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nightspear ([personal profile] nightspear) wrote2009-06-22 02:37 pm
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Archaeology (29/30)

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 Chapter28

XXXXX

Chapter 29: Allies

XXXXX

15 July 2001; Cronus's Hatak; 1400 hrs

Fingers snapped under Daniel's nose. "Hey," Jack said sharply. Daniel looked up, startled to see that he, Sam, and Teal'c had returned from scouting the ship. "You zoning out?"

"No...I--"

"Stop it," Jack said. "Thought you were standing guard while we were gone."

"Yes," Daniel said. "Sorry." He had been ordered to keep watch so Jacob and Martouf could focus on the computers. He readjusted his grip on the gun he'd been holding for so long now that he barely felt it. Everything else had faded to dull aches that didn't even begin to compete with the fatigue settling into his bones.

He still thought, at least a little, that they should just try to blow the ship up--he was starting to hear scratching noises in the walls that couldn't be anything but the Replicators, which could only mean they were starting to take over completely. It would be worth it, wouldn't it, to stop the Replicators from using this ship to get to Earth?

"Hey!" Jack repeated, this time grabbing Daniel's chin and tilting it up to look at him. "You hear me? Not yet."

"Sorry," Daniel said again, and finally, he pulled away and shook himself. The peltak around him melted sluggishly back into focus, and while it still felt a little bit like he was in a dream, he thought most of that could be blamed on physical exhaustion, not an unthinking daze. Glancing again at where Jacob and Martouf were trying to regain control of their computers, he said, "Um...how did Replicators get in, anyway?" Jack nodded to him very slightly.

"I found a lot of Replicator blocks when I was going to seal off the damaged section of the ship," Sam told him. "In fact, they'd already started forming a barrier at the breach when I finally got it closed off, but no signs of any other physical missile. I'm starting to suspect they were the missile that hit us: a weapon and a method of entry rolled into one."

Daniel imagined a missile made of Replicators and made a face. He wasn't sure he ever wanted to see what that looked like close up. "We can't fight them off?"

"They are primarily in the engine room now," Teal'c said. "There are already too many for us to defeat. If we engage them, they will see us as a threat and fight us until we are eliminated."

"It's gotta be all or nothing," Jack said. "For whatever it's worth, they're pretty much all holed up in the engine room. We found a few groups of strays roaming around, but...Carter's got this theory about hive mentality, and we'd rather stay off the 'threats-to-be-eliminated' list."

"Hive," Daniel repeated. "Well, that would make sense. They must communicate with each other--they couldn't fly a ship and plan coordinated attacks if each Replicator were independent."

"Exactly," Sam said, nodding. "It could be something like...like a networked set of computers. Essentially, they are just advanced computers."

"Vicious computers with pincers," Jack added.

"If we can't attack them with guns," Daniel said, "then our best hope is to use the ship itself against them, right?"

"It would appear that is so," Teal'c agreed.

"Except that they're better at using our ship than we are," Sam said.

Daniel reached his fingers under his glasses to rub his eyes. "So we need a way to...what, crash the ship before they get to Earth?"

"There might be another way," Sam said.

Jack looked like he agreed with the sentiment but raised his eyebrows at her. "I'm listening."

Her eyes slid away briefly, and then back. "I'm thinking."

"Carter," Jack said firmly, "if you can find a way that doesn't include dying, tell me. But if worse comes to worst, I don't know about all of you, but I'd rather go out quick than get ripped apart by Replicators. I'm just saying."

Still shielded in his not-quite-feeling state of mind, Daniel nodded his agreement. "As a last resort...the Replicators on Apophis's ship couldn't get around the auto-destruct."

"Unfortunately..." Jacob started, turning around.

"No, don't say 'unfortunately,'" Jack said.

"Unfortunately," Jacob insisted, "it looks like the Replicators have figured out Goa'uld computers now. We're completely locked out of the main systems from here. They'd probably be able to shut off the autodestruct this time, even if I could set it."

"Great," Jack muttered.

"But," Martouf said, "the Replicators' skill at manipulating technology may be in our favor. Samantha--look at this."

Skittering sounds made Daniel whip back around, sticking his head and his gun out into the corridor as he searched for the source of the sound.

There was one Replicator only a few paces away, but it was coming toward them, and a small swarm was following it, clicking metallic limbs steadily along the floor and the walls. "Jack," Daniel said sharply, tensing his finger on the trigger but not sure whether or not to shoot.

Jack and Teal'c were both beside him in a second. "Crap," Jack said softly, but he held out a hand as Teal'c took aim. "No--wait. They're gonna want this room. We can't hold them off forever if they're really trying to get in."

