"So. Whaddya think?"
Jack's abrupt question is the first and only hint I have that he's stopped moving. Unfortunately it penetrates my consciousness too late to stop me from slamming right into his back.
"Ooof," I grunt as my ribs collide with his pack.
"Daniel," he drawls. It's amazing, really, how Jack manages to convey so many levels of irritation in one word.
"What?" I ask pointlessly.
I don't know why I do that. Jack turns and glares at me, suggesting he doesn't know why I do that either. Unless it's to annoy the hell out of him. And, admittedly, there are days .
"Do you have to do that?" Jack growls.
Um run into you? No. Aggravate you?
"It's in my job description."
Seriously. I'm thinking about adding it to my resume. Daniel Jackson: Jack O'Neill's personal cross to bear. I'm just not sure whether to list it under job responsibilities or hobbies. In the meantime, Jack just shakes his head and gestures in front of him.
"Sign of civilization?" he asks.
Civilization? On M3X? I step up next to him and take a look. No, I think civilization would be stretching it.
"It's a dump," I tell him.
A rather dinky trash heap if you want to be accurate. He gives me the 'no, really?' look. Sam turns to me with a gleeful glint in her eye.
"Right up your alley, Daniel," she teases.
I'll regret to my next dying day ever telling Sam just how much time archaeologists spend sifting through ancient trash mounds. She seems to find that hysterically funny.
"Ancient dumps," I remind her. "This is too fresh."
"Fresh?" Jack retorts, wrinkling his nose pointedly.
"Recent," I amend.
"Still," Jack says. "If there's a dump there's bound to be people, right?"
"Unless the local wildlife has developed a garbage fetish," I agree.
Jack just sighs as Teal'c glances askance at me. What?
"This planet was reported to be uninhabited," Teal'c points out.
"Moon," Sam corrects.
Teal'c gives her the look.
"It's a moon, not a planet," she explains in the apparent belief that this will help the situation.
"Whatever," Jack says with a deadpan stare.
"Well, we certainly haven't seen any other evidence of habitation," Sam says with a roll of her eyes at Jack's obstinate ignorance. "Should we set up surveillance?"
Jack opens his mouth, then hesitates. The change in his expression is so subtle as to be almost undetectable.
"I don't think so, Carter," he drawls, his face carefully blank. "After all, waste is a terrible thing to mind."
Now it's our turn to just stare at Jack. Even after all the time we've known Jack we still can't believe the unfathomable depths he will sink to in the name of humor. He's probably waited years to use that particular misquote. Unfortunately at least one politician has beaten him to it. Unintentionally. Now that was funny. An expression of confusion crosses Teal'c's features briefly before he decides discretion is the better part of sanity and retreats into Jaffa stoicism.
"What we should do is look around. If anyone's using this 'dump' there have to be signs."
"They'll be in that direction," I say with a wave to our left.
"Upwind. Makes sense," Jack agrees.
Teal'c adds a little nod of his head. Sam looks a little surprised that I thought of that. Heysoldier or archaeologist makes no difference. The first thing you learn when in the field is camp upwind of garbage and latrines.
We set off in our usual formation. It isn't long before Teal'c finds a trail. And it not much longer after that before he starts frowning.
"What's up, Teal'c?" Jack asks, instantly alert to Teal'c's unease.
"I believe only one person has been using this path," Teal'c answers, falling back slightly so that Sam is now on point.
Jack grows a frown to match Teal'c's. Jack is just never happy. If Teal'c had told him fifty people were using the path Jack would still be frowning.
"So?" I ask.
"I don't like it," Jack says curtly.
There's a surprise.
"It's unexpected," Jack continues. "People don't usually go off in the woods by themselves. Not unless they're up to no good."
"Maybe it's a monk isolating himself from the concerns of everyday life in a search for enlightenment," I suggest.
Jack just scowls at me. I don't really believe it either but I just can't let that kind of misanthropic pessimism go without comment.
"Maybe he or she or 'it' just likes being alone. Doesn't make him the Unabomber, does it?"
"I'll let you know after I've seen his shack," Jack replies dryly. "And if he says he has a little manifesto he'd like you to read ."
Some ten minutes later, Sam suddenly drops to her knee in front of me. The rest of us follow her lead silently. Except Jack. The pop his knee makes as he drops to the ground sounds like a gunshot. I glance back to see him silently cursing. He notices my eyes on him and mouths
Um excuse me?
"What?" I mouth back at him.
With a vexed expression he "what?"s me right back. Why do we do this? Jack gestures abruptly for me to get my eyes forward. We all creep slowly up to Sam's position. She's on a ridge overlooking a smallish sized depression in the ground, sort of like an ancient meteor crater whose contours have been blunted by long exposure to the elements. And right in the middle of the hollow is a goa'uld cargo ship. I can't begin to find the words to describe how extremely not happy we all are at the sight. We watch from our vantage point for a short time but there's no sign of the ship's pilot.
"Better check it out," Jack whispers reluctantly.
"It could belong to a tok'ra, sir," Sam points out.
"Yeah, just keep thinking those happy thoughts, Carter," Jack snaps sarcastically.
Sam rolls her eyes again, but she knows better than to push it. Apparently I don't.
"Arris Boch had one," I offer helpfully.
"What part of 'happy thoughts' do you not understand?" he hisses at me.
Jack's well on his way to achieving full "Colonel Gloom" status. Now if he just gets to shoot something, he'll consider the mission a success.
"I do not care to meet up with Arris Boch again," Teal'c contributes.
Yes, and here's Colonel Gloom's ever present sidekick the Jaffa of Doom. Yes, I suppose that's snide. And yes, I've definitely been spending way too much time with Jack. Besides, he started it. Plant boy, my ass.
