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nightspear ([personal profile] nightspear) wrote2009-06-17 07:16 am
Entry tags:

Archaeology (26/30)

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 Chapter18 Chapter19 Chapter20
Chapter21 Chapter22 Chapter23 Chapter24 Chapter25

XXXXX

Chapter 26: Jack O'Neill

XXXXX

10 July 2001; P3X-989; 0100 hrs

"There's nothing you can do?" Daniel said. "You can't fix her?"

Harlan pulled his head down until the collar of his robe covered half of his face. "There is too much damage," he said sadly, touching the top of Captain Carter's head as she lay on a slab of stone. It seemed an oddly human, affectionate gesture until Daniel realized he'd been reaching for a switch that opened the top part of her skull.

Daniel felt himself make a face, but then leaned in closer to see the odd mix of metal parts and what looked like some sort of plastic membrane weaving through it all. He couldn't tell what it all was, but he didn't need to be an engineer to know that it wasn't good when there were parts that looked like they'd been melted together and others that still smelled faintly of smoke.

With a sigh, Harlan closed Captain Carter's head and said, "I cannot fix her--even if I try, I cannot return who she was."

The large, overall mechanical repair would mean nothing if the mind--Sam's thoughts, her memories, her ideas--were gone.

"Sam wouldn't want to be...brought back without her mind," Daniel agreed, standing up.

"No, no, she would not," Harlan said, looking so miserable that Daniel wondered whether robots could cry, or if hydration of their eyes meant the same thing to them as it did to humans.

Daniel stayed at Captain Carter's side for a moment. She looked asleep. Not dead--he'd seen both enough to know 'dead' often didn't look like 'asleep'--but just the way Sam's face usually looked when she was sleeping. Except, of course, that this one wouldn't wake up.

"Colonel O'Neill will be recharged soon," Harlan said, interrupting his thoughts.

Rubbing his eyes, Daniel squinted at his watch. "My Colonel O'Neill--and Teal'c and Major Carter--will probably be another few hours. There's a lot to clean up on Juna."

"I do not know how to tell my Colonel O'Neill about Captain Carter," Harlan said.

"He already knows," Daniel said. "We told him it didn't look like she'd live."

"I can repair him," Harlan said.

"Yes, you said that," Daniel said.

Looking anxious, Harlan added, "But I do not know if I should."

Daniel's first instinct said that they should fix Jack's robot, of course, but perhaps... There was a difference between not letting someone commit suicide and forcing someone to live alone forever and underground on a planet with no chance of going home or seeing friends ever again. If either Sam or Teal'c--the other ones--had still been alive, it might be different. As it was, with only O'Neill here...

"You can make copies of anyone?" Daniel said, an idea forming.

Harlan gave him a wide-eyed look. "I no longer do that without asking. Very, very bad."

"But you can," Daniel clarified. "Like...if I asked, you could."

"Ooh! Would you like to have a synthetic other?" Harlan said excitedly.

"No," Daniel said, but amended, "Well..." A whirring sound caught their attention before he could go on, and he turned toward the table where O'Neill was lying. "Is it supposed to do that?" he said uncertainly.

"His parts need to be repaired," Harlan explained, hurrying over to O'Neill's side. "I have joined him to a power source, but he will suffer continual wear if I do not repair him soon."

"Will it hurt him?" he asked. "I mean...will he feel pain when he wakes...when he's recharged?"

"His mechanoreceptors remain largely functional, but I have increased the nociception threshold within his somatosensory system so as to be essentially infinite," Harlan assured him.

Daniel raised his eyebrows. He took a moment to parse a few words apart before he decided that must mean O'Neill could feel things but wouldn't register them as pain. He thought that was what it meant. "Oh," Daniel said. "Okay."

Suddenly, O'Neill's eyes opened. He started to sit up, abruptly, the way Jack O'Neills tended to do when they woke up disoriented, and instead started to fall off the slab he was lying on.

"Jack!" Daniel said, rushing to his side to push him back onto the table. "Don't move around too much. You're, uh...damaged. But you're safe now."

