New Arrivals
Author-Sheila Paulson
Titles

The Limits of Trust
Part Three
by Sheila Paulson

See notes and disclaimers in part one.

Simon Banks looked at the telephone receiver in his hand and grimaced. "Damn it, Jim, what trouble have you gone and gotten yourself into this time?" He slammed it down with more force than was strictly necessary.

"Captain?" It was Megan Connor, Major Crimes' Australian detective. "Is there news of Jim? Or Sandy?"

She had been the only one to give Sandburg that nickname. Working with Ellison and Sandburg often, she'd become fond of both of them, and close to both of them. Her eyes were clouded with concern.

"Not good news, Carter," he admitted. "Sandburg seems to be safe, but it looks like Jim might be in trouble."

"What kind of trouble, sir?"

"I didn't get much information," Simon admitted, annoyed with himself for not pushing harder. "But I've got a bad feeling it's the kind of trouble that Sandburg threw away his academic career to prevent." He slammed a fist down on his desk. "Damn it! I don't even know where they are. There's not a damn thing we can do."

"Jim said Sandy went to Colorado to visit a friend," she offered. "But he didn't tell me where in Colorado, and it's a big state."

Put together Colorado and an Air Force General, Banks could make a couple of guesses. The Air Force Academy--which didn't seem particularly top secret--or NORAD, in the Cheyenne Mountain facility--which did. Only why would Sandburg need references to work for NORAD? Did the military hire civilian advisors? Even if they did, what did Sandburg have to contribute? Not that Simon hadn't come to value the kid--he valued him, and liked him, far more than he'd ever been willing to admit, even to himself--but Sandburg's uniqueness was all tied up with Jim and the Sentinel stuff. Unless the Air Force was researching Sentinels, and that seemed too weird, too coincidental. They wouldn't want Sandburg without Ellison, if that were the case.

"I don't know," he confessed. "I have a couple of ideas, but nothing concrete, and I know there isn't a hope of going there and getting answers."

"Why not, sir?"

"Because I suspect it's classified," Simon admitted. He didn't know how far he could push it, but he still had that General Hammond's phone number. If he didn't hear back from Makepeace soon, he'd have to call the General.

"Classified?" Connor's eyes widened. "Sandy wouldn't betray Jim. You know how far he'd go to protect him."

"I trust Sandburg," Simon admitted. "I trust him with my life, unless it was a situation he wasn't trained to handle. I trust him to never betray Jim Ellison. But I don't trust him to have perfect judgment at all times. No one does. Let's say I trust his intentions. He would never have intended to endanger Jim."

"He'd never hurt Jim on purpose," Connor replied. "But he's not responsible for the actions of other people. He can try to stop them from doing wrong, and he can try to keep knowledge from them, but one of the things that made me mad at Jim when all the trouble broke was that he let other people's actions prove Sandy wasn't trustworthy. Okay, everybody screwed up. Sandy wasn't perfect and he made a mistake or two, but he did everything but turn himself inside out to fix it. Jim's the kind of man who tends to cast blame when things go wrong. He could never see that Sandy wasn't responsible for the sun rising in the morning and setting at night. No matter how loyal Sandy was to Jim, he didn't control the whole universe. Jim sees a lot of things in absolutes and that's not fair." She smiled faintly. "On the other hand, there's no one I'd rather have at my back than Jim Ellison. I guess what I'm trying to say is that no one is perfect, and that trust can be absolute and still have limits. But they're external limits." She caught herself and shook her head. "And that doesn't help us one bit right now, does it, sir?"

Simon smiled at her. "No, but it does make a lot of sense." He frowned, muttering, "Ellison," under his breath. "I swear, between him and Sandburg, my hair is going to turn white--by next week."

"What can we do, Captain?" Connor asked. "I know anybody out there-- Taggart, Brown, Rafe, any of them--would do anything they could to help Jim."

"That's the problem, Connor. There isn't anything we *can* do--yet. I've got a number to check, and I'll check it, but I'm afraid the only thing we can do right now is wait."

Connor's mouth twisted. "And you don't like it any more than I do, do you, Captain?"

"I sure the hell do *not*."

*****

Blair Sandburg felt like a character in the movie Outbreak in his bright yellow environmental suit. Stepping back through the Stargate for the second time in one day didn't remotely begin to make him feel blas‚. If it weren't for the urgency of the mission, the need to get the sample to help poor Daniel, he'd have been as excited as a kid, dashing off on a rescue mission to a distant planet. Naomi would never believe this.

Of course Naomi could never be told one thing about it. His mother meant well, but she'd given away Jim's secret to the world, even if that wasn't her intention. He couldn't even tell her where he was or she'd show up outside Cheyenne Mountain, demanding admission, wanting to check out his sleeping quarters and prepared to find fault with the food. He had a horrible mental image of his mom marching into General Hammond's office and insisting her baby boy have better quarters, that they start serving tongue in the mess hall, and that the place would be better for everyone if they used principles of Feng Shui in decorating. No, it didn't bear thinking about.

Instead, as they rode the currents of space to P3R-123 he pondered the bulky protective suit. Hadn't somebody in that movie sliced her suit open with a scalpel and become contaminated with the plague? Could the plant's 'teeth' break through the protective coating and send the rest of them into weird hallucinations just like Daniel? He shivered.

They stepped through the Stargate into the shadow of the great pyramid and Blair sucked in his breath at his second viewing. If only they could stop the killer plants. This place was major cool! A Mayan Codex? Blair was an anthropologist rather than an archaeologist, but he'd had some archaeology courses and he'd been on a dig or two that overlapped tribal cultures in remote areas. He was so fascinated he could barely catch his breath.

Then he saw O'Neill's expression through the faceplate of his helmet. The man was just plain grim. If it had been Jim Ellison lying back there in the base, Sandburg guessed he'd wear the same visage. The colonel was seriously worried. His best friend was down and there was little he could do beyond tracking down that particular flower. If he could have marched into the temple and retrieved the Codex to have waiting for when Daniel woke up, he'd have done it, but he had the military discipline to know he wouldn't do Daniel any good if he triggered the pyramid to collapse on his head.

They spread out as they went down the ramp, all of them on the alert. Blair had been issued a nifty little weapon called a zat gun that the Colonel had given him to use on the plants. "Just remember, you hit one of us by mistake, the first shot puts us down, but the second shot kills us. So be very careful what you fire at, got it Sandburg?"

"Got it, Colonel." He curved his gloved fingers over the odd weapon. His first ray gun! Oh, man, this was so great! He hoped it would work on the hungry plants.

Sam had a box that had been adapted to bring back the specimen. If at all possible, they wanted to bring it back alive. Blair knew from the times his mother had gone all horticultural, that a sample could be rooted in earth as well as in water, but that water was often easier. The box was divided into two parts, one with water, the other empty to allow for planetary soil. They would take two samples, slicing off the vines and putting the cut ends into soil and water. It gave at least one of them a chance of being alive, or at least fresh, when they got it back to Janet Frasier.

Balancing the box in her arms, Sam glanced around the clearing. They all did. Not a bloom in sight. Weird. There had been enough of them when the team had taken Daniel home. Maybe it took them time to venture out after the Stargate had been activated. Blair leaned against the edge of the Dial Home Device--what a great name that was, he loved it, even as he wondered what the Goa'uld called it--and scanned the clearing.

"They may fear the Stargate," Teal'c postulated. He had been reluctant to wear the protective gear, convinced that the snake thingie that lived in his belly would protect him from the influence of the hallucinogen. He had reminded them that he and Sam had not been attacked in the jungle and he theorized that was because of his Goa'uld larva. "In any case," he had added, "none of the blossoms attempted to attack me."

"Well, then, we'll just have to lure them out, won't we," the Colonel muttered without enthusiasm. He knew they were short of time and he knew they needed samples, but he'd seen Daniel ranting and raving, unable to trust his own friends, and he wouldn't be human if he didn't fear the same risk for himself.

But there was more to Jack O'Neill than that. He stepped off the ramp and started poking around in the bushes. Across the clearing, some of the cattle lifted their heads and stared. Evidently they weren't tasty to the wild plants or they'd have been long gone. On the other hand, maybe they'd been bitten and gone off into cow hysteria and now they were immune.

"Think they munch on the cattle?" Blair asked, waving his hand in that direction.

"Maybe they're permanently spaced out," Jack muttered, tracing a vine through the undergrowth.

"Hey, yeah, Colonel, like those koala bears in Australia," Blair cried remembering something Megan Connor had once told him and Jim on a long and boring stake out. "They eat the eucalyptus leaves all the time and they trip out on it, get a high from it. They might be drugged all the time for all anybody knows."

Jack turned at regarded him doubtfully. "You mean those cute little Qantas bears are druggies?" he asked.

Put like that, it sounded silly and Blair burst out laughing. "Well, they could be," he sputtered.

"They definitely could." Sam studied the cattle. "I don't know, sir, they seem like pretty normal cattle to me, even if they're a little taller and thinner and that might be due to a fractional difference in the gravity of P3R-123. It's slightly less than Earth norm. Or it could be due to their diet." Frowning, she turned away from a subject that might prove interesting under normal circumstances. "I don't understand it. There were tons of those plants earlier. Now there aren't any."

"Perhaps they cannot sense a meal through the protective suit," Teal'c volunteered. "They did not aoppear immediately when we first came through the Stargate."

"You mean they have to smell us?" O'Neill sounded utterly disgusted. "One of us needs to take off the suit and act like bait? Well, *that* doesn't sound like fun."

"Teal'c could be right, sir," Sam confirmed. "Something drew them directly to us. Only a few at first and then more and more. Maybe they're heat sensitive and react to human body heat. Or maybe they can sense us with a detection system we don't understand."

"I shall remove my suit," Teal'c volunteered.

"I don't think that would work, Teal'c," objected Carter, shaking her head within the glass-faced helmet. "They didn't seem to react to you last time. There's no guarantee they would this time, either. They might be leery of your Goa'uld."

"Oh, for crying out loud," Jack muttered and started to strip out of his environmental suit.

"What are you doing, sir?" Carter demanded, alarmed.

"We need those plants for Daniel," Jack said grimly. "I'm the Colonel, I'll be the bait. We're right next to the Stargate. One of us can dial up Earth the minute the plants start coming. We fought them off last time. This time we don't even have to run through the jungle."