"Carter, Teal'c, move in and check it out. Daniel we're going to circle around the perimeter. Hold just inside the tree line," Jack orders crisply.
Sam and Teal'c quickly move down into the depression toward the ship. Jack and I circle in opposite directions around the rim until we're positioned to the side of the ship: Jack towards the bow and me near the stern. Sam cautiously enters the open hatch. Teal'c follows right on her heels. Jack keeps glaring around at the blameless forest. Which reminds me .
"Trees, Jack?" I say softly into the radio.
"That's my story and I'm sticking to it."
As much as Jack complains about the insane missions and jokes about his bad knees, I think he fears that the day is coming when Fraiser is going to tell him he's not physically fit for field duty anymore. I sympathize, I really do. Being a field officer is more than what Jack does. It's what he is. But that doesn't mean I'm going to let him get away with these self serving delusions.
"Most of these trees are probably younger than you are," I tell him.
Jack's indignation is clearly visible even at this distance.
"Daniel, have I told you how extremely annoying you are?"
"Not in the last twenty minutes. I was starting to think I'd lost my touch," I answer dryly.
Jack's undoubtedly pithy comeback is cut off by Sam and Teal'c's reappearance. Sam shakes her head sharply.
"Can you tell if it belongs to a goa'uld or tok'ra?" Jack asks.
"Not really, sir. Could be either."
"Did you check the glove box?" Jack snipes as he slowly slip-steps down the incline.
"Snakes in general aren't big on carrying ID," I remind him.
I've almost finished one last look around before joining the rest of the team when I hear a rustling in the undergrowth behind me. At almost the same instant Jack yells my name. I react automatically, dropping to the ground as a barrage of bullets flies through the air immediately above me. Before the mechanical chatter of gunfire subsides a heavy weight falls on me, knocking the air from my lungs and pinning me face down in the dirt.
"Daniel!" Sam shouts.
"I'm all right," I call back, still slightly breathless.
I wiggle around trying to shift the literally dead weight off of me. Except if it's dead what's that wiggling back? Oh, shit!
God, get off me! Jack's panicked voice calls to me. I don't waste the effort to reply, saving it to try and get out from under . God no!
There's a stabbing pain in the back of my neck and then I can't do anything. I can hear the booted feet running up to me. I can feel the dirt abrading my cheek. I can hear Jack talking to me but I can't respond. Oh, god. That thing is in me and it already has control. I shout but the only place it sounds is inside my head.
Suddenly, I throw off the body pinning me down and scramble to my feet. Or rather, IT scrambles to my feet. Face grim, Jack has his P90 pointed straight at me. Behind me, Sam's fingers are icy as they pull the collar of my jacket aside.
"Oh, god." Sam's whisper sends a chill down my spine and my stomach rolls over.
No, no, no I don't want to believe it. Jack's face tightens and he jerks his head at Sam. Seconds later the weight of my pack is gone as it falls to the ground with a dusty thump. Sam removes the pistol strapped to my thigh and pulls the knife from my utility belt before stepping around to join Jack and Teal'c in front of me.
"Who are you?" Jack growls.
Kind of wondering that myself. Why don't I sense another intelligence? I thought the minds of the host and symbiote were joined, but I don't sense anyone but me. I feel perfectly normal, aside from the fact that I have no control over my own body. I guess the goa'uld can prevent sharing on a conscious level.
"Actually," Jack continues, "I don't care who you are. Just leave. Now."
Oh, yeah, I'd like to second that motion. In fact, let's just take a vote right now. All in favor . A bolt of pain shoots down my spine.
"Colonel O'Neill, please allow me to explain."
Oh oh, damn. That is a sound I never wanted to hear. Okay, I admit I kind of had fun on Jacob's ship making my voice sound goa'uldy, but I never ever wanted to hear it for real. From the grimaces on Jack and Sam's faces I don't think they're too thrilled to hear it either.
"Colonel, Major Carter, Teal'c I am tok'ra."
Say what? Tok'ra? Okay, situation still bad, but potentially salvageable.
"I am called Tharis."
"Carter," Jack demands abruptly.
"Name's vaguely familiar," Sam says.
Yes, definitely salvageable. But if it's a tok'ra why isn't it sharing with me?
"Still doesn't give you the right . You shouldn't have taken Daniel," Jack says angrily.
"I apologize, but you rendered my previous host unusable," Tharis says sounding perfectly reasonable.
But hold on just one second here. I find that last statement really disturbing. I'm not a whole lot fonder of the tok'ra than Jack is, but I do know that they form a very strong bond with their hosts. There's a lot of respect and affection between them. This snake sounds rather cold toward his recently departed host. It's as if it's done nothing more important than change shoes.
"You were attacking Daniel," Jack accuses defensively.
"No. I realize it may have seemed that way to you, but I had no intention of harming Dr. Jackson," Tharis assures Jack.
No, of course not. I'm not much use as a host if I'm bleeding all over the place, am I?
"Allow me to explain. I had been undercover for many months when my true identity was discovered and I was forced to flee. During the escape I was injured and my ship damaged." My shoulders shrug. "I was fortunate enough to reach this planet."
"Moon," Sam says automatically.
Everyone gives her the look.
"Sorry," she mutters to her boots.
"I have been here a number of weeks, healing and attempting to repair my ship," Tharis concludes.
"Why didn't you use the stargate?" Jack asks suspiciously.
"I did not know where, or even if, there was a stargate here," Tharis answers. "I believed the ship to be my best chance."
Teal'c interrupts with the first part of a tokra password. My goa'ulded voice immediately gives the second part.
"It is the correct response," Teal'c confirms.
That's a little reassuring. Unless .