O'Neill settled back in place with a disquieting whir that reminded Daniel of Sam's old laptop when she'd tried to turn it on and the parts inside had started clicking and the fan started spinning faster than it should. "Daniel?" he said, turning his head slowly to look one way, then the other.

There was a disturbingly flat quality to his voice, too. Daniel wondered if it had something to do with the low power he was running on, or maybe if there was some wear on the mechanical parts in his larynx. "Yeah, Jack, it's me," Daniel said.

O'Neill blinked, slowly. "What happened?" he said.

"Juna is free," Daniel said. "Te--my Teal'c is talking to the Jaffa now with Jack. Sam and I brought you and...and your Sam back here, and she went back to base to get Harlan and to ask General Hammond for one of those boxes that Juna can use to call for help if anything happens to them again."

"My Sam?" O'Neill said, then swiveled his head slowly back to Harlan. "Harlan? Where's Carter?"

Harlan shrank into his robe again. "I am sorry," he said. "Her processors cannot be repaired without near-total replacement of the cognitive centers."

Still, O'Neill looked past all of them until he could see his second-in-command lying on the next table. "Ah," he said.

"I can make her functional again," Harlan offered.

"No," O'Neill said swiftly. "You're not turning Carter's body into some--" He stopped. In the sudden silence, Daniel could hear the quiet but just audible wheeze of parts moving against each other. "No, Harlan."

Harlan nodded vigorously in agreement, but he looked upset. Daniel wondered if the mechanical repair of Sam's body would have been a sort of mourning for him, a homage of some kind. It might not seem as macabre to him as it did to Daniel and O'Neill. "I should..." Harlan said, then pointed at some pipe in the ceiling and scurried away, out of the room.

"I'm sorry, Jack," Daniel said once Harlan was gone.

O'Neill shrugged, a jerky movement. Daniel couldn't tell if it looked mechanical because O'Neill was a machine or because he was Jack O'Neill after his team had died. "At least the real ones are still alive, right?" he said, and if it weren't for the oddly flat tone to his words, Daniel suspected it would have sounded quite bitter.

"I didn't go to Juna to clean up some mess I caused or to get revenge against Cronus," Daniel said. "I went to get you and Sam. And I really am very sorry we didn't save her and we got you hurt."

"You already have one of us," O'Neill pointed out.

Daniel sighed and sat down on the edge of the slab, so close to O'Neill that he could feel the vibrations humming through damaged parts. "I think," he said carefully, turning to look at the familiar face, "there's a tendency to feel that having another of oneself makes one less...unique. Less valuable. Like you don't matter as much if there's another one out there."

"What is this--d'you become a shrink while I was gone?" O'Neill said, and he sounded just defensive enough that Daniel thought he'd hit on the answer, or at least part of it.

Resisting the urge to roll his eyes, Daniel said, "I know you and...my Jack are bothered by...uh, each other. Maybe that's why, but it's not true. And I know what it's like to see yourself up close and... You see all the things you don't like to look at." He grimaced, wishing he could articulate this better. "And sometimes you miss what's good, but it's still there, even if it's hard for you to see it in yourself when you're...looking at, uh...yourself. And even that must be hard to see, because it's like someone else took it from you."

Narrowing his eyes, O'Neill said, "How did you manage to get better at English and worse at making sense over the years?"

"I'm just saying it's not like that," Daniel replied, a little exasperated. "I don't know you as well as I know them, but I knew you before, so you're very real and...and very you to me. And the fact that I don't know you now as well as them is proof that you're different and unique. You have the same past, but you're not exactly--"

"Daniel," O'Neill interrupted. There was a tiny movement of his lips that might have been a smile. "You talk too much."

"Only when I want to annoy you," Daniel said automatically.

O'Neill snorted.

"I've never thanked you," Daniel blurted. He'd been counting back in the calendar, trying to pinpoint exactly when these versions of his friends had been created--exactly when the split between one Jack and another occurred--and he still wasn't sure, but he'd come to the conclusion that there had been a lot of things yet unsaid when these robots had been told to stay on a planet and never go home again.

"For what?" O'Neill said.

Daniel hesitated, then settled on, "For saving me."

