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nightspear ([personal profile] nightspear) wrote2009-06-04 08:16 am
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Archaeology (18/30)

Title: Archaeology (Table of Contents)
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: Nothing you recognize is mine. I gain nothing of material value from this.
Pairings: Gen.

Chapter1 Chapter2 Chapter3 Chapter4 Chapter5
Chapter6 Chapter7 Chapter8 Chapter9 Chapter10
Chapter11 Chapter12 Chapter13 Chapter14 Chapter15
Chapter16 Chapter17

XXXXX

Chapter 18: Collateral Damage

XXXXX

6 April 2001; Archaeology Office, SGC; 1000 hrs

Daniel jiggled his foot on the floor and checked the clock again. He reminded himself that Teal'c's recruiting mission to Chulak didn't have a strict timetable, and that even though everyone quietly thought Teal'c should have been back by now, he could easily return tomorrow or on one of the days after, especially if he was having trouble getting to the meeting with the Jaffa named Rak'nor. In fact, if it was taking longer than expected, maybe it just meant the meeting was going so well that Teal'c was staying to work out details.

He glanced to the side, where Robert's desk sat empty, with neat stacks of books on one side and a spillover of files on the other. If Robert had been there, he'd have told Daniel to stop fidgeting--Teal'c had been in worse trouble before and had always come out fine.

And speaking of the spillover of files...

Daniel had just handed in a stack of folders to be lost into the ether of reports with little military significance when Jack's voice yelled from down the hall, "Daniel! Where are you?"

Grimacing, Daniel hurried back into his own office to find Jack, Sam, and Jacob standing in front of his desk. Jack was holding a reconstructed infant Goa'uld skeleton and looked like he was about to make it walk across the desk. "Jack, give Brutus to me right now!"

Jack looked up and carefully handed the Goa'uld fossil over.

"Brutus?" Jacob said, sounding like he was trying--not very hard--not to laugh.

"That's his name," Daniel said defensively as he took the baby Goa'uld skeleton and checked to make sure everything was still whole and in place. "What's going on?"

"We've got a problem," Jacob said more seriously. "Listen to this." He clicked something on one of the side computers, and the sounds of Goa'uld voices filtered forth.

"Is that Apophis?" Daniel said, frowning as he listened.

"And Heru-ur," Jacob said. "Thanks to Tanith, we intercepted this communication between them."

"So he still hasn't given up," Daniel said once the message ended. "He still wants an alliance. I thought Heru-ur had allied himself with the System Lords against Apophis?"

"But if they work together," Jacob said, "Heru-ur and Apophis could have a very good chance at toppling the System Lords. We think Apophis is planning to meet Heru-ur and use him for that, and then deal with him after they're the only two System Lords left."

"Over a year ago, we were told that Heru-ur wanted to trade Klorel and Amaunet to Apophis for an alliance," Sam said. "Does he really have anything to offer now?"

"He's built up an impressive army since you guys hit him on Cimmeria," Jacob said. "Since then, he'd been laying low, gathering his troops and letting the shots fly over his head. Apophis has a big army on his own, but Heru-ur would help him significantly."

He clicked something on the screen, and a set of letters appeared.

"Ooh," Daniel said, leaning closer to see.

"You recognize the symbols," Selmak said.

"They're...almost Phoenician," Daniel said. "But I'd need...actually," he added, "this language looks similar to a translation I worked on a few months back. It's definitely Semitic and very close to what we know of Phoenician, I think."

"Do you speak Phoenician, Mr. Jackson?" Selmak said.

"Well, this isn't exactly the same, but it's close enough to work with. I'm very familiar with that language family and its characteristics, and I'm fluent in several related languages," Daniel offered, moving to the bookshelf to find any Phoenician reference available. "And then this alphabet is the ancestor of a lot of writing systems, so that's not difficult."

"I think he said 'yes,'" Jack told Selmak.

"We believe it is a technical manual," Selmak said. "None of our Tok'ra linguists could translate it."

"I'm not surprised," Daniel said. "The Tok'ra left Earth centuries before hieroglyphs evolved into this kind of script, although that raises the question of how this script got into...space."

"It seems to have been left by a very sophisticated civilization," Selmak said. "You are aware that not all aliens left Earth with Ra. Perhaps the Tobin--the civilization from which this script originates--were advanced enough to leave this planet without a Stargate."

Daniel wondered how often things like that happened--there had been Egeria three thousand years ago and probably others before and since then that they'd never known about. Maybe that was how English and other more modern Earth languages were getting out into the galaxy and they should stop blaming the Asgard for doing it all the time.

"Tobin?" Sam said, turning to Daniel.

He had to shake his head that he'd never heard of the Tobin civilization, then returned to looking at the transmission. "The Tobin civilization is believed to have left Earth thousands of years ago to settle in what is now known as the Tobin System," Selmak explained. "While they have been extinct for centuries, they also left the equivalent of a large mine field in space."

"Um, excuse my denseness," Jack interrupted, "but what does this have to do with...anything?"

"The hatred between Heru-ur and Apophis an old hostility," Selmak said leadingly.

"So if we can get them to fight each other...." Sam said.

"As we said, Heru-ur has amassed a strong army, and Apophis, as you know, controls all of Sokar's forces as well as his own. A war between them would kill or severely weaken both sides and return the balance of power to the System Lords."

"And what better place to crash and burn than in a mine field?" Jack said.

"It is also the closest they can find to 'neutral ground,'" Selmak said.