"Does Daniel know the password?" Jack asks.
Teal'c just nods. Right. The goa'uld could have taken the information right from my mind. Jack gets a sly look on his face.
"Let me talk to Daniel."
"He is unable to speak to you at this time."
Ah excuse me? Ready, willing, andI thinkable. What do you say we give it a shot? Pain shoots down my spine and out through my body, travelingburningalong my nerves. Apparently something must show externally because Sam has to stop herself from reaching out to me.
"A sudden and unexpected joining is difficult for both symbiote and host. More so for the host."
"We've seen hosts walking and talking seconds after 'joining'," Jack shoots back.
"The host? Or the symbiote?" Tharis asks.
Jack frowns. The truth is, even when we thought we were talking to the host it was usually the goa'uld. Jolinar fooled us, and Tanith, too.
"When Dr. Jackson has recovered from the shock his system has sustained he will be free to speak with you."
In frustration, Jack looks to Sam.
"Honestly, sir, there was a brief period of time after Jolinar took over that I wasn't completely aware of what was happening," Sam says.
Jack sighs. "Let's move it out," he orders curtly. "We'll sort this out back at the SGC."
After an MRI (Why I don't know. Doesn't seem to be much doubt I've got an uninvited guest), we're escorted to the briefing room by armed guards. This is not the first time for such an escort. It is, however, the most disconcerting instance to date. And I hate saying "we". "We" implies that I have some say in what my body is doing. So far this has been a solo act.
All of this comes after possibly the longest walk to the stargate that I've ever made. Rather than our usualnon-goa'uld pursuedhike to the gate filled with jokes, lectures and the occasional double entendre, this walk was filled with tense silence. Teal'c isn't much for small talk at the best of times. Jack and Sam were too uneasy to talk to me and I don't think either of them was really in the mood to talk to the snake.
I, of course, wasn't able to talk. And the snake apparently isn't much of a conversationalist. Guess he's not in a sharing place right now. And why is that? What is it trying to hide? And why, every time I say, or rather think, something less than complimentary do I get these pains shooting through my body? Is it really just an after effect of the blending? Or or something more sinister?
After Sam had recovered from Jolinar's death no one, least of all me, wanted to make her relive the experience any more than necessary. Still, given the current circumstances, I wish she'd given us a few more details. I wish I knew if what I'm experiencing is normal for possession by a tok'ra. I have a bad feeling about this. A bad feeling not in the least assuaged by the continuing silence in my head.
I sit at the briefing room table, listening to the tok'ra/goa'uld spinning his tale and I have no idea if he's telling the truth or not. I'm afraid, very afraid, that he isn't. Hammond, Fraiser, and the rest of SG-1 listen carefully and somewhat suspiciously. Keep it up, guys. I think a little suspicion is definitely in order.
"Yadda yaddalet me talk to Daniel," Jack demands abruptly.
He seems to have expended his share of patience and diplomacy. Of course, that's not saying much because he doesn't have a large supply of either for snakes of any stripe.
What? Really? The next thing I hear is my own voice.
"Uh hey, Jack."
"You all right, Daniel?" Sam asks.
"Yeah, well, you know. Actually, Sam, you do know."
No, no, no! I did not say that. That isn't me! Don't believe him, Sam. God damn you! My heart suddenly does a funny sort of hiccup thing, like the goa'uld is flipping the switch controlling my heartbeat off and on. And yes, this is a goa'uld. The gloves are off now and the hiccupping heart is just to let me know who's in charge.
"We've contacted the tok'ra, Daniel, and they confirmed that an operative named Tharis has been working an assignment in Yu's domain," Sam continues, oblivious to my plight. "They'll be here shortly."
"They can verify Tharis' identity and find him a new host," Jack adds with studied casualness.
"That is excellent news."
The goa'uld speaks in his true voice again. And I'm pretty damn sure he's not pleased about this at all. He has to know that the tok'ra will see through his subterfuge. His only hope is to make his escape while he has the grudging acceptance of the SGC, which means time is short.
Even as I'm thinking this, hewestand. Jack leans forward in his chair, tensed like a cobra ready to strike.
"You understand we can't allow you to wander around the base unattended," Jack says coolly.
Jack looks perfectly calm, but I know he's just waiting for Tharis to make his day. Well, after all, Jack hasn't gotten to shoot anyone yet.
"Understood," Tharis says coldly.
He realizes Jack is challenging him. Which probably shouldn't come as a surprise because I know Jack is challenging him and anything I know the goa'uld knows, damn it. Tharis allows an SF to move in close, then turns viciously on the poor man, dropping him with symbiote enhanced elbow thrown to the face and grabbing his weapon.
Hostage. He'll need a hostage . Oh. He's got me. Sure enough, Jack has already ordered the other SF to hold his fire. Tharis looks around the room. General Hammond looks pissed. Jack still has that cold yet baiting demeanor. Sam and Janet are both angry and frustrated. And Teal'c . Where's Teal'c?
Tharis picks up on that thought and starts to spin around but he's not fast enough. We drop to my knees, incapacitated by a zat blast from behind. Teal'c, and instantly after him, Jack, hurries to pin me to the floor. And damn, Teal'c is one heavy guy. Not that Jack's a lightweight but Teal'c is going to pulverize my kidney if he's not careful.
I feel a sudden sting on my shoulder, and turn my head to see Janet backing away holding a syringe. And that's the last thing I see.
I wake up to find myself strapped to a bed and staring up at the upper level windows where a small crowd of people stands looking back at me. Either I've landed the starring role in a really, really bad porn flick or I've been confined to an isolation room. Great. It's not bad enough that I have no control over my own body but now I'm on display. Don't you people have work to do? Or a traffic accident somewhere you can go watch?
