"Jack, you can't take these guys back to Earth," Maybourne insisted after they had been escorted from the Tollan stronghold the same way they'd been taken in.
Jack still wasn't sure exactly where the Tollan were living, although he suspected it was atop, or even within the cliff.
"What did you think we were going to do with them?" Jack asked, tossing Harry a puzzled look. "Kill them?"
"Would that be such a problem?"
"Er...yeah, a little bit of a problem," Jack said. He turned to the rest of his team. "Carter, Teal'cyou take the south side. Danielwith me."
"Couldn't you just get the Tollan to leave?" Harry asked as they resumed walking, Daniel lagging a short distance behind. "Send them somewhere the N.I.D. doesn't know about?"
"Firstthe Tollan don't do anything the Tollan don't want to do. And generally speaking the Tollan don't want to do anything we want them to do. Witness the conversation we just had," Jack said. "Secondyour buddies have a date with the military justice system. They're going back."
"Because they know where I live now."
"So do we," Jack said.
"Yeah, but you won't send an assassin to eliminate me." Harry paused and studied Jack. "You wouldn't, would you?"
"I'm not even going to dignify that with an answer. If you're worried about what your pals might do, then I guess you'll just have to move house yourself."
"You know, Jack, I thought we had an understanding."
"The understanding was that I would help you get away, and that you'd never bring your kind of trouble to my door again."
"This isn't trouble, Jack."
"That remains to be seen."
"You can't deny that we'd started to develop a real rapport," Harry said.
"Maybourne," Jack said sharply. "We may have some kind of rapport. And if circumstances had been different, we might have even been friends. But they weren't and we aren't."
"So where does that leave us?"
"Well, it leaves me highly suspicious of anything you're involved with."
"So...business as usual?" Harry asked.
"So it would seem." Jack stared at the sensor in his hand. Letting out a sigh he reached for his radio. "Carter, why don't we have one of those nifty force fields?"
"We're setting perimeter sensors in the 'hope' that they will allow us to rush in and put ourselves at risk in order to take these guys. What we need is one of those force fields so that we can capture them at a safe distance," Jack said. "Why don't we have one?"
"Well, sir, it is Goa'uld technology," Sam said.
"And the Goa'uld are not inclined to share with the Tauri," Teal'c said, the power of his voice only slightly attenuated by the radio.
"Yeah, but Boch had one," Jack pointed out.
"Malikai, too," Daniel called over to Jack.
"Right. Malikai had one. Boch had one. The SGC should have one, too."
"I'll look into it, sir," Sam said patiently.
"That's all I'm asking."
"Right," Sam muttered just before the transmission cut off.
Jack grinned to himself as he released his radio and knelt down to set the sensor in his hand.
"What's the story?" Harry asked as he watched Daniel walk past them, preparing to set the next sensor down the line.
"Story?" Jack asked, frowning as he brushed some leaves aside.
"Jackson," Harry said as he handed Jack one of the perimeter sensors. "Asgard clone?"
"Nope," Jack said, adjusting the settings on the sensor before planting it in the ground.
"You got the fat guy to make another robot?" Harry guessed.
"Okay, I give up. What is he?"
"Sure, but not the real Daniel Jackson. I mean it was crispy critter time there after Kelowna."
"You knowevery time I think I might actually be starting to tolerate you, you go and say something that reminds me what a jerk you are," Jack said as he leapfrogged Daniel's position, pacing off the distance to the next sensor location.
"Come onjust tell me."
"I did tell you. He's Daniel. The original, the one and only."
"Not sure really," Jack said thoughtfully, glancing back to where Daniel was kicking leaves to hide his tracks. "All we know is that Daniel did something he wasn't supposed to and next thing you knowthere he was."
"Christ," Harry said with a sharp laugh. "Leave it Jackson to screw up a great opportunity."
"I don't think Daniel thought it was such a great opportunity."
"Please. All powerful, all knowingwhat's not to like?"
"Apparently there are rules," Jack said.
"To being dead?"
"To...other planes of existence."
"Any luck?" Jack asked, looking up as Daniel wandered back to their campsite after another attempt to persuade the Tollan to be a little...friendlier.
