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nightspear ([personal profile] nightspear) wrote2009-06-20 08:09 am
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Archaeology (28/30)

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
Chapter26 Chapter27

XXXXX

Chapter 28: Apophis

XXXXX

14 July 2001; Cronus's Hatak; 1800 hrs

There were times--many times--when Daniel wished Apophis would simply die like any normal person. Usually, he meant it in the sense that Apophis really deserved to die, but occasionally, it was just tiring to find that they'd somehow failed yet again to kill him.

Daniel had thought it incredible that people could artificially blow up a sun by sucking enough of its mass off into a black hole. Sam wouldn't say it, but he knew she was the one who had done most of the calculations and was secretly proud of the fact that she'd predicted everything correctly to the last few minutes. It was an impressive feat.

But 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, he might have found that rather impressive, too.

The fact that Apophis was trying to blow them up in return didn't help his opinion, though.

"He's arming weapons," Jacob said.

"Shields?" Jack said.

"Inoperable," Teal'c said, still at the console.

"Wouldn't do any good against a ship like that anyway," Jacob added.

"Hyperdrive," Sam suggested.

Jacob shook his head again. "Not responding. The blast that propelled us here did some damage."

"Talk to him," Daniel said.

"And say what?"

Daniel thought fast for something good to say and offered, "Don't shoot?"

Jack gave him a look.

Martouf sighed. Daniel suspected that, if he'd been anything less than an abnormally calm Tok'ra, he would have been reminding everyone right now that he'd told them blowing up the sun could end badly.

They were out of options, though, so, after shaking his head, Jacob dipped his head to let Selmak take over and hit the communications channel. "Kree Apophis onak," Selmak said. "Tal mak Tok'ra Selmak, neetra hok hatak."

"Greetings, Lord Apophis," Daniel translated quietly for Jack and Sam. "I am the Tok'ra Selmak, commander of this hatak."

"Commander?" Jack repeated, looking at Selmak.

Jacob glanced at him. "You wanna bicker about rank right now?"

A video display replaced their view of the space outside, and Apophis's face appeared on the screen. Daniel felt himself leaning closer as he saw Apophis for the first time since the System Lord had died at the SGC and wondered suddenly where and why he had gotten the odd piece of metal on his cheek. He hoped it was a necessary prosthetic, because that would mean there were at least some small prices for having survived so much. It made Daniel feel a little better--it was proof that the man wasn't completely invulnerable after all.

But Apophis seemed just as confident as ever--if considerably more angry--when he answered, "Onak rak, shel Apophis."

"He's looking a little pissed," Jack commented.

"We did just destroy his fleet," Sam pointed out.

"Rak lo--najakuna," Apophis went on. "Shel ri hara kek!"

"He says it's time for us to die," Daniel said.

Selmak answered, followed quickly by Martouf, striking up a rapid conversation between all three that Daniel and Teal'c together just barely managed to translate for Jack and Sam.

"Martouf says we're both too far off-course," Daniel said.

"Apophis says he knows all," Teal'c said. Jack rolled his eyes. "There is nothing we can do to help him. He plans to destroy us."

Apophis smirked, fixing his eyes on Teal'c as he said, "Tau'ri rak shol'va."

"No!" Daniel snapped at Apophis's face. "Shal nok!"

"He will spare all of you in exchange for me," Teal'c said.

"Not acceptable," Jack said.

"Ne'nae," Daniel said. "Ona'i tal bet."

"And now," Jacob sighed, as if resigned to their fate already, "Daniel's just surrendered to him."

"I'm just trying to buy some time," Daniel said defensively when people glared at him.

"Frankly," Jacob admitted, "handing over Teal'c isn't going to help us or him, which means--"

"Kla mel ha rak," Apophis answered.

"What'd he say?" Sam asked.

"Too late," Daniel answered. The image of Apophis disappeared, leaving them to stare at the other hatak as it hovered before them.

Jacob didn't move. Neither did Martouf. Actually, no one did but Jack, who took a step forward and then back, and Teal'c, whose jaw muscle was actually twitching with restrained fury.

At least it would probably be fast.

Sometime after Heru-ur's death, Daniel had asked Sam why the ships had exploded so spectacularly upon impact if the missile was so small or so focused. She'd said something about high oxygen levels and naquadah and the consumption of something when it did something to the something. The point was that it would be a quick, if briefly very painful, death. His previous experiences with dying hadn't seemed too bad, really, aside from the physical pain before it.

And if there was a part of him that wanted to scream in fury that it would be Apophis who would kill him, after everything Apophis had taken from them already...well. There was nothing they could do now. The great path, Shifu had said. Daniel could be okay with that if he had to be.

But when nothing happened, Jack shuffled a foot impatiently and said, "Can't stand it. What's he waiting for?"

Without warning, Apophis's ship turned and fired. Daniel flinched...but nothing hit them.

"Did that just go over us?" Jack said, suddenly unmoving as if twitching would break the spell.

"Think so," Sam said. "What happened?"

"The sensors are detecting another ship," Teal'c said from the weapons console. "It is approaching quickly and has engaged Apophis's ship."

