Jack hit the ground in an uncontrolled tumble. He rolled upright in the damp grass, thumbing the safety off the P-90 and aiming.
No sign of Goa'uld, Jaffa, or humans. It was an empty forest glade, all dappled sunlight and green shadows. Birds sang and a soft warm breeze shivered the leaves of tall beeches, evergreens and big ferny things he didn't recognize. Baffled, he twisted around to look at the stargate.
There was no stargate. And no other members of SG-1.
"No! No, no, no. This is not--" Jack surged to his feet, staring. Nothing, no DHD, not even a platform. Not even a scar in the lush green grass where a stargate had been before it was dragged away and buried by angry survival-conscious natives who had decided their local Goa'uld could stuff itself. "Happening. God DAMMIT!"
And this sunny forest with its weird mix of temperate trees and tropical ferns and flowers didn't look much like the fuzzy image the MALP unit had sent back from P3X-259. He looked around again, realizing what else was missing. There's no MALP. Oh, for crying out loud. This wasn't even the right destination.
Jack paced back and forth over the open area, hoping for an invisible gate or an illusion or senile dementia on his part or God-knew-what as long as there was a gate here and he was imagining this. Nothing. And whatever had happened must have happened fast; Teal'c hadn't been more than a step behind him. Come on, Carter, figure it out, he thought. Maybe a couple of minutes for her to get over her surprise, bolt up to the control room, and dial again to open a wormhole -- and how was an outgoing wormhole going to help him? No, let Carter worry about that. And he wasn't Earth's expert in Ancient technology, but he knew you had to exit a wormhole through a gate in order to arrive intact. As far as they knew, anyway. Well, now we know different.
Standing where the gate should be, he pulled his cap off and wiped the sweat from his forehead. "Crap. I knew this day was going to suck," he muttered, pissed and beginning to be sick with the realization that he was stuck.
This had happened before, but he and Carter had been stranded without a working Dial Home Device, not stranded without a gate. That was appallingly new. So was being stranded alone.
He paced around again. Chances were there was a gate on this world, otherwise the wormhole wouldn't have deposited him here, however it had managed it. But no MALP meant no homing device to locate it. So he had to look for it. With his luck, it would either be just over the next rise or on the opposite continent. Or....
"The Nox," Jack said aloud, looking around again, considering it. The Nox could make stargates invisible, among other things, but they had buried their gate. Or at least they had said they had buried their gate. And this didn't look like the area around the Nox gate, or even much like what he had seen of the Nox world, but then they might have multiple stargates, on different continents. Or multiple worlds. And are you grasping at straws now or what? he thought sourly.
Just for luck, Jack went over to a rocky outcrop and collected some loose stone, then came back and marked the approximate point where the wormhole had opened, near as he could tell. Then he started for the nearest hill to get a better look around.
He hadn't gone more than fifty yards when he found the path, and the stone marker. It was a roughly shaped boulder, carved with writing. Not in Goa'uld, either.
Huh. Jack contemplated it thoughtfully, absently chewing on his lower lip. He couldn't read it, but it looked familiar. Like maybe it might be Ancient, or related to Ancient. But the dirt path that wound through the tall grass and ferny things showed signs of recent use. Daniel would plotz to find out he had missed something like this. Well, except for the whole being trapped here forever part. "You know," he said aloud, contemplating the lush green forest. "If that's instructions on how to make the invisible stargate work, I'm going to feel really stupid." He sighed. "Yeah." More likely, it wasn't the Ancient language and it just told where the path went.
Jack didn't follow the path, preferring to approach whatever there was to approach from a less obvious direction. He continued up the hill, weaving his way through the stands of trees and thick undergrowth.
He went into a crouch just before the crown of the hill, because the otherwise crystal clean air was bringing him the scent of woodsmoke and a faint hint of cow dung. He edged past the last screen of brush to get a view of a valley and a small village. He pulled the field glasses out of his pack for a closer look.
It was a collection of huts with thatched roofs and stone walls supported with rough-hewn wood. There were vegetable gardens around the houses, grain fields in the distance. There were pig stys, cow sheds, wandering chickens. And people. They looked human, at least from this distance.
Men and women, some kids, dressed in leather and cloth dyed with soft colors. People seemed to be going about their business, standing around talking by the well, feeding a pen full of goats, digging in the gardens. There was a woman sitting out in front of her house weaving something colorful on a small loom, and a man making something with clay. No sign of Jaffa or any Goa'uld presence, but there was a guy pacing on the dirt flat in front of the dwellings with a sword propped on one shoulder, on watch. Jack could just spot another couple of men on the far side of the huts, leaning on long spears. Uh huh. We got trouble in River City.
Jack lowered the field glasses, debating whether to approach. The watchfulness of the inhabitants and the drawn weapons said that these folks weren't partial to visitors. But that might be a temporary state, since the place sure hadn't been built for defense. SG-1 had run into plenty of people who had every reason to be hostile to strangers; if this was a local quarrel, it would be best to stay out of it.
On the other hand.... There was a voice in the back of his mind suggesting that if there really was no gate, if he had been dropped here due to some bizarre wormhole anomaly, then he might be looking at his future home, and he might as well start making friends with the natives. He told the voice to shut the hell up.
Jack eased back down the hill until he was far enough out of sight of the village to stand up, and began making his way back through the trees. Well, crap. He mentally planned a sweep of the whole area. Maybe these people were some variant on the Nox, and they liked to live in thatched huts with pigs and goats, and actually had an unthinkably advanced starport parked over the next hill.
He could hope, anyway.
Carter bit her lip, grimacing at what the readouts on the dialing computer were showing her. Dammit, dammit. How did this happen?
From behind her General Hammond asked, "What went wrong, Captain?"
"I don't know yet, Sir. It looks like a power surge, but-- It doesn't look like it came from within our system. I think the surge interfered with the dialing computer--"
Daniel and Teal'c were still down in the gateroom. Teal'c was staring grimly at the gate and Daniel was looking up at her, making "what the hell?" gestures. All they knew was that Colonel O'Neill had stepped through the gate and before they could follow, the event horizon of the active wormhole had gone flat and hard as glass. They had never seen anything like it before. She took a deep breath. "It looks like the surge caused an error within our system, causing a connection to...something else, some other energy source."
Carter glanced up to see General Hammond regarding their visitor with a particular intensity. "Do you know anything about this, Rammant?"
"I don't understand. What's happened?" The man looked honestly confused. He was dark-haired, young, sharp-featured, dressed in the baggy gray pants and jacket that the natives wore on P3X-422, where SG-12 had found him. He claimed to have escaped from a Goa'uld world with the gate address for an abandoned Goa'uld installation with a naquadah mine. They had planned this trip to P3X-259 on his advice, and everything about his story had seemed plausible. But the best thing in the man's favor at the moment was that he looked as genuinely surprised by this as they were. And he had been down in the gateroom, ready to follow them through the wormhole, and not within touching distance of any console when the surge had occurred.
The figures on the console changed and Carter stopped listening, staring at the readouts. "Wait, wait. Something's.... The wormhole's reconnecting--"
Jack tramped through the forested hills for an hour, finding a lot of lovely countryside, another footpath and a well-used wagon-track liberally sprinkled with horse dung. He began to circle back around toward his lonely cache of rocks marking where the stargate should be. He was nearly there when he started to get the sense of something wrong.
Jack stopped, stilled his breathing, and listened. The birdsong had ceased. All he could hear was the wind, tossing the tops of the trees and the tall pines. Hold it. That's not wind.
Something was moving through the forest, roughly in the direction of the nonexistent stargate. Something big.
The trees and tall ferny foliage started to feel like a trap rather than good cover, and Jack began moving again, heading for the clearing.
When he could see it through the trees he stopped abruptly. There was somebody there.
A man was sitting on his heels, examining the tracks Jack had left in the damp ground amid the grass. His hair was a tangled blond mane, almost wild enough to be vaguely Nox-like, but he was dressed in rough dyed leather, pants, boots and an open vest. He was holding a broadsword that was almost as long as he was tall, so Jack guessed he wasn't a pacifist.
Before Jack could decide whether to ease back out of sight or walk up and introduce himself, the guy glanced up and saw him. He came to his feet, staring. He was short, with a compact muscular build, and was probably closer to Daniel's age than Jack's. He was also looking at Jack with an expression best described as "what the hell is that?"
The green fatigues probably didn't look that odd, and Jack suspected the guy didn't know what the P-90 was. But the man almost looked as if he wasn't sure if he was facing another human or not, and the sword was indecisively pointing at Jack. Oh, right, Jack thought, realizing what the problem was. He spared a hand from the P-90 to pull his black sunglasses off.
The guy blinked, looked less freaked, and lowered the sword. So Jack lowered the P-90, and said, "Hi. You didn't happen to see a stargate around here, did you?"
The guy asked an urgent question in return, nodding toward the forest. Jack squinted, baffled. "Wait, what?" The man hadn't spoken in English, but the words sounded weirdly familiar, as if the meaning was just there, just out of reach. As if Jack had forgotten the meaning and just needed to remember it. "Say that again?"
