The Clashing of Symbols

Episode 2

Written by SGC Gategirl and Dinky

Authors: SGC Gategirl and Dinky
Status: Complete
Rating: 15+
Category: Angst, hurt/comfort, action/adventure
Summary: Tensions rise and tempers flare between the Jaffa, the Tok'ra, and the Tauri when the SGC is forced to intervene in the attempts to shut down the Ancient weapon on Dakara.
Spoilers: Everything up to the end of S8 is fair game.
Warnings: Jack's mouth. You know how he gets when there's Tok'ra and Jaffa around.
Authors' Notes:

SGC Gategirl—Well, we've managed to get two episodes under our belt. Now it's up to the rest of the VS9 team to continue on. I hope this episode lives up to your expectations and that you enjoy it as much as we enjoyed writing it. Much thanks to the entire team for their encouragement and their betas. And to those who live in YIM when I'm frantically writing, I think I owe you my firstborn or something very close.

Dinky—I'd like to thank Dee for all the cheerleading she did to keep me writing when I wasn't sure how the heck we were going to finish this thing on time. The same goes to Hoo and everyone else who did beta duty and gave us the encouragement to keep writing.

Archive: Jackfic. Otherwise, do not archive without the authors' 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.
 

The Clashing of Symbols

Episode 2

~*~*~*~*~*~

"The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices—to be found in the minds of men. For the record, prejudices can kill and suspicion can destroy, and a thoughtless, frightened search of a scapegoat has a fallout all its own—for the children and the children yet unborn. And the pity of it is that these things cannot be confined to the Twilight Zone."
—Rod Serling

~*~*~*~*~*~

Brigadier General Jack O'Neill closed the file and placed it in his overflowing outbox with a sigh of satisfaction. Just in case Walter had developed stealth capabilities, he double-checked his inbox. Nope, it was still empty so apparently "Super Walter" only existed in his imagination. His right hand man, left, and middle hand as well for that matter, had perfected the fine art of mind reading at the very least. Knowing Walter, O'Neill wouldn't have been surprised to discover that he'd been able to requisition the skill somehow.

O'Neill smirked at the unusual turn his thoughts had taken, but in his version of reality, the thought of Walter actually being able to read minds wasn’t all that farfetched. Especially considering his own unwanted, but nonetheless acquired, abilities. Controlling Ancient alien doohickeys and spouting a language that no one but their resident geek could understand certainly wasn’t the career path he'd expected when he'd joined the Air Force. Who'd have thought that Jack O'Neill would have the ability to save the planet? He certainly hadn't.

O'Neill glanced at his watch. He'd timed it perfectly; according to the commissary schedule—one that he himself had approved only last week—at this very moment they were serving cake. Not just any cake either, but chocolate cake with vanilla frosting.

If he went there right now, he'd beat the crowd and get the best piece, a small enough reward for all the extra time and hassle he put up with since becoming "The Man" of Stargate Command.

Placing his palms flat against the oak desktop, he shoved back his chair, wincing when it squeaked. He'd need to get Siler on that. A couple squirts of WD-40 ought to do the trick. Of all the things for him to worry about in a day, the chair seemed like a small thing, but it annoyed the hell out of him.

One last glance at his desk, and then he headed out his office door for his urgent appointment with the commissary. He rubbed his hands together, his mouth already watering in anticipation of the cake awaiting him.

It had been relatively quiet since Jacob's funeral, with the Tok'ra steadfastly ignoring the primitive and know-it-all Tau'ri and the Free Jaffa getting used to being their own bosses. In a way, it had been pure bliss, not having to tiptoe around their supposed friends.

All the same, he knew that postponing talking to their so-called allies was only delaying the inevitable showdown between the Tok'ra and the Tau'ri. Come to think of it, was there anything wrong with grabbing a bit of calm before the shit hit the fan? And it would, given the high and mighty pain in the mik'ta bigheaded leaders the Tok'ra had right now.

He missed Teal'c's presence, though he knew he would just have to get used to it. Sure, Teal'c was needed on Dakara. And, O'Neill admitted he was just being selfish, but he was so tempted to radio Teal'c to get his sorry, but oh so missed, ass back to the SGC. After all, he was one guy that could be counted on to keep a level head and tell it like it needed to be said.

Unfortunately, that same wisdom was needed on Dakara. O'Neill knew he could trust Teal'c to do the right thing when it came to the big honking bug-killing space gun of the Ancients, and had received regular reports—albeit they were on the sly—from him concerning their progress, or more specifically their lack of progress, thus far. Still, he missed their conversations and sparring matches.

As he ambled down the stairs, his footsteps clanked on the metal stairs. He ran his fingertips lightly along the railing and entered quiet the control room—just the way he wanted to keep it, at least until he had downed one piece of cake, maybe two if he planned it just right.

Huddled in front of the dial-up computer were Carter, Walter, and Siler. 'Uh, oh, that couldn't be good. Could it?'

Evidently they hadn't heard him clomping down the stairs, so he stuck his hands in his pockets and sauntered over to stand behind Carter. "Problem, kids?"

When she jumped, he smirked innocently. That never got old for him.

"Uh, no, sir." She gestured to the computer. "We're just running another diagnostic. I did some calculations and I think I can accelerate the dial-up time by seventy-five percent if I…"

"Sounds great."

"What, sir?" Carter shrugged and bit her lower lip.

"Just tell me one thing. Will it improve the safety margin for the base?"

"Well, yes. By accelerating the dial-up process, we can stop other unfriendlies from dialing in and tying up our gate like they've done before."

"Then do it, Carter."

Taken off guard, she hesitated and blinked.

O'Neill sighed, and gave her a peace offering. After all, she had been through a lot lately, and he knew that she was still grieving the loss of her father. Oh, she hadn't let it interfere with her work—she was too good a soldier to do that, but it was obvious in the little things. She wasn’t as talkative in briefings. She was spending more time than usual in her lab working on one project or another.

"Listen, I have it on good authority that the commissary is serving chocolate cake, and if we leave right now, we can get the best pieces. So, what do you say, Carter?" He quirked one eyebrow and grinned.

She shrugged and looked pointedly at the computer. "I don't know, sir, if I get right on this…"

"I have no doubt that the fate of this galaxy will wait for you to have a piece of cake. Especially since you've trained your staff so well."

His words made her pause, but she was determined to be stubborn. "But I like working with the computer, sir."

"Are you saying that a piece of chocolate cake can compete with a mere computer?" He gestured to the offending device, the screen decidedly blank.

Carter looked uncertain. "Chocolate cake?"

O'Neill smiled; he knew he'd won. "Um, hmm. With vanilla frosting."

She smiled indecisively. "Oh, all right. I suppose it won't hurt for me to go eat some cake with my CO."

At that moment, the chevrons on the gate began locking into place.

Automatically, Walter slid into his seat in front of the computer. "Unscheduled gate activation."

O'Neill moved to watch the screen over Walter's shoulder. "My, my. Who's coming to visit this time?" He smirked at Carter. "They probably heard about the cake."

She ducked her head to hide her grin.

"Receiving IDC, sir." Walter paused. "It's Teal'c."

"Open the iris, Walter. Wouldn't want my favorite Jaffa to go splat," he ordered, already on the move. He double-timed it down the stairs with Carter on his heels.

By the time the event horizon had settled to a shimmering silvery, vertical pool, they were both waiting at the yellow and black striped hazard lines—right next to the SFs, who were armed and ready for any unexpected visitors.

A figure wearing a flowing tan robe stepped through first, quickly followed by a similarly dressed second. As they strode down the ramp, they both smiled and raised one hand in greeting.

"Stand down," ordered the General as he stepped forward to meet them. "Teal'c and Bra'tac, what brings you to our neck of the woods."

Teal'c raised one eyebrow. "I see no trees, O'Neill."

O'Neill's mouth twitched, the corner threatening to rise in a grin. But after what happened at the Alpha site a few weeks ago, Jaffa unexpectedly popping into the SGC was not a good sign. That and Teal'c making a joke right off the bat just made him worry. "So, what can I do for you, gentlemen?" he asked, bouncing lightly on his heels.

"We have come to ask for your…assistance," Bra'tac replied, pausing at the last word, his tone suggesting that there was a lot more to come.

"Oh?" O'Neill's eyebrow rose as he exchanged a single glance with Carter. Gesturing to the open blast door, he continued. "Why don't we take this upstairs? I think I might need a chair for this conversation."

As they made their way to the briefing room, O'Neill couldn't help but think about the commissary confection. Maybe he could send Walter…but how do you ask for a round of slices?

The cake would have to wait.

~*~*~

Walking into the briefing room, Daniel stopped dead in his tracks after he spotted the guests at the table. Jack hadn't mentioned anything about who was here, but Daniel had heard the announcement of an off-world activation. A smile on his face, he moved to take his place next to Sam. "Teal'c, Bra'tac, it's good to see you both."

"Likewise, Daniel Jackson," Teal'c replied, inclining his head toward the archeologist.

"So what brings you here?"

"As I was explaining to O'Neill, we are here without the full approval of the Jaffa Council."

Daniel paused as he slid into his chair, his eyes widening in surprise. Sinking into the cushions, he allowed them to absorb the impact, the movement giving him a little time to think. "Is that such a good idea? I mean, after what happened—"

"We are well aware of the consequences of our actions, Doctor Jackson," Bra'tac replied, leaning forward, his hands crossed before him on the table. "When we last sat at this table it had been decided the Ancient weapon was to be dismantled. I intend on abiding by that decision."

"So, Bra'tac," Jack said, jumping into the conversation, obviously trying to get some control over the briefing, "what did you need us to do? You mentioned something about assistance when you got here."

"We want the Tau'ri to help us learn about the weapon."

Jack's eyes went wide and he raised his eyebrows at Bra'tac's reply. His fingers tightened around the nearly empty mug he had cupped in his hands. "It may sound easy to you, but we're not exactly on the best terms right now, if you hadn't noticed. And even if I were to send someone to Dakara, would you be able to ensure their protection? If you don't have the backing of the Council, how can you guarantee that anyone I send won't be harmed?"

"I will guarantee their safety, O'Neill," Teal'c answered, his gaze meeting Jack's as silence fell thick among them.

"That's it?" Jack glanced back and forth, taking in everyone's response. "I don't mean to sound doubtful, but how can you ensure something like that? Unless, of course, there's something else you're not telling me."

Sam shifted in the seat beside Daniel as the two Jaffa exchanged a long, silent look before Bra'tac spoke. "You are correct that there is much tension and unrest on Dakara. It has been difficult joining together the factions of Jaffa within our ranks, many of whom had fought against each other when they were enslaved to the Goa'uld. But one thing is certain: the Jaffa need to forge friendships and develop allies or else our battles will have been for naught."

Jack nodded and gestured for Bra'tac to continue.

"We believe that if the Tau'ri would support us with food and supplies, the Council would be more agreeable to asking for your assistance."

"Food and supplies? I'm sure we can get authorization to send aid," Jack said, the line between his eyebrows deep, his eyes knowing. "Things been that difficult?"