Without another word, Jacob reached toward what Daniel now recognized as the acceleration controls, powered the engines, and pushed the ship forward.

"What are you doing?" Sam said.

"Getting the hell out of here," Jacob answered, and then they shot away. Daniel looked back as they went and saw fire still being exchanged before they pulled out of sight.

"Why did it only shoot Apophis?" Daniel said, craning his neck around and deciding they must be well out of range of both ships now.

"The computers did not recognize that type of ship," Teal'c said. "If we are truly so far away from our galaxy, then it is likely they also did not recognize us."

"However," Martouf added, "they may have recognized that Apophis's ship was the greater threat."

"We may still find out," Jacob said. "We're not going to get far on sublight engines. Whoever wins the fight will probably come looking for us."

An image appeared on the screen. "Now what are you doing?" Sam said warily.

Jacob studied it for a moment--it was a map of some sort--then said, "This system revolves around a blue giant. If we can move close enough to the sun's corona, the radiation should keep us off their sensors."

Jack raised his eyebrows. "Excuse me? Radiation?"

"The ship's hull will protect us," Jacob assured him, then added, "...for about an hour."

"Oh," Daniel said. "Good."

"But if we get the shields up..." Sam started, looking to her father and Martouf.

Martouf nodded. "It would extend that hour and give us time to repair our other systems."

"Start with the shields," Jack suggested as the three of them hurried away from the peltak.

XXXXX

15 July 2001; Cronus's Hatak; 0300 hrs

Nine hours later, when they had inventoried their whole inventory, gathered all their supplies, and checked all there was to check, Daniel said, "Traveling with Sam and two Tok'ra makes me feel dumb."

"Gee," Jack said, sprawled over the chair Cronus had used as his throne. "Thanks."

"Not that I think you guys are dumb," Daniel told him and Teal'c. "Unless we need to fix circuits, in which case..." He waved a hand to encompass all three of them. "But nine hours of doing nothing, Jack."

"Your brain eat itself yet?"

"It's trying."

Jack checked his watch. "Well...we've still got about an hour to go, so you can't lose it yet."

Daniel sighed, turned to fold his arms on the steps leading to the command chair, and dropped his head on top of them. More seriously, he said, "You think this is it, this time?"

"No," Jack said, but it sounded like a halfhearted lie.

"We have yet to find a solution," Teal'c said neutrally. "Even if the hyperdrive is fixed, we will need 125 years to return home."

"Won't we run out of supplies and life support first?" Daniel said, because of course that was what was important when they were stuck in space for over a century.

"Hatak vessels are well-stocked for long journeys," Teal'c said. "We could live many years."

"See?" Jack said. "Many years."

This time, Daniel had to shake his head. "Teal'c's symbiote will mature sooner."

"We're not actually going to be here years," Jack scoffed. "He's just saying we could last that long if we have to."

"Of course," Daniel said, "then there's Apophis and that other ship he was fighting. Either they'll kill us or the sun will in about an hour, so we won't even have to worry about Teal'c's symbiote."

"We're not dying," Jack said exasperatedly, because it was his job to order them not to die so they could think of solutions to make them not die. "For cryin' out loud. That's the problem with letting your brain get bored. Go to sleep."

Daniel snorted.

"Even if Apophis survives the battle with the other ship," Teal'c said, "his hatak will be damaged. We should prepare ourselves to engage in combat with him immediately should he emerge as the victor, before he is able to repair the damage to his hatak."

"Unless it's badly damaged," Jack said, "Apophis just going to shoot back, and frankly, I don't think we'd survive that."

"We might," Daniel said.

Teal'c raised his chin. "The shields even of his hatak cannot withstand an impact like that of another hatak."

Jack sat up properly in the chair and looked from Teal'c, standing in front of him, to Daniel, sitting near his feet. "You want to crash into him. Dammit, Teal'c, did you forget what happened on Vorash just now? One of these days you're gonna crash a ship and end up dead."

"Well...does it matter?" Daniel said, still staring at the steps. "We're just going to die on this ship, anyway, in an hour or twenty years. What difference does it make?"

"One way we're alive," Jack said, "and the other we're dead. Difference."

"And," Teal'c pointed out, "one way, Apophis dies. One hundred years makes no difference to a Goa'uld."

Daniel nodded agreement. "Apophis rose literally from the dead with nothing to his name--not even his name--and became the most powerful System Lord in the space of a year. If we let him live, in control of a ship--hatak, teltak, al'kesh, anything with a hyperdrive, especially if he has a sarcophagus on his ship somewhere..."

"He'll get back to the good ol' Milky Way sooner or later," Jack sighed.

"It is also possible that Apophis did not survive the battle with the alien ship," Teal'c offered. "He appeared very threatened by its attacks."

Daniel dropped his head back onto his arms. "If Apophis is dead..."

He almost said that he wouldn't mind dying if it meant Apophis would be dead, too, but the words shriveled in his throat. Now that he was facing the prospect again, and even though he couldn't think of anything to circumvent it, he very much didn't want to die. It had been a long time since he'd really expected to have a quiet, peaceful death, and compared to the now-familiar risk of falling in battle, the idea of floating futilely toward home for years before lying down and dying of old age was almost more terrifying.