"Jacob Carter believes we no longer have control of the main systems from here," Teal'c said. "It may be wise to surrender the peltak."

Nodding, Jack called, "Hey, kids...get out here. Everyone."

Daniel inched further out into the corridor to clear the entrance, watching the approaching Replicators. "You might want to hurry," he added. "A lot."

"Holy Hannah," Jacob muttered as he stepped out first. He tucked his zat'nik'tel away, useless against Replicators, and unceremoniously took the pistol out of Daniel's holster. "I'm gonna borrow this, all right?" Daniel nodded and didn't move as Jacob tugged at his belt until he'd found an extra magazine of ammunition.

"Don't shoot," Jack warned.

"Are you kidding me?" Jacob said.

As Sam pulled Martouf out of the room, Jack said, "They're in the engine room. They probably want the peltak, too. The computers here are useless to us, and if they want in, they'll get in."

"Might as well not get killed trying to stop them," Sam agreed. "What about local controls? We can try to hack into the central networks from somewhere else."

"Yeah," Jacob said. "There's a monitor just down there, where you've been keeping your stuff."

"Then let's move," Jack ordered, and they backed swiftly away from the peltak, moving down the hall as the first Replicator crawled into the peltak. They followed Jack down the corridor to the room they'd been using to store the limited supplies they'd brought.

As they reached the room, Jack motioned for Teal'c to keep watch at the door and began pulling open their bags. "There's a bunch of C-4 in here," he said, searching through. "We can try to blow things up. Put a big enough dent in the ship and we crash and burn, right?"

"Wait, there's something else you should know," Jacob said. "Just before we left the peltak, we found out that we're going almost thirty times the maximum speed of our hyperdrive and accelerating rapidly."

"Is that possible?" Martouf said.

"I wouldn't be surprised if the bugs had found a way of modifying the engines," Sam said, turning on a nearby computer and letting her father check their progress again. "They're very advanced. We're probably going much faster than that now--"

"Looks like almost a four hundred times maximum speed," Jacob confirmed.

"--which means we'll be back in our galaxy in no time."

"As will the Replicators, however," Teal'c said. "Our destination is still Earth."

"We can't let them get a foothold in our galaxy, much less on our planet," Jack agreed. "Even the Asgard are barely surviving against them."

"They almost had a planet taken over by Replicators a year ago," Daniel said, "and it almost happened to Earth, too, through them."

"Almost," Martouf repeated.

"When they flew Thor's ship to Earth," Sam explained, her eyes lighting up thoughtfully, "we managed to destroy the deceleration drive just before the ship started to enter Earth's atmosphere. It couldn't withstand an uncontrolled reentry."

Jacob nodded, still scanning through whatever he could on this computer. "Goa'uld motherships use sublight engines to slow down after exiting hyperspace and to control their reentry. If we destroy the sublight engine controls..."

"...the ship won't be able to stop," Sam finished. "And it'll burn up in Earth's atmosphere, just like Thor's ship did. We'd have to wait until just after the ship comes out of hyperspace and starts its descent, though, so the bugs won't have time to change trajectory."

"Whoa, wait," Jack said, holding up a hand. "I'm guessing we don't have a way to beam ourselves off the ship before it blows this time. Do we?"

"Escape pods?" Sam said. "Auxiliary ships? What do we have on board this thing?"

Jacob raised his head from the computer. "Lots of gliders in the docking bay."

Nodding, Teal'c said, "We need only three to carry us all to safety. We can destroy the engine controls as we leave hyperspace, escape in the gliders, and land on Earth."

"Assuming the Replicators haven't taken over the glider bay already," Daniel pointed out.

Sam looked over her father's shoulder. "The local controls in that area seem to be intact. They're most likely focusing on the engine room, not smaller auxiliary systems like gliders."

"Okay, we'll go with that," Jack said. "Now, how do we disable these engines?"

"Destroy the control crystals in the engine room," Jacob said.

Jack reached back into the pack he'd been searching and held up a block of C-4.

"Anything we plant with a detonator could be disabled by the time we leave and set it off, sir," Sam said. "To be sure, we would have to physically destroy the crystals ourselves. A P90 at close range should do the job."

"Maybe you weren't paying attention before, Major, but that room is crawling with bugs," Jack said.

"You got a better idea, Mr. Positive?" Jacob said. "We're now moving at over eight hundred times our previous maximum speed--we'll arrive soon. If we're doing this, someone needs to be ready to destroy the crystals as soon as we drop out of hyperspace, and someone else needs to get a few gliders powered up and ready to go."

