Summary: Some alternative thoughts on the Season 4 cliffhanger
O'Neill sprawled on his back in the dirt, feeling something like an upended tortoise waiting for some malevolent soul to lean over and spin him round on his shell. The old fear of bayonets hovered. Were there any more Jaffa about? Something tickled the edge of his scattered thought processes. Teal'c?
The universe slithered sideways.
He watched his ma bend over the peat fire; warming arthritic hands over the feeble heat. She straightened but stayed, staring into the hearth; the flickering brightness deepened the lines on her face.
He traced the wood grain in the table with his finger. Along and round, along and round. No choices left.
She turned to face him, pushing a lifeless wisp of grey hair behind her ear.
She sounded desperate. His ma?
He pulled himself together. Looked her in the eye. "I must go."
"Others could go. You don't need to."
"None left, ma. I'm all there is."
"You'll likely not come back."
Her gaze dropped and her shoulders sagged. She pulled her shawl round her to ward off the cold. The lines on her face seemed deeper, somehow.
"Well then, you'll at least take some wine before leaving?"
He looked around as she busied herself. The room had not changed in any way since his childhood; same fire giving out more smoke than heat, same blackened cooking pot, his ma's spindle in the basket by the door. He tried to imprint it all in his memory. He looked up into his mother's worn face. That too.
He picked up the cup she had placed before him and drank.
He choked and spluttered; the cup fell with a clatter on to the table. Blood pooled across the surface and trickled on to the floor.
He was getting way too old for this, O'Neill thought, as the retinal pattern cleared from his vision and the iron-gray sky came back into focus. Hallucinations now, as well as wasps stinging their way along his nerve fibers? Images of his mother, but old and fragile, in homespun and a shawl skittered away from his grasp. Blood? Why ... oh shit - Teal'c. He tried to move but it was way too soon. He felt his muscles begin to cramp and willed himself to relax, to wait it out.
Okay. Think, O'Neill. What just happened? Staff blast from 2 o'clock, catching Teal'c between the shoulder blades. Teal'c goes down, O'Neill scuttles for cover behind a rock and takes out Jaffa before being zatted. O'Neill keeps squeezing trigger, takes out second Jaffa but only nicks snakehead before the rings operate and take him and Teal'c out of reach. Question: Is Teal'c dead? Too far away to tell and if it was Apophis's ship picking them up ...
The world blurred out again.
The mist tickled his face as the horse picked its way along the steep path. He looked up and could just make out the silver bulk of distant Connaught. He had traveled this way before but never without hope. There would be no famous victories this time round. The chill pierced his bones.
The grayness shifted and for a moment, a keening cut through the veil. He turned about him to calculate the direction of the sound but could not. His few companions remained huddled, taciturn. The question faded from his lips and he turned to face the trail as it wound down towards the stream.
Another shift, and this time he could just make out the shape of a figure kneeling at the edge of the water. He turned to Cathbad the Druid, but his companion, wrapped in his cloak, remained stolid, unaware.
He turned away from the trail towards the stream and halted, leaving his comrades to continue. He watched as a young girl in a thin white shift knelt amongst the rocks, long hair hanging in the water, washing and washing a bundle of clothes. As she rubbed and rinsed the clear water stained red. She pulled a shirt from the stream and he saw that it was his. She bent again to her task and again the mist shifted to obscure her from his sight. He stayed a moment, waiting for some further sign but there was none. He turned his horse to rejoin the trail.
O'Neill stirred again and, as movement finally returned, reached reflexively to check for a torque around his neck. Just tags. No cloak or horse either. What the hell was going on inside his head? He shivered, cold to the bone, and pulled himself to his feet. A fresh wave of dizziness hit him and he staggered. He gritted his teeth. Move. Get on with it.
He stumbled down to the ring area, his feet slithering downhill in the sand. He looked about him, siting himself in relation to landmarks noted earlier. The effort to recall them required fierce concentration and the sound of Daniel's voice took him by surprise.
"Jack, come in."
"Yeah I'm here. Hey, thanks for checking in!"
"Yeah, we had a little trouble avoiding Apophis's fleet. Are you in position to be ringed up?"
"Aah ... Yeah. I suppose. I dunno."
"Jack, if you're not in position - "
"Daniel - just get me the hell out of here, will ya?"
O'Neill flinched as the rings crashed into operation. He shimmered to momentary non-existence.
He drank and splashed the lake water over his head; icy droplets trickled down his neck and soaked into his clothing. He caught sight of his reflection before the blood clouded the water. Not bad for a dying man. He wanted nothing more than to crawl away and curl around the pain. But he was the only one left.
