Prime Meridian


by DawnC

First story in the Stargate Virtual Season 6 Series.

~~ooOOoo~~

Act I

~~ooOOoo~~

Jonas Quinn, special advisor to the High Minister, gestured toward the glass partition protecting them from the potential danger of the experiment being conducted inside. Tomas Lee, chief astrophysicist in charge of the naquadria project, stood silently on the observation deck.

"Our scientists are just about to move to a new phase of the experiment." Jonas smiled at Doctor Jackson. "I cannot stress enough how honored my government is to have you and your people here, and we hope we will be able to negotiate a mutually beneficial trade agreement."

Daniel nodded. "We hope so, too. When my teammates return from the tour of your city, perhaps we can begin more concrete discussions." He frowned as he studied the four men dressed in radiation-protection gear working inside the laboratory. "However, as we've discussed, this naquadria you're working with has the potential for great destruction."

"Yes, Doctor Jackson, you've made your concerns clear, but as I've said, we need this weapon to protect ourselves from our enemies. Our civil war has raged for years, and without this technology, we could easily fall to rival nations."

"I can understand that, but some very wise people have shown me first-hand how a sudden leap in weapon's technology by a civilization that's not ready for it can lead to its destruction."

Jonas' brow creased. "Given the chance, you would deny us this technology?"

"I can't predict what would happen to you or your planet with or without the weapon, I just wish there was another way." Daniel took a breath and returned his attention to the laboratory.

"The energy readings are increasing by a power of ten," one of the suit-clad scientists inside the laboratory announced, his voice sounding hollow through the head-piece's speakers.

"Incredible," Tomas muttered.

Suddenly, a burst of energy flashed from the device.

One of the technicians inside the room looked up. "Did you see that?"

The readings on the monitoring equipment went wild, and another, larger wave spread from the device, knocking all four technicians to the floor.

"Get down!" Tomas yelled, scurrying behind a beam.

Jonas obeyed, cowering against the rear wall, as far away from the laboratory as he could get. Daniel stumbled several steps back, staying within sight of the laboratory. A hum vibrated through the air, and Daniel guessed that the device was building energy. Lots and lots of energy.

"Stay away from the glass!" Tomas warned. "The radiation will penetrate the window."

Jonas pushed himself hard against the wall. "What's happening?"

Tomas crouched away from the window. "This device could explode."

Sparks flew from various machines inside the laboratory. One of the technicians on the floor reached up. His weak voice filtered from the speaker of his suit. "We have to remove the core."

Tomas fled the room.

"Tomas!" Jonas yelled, but the man was gone.

The last conscious technician in the room went limp before he could reach the device. Daniel stiffened. They were out of time. If the weapon exploded, it would take out the entire city, killing millions of people, including Jack, Sam, and Teal'c.

There was no other option. Daniel rushed toward the laboratory door, searching for a way to open it, but it remained closed.

"Doctor Jackson!" Jonas screamed.

Daniel ignored him, slamming his hand against the impenetrable metal, then leapt over the railing to face the lab window.

"Doctor Jackson!"

Daniel withdrew his sidearm.

"No!" Jonas yelled. "Doctor Jackson!"

Daniel aimed the gun at the glass, then emptied his magazine. He held the now-useless weapon in his hand and stared at the glass, littered with bullet holes. The room was silent except for the wailing of alarm sirens. Still, the window remained standing.

Come ON! The humming grew, and Daniel felt it through the floor and in the bones of his legs. He had to get into that room and remove the core before the device exploded and killed him and everyone in the city. Taking a deep breath, he charged forward, hunching his shoulders just as he hit the window. He closed his eyes and flung himself into a roll as the glass shattered around him.

He felt sharp pin-pricks of pain where he hit the floor, and he raised his arms to cover his head, protecting his eyes from the falling shards. Finally, when the last of the glass came to rest, he sprang off the floor, dropping his gun and running toward the naquadria device. He touched the long, semi-cylindrical object protruding from the top of the transparent dome, hoping that was the core.

He put his hands on it to lift it, but it was hot, and he let out a yelp as he jerked his arms away, his heart thundering in his chest as the humming increased. He shifted his jacket to pull his left sleeve over his hand, then grabbed the object again. Fire erupted on the exposed skin of his right hand, but he tried to ignore the pain and gritted his teeth as he lifted the core and tossed it to the floor.

The humming died immediately. His hands throbbed, especially the right one, and he stared at the red, blistered skin on his palm. He heard footsteps and looked up to see Jonas standing at the threshold of the lab, where the window once stood, staring at him with a mixture of horror and disbelief.

Daniel's breaths came in short, quick gasps, his chest tight. His legs trembled, and as he looked around at the fallen scientists laying silent and still, his knees failed, and he sank to the floor.

"I'll be right back," Jonas whispered, a tremble in his voice.

Daniel merely nodded as Jonas turned and stepped into the hallway. He heard the young man give the all clear, then footsteps pounded on the metal.

"He might still be radioactive!" Jonas yelled. "The whole area is probably still radioactive!"

Daniel looked up to see a bunch of people in radiation suits. They jogged into the lab, surrounding him and the fallen scientists. Thickly-gloved hands wrapped around his arms, urging him up, and he forced his legs beneath him.

"What happened here?" a hollow, filtered voice asked, but Daniel didn't bother trying to figure out which of the suited-figures had spoken.

"I told you it was unwise to allow him here," someone said, and Daniel's eyes snapped to the newcomer. He saw Tomas, dressed in a protective suit, point a finger at him. "He's been trying to stop our work since he arrived." He stepped into the lab, never once meeting Daniel's eyes. "I...I want him contained."

Daniel took a breath and looked to Jonas, who quickly averted his gaze.

So, that's how it was going to be. Daniel didn't protest as hands herded him out of the lab. They pushed him through a doorway in the rear of the observation deck, and he found himself in a small, windowless room. A desk and a couple of chairs furnished the spartan area, and Daniel dropped into the nearest seat.

"Sit," one of the suits told him, and he saw Jonas ushered in next to him. "We'll have a medical team here as soon as possible."

Jonas nodded, and Daniel tilted his head back to stare at the ceiling. Was it his imagination, or was his head beginning to float?

"How are you feeling?" Jonas asked.

Daniel shrugged. The hiss of the door indicated the team's departure, and Daniel raised his head to confirm that he was alone with Jonas. "Okay, I guess, considering."

"Right." Jonas took a deep breath. "About Tomas...."

"You didn't correct him." Daniel's voice sounded tired even to his own ears. How quickly would he feel the effects of the radiation?

"I know." He dropped his head. "Tomas is our chief astrophysicist. He'd be the one my government would blame for this catastrophe."

"Unless there's someone else. Me." Daniel sighed.

"They wouldn't believe me over Tomas," Jonas muttered quietly. "And what does it matter? We're both dead, anyway. They'll just want to sweep the whole thing under the rug."

"And blaming dead men is convenient." Daniel leaned his head back again and closed his eyes. At least the city was safe, along with the rest of SG-1.

~~ooOOoo~~

Jack, Sam, and Teal'c walked leisurely behind Solan, their tour guide, along the city block. The air was light and the weather comfortable. Buildings populated the area, and it was obvious the planet had a thriving, bustling civilization.

"And this is the city's main repository," Solan gestured to a brown, square building that looked several stories tall. "It...."

Sirens interrupt Solan, and he stopped. SG-1 stopped with him just as several beige, tank-like vehicles with flashing orange lights surrounded them.

The door of one vehicle opened, and a young man stepped out. "You must all return immediately."

Solan stepped forward. "Why? Has something happened?"

More men stepped out of the vehicles, and Jack's hand went to his sidearm as the strangers surrounded his team. "What's going on here?"

"We mean you no harm, but we must escort you back immediately. Please come."

Jack glanced at Carter and, with a sigh, allowed himself to be guided into the vehicle.

Doors slammed, and the vehicles lurched as they turned and headed away from town.

"Someone want to tell me what's going on?" Jack asked as he fastened his seat belt. Carter and Teal'c sat directly behind him in minivan-like bucket seats.

The man seated in the passenger seat turned to look at him. "There has been an incident. Further explanations will have to wait until we arrive."

"Great." Jack frowned. "Just great." If there was an incident, he was pretty sure Daniel was smack dab in the middle of it. Just what did you do now, Jackson?

Fortunately, the ride back to the facility wasn't long, and as soon as the vehicle came to a stop inside the compound, the doors opened and SG-1 was again herded toward a new destination. They quickly found themselves inside the main building, walking briskly down a corridor that Jack recognized as leading toward the main laboratory.

Tomas, the chief astrophysicist, intercepted them. "I cannot believe this has happened!" He stopped in front of them, then waved and turned. "Follow me."

"What's going on?" Jack increased his pace to follow the man. "Where's Daniel?"

Tomas glanced over his shoulder at them, then turned and ducked into the laboratory. Jack, Sam, and Teal'c followed, and a cluster of armed guards took up the rear.

"Doctor Jackson has been an outspoken critic of our naquadria experiments since his arrival."

Jack groaned inwardly. Damnit, Daniel. Up to your usual pain-in-the-ass arguments? When are you gonna learn to keep your mouth shut?

"He sabotaged our project and, unfortunately, almost caused a large explosion." Tomas' boots clicked on the metal floor. "Fortunately, that disaster was averted, but Doctor Jackson, the research team, and Jonas Quinn were all exposed to high levels of radiation."

Jack's heartbeat fluttered. Sabotage? Radiation?

