New Arrivals
Author-Sheila Paulson
Titles

Nor Iron Bars a Cage
Part One
by Sheila Paulson

Summary: On a mission through the Stargate, Jim has a close encounter with a Goa'uld. Crossover with Stargate: SG1; sequel to The Limits of Trust. Rated PG. Spoilers for Learning Curve (Stargate episode).

Author's Notes: This is the third in my Sentinel/Stagate SG-1 series, following Sentinels, and The Limits of Trust. Nor Iron Bars a Cage was printed by Agent With Style, and is still in print. Posted here with the permission of Agent With Style.

Disclaimer: The Sentinel, and the characters on the show do not belong to me but to Pet Fly, UPN, and Paramount. Stargate: SG1 belongs to MGM. No copyright infringement is intended in their use.

The reek of the jungle was pungent around him, hot and steamy and ripe with burgeoning vegetation, the air dense and heavy, full of the rasps of insects and the harsh cries of birds. The path beneath his paws had to be refreshed daily or new growth would cover it. Intent on a destination he didn't understand, the panther ran silently. All he knew was that he had to get there, and get there quickly. Trailing vines impeded the path and he had to duck under them, to leap a fallen branch, to snarl at a lesser creature that hovered in the undergrowth. This was his jungle, his path, his purpose. He flowed along the trail, in a loping, ground-eating run, desperate to arrive.

Abruptly, the clearing opened around him forcing him to check his run on the edge of it, eyes registering the huge stone circle that sat precisely in its center. It was pre-Columbian: Aztec or Maya, perhaps, possibly even Incan, very old and very powerful. The panther eyed it with relief he couldn't explain. Around the circle, stone protrusions, encrusted by dead vines, were reminiscent of long-abandoned jungle sites, archaeological treasure troves. Beyond the circle, the countryside rose abruptly in a series of cliffs, with a sparkling waterfall that branched repeatedly and spread to cover the entire face of the vast stone wall. A racing cataract spilled over the bottom of the stone circle, gushing forth into a sparkling pool that lay before it, drinking in the circle's beneficence. Jungle birds in vivid primary colors perched on the circle's jutting projections, and butterflies provided splashes of vivid color against the sparkle of the spewing water.

Crouched beneath the overhanging boughs at the edge of the clearing, the panther breathed in deeply, scenting for danger. He caught the tang of it, a strange, dry, acrid odor that made the fur rise on his back and the muscles clench beneath his pelt.

Out of the jungle to his right, a wolf emerged from a hidden trail and stood, tongue lolling, studying the stone circle. Its ears pricked up, then it turned its head and saw the jaguar. Light came into the golden eyes and its tail stirred like a dog's. It started to leave the shelter of its trail, and the jaguar leaped. Its paws thrust the wolf aside, driving it to the ground, just before the looming python dropped from the branches overhead. The wolf rolled once, twice, and came up snarling, only to check as the giant snake curled around the panther in tightening spirals. He snarled and struggled, but the grip was tight, too tight to break free. The wolf lunged, nipping at the mighty serpent, trying to break its hold. The attack made the coils squeeze more tightly, driving the air from his lungs.

"Run, Chief!"

He knew he had shouted the words, but they didn't ring out into the heat of the jungle afternoon. Still the wolf heard them. It cried, "No!" and lunged in again, its teeth fastening on the place just behind the snake's triangular head. The snake bunched tight.

"Run, Chief. Get away."

Water gushed from the stone circle in a mighty flood and picked the wolf up off its feet, swirling it loose from its attack. "No," the panther screamed inside is head as the waters circled around in a fierce eddy and swirled the wolf through the stone circle as if the water that had gushed forth into the pool had learned to defy gravity and flow upward. Four shadowy figures suddenly appeared in the wolf's place, lined up in front of the circle, hands outstretched to help. The wolf howled mournfully as it vanished into the circle, and then there was only a growing darkness as the snake's tightening coils forced consciousness away.

"Beware, enquerry," said a familiar voice inside his head. "Beware the snake."

*****

Jim Ellison erupted from his tangled bedclothes with a hoarse yell. Whoa! That had been a nasty one. He was used to the Sentinel dreams that had come to him ever since he had discovered the panther spirit that had appeared to him from time to time, since that rescue mission to Peru. In the dreams, he became the panther. Sandburg had suggested that the dreams were meant to teach him, lessons he could puzzle out when he was awake, sometimes messages, sometimes ways to act out what he couldn't deal with in conscious reality. That was Blair for you, coming up with mystical theories and psychobabble when Jim wanted practical applications for his heightened senses. He didn't need spooky messages from his subconscious mind--or from the spirit realm. That had been Incacha's voice at the end warning him, and the Chopek warrior was dead. Jim had never told anyone but Sandburg that he sometimes heard Incacha or saw him in visions. Dreams, not visions, he insisted. They didn't like cops who had visions, or recommissioned Army majors, either. And Sandburg was the wolf. He had known that since the anthropologist's near-drowning in the fountain and Rainier University, less than a year ago.

Who'd have thought that, after nearly ten years as a cop in Cascade, Washington, Jim Ellison would discover a new career that would mean going back into the Army, that meant--traveling to other planets through a controlled wormhole called the Stargate. Life had a way of dishing up the unexpected. It had turned him into a Sentinel, a man with heightened senses and the responsibility to protect his territory that went along with the genetic enhancement. Then it had offered him a chance to expand his 'territory' to include the entire planet Earth.

The journey to this moment had not been an easy one. When his senses exploded into hyperactivity, he had been saved by Blair Sandburg, a graduate student of anthropology at Rainier University, who just happened to be the world's greatest living expert--and only believer--in the Sentinel concept. They had teamed up and discovered that the partnership worked beautifully in spite of the vast personality differences between the two men. Blair researched Jim's abilities for his dissertation and at the same time taught the control Jim so desperately needed.

But the dissertation became problematic. To publish would be to reveal Jim to the world, a world that would be all too ready to exploit him. When the dissertation had been accidentally made public, Blair had been forced to repudiate it, to call himself a fraud at a news conference, all to protect Jim. As a result, he'd been booted out of the university. A grateful Cascade Police Department had offered him a job, but in the end Blair had discovered he couldn't go that route. Being hired by the CPD would undo the good of his press conference, remind the world that Jim really was a Sentinel. With that and a variety of unresolved issues between him and Jim, he'd gone away--to the Stargate project.

Blair had been summoned to the Stargate once before, sent through the circle that provided instantaneous translocation to another world, to help one of the Stargate teams on a mission. They'd needed an expert on Sentinels, and Blair was all she wrote. So when he'd left Cascade with a bad academic rep and no prospects, he'd signed up with the Stargate project, the one place that already knew Sandburg was no fraud, and the one place where his unique talents could be appreciated and valued. They had taken him on. They'd have been crazy not to.

When Jim followed, determined to make matters right, he'd been captured for experimentation purposes by Colonel Maybourne, a dangerous enemy, and it had taken Blair's intervention with the President of the United States to free Jim. With Maybourne still out there and the world of espionage and the NID aware of Jim and his abilities, it had been suggested that Jim join the Stargate Project, too. He could be protected there, as the alien Teal'c was protected, from men like Colonel Maybourne.

Jim had been a part of the SGC for just over a month now, undergoing training and testing. So far, he and Blair had not been attached to a permanent SG team. Part of that was that the four-person teams needed good matches, and finding two others who could fit in with Jim and Blair wasn't the easiest option going. Jim's Sentinel abilities and Sandburg's anthropological experience were useful to first contact teams, so they'd gone out twice with SG-1 and once with SG-3. They'd encountered a troop of Jaffa the second time with SG-1 and wound up in a shooting match that made Jim feel his police training had stood him in good stead. General George Hammond, in command of the project, was working out plans to establish a permanent team for Jim and Sandburg, but that was probably another month off.

There was a mission in the morning; they were going with SG-1 again to P3Q-987, a jungle planet where a technological civilization had been located who might have come originally from Earth. Jim's eighteen months stranded in the Peruvian jungle and Blair's experience with primitive jungle tribes would stand them in good stead, and SG-1's greater experience with the worlds on the other side of the Stargate would balance them. Jim would have been glad to have SG-1 expanded into a six- person team since he and Blair got on well with all four members of that team, but he was sure that wasn't part of Hammond's plan. The General used his resources where he saw fit, and he counted on the experience Jim and Blair gained with other teams to ready them for heading up their own.

It was too early to get up. He could have slept another hour, but the dream had left him disturbed and uneasy. How symbolic was it? The pre- Columbian circle was sure to represent the Stargate, the water the energy field that marked the glowing surface of the wormhole's event horizon. Jim's jungle experience had translated the Stargate from its present appearance with planetary symbols around its vast circle and the chevrons that locked it into place into a design associated with primitive pre-Columbian cultures. Come to think of it, Daniel Jackson actually had a tee shirt with a panther and an Aztec stone circle on it like the one in Jim's dream that he'd bought because it reminded him of the Stargate. Maybe that was what had prompted the dream in the first place. Jackson had worn it only the previous Saturday at a barbecue hosted by Colonel Jack O'Neill, to O'Neill's loud groans of disgust.

"You can't wear that thing in public, Daniel. You'll give us away."

"Oh, right, Jack. They were selling these at that weird little shop in Manitou Springs we went to a few weeks back, remember? Dozens of them. You can't tell me somebody dreamed them up because they know about the Stargate. Anyway, I'm not wearing it in public. I'm wearing it at your house. I bet you all the money I'd get in a Federal grant if I could go public that the man on the street would never see this shirt and cry, 'Aha, there has to be a Stargate.'"

Jackson hadn't said anything about the black panther on the shirt, although Blair had noticed it and commented privately to Jim later. "*You're* the one who should have worn that shirt, Jim. It would be perfect for you, man."

Jim grimaced. He didn't mind wearing a Cascade Jags tee shirt to support his favorite basketball team, but he wasn't going to wear one with a panther design front and back. Not his thing. Too New Age. "Can you actually see me in something like that, Sandburg?"

Blair tilted his head and grinned. His long hair had been one of the first things to change when he joined the Stargate project. Well, not quite immediately, but now, whenever they had a mission, he wore it securely bound back in a tail. He only left it loose when he was this side of the Stargate and half of that was because it really bugged Jack O'Neill. Colonel O'Neill enjoyed complaining about it. Daniel Jackson had once taken Blair aside and urged him not to bow to pressure and cut it. "Go with the flow. You'll drive Jack crazy with it long. Besides, it gives him less to complain about when he remembers how mine used to be." His had never been as long as Blair's, though.

Jim rolled over and pounded his pillow. He didn't like living on the base; he missed the loft in Cascade, home to him for a long time; he even missed going to sleep at night to the familiar sound of Blair's heartbeat one level down. Although Sandburg lived on the base, too, he was several doors away. Sorting out his heartbeat from the rest took a little more concentration in a place that was busy at all hours of the day and night with SG teams coming and going, the PA system cutting in and interrupting sleep.

Teal'c lived on the base, too, and Sandburg was fascinated by the Jaffa. He'd even asked Teal'c to teach him how to do his kel'no'reem meditation, although Sandburg didn't have a Goa'uld larva in his gut to help the process along. More than once, Sandburg had returned from a meditation session with Teal'c, smelling faintly of the candles that burned during the process, boasting about trying different scented incense to help the process. If Teal'c objected to turning his ritual meditation into a New Age experience, he never said so, and the phlegmatic Jaffa seemed genuinely to like Sandburg and appeared comfortable in his presence.

"I have never before met a human shaman," he had explained to Ellison when Jim had asked at that barbecue what the two of them found to talk about. "It is different from religious functions on Chulak. Blair Sandburg is teaching me."

Jack O'Neill, carrying a plate of steaks just off the grill, stopped dead as he plopped the platter on the picnic table. "You're kidding me, right? Sandburg, you're not corrupting Teal'c, are you?"

Blair snapped to mock attention. "Of course not, Colonel, sir."

Jack groaned. "Don't call me that."

Sandburg's eyes twinkled. He only pulled the pseudo-military thing because he knew it bugged O'Neill, and the Colonel knew why he did it. That he tolerated it and even found it amusing said a lot for both men. Sandburg was hardly the type to be buddy to a hard-assed military type-- but that was just exactly what he was himself, Jim realized. He'd come out of a military career, and now had gone back in, and Blair was still the best friend he'd ever had.

"And Teal'c's teaching me how his people meditate," Blair continued. "Have you ever tried it, Daniel?"

"Well, yes, once or twice. So did Jack, once." He sputtered with amused laughter. "Teal'c wanted to shave Jack's head."

The entire group studied O'Neill's greying hair with great fascination, and Jack grimaced. "Wasn't as bad as having Junior in my gut. If we ever run into any more of Machello's inventions, we'll turn Jim on them instead."

"Oh, hey, that's when you got switched into each other's bodies, isn't it?" Blair's eyes were huge with fascination. "I wish I'd been here to see that. Oh, man, that must have been so cool."

"It wasn't my first choice," said Daniel and Jack in perfect unison, and Teal'c added, "I would not wish to repeat the experience."

"What about you, Sam?" Blair persisted. "You didn't get to change bodies? You missed out on all the fun?"

Samantha Carter smothered a laugh. "Which one should I have chosen?" she asked. "Better yet, imagine one of them in a woman's body. I don't think the Colonel would have liked PMS any better than he enjoyed getting acquainted with 'Junior'."

"It might have been interesting," Daniel mused. "That's something I've never come up against in my studies. Better you, Blair, with your anthro background."

