The Limits of Trust
by Sheila Paulson
See notes and disclaimers in part one.
Blair Sandburg heaved a weary sigh. He'd spent the morning filling out forms, and then undergoing an interview by a Dr. MacKenzie, whom he had no trouble identifying as a psychiatrist, and who had a great many questions about Blair's reasons for wanting to join the SGC. He might not know about Jim being a Sentinel but he did know that Jim had been Blair's partner and friend and his questions seemed geared to discovering why Blair had chosen to give up that friendship. It wasn't hard for Blair to get the idea the people here were afraid he'd run out on Jim and were trying to make sure he wouldn't get tired of the SGC, too, and want to take off to do something else. On the other hand, if he had read Blair's file--he was sure there was a file on him here--he must know about the debacle of the dissertation, the publicity, Blair's press conference. In a way, Blair's presence here and his acceptance by General Hammond would confirm to base personnel that Jim *was* a Sentinel. Yet, information here was classified. That information would never be revealed to the general public. Would it endanger Jim? He hadn't thought of that before, but now, faced with a man who was attempting to determine if Blair could go the distance, he realized it just might be a possibility.
"This is a place where I can contribute something," he finally said. "I went on a mission through the Stargate before and they said I helped them out. I don't have the option of a university career any longer, but I can do this. That's why I came."
"You studied at the police academy in Cascade, Washington," the man reminded him as if Blair might have conveniently forgotten. "Yet you threw that over."
"It wasn't that," Blair said. "I just don't have it in me to be a police officer. This is different."
"How? You will have to use weapons here. You said yourself you don't like weapons. You might have to kill to defend yourself and your team. Do you think yourself capable of that?"
Blair hesitated because it was a very fair question. "To defend my team, I think I could. I did it once or twice to defend Jim. But the primary goal wouldn't be to seek out a fight or to arrest perpetrators. It would be to interact with alien cultures, to discover alien technology," he said. "I know about the Goa'uld, and I know there are a lot of dangers out there. I've had weapons training and I suppose I'd have more here to get used to the sidearms the teams carry. I don't like killing, but isn't that a good thing? I wouldn't be trying to pick a fight. I've been in a lot of dangerous situations and Jim says I can think on my feet. I can handle that part. I won't ever like killing. I'll always want to find a peaceful solution. But I know I can't, not every single time. I'm a scientist, not a soldier. But then, so is Daniel Jackson."
"A good answer, Mr. Sandburg. The fact of your being on a previous mission speaks well for you." Suddenly MacKenzie switched off the tape recorder. "Frankly, from reading all the reports of your previous mission and the reports of your news conference, I think it's a fair guess that your Ellison actually *is* a Sentinel. We're going to keep that off the record if possible, and I don't expect you to admit it. Perhaps Detective Ellison would be an asset to this program, as well. However, as that does not seem likely, I'd like you to tell me, off the record, why you chose not to stay with your Sentinel."
Blair looked around nervously, afraid of hidden microphones and cameras. MacKenzie shook his head. "There is another recording device here, but it's not activated." He pointed to a camera in a corner. "Were it active, a red light would come on. We're not trying to trick you into admissions, Mr. Sandburg. But from everything SG-1 has said, your bond with your friend was intense. I've studied the mission reports and I understand that the Sentinel/Shaman relationship can be a life-bond. Yet you are here. You can understand why we would be...leery of your commitment."
Blair nodded. The Stargate project, which had started out as a mission of scientific exploration, now provided a first line of defense for the entire planet. It was too great a purpose to risk someone who wasn't fully committed. He heaved a sigh.
"When my mom e-mailed my dissertation to that publisher, it did something to break Jim's trust in me. I'd seen evidence of that a few times before. It usually came down to us working it out, and sometimes it was just a...different way of looking at things. But if I'd become his partner for real, not just an observer, he'd have to trust me all the way, and I'm not sure he could. He only had one partner before I came along, and it went wrong and made him into more of a loner. Maybe being...what he is...makes him one. There have been a few times when he should have trusted me and didn't--and it hurt, man. I just couldn't go on with that. But, even more than that, if I became a cop, that would be like telling the whole world that my dissertation was true. Why would the police want somebody who was discredited, who had pulled a hoax on the whole world--unless it wasn't a hoax. There are people out there, secret government agencies, who would want to find out what makes him tick. They'd want to take him apart and study him to see if they couldn't do genetic adjustments to produce whole armies of Sentinels. I couldn't do that to him." He suddenly gestured wildly. "And here I am, spilling it all to you, and I don't even *know* you. God, maybe Jim's right not to trust me..."
MacKenzie nodded slowly. "You didn't 'spill it', Mr. Sandburg. "I already knew, and you knew that I did."
"But I didn't have to *confirm* it. Maybe Jim's right. Maybe I'm not trustworthy." He shuddered. "God, I feel like I've been pulled apart in fourteen directions at once. There's just no answer, no way to make it right."
"Sometimes, that happens," MacKenzie said understandingly. "You have an amazing degree of loyalty, Mr. Sandburg. You stayed committed to your Sentinel until external circumstances forced you apart. What's more, the urge to be ethical is incredibly strong in you. You are an honorable man. I realize this is a distressing time for you right now, but my report on you will be favorable. What's more, you have a glowing recommendation from Col. O'Neill and the rest of his team. They feel you are practically made to be part of an SG team."
Blair felt his eyes sting with emotion. "Even the Colonel?" he ventured. "I could see he thought I was some kind of hippie."
MacKenzie smiled. "Well, he doesn't like your haircut, but aside from that, he felt you were quick-witted and intelligent. He said you would go off on weird tangents the way Dr. Jackson does, but that, with Daniel, it usually turned out for the best. He recommended you be placed on a team with a strong leader who could rein your enthusiasm in when necessary--but he did recommend you be placed on a team after a training period. General Hammond speaks highly of you, too. I find you mentally sound, capable of commitment, and certainly intelligent. My only recommendation to you is that you be absolutely certain this is what you want before you make the commitment. I suggest you telephone Detective Ellison and discuss it with him once more before you make your final decision."
Blair hesitated, then he nodded. "I would have done that anyway," he said. "Thanks, Doc. I'll go call him now."
But his call to the loft only produced the answering machine, where he didn't leave a message since he had no number for Jim to use to call him back. So he called the precinct. Jim's desk phone had voice mail on, too. Frustrated, he finally called Simon Banks.
"Sandburg? Where the hell are you? Why am I getting calls about you from generals?"
"I'm in Colorado, Simon. Where's Jim?"
"He took a week's leave of absence when he heard that I'd been asked for a reference about you, Sandburg. He wasn't very happy about it, but once he heard about it, he guessed who called. He wouldn't say anything about it except that it was classified, but he told me to go ahead and give you a good reference."
Jim must have put two and two together and remembered Blair had told him he was going to Colorado. Would he come here to look for him? Would he try to get him back? If he wanted him back, why would he tell Simon to give him the reference? Wouldn't that be a way of implying that he didn't want his shaman to return?
There didn't seem to be any easy answers, even here. Blair said a few conventional words to Simon to stop his flow of questions and hung up, his emotions churning inside him. Did Jim mean to come after him and try to bring him back? Would he go, given a chance? Didn't the same reasons for departing still hold true? Even if Jim came, *could* Blair reconsider? Wouldn't that be risking Jim's life?
With nowhere else to call, there was nothing to do but wait. Thus, it proved a long time before anyone even realized that Detective Jim Ellison was missing.
Ellison pulled his rented car to a stop outside the Cheyenne Mountain base and hesitated before pulling up to the gate. He had no clearance to get in, but if he asked for General Hammond, the man might let him come in, at least as far in as a non-restricted area. Even people off the street could tour parts of NORAD, but he didn't want to pass himself off as a tourist. He just needed to talk to Sandburg one more time before he signed on to the team that did--well, whatever it did. That part had always puzzled him. How many times would an anthropologist who was the world's leading expert on Sentinels be needed on a covert military mission? It wasn't as if the woods were full of Sentinels, and certainly not Sentinels who worked for terrorists or militia.
A knock on his window pulled him to attention and he looked up to see an air force officer in a colonel's uniform standing there. He rolled down the window.
"Mr. Ellison? I assume you're here looking for Mr. Sandburg."
Eyeing the blue of the Air Force uniform, Jim realized that this man might be part of the project where Blair had surely come to volunteer his services. "Have you seen him, Colonel?" The guy's heart was thumping pretty fast. If he knew who Jim was, he probably knew *what* he was, and that bugged the hell out of Jim. He might be excited to meet an actual Sentinel, but Jim wasn't about to do a performing seal act for him. He wouldn't admit to anything.
"Yes, I've seen him. He's not here right now. He's gone on to a training area in Utah where he'll be working for several weeks before he comes back here."
Utah? Probably a classified area, Jim thought. Area 51 or whatever. Was there really an Area 51? What kind of training would Sandburg need to do the work he'd volunteered for? Wilderness survival? Advanced weaponry? "I want to talk to him," he said.
The colonel nodded. "That can be arranged, but it's a top security area and you can't get in there without me, Detective. I'm Col. Maybourne, and I've been with the Project for a long time. We had word you might be coming. Sandburg suspected it, and I suspect you realized who had phoned your boss for a reference. If you come with me, I can get you on a military flight to the test range."
Jim nodded. "I just need to talk to him before he commits himself to this," he admitted. He was still angry at Sandburg, a part of him hurt and betrayed, but another part suspected there was more than a grain of truth in Sandburg's words. When Blair had given his press conference, all that had hit Jim with the force of a sledgehammer. He thought he finally got it, that he understood how far Blair would go to protect him. His guide was not the enemy, not the symbol of the changes in Jim's life. He was his one loyal friend who backed him when things were worst.
Of course, changing the attitudes of a whole lifetime was not easy, but Sandburg's departure had shaken him badly. He had to put this right, even if, afterwards, Sandburg told him to take a hike.
So he pulled the car into a slot in the parking lot and locked it, then he went over to join Maybourne and an armed sergeant with an utter poker face and no evidence of the excitement that went with Maybourne's rapid heartbeat and increased breathing. The NCO slid behind the wheel of a dark, unmarked car, while the Colonel urged Jim into the back seat.
It was only when Maybourne closed the door on him and chose to get in beside the driver that Jim realized he was separated from the other two by a plate of unbreakable glass and that the inside doors of the back seat had no handles. Damn it. He'd been finessed. His concern for Sandburg had made him forget basic security procedures. What the hell was this? Was Maybourne really an Air Force Colonel? Had Sandburg's presence here alerted covert programs about Jim. Had they used Sandburg's presence in an attempt to capture Ellison? Sandburg wouldn't be a part of that, but the odds were Sandburg simply didn't know. Or had he?
When the gas started, pumping into the rear seat area, Jim's last thought proved that Sandburg had been right about the trust issues all along. "Damn it, chief," Jim muttered as he felt the dizziness claim him and pull him down toward darkness. "Did you set me up?"