Teal'c nodded. "More Jaffa continue to stream to Dakara with each passing day. While we have some crops and supplies available from some of the more prosperous Jaffa-held worlds, our increasing population will soon deplete the stores we have remaining. Any assistance you could provide would be most welcome."

Jack nodded, making a note on the pad he had in front of him. "I'll get Walter on it after we're done here. But what did you mean that the Council would be more agreeable to ask for assistance?"

"Yes, O'Neill. We are nowhere nearer to learning the secrets of the Ancient weapon than we were when we began. If you were to offer aid, even though we are not, as you put it, 'on the best of terms', I believe they would be more willing to seek your assistance in regards to the weapon. Several Jaffa have already been injured during their study of it. I am grateful that no one has been killed, but I do not believe they know the kind of power the weapon could release. While they have since stopped testing until they could discover a safer way to examine the weapon, they plan on continuing due to the pressure of some on the Council. I believe I can keep them from resuming their research until after you arrive."

"Let me get this straight. You want us to stick our necks out for the possibility of getting asked by the Jaffa Council to take a look at a weapon we already know is dangerous and should be destroyed? And I don't mean to sound like the petulant younger race here, but it has to be asked—what, exactly, is in it for us?"

"Jack—" Daniel began, a little shocked that Jack would ask such a question to Teal'c and Bra'tac. To other Jaffa or Tok'ra, he could understand, but these were two people who had always been supportive.

"Daniel," Jack said, turning his cold, brown eyes on the archeologist, "it has to be asked. Do you think the President or the Joint Chiefs are just going to say, 'Go and have fun playing with a dangerous weapon that might destroy the entire universe'? I don't think so. If there's some kind of risk involved, they're going to want solid and tangible gains. It's not too much to ask."

"I agree with the General," Sam said, speaking up for the first time in the briefing. "Since we managed to get rid of Anubis for the time being, some people think we ought to spend less time out there since there's no more threat. We need to have a very good reason to go into a situation that we know is high risk."

"Stopping the Jaffa from messing with a weapon that could destroy the known universe might be a good reason," O'Neill said, sarcasm dripping from his words. "Although, some in the Pentagon might not think so."

Bra'tac held up his hand, his face tight, but his eyes showed understanding. "Doctor Jackson, O'Neill is correct to ask, and I, were I in the same situation, would do no less. The Tau'ri will have the opportunity to discover the secrets of this weapon before we finally destroy it ourselves." Bra'tac glanced at Teal'c before continuing. "As I stated earlier, we are determined to follow through on our promise to shut the weapon down—any way we can. We are not alone in our convictions, but we do not hold the majority, either. With additional research and study, we may be able to sway those who have not yet decided what is best for the Free Jaffa, and in turn, the rest of the universe."

Jack was silent, his face a mask, his jaw set solidly, and his eyes fixed on a point somewhere in the middle of the briefing room table. Daniel tried to follow Jack's line of sight, but couldn't figure out what it was that had caught the other man's attention.

What Bra'tac said made sense. The weapon on Dakara needed to be destroyed, or at the very least shut down. There were no other options. Having that weapon active and at the hands of only one group was bad for relations and bad for peace. Because if one race had a weapon of mass destruction the rest of them would have to find their own doomsday weapon. It was 'keeping up with the Joneses' on a galactic scale.

Living in fear of dying by some kind of massive armageddon was not the way to live, either.

But how had the Ancients developed that kind of a weapon? Why did they feel the need to create it in the first place? Daniel wanted to get his hands on that technology so badly, to learn about it and in turn about the people who built it. They knew very little about the Ancients, about who they were and what they stood for. They built the gates and created some of the most fantastic 'doohickeys' they had ever seen, but they'd also experimented with time travel, with gene manipulation, and with God only knew what else.

Who were the Ancients, really?

That weapon might hold a clue or it might even have the answer for which they'd been looking.

Daniel needed to go and find out.

Jack glanced up, his expression grim. "I don't like all the 'what ifs' that are running through my mind, but I also don't see how we can pass up an opportunity like this." He sighed, running a weary hand across his face. "As long as I can get the approval for the supplies, I'll give you the go ahead—but only then. I'm not sending anyone to Dakara without a damn good reason. Am I understood?" He eyeballed everyone at the briefing room table, waiting for their acknowledgement before he continued. "Bra'tac, this may take some time and some convincing. You are welcome to stay here—"

"Unfortunately, we must return," Bra'tac said, rising to his feet as Jack did the same. Everyone else quickly followed.

Heading for the stairs to the control room, Jack continued talking. "I understand. I'll have the gate tech dial Dakara for you. We have the address programmed into the mainframe."

"I appreciate it, however, we are not returning directly to Dakara from the SGC."

Jack glanced over his shoulder, surprise flickering across his face as he rounded the corner, heading down the last series of steps to the control room. "This little trip really wasn't sanctioned at all, was it?"

Teal'c shook his head. "No, O'Neill, it was not. According to the Council, we are inspecting a possible site for overflow lodgings on a nearby planet."

Moving toward the main console, Jack gestured to the gate tech on duty. "Sergeant Alberts will dial up wherever it is you want to go." Bra'tac moved immediately to the tech, while Jack turned to the other Jaffa. Daniel moved to stand next to Sam, his arms deep in his pockets. "Teal'c, you heading out, too?"

Teal'c had stopped several feet from the stairs, his hands clasped behind his back as he surveyed the gateroom beyond the window. "If this goes the way we believe it shall, I will be able to return to the SGC."

Jack smiled at the Jaffa, patting his shoulder. "I know how it can be, big guy. Do what you have to do. We're not going anywhere."

Teal'c inclined his head toward Jack just as Bra'tac stepped over to join them once again. "We are prepared to take our leave. When can we expect a response to our request?"

"Soon. Within a day or so I think," Jack replied, his expression hopeful. "I'll get Walter working on the official requests immediately and then I'll see what strings I can pull to get this moving. You might not see big shipments until the end of the week."

"I understand," Bra'tac said, a smile on his face. "I shall await your reply."

As the locking of the chevrons became more persistent, they headed out of the control room and into the gateroom. Teal'c and Sam hung back, talking quietly, their expressions serious, while Jack walked up ahead with Bra'tac, the silence between then companionable. A few seconds after they stepped into the room, the wormhole kawhooshed out and then receded, becoming the familiar standing puddle.

They stood for a few seconds, staring up at the shimmering surface of the wormhole before Bra'tac and Teal'c moved up the ramp.

"Ral tora ke," Daniel said, offering a slight smile. The Jaffa turned and met his gaze, Teal'c offering a small bow in response.

After they disappeared and the wormhole closed down, Jack turned to him, questions in his eyes. "What did you say?"

"I wished them luck. I think they're going to need it."

~*~*~

Shifting some of the pages and folders on her desk, Sam searched for the one elusive spreadsheet she'd created earlier in the week that she needed in order to continue the experiment she was working on. If she couldn't find it now, weeks of work would have been wasted and she'd have to start again.

And she wasn't about ready to break that kind of news to the SGC physics staff. They'd certainly find a creative way to kill her.

Sighing, she shoved the loose papers in a pile, hopeful their close contact would somehow produce the missing document. Glancing around her laboratory as she straightened the pages, she caught sight of several more folders and files under her extra laptop and strewn across her desk. She could barely make out the blotter underneath, but she knew it was there. She'd seen it once, a few months ago. That was when all her projects were getting done on time.

Although, if she were honest with herself, it was also when she was only working on one or two concurrent projects instead of the six she found herself frantically trying to complete.

Moving to her desk, she sorted through the reports and the files, her eyes really not concentrating on the pages beneath her fingers.

She was tired, exhausted, but sleep did not come easily these days. Normally, she would have been grateful at the break in gate travel to work on various projects, but even though she was busy, she wasn't as captivated as she used to get whenever she had the opportunity to study alien devices and technology. With Teal'c on Dakara, the General had removed SG-1 from the off-world team rotation. He claimed they needed a respite and that he didn't feel like trying to break in two new recruits for SG-1.

Honestly, she thought the General was just trying to postpone the inevitable. If the Free Jaffa continued to grow, it was going to take more and more of Teal'c's time.

And then there was O'Neill himself. Sometimes Sam thought the General wanted to turn back time, to change the way things had played out. He missed gate travel—that much was obvious. And sometimes Sam thought that he was leaving that spot open on SG-1 so he could just slide back in when no one was looking.

But Sam knew that there would come a time when those two empty spots on SG-1 would have to be filled. Some days she just wanted to move on, to start building a whole new SG-1, but other days she couldn't even contemplate the thought of changing something that had worked so well over the years.

The sound of someone clearing their throat yanked her out of her thoughts, spinning her around to face the open door where General O'Neill stood, a sheepish expression on his face.

"Sir!" she said as she felt her cheeks flush red.

"Carter, I didn't mean to startle you, but you were obviously in deep thought. Sorry about that," he replied ambling in slowly and stopping at the main table in her lab, his fingers immediately finding a pen to fiddle with.

"I was…thinking," she said, moving to stand in front of her laptop, her eyes immediately dropping to the screen, looking for the flashing icon that signaled a new email message. She was waiting for a report from Doctor Lee.

"Now, that's a surprise," he replied, sarcasm in his voice. She glanced up, catching the smile on his face that she couldn't help but return.

"You wanted something, sir?"

"I figured I should take a walk up here instead of calling. Hadn't visited in a while," he said, shrugging slightly. "Walter was able to work wonders and we have the go-ahead to send aid to the Jaffa. It won't be here for another day or so, but I wanted to give you a heads up. I'm planning on sending SG-1, but I want SG-1 deployed as a four-member team. I want you to get two more people to back you up. I think you're going to need all the help you can get once you get there."

"You're expecting trouble?"

"I always expect trouble. I'm just pleasantly surprised when it doesn’t materialize—which hasn't happened much lately."

"Do you want scientists or SGC military personnel?"

O'Neill shrugged. "I don't care. You need to make sure you have the right people on your team in order to get the most out of this opportunity. If it's two scientists, then so be it, but God help you since they probably won't listen to you one iota. If you want jarheads, take them. I don't think you're going to have a long time to try and figure this whole weapon out and it might get ugly."

Sam nodded. "I understand. I'll get working on that right away."

"Good, Carter, good," he replied, his eyes scanning the room. "You know, you really ought to get off-base more. You've been spending too much time here."

"I have experiments—"

"Too much time. Don't make me make it an order."

"What? You're going to order me to have a life?"

"If I have to, I will." He paused, tilting his head as he observed her for a long moment. "Working yourself to the bone doesn't make it go away. It's just another form of running away."

"I’m fine, sir. I know what I'm doing," she replied, defensiveness in her tone, her back muscles tightening.

"Fine. But remember, I can still order you to have a life. Don't make me do it." He turned to walk away, but paused at the door, glancing over his shoulder. "Make sure your team is ready to depart in thirty-six hours. We'll have a briefing in twenty-four."

"Yes, sir," she replied, watching as O'Neill walked out of her lab, his footfalls receding down the corridor.