"I should have brought a book," he heard himself say. "It's going to be a boring 125 years."

Jack rolled his eyes, but he reached down to pat Daniel's shoulder. "There's always a way," he said.

"Sometimes there's not," Daniel said.

"Well, it's not my job to be smart," Jack said. "Go think."

"Make up your mind," Daniel said, feeling a smile trying to creep up on him. "Think or sleep?"

"Whatever," Jack said. "Just do it quietly."

Daniel tapped his fingers on the steps to the chair, idly tracing the lines on each. He laughed suddenly.

"What?" Jack said.

"It's funny," he said. "SG-1 never seems to die, and now...including the ones from Harlan's planet, well, that's two sets of SG-1 within..." He checked his watch. "Less than a week."

"That's not funny," Jack said.

The smile dropped off Daniel's face. Teal'c didn't seem to find it funny, either. "It was funnier in my head," he admitted. Jack extracted a rubber ball from his pocket and bounced it on Daniel's head. "Ow! Jack, what the... Why do you even have a--"

"Daniel," Jack said, collecting his ball and wedging it into a corner of the peltak, "some of the stuff in your head should just stay there and never, ever come out."

"Imagine hearing me talk for the next century," Daniel said, rubbing his head but still a little amused despite the situation.

"In that case," Teal'c said seriously, "it seems that, should we survive long enough to enter hyperspace, I will be the fortunate one among us. My symbiote will expire long before then."

For some reason, that was funny, too, and this time even Jack grinned along with Daniel.

Looking satisfied, Jack stood and stretched. "Is it warm?" he said. Daniel only then realized that there was sweat on his face and starting to glue his clothes to his skin. Reaching for the communications panel, Jack called, "Hey, uh...it's getting a little hot up here, kids."

Daniel stood and stretched his legs, too, deciding it was time to stop moping and get ready to act, whether it was jumping into hyperspace or preparing for a suicide run against Apophis. Teal'c was already at the console with Jack. "We have weapons and shields," Teal'c added. "The hyperdrive still appears to be inoperable."

"Yeah, we're coming back up," Jacob's voice answered. "Sit tight for a minute."

...x...

The hyperdrive didn't work no matter what anyone tried, so Daniel supposed he'd been worrying needlessly about the boredom of the trip back.

No one liked the idea of killing themselves to kill Apophis, but everyone liked the idea of making sure Apophis died and stayed dead one way or another. Finally, Jack said, "Let's cross that bridge when we get to it," and Jacob steered them away from the sun.

"Sensors are coming back online," Jacob said. "Picking up one ship..." He glanced up at the window, then back down. "It's Apophis."

Daniel valiantly didn't groan. Jack did. "What about the other one?" Jack asked.

"Can't see it anywhere."

"If Apophis is out there, why isn't he attacking us?" Daniel said.

Jacob shook his head. "He should be able to see us, but his ship's not moving."

"Maybe his ship was damaged in the battle," Sam suggested.

"No," Teal'c said, still at the console with Jacob. "There are no life signs detected on the hatak."

"So..." Jack started, then stopped, frowning.

"So Apophis lost the fight, and then the other ship ran away?" Daniel said, confused.

"We should check it out," Jacob said.

"What?" Jack said.

"Apophis's ship is superior to this one," Teal'c said. "It is faster and has more advanced weaponry and shielding technology. If it has merely been damaged and can be repaired..."

"Meaning we actually have to go over there," Sam said, not looking enthusiastic.

Jacob was already steering their hatak toward Apophis's ship. "We can ring over."

"Yeah...look, they still lost to that other ship," Jack pointed out. "What happens if the other guys come back while we're over on Apophis's ship playing handyman?"

"We have no hyperdrive, Jack," Jacob said. "If the other ship returns before we can take over Apophis's ship or repair our own, it won't matter where we are. Besides," he added, "I would never let you play handyman. You just carry your gun and look scary."

"Uh, wait," Daniel said as they neared Apophis's ship. "What's the plan again? Is there a plan?"

Jack took a look around them all where they were gathered in the peltak, assessing each of them. "You and Martouf take the peltak," he finally said. "The rest of us will head over, take a look around--"

"Grab spare crystals for repairs if we can't patch that ship up," Jacob put in.

"--and stay in touch with you guys," Jack finished. Daniel bit down on a protest, knowing that the four others were the most physically able and experienced, while someone needed to stay in this ship and neither Daniel or Martouf wanted to do it alone. "Carter, Teal'c, let's get the weapons and gear. We'll get yours too, Jacob," he added.

"Yeah, okay," Jacob said absently, pulling in close to Apophis's ship and slowing them to a stop as Jack led Sam and Teal'c out of the peltak. "All right," Jacob said, turning to Daniel and Martouf. "I've locked onto the rings on Apophis's ship. Keep the channel open, and if we need help getting out for whatever reason--"

"Rings," Daniel said obediently, pointing to the correct controls on the main console. "Engines."

"Weapons," Martouf added, pointing to the other console.

"Aw," Jacob said, smirking at them, and then powered down the main engines and ran out of the peltak and toward the ring room before they could answer.