The guy gave him another funny look, as if he hadn't understood Jack either. He repeated the question. Jack shook his head, baffled. He had gotten part of it, which was far weirder than not understanding it at all. Something something see...in the forest? Did I see a something in the forest?
Then across the clearing, a dragon burst out of the brush.
"Gah!" Jack whipped around, raised the P-90 and fired instinctively, spraying bullets across the creature's head. It was a lizard as big as an M-2 Bradley, covered with iridescent armored plates in mottled black and gray and red, and big mean eyes the size of dinner plates, and a huge mouth with teeth, long sharp serrated teeth, and breath that nearly knocked him over.
The thing rolled its big head, as if shaking off the bullets, and opened its mouth. Jack lifted the gun to fire straight down its gullet when a gust of foul breath, heavy with sulfur and ozone, washed over him. Dragons, his brain said, even as his body took a jerky step back. Dragons breathe fire--
Something struck him, knocking him sideways as the creature belched fire, shooting a burst of flame across the clearing that would have burnt Jack to a cinder. He hit the ground with a yell, only realizing when the weight rolled off him that the guy had tackled him out of the path of the fire burst. "Thanks," Jack gasped, lifting the P-90 again as he scrambled to his feet. "Looks like a dragon, breathes fire, got it."
"It's not a dragon, it's a ghidra," the guy corrected, rolling to his feet gracefully like somebody without a bad knee. "It doesn't fly." He raised his voice, calling into the woods, "Herc, I found it!" There was an answering shout from somewhere past the trees.
Jack threw him a startled look. That time he had understood every word, and the guy still wasn't speaking English. Freaky, he thought, dismissing it for the moment.
The monster was circling towards them, trying to get in toasting range, and they both backed away. "You were looking for this thing?" Jack asked, and that was when he realized he was speaking whatever the other guy was speaking. And that was when he recognized it. Ancient. It's the Ancient language. It was the same as when the Ancient head-grabber had stuffed the knowledge into his mind. It's back. Crap. Or maybe it was there all along and he only needed to remember it. When the Asgard had taken everything that wouldn't fit, maybe the language had stayed behind.
Still watching the creature warily, the guy was answering, "Yeah, it attacked the village, Plinth. We been tracking it for a couple of days." He threw a puzzled look at Jack. "What kind of weapon is--"
Blue light blinded Jack and a gale force wind knocked him backwards. Struggling to hold onto the P-90, Jack realized he was airborne and thought for an instant the monster had done something dramatic. Then his stomach twisted and the familiar rush of streaming starlight filled his vision, only this wormhole had the suction of a black hole. The next instant he slammed onto his back on hard metal.
It took the breath out of his lungs. Groggy, he shoved up on his elbows, already recognizing the surface under him as the stargate ramp. The guy who had knocked him out of the dragon's breath was sprawled next to him, having hit face first. "Don't fire," Jack said to the Airman manning the gun placement beside the ramp. He heard the words come out in English, not Ancient, and that was such a relief it made his head swim. "Stand down." And then things went wavery and dark, and maybe it wasn't relief that was making his head swim. The last thing he remembered was the ceiling of the gate room and Daniel leaning over him.
"It was another what?" Jack repeated. He was sitting on a table in the base Infirmary, being poked at by one of the nurses. He had only been out for half an hour at most, but he still felt groggy. The nurse had explained it was most likely from trauma induced by the anomalous wormhole. Jack thought it was from being slammed ass-first onto the gate ramp.
"Another dimension. Quantum travel. A two-way wormhole." Carter was so unhinged by this that she kept trying to hand him diagrams and print-outs, which he had to keep fending off. "That wormhole was only partially generated by the gate network. That power surge – we still have no idea where that came from, they're going to have to go over the power system line by line -- apparently caused a connection with something else." She gestured in agitation. "The connection was still there, and when the system was hit by a second surge, the wormhole resumed and pulled you back. Pulling in the other man was an accident."
Dr. Janet Fraiser arrived, flustered and annoyed. She took out a pocket flashlight and started trying to jam it into Jack's eye, apparently to see if he had a concussion. Knowing better than to fend her off, Jack just leaned back, wincing, and asked, "When we were looking for possible sources of mysterious power surges, we looked at our buddy Rammant, didn't we?"
Daniel nodded. He was pacing in the limited space around the table, deep in thought. Jack vaguely remembered coming to and telling Daniel about speaking the Ancient language again, and hearing it spoken by the guy he had run into, and seeing it written on the marker stone. He also vaguely remembered Daniel doing a sort of celebratory dance around the examination table, but maybe he was imagining that part. Still, it had taken Daniel a while to calm down enough to talk about anything else, which was why Jack hadn't found out what had happened at the SGC until Carter had arrived. "He was in the control room; there's no way he could have been responsible." Daniel glanced up. "You said you were there an hour?"
"A little longer, actually," Jack corrected, wincing again when Janet went for the other eye. "When the dragon showed up I stopped checking my watch."
"It was less than five minutes between surges, here," Carter told him, brow furrowed in thought. "So there's a time difference. Or the wormhole actually went through time, as well as space, while traveling interdimensionally. Both ways. My God, this is incredible."
Jack could tell she was about to head off into esoteric gate-physicist territory. Fortunately Teal'c walked in at that moment, saying, "It is good to see you well, O'Neill."
"Thanks." Jack saw Teal'c was sporting a good-sized contusion over his right eye. He didn't remember slamming into anybody while flying out of the gate, but he supposed it was a possibility. "What happened to you?"
"Your new friend kicked Teal'c in the head," Janet explained grimly, backing off with the flashlight and picking up Jack's chart. "And I had to give him enough tranquilizer to take down an elephant, just so we could get the CAT scan."
"It is of no consequence," Teal'c said, unperturbed. His air of serenity suggested he had enjoyed the fight. "In a similar situation, I would have reacted in the same way."
"Anybody hurt?" Jack asked.
"Bruises, pride, and my budget, when I reorder all the broken equipment," Janet told him, not sounding thrilled.
"The CAT scan was negative?" Daniel demanded.
"No Goa'uld infestation, no traces of any kind of Goa'uld device," Janet confirmed grimly. "And I wasn't expecting that, let me tell you. We had to take him down with a tranquilizer gun. But he's human, as far as I can tell without time to go over the data more thoroughly."
Jack frowned up at Teal'c, who was probably a good head taller than their involuntary guest, if not more. "How'd he get up there?"
"I am not entirely certain, O'Neill. Many others were attempting to subdue him, and things were moving very quickly."
"He used Corporal Minelli to hit people." Janet waved her hands, still annoyed. "It was a nightmare. We'll be putting that ward back together for days."
"General Hammond sealed the base until we can figure out what caused the anomaly with the gate," Daniel put in, still mostly lost in thought and not paying much attention to the conversation. "Considering that this man speaks Ancient, that's probably a good thing."
Jack nodded. "Definitely a good thing." It would keep NID out of here, was what Daniel meant. They needed to keep the guy at Stargate Command until they found a way to send him back to his own world. Or dimension, or whatever it was. "So you want to talk to him before we send him back, right? Try to figure what the connection is with the Ancients, why he's speaking the language?"
Daniel bit his lip and looked perturbed. Carter got that look like she was about to say something he wasn't going to like. "What?" Jack demanded.
"Sir, I don't think we can send him back," Carter said with an anticipatory wince. "I can duplicate the power surge, but the gate computer didn't record the coordinates. If there were even coordinates that our computer could interpret. It recorded two outgoing wormholes to P3X259, which is definitely not what actually happened. I've been looking over the data, and I'm going to get the others to work on it, but right now--"
Jack stopped her before it could get worse. "We can't send him back? You mean we've kidnapped a man from another dimension?"
Daniel lifted his brows. "What do you mean 'we'?"
Iolaus woke up cold, groggy, and angry. He sat bolt upright, scrambling into a defensive crouch before he was fully conscious. It was a big room made all of sandy-colored stone and bare metal, except for a section of mirror glass about ten feet up one wall. He was crouched on a small metal-framed bed with white bedding and a gray-green blanket. His clothes were gone, which was creepy, and he was wearing loose pants and a short-sleeved shirt of a flimsy blue material. They had taken everything, even his amulet and his earrings, though they had actually taken the earrings out rather than just ripping them off his earlobe. Oh, brother. And the day started out so well, too. Breathing hard, he eased down to sit on the little bed.
He had been winning the fight until the big dark-skinned guy with the gold thing on his head had showed up. Iolaus had still been holding his own until the others had shot him with poison darts. After that he remembered cold metal, and being poked and prodded, and things with blinky lights. And somebody sticking needles in his arm. He looked at the little bruises it had left and a chill traveled up his back, making him shiver. Who are these people? The blue swirly doorway had to have been a trap. Maybe they had even released the ghidra near Plinth, knowing it would bring Hercules there. Iolaus groaned and buried his face in his hands. Herc is going to go nuts.