She exhaled sharply, glancing down at her laptop, the new mail icon blinking innocently at the bottom of her screen.

Time to get back to work.

~*~*~

Why did all of his Latin books have to be so big, Daniel thought, as he held several in his arms. The fabric of old volumes rubbed against his forearms, the sleeves of his blue BDUs rolled up past his elbows. He was trying to figure out what he would need on Dakara, what to bring and what to leave home—when and if they got the okay from Jack. For once, he was trying to plan ahead a little. Granted, it wasn't like he'd never be returning to the SGC, but the last thing he wanted to do was to come back here to get a reference book.

But, he couldn't carry them all either and Sam wasn't about ready to cart these texts with her. Lately, her pack had been filled with extra ammunition—just like another team commander he knew altogether too well.

"Daniel?"

Speak of the devil, he thought, glancing up from his books, his eyes meeting Jack's across the office. "Hey, Jack. Come on in. What brings you down this way?"

"I needed to stretch my legs, so I figured I'd take a little walk. I stopped by to see Carter, too. Why?" Jack moved into the room, aiming for the stool on the far side of the lab table. Daniel could see several things on the surface that were delicate, several others priceless, and one or two indestructible. He hoped Jack headed for the latter ones.

"Well, you've been buried in paper and meetings for weeks on end. I didn't think you remembered how to get to some of these upper levels."

Jack's mouth turned down in a frown as he shot the archeologist an annoyed expression. "Very funny." He paused, eyeing the thick volumes in Daniel's hands. "What are you doing with those? They look vaguely familiar."

"They should. You taught yourself Latin with these a few years ago."

Jack groaned, throwing his head back as if he were in pain. "You had to remind me about that, didn't you? I was trying to forget that piece of my past."

"I'm trying to get a little organized just in case we head to Dakara," Daniel said, plunking one of the books on the edge of his lab table, a small cloud of dust puffing out and heading for the ceiling.

"Well, there's no more 'just in case'. Walter worked his magic and the first supplies will be heading to Dakara in thirty-six hours along with SG-1. Carter is already getting her team together."

"Team?"

"Yeah, SG-1 is going as a four-man team. Told her to assign who she needed."

"Really?" Daniel could feel his eyebrow creeping up his forehead.

"Really," Jack said, leaning forward on his bare elbows, his hands reaching for a vase. Daniel glared at him and the other man shifted his attention to a palm-sized, solid, stone globe. "You need to have back-up when you're out there."

"We can always bring a few teams along."

"You will, but SG-1 has traditionally been a four-man team."

"Until recently."

Jack nodded reluctantly, brushing an imaginary piece of lint from the front of his green BDU shirt. "Until recently. For this mission, however, SG-1 will be a four-man team. We can re-evaluate everything once you get back."

"And once we figure out what Teal'c is doing."

"And, yes," Jack nodded, "once we do that."

"What do you think he's going to do?" Daniel asked, settling down on a stool.

Jack shrugged, his eyes fixed on the stone in his hands. "I'm not really sure. It's up to him. I'd love to have him stay with the SGC, but…" Jack shook his head, the muscles along his jaw tightening.

Daniel fingered the edge of one of his books, rubbing at the few loose strings on the binding. It was a good book, but it was just so heavy.

"You don't have to take it, you know," Jack said and Daniel raised his eyes, meeting Jack's gaze.

"What?"

Jack indicated the volume under Daniel's hand. "You don't have to drag every last reference book with you. You can come back and get it if you need it."

Daniel paused, a little surprised at Jack's comment. "But you always complain about how much it costs to turn the lights on down here, let alone hopping a gate just because I left something behind."

Shaking his head, Jack chuckled a little. "Since when do you take my tirades seriously?"

He shrugged. "I always did."

"Now, that's not true and I'm sure we could argue about this until kingdom come, but you're changing the subject. What's your preoccupation with all of these books?"

"I don't have a preoccupation with these books," Daniel shot back, his eyes narrowed.

"Then, why are you hanging onto them as if your life depended on it?"

"Am not."

"Are too."

"Am not."

Jack glared at him and leaned back, crossing his arms over his chest. "Are too and answer the question."

Daniel sighed, looking away from the other man, his eyes scanning the room, stalling for time."I think I'm jealous."

Daniel could hear the disbelief in Jack's voice. "Jealous of a book?"

"No, that's not it," Daniel said, turning back to face the other man. "I'm jealous of you."

"Me?" Jack's eyebrow jumped in a very Teal'c-like gesture.

"Yes," Daniel nodded, "your ability to read Ancient."

"That was short-lived and didn't end very well." Jack wiggled his fingers at his head. "The whole overload in the fron is never a good thing. I need the little I have."

Daniel shook his head, fingering the book on the table, a rueful smile on this face. "But for a little while, you understood it. You could use the technology as if you'd been doing it all of your life. I'll never even get close."

"Daniel," Jack said, his voice deepening as his face hardened, "we've been through this already."

"I know, Jack, but—"

"No, 'buts'. What if something goes wrong? Have you thought about that, really thought about it? This is not something to take lightly and you're essential to the program."

"Just imagine what I could do if I had the gene therapy. Instead of just translating something, I could really learn about it, learn what it does, how it works…"

"And blow yourself up in the process. No."

Daniel frowned, taking several steps away from the lab table toward the darker part of his office. "Why are you so set against this?"

"Because I don't think it's a good idea and besides, all of the ones who had the gene therapy got shipped to the Pegasus galaxy."

"So you're worried that I'd high-tail it there?"

"No," Jack answered, shaking his head. "No, that's not it at all."

"Then—"

"Daniel," Jack said, taking to his feet, exasperation and anger in his voice, "just leave it alone. Can you do that?"

"But why, Jack?"

"Because I asked you to. I don't want to make it an order."

"I'm a civilian."

"And I'm the base commander who can have your sorry ass dumped outside." Jack sighed, running a hand through his short hair as he looked away. The muscles in his jaw tightened several times before he finally turned back to Daniel. "I need to get back to my office. I'm expecting a call from General Hammond."

Daniel nodded briefly. "I'm sure you are. When's our briefing?"

Jack moved to the door, pausing mid-step to answer. "In about twenty-four hours. I'll firm up the time with Carter as it gets closer."

"I'll be ready."

"I know you will be." Jack paused for another moment before striding out of the door leaving Daniel alone with his books.

~*~*~

Pausing at the door to Doctor Lee's lab, Carter took a moment to look around, watching as he peered into his microscope, his right hand hovering over a pad, a pen gripped in his fingers. His glasses were pushed up onto his forehead, and what little hair he had was standing up in the back. Carter thought she spotted a half-eaten sandwich on top of his laptop, but it was hard to tell with all the papers in the way. His lab coast was wrinkled, and coffee cups were scattered throughout the room. She chuckled to herself. Apparently, Daniel wasn't the only one who believed that coffee was a food group.

She knocked lightly on the doorframe, making Doctor Lee. He turned, his glasses crashing down to land on the bridge of his nose.

"Colonel Carter," he squeaked, trying to smooth his long white lab coat without much success. "I didn't hear you come in."

"That much is obvious," she replied, stepping into the room, a smile on her face. "How's the project coming along?"

He turned partly to glance at the microscope as he answered. "Slow. It's a little more complicated than I originally thought. I should be able to finish it up by the weekend, at least I hope to."

Carter nodded. "Good. I'm not sure how much you've heard about Dakara—"

"The place where that weapon was found that killed the Replicators?"

"That's the one."

"And honestly, that's about all I've heard."

"Well, General O'Neill is going to be sending humanitarian supplies to the Jaffa living on Dakara and SG-1 has been assigned a mission to study the Ancient weapon before it's dismantled. I'd like for you to join my team."

Lee's mouth dropped open and it took a few seconds before he found his voice. "You want me on SG-1? General O'Neill's going to let me after—"

"He told me to assign the best people for the job," Carter said, stepping over to the lab table, leaning her hip against it. "I think your help would be invaluable as we try to decipher what this weapon can do. Are you interested? It would mean your current projects would have to be put on hold for a little while—"

"Of course I'm interested! It isn't every day that you get this kind of opportunity." He turned, flicking off the light on the microscope and closing several of the files on his desk. "So, when do we leave?"

"Thirty-six hours."

Lee paused, hanging onto the edge of the file folder, his shoulders slumping a little. "Thirty-six hours?"

"We have a briefing in twenty-four. I'd like you to pull together whatever information we have on the planet and the weapon. I've made my notes available to you."

He turned, a nervous smile on his face. "I won't let you down, Colonel."

Carter smiled and headed for the door. "If you need anything in the meantime, just let me know. I'll also need to see your list of supplies for the mission. If you can get those to me before the briefing—"

"Consider it done."

She nodded, encouraged by his response, but also nervous. This was going to be a huge undertaking. She hoped Doctor Lee was the right choice for the job.

She'd know soon enough.

~*~*~

Hearing activity in the briefing room, General O'Neill glanced up from his laptop and spotted Daniel circling the table, settling down on the far side, his coffee and his notes claiming his seat.

Checking the time, he signed off of his email and quickly locked his computer, then pushed the lid down so it would sleep while he was at the briefing. A quick swig of his cold coffee and he headed for the door, the mission folder clutched in his hand. Carter, Lee, and Menard straightened instinctively as he entered the room, but he quickly waved to them, letting them relax. Daniel, of course, hadn't moved a muscle, but that was typical of the archeologist—ever the civilian.

"Afternoon, everyone," O'Neill said sliding into the chair at the head of the table and flipping open the folder he'd carried in. "So, Carter, are you ready to go?"

She nodded, her voice firm. "Yes, sir. We've had the chance to go over all of the information we brought back the last time we were there."

"Good" he replied, skimming the top page of the report, noting that Daniel had already started to correct some of the translations the Carters had done on their initial trip to Dakara. "So you'll be able to turn this weapon off without a problem, right?"

"Turn it off?"

O'Neill lifted his head, his eyes narrowed as he looked at the archeologist. "Yes, Daniel. Do you have a problem with that?"

"I thought we were going to learn about it, try and figure out why the Ancients built it—"

"And you will," O'Neill replied, cutting off the other man. "But as soon as you can figure out how to turn it off without injuring someone or blowing up the galaxy that's what you're going to do. I've already spoken with the Joint Chiefs and the President and they agree with my assessment of the situation. It's too dangerous to have that weapon active, and this is the perfect opportunity to get the intelligence we need and make sure it's neutralized. Bra'tac and Teal'c also agree with the plan."

Daniel glanced away, his jaw muscles twitching, but he was silent. O'Neill took that for agreement and continued. "The supplies are already being loaded into the gateroom and they'll go through on the FREDs first, with SG-1 following. I've assigned both SG-13 and SG-5 as backup. While Teal'c's intentions about your safety are commendable, I don't think he can effectively enforce his promise with the current situation on Dakara. I'm setting your departure time for 0800, sixteen hours from now. The four additional hours should give you plenty of time to get some rest. You're going to need it."

O'Neill glanced around the table, looking for any questions or comments, but SG-1 was silent. He nodded, rising to his feet. "You're dismissed. Get some rest and I'll see you first thing in the morning."