O'Neill frowned. "No offense, kid, but rescuing you was part of our mission, and technically, it wasn't even our first priority. We just lucked out that way."

It took a minute for Daniel to realize what he was talking about. When he did, he said, "I'm not talking about Chulak. I'm talking about...all those months afterward. You took me to Christmas at Sam's house, remember? And...and all of it. The stargazing on the roof, the..."

He stopped. It sounded almost meaningless that way, when he broke it into events and things.

"I remember," O'Neill said when he didn't go on. "And you don't have to thank me."

"I thanked him," Daniel said. "My Jack. And it occurred to me that you had done all those things, too--at least, in whatever sense matters--but I never got a chance to thank you. Frankly," he added more lightly, "I'm flattered you remember a kid you knew for...what, five months, and then never saw again for three years."

O'Neill gave him an odd look. "Special case. It's not every day we escape from prison with an alien who walks barefoot around military bases, for crying out loud."

Daniel found himself grinning. The memory of those days was tinged with the constant hum of fear he'd felt back then, but after all this time, it seemed funny more than anything else. "I don't do that anymore," he said.

"It's also not every day I consider adopting that kid," O'Neill said quietly.

"I know," Daniel said.

"You do?"

"Yeah. He asked. Maybe a month after you, uh, left."

O'Neill raised his eyebrows. "That why you're still around?"

"No. Uh. It wasn't..." Daniel said awkwardly. "Well...at the time--"

"Yeah, I knew you didn't want a new dad then," O'Neill interrupted. "S'okay."

"Uh," Daniel repeated, and remembered that Jack had always seemed to know him better than was strictly explicable. "Right. But I understand now how much it means that you were willing after...well, you weren't exactly looking for a new son, either, but you offered anyway. You gave me a home, Jack."

"He gave you a home," O'Neill said. "Don't confuse us."

Daniel suppressed a sigh. "You did, too, even back then, and you were going to offer. That matters to me."

O'Neill didn't answer. Daniel glanced toward the entrance, hoping selfishly that his team would take their time coming, just so he would have time with this man. Then O'Neill said, "Am I damaged beyond repair or something? That's why you're talking about all this, isn't it?"

"Can't you tell whether you're damaged?" Daniel asked, interested despite himself.

"I can tell that my diagnostic systems are damaged, because it doesn't work when I try to figure out what else is damaged."

"Oh."

"You didn't answer my question," O'Neill said. He blinked again, a slow closing of the eyelids and slow opening again. "It's okay. I'm ready. Don't worry about me, kid."

"No, no, that's not it," Daniel said worriedly. "Jack, you can be fixed. Harlan said so. He said it's all...uh...yi shay. I didn't understand it when he said it, but the point is, he can fix you. Like new, he said, or even...well..."

"Better," O'Neill said.

"Better," Daniel agreed.

"So what's with the..." O'Neill raised a hand a flapped it listlessly. "You sound like you're talking to a man on his deathbed and want to get stuff off your chest before he goes."

Daniel swallowed. "Not exactly," he said. "But whatever happens from here, I have to go back to the SGC. General Hammond's given us time to finish our business, and we can stretch that out...well, as much as we can, but eventually..."

"Ah," O'Neill said.

"Yeah," Daniel said quietly. He took a breath. "Even if...even without that power issue, you remember the NID? They're involved in a lot more than we knew back then, and you'd be taken and experimented on or...or if you weren't, someone would want to destroy you for security reasons. Or someone would find something worse."

"I know I can't go back. Your O'Neill would stop me, anyway."

"That's not tr... Well. The point is, yeah, you can't go back."

"And you can't stay. So I guess this is it." Looking around the chamber they were in, O'Neill commented, "This would be one sorry existence, huh. Staying here forever, no one but me and Harlan to shoot the breeze."

"Well..."

"That's why Harlan hasn't already fixed me?"

"It--yes," Daniel admitted.

"That was thoughtful of him," O'Neill said. "I'm glad he didn't."

"No," he said, because he knew what was coming next.

"You know what I'm going to say. My team is dead. They weren't supposed to die without me."

