Of Masks and Shadows
Written by Katstales
Of Masks and Shadows
"Masks are what they
seem to be; not so the faces beneath them.
"Daniel." Brigadier General Jack O'Neill pulled up short upon entering his office, surprised to find Dr. Daniel Jackson sitting behind his big honkin' general's desk. In his nice comfy general's chair.
"Go away, Jack. I'm in the middle of something." The archaeologist never even looked up from the translation he was working on as he spoke.
Stunned into silence by the surreal start to his day, O'Neill stood gaping at the archaeologist. Moments later, a knock on the door brought him back to his senses.
"Excuse me, General. Your thirteen-hundr…" Walter said, stopping abruptly upon catching sight of the visitor. "Oh, I'm sorry, sir. I didn't realize Dr. Jackson was here."
"Oh, that's okay, Walter. Neither did I. But hey, as long as you're here, let me ask you something. Do I or do I not still have stars on my collar?" He fingered the items in question on each side of his shirt collar.
"Yes, sir. Right there. One on each side, just like always," answered the sergeant dutifully.
"Thank you, Walter. And do you see anyone else in here with stars on their collar?" continued O'Neill.
"Um, no, sir. I sure don't." The poor aide looked so totally confused that O'Neill would have laughed had he not been making a point to the seemingly oblivious man sitting at his desk.
"Very funny, Jack. Now go away and I'll meet you in your office in about twenty minutes." Again, the linguist did not look up from the papers spread in front of him.
O'Neill frowned. Okay, so maybe Daniel wasn't quite as oblivious as he appeared. But there was still the troubling fact that he didn't seem to realize he was in O'Neill's office and not his lab. The general took a moment to give his friend a thorough once-over. He didn't like what he saw.
Daniel's clothes were rumpled and still bore the smudges of dirt on the left sleeve from an artifact he'd been working on the previous afternoon. O'Neill had stopped by for clarification on a report and witnessed the man nearly knock the slab of stone from the worktable. The archaeologist's hand shook slightly as he lifted the pen to his mouth, a sure sign of far too much caffeine consumed in attempt to stave off his body's need for sleep. O'Neill allowed himself a mental sigh as he reached the conclusion that his stubborn friend and subordinate had once again ignored his explicit order to leave early and get a decent night's sleep.
For the past several weeks, Daniel had been pushing himself relentlessly--ever since SG-1 had returned from an unsuccessful scheduled contact with the man's grandfather, Nicolas Ballard. Judging by appearances, the SGC's resident expert on languages hadn't been home at all last night. Again. And that meant there was only one reason he would risk seeking out the base commander.
"Let me guess, Daniel. You've found something."
Clearly annoyed, Jackson snapped at him. "Jack, I said I'd meet you in your office in twenty minutes! Can't you just once do as I ask and let me finish this first?"
O'Neill counted to ten before responding in an effort to prevent a full-blown argument. "Daniel, this…"
Daniel slammed his pen down as he cut his friend off mid-sentence. "Damn it, Jack! I…"
"This is my office, Daniel!" O'Neill lost the battle with his temper and sharply cut off the other man's tirade.
The archaeologist blinked owlishly as he looked around, seemingly taking in his surroundings for the first time. "Oh, right. Sorry. Um, okay. Yes, I have found something. Two years ago, SG-13 brought back a tablet with Mayan hieroglyphs from P4A-596. It talks about ascending the seven stairways to pass through the sky cave and conjure up the feathered serpent."
O'Neill waited for him to continue, but Daniel just looked at him expectantly. He, in turn, looked over at Walter to determine whether he was missing the obvious, but the sergeant shrugged in clueless agreement. The general frowned as he turned back to the sleep-deprived archeologist. "And?"
"Ascending the seven stairways? There are seven symbols to a gate address. Pass through the sky cave? You travel through a wormhole in space--the sky--to use the Stargate. Conjure up the feathered serpent? Quetzalcoatl is known as the feathered serpent. It's telling us how to go through the Stargate to contact Quetzalcoatl--we have to go there!"
"What? No, SG-13 brought back everything of any significance from P4A-596 two years ago. Why would we want to go back there?" The doctor's expression quickly changed to one of total perplexity.
"I don't know. You just said we had to go; you didn't say why."
Daniel's frown deepened. "No, I didn't."
An irritated O'Neill turned to his aide for confirmation. "Walter?"
"That's what it sounded like to me, sir," he agreed, shooting an apologetic look at the archaeologist.
O'Neill returned his attention to the man still sitting behind his desk, both eyebrows raised expectantly in silent question.
"No, I said we need to go to the planet mentioned on the tablet that was found on P4A-596," the linguist insisted.
Both the general and the doctor turned to look expectantly at Harriman. The sergeant slowly shook his head as silently mouthed the word "no."
"Really?" Daniel initially seemed unconvinced, but as Walter nodded in confirmation, he accepted his lapse gracefully. "Oh. Well, that's where we need to go." Conceding defeat, he sheepishly gathered his notes and stood. His eyes, bloodshot and red-rimmed from exhaustion, sought and met the general's. "So?"
O'Neill sighed. "We'll send a MALP and check it out."
"Great! I'll get Sam and Teal'c. We can be ready to go by the time the initial readings are in."
The general almost wished that Teal'c had stayed on Dakara after the whole incident with the Ancient's weapon. The other leaders of the free Jaffa hadn't been happy about his decision, but when the mission to contact an overdue Nick Ballard came up, Teal'c chose to return and accompany his team. All of which brought O'Neill to the unpleasant task now facing him.
"No, Daniel." The archaeologist was already halfway to the door when O'Neill's voice stopped him dead in his tracks.
"No?" He whirled to face the general, blue eyes flashing with anger. "No? What ever happened to 'No one gets left behind,' Jack? This isn't just some random civilian we're talking about; Nick is my only living relative! We have to find out what's happened to him!"
"Thank you so much for clearing that up, Dr. Jackson. The answer is still no. You're not going anywhere until you've had at least eight hours of sleep." O'Neill settled into his chair and pulled up to his desk. "Uninterrupted," he added, reaching for one of the folders waiting for him. "And for both our sakes, I'm going to pretend I never heard that crack about not leaving anyone behind."
"Jack, I can sleep when we get back," he whined.
At that, the general put his pen down, folded his hands across the now-open folder, and leaned forward. "Daniel, as you've just so helpfully reminded me, this is your only living relative we're talking about here. Do you really want me to send a team after him that isn't at its best? What if things go pear-shaped? And what about Carter and T? Is it fair to send them out with someone who's asleep on his feet to watch their six?"
The archaeologist's chin dropped to his chest, his shoulders slumping in defeat. "Okay, I get it," he mumbled.
His point made, O'Neill picked up his pen and resumed his perusal of the papers in front of him. "Go sleep--now. Briefing is in seven hours; you can go over the MALP footage and preliminary data then."
Daniel nodded before turning to leave. The general watched out of the corner of his eye as the archaeologist paused at the door and turned back as if to say something, but as far as he was concerned the matter was closed. To avoid further argument, he pretended to be absorbed in the stack of folders that awaited his attention and gave the impression that he didn't notice. With a final thump of his fist on the doorframe, Daniel turned and left. O'Neill hoped he was headed for the nearest empty bunk.
The sound of someone clearing his throat a few seconds later immediately drew the general's attention away from his paperwork. "Yes, Walter?"
The forgotten sergeant stepped forward from the shadows he'd retreated to during the general's exchange with Dr. Jackson. "Sir, your thirteen-hundred called and asked to move the meeting up."
O'Neill grimaced in distaste. "The suit from Washington about the Tok'ra situation? Didn't we already move this meeting up for him?"
Harriman shifted uncomfortably. "Yes, sir. From seventeen-hundred to thirteen-hundred hours. He wanted to fly back to DC tonight because of an early breakfast meeting tomorrow."
"To when does he want it moved this time--and why?" the general demanded.
"Um, apparently there's a big political dinner party this evening, and he wants to get back in time to attend."
He rolled his eyes as his scowl deepened. "To when does he want it moved?" he repeated, his words precise and tone measured.
Walter fidgeted with the file he was holding, unable to look the general in the eye. "Um, now, sir. He wants it moved up to right now." The unflappable aide braced himself for the expected reaction.
"Now? No way--I just got here! I haven't even had coffee yet, and no one should be expected to discuss the Tok'ra when they haven't had coffee! Besides, I thought the schedule was full this morning," he complained.
Wisely choosing not to point out that he'd personally handed the general his coffee as usual when he'd gotten off the elevator less than an hour ago, Walter tried to smooth over the request. "You do have half an hour until your first briefing, sir. But after that, you're booked solid until twelve hundred thirty hours."
O'Neill slammed the folder shut and moved it aside before standing. "Tell him I'm busy," he ordered as he strode angrily to the door.
"Sir," the sergeant offered hesitantly. "He's already on his way down."
The general stopped and turned to face his aide, his irritation evident in both his expression and tone. "Tell him I'm busy," he repeated. "The meeting stays at thirteen-hundred."
"Yes, sir," Harriman dutifully answered. As the general turned to go, he called to him once more. "General?"
O'Neill sighed in resignation, but didn't turn around as he called over his shoulder. "The mess, Walter. I hear there's cake."
"Okay, kids. What have you got?" General O'Neill gracefully eased into the chair at the head of the briefing room table. Flipping open the folder, he didn't bother to give the papers within more than a cursory glance before turning his attention to the members of SG-1.
Lieutenant Colonel Samantha Carter clicked on the projector behind them. "Sensors indicate a breathable atmosphere, but like P7X-377, no complex life signs. Temperature is eighty-five degrees Fahrenheit. There are ruins of a pyramid near the gate that we've determined would have been identical in size and shape to the one on -377, or very close to it. Readings from the UAV indicate there is a second pyramid approximately 4 klicks from the gate. It's also comparable in size and shape to the pyramid on P7X-377, sir."
"So, can we tell for sure if it's the same giant aliens?"
Daniel, looking much more rested and alert after his nap, chimed in. "The pyramid is too far from the gate for us to be able to get a look inside with the MALP. Preliminary readings are nearly identical to those on -377, but the only way to know for sure is for us to go there," he challenged.
O'Neill sighed. "So, breathable atmosphere, no natives or wildlife to bite us in the a-a…backside, but no way to tell if there's a crystal skull to contact the giant aliens without us physically going in and taking a look." As his eyes lowered to the folder in front of him, he ran both hands through his hair and blew out a breath. From the first instant he'd laid eyes on the MALP footage, a growing itch had taken up residence between his shoulder blades and crept up the back of his neck. It was the exact same feeling that had saved him and his team in the field more times than he could count. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough by itself to warrant refusing to allow the mission.
All three seemed to sense his hesitation, but it was the civilian who pressed him. "Jack? You're not thinking about denying us permission to go?"
O'Neill's wince was all the confirmation he needed. "Come on, you have to let us go! This could be my only chance of ever finding Nick!"
"Relax, Daniel. I never said you couldn't go. I'm just. . .taking a moment. To evaluate. It's why they pay me the big bucks, you know. To evaluate findings and then approve or deny mission proposals. Therefore, I'm taking a moment here. To evaluate." Even to himself, it sounded like he was trying a little too hard to be convincing.