"Ah, well.... Maybe. A little...." Daniel dropped to his butt next to Jack. "No."
"Hey, you tried," Jack said, handing Daniel his meal.
"Marden knows," Daniel said.
"Knows what?" Jack asked.
"About the deal with the Goa'uld."
"Are you certain?" Teal'c asked.
"I can't prove it, but yes, I'm reasonably sure."
"That would make sense," Sam said. "If he was Travell's assistant he probably had at least some idea that something was going on."
"I wish I could've managed to get a few minutes with Arvann or one of the others," Daniel said. "If Marden had any knowledge of the Curia's actions he may have a vested interest in keeping the truth hidden. But the others.... I think they were genuinely unaware of the reasons for the Goa'uld attack."
"Maybe in time," Sam said thoughtfully. "I think the Tollan people in general are very responsible. Maybe if we give them a little time to get over the shock, they'll be willing to acknowledge the facts."
"I sure didn't see any signs of 'willingness' in that bunch," Harry said.
"The Tollan are indeed a most stubborn people," Teal'c said.
"Ya think?" Jack asked as he examined his supper suspiciously in the low light of the campfire.
"So, Harry, what kind of toys are your buddies likely to have?"
"I don't know."
"Come on, Harry. They've been roaming around loose in the galaxy for a few years. You don't expect me to believe that they haven't carried on with their light-fingered ways."
"I really don't know, Jack. They certainly weren't going to tell me what they've been up to."
"Why not?" Daniel asked, looking up from his MRE. "If they've been out here, out of touch, they have no idea what happened to your operation. As far as they know you're still one of them."
"Hey! As far as we know he's still one of them," Jack interjected.
Harry just rolled his eyes.
"Daniel's right," Sam said. "You were their commanding officer. Why wouldn't they tell you what they'd been doing?"
"These guys stay alive by being suspicious. And being stranded out here has only raised the level of paranoia," Maybourne said. "What little information they did give me was a test."
"A test which you have failed," Teal'c observed.
"Or passed, depending on your perspective," Harry said defensively.
"We might still have time to bring in some back-up," Sam said to Jack.
"Too risky," Jack said reluctantly. "Even if the timetable they gave Maybourne is correct, we'd be cutting it very close. No, we're on our own on this one. Worse comes to worst the Tollan can take care of themselves."
"Ungrateful bastards, aren't they?" Harry observed.
"Yeah," Jack grumbled. "I always suspected that Narim was the only one worth knowing. I'm sure of it now."
"No argument from me on that, sir," Sam said as she passed the coffee pot to Daniel.
"So, Dr. Jackson...."
"Yes?" Daniel said. His forehead wrinkled, puzzled at suddenly becoming the center of attention.
"You don't remember anything about being...whatever?"
"Ascended," Jack supplied.
"Nope, afraid not," Daniel said.
"No idea what you were doing for an entire year?" Harry persisted.
"The Ascended don't really measure time in any way we understand...but no, no idea."
"I know where he was. At least once or twice," Jack said.
"As do I," Teal'c said.
"Apparently Daniel visited Colonel O'Neill and Teal'c," Sam told Harry, giving Daniel a look of mild rebuke.
"Visited?" Harry said.
"Yeah, he was just energy or something, but he dropped in," Jack said. He made a disgusted face at his food and set it aside. "I told you about letting the Tok'ra snake me, right?"
"Yeah, and I still don't believe you let them do that," Harry said.
"Neither do I," Jack said. "But when Kanan dragged my ass to Ba'al's little hideaway, Daniel was there."
"You mean when you were captured and tortured?" Harry asked.
"That'd be the time," Jack said, not noticing Daniel's sudden unease.
"You were there?" Harry asked Daniel.
"Jack says I was."
"And you didn't get him out?" Harry asked incredulously.
"It's one of those rules I was telling you about," Jack said, quick to defend Daniel against the implied criticism. "The Ascended aren't allowed to interfere."
"Who are these...things?" Harry said. "I mean, are they supposed to be on our side or not?"
"They don't take sides," Daniel said quietly.
