Title: Archaeology (Table of Contents)
Disclaimer: Nothing you recognize is mine. I gain nothing of material value from this.
Chapter 27: Vorash
11 July 2001; Cronus's Hatak; 1200 hrs
Daniel had imagined doing many things upon joining SG-1 two years ago. Playing chess with a Tok'ra in the cargo hold of a Goa'uld mothership was not one of them.
It wasn't even Jacob, though that would have been strange enough; General Hammond had asked Martouf if he wanted to accompany them. If Jacob was the Tau'ri representative to the Tok'ra, Martouf was his counterpart at the SGC, and he hadn't seen other Tok'ra for months.
There were concerns, of course. While Martouf and Lantash together had become fairly good at daily tasks, it still required far too much concentration for him to orient himself in an unfamiliar room or situation, much less an unfamiliar world or section of space. Still, while Jacob might be willing to give them all flying lessons, it wasn't something they were going to learn immediately. If Jacob and Teal'c were both busy and something went wrong, they would need someone who had some idea of what he was doing.
"My condition makes me particularly unsuited to flying," Martouf had pointed out, looking bemused. "The instincts I once used for such tasks...my muscular response to sensory input and processing is not optimal, and..."
"You still know what all the buttons do, right?" Jack had pointed out. "You can backseat-fly."
Daniel was pretty sure that it was a combination of the prospect of returning to visit his own people briefly, spending free time in a ship with Sam, and going on any sort of mission at all that convinced the man that he should join them.
So while everyone else was running around the ship (Jack), examining the engineering room (Sam), or helping Jacob fly the ship and check the controls (Teal'c), Daniel found himself playing a strategy game with a former Tok'ra operative. Sam said that Martouf liked to do puzzles and play games like this as a sort of brain-exercise, and they did have a long trip with many hours to pass.
"Can I ask a question?" Daniel said as he pushed a Rook three squares forward.
Martouf looked up, then back down at the board. "Of course. Remind me again--this piece may move...?"
"Like this," Daniel said, pointing diagonally outward from the Bishop in question. Martouf nodded and considered the board. "How separate are you and Lantash? I mean...does one mind control your, uh...body at a time? Or can Martouf talk while Lantash moves a chess piece?"
"Mm," Martouf said.
He didn't say anything else, though. Daniel wasn't sure whether it was because this was considered impolite conversation in Tok'ra company or he was just focusing on the game.
Then Martouf captured a Pawn, put it aside, and said, "When I speak, I am in control of this body. However, Lantash is never silent to me. In a very real sense, through influence, we share control."
"Is that how you think of it?" Daniel asked. "That's the body that either of you can use, not, well, Martouf's body that Lantash...entered?"
"We share this body without reservation," Martouf said. "But it is still Martouf's--one day, the body that you see will die, and Martouf along with it, while Lantash will live on."
"Oh. Right." Daniel started to pick up a Pawn and then put it back down without moving it. "Lantash would need to find another host, yes?"
He grimaced at the chessboard, debating simultaneously whether to move that Pawn or that Knight and whether to ask his question or not. In the end, he moved the Pawn and stayed quiet.
Perhaps Martouf had heard the question anyway, though, or had thought of it himself. "We are aware that few humans are willing to blend with a symbiote without understanding it," Martouf said calmly, "especially when that symbiote is not...completely whole. Lantash did suffer some damage from the zatarc device, if not as much as I."
Daniel glanced at his face. "I didn't mean... I mean, you seem to manage pretty well most of the time." Sam would get everyone to withhold coffee from him when they got back to base if she thought he was being mean to Martouf. Either that, or she'd help him with sparring.
But Martouf said, "There are certain things that both of our minds lack--the ability to strengthen some types of memories, for instance--but Dr. Fraiser believes those impairments in Lantash would be compensated by a fully functioning host's mind. In truth, if Lantash sought another host now, he might be able to return to our work as an operative."
Startled by the man's bluntness, and the lack of bitterness in his tone, Daniel could only say, "Uh...well. Okay."
A moment later, he looked up from the board and saw Martouf glaring at him. Daniel couldn't figure out what had brought that on, and then realized it was Lantash. "It will be many years before I will need another host," Lantash said, sounding annoyed. "I will not abandon Martouf to find a new host, if that is what you ask."
"No, no, no," Daniel assured him quickly. "I wasn't trying to imply that you would. It's just that, what with the secrecy on Earth, and because there aren't many actually available to volunteer as hosts..." Lantash glared a little more, so Daniel, realizing his utter lack of tact far too late, added, "Sorry. I didn't mean to pry. You won't need another host for many years, I know."
He looked back at the chessboard, so he only noticed peripherally when Lantash's posture relaxed to Martouf's less-offended seat. "Forgive us," Martouf said.
"No, forgive me," Daniel said, embarrassed. "I'm sorry. Sometimes I talk without thinking first."
Martouf smiled. "So does Lantash. Your move," he said, gesturing at the board.
"No, it's your turn."
"No, I am quite certain it is yours."
"No, it's not."
"Yes, it is."
The whole thing suddenly struck Daniel as absurd, and he snorted a laugh. Martouf's smile widened sheepishly.
"In the next days, the fate of the Tok'ra will rest in our hands," Martouf said ironically.
Daniel scratched his head, knowing he'd been distracted. He thought he remembered that Martouf might have made a move, but he was pretty sure he'd made one, too, while both of them had been distracted... Abandoning the game, he sat up straight and leaned back on his hands. "You and Lantash are, uh...very different."
"He can hear you," Martouf reminded him.
"I know--I'm not trying to talk behind his back."
"Then you are correct."
"You don't ever disagree on what to do?" Daniel asked. He imagined Martouf trying to walk to the left and Lantash to the right. He thought Lantash would win out but couldn't decide whether he thought that because Lantash was more boisterous or because Lantash was the Goa'uld. "I'm sorry--is this something I shouldn't be asking?" he said belatedly.
"Do not apologize for curiosity, Daniel," Martouf said. "I work in Samantha's laboratory--I am well accustomed to questions."
"You can tell people to mind their own business, you know, if we're bothering you."
"Between SG-1, General Hammond, and Lantash," Martouf said, "you may rest assured that I feel very well protected."
"Lantash is very protective of you," Daniel said. "Of Martouf, not just the whole...ensemble."