Though wary, the archaeologist pushed on. "So we can go?"
The general's mouth twisted, making him look like he'd bitten into a bitter lemon. It was obvious to all of them that he really didn't want to let them go, but before any further protest could be lodged, O'Neill reluctantly gave the okay. "Yeah, all right, you have a go. SG-1 will depart for. . ."
"P7X-477," Carter helpfully supplied.
"Right, P7X-477. Be in the gate room and ready to ship out at. . ." He paused for a quick check of his watch. "O-seven hundred tomorrow morning. Dismissed." He rose and sauntered into his office without a backward glance, leaving the team to gather their notes and head off to prepare for their departure. There was a lot to do before they left--like finding a reason to cancel the mission. Yes, sometimes being the man in charge did have its advantages.
O'Neill stood beside Sergeant Alberts as he initiated the dialing sequence. The annoying itch between his shoulder blades had grown and was now screaming at him to stop them from going through the gate. His hand twitched, the urge to grab the microphone and order them to stand down nearly overwhelming. He mentally ran through the data from the MALP and UAV in a desperate last-ditch effort to find a reason to call off the mission. Finding nothing by the time the last chevron engaged, he reluctantly reached for the mike. "SG-1, you have a go. We'll reestablish contact in two hours. And guys? Be careful out there."
After acknowledging his orders, they waved and moved up the ramp. He fought the urge to call them back, watching helplessly as they disappeared one by one into the open gate.
He remained there, motionless, until the wormhole disengaged. "Let me know as soon as we make contact," he snapped. With that, he abruptly turned and retreated to his office to wait--and worry.
Carter stepped from the event horizon onto the paved rock platform of P7X-477, followed closely by her teammates. As the wormhole snapped shut behind them, she scanned the tree line surrounding the clearing for any sign of trouble. Teal'c quickly took up position next to her and did the same.
At her nod, Daniel quickly moved down the steps to examine the DHD. "Looks like everything is in working order here," he reported.
"Good. Teal'c, you take point. Daniel, you're next, and I'll be on your six." Sparing a quick glance at her watch, she ordered them to move out. "We've got two hours until we're due to check in, and I want to make the most of them. Keep your heads up and let's go!"
The trio had barely reached the halfway mark in their trek when Daniel dropped back even with her. "So, Sam, what do you think that business with Jack in the briefing yesterday was all about?"
Though, as the MALP had indicated, there was no sign of any wildlife or human habitation, Carter remained highly alert as she answered. "I think that the general had some misgivings about authorizing this mission."
He huffed and rolled his eyes, though Carter didn't see the latter as she scanned both sides of the path for anything amiss. "Yeah, believe it or not, I got that. What I'm wondering is why he was having those misgivings. Everything we have suggests that this is another temple of Quetzalcoatl or one of his people. Either we make contact and find out how and where Nick is, or no one is home and we look elsewhere. There was nothing that could have possibly warranted him denying authorization of the mission."
"No, there wasn't," she agreed. "And that's the reason we're here now. Still, if the general has a bad feeling about this mission, it won't hurt to be a little extra careful, will it?"
He answered with a half-smile. "Well, when you put it that way, no. I suppose it wouldn't hurt to be just a little extra careful."
Carter again looked around the enormous cavern. Though the layout was the same as the pyramid on P7X-377, this one was made of a much darker stone, almost black in color. Not for the first time since they'd entered the interior she shivered, despite the balmy temperature. The darker hue seemed to lend an almost sinister air to the feel of the place. Shaking off the creepy feelings it inspired, she turned her attention to the other differences. The walkway was far wider, enough so that Daniel and Teal'c were walking comfortably side-by-side ahead of her. Also, the dais they had now reached was easily three times larger. "Are you sure we don't need to be concerned about the differences from the pyramid on -377, Daniel?" she asked dubiously.
"I'm as sure as I can be that we don't need to be overly concerned," he stressed. The archaeologist didn't seem to mind her questioning his initial assessment of the situation as he made a bee-line for a familiar looking pedestal, atop which sat an equally familiar looking crystal skull. "It only makes sense that they'd use whatever was close by for building material, which would explain why this one is so much darker. And I'm guessing that the larger walkway and dais might have been built to accommodate native ceremonies by worshipers of Quetzalcoatl when the original pyramid closer to the gate was destroyed."
Both Teal'c and Carter joined him in front of the pedestal, but as the one in command, she was the one to press him further. "Is there any way that we can know for certain whether this temple belongs to Quetzalcoatl? Or any other giant alien, for that matter?"
"With no inscriptions or writings? Only one way I know of," he answered, gesturing to the skull.
"Is that a wise course of action, Daniel Jackson?" Teal'c had been quiet, even for him, during the entire mission thus far. He seemed to be taking O'Neill's misgivings quite seriously.
The archaeologist's eyes momentarily widened at the big Jaffa's sudden query. "Ah, I don't really know. But the bottom line here is that there is no other way to determine who the temple belongs to without going through the process and trying to contact them."
Carter adjusted the hand-held meter to measure the muon radiation levels as she informed them of her decision. "Okay, let's do it."
Daniel nodded and stepped closer to the skull. No sooner had he leaned forward and begun to stare into the eyes than the skull began to glow and the radiation level spiked.
"I believe it is working, Colonel Carter," shouted Teal'c over the roar of the transportation process.
She nodded, squinting to see the face of her meter as the wind from the energy field whipped violently around them. She noted that the readings were an exact match to those she'd recorded during their previous transport on P7X-377 and hoped it was a good sign. Several moments later, the noise and wind died out as the field dissipated. When the archaeologist didn't immediately move, she prodded him to act. "Okay, Daniel, go ahead and do your thing."
She immediately knew something was wrong when he turned to face her. "Guys, I don't have time to explain, but we have to get out of here. Now. The temple doesn't belong to Quetzalcoatl; it belongs to Tetzcatlipoca, and he's definitely not a nice guy."
"What? How do you know the temple belongs to this Tetzcatlipoca?" She hadn't seen or heard anything that would have given them the owner's identity, though Daniel was blocking her view of the skull.
"Because of this," he explained as he stepped aside.
"Whoa, where did that come from?" To her complete surprise, the skull's face was now sporting a dark, glassy mask. Thin ribbons of smoke poured from the mouth and nose, swirling and drifting around the trio. She noted that there was no odor and looked to her team's expert for an explanation.
"The mask is made of obsidian, which is widely associated with Tetzcatlipoca," he said in a rush. "Along with the yellow stripes, it leaves no doubt as to the origin. Teal'c, help me get this off so we can transport and get out of here."
Teal'c nodded and quickly joined his teammate at the pedestal. With one man on each side of the skull, they pulled and tugged at the mask. The smoke which had been pouring freely from the orifices ceased, but the obsidian overlay remained stubbornly in place. The pair worked feverishly at prying the covering loose until their commanding officer's voice stopped them.
"Ah, guys? I think we're about to have company," she warned. A dark mist had begun to rise from the depths of the cavern, prompting her to issue the heads-up to her teammates.
Leaving Teal'c to work on the stubborn shield, Daniel bounded down toward the edge of the dais where she now stood. "Want me to do the talking?" he asked.
"Yeah," she quickly confirmed.
The entire structure began to shake and rumble. Moments later, the familiar looking figure of a giant alien being rose from the depths through the mist. As the being before them straightened to his full height, the quaking finally stopped. To no one's surprise, the alien was sporting a dark mask with yellow streaks running in a slight diagonal across the face. One that was an exact match to the covering on the crystal skull.
"Hello! My name is Daniel Jackson, and these are my friends, Lieutenant Colonel Sam Carter and Teal'c."
The entire cavern shook as the alien answered. "You may call me Tetzcatlipoca. Why have you journeyed here?"
"We're peaceful explorers," Daniel was quick to explain. "We've come seeking knowledge and friendship. We wish to learn about your culture and your people."
"You claim to seek friendship, yet you attempt to deceive." The giant's voice thundered through the cavern, seemingly louder with each word spoken. "This is not the first time you have used the skull," he accused.
"It's the first time we've used this skull," he offered.
"Oo ya wolin wolin we tayil." Tetzcatlipoca spread his arms wide as he spoke the familiar greeting.
Daniel took a deep breath and snuck a quick look at his commanding officer. She nodded once, and he turned, answering the alien. "The enemy of my enemy is my friend," he repeated in English. "We are enemies of the Goa'uld. Several years ago, while searching for allies in our fight against them, we discovered a pyramid much like this one. Inside, we found a crystal skull and encountered one of your race."
The alien remained silent as he studied the trio intently. Daniel shifted restlessly from foot to foot under the intense scrutiny, but didn't look away while waiting for a response. Carter and Teal'c remained motionless, but were no less uncomfortable than their teammate. Finally, the giant spoke. "Your companion is a servant of the Goa'uld, a First Prime no less. Yet you would have me believe you are enemies of his master?"
The Jaffa wasted no time in setting the record straight. "I no longer serve the Goa'uld. I have fought alongside these to free my people from the tyranny and oppression of the false gods--and we have succeeded."
Tetzcatlipoca leaned forward, bending to bring himself to the same level as the team. "Oo ya wolin wolin we tayil. Yes, the enemy of my enemy is my friend." He swung his arm out, sweeping all three off their feet and sending them flying backward on the dais. "You are enemies of the Goa'uld; therefore, you are my enemies."
The three members of SG-1 exchanged concerned glances as they recovered after having the wind knocked out of them upon landing. Teal'c made it to a sitting position; the other two remained on their back, leaning up on their elbows.
Before any of them could speak, Tetzcatlipoca straightened, once again towering over them. His voice reverberated through the cavern as he delivered his ominous message. "I look forward to learning about my new enemies." He threw his head back and laughed heartily, bringing his hands to his belly. His evil cackling shook the very foundation of the structure as the dark mist again rose to surround them.
Unable to see through the thick black fog,
each of them attempted to call out to their teammates. Not one of them
got so much as a syllable past their lips before falling back to the floor
"Anything?" asked O'Neill as he strolled into the control room to stand behind Sergeant Alberts at the dialing computer.
"No, sir. Still no response from SG-1," reported the technician.
"Keep trying," instructed O'Neill. The SGC's commander stood with his arms crossed, unmoving, as he reviewed the situation. SG-1 had missed their scheduled contact; an hour later, they weren't responding to a second attempt at contact either. The itch between his shoulder blades had transformed into a lead lump in his gut when the first check-in was missed; it now churned more and more furiously as the silence stretched on. He should have listened to it and not let them go, he told himself for the zillionth time since their departure. Determined to remain professional, he pushed aside the self-recrimination and forced himself to concentrate on the task at hand.
"This is Stargate Command calling SG-1. Do you copy?"
The general pinched the bridge of his nose
as the sergeant again called for any member of the team to answer his
hail. He tried willing one of the team to finally answer, but the MALP
relay remained silent. Unable to stand passively by any longer, he grabbed
the mike himself.
After several long moments without a reply, he tried one final time. "This is Stargate Command calling any member of SG-1. Do you read me?"
The general waited several long moments, but again there was no response. "Okay, shut it down," he reluctantly instructed. "Page Reynolds; I want SG-3 geared up and ready to depart ASAP."