Martouf shrugged, shared the console with Daniel, and pointed to the screen. "Where is the ring chamber?"

"Uh..." Daniel said, scanning over the schematics and finding that it was easier now that he knew generally what he was looking at. "Right here," he said finally, tapping a section of the screen. "It would be down this hall and around this way..."

He paused when he saw Martouf with a sheet of paper and one of Daniel's own pens, sketching a rough copy of the schematics and scribbling in the location of each part of the ship. At the top of the sheet was what looked like a list written in messy shorthand, containing details and reminders from the events of the last two days.

"What level is this screen showing?" Martouf asked as he filled in his diagram.

"Uh...top," Daniel said. "Peltak level."

Finally, Martouf glanced up from his memory aid and said, "Do not mind me. Here--you can change this display to monitor the others' progress. You will see our own rings activate, and life signs should be detected on Apophis's ship once they have been transported there."

"We're off," Jack's voice said.

"Good luck," Daniel called back. "Stay online."

A second later, the ring chamber on the monitor flashed once. "And we're in," Jack said, more quietly this time. "Moving out now."

Daniel frowned at the screen until he found how to change the display from one ship to another, then told Martouf, "Okay--now we're detecting life signs on the other ship. It should be just them there, right?"

"There is no one else still alive there," Martouf agreed.

Daniel nodded, trying to convince himself that that meant everything would go fine. "So as long as there isn't...I don't know, a bomb on the ship or--"

"In fact," Martouf said, finishing his diagram and setting Daniel's pen carefully in a vest on the floor. "I would not be surprised if there were a self-destruct mechanism on Apophis's ship."

"What?"

"Selmak knows this also," Martouf said in a reassuring tone.

Daniel tried to follow the movements of the life signs on the other ship, but couldn't pinpoint their exact location as anything more than an approximate blob. "This is...what, a temperature sensor? If we can detect life signs..."

"The ship detects heat, yes," Martouf said, nodding. "Some also have optical sensors--certain...molecules in a living body respond to light in different ways from molecules in nonliving objects. These signals are combined, and the readings from the rest of the ship are continually averaged and subtracted to yield what we see."

"So that's them," Daniel said, watching the group of his friends split up, moving in opposite directions. "Where are they heading?"

Martouf shook his head. "Without the designs for a ship as new as Apophis's, the computer has no way of knowing any more than that they are within the ship."

So Daniel resigned himself to waiting.

Eventually, though, after they had had no news for several minutes, Daniel gave in and called out, "Hello? What's going on?"

The sound of someone breathing hard came through the speaker, and then Sam's voice--"The ship's crawling with Replicators."

Daniel sucked in a breath. "No life signs," he said to himself, thinking furiously. "We're in another galaxy..."

"Replicators?" Martouf said, looking confused. Even Jacob probably only knew what Replicators were because Sam had mentioned them to him.

"They're a...a mechanical life form," Daniel explained. "The ones we've seen before looked like metallic spiders and insects, but they can take any form, and they constantly Replicate using the material around them. Incredibly dangerous and...and hard to eliminate entirely."

"Major Carter," Teal'c's voice said, "Selmak was unable to disable the auto-destruct."

So there was an auto-destruct. The ones one base were often set to five minutes. Daniel glanced at his watch and tried not to imagine more than he knew.

"Meet us back at the ring room," Jack ordered.

"I'm still going to try and get the crystals," Sam added.

"You have three minutes," Jacob said, which answered Daniel's question. "Daniel, Martouf, you're going to have to fly that ship out of here as soon as we ring aboard. Can you do that?"

"We will be ready," Martouf said.

"Um," Daniel said.

Martouf turned a switch on his side of the console. The hum of engines started again. "Turn the hatak around, away from Apophis's ship," he said, reminding, "You will need to rely on the monitors when the other ship leaves our view from the window."

"Okay," Daniel said. He set his hands where he'd been instructed before, at Vorash. He started to turn, but something dipped and they nosed downward--or what looked downward to them--instead. He winced and eased on the lateral steering mechanism, pulling back upward.

"One of the secondary engines is not at full power and is pushing us at an angle," Martouf said. "For now, you must correct it manually."

"Right," Daniel said, trying to hold both hands in the same position. When the screen showed that they were facing away, he said, "Okay, we're turned."

"Got the crystals," Sam's voice said. "Dad, Teal'c, we're on our way."

"When they arrive," Martouf told him, "hold your left hand where it is now"--Daniel's left hand began to itch on cue--"and push forward firmly with your right."

While they waited, Daniel eased the ship forward slightly, until they were as far as they could get while still remaining in range of the rings.

"Do you still see their progress?" Martouf said.

Daniel's eyes snapped back to the view of Apophis's hatak. "They're still there. The rings haven't activated."

"When you see them arrive on our ship, go immediately."

"Sam, Jack, one minute!" Jacob was saying.

When no one answered, Teal'c tried, "O'Neill! Major Carter! Do you--"

The sharp rattle of gunfire came over the radio. "Hey!" Daniel said. "What's going on?"

"Rings, rings!" Jack's voice yelled.

