Daniel’s progress came to an abrupt halt as he ran, face-first, into a forcefield that flared red before he bounced back. With his hands shackled together at his waist, he couldn’t even raise them to rub at his smarting nose.
“Oh, no. Oh, no no no,” he muttered.
“Oh, yes yes yes, Doctor Jackson,” a gravelly voice replied. Aris Boch stepped out of a crossing passageway, weapon cradled in the crook of his elbow. He grinned smugly at Daniel and the two Anubis Jaffa, now trapped.
The guards raised their staff weapons and fired, but the energy was completely absorbed by the shield.
“Tsk, tsk, tsk.” Aris shook his head. “I am the best hunter in the galaxy for a reason. Sorry to do this to you, boys, but Nekhbet is paying top bounty. This human’s meddling at Abydos cost Lady Bastet dearly.”
“No, not Bastet,” Daniel protested, eyes wide. “Listen, Boch, Earth will match whatever price you—“
“Look, Doctor Jackson,” Aris interrupted, “the fact is, Nekhbet has what I need and you don’t.” He swung his weapon towards the guards. “Nothing personal fellas. Give my regards to Her’ak.” Two stunning blasts penetrated the trap and dropped Daniel’s Jaffa escort.
“I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” Jack grumbled.
Daniel looked around the deserted planet. Grassy meadow, trees—like a hundred planets they’d visited before. Teal’c was looking grim, though, too, so he wasn’t going to discount Jack’s gut completely. Still, “If the rumors that Anubis’s new plan are true, we need the intel.”
Jack grimaced in response, but gestured to Sam and Teal’c. “Check the perimeter. We’ll see if there’s anything to see at that stone thingie.”
“Obelisk,” Daniel automatically corrected. He headed to the stone pillar fifty yards in front of the stargate, with Jack following behind, scanning the area. Still no sign of anything or anyone other than themselves.
The obelisk turned out to be underwhelming, a marker that the long-gone inhabitants of the planet had been claimed by a minor goa’uld millennia ago. There were no recent notes or any sign that this was an information drop.
“Well, either we have to wait for our contact to show,” Daniel said, “or this is a wild goose chase.”
“Or a deliberate distraction,” Jack added. “Or a tr—“
The distinct chunk of a ring transporter interrupted him.
“A trap,” Jack repeated grimly as the stack of rings cut Daniel off from him. Daniel could only raise his sidearm to be ready for what ever would meet him at the rings’ destination.
Unfortunately, what met him was the painful shock of a zat, before the rings even cleared. All he had time to see was the interior of a goa’uld ship and Anubis’s first prime, Her’ak.
“Carter! Teal’c!” Jack shouted into his radio. “Stargate!” His team came running from a point on the tree line. He reached the DHD first and punched in the coordinates for Earth.
“O’Neill here. Get General Hammond,” he radioed, as soon as the wormhole was open.
“One moment, Colonel,” Walter replied, and General Hammond’s voice came through a half minute later.
“What’s going on, Colonel?”
Teal’c and Carter pulled up next to him, just in time to hear the news at the same time as the general.
“Daniel just got ringed up from the planet. There was no communication and there’s no sign of anyone or any message here on the surface.”
“Do we know whether it’s the contact who ringed him up to give him the intel?” Hammond asked.
Jack scrubbed his face with his hand, frustrated beyond belief. “No way of knowing, sir. It seems suspicious—why wouldn’t the contact ring down?”
“They could have their own reasons.” Jack could hear the doubt in the general’s voice as well. “You need to be there in case he comes back. If Doctor Jackson’s been taken, though, we need to move immediately to get him back. I’ll get started on asking our allies to keep an ear out for any word now. If Doctor Jackson hasn’t returned in two hours, I’ll send SG-12 to relieve you and wait for him.”
As soon as their visitor cleared the wormhole, Jacob went over to greet him.
“George, what the hell is going on? Malek said that Daniel’s missing?”