He dragged himself to his feet and turned to face the enemy for the last time. Time crawled as he climbed the slope to the standing stone. He looped his belt over the stone, twisted his arm through it, found his balance and raised his sword. He felt a dark fluttering as the crow Morrigan settled on his shoulder. The enemy looked on impassively, allowing him this final courtesy. He did not have long to wait for the death stroke. Light flashed in his eyes as the morning sun caught the blade -
- he was dazzled momentarily by the flash from the exploding control board. The acrid smell of frying circuitry drifted through the air. The image of Apophis's paralyzed ship filled the pel'tec's viewscreen. He wanted to stop, to give in to the pain but he was the only one left. If he turned his head, he could just see Daniel - close by but not near enough to touch. He wished, for a moment, that Daniel had fallen with his face towards him but he had not. Sam and Jacob had not responded since the last bombardment. He clung to the panel and kept the ship on course.
Just a few more moments and then - intense light and a split second of unimaginable pain.
O'Neill blinked, speechless with the foreseen loss. Still alive? Danny?
"Jack, are you all right? Are you hurt? Where's Teal'c?"
O'Neill stared back, unable to respond.
"Jack ...?" Warm fingers brushed against his cheek.
O'Neil came to with a start and knocked the hand away. He ignored the shock on Daniel's face; there was no time for that. He strode towards the pel'tec.
"What's been happening up here?"
It would not happen. He would not let it.
He would not.
By the time the hat'ac lurched to a relative standstill, Daniel had provided him with the edited highlights. He did not ask again about Teal'c. O'Neill noted almost absently that it was as succinct a sitrep as could have expected from any well-trained subordinate - was it that obvious he was scared to death?
Carter's plan had reached a successful conclusion, presumably. If Apophis and his fleet had been caught in the blast, then Teal'c was lost. If not, he was almost certainly out of their reach. The only priority was getting what remained of his team home, safe. He braced himself.
"Sir, where's Teal'c?"
O'Neill looked her straight in the eye, "I'm not sure. I think he's dead."
"If Apophis has him -" Selmac's priorities speaking through Jacob, as usual.
"Well, we have to go back."
"That may not be possible, Sam," Jacob broke in, gently, "The navigational computer isn't recognizing any of the star connects. According to these readings, we've traveled over 4 million light years."
"That's impossible," She spoke with typical flat certainty.
"We're not even in our own galaxy any more."
"Well, the explosion must have somehow affected the sub-space window created by the hyperdrive."
"Wait ... what, wait a minute, what are you saying - we can't get back?" O'Neill felt the panic begin to rise again.
"I don't know. The ship isn't normally capable of going so fast."
"It only took us a few seconds to get here."
"Given our current position, at maximum hyperdrive speed, it's going to take us 125 years to get back." Jacob glanced down at the instrument panel, "Long Range sensors are picking up another ship..."
They watched, almost paralyzed as the ha'tac slowed from hyperdrive and loomed towards them.
"Aah ... can we get out of here?"
"Working on it. Ok."
And, suddenly they were cloaked and out of range.
O'Neill just stood there and stared at the stars. They were all right for the moment; Sam and Jacob were checking out the options in engineering, Daniel, he hoped, was snatching some sleep. The sensors would warn them if Apophis came anywhere close. He rubbed the bridge of his nose; his head still ached and every joint, every sinew felt over stretched. Maybe saving the universe could wait until tomorrow?
Time to think, time to come up with the way out. Except he couldn't get past - what the hell were they - hallucinations? He fought back the feeling of suffocation that threatened to overwhelm him every time he tried to work out what had been going on in his head.
Oddly enough, he did recognize the story; Danny would be astonished if he ever got to hear of it. Cuchulain, Hound of Ulster, famed for standing alone and holding off the armies of Connaught - and other things more fascinating to a small boy turning pages with idle, sticky fingers until captivated by a fearsome illustration: the warrior, face split in half by a mighty snarl, one eyeball standing out on a stalk, the other drawn in to his head. A rainy summer afternoon at Aunt Bette's - the smell of cinnamon cookies mingling with model airplane glue; vacation stretching into infinity. O'Neill smiled briefly, then recalled the rest of the story: the commander whose time had passed, whose luck had turned against him.
Yeah, right. So being zatted knocked some junk loose and sent it to the surface of his mind. So what?
So it had never happened before. He reached up to touch the torque, could feel, for a moment, the tickle of the fine mist against his skin. What if this time, he couldn't -?
Focus. There were always alternatives, always something to be done. He would get his kids out of this. Maybe even Teal'c. Take the fight to Apophis; get right up close, no matter what the odds - that had to be the way to do it. Except - he had seen how that would end.
"Don't you ever listen to orders?"
