each symbol – even those belonging to Baal – represented a vessel which contained other Jaffa. These were lives he was reluctant to waste.

As he watched, the trap they'd set closed and the Ha'tak fleet of the Free Jaffa surrounded the enemy. The Goa'uld was outmaneuvered – and outnumbered.

"Contact Baal and his vessels, I wish to advise him of the terms of surrender."

"Yes, sir."

Baal's face appeared on the screen and he scowled.

"Your fleet is surrounded, I order you to surrender or be destroyed," Bra'tac's grizzled face smiled grimly. He admitted he'd enjoyed saying that – probably more than he should.

"Impudence!" Baal's eyes flashed.

But Bra'tac wasn't finished. "All Jaffa who wish to join with us are most well come."

Baal's face disappeared and there was silence for a moment, then it was replaced by the face of a Jaffa. "Your terms are generous, but can they be trusted?"

Ry'ac broke in, excitement raising the volume of his voice. "Baal's vessel has made the jump to hyperspace."

Bra'tac spoke over his shoulder, his tone a reproof. "Calm yourself, boy. That was to be expected."

Ry'ac colored. "Yes, sir. It won't happen again."

"See that it doesn't. In battle, it is vital to keep ones head – or your foe will have yours."

Then Bra'tac turned back to the view-screen. More Jaffa would be led to freedom.

***

Lieutenant Colonel Samantha Carter held her breath as she watched the shapes in front of her shimmer and then solidify into recognizable beings. Horon, she knew by sight, though he looked different with a goatee and was clothed in garish scarlet and black brocade. He was accompanied by four Jaffa who surrounded General O'Neill.

As expected, they'd appeared in the chamber housing the console that controlled the weapon of the Ancients. Horon looked nervous – evidently he'd heard how the weapon affected those with symbiotes. Served him right.

She chewed on her lower lip as she crouched in the shadows. She wasn't in command – Colonel Dixon was – he was a Marine and his specialty was tactics. That was probably for the best – one look at the state her commander was in and all her military training threatened to go AWOL.

It was clear he'd been tortured – they'd expected that – and had discussed that eventuality. But to actually see it – that was a whole different thing to deal with. His wan features were shadowed and his brown tunic and pants hung off him.

"Kree! Bring him to the console," ordered Horon.

The Jaffa supporting O'Neill struggled to obey, but their charge sagged between them – almost unconscious on his feet and hindered their progress.

"Kree! Hurry!"

Dixon smiled and held up three fingers. He mouthed, "On three." Carter nodded and saw Wells, do the same. Teal'c, Wells and Balinsky were secreted on the other side of the chamber. When they attacked, the invasion party would find themselves surrounded.

His fingers showed the count. "One, two, three." Silently, they arose from the shadows and rushed into the chamber.

***

"Drop your weapons," ordered Teal'c as he aimed his zat at Horon.

When Horon raised his ribbon device, Dixon drew his knife and threw it, at which point it imbedded itself in the host's shoulder. The Goa'uld's eyes flashed white in anger as he grabbed for Jack to use him as a human shield. However, O'Neill wriggled away from him and fell against the console.

As Horon moved to recapture him in his grasp, Ugar intervened – his staff weapon raised against his former Master. "No, you will not hide behind others this day, false god."

"Then die with the others, fool."

Outnumbered Horon abandoned Jack and touched a button on his wristband. Then he was swallowed in a shaft of white light.

Colonel Carter and Daniel Jackson hurried to O'Neill's side. "We got him," crowed Carter.

Teal'c's allowed his attention to return to the Jaffa in front of him now that he knew his friend was safe.

Ugar turned to face Teal'c and grounded his staff weapon, firing tip down, and the other Jaffa followed suit. "We die free."

"It would be far better if we live free, would it not?" Teal'c accepted the weapon and inclined his head. "Was it you who informed Bra'tac of O'Neill?"

Ugar bowed. "It was."

"You have my gratitude, but why? Were you not First Prime?"

"Were you not also? Yet, you chose to become shol'va. Could I do no less? And O'Neill showed much courage – is this not the Tau'ri who you serve?"

"It is."

***

Meanwhile, Carter and Daniel supported O'Neill, who was slumped over the console – his fingers fumbled uselessly against the stones as he threatened to slide to the floor. The man seemed oblivious to his co-workers as he struggled to push the panels on the console.

Daniel placed his hand gingerly on his friend's shoulder. "Jack?"