"Okay, next time an alien device that switches people's bodies comes along, I'll grab Sam and we'll give it a whirl," Sandburg countered. He winked at the blonde woman, then he spotted Jim's plate and grimaced. "Jim, how can you eat all that red meat? Don't you know what it does to your arteries?"

"If I didn't I'd have to be deaf. You tell me every time I take a bite of a steak. You can be a real killjoy, Sandburg. What's that you're eating, anyway? Looks like a hamburger to me."

Sandburg's long hair bounced as he shook his head. "Soyburger with natural herbs. Delicious."

O'Neill made a face. "Compromising my principles all to hell to cook for Nature Boy here," he groaned. "This is a *barbecue*, not a health farm. You're *supposed* to ladle on the cholesterol and all those things that are bad for you."

"I thought it sounded good," agreed Sam, who had one, too. "And it is. Blair, I want the recipe for the spices. It's wonderful."

"Somehow, Carter, I can't quite see you playing the domestic science type," the Colonel muttered.

Ellison couldn't either. "Sam as Martha Stewart? Nah."

She made a face at Jim and swatted him with the potholder.

"Who is Martha Stewart?" Teal'c demanded. And how to explain that one to the Jaffa? How to even make him understand that anyone could be famous for the reasons she had?

"Never mind, Teal'c," Blair had reassured him. "I don't think you're ready to know."

It had been a great barbecue. SG-1 was good people. The teams here were all good people. Jim had enjoyed himself, both at the barbecue, and on the missions they'd gone on. Not being shot at by staff weapons, no, but learning a different mindset, that the enemy weren't necessarily perps out to commit a crime but a race of beings with galaxy-wide domination in mind. Using his police training and Sentinel skills to track down a criminal made sense to him. Stepping through the Stargate onto another world and using those senses to scope out danger and try to determine if the beings they met were on the up and up was another kettle of fish.

Sandburg loved it here. He absolutely thrived on it. He was using his training, both the anthropology and what he'd learned from working with Jim and at the police academy, and making a difference, doing the right thing and winning the favor of all around him. He'd gained in stature and self-respect since he'd been here, and sometimes Jim had to stand back and take a good look at his guide and friend and realize how important it was for him to use his full abilities. Maybe being a police officer in Cascade would have limited him too much. Watching Sandburg on a mission, the way he plunged into it, offering up his unique perspective, throwing esoteric bits of knowledge at Jackson and having Jackson lob them back, offered Jim a whole new perspective on Sandburg. His friend was quickly growing into the role he had assumed here, and, for him, having Jim on hand was not only the icing on the cake, but the cake itself.

Even though the Sentinel factor was seldom spoken aloud and kept out of official reports, it was a given. Yeah, they'd had a briefing about it with all the SG teams. Okay, so everybody had had training on it, but it was played down and none of the other teams appeared uneasy or critical about it. Jim was surrounded with people who understood what he was, who accepted it without question, and who valued him for it. They made it sound like it was his police skill that was useful, but that was just protective coloration. In a way, it was good to know these people appreciated him and would cover for him and that he could use his abilities in whole new ways. None of them ever made him feel that there was anything unnatural about what he could do, that he was a freak, a weird deviant. On the last mission with SG-1, there had been birds with a shrieking cry so high-pitched it was nearly beyond the realm of human hearing. The sound had cut into his ears like red-hot pokers jammed through his eardrums. It wasn't just Sandburg who had reacted quickly to help him out with a pair of white noise earplugs--Sandburg later said he'd wondered about the birds when he'd read the M.A.L.P. reports and had brought the earplugs just in case--but the way SG-1 had formed a protective circle around him until the earplugs were in place. They hadn't faulted him for it, either.

With Jim's permission, Sandburg had recruited Daniel Jackson and Doctor Janet Fraiser to help devise some tests for Jim's senses that would assist with the effects of the Gate transition and to cope with problems that might arise on the other side of the Gate. The ability to sense Teal's symbiont proved an unexpected bonus. It might, Daniel theorized excitedly, be possible to use his senses to tell if someone had been taken over by a Goa'uld. With that possibility, even the doubters started to come around to the presence of a Sentinel at the SGC.

If only Jim himself could be so certain.

He wasn't sure why he had doubts about the rightness of his presence here. It was important work, vital work, and his abilities could assist the whole planet--and the whole planet wouldn't need to know about them. But a part of him missed police work, missed the easy camaraderie he'd felt at Major Crimes. Sure he'd develop that here, was developing it already with SG-1. Maybe when he and Sandburg had their own team it would make the difference.

And maybe the whole resentment thing was because, in a sense, he was stuck here. The intelligence community, or at least the NID, knew about him and his abilities. He was protected by order of the President, but it was possible that protection would be withdrawn if he didn't stay here and work with the SGC or even if there should be a change in administrations. Because of his vulnerability out there in the wider world, he lived on the base. Sometimes it felt confining, constricting. If he wanted to get in a weekend fishing with Sandburg, or even fly back to Cascade for a few days of wilderness experience with his friend and former boss, Simon Banks, the issue of types like Colonel Maybourne trying to snatch him reared their ugly heads. He knew more, too, now, knew about the Goa'uld, the race of snake-beings that wanted to take over Earth. So, at this stage, he was carefully shielded. It felt like protective custody, captivity, even if it was intended for his own protection, and he tended to resent it fiercely. His life had stopped being his own. Even if the work here was vital and he could contribute to it, even if his abilities were accepted and respected, even if the protection was for his own good, he didn't like it.

But what choice did he have?

The buzz of his alarm clock cut off his pointless speculation and he dragged himself out of bed. Mission briefing in an hour and a half. He focused his hearing and narrowed it to sort out his guide from the other people out there. Sandburg was awake, muttering to himself about people who wanted to rush off to other planets at the crack of dawn. Ellison smiled faintly. He'd corral Sandburg, head to the mess for breakfast. Not much else he *could* do.

But the dream bugged him the whole time he showered and dressed. It left a chill feeling down his back, an eerie sense of premonition. Better not mention that to Sandburg or he'd start talking about a heightened sixth sense, start threatening to arrange s‚ances or call in the Ghostbusters. No, the dream didn't go past this room.

*****

"Major ruins." Daniel Jackson's voice was full of satisfaction as the joint team of SG-1 and Ellison and Sandburg stepped out of the Stargate on P5K-676. The jungle air was hot and heavy with the smell of damp earth and luxuriant growth. If there hadn't been a clear, paved trail in the other direction from the three stone pyramids, they'd probably have had to hack their way through to civilization with machetes.

"Down, boy," O'Neill told him. "It's not those ruins we want to find out about, remember? It's those modern sites a couple of klicks over in that direction."

"It wouldn't hurt to take a few minutes, would it?"

"Daniel...."

Teal'c gripped his staff weapon in readiness for an attack and scanned the jungle carefully. He was good at that, always ready for trouble.

Sam Carter nodded. "Lots of technology," she said in delight. "It's possible these people are kin to the Orban."

O'Neill's face darkened. Their most recent mission had not been an easy one for him. He'd really bonded with eleven-year-old Merrin, only to learn that she was scheduled for the ovarium; that the nanites in her brain that regulated her intellect and knowledge would be distributed among her people, leaving her with all the intelligence of an earthworm. Daniel had found the planet fascinating and was thrilled at the archaeological knowledge gained--he'd been so taken up with a mosaic tile on the floor that he'd hardly come up for air--but on that mission Jack had gained and lost a friend. Even if the children who had gone through the ovarium were now to be taught conventionally, Merrin would never be the same child that Jack had learned to care for. Visiting another planet with a modernized pre-Columbian civilization was hardly the greatest timing in the world. He'd be happy, for once, to stick here with the ruins and let Daniel vege out on ancient civilizations rather than becoming involved with the people here.

This time, they'd have Sandburg and Ellison along to help out. Each man was familiar in his own way with native tribes and pre-Columbian civilizations, although the people on P5K-676 might even be almost as advanced as the Tollans.

Sandburg looked like a kid at a Christmas party. He had that goofy grin on his face every single time he stepped through the gate, like this was all a huge present designed for him. He wouldn't think that after he ran into a Goa'uld or two, O'Neill thought sourly. The Colonel wasn't quite ready to Grinch up the party for Blair; heck, he liked the kid, if not all that wild, hippie hair, and it was pretty hard not to like somebody who could follow him around like a favorite puppy. He was into this Sentinel gig with Ellison, who must be turning down his smell factor right now to combat all these heavy-duty jungle scents, but the kid was still grateful to Jack for helping him when he'd used Hammond's red phone to call the president and intervene on Ellison's behalf. Jack wasn't quite used to hero worship--he was glad that Sandburg had a tendency to flap his mouth the way Jackson did. Both of them could flap it usefully, but it didn't do to give them the upper hand.

As if he sensed that the Mayan factor had reminded O'Neill of Merrin, even though her people had come from the Aztecs, Daniel jumped in quickly. Had to give him that, he was pretty sensitive to the whole thing. Least he had the smarts not to mention the girl. "It's a wonderful opportunity," he insisted. He'd go over the top with his enthusiasm; just like he knew that would distract Jack. "We can learn how they progressed from the primitive to high tech in such a short time."

"Yeah, man, it'll be so great." That was Sandburg. At the sound of him, O'Neill rolled his eyes. Maybe he felt outnumbered by the scientists this time around, but if he were irritated he wouldn't be thinking about Merrin. Sandburg knew about that mission; it had been pretty public, and he'd been there when they'd congregated at Jack's place afterward. That barbecue had been dreamed up by Sam and Teal'c, mostly to distract Jack from the experience, and they'd invited Ellison and Blair at the last minute. Like Teal'c, Ellison needed to get off the base more. Of course Teal'c did get off the base regularly, but it was usually through the Stargate, not out into Colorado. They needed more barbecues, come to think of it.

Like Teal'c, Jack constantly surveyed the terrain. Okay, so these people had been friendly enough talking through the M.A.L.P., but that didn't mean they didn't have a hidden agenda. Sandburg and Daniel were so gung ho they probably wouldn't notice, and show Carter a lot of fancy science gizmos and she'd be in hog heaven. Ellison would probably be suspicious, though. He still tended to regard the people they met through the Stargate as a bunch of suspects in a homicide investigation. Once a cop, always a cop.

"What interests me," put in Carter--great, now she was in her science mode--"is the sudden proliferation of Pre-Columbian-based planets. Of course we've been taking destinations from the Abydos cartouche all along and they seem to be grouped in sectors, so maybe it's not uncommon that several near each other might have served as a dumping ground for pre-Columbian tribes."

You'd think Sandburg couldn't get any brighter without spontaneous combustion but he did. "That's so great, Sam," he exulted. "And remember, the first time I went through the gate it was to a world of people descended from the Incas. I know the people of Orban didn't have contact with any of these other worlds; well, the one we went to where Daniel was trapped in that pyramid, didn't have a remnant of the Mayan civilization. The tribe we found was native to the planet; the Mayan- based culture there had died off quickly because of those hallucinogenic plants and other toxic things in the soil. The Orban knew about the Stargate, of course, and they were high tech, but the M.A.L.P. and UAV images from this world look like they've got even more."

"They might be up there with the Tollans, sir," Carter reminded O'Neill. "But they've agreed to meet with us. Very willing, unlike the Tollans."

"Indeed," put in Teal'c.

"These Tollans had a bad first-contact experience, though, somebody said," Ellison reminded them. "Maybe that makes a difference." He hadn't encountered them yet; probably just as well. The Sentinel looked like he was highly focused, concentrating hard on his surroundings. Sandburg edged over to him; he did that when he thought Jim was in danger of zoning out, overloading on his senses.

"Jim, you picking up anything?" Blair prompted, a quick hand on his arm.

"Just jungle smells and sounds, Chief. I'm not zoning. It's a little different than Peru, but then each planet I've been to has different smells; sometimes they're not too different, but there's always something."

O'Neill had noticed that himself, but always subliminally, not something to pay attention to. He wouldn't have thought it mattered since the odds were he wasn't going to find himself unexpectedly on a strange planet and need to identify his location by taking a whiff.

"Anything threatening, Major?" Carter asked him.

"No. I get a tame feeling." Ellison looked surprised. "As if any wild game were steered away from here, as if we were in a protected park. Look around. This may be jungle, but it's not allowed to run riot. I wouldn't be surprised if they didn't have their equivalent of an electric fence protecting the route to their city."

Teal'c inclined his head in agreement. "I sense no dangerous animal life nearby, and there is no feeling that we are being watched from the jungle," he concurred. Teal'c didn't have heightened senses, but he did have a Goa'uld larva in his belly, and maybe that gave him an edge. He might not be able to fine-tune it the way Ellison did, but he was topnotch at sensing danger.

"I'm surprised they didn't move the Stargate to their city in the first place," offered Sandburg.

Daniel gestured at the pyramids. "I wondered about that, too, Jack. Unless it's part of their cultural tradition to keep it here."

O'Neill studied the Gate and its setting. The tame feeling Ellison had mentioned made sense. This felt like a public park. Down there at the end of the ramp was a paved square with benches around it, and they were modern, composed of a material Jack couldn't immediately identify. In the center of the square, a circle set into the paving material looked about the size of teleportation rings. "Carter," he said warningly and waved a hand at it.

"Yes, sir, it's what you think it is," she agreed. "I suppose they could drive ground cars out here but why bother when you can get an instantaneous ride? I wonder if we can use it."

"Teleport?" Sandburg's eyes nearly bugged out. "That would be so cool. 'Beam me up, Scotty.'"

Jim eyed the circle uneasily. "You guys have used them before?"