"I think I know what this says," Daniel spoke up. "Sort of. These are definitely numerals...so 'three toward blue, four toward...something else, three toward blue.'"

"Is the 'something else' red?" Selmak said.

"Um...it's not blue," Daniel offered, then opened his dictionary. "But notions of color are often difficult to translate across planets, because, for example, this word for 'blue' refers literally to a certain mineral found on Earth..."

"I think the 'something else' is red," Selmak interrupted more firmly.

"Oh," Daniel said. "So that really makes sense?"

"It does. These seem to be the instructions for a color-coded combination."

"Okay," Daniel said agreeably, and then reached for the mouse to see how long the entire technical manual was. "Oh, wow. Um. This is going to take some time to read. And I won't know what any of it actually means, so..."

"You can start now," Jacob suggested, "and finish on the way. There's a Tok'ra operative on the way to a planet in a teltak now; we'll meet him there, take the ship, and fly to the Tobin System. The trip should take most of a day, and you just need to identify the part that's pertinent to our mission. Sam can take care of the calculations. As for--"

"Ah! Hold it," Jack snapped, remembering the last time they'd gotten on a Tok'ra teltak. "Just...stop. I've had just about enough about this Tok'ra 'explain along the way' crap. I wanna know exactly what we're dealing with here--and exactly what this mission is. Every mission detail you've got, right now, or we go nowhere!"

Jacob turned and raised his eyebrows at Jack. "I was going to tell you, Jack."

Jack deflated slightly. "Okay," he said. "Never mind."

"Are you sure you can do this?" Jacob said to Daniel.

"I can't be sure, not if there's a time limit," Daniel admitted, "but with this language, I'm at least as likely as anyone else here to figure it out in time."

"That's a 'yes,'" Jack told Jacob.

"No, it's not," Daniel said.

Jack took Brutus away from him again and put it back down on the desk. "You start getting your books together. Jacob, start talking."

"How long does the trip take?" Daniel said, turning around to scan the shelves.

"About eighteen hours," Jacob said. "Why?"

He looked at his watch, then caught Sam's eye. "We'll need coffee," she said, and bent to pick the lock on his drawer until he batted her hands away and handed her his less-secret stash of instant coffee.

XXXXX

6 April 2001; Teltak; 1900 hrs

Jack did not, in general, enjoy long trips without chairs on alien spaceships with nothing to do. He enjoyed them even less when those long trips were taken as part of a Tok'ra mission and involved the words 'mine,' 'Phoenician,' 'reconfigure,' and 'explode.'

To be fair, Daniel and Carter didn't look like they were having a lot of fun with that, either.

"Which direction is blue?" Carter said.

"Um," Daniel said.

"Never mind," she said. "Hopefully, it'll be more obvious once we see it. What we need to figure out now is how to translate the energy signature into the right combination to program the mine."

There was a longer pause, and then, "Um," Daniel repeated.

"Yeah, this is going to be a blast," Jacob muttered from where he sat at the controls.

"Hey," Jack said defensively, "you guys couldn't even read the alphabet. Give him a break."

"It's nothing against your team, Jack," Jacob said. "But this is going to be a tricky process--for me as well as Sam and Daniel. Once I transport the bomb onto this ship, I'm going to need all of my concentration just to keep us from exploding."

"Do you want me to try?" Jack offered, because he thought he was a pretty good pilot.

But Jacob gave him an amused look and said, "No."

"Come on," Jack wheedled.

Jacob chuckled. "Let's complete the mission first. I'll let you fly home if you want."

"Oh! Can I fly home?" Daniel said, looking up from his work, suddenly eager.

"Read your book!" Jack ordered. With a grimace, Daniel turned back to figuring out how to stop a mine from killing them and convince it to go kill a Goa'uld instead.

"Boys and their toys," Carter said, just loud enough to be heard and just quiet enough that it wasn't necessarily directed at her superior officer.

"Oh, please," Daniel scoffed, pushing up his glasses as he squinted at his laptop, "you've got more toys in your lab than any man on base. And don't pretend you wouldn't want to learn how to fly a teltak, too."

"I'd rather have a hatak," she said.

"And I'd rather have a way to reprogram the mine we're ringing onto this ship!" Jack said, exasperated. "If you two would stop yapping away over there, maybe--"

"Got it," Daniel said, turning the laptop around. "I think this is the conversion."

"I'm almost done with the first part--here, write this down..." she answered, taking a hand off her laptop to start futzing with Daniel's.

Jack sighed. "I don't get how geek minds work," he complained more quietly to Jacob. "It's like they go faster the more things they're trying to think about at once."

"I'm not sure all geeks work the same way, Jack," Jacob said.

"Great," Jack said. "So I've just got the special geeks."

...x...

"Jacob," Jack said once he'd taken a nap and was still left with nothing to do but drift through hyperspace and hope that they'd get the bomb instructions translated, "you said there's a Tok'ra operative on Apophis's ship, right?"

"That's right," Jacob said, not looking away from the controls. "He'll broadcast the signal that will attract the mine, and when it detonates on Apophis's mothership, Apophis will assume Heru-ur attacked him."

"And then it's war."

"And then it's war," Jacob confirmed.

"So what happens to your operative?" Jack said.

Jacob glanced at him. "Thought you didn't like the Tok'ra."

Quashing a sudden surge of indignation at the suggestion that his dislike for Tok'ra politics might mean he wanted one of them to die on a suicide mission, Jack said, "Well, where I come from we don't leave our people to get blown up if we can help it, no matter how aggravating they can be."