"Yes, sir." Alberts reached for the mike to carry out the order. "Colonel Reynolds, report to General O'Neill's office; Colonel Reynolds to General O'Neill's office immediately."
With a heavy heart and a still-churning stomach, the general turned on his heel and headed back to his office to wait. Sometimes being in command really did suck.
He found he was indeed still inside the pyramid, but the pedestal containing the skull and surrounding dais were nowhere in sight. He was near one of the corners, high atop a stone platform. There were no walkways, and no apparent way for him to safely depart the structure. A quick check of the other two corners revealed similar platforms--and the fate of the two other members of SG-1. They were lying in the middle of a small stone platform with no way down, one in each corner. Neither appeared to be conscious.
"Colonel Carter! Daniel Jackson!" he bellowed. Much to his relief, they began to rouse at the sound of his voice.
"Teal'c?" The archaeologist's voice was weak, but the demand for information was clear nevertheless.
"The vertigo will pass quickly if you remain still," the Jaffa advised.
Carter answered with a groan. "Is everyone okay?" she demanded, easily dropping into command mode as she quickly recovered.
"Getting there," answered Daniel. "I think."
"I am well," Teal'c added. "Though my staff weapon and vest seem to have been confiscated."
"Yeah, I don't seem to have any of my weapons or gear, either. Daniel?" she asked.
"Um, yeah, same here. Jacket, vest, pack, gun, all missing."
By now, the former First Prime had risen to his feet and was pacing the perimeter of the platform. The other two were sitting up, but not quite ready to stand. "Teal'c, have you found any way off of these yet?" Sam asked.
"I have not," confirmed Teal'c.
"Great," muttered the colonel disgustedly. "I should have known."
"Perhaps your vastly superior intellect would be more successful in finding a solution to the problem," suggested the former First Prime icily.
"You know, just once, it would be nice if someone else would at least attempt to find a solution instead of expecting me to always solve all our problems!"
"Is that not why you are 'paid the big bucks,' as O'Neill would say?"
"Ah, guys?" Daniel, now standing at the edge of his platform, intervened. "Shouldn't we be trying to find a way out of here instead of standing around bickering like children?"
"Well, yes, of course we should--how silly of us. Whatever were we thinking, Teal'c?"
Ignoring her attempt to goad him into joining the argument, the archaeologist pushed on. "Good, I'm glad to hear we all agree. Now, does anyone have any ideas?"
"I did not say or do anything to indicate my agreement on this matter, Daniel Jackson," Teal'c countered. "Nor do I believe you have been put in charge of this mission."
With arms folded across his chest, the archaeologist pinched the bridge of his nose in frustration. "Well, excuse me! I totally beg your humble pardon for ever having made presumptions on your behalf. Please do forgive me?" he snidely retorted.
"I will consider your request," replied the Jaffa haughtily, as he turned his back to them. "Eventually."
"Fine!" snapped Daniel. "Now can we get back to business and figure out how the hell we're going to get out of here?"
Jumping back into the fray, Carter added her two cents worth. "Sure, go right ahead, Mr. I-solved-the-mystery-of-the-Stargate-in-just-two-short-weeks. Knock yourself out!"
"All right, I will!" The archaeologist's face was now bright red with anger.
"Colonel Carter has made an excellent point, Daniel Jackson. You are supposed to be an expert on this type of structure, are you not?" challenged Teal'c as he turned to face them once more.
"You know what? You're absolutely right, Teal'c. So why don't you just go sit down and be quiet while I do all the work. I'll let you know if anything needs blowing up or shooting. After all, that is your area of expertise, isn't it? Destroying things?"
Before Teal'c could respond, Carter intervened. Rubbing her temples, she sent a pleading look to both of her teammates as she spoke. "Hey guys, what are we doing here? We're a team; we shouldn't be at each other's throats like this. I don't know what's come over me. I made some very inappropriate remarks--to both of you, and I'm sorry."
"Um, yeah. Me, too," agreed Daniel. He sank heavily to his knees and added, "I'm sorry, too."
"As am I," agreed Teal'c.
"Does anyone else have a headache?" the colonel asked, still rubbing her temples.
"Now that you mention it--yes," the archaeologist confirmed. "A brutal one."
"Indeed," Teal'c answered. "Extremely so."
"Well, that could certainly explain our short fuses. What do you say we all try not to let it get the best of us again and work together on getting ourselves out of this mess?" she prompted.
"A wise suggestion, Colonel Carter. I will make every effort to keep my temper in check," assured the Jaffa.
"I'll do my best, too, Sam," agreed Daniel.
The moment the archaeologist finished speaking, the black fog suddenly boiled up from the depths to again surround them. The effect was again instant, as all three members of SG-1 immediately fell to the stone floor unconscious.
Colonel Reynolds halted to speak to General O'Neill, who was waiting at the bottom for news. "Ah, I'm not exactly sure."
"What do you mean, you're not sure?" bellowed O'Neill. "Either you found something or you didn't!"
Reynolds winced at the sharp tone and quickly began to explain. "We found their trail leading right up and into the pyramid, but SG-1 wasn't inside. There was a crystal skull on a pedestal, just like the other planet. The place was totally deserted, so we looked into the eyes and underwent the transportation, but still no sign of them. And no giant aliens, either. We waited around for a little while and tried making contact again, but no response. Nothing on radio, either. So we transported back, figuring to look around a little more and come home. Funny thing is, when we transported back? We found this tablet-like thing leaning against the pedestal with the skull."
O'Neill interrupted. "I assume it wasn't there when you transported the first time?"
"No, sir," confirmed the colonel. "The entire area around the pedestal was clear before we transported."
"Any clue as to what it says?"
"No, sir, absolutely no idea. We think the writings are hieroglyphs--Mayan, I'd guess. But I'm certainly not an expert."
"Okay, briefing as soon as you and your team clear medical. Where is this tablet-thing now?"
"Ellis has it. Should I have it sent up to you before the briefing?"
"No, just concentrate on getting your team cleared by the doc while I find someone who can read the thing."
"Yes, sir," Reynolds replied as he turned and headed for the exit.
O'Neill sighed and headed for the control room. As he cleared the top of the stairs, he was surprised to find Walter Harriman seated at the dialing computer. "I thought you were home for the day," he admonished.
The sergeant looked down, his cheeks flushing a noticeable pink. "No, sir. I had something I needed to take care of before I came in," he explained.
The general frowned, but didn't press him. There were far more important matters to be dealt with than why Walter had come into work late. With his arms folded across his chest, he stared down at the Stargate thoughtfully. "I think it's time to contact a few of our allies. Maybe they know something about the giant aliens or at least this planet that will help us. Start with the Asgard. And try Bra'tac, too," he added.
"Yes, sir. What about the Tok'ra?"
O'Neill's lip curled in distaste. "Ah, no. Not just yet. Let's see what the Asgard and Bra'tac have to say first."
Harriman nodded. "Yes, sir. I'll get on it right away."
The general started toward his office, but stopped abruptly, snapping his fingers as he turned back to the sergeant. "One more thing. Who do we have on base that can read Mayan hieroglyphs?"
Harriman pulled out the duty roster and quickly perused the document. "It looks like Dr. Balinsky would be your best bet. Should I call him for you?"
"Yeah, tell him I want a preliminary report on the tablet SG-3 brought back by the time they clear medical."
"Yes, sir." O'Neill caught sight of Walter's reflection in one of the many computer screens as he strode purposefully toward the stairway leading up to the briefing room and his office. His aide was staring incredulously and the general didn't blame him. He knew that Balinsky was not going to be at all happy with the orders when he'd given them, especially with the extremely short deadline. But Walter would break the news to him anyway because that was what the Air Force paid him to do. As he disappeared from view, the sergeant slowly reached for the phone.
"He should be here any minute, sir." Colonel Reynolds shifted uncomfortably in his seat as he sat with his team around the briefing room table anticipating the arrival of SG-13's errant archaeologist.
O'Neill grunted and turned his head to glare in the direction of the door, seemingly willing the absent Dr. Cameron Balinsky to appear. His fingers began to drum out an annoying cadence on the table's surface while he waited. No one even considered asking him to stop--he was the general, after all. Plus, the missing team was SG-1, and every man there knew it was tearing the general up inside to be stuck here behind a desk while sending others out to rescue them.
Moments later, the tardy red-head came bounding into the room. Following closely behind him and bearing the artifact SG-3 had found was a dark-haired Hispanic woman. "Sorry I'm late, General. I had to get a reference from Dr. Jackson's office, and it was a bit more difficult to locate than I'd anticipated." The archaeologist hurried over to the chair opposite the SGC's commander, juggling books and file folders as he went.
O'Neill ceased his tapping and folded his hands in front of him, waiting for the doctor to get settled.
Meanwhile, the woman carefully placed the tablet on the table in front of the general before striding over to take a seat next to Balinsky. He knew she was one of the scientists, but since he avoided them whenever possible, he couldn't quite recall her name.
"Aren't you the dead plant lady?" asked O'Neill.
"Doctor Elena Jimenez, General," she offered. "I'm primarily a paleoethnobotanist." The look on his face made it plain that he had no clue what a paleoethnobotanist was and the woman quickly elaborated. "I recover and analyze botanical materials from archaeological sites to determine the interactions of human populations. . ."
"Ah!" O'Neill quickly interrupted. "So you study dead plants, yes?"
"Yes, sir," she grudgingly admitted. "I study plant remains, along with other botanical materials from archaeological sites."
Balinsky was finally ready to begin the meeting, and the general immediately turned to more pressing matters. "Okay, what exactly does that have to do with dead plants?" he asked, pointing to the object on the table.
"Um, nothing," he replied. "If you could just bear with me, I'll get to why I've asked Elena to consult in a moment."
The general frowned in annoyance, but agreed. "Fine, just get on with it."
The archaeologist hesitated. "First, I'd like to point out that I'm working well out of my area of expertise here, and I really didn't have much time to study the artifact." The general nodded and made a circular motion with his arm for the doctor to speed things up. "Right. Okay, there is one name, or well, phrase, actually, that seems to be repeated several times: Lord of the Smoking Mirror. Then there is also this representation of the jaguar," he explained, pulling out an enlargement of a section of the artifact's markings. "If I'm right, and Dr. Jimenez agrees that I am, this would indicate that the artifact, and likely the temple itself, belong to Tetzcatlipoca."
"So it's not our guy from -377?"
"No, sir," confirmed SG-13's civilian member.
Elena jumped in to answer for him. "Yes, General. There is no doubt about it. This is Tetzcatlipoca's temple."
O'Neill frowned. "And you know this how?"
"One of my specialties is shamanism," she explained. "And Tetzcatlipoca is strongly associated with shamanism."
"Well, of course he is." The information did nothing to alleviate the general's frustration or ease his foul mood which had been steadily building since SG-3's return. "I suppose it's too much to hope that this cat-lip guy might be a buddy of Nick Ballard's alien then?"
Balinsky flinched. "Yes, sir, I'm afraid it is. Tetzcatlipoca is the god of war. He's a fierce rival of Quetzalcoatl and is said to be very jealous of him." Cameron turned to his female colleague. "Perhaps, you'd like to take it from here, Dr. Jimenez?"