"Two minds do not have to be the same to be devoted to one another," Martouf said, then smiled. "But all of you on SG-1 must know that very well. I sometimes imagine that I can hear you and Colonel O'Neill shouting from two levels above."
Daniel flushed slightly at the exaggeration. "Jack and I are not symbiotic," he pointed out. "We'd go insane if our voices were in each other's heads."
Martouf laughed softly. "Perhaps," he acknowledged. "It is difficult for you to understand without having experienced a blending. It is not...a voice inside one's head. We are two voices, but we act as one."
"I...have no idea what that means," Daniel admitted.
"You wouldn't," Jacob's voice said. Daniel turned around to see him and Sam in the doorway. "Trust me--you can't really understand until you've been blended yourself."
"Hm," Daniel said, not wanting to accept that he just couldn't possibly know but not wanting to continue badgering Martouf, either.
"Has something happened?" Martouf said. "I thought you were flying the ship, Jacob."
"Teal'c's watching the controls while we're in hyperspace," Jacob explained. "Jack's...'helping.' I was getting bored and Sam and I wanted to know where you guys had disappeared to."
Martouf perked up. "Do you need help in the engine room, Samantha?"
"She'd better not be messing around with anything she needs help with," Jacob answered, giving his daughter a sideways look that was returned as a scowl.
"I haven't been messing around with anything, Dad!" she protested. "I'm just looking. There are areas I still don't completely understand, that's all."
"I could explain to you," Martouf offered.
Daniel looked one more time at their chess game, then cleared the board. Martouf looked like he wanted to go and join Sam, and neither of them could remember where they'd left off, anyway. So Martouf thanked Daniel politely for the game and Daniel thanked him back for answering all the questions, and Martouf left, trailing after Sam.
He'd already finished packing the chessboard away when he first realized Jacob was still standing in the doorway. "Something wrong?" Daniel asked, standing up.
Jacob shook his head. "You know the way back up to the peltak? It's a big ship."
"Oh. Well, thanks, but I'm sure I could've found it eventually on my own."
Walking with him back out of the room and around the admittedly-confusing corridor that led toward the upper level, Jacob said, "Teal'c tells me you killed Cronus with him."
Daniel had to laugh at that. "Only if you count distracting Cronus by being stepped on. I just got in the way long enough for Teal'c to shoot."
"Team effort," Jacob said, shrugging unconcernedly. "I tell you, next time we need someone completely undaunted by System Lords to help us on a mission, we'll come right to you. Pick your specialty--infiltration?" When Daniel's eyebrows shot up, Jacob said, "Worked on Seth. Worked on Cronus. I hear it's worked on Heru-ur and more than a few human enemies. You know what--we should make you an honorary Tok'ra spy."
"Uh...right," Daniel said, unsure whether to be amused or disturbed.
Even knowing it was meant as a compliment, if delivered with the teasing, somewhat patronizing tone he'd come to expect from Jacob, Daniel couldn't help feeling...not resentful, exactly, but not completely happy about it, either. He hadn't ever expected that someone would say his speciality was espionage instead of translation, or collecting intelligence instead of collecting data. And that last mission had been one of the ones whose results seemed different to those who had been there. He imagined some efficient employee in the Department of Defense might skim their reports and include it in the President's briefing as:
'SG-1: killed Cronus, gained mothership, freed approx. 1000 Jaffa (allegiance unconfirmed). Android technology could not be salvaged.'
"You okay?" Now Jacob was frowning at him. Daniel nodded but didn't say anything. "That was a joke, you know."
"That wasn't your first mission by a long shot..." Jacob said, looking like he was trying to figure something out. "You sure you're good for this one? You said you were."
"And I'll do what we need to do to get the Tok'ra to their new base," he said, more sharply than he'd meant. "Sorry. It's... We lost some...some friends on Juna. I was just thinking."
"The robots." Apparently, someone had explained the whole thing to him. "Daniel, sometimes we're gonna lose people--"
"I know that."
"Think of it this way," Jacob said in a tone that sounded like he was trying to be encouraging. "At least it wasn't one of the real copies--no human casualties, I hear."
Daniel reminded himself that, before seeing the robots himself, he'd been expecting to see something that set them apart from the humans, and that no Tau'ri or even Tok'ra could probably imagine anything like what Harlan's people had managed to design.
"Three people died, General," he said stiffly. "Don't tell me they don't count."
Jacob wasn't thrown, though; he never was. "They died getting Cronus killed, then, or keeping you alive long enough to kill Cronus."
Maybe the problem was that the deaths of the androids was mixed with too much shame and guilt. They had failed to keep an eye on Juna after overthrowing Heru-ur's forces; they'd failed to consider the implications of leaving people on Harlan's planet; they'd used the other team's rescue mission to assassinate Cronus, and the rescue itself had been a complete failure.
Perhaps the worst part was that, if Daniel had been part of the team the first time they'd abandoned themselves on an alien planet, he knew he would have done the same, no matter how much he'd argued this time. There were simply few other choices, with the combined issues of power consumption and security. He couldn't even honestly claim to have missed the androids over the years, not when he'd had his friends with him. Knowing that only made it worse, because he knew they'd missed Earth. They had mattered in and of themselves, and Daniel almost wished he missed them more, because they deserved that.
"Hey," Jacob said and Daniel realized he had stopped walking. Regarding him solemnly, Jacob said, "All right--maybe I don't get it, but I know what it's like to lose someone. If you want, you go back to the SGC once we hit Vorash, and that's fine. No one'll say a word. But if you're staying with us..."
"No--I'm okay," Daniel said. "Jack wouldn't have let me come if I weren't." When Jacob didn't quite look convinced, he pointed out, "We're providing transportation. I won't have a nervous breakdown loading equipment onto a ship, Jacob."
To his relief, Jacob dropped it and only said, "Not quite that flaky, huh?"
If anyone else had said it, with anything other than that smirk Jacob always wore along with two-thousand years' worth of memories and experience, Daniel might have been offended. As it was, he huffed a laugh and said, "Not quite."
They emerged into the peltak, where Jack seemed to be so bored with staring out the window into hyperspace that he'd sprawled over a chair and staring at the ceiling instead.
"Who won?" Jack said, nodding at the small, folded chess set Daniel still held in his hand.