He looked around again, weighing his options, then kicked the blankets aside and padded across the cold floor to try the door. It was made of heavy metal and didn't budge when he slammed his shoulder against it.
Huh. Iolaus eyed the glass in the upper portion of one metal wall. Maybe I can break that, he thought, perking up. He grabbed for the metal rail forming the headboard of the little bed, meaning to use it as a battering ram. He almost wrenched his arm when it didn't move. Some investigation told him that the bed itself was locked to the floor, and no amount of pulling, shoving, and yanking would shift it. Abandoning that, he tried jumping up and hitting the glass with his fist. It banged loudly but didn't even crack. There wasn't enough room to get a good running start, and after a few more tries he gave it up for the moment.
Cursing, Iolaus searched the place thoroughly. There was a basin thing to get water, and a place to pee, but nothing that would come loose, except the blankets, sheets and cushions on the bed.
Iolaus swore again, stopping in the middle of the room to rub his face and run a frustrated hand through his hair. "I could build a pillow fort," he said bitterly. That was about his only option.
He started to pace, grumbling under his breath. There was nothing to do but wait until Hercules found a way to rescue him.
A couple of hours later, Jack walked into the medical isolation unit to find his prisoner lying on his side on the standard-issue cot, head propped on his hand, watching the door with an expression that could at best be described as disgruntled. When Jack entered, the expression didn't change.
He was wearing blue scrubs a little too big for him, and the profusion of fluffy blond hair was even more mussed; the effect made him look like he was about twelve years old, which made Jack feel even worse. He also had a bruise and a cut above his left eye, but that might be from landing face first on the gate ramp. According to reports, the Airmen had been getting the worst of the fight in the Infirmary until Teal'c had waded in.
Daniel had planted himself in the elevated booth behind the one-way glass in the upper half of the otherwise bare metal room, where he could compare the conversation to the database of Ancient words he had already collected. Jack expected full color commentary on how he was screwing up this cultural contact. He put his hands in his pockets, concentrated on the Ancient language, and said, "Hi."
The guy looked him over, his expression still stony. "You're welcome."
For a moment Jack thought he had messed up the simple greeting, but then he got the idea. "Ah, yeah. That was a good save, thanks. And I would have gotten to that, but--"
"Why did you bring me here?"
It was a fair question. "Hey, that was an accident. They were trying to get me back and you got brought along by...accident." Jack winced. He knew how he would react had their positions been reversed.
The guy didn't look impressed. "Then let me go."
"Right, there's the thing. I was sent to there, wherever there is, by...accident," Jack was beginning to hate that word, "and we can't get our stargate to dial that address again."
"So you won't let me go." He didn't sound surprised.
Jack let a breath out, eyeing him. It occurred to him that this guy might not even have a clue what had happened. "Look, do you know what a stargate is?"
There was a moment where the guy looked like he thought it was a trick question, but couldn't see what the trick was. He answered reluctantly, "No."
"Right." Daniel was better at this, and if it went on much longer he was damn well dragging Daniel's ass down here. "This isn't your world. That blue light, that was a wormhole, and it took us out of your world--"
"Into this one," he interrupted impatiently, sitting up. "I know what the blue swirly doorways are. They go to other worlds and the places in between. And if you brought me here so Hercules would come after me, you're going to regret it." He gestured in disgust. "You really think you're the first ones to try this? Do you have any idea how often this happens?"
Exasperated, mostly at himself, Jack threw his arms in the air. "Look, in your position, I wouldn't believe me either. You're walking along, decide to help a stranger who's being attacked by a dragon, and then the next thing you know you're sucked through a wormhole and thrown in a cell. I admit that it looks bad. But--"
"Jack," Daniel's voice interrupted over the loudspeaker.
"What?" Jack snapped. It took him a moment of mental effort to switch back to English, reminding him uncomfortably of the time he hadn't been able to speak anything but Ancient. "I thought we agreed that I was doing this."
"Jack, ask him who Hercules is. If it's a figure analogous to the Hercules of our Greek myth, we could be dealing with another stargate culture, maybe transported to this other dimension by the same sort of accident that took you there, or via--"
"Daniel." Jack pinched the bridge of his nose, reaching for calm. The guy was now looking at him with a set sour expression, as if every suspicion had just been confirmed. "I'm trying to convince my kidnapping victim that I'm not some interdimensional-pan-galactic terrorist who grabbed him to use as a hostage against this what's-his-name guy, and you saying that guy's name twice in a strange language in the middle of this conversation did not help my credibility."
There was a short silence from the observation room. "Oh."
Daniel, of course, could not leave it there. He had a theory between his teeth now, Jack could tell from his voice. "Just try asking him what his name is."
Jack sighed and regarded his prisoner again. "Magic Voice wants to know what your name is," he said in Ancient.
The guy flicked a wary look up toward the grille where the loudspeaker was, just below the one-way glass, and Jack had a chance to realize that the Mystery Science Theater 3000 reference was probably just as ill-considered as Daniel's gaff. But before he could explain that it had been a joke, the guy said, "I'm Iolaus."
Daniel clicked on the loudspeaker again. "Jack, we need to talk."
Daniel's theory was that Iolaus came from a Goa'uld-controlled stargate culture that had somehow gotten transported to the other dimension by the gate system. After a couple of hours of conversation, Jack wasn't so sure.
Daniel had told Iolaus about the Goa'uld, the Jaffa, the stargates, the false god trick that the Goa'uld played on their captive human populations, and the mission of the SGC. He had shown him video files on his laptop of Goa'uld and hosts and Jaffa, though it had taken a while for Iolaus to get past the fascination with the moving colors on the screen and actually look at the images. Daniel had offered to show him a live Goa'uld, meaning Junior, the one in Teal'c's pouch, but Iolaus was pretty adamant that he didn't want to see that. Jack wished he had never seen it, so he couldn't really fault him for that one.
"I believe you about the snake-parasite-people, I don't need to see it," Iolaus told Daniel, looking stubborn. He couldn't pronounce Goa'uld, and apparently refused to say it. Jack reflected that he, Hammond and half the people in the SGC couldn't either, but that had never stopped them.
"Right. Fine." Daniel grimly adjusted his glasses. "So are you willing to at least admit the possibility that these creatures you think of as gods might be Goa'uld?"
Iolaus snorted contemptuously. "No."
Jack was translating the words Daniel didn't know, or most of them. There were some he just couldn't remember. Daniel's theory was that the anomalous wormhole might have affected his language center, and hearing Iolaus speak Ancient had triggered the memory of the language.
Iolaus would undoubtedly have been able to tell them a lot more about the Ancient language if he knew any of the technical words that Daniel had previously managed to decipher. But since Iolaus' culture apparently thought a water wheel was the cutting edge of technology, that was understandable. As far as Jack could tell, he no longer knew any Ancient technical or scientific language either; his knowledge now seemed to be confined to conversational Ancient, which wasn't that useful. He hadn't even remembered the good swear words, but Iolaus was in the process of teaching him those.
"I'm speaking Greek," Iolaus had snarled through gritted teeth at one point. "Not Latin. This is Latin," and spat out a stream of words which had Daniel flailing for his notebook, despite the fact that he had already set up multiple video and audio recordings. Jack caught the words for "fucking Romans" but that was it.
Janet and the other doctors had had time to analyze the medical data, and to confirm that Iolaus had no naquadah traces in his blood. But he also had signs of massive injuries, some of which had healed normally, others that could only have been treated by some kind of unthinkably advanced technology, like a Goa'uld sarcophagus.
"You've been stabbed in the heart," Daniel pointed out.
"But you say you weren't healed in a Goa'uld sarcophagus."
"You bury people in a sarcophagus. Putting someone in one when you were planning to bring them back to life would be kind of a waste of time."
Jack had seen a lot of people under Goa'uld domination. People who didn't know they were under Goa'uld domination. People who did know they were under Goa'uld domination and were too cowed to fight, or who fought it, or who pretended to like it. He had never run across someone who was willing to admit the existence of the Goa'uld, understood the idea of the false gods and thought the people who fell for it were idiots, and yet refused to admit his particular gods were false. At least, Iolaus wasn't willing to admit they were false, but he readily conceded that some of them were utter bastards and none of them were trustworthy. Except for Hercules, who Iolaus had apparently grown up with. He wouldn't say much about his world, but the little he had said didn't fit any Goa'uld pattern they had ever come across before. Except for the gods.
"Look." Daniel took his glasses off and massaged his eyes. "If you could just bring yourself to trust us a little--"
Iolaus looked incredulous. "You people stuck needles in my arm, why should I trust you?"
"Hey," Jack interposed, "We get that too. That's standard, every time any one of us goes through the gate. They didn't do anything to you that they don't do to us."
"Oh, okay." Iolaus glared at him. "Thanks for initiating me into your sick little customs."