"Jack--"

O'Neill raised his hand again and jerkily dropped it back on Daniel's arm, grasping just a little too tight for comfort. Knowing O'Neill couldn't really control or feel his grip properly at the moment, Daniel didn't complain or move to free himself. "It's okay, Daniel," O'Neill said. "Don't feel bad."

Daniel's eyes felt hot. He forced it back. "You shouldn't be comforting me," he said.

"Why not?" O'Neill said, tilting his head in the direction of the corridor leading to the Stargate room. "I'm not that guy. Your...commanding officer, or whatever he is to you now."

The last time they'd been together, Daniel had been missing his parents and Jack had filled their place, just temporarily, even though Daniel hadn't wanted a father and Jack hadn't wanted a son. Later, they'd settled into something very different--maybe something more--but that hadn't really happened until after this Jack O'Neill had left the SGC. This man was the one who'd opened his door to an orphan, not the one who divided the grocery bills with his housemate.

But Daniel was different now, and not just in height. He might not be this man's teammate, but he had duties, too, and if some of those duties were unwritten and unspoken outside of his mind, they were just as valid.

"I could stay with you," Daniel said.

"No, you couldn't," O'Neill told him.

"Well, not me, exactly. But Harlan can make a copy of me, and it would be...me. As much me as you're you."

O'Neill's expression blanked completely again. This one was even better at that than the other Jack was, though that might have been from the mechanical damage.

Daniel cleared his throat. "We can't bring back your Sam and your Teal'c. And they can't just be replaced by...our Sam and Teal'c, I understand; they're different, and it would be...odd. But you haven't had any form of me around for the last three years. Think of it as... It's like we've been on different assignments for a long time and now we could start again."

"But you've had one of me. You'd see me and miss your Jack."

"We were going to catch up," Daniel said desperately. "I want to know how you've been. And I can tell you all about...um...Shifu and...and Chaka, and oh! Nick, I have to tell you about--"

"And do what?" O'Neill said, almost gently. "You said things are fine on Abydos but you're still not there. Why not?" Daniel didn't answer. "You don't belong here--nowhere to explore, no labs where you can stick your head in...trust me. You think it's enough to know there's another version of you out there, doing the stuff you should be doing, but it's not. Doesn't take long for it to be not enough."

"I'm willing to do it," he insisted. "I would do it, Jack. You did it, with Sam and Teal'c."

"We didn't belong, either," O'Neill said. "We held out long enough for Carter to build power packs, and then we went exploring. It was fun while it lasted, but we can't risk that again."

"Then we won't risk it," Daniel said.

"You don't understand, Daniel," O'Neill said. "You'd have nothing to do forever. I don't want to do that to you."

"But," Daniel said. "But I'd have you."

"You have your own team," O'Neill said, and Daniel had fought so hard for that that he'd never thought it could hurt to hear it. "People like us don't belong here; we've been on borrowed time from the start."

"It doesn't work that way," Daniel said, shaking his head, because Jack had said himself that there was no such thing as borrowed time when they all fought to live. "You're not just...an extra person who can be thrown aside because there's another copy with less metal in him."

"Think again, Daniel," O'Neill said. "It happened once already. As soon as your team gets here, you're all going home, and I'm not. That's the way it works, and there's no way to change it."

"Then let us fix it this time," Daniel said. "Somehow. There has to be a better way. I'll...I'll stand here and refuse to leave until the others agree to think of something else if you want."

"You can't do that," O'Neill said, looking amused and puzzled at once.

"Of course I can," Daniel said. "I've done stupider things for less."

O'Neill raised his eyebrows but didn't answer.

"Maybe we can figure something out," Daniel said. "We're really good at figuring things out even when it doesn't look like there's a solution--"

The hand on his arm squeezed tight enough to bruise. "Daniel," O'Neill said firmly. "No. This is my choice. I won't do that to you, or to myself. My choice. I need you to respect that."

Daniel gripped the hand in return, wondering if he would feel the movement of parts shifting under the skin and surprised all over again when he couldn't.

"Okay," he finally said. "Okay. But wait for the others?"