"We lost track of the game," Daniel had to admit.
Jack gave him an incredulous look that said, 'Martouf's brain-damaged; what's your excuse?' and said aloud, "Well, I'm going out of my mind here. Who wants to play?"
Daniel sank to the floor across the board from him and decided there was something comforting, too, in the way Jack's mind worked. Maybe Martouf and Lantash had it right, after all--he and Jack were so different as to seem completely incompatible, and yet he sometimes thought it was all that kept them sane.
12 July 2001; Cronus's Hatak, Vorash; 1800 hrs
"There it is," Jacob said. Daniel looked up from the report he'd started to write in his notebook and peered outside.
Jack came in from wherever he'd been lurking and stood behind Jacob's seat. Daniel settled at Teal'c's side and saw Vorash loom into view under them. "They know we're coming, right?" Daniel said, remembering that the Tok'ra had all sorts of sensors and alarms to prevent aerial attacks.
"I have already signaled the base," Teal'c assured him. "The Council is expecting our arrival."
"Brace yourselves," Jacob said suddenly as the planet grew larger and larger in their window. "We'll hit atmosphere in three...two..."
Despite the warning, Daniel and Jack both found themselves skidding backward away from their places anyway. "Need to put in more chairs," Jack muttered, holding onto the bulwark at the back of the peltak.
The rumbling turbulence of their landing must have alerted Sam and Martouf, who hurried in to join them. "All right," Jacob said as they neared the barren-looking surface, "no one say a word to Tanith until we get him into a cell. If he tries to escape, there'll be enough people to stop him, but we don't want to risk any casualties or the chance he'll get to contact Apophis first."
"You are going to extract him, aren't you?" Sam said.
"Yeah, of course," he assured them.
They slowed, then finally stopped moving. "Keep your radios on," Jack ordered as they prepared to move toward the ring platform. "Anyone disembarking, help out if you can, and see if we can't speed this up. Or stay on board if you want--guard the ship from sticky Tok'ra fingers." Jacob gave him an exasperated look.
"Should I...?" Martouf said, stopping just outside the rings.
"Up to you," Jack said with barely a hesitation. "Stick with someone while you're down there, though. The tunnels have probably shifted a little since the last time you were there." Martouf glanced at Sam, then stepped onto the platform. "All aboard? Let's go!"
As it turned out, Daniel was a bit useless as people much stronger, more efficient, and more savvy than he worked to move things to the surface. He stood at the rings at first, intending to help, but soon decided he wasn't doing any good there.
He wasn't sure whether it was by accident or on purpose on some subconscious level, but it wasn't until he saw Teal'c striding toward Tanith's makeshift cell that he realized where he'd been wandering.
Teal'c wouldn't kill Hebron, though. Daniel was...well, kind of sure about that. Besides, there were Tok'ra guards around.
He loitered some distance away, where Teal'c couldn't see him and where Daniel would see when Teal'c walked out. The Tok'ra gave him odd looks but didn't bother him. He had a feeling the Tok'ra had decided to accept him and the rest of the unblended humans as oddities, anyway, who were best left alone unless they were interfering with something. They were probably just glad he was staying out of their way.
It seemed like hours before Teal'c walked out again, though his watch said it had been barely a minute. To Daniel's surprise--and a little alarm--there was a smug smile on his friend's face.
"Hi," he said, stepping out and unable to help a wary look toward Tanith's quarters.
Teal'c nodded to him, saw his glance and said, "He is awaiting his extraction."
"Right, of course."
"You feared I would do worse," Teal'c said, looking down at him.
"No," Daniel denied, then admitted, "Maybe. Everything okay?"
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."
Teal'c had given Daniel his word about not killing Hebron to kill Tanith if he didn't have to, though, and he hadn't. Daniel liked to think Teal'c was being rational about Tanith in a controlled situations, not just hampered by the difficulties of killing him when surrounded by armed guards.
Teal'c didn't say anything, but he moved one step to the side, enough to invite Daniel to fall into place beside him as they made their way down the corridor. Despite how hectic things were here today, and despite the fact that they were far from home, it was nice to walk next to his friend for a while and not carry a gun or listen in paranoia for footsteps behind them.
As usual, Daniel broke the silence first, because silence was fine until it became boring. "Have you seen Sam?"
"Major Carter is taking Martouf to the control room, where he can explain to her the specifications of Goa'uld motherships," Teal'c said.
It was an oddly careful way of phrasing it, but then, Martouf was an odd Tok'ra. Daniel wondered what it was like for him to see tunnels that looked familiar but whose layout he couldn't quite hold onto in his mind without long study, or to need a human to make sure he didn't get lost but be able to explain technical details to her once he was there.
"Are you glad Cronus is dead?" Daniel asked.
Even though it seemed an easy question with an obvious answer, Teal'c knew what he meant and said, after a long moment, "It was not as I had thought it would be."
Daniel nodded slowly. "What did you think it would be?"
"I have yearned for the moment of Cronus's death at my hand," Teal'c said as they wandered aimlessly through the crystalline corridors. "In my thoughts, Cronus was surprised, or resigned to his fate, or fearful."
"But always with you standing over him," Daniel guessed, "not still the one being punished and just barely escaping with our lives."
"Indeed," Teal'c said, then didn't elaborate.
"The Goa'uld are still stronger than we are in most ways," Daniel said. "We're always going to be winning by...by chance or by stealth."
Teal'c nodded once. "Cronus is dead, and my father has been avenged. That is what matters. I only wish you had not nearly died for it to pass."
Daniel shrugged. He glanced around himself, then admitted quietly, "I've dreamed of Apophis being dead, too."
The images in his dream weren't always of the death itself, though. Sometimes he was the one who pulled the trigger, but sometimes, the dreams were of simply knowing Apophis was gone, not of seeing it or doing it himself. Often, it was vague in his mind, not concrete images, and sometimes he woke gasping and terrified and other times it was quiet and almost gentle. He never knew what to think about it, which confused him more than anything else.
But Apophis was a difficult topic to breach between the two of them without going into more than they could afford to do while off-world, so Daniel added, "But I guess we have a lot to do before we need to think about that, huh?"
"That is likely," Teal'c agreed. "In fact, we must first finish transporting the Tok'ra to their new base." He picked up one end of a large console that had already been disconnected from wherever it had been plugged in before and gave Daniel a pointed look. Daniel picked up the other end and helped carry it toward the rings.
