Nor Iron Bars a Cage
by Sheila Paulson
See notes and disclaimer on part one.
Blair Sandburg scowled impartially at everyone else in the room. Briefings? What good were briefings when Jim was restrained in medical isolation, strapped down to a bed, all connected up to electrodes, a Goa'uld in his head, when Daniel and Jack were both out of it? He'd scarcely noticed Daniel getting shot, but he should have stopped Jim-- the Goa'uld in Jim--sooner, and that wouldn't have happened. Stopping Jim had been his responsibility and he'd screwed it up. When they got rid of that nasty Goa'uld, Denlin, his name was, Jim was gonna feel lousy that he'd shot Daniel in the back.
"He fought it," Blair blurted out. "Jim fought it. He had a clear shot at the Colonel, and he fought it. I could see his hand shaking, he fought it so hard."
"It's all right, son," General Hammond reassured him. "No one is blaming Major Ellison for what happened."
Blair opened his mouth to point out that Colonel O'Neill had been pretty damned unhappy about Daniel's injury--and probably his own, too, although he hadn't been thinking of that. If Jim's Goa'uld hadn't injured Jack himself, he'd ordered it done. O'Neill could probably hold a grudge with the best of them.
"The fact that he could resist even slightly is a good sign," Jacob Carter said. He wasn't in his Tok'ra mode and Blair was glad of it. He'd seen that inimical glow in Jim's eyes. Selmak wasn't inimical, but right then, glowing eyes and the resonant voice would hit too close to home. Probably Jacob Carter knew that and was refraining on purpose. Selmak seemed likely to go along with that. Why couldn't Jim have got a Tok'ra if he had to have a snake in him? And how could they ever hope to get it out?
"Denlin is known." That was Martouf, back from wherever he'd gone for information. They hadn't known the Goa'uld's name then but when Martouf returned, about twenty minutes after the rescue party brought Ellison and O'Neill back to the base, he'd evidently tracked down a few leads. Learning Denlin's identity had confirmed what he'd found. "He is not a System Lord, of course, but then their numbers are limited. The Tok'ra lost track of him just over a year ago."
"What do you know about him?" Carter asked. She seemed to have some kind of history with Martouf--no, Jolinar had, Blair realized. Sam must have remembered it, one of the tidbits of information that had filtered into her brain from the brief linkage. When they got Jim back to himself, would he remember all the awful things Denlin must have done over his long life? Would he be...different, changed for ever? Blair shivered.
"He has a history of obsequious subservience and backstabbing," Martouf replied.
"I know something of him, too," Sam's father offered. "He was one of the followers of Ra, which is probably why he knew about Quich‚. When Ra was killed, he didn't want to acknowledge it, and he probably tried to capitalize on being one of Ra's lieutenants."
"We lost track of him a year ago," Martouf continued. "But reports say he tried to offer his services to Apophis. I don't believe Apophis would have trusted him at all, but he may have required Denlin to prove his worthiness; if he failed, Apophis lost nothing but if he succeeded, then it would be to the gain of Apophis. Apophis might have sent him to secure Quich‚."
"Do you think Apophis could have ordered him to stop us?" Sam asked.
Martouf shook his head. "Not necessarily. That wouldn't explain why he went to Quich‚. He'd evidently been there some time, long enough that the word hadn't reached him that Apophis was dead. He may have gone to ground there because it was once one of Ra's planets or in hopes of restoring their servitude--or possibly to hide out if Apophis wanted him dead."
"We should contact the Quich‚ and find out," volunteered Sam. Blair knew that was a good idea, but he didn't want to leave Jim right now. Nobody else here would advocate for Jim; they'd want to get information out of Denlin, but he was afraid they'd pretty much given up on Jim himself. Blair could understand it; they'd gone through all this over that Kawalsky guy way back when the program was getting started, put everything they could into it and it hadn't worked. Then there were Sha're and Skaara and they'd been possessed for a couple of years. But that didn't mean Blair intended to give up on Jim, not for a second. Only...what could he do?
Hammond frowned. "Do we think the people of Quich‚ are involved with Denlin's plan?" he asked. "There had to be some manipulation there, some involvement. If we assume Major Carter's bee sting was engineered to get her back through the gate so she wouldn't have to travel with Major Ellison and realize he'd been infested, then Denlin had to have allies there."
"I think Mas Tul really did want the alliance," Sam said thoughtfully.
Blair heard himself speaking up. "I'm not sure Mas Tul was telling us all he knew," he said. "The guy did want the alliance, but I bet he knew there were problems. He said that Ixci guy Jim went off with was a friend of his. Maybe there was a threat over him, to keep him from telling us about Denlin, or maybe he only suspected there was Goa'uld infiltration, but the way he was going on, sounding so desperate about the alliance, says he knew he needed help."
"He did insist he wanted the alliance and he did make some remarks about the Goa'uld and how tricky they were," Sam pointed out. "Of course Denlin was right there then, and if Mas Tul had any suspicions, he'd have had to watch what he said. I think he really wanted us to...."
"Jump in and save his people's bacon?" her father asked.
"Exactly. He couldn't come right out and warn us; maybe the Goa'uld had threatened his family. He has a young daughter and an elderly father. But I think he hoped that we'd figure it out--and then remember he'd done as much as he could."
"Not very much when Jim got set up," Blair muttered bitterly. "Probably when he went off fishing with Ixci. For all we know, he was the one who had the Goa'uld in him before and it figured it would do better with one of us."
"What I want to know, people, is whether you think it would be safe to return to Quich‚, or whether we should wait." General Hammond looked grave, serious. Everybody did. Dr. Fraiser hadn't been hot to jump in with reassurances, but she had sent them off to the briefing with the claim that neither the Colonel or Daniel had a life-threatening injury. That was probably the only thing that had steered Sam and Teal'c away from the infirmary. She hadn't had any reassurances for Blair about Jim, just that he'd be securely restrained in isolation while they waited for possible solutions. He hadn't expected hope there. But once this was over he was determined to work out a solution, even if it meant calling in all of Earth's allies out there beyond the gate.
"They don't expect us for three days," Carter said thoughtfully.
"Which is why, if I authorize a mission, I want it to be sooner than that," Hammond replied. "Not tonight. You people have been up a long time and you've been through a rough day. I want everybody to eat a hot meal and get a good sleep first. I'll take the thought of a return mission to Quich‚ under advisement."
"And myself, Hammond of Texas?" asked Bra'tac, who had sat silent through the entire briefing. "I must return soon to my people."
Hammond frowned. "We don't want to risk you needlessly, Master Bra'tac. We'll send a M.A.L.P. through first to make certain the gate is unguarded. If it is, we will send you home, but we don't want to throw your life away if the Jaffa are waiting."
"We'll return home, too," Jacob Carter decided. "We'll try to gain additional information and contact you with what we learn, not only about Denlin but about Quich‚, and about any alliances Denlin might have had."
"The other thing we need to do," Sam said quickly, "is to make certain Denlin didn't leave any nasty surprises in the computer system or elsewhere. I know you ordered it checked out, General."
"I did. Our techs studied every bit of the system while you were gone. They're still running diagnostics. They found Denlin's program and it was pretty simple and specific, they said. Its one purpose was to grant him access to the gate that couldn't be overridden. It wasn't anything fancy. They don't think he had time to do anything more refined, but we can't be sure, of course. We're running additional tests. We've also searched Major Ellison's quarters for any possible evidence of tampering and for Goa'uld devices. We haven't found any trace of hidden explosives, though."
"Will you let me take a look at the computer tampering Denlin did?" Jacob offered. "I could stay behind long enough for that." He lowered his head and raised it as Selmak. "I have much experience of Goa'uld programming."
"We would appreciate that," Hammond agreed.
"General, sir, can I get back to Jim?" Blair asked.
"In a minute, Sandburg. I want to talk to you privately first." He looked past Blair to Sam and Teal'c. "You two are dismissed to the infirmary. Martouf, we will send you home now, if you choose, and then check out Chulak for Master Bra'tac."
"What is it, General?" Sandburg asked when the two of them reached Hammond's office. "Jim's senses? I figured you probably didn't want to mention them in front of the Tok'ra."
Hammond nodded. "I didn't. What I want to know is, what kind of advantage do you think the heightened senses have given Denlin?" He needed all the information he could get. He didn't like losing one of his people to the Goa'uld. If Ellison's sensory abilities gave Denlin an extra advantage, he had to know about it, and know now. He didn't like the thought that Ellison might have to die, but Hammond had to take into account more than one man's survival. He had the survival of Earth to contend with. Sandburg would consider that a betrayal, and in a sense it was, but Hammond knew he might not have any better options. Unless their allies could free Ellison, he might have to die--or remain a prisoner the rest of his life.
"That's the weird part," Blair said. "I got the feeling that maybe Denlin didn't even know about them. When the shock grenade went off and the light was so bright even in the tunnel, he closed his eyes, but no more than the rest of us did. That would have driven Jim nuts, but it didn't seem to faze Denlin at all. Do you think the fact of his being a Goa'uld can make him control the senses? Jim had to learn to control them. If Denlin can just use them--he could be eavesdropping on us right now."
"Could Ellison hear us right now if he were in control?" Hammond asked. He hated the thought of the advantages that a Goa'uld within a Sentinel might possess. Blair might not have all the answers; there had certainly been nothing about Goa'uld possession in his research. But Sandburg was one of the most adaptable men the General had ever known, and his quick mind could extrapolate answers from wildly divergent facts.
Sandburg's face held quickly suppressed panic. Maybe he could guess that Jim's fate wouldn't be ideal and he wanted to head it off. He started talking really fast. "It wouldn't be easy, but he's kind of attuned to me. I'm his guide and I'm the one who has worked with him on his senses. He can focus on my heartbeat if I'm reasonably close. If he could do that, he could focus on what I'm saying; we're right here on the base; he's close enough. The thing is, we don't know what kind of senses the Goa'uld have. I'd like to talk to Sam's father about it, but I didn't want to mention it because Jim doesn't like people to know, and of course because I wasn't sure about clearance. I don't know all the ins and outs of it, so when I'm not sure, I just keep quiet. Only way to get by."
Hammond hid a smile. It was an unusual approach to security, but it probably worked. Sandburg had destroyed his university career to keep Jim Ellison's secret. Hammond had never doubted his loyalty or his integrity. Maybe his judgment at times, but never his honor. "If it works, son, I'm all for it. I trust Jacob Carter completely. I've known him for years. Selmak would have a different agenda, though."
Sandburg worked his hair loose and ran his fingers through it to fluff it out. "You mean Sam's Dad is pretty much Tok'ra-ized?"
Hammond smothered a chuckle. "That's one way to put it. All I can say is that while the Tok'ra are our allies and our interests run concurrently much of the time, they don't always match. Ellison's sensory abilities have always been concealed from them. I'm sure they've concealed more than that from us."
"I wish we could find out if they know about other Sentinels out there, like that Topec from the Second World, my first mission through the Stargate. Denlin might know about the concept; he'd be thrilled to pieces to find out about Jim. Oh, man, I just hate to think of it. He could even use the senses to control Jim if Jim tried to fight him, couldn't he?"
"It's possible," Hammond replied. He felt bad about Ellison, who was a damned good man. But so had Charlie Kawalsky been a good man, and Earth- based medicine had been unable to save him. The only positive thing was that the SGC had a lot more allies today. Thor might know something. Maybe it was time to send a message to the Asgard. Thor's Hammer had freed Kendra on Cimmeria, after all. It hadn't been an easy process but she'd been strong and fought through. So was Ellison strong. Yet his greatest strength, his sensory enhancement, was also a weakness, a cause of vulnerability. That Sandburg knew everything possible to know about Sentinels and had been on hand when Ellison's senses had broken out had probably saved the man's sanity, if not his life. Denlin didn't have a guide. No matter his Goa'uld powers, he was dealing with something different in Jim Ellison. Maybe Sandburg could use his own knowledge to defeat the Goa'uld. Somehow.
And maybe pigs could pirouette.
"What do you want me to do, General?" Sandburg gazed at him expectantly. Hammond didn't want to shoot down that instinctive trust, but he didn't have any good answers for the young man.