There was a pause, and then Selmak turned to answer, "Nor do the Tok'ra, Colonel O'Neill, unless it is unavoidable. In this case, our operative will attempt to escape by means of udajeet or teltak after the beacon has been activated and then fly back to Vorash or, if necessary, meet with us on a nearby moon and return with us."

"Ah," Jack said.

"I haven't forgotten where I'm from," Jacob said stiffly. "But in case you hadn't noticed, this mission could take out both Apophis and Heru-ur. That cannot be compromised."

"Yeah, well," Jack said, "you can't blame us for thinking it. The Tok'ra have some interesting ideas about what unavoidable losses are."

He waited for one of them--either of them--to yell at him, but a closer look showed that they were doing one of those internal-dialogue things. Finally, Jacob said, "The Tok'ra have been around a lot longer than the SGC, Jack."

"That's bull," Jack snapped. "The definition of a salvageable situation doesn't change because you're older."

"You should talk about responsible action and acceptable risks," Jacob said.

Taken aback, Jack said, "What?" Jacob didn't answer. "No, what?"

Finally, setting something on the bridge and turning in his chair to face Jack, Jacob said, "Sam told me about that incident you had with the Replicators last year."

Jack raised his eyebrows, because he remembered winning that fight. "What about that?"

"She says Thor didn't want to beam off his ship to save himself because it'd risk infesting Earth, but you did it, anyway."

"And we saved Thor's life," Jack said, "which then allowed us to save Thor's planet. Where's the bad part in all this again?"

"You saved Thor and yourselves," Jacob said, "and don't get me wrong. I'm happy you're alive. But you knew the Asgard had gotten themselves infected with Replicators, which was what led them to allies like Earth, and you still let a load of them beam into the SGC."

"We won," Jack said. "We had better weapons than the Asgard did, and I'm sure someone set a self-destruct anyway, in case the Replicators were uncontrollable. And now we're alive to help you on this mission of yours today."

Jacob nodded. "I get that. But would it have been worth it to have the SGC autodestruct on the chance that three of you and Thor would make it back safe?"

"You do realize that's your daughter's life you're talking about," Jack said.

"Yeah, I picked up on that. But you can't blame the Tok'ra for thinking the SGC has some interesting ideas about what an acceptable risk is. We're all for saving the individual, but sometimes there's a bigger picture to think about. I'm not sure you guys have fully grasped how big that picture is yet."

"Excuse me?" Jack said.

"Everyone is expendable when we're facing something as big as this," Jacob said. "Both of us have faced losses in battle situations before. No one wants to leave anyone behind, but if it's one man dead in exchange for...for killing a System Lord, say, then we have to make a choice."

No choice was easy when the picture was this big, and Jack knew that, dammit, but it didn't mean he had to like the way the Tok'ra forgot about the little pictures when they looked at the big one.

"What if Sam was the one dying?" Jack said, and he meant that sacrificing Carter would mean sacrificing a load of knowledge and skill that they couldn't afford to lose, but even pissed off, he winced when he heard it come out of his mouth, because that wasn't what Jacob was going to hear. It wasn't a fair question to ask her father.

Jacob scowled. "That's why I wouldn't've been assigned to be her commanding officer. And maybe that's part of the problem--you've all got a four-man blind spot called SG-1."

"So now I can't handle my team right, that's what you're saying?"

"Jack, I'm glad you're the ones who ended up on that Replicator ship. If it had been anyone else, George might have ordered the ship blown out of the sky before you had a chance to get out, and as much as I hate to say it, it might've been the right call. At least this way, it turned out okay."

"Jacob?" Daniel said, stepping out from behind the cargo hold's doors before the argument could continue. "How long until we get to the Tobin System?"

Looking over his shoulder, Jacob let out a slow breath and said, "Another two hours, Danny. You just make sure you understand how that mine works."

"I think we've almost got it, as much as we can," Daniel said. "But...uh, I was thinking that if this works, it'll help Teal'c, too. He's recruiting on Chulak right now, and...and if we get Apophis killed, they'll have to believe he's not a god."

"Hopefully, it'll help in a lot of ways," Jacob said. "Go back and help Sam, all right?"

Daniel nodded and disappeared into the cargo hold again.

A moment later, his head reappeared, and he said, "Teal'c could just have been late coming back. I mean, General Hammond will tell him where we are, right? He might even be back already."

"I'm sure Teal'c's fine," Jack said. "He can take care of himself. Come on, two hours--get back to work."

Once the chatter of geeks at work was heard again, he added quietly, "A little blind spot of his saved us on Netu, including you."

Just as quietly, Jacob answered, "You don't think I know that? You all do a good job of climbing out of messes. And I know, any screw-ups on this mission and we could all die. I wouldn't have brought your kid on--or you or Sam--if we didn't need them. But--"

"Daniel would hold the bomb in his own hands if he thought it would help kill Apophis, just like any of us," Jack said. "That's not the issue. I've just got a problem with the fact that every other Tok'ra mission seems to involve dying at some point."

"We're not planning on dying out here, and neither is the operative on Apophis's ship," Jacob said. "If there's a way off, he'll get to it. SG-1 isn't the only one that can pull off daring escapes. Don't count us out just because you only know about our failures--we don't report every success to the SGC any more than you report all of your successes to us. Now, could you stop talking and let me fly?"

