Stranglehold

Note: This story first appeared in Jmas' Ancient's Gate XII, Landscapes


"Welcome to Oneka." The tall mustached man stepped forward and held out his hand; his other clasped the head of a cane on which he leaned.

"Thank you for allowing us to come through, Mister Prime Minister." Daniel, recognizing the deep voice, stepped off the Stargate's dais to shake the proffered hand. "I'm Daniel Jackson."

"Ah, Doctor Jackson. It is a pleasure to finally meet you in person." Prime Minister Mollar looked expectantly at the rest of Daniel's team. "Major Carter," he said, singling out Sam and also offering her his hand.

"Sir." Sam reached forward and shook the man's hand.

"And this must be Colonel O'Neill."

Jack let go his hold on his P-90 and also greeted the Prime Minister. Teal'c, however, nodded his head regally and Daniel was relieved to see the man had easily picked up on Teal'c's body language and hadn't made any overture to touch him. The Prime Minister turned to the welcoming committee that had accompanied him.

"May I introduce Capit�n Jaseth Benak, Head of the People's Army."

A short, nearly balding man stepped forward. He stopped and with military precision, presented a quick, short bow before stepping back.

"And Doctors Eleryn Trendil and Arthan Pinwan, who are responsible for what you see here."

A petite blond woman in her forties smiled at them while an overweight, middle-aged man simply stared with something akin to hostility. Daniel knew there had been plenty of opposition in allowing outsiders to view their invention, but he'd thought it had been from the military contingent rather than the scientific.

"Their assistants, Haeclia Olon and Dara Habri." Two young men nodded at the introductions. Both appeared nervous and remained standing several feet behind the scientists.

Daniel had noticed the huge machinery dwarfing the Stargate; actually it was hard to miss. He'd mostly tried to ignore it while concentrating on the people before him, but now as he glanced around, he realized the enormity of the room they were standing in. Clearly several times the size of Earth's Gateroom, the device they had come to look at filled up most of the space.

After weeks of discussions and negotiations through the Stargate, they'd finally been granted permission to view the Energy Matter Converter, or "EMC".

"Come, we have a room nearby where we may talk. Eleryn will give you a tour afterwards."

"Excuse me. Your weapons?"

Capit�n Jaseth Benak and several of his guards stood blocking the way out of the Gateroom. Jack unclipped his P-90 with obvious reluctance and handed it over, then removed his sidearm from its holster, along with his knife. Protocol at the SGC was similar; Daniel knew Jack hated when his team was on the hand-over side of the practice. Once everyone had given up their arms, they were permitted to leave the room.

The way Sam had been looking around as they exited, Daniel couldn't help but wonder if she was going to strain her neck. Jack and Teal'c glanced politely at the large machinery, but Jack quickly came to attention when a military escort surrounded them and accompanied them.

It wasn't often SG-1 had a chance to visit a technologically advanced world comparable to Earth, and Daniel was looking forward to observing the similarities between them. Ironically, walking through the corridors which were made of a cement-like material was almost reminiscent of Cheyenne Mountain.

"If I may ask, exactly where are we?" The corridors were a maze; they'd taken several turns and Daniel was already lost.

"We're 600 feet inside a mountain, beneath one of the strongest bunkers ever built."

"A military bunker?" Jack asked.

"Yes. Built thirty years ago when our world was on the brink of war with the Republic of Dazan. The fallout from that battle was horrendous, but it did manage to bring peace to all our nations. We are all striving to improve our conditions, which is why this latest breakthrough is so important in creating clean energy."

They walked for several minutes until they reached an elevator. The car ascended several floors and they entered a nearby conference room. It had evidently been set up for a meeting; there were refreshments on a side table, large video screens adorned all four walls and before each seat were sets of schematics.

"Please, sit." Prime Minister Mollar moved to stand at the head of the large table and waited until SG-1, the two scientists, their assistants and the military leader had taken seats. Four guards positioned themselves along the inside walls. Daniel ignored them and with his index finger, tugged the closest schematic towards him and glanced at the diagram. He pushed the clear sheet of plastic back, unable to make sense of it. He glanced at Jack, who was turning one of the diagrams around and around on the table, obviously as confused as Daniel was.

Sam, on the other hand, had pulled several of the plastic sheets towards her and was tracing symbols and lines from one to another, softly mumbling to herself.

"Eleryn, if you'd be so kind as to begin," the Prime Minister said as he sat down and nodded at the blonde.

Eleryn Trendil stood and picked up a remote control, clicking it at a small machine sitting in the center of the table. All four video screens came to life. "We're presently counting down to a live demonstration, as soon as you provide us with the Stargate addresses. As you most likely know, a Stargate is a superconductor that creates an artificial wormhole which transfers an energized matter stream along an extra-dimensional conduit. What the EMC basically does is divert the matter stream, preventing it from forming into a wormhole and instead, converts that matter stream into energy which we've adapted as an alternate power source."

Eleryn walked around the table and pointed towards the images on one of the video screens. A huge slab that resembled a crystalline wall was being slowly lowered before the Stargate.

"Once the wormhole is established, we send a radio signal through it, thus maintaining a connection for approximately thirty-eight minutes."

"Yes, that's right," Sam said. "Unless the Stargate draws power from an alternate source at the other end of the wormhole, which will effectively negate the thirty-eight minute window."

Arthan Pinwan, who had been slouching in his seat, suddenly straightened. "Really? What alternate power sources have you encountered?"

"I don't think you wanna go that route." Jack had picked up the top sheet and was holding it to the light, trying to look through it. "Black holes," he said before Arthan could speak up again. "Trust me on this."

"The energy levels we're able to attain within those thirty-eight minutes are enough to power the city of Nelas for nearly a week. We've just finished installing power lines to the city of Serka. This demonstration will be the first transfer of energy to Serka, so in essence, you'll be witnessing the maiden voyage. Next in line will be Dallan, then Momir, and finally Parik. The last is a huge step forward in bringing the memories of our war to an end. Parik is Dazan's capital city."

"What you've done here is incredible." Sam finally put the plans down and glanced at the scientists seated before her before giving Eleryn her full attention. "What about safety precautions? By diverting the wormhole, you're probably negating all of the safety protocols that were built into the Stargate."

"We have taken all possible precautions, Major Carter. I'll be more than happy to go over them in detail with you after the demonstration. Of course, being in close proximity to the EMC while it's online could be hazardous in the long run due to trace radiation it emits, plus the powerful electromagnetic pulses it produces. But don't worry, as a precaution the room is shielded, as is all of this floor." She quickly glanced at the Prime Minister, who smiled.

"Yes, yes, I know." He looked at SG-1 with a sheepish grin. "I have a metallic plate in my leg and I've been warned over and over again to be within the safe areas when the EMC is online, as a precaution in case the shielding should leak."

Eleryn continued talking as she slowly paced across the room. "Actually, we've only come across one major problem with the EMC. Once we've directed the matter stream through the EMC, we are unable to utilize that planet's DHD for approximately one hundred and ninety hours afterwards. As you know, we only have the one address at the moment, apart from your own. Of course, with the other cities coming on line shortly, you can understand we're extremely eager to attain the new coordinates you're willing to share with us.

"We presume the problem lies with the EMC's redirection of the wormhole and that it takes this amount of time for the DHD to reset itself. We plan on sending teams to those planetary designations you are providing us with and use their Stargates to power the EMC, alternating between each Stargate at specific intervals.

"Haeclia and Dara have been trying to come up with a solution; while Arthan and myself have been occupied with setting up the power grids for Serka. But we're confident we'll solve this problem in the near future."

Daniel realized then and there that he'd make a huge mistake in interpreting the Onekians' request. "Uh," he said, bringing a finger up and pressing it against his lips. "About the Stargate addresses. I'm afraid I thought you wanted them in order to go out and explore..."

"Exploration may become an interest to the government at a later time," Prime Minister Mollar said. "Capit�n Benak has mentioned that he was curious as to what was out there. The world we have visited is barren of life and the team positioned there finds it extremely difficult to keeping itself entertained between dialing sequences." He smiled at the stony-faced man. "I do admit that after meeting you, my own curiosity has been piqued. But our main goal, at the moment, is to use the Stargate to bring clean power to the major cities. I hope this isn't a problem for you."

"The problem isn't that you want to use the Stargates; the problem is how you're using them. I'm afraid that the planet designations I've been authorized to give you are those of occupied planets, with people who are looking for allies, trading partners... If you use those 'gate addresses, you'll essentially be cutting off people from using their own Stargates."

"I thought we had been clear about our needs." Capit�n Benak finally spoke up, his voice deep and threatening.

"Yes, yes, you have, and giving you 'gate addresses in exchange for the plans isn't a problem. I just need to get authorization to give you different addresses, to planets that aren't inhabited."

Capit�n Benak gave Daniel a dirty look and Daniel made a small, embarrassed sound as he glanced down at his hands. He could feel everyone's eyes on him and although he knew it would just be a formality to get new sets of glyphs, he had the feeling that he'd made a major faux pas.

When the cold dialing program had made a connection with the Onekian Stargate, Prime Minister Mollar had been adamant at first to disallow anyone through to their planet. It was only through several tentative discussions that they'd become amenable to a visit. The final breakthrough had been the offer of Stargate designations, of which Daniel had evidently made the wrong choice. Three of the five planets were inhabited and the fourth had such archeological treasures that he abhorred the thought of locking up the Stargate to it, despite the promise of the technology they were about to witness.

"I understand, Doctor Jackson. I'm sorry I wasn't clearer in our requirements."

"No." Daniel drew out the word. "It's understandable since we didn't quite comprehend how the EMC worked." He flashed a quick smile at the Prime Minister. "It's easily remedied. I just need to contact the SGC to get General Hammond's authorization for new ones." Already he had a half dozen possibilities going through his head. He was just sorry they hadn't known so he could have made provisions ahead of time for just this occurrence. "But I can give you this 'gate address as a start."

He looked around for something to write on. One of the assistants quickly handed Daniel pen and paper. He scribbled the glyphs and handed them to Eleryn. "It's uninhabited; locking up the Stargate won't make any difference one way or the other." Eleryn smiled widely as she accepted the paper from Daniel.

"Thank you. I'll have the team contacted so they can progress to this address and use this secondary Stargate for the test." She moved to a small panel on the wall and began speaking into it.

An alarm went off and everyone glanced up at the video screens. They showed the crystalline wall positioned just in front the Stargate, mimicking their own protective titanium shield.

"Isn't that gonna prevent the wormhole from forming?" Jack glanced at Sam with a sly rise of his eyebrow. "Like our iris?"

Sam grinned across the table from him. "Not unless they place the screen three micrometers from the event horizon, sir. This won't stop the wormhole; actually it'll make it even more powerful."