"I want you to spend some time with him," he said. "In case the Goa'uld hasn't clued in to Ellison's senses, I want you to give me an evaluation. Has he or hasn't he? Did the Goa'uld render them inoperative? Is he controlling them automatically? Can he use them against us?"
Blair flinched at the last question. He was too quick not to realize that Hammond couldn't let that happen. It was all right for now, while he was under guard and under secure restraints, but Sandburg would understand that the security of this base and this planet had to take precedence. He wouldn't like it; he was more a Sentinel's guide than he was a member of the SGC, and his loyalties had never been so divided before.
"We want to save Ellison, too, son," Hammond reassured him. "We won't automatically write him off. We haven't even started exploring our options. I want you to go in there and find out exactly where we're at with the senses. You can take time to hear about Doctor Jackson and Colonel O'Neill first, of course. It won't hurt Denlin to wait."
"It might hurt Jim to be in there all alone, restrained. I know the guards aren't going to be thinking of reassuring Jim. They'll just look at him and see a Goa'uld. Won't they?"
"Some of them know Ellison," Hammond reminded him, but he had to say Blair was right. The guards didn't have the luxury of pampering the trapped Ellison. They had only one job and that was to protect the base from anything Denlin might do. Carter had reminded him that Denlin might have already done something to the base, something that teams were checking for right now. It might be more than small devices in Ellison's quarters, too. Denlin had been at liberty for a time. He could have concealed something small enough in a great many places.
"Besides," the General continued, "if Denlin rigged anything here, booby traps or delayed triggers in the computer, we want to know about it. Ellison might know what's been done."
"But he can't tell us, can he? Denlin could fake it before, when we were still on Quich‚ and when we first came back. I didn't think he was acting quite right, but he knew enough from Jim to carry it off. He even...called me 'Chief'." Sandburg paused, bit his bottom lip, then squared his shoulders. "Denlin can try to fake me out. He knows about Jim and me being friends and probably a lot of what's gone down between us, right?"
"The Goa'uld can access the host mind," Hammond agreed. "But he's only..." He broke off. "I was going to say, 'he's only human', but what I meant was that even if all that knowledge is there to be accessed, he can't possibly pull in every fact of a man's lifetime overnight or sort out what might be most important to us. We don't know fully how the linkage works. Jacob Carter and I are old friends and that hasn't gone away, but there's more to him now. Selmak knows all about Jacob. I don't know how long it took for them to be...comfortable with each other. And Jacob went into it voluntarily. Ellison didn't. He's in there fighting for his individuality, his sanity, his sense of self. He won't make it easy for Denlin."
"Yeah, he was really fighting it when Denlin was trying to shoot Colonel O'Neill," Blair agreed. "Denlin tried and tried and his hand was shaking like crazy, and his face was all twisted up. I could tell Jim was struggling to stop him." His shoulders sagged. "He didn't win, though."
"No, not this time, but it proves that he's aware in there. I want you to hang onto that. We couldn't help Major Kawalsky, but we were just getting started up when he was taken. That was the first official mission of the SGC. We've made a lot of powerful allies and learned a lot since then."
Blair raised hopeful eyes to him and Hammond felt obligated to continue. "Son, you think you're the only one fighting for Ellison. You're his main advocate, of course, but the rest of us want to save him, too. Do you think we want to see another member of the team, another human, fall to the Goa'uld? I can assure you that, once he's in any shape to think of it, Doctor Jackson is going to be one of your prime allies. He'll be for anything that can free someone from the Goa'uld. His motivations are different from yours; he'll be thinking of his wife, Sha're and how he can use whatever we do here to free her, but that won't make him any less your ally. And I think that Colonel O'Neill is going to do all he can to help you, too."
Sandburg's face darkened. "After Denlin trashed the Colonel, he probably hates Jim."
"None of that kind of thinking here. O'Neill knows it wasn't Jim Ellison who, er, trashed him." *And he thinks the world of you.* Hammond didn't say that aloud, but he knew O'Neill had warmed to Sandburg's respect and admiration, probably the way he had to Skaara's back on Abydos the first time he and Jackson had gone there. Sandburg bugged the Colonel, of course: The long hair, the ready mouth, the general attitude. But Hammond had realized that the Colonel was a lot more fond of Sandburg than he wanted to admit.
"You run along to the infirmary now," the General instructed. "Wait with Major Carter and Teal'c until you get the word on Jackson and O'Neill, and then go in and see what you can find out about Ellison. Don't go alone. Take Teal'c or Major Carter with you."
Sandburg bounced to his feet, tense and eager at the same time. "Thanks, General," he said again and favored Hammond with a blazing smile that had faded like a light switched off before he reached the doorway.
*I wish I had better answers for you, son. I wish I had better answers for all of us.*
"Easy, easy, Colonel. You're all right."
The hand on his shoulder was reassuring. O'Neill ceased his struggles and blinked up at Janet Fraiser, who stood at his bedside. Okay, infirmary. Back at the base. That was right, they were home. All of them, Ellison with a Goa'uld in him and--
Fraiser must have seen realization on his face because she smiled at him. "Before you say a word, Colonel, Daniel's going to be fine."
Was that a con to get him to relax? "Fine? How can he be fine? He was shot in the back."
"Well, actually, he was shot in the backpack, and the bullet was deflected. It had lost most of its velocity by the time it actually hit him, enough that it was deflected again by his ribs and it circled out along the line of the rib in a long gash. It was easy to remove, only under a flap of skin. He'll be sore and he bled a lot, but there's hardly any actual damage. He'll be in shape for missions before you will."
"You wouldn't lie to a battered old Colonel, would you?" Was it true? Daniel had been so out of it, so limp and unresponsive as he lay in Teal'c's grip.
"I've been known to do that for medical reasons but in this case, it's the absolute truth. If you will look here, you'll see what I mean." She nodded past him.
Jack turned his head cautiously and saw that Daniel lay in the very next bed. Both of them were wearing pajamas--Jack groused about the usual hospital gown thingies so often that the infirmary staff had bowed to his complaints a long time ago. Anything to shut him up and, hopefully, to keep him from taking off when he wasn't ready to be discharged. Daniel was turned on his side facing Jack, probably so that he wasn't lying directly on the wound. His eyes were closed and he had an IV running into the back of his hand. "You sure he's okay?" O'Neill fussed. "He looks pretty damn pale to me."
"He did lose blood, Colonel. That's a natural result."
"Scared the hell out of us," O'Neill griped. "You let me know how long it'll take him to get well, because he's got an appointment with my fist as soon as he's up to it."
Fraiser smiled. "By the time he's up to it, you still won't be, Colonel, so I doubt that will happen."
Jack glared at her. She was humoring him, damn it. "He took a shot meant for me," he gritted out. "He's *crazy*, to do something like that."
"I doubt very much it was a reasoned choice, Jack," she said more softly. "His instinctive reaction was to save the life of his friend. You and I both know that he's lost too many people in his life. He almost expects it." She threw a fond and doting look at Daniel's unresponsive form. "I think that when he saw Denlin pointing a gun at you and knew that Ellison couldn't fight it, his instincts took over."
"Yeah, well, did he think I'd feel it was peachy keen to have *him* die?"
"No one has died. No one was even seriously hurt. It's possible that Jim Ellison had some slight control over where the shot went, and I'm told you could tell that Daniel had a backpack under his robes. We don't know exactly what happened, but he really will be fine. You, however, would have taken the shot in the chest, if he hadn't moved, and you had no backpack there to deflect anything. I think Daniel will consider being sore for a week well worth it."
Jack opened his mouth to continue complaining and shut it again. No point in reminding her that Daniel hadn't been thinking about backpacks that might function along the lines of bulletproof vests. And that reminded him that it might be a good idea to suggest Hammond lay in a stock of the vests for SG-1's reckless archaeologist.
"So, what's wrong with me?" he asked instead.
"You have two broken ribs and one cracked one. You're very lucky that you didn't come home with a punctured lung, Colonel. You're going to be my guest here for another day. You and Daniel can console each other that you don't have to put up with your 'imprisonment' alone."
"You also have a lot of bruises, but fortunately, no internal injuries. You'll be sore, too, and I expect that you have a headache. You were subject to mind manipulation through a healing device, a function we didn't know about, and evidently a ribbon device as well. Jacob Carter and Martouf assured me there would be no lasting ill-effects from your experience."
"Saw Jacob on the rescue team. Didn't see Marty."
"He was off checking for information on Denlin. He didn't come."
"Saw Bra'tac, too. We brought him back with us, didn't we? He okay?"
"He returned to Chulak an hour ago. Evidently the Jaffa had become tired of watching the gate."
"Or maybe they were off trying to explain to whatever System Lord ol' Denny sent for why there wasn't a Goa'uld waiting to turn me over to him." He shifted surreptitiously to ease the pressure on the bruises, only to discover new ones.
Fraiser arched one eyebrow but didn't comment. "We think they did send for one. There's been two attempts to get through the gate here. After the second one, they haven't tried again, but we're at readiness status because of it."
"Where are Carter and Teal'c?"
"Out there waiting to see you and Daniel. Blair Sandburg is with them."
"Isolation, in restraints, under guard."
"And Sandburg's not in there with him?"
"He'll go. He's got some old books and he's doing research in them as he waits."
"Any chance when the time comes, you could let me go in there with him?"
Fraiser opened her mouth for an automatic denial, then she closed it again. "In a wheelchair, possibly, and for a limited period, and not quite yet. You also have a slight concussion, Colonel, and I assure you, you won't feel well being up longer."
"I don't want the kid to have to go through that on his own," O'Neill said. He could imagine the desolate, lost expression on Sandburg's face, and he remembered how the guide had been willing to violate protocol like crazy when Maybourne had Ellison a month or so ago, to the point of sneaking into Hammond's office and using his hot line to the President. This was worse. Ellison hadn't had a jolly time then, but at least he'd still been himself.
Janet's face softened. "We'll see what we can arrange. In the meantime, if I'm not mistaken, Daniel is about to wake up." She turned to the other bed and took Daniel's vital signs. "He's going to be sore, but he'll be fine, Colonel. I guarantee it." She smiled fondly at Jackson-- the entire female infirmary staff had a way of doing that whenever Danny wound up in here--and left the room.
"So, Jackson, open up those baby blues," O'Neill urged.
Daniel's eyes popped open and he focused on Jack with desperate intensity. "You're in here," he blurted. He blinked at O'Neill, his mind clearing as he stared.
"I'm *in here*?" O'Neill challenged. "You pull a reckless, dumb-ass stunt like that, jumping in the way of a *bullet*, and that's all you can say. I'm *in here*? You're slipping, Jackson."
"I...uh...didn't think you'd been hit," Daniel said rather awkwardly. He raised the hand without the IV and knuckled his eyes before he cast a glance past Jack to confirm his location.
"Only with a few million Jaffa fists and boot toes," Jack said with unpleasant reminiscence. "I didn't get shot. *You* did. What the hell were you *thinking*? Do you expect bullets to just bounce off you? Superman Jackson? You're *nuts*."
"I...uh...didn't think," Daniel admitted. "I just saw the gun and the next thing I knew I was hit." He winced. "Um...how bad...?" Suddenly he produced a wicked little grin. "Not too bad, right?"
O'Neill deflated in the face of that grin, although he tried not to show it. "No, not too bad. You feel pretty good, then?"
"Actually, I feel...sore as hell. But I figured you wouldn't be chewing me out...if I was about to croak."
Jack sputtered with laughter, then groaned and clutched his ribcage.
"Jack?" What little color that was left in Daniel's face drained away.
"Just a couple dandy little broken ribs," O'Neill admitted. "No, you're not about to croak. Fraiser says I'm probably gonna be stuck in here longer than you. And this next bit is an order from your commanding officer. If you dare to make me laugh again in the next couple of days, I'm gonna see you don't get to look at a new artifact for the next three months."
Daniel relaxed, color returned to his face, and he smiled.
"This is *not over*, Daniel. I'm pretty pissed at you right now. You had no right to risk your life like that."
Daniel gazed at him with that heartfelt intensity only he could manage. "I had to, Jack. I couldn't save my parents. I couldn't save Sha're. But I *could* save you."
Jack opened his mouth to yell and found he couldn't quite manage it in the face of that absolute sincerity. He was in pretty important company there. Daniel's parents. His wife. Jack. Shit, he couldn't even reproach Daniel for it anymore, not after a line like that. No words emerged at all.