Tucking an errant strand of her dark hair behind her ear, she quickly took up where Balinsky left off. "Tetzcatlipoca is the god of fate and bringer of discord and vice. He has been likened to the Christian devil. He had great powers and creative aspects, but often put them to negative use--much like the angel Lucifer in Christian lore. The Smoking Mirror there," she said pointing to the artifact on the table "is only one of many legends surrounding him."
O'Neill regarded the tablet with one eyebrow raised in an unconscious aping of the missing Jaffa. "Doesn't look much like a mirror to me," he said dubiously.
"We didn't think so either," said Reynolds. O'Neill was walking right into the trap like a lamb to slaughter, thought SG-3's leader. This was so easy it was downright laughable. He smiled in anticipation as Elena hurried to explain.
"It has to do with the obsidian, which in this instance is shaped into a mask and set into the stone. If you pick it up and look into the eyes, you will be able to see your reflection," instructed the doctor. "Though the image will be distorted and somewhat grey in appearance."
The colonel tensed as general scooted the artifact closer and picked it up, looking into the eyes as instructed. He forced himself to remain seated as his commanding officer gasped, knowing the searing pain that was now racing up the man's arms. He knew it would travel all through the body and finally settle in behind the eyes. A thin trail of dark smoke seeped from the mask's nose and mouth to swirl around O'Neill's head. Aware that it would momentarily render him unconscious, Reynolds leaned back in his chair to wait.
Motion at the end of the room had him instantly on alert. He silently signaled to Ellis to deal with the airman at the desk by the security monitors. The man had noticed the commotion and was grabbing for the phone to summon assistance for the general--something Reynolds and company wanted to avoid for the time being.
Satisfied that the threat had been dealt with, he returned his attention to the SGC's commander. He was totally stunned when O'Neill released the stone and shook his head, still very much awake though seemingly not totally aware. The artifact dropped heavily to the table, immediately going dormant. "What the hell was that?" the general demanded.
"Sir?" questioned Reynolds, finally jarred from his state of shock.
"That smoke thing it just did!" O'Neill raised a shaky hand to massage his forehead. It was obvious that the action did nothing to ease the pain that the colonel knew was throbbing behind his eyes. To his relief, the general didn't notice that Ellis was missing from his seat. He knew he had to act quickly, before that changed.
"I didn't see any smoke, sir," Reynolds lied. He immediately turned to the others. "Anyone else here see any smoke?"
"No, sir," the remainder of SG-3 answered dutifully.
"Nope, not me," agreed Balinsky.
"Nor did I," affirmed Dr. Jimenez.
At the chorus of negative responses, the general slammed his hand down on the table. "Damn it, I know what I saw! There was smoke coming out of that-that. . .thing's nose and mouth! Someone get it to the iso lab--now!" he ordered.
The colonel leaned forward and brushed a hand over the mask. Smoke again began to pour from the artifact, concentrating mostly on the general but also surrounding the entire table area. "I don't think you want to do that, sir," he insisted.
"What the hell are you doing, Reynolds? I gave you a direct order!" O'Neill struggled to his feet, seeming dizzy and unsteady as the mist swirled furiously around him.
"Sir, I really think you should have a seat so we can finish the briefing." Reynolds stood and moved to the general's side, taking his arm and attempting to guide him back into his seat. His team quickly moved in to back him up.
O'Neill yanked his arm out of the colonel's grasp, nearly falling and knocking his chair over in the process. Reynolds cursed as the SGC's commanding officer called for help, in spite of his disorientation. "Walter! Get security in here!"
SG-3 moved quickly to subdue the resisting general, and Balinsky also rose from his seat. Elena was stunned as he grabbed her arm, roughly yanking her up and out of range of the struggling men.
The two doctors gasped when she slammed into his chest due to the unexpected motion, both surprised by the sudden desire rapidly building within them. The smoke-like mist hung heavily in the air around them, and all rational thought fled.
They stared lustfully into each others eyes, oblivious to the struggle going on around them. Hands moved to quickly liberate blouse and shirt from skirt and trousers. Breathing quickened as his hands slipped under her blouse to slowly wander over her body. She moaned when he found his way to her breasts, caressing and squeezing them through the material of her bra.
It never occurred to her that she was happily married or that what she was doing was wrong as her hands slipped under his t-shirt and moved up to explore his chest in return. Their eyes remained locked as she caressed his pectoral muscles. She continued on to his shoulders and then moved up to his neck. Taking her obvious hint, he immediately lowered his mouth to hers. She instantly responded, and the pair was quickly swept away in a sizzling kiss.
Meanwhile, Peterson and Bosco pinned the struggling base commander's arms while the colonel placed his hand over O'Neill's mouth from behind. "Stop trying to fight it, Jack. Just relax and let it happen," said Reynolds.
The general's reply was muffled by the hand over his mouth, but the kick landed to Bosco's shin left little doubt it was a negative one.
"Ow! You're gonna be sorry you did that, old man," threatened the airman. With a gleefully malicious smirk, he pulled his free arm back and let loose a powerful punch to O'Neill's gut.
"Umph!" With the three members of SG-3 tightly restraining him, the SGC's commander was held upright and could do little more than attempt to vocalize his discomfort.
"That wasn't very smart, Jack," admonished the colonel. "You can't fight it, you know. You might as well just give it up now and save us all a whole lot of trouble."
O'Neill's only answer was to rear back and head-butt the man.
"Gah! You stubborn son-of-a-bitch! I think you broke my damn nose!" Reynolds released his hold and stepped back to attempt to stem the flow of blood.
"You want us to punish him, boss?" asked Bosco, still smarting from O'Neill's boot to his shin.
Not waiting for the colonel to respond, the general intensified his efforts to escape. Unfortunately, he was still obviously dizzy from the effects of the smoky mist, and his counterattack was less than effective. He did, however, manage to get his arm free of Peterson's grasp after landing a kick to the man's knee. When he attempted to twist around and deliver a jab to Bosco's jaw, he found himself being roughly forced to the floor.
Unnoticed by any of them, the artifact slipped off the table during the altercation after being bumped by one of the combatants. Upon impact with the floor, the mask again went dormant and ceased emitting the dark mist as the air rapidly cleared.
Only a few feet away, the general brought his arms up to block out the barrage of kicks and punches being administered to his head by the four members of SG-3. He tried to curl into a ball to protect his torso, but Reynolds managed to prevent it, and in the end, he could do nothing to shield his body from the attack.
As suddenly as it began, the assault ceased. The members of SG-3 were pulled away from O'Neill, but he appeared to be only dimly aware of the new voices as he struggled to rise to his feet. "General O'Neill? Please don't try to get up, sir. A medical team is on the way," urged his worried aide.
The general managed to get as far as sitting up, but between the blood running into his eyes from a cut on his forehead and his obvious dizziness, he didn't seem to know who had come to his rescue. When someone took hold of his hand, O'Neill gasped out a name. "Walter?"
"Yes, sir, it's me. General, please take it easy! The medical team is on its way," he repeated.
"Security is about to escort them to the brig."
Ignoring Harriman's request, he struggled to his feet. "No," he insisted. "Take them to the infirmary. Th-they. . ." His explanation went unfinished as his knees buckled.
"Where's that medical team?" The general seemed unaware of Walter's voice next to his ear as the agitated aide screamed for assistance while lowering him to the floor. Within seconds, O'Neill's eyes rolled back in his head and his body went limp as he lost consciousness.
Daniel groaned as he struggled to sit. Forcing his eyes to open, he looked blearily up at Tetzcatlipoca. "What?"
"Do not think you can distract me! You will answer the question," he demanded. "How is your leader able to resist?"
SG-1's archaeologist stared at him dumbfounded as he climbed to his feet. "I-I have no idea," he finally managed. "There could be any number of reasons. Maybe it's because of her training," he suggested.
"Do not toy with me, puny human!" With a wave of the enraged giant's hand, Daniel was sent flying backward and landed flat on his back near the edge of the platform.
"Ow!" he complained, slowly climbing back to his feet. "I'm not toying with you! I honestly have no idea why Sam is able to resist whatever it is that you're trying to get her to do!"
"You were warned," the alien threatened. A malicious smile spread across his face, giving his otherworldly appearance a demonic quality. Though he no longer wore the mask, Tetzcatlipoca's skin shone with an almost obsidian-like sheen. Dark eyes glittered with malevolence, also appearing to be composed of the hard, black, volcanic glass. His voice was no different, still booming through the huge cavern. "Perhaps another method to loosen your tongue would be more effective." With another wave of his giant hand, the mist surrounding one of the other platforms cleared to reveal an unmoving Teal'c.
Daniel's heart sank. He knew what was coming, but forced himself to show no outward sign of distress. Still, he couldn't just stand by and watch what was about to happen. "I don't understand what you want from me."
Evil laughter thundered through the huge cavern, shaking the very foundations of the pyramid. "You will not fool me with your lame attempt to spare your friend."
Teal'c, who was just beginning to stir, was lifted to his feet and held in place by rope-like tendrils of the dark mist. Another cloud of the smoky substance drifted over to stop just in front of the now conscious Jaffa. It hovered harmlessly while the former First Prime quickly assessed the situation. "Daniel Jackson will tell you nothing," he informed Tetzcatlipoca. "Nor will I."
The malicious grin reappeared as the alien snapped his fingers. At that same instant, the cloud coalesced into a replica of the giant's fist. When Tetzcatlipoca punched the air in front of him, the replica slammed into the Jaffa's face. Seeming satisfied to see blood flowing freely from his prisoner's nose, he turned back to Daniel.
"You will tell me what I wish to know or your friend will suffer further."
The archaeologist gave the giant alien the most unchallenging look he could muster. "I can't tell you what I don't know."
"As you wish," roared Tetzcatlipoca. Daniel could do nothing but watch helplessly as the alien turned back to the former First Prime. With every slash through the air of the giant's hands, the smoke-fist landed a corresponding blow to various parts of Teal'c's upper body.
When the Jaffa's face was nothing more than a bloody mass and his head hung down limply, the evil giant finally ceased his cruel dance. "Do you now wish to speak?"
Daniel's gaze remained level and his voice calm, despite the rage that was simmering inside him over his friend's harsh treatment. "I've already answered your questions as best I could. I don't know what else you want me to say."
Tetzcatlipoca stared intently at the linguist, but the doctor never flinched. "Then so be it," he declared. Once more turning away from the angry human, the giant waved his hand in Sam's direction.
As the still form of SG-1's commanding officer appeared in the thinning mist, there was no doubt that she was to be the alien's next pawn in the attempt to persuade him to answer. Why didn't the giant just ask Sam herself instead of trying to force an answer from him? His eyes fairly danced with rage as more of the rope-like tendrils snaked around Sam's torso and lifted her to her feet.