"Oh, I listen - I'm just selective." Daniel came up beside him to gaze out at the stars. "What happened down there?"
O'Neill shrugged, "Teal'c got took, I got zatted."
Daniel gazed at him, unimpressed.
He tried again, "That's it - close shave."
A stony glint crept into the blue eyes.
I saw you die. Again. Jack ran shaking fingers through his hair, "It ... brought some memories back. Intimations of my own mortality, I guess. I don't know - I just need to sort things through. And - I can't spare the time right now."
"Way before your time."
Half the truth at best but Daniel chose to let it go. "Later?"
He sighed with relief. "Yeah. Though that might not the first item on the agenda. "
Daniel smiled faintly, "You really are desperate to do it in Chronos's bed, aren't you? Tell me, are you working through some sort of secret list?"
"Nah, I'm not that picky. Any flat surface will do."
"So I'd noticed."
"Never done it weightless, though," he injected a wistful tone into his voice and was rewarded with a chuckle. "Go get some sleep, Danny. You have just three hours left and then it's my turn."
Daniel reached up to smooth the unruly hair and was enveloped in a hug that had more than a trace of desperation.
"Later, Jack." He kissed him gently and walked away.
O'Neill returned to staring out at the stars, pulling himself together, reviewing the alternatives, thinking around in more circles. Samantha Carter interrupted his thoughts, "Sir, can you get down here? We need to talk."
"The Tok'ra ha'tac, My Lord."
At last. "Maintain the cloaking; do not approach. We will watch." He settled back, smiling, content to bide his time.
The mothership was in orbit about a planet and as the hours passed, continued to do nothing more than maintain position. There was no sign of activity or, more importantly, of awareness of their presence.
"It is a trap My Lord," whispered Tanith.
"Of course it is."
"They underestimate you, My Lord."
"For the last time."
"Send out scouts to examine the ha'tac."
They watched as the scouts flew towards and around the mothership. There was no challenge, no response. They flew close enough to examine the hull and reported back signs of serious damage. Whether this was from the original attack or due to a more recent mishap, it was impossible to tell.
"A boarding party, My Lord?" murmured Tanith.
"You may lead it."
"The honor is mine." He strolled from the pel'tec.
Apophis eyed his back speculatively and then beckoned one of the attendant Jaffa, "Stay close to him, Zauhl'c. Protect him from all danger and from ... developing ambitions."
The Jaffa bowed.
Of course, if it were a trap, they were both expendable.
He sat back and continued to wait. They would not use the rings for fear of booby-traps and he had no intention of endangering himself by moving his craft any closer. Let Tanith demonstrate his usefulness to his god; he had much ground to recover.
The wait was prolonged; Tanith clearly placed a premium on his own safety. Finally, " My Lord, the craft is secured."
"And the Tok'ra?"
"The evidence seems to point to evacuation to the planet below, My Lord. There was no one aboard when we arrived and the records indicated that two of the remaining gliders were launched in the hours immediately prior to our arrival. We discovered damage to the power network that meant that there was no hope of remaining aboard this ship for very much longer. The life support systems were on the verge of failure when we arrived. Might I suggest a search of the surface? They will not have had time to stray far."
"What caused the breakdown?"
"They sustained greater damage in the initial encounter than we suspected. It is obvious that the accelerated hyperdrive imposed a greater strain than the systems were able to bear. The Tok'ra did not have the ability or resources to effect repairs and had no choice but to abandon ship at the nearest available planet able to support life."
"Ah, yes there were, My Lord. We had to disable to self-destruct mechanism, which was set to commence count down as soon as some one set foot on board. There were further explosive devices rigged to the transport rings and to the navigation array. All devices have been disarmed. It is quite safe to board, My Lord." There was a hint of challenge in Tanith's deferential tones.
The challenge was ignored. "I think not. Remain there. I will have the planet surface searched. The rings are safe?"
"I would suggest sending one of the menials across as a precaution, My Lord."
Aphophis indicated his agreement.
"My Lord, if the shol'va has emerged from the sarcophagus - some questioning might prove fruitful at this point? If I might suggest -"
"He is mine."
"He. Is. Mine."
O'Neill shifted uncomfortably in the confined space as his foot began to cramp. He and Daniel were currently hidden at the end of a crawl space just above the ordnance lockers with an uninterrupted view of the glider bay. The late Chronos, bless his convoluted heart, had been a sneaky sonovabitch with a creative approach to space ship design. His ha'tac had certain nifty features designed to ensure escape in case of palace revolution or other similar inconvenience. And for once the credit for the discovery had to go to one J O'Neill. Accidental, of course, but still -
He tried to wriggle his toes and just made matters worse.
"Take your boot off."