"It wasn't like I was thinking of dying in your place," Daniel continued in low tones. "Honestly, Jack. It was just that I couldn't let you die. That's all. There wasn't time. I just...moved. And I'm not sorry, either. Even if I'd... well, even if it had turned out the other way, I knew you'd still look for Sha're. I didn't reason all that out. I didn't have to. I just knew. It wasn't like I could shoot Jim Ellison." He held Jack's gaze a moment longer, demanding understanding. Then he administered the coup de grƒce. "You'd have done the same thing for me."
Jack groaned. "Okay, ya got me." It was true. He'd have taken a bullet for Jackson, too. He wouldn't have hesitated. Knowing that, knowing why he would have done it, he could hardly yell at Daniel over it. "But, damn it, allow me to be pissed. You scared the hell out of me."
"How do you think I felt, seeing *you*, chained up and battered like that, about to die?"
Jack winced. "Yeah, not my best look."
That made Daniel give a sputter of laughter, then he winced and reached down cautiously to the dressing that covered his ribs. "Uh...Jack?"
"I'm not your commanding officer, but don't you make *me* laugh, either, or I'll get General Hammond to order you to help me with my translations for the next three months." His mouth twitched in amusement. "I think he'd probably do it, too."
Jack didn't have the slightest doubt of it. "You fight dirty, Jackson."
"So do you."
They beamed at each other like idiots, and the tense moment passed. Daniel took a cautious deep breath. "Is everybody else okay?" He must have known just from looking at Jack that they were, but he had to hear it officially.
"Yeah. Well, aside from Ellison. He's still Goa'ulded, poor guy. Janet's got him in restraints in isolation. I said I'd go in with Sandburg to see him."
"Blair's gotta be taking this pretty hard," Daniel decided.
"Yeah. Ellison's a good guy. He doesn't deserve it. We've gotta figure out how to get rid of Goa'ulds. Sha're and Skaara are still out there." *Oh, that's just great, O'Neill. Remind him of his wife--and his brother-in-law--when he's hurt.*
Daniel flinched slightly at the memory, but he nodded. "I know there's a way to get rid of a Goa'uld, Jack. There has to be. It's not like we ever had any to..." His voice trailed off. "I was going to say 'experiment on', but that's a lousy thing to do to Ellison."
"I think he'd prefer it to the alternative," Jack decided after a silent moment. He remembered Kawalsky too well--and there were other nasty memories crowding around in his mind. "I know I woulda, when Hathor gave me her little friend."
"At least you didn't have to," Daniel said so hastily that Jack realized he'd been remembering that, too. First, they'd all believed the rest of the team was dead, then they'd found each other, encountered the Snake Queen herself, and Jack got stuck with the nasty feeling of a Goa'uld slithering into him. God, that had sucked. Daniel and Carter hadn't been able to do a thing to prevent it, either. He'd seen the horror on their faces. Daniel had been practically withdrawn into himself; no doubt remembering the transformed Sha're. Okay, so maybe he had good reason to jump in front of Jack back there on Chulak, remembering the Goa'ulding of Jack O'Neill. Didn't make any of this any easier.
"Yeah. At least I didn't have to." He tried not to remember those moments when he'd felt the Goa'uld fumbling about, trying to break into his mind. It had only been seconds, but it had felt like centuries. Just on the strength of that, he knew he'd have to help Ellison, if he could. He didn't want anybody else here to go down that way, not like Kawalsky. Not like Skaara or Sha're. "So we're gonna get Ellison back. If I have to grovel to Thor, I'll do it."
"Have they sent Thor a message?" Daniel asked. "Or the Tollans? Do the Tok'ra know anything? They didn't admit they knew how to get rid of a Goa'uld, but I bet they do."
"Maybe," Jack said thoughtfully. "But I bet it's not a good way, if they do. They can probably get it out, but I don't know what it would do to the host. It'd be kinda nice if Ellison came out of this in one piece-- and sane."
"Yeah," agreed Daniel as Janet Fraiser appeared in the doorway.
"Hello, Daniel. Are you intact after the Colonel rode roughshod over you?"
"Well...I think so. Is he really okay, Janet?"
"He's going to be fine, Daniel, and so are you. I've got the rest of SG- 1 breaking down the door to visit you, so I'm going to let them in." She stood aside before Carter and Teal'c could trample her. "I should officially rename this the SG-1 Infirmary," she added with a grin before she vanished.
"We're okay, campers," Jack said quickly before anybody else could speak. He spotted Blair Sandburg lurking behind Teal'c, his face full of a misery that went so deep that it didn't leave him even when he was thinking of something else. Sandburg's eyes reassured him that Jack and Daniel were recovering, and some of his tension went away, but not all of it, and the look he gave O'Neill held something that might have been guilt. Now what was *that* all about?
"Doctor Fraiser says you'll be fine," Carter agreed.
"What's going on out there?" Jack gestured to include the rest of the base.
"The Tok'ra gave us what information they could on Denlin, the Goa'uld in Ellison. We've got a message in to Thor and another to the Tollans. Neither has responded yet. Master Bra'tac went back to Chulak. And we're running massive system sweeps to make sure Denlin didn't do any lasting harm when he doctored our systems and checking for hidden bombs."
"Jim wouldn't know how to mess with the computer systems," Sandburg protested. Then he edged up to the bed. "Colonel, I'm so sorry you got beat up like that, man. It's not Jim's fault. You've gotta know that."
"Relax, Sandburg. I know that. Nobody's blaming Ellison. I know for a fact that there's not a heck of a lot he *can* do. Thanks to him, I don't have a big hole in my chest where my heart is supposed to be. I saw him fighting the control. Long enough for *somebody* to grandstand," he added pointedly, although with no malice.
Daniel gave him an awkward grin. "Do they really think the Goa'uld could have booby-trapped us?"
"Linnea did," Carter reminded him. "We can't take the chance. Denlin won't tell us. But he's here. If he values his own life, we hope he'll admit it in time to stop it, because we're keeping him here."
"If we can get the Goa'uld out of Jim, Jim will know," Sandburg insisted.
"True, but he might not understand it. The guy's no hacker, after all." O'Neill frowned. "I don't remember much of what happened when the knowledge of the ancients got crammed into my brain. We can't count on Ellison remembering every detail, even if we can free him."
"Blair, what about the heightened senses?" Daniel asked. "That has to have some impact, but I didn't see any sign of it when we were on Chulak. I know days go by and I don't even think about the senses; Jim might be using them for little things and we can't tell. But shouldn't that have some impact on how the Goa'uld reacts?"
"It *should*," Sandburg replied. His face scrunched up in a parody of concentration. "Only I couldn't see it, either. Maybe all Goa'uld have heightened senses and Jim's just got swallowed up in it." He whirled on Teal'c and grabbed the startled Jaffa by the arms. "Come on, Teal'c, you know more about the Goa'uld than the rest of us put together. Did Apophis have heightened senses?"
"That is correct, Blair Sandburg. His senses were more finely attuned than those of a human," Teal'c replied, "as are my own. However, neither Goa'uld nor Jaffa have displayed the innate gifts possessed by Major Ellison."
"Would the Goa'uld *know*?" Daniel threw in. Typical Jackson; he was already caught up in the scientific puzzle. Carter, too, looked intrigued. Sandburg's need was more personal, tied in with his friend. Not that Carter and Daniel didn't consider Ellison a friend, but they had that scientist mindset. Jack knew Sandburg was a scientist, too, an anthropologist, pretty close to being Doctor Sandburg, if that program Hammond was checking into to transfer Sandburg to one of the Colorado universities worked out. He couldn't do a dissertation on Sentinels, not now, but Ellison had said he had plenty of information on infiltrating closed societies, from primitive tribes to the Cascade Police Department and had even written some of it up already. He'd be busy with the SGC, of course, but it was possible that, in a few more years, he'd be Doctor Sandburg after all. Jack hoped he could.
Teal'c's brow wrinkled. "It would have access to Ellison's mind, but a human mind is complex. It might not know everything instantly."
"It would have to seek out that information, though," Carter mused. "It wouldn't know to check for heightened senses, and it would be more focused on what it needed to get off this base with you, Colonel, and to do what damage here it could. Not expecting the heightened senses, it wouldn't think to check for them--but how readily apparent would they be? Blair?"
"Well, if Jim had them damped down, maybe not evident right away," Blair said thoughtfully. "Jim doesn't go through the day flinching at loud noises and squinting at bright lights. He's learned a lot of control over the years, so it's kind of automatic to him. Only...he didn't react in a special way to the light from that shock grenade. I'm...I'm scared that having the Goa'uld in his brain wiped the senses out. That maybe, even if we get him back, he won't be a Sentinel anymore."
Jack had to admit he'd wondered about that, too. Chained up while Denlin gloated, he'd witnessed no trace of heightened senses. Maybe the part of Jim Ellison that was a Sentinel had been killed by having Denlin worm his way into his brain. Scary thought. Still, Carter hadn't been lessened by Jolinar. She'd been changed subtly, but it had been an addition, rather than a deletion, and she was still Carter, just a Carter with a few more abilities. Lousy break if the reverse was true for Ellison.
"We don't *know* that," Daniel was quick to reassure him.
"General Hammond says I need to go in there and find out what I can." Sandburg braced himself and squared his shoulders for the task. Had to be tough to go in there with his best friend and see a hostile stranger looking out of the man's eyes. Daniel had faced that with Sha're, and Jack knew how much it had hurt him.
"I want to come with you," O'Neill volunteered.
Sandburg's eyes warmed. "That'd be great, Colonel, sir, but you're not well enough yet. I'll do it. Jim's my responsibility. I'm his guide."
"Soon as Fraiser lets me out of here, I'm with you," O'Neill promised. The glow of gratitude in Sandburg's face was kind of hard to take, but the rest of Jack's team looked pretty happy with him, too. "Well, we've gotta stick together here," he said a little awkwardly.
"I will accompany you, Blair Sandburg," Teal'c offered. "As you say, I have more experience of the Goa'uld than anyone else here."
Another smile blazed out. "Thanks, Teal'c."
Fraiser bustled in then. "Okay, folks, visiting hours are officially over. I want these two to rest."
Carter and Teal'c let themselves be chivvied out, but Sandburg hung back a moment.
"Thanks, Colonel, sir," he said and darted out after the others.
Jack had to work hard to squash down the smile that wanted to spread across his face.
"Major Carter, I want to talk to you about Quich‚." Summoned to the General's office as soon as she left the infirmary, Sam had hurried to meet him. After she had reassured Hammond that both Colonel O'Neill and Daniel would be all right, he had brought up the subject of the planet.
"Yes, sir. I didn't spend as much time there as the others did."
"You're completely recovered from your bee sting?"
Sam had, quite frankly, forgotten all about it. She glanced at her wrist in surprise. The swelling was gone and all that remained was a faint red mark where the stinger had gone in and a mild sensitivity when she prodded it. "Yes, sir, I'm fine." Compared to O'Neill's beating and Daniel's bullet wound, it was ludicrous even to waste time on it. Ellison's situation made her own utterly laughable.
"Good. Because I think we need to talk to Mas Tul. I want to know if he was in on the plot to infect Major Ellison, whether he knew about it and was afraid to admit it, or whether he and the majority of his people are totally innocent."
"I believe I'd suspect the second option, General. He wanted help but was afraid to tell us what was going on. He couldn't really even hint about it, but I think he hoped we had the technology or the allies to cope with his problem."
"You think his three-day waiting period might be a test for us as well as a chance for his people to vote?"
That was an interesting idea. Sam hadn't considered that, but then she really hadn't had much time to speculate on the motivations of the Quich‚ people. The folks at the dinner had been friendly and open. If it was an act, they were either damned good at it or too afraid of repercussions to give themselves away. Mas Tul might not even have known who was involved in a possible Goa'uld conspiracy.
"It's possible, sir. If he knew about Ellison, he might want to see what we'd do about it before he would commit his people to an alliance with us. He might not even see that allowing us to take a Goa'uld home with us was a violation of our trust. His people might have been at stake. It wouldn't be fair to us, but he might have been desperate."
"That doesn't speak very well for his reliability as a treaty partner, Major."