The giant turned back to the archaeologist. "Your Jaffa friend's pain did not convince you to be truthful with me; perhaps this one's suffering will loosen your tongue." Tetzcatlipoca extended his hand palm side up. With a cruel smile on his face, he slowly raised it and Sam was lifted off her feet
Daniel bit the inside of his cheek to keep from crying out in anger as his teammate rose into the air. The alien's eyes remained on him, searching for any sign of weakness. Still grinning, the giant curled his fingers in to make a fist. Her gasp told the archaeologist that the mist-tethers were tightening around the leader of SG-1, choking off her air supply. He deliberately avoided looking at her and schooled his features, determined not to give anything away to the enemy.
Blue eyes glittered with outrage as they locked onto his opponent's. Both beings ignored the sound of the lieutenant colonel's struggle to breathe in the background as the battle of wills was waged.
A loud crack sounded from Carter's direction, causing Daniel to be first to flinch. He couldn't help but look over to check on her, as it was obvious that the sound had been one of her ribs snapping under the smoke-rope's pressure. Her face was bright red with the effort of trying to get air into her constricted lungs. Though unable to speak or cry out, her hands pushed against the mist-ropes as her feet kicked furiously at the air in the desperate struggle. There was no way he could continue to act as though her mistreatment wasn't affecting him. "Stop! If you kill her, then you'll never figure out how she's resisting you!"
"It you who must stop," warned the giant. "If you wish for her to be spared, then do not persist in this deception. I will give you one final opportunity: tell me how your leader is able to resist my influence! What method has O'Neill found to neutralize the substance in my agent so that it does not affect him?"
The doctor was stunned by the revelation. "Jack? You've been asking about Jack all this time?" Daniel swallowed the urge to demand to know why the alien hadn't just said so in the first place. Instead, he forced himself to calmly ask for more information. "Look, as far I know, Jack is back at the SGC. It would be totally against protocol for him to have come here in this situation. How could you possibly influence him when he's back on Earth?"
"How it is possible is not your concern. You will tell me why is able to resist!"
"Look, I'm not a scientist; that's Sam's field of expertise," he explained, pointing to his struggling commander. He was relieved to see that her bonds had loosened slightly, but her face was still quite red and she was still having difficulty breathing. "She is far more likely to be able to give you an answer than I can." He turned to his Jaffa teammate. "And Teal'c there knows Jack better than just about anyone. If you truly want an answer, let me talk to them and maybe we can figure it out!"
To the archaeologist's relief, Carter fell heavily to the floor as the giant spoke. "Very well, you may have the time you request. But make no mistake about it--you will all pay the ultimate price if you do not have a satisfactory explanation when I return!" With that, the alien bowed and disappeared into the depths of the temple among the roiling smoky mist.
Daniel closed his eyes and sank to his knees in relief, grateful for the temporary respite. His eyes popped right back open when both of his teammates groaned as they began to regain consciousness. He blinked in surprise, frowning when he found them both still on their separate platforms. They had sounded so close that he was certain they'd all been transported back to the original cavern before he'd opened his eyes. He had no time to ponder the puzzle though, as Carter had become aware enough to demand answers.
"Oh, ow! What just happened?"
Daniel sighed, knowing she would not be at all pleased to hear his news. "Tetzcatlipoca wants to know how and why Jack has been able to resist his influence. I have no idea how he even knows about Jack or how he'd be able to influence anyone back at the SGC."
"Didn't you ask?" Carter winced and held her injured ribs as she carefully sat up.
"Of course I did!" he retorted. "He told me it wasn't my concern and demanded I tell him how Jack was able to resist him."
"So what did you tell him?" asked the leader of SG-1.
"I told him that you were the scientist and that Teal'c knew Jack better than anyone, so if he really wanted answers he had to let me talk to you so we could figure it out."
"Are you insane?" she demanded. "We can't give him any information, Daniel. You know that!"
"Of course I know that," he snapped. "Do you really think I'm that stupid? What I did was buy us some time! Oh, and by the way, you're welcome," he added snidely.
"If you think I'm going to thank you for offering to give General O'Neill up on a silver platter, you've got another thing coming!"
"I didn't offer to give Jack up!" he denied hotly. "Well, okay, technically I did offer--but I never intended to actually do it!"
"I will not be party to betraying O'Neill," vowed Teal'c. "Nor will I allow anyone else to do so."
"Weren't you listening?" snapped Carter. "I just told Daniel that we weren't going to give Tetzcatlipoca any information!"
"My hearing is as keen as ever. Perhaps it is your skill as a leader that is lacking in this instance."
"I cannot believe you just said that to me!"
"I am unconcerned with what you do or do not believe. The facts do not lie. As the leader of SG-1, you should be plotting a strategy to free your team. Yet you have said nothing of such a plan, instead arguing with Daniel Jackson and myself like a small child."
"Hey, close your eyes and listen to me a minute, will you?" insisted Daniel.
"Close our eyes? You've got to be kidding me! This isn't the time to be playing games, Daniel!" said an incredulous Sam.
"Work with me here, okay? Just close your eyes and tell me if I sound closer than I seem when you have them open."
"Indeed," stated Teal'c. "You do sound closer than you appear to be."
"Yeah," agreed Carter. "You do. And so does Teal'c."
"What would cause that? Is it something that could help us find a way out of here?" questioned the archaeologist.
"Well, there are a number of possible explanations," she answered. "There could be something that affects the way sound travels in here."
"Or someone," suggested Daniel. "Tetzcatlipoca is one of the principal Aztec warrior gods, but he's also known as the god of the night. He's the patron of hidden nocturnal activities, especially those such as adultery or stealing. He's also a god of the air and of violent tempests, particularly hurricanes. He was associated with the Mayan god Tahil."
"If he's a god of the air, it's possible he'd have the means to affect how sound traveled through it," she theorized.
"Is it not possible that there is some trickery on his part involved?" asked Teal'c.
Daniel snapped his fingers. "Of course! Why didn't I think of it sooner?"
Before the archaeologist could explain further, the dark mist surrounded them once again, seeming to come out of nowhere. As before, its effect was instantaneous and the three members of SG-1 immediately slumped to the ground unconscious.
The nurse deftly applied a bandage to his forehead and turned to retrieve something from her supply tray. "Sir, I've already explained that Doctor Brightman will be in to speak with you as soon as she's finished examining SG-3."
"So when will that be?"
"That would be right now, General." The harried nurse was saved from repeating another answer by the doctor's timely entrance. "How are you feeling, Sir?"
"Like a bunch of crazy Marines ganged up on me and tried to kick the crap out of me," he replied with a heavy dose of sarcasm. "Go figure."
"Ow!" he complained as the nurse dabbed antiseptic across an abrasion on his cheek. The glare he leveled at her had left many a junior officer quaking with fear, but the seasoned medic paid little heed and continued to treat the numerous cuts and scrapes on his arms and face.
Thoroughly irritated that the nurse hadn't responded to his look, the general turned his attention back to the other medical professional in the room. He ignored the long, assessing look the doctor was giving him and attempted to deflect her attention. "So what's going on with Reynolds and his team?"
She studied him carefully for another long moment before finally answering his query. "We've discovered an unknown substance in the blood of everyone that was at that briefing. This substance, which we have yet to identify, seems to be affecting some people differently than others." She dropped four folders onto the bedside table and pointed to them as she spoke. "SG-3 has extremely high levels of testosterone; it's making them highly aggressive, so much so that we've been forced to sedate them for the time being."
She paused, adding two more folders to the pile. "Doctors Balinsky and Jimenez have been affected a little differently. They're both experiencing a state of hyper-arousal. We've had to sedate them also to keep them from, well, doing something both would seriously regret later."
He nodded in acknowledgement, uneasily eyeing the final folder in her hands. "And?"
She took a deep breath and signaled to someone behind her to enter. One of the more burly medics immediately appeared, wheeling an IV pole and setup. Before she could explain, O'Neill exploded. "Oh, no! Absolutely not! You are not sticking that thing in my arm, no way! I got a few scrapes and bruises from a fight, not major trauma!"
At his outburst, the beefy medic stepped up next to Brightman in a clearly protective stance. "Doc?" questioned the general, obviously disturbed by the man's actions.
She dropped the last folder onto the file. "Your testosterone levels are also high, sir. Though not nearly so high as SG-3's--yet. I'm afraid I'm going to have to sedate you also."
"Look, you said yourself that my levels are not nearly as high as SG-3's are," he protested. "Why can't you wait? I mean, do you really know for sure that it'll get worse?"
"I'm sorry, sir," she said, her tone calm and soothing. "But in my professional opinion, yes, you will become as aggressive and violent as they did. It's only a matter of time."
"So why can't we wait a little while?" he insisted.
She took a deep breath and looked at him sympathetically. "General, there is some evidence to indicate that this substance could be contagious. We can't risk anyone else becoming infected."
"You're not wearing masks or protective gear," he challenged.
"It appears to be spread through contact with an infected person's bodily fluids," she answered.
He closed his eyes in despair. SG-1 was still missing, and now he wouldn't even be able to stay on top of the search. Pushing that thought out of his mind, he opened his eyes and let the commanding officer in him take over. "I have to talk to General Hammond first. We'll need to put the base under lockdown and quarantine anyone already affected."
"Already ahead of you there, sir. Lockdown has been initiated and iso rooms are being prepared as we speak. You'll be moved, along with SG-3 and Drs. Balinsky and Jimenez, as soon as we've put you under."
O'Neill nodded, resigned to his fate. He didn't protest or resist in any way as the medic moved closer and started the IV in his arm.
"So how did SG-3 get it?" he asked.
"We think they were infected on the planet. It didn't show up in the initial bloodwork after their return, but it likely needed time to incubate."
"If you'd be so kind as to lay back now, General, I can administer the sedative," requested the burly male nurse, interrupting the two senior officers.
Jack did as requested, wincing as still-developing bruises along his chest and back made their presence known. He scowled, but made no move to resist as the syringe was emptied into the IV. Almost immediately, he felt himself begin to drift. His eye lids fluttered rapidly, slowing as the drug took hold. The events of the briefing floated through his mind as his eyes grew heavier. As the memories surfaced, he struggled to fight the effects of the sedative. "No! Wait! It's not. . .not con. . .tact," he insisted. "It's. . .it's the. . .smoke. . .the mirr. . .mir. . . ror. . ."
The nurse looked at the doctor, puzzled as to the general's meaning. "What was that all about?"
Brightman shrugged and turned to leave. "Probably nothing. The briefing room is the only thing all of them have in common. It's a no smoking area, and there are no mirrors. Come on, let's get the general ready to move. We've got a lot of work to do."
Fights were breaking out all over the base, despite Dr. Brightman's precautionary measures. Jack and SG-3 were in quarantine, but the damn chemical or substance was spreading even faster than that caveman virus had back in the SGC's early days.
"Sir?" A young SF interrupted his thoughts with the timid question.
"What now?" he groused.
"We, uh, we're running short of personnel, Colonel. There aren't enough people to cover all the reports of fights, and now there are an increasing number of, um, well, other calls."
"What other calls, Airman? Spit it out--I don't have time for games here!"
"Right, sir! Well, um," the youngster's face turned bright red, but he gamely forced himself to be more specific. "They're, uh, um, they're, ah, that is, people are, um, reporting that, ah, that other people are, well, you know, fornicating. In very public places. Sir," he added, wincing.