Striding into his office, he closed the door behind him, sinking into his desk chair that squeaked under his weight. Closing his eyes he took a deep breath, trying to settle his mind and his nerves.

He should be going with them. He could do so much more there instead of here behind his desk, shuffling paper and battling with an overflowing spam folder. What he wouldn't give to walk on another planet again, even for a few minutes.

But that was no longer his path.

With another long breath he opened his eyes, his hands already moving to his laptop. He had things to do. Putting them off would not make them go away.

He glanced toward the now empty briefing room as his laptop logged him back into the network, his e-mail program already beeping about new messages.

If only…

~*~*~

Shuffling into the main locker room as he pulled on his long-sleeved desert cammo BDU shirt, Daniel spotted a blonde head on the other side of the room.

"Hey, Sam," he said, moving to the mirror as he straightened the last of his clothing.

She glanced up, pausing as she tied the laces of her boots. "You almost ready?"

He nodded, adding a mumbled, "Uh huh," as he fastened the holster for his zat to his thigh. Jack had told them in no uncertain terms this morning that they were to be completely geared up and armed to the teeth. The perfect accoutrements for a mission of mercy.

"What was that?" Carter asked, her voice a lot closer than it had been a few seconds ago. Turning, he found her only a few steps away, leaning against the wall, her eyes full of concern and questions.

He shook his head, wondering what it was that he'd said out loud. "Nothing."

She tilted her head, crossing her arms over her chest. "What's with you and the General?"

"Me and Jack?" he asked, refusing to meet her eyes as he continued to adjust his uniform and watched her reflection in the mirror.

"Yes," she answered, nodding. "The past day or so you've both been…weird, for lack of a better term."

"Weird?" He turned, picking up his weapon and strapping it in place. She moved to follow him, picking up the last few items from the bench as they moved to the door of the locker room. "What do you mean by weird?"

"Well, take the briefing as an example," she said, walking beside him as they moved down the hallway to the elevator. "He normally doesn't snap at people in a briefing and it sounded like there was a lot more behind that little outburst then either of you let on. Care to enlighten me?"

He shrugged. "It's nothing."

"Why don't you let me decide that?"

He paused at the elevator, using the time to stall as he swiped his card through the reader. "Jack and I have had an ongoing…disagreement about gene therapy."

"He doesn't want you to do it, does he?"

Daniel turned to her, his eyes widening. "No. He's dead set against it."

"I know. I get the same reaction."

"You?"

Sam nodded as the elevator doors opened and they stepped in. Daniel quickly punched in the correct level and the car began to move, sliding down to the gateroom. "I asked him back when they were preparing for the Atlantis expedition, but he refused to let me try it. Said there were enough people. I haven't had time to ask him again with everything going on…"

"But you figure you already know his response?"

She nodded again. "Yeah."

"He's wrong, you know that don't you? Just imagine what we could do, what we could learn—"

"I know," she said as the doors slid open once again and they walked a few yards to the gateroom. "But we need to pick the right time. That's one thing I've learned. You have to pick your battles and your timing."

"And that's soon, right?"

Pausing just outside the blast doors, Sam turned to him, a smile on her face. "When the time is right, we'll make our move and present our request."

Daniel smiled, feeling a sense of relief wash over him. He wasn't alone. "Just let me know when and where."

Sam returned his smile. "Don't worry, you'll know."

~*~*~

As she stepped from the Dakara stargate, Carter squinted as the sun's glare hit her eyes, her sunglasses still dangling by a cord around her neck. Her P-90 at the ready, she took a moment to get her bearings and put on her sunglasses. Behind her, a slurping sound signaled the arrival of her companions, most probably Doctor Lee. She smiled, remembering that her CO had christened their team of scientists "the geek squad" when she'd suggested that it include Daniel, Doctor Lee, Lieutenant Menard from SG-11, and herself.

She coughed at the dust being kicked up by a half-dozen FREDs laden with supplies and food for the Free Jaffa camp. The General had sent them through the gate ahead of the scientific contingent based on the idea that the malcontents would be less likely to shoot at their next meal than at unknown strangers. Based on the lack of fire—unfriendly or otherwise—thus far, his reasoning seemed to be right on the money.

The sound of someone stumbling and then retching let her know Doctor Lee had made it through the gate. He'd confessed to her that he had a problem with gate travel. Though most people, including herself, usually vomited after the first trip, he puked after every single one. Initially, she'd thought he was joking, until she noticed he wasn't smiling and looked dead serious. Oh well, he'd warned her.

Without taking her eyes off the landscape in front of her, she called over her shoulder. "Doctor Lee?"

The doctor didn't reply, but then she hadn't expected him to. Instead, she continued to survey her surroundings and depended on her companions bringing up her rear to take care of their near-sighted geek with the upset stomach. Hopefully, he'd had the foresight to bring along something to clean up with.

Before leaving, they'd decided that she would go after the FREDs and SG-13, with Wells taking point. Behind her would be Lee, Daniel, and then Menard would bring up the rear followed by SG-5. Though Lee had been issued and trained in how to fire a weapon, it was doubtful that he would use it—even to defend himself. It actually reminded her of Daniel when they were first a team. Things were different then. They were different then.

"Anybody got a tissue?" whined Lee.

"Daniel? You want to take care of him?" Carter said out of the corner of her mouth. She didn't bother turning her head, and when she heard Daniel's murmur behind her, she knew he had done it. Good, that would be one less thing for her to worry about.
Although they were supposed to be a mission to help out the Free Jaffa on Dakara, none of them were under any illusions that this would be cakewalk. Although the gift of food and supplies would probably calm the distrust the Free Jaffa felt toward the Tau'ri, the whole situation could still blow sky-high at any time.

While grasping her P-90 with one hand, she shaded her eyes with the other, and could make out the figure of Wells a couple of feet in front of her.

Behind her, she heard Colonel Dixon giving orders to check the FREDs.

"Wells? Balinsky? Report."

Carter nodded with approval when Wells didn't turn his head to reply, but instead continued to scan their immediate surroundings. "Looks quiet, sir. One unknown approaching at two o'clock." He hesitated. "He looks friendly."

"Looks like all the supplies made it through the gate, sir," replied Balinsky.

"That's great," acknowledged Dixon, then turned to Carter. "You recognize the guy coming to meet us?"

She fixed her eyes on the approaching figure and squinted. "Ry'ac?"

The approaching figure waved and quickened his pace to meet them. "Colonel Carter! It is I, Ry'ac. I've come to take you to my father."

The single figure resolved itself into a tall, slim man dressed in a rough tunic and trousers. His face was split by a grin, the white teeth a stark contrast to his dark skin. He'd changed in the short time since she'd seen him last.

He stretched out welcoming arms, his gesture encompassing the entire group. "Daniel Jackson, it is good to see you again. We have been in most desperate need of the supplies you bring." He turned to look at the two other members of their team. "These are your men of learning?"

Daniel bobbed his head in greeting and returned to caring for the despondent and messy doctor. She smirked when she saw the green rag being used by Lee to clean off his dirty glasses and looked at Daniel with a question in her eyes.

The archeologist shrugged. "I brought along a couple of extras in my pack. I had the feeling they'd come in handy." A much cleaner version had already been tied around his head and peeked out from under his floppy-brimmed cap, the green material a contrast to the desert fatigues of their uniforms.

Carter directed her gaze to Ry'ac. "Yes, this is Lieutenant Menard," she said indicating the man in front of her. "And the man with the smelly boots is Doctor Lee, one of our men of learning."

Menard nodded and then returned to watching for any problems. Ry'ac nodded and raised one eyebrow sardonically in blatant imitation of his father.

"Please follow me to my father's chambers. Once there, we can speak freely. It will be much…cooler and safer there."

Carter smiled at his choice of words, nodded her agreement, and extended her hand. "After you."

He turned on his heel and led them at a fast pace toward the fortress that housed the weapon of the Ancients. As they followed, Carter took the opportunity to study the young man who was their guide. According to appearances, marriage seemed to agree with him, she decided. He'd filled out and had an air of assurance about him that only came with maturity and experience. She couldn't help but compare him to the emaciated youngster who'd been dying of scarlet fever all those years ago. Yes, Ry'ac had grown up.

Walking through the camp, Carter realized that a small tent-city had sprung up in the area around the fortress, lending it an air of a bustling marketplace. The tension in the air made her tighten her grip on her weapon, and she noted Menard and Daniel did the same. Not surprisingly, Lee peered myopically around him and seemed more interested in the artifacts and culture than any threat that might exist.

No one moved to stop them—probably due to the supplies on the FREDs. However, she also didn't miss that more than one pair of eyes were sullen and curses were muttered at their backs. The General had been right on the mark when he'd said he was worried about their safety. It wouldn't take much to make the whole populace explode, and she couldn't help but worry about how they were going to get out of there when it came time to leave. From her viewpoint, the more acute danger originated from the people they'd come to help, not the weapon they'd come to dismantle. With any kind of luck, they'd be successful in defusing both threats. With a glance over her shoulder, she noted that members of the city began to trail the Tau'ri, and slowly grew in number.

As they cleared the tent-city, she recognized the area around her and caught up with Ry'ac, leaving Menard, Lee, and Daniel to follow behind her. She smirked when she overheard the three of them discussing the cultural significance of the edifice ahead of them. Knowing Daniel as she did, she would bet money that he was drooling over the prospect of studying the Ancient carvings.

As this was her second visit, she had to keep reminding herself that Daniel had not accompanied her the first time—that he had been a prisoner of her Replicator twin and they had no idea where he'd been at the time. She winced, recalling the frantic pace that had been set by herself and her dad, and the fear that she'd quashed at Daniel's fate. That had very narrowly been a disaster for them, and she shivered as the memory of the frozen mechanical bugs. Though she'd quizzed Daniel about the part he'd played in stopping the Replicators in their tracks, he claimed he didn't remember what had happened while he was a prisoner. She had her doubts about that, but had decided to accept his answer—for now.

Ry'ac directed the FREDs to stop in the courtyard just outside the main entrance to the fortress. The crowd of people who had followed the small procession milled about uncertainly until Teal'c and Brat'ac stepped forward.

The grizzled Jaffa Master raised both hands and the murmurs died, leaving only an expectant hush. "Tec'ma'te! My Jaffa brothers and sisters. Today, our Tau'ri allies have gifted us with the promised food and supplies."

Uncertain mutters broke out and one voice rose above the rest. "Do not listen to this old man. He would sell our freedom for the price of a few blankets and a full belly."

Ry'ac flushed angrily and moved to confront the malcontent when Teal'c's broad arm stopped him. "No, do not play into the fool's hands, my son," he whispered urgently.

"But…"

"Watch—and learn from the Master."

Bra'tac had straightened his shoulders and favored the crowd with the glare of a parent toward a child who has been found lacking. Little by little, the crowd quieted under his stern gaze. Only then, did he speak.

"It is the Ha'shak who allows his pride to drive away friends, leaving him alone and friendless on the battlefield. This is an arena where only the death birds celebrate."

