Blair leaned back in his chair, raising the urn-type container and eyeing the inscription on its stone-like surface. He frowned. The symbols looked vaguely hieroglyphic in nature.
Carefully, he set the artifact on his desk. It really did look like an urn, and he wouldn't be surprised if it contained the remains of some dead ruler from ancient times.
Rainier was lucky to have it. Rumor had it that someone in the physics department had taken an interest in the thing because of some weird spectrographic properties it exhibited. There'd apparently been some kind of electrical accident, and the seal that had kept the lid secured had been partially compromised. After that, the Chancellor had thrown a fit and ordered the artifact back into the custody of the anthropology department.
Stifling a yawn, Blair glanced at the notes he'd scribbled on the yellow legal pad on his desk. They were barely decipherable as English, but it didn't matter as long as he could read them in the morning. Glancing at his watch, he saw it was getting way too late. Eight o'clock just wasn't a decent hour to be leaving the campus.
Swiveling in his chair, he shut down his computer. He was just about to push himself to his feet when a scraping sound caught his ear. His eyes snapped back to the urn. It shook, almost skipping off the edge of the desk.
"Whoa!" Blair grabbed it, his heart suddenly pounding, and the artifact continued to tremble in his grip.
The top exploded off, and with a cry, he dropped the urn. It bounced off the edge of the desk, and he shot to his feet.
Shit! The Chancellor's gonna....! He froze, his eyes wide, as he stared at the snake-like creature writhing on the ground.
It raised its head, then with a squeal, launched itself at him. With a yell, Blair stumbled backward. The chair rolled away from him, and he crashed to the floor onto his back. The creature snaked behind his neck with unnatural speed, and a sharp pain sliced into the base of his skull before darkness claimed him.
Jim eyed the clock, giving a slight frown. It was a little after 8:30, and Blair's dinner wouldn't sit much longer in the microwave. Leaning forward, he grabbed the cordless phone from the coffee table and dialed Blair's cell phone number. After three rings, Blair answered.
Serapis tilted his head as he completed his inspection of the room. The Tau'ri, if still on the planet, had advanced considerably since he'd been in stasis. Still, their level of technology was nothing to rival the Goa'uld.
A ringing pierced the quiet. The sound seemed to be coming from the sack lying on the floor next to the desk.
Oh God, Jim!
A smile quirked the lips of the body he now inhabited. His host was a fiery one. Full of passion and life...and fear. It was delicious. He'd been without these sensations for hundreds of years. Far too long.
Reaching into the host mind, he pushed past the pathetic resistance and found the information he sought. The ringing came from a cell phone in the sack, called a backpack, and it was most likely a man named Jim Ellison calling.
Bending forward, he reached into the front pocket of the backpack and retrieved the cell phone. He gazed at it as it rang a third time. What a primitive communication device. With a chuckle, he hit the TALK button and raised the device to his ear.
"Hey, Chief, you gonna make it home soon, or should I pack up your dinner and put it in the fridge?"
His stomach grumbled. He was hungry, or rather, his host was hungry. "Sure, man," he felt the host cringe inside him as he deftly picked the information he needed to produce a convincing impersonation of the host's linguistical style. "I'm starved and on my way."
"Great. See ya soon."
"Bye, Jim." Ending the connection, Serapis dropped the phone back into the sack, then grabbed the bag's straps and flung them over one shoulder.
The host had grown refreshingly complacent. He recognized the condition as shock. Humans were so susceptible to it, and it made the blending much easier.
Walking to the door, he left the office. The image of a green Volvo, parked in the lot to the West of Hargrove Hall, sprang in his mind. He frowned. What an abhorrent piece of transportation.
Walking. Cold against his face. Wind in his eyes. It was night. He felt his legs moving and his arms swinging. A mist hung in the air, threatening to turn into a drizzle. The thing inside him had full control, steering his body toward the west parking lot. Ahead, the Volvo sat in a sparsely-populated lot, alone beneath a fading lamp.
'No!' Blair commanded his legs to stop. They kept moving. He screamed at them to stop. They didn't listen. 'Stop! Dammit, stop!' He couldn't let this thing drive home. He couldn't let it get to Jim.
Whatever was inside him -- What the hell was it? -- was evil. Vicious. Ugly. He couldn't let it ---
Fire! He screamed, writhing in it. The garage. Ashes. Flames. He was burning. In agony. 'Stop! Oh, God, please stop!'
Suddenly, the assault ended, and he found himself at the Volvo. His hand lifted the door handle. It was locked.
Anger exploded inside him. What do I need to open this? the thing demanded of him.
'It's a small world, after all. It's a small world after all. It's a small world--'
The pain returned, and Blair screamed again -- silent inside his mind. He could swear his body was on fire. How was the thing inside him not feeling this? It couldn't possibly be experiencing the very pain it inflicted. It was unbearable. He couldn't.... God.... Jim....
Tell me! the creature commanded.
He thought of things that were green. Frogs. Grass. Tree leaves. Uh...Uh...His flannel shirt. Stop light. The cover of his Medicine and Witchdoctors textbook.
Enough! The being inside his mind snarled at him. With a single, vicious thrust it ripped into his mind, tearing through his thoughts, leaving Blair quivering and broken. A picture presented itself. A pair of keys. In the backpack with the cell phone.
Serapis smiled, slid the pack off his shoulder, and reached into the front pocket. His fingers found the cool metal of the keys, and he withdrew them, selecting the correct one and inserting it into the lock. It turned easily, and he opened the door, throwing his pack in the passenger seat and sliding behind the wheel.
Jim tilted his head as the sound of the familiar Volvo chugged on the street below. He listened as the car slowed, finally stopping. The engine died. Keys jangled. Fabric rustled. The door opened, then closed, and the steady thud of footsteps beat against the cement, approaching the building.
Jim rose from the couch and walked to the microwave, punching in one minute to warm Blairs food. Seconds later, he heard the elevator squeak into motion. Then the lift came to a stop, the doors slid open with a slight hiss, and the footsteps marched toward the front door.
Jim headed off his partner, opening the door before Blair could get his keys into the lock. The young man looked up, his keys dangling in mid-air. A flicker of surprise crossed his face, then he smiled and walked into the loft.
"Hello, Jim." He pocketed the keys.
Jim eyed the basket next to the door. It was there for a reason, but he chose not to say anything. Blair was a big boy. If he couldnt find his keys in the morning then .
"Hey, Chief." He pointed to the basket.
Blair tilted his head and followed the direction of Jims hand. A single set of keys resided in the basket, next to a set of cuffs, and Blair nodded. "Right." Reaching into his pocket, he withdrew his own keys and tossed them with the others.
"Foods still in the microwave." Jim turned to the couch, intent on catching the evening news.
There was an odd quality to Blairs voice, and Jim stopped before sinking to the cushions. He eyed his partner as the kid headed toward the microwave, his movements unusually stiff, almost forced.
"You feeling okay, Sandburg?" Jim extended his hearing, tuning to Blairs heartbeat and finding it surprisingly fast. He frowned, then stopped breathing when he caught another sound. A second heartbeat -- maybe, but not quite. It sounded odd. Very fast. Shallow. He had to strain to hear it.
What the hell was that?
"Chief," Jim moved toward his partner, "tell me you didnt bring a pet home with you? A gerbil? Stray kitten? Homeless rodent?" That, Jim mused, would explain the kids marathon heartbeat.
Blair turned slowly, irritation etched plainly on his face, and Jim frowned as he studied the younger mans expression. Had something happened at the university to put Blair in a bad mood? Hed sounded okay on the phone earlier.
"Why do you ask?" Blairs eyes narrowed, and Jim listened as the heartbeat spiked to an even faster rhythm.
He looked down to see Blairs hands, curled into fists at his side, trembling.
"I hear a second heartbeat, or something, coming from you." Jim moved forward slowly. "Whats wrong, Chief? You're shaking. Why? Did something happen?"
"Just cold," Blair answered, almost mechanically, then turned toward the microwave. "Just cold." His voice took on a hard edge that sent a shiver down Jims spine.
Enough! Serapis snarled, exerting control over the host. The young one was a fighter, and Serapis was weak from his prolonged stasis, making controlling the host more difficult than usual.
With his back to the human named Jim, Serapis could use greater force to subdue the troublesome host. He hammered at the host's mind, felt the familiar pressure as the eyes -- his eyes, now -- glowed momentarily with the exertion.
Immediately, the quaking of his hands stopped and, feeling more in control, he allowed a slight smile to play on his lips as he turned to face the strange human with the unusually good ears.
"You know me, man. I hate the cold."
Jim gave a small smile, but Serapis thought it looked fake.
"Yeah, well, you picked the wrong city to live in, Chief." Jim took another step forward, his eyes locked with Blair's. "You haven't answered my first question, though. Why am I picking up a strange sound from you?"
Serapis tilted his head. It was very odd that this human could hear the host heartbeat, much less the barely decipherable one of a Goa'uld. The Goa'uld 'heart' was nothing like a human's, but the organ system that allowed oxygen and nutrients to circulate did produce something similar to a beat. He probed the host mind for information and, after plowing through the weak barrier of resistance from the host, found what he sought.
Jim Ellison was an extraordinarily gifted man who had five highly acute senses. Serapis studied the man more closely. He was somewhat older than the current host, but his physique was more developed. Perhaps he would make a better host.
'No!' The host's mind screamed. 'You don't want, Jim. His senses go haywire. He zones. He gets headaches. You could be left vulnerable at any time from a sensory assault or a zone. Trust me. You don't want him.'
The human host was becoming annoying.
'I'm telling you the truth!'
The ploy was obvious. The host cared for the Sentinel human, but .
'You can read my mind, dammit! Go ahead. Look all you want. I'm telling the truth!'
Serapis hesitated, probing further, finding a flood of information. Images flashed before him. Jim Ellison standing in the middle of a street in the path of a large vehicle. Jim Ellison crying out, his hands covering his ears as a car blared its horn. Jim Ellison falling to his knees, blind, from a drug reaction.
Perhaps the Sentinel human wouldn't be such a fine host, after all. He'd have to consider it further before making a rash decision.
Serapis brought his head up and returned his attention to the conversation. "I don't know." He swallowed. The Sentinel human may not make a good host, but his acute senses could pose a threat. "Perhaps it has something to do with your senses."
Jim's eyes narrowed. "Perhaps, huh?" He took a breath. "C'mon, Chief. What's up? You're acting strange, and I'm hearing something. I'm not sure what, if it's a heartbeat or something else, but it's definitely there." The confusion in his eyes turned to anger. "What're you hiding? Spill it."
The faint smile hovering on Serapis' lips faded. He would have to act quickly. His hands again curled into fists, and he longed for the comforting hardness of the ribbon device on his hand.
Unfortunately, he was without Goa'uld technology. He would have to use cruder methods. It was time to end the charade. He would not risk taking the Sentinel as a host. The unknowns presented too great a risk. However, he would not allow the threat the man presented to remain. He would dispose of the human, then find the Chappa'ai on this world and escape to a place where he could begin to rebuild his fleet.
The smile returned, and he moved forward, anger churning in his breast, and felt his eyes glow. The reaction of the human Sentinel amused him. He watched as the man staggered back, his jaw going slack, stumbling toward the table by the front door.
When Serapis spoke, it was with the authoritative timbre that revealed his true nature. "You should bow before me as your God."
"What the hell?" Jim Ellison's eyes went wide, then narrowed as he stiffened. A gun appeared his hand.
Serapis stopped, his eyes dropping to the weapon. He looked back up at the Sentinel. "You will not shoot your friend."
"What are you?" Ellison asked, his voice almost hoarse.
"I am Serapis." He moved forward until the gun was inches from his chest. "I am your God!" His hand lashed out, batting the weapon from Ellison's grip.
The Sentinel lunged forward, tackling him, but Serapis was stronger. He staggered back, then twisted, tossing the human to the ground. Then he moved forward swiftly, grabbing Ellison by the shirt and flinging him against the front door.
Serapis felt the host struggling. His hands quaked. He cursed. He was far too weak since his reawakening.