"Daniel?" Janet's face leans over mine.
"Yeah. Thing so."
My mouth feels like it's full of Novocain but apparently my speech isn't too garbled because Janet smiles.
"Get Colonel O'Neill," she calls to someone out of my field of vision.
Whole body feels numb. I try, clumsily, to lift my hand but it's not cooperating. Oh, right restraints. Could this day get any better?
"I'm sorry, Daniel," Janet says, noticing the focus of my attention. "It's for your own safety."
"Betcha say that t'all the guys ya tie t'bed," I manage to slur out.
Janet struggles mightily to suppress a grin. Even so, I still see a lot of worry and fear in her eyes.
"What's up?" Jack asks tersely as he strides into the room.
Sam and Teal'c follow like twin shadows.
"What about Daniel?" Jack asks irritably.
"No, sir," Janet responds with some exasperation. "I mean it's Daniel."
Jack looks down at me suspiciously. I try to smile but I suspect my expression more closely approximates a drunken leer. I blow a raspberry in frustration but my tongue just kind of flops and jeez, I must look like an idiot.
"Ah, screw it," I mumble.
Jack's face brightens.
"Daniel. Good to see you."
"Right. Love being seen by you and all my other closest friends," I grumble.
Jack looks up and sees all the rubber-neckers in the observation area.
"Don't you people have work to do?" he demands in his most imposing colonel voice.
Suddenly people have lots of very important things to do somewhere very far from here. Gee, why didn't I think of that?
"How?" Sam asks Janet.
"Not sure to be honest. The sedative is just starting to wear off. It would appear that the host recovers first."
"Sdet setadive ." Argh! "Drugs?"
"The one we were able to copy from the Isis jar," Janet explains.
Ah. Ah, hell! The worm turns.
"More," I manage to force out as the goa'uld wakes up and begins to reassert control.
Jack opens his mouth to speak but I cut him off.
Fire begins to burn along my arms and legs as my muscles contract against each other so forcibly I fully expect to hear my bones snapping under the tension. Yeah, yeah got it. Daniel bad. Snake mad.
"Move," Fraiser orders curtly. "He's having a seizure."
"No," Jack counters. "It's the goa'uld."
Jack and Janet square off across the bed, trading their "I know what's best for Daniel" glares. In the meantime, the goa'uld decides it's gotten its point across and my body goes limp just as the pain finally overwhelms me.
When I come back to myself the room is much quieter. Teal'c is standing vigilor guardnear my bed. The onlookers and the idly curious have been kept away. But the goa'uld hasn't gone anywhere. And now he's in a sharing mood, maliciously showing me the millennia of accumulated goa'uld memories he carries.
The images are appalling, genuinely horrific. I wasn't far wrong when I said that Shifu had the memories of a thousand Hitlers. The images I've seen of the Holocaust would fit right in with Tharis' mental slide show. But, ghastly as the images are, they aren't the worst of it. No, the worst is the absolutely malevolent glee the goa'uld experienced while raping, torturing, and finally obliterating civilization after civilization.
I knew the goa'uld were evil but apparently I hadn't truly internalized that knowledge. I knew it but I didn't know it. Now I do. I watchand listenhelplessly as I'm immersed in the goa'uld genetic memories. Some of them . I see enough and hear enough to know what they are. To pick them out of historical events I've read about.
At one point I find myself outside the walls of a city in an environment that feels familiar even before I identify it. The flags and armor tell me I've just joined one of the Crusades the third, if I'm not mistaken. Guess I shouldn't be surprised the goa'uld are past masters at cloaking brutality in the guise of religion. The only real surprise is that the goa'uld whose memory I'm seeing is just a knight and not someone with more power. Although, for all I know, Pope Urban II was a goa'uld. And wouldn't that explain a lot?
We're at Acre, I realize. Richard the Lyin' Heart has broken his promise. On his orders hundredsthousandsof prisoners are being slaughtered while the forces of Salah ad-Din attack in an attempt to save their people. Somehow I know that I'm seeing this with unusual clarity. The dust cloud that normally accompanies battles in this arid region, the veil normally thrown up by the churning of hooves and feet, is missing. The ground is too wet and red.
My disgust just feeds the goa'uld's pleasure. The slimy little bastard is actually getting off on my abhorrence, which in turn just makes my stomach turn even more. The goa'uld doesn't communicate with me in words. Just images and sounds and feelings. The images change, sliding almost seamlessly from one atrocity into another. Some are of this world, some aren't. The carnage is so overwhelming I start to just zone out. It's too much, too loud, too big I can't even begin to take it all in.
Suddenly the goa'uld takes me to a quieter place, a more intimate scene. I have to search my brain for a few moments before I can place it: Earth, medieval Europe Walachia. Well, fuck. Guess what? Vlad Tepes was a goa'uld. While I'm not in the least surprised, and even a little relieved to know that such a cruel, compassionless man wasn't human, I really, really, really don't need to see the evidence.
A young wife, barely more than a child, has been brought before
It's god, I can't even close my eyes to block out the sight because I'm not seeing it with my eyes. And even if I could the screams .
The home movie stops abruptly when my nausea threatens to become a serious issue. I don't know if there's any outward physical manifestation because of the goa'uld's control, but I'm shaking all over, cold and clammy and gagging at the afterimages still ghosting through my brain. I'll never be able to evict these images from my mind. I doubt I'll ever be able to sleep without nightmares again. Yet, realistically, that's a lesser concern at the moment.
"You will not succeed."
Teal'c's unexpected voice nearly scares me right out of my skin. I've been so caught up in trying to assimilate what I've been 'seeing' I didn't notice him moving closer. And thanks, Teal'c. That's really not what I need to hear right now.