"Used 'em when we first met the Tok'ra, and when we ran into Seth. And we ran into them on Abydos on our first ever trip through the Stargate," Jack admitted. Ellison's senses made him a little uneasy; in a way it felt kind of good to have something to one-up the guy with. "Sent a bomb up to Ra's ship with them." He exchanged a reminiscent grin with Daniel over it. They'd really been on the same track there--and a lot of times since.

'Course Jack knew Daniel couldn't help thinking of Sha're when Abydos was mentioned. His wife was still out there, still Goa'ulded out, and so was Skaara, her brother, the kid Jack had bonded with. Funny, in some ways, Sandburg reminded him a little of Skaara; it was the enthusiasm, and maybe the long hair, although Sandburg's was just long and free when he wasn't on a mission, and Skaara's had been an elaborate sculpture of braids. Skaara was out there, too, even though Jack had believed for a while that he'd died in the explosion of the two Goa'uld ships over Earth. So Jack arched an eyebrow at Daniel in understanding and spoke quickly. "Come on. Deprive Sandburg of his first 'transporter' ride? Wouldn't think of it. Suppose you could turn down the excitement meter a few notches when we meet the Quich‚ people, Sandburg?"

"That's the name of one of the Mayan languages," Daniel and Sandburg said in complete unison. Ellison groaned and raised his brows, and Jackson and Sandburg grinned at each other in delight.

"So, do you *speak* that language?" Jack asked.

"I know a little of it," Sandburg replied. "But didn't the initial reports indicate we'd be able to communicate here? I won't need to, will I?"

"Second the M.A.L.P. came through, they knew about it," Jack reminded them.

"Indeed," agreed Teal'c. "We are no doubt under surveillance at this very moment."

Carter craned her neck, probably checking out the area for surveillance cameras. "If we don't move toward the rings pretty soon, they'll show up wondering why. Their leader, Mas Tul, is expecting us."

Jack led the way down the ramp and onto the paved area. It wasn't concrete but some other substance that was smooth and unyielding under their feet without any of the graininess he'd have expected of cement. Wasn't stone, either, or plastic. O'Neill prodded it with the toe of his boot. Might be good for roads back on Earth, if it could be done cheaply. They never thought about bringing that kind of technology home, but something that could be used for freeway construction that didn't need regular repairs to tie up traffic all the time might be a good thing.

"Crowd in, campers," he urged and waved them into the circle. "Ain't togetherness great?"

Sandburg jumped in, his eyes eager and alight with questions and Ellison followed, still tuned in to what he could register with his senses. Could the guy pick up on a person's heartbeat? Could he ever read somebody's thoughts? Although Jack could relate to Ellison's personality pretty well, the Sentinel thing gave him the odd doubt or two.

Daniel edged up beside Jack. "I wonder what we'll find out here," he said as the rings rose up out of the paved floor and activated. When they lowered again, the expanded SG-1 found themselves inside a pleasant courtyard with a sparkling fountain off to one side. Ellison gave his head a quick shake and Jack wondered how the transition had felt to him. Which of his senses had it touched? O'Neill had been through the process before, more than once, and it hadn't really registered much with his own senses, but then they were probably dull compared to Ellison's. Hate to think what the wormhole did to the guy when he stepped through the Stargate. Heck of a ride even with normal human reactions.

Overhead, about five or six stories up, a curved, near-transparent roof glittered in the sunlight. That's right, the place was domed. Sometimes the dome opened down on either side to allow in the natural air, Mas Tul had said when he'd talked through the M.A.L.P. to the base. He'd been expansive and friendly, and even Jack, who tended to distrust affability, didn't see anything deceptive in the guy's attitude.

Here he was now, guy in his late forties, at least by Earth standards, starting to go to flesh in his face and his gut, but in relatively decent shape. Looked Mayan, at least like the Mayans in the pictures Daniel had strewn around preparing for the mission. Sloping forehead-- Daniel had said the ancient Mayans had liked the look and had manipulated their kids to look that way. Also liked people to be cross- eyed so they'd--what was it--hung a bead between the babies' eyes so they'd stare at it and eventually turn out 'beautiful', according to their culture. About as useful as binding the feet of Chinese women had been. At least Mas Tul wasn't cross-eyed. He had a crowd of people behind him but none of them were armed and all of them seemed friendly. Jack eyed them cynically. Some of them stared at Teal'c in astonishment, and muttered among themselves, but the sight of the Jaffa didn't send them racing for weapons even if it made them uneasy. Okay, good sign here. O'Neill hoped they weren't being lulled into a sense of false security. He knew Ellison was giving it his all with the senses thing; he could compare heartbeats and see if answers to questions made them elevate. A sort of built-in lie detector. Handy.

Jack sneaked a quick glance at Ellison, who was tightly focused. Sandburg, who always noticed when that happened, slid unobtrusively to his side and rested his fingers on Jim's forearm. One of his 'zone outs' might create a bad image with these folks they wanted to impress.

"Welcome, welcome." Mas Tul bowed to them then reached out to clasp Jack's hand. Half-expecting a handshake, although Jack had quickly learned that was an Earth custom and not a galactic universal, he was astonished when the guy raised Jack's hand and touched his forehead to the back of it. "It is good to welcome our brothers from the home world here."

Jack took his hand back as quickly as he politely could and gestured at the colonnade behind the fountain and the elaborate buildings that rose in a series of steps that vaguely suggested pyramids. Daniel would probably talk about the evolution of architecture. Jack hoped he wouldn't. "You've got quite a place here."

"We are happy with it." He did his forehead number on Ellison's hand, and then Daniel's, and moved over to Sandburg next. "We have come a long distance since the day the Goa'uld dumped a poor remnant of refugee peoples here." He hesitated microscopically over Teal'c, but did the greeting number anyway. "Only the jungle was familiar then, but we quickly learned it was different; the animals were strange, the plants unfamiliar."

"Whoa, back up there. The Goa'uld? You know about them?"

"Of course we do." He caught up Carter's hand in both of his own and pressed it to his heart. Daniel would be fascinated; different greetings for men and women. The guy just went on talking the whole time. Carter looked charmed. "We have encountered them more than once on the other side of the Circle, the Stargate as you call it. And in our ships, we have seen them in the darknesses between worlds."

Sandburg opened his mouth, probably to ask about the ships, and Jack stepped on his toe. They'd better take this slowly. Nobody had mentioned starships before. If the Quich‚ had them, the powers that be back home were going to go crazy to work out trades with them. *Mayans in space*, Jack thought wryly. *Who'd'a thunk it?*

"Then you know the danger of them?" Carter asked.

"We do, indeed. We have managed to avoid them in recent years, fortunately. We hope we shall continue to do so. You, too, have encountered them?"

"You could say that," Jack agreed cautiously. "Been there, done that."

"Then we have much to discuss. We have prepared a banquet to welcome you. Our leaders would love to speak with you. Come, we will show you the robing facility where we have provided typical banquet garb for you."

Jack didn't like that. Mas Tul had a bare chest and a skirt thingie that came to mid-calf. He wore sandals with leather straps that laced up at least to the edge of the skirt. The thought of dressing up like that was a major turn-off. Worse, he could see Carter trying hard not to smirk at the mental image of the rest of her team dressed up for the prom. And what about Teal'c? In a getup like that, Junior's pouch would be hanging out in front of God and everybody.

"Like yours?" Sandburg prompted. He cast one darting glance at Teal'c's belly.

Mas Tul followed the glance without effort. Perceptive guy. "No, the banquet attire is more formal," he explained. "There is an overtunic. You need not fear that your Jaffa's symbiont would be exposed to the curious eye."

One of Teal'c's eyebrows crawled up his forehead. "You know what I am?"

"Not only what but who. You are Teal'c, the former first prime of Apophis who turned against the Goa'uld. That any Jaffa could do so heartens us, and that one in your exalted position would choose to resist Goa'uld tyranny is little short of miraculous. You we welcome in particular. You are a symbol of hope for my people."

O'Neill had to say he couldn't remember any race of people responding that way to Teal'c before, but it made him think a lot more highly of Mas Tul's attitude. Teal'c had given up power, prestige, all his property; he'd been separated from his wife and son, and every other Jaffa out there counted him shol'va, traitor, and was prepared to kill him on sight or take him prisoner as a gift for their Goa'uld of choice. Teal'c was the most honorable, ethical man Jack had ever met and it was about time he got some respect. Even better, the light of gratification shone in Teal'c's eyes. If this turned out to be some kind of scam, Jack would have to rip Mas Tul's liver out through his nose.

"If you will come with me, I will show you to the robing room. You may, of course, keep your weapons with you. We know you will not need them, for we are peaceful people, but we will grant you that reassurance."

Probably meant they could neutralize them in a heartbeat if they needed to; guys had starships--they probably could shoot laser beams out of the walls. But hopefully they couldn't get all of them in an instant. Jack hoped Mas Tul was exactly what he claimed to be. He edged up next to Carter and gave her a faint nudge. She inclined her head fractionally. Checking for Goa'uld already. She could sometimes tell, from the remnants of the Tok'ra Jolinar left in her head, if there were any of the snakeheads around. Hadn't been a great experience for her, but sometimes she got feelings or had flashes of memories, memories that had led Earth to form an alliance with the Tok'ra. Maybe, one day, she could figure out how to utilize it on cue. After all, she'd been able to use a ribbon device on Cimmeria and the healing gizmo on Chronos not that long ago.

"Appreciate it," Jack told him. "We're not gonna use them on your people, either. Just so you know."

There wasn't a trace of deception on Mas Tul's face, although Daniel had once claimed it was tougher to read the faces of people they met through the Stargate than it was the folks back home. "Even on Earth, Jack, it's tough to identify and understand expressions of people from other cultures. Different attitudes, different expectations, that kind of thing. In some cultures even on Earth, nodding the head can mean 'no'." One of those little, evidently useless facts that Daniel tossed out all the time--and now here was Jack remembering it and taking it to heart. He gave Daniel a quick grin that surprised the archaeologist but not so much that he didn't return it, even if he arched an eyebrow in question.

Mas Tul didn't provide Carter a separate 'robing room'. Just one of the guys, apparently. The Quich‚ leader showed the team the banquet garments and singled out Sandburg, who projected delight about it, to demonstrate how to fasten the robes. He only paused when the guy tried to strip him and he saw Carter eyeing him with interest. Then faint color touched Sandburg's cheeks. Jack saw Ellison storing up the memory, probably for kidding purposes. O'Neill nudged Carter again.

"I have to learn how it works, sir," she said and stood her ground.

Sandburg collected himself, took a deep breath, and calmly stripped to the shorts. Kid was probably embarrassed as hell, but he didn't let it show. For a little guy, he had a good set of muscles and a pretty fuzzy chest. Carter didn't have to look so...approving at the sight. He poked her with his elbow. She quirked her mouth at him and took a step sideways, out of range of his elbow.

Mas Tul demonstrated the wrapping of the skirt and Sandburg caught on quickly and had it in place in record time. "Good, very good," approved Mas Tul. "Now the tunic."

It came in one long piece with a hole for the head. Once draped, the sides were gathered in while a long sash secured it in place. Sandburg fastened it in a knot similar to the one on Mas Tul's own sash and won a nod of approval from the local. When he found a pair of sandals that fit and sat down to put them on, Mas Tul drew back the edge of his skirt to display the lacing, and Sandburg whipped the thongs into place with the ease of an expert. The anthropologist had insinuated himself into primitive societies and unfamiliar cultures before; that was one of the reasons General Hammond had been so quick to take him on. The kid was a natural for first contact. He threw himself into it wholeheartedly and non-judgmentally.

"There, as you see," Mas Tul said, as doting as a fond parent. "It is not difficult. I shall go to robe myself and return momentarily. Major Carter, there is a separate space here if, in your culture, men and women dress separately."

"Thank you, Mas Tul. I'll manage." She scooped up the garb intended for her; it was more colorful than the white tunics and skirts for the men, with an edge of braiding in primary colors along the hems of the robes, and the sash was purple.

Jack had to say he wasn't a skirt kind of guy. Didn't like to have his hairy legs hanging down there for God and everybody to see. Daniel was so calm about the whole thing, just put it on as if it were natural and stood craning his neck to get the full effect. He could fling himself into the 'joy' of first contact better than anybody. Well, Sandburg was proving he could go that way, too. Must be an anthropology kind of thing.

Carter emerged from her tiny cubicle looking great. Better than any of the guys, anyway. Teal'c's mouth curled a little tight as if he did not think the garb suited his Jaffa dignity, and Ellison's face was grimly resentful, all the more so because Sandburg kept bouncing around in delight and wishing for a mirror. Wearing skirts wasn't in their job description. O'Neill hoped no one would mention this experience back at the base. If any of the Marines heard about this, they'd never let Jack live it down. Now if only Daniel didn't suddenly whip out his camera and record this moment for posterity.

"I'm ready, sir." From the smugness in Carter's tone, it was pretty clear she thought that she looked great--and that the men looked silly. The respect O'Neill got from his team would have embarrassed Rodney Dangerfield.

Mas Tul popped back, all dolled up in a tunic edged with gold braid and a golden medallion like a stylized sun in the middle of an eye hanging from a heavy chain in the center of his chest. Badge of office or something. Daniel spotted it and his eyes lit with fascination.

"Jack, look at this. It's almost identical to the Eye of Horus. Remember, Catherine's medallion she lent me to wear when we first went to Abydos? It's stylized to look more Mayan, but the design is too similar for it to be a coincidence."

"It is the badge of Ra," Mas Tul said. "It was he who brought our people here long ago. It was he who enslaved us for a long time, but it was also he who made our technology possible. Ra has not come for some time now and we are grateful for it."