Silence! Serapis curled his hand around Ellison's neck as he lifted the man off the ground. He would crush the Sentinel's windpipe, then find the Chappa'ai.
His hand trembled. He ordered his grip to tighten, but the limb remained frozen. Ellison brought his hands up, clawing at Serapis' fingers, and Serapis felt the digits begin to give in to the force.
"You will die!" He commanded the Sentinel. "The hand of your friend will kill you." He screamed inwardly at his hand, commanding his grip tighter, but the host fought for control of the limb, and Serapis' rage built as he felt himself losing a battle that should be no battle at all.
Ellison's knee came up, contacting Serapis' groin, and pain shot through his pelvis. He crumbled, the agony overwhelming him, and was only vaguely aware of Ellison collapsing next to him.
The pain assaulted Blair even as he sobbed with triumph. He folded on to the floor, curling into a ball as his groin throbbed with the insult Jim's knee had bestowed upon it.
He found himself staring into the blue eyes of his friend. Jim was on the floor, too, gulping air and moving forward, toward him.
"Sandburg " Jim gasped, and his hand wrapped around Blair's arm.
"Jim." The word sprang from Blair's mouth, shocking him. He had control! He could still feel the mind of the creature inside him, writhing with pain, and he wondered if the being was too overwhelmed with the agony to exert control.
Blair needed to take advantage of the opportunity while he could. "Help me, please. There was an artifact .at ." He felt Serapis' stirring inside him, gaining strength, hot with anger. "A creature." Blair bucked mentally against Serapis. "It was It went inside me. I can't " Fire engulfed him, searing him, and he screamed. "Please, Jim "
Jim lunged forward just as Blair screamed and his eyes glowed. He had no idea what was going on, but Sandburg was trying to tell him something. He wasn't sure what to make of it, though. A creature?
For whatever reason, Sandburg had some kind of control. He was still there. Jim's eyes almost teared with relief. The kid was still there. Still alive. Still kicking through whatever the hell had him in its grip.
Blair's body rose, and Jim realized his opportunity was about to vanish. He reached up and snatched the cuffs from the basket, toppling it to the floor in the process. In seconds, he was on top of Blair, flipping him to his stomach and securing his arms behind his back. He locked the second cuff just as Blair bucked, a scream exploding from him, sending Jim backward with the force of the motion.
"How dare you!" Serapis was on his feet, spinning toward Jim, his arms behind his back. "You will die slowly for this!"
Jim pushed himself up, swaying on unsteady legs, and grabbed his discarded gun. He raised a hand and rubbed his tender throat. "I don't think so."
"I'll be happy to uncuff those wrists just as soon as you leave Sandburg."
"If I leave him, he will die." Serapis' smirked, and Jim shivered, unaccustomed to seeing such a smugly superior expression on his friend's face. "And then I will have no choice but to take you, even with the problems you may represent. Still, you might make an exquisite host."
"Well, then, seems we're at a stalemate here." Jim closed the distance between him and Serapis, grabbing his partner's shirt and steering him toward the couch. He pushed him on to the cushions. "I can keep you in those for a very long time."
Serapis scowled, tugging against the chain linking the cuffs. "Take me to the Chappa'ai, and I'll let you live."
"What's the Chappa'ai?"
Serapis tilted his head and looked up at him with a wide-eyed gaze that was achingly familiar. "The Chappa'ai will allow me to leave this world. Take me there."
"I have no idea what you're talking about." Jim leaned against the side of the armchair. "Enlighten me."
"The Chappa'ai is a device that will allow me to travel to any planet I choose. Your people have advanced. You must know about the Chappa'ai."
"Sorry to disappoint you." Jim swallowed, wetting his dry throat. Here he was, interrogating Blair, or rather, a creature inside Blair. He could barely wrap his mind around the concept, but the proof had flung him across the room and glowed in Blair's normally passionate blue eyes. "Where is this Chappa'ai?"
"Where your pyramids are."
"It was there last. I can sense it. What continent are we on?"
Jim's eyebrows rose. He could see no harm in answering the creature's questions, and as long as he kept the thing talking . "North America."
"That term means nothing to me."
"Show me a map."
Jim straightened. "I'll show you if you'll let me speak to Sandburg."
"Show me!" Serapis sprang from the couch, but Jim lunged forward and pushed him back down.
"You want to know, let me speak with Sandburg."
Serapis smiled. "As you wish." He tilted his head briefly, then looked up again, his eyes suddenly wide and fearful. "Jim?"
"Blair." Jim sat on the edge of the coffee table, across from his friend. "You okay?"
"Do what Serapis says. Please. Take him to the Chappa'ai. He just wants to leave our planet. No one will get hurt if you let him leave."
Jim's eyes narrowed. He grabbed Sandburg's collar and shot to his feet, bringing Blair with him. "That's not Sandburg." Jim dragged the man to the support beam near the kitchen. "If you don't let me speak to him, you'll be spending the night attached to this." He slammed Serapis face-first into the beam. "Your call."
"All right." Jim pressed Serapis harder into the beam. "Have a nice night." He spun Serapis back around and looked into the fearful eyes of his friend. "I'll "
"Jim, it's me." Blair sagged back against the beam. "It's me. It's me."
Jim hesitated, pulling back a fraction, but he kept his hands on Sandburg's arms. "Blair?"
Blair nodded, his shoulders sagging. "Help me, Jim, please."
Jim leaned forward, desperate. "How?"
A sob escaped Blair, then a chuckle. "I don't know. It's evil, Jim. Don't trust "
Blair's eyes glowed, and his head chin snapped up. "You spoke with the host," his voice resonated with a strange, echoing timbre, "now show me."
"All right." Jim dragged Serapis back to the couch and deposited him once again on the cushion. "I'll show you a map, then we're gonna play twenty questions."
"Here." Ellison, seated on the edge of the coffee table, pointed to a section of land above a thin strip. It was labeled as the 'United States of America.'
Serapis' eyes narrowed as he studied the crude drawing on the page of the map book. "This is not the land formation where your great pyramids are located."
"I sense the Chappa'ai is relatively nearby. It must be on this continent, at the very least."
"How do you sense it?"
Serapis leaned back on the couch and studied the Sentinel with flat, cool eyes. "It is composed of Naquada."
"What the hell is that?"
"I have no intention of attempting to educate you about the most elementary concepts. Your intellect is far too inferior to comprehend these matters." Serapis gave a small smile as he observed the anger flash across the human's face.
He felt the host's mind stir inside him. Fear radiated from the host, but beneath the fear, Serapis' sensed anger...and even a hint of curiosity.
"How did you get inside Sandburg?"
Ellison's question pulled Serapis' attention back to the Sentinel. He was growing tired of the questions. The human knew astonishingly little about even the most basic concepts.
"I am weary of your insipid questions. Leave me!"
A faint smile touched Ellison's lips. "I think you're forgetting who has the upper hand right now."
Serapis bolted from the couch. "No, you have forgotten your place." He tugged at the cuffs, but they held. "Unbind me now, or I promise you I will kill you."
Ellison leaned back but didn't rise to his feet. He looked up at Serapis, his expression madenningly calm. "Are you through with your little temper tantrum?"
Ellison finally shot to his feet and pushed Serapis back on the couch. "Shut up."
Rage flared hot inside Serapis, burning his cheeks. He had had more than enough of the human Ellison. It was intolerable that he was the man's prisoner. A mere human....
The image of Ellison standing in the middle of a road in the path of a large vehicle once again sprang to his mind.
Zoned. Ellison had zoned. The host had provided him with that information. Ellison's senses made him vulnerable.
If Serapis could induce a zone, he could kill the human and free himself.
'No! No! No!' Blair chanted, his fear turning to horror as he read Serapis' intent.
How do I make him zone? the creature demanded.
"I want to talk to Sandburg again. Longer this time," Jim demanded, but neither host nor parasite paid him much attention.
Blair had to get control. He'd done it before, briefly. He knew the creature inside him was still weak but gaining strength rapidly. He could feel his own will ebbing further and further away. Soon, there'd be nothing left of him with which to fight. He had to act now if he had any chance at all.
Serapis read him easily. Futile! I can bring you great pain.
'Jim!' Blair screamed inwardly, but nothing emerged from his mouth.
Serapis gloated. You are weak. All humans are weak, useful only as slaves and hosts.
"Do you hear me? Let me talk to Sandburg."
'I'm trying, Jim!' Blair had studied ten different forms of meditation. He could do this! He pictured the wolf in his mind. He didn't know if it would work, but something had surged enough energy through him at the fountain to get his heart started again. Maybe he could find some of that energy again, even without Jim's help.
Blair ignored the creature and focused on the wolf. He pictured its thick, gray coat in his mind. Its fierce eyes. It was standing in the middle of the jungle. It tilted its head back. Its powerful jaw opened. A howl ripped from its throat.
A calmness settled over Blair, and Jim's face seemed to waver in front of his eyes briefly. Then, everything became brighter. He opened his mouth, sending a prayer to whatever God or Gods existed. "Jim."
Jim's eyes flickered with uncertainty. "Blair?"
Silence! Serapis commanded, and Blair felt a surge of joy as he read the disbelief and rage in the creature's mind.
He'd done it! He wasn't about to waste the moment, either. He had no idea how long he'd be able to retain control.
"Jim, listen to me." His throat grew tight, and he could feel Serapis hammering at him, vying for control. "He's going to try to make you...."
Images of flames engulfed his mind, and Blair could feel the heat puckering his skin. "....zone," he finished, breathless. "Gag me. Tie me to the beam, Jim. Don't take...."
Serapis bucked, gaining strength, his rage giving him power.
Then it was over. He felt his control snap, and Serapis exploded forward, taking over. A pressure built in his eyes. When he spoke, it was with the creature's voice. "Take me to the Chappa'ai or you and your friend will suffer greatly."
Jim rose from the coffee table, sliding the gun out of his rear holster. He aimed the barrel at Serapis -- and at Blair. He swallowed hard. God, this was insane! He couldn't shoot Sandburg, and that damn creature knew it.
Jim only hoped Serapis had enough doubt and survival-drive not to call his bluff. "Stand up."
Serapis' eyes narrowed. "Why?"
Jim cocked the gun. "I trust my partner, and I won't hesitate to shoot you. He knows that. I don't want to, but I will if I have to."
With a huff, Serapis pushed himself to his feet, glaring at Jim. "You will pay for this. I swear it."
"Take a number." He jerked the gun toward the beam. "Over there."
Blair's butt had long since stopped aching. Now, it was blessedly numb. His shoulders, however, strained from too many long hours forced in an awkward position, radiated with a hot pain. In contrast, his arms had lost most of their feeling.
He couldn't sleep. Handcuffed with his back to the support beam, a gag in his mouth, he couldn't do much of anything. Jim had let him try the bathroom before tying and gagging him, but Serapis had interfered, and Blair's bladder hadn't cooperated. Now, the pressure was building.
The creature was spiteful as hell. How could any sentient being be so coldly hateful?
At least Serapis was silent, and Blair had control over his body...for the moment. Maybe the thing inside him was asleep. It had to sleep sometime, didn't it?
Blair fidgeted slightly, disrupting the numbness that had permeated his rear-end and setting his tailbone on fire. He tilted his head back and glanced at the balcony windows. It would be dawn soon. He could keep control of his bladder until then.
A snicker filled his mind. Not if I wish otherwise. You are nothing more than a beast, and I control the reins.
'Yeah, and you're doing such a good job of it. I'm sure you wanted to be gagged and tied to a beam.'
You are an insolent fool!
'Why are you doing this?'
Because I can.
Blair closed his eyes and leaned his head against the beam. Immediately, the creature took over and tilted his head forward again, then screamed against the gag hard enough to set Blair's throat on fire.
The muted screaming continued for almost three minutes, until Blair's throat was raw and the sounds turned hoarse. Finally, Serapis stopped, allowing Blair's head to thump back against the beam.
He heard Jim stir on the couch and wondered whether the detective was actually sleeping. Probably not, but Blair couldn't see over the back of the sofa to satisfy his curiosity.
Blair wished he could get some sleep, but the thing inside him had other plans. He was tired, his eyes heavy and his limbs numb. God, what he wouldn't give to be in his own bed with a soft pillow beneath his head.