"The words of a shol'va have no meaning," Tharis sneers.
Oh. Okay, Teal'c was talking to the goa'uld. Well, duh, Daniel. Think you could get back with the program here? I wonder if Teal'c knew or at least suspected what the goa'uld was doing and spoke up in an effort to distract it?
"If you attempt to force me to leave this host I will ensure that nothing of his mind remains," Tharis threatens.
Oh, well, that's a pleasant thought. Then again, as long as he takes his memories, too .
"Daniel Jackson is strong," Teal'c refutes calmly. "He is also, as O'Neill has said on many occasions, stubborn as a mule. You will find him a formidable opponent."
That's a nice thought, Teal'c, but the sad fact is that I can't do a damn thing to help myself.
"Teal'c?" Sam's voice interrupts the little pissing contest between Teal'c and Tharis. "Is he awake?"
"The goa'uld is awake," Teal'c responds as Sam walks up to the other side of the bed. "I cannot say what Daniel Jackson's state of awareness is."
"He's awake," Sam says grimly.
She, better than any of us, would know. She places a comforting hand on my arm.
"Daniel, there's a couple things I need to tell you."
Okay. Looks like you've got a captive audience here and let's face itit can't be any worse than what I was listening to just a short while ago.
"I contacted the tok'ra again--updated them on the situation."
"Did they have any information as to which goa'uld we may be dealing with?" Teal'c asks.
"No," Sam sighs. "The Tok'ra High Counsel is assuming the worst as far as the fate of the real Tharis goes, but they have no way of knowing which goa'uld this is."
"You are foolish as well as weak if you look to the tok'ra to save you," Tharis announces.
"I'm not talking to you," Sam says, gritting her teeth. "I'm talking to Daniel."
"He hears only what I allow him to hear."
"Bull," Sam says curtly.
I think maybe Sam's been spending too much time around Jack, too.
"Daniel, the tok'ra don't consider this a 'life or death' situation, so they're not exactly hurrying to get here," she continues.
I'm shocked. Like if it were a life or death situation they would?
"They figure you're safe here so ." Sam grimaces.
She genuinely likes the tok'ra. Which is understandable. Not only has she been a host to one, her dad is a member of their little nest. But even she gets angry at their apparent callousness when it comes to the lives of SGC personnel.
"We're still hoping it'll be within the next 48 hours. With any luckless than that."
"Why hurry?" Tharis taunts. "They cannot save your friend. They will, in fact, be the instruments of his death."
"I don't remember asking for your opinion," Sam snaps. But she's got a very unhappy look on her face.
Sam glances up at Teal'c and attempts a smile. She looks between us rather than at either of us as she continues.
"The tok'ra I spoke to did warn me that there's a very real chance that the host that Daniel could die during the extraction attempt," Sam admits.
There's dead silence after that statement, although I swear I can feel the goa'uld gloating. He thinks they won't take the chance. Well, I've got a little image for you, snake brain. Kawalski missing the top of his head. Not a pretty picture is it? The snake's response is to start that hiccupping heartbeat thing again.
"The colonel has durable power of attorney for Daniel, and since Daniel can't speak for himself, Colonel O'Neill will make the decision," Sam explains to Teal'c.
Oh, boy are you in trouble now, Tharis. Want to see that picture of Charlie Kawalski again?
"A difficult decision," Teal'c says gently.
"He says unless someone's got a better plan we're doing it," Sam says unhappily as she finally looks me in the eye again.
It's okay, Sam. This is exactly why I gave Jack power of attorney. I know he can make the hard decisions. Not that I'm in any hurry to dieallegations to the contrarybut I don't want to live with a parasite in my head. I know that now better than ever.
Tharis stops my heartbeat for a longer period. Um, look you trying to beat the tok'ra to the punch? My heart begins beating again, slower than it normally would but regularly at least. I don't think, even with access to my memories, that Tharis is completely convinced that the SGC will risk my life. Trust methey'll do it, and what's moreI'll be glad when they do.
My heart slows again, and Fraiser comes running as the monitors begin to alarm. What is it with this apparently gratuitous display of power? Is it that you think you can stop me from having thoughts you don't like by hurting me every time I have those thoughts? Of course. That's it, isn't it? Practicing a little operant conditioning on the new host, are we? B.F. Skinner would be SO proud. But guess what? It won't work. I may not be able to do anything to physically free myself from you but I will never surrender my mind.
The goa'uld retaliates against my mental rebellion by slowing my heartbeat further. I count the seconds since the last one and it seems like forever before there's another sluggish beat. I admitit's frightening as my vision grays out from the lack of oxygen.
Christ. I knew Sha're was strong but my God. I wonder if she continued to fight. Or did she learn to feign submission in order to protect her own mind? Which would have been better? Which would have allowed her sanity to survive? However she did it, she endured captivity for years and still stayed true to her own nature. Skaara, too. The torment they must have suffered but they won.
Shitit's been way to long since the last heartbeat and my vision is darkening past gray when I feel two slow beats at last. Sam's yelling sounds distant as the alarms on the monitors sing a shrill counterpart. She pleads with Janet but there's nothing Janet can do.
Again I'm painfully aware of the silence in my chest as the goa'uld plays his twisted head games. Fuck you. Go ahead you'll only succeed in killing me which will free me from you, or any other of your sibling spawn, forever. And you'll die, too. A win-win situation if you ask me.
It becomes a little harder to form a coherent thought as my vision goes completely dark. But I will win .
My eyes open and a blurred image of Jack slowly comes into focus. Almost preternaturally alert when it comes to the goa'uld, Jack immediately looks over at me.