“We’re not entirely sure yet, but it doesn’t look good. Doctor Jackson was working on a lead about Anubis when he was ringed away. He’s been gone for six hours now and it looks like he’s been kidnapped.”
One disadvantage of sharing with a symbiote was that shock and grief were twice as strong. He felt Selmak staying quiet to wait for further information.
“Malek said that he would start contacting your agents to see if they’d heard anything,” George was saying, “and we appreciate any help we can get on this. Jack is trying to reach the Asgard, and Sam and Teal’c are visiting the Free Jaffa right now to get them on it.”
“Of course,” Jacob responded. He could hear Selmak quietly ticking through the agents they had undercover throughout the goa’uld worlds, prioritizing those who’d likely be most useful. He pulled George along to a meeting table. “Tell me more about this intel Danny was after, and what happened.”
“God damn it! We just got him back!” I just got him back. Jack punched the locker door repeatedly, until Teal’c gently pulled his hand away.
“I, too, am dismayed by the loss of Daniel Jackson again. However you will likely need the use of this hand should we have to fight to recover him. Please refrain from injuring yourself.”
Jack let his forehead fall against the locker door. “We can’t recover him if we can’t find him. This galaxy is too damn big—he could be anywhere.”
“We have done all we can do to set investigations in motion. Right now we can only wait.”
“Not feeling patient,” Jack warned Teal’c.
An airman came into the locker room. “Excuse me, Colonel. General Hammond would like to see you. He says he has word from the Tok’ra.”
Jack looked over at Teal’c, and wordlessly they rushed out of the room together.
Xeran escorted the hunter from the transportation rings to where his lady Nekhbet was seated in state. She rose with grace.
“Aris Boch. You claim to be the best hunter in the galaxy.”
“Eh. I get things done.” The insolent fool was shrugging and grinning smugly in front of the lady, and Xeran itched to knock him to his knees.
Nekhbet’s eyes flashed gold and her voice echoed. “You are no ashrak!”
Boch’s smile faltered. “That much is true. Nevertheless, I would be happy to be of service to you, my lady.” He bowed his head.
At last the cretin showed some respect.
“Come,” Nekhbet commanded. “I have intelligence of a prize I wish for my lady Bastet.”
As the goddess led Boch into her side chamber, Xeran took up guard outside the door. He was not privy to his lady’s private communications, and wondered if the call she had taken earlier was some news to give Lady Bastet an advantage against Anubis. Nekhbet was one of Bastet’s most bloodthirsty and successful lieutenants in the fight against Anubis, and Xeran was proud that Bastet’s First Prime had placed him in her service.
When the door re-opened, Nekhbet commanded him, “Provide the hunter with a tel'tak equipped with three days’ rations of food and roshna. If he returns successful, his reward will be much greater.”
Xeran bowed his head in assent, and went to requisition the supplies.
“Bastet, really?” Daniel asked. Through the window in front of him he saw the stars stretch into hyperspace as they left Her’ak behind.
“Gotta take the opportunities as they come,” Boch said with a shrug.
Daniel rolled his eyes.
Boch got out his first aid kit and pulled aside a section of armor on his side. “A little help here?”
“Still not a medical doctor,” Daniel sing-songed.
Boch turned away with a huff. “Fine.”
Daniel heard a quiet, “Cranky,” and rolled his eyes again.
The arrogant hunter was back, and he had a prisoner with him. Xeran led them from the hangar bay to the throne room, and stood to the side at attention.
“My lady Nekhbet, Daniel Jackson of SG-1, as promised. Your intelligence was impeccable.” The hunter showed off his prisoner.
“Mmm. Perhaps if my information made this job so easy, you do not require all the reward offered,” Lady Nekhbet mused, fixing Boch with a hard look.
“Well, my lady, I did have to penetrate the very center of Her’ak’s defenses, acquire the prize from his guards, and escape without damaging myself or … the merchandise,” Boch blustered. “No easy feat.”
Xeran sneered inside at the venal nature of the mercenary. No honor.