Daniel stared hard at the schematics, waiting for the life signs to jump from one ship to the other... "They're onboard!" he said.

"Now," Lantash said.

Daniel shoved the control forward as hard as he could. Lantash powered something on, their timing just off so that they wobbled a little, but they steadied. And then they were moving, fast and getting faster...

"...won't matter if they get control of the ship!" Sam was saying from just outside in the hall.

"Hey!" Jack yelled back breathlessly. "You guys are just being too negative!"

"We're not going to make it!" Jacob insisted as all four of them barreled in together.

"We're going as fast as we can!" Daniel said, looking from one monitor to the other and focusing on the fact that they were still moving away from Apophis's ship, which was good.

Then Jacob was behind him, peering between him and Lantash's shoulders to see the monitor. Suddenly, the mark that represented Apophis's ship blinked, flashing bright--

"The self-destruct," Lantash said.

"Shut down the engines and divert full power to shields!" Jacob ordered.

Lantash slammed the engines off. Daniel moved out of the way, and Jacob took his place, adjusting the controls.

The floor shifted under their feet. Daniel caught the wall as he felt the entire ship jolt. Outside the window, he thought he saw a tongue of flame before it flickered out and debris flew past them.

Then nothing happened.

"That was close," Jacob said, letting out a breath.

Taking that as his cue, Daniel sighed in relief. Jacob flipped the engine power back on and turned the ship around so they could see the wreckage that had once been Apophis's hatak.

"Sam, Martouf," Jacob said, stepping away from the controls, "engine room. We need to get the hyperdrive running before another Replicator-infested ship finds us. You three hold the peltak."

"We need to talk about the thing where this is my ship!" Jack called after them. Jacob raised an eyebrow at him and continued on toward the engine room.

...x...

The sound of a warning made Daniel miss the ball Jack tossed to him. "You're supposed to catch it," Jack said, but Teal'c stepped up to the console. Daniel kicked the fallen ball back in Jack's direction and followed the Jaffa.

"The sensors have detected a teltak," Teal'c said.

"We didn't have any of those on this ship, did we?" Daniel said, turning to Jack.

"No. Someone must've escaped Apophis's mothership before the bugs took over," Jack said, all levity gone. He reached for the communications panel. "Hey, guys," he called into the engine room, "we have a Goa'uld cargo ship on the sensors."

There was a pause, and then, "Hyperdrive's almost back, sir," Sam said. "We're coming up."

"Did you see Apophis's body on his ship?" Daniel said, tamping down frustration that Apophis had had a sun blow up near him and lost a battle to Replicators and might still be alive.

"Didn't have time to check all the bodies before the ship blew," Jack pointed out.

"We have weapons," Teal'c said, turning the ship slightly. Daniel glanced at the monitor and realized he was going to give chase. "That teltak is unlikely to have any defenses that can overcome an attack."

"There are signs onboard," Daniel confirmed, looking back toward the entrance and glad to see Jacob walk in.

Teal'c didn't look up. "We must destroy it--if Apophis is on that ship, he cannot be allowed to escape and eventually return to Earth."

"A teltak wouldn't hold enough supplies to last the trip back to the Milky Way," Jacob said. "Apophis might not be there at all."

"Apophis has survived a lot," Daniel reminded him, the yearning for Apophis's death churning again in his gut. "If he's in that teltak... The more time he has, the more chance he has to find some other solution."

Jack tilted his head. "Can't hurt. What's he gonna do to us that our shields can't withstand?"

"Good point," Jacob admitted as Sam and Martouf entered.

"Hyperdrive's fully functional," Sam said. "We can start whenever you want."

Teal'c slowly increased their acceleration. "We're going after Apophis's teltak first," Daniel said.

Martouf was wearing that look again that said he had misgivings about some rash plan, but he didn't complain. "And then?" he said.

"We've set coordinates for Earth," Jack said. "Once we take care of that cargo ship, we'll jump into hyperspace and start--"

Beeping came from the console.

"What's that?" Jacob said, moving toward the controls. He glanced at the monitor. "There's another ship approaching fast on the sensors."

"Ship?" Daniel said tentatively. "Another cargo ship?"

Jacob shook his head. "It's the mothership the Replicators are using. That thing took out Apophis's ship like it was nothing. Teal'c, we need to run. Hit the hyperdr--"

An impact shook the ship. "Crap--what is that?" Jack said.

The ship trembled again. "We're under attack," Jacob said tightly, grimacing as something else struck them. "Shields are already starting to fail--Teal'c, screw the teltak, we have to run!"

Daniel never had the chance to find out whether Teal'c would have listened before another thunderous impact threw him onto the floor. Even Teal'c was on his knees before the bridge. Martouf had grabbed onto the weapons console for balance and said, "Shields are at seventeen percent...hyperdrive was hit but is still functional--"

Teal'c pulled himself up and reached for the hyperdrive, but before he could press it, he called, "Our rings have been activated from the teltak; Apophis may have transported himself into our ship!"

"Martouf, stay at the controls--lock yourself in here!" Jack ordered, then staggered up and braced himself against the wall as they were shaken again. "Everyone else grab a gun and get to the rings. Go!"