"By crikey, look who's back," he says in an atrocious Aussie accent. "Yeah, and where's the freaking Crocodile Hunter when you need him? Now there's a guy who knows how to catch snakes."
"You know, with the thousands of years you guys have had to work on it, you ought to have come up with some snappier insults by now," Jack says laconically. "Shows a real lack of imagination."
Damn it, Jack. Remember that talk we had about goa'uld baiting? Granted, you were lecturing me on the subject at the time, but the same basic guidelines apply.
"But then that's why we keep knocking you guys off. You're handicapped by your inability to think outside the box," Jack lectures.
Great. Now Jack is in a sharing mood.
"You really want to rule the galaxy? Then you gotta learn to zig when the other guys zag."
"The goa'uld rule entire worlds," Tharis says haughtily. "We have no need of advice from the puny Tauri."
"Well, I'll grant you this much: in your day the snakes pretty much ran the show. But times are changing," Jack threatens. "The 'puny Tauri' all over the galaxy are realizing that not only are you not gods, you're actually not all that impressive."
"Mikta-har!" Tharis spits.
Oh, yeah, that's a good idea. You do realize you've just insulted the king of insults?
"Okay, that one I can figure out. Right back atcha," Jack says calmly. "The fact remains you can be beaten. We've done it. More than once. And the humans on other planets, not to mention your jaffa, have seen that."
Suddenly my heartbeat not only stops but my heart feels like a hand is actually squeezing it. Jack looks sharply at the monitor, anger growing on his face.
"I'm giving you five seconds to stop that, otherwise your snaky mikta is grass."
Instead the pressure in my chest grows. Damn that hurts. Jack springs from his chair and storms toward the door muttering threats as he goes. Wait! Jackno, don't, please don't leave me! Janet is just entering the room and nearly gets bowled over as Jack storms past her. Regaining her equilibrium she walks over briskly to look at the monitor. She knows there's nothing she can do but watch. The pressure lessens and my heart resumes its regular rhythm. Janet and I just stare at one another, waiting for I don't know what.
Jack bursts back into the room, followed by a couple of startled and uneasy SFs, wielding a holy fu .
Jack's got a freaking machete gripped firmly in his right hand.
"Pull that crap again and I'll personally ensure you don't live long enough to worry about the tok'ra," Jack growls.
"Colonel!" Janet says sharply from the opposite side of the bed.
"Back off," Jack orders, pointing to her with his free hand. "The slimy bastard thinks it's got us by the balls. Thinks it can torture Daniel right in front of our eyes and we'll just sit around twiddling our thumbs and hoping for the best," Jack rages. "Well, it's got another think coming. I will not stand here and just watch."
"I won't allow it," Janet counters, horrified.
"Listen good," Jack says, ignoring Fraiser and looking directly at me. He hefts the machete with both hands, holding it over me. "This little baby will go clean through a man's neck with one stroke. It'll be quicker and easier on Daniel than what you've got in mind. And, most importantly, it'll make sure you can't slither away from this."
The room is charged with electric silence. Tharis, or whatever its name is, seems to be pondering Jack's resolve, wondering just how far he can push a man with a near pathological hatred of the goa'uld. Janet stands frozen, vehemently opposed to Jack's plan but afraid he'll take a swipe at her if she tries to intervene. The SFs just stand around looking confused and uncertain. Jack maintains a firm grip on the machete and stands over me waiting.
Well, if nothing else, this certainly answers the whole "can this day get any better?" question. I try to make my mind blank, try to detach myself from the turmoil. And fear. What I really need, of course, is to detach myself from the snake, preferably without detaching my head in the process. The crazy thing isI keep coming back to this recurring thought that I knew I shouldn't have gotten out of bed this morning.
I meanby the time I stumbled into Starbuck's, twenty minutes late, the kid at the counter took one look at me and doubled my usual order. This should have been my first clue. But here I am, less than 24 hours later with my best friend holding a machete to my throat promising to kill me. And this is the best news I've heard all day.
"Don't think I won't do it," Jack threatens.
If the Grim Reaper has a face under his hood it would probably look a lot like Jack's does at this very minute. Pain sears through my body and my heart does that not so funny hiccup thing again. 'Are you nuts?' my mind screams at the goa'uld. But even as I think it, I know that's not the answer.
Jack was more right than even he might realize when he taunted the goa'uld about being inflexible. Thousands of years of goa'uld behavioral memories have created a sort of mental stagnation. Their behavior has become so ingrained as to be instinctual. This goa'uld reacts automatically to Jack's taunts or my rebellious thoughts, using the same responses his ancestors used. If I were being fair I'd have to admit that it is, in a sense, a victim of its own genetic memories. Of course, I'm not really interested in being fair at the moment. I'm interested in telling this snake to wake up and smell the decay of the goa'uld civilization.
Sam and Teal'c hurry into the room, obviously having heard that this little show may be entering its final act. Jack barely glances at them before returning his gaze to the monitors as once again they begin to sound.
"Bastard," he spits.
He draws the knife back to swing and suddenly the pain drains away. And and so does the goa'uld's control.
"Jack?" I say tentatively, testing out just how much leeway the goa'uld is giving me.
Jack's hand falters as he realizes it's me. Which is exactly what the snake was planning on. Well, screw you.
"Do it!" I manage to gasp out before the goa'uld shuts down my vocal cords.
There's a lot of yelling and shouting and general commotion, none of which I'm paying any attention to because I think my spine is going to snap if it bends any farther backwards and that fucking snake is laughing dementedly in my head. The pain stops abruptly as another 'lesson' ends. My body flops back down on the bed, drawing air in ragged breaths, as I listen to Sam telling Jack why he shouldn't part my head from my body.
