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Bright Lights, Big Planet

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Bright Lights, Big Planet

Bright Lights, Big Planet

Written by Blue Bunny
Comments? Write to us at bluebunnyuk@hotmail.com
  • Spoilers: Shades of Grey & New Ground (3), Watergate & the Curse (4). Minor: Fire and Water (1), Need (2), Legacy (3), Chain Reaction (4), The Sentinel (5).
  • Warning: Violence (mostly non-explicit) including minor character deaths
  • Summary: Undercover and under protest, SG1 are sent team-building; but their real mission quickly goes very badly awry.
  • R [D] [Hc] [V]

Prologue: Friday morning

The newspaper fell within reach, waking Daniel with a start from an illicit nap on top of one of his translation texts. He looked up warily then shifted himself across to the paper and read, brow furrowing as he wondered what the others had wanted him to see.

At first he thought it might be the headline article ‘Bank raid victim is USAF officer’, but then his eyes dropped a little and he saw it: ‘Heroin overdose claims student’. The short, bland words were sandwiched between an advert for language learning courses and the results of a hockey game he’d missed the night before.

The body of Nyan Smith (25), an archaeology student at Chicago university, was discovered yesterday. Mr Smith died of a heroin overdose.

Dr Rayner, archaeology tutor, said, "The death of a student is always a sad affair. I can only hope this incident will warn others of the dangers of drug abuse."

There was no family available to make a statement.

Nyan.

Daniel couldn’t speak. He thought back to the eager young man who had been granted refugee status after helping SG-1 escape Bedrosia. The man who had seemed to offer such potential only 2 years ago, and whose self-destructive exit from earth had now left such a spectacular legacy for the SGC to sort out…

Friday morning, one week previously

Standing loosely at ease in the General’s office, Jack couldn’t believe what he was hearing. "You’re kidding, Sir," he clarified.

"I’m sorry, Colonel." General Hammond was at his most pacifying. Frankly, he couldn’t blame his 2I/C for being a little - well - disbelieving. But national security was at stake, and for once, that phrase wasn’t a get-out clause.

"You want SG-1 to go on a team-building course?"

"Yes, Colonel." Hammond tapped his desk as he considered how to make the idea more attractive to the unenthusiastic man. "Jack, I have a reason for my… request. Nyan claims he was first offered illegal substances at this event; I’d dearly like to know who is targeting our personnel."

It wasn’t quite that easy, as Hammond had suspected. Jack answered suspiciously, "There’s no evidence Nyan was targeted. Why not tell the local police and let them handle it?"

"Hell, I’d be glad to - if I could be sure Nyan wasn’t singled out." Hammond gave Jack an honest grimace. "I agree that student drug taking is hardly a national security matter, but the local police will be suspicious if Cheyenne Mountain get involved. Sending you out there is bound to attract less attention than an SGC-initiated investigation, and it could be fun. The course is mainly run for reservists: you’d certainly be good for Air Force PR."

Jack didn’t buy it. "General, SG-1’s primary mission is to seek new alliances, obtain new technologies with which to defend earth, yadda yadda yadda. It’s not to baby-sit students and help meet recruiting targets!"

"They do fishing…"

Jack immediately bit back the next argument he was about to fire at Hammond, arrested by an image of sharing with Sam, Teal’c and Daniel the tranquil experience of catching absolutely nothing. "Why didn’t you say, Sir? When do we go?"

"Sunday."

"Sunday? Okay, Sunday’s good. Funnily enough, I think Daniel had arranged to visit Nyan this weekend, but I’m sure the kid can wait a few more days."

The General smiled. "Well, why not get Nyan down here instead? Cassandra’s stuck in the infirmary at the moment with a broken ankle: I’m sure she’d like the company."

"Okay, Daniel will go for that. Do you want us to pretend to be reservists?"

Hammond looked at Jack. There was just something about him. Not his uniform - which looked functional rather than smart - nor his military bearing, but rather the experience which showed in his eyes and the sense of purpose which he emanated. There was no way Jack would ever appear as anything less than a combat hardened regular. And that was before one considered Major Carter and Teal’c. "I think perhaps we’d better give you fake military identities, Colonel," Hammond eventually decided.

********

"Hey, kids!" Jack breezed into the commissary. "Be with you in a sec."

"O’Neill appears most upbeat this lunchtime," Teal’c observed.

"I’m not sure that’s a good sign," muttered Daniel.

Sam unenthusiastically pushed her food around on the plate. "Don’t worry, Daniel. When he tries to eat this he’ll be nicely grumpy soon enough."

Jack joined the rest of his team staring at the unappetising meal they had collected from the counter. "Well," he said, "some good news - we’ve got our next assignment."

Daniel perked up. "Great! Did you persuade General Hammond about those ruins on P7Y-467?"

"Er. No. Sorry, Daniel. No ruins, just climbing and walking. Lots of climbing and walking. And talking. Probably far too much talking…"

"I thought you said this assignment was good news?"

"Right now I’m trying to remember why I thought it was…"

"Okaaay. When’s the briefing?"

"There is no briefing, Daniel."

"No briefing?"

Daniel spoke the words, but Jack could see Sam and Teal’c were equally disconcerted. He sighed. "We’re going on a team-building course. In West Virginia."

Sam looked affronted. "Team-building? After all we’ve been through they think we need team-building?!"

"Relax, Carter. It’s not like that. We’re going to try to track down the people that got Nyan those drugs."

"Oh."

"And we’ll be going undercover."

Jack watched the effect this statement had on his team. Teal’c’s eyes gleamed as he recalled the fun he’d had tracking Martin Lloyd. Daniel looked bemused at the latest bizarre hoop his military bosses were asking him to jump through. Sam looked sceptical, doubtless wondering what tactical advantage going undercover might give them. Jack decided to help her out. "We can’t have everyone knowing we’re from Cheyenne Mountain. They might make the link to the SGC and Nyan."

Teal’c spoke. "O’Neill. What is to be our manner of disguise?"

Jack suddenly looked sheepish. "Er, right. Hammond and I sorted some aliases. We mostly tried to keep quite close to names we shouldn’t mess up - so you’re Sergeant Murray, Teal’c. I’m John O’Neil - that’s with one ‘l’ - and, Daniel, you’re Captain Danny Johnson." He stopped to put a sausage in his mouth and grimaced at the taste.

Sam looked her CO in the eye. "Sir? What about me?"

"Mmpfh. Yur Pahecay."

"Sir?"

Jack pulled a pen from his jacket and scribbled on a napkin. Sam took the paper suspiciously and read.

"Patti Caike? As in Patty Cake?!" She looked horrified. "You couldn’t think of anything better?"

Daniel sniggered until he caught Sam’s eye. Gulping, he hastily said, "Umm… maybe a bit of team-building might be a good idea, Jack. I, ah, I somehow don’t think you’re in Sam’s good books right now."

Jack exchanged a look with Teal’c. "Doh!"

Sunday afternoon

Jack scowled miserably at the steep surrounding slopes which bristled with frosty evergreen trees. "So Major, do you think this is ‘enhancing our lateral thought process’ or ‘liberating our ability to think outta the box’?" he asked sourly, watching Daniel balancing precariously on the end of a cantilevered plank.

Sam smiled but didn’t answer. She looked instead at some of the other teams attempting the exercise. For all the Colonel’s grumpiness, he’d taken effective charge of SG-1: several of the other groups were still arguing among themselves about how to cross the ‘bottomless chasm’ while the only other team to have started placing planks was currently bemoaning the fact that one of their number had fallen off.

"Major Caike, I believe we are now ready for the next plank," Teal’c called. Sam picked one off the pile and carefully worked her way along the walkway Teal’c and Daniel had so far built between them.

"Here," she said, straining to pass it out towards Daniel without overbalancing. "You almost look like you know what you’re doing there, Danny-boy."

"Thanks, Patti," he grinned. "Always thought this military stuff was easy." Sam watched as he passed the plank out towards the next stepping stone. As soon as it safely touched, he laid his end down by his feet and stepped across to the stone. "See? No problems."

Teal’c bit back a smile. "Captain Johnson, you have forgotten to ensure the planks are fastened such that I might now join you."

"Oh! Oh yes, good point that, uh, Sergeant. Thank you. Umm…"

Sam left them to it. She returned to Jack’s position where he was currently looking at their inventory. "How are you getting on, Major?"

Sam enthusiastically brought him up to date. When they had been given the task to transfer a bucket - full to the brim with water - across the exercise area using only what they had with them, Jack had interpreted the instructions literally and ordered everyone to turn out their pockets next to the planks provided. The results had them grinning: they’d all stuffed their uniforms full of the standard-issue kit they were used to wearing, so torches, radios, thermal blankets, penknives, boiled sweets and lengths of rope all fell into the pile. However, whereas Jack, Sam and Teal’c had modified their usual equipment list to include wallets and mobile phones, Daniel was still pulling at pockets and exclaiming, "I didn’t know I had this!" long after he’d added his video camera, earth-greeting tablet and notes on ancient Egyptian dialects.