"That's right, Major," Eleryn said as people began to evacuate the Gateroom. "Simply said, the subatomic particles from the wormhole are redirected into the space between the wormhole and the crystals by a particle accelerator. Moving at near-light velocities, we can quadruple the energy as the subatomic particles meet with those still moving through the wormhole. This energy then goes through the Indexer, which absorbs it and begins to move it through the EMC and to the conduits to where the power is actually needed. In this case, it'll be going to the city of Serka."

"Simple for you to say," Jack said under his breath. Daniel bit the inside of his mouth to hold back a smile as he waited politely to see if there were more explanations coming.

"Um..." Daniel raised a finger and then put his hand down when everyone looked at him. He felt like he was missing something, and didn't want to seem like an idiot for pointing out the obvious. "Don't you have to contact the people on the planet where your team is situated? If you dial out, won't the wormhole's backwash destroy part of your equipment?"

Eleryn smiled. "The primary Stargate is relatively close to this planet so we are able to remain in contact with our team through deep space communications. They have received the information and should transfer to the coordinates you provided shortly at the secondary Stargate. We are scheduled to begin within the next twelve minutes."

"Ah," Daniel said. He didn't miss the look that passed between Sam and Jack. Obviously their communications system was another small piece of technology they'd have to bargain for on this mission.

"Excuse me." Arthan stood abruptly and walked out of the room, leaving Daniel and his team staring in confusion.

"He'll oversee the EMC from the main lab. Although it's not necessary to do so; we can access the EMC's main controls remotely through three shielded terminals within the complex. We would have brought you to the lab but it's more crowded and the chairs not quite as comfortable." She motioned to the refreshments. "We still have a few minutes as the EMC is powered up. If you'd like to avail yourself of some tea and baked goods?"

Two younger men that Daniel suspected were cadets who'd been standing by the door stepped forward and moved stiffly to the refreshment table. They poured several cups of tea and brought a tray of what looked like cookies and muffins. Daniel accepted a cup of tea and two cookies and began nibbling while he waited.

Sam and Eleryn were discussing the schematics, their conversation way beyond Daniel's grasp so he glanced around the table. Jack looked bored. He'd taken a muffin and was slowly breaking it apart, making what looked like a wall of crumbs around the edge of the plate.

Teal'c had remained silent throughout the presentation. He sat now, hands clasped before him, quiet and stolid, totally at odds with Jack's restlessness.

The cookie tasted odd; dry and not sweet enough for his tastes. He ate one then pushed the second aside. He sipped the tea, which was hot and flavorful.

Another alarm sounded and Eleryn spoke over the noise. "The secondary Stargate has been activated."

At Eleryn's pronouncement, everyone looked up at the screens. One by one, the glyphs on the Stargate lit up.

The room began to rumble and the cup of tea vibrated on the table, forming small ripples. Daniel clamped down on the cup as it made a slow dance across the tabletop. The 'gate was still spinning noisily and once the seventh glyph locked, the wormhole formed behind the crystalline wall.

Instead of spurting outwards in a majestic show of energy, the vortex was absorbed by the crystal wall, preventing it from forming into the normal blue puddle of an open wormhole. Instead the vortex remained active, the swirling white energy flowing between the 'gate and the crystals.

"The vibrations you feel are the result of the EMC absorbing the energy." Eleryn had to raise her voice slightly over the rumbling, which Daniel uneasily thought felt a little too familiar. He met Sam's concerned gaze over the table and he thought she was thinking the same thing. Their Stargate had shook and rumbled the exact same way in the early days, before they had installed frequency dampers on it.

Either the Onekians had grossly misunderstood the Stargate itself, or else Daniel was worrying for nothing.

- - - - - -

To be honest, the whole thing was boring. Oh, it was impressive if you looked at the sheer size of the machinery but the crystal wall distorted the visual force of the vortex, creating a swirl of white which lit up the room. The vibrations were also starting to get on Jack's nerves and were making it nearly impossible to talk.

Jack had grown weary with exchanging daring looks with the Capit�n. He looked to Daniel for a distraction but his friend was staring off into the distance, apparently preoccupied with something.

Carter had already buried her head in the myriad of plans laid out on the table, accompanied by the scientist and her two assistants.

The Prime Minister was rubbing his forehead, giving the impression that the shake, rattle and roll going on gave him a headache. He caught Jack's gaze and quickly lowered his hand.

"My office is shielded from all of this," Prime Minister Mollar said with a flick of two fingers. "I'd forgotten how wearisome it can be."

"Why not put the dampers on the Stargate and the EMC itself instead of around the complex?"

Mollar blinked at Jack a moment before answering. "Placing dampeners on the Stargate would be a huge undertaking. It's easier to simply eliminate the problem in key areas."

"Our Stargate used to shake just like that at first. We don't have a problem with it anymore. Maybe Carter can have a look and see if it's doable."

"I assure you, Colonel, our scientists have quite examined the matter and there is nothing to be done except live with it."

Jack shrugged. Just so long as he didn't have to live with it. It had been bad enough that the Stargate had rumbled during the dial-up process; with the adaptations the Onekians had made, the vibrations would continue until the 'gate powered down.

There was a counter ticking off the minutes in the corner of the video screens and Jack could have cheered when it finally hit 30 minutes. He began mentally counting the seconds, betting with himself at exactly what moment the wormhole would disengage. He wasn't paying much attention to those at the table so he jumped when Daniel leaned over and spoke to him.

"I'd like to go back and get those Stargate addresses as soon as possible."

"Too much excitement for you to take in one sitting?"

Daniel lowered his gaze, flicking a couple of quick glances over at Jack before replying.

"No, it's just that they're eager to share their technology with us. I feel a little embarrassed that I misunderstood what they wanted. I'd like to fix that and the best way is getting General Hammond's okay for more addresses."

Jack was a little surprised at Daniel's wanting to return to Earth. If Daniel or Carter could come up with some viable addresses, Jack had authority to okay them in the field. "You know I could have�"

"I know. But I really need to double check the field missions before I make a final decision. I don't feel comfortable in being the one who decides which planet will have their Stargate out of bounds for days on end... for all we know some of those inhabitants will want to use the 'gate for their own advantage."

"Fine." Sudden silence filled the room as the Stargate shut down.

"Eleryn, perhaps you could give the tour now?" Prime Minister Mollar looked around the room as if he were trying to gauge everyone's reaction to a lovely, inspiring tour of a facility that looked way too similar to home. Actually Jack was interested to see what these people might have done differently; what did bug him was Capit�n Benak's dour face which led Jack to believe the man was definitely not happy about SG-1 being here. He wondered for a moment if he ever gave off the same impression at times to visiting aliens on Earth. He hoped he had a better poker face than Benak.

"Actually, Mr. Prime Minister, if you wouldn't mind, I'd like to return to Earth and see about getting the 'gate addresses for you."

Mollar's face broke into a smile at Daniel's request, his eyes shining brightly as he nodded. "Of course. It will take a few minutes to get the EMC clear of the Stargate."

"We can escort you to the Stargate," Haeclia offered, looking to the Prime Minister for permission. "Dara and I have to go back there and meet Doctor Pinwan to run some diagnostics on the machinery, in any case."

Without a word, Capit�n Benak motioned to the guards standing by the door and one of them immediately took a step forward. Daniel glanced at Jack and using the table, pushed himself up from the chair.

"I won't be long, an hour or two at the most."

Daniel, escorted by a military guard, followed the two young assistants out the door. Carter and Eleryn were still discussing the schematics as they slowly stood. Capit�n Benak looked like he was ready to tug on the scientist's arm to get her moving while the Prime Minister cleared his throat. Startled, both women looked up guiltily.

They apologized and Jack rolled his eyes towards Teal'c, who had spent the majority of the trip so far watching quietly. He knew Teal'c didn't miss a thing and eager as he was for the tour, he was also wishing he had some private time to discuss what they'd seen with his team.

He followed Mollar out the room, expecting to be wowed.

- - - - - -

And he'd thought things couldn't get more boring. When everyone's gaze was invited up to a blinking light two stories high, Jack pulled his sleeve back and raised the protective cover of his watch.

Nearly three hours. My how time flew when one was bored out of their minds.

As they were led past the blinking light that had Carter so transfixed, Jack wondered how many more pieces of machinery they'd be brought to in order to gape at and watch Carter and Eleryn excitedly discuss wormholes and matter stream deviations and Krispy Kremes, although at this point his mind was so numb Jack couldn't remember when the donuts had come into the conversation.

And where the hell was Daniel? He was past due and although Jack wasn't exactly worried, he wondered what the snafu was. Then again maybe Daniel was back and his escort simply couldn't find the tour group because everyone kept missing one another in the honeycomb of tunnels.

Eleryn punched in a security code on a keypad and the doors opened. They went through and Jack realized they were back in the Gateroom. The EMC was once again in position before the Stargate and even as Eleryn and Capit�n Benak came to a halt, the Stargate began to rotate. Someone was dialing in.

A screeching alarm sounded just as Benak and Eleryn yelled for them to evacuate the room. Even as Teal'c and Carter ran out, Jack cast a glance beside him to make sure the Prime Minister was safe. Capit�n Benak had a firm grip on the Prime Minister's arm and was pulling him out into the corridor. The man was limping heavily, pulled off balance by Benak's hold.

But something had caught Teal'c's attention and he turned and ran back into the room. Jack stopped and yelled after his teammate. Then he saw what had caught Teal'c's notice. A pair of boots. Soles pointing towards them. Someone was down.

For a moment Jack feared it was Daniel but the color of the uniform indicated it was one of Capit�n Benak's men. Jack ran after Teal'c and together they grabbed the arms of the military guard and dragged him into the hallway.

One of the guards hit a button as they cleared the exit. The steel doors closed, blocking their view of the Gateroom. The alarm could still be heard inside, muffled by the heavy doors.

"He's alive." Benak was kneeling beside his guard, a hand held against his neck, checking his pulse.

"What just happened?" From the shocked looks of their hosts, Jack was sure he wasn't going to get an answer right away. The vibrations from the Stargate were louder here, and everyone raised their voices to speak over the noise.

"I don't know. We aren't scheduled to make another run from the primary Stargate until we send another team through tomorrow. The post should be empty. The EMC shouldn't even be in position!" Eleryn was striding to a console on the wall. She pushed a button and called for medical help.

It was Carter who found the dart on the man's body. "This must be what knocked him out." She pulled out the tiny barb and held it up for everyone to see.

"Was there anyone else inside?" Prime Minister Mollar looked a little pale as he leaned against the wall and stared at the fallen guard.

"There was not. Although it would be prudent were you to confirm that fact with your monitoring devices."