Dixon's chin fell to his chest. Great, just what he needed--people exhibiting Balinksy's symptoms on top of the fighting. Hell, he hadn't even been able to make it down to the infirmary yet to check on his archaeologist. He so did not need this! "Are there any reports of. . ." He shook his head, not believing he was even asking this about SGC personnel. "Have there been any reports of forced participation?" There. He'd said it.
"No, sir. There have been a few reports of crude and suggestive remarks being made, but no one has complained of being forced or seeing anyone else being forced. Oh, except for Chloe, Dr. Felger's assistant. She said that an airman touched her. . ." The SF held his hands in front of his chest and made as if he were cupping a woman's breasts.
"Okay, okay! I get the idea," chided the colonel. "Was she hurt?"
"No, sir. She said she got off the elevator before he could try anything else."
"Good. Follow up on it later, after things have calmed down." Dixon rubbed his temples to relieve his rapidly building headache. "For now, just do the best you can with the personnel you have. Concentrate on the violent reports first, then if you have anyone left you can send them to check out any complaints of inappropriate behavior. Sound doable to you?"
"Yes, sir!" The young man looked as relieved as he sounded. "Thank you, Colonel."
"Dismissed." Dixon nodded and waved him off.
"Hey, Dixon! Get up here and check this out!" Colonel Edwards called to him from the briefing room stairs.
The leader of SG-13 sighed. Edwards and his team had returned from offworld only moments before the lockdown was initiated. While Dave was grateful for the presence of another senior officer, he wasn't looking forward to dealing with Edwards' stuffed-shirt mentality. Reluctantly, he headed for the stairs to see what his fellow officer had found. "Be right there."
As Dixon entered the briefing room, he found Edwards bent over an object on the table. "What's that?"
His fellow colonel turned to him and smiled. "You have got to check this out, man!"
He approached the table, seeing that the object which so held Edwards' interest was a stone tablet. There was something shiny in the center, and as he drew closer, he was able to see that it was a dark mask.
"Pick it up and look into the eyes," SG-11's commander instructed. "It's really something!"
Dixon picked it up as instructed, not in the mood to play games, but not wanting to argue either. As he stared into the eyes, pain shot up his arms and raced through his body. Smoke poured from the mask to surround him. He felt himself falling, vaguely aware of someone taking the stone from his hands before the darkness claimed him.
His answering groan was accompanied by a fluttering of eye lids. After several moments, he was able to force them to stay open and took a look around. He was lying on the briefing room floor and decided the first step was to sit upright.
The room spun sickeningly, when suddenly a pair of hands grabbed his upper arms. "Here, let me help you to the chair," offered Jeffrey Harper of SG-5. "Put your head down on the table for a minute; the dizziness will pass quickly."
Dixon did as instructed and found that, indeed, the dizziness did pass quickly. He looked up, surprised to find that in addition to Harper and Edwards, Lou Ferretti had joined the little group. "What's going on?"
"We're here to do our lord's bidding," announced Edwards, apparently the unofficial leader of the bunch.
Dixon frowned. "Do our lord's bidding?"
The commanding officer of SG-11 rolled his eyes. "Sit back and breathe deep," he ordered.
Dave tried to resist, but found himself doing exactly as commanded. Smoke seemed to swirl around his head, causing him to feel dizzy again. The dark mist quickly dissipated and the colonel suddenly knew exactly what Edwards had been talking about.
"Okay, we have to get this lockdown lifted, but we're gonna need O'Neill's help to do it. That means we have to get control of the infirmary first. Agreed?" asked Lou.
"What do you think you're doing, Ferretti? Trying to take over? I'm the senior officer here and I'm running this show!" snarled Edwards.
"What does it matter who the senior officer is?" asked Dixon. "All that really matters is that our lord's wishes are carried out."
"Yeah," agreed Harper.
"Right," Lou added.
"It matters because I say it matters!" roared Edwards. With lightning speed, the colonel sprang from his chair and lunged for Dixon.
Fully recovered from the dizzying effects of the mist, Dave's reaction was faster. He grabbed Edwards arm and spun him around, pushing his face into the table's surface. "And we say it doesn't," insisted Dixon, twisting Edwards' arm a little further behind him. "Get in the way of us doing our lord's bidding and you'll wish you hadn't!" He pulled the SG-11 leader up after delivering the ultimatum and shoved him across the room.
Harper and Ferretti moved to stand on each side of him. "Now are you in or are you out?" demanded Lou.
Edwards sat on the floor where he'd fallen, rubbing his shoulder and glowering at the trio. "I'm in," he grudgingly agreed. 'For now,' he silently added.
A geeky blond technician answered, not bothering to even look up from his clipboard. "Computer's down after two guys knocked into it while fighting. Over there," he said, waving vaguely to the other side of the room.
"There are a lot of computers over there," griped Siler. "Which one?"
"The one they slammed into," snapped the geek.
"Show me," insisted the sergeant.
"Go look for it!"
Filled with a sudden unstoppable rage, Siler grabbed the blond and spun him around. "I asked nicely, now I'm telling you. You will show me which one is damaged."
The technician's clipboard went flying as the sergeant forcefully turned him around. Papers went everywhere as the board hit the floor, sending the geek's temper into orbit as well. "Look what you've done now, you clumsy oaf!"
The two began to struggle, but a nearby SF quickly moved to intervene. Pulling Siler away, he tried to keep the two apart by standing between the feuding pair with arms outstretched. When the sergeant tried to reach around him, the SF gave him a hard shove backwards. Off balance, he could do nothing to avoid crashing into a nearby bank of computers himself, sending a shower of sparks cascading halfway across the room. As he sank to the floor, his body twitching uncontrollably from a strong jolt of electricity, he heard a far away voice calling for a medical team. It was the last sound he heard before falling into darkness.
He lay there quietly, trying to remember what had brought him to the infirmary this time, but it was difficult to think. He ached all over his body, but there was also a distinct burning sensation over a large area of his back. He opened his eyes suddenly as the memory of fighting with the technician returned. He was thankful they hadn't hooked him up to one of the monitors, as his racing heart would have given away his deception.
He quickly calmed himself as a pair of medics wandered down the ward near his bed. He was shocked by their conversation.
"Any word yet on when they're sending the general through the 'gate to Lord Tetzcatlipoca?"
"No, only that we're supposed to have him ready to go at a moment's notice."
"Are we sending him through while he's still out?"
"Yeah, that's the plan. I guess they don't want him mouthing off to our lord."
The pair moved out of range of Siler's hearing, leaving him stunned at the apparent plot against General O'Neill. He had to do something. He couldn't just let them take the general like that and turn him over to an alien.
Suddenly, Siler realized that he was free of the alien's influence. He could remember clearly feeling the effects of the smoke from the mirror--the compulsion to do Tetzcatlipoca's bidding, the urges to strike out at his fellow workers, and the strong sexual desire for the female personnel he happened to come across.
A sudden commotion at the other end of the ward provided him the perfect distraction. He carefully disconnected his IV and gingerly stood, thankful to still have his BDU pants on. His boots sat on the floor nearby, so he grabbed them and slipped away to the locker room to put them on and retrieve a clean shirt. After a quick visit to the armory for a zat, he strolled back to the infirmary and snuck into the general's isolation room.
He quickly and efficiently disconnected the IV from General O'Neill's arm. A loud crash sounded from the main ward, indicating that the new arrivals were being particularly troublesome, for which the sergeant was extremely grateful. Wincing from the pain of his burned back, he concentrated on getting the general up and lifting him out of the bed. Breathing heavily, he made his way to the door and stepped out into the hall.
"Hey, what do you think you're doing?"
Siler's heart nearly stopped as a voice called out from behind him. He slowly turned and found himself face to face with the SF who had been charged with guarding SG-3's commanding officer. "Doc Brightman wants General O'Neill moved in with Colonel Reynolds," he lied. "She's running out of rooms so everyone has to double up."
The SF regarded him suspiciously. "So why are you moving him? And besides, Dr. Jimenez is already in here with Colonel Reynolds."
Siler faked a look of surprise. "Really? I thought she said he was down the hall." He shrugged and moved toward the colonel's room. "How about giving me a hand here?"
"Not until you tell me why you're moving patients," he insisted.
"They're really short-handed in there," he said, pointing to the still noisy main wardroom. "And I'm not about to argue with the woman in charge of the really big needles when she says to do something, you know?"
The SF considered the answer for a moment, then nodded and moved in to assist. Together, they maneuvered the sedated general into the room with Reynolds.
"I'll hold onto General O'Neill while you move Dr. Jimenez. You can put her in with Peterson for now," suggested Siler.
The SF nodded and bent to lift the scientist from the cot. While his back was turned, Siler pulled the zat he'd retrieved and aimed it at the airman. Without a word, he fired. Both the SF and civilian were instantly enveloped in arcs of blue energy.
Carefully lowering O'Neill to the floor, the sergeant quickly retrieved a sedative-filled syringe from a tray next to Reynolds' bed and injected the would-be helper. "Sorry, Dr. Jimenez," he offered to the unconscious woman as he checked to be certain she was unharmed.
"What's going on, Siler?" The sergeant jumped as the colonel's raspy voice sounded behind him. Without a second thought, he turned and fired the zat at SG-3's groggy commander.
After checking to be sure the hallway was clear, Siler once more ignored the pain in his back and gathered up the general. As fast as he could manage, he half-pulled and half-dragged O'Neill out of the room to find a safe haven for the SGC's commander.
Back inside the room, both the colonel and the doctor were able to quickly able to shake off the effects of the zat. "You okay?" Reynolds asked, giving Elena a quick once over with his eyes.
"Yes, I think so."
The officer nodded in acknowledgement of the doctor's answer. He hurriedly recovered the SF's zat, and the pair quickly set off after the escaping sergeant.
"Ugh," groaned Daniel as he again awakened from a mist-induced slumber. He sat up slowly and rubbed his temples to ease the pounding headache that was quickly becoming an all-too familiar part of the ritual. "Oh, I really wish he'd stop doing that."
No sooner had he spoken than the smoky fog roiled up from the depths to signal the alien's return. One look at the giant's face told the archaeologist that the furious churning of the mist was a definite match to its master's mood. "My patience is at an end. You will now tell me what I wish to know," announced Tetzcatlipoca.
Daniel sighed heavily and looked up to the ceiling. "We've already been through this. I can't tell you what I don't know."
"Then you will bring him to me, and I will find out for myself."
The archaeologist jumped to his feet in surprise. "You want us to bring Jack here?"
"You will bring him here. Your friends will continue to enjoy my hospitality until your return."
"Ah, I hate to be the bearer of bad news here, but it's not going to be that easy. I can't just breeze in, grab Jack, and waltz back out again. There would have to be a very compelling reason for him to leave our planet, and even then, there are procedures that would have to be followed."
"Preparations are being made. There will be no delay," insisted the alien. "You will leave immediately."
"Look, you don't understand,"
argued the human. Before he could protest further, Tetzcatlipoca suddenly
tilted his head and froze, as if listening to something in the distance
that Daniel wasn't able to hear. The archaeologist frowned as the silence
stretched on, at a loss as to
Then as suddenly as he'd stilled, the alien bent down and pointed to Daniel, striking him squarely in the chest. The human was sent flying backwards and landed hard near the far edge of the platform. "I grow weary of your games, human. Another lesson is in order."