"How large?" Carter asked.

"I do not believe Daniel Jackson sabotaged your experiment," Teal'c's said, his deep, calm voice standing in noticeable contrast to the panic that had permeated Tomas' tone.

Tomas stopped in front of a door, and Jack finally stopped and let his gaze travel around the room. The laboratory lay empty, and shards of sparkling glass littered the floor.

"At least seven grays of radiation. His right hand took the most, perhaps as high as 8 to 9 grays. He is not expected to survive." Tomas' voice became subdued, and he turned away and pushed open the door. "Do not touch them...for your own safety."

Jack and his two teammates followed Tomas into the room. Jack hurried past the man. Daniel and Jonas were seated next to one another in small, leather-like chairs. A lone desk sat propped against the wall, but otherwise, the room was sparsely furnished.

"Jack." Daniel rose to his feet.

Jack frowned as he stared at Daniel. Small blotches marred the ride side of the archeologist's face, and he looked a shade whiter than normal. "How are you feeling?"

Daniel shrugged. "Okay, I guess."

Tomas cleared his throat. "You must leave our facility immediately. Our government will allow you to take Doctor Jackson with you and provide him with any treatment you desire, but should he survive, we insist he be returned to us so that he may answer the appropriate charges."

"Charges?" Jack shook his head. "I don't---"

"Sir," Carter stepped forward, her voice low. "Not now. If Daniel's been exposed to that much radiation, we've got to get him back to the SGC. Now."

Jack swallowed and nodded. "Okay." He stepped forward and reached a hand out. "Okay, Dan--"

Daniel sprang out of his chair and stumbled back. "D-Don't--"

"--touch him, sir," Carter finished. "We're not entirely sure what type of radiation the naquadria device emits. His clothes, at the very least, may still be radioactive." She waved toward the door. "Come on, Daniel." Her voice grew soft. "Let's get you home."

~~ooOOoo~~

Oddly, Daniel didn't feel a whole lot of pain. The inferno that had engulfed his right hand had faded to a dull, deep ache. When the coldness of the wormhole enveloped him, all sensation vanished. Some indefinable time later, an instant to his muted consciousness, when he emerged whole again and hit the ramp, his hand went numb, and he heard Sam's voice, remarkably calm but laced with fear.

"We have to get to the infirmary, Daniel's been exposed to radiation."

"Have a medical team meet us on the way!" Hammond's voice boomed.

Daniel didn't miss a step as he headed toward the hall. He kept his hands raised in front of him, close to his chest. He didn't dare risk touching anybody or anything. He knew Jack and Teal'c were right behind him, oddly silent, and he hurried his pace, forcing himself not to break into a run. It likely didn't matter how quickly he got to the infirmary. He didn't know everything there was to know about radiation poisoning, of course, but he knew enough. He was very likely a dead man. It was only a matter of time.

"Colonel, what happened?" Daniel heard the general ask behind him.

"Details are a bit sketchy, sir," Jack answered.

"We were not present at the time of the incident," Teal'c added.

Daniel kept his pace steady, his footsteps hurried, not bothering to look over his shoulder. He really didn't want to see Jack's face just yet. It was bad enough watching the realization wash over Sam when she'd found out what happened. He'd kept his eyes pointedly away from Jack's as the team rushed him toward the infirmary...without laying a single hand on him.

"Medical team to Alpha Two. Repeat. Medical Team to Alpha Two," a disembodied voice echoed.

Two medics, a man and a woman, rushed toward him. He was so wrapped up in thoughts of his impending death, and how much would it hurt, that he didn't see them until it was almost too late.

He jerked away, almost hitting the wall. "DON'T touch me!"

They hesitated just enough for him to squeeze past.

"He may still be radioactive," Sam told them, only a slight quiver indicating the seriousness of the situation.

He turned the corner, walking as fast as his legs could carry him without breaking in to a run, and saw Janet standing near the far wall. She made no move toward him, and that, more than anything, laid to rest any doubts Daniel had about the seriousness of the situation.

"Let's get him scrubbed down!" Fraiser yelled as he passed her.

~~ooOOoo~~

Jack stopped as Daniel disappeared into the infirmary, out of sight. There wasn't anything he could do except stay out of the way.

Fraiser faced Sam, "Do we know what kind and how much?"

Carter answered in a hurried, clinical tone. "It was a device housing an unstable radioactive variation of naquada. We think his right hand was exposed to the equivalent of over 8-9 grays of neutron radiation resulting from direct contact. Full body exposure of over seven."

Jack didn't want to hear numbers. C'mon. All he wanted to know was whether Daniel would live.

Fraiser's expression went blank. "Oh, my God."

He wanted to tell them to quit the babble and get to the point, but his throat was tight, and his tongue wouldn't move.

Hammond spoke for him. "Doctor?"

Sam turned, her blue eyes wide and telling Jack what he needed to know before she opened her mouth and said, "It's a lethal dose, sir."

~~ooOOoo~~

"Doctor Fraiser tells me there's nothing more we can do for Doctor Jackson at the moment." Hammond took his seat at the head of the briefing table. "In the meantime, tell me what happened."

Jack dropped his gaze to the table. Nothing more they could do? He swallowed hard. Fraiser was wrong. Had to be. They had options. There had to be something....

"Well, sir as you know from our initial report," Carter began, after a breath, "Kelowna is one of three major countries on 4C3. What we've learned since our initial contact is that they appear to be at a similar stage of development to that of the United States in the 1940's. Geopolitically, there is obvious mounting tension between the nations."

Jack found his voice, but he didn't have it in him to manage anything much louder than a whisper. "Sort of like a cold war, sir."

Carter dropped her gaze briefly before returning her attention to the general. "The Kelownans discovered their stargate approximately fifteen years ago, unearthing it along with a number of Goa'uld artifacts in what appears to be an ancient temple."

"Their knowledge of the gate is still limited," Teal'c added.

"But their interest is strong." Carter briefly glanced at Teal'c. "When we told them what we could offer, they were eager to share any technologies they were developing that could potentially be offered in exchange."

Jack half-listened as Carter went on to explain their meeting with Jonas Quinn and tour of the main weapons research facility.

"He's an advisor to the High Minister," Carter continued.

Jack saw the confusion on Hammond's face and explained. "Their equivalent to our President."

"As we understand it, Jonas was responsible for overseeing the research from an ethical perspective," Carter elaborated.

Jack looked down at the table. Ethical. Yeah, sure. "Whatever."

"He had several degrees from their most honored educational institutions. Social studies, ancient Kelownan history...."

Oh, for crying out loud. It didn't matter how many degrees the guy had. It didn't change what he did...or didn't do. "He was a nerd, sir." The words came out harsher than he'd intended, and Hammond threw him a severe look. Jack lowered his gaze briefly. "He and Daniel got along great."

Carter gave a brief nod, then continued her explanation, going into detail about the tour, specifically the laboratory where Kelownan scientists were working on the device they'd uncovered from an ancient temple. They'd translated several words, including Gold, which Teal'c explained was actually "Goa'uld." Another word, naquadria, Daniel had corrected as naquada, but Jonas had explained they'd found both words in the ancient texts, and they were sure that the device had a core made of naquadria, not naquada.

Naquadria, Tomas Lee had explained, was a mineral substance found to have highly unstable radioactive properties. Their experiments indicated the device had great potential for large bursts of energy.

"They were making a bomb, sir," Jack summed up.

Carter glanced from Jack to the general. "They were far from achieving a deliverable weapon, but if successful, it would have been as powerful as a naquada-enhanced nuclear warhead."

Teal'c, his face impassive and his tone subdued, added, "The Kelownans claimed they were under threat of oppression from a neighboring nations, and the weapon would only be used to ensure their freedom."

Hammond's eyes darted back and forth between the three members of SG-1. "Sounds like a situation we would have to be very careful about getting involved in."

Carter briefly lowered her gaze. "Yes, sir."

A 'situation.' Anger blossomed in Jack's chest. So that was the word for it. 'Situation.' Daniel was in the infirmary, dying. They had a situation. A bunch of aliens wanted to blow themselves up. That was a 'situation.' Well, the 'situation' was pretty damn bad, and if the Kelownans wanted to naquadria themselves to hell, he'd volunteer to light the fuse. Sons of bitches.

Daniel was dying, and Hammond was worried about some damn mineral. Well, that might be a moot point, anyway, and good riddance. Jack took a breath, trying to get a rein on his fury. Anger seemed to be his constant companion lately. "I'm not sure we need to worry about that, General."

"How so?"

"I don't think they want our help any longer." And I'm all broken up about that, sir.

Hammond's eyes went distant for a moment, and when he spoke, his voice was low. "Something to do with how Doctor Jackson was exposed to that much radiation?"

Well, lookie, General, you put two and two together. Jack took a breath. Goddamnit, get a grip, he berated himself. Focus. Put all the other crap way in the back of your mind.

"We were touring the city." Sam's eyes flickered from Jack to Hammond. "Daniel was at the research facility with Jonas. As I'm sure you can imagine, he was pretty passionate about trying to convince the Kelownan people that building a big bomb wasn't going to be the answer to their problems."

Jack felt a headache blossoming. Oh, real nice, Carter. Why don't you just get up, walk into the infirmary, and point your finger right at him? He wasn't going to let Daniel take the fall for this. "Still, we don't know--"

"Colonel, what do you know?" Hammond asked sharply.