But the main reason Jack thought Iolaus couldn't have come from a Goa'uld-controlled society was the same reason Jack couldn't have come from a Goa'uld-controlled society; neither of them would have lasted fifteen minutes. Iolaus was pissed off, and not the least hesitant to show it. He said things like: "Why do you all dress the same? Lack of imagination?" and "You live underground? That's creepy." He had apparently caught a glimpse of General Hammond at some point during the fight in the Infirmary, because he had asked Jack, "Are you the leader or is that the other old guy?" Jack hadn't argued with him on that one, having recognized an ability, second only to his own, to derail any attempt at a real exchange of information with a pointless argument.
Jack didn't think Iolaus had ever had an opinion he hadn't expressed immediately, and probably to the authority figure most likely to kill him for having it. He even had Daniel, who was patient in the extreme with the bizarre behaviors of all the native locals they had encountered, gritting his teeth and knitting his brow in frustration.
"Look," Daniel tried again, "We're trying to help you."
"Are you?" Iolaus began in a tone that clearly communicated that he felt he was humoring a crazy man. "You're lousy at it. If you really wanted to help me, you'd let me go. Before Hercules comes after me." He looked at Jack steadily. "He saw you. He got there just as the blue swirly doorway grabbed us."
Frustrated, Daniel spread his hands. "The only reason we were able to get to your world at all was a fluke. We don't even know how we reached it. And even if there were stargates in your world, he wouldn't be able to come after you."
Iolaus regarded Daniel steadily. "That's what they told me when I was dead."
Daniel looked at Jack, who lifted his brows and shrugged. Then he said briskly, "Let's take a break."
After that, Daniel disappeared into his office to review his tapes, and Jack found Carter waiting for him in the corridor with a report on the power surges that had caused all this in the first place.
Taking one look at her expression, Jack knew he wasn't going to like this. "It's bad news, isn't it?"
She nodded, her mouth set in a grim line. "The tech crew checking the power system found evidence that one of the junction boxes on Level 19 was tampered with; the maintenance logs kept beside the box were disarranged, like someone had knocked into them while closing the box in a hurry."
"Crap," Jack muttered. It figured. "What about the surveillance tapes?"
Carter's expression became positively saturnine. "The power surge apparently caused enough interference that all they have is static."
"What a coinkydink." Jack grimaced. "Rammant did this. I don't have a clue how, but it's him."
"I think so too. He's got to have someone helping him." Brow furrowed, she added, "I have some ideas, but they're kind of far out. I'd like to test my theories first. With the base on lockdown, I think I have some time."
"Right." Jack suppressed a frustrated growl. Not that they had much choice. All they had was a box that had been fiddled with, which told them absolutely nothing about who had done it. They could be dealing with anything from a lone spy to a full blown foothold situation. "Don't take too much time, Carter."
As she walked away, Jack thought it over again. Rammant had been kept in the VIP quarters, and had never taken one step out of them without an armed escort. Let alone the fact that he had been standing in the control area when the surges occurred. But it was too big a coincidence that this all had happened when they had an offworld stranger on the base, who had shown up with enticing offers about abandoned naquadah mines.
Jack went to see Rammant in the room assigned to him, acknowledging the two Airmen stationed outside the door. The room had a standard issue bed, lamps, a table and chairs that were all a little better than your average motor inn furnishings, and it was tastefully decorated with a couple of framed USAF posters. Rammant was sitting at the table, looking at an old copy of a magazine, or at least it was open in front of him. The room came supplied with books with a lot of pictures, for the convenience of offworld guests who couldn't read English.
Jack didn't like the idea of Rammant, who just had to be up to something, getting a VIP room and Iolaus, who had just been in the wrong place at the wrong time, being stuck in the bare isolation room. But Iolaus' uncanny ability to turn any animate or inanimate object into a weapon kind of made it necessary, at least for now. He knew the Airmen on duty had managed to figure out a way to give Iolaus dinner earlier this evening without anybody getting hurt, he just wasn't sure how; he figured finger food and styrofoam must have been involved.
Rammant looked up, smiling, as Jack stepped inside. "Colonel O'Neill. Are you ready to resume the journey?"
"No, not so much." Jack put his hands in his pockets and stared at Rammant, letting him do the talking.
He just looked politely confused. "But your people must be anxious to get to the naquadah mine."
"It's been there a long time. It'll wait another few days." Jack smiled thinly. "You seem kind of anxious to get to it."
Rammant shook his head, smiling back. "I am anxious to have this done with, so I can leave here."
"Right. But we're not taking any journeys until we figure out what went so spectacularly wrong with the last one."
"Yes, I saw what happened. But no one was hurt."
"No. I was just nearly burnt to death by a fire-breathing dragon, and it looks like I permanently stranded a man who was willing to risk getting toasted to save the life of a total stranger."
Rammant adopted a sober expression. "You don't trust me, do you?"
"No, but don't take it personally." Jack rolled his eyes, deciding to let it rest for now. Everything about the guy felt fake. "Well, good night."
Jack left and went to talk to Hammond, where they both agreed that something was up with Rammant, that he had played them somehow. What that something was, and how Rammant had managed the gate anomaly, they both agreed that they didn't know. After telling each other what they both already knew for a while, they both gave up and Hammond went back to paperwork and Jack wandered off to look for something to do.
This was the part Jack didn't particularly like, where everybody else had a job and his was to stand around and say, "So. You done yet?" And he had learned it was no good to stand over Carter and stare at her, willing her to find a solution.
He found Daniel, but he was walking up and down the corridors with a cup of coffee, talking to himself about Sanskrit and Latin and Greek and there was no point in interrupting that. Jack knew it was because Daniel was used to winnowing out tiny little pieces of information from Ancient inscriptions. Whenever he got a whole bunch of new data in a big lump, it made him overexcited.
Teal'c was off catching up on his kelno'reeming, so Jack borrowed an office to write up his Mission Report. It should have been easy, since there wasn't a mission to speak of. But when he got to the part with the dragon, he had to stop. It was just too weird. He tried to get some sleep in one of the bunkrooms and after a lot of restless shifting around, finally dropped off. He slept so deeply, he didn't hear the unauthorized activation alarms until they had been blaring for at least a couple of minutes.
Jack met Teal'c and Siler in the gateroom; it was about four in the morning and Siler was in uniform but Teal'c hadn't bothered to dress in anything but a pair of striped boxer shorts. It didn't make the staff weapon he held look any less intimidating.
"Well?" Jack demanded.
"Sir, it just stopped," Siler reported, watching the closed iris warily. "The whole episode lasted about four minutes and twenty-two seconds."
"And there was no dialing? The gate just came on?" That was the part that was making Jack's nerves itch.
General Hammond walked in at that point, dressed in his normal uniform except for a pair of carpet slippers that Jack tried not to notice. The General waved for Siler to keep talking.
"Yes, sir," Siler answered Jack. "The outer rim glowed blue and the gate started to rotate as if it was dialing, but it never selected any chevrons. Control closed the iris immediately and raised the alarm. That's when we realized the gate wasn't drawing any power from our system."
Hammond held up a hand. "So we're not talking about another mystery power surge, like what we had yesterday?"
"No, sir. This was something completely different. No power was drawn at all. Control detected something traveling in the wormhole, and there was an impact event, a loud one, right in the center of the iris. Then another, and another. But Control registered that these weren't multiple objects causing the impacts. This was one object striking repeatedly. Then the impacts became lighter, more like taps, and it moved all around the iris."
Teal'c, who had lifted a brow at the General's carpet slippers, glanced up. "That is when I arrived. It became readily apparent that something was testing the iris, trying to determine its size and strength."
Daniel walked in in time to hear most of this, listening with a thoughtful grimace. Jack, feeling a little desperate, said, "I thought we were all agreed that was impossible." People and things didn't travel through wormholes as solid objects, just energy signatures and data sent from one gate to the other. You couldn't wander around in one, like you were on the subway or something.
"We are, sir," Siler told him. "This is...not good."
"Not good?" Jack repeated incredulously. "Is that a technical term?" It was bizarre enough that this interdimensional wormhole allowed two way travel; he was having a hard enough time getting used to that.
Carter came in then, carrying a handful of printouts from the control room. She handed them off to Siler, saying, "You were right, we can't trace the wormhole's origin."
Hammond just looked grim. "Go on," he told Siler.
"After the soft taps, there was one more big impact in the center of the iris. Then the traveler returned back through the wormhole and the connection closed, the glow faded, and the gate rotated back to resting position."
Hammond nodded to himself. "So something connected with our gate but hit the iris, tried to use brute force to get through, figured out that wouldn't work, proceeded to make a detailed examination of the obstruction, then slammed it one more time to let us know it'd be back. Is that what happened?"
"That's what I got out of it," Jack agreed grimly.
"Indeed," Teal'c seconded.
Carter nodded, glumly. "Yes, sir."
Hammond eyed Jack. "Correct me if I'm wrong, Colonel, but our guest predicted that something would come after him, and we'd regret it when it did."
"Yes, sir, that was pretty much the gist of it," Jack admitted reluctantly.
Hammond turned the look on Daniel. "And we still haven't ascertained whether the gods he's talking about are Goa'uld, correct?"
Daniel pursed his lips. "Not really. Some facts fit, others...don't."