His lady ignored the man as she rose off her throne to examine the prisoner.
“So this is Daniel Jackson of the Tau’ri? It’s hard to believe so much trouble comes in such an unassuming”—her disdainful look travelled head to toe and back—“package.”
Xeran had to agree. This Jackson wore no armor, apparently had some sort of vision defect, and maintained a bland expression despite being in the presence of a god.
“My Lady Bastet will be so pleased to have you in her hands,” Nekhbet went on, voice resonating with her godly power. “Your little games with Yu at Abydos led our forces into a slaughter. Just for that, using you she will recreate the deaths of every one of our Jaffa—Burning. Crushing. Asphyxiation in space. And after each death she will drag you back to life for the next.”
Ah, so this was the Tau'ri responsible for their great loss to Anubis. Xeran’s hand tightened on his staff weapon.
His lady leaned over and growled in the face of the prisoner. “And then she will make you answer for the death of Ra.”
Xeran schooled his face to keep his shock from showing. This creature had killed the greatest of the System Lords? From the way he had only wrinkled his nose slightly, and generally kept a mild expression in the face of the lady Nekhbet’s threats, Xeran had considered that he was possibly too simple-minded or insane to comprehend the power facing him. However, perhaps the correct adjectives were cunning or insane.
“Another sunny vacation at Club Goa’uld,” Jackson said drily. “Can’t wait.”
Had to be insane.
His lady raised her arm, knocking the prisoner back with a blast of her ribbon device. “Boch,” she commanded, “contain this fool within a shield in the corner of my private room. I want to ensure the prize arrives at Bastet’s world in pristine condition.” She turned to Xeran. “Fetch the hunter his bounty. We will take him with us as far as the Alon system, where he can use the Chappa’ai to go where he will.”
Daniel watched from his corner as Nekhbet put away the palm-sized communication ball and moved to the door. She opened it to tell her guard, “Fetch me the hunter. My informants are traveling to the second planet in the Alon system to rendezvous with us.” She dropped her voice and leaned closer to her Jaffa. “They have just let me know of a second prize that may be within our grasp. With two such gifts, we may ascend to our lady’s inner circle.”
“Yes, my lady,” breathed the guard, before he turned to do her bidding.
Jack stepped out onto the desert planet, Carter, Teal’c, and Jacob on his six. Nothing but flatness was visible from horizon to horizon.
“Alright, Jacob, light her up,” he ordered.
Jacob pulled out a communication ball and held a quick conversation. He reported, “There should be a stone-tiled area about thirty yards in front of the stargate, with a rings circle marked. We need to be on it in five.”
It was a little too similar to Daniel’s kidnapping for Jack’s liking, but Jacob looked more positive than Jack had seen him in days, so he just ordered, “Let’s hoof it, kids.”
The stone flooring was partially covered by drifts of sand, but fortunately the ring markings were visible enough for the party to get inside before the rings chunked down around them.
They emerged in a room on a goa’uld ship, and Jack went weak with relief to see Daniel waving to him from the far corner.
“Daniel!” Carter sounded like he felt.
“Colonel! Major! Teal’c! I haven’t missed any promotions, have I?” Ah, the dulcet tones of Jack’s least favorite bounty hunter. Apparently Carter and Fraiser had gotten closer to him when they worked out the roshna formula, but the guy was a natural ass. Jack quashed the voice in his head that sounded like Daniel saying that Jack preferred being the only ass in the room.
“Aris, it’s good to see you.” Good thing Carter could say that and mean it.
“Boch, a little help here?” Daniel said.
“Oh, sorry Doctor,” Boch replied, and touched a button on his gauntlet. Daniel came over to join them.
Carter had just started asking, “Are you ok—” when the room’s door flew open.
“Ah, my guests are here,” came the echoing voice of a goa’uld. This one was dressed slightly more battle-practical than the usual I Dream of Jeannie getup, but she still managed the inhumanly beautiful goddess look. She told the guard at the door, “Keep an eye on that situation, and send updates to my panel in here. I’m still planning on more than one prize for our lady Bastet.”