"Did Daniel come back?" Jack asked sharply. "He should have been here over an hour ago."

Immediately Eleryn pushed another button and began inquiring about Dr. Jackson's whereabouts. Arthan Pinwan's voice came out of the speakers.

"How the Xiran Keys should I know? I'm not a baby sitter. And I need you here, right now. We have an emergency."

"Yes, Arthan, I know. But I need to know whether Daniel Jackson ever returned from his home planet. Your logs would tell you if the Stargate had dialed in."

"Returned from Earth? What are you talking about? He never left here, how would you expect him to come back?"

"Arthan, I need you to double check the logs, now. Did Daniel Jackson ever leave Oneka?"

"I don't need to check the logs. I was in the Gateroom up until ten minutes ago when I was called back because Taron had found some strange readings. The Stargate was never activated until now. Eleryn, there's a problem. I need you to here immediately."

"What about Haeclia and Dara? They were with Daniel Jackson."

"Those two lazy brats never showed up and I had to run the diagnostics by myself."

Even as Eleryn continued questioning Arthan, Capit�n Benak was hurrying to another communications console and was ordering a search. Jack felt helpless; he wanted to do something - damn, this was Daniel who was missing, but plain logic told him there was no way he'd be able to find his way in these tunnels.

Prime Minister Mollar, leaning heavily on his cane, moved to stand beside Eleryn and interrupted Arthan Pinwan. "Who gave the order to dial the Stargate?"

"Nobody did, Mr. Prime Minister. The Stargate was activated from our primary Stargate."

"Then shut it down."

"That's the problem, sir. I can't."

"Then it'll shut itself off in another thirty three minutes. Jaseth, I want your people to�"

"Mr. Prime Minister, it's more serious than that. The matter stream indexer is gone. Even when the Stargate disengages, the energy will have nowhere to go. The pressure inside the EMC will build until it explodes."

"Xiran Keys!" Eleryn's face paled. "Sir, I need to get to the main lab. If the indexer is gone, that means that the whole complex may be destroyed."

"Eleryn." Carter's face voice was urgent. "Based upon what I could understand from the plans, it could be worse. There's a distinct possibility that the energy buildup will ignite the Naquadah inside the Stargate. The explosion could destroy the whole planet."

"I thought they'd taken precautions against that," Jack said softly to Teal'c. He didn't miss the alarmed expression on Carter's face and he gave her a slight nod when she raised her eyebrows in an unspoken request.

The Prime Minister nodded at Eleryn, granting permission for her to leave.

"Wait." Carter stepped forward. "Maybe I can help," she said with a slight shrug.

The Prime Minister's face closed and Jack knew he was going to refuse her request, but Eleryn quickly spoke up.

"I could use her help. She has a different insight to things and she's worked with their world's Stargate. With Haeclia and Dara missing, we're going to be short-handed."

"I am sorry, but I have to refuse your request. None of you are going anywhere except to a holding cell."

"What?" Eleryn's cry was echoed by Carter and Jack.

Everyone turned to Capit�n Benak, who, along with six of his guards, was holding a weapon on SG-1.

"Do you think we are fools, Colonel? You come here offering friendship and trade, and then you send your operative within our complex to steal one of the main components of the most brilliant invention of our world."

"We didn't send Daniel off to steal anything," Jack growled. "I'm sure you have surveillance cameras all over this place. Why don't you just go back to three hours ago and see what the hell happened to him!"

"Even as spies, you lack imagination. My men have already informed me that several of our cameras have been disabled."

"Obviously it is your security that is lacking," Teal'c intoned. "Two of your people have also disappeared, one of your guards rendered unconscious and your equipment has suffered premeditated sabotage. Maybe it is we who should question as to why it has taken three hours for this to have been discovered."

"Go." Benak nodded to Eleryn, who gave SG-1 a wide berth. She took off running down the corridor followed by a small security detail, while Benak motioned for the remaining guards to force SG-1 forward.

"Please, you're making a mistake." Carter kept her eyes on the Prime Minister as they were ushered past him down the corridor. "Why would we steal the one thing that would endanger the whole planet? And ourselves in the process?"

"Be quiet." One of the guards nudged her shoulder with his gun.

"Benak," Jack said in a neutral voice as Benak accompanied them. "Someone's planned this very carefully. Whoever did this is trying to make it look like we're the guilty party and if you lock us up and throw away the key, you're going to be losing precious time in finding the ones responsible. Think about it. Why would we want to take something that would endanger the whole planet?"

"Jaseth, he may be right." The Prime Minister had followed them into the next corridor and hurried past the guards to stand next to the Capit�n. "Maybe it was The Alliance."

Motioning for the guards to stop, Benak turned to face the Prime Minister. "They would never stoop to anything this bold."

"Um, folks, Alliance?" Jack prodded. It figured there was some sort of opposition for the use of something as controversial as using a Stargate to generate power for a city, and nobody had thought it necessary to mention it to SG-1 during their tour.

"The Alliance is composed of archaeologists, scientists, adventurers and dreamers who wish to use the Stargate to explore the universe, the way your people do. No offence, Colonel," the Prime Minister added.

"None taken." Because Jack knew that if the plans to this energy converter were as good as had been promised, the use of their own Stargate for exploration could become severely curtailed.

"Prime Minister Mollar, please contact the Main Lab."

The mechanical voice came through loudspeakers set several feet apart. Jack winced as the announcement repeated at high volume, vying for supremacy with the continued rumbling of the Stargate.

"This is Mollar," the Prime Minister said after punching a button on a communications panel.

"Sir, you need to see this." Arthan's voice sounded panicked. "I'm sending it to the nearest video feed."

A part of the wall lit up several feet away. They all moved towards it and Jack's blood froze when he saw the images.

- - - - - -

Daniel knew he was standing up, only because his legs wouldn't hold his weight. Someone had an uncomfortably tight grasp on his arms and kept tugging him upwards. His head was pounding and his mouth was extremely dry and thick. He couldn't seem to open his eyes, his head was hanging helplessly onto his chest.

He felt cold and clammy fingers on his neck as they raised his head up. The sudden realization of his vulnerability did more to give him strength to open his eyes and try to stand, than the knowledge that he had been taken prisoner.

The first thing he saw was a video camera set up in front of him. The second thing was one of his captors, who was wearing a hood of some kind over his head, preventing Daniel from seeing his face. Another person behind him held him up while his captor attached some kind of collar around his throat. As the collar was pulled tight, the sensation of choking forced him to shift his weight forward and up. Belatedly he realized the collar was attached to the ceiling.

Still unsteady on his feet, he gagged as he shifted sideways, his weight suddenly supported by the collar. But a tug on his arm had him back upright, the lights situated behind the camera's tripod blinding him and making his headache worse.

He tried to raise his hands to pull the collar away, to force some slack between his throat and the leather, but when his hands wouldn't move he realized belatedly they were tied together behind his back. In order to keep pressure off his throat, he needed to rise up slightly on the balls of his feet. Within seconds he knew this position was going to be extremely uncomfortable and downright painful before too long.

There was movement to his right and slightly behind him. He tried to turn, but the action tightened the noose around his neck, choking him. He gasped and coughed, quickly moving his head back and balancing on wobbly legs.

Once he caught his balance, the vice-like grips on his arms released. He swayed, suddenly afraid to lose topple over. After several attempts, he managed to gain his precarious equilibrium.

There was nowhere to look but forward. Squinting into the strong lights, he glanced towards the camera. As he stared beyond the glare, he realized he could see the reflections of himself and both Haeclia Olon and Dara Habri in the camera lens.

Daniel's last clear memory was of the two young assistants escorting him back to the Stargate. Someone must have jumped them and administered a drug, then dragged them back here, wherever here was.

"Why are you doing this? What do you want with us?" Though talking was uncomfortable, it was manageable. The motion irritated his throat, making him want to cough.

"Silence." The deep voice came from Daniel's right, close to his ear.

"If it's ransom you want, you have to know that my government will not give in to threats." Daniel had to stop and clear his throat. "You may as well let�"

"I said, be quiet." A cruel and painful grip twisted Daniel's chin sideways. As he opened his mouth to gasp for breath, a piece of cloth was stuffed inside his mouth, forcing him to breathe through his nose. A cloth was wrapped around his jaw, holding the gag in place.

The same deep voice gave the order to turn the sound on as he moved behind Daniel.

"We are The Alliance." The shadowy figure moved past Daniel, speaking to the camera. He was wearing loose, dark clothing, preventing anyone from clearly seeing his shape. A hood also covered his face. "As you can see, we have taken five of your people as prisoners."

Five? Trying to ignore the discomfort of the cloth inside his mouth, Daniel tried to glimpse more forms through the camera lens. Unfortunately he could only make out the two young assistants on either side of him.

"By now you will have discovered we are also in possession of a piece of machinery called a matter stream indexer. We could talk semantics and say we're holding the indexer for ransom; in actuality, the Alliance will return the indexer to you the moment you tell the world that the EMC is unsafe and that you're shutting the program down.

"To do otherwise will lead to the destruction of this facility, and of everyone inside." The man waved his hand as if talking about a trivial matter. "A small price to pay for a safe environment. The war resulted in so much damage to our ecosystem and in your haste to trick the peoples of Dazan and Oneka into believing you are sympathetic to their plight, you are polluting our world."

There was the sound of a struggle. Someone was breathing harshly as two more hooded men forced a person forward. Daniel rolled his eyes to the right, trying to see what was happening.

"We will kill these prisoners if you do not dismantle the EMC immediately. We have given up asking that you listen to us. Now that we have your attention, you will listen. The EMC is unsafe and your security in this complex is laughable. If we were able to infiltrate and even send a team to the primary Stargate without you noticing, what about the Dazan � imagine if we were still at war?

"You say the EMC produces clean energy; we have proof that the EMC gives off damaging radiation. How much time before its use begins to kill off the flora and fauna that exist outside the mountain? And not only here in Nelas � the power lines are unsafe, the holding generators and batteries all leak radiation from here to Serka. How much time before it begins to affect the population in general?

"You plan on making all of Oneka dependent on the EMC, disregarding the concerns raised by Doctor Rerah. That he died of mysterious causes before he could bring the concerns before the Board of Health and Natural Affairs apparently was a blessing in disguise for you, Prime Minister Mollar.

"And if the health of your citizens isn't enough, what happened to the bill put forth by Senator Cringle to pool resources with the Dazan? This machine could put us back on the brink of war! And yet here you are, willing to share your plans with visitors from another world � when you would not do so with Prime Minister Gemura. Is Dazan any less important than these strangers?

"The alien device that feeds the power to the EMC should be used for exploration, to gain allies as well as discover a wealth of knowledge. Both for the Onekians and the Dazan, together, instead of wasting your time in ensuring a slow, painful death of your people.