Hammond took a deep breath. "I hope we all recall the Salish, who claimed to have spiritual protectors -- a claim which we dismissed."
"Until they came here and kicked our asses," Jack completed the thought. The Salish's 'spirits' had been an advanced alien race who had objected in the strongest terms to visitors from the stargate taking advantage of the humans they shared their planet with. It had been a strong lesson to the factions in the Pentagon who had wanted to exploit the more primitive civilizations discovered through the gate, and for that Jack was glad. But his shoulder still ached in bad weather from that damn arrow, and he felt it was a lesson well-learned and unnecessary to repeat. "Yes, sir."
"Just keep that in mind while you're looking for a solution." Hammond took one last look around at them all. "Get on this, people. We need answers. And Teal'c, put some clothes on."
The next unscheduled offworld activation was only half an hour later.
Jack had had time to grab a shower in the locker room and coffee in the conference room where he, Daniel and Teal'c had retired for a strategy session. Jack would have liked to get Carter's input as well, but she was locked up with the gate scientists who had been called in to deal with the earlier emergencies, reviewing the data collected from the activations and trying to figure out who or what on the base had caused the problem to start with. Jack could hear them shouting at each other occasionally through the partitions.
Daniel spread his hands on the table, his mouth twisted. "If we could just be certain these people aren't Goa'uld, we could talk this out. Surely they could understand it was an accident, and that we weren't able to repeat the process to return him." He gestured helplessly. "These people speak Ancient, and they can apparently create interdimensional wormholes; if that's not a basis for an alliance, I don't know what is."
Jack rubbed his gritty eyes. "If. If. If. The next time someone says 'if--'"
Teal'c began, "There is another difficulty. Even if--" Jack gave him a hairy eyeball, which Teal'c returned "--if we prove that these gods are not Goa'uld, Iolaus himself still believes that he was abducted. That is not a good basis for trust. And they may not wish to negotiate with us. We cannot open the iris to a hostile force."
"Right." That was pretty much the whole situation in a nutshell. They probably just want Iolaus back. We can't give Iolaus back without opening the iris, and putting ourselves completely at their mercy, and we don't even know if they're Goa'uld or not. Nothing was going to change that until they figured out a way to open an outgoing wormhole back to Neverland. Jack swallowed a yawn. "I'm going to talk to Iolaus again. That's about all we can do until Carter comes up with--"
The alarm klaxon interrupted him.
Jack shoved his chair back and bolted for the control room, but as he arrived the gate was already powering itself down, rotating back into its inactive position. "What the hell was that?" he demanded.
Carter slammed in after him, shouldering between Daniel and Teal'c to get a look at the readouts. One of the operators bailed out of his chair so she could take his place. She punched buttons and swore under her breath. "Same source. At least as far as we can trace it, before it shifts into quantum travel." She shook her head, caught between admiring it and being aghast. "It's two ways, again. Something seems to be moving back and forth in it, again. The energy they're expending is off the scale, I don't understand--"
The other tech snapped, "Captain, energy signature!"
"Where?" Carter scanned the panel, jaw clenched, then answered her own question. "On the iris?"
"The iris?" Jack stared down at the gate. The iris was whole and undamaged, as far as he could see.
But one of the techs keyed an alarm, the klaxon started again, and Carter shoved out of her chair, heading for the door. "It's the other side of the iris. They opened that wormhole to plant something on it."
Jack swore, turning to the techs who were watching him helplessly. "How is that possible-- Never mind. I should just stop asking that question."
"Six impossible things before breakfast," Daniel said under his breath.
Teal'c just lifted a brow.
Carter and Siler wanted everybody in radiation suits before they examined the other side of the iris. They could tell whatever was there was putting out energy, just not what kind, or how dangerous it was. Jack was willing to bet on the dangerous part. When he got down there with Carter and Siler, he was expecting a bomb, at least.
It wasn't a device. There was nothing but a drawing on the metal. When Jack saw what it was, he said, "Son of a bitch," and sent for Daniel. Things had just gotten to that extra level of weird where the only thing you could do was call for your archeologist and hope for the best.
After a few minutes, Daniel appeared, covered in his radiation suit. He hurried around the gate ramp to join them.
Looking up at the drawing on the iris, he made a funny noise in his throat. "Well?" Jack demanded.
"It's an Eye of Horus," Daniel said. The hood of the radiation suit kept Jack from seeing his face, but his voice was uneasily fascinated. "And I think it's drawn in blood."
"You didn't tell us your friends back home could create wormholes."
"If you mean blue swirly doorways, you didn't ask." Lying on the cot, Iolaus had listened to Daniel's description of their two unauthorized activations with a blank expression that Jack felt barely concealed an "I told you so."
"Where do the blue swirly doorways normally go?"
Iolaus rolled his eyes. "You wouldn't believe me."
"Oh come on," Jack prompted. "We work at Blue Swirly Doorway Command, you don't think we've seen some weird stuff?"
"Fine." Iolaus sat up, wrapping his arms around his knees. "They go to other worlds. Some are like ours, some are different. An otherworld sorcerer told us that he thought all the worlds were arranged in concentric circles, with ours at the center, and things that happened in it echoed down to all the others. His world was near the outer edge, but even they had stories about our world, myths and legends. They also had demons. You got demons here?"
"Just the Goa'uld," Daniel said, but his expression was rapt. "I do believe you, by the way." He slipped a page out of his notebook and showed it to Iolaus. "Do the doorways have anything to do with this symbol?"
It was a drawing of the eye from the back of the iris. Daniel was a good sketch artist and had captured the feel of it as well as the details. Jack thought the eye looked pissed off, but maybe that was just him.
"Egypt," Iolaus said, frowning at the drawing in what looked like honest puzzlement. "He hasn't had time to get to Egypt."
"You have a place on your world called Egypt?" Daniel asked quickly.
Iolaus flicked him a dry look. "No, I just thought the name sounded neat." He regarded Daniel steadily for a moment. "You're lying, there hasn't been time."
"That first wormhole went through some kind of time difference between here and there," Jack explained tiredly. "I was in your world about an hour, but here I was only gone a few minutes." He made a vague gesture. "It's an other dimensional thing."
Iolaus considered that, but still looked skeptical. He asked Daniel, "Are you a sorcerer?"
"Say yes," Jack prompted in English.
"No," Daniel said pointedly to both of them.
Iolaus lay back down, propping his head on his arms. "Good."
Daniel regarded him thoughtfully. "Are you saying you don't know what the drawing is for?"
"How in Tartarus should I know? I'm not a sorcerer."
Daniel lifted a brow. "But your friend Hercules would go to Egypt for one?"
Iolaus just looked at him.
Jack sighed and folded his arms. "You know, we've been straight with you, and for all the attitude, I think you might just be starting to believe that. Just tell us what you think that eye thing is doing to the iris."
"Fine." Iolaus sat up on one elbow. "The most powerful sorcerer in Egypt is our friend, and the most powerful god there feels it owes me a favor. Amun-Re wouldn't dirty its – his –- their hands by killing a bunch of barbarian foreigners from another world, but it just might send Horus Incarnate to open that gate of yours for Hercules and Kheper. If you really can't send me back, maybe you should consider opening your gate and leaving so nobody gets hurt."
Daniel contemplated the ceiling for a long moment. "Why don't we do that?"
"We can't do that." Jack pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes, tired and exasperated. This is stupid, and it's not going to end well.
As if he sensed weakness, Iolaus added, "If it's been long enough for Herc to get to Egypt, he's probably half-crazy by now, and Kheper Djedi has a very scary sense of humor, and he can turn people into stuff, like trees and pillars of salt."
"Wait, did you say Kheper Djedi?" Daniel said, with the incredulity he would have used had Iolaus said the sorcerer's real name was Winston Churchill. "Khufu's court sorcerer?"
Iolaus frowned at him. "Yeah. But that was like a thousand years ago."
"A thousand years?" Daniel was still using that same tone, a weird combination of incredulity and awed excitement and a little dread.
"Maybe it was a hundred years. I don't know!" Iolaus flung his arms in the air, exasperated. "I'd just been dead when they were talking about all of this, I wasn't listening."
There was a knock on the door, and one of the guards leaned in to say, "Sir? Captain Carter needs Dr. Jackson in the gate room."
The Eye of Horus had sprouted a whole flotilla of new hieroglyphic images on the metal around it, in the same dried blood. There had been no new activation; apparently these symbols were growing out from the original drawing. Jack could hardly muster any new surprise; he felt at this point that he really had seen everything.
Carter and Siler and the others had figured out that the energy it was emitting was confined to the iris itself, and not spreading through the gate room, which meant it was safe to try to remove it without full radiation suits. Unless, Jack supposed, you felt compelled to lick the iris or something. At the moment they were investigating it with every scientific device currently known to mankind, as well as trying to scrape it off with brute force. So far it was holding its own. Daniel was frantically going through his books, researching the individual symbols, hoping for a clue there.