Blair had just finished the physical the project required and was dressed again and listening to Dr. Frasier point out that he was suffering from a little stress. "The change has been hard on you, hasn't it?" she asked sympathetically.
Blair hesitated, doing up the buttons on his shirt. He remembered Dr. Frasier from his first visit to the project and had been under her care after being poisoned on the planet he'd visited. She was a gutsy lady who spoke her own mind, and Blair had liked her. He shrugged. "It's been a bad year," he admitted. "I...drowned, and Jim brought me back even though we'd been at odds. Then my mom sent the dissertation in." He fell silent, relaxing slightly when she nodded. Sitting down on the examining table, he looked up at her and waited.
"We all saw that on the news. It must have been hard on you to give up your career for your friend. Colonel O'Neill said that was the kind of loyalty he'd come to expect from you. He thinks very highly of you, you know."
Blair still found that almost incomprehensible. Jack O'Neill hadn't wanted him on the earlier mission at all, and he had expected little from Blair. Of course the mission had needed Blair's particular skills and abilities, and his knowledge of Sentinels had given him an edge, since the Inca, the leader of the native people, was brother to a Sentinel. O'Neill had started out suspicious but he'd come around. Why was it so hard for Jim, the man who knew him best, to trust him?
"What is it?" Janet Frasier asked, her voice sympathetic.
Blair heaved a sigh. "When all that happened, Jim would hardly speak to me. He wanted to go back to working without a partner and to renounce his Sentinel abilities. He forgave my mom for what she did, but he never forgave me, no matter how hard I tried to stop it all from happening, not until I went public and called myself a fake. *Then* it was okay, but not before. I mean, I know he was scared, he was panicked, and he never really liked what he'd become, but I did everything short of having myself flayed alive to keep the truth from coming out. And he didn't *care*. Don't you see, Janet, I'm only worthy of his trust when nothing goes wrong. I asked my mom not to read my dissertation and she said she wouldn't. I trusted my own mom, and Jim thinks I screwed up. I can't be what he wants me to be."
"Could anyone?" she asked. "It isn't a sin or a crime to fail to live up to impossible expectations. No one could do it. Jim couldn't do it himself."
"Maybe he was right, though. Maybe he shouldn't work with a partner, if he can't trust even me. I gave four years of my life to him. I was doing the teaching assistant stuff, taking my own classes, working nearly full time to help him with his senses, going on most of his cases with him. Sleep? I don't think I've had a full night's sleep since I met him. I wound up throwing away my academic reputation for him. If I hadn't have been able to come here, I'd have had nothing. And he doesn't get it. He says he trusts me now, but I know he doesn't. That's why I left, and I know he'll take it as one more proof that he *can't* trust me."
"He's very...fixated on his own needs," Janet said carefully. "But people who are different often have to be. The Sentinel ability is with him all the time. From what I've learned of it, it can backfire without warning. He never knows when it's going to cause him to go into overload. He *has* to be centered that way. Tell me this, Blair. Is he honestly capable of giving you the level of trust you expect from him? And is your doubt a lack of trust in its own right? How much do you trust him?"
Blair hesitated. Maybe he needed to think; he'd never see it that way. "He can trust me enough to know I'd never deliberately or willingly betray him," he said. He hesitated. "I focused so much of my life on him once we met that it feels like there's nothing left of my life without him in it." He saw something flicker in her eyes and added quickly, "Don't get me wrong. It was all friendship. Platonic."
"I understand that. But in essence, you've been through the equivalent of a divorce. Even though there was nothing sexual in your relationship, the sense thing made it a deeper bond than most people ever achieve, even married couples and lovers. You're bound to be stressed and upset now. If you honestly believe you can't go back, then getting right away and doing something new is the best thing you can do. I'm sure Dr. MacKenzie told you he wondered if you could make a commitment here with this hanging over your head."
Blair nodded. "He did. But what else *can* I do? Where else can I go where anyone will respect me as a scientist? This is my last chance to-- "
"Offworld Gate activation," blared the P.A. System. Frasier looked up quickly.
"I don't think anyone is due back right now," she said. "I keep track of when the teams are expected to return, and when any teams are offworld, I make sure the infirmary is fully staffed and ready in case something goes wrong."
"Should we go somewhere?" Blair asked, imagining General Hammond rushing to that room that overlooked the gate room to check out the situation. The warning was probably to summon troops there in case it was a Goa'uld invasion knocking at the door. Blair felt a surge of excitement race through him in a burst of adrenaline. Working here would never be dull. He hoped he would be accepted.
Frasier dismissed him. "You can go back to the holding area now, Blair. I'll give my report to General Hammond. I believe you'd be an asset to the SGC and I'll say so. Your health is fine except for a little to-be- expected stress, nothing you'd need to be medicated for. Once you have something to do, once your life settles down, it should ease."
Blair stepped outside and found the obligatory military escort waiting for him, a young airman called Keller. He was full of eager excitement about everything, even the escorting of a civilian, and he didn't seem to know who Blair was, other than a potential recruit for the project.
They were halfway back to the waiting area where Blair had killed time between tests and evaluations when the P.A. system flared to life. "Blair Sandburg to General Hammond's office. Blair Sandburg to General Hammond's office."
Well, that meant the off-world activation probably wasn't a crisis, or the General would be in the middle of it. "This way," Keller said and changed direction.
"I wonder what the General wants with me," Blair mused as he fell into step.
Keller shrugged. He didn't know.
Hammond was seated at his desk, but Jack O'Neill was standing in front of it. No, not standing, pacing, still kitted up for a mission, backpack on and carrying a weapon. He looked angry, nearly frantic, and his hair was disarrayed as if he'd raked his hands through it. It was longer than when Blair was last here, slightly less military in its cut. Then Jack turned to face him and Daniel saw in his eyes that something was badly wrong. That hollow-eyed stare spoke of a disaster.
It must be Daniel. Maybe it was all of them--they weren't here, after all. "What's wrong, Colonel?" Blair asked in alarm.
"Jackson's missing," O'Neill replied tightly, his face a rigid mask. "We know where he is, but we can't get to him and we hope that maybe you can."
Blair stared at him in stunned disbelief. Tough Col. O'Neill wanted *his* help. Not the marines, not an armed squadron, but one misplaced anthropologist. He was needed. In spite of his concern for Daniel Jackson, who had been a friend long before Blair had been recruited for that earlier mission, Sandburg felt a surge of relief to know that there was someone in the world who needed what he could do.
"Tell me," he urged, stretching out a tentative hand and patting the colonel on the arm. O'Neill looked down at Blair's hand but he didn't say anything and he didn't pull his arm away. Blair gave it a squeeze and let go. It made him uneasy to see the Colonel like this.
O'Neill filled him in with short, choppy sentences, describing the mission, the ruin and artifacts that Daniel had claimed were similar to ancient Mayan, the booby trap set in the huge pyramid.
"Sounds like something out of Indiana Jones," he said.
"Daniel thought that, too. I should have picked up on it. There was something Daniel wanted, he thought it might be a Mayan Codex, whatever that is."
"Wow! You're kidding! Do you know how rare those things are? That could be the find of the century. A codex is a Mayan book, one they wrote before the European conquest." At the sight of sudden pain in Jack's eyes, he caught himself. "You mean the codex was booby trapped?" he asked, picturing a series of horrible fates befalling Daniel. He remembered a booby trapped temple he had found once on an expedition to the Amazon basin. Headhunters had claimed the ancient ruin for their own, but they didn't go inside, not after two of their number had been crushed by falling rocks and one impaled by arrows. Of course O'Neill hadn't claimed that Daniel was dead, just that he was missing.
"I don't know if the Codex thing was booby trapped, but I found a gold statue, and it was. Daniel was going on about the Codex but I found a gold statue just sitting on a pedestal." He made an impatient gesture. "They're always going on about how we need to make the project more self-supporting and I thought a gold idol might help. Like an idiot, I started to pick it up and Daniel howled like a banshee and knocked me out of the way. Soon as I touched it I knew it was stupid. Before I could even pick myself up, the floor opened up under his feet and he fell. Then it closed up again and we can't find a way down to the lower level. If Teal'c blasts the part that moved, it'll fall on him and crush him. If you know anything about how to get him out..." He raked his hands through his hair again.
Oh, man, this was bad. Poor Jack, probably feeling like he'd doomed his friend. Blair remembered the other pyramid he'd been in. There had been trick openings. If only he could remember them all. The tame headhunters who had worked with Professor Aronsen had told them a lot of the secrets they'd figured out. "I might be able to work something out," he said, hoping he wasn't whistling in the dark. "We'd better hurry."
"Then we'll get you readied and go right back," O'Neill insisted. "Okay, General?"
Hammond had watched and listened. "Sandburg's not officially a part of the SGC yet, but we're heading that way fast. The tests and reports are favorable so far, and we know he can handle himself. All right, do it, Col. O'Neill. Sandburg, you've qualified with police weapons?"
"Ever handle a HK MP5?"
"A couple of times. I'm more comfortable with a .38 police special, but I have fired one."
"Come on, then," O'Neill insisted and tugged Blair away.
Ten minutes later, clad in SGC fatigues and wearing a weapon, hair pulled back into a tail to keep it out of the way, Blair settled his pack onto his shoulders, clapped his hat on his head and joined O'Neill at the foot of the ramp. Rescuing Daniel was priority, and he knew a medical team was on standby, ready to come through the Gate the instant Daniel was found. Jack had a long length of rope coiled around his shoulder to enable them to get down to Daniel if they found a way to open the trap.
Watching the incredible whoosh of power as the Gate opened, the energy field billowing out toward them, Blair's eyes widened. What a rush it was to know he was about to step onto his second alien planet. The reason for it was crummy. Some of those pit traps were deep enough to cause broken bones, even death, in the victims. Sometimes the pits had stakes in them to impale the victims or poisonous snakes. The rigidity of the Colonel's jaw proved he'd thought of that already. He was beating himself up for causing this to happen, although, as a soldier, he wouldn't really buy into the archaeological booby trap thing as easily as Daniel would.
"From what Daniel said, you probably thought the Codex was the most important thing in the room," he reminded the older man. "You'd have expected that to be the trigger, if there even was one. Just because the place looked like it might have traps didn't mean it did."
"Yeah, but I should've realized that not everyone who came in there would know anything about a codex. Gold always attracts tomb robbers, Daniel says. *I* didn't know it. Most intruders would go right for the gold. He warned me and I didn't listen. I'm an idiot."
"You didn't *mean* it," Blair reassured him as they started up the ramp.
"No! Ya think?"
He *was* hurting. That sarcasm was a real cover for his worry. In some ways, O'Neill reminded Blair of Jim. The military attitude, first of all, and then the fact that the Colonel wasn't exactly comfortable with letting his emotions show. He was better at it than Jim was, though. Not only might his friend be dead but, if that were true, he had caused it. If Daniel were dead, O'Neill would be in a bad way. The only one who could grant the colonel the absolution he needed so badly would be Daniel himself. Blair had a hazy memory of someone telling him that Jack's little boy had gotten hold of his service revolver and accidentally killed himself. He must blame himself for that tragedy every moment of every day. He didn't need another tragedy to take blame for. That hard, cold expression in his eyes made Sandburg shiver. They had to rescue Daniel. They just had to.