His fingers stilled and he raised bleary bloodshot eyes. "Wha . . .?"

"We've got you, Jack."

Daniel and Carter gently supported him as he sank to the floor. She sat cross-legged on the floor with her back against the bottom of the console and cradled her commander's shoulders and head across her lap and chest. She shrugged to allow his head to rest more comfortably against the pockets of her black vest.

Close up, the damage was more apparent. A circle of reddened skin on his forehead was the tell-tale sign that a hand device had been used. His lips were cracked and dry – his eyes bloodshot and bleary above sunken cheeks that were covered in stubble. Even through the combination of her uniform and armor-plated vest, she could feel the heat radiating off his feverish body.

His tunic and pants were hauntingly familiar – from another time and imprisonment – and were marred by singed holes in groups of three – from a pain-stick. He stank of sweat, burnt flesh and something else – fear.

He winced and gasped for air. "You came?"

"Of course we did, sir," Carter replied as she blinked back tears. "No one gets left behind. . . remember?"

"Let me go." He struggled to sit up. "Got to destroy Baal."

Daniel pressed him back down and exchanged a knowing glance with Carter. "We're taking care of it, Jack."

Teal'c hunkered down on his haunches to get a better look at his rescued friend. "Bra'tac is doing battle against Baal with his fleet, O'Neill."

Jack continued his struggle to rise and blinked the sweat out of his eyes. "Teal'c? Let me go," he pleaded. "Activate . . ." he panted. "The weapon. I have to."

"No, O'Neill, you do not."

Jack shook his head, his forehead creased with exertion. "But I . . . can save them all . . . with the weapon. Wipe them out."

Dixon handed Carter his canteen of water and she held it to his lips. "Here, sir. Take a sip."

Jack grimaced, his lips cracked and bleeding as the water dribbled into his mouth and then pushed the canteen away. "I can make them go away."

Teal'c shook his head. "No, it is time for the Free Jaffa to stand and fight on their own – win or die – we will do it free."

The radio crackled on Teal'c vest and he keyed the mike. "You have news?"

"Baal's fleet is defeated," answered Bra'tac.

Teal'c smiled at O'Neill. "And Baal?"

"His ship was disabled and entered hyperspace. It is unknown if he survived."

"Tek mat'te, Bra'tac. We live free."

At that pronouncement, Jack sagged back and closed his eyes. His head lolled to one side as if he'd only been holding onto consciousness fueled by his determination to activate the weapon of the Ancients.

Sam's fingers found the pulse in his neck. It was slow but there. "Let's bring him home."

***

Jack shifted carefully and smoothed the pristine sheets under his roughened hands. As they passed over the material, half-formed scabs caught and pulled at the threads of the fabric.

A tug on his arm reminded him of the IV drip that had been installed. He'd tried to talk them out of it, but they'd insisted.

His whole body ached and his forehead itched – a reminder of the abusive treatment he'd received at the hands of Moron, the snakehead. When he'd looked in a mirror, he'd been shocked by his gaunt haggard appearance.

The dressings on his burns weren't much better, they smelled and the dressings were a real bitch to change. He'd been through that a couple of times already, and it was no picnic.

When they'd come at him waving a catheter; he'd put his foot down. He hated those things and there was no need to mess around with his equipment when he'd peed on his own since he was two. That – at least – was a battle that he'd won.

Now, a shave and sponge bath later, he felt more human. Though he'd complained vociferously, Doctor Warner had put his foot down about his requested shower – some such nonsense about his bruised and cracked ribs, second and third degree burns on his torso and a probable concussion. Other than that, he felt fine – kind of.

Okay, if he were honest with himself, he had to admit to feeling a bit more than slightly dizzy when he'd tried to stand by himself. It wasn't as if he hadn't been through all that crap and more before – was it?

The final insult had been when the doctor has reminded him that he wasn't as young as he used to be. As if he didn't know that already, for crying out loud.

The personnel at the SGC had seemed happy to see him back home where he belonged, but their attentions were downright embarrassing at times. Sure, he knew they'd been worried about him – heck, he'd been worried about him too – but still . . . they'd treated him like he was kind of some conquering hero, not some poor schmuck who'd had the bad taste to get his ass shanghaied by a snakehead – again.

Notwithstanding that he'd had to be bailed out by the Free Jaffa. Bra'tac would never let him hear the end of that and would probably start calling him 'human' again.