I know they're lying bastards! Jack answered silently, biting the inside of his cheek to keep from voicing that thought. He took another deep breath. Hammond expected a real answer, but he just couldn't say the words.

He looked at Carter. Say it, he quietly pleaded. Just get it over with.

She met his eyes briefly, then lowered her gaze before answering the general. "Sir, they're claiming Daniel tried to sabotage their research."

Jack's hand clenched into a fist on the table. In other words... "They're lying, General."

Teal'c didn't move, but when he spoke, his voice was strong and confident. "I also do not believe this to be true."

"They let us bring him back home on compassionate grounds," Sam added.

Compassionate grounds. Right. Jack's stomach twisted. "Fact is, they just didn't want us around there, anymore." The weakness in his voice surprised him. His throat didn't seem to want to cooperate.

"But they are demanding that he be returned to face the charges," Sam's gaze dropped to the table, "if he survives."

Hammond paused a moment, his eyes sweeping over the three team members. "As I understand it, Jonas Quinn was present. Has he said what happened?"

Sam lowered her gaze. "He, uh, hasn't refuted Tomas' version of events."

A slight frown touched Hammond's lips. "What is Doctor Jackson saying happened?"

No one answered the general. They had no information to give. Jack glanced at Carter, seeing the grim despair he felt reflected in her solemn gaze. Daniel hadn't said much of anything to anybody. They'd been rushed back to the stargate under 'escort,' and there hadn't been a lot of time or opportunity to discuss what had really happened.

Unfortunately, no matter what Daniel said, it was still his word against the Kelownans. Everyone in the briefing room might believe him, but the President of the United States and the Kelownan government would not be that likely to believe Daniel's plea of innocence.

And Daniel was innocent. No doubt about it. Jack didn't need to hear a word out of Daniel's mouth to know the archeologist didn't sabotage anything.

But what the hell had happened?

~~ooOOoo~~

Act II

~~ooOOoo~~

In the infirmary, Jack waited with Sam and Teal'c. He'd stopped a nurse to ask about Daniel, but all she'd told him was that Doctor Jackson was still with Doctor Fraiser, and she would inform Doctor Fraiser they were waiting. That had been about ten minutes ago, and those had been the only words spoken in those ten minutes.

There really wasn't much to say. Sam had looked at him a few times and seemed on the verge of speaking, but then invariably her gaze would dart to the floor or the clock on the wall, and hint of moisture would touch her eyes. Teal'c simply remained standing near the door, his hands clasped behind his back, his gaze distant.

Jack sighed and slouched in his chair, tilting his head back against the wall. How long did it take to ---?

"Colonel, Sam, Teal'c."

Jack's head snapped up. He saw Fraiser standing in the center of the room, looking at him expectantly. "Doc?" He rose from his chair. "How is he?"

She frowned, her eyes darting briefly to Carter, then back again. "Uh, about as well as can be expected." She took a slow, deep breath. "Colonel, I--" She swallowed hard. "The preliminary tests aren't good. To put it bluntly, there's no earth-based medical science that can save his life." She crossed her arms and shifted on the balls of her feet. "I can let you see him. One at a time right now, please."

Jack stood there, processing her words, his legs suddenly weak. What had she said? No earth-based science...

"Colonel?" Fraiser took a step toward him. "Would you like to see him?"

See him? Daniel. Now? Look into a dying man's eyes? It's not like he hadn't done it before...too many times before, but this....

This was Daniel. What would he say? What could he say?

He managed to nod, his throat so tight, he could barely breathe. "Uh, yeah."

She gave him a sad smile and turned, leading the way. He followed.

~~ooOOoo~~

Jack tried not to look too hard at Daniel, tried not to let his eyes wander to the tiny blotches on the archeologist's face, and tried very hard not to focus on the fact that, although Daniel looked healthy and vibrant -- except for those small blotches -- the radiation had already done its damage.

And he really, really tried not to listen to the gruesome details of what was to come, details Daniel seemed determined to fling his way. He wanted to cover his ears and tell the archeologist to shut the hell up. It wasn't like he really needed to know exactly how Daniel was going to die.

"Nausea will be followed be tremors, convulsions and something called ataxia. Surface tissue, brain tissue and internal organs will inflame and degrade." A crease formed in Daniel's brow, and he looked away briefly. "I believe that's called necrosis. Now, based on the dose of radiation I got, all that will happen in the next 10-15 hours and if I don't drown in my own fluids first, I will bleed to death, and there is no medical treatment to prevent that." He gave a brief, cardboard smile, and Jack wanted to shake him for it. He didn't feel like smiling, and he couldn't fathom how on Earth Daniel managed to find the strength for one.

Drown in his own fluids? Jesus.

But that stuff about no medical treatment.... Why the hell wasn't anyone stating the obvious? "Maybe not that we know of."

Daniel gave another faint, tolerant smile, looking aggravatingly like a kindergarten teacher preparing to patiently explain some basic concept to a child. "Jack, we don't go running to our off-world allies every time an individual's life's at stake. No good telling me that this is any different, because my life is no more valuable than anybody else's."

So, you're just going to roll over and accept this? Bullshit. If Daniel wasn't dying, he'd try to shake some genuine emotion out of that maddeningly calm facade. Instead, he decided to move on to other issues. Regardless of what Daniel said, Jack wasn't ready to give up yet. "What happened?"

"That doesn't matter."

It was like talking to a brick wall. "Yes, it does. You didn't try to sabotage anything."

The sigh Daniel gave caused his shoulders to slump. "There was an accident. I guess the scientists figured the government would hold them responsible. I guess they figured it was easier to blame me."

Well, that certainly summed it up nicely. Jack wanted to punch something. He hated the Kelownans, he hated politics, and he really hated the flat note of resignation that permeated Daniel's tone. Daniel had never been one to quit. Why the hell he seemed determined to start now, Jack couldn't fathom.

"And you're okay with this?" Jack asked.

"No, but there's not much I can do about that."

Bullshit. "Yes, there is."

The aggravatingly condescending kindergarten teacher look returned to Daniel's face. "If they really want to blame me, denying it isn't going to change anything. Ten thousand years ago, a Goa'uld tried the same experiments that they're trying, and he nearly blew the entire planet to bits. I tried telling them that. They wouldn't listen. They're gonna build that bomb, and nothing we say is gonna stop them."

~~ooOOoo~~

Jack saw Hammond rise from his chair as soon as he was within eyesight of the desk.

"The Asgard are still not responding, Jack. We've tried to reach Jacob Carter, but the last we heard he was on a mission to recover the last remaining undercover Tok'ra."

Screw the Tok'ra. They're more of a nuisance than a help, anyway. "General, we do have intelligence on the sarcophagus."

"SG-3's mission report two months ago?"

"Yes, sir."

"We both know the negative effects of that technology, Colonel."

Oh, yeah, just slightly better than dying of radiation! "But Daniel's been in one of those things a dozen times. Once more isn't gonna hurt."

"However, SG-3's report clearly indicated that the sarcophagus is heavily guarded, and likely retrieving it would result in heavy casualties, which is why I did not order a recovery mission at the time."

"Sir--"

"Colonel, please don't think you're alone in your feelings on this matter."

There was a slight catch in Hammond's voice that broke through Jack's frustration and told him that Hammond wanted to grant the request, he just couldn't, not as commander of the facility. One life didn't measure up against however many it would take to retrieve that sarcophagus.

The fight drained from Jack, and for the first time since they'd brought Daniel back, it hit him. In a few hours, Daniel would very likely be dead.

"Yes, sir." He barely had the strength to say the words, and they emerged a whisper. He swallowed, and when the general dismissed him, turned and left the office.

~~ooOOoo~~

Jack marched down the halls, almost bumping into a few people who weren't fast enough to get out of his way. He'd struck out with the general. Okay. But there was still his ace in the hole. If anyone could pull them out of an impossible situation, it was Carter.

He swung around a corner and propelled himself into her lab. "Got anything?"

She glanced up at him. "Well I've been doing some calculations."

Of course you have. It's what you do. And...? "Anything to help Daniel?"

"I wish."

Jack clenched his hands into fists. Everyone wished. No one seemed able to do a damn thing.

She continued, apparently unaware of his reaction "Based on the amount of radiation the Kelownans say Daniel was exposed to, I've estimated the amount of energy that would have been generated by the experiment."

"And?"

"The potential's astronomical, sir. Even a very small amount of the unstable element they're working with emitted a pulse of energy far greater than anything I've ever believed possible, much more than weapons grade naquada would have. It would require a massive nuclear reaction to even approach this level."

It would make a big bomb. They knew that. "So?"

"Sir, this could be the missing link we've been looking for in terms of generating the kind of energy I believe is necessary to create a hyperspace window, or to generate and sustain the kind of shields the Goa'uld have been using to protect their ships. Sir, we have to get some of this element."

~~ooOOoo~~

Jack hated briefing rooms. He hated conference tables. He really hated fluorescent lights. Unfortunately, at the moment, he was surrounded by all three of them.

Hammond sat at the head of the table, his voice strangely subdued. "By now their government believes Dr Jackson was trying to sabotage their research."

Jack leaned forward, trying very hard not to fling himself out of the chair that seemed determined to reshape his backside. "It's a lie. They're using Daniel as a scapegoat."

"Still you said he was vocal in his disapproval of their project before the accident. None of this bodes well for diplomatic relations."

"Why are you talking about diplomatic relations? This is Daniel's life."