13 July 2001; Vorash; 2200 hrs
It took the better part of a day to load most of the supplies onto their ship. It seemed a long time until Daniel considered that they were actually trying to transport all of the Tok'ra, and their entire base of operations, and their Stargate. In light of that, it was actually a remarkably quick business. Moving was one of the Tok'ra's specialties. They were so efficient, in fact, that Daniel had almost begun to believe they would actually finish a mission as planned this time.
In retrospect, he supposed he should really stop thinking silly things like that.
He pressed himself against the wall of a tunnel when an alarm sounded throughout the base, already anticipating the stream of Tok'ra that ran past him a second later.
"What happened?" Daniel called when he recognized Aldwin.
Aldwin barely slowed. "Tanith's escaped," he said, and ran on.
Minutes later, the alarms had turned back off, and the frantic rush had slowed, but only because the search party was on the surface with Jack and Teal'c, and everyone else had focused his or her energy on the final steps of their move.
Even then, Daniel was left being useless again. Sam and her father closed themselves in the council room with Martouf to talk, so Daniel loitered at the ring chamber, waiting for news.
Finally, Jack returned with the group of Tok'ra patrols.
"Where's Teal'c?" Daniel said after a quick scan of the faces.
"Still looking for Tanith," Jack said, stepping off the platform and wiping sweat from his face.
Daniel looked up reflexively, as if he could see the surface from here. "You've been there for hours already--he'll get heat sickness."
Jack shook his head. "He'll be okay. He's a Jaffa." He led the way back toward the council chamber. Daniel followed, still anxious.
"He doesn't actually think he's going to find Tanith somewhere on this whole planet, on foot?"
"He's a Jaffa," Jack repeated. "He's Teal'c."
Unfortunately, that explained it pretty well.
Knowing there was more at stake than any one person--or even any team of four people--Daniel clamped down on the protest that wanted to emerge. Teal'c could get single-minded when he wanted revenge, and not in a good way. It was what made Teal'c do the kind of thing that Robert used to call stupid, and the kind of thing about which Daniel used to agree.
But Jack was doing that assessment that he thought was very subtle and actually wasn't, the one with fleeting glances at Daniel to gauge whether or not he could handle something, which was something he only did when they were about to step into a situation. A perverse part of Daniel was almost glad for whatever was coming up, despite the incredible danger it put everyone in, just because it gave him something to do and to think about.
So he only nodded and said, "The Council's been coordinating all the Tok'ra on base and trying to figure out what damage Tanith was able to do. Sam, Martouf, and Jacob are in that room; she said they needed to talk to you as soon as you got back."
"Then let's go," Jack said decisively, and strode into the chamber.
Both Carters looked up at their arrival, though Martouf continued staring at something on one of their screens. "It seems Tanith's been busy," Jacob said grimly. "We've received word from one of our operatives that Apophis has been given our location."
Daniel winced. "He must be trying to make up for months of mistakes."
Jacob nodded. "An attack fleet is being assembled."
"How long will it take him to get here?" Jack asked.
"Less than a day," Jacob said.
Alarmed, Daniel checked his watch, though he wasn't sure what he expected it to tell him. "We have to speed up the evacuation," he said. "It was supposed to take another...at least a day or two before we'd finish moving everything."
Sam nodded. "We're going to start sending people through the Stargate."
"What? Where?" he said. The whole point of evacuation by hatak was that the new planet didn't have a Stargate of its own. "If we leave some equipment behind, we can stuff everyone and the Stargate onto the ship and go right now before Apophis's fleet arrives."
"We have a temporary site with a Stargate on the other side," Jacob assured him. "We can go back there, pick everyone up, and take them to the permanent site afterward, but for now...Sam and I have come up with a different plan."
"If it works," Sam added, "we may be able to wipe out a significant part of Apophis's fleet, but this Stargate"--she pointed upward, toward the hatak--"will have to be destroyed to carry it out."
Jack exchanged a look with Daniel. "Okay," Daniel conceded, "that's probably worth it."
Martouf was being silent--not odd for him, exactly, but when there was some plan or some science going on, especially if it involved Sam and the Tok'ra, he was usually fairly involved. That he wasn't now, and that Jacob hadn't included his name in the plan...
Apparently, Jack had seen it, too, and asked, "Marty? You disagree?"
"There is much risk in this plan," Martouf said.
"You don't have to come--you can go with the rest of the Tok'ra to the temporary base, or go back to the SGC," Sam said, and while she didn't seem to mean it in any way but matter-of-fact honesty, Daniel barely suppressed a wince.
"My concern," Martouf said, sounding as offended as he ever did, "is not only for myself."
"Okay, wait," Jack holding up a hand. "What is this plan?"
Daniel had to admit that the apprehensive look Sam exchanged with her father did little for his confidence.
Martouf sighed but pressed something on the screen he was looking at as Jacob explained, "This is the sun Vorash is orbiting. It's a regular main-sequence star with a core temperature of about fifteen million degrees and enough hydrogen to burn for another five billion years."
"Yeah?" Jack said.
Jacob raised his eyebrows. "We wanna blow it up."
14 July 2001; Cronus's Hatak; 1400 hrs
And so Daniel found himself standing in the peltak of a hatak vessel.
He would have sat instead, but sitting on the floor meant he couldn't see out the window when Apophis arrived in their section of space. There was a chair, too, which served as the throne for the Goa'uld who ruled the ship, but Jack had called 'shotgun' when they'd boarded and, while Daniel, Teal'c, and Martouf ducked and tried to figure out where the gun was, Jack had hopped into the chair.
By the time all the Tok'ra on Vorash had had the chance to board the hatak and evacuate through the Stargate to their temporary base, and by the time Jack had had time to call the SGC and tell General Hammond about the change in plans, Jacob estimated that Apophis would arrive within hours.
Jack wanted to fly the ship. Jacob gave him a look and didn't let him near the controls as they sailed toward the sun. Daniel still had concerns about flying toward a sun as they tried to suck part of it through a Stargate into a black hole to make it explode, though, so he really hoped the Carters knew what they were doing.
As Sam and Martouf moved to the cargo bay to deal with the Stargate, Daniel saw Teal'c walk quietly out of the peltak and followed him into the next room.