Jack had been sarcastic until Sam had started laughing at his business cards, at which point the Colonel had hastily diverted attention by directing Daniel and Teal’c to build a bridge across the chasm and Sam to cover the bucket using the blankets. The boiled sweets he’d offered as a reward if they were the first group to finish.

Despite his overall reluctance, Jack was pleased to realise that his group would finish the exercise before most of the others were going to have even started. He picked Daniel’s hat from the pile and filled it with the boiled sweets as Sam trudged out with the final plank.

Daniel called out to him. "Uh, Ja - I mean, Sir, we’re just about ready for the bucket now."

"Understood, Captain," Jack replied and walked confidently across the chasm, bucket in one hand and hat in the other.

"So, now what?" Daniel asked.

"That’s it," Jack answered.

"That’s it?"

"Yes. Here, have a sweet." Jack passed Daniel’s hat round. They were all contentedly sucking the sweets as one of the course instructors walked up.

"Having problems?" she asked with a condescending smile.

"Not at all," Jack replied stickily, waving vaguely at the planks and bucket.

"Oh! Well, that was certainly…"

"…quick?" asked Jack and Daniel simultaneously.

"I would say proficient. You’re the team from Andrews, are you?"

"Yes, Ma’am," Jack said.

"Well, I think we’ll have to look at handicapping you in the future. It’ll provide you with a more challenging target and we can’t have you headlining all the time, it’s such a demotivator for the other groups." And with that she walked stiffly off.

Jack broke into the slightly dejected silence that followed her departure. "O-kaaay. Well, so much for that. Let’s just use the time while we wait for everyone else to finish to see if we can’t dig up something about Nyan’s druggie buddy. Sergeant, you’re with me looking behind the bike sheds. Major, you take the Captain to talk nice to the staff."

They separated for the next hour until brought back for the exercise debrief. While the instructors were droning on about communication techniques, Adair circles and focussing on objectives, SG-1 quietly discussed what they had discovered. It didn’t take long: no-one had found anything at all related to drug taking. Jack began to realise with dismay that not only were they stuck on this mumbo-jumbo course for the next week with what looked like little chance of finding out anything, but he had also seen precisely squat regarding fishing on the course timetable.

Monday morning

Monday began with a communication task where only one member of the team was allowed to speak and then only via a radio from a separate room. He or she had to give directions to the rest of the team to allow them to navigate through a maze, the plan of which only he or she could see. SG-1 were also asked not to speak in English. Jack shrugged and put Teal’c in charge of giving the directions. Daniel led them out of the maze within a minute. The instructors, looking cross, told them to start the next evolution - an orienteering exercise - half an hour after everyone else.

By ten, the exercise was well underway for all but SG-1, who were ruefully staring at the walls in the dining room, waiting to be allowed to start. Competing teams had already begun to accumulate clues and Jack and Daniel had peeked a look at one or two of the answers they had left lying about on the tables.

Jack played with one of the clue cards in his hands. "Remind me, Major. What have they given us to start with?"

"SAND PIT and BOAT HOUSE, Sir."

Daniel took the card thoughtfully back off Jack. "Well, by the look of these cards, when we get to the sandpit we’ll pick up BANK and CENTRAL and when we get to the, ah, boathouse we’ll get VAULT and LIBRARY. So I’m guessing - and admittedly it’s not much of a stretch - we’ll have to go to the town library and bank."

Jack drew himself up. "Okay, campers. For the next phase of this totally pointless evolution, we will split into two groups. Major, Captain: you will run to the boat house and retrieve the first part of the clue while the Sergeant accompanies me to the sand pit. Dump the clues back here. Then my group will go to the library because we want to finish sometime today, which we certainly won’t if Johnson gets anywhere near. Major, you’ll go to the bank. RV back here again. Any questions?"

There were none. SG-1 once again idly watched the minutes tick by until 10:15 when they were finally released. By 10:25, Sam and Daniel had already collected the first clue and were jogging into town in search of the bank.

"Over there," said Sam, pointing at an impressive building on the other side of the Main Street with ‘BANK’ written on a large sign above it.

"Got it, Patti," Daniel agreed, joining Sam dodging between the light midmorning traffic and waving cheerfully at another team-building group jogging in the other direction.

Sam pointed at their red faces. "Looks like we’ve nearly caught up."

"Uh huh," Daniel agreed, waiting for the bank’s automatic doors to register his presence and slide apart. When at last they did so, he sprinted past an old lady into the nearly empty bank and spun round rapidly on his heels a few times. "See the clue?"

"Nope. ‘Bank Vault’ it said. Shall we ask the manager?"

"Oh. Right. Okay. Good idea that."

Sam smiled at her partner’s characteristic enthusiasm and walked over to join him. He was bashfully waiting for her - perhaps aware of the reason for her smile - when his eyes suddenly widened with alarm. "What is it, Danny?" she asked. Annoyingly, he just gave her his goldfish look in return, his mouth falling open but no words coming out. "Daniel?" She touched his arm. A scream from the lady at the door alerted Sam to the fact that the danger was behind them.

"Everybody be cool! This is a robbery!" The out-of-place Pulp Fiction words echoed around the bank and Sam realised her mouth had become as wide open as Daniel’s. She shut it and slowly turned around.

There were four robbers, dressed casually in jeans and T-shirts, faces covered with balaclavas, three carrying sawn-off shotguns and one a beretta and all - despite the ridiculously gung-ho talk - moving rapidly and professionally to cover the room.

"Everyone face down on the floor. Now!"

Sam dropped to the ground but raised her face a little from the dust and rubbish which covered the floor to watch what was going on. One of the robbers was over by the counters, getting the nervous staff to stuff money into small sacks. The man she had previously thought to be the manager was being directed to the back of the bank by another. The final two robbers watched the customers and the front door. Daniel, she was relieved to see, had planted his face to the floor, anxious to avoid upsetting the men.

"Hey, lady, quit the sightseeing. Face down, I said."

Oops. Sam touched her brow to the floor, but approaching footsteps indicated she had attracted unwelcome attention.

"This ain’t a pretend weapon, ya know. Give me a reason, and I’ll demonstrate." A shotgun poked Sam in the back. "Am I making myself clear?" Sam nodded, swallowing hard, frustrated with herself for annoying him. Fortunately, the nod seemed to appease him, as she felt the pressure on her back lift. She relaxed a little.

Prematurely as it turned out. "What’s this?" and her radio was pulled from her waistband, jerking the ear-piece free and twanging it loose.

"It’s a radio," she said, keeping her voice calm. "I’m using it for an orienteering exercise."

There was a short pause while she assumed he was listening to the messages being passed, then the radio was thrown back at her. "Okay. You can put it back on now." Anxious not to annoy him again, Sam did so.

"Three minutes. Time to go!"

The man drew back from Sam and she heard his footsteps move to Daniel. A sound of a kick, then, "On your feet!"

Daniel’s voice sounded bewildered. "Oww! Wha-?"

"Get up. You’re with us. Insurance."

Dammit, Sam thought, they didn’t need a hostage. She turned to look at Daniel being ‘assisted’ to his feet via hands at his jacket collar and got a panicky look in return. She couldn’t blame him; you half-expected trouble when you went off-world, but not in the middle of a team-building exercise in small-town USA.

Voices began to filter through her ear-piece as she helplessly watched Daniel being frog-marched out of the building. Listening to the words, her spirits sank yet further.

********

Daniel was confused by the unlikely turn of events. Captive he sort of understood; he’d had the Jack chat about What To Do When Captured and - lucky him - he’d even had practice on a number of occasions. But hostage was something new. He wasn’t too sure on how to behave beyond a few questionable ideas culled from movies, although the gun to the side of his head made co-operation the obvious choice.

Once he’d decided to offer no resistance, the bank robbers propelled him fairly easily out of the building and towards a nearby getaway car. He saw a shop girl on a cigarette break notice the masked and muscular robbers escaping with their riches and nudge her friend to look too. A woman towing a complaining toddler along the sidewalk stopped to watch them go, open-mouthed and oblivious to the child’s protests. Next door, a man stacking vegetables craned his head to see until he caught Daniel’s eye and flushed, embarrassed to be caught staring at the stranger’s predicament.

Bags of swag were thrown haphazardly and slightly heavily into the car after Daniel then, with much pushing, swearing and slamming of doors, the robbers got in too and the car set off fast, but without the loud squealing of tyres he had somehow expected.