"Don't think the others want to see me. In fact, it might be kinder if you just--" O'Neill stopped, watching him. Daniel wasn't sure what his face looked like, but O'Neill amended, "Actually, yeah, I've got things to say to them. I can wait a little longer."

Relieved and not sure why, Daniel nodded. "Can I do anything for you?" he said. "Anything."

"Are you happy?" O'Neill said.

"I'm...uh, yeah," Daniel said, because 'happy' was a somewhat complicated word to use, but there was little he could want for within the boundaries of reason.

"What about the other me? Is he treating you okay?"

"Yes--Jack, of course. I'm fine."

O'Neill nodded. "All right, then," he said.

"I'll stay with you," Daniel said. O'Neill sighed. "Not--I mean...when they shut off your power. I'll stay with you."

"You don't have to watch," O'Neill said, but it wasn't a 'no.'

Daniel slid off the slab to stand and look down at his friend's face. "You'd do it for me. It's bad enough we're leaving you here. I won't make you live, but you don't have to die alone."

The hand opened and dropped away from his arm. Daniel was still holding it, so he lowered it to the slab next to O'Neill's body, aware of the man's eyes on him as he moved. It was a long time before O'Neill answered, but when he did, it was to say, "You got tall."

"It's been more than three years, Jack," Daniel said.

"Wish I'd seen it, kid," O'Neill said. "You mind me calling you that still?"

Daniel shook his head. "I don't mind."

O'Neill pursed his lips and looked around again. "You're a good man," he said, staring at a wall.

Taken aback, Daniel wasn't sure how to answer. "Thank you," he finally said. "I had good people to look up to."

"Here. Sit down," O'Neill said. "You said you're eighteen now?"

"All grown up," Daniel agreed, dropping back down to sit.

"You always said you were grown up, even back then."

"Well, now I'm more grown up. It's a continuum."

"I can't believe we started training a kid to be a soldier," O'Neill said. "Can't believe they let it keep going that way."

"I'm not a soldier," Daniel said. "Ask anyone at the SGC--I'm notoriously terrible at acting like a soldier." It wasn't what O'Neill had meant, though, and he knew it. "And it's saved my life more times than I can count."

O'Neill studied his face, and just when Daniel was sure he was about to say something profound, he said, "You've still got war paint all over your cheeks. And by 'war paint,' I mean 'mud.'"

XXXXX

10 July 2001; P3X-989; 1200 hrs

Jack returned to Harlan's world to find Daniel dozing on the ground next to the other guy. Both of them were lying so still that Jack wondered for a moment whether his double was already dead, or powered down, or whatever the equivalent was, but then, O'Neill turned his head and looked at him.

"Just can't wait to see me go, can you," O'Neill said softly.

Daniel stirred. Jack gave O'Neill a warning look, then crouched to shake Daniel's shoulder. "Hey," he said. Bleary, blue eyes squinted up at him.

"Jack?" Daniel said, blinking. Then he sat up fast. "Jack! You're..." He paused, then scrambled to his feet until he could see the other O'Neill and looked between them. "So you're back?"

"Yeah. Fraiser wants to see you at the SGC," Jack said.

"Why? I'm not hurt."

"You didn't have your post-mission check-up."

"We're not post-mission yet," Daniel said, lifting his chin stubbornly. "I was going to stay here."

"All right, I'm going to put it this way," Jack said. "Teal'c's getting Juna settled, and Carter's on base with Jacob. There's a situation. Nothing bad," he added when Daniel stiffened. "Hopefully. But we can't stay long--we've got another mission lined up, and you need to be briefed."

"But--"

"We're not post-mission yet," Jack repeated, knowing that Daniel could be manipulated into obeying him if he thought there might a crisis in progress.

He should have remembered, however, that Daniel's idea of duty and obedience was an odd one, and that there were levels of priority regarding his team and his friends and his mission that even Jack didn't always understand. "If it's nothing bad," Daniel started, "maybe I should..."

"I need to talk to this guy," O'Neill spoke up. Daniel's eyes bounced between the two of them, and Jack realized his stance was protective, not just loyal or friendly. He wasn't sure whether he liked that idea a lot or not at all. "Go on. Give us a few minutes, all right?"