And what he wouldn't give to have this thing out of him. Right now. Whatever the hell it was.
I am your master! You are nothing but a slave, Serapis taunted. I will use you for as long as I desire. Centuries. Millennia. Then, when I am ready for a new host, I will discard your body, and you will cease to be. Remember that. You need me to survive.
Blair felt a hot pressure build behind his eyes, and he closed them just before the tears spilled.
Jim lay in on the couch with his eyes closed, but he was far from sleep. There was no way he was lowering his guard while that thing was in the loft, even if it was handcuffed to the support beam. Even if he wanted to sleep, he knew he wouldn't be able to. Not while Blair was held hostage by that creature, whatever it was.
When Blair, or rather, that thing inside Blair, started screaming against the gag, he turned on his side and tried to ignore the sound.
God, Blair .
Several minutes later, it stopped. It was turning out to be a very long night.
Some time later, the soft rays of morning drifted through the windows, bathing the room in a subdued, orange glow. Finally giving up on any pretense of sleep, he pushed the covers off and slid off the sofa.
His eyes snapped immediately to Blair, still securely handcuffed to the support beam. "Sleep well?"
Blair's dark blue eyes glared up at him, the gag tight in his mouth. Jim managed a smile that he hoped looked appropriately smug. Inside, however, he felt a twisting, pulsing agony in the center of his chest as he stared at the familiar blue eyes of his partner, now looking up at him with obvious anger.
He needed to call some back up. He couldn't risk guarding the thing by himself for much longer. Fatigue would eventually make him vulnerable. Heading to the phone, he picked up the cordless and dialed Captain Simon Banks.
"Uh-oh." Dr. Daniel Jackson froze as he stared at the photo in the advertisement.
Colonel Jack O'Neill looked up from his eggs and eyed the magazine Daniel had been engrossed in, hardly touching the SGC breakfast and dodging most attempts at conversation. The cover of the publication showed the shriveled face of some mummified dead guy.
Daniel laid the magazine flat on the table and rotated it so that it was properly oriented for Jack's perusal. "Right there." He pointed to an advertisement for an upcoming archeological exhibit.
"Okay." Jack shrugged. "A bunch of geeks getting together to cluck over a bunch of dusty old rocks. What's the big deal?"
Daniel took a breath and pursed his lips, frustration evident in the crease between his eyes. "There's a picture of what looks like an urn."
Jack leaned closer to peer at the tiny gray image. "Okay. Hey, wait ."
"It's exactly like the artifacts that housed Osiris and Isis."
Jack looked up, his half-eaten breakfast suddenly heavy in his stomach. "That's not good."
Daniel turned the magazine back toward him, his eyes lingering on the image. "Definitely not good."
"I guess we'd better go bother the general and arrange a trip to, uh ." He leaned toward the magazine again.
"Cascade, Washington," Daniel supplied. "Rainier University."
Jim heard the footsteps in the hall and smelled the deep odor of cigar. Rising from the couch, he eyed Blair-Serapis, ignoring the fiery glare from those familiar blue eyes, and opened the door.
Simon did not look happy as he slipped out of his expensive jacket and marched into the loft. "All right, Jim, what's so important that I need to spend my Saturday--" He stopped, the jacket poised in mid-air on its way to the rack, when his eyes found Blair, handcuffed to the support beam. "What the hell...?"
Blair screamed something unintelligible against the gag.
"Jesus!" Simon moved quickly over to the anthropologist. "What's going on here?" Quickly, he undid the gag.
"Back away from him, Simon," Jim began.
"Simon, help me," Blair's voice interrupted. "Jim's having a reaction to some..."
"Blair's not himself, sir," Jim interrupted, closing the door.
"Simon, he's dangerous!"
"Hold on a minute!" Simon put his hands in the air and moved into the kitchen, away from both Jim and Blair. "You!" He pointed to Jim. "Start talking. And you'd better have a damn good reason for having that kid handcuffed to the beam."
"This is kidnapping, Simon! You're a police officer. Help me!"
Jim sighed, ignoring Serapis' outburst. Moving to the armchair, he sat down, hoping the gesture would show the captain that he wasn't a threat. "When Sandburg came home last night from the university, he was..." He swallowed, his throat tight. "He was different."
Simon's eyes narrowed. He seemed to study Jim with the same skeptical intensity one would impose on an escaped mental patient. "Different how?"
"This is going to be hard for you to believe, sir. Hell, it's hard for me to believe, but I can't guard him by myself. I need help."
"Simon, please!" Blair's voice intruded. "He's not himself. I think he ingested something, and it's reacting funny with his senses. He's paranoid. I don't know, maybe there's another Sentinel in town, and he's going crazy again."
Jim stiffened, mirroring Simon's reaction. "Sir, just hear me out. Please."
"I'm listening." The captain's voice was hard. "Make it fast."
Nodding, Jim tried his best to get his thoughts in order. It was imperative that he convince Simon. It had been a huge risk even calling the captain, but he needed help, and Simon was the only man he trusted with his and Blair's life.
"Blair is infected with some kind of creature. It controls him."
Simon's expression didn't waiver. He didn't move a muscle except to take a deep breath. "A creature?"
"I know it sounds crazy."
"That's because it is crazy!" Blair's voice urged, laced with desperation. "Captain Banks, sir, please...."
Jim tilted his head back. "Look at my neck, sir. Blair's hand made these marks." He raised one hand, and his fingers brushed over the hot skin on his neck where his partner's fingers had dug into his skin.
"I tried to stop him from handcuffing me, Simon," Blair's voice protested. "Captain, sir, if I tried to attack him, have him officially arrest me, or something. Holding me here like this is illegal!"
Simon's eyes darted from Jim to Blair and back again. "All right. I've heard enough. Uncuff him, Detective."
Jim sighed. Things were going from bad to worse. "I can't do that, sir."
"I'm making it an order." Simon's hand went toward the holster beneath his suit jacket.
Damn. Jim rose slowly from the couch. He'd hoped it wouldn't go down like this. "Captain, you don't understand..."
"Where's your gun?"
Jim sighed. Slowly, he reached to the holster nestled in the small of his back and removed the gun, then set the weapon carefully on the table. "The keys are in the basket by the door."
Simon nodded, his eyes never leaving Jim as he stepped backward and grabbed the keys. "I hate to do this, Jim, but until I figure out what's going on here, I need you to move away from the table."
Jim nodded and took several steps toward the balcony. "I understand, sir." He knew releasing Blair was dangerous, but the only way to stop that from happening was to take out Banks, which wasn't option. Jim only hoped he'd be fast enough when Serapis made his move, and when he did, the captain would become a believer.
"Thank God." Blair's head tilted back against the beam, his eyes wide with relief.
Simon moved behind the young man and unlocked the handcuffs. Blair exploded to his feet. One arm sailed out and flung Simon halfway across the room. The captain landed hard on the wooden floor, just next to the couch.
In a blur of motion, Blair's lean body leapt over the couch and grabbed Jim's gun from the table, but by the time he swung it around to aim at Jim, Jim had the gun from his ankle holster pointed squarely at Blair's chest.
"Drop it," Jim ordered.
Serapis pulled the trigger, but it clicked blankly.
A tiny smile lifted Jim's lips, and he nudged his weapon higher. "This one's loaded."
"You won't shoot your friend," Blair's voice once again held the strange, resonating timbre of the creature.
Jim tightened his grip on the firearm.
A groan from the floor pulled Serapis' attention away from Jim, and he looked down. Simon held his own gun on Blair.
"Sorry, Jim." Simon's eyes never left Blair.
"It's okay, sir. It's a wild story, I know." He jerked his chin toward the beam. "Now, be a good boy and go back where you belong."
Blair's head cocked. "Or you'll shoot me?"
Simon rose to his feet.
"He's strong, sir. Don't try to overpower him."
Simon stopped, and a smile brightened Blair's face as he looked back and forth between Jim and the captain. "You won't harm me. You value your friend's life."
Serapis tossed the empty gun on the couch and moved slowly toward the door. "As long as I live, so does your friend." His smile brightened, and his hand wrapped around the doorknob. "When I find the Chappa'ai, I may even release him."
"You're lying, and I can't let you leave." Jim held the weapon steady. "You can either stay here alive, or try to leave and have me put a hole through you."
"Goodbye, Detective." Serapis turned the knob.
"This is it, I guess." Jack peered through the glass set into the door. "Nice office for a grad student, but it looks empty." He knocked on the wood, anyway.
Daniel, Sam, and Teal'c stood in the hallway behind Jack. Teal'c wore a baseball cap that did a decent job of hiding the gold emblem on his forehead.
"Well, we can't stand out here forever," Daniel remarked as a cluster of female students walked by, several of them eyeing the group with obvious suspicion.
"I don't intend to." Jack smiled and turned the knob as he pocketed a tool, then pushed the door inward.
The four members of SG-1 moved into the spacious office. Jack sauntered to the desk, his hands in his pockets. "Yeah, it's empty all.... Damn."
"What." Daniel slid next to Jack and followed his gaze, peering over the desk. "Oh."
On the floor lay a stasis jar, its top resting several inches away on the soft carpet.
The bullet flew true, ripping through the flesh of Blair's leg and hurtling into the wall. A cry escaped the young man, but Serapis flung open the door and ran out, limping, without even a backward glance.
"Shit!" Jim took off at a run, with Simon on his heels. He couldn't believe the shot hadn't immobilized Sandburg. By the time he made it to the hall, Blair was gone.
There weren't many places he could disappear to, and the trail of blood was a good clue. Jim extended his hearing even as he headed for the stairs. He heard his partner's thundering heartbeat, accompanied by the odd rhythm he associated with the creature. Blair's footsteps drummed unevenly on the stairs, his limp evident.
"What was that, Jim?" Simon asked, panting, as he followed.
"Later, sir." Jim burst through the door and thundered down the stairs. He heard Blair make it to the bottom floor.
A startled cry from below made him wince. A woman's voice, "Watch it!"
Jim flew to the ground floor, his gun raised. "Freeze!"
Blair was almost to the exit, a woman with graying hair next to him. A bag of groceries lay in chaos on the floor. Jim recognized the woman as Mrs. Sarah Warren from 202. Her husband had died a couple of years ago, and she'd kept to her apartment ever since, only venturing out for the mail and to do her laundry and shopping.
"No!" Blair's voice, deep with the creature's influence, echoed through the room. He grabbed the woman, and in a blur, swung her in front of him, blocking Jim's aim. "Put the weapon down, or I'll kill her."
"You kill her, I kill you." Jim tightened his grip on the gun, trying to ignore the woman's wide, fearful eyes.
He heard Simon's heavy breathing behind him, and he knew the captain also had his gun aimed at Blair. He forced himself to meet the painfully familiar blue eyes now glaring at him. He'd aimed for Blair's leg back at the loft. Now, he might have to take a chest shot.
A tiny smile lifted Blair's lips, then his arms jerked, and Mrs. Warren's head cracked to the side as her body flung forward at an impossible speed.
The body careened into Jim, knocking him to the floor. His gun clattered from his grip, but he heard gunshots and breaking glass. He rolled the woman carefully off him, and his stomach tightened when he saw her blank stare. Placing his fingers on the side of her neck, he confirmed what his ears and eyes had already told him.
She was dead.
He looked up. Simon was gone. Retrieving his gun, he shot to his feet and ran outside. He saw Simon heading back toward the building, shaking his head, his face grim.
"He got away. Damn, he's fast. That leg didn't even slow him down."
"He hasn't gotten away yet." Jim jerked his chin. "Call it in, sir. I'm going after him." His eyes found the drops of blood on the sidewalk, and he extended his hearing, finding Blair's trip-hammer heartbeat and pounding footsteps.
On the trail, he bolted into a sprint down the sidewalk.
'No. No. No. Oh, God, no.' Blair was in shock. Even as his legs pumped and his arms swung, he was in shock. He'd killed Mrs. Warren. That poor, lonely woman. His hands had snapped her neck. He'd---
How do I make him zone? Serapis demanded as he pushed Blair's body to the limit, pain throbbing in his injured leg.