"Jack, this is incredible," Daniel burst out. "Ra was known as an Egyptian god, the sun god. The Mayans had their own sun god--well, actually they had several, but the one I'm thinking of is Kinich Ahau. He was the sun god in the shape of a firebird, the father of Itzamna, who was the moon god. Kinich Ahau has a lot in common with Quetzalcoatl. His symbol would have been different than the Eye of Horus, but if I wanted to design one similar to it but close enough that Ra could use it and still gain recognition, this is exactly what I'd go for."

The Quich‚ leader beamed at Daniel. "Yes, indeed. And so our theorists have reasoned as the years passed. The ways of the old gods are behind us, but we still study them and know of their existence. We had rain gods, corn gods, gods that represented the needs of the harvest. Of course when Ra came, he wished us to believe only in him, an all- powerful deity who controlled all others. We were gullible in those days, but now, less so."

"This is *great*," Sandburg chipped in. "I'd like to talk to your anthropologists about the transition from belief to realization of what Ra really was."

"A System Lord, yes." Mas Tul stroked his chin. "After the banquet, we will introduce you to those who study our culture. Perhaps as you learn of us, you will teach of yourselves."

Sandburg nodded vehemently, caught himself, and said, "Yes, I'll do what I can. We dress up for formal banquets back on Earth, too. Maybe next time we come, we can show you pictures of what we wear at times like that." He started to explain tuxedos to Mas Tul, who listened with interest and scrunched up his face as he tried to picture it. "But I think it's great that we can dress up like your people," Sandburg concluded. "That's one of the reasons we come through the Stargate, to learn about the people we meet and to share information."

"We also like to establish trade," Jack put in.

"Yes, trade will come. Such talk is for after the banquet, of course. There we will speak pleasantries and perhaps a little exchange of culture, the types of foods you eat, your eating utensils, pleasant conversation about such things as families and recreations."

"Visit first, negotiate after," Daniel affirmed. "We do that, too, back on Earth. A banquet may be a social prelude to trading or establishing treaties, or what we call 'getting down to business'."

"With us as well. Excellent. Come. I will take you to the hall, where my people await us."

Going out in public in a skirt wasn't exactly Jack's idea of fun, but everybody else they saw en route had them on, so it was easy to get lost in the crowd. Daniel had his camera out--he'd checked with Mas Tul first and won his approval, and he was taking pictures of the architecture, paying particular attention to anything that might have been a bow to the ancient culture of the Quich‚ Maya, including some bas relief sculpture on some of the corridor walls. He got in a few good shots of the people they passed, and Jack was sure he'd sneaked one in of the SG team for good measure. He'd have to find a way to appropriate that part of the film. It was okay for Daniel. He'd run around in robes back on Abydos and was probably used to skirts. Sandburg didn't care, either. The world was a big smorgasbord for the kid and he'd probably donned local garb when he mingled with those primitive tribes back on Earth. Maybe O'Neill would have to conspire with Ellison to get rid of that part of the film when Danny wasn't looking.

The banquet hall was massive, a giant room with a very high ceiling and a row of columns adorned with Mayan carvings along one wall that opened out into a formal garden. Daniel spotted a statue there of a dude reclining on his back with head and knees drawn up--looked basically uncomfortable as all get out--and started babbling about Chac Mool, and Sandburg craned his neck to see and concurred. Carter zoomed in on anything that resembled technology: the lighting panel overhead, the nifty little heating pans that kept the food warm, a wall panel that could have been a giant viewscreen or computer screen with a series of controls beside it. She would have made a beeline for it if Mas Tul hadn't guided her to a place of honor at the table, evidently at his right hand. Jack edged up and got plopped down on the other side of the planetary leader. The rest of the team were spread out on either side, with a Quich‚ between each of them, so none of them could confer privately. Probably a cultural thing; Daniel or Sandburg would know.

The person on Jack's right proved to be a young girl. She wore a pure white tunic over her skirt and the braid that edged it was gold like Mas Tul's. A daughter? She was about Merrin's age and build, although her hair was dark and so elaborately braided that it reminded him of Skaara. Talk about a double whammy there. A sudden vision of Skaara going down under Jack's bullets when he was Klorel whizzed through O'Neill's brain, followed by the more recent image of the mindless Merrin scribbling on a wall with a crayon. Sweet. He didn't need this.

The girl raised trusting eyes to him. "I am Mara," she said, and in the first instant, Jack heard it as 'Merrin' before he realized what she had said. He felt his muscles tighten. Across the table from him, Daniel tensed and caught his eye. He looked both worried and reassuring.

"Hi, Mara," Jack greeted her.

"I am the only child of Mas Tul," she explained. "This is my first adult banquet."

"And you look very nice," he told her. It wasn't her fault he was reminded of two people he'd cared about and lost. "I'm Jack. This is my team." He gestured to the others.

"You're the leader? They said you are called Colonel. Colonel Jack? So you are, in a smaller way, much like my father. You have responsibilities. I am just learning my own. If I should do something foolish, perhaps you would be kind and pretend not to see it." She cast him an appealing smile.

"I'll tell you a little secret, Mara. I'm new here. I don't know your rules and customs. So maybe we'll both do something a little foolish. I'll make a deal with you. You cut me a little slack--that means, let me get by with it--and I'll do the same for you."

Her smile flared out. "I will cut slack for you, Colonel Jack." She offered him her hand.

Remembering Mas Tul's gesture in the courtyard, he held it against his chest for a second. She practically chimed with delight. Jack could almost hear Daniel's approving, 'No need to cut you any slack there, Jack.'

Mas Tul rose and held out a narrow glass that barely widened at the brim. Servants--at least Jack assumed the guys in yellow robes were servants--appeared and poured liquid into everybody's glass. Once all had been served, Mas Tul raised his glass. "In welcome to our visitors, we will now drink the sip of friendship." He tossed back the contents in one gulp and breathed a deep, delighted sigh.

Coached by his gesture, SG-1, Ellison, and Sandburg copied the gesture.

It was like drinking kerosene. Jack could barely restrain himself from gagging. The stuff was even worse than Skaara's 'moonshine' back on Abydos. He saw Daniel chugging his manfully without allowing a flicker of distaste to twist his face. Maybe he was used to Abydon moonshine, poor guy. Ellison had such a poker face anyway that he didn't let it show, and Sandburg probably liked the stuff. As for Teal'c, he rarely let himself appear anything but impassive, anyway, and maybe Junior took care of it. It was left for Jack to share a quick, commiserating glance with Carter and lob a rueful one at Daniel, who was practically daring to laugh at his commander.

Mas Tul smiled. Guy probably had it figured out. He sat down again and gestured for the waiters in yellow to start distributing food. That made Jack notice the weird eating utensils; a sharp-tipped pick, a serrated knife and something he'd never seen before that looked like a gently curved putty knife. Great. Manipulating food with this kind of stuff wouldn't be easy.

He leaned down to speak to Mara. "I think I need you to coach me on the silverware." When she looked blank, he gestured to the utensils.

"Oh. Yours would be different? I had not thought of that. Father would be annoyed with me, as all cultures are different. I should know this because we have welcomed other travelers through the Circle, the Stargate."

She snatched up the pick and demonstrated how to spear some little green chunks of something on the end of it and whip them into her mouth. Daniel, always quick, caught on right away and so did Sandburg. Okay, even Ellison, who'd spent eighteen months in the jungle, mostly on his own but sometimes with a primitive tribe, got it. Carter pitched in, too.

Jack kept his eye on all of them. There was Teal'c, imperturbably spearing and ladling in the food as he listened to the apparently endless prattle of a matronly Quich‚ woman with such a heavy cluster of braids that she'd probably had to develop extra neck muscles for them. Every so often, the Jaffa put in a quick word--it had to be quick or she would fill even the tiniest silence with more chatter.

Carter and Mas Tul talked easily together. That was good. Carter was quick; she'd pick up any clues in the guy's speech, any hints about the level of technology here, possible weapons or minerals, even if the leader didn't want to get into that yet.

Sandburg exchanged customs with a pudgy guy with a round, baby face. The two of them were going at it nineteen to the dozen, each more excited than the other. Must have found another anthropologist. The kid looked so delighted it was a wonder he wasn't floating six inches above his chair. Jack heard something about the different Mayan sites Sandburg had visited on Earth and a question about whether there were any cenotes here before he let that drift away and turned to Ellison.

The Sentinel had been paired with a lean-faced man Jack distrusted on sight. Maybe he didn't like strangers, or maybe he just had the kind of face it would take a mother to love. Ellison was tense and on edge, but he was probably being bombarded with sensory information and trying to hold some of it back. The two of them were talking about fishing; evidently they did a lot of spear-fishing hereabouts. The UAV reports had revealed that this city was built beside the planet's main ocean. Jim mentioned fly fishing and Jack marked it down for future reference. He loved to fish. Maybe he could get Ellison to come with him to Minnesota and they could see if they could haul in any muskies.

Daniel chatted easily with an elderly man who might have been Mas Tul's father. The guy looked like him. Daniel was enjoying himself, but he was also alert, and every now and then he'd cast a questioning glance at Jack, probably making sure O'Neill was doing okay with Mara.

Jack was. As she talked she revealed a lot of smarts; she was poised and socially correct, according to what O'Neill could see of the other women at the table. She had a pretty diffidence, but she was not shy, and she was loving being at her first grown-up party, just like any kid back on Earth would be. She was like Chelsea Clinton or Amy Carter, or any president's kid, and she'd probably been trained on what not to say to the off-worlders, but at a banquet where only social conversation was permitted, she was doing great. She had as much self-possession as Merrin but she didn't have nanites in her head to make her talk like a walking science book. Jack remembered the 'humanizing' of Merrin, and the opportunities he'd given her, opportunities that would help her people and might even eventually help her. But they'd never quite be able to recapture the Merrin who had been his friend.

But he couldn't dwell on that now. This whole banquet might be a set-up. Goa'uld could pour in at any moment, although there'd been no trace of them so far. It wasn't paranoia if there were Goa'uld out there gunning for you, and the treaty had established that any SG team found out this side of the Stargate would be fair game.

"Do you have children of your own?" Mara asked.

Great. Kick a guy when he was down. Jack drew a steadying breath. It wasn't Mara's fault. "I had a little boy, but he died," he said.

Mara flushed vivid red. "I'm sorry." A small hand slipped into his and squeezed. "I'm really sorry, Colonel Jack. I didn't mean..."

"You couldn't know. It's okay." Talk about a meaningless phrase. It wasn't okay. It was never gonna be okay. But that wasn't Mara's fault. He gave the hand a squeeze. "Don't worry about it. I was...lucky to have Charlie for as long as I did."

She hesitated, reached for the long, narrow glass and held it up. A servant filled it and she sipped the contents. Kids here must have cast- iron stomachs and no taste buds. "Would it make you sad to tell me about him?"

Daniel looked like he wanted to swarm across the table and distract Mara. Jack gave him a quick headshake. Carter and Teal'c were too far away to hear what he was saying but Teal'c arched an eyebrow and Carter looked alarmed. Jack included them in the warning. Even Sandburg picked up on the fact that something had bothered Jack. Ellison must have known, too, if he kept his senses going, but he didn't do more than flash a quick glance over to make sure everybody was intact.

"Tell me about you instead," Jack urged. "Do you go to school? Do you have any pets?" Mara dutifully followed his lead and the difficult moment passed. Jack felt rather battered, but he'd survive. He'd been battered a lot worse than this more times than he could count.

After the banquet was over, Jack couldn't remember a thing he ate. It all ran together in his mind. Not one of his greatest moments. When they left the table and mingled with the diners, Daniel slid over. "I'm sorry, Jack. I wish I could have traded places with you." Trust him to have picked up every signal. Sometimes the two of them had vastly differing opinions on missions, but Daniel probably knew him better than anyone else in the world--any world. He'd seen Jack at his best and at his rock-bottom worst and he knew about Charlie; well, all of SG-1 did. Sandburg and Ellison hadn't met Merrin--well, maybe they had seen her in passing on the base, but they weren't involved in the Orban mission; they'd been offworld with SG-3 most of the time she'd been teaching Carter about the naquada reactor. They certainly didn't know Skaara. Somebody had probably told them about Charlie, but they had never brought the subject up.

"No biggie," Jack said lightly.

Daniel gave him a knowing look at said, 'Yeah, right,' but he didn't challenge Jack with it. Instead he gave him a quick, awkward pat on the arm. "So, have you picked up on any negative vibes?"

Jack glanced around to make sure they weren't overheard. "Nothing yet. Maybe this is all on the up and up."

"But you don't think so?" Daniel looked surprised.

"I've got no reason not to think it's okay. I'm just paranoid in my old age, I guess. Waiting for the other shoe to drop." He glanced around. Teal'c had escaped from his matron and was talking with two young men who looked utterly fascinated to be up close to a Jaffa who wasn't blasting away with a staff weapon. Teal'c even managed to look dignified in his skirt.

Carter stood beside Mas Tul and the old man. When she sensed Jack's look, she glanced at him and nodded once. No problems with her, although her eyes flashed a question. 'Are you all right?' Jack nodded back.

Sandburg and his buddy from dinner were still talking; Jack heard something about Chichen Itza. And Ellison and his table companion stood over by the colonnade, caught up in their fishing discussion. Ellison was in what Jack was coming to think of as his Sentry mode. Not focused enough to go into zone-out but on standby alert. If something happened outside of the norm he'd established, it would register. Useful guy.

A woman dressed like Carter came and took Mara away. The child hung back long enough to smile at Jack. "I have to go now. Discussions that follow are for adults only. But I hope I see you again, Colonel Jack."

"I hope so, too." Well, what else could he say? He found a smile for the little girl as she was led away.