"All right," Daniel said. "I'll be just outside, so...if you need anything..." And because an O'Neill was an O'Neill, Jack knew what the robot had decided and what Daniel meant.

O'Neill's gaze moved to Jack, but he said, "Yeah, kid. It was good talking to you."

Frowning, Daniel nodded slowly at the robot. Then he turned around and gave Jack a look that said, I'm trusting you but I'm warning you, too. Jack wasn't sure exactly what that meant, but he nodded back and jerked his head toward the Stargate room.

Once he was gone, Jack turned back to his double. "You were saying?" he said.

"I need to give you the addresses of planets we went to that you want to avoid," O'Neill said. "Then I'll get out of the way."

"'Get out of the way,'" Jack echoed. "You make it sound like we--"

"Do me a favor and don't lie to your own face," O'Neill interrupted him. "You'll be glad when I'm gone and you're the only Jack O'Neill left."

And Jack could honestly say, "Not completely glad. Some people will be upset."

O'Neill stared up at him, and Jack decided this was absolutely something he'd never get used to, no matter how much he was exposed to Daniel Jackson-style philosophy, and he wasn't going to deny he'd be relieved when he didn't have to deal with it anymore.

Still...

"You'll want to write these addresses down," O'Neill said eventually, and then couldn't help adding, "Your memory's not as good as mine."

If the guy hadn't been about to die, Jack might have snapped something back. As it was, he looked around the floor until he found the vest Daniel must have taken off at some point and hunted through the pockets to find a small notepad and a pen.

"Is that standard issue these days?"

Jack rolled his eyes, flipping the notepad open and looking for the first page that didn't have some incomprehensible shorthand scribbled on it. "I told him to take out nonessential equipment for this mission, but..."

"Daniel never thought a pen and paper were nonessential," O'Neill said. Jack glanced up, not sure what to do with that past tense, then decided it didn't matter. "Write this down..."

They spent the next few minutes getting the addresses written down. Jack wasn't sure if he was writing because the other guy's muscles--or pistons or whatever--weren't working properly or if O'Neill was getting in his last kicks telling about their missions in a way that made Jack wonder whether that was really what he sounded like when he gave Hammond a report.

When they were done, with a list of places not to go, Jack said, "You guys never went anywhere good?"

"We never went over twenty-four hours," O'Neill said. "Carter couldn't do good research in that time, and we couldn't negotiate for Earth anyway. We found good places to strike--we were good at that."

Jack almost asked how they'd dialed without the Abydos cartouche data, but didn't. He supposed Captain Carter had found some way of dialing random glyphs until they hit an address that worked. She'd done it on Earth, after all, just with computers instead of a DHD, and that was before her head had been turned into a supercomputer. "Okay," he said. He glanced over his shoulder. "You want to talk to the others?"

"They want to talk to me?"

Probably not, at least not all of them, Jack thought, but said honestly, "I can call them. Might want to see you before you..."

O'Neill looked unimpressed. "Die? Get the plug pulled?"

"Yeah," Jack said, hearing the defensive note in his voice but unable to push it away. "They might want to. But if you want, I'll tell them to stay away."

There was a long silence. Jack might have thought the other had fallen asleep or something if it weren't for the fact that he recognized that expression--he'd seen it before, and felt it, and picked up a gun. Then O'Neill said, "They've got you."

"Yeah," Jack said again. What the hell was he supposed to say to that?

"Listen," O'Neill said, staring at the ceiling. "Just do it quick, all right? Tell Daniel I'm sorry."

Jack puzzled over that for a moment, then gave up and said, "For what?"

"He said he wanted to be here when I go. He doesn't need to see that."

So then Jack finally understood that look Daniel had given him. "If he said..."

"Look, maybe I'm just a machine to you," O'Neill said, sounding impatient and a little scared the way a person could get when his sure path to suicide was being obstructed, "but you know him, right? He said I mattered. You really want him to see me shut off? Dead android looks a lot like dead man."