They stepped through the event horizon and Blair abandoned himself to the crazy ride. What a rush! And he might get to do this on a regular basis. He loved it. But when they stepped out into a muggy heat in a clearing with near-jungle encroaching from all sides, the worry for Daniel came back.
O'Neill's face was tight as he surveyed the terrain, his gun at ready. Remembering his own, Blair held it at ready, checking out the edges of the trees for any sign of activity. It was possible the pit into which Daniel had fallen opened into a tunnel that led out to the jungle. If Daniel had been able to move, he could be out there somewhere trying to get back. Natives could be hiding there, too; there was plenty of cover. He doubted it, though. A place like the huge pre-Columbian pyramid that rose off to one side of the Stargate would often be a religious focus for later tribes who came along, who didn't understand the place. The pyramid had the look of something designed by an Earth-based culture. He hadn't been around the galaxy enough to guess whether certain architectural features were consistent from planet to planet, yet pyramids had arisen in ancient Egypt and the Americas, evidently separate from each other, with no genuine evidence of cultural diffusion, unless you counted something like Thor Heyerdahl's Ra expedition theories. Or unless you had a Stargate...
Sam Carter appeared in the temple doorway, a small dressing on her forehead, and waved. "No luck, sir," she called. "Hi, Blair. I hope you can help us. We're not up on ancient ruins and I've been over the place with a fine tooth comb, looking for another way down."
Blair hoped he could help, too. He let them lead him into the pyramid, then he stopped, jaw dropping, scarcely aware of Teal'c, staff weapon in his hand, standing near a platform beside a golden idol. The place was incredible, a real treasure trove, full of more artificts than he had ever seen this side of a musem. He'd never seen a more wonderful archaeological find. Scanning the room, his eyes lingered momentarily on the various artifacts, seeking out anything that looked familiar or particularly dangerous. That was when he spotted the place where Daniel must have disappeared. The place where the dust had been disturbed made a ring around the movable stone.
Dropping to his knees beside it, Blair traced the circle with his fingertips, probing, trying to tell if there was a small trigger other than the one that had been activated when O'Neill picked up the golden statue. He couldn't feel anything. The edges were slightly rough but not enough to allow for any triggers.
Leaning very close, he brought his mouth down to the hairline crack and bellowed, "Daniel!" at the top of his lungs.
"We attempted that already, Blair Sandburg," Teal'c explained. "It appears that sound does not penetrate."
"He might have been knocked out by his fall, too," Blair pointed out. "I thought we'd try that first in case he's awake now." Sitting back on his heels he looked up at Daniel's teammates and saw fear and worry on all their faces. On Jack's, he saw guilt, too, but then he was good at the guilt game himself and he knew all too well how to recognize it.
"Do you know much about pyramids like this one?" Sam asked, squatting down beside him and tracing the contour of the circular stone the way he had.
"I was in one, once, up the Amazon. It wasn't as big as this, and this one is a lot closer to Mayan than anything the Incans built. It's sort of like Mayan with an accent." He wanted to study it, to figure out the people who had made it. Had they actually come from Earth? Had this pyramid been a result of time away from the old ways, or simply due to what was available for building here? "The one I knew had some pits that opened and sucked people in. A couple of them had passages that led out into the jungle--away from the temples." Blair hadn't liked the tunnels; they were damp and eerie and full of trailing vine roots and creepy crawly creatures, along with a snake or two. That kind of thing went with field work in jungle settings, something he *was* used to. He didn't mind the dark, enclosed places as much as he minded heights, but they weren't fun. The problem with them was that the openings to such tunnels could be anywhere from right within the ring of trees to further away, depending on soil conditions and the energy of the builders. They would be overgrown now, maybe even collapsed. The better way would be to trigger the opening again and, when it opened, jam it open with something solid. A piece of stone that wouldn't shatter, that would grant them access to the underground place. He explained his reasoning.
"So, unless we want to search for weeks in the jungle outside with no guarantees of finding the right tunnel, if it even exists, we need to get this to open again? Last time, when it opened, it threw stone heads at us." The Colonel gestured sweepingly at the headless statues in the four corners of the room and the rubble that remained of their heads. Gemstone eyes regarded Blair eerily out of the fragments.
"It looks like it doesn't have any heads to toss this time," Blair said, staring up at the headless figures in the four corners of the pyramid, designed to look as if they held up the roof overhead. What did they call those guys anyway? Cababs? No, that wasn't right. Bacabs? That sounded better. Daniel would know.
How had Blair gotten into this position? All three members of SG-1 gazed at him as if they believed he'd produce a rabbit out of a hat with no more effort than it took to say, 'Presto chango.' He'd screwed up his own life so badly--and now they expected him to save Daniel. Panic raced through him. This was too much. He didn't know how to do it.
Even as he thought that, he was standing up. "Let's see the trigger place," he said, and the confidence in his voice belied the quivering in his gut. "Where was the statue when you picked it up, Colonel?"
"Right where it is now," O'Neill replied. "We put it back to try to reset the trigger."
"Okay." Blair rubbed his hands together, then he took off his hat and mopped his forehead with his sleeve. It was muggy in here, getting steamier by the minute. He was sweating badly, but part of that could be the pressure he was under. "Teal'c, see that stone fragment over there, the long one? Go and get that. You're probably the only one of us who can lift it. I'm going to try to reset this and, if it works, we can trigger the opening again. When that happens, I need you to jam that stone in the opening really fast to keep it from closing on us."
Teal'c didn't waste time exclaiming. Not one of your chatterboxes. He went to get the stone.
"I figured it was probably set hydraulically," Sam told Blair. "But I'm not sure how it works."
"The easiest way is to use a suitable application of weight to the stand," Blair heard himself say. "Just putting the statue back isn't enough, any more than it would be enough to fire an arrow just by putting it in the bow. The natives who built it wouldn't have had high tech tools to set ir right, so we shouldn't need that, either. I think it's probably going to take several of us to do it, but Teal'c is the only one of us who can lift that humongous stone, so he can't help. Think of it as cocking a gun, Colonel."
"We tried that," Sam explained. "At least Jack did."
"This time we're going to use the three of us while Teal'c waits. There's not really room for more to operate around it. If we can't do it this way, I'll have to figure out something else." He took a deep breath and stepped into position.
"This is going to your head, isn't it, Sandburg?"
It was, but not in the way Jack meant. Blair felt needed, essential to the mission. These people wanted him here. They trusted him. If he screwed up, he was pretty sure they would understand and never blame him for it. But he didn't think he was going to screw up. He could do this. God, he hoped he could do this.
Mouth still tight, O'Neill let Blair direct him. He, Sam, and the Colonel formed a circle around the stone platform. Lifting the idol to one side, Blair could tell from its weight that it was pure gold. Incredible. It was probably worth more than he'd make in his entire life. "Okay, everybody, I want you to press down on this platform. Start light, and if that doesn't do it, press harder. We have to get it to lock back in place. And it's a pretty delicate thing, too, so if you feel it start to lock, say so quick, so I can put the idol in place."
"Maybe we should push it down with the idol already in place," suggested Sam. That way, the counterweight will be there all the time."
That made sense. O'Neill grabbed it and set it in place, and the three of them put their hands on the edges of the platform around it. "Now," ordered the colonel, and they pushed.
It felt like pushing the Cascade Mountains. At first, there was no give in it at all, and Blair was sure he had been wrong. Even if he was right, the others would have figured this out on their own, given time. Of course time might be just what Daniel didn't have.
"Harder," Sam urged. "Push harder."
Desperately they leaned more and more of their weight on the platform. At first, nothing happened, then the stone shifted fractionally under Blair's fingers, so slightly he was half-afraid he had imagined it. O'Neill gasped, "It's coming," and shoved harder. All of them pushed with all their strength.
Abruptly the stone sank down a good three inches and clicked, rising two inches back against the pressure of their hands.
"Let go!" cried Blair, yanking his hands away. Sam and Jack did the same, and the platform sat there, faintly quivering, the statue gleaming in a beam of sunlight. Blair frowned, wondering if the light had anything to do with it. Interrupt a beam of light... No, the way the platform had settled into place didn't suggest that, and it wouldn't protect the statue at night.
"Okay," he said, brushing his hands on his fatigues. "I'll trigger it. Teal'c, you get ready with the stone. Colonel, you take hold of my arm and the second anything starts, jerk me to one side. It won't help Daniel if we fall on top of him."
Everybody positioned themselves. Aware of the drop beneath his feet, Blair planted himself on the circular stone and reached out for the golden idol, shivering at the thought of the potentially lethal drop beneath his feet. He'd never liked heights much. *You can do this, Sandburg. O'Neill won't let you fall*, he insisted to himself. Taking a vast breath, he grabbed the idol with both hands and yanked it off the platform.
The entire fabric of the pyramid creaked and groaned. Beneath Blair's feet, the ground rumbled. With a quick jerk, Jack yanked him sideways just as the floor dropped away under him. Blair let out an involuntary yell of sheer panic as he felt himself start to fall, then chopped it off when he realized the colonel had him. Teal'c whipped the stone pillar around and down into the hole just as the 'floor' that had nearly carried Blair down tilted sideways, presumably to pitch the violator of the temple into the darkness. The stone jammed in beside it and it stayed that way, turned sideways, giving them a narrow passage into the depths. For an instant, Blair was afraid the stone block would smash under the weight of the hydraulic system but it didn't. Teal'c's pillar held and, after a few ominous groans and rumbles, everything fell silent again.
Jack flung himself down on his stomach beside the opening, leaning over to peer down into the depths, his flashlight already tracing the lower floor. Above him, Teal'c, Sam, and Blair stared over his shoulder at the rough, earth floor below. It wasn't that far down; the fall was survivable. There was something white down there, a collection of sticks and rocks...
"Daniel!" Jack hollered.
"Daniel Jackson!" That was Teal'c, shining a second light down beside Jack's, tracing the floor for evidence of their teammate. Sam, on her knees at Jack's side, suddenly went flat, too and poked her head and shoulders into the opening.
"I don't see him, sir," she admitted. "I...I see a couple of skeletons, and one of them is pretty much mashed up, like maybe Daniel landed on it. But he isn't there right now."
Skeletons? Gross. In all the time he'd worked with Jim, Blair had never learned to be comfortable around dead bodies. At least Daniel hadn't been killed on impact like those two must have been. Blair had feared that, and he didn't want to see the way these three would have reacted to such a loss. It would be the way he would feel if he lost Jim...if he lost him to death.
"Let's get down there," Jack insisted, grabbing up the rope he'd brought. Securing it around the platform, he fastened the other end around his waist and directed Teal'c to lower him down.
"I should go, I'm smaller," Sam offered.