Jack made a face, then said, "Carter, Teal'c, we'll take the engine room. You three, get to the glider bay and figure out who's flying. Keep your radios on. Let's--wait--" Jack bent down, picked up another P90, and handed it to Teal'c, who shifted the submachine gun he already had into his left hand and took the other in his right. "Sweet. Now we're ready."

...x...

Jacob took the lead as they ran down toward the glider bay, and Martouf stayed in the middle as Daniel took rear guard for what might have been the first time outside of training.

Martouf was silent as they went. "Are you okay?" Daniel asked, unnerved not by the silence but by the expression on the unflappable Tok'ra's face.

"Who will fly the udajeet?" Martouf said tightly.

Daniel mentally counted their number, but before anyone could answer, they found themselves at an intersection separating the lower level from the one above. He found himself automatically stepping in front of Martouf as they rounded the corner, scanning the section quickly as he heard Jacob doing the same from the other side, and he realized that was exactly what was wrong.

"Clear," Jacob said.

"Clear," Daniel answered, and turned to follow Jacob one more door down to the glider bay, herding Martouf in front of himself with one hand. "Jacob and Teal'c can each fly one," he said as Jacob opened the door, then closed it again behind them. "And..."

Martouf looked around the room, his eyes running over the row of death gliders waiting for them. "Can Colonel O'Neill fly a Goa'uld ship?"

"Uh..." Daniel hedged. "That...depends on what you mean by 'can.'"

"It is a simple question!" Martouf snapped.

"Then, no, he's never tried it except behind Teal'c," Daniel said, "but he and Sam know about gliders from the X-301 project, and Jack's piloted lots of other aircraft. He might be able to learn. He learned to control a teltak once in an emergency situation."

"We're in position," Jack's voice said from their radios, just above a whisper. "We'll hit it as soon as we drop out of hyperspace."

"Good luck," Jacob answered. He climbed into the seats located under one glider, powered it on, and glanced at Martouf. "I'll fly with Sam. Teal'c can take Daniel, and Martouf can take Jack."

"Jacob--" Martouf said, then stepped forward and grabbed Jacob's arm to stop his movements. "You do not understand. It is Lantash who remembers how and it is my body that moves--it takes all our concentration to appear whole even when we move from room to room on foot."

"All you need to do," Jacob said, pulling his arm firmly away and moving on to the next ship as Daniel bit his lip and looked up at the cockpit of a third, climbing into the back seat, "is fly out of the bay and get as far as you can before the hatak blows. No complicated navigation or maneuvering. You'll be fine. You're making yourself nervous."

"Jacob--"

Daniel was searching the panel in his udajeet for the switch that started its engines, so he didn't see Jacob's eyes flash, but he turned at Selmak's voice.

"There is no time," Selmak said sternly. "Let Teal'c go first; I will watch from behind. Follow him, fly fast, and stop when you see him stop. Then, you will no longer be limited by time. If you need to, you can always cede the controls to Colonel O'Neill and guide him as you guided Mr. Jackson in flying the hatak. Now...I believe Mr. Jackson needs your help."

"Right, um..." Daniel said awkwardly as Martouf took a deep breath and slowly turned to face him. "I don't know how this works."

Martouf looked back once at Selmak and dipped his head. Lantash surfaced, and the Tok'ra strode wordlessly toward Daniel to power the udajeet on. As before, at the peltak, he pointed to the sections of the panel in the back seat and said tersely, "Communications--with other gliders and long-range. Put this on." He pulled a headset from the front and handed it to Daniel.

Daniel slipped the earpiece in and heard Jacob's voice say in his ear, "Can you hear me? Turn on the microphone--there's a button on the side."

He tapped the microphone on and answered, "I hear you."

"This is the override for the glider," Lantash continued. "Do not touch that unless Teal'c is too badly injured to fly and you must take control. When you are both seated, this will raise you into the cockpit above. When you are in, release the vice to allow the ship to drop out of its place."

"Okay," Daniel said, very glad he wasn't going to be in the front seat. "And this might be a stupid question, but don't we need to open those doors to...get out?"

"We're still in hyperspace," Jacob reminded him. "Besides, we don't want to alert the bugs to what we're doing until it's too late to stop us." He took a look around. "Your gliders ready?"

Lantash checked Daniel and Teal'c's glider once more, then moved to the one he would take with Jack, fixing his own headset in place. "They are."

The ship shuddered.

"That's it, we've dropped out," Jacob said.

Nearly a minute and no communication later, Daniel thumbed his radio. "Jack, Sam, Teal'c, where are you?"