For the first few streets, the majority of the men kept an alert watch through the tinted windows for any sign of pursuit - the exception being the one keeping an alert watch on Daniel. Then a radio crackled to life and a dispatcher’s voice excitedly announced the raid.

"…four men and one hostage seen exiting the building. No description yet of getaway car. All robbers believed to be armed…"

The news that their car was not yet known brought a relieved reaction from the robbers and much of their tension dissipated. Amid their celebrations, Daniel sat uncertainly, hopeful that the lack of police response meant they might imminently drop him off. He wasn’t sure though; the men all still wore their masks and his minder continued to very determinedly point the gun at him.

The man sitting the other side of the minder suddenly flicked Daniel’s jacket to read his name. "Johnson, right?"

"Umm, yeah."

"Sit on your hands, will ya?"

Oh. Okay. No imminent drop off then. Daniel awkwardly shifted his hands in the cramped space left to him by the tightly packed robbers and their loot. Once he had done so, the man leant over slightly and began to fasten up his jacket, and in doing so noticed his shoulder bars. "You a Captain?"

"Umm," Daniel pondered how to answer. "I’m umm… Look, just use Danny."

The man looked displeased. "Danny? Don’t recall no rank called Danny. Chris, you heard of a Danny rank?"

"Nope. Ain’t no such thing, Pete," the driver replied.

Pete leaned threateningly close, pulling out a knife and pricking a few shreds in Daniel’s uniform with it. "You messing us round? You ain’t in no position to do that, Johnson."

Daniel began to sweat. This wasn’t good. His movie knowledge was telling him he needed to engage with these criminals before they killed him just because they had no good reason not to. He ought to let them get to like him; surely it was harder to hurt someone you knew than it was to hurt a complete stranger? And after all he’d been through, to get killed as a hostage would be such a stupid way to go. Maybe honesty was the best policy: as long as he was careful, there was no reason not to be at least partially truthful.

"I’m sorry, Pete, really. I didn’t intend to mess you around. I don’t have a rank because I’m a civilian working with the military. I must have picked up the wrong jacket."

"But you said your name’s Johnson."

Oh god, so he had. "It’s Jackson. Sorry, I guess I must have misheard you. Not, umm, not my day, eh?"

For a few scary moments Pete silently regarded him. Then, as if he’d decided Daniel was telling the truth, he withdrew the knife and tugged the jacket down to trap his arms.

"Okay then, Danny Jackson, this is the deal. You keep quiet and once we’re clear, we’ll let you go. Simple."

Daniel nodded, relieved. "Okay."

"Might even lend you the taxi fa-" Abruptly the masked man broke off to ask in a deeply puzzled voice, "What’re these?"

Daniel turned to look. With a jerk of dismay, he realised that Pete was holding up a set of SGC patches, clearly displaying both Earth’s Stargate symbol and SG-1’s identifier. They must have been in one of his jacket pockets. Except he could have sworn he’d left the patches behind at Cheyenne Mountain as he was supposed to. Daniel swallowed, acutely aware of all the robbers’ now slightly hostile curiosity. "They’re, umm, Johnson’s patches." He stopped, hoping this answer might serve.

The gun at his temple pressed harder. No such luck. "I’m not sure how much I can tell you," Daniel attempted next. "Johnson works on a classified project."

"Try me."

Relief came from an unexpected direction. The man in the front passenger seat suddenly spoke up. "Back off, Pete. You’re meant to be watching for police, not heavy-ing the hostage."

"Boss, you can see as well as I can there ain’t no cops in sight."

"I said leave him be, Pete. Come on, pass over the patches and keep a look-out."

The patches were handed forward. Pete grumpily turned to look out the rear window and Daniel shrank from him, aware that his attempt to ingratiate himself hadn’t gone as well as hoped. So, now what? In movie lore, didn’t the hostage usually try an escape round about now? And depending on whether or not he was the hero, didn’t he die or get recaptured? Daniel reckoned he’d been pretty submissive so far: any escape attempt would give him a surprise advantage plus he wasn’t particularly well secured despite the dragged down jacket. One the other hand, there were all those guns, and the car now appeared to be in the middle of nowhere - so where would he run to?

"You know, I recognise these!" Deep in thought, Daniel didn’t immediately realise what the boss robber was talking about. Then with a sick feeling he remembered the patches he shouldn’t have had.

Pete spoke up. "What you on about, boss? Danny here said the project was classified."

"Probably is. I saw them on one of those net sites that does stuff like Roswell and Area 51. There was a whole load of conspiracy theories about Stargates and UFOs and other nonsense. But these patches were on that site. Look: ‘SG’ - Star Gate."

The robbers looked at Daniel expectantly, UFOs apparently being much more interesting than potentially following police. The handgun began to trace around Daniel’s head, reminding him of the threat.

It was time, Daniel saw, for the cover story. He took a steadying breath. "Okay, this, but nothing more. Project Stargate is the code-word for something I work on at Cheyenne Mountain. It’s about deep space radar telemetry."

They looked disbelievingly at him. Daniel wasn’t surprised - he felt as if he was picking his way through a spider’s web of lies.

"So, let’s get your story straight shall we?" he was asked sarcastically. "You’re a civilian called Danny Jackson who works at Cheyenne Mountain SGC on a classified deep space project called Stargate. Right?"

Daniel nodded, tensing himself for a painful encouragement to start telling the truth. Why couldn’t they have chosen someone else in the bank? Someone who - when they leaned on him - would have been able to reveal nothing more exciting than the best fishing sites in West Virginia.

But unexpectedly, the atmosphere in the car changed as he confirmed their statement, becoming strangely business-like. The driver asked, "Here okay, boss?" and, after receiving a nod, pulled into the side. Meanwhile, the ‘boss’ punched a few numbers on his mobile and tersely replied to a question from the other end: "Successful. Moving on to Phase 3." As the car reached a stop, Pete suddenly painfully grasped Daniel’s hair.

"Don’t worry, Dr Jackson, we’re not gonna hurt you. Just blindfold you for a bit."

But as his glasses were removed and his eyes were covered with a thick cloth, Daniel ignored this advice and began to worry. Lots.

He’d never mentioned his title was ‘Doctor’.

********

Sam had known something was wrong with the bank raid long before Daniel.

"As you can see, Major Carter, we have Daniel Jackson. Co-operate, and you’ll see him again. Don’t…and you won’t."

The words had come through on her radio somehow while Daniel was still being taken out of the building. Watching him go without even resisting, Sam had an urge to shout a warning, but their weapons waved in her direction and the moment passed.

"That’s good, Major Carter. Stand up."

She stood.

"Walk out the bank and turn left."

She clenched and unclenched her hands a few times and looked distractedly around trying to sight the person talking to her.

"Major Carter, Dr Jackson will not thank you if you get yourself detained by the police here. Walk out of the bank and turn left."

Sam chewed her lip but took the ordered steps to the door. Turned left. "Now what?" she muttered to herself.

"Now you keep walking until I tell you." The voice sounded both amused and patronising.

She started walking. "You can hear me? Then tell me why you’re doing this."

"Later. For now, don’t attract attention by talking to yourself. Stop here."

The voice had stopped her next to an unremarkable, slightly dirty, blue estate car.

"The door’s open; keys behind the sun visor."

She got in, found the keys.

"Head out towards the airport."

"That’s where I’m going?"

"For now."

Below the worry she felt for Daniel, Sam felt trapped. This was a well-planned op, that much was obvious. And although she supposed she could choose to stop, she rather suspected that as soon as she did so what was probably their only chance of getting Daniel back from the kidnappers would disappear.

********

"Dammit, Cart - … Major, get a move on," Jack grumbled. "What’s keeping them?"

"I do not know, O’Neil."

"That was rhetorical, Murray. What do ya say we cheat?"

Teal’c raised an eyebrow.

"Look, we both know this whole thing is a load of crock. Why don’t we leave them this YARD, take our CLIMBING and match it with the WALL I can see on the table thataway. Then when they finally arrive with BACK or SCHOOL or whatever they’ve unearthed, they can head straight out."

Teal’c lowered his eyebrow slightly.

"Great. Good choice. Let’s move out."

********

Sam reached Huntington just before midday. "Keep on for Cincinnati," the voice in her ear told her.

"Look, do you have a name?" Sam asked, suddenly irritated. "This cloak and dagger stuff is getting really annoying."

"You can call me Bob, if you want." The voice - Bob - sounded amused.

"Thank you," she breathed, and decided to push her luck. "Well, Bob, any chance I could speak to Daniel? It’s just that if I’m going to be driving cross state to keep him alive, I’d like some proof that he actually is just that."

"Sorry, Major. No."

"Oh, c’mon! You can’t expect me to… to do whatever it is you want without a good reason."

"And Dr Jackson’s continuing good health isn’t sufficient reason?"

"No. Not without proof his health is in actual fact currently continuing."