O'Neill only looked at her, and she didn't say anything, though they all knew her offer had been withdrawn. Unhesitatingly, Jack slipped down through the narrow opening.
Slowly playing out the rope, Teal'c stood, his face impassive, his eyes dark and unreadable. O'Neill's weight didn't daunt him at all. When Jack let out a yell to indicate he'd reached the ground, Teal'c loosened his grip on the rope to give it play, but Blair, peering down through the hole, saw that the colonel had removed it. He was holding something in his hand, his knuckles white.
"Daniel's hat," Sam breathed at Blair's side. Raising her voice to carry to the colonel, she called, "He must be all right, sir. He realized he couldn't get out the way he fell in, so he probably went to explore the tunnel. He'd have a flashlight, unless it was broken in the fall."
"I'll follow the tunnel," O'Neill called up. "Sandburg, you get down here and come with me. Carter, you and Teal'c head for the jungle and go the way this tunnel is heading. See if you can find him out there. We'll meet up with you on the outside."
Hauling up the rope for Blair, Teal'c nodded in compliance. "We will find him, O'Neill," he announced. "He will not be far."
The Colonel looked up. "Nice work, Sandburg," he called. "Come on down and let's get moving."
Blair snapped a sketchy salute. "Yes, sir, Colonel, sir," he replied cheekily in an attempt to break the tension.
That won a dark look from O'Neill, but all of them were so relived not to find a huddled, broken body at the foot of the drop that he let it pass. Blair decided he'd better get used to taking orders from the military. It looked like that would be his usual status from now on.
*God, Jim, this is hard*, he thought. *I wish it hadn't been this way. Where are you right now? Do you even mind that I'm gone*?
Jim Ellison was not quite at the minding stage yet. Lying on a cot in the back of a military jet, he was only dimly aware of the handcuffs securing his wrists. The blood rushed in his veins and acid churned in his stomach. Sensations bludgeoned him: the roar of the jet engines so close at hand, the quivering vibration of the flight, the brilliance of an overhead light when he struggled to open his eyes. Still dominated by the drug, he wasn't up to thinking yet. *Turn down the pain dial*, he thought groggily, remembering the many times Sandburg had coached him to do just that. But Sandburg wasn't here. Sandburg had gone, and now Jim's worst fears were realized. He didn't know where he was or how he'd gotten here, but that Maybourne guy wasn't exactly on the up and up. Maybe he wasn't even a colonel, but he'd known too much. Jim's secret might be safe from the general population, but this guy had found out, and this guy had the power. That made him all the more dangerous.
Jim knew without a doubt that he was about to be delivered to a laboratory, where he would be studied and tested and sampled. They might even decide to cut him into pieces to find out what made him tick.
And it was all Sandburg's fault.
Even as that furious thought pulsed through him, he tried to shake it off. Sandburg had gone because he thought it would protect him. But there was no protection anywhere, and his choice of destination had led to this. It was his fault.
*Every time the chips are really down, you prove you don't trust me.*
Sandburg's words ran accusingly through his head. Was that how it looked to the kid? Yet, when things went wrong, Sandburg was at the heart of it, every single time. Just like now. He'd run out on Jim and called the military down on him...
And he'd gone so he could protect Jim.
The plane hit an air pocket and dropped sickeningly, causing Jim's already-queasy stomach to rebel. He lost all interest in his surroundings and let the darkness take him again.
Daniel Jackson's first conscious awareness was pain, a flare of it in his head, lurking behind his eyes, and a sharper one stabbing through his left wrist. There were dull aches in other places, especially his right knee, but the wrist was the worst, and the headache made it difficult for him to think, to remember what had happened to him.
At first, it didn't even matter. He was content to lie sprawled on the earthen floor, surrounded by the damp, growing odor, tickled by trailing roots, conscious of earth beneath his right hand. Then the prickle of something hard and sharp sticking into his leg filtered into his consciousness. Whatever it was, it hadn't penetrated his skin, but it jabbed him painfully and he didn't like it. Fumbling down, he grabbed the offending item, a stick... No, that didn't feel like a stick.
Opening his eyes to investigate didn't help, because he was blind. Panic surged through him in a helpless rush, chilling him with the implications. The pain behind his eyes, the head injury... Oh, god, he couldn't see...
Mitnal! He remembered being in a Mayan temple. This had to be Mitnal, the lowest level of the Mayan underworld, a place of eternal darkness. In his confused state, that actually made sense for a minute, then he shook his aching head. No, that wasn't quite right. Mitnal was supposed to be eternally cold, too, and this place was dank and nasty, smelling of mold and earth, but it wasn't eternally cold. It was hardly even chilly.
Another level of the Mayan underworld, then. Xibalba? The realm of the dead? Was he dead, then? Was he blind because he was dead? He shivered, alone and lost, then common sense gradually reasserted itself. He'd had a fall, but he was awake and alert, and the memory of the fall came back to him. He had gone down a hole, through a trap-door, pitching down, down, down into darkness. The very memory of it made him recall the sick panic he'd felt as he dropped through the floor. It was bound to be dark down here. That was it, just darkness. Setting aside the stick, he fumbled on his belt for his flashlight, hoping it wasn't broken. Even before he reached it, he realized his eyes were beginning to adjust. Surely that was a lighter darkness, off to his right.
Curling his fingers around the flashlight, he squinted in that direction for a few moments before he turned on the light. A tunnel. That's what it was, the light at the end of the tunnel.
In his confused and aching state, the familiar phrase seemed outrageously humorous and he chuckled, the sound startling him back to a more reasonable condition. Abruptly he switched on the flashlight and its powerful beam landed directly on a grinning human skull not two feet away.
The unexpectedness of the skull nearly made him drop the flashlight, then he steadied his hand. No, not a human skull, a native skull. It was similar to homo sapiens, true, but the brow ridge was different, the overall shape was really way too brachycephalic, far more broad-headed than the human norm. There was a whole skeleton over there, the bones fractionally different, smaller than a human adult male, and, worse, there was another one here, spread out all around him. It had been the thigh bone of the victim that had poked him in the leg. Automatically he scrubbed his hand against his pant leg.
They hadn't survived their long-ago falls--maybe their bodies were more fragile than a human's--but he had, and he wasn't badly hurt either. On the other hand, they probably hadn't expected it, hadn't consciously forced themselves to go limp and ride it out the way he had. Maybe their skeletal structures were more brittle than homo sapiens. His wrist hurt but he could move his fingers. He'd put out his hands to break the fall and his wrist had taken the brunt of his landing. Okay, it was probably sprained, but it was his left wrist. He could live with that.
He must have bumped his head and knocked himself out, but he didn't think he could have been out very long because he was too alert. He'd had a knock on the head before, but this one was not as bad, he was sure of it. Now that he was fully awake, he wasn't dizzy, his vision was clear, and his mind was functioning just fine. The headache lingered but it would go away.
"Well...this isn't a very nice place," he said aloud, listening for an echo. The tunnel wasn't a high one, and it had been dug out of the earth. Overhead a tangle of roots trailed down through its roof, giving the place a fresh, growing feeling. There was a gap in the growth to suggest the opening of the trap.
He shone his light straight up, realizing sickeningly how far he'd fallen, more than a storey. He was lucky he hadn't fractured something. There was nothing up the narrow passage with a stone cap. When he flicked off the flashlight, no light oozed around the edges. It was a solid block. Raising his voice, he yelled, "Jack! Sam! Teal'c!" at the top of his lungs, but no one answered. Soundproof. At least to anyone in the pyramid.
If they hadn't worked out how to open the trap yet, they probably wouldn't, short of Teal'c blasting it open with his staff weapon. Prudently, Daniel moved a few feet down the tunnel. It wouldn't do any of them any good to have survived the fall only to be crushed by his rescuers.
That was when he remembered the light at the end of the tunnel. It only went one way, presumably leading out away from the pyramid. Should any invader survive the fall, he would be politely led away from the pyramid, out into the forest, left with a strong reminder not to return. Daniel switched off his flashlight and stared down the narrow passage. After the brightness of the torch beam, he could see nothing. No matter. There had been light there before. The best thing he could do would be to hurry out and find his way back to the pyramid before his friends could worry too much.
Turning on the flashlight again, he started off, walking slightly bent over to keep from tangling his hair in the trailing roots. Worry too much? Jack was probably going nuts. He had to know now that he shouldn't have tried to pick up the statue. He had realized it there at the last second if that look of disgust on his face had been any indication. Daniel heaved a faintly exasperated little sigh. There were times when Jack just didn't listen to a thing he said except in a casual, offhand way and it bugged him. He knew Jack must sometimes feel overwhelmed with explanations, but there had to be a way to make sure he knew what was important in Daniel's warnings. He would have thought the words 'booby trap' would have done it this time. Anybody who had ever seen Raiders of the Lost Ark would have realized that the golden statue was the obvious target. Sam had known; she had stopped herself touching one of the artifacts; and Teal'c had been careful only to observe. Jack was usually careful, too, their safety of paramount importance to him. He was probably feeling about an inch high right now. Daniel had to get back and reassure him as fast as he could--and then read him the riot act for not listening. But he might not have to. Jack might have learned that lesson already.
The two of them were so different it was sometimes a shock to Daniel to realize how close he had come to the career military man. When they'd gone to Abydos on their first trip through the Stargate, Daniel hadn't liked Col. O'Neill much. He was too hard and too stiff, and too closed away to the wonder of the new world they had found. He hadn't liked Daniel either; he and all his men had written Jackson off as a total geek. That had changed dramatically since then. Now, he counted Jack his closest friend and, if there were things about each man that irritated the other--Daniel's enthusiastic fascination with each new world and its possibilities, Jack's determination to complete the mission at the expense of wonder--that didn't really matter when the chips were down. Daniel wasn't much hurt. Okay, so his knee twinged a little when he walked, probably from a deep bruise, and his wrist throbbed with every step, but he was on his feet, unlike those poor devils he'd come crashing down on when he fell. Maybe he was hurt enough for Jack to realize that his knowledge of ancient civilizations was important to the team and as important to their survival as knowing how to use guns and plan military strategy.
Because Jack was his friend, he didn't want to delay his return to the others and prolong the colonel's worry. There had to be a way to defuse those booby traps and excavate the pyramid. What they couldn't learn from a site like that! It was incredible. If that really had been a codex....
Daniel squelched the overwhelming excitement that pulsed through him at the very idea and led his mind back to Jack. What had he done when Daniel vanished through the floor? Had he tried to break it open? To reset the trigger? Gone for help? Maybe the Corps of Engineers could figure out how to neutralize the temple, but they couldn't get to Daniel as fast as another archaeologist could. There were archaeologists on the team, but they were off-world right now, investigating what looked like Babylonian ruins on P3K-910. Daniel had gone with them on their preliminary visit and spent a couple of days there. The dig was five hours walk from the Stargate. It would take too long to bring them back.