The archaeologist sprang to his feet. "No! Please, I'm just trying to help you understand our ways!"
Tetzcatlipoca ignored his protest and turned, waving a hand at each of Daniel's teammates. Mist-ropes formed out of nowhere to surround each of Teal'c's wrists. As if guided by an invisible hand, the ropes pulled the resisting Jaffa's arms upwards and lifted him off his feet. A giant smoke-hand formed and closed around Carter, also lifting her off her feet.
"You have only a short time to decide," announced the alien.
Daniel watched in horror as his commanding officer was turned upside down and moved away from the stone platform to hover over the open chasm. Teal'c remained upright, but was also moved away from the safety of the platform to be left hanging in midair over the seemingly bottomless cavern. In spite of the distance, the archaeologist could see the mist-rope begin to slowly fray.
"You don't have to do this!" implored the archaeologist.
"I will return when you have reached your decision." The giant ignored the plea and retreated into the murky depths of the cavern.
Daniel sank to his knees and buried his head in his hands. He couldn't just let Sam and Teal'c die. Yet if he returned to the SGC, Jack might very well decide to come back with him to confront the giant alien. It wouldn't matter how powerless against the smoky fog he'd be. Unless what the alien said was true. What if Jack really could resist the alien's influence?
"Daniel, you have to go back and get General O'Neill to lock this planet's coordinates out of the dialing computer," Carter said, interrupting his thoughts.
"And leave you and Teal'c here to die?" he countered. He could do nothing but watch helplessly as she struggled to keep her head from hanging straight down. Unfortunately, he knew it was only a matter of time before her neck and shoulder muscles gave out and refused to support her efforts.
"Colonel Carter is correct, Daniel Jackson. You must leave us and prevent O'Neill from journeying here."
Daniel closed his eyes in resignation, knowing they were right but not yet able to admit it.
"You know we're right. We can't risk exposing anyone else to this--especially the general," Carter argued.
Again the archaeologist was struck by how close the pair sounded while his eyes were closed. If he didn't know better, he'd think they were a mere few feet away. His eyes popped open as he suddenly remembered what had occurred to him just before the mist had knocked them all out.
"Guys, I'm going to try something. No matter what happens, you have to stay calm and trust me." He could barely contain his excitement as he knelt down and began to crawl on hands and knees. "Oh, and keep talking," he added.
"Daniel, what are you going to do?" asked Carter, a tinge of panic creeping into her voice.
"Trust me, Sam. I know what I'm doing," he admonished. "But keep talking."
"Daniel Jackson, you must stop! You are nearing the edge of the platform," cautioned Teal'c.
The archaeologist stopped and sat back on his knees. "Do you trust me, Teal'c?"
The Jaffa searched the eyes of his teammate before reaching a decision. With the barest nod of his head, he gave Daniel his full support.
The doctor nodded in return before speaking. "I need to you to talk to me. It doesn't matter what you talk about, I just need to hear your voice. And close your eyes," he added. "No matter what, don't open them until I tell you to."
"Daniel, I'm ordering you to stop!" Carter had remained quiet during her teammates exchange, but again took charge with Teal'c's failure to dissuade the archaeologist.
"I can't do that, Sam. If I'm right, it could mean our way out of here," he explained. With a final nod to Teal'c, Daniel leaned forward on his hands and knees once more.
Teal'c took a deep breath and closed his eyes. "In Jaffa culture, there are many tales told to frighten children into doing their parents bidding. One such tale is called the Shal'tek'nem'nik'tal."
Daniel smiled, comforted by his teammate's trust. Slowly he resumed his crawl forward.
Carter screamed as he tumbled headfirst into the chasm below.
"General? Come on, sir, you really need to wake up now," pleaded a desperate sounding Siler.
O'Neill's answer was no more than a groan, but it was a response nonetheless. The sergeant watched intently as the general's eyes fluttered momentarily and then opened fully. O'Neill quickly scanned the dimly lit room and frowned. "Siler? That you?"
"Yes, sir," answered the sergeant. "Thirsty?" He extended a canteen to his superior officer, knowing the general would likely be dry after his enforced sleep.
O'Neill sat up and took a long swig, holding the last mouthful several seconds before swallowing. Handing the bottle back, he looked around in an attempt to get his bearings. "So, Siler. Been helping the Doc do a little unauthorized remodeling, have you?"
"No, sir," replied Siler. "I snuck you out of the infirmary after I heard some guys plotting to ship you through the gate to Tetzcatlipoca."
"Ah. Well, in that case, I guess I should forgo the court martial," stated the surprised general, his eyes continuing to scan the room. "Though next time, could you sneak me into the VIP quarters instead of a dusty, cramped supply room?"
"I'll do my best, General."
"You're a good man, Siler," said O'Neill, now completely serious. He placed a hand on the sergeant's shoulder in an attempt to show how much he greatly appreciated the rescue.
"Thank you, sir."
The two were interrupted as the door opened. O'Neill rose unsteadily to his feet and ducked further back into the shadows. He nodded sharply in approval at Siler as the sergeant quickly pulled out his zat, already primed and ready for use. They listened for approaching footsteps, but heard only a rustling from the shelves near the door. After several tense moments, the footsteps retreated and the door closed. The pair remained silent, listening and waiting for any further sign of company.
It was the general who finally broke the strained silence. "Tell me what's going on out there," he commanded.
"The base is being slowly taken over by infected personnel. Doctor Brightman was okay last time I checked, but I can't say for sure about now. Colonels Dixon, Edwards, Ferretti, and Harper are all under the alien's influence. They've been trying to get the Doc up to see the mirror, but she's been too busy with casualties," he reported.
"So how did you avoid it?"
"I didn't, sir. I remember being infected before the fight, but when I woke up in the infirmary I was okay again."
"Fight?" O'Neill asked, his eyebrow rising. "You were fighting, Siler?"
"Um, yes, sir, I was. It was all because of that smoke-stuff, General, I swear!"
A small smile touched O'Neill's lips as he patted the sergeant's arm to reassure him. "Calm down, Siler. It wasn't your fault--I know that. That damn smoke makes people aggressive and violent. What we need to figure out is how you were cured."
Upon hearing that he wasn't in trouble, Siler's agitation vanished. "I have no idea, sir. One minute I was in the control room wanting to tear a technician's head off and the next I was waking up in the infirmary. I think I might have crashed into a computer bank, though. I vaguely remember a lot of sparks flying before everything went black."
"It had to be the electric shock," stated a new voice from the shadows.
Siler instantly had the zat aimed in the direction of the newcomer, who had yet to reveal himself. O'Neill nodded in approval. "Step out here where we can see you," he ordered.
Slowly, two figures emerged from the shadows with hands held high in the air. "I'm cured, too," announced Colonel Reynolds. "And so is Dr. Jimenez here."
"What? While you two were sedated in the infirmary you just happened to get thrown into a computer bank, too? You really think I'm going to buy that and let you kick the crap out of me again?" asked an incredulous O'Neill.
Reynolds paled at the general's words. "Oh, god, I did, didn't I? I'm so, so sorry, General! I would never. . .I mean I don't know what, I mean why, I mean. . ."
"I did zat him in the iso room, sir," offered Siler, cutting off the man's rambling. "And an SF was holding Dr. Jimenez when I zatted him, so she was caught in the blast, too."
"Okay, so say you are all cured because of the shock and zat blasts. What about me?" demanded O'Neill as he gingerly dropped back to sit on the floor. "I haven't been zatted or shocked, but I don't feel aggressive or violent. Well, except for wanting to tear that alien cat-guy limb from limb, but you can hardly blame me for that. Right?" He cast a worried look to the others at his confession.
"Sounds like a very normal reaction to the situation to me, sir," assured Reynolds. He, along with the others, followed the general's example and sat down on the floor.
"Same here, General," agreed Siler.
Elena shrugged. "Me, too. I'm not a violent person, but I certainly wouldn't mind a chance to see him get what he's got coming either," she vowed, her dark eyes flashing in anger.
"So, how did I get cured?" reiterated O'Neill.
No one spoke as they all pondered the question. After several moments, Reynolds frowned and spoke up. "The Goa'uld have stolen virtually all of their technology, right?"
"Yeah, so?" affirmed the general.
"I seem to remember reading something in one of your earlier mission reports about a drug that the Goa'uld Seth used on you and your team."
"Yeah, nishta," O'Neill supplied. "Nasty stuff. Carter rigged up our earpieces for Jacob to shock us and free us from the influence. Hathor used something similar when she tried to take over the base that time."
"I think I see where you're going with this, Colonel," offered Siler. "You think the Goa'uld stole the nishta from Tetzcatlipoca."
Reynolds shrugged. "Well, it would explain why the general wasn't affected the way the rest of us were--and why he's free of the influence without being shocked like the rest of us."
"But the Doc said my testosterone levels were high. She said they were going to get as high as yours--that's why she put me out. If it didn't affect me, why did that happen--and why did I pass out from the stuff?" asked the general.
"There could be a number of reasons," offered Elena. "Maybe the formula he's using now is slightly different to what the Goa'uld stole from him. Or maybe Dr. Brightman was simply wrong."
O'Neill sighed and shook his head. "Can't take that chance. Here's what we do. Reynolds, you take Siler and start zatting everyone you come across. Then send them to the armory for more zats to help you. Everyone on base will need to be zatted. It's the only way to be sure no one is left under the alien's influence."
"What about me, General?" asked Elena.
"You'll stay here with me for now."
Reynolds frowned at the general's decision to remain behind and out of the thick of things. "General?"
O'Neill sighed. "Start with me, Reynolds. Start with me."
The colonel's eyes widened. "But sir, you aren't infected!"
"We don't know that for sure. And I won't allow myself to end up going berserk and trying to beat the crap out of my men because we made a wrong assumption. This is the way it has to be," he insisted.
Reynolds nodded and reluctantly raised the zat, pointing it at his commanding officer. Wincing, he moved his finger to the trigger.
O'Neill braced himself for the impending blast, but nothing happened. To his obvious irritation, the colonel lowered the weapon instead of firing. "Damn it, Reynolds, fire--that's an order!"
"I'll do it, sir," Siler quickly offered.
"No, you won't," O'Neill countered with a scowl. "You'd enjoy it too much."
"If you say so, sir," agreed the sergeant.
"General, something just occurred to me," explained Reynolds. "We could use someone to go into the women-only areas."
"So find a female airman and zat her," he reasoned.
"Ah, sir? All female personnel seem to have been affected in the same way," Siler explained with a deliberate look toward the only female in the room.
The general's eyes widened in understanding. "So things might get a little dicey, is that what you're saying?"
"There is another way," suggested the colonel.
O'Neill sighed and looked to the doctor, knowing exactly what Reynolds had in mind. "How about it? You up for something a bit more exciting than examining old, dead plants?"
"I'll do whatever is needed, sir," she answered, ignoring his jibe at her chosen occupation.
"Sweet. Siler, give her your zat and make sure she knows how to use it; you can get another one from the armory. Reynolds, meet me in the control room in 20 minutes. We need to take back the gate and get rid of that damn mirror-thing." O'Neill paused to again brace himself. "Now, hit me."