He finished removing the suit and gathered up his zat gun again, standing uneasily in the undergrowth. Sandburg knew he was doing this for Daniel and recognized the look in his face. Jim would have done it for *him*, he knew that. To see them apart, no one would guess that the Colonel and the scientist would ever be buddies but who would have guessed that the little 'hippie freak' and the hard-edged detective ever would be. Opposites sometimes made the best of friends.

Blair felt impossibly far away from his best friend.

"Look, sir!" Sam flung out a pointing hand. At the edge of the trees, something moved, something pink. "There's one of them."

"And there's another," yelled Blair, gesturing in the other direction. "Wow, that's cool! They must not be able to sense us through the suits. Maybe they couldn't sense you in the pyramid, either. But they sure do now."

The Jaffa placed himself protectively at O'Neill's side, ready to defend him if the plant came at him in a rush. Nervous, Blair took his other side, watching behind O'Neill to make sure nothing jumped him from that direction. The plant oozed closer, every so often lifting the blossom at the end of its endless vine to wave in the air. Sniffing out dinner? Sam knelt, depositing the box on the ground and removing the lids from the two sections, digging quickly in the earth for dirt to put into one side of the container. When she drew her knife, Blair was half afraid the plant would notice and understand, but it crept toward her, and the colonel behind her, without even noticing the weapon she held. It was still inching its way toward O'Neill when she grasped the vine behind the blossom and severed it neatly with a deft twist of her wrist.

Blair risked a quick glance at her as she shoved the severed end of the vine into the hole designed for it and into the water. Then she tucked the blossom into place neatly and closed that half of the lid. The plant hadn't even tried to munch on her.

One down, one to go, sir," she reported, edging around to the next nearest plant. There were more of them now, converging from all directions. Blair fired at one with the zat gun and saw it collapse into immobility just as Sam snipped off a second blossom and tucked the trailing end into the dirt, packing it gently around the root.

O'Neill, nervous and unhappy with a zat gun in one hand and his HK MP-5 in the other, fired at a number of the pink blooms as easily as if he were zapping targets on the firing range, but he looked relieved when Sam closed the second lid, said, "Done, sir," and jumped to her feet, clutching the box.

Behind them, Blair heard the nifty kawoosh of the Gate surging open as Teal'c finished dialing home. He didn't think he'd ever get tired of that effect. Then, with Sam ahead of them and Teal'c beside him, he played rear guard again, blasting any plant that came remotely close to the colonel. What would Jim think if he could see him now?

Blair smothered a sigh as he jumped through the Stargate a few seconds ahead of the nearest plant, conscious of them hovering unhappily at the foot of the ramp. They wouldn't risk the gate itself.

Now if only the plants gave Dr. Frasier the information she needed to treat Daniel.

*****

Jim Ellison felt like he'd been rode hard and put away wet. When he woke up, every muscle in his body ached; they must have spasmed and tightened as he fought the unbearable sound from the first test.

First test? God, how many more were they going to give him? How long would this go on?

A disembodied voice said, "He's conscious now." His hearing felt fuzzy and muffled, and he had to strain for the sound. It wasn't only his muscles that were sore. His head pounded with a throbbing headache that settled in his ears and behind his eyes. Unable to raise his restrained hands to rub his ears, he could only shake his head and twist it sideways to press first one ear and then the other into the thin pillow. It helped. He could feel his hearing start the slow trek back toward normal.

A few moments later a door opened and a white-coated man in his mid- forties entered bearing a tray. Expecting syringes, Jim was surprised to see that it held a pitcher of water and a glass.

"Poison?" he asked sarcastically, wishing he could work free of the binders that held him to throw the water in the man's face. His voice echoed weirdly in his ears, but not as badly as he had expected.

The man held no sympathy in his expression. His rather flat face was impassive, professional, in its detachment. He had missed a spot along his jaw when he shaved. Only the rather bushy red eyebrows gave that cold, mass-produced expression any shred of character. The eyes below the eyebrows were green, and if there was a spark of decent humanity in them, it was deeply buried. While he didn't look sadistic--he wouldn't hurt Jim for enjoyment--neither was he humane.

"We don't want you dehydrated," was the only answer he got. His was the voice Jim had heard over the P.A. system, the jerk who had tortured him with the sound test. He could feel the hatred that glittered in his eyes as he stared at the scientist.

"Well, unless you want to let me up, it's gonna sit there in the pitcher and not do much good." Jim didn't believe he could fight if he were released to take a drink; he had the idea his muscles had every bit as much strength as that water did. His ears were still ringing from the torture they'd inflicted upon them but the sounds were smoothing out to normal.

As if his words had summoned them, two impassive military types in fatigues moved into the room and stood one on either side of the door, and they were armed. Made you wonder what kind of line they'd been fed, or if they were 'only following orders'. Jim had been in covert ops himself and he knew that he'd been asked at times to do some damn distasteful things. Maybe these guys had learned to live with it, or maybe they'd been told Jim was an enemy spy or a criminal brought in for testing through a voluntary penal program. They weren't likely to believe a word he had to say. He couldn't count on them for help.

Unfastened long enough to sit up and drink the water, Jim concentrated his sense of taste on it and he couldn't detect a single substance in the liquid but plain H20. If it were poisoned, it was with a toxin far more subtle than his heightened senses could detect. He drank it down, knowing he needed the water. "You say you don't want me dehydrated," he remarked, glad that his words didn't ring hollowly inside his skull any longer. He wondered how much time had passed since the test. "Then what's this IV?"

"You don't need to know that," the scientist replied unhelpfully.

That figured. Jim took a second glass of water, hoping to rid himself of the bad taste in his mouth that was the aftereffect of the drugs they had given him. It helped a little, but the water sat heavily in his stomach as if prepared to go to war with the remnants of the drugging that lingered there.

When he had finished, the scientist instructed him to lie down again. At the door, the two armed men aimed their handguns at him. With his feet still bound, the electrodes still connected, he didn't have a chance of breaking free, at least not yet. Seething with impotent fury, he lowered himself to the med table and allowed his hands to be strapped down again. A fleeting, unpleasant thought chased itself through his mind. Was this how Sandburg had felt when Lash had captured him and strapped him to the dentist's chair. No wonder the kid had experienced nightmares for weeks afterward. There was something intrinsically dehumanizing about being tied down and helpless. He hated it.

The minute the straps were in place, the soldiers retreated, leaving the door open behind him, giving Jim a view of a plain, uninformative hallway, its only visible feature a fire extinguisher in a glass case. Recording the memory of its exact position for further reference, Jim turned his attention back to the man who stood over him. God, it was irritating to have an enemy loom over him like that. He focused on the man, heard the excited thump of his heart as it beat in anticipation, saw the way his pupils shifted fractionally.

"The next test will be of your range of vision," the scientist informed him. "I assume you do not intend cooperation. A pity because that would be more exact. However, the electrodes will record bodily reactions and our computers will analyze them. We will test the ultraviolet and infrared first, then a more conventional test of vision. If you are willing to cooperate with an eye chart, please say so."

"Fuck you." So it wasn't profound, but it felt good. Jim didn't intend to cooperate with anything. He owed these suckers nothing. They had him, but they'd have to work for answers from their stupid tests.

"It's not as if you've been recruited by a foreign power, Mr. Ellison. These test results will help your own government."

"My government doesn't have the right to grab me against my will and torture me when I've done nothing wrong," he ground out. "Don't kid me you're on the up and up. I've worked covert ops. You grabbed me because you can and any information you get out of me won't help the general public. You'll use it for biological warfare. How long will it take you to start working on my DNA?"

"I don't have to justify myself to you. You may think you have rights, but what we learn from you will help millions. In the long run, isn't that more important than the rights of one person."

"No, and the minute anybody starts believing it is, he sacrifices his humanity. What you want to learn from me is whether you can construct a whole regiment of soldiers with heightened senses," Jim snarled. "You don't give a damn about benefitting humanity, so don't pretend you do. That Maybourne who tricked me into this--I know his type. I don't like his type. It isn't even 'might makes right' with him. He does it because he can. A little tin god on a power trip." He hoped Maybourne was out there listening, but he knew his scorn could never touch the complacency of a man like that, a man who considered himself above the law.

"I'm sorry you won't cooperate," returned the scientist, backing to the door. He switched out the lights before he stepped into the hall and closed it. At once the darkness fell. After a second, there was a sudden whoosh in the air as if the door had somehow been pressurized, and the lines of light around its edges disappeared, leaving only the red dot on the overhead camera for Jim's senses to focus on. He turned his eyes in that direction only to have it blink out. Even the monitors overhead had gone dark.

For a long time, he could see nothing at all. Even a man with heightened senses could not see in total darkness. A faint light trickling around the edge of the door would have given him something to see, but this stygian blackness was as deep as a bottomless cavern, far below the earth.

As he lay there, trapped, helpless, he became conscious of tiny sounds, sounds that magnified. That steady, monotonous, annoying clicking was the clock on the wall, its minute hand jerking around the dial one minute at a time. The muted rumble that grew into a thunderous roar was the beat of the air conditioner that cooled the building, the hiss of air through a ventilator somewhere beyond his head roaring into the room like an express train. His own heart resonated in his chest and the sound of his breathing was as noisy as a wind tunnel. He realized that, in depriving him of one of his senses, his others had rushed in to compensate, and that he could taste the minute remnants of the drug aftertaste in his mouth and feel the hardness of the table pressing against him. As he considered it, the weight of the sheet that covered him grew oppressive, and the straps that confined his wrists were acutely painful. Maybe there was something in the IV that magnified everything. Maybe they could regulate it from outside the room.

He tried to fight down the panicked twist in his stomach that pumped acid in. Straining for the slightest sense of light, he realized that there was a faintly reddish cast to the darkness. His imagination? He squinted up at the ceiling, desperate for sight. His panic reaction was all out of proportion to being left in the dark. Okay, they *had* put something in the IV. He was alert, he was conscious, but he was reacting like a kid who was scared of the dark and that wasn't normal. They'd given him something to make him react more strongly. Knowing they'd done it helped a little, but it didn't take away the uneasiness.

The overhead light fixture sprang into being above him, limned in red. Shadows touched with a deeper redness loomed in the corners of the room like great beasts waiting to spring on him and tear him to bits. Maybourne would tear him to bits before he'd finished, neatly and scientifically, each part labeled in a jar. He'd never get out of here. Never. Never.