'You son of a bitch! You psychotic son of a bitch! Why'd you kill her?'
'Go to hell!'
Blair felt Serapis in his mind, tearing through memories. The garbage truck. Pushing Jim to the pavement. What had he zoned on....?
'No!' Blair tried to block his thoughts. Focused on anything. Something. Mrs. Warren. Oh, God. The feel of her head in his hands. The sound of her spine cracking.
His stomach revolted suddenly. Apparently, not every part of his anatomy was under the creature's control. He stumbled, slowing down, breathing hard. Then something slammed into him from behind, and his wounded leg screamed, crumbling and sending him into a hard tumble on the blacktop. Pain shot through his right side. A car horn blared at him, tires screeching. The smell of burned rubber stung his nose.
Damn! He's fast! Jim pushed more speed from his legs as Blair took a corner. The kid was limping but still moving much too quickly for someone who'd just taken a bullet to the leg.
As Blair gained ground, options flew through Jim's head. Should he take a shot, in public, with witnesses and potential danger to civilians? What if the creature inside Blair got desperate enough to start taking more lives?
God. Blair.... He'd been aware of everything, no doubt. Back at the loft, he'd seemed to know what the creature was doing and thinking even when he wasn't in control. What was going through his mind now, after having witnessed himself snap Mrs. Warren's neck?
Jim had to stop Serapis. Now. He'd already failed Blair...and Mrs. Warren. He shouldn't have brought Simon in to the situation. No reasonable person would've believed his story about a body-snatching creature. Hell, he wouldn't have believed it if he'd been in Simon's shoes.
Ahead, Jim saw Blair head into the street, oblivious to oncoming traffic. Jim's heart skipped several beats as horns blared, and he prepared himself to witness his partner getting slammed by several tons of metal traveling at 40 miles per hour.
To Jim's surprise, Blair stumbled, folding over to clutch his stomach. A car barely missed him, swerving and screeching its horn. Jim closed in on Blair, and with a final leap, twisted his body and wrapped his arms around Blair, hoping to use his own body to cushion the blow. Instead, Blair crumpled too soon, and Jim went tumbling with Blair. He winced when he heard something crack, and half a second later, he and Blair came to rest on the blacktop.
When he looked up, the oncoming cars were stopped, despite the green light. It was about time. He felt Blair begin to stir beneath him, making small groaning noises, and he wasted no time. Reaching behind his back, Jim stifled a curse when he realized he'd left his cuffs back at the loft.
He also realized that, somewhere in the tumble, he'd lost his gun. Eyeing the pavement, he saw it a foot away, lying against the blacktop. Quickly, he snatched it up, then pulled Blair's arms back, grabbed the young man's wrists, and yanked him up. He pressed the barrel against the base of Blair's skull.
"Let's go, and don't try anything." Jim eyed the stunned bystanders. A crowd had begun to gather. "Move it along people! Police business!"
Fortunately, Blair -- or rather, Serapis -- didn't protest as Jim herded him toward the loft, one hand around Blair's wrists and the other holding the gun firmly at the base of Blair's skull. Blair was limping badly now, hunched toward his right, favoring his leg and ribs.
"J-Jim," Blair gasped, a sob in his voice. "I killed her. Oh, God, I killed her."
Jim clenched his jaw, not sure whether he was actually hearing Blair or Serapis. The creature was devious and had already demonstrated that it could could mimic Blair.
"Not now," Jim whispered. "We'll deal with this later, Chief." Even if it wasn't Blair talking, Jim decided, the kid was in there somewhere. He'd hear him. The words wouldn't be much comfort, Jim knew, but at the moment, they were all he could spare.
"Got it." Jack snapped the cell phone closed. "852 Prospect Avenue. Let's go."
Daniel nodded, following Jack out the door. Sam and Teal'c were right behind him. Teal'c carried a biohazard box in his right hand, the empty stasis jar held within.
Now, all they had to do was find Blair Sandburg and, in the process, very likely find the Goa'uld that had once inhabited that jar.
Daniel swallowed as he closed the grad student's office door behind him. He gave a brief glance over his shoulder into the room, and a pang twisted his chest. Blair Sandburg, PhD student.... Another person in the wrong place at the wrong time, lost to the Goa'uld.
By the time Jim got Blair back to the building, he could hear the approaching sirens. Within minutes, seconds maybe, the place would be flooded with officers. Pushing Blair through the doors into the building, he saw Simon standing over the body of the dead woman, the cell phone to his ear as he barked orders to the person on the other end of the line.
"Oh, God," Blair mumbled, his shoulders hunching and his eyes riveted on Mrs. Warren's body.
"Backups on its way, sir." Jim nudged Blair toward the elevators.
What the hell was he going to do? With a dead body on their hands and the perpetrator in custody, there really was only one way this could go down. He couldn't very well tell the D.A. that the real perpetrator was some creature inside of Sandburg, and even if he did say that, the prosecutor would never believe him.
The situation was spiraling out of control. The creature was too dangerous to allow in to police custody. The officers would have no idea what they were dealing with, and if the thing escaped....
Simon snapped the phone closed. "Get him out of here, Ellison."
Jim stopped a few feet away from the elevator. "Sir?"
"Now! This is my fault, I know." His voice caught. "It'll do no one any good if Sandburg's arrested for murder. Call me on my cell later and explain this all to me in detail."
Jim nodded. The sirens were getting louder. "Thank you, sir. Do you have your cuffs on you?"
"Yeah." Simon reached behind him and tossed them to Jim.
"Thank you, sir. What are you gonna tell them?" Jim slapped one of the cuffs around his partner's wrist.
Blair spun around, and Jim caught a glimpse of glowing eyes just as something hard and sharp hit him in the jaw, sending dots of lights dancing in his vision as his head whipped to the side.
"Don't!" Simon yelled.
Shaking his head, the bright spots in Jim's vision subsided, and he saw Simon pressed against Blair, face-to-face and almost crushing the kid against the wall, the barrel of his gun shoved beneath Blair's chin.
"I'll pull this trigger before I'll let you use Sandburg to kill another person." Simon's voice trembled, but the gun remained steady.
A snarl twisted Blair's lips, and his eyes glowed again, but Serapis remained silent.
"Turn around," Jim said, his voice heavy with fatigue. The patrol units would arrive any second. He had to hurry.
Blair's eyes darted toward Jim with a glare, but when Simon moved back, Blair turned around. Jim moved forward and slapped the remaining cuff around Blair's free wrist.
"Looks like we got here too late." An unfamiliar male voice muttered, sounding unusually sad.
Jim spun around. Simon was standing over the dead woman's body, his gun aimed at the four strangers. The newcomer in front had graying hair and a slightly worn face. Although he was casually dressed in jeans and a black leather jacket, his confident stance and alert eyes gave him an air of authority. The two fair-skinned, blue-eyed people flanking the older man appeared nervous. The male wore glasses, and he stood with slightly hunched shoulders, his eyes drifting somberly from the corpse to Sandburg. The woman, thin, with a rigid stance, looked on alert, her eyes scanning the lobby, occasionally darting to the gray-haired man. The large black man standing in the rear looked like a bruiser from a dance club, a black T-shirt stretched tight over his broad chest and a dark baseball cap on his head.
"This is police business, people." Simon's voice was hard. "I need you all out of this area."
The older man stepped forward. "I'm Colonel Jack O'Neill, United States Air Force."
Jim stiffened. Military? He glanced at Sandburg, and saw the kid's eyes locked on the large black man.
Blair smiled. "Jaffa! Balz'yac!"
The black man stiffened. "I do not serve the Goa'uld."
Goa'uld? Jim had a very bad feeling. With a military group present, and apparently unsurprised by the dead body and Blair's deep voice and glowing eyes, Jim had a feeling the four strangers knew a hell of a lot more than he did about what had invaded Sandburg. He studied the black man for a second. There was something about him .
He stiffened when he realized he was hearing the same kind of strange cardiac-like rhythm coming from the man that he'd heard in Sandburg, but then the sirens pulled his attention away. They were so loud, they had to be just outside.
"Sir, the police," the blonde woman announced.
"Look," the guy with glasses said, his voice earnest with a note of urgency, "the police are here, and we really don't want to butt heads with them." He jerked his chin toward Blair, but his eyes held Jim's. "That's your friend, right? You both live on the third floor of this building. He went through a security check at the Cascade PD. He works with you."
"Yeah," Jim nodded. "And...."
"And we're guessing he killed this woman," O'Neill answered gruffly, "but it's not his fault, so you really don't want him arrested, but you don't know what else to do. Leave with us right now. We can help him."
Simon held his gun steady. "Jim?"
He heard screeching tires out front. "Okay."
O'Neill nodded. "Is there a back door to this place, and will it be covered?"
"Yes, and no," Simon answered. "I told dispatch the situation was under control." He glanced at Jim. "I was vague about what happened. Now, go!"
Jim grabbed Blair's arm and went.
"In the van!" O'Neill hit the keyless entry, and the headlights of the sky blue Dodge Caravan flashed once in sync to a low BEEP. Sliding the door open, he hopped inside and moved to the driver's seat.
Blair twisted in Jim's grip to glare at the large, black man. "You are a shol'va to those who are your gods," he snarled, his voice resonating. "Your death will be most painful!"
The dark-skinned body-builder grabbed Blair's collar and lifted him, tearing him away from Jim's grip and shoving him in to the minivan. Jim heard a thud as Blair hit the interior of the van, and he leapt inside the vehicle and spun to face the stranger.
"You use anything I consider unnecessary force on him again, and it'll be the end of this little get-together."
"Not now." The fair-skinned guy stepped in to the van and waved Teal'c inside. "I promise we'll explain everything once we're on our way, far away from your cop friends."
"Come on," the woman urged from the passenger seat as she slammed the door closed.
The black guy hopped inside and closed the sliding door behind him just as the van pulled off at a casual, leisurely pace.
Once they were in motion, Jack spoke. "As I told you, I'm Colonel O'Neill." He pointed to the woman in the seat next to him. "This is Major Samantha Carter. The big guy's Teal'c, and the other one's Doctor Daniel Jackson."
Jim knelt in front of Blair, who was on the floor, crumpled in front of the seat. His face was pale, and he was breathing shallowly, wincing with each inhalation. "Hang in there, Chief."
"Do not speak as though he were your friend," Teal'c instructed. "The Goa'uld will use your concern for him against you."
Jim glared at the big man over his shoulder. "I don't know who or what Gould are, but Sandburg's in there, and he's aware and in pain and scared. I don't give a shit about the creature. It's my partner I'm talking to."
Jackson knelt behind Jim in the cramped space. "The Goa'uld are parasites that enter a host body and take it over. The Goa'uld should already be healing your partner's injuries, but his leg wound is still bleeding." He shifted slightly. "Sam, the first--"
"In the rear compartment," she answered.
"Thanks." He rose and moved to the back of the van.
Jim glanced at Jackson. "What kind of a doctor are you?"
Daniel rummaged around at the rear of the van. "A doctor of archeology."
"Great." Jim eyed the blood on Blair's leg. "Are you going to let us treat the bullet wound?"
Blair's eyes narrowed, but he nodded. "I will not fight you. It would accomplish nothing. Later, you will all pay."
"Right." Jim sighed.
Daniel returned, hovering behind Jim. "If you'll move--"
Jim turned and snatched the first aid kit from the young man. "I was a medic in the army."
"Okay. If you need any help--"
"Thanks." Jim turned his back to Doctor Jackson and faced Blair again, then set the kit on the floor and opened the lid. Behind him, the others chatted, and he half-listened to their conversation. If one of them said something important to catch his ear, he'd start paying closer attention.
He found a small pair of scissors in the kit and grabbed those first. Sliding the blade beneath the hole in the denim, he began the hard task of cutting through the thick material. Blair gave a gasp as the motion jarred the wound, but Jim kept his eyes focused on the task. He wasn't sure who was doing the gasping, Blair or Serapis, but he was determined not to let the creature influence him.
Once the material was cut away from the wound, Jim grabbed the antiseptic. He spared a brief glance up to see Blair looking at him with wide eyes.
"This is gonna hurt a bit, Chief."