"No," I moan.
I feel Sam grip my shoulder.
"Don't worry, Daniel," Sam says with what she believes is reassurance.
Come on, Sam. I doubt I have the time and I know I don't have the energy to explain.
"We're going to give the tok'ra a shot at removing it," Jack responds, his voice tight.
How much longer do I have to wait? Because I'm telling you right nowit's gonna get ugly. The snake has this unpleasant knee-jerk response every time I get 'uppity'. And I don't seem to have the good sense to stop getting uppity despite the fact that I really think I've had enough for one day or lifetime.
Janet and her minions bustle around fastening even more restraints on me. I know it's intended to protect me as well as everyone else but damn it! I can't even reach up to wipe away the tears I can't seem to stop from leaking through my closed eyelids. All my worst nightmares about being a host don't even come close to the reality. I hate what it's doing to me. I hate having these god-awful images in my head and I hate being helpless.
Jack grumbles something and everyone but Jack, Sam and Teal'c backs off. Teal'c and Jack finish fastening a restraint around my waist and Jack reaches up to put one around my neck. I'm not only a prisoner in my own body but my body is a prisoner of the SGC.
"It's to keep the snake from hurting you," Jack says softly. "Speaking of which where is the scaly little asshole?"
"He it thinks you won't kill me if it's really me you're talking to."
"It ought to know better from your memories alone," Jack says grimly, drying my eyes with brusque gentleness. "I swear nothing pisses me off more than a stupid snake."
Jack forces himself to look me in the eye.
"I promise, Daniel. I won't . The tok'ra get a shot but I won't let this go on."
"And if O'Neill should falter, I will end it," Teal'c vows.
I strain to catch Sam's eye. Please, Sam. If Jack really has to do this he's going to need to know that you're with him. Sam tries to force a smile.
"Guess I'll be batting clean-up," she jokes miserably.
Jack almost cracks a smile. The knowledge that my friends are willing to kill me if necessary is paradoxically reassuring. Ah damn it! The goa'uld takes over again. Well, of course he does. He doesn't want to allow me even one moment of relative peace.
Aldwin strides in, accompanied by Sam and another tok'ra I don't know. Great. I can't say Aldwin is someone I'm really happy to see. Still, it could've been worse.
"Could've been Anise," Jack mutters, obviously thinking along the same lines.
While the other tok'ra readies their equipment, Aldwin comes over to the bed.
"Colonel," he says, greeting Jack. He looks down at me. "Hello, Dr. Jackson."
Yeah, yeah, hello yourself. Can we get this show on the road? Like sometime this year?
"Have you discovered the goa'uld's name?" Aldwin asks.
"Who cares what its name is?" Jack asks crossly.
"Well, it's a little easier to talk to it."
"Don't want to talk to it," Jack retorts. "Want to kill it."
That's our Jack. Proud graduate of the Dirty Harry School of Diplomacy. Aldwin's lips tighten for a moment but he obviously knows Jack well enough now that he doesn't make the mistake of arguing with him.
"You all realize that the procedure could be fatal to both goa'uld and host?" Aldwin asks, looking around the room at the faces of my friends.
Yep. Heard that. Afraid I'm a little short on options here.
"Why?" Jack asks. "You got the snake out of Skaara without any trouble."
"Skaara was wearing the Tollan device which suppressed the goa'uld symbiote," Aldwin explains. "Klorel was unable to resist the extraction or to kill Skaara."
"Why does the goa'uld kill the host?" Janet asks innocently.
"Spite," Teal'c intones.
Janet gets a sickly "oh, silly me" look. Right. Nasty spiteful goa'uld. So let's get it out.
"I don't suppose it's worth asking the Tollan if we can borrow on of those doohickeys," Jack suggests half-heartedly.
Sam shakes her head at him.
"It's not like we could kill anyone with it," Jack argues.
"Even if they did agree we'd probably have to take Daniel to Tollana and go through Triad," Sam theorizes.
Forget it. The Tollan don't share and I don't want any more delays. Jack scowls.
"Aldwin, don't the tok'ra have some way to suppress the goa'uld?"
"What about the sedative Dr. Fraiser synthesized?" Teal'c asks.
"No," Janet says flatly.
"No?" Jack shoots back.
"I'm sorry, Colonel. The sedative works like a dream on the goa'uld. Unfortunately, it's more than a little toxic to the human body."
"You gave it to Daniel earlier," Sam points out, perplexed.
"Yes, and I wish now I hadn't." Janet shakes her head in disgust. "That one use is probably within tolerable limits. With the goa'uld's natural healing ability the host's body will recover. I'm afraid a second use especially when the symbiote is to be removed could lead to permanent damage of the vital organs. Daniel's labs are just now returning to normal range. I can't risk giving him any more."
"What about a smaller dose?" Jack's grasping at straws here.
"Then the goa'uld won't be completely suppressed," Janet says.
Jack spits out a couple of expletives. And despite the warning glower she gives him for violating the decorum of her infirmary, I suspect Janet is thinking a few of the same words. So. That's it then.
"Anything else?" Aldwin asks.
He and his helper are ready to rock and roll. In the immortal words of Jack O'Neillthis sucks. No, there's nothing else but give us a minute here. I'm not even able to say anything. No possibly last words. Not even a stupid handshake.
"Yeah, just just give us a minute," Jack says softly.
Aldwin nods curtly and retreats a few steps.
No, Jack, you can't have my stereo.
"Daniel, I'm not good at this kind of stuff but ififit goes bad I assume you'd want to be with Sha're."
Oh, he's being serious. Well, this truly is a red letter day. God, Danielstop it. There's a time and place for snide put-downs and this isn't it. And yes, Jack, I would. Thank you.