Jack thrust a tac vest and gun into Daniel's hands. Daniel fumbled the vest on and awkwardly buckled on the pistol belt as he ran, Teal'c in the lead and Jack and Jacob sandwiching Daniel in from behind.

"Wait," Sam said. "Colonel, go, I'll catch up!"

Daniel looked back but didn't stop, and a moment later, he saw her emerge from a secondary cargo hold with two small, metallic balls in her hand. "That's what I'm talking about," Jack said as Daniel finally recognized it as a shock grenade, apparently from stores Cronus had left behind. "Carter, get up here, we'll cover you."

"Martouf, life signs?" Sam called into her radio as she sprinted past them.

There was a pause, and then, "In the ring chamber. I cannot tell...between ten and fifteen," Martouf's voice answered them. And then, "Now several more--they are continuing to arrive and are beginning to leave the chamber."

"Get those rings locked!" Jacob ordered. "Close off the room, seal whatever corridors you can so they can't swarm us, and get us away from the Replicators!"

"Rings are locked to external activation," Martouf said. "I have sealed them inside that chamber, but several escaped first. Reconfiguring hyperdrive now..."

"Carter, Teal'c," Jack said, pointing at the closed doors to the ring chamber. Teal'c stood at the side with his staff weapon at the ready while Sam crouched behind his legs to set a shock grenade. Jack planted himself at the other side. "Keep your eyes open out here," he added, looking at Daniel and Jacob.

"Martouf, open the room on three and shut it right away," Sam said into her radio as Daniel tore his eyes away from them and ran past to stand guard at one end of the corridor while Jacob took the other. "One...two...three--"

He glanced back quickly to see Jack and Teal'c open fire into the room, barely able to get their weapons into the narrow opening to cause confusion before Sam rolled the grenade in and the door slammed shut.

"Regroup!" Jack ordered. Daniel checked his corridor once more before joining the others again.

"The rings activated," Martouf said. "Some of the Jaffa must have escaped to the lower levels before the grenade hit."

"Jack--" Jacob said, and he fired his zat'nik'tel at something Daniel couldn't see down his end of the corridor. "This way!" Another Serpent Guard appeared even as he spoke--

Then something hit the ship hard enough to send it tumbling.

Daniel felt himself slam into the wall even despite the artificial gravity's directional constraints, and training jerked his finger off the trigger in time to avoid shooting any of his friends.

By the time he shook his head and managed to pick himself back up, an alarm was blaring and Lantash was yelling, "...breached! The hull has been breached! Central controls are damaged--hyperdrive is inoperative."

"Control overrides...at the engine room," Jacob gasped as he recovered. Daniel gritted his teeth and tried to reorient himself as the ship continued to shake around them.

"I'll go," Sam said, just loud enough to hear over the alarms. Daniel turned in her direction and felt his eyes widen as the Jaffa rose from where he'd fallen in the crash and aimed at her back.

"Sam!" Daniel screamed, raising his gun.

She dropped flat to the floor, and he fired over her.

"Carter," Jack called as the Jaffa tumbled backward to the floor. "Engine room--seal off the breach! We'll get the other Jaffa. Now!"

Without argument, Sam tossed him her other shock grenade, scrambled back to her feet, and took off. "Lantash, I'm going," she said as she disappeared around the nearest corner. "You'll have to guide me from the engine room."

Jacob planted himself where he stood, zat gun raised, Jack several paces behind him and Daniel behind him and Teal'c behind him, and Daniel recognized this maneuver from training--

"Daniel Jackson," Teal'c barked, guarding the rear. Daniel ran past all of them, flinching when another Jaffa appeared ahead of him, but a zat blast and a bullet struck the enemy simultaneously and he ran on before stopping just ahead of Jacob.

"How many more!" Jack yelled as he advanced past them.

"I cannot tell," Lantash said. "About twenty in total, perhaps half caught in the ring room. One group on the third level and others around you."

"Where's the breach?" Sam's voice called.

"The..." Lantash started, and Daniel imagined him comparing the schematics with his quickly sketched map. "Second level cargo bay."

"On it," Sam said.

"Why aren't the Replicators still attacking?" Jacob said, dashing past them to the head of the line.

"Who cares--they're not!" Jack said.

"Go!" Teal'c snapped.

Daniel ran forward past the others but faltered when three Jaffa rushed out simultaneously from inside the ring room.

Dropping to the ground, he felt more than heard the whiz of weapons and energy blasts over his head. He rolled toward the wall--two sets of armored legs had already fallen, and he raised his gun just enough to fire at the last legs standing. A Jaffa screamed, wounded leg buckling as Daniel finally rose into a more comfortable crouch, and he had time to see the Serpent Guard's face, wide-eyed with agony, before he shot the Jaffa again to end it.

"Jack," Jacob yelled from somewhere behind him, "if there are Jaffa running free on the lower levels, we've gotta get down there before they come up and hit us from behind!"

The alarms shut off. The ship stopped shaking.

"I'm coming back," Sam's voice sounded from their radios. "I can't get into the engine room."