Blair's face hardened and he leaned his head back.
Okay, so Serapis was still in control, but Jim suspected the creature was weakened with exertion or pain. He eyed the bottle in his hand and unscrewed the top.
I'm sorry, Blair.
Taking a deep breath, Jim poured a generous amount of the liquid over the wound. Blair arched away from the wall of the van, a howl ripping from his throat. The conversation filling the van stopped abruptly, and Jim leaned back as Blair hunched forward, breathing hard.
Bingo. He was pretty sure it was really Blair speaking this time.
"How you doing, Chief?"
"Been better," he gasped, then shook his head. "Don't have much time.... He's strong."
"I don't know. I...I think so."
"Goa'uld are neither male nor female, but they often tend to pick a specific gender for their hosts," Daniel offered. He crouched behind Jim. "Do you know what he wants?"
"Something called the Chappa'ai," Jim answered.
Blair nodded. "I..." He leaned against the wall and tilted his head back, still panting. "What the hell is this thing, anyway?" His eyes glowed suddenly, and he stiffened. Hard, blue eyes locked with Jim's. "For that, I will make this host suffer greatly!"
No. Jim's hands shot out, and he grabbed Blair's collar, pressing the young man hard against the wall of the van. "You try it, and I'll knock both of you out so fast you won't know what hit you."
Blair's eyes narrowed. He pulled back, then sent a wad of spit into Jim's face.
Jim didn't flinch, and his grip remained tight on Blair's collar. "Are you finished?"
The creature scowled. "When I am finished with you, you will be begging me to die."
Jim leaned back and wiped the saliva from his face. "I'm begging you to die now, but you're still alive." He gave a small smile. "I intend to remedy that situation as soon as possible."
Serapis chuckled. His smile grew, and he tilted his head, his eyes scanning the others in the van. "Perhaps I can negotiate an arrangement?" His gaze traveled back to Jim. "I believe I have some information about Detective Ellison that may be of interest to you."
Jim stiffened, glancing at the Colonel behind the wheel. He really didn't want his Sentinel abilities made known to the U.S. military.
"If you're gonna start going into my shower singing, please spare us." Jim hoped he sounded casual enough. "Anyone got any tape I can use to shut him up with?"
O'Neill took his eyes momentarily away from the road to glance behind him. "Subtle."
Serapis smiled. "I will gladly divulge his secret, should you be amenable to striking a bargain."
O'Neill shrugged. "No thanks. We don't deal."
Jim allowed himself a small, relieved smile, but he knew that Serapis could very well decide to divulge the secret out of spite. Jim only hoped the creature thought the information valuable enough to keep as a bargaining chip, despite O'Neill's refusal. Other people in the government might be more accommodating.
"You will pay for your insolence!" Serapis' echoing voice filled the van.
"Yeah, yeah, yadda, yadda." O'Neill waved a hand in the air. "Heard that one before. Daniel, find the detective something to gag him with."
"Coming right up." Jackson moved away and returned moments later with a roll of large, gray tape. He handed it to Jim.
Serapis simply glared at him as Jim yanked off a section of tape and secured it over Blair's mouth.
"Much better." Jim patted Blair's shoulder. "Sorry, Chief." Jim returned his attention to the wound on Blair's leg. It was disinfected now, thanks to the overdose of antiseptic, but he still needed to dry and bandage it. Reaching into the first aid kit, he glanced at O'Neill. "So, where are we going?"
"To an airstrip."
"Then?" Jim unwrapped some towelettes and cleaned up some of the blood on the surrounding skin.
"And then?" Jim prodded, discarding the soiled towelette in the lid of the first aid kit and reaching for the cotton pads.
"We might as well tell him, Jack," Jackson said. "He's going to find out soon enough, and besides, he's already seen too much."
Jim's head snapped up. He didn't like the sound of that.
Jackson must have noticed his reaction, because he gave a tiny smile and said, "Don't worry, we don't have to kill you now."
Jim raised his eyebrows. "Good to know."
"But you do present a problem," O'Neill added.
"I can keep a military secret." Jim dried Blair's wound. Fortunately, the bullet had gone all the way through, so there was nothing to extract.
"Maybe." O'Neill added. "What about Sandburg?"
"He won't be a problem."
O'Neill sighed. "We'll see."
"So, you gonna tell me what's going on and where we're going?"
Jack tilted his head. "Carter, you wanna do the honors?"
The woman turned in her seat to look at Jim. "This is going to be a bit overwhelming..."
"It already is," Jim snapped. His patience was running thin. He set to work bandaging Blair's leg.
"Right." Carter took a breath. "We work in Cheyenne mountain for a military organization called Stargate Command. The Stargate is a device that allows us to travel to other planets through a stable wormhole. It's also used by a race of aliens called the Goa'uld. They're parasites that use humans as hosts. They take over complete control of the host body and blend with the host mind."
Jim blinked at the woman, then glanced at Sandburg and the blue eyes glaring at him. If he hadn't witnessed all this first-hand....
He inhaled slowly and looked back at Carter. "And one of these things is inside Sandburg now?"
She nodded. "Yes."
His head felt light, but he pushed the overwhelming new information to the back of his mind and focused on the more important issue. "Can you get it out of him?"
Her expression turned grim. "We can try. We've got a few ideas."
"A few ideas?" Jim balled one hand into a fist. "Lady, I don't wanna hear that. I--"
"Look, we'll do the best we can," O'Neill interrupted. "We've got a plan, so don't go blowing a gasket just yet."
"What plan?" Jim asked.
Jackson answered. "We've contacted a race called the Tok'ra. They're the same species as the Goa'uld, but a rebel faction. They have means to remove a Goa'uld from its host."
"And if they don't come through for us," Jack added, "we'll take your friend to a planet where there's a device that will kill the creature inside him."
Blair tried to let the rhythmic rocking of the van lull him toward sleep, but the creature in his head had other plans. It kept Blair's eyes open and alert, often focusing on the large black man, Teal'c. Serapis knew the man as a Jaffa. There was an odd feeling Blair got that the glimpses he stole from Serapis mind told him meant Teal'c carried a Goa'uld -- a juvenile one.
Blair listened to the discussion around him. Plan A and Plan B. He felt a flicker of terror shoot through Serapis, and Blair's own heart sped up in reaction. He swallowed, causing his skin to tug slightly on the tape over his mouth, and tried to control his breathing, but Serapis remained master of even that. All Blair could do was sit there with his back against the van wall and his hands cuffed behind him. His leg throbbed, and a small inferno engulfed the limb. His ribs ached, but not as badly as they had before. He knew Serapis was trying to heal the wounds, but Blair didn't know how long it would take the creature to finish the task.
Jim gently lifted Blair's leg as he secured the wrapping, and agony shot all the way from the bullet wound to Blair's groin. He closed his eyes briefly. The pain seemed to make Serapis recede a little, giving Blair a shadow of control over his own body.
Blair opened his eyes again. Jim leaned back, apparently finished, and closed the first aid kit, never once making eye contact. Something twisted in Blair's chest, stealing his breath, and he felt a hot pressure surge behind his eyes. Quickly, he blinked, pushing back the emotion that threatened to spill past his control.
This time, Jim looked up, locked gazes, and put a hand on Blair's shoulders. "You'll be okay, Sandburg."
Blair managed a smile despite the gag before Serapis snatched control from him again. The smile turned to a scowl, and he felt his eyes narrow with a glare. It was going to be a long ride. He almost wished Jim would make good on his threat to knock them both out.
Jim breathed a sigh when, forty minutes later, they arrived at a small, military air strip. O'Neill pulled the van up to the guard gate and flashed some identification, and the lieutenant on duty waved him through.
The ring of a cell phone filled the van, and Jim reached toward his pocket a second before identifying the ring as belonging to Blair's phone. Surprised, he unlocked his seat belt and leaned forward. Blair usually carried the phone in his jacket or backpack. He'd assumed the kid hadn't even had the phone on him. Tracking the location of the sound, Jim plucked the phone out of Sandburg's pants pocket, ignoring the glare Serapis directed his way.
Glancing at the caller ID on the phone's display, Jim stifled a groan. Naomi. He debated letting the voice mail answer the call, but a fear that Naomi would show up at the loft and find out that her son was missing, and wanted for murder, spurred him to press the TALK button as he lifted the phone to his ear.
"Jim!" Naomi's cheerful voice blared from the earpiece. "How are you?"
He took a breath. "I'm fine, Naomi." He caught O'Neill glancing at him in the rear view mirror, probably wondering what Jim was going to say.
"Can I speak with Blair?"
"He's, uh, in the shower right now."
"Oh, well, I just called to tell him I might be in the area later this week, and--"
Damn. "Blair and I are going out of town for a conference. We'll be gone all week. I'm sorry, Naomi."
"Oh, well, where at? Maybe I can meet him there and tag along?"
"Out of state, actually, and it's only for Cascade PD personnel."
"Oh." Her voice dropped. "Okay, well, tell him I said hello, and I'm sorry I missed him."
"I will. Goodbye, Naomi." He hung up, his chest tight. He had a feeling the woman hadn't bought his story. Quickly, he dialed another number.
"Who are you calling?" Jackson asked.
Jim barely glanced at the man. "My captain. If Naomi calls him, I want his story to match."
"Ah. Who's Naomi?"
Jim throat went tight. "Sandburg's mother." He hoped he didn't find himself having to tell her that she'd never see her son again.
The line answered after two rings. "Banks, here."
"Jim!" Simon gave an excited whisper. "My God. What--"
"No time to talk, sir. Naomi just called. She said she wanted to stop by the loft for a visit, but I told her Sandburg and I are going out of town for a conference and we'll be gone all week. If she calls ."
"Got it, Jim. Can you tell me where you are?"
Jim glanced at O'Neill, who kept throwing curious glances his way via the mirror. "Not really. I'm not sure how long we'll be gone, either."
"I'll do what I can."
"Thank you, sir."
Jim hung up just as the van pulled to a stop. Pocketing the phone, he glanced out the side window to see a military transport plane standing ready on a long runway. A mass of apprehension twisted in his stomach. He and Blair were in the hands of the United States military, and he knew from personal experience that the U.S. military wouldn't hesitate to put its own interests before two relatively unimportant civilians. He only hoped that O'Neill and his team were as genuine as they seemed.
The military transport plane didn't present the most pleasant interior. Blair's discomfort was heightened by the fact that his arms were still cuffed behind his back and he was forced to sit on a bench along one side of the plane with his back to the wall. Teal'c and Jim flanked him. He'd been sitting in the same position for too long, and his back, shoulders, and tailbone were beginning to hurt.
Even worse was the fact that his wrists were cut raw from Serapis' subtle but powerful tugs against the chain linking the cuffs, and his hands were caked in dried blood. He knew Jim must have picked up the metallic scent by now, but if so, the Sentinel gave no indication.
As if that wasn't enough, Blair was also hungry and thirsty, and he really, really needed to use the bathroom. Not that he could complain. Even if Serapis wasn't controlling him, the tape over his mouth prevented him from voicing any of his discomforts.
"How much longer?" Jim asked.
Daniel, seated on the facing bench, glanced at his watch. O'Neill and Carter were near the cockpit a few feet away. They spared Jim a glance, and O'Neill took a look at his own watch.
"Forty minutes, maybe." Jackson gave into a yawn and leaned back.
Jim nodded and turned his head toward Blair. He pursed his lips briefly, then scratched the back of his neck before returning his attention to Jackson. "He probably has to go to the bathroom, and he's gone without food or water for a while. You got anything?"
It was O'Neill who answered. "Some MRE's. As for the bathroom, Teal'c will have to accompany you two, and I'd recommend against removing his cuffs."
"Of course." Jim winced at the image O'Neill's instruction's presented, but he understood the security reasons behind the mandate. He shifted to look at Blair, "Okay, Chief. You ready?"
Blair's eyes narrowed, then glowed briefly, but Serapis remained silent.
"All right then. Let's go." Jim rose, as did Teal'c, and they each grabbed one of Blair's arms, hauling him firmly but carefully to his feet.