"We are determined to stop you, Mr. Prime Minister. We have unlimited access to your complex; you will not find us. We have control of your security system. We have blocked all the exits. If you do not dismantle the EMC immediately, we will allow the pressure to build within the Converter until it destroys itself and everyone here with it. You have the choice; dismantle the EMC and announce publicly that you have discovered it was unsafe, or die.

"We do not speak lightly. We attempted to negotiate with you amicably but you would not listen. Now, we speak in a language you will certainly understand."

The man who'd been speaking made a small motion with his hand and Daniel saw the glint of a knife. Two men moved forward, pushing one of Benak's guards ahead of them. The speaker handed one of the men the knife and he slit the guard's throat before Daniel realized what was going to happen. He yelled but the gag muffled his cry.

"My condolences to his family. But people will soon come to know that his death had meaning when they learn what you've been hiding from us all. This man will be a hero."

The guard fell to his knees and his captors let him go. He collapsed to the ground where he lay writhing, blood pouring out of the grizzly wound.

For a moment it felt like the breath was knocked out of Daniel. He couldn't get any air into his lungs and what he managed to drag through his nose didn't feel like oxygen, but some nameless, invisible gas that only succeeded in making him lightheaded. Biting down hard on the gag, Daniel fought to control his inhalations, afraid he was going to hyperventilate.

"We give you one hour to dismantle the EMC and announce to the world that the project is unreliable and that you are shutting it down."

By the time Daniel got control of himself again, the audio had been disconnected, their captors had stepped behind their prisoners and left the room, and the guard was dead.

The camera was still filming; Daniel could see the small green light blinking slowly as the video feed continued to stream to somewhere, presumably inside the complex as he was addressing the Prime Minister. Daniel just hoped they could figure out where they were being held before these madmen ended up killing someone else.

- - - - - -

"Who the hell are these people?" Furious, Jack turned on Mollar and Benak. "You said they were scientists and archaeologists."

Benak ignored Jack's outburst and was giving orders into the nearest communications panel. "I want an account of the whereabouts of all personnel. This has to be an inside job � I want to know who let them in and who gave them access to the indexer."

"Capit�n." Carter shrugged off the guard's hold on her arm as she tried to get the man's attention. "It's obvious these people don't know the full extent of the danger they've just put everyone in. They think they're going to blow up this installation if they don't get their way. But they will end up blowing up the planet if we don't find that indexer. Is there any way of tracing that video feed?"

"Eleryn?" The Prime Minister prompted with regard to Carter's question.

"They're on a scrambled connection," the scientist said, her voice shaky as it came out of the speakers. "We have no way of tracing them. And he's right � he's got control of our security. The whole complex is locked in." There was some background noise that sounded like someone typing on a keyboard. "We have full internal communications and limited outside communications. The interior of the facility is on partial lockdown; we can access a couple floors in either direction. Access to any doors leading to the exterior is on full lockdown, even the escape hatches. Even if we could blast our way out, we'd have to�"

"Blast our way through several feet of reinforced steel and concrete. I know," Mollar said tiredly.

"We have equipment that can trace these transmissions. Colonel, when the 'gate disengages, permission to contact Earth to get�"

Jack nodded, scratching his cheek as Mollar and Benak both turned on Carter angrily. "This is what exploration is all about," Jack quickly interjected before they could voice their opinions. "This is what we do. We trade, share, form alliances. We have technology which we've gotten from other people whom we've met through the Stargate. Let us help." God, that was Daniel they had tied up front and center � whoever had orchestrated this attack couldn't have timed it better. Now they had even more leverage; because Jack would be damned if he'd just sit back and not even try to do something to save Daniel from that madman.

"Very well. She can get the equipment." Mollar spoke into the communications panel again. "Eleryn, we're coming to the main lab. We need to dial Earth."

"Get me a recording of that transmission," Benak barked into the communications panel.

"Did you recognize any of them?" Mollar spoke softly and Jack saw the gleam of satisfaction in Benak's expression when he nodded.

"I'm not sure, but I think I might have."

"What the Alliance stated about the radiation." Teal'c stood beside Jack, hands clasped behind his back. "Is there any verity to this statement?"

"Yes, yes, of course there's radiation," Prime Minister Mollar answered as he motioned everyone to follow him. Even with the use of his cane, the man walked briskly down the corridor.

Jack glanced at the video display before following the Prime Minister down the hallway. Daniel looked mighty uncomfortable trussed up by the neck as he was. And that gag... Jack shook off a frisson of fear that whatever Daniel had said or done to deserve the gag hadn't warranted making him the Alliance's first target. But then again, Daniel was probably their ace in the hole. The Onekians probably wouldn't want to chance going to war with the people of Earth over the death of one of their representatives.

The live feed followed them down the corridors, prominently shown on video screens placed at strategic locations. Daniel, the two young assistants and the second security guard held prisoner in front of the camera. Bright lights illuminated them clearly and Jack could see sweat beading on their faces. Their mouths moved occasionally and Jack figured they were talking to one another.

"The radiation is part of the reason why nobody is allowed inside the Gateroom until the EMC has been disconnected," Prime Minister Mollar was saying. "It dissipates quickly, absorbed into the air within minutes."

"Wait a second." Jack began to raise a finger at the Prime Minister, dragging his gaze from the monitor, then quickly squelched the urge and made a fist instead. "You never mentioned radiation." He glanced at Carter and Teal'c. "Did he?"

"Yes, I believe he did, O'Neill."

"I assure you, Colonel. All is within acceptable levels," the Prime Minister said over his shoulder.

The Capit�n opened his mouth to say something, then quickly closed it. He glared at Jack when he noticed Jack watching him.

"Sir, some radiation doesn't just dissipate," Carter said softly at his side. "If it's in such strong concentrations during the operation of the conversion, then repeated use of the EMC could create such high doses over time that eventually would make it impossible to even enter the Gateroom. The Alliance could be speaking the truth. It wouldn't happen overnight but it could occur within a few years. Or less, depending on how much radiation there is in the first place. Again, I'd need to look at their data and run my own tests..."

"Get what you need, Major," Jack said just as softly. "I have a feeling this clean energy isn't quite as clean as we were led to believe. Or else the Alliance is trying to force their hand in more ways than one."

For the next half hour, Jack watched everyone in the main lab do their thing while his gaze was glued to Daniel. That the prisoners were uncomfortable was without a doubt. Jack could see how they were kept off balance. In order not to strangle themselves on their collars; their legs had to be burning. Jack noted that any movement caused the tethers around their necks to tighten, causing them to cough, which created even more discomfort. A Catch-22.

Their captors were careful to remain out of the camera's range. Still, Benak sat before a computer monitor, repeatedly replaying the tape they'd made of the Alliance's demands. As Jack paced, he watched the Capit�n and suddenly he realized his focus wasn't on the man in charge, who'd been standing to Daniel's right. It was on one of the other two; the one who had cut the guard's carotid artery.

Jack walked around the room, coming up behind Benak and then watched the tape as he replayed it again. Just for a second, the man's arm pulled back and dislodged the hood. A beaked nose and full, prominent lips were visible for a several seconds. In a split screen, Benak was running some sort of identification program. Faces were flashing on the screen, occasionally pausing while Benak examined and then discarded them.

By the time the wormhole finally disengaged and the Stargate available to them to dial up Earth, Benak had found what seemed a likely match.

"We may have a problem, sir," Carter said as Eleryn brought up the screen for dialing the Stargate. "Eleryn has control of the Stargate for the moment. When we dial Earth, the terrorists may be able to see the glyphs. We don't know how elaborate their setup is, whether they've also got access to the internal video links in the building.

"They've already caused the damage by running the EMC without the indexer; if we don't get the indexer back online within five hours, the buildup will ignite the Naquadah in the Stargate and the resulting explosion will destroy everything."

"I know that�"

"If they can get hold of Earth's address, what's to stop them from taking control of the Stargate again just to prevent us from escaping when the�"

"They may already have Earth's address." Jack looked at Eleryn Trendil, who was waiting for Carter to give her the go-ahead to dial. "I mean, we've been dialing back and forth for the past weeks. Go on, we need to find Daniel and stop these people."

Carter nodded and hurried to Eleryn, who set the Stargate in motion. Seconds later, she was talking to Hammond, providing a quick briefing and then giving Siler instructions of the equipment she required. When she finished, Jack walked over to the mic, although he kept his attention on the Prime Minister.

"Sirs. I'd suggest we keep the wormhole engaged for as long as possible on our end. General Hammond, if we don't have any teams scheduled to return in the near future, would it be possible to dial Oneka the moment the Stargate disconnects? This way we'd have some sort of control over the Stargate, not that it won't make much of a difference in the long run."

"Siler says he'll have the equipment ready for me in about 30 minutes. He can send it through when General Hammond dials here in�" Carter checked her watch. "� approximately twenty-five minutes."

- - - - - -

"Mr. Prime Minister." Benak quietly called the man over, and Jack took a few steps closer so that he would be included in the discussion. "I'm fairly certain this man�" He pointed at the hooded figure who had been exposed for those few, crucial seconds. "� is Armura Elon." Benak looked up quickly at Jack. The earlier hostility towards Jack and his team was gone. "He is a known rebel within the Dazan Republic."

"And was Itilar Cyvan's right hand man," Mollar said curtly. "Damn. What's he trying to do?"

"So we are not dealing with the Alliance?" Teal'c had stepped closer to the two men, obviously eavesdropping.

"No. We're not." Mollar walked to a desk behind them, picked up a phone and began punching numbers. "The war between Oneka and Dazan ended only after the people rebelled against Cyvan's rule. The majority of the population of Dazan wanted peace and he wouldn't give it to them.

"Our war was centuries' old. It had begun over a trivial matter between two feuding families and escalated to a point where the rulers eventually had to get involved. Peace came tentatively a year ago after months of clandestine meetings and negotiations. Cyvan's own army overthrew him. It was a bloodless and well-executed coup; Cyvan was taken into custody, the people of Dazan elected a new Prime Minister, and we have been at peace ever since."

"And so it appears that these rebels wish to create not only physical damage to this installation, but to discredit the current governing body by forcing you to admit the EMC is dangerous." Teal'c stood looking over Jack's shoulder at the computer screen. "Perhaps this Armura Elon wishes the freedom of his leader and retribution for what was done to his country?"

"No, he wouldn't want that." Benak lowered his voice as Prime Minister Mollar began speaking on the phone. "You see, Armura Elon was the person who executed the military coup. He's the reason Oneka is now at peace with Dazan. He was the one who initiated all the secret negotiations against his leader, Itilar Cyvan."