"He'll feel worse if he thinks you died sad and alone. He felt bad when Apophis died, for cryin' out loud."

At that, O'Neill raised his head a little. "Apophis is dead?"

"Well, no," Jack admitted. "But that's not the point."

O'Neill set his head back down. He probably didn't get it, but it was one of those things that would be pretty hard to get if he didn't know the whole story, and the whole story was long and, at the moment, unimportant. "He likes long goodbyes, huh."

Jack shut the notebook, stuffed it into Daniel's vest, and pushed the whole thing off to the side. "Not really--just had too many short ones lately." He reached up and keyed his radio. "Hey--" The radio in Daniel's vest on the ground crackled. So much for that. "Okay...never mind."

"What the hell did you do to him? He was supposed to be safe."

Jack gritted his teeth. "You don't know--"

"Yeah, I do," O'Neill retorted. "This was exactly what we were afraid of, and you know it."

"You have no idea what's happened to him," Jack said. "You don't know what's happened to all of us."

"Well, whose fault is that?"

There was no good answer for that.

O'Neill glared at him a moment longer, then said, "Least Carter got promoted. Apparently some things have gone right. Tell her 'congratulations.'"

"I did," Jack said.

"For crying out loud," O'Neill muttered. Before Jack could decide what to do, O'Neill sighed, something Jack hadn't been sure robots did. "You have no idea how lucky you are," he said.

"Getting a little maudlin, are we?" Jack returned before he could think, because it was weird hearing stuff like that coming out in his voice. He remembered, though, the kinds of things that went through a man's head when he was thinking about pulling the trigger--or the plug, as it were--and added, "Yeah, I know."

"No, you don't," O'Neill said, looking past him. Jack turned around and saw Captain Carter's ruined body a few slabs away.

"I'll take care of them," Jack said, and it was a promise to himself as much as it was to the other, but he supposed that was sort of the same thing.

"If my power core's messed up," O'Neill said flatly, "I'm probably plugged in from my back."

Jack eyed the robot's form lying on the stone.

"The cord goes under the table, flyboy," O'Neill added, annoyed.

"Hey--" Jack started, then clamped down on it and ducked to see under the table. "Yeah, I see the cord," he said.

"That's actually a bunch of cords...and don't break anything or Harlan'll just have to fix it," he added just as Jack was thinking of cutting it. "But next to it, there's a switch--"

"Yeah, all right. Just push it?"

"Fastest way to do it."

Fingering the switch on the underside of the table, Jack said, "Got it."

"And I don't want to be able to be downloaded back into anything," O'Neill added. "Ever again. You got it? We keep our brains in the same place you do. It's not hard. You know what to do."

Jack touched his gun. "I get it. I'll do it."

But before either of them could do anything else, Daniel walked back into the room. Jack wasn't sure whether he'd been eavesdropping or if he'd counted minutes and decided time was up.

"You're not going to change your mind?" Daniel said, stepping close to the table. "Or take some time to think about it? I'm still offering."

"Offering what?" Jack said.

O'Neill glanced at him, then looked at Daniel and patted his hand once. "My choice. Not changing my mind."

Daniel nodded but didn't say anything. Instead, he lowered himself to sit at O'Neill's side. Jack moved around to the other side. If he'd been about to die, his own face wasn't what he'd want to see last in the world. "Do you sleep?" Daniel said.

"Well...not really," O'Neill said. "Sort of. Power-conservation mode."

"Go to sleep, Jack," Daniel said.

O'Neill's eyes lingered on Daniel for several seconds, and then closed. It wasn't until Daniel looked up and met Jack's eyes that Jack reached under the table and depressed the switch.

For a second, nothing happened. Then the tiny, mechanical whirring and clicking noises slowed and stopped.

Neither of them moved.

Then Daniel pulled his hand out from under O'Neill's, leaving the entire body to look like it was really dead, because it was lying too still to be sleeping. A moment later, he shivered, and Jack moved around the table to pull him away.

"Don't look," Jack said.

"Jack, what--"

"He wouldn't want you to remember him like that," Jack said. "Trust me."