Out of the corner of his eyes, Jack saw Carter turn her head as she tensed. "Sir, I know how you feel because I feel the same way, but I cannot stress enough how valuable this element could be."

Jack could barely look at her. Valuable? More valuable than Daniel's life? His reputation? The goddamn truth?!

Hammond spoke again, his voice still devoid of emotion. "I will draft a letter to the Kelownan leader."

Oh, for crying out loud. "General, you cannot capitulate to these people. They are lying bastards."

"Their government doesn't know the truth," Hammond countered.

"So we tell them."

"They will have little reason to believe us over their own people, especially when what we're forcing them to admit would be a major embarrassment. It would put them at too great a disadvantage in further negotiations."

A disadvantage? At negotiations? Jack took a breath. He couldn't believe what he was hearing. "Sir, you cannot admit Daniel is guilty."

"Give me some credit, Jack. I will tell them that we did not order any such action and do not condone its obvious intentions, both of which are true."

Jack shook his head. No. No. This was not happening.

The general continued, "Hopefully we can lay the groundwork for further diplomatic negotiations which will eventually result in an amicable trade for the naqadria. I'm ordering you to deliver the letter."

Jack stiffened. An order? The man he'd known for over five years could sit there and order him to deliver a letter condemning Daniel? He opened his mouth to tell Hammond where he could shove that order, but stopped himself at the last minute.

He'd deliver the letter. It would give him a chance to look into the eyes of one of the lying cowards and tell them he knew. He knew Daniel was innocent. Daniel had died saving their worthless lives.

Someone had to say it. "Fine, sir."

~~ooOOoo~~

Jack exited the wormhole alone, having left the rest of his team back on Earth. He took a breath as he stepped away from the stargate and approached Tomas, who had apparently been waiting for him. "Hey."

"Colonel O'Neill. I'm surprised to see you."

I'll bet. "I brought a letter from my superior to your leaders."

"Ah. An apology? Really, I hardly think a meager apology will compensate for such a horrendous act of sabotage."

Jack took a step forward, his hands clenching into fists at his side. "We know you're lying through your teeth."

Tomas straightened sharply. "Several of our scientists have died. The others, including Jonas Quinn, will soon follow. Their deaths are the direct result of Doctor Jackson's actions." He tilted his head. "And how is Doctor Jackson?"

Lying in a hospital bed, dying. A pain shot through his chest. "Not good."

"I'm sorry to hear that. The deaths of our scientists were horrific. I wish that fate on no one."

"You and I both know Daniel didn't sabotage anything. In fact, his actions saved your fat behind."

Anger sparked in Tomas' eyes. "Then why are you here, Colonel?"

"My superior thinks that denying the allegations against Daniel would be a waste of time."

"He's a wise man. What I don't understand is why your government is even trying to maintain a relationship with us?"

"Because we want some of that stuff you're experimenting with. My government still thinks they can negotiate for it."

"The naqadria is very spare and extremely valuable to us. I doubt that my government would ever agree to that."

"Yeah, I figured. That's why I'm here."

" I don't understand."

" I only agreed to bring that letter so I could see you." And I'm not sure why the hell I'm bothering. Daniel must be rubbing off on me.

"Why?"

"Because Daniel is dying." The words came out angry. It was the first time he'd spoken them aloud.

"And you're looking for someone to blame?"

Isn't that what you're doing? "I'm not gonna let you tarnish his name. See, I don't care what that stuff is worth to anyone. My government will admit Daniel is guilty over my dead body."

"What do you want from me?"

"Just tell the truth."

Tomas gave a weary sigh. "The truth, Colonel, is that Daniel Jackson broke through a protective barrier to get to the device. He was found in the room, alone with the weapon. He had voiced his opposition to our use of the naquadria to build defensive weapons."

"Daniel's dying because he tried saving you and your lying buddies from your own incompetence!"

"Colonel, we desperately need the weapon we're developing. Without it, the Kelownan people could easily fall to our rival nations who are developing their own powerful weapons as we speak. Now we're willing to do whatever's necessary to ensure our freedom and a lasting peace on this planet."

"All right, let me be clear about something. I think this is the point Daniel was trying to make. A weapon of mass destruction can only be used for one thing. Now you might think it will ensure peace and freedom, but I guarantee you it'll never have the effect you're hoping for until you use it at least once. Now just for the record, the reason we want that stuff is because we think it could be used to create defense shields. But you just go ahead, blow yourself to hell with it. Nothing, right now, would make me happier."

Jack turned sharply and walked away from the man, his hands still balled into tight fists. He hated diplomacy. It was just a formalized system of lying to cover one's ass, and it often involved selling out good men -- men like Daniel.

~~ooOOoo~~

Fraiser hesitated when she spotted Sam ahead, shoulders slouched, looking through the observation window stationed above the infirmary.

She walked to stand beside Sam, her own gaze drifting to the figure below. A nurse at Daniel's bedside methodically changed the bandages covering most of his body, revealing red, oozing blotches where skin used to be. A heavy, tingling feeling filled Janet's stomach, and she swallowed the bile that touched the back of her throat.

Sam glanced at her brief. "He looks awful."

Awful didn't begin to describe it. "It's gonna get a lot worse, and it's gonna happen fast." Too fast.

"You sure you're doing everything you can?"

A touch of anger blossomed in Fraiser's chest, but she pushed it down. It wasn't right to take her frustration out on someone who was hurting. But, damnit.... Yes, she was doing everything she could, and yes, she was painfully aware that everything she was doing wasn't enough. She took a breath. "Sedatives and painkillers. That's all we can really do." Her eyes stayed riveted to Daniel. "You have no idea how painful this is gonna get. You know, I would never normally say this, it goes against everything I've been trained to do but the truth is he'd be a lot better off if I…."

She choked the words off in time. She couldn't say them, even though they were the truth. She'd be doing Daniel a favor if she just upped his morphine. A lot.

~~ooOOoo~~

Sam tried to keep her voice from trembling as she stood at her friend's beside, the cool metal-like frame of the healing device pressed against her palm. "Daniel. I didn't suggest this before because the truth is, I'm not really sure what I'm doing with this thing. I could make things worse."

She wasn't even sure whether Daniel could hear her...until he nodded. Taking a breath, she lifted the healing device, closing her eyes to focus on making the mysterious machine come to life. She felt a tremor run through her, then felt a subtle vibration in the device. When she opened her eyes, she saw the soft glow bathing Daniel.

Suddenly, Daniel's body began to jerk violently.

"He's seizing." Fraiser snapped orders at her team. "Get the crash cart; give me 5 of Valium."

Sam stepped back, shaking as she watched the results of her stupidity flailing on the bed. Oh, God, what if he died? "I'm sorry. I'm sorry."

Fraiser glanced up at her. "Help me get him on his side." Her voice was strangely gentle. "Valium's in. Set up and draw 2 grams of magnesium sulfate. Put him back. Easy."

~~ooOOoo~~

Act III

~~ooOOoo~~

Pain ripped through Daniel, enveloping him in a haze of bright-hot agony. Then, suddenly, it vanished. Everything was quiet and numb, and a strange glow surrounded him. He was standing in a darkened, deserted gate room. Slowly, he moved forward, confused. Where was he?

A splash of light caught his eyes, and he saw a woman dressed in white, surrounded by a soft glow, standing before the stargate.

She smiled softly at him. "Your fate is in your hands."

He opened his mouth to ask her who she was and what she was doing there, and what he was doing there, when the gate room dissolved in white light, and he found himself staring up at a drab ceiling, bathed in pain, itchy cotton clinging to his skin.

He heard footsteps, and his eyes found the source of the sound. "Hey, Jack."

Jack sank into the chair at Daniel's bedside, obviously trying to look casual. "Hey. I uh, I just wanted to.... I'm really bad at this."

Daniel managed a smile. "Yes you are." There was no use denying it. Jack didn't do comfort very well, not lately. Not that comfort would be easily found. Death was right there, looming before him, and it wasn't pleasant, and there was nothing anyone could do about it. "I hear that Sam thinks the naqadria might be an important discovery."

"Yeah, apparently. If we can get some. For what it's worth, I tried to get your point across to Tomas."

"He's in a tough position."

"You're not gonna take the fall for this. I don't care what's at stake."

Daniel studied Jack. He really couldn't see why it mattered. Not now, anyway. What better scapegoat than a dead man? "Why do you care?

~~ooOOoo~~

Jack knew he should be surprised at the question, but he wasn't, and the realization that he wasn't caused a peculiar tightening in his chest. His vision began to cloud, and he looked away briefly.

Had things gotten that bad between him and Daniel?

He took a breath. It was time to say what he meant. To tell Daniel how valued he was. "Because despite the fact that you've been a terrific pain in the ass for the last five years..." he swallowed. Those hadn't been the words he'd meant to say. Not exactly. Why the hell was it so hard? Daniel deserved much more, and Jack wasn't going to get a second chance. "...I may have, might have, grown to admire you a little, I think."

Daniel's bloody lips turned upward. "That's touching."

Jack leaned forward. "This will not be your last act on official record."

Daniel's eyes rolled upward, and he mumbled something nearly unintelligible that sounded vaguely like "Oma."

Jack tilted his head. "What?"

~~ooOOoo~~

She stood on the ramp, dressed in a soft, white suit, the stargate looming behind her.

Daniel studied her face, and recognition hit him suddenly. "I felt like I knew you, that we'd met before but," he smiled, "you look different."

She walked a few steps toward him, her tone even. "Lightning flashes, sparks shower, in one blink of your eye you have missed seeing."