"No, it doesn't, sir, but the others all believe he genuinely wants an alliance. If we could talk to him separately from his people...."
"Bring him here, you mean?" Hammond was not surprised by the suggestion, and Sam realized he'd been thinking along those lines himself. He might have run the idea past O'Neill if the Colonel had been up to it, but Sam suspected O'Neill wouldn't have been in favor of the idea. He probably wasn't wild on trusting the Quich‚ at this point, and that was definitely a valid interpretation. But Sam had liked the Quich‚ people, and an ally at much the same level of technology, or slightly above Earth's with their space travel, would be a major benefit. "The Goa'uld can make people desperate, General. If Denlin was the only one on the planet, it might be possible to weed out the conspirators now and make the world safe again. I think they've been enslaved too recently for them to be comfortable with freedom. They're still learning their way."
"For a people recently freed from enslavement, they have a high level of self-government and an advanced technology. Ra kept the Abydons primitive and even outlawed writing there."
"The Abydons had naquada, sir. And I think Ra was involved with them all along. He may have brought the Quich‚ from pre-Columbian Central America far more recently. Who knows, he may have been experimenting with them to see what they could achieve. Daniel says that even though the people are advanced technologically, they were quick to admit to Ra as a god, although they thought him a variant of one of their own sun gods, Kinich Ahau, I think it was. I think Ra showed up often enough to reinforce the image and to impose his will. But they got the word of Ra's death, and that pretty much shot the image. If their god died, then their god wasn't as powerful as they'd always thought. Daniel said they were a culture in transition. There are bound to be people who were comfortable under the old system, even if it was a form of slavery."
"Doctor Jackson's ideas are useful in a situation like this," Hammond decided. "All right. What I want to do is bring Mas Tul here. I don't want him to bring an army of bodyguards with him. I want to talk to him one-on-one. I'd like you to be present, Major, since you've been on the planet. I may bring in Doctor Jackson if Doctor Fraiser says he can take it, even if we have to go to him."
"That might be a good idea, sir. It's possible that Mas Tul will speak freely away from anyone who might overhear. On the other hand, he'll think the conspirators will expect that. Unless...."
"Unless they think it's Denlin who summoned him."
Hammond frowned. "If *he* thinks that, he won't be frank with us."
"I think he's a shrewd man, General. Either way, I think he'll come. If the conspirators believe he's been summoned, his people may be in no danger, and once he realizes he can be frank with us, we can learn the truth."
"Then we'll do it." He rose and gestured her toward the control room.
Jim Ellison ached in places he hadn't known he had; not physical places, but places inside the soul. That sounded like something Sandburg might have come up with; Sandburg was more comfortable with analyzing feelings that Jim was, although no better with admitting them. But then Sandburg hadn't had his very soul compromised. There seemed to be no part of Jim that hadn't been laid bare by the predations of Denlin: no hope or aspiration, no experience, no memory, no shoddy little secret he preferred to keep closed away. He felt violated, like a rape victim, and it hit him hard that what was the worst about such an experience was the utterly demeaning sense that he was nothing to the violator, of no worth beyond that of a body to use. He'd known that logically in the past about other victims, but now he knew it inside, where it hurt, where it was real.
*You ARE of no worth,* Denlin purred scornfully in his mind. *Only that your body is fit and serves me for now. Anyone equally fit would have done as well. There is nothing special about you. You are no better, no worse than any other petty human, suitable for my purposes, no more.*
Jim had been so careful all through his enslavement to avoid conceptualizing his Sentinel abilities; it helped that he'd often tried to ignore them as much as possible, that he had craved normalcy. Sandburg had never understood that. He thought the heightened senses were a wonderful gift, and that was true, but it was also a burden that often weighted Jim down so hard that he wasn't sure he could lift his head. As long as he didn't let himself think about that part of his life, he didn't have to bring it out into the open. With his senses dialed down as low as they could go, shut away from any conscious ability to manipulate, he was...normal, or as normal as anyone could be with a snake in his head. Was the ability to shut off so completely a part of the primitive Sentinel ability or had the Goa'uld's invasion made it impossible for the senses to resurface? He didn't know and couldn't speculate.
*At least I don't need 'petty' humans simply to exist,* he scoffed. *You Goa'uld think you're so special, but you're not. You're helpless parasites that can't exist without us, so I'd watch the scorn if I were you.*
*It would be too easy to make you suffer, human,* growled the Goa'uld into his head, the threat oozing through him like contaminated water.
*Yeah, and you'd feel it, since you're stuck inside me. You know all about me, but I know about you, too. Yeah, that's right, this sharing thing is a two-way street. Maybe I can't tell anybody about it, but I know all about Denlin, and what I know is pretty damn pathetic. Do you know what the word 'toady' means? Well, that's what you are, a pitiful sycophant to the System Lords. You think Apophis would have respected you for showing up with O'Neill, if he'd been alive? He'd have taken O'Neill, sure, but he wouldn't have been grateful to you. It's not in him. How do you think the System Lords gain power anyway? By clawing and biting and killing each other off. Your ass would have been grass the second you weren't useful to him any longer.*
*You risk much.* Denlin's words were brief and scornful, but Jim could feel the anger that seethed through him as if it were his own. And that scared him. When did the Goa'uld's influence become so pervasive that Jim Ellison would sink without a trace? Did that happen? Daniel had said that Sha're had still been herself when her snake backed off during her pregnancy. She hadn't lost her identity. But the little he knew about that incident indicated that she had lost her confidence; she had feared Daniel would hate her for being weak enough to submit. Carter had gone through a rocky patch after Jolinar, and Jolinar had been a Tok'ra, not a Goa'uld. So even if they found a way to nudge Denlin out of him, he wasn't gonna be at the top of his game. Carter was still a member of SG- 1, so there was hope for him--
*Not much hope,* Denlin gibed. *You think these humans know how to remove me? It is not possible. They might remove my physical form, but my essence is so much a part of your human brain that they could not remove it without turning you into...what is the human term? A vegetable. Only my voluntary withdrawal would leave you intact, and I do not agree to do that. Should I go, I will do as much damage on the way out as I possibly can. So do not think to fight me because you cannot. No human can.*
Sandburg's voice was curiously diffident. Jim was glad Denlin wanted to see him and turned his head, because he couldn't have done it on his own. He was essentially a prisoner, not only of the restraints that confined Denlin, but of his own body. He really hated to have Sandburg see him like this.
Blair hesitated in the doorway, Teal'c behind him. The Jaffa had one hand on Sandburg's shoulder, whether as support or a restraint to keep him from galloping over to Jim's bedside, Ellison wasn't sure. He was just glad Sandburg hadn't needed to come here without backup. Had to be tough for him.
Sandburg's expression was a mixture of anger and concern as he took in the setup. Ellison was strapped down on a hospital bed, wrists and ankles bound, a strap across his chest. Electrodes were connected that Jim was pretty sure showed a dual set of readings, his own and the Goa'uld's. Doctor Fraiser had explained that to him as she attached them, although the Goa'uld had made a few sneering remarks at the time. Sandburg's eyes swept across the monitor he didn't know how to read, then his gaze came back to Ellison's face. Jim had been afraid of fear or pity, but that wasn't there, at least not as a primary motivator. Not even resentment for being choked unconscious. Knowing Sandburg, he'd figured out that the wrong kind of negative emotions were the last thing Jim needed to see. And maybe his anger at the Goa'uld was strong enough that he hadn't thought that far ahead. Nah, Sandburg was always working out angles in his mind, getting with the program, using all that anthro knowledge of how people's heads worked. It would've made him a great cop if he'd been able to go that route, and it was gonna make him a great asset to a first-contact team like SG-1, when they got the rest of their team and started running around out there on their own.
*HE might. Now you will not,* Denlin reminded him. A thread of sarcasm ran through the mental tones.
Jim sent a mental raspberry at the Goa'uld.
"Jim is not here," Denlin replied. "You will not find him, Sandburg. Blair." The Goa'uld curled Jim's lips scornfully around the name. "Chief," he added. "Too many names for one small, contemptible human who didn't even have the...balls to be a cop."
Sandburg flinched. He'd know it wasn't Jim talking, but he'd have to assume Denlin had taken that thought out of Jim's mind. He hadn't. Jim had been disappointed that Sandburg hadn't wanted to be a cop, but he'd never thought it implied a weakness. Sandburg was about as weak as a pit bull.
Teal'c flicked a disdainful glare at the Goa'uld in Ellison. Easy to tell who it was meant for. "You are incorrect," he rumbled. "Blair Sandburg has the...balls for anything."
Sandburg's mouth quirked in momentary amusement when he heard that particular terminology coming out of Teal'c's mouth, but it faded instantly. He didn't have the heart to be amused now. "Thanks, Teal'c. I know it's not Jim saying that. He's picking up things from Jim, but he's twisting them. That's what a Goa'uld would do, isn't it?"
Sandburg approached the bed carefully and it didn't take Teal'c's warning of, "No closer, Blair Sandburg," to stop him just out of range of Jim's restrained hand. Maybe he wasn't sure how strong the Goa'uld was, and feared it could yank free of the restraints. Maybe he just didn't want to have to touch Jim, knowing that Denlin was inside him. He looked frustrated, sad, scared, but he was also grimly determined.
"It's kinda dark in here, Jim," he said. "I'll have Teal'c turn on the lights."
At the doorway, Teal'c put out his hand and flicked the switch and the overhead lights blared into full brightness. Jim squinted. He knew, without conceptualizing it, why Sandburg had done that. Blair had locked eyes with Jim even if it meant looking Denlin full in the face, to judge Jim's reaction. When he only blinked away from the light the way anyone would have done, something inside Blair seemed to shrivel. His shoulders sagged and he muttered, "Oh, man."
Denlin spoke. "Now you see that I am no longer your friend, Chief."
"Don't call me that," Blair snapped. "You don't have the *right* to call me that."
"I will call you by any name I choose, including 'fool' and 'coward'."
"Blair Sandburg is neither," Teal'c insisted. "Thus, you speak of yourself, rather than of him."
"Let me talk to Jim," Sandburg wheedled. "I know he's still in there. I want to talk to him."
"He is hiding inside me, too weak and terrified to speak. His mind is feeble even for a human. He put up no resistance. He welcomed me and gave himself over to me in hopes of becoming part of my strength."
Sandburg's face tightened. "Oh, man, you are so wrong," he insisted. "You don't have a clue if you think that. Jim Ellison is the strongest man I've ever met, and the bravest. He's...the most loyal friend I ever had. So don't think you can con me with your Goa'uld lies because I'm not buying." It was almost as if he were saying, "Hang in there, Jim, I know he's feeding me a crock of shit." His utter trust in Ellison shone out of him and it gave Jim strength. Not enough to force Denlin out of his body, but enough to go on enduring in hopes that there might be a solution out there. Denlin had said he'd destroy Jim as he went, but the Asgard might be able to prevent that.
"The Asgard?" said Denlin involuntarily, and he said it aloud. Jim could feel the snake's frustration at his slip, but Blair caught it. His eyes blazed.
"Jim? That's you in there, isn't it? Thinking about how we're gonna take him down. See, Denlin. You haven't got a prayer."
"I will destroy him before I will let the Asgard near me. If I am to die, I will take him with me. But the Asgard are not here. They are not the lapdogs of humans, to run to you when you whistle."
"They do not like the Goa'uld." Teal'c had a great line in understatements.
"They envy us. All do."
"Yeah, right." Sandburg's sarcasm cut like a knife. He started to stretch out his hand and drew it back, annoyed with himself. "I want to talk to Jim. I'm not talking to you. Let me talk to Jim. And if you say, 'there is no Jim, only Denlin,' I'm gonna pop you one." His eyes widened suddenly. Ellison figured he had inadvertently been quoting something. Only Sandburg would wander off into distraction at such a moment. Blair caught himself. "You sound pretty scornful of humans, but we're not subcreatures to you. You couldn't exist without us, at least not out there in the galaxy making trouble. You'd be flitting around in a pond on a backwater planet somewhere. We give you mobility and function. You never created anything. All your technology is stolen from people smarter than you are. Only thing you're good for is abusing power."
"You anger me, *subcreature*." Denlin curled Jim's lips around the epithet with relish.