Jack held up his hands and went to bother Carter and Daniel in the cargo hold instead.

"So, you know what to do?" Jack said, plopping down next to the two of them on the floor.

"There aren't any diagrams, sir," Carter said, "so we're having some difficulties with the specifics of the interface, but we think we've figured out the right combinations--there's one to override its current programming, and then another to reset it to do what we want it to."

"You're sure you've got it right?" Jack said, directed at Daniel.

"Nope," Daniel said, still reading.

"Ah...okay," Jack said. "Isn't that a problem?"

"Could be," Daniel said, dropping one book only to pick up another.

Jack looked at Carter, who explained dryly, "Translations aren't an exact science, sir."

"It's a technical manual," Jack said. "That's pretty exact."

Finally, Daniel looked up to say, "It's a technical manual from an advanced civilization, and since Phoenician references from Earth were written by people who didn't have electrical circuits, much less whatever this word is"--he pointed to a jumble of squiggles on his laptop screen--"I'm finding it an inexact process."

"Hopefully," Carter said, "we'll be able to fill in some blanks once we see the mine for ourselves. There's supposed to be a panel on the interface with some information or instructions."

"Or something," Daniel said, pointing to another squiggle.

"We'll get it, sir," Carter said. "Daniel, can you read that back out to me?"

"Uh...four to the blue, one to the...red, and two to the blue."

She chewed her lip. "This calculation is a little off. I'm not coming out with whole numbers, which is not unexpected, but--"

"It states very clearly that only entire turns of the whatever-you-turn will be accepted, and that should be one of the acceptable frequencies," Daniel said. "Maybe we just have to round it to the nearest number."

"Question is," she muttered, "do we round it to the nearest number, or the largest whole number, or the next highest whole number if there's a fraction left over?"

"Um," Daniel said.

"It doesn't mention rounding, does it," she said.

"No," Daniel said.

Jack sighed and sat back against the wall. He really hated having nothing to do.

...x...

Eighteen hours in a cargo ship with nothing to do but watch his kids work or argue with a Tok'ra meant that Jack was probably more relieved than he should have been when Jacob announced, "We're dropping out of hyperspace near the minefield in three...two..."

"Oh, no!" Daniel said as they shuddered to a near-halt.

"What happened?" Jacob said, alarmed. "Everyone okay?"

"I lost my page," Daniel said dejectedly and started flipping through his dictionary again.

"Are you kidding me?" Jacob said, relaxing and scowling all at once.

"No, I found it, it's okay," Daniel assured him.

Jack looked outside, and at first all he could see was little specks of light from stars. Then he realized that looked very wrong to be stars, and he said, "Whoa. Those are all mines?"

"It's not much of a defense system if they're easy to dodge," Jacob said grimly. "Okay, I've got a lock on one of them. Clear the rings!" To Daniel's visible dismay, Jack helped Carter sweep aside a few reference materials from the ring platform. "Now, Sam!"

Carter stood and activated the ring transporter, and a giant, floating mine appeared in their cargo hold. Jack thought it looked like a beach ball, except bigger and gray and metallic and more likely to kill them all.

"Get on it," Jacob ordered.

Jack bent cautiously to look at the mine as Daniel scampered to his feet and walked in a circle around it. "Oh, no," Daniel said again.

"Stick a bookmark in it, Daniel!" Jacob said, exasperated.

"That's--what? No, I was hoping the instructions here would help, but--"

"You don't recognize the symbols?"

"What symbols?" Daniel said.

Jacob started to turn around, then faced his controls again. "There should be a panel that opens and allows access to the inside. Try underneath."

"I think there's something there," Carter said, dropping to her hands and knees to look. "Dad, can you raise the bomb any higher?" She flipped onto her back and waited until there was enough space to slide under. "It looks like a circle with a cross in it," she finally said.

Daniel had his nose buried in his book. "Daniel?" Jack said.

"It could be that," he said, not looking up.

"What do I do?" Carter said.

"I'm pretty sure you touch it," Jacob said, "but the last time a Tok'ra was sent to attempt this, they were never heard from again."

Irritated as much as he was worried, Jack snapped, "Well, that's news!"

"Uh...that might be it," Daniel said. "The touching the teth thing."

"Might?" Carter echoed.

Daniel looked up briefly. "I don't--I don't know. It doesn't say for sure, but it could be."

"Okay," she said, taking a deep breath and reaching up.

"Wait, wait, wait!" Daniel said frantically. "Um...I'm not sure!"

"Daniel!" Carter said. "Dad?"

"Someone say something!" Jack said.

"Dad?" she repeated, a finger hovering near the bottom of the mine. "Daniel?"

"Just touch it!" Jacob said.

"I'm sure, I'm sure!" Daniel said, obviously lying. "That must be it!"

She touched the panel, and it swung open. Jack watched for a moment, bracing himself, though he didn't know where he thought he was going to run if it blew. "Okay," Carter said when they were still alive several seconds later. "Good. Looks like that did it."

"Don't touch it anywhere but inside the opening," Jacob ordered as Daniel dropped to his back and slid under the bomb with Carter, leaving Jack with the uncomfortable view of two of his team's legs sticking out from under a giant, floating bomb.

"All right, first we have to clear these," Daniel's voice said. Jack squatted and turned his head to see them both staring at the bottom of the bomb, Daniel's finger pointing at something on the panel. "Those are the frequencies it responds to."

"That should be the easy part," Carter said. "Read me the combination."