Daniel bit his lip and nodded in understanding, but he stared a moment longer before turning away and bending to pick up his vest.

"You go home first," Jack ordered. "I need to talk to Harlan about burying the 'gate, and then I'll meet you back on base. All right?" There was no answer. "Daniel?"

"All right," Daniel said quietly, and left.

Jack waited until he was gone and out of earshot before raising his gun and shooting his double in the head. Remembering the radio and the other wires all over the guy's body, Jack put another bullet in his chest, just in case.

XXXXX

10 July 2001; Briefing Room, SGC; 1600 hrs

"Everything is done?" General Hammond said.

"Yes, sir," Jack said. "Juna's going to need some time to adjust--again--but Cronus's body was pretty convincing, and we gave them some better advice this time around. They're letting us keep the mothership there until we have a place to move it."

"And that's where we come in," Jacob said. "As you know, the situation with Tanith is a very sensitive one, so we can't wait long before we set our plan into motion."

If it hadn't been for the chaos of that whole day, Jack thought he might have been much more pissed off about the fact that they'd just killed Cronus twenty-four hours ago, and already they'd told the Tok'ra and gotten their shiny new hatak vessel co-opted for Tok'ra moving day.

As it was, he glanced around the table at the rest of his team and said, "How long've we got before you need to pull off this new plan?"

"We should do it as soon as possible," Hammond said. "It can't be easy to hide something this big in a society like the Tok'ra, especially with Tanith looking specifically for intelligence."

"The High Council has been talking about this for a couple of months now," Jacob added. "We've just been waiting for an opportunity, and with this hatak vessel, we can finally move to a secure base and stop worrying about Tanith once and for all."

"That being said," Hammond added, "it's gone on for months already. After the day SG-1 just had, I'm sure resting another day or so first won't hurt."

"How long is the trip from Juna to Vorash?" Daniel spoke up, more subdued than usual.

"Without knowing the specifications of Cronus's ship..." Jacob said.

"Our ship," Jack reminded him.

Jacob smirked at him. "Of course. Anyway, from our distance calculations and Teal'c's estimates...under two days."

"Well...there's nothing else to clean up from this last mission, sir," Carter said, "besides Juna politics and continuing to monitor those Jaffa, but that's a long-term thing. We can help with any problems when we get back, or any other team can help if needed before that. If we're going to be on a ship for over a day anyway, we'll have time to rest."

Hammond looked over all four of them and landed his gaze on Jack. "Medically speaking?"

"A few bruises, sir," Jack said, "but Teal'c was hurt worse than anyone else--"

"I am fine," Teal'c countered.

"Exactly. So by the time we get to Vorash, we'll be good to go. I mean, we're just standing around and letting them use our ship, right?"

With a nod, Hammond said, "And...other than medically speaking?"

"I think we should resolve the Tanith issue as soon as possible," Daniel said. "I don't want to be the one to tell Hebron he stayed Goa'ulded an extra few days because we were tired."

Jack grimaced. It was so easy to forget about Hebron sometimes until someone brought him up. He looked at Carter and Teal'c, too, and both of them gave him a nod. "We can leave as soon as everything's ready to go, sir," Jack said.

But Hammond had been there when they'd each gotten back hours ago, still covered in smears of Juna war paint and dirt, not a joke from Jack or a word from Carter or Daniel about the technology or the philosophy of life. Still directing his question to Jack, Hammond asked again, "Are you sure?"

Daniel was looking straight at him, though, so Jack said, "Objections, anyone?"

"No," Daniel said immediately. "I want to get this over with."

"I'm ready, sir," Carter added.

"I should return to Juna first and inspect the hatak," Teal'c said. "Perhaps Selmak can join me."

Hammond stood. "Take an hour or two to make sure you have everything you'll need for the trip. Teal'c, Jacob--you can go to Juna as soon as you're ready, and I'll send the rest along to meet you when everything's set. Good luck, people."


From the next chapter ("Vorash"):

Teal'c's smile became frighteningly gleeful. "I look forward to crushing Tanith between my fingers as he crushed Shan'auc's symbiote between his."

"Oh," Daniel said. "That's...nice."


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