"Take it off."
"We haven't got time for this."
"We'll have plenty of warning when they arrive. C'mon" Twisted into an exquisitely uncomfortable position, Jack suffered to have his boot removed and his toes massaged. "Of course, if we've overestimated them and they use the rings, the warning could be - um - loud."
"Ooh, that's better," Jack murmured, as his toes unkinked. "Nah- they won't. They need to out-think us. Trust me." The light filtering through the grille threw Daniel's cheekbones into relief, the shadows cast by his eyelashes, making them seem impossibly long as he gazed downwards, lips thinned in concentration. Suddenly O'Neill's head was full of the image of Daniel's body; so still amidst the chaos of the ha'tac last moments. Cold - bone-deep cold. He reached out to touch his hair but never completed the impulse.
The foot massage grew slower, more thoughtful, "Jack -"
"Move in with me?"
"Move in with me."
"What? Why? No! Are you nuts?"
"I'm too young to die."
Ain't that the truth? Jack shifted, hoping Daniel hadn't seen the wince in the dim light. "It could work."
"No, it wouldn't. You'd have to retire again; you'd be insane within a month."
"You underestimate me."
"You're serious, aren't you?" Daniel looked at him intently and Jack felt what it must be like to be a difficult text subject to his lover's forensic skills. "What's the matter, Jack? I've never seen you so ... off balance."
"Are you calling me unbalanced?"
"Stop it," Daniel murmured softly. "Talk. Now."
Sometimes it was a curse to have a perceptive partner.
"Have you ever thought that, occasionally, it's better not to talk?"
"When I need to be. Talk."
"You have a great interrogation technique, you know that?"
"I had a nightmare. That's all."
"And it's taking me a while to work through."
"Different from the usual nightmares?"
O'Neill bought time by lacing up his boot. Finally, "When Shifu put that stuff into your head, it didn't feel like a dream, did it?"
"No ... no. Not for a single moment." Daniel blinked, closed his eyes, then looked up, "and everything I did; that was me. If I had taken that path."
"Yeah, well, for the record, you'll never convince me of that - not that you told me all of it, did you?" Taking Daniel's silence for assent, he continued, "Anyway, this felt real but it was a jumble of ideas; things my subconscious obviously decided that I need to think about right now. In the middle of this mess. Without access to my fishing rods. Dammit."
"Are you saying that proximity to fish has a direct bearing on your ability to consider complex philosophical propositions?"
"Well, you've got to do something with your hands."
"Existentialism and FairIsle knitting?" Daniel looked thoughtful, "It could work."
They were interrupted by Carter's voice over the comlink, "Stand by, Sir, they're here."
It was time. Daniel and he were to provide the mayhem, Carter and Selmac the technical support. If by some miracle it all worked, they would retrieve Teal'c, blow up the bad guys and make their way home.
Teal'c sat cross-legged in his cell. Waiting. The after-effects of the sarcophagus still hummed in his bones. He had never felt more alive. The air around him seemed to shimmer with energy. His vision was so sharp, he felt he could see clear across the galaxy. He needed to run, to fight - he could fly, if necessary.
How typical of his former god to ensure his health and comfort while he awaited retribution. And of course, to ensure his senses were so finely tuned as to appreciate every nuance. Elegance, contrast, symmetry - the pattern would stretch on for years while Apophis took his revenge in ever more imaginative ways.
Revenge. That was the thing. He had failed in his efforts to destroy Tanith but there was still time. The Goa'uld's standing with his master would be shaky at best once Apophis understood the full extent of the deception. If he could undermine him still more, it might be enough. It was as close to a satisfactory outcome as he was likely to get unless his comrades-in-arms managed to rescue him. Then - there would be other opportunities to honor Shaun'ac and assist in her completion.
If he closed his eyes and sought within himself, he could feel the very texture of her skin beneath his fingers, smell her scent. She had become his in every way possible: breath of his breath, life of his life.
"When I die and you are the only one .... You are stronger than that ... No, never again ..." Those clear eyes had seen through the weakness, the cowardice to the strength at the core of him. She had seen what they could be for their people.
To have that shared destiny shown to have been an illusion, torn away from him - it had marked the lowest point of his life. He counted himself only half a being now. Shaun'ac had reminded him of the responsibilities he had abandoned when he had linked his fortunes with the Taur'i. He had stayed too long, become distracted. He had allowed himself to become too fond of them. It had been a mistake. Revenge would mark the beginning of his redemption; Shaun'ac, like his father, would be completed and take her rightful place with the ancestors - and he would return alone to save his people.