"Three to the blue," Daniel said.

"Which way is blue?"

"I still don't know, Sam. It doesn't say."

With a grimace, she reached up and twisted sharply. "Okay," she said. "Clockwise is blue. That's one..." She twisted it twice more.

"Four to the red," Daniel said, watching her work. "Three to the blue."

A buzzer sounded. "Is that a good sound?" Carter said. Before Daniel could answer, the bomb began to dip lower. "Uh, Dad?" she said, lowering her hand. Daniel started to inch his way out, then quickly rolled the rest of the way when the bomb continued to descend instead of rising back up.

"Jacob?" Jack said, standing up. The mine was practically on top of Carter now, and he grabbed her by the ankles to pull her out. "Jacob!"

"I know! I have a problem here," Jacob said, not looking away. Jack craned his neck past the bomb, toward the bridge, and saw a mine approaching them from outside. He pressed himself against bulkhead of the cargo hold as their own mine floated slowly toward them...and then it backed away. "Okay," Jacob said, sounding relieved.

"Nice flying, Jacob," Jack said sarcastically, waiting until the bomb was back in position for Daniel and Carter to wriggle their way under it again before he moved to join the Tok'ra at the bridge.

"Thanks," Jacob said, unperturbed. "Someone's coming--I have to cloak the ship." As Jack watched, a hyperspace window opened briefly for a mothership to drop out. "It's Apophis," Jacob said grimly. "If he's here, Heru-ur's going to arrive any minute." A buzzer sounded from the direction of the mine. "Maybe they've got it. Sam, Daniel, how much longer do you need?"

"This is very, very bad," Daniel was saying.

Jack tried very, very hard to find a good way to interpret that.

"Dad?" Carter added. "We may need Selmak's help here."

"All right," Jacob said, standing up. "Jack, you're going to have to take the stick."

"What?" Jack said, alarmed and excited at once. "Really?"

A headset was pushed into his hand. "Keep the mine center-circle," Jacob said as Jack put the headset on, blinking to let his sight adjust to seeing one thing out of his left eye and something else out of his right. "And avoid hitting anything out there."

"Okay," Jack said, sitting in the pilot's seat and taking the controls with absolutely no idea how to make anything move. Then his hand pressed down slightly on something, and the ship suddenly dropped a few feet. "Whoa! Whoa, whoa!" he said, tweaking the controls one way and then another until he'd figured out which way was which.

"Jack," Daniel said nervously. "Jack Jack Jack..."

"I'm cool," Jack assured them, pulling the ship carefully back up, so the mine settled back into place. "I'm all right. 'S not so easy," he allowed.

He stopped listening to the other three discussing the mine, then--the headset was making him dizzy enough with the way its display expanded in three dimensions when the mine floated too high, and he'd have sworn that the controls responded to his thoughts until he tried taking his hands off and found out he was wrong. And then he heard Daniel say, "We have five minutes to enter the right combination, or the mine will explode."

Good times.

"More like four and a half now," Daniel added.

And speaking of exploding mines, the one in their ship started to break left--or right--or in one direction, and Jack stopped listening to the argument to concentrate on keeping them alive long enough for someone to figure it out.

"How's it going?" Jack asked once he was decently sure he was getting the hang of it enough that they wouldn't crash into anything.

"Three minutes and counting to detonation, sir," Carter said. "It's a failsafe mechanism--we must have the combination wrong somehow."

"Try it again," Daniel said.

"Are you sure--"

"Yes, that's what it says!"

"Hey, guys!" Jacob called. They fell silent, and the sound of Goa'uld filtered through the speakers. "Heru-ur's here. Hurry up--they're talking over their deal..."

"And...?" Jack prompted.

"Apophis wants to know what Heru-ur will give him in exchange for the alliance," Jacob said. "Heru-ur says that, as a token of his honor, he's offering a gift. He..." He stopped.

"What?"

"He's offering Teal'c," Jacob said.

There was a shifting sound, and then Daniel said, "But Teal'c's on Chulak."

"Apparently not," Jack said, thinking fast. If Heru-ur was telling the truth, Teal'c was on one of those ships, and they had to get him out before the Goa'ulds started fighting each other. More importantly, they had to get him off before Apophis got his snaky claws on him--dying would be more merciful than that.

"He's thinking it over," Jacob said. "If Apophis accepts the deal, the transfer will take place. We have to get the mine going before that can happen.

"Ah, dammit!" Carter said. "This isn't working! We've got less than a minute. Daniel, Teal'c later--what do we do now?"

"Yi shay," Daniel swore. Jack glanced back quickly to see him paging frantically through his book. "Okay, look, these are the numerals. It's written like you're counting--so this is one, two, three--"

"Wait, wait--what about zero? Why didn't you say zero?"

"What? I don't... I don't think the Phoenician number system has a zero--"

"What if the Tobins added it?" Jacob said.

"Inventing technology with this level of sophistication would require a zero," Carter said.

"Why?" Daniel said.

"Just trust me--it's a math thing. Just...shift everything down one; we've been off this whole time. Come on, thirty seconds..."

"Uh..." Daniel said, "Uh...uh, the...two to the blue. Three to the red, two to the blue."

Nothing happened.

"That's it!" Daniel said, sighing audibly. "It's reset. I almost killed us all. Oops."

"Okay," Carter said. "I need to redo this frequency calculation if we were off the whole time, but we should have it in about a minute."