As for Baal and his sidekick, Moron – they were still out there and heaven only knew what they'd try next. If only they'd let him nuke those sons of bitches till they glowed. He would've done it too – if they'd given him the chance. And he would've loved every second of it.

As for now, he was flat on his ass in the Infirmary with nothing to do – and everyone knew just how much he loved having his body poked and prodded by nurses who seemed to go out of their way ogle him in that danged backless gown.

He'd actually been relieved when Doctor Warner chased everyone out of his private room in the Infirmary and told Teal'c to shoot anyone who tried to sneak past him. As for the Jaffa, he seemed to be taking the orders seriously. He'd posted an SF at his door, and he, himself stood guard at his bedside like an immovable Rock of Gibraltar.

Since he'd lost Junior Teal'c didn't need to do his kel-no-reem bit, though he had gotten into meditation – courtesy of Daniel Jackson. Jack didn't mind the company though – in fact he relished it. It helped keep the heebie-jeebies away when he tried to sleep – not completely – but some.

His time with Moron and Bocce Ball had added some nightmares to the ones he already had and so far, he'd been somewhat successful in avoiding sleep. He'd even convinced Doc Warner he was just fine in that department.

And he would be – fine that is. Sure, it would take time, it always did. But he would get there – eventually, just not right now.

"You should rest."

He hadn't expected Teal'c to speak and he flinched. That'd been happening a lot since his return from Dakara.

"What?"

"You avoid sleep." The Jaffa made it a statement, not a question.

Jack shrugged and then winced when his battered ribs objected to the movement.

"Really?" Maybe if he played dumb . . .

"Really." Teal'c was not dissuaded and raised one eyebrow.

Crap, it wasn't working and knowing the T-man as he did – the Jaffa was worse than Walter – or Daniel – when he wanted to make a point.

It couldn't hurt to try one more feint, though. "Yeah? I hadn't noticed – what with all the tests and needles."

"Your time with the Goa'uld was not pleasant."

Caught off guard, Jack sputtered. "Ya think?"

"I do."

His pretense of being 'fine' evaporated and his anger spewed forth. "I've never liked getting stuck with pain sticks or having my brain melted by those hand device thingys. So, yes, you might say it wasn't exactly a pleasure cruise."

He crossed his arms protectively across his chest and panted from the exertion when his abused body protested.

Teal'c didn't stop there and continued his assault as if he knew his intervention was needed in order for Jack to heal. "Much of your ordeal consisted of exploiting past incidents and bringing them to the fore."

"When I woke up in that room – and saw those brown pants and shirt – I was afraid – I thought I was back there again." Jack shivered and raised a suddenly shaky hand to his forehead, as if to shield himself from ghosts of his past.

"In Baal's fortress."

His eyes shifted from side to side before his gaze settled on his Jaffa friend once again. "Yeah. Moron told me I had a choice – to join with him or remain a prisoner in that god-awful cell with the yellow walls. Part of me wanted to do whatever I had to just to get the hell out of there."

"But you did not break."

Jack picked at the edge of his sheet and when he found a loose thread, slowly began to unravel it. "It was close . . . but no, I didn't break." He wrapped the thread around his forefinger as he continued to tug at it.

Then he leveled his gaze at his friend. "I knew you'd come for me." His brown eyes bored into Teal'c's. "Even when I figured out the Prometheus wasn't coming – I knew you'd find a way."

"Undomesticated equines, O'Neill."

He slid the looped thread off his finger and smiled at his friend. "Yeah, T. Wild horses."

"There are some who would wish to visit with you."

Distracted, Jack rolled the thread between his fingers. "I thought I wasn't supposed to have visitors."

"These have traveled far."

Jack chewed on the side of his lip. "Far you say. As in across the galaxy far . . . or across the country far?"

"Dakara."

"That's far." He sighed and cocked his head in question. "And the Doc okayed it?"

Teal'c nodded.

He spread his hands wide in a shrug. "All right, show them in."

His friend went to the open door and gestured to someone waiting outside.

Jack's eyes widened when Ugar and Bra'tac walked into the room. "Master Bra'tac, Ugar was it?"

Baal's former First Prime nodded. "It is."

"Well this is a surprise." He fumbled with his sheets. "Everything all right out in Jaffa-land?"

Bra'tac nodded. "It is, and we have you to thank, O'Neill."

Jack's eyebrows shot up. "Me? Hardly. If it weren't for me, Baal would've left you guys well alone."