The cavern was dark but for the guttering of the last torch. Shadows moved, flickered in the dying light. He could hear water dripping into a pool somewhere nearby. He had dreamed of just one of those drops landing on his parched lips but he had been stretched across the rock since they had left him. They had walled up the entrance tunnel. His wrists and ankles were chained to stakes driven into the rock itself. There would be no escape.
By his side, his wife dozed, curled onto his side, worn down by the labor of protecting him. The bowl had slipped from her hand. Above them both hung the giant serpent, writhing, suspended from the stalactites - as much a captive as they. The venom dripped onto his face.
This would end. He would still lead his people.
He was aware that the ha'tac had been hanging in space for some time. He had no idea what was happening or where they were. The standstill probably indicated a lull in proceedings, freeing Apophis to tend to his own needs and then, allowing him to pursue some amusement. The guard would undoubtedly arrive any moment.
As if on cue, the door opened to reveal two serpent guards armed with staff weapons; they were clearly taking no chances. Teal'c stifled grim amusement; his successor was not entirely incompetent. He took his time rising to his feet and presenting his arms for shackles.
Samantha Carter slithered through another crawlspace and relocated crystals in another board. Slow and steady - get the sequence and the code right. If Selmac was wrong about this, if she made one mistake, they were all lost. "Focus," she muttered to herself. She had no idea how the others were doing - even her father. He was working on the other side of the ship and she could only trust that he was keeping to the schedule.
The last change made, she started to slide backwards, and then froze as the sound of voices drifted towards her. She ducked her head down and found herself staring through the grille at several pairs of feet.
"Zauhl'c - My Lord Apophis orders gliders down to the planet surface. See to the search pattern and have them report back to me. When the Taur'i are found, they are to be returned for questioning alongside the shol'va for our Lord's entertainment." Tanith was clearly working hard at becoming indispensable.
The feet busied themselves following orders - all but those belonging to Tanith. Carter held her breath, almost willing her hair to stop growing. Did the Goa'uld sense something? Slowly, he turned and walked off in the opposite direction - towards the pel'tec. Carter waited for a moment and was about to make her escape when the feet she had identified as the Jaffa Zauhl'c crept back in the same direction. So - Tanith was under surveillance, was he? Well, all to the good; the plan did not allow for any independent initiatives on his part. "Just follow orders, Tanith, there's a good minion," she murmured, finally able to move away.
They almost got away with it.
On the surface, their task was completely straightforward: overpower serpent-guards and steal outfits, blend in with the general coming and going once the rings were declared safe, locate Teal'c, plant a few unfriendly devices at strategic points and get back in time for the major agenda item.
The hardest part was separating once they were on board Apophis's ship. While O'Neill knew that Daniel was perfectly capable of handling his end of the plan, a small insistent voice inside his head urged him to send him back and keep him safe. He steeled himself to look away when Daniel disappeared down the corridor towards the main cargo deck. He could hear each footstep away from him. He shied away from the memories of that last time. Daniel would be fine. He would.
He turned and headed for the sarcophagus chamber via the passageway leading to the first of the main power conduits. There seemed to be a lot of activity but as ever, Goa'uld-trained troops tended not to ask awkward questions. Probably the result of supremacy lasting centuries, O'Neill reflected. Over-confidence led to sloppy thinking. Not for the first time however, he gave thanks for florid Goa'uld ships' architecture as he kept to the shadows cast by grubby, gilded latticework. He waited for yet another phalanx of guards to pass then bent to slip the device behind the decoration.
He moved cautiously along the corridor and slipped inside the sacred chamber. It was deserted and the sarcophagus itself was empty. He noted the trace of dried blood on the edge of the casing. The contraption felt warm to the touch and the characteristically sickly-sweet smell that emanated from the interior indicated recent use. Teal'c must have been restored and removed to the cells then. Well, in a way, that made it easier.
He turned to focus on the sound of approaching footsteps heading towards the chamber. He ducked behind a pillar just as Apophis swept in with his entourage.
Apophis looked as sleek as ever, O'Neill noted. The unpleasantness of the last few years might never have happened - apart from the gleaming metal plate on his cheekbone.
"You will wake me if there are any developments, however small," the Goa'uld commanded, removing his outer robe and dropping it to the floor. He glanced around the chamber as if searching for something but then appeared to change his mind.
"Yes, my Lord."
"You will come to me immediately if there is any communication from Zauhl'c."
"As you wish, my Lord."
"And you will prepare the Shol'va for my pleasure." Apophis closed his eyes for a moment, licked his lips and ran his fingertips lovingly over his chest and pelvic area. Then he took a deep breath, smiled in anticipation and stepped gracefully into the sarcophagus. The assembled subjects bowed as the cover slid over their god and the sweetness drifted across the chamber.
O'Neill swallowed hard and controlled the urge to vomit.