"Rings," Jack said breathlessly in answer. "We're stuck on the--we're ringing down! Open up!"

"You're closest, Daniel--go," Jacob said.

Without waiting, Daniel levered himself back out of the glider and hopped down to the ground. He opened the door to the glider bay and found the ring room just in time to see SG-1 appear on the platform, stumbling as if they had been running while being transported.

"This way," Daniel said, noting that none of them seemed badly hurt before turning back toward the glider bay. "Sam, go with your father at the far end. Jack's with Martouf. Teal'c, I'm going with you, and we need to take the lead."

The gliders came back into view. Daniel climbed back into his seat, watching Sam and Jack drop into the other two. He waited just long enough for Teal'c to get one foot into the cockpit before twisting the switch to send their seats up into the waiting cockpit and releasing their glider from its place.

"Ready?" Jacob's voice said through their speakers as the doors to the glider bay slid open. They stopped fully open and then, without warning, started to inch closed--the Replicators had finally noticed them. "Damn--go, now!"

Daniel clutched his seat as Teal'c jammed his own earpiece in and sped past the closing bay doors and into space, ahead of both of the other gliders.

"Lantash, you good?" Jacob said. Daniel twisted in his seat, hoping to see the others, until Teal'c snapped at him to sit down and face forward.

"Yes," Lantash's voice answered.

"They should hit atmosphere in...five..." Sam said. "...four...three...two..."

Daniel turned around again in time to see the hatak, growing smaller as they sped away, crash toward the planet and explode in a burst of flame.

He flinched reflexively at the sight, but nothing happened to them, and then, the only thing left in sight was the planet Earth and two other udajeet skimming through the darkness at their side.

"That's it," Jack said. "Is that it?"

The sound of Jacob's sharp, short laugh came over their speakers. "That's it. We're done."

"We have suffered no damage to our glider," Teal'c spoke up.

A pause, and then, "Nor have we," Lantash confirmed.

"Good. Lantash, stay where you are," Jacob was saying. "Teal'c, let's pull in toward him and stick closer together before we lose someone. And Jack, see if we can't get George on the line--send a long-range transmission."

Their glider turned around until they were looking straight into the cockpit to see Lantash and Jack, Earth in full view behind them. From farther off, Jacob and Sam's glider was turning, too.

"Jack?" Jacob repeated. "You gonna call, or do I have to do it?"

There was a brief pause, and then, "Ah..." Jack said. Daniel looked into the other cockpit again--the lights illuminating it showed Jack peering at the panel in front of himself. "All right, this would be a lot easier if I could read my computer screen. Or if someone down there"--he pointed to Earth--"would turn a satellite our way and call us."

"Also," Daniel said, "how do we send a signal that the SGC will receive and understand without compromising security?"

But Sam had a solution for that. "They have that Tok'ra short-range communicator we used on Netu," she said. "We modified it to use it with the X-301 project, but it's integrated with everything else in the control room now. It's coded, too, and no one should be receiving the signal but the SGC, but just in case..."

"Sam and I will find the right frequency and put together a message," Jacob said. "Everyone sit tight and watch for incoming transmissions--they might try to contact us, too."

Between the two Carters, they finally sent off a repeating signal of something that Daniel's computer monitor showed as several oddly-shaped waves. Sam said it was her IDC, sent with a standard encryption, and that the technicians would undoubtedly recognize the pattern and know it was them.

"Don't memorize and steal it," she teased. "That's gotta be a form of identity theft somewhere in the galaxy."

"Well, it's not like we're going to type wiggle-lines into our GDOs," Daniel said, because translating waveforms into numbers was one of the languages Sam was better at than he.

"Wiggle-lines," Jack repeated. "Is that the technical term?"

"They look like wiggles," Daniel said.

"They're called 'waves,'" Jack said.

Teal'c spoke up to say, "They are, however, wiggling."

And then Daniel realized they were joking, as if they hadn't just watched their ship fall apart and spent the last few days talking about the merits and methods of killing themselves in a way that caused as much damage as possible. Jacob must have realized it at the same time, because he chuckled again.

Then the brief giddy moment passed, and as they sat in their gliders, waiting for someone to answer their call, falling slowly out of the rush of fear and focus that had colored the last few days, Daniel found himself staring at Earth from above for the first time.

"It's beautiful," he said. "It's like the pictures in books from telescopes, except...not. And it's...it's..."

"She's a beauty, huh?" Jack said. "We should probably move closer, by the way--get a better view of what we're aiming for."

Jacob's glider broke formation first, moving slowly into a lower orbit around Earth.