The darkened shapes drew nearer, nearer, waiting to spring.

Helpless in the grip of the drug's paranoia, he threw back his head and screamed until his throat was raw.

*****

"Any change?" Jack asked hopefully as Sam passed the box containing the two plants over to the tech Frasier indicated.

"Not yet, or at least not very little. It does appear to be working its way out of his system. The serotonin levels have begun to rise. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter," she added for their information. With a glance over her shoulder, she directed, "Handle those blossoms carefully. We don't know that they are dead. They could still attack you. And we don't need anyone else going through that."

O'Neill looked past her at Daniel, who was still strapped down. Writhing wildly against the padded straps, he was moaning and whimpering softly, his hair sweaty and spiky. "The fever did break," Janet added more softly. "I think the plants effects caused the fever, too. Once it broke, the levels started to drop, so there's obviously a correlation. I can't treat this exactly the way I would an Earth based hallucinogen like LDS or mescaline or psilocybin, because anything with an offworld basis is bound to have differences that might react adversely to my treatment. I'm no botanist, but I've never seen anything like that on Earth. We'll run tests, of course, and compare it to every known plant on this planet. But the substance in Dr. Jackson's bloodstream behaves like an Earth-based hallucinogen, so the treatment will have to be comparable. We can try to speed the process by flushing it out of his system, but I don't want to do anything that will leave trapped remnants in him to give him flashbacks, if I can possibly avoid it."

Jack groaned. "You think it could cause flashbacks?"

"I've worked with a few cases when a hallucinogen was in use," she admitted. "This one seems to mimic the symptoms without..." She frowned. "Without bonding with his system. It's as if his alien DNA is protecting him. Of course it's too soon to tell if I'm right or if it's merely wishful thinking. If his DNA is protecting him, I'd think he shouldn't have reacted at all. Yet, he obviously did. Maybe it only affords him a partial protection, but if that will prevent the possibility of flashbacks, I'm all for it."

"Would it upset him if we went in and talked to him?" Carter asked at Jack's shoulder, her face full of distress. Teal'c, equally close, nodded in agreement with the request. Not a member of SG-1, Sandburg lurked in the background. He probably would let them go in on their own. If it came to that, he was so new to the SGC that he didn't have anywhere else to go.

"One at a time," Frasier decided, casting a measuring glance at her tech, who had established one of the blossoms in a larger glass glovebox case and was taking samples using the gloves. "The calming process of talking to him and reassuring him is part of the standard treatment for a 'bad trip'. But the secondary effects, such as the fever, aren't normal to Earth-based hallucinogens so I don't want to overexcite and tire him."

"It bit Daniel through his pant leg," O'Neill observed, jerking a thumb at the tech.

"We reinforced the gloves with an impermeable inner fabric while we waited for you to come back," she said. "We need a sample of the toxin to study and evaluate."

As she spoke, the plant lashed out at the gloved hands and chomped down hard on the right one. The tech screeched, freezing, color draining from his face. Then the plant let go, collapsing back in the bottom of the pan where it quivered faintly.

"Did it get you, Steve?" Janet asked worriedly.

"No, it didn't break through. But it injected a substance in the outer glove." Steve unfastened the glove's snaps and pulled it out of the case, closing a glass cover over the hand opening as fast as he could. "I'll take samples and start running scans," he volunteered. "It was stronger than I thought. I think my fingers will be bruised." Color returned to his face and O'Neill realized the strength of the attack had made him doubt the protection of the reinforced gloves. The man had suffered a bad scare.

Ignoring that, Jack went over to Daniel's bed and looked down at the struggling archaeologist, conscious of Carter and Teal'c on either side of him. Daniel blinked up at him, cringing away and crying out in blind panic, then he squeezed his eyes tightly shut. After a cautious second, he opened them again, squinting faintly. O'Neill leaned closer.

"You gave us a real scare," he said, his voice gruff to keep it steady.

"Jack?" Hope soared in the quivering voice. "Jack, what's wrong with me?" He sounded sane. Was the worst of it over?

"You got a dose of an alien hallucinogen," the Colonel explained. "It's been putting you through the ringer but it's starting to let up. It's okay. We got you to Frasier, and she's working on it. We even went back for samples, and I have to say those plants were hot for my body."

For an instant, answering amusement lit the clouded blue eyes, then it trickled away, replaced by desperate unhappiness. "You wanted me to die," he said, his mouth twisting craftily. "You wanted me out of the way so you could have all the gold. The Codex is *mine*. Do you hear me? *MINE*! I won't let you have it."

"Okay, it's yours," Jack soothed. He should have known the first reaction had been too good to be true. He hated seeing Daniel like this. It reminded him of the way the younger man had behaved when he'd been addicted to the sarcophagus, although this was producing a different reaction. It wasn't fair that something could happen that could take a strong man and make him act like this. He knew Daniel was fighting it as best he could, but he couldn't fight it when those sero-whatsits in his brain were lower than usual any more than Jack had been able to fight when he'd got that caveman thingie on the dark side of P3X 797. The trouble with what Daniel had was that the only cure was to live through it. And then he'd probably remember half the nasty things he said and feel crummy about it. A penitent Daniel would be hell to live with--but Jack would take it over this any day of the week.

He grabbed for one of Daniel's hands, unable to raise it because of the restraint, but curling his fingers around it tightly. "I'm on your side, Daniel, you know that. And even if you don't know it right now, that's this plant poison talking, not you. You're gonna be just fine."

Daniel tried to yank his hand free, but O'Neill didn't let go. "We're with you, Daniel," he insisted. "We're in your corner."

"We are here for you, Daniel Jackson," Teal'c rumbled, stretching out a big hand to pat Jackson on the shoulder.

Sam circled around and gripped Daniel's other hand, careful of the IV. "We've all been through some nasty stuff, Daniel. The important thing is that we're always here for each other. We won't let you face it on your own."

Fragile hope warmed the confused eyes. "I don't deserve..." he began.

"Yeah. You do." Jack's words were absolute. There would be no contradicting them.

The hope grew. "Not gonna go away?" he ventured timidly.

"Nobody's going away, Daniel," O'Neill insisted. "We'll have to take turns and Doc Frasier might kick us out when she's doing treatments, but we won't be far away, and that's a promise. You got that?"

Daniel seemed to understand, then his eyes slid past them and widened in astonishment. "Jack, look! The ceiling is doing the macarena!"

Involuntarily O'Neill and Carter lifted their eyes to the perfectly normal ceiling. It was hard to imagine the image that Daniel's drug- affected mind must have called up.

"What is the macarena?" demanded Teal'c in his most deadpan voice.

"Believe me," O'Neill replied wryly, "you don't want to know." This was going to be an endless day. Look at the poor kid, his eyes wide with delight as he gazed up at the ceiling. At least he wasn't accusing Jack of letting him down, trying to kill him, or failing to trust him. Better the ceiling danced for a little while than the kid dwelled on doubts and fears about his teammates--about Jack. That apprehensive, mistrustful, wary look on his face when he confronted O'Neill in the clearing still stung. They were gonna have to work through all that when he was better.

"Daniel, I need to run another test," Janet Frasier said, bending over and touching his shoulder. "One of them will either be here with you or in the observation room overhead. We're trying to clear the drug from your system."

"Hello, Janet? Do you *like* poisoning people?" Daniel sneered at her, adding in more perplexed tones, "You didn't have antlers before, did you?" The rest of SG-1 turned involuntarily to stare at the doctor, but she was antler-free. Good. He didn't want to imagine her resembling Bullwinkle. Once he thought it, it was nearly impossible to resist and, from the quirk of Carter's mouth, she must have a similar mental image.

"Out," Janet insisted, waving her hands at SG-1 and gesturing them toward the door.

Jack hung back long enough to squeeze the lax hand he gripped. "Hang in there, buddy," he encouraged. "When you're better, you've got a big job ahead of you. You're gonna have to teach Teal'c the macarena, and it *won't* be a pretty sight."

He was gratified when Daniel's fingers closed over his for an instant before loosening again. The real Jackson, the one who was his friend, was still in there. He'd be back once the alien toxin worked its way out of his system. Jack had to believe that. Anything else was unacceptable. When he paused in the doorway and looked back, Janet was doing something with the IV, but Daniel's eyes were fixed on Jack, and he stared at him with a desperate longing before a nurse joined Frasier at his side and blocked Jack's view.

"He'll make it, Colonel," Sam insisted. "If there's anybody strong enough to get through this, it's Daniel. He's bounced back from things that would flatten lesser people. I know he'll be all right."

"I, too, have confidence in Daniel Jackson," Teal'c replied. "I have seen his courage at work on many occasions. He will fight this affliction."

"I know he will, kiddies," Jack replied, but that wasn't what tore at him. If Janet said the stuff was working its way out of Daniel's system, then it was. But had there been a thread of truth in Daniel's claims that Jack didn't trust him? Or at least a genuine belief on Daniel's part? Jack would trust Daniel with his life and his sanity and had more than once. But if Daniel actually believed what he said.... No, it had to be the drug talking.

If not, then he and Daniel had some serious talking to do.

*****

Sandburg was waiting in the corridor. He had heard everything that passed in the infirmary but he didn't remark on it, merely fell into step with SG-1 as they started for the observation chamber. He wasn't one of their team, but he was becoming one of the larger team, and he was concerned, too. Daniel looked like crap, and he could tell the Colonel was taking it hard. All those things Daniel had said in the clearing had cut into O'Neill like knives and he was still bleeding from the cuts. Maybe Blair was particularly sensitive to trust issues at the moment, but he could sympathize with both men. Was that how Jim had felt when Blair had claimed the Sentinel didn't trust him?

Had he been too tough on Jim? Expected more from him than was reasonable? Had Frasier been right when she suggested that Blair's own reaction proved he didn't trust Jim completely either? Looking at the tightness of the Colonel's jaw, Blair could only remember the way Jim ground his teeth when he was frustrated. Jim's mistake was to blame Blair when things went wrong, but maybe Jim didn't know any other way to react. Thinking back to the things Jim had let fall about his father-- not that there had been that many tidbits, Jim Ellison being a less than open person when his feelings were concerned--Blair realized William Ellison had taught Jim the whole time he was growing up that he could blame other people when things went wrong. Jim didn't know any better, though he could learn--if someone was willing to take the trouble to show him or to remind him if he fell back on the old ways.