"Hey, as far as I'm concerned if you don't take my side, then you're siding against me," Harry said.
"They don't see it that way," Daniel said, his voice almost too low to hear.
"Then what good are they? What's the benefit to being one of them?" Harry asked.
"I...don't know," Daniel admitted. He grabbed the coffee pot and stood up. "I'll get more water."
"Daniel!" Sam called as Daniel moved quickly into the dark forest.
"Damn it," Jack muttered. He gave Harry a dirty look. "I'll go. Cartertake first watch."
"What did I do?" Harry asked as Jack's form disappeared into the darkness surrounding their campsite.
"It's not fair to ask Daniel to justify something he doesn't even remember doing, let alone why he did it," Sam said.
"I wasn't. I'm just trying to understand this 'ascension' thing. Sounds pretty lame if he wouldn't do more than 'visit' Jack or Teal'c."
"Daniel Jackson's visit was very valuable to me," Teal'c said. "When Bra'tac and I lay near death, sharing but one symbiote between us, Daniel Jackson offered comfort and counsel. He strengthened my resolve to survive."
"Sorry, but if I were in the hands of a torture happy Goa'uld, I'd want a little more than just a few words of comfort."
"Daniel?" Jack said when he found Daniel sitting on a fallen tree, the coffee pot dangling from his hand.
Daniel silently shifted over a few inches to give Jack room to sit down.
"You know you shouldn't listen to anything Maybourne has to say on moral or ethical issues?" Jack said.
"I read your report," Daniel said. "The amended version, that is."
"And, in this case, Maybourne's right. I could've saved you. I didn't," Daniel said with a grimace.
"Well, we don't really know what you could or couldn't have done."
"You said that I refused to save you," Daniel said, staring resolutely into the night sky.
"LookI'll admit I was hugely pissed off at you at the time," Jack said. "I was desperate and you kept talking about not interfering and not playing God and...."
"And not helping you."
"You wanted to," Jack said. "No doubt about that."
"Yeah, well, you know what they say about good intentions," Daniel said in a low voice.
"The point isit all worked out."
"No thanks to me."
"We don't know that for sure," Jack said. "When you first showed up, you said no one knew where I was and even if they found me they wouldn't be able to get to me."
"Sam, Teal'c and Jonas figured out where you were," Daniel said. "And Teal'c came up with the idea of getting Yu involved."
"All by themselves?"
"You think I helped them?" Daniel asked, his expression dubious.
"I think it's possible," Jack said. "I think you may have done what you usually do and found a way to bend the rules."
"I did. I offered you ascension. Technically that was breaking the rules." Daniel gave a rueful laugh. "You were just too smart to accept."
"Hey, it had nothing to do with smart. I wouldn't have lasted a week. One 'over the rainbow' crack too many and they would've kicked my disembodied energy into the nearest sun."
"You're better than that."
"It's nice to know you still think so," Jack said with a smile. He gave Daniel a little nudge with his shoulder. "Hey, ascension couldn't be all that bad. You told me you couldn't imagine being anything but what you were."
"Apparently I could," Daniel said dryly. He shook his head. "I just wish I knew what I did, or didn't, do while I was ascended. And why."
"One thing I'm sure ofif there hadn't been any other way you would have gotten me out of there."
"You said that I told you that I absolutely couldn't and wouldn't help."
"I know. That's what you told me. I don't happen to believe it. Even when you were playing Tinkerbell, you were still you," Jack said. "And you would never have left me there."
"I'd like to think so. I really would."
"I know so. Teal'c knows so. Carter knows it, too," Jack said firmly, getting up and stretching. "Nowlet's get back before they start thinking we got lost. She still hasn't let me forget...."
"What?" Daniel asked, accepting a hand up.
"You know that sign Carter put up in her office? The one that says real men ask for directions?" Jack asked. Daniel nodded. "Well, let's just say that was aimed at me."
"What did you do?"
"Nothing," Jack said. "I knew where we were. It wasn't exactly where I'd intended to be, but I knew where we were."
Daniel smiled to himself as Jack led the way back through the shadowed darkness between the trees.
"Sorry. That was the first glowy thing that came to mind."