"Hey, guys, remember the first time we saw Earth from space?" Sam said as Teal'c waited for Lantash to follow, then joined the other two, bringing everything into even clearer view.

"I recall we were running around on a ship trying to blow it up and barely managed to do it and escape before it got to Earth," Jack said. "Oh, wait..."

"I didn't look outside that time," Daniel remembered, finally tearing his eyes away from the planet to see Jack and Martouf on his left and Sam and her father on his right.

"You were kind of dead that time," Jack corrected. "And then a little high on sarcophagus fumes, so, no, you probably didn't look out the window." Sam laughed, even though a few years ago, the memory of his first involuntary mission with SG-1 on Apophis's mothership would have made all of them wince. She must be even more exhausted than he was.

Even staring at the back of Teal'c's head, Daniel could hear him smiling as he said, "And the next time we saw this planet from a ship, it was the Biliskner that we were attempting to destroy just before it reached Earth."

"I'm sensing a pattern, here," Jacob said dryly.

"Hey, we do what works," Jack said.

"Major Davis is going to be so annoyed," Sam said, her grin audible. "We promised him to try not to blow things up around Earth anymore."

"At least we have Russia on our side this time," Daniel pointed out. "Or we can tell Russia we're not trying to attack them, and maybe they'll help us come up with a cover story."

"Still," Jack said. "Sucks to be Paul Davis today. You just know they're gonna throw him to the press sharks."

After a moment, Lantash spoke up to say, "The Stargate and Goa'uld technology are secret on your planet. How will we land?"

"Hammond'll figure something out," Jacob said. "We'll just have to try to land somewhere away from civilian eyes,"

"There's nothing wrong with civilians," Daniel said inanely, even though he knew what Jacob had meant. The space outside their glider was black and gaping, and no one wanted to let too much silence start to open up along with it. "I'm one."

"Oh, that's right," Jack said, with a hint of that slightly maniacal glee that rose in him whenever a major System Lord fell. "The civilian who stabbed Apophis."

"Is that what you did to him?" Jacob said. "The guy survives a supernova and a Replicator attack--just in the past couple of days--and then gets knifed and dies."

"It wasn't the knife," Daniel said, but it was quiet enough that he didn't think anyone--except maybe Teal'c--had heard. No one answered it, anyway.

"Well, it just proves they're not invulnerable," Sam said optimistically. "Take away a shield, ship, and army, and they're mortal."

Daniel looked down at his hands. He'd scrubbed at them hard earlier with help from a canteen and a wet jacket sleeve, but they hadn't really had time since then to stop and clean themselves beyond dressing a few minor injuries. He thought he saw faint, red streaks still lodged in the creases of his hands. He wondered if Teal'c's hands were still stained with blue.

Apophis's host probably wouldn't have lived even if Daniel hadn't shot him, and he knew it. The man had been badly wounded with no doctor nearby and none of them able to provide the necessary care. And then there was the man's age--thousands of years--and the sarcophagus addiction, and maybe even more they didn't know about. Whether or not they could have saved his mind, his body had been lost.

Daniel started to wonder if he should have hesitated, at least, but that wasn't the problem, either--Jack would have assured him of that. Hesitation in those situations brought more risk without more benefit, and, in this case, more pain on the part of the host.

But he should have wanted to hesitate, even if the action would have been the same in the end. Intentions mattered. Daniel wondered how much of his decision to pull the trigger so quickly had been from a sense of mercy and reason, and how much had been his own desire to put a bullet in Apophis's head and be done with it once and for all. He hoped it had been mostly the former and feared it had been partly the latter.

"Then Apophis truly is dead," Lantash was saying. "You are certain he could not have escaped?"

"Yes," Teal'c said quietly. Then, louder, "There is no doubt. Apophis is dead."

"Finally," Jacob muttered. "That's one less pain in the butt to think about."

Daniel waited for delight to settle over him, or perhaps satisfaction at having watched the symbiote die, or the contentment of fulfilled vengeance, or excitement at what this might mean to the Jaffa on Chulak, or even hope that their actions had at least freed Apophis's host from his lifetimes of torment...

Instead, something heavy dropped away from him, and it took a moment for him to recognize it as a relief so deep that he sank along with it, slouching into his seat and finally leaning his elbows forward on his legs to let his head hang in the small space of the cockpit.

His parents were dead. His brother and sister had been held prisoner and invaded and tortured in too many ways to count. Every home he had had been attacked. Even he had almost begun to think quietly that they would simply never defeat Apophis, the way the Jaffa and human slaves believed gods could never die. And now... It had only been four years, but those years had been long--it felt like he had spent his whole life hating Apophis, and now Apophis was gone for good.