Bob laughed. "Okay. I promise before you are asked to do anything other than drive, we’ll prove Dr Jackson is still alive and well. But it’s not something I can arrange just at the moment."

Sam was silent as she negotiated her way around a couple of tricky interchanges. Bob gave her directions as she approached each. Once on the freeway she picked up the conversation again. "So, there’s a tracker on this car, right?"

"Yup."

"You following me?"

"Nope."

"Hidden fibre-optic camera?"

"Er, no."

Sam reached for her cell phone. If there was no concealed camera, she intended to text an SOS to Colonel O’Neill. She kept talking to distract Bob. "Re’tu onboard?"

"What?"

"Umm… never-mind. Guess the duplex radio’s been proved already. How about a satellite feed?"

"I wish."

"So how can you be sure I haven’t given the car to someone else and right now I’m sitting in the SGC?"

"Are you?"

"No."

"There you go then."

Sam turned the cell on. It beeped softly. "When are you gonna give Daniel back?"

"That’s need to know only."

"Okay, what’s this whole thing about?"

"That too. And Major -"

"Yes?"

"Just because I said there’s no fibre optic camera installed in the car doesn’t mean I can’t see what you’re doing. Put the phone away."

Sam pursed her lips tightly in frustration and threw the cell down. Dammit.

Monday lunchtime

Feeling very pleased with themselves, Jack and Teal’c jogged back from the climbing wall ahead of two of the other teams, HILL and POOL tucked in a pocket. But their feeling of content disappeared rapidly when they arrived to find YARD still abandoned at their table.

"Oh, for crying out loud! What’re those two playing at?"

Jack’s loud exclamation caused the secretary to pop out of her office. Braced to apologise for the disturbance, Jack was puzzled to see that she looked nearly hysterical, wringing her hands nervously over and over. "Are you okay, Ma’am?" he asked.

She whisked back into the office, grasped a sheet of paper, then confused them both by beginning to babble incoherently and rapidly. "Oh! Jonathan, Murray, you’re… thank goodness… at last. This note… no. You see, the police called… and the car was wrecked, you see. Lots of… oh! I’m so sorry… they say, they say he didn’t make it…" and she collapsed into tears.

"Ma’am?" asked Jack carefully, sitting her down on a handy nearby chair. Teal’c eased the sheet of paper from her grip and wordlessly read it.

"We must leave, O’Neil. I will summon assistance for this woman." He handed Jack the note and walked away.

Puzzled and more than a little apprehensive, Jack looked at the sheet. It was a telephone message memo:

From: Sergeant Boyd (0555 9218640)

Time: 11:15 am

To: Senior US Air Force officer

Message: Identification needed.

Car accident 2 miles W Rainelle.

Bank raid vehicle involved, Air Force Captain known hostage.

Think one of fatalities from team-buil

The rest of the message had not been noted: the secretary must have realised what she was writing down.

They took just twenty minutes to reach the accident.

Other than the multitude of flashing lights, it was a scene of little activity. The fire-tender crew were packing up their hoses. The paramedics were sitting on the opposite side of the road, gossiping over cups of coffee. A bored group of policemen stood by a burnt out car; one was directing the small amount of lunchtime traffic.

As they pulled up, Jack looked carefully at the wrecked car. The windows and tyres were gone. The paint was blackened and in places had burnt back to bare, twisted metal. The interior was gutted - and empty.

"Colonel O’Neil?" he was asked. "We’ve moved the bodies over here. Just about to transfer them to the morgue actually when we got your call and…well. There’s not much to go on, I’m afraid."

Jack grimaced and followed the police officer off the road. "Do you know how this happened?"

"Well, we’ll need to wait for the official report of course, but the fire chief was pretty sure that there was some kind of explosion in the fuel tank." They stopped by a row of blanketed mounds. "Lets see, now. Yes - this one’s yours. We’ve matched all the others to some local yobs." He pulled back the cover.

Jack flinched but couldn’t - honestly couldn’t - readily identify the body.

"We found these on the victim if that’ll help."

Jack stared at the objects placed in his palm: some slightly warped spectacle frames, a locker key and a sooty name tally. He rubbed the tally clean: Johnson.

"Daniel’s," Jack said with difficulty.

"But you can’t identify the body? Only the effects?"

Jack nodded, not entirely trusting his voice.

The police officer belatedly realised that Jack was reeling with the news and softened his approach. "Look, it’s all right, Sir. We’ve other methods to verify whether or not this is your man."

"Uh, ‘kay."

"Why don’t you let your sergeant drive you to the bank? I understand the team there need to question another of your officers anyway."

"Major Carter?" Jack asked, not thinking.

"I don’t have her name, sorry. She absconded right after the raid."

Which, if he’d thought about it, would have struck him as very odd. But he was too busy thinking about the body - no, Daniel - to put any time into working out why Carter was acting so uncharacteristically.

********

The clerk looked glumly at the phone when it disturbed his usual Monday afternoon coffee break flirtation with the office’s receptionist.

"Records office. Cheryl speaking. How can I help you?"

The receptionist ‘uh-huh’d a few times, pulled a pad towards her and scribbled a few notes. "Okay, officer, we’ll pull his records and compare them to your scan. Do you need our e-mail address?" As she began to dictate, Cheryl waved her scribbled note in the clerk’s direction: get this record was the clear message.

The clerk sighed, his suspicion that the flirtation had come to an end confirmed. Swinging himself off the desk, he headed for the military records section and walked down the aisle of cabinets until - at last - he reached J. In his opinion, the sooner they got these files on computer the better.

It must have been a slow day at the office, both Cheryl and the clerk thought an hour later when the dentist popped his head round the door and said, "That file you gave me - it’s a match. I take it that’s bad news?"

"Dunno, Doctor," Cheryl replied. "I’ll ask when I tell them if you want."

"No, don’t bother. It usually is, and this time I don’t think I want to know."

********

Unsure how much scrutiny the false IDs would take, Jack used his real credentials to get past the police barrier around the bank. "They’re reviewing the security videos in the manager’s office now, Sir," he was told helpfully.

Having found the office, Jack tapped firmly on it a couple of times and stuck his head round the door. "All right if we come in?" he asked.

The two policemen and the bank manager looked up crossly at the disturbance. "And you are…?"

"Colonel Jack O’Neill, US Air Force. It was my people who got caught up in the raid."

Their expressions immediately relaxed into sympathy. "Oh, in that case…" A couple of chairs were pulled out then the group returned their attention to the paused image on a small TV monitor. "Do you want us to take it back to the start?"

"Please."

For a few seconds the images on the screen scrolled confusing backwards at high speed. Then, as an old lady passed under the camera, the police officer holding the video remote pressed ‘stop’. "This is the feed from the foyer camera. Gotta few other angles, but this gives a pretty good idea of what’s going on."

Jack watched in silence as Daniel ran into the centre of the picture, spun crazily round for a few seconds then stiffened suddenly. Sam followed him into the shot, touching his arm briefly before turning round and dropping to the floor. Next four armed men ran through, one taking position just behind Sam. Jack scowled as the robber bent over her then flinched at the savage kick into Daniel’s side.

When Daniel was dragged to his feet by his jacket collar, the policeman paused the video. Jack, looking at the frozen image of the choking civilian, wished the officer had been a little more sensitive.

"This is where we got up to on this camera," the man said, oblivious to Jack’s unease. "So far, pretty much to standard. The hostage gets dragged out…" To Jack’s relief, he pressed ‘play’ again. "…and the crooks exit with the cash. Customers stand up in shock. And then… BAM!… your girlie sneaks right out the bank."

The other policeman looked directly at Jack. "She’d of known to stay, right? You can see she ain’t leaving to see the getaway car - not quick enough. I’m sorry, Sir, but she looks crook."

Jack clenched his teeth, trying to find it in himself to ask politely for a repeat viewing of the video. Beside him, Teal’c stirred. "Perhaps you might permit us to review this tape?" he asked.

The officers stood. "Sure, we’re finished here anyway. Drop the copies off out front once you’re done. Sir, we’ve put out an APB on the girl; we’ll let you know if we find her."

Jack looked over. "She was operating under an alias," he said carefully. "You’ll need to keep a look-out for a Major Samantha Carter as well as Patti Caike."

"Okay. I’ll pass that on." Satisfied, the second officer reached for his radio as he exited the room looking as though that latest information had just confirmed his suspicions.

"Any thoughts, Teal’c?" Jack asked as soon as they were alone.

"Major Carter would not have deceived us," Teal’c answered gravely.

"Okay, big fella, that I know. Any useful thoughts?"

"These robbers move with too much precision to be the local criminals the law enforcement officials recovered from the car wreck."

"I agree. No way was this raid amateur. So why try to make it look that way?"