"And that would make you Peter Pan?"
"Never grow up? Sure, that's a philosophy I can get behind," Jack said easily.
"Then I must be wrong."
"What? Why?" Jack said, stumbling when he turned to look at Daniel rather than keeping his eyes on the uneven ground.
"Because one thing I clearly remember from before I ascended is that we never agree on anything," Daniel said in a light tone.
"Do...and don't argue with me."
"Why stop now?"
"Out of respect for my greater age and experience?" Jack said.
Daniel let out an amused huff of air.
"Heyyou weren't around when Harry and I were stranded in 'paradise,' were you?"
"Ah...I don't know. Why?" Daniel asked. "Bad?"
"He blew up the fish," Jack complained.
As the sky began to lighten with the rising sun, Jack slid out of his sleeping bag and looked around. Teal'c was standing at the far side of their encampment, facing out into the forest.
"All has remained quiet, O'Neill," Teal'c said, turning to acknowledge Jack with a slight nod.
"Looks like they're sticking to the schedule," Harry said, crawling out of his own sleeping bag and going straight to the glowing coals left from the night's fire. He tossed a few small branches on and stretched his hands out toward the rekindled flames to warm them.
"We can only hope," Jack said, pulling on his boots. He twisted to the side and gave the mound of khaki next to him a firm shove.
"What?" Daniel asked irritably.
"Rise and shine," Jack said as he finished tying his boots.
"Remind me again why I descended?" Daniel said, sitting up and letting the sleeping bag slide down to bunch at his waist.
"Coffee," Sam announced as she walked into the camp, holding up the pot she'd just filled with water from the nearby stream.
"Oh, right, that's why," Daniel mumbled as he looked for his glasses.
Jack gave him a light punch in the shoulder, grinning.
"Sir?" Sam said as she hunkered down at the fire, waiting for the water to heat.
"Harry?" Jack said, passing the buck.
"If they stick to the schedule, they'll be expecting to meet me just about a klick from here in about two hours."
"Then I want us in position within the hour," Jack said. "Teal'c, I want you on the southwest corner, Carter the southeast. Daniel and I will cover the north side. Harry, I want you to move in behind them, once they've crossed our perimeter."
"Oh, heyjust a minute, Jack. I'm supposed to meet them."
"Not a good idea," Jack said.
"Jack, I have to go," Harry insisted. "If I don't show up they'll be suspicious. They may even abort the operation."
"Fine," Jack said reluctantly. "We'll move in once they've crossed the perimeter. Use zats if at all possible. Remember, we want to take these guys home alive."
"And I'll be with them," Harry quickly reminded them.
"What is your point?" Teal'c asked.
Harry gave him an exasperated look.
"Try not to shoot Harry," Jack agreed. Maybourne relaxed slightly. "Unless you have to."
"As you wish," Teal'c said, sounding disappointed.
Harry just shook his head and started to gather his gear.
"Everyone ready?" Jack asked. Sam, Teal'c and Harry all nodded. "Daniel?"
"What?" Daniel asked, turning around as he pulled his jacket on.
"Yeah, just gotta...." Daniel jerked his thumb toward the trees.
"Well, go," Jack said. "I want this place packed up in ten. We got bad guys to catch."
"Harry?" Jack said quietly into his radio.
"Nothing, Jack. Not a sign."
Jack let out a deep breath and considered their options. They'd been in position for nearly two hours, well past the appointed meeting time. The mercenaries could just be late. Or they could not be coming at all.
"Carter?" Jack kept his voice low as he spoke into the radio.
"Nothing here, sir."
"I have observed nothing from my location."
"Daniel?" Jack waited a moment with no response. Frowning, he tried again. "Daniel? Daniel, report."
"Sorry, Jack. I thought I heard.... Hang on a sec."
"Daniel?" Jack said when several minutes had passed without any further communication from Daniel.
Two sharp clicks came through the radio. Jack immediately got to his feet. If Daniel wasn't talking it meant that someone was close to his location. And if someone was close by, then the rogue agents weren't following their own script.
"Carter, Teal'c: move in."