Jack would do *something*, though. He was hardly the type to sit back and wait for someone else to come up with a solution. He had Teal'c, who was used to primitive science and ancient structures, and he had Sam, who was one of the most brilliant and inventive scientists Daniel had ever met. He had instant access to the entire facility in Cheyenne Mountain, only minutes away from the pyramid. Jack would do *something*. In the meantime, Daniel would see to his own rescue.
There *was* a light at the end of the tunnel, growing brighter with every step he took. This time, when he shut off the flashlight, he could see it clearly, actual sunlight, visible now that he had rounded a bend in the tunnel. Memorizing the angle of the bend in order to plan his route back to the temple if he came out too deeply in the trees, he hurried forward, anxious to return to his friends. Surely they hadn't triggered any more traps in his absence. He was positive they would still be all right as they searched for him.
The tunnel led out into a clearing surrounded with small, stone dwellings lined up around the opening in a wide circle, deeply buried in vines and plant growth to suggest long abandonment. If there were natives nearby, they might have given up on the pyramid and moved away. A permanent campfire lined with stones and girded with carved stone seats was placed off to his left, weeds and vines working their way up to disrupt its stone floor. The vine-shrouded buildings didn't match anything he remembered seeing on any digs or read about in any of his archaeology textbooks. They were tall and narrowed at the top in what might be a rough attempt to copy the structure of the pyramid, with round windows set over each door, the stones held in place with vividly colored mortar, now faded and chipped. The place was obviously uninhabited. But then, who owned the cattle they had seen in the clearing? Who kept the clearing open?
Daniel stared around at the long-abandoned village, trying to find answers, then he went over to the nearest structure to peer through the door. It looked long deserted. Nothing remained of personal possessions, although stone shelves might once have held them.
With his back to the clearing, he didn't see the pink blossom with twin rows of teeth that edged closer on the end of a trailing vine, gradually stretching out toward him, the petals raised as if to sniff the air. He wasn't aware of it until it closed over his calf like a vicious animal, sinking its sharp barbs deep into his flesh. Pain stabbed through his leg, a hot pulse of wild energy that spread through his body like wildfire and the clearing jerked before his eyes, blurring and clearing, blurring and clearing. As he tore the plant away, the bending motion made him momentarily dizzy and he went down flat on his face, gasping at the attack of vertigo.
He didn't know how long it took the giddiness to pass--it could have been ten seconds or three hours--all at once, time seemed weird to him, first racing wildly then standing still--but gradually the clearing stopped revolving before his eyes, enabling him to push himself up on his hands to look around frenziedly for any more killer plants. The one that had attacked him lay shriveled beside him, already turning black and rancid. Had it died when it bit him? Didn't it like the taste of a human being? Had it injected pollen into him? He squinted at it nearsightedly, then realized his glasses had flown off when he fell. Groping around on the mossy ground, he found them and settled them into place. They felt too tight, as if his face had ballooned up, but his exploring fingers could discover no bloating. His head must have grown, then. That was it.
Wait a minute? That was weird? His head couldn't grow. Could it?
He sat playing with the edges of his glasses, blinking dazedly, for what might have been a year but couldn't have been. Squinting skyward he realized the sun was still up--but it had it been so brassy and bright before? Why was everything so strangely luminous? *I don't feel right*, he thought with a momentary burst of lucidity, but the reflection made him giggle oddly, the sound sharp and grating on his ears. *I feel with my fingers*, he corrected himself with mental sternness, putting out his hands and touching the moss-encrusted stone beneath him. Had moss ever felt so alive, so pulsing with strange energy before? Incredible. It *was* alive! It was talking to him. He bent his head to listen and it spouted a little face and stuck out its tongue at him before the face dissolved back into the fuzzy green of the moss again.
An avian creature with brilliant red and green plumage soared across the clearing, squawking loudly. With a panicked shout at the unexpected sound, he lunged unsteadily to his feet and whirled around to see what enemy advanced. It was all a dastardly plot. They were out to get him! That was it, that was what the moss had tried to say. The moss was his ally, his only true friend. He bent and patted it fondly before he cast a suspicious look around at the deserted structures. Hiding! His enemies were hiding inside, lurking in wait until he lowered his guard! They meant to kill him. Jack had tried, but he was too smart for them. He'd fooled them. He'd survived. Jack never listened, never cared what he had to say. Jack wanted him dead. The hasty conclusion seemed the most rational thing he'd ever thought. Jack was his enemy, out to destroy him. He had to hide.
Limping painfully toward the nearest stone cabin he paused when it advanced and retreated in a strange, darting manner, teasing him by holding itself just out of his reach. Okay, he'd have to stalk it. He squinted at it carefully, certain it would realize he was biding his time. Yep, it had stopped now. Well...that was interesting. It was waiting for him. Maybe it was on his side, like the moss. Triumphantly he charged up to it, feeling the coolness of stone beneath his fingertips. Cool, vibrant stone, alive, like the moss, it caressed his palms with rough, tactile affection. *I am a rock*, he thought, and chortled at the words. Suddenly he raised his voice and sang aloud, "And a rock feels no pain. And an island never cries." Perfect. He was a rock. He was Daniel the rock, and he sang magnificently. He should be on the stage, with a voice like that. Did they let rocks go on stage? He'd have to stage a pro-rock protest.
Ducking inside the stone structure, he drew the vines closed over the opening so no one would see him. He had to hide, he had to lie in wait for his enemies. The stones would guard him, the moss would warn him, but in case they forgot and turned against him, too, he'd have to be ready. Very carefully, he pulled out his MP-5 and checked it. When they attacked, he would be ready. No one would ever get the better of Dr. Daniel Jackson. Not the stones, not the moss. Not Jack.
Jack? But Jack was his friend?
No! Jack had tried to trick him, to kill him. Jack had made him fall down a dark hole. Jack was his enemy. A terrible desolation filled his spirit. His friend had turned on him. His friend was his enemy. He was alone. Sam and Teal'c--they had let him do it. They were his enemies, too. They would come for him and kill him, unless he killed them first. He checked the gun, made sure it was loaded. They had to die.
But that was wrong. They couldn't die. He'd be alone here if they died. Weren't they supposed to be his friends. His eyes stung with unshed tears but he blinked them away. No! They were out to get him. They hated him. They would kill him if he didn't kill them first.
Absently, he rubbed his swollen calf as he plotted the demise of his enemies. He couldn't kill them from ambush, oh, no. That wouldn't do. If he did that, they'd never know who killed them. He had to tell them, to challenge them. He wanted to see the fear blossom in their eyes, right before he gunned them down. They would fall down into his friend the moss, and it would produce mouths and gobble them down. Hide the evidence...
Deep inside, a shiver of unease ran through him. Gun them down? That wasn't his way. Why was he thinking like this? He wasn't a killer. No, something was wrong, something had happened...
Yes, Jack had deliberately ignored his warnings, Jack had made him risk his own life. Jack was out to destroy him.
Jack O'Neill must die!
They split into groups of two for the search, Blair with O'Neill, who wanted to keep an eye on the hyper young anthropologist, and Carter with Teal'c. It didn't take Jack more than a few minutes to realize that, when there was danger, Blair had a good, clear head. He might be uneasy, he might be nervous, but he didn't stop thinking. He carried his gun like he knew how to use it, and he was alert and ready for trouble. He didn't seem to like the dark tunnel, but then Jack wasn't especially keen on it himself, not with the irritating vines that dangled down from the ceiling and tried to tangle him up when he hurried too fast or slapped him across the face if he didn't concentrate on them every second. He had worked with Sandburg before, but that had been a diplomatic thing. This was bound to be different. He hoped the kid was up to it.
Sandburg's hair caught on a vine and he had to take undo it from his pony tail to free himself. He left it loose, running fingers through it to free any tendrils of roots from it, then clapped on the hat he'd removed because it was steamy in the tunnel. "Nasty," he muttered in explanation.
O'Neill's mouth quirked in an answering grin. Sandburg had that right. The place *was* nasty. Its only advantage was that it would lead him to Daniel.
They emerged from the side of a hill into a deserted, overgrown village composed of stone huts that were vaguely pyramidal in shape, and O'Neill held up a hand when Sandburg would have gone plunging out to investigate. "Hold it," he muttered under his breath. "This looks bad." He had an uneasy sensation that he was being watched, a creepy, crawly feeling on the back of his neck, as if someone had just painted a target there.
"Daniel would have been *thrilled*," Blair told him as they hovered within the mouth of the tunnel. He didn't appear to feel the uneasiness Jack felt, but then he wasn't as used to dangerous missions as the colonel was. His crises usually took place on city streets, not the wilder terrain of a near-jungle planet. "Look at those buildings; it's as if somebody tried to copy the pyramid. Oh, man, this is great. Whoever built this may have been the Mayans but I don't think so. I think the natives did it to imitate the Mayans."
That might be useful to know, but it didn't help at the moment. "Because they liked the pyramid? Or as a cover?" Jack's eyes raked the clearing, searching for movement.
"Could be either." Sandburg frowned, then knelt, pointing at the ground. "Look, Daniel came this way. Here's a footprint. Looks like our boots, regulation issue. If there are any natives, they'll wear something different, probably handmade sandals."
Jack, who had already spotted the footprint and realized that Daniel had made it this far on his own, couldn't help wondering if it was his arrival that had made possible natives hide, although this place didn't exactly look like the height of civilization. There could be natives nearby, hiding at the presence of strangers or the people on this planet might have gone to ground in a less obvious shelter. Some peoples did that when anyone came through the Stargate, but to be so cagy implied that the Goa'uld visited from time to time, which was *not* a happy thought. Unless they were just naturally wary, they'd have no reason to hide--unless Daniel's arrival had driven them to it. Of course there might not be anyone here at all.
Daniel might have just headed back to the pyramid. He was with it enough to know what way he'd come and he'd try to go that way rather than wandering into the jungle, and he wouldn't have stayed to give this place more than a cursory examination, knowing his friends were sure to be looking for him. So he was probably between here and the pyramid unless he had been injured when he fell. He could be disoriented, drifting around at random. O'Neill's stomach tightened but he pushed the thought away. It never helped to borrow trouble.
"Okay," he decided. "Let's move out. Stay behind me and don't go running all over the place to check it out, no matter how interesting you think it is. There could be natives watching us now. Don't go into one of those stone huts unless I tell you to."
Sandburg's head bobbed up and down in confirmation, his hair flying around the edges of his hat. O'Neill had to admit he still didn't like the hair. The wide-eyed excitement on the kid's face wasn't quite as eager as it had been on his first mission, but it wasn't gone. Most of it was muted by the loss that never quite left his eyes, but he shoved that aside and followed Jack into the clearing, weapon at ready, eyes busy as he studied the broken firepit, the shape of the stone buildings, evaluating the architecture. O'Neill knew he wasn't an archaeologist; his background was different from Daniel's, who knew far more about ancient cultures and could read ancient languages--and could whip out modern ones to speak as fluently as a native. Sandburg might know another language or two, but he probably couldn't read ancient Mayan, assuming they had a language. No, they must have one or Daniel wouldn't have been going on about that Codex book thingie.