Had Blair run out on his friend when he needed him most?

Even if he had, staying would have only proven to the world at large that Jim was a Sentinel.

Why weren't there ever any easy answers?

"O'Neill!" The shout cut through Sandburg's brooding thoughts and the Colonel's abstracted unhappiness, and stopped them all at the door to the observation room. Another colonel, this one a marine, hurried down the corridor to meet them, concern on his face.

"Makepeace," Jack greeted him.

"I heard about Jackson. How's he doing?" The man's concern was genuine, proving how important Daniel was to people around here. Even the techs and nurses in the infirmary had worked hard out of concern for the archaeologist.

"The alien substance is gradually working its way out of his body," Sam explained.

"That's good news. Give it time. He'll be okay. That kid's one of the most resilient men I ever met. He's put up with more than any five men should have to. Let him know SG-3 is pulling for him."

"I will. Thanks." The colonel clapped his arm. "He'll be glad to hear that, once he stops seeing weird things dancing on the ceiling."

Makepeace turned to Blair and offered his hand. "Robert Makepeace," he introduced. "I didn't know you were here until I got back from leave, but I've been looking for you. Heard you'd gotten back from P3R-123 and came to find you."

Blair shook hands in surprise. "Looking for *me*, Colonel?" What was this about?

"I've got some bad news for you, and not a clue what to do about it. I think we're in some deep shit here."

Blair felt his anxiety level rise. Why should a strange colonel have bad news for him personally. "What's wrong?"

"It's your friend, Ellison. Took me awhile to remember who he was, but we all saw the stuff about him on TV, the Sentinel stuff, and then it clicked when I heard you were back. I checked the records of the mission you went on before. Nothing in there about him being a Sentinel, just about you knowing more about them than anybody else on the planet. I was coming back to the base this morning and I saw him outside the main gate."

"Jim's *here*?" Blair exulted. Jim had followed him? Jim wanted to get him back? But then he remembered the grimness of Makepeace's face and his shoulders sagged. "What's wrong?" he repeated.

"I saw Maybourne out there. He took Ellison off with him in a car, and I think he gassed him unconscious."

"Son of a *bitch*," snarled O'Neill, and the rest of Sg-1 didn't look very happy, either.

"Who's Maybourne?" Blair asked. He had the feeling he didn't want to know. His heart tried to stampede up his esophagus into his mouth. "What's he going to do with Jim?"

Jack O'Neill dropped his arm around Blair's shoulders. "Sorry, kid, I've gotta say that what he'll do is probably his worst nightmare. He must have put the clues together about the mission you were on before and hooked it up with all that publicity a couple of months ago. When you showed up here, he must have decided to take a chance and waited to see if Ellison would show up."

Blair felt miserable. No matter what he did, he endangered Jim. He'd left to protect him, and it hadn't protected him, after all. He'd taken the Sentinel from possible danger to certain danger. There was nothing he could do right! All along, he'd only wanted to help, but his help had consistently endangered his best friend.

"You said you'd keep Jim out of your official reports," he cried accusingly.

"They did," Makepeace defended them. "I've been over those reports backward and forward. There's nothing at all in them about Ellison being a Sentinel. But Maybourne must have put everything together when he heard those news stories and your press conference. Then, if he heard you were on the way to being accepted as a member of SG-1, he'd have to guess that you'd lied at the press conference, not in your dissertation."

"Oh, god, Jim...." Blair closed his eyes, grateful for the colonel's arm around his shoulders. There was no answer, no hope. He had to get Jim away from this Maybourne character, but even if he could, what could possibly protect him after that? There'd be covert military records. Even if they could figure out where this Maybourne jerk had Jim and rescued him, what would protect him from the next Maybourne? Everything he'd done to protect Jim's secret and his identity had backfired and he could think of nothing he could do to make it right.

"We'll get him back," O'Neill gritted out. "I've had a few run-arounds with Maybourne before, but we got Teal'c away from him. He wanted to dissect him--"

Blair's head jerked up at that. "You mean he'll *kill* Jim?" he cried, horror-stricken. His stomach churned sickly and he felt like the worst creep in the known universe. Oh, man, this sucked so bad there weren't even words for it.

"Not if *we* have anything to say about it," O'Neill insisted. Letting go of Blair to steer them into the observation room where they couldn't be overheard by passing base personnel, he paused only long enough to wave down at Daniel and reassure him. If anyone could understand Blair's feelings, it was Jack O'Neill whose own best friend was in trouble, too.

"Do you know where he might have taken Ellison?" Sam demanded of Makepeace. Blair remembered she and Jim had become rather friendly when they were here six months ago. She'd worry about him--no, it looked like all of SG-1 would worry about him. They were the good guys, after all.

"I wondered about the place where they were using the second Stargate," the colonel replied. "I didn't follow them because when it happened I couldn't remember who Ellison was, but Maybourne had an official car and driver, so I'd bet it would be a military site. He could be in Washington now or a remote lab. I wouldn't guess Area 51, although I suppose it's possible."

Jack glowered. "I'm getting *tired* of Harry Maybourne," he muttered. "I think it's time we stopped him cold."

"Should we tell General Hammond, sir?" ventured Sam.

O'Neill considered it. "Hammond's responsibility is this base. Ellison isn't a member of the SGC, he's a civilian who happened to have a remote connection with it six months ago."

"He wouldn't be in trouble if you guys hadn't called me in," cried Blair hotly. "It's not his fault he's in trouble, and Maybourne is your guy. You owe Jim--"

"Whoa, hold it, time out." Jack raised his hands in the classic sports gesture. "Cool down, Sandburg. I didn't say we weren't going to help him. I just said it wasn't Hammond's job to do it. It looks like it's ours."

Carter frowned. "What can we do, sir? We don't even know where he is," she reminded them.

"Then that just means we need to find out," Jack replied. "And then we go there and bring Ellison back here. Sandburg's one of us and Ellison's in trouble because of the SGC. I say we get him back."

He looked like he would walk through walls of steel to do so and, if his motivation was to get back at Maybourne, who seemed to be an enemy of the whole team, rather than just a rescue, Blair would take it. "I'm sorry, Colonel," he apologized. "I didn't mean to snap at you, man, but there's nobody out there but me who's pushing this. Without me, Jim will probably sink without a trace. I'm really grateful." He heaved a sigh. "The only thing is, you take him away from this jerk and what's to stop him going after Jim again as soon as we're busy? I mean, I might have to go back to watch him, but I *know* I can't stand up to the military or the government or secret agencies on my own. Even if we find him, he's still not gonna be safe."

"Blair Sandburg makes an excellent point," Teal'c put in. "Even now, should circumstances warrant it, I believe Maybourne would take me. He has tried before, and only my membership in the SGC offers me a relative safety. Out there, beyond the gate, I am hunted as a traitor to Apophis, outside this base, I am an alien who can provide vital information on the Goa'uld to elements of your government that you do not trust. Only here am I safe, and it is an illusory safety at best. I choose to be here to fight for my people. But if I am not safe, how can Ellison be safe, even should we rescue him?"

Blair wanted to throw up. The Jaffa was correct. It was just as he'd thought. Rescuing Jim wouldn't protect him, either. It would only save him this one time, and Blair had no illusions that he could protect Jim on his own if he returned to Cascade and they let him be Jim's partner. Of course Jim might not want him back, anyway, after Blair's desertion and after the choice of his destination leading to Ellison's present incarceration. No matter what Blair did, no matter what SG-1 did, even if they took Makepeace and his marines with them, it didn't guarantee safety for Jim Ellison. Nothing did.

"Then we have to get Maybourne off his back permanently," O'Neil decided. Heaving a sigh, he turned to the window and gazed down at Daniel, who seemed to be sleeping. Positioning himself where Jackson could see him if he woke up, the Colonel frowned, pondering the problem. "Okay, team, I'm open to suggestions. How do we get Maybourne off Ellison's back? None of us like the guy. I'd like to get him off our backs at the same time, though I've got the idea that might be about as easy as toting a Goa'uld ship around on our shoulders."

"He wouldn't listen to General Hammond?" Blair asked. "I mean, the general outranks him, doesn't he?"

"Technically, yes, but it depends on where Maybourne's original orders come from--or whether he's doing a wild card here." O'Neill shared a look with Makepeace. They had the same rank as this Maybourne creep. Would that help? "We know there are powerful people out there who control funding for various programs and who have their own agendas that aren't the same as ours." He glanced down at Blair. "You'll find out more about that, the longer you stay. You think this is all exploring and defending the earth, but there's a lot more to it than that. There's politics involved and people who want to shut the gate down permanently. Maybourne doesn't want to shut it down. He wants to capitalize on it. He's one of those jerkfaces who thinks that everything he does is right and benefits the 'cause', whatever that is. He wanted to study Teal'c's friend in there." He patted the Jaffa's belly very lightly. "Didn't matter to him that Teal'c's an intelligent being and our friend, and utterly necessary to this project. He thought he could dissect 'Junior' and find out things. We...stopped him."

"So he'll want to dissect Jim to find out what it is that makes a Sentinel?" Blair was horrified. Even though he'd known all along that such a thing was possible, until today it had been a remote possibility, one of those uneasy suspicions that went with the paranoia about the approaching millennium. X-Files conspiracies, hidden militia, covert agencies. He'd worried about it when his mom's friend Sid had released information about Jim, but the fear had retreated once he'd given his press conference. Now it had become a terrible reality. Jim might already be dead, although Blair hoped they'd want to run tests on his senses first to give a rescue time to happen. Not that he wanted Maybourne's tame scientists to do even that. Once they did it, it went into official files, maybe files that were locked away like all those mysterious boxes in that warehouse at the end of the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark or in the real life equivalent of the X-Files. Blair had a fleeting image of Mulder and Scully reading over Jim's files, Mulder eager and excited, Scully searching for scientific reasons. But none of that helped Jim.

"Probably not right away," Sam consoled him, patting his shoulder. "We have time to figure out where he is and how to get him back before anything permanent is done." She turned to O'Neill. "Don't we, sir?"

"We can call in some favors and try to find out," Jack responded. "Hammond even has some connections that might help. We can't go charging in after him until we know where he is."