"Yeah, well, there's nothing you can do about it. You may think you're strong and smart, but *I'm* not the one strapped down on a table."
"A momentary condition. All your defiance will not free your friend."
"I want to talk to Jim. To Jim. Not you. I know you can let him talk. Nobody's making any deals with you, nobody's gonna help you out at all. We need to know Jim's okay before we decide what to do next. You don't have enough power to take all of us on. You might be the 'gatekeeper' but there's no 'keymaster' here so you can summon Apophis."
"What are you babbling about with your talk of gates and keys?" Denlin's frustration and irritation ran through Jim. Was Sandburg trying to keep him off balance? Why did those terms sound vaguely familiar? "Do you speak of the Chapa'ai, or, as you call it, the Stargate?"
Sandburg grinned crookedly. He *was* trying to throw Denlin off balance. Jim had seen just that same gleam in his eyes when he was attempting to bullshit himself out of a tricky situation back in Cascade.
"Hey, Denny," Sandburg muttered. Jim would have bet half his paycheck Sandburg had picked up that particular nickname from Jack O'Neill. "You ever run into a Goa'uld called Gozer?"
"What has that to do with this situation?"
Sandburg's eyes grew huge. "You're *kidding*. Really?"
What the hell was he up to now. Gozer? That sounded familiar to Jim, too. Where had he heard it? Gatekeeper? Keymaster? Shit, he was talking about the Ghostbusters movie. Jim's whole life was down the tubes and the kid was babbling about a movie. Okay, so he and Blair had met the Ghostbusters a couple of times, but Gozer--did that mean there'd been a Stargate in Manhattan on Central Park West? The Ghostbusters didn't know that Blair and Jim were part of the Stargate Command now; it wasn't something they could tell people who really weren't more than casual acquaintances even though they'd been through a crisis or two together.
*You think to distract me with these thoughts of 'movies',* Denlin spat into his mind.
*Gozer would have been more powerful than you ever were and just four humans took care of him, just like four humans took out Apophis's ship in orbit,* he challenged. Jim remembered the scene in the movie when Sigourney Weaver's character had been possessed by somebody called Zuul and Peter, played by Bill Murray, had tried to break through to her. That's what Sandburg had tried just now. Jim didn't think this was anything but a detour. Goa'ulds couldn't turn into giant marshmallow men and stalk through the streets of New York. Or was Blair simply trying to confuse Denlin enough to get an edge? You couldn't tell with Sandburg.
*Is there really a Goa'uld called Gozer?* Jim persisted.
Denlin ignored him.
Sandburg turned to Teal'c. "What about it, Teal'c, was there a System Lord called Gozer?"
"I know little of that name. It is seldom spoken, a name from antiquity. A powerful entity, perhaps even more powerful than the Goa'uld, yet the Goa'uld served Gozer, as I remember it. These tales were believed to be legend."
"Yeah, but you thought the Tok--" Blair chopped that off but not in time.
"Tok'ra?" Denlin cried. "You know of the Tok'ra. I am aware of this from Ellison's memories. Do not think those weakened forms of my race will save you. They are treacherous."
"Yeah, well, it only took four humans to stop your precious Gozer, so don't write us or the Tok'ra off," Blair snapped, unconsciously mimicking Jim's scorn. "Now quit all this posturing and let me talk to Jim. What's it gonna hurt you, after all?"
Denlin actually considered it. Maybe he just figured Blair would go away if he allowed it, or maybe he couldn't see how it could do any harm. Jim knew he could be overridden if he tried to offer up any warnings. All of a sudden, Jim knew he could speak. He'd have to be very careful, lull Denlin into complacency....
"Chief. It's me." The rumble left his tones and he sounded normal. Normal? That was a laugh. He was only 'normal' at the indulgence of his captor. He hated that.
"Jim? Oh, man, am I glad to hear your voice. I knew you were in there. Jim, listen, we're gonna fix this. I know we are. We've got all sorts of ideas and he won't be able to stop us."
"He says he'll destroy my brain if he's forced out of me," Jim admitted. He didn't want to say it, but the others needed to know, and Denlin didn't appear to mind if he said it. He didn't want Sandburg to feel guilty for the rest of his life if Earth's allies tried something and it failed.
"Maybe he thinks he can, but we won't let that happen. I promise, Jim." Sandburg was practically shaking with sincerity. "Jim, man, you hang in there. We'll sense something out."
"I'm not sure I can," he admitted. Denlin wouldn't get anything out of that phrasing that he shouldn't.
Sandburg's face fell. "Yeah, you can, Jim. I know you can." In spite of the determination that shone on his face, there was an element of doubt in his voice that Denlin heard. Jim could feel the Goa'uld gloating in his mind. "It's gonna be okay," Sandburg continued. "We'll figure it out. I promise."
"What about O'Neill and Jackson?" No one had told Jim anything about them. "I shot...."
Sandburg's eyes flashed. "The hell you did. It was Denlin who shot Daniel, but he's okay. The shot hit his backpack and got deflected and all it did was dig this nasty little ridge along his ribcage. He lost a lot of blood, but he'll be fine. And the Colonel's gonna be fine, too. He's got a couple of broken ribs, a mild concussion, and a lot of bruises, but no internal injuries. And none of that was your fault."
"I should have been able to fight him off."
"You *couldn't*, Jim. No one could. It doesn't mean you aren't strong. It just means it would have been a physical impossibility. You couldn't lift the Stargate, either, but that doesn't mean you're weak. We have to fight the Goa'uld in other ways, is all. And we're gonna. Besides," he added, "I had to zat you." He bowed his head.
"You think I *minded*?" Jim blurted out. "God, Sandburg, you had to. I had a gun and was going crazy with it. I would have shot all of you."
"Not *you*, Jim." Sandburg relaxed fractionally at the absolution. Not completely. That was typical. He'd feel bad about it even knowing it was the only thing he could have done. "Denlin, not you. I hate this, man. It really, really sucks."
*Your friend is profound,* Denlin scoffed. The Goa'uld sounded a little amused. *What a pathetic conversation. I do not fear it.*
"Jim, I've gotta know," Sandburg persisted, and this time his eyes were full of meaning. "I've gotta know just how *aware* you are in there."
"I see and hear everything that goes on around me," Jim said quickly, afraid that Denlin would cut him off. "It doesn't stop normal human senses from reacting." Would Denlin hear the fractional emphasis on the word 'normal'?
Sandburg's eyes grew even wider. "You mean you hear and see everything that Denlin hears and sees? Just like that?"
"I'm not sure it could stop me from seeing you, except by making me look away or close my eyes," Jim replied. Denlin's complacency reassured him. "I can't make him look where I want to look," Jim replied. "I can't control movements, at least not unless it lets me." He tried to raise his hand and Denlin didn't object.
Sandburg saw the gesture and reached out to grab Jim's hand in his own. Neither of them was comfortable being that demonstrative under normal circumstances, but, trapped in his own mind, Jim had to say it felt good to know he still had a link with normalcy, with his friend and guide.
*Guide?* Denlin pounced on the word.
*A little ignorant of human terminology?* Jim did the subconscious thing again. *Sandburg came here to work first. He's teaching me as we learn it together. He went to other planets before I did.* Not a lie in there at all.
Denlin's suspicion rattled around in Jim's head but he didn't get it.
"Jim? Are you still there?"
"Yeah, I'm here, Chief. He's talking to me a little, inside."
"He *communicates* with you?"
"Yeah. Mostly to tell me I don't have a prayer."
"Well, y'know, Jim, people who have to keep reminding other people of that really aren't in charge; they only *think* they are. He's not as confident as we thought he was. Remember that, okay. And even if he grabs control back, I'll know you can hear me. He can't stop you hearing me, can he?"
"He hasn't so far. I think he needs to hear everything that goes on. If he shuts the senses off, then he's deaf. Even if he blocked me down to a level where I couldn't react at all, then I think he couldn't react either." Let Blair take that where he would. Jim didn't have answers and he couldn't be any more explicit. But there were things he had to try. He'd hoped to lull the Goa'uld into less wariness instead of broaching the subject instantly but he couldn't take the chance of waiting, even if Denlin seemed complacent and unafraid of the possibility. "Sandburg, there's a boo--" control slammed down on him before he could complete the warning about the Goa'uld's talk of a threat to the base. A booby trap. A bomb? A computer program? He hadn't got enough of it out to make it clear, and although Sandburg had heard the urgency in Jim's voice, he hadn't made the connection. Probably thought it was something about the subject they couldn't openly discuss. His eyes widened at the chopped off word and his brow scrunched up as he tried to reason out what Jim had meant to say.
"And you can't stop listening on your own and keep *him* from hearing?" he persisted.
"He cannot." Jim heard his voice ring with the Goa'uld echo. So much for communicating with Sandburg. He hadn't been able to make his point, but maybe Sandburg could read more into it than he'd been able to say.
*Secret messages to Sandburg? Anyone will tell him the powers I have over your mind. You will reveal nothing to him.*
*You might have powers over my body,* Jim thought back furiously, *but you can't control what I think and feel. I know you can't. I'm free in my mind, because you can only control what I DO. And that means you lose, even if you think you win.*
Denlin ignored that. Naturally, he would. It wouldn't suit him to believe that he lacked total domination. But Jim realized that he did lack it. Jim might be a renegade in his own body, able to exercise only the most minute control. But that tiny element was enough because it meant he was free where it counted. His body was enslaved, but his soul wasn't. Strength ran through him as he realized it.
*If you did something to this base, then you'll die along with me,* he thought viciously.
No direct response, only a gloating. Denlin probably meant to use that as a bargaining chip, which meant they had some time. Jim hoped. He wished he could warn Sandburg, warn the others. Even though he tried again to speak, Denlin controlled him so easily that he could only rage helplessly inside and try to convey a warning with his eyes.
"You don't know Jim," Sandburg insisted. He jerked his hand away, only to shoot a commiserating glance at Jim to explain that he hadn't intended a rejection of Ellison. "You think you've beaten him, but you haven't. And you won't. You've only controlled externals, not what makes Jim strong. We'll get him out of you, see if we don't."
"Then he will die."
"We won't let that happen."
"You cannot prevent it." Jim could feel the glow in his eyes. He hated that worse than anything the snake did to him. It made him feel like it was shredding his eyeballs. Nobody had mentioned that before, not Carter, not Daniel talking about Sha're. Did it have any connection with-- He cut that thought off before he could conceptualize it.
"Tell us about Quich‚," Blair insisted. "Who there knew about you?"
"Why should I answer your questions?"
"Because you're our prisoner and no matter how great you think you are, we're not going to let you go. If you cooperate with us, we might go a little easier on you."
"No, you only wish me out of Ellison and dead. You will never free me, so I must protect myself. As for Quich‚, I will tell you nothing."
"You will speak in time," Teal'c put in. He had said nothing during the exchange between Jim and Blair, but he had been right there, wary, alert and measuring. "There are means of controlling you. If the people of this base do not know them, they have allies who do."
"Weak allies who cannot stop me. They will die. All of you will die."
A lightbulb went on behind Sandburg's eyes but he switched to a bland expression so quickly Denlin didn't seem to notice it. "Anybody can make threats," he said in a tight voice. "You've got an agenda here. Why not run it past us?"
"I will speak when I am ready, and not before."
"There are ways that will make even a Goa'uld speak." That wasn't Teal'c. It was Janet Fraiser in the doorway.
Jim couldn't feel the slightest fear in Denlin at the threat. "If you speak of drugs, those powerful enough to affect me will destroy the mind of this human."
"Won't that leave you in a bad position?" the doctor persisted. She came into the room and looked down at Jim--at Denlin--with eyes full of contempt. "Don't you need a healthy host to survive?"
Denlin laughed uneasily. "I do not believe you would sacrifice this human. You Tauri are weak in your petty concerns for individual humans. You would save him at the risk of many others. That is why you will eventually fail."
"Yet the Goa'uld find good hosts in us." She didn't back down. Tough stubbornness in a small, neat package. "You can't have it both ways, you know. Our concern for the individual isn't a weakness. It's what makes us strong. We'll free Jim Ellison. Never doubt it."
"I do not have to doubt. I know I am the stronger." The eyes glowed again and Jim would have winced if he had any control over his body.