"You were good with her, Jack," Daniel said quickly and then moved on. "Looks like we're about to get down to business." He was right. Some of the people from the banquet were departing. Most of them just slipped away out the room's many doors or out between the columns into the formal garden. Ellison and his fishing buddy ventured between the pillars, too, but stayed close by. Unobtrusively, in the background, the guys in yellow made short work of clearing away the remnants of the meal and distributing short, fat cups at each place. Time for the local equivalent of coffee and cigars.

Mas Tul came along. "You," he said to Jack, "And you." Daniel. "You." Sandburg. "And of course the Jaffa, will sit in at the first discussions. You, Lady Sam, may enjoy the garden for now. When we talk of science, I will summon you in."

Carter looked as if she'd like to protest. Ellison, who hadn't been included either, was still chatting away in the garden. His arm flipped back to display a perfect cast, but O'Neill had an idea he was still on sensory alert.

"Okay," Jack concurred. "Carter, have a look around out there. I bet the view's great."

She cast him a sour look and headed out.

"Male chauvinism?" Sandburg asked Daniel in an undertone.

Mas Tul heard. "I do not know that term, but among our people, first business does not include women. Yes, this is a throwback to our primitive times, and we know it. We respect Major Carter and are told that she is a fine scientist. At first, now, we only discuss basic generalities. Do you have an equivalent of this in your culture?"

"We do," Sandburg replied. "There are some formal dinner parties where the ladies leave after the meal and the men stay for drinks and conversation."

"Then that is what we do now. I hope I have not offended the Major or Major Ellison, either. I would not draw him away from Ixci; he is a lonely man who lost his wife and son recently and this is the most conversation I have seen from him in many a day." His face was tight.

"It's fine," agreed Daniel. "We can start and see how it goes."

"Excellent. Come. We have the after-dining drink. It is made from a bean that grows in abundance on our mountain slopes. I think you will enjoy it."

"Hey," said Jack as a guy in yellow pressed a cup into his hand. "Smells just like coffee." He glanced over at the garden. Carter stood at the far end of it, chatting with the woman who had sat beside Teal'c at dinner. Ellison and Ixci had vanished. Maybe they were going to run down to the shore and throw a few spears. Sandburg glanced over, too, and his muscles tensed fractionally, then he made himself relax and come over to the table. Mas Tul pointed out where they should sit and a couple of guys Jack hadn't noticed at the banquet came in to join them. They didn't seem to be armed, anyway; that was good. Political bigwigs, maybe, or even the local equivalent of lawyers. They sat down to serious business.

*****

The view from the terrace was great, but the path down to the beach would have sent Sandburg into a panic reaction; it was very steep with no guardrails. "I can show you the sports fishing sites; you can see some of our fish from there," Ixci told Ellison. "You will not be summoned for twice the length of time it took for the banquet. Perhaps you can even spear one."

"It's okay to take off like this?" Jim asked.

"Mas Tul nodded his approval to me," the Quich‚ reassured him. "Come this way. The path turns here. It is steep. You do not fear the height of a drop?"

"No, I'm okay with it. Wish I could show you a little fly fishing. Or my favorite trout stream."

"I would like to see it. Here, we pass through this slight tunnel; some who fear the high places feel safer inside. This will lead us to the fishing beach." He guided Ellison into a carved-out passage that sloped downward.

The weight of stone overhead felt like a sensory-deadening apparatus like wearing white noise earplugs. Jim didn't like it and he shook his head to clear his hearing. Ixci babbled on about great sport fish with barbed jaws and spear-tipped tails, but the words ran together a little. Weird. Jim could see light ahead where the passage opened out, but he couldn't hear more than the babbling voice and the distant roar of the surf. When two guys jumped out of a narrow side passage and grabbed him, it was only the glimpse of them out of the corner of his eye that gave him even a split second's warning. Not enough. Ixci fell silent as if he had been switched off and turned back to the two men who grabbed Jim and held him. "I am sorry, friend Ellison," he said with what appeared to be genuine regret, then he turned and fled in panic and shame back the way he had come.

"Enough!" barked one of the two men in a voice that was hollow and echoing. Jim's mind screamed 'Goa'uld,' and he opened his mouth to shout a warning to Sandburg. Before he could make a sound a hand covered his mouth. He was flung to his hands and knees and the sand of the tunnel floor gritted into his palms. Another hand grabbed the neck of his tunic and ripped it backward so violently he was almost suffocated by the pull against his throat. The fabric gave enough to keep him from blacking out, but that didn't reassure him, not when he heard an ominous hissing sound and felt the dry, twisting, scaly feel of something against his shoulders. *Oh, god, no,* he thought before an excruciating pain dug into the back of his neck and he felt the Goa'uld slip inside. No matter how much he bucked and thrashed, he couldn't dislodge it. God, now it was in him.

His one clear thought was that he couldn't let it take him, that his Sentinel abilities would be too great an advantage for any Goa'uld. They'd talked about the possibility; they had to. He couldn't do like O'Neill, the time Hathor had snatched him, and go into cryogenic suspension before the Goa'uld took over, but he could fight it for a few minutes, anyway. In those few minutes, before it could take over his consciousness, he made a deliberate choice, to shut away his Sentinel abilities. Although his subconscious mind screamed at him to use his gifts to fight it, he didn't see how he could. So he turned down the dials for each of his senses as far down as they could go, until the sensory awareness always at the back of his mind faded away into what he'd always thought of as 'normal', maybe even lower. Only the pain of the Goa'uld's penetration remained, but anyone would feel that. It wouldn't be enough to give him away.

But the Goa'uld could control his mind, his thinking. It would find out. It would know all he knew. Could he fight it, hold back those senses? In the desperate moments as he knelt there quivering with shock and horror, he forced the awareness of being a Sentinel as deeply into his mind as he possibly could. If only he could do that self-hypnosis number Sandburg had once tried to teach him, tuck the Sentinel awareness into his subconscious, where he could only recall it by a deliberate, conscious act. Maybe desperation lent him strength because he felt the knowledge fade. He let it go, all in the space of a few seconds.

But he couldn't eject the Goa'uld. No human was strong enough for that. No matter how he fought, he knew it was in, that there was no way to get rid of it, not here on a bare path, held down by another Goa'uld. He was lost. If only he could keep his friends from being lost with him, warn them that the mission was a trap. But he knew there was no way to warn them, nothing he could do, nothing at all. He was even more a prisoner than he had been when Colonel Maybourne had him, and no phone calls to the President would save him this time. *I'm sorry, Sandburg.* He shuddered with violent revulsion as the world and consciousness slid away from him. He knew that, when next he awakened, he would no longer be himself.

*It's a trap. Sandburg, it's a trap!* he screamed inside his mind, and then there was nothing but darkness.

*****

Daniel Jackson was more interested in the Quich‚'s history than he was in their current political set-up, even though that interested him, too. But he could see O'Neill's eyes glaze over as Mas Tul enumerated the functions of their branches of government. The different political parties, the role of every petty dignitary, all proved too much for O'Neill's good intentions. Teal'c sat there, nodding occasionally, and Sandburg threw in a lot of intelligent questions that had Mas Tul beaming at him like a teacher with a bright student, but Jack looked like he was bored out of his skull. This kind of thing might have been better with the diplomatic team, not with SG-1.

"The tax functionaries..." Mas Tul rambled on, and Sandburg pitched in with a two minute dissertation on the IRS that caught the Quich‚ leader's interest. Jack's eyes lost their focus entirely.

"Pardon, Leader." It was one of the guys in yellow.

Mas Tul gestured him forward. "Yes?"

"The alien woman has been stung by a bee." He gestured toward the garden. They all stared. Sam was sitting on one of the stone benches with a bunch of yellow guys fussing about her. She looked flushed and groggy.

"Are they dangerous?" Daniel asked the question in all their minds. Sam wasn't allergic, at least not to Earth bees, but alien toxins could cause a lot of trouble.

"They are not dangerous to us," Mas Tul said. "But they are painful and cause nausea and vomiting if the sting is serious. She will not die, of course. The sting is never lethal unless one is stung by many bees. But perhaps she should go home."

"I will accompany her," Teal'c volunteered.

"Maybe we should all go and come back tomorrow." Jack was on his feet already.

Mas Tul frowned. If bee stings were no big deal for his people, he might resent it if the team departed. "May we go and see?" Daniel intervened.

"Of course. We shall have a recess. There are many bees in the garden, but they do not often sting. Perhaps as a scientist Major Carter was intrigued and approached it." He stood up.

Jack took that as dismissal and went out between the columns. They all followed.

"Hey, Carter. I hear you've been mixing it up with the local wildlife?"

"Just a bee, sir," she said. The bite was on her wrist, and one of the yellow guys was applying a potion to it.

"This will remove the stinger," he said without looking up from his work. His fingers were long and deft. A second later he held up a tiny something between his fingertips. "You see. It is out now, Major Carter. You will feel queasy for perhaps four hours."

"I'd like to get her back to our base," O'Neill said. "Your people will have built up immunities that we don't have."

"I can go back on my own, sir," Carter said. She did look queasy; there was a wry twist to her mouth that suggested she wanted very badly to be sick.

"No, Teal'c will go with you," Jack decided. He could hardly sever diplomatic relations for a bee sting, but he didn't look happy. They couldn't ignore it because, even if the Quich‚ were human, they had lived on this world for more than fifteen hundred years and had adapted to local conditions. Better for Doctor Fraiser to examine her and make sure she was okay. It was too bad the naquada in her system didn't function the way Teal'c's symbiont did and heal her out of hand.

"Teal'c, stay with her and see what Fraiser says, then let us know if there are any problems," O'Neill ordered. There was no trace of Carter getting worse, at least not while they bunched around. Sam simply looked queasy--and a little foolish at being the center of attention over something she would have brushed off back home.

Blair helped her to her feet. She wasn't unsteady; only the slightly flushed face and the wry cast to her mouth suggested she was unwell.

"I'm sorry, sir. I didn't mean to interrupt the negotiations."

"It was time to take a break," Mas Tul reassured her paternally. "Do not be upset, Major Carter. I hope that our bees affect you no worse than this and that you will soon be well. Come, I will walk you to the transport rings myself.

They didn't take the time for Carter to change out of her formal Quich‚ garb. They all went with her except for Ellison, who wasn't back from his fishing expedition yet. Sandburg glanced over in the direction Jim had gone, a slight frown on his face, probably hoping there weren't any bees on the beach. Maybe Jim would react worse to a bee sting because he was a Sentinel. But the odds were heavily against something like this happening to two members of the party.

Now that he was alert to it, Daniel could see a few bees hovering over the garden's fragrant blossoms. They were slightly bigger than yellowjackets back home, their wings blurring as they flitted over the plants. Nasty. Daniel had no allergy to bee stings, either, nor anything but a normal revulsion to bees, but he didn't like the look of these. He exchanged a grimace with Jack before they went inside.

Once Sam had stepped through the gate with Teal'c in attendance, Mas Tul guided the rest of the party back to the conference room. They found Jim Ellison there, waiting for them. He looked around quickly, his eyes measuring. "Where are Sam and Teal'c?"

Sandburg explained. "Sam should be okay," he concluded. "We just thought it would be better to have Janet check her out. Did you get any fish?"

"We didn't actually fish, Chief. Just checked out the spears and had a look at the fish they spear. A lot like marlin, actually. I told Ixci about deep sea fishing back home. The guy wants to try it here."

The salt air seemed to have energized him. His step was more decisive than it had been, not that it was ever diffident. He surveyed the council chamber with interest. "How have you been doing? Signed us up for a treaty yet?"

"Treaties do not happen in such a short time," Mas Tul said reproachfully. "But we approach the possibility. It would be good to form ties with the homeworld."

"We hope we can," said Daniel before Jack could make a wisecrack. "It's always good to have allies against the Goa'uld."

"We would not be slaves again," Mas Tul's voice filled with meaning. "It was not good to serve Ra; he did not even pretend to be Kinich Ahau for us except at the very beginning; the most he did was to tell us that there were many names for the sun but that he preferred Ra. The implication was that we should not let our own beliefs come between him and us--if we knew what was good for us. We were...far more primitive in the beginning. Naturally, we listened."

"You were trying to protect yourselves," Daniel reassured him. "Before you had modern technology, it would have been hard to resist. It would have been hard to even conceive of resisting."

"You are kind to say so, Doctor Jackson. While that is true, it still shames us, sometimes, to think of our earlier gullibility."

"Our own ancestors often had foolish beliefs," Sandburg interjected.

"Sometime, when we have completed our business, I would like to hear of them." Mas Tul smiled. "We will talk for another hour. At the end of that time, you may return to your world for the night. If you have what you call 'diplomats' we may ask for them, if we are satisfied at the end of the day."

Daniel suspected he was using the royal 'we'. He did that sometimes, slipped into the first person plural. Was the man an elected official or did he come by it by birth? No, his father was alive and had been at the banquet, but Daniel didn't think he wasn't a retired king. Maybe they had power struggles and coups instead of free elections. He resolved to bring up the issue once they were seated at the conference table again. This didn't really feel like a police state, but Mas Tul expected his own way and he'd have been displeased if they'd all taken Sam home.

"How do you choose your leaders?" Daniel asked when they were seated. "At home, we have elections, at least in our country. We will have our next one next year."

"We choose our leaders by lot," Mas Tul replied. "Those who qualify may stand for the position, and their names are written on small stones in the old style."

Written? Daniel would love to see the old style writing; was it pictographic? Had it evolved from the stone carvings and the glyphs? He caught himself before he could take his speculation further.

"Then the stones are put into a hollow in the wall. Each man reaches inside, and draws forth a stone. The man who draws his own name first is leader."