It wasn't good enough. Jim was in trouble, trouble that Blair had touched off, however inadvertently, and he felt sick to his stomach, bubbling with anxiety. He knew the colonel was right, though. They needed a plan. They needed to find out where Jim was. Once he was safe, they'd figure out how to keep him safe. Even with Daniel in the infirmary, his new friends seemed willing to help and he was glad of that, but he couldn't help shivering. This sucked. Probably Jim was strapped down in a lab somewhere, blaming Blair for everything that had happened to him, and Blair had always meant to keep Jim safe. Okay, so he'd gotten caught up in the thrill of his research a time or two, and maybe he would finally have had to accept that his dissertation couldn't be published without giving Jim away but, in the end, his friend's safety had been all-important and he'd give up his career--his dream--to save him.

Now, there was nothing he could do. Nothing he could change. Was Jim right not to trust him? Was he fair? Blair shook his head. Fair couldn't matter now. Only Jim's rescue could matter.

"Let me get things started," Jack decided, casting a rueful glance down at Daniel. "Carter, you and Teal'c wait here and go in and sit with Jackson whenever Janet lets you. I'll be back as soon as I can." He nodded to Makepeace and they went out into the corridor.

"Colonel, sir, what about me?" Blair asked hopefully.

Jack paused and regarded Blair with sympathy. "You stay here, too," he decided.

Blair wanted to rush out, jump on a white steed, and charge to Jim's rescue, but he couldn't do that. Even if he'd known where Jim was, he couldn't do that, not against the whole U.S. military or the sneaky personnel of a secret lab. There had to be a way to get him back safely, a way that would let him stay safe.

Sandburg flung himself down into a chair, rested his elbows on the ledge to the observation window, and tried to think of one.

*****

Jim Ellison awoke with a fierce headache that throbbed behind his eyes, a twisted stomach, and a hand free of the IV that he'd worn earlier. The straps that held him down hadn't gone, though, and his clearer head convinced him he was still a prisoner. Maybe the drug they'd given him could only be applied in small doses. Maybe it was night here at the base and the sadists who were torturing him were off sleeping. Sons of bitches. Jim lunged up and fought the restraints, but they wouldn't give more than a fraction of an inch. His wrists burned with the effort.

Okay, so that wasn't gonna cut it, and they might be watching him to see what he did. Slitting open the eye nearest to the camera, he winced at the dim illumination of the room. His eyes ached with the results of the tests, but they felt gummy and sticky around the edges, probably from the drops he remembered the flat-faced scientist giving him at the end of the test. By then, he was a mass of misery, his vision blurred into greyness and he had flinched wildly away from the drops.

It hadn't taken them long to reduce him into a quivering mass of helplessness, and he cursed them long and hard as the doctor finished up. He couldn't see the man's face, only a vague outline, and that scared him as he remembered the Golden incident and how exposure to that drug had taken away his sight.

Sandburg had been with him then, working him through it, always at his side, ready to steer him unobtrusively, helping him work with his other senses to compensate.

Damn it, he missed the kid.

Pushing that thought aside, Jim let himself dwell on the fact that Sandburg had gone to the Air Force and the Air Force had taken him captive. It was all his fault, just as it was his fault with the dissertation. Sandburg kept it on a laptop, for pete's sake, where even his *mother* could get at it.

But Naomi hadn't known what it was, and Sandburg had made her promise not to read it. He couldn't have dreamed she would do what she did.

In the end, though, it was his responsibility.

And hadn't Sandburg *accepted* that responsibility, done everything he possibly could to prevent it and then, ultimately, to fix it? Was it fair of Jim to hold him at fault for other people's actions? Hadn't Connor said something like that at the time when she was trying to reconcile him and 'Sandy' before Blair's press conference? "Don't you think he's bending over backward to fix things? He thought he'd covered it with his mother. Most people trust their own mothers, Jim."

"He still wrote the damn thing," Jim had argued.

"Yes, and you knew he planned to do that from the moment you met him. You knew the subject of his dissertation and you cooperated in tests for it. It wasn't a surprise to you. Did you ever say, 'You can't publish that'?"

"I read parts of it and I hated it. I got on his case about it, but then that thing with Alex happened, and I didn't follow up on it."

"Jim, Sandy may have started out with you as his research subject, but along the way you turned into his best friend. I think the reason he hesitated about the dissertation, told his mother he wasn't sure it was good enough, was because he knew in his heart that he couldn't expose you. He was between a rock and a hard place all along. In the end, I don't think he would have published it, even if Naomi hadn't interfered. Because he'd never do anything on purpose to jeopardize you."

"I think he had a pretty fair go at jeopardizing me," Jim had insisted tightly.

"You can't let your trust of him fail because other people did things that screwed you up. Look at what he did do. He made his mother promise not to read it. When he realized what had happened with the publisher, he refused to allow publication. He was horrified when the news leaked out. If you blame him for things beyond his control, things other people did, you're the one letting *him* down, not the other way around."

At the time, Jim hadn't wanted to hear it. The world thought he was a freak. They were bothering his father, his brother. Criminals wanted his autograph and he couldn't turn around without a flashbulb going off in his face. Afraid he'd wind up exactly where he was right now, he'd focused on Sandburg--the problem wouldn't even exist without Sandburg.

Or would it? If Blair hadn't come along when he did, Jim might have found himself locked away in a maximum security psychiatric facility, out of his mind, screaming away his life or drugged out of all awareness. He wouldn't have had any quality of life without someone who understood, who could help him control his runaway senses. Sandburg had appeared on the scene in time to help Jim when he needed it most. He might have started out fascinated in the research and that never stopped but, along the way, he'd realized that it was about friendship. He'd said as much when they'd returned from Peru after rescuing Simon and Daryl. He'd essentially worked four jobs during that time: teaching fellow, student, police officer, and protector, and he'd done it without hesitation and without complaint. He'd given and given and Jim had taken and taken, and then complained about it.

*Damn it*. Connor had told him once that, when things went wrong, he blamed someone before he tried to resolve it. He'd shrugged that off. When things went wrong, people were at fault. That was life, wasn't it? It was certainly what his father had raised him to believe, pitting him and Steven against each other, making them face the cold, angry world head on. "You've got nothing but your guts and your determination to protect you," William Ellison had said. "The other guy's gonna screw you over every single time. You have to be ready for that, ready to defend yourself, ready to get even."

God, what a philosophy. Jim could imagine Sandburg's reaction to that. No, he didn't have to imagine it. He'd seen it all too often before, when he'd tossed Sandburg out of the loft, though the kid had understood that when he realized Jim was reacting with Sentinel territoriality. When he'd turned on him over the dissertation. Sandburg knew.

Sandburg was still trying to protect him, even now. Although he believed Jim didn't trust him, as hurt as he had to have been, he'd also worried that becoming a cop would confirm that Jim was a Sentinel. Even as he made himself leave, he was trying to help Jim. He'd always tried to help Jim.

When had Jim ever tried to help Sandburg?

Oh, sure, he'd rushed to his rescue in a crisis situation more than once. That was his job, though. He'd have done the same for a stranger, although he wouldn't have worried as much about a stranger. When had Jim given up anything for Sandburg?

"I gave up my privacy, didn't I?" he said aloud.

*And I got something in return. I got a protector. I got someone who worried about me and didn't put conditions on friendship. Somebody who laughed with me and was there when I was bad tempered and when I didn't want to be alone. I got somebody who taught me what it was like to have an ally at my back who wouldn't hold out if I didn't do what he wanted me to. I got somebody who risked his life for me, went to the wall for me, gave up his career for me.

And I blamed him for it all.*

Jim drew in a deep breath. Okay. He thought he had it now. When Sandburg had given up his career, Jim had believed he got it, but he hadn't, quite. He had been nearly there, but not completely.

Trust Sandburg? The way he trusted the sun to rise in the morning.

If other people screwed up, it wasn't because Sandburg had meant to let him down. Instead, it should have been a problem for them to face together, as a team. Because it was as a team that they were at their best.

*If I get out of this place, Chief,* Jim vowed to himself and to the absent friend he wasn't certain he deserved, *We'll work this out together. I give you my word on it.*

Once he made the promise, he felt his tensed muscles relax and a smile crossed his lips. Okay, so the kid wasn't perfect. All that incense he burned, the state of the loft with all that clutter, his weird taste in food and music... But that was Sandburg and Jim would give everything to be back in a cluttered loft, enduring tribal chants and Blair's eager ranting on some weird anthropological subject. If he ever got out of here, finding Sandburg and telling him would be his very first priority. He had a friendship to rebuild.

If he ever got out of here....

*****

Daniel Jackson's mind was extremely fuzzy around the edges. For a long time, he lay, letting himself drift, letting the weird colors and crazy music surround him. It was too jarring to be soothing but, as time passed, the colors muted toward normal and the sounds stopped shrieking and gradually segued into the faint beep of computers, medical monitors, muted footsteps, and voices talking in the background in undertones. Even the roar of blood that raced through Daniel's veins stopped thundering, slid into a tranquil, relaxing melody, then faded away to its normal subliminal state.

Spent and exhausted but too edgy to sleep, he lay without motivation, watching the ceiling. Hadn't it been dancing earlier? It was only doing ceiling things now, hanging up there holding up light fixtures. Boring.

A faint giggle edged out of his mouth and he caught himself. It wasn't *that* funny, for crying out loud.

...for crying out loud? That was Jack's line. Hadn't he told Jack about the weirdness of the ceiling? Where *was* Jack? And why did Daniel have a horrible memory of holding a gun on him, threatening to shoot him? He couldn't have threatened to shoot Jack. Jack was his best friend. What was happening here? What had he done?

Major uneasiness surged through him and he opened his eyes staring upward toward the observation chamber overhead. He had a vague memory of Jack up there looking down at him. He hadn't looked angry; he'd looked worried. Was he afraid Daniel hated him, would attack him? Or was he afraid for Daniel's life, his sanity.

Jack wasn't there now, Blair Sandburg was, curled up in a chair, typing away on a laptop computer, his hair pulled back in a pony tail, metal frame glasses sliding low on his nose as he concentrated? Blair Sandburg? Hadn't he been here a long time ago? The world with the Incan civilization.... No, he'd been here since then. There'd been a mission... Oh, god, Daniel had shot at Blair. He could vaguely remember doing it, accusing Jack of replacing him with Sandburg. At the time, it had seemed so logical; now he realized it had obviously been a crazy delusion. Blair looked unhurt, no obvious bandages and his color was normal, thank goodness. Daniel hadn't shot him after all. His face was grave and worried and there were huge shadows under his eyes, but he looked healthy.