As soon as the door closed, Jacob came forward and clasped arms with her.
“Selmak! Jacob!” she exclaimed.
“Belian, Rillah,” he responded warmly.
The gold faded from her eyes and she turned to speak to SG-1 in a human voice.
“I am Rillah, host to the Tok’ra Belian.”
Jacob pointed them out to her in introduction. “Colonel Jack O’Neill, Major Samantha Carter, Teal’c. And I guess you already know Daniel.”
Rillah bowed her head in greeting. “It is a pleasure to meet the famous SG-1.”
Jack studied her. “Don’t always hear from the hosts, even with the Tok’ra.”
Rillah smiled sadly. “Belian has to be in control constantly, playing Nekhbet. It is a relief for both of us when I can come out for a moment. Unfortunately, we don’t have many moments left before we need to escape. I have told Bastet we are facing attack from Anubis’s forces. We will soon explode spectacularly.”
Jack nodded. “That’s a good excuse for Daniel to disappear. Self-destruct mechanism?”
“Oh, no. Anubis’s forces are nearly here, and I have created a weakness in the shields. I also disabled the ship’s communications after reporting to Bastet, so if any of my Jaffa have suspicions they will not be able to let her know.”
The ship rocked from attacking fire, and Jack staggered for balance with the rest of them.
Rillah said, “That is our cue to go,” and herded them into the center of the room.
“My bounty!” Boch cried, lunging to grab for a carry sack.
He made it back just as the ring transporter surrounded them. Ten seconds later they were back on the planet.
Rillah and Jacob looked up, so Jack followed their gaze. In the sky overhead, there were a few bright flashes. Soon there was a big flash, and the sky show ended.
Boch patted his carry sack absent-mindedly, probably grateful his treasure hadn’t been vaporized.
“I almost hate giving Anubis that win,” Daniel remarked.
Rillah nodded, but explained, “Losing one of her most valuable supporters to Anubis, as well as the ha’tak and its Jaffa troops, will only increase Bastet’s determination to take down Anubis. And it was time for us to rejoin the Tok’ra—the request to assist with the recovery of Doctor Jackson created the opportunity for a little chaos I could take advantage of.”
“Then it was fortuitous for all,” Teal’c remarked.
Jack clapped his hands together. “Let’s dial it up, kids. I want to get our lost lamb home.”
“Lamb?” Daniel mouthed, eyebrows high.
Jack shrugged an “eh.”
“Home sounds good,” Daniel said to the group. “I’m a little tired of being dragged around the galaxy.”
After Jacob and Rillah’s meeting with General Hammond before leaving, after his own debrief with the general, after Daniel’s inevitable, interminable medical checkup, after leaving Boch for a longer visit with Fraiser, Jack had finally been able to bundle Daniel into his truck, into his home, and into his bed.
Now, spooned around him, letting go of him approximately never sounded like a great idea.
“Never thought I’d be so happy to see Aris Boch,” Daniel mused into the dark.
“Ditto,” Jack replied.
“Rillah and Belian were, too, surprisingly. Apparently Belian and Korra had hosts who were siblings—way back, generations ago—and they became pretty close. She’s very grateful to Boch and to us for saving Korra from Sokar.”
“Grateful enough to ‘hire’ Boch to save you from Anubis’s forces. I’ll take it.”
“Hmm. He’s still irritating enough that I could play it up to Her’ak’s Jaffa. ‘Oh, no Brer Fox, please don't throw me into the briar patch!’”
Jack snorted. “According to Tok’ra intelligence, from whoever is spying over in that camp, Her’ak and Anubis were pretty damned offended that you were more scared of Bastet than of Anubis.”
Daniel laughed into a yawn. “And now I’m dead. Until the next time we run across them.”
Jack shivered and held him tighter. “Not on my watch.”
Daniel snuggled in contentedly. “Nope, not on your watch.”