"So what can it hurt to tell us about the Quich‚?" Blair asked again. He stood his ground, although Jim could tell that just talking to Denlin was tearing him up inside. He didn't let it show, either, not where Denlin could see it. Jim held the thought in the secret place the Goa'uld seemed unable to touch and let his pride in his guide warm him. If he let Denlin realize too much of that, the Goa'uld would probably mark Sandburg as the handiest and most useful target if it should ever break free, and Jim didn't intend to let that happen. He'd fought Denlin as long as he could over the gun. He hadn't won, but maybe if Sandburg had been the target he could have held out longer. It was a comforting thought. He knew he had to cling to it in case it came down to that. At least he hadn't killed anyone yet.
"They are pathetic humans, just as you are," Denlin replied. "They were swayed easily to my purposes. Centuries of servitude cannot be wiped away through the death of Ra."
"*We* killed Ra," Blair insisted. "We pathetic humans. That ought to tell you something. We took out your big boss. Yeah, man, we know you used to grovel to Ra. You'd grovel to any System Lord. You're not as special as you'd like to think you are."
"For that, you will die." Jim felt his voice deepen and his eyes glow. God, he hated that. "You will die first, before I kill everyone else here. You will die slowly, painfully."
"Talk's cheap," Blair challenged. "And *I'm* not the one who's tied down."
"He is attempting bluster," Teal'c reassured Blair. "The Goa'uld do that when they realize they are weak and have no control over their destinies."
The rage that pumped through Denlin was like an icy fire flooding Jim's veins. He was afraid the adrenaline surge that ran through his body would give the Goa'uld strength to rip free of his binding and slay Teal'c and Sandburg where they stood. It must have shown on his face because Sandburg and Fraiser both took an involuntary step backward. Both caught themselves immediately and regained their former positions. Teal'c didn't even flinch.
"His blood pressure's rising," Fraiser said warningly, her eyes on the instrument readings that were out of Jim's line of sight. "Denlin. If you persist in your fury, you could kill your host. We will not let you infest another, so that means you will die. I don't think you want to die."
"You will die before I do." But Jim felt the Goa'uld's rage ease. His blood still thudded in his veins, but he could feel its pace ebbing. No. He wasn't supposed to feel that. Carefully he fought for control. No senses, not now. Not when they would give the Goa'uld an unspeakable advantage. He locked down the contents of his mind in the dark reaches of his subconscious. For a little while, he'd conceal himself in there, away from any chance of Denlin rooting out what he was.
He heard the Goa'uld's cry of rage and knew he had successfully barricaded himself. Dim and distant, the anger and threat beat against the wall he'd erected. Denlin could still function in his body; he could not prevent that. But he could seal himself away. He wasn't sure how he did it, if it were a function of the primitive Sentinel ability that Blair had never learned because there would be no reason for him to know it existed.
Safe for the moment behind his wall, he listened to the Goa'uld bluster. He could see Sandburg's face, hear his words in a dim and distant way, but the world blurred away from him. He had to concentrate for all he was worth. Each second he could hold out was a victory over Denlin. Maybe he couldn't last forever, but he would fight. It was all he had left.
"Seventh chevron locked."
At the tech's words, General Hammond spoke into the microphone. "Don't fire unless I give the command. Be ready. We can't be certain who will come through the gate."
As the energy whooshed out and sucked back to stabilize, Major Carter, Teal'c, and Blair Sandburg stood at Hammond's side, waiting for the Quich‚ leader, Mas Tul, to step through the gate. He had agreed readily to meet with Hammond and had claimed he would come unarmed in hopes of better understanding between his people and the people of Earth. Over the M.A.L.P. transmitter, he had sounded sincere. Hammond hoped he was what he said he was. If anyone other than Mas Tul came through the gate, or if he did not come alone, there might be trouble, but the armed troops in the gate room were prepared for that.
The surface of the wormhole shivered and spat out two people. Not one, two. One of them was Mas Tul, a man in his late forties, just starting to put on weight in a comfortable middle-aged spread, the sloping forehead Doctor Jackson had mentioned. Before Hammond had time to be alarmed, he realized the other person was a child, a little girl. Her hair was styled in elaborate braids and she wore a white tunic edged with gold over tight leggings. Eyes wide and curious, she spotted the group in the control panel and waved a hand when she recognized the ones who had been to her planet. A little frown touched her forehead and she went up on tiptoes, craning her neck to see better into the control room.
Mas Tul saw the armed Marines. "I have no weapons," he announced and spread his hands to prove it, palms up. He was in a tunic, too, over a long skirt thing like the ones Carter had been wearing when she came back from Quich‚. Native costume. "This is my daughter, Mara."
"We met her on the planet, sir," Carter said in an undertone.
The presence of the child might have been an attempt to lull them into a false sense of security, but she might have also come along because Mas Tul feared a conspiracy back home and did not choose to leave her behind. She was about the age of Merrin, the little Orban girl O'Neill had befriended, and had a slight look of her, although she was darker.
"Welcome, Mas Tul and Mara," Hammond called. "I am General George Hammond, in command of this base. You know my people. We will escort you to the briefing room so that we may speak together."
"I bet there *is* a Goa'uld plot on Quich‚," Sandburg ventured when Hammond shut down the speaker and turned to lead the way to the briefing room. "I think he brought Mara because he didn't want to risk her being used against him if he couldn't protect her."
"Either that or he figured we wouldn't attack him if he had a child with him," Carter said, not to disagree with Sandburg but to offer another option. Hammond had already considered both of them and several more, including an attempt to lull the SGC into complacency and the possibility that the child would be the one who was armed. He hoped those were wrong options. There was integrity in the Quich‚ leader's face.
Two armed Marines brought the man and his daughter into the briefing room and Mara wiggled past them and went up to Carter. "Are you recovered from the insect sting?" She caught up the Major's wrist and studied it. "Ah, much better. I am glad. Where is Colonel Jack? I had hoped to see him again. He is well? He is not in danger?"
At her father's reproach, she put both hands over her mouth. Then she bowed her head. "None of them, father," she said in a tiny voice. "Just- -him, and we knew that." She pointed at Teal'c.
"She is not a shy child," Mas Tul said with great fondness. "She was much taken with your Colonel O'Neill."
"And he with her," Teal'c returned.
Mara peered around the room as if she were seeking out O'Neill and looked disappointed when she didn't spot him.
Mas Tul looked at them, each in turn. He, too, glanced toward the doorway. He must wonder why the Colonel and Doctor Jackson weren't here. Hammond didn't think he was ready to enlighten the man. Then Mas Tul went up to Hammond, took the General's hands in his own and bowed his forehead against them. "I am deeply shamed, General Hammond." He turned to Teal'c, grabbed his hands and repeated the obeisance, then did the same with Sandburg. He held the pose with Sandburg a long moment. "I am deeply shamed," he repeated. He pressed Carter's hands to his chest.
"Do you want to explain that, sir?" Hammond saw questions trembling on Sandburg's lips and wanted to get in his own first. He gestured everyone to chairs, and they sat down, but everyone was uneasy, and the Marines that had accompanied them didn't lower their weapons.
Mas Tul settled himself cautiously into the chair. "I knew of the Goa'uld, you see, General Hammond. I dared not speak, for fear that the Goa'uld faction would slay my child. She is able to sense them, you see. She knows when one of the Goa'uld is present in someone."
"How does she know that?" Carter asked, snapping into alert. "Mara, do you have naquada in your system?"
The child nodded. She cast a questioning glance at her father, then she pulled the tunic down to reveal a faded line of a scar right over her breastbone.
"She has an artificial heart," explained Mas Tul. "She was born with a heart defect. We were able to replace it two years ago. It will be modified as she grows and matures, but she is healthy. Part of the components include elements of naquada. Our medical technologists can tell you better. One of the, ah, side effects of the surgery is a heightened sense for the Goa'uld. At first, we did not understand that, and Ra was gone, of course, by the time she had recovered enough from the surgery to go out among the people."
"Man, that is so incredible," breathed Sandburg. "You can tell...."
The little girl straightened her tunic and bowed her head in agreement. "I have a...feeling, a sense of great discomfort, a knowledge. I do not like it, but it pushes at me and warns me. When I felt it, I went to my father and told him about it. He is a good father. He listened to me and tried to understand." She ducked her head shyly.
Mas Tul caught her hand and squeezed it. "It is a grave responsibility for a child," he admitted. "When she came to me and spoke to me about Ixci's friend Malum, I did not at first understand, and then I did not believe. I did not wish to believe. Ixci was long a friend of mine. But Malum had been...contaminated, and Ixci did not speak of it to me."
"You let Ixci take Jim!" Sandburg accused hotly.
"Yes, Sandburg. I did that, to my great shame. Ixci had a device he could conceal in his palm. All he need do was close his fingers about it and he could stop Mara's heart. He explained it to me in great detail. He would kill my daughter if I betrayed him. Instead, I betrayed our proposed alliance and allowed a Goa'uld to infest one of your people." He looked around the room. "He is not here. Dare I hope you knew already?"
"We have him confined and restrained," Hammond said before Sandburg could speak.
"Then I give thanks to the gods for this, and I bow to you in great shame. I do desire an alliance between your people and my own. I do not know if you can trust us now, but I brought Mara with me to keep her safe. I knew that if the Goa'uld had prevailed, she would be no safer here than there, but at least she would be under my eye. I could not leave her behind."
"How widespread is the Goa'uld faction on your planet?" Hammond asked.
"It is small," Mas Tul admitted. "Before I came through the Circle, I set in motion action to restrain and arrest all members of that faction. They will be tried by the people. My people want this treaty. Only a small faction of malcontents who do not value our newfound freedom or who fear Goa'uld retaliation still support the Goa'uld. There are always some members of a society who resist new ways and who find safety in familiar enslavement rather than risk the new steps of freedom."
"That is true of every culture," Hammond agreed.
"But Jim's still got a Goa'uld in him," Sandburg persisted. "Mas Tul, do your people know how to free him? You can make artificial hearts and have them work so well that none of us would have ever guessed that Mara had one. Surely you know how to remove a Goa'uld from a host."
"Would that I did, young Sandburg. Would that I did. I would have freed Malum from its domination and destroyed it, even if the taking of life, any life, is repugnant to my people. My scientists do not know how to remove a Goa'uld without destroying the mind of a host. We have done it twice. The first attempt failed. The second attempt left the man able to speak and converse but with the mind of a very young child. The damage was too extensive. I do not think you would want that for your friend. As for Malum himself, his body was found after your team returned here through the Circle. The resultant examination said he died of massive brain damage."
Sandburg's eyes grew enormous with horror. "Oh, god, Jim.... There has to be a way," he muttered.
"Perhaps there is." Mas Tul frowned. "We know of the powerful races in the galaxy. The Nox. We once encountered a Nox. They can do great things, but they hold aloof from us because they say we are not ready. Do you know of the Nox?"
"They think we're too 'young', too," Carter explained. "They think we're too impatient, that we take too many risks. I don't think they'd help us."
"We've got to ask, though," insisted Sandburg. "We can't let Jim lie there like that and we can't let him die if the Goa'uld leaves him like that Malum. We've got to do something. I think there's more going on here than this one Goa'uld stuck on Quich‚. I think there's a plot."
"You think he went to Quich‚ because he knew we'd make contact?" Hammond shook his head. "No, I think it was simply an opportunistic act. That he was stranded there. He was present before we made contact with your people, wasn't he, Mas Tul?"
"Not long before," admitted the Quich‚ leader. "Of course I do not know when he came, only when Mara realized what he was and came to me. That was eight days before your first contact with us, even before your M.A.L.P. came through the Circle. He could not have known your people would contact us. We did not know. How could he?"
"So he simply took advantage of the situation." Carter's face was thoughtful. "Maybe he'd been on your world from the time of Ra's domination and Mara simply didn't encounter him before that. Or maybe she had to grow into her abilities." She smiled at the child. Mara smiled doubtfully back.
"I did not understand at first," she admitted. "Father, may I speak to them?"
"Of course, child. We can have no secrets now."