Nothing broke the silence that followed his pronouncement; even the cooling breeze had died to a mere whisper. Teal'c was the one to break it when he ordered several Jaffa warriors to help unload the FREDs. They sprang to obey, as if to distance themselves from the object of Bra'tac's displeasure.

In quick order, several Jaffa had unloaded the vehicles and were in the process of conveying their contents to a community storeroom. In the meantime, the throng had calmed while a handful of children could be seen fingering the blankets and eyeing the food with hungry eyes.

Dixon's eyes softened and he reached into a side pocket on his pants and drew out an energy bar. Unwrapping one end, he offered it to a boy with large, brown eyes. The boy reached out his hand, and then drew it back. Then he looked up at the young woman standing behind him, one hand on his shoulder.

The Colonel nodded, then broke off the end of the bar and put it into his mouth. "Umm." He licked his lips and held it out again.

The lad's eyes still on his mother's face, he grinned widely when the woman nodded her assent. Cautiously, she took the bar, nibbled at it, and then nodded, a big smile on her face. Then she put the bar into her son's hand who bit into it with gusto.

"Thank you," she smiled.

Dixon grinned. "You are most welcome. Anybody want some?" He began fishing in his pockets for more as chattering children with hands outstretched gathered around him.

In the meantime, other personnel were bringing out their energy bars and passing them out to welcoming hands.

Dixon nodded happily at Teal'c. "Kids, ya gotta love 'em."

"It was one of your wise men who said 'and the children will lead', is it not?" the Jaffa replied.

"You can say that again. Hey wait, I found another one." He waved the bar triumphantly above his head and then deposited it in an open hand.

While the Jaffa were occupied with more immediate matters, Teal'c and Bra'tac ushered SG-1 through the doorway of the fortress.

Teal'c greeted them with a slight curve to his lips. "You are most welcome to the home of the Free Jaffa, Colonel Samantha Carter. I trust no one accosted you on your journey here. We were nearly certain they would not interfere especially because you brought the needed supplies with you."

She shook her head. "No, everything was fine. You weren't kidding when you said things were tense."

"Unfortunately, all Free Jaffa do not yet know what it is to be free," Teal'c answered solemnly. "Nor whom to trust."

Carter took the time to examine their Jaffa hosts. Teal'c looked on edge and tired while Bra'tac seemed worn-out and old, which was unusual. She took a deep breath as she turned to follow. The weight of the mission settled more firmly on her shoulders as she wondered just how she was going to pull the rabbit out of the hat that would save everyone this time.

"The gift of food and supplies has come at a fortuitous time, and has already done much to lessen tensions in the camp," Bra'tac explained. "However, there are many who see in the Tau'ri another master, one that they cannot afford to trust, no matter how dire the straits."

Daniel quirked an eyebrow. "You mean it was worse before?"

"Much worse," Bra'tac confirmed.

"Take care never to be left alone," Teal'c said. Startled, Lee abandoned the glyph he'd been peering at and hurried to catch up. "Trust no one but my son and Bra'tac. All others are as yet unknown, unpredictable as leaves awaiting the next whirlwind. It is difficult for those who have never known the freedom of self-determination to know which way to turn when it is suddenly thrust upon them."

~*~*~

Hunched over his notebook, Daniel rubbed the back of his neck and then straightened. If he didn't know better, he'd swear he'd been at it for hours, but he knew he couldn't have been there longer than a half an hour at the most. Still, the back of his neck insisted that it was much longer. Only when his stomach rumbled did he bother checking his watch.

"Sam? Why didn't you tell me to take a break?"

"What?" Sam stood, her back cracking. "Maybe because I didn't notice."

"Jack always did," Daniel added. "He always kept track of things like that." His stomach grumbled again. "And now I know why he did."

"Umm hmm," mumbled Carter, already lost in her calculations. Daniel wasn't far behind her as yet another glyph caught his attention.

The Jaffa had done one useful thing during their examination of the Ancient weapon. They'd managed to locate and open—by sheer force—a small chamber that looked like a control room—at least to Daniel's eye. It wasn't big, barely large enough to comfortably fit two people, and was full of glowing panels. As much as that room called to him, Sam had decided to start in the main chamber. With little or no writing in that small chamber, all of the details had to be on the walls of the main room. At least, that's the thought they were going on.

"Wait a minute." Daniel bent low over the altar and compared his notes with the stone carvings—again. He rolled his eyes and turned to Menard. "Hand me that reference book again." Looking over his shoulder, Daniel corrected him. "No, the blue one with the gold letters on the binding."

Menard moved his hand from one book over to another that looked more decrepit than the first. "This one?"

"Huh?" Daniel jerked his eyes back from the point in space where he'd been gazing. "Oh, yeah, that's the one."

He felt Carter's presence at his back, but couldn't afford the distraction, not when he was so close to solving the riddle presented by the Ancients.

"Did you find anything?"

Wrinkling his brow, he continued to ignore her—so close, just a few moments more and he'd have it.

"Earth to Daniel."

"What?" Daniel jumped and then looked up, blinking his eyes owlishly.

She smiled. "Sorry. I didn't realize—"

"It's okay, Sam. It's just that this is so interesting. Do you realize that this dates back to a time before recorded history began on Earth?"

"Did you find anything?"

"Yes, but I think we may have a problem."

"Oh? Why?"

"Actually, it's not a definite problem, more like a difficulty. We might even have the answer, if this says what I think it does."

Carter leaned gingerly onto the altar, both palms flat on the stone edging the movable blocks and spat out her words. "What does it say?"

"Remember, this is what I think it says, and I have no way of verifying it without…" he stalled.

"Daniel?"

The archeologist picked up his sheet of notes and shuffled the papers. Then he began to read.

"Heed my words and beware. Neither the Master nor the slave shall have dominion over this instrument of retribution, for the Master sees through the eyes of others and the slave serves those who walk with legs not their own. Should the Master or the slave enter upon these holy grounds to confront the ravening annihilator, they shall surely not leave."

Sam straightened her back and folded her hands across her chest defensively. "Are you telling me that this machine might have contributed to the deaths of both my dad and Sel'mac?" She shook her head in disbelief, and then continued. "Because I have to tell you, Daniel, it sounds pretty unbelievable to me. For one thing, dad said Sel'mac was already dying before they even came here."

Daniel opened his mouth to speak, but she wasn’t finished. "Besides, that warning wouldn't apply to us anyway. Neither of us are host to a symbiote."

Daniel held up his hands. "That's not all, Sam, there's more." He licked his lips nervously and then continued.

"Only those who see with their own eyes and have the blood that runs true may enter and have license over this instrument of judgment. Once the beast of final destruction has been awakened, it will not sleep again, save at the command of those of the true blood."

Carter sat heavily on a nearby box, her eyes wide. "You're right; I think we have a problem."

"Do you want to tell Jack, or will I?"

~*~*~

Due to the continuing tensions at Dakara, O'Neill was already in the control room when the message from Daniel and Carter came through. Quite frankly, he was worried about his people. He'd sent some of his best minds to figure out how to shut down that weapon, and now they were in harm's way.

He couldn’t escape the feeling that things were about to get a whole lot worse there, and Doctor Lee would be smack dab in the middle of it. Lee, who had trouble with plants and probably still pissed in his boots and stammered whenever Jack looked at him wrong.
Now, O'Neill was profoundly grateful that he'd obeyed his gut feeling and refused to send Felger on this little jaunt. The brown-nosing little weasel had tried his best to wheedle his way onto the list of personnel going, but O'Neill had put his foot down. The last thing they needed there was a trouble-magnet nincompoop bumbling around amongst the quick-tempered Jaffa. The fool probably would've set off the weapon by mistake.

At least the others were dependable if and when things went south. Even though Daniel was a bona fide geek, O'Neill knew from experience that he could be depended on to protect himself and his companions.

As for Carter, first and foremost, she was a soldier and could blow away any pain in the neck threat without batting an eyelash. The same could be said for Menard. Still, it was hard being desk-bound at the SGC and sitting on his ass twiddling his thumbs while his kids might be in trouble.

So, the incoming message was welcome to him, in that he would have more information. With information, he could evaluate it and devise an appropriate response—and if it meant blowing up something, so much the better.

"It's Colonel Carter, sir."

Walter glanced up at him as he studied the computer screen. The image was fuzzy at first, and then stabilized to show Carter's face filling the screen. She looked tired and nervous. That was never a good sign. Crap. This was getting better and better all the time.

"Carter? What's up?" He plastered his best innocent, 'what, me worry?' grin on his face.

"You were right about the food and supplies doing the trick. Things are much calmer now than when we first got here."

"That's great. Made any progress on shutting down the weapon?"

"Well—yes and no, sir." She looked away, and then back at the camera. The image fuzzed a bit and then cleared.

"What do you mean, Colonel?" O'Neill waved his arms impatiently. Something was rotten in Denmark, he just knew it, and he didn’t like waiting for bad news.

Carter bit her lip. "I think Daniel can explain it best, sir."

Off camera, he could hear the archeologist's voice. "But we agreed that you'd tell him."

Daniel's face appeared on the screen a moment later and he didn't look happy.

"I changed my mind," argued Carter.

"What do you mean, you changed your mind? You're the head of this team so you should tell him."

"Yes, Daniel. And as head of this team, I’m ordering you to tell him."

"I'd love to sit and listen to this stimulating conversation all day, kids, but…" O'Neill sighed, grabbed a rolling chair and plopped himself in it.

The on-screen combatants stopped and gazed at him in unison.

"Tell me what?" O'Neill prodded.

Both squirmed.

"Tell me what?"

Daniel broke first. "About the translation."

"Okay, I'll bite. What does it say?"

Daniel and Carter exchanged guilty glances. "Well, it talks a lot about serpents and slaves and things like that."

"Don’t make me come over there and choke it out of you, Rock Boy," O'Neill growled.

"What it comes down to is this, sir," interrupted Carter. "The Ancients designed the weapon with built-in safeguards against the Goa'uld gaining control of it."

"Get to the point."

She took a deep breath. "The only person who can shut it down is someone with the Ancients' gene."

O'Neill's face froze. "The only one that can shut it down is—who?"

"I think you heard me the first time, sir," she replied apologetically.

"In other words—me."

"Yes, sir."

He blew out a puff of air. "Well, there you go." He shook his head and scrubbed his face tiredly. "Keep me posted. Check back with me in," he checked his watch, "six hours."

"Yes, sir." Her image winked out.

O'Neill turned to Walter. "Oy. I've gotta make a couple of phone calls."

"Yes, sir. I'll have a dinner tray sent up to your office."

"Thanks, you might want to wait a bit though—after the President and Hammond get through chewing on my ass, I may not have an appetite."

Walter gave him a crooked smile. "I'll do that, sir."

~*~*~

O'Neill put the phone back in its cradle with exaggerated care and sat for a moment, savoring the knowledge that the decision about whether or not to go to Dakara had been taken out of his hands. He scrubbed his face with his hands and resisted the temptation to lay his head down on the desk. Crap, but he was tired. It had been a long and tiring day, made even longer by the waiting game a thing called chain of command ordered that he play.