"Tanith's escape wasn't your fault," Daniel said once he'd found his friend.
Teal'c took a deep breath and released it, like breathing in kelno'reem but standing alert and ready for battle. Finally, he answered, "Twice, I have had the opportunity to avenge the murder of Shan'auc. Twice, I have let Tanith slip through my fingers. I have failed her."
"No," Daniel said immediately. "No, Teal'c--the Tok'ra lost him, not you. You were...very restrained to let him live as long as you did, because," he continued over Teal'c's glower, "it was the right thing to do. And now...Teal'c, look. Apophis is coming. We're going to destroy Apophis. Teal'c. Apophis."
"It will be a great victory," Teal'c said, but it was clear from his tone that Apophis's death would be, to him, unrelated to Tanith's survival. Winning one did not make up for losing another.
Daniel nodded, only able to speak calmly because he didn't dare really hope that Apophis would truly be dead this time, not after everything that had happened before. "Yes. It will."
"And yet," Teal'c said in a low voice, "knowing what Apophis has done to your family, would you not trade it all for the opportunity to crush the life from his throat with your bare hands?"
"I've...thought about it," Daniel said again, because there was no lying to Teal'c about this, "but we have another option that makes more sense. We saw it with Cronus--we have to strike wherever we can, not however we want."
Teal'c looked at the door. "In the future," he warned, "I will not be capable of such restraint."
"Well," Daniel said, "if all goes well, there won't be a future in which to exercise restraint of any kind on Apophis or Tanith."
Or Hebron, he reminded himself and pushed that thought away to deal with after the sun had exploded and they were safely away. He knew there were more important things at stake now, even as he hated himself a little bit for believing that. He pushed that firmly away, too.
Then, from wherever the speakers were in the walls of the ship, Jack's voice said, "Everyone not tossing the Stargate at a sun, get back to the peltak. We're starting now."
Without another word, Daniel left the room, glad when Teal'c stepped into place next to him and joined him at the bridge. "...initiating remote dialing sequence," Sam's voice was saying from speakers in the peltak.
Jacob leaned over to the communications controls. "Ready when you are, guys," he said.
They waited, holding their breath. And then--"Wormhole established," Sam said. "The 'gate on P3W-451 is still active. The black hole must not have pulled it apart yet."
"Engaging force field," Martouf's voice added. "Opening cargo bay doors."
"Releasing the clamps...and...the 'gate is away," Sam said.
With a glance down at the sensors, Jacob said, "'Gate trajectory on course. All right, time to--"
The hatak shuddered.
Grabbing onto the nearest solid structure, Jack said, "What the hell was that?"
Sam and Martouf hurried in just then as Jacob said briskly, "We're under attack. Teal'c--weapons."
Daniel jumped as a console appeared from the floor next to his feet. He backed away, and Teal'c took his place behind the console. "Shields are inoperative," he said immediately.
"Can't be Apophis; it's too soon," Jacob said.
"The target is an al'kesh," Teal'c added. Jack raised his eyebrows at Teal'c, who explained tersely, "A Goa'uld mid-range bomber. Charging weapons... Returning fire."
Daniel held onto the side of the ship, wishing the Goa'uld would at least build ships with handholds if they refused to build chairs. The al'kesh flitted into view for the first time, and Daniel saw a beam strike it even as their own hatak trembled again.
"She's too quick," Jacob said, steadying them. "Here she comes again, Teal'c!"
Teal'c's eyes moved over monitor before him. He fired.
Their ship jerked to the side. Daniel had time to press himself more firmly against the wall before the lights died and plunged them into darkness.
"Jacob?" Jack's voice said from the blackness around them.
Auxiliary lights flickered on enough to illuminate the main monitors and the lights at the window. "They got us pretty good," Jacob said. "We've lost main power. Hyperdrive is down. We're sitting ducks."
"So why aren't we dead?" Daniel asked, frustrated and wishing there were something--anything--he could do aside from trying to stand in place.
"They took a direct hit," Jacob said. "They might be as damaged as we are."
Before anyone could ask who 'they' were, anyway, Lantash announced from beside Teal'c, "We have no tactical indicators or weapons."
Jacob shook his head and pushed away from the console, moving toward the engine room. "I have to check it out," he said.
"Hey!" Jack said. "Uh--whoa! We've still got an enemy ship out there."
"Sir, when that gate reaches the sun..." Sam started.
"It's not gonna make a difference if we get blown out of the sky!"
"What do you want us to do, Jack?" Jacob said. "We have no weapons or shields. We need our hyperdrive or it won't matter who's shooting at what."
Jack glared at him, clearly very aware of the fact that their ship--the one they'd just won from Cronus--had been damaged, then said abruptly, "Gliders. This ship's got gliders, right?"
"Of course," Jacob said.
Lantash started to move away from his console, perhaps heading for the glider bay, when Jack said, "Ah--Teal'c and I'll handle this one."
"Do you know how to fly an udajeet, Colonel?" Lantash snapped.
"Can you fly one?" Jack snapped back. Lantash clenched his jaw but had to look away. Flying in open space like this, handling delicate controls and chasing an al'kesh through who-knew-where with no set path, was something Martouf shouldn't really do without practice if he couldn't find his way on foot from one end of the ship to the other. "Look--I'll ride in the backseat with Teal'c. Keep an eye on things here."
And then Jack and Teal'c were gone.
Lantash made a violent motion as if to kick the console, then stopped and slowly put his foot back down. It wasn't until he sighed that Daniel realized Martouf was back.
"Martouf--" Sam started.
But Martouf managed a brief, not-quite-bitter smile and said, "Colonel O'Neill is correct. I am certain that he and Teal'c will be fine, and there is no time to waste."
A minute later, Jack's voice said through their speakers, "And we're off."
"We read you, Jack," Jacob answered. "You see the al'kesh?"
"We're pursuing. Stand by."
Daniel stood by until he could no longer stand standing by and stepped toward the weapons console next to Jacob. The sensors that still worked displayed information in Goa'uld. He supposed that might be why Jack, during his very brief flying lessons on the way to Vorash, had preferred flying by feel and instinct--when one couldn't read the instruments, one had to rely on the view on the other side of the window.