Sandburg sniffed the air. For wood smoke? Cooking? He must not have smelled anything dangerous, but he gave the plant growth a wide berth. "Look at this, Colonel," he pointed out, gesturing to an ugly, vicious looking pink plant at the end of a long tendril. "I think it could come after you and take a bite out of you. Even as he spoke, it lunged for him and he jumped out of range with a wild yell, landing hard on his backside and scrambling away from the darting blossom, glancing wildly over his shoulder to make sure there were no more of them.
Timing it carefully, Jack ground the thing under his boot. For all he knew, it was poisonous. Great! Just what they didn't need. He put out a hand to haul Blair to his feet, and they scanned the surrounding terrain for more of the unpleasant plants. The only one they found was shriveled and dead, but at the speed the first one had made, others might be approaching from the jungle.
The feeling they were being watched persisted and O'Neill didn't like it. If the locals had concealed themselves when Jackson got here, then where was he? Had they snatched him? Was he passed out in one of the weird huts? "We'll search this place. Stick with me, Sandburg. Don't go running off. If you see something we need to know about, *tell* me about it first before you check it out. Got it?"
"Yessir," Blair replied. He grinned faintly then he fell into step as the Colonel led the way to the nearest hut.
The first two buildings were deserted. They were as primitive inside as out, but Jack got a weird feeling from them, an unhappy sense of desolation. The pyramid hadn't made him feel like this, but the deserted village made something unpleasant twist in his gut. Each structure held no more than its own individual firepit and a benchlike protrusion made of stone that lined three of the four walls? Chairs? Sleeping benches? Storage shelves? There was no way of telling. Any artifacts were long gone from here, and only the tangled, invading vines remained.
As O'Neill started toward the third building, its door of vines stirred and parted and Jack found himself looking down the barrel of Daniel's MP-5. The archaeologist's hand was as steady as a rock, and his face was as hard and inimical as that of Apophis. "Hold it right there," he gritted out. For an instant, Jack doubted that Daniel even knew who he was.
"Daniel!" Blair cried in elation, then his voice trailed off into an uneasy silence. Jack, his face tightening, grabbed Sandburg by the arm to restrain him. "It's us," Sandburg called as if he was afraid Daniel didn't know them.
The archaeologist stared at them through narrowed eyes, almost as if he really didn't recognize them, as if the friendship between him and Jack had been erased completely, as if it had never existed. "Hello, Jack," he said, and the sarcasm in his voice was thick enough to chop up with a knife. He wavered slightly but when Jack took an involuntary step closer to help him, he gave a peremptory gesture with the gun and yelled, "Stay back! All of you, stay back."
*All of you*? "Daniel," O'Neill offered warily, realizing something was not right here. A wild man looked at him out of his best friend's eyes, a man who seemed to know him but whose eyes glittered with a demented rage. "You want to tell me what's wrong here?" he prompted gently.
"*Wrong*?" Daniel exploded, his face twisted with hate and fury. "What the hell do you *think* is wrong, Colonel O'Neill? You just tried to *kill* me." He caught himself at that and, for a second, his face twisted, allowing pain to overwhelm the fury. Eyes narrowed, he risked a glance around the clearing, tense and frightened, jerking at the sounds of birds and the rustle of tree branches. "You never listen to me," he blurted out. "It's always the mission, but it's always *your* take on the mission, *Jack*, never what anybody else might have to offer. Oh, I forgot, Sam's military. She can do no wrong. But anything *I* might have to say, never mind, it couldn't possibly be important." He ducked wildly as if something invisible had attacked him, but when he came up again, he still clutched the gun. He didn't seem to have an obvious head injury but his eyes weren't focusing right. He must have hit his head when he fell.
"You know that's not true, Daniel," Jack soothed, but a part of his mind couldn't help wondering if there was a grain of truth in the demented babbling. Something had happened to Jackson, maybe even something more than falling through a hole in the floor. He might be injured, maybe a blow to the head had caused his sudden paranoia. Under normal circumstances, the man had abundant confidence in himself, in his take on alien planets and cultures, and in his incredible knowledge that had saved the team from certain destruction more times than O'Neill could count. But look at him now. His face was flushed, his eyes glittered wildly, his pupils were a little dilated. He could have a major head trauma. He seemed to be hallucinating, too, reacting to things that only he could see. They had to get him back to the base infirmary and Frasier right away.
"Do I? I can't count the number of times you chopped me off when I started to tell you something." Daniel's eyes glittered with sudden brightness and tears traced twin trails down his cheeks. He touched them doubtfully, then scrubbed them away as if they meant to hurt him. He was talking fairly rationally, but the tone of his voice was strange and unnatural. "On Chulak, on our first real mission after I came back from Abydos..." Shifting restlessly, his gaze darted back and forth between Jack and Sandburg.
"Oh, for crying out loud," Jack exploded, frustrated and worried at the same time. "I didn't know you very well then, and you were giving me tons of information I didn't need for the mission, and you know it. We've both changed since then. We know how to work together. Come on, Daniel, you know better than this."
"The colonel's right," soothed Blair. "I know that from Jim. In the middle of a crisis, army types need only essential information. You've learned that, and he's learned that what might not sound important to the military mind can hold the vital clue. You know it, Daniel. It's all right. He'd never hurt you on purpose. He'd do anything he could to help you. He's more than your commanding officer. He's your best friend."
Sandburg was on the money there. Jackson was interested in so many facets of their missions through the Stargate that, in the beginning, he'd just dumped information on the team helter skelter, whether it would help them or not. He'd learned to hold a lot of that back, more than Jack had actually realized until now. These days, unless something pushed all his buttons and drove him to babble about it, the things he pointed out really did pertain to the mission and their survival. Like the booby trap thing today. In a way, it was hard for Jack to put the memory of the geek he'd first met out of his mind; maybe it inadvertently colored his subsequent perception of Daniel, in spite of how much he'd learned to value him since then and to respect his seemingly limitless store of knowledge. He opened his mouth to say so. Maybe he didn't tell Daniel often enough how much the team needed him. If that would help calm him down now, they could rush him back through the Stargate for treatment, find out what was wrong with him.
Daniel's eyes focused on Blair and filled with new hurt. "It didn't take you long to replace me, did it, Jack?" he cried accusingly. "Listen to him, saying what you want to hear, playing your yes man." He waggled the gun at Sandburg, who winced but stood his ground. That seemed to infuriate Daniel and the rage came back in waves. He fired wildly. Sandburg must have sensed it in his eyes because he flung himself flat with a wild yell and the bullet missed him, clipping the edge of his pack. "Get back," Daniel bellowed. "Keep the trees away from me. They want to hurt me. They're coming." He fired again, wildly, over Sandburg's head. The anthropologist tried to dig himself into the ground, arms over his head, making himself as small a target as possible.
Jack started to move but the gun whipped around and leveled itself at his gut. Freezing, he lifted his eyes to Daniel's and saw none of their usual warmth, nothing of the history between them, only a dark, implacable hatred that tore into Jack's heart even as he realized it was an induced hatred. Panic-fear glittered in the blue eyes, and shadows lurked in their depths. He was so out of it he was nearly back on the other side. If Daniel had a head injury, if brain damage caused this, if it was permanent...
"Come on, Daniel," he soothed, trying to keep his voice calm and steady while Sandburg levered himself up very cautiously, making no sudden moves. When Daniel was new to the team, Jack could have lunged for the gun and disarmed Jackson with no trouble, but that was in the beginning. All members of the SG teams nowadays had to spend time on the firing range to become competent with weapons and, after his first reluctant attempts, Daniel had turned into a competent shot. If Jack tried to jump him he might not make it, and the attempt would play on Daniel's present paranoia. If he were seeing things that weren't there, he might not even see Jack as himself. He might see Apophis or the monsters that lived in one's nightmares. "You know I value you. Maybe I don't say it enough, but you're one of the main reasons SG-1 is the best team going. We're the most diverse; we have the broadest knowledge base. Your perspective is always valuable to me--and I consider you my closest friend."
"You don't care about any of it," mourned Daniel, his mood switching again. He glanced at the gun in his hand as if he had never seen it before, but his hand didn't waver. "You're not *interested* in knowledge for its own sake. What a *waste*, Jack. You never listen. You didn't listen now. I said it could be booby trapped but you didn't care. Why, why, *why* won't you pay attention to me when I tell you something? I took that fall for you, Jack, because I didn't want you to die--but you didn't care if *I* died, did you?"
Jack exchanged a wary glance at Sandburg, then turned back to his best friend. "Daniel, you know that's crap. The fact that I screwed up, back there in the pyramid, doesn't mean I don't value you. It just means I'm not perfect, that I screwed up. I should have listened. For one instant, I did something dumb, and I didn't think about it. I caught myself, just not in time. I deserve a hard kick for it. But that doesn't mean what you have to say isn't important." He took a wary step closer, his stomach churning with a mixture of guilt and worry.
"No! Stay back, stay back!" Gesturing peremptorily with the gun, Daniel's face twisted again in yet another mood change. "I'll blow you away, Jack. I will. I swear it."
O'Neill froze, putting up his hands pacifically. Staring into the wild eyes of his friend and teammate, he felt completely at a loss. Okay, so he was sure he could eventually get the drop on Daniel and he might have to, but it would be better if he could disarm the man peacefully and convince him to come back to the base. He knew Carter and Teal'c were on their way here right now and they'd help. Teal'c had a zat gun, if it came down to last resorts, although zatting a guy with a head injury might be just plain stupid.
"Colonel..." Sandburg poked his arm. "Another of those killer plants." He pointed past Daniel.
"It's a trick!" screamed Daniel, firing over their heads. His hand quivered and Jack hoped it meant that, somewhere inside, the sane Daniel still lurked. But he risked one frantic glance behind him. When he saw the plant inching its way toward him, he gave a wild cry and fired at it, blasting the savage blossom with spot-on accuracy. That was when they realized more of the plants were approaching, inching their way across the overgrown stone of the central courtyard from several different directions. "Get them, get them!" shrieked Daniel. For an instant, sanity came into his eyes and he said urgently, "One of them bit me. They want to eat me." Then crafty delusion made the blue eyes glitter. "See, I still warned you. But you didn't warn me. Sandburg warned me, but not you, Jack." He blasted two more of the vicious- looking blooms in rapid succession.
Blair, who hadn't lowered his gun the whole time, even when he was flat on his belly, took out three more, causing Daniel to eye him with momentary approval. That was the sane Daniel under whatever affected him. The plant had *bit* him? Was it poisonous? Was that what was wrong with him? God, alien toxins could cause all kinds of trouble. Frasier might not even have a treatment for it.
"The plant did this to you?" Jack asked. "Tell me, Daniel. Did it affect your mind? Think. You're a scientist. You know you're not acting right. Try to fight it. You can do it. I've got faith in you."
The archaeologist shuddered, jumped frantically sideways and shot one more of them. A second later, his gun clicked, empty.