Hammond had already notified the Pentagon that they could be looking at a foothold situation in the gate room, and the fact that there had been an act of sabotage on the base which had caused this whole thing in the first place. Right now the plan, such as it was, was to seal the room off and attempt negotiations through the control area. They had about half an hour to kill, so Jack took Teal'c and Iolaus to the commissary for pie.
There had been a negotiation first. Jack had offered Iolaus his clothes back in exchange for his promise not to try to kill or maim anybody with a plastic fork or any other handy implement that presented itself. Jack was, of course, withholding the broadsword and the three knives.
There was no point in not giving him his belongings back, but Jack didn't mention that. The labs had analyzed everything out the wazoo and had reluctantly concluded that it was all exactly what it looked like: leather, made from something remarkably similar to a cow, plant dyes, various metals, including the pure gold in the earrings. That, and the solid jade amulet Iolaus had been wearing were yet another reason to keep the NID out of this. Jack could just imagine Maybourne's piggy little eyes lighting up at the thought of plundering the place. Though the idea of stranding Maybourne in a world full of dragons, sorcerers, and gods who might be Goa'uld or just an advanced race of righteously pissed off aliens was attractive.
Iolaus regarded the corridors they walked through with an understandable degree of wariness. The electric lights, the bands of cables strung along the walls, the support girders, the metal blast doors and security keypads didn't exactly look like anything he would have seen before. It helped that the Airmen and the technical and support personnel they passed were too used to offworlders to stare.
"How do you like it?" Jack asked, just for the hell of it.
Iolaus gave him a dark look. "It's an ugly cave, and it smells funny."
Jack translated that for Teal'c, who said, "I have noticed the same thing myself."
"Hey." Jack frowned at him. "You're my moral support, remember that."
But he translated Teal'c's explanation for how the elevator worked, since his version -- "you push buttons and it goes up and down" -- was met with a "if you don't know just say so."
They were sitting in the cafeteria when Iolaus jerked his head at Teal'c and asked Jack, "If you're the leader, how come he gets to have the gold thing on his head?"
"He's special." Jack watched Iolaus suspiciously pick the piece of pie apart before tasting it. If he came from a Goa'uld culture, it was the weirdest damn one Jack could ever conceive of. He frowned at Teal'c. "Could they be Tok'ra? The long lost Tok'ra who went to another dimension and decided to play earth mythology with the humans?" Most of the Tok'ra didn't have any kind of sense of humor, but Jack could imagine Selmak doing something like this. And Selmak was older than dirt; maybe the Tok'ra had been a little less tight-assed back then.
Teal'c just lifted a brow, in the way that meant "Don't be stupid." He said, "Do the Tok'ra speak the language of the Ancients?"
"That would be no. Not unless they're holding out on us even more than we already thought."
Daniel leaned into the doorway, spotted them, and came over to take a seat at the table, spreading out a handful of papers covered with cramped handwriting and little diagrams. "All right, this is what I think is happening." He looked pointedly at Iolaus, switching over to Ancient. "The image is transforming the iris into a portal for the manifestation of an entity known as Anubis."
Iolaus choked on a bite of pie and recovered when Teal'c helpfully slapped him on the back.
Jack smiled at him, trying for an air of threat which he didn't think would have much of an effect. "Know somebody named Anubis, do you?"
Iolaus rolled his eyes, because apparently that was a stupid question. "Only when I was dead."
Daniel sighed, saying in English, "Uh huh, I thought that would be the response." He turned to Jack and Teal'c. "At least according to our version of Egyptian mythology, Anubis is an opener of ways, so this makes sense."
"Great. That's just dandy." Jack nodded to himself. "We doing anything about this?"
"They're currently trying to remove the image with some kind of high-powered sanding tools, but I don't think that's going to work." Daniel was already pouring himself a cup of coffee from the pot on the table.
"You don't happen to know any counter-spells?"
Jack fully expected a snippy answer; he had, in effect, given Daniel an open invitation to a snippy answer. Instead, Daniel just looked thoughtful. "I...may have something in mind."
Teal'c lifted a brow. Jack contemplated Daniel for a moment, trying to decide if he wanted more detail. "Is it completely crazy?"
"Right." He didn't want more detail. He checked his watch. "How long have we got?"
Daniel took a deep breath. "At the current rate the image is expanding, no more than an hour."
"Good. I can have another cup of coffee."
The cafeteria door slammed open and Carter hurried in, spotted their table and came over to pull out a chair. "Colonel, I've--" Sitting down, she did a double-take, noticing one of the people at the table was not a member of SG-1. "Hello."
Iolaus nodded to Carter, and with a deliberate air of mock earnestness, said to Jack, "She's beautiful. Is she your daughter?"
Daniel, the only other one who had understood, snorted into his coffee cup.
"Stop it." Jack pointed at Iolaus, saying firmly, "You're not as cute as you think you are." He explained to Carter, "It was a compliment. Just ignore him. Go on."
"Sir," Carter said in the tone that generally meant stop screwing around and listen to me now, "Keep your voices low, because we could be overheard, but--"
Teal'c lifted a brow and Daniel flicked a baffled look around the room, asking, "Overheard...by the cafeteria staff? Because their security clearance is-"
Carter continued resolutely, "We knew Rammant had to have a confederate, so I started checking the base for unusual energy signatures, seeing if he or they had any communication devices or tools I could use to trace them."
"And you found some." Jack didn't need to make it a question. He had a bad feeling about this.
She nodded. "I was also trying to figure out how these people could have gotten into the base. It took a while to isolate them, but the frequencies I found are close to what we'd get if someone used Transphase Eradication Rods on Levels 19, 20, and 21. But we aren't using TERs outside the gate room, and the gate room TERs haven't been active since the last successful incoming wormhole." She took a sharp breath. "What this is starting to look like is that we have at least one Reetou somewhere in the base."
Jack sat forward. "A Ree--" He lowered his voice with effort, repeating in a harsh whisper, "A Reetou? How is that possible? We're supposed to be scanning for that!" Reetou were an alien race who had been nearly eliminated by the Goa'uld. A remaining rebel faction had decided to strike back at the Goa'uld by slaughtering their preferred hosts, which meant humans, which meant Earth.
"We are, Sir, but if I were the rebel Reetou, I'd be working non-stop on a way to beat the TERs. The frequencies are so similar, it may be a jamming device." Carter gestured to Teal'c. "Teal'c's symbiote hasn't been reacting to the presence of any Reetou, but that just means they've been careful to stay out of the same room. They know he's a Jaffa, and they don't have any trouble seeing us, so they should be able to avoid getting too close to him if they're careful." Teal'c looked thoughtful, as if mentally going through a list of everywhere he had been on the base in the past few days.
Jack absorbed all this, gritting his teeth as he thought it through. She was right – no shock there, she was pretty much always right – and he could see it all falling into place. The Reetou weren't visible to humans and Jaffa; the light and sound particles they emitted were out of phase, and the TER scanners were the only way to see them. But it didn't stop them from seeing humans, or being able to move and touch and shoot things. "And how does Rammant figure into this?" Jack knew he figured into it some way.
"Oh, wait." Daniel tapped his fingers on the table. "Rammant could be an engineered human, like Charlie."
Carter nodded. "Exactly. If the Reetou who wanted to warn us could create Charlie, then the Rebel Reetou could just as well create another human as part of a trap, to get past our defenses. And they've had time to develop an adult." She made a little agitated gesture, betraying just how worried she was. "We can't be sure of this, because we check for the altered reticular formation in the brain that would allow an engineered human to see Reetou, and Rammant doesn't have that. But they may have found another way to communicate with him, or a way to genetically alter him so that we wouldn't be able to detect it."
"Crap." Jack leaned back in his chair. "That's what's wrong with the bastard. He's bland. He's got no...personality." The boy who had decided to call himself Charlie hadn't been bland. But then he had been raised by a sympathetic Reetou who had called itself his mother and told him all about the humans it was sending him to live with.
"And Rammant's story was exactly what we wanted to hear," Daniel added.
"But why send Rammant at all?" Teal'c asked. "If the Reetou have a way to defeat our TERs, why have they not already sent dozens of Rebel squads into the base and began their attack?"
"Maybe they had time to finish Rammant, but they didn't have time to finish their device to block the TER scan," Daniel said. "Or maybe it doesn't work too well, and they could only afford to send one of their five member squads."
"And P3X-259 has to be full of Rebel Reetou, which is why Rammant wanted us to go there," Jack finished. It was an effort not to look around the room, and not to jump up and hit the alarm. But if the Reetou hadn't acted yet, it meant they were still hoping to go through with their plan, and the best way to do that was to wait for an outgoing wormhole to P3X-259. The Reetou waiting there must mean to take the SG team as soon as they stepped out of the gate, then dial back in to Earth and use the team's GDOs so the SGC would give the all-clear and open the iris. The power surges had been meant to cause confusion, make it look as if the gate systems were working up to a major failure, so the SGC would be anxious to get the team back. And if the MALP refused to send back a visual, they would put it down to technical problems. "But they screwed up the timing," he muttered, mostly to himself. "That saved our asses."