The chamber gradually emptied, until at last only one Jaffa remained. He seemed inclined to stand vigil over his god.
Carter slipped the last crystal into place and slid backwards. If her father had managed to fulfill his part, then all that remained was to recalibrate. It was a pity that circumstances would not permit testing - but then if they had got it wrong, the resultant blast would be big enough to take out the other ship as well. She allowed herself a tight smile of satisfaction at the prospect.
Her ears reverberated as the rings crashed into action again. This close to the mechanism and the sound had a solid, almost tactile quality. Perhaps this was how it felt to be in the bell tower when a peal was rung? She wrapped her arms reflexively around her head, then relaxed as the process finished. Another small party of guards had arrived - that meant approximately twenty on board at the moment, enough to form a skeleton crew centered on the pel'tec and the engineering section. There were many more currently searching the planet beneath, of course. And Tanith had restricted himself to command and control.
She rubbed her sorely abused ears and wiped the sweat off her lip with her sleeve. She felt filthy.
She promised herself that if she ever returned to her house - well, there was not enough water in the state of Colorado to supply a bath hot enough, long enough and bubbly enough. Then - ooooh, the ecstasy of slipping between cold, crisp, freshly laundered sheets, smelling ever so faintly of lavender fabric conditioner. Okaay: what next? A manicure. Nail enamel a girly pale pink. Those Manolo Blahniks with the unlikely heels. She could totter along like a fragile blossom clinging to the arm of a strong man. Right. Got a plan going here. Need a clipboard, schedule, boxes to tick.
She sighed and wriggled backwards. Her t-shirt snagged and rode up, allowing the accumulated grime of ages to adhere lovingly to her sweaty stomach.
Was this guy planning to stick around until Apophis got out of the sarcophagus? O'Neill itched to consult a watch. His knees were starting to seize from standing concealed so long. He moved his head fractionally around the pillar to check the Jaffa's position again.
He wasn't there.
Damn - where was he? He risked looking around the pillar, senses straining for the slightest sign. Ah, there - there in the shadows, slightly back from the sarcophagus. He watched the Jaffa take out a communications device, murmur into it. O'Neill thought he caught the word 'Tanith' but could not be sure. The Jaffa finished his conversation, looked about him and slipped from the chamber.
Signs of dissension in the ranks? Perhaps all they had to do was leave Apophis stranded here and let nature take its course. But then, Teal'c wasn't the only one who needed revenge.
O'Neill let a few moments pass, then slipped out towards his next objective. More time spent keeping to the shadows, trying to make up for lost time, desperate to avoid detection.
An age later, he was waiting for Daniel at the rendezvous point, consciously willing himself to relax, convincing himself that Daniel was not late. That if something had gone wrong, then he would have been aware of some sort of commotion. He looked down at his hand and relaxed the fist, finger by finger. He looked up and scanned the corridor both ways. Again.
Serpent Guards passed this way and that. Shift change. There was a lull and then, blessedly, that unmistakable walk.
"Yes, all done."
They set off for the cells.
Jacob turned to see his daughter emerge from the crawlspace. He raised an eyebrow, knowing that he was in no better condition. He threw her a cereal bar, which she unwrapped and demolished in short order. She threw the wrapper to the floor.
"Ready?" he asked, with some amusement.
"Yes." Samantha dragged her sleeve across her face, smearing the dirt still further.
"Let's get on with it, then."
They bent over the array.
Tanith knew that he was being watched; he also suspected that the Taur'i would not be found on the surface of the planet. As the hours passed this suspicion changed to certainty.
The Taur'i would undoubtedly seek to free their comrade. In fact, they had probably infiltrated the mothership already. A loyal subordinate would inform his master of his thoughts but Tanith had no intention of doing so. Apophis had spurned his allegiance when he ordered Zauhl'c to keep him under surveillance. Since his Lord had seen fit to cast doubt on his loyalty, he could take his chances. In fact, Tanith decided thoughtfully, the situation might well be turned to his advantage. Why not have the Taur'i do his work for him? His present position was precarious at best - why not seek to improve it? If the Taur'i failed, he could take the credit for defeating them. If they succeeded and inflicted serious damage on Apophis, then he was well placed to take full advantage.
He called for Zauhl'c.
The Jaffa did not take long to appear, along with several others. He bowed respectfully, "Yes, my Lord?"
"My Lord Apophis commands that more effort be put into the search on the planet in order to bring this inconvenience to an end."
Zauhl'c bowed and motioned his men to follow the orders. They left, but he remained, gazing coolly at Tanith.