"I had not met Malum for several years. Not until shortly before you were to meet with us. Then I saw him with Ixci, who was once my father's friend. Malum smiled and was kind to me, but I knew he did not mean it." She hesitated. "I thought he had liked me before, and he used to always bring me corn candy or toys, but this time, he didn't. I could tell he didn't like me anymore. But I knew there was more, and I thought about it hard. I didn't let him see my fear. I only knew that he was different, that something was there, within him, something frightening. And then I remembered the time I had seen Ra when I was a little girl. I did not then have my heart, and I did not have its gift of sight, but I remembered how I had felt, knowing the snake dwelt inside that person, and I felt the same way with Malum. So I said I had to go to my friends, to play, and I hurried away. I went to my father and I told him."
"And I came to believe her," Mas Tul admitted. "Once you had gone, I asked questions. I realized that one of the men in the garden when Major Carter was stung was a bee dancer."
"What's a bee dancer?" Sandburg pounced on the subject.
"The venom of the bees can, in high doses, produce a strangely euphoric sensation that heightens thought and imagination."
"Like a mood altering drug?" asked Carter quickly.
"Yes, Major Carter. Like a drug that affects the mind for a time. The effect is not permanent, nor is it addictive, but some of my people value it as a recreation and some of the priests at the temple use it for meditation. Those who endure great pain may be given the stings to ease their agony. So we learned to control the bees. A bee dancer can direct the sting. It can bring one bee to a selected target or cause a swarm. Too many stings can kill, but for a bee dancer to kill by swarm is punishable by the same death as he called down upon his victims."
"So I was stung on purpose?" Carter frowned. "I remember the bee dancer. I thought his actions odd, but I don't know the ways of your culture. I didn't realize he was controlling the bee. Why do it?"
"Obviously, he did it as part of the plot. You, too, have naquada in your system, the remnant of a Goa'uld. We did not know that, not then, but Ixci knew. Mara could sense it faintly but not enough to indicate a Goa'uld within you. It was that factor which swayed me to send you from the negotiations, not the fact of your being a woman. We have since learned more and understand. And the Goa'uld knew. The conspiracy feared you would sense the Goa'uld in one of your party so you were removed. They did not kill you; that would have created suspicion. But who would suspect something so simple and seemingly random as the sting of a bee, especially since your people did not understand that portion of our culture?"
"We wondered after we found out about Ellison," Hammond admitted. "What of Teal'c?"
"They thought the Jaffa might know, of course," Mas Tul admitted. "They could not sting him. His symbiont would heal him. They were always ready to take action against him if necessary, but I believe they counted on my people's discomfort at his presence and hoped that your party would realize it and do what they did, send him away. They also thought that, perhaps, he might not notice, but they were uncomfortable with it. They intended to force a return to your world if necessary."
"And you knew this at the time?" Sandburg asked.
"Not all of it. I have learned more after you were gone. I have my loyal armsmen. My greatest concern was to remove Mara from the conspirators' control; once I could do that, my armsmen would be free to act and my father can protect himself. I will return to my world and assist in the removal of the conspirators. I only ask that Mara be allowed to remain here, in safety, until such time as we have control of the device that would stop her heart and all the conspirators in custody."
"We would need to examine her before we could agree to that," Hammond replied. "While I would be inclined to believe you, sir, I have more at stake than my own personal belief."
"Of course, if I may be present for the examination. I would not leave her afraid among strangers."
"I'm not afraid," Mara piped up. "I just wish I could see Colonel Jack. I liked him very much."
"He likes you, too, Mara," Carter said gently. "But you see, Colonel O'Neill has been hurt."
She gasped. "By the Goa'uld?"
"Yes, but he will be fine, I promise you that."
"I should have said something. I wanted to tell him at the dinner. I wanted to but Father said I did not dare." She shivered and wrapped her arms around her chest.
"I couldn't risk her," Mas Tul said. "She is all I have. She is *my* heart."
And, if that wasn't sincerity, Hammond had never encountered it before. "We'll give her an examination," he said. "And if there is no danger revealed, she may remain here while you clean your own house, sir. But we do have the Goa'uld in custody. We don't intend to allow him freedom, but there is always that danger."
Mas Tul nodded at the guards in the doorway. "I think I can trust your precautions. I do not believe you would harm a child. I am told our people, long ago, came from this very world. Which means we are all human. I know some humans can be evil, or selfish, or thoughtless, but the best of them can be kind and remarkable. I think your people, General Hammond, are the latter. For the sake of my people, my child, and the possible union between our two planets, I will trust you with my daughter."
"Thank you, Mas Tul." Hammond glanced around at Carter, Teal'c, and Sandburg, to see if they had anything else to bring up. "Then we'll go to the infirmary."
"What do you think's going down?"
Daniel glanced over at Jack, who looked achy and tired, with colorful bruises coming out on his face and arms. In spite of that, Jack looked heartily bored. He was not good with infirmary time; Daniel hated it himself, but he knew Jack hated it more.
Daniel was pretty sore around the ribs; he felt like he'd been kicked by a horse, not that he knew how that felt from personal experience. Weak from the blood loss, he was content to lie here for now, although he hoped Janet would spring him soon. Probably tomorrow, she had said, although she'd want him to take it easy for a day or two after that.
"I don't know," he replied. "But I wish they'd tell us."
"Think they've heard from Thor yet?"
"I don't know. Maybe they'd tell us if that happened."
"Well....no, probably not. I think they hope we'll shut up and heal and not bother them. It's getting late, anyway. It must be around ten o'clock. They might not tell us anything till tomorrow."
O'Neill gave an exasperated snort. "For crying out loud, it's not like we're at death's door or anything like that. If nothing else, they could put us in with Denlin and let us give him a hard time."
"You'd like that, wouldn't you?"
"Razzing the Goa'uld? You bet. Even Ellison would like me to do that. Poor bastard." His eyes darkened.
He was probably thinking of Kawalsky. Daniel couldn't help thinking of Sha're. If Earth's allies had a means of removing a Goa'uld without destroying the host, they could do that for Sha're when they found her, for Skaara. The only good Daniel could see in what had happened to Jim Ellison was that it might force the Asgard, the Tollans, or the Nox to step in, and once they'd done it, they'd have to do it again for Sha're or Skaara. They'd have to.
"I hate being out of the loop," O'Neill fumed. Jack wasn't a patient man at the best of times. Subtlety and waiting patiently had never been his strong suits. Daniel suspected the only reason he was still here was because he genuinely felt too crummy to get up and wander around, but he was rapidly reaching the limits of his patience.
"I don't like it either," Daniel said when the door opened and, with a flurry of footsteps, the Quich‚ girl, Mara, raced over to O'Neill's bed.
"Colonel Jack! They said I could visit you."
He half sat up to receive her, astonishment flashing across his face at the impulsive hug she gave him. He winced at the pressure of the embrace but tried to hide it so she wouldn't realize she'd hurt his healing ribs.
"What are *you* doing here?" he asked. "It's the middle of the night."
"It is already tomorrow on my world." She grinned engagingly, a child allowed to stay up past her bedtime, even if it wasn't bedtime where she came from. Talk about jet lag....
A crowd of people came into the room behind her. Carter was there, and Teal'c, and Janet Fraiser, who wore the look of someone who has just been having tremendous fun. Sandburg was there, too, but he didn't look like he knew the meaning of the word 'fun'. His face was grave and shuttered and he was trying hard to appear normal. Mas Tul, the Quich‚ leader, stood in the doorway, watching his daughter and smiling dotingly at her.
"Mara can sense Goa'uld," Sam explained. Jack leaned forward, urging her to continue with his body language.
"And she can do this because...?"
"It's because she has an artificial heart that's partially made of naquada," Fraiser added. The source of her interest was instantly clear. She was probably fascinated by the medical technology. The Quich‚ were obviously miles ahead of Earth in the medical science department just like they were in space travel. Janet bore the look of a woman who couldn't wait for a treaty so she could get access to the Quich‚ medical technology.
Sam saw the frustration on Jack's face and took pity on him. "General Hammond summoned Mas Tul and he's been explaining the situation on his world." She filled them in quickly. Daniel felt a rush of sympathy for Mas Tul, who had known what was going on but had been unable to admit it. Jack was less inclined to be understanding.
"So, you're saying they set us up and let one of us get Goa'ulded and now he wants to make nice?"
"I'm saying he didn't have a choice, sir," Sam defended the Quich‚. "He was between a rock and a hard place."
"His people have overthrown the Goa'uld sympathizers," Teal'c added.
"It is true." Mas Tul beamed at them, although he looked wary around Jack and avoided Sandburg's eyes altogether. "We used the Circle, the Stargate, and my officers reported all the conspirators are in custody. Some of them are not evil men; they simply feared the new freedom and did not understand it."
"Yeah, and that meant it was okay to stick a Goa'uld in Jim Ellison?" Jack challenged him. "I don't suppose all your nifty medical science knows how to yank it out without trashing Ellison in the process?"
"No, for we have never succeeded at such a process. I have asked our doctors to consider the problem anew. It may be that they will find a solution for Major Ellison. I hope this is the case, or that one of your allies will know, for he seemed a good man."
"He *is* a good man," Sandburg insisted hotly. "He's still in there. Don't write him off, any of you, just because it's not easy. I'm gonna get him back if I have to go see Thor myself and plead Jim's case personally."
"Easy, Sandburg," Jack soothed. He pulled himself a little more upright, ignoring Janet's frown and arrested gesture of protest. "Okay, so we figured out the problem. We took care of the Quich‚ faction. What's the answer?"
"I must return to my people." Mas Tul beckoned to his daughter, who hid her disappointment by hugging Jack again. Daniel wished he'd had a camera; Jack's disgruntled expression was priceless. What was it about O'Neill that made kids love him? Daniel suddenly had a mental image of him with his son. Jack had been good with the kids on Abydos. He'd been good with Cassandra, and with Merrin. He could be a major hardass, hung up on gung ho military solutions one minute but soft as a marshmallow the next if you threw a kid into the equation. Daniel wiped away his smile before Jack could see it.
"I will come for you, daughter, as soon as it is safe," Mas Tul told the child.
"I will wait." She held her head up like a queen, but her teeth found her bottom lip and stopped its quiver.
Mas Tul bowed to everyone, squeezed Mara's hand, and then turned her over to Janet Fraiser. He went out in a hurry, and two marines detached themselves from the wall and followed him. Janet took Mara by the hand. "Come. I'll find a place for you to wait and some food. We need to leave 'Colonel Jack' and Daniel to rest now."
Mara went with her, but she looked over her shoulder, her eyes on Jack until she was out of sight.
That left SG-1 and Sandburg in possession of the room. Daniel stretched cautiously. The IV had helped; he had a lot more energy than he had when he'd first come back from Chulak, but he didn't want to get up and run around the room yet. He'd save that for tomorrow.
"So, Carter?" Jack plunged in. "Any evidence of nice little Goa'uld booby-traps in our computers?"
"Wait a minute, that's what he meant!" Sandburg exploded in several directions at once. "Jim started to say something and I thought it was about the senses, but I think he was trying to warn me that there *was* a booby trap here. He said, 'Sandburg, there's a boo--' and then Denlin took over again. I was trying to figure out if his senses were repressed by the Goa'uld, and I wasn't thinking of that, but now I know that's what he said. It doesn't have to be in the computer system, does it?"
They stared at each other. "No, it doesn't," Carter said. "We know he tampered with the computer system to lock us out so he could dial up Chulak and get out of here with the Colonel, and we just assumed that if he'd left a delayed reaction, it would be there. But it doesn't have to be. Who knows what he brought back with him from Quich‚. We mentioned it at the briefing, of course, and we've been searching for planted devices, but nothing was found. I know General Hammond hasn't given up on the possibility, but after so long, finding nothing, I was starting to wonder if there hadn't been time for the Goa'uld to do anything like that. He could have brought an explosive with him, though. We know he brought that healing device he used on the Colonel."
"Yeah, and nobody ever warned me you could do that with the healing gizmos," Jack objected. "Every little Goa'uld toy that comes along can fry your brains. He had a ribbon device, too. Nice people--not!"
"It would have to be something small enough to fit in a pocket," Daniel said slowly. "And something he could carry around when we were in the native garb and then switch over without making it obvious when we changed back to our own clothes. I didn't notice anything when we were changing."
"You expected nothing," Teal'c reminded them.
"He wasn't with us all along," offered O'Neill. "He could have concealed something in his own clothes before he made his appearance in the banquet hall, couldn't he?"