Jack moved as quickly as he dared through the underbrush, wending his way stealthily toward Daniel's location. Jack was closest to Daniel's position, but if he could ascertain that Daniel was still undiscovered, or at the very least, unharmed, then Jack would wait for Sam and Teal'c to join him. He wasn't going to make the mistake of underestimating the rogue soldiers.
Jack grabbed for his radio, but before his hand could complete the motion he was overwhelmed by the sensation of electricity surrounding him, flowing into him. He barely had time to make a startled grunt before falling to the ground.
Jack woke to a pounding head and every muscle aching.
"Carter?" Jack opened his eyes to see his 2IC leaning over him. "What happened?"
"The N.I.D. guys had some kind of weapon that targets neural tissue. Similar to the Goa'uld shock grenade...but worse."
"Well, that would explain the headache," Jack said.
"Apparently within a very limited range death is almost instantaneous," Sam explained. "It fries the entire nervous system. Outside the kill zone the effects are less severe, progressively decreasing with increasing distance. It's disabling to some degree, but not fatal."
"Everyone else okay?" Jack asked.
"Teal'c and I were far enough from the device that it only caused some discomfort."
"Discomfort?" Jack said skeptically. "WaitDaniel was closer than I was."
"He's still unconscious. But we don't think there's any permanent damage."
"The Tollan checked both of you out," Sam said.
"They said you will both recover fully."
Jack looked across the room when he heard the sound of Teal'c's voice. He saw the Jaffa sitting next to another cot. Jack assumed Daniel was in the bed but he couldn't see anything more than a lump under the blankets from his own supine vantage point.
"You okay, Teal'c?" Jack asked.
"I am," Teal'c said.
"He appears to be resting comfortably."
"Okay," Jack said, closing his eyes and rubbing his aching forehead. "And the N.I.D. guys?"
"They got away," Harry spoke up reluctantly. "And noI didn't arrange that."
"Great," Jack groaned.
A second groan echoed his from across the room, drawing everyone's attention.
"Daniel Jackson," Teal'c said quietly.
"Oh, shit," Daniel said, groaning again.
"Heythat's what I said," Jack said.
Daniel's head appeared over the mound of blankets, peering at Jack.
"How are you feeling?"
"The 'oh, shit' didn't give you a clue?" Daniel said, flopping back on the cot and pressing his hands to his head. Jack just shrugged at the rebuke. "What happened?"
"Well, Harry was just going to explain to us how the N.I.D. got away."
"I had nothing to do with it," Harry repeated. "I was moving in on Jackson's location when they tossed this...nerve grenade. I was affected by the weapon just like the rest of you. By the time I could see straight again they were already gone."
"Why didn't they kill you?" Daniel asked. His tentative attempt at sitting up was interrupted when he became aware of the surprised stares. "I'm not saying that they should have...necessarily. Just wondering why they didn't."
"They won't," Jack said. "Not while there's a chance they may be able to use Maybourne. And what about the Tollan? Why didn't they stop them?"
"The attackers fled before we could act," Marden said, startling the others with his sudden appearance. He looked around the small room where SG-1 had been brought to sleep off the effects of the weapon.
"You couldn't have chased them?" Jack asked.
"That would've meant revealing ourselves. Something we chose not to do." Marden studied Jack. "You have recovered?"
"Yeah, I guess so," Jack said, swinging his legs over the side of the cot.
"Then you will leave now." Marden turned on his heel and left.
"Never going to win Miss Congeniality that way," Jack called after him. He winced as the volume of his own voice sent the pounding in his head up a couple of notches. "Ow."
"Sir?" Sam questioned with concern.
"Fine," Jack growled. "It's just that whole nail in the head thing. It's very annoying."
"I was thinking more along the lines of a spike. A stake maybe," Daniel said. He grimaced apologetically in response to Jack's glare. "Same concept, though."
"Are you well enough to return to the stargate?" Teal'c asked.
"Sure," Jack said. He paused. "Just...give me a minute." He lay back down on the cot and closed his eyes. "Five. Just five minutes."
"Five minutes. I'll be fine."
"Daniel?" Sam asked, looking across the way. "Call me when his five minutes are up," Daniel said, pulling his pillow over his head.