"You are commanded to contact the mothership for fresh orders." The Goa'uld made to leave the pel'tec. As Zauhl'c bent to open communications, Tanith turned and fired his zatnikotel. Three times. The body disintegrated, leaving no trace. Tanith waited for a moment, inclining his head, waiting to hear any sound but there was none. He smiled to himself; truly the universe was ripe with possibilities.
However, his instincts told him that perhaps the pel'tec was not a safe place to be. He moved quietly elsewhere.
It was the loose fastening on the shackles that first alerted Teal'c. As they emerged from the holding area, he really looked at his guards as he was marched along the corridors - and took in gait, stature, smell. Jubilation began to rise within him and he prepared himself for action; his comrades-in-arms were gloriously predictable.
They marched openly, boots echoing, making no attempt to conceal themselves. He assumed that their ship was somewhere nearby and, correctly, that they were headed for the transport rings. Their passage felt interminable. They strode through endless corridors, descending level by level past living quarters, training areas, storage compartments. Around and down, around and down.
They encountered a number of guards but went unchallenged. Finally, they reached the ring chamber, only to find it deserted. O'Neill and DanielJackson maintained their helmets but released him from the shackles. DanielJackson passed him his staff weapon and drew out a zatnikotel for his own use. It seemed that they expected to meet opposition when they arrived. They set the controls to transport them back to their ship and then took position.
Teal'c almost fizzed with suppressed glee. What was it O'Neill had called it once? Chutzpah? Whatever. It was magnificent and it seemed as though they were about to get away with it.
The rings descended and the chamber dissolved momentarily, to be replaced by one almost identical. Only this one was occupied by serpent guards.
Jacob and Samantha noted the signal that marked their arrival and set to work. The first priority was to switch command and control of the vessel to this tiny auxiliary control room, hidden between the bulkheads of the cargo decks. Samantha waited for the all clear from her father, then keyed in the instruction. She paused and for a moment, offered up a silent prayer. This was the part that had involved the most intricate manipulation. Those occupying the pel'tec needed to retain the illusion of control just long enough to allow them to carry out the rest of the plan. If they had miscalculated at any point, they were lost.
The correct indicators began to light up. The vast looming bulk that was Apophis's ha'tac appeared on the viewscreen. They were able to make out a cluster of gliders returning to the mothership from the planet beneath. All serene.
Well, they couldn't help but notice the next stage. As she began the process of sealing off the upper decks, Jacob began to activate the remote settings on the cargo transport rings in tthe Apophis'sship. The ones just above his personal Stargate.
"Okay, Sam, get us out of here."
She entered the commands to move them to a respectful distance just as he triggered the explosives placed on the enemy ship.
For a moment, there was no change. The distant ha'tac just hung in space above the misty green planet, surrounded by firefly gliders. Jacob and Samantha watched; both caught by the same doubt. Had they failed after all?
Suddenly there was a small fizz of sparks that disrupted a patch of the outer hull and then the ship seemed to acquire a rosy glow before splitting apart and disintegrating in a dazzle of flame. Fragments the size of a city block spiraled crazily into the blackness of space. Then, just as abruptly, the light was extinguished. Nothing left. They stayed, dry mouthed, staring, long after the clouds had dissipated.
"It worked," Sam murmured, idiotically. She looked down at her hands and noticed that they were shaking.
"Yes." Jacob appeared equally stunned.
"We got the Stargate?"
They made short work of the guards in the ring chamber; surprise was on their side, after all.
The hours in the sarcophagus seemed to have turned Teal'c into something approaching an irresistible force. When they emerged into the corridors, he saw no reason to slink along in the shadows. He strode ahead, trailing O'Neill and Daniel in his wake, indifferent to the danger.
"Teal'c, will ya slow down! You'll get us all killed." O'Neill hissed from a hatchway providing minimal cover.
"Do not concern yourself, O'Neill. I will deal with any opposition we encounter." He was maddeningly unperturbed.
There was a rush of footsteps and Daniel joined him in the hatchway.
"Think I heard something behind us," he reported, breathlessly.
"Teal'c - !" but the Jaffa had vanished ahead. "Dammit... Okay, let's see if we can get round the back of them." He pushed Daniel towards an access ladder, while he took refuge behind the hatchway.
Moments later, several figures crept past them. O'Neill waited to let them pass, then eased himself out of the hatchway. He waited until Daniel had slid down the ladder, and then signed him to keep behind and to his side of the passageway. They stole noiselessly from doorway to doorway until they had their enemy within sight.
They heard the discharge of a staff weapon ahead of them. O'Neill swung his staff and took aim. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Daniel doing the same with his zat. They fired almost simultaneously. The figures in front of them convulsed and dropped to the floor; the air filled with the smell of singeing flesh. Staff blasts further along the passageway indicated that Teal'c was outnumbered. They stepped over the bodies and advanced cautiously towards the fighting.