As rustling sounded in the cargo hold again, Jack said quietly, "You know what'll happen to Teal'c if Apophis gets a hold of him."

"Anything we do in attempting a rescue would give us away," Jacob answered.

"So?"

"You know as well as I do that bigger things are at stake here. This mission cannot be compromised--I'm sorry, Colonel, but Teal'c is expendable."

Jack forced himself to loosen his grip on the controls before he got them destroyed swerving off into something. Expendable. Before he could say anything in answer, though, Carter announced, "We're done."

"I have to deploy," Jacob said. Rings activated from behind, and footsteps announced Carter and Daniel's arrival at the bridge. From the speaker, Apophis's voice came again, followed by Heru-ur's. "Apophis has agreed to the alliance," Jacob translated.

"And the exchange of Teal'c," Daniel said. "Jacob, we can't let that happen."

"Dad," Carter said, "Teal'c practically carried you out of Netu. You owe him. We all do."

Jacob didn't answer right away. Neither did Selmak. Jack hoped that meant he was wavering.

"Unless someone gives me a good way to do it without risking the mission," Jacob finally said, "there's nothing I can do. Even putting the mission aside, we're in a cargo ship. Teal'c's inside a heavily fortified and well-guarded mothership."

"We've been in worse situations," Jack said.

He could almost hear Teal'c pointing out, 'Not that I can recall, O'Neill.'

"With better luck," Jacob corrected. "Give me a plan, Jack, or my hands are tied."

Then, Daniel stepped forward and pointed out the window, where a stream of white light was connecting both ships. "Look--rings! That must be--"

"--how they're transporting Teal'c," Carter said. "We can intercept the matter stream and pick up Teal'c as--"

The matter stream flickered out. "It's too late," Daniel said, sounding stunned.

"We have to go back for him," Jack said, starting to push their ship toward the mine field. They lurched forward.

"Give me that," Jacob snapped. "What are you going to do for Teal'c, besides getting us all killed limping through a mine field?"

"You fly it, then!" Jack said, standing and handing the controls over. "But we have to do something!"

"The mine," Carter said suddenly. "It's heading for Apophis's ship."

Jack turned to look out the window and saw one of the mines flying unerringly toward the familiar-looking pyramidal mothership. "Our operative must have succeeded," Jacob said as the mine struck the shield of Apophis's mothership and exploded futilely. "We need to get out of here before the whole mine field goes nuts."

"Kree Heru-ur!" Apophis's voice said. "Shel pak herak Apophis!"

"He fell for it," Daniel said. "Apophis is going to attack--maybe...maybe while they're fighting each other, we can find a way to get to Teal'c..."

"Oh my god," Carter said. Daniel's voice trailed off.

One mothership, and then several more--nine, ten, by Jack's count--shimmered into place around Apophis's mothership. "That's not possible," Jacob said. "The Goa'uld have never been able to cloak an entire mothership before, let alone a fleet!"

"Apparently, it's possible," Jack said. He was so fixated on the ships that he didn't notice they were backing away until he realized they were out of the minefield.

And then Heru-ur's ship erupted in a fireball. Jack winced reflexively as a swarm of mines flew toward Apophis's ship, but the central mothership turned around and fled while the others gathered in front of it to take the brunt of the attack. "They're protecting Apophis's ship," Carter realized. As they watched, ten motherships slowly crumbled to pieced until a hyperspace window opened to allow Apophis to escape.

Suddenly, Jacob said, "The sensors are picking up a glider that escaped from Heru-ur's ship before it exploded."

"Heru-ur himself?" Daniel suggested.

"We can't let him get away. Onak sha kree!" Jacob barked. "Shel Goa'uld?"

Over the radio, another voice answered, "Goach sha kree, lo Goa'uld."

Jack frowned. The words sounded familiar to him, but he had no idea why until Jacob said, "That's the Tok'ra password we taught the SGC. This is Jacob Carter," he added into the speaker. "Identify yourself."

"My name is Rak'nor," the voice answered.

Daniel leaned forward. "That's the one Teal'c was going to meet."

"I am the Jaffa who helped Teal'c escape," Rak'nor continued.

"How do we know that?" Jack said, leaning close to the speaker.

They stood frozen for several moments, waiting for someone to answer them, and then, a familiar voice said, "It is good to hear your voice, O'Neill."

Jack let his breath out slowly, determined to keep his cool until they were out of the minefield. "Glad you could make it, Teal'c," he said calmly.

"As am I," Teal'c answered.

XXXXX

7 April 2001; Teltak; 1800 hrs

Rak'nor stood silently to one side while they eased Teal'c onto the most comfortable place they could make in their chair-less, furniture-less cargo ship. Carter finally finished fussing and fell asleep sitting against the bulkhead while watching Teal'c go into kelno'reem to finish healing. Daniel joined her in their caffeine crash--he'd fallen asleep in the middle of picking up his books and was curled up on the ring platform, clutching an enormous dictionary like a teddy bear.

Once a course home had been plotted and Teal'c didn't seem in danger of dying, Jack turned to the other Jaffa and said, "What happened?"

"Heru-ur wished to give Apophis the shol'va as a gift--" Rak'nor started.

"Yeah, we know that part," Jack interrupted. "Here's what I don't get. Teal'c started off trying to talk to some guy named Rak'nor on Chulak, and then Teal'c ended up being tortured most of the way to death on Heru-ur's ship, and Rak'nor just happened to be there." He looked around the ship facetiously. "Anyone else find that odd?"