Sam spun around and went over to the intercom. Quickly, she reported their speculation to General Hammond. "I think we need to continue the search for potential small Goa'uld artifacts, sir," she concluded. "Possibly in Ellison's quarters again, even though I know we've had people go over it, or even in any area he may have passed. Even in the briefing room itself. Possibly check for evidence of naquada."
"We'll redouble the search," Hammond replied. "So far, there's no evidence to suggest problems with the computer, but it could have a delayed trigger. We won't give that up. And it doesn't even have to be there. It's possible that if our allies can assist us in removing Major Ellison's Goa'uld, Ellison will be able to assist us, but we may not have that much time. I'd like you to join the search, Major."
"I will, sir, but I would like to go over the situation with Sandburg first, just to make sure that Ellison didn't give him any hints that he might not have understood. As soon as I'm done with that, Teal'c and I will join the search."
She switched off the speaker and turned to Sandburg. "Anything?"
"Jim was faking it pretty good when we came back from Quich‚--I mean Denlin was." Sandburg ran frustrated fingers through his hair. "He was using Jim's speech patterns or I would have noticed and figured it out a lot sooner. He knew to call me Chief. He was acting a little weird at the briefing, but...." He heaved a sigh, then admitted, "I've been kind of afraid he wouldn't want to stay here with the SGC, that he might be missing being a cop. When we were on Quich‚, he got shuffled off to talk fishing instead of being part of the mission, and I kind of thought maybe he was fed up, and I was worried about it."
"None of us expected what happened, Sandburg," Jack reminded him. "That doesn't matter now. We didn't screw up; we just didn't realize. What does matter is dealing with it. If he brought something back with him, a device, we have to find it. We've already got people checking. What we need to do--and what they've probably already been doing--is to backtrack wherever Ellison might have been and see what can be found. Anything you can think of that might help us find a hidden device."
"He didn't give you any more of a hint than that about a booby trap?" Sam asked. "Nothing that you could interpret that the Goa'uld might have missed because he didn't know Jim so well?"
"No. I think he was trying to talk about the senses thing without giving it away--like maybe Denlin didn't know about it." He broke off doubtfully. "Didn't *know* about it? But why wouldn't he know about it? I mean it's what Jim *is*. It's gotta be all through him. If he knew a little thing like Jim calling me 'Chief', then he'd be sure to know about that."
Sam's face scrunched up in the way it did when she was trying to access the remnant of Jolinar's memories. "When Jolinar was in me," she said slowly and thoughtfully, "she *knew* things about me. She knew who everyone was that I knew, and she knew enough to get through my routine without completely giving herself away. She made mistakes, but when that happens, people don't automatically think there's a Goa'uld inside."
"No, they're more inclined to think somebody's having a bad day or isn't thinking, or just that people aren't always consistent," Daniel agreed. "I remember Jolinar saying something demeaning about the Jaffa in the briefing and it startled us but Jolinar talked around it and we let it go."
Sam nodded. "Jolinar picked up your reactions to that right away and compensated, and so did Denlin, although I don't remember any obvious mistakes."
"He was really off when I was talking to him, just before I figured it out," Sandburg said. "But it was with subtle things. I was just afraid at first that something was bugging Jim, not that he was a Goa'uld."
"But you were alone with him, where he could take action without giving himself away to the rest of the base," Jack pointed out. He frowned, but Daniel thought it was more to do with moving around and putting pressure on his broken ribs than any possible annoyance with Sandburg for failing to get out of there and alert someone. "So Denny didn't mind blowing it. Ellison is bigger than you and the Goa'uld in there would add to his strength. So he just took you out."
Blair tugged uncomfortably at his collar. The fingerprints from his near strangulation were as dark as the marks from the blows on Jack's face. Daniel grimaced. Denlin had a lot to answer for.
"But the point is that Denlin might have known enough to fake it, but you're saying he didn't seem to be aware of the senses?" Carter steered them back to the subject at hand and away from the bruises. "Is that really possible? Teal'c?"
"The Goa'uld knows what it can read of the host's mind," Teal'c spoke thoughtfully. "But it is limited in what it understands of humans. Denlin may have had little contact with humans, although it would know the humans of Quich‚."
"So something like heightened senses wouldn't really occur to Denlin right off the bat," Daniel theorized. "Unless it was really obvious, so that it couldn't help noticing, it might not have picked up on it."
"Come on, Danny, not notice the shock grenade? That should have had Ellison in major pain, if I read it right." Jack quirked an eyebrow at Sandburg.
"Yeah, I thought so too," admitted the guide. "I was watching to see what would happen. I thought maybe we could take advantage of it, somehow, and that would help Jim."
"Denlin did not react unduly when I turned on a bright light when we visited him," Teal'c offered. The Jaffa's pondered that. "Perhaps the portion of the brain that allows for Major Ellison's heightened senses was...affected by the invasion of the Goa'uld."
Sandburg made an abrupt, denying gesture. "Damaged?" he ventured softly. "You mean that even if we get the snake out of him, Jim won't be a Sentinel anymore?"
He looked so stricken that Jack reached out and patted him on the shoulder. "You don't know that, Sandburg. Did he say anything that would give you a hint?"
"He said Denlin could make him turn away and not see things, but that if he blocked hearing and sight to the point where Jim couldn't experience them, then Denlin couldn't either." His brow scrunched up as he tried to make a hidden message of it. "He was trying to tell me things, but he couldn't say them outright--like maybe Denlin didn't know about the senses and Jim was keeping it from him?" He straightened up, his shoulders back, and whirled on the Jaffa. "Teal'c. *Could* Jim keep it from him?"
"It would be most difficult to keep a secret of that magnitude from a Goa'uld in one's mind." Teal'c pondered it. "Perhaps small secrets, if they did not touch on information the Goa'uld wished."
"The senses thing wouldn't exactly be a small secret," Jack reminded Teal'c. "It would kind of hit the Goa'uld right in the face first time he got something loud like the base alarm blaring in his ears or a face full of light from a shock grenade."
"Blair?" Sam got his attention then hesitated. "You know Jim best. Doesn't he have to consciously control the senses all the time? You've talked to him about adjusting the pain dial. I remember hearing you say that when we were training."
"Yeah. We work with that one a lot. He has bad reactions to certain medications. They can put his senses out of whack, take away conscious control...." He stopped, frowning. "Maybe if..."
"You can't do that," Daniel objected quickly. "If Denlin doesn't know, the way he'd react to an injection of whatever medicine bothers him most would give it away. Anyway, what would be the point? The Goa'uld might be able to neutralize that kind of reaction anyway."
"But he'd have to know," Blair persisted. "Unless--omigod. Unless Jim felt it happening, and cranked everything down to normal or maybe even lower before Denlin could fully take over."
Jack ran a surreptitious hand across his ribcage and jerked it away when he noticed Daniel watching him. He assumed an expression of nonchalance to deny that he was in pain. Daniel shook his head slightly to let him know he was busted. O'Neill grimaced. "He can do that?" O'Neill asked Sandburg. "Shut it all off?"
"He has to keep it turned down most of the time," Sandburg said. "Learning to control it so he didn't go around freaking at any unexpected light or sound or smell was one of the main lessons we worked on at first. It was going all haywire when I met him. He'd get so many sensory messages coming in so fast that he'd zone out. Zone out...."
"Think you can get Denlin to zone?" Jack asked.
"Maybe, but what good would it do us?" Sandburg took to pacing up and down the room. "Denlin could probably override a zone-out, and anyway, Jim doesn't do that nearly as much these days. He has to be really ultra-focused on one of his senses for that to happen, you know, the way an epileptic might react to blinking light."
"So you think Jim might have turned his senses way down when Denlin was going into him?" Sam asked. She had a shuddery kind of look on her face, maybe remembering Jolinar slinking into her mind.
Jack scowled. Daniel knew he'd had it happen to him, but the cryogenic process had prevented the snake from taking hold of his mind. There was a gap, the Tok'ra woman had told O'Neill; he could fight the snake off, although not for long. Jack had fought it long enough that the cryogenic process worked. It wouldn't have ousted the Goa'uld from his mind if it had succeeded in the take over. Ellison didn't have access to a cryogenic process to use to save himself when he was taken, but he'd known that there was a slight gap before take-over was complete. Long enough for Ellison to turn off the Sentinel thing? He'd had the opportunity and the knowledge, and he was a stubborn, determined man.
"He might've," Blair said. Hope shone in his face, although it was a tentative and doubtful hope. "He wouldn't have wanted the Goa'uld to know about the senses. Even if they're aware of the concept, he wouldn't have wanted to offer them a full Sentinel. If he turned it all the way off...."
"But the snake could still read his thoughts," objected Jack. "Not wanting to rain on anybody's parade, but the thing is, it's in there. It's playing around in his mind. It knew enough to fake us out."
"Have you ever had something that you didn't want to think about?" Daniel offered. "Something you just couldn't let yourself conceptualize? Something that you kept at the back of your mind, where it wouldn't pop out and surprise you?" There were times he did that with the memory of Sha're gazing at him as Ammaunet. If he didn't remember the cold, haughty, indifferent contempt on the face of the woman he loved, he didn't have to endure it. He was pretty sure there were times Jack put the memory of Charlie's death away in a place like that. He said he could forget, even if he couldn't forgive himself. Maybe that was how he did it, the way Daniel blocked the unendurable memory of Sha're's face controlled by a hostile enemy. "It's almost like a form of self- hypnosis. We all do it sometimes. If you don't conceptualize something, it stops being real."
"He's right," Carter said. "We all do that. We don't even let ourselves think about it."
"If Jim did that, maybe the Goa'uld really wouldn't know about the senses." Hope flared in Blair's face. "It not only wouldn't know to access Jim's hyper senses, but it wouldn't even know Jim was a Sentinel."
"Hafta say, when it was hauling me all over Chulak, there wasn't any evidence of a Sentinel thing going down." Jack straightened up carefully. If Doctor Fraiser was here, she'd get on his case for sitting up and he must know it. Daniel cast him a reproachful look. Jack grinned sheepishly and settled himself down again. Daniel quirked his mouth in a return smile, then turned back to Sandburg. He didn't see how Jim's repressing his senses could help them. If they got Denlin out of him, the Goa'uld couldn't give him away, assuming they let it go--and that wasn't going to happen. But it didn't help them to free Ellison.
"So, there's nothing more about the booby-trap you can think of?" Sam asked Blair.
"No. Jim got shut down the moment he tried to mention it. He was trying to talk around the senses without mentioning them, I do know that. If you want me to, I'll go with you to search Jim's quarters. I don't know every single thing he owns, but I think I'd recognize something that hadn't been there before."
"I'll take you up on it. I don't want to wait any longer. We need to make sure there isn't a time bomb here on the base. At least we know it isn't wired into the operation of the gate, or it would have gone off when we went to Chulak.
"Somebody come back and tell us what's going on?" Jack called hopefully as the other three started for the door.
When they had gone, he grimaced. "Back to being bored."
"You don't enjoy my company?" Daniel teased him. "Just think, Jack, you could help me go over some translations. I could call them up on the computer screen--"
"Please. I'm a wounded man, remember?"
"I'll remember if you will." He shifted position. Lying on his back was simply not comfortable.
"Think there's any hope for Ellison?" Jack stretched out carefully on his back and gazed up at the ceiling.
"I have to believe there is," Daniel said.
That made O'Neill turn his head. He must have understood that without one more trace of explanation. "Sha're. Right. Yeah, I want it, too. Not just because I want to get Sha're back for you and free Skaara, but Ellison doesn't deserve this. And I *hate* it when the Goa'uld use us for their little play toys. It sucks."
"You sound like Blair," Daniel teased gently to avoid having to think of what he'd lost. Repressing it, just like they thought Ellison might have repressed his knowledge of being a Sentinel. "That's one of his favorite words."
"Gets the point across," Jack replied. "Tough break for the kid."
"Yes, it is."
O'Neill grimaced. "Sorry."
They lay silently for a few moments, each lost in dark thoughts. Then Doctor Fraiser popped in with a nurse in attendance to check them out and Daniel pushed aside the thoughts of Sha're and concentrated on looking well so he could be discharged. Jack gave it his best shot, too.
They didn't even come close.
Concluded in Part Four...