- - - - - -

Daniel wasn't sure which was the most uncomfortable; the burning muscles in his legs, those in his lower back and shoulders, the leather strap around his throat that was beginning to chafe, the glare and heat of the lights focused on him, or the intense dryness in his mouth and throat thanks to the gag.

The smell of feces, vomit and blood was nauseating. The dead guard had been left on the floor, like road kill, and someone behind him had noisily lost his lunch earlier. Daniel didn't envy him that exercise, not with the way they were trussed up.

Extremely conscious of the camera aimed towards them, Daniel attempted to show no emotions or discomfort. His captors had left them alone, moving into a side room. He could hear them moving around, talking and laughing occasionally, but couldn't make out what they were saying.

He slowly turned his head to the left, trying to glimpse his fellow prisoners. The pressure against his throat increased and he held his breath for a moment, suppressing the forced urge to cough. Haeclia was breathing fast and loud, almost hyperventilating. The smell of vomit was stronger here and Daniel guessed he was the one who'd been sick. Occasionally Daniel would hear small scraps of whispers as the man uttered quick prayers. The second guard was directly behind Haeclia, out of Daniel's view. He hoped Haeclia would look at him but the man was staring straight ahead, his face shiny with sweat, his hair damp and straggly.

Daniel shifted to the front again, his throat smarting from the strap's pressure. He waited a moment, then turned to his right. Dara, on the other hand, looked calm and composed. He turned slightly to meet Daniel's gaze and there was a look in the man's eyes that was unmistakable. Daniel had seen the same expression in Jack, Sam and Teal'c, when they, despite all odds, had taken control of a situation and knew they had the upper hand.

Dara knew something. His lips curled slightly as his gaze moved forward again. There was no fear in his eyes. No uncertainty. And it wasn't because he'd made peace with his god and was ready to die. No, this man knew he wasn't about to die.

Puzzled, Daniel turned forward again just as footsteps came into the room. Reflections caught on the camera lenses and their captors moved forward. Several hooded men circled them, staying close to the walls. Daniel wasn't sure, but he suspected they were staying out of the camera's range.

One of the men stepped close to Daniel. He was near enough for Daniel to see inside the man's hood and he recognized the man as the leader. Even though they had a spokesperson who appeared to be in charge, this one was definitely the leader.

Daniel stared defiantly, deliberately breathing deeply as he wondered if he were the next to die. He saw the glint of something metallic and he rolled his eyes to watch it come closer, trying to control his apprehension. The tip of the knife came closer, the cold metal touched the edge of his throat right underneath his chin, then moved upwards, caressing his jaw line. He felt the gag pull tight for a moment and then it fell apart, leaving his mouth free.

Tongue as dry as a piece of leather, Daniel moved the swollen piece of flesh around in his mouth, trying to force saliva onto it and his desert-dry gums and palate. The leader kept his eyes on Daniel a moment before moving on to Haeclia. The knife glinted again and the strap wrapped around his neck came free. Two of his captors moved forward and grabbed the young man's arms.

Tongue still feeling unnatural in his mouth, Daniel cleared his throat. "Please," Daniel croaked. "It's not his fault. He�"

The leader whirled towards Daniel, knifepoint extended. "Don't make me change my mind," he hissed. "I don't plan on killing you, not if I can avoid having your people attacking us for retribution. But I will if it becomes necessary."

"By killing him, you're not proving anything other than the fact that you can kill. If you have proof that the EMC isn't safe, then why don't you come forward? My people can help. We have�"

"Enough. One more word and I'll cut out your tongue."

Daniel believed he'd carry out his threat without hesitation, so he shut his mouth and watched with trepidation.

With a jerk of his head, the leader had the guards bring the terrified man forward and forced him to his knees. Then the leader looked into the camera and began speaking.

- - - - - -

Jack watched the ongoing drama on the video screen along with the others in tense silence. Someone, most likely Armura Elon, who was still hiding behind a dark hood, was castigating the Prime Minister for not having followed their directives, and was threatening one of Eleryn's assistants with a knife to his throat. The kid looked absolutely terrified.

Daniel looked angry; his eyes were blazing at the scenario that was going on in front of him. His jaw clamped tightly shut, he looked as if he were forcing himself not to speak out.

The Prime Minister looked tired and defeated. His whole world was about to be destroyed and nothing he could say or do would save it. He'd been on the phone for the past forty minutes, trying to get advice from his administration. Jack hadn't realized it before but many government offices were in the mountain and all of them, not only those near the Gateroom and the surrounding floor, had become trapped when Armura Elon had taken control of the computer and had locked the doors.

"�And your attempt to maintain control of the Stargate will not serve any purpose," Armura Elon was saying. "You've run out of time, Mr. Prime Minister."

"Carter?" Jack prompted softly.

"I'm working on it, sir." Carter continued working without looking up at him. She was typing fervently into a laptop that had wires hooked up into the system's main server. It had taken her, Eleryn and Arthan most of the past half hour trying to get their software to talk to hers. They were working out the last of the bugs, from what Jack could figure out.

"But of course you know that. Perhaps you need another reminder that I'm not bluffing?"

Mollar went silent, the phone held loosely in his hand as he and everyone else watched as Elon grabbed the kid's hair and pulled his head back, exposing his throat. The boy was hyperventilating, his fear making Elon struggle for a hold before he jerked back viciously. Daniel's mouth moved but Jack couldn't hear what he said. Eleryn stifled a sob and Arthan swore beneath his breath.

"He does not fear."

"What?" Jack turned quickly to Teal'c, who was watching the video screen avidly. "He's scared shitless."

"I speak of the other. DaraHabri shows no fear."

"Yeah, well neither does Daniel. He's just a good�"

"His bonds give a wider range of motion than that of DanielJackson's and the guard."

Jack stared as the hooded man drew the knife back and impassively slit the young man's neck. Jack felt rage and helplessness and fear for Daniel and pushed it back inside, where he could use the emotions later, when the time was right. Instead he focused on the Jaffa's observations. "T, are you saying that�"

"As you would say, this was an 'inside job'. Perhaps an investigation in DaraHabri's background would help shed some light on the situation."

Jack shifted his attention to the assistant. He was standing straight, his head held up by the strap wrapped around his chin. But as Jack continued to watch, he realized that Teal'c was right. The man could move his head from side to side, unlike Daniel and the guard. And there was no shock on his face as his colleague was murdered right before him. In fact, his gaze wasn't on his dying coworker; it was on the man who had pulled the knife across his throat.

"I'm on it." Benak began punching in some keys on the computer and within seconds, the assistant's file appeared. After a moment, the Capit�n shook his head. "There's nothing in these files that's incriminating. We need to dig deeper." With the press of a button, he sent the information to a subordinate, along with a request to finish the job.

"I got it." Carter looked up, glanced at the screen and winced when she saw what was happening. The captors had left the room, leaving the one dead and one dying prisoner, along with three live ones. She turned to Jack, her face suddenly pale. "I was able to triangulate the video feed using�" Jack thought he'd remained expressionless but he must have allowed something of his feelings to show, because Carter skipped the technical talk and went straight to the pertinent stuff. "They're three floors above us, on the north side of the base."

"They're in conference room 34," Arthan added. The Capit�n was issuing orders, mobilizing his men while Jack eyed his team. "Ya know, we could be a bit more helpful if you gave us our weapons back," Jack said to Benak.

Without hesitation, Benak stood and nodded to one of his men. The guard left at a run.

"We'll have that Krolan's bastard in the next ten minutes." He began striding towards the door when Mollar called out to him.

"We're under attack."

"What?"

"There are reports of heavy fighting outside the complex, as well as several military installations in Serka, Parik, Nelas, Dallan, Momir, as well as Gedi and Tas."

Benak hurried to Mollar's computer. He took one glance and snatched up a phone. He'd only punched in a couple of numbers when he slowly put down the receiver. "There's nothing I can do from here." He stared blindly at the screen.

"This was a diversion," Teal'c announced. "An elaborate distraction to keep your attention away from what was occurring in the cities."

"That cryshaw!" Benak slammed his hand down onto the table. "He caught us well and good. I can only hope my men can counter the attacks�"

"You know, I hate to remind you guys but if we don't find that index thingie, no matter who wins this war, it ain't gonna make a lick of difference in the next couple of hours." Frustrated, Jack wanted to go after Daniel as much as stopping the Stargate from blowing them up to kingdom come. With their control of the 'gate at the moment, they still had an out, but the majority of the planet's population wasn't going to be so lucky.

"You're right." Pulling himself up, Benak stomped out the door. Jack's team quickly followed. Two guards met them halfway down the hall and returned their weapons to them. Feeling more sure of himself now that he was armed, Jack was ready to kick ass.

- - - - - -

The sound of machinegun fire was sweet to Daniel's ears even though it sounded far away, as was the thwump of Teal'c's staff weapon. The gunshots were interspersed with an odd whining twang, some louder than others. It took Daniel a few seconds to realize what he was hearing was the weapons used by the Onekans.

His relief at being found was short-lived, though, when their captor strode into the room and moved around to stand before Daniel. He met the man's dark eyes, surprised at the look of hatred in them. His lips curled back into a slight smile as he took a step back.

"We will win the battle," he said softly. "There will be one land, one people, and it will not be under Oneka's rule."

Staring at him open-mouthed, Daniel suddenly realized what this was all about. Not about environmentally friendly energy or peaceful explorations through the Stargate. This was about the ages-long war that Prime Minister Mollar had proudly told them that had recently come to an end. Daniel opened his mouth to argue that war wasn't the solution, when the man before him swung swiftly, punching him in the abdomen.

Air rushed out of Daniel's lungs as the force of the blow knocked him back, off his feet. Simultaneously his legs crumpled and he began to collapse, only to be brought up short by the strap around his neck.

Pain caught him around the throat and with sudden clarity, despite the pain in his solar plexus, Daniel realized he was going to choke if he didn't get back onto his feet. Trying to fill oxygen-deprived lungs through a blocked airway, Daniel scrambled to get his footing but his feet kept sliding in something slick underfoot.

But either the punch had stunned him more than he thought or he just couldn't get the proper leverage with his hands tied behind his back, Daniel hung by his neck as he struggled wildly. Despite the agony in his stomach, his lungs began straining for air. His efforts became more frantic as dark spots danced in front of his eyes.

Twisting and turning in his attempts to get upright, Daniel was now facing the front of the room. The second captured guard was also in the same predicament as he but somehow the man managed to get his balance and stood. His loud gasp of air was muffled as a hissing sound began to fill Daniel's ears.