"You are awake, Daniel Jackson?" asked a familiar voice nearer at hand, a voice that was deep with concern, a voice that held no anger or hostility.

Teal'c. Maybe Teal'c didn't know what Daniel had done in the jungle. Cautiously, Daniel turned his head, the movement producing and unhappy sensations in his stomach, and saw the big Jaffa sitting beside his bed in a chair, a thick book in his hand, his finger stuck between the pages to mark his spot. As Daniel looked at him, he took a piece of paper from his pocket, inserted it into the book, and closed it. Oddly, it was a book about the Normandy Invasion, The Longest Day, by Cornelius Ryan. Daniel wondered if Jack had given it to him to read. Teal'c often had a book or two in his quarters as he taught himself about life on Earth.

Awake? Was he awake? Was he dreaming, weird nightmares, strange fantasies? Did he even feel real? "Uh...what just happened?" he ventured tentatively.

That question brought Dr. Frasier, who bent over him and smiled. "Let me take a blood sample, Daniel. You got infected with a toxin from a native plant on P3R-123 and it reacted like a hallucinogen. It's been working its way out of your system for the past six hours and it looks like the worst of it is over."

Over? How could it be over? "I...shot Jack?" Daniel ventured as she drew the blood. "I...remember a gun." He'd seen Jack, hadn't he? He'd told him about the dancing ceiling. Just because he didn't remember killing Jack didn't mean the Colonel was safe. A hallucinogen would make him remember strange things, wouldn't it? He needed answers.

"You shot no one," Teal'c reassured him. "You did fire your weapon, but you hit nothing beyond the dangerous plants. Those you destroyed with commendable accuracy."

"But I remember..." He shivered, although he wasn't cold. "I told Jack I was going to kill him--" The very idea horrified him. He could remember the shock in Jack's eyes as Daniel flung hot accusations at him.

"Yes, you did threaten him with a gun," Frasier confirmed, adding hastily as Daniel felt his heart begin to thud in alarm, "but it wasn't really you, at least not you in your right mind. The plant serum had extremely strong hallucinogenic properties. You essentially had a very bad trip. Col. O'Neill understands that. No one is upset with you."

Teal'c eyed him somberly. "We are, instead, worried about you, Daniel Jackson," he proclaimed with total sincerity.

"But I--I said terrible things to Jack. I remember it. It's fuzzy, but it's there. I remember everything I did, everything I said. All the weird things I saw. Jack looked at me and I know what I said hurt him." How could he have accused Jack of terrible things? He'd never trusted anyone in his life as much as he trusted Jack O'Neill. How could he have talked to him like that? Shivering, he wrapped his arms around his chest, freezing when he saw the IV in his hand. "What..."

"You were dehydrated," Frasier said. "And the serotonin levels in your brain were lower than normal. We've had you on several IV's. This is the last one."

Okay, that made sense. He was all right, then, wasn't he? He wasn't strapped down, although he had a fuzzy image of being secured to the table when the ceiling had grown arms and legs and danced for him. He concentrated. "Well...that's typical when someone takes a hallucinogen, isn't it? I remember reading somewhere that it limits its availability, and it's a...neurotransmitter, isn't that right?"

"Exactly right, Dr. Jackson. But your serotonin level is stabilizing and approaching normal fast. What's more, I can't find the slightest evidence that any of the substance is remaining in your system. There should be nothing to cause flashbacks. By this time tomorrow, you should be fully recovered. I want to keep you here tonight, to monitor you. With an alien toxin, we can't take chances. But I think its very alienness is what will protect you from delayed results. The substance is not comfortable in your system. You're beating it." She patted him gently on the shoulder. "I'm going to go study this blood sample now. Teal'c will stay with you, but try not to get overexcited. Col. O'Neill will be back soon."

"If he can stand to see me," Daniel muttered, disgusted with himself. A part of him knew he said it in hopes of being reassured, although he wasn't certain he needed reassurance. He might have killed Jack, or Sandburg. Even if it was the toxin's fault, he would have been the one who did it.

"He has been in and out all afternoon," the doctor insisted. "He'll be back shortly. He's feeling rather guilty himself. Don't be too hard on him. He knows he made a mistake on the mission. He won't be very comfortable about that, but you can both work past it." She went off with the blood sample and busied herself at the far end of the room.

"*Jack* made a mistake?" Daniel asked Teal'c wonderingly. "I'm the one that threatened to kill him and *he* made a mistake?"

The Jaffa nodded once. "O'Neill touched an artifact and triggered the 'booby trap'."

"Oh." Daniel was silent, thinking, remembering feeling annoyed at the Colonel for failing to take his warning into account. "That's why I was...a little mad at him," he said. "Because sometimes he doesn't listen to me. I know there wasn't anything in that place to indicate a booby trap. I just had a feeling..."

Teal'c bobbed his head in agreement. "You were correct, Daniel Jackson. I, too, sensed danger in that place. I think that, perhaps, O'Neill felt it but did not understand it. He does not care for odd sensations he does not understand, although he is usually wary around them."

That was an understatement. Jack liked things nice and clear-cut, spelled out distinctly and efficiently in the proper order. When they went on a mission, he wanted useful information first so he could deal with it. Is there immediate danger? Are we being watched? Can we secure the perimeter? Does the DHD work? Only when their position was secure did he branch out and try to learn more. Daniel's disciplines were far different, and he was so fascinated with the new worlds they visited, with the overwhelming amount of exciting new data, that he didn't always take the time to prioritize. They'd argued over it before and likely would again. But booby traps should be right up there at the top of Jack's list of things to pay attention to.

Daniel rubbed his temples, wishing his head would stop throbbing. He had to reason this out and the little thinking he'd done so far simply hurt. His brain wasn't functioning yet at peak efficiency, and he needed it to.

"I said not to touch anything," he blurted, feeling a shiver of hurt at the memory.

"He now understands why." Teal'c hesitated. The Jaffa was not a talkative man, although there were times when he and Daniel had conversed at length, late nights on the base when there was a mission coming up or just finished and a little time to kill. Daniel had always encouraged Teal'c to talk to him about life out there, beyond the Stargate. Part of that was his eternal quest for knowledge, part his concern for Sha're and the hope that something Teal'c mentioned in passing might provide a clue down the road that would help to find her. But Daniel understood all too well what it was like to be lonely and isolated, and he realized, maybe more than any of the others, how alone Teal'c must feel. He'd come to respect the big man's quiet dignity, his utterly unshakable honor. He would trust not only his life, but Jack's and Sam's--and Sha're's, with Teal'c, and never hesitate.

"When you fell through the opening in the floor, we could not open it," the Jaffa continued. "We dared not blast it in case you lay unconscious directly below. That is why the Colonel fetched Blair Sandburg. He did know how to reset the booby trap. When we opened it a second time, we saw the skeletons of those had fallen to their deaths before. Col. O'Neill was...extremely upset, realizing that you, too, might have died when you pushed him away from the opening and fell in his place. You are his responsibility on missions, as one of his team, and his duty is to protect his team and bring them safely home, you perhaps more than the rest of us because you lack the military background the rest of us possess. But you are more than that to him. You are his younger brother in all but blood. I am not certain he has...conceptualized this fact, but that does not make it less than true. Perhaps it is different among the Tau'ri, but among my people on Chulak, the elder brother does not always heed the younger as he should. There is also another difference, Daniel Jackson. His perspective is military. Yours is scientific. There are bound to be...clashes."

"You called that one," Daniel replied with a faint grin. There had definitely been clashes. He wasn't sure he'd entirely conceptualized the big brother-little brother perception either, but when Teal'c spoke of it, his mind and heart had recognized it without hesitation. SG-1 had given him the thing he'd lacked for so long, the thing he'd had so briefly on Abydos. Family. They were a team, they worked together, but they were more than that. Something had happened when SG-1 began to work together, something that had taken four utterly different individuals and forged a bond between them. Daniel valued that bond more than he could ever say.

And back on P3R-123, he had pulled a gun on his 'brother'.

"Is Jack mad about the gun?" he asked in a small, quiet voice.

"He is not."

"But I screwed up..."

"How is it 'screwing up' to be bitten by a plant from behind and to suffer its effects? None could resist them, Daniel Jackson. He understands that was not you, back there on the planet. It was not you in your right mind, any more than it was O'Neill in his right mind who attacked you when suffering the effects of the virus from the dark side of P3X-797. Do you blame him for striking you then?"

"Of course not," Daniel insisted. He opened his mouth to say, 'But this is different,' and closed it again, the words unspoken. Maybe it *wasn't* different. It was far less his fault than the Sarcophagus, which he had chosen to get into that first time on the road to addiction. Of course, had he known addiction was to be the outcome, he wouldn't have touched it with a ten foot pole-- No, that was over. This was now. He found a smile for Teal'c. "Thank you, my friend. When can I see Jack? I need to talk to him. I should apologize, even if the drug did it. And I should have made it clearer to him about the possibility of booby traps."

"O'Neill is attempting to...call in favors," Teal'c replied, obviously quoting. American slang did not dance trippingly on his tongue. Sometimes he got it delightfully wrong. This time, he had it right, but the words themselves were ominous.

"Why? What's wrong?" His eyes moved past Teal'c to Blair Sandburg, sitting huddled overhead, the laptop abandoned as he stared into space, his thoughts taking refuge in a dark, unhappy location. No one had mentioned Sam. He couldn't quite remember if she had been there when the ceiling had done its dance recital. "Is Major Carter all right?" he asked anxiously.

"She is well and will visit you soon. We have a different problem. Colonel Maybourne has taken Blair Sandburg's friend, Ellison, prisoner. It is our belief that he has removed him to a secret laboratory to perform experiments upon him."

"Oh, no." Daniel's eyes flashed to Sandburg, who had set aside the laptop and was now engaged in pacing up and down the narrow confines of the observation chamber. Hair loose again, he raked his fingers through it, muttering to himself. He looked as if he would explode in five directions at once if anyone so much as spoke his name.