"Right." Daniel resisted a sigh. He wasn't exactly sure what was happening, whether he was dreaming, delusional, or actually standing in a deserted gateroom with Oma. He decided to play along. What difference did it make, anyway? He was dying, and this delusion, if it was a delusion, was probably a mercy. "What did you mean when you said my fate is in my hands?"

"When the mind is enlightened the spirit is freed and body matters not."

Hope blossomed inside him suddenly. Maybe this wasn't a delusion. Maybe, somehow, he was really talking to Oma. "You're talking about ascension, right? Rising to a different plane of existence? Are you saying that I could do that? Become like you?"

"You must complete the journey you began at Kheb. Only then will you be able to find your way to the Great Path."

Okay, the Great Path. He was pretty sure finding it was a good thing, metaphysically-speaking. It had to be better than his current situation, at any rate. "What do I do?"

"Release your burden."

Ah. She'd said something similar to him on Kheb. He wasn't ready then, but now...."Okay, well consider it released. What's step two?"

"A tall man cannot hide in the short grass."

Right. Frustration gnawed at him. There he was listening to someone talk about grass while his body was back in the infirmary, wasting away. "You know, I really don't have time for one of these kind of conversations."

"One cannot reach enlightenment by running from death."

It wasn't exactly what he wanted to hear, and his patience was evaporating like water from a steaming kettle. "Tell me what to do."

"Many roads lead to the Great Path. Only the willing will find their way."

"Okay, well I'm willing. So let's go. I mean, you know, do your thing." He closed his eyes briefly in anticipation. "Glow me."

"The river tells no lies. Though standing on the shore, the dishonest man still hears them."

He sighed and opened his eyes. "Right. I didn't think it was gonna be that easy."

She gave him a soft smile. "You have never taken the easy path. That is why this choice lays before you now. Others around you took the easy path. You did not."

And a lot of good that did. "Millions could still die."

"The future's never certain. You saved many without regard for your own life."

It hadn't been enough. Sudden tears welled in his eyes. His existence had been a travesty of near-misses. So many times, he'd been close enough to victory to feel its breath on his lips, only to let it fall away from him. There was always something he could've done differently.

He looked away from her. "Could have destroyed the device."

"You believe your journey is not over?"

"Actually I'm not entirely sure what the point of my journey so far has been." Tears clouded his eyes. "I mean if this is about being honest with yourself, I believe my entire life has been a failure."

And, oh God, what a failure. Sha're, Sarah, Reece, and so many others. His tears almost broke free when a soft, familiar voice tickled his ear.

"Just so you know, Jonas died."

Daniel frowned. He was suddenly in the infirmary, looking at his own bandaged figure laying in the bed. Sam was at his bedside, crying.

Sam closed her eyes briefly, and tears spilled on to her cheeks. "He told everyone what you did, before he..." She swallowed and brushed a hand over her eyes. "I wanted you to know that. You have an effect on people, Daniel. The way you look at things, it changed me too. I see what really matters. I don't know why we wait to tell people how we really feel. I guess I hoped that you always knew."

Her words dissolved into more tears, and Daniel felt his own eyes clouding. He walked around the bed and knelt in front of her. He reached a hand out, but it passed through her arm. She didn't seem to notice.

With a sigh, he pushed himself back to his feet.

"You can never reach enlightenment if you do not believe you are worthy," Oma's voice intruded.

He turned back to Oma, and the infirmary faded. "Then I guess we may have a problem."

~~ooOOoo~~

Sam brushed at her eyes as she glanced at the wall clock. Janet was only allowing Daniel one visitor at a time, and her turn was up. She knew Teal'c was waiting outside in the hallway. Rubbing at her eyes, she brushed the tears away and rose to her feet, letting her gaze linger on Daniel's still, bandaged figure a few seconds before she turned away.

She left the infirmary behind and almost ran into Teal'c. Startled, she looked up, opening her mouth to excuse herself. When she saw the glistening of pain in his eyes, her own control dissolved, and she felt her bottom lip quiver as new tears spilled on to her cheeks.

He wrapped his around her. She stiffened for a moment, unused to letting herself show such weakness, especially while in uniform, but then a sob overwhelmed her, and she melted against him, burying her face in his shoulder and letting herself cry.

~~ooOOoo~~

Daniel was in his office, perusing the unfinished business on his desk. He wondered who would take over for him when he was gone.

"You once gave me this."

At the sound of Teal'c's voice, Daniel looked up to see the Jaffa standing rigidly a few feet away, an unusual sadness in his eyes. In his hands, he held a familiar funeral statue.

"You said that its spirit would one day serve its owner in the afterlife." Teal'c lowered the statue, and Daniel saw a shadow of himself on the infirmary bed.

He couldn't explain these strange visions, or why he seemed to know what was going on in the infirmary when he thought he was standing in his office. He didn't bother trying to figure it out. Either he was delusional, or Oma was working her wonders.

His eyes dropped to the statue. "Thanks." A sudden, inexplicable resentment filled him. He didn't want to die, but everyone seemed to be treating him as though he were already gone. "I'm not dead yet, but… I guess it doesn't look so good right now."

"If you are to die Daniel Jackson, I wish you to know that I believe that the fight against the Goa'uld will have lost one of its greatest warriors....and I will have lost one of my greatest friends."

Daniel's resentment faded, and his eyes grew hot. He blinked and looked back down at his desk. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Teal'c raise his arm across his chest in a salute.

"Because it is so clear, it takes a long time to realize it." Oma's gentle voice filled the room. "If you immediately know the candlelight is fire, the meal was cooked a long time ago."

Daniel looked at Oma, and both Teal'c and the office faded to darkness. He was tired of riddles, and he really didn't have the time to try to figure them out. "Yeah, yeah, a monk at Kheb said that to me, I didn't know what it meant then, and I still don't know now."

"Why do you feel you have failed on your journey? You opened the stargate for your world."

"I cracked the code, a lot of other people made it work."

"The very next thing you did was help free the people of Abydos from evil."

Abydos. Daniel's eyes fell on a picture of Sha're taken by a member of the original team. Yeah, he'd helped free the Abydonians from Ra, but Sha're and many others paid the price when Apophis attacked a year later. He remembered the screams as he'd run into the pyramid, shouting her name, desperate to find her.

God, to do it over again.... "I had the chance to live out my life with her. I couldn't leave it alone. I was the one that unburied the gate. What happened to her was my fault. I couldn't save Sha're, I couldn't save Sarah. Every Goa'uld I helped eliminate, another one took its place. Maybe I did something good every now and again, but nothing I've ever done seems to have changed anything."

"These tasks of which you speak were great challenges. Perhaps they were even impossible to achieve."

"Does that absolve me?"

"You feel your journey must continue until you have found redemption for these failures?"

He almost laughed. "No, not if I'm dead."

"Exactly true."

It was time to cut to the core of things, drive the knife straight through. "You said I was the only one qualified to judge myself? So how ever much I want to achieve enlightenment, or whatever you want to call it, what happens if I look at my life, and I don't honestly believe I deserve it?"

Just look at all the damage he'd done as a mere human. He didn't want to think what he could do if he had Oma's powers.

"The success or failure of your deeds does not add up to the sum of your life. Your spirit cannot be weighed. Judge yourself by the intention of your actions and by the strength with which you faced the challenges that have stood in your way."

He felt an almost painful tightening in his chest. He didn't want to die, yet part of him was ready to let go. He was tired of living, tired of fighting, but it didn't look like he had much of a choice. He would either die or become like Oma. Unfortunately, he couldn't take that step toward enlightenment if he had to find himself worthy because, looking back on his life....

"What if I can't?"

A soft smile touched her lips. "The people closest to you have been trying to tell you, you have made a difference. You did change things for the better."

He looked back at the picture of Sha're, and a knot formed in his throat. "Not enough."

"The universe is vast, and we are so small. There is only one thing we can truly control."

Curiosity cut through his grief, and he looked up at her. "What's that?"

"Whether we are good or evil."

~~ooOOoo~~

Jack leaned back in his chair, his arms resting on the briefing table. Jonas was dead, which meant Daniel, who had received a much higher dose of radiation, should have already died.

Damn, the kid was holding on, defying all the doctors' expectations. He had an iron will. Daniel Jackson, the Man of Steel.

But not even Daniel could defy the laws of nature. All the doctors said that, without the intervention of alien technology, Daniel would die, should've died already, in fact. It wouldn't be long, now.

"With Jonas' confession," Hammond folded his hands on the table, "the Kelownan government has backed down. They are not asking for Doctor Jackson to be returned to stand trial."

Jack scowled. "Oh, how nice of them." It was no use demanding the return of a dead man.

"And, they're willing to renew negotiations."

"With all due respect, sir, to hell with the negotiations."

Suddenly, the alarm klaxons blared. Hammond stiffened, and Jack was on his feet. The general rose and hurried past him. Moments later, they were in the control room, looking over the shoulder of Sergeant Davis.

Davis looked up from the monitor. "Receiving Tok'ra IDC sir."

Jack's head shot up, his gaze going to the stargate. Dare he hope?

"All defense teams on high alert," Hammond ordered.

Davis nodded. "High alert. Repeat high alert."

Several armed guards ran into the gate room below, their weapons aimed at the stargate.

Hammond took a breath. "Open the iris."

The iris slid open smoothly. A moment later, Jacob Carter emerged from the event horizon.

"Stand down." Hammond glanced at Jack, then hurried down the stairs toward the gateroom. Jack followed.