The firefight was still ongoing. Daniel had ceased hearing it, the sounds having become part of a background cacophony. A bright flash of light flew down the room, the blast exploding against the far wall in a flurry of plaster and wood. Daniel was in one of a series of large rooms, separated by glass walls. Tables and chairs were visible in the other rooms and even as he struggled to stand, he glimpsed several of his captors, hooded capes flowing behind them, taking cover behind a large, solid-looking table which had been turned onto its side. They were returning fire into another room, the glass walls apparently shattered.

A red haze slowly crept along the sides of Daniel's vision. Exhausted, his legs barely moving as he continued to try to stand, Daniel watched as in a slow, macabre dance, a staff blast caught one of his captors and he crumpled to the ground. Another jerked spasmodically as bullets ripped through him. A red laser beam caught a third. A fourth ran, and must have gotten hit by a bullet because he dropped suddenly as if pole axed. A fifth and a sixth scrambled to the far side of the table, firing their weapons madly.

No longer able to move, Daniel clung to consciousness. He blinked, and one of the enemy was down, writhing in pain on the floor. Time froze, moved on, and another fell, blood spraying from his arm while soldiers swarmed into the far rooms, moving in an odd jerky motion as if strobe lights were firing.

Someone pushed through the soldiers and stopped, looking around. He froze as his gaze, even from this distance, met Daniel's. Then he began moving towards him in an odd slow-motion imitation of a television show Daniel vaguely remembered watching as a youngster. He wondered vaguely when Jack had gone into show business. His vision faded as a form rose up from behind debris and started shooting at his friend.

- - - - - -

The man popped up so suddenly, Jack barely had the time to throw himself to the ground. Even as he fell amidst broken glass and wood, he felt the projectile hit him high in the ribs. The shock of the impact knocked the breath out of him, his momentum causing him to roll until he landed against the wall. He knew his Kevlar vest had absorbed the bullet even as he opened his eyes, trying to take stock of where he was.

Okay, he was momentarily out of the line of fire and he realized he had to stay there as bullets whipped back and forth past his head. The loud burst of Carter's P-90, the deep thump of Teal'c's staff weapon and the whines of the laser guns and a few sporadic single shots from handguns. He heard a cry of pain and a thud. Carter, Teal'c and Benak moved towards him, weapons aimed at the downed enemy. Jack struggled to sit; even if his ribs weren't broken, he was still going to be moving as if they were for a few days.

Carter knelt beside him and he waved her away as he struggled to sit. "Daniel." She nodded at him and hurried into the next room. By the time he got onto his feet, Carter and Teal'c were cutting Daniel down, trying to keep his spine and neck as straight as possible as they released the ropes that had kept his hands tied behind as back. They'd moved him away from the two dead bodies on the floor and the huge quantity of drying blood, leaving a gruesome trail of gore where Daniel's feet dragged through the stuff.

Jack registered the sickening scent of death, then quickly drove it from his mind as he more or less stumbled to them, unbuttoning his vest. He placed a tentative hand against the injured area. He pressed slightly against his ribs and was relieved to feel that the pressure didn't worsen the pain overmuch.

"How is he?"

"DanielJackson has a pulse." Teal'c let go of Daniel's wrist and began to carefully straighten his legs.

Carter lowered his cheek to Daniel's face and waited for several seconds. "He's not brea�" Carter broke off and pulled back as Daniel gasped stridently.

Jack got down onto the floor beside Daniel with a soft grunt as Daniel coughed and gasped for breath. The area around Daniel's neck and chin was red where the strap had chafed him and mottled bruising was already spreading around the collar.

"Daniel." Jack gently shook his friend's shoulder and a flicker of blue was his momentary reward. With the battle raging around him, Jack had no idea how long Daniel had been without oxygen, but this small reflex had to be a good sign, hadn't it?

"Capit�n Benak," one of the men reported, "there's no sign of the indexer."

"That cryshaw would know where it is." This came from the man who was standing over Jack's shooter. "Sir, request permission to force the information from�"

"No." Teal'c stood smoothly and quickly strode over to the bastard who had betrayed them all. He loomed over the former assistant, who was propped up against a wall, blood leaking from his shoulder and thigh. Teal'c knelt and squeezed the injured thigh, eliciting a scream of pain from the injured man.

"DaraHabri, you will tell us where the indexer is hidden."

"I don't know. I swear by Fera I don't know. Armura had it. He's hidden it. It could be anywhere. Please," he screamed, doubling over his leg.

"Armura Elon is dead, Capit�n," one of the guards reported.

The other two who had survived the attack were unconscious. Benak huffed impatiently and ordered his men to continue searching as Teal'c released Habri's leg with obvious reluctance.

Daniel's labored breathing continued and Jack knew there could be internal swelling. "He needs oxygen. Carter, see if you can find a first aid kit or something."

"Yes, sir." Carter was on her feet almost before Jack had finished issuing the order. "And someone give me a knife," he demanded as he examined the strap around Daniel's neck. He couldn't see any clasp or catch to it and figured it was probably in the back. He'd rather cut it off at this point than try and turn Daniel's head to try and get at it.

"There's an emergency kit down the hall. Oraen will take you." Benak knelt beside Jack as he spoke, handing him his knife.

The named guard stepped forward and Carter hurried to him as Jack took the knife from the Capit�n.

"How badly are you injured?" Benak asked, eyeing Jack's opened vest.

"Definitely bruised. Gonna be sore for a couple of days but I don't think the bullet broke any bones," Jack said as he carefully worked the sharp metal between Daniel's swelling skin and the collar. The knife was sharp and with the slightest of pressure, he cut through the leather. He glared at the further bruises and redness now apparent on Daniel's neck.

Benak reached out and fingered the vest's material before plucking the knife back from Jack's extended hand. "Handy little thing," he said with a bit of a smile.

"Yeah," Jack said softly.

"I need to go look for the indexer." Benak turned to look at Teal'c, who was standing close by, on guard.

"We're good, Capit�n," Jack said, shifting slightly to make himself more comfortable.

Benak nodded and ordered his men out the room, leaving two to stand guard over the three injured prisoners in the other room. The guard who'd been held captive along with Daniel was propped up against a far wall, being attended by a fourth. He, unlike Daniel, looked to have gone through the ordeal fairly unscathed.

For a moment the only sounds in the room were Daniel's breathing, Dara Habri's pained sobs, and the occasional crackle of broken glass as Teal'c shifted his weight. Then the cracking sounds of wood being forced began to fill the room as searchers began to take it apart.

"You're gonna be all right," Jack said, feeling ineffectual, not only because of the bruising on his chest that made movement pained and difficult, but because there was nothing he could do for his friend, except wait. "I'm not sure if you can hear me, but..." He reached for Daniel's hand and squeezed the fingers gently. "I'm here. I know; it probably hurts to breathe. Carter's gone to get some oxygen and we've still got close to an hour before things get critical around here so we've plenty of time to get you home and into Fraiser's clutches."

He waited a moment to see if his words would get any reaction. They didn't.

"Your neck is a little swollen." He reached and felt the area below the bruising. "I don't think you'll want to wear a necktie for a while." He pulled his hand back when the sound of gunfire sounded far away. Carter ran into the room moments later. "What's going on?"

"Apparently some of the attackers got inside the complex, sir." Working quickly, she placed the oxygen mask around Daniel's nose and mouth and almost immediately his breathing appeared less labored. "I couldn't find a cervical collar in the supplies." She smiled wearily at Jack as she took off her vest, then her jacket. "We're cut off from the Stargate at the moment but Capit�n Benak is pretty confident his soldiers will round up the insurgents." Carter rolled up her jacket and placed it on one side of Daniel's head. "They've got reinforcements coming in as we speak."

Before Jack could try and shrug out of his own jacket, Teal'c placed his on the other side of Daniel's head.

"You know, we've got less than sixty minutes before that thing explodes and takes the Stargate with it."

"Actually it's more like thirty." Carter shrugged back into her vest, buttoning it quickly. "Even if we find the indexer, and we can get it back into place in five or ten minutes, it'll take at least fifteen minutes for it to begin processing the energy before it goes critical and explodes. Which is why I'd like permission to go help with the search and�"

"Yeah, go ahead." Jack turned to Teal'c and motioned with his head. "You too, T. I'll stay with him."

"Are you okay, sir? You went down pretty hard." Her eyes strayed to his chest, then back up to his face.

"I feel like I've been kicked by a horse but I figure I'm pretty lucky I got caught by a bullet and not their laser guns. I'm fine. Go." When Teal'c hesitated, Jack said more forcefully, "Go. Just make sure you both get back here in plenty of time so that if we have to shoot our way back to the 'gate..."

"I am confident Capit�n Jaseth Benak will have taken control of this complex before that time arrives."

"Hey," Jack said just as Carter and Teal'c were leaving the room. "Do you even know what that indexer looks like?"

"It's a square shield, nearly three feet in diameter and two inches thick. It could easily be hidden behind a wall panel or... it'll take ages to find and we have so little time."

"Yeah, well, good luck." Jack watched his team members hurry out, knowing they were helping with an impossible situation.

"Guess it's just you and me again, Danny." Jack inhaled loudly, then adjusted the oxygen mask around Daniel's face, just so that he felt he was doing something positive. He watched the condensation appear on the plastic as Daniel exhaled, then disappear just as quickly as he inhaled. After a few minutes, satisfied that Daniel was breathing well enough, he leaned back a few inches so that his back was resting on the wall, gun at the ready and his free hand on Daniel's arm. The position took some of the pressure off his ribs, and he sighed in relief.

Sporadic gunfire could be heard occasionally and he realized that some of it was coming through speakers. He relaxed slightly, realizing they weren't in immediately danger. Still, he tensed when footsteps approached as Benak's men came and went. He wasn't comfortable, even when the guards greeted the passing men by name. There were traitors here and they had waged war on a country. There was no knowing how many more were biding their time to fight for the other side.

Jack let go of Daniel's arm and pressed a hand again against the side of his ribs. The bruising hurt like hell, more than he'd admit. He began pressing with his fingertips, testing the injury, searching for damage like one worried a broken tooth with a tongue.

He winced as he hit an especially sore spot, then quickly dropped his hand when Daniel stirred. He turned his attention to his friend and was surprised to see Daniel looking up at him.

"Hey." Jack grinned when he realized Daniel was truly awake. "Oh, no, you don't." He quickly grabbed Daniel's hand as it began reaching upwards. Jack wasn't sure if he was reaching for his injured throat or the oxygen mask, but he wasn't taking any chances. "Don't touch."

"H-huuh..." Daniel grimaced behind the mask, tried to swallow, and blew out air between clenched teeth. "Shit."

"Don't talk. Yeah, you're hurt. Your throat's pretty badly bruised. There could be damage."

Daniel started shaking his head but the jackets wedged against his neck stopped his movements. Lips pursed together, he pointed to Jack's chest.