"Daniel?" Jack's voice said.

"Hm?" Daniel said without looking up.

"Are you trying to stand on your head?"

Instead of answering, Daniel wrapped his arms around his legs and closed his eyes. He didn't want to look up or look out just yet, and he didn't want to talk.

He could feel himself starting to shake and pretended it was from fatigue, until he brought a hand to his face and felt a telltale wetness. He wasn't sure if it was relief or grief or something else entirely, but his eyes were blurred when he opened them. He tapped off his microphone, not wanting the others to hear his ragged breathing.

"Hey," Jack said, more sharply. "What's going on in there? Say something."

A shifting noise came from in front of him. Daniel peeked up and found that Teal'c had turned away from the controls and was standing in the tiny cockpit to look at him, even though he shouldn't, because he was the pilot, and they were floating in space above a huge planet that looked tiny from up here.

And now Daniel felt so small, because they had done everything he'd set out to do years ago and nothing really mattered.

"Teal'c, turn your mike back on," Sam said. "What happened?"

"Are you hurt?" Teal'c said, ignoring the others.

Daniel shook his head. He tried again to control himself and swiped a hand angrily across his face. "Sorry," he said. "I don't..."

"I regret that it came to pass in that way," Teal'c said. "But now it is done."

It wasn't, though. It had barely started. "Yeah," Daniel said, because this was silly, and there wasn't room for things like this when they weren't home free yet. He pressed the top of his head to the back of Teal'c's seat. "We're almost home. Gods, I want to go home."

"As do I," Teal'c said. Then, he activated his microphone again before he pulled away and sat down properly in his seat. "We are fine," he said. Daniel didn't raise his head, knowing they must all know he was scrubbing tears away and wiping his glasses dry but not wanting to look at them yet until he was sure he could do it without doing anything stupid.

"Sure about that?" Jacob's voice said.

"Indeed," Teal'c said firmly. Daniel sniffed, took a deep breath, then another, until he could breathe without shaking too much, and sat up, finally turning his microphone back on.

He turned to the side and found Jacob watching him, and somehow he found the energy to flush in embarrassment. Sam's face showed more understanding than concern, and Jack would get it, because he was Jack, but Jacob probably thought he couldn't deal with the shock of their escape or having killed a man from close up. Or, after that stiff conversation they'd had about the death of the robotic SG-1, maybe he thought Daniel felt bad about Apophis's host, and it was all true and yet not the issue at all.

It might be only a small step, even just a brief delay, in the war and the big picture, but still meant something, at least to the people who had been at the SGC long enough to have seen Apophis's face, or to have watched tensely as his ships had hovered over Earth years ago. Nothing and everything had changed today.

"I c-can't believe..." Daniel started, then cleared his throat and started again. "I can't believe we can see so much of Earth from here. It's clearer than I thought it would be."

"There's the SGC," Jack said, squinting and pointing a finger. From Daniel's angle, it looked like he was simply pointing in the vague direction of Earth, but he assumed Jack had fixed his sight on the outline of something and must have some general idea of where Cheyenne Mountain was located.

"It looks so small," Daniel said.

"Uh...I don't think you can actually see the SGC from here."

He shook his head. "No--Earth. I keep forgetting how small everything is when it usually seems so...big."

"Well--" Jacob started, but kindly stopped before he could voice what Daniel suspected would have been another reminder that SG personnel did that a lot--they forgot how small they really were in their tiny speck of the galaxy. Today was a victory, but a small one compared to what they now faced, and they had lost so much and so many before they could win even that.

"It's all relative," Sam said. "Big and small."

"Won and lost," Daniel said.

"Daniel, your brain's on," Jack said. "You want to fix that."

Sam laughed, and then silence dropped over them again.

Daniel stared at his screen, willing something to happen or someone's voice to answer their call. Nothing happened, though, and now that the instinctive fear of floating helpless in space had faded away, sitting in the cockpit of the glider was actually making him sleepy, tired from running and thinking and waiting. He'd never realized before how tiring it was to wait.

But before anyone could speak again, a beeping noise came from Daniel's panel. "Wait, wait, wait--incoming transmission."

"I see it," Jacob said. "Everyone turn on long-range communications and keep local on."

"Got it," Daniel said once he found the switch Lantash had shown him.

"Us too," Jack added.

"All right," Jacob said. "Accepting message."

"This is General George Hammond," the general's familiar voice said into their ears, and despite everything, Daniel felt himself smile in relief. "Identify yourself and explain your situation immediately. Over."

"It's a secure channel, Colonel," Sam's voice said. "Go ahead."