Carter grimaced in agreement. "That, and the fact that the Reetou must not understand gate technology – or the way our dialing computer and power systems interface with the gate technology – as well as they thought they did. Instead of just causing interference, the surges made our gate attach to the quantum wormhole."
"There must only be a few Reetou here," Teal'c added. "Otherwise they would try to overwhelm us and seize control of the gate. If there are only two or three, not even a full squad of five--"
Jack leaned forward on the table. "Now for the big question, Carter. Can you track these weird energy signatures? Locate the Reetou?"
"We could, given time, but we're predicting we only have--" she checked her watch, nodding toward Iolaus "--fifty-five minutes until his friends arrive."
They all looked at Iolaus. He hadn't been able to follow the conversation and had been ignoring them, trying to figure out what the lumpy bits in the pie were. As they all got quiet he looked up warily. "What?"
"Right." Jack nodded to himself. They couldn't deal with whatever Iolaus' people were sending through with the damn Reetou running around the base. "Let's set a little trap for Rammant."
When the Airmen escorted Rammant into the gate room, Jack smiled genially. Rammant smiled back, blandly, and said, "Colonel O'Neill. You've corrected the problem?"
"Yeah, we sure have." The Eye of Horus drawing was still back there, busily doing whatever it was that it was doing, but no hint of it was visible from this side of the iris. Jack nodded to Iolaus, who was standing nearby and watching Rammant with a frown. "We're just going to take our friend here back home, and then we'll get all ready to head on out to P3X-259."
Carter had pinpointed three places where there were relatively isolated accesses to the power system, where the Reetou might try a repeat of their power surge trick. She had those staked out with most of the Security Forces on the base. They knew there was also a strong possibility one or more of the Reetou might want to follow Rammant into the gate room. Jack had stationed Teal'c up in the control area, both so the Reetou would feel safe in entering the gate room, and so he could keep them the hell away from the dialing computer and the controls to the iris. Jack had cleared out the techs and scientists, since they hadn't been making any measurable progress anyway and he wanted them out of the line of fire. That left himself, Daniel, and a dozen heavily armed Airmen to deal with Rammant and his invisible friend or friends, with Teal'c and another squad ready to provide reinforcement from the control area.
With the gate room blast door sealed behind Rammant, Jack decided it was time to bring things out in the open and see if there were any Reetou in here to flush. "Well, Rammant--" He began, when Iolaus elbowed him and said, "I thought you said the insect people were invisible."
"I-" Jack got his face under control. Rammant, of course, didn't understand Ancient. Jack caught Daniel's gaze, making sure he had heard. Then, as if he was inquiring about the weather, asked Iolaus, "You can see them?"
"Uh, yeah." Jack had filled him in on the situation, knowing he couldn't bring Iolaus into the gate room under these circumstances without telling him he could possibly be in danger. Iolaus was casually not looking at Rammant, and turned in the opposite direction as he said, "There's two just inside that big door, that those people just came through."
Playing innocent archeologist, Daniel stepped up to Rammant, saying, "Rammant, I wanted to ask you about...the customs on the Goa'uld world you were held on. For instance, did they--"
Jack tuned it out, looking up at the control area window to see Teal'c frowning down at them. Teal'c had a hand pressed to his stomach, signaling to Jack that the symbiote was doing an internal dance of anxiety, meaning a Reetou was somewhere in the immediate area. "Right." Jack caught Teal'c's gaze and tilted his head toward the door that Iolaus had indicated. Teal'c headed for the control area exit.
Daniel was still distracting Rammant, though the man was casting little suspicious glances in their direction. Teal'c would be bringing his squad into the corridor behind the blast door and they could trap the Reetou between them. Jack stepped casually around, getting himself a clear field of fire, and reached for the zat under his jacket. He told Iolaus, "When I say now, I want you to point-"
The power went out and the gate room was suddenly as dark as the inside of a sack; there wasn't even any reflected light from the control area. Jack drew and shot the zat anyway, aiming toward where Iolaus had said the Reetou was, but the weapon didn't fire. Cursing, he dropped the zat and dragged out his sidearm. He fired and the gun didn't even click.
"Jack," Daniel said from somewhere to his left. "We were wrong on the time estimate; it's happening now!"
"What?" Jack turned. Blue light burst suddenly from the iris. Impossibly, the Eye of Horus and the other images shone through, as if the metal had gone transparent. The drawings were no longer the dull red-brown of dried blood; they were all gold, touched with jewel-like gleams of blue and green. The iris was already sliding open, revealing the blue crystal glow of an active wormhole, but the images remained where they were, floating in mid-air in front of it.
"Fall back!" Jack shouted to the Airmen who had been stationed near the gate. "Get away from the damn thing!" In the next instant a sudden gust of air struck him with the force of a gale. It knocked him flat and he slid across the floor before it abruptly ceased. Bizarrely, it carried the strong dry scent of sand and dust and heat. He heard yells of alarm, clatters as equipment crashed or fell. Flailing, he managed to shove himself up, but he had lost track of everybody, and the light wasn't bright enough to show him anything but moving shapes.
Before he could push to his feet, liquid darkness flowed out from the gate. No, not the gate, Jack realized, shocked. It was coming from the black circle that was the pupil in the Eye of Horus. Yikes.
It flowed out onto the gate ramp, like velvety smoke, then streamed up, forming a shape he couldn't quite see in the dim light. In the next breath it was solid, hard and shiny as polished stone, onyx, obsidian – not black marble, because there was some quality to it that drank in light without giving anything back, like a black hole. "Oh," Jack breathed, slowly standing up. He couldn't hear any alarms, which meant no auxiliary power. "We could be so screwed."
Then he saw somebody standing at the base of the ramp as the darkness, creature, whatever it was took a silent step forward. Daniel's voice shouted, "Amun-Re Harakhte!"
It halted, looming over him, blocking the light from the wormhole. Jack heard Daniel speak slowly, in Ancient, saying, "Though the Servant is inclined to do wrong, the Lord is inclined to be merciful."
There was a long fraught pause. In the silence, Jack could hear the creature breathing. Each exhalation released a puff of ozone. Then, in a gravelly voice that was impossibly deep, it said, "It doesn't work unless you believe."
Daniel hesitated, then said with deep conviction, "At this moment, I do believe."
It laughed, deep and rich. Then it flowed up into a small tornado of smoke, vanishing.
Jack took a breath. He could feel his heart pounding. He said, "That was creepy."
"Oh, yeah," Daniel agreed fervently.
Jack couldn't hear anybody else moving in the room, and that was doubly creepy. He took a slow look around, squinting, willing his eyes to adjust to the darkness. The contrast between it and the bright blue light coming from the wormhole made it nearly impossible to see. He should be able to hear the Airmen who had been in the gate room, should hear Teal'c and the others trying to force open the blast door from the other side, but there was nothing. Zat no use, check, automatic no use, check, all reinforcements except for Daniel mysteriously disappeared, check. That left one option. He said, softly, "Iolaus."
"What?" The voice came from just west of his left elbow and Jack just managed to twitch instead of jump three feet straight up in the air and throw a punch.
Jack took a deep breath for self-control's sake. "Are Rammant and the invisible insect guys still here?"
"Yeah. Hold on."
"Hold on? Wait, what-"
"Jack?" Daniel asked warily. "What's-"
A crash and a yell split the air. Jack flung himself in that direction and slammed into Rammant. Or he assumed it was Rammant, because it was the right size and trying to bludgeon him with a P-90 someone had lost. Whatever was keeping the zats and projectile weapons from firing had done them a favor; Rammant could have taken out all of them if the gun had been working. Grappling with him, Jack gritted his teeth with the effort of trying to keep the man from cracking his skull. He was a lot stronger than Jack would have expected. Damn engineered humans. In the next instant Daniel grabbed Rammant from behind, wrapping a forearm around his neck and pulling him backward.
Suddenly a gold glow flowed out of the iris, flooding the room with warm summer sunlight. Jack took advantage of the distraction to punch Rammant in the face, which slowed him down enough for Daniel to wrench away the P-90 and hit him with it.
As Rammant went down Jack saw Iolaus only a few paces away, near the foot of the gate ramp. Iolaus ducked an invisible blow and then twisted toward the Reetou that Jack couldn't see, slamming something into it. As he bounced back out of the creature's reach, it came into phase as it died, the handle of a long screwdriver protruding from its chest. Great. While we were staring at the whatsis that came through the gate, he was frisking the place for a weapon.
But there had been two Reetou in the gate room. Jack began, "Hey, where's the--"
The blast struck the gate ramp and Iolaus leapt backward, startled.
The Reetou weapons are out of phase, whatever's affecting ours doesn't affect them, and they just figured it out. Almost before he had an instant to process the thought, Jack shoved forward, slamming into Iolaus and knocking him off his feet. The next blast passed over their heads, struck the back wall and washed across it harmlessly with a crackle of energy. Jack rolled off Iolaus, hoping at least to make a moving target.
The Reetou was suddenly visible, with an arrow buried so deep in its head it looked like the insectoid face had grown a clump of feathers. It flung its limbs wide, falling backwards, the blast weapon clattering as it fell.