"And why switch Major Carter’s radio?"

"What?" Jack fumbled with the remote and slowly stepped through the frames of the robber bending over Sam. "Dammit, Teal’c. Why didn’t you tell me this before?"

"I was unaware you were unaware, O’Neill."

"Jeez! This whole thing is a set-up." Jack sat back, brain reeling. After a minute’s thought he continued. "Okay. First off, we let the General know. I’ll get them to send a copy of the tapes to the SGC."

Jack and Teal’c left forwarding instructions at the front desk and headed for their car. They were just about to depart for the airport when one of the policeman from the manager’s office tapped the glass next to Teal’c. They wound the car window down.

"Colonel, we’ve had the preliminary dental analysis back already. I’m sorry, they found a match to your man."

Jack swore horribly, unable to believe it. Teal’c bowed his head solemnly at the policeman and wound up the window again. "And where the hell’s Carter?" Jack shouted at no one in particular, gunning the engine and driving off at an alarming speed.

Teal stoically sat still through five miles of Jack’s driving until he felt it safe to interrupt the human’s dark thoughts. "O’Neill, I do not believe Daniel Jackson to be dead."

"So that crispy body back there just happened to have Daniel’s teeth and clothing?!"

"Correction, O’Neill. The victim happened to have Johnson’s teeth and clothing. An outfit capable of the deception we have already witnessed would doubtless be capable of creating false official records."

Jack silently considered this. Then to Teal’c relief, he slowed down and pulled into the side. "Pass over my phone, would ya?" he said with relief. "You’re right. Somehow I doubt the SGC went as far as dental records when they set up our undercover IDs."

********

Daniel didn’t know how long exactly he’d been wedged in the corner of this grimy van. What he did know was that his shoulders ached because his wrists had been firmly secured behind him since before they’d set off. That each time he got bumped as the van changed velocity, the shooting pain going up and down his arms was enough to make him give a muffled, gasping sob. Then add to that his shivers - because the lightweight scrubs they had changed him into were no protection at all against the chill. And he couldn’t see or speak: his blindfold and a gag saw to that.

He badly wanted back on that stupid team-building course. At least the others would be there suffering alongside him. Here, on his own, nothing made sense. How could these robbers already know the name of a randomly picked hostage? Why had they pretended they didn’t know who he was? And he couldn’t understand why they’d only taken him and not the money from the car. His mind looped round and round in an individual darkness, not reaching any conclusions, just finding more questions.

He shivered again and, caught unawares, he let his left foot jerk. The chain attaching his ankle to the van jangled loudly and, as before, he got a stinging slap on his knee for making the sound. He wanted this to stop, please; he felt humiliated to be so vulnerable and embarrassed at feeling humiliated. Why had they asked him questions if they presumably knew the answers? And how many times had he asked himself that without any chance of a reply, huddled here in this cold, uncomfortable corner; his freedom snatched away for no good reason that he could discern?

God, here he was slipping into morose thoughts again. Daniel forced himself to focus, to try to get above the situation. To work something - anything - out. Why was it so cold? Had they reached somewhere where the weather was colder or - oh god - had they been travelling so long that it was now night? It hadn’t even been lunchtime when he’d run with Sam into the bank. He could be hundreds of miles away by now. They’d never find him.

He shivered, got slapped.

Focus, Daniel, he told himself, starting the loop again.

How could they know his name? Because they’d planned to take him. How could they plan to take him? - it was only by chance he’d been at the bank then. Why hadn’t they set him free yet? He wanted to be free. Really, really wanted out of this horrible van where he couldn’t speak or see, where he ached and was so cold.

He shivered again, got slapped, repeated the loop. Shivering and thinking, all he could do…

Eventually, shock and exhaustion overcame fright and pain and Daniel drifted into semi-consciousness; his head lolling slowly forward onto his knees and then, when the van suddenly braked, pitching forward to the floor.

"Thank Christ for that," he dimly heard one of his captors say before a boot was placed firmly across his stomach, trapping him into the corner. About to struggle, Daniel realised it was a better arrangement and lay still, grimacing into the dirt as all his aches transferred themselves to new locations and his shoulders burned at the continued strain - but at least this way he wouldn’t need to fight the van’s motion to stay in place.

He shivered. Winced in anticipation. Nothing.

"How much further?" someone asked quietly.

"Not far. An half hour at most. I take it he’s dropped off at last?"

"Think so. Difficult to tell, he’s still shivering like crazy."

"So would you be if you weren’t wearing that fleece jacket, you idiot. It’s below freezing outside."

"Still… kid doesn’t know when he’s well off."

"Ain’t that the truth?"

Daniel enjoyed that thought for about the next twenty minutes until at last the van pulled to a halt. The boot in his middle was removed, replaced by a light slapping round his face to indicate it was time to wake up. He struggled to a sitting position, finding it surprisingly difficult between his blindfold, handcuffs and stiffness. He heard a padlock being undone. Then a sudden yank on his ankle chain had his head crashing back to the floor and his body sliding along to the end of the van.

They hoisted him into a fireman’s lift, walked up some stairs. It was all he could do not to bite his tongue in half as his stressed arms fell forward, further abusing his stiff shoulders. He grasped the waistband of his pants to hold his arms in place, wincing at every step the man took.

Fortunately, whatever his final destination was, it wasn’t far from the van. He was dropped inelegantly to the floor - cold concrete, he realised with dismay - then the chain at his ankle tugged as it was attached to something.

A voice broke into his darkness. "Keys to the cuffs are on your right, next to some water. Careful you don’t knock it over." Then booted feet walked back the way he had been carried in, a door slammed shut and a heavy lock turned.

Daniel slid himself cautiously to the right until his reaching fingers brushed against something metallic: one bucket of water. Scrabbling hands soon closed on the key, but he had to strain and twist for frustrating minutes trying to open the cuffs with fingers which wouldn’t do as he asked until at last his hands were freed and he could flex his angry shoulder muscles and sore wrists. When the last of the pins and needles had faded, Daniel raised his arms slowly to the back of his head and untied the gag and blindfold, cautiously blinking as the cloth covering his eyes fell loose.

It was pitch dark; he could only just make out the outline of the door. He felt experimentally at the manacle around his ankle. Very secure.

Just another puzzle to add to the others, he thought dejectedly. Why bother chaining him into a locked room?

********

"You promised me proof, Bob."

"Sam, I don’t think you’re in any position -"

"Oh no you don’t! Not that crap again. Driving halfway to Canada’s one thing, but I’m not going near this museum without talking to Daniel."

"He’s fine, Sam. All you’ve got to do -"

"Dammit! Are you listening to me at all? Just give me one good reason why I shouldn’t phone Colonel O’Neill right now!"

There was a silence. Then Bob spoke again. "You can’t speak to him. No - hear me out, Sam. That wasn’t our agreement anyway. I just had to prove Dr Jackson was alive and well."

"I, oh… okay."

"He’s asleep."

"Asleep. And what? You don’t wanna disturb him?"

"Maybe."

"You can’t honestly expect me to believe that!"

"I don’t care whether you do or not. Open up the glove compartment."

Curious, Sam leant across and tugged at the catch. A digital PC notebook and an envelope fell out.

"Okay, Sam, I’m sending the video across."

Sam watched the low-resolution, shaky and curiously colourless image of a van pulling up, and someone - no, definitely Daniel - being pulled struggling from it.

Bob began talking as soon as the short clip finished. "You saw the sky was dark, right? Proves he was alive an hour or so ago. That do for you?"

"Not really."

"Don’t get pushy, Sam. You aren’t the one holding the aces here. If you don’t pull this off, we’ll find another way. Dr Jackson won’t."

Sam glared hard at the dashboard. "Lets say I believe you then. What now?"

"Now you take the envelope and go in and ask the curator for access to the Steward Expedition exhibits."

"The Stew… wait a minute. Wasn’t that where the Osiris jar came from? I thought all that went back to Egypt last year?"

"No, it was meant to go back last year, but after Dr Jackson’s little…discovery, the SGC impounded the vast majority of artefacts and then somehow ‘lost’ the transfer paperwork. It’s all been sitting here ever since in a sealed-off area waiting for military collection."

"But the Egyptian government wouldn’t forget, surely?"

"We brought them off. It wasn’t that hard: for some reason they seemed to think the objects were cursed… Sam, I’m getting a little impatient here. Can we continue, please?"

"No - wait. You want me to go and collect these artefacts?"

"In a way."

"But the only really exceptional things aren’t there anymore: the jars, amulet and bracelet were removed."

"We added a few things. Now go, Sam, or I will wake Dr Jackson."

Sam got out of the car and looked around. It was strange to be on Daniel’s old stomping ground and she wondered how many times he had visited this museum basement before. She descended the steps and rang the bell.