Teal'c's grip was painful, and Blair marveled at the strength of the larger man. The Jaffa was definitely not someone he wanted to mess with. What he felt from Serapis, however, was completely different. It wanted nothing more than to torture and kill everyone in the plane, including Teal'c.
Blair's stomach churned as that thought brought an image of Mrs. Warren in his head. His hands had snapped her neck. He'd heard the soft THUD as her body hit the floor. He .
Jim slid open the door to the restroom and ushered Blair inside. Quickly, he turned Blair around and looked hard at him. "You play this the hard way, and you're not going to get another chance to go for a long time."
Blair figured the comment wasn't directed to him. He felt a stronger flare of anger from Serapis, but the creature inside him gave no other reaction. Perhaps it was tired of enduring misery just to inflict it on its host. At least, that's what Blair hoped.
Jim stooped slightly and unbuttoned then unzipped Blair's pants. With a tug, the pants fell down, leaving only the boxers. Another tug brought those down to Blair's ankles.
He stood there, exposed, and wanted very much to be anywhere else. At least he could see enough past Jim and the hulking Jaffa to confirm that the woman, at least, was averting her gaze.
"Sit." Jim gestured to the toilet.
Blair felt his knees fold, and he sank onto the cool porcelain. At least Serapis was cooperating finally. Blair really hadn't looked forward to holding it for any longer. The pressure had already become painful.
Instantly, he felt release, accompanied by a steady tinkling. Although he didn't have the use of his hands, everything seemed to go where it was supposed to. A few seconds later, he finished and rose to his feet. Jim pulled up the boxers and pants, fastened the zipper and button and guided Blair back to the bench seat.
"Okay, Junior, this is going to hurt a bit."
Right. Blair winced inwardly as Jim grabbed one corner of the tape and yanked hard.
It stung even more than he thought it would.
"Here." Jackson leaned forward, a clear bottle of water in his hands.
Jim nodded his thanks and took the offering, then looked at Blair. "You gonna drink this if I put it to your mouth?"
Blair saw a glimpse of the plan and tried desperately to shake his head. Instead, he felt himself nodding.
"Good." Slowly, Jim tilted the bottle to Blair's lips.
The lukewarm water flowed refreshingly over Blair's tongue, and he felt Serapis' surprise at just how good it felt. Despite the initial plan, he swallowed. His second sip, however, he held and accumulated, then, tensing, he spit the entire mouthful into Jim's face.
His legs shot out, catching Jim in the groin, and he flung himself off the bench just as Teal'c and Daniel lunged for him. Jim dropped to the floor, curled over, then a frustrated growl erupted from him as he shot back to his feet.
He saw the parachutes hanging near the exit hatch, and dived into a roll, coming up inches from them. Spinning around so that his back was to do the door, he grabbed the latch with his bound hands and was just about to tug when he heard the hiss of a zat'n'kitel and, a millisecond later, felt the hot, sizzling energy crash into him.
His nerves erupted with flames, and he screamed, crumbling to the floor as his muscles twitched under the assault. Finally, the electric blue energy dissipated, and everything went dark and quiet.
"What was that?" Jim was on his feet, walking funny but still mobile, and dropped next to Blair's limp body.
"He's okay." O'Neill crouched next to Jim. "It didn't feel too good, I'll tell you that, but he'll live. In fact, he should be coming to already."
"This particular Goa'uld may still be weak," Teal'c commented. "He seemed to have trouble controlling the host."
Jackson knelt by Blair's shoulder. "Well, who knows how long he's been in stasis." Daniel placed his fingers on the side of Blair's neck. "Pulse is strong." He looked up at Jim. "He'll be okay."
"We should probably tie his feet."
Jim looked up to see Major Carter hovering over them, her hand at her hip. "It won't be fun moving him, but it'll be safer."
Teal'c nodded. "I concur."
A soft groan escaped Blair, and his head rolled to the side.
"Chief?" Jim leaned over his friend. "You with us?"
"Okay, let's get him fixed up before snakehead starts throwing another temper tantrum." O'Neill got to his feet. "Carter, get me some restraints."
"Yes, sir." She turned and rifled through a bag hanging on one of the hooks, then pulled out two flexi-cuffs and handed them to the colonel.
"Thanks." Quickly kneeling, O'Neill fastened both restraints around Blair's ankles.
Sandburg groaned again, and his brow furrowed. Slowly, his eyelids opened, and his gaze drifted over the faces above him, finally settling on Jim's.
"Wh'happened?" Blair croaked, then swallowed hard.
Jim wasn't sure if it was really Blair speaking, but until he knew otherwise, he'd act like he was talking to his partner, not that creature from God-knows-where. "You got hit with the mother of all stun guns, but they say you'll be okay. How do you feel?"
"Like that garbage truck found me and took its revenge."
Jim's lips twitched upward. "We've tied your feet so Serapis can't pull another stunt like that." He didn't want Blair to be surprised at the latest development. The kid had to be feeling helpless enough as it was.
Blair lifted his head and looked down the length of his body. He gave an experimental tug on the bonds around his ankles. "Oh." His head fell back to the floor. "Okay. Good idea." He swallowed hard again, his eyes snapping back to Jim. "You okay? I'm sorry, he..."
"I know. I'm okay. Bruised pride, but I'll survive." He managed a smile. "You ready to get off the floor?"
"Uh, sure." Blair groaned as he struggled into a sitting position.
Daniel slid his hands beneath Blair's shoulders and helped him up.
"Thanks." Blair glanced over his shoulder at the man. "You're an archeologist?"
A flicker of anger darkened Blair's eyes, and Jim tensed. Maybe it wasn't Blair talking at all and just another one of Serapis' deceptions.
"You work with the miltiary?" Blair continued, his voice a little shaky.
"And you seem to know all about what's going on."
"We do," Jack answered. "But it's all classified."
Blair's voice suddenly resonated, and his eyes locked with Jack's then flared with a white-yellow light. "So perhaps you will be my next host, and I will strip your mind of all that you know and discard you when I'm finished."
"Sounds like fun, but I'll take a raincheck." Jack got to his feet and waved at Teal'c. "Come on, big guy, let's get Mr. Congeniality here somewhere nice and cozy."
As the plane touched down, Blair's heart thrummed hard in his chest. He could feel Serapis' fear, and it felt a lot like his own. Out of the small windows in the side of the plane, he could see the runway and a couple of very severe looking military vehicles. There were also lots of guys with guns, poised and ready, aimed directly at the plane.
He didn't trust the military. Hell, before he met Jim, he never truly trusted cops, either. But the military...
He tried to get a handle on his fear. Tried not to think about Mrs. Warren. Tried not to wonder what would happen to him even if he and Jim got out of this mess.
He felt a surge of something like pride from the creature inside him. It had been so easy to snap the woman's neck. Just one of many inferior animals that were good only as slaves or hosts. He saw his hand as it rose in front of him. A gold bracelet wrapped around his palm and wrist. It glowed. A beam shot out, reaching toward the head of a young woman, barely a child. Her eyes went wide, her mouth opened, but no scream emerged. Her body trembled. Small grunts escaped her throat.
'Stop it! Stop it!' Blair screamed at his hand, but it didn't obey him. Then the beam died, and the woman crumpled forward, falling limp on to the sandy ground.
"Okay, let's go."
A hand on Blair's arm pulled him out of -- what was that? A memory? A flashback? God...He really, really didn't want those kind of memories. He didn't want to know what it felt like to kill, and enjoy it. He...
He was going to be sick.
No, he wasn't. Just as quickly as the nausea came, it vanished. Apparently, Serapis was taking control again.
Blair found himself sandwiched between O'Neill and Teal'c. Each had a hand on his arm, guiding him to the hatch of the plane.
Where was Jim? Just as Blair twisted his head to search for his friend, a hand touched his shoulder.
"Right here, Chief."
Blair closed his eyes, trying to focus on the fact that Jim was right behind him and not on whatever was waiting for him outside.
Jim kept his hearing tuned to his partner's thrumming heart. Either Blair was terrified, or Serapis was. Probably both, he mused. He knew Blair didn't have goody-goody feelings about the military, a result, no doubt, of Naomi's liberal, anti-establishment tendencies. Having been in the military himself, Jim couldn't exactly fault Blair for his distrust. He knew the kind of covert missions that the military often engaged in. He also knew that, if it came down to national security versus the welfare of two civilians, national security would win.
A few years ago, Jim would have zealously sacrificed his life for 'national security.' He still would, if it was legitimate, but he wasn't about to let some flyboy colonel sacrifice Sandburg's life to keep a secret some stuffed shirt decided should be 'classified.'
He watched as O'Neill and Teal'c hopped out of the plane, managing to keep Blair upright between them. Jim followed, his gaze sinking to his partner's bound ankles and the $150 pair of Nike's dragging on the runway.
Several guns cocked, and Jim looked up. Guards with weapons aimed and ready surrounded them. The colonel and Teal'c manhandled Blair toward a military transport van, jumping into the back with him.
Jim looked over to see Major Carter's wide blue eyes staring at him. "What?" he asked her, his tone flat.
She smiled softly. "He's in good hands. We'll try our best to help him. I promise."
He narrowed his eyes. "I intend to hold you to that promise."
She nodded and gestured to the back of the van. Jim hopped in, followed by Carter, Jackson, and two armed guards. The doors slammed behind them, sealing the room in dreary dimness. Blair sat on a bench between Jack and Teal'c, his blue eyes unusually bright and locked on Jim.
Jim swallowed, meeting that gaze, his gut heavy. He glanced briefly at the two guards. One was standing at the door, holding on to a handgrip protruding from the ceiling. The other was stationed on end of the bench Jim occupied, across from Sandburg, a P-90 hanging from a strap across his chest.
The van rocked as it eased into motion, and Jim returned his attention to Blair, who was now staring at the floor, his shoulders slouched, quiet tears sliding leisurely down his cheeks.
Cheyenne Mountain. Jim blinked as he stepped out of the van. The two guards gestured for him to get a move on, and he took a few steps away to make room for the others. O'Neill and Teal'c, carrying Blair between them, hopped out. Jackson and Carter followed.
"Home, sweet home," Jack announced as one of the guards closed the van doors.
They headed to the interior of the mountain, flanked by armed soldiers. Then they were inside an elevator heading down and down and down. Jim watched the rapidly-changing numbers of the digital pad. Eighteen Nineteen Twenty
They were traveling pretty fast.
Finally, the lift glided to a halt, and with a hiss, the doors opened. "Jim followed O'Neill and Teal'c out. Carter, Jackson, and the guards took up the rear. The interior of the mountain was a dim gray. Yellow lines decorated the floors, but Jim wasn't sure what they indicated.
They turned a corner and Jack and Teal'c dragged Blair through a door. Jim followed quickly, but one of the guards hurried in front of him.
"You'll have to wait here."
Jim tensed, automatically extending his hearing. There were more guards in the room. Blair's heartbeat was drumming dangerously fast. O'Neill was ordering a thorough security screening, and Jim clenched his jaw. He knew what that meant, and it would be pretty invasive.
Taking a breath, Jim gave a curt nod while keeping his ears focused on his partner. He ignored Carter and Jackson behind him and tuned out their heartbeats as well as the guards' in the hall with him.
"Do not touch me!" Serapis' deep voice demanded.
"Oh, sure. Okay," Jack shot back, "since you asked nicely."
"If you release me now, I may spare your life."
"Uh-huh. I can feel the love. No thanks. Strip him."
"Hey, guys, c'mon. Easy." It was Blair's voice, this time, but the steady, almost cocky tone told Jim it wasn't his partner speaking. "I've got rights, you know. I'm a United States citizen Hey. Jim!"
Jim tensed. He knew it wasn't Blair. But it was hard to ignore a plea delivered in that familiar, frightened tone.
Jim stayed still, his fists clenched at his sides, as he listened to the guards strip away Blair's clothing and perform their search. He remained motionless even as Serapis/Blair fought and the guards restrained him, but his stomach twisted, and bile rose in his throat.
He heard bars sliding, then an unfamiliar male voice ordered Blair inside. Footsteps slapped against a hard surface, and bars slid once again, slamming shut. A lock engaged. Something beeped, sounding like a phone being dialed, then O'Neill told someone named Fraiser to get down there.