After his initial phone call to Hammond, the proposal had been taken before the Joint Chiefs and the President. They'd all given the green light for him to lend a helping hand to the Free Jaffa on Dakara. Evidently, they'd concurred with Hammond's opinion that they couldn't afford to alienate their off-world allies.

O'Neill wasn't so sure he agreed with them on that score. When it came down to it, he wasn’t so sure he wanted any part of this mission. He'd already had too many bad experiences courtesy of the Ancients and the idea of having to let any machine of theirs inside his head for any reason did not appeal to him in the slightest.

Another one of their conditions concerned his safety. They'd stipulated that he be guarded at all times. Crap, they insisted on treating him like a baby, like he couldn't take care of himself anymore, and that rankled. Damn, it wasn't as if he were that important, was it? This was just another danged inconvenience that he could blame on the Ancients.

On the positive side, he would be able to step through the gate again. It would almost be like old times, when the four of them had gated to different worlds on a regular basis as a team. Their team would be together off-world again.

And he'd be able to see Teal'c. He missed him, and much as he hated to see it happen, he knew that the big guy's days with the SGC were numbered.

A knock on his door brought his head up off his arms. It was Walter. Dang, when had he put his head down? He didn't remember that at all.

"Sir?"

O'Neill pinched the bridge of his nose. "What went wrong this time, Walter?"

"Nothing that I know of, sir." He grinned. "I brought you something to eat, that is if you're hungry."

"That's it? No world catastrophe, no alien invasion?"

"No, sir. They rescheduled those for next Tuesday."

"Ah." O'Neill blinked.

"Just kidding, sir."

"That you are, Walter. The kids call home yet?"

"They're due to call in about fifteen minutes, but I thought you'd want to eat first."

Walter brought in the Styrofoam tray and sat it on a corner. O'Neill quirked an eyebrow as he watched his aide clear the scattered files from his desktop before setting the tray in front of him and opening it.

The wonderful aroma of a roast beef sandwich, fries, and coleslaw wafted toward O'Neill's nostrils. "Hey, that smells good enough to eat."

"I'll tell the cook that you liked it, sir."

"You'll make someone a great wife someday, Walter. Thanks."

"That's what my wife tells me, sir. You're welcome."

O'Neill picked up a fry. "By the way, you'll need to reschedule all my appointments for tomorrow and the next day."

"You mean today and tomorrow, don’t you, sir?" He tapped his watch. "It's 0130 hours."

"Oh? Yeah, that's what I meant." No wonder he felt tired.

"You're going somewhere?"

"Dakara. The guys at the top just gave me the green light to go play with a big honkin' space gun."

"I'll get right on it, sir. Have fun while you're there."

"Always. I'll leave Reynolds in charge while I'm gone."

"I'll get the memo started, sir."

O'Neill smiled. "Just make sure I get my copy." Then he picked up his sandwich and took a big bite. "Thanks."

Walter grinned. "For you—anytime, sir. Enjoy your food."

~*~*~

O'Neill immediately raised his sunglasses to his face when he stepped through the gate onto Dakara. The contrast between the cool dankness of the subterranean chambers of the SGC and the sunlight and heat made him wince. This was just peachy, now he was out of shape and getting old. Crap.

After his eyes adjusted, he noted that SG-5 was arrayed in a protective circle around the gate facing outwards. Only Carter and Daniel were actually there to greet him. The rest were there to make sure he didn't stub his toe.

"Hi, kids. Miss me?"

"Yes, sir. Welcome to Dakara. We'll take you right to the weapon."

"You mean the space gun?"

Daniel frowned. "Actually, the Ancients refer to it by many different names, almost as if it were alive."

"Oh, really?"

"Yes, really."

O'Neill adjusted the strap of his P-90 and waved his hands. "Lead on, MacDuff."

The three of them automatically fell into step as the jarheads spread out in a defensive pattern, designed to keep their General from harm. Yep, it was just like old times—sort of.

O'Neill had already decided he would ignore the bodyguards as an unwanted but necessary evil. After all, Hammond had made it pretty clear on that score.

"Daniel?"

"Yes?"

"About those translations?"

"What about them?

"They don't happen to mention anything about a head grabbing thingy that will shoot all this knowledge crap into my brain, do they?"

"No. It just talks about how the only person who can shut it down has to have blood that flows pure."

"Well, my blood has certainly flowed enough times, but as for the purity part—I'll have to pass on that."

"The operating mechanism looks the same as that time-loop altar we encountered on P4X-639. Do you remember it?"

O'Neill snorted. "Ya think? I only saw it a dozen times or so." He turned again to the archeologist. "You're sure about the head grabber?"

"Yes, Jack. I am reasonably sure that there is no head grabber. Don't you think that I would've already tried it out myself if there was?"

"Over my dead body. We've already had this conversation, and you know how I feel about it."

"Yes, we have. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it."

"Suit yourself. By the way, where's Teal'c?"

"He's in a meeting of the Jaffa Council, sir. Seems they've had a change of heart since we sent the supplies."

"Best buddies now, right?"

"Something like that, sir."

By this time, they'd reached the fortress housing the weapon. Under cover of fiddling with his dangling sunglasses, O'Neill brooded as he was escorted to the hidden chamber that contained the machine that he was supposed to deactivate by somehow interfacing his brain with its operating system.

Shutting it down had a huge whopping price tag though—and the price might be too high this time. Who knew how many times he could face this particular dragon before the man called Jack O'Neill disappeared and never came back? Oy, the things he did for his planet.

He took a steadying breath and set his face in stone. "Let's get this show on the road. Daniel? You'll have to talk me through it."

~*~*~

Colonel Jeffrey Harper glanced over his shoulder at the tall blond captain currently circling the left side of the gate. It was just the two of them right now, since he had Anderson and Rosenberg on stand-down. Things had quieted down, so he and Sorenson could handle things.

When they'd first arrived, they'd gotten some intense reactions from the Jaffa who weren't shy about expressing their feelings. If any of the dirty looks they'd received could actually do something to them physically, they all would have been dead several times over by now.

Thankfully, after the supplies were distributed and more promised to arrive shortly, the anger diffused. Now, they'd gone from being a strange curiosity to the "invisible men", which was exactly what Harper wanted. He hated being stared at. Besides, it was more fun to watch people when they weren't so self-conscious about every move.

General O'Neill had been on Dakara for nearly two hours already, and after the initial shock of his arrival—on the part of some of the Jaffa—things had been quiet.

Which worried him.

Chuckling a little to himself, he shifted his MP-5 that was clipped to the front of his tactical vest. He was starting to sound like the General more and more. A few years ago, he'd heard the first rumblings about O'Neill's paranoia, the whole "if it's quiet, someone must be out to get me" mentality. More often than not, however, he'd been right. And usually it saved his life and the lives of his teammates.

He knew guys who'd thought that way in the service, but it was different. They were normally just talking. It never meant anything.

With the SGC—and O'Neill in particular—a lot of things were turned on their ear. The whole 'we fight aliens on a daily basis' took some getting used to.

Catching Sorenson's eye, he raised an eyebrow in question. The Captain shook his head. Nothing out of the ordinary.

Damn. Why was he so uneasy?

Glancing toward the tent city, the Jaffa were going about their daily routines. Smoke from campfires rose above the tents, the smell of stew and spices wafting on the air. It was almost time to swap with the other two members of SG-5 and a warm MRE awaited him for dinner. Not exactly gourmet, but it did the trick.

The hunting parties had yet to return for the day, but if Harper had to take a guess, they'd be back within the hour. It would give them just enough time to finish gutting, flaying, and bleeding their game before night fell.

The clank of the first chevron, however, immediately diverted his attention to the gate. A quick glance at the idle DHD proved it was an incoming wormhole. Reaching for his radio, he pressed the call button twice before speaking. "SG-5 niner to SG-1 niner. We have company."

Colonel Carter replied a few seconds later just as the plume from the wormhole emerged. Sorenson had taken up a defensive station on the far side of the gate, kneeling down behind a piece of some ruin, mirroring Harper's position. "Anyone we know?"

"We should know in a minute," he replied as he heard the arrival of the first traveler stepping through the event horizon. His eyes fixed on the first figure, Harper stood, tightening his grip on his weapon. Several more people emerged a few seconds later, the group growing exponentially.

"Ma'am, the General might want to get over here. We might need Bra'tac and Teal'c, too."

"He's a little busy right now. What's the problem?"

Watching the group continue to grow, Harper replied to her while signaling for Sorenson to get the rest of SG-5 to the gate. "High Councilor Thoran's here, ma'am, along with a whole contingent of armed Tok'ra and they don't look like they're going to take no for an answer."

Damn. Why did he have to be right?

~*~*~

Carter turned to Teal'c and Bra'tac, her eyes wide. "Did you hear?" she asked, pointing to the radio on her vest.

Teal'c nodded, his expression grim. "I did indeed, Colonel Carter. I shall leave immediately. It might be wise for you to accompany us."

"And leave them here?" she replied, her arm gesturing into the Ancient ruins where the General and Daniel were working.

Bra'tac's eyes were sad. "I fear that if we cannot contain the situation, one or two people protecting O'Neill and Doctor Jackson will not make a difference."

Carter nodded, realizing the truth of his statement. She turned immediately, walking to the entrance of the ruins where the Ancient weapon was housed, immediately spotting Colonel Dixon.

"Colonel," she said, moving to him as Teal'c and Bra'tac followed, "we're heading for the gate. I need you to hold this position no matter what happens. Am I understood?"

"Ma'am?" he asked, his expression confused.

"We have an armed contingent of Tok'ra on the planet who most likely will be heading this way any time now. We're going to try and head them off, but the General needs to finish what he started. We can't let anything interrupt him."

He nodded, gesturing for Bosworth and Wells to approach. "We'll make sure he finishes, ma'am."

"Good. I'll radio if there are any changes." She turned away, Bra'tac and Teal'c on her heels. Switching the channel on her radio, she pressed the call button. "Daniel?"

It took a moment to get a reply—and it wasn't the archeologist. "Balinsky here, ma'am. Doctor Jackson is…busy. Can I help you with something?"

"Are you sure Daniel's not available?" she asked, her eyes scanning the area. So far it seemed as if everything was still calm. How long that would last, she didn't know.

A jumble of raised voices accompanied Balinsky's reply. "Positive, ma'am. And honestly, ma'am, unless the world's ending, I'm not going anywhere near them."

"It very well might be, Balinsky. The Tok'ra are here and we're heading for the gate. I've left SG-13 to guard the ruins just in case things get as ugly as I think they will. You might want to let the General know."

"I'll do that the first chance I get."

"Good thinking there, Doctor. Carter out." Sighing, she pushed forward, trying to make better speed, hoping that they weren't too late.

~*~*~

Cameron Balinsky clicked off his radio, Carter's words echoing in his mind.

The Tok'ra were here.

Damn.

Why now? Why here? Why him?

Edging his way to the door, he peered in, trying to get a feel for how things were going.

It sure didn't sound good.