"I'm fine. Just bruised. Just try and relax, okay? And don't move. These are there for a reason." Jack adjusted the impromptu jackets cum cervical collar.

Blinking, Daniel began looking around, obviously trying to take in their surroundings.

"We're on Oneka. There was a coup, you were taken prisoner," Jack supplied.

"Star...gate." The word came out slow in an attempt to enunciate. Daniel's voice was clearly hoarse and almost non-existent. He made a fist with one hand and then opened his fingers up in a quick motion.

"Yeah, it's gonna blow soon."

"C... he...lp." Daniel squinted towards the ceiling.

"I know. We need to start looking into getting you out of here. Carter and Teal'c'll be back in a short while to help you."

Moving more quickly than Jack anticipated, Daniel managed to raise a hand and push the oxygen mask off. He tried to raise his head at the same time. His face twisted in pain and he fell back with a harsh cry.

"Don't move!" Immediately Jack stuffed the jackets back against Daniel's neck. "You could have a neck injury."

"Mmm... fine." The second word came out as a squeak on a rush of air.

"No, you're not fine."

Daniel mouthed something else but Jack didn't make it out. Jack touched his radio and contacted Carter. "I need you and Teal'c back here pronto. Daniel's getting restless and if we're gonna get him home we need to start moving now, unless you tell me you found the indexer."

"Sorry, sir, we haven't had any luck." There was a pause. "We'll be with you in about two minutes."

"What about the way to the 'gate?"

"It's clear, sir."

"Damn it." The words came out croaky as Daniel glared at him. His eyes shifted upwards again, towards the ceiling. "H...p."

"Daniel�"

Daniel turned to glare at him again. He moved his eyes and raised his chin slightly, deliberately, this time bringing an arm up to point at the ceiling.

Jack looked up. The ceiling was filled with square tiles, like most office buildings at home. Not normally something one worried about unless someone was actually staring up at it. Then Jack saw it. One tile was of a different color and texture than the other and didn't quite fit in.

"Hey!" Jack motioned for one of the guards to approach him. He pointed towards the ceiling. "That the thing you guys are looking for?"

- - - - - -

God, his throat hurt. Every breath he took felt like fire going in and out. He was desperately thirsty but the last thing he wanted was to even try to swallow a few sips of water, or down a couple of Tylenol for the headache that was pounding throughout his skull.

Seeing that the retrieval of the indexer was going well, Daniel took the opportunity, while everyone's attention was focused on getting the piece of equipment down off the ceiling, to see if he could sit up. He pushed aside whatever was wedged against his neck and rolled onto his side. His abdominal muscles complained as he raised himself up and for a moment he thought he'd fall flat onto his face until he managed to find some sort of balance.

Breathing was easier sitting up. Still, the effort of getting off the floor had him breathing a little more harshly and his efforts blew a string of saliva down his chin; saliva that he didn't care to try and swallow at the moment. He rubbed the back of his hand against his chin, wiping off the wet smear. He began backing up, sliding on his ass, moving out of the way of the working men.

"Colonel, you found it." Sam was breathless, testament that she'd run from wherever she'd been assigned to help search. She stopped next to Daniel, skirting around a handful of Benak's men who were taking down the indexer. "Daniel, should you be moving around?"

"What the hell are you doing?" Jack grabbed his shoulder, his fingers squeezing painfully and bringing Daniel's retreat to an end. "And it wasn't me. Daniel's the one who spotted it."

Teal'c knelt next to them and gazed at Daniel, his eyes moving down to below his chin. Daniel swallowed, too embarrassed to try and spit the saliva with everyone watching. The liquid in his mouth went down and almost got stuck, forcing him to quickly clear his throat.

"Fine," Daniel mouthed. Trying to talk was useless; he'd seen that pretty quickly with Jack.

"Do you require assistance?"

Careful of his neck, Daniel shook his head. He eased himself onto his knees and felt Jack grip his bicep. By the time he was on his feet, Benak's men had the indexer in hand and were running out the door. His legs were shaky but he was determined to stay upright.

"Sir, we may have a problem."

"You mean other than the planet blowing up in our faces?"

Daniel slowly straightened up, abused abdominal muscles complaining loudly. He took a shuffling step forward and immediately lost his equilibrium. The hand already gripping his bicep squeezed painfully while Teal'c grabbed his other arm. They held onto him while he tried to regain his balance.

"Those fifteen minutes before the indexer is able to begin processing the energy are crucial. Once the indexer is activated, any significant energy deviation from the Stargate may exponentially increase the time it takes to�"

Daniel tried another step and listed to the other side. Frustrated, he ground his teeth together and shuffled forward.

"So we can't dial out. Is the 'gate still activated? Maybe we can go through now before they have to shut it down to fix the thing."

"I'm sorry, Colonel." Benak strode across the room to greet them. "The thirty-eight minutes were up and since Elon is dead, Prime Minister Mollar and your General Hammond both agreed it wasn't necessary to dial out again. Although the Prime Minister is willing to hold off activating the indexer until you go home."

"Sir," Sam said quietly. "That'll mean cutting it really close. If they activate the indexer as soon as possible, they have a better chance of stopping the explosion and�"

They reached the end of the room and Daniel put out a hand on the wall for support.

"Can we get to the 'gate before they get the thing online?"

Daniel didn't miss the fact that everyone seemed to be avoiding looking at him. He shook his head, knowing he was holding them up. It already felt like an eternity since the men had taken the indexer away from the room. At this point, even if they loaded him onto a stretcher and took him out at a full run, he had the feeling that they wouldn't make it. "No time," he said, hating that the words came out as a squeak.

Jack glanced back at Benak, who was waiting for an answer.

"Their people are good, right?" Jack asked Sam.

She smiled. "Yes, sir."

"Can they use your help?"

"Probably not, but if we're staying, I'd would like to go see if I can�"

"Go."

Sam was gone in a flash, making Daniel envious of her energy. At this point he began to think sitting down might be a good idea.

"If Doctor Jackson would like to rest a moment, I'll request a stretcher and have a physician waiting for him in the Medical Center."

As Jack nodded to Benak, Daniel allowed himself to slide down the doorframe. He was blocking the way out but at this point, he didn't give a shit.

- - - - - -

For a moment Jack thought Daniel had passed out. He lunged forward, hissing in pain, only to stop as Daniel continued his controlled slide down the wall. He was breathing fast and shallow, his face dotted with sweat, but he opened his eyes and looked at Jack when he called his name.

"Okay, other than the..." Jack made a waving motion with his hand towards his own throat... "and the headache I'm sure you're sporting, is there anything else I need to warn the doc about?"

Daniel didn't answer, seeming to be zoning out. Teal'c had gone to get the oxygen mask and placed it back over Daniel's nose and mouth. After a moment, he blinked at them. He frowned, as if realizing he'd missed something, and Jack just shook his head, telling him everything was okay.

"A blow to the abdomen." One of the guards had approached, and Jack realized this was the other man who'd survived being taken prisoner, along with Daniel. "That cryshaw sucker punched us, left us to choke on the..." He stopped and raised a hand to his throat, fingering the bruises. Jack could see the chafed skin around his throat. The bruising was testament that he'd also had a close call, but nothing like what Daniel had gone through "... He couldn't get up... he was sliding in the blood and all I could do was watch him slowly die..." The man crouched down beside Daniel, one hand held to his belly. He winced, then placed a hand on Daniel's shoulder.

"You will be fine. Our physicians are the best." He smiled at Daniel, nodded at Jack and Teal'c, then stood slowly and carefully. "Thank you."

The doctor arrived a few seconds later and stopped in the doorway, looking around at the dead and wounded. He gave Daniel a cursory glance, then immediately made his way to Dara Habri, who was still moaning and crying over his injured leg.

"Not him." Habri's guard stepped between the doctor and the injured man. "The Capit�n wishes you to treat our visitor first." He pointed towards Daniel, ignoring Habri's cries for help.

"But this one is bleeding and�"

"The cryshaw can bleed to death for all I care. Actually, no, that would be too fast for him. He needs to suffer first." The guard looked back towards Daniel. "He nearly died, thanks to Habri. He needs attention."

The doctor left Habri, his demeanor one of reluctance and annoyance. He knelt beside Daniel, palpitated his throat which elicited a hiss of pain from Daniel, took his pulse and then without a word, motioned for two men who'd just entered the room to place Daniel on a stretcher, and then got up to return to Habri.

"Hey, just a second here. My friend almost died hanging from a leash and you're not even going to check him out?" Jack went to say more but Daniel weakly caught at his arm.

"There's nothing I can do for him here," the doctor said over his shoulder as he crouched beside Habri. "Medic Dalan will take care of him at the Center."

"Sir?" The nurse or corpsman tried to ease between Daniel and Jack. "If you'll allow me, I need to put the cervical collar on him before we move him."

Jack bit back an angry retort; at least this man seemed to want to help. He squeezed Daniel's fingers and slid back, allowing the corpsman to get closer to Daniel. He worked quickly and efficiently, speaking softly to Daniel while the other man laid a stretcher next to him.

"He's a good physician," the corpsman said, glancing quickly at the man now treating the traitor. "Perhaps a little too zealous at times. Medic Dalan has been apprised of the situation and is waiting for you."

Together they eased Daniel onto the stretcher. As they strapped him in, the man smiled at Daniel. "You'll be fine."

- - - - - -

Jack checked his watch, noting that only a few minutes had passed since the last time he'd looked. He closed the protective flap and realized Teal'c was watching him.

"There remains yet another five minutes before the device is scheduled to explode. I have confidence in MajorCarter."

"Yeah, well, it's not her I'm worried about," Jack replied sulkily. With all the goings on today, who was to say that the Dazans hadn't sabotaged the indexer. He winced - oh, so not a good place to go to. Instead he brought his attention back to Daniel rather than their impending doom.

And here was yet another worry to add to his collection. Daniel hadn't complained or reacted much since he'd been transported to the Medical Center. Right now he had an IV going with some green stuff inside the bottle dripping into his vein, plus two smaller bottles piggybacked to the main one. The first was something to replace liquids; the other two were for the pain and to bring the swelling down in his throat and neck.

As far as hospitals went, this one looked pretty much like the one at home. Cement walls, utilitarian setup, some machinery that was familiar, a few others that weren't. Chairs on either side of the bed for visitors which both Jack and Teal'c were both occupying at the moment. And a few reminders that they weren't on Earth, like the green IV. Jack laughed softly at what just went through his mind.

"What?" Daniel croaked, prying open an eyelid and rolling his eye in Jack's direction. That he was fighting the painkillers was obvious; Jack was pretty sure Daniel was waiting for the all clear before allowing himself the luxury of sleep. In a sense, if they were to go in the granddaddy of all explosions and if Jack had a choice, he figured he'd rather be fast asleep, thank you.