"Sorry about that, Jacob." Hammond stopped in front of Jacob. "Given what's happening with the Tok'ra lately, we had to be sure it was you."

Jacob nodded. "Understood. What's going on?"

Jack spoke past the hard mass that seemed lodged in the center of his throat. "It's Daniel."

~~ooOOoo~~

When Jack walked in to the infirmary, he saw Sam and Fraiser positioned on either side of Daniel's bed. Carter looked up the moment they entered.

Jacob hurried to her. "Hey, Sam. I'm so sorry." He wrapped his arms around her.

She swallowed hard. She pulled away and raised her hand. The healing device sat in the center of her palm. "I tried this, it didn't work."

Jacob nodded, taking the device from her. "We'll do our best."

With a look at Fraiser, Jacob moved to Daniel's bedside, his eyes traveling solemnly over the bandaged figure on the mattress. He held out his palm, and Sam handed him the healing device. Quickly, he slipped the machine on his hand and turned the round jewel toward Daniel. The device glowed, bathing Daniel's chest in a soft light.

After a few moments, the light from the healing device faded, and Jacob lowered his hand. He looked up at Jack, and when he spoke, it was with Selmak's deep, echoing voice. "His condition is grave. I do not know if I can save him. Even if I can, I do not believe I can restore his full healthy state."

"Do what you can," Sam choked out.

Without another word, Selmak raised his hand and once again activated the device.

~~ooOOoo~~

Disbelief clutched Daniel's chest when he saw Oma walking up the ramp toward the stargate."

"You're leaving? You can't leave."

She stopped and turned toward him, a faint smile on her lips. "The rest is up to you."

"Why, why me? Why, why give me this chance?"

"Anyone can reach enlightenment. Anyone prepared to open their mind as you did when you first came to Kheb."

Without warning, a strange warmth surrounded Daniel, and his brow furrowed as he tried to focus on the familiar sensation. Odd...

He realized suddenly what the feeling signified. "They're trying to save me. They're healing me. I can feel it."

Oma looked faintly surprised. "Then your journey will continue as before." She turned toward the gate.

No! His chance was slipping away. He didn't know what he wanted, whether to live or die, but... "What if I don't want it to? Not that way."

She turned back to him. "Walking the Great Path brings great responsibility. You cannot fear it nor hesitate in your resolve."

Easier said than done. He turned away from Oma and looked at the empty gateroom. He didn't want to leave. Well, a part of him didn't want to, anyway, but what was left for him at the SGC? Sha're was gone, and nothing he did as a member of SG-1 seemed to accomplish anything good. Everyone he really cared about was gone, and his friends....

Did Jack even want him around, anymore?

Oma stood there, waiting for him to answer.

He took a breath and nodded. "I understand. I'm ready to go with you."

She bowed her head once in acknowledgment. "Then stop them."

"How?"

The question had barely left Daniel's tongue when he found himself once again in the infirmary. People were crowded around his bed -- Jack, Sam, Fraiser, Hammond, Teal'c, and Jacob. A soft, orange glow emanated from the healing device on Jacob's hand, and even now, Daniel could feel the alien device's influence. Strange, considering he didn't feel much of anything else, and he wasn't technically in his body.

Or was he?

It didn't matter, and he didn't really have time to ponder the metaphysics of the situation. He had to stop Jacob. But how?

His eyes went to Jack, standing a few feet away from the bed, his hands in his pocket. His eyes looked sad, but Daniel could make out a faint hope in their darkness.

Daniel maneuvered around the bed. Instinct guided him to the man he'd called friend for so many years. Jack would understand. He'd have to.

Daniel reached out and touched Jack's shoulder, and a brief spark seemed to shoot through him.

~~ooOOoo~~

Jack felt a surge of something warm and tingly flow through his body. He blinked, and found himself in the gateroom. Daniel stood just to Jack's right, his hand on Jack's shoulder. A woman dressed in white, surrounded by a soft glow, stood at the top of the ramp.

Well, this was interesting. "Daniel?" He turned toward the archeologist, curiosity tugging at him.

"Yeah."

Jack wasn't sure what was going on, but somehow, despite the seeming impossibility, he knew without a doubt it really was Daniel standing in front of him. "Did you want something?"

"Yeah. Tell Jacob to stop."

Stop? Uh, no. "Why?"

"Because I'm ready to move on."

Ready to move on? That didn't sound like Daniel Jackson. The kid wasn't a quitter. "You just giving up?"

Daniel shook his head. "No. No, I'm not giving up, believe me."

Daniel turned his head to look at the woman on the ramp, and Jack followed the young man's gaze. Suddenly, the woman's body changed into a familiar, glowing figure. The Stargate came to life, and the alien disappeared into the event horizon.

Daniel looked back at Jack. "You remember Oma?"

How could he forget? "Sure."

"I think I can do more this way. It's what I want." Daniel seemed to choke on that last part.

Anger turned Jack's stomach. Is that really what Daniel wanted? To leave? Didn't the SGC mean anything to him, or had he just been biding his time ever since Sha're's death?

"You really want to leave?" Jack asked, swallowing the anger that threatened to permeate his words.

Daniel bowed his head, and when Jack saw the solitary tear slide down Daniel's face, his anger melted. When Daniel looked back up, both cheeks were wet. "I'm not making a difference here, Jack. With Oma, maybe I can." He took a breath and gave an uncertain, shy smile. "Give me a reason to stay." A shadow of hope lifted his tone.

Jack frowned. What reason could he give? The SGC needed Daniel? He knew what the kid would say. Daniel could be replaced. Anyone at the SGC could be replaced. Maybe not easily, but eventually they'd find someone, or several someones working together, who could fill Daniel's shoes.

And, sure, Jack could say, 'I want you to stay,' but in the end, that would just be selfish. If leaving was what Daniel wanted, then Jack wasn't going to stand in his way. Daniel had been through many versions of hell in his young life. Maybe now he had a chance to find some peace. He could go somewhere where the Goa'uld could never darken his life again.

Jack really didn't have a right to try to stop him.

Daniel lowered his head again, a deep sadness darkening his face. He swallowed. "I have to go now." A faint smile twitched on his lips. "Everything's gonna be fine. Please Jack. Tell Jacob to stop."

Jack found himself suddenly back in the infirmary, a strange tightness in his throat. His eyes went to Jacob, still working diligently to save Daniel, and he swallowed hard.

"Jacob." Jack could barely manage a whisper. "Stop."

Jacob only glanced at him. "Are you serious?"

He took a breath. "It's what he wants."

Jacob looked up at Janet, then his eyes went to Sam and Hammond. No one offered any advice. "Someone else want to tell me what to do?"

"Just let him go," Jack insisted, his words stronger.

After a brief hesitation, Jacob looked back to Sam, then the glow spilling from the healing device faded, and Jacob lowered his hand. A few seconds later, Daniel's chest dropped, and a long sigh escaped his lungs. The cardiac rhythm on the EKG went to a flatline, and the alarms sounded.

Fraiser stiffened, her eyes brimming with tears. "Colonel!"

Before Jack could open his mouth, a light began to fill the infirmary. All eyes dropped to Daniel, and his body disappeared. In its place was a beautiful, glowing being. It rose from the bed, drifting upward.

The infirmary faded, and Jack found himself back in the gateroom.

Daniel stood at the base of the ramp, his eyes wet. "I'm gonna miss you guys."

"Yeah," Jack forced his voice steady, "you too."

"Thank you. For everything." Daniel turned toward the gate.

No! He wasn't ready to let Daniel go. "So, what?" The words spilled quickly from his mouth. "See you around?"

Daniel stopped and turned toward him, his eyes distant. "I don't know." He smiled softly, then turned and stepped toward the gate.

"Hey." Jack took an equal step forward. "Where are you going?"

Daniel stopped and looked over his shoulder at Jack. His smile had vanished, and his eyes seemed faintly sad. "I don't know."

Daniel turned away again and walked the rest of the way up the ramp. He stepped through the shimmering event horizon and disappeared. The wormhole disintegrated, leaving Jack in a dark, quiet room, alone.

Then, suddenly, he was back in the infirmary. The faces around him were filled with awe and bathed in light. Jack looked upward just in time to see the glowing figure vanish through the ceiling.

All eyes dropped back to the bed. It was empty. Sam sniffled, and Fraiser leaned against the bed. She looked up at Jack and wiped at her eyes.

"What just happened here?" Hammond's softly spoken question broke the silence.

Jack cleared his throat. "Daniel's gone to a better place." He stuffed his hands in his pockets and glanced at Hammond. "You can tell the Kelownans he died, and they can stuff their negotiations." He turned sharply away from the general and hurried out of the infirmary.

~~ooOOoo~~

Act IV

~~ooOOoo~~

A headache was blooming inside his skull. Jack rounded a corner, his boots drumming a fast rhythm on the hard floor as they carried him swiftly away from the infirmary.

"Colonel!"

Jack stopped and pressed a palm against his right eye in a pathetic attempt to control his suddenly throbbing headache. It wasn't working. With a sigh, he lowered his arm and turned around.

"Yes, Major?"

Carter stood before him, tears sparkling on her cheeks. "What...?" She stumbled over the word, then took a breath and tried again. "What happened back there, sir? Daniel....?"

"Is gone, Major. Adios. Aloha."

"You told Fraiser to stop, that it was what Daniel wanted. How would you know that?"