"General Hammond," Jack said, "this is Colonel O'Neill with Major Carter, Teal'c, Daniel, Jacob Carter, and Martouf. And Lantash. And Selmak and Junior. Our ship was taken over, so we blew it up and escaped in gliders, but trust me, sir, it was worth it. We're in orbit now, and we need somewhere to land. Over."

Silence answered him.

"Jack?" Daniel said.

"Might be a little time delay," Sam suggested. "Or they're verifying with satellites. Wait for it."

Finally, the general's voice came back. "It's good to hear your voice, Colonel. I'll have our missiles stop targeting you and clear an area. I recommend you land just outside the Mountain. If that will not be possible, tell me now. Over."

"Can you land that precisely?" Daniel asked.

This time, it was Jacob who said, "George, it's Jacob Carter. We're gonna need a little guidance. Send us coordinates--or keep transmitting from there and we can lock onto your signal. Over."

"We'll do that," the general said. "I need to get people out of the area first for security, but we'll stay in touch. Give us a little time, then come in on my order. Welcome home."

...x...

15 July 2001; Earth; 1700 hrs

Daniel must have fallen asleep sometime just after the last communication with the general and he woke up to hear the general say, "Begin your descent when ready."

"Yes, sir," Jack said. Daniel blinked and reset his monitor to show their position over Earth. "Take the lead, Teal'c. Then us, and Carters, you follow."

The reentry was a bumpier ride than he'd expected--even the inertial dampeners couldn't completely cushion them from the turbulence--but Teal'c flew smoothly, confidently, and even a little slower than usual, to make sure Lantash didn't lose track of him as they searched for Cheyenne Mountain and tried to avoid being seen at the same time.

When they finally touched down, right in the middle of an abandoned Norad Road and in front of the entrance to the Mountain, it was to the sight of cars with men pointing guns at them. Daniel decided he was still half-asleep, since the sight failed to do anything but make him yawn.

"I don't know what good they think those guns are going to do against the shields on these udajeet," Daniel said.

"You're still online, Mr. Jackson," General Hammond's amused voice said in his ear as the general himself stepped out of one of the cars, holding a radio and looking up into the sky.

"Sorry, sir," Daniel said sheepishly and thought to add, "Not that I think they should test the shields and shoot us or anything."

The sounds of more gliders behind him signaled the others' arrival. He turned in his seat to see Martouf settling down very carefully on the asphalt while Jacob zoomed in more casually from above.

"Everyone okay?" Jack's voice said. "Marty?"

"Must you insist on calling me 'Marty?'" Lantash growled.

"Why, don't you like it?" Jack said.

"Dad and I are fine, sir," Sam added before either Lantash or Martouf could answer.

"So are we," Daniel said.

Teal'c leaned back and pulled the latch to raise the shield and window over their heads. Daniel climbed out after Teal'c, which was a good thing, because he discovered his legs had gone numb and every sore muscle reawakened, and, if it hadn't been for Teal'c's steadying hand, he would have collapsed when he hopped down and landed on the road.

"SG-1 and Tok'ra tagalongs reporting for duty, sir," Jack said, though he still held a hand on the side of their glider, too, as Sam and Jacob both climbed wearily out of their cockpit.

"I can see that, Colonel," the general said, smiling widely and shaking his head. "I'll assume you have quite a story for us."

"Well, sir--"

"Why don't we wait until we're inside," the general cut him off. "We're having enough trouble with sightings and...well. I'm sure you can imagine. And we need you to take your medical exams."

It wasn't until he heard that part that Daniel noticed the guns still pointing at them. He supposed it made sense; there was more than enough risk between the botched trip to Vorash and Apophis's fleet, not to mention that they hadn't been able to explain yet what they'd done and what had happened. He was used to the security personnel, though, and he trusted them, so he didn't complain as they were piled into vans that took off down the tunnel and into the mountain.

Daniel got separated from Teal'c at some point, but Jack dropped into the seat next to him, Sam and Jacob in the row of seats in front while Teal'c and Martouf found their way into another vehicle. "You okay?" Jack said quietly.

"Mm-hm," Daniel said.

"Wanna tell me what happened just now?" Jack pointed upward.

"Nope," Daniel said.

Jack kept looking at him, but when he didn't elaborate, conceded, "Okay," in a tone that meant, 'we'll talk later.'

"I call first shower," Sam said.

"Hey, I'm the guest here," Jacob said.

"There's more than one shower on base," Jack pointed out, "and we helped you guys move, so you owe us, guest or not."

"And fine job you did of the moving," Jacob said.

"All right, you know what..." Jack started indignantly.