Daniel hadn't come to know Jim Ellison very well at the time of the previous mission, but he remembered Ellison visiting Sandburg in the Infirmary after Daniel and Blair had been poisoned on the Second World. Watching them together had vaguely reminded Daniel of his own interaction with Jack O'Neill. It didn't take much imagination to put Jack in Ellison's shoes and understand the panic Blair must be feeling. Maybourne, of all people. It couldn't be worse. Sometimes, Daniel imagined finding Sha're and bringing her back here, Goa'uld and all, only to have Maybourne pounce on her and take her away. Perhaps that was why he had left her son with Kasuf on Abydos instead of bringing the boy here to raise as his own. He didn't trust people like Maybourne to refrain from experimenting on a helpless infant born to two infected hosts, to see if there was any carry over.

Now Maybourne had Jim Ellison. Daniel knew it was hardly his own fault but he'd brought Sandburg here in the first place. Fault or not, it meant he had to help get Ellison back.

If only he could think. He was so tired it was all he could do to keep his eyes open, let alone make sense and formulate rescue plans. Blinking up at Teal'c, he smothered a huge yawn. Muscles he hadn't known he possessed twinged, reminding him of his ordeal. He ached with weariness.

"Dr. Frasier," the Jaffa called, drawing her back to Daniel's side. "Daniel Jackson appears fatigued."

"Yes, and I want him to sleep now. Daniel, even talking can make you exhausted, and you will probably lack your normal energy for the next few days. It's safe to rest and when you wake up again, I'll make sure Col. O'Neill knows it."

"Tell him I'm sorry about the gun," Daniel murmured. The exhaustion had crept up on him and now it was all he could think of. A second, gaping yawn made his jaw ache.

"I will," she replied.

Teal'c hesitated, then he clapped Daniel reassuringly on the shoulder. "I shall wait here while you sleep, Daniel Jackson," he promised. "Or Major Carter or O'Neill will do so. You may rest safely."

*Good old Teal'c*, Daniel thought muzzily. *Always knows what to say.* "Good ol' Teal'c," he repeated aloud and then sleep crept up on him and carried him away to a safe haven where not even dreams followed him.

*****

There had to be an answer. There just *had* to be. Blair had stayed in the observation room because he didn't really have anywhere else to go, but it had been like sitting on an anthill, and he'd shifted and twitched and changed position a hundred times before Sam took pity on him and brought him a laptop computer. "Here you go, Blair. Why don't you type up your mission report. Just explain what happened. Like you did the last time, if you remember."

Well, at least it was something to do. Blair took the laptop, delighted to find it state of the art. After a little exploring, he called up a template for mission reports--these guys had it all right in front of them--and started filling in detailed information, pausing every now and then to wonder how the Colonel was doing tracking down Jim's location and to glance down at Daniel to see how he was responding to the treatment.

O'Neill came by twice, both times to stare down at the sleeping Jackson, and to report that he had feelers out and that they were coming closer. He wasn't sure how they could protect Jim again once they got him back, though, and that worried Blair more than anything. Even if he gave up on the SGC and went back to Cascade with Jim, he sure couldn't protect him against the kind of muscle and might Maybourne could whistle up without a second's pause. Of course Jim would be wary the next time, but wary didn't cut it against AK-47s or tranquilizer darts. There'd be no *life* for Jim, always watching his back. He couldn't begin to do his job that way. Not a hope. All his worst fears about being a Sentinel would be realized. *God, Jim, I'm so sorry...*

Periodically, Blair set aside his typing and closed his eyes, concentrating on Jim, trying to find the spirit bond that he knew existed between them. Jim had used it to save his life when he'd drowned in the university fountain, and he'd used it again, aware of Blair's need when he had been poisoned halfway across the galaxy on the Incan planet. Jim had been in his mind then, both times. The only thing was, Blair suspected the ability to initiate such a contact originated from Jim himself; Jim's awareness of his need, projecting to his shaman's mind. Whether the ability to initiate the contact could develop in the shaman was a moot point right now. Blair couldn't get anything no matter how much he strained after it, only a distant, faint sensation of anger and discomfort. He couldn't touch Jim's conscious awareness at all, and that scared him because he was afraid they'd drugged Jim and whatever they used had blocked the link. The only good thing that came out of the fruitless effort was the near-certainty that Jim was still alive. Maybe if Jim wasn't drugged they could learn how to talk, mind to mind. Wow, that would be so great.... Blair's shoulders slumped. How could it be great when Jim was trapped, helpless, somewhere Blair couldn't find him and free him?

He made himself try again every ten minutes, sinking into meditation and reaching out across the void. Manca Lana on the Incan planet had said that Blair's Sentinel was no further from him than his own mind. If that was true, he should be able to reach Jim, somehow, even if Jim's thoughts were far away. Even if he was drugged? Sandburg was scared they'd done something to destroy Jim's abilities. Where was the panther spirit that protected Jim? Where was the spirit of Incacha? Had Blair severed his ties with Jim by leaving the way he had. Would that severing mean Jim's doom?

*Oh, man, Jim, I am sooooo sorry*, Blair thought wistfully to his distant Sentinel. *I said you didn't trust me, but we didn't even try to work that out. I expected too much. Maybe I didn't trust you. How can you change if we don't work together? How can I make it right if I don't tell you where you let me down? You blame me when there's trouble, but that's what you do--you blame. You can't fix it if we don't even try. Maybe I blame, too, in a different way. I let my own hurt feelings screw us up, and I justified it by saying my going would protect you. And it didn't. Not that I could have stopped Maybourne, but at least we could have been together.*

Somewhere during his typing, his attempts at mental contact, and his dark thoughts Daniel woke up. Blair saw him talking to Teal'c. He looked pretty wasted still, but he didn't seem to be hallucinating any longer. Frasier had said she thought he'd start to come out of it about now. At least that was one good thing. If Blair hadn't come to join the SGC, it might have taken the rest of SG-1 a lot longer to find Daniel. Who knows what additional damage the plant's toxin might have caused him if they hadn't gotten him back to Earth and the infirmary so quickly. Blair found a faint smile as he watched Daniel and Teal'c conversing.

Eventually Daniel went to sleep and Teal'c said something to Janet Frasier and poked his head outside the door. A minute or two later, Sam Carter appeared and took his place at Daniel's side. Probably Teal'c was off to tell O'Neill that Jackson had awakened and that he'd seemed to be responding without hallucinations.

Daniel was recovering. But coming here had exposed Jim to Maybourne. Damn it. There had to be an answer. Jack had said Maybourne had powerful connections and that Hammond probably couldn't countermand Maybourne's orders even though he was a colonel, because the orders might have come from higher up than Hammond.

How high could they be?

Blair had a sudden niggling of an idea, and sat playing with it for a few minutes until it crystalized in his mind, but what to do with it? How could he possibly... Omigosh, wait a minute! Maybe it would work after all. He had to find the Colonel right away. This idea really rocked.

At least he hoped it did.

*****

Jack O'Neill pounded his fist on the top of the desk. He was sitting in the office he used when he wasn't on missions--all the SG team leaders had them--waiting for the phone to ring. He'd called in all the favors he could, put out feelers here and there, and none of them had panned out yet.

Teal'c had just come by and reported that Daniel had awakened and had talked to him without hallucinations or paranoia. The kid was coming out of it. Even Frasier said he was bouncing back. Jack sent Teal'c off to get an evening meal and then leaned back in his desk chair, drawing in a vast, relieved sigh. Thank god Daniel was going to make it. He still had to talk to Daniel, but he wouldn't disturb the archaeologist's sleep. Carter could tell him when he woke up again. Then the two of them could work out this little problem of the booby trap and the gun and put it behind them. He hoped.

A knock at the door preceded Blair Sandburg's entrance by half a second. "Anybody ever teach you to knock?" Jack growled but without malice.

Sandburg grinned doubtfully, then plunged on. "Colonel, sir, I've got a *great* idea, but I need your help."

Now there was a sentence booby trapped with trouble if Jack had ever heard one. "Why don't I trust that line, kid?" he asked whimsically.

Sandburg ignored that and plunged right in. "Colonel, the problem isn't just getting Jim back, it's keeping him free again afterwards, am I right, man?"

"I'd say that pretty much hits the nail on the head. We haven't found him yet, so that means the cover's got to be pretty deep. People out there that I don't even want to *think* about must be covering for him. Unless we give him sanctuary on the base, just breaking him out isn't the answer, even if it's a start. Last thing I want to do is start taking pot shots at American soldiers who are only obeying orders--and having them start taking potshots at my team. Ellison would be right in the line of fire, too."

Sandburg beamed. Why didn't Jack trust that expression? "Well, I've got an idea that will take care of all that--if it works. Only I don't think I can get away with it on my own. I'll *do* it--it's my responsibility-- but you have to cover for me, okay?"

O'Neill held up his hands, palm outward, to fend off the kid. "Whoa, back up a sec. I'm not sure it's okay till I know what it is. You've got a look I've seen on Daniel's face when he's going to rush off and do something so stupid it gives me major indigestion."

"No, this is a *good* plan, Colonel." Something about the way Sandburg kept calling him 'colonel' got to Jack. There was awe and a touch of hero worship in his voice that moved him more than he wanted to admit. God, he'd seen that same hopeful, big-eyed stare from Charlie when he'd wanted to wheedle something out of old Dad. Jack flinched at the memory. Charlie hadn't been devious and he had a feeling this plan of Sandburg's would give him an ulcer--and that would be on a good day. "The thing is, we need somebody with authority over Maybourne," Sandburg continued, "somebody he'd actually obey, and I get the feeling that General Hammond can't order it even if he outranks Maybourne because Maybourne's ideas come from higher up. Right?"

"I'd say that was a fair estimation. Okay, what are you going to do? Petition God for a favor?"

"No, I'm going to sneak into General Hammond's office, use his red telephone and call the President," Blair proclaimed as if nothing could be easier.

*Oh, hell*. Jack's heart plunged down into his shoes. He was right, this was a major ulcer-making proposition all right. In fact, having Sandburg around was an ulcer-making situation. Daniel suddenly began to seem like a most staid and sober teammate in comparison--even when he was doped to the gills with a hallucinogen.

"I saw the phone when I was in there and I know it must link to the president," Sandburg continued eagerly, hopeful eyes lifted to Jack's face. "Doesn't it?"

"Well, yeah, it does. But--"

"But the problem is, making sure the General isn't in there so I have to sneak in when he's gone. I'm not sure he'd do it; he's got a lot of people to answer to, himself, and he can't do this just because I want him to. But I'm a civilian and I don't have any other quick way to the President. By the time I got through the red tape, even assuming I could, Jim might be dead, so I can't wait. All you have to do, Colonel, is hang out in the hall outside his office and if he comes, distract him long enough for me to finish. Come on, Colonel, what do you say? Pleeeeaase," he wheedled. "It might be Jim's only chance."