"Hello?" called a female voice. "Come on through. I’ll be with you directly."

Sam walked through the door which led to the main storage area. Rack upon rack of dusty artefacts filled the room to the ceiling. The curator was at the end of a row, stretching to place a box on one of the shelves and dusting her hands on her skirt once she had done so.

"I’m sorry to keep you waiting, I’m still learning the ropes here and what with budget cuts… oh! You’re military."

"Major Samantha Carter, Ma’am." She said, showing her ID.

"Oh, call me Grace. I… what can I do for you?"

"Could I have access to the Steward exhibits please?"

"The Steward exhibits? Well, yes, I’ll get the key. We were beginning to think you’d forgotten all about them. Do you have the transfer authorisation?"

Sam handed over the envelope, hoping the contents would turn out to be the ‘lost’ paperwork. By the reassured expression on the curator’s face, this was indeed the case.

"I’ll be back in a moment. The key’s in my office."

Her footsteps faded and Sam waited. Bob was restlessly clicking what sounded like a biro in the background. "When you get in," he said after a bit, "there are some documents and a kind of lampstand that I want you to collect."

"Lampstand?!"

"You’ll see what I mean when you get in."

"Bob, what’s this all about? You haven’t gone to all this trouble for me to collect lighting accessories."

"I told you - that’s need to know. Now be quiet, Sam, before she comes back."

Five minutes later, Sam let herself into the locked room and used the access codes Grace had given her to turn off the alarm.

"They’re further back and to your left."

She walked in the indicated direction. The small room was filled with half-open packing cases, the majority of which contained what seemed to be ancient Egyptian artefacts. Her eye was drawn to the couple that looked out of place: a box of zats, Goa’uld long range visual communication devices embedded in a radio and what could be some mothership crystals.

"I said further back."

God - could he still see her? That must be impossible, surely? There were no cameras in the room and she was alone. So - she herself was carrying the camera?

"Sorry. I’m just not sure what I’m looking for." But as she said the words, she saw the object. Like the Goa’uld radios, it was too modern to sit comfortably hidden among the ancient relics. As to what it was, well, it looked grey, functional and not too dissimilar to a tall, thick candlestick. The base appeared to be a power source of some form, maybe naquadah, though she’d have to run some tests to be sure. There were small jewels and hieroglyphs on the side which she’d have to get Daniel to look at when she got ba-

Oh.

"Sam, I know this isn’t easy for you. But please, pick up the generator and the document it’s resting on."

"Generator?"

"And stop asking questions. It doesn’t help."

With a resigned sigh, Sam collected the items. But as she turned and looked again at the Goa’uld radios, an inkling of an idea came into her mind and for the first time she thought she might, just might, be able to do something to derail this unstoppable pre-planned sequence of events. Remembering that she seemed to be carrying a camera, Sam went past the open box - but allowed her trailing hand to snatch one of the devices and tuck it into her back pocket.

********

By the time they arrived at Cheyenne Mountain late on Monday evening, Jack and Teal’c were pretty sure they had everything straight in their minds.

"So let’s get this clear," Hammond checked after they’d brought him up to date. "You think somehow your cover was blown by …?"

"No idea yet, Sir. But I’m guessing NID."

"Very well: we’ll say person or persons unknown for now, but follow up on the NID angle. What else: we believe Dr Jackson has been kidnapped and Major Carter is being coerced to do… something via a radio she was slipped during the raid."

"The police have an APB out on her, General."

"But we don’t know what this is all about."

"No, Sir."

"And the police consider the hostage angle closed because they’ve recovered the money - albeit, er, toasted - along with five bodies which they’ve matched to four local dropouts and one ‘Air Force officer’?"

"Yes, Sir."

"Okay, Colonel, thank you. Dr Frasier, you said you had verified that Dr Jackson’s medical records don’t match those of ‘Captain Johnson’?"

"That’s correct, Sir. They don’t match anything we have on file at all."

"So we can assume that the body recovered from that car is not Daniel’s?"

"I think so, Sir."

"We need to let the police know that, Colonel."

"With respect, General, I already tried. They informed me that Dr Daniel Jackson has been dead for six years which about corresponds to when I came back from Abydos. I guess that’s one department we forgot to let know when Daniel came back too."

"So there’s no point following that avenue?"

"It’ll take months of filing memos to clear up, Sir," Jack said with uncomfortable certainty. "Particularly given we’re precisely one Daniel Jackson short of a Daniel Jackson to show them."

"Sir, I -" But there Janet stopped her interjection, looking stricken.

"What is it, Doctor?" Hammond asked gently.

Janet looked him in the eye. "General, on a whim, I pulled a few strings and got some checks done on the medical files for the rest of SG-1. I didn’t find anything for Sergeant T Murray. Colonel Jonathan O’Neil actually exists: he’s posted over in Germany at the moment. But I did find a file for Major Patti Caike..."

Jack caught his breath. He had a horrible feeling he knew what was coming next.

"…and it’s an exact match for Major Carter’s."

Tuesday morning

Daniel woke up feeling wretched, still shivering slightly and very stiff and thirsty. His head pounded as though he had a hangover; he massaged his skull and encountered a few painful bumps.

Opening his eyes, he was relieved to be able to see. Not that there was much in view: a metal door slightly ajar, a concrete floor with his short ankle chain attached to a ring in the centre, a bucket of water, brick walls with no windows but several surveillance cameras, a metal roof and bright strip lighting overhead.

He crawled to the bucket and was about to take a sip of water when he suddenly became aware of a presence watching him. Turning around, he saw a dejected, stick-thin figure hunched in the corner.

It was Nyan.

"Oh no," Daniel whispered. "They’ve got you too."

Nyan looked at Daniel dazedly. "I’m sorry," he said. "I didn’t want to… but they didn’t give me a choice."

Daniel replied softly: the kid looked completely out of it. "You don’t have anything to apologise for." But Nyan continued to look so inconsolable that suspicion grew rapidly. "Or… do you?"

"They asked me to give you some messages."

"Did they?" What the hell had the kid done that he was sorry for?

"You’re safe here."

"Oh, really?" He couldn’t help the sarcasm, and Nyan reacted badly to it, jerking his head up and becoming defiant. He stood up shakily and crossed to Daniel who was still sitting on the floor.

"They’ll make sure you get everything you need if you’re good."

"I need to leave."

"No. You’re okay here."

"Nyan!" Daniel said in exasperation, "How about when I, uh - for example - how about when I need to pee? There’s no bathroom."

"There’s the bucket."

"It’s full of water."

"They’ll bring more. But first they said you’ve gotta put the cuffs and stuff on, like when you got here. And toss the keys out of reach."

Daniel stared. He was joking, surely? Except Nyan looked desperate under that defiant exterior. But still… "Well, you can tell them from me there’s as much chance of hell freezing over as of me doing that."

"You’ll have to, to get more water."

"I don’t need more goddamn water." Which was precisely the wrong thing to say, he realised a moment later as Nyan viciously kicked the bucket, spilling water over Daniel and the floor. "Okaaay, now I, uh, yeah, now I need more water. Great apology, Nyan."

Close to tears, Nyan snatched the bucket up and thrust it back at Daniel. "Well at least you can pee now," he taunted. And he fled to the door, closing and then locking it firmly behind him.

Daniel sat stupidly holding the empty bucket for several minutes after Nyan had left, fighting with himself over what to do. He was really thirsty. Nyan said he’d get more water if… oh no, please, don’t even think that.

He put down the bucket and wrapped his arms around himself. He was still shivering - more so now he was wet - so he stood up and moved about, soon discovering that the only effective movement he could make other than hopping from foot to foot was to walk round and round anticlockwise, literally at the end of his tether. And he couldn’t keep that up for long, he just got dizzy.

So it wasn’t as if this stupid chain didn’t already make him constrained. They were just teaching him who had control, weren’t they? He’d need more water eventually and he badly wanted it now. What had he to lose except a little dignity?

God, he was even contemplating it now.

Daniel picked up the key and jinked it from hand to hand. Looked at the two bits of material and the handcuffs on the floor. He was thirsty. Thirsty enough?

Abruptly, he chucked the key towards the door. "Can’t believe I’m doing this," he muttered to no-one in particular, sitting down again. What first? The gag, he supposed. Well, he could put that on, and the blindfold, without committing himself. He could always untie them if he changed his mind.

He shook the material. Concrete dust flew out. Put it tentatively in his mouth, feeling stupid. It tasted disgusting and made him realise just how thirsty he was. He tied it firmly behind his head, wondering if he shouldn’t be cheating somehow: leaving it so it would fall off. Except that then if they didn’t bring the water…

Blindfold next. He looked to check the handcuffs were in easy reach, and realised he was holding his breath. He breathed out, smiling at himself.