It took every ounce of self-control Jack possessed not to lunge at his deranged friend. Instead, he took his own weapon and blasted two more of the hungry flowers. The remaining few retreated and, in the silence following the weapons' fire, he could hear the distant voices of Carter and Teal'c calling his name to let him know they were coming.
Daniel took three hasty steps backward before his left leg buckled under him. With a wild, pained cry, he went down, landing hard, grabbing at the injured limb, his glasses askew on his face. That was all it took. "Watch out for those plants," O'Neill ordered Sandburg in a hasty aside before he flung himself down beside Daniel and gathered him into his arms. "It's okay, Daniel," he soothed, settling the glasses into place and running a hand across the stricken man's forehead. He was burning up with fever, and his eyes were puffy and swollen and swimming with tears. There was not a shred of awareness in them, but when Jack pulled him up against his shoulder, he blinked hard three times and said muzzily:
"Right here, buddy. You just hang on now. Sam and Teal'c are almost here and we're gonna get you back through the Stargate right away."
"...don't trust me," Daniel muttered miserably, his hand twisting in the fabric of O'Neill's jacket even as he made a conscious effort to push himself away.
"He trusts you inside, Colonel," Sandburg said without lowering his guard. "This is all the venom or poison or whatever it is. He wouldn't be hanging on like that if he didn't."
The Colonel shook his head. "It's not all the venom," he muttered disgustedly. "Part of it's probably true and he knows it. Sometimes I'm the biggest jerk in the known universe."
Blair shook his head fervently. "Not possible. That's reserved for me and Jim." He flinched as he said it. "And that's not really true, either. God, sometimes life *sucks*, man."
That said it all. Remarkably in charity with Sandburg's profound declaration, O'Neill didn't have time to say so because Carter and Teal'c burst into the clearing and stopped dead at the sight of them, alarm spreading across Carter's face, and even Teal'c's stoic mien revealed concern.
"Is Daniel Jackson injured?" the Jaffa asked, moving closer.
"Watch out for the plants," Sandburg cautioned, firing at another one that ventured tentatively in Carter's direction. She jumped and looked past that one to another, further away.
"I saw some of those on the way here, Colonel," she admitted. "It didn't look pleasant, but it didn't threaten us." She knelt beside them and put out her hand to touch the archaeologist's face. "He's burning up," she blurted.
"Ya think?" O'Neill felt a chill trickle down his spine in spite of the muggy warmth of the day. "One of them evidently bit Daniel and shot him up with some kind of toxin. We've gotta get him back to the base right away." What if the plant was lethal? He didn't even want to *think* about that.
"I will take him." Teal'c lay his staff weapon beside O'Neill and scooped up Jackson as if he were a child, settling him easily in his muscular arms. Daniel blinked at him dazedly, muttered, "Teal'c," in a voice that had no strength, and allowed the Jaffa to hold him. A second later he started screaming, "Jaffa!" and writhing in a wild attempt to get free, all recognition vanished from his face.
"Easy, Daniel Jackson. It is I, Teal'c." The big man's voice was utterly reassuring, and Daniel stilled under its soothing tones. Sagging again, he squeezed his eyes tightly shut as if afraid of what he would see if he left them open.
Jack rose with them, making sure Daniel was as comfortable as possible, smoothing the short hair back out of force of habit. Daniel's shorter hair didn't fall in his eyes these days. Remembering all the times he had wanted to grab a scissors and snip off those locks, Jack discovered, perversely, that he missed them now. He was hardly the brow-stroking type, but he let his hand linger a second longer, offering reassurance. Daniel blinked, smiled at him muzzily, then his eyes clouded again and his eyebrows drew together and he turned his face away against Teal'c's chest.
Sandburg passed over Teal'c's staff weapon, pointing past the huts where a whole collection of hungry plants had started in their direction. Without hesitation, O'Neill raised the Jaffa weapon and blasted them. "Let's get the hell out of here," he commanded, and he and Carter fell in on either side of Teal'c. Interesting that Sandburg took up the rear guard, gun at ready, before O'Neill even had to order it. He looked scared, both of the dangerous plants and for Daniel, but the hand that held his weapon was as steady as a rock.
Eyes shifting nervously to cover the terrain, O'Neill quickened his pace to a dog trot, then a run, as SG-1 raced back for the Stargate, trailed by hungry plants the whole way. O'Neill blasted them away in front, Sandburg from behind, and Carter took out any that came from her side.
They must have set a new land speed record for crossing rugged and dangerous terrain on the trip back to the Stargate. Carter keyed in the symbols for Earth and punched in the recognition code as the five of them jumped through the gate before the nearest deadly blossoms came within a hundred feet of them. *Hurry, hurry, hurry*, thought O'Neill as they spiraled home across the galaxy. *Don't let us be too late*.
When Jim Ellison revived, his head was somewhat clearer, clear enough for him to identify his surroundings without hesitation as a secure laboratory. This was the kind of place he'd always feared he'd end up from the moment Sandburg had explained to him precisely what a Sentinel was. It was probably inevitable that he'd found his way here now, but that didn't stop the fury, resentment, and blind panic that churned in his guts as he surveyed the ultra-modern, pristine lab.
He was alone in it, but a camera mounted on the wall had a glowing red button that proved he was under surveillance. An attempt to move proved that he was strapped to a table and, when he craned his neck, he saw a whole system of monitors over his head like those that reported the condition of patients in Intensive Care Units. These monitors might report different information, but Jim didn't like the sight of them.
From the sensitivity of his stomach, he suspected he'd been drugged again and that it was just now wearing off. Had additional tests been performed while he was out of it? What was planned for him now? There was a blood pressure cuff fastened loosely around his arm, one that tightened automatically as he lay there and took his blood pressure. Electrodes were attached at his temples and to his chest, and he appeared to be naked under the sheet that covered him up to the waist. Even more undignified, they had catheterized him, probably so he couldn't complain of a need of the bathroom, which might offer him a chance of escape.
Jim Ellison felt more anger pump through his system than he had ever felt before. "Sandburg..." he growled under his breath.
"Test one: Sound," a voice echoed through the room. "Mr. Ellison, if you choose to cooperate, inform us of the first moment you hear the sound."
"You can take your sound and shove it up your ass," he yelled.
"Anger is to be expected. Don't be concerned, Mr. Ellison, we do not intend to harm you. The electrodes will detect your responses. Cooperation would make the test easier."
"You mean it'd be easier for *you*," he countered, hating that bland, unfeeling voice with every fiber of his being. It wasn't Maybourne, the guy who had tricked him into his car. This was probably one of his tame scientists. What made people into the kind of scum who would do something like this?
"For all of us," the voice replied, unconcerned. "Test begins."
Jim braced himself not to react, but the sound was so insidious that he found himself listening to it against his better judgment. Over his head, the monitors beeped in warning the instant the sound became audible. Traitorous machine. That wasn't fair. He knew the tone was too faint for normal hearing to detect at this level. They now had proof, probably recorded, taped, filmed, and documented, that he had exceptional hearing.
*Jim, turn down the sound dial*. Sandburg's coaching slid into his head and he focused and concentrated, letting the sound slide away, the way he would turn down his stereo or shut out Blair's tribal chants. Even as he did it, he knew he had reacted too late. The machine stopped beeping, although the sound was louder. *Stupid, Ellison*, he told himself. Now they *knew* that not only did he hear sounds too faint for normal human hearing but that he could sham normalcy. Not only that, they'd realize he could do the same thing with his other senses. Okay, so the drugs had probably befuddled his brain but he'd just given himself away to them in two separate ways.
On the other hand, he wouldn't let himself cooperate with them. He'd block their readings, never letting them know how well he could hear or see, how well his senses worked. He'd blur every test, confuse them as much as he could. He didn't owe them this. Simply because he had enhanced senses didn't mean the government had a right to treat him like a lab animal. He wasn't a guinea pig, he was a man, and he had his rights. They'd pay for this.
The sound had built again while he fumed, growing higher, shriller, nearly painful. He went for the pain dial again, but no matter how much he adjusted it, the sound grew worse and worse until it bludgeoned him with agony. He couldn't even clap his hands over his ears to stop the incredible torment. Writhing against the straps, he heard himself screaming, "Stop it! Stop it!" at the top of his lungs in a vain attempt to drown out the clamor. As the sound tore into his skull, his entire universe focused on it, and the sound dial just wouldn't go any lower. Confused and disoriented, he felt the agony wash him away in a sea of helpless confusion that faded into darkness as a distant voice intoned, "Test over."
"...no evidence of natives," O'Neill said tightly, his eyes darting to his wristwatch to check the time. They should have heard something from the Infirmary by now.
When they had stumbled through the Stargate, they found a medical team waiting with a gurney, Dr. Frasier in charge. Teal'c laid Daniel on the gurney and the team wheeled him away, Frasier beginning her examination on the run.
"This isn't from the fall," Jack had yelled after her. "He got attacked by some kind of carnivorous plant. It bit him in the leg."
"A toxin, you mean?" Frasier paused long enough to absorb the information. "What were his symptoms?"
"Extreme paranoia, lack of trust," Jack told her.
"Abrupt mood swings," offered Blair. "Evident fever. Pupils dilated. Visual hallucinations. Delusions. Pain from the wound--it's in his left leg."
One of the med techs ripped open the pant leg and exposed a twin row of marks, bright red, bruised around the edges like a bite mark, only the punctures matched no Earth set of teeth. There wasn't much blood. Maybe the toxin clotted it. Frasier nodded. "Come to the Infirmary after the briefing," she urged. "I'll want more details, but this gives me something to go on." They wheeled Daniel away.
When SG-1 and Sandburg started to follow, General Hammond spoke from the control room overhead. "Briefing room now, SG-1 and Sandburg. I want the details right away."
"But, General, Daniel..." Carter had nodded after the vanished gurney.
"Give Dr. Frasier time to do her work," the General urged. "I want to know what happened, what went wrong. We'll do this fast."
'Fast' wasn't quick enough for Jack, whose entire attention was focused on what was going on in the Infirmary. He was reacting here by rote.
"Excuse me, General, but I think there *was* evidence of natives," Blair put in. "We didn't see anybody, but we did see a clearing with a herd of cattle in it."
"They couldn't be wild cattle, Mr. Sandburg?"
Blair shook his head. "No, sir. It wasn't the cattle so much as the clearing itself. That place is nearly a jungle and you could tell just by looking at it that everything grows fast. I've been in similar climates on earth. Sometimes a place could be overgrown in a day or two. Somebody had to keep that clearing open, cut back the plant growth, otherwise it would have been reclaimed by the jungle. And whoever did it may know something about those killer plants."
Jack winced at his terminology and Sandburg muttered a soft, "Sorry, man," and patted O'Neill on the arm.
"Yeah, but that doesn't matter," O'Neill insisted. "They didn't bug us and that place is too dangerous to go back. Those plant things could creep up on us in the jungle and nip away before you even saw them. Even the stuff in that pyramid isn't worth another SG team getting munched and sent off into cloud cuckoo land."