Jack pushed himself up into a full roll and dive to grab the Reetou weapon. Or at least that's what he had meant to do. Before he could get all the way upright, something grabbed him by the collar and yanked him up and off his feet.
"Herc!" Iolaus scrambled to stand. "Put him down."
Jack's feet thumped back to the floor. He ducked forward out of arm's reach of whatever had grabbed him, looking back to see-- "Whoa!" That's a big guy. Big, dressed in yellow and brown leather, dark-haired, and from his expression, monumentally pissed off. He was holding a longbow that had to be a good six feet tall, and nocking another arrow. Jack was pretty certain this was Hercules. He got a vibe off him similar to the one he got off Bra'tac; the I could rip your liver out and use it as a coaster vibe.
There was something standing behind Hercules on the gate ramp, and it actually took Jack a moment to identify it as another person. It was a stooped dark-skinned figure, wearing black robes, with tattoos etched against his bald skull. One eye was white and blind, the other was just plain mean, in an amused kind of way. He was leaning on a carved staff, and there were silver claws attached to his fingers. He grinned, displaying teeth sharpened to points. It was almost reassuring, because Jack felt there was no Goa'uld in the universe that would have the balls to choose that body. "Hey, all right, listen," Jack began hurriedly. "It was an accident-"
"Jack, Jack, Jack," Daniel was saying urgently, moving up to stand beside him. Rammant was sprawled on the floor behind him, unconscious.
"What?" Jack snapped. He realized the Airmen who had been in the room were nowhere to be seen, and there was something, a hazy brown mist coating all the walls, obscuring the view of the control area so he couldn't see if anyone was up there or not. The brown mist seemed to have hazy symbols on it, in gold, blue, green, red, symbols like the hieroglyphs drawn on the iris. It was like standing in a virtual reality simulation of an Egyptian temple, and it was incredibly weird. The warm air even smelled of the desert, dusty and dry.
"If that's what- who- I think it is," Daniel said carefully, watching the Scary Old Guy, "You probably need to not say anything."
"I told you you were overreacting," Scary Old Guy said to Hercules, ignoring them. His voice was gravelly and deep, and unquestionably the same voice that the giant dark thing had spoken with.
Hercules ignored him. He was looking at Iolaus, though the bow was still pointing toward Jack. He said, "Are you all right?"
Jack put on an expression of unconcern, while thinking, oh, don't tell him about the needles thing while he has a fricking 200 pound longbow pointed at my head.
Iolaus snorted, as if this was all no big deal. "Sure." He stepped onto the gate ramp, moving to Hercules' side.
Hercules' expression didn't change, and he didn't look any less pissed off, but Jack sensed the tension crank down a notch. He felt his chances of getting skewered had just dropped dramatically. Hercules said, "Who are these people?"
"They're troglodytes that are fighting off these snake-parasite-things and people from all these different worlds are trying to kill them."
"Troglodytes?" Jack had to object. "We showed you all those videos and all you got was troglodytes?"
"Stop talking to the otherworld barbarians and get in the portal," Scary Old Guy said, his clawed fingers clicking impatiently on the staff. "I haven't got all day."
"They grabbed me by accident," Iolaus finished, ignoring them both, still looking at Hercules.
"An accident?" Hercules sounded incredulous. "You've got to be kidding." He stared grimly at Jack.
"It was an accident!" Jack repeated, spreading his arms. "Then certain people kept barging in and doing things to the iris, so we didn't even have a chance to--"
"Jack," Daniel said again.
Iolaus gave Hercules a shove which didn't appear to have any effect whatsoever. "Let's go." He added to Scary Old Guy, "Kheper, nice work on taking care of their weapons. Did you see that insect thing shoot the lightning bolt at me?"
Hercules turned the pissed off look on Scary Old Guy.
Scary Old Guy did not look impressed. He said sourly, "I did not expect their barbarian weapons to have such variety. Just get in the portal. Try not to be killed or abducted by anything before I get there."
"I'll do my best." Iolaus gave Jack and Daniel a grin. "Bye, guys. It was real." He started up the gate ramp.
Hercules released the tension on the bow, gave Jack a dark look that suggested they had better not meet again, and followed him. Jack called after him, "It really was an accident!"
As they vanished through the event horizon, Daniel said to Scary Old Guy, "You're Kheper Djedi."
"I see my fame has spread even to this benighted place." In a tone that suggested the guy couldn't be bothered to scrape them off his boots, he added, "Do not cross the boundaries to our world again. We are weary of these incursions from inferior planes of existence. Keep your demons to yourself."
"It was an accident," Jack tried again. "And we don't even want to go to your--" he debated the use of several different adjectives and remembering Daniel's warning, opted for none, "--world."
"Jack, please don't," Daniel said, smiling through gritted teeth. He said to Scary Old Guy, "You have a god called Amun-Re – we've encountered a being here, a Goa'uld, that called itself Re. Can you tell us--"
"Oh, say that a little louder, so the god can hear and go completely crazy." Scary Old Guy grimaced at them with his pointed teeth. Then he turned into a puff of smoke, which flowed out through the wormhole.
It shut down a moment later, and the gate room was suddenly the gate room again, lit by arc lights, populated by a dozen confused Airmen, an unconscious Rammant, and two dead Reetou.
They stepped out of the blue glowing portal into the big sandy courtyard of Kheper's house in Thebes. It was late afternoon and the sun was bright, the big leaves of the palm trees around the reflecting pool moving gently in the hot breeze. Iolaus pivoted, taking in the bright colors on the columns along the porch, the sky, the clouds, glad to see all of it. "How long was I gone?" he demanded.
"It's been seventeen days." Hercules stared at him. "How do you not know that? Did they--"
"There was a time thing with the blue swirly doorways." He gestured vaguely. "I was only there a little more than a day. I think. They live underground, so it was hard to tell time."
"Oh." Hercules nodded, relieved. He ran a hand through his hair, absently setting the bow down on one of the stone benches. "That explains why you don't look like you've been held prisoner for a couple of weeks."
"Yeah." Iolaus watched him, brow furrowed. Hercules looked tired, but then dealing with blue swirly doorways was always chancy at best and terrifying at worst. "Do you need to sit down?"
"No, I'm fine." Hercules shook it off and focused on Iolaus again. "They caught you and took you to another world by accident? Seriously?"
"I really think so. I mean, they never changed their story, and it was pretty darn complicated. They said they wanted to take me back but couldn't figure out how. Then you guys started trying to come through in the blue swirly doorway, and they panicked. And there were invisible insect monster people running around, that made it harder. Oh, except they weren't invisible, just to the people there." He snorted, flinging his arms in the air. "Nobody is going to believe this story. Oh hey, you got the ghidra, right?"
"Yes, I got the ghidra." Hercules shook his head, and started to laugh. He caught Iolaus in a tight hug. "Invisible insect monster people, except you could see them."
"I know," Iolaus said, looking up at him, grinning. "I didn't even tell you about the warrior with the demon snake in his belly."
Kheper stepped out of the glowing blue portal, and it popped out of existence. He saw them and rolled his one good eye. "Stop touching each other out here where people can see you. What will the neighbors think?" Leaning on his staff, he limped rapidly past them toward the house.
"He was very worried about you." Hercules released Iolaus, ruffling his hair.
"Oh yeah, I can tell."
"So, just what did that mean?" Jack asked Daniel. He had borrowed an office to type up his report. Hammond had demanded it, because he had to know exactly what had happened, so he could make it sound good when he reported to the Pentagon. In the interest of keeping everybody's story straight and sticking to it, Jack had agreed.
"It was an invocation to the god Amun, an appeal to him for mercy," Daniel explained, leaning in the doorway. "I thought that instead of trying to explain that we hadn't actually done anything deliberately wrong, it might be faster to just admit fault and ask for forgiveness."
Jack stared at him. The rest of the base had experienced a power failure, but there had been no hint of what was going on in the gate room. Teal'c had been out in the corridor, trying to manually open the blast door, and none of the Airmen who had temporarily disappeared had been injured, and none remembered anything of what had happened. There had been one more Reetou, and Carter and a squad had trapped and killed it near one of the power junction boxes, but that seemed almost old hat compared to everything else. "Uh, yeah, faster. But what if it, whatever it was, had taken that as an excuse to just destroy the base?"
"Well, if Iolaus was right about our world echoing his world-- Even here Amun was a god known for dispensing justice and mercy, a god whose name was never taken by any Goa'uld, as far as we know. And if those were really gods, or even beings that truly considered themselves gods, arguing with them was just going to make them even more angry." Daniel shrugged. "I thought it was worth a shot."
Jack rubbed his face, shook himself, and shuddered. "Daniel, next time-" He couldn't think of anything to say. "Never mind. And they aren't going to be gods in my report. They're advanced aliens."
Daniel lifted his brows, clearly humoring him as he stepped out into the corridor. "If you say so."
"I say so!" Jack called after him.
No ghidra or Reetou were harmed in the writing of this story.