O'Neill was waving his hands and making a general fuss about something while Daniel stood at the large control console in the middle of the room, looking as if he was just watching and waiting to get a word in edgewise.

"…and knowing how well my luck runs, I'll end up short circuiting my brain and the Tok'ra will arrive just in time to clean-up. Why do I agree to crazy schemes like this?"

Balinsky winced. The General was a little too close to the truth for comfort.

"Jack, if I thought there were any other way to do this, I would have mentioned it," Daniel replied, frustration and exasperation in his voice. "I figured you'd be able to do everything from the console—"

"But I can't," O'Neill said, rounding on the other man, his hand pointing directly at Daniel. "And why is it always black-and-white? Why do we have to 'interface' with it? I vote for blowing it up."

"And taking the planet with it? I don't think so, Jack. Do you have any idea how many Jaffa are living here now?"

"So we tell them to pack up and leave cause Armageddon's coming tomorrow morning at nine."

"It's not that easy."

"Of course it is. We tell them very simply, 'I'm sorry, but your planet is about to be destroyed to make way for an interstellar bypass. Please vacate the premises by tomorrow morning.' See, easy."

Daniel sighed loudly, shaking his head. "You know I'm right, Jack."

The other man stopped, the anger and the rage leaving his body in a nearly audible whoosh. "I know. Look, I gotta find the little boys' room. Give me five minutes?" O'Neill said, brushing by Daniel, not waiting for an answer. He strode by Balinsky without slowing down, headed for the bathrooms Teal'c had pointed out when they'd first arrived.

Daniel's words surprised him. "Sorry about that, Cameron."

He turned, startled that the other man had approached so quietly. "He didn't look happy."

"He's not, particularly, but it'll pass. He's just frustrated. We all thought it would be simple. He gates to the planet, plays with the console, and then goes home. We didn't think that he couldn't turn it off from the console. I guess it's a safety lock or something, but that has to happen directly from the mainframe part of the weapon, which is in that little room."

Balinsky glanced across the room, following Daniel's outstretched arm to the small chamber that glowed with an eerie blue light. "Can he do it?"

Daniel nodded. "Yeah. I just have to walk him through it since he can't read Ancient anymore."

"You can't do it?"

"No. You need the gene in order to operate the machinery."

"I figured you'd be first in line to get the gene therapy when they offered it to the SGC personnel. Did it not work on you?"

"I didn't take it."

"You didn't?" Balinsky was shocked. Of all people, Daniel would be the perfect candidate for the gene therapy program—at least he thought so.

"No, and let's drop that subject, okay?" Daniel said, looking decidedly uncomfortable. Balinsky nodded his agreement and Daniel continued. "You obviously wanted something before. Did I hear Sam calling?"

"Yeah," he said, glancing away briefly. "I took the liberty of answering her call since you were…busy."

Daniel chuckled. "Very tactful. What did she want?"

"The Tok'ra just came through the gate. She was heading there with Teal'c and Bra'tac to try and make sure things didn't get out of hand."

"The Tok'ra? Damn," Daniel swore, his face hardening. "I thought we'd have more time than this."

"She left SG-13 guarding the main entrance to this complex."

He nodded as running footfalls echoed down the hallway. A few seconds later, Lee and Menard dashed through the opening. "What happened? What's up with the General? He just stormed past us cursing up a storm."

"Which way was he headed?" Balinsky asked, worried that he might have gotten the news himself.

"To the back of the ruins, toward the bathrooms," Lee answered, surprised by the question. "Why?"

"Cause if he's mad now, that ain't nothing compared to what's coming," Daniel said, his voice grim.

~*~*~

Daniel heard Jack coming before he saw him.

It was either that or one of the scientists had decided to start stomping down the corridors for fun. Or, one of the Jaffa had snuck past SG-13 and was practicing a new Free Jaffa march.

A few seconds later and Jack rounded the corner, coming face to face with Daniel who was purposely standing in his way. But, as soon as Jack took a good look at him, an eyebrow rose and whatever anger was remaining quickly dissipated.

"What happened?"

"The Tok'ra just gated in. Sam is going with Teal'c and Bra'tac to make sure things don't get out of hand."

"What the hell! We should have known! Those stinking—" Jack was in full rant mode now.

"Jack! We have to get this weapon turned off now before the Tok'ra get here. Sam will give us as much time as she can, but it she can’t hold them off forever."

As quickly as the rant began, it ended. Daniel could see the thoughts swirling in his friend's mind, the scenarios playing themselves out. From the expression on Jack's face, he didn't like any of them. A few beats passed before he nodded once, sharply, deliberately.

"What do I need to do?"

~*~*~

Teal'c could hear the commotion near the gate long before he could see it. There were voices on the air—angry voices. A low rumble rolled out across the ground, sharper sounds giving it a surreal quality, as if it were alive.

Colonel Carter was nearly running, trying to reach the gate before something bad happened, something she couldn't fix. He could barely see the gate from where they were; only the hint of an outline through the swirling dust and dirt.

She was worried.

But then, so was he. As soon as Colonel Harper reported in, Teal'c knew that the delicate alliance that they'd created was soon to crumble. At Jacob Carter's funeral at the Alpha site, Da'ar, one of the leaders of the Jaffa Council, had declared war on the Tok'ra if they stepped onto Dakara, and in order to save face and honor, he would follow through.

And the Tau'ri, once again, would end up in the middle.

This was not what they planned.

The closer they got, the louder the sound, the more distinct the voices and the sights.

A sudden breeze cleared the air for a moment and Teal'c caught a glimpse of SG-5, their weapons drawn, standing between the Tok'ra and the Jaffa, their backs to each other. The Colonel was yelling, shouting, trying to be heard over the crowd. Teal'c did not think Colonel Harper's words would do much good, but he did not know a Tau'ri who refused to try even against mountainous odds.

When they reached the edge of the crowd they had to slow down to a trot, pushing through the bodies as they tried to reach the front. Some Jaffa stepped aside, letting them pass, while others refused to budge, forcing them to squeeze past, shoving some out of the way if necessary.

Teal'c did not care as long as they were able to diffuse the situation.

As soon as they emerged beside SG-13, Bra'tac's voice rose above the sea of bodies, surprising most to silence.

"Kree, Tok'ra! Kree, Jaffa! Kree, Tau'ri! Leaa!"

~*~*~

O'Neill approached the small chamber cautiously, his better judgment telling him to stay away, but his mind urged him forward. That, and Daniel wouldn't take 'no' for an answer.

"Are you sure this is the only way?" he asked without turning, his eyes scanning the interior of the small room, the ceiling just brushing the top of his head. He hunched his shoulders to give himself a little more headroom and eased himself in slowly. He couldn’t go far—his outstretched hands could rest easily on opposite walls. How had the Jaffa found this closet?

"I'm sure, Jack," Daniel said, his voice flowing in behind him. "Now, you should see some panels—"

"The room is full of panels, Daniel. You might want to be more specific."

Jack swore he heard the other man utter a curse, but the archeologist continued talking and Jack didn't have time to dwell on the thought. "You should see a panel, probably about shoulder level. There should be some kind of handle or grip on it. Maybe a bar? It mentions something about taking hold of…"

"Daniel?" Jack asked when he didn't continue. He'd spotted two possible panels that matched Daniel's cryptic description. One on each side of the room.

He had a bad feeling about this.

"Daniel?"

"Sorry. Was checking something. You're definitely looking for a bar or a handle or something."

"I might have found what you're talking about," Jack said, cringing a little. He wasn't going to like this. He knew it already.

"You did?" Daniel poked his head in and followed Jack's pointed finger. "Yeah, that's probably it."

"There's two of them."

"Two?" Daniel shuffled through some papers, his forehead creased in concentration. "I don’t remember anything about two…"

"Daniel," Jack growled, "we don't have all day."

"Oh, wait, here's the reference. And you're right. It's plural. Two it is." A few seconds passed before Daniel poked his head in again. "So, did anything happen?"

"Happen? What happen? You didn't tell me what to do. You just told me to find the damn things."

"Oh, right. Well, you have to touch both of them. It should activate the screen in front of you."

"No head grabber, right?"

"No head grabber."

"Are you sure?"

"I'm sure."

O'Neill reached out, but hesitated before touching the metal bars. "You're certain this is going to work, right?"

"Yes. You activate the screen and then simply choose the command to shut it down. Then we go home. That's it."

"That's it, my ass," O'Neill mumbled under his breath, but Daniel apparently caught something because he ducked his head back into the room.

"Jack?"

"Nothing, nothing." He cleared his throat and then lined up his hands and grabbed onto the metal bars.

And nothing happened.

O'Neill glanced back and forth, making sure he was holding them the same way, making sure he was touching the right things. Sure enough, everything looked fine.

Suddenly, the bars beneath his fingers grew cold. Icy cold. His fingers twitched to let go, but as soon as the thought entered his mind, the wall morphed out. The now-malleable wall flowed over his hands and wrists, flowing up to his elbows. Within seconds it hardened, effectively locking his hands in place.

"Daniel!"

~*~*~

Carter wasn't sure if it was the words or the bellow that silenced the crowd. She didn't really care. It got the job done, allowing Bra'tac to approach Thoran and the consortium of armed Tok'ra.

She tensed as the sounds of activating zats rippled through the crowd, but Bra'tac never flinched as he stalked over to Thoran. Tightening her grip on her P-90, she moved a little closer, but Teal'c's hand on her arms stopped her.

"Wait," he whispered, his eyes fixed on his friend.

"Thoran, why are you here?" Bra'tac finally asked, only a foot from the Tok'ra.

"We demand access to the weapon of the Ancients." His words were strong, ringing out across the open area in front of the gate. Bra'tac's next question was a startling contrast.

"Why?" he whispered and Carter found herself leaning in to hear the word, trying to hear if there was more.

Thoran didn't answer, his face a mix of confusion and curiosity.

Bra'tac's voice rose slightly, the gravelly tone somehow pleasing. "Why, Thoran, do you demand access to this device? What do you hope to accomplish? What do you want?"

"We deserve—" Thoran began, only to stop when Bra'tac began shaking his head.

"No. We do not deserve anything in this life. I ask you again, Thoran, what do you want? What do you hope to accomplish?"

"I don't need to answer these questions," Thoran blustered, anger flushing his cheeks red. "Allow us to pass."

"No," Carter replied, surprised at herself for her automatic reply.

"So the Tau'ri display their true colors," he said, disdain dripping from his words, as he turned his attention to her. "It was wise for us not to trust you."

"I suggest you turn around and go back to where you came from," she said, stepping forward confidently. She could feel the moral support coming off of Teal'c in waves as he stood at her shoulder.

"And if we do not wish to?" he asked, moving closer to her.

"That is up to the Jaffa, but we shall support whatever decision they make. This world is not ours, nor is it yours."

"We do not recognize the sovereignty of this so-called Free Jaffa Nation—"

"Whether you recognize it or not is immaterial. The Tau'ri are here by invitation. You are not. I do not believe the Jaffa appreciate your presumptuousness."

"And," Bra'tac said, stepping in once again, "what do you want? We cannot communicate or negotiate a peace if we do not know your intentions."