"The pyramid is right next to the Gate, sir," Sam reminded him. "It might be possible to retrieve the artifacts, especially that codex Daniel was so excited about, without excessive risk."
"Well, I know I'd feel better if we had a sample of one of those plants," Hammond stated. "Dr. Frasier said she'd like to study one; it might help her with Dr. Jackson's treatment."
Nothing could have made O'Neill more determined to return to the planet than that. "I volunteer to return and retrieve one, sir," he spoke a second before Sam and Teal'c could make the same offer. Sandburg held up his hand like a student in a classroom and said, "I'll go, too, sir. The more of us there are, the better chance we have of watching each other's backs." He didn't look like he wanted to go very badly, even if his scientific curiosity was fully aroused, but Daniel was his friend, too, although he wasn't as close as the rest of SG-1 was. Still, he'd been in on this and had the right go to.
"We'll all go, sir," Carter offered. "We'll need to devise a container in which to transport one of the blossoms. I am not sure we can bring a live one back; they seem to exist at the end of extremely long vines. But we can put some fresh earth in a container and fit the blossom in with it. We'll also need environmental biohazard suits."
"If we can find a way to neutralize the toxin, the artifacts in the pyramid might be worth retrieval," Hammond decided. "But make sure the environmental suits are impervious to those plants and if they're not, I want everyone back here right away."
"Could we go and check on Daniel before we leave, sir?" Carter asked.
"Five minutes, no more. Find out what Dr. Frasier needs then report to the gate room in biohazard gear. Take half an hour over there, no more." He looked impatient, but O'Neill knew him too well to believe it was because of anything they had done. He'd come to value Daniel, too, and he was worried about him, the way they all were.
They crowded into the observation room overhead and peered down at Daniel as he lay, surrounded by medical personnel, twisting restlessly against the restraints that had been put in place to keep him from flinging himself off the table and injuring himself. His head turned this way and that, his eyes slitted open as he stared around the infirmary. Suspicion colored his face, giving him the look of a wary, panicked stranger and, periodically, rage twisted his features into a savage and bestial expression, bearing no resemblance to Jack's friend. He had an IV in the back of his hand, a blood pressure cuff around his arm, and Frasier was studying a computer screen that was probably giving her feedback on his blood work. Jack activated the speaker.
"Dr. Frasier, Col. O'Neill. We're going back to the planet to try to get a sample of the plant. Is there anything you need us to look for specifically?"
Her auburn head came up from the screen, and Jack's stomach did a lurch when he saw how gravely worried she looked. "A sample is exactly what we need, Colonel. Whatever that plant injected when it bit him, it seems to function as a conventional hallucinogen, with variations that are probably due to that planet's microbiology. He's hallucinating, but even stronger is the paranoia, a strong antisocial reaction. He's half- conscious now and he does recognize me, but he's convinced I'm in league with you to kill him. Reassurances don't work. Preliminary tests indicate a reduced serotonin level in his brain. It doesn't seem to be dropping any lower now that we have him here, and I have hopes that the substance will work itself through his system the way an Earth-based hallucinogen would. We might be able to help the process along once we know more about the actual substance."
"What about flashbacks?" Sandburg asked uneasily.
Jack would rather not have raised that particular question. He remembered stories about LSD and flashbacks many years after its original use because the substance could lodge itself in the user's body and leak out somewhere down the road. He had to hope that the fact that this hallucinogen's alien base might make it less able to conceal itself in a human host body. Yet it had affected Daniel, so there were no guarantees of that.
"We don't know yet," Janet replied, her eyes moving up and down the screen as she studied the continuing readouts. "While it functions as a hallucinogen, we don't know that it mimics Earth-based hallucinogens completely. Get me a sample of that plant--and do it without any more casualties, please. The sooner we have it here the sooner we can study it and find out how to help Daniel."
Jack's eyes lingered on Daniel's face. He was flushed and disheveled, his hair in a tangle. When he saw Jack in the overhead observation area, he grimaced and struggled wildly to free himself, his eyes dark with hatred and betrayal. Even from up here, O'Neill could tell his pupils were still dilated. "Okay, we're outta here," he ground out and turned hastily, squashing down the pain he felt at the sight of his transformed friend. He had a mission to carry out.
"Thank you. I'll see the car is returned." Colonel Robert Makepeace of SG-3 hung up the telephone and sat frowning to himself. This was getting weirder by the minute.
None of the SG teams were particularly fond of Colonel Maybourne, and the sight of him lurking around the base was a sign for everyone to become extremely wary. So when Makepeace spotted him at the gate when he was returning to Cheyenne Mountain after a forty-eight hour leave, he felt a cagey urge to watch the man and see what trouble he was up to this time. Maybourne was simply waiting, killing time in his car, occasionally exchanging a few words with his driver. Makepeace parked nearby, hoping he wouldn't be observed, grateful he'd come back early. Maybe he could get a handle on Maybourne's latest scheme and let the SGC one up him for a change.
It was nearly time for him to go in or be considered AWOL when he saw Maybourne move. He got out of his car and went over to a new arrival, a rental by the license plate. He spoke to the man inside, a civilian--at least a man in civvies--who looked vaguely familiar as if Makepeace had seen him once long ago. He couldn't place the face, but maybe it was one of Maybourne's contacts.
No, because the stranger didn't seem to know him. He looked frustrated, almost angry, but not particularly at Maybourne. Then he got out of his car and went with Maybourne, who ushered him into the back seat and got into the front with the driver. That didn't make sense. Colonels who had drivers didn't usually ride up front with them. That was when Makepeace realized that the new passenger was trapped in there, struggling to get out--then just struggling. After a moment, he slumped down in the seat and the car drove away.
Makepeace frowned. Okay, so that was weird. The Marine jotted down the license number of the rental car for further reference then he headed into the Mountain. After he'd reported in, he met with the rest of SG-3 for a preliminary briefing for the mission they were up for the day after tomorrow. They were full of news about the danger to SG-1. Dr. Jackson had gotten himself in trouble in a Mayan pyramid on P3R-123, fallen down a pit, and that Sandburg kid who had been here before was back, ready to sign up for the program. O'Neill had come back to the base and dragged him back through the Stargate with him. The kid was an anthropologist, they said, and he supposedly knew something about jungle temples.
Sandburg! Makepeace snapped his fingers in startled realization. Out of context, the man at the gate hadn't rung any bells but, in conjunction with the long-haired Sandburg, he was making them chime wildly. Ellison, that's who the guy was, the one who had been splashed all over the news a couple of months earlier for being a--what was it they'd called it?-- Sentinel. Heightened sensory abilities. Just like that character they'd recruited Sandburg to bypass on the planet with the Incan culture. Sandburg had given a press conference and claimed his dissertation was a fake and the hullabaloo had died down pretty fast. Everybody who'd jumped on the bandwagon instantly pretended they'd never fallen for the scam in the first place. Nobody likes to admit being suckered. But Makepeace remembered some theories he'd heard around the SGC, that Sandburg was merely covering for his friend, that he'd sacrificed his scientific career to save the guy's life.
If there was one thing Robert Makepeace believed in and respected, it was loyalty. Sandburg evidently had it in spades. He'd done everything he could to protect his buddy, and Makepeace admired that. Even Jack O'Neill, who was notoriously hard to impress, thought highly of the kid. So what brought him here to sign up for the SGC when he was so obviously determined to protect his buddy?
Q.E.D. He was here *because* it would protect his buddy. Dr. Jackson had said something about Sandburg becoming a cop and partnering with Ellison. But Makepeace was damned sure that if the police department in- -Seattle? No, that wasn't right. Wherever it was--would confirm his abilities to anybody who might be watching. And the ones who were sure to watch were people exactly like Maybourne. If Sandburg came here quietly and joined the SGC, he'd expect that nobody would realize and Ellison would be safe.
But then, Sandburg hadn't known anything about Maybourne. He hadn't expected that particular danger. The odds were, though, that Maybourne knew about Ellison already. He had to have inside sources in the SGC. He knew too much, too fast, and he evidently had access to Hammond's reports. He was entirely capable of putting all that together with the media circus a couple of months ago. When Sandburg arrived here, somebody must have told Maybourne.
So what had just happened out there? Ellison showed up looking for Sandburg, presumably to get his Shaman back. And who was waiting for him but Maybourne? The classic trap. Unless somebody did something and did it fast, Ellison would sink without a trace. Odds were he hadn't even told anyone that he was coming here. No one would know where he had gone and by the time Sandburg realized he was missing--or anyone else did up there in Washington state--it would be too late to haul his butt out of trouble.
Makepeace didn't know Jim Ellison, but he knew Sandburg was considered a good man. If he'd come here to protect his friend, he'd feel like pond scum if he realized he'd only led him into new danger. So that meant Makepeace better check a few things out to be sure he was right about this.
He read through Sandburg's background information, as much of it as was available to him, in the system. Cascade, Washington. Ellison was a detective for the Major Crimes unit there. A call to Major Crimes produced a Captain Simon Banks, who listened to his inquiry about Ellison and sputtered frustratedly.
"What *is* it with the military?" he demanded. "I don't know where Sandburg went. I don't know where Ellison went. He took a leave of absence, be gone a week. If you ask me, he went to find Sandburg, and I hope he does. They're too good a team to break up."
"Do you have any idea where he might have gone, Captain?"
Banks drew in a frustrated breath. "I wish I did, Colonel. I really wish I did. But he knew where he was going. I think it's Colorado, but that's just a wild guess from piecing things together and from something Connor, one of my detectives, said. Tell me this, though. Is Jim in trouble?"
Makepeace hesitated, reluctant to confirm the Captain's suspicions but, in the end, settled for honestly. "I'm afraid he is. But he's lucky, because we know about it. There'll be a way to get him back."
"Back from *where*?" Banks demanded.
It was a fair question because Makepeace didn't know either. Would Maybourne have taken him to Area 51? Someplace even more obscure and unknown? "I wish I knew, sir, but I do know who has him, and that gives me a starting point."
Unable to offer Banks any more information, he ended the call and put in another to the car rental agency. They didn't want to confirm that the car in question had been rented to one Jim Ellison, but Makepeace played up his military rank and, in the end, they admitted reluctantly that it was true. Promising to see the car was returned, Makepeace hung up and sat glowering at the receiver. Okay, he had a damned good idea what was going on. Maybourne. But he wasn't sure exactly what to do about it.
O'Neill. He'd talk to Jack about it and see what happened from there. Had they rescued Dr. Jackson yet? He went to see.
Jackson was in the infirmary, contaminated from a plant bite, of all things. And Jack, Sandburg, and the rest of SG-1 had returned to the planet to get a sample of the dangerous plant.
He considered going to General Hammond with his story, then he hesitated. Better to involve Jack first. O'Neill was a past master at the art of pushing just a toe over the line and getting away with it. He'd be the best one to take the story of Ellison's capture to Hammond.
Continued in Part Three...