Daniel leaned back in the seat and closed his eyes, letting their bickering voices wash over him.

...x...

There wasn't an SG-1 locker room anymore--there were too many teams and too many personnel now to warrant assigning an entire ready room to any one team--so Daniel found his locker in the men's room once Janet pronounced them all Goa'uld-free and not in physical danger of anything except perhaps collapsing in exhaustion.

As he sat on a bench, staring at his open locker, a sheet of paper fluttered past his face and into his lap. Blinking in surprise, Daniel picked it up.

"'Attention all SGC personnel,'" he read aloud. "'Apophis is dead. (Really, this time.)'"

He turned around and saw Major Ferretti looking down at him. "Nice, huh?" Ferretti said.

"What is this?" Daniel said.

Ferretti shrugged and took the sheet back from him. "Found it before I could go home. Some sergeant was excited while typing up memos. Can't imagine why."

"Oh," Daniel said. He looked around and found that Teal'c was still there, but Jack had finished first and must have gone to talk to the general already. He rubbed a hand over his face, trying to wake up. The thought struck him that this might be a dream and waking up would make it go away, but he decided that, if it had been a dream, it should at least feel more artificially simple.

Nodding to Teal'c as well, Ferretti said more seriously, "Good to see you guys back in one piece. Everyone's been worried." He jerked his head back, and Daniel followed the movement to see the rest of Ferretti's team and a few others standing there, too.

"We're in six pieces," Daniel heard himself say. "More if you count the symbiotes separately."

Grinning, Ferretti clapped him on the shoulder. "Our little grasshopper's all grown up and saving the world," he teased. "Just...stop getting yourselves lost, all right? The brass was starting to talk about naming a new SG-1 if you guys didn't get back soon. I'm not sure who would've exploded first over that, but it would've been messy."

"We will attempt to remain in as few pieces as possible, Major Ferretti," Teal'c said.

Daniel forced a laugh along with the men, sensing that that was what he was expected to do to match their mood. When the others left, leaving Daniel alone with Teal'c, he sighed and flopped backward to lie on the bench.

"Are you all right?" Teal'c said.

"I don't know," Daniel said, closing his eyes. "I'm too tired to think too hard right now." That was a lie, though. Being tired only meant he was thinking more than usual, without the filters of logic and sense that he usually kept in place. "We killed him," Daniel said.

"Indeed," Teal'c said.

"Do you wish you hadn't...done what you did?" Daniel asked, remembering the image of symbiote blood dripping from Teal'c's fingers.

He didn't have to look to see Teal'c's expression. "Perhaps," Teal'c said.

"But you'd do it again, given the chance," he guessed.

There was a longer pause this time. "Yes," Teal'c said.

Daniel sighed. "Me too, I think. I wish I hadn't, but I'd do it again."

"But you acted out of kindness, in the end," Teal'c said.

"I wanted it to be over," Daniel said, not sure if that was agreement or denial.

"For Apophis's host as well."

Opening his eyes, Daniel sat up and said, "We have to get to the briefing room...preferably before I fall asleep here."

Teal'c was still frowning down at him. Quietly, even though they were the only ones here, he said, "Do we need to speak further of this, Daniel Jackson?"

"I'm just going in circles right now," Daniel admitted. He wished the last few days hadn't happened but was glad that they had. They had both done things in the heat of the moment that they regretted, but in the calm of home, they could admit they would have done it again. He wished he could forget what Apophis's corpse looked like but was beyond relieved that Apophis was dead. "I don't know what there is to say. At least not yet."

A knock sounded on the door, and it pushed open a crack. "Teal'c?" Sam's voice called from outside. "Daniel? Are you in there?"

"Yeah--we're coming, Sam," Daniel called back, and pushed himself to his feet. To Teal'c, he added lightly, "Duty calls."

"Come to us if you find you have something to say," Teal'c said before he could go. "Any of us."

Daniel nodded. "Sure." Then, because he realized that this went both ways, he added, "And, uh...you, too. You know that, right?"

Teal'c smiled very slightly. "I do."

Then the door swung open, and Jack strode in. Sam was still standing at the entrance and quickly looked away, then peeked back when she realized there were no undressed men in the locker room. "Everyone good?" Jack said.

"We are fine, O'Neill," Teal'c said.

Daniel pushed his locker closed, braced himself for the questions and excited buzzing they would likely find in the corridor, and turned around with a smile that was at least partly real. "Fine," he echoed. "Let's get this meeting over with."

"All right," Jack said, gesturing them all out into the corridor. "Smile, people. We won."


Next chapter: Epilogue ("Life")


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