By the time they arrived, however, Teal'c had dealt with his opponents. The sight was unpleasant; he had made a very thorough job of it. There was an exultant glitter in Teal'c's eyes when he rose to his feet.
O'Neill approached him warily, "You all done here?" he enquired, mildly.
"I believe so, O'Neill." Teal'c inclined his head, "I will scout up ahead." He strode away.
He felt Daniel at his shoulder, "It's.."
"I know; it's the sarcophagus." He sighed and turned to face Daniel, "C'mon, let's finish the job."
They continued in the same way as before; Teal'c in the lead, O'Neill and Daniel a watchful few steps behind. They encountered no further opposition, much to Teal'c's obvious regret
There had been no sign of Tanith. In all probability, he was trapped on the pel'tec, out of harm's way. At least for the moment - Teal'c seemed likely to try breaking down the blast doors in order to reach him. It was perfectly obvious that the Jaffa did not feel himself bound by any orders O'Neill might wish to give. The best that could be achieved was to divert his abundant energies into searching the ship for any remaining hostiles and hope that this was just the after-effect of the sarcophagus.
Finally, hours later, when they had searched and checked most of the possibilities, they decided that they could declare the area from the engineering decks to the pel'tec secured.
O'Neill made one last tour of the engineering area. Everything seemed clear and yet, some instinct nagged at him. He stretched wearily. No more - Teal'c might be full of energy but he and Danny had both reached the end of their reserves. Time to stop.
He was emerging to join the others when he heard a warning shout. He turned to face the direction of the cry and saw Teal'c raise his staff weapon, aiming straight for him. He flung himself backwards but still felt a savage blow to his chest, which drove him back to collide with the doorframe. As he slid to the floor, he caught sight of Teal'c's boots pounding past him and heard further staff blasts. Then his vision was blocked by one of Daniel's knees, inches away from his nose. He felt shaking fingers slide into his hair.
"Jack -?" Daniel sounded upset and he opened his mouth to reassure him but for some reason, couldn't catch his breath. The edges of his vision started to close in.
Teal'c sat, surrounded by candles. He had regained some sort of equilibrium; his vital signs had returned to their accustomed range. He needed to achieve kel-nor-reem in order to complete his recovery. He breathed deeply and began to slow his heartbeat.
He was flat on his back in the grass, staring at an iron-gray sky. It was approaching noon, he guessed, though he could not see the sun. It would rain later, he thought. To his left were the standing stones: three weathered gray triangles supporting a fourth. Fragments of the sky in solid form, perhaps? They cast no shadow in the thin daylight.
A crow flapped lazily to perch on the topmost, head tipped to one side, surveying the scene with bright curiosity.
There were enemies about, he knew but he could not move. Out of the corner of his eye he caught a movement, saw a warrior wiping blood from his sword with a handful of grass. There was a golden snake tattooed in the center of his forehead. He felt he should have understood the symbol but remembering was far too much effort. The warrior gazed down at him impassively, then turned and walked away.
His limbs were heavy and sluggish, unresponsive. He knew he should have felt pain but he could not. He could not remember how he had come to be in this position.
Teal'c stirred, opened his eyes. His path was now clear to him.
Jack became aware of his fingers hurting. Someone had his fingers in a tight grip; he tried to protest but could not speak. His chest was so tight he could barely breathe. He was propped up on some pillows and his back ached abominably. He tried to open his eyes but could not.
"Daniel," a woman's voice whispered - Sam?
"I - um - sorry ... 'm falling asleep here." Daniel, sounding bad. Jack heard him take a deep breath, swallow, then, sounding more alert, "Teal'c all right now?"
"Think so. It's hard to tell; he's meditating. Trying to come to terms with getting his revenge, I think."
"Right." Danny's voice sounded unusually hard.
"Daniel - come away. You need to get some sleep."
"I'll stay with him. I'll come and get you the minute there's any change." Sam was coaxing. He felt cool fingers check his pulse.
"No. Can't leave him. Won't -"
"Look, Daniel, why don't you just lie down beside him? Lord knows, the bed's big enough." Jack heard the smile in her voice.
There was a thoughtful pause, then movement. The grip on his fingers loosened and then he felt warm, dry lips on his forehead. "Night Jack, I'm going to stay right beside you, okay?" Then he heard the sound of boots dropping to the floor, felt the bed dip and that familiar, beloved body stretch out close to him. Oh, that was good. He should have felt concerned that Danny had given them away but could only feel satisfaction that he was within reach, where he could protect him after all. He felt his hand being taken in a warm, firm grasp.
It would be all right.