"We're not detecting anything--udajeet or al'kesh," Daniel said worriedly, glancing at Jacob.
"Doesn't mean anything," Jacob said tensely. "We've got some sensors down." Daniel nodded and continued looking, making sure to stay out of Jacob's way. Finally, it seemed that Jacob couldn't stand it, either, and he reached toward the communications controls. "Jack, what's happening out there?"
"They're breaking off," Jack answered.
"So let them go," Jacob said.
There was a long pause. And then Jack said, "Teal'c thinks the ship might be going to pick up Tanith."
"Uh-oh," Daniel said, knowing what was going to happen. And since Teal'c was flying...
"That makes sense," Jacob agreed. "He probably had his ship waiting in a nearby system the whole time. That's why they got here so fast."
"Yeah, well...seems we're going after him."
"What?" Martouf said.
"You only have a little more than an hour, sir," Sam said urgently.
"Ah, Carter, relax," Jack said, sounding nervous. "We'll be back in plenty of time. Right, Teal'c, we'll be back in plenty of time? Buddy?...Pal? Oh god..."
Jacob made a noise of frustration and backed away. "Martouf--" he started, then looked between him and Sam. "Dammit. Sam, I'm going to need your help with the hyperdrive."
"I can help you with that," Martouf said, looking eager to do something.
"But Sam can't fly this ship," Jacob replied. "You and Daniel take the peltak."
"Uh--wh...but--" Daniel said.
"We'll stay in touch," Jacob promised. Sam followed him away.
"I do not know how well I can fly well if we need to maneuver," Martouf said once they were alone at the bridge.
Daniel looked at the console. "Well, that could be a problem," he said.
Still, Martouf shook his head and stepped toward him. "Stand here," the Tok'ra instructed, steering him into place behind the controls.
"Martouf?" Daniel said anxiously even as he moved. "What are you doing?"
"Communications," Martouf said, pointing at each panel in turn. "This will broadcast to the ship and..." He paused, his eyes flicking from one set to another. "Or...was this..."
"These must correspond to the ship's levels," Daniel said. "Right? They're arranged the same way as the different rooms..."
"Yes. Yes, that must be correct," Martouf said, reddening very slightly. He moved his hand to the next one. "And this is for external communications--such as to the udajeet or to your radios. Jacob has already set the correct frequencies. You can read?"
Daniel nodded, glad some of the controls were labeled and the others arranged in a logical enough way. "Yes, but--"
"These are the manual controls. One hand here"--Martouf picked up Daniel's hand and placed it on a surprisingly cool, smooth crystal surface--"and your other here. Each one controls a different axis."
"Why are there only two axes?" Daniel said.
"Each control is three-dimensional," Martouf said. "They are also not fixed in position and can be moved independently."
"Oh," Daniel said, then frowned and tried to figure out just how many axes and dimensions that was in total and whether any of them overlapped or what he was supposed to do if he needed to use one of his hands for something else. "Uh..."
Martouf continued, "This monitor shows other objects expending power, such as ships. Planets and stars' signatures are recalculated and displayed, but the proximity sensors are more accurate for those. You must use your eyes and the sensors both. Keep in mind as you maneuver that the gravity we feel onboard the ship does not apply to our position in space, but the computer should automatically correlate the display with the gravity settings to orient you."
Daniel twisted his hand slightly on one of the main controls, hoping to see the ship turn and wincing as the ship only shuddered.
"That is because we have no engines yet," Martouf assured him. "Your movement is correct."
"Look, Martouf, uh..."
"This will engage the hyperdrive," Martouf said over him. "A destination can be set after entering the window, but be certain that no one follows you through the window."
"Daniel!" Martouf finally said, looking frustrated as he so rarely did. "It does not have to be elegant. You only need to push the ship in the direction you wish and activate the hyperdrive as soon as it is operational. I will try to tell you if you need to change something, but I cannot..." He made a face, peering out into the blackness outside the window. "My coordination--the fine controls are beyond my abilities."
"I hate to tell you this," Daniel said, "but the fine controls might be beyond my abilities, too."
"I will help you," Martouf said, "but until Selmak returns, you will hold the hatak."
"You can fly in a straight line," Daniel protested, wondering if this was a neurological issue or a psychological one. "I'll...crash in a straight line or something."
Martouf gave him a very small smile. "I could, yes. I am not entirely familiar myself with the schematics of this newer class of hatak that Cronus had and fear that I will be unable to adjust quickly enough. I will man some of the controls, and we will help each other."
"It's darker than I realized," Daniel said nervously, looking out the window. "It doesn't seem as dark when someone else is flying."
"Space...is generally dark, yes," Martouf agreed. "But if you can read and understand the schematics and the computer's readings, you can fly the ship without looking outside at all."
Even as they spoke one of the monitors flickered to life, and the lights overhead turned back on.
Reluctantly, Daniel turned back to the monitor, skimmed over the display, and reached to activate the communications between the peltak and engine room.
"Jacob, Sam, we have tactical indicators," Daniel called. "Main engines are back and...main power's charging. Weapons and shields are still down. So is the hyperdrive."
"We hear you," Jacob's voice answered. "We're working on the rest of it."
Martouf took a breath and stepped up next to him.
"They're still pursuing the al'kesh," Daniel told the Tok'ra, finally able to follow Jack and Teal'c's movements on the screen, now that they had power. He twisted his hand on the control, and this time, the hatak turned to face in the direction of Vorash. He overshot and had to turn back more slowly, but in any case, both ships were out of sight by eye. "They're...I think they're close to the planet now."
"Then it was indeed moving toward Tanith," Martouf observed. When they'd been staring for a while, he suggested, "Perhaps we should move closer to Vorash. Our shields should be repaired by the time we arrive, and we will be able to escape more quickly if we are closer to Colonel O'Neill and Teal'c. There is no reason for us to linger near the sun and you can practice maneuvering. Trust me--it is not as difficult as you imagine."
"Okay," Daniel said. He looked up out the window, then back down at the screen. "Okay," he repeated, then carefully slid his hand forward.
He barely felt them moving, but then, that was what all the dampening and artificial gravity systems were for. A glance at the monitor showed them approaching the planet in something vaguely resembling a straight line. A tiny twitch of his finger made them wobble, and he hastily fixed their path.
"Good," Martouf said. "Do you see your velocity?"