"But the hull breach was just sealed," Lantash said. "You must have done something."

"That wasn't me," she answered. "That was the Replicators."

"What the hell?" Jack said as Daniel gaped at nothing in horrified confusion. "Jake, you and me to the ring room--we'll go below. Teal'c, Daniel, make sure no one's still left up here."

"Daniel Jackson," Teal'c said again, sharply, as Jack and Jacob slipped off in the other direction.

Daniel shook himself and followed as Teal'c led the way down the rest of the upper level that they hadn't reached yet. "Door ahead," he said.

Teal'c reached it first, and twisted aside as a staff blast struck the wall behind him. Daniel quickly ran to the entrance, too, from the other side of the hall, then turned his gun inward and fired on the first person he saw. The heat of a staff weapon seared past his arm even as he did so, but the Jaffa collapsed and he didn't.

Recovering, Teal'c looked into the chamber and quickly scanned the interior. "Clear," he said, then continued down the hall. "This way. There are two last rooms where they may have taken shelter."

No one met them in the corridor, but both of the rooms in sight were open. Unease prickled at Daniel's skin--surely there couldn't have been that many Jaffa who'd made it onboard before Martouf had locked the rings. If most had been trapped in the ring room and a few had made it below... There might be no one here--or there might be a trap.

Teal'c planted himself beside one door, gesturing for Daniel to look into the other. As quietly as he could, Daniel pressed against the opposite wall, waiting for the signal.

Teal'c shifted his grip on his staff weapon, staring back intently, then nodded once.

Daniel pushed away from the wall and swung his gun toward the interior of the room as Teal'c did the same in the room behind him. Taking a deep breath, Daniel ran in, turning to scan one corner--

Something swept him aside, sending him sliding along the floor.

His gun was jarred from his fingers, and before he could even try to move, a hand yanked him up while his gun was kicked farther out of reach. Daniel squirmed, but an arm clamped his arms to his sides. He started to call out, but a hand slapped over his mouth and another dug into his side, hard and metallic...

He froze. A Goa'uld hand device.

Apophis.

And then he panicked and tried to yell around the hand on his mouth, his eyes darting around and trying and failing to find Teal'c--his arms were trapped, he had a bayonet on his belt and he couldn't reach it--

"Do not struggle, Dan'yel," Apophis said into his ear. Daniel struggled harder. The ribbon device activated, just enough to feel warm where it pressed against his side, even through his vest and shirt, and he felt himself shudder. "Shol'va," Apophis said, spinning them both around. "Lower your weapon."

Teal'c stood before them, his staff weapon primed and aimed at them both, but Daniel was the bigger now even if Apophis was stronger--even Teal'c would be hard-pressed to shoot Apophis without shooting Daniel first, and with a hand device, it was all but impossible.

Gunfire sounded in the distance--Sam, or maybe Jack had returned--and Teal'c's eyes darted toward the door for a moment.

"He will be dead by the time they arrive," Apophis said, calling Teal'c's attention back. "Drop your weapon." Daniel twisted sharply again in the Goa'uld's grip, unwilling to be the tool that stopped Teal'c from killing Apophis.

Shoot, Daniel tried to say, staring hard at Teal'c. Don't let him take me. Shoot. He bit down hard on the Goa'uld's hand over his mouth and tasted blood.

In response, the ribbon device against his side flared red hot, and Daniel heard his own strangled scream as pain burned through his gear and pierced into his flesh.

Apophis shifted his bloody hand to restrain Daniel more tightly around the chest, and only that kept Daniel upright as he swallowed another yell and barely stopped his knees from buckling. "Teal'c, shoot--" he gasped.

But before he could learn whether or not Teal'c would have done it, the hand device lifted away to fling Teal'c back into the corridor outside.

Then Apophis's hand device returned to grip Daniel securely again before he could recover and try to escape. "Tell your friends that this ship is mine," Apophis said, "and I will tell my Jaffa not to kill them."

"We already killed most of your Jaffa," Daniel gritted out, not sure if it was true but hoping it was. "You're desperate, or you would never have tried this. You can't win."

"Even though I have won each time before this?" Apophis mocked, then pushed him forward, never loosening his grasp. "Come with me, Dan'yel."

"No," Daniel said, locking his legs and trying to pull back. "No!"

Without warning, the ship pitched violently under his feet with the familiar jolt of the hyperdrive.

He and Apophis crashed to the floor in a tangle of limbs, Daniel trapped underneath. But the grip around him loosened--

--and suddenly, Apophis's weight disappeared completely. Daniel darted away, not caring how Martouf or Lantash had finally managed to activate their hyperdrive when the controls had been damaged earlier, as long as he was free.

He reached back to fumble for his bayonet and turned simultaneously to find Teal'c back on his feet, just barely holding onto Apophis from behind, the Goa'uld's arms twisted and locked into Teal'c's grip but already starting to break free.

"Nok, Daniel Jackson!" Teal'c managed as his grasp started to slip and the ribbon device started to glow. "Arik kek nok!"

Not daring to think anymore, Daniel wrapped both of his hands around the hilt, rose to his knees, and slammed the knife as hard as he could into the Goa'uld's unarmored midsection.