"Wouldn't they know the feel of their stone?" objected Blair.

Jack gave Sandburg an approving nod. "Yeah, I kinda wondered about that myself."

"No, for the hands are put into gloves. Worse, the hollow can...punish the unworthy. Some have lost hands in the process."

"How does that work, exactly?" asked Daniel.

"We do not know. We simply knows that if an unworthy tries, he may be chastised."

"Hate to think what that would do to American politicians," O'Neill muttered. "We'd probably wind up with a real rush on prosthetic hands."

"We believe that to desire to hold the high office is, in general, a sign that the person is unworthy," Mas Tul explained. "Those who are chosen are never volunteers. They accept being chosen, although any may withdraw. Some do for fear of being found unworthy. Putting my hand into the hollow took...considerable resolution."

"I bet," agreed Jack. He gave the guy an approving look. "So, do you have to do it more than once? Come up for re-election and try a second time?"

"No, each man may serve no more than five years. The point being, that in only five years, none may accumulate a power base too substantial to be shut down when his term is finished. We learned the hard way that too great power can lead to domination. We will not allow that, in our own small way." His fists tightened. He must remember Ra personally. But unless Ra had spent a lot of time here, and Daniel didn't think he had, they'd invented their own system and Ra had allowed it. Maybe he had even imposed it and let them think it was their own idea.

"It sounds like a good system," Daniel put in. "You do realize that our own is different? But we will never impose our way on people we ally with."

"I am glad to hear you say that. I expect differences. Those we have met through the Circle have their own ways, and the ones who are willing to allow us their own and only respect that they are different are the ones we respect. I want this alliance."

None of the royal 'we' there. This was Mas Tul speaking not as leader but as a Quich‚ and a man. His eyes were completely earnest, but there were shadows in them that Daniel hadn't noticed before. Was the guy afraid the Goa'uld would come back? Had Apophis or Sokar shown up here? Or Heru'ur, trying to take over Ra's holdings? It was not that long ago that Ra had been blown to atoms. Jaffa might come here, although Ra's Horus Guards had surely been assimilated by now.

"So, do you have a current Goa'uld threat?" Jack asked. It was a question Mas Tul had avoided until now.

"There is always that danger," the leader said with forced lightness. "Having endured it once, it may seem inevitable that it should happen again. Thus, we have met with you today in hopes of preventing further domination."

Royal 'we' again, or did he mean his people? While there were a few others at the table, they hadn't talked much. The monitor on the wall was active though. Maybe Mas Tul's 'cabinet' or whatever he called his advisors was watching from somewhere else.

"We want the alliance, too, Mas Tul," Blair put in. "We have found another world recently who came from the same general area on Earth that you did. Not Mayan, but from the same part of the world. They have their own culture quite different from your own, but we have worked out a treaty with them."

"This interests me. Why, I wonder, have our people been sequestered on different worlds? This is something perhaps only Ra could have explained, but you say he is dead. That the gods may die is no part of legend, but Ra was harsh to us. Never a loving god, and indeed, not a god at all. Perhaps the old gods were all thus." He gave a weary sigh and glanced over at the monitor as if he was afraid his people, some of whom might still believe in the old ways, would take offense.

"The Goa'uld System Lords try to function as gods. It's easier that way for them to take people as hosts and to expect servitude." Daniel frowned. "We want to stop the System Lords." He couldn't mention the Tok'ra, not before an alliance was formed and then only if the Tok'ra were willing, but he would have liked to give Mas Tul hope that resistance was possible. He didn't mention Sha're, either.

"The System Lords are pretty powerful, though," Jim put in. "You know about Ra. I never met him, but I've heard stories. You need to cover your asses. The treaty's a good way to do it. You wouldn't be alone."

"We have told the people thus. What you say is true. I lead but I do not rule as Ra did. My people will vote, in the end. Tell us about your government and as much as you can about the worlds beyond the Circle."

So Blair and Daniel talked about Earth culture, careful to give away nothing that shouldn't be revealed yet, and Daniel and Jack told them as much as they could about galactic politics. They didn't mention the Asgard, either. Mas Tul retaliated with the history of his people, the history of a people who wore their slavery as lightly as they could but who always resented it. An alliance with other worlds was the first step in their genuine liberation and Mas Tul knew it. Daniel was sure he was utterly sincere. He wasn't a Goa'uld, anyway. Sam would have known. He'd been close enough to her to touch, and had held her hand to his chest. If he'd had a Goa'uld, she'd have picked up on it in a heartbeat. Teal'c hadn't reacted to the guy, either. Not to say there weren't any Goa'uld here, but if there were, they weren't stopping the meeting, and Sam and Teal'c had been allowed to depart after the bee sting. Teal'c returned partway through the afternoon--well, it was closer to noon for SG-1, but late afternoon on Quich‚--to report that Sam was all right but that she would stay in the infirmary for several hours so that Doctor Fraiser could make certain there would be no complications.

Daniel noticed that, in spite of Mas Tul's claim that Teal'c was a symbol of hope that Goa'uld domination was not forever, some of the people were a little uncomfortable around Teal'c. They'd been glad to know a Jaffa could turn against the Goa'uld, but even so they were twitchy about him. He leaned over and spoke to Jack. "I think Teal'c makes them a little nervous."

Ellison, at the far end of the table, was frowning. Had he heard Daniel's comment? Would his senses be sharply focused enough for that? Daniel wasn't sure how high he kept his abilities, or whether they went up or down. He didn't look happy, but he wasn't sending any kind of warning signals. Jack would have picked up on that, Daniel was sure.

"Yeah, I noticed that." Jack frowned, probably deciding whether it would be safe to send Teal'c back, whether it would be better for everybody, the Jaffa included, to remove him from the negotiations. Finally he nodded. "Teal'c, why don't you head back to the base. Let General Hammond know that the talks are going well. We'll be home pretty soon. Tell Carter we're watching out for bees."

When Teal'c had departed, Daniel couldn't help noticing that everyone relaxed. He hoped he hadn't misinterpreted the situation. But even Jim looked relaxed. Too bad the people here had been uncomfortable around Teal'c, although it had to do them good to know that even a Jaffa could turn against the Goa'uld.

After another hour, Mas Tul called a halt. "We have made great progress," he said. "I will put your words before my people. I think I can safely say they will agree, but I cannot say so formally for three days. That is the length of time the people have when an important decision must be made. If we have additional questions we will send for your 'diplomatic team'. Return in three days and we will inform you of our decision."

They went through the hand ritual again, like they had when they'd come, then Mas Tul led them to the changing room where they put on their own clothes again and gathered up Carter's to take back. Daniel saw Jack's relief flash vividly on his face when he was safely changed out of the skirt. The Quich‚ leader went with them to the transport rings, and teleported with them to the courtyard before the Stargate. "We are glad to have contact with the homeworld," he said. He singled Jack out as their leader and grabbed his hand again and raised it to his forehead. The gold ring on his little finger glittered in slanting, late afternoon sunlight and the medallion on his chest, the stylized eye, seemed to wink. Then he stood back, watching them with a wistful hope. Surely he didn't think his people would turn against his wishes.

"Dial us home, Daniel," Jack urged, and a few minutes later they were back on Earth.

General Hammond, in the control room overhead, spoke over the P.A. "Briefing room in ten minutes, gentlemen. Dr. Fraiser assures me Major Carter is fine, that there are no negative reactions to her bee sting and that she will be released soon."

"Probably embarrassed to be sent home for something so simple." Blair grinned. Daniel was sure he was right.

*****

Frankly, Sam was annoyed rather than embarrassed. A bee could sting anyone, but they couldn't take any chances, not after that giant insect had gotten Teal'c and nearly killed him. At least her bee hadn't been gigantic, just slightly bigger than the earth variety. Its venom was a little more potent, and it might have taken a person with an allergy worse, but there had been no evidence of anaphylactic shock, and the only evidence of her sting was a slight swelling on her left wrist and a definite discomfort in her stomach. An antacid had settled it, and Janet insisted she spend a few hours lying down being monitored in case there was a delayed reaction.

"We have to be careful about things that might not seem urgent on this side of the gate, Major," the doctor insisted. "It's too easy to cause a plague, either on another planet or here on Earth. None of us wants a repeat of the 'cave man' experience from the Land of Light that affected the histamines in the blood."

Carter didn't have any fond memories of that experience, in fact, hardly any memories at all, but that was just as well. This time, she didn't feel any worse than she would if she'd had a mild reaction to a bee sting; there'd been no shortness of breath, nothing other than pain of the sting and this lingering queasiness. What a waste. There hadn't even been opportunity to study any of the Quich‚'s scientific achievements. Not even a detour to visit one of their spaceships.

What *was* weird was that guy in the garden, the one who had helped her. She'd been aware of him, the way she would of any stranger on a planet through the gate where she couldn't entirely be certain of motives. At first, she'd thought he was simply a gardener; he wore the yellow robes that the servants in the banquet hall had worn and he'd hovered around the flowers. But now--and she scrunched up her forehead in thought-- there'd been something weird about the man. He was a typical Mayan type like Mas Tul, only much leaner with prominent cheekbones and chin, nothing about him to suggest Goa'uld. Of course, as they'd learned on various planets over the course of their Gate travels, someone didn't have to be a Goa'uld to resent the Tau'ri. But neither did someone acting weird have to have a hidden agenda. He might simply be strange, or might be acting according to customs they knew nothing about. But those weird arm movements, the closed eyes, the humming.... Well, that could be anything. He might have been mentally conducting an imaginary orchestra. She pondered the guy; he'd been the one to jump to her rescue when the bee suddenly zipped over and stung her. No hesitation there. It was like the bee had suddenly developed an agenda. A Goa'uld bee. She grinned at the whimsical thought. Not the kind of idea she'd like to share with the Colonel.

"What's funny, Major?"

"Oh, nothing, Janet. I was just thinking about one of the natives. He was acting a little strange."

"Dangerous strange?" asked the doctor. She came over and leaned against the next bed.

"No. Well, I don't think so. We don't know enough about the Quich‚ to guess at why they do things. Daniel might know, or Blair. He was almost dancing and waving his arms and humming to himself. Maybe he was just a free spirit. And he was the one to get the stinger out. Maybe he just likes bees, or flowers, or sunny days."

"Did he make you suspicious?" Fraiser frowned. "It's a first contact, after all. In spite of all the training you SG teams get, sometimes you have to go on instinct."

"He didn't make me suspicious at the time. He reminded me of...of Murdock on The A-Team. The one the rest of them would sneak out of the V.A. hospital, the one who almost seemed to be deliberately crazy. I didn't make the connection consciously at the time."

"Well, there's no reason why people on other worlds shouldn't suffer from a little harmless neurosis, after all."

"No. But I got the feeling they were really trying to make a good impression. Wouldn't they have wanted to keep people away from us who were...somewhat strange?"

"Unless they simply took the man's behavior for granted. Or unless you were interpreting it on how an Earth gardener would behave and his actions were perfectly normal in a context you didn't understand."

"I know. I thought of that, too, but now I'm feeling a few mental alarms. It could be that I'm subconsciously trying to make excuses because I feel rather silly being benched for something so inconsequential. I don't know. I just wish I understood what the guy was doing."

"Well, whatever it was, it didn't stop the rest of your team returning safely. They're with General Hammond now for the debriefing. I let them know you were fine, but I expect they'll all troop down here afterwards, even Ellison and Blair. After all, they're almost honorary members of SG-1."

"Blair slightly more than Jim," Sam replied. Sandburg had more exposure with SG-1 than Ellison did, and he was slightly easier to know, at least on the surface. It wasn't that Sam was bothered by Jim Ellison's heightened senses. Shortly after he joined the team and had gone through orientation and started training there'd been a briefing with Ellison and Sandburg and the other SG teams, to bring them up to speed on the Sentinel factor. Ellison hadn't liked it; he'd had to conceal what he was for too long to welcome openness, and he was a private man anyway, the type to have one or two close friends and all the rest casual. Sandburg had been there, too, acting like an unconscious buffer between Ellison and the curious, and tossing in casual, unrelated information and generalities to draw attention away from Jim. The mission report about the visit to the Second World where the team had encountered the Sentinel Topec and his Shaman, Manca Lana, was part of the base record and a lot of the teams had accessed the reports after Ellison signed on officially.

As the briefing progressed, Ellison had unbent a little when he realized that he wasn't the star of the freak show but just a man who had assets that might help the Stargate Program. A lot of the questions went to Sandburg about *his* abilities: his time spent with primitive tribes, the nature of his guide work. He'd thrived on the attention, once he was convinced that Jim didn't blame him for speaking out. That experience with his dissertation leaking to the press had left its scars on the young anthropologist, and on Ellison, too. They'd come to terms with each other, but the old habits died hard for both of them.

"Can you sense that I have naquada in my system?" Carter had asked him. "I know you can sense Teal'c's larval Goa'uld, so I'd think that you'd be able to recognize the Goa'uld if we encountered them, before they gave away any clues."

"Like the deep voice or the glowing eyes?" Sandburg's own eyes glowed in a much more human way. "When they're talking normally, is that because they're letting the host speak? And when the host speaks, has the Goa'uld relinquished control?"

"It is with the Tok'ra," Carter had replied. "I know when my father speaks in his normal voice, he's Jacob Carter, and when he speaks in the other voice, it's Selmak speaking. It's still a bit hard to adjust to." That won her a sympathetic look from Daniel, who had to know, none better, what it felt to have a snake inside someone he loved. At least Sam's father was still himself, at least a good portion of the time, and he was where he was voluntarily.