It took a while to find it on the side screen, but finally, Daniel said, "Yeah...but I don't really know how fast seven percent of light speed actually is."
"Do not worry. I have the acceleration controls. I will adjust as necessary."
Daniel nodded, unable to hold back a wince as he saw their ship pick up speed relative to the other two ships, which were now practically on top of the planet on the monitors.
"We are still fine," Martouf assured him. "This ship is capable of travelling far faster than this without damage."
"I'm more concerned about how fast I need to steer to avoid damage," Daniel told him.
Martouf smiled briefly, even looking amused. "Relax," he said. "Nothing will happen."
He wasn't even bothering to try to orient himself looking out the window or at the graphical displays like Daniel was doing; instead, he controlled their speed by numerical readings on the monitor alone. Jack had told Daniel once that flying without readings from the instruments on an aircraft was like flying blind; Daniel supposed that relying on numbers and a human copilot for someone used to relying on the view outside and other schematics and himself must be nearly as difficult.
"Do not watch me," Martouf admonished, and Daniel snapped his eyes back to his own screen, glancing up occasionally at the window. With Martouf trying to compensate for Daniel's wobbles by adjusting the output from each engine, and with Daniel compensating for the overcompensation by steering back just slightly...well, it was bumpy, but they eventually settled into a tense rhythm of shifting hands and glances and made their careful way toward Vorash.
They had almost reached the planet by the time everything went wrong again.
Suddenly, from the speaker, Jack's voice said, "Mayday, mayday--we are so goin' in!"
Daniel slapped a hand over the external communications. "Jack? Can you hear me?" No one answered. "Jack, we can't hear you. What's going on?" Still nothing. "Jack!"
A hum started. "Weapons and shields are up," Martouf said, but the speaker stayed silent.
Unsure what to do, Daniel looked back at this screen, noted that all systems aside from the hyperdrive were back, and said, "Where are they? I don't see them."
"Our hatak does not detect any other ship," Martouf said.
"They have either landed and turned off power," Martouf said, "or they engaged a cloak--"
"The udajeet don't have cloaks!"
"--or they have been too badly damaged to show on our sensors."
"Jack!" Daniel tried again. "Teal'c!"
Martouf slowed their forward movement and said tersely, "Engine room." Daniel activated the right switch on the communications panel, and Martouf called, "Jacob?"
"Go ahead, Martouf," Jacob said. "Is the power back on?"
"Yes, as are shields and weapons. However, we received a distress call from Colonel O'Neill," Martouf said. "We no longer detect either of the ships."
"What's going on?" Sam's voice answered. "What'd he say?"
"The transmission was lost before we could learn more."
Silence answered them. Daniel looked out the window and then glanced toward Vorash again. "We're going to find them," he said, and, powering the engines again, slid the ship forward. Martouf tensed and returned to man those controls but didn't tell him to stop or otherwise argue.
"Whoa--where are you going?" Jacob's voice barked.
"We're going back for them," Daniel called back. "We're practically there anyway."
"Daniel--" Jacob started, but Sam spoke over him.
"Dad, we have to," she insisted. "There's still time. Guys, we need to fix the hyperdrive--can you handle it up there until we're done?"
To Daniel's relief, Lantash emerged and agreed, "We can. Jacob, our weapons and shields are superior to those of the al'kesh. You must finish repairing the hyperdrive."
There was a pause, and then--"All right," Jacob said. "We'll finish up here."
Daniel looked down at the monitor that showed their speed. "Is that fast or slow?" he asked as he tried very hard not to twitch his hands at all.
"Too fast," Lantash said, but his was still the hand on the engine's controls, and he didn't change their course. There was a note of anticipation in his voice, too, while Martouf had stayed wary. As they glided the rest of the short distance, Daniel wondered if Martouf could tell how much Lantash missed the action.
By the time they were in orbit over Vorash, though, Lantash was scowling fiercely at the monitors and had slowed them down considerably. Daniel wished they'd had a chance to have a lesson about landing and entering atmosphere, too, and was debating whether to let the Tok'ra take over completely before they had to deal with that.
Suddenly, a flashing message appeared on one of the monitors. "What does that warning mean?" Daniel said.
"What does it say?" Lantash said, not looking away, his face a picture of concentration.
"It says, 'warning, warning,'" Daniel said. Lantash finally glanced over and then growled a curse.
"Hyperdrive's almost back," Jacob called. "Don't crash before we get there!"
"We are directly over Vorash," Lantash broadcast to the ship. "Sensors show that Apophis has arrived."
"Oh," Daniel said.
Sam ran into the peltak. "Dad's finishing; he'll be right up," she said.
"Apophis's ships will come this way soon if he detects us," Lantash said.
"Okay, stay here and try to raise them again," she said, then tapped Daniel on the shoulder. "Come on."
Not sure what they were doing, Daniel followed her out of the bridge. She ducked into a nearby room first, and Daniel just barely caught a vest as she tossed it at him. "Are we going out there?" he said even as he hurried to pull it on.
"Yeah--they might be hurt," she answered, zipping her vest shut and picking up a submachine gun. "Get to the room."
"What are you two doing?" Jacob said as he passed them on his way to the peltak.
"Just get us into position over the rings on Vorash, Dad," she called back, not stopping as she handed another gun to Daniel. He zipped his vest shut as quickly as possible while running back into the corridor after her.
"Sam! There's no time--"
Ignoring him, they skidded together into the ring room. "Be ready as soon as we hit the surface," she told him. Daniel stepped onto the platform, briefly checking his gun and setting it to automatic. Sam hit the combination at the panel and joined him. "Get down." Daniel crouched, raising his gun and hearing her move behind him. "Dad, we'll be right back!" she yelled.
The sound of rings drowned out whatever Jacob was yelling at them from the speakers.
Except they landed not on Vorash, but in the peltak of another ship.
"What...?" Daniel said, looking around frantically and only slightly relieved when he didn't see anyone. His eyes caught on a familiar symbol, though... "Sam--this is one of Apophis's al'kesh. How did we get onto--?"
"It must've come for Tanith to pick him up after the other al'kesh crashed," she said, standing up. "If it was cloaked and hovering between our ship and Vorash, our matter stream would've been intercepted."
"But no one's here. If they came for Tanith, he should be here."