"Yes, sir." Reynolds again reluctantly raised the zat and aimed it. This time he fired as instructed, leaving the general writhing on the floor as the energy from the weapon arced around O'Neill's body.
"Daniel!" screamed Carter as she stifled a sob. "Oh, god! Why, Daniel? Why?"
"The creature is said to be taller than four of the tallest Jaffa warriors and ten times as fierce." Teal'c's voice droned on as he ignored her anguished cries.
"Damn it, Teal'c, will you stop? Daniel just fell to his death--enough with the Jaffa fairytales already!"
She nearly cried out in fright when a hand unexpectedly touched her shoulder. "No, Sam, I didn't. Look at me," insisted a familiar voice.
She did as ordered without a second thought and looked to where his voice was emanating from. As his face slowly swam into view, she realized she was no longer hanging upside down--nor was she on the stone platform. She noted the familiar surroundings in the back of her mind, but concentrated on the seeming miracle in front of her. She cautiously reached out to take hold of his upper arms. "Daniel! You're alive!" She pulled him into a brief, but fierce, hug. "Don't you ever to that to us again!"
"I promise I'll try not to," he readily agreed. "I'm sorry you were worried, Sam, but I did ask you to trust me. I knew exactly what I was doing."
She took a deep breath and quickly dropped into scientist-mode. "We'll discuss your methods later," she promised. "But right now I want to know what happened. I saw you fall, yet you're standing here without a mark on you. I don't understand."
"Come on, let's go get Teal'c and then I'll only have to explain it once," Daniel suggested as he took her arm.
The duo quickly crossed the dais to their teammate's side. Teal'c had gone silent after Carter's outburst, but stubbornly kept his eyes closed as Daniel had requested. Standing on opposite sides of the Jaffa, each put a hand on his shoulder.
"Open your eyes now, Teal'c," said Daniel.
Dark eyes opened, immediately taking in their surroundings. Teal'c raised an eyebrow at what he found. "We have been transported back to the original chamber."
"Not exactly," said Daniel. "I'm pretty sure we never left it in the first place."
"What?" asked Carter.
"Right before that last time we were rendered unconscious by the smoke, I remembered something. You both sounded so much closer than you appeared." Daniel shifted into lecture mode. "Tetzcatlipoca is one of the Aztec gods of the night. He is often represented by the jaguar, also a sign of the night. This, among other reasons, is why he is known as the god of sorcerer-shamans."
"It was all an illusion," said Carter.
Daniel nodded. "Everything, including the injuries you both supposedly received."
"You're right. My ribs are fine," agreed Carter, looking down at herself in amazement. "But it felt so real. . ."
"Indeed," agreed Teal'c as he carefully felt his face for signs of the alien's beating. "It seemed extremely real."
Carter shook her head, trying to get herself back on track. "All right, let's grab our gear and get out of here before Tetzcatlipoca comes back."
The trio hurried to gather their belongings which had been neatly stacked next to the pedestal containing the skull. "Ready?" asked Daniel as he moved into position in front of the crystal.
His teammates nodded and he looked into the eyes of the skull, which was now missing its obsidian mask. The familiar energy field enveloped them and then slowly died out. "We did it!"
"Not so fast, Daniel. How do we know this isn't just another illusion?" asked Carter.
"Well, I guess we don't know for sure. However, I'm pretty certain that the spell has been broken and that this is real. There is one sure way to find out--get to the gate and dial the SGC."
Teal'c raised another point. "We should return to the SGC as quickly as possible. If Tetzcatlipoca was being truthful, O'Neill may well require our assistance."
Carter debated for only a second before
agreeing. "You're right, Teal'c. Let's go."
O'Neill stormed into the briefing room to find three of his infected senior officers in the middle of an argument. "Hey, guys! Miss me?"
Without waiting for a response, he fired his zat. Dixon fell writhing to the floor, his first target. Next was Edwards, who had recovered enough from the general's surprise appearance to charge at him. He'd made it only half a dozen steps before the blue energy enveloped him.
"General." Ferretti, the last one standing, decided to try a different approach. "You might as well give it up now. You can't win, you know. Lord Tetzcatlipoca will prevail."
"Maybe," agreed O'Neill. "But not today." He pressed the trigger, ending the discussion and sending Lou to the floor to join his fellow colonels.
After a cursory check of his downed men, he angrily strode over to the briefing room table. Careful to avoid looking into the eyes of the mask, he swept the tablet onto the floor. "I'll take my base back now, thank you very much." He pointed his zat at the artifact, not hesitating as he fired three successive shots. "Oh, and I'll be there shortly to get my team," he announced to the empty space where the mirror had been. "Then I'm going to kick your giant alien ass."
Loud voices from the control room drew his attention and told him that Reynolds had arrived. He moved immediately to the stairs, descending them quickly but quietly.
Walter didn't notice the general's entrance as he addressed the colonel. "What are you doing out of the infirmary?"
"Following my orders." O'Neill announced, revealing his presence. "Now move away from the dialing computer, Sergeant."
"Sir?" Harriman seemed genuinely confused, but slowly complied. O'Neill wasn't fooled and zatted him as soon as he was a safe distance from the equipment.
Reynolds took care of the two other technicians in the room, giving them back control of the Stargate. "We've got over thirty men and women sweeping the base and are adding more all the time. Everyone on base should be free of the alien influence within the hour," he reported.
At that moment, alarms sounded an off-world activation. With Walter still out from the zat, Reynolds moved in to claim the sergeant's seat at the dialing computer. The wormhole formed and they waited anxiously for a GDO signal. Finally, the colonel's announcement came. "It's SG-1, sir!"
"Open the iris!" O'Neill was already halfway down the stairs as he issued the order.
At the same instant he strolled into the gate room, SG-1 emerged from the event horizon. "Hey, kids! How's it going?"
"We were just going to ask you that," said Daniel. He frowned as he took in O'Neill's bruised and bandaged face. "What happened to you?"
"Oh, you know. The usual. SG-3 tried to use me for a punching bag, aliens tried to take over the base." With no warning, he pulled the zat and fired at each of the returning team members, careful that no one was hit more than a single time. "Had to order everyone on base zatted. Got rid of that damn mirror," he continued even though they were already unconscious.
O'Neill gestured to the contingent of armed men to move forward and retrieve SG-1's weapons--freeing enough security personnel to defend the Stargate had been one of Reynolds' and Siler's top priorities.
No sooner had they departed with the weapons than a second group hurried toward the ramp. O'Neill raised the zat, abruptly halting the swarm of medics. "Whoa, just hold it right there," threatened the general.
"It's all right, sir. They've all been zatted," announced a female voice from the control room. "The entire medical staff has been freed from the alien's influence."
O'Neill hesitated a moment longer and then waved the group forward. "The dead plant lady says you're clear--go."
Helpless to do anymore for his friends,
the general stepped back and anxiously waited as the medics examined the
"Ow!" protested Daniel. "What did you do that for?"
"Sorry, Danny-boy. I had to make sure you aren't under that alien's influence," replied O'Neill, relieved to see the trio coming around.
"So he was telling the truth then. He did find a way to influence you here," said Carter, still prone on the ramp.
"When you missed the scheduled check-in, I sent SG-3 to investigate. They brought back this mirror-thing that turned out to be a conduit of some sort. We've got it all under control now, though."
"Do you require my assistance, O'Neill?" asked Teal'c.
"Not this time, T. The sweep of the base is almost complete, and I personally got rid of that damn mirror," said the general.
"Wait, wait, wait! What was that about getting rid of the mirror? What did you do?" asked Daniel.
"I zatted it. Three times," he smugly added. "It was way too dangerous to keep around."
"But Jack!" protested the archaeologist.
"No, Daniel! It's too late now anyway--it's gone. Now why don't you guys head to the infirmary for the post-mission check. Report for debriefing in two hours."
Without another word, O'Neill turned and
headed back to his office--he still had a base to restore to normal operations.
"I can't believe you just destroyed it like that," complained Daniel. The debriefing had just concluded, but the archaeologist wasn't quite ready to let go of the point yet and followed O'Neill back to his office.
"We've been over this already, Daniel. It was too dangerous. There was no guarantee that we couldn't be re-infected. I made the right call and you know it." O'Neill leaned back in his chair, wincing as it squealed in protest. "You'll have to make do with the photos."
Before Daniel could respond, a bright flash of light filled the office. "Greetings, O'Neill."
"Thor, buddy! How the heck are you?"
"I am well. The Asgard have received your request for information. I have come to inform you that I have seen Nicholas Ballard and that he is well. He sends his regrets that he has been unable to contact you, Dr. Jackson." The alien held out a round metal object. "He asked that I pass this on to you, so that you will know the message is from him."
"It's Nick's pocket watch," said Daniel, his voice hushed, as he took the offered object from Thor.
"Thank you, Thor," O'Neill said, nodding at the Supreme Commander.
Daniel wasn't so easily satisfied. "So Thor. Tell us about the aliens. What do they call themselves? Why aren't they answering our attempts to contact them? What's the story behind their hatred of the Goa'uld?"
"Enough, Daniel! Give him a chance, will ya?" admonished the general.
"I am sorry, Dr. Jackson, but I regret that I am unable to answer your questions. The Asgard have sworn not to reveal any information about this race without their permission. They will impart any and all knowledge they wish you to learn about them through your grandfather."
Before Daniel could protest, Thor disappeared in another flash of light.
"Well, that was. . .unenlightening," complained the doctor.
"True, but at least you know now that Nick is okay."
Daniel fingered the watch. "Yeah, I guess."
The phone ringing halted any further conversation as the general grabbed it. "O'Neill."
The archaeologist rose and pointed to the
door to indicate his departure. He had a batch of photos to track down.
Daniel rubbed his eyes and reached for another photo from the pile in front of him. After studying it intently for a moment, he rooted through the papers littering the table and finally located the MALP report he sought. He didn't notice the figure standing in his doorway, watching him.
"Time to call it a night, Daniel. Those pictures will still be there tomorrow," ordered O'Neill.
"In a minute, Jack," he replied automatically.
"Now, Daniel." He softened his tone. "Come on, we can go change and then grab a pizza on the way home."
The archaeologist sighed as his stomach rumbled in agreement. He knew that tone--Jack wasn't going to give up. And he had to admit, he was hungry. "Yeah, sure. Why not?"
He rose and headed for the door, leaving the papers and photos strewn across the desk. With a flip of the light switch, the room was plunged into darkness. "How about trying that new chicken and pineapple combo?"
"There is no way you're putting pineapple on my pizza, Daniel. Forget it!"
"Okay. How about spinach and feta?"
"I was thinking anchovies. Or pepperoni. Or both, both sounds good, don't you think?"
"Ah, no. No, I don't think that sounds good at all."
Their voices faded down the hall as the pair continued the great pizza debate.
Back in Daniel's empty lab, a light shone from the mask in the top photo. "We shall meet again, Tau'ri! And I will one day have my answers," vowed a disembodied voice.
Evil laughter echoed through the empty room, growing ever fainter until it could no longer be heard.
The light from the photo slowly dimmed and died out completely, bathing the room in darkness once more.
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