He really didn't want to dissect what had happened. In fact, all he wanted to do was down a six-pack.

"Colonel?" Hammond's voice floated down the corridor, and Jack looked past Carter to see the general walking toward them.

Great. Just great. He forced himself to assume a stance vaguely resembling attentive. "Yes, sir?"

A hint of redness framed Hammond's eyes, and Jack realized the day's events hadn't been particularly easy on the general, either. "You seem to know something about what happened back there. I want a briefing now. Follow me."

"Yes, sir." Jack's shoulders slumped, and he avoided Carter's eyes as he marched after the general.

What could he say at the briefing? Oma came. Daniel became a Bright Light. End of report.

"Have a seat, Colonel."

Jack blinked. They'd reached the conference room already? And, oh look, everyone was present. Hammond. Janet. Teal'c. Sam. Even Jacob. How nice. Taking a breath, Jack closed his eyes briefly in an effort to push back his headache, then slid into the chair nearest Hammond's.

He didn't want to be there any longer than necessary, so he decided to just get to the point. "I don't know what exactly happened, sir. To make a rather confusing story short and to the point, Daniel came to me in some kind of vision. Oma was with him. He asked me to make Jacob stop so that he could do the glowing thing and go out into the great, big universe." He rubbed at his forehead. "End of story."

The room was silent for several seconds. Jack looked around at his colleagues' faces. Sam's eyes still held a hint of tears. Teal'c remained stoic and silent. Fraiser seemed unusually subdued, with shadows beneath her eyes. Even Jacob looked flustered.

Hammond leaned forward, his face grim. He looked like he'd aged years in just the last few minutes. "Oma as in the being SG-1 encountered on Kheb? The alien that took Shifu?"

Jack nodded. "Yes, sir."

"Daniel came to you?" Sam asked, then cleared her throat briefly as she swiped a hand across her cheek. "What did he say?"

What did he say? Jack's anger surged forward. Oh, just that he had no reason to stay.

"Colonel?" Hammond prodded, "I'd like an answer to that question myself."

"He said he was ready to move on," Jack placed his hands on his laps and clenched them into fists, "and he did. Now, sir," he looked at Hammond, "I'd like to move on myself. It's been a long day, and I really wanna go home."

Sam leaned forward. "He must have said more than that, sir. Can you describe--"

"He's gone!" He slammed a palm on the table hard enough to send jolts of pain up to his elbow and cause Fraiser to flinch. An abrupt silence descended over the room, and Jack slouched ever-so-slightly in his chair. Damn. He cleared his throat, and softly added, "Isn't that enough?"

Hammond's eyes narrowed slightly, then his gaze swept along the rest of the group. "Dismissed," he said, but as Jack started to rise, added, "except for you, Colonel."

Sam's eyes locked with Jack's for a moment, then she rose from the table. The others followed her example, and one by one, everyone except Hammond and Jack filed out of the room.

"Colonel," Hammond folded his hands on the table, "this has been a difficult day for all of us."

Jack struggled not to give in to the frustrated sigh he felt building in his chest. Not The Speech. He really wasn't in the mood for it this time.

"I'm not really sure what happened back there," Hammond continued. "I'm not even sure whether I should believe my own eyes, but whatever happened, I know it means Doctor Jackson has left us. He meant a great deal to all of us, and we're all hurting. Unfortunately, Colonel, you and I carry a certain responsibility. We cannot let our grief interfere with...."

"Our duty." Jack finished as he leaned back in his chair. "I know, sir. And I'm not. But I've been on 'duty' for almost three days straight. I'd --"

Hammond nodded. "You're exhausted, as are the remaining members of your team along with myself and Doctor Fraiser. I'm granting you and the rest of SG-1 48 hours of leave. However, before you go, I need the full story from you. What happened back there with Doctor Jackson?"

~~ooOOoo~~

Sam leaned against the wall outside the conference room and closed her eyes.

"Are you okay?"

Sam swallowed and opened her eyes. Fraiser stood in front of her, sadness and fatigue making her look older than her years.

"No." Sam pushed away from the wall and rubbed her hands over her face. She shook her head. "No, I'm not okay, Janet." She took a breath and looked up. "And the colonel--"

"He's hurting, too, Sam. Everyone deals with grief differently."

"He just..." She shook her head. "He's changed, Janet. He's been different these past few months. I'm not sure when it began, but something's wrong. He and Daniel..." She choked on the name and closed her mouth, swallowing hard.

Janet placed a gentle hand on Sam's arm. "Go get some sleep, Sam. You're exhausted."

Sam nodded, turning away from the doctor. She was tired, but she knew she wouldn't find comfort in sleep for a long time to come.

~~ooOOoo~~

Teal'c closed the door to his quarters behind him, entombing the room in darkness, and closed his eyes. He did not know whether he would be able to attain the focus and peace afforded by Kel No Reem. He didn't believe he had the strength to even try.

Opening his eyes, he glided into the center of the room and sat amongst the long-extinguished candles on the floor. His hand drifted out, and his fingers wrapped around the silver lighter O'Neill had given him as a gift. He ignited the device, and a small flame erupted to life. Carefully, he touched the flame to the wick of the nearest candle, then extinguished the lighter. The soft, flickering candlelight bounced ghostly shadows across the walls of the room.

"I will miss you, Daniel Jackson," he whispered into the darkness.

~~ooOOoo~~

Sam quietly slid the door to Daniel's office closed, then turned around. Her eyes swept across the modest clutter of the dim office. Artifacts and books populated most of the available surfaces. Leather-bound journals lined shelves positioned against various walls. She drifted over to one of the bookcases and let her fingertips brush over the worn spines. Before she realized what she was doing, she had plucked one of the volumes from its resting place and let it fall open in the palm of her hand.

She remembered a similar moment, years ago, when she had stood in Daniel's apartment with the colonel and Teal'c, preparing to pack Daniel's personal belongings into various plain, cardboard boxes. They had believed him dead that time. The colonel had handled it differently then. The grief had been visible in his eyes, audible in every word he'd spoken.

Now, she wasn't quite sure how he felt. She knew a large part of him grieved for Daniel, but she couldn't understand the anger that seemed to plague him lately. Sinking into the nearest chair, her thoughts drifted from Jack O'Neill as her eyes caressed the familiar scrawl of Daniel's pen.

~~ooOOoo~~

Jack took a sip of coffee from the mug, then set the cup back on the edge of the desk. He sat slouched in his chair, staring at the computer screen. He had given up on going home and decided it didn't really matter, anyway. He wasn't going to sleep, and he really didn't relish the thought of nursing a hangover tomorrow.

He might as well stay and get the unpleasant stuff out of the way, like the initial paperwork.

At least there was one painful duty he and Hammond were spared. There were no earth-bound relatives of Daniel to notify of his 'passing.' There would be no mother to shed tears for him. No wife. No children. No one but those at the SGC...and Skaara and Kasuf, on a planet light years away.

Had Daniel even thought about them when he decided to take the easy way out?

Jack's hand shot out, knocking the mug off the desk and sending it sailing into the air. It bounced once off the floor, spewing coffee in several directions, then hit a final time and rolled until the small handle stopped its motion.

~~ooOOoo~~

"Janet."

Fraiser looked up, surprised to see Sam. It had only been a couple of hours since the briefing. Fraiser had expected Sam and the rest of SG-1 to be taking time for themselves, alone, to grieve.

"Why aren't you resting?" Fraiser rubbed at her tired eyes and leaned back in her office chair.

Sam dropped into the empty chair facing Fraiser's and slapped a leather-bound journal on the desk. "I was in Daniel's office," she swallowed and looked away briefly, "uh, I wanted to, I don't know. I felt..."

"It's okay, Sam. I know." Fraiser smiled gently. "And?"

Sam straightened, a spark of interest lighting her eyes, pushing past the cloud of grief. "The colonel's been different lately. I wasn't sure when it started, exactly, but then I was reading one of Daniel's journals, his private mission report about Euronda, and it began to make sense. Colonel O'Neill was acting pretty out of character during that mission. At the time, I thought he was just reacting to the stress of command and the pressure from the higher-ups regarding our procuring useful technologies, but that doesn't make complete sense. He's been under a lot more stress than that many times before, but he's never treated a member of his team the way he treated Daniel during that mission."

Fraiser frowned. "What are you getting at?"

"The colonel was exposed to an alien technology during that mission. He was subjected to a neural interface for a fighter craft. The Eurondans explained that the machine alters the brain of the operators. The effects are cumulative. After a while, the pilots become useless. Colonel O'Neill was exposed to that device twice. It was after his first exposure that he began to display his unusual behavior."

"I don't know, Sam," Fraiser leaned back in her chair, "all of SG-1 underwent a physical examination after that mission, including the colonel. I personally cleared all of you."

Sam nodded. "I know, Janet, but something like that would very likely not show up on a standard examination. Our current level of medical knowledge might not even know how to test for whatever changes that machine makes to the human brain."

Fraiser took a breath. It troubled her to think that she had missed something that could cause the colonel serious problems. She'd already failed Daniel, now it was possible she'd failed Jack O'Neill, too. "Unfortunately, you're right," she expelled a weary breath. "and a standard exam wouldn't reveal a lot of the neurochemical changes that could be causing Colonel O'Neill's behavior. I'll have to pull him in for a more in-depth examination and do some specific tests."

~~ooOOoo~~

"Oh, for crying out loud." Jack cursed silently as he stormed into the infirmary and sailed past Fraiser. "I can't believe you, Doc. Hasn't this god-awful day been long enough?"