It’s okay, not committed yet. Just tie the damn thing on, you can always take it off.

Except that now that was done, he had to make the decision.

Daniel picked up the cuffs and played blindly with them in his hand. Well, he could snap one wrist without committing…

For an agonising few seconds Daniel sat frozen with indecision, thinking of forfeited chances of escape and incriminating surveillance videos. Then quickly, so as not to give himself time to think about it, he put his hands behind his back and snapped the other cuff on.

There. Come and give me the water now, whoever you are. And try not to rub it in when you do come just how completely ridiculous I must look sitting here on this cold, wet floor having just tied myself up because someone I once counted as a friend told me to.

********

"Bill? This is George Hammond calling from the SGC, sorry to call so early… Well, the girls and I are fine, thank you… No, we haven’t heard from Maybourne recently… Yes, yes, I’ll let you know if we do... No, Bill, this isn’t a social call. I’m hoping you can do a favour for us… Yes, first time for everything… Well, one of our teams operating covertly has had their cover blown, and I’m hoping you can tell us whether anyone within your organisation authorised it… It’s Jack O’Neill’s team: SG-1… Yes, I agree they do always seem to attract trouble… Yes, I’m checking with the Pentagon too. Bill, I don’t want to hurry you but right now two of my people are relying on me to track them down… Yes, I’ll hold."

Hammond leant heavily back and nodded at his 2I/C who was hovering in the doorway to his office. Jack took this as permission to enter. "General, according to Major Davis, no one at the Pentagon even knew we were going undercover. As it wasn’t a Stargate mission, the details weren’t forwarded."

"I see, Colonel."

"Davis asked if he could do anything to help."

"I don’t think that’s necessary at the moment, but thank him anyw-… Yes, I’m still here... I see. Thank you, Bill." Hammond disconsolately replaced the phone receiver. "NID had nothing to do with this," he said.

"Still leaves Harry Maybourne, Sir."

"Jack, he was busted out of NID two years ago. How could he have gotten involved?"

"Well, I won’t know until I ask him, will I?"

Tuesday afternoon

By that afternoon, Sam had left Chicago far behind her. While she drove the generator south, she chatted with Bob, trying to subtly glean information from him. When he allowed her to stop for a mid-afternoon rest break, she learnt that it was indirectly her own fault that Bob had needed a military officer to collect the generator from the Steward exhibition area. It seemed that the SGC had done an inadequate job of debriefing Steven Rayner after their Egyptian adventure. Enough doubts had lingered that Steven had attempted to access the exhibits even after they’d been impounded by the SGC and, as a result, access to the hall had been carefully restricted to only military personnel. Sam was now trying to work out how to pass the Goa’uld radio she’d smuggled over to the SGC when Bob disturbed her rest.

"Sam, we’re going to let you speak to Dr Jackson, if you want."

As if she wouldn’t. "Please. Is he, I mean… can he hear me?"

"Sam?" Daniel’s voice was a bit unsure. "Sam? What are you…? I mean, how come…? Sam?"

"I’m here, Daniel."

"But why are you…? God, does that mean I’m…? That’s… that’s it, isn’t it? That’s why I’m here. Just to make you… God, I’m so sorry, Sam."

"Daniel, calm down. It’s not that bad."

"What are they making you do?"

"Just collect some stuff."

"That’s it? Some stuff?"

"Yeah. Don’t ask me, Daniel. It’s got Goa’uld glyphs all over it though. Some kind of generator, Bob said."

"Oh."

"Look, are you all right? Are they treating you okay?"

"Yeah," Daniel’s voice unexpectedly had a bitter tone to it. "To be honest, I’m bored and they’re bored, so we’re playing some nice little games to keep them entertained."

"Oh, Daniel."

"My particular favourite so far has to be staring at the wall for hours without moving a muscle."

"Daniel, I promise I’m trying to get you out."

"Well, thanks. But, y’know, don’t hurry. Really - I’m having great fun here."

"There’s no reason why they shouldn’t be letting you go soon." Please, please let that be true.

"Sam." Bob’s voice. "Time for you to get going again."

God, she wished he wouldn’t do that. She had no idea who she was talking to from one moment to the next. "Can’t I say goodbye?"

"Don’t you ever stop asking questions? Your next destination is Memphis. Start the car."

********

Jack was pleasantly surprised at how quickly he’d been able to set this up, given that the last time they’d spoken there had been calypso drums in the background and the bonhomie of freedom in the singing. But here he now was, sitting at a café in Boston, scanning the crowds for a fugitive ex-colleague.

"Jack! I’d say what a pleasant surprise, but we both know it wouldn’t be true."

Jack jumped. The voice had come unexpectedly from behind. "Which bit, Maybourne? The ‘pleasant’ or the ‘surprise’?"

Harry sat down. "I’ll leave you to work that out, shall I? Well, Jack, shoot. What latest fix have you got your team into that I need to bail you out of?"

Jack bristled. "That’s a bit below the belt, Maybourne."

"Really? So I won’t mention Russia or Senator Kinsey?"

"Russia was your fault!"

Harry waved his hand as if swatting a fly. "Don’t exaggerate, Jack. So, is this just a social call? Coz I’m a wanted man and being seen in your company could be bad for me."

"It’s Carter and Daniel. They’re in trouble."

"See? What did I tell you?"

"Do you know anything about some plans to snatch Daniel during a bank raid?"

"No, Jack, I don’t. Not my baby this time."

"So who then?"

"I dunno, Jack."

"Dammit, Maybourne, throw me a bone here! Some kind of professional unit snatched Daniel and bugged Carter. The only people who could have known enough about our location to pull it off are Hammond, Doc Frasier and the NID goons. Not even the Pentagon!"

"And you’ve checked with NID?"

"Yeah. Hammond called in a few of the favours he was owed after that resignation thing."

"Well, if they don’t know, how could I?"

"Harry, please. Someone professional targeted Daniel when he was working undercover. NID were the only bad guys who knew. If the regular NID mob didn’t order the raid, how about your lot?"

"Jack, your memory’s going. You put them all in jail or got them killed."

"All?"

Harry acknowledged the question with a shrug. "Okay. Not all."

"So…?"

"Jack, this isn’t going to help, you know. Two teams got trapped off-world and we busted one agent ourselves before you got to us."

"You busted an agent?!"

"Yeah. He went bad."

"A kinda rogue rogue-NID agent? God help us." Jack ran his fingers through his hair. "Okay. Where is he?"

"I don’t know."

"Oh for crying out loud, Maybourne! Are you deliberately trying to wind me up?"

"Jack, I swear I don’t know. I ordered his team to take care of him. Newman might know."

"Newman. Okay. I’ll go visit Newman."

"Jack. Merrick - the busted guy? He’s a false trail. He won’t know anything, he’s been out of it for years. You do know that, don’t you?"

But as Jack walked away, he refused to believe it. Newman - and then Merrick - had to be the right way to go. There were no other leads to follow.

Tuesday night

They reached an agreement five miles beyond Dyersburg. Sam had been all for getting gas at the next local filling station whereas Bob had wanted to hold out for one of the automatic payment gas pumps further down the road. It was only the fact that Sam drew his attention to the fuel gauge at the exact moment it was reading low due to the gradient that swung the argument in her favour. She was much relieved: her plan would never work otherwise.

The filling station was located at a junction but was otherwise isolated and quiet. Normally, Sam would be apprehensive at pulling across alone at this time but for once she was glad of the seclusion: fewer people available to blow her plan by pointing out she’d left something behind.

Collecting yet another envelope - this one hidden under the passenger footmat and containing a credit card for Patti Caike - she refilled the tank, locked the car and walked into the forecourt shop to pay.

As she entered, she was careful to trip over the doorsill and drop the credit card. Picking it up again, it was much easier to discretely switch her own card for Patti’s. There was no admonition from Bob, either then or as she signed the pay slip: the exchange had gone unnoticed.

The trickiest part - because after all she didn’t know how much Bob could see - came as she walked out of the shop. To give the security cameras an uninterrupted view, she was obliged to detour via the woman’s magazines garishly vying to tell her the top ten ways to improve her hair, house or love life. As she walked back to the entrance, she allowed her right hand to trail behind her into her back pocket and then over the cassette selection.

Please let this work, she thought, fumbling to place the Goa’uld radio into the rack. Of course, if it didn't then sooner or later there were going to be some very surprised Madonna fans out there.

Wednesday morning

‘N V UNHLP BUT NU M LOC, PLN 2 VST @ 12. J 2 FONE OC. T’

Hammond stared grumpily at the message, feeling old and out of touch. He made a mental note to remind his favourite alien of the importance of ensuring messages could be understood by the recipient.