"If it is peace that you wish to attain," Teal'c said, moving to stand closer to Carter.

"It is your kind who will bring war upon us," Thoran said, crossing his arms, looking down his nose at Bra'tac and Teal'c. "We are looking only to protect ourselves."

"From what? The Goa'uld are mostly gone, the few remaining are trying to clean up the mess the Replicators left. Do you fear the Jaffa?" Carter asked, finally understanding something about the Tok'ra.

"We fear no one."

"Then why the armed guards?"

"The Jaffa threatened us. We have the right to defend ourselves."

"True," Carter said, conceding the point, "but you're on their planet now. You're the ones invading their space. It is the Jaffa who have the right to defend themselves from invaders, from you." She paused, looking Thoran in the eye. "Or are you so used to fighting an enemy that you have to create one?"

~*~*~

The one word roar echoed in the chamber and Daniel nearly dropped all of his notes. He'd only turned around for a minute to pick up another reference book. What could have happened in three seconds?

As he whirled around, ducking his head back into the small chamber, he could hear the footfalls of others coming down the hallway. Jack's bellow could have woken the dead.

As soon as he saw Jack, however, it felt like the bottom fell out from under him.

Oh, shit.

He moved forward, but Jack yelled at him, stopping him before he crossed the threshold into the room. "Don't come in here. I have no idea what else this thing is going to do. You promised me this wouldn't happen!"

"I said there were no head grabbers around. I didn't know it would do this!" he replied, defending himself, his mind a whirlwind.

"If I could throttle you, I would," Jack threatened, his face a mixture of worry and anger. He was tugging and pulling, trying to disengage himself from the machine, but he was held fast, the metal-like substance encasing his arms up to the elbow. "But right now, all I want you to do is get me out of this thing. Now."

Daniel started paging through his notes and files, desperately looking for something, anything to get his friend free.

"What happened?" Doctor Lee's panicked voice broke his concentration, and he glanced over his shoulder as the pinched, pallid face of the scientist came into view.

"The machine did something unexpected and it's got the General trapped in there," he replied, pointing toward the small blue room.

"Daniel!" bellowed Jack, pulling his attention back.

"Jack? You okay?"

"I want to get out of here, now."

"I'm working on it."

"Work faster."

Daniel paused, one eyebrow rising. "Why?"

"I think something's happening."

~*~*~

Teal'c stepped around Colonel Carter in the silence her question created, his slow, deliberate steps bringing him closer to Thoran.

"Has Colonel Carter reached the truth of the matter?" he asked, tilting his head in question, the Tok'ra leader refusing to meet his eyes.

"We have fought side-by-side in many battles," Bra'tac continued, his steps mirroring Teal'c's are they circled Thoran. "We have trusted each other with our lives and yet, now, we find ourselves at odds with each other. Why must that be so? We have succeeded in our objectives by working together. Alone, we could not rise up as we did. We are stronger together then apart."

Thoran looked up, his eyes hard. "The Tok'ra do not need help. We would have succeeded without the help of the Jaffa or the Tau'ri."

"In what millennium?" Colonel Carter asked, stepping forward once again, her head held high, her back straight. "If it were not for the help of the Tau'ri and the Jaffa, the Tok'ra would have died long ago."

"That is not true," Thoran said, his body taking on a much more defensive stance. "The Tok'ra have fought the Goa'uld for centuries and we would have continued to do so."

"Not very efficient, are you?" Colonel Carter asked, a half smile on her face. On days such as this, Teal'c swore the woman had a direct link to O'Neill.

And sometimes, that was not a good thing.

"And again," Bra'tac stepped in, "what do you want? And who are you, really? Do you know who you are apart from your war with the Goa'uld? Or has that defined you for so long that you have forgotten your true selves?"

"We have the right to defend ourselves," Thoran blustered, falling back to the shallow excuse he'd given earlier.

"Yes, you do," Bra'tac said, nodding. He stopped in front of the Tok'ra, pausing to look him in the eyes. Thoran held his gaze. "You are afraid."

"We are not!"

"Yes, you are," Bra'tac said. "I am sure of it. I've seen that look in the eyes of my pupils and I have never been wrong in the 141 years of my life—at least, not about this. What do you fear, Thoran?"

~*~*~

"What do you mean, something's happening?" Daniel asked, peering into the room, trying to see what Jack was experiencing.

"I feel a tingling along my arms…" he replied, his words drifting off a little.

"Jack?"

When Daniel didn't get a response, his heart dropped into his boots. "Jack?" he asked again, his voice shaking a little.

His friend's head lolled a little, but straightened quickly, his eyes half-closed. "Here…" Jack said, his voice low. "I can see…"

"What can you see?" This was not supposed to happen like this. Sam was going to kill him.

"Everything…hear everything…the Tok'ra are afraid of what I've become…"

Daniel's eyes widened and he shot a quick glance over his shoulder to the men standing behind him. They were as shocked as he was.

"Jack?"

"They…don't trust…none of them…trust…"

Daniel ducked his head, trying to catch his friend's gaze, trying to help ground him. This machine was amazing, but they had a job to do and he had no idea what it was doing to Jack.

He spoke slowly, but deliberately. "You have to turn the machine, the weapon, off. Can you do that?"

When he didn't get a response, Daniel tried again.

"Jack, can you hear me? You have to turn the machine off. You're the only one who can do that."

Jack straightened suddenly, his eyes open wide and bright. "No!"

~*~*~

"I do not fear anything or anyone," Thoran declared, his head held high, his eyes flashing angry warnings at Bra'tac that the Jaffa was ignoring.

"Then why is there fear in your eyes?"

"You are talking like the old man that you are," Thoran said. "How does the Free Jaffa hope to be a force in the galaxy when they listen to the words of a crazy old man?"

Teal'c stepped forward, anger in his movements. "How dare you—"

"How dare you bring him here. How dare you allow him to speak for you. We are insulted at his very presence."

The mood of the crowd was changing again, getting darker by the second. A quick glance at the rest of his team and Harper nodded briefly, answering their questions with the single gesture. Things were going bad fast. They were trained well and their mission was clear. Protect the SGC personnel. Protect the Jaffa. In this instance, the Tok'ra were the unwelcome party.

But it was the cry in the back of the crowd that drew everyone's attention.

Harper turned, his gun at the ready, his finger on the trigger. A puff of smoke was rising toward the sky where a Tok'ra once stood.

~*~*~

"Have to save…" Jack's head lolled again, but this time stayed down, his chin on his chest.

"Jack! Damnit, Jack, don't do this!" Daniel looked over his shoulder, feeling helpless. "Menard, get Colonel Carter. I need to find out what's going on out there."

The Lieutenant nodded, changing channels on his radio to page Sam. Daniel turned back to his friend hanging in the grip of the Ancient device.

"Jack, you have to concentrate."

"…voices…"

Daniel spoke firmly and slowly, hoping and praying that something was getting through. "Concentrate on me, on my voice. You have to turn the machine off. Do you understand?"

It seemed as if Jack nodded his head slightly, his eyelids flickering. "…machine…"

"That's right. The machine. You need to turn it off."

"…off…"

"Right, Jack. Turn it off."

"Doctor Jackson?"

Daniel turned, meeting Menard's eyes. "We have a problem."

~*~*~

Carter couldn't believe her eyes. A minute ago, she had been looking at the Tok'ra—no one she knew personally, but a living person nonetheless. Now he was gone and the place where he had been was empty.

His zat was on the ground along with his dagger. Everything else was gone.

What the hell had just happened?

"We will see this device of the Ancients and we will see it now!" Thoran demanded, as the entire Tok'ra delegation raised their weapons.

Teal'c was about ready to protest, but Bra'tac's resigned words stopped him cold. "Let them go."

It was at that point that her radio squawked. As a throng of Tok'ra stalked past, she answered the call, explaining what had happened.

What she heard from Lieutenant Menard didn't make her happy.

"Daniel had better figure something out fast because he has about twenty-five Tok'ra bearing down on him. They'll be there in about ten minutes," she said, her voice grim.

"I'll pass along the message," Menard said, signing off.

Carter sighed and looked at Colonel Harper standing beside her. "I guess it's time to face the music." Turning on her heel, she followed the dust cloud the Tok'ra left behind.

~*~*~

"They're what?" Daniel said, his eyes wide, glancing back and forth between the Lieutenant and Jack.

"Headed here."

Daniel turned back to Jack. He didn't look good. His face was pale and sweat was beading on his brow. "Jack, how are you doing with turning the machine off?"

"…almost…"

The lights in the chamber flickered but returned to full strength a moment later. A few beats later, however, and Doctor Lee called out, "The console. There's no more lights!"

Turning, Daniel saw that he was right. The room had darkened considerably, but Jack was still trapped inside that small room.

"Jack?"

"…almost done…"

What else was he doing? Daniel thought.

"…password…"

Password?

But even before Daniel could ask the question, the metal encasing Jack's arms withdrew into the walls of the small chamber and his friend slumped to his knees, eventually crumpling into a pile.

Daniel rushed forward, his hand immediately reaching to find a pulse. It was there—fast and strong.

He shook him slightly, but it was no use. He was out cold.

Daniel turned to Menard, gesturing him forward. "I need some help…"

The Lieutenant nodded and immediately moved forward, reaching down to lift the unconscious body from the chamber. They managed to maneuver him into the main chamber, laying him in the recovery position on his side.

Daniel felt sick.

It was his fault this had happened. His fault that—

The sound of a crowd approaching the room stopped his musings, but it didn't take away his guilt. Colonel Dixon rounded the corner first, followed by Thoran and an entire troop of Tok'ra.

He straightened up, brushing the dust from his BDUs as he turned to face them. "The weapon has been deactivated."

"How?" Thoran asked, thunder in this voice.

"General O'Neill turned it off at great risk to himself as you can see," Daniel said, gesturing to the still form of his friend. Lieutenant Menard was still kneeling next to him, keeping a close eye on him.

"We wished to study it, to learn—"

"You are welcome to study it," Bra'tac said, stepping into the room, moving past the Tok'ra clogging up the entrance. "However, I believe you will not learn anything of great value. This device has taken more lives than it has saved. Be grateful that O'Neill has deactivated it."

Thoran glared at the Jaffa before turning on his heel. The Jaffa parted before him, allowing him through, before they all turned and followed him back down the corridor.

Sam wandered into the room a few seconds later, a puzzled expression on her face. "What just happened?"

"Jack saved our bacon, that's what happened," Daniel said, kneeling down as a low groan came from the man in question. "Jack?"

"Daniel?" she asked, moving forward. The sharp intake of her breath and Daniel knew she'd spotted Jack. "What—?"

The other man shifted slightly, pulling Daniel's attention away from Sam. Jack's hands moved to cradle his head, his forehead creased in pain. "Oy…what a headache."

Sam moved quickly, dropping to kneel beside Daniel. Jack opened an eye partway, just enough to see Daniel and Sam hovering over him looking worried.

"Hey kids," he said, his voice weak. "What did I miss?"

~~END~~

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