"Tanith and whoever flew this ship must be waiting below--oh, damn," she said. "If Tanith's still down there and hasn't ringed up, it's for a reason. The colonel and Teal'c don't know about the reinforcements--"
"Ambush," he realized.
"Yeah. Think you could fly this down to the surface?" she said.
Daniel's eyebrows shot up. "Without crashing? Safer to use the rings."
"Right--stay there," she said, hurrying off the ring platform and toward the console to set the controls for the rings again. "Three..."--she ran back onto the platform--"two...one..."
This time, they landed on familiar sand, staring at the familiar sun they were trying to destroy. There was no one anywhere in front of him.
Gunfire sounded from behind, though--Sam.
Daniel whirled and joined her. There were two Jaffa, and one was already dead--Serpent mark, Apophis--and he didn't even have a chance to open fire before the other fell to Sam, too.
She whipped back around and stood, placing them back-to-back again. "You see Tanith?" she said.
"No," Daniel said, standing, squinting across the sandy landscape.
"Keep your eyes open and radio the colonel," she said.
Daniel braced his gun against his shoulder and reached up to his radio with his left hand. "Jack, Teal'c, do you read?"
"Jack, this is Daniel. Come in."
"Yeah, we're here," Jack's voice answered, and Daniel felt himself start to lower his weapon in relief. "Thanks for checking in!"
"We're on the planet. There was an ambush waiting for you at the rings--hurry up! Apophis is here!"
There was a tiny pause, and then, "We're almost--"
"Daniel!" Sam yelled.
Her body slammed into him, knocking him to the sand, and only hours of practice let him hold onto his gun as he landed. Before he could recover, her weight disappeared and she opened fire. He heard a zat'nik'tel as he turned to look for what she was shooting at.
Tanith was half-hidden behind a large rock, the one Daniel often used as a landmark to remember where the rings were. "Go!" Sam said, jerking her head toward a sand dune and raising her gun again.
Daniel scrambled to cover, then called, "Sam, move!" and rose over top just enough to fire at Tanith.
He thought he might have hit, but he couldn't be sure, since Tanith dropped back out of range. He stopped shooting for a second. Tanith's head appeared again around the stone, and Daniel squeezed the trigger again, squinting past the sun's glare until the Goa'uld ducked away.
Then Sam joined him, and by the time Tanith stuck his hand out with the zat again, both of them were safely behind the dune. Sam grabbed him and pulled him back down. "You okay?" she asked breathlessly.
"Yeah," he said, too flushed with adrenaline to really feel anything yet. He looked sharply at her. "You?"
"Fine. We've gotta--"
The sound of rings came from beyond them.
"No--no!" Daniel said, rising up again to see Tanith on the platform. He fired, and he could see now that there was a spot of red on the Goa'uld's shoulder, but the wound clearly wasn't fatal, because Tanith was still standing when he disappeared in a beam of white.
"...you hear me, Dad?" Sam was saying into her radio.
The response was immediate. "We have to go," Jacob said. "They're closing in."
"Tanith just ringed onto his ship--it might be cloaked and nearby," she said. She glanced at Daniel, who had to shake his head. "We couldn't stop him."
"Doesn't matter," Jacob answered impatiently. "He'll blow up anyway, and Apophis is what counts. Now get back here! The sun's going supernova in three and a half minutes, if we're lucky!"
"I see them!" Daniel said, shading his eyes and pointing into the distance and hoping the two dots he saw were their teammates. He stepped out from behind their dune, waving his arms. "Jack, Teal'c!" he yelled once he'd looked around to check that there was no one else left on this planet. He keyed his radio again to say, "Hurry--the sun's about to explode and Apophis is flying here right now!"
"We're coming!" Jack answered, sounding out of breath.
Sam pushed herself to her feet, telling her father on the other channel, "Give us a minute, Dad."
"We don't have extra minutes, Sam!" Jacob snapped.
Jack and Teal'c were sprinting toward them. Sam followed Daniel to the ring platform. "We're not gonna make it," she said, glancing nervously at the sun.
"Come on," Daniel muttered, gesturing to Jack and Teal'c to hurry.
He counted another forty-two seconds before all four of them were piled on the platform. "Go," Jack gasped.
"Go!" Sam repeated into her radio, and the rings shot back up around them.
They found Martouf waiting for them when they arrived on the hatak--there was no al'kesh in the way this time. "Tanith's ship must be gone--" Daniel said.
"Ship?" Jack repeated.
"Tanith?" Teal'c repeated.
"Gone," Martouf echoed with a stern look at the Jaffa. "Jacob--go!"
"Engaging hyperdrive," Jacob's voice said.
They were jerked into the wall as they entered hyperspeed, and, regaining their balance, staggered back into the peltak.
When they arrived, though, they jerked forward again. Daniel frowned, looking out the window, and saw the normal darkness of space, not hyperspace.
"Did we just drop out?" Sam said. "What happened?"
Jacob glanced back and skimmed over all of them. He caught Teal'c's eye and jerked his head to the console. As the Jaffa went to examine the monitors with him, he said, "We must've caught the tail end of the blast wave. It knocked us off course."
"The navigational systems..." Teal'c started, then, uncharacteristically, stopped.
"What?" Daniel said warily.
Teal'c exchanged a glance with Jacob, who said, "According to these readings, we've travelled over four million light years."
"That's impossible," Sam said immediately before Daniel could ask just how far that was.
"It is not even nearly that far from one end of the galaxy to the other," Martouf added, which told Daniel that it was very, very far.
"The explosion might have somehow affected the subspace window created by the hyperdrive," Sam offered.
"Wait--wait a minute," Jack said. "What are you saying? We can't get back? It only took us a few seconds to get here."
"The ship isn't normally capable of going so fast," Jacob said. "Given our position, and maximum hyperdrive speed, it's going to take us 125 years to get back."
Daniel felt his jaw fall open, but before he could say anything, Teal'c said, "Our long-range sensors are detecting another ship."
Then a window opened, and a ship dropped into view.
"It's Apophis," Jacob said.
Blowing up a sun was one thing. Surviving a sun as it blew up, on the other hand... If Daniel hadn't been so frustrated about the fact that Apophis simply wasn't dead again, and if it weren't for the fact that Apophis was trying to blow them up in return, he might have found that rather impressive.