The blade tore through leather and flesh with all of Daniel's weight behind it. Apophis jerked, stilling his struggles. Teal'c let go. Daniel moved back hastily as Apophis's legs crumpled and sent him crashing to the ground, the knife still buried in his body.

He twitched once, then lay still.

Teal'c was leaning against the wall, staring wide-eyed at Apophis's still form. Daniel forced himself to move and crouched warily beside the body. Apophis's eyes were open, staring, and Daniel reached a trembling hand out to search for a pulse--

Apophis's hands shot up and grabbed the back of Daniel's neck, jerking him down until their faces were only inches apart.

Squealing sounded from the man's mouth. "Ay! No!" Daniel choked out, unable to escape the desperate grasp. The familiar sight of a symbiote head appeared at Apophis's mouth. "No!"

Then Teal'c's hand reached between them, closed on the symbiote, and yanked it away.

The hands around Daniel went limp and dropped to the floor. Daniel scrambled away, his entire body screaming to flee, and finally looked up to see the Goa'uld symbiote--Apophis--still alive, still struggling, still squeaking in Teal'c's fist.

Teal'c turned the symbiote around until he was staring into its beady eyes, its jaw opening wide and snapping at him while its tail whipped in all directions. He wrapped his other hand around the symbiote as well and smiled in a way even Daniel had never seen him smile and hoped never to see him smile again.

And then he began to squeeze.

The symbiote shrieked. As Daniel watched, fascinated and horrified, thick, blue blood began to leak between Teal'c's fingers.

And with a final, twisting jerk, Teal'c ripped Apophis in two, and the agonized squealing stopped.

Daniel stared at the dead symbiote in Teal'c's hands, unable to tear his eyes away, not sure what Teal'c was thinking and not wanting to look up and find out. Teal'c didn't move. For a while, Daniel thought they would remain frozen there forever.

Then a sound came from behind him.

He whipped around again and saw Apophis's host--the man who had been a scribe at the temple of Amun at Karnak--moaning weakly where he lay. His hands were wrapped around the hilt of the knife Daniel had plunged messily into him, without the strength to pull it out. The man's eyes opened to slits, then squeezed shut in pain and widened again, filled with all the terror Daniel had seen in them once before, years ago, because of course he wouldn't have died immediately, not with a wound there, but it would hurt.

"Naturu," Daniel breathed. Appalled, he moved toward his fallen gun, picked it up, and switched to single-shot. He aimed the gun at the man's unprotected head and moved until there was no chance of missing.

For a moment, he froze. Then the host started to turn to see him. Daniel squeezed the trigger.

The scribe's hands loosened from around the knife and dropped to the floor, his eyes staring. Daniel let go of the gun, backed away, and found himself unable to move any further, so he rested on his knees and concentrated on the solid reality of Teal'c's boot resting just by his leg.

A drop of blue fell and hit the floor near Daniel's hand. He lifted his hand and saw a red smear left behind on the floor.

Footsteps sounded in the corridor outside. Neither of them moved toward a weapon.

Jack appeared first and Sam just behind, both of them holding their guns at the ready. Neither of them seemed badly wounded, though Sam sported a still-bleeding gash across her leg and there seemed to be a burn on Jack's shoulder. Shrapnel or Replicator, Daniel thought numbly, and, staff weapon.

Then Jack's gaze landed on the body of Apophis's host. Daniel looked up at him and found his friend and commander's face wiped of all expression, eyes roving from the host to the knife in his abdomen to Daniel to Teal'c to the mangled System Lord symbiote.

Teal'c opened his hands and let Apophis's corpse fall to the floor.

"You okay?" Jack said briskly. Daniel felt his head nod without consent from his brain. Teal'c must have nodded, too, because Jack said, "We gotta go. We've got Replicators onboard. They took us into hyperspace toward Earth, and we're locked out of the systems."

Sam edged around Jack and crouched next to Daniel, taking a hand from her gun to grab his elbow and urge him up. "I'm okay," Daniel heard himself say as he stood, wincing from aches he hadn't felt before.

"Okay," she said, but didn't let go until he was standing.

"Teal'c, take the gun; staff weapon'll be useless," Jack said. More sharply, "Teal'c!"

Daniel looked back at the scribe and at Apophis. Teal'c seemed to shake himself and bent to retrieve the P90 Daniel had dropped.

"Jacob?" he thought to say as Jack gestured for them to leave and Sam shepherded him out. "The Jaffa?"

"Dad and Martouf are in the peltak, trying to figure out what control we still have," Sam said. "We got the other Jaffa, as far as we can tell. Even the ones in the ring room..."

"We killed them before they could wake up," Jack said. Daniel thought he should feel a little horrified about that but didn't. Jack looked from Daniel to Teal'c. "Any serious injuries?"

"None," Teal'c said. Daniel reached down to his side, where there was a hole in his vest and jacket and some of the fibers were melted together, but he decided it was at worst a mild burn and nodded in agreement.

"Then take five minutes to patch up and clean up while we figure out what to do next," Jack ordered. "We need a plan fast. Let's go."


Next chapter: "Allies"


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