"I...betrayed him on Chulak," Rak'nor said. "You are correct, Colonel O'Neill."

Jack glanced at Jacob, who was still sitting at the controls, watching them, then walked to Daniel's pile of equipment and pulled out a zat gun. "Tell me why I shouldn't shoot you right here and now."

"I did not believe his words then," the younger Jaffa said, looking wary but standing his ground. "But once I knew them to be the truth, I stopped Terak from sending him to Apophis."

"So you fixed the mess that you made to begin with," Jack said, nodding. "Why should I believe you're telling the truth?"

"My father followed Bra'tac," Rak'nor said. "I watched him die fighting the Goa'uld, and I began to believe he was wrong, that the Goa'uld truly were gods. I believed I was carrying out the will of the gods by capturing the shol'va. But then...I watched Teal'c endure such pain, and I watched a Goa'uld fail to break him... How can they be gods?"

"If they were gods," Jacob said, standing up, "you wouldn't think they'd need to resort to torture to get people to believe them. And if they did, the least you'd expect is that they'd succeed."

Rak'nor nodded slowly. "Yes."

"I think you can put that down, Colonel," Jacob added, nodding to the zat.

Jack met Rak'nor's gaze and noticed for the first time how young the Jaffa was--not young in the way that Teal'c was in his prime, but young enough to have had a father as a high-ranking soldier. Thirty, forty years old, maybe even less.

Now, Rak'nor spread his arms and lowered himself to one knee. Jack retracted the zat and set it back down. "We're not gods, either," Jack said. "Just like Bra'tac isn't and your father wasn't. We're not promising you won't die if you join us. But we can promise you'll be working to free other Jaffa from slavery."

Suddenly, Rak'nor's head whipped toward Jacob. "You are a Goa'uld," he said in wonder and not a little apprehension.

Jacob bowed his head, and when he raised it, his eyes glowed. "I am Selmak of the Tok'ra. You were speaking before to my host, Jacob Carter. Surely you have heard of us--Teal'c told you one of our passwords."

"I had heard...legends," Rak'nor said. He glanced at Teal'c's still form. "And there were rumors that there were Tok'ra fighting on the side of the Jaffa traitors--"

"Ah!" Jack said, holding up a finger. "You're going to want to pick a different word while you're on our ship."

"The rebels," Rak'nor amended. "The free. I simply had not believed there could truly be a Goa'uld who so opposed the System Lords."

"One of them was on Apophis's ship," Jack told him. "That Tok'ra is the reason our bomb hit him at all."

"The Tok'ra and those two," Jacob added, pointing to Carter and Daniel, both still asleep. Jack grabbed Daniel under the arms and dragged him off the ring platform in case it activated accidentally, making him stir groggily. "Unblended humans with nothing but brains and books."

Rak'nor looked doubtfully at the admittedly puny-looking group who'd gotten Heru-ur killed. "But the gods have told us that--"

"Yeah," Jack interrupted. "You're going to have to get used to that whole...not listening to the Goa'uld. Seriously, talk to the Tok'ra--a few conversations with them, and you'll know they're not gods; they're just people with different ideas." Rak'nor looked up at him and Jacob, confused. "For cryin' out loud, get up. It's uncomfortable enough in here without being on your knees."

"Not gods," Daniel mumbled, yawning and then crawling his way toward Teal'c and Carter to slump back to sleep.

Jacob shook his head but said, "What he means is 'no bowing.' No kneeling, no groveling, not with us. You'd better get used to it."

"Apophis killed my whole family," Rak'nor said as he rose to his feet. "I thought it was my father's punishment for defying his god's will."

"That was fear," Jacob said. "The Goa'uld are starting to realize how dangerous the Jaffa Rebellion could be to them, so they'll crush anyone who opposes them as quickly as possible."

"However," Selmak said, appearing suddenly, "we cannot forget that Apophis is now an even greater threat than before. He will easily absorb Heru-ur's forces and become more powerful than any of the System Lords. We cannot defeat them by faith alone, but they can be killed like any other being, as you saw Heru-ur killed today."

"The point is," Jack said, "the Goa'uld are just people who use lies and fancy technology to pretend they're gods. But they're not, which means the Jaffa are being enslaved for a lie, and if you stick with them, you're helping them do that to your own people."

"Perhaps they are not gods," Rak'nor said. "But their power is very real."

Jack picked up a gun. "So is this," he said. "They still die if you shoot them."

"And having the power to rule does not make it right to do so," Selmak added. "If you believe the Goa'uld are right simply because they have better weapons than the people they slaughter, you may as well stay on your side, not ours."

"I do not need to be convinced," Rak'nor said, looking at his feet. "Not anymore."

"But you need to understand," Selmak said. "You are young. You cannot turn on your god in a day and forget all you learned before. Stand with us--the Tau'ri, the Tok'ra, and your brothers the free Jaffa--and see it for yourself."

"I will," Rak'nor said, then turned to Jack with a fist on his chest. "I am sorry, Colonel O'Neill, to you and to Teal'c. My life is in your hands."

"Nope," Jack said. "Your life is yours. That's how it works."

...x...

Daniel walked into the bridge later, rubbing his eyes. "Teal'c will be fine," he said. "He was awake for a few minutes."

"Told you he'd be okay," Jack said.