"Yeah, but the snakeheads are sneaky," Colonel O'Neill offered. "They'd try to cover up what they were if it was to their advantage. You bet they could use the host's voice without giving up control."

Ellison had turned to Sam and focused on her. After a few minutes, he shook his head. "It might be that I'm just not sure what to look for."

"Sure you are, Jim," Sandburg coached. "You've been through the Gate. It's made of naquada. Call that to mind and remember it, and then focus on that and think of Sam again. Narrow your focus down. It's okay, I won't let you zone."

Ellison glanced around at the curious eyes and flushed slightly. He had to hate performing for an audience.

"Yeah, come on," O'Neill urged. "You'll be one-up on us if you can do that. Wish **I had a built-in radar for the Goa'uld." Sam had mentally blessed the Colonel. His automatic acceptance and the interested smile on Daniel's face didn't give the slightest indication that they considered Ellison a genetic oddity. Teal'c, too, had eyed the Sentinel with respect. His fight against the Goa'uld was personal and he would see the value of any advantage that could help to defeat them.

Sam could remember the concentration that intensified Ellison's expression. He closed his eyes and was silent a moment. Blair hovered next to him, his hands making little encouraging gestures that Ellison couldn't see. Then he opened his eyes again. "Got it," he said. "I can detect it. It's not much, more like trace elements, Major. Now that I know how to find it, it's distinctive. I should be able to do that for us in future, but I also think I'd have to concentrate on it every time. Although, a real Goa'uld should be more obvious."

"Excellent, Major," General Hammond approved. "I think this is proving very beneficial. The heightened hearing should warn of approaching danger nicely. You'll be able to scan a group you meet on the other side of the Stargate and see if you can detect Goa'uld among them. I realize it requires a focus of your concentration, that it wouldn't be automatic. Am I right?"

"It will get more automatic," Sandburg promised. "If Sam will work with us and let Jim get used to it, and if Teal'c will grant us some time, I think we can make sure that Jim can sense Goa'uld if we meet them. I think it would be harder to sense the ones in somebody's head than Teal'c's, since it can just pop out, but we can do it, can't we, Jim?"

"I'll work on it," Ellison agreed. His jaw was tight. He still expected condemnation or fear for his abilities. It must be hard to have such a vivid difference; far too easy to resist it altogether and fake normalcy.

"I will assist," Teal'c volunteered without hesitation.

Several members of other SG teams also jumped in and offered to help. Maybe they were motivated by the thought of a 'secret weapon' against the Goa'uld, but they were men and women who had often been through the Stargate. One man with heightened senses wasn't particularly bizarre to them. Ellison glanced around the room, saw the open, friendly faces and the approving glances cast in his direction, and his jaw tightened, not in resentment, Sam thought, but in an attempt to keep from showing how moved he was. Evidently accustomed to reading even the most minute twitch from his Sentinel, Sandburg threw everybody a blazing grin.

"I'll set up a schedule," he promised. "I'll clear it with you when it's ready, General Hammond." He turned to O'Neill. "What about you, Colonel, sir? Want to jump in here?" Blue eyes held a challenge--and an expectation. Ever since O'Neill had helped Sandburg contact the President to free Ellison from Maybourne's secret lab, it was as if Blair thought the Colonel could walk on water. Carter had loved watching O'Neill react to that obvious hero worship, torn between disgruntlement, embarrassment, and gratification. The Colonel wasn't quite sure exactly how to take Sandburg.

He said, "I'm not one of your science guys, Sandburg."

"No, but if Colonel Makepeace is volunteering, you can, too. Come on, Colonel, sir." He always called him that even if Ellison had given him a quick course on military protocol when he'd been recommissioned.

Makepeace grimaced. "Gotta say, Jack, it should be interesting. Anything to help us take on the snakes, right?"

"Right." He muttered, "Oh, for crying out loud," under his breath, but he'd shown up for testing without Daniel needing to go and drag him in, and he'd been helpful. Probably didn't want to let his 'kids' down.

When the rest of SG-1 showed up in the infirmary to check out Carter after the Quich‚ briefing, they had Sandburg tagging along, but Ellison wasn't around. "He's getting some fishing stuff together to take back to that guy Ixci next time," Blair explained when Sam glanced past them in surprise.

"Yeah, I'm gonna head off with them, too, I think," O'Neill put in. "Trying to get you guys to go fishing is like trying to de-snake a Goa'uld. If we get any downtime on Quich‚, I'm outta here." He parked himself on the next bed. "So, Carter, ya gotta watch those killer bees. They'll zap you every time."

"It wasn't my idea, sir."

"Are you well, Major Carter?"

"Yes, Teal'c, Janet says I'll be fine in a few hours. When we go back to the planet, I'll be ready."

"They told us it would take three days for their people to come to a decision about the treaty," Daniel explained. "Mas Tul asked me to tell you he's sorry about the bee; they don't often sting, and he simply didn't think to warn you."

"It could happen to anyone," she dismissed it.

"Other than your sting, it was really great," Sandburg put in. "I never thought I'd get to help work out planetary treaties when I signed on here."

"Now there's a scary thought," muttered O'Neill under his breath.

Sandburg made a face at him. "Just because I'm so good at it--"

"And that's even scarier." O'Neill grinned. "I'm used to Daniel handling the diplomacy part, but who'd have thought the fate of a galactic treaty might hang on the word of a hippie."

Sandburg reached up deliberately and unfastened his hair; he shook it loose with a toss of his head. "Give peace a chance, huh, Colonel, sir?"

"Sweet. Maybe I'll go find Ellison. We can talk about fishing." He pretended to start for the door.

"What's the matter, Jack, scientists ganging up on you?" Daniel teased.

"Scientists don't worry me," the Colonel replied. "Not when I'm in charge. They have to do what I tell them to." He cast a doubtful look at Daniel, who had been known to overlook an order from time to time. That was the kindest way Sam could put it. Even after nearly three years with the SGC, Daniel's natural curiosity and willingness to push himself to the limits to get answers, even unwelcome ones, could override military discipline. He was better than he'd been at first, when he'd go off half cocked or babble for hours to anyone who would listen about every artifact they found, but no one could ever call him a spit and polish, by the book kind of guy. Since O'Neill wasn't your rules and regs type of officer either, they got along a lot better than anyone had a right to expect.

Sandburg cast a doubtful glance in Daniel's direction. "Well, that's a comforting thought, I guess." When O'Neill grimaced at him, he held up his hands. "Pax, Colonel, sir. I'm gonna go and bug Jim now. Take it easy, Sam. I'll find you a nice beekeeper outfit before we go back." He bounced out.

"And I thought *Daniel* was the one who would give me grey hair," the Colonel lamented.

Teal'c studied O'Neill's head. "Perhaps if you had allowed me to shave your head when we traded bodies, you would not have to face such a dire threat, O'Neill." His voice was utterly grave, but his eyes were alight with humor.

Daniel cracked up, and Sam had to work very hard to hold back her own laughter. The Colonel made a gesture with both hands as if he'd like to grab Teal'c and shake him. "Is that another Jaffa joke?" he asked warily.

"It is not." Teal'c could always stand his ground with O'Neill. "It is simply fact."

"He's got you there, Jack," Daniel chortled. "You know, I've got this computer program that would let me give you a preview of the Bald O'Neill. The second Yul Brynner of SG-1. Maybe you should go for it."

The Colonel eyed Daniel as if he had grown a second head. "Nah," he said. "But if you want to whip your program out and show us the bald cyber-Sandburg, I bet you could sell the pictures to half the women on the base."

Afterward, Carter remembered that infirmary visit fondly, not because anyone said anything outstanding or shared any information that mattered in the long run, but because, with what came afterwards, it had been the calm before the storm.

*****

Sandburg finally ran Ellison to earth in his quarters, seated at his computer terminal. "Hey, Jim, whatcha up to?" Jim had seemed more quiet than usual when they returned through the Stargate; alert and interested at the briefing, but less inclined to offer up any comments. Of course he'd been off with that fishing guy rather than at the negotiations. Maybe he felt left out. Blair glanced around for evidence of fishing tackle, but he didn't see any. "You got things ready to take back with you yet?"

"I'm doing the report first, to get it out of the way." Jim couldn't let Sandburg type his reports here the way he sometimes had back at Major Crimes, even though Blair wouldn't have minded too much. It was just that, here, Jim's abilities were accepted and had to be reported because any observation he might make with his Sentinel senses might prove important to the current mission.

"And I know how much you love computers," Blair teased him.

"They're not so bad when you get used to them." He moved the mouse to click the page closed but not before Blair got a glimpse of some kind of technical schematics. Each individual computer terminal had its own passwords, but it also had its own level of clearance. Since Jim and Blair didn't work with the technical aspects of running the base, they weren't cleared for that. Or was this something specific to Jim because of his senses? "What's that you're working on?"

"Nothing." The screen blanked down to the SGC logo.

"Come on, Jim. If it's something they've cleared you for that they haven't cleared me for, just say so and I'll back off."

"I am an army officer, Sandburg. It grants me a different kind of clearance."

Sandburg felt a sting of disappointment. He'd been here first; he'd been the one to recruit Jim. He knew that there were military things he had to remain outside of, but Daniel was involved in all levels, at least all levels that Blair could think of. Ellison wasn't in the command loop, of course, and he took his orders from Colonel O'Neill, or the leader of whichever SG team he and Sandburg were temporarily attached to, although he would eventually command an SG unit of his own. Jim wasn't a scientist, though, and that page had looked more up Sam's alley. "Yeah, man, but you're no techie."

"No, I'm not. It was way over my head, Chief."

Blair opened his mouth to ask if it tied in with the Sentinel research they'd started and closed it again. Okay, Jim didn't want him to know. But it reminded him of a schematic of some gizmo the Colonel had come up with when he'd been 'gifted' with the knowledge of the ancients. Blair had seen a print-out of it once. He didn't have a clue what it was, but that's when he'd heard what had happened to Jack O'Neill. Had to have been weird and scary, but in a way it might have been great, too. Maybe a few fragments of it would have stuck.

Sandburg couldn't help the tremendous respect he felt for O'Neill, even as he teased the man. He wasn't Jim; they'd never have that bond that went with being Guide and Sentinel, but he was someone Blair could look up to. He wished he'd been here when that had happened to O'Neill. Maybe he could have helped. He didn't know all those languages Daniel knew--a whopping twenty-three of them. Blair had thought he was doing good with six--but he was sure he could have helped.

"Most of Sam's stuff is over mine," he agreed quickly. "Wanna go grab something to eat?"

"No, I need to work on this. You go ahead, Sandburg."

Blair wasn't sure why, but strange alarms went off in his head. He had a really uncomfortable feeling that something was wrong. Was Jim okay? Was he tied up in some weird project? Was Maybourne after him again? "Okay," he said. "But you know, speaking of fishing, we ought to take our next free weekend, fly up to Cascade and go fishing with Simon."

For the first instant, Jim looked blank, as if he'd never heard of Simon Banks. Then he nodded easily. "We could do that," he said.

"I talked to Megan the other night. She says they all miss you."

Jim fiddled with the mouse. "They were good people," he said after a minute. Whoa. He *was* acting a little different. Not enough that it jumped out at Blair, but enough to make him edgy. He knew Jim better than he'd ever known anybody else, and there was something just a little *off* now. Had been ever since they came back from Quich‚.

"Still are," Blair replied. "I think Simon even misses *me*."

"Why wouldn't he?"

Now *that* was definitely off. Simon had always been a little...doubtful about Jim's guide. It didn't mean that Simon hadn't come to like him, although he'd been reluctant to admit it, but Blair had not been a trained police officer in those days. Raised by a hippie mother, he didn't exactly blend in seamlessly with Jim's fellow cops, or, sometimes, even with Jim. Ordinarily, Jim would have responded with some kidding remark. Was he missing Cascade and his police work a lot more than he was willing to admit? Did he hate being stuck here, a virtual prisoner on the base? They really couldn't risk going up to Washington State that often; not when there were NID types who might still consider snatching Jim. What if Jim didn't want to be here after all?

"Anybody would," Blair said with forced smugness.

"Maybe." Another tepid answer. Jim's mind was definitely somewhere else.

"Come on, Jim, what's wrong? Something's bugging you, isn't it? Are you okay? That fishing guy didn't say anything nasty to you? You'd have said if you'd found out anything that might screw up the mission?"

"Yes, I would have said. What kind of a question is that?"

"I don't know. I just have this feeling that something's wrong. If you don't want to talk about it, that's okay, but--"

"You have a feeling something is wrong?"

The question set off all kinds of alarms in Blair's mind. He couldn't remember Jim sounding that cold and suspicious toward him since the incident when Naomi had e-mailed Blair's dissertation to her publisher friend Sid in New York and exposed Jim's Sentinel abilities to the world. What could have caused it now? Blair didn't think he'd done anything horrible, not that he could remember. Not unless Jim really hated being here and saw it as Blair's fault. And he hadn't shown the slightest resentment before, at least not toward Blair. Toward circumstances, maybe, but not toward Blair.

"Well, you're acting a little off. It's not like you could have PMS or anything."

"I don't have anything like that."

"Have to say I'm glad of it, Jim." Blair risked a quick grin.

Jim didn't grin back. There was absolutely not one shred of their easy companionship in his eyes. They were such a cold blue. Weird. It was almost as if it wasn't Jim looking out of them.

Blair pushed that unhappy thought away. Of course it was Jim looking at him. It couldn't *not* be Jim. Possession wasn't exactly common at the end of the Twentieth Century.