"Just thinking." Jack flicked the green line running to Daniel's hand. "You think you're gonna be pissing green when this stuff decides to make its way out?"

A small smile curled at the edges of Daniel's lips. "Like you'll ever know." The words, despite the hoarseness, were audible.

"If O'Neill wishes, I can speak to the medical person in charge and convey a request that you wish to sample the medication yourself."

"Um, thanks, T, but I think I'll skip. Daniel can be our guinea pig and�"

"Colonel?"

Jack turned as the doctor who'd treated Daniel approached at a fast walk. Medic Dalan was smiling. "Prime Minister Mollar wishes me to tell you that the danger to the complex is now over. He is occupied with the battle outside, but he says that you and your people will be permitted to return home in a few hours' time."

"Thanks." Jack smiled at Daniel, almost willed him to close his eyes and go to sleep now. "Why a few hours?"

The doctor shrugged. "He didn't say." He waved down to Daniel. "I'm pleased to say our scans showed no sign of broken or fractured bones in either your ribs, or Doctor Jackson's neck. Although, at the moment, it's still difficult to tell if there's been any damage to Doctor Jackson's trachea or larynx due to the swelling. I'm sure your own doctors will perform the necessary tests when you return home."

"I thought you gave him something for the swelling."

"I did. But the medication is to prevent further damage and by the time the swelling does go down enough to perform more tests, you'll probably have returned home."

The man turned his attention to Daniel, checking a few monitors and making notations in his chart.

"Most likely the delay is due to the recalibration of the equipment," Teal'c said, speaking softly. "I believe MajorCarter mentioned it will take some time before the Stargate is operational once they repair the damage to the EMC."

"Ah." Jack watched Daniel fight to keep his eyes open and it was making him feel tired and cranky. "Will ya go to sleep already?" Jack scolded softly, quickly rubbing Daniel's arm to take the sting out of his words.

"Thirsty." Daniel licked his lips and swallowed.

"I'll allow ice chips. That might help a little. I wouldn't advise trying to drink or eat anything until the swelling subsides a little more." The doctor waved a nurse over and asked for the ice.

"It's not gonna be green, is it?"

"What is?"

"The ice."

The doctor frowned at Jack. "It's just frozen water."

"Just askin'." With a shrug, Jack fiddled with the edge of Daniel's blanket.

"Can... take this off?" Daniel pointed to the bulky collar around his neck.

"You might be more comfortable with it, Doctor Jackson. Even though there's no serious damage, there's probably muscle and ligament�"

"Too constric...tive." Daniel's voice cracked mid-word. He licked his lips again. "Reminds me of what... tied around... neck." The last words came out as a bare whisper.

"Oh, I understand." With a couple of quick snaps, the doctor removed the bulky cervical collar. "Try not to move your head around too much. Let me know if you feel a strain, I can fit you with something a little more comfortable."

The doctor left while the nurse returned. She placed the bowl and spoon in Daniel's hands but when Daniel winced when he raised his head to get the spoon into his mouth, Jack deftly plucked the implement from his hand and carefully examined the ice. Okay, it was... ice-colored.

Ignoring Daniel's glare and with an apologetic smile, he brought the spoon to Daniel's mouth and tipped the frozen bits in. There were crunching sounds as Daniel ground the ice together between his teeth. Eyes closed, he swallowed, grimaced, opened his eyes, glanced meaningfully at the spoon Jack still held, and waited.

He crunched through the next several spoonfuls, then finally allowed one to melt slowly in his mouth. As Jack fed him a few more times, Daniel's movements became more languid, with longer pauses between requests. This last time, his eyes barely opened when he signaled he wanted more.

A piece of ice slipped off the spoon and landed on Daniel's lip. It melted slowly, turning from a small icy sliver to a large drop, then quickly sliding down the side of his mouth and down his chin.

Nearly asleep, Daniel made a few odd motions with his lower jaw, trying to get rid of the dribble. Jack took pity on him and wiped the bit of water with his thumb. Daniel sighed, mumbled something, and remained still.

- - - - - -

The late day sun was already dipping behind the mountains; long shadows loomed over the lake. Without a word, Daniel slipped out of the truck. Hands stuffed deep in jacket pockets, he walked slowly towards the water.

The lake was calm as a mirror, not a ripple was apparent except the occasional bug buzzing the reflective surface. The soft thud of his footsteps, muted by grass and sod, became sharp as he stepped onto the wooden platform.

It gave slightly with his weight, causing small ripples to grow outwards into the still water. Daniel took a slow, deep breath, aware of the tightness in his throat but appreciative of the fresh air after having been underground in the infirmary for the past two days, then stuck in a plane, and then a rental truck.

The events of what had happened in that room, in front of a camera, still haunted him and he'd been anxious to see the lack of four walls around him. He wished they'd arrived early enough so he could have taken Jack's canoe out from the shed and lose himself for a while on the water, but that would have to wait until tomorrow.

A second car pulled up, the motor stilled and doors thumped closed, the sound echoing across the lake. His back to his friends, he could hear Jack greet Sam and Teal'c, who had only been a few minutes behind them.

He tensed, expecting them to come to the shore and join him but to his surprise, he heard them move to the cabin. Someone, it seemed, had realized he needed this solitude.

Daniel watched the shadows deepen and lengthen; the colors leeching out of the surrounding areas as darkness slowly crept across the lake. A damp chill could already be felt in the air as fog rose from a corner of the lake. He watched the water slowly disappear, both through the fading light and the growing mist.

He couldn't believe his friends had all taken a few days off and had made arrangements to come out to the cabin for the rest of the week. It never failed to surprise him that they seemed to know what he needed, before he himself realized it.

He smelled charcoal and realized Jack was setting up their late supper. He looked around in confusion; he'd been standing here long enough that the only patch of light was the bit of fog in the middle of the lake reflecting off the lights inside Jack's cabin. Feeling slightly better, he was surprised when his stomach rumbled. Smiling, he turned around and followed his nose. Where there was charcoal, there'd be meat.

He stumbled slightly on the uneven ground as he made his way to the back deck. Jack had set up a couple of hurricane lamps around the railing and as he got closer, the footing got easier. As he climbed the steps, Jack pulled a bottle of water from a cooler he'd filled at the local store, and handed it to him without a word.

"Vegetables are almost done," Sam said, sipping a beer as she leaned against the railing.

Jack slapped four steaks onto the grating above the charcoal, and sizzling sounds filled the air.

Daniel unscrewed the cap and chose to sit in a deck chair, next to Teal'c. Despite the mild chill in the air, Teal'c had his jacket zipped and the collar pulled up past his chin. He'd pulled his knit cap down below his eyes and ears, and his hands were buried in his pockets. His eyes darted to the right as a mosquito whined nearby.

Daniel lowered his head as far as his bruised throat and neck would allow him and grinned at Teal'c's war against the bugs. After several aborted attempts to catch it, Teal'c offered a prayer that would send that squashed little vampire to a fate worse than Netu.

"He's getting better." Jack winked at Daniel. "He's catching them on the fly now."

Daniel sipped the water, its coolness easing the constant discomfort. When Jack turned the steaks over, the smell made his mouth water.

"Smells good. I'm starving." He winced internally at the laryngitic quality of his voice, but thankfully, at least now, there were some sounds coming out of his mouth. Although, if he spoke more than two or three sentences at a time, he still had a tendency to completely lose his voice.

Jack stopped with a steak speared precariously on the tip of a knife, and turned to stare at Daniel for a long moment. When Jack dropped the meat back onto the grill, Daniel realized both Sam and Teal'c were also watching him with pleased looks on their faces.

"Honest. I could eat a horse."

"You'll have to settle for part of a cow instead." Jack grabbed his beer and saluted Daniel's returned appetite. His stomach growled an answer, which he tried to quiet with another quick sip of water.

The flickering glow of the charcoal was mesmerizing. Daniel watched the burning coals slowly coat themselves with ash, to be whisked away by a slight breeze or dripping fat. His thoughts, which had been running amok for the past two days, had finally slowed down to a pace where he believed he could actually deal with them.

It wasn't the out and out fighting that had disturbed Daniel; he'd seen plenty of that in his time with SG-1. And Earth's history was rife was it; was still prevailing...

It wasn't the fact that the whole planet had come close to destruction, and Daniel and his friends along with it that was bothering him; that was a possibility every time they stepped through the 'gate.

It wasn't the cold heartedness of the men who had put forth a plan thought up years earlier to take control of their enemy's land, or that its culmination had occurred right at the very moment when SG-1 had visited.

No, it was the fact that the stranglehold he'd gotten caught in, that two innocent individuals had been murdered, in cold blood, right before him, that had prevented Daniel from doing anything but harden his heart and soul at the sight of their unnecessary deaths. That was something he couldn't seem to forgive himself.

Which was why he'd needed that time alone out by the lake. He'd need to mourn them, wrap them tightly in his memories like a mummy wrapped in strips of cloth. And Armura Elon had been right when he'd said these men were heroes; although not in the way he'd suggested. Even though the terrorist had used his victims to try and shock those in charge with their murders, their sacrifices had given everyone incentive to not allow him to get the upper hand.

Daniel was beginning to understand the military mind. If he allowed himself to feel everything that happened to him on missions, he'd quickly end up a quivering mess hiding in the back of a closet. There was a time to be hard, and there was a time to grieve.

And there was a time to eat, Daniel decided as Jack transferred the meat onto a clean plate.

Daniel stood and stepped aside, allowing Jack to pass with his prized plate of T-bone steaks. To his surprise, Jack handed the plate over to Teal'c and reached out to touch Daniel's bicep.

"You okay?"

There was so much packed into those two words. Jack's eyes bored into his, full of compassion, worry and hope.

Daniel smiled; an easy, grateful motion.

"I am now," he said with a nod, his gaze encompassing his friends around the table.

 

FINIS!


Author's Comments: Many thanks to Jmas for trusting in me and publishing this story in her E-zine 'Ancients Gate XII - Landscapes'

If you want to see more of Jmas' ezines, here's her link:

I can tell no lie. This idea came to me from watching an episode of "24". And hugs to devra, who listened to me try to make sense of this fic from start to finish

 

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Since 15 September 2007

 

 

DISCLAIMER:The characters mentioned in this story are the property of Showtime and Gekko Film Corp. The Stargate, SG-I, the Goa'uld and all other characters who have appeared in the series STARGATE SG-1 together with the names, titles and backstory are the sole copyright property of MGM-UA Worldwide Television, Gekko Film Corp, Glassner/Wright Double Secret Productions and Stargate SG-I Prod. Ltd. Partnership. This fanfic is not intended as an infringement upon those rights and solely meant for entertainment. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author.