Seconds later, O'Neill and Teal'c emerged. The colonel held Jim's gaze for a moment, then his eyes softened.
"Come on." Jack gestured down the hall. "We've got to get you screened, and then there's a briefing you'll have to attend."
Jim didn't budge. "What's happening to my partner?"
"He's just in a holding cell. Safe and sound, I promise."
Jim tilted his head, listening for Blair's heartbeat. It was still drumming wildly, and his breathing was shallow and fast, on the verge of hyperventilation. He wasn't sure whether Serapis or Blair was in control, but the physical manifestations of stress were clear.
"I want him checked out by a doctor. His wounds are still healing, and "
"A team's on the way. We just needed to get him secured first." Jack again gestured down the hall. "Okay?"
Jim took a breath and nodded, following O'Neill down the hall.
Blair struggled to control his breathing. It felt like there was a hand squeezing his heart, and his lungs refused to expand more than a few inches. The room started to spin, and he staggered to the small cot and sat down, putting his head between his knees.
He hadn't had a panic attack in years. Why wasn't Serapis taking control?
The answer presented itself immediately. He caught a glimpse into the creature's mind, heard a snickering that wasn't his own.
The creature knew all about Jim's abilities. It was using Blair against the sentinel, trying to goad him, play on his sympathies, betting on the fact that Jim would be eavesdropping.
The son of a bitch was causing the panic attack.
"Open it up, airman," a woman's voice commanded.
Blair managed to raise his head, still struggling for breath, to see a petite woman enter the cell. Two guards flanked her, standing back, holding weapons that Blair recognized very well as zatnick'tels, the stun guns from hell. One of the guards handed his weapon to the other and moved inside the cell. The other guard holstered the extra gun and took a few steps back, then slid the bars closed, sealing them inside.
The woman stopped a few feet from him. "Are you going to cause a problem?" She jerked a thumb back at the two guards. "He'll shoot me and you if you try to grab me."
Blair couldn't get enough air into his lungs to answer. He wanted to tell the woman to go away. Get the hell out of his cell. He didn't want to risk hurting anyone else.
"Get up," the guard inside the cell commanded.
Blair really wished he could comply, but his legs wouldn't work, and black dots danced in his vision. How far was Serapis gonna push this attack? Until he passed out?
Hands grabbed him, spun him around, then the wall slammed into his cheek and a pain shot through his still-tender ribs. His arms were yanked behind his back and cuffs fastened around his wrists.
The guard pulled him away from the wall, and Blair found himself once again seated on the cot, facing the young female doctor.
"Okay," She placed the ends of a stethoscope in her ears. "I'm gonna lift up your shirt and listen to your chest."
Blair nodded, panting, wondering how much she'd be able to hear since he was gasping like he'd just run a marathon.
She placed the cold, flat surface of the instrument against his chest, and he closed his eyes, telling himself to breathe slowly, in and out, but instead his breaths became even more shallow, and his head began to float and his limbs tingled.
"I don't think he's faking this," the woman said, her voice tiny and distant.
"I don't think he's faking this."
Jim stopped and turned around, he'd been trying to keep an ear on his partner while listening to O'Neill explain the basics of the installation. The woman's voice -- the doctor, he presumed -- sounded worried. Blair's heartbeat was still beating like a jackhammer riding out a power surge, and his breathing was spiraling out of control.
It was getting worse.
"Airman, get me....!"
He heard a thud.
"He's going into defib!" she yelled, a note of disbelief in her words. "Get a crash team down here, and get these cuffs off!"
Jim bolted into a run.
Serapis heard the cell door open, then his arms were freed. The woman's voice shouted orders. The host's heart fluttered dangerously, but the host's consciousness had faded moments ago. Serapis, however, remained alert, using the neural auditory input to track the movements of the humans around him. The woman was close, hovering over him. One of the guards was farther away, calling for a medical team. The other guard remained stationed somewhere behind him.
He would have to move quickly to take them by surprise. He could not allow himself to remain a prisoner. The humans would kill him, so by attempting escape, he had nothing to lose.
In an instant, Serapis stabilized the body's physiology and bolted to his feet. A spasm shot through his injured leg, but the wound was well on its way to healing. His arms lashed out to send the two humans flying backward. The remaining guard spun around, drawing his weapon, but Serapis grabbed the bag on the floor and hurtled it through the now-open cell door. It slammed into the human's chest and jolted him backward, into the wall. The zatnick'tel discharged, aimed at the floor. Blue energy sparkled harmlessly over the flat, gray surface.
Blair smashed into consciousness to find himself in the middle of a nightmare he'd already lived through once. He held a zatnick'tel in his hand, and a motionless guard lay three feet in front of him. Outside the room, he heard voices and the pounding of footsteps.
A desperate fear rose inside him, from Serapis, he realized. Fear of capture, of death. The creature was fighting for its life. It was even more dangerous.
It was going to happen all over again.
Even as he came to that horrifying realization, he felt his body moving swiftly further into the cell. His arms grabbed the woman, who was groaning.... Alive. Blair felt a profound relief. She was alive.
But what about the two limp guards?
He didn't have time to think further. The voices arrived, and the outer door slammed open. Blair spun, the woman in his free arm, his fingers wrapped around her neck. He pointed the weapon at the intruders, recognizing them immediately.
Jim burst though first, with O'Neill and Teal'c close behind. The Jaffa held a zatnick'tel in his hand.
"Sandburg," Jim slid to a halt, one hand outstretched, "c'mon, Chief, fight him."
"You will allow me to leave this place!" Blair heard the words leave his mouth, but they echoed with the deep, unnatural tone of the creature inside him.
"Teal'c," O'Neill glanced at the weapon in the Jaffa's hand, "has it been long enough?"
"Long enough for what?" Jim tossed a look at the O'Neill.
"I believe so." Teal'c held the weapon steady.
Blair felt the woman tense in his hand, her throat tight as she struggled for air beneath his grip. The pulse in her neck throbbed against his palm. His fingers tightened.
Not again. He focused everything he had on his hand. Just let go. All he had to do was let go. This couldn't happen again. Not again.
His fingers refused to move.
"Then go for it," O'Neill ordered.
Teal'c lifted the weapon. Jim stepped into discharge path and turned to face the Jaffa. "Has it been long enough for what?"
"Out of the way, Ellison!" O'Neill barked.
"If you shoot me, I'll kill her," the creature inside Blair threatened.
Jim turned back to Blair, and Blair saw the sentinel's eyes flicker downward briefly. A second later, something sharp pierced his thigh. Surprise loosened his grip, and he staggered back, his leg suddenly heavy. He looked down to see a syringe sticking out of his thigh.
In the next second, a body slammed into his. The syringe tore from his leg, and he found himself on his back, staring into the pale blue eyes of his partner. Serapis bucked within Blair, and his good leg shot upward in sync with his hands. Jim went flying, but the Jaffa was there, fast and powerful, and soon Blair was flipped on to his stomach and his arms once again yanked behind his back.
Inside, he trembled, relieved. It had been too close.
Check the guards, he pleaded silently with his captors. Please, just say they're all right."
"Doc?" O'Neill's voice.
"I'm okay He's alive."
"Got a pulse here, too."
Thank you, God.
"You call this a secured facility?" Jim snapped, his voice somewhere to Blair's left.
"Can the attitude, Ellison. Teal'c?"
Something hard tugged on Blair's collar, pulling him to his feet.
"The Goa'uld is secure," Teal'c answered.
"Good. Lock him up. He's used up his medical privileges."
"No," Jim countered.
A medical team exploded into the room, instantly splitting up to attend to the two fallen guards.
"What have we got here?" One of them asked.
The woman doctor rubbed her throat and took a breath. "Possible concussion, spinal injuries. Get their vitals, then stabilize and transport."
"No?" O'Neill walked up to Jim, leaving the medical technicians to their work. "I hate to break the news to you, but you don't get a say."
"You're not going to lock him up here. The creature inside him is desperate." Jim jerked his chin to one of the fallen guards. "It'll hurt Sandburg if it thinks that'll give it a chance to make another break."
"It will not kill the host," Teal'c said. "It depends on the host to survive."
Jim's eyes danced with fire. "It doesn't have to kill him, but it can damage him until you people are forced to render medical aid or let him die, and I'm betting it's thinking it doesn't have much to lose with that tactic."
O'Neill frowned, his eyes darting to Teal'c, then to Blair. Blair felt the creature's rage stir inside him as he met the colonel's dark gaze. At this point, he wished they'd just knock him out. Either he'd never wake up at all, and that wouldn't be so bad, really, or he'd wake up when it was all over. Maybe that was the coward's way out, but he didn't want to watch himself hurt anyone else. He didn't want to think about Mrs. Warren. He didn't want to .
"Take me to the Chappa'ai, and I will release this host," Serapis bargained.
"There is no escape for you," Teal'c's answered, his voice deep and strong.
Jack gave a sigh. "Doc, pump the snake full of sedatives and keep him strapped down in the infirmary, under guard, and make sure he can't break out of whatever straps you use."
She nodded. "Yes, sir."
A flood of grateful relief flowed through Blair, in stark contrast to the creature's rage. Thank you.
Jim, O'Neill, and the team followed the gurney down the hall. Sandburg lay strapped to the bed, pushed toward the infirmary by a couple of large orderlies and escorted by two armed guards in addition to Fraiser and a nurse.
"So," Jack fell in to step alongside Jim, "how'd you know what was going on back there?"
Jim stiffened but didn't falter in his stride as he paced the medical team. So far, he'd managed to keep his abilities hidden. He had no wish to have the military privy to his secret. Still, he could distort the truth just enough to get by. He hoped.
He glanced at the colonel. "I have good ears. Comes from years as a Ranger."
Jack nodded. "I see. We were, uh, pretty far down the hall. I didn't hear anything."
"They say hearing's the first to go."
O'Neill grimaced. "Oh, that's funny."
Jim followed the gurney around a corner and into a large room. Cabinets filled with bottles and medical supplies lined the walls. The med team came to a stop, and Fraiser began barking orders. On the thin gurney, Blair lay almost limp, his eyelids drooping. His head rocked slowly back and forth, as though he were trying to focus on his surroundings.
The doc had pumped Sandburg full of sedative before the team managed to get him strapped to the gurney. There was no way Blair should even be conscious, but remarkably, he was hanging on. The creature, it seemed, was not only strong as hell, but resistant to drugs as well.
"Okay," Jack tapped Jim's arm, "we've seen him this far. Now, you really need to go through a screening, and the general's waiting..."
"A minute." Jim stepped up to Fraiser. "Can I?" He gestured to Sandburg.
She glanced at O'Neill, and, out of the corner of his eye, Jim saw the older man give a curt nod.
"Okay," Fraiser nodded. "Be brief."
"Thank you." Jim turned to his partner. "Hey, Chief."
Blair squinted up at him, then blinked a few times. His mouth opened, and his eyes glowed briefly. "Your friend is no more."
Jim's heart seemed to flip-flop even though he knew the creature was lying. Blair was in there. Somewhere. Fighting. Afraid.
He placed a hand on Blair's forehead and leaned closer. "I'll be back. Hang in there, buddy."
The security screening went much faster than Jim expected, and soon he was following O'Neill and the others to meet with a man named General Hammond. O'Neill stopped in front of a door, pushed it open, and gestured for Jim to go inside.
Jim brushed past the colonel. "Thanks."
The room was spacious, with a long table in the center made of rich wood that reflected the overhead lights brilliantly. An older, balding man sat at the head of the table, a file open in front of him. Jim's eyes immediately focused on the contents, and his gut went cold. It contained information on Sandburg's master thesis.
The man looked up, and the resulting shock stopped Jim in his tracks.
The resemblance was uncanny. He cocked his head. "General Hammond?"
The man smiled and rose from the chair, moving around the table to extend his hand. "Yes, and you must be Detective Jim Ellison." He gestured to a chair. "Have a seat."
Jim pulled his chair out while O'Neill, Carter, Jackson, and Teal'c took their seats. "Any relation to a man named Wilton Fisker?"
The general's brow furrowed. "Uh, no. Why?"