The worst part of the whole thing was that O'Neill liked the idea. He wasn't sure he could admit it, but there was actually a kind of sense in the whole thing, assuming the President would actually speak to Sandburg and didn't hang up when he realized it wasn't Hammond on the other end of the line. O'Neill wished he could resort to that childish talisman of crossing his fingers. While he didn't know Jim Ellison; he'd only met the guy a couple of times; nobody should have to put up with Maybourne's sneaky tricks, and he *did* know Sandburg. He could imagine how utterly crushed the long-haired kid would be if the President didn't buy it or if somebody else answered first and kept Blair from his 'one chance'.

"I must be getting senile in my old age," he muttered under his breath. "Dammmit." He drew in a deep, frustrated breath. "Oh, hell, kid, I'm in. I'm not getting anything the regular way. We'd track him down eventually, but this might be quicker. Assuming the Prez buys it."

"He will. I *know* he will." Sandburg vibrated like a bowstring. "Come on, Colonel. I just *know* it'll work."

The optimism of youth. Jack felt a hundred years old in the face of Sandburg's enthusiasm. He couldn't remember the last time he had been convinced something would work simply because he had truth, justice, and the American way on his side. Damn it, he wanted it to work, not just to free Ellison but because he'd like to see justice triumph for its own sake. And because he hated to let Sandburg down.

"Okay, come on. But I warn you, do this fast and do it right, because we sure as hell aren't going to be offered frequent-caller rates."

Sandburg's face lit like the sun. For a panicked moment, O'Neill was afraid the kid was going to hug him, but Sandburg held back at the last minute. Instead, he grabbed Jack by the arm and steered him to the door. "We've gotta hurry. Who knows what they're doing to Jim right this very minute."

Yeah, the kid had a lot of rotten things to imagine. Jack shut off his desk lamp and let Sandburg tug him toward the door. *Thirty going on twelve,* he thought with a wry grin.

It was after normal hours, and Hammond wasn't in his office. Here in a secure base, the office wasn't locked, either. Jack felt conspicuous as all hell standing out here in the hall while Sandburg tiptoed conspiratorially inside and hesitated over the red phone. Most people went their entire lives without even seeing a hot-line telephone or even imagining using one but, after a moment of bracing himself for the ordeal to come, the kid snatched it up and held it to his ear, looking as if he was afraid it might explode. After a breathless pause, he said, "General Hammond's office for the President, please," in the most businesslike tones Jack had ever heard come out of his mouth. Glancing in Jack's direction he held up his free hand to reveal tightly-crossed fingers.

O'Neill crossed his own.

"Mr. President?" Awe spelled itself hugely on Sandburg's face. "Oh, gosh, sir..." He pulled himself together. "Mr. President, I'm Blair Sandburg, I'm a new member of the SGC, and there's an emergency that involves the safety and the rights of an American citizen who has done nothing wrong but is incarcerated simply for being what he is."

A pause. Jack imagined the President, probably roused from bed a couple of time zones east of here, expecting a threat to the safety of the world or a new Goa'uld orbital attack hearing a line like that. On the other hand, denying the needs of a citizen would look bad in the press. Maybe the man was curious.

"His name's Jim Ellison, sir. No, he's not a member of the SGC, but he's a good man, and he's served his country both in the Army and as a police officer. He's fought terrorists and saved lives, and he's honorable, sir. And right now, he's in danger of being destroyed in an experiment run by a man called Col. Maybourne." A pause. "No, sir, I assure you, this is not a hoax. I really am Blair Sandburg and I'm calling from General Hammond's office. It was the only way I knew to get to you, and I was *desperate*." A pause. "I voted for you, sir. Twice."

Jack groaned and rolled his eyes.

"Well, sir, you see, Jim is what's called a Sentinel. He's got all five of his senses heightened--he's got extraordinary abilities." Sandburg's hand was so tight on the phone that his knuckles were white. "I always kept his secret, but now, the only way I can think to save him is to tell you, even if he gets mad at me for it.... Yes, he's that guy who was on TV a few months ago.... Yessir, I'm the one who called a press conference." His eyes were huge. Jack could tell what he was thinking without even prompting. 'The President of the United States has *heard* of me!' "I had to say I lied, sir, because I knew there were people out there like Col. Maybourne, who would want to find out what makes Jim able to have heightened senses, and if I said it was a hoax most of them would back off and be embarrassed to admit they'd been scammed--even if it wasn't really a scam. I know Jim's abilities are genetic, and I was scared that if anybody found out, they'd do this.... No, sir, I don't know what he's doing or even where he's doing it, but another Colonel from the SGC saw Maybourne take him away. You don't think it's *right* to experiment on American citizens against their wishes, do you, sir?" he demanded, horrified at the very thought. Politically naive, that was Sandburg. Jack approved of the question. Put the President on the spot.

"Yessir. Jim is a good man. And he doesn't know what makes this work. It's genetic, he was born with it. Unless they want to alter people's genes and make super soldiers..." He let that thought drop. "No, sir, the thing is, a Sentinel needs somebody to be his guide, to watch out for him, to make sure he doesn't zone out--focus so closely on one particular sense that he goes into a trance. I don't think somebody who went into a trance in a crisis would be good in combat or covert missions, sir, and once you add in guides for all the Sentinels, people without hyper senses, you lose all chance of getting in there sneakily. Don't we have enough spies without destroying what makes Jim so unique?" His eyes were huge and desperate.

Somebody rounded a corner and came down the hall toward Jack, an airman on duty, but he merely acknowledged O'Neill's presence and went on past without curiosity. Probably thought Jack was waiting to see the General. But O'Neill tensed at the sight of him and he didn't relax until the man was gone.

"Just because someone is different doesn't mean he's bad and it doesn't mean he should lose his rights as a citizen," Blair was insisting. "Please, Mr. President, you're the only one who can save Jim. Because even if we could find out where he was and take him away, that wouldn't stop Maybourne from trying again. He'd just wait for another chance. But if *you* gave the order, sir, he'd have to stop, wouldn't he? Wouldn't your order protect Jim? I can't think of any other way to do it and I'm *desperate*, sir. I wouldn't have done this otherwise. General Hammond's going to be soooo mad at me as it is, but I don't care. This is Jim's only hope."

Jack risked a glance in at him and saw Sandburg sitting perched on the edge of Hammond's desk, clutching the receiver with a deathgrip. Aware of O'Neill's gaze, he winked at him.

The President talked for a moment or two, and Sandburg listened, nodding and saying, "Yessir," whenever the man in the oval office paused. He finally heaved a sigh. "Yessir, I've done everything I could to keep Jim's secret and I know he's going to be mad that I told anybody, even if it's you. But I thought it was better to protect him. Even if he's mad at me, if he's safe and free, I can live with him being mad at me.... Yessir, that's why I said the dissertation was a fraud, to protect him. It was the only way I could. It's people like Maybourne and whoever backs him up who violate people's civil rights. Jim has the same right to be free as any American. Just because he can see and hear better is no grounds for him to lose his rights. It's not as if he used his abilities for evil. He's used them to save lives, from the very beginning. He's used them to help people and to be a good police officer. He's a good man, sir. Please, you've got to help me."

Jim didn't know whether it was the PR aspect of the whole thing that got to the President or whether it was the utter, earnest sincerity that rang in Sandburg's voice. Maybe, in spite of all the scandals that hung around him, the President was a good guy at heart.... Could anybody get that far and still be a good guy? Jack was cynical enough to doubt it. But suddenly Blair's face blazed with happiness. "You *will*? That's sooo great, man. Uh, I mean, sir. But we don't know where Maybourne has him." He listened a minute more, then he said, "Yes, sir, I promise, sir. Thank you, sir.... Yes, here at the SGC, please. Thank you. Oh, man, I am *so* glad I voted for you."

O'Neill slapped his hand against his forehead. This kid would give him white hairs before he was through.

Blair came prancing out of Hammond's office, blazing with joy. "He says he'll do it," he exulted, grabbing O'Neill and hugging him with sheer exuberance.

"Ah, geez, come on, kid," Jack grumbled, not nearly as annoyed as he sounded. "Back off here." He took Sandburg by the shoulders and held him at arms' length. "What did he say? What's he going to do?"

"He's going to order Maybourne to bring Jim here," Blair replied, his eyes ablaze with happiness. "I know he doesn't have clearance, but there are places at higher levels where he could wait until I could talk to him. Maybe Janet could examine him and make sure they didn't do anything permanent." He sighed. "I don't know what to do. I've gotta help Jim. I think I was too fast to judge before. We've got a lot to work out. But...I still can't be a cop. Something inside me needs more."

Jack had a pretty good idea what the kid meant. He'd seen it in Daniel Jackson. Daniel had thrived on Abydos, but he'd thrived even more here, doing this work, using his gifts. People had to do the jobs they were meant to do. O'Neill himself had not realized how important that was, although he knew the Air Force was right for him, until he joined SG-1. Put Sandburg as a cop and he'd probably be a good one, but he was wasting all those odd things he knew, just like Daniel would if he ever went back to a university.

"You don't have to decide anything right now," he said. "But I think there's something you *do* have to do."

"What?"

"'fess up." O'Neill gestured down the hall, and Blair whirled to see General Hammond approaching. "We better get it over with. Then I'm gonna head down and check out Daniel."

Blair gulped, then squared his shoulders manfully, prepared to take his medicine. Now that he'd done what he set out to do, reaction was catching up on him. His face was pale and his hands were shaking. Jack wasn't sure he was in a much better state himself.

"Uh, General Hammond, sir, you are going to be sooooo mad at me," Sandburg announced, preparing himself to be reamed hard.

"'Fraid you're gonna get on my case, too, General," Jack added. "It wasn't all Sandburg. I covered for him."

Hammond regarded them in alarm, his eyebrows lifting. "I'm not going to like this, am I Colonel?" he asked wryly.

"Well, maybe a part of you will," Jack replied. "Can we do this in private, sir?"

"This way, gentlemen." Hammond ushered them into his office.

Not one minute later a passing marine nearly jumped a foot when Hammond's voice suddenly bellowed furiously, "*You did WHAT*!"

*****

Concluded in Part Four...