At that, Daniel's eyes flicked toward Rak'nor, but he didn't say anything directly about the circumstances that had almost killed Teal'c instead. "You were a Serpent Guard," he said flatly, pointing to Rak'nor's forehead. "Well, of course--Chulak. Bra'tac said you served with Apophis. Did you burn the brand off to fool Teal'c, or did Heru-ur do it to give you a different brand?"

"Neither," Rak'nor said, though he looked unsettled at the frank assessment. "My father burned it off, believing we were free. Then, I used that to make Teal'c believe I had joined his cause."

Daniel crossed his arms and looked at Jack. "He's with us now," Jack said. "He just needed to be convinced about the god thing."

"You're convinced now?" Daniel said to Rak'nor.

"I...I am," Rak'nor said. "I understand now that the Goa'uld are not gods."

"Teal'c says to forgive you," Daniel said grudgingly. "He doesn't need to tell me that very often, so I suppose I should. And many Abydons, even those who witnessed Ra's death, still believe in the gods. It's not so easy to erase, yes?"

"Yes," Rak'nor said.

"Is it true that Master Bra'tac is dead?"

Jack sat up straight. That was news to him. "What's this?" he said. "Bra'tac?"

"He is not," Rak'nor said. "Or if he is, I do not know of it. Terak said that to Teal'c, hoping it would break him, but it was a lie."

"That's what Teal'c thought, but I just wanted to make sure," Daniel said, and then turned to the window and switched mental gears. "Can I learn how to fly this?"

"We're in hyperspace now," Jacob said patiently. "Not much flying to do."

"I don't suppose we could all have a flying lesson before we get back to Earth," Daniel said.

With a short laugh, Jacob said, "You suppose right. I can show you what everything is, but manual navigation systems lock when we're in hyperspace. See? No hands." He stood.

"Why do the controls lock?" Daniel said, eagerly taking Jacob's place at the controls.

"Think about what would happen if you forced your ship out of hyperspace," Jacob said, shaking his head. "As soon as part of it left the subspace window, it would slow back to sublight velocity, while the rest of the ship kept going at hyperspeed."

As he touched one of the controls, Daniel said, "I didn't know subspace worked like that."

"Do you know how subspace works at all?" Jack pointed out while Rak'nor went back to silence.

"Well, that's a little simplistic," Jacob admitted. "All we know is that a Tok'ra tried that once and we never heard from her again."

"But it's locked now, right?"

"It's locked," Jacob assured him.

"Do you think you and Teal'c could teach us sometime, though, if you're not busy?" Daniel said. "I mean, what if we end up having to fly one of these again and Teal'c is occupied--we all need to know how to use the controls, right?"

Jacob gave him a smile somewhere between amused and indulgent. "We'll see."

"I should just finish teaching you how to drive a car," Jack commented as Daniel stood up and looked closely at the controls. "Maybe you'd be less excited to fly a cargo ship, then."

"It's a practical concern," Daniel insisted. "And Sam taught Teal'c to drive a car; I don't see why I can't do it, too. I'd like to see more of your planet than the SGC and a couple of houses."

"You saw Cairo," Jack offered.

"Doesn't count; I was distracted by blood loss and the Goa'uld trying to kill us," Daniel said easily. "How much longer until we're back on Earth?"

"Nine hours, give or take," Jacob said while Rak'nor blinked, looking bemused at the rapid-fire questions. "Why?"

Daniel sobered. "What happens then?"

"Go back to work and keep tabs on Apophis," Jacob said. "For all this mission should be counted a failure, there are still three Tok'ra operatives in Apophis's camp. We don't know if some of them were on the motherships that were just destroyed, but one of them was definitely on the main ship, the one that escaped. Hopefully, with his help and Tanith's, we'll continue to gather intelligence."

"I have a question," Jack said, raising his hand. "Didn't you say Heru-ur and Apophis's armies together could probably topple the System Lords?"

"I did say that," Jacob said.

"And isn't Apophis now in control of both those armies?"

"Apophis will need some time to take Heru-ur's troops," Rak'nor spoke up. "The Jaffa may believe they are gods, but even so, we do not change allegiance so quickly and with no reason. I joined Heru-ur only once I believed Apophis had fallen to Sokar."

Jacob nodded. "If we take into account the time it'll take for word of Heru-ur's death to spread, and the fact that Apophis did lose about ten warships today, then we may have bought ourselves a little time to prepare."

"And I will return to gather troops within those armies," Rak'nor said. "There will not be enough to defeat Apophis, but the rebellion is growing in strength on Chulak. If we can cause dissent in his ranks..."

"Can't hurt," Jack agreed. "But be careful out there. Find Bra'tac if you can and stick with him--he's managed to survive three and a half years of recruiting rebels."

"Won't the other System Lords hear of this?" Daniel said. "Surely they'd work together if they thought they were on the brink of destruction by Apophis."

"It takes a lot to bring the System Lords together, Daniel," Jacob said. "But if they realize how bad the situation's gotten, they might do it. If they do, I don't anticipate it would last any longer than necessary to get rid of Apophis, but it's something we'd have to keep a close eye on. A true alliance of System Lords isn't much better than a single powerful Goa'uld."

"Is there anything we can do?" Jack said.

"From Earth?" Jacob said. "Not likely--not about Apophis, anyway. Keep doing what you're doing, don't get killed, and be ready. Because if he takes on the System Lords and wins, you can guess who he's coming after first."


From the next chapter ("Indirect Orders"):

Finally, the general turned around. "I wanted you all to be the first to know," he said heavily. "Effective immediately, I'm stepping down as commander of the SGC."


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