"I know you can't tell me one way or another right now but I just wanted you to know. You know?" he adds, his face screwed up with the effort of communicating.
Yeah, I know.
"But it's not going to come to that," Sam interjects fiercely.
Love you, too, Sam. Behind her Teal'c bows his head briefly. If anyone can get me through this, it'll be these three. So let's just do it.
"The procedure may be unpleasant. It would be best if you left," Aldwin tells my teammates with typical tok'ra subtlety.
"No," Jack says firmly.
The tok'ra hesitates only a moment before proceeding.
Um what the hell is that? Aldwin's holding something that, while I couldn't tell you what it actually is or does, still manages to scare me a whole lot more than Jack's machete. Apparently it scares the crap out of the goa'uld, too, because it's decided to make its presence felt in a big way. From the wave of unadulterated hatred that washes through my mind I know its intent is purely to make me suffer. And then kill me.
Oh, god, please tell me that screaming isn't me. I don't know what hurts worsethe goa'uld or Aldwin. I can't do this. I can't. I .
Okay. What was that? And who Roto-Rootered my throat?
"Hush," Jack's gruff voice admonishes.
I open my eyes to see him leaning over me.
"Fraiser doesn't want you to talk for a while," he explains.
Excuse me? Jack chuckles at my expression.
"Yeah, you'd think she'd know better than to expect you to shut up." "How are you feeling otherwise, Daniel?"
Wow. Majors to the left of me, colonels to the right and yep, jaffa dead ahead.
"Fine," I rasp. Oh. Oh, shit. "Goa'uld?"
"Ding dong," Jack answers with satisfaction.
Wha oh. The wicked witch is dead. Right, got it.
"Was going to kill me."
"That was pretty obvious," Jack agrees grimly. "So Teal'c zatted you. Knocked the snake out long enough for Aldwin to finish."
Once again I'm indebted to Teal'c for assaulting me with an alien weapon. We really need to find a new method of expressing our friendship.
"Sure?" I question.
After all that I can't believe it's just gone.
"I regret to report the goa'uld did not survive the extraction," Teal'c informs me
. He doesn't sound like he regrets it in the least.
"Dr. Fraiser has dismembered it."
"It's called an autopsy, Teal'c," Sam corrects him.
"You say tomato, I say dismemberment," he rebuts calmly.
For a second all three of us stare open-mouthed at Teal'c. You'd think we'd be inured to his sense of humor by now.
"All of it?" I persist.
After all, they thought they'd gotten the goa'uld out of Kawalski, too.
"All of it," Jack insists. "Fraiser even did an MRI just to be sure." He pats me on the head. "Nothing in there."
"Great. Hope you didn't take anything I might need," I grumble.
Jack just grins.
"Guess you should be thanking the tok'ra," Jack says reluctantly.
He hates being indebted to the tok'ra for anything. And that's not what I meant anyway.
"No, I mean for the the ." I make a slashing motion across my neck.
Jack's expression tenses.
"I would've done it," he says almost inaudibly.
He would have found the courage to do for me what I couldn't bring myself to do for Sha're.
"I was counting on it," I tell him.
Jack nods curtly, understanding.
"And where the hell did you find that I hate to call it by such an innocuous term as 'knife'. You could fell trees with that thing."
"No lie, Spacemonkey," Jack says with a gleeful grin. "When you're back on your feet I'll take you on a tour of the armory. There's a whole wonderful world of weapons you haven't seen yet."
Wow. I'm all a-tingle with anticipation.
"I thought you were a gun kind of guy," I say, looking for any angle to head off this little excursion.
"Real men use knives, too."
"I doubt Janet's going to allow me to be up running around anytime soon," I add hopefully.
"You trying to avoid this?" Jack asks suspiciously.
"Well, it's not that I'm not excited about the chance to do a little male bonding with you over explosives and honed steel," I hedge.
Jack scowls as Sam tries to hide a smile.
"Do not fear, Daniel Jackson," Teal'c says. "I will personally take O'Neill to the practice range where he will be encouraged to shoot, kill and maim until he has gotten it out of his system."
"Out of my system?" Jack asks archly.
"Indeed," Teal'c counters smugly.
"Get some rest, Daniel," Sam says, leaning over to drop a kiss on my forehead. "I'll bring some cookies just as soon as Janet says your throat has healed."
I smile eagerly as Sam says the magic word.
"I, too, shall return later," Teal'c says. "Perhaps, if you are feeling rested, we can play a game of Jackal and Hounds."
"I'd like that, Teal'c," I tell him warmly.
Jack frowns as they leave.
"How is it that I come off as the bad guy?" he asks me.
"Sam promises delicious cookies, Teal'c promises a nice distracting board game and you promise big honking weapons," I summarize. "Gee, Jack, I don't know why you'd end up looking bad."
"Mikta-har," he mutters with a smile.
He stands up to leave and hesitates.
"At least the curse is over now."
"Curse?" I ask.
"Yeah, the 'will he or won't he get snaked' curse," Jack explains. "Teal'c--well, Teal'c is always snaked but that's a little different. What matters is that Carter's been snaked, I've been snaked, and now you've been snaked. We've all been there, done that, the t-shirts are being printed up as we speak. The curse is over."
"Over," I repeat dubiously.
"Over and done with. We've been snaked. Can't happen again."
"Not if there's any justice in the world," Jack persists.
We both know justice is a rare commodity in this galaxy. Especially where the goa'uld are concerned.
"Then you're absolutely right," I say. "Can't happen again. In fact, I'm kind of glad I got this out of the way. Now I don't have to worry about it anymore."
"There you go," Jack says quietly. "It's like I'm always telling you there's a silver lining to every goa'uld."