The two Jaffa shook their heads, but it was Bra'tac who spoke. "Baal grew tired of exile and sought to regain his former status as a god surrounded by obedient Jaffa. You and your powers were merely the means by which he hoped to achieve this goal."

"From the way I see it, I certainly wasn't a help to you, if anything, I was a liability."

Ugar glanced at Bra'tac who nodded. "Though a prisoner, your strength and courage shown like a beacon – a reminder for me and my fellow Jaffa of what it would be to be free of the enslavement to false gods."

"You make it sound like I was some kind of hero – but I wasn't," Jack shouted, then his words were mumbled softly, his eyes downcast. "I'm not."

"O'Neill, know you why I surrendered so readily to Teal'c?"

Jack shrugged, careful of his healing ribs. "You were the informant, weren't you?"

"Yes, but I was not fully convinced of the need to be free of our Masters."

"I don't understand."

"I had heard much of the Free Jaffa, but was wary of committing myself fully to such a risky cause. As First Prime of Baal, my family was well-provided for and my sons received the best training and care."

"Okay, so why risk all that by informing on your boss? I mean, he would've killed you if he'd found out, right?"

"Yes. It is puzzling even to me. Let me explain. The Free Jaffa nation, while a grand idea was a risk I could not fully embrace, for if it should fail, I would be killed or shol'va – and my family would be kresh'taa. On the other hand, if Baal should be defeated, as an informant, I, and my family would be welcomed on Dakara."

Jack shuddered, the memory of the camp for outcasts all too vivid in his memory. The pall of hopelessness and despair that pervaded the camp had stuck with him. If he'd been in Ugar's situation, he'd have done anything in his power to keep his family from that.

"So, what made you change your mind?"

"You."

"Me?" Jack's eyes widened in disbelief. "But I didn't do anything."

"You persevered and did not allow Baal or Horon to corrupt your beliefs though the consequences were dire."

"Yeah, but that's just what I do – doesn't everybody?"

"They do not, most take the easy path – as did I. Then when I asked why you did not submit, you asked me a question."

"I'm not sure I remember. Those memories – kind of hazy." Jack frowned in apology and scratched his creased forehead.

"You asked me why I continued to serve a parasite." The Jaffa hung his head. "I had no answer to give – then."

"Oh . . ." he chewed on his lip, deep in thought. "But you wouldn't let me use the Ancients weapon to blow Baal to smithereens. Why? It would've been so easy – and I wanted to do it."

Teal'c and Bra'tac looked at each other and then the elder Jaffa spoke. "It was not needed, O'Neill. The fleet of the Free Jaffa easily defeated Baal. To reawaken that weapon would have caused more harm than good."

"But I wanted to blow him out of the sky for what he did to me . . ." Jack whispered.

"That is understandable. However, Baal was defeated for you by those you've encouraged and nurtured – the Free Jaffa." Bra'tac looked uncomfortable. "Though my years number more than yours, it was the Tau'ri – and you – who showed this old man what it was to be free. But all children must grow and learn to survive on their own – as have the Free Jaffa. We cannot continue to rely on others for our survival – that would be a disservice to us and to you. You would object to this?"

"Noo, but . . ."

"'Then let it serve as payment of a debt we can never hope to repay – for your support of Teal'c and our cause."

"Well, it you put it that way. . ."

"We do," replied Teal'c with a smile for Bra'tac.

Jack smothered a yawn with his hand. "Sorry."

"We must take our leave." Bra'tac reached out to clasp arms with Jack and then stepped aside so that Ugar could do the same.

"See ya later," said Jack, as he held onto Ugar's arm and then released it.

"Chel nok, O'Neill."

As he watched them leave, he smothered another yawn and snuggled into the pillow. His kids were growing up – all of them.

***

Epilogue

Horon slunk down the hallway, avoiding the gaze of those he passed. His audience with Baal had been – unsatisfactory. He ground his teeth in rage. Baal had laid the cause for his failure to bring the rebel Jaffa to heel – and gain power through the Tau'ri O'Neill – on his shoulders.

As for him, he knew whom to blame for the latest debacle – the Tau'ri O'Neill. His host agreed with him – and shared his outrage at the injustice of being blamed for the weaknesses of others.

The Tau'ri O'Neill would pay for his loss of status and humiliation. It would take time to rebuild what had been lost – but he would pay – in full.

The End



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