Jim shrugged and took his seat. "You bear a strong resemblance to him."
Hammond smiled. "I hope he's not a criminal."
Jim leaned back. "He's currently serving a thirty year sentence in Washington."
Hammond raised his eyebrows. "I guess I'm lucky I'm not him, then." He leaned forward. "Now, I'm afraid we have to get on with the briefing. Allow me to express my regret for the circumstances that have brought you here. I've taken the liberty of reviewing the information we have on you and Mr. Sandburg. Your young friend seems to be a rather bright anthropologist. I've even read over some of his articles."
Jim nodded. "And the point?" He needed to steer the conversation away from Blair's studies as quickly as possible. "What I really want to know is what the hell is that thing inside him?"
Hammond nodded. "Of course. How much have Colonel O'Neill and the others explained to you?"
Jim glanced at O'Neill, who simply raised his eyebrows. "Just that the government is involved in some program involving travel through a Stargate to other planets. The creature is an alien called a Goa'uld, . It enters and takes over a host body, and they think they have a way to kill it or get it out of Sandburg." He tilted his head. "Sounds like a bad sci-fi to me, but I can't deny there's something in my partner, and it sure as hell isn't human."
Hammond took a deep breath. "That's about the gist of it. As you know, I'm sure, with your military background, having you and your partner aware of such a highly classified project presents problems."
"Right now, the only problem I see is how you're going to get that thing out of my partner. I'm not interested in blowing the lid on this operation."
"I appreciate that."
"Look, I know how this works. I'll sign whatever it is you want me to sign after that thing's out of Sandburg and I see that he's okay. Just tell me what the plan is to make that happen."
"All right. Fair enough, for now." Hammond closed the file. "We were hoping for help from a group of aliens that are related to the Goa'uld. They're known as the Tok'ra."
Jim nodded. "I know."
"Unfortunately," his eyes flickered to O'Neill, "they can't help us. Although they're interested in the information this Goa'uld might have, they're currently in the middle of evacuating to a new location. Their intelligence indicated that a mid-level system lord discovered the whereabouts of their current base and is on the way to attack. They did say they would contact us as soon as they could, but I'm afraid they cannot give a time frame."
"What's a system lord?" Jim asked.
Daniel took a breath. "A commander of a fleet, generally a Goa'uld posing as a god, ruling Jaffa, menacing worlds."
"All around bad guy," O'Neill finished.
Jim leaned back. "Well, we're not going to stay here indefinitely while--"
"I understand, which is why I'm authorizing SG-1 to take you and your partner to a planet that's protected by one of our allies. It contains a device that will kill the Goa'uld and free your friend."
"Thor's Hammer," Daniel interjected.
Jim looked at the archeologist. Thor's Hammer? First sci-fi, now mythology. Just great. "And that is?"
Carter answered. "It's an alien device that kills the Goa'uld inside a host. Once we emerge from the gate, a machine will scan each of us for the presence of a Goa'uld. When it finds one in your friend, it will transport him to a secured cavern. The only way out is through a device, the hammer, that will kill the Goa'uld."
Jim leaned forward. The whole thing sounded absurd and risky. "And Sandburg?"
Daniel cleared his throat. "He stands a good chance of coming through it okay."
"A good chance?" Jim's voice rose. "What kind of a chance? And are you saying this thing could kill him, too?"
Daniel nodded. "It might. We're not really sure. If it's any consolation, we did meet a woman on the planet who was once host to a Goa'uld. She went through the hammer. The Goa'uld died, she lived."
"We can reduce our risks," Carter interjected, "by bringing a medical team with us. If there are any complications, they can provide on-the-spot treatment."
Jack nodded. "Good idea, Major." He looked to Hammond. "General?"
"Agreed. I'll authorize one medical officer to accompany you." Hammond turned his attention back to Jim. "Now that that's settled, I have a few more questions for you, if you don't mind."
Jim let his silence be his answer.
"Okay." Hammond opened the file again and studied the contents. "I see that Mr. Sandburg's master thesis was on something known as 'Sentinels." He looked up. "Tribal watchmen with heightened senses."
Jack saw O'Neill straighten, his eyes suddenly more alert.
Damn. Jim kept his face neutral. "Yeah? And?"
"What exactly is an anthropology grad student doing with the police?"
"He's into the thin blue line crap. My captain agreed to let him ride along and observe."
O'Neill leaned forward, his head tilted. "Heightened senses, huh?"
Jim met the colonel's eyes. "Yes, or so he told me. I haven't really read any of his stuff. Anthropology isn't my thing."
"And, uh, you seem to have really good ears, right?"
Jim shrugged. "Yeah." He was giving nothing away.
Jack held his gaze for a few minutes longer. When Jackson spoke, he glanced at the archeologist, then leaned back casually in his chair.
"Does it really matter what Sandburg was studying?" Jackson asked. "I don't see how it's relevant to the situation."
Jim's eyes never left Jack's face. The guy was doing a very good job of appearing only mildly interested. "It isn't."
"Oh, for crying out loud!" O'Neill suddenly looked at the ceiling, then met Jim's eyes. "Let's cut the crap. You've got heightened senses, right? You wanna keep it a secret. That's the big thing Serapis wanted to tell us in hopes of making a deal. You don't want us knowing about your abilities. Well, let me make it real easy for you." He swept an arm out. "All this is very top secret, hush-hush. We've got a gate that opens a wormhole to other planets, body-snatching aliens, and access to technology that would make everything on this planet obsolete. The fact that you can hear really good sort of pales in comparison." He leaned forward and enunciated his next words very carefully. "We don't care."
Oh, the guy was really annoying. A tiny smile touched Jim's lips. If they knew he could hear two guys talking about something called naquada one floor down and a couple of technicians arguing over some security coding down the hall, they might just care.
Jackson raised a finger. "Well, uh, I care. A little."
O'Neill shot the archeologist an annoyed look. "I thought you said it was irrelevant."
"To the situation," Jackson countered, flashing a brief, shallow smile, "but it's anthropologically interesting." He looked at Jim. "So, uh, how good are your senses?"
Jim turned flat eyes on to the man. "How much money is this project costing the tax-payers, anyway?"
Hammond chuckled, and Jim tore his gaze away from Jackson to look at the general.
"Okay, Captain." Hammond tilted his head deferentially. "We won't snoop into your secrets, and you won't snoop any further into ours. Fair enough?"
Jim nodded. "And it's 'Detective.' I retired from the military years ago."
"Detective." Hammond nodded and closed the file.
"How soon can we take Sandburg to this Hammer?" Jim asked.
"As soon as Doctor Fraiser gives the all-clear," the general answered.
"Okay, let's get this show on the road."
Jim frowned at O'Neill's exclamation as he followed the colonel into the infirmary. He wanted to move quickly and get that creature out of Sandburg as soon as possible, but he didn't appreciate some flyboy making light of the situation, not when Sandburg's life was literally on the line.
"Doc!" O'Neill moved further into the infirmary, and again Jim followed.
It was just the two of them. The other three members of O'Neill's team had gone their separate ways to prepare for the upcoming mission. He supposed planet-hopping was an everyday occurrence for these men and women. Personally, though, he was having a hard time wrapping his mind around the concept that, very soon, he would step foot on alien soil or rock or whatever.
"Yes, Colonel?" The petite doctor emerged from a rear room. She leaned against the doorframe, her hair pulled back, a few unruly strands framing her face.
"Is snake-head ready to travel?" O'Neill asked.
Jim took a breath. "His name is Sandburg."
O'Neill glanced over his shoulder at him, his eyes suddenly serious. "I know that."
Jim took a couple of steps closer to the colonel. "Then when you're in earshot of him, I'd appreciate you using his name."
O'Neill turned to face him. "Look, Ellison, I know Sandburg's your friend, but let me explain a few facts of life here at the SGC to you. Goa'uld are bad. Very bad. Serapis will use your concern for your friend against you."
Jim leveled a steady gaze on the man. "You let me worry about that."
"No, I have to worry about that." O'Neill pointed to the tag on his breast pocket. "See that. It says 'Colonel.' When we go through that gate, the safety of you, Sandburg, and my team will be my responsibility. You remember how that works, don't you, Captain?"
An image of a chopper heading for a cluster of trees mixed with the sound of his men's screams flashed through Jim's mind. "Yes, I remember." He took another step forward. "And Sandburg is my responsibility. My partner. Anything happens to him, and you bet your ass I'll be holding you responsible." Jim's eyes never flickered.
O'Neill held gaze a moment, then nodded. "Fair enough."
"If you gentlemen are through," Fraiser interrupted, "would one of you mind telling me what's going on?"
O'Neill turned his attention back to the doctor. "We're going to take the Sandburg through the Hammer on Cimmeria, and we need a medic with us. You up for the job?"
She nodded. "Yes, sir."
"How much time do you need?"
"An hour. He's still pretty groggy, so he's not going to be very mobile without help. However, the Goa'uld's resistance to the sedative is pretty high. He should be less affected by that time."
"All right. Get Sandburg secured and ready for transport. Have a couple armed guards escort you and the prisoner to the gate room when you're ready."
"And, of course, make sure he's in cuffs. Shackle his feet, too. Give him enough room to walk but not run."
She nodded. "Yes, sir."
O'Neill turned and brushed past Jim, waving a hand. "Come on. We need to set you up with a few things before you head through the gate."
Jim frowned as his hand went to the hilt of the knife tucked into the sheath at his side. O'Neill had refused to issue him a firearm or return his service gun, insisting it wouldn't matter, anyway, because their weapons probably wouldn't work in the cavern. The knife, being about as technology-less as one could get, would be the most pragmatic weapon.
Jim wasn't quite sure he agreed with that, especially since O'Neill packed himself a nice automatic piece, but since he had no real choice in the matter, he decided to just deal with it.
"And here we are." O'Neill sauntered through a doorway as a large, sliding door opened.
Wow. Jim stopped just beyond the room's threshold, tilting his head back to get a better look at the huge, circular object near the far wall. A metal ramp led up to it. The structure sat peacefully, looking like it belonged in a high-tech amusement park.
"That's the Stargate?" Jim staggered a few steps closer to the thing.
Footsteps beat against the floor, and Jim turned just in time to see the three remaining SG team members hurry into the room, dressed in camouflage uniforms. Each carried a small pack and a firearm, except for Teal'c, who carried what looked like a very large walking stick.
"You know that's not gonna work inside the cavern, Teal'c," Jack said.
Teal'c bowed his head. "It may prove useful once we exit the cavern."
"Ah." Jack turned to Jim. "You ready?"
"As I'll ever be." His gaze darted to the door. "Where's Sandburg and the doctor?"
"Should be here any . Aha!"
Doctor Fraiser appeared suddenly, dressed in similar combat fatigues, a large backpack slung over her shoulders. Two armed guards followed her, each with a hand wrapped around one of Sandburg's arm. Blair looked barely conscious. He seemed to have trouble standing on his own, and his eyes held a blank, glassy look. His wrists were secured behind his back, and shackles bound his ankles. Each shaky step he took caused the chain linking his feet to rattle, and something about the noise set the hair on the back of Jim's neck on end.
"Okay." Jack moved to the guards. "I think Teal'c and I can handle Mr. Sunshine from here on. Thanks."
Teal'c moved forward, taking Blair's arm as the two soldiers released him.
"Yes, sir." The guards saluted and turned, leaving the gate room. Jack glanced at the observation window overlooking the gate room and gave a wave.
Jim heard the general's voice over the PA system ordering P-something dialed. Almost immediately, the gate came to life, parts of it glowing. Then, the inner circle began to spin. One by one, triangular shapes on the outside of the circle lit up, and each time that happened, someone announced that a chevron had locked.
Suddenly, a huge splash of water erupted from the center of the gate, accompanied by a bone-shaking rumble. The tide fell back in on itself until it formed a sparkling, flat pool that reminded Jim of the surface of a lake on a slightly windy day.
Jim opened his mouth to talk and realized he could barely breathe. He felt like someone had his chest in a bear hug. Swallowing hard, he managed to exhale, then pull in a slow deep breath.
"You get used to it." O'Neill patted him on the shoulder. "It's a piece of cake. Trust me."