Fraiser's face remained neutral as she met his glare. "I'm sorry, Colonel, but these tests are necessary. I wouldn't have called you in here, otherwise, especially not..." she lowered her eyes briefly, "now."

"Riiight." Sarcasm colored Jack's tone as he hopped on to an examination table. "You don't have Daniel to poke and prod, anymore, so you've decided you need a new victim."

Fraiser's face lost most of its color, and Jack immediately regretted his outburst. God, what a baaad choice of words. Why did hurtful insults seem to just spew from his mouth so easily these days?

Without a word, Fraiser moved forward, her head tilted low. She turned her head and waved at a nurse across the room. Finally, she faced Jack again and cleared her throat. "If you'll lay back, Colonel, we can begin. I'll try to make this as fast and painless as possible."

Fast and painless -- Jack nodded, contrite, and eased himself on to his back -- not at all like Daniel's last visit to the infirmary.

~~ooOOoo~~

"The news isn't good, sir." Fraiser leaned forward in the chair, facing Hammond's desk. Samantha Carter sat next to her, her shoulders slouched and her face lined with fatigue.

Hammond sighed. "What is it, Doctor?"

"His neurotransmitter levels are abnormal, specifically epinephrine and norepinephrine. I've tested him several times over the past twenty-four hours, and the fluctuations in his brain's neurotransmitter levels were quite alarming. Also, the MRI revealed a small lesion on the right cerebral cortex."

Sam shifted to face Fraiser. "Didn't that show up on the routine MRI taken after the Eurondan mission?"

Fraiser nodded slowly, almost reluctantly. "It was." She swallowed. "I double checked the old MRI. However, it's very small, and I only found it because I was specifically looking for any abnormalities. The MRI post-mission is solely to detect the presence of a Goa'uld, and therefore the focus is on the cervical region."

"Understandable, Doctor," Hammond reassured her. "What treatment do you recommend?"

"I, uh... All I can do for him at this point, sir, is prescribe drugs to help normalize his neurotransmitter levels, however, those drugs often don't work well, and they always have side effects. A further complications is that his levels fluctuate, so putting him on any specific dosage is problematic. As for the lesion, there's nothing I can do to treat that. It appears permanent, and I'm not sure what effect it's having. We could operate, but I'm not certain that's the wisest course of action right now." She took a deep breath. "Sir, given Colonel O'Neill's behavioral changes since the Eurondan mission, and with this new information, I have to recommend that he be relieved of duty. Also," she cleared her throat, "he will very likely have to remain on any drugs permanently, and in that event, I believe it would be best to medically retire him, sir."

Hammond blinked, then leaned back. "It's that serious?"

Fraiser nodded. "I'm not suggesting we move forward immediately. I would like to monitor his condition, see whether the lesion changes size and keep a close eye on his neurotransmitter levels. If his condition is stable, he could remain in the service, but I'd recommend that he be relieved of his command and be restricted to Earth. No gate travel."

"Janet, he's been in command since Euronda, and he's been fit for duty," Sam insisted. "He hasn't done anything to endanger the team, or..."

"I've reviewed the mission briefings, Sam." Fraiser frowned. "Not so long ago, Colonel O'Neill removed his gun and pressed it to the neck of a man he blamed for the death of two SG members. He was then prepared to leave the planet, effectively sentencing the population to death because of damage we did to the planet's sun."

Sam shook her head. "He'd just lost two men, Janet, and..."

"I realize that, Sam, but Colonel O'Neill has lost men before. He reacted more emotionally than usual, and when the entity invaded your body, Colonel O'Neill again reacted particularly emotionally. Then with Reece..."

"Both presented a danger...."

"I'm not disputing that, but his reaction to those various situations was more extreme than usual. His fluctuating neurochemistry very likely leads to mood swings and erratic behavior. Sometimes he may be normal or very close to normal. Other times, he could be on the edge of losing control."

Hammond spoke up. "Teal'c was also exposed to that machine, yet he has not appeared to demonstrate the same kind of symptoms Colonel O'Neill has."

Janet nodded. "That's true, sir, but Colonel O'Neill had more exposure to the machine, and then there's Teal'c's Goa'uld symbiote. It could very well have offered him a certain level of protection from the machine's harmful effects."

Sam sighed wearily. "But, Janet, we're talking about relieving the colonel of duty permanently. I just--"

"Sam," Janet began, her voice gentle, "you yourself expressed concern about the colonel's recent behavior."

"I know." Sam leaned forward and rubbed her hands over her face.

~~ooOOoo~~

"Ah-ah! No! No way!" Jack paced in front of Doctor Fraiser and General Hammond.

Hammond squared his shoulders. "You don't have a choice in this, Colonel O'Neill." He lowered his voice. "I'm sorry."

Jack spun to face the doctor. "You're not pumping me full of drugs! I'm not crazy."

Fraiser rubbed at the back of her neck. "I know you're not crazy, Colonel, but your neurochemistry shows severe abnormalities. There's an unidentified lesion in your cerebral cortex, and your behavior is--"

"Jesus Christ, Daniel just...." His voice caught, and he scrubbed a hand through his hair. When he spoke, his words were strained. "I think I'm entitled, Doc."

She lowered her eyes briefly. "Of course you are, but the behavior I'm talking about started months ago."

"You want to relieve me of duty?" Jack stormed past Hammond and Fraiser. "Fine! I wanted to retire years ago, anyway." He turned to face them as he back-peddled out of the infirmary and blew a kiss from his fingers. "Have a nice Goa'uld-filled life, both of you."

Hammond straightened. "Colonel!"

But O'Neill was already gone.

~~ooOOoo~~

Jack sauntered down the hall, propelled by anger, his footsteps beating a fast rhythm on the hard floor. Bullshit. It was all bullshit. Good ol' Doc Fraiser was feeling inadequate since all she could do was twiddle her thumbs while Daniel died, so she cooked up this story to inflate her sagging self-esteem.

Goddamn doctors.

"Colonel, stop right there," Hammond's voice ordered from behind.

Jack stopped, more out of a gut reaction to that familiar, no-nonsense tone than a conscious decision. "What is it, sir?" He turned around slowly to face the general. "Oh, great." His eyes went to Fraiser standing behind Hammond. "Come to take me away in a straight jacket like you did to Daniel? As I recall, that time you said his neurochemistry was all whacky. Turned out you'd made a big mistake."

Fraiser moved to stand beside Hammond. "I realize you're upset, but it's very likely that part of the anger you're feeling now is amplified by your condition. I --"

"Oh, can it, Doc." Jack started to turn around but stopped when Hammond snapped at him.

"ENOUGH, COLONEL! You're going to get back to the infirmary now, or I'll have you escorted back under guard. Understood?"

Jack stared at his superior. Was this really happening? It had to be a dream. A very bad, bad dream where everything turned out wrong, a nightmare where one of his best friends died, and he found himself a permanent resident of the psych ward.

"Please, Colonel." Fraiser looked up at him. "Let me try to help you."

Finally, his anger caved, leaving only hollow resignation in its place. "Fine." He rubbed a hand across his eyes. Maybe, if they gave him enough happy drugs, the tightness in his chest whenever he thought of Daniel would finally go away.

~~ooOOoo~~

"What do you think, Janet?"

Doctor Fraiser looked from Samantha Carter to Jacob Carter and gave a sigh. "I don't know, but it's worth a try."

Jacob nodded, his eyes solemn. "I hope, this time, Selmac and I are able to help."

Sam looked at her father. "You did what you could for Daniel, Dad."

"I know, but it was hard to let go. I'd grown to like Danny. Selmac did, too. He was a very brave young man."

Both Fraiser and Sam smiled.

"Yeah, Dad, he was."

Jacob cleared his throat and straightened. His eyes glowed, and he asked, in Selmac's deep voice. "When can we start?"

Fraiser shrugged a shoulder. "Now is as good a time as any. I'll take you to the colonel now."

~~ooOOoo~~

"I don't think so." Jack swung his legs over the side of the infirmary bed, his angry eyes darting from Jacob to Fraiser. Behind the doctor, Sam and Hammond observed. "No offense, Jacob," he continued, "but I'm not big on subjecting myself to Goa'uld technology."

Fraiser crossed her arms. "There's no effective Earth-based treatment for your condition, Colonel. Now, none of us will force you to accept Jacob's help, but right now it's your best chance at being cured and returned to active duty."

Jack tilted his head. "Oh, and what makes you think I want to return to active duty?" He looked away, his jaw tight. "This place hasn't been fun and games, you know? Maybe now I can finally retire and get the hell away from snakes with glowing eyes."

Hammond stepped forward. "If you want to retire, Colonel, you have that right, but don't you think your current condition might be affecting your decision-making? If Jacob is successful, and you're cured and still feel the same way, then I'll accept your resignation."

Jack huffed a laugh, "And if he's not successful, you're retiring me anyway as unfit." He spread his hands. "So, the way I see it, my way, I get not to have a Goa'uld messing with my brain."

Jacob's eyes glowed. "The Tok'ra are not Goa'uld."

Jack glared at Jacob/Selmac. "If it looks like a duck, and walks like a duck..."

"Enough." Hammond took a breath. "Jack, listen to yourself. You've got to know there's something wrong with you? Do you want to live the rest of your life like this? Let Jacob try. Please."

Jack held the general's gaze for several seconds, then he dropped his shoulders and nodded. "All right, sir."

~~ooOOoo~~

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