Teal'c raised an eyebrow as his gaze traveled from Daniel to Jack and then finally to Sam. Sam just shrugged and settled back to wait.
"Well, chalk up another big fat zero for SG-1," Jack complained as he trudged back to the transporter platform.
"Oh, I don't think it's quite that bad," Daniel said, staring at Jack's disgruntled profile. "We did find the Tollan."
"For all the good that'll do us," Jack said.
"I think Sam's right. Given a little time to digest the information, the Tollan may very well come around," Daniel said.
"Bet they still won't share."
"Well, I wasn't planning to hold my breath on that either," Daniel said.
"What are you going to do now?" Sam asked Harry as they walked side by side just behind Jack and Daniel.
"No idea," Maybourne said. "Especially now that I've got some pissed off former colleagues wandering around."
"Well, you don't live in Tandarra, right?" Daniel asked, turning his head to look back at Maybourne.
"Do they?" Jack asked, referring to the former NID agents.
"I don't know for sure, but I don't think so," Harry said. "I think they were just there looking for information."
"So the chances are that if you stay away from Tandarra you should be okay," Jack said.
"What about back home? On Earth?" Harry asked. "They know I'm still alive now."
"Hammond knows," Jack agreed. "But we don't have any compelling reason to pass that information on."
"Okay...but why would you do that for me?" Harry asked suspiciously.
"HonestlyI don't know," Jack said. "I should shoot you just for the total lack of reverence you show for the art of fishing. I must be going soft in my old age."
"Because, even if you did have your own agenda, you did help us get General Hammond and Sam back when they were in trouble," Daniel said.
"Because you did help me when we had the foothold situation at the SGC," Sam said reluctantly.
Harry turned to look at Teal'c.
"I have no reason to help you," Teal'c told him.
"Right," Harry said dryly when Jack, Sam and Daniel made no attempt to hide their amusement. "So?"
"So you go home and we never saw you," Jack said. "And you promise to never contact me, General Hammond or the SGC again."
"Well, that's harsh. After all we've been through together, all we've meant to each other...." Harry said, mocking.
"Can it, Harry," Jack said, exasperated. "You just go do your thing, we'll do our thing and everybody's happy, right?"
"Are you going to go after Collins and the others?" Harry asked.
"No. Not right now," Jack said, clearly unhappy with that decision. "Not unless you know where they might have gone."
"Back to Tandarra possibly, but that's just a guess," Harry said. "What if I run into them again? You want me to take care of the problem?"
"No," Jack said.
"Because I could, you know," Harry offered.
"No," Jack repeated more firmly.
"You know, maybe this isn't exactly the best time to bring this up but we really should try to make official contact with the authorities on Pankeer," Daniel pointed out. "Using their planet as a staging area without so much as saying hello is kind of rude."
"I'd like to investigate some of their technology further," Sam added. "From what I've seen they're probably even with or slightly ahead of Earth. There could be significant scientific information here."
"Not to mention the potential for cultural exchange," Daniel added.
"And do not forget the Tollan," Teal'c said.
"All right, all right," Jack groaned as they reached the transportation platform. After a few moment's thought he turned to Maybourne. "They're right. The SGC is going to want to make contact with the government on Pankeer, and honestly, I'd have to recommend it."
"So?" Harry said.
"So...what do you want to do? We can still pretend you're not here if you think you can lay low for a while."
Harry motioned them all onto the platform and activated the transporter while he thought.
"Tell them," Harry said as soon as they'd stepped off the transporter back in Pankeer City. "I don't think the higher-ups will care enough to come after me. And I'd even be willing to act as a liaison between Pankeer and Earth."
"You're just trying to get back on the Air Force payroll," Jack accused mildly.
"Never hurts to try," Harry grinned. He jerked his head at Jack. "What about you? Won't you get in trouble when the brass finds out I'm still alive?"
"I'll be fine," Jack said with a dismissive wave of his hand. "I was under the influence of alien arugula at the time. I can't be held responsible."
"How often is that excuse going to work?" Harry asked with a grin.
"I'm just hoping it'll work once."