Unless--Blair struggled to repress a shudder. He'd known Jim Ellison for four years and seen him in every mood possible. But he'd never seen Jim acting like he scarcely knew Blair, as if Blair were a stranger, an enemy, not the way he was doing now. But there was a state more deadly than possession that could happen to a member of an SG team away from Earth, that had happened to Samantha Carter last year, that had nearly happened to Jack O'Neill a few months back.

A Goa'uld.

It *couldn't* be. Jim was just in a bad mood. He couldn't have a Goa'uld in his head. Sam would have picked up on it. She could tell if she concentrated.

Sam had already come back through the gate with her bee sting before Jim rejoined the team. And Teal'c, who might also have sensed it, hadn't been present either. In the briefing--oh, god, Jim had sat as far away from Teal'c as possible.

Was that part of a plan?

"What are you thinking, Sandburg?" The question was spoken almost in a monotone voice.

"Nothing. Just wondering if you had a run-in with a bee over there, too. You're acting like something stung you, anyway. Tell you what. You're not in the mood for company, so I'll run along and bug Colonel O'Neill. I just love doing that."

Ellison rose with fluid grace. "Hold on a minute, Chief. I'll walk along with you."

The words sounded natural, but there was a subtle menace in the way he stalked across the room with a panther's stride. Involuntarily, Blair took a backward step, but before he could reach the door, Jim jumped him, grabbed him with hard, hurting hands, and slammed him up against the wall. Suddenly his eyes were glowing--oh god, oh, god, it was *true*--and his hand tightened around Sandburg's throat.

"He does not wish to hurt you, and I may indulge him in this." The voice resounded around the small quarters, eerie and ominous. "You are a small annoyance, of no more importance than that."

"Come on, Jim, you can fight it," Blair gasped desperately. He had to struggle to speak; the pressure on his throat was cutting off his oxygen and his voice emerged as a breathless squawk. "You don't have to give in to this. I know it's not you. It's okay, man. I understand."

"What an altruistic little shit you are." And that scared Blair more than anything the Goa'uld had said, because Blair didn't think 'little shit' was your typical Goa'uld epithet. If the snake could read Jim's mind enough for it to use such terminology, then he knew about the Sentinel senses. The other Goa'uld would find out. Even if they could free Jim from the snake--and was it even *possible*?--other Goa'uld might know. Jim wouldn't be any safer out there on the other side of the Stargate than he was on Earth.

"Great Goa'uld-speak," Blair scoffed breathlessly. His head pounded. "You won't get away with this!"

"You think not? I have already 'gotten away with' it. My plans were finished before you came to interrupt." He nodded toward the computer.

"What are you...going to...do?" Blair wheezed.

"I will take the one called O'Neill through the Stargate--to Apophis."

Blair's heart dropped into his boots with a thud. "You...can't do...that."

"Nothing will be easier. You think me a fool? You think your petty technology here is a match for *me*? Apophis will get his revenge and I will be rewarded."

"Probably into...a grave. You think he...will tolerate...rivals?" Dark spots danced before Blair's eyes. Jim was bigger than he was anyway, and stronger, and with the added power of the Goa'uld, he was easily able to overcome Blair. Still, he had to try. If Jim grabbed O'Neill and got away through the gate, both men were as good as dead. Blair collected himself, tried desperately to kick, to struggle, even to knee Jim in the groin. Being a Goa'uld wouldn't stop that from doubling him over.

But the Goa'uld evaded his movements with insulting ease. The grip tightened.

*God, Jim, no,* Blair thought desperately. He put everything he had into his expression, because he couldn't find the breath to gasp out a goodbye or a warning. He had to do something, but he was helpless--and Jim, and Jack O'Neill with him, was doomed. *I know it's not your fault, Jim. I hope you know that, too. We'll get you back. Somehow. I promise.

If your Goa'uld doesn't kill me....*

His vision narrowed down to nothing but the glowing eyes of his best friend, and then even that faded and he fell endlessly into bitter darkness.

*****

Jack O'Neill thought it was long past time to eat. He'd finished up his report and now he was off to find Daniel and Teal'c, see if they could spring Carter and grab a meal. Having a mid-morning banquet had screwed up his time sense, but it was afternoon now. Okay, call it time for tea, then. Since they couldn't go back to Quich‚ for three more days, they could even head out for pizza off the base. Teal'c had developed an odd fondness for anchovy pizza, and even if none of the rest of them liked it, he could polish off a good-sized pizza topped with the little fishes on his own while Junior took care of all that cholesterol and sodium and bad stuff that would give the rest of them terminal heartburn. Junior had its uses, all right. Didn't make it any easier to see the little wiggler on the rare instances when it popped out for a quick look around.

He was almost to the lab where he expected to find Daniel when he saw Jim Ellison coming toward him, his hands tucked in his pockets, his face abstracted. The kid wasn't with him, but he had to be around somewhere. The pair of them could be like Siamese twins sometimes. Okay, they'd grab Ellison and Sandburg, too. With all of SG-1 to keep an eye on Ellison, they ought to be able to protect him from Maybourne, even assuming sneaky old Harry would be willing to risk the President's annoyance and grab Ellison again.

"Yo, Ellison, you up for pizza?"

Jim smiled. Weird grin; it almost put Jack off. He didn't know Ellison that well yet, not as well as he knew Sandburg, but Ellison was proving a good man, and the senses thing was no problem either, at least not so far. Maybe the guy had fishing on his mind. Jack could relate.

"I was looking for you," said Ellison. "I'm told you enjoy fishing, too. I'm arranging an outing when we return to Quich‚."

"I'd be up for that." Finally, a chance to get away with a pole and a dock--or in this case, a beach, maybe even a boat. He couldn't really get Daniel worked up for fishing, and Carter hadn't bit when he dangled the bait in front of her either. Teal'c? Well, something to consider. Did they ever fish on Chulak?

"You wouldn't believe the fish," Jim said.

"Big mothers?"

"Very." Ellison glanced up and down the corridor. Nobody else was in sight, but there was something so surreptitious in the Sentinel's manner that Jack turned to look over his shoulder.

"What, it's a secret?"

"You could say that." His hand came up out of his pocket and, son of a gun, he was wearing a Goa'uld healing device. The other hand shot out and grabbed Jack's wrist with a bone-crushing grip, and he leveled the Goa'uld gizmo at him. It lit up and all thought of resistance trickled out of Jack, filling him with a mindless lassitude. He was still on his feet, he knew what was happening to him, and he recognized, with a horrible sinking sensation, the glow of Ellison's eyes. He hadn't been off planning a deep sea fishing excursion on Quich‚. He'd been offered up to a snake. *Son of a bitch*. Was that why Carter had been stung? Was it all a set-up, to get her back through the gate first so she wouldn't be able to sense it and give warning? Ellison had made excuses not to come to visit her in the infirmary. Taking no chances. And he'd been kind of avoiding Teal'c, too, come to think of it.

"You will offer no resistance," the Goa'uld purred. *Damn it. Damn it. I can't fight the bastard.* Jack tried to struggle and couldn't do it. He didn't feel the slightest urge to keel over and his intentions hadn't changed. He wanted to deck the jerk, tie him down, let them try to figure out how to get the snake out of him--and yeah, that would work just ducky, the way it had with Kawalsky. God, this would kill Sandburg.

If it didn't kill Jack first.

Okay, so new use of the healing gizmo. Didn't change Jack's attitude, but he couldn't resist. Son of a bitch! He couldn't do anything voluntarily, but he hadn't passed out and his thoughts were still his own. Keeling over would have been too obvious.

"What are you going to do?" he managed to grit out.

"That should be apparent. Don't play ignorant with me." The crisp, cold tones were as unlike Ellison's normal voice as possible, full of that resonating Goa'uld tone. Somebody would notice pretty soon.

Then Ellison lowered the healing device. Some kind of hypnosis function, maybe? Brainwashing? He slid it off and crammed it in his pocket. An airman came down the corridor and went past without noticing anything. Jack tried to open his mouth to warn the guy, but nothing came out. Ellison--the Goa'uld--let the airman pass and didn't try to stop him.

"I am taking you to Apophis," the Goa'uld answered his question when the man had gone.

*Wrong. Apophis already croaked.* If this particular snakehead didn't know that, Jack wasn't about to be the one to break it to him. And if Sokar had popped the corpse into a handy dandy sarcophagus, mentioning what had happened to him here wouldn't help anybody, least of all Jack. Maybe this particular snake was just out of the loop. If he tried to haul Jack to Chulak, maybe Master Bra'tac might be on hand to help. *Play along, O'Neill. See where he's going with this.* "I hate to break it to you but they don't open the Gate for just anybody." Seems like he could talk when no one else was listening without violating whatever the Goa'uld had done to mess with his head.

"I will not ask *them* to do so. Come. We have a schedule."

Jack felt his feet turn to walk along with Ellison. His body wouldn't respond to his commands to deck the guy, to push a button to call an alert. Instead he felt a bland expression settle over his face and he felt himself nodding pleasantly to the people he passed in the corridor. If he ran into somebody who knew him well, they'd probably get it--but then Ellison's Goa'uld would have to stop them. That would be bad.

Worse, they were heading right for the Gate room. Of course it was guarded when it was in use. If nothing was going down at the moment, there might not be anybody in the actual room, but the minute anything happened, there'd be a lot of Marines with guns. If Jim stood there and held a gun to Jack's head and insisted the gate be opened, Jack didn't think it would be. He might be expendable; they wouldn't let Ellison take him through the gate. This was bad; he couldn't even get a warning out.

The Gate room was empty. As they entered, Ellison's hand slid into his pocket and the heavy doors sealed behind them. That started a warning blaring, all right. Jack looked up at the control room overhead and saw the techs gaping down at them in surprise.

The gate started to dial up.

"Unauthorized gate activation." The warning voice came over the speakers, and more alarms sounded. Hammond's voice came next. "Shut it down."

O'Neill could see the tech frantically pushing buttons. "Sir, it won't respond. I'm locked out of the system."

"Then get back *into* the system. Stand ready to close the iris."

"Trying, sir."

Hammond's voice again, over the speaker. "Colonel O'Neill. Major Ellison. What are you doing?"

"He is doing nothing," Ellison replied in his Goa'uld voice. "I, however, am taking him with me to present him to Apophis."

O'Neill caught the General's eye and shook his head fractionally. He couldn't speak; he didn't want to give it away, but neither could he open his mouth to make a comment. Whatever Ellison had done to him with the healing device seemed pretty specific to anything that might help.

"Sir, he's a Goa'uld." That was Carter, out of the infirmary. She'd caught the headshake, and she was always quick on her feet. Jack gazed up at the control room and saw her fling herself into a seat and start punching in instructions. Daniel was with her. Deprived of anything to do to help, he gazed down into the gate room, eyes wide and shocked. "Jack?" He didn't offer up his two cents' worth about Apophis going to the great Goa'uld resting place in the sky, either. Nobody did. It wasn't much of an advantage, but it was the only one Jack had.

"He cannot fight me," the Goa'uld gloated. Calm and unworried, he listened to the chevrons engage. "Your system will not work until I have departed with my prisoner." He pulled a small device from his pocket. "I control this base. Should you try to stop me, I will not kill him, but I will hurt him very much. Surely it would be better for you to try to rescue him than to guarantee you bring back no more than a helpless cripple, even if you should succeed in following me. Besides, there are explosives rigged. I will not detonate them if you allow my departure."

Jack wasn't sure the guy had had time for that. He had to learn how to hack into the computers here, and while Ellison wasn't exactly a Luddite when it came to computers, he was no Bill Gates, either. Maybe there were explosives and maybe not, and Jack knew the General couldn't take the chance that Ellison/snake wasn't lying. He saw Hammond speaking to several people in the background, and they took off, probably to start a search for possible explosives.

"Someone record those chevrons," Hammond said in the background.

"Chevron six engaged."

"I've got it," Daniel said. He would memorize every one, and be ready to go through the gate on a rescue mission as soon as control was restored. If he recognized them, he didn't give them away.

"Sir, it won't let us in," Carter's voice rang with frustration.

Teal'c arrived. "Major Ellison is a Goa'uld?"

"You didn't sense anything at the briefing?" Hammond asked him.

"I did not."

"He sat as far from Teal'c as he could," Daniel remembered. "I think he was lying low. We didn't have any reason to suspect...."

"Seventh chevron locked."

The gate's energy field kawooshed out at them. Jack watched it, struggling like mad to do something, to fight what was happening, but he could only stand there like a mindless zombie. That really sucked. He had to say something, to do something. But his body wouldn't respond.

"Daniel..." He struggled to get the word out. Evidently it wasn't a threat to the Goa'uld. "I think Quich‚ is a set-up."

"Obvious," scoffed Ellison. "Come, we have an appointment with Apophis."

Teal'c opened his mouth, probably to inform the Goa'uld that Apophis was history. Daniel elbowed him in the ribs. If it hadn't been such a crummy moment, O'Neill would have relished the startled affront in the Jaffa's eyes before he caught on and closed his mouth.

As his time ran out, Jack struggled to look back, to raise his eyes to the control room. He had time for one quick glance at his team before Ellison grabbed him by the arm and dragged him relentlessly up the ramp to the event horizon. Carter kept punching keys, but her eyes were on him. Teal'c looked fiercely resolute, determined to mount a rescue mission, and Daniel stared at him with horrified eyes, and at Jim Ellison with a sick worry. Probably thinking of Sandburg and how this would hit him. If anyone would know, he would. And so did Jack. He'd lost Kawalsky to a Goa'uld, and Skaara was still out there with Klorel stuck in his head.

"Jack, we'll get you back," Daniel called before Ellison hauled him through the gate. The desperate determination in Daniel's voice was the last thing he heard before he stepped over the threshold on his way to whatever nasty fate awaited him.

*****

Continued in Part Two...