Well, nothing for it. He picked up his phone. "Dr Frasier? Is Cassandra still there? I’m hoping that while she’s in the infirmary she might be able to help with a little project… No, it’s nothing strenuous at all, just some translation: I think she must have been teaching Teal’c to text… You know, mobile phones… Yes, thank you, doctor."

A short while later he was looking over the catering budget, trying to take his mind off his two missing personnel, when the phone rang. Thinking it to be Cassandra, he picked it up and instead of his usual gruff greeting, used the voice he normally saved for his grandchildren. So he was somewhat disconcerted to realise he was talking to the West Virginia State police department. But as he hadn’t, after all, made General on looks alone, he quickly recovered his composure and listened to the man telling him that the police had traced a payment made the night before in a gas station by Major Carter - and that there was a copy of a surveillance tape which they would be happy to forward to the SGC should he wish. Hammond did wish and so the arrangements were made.

A couple of minutes later a message came through from the infirmary: Cassandra believed the text meant that Jack and Teal’c were to visit someone called ‘M’ at lunchtime and would phone once they had done so. Hammond thanked the teenager and wished her a speedy recovery.

So that brought the tally up to two - admittedly tentative - leads to follow.

Wednesday mid-morning

Daniel rather thought the last time he had done this was when he was about nine, in the brief but pleasant period he had spent in the care of a foster family in Oregon before they had relocated to Europe. He picked up a blue felt-tip pen and coloured in a sizeable chunk of the paper in front of him. The overall picture was becoming a little clearer now, and he had a vague impression that really the water and blanket he’d been promised when he finished weren’t worth the conclusion he was going to have to reach at the end - but he also knew that if he refused now he’d not only be forcibly shown the original scene but also deprived drink and warmth. So he kept colouring.

He picked up the orange next to fill in a small v-shaped section. It wasn’t exactly taxing work mentally and as he laboured he turned over in his mind the inconsistencies in his situation. At present he was being held to coerce Sam, that was obvious. But equally that simply didn’t match the way they’d ensured that he - Daniel - had told them himself his work was in Cheyenne Mountain on the Stargate. Then add that to the picture forming in front of him…

Grey next, a kind of criss-cross pattern in the bottom half of the picture.

Funny thing was, at the moment he wasn’t cold. He was starving: they hadn’t given him anything but water since his arrival. He wondered what the probability was of being able to trade them the promised blanket for some food. Not much, he suspected: it was quite difficult to trade when you couldn’t speak and shouldn’t move.

He put down the grey, picked up the dark green and used it to finish off the clothing of the four stick-like figures positioned facing away from him.

Well, he didn’t really need to complete the black sections: one was quite definitely staff weapon shaped. So if that was Teal’c, that made the female stick Sam, the third figure Jack and the fourth - long haired and awkwardly adjusting his uniform - a younger version of himself.

It was an image of SG-1 about to enter the Stargate. But how had they got it and - more to the point - how were they hoping to benefit by getting him to colour in a child’s picture-book version of it?

Giving himself time to think, he slowly finished off the final black areas of the picture before tying himself up again. As he turned to place himself face down on the floor to await the arrival of his rewards, he realised he had reached nothing but thoroughly miserable conclusions.

********

Sergeant Walter Davis watched the images of Major Carter dropping off a device in the gas station. "The police don’t know what to make of the item," General Hammond told him. "I asked for permission to borrow it for now, and they were happy to oblige as they’re only following up on the car licence plate. The device should be at the SGC in about an hour or so, and then I’d like you to take a look at it."

By 1100, Walter had the device in his hands and had agreed with General Hammond that, as it looked Goa’uld in origin, it should be discussed with Teal’c over the phone. Needless to say, the Jaffa was pleased to hear that Sam had been in indirect contact but quickly got down to business.

"What makes you believe this device to be Goa’uld?"

"Well, although it sort of looks like a conventional radio, it has a globe-shaped object - one of those Gould long range visual communication devices - embedded in it. I think they may be using it to bug Major Carter."

"Your assessment is most likely correct, Sergeant Davis. I have heard of such portable networked devices before. You should exercise extreme caution before activating it: you will be detected both aurally and visually unless you deselect visual and maintain silence."

"I see."

"But once you have taken these precautions, you will be safe to join the network."

Walter heard Colonel O’Neill in the background demanding to be given the phone. "Sergeant Davis?"

"Yes, Sir?"

"Are you saying we can eavesdrop on Major Carter?"

"Yes, Sir. I believe so. If this is being used to control her, then they could monitor her 24/7 without being anywhere near her - even when she stops for a rest for instance - so we should be able to too."

"Davis?"

"Yes, Colonel?"

"Right now would be good."

Walter smiled. "On it already, Sir."

Wednesday lunchtime

The car wheels ground over glass as Jack and Teal’c pulled up in the run-down estate where Merrick lived. When they stepped out of the car, their boots crunched in glass too.

"Watch our backs, Teal’c," Jack cautioned as they walked towards the high rise.

"Indeed, O’Neill," the Jaffa replied, adopting his most menacing posture.

They entered the dank lobby, noses wrinkling at the smell of stale urine which was as rife in the building as the ugly graffiti. Jack pressed a light switch to illuminate the stairwell: nothing happened, so they climbed upwards in the gloom, peering carefully around each corner. Sounds of shouting filtered gently down the steps then, as they climbed higher, reached a crescendo and were gradually left behind.

"Here." Jack unenthusiastically surveyed a heavy door, set into what looked like a reinforced doorwell. "Looks like he’s expecting trouble." He rapped firmly on the door. Footsteps sounded on the far side and there was a pause as if the owner of the steps was checking through the peephole.

"Who’s there?" The voice was suspicious.

"Jack O’Neill."

"I wasn’t expecting you."

"No, well, I was hoping we could talk."

"Talk? Why would I wanna talk with you?"

"I could make it worth your while."

"How much?"

"How much would it take?"

"How much have you got?"

"We’ve got enough. We’re trying to trace some friends."

There was silence from the other side as the voice tried to decide whether or not to help based on the scant conversation. Then there were sounds of chains and bolts being drawn back and the door opened.

Jack and Teal’c stepped in. They found themselves in what could only be described as a hovel, the man they had spoken to backed up by four gigantic but scarily spaced-out men. Needles littered the floor, half eaten cans of food rotted in the corners, feeble light struggled to filter in past grime-caked windows and on every surface, except the unmade bed, lay drugs paraphernalia: wrappers, lighters and scales amidst handguns, money and BMW keys.

"Let’s see it then." The man held out his hand for Jack’s wallet. Jack handed it over and watched gloomily as the contents were inspected. He’d better cancel his cards in a hurry. "Okay, that’s good for five questions."

"Five? That’s hardly -"

"My terms, or you walk. We have an agreement?"

Jack nodded.

"Okay. Question number two then."

Two? About to protest, Jack realised this wasn’t an argument he was about to win. So how to do this in four questions?

"Merrick, when was the last time you had dealings with NID?"

The man looked surprised and a little curious, as if this wasn’t a line he’d expected Jack to take. He waved his minders away.

"What the hell’s going on? Who sent you?"

"I’ve already said I’m trying to trace some friends. Maybourne gave me your name. And I’m waiting for the answer I paid for."

"I wasn’t expecting that question… Uh, I never officially was NID." Jack waited: not the answer. "Newman kicked me out of the unofficial NID over two years ago." Jack waited: he hoped this still wasn’t the answer. "And I stopped taking stuff freelance out of Russia a few months back. Work kinda dried up."

Bingo!

"What sort of work did you do?"

"Well, I was a courier mostly. At first I went off world a few times, but mostly I just collected stuff from Makepeace and then the team in Russia after the bust. I collected the goods, took them to Area 51 or, umm, wherever."

Two questions left. How did Merrick link to Daniel’s disappearance and Sam dropping off Gould items, if at all? How best to find out?

Teal’c suddenly interrupted his train of thought. "What was the nature of the technology which you did not convey to Area 51?"

Teal’c! Only one question left, and now that had to be ‘did he know where he should start looking for a geeky scientist who had yet again managed to get himself in trouble?’ Except, Merrick was talking…

"… than my life’s worth to tell you that. Let’s just say, I got special instructions to separate a couple of items from the rest. To be honest, I didn’t understand them and I doubt NID would have ever been able to figure them either. Anyway, I last put stuff there a year ago. They always collected straight off so everything’ll be long gone by now."

"Gone from where?"

"No. Try another question."

Dammit. "Why would one of my team dump a Gould radio in a gas station?"

"No idea - why not ask him yourself? And that’s five."

"I’ll pay you more," Jack said desperately.

"No amount of money is going to make me answer the questions you’re about to ask."

"Okay. Forget the money already. There are other ways…"

Merrick laughed. "You threatening me? That’s rich. Listen, there’s nothing you can do that could possibly get even close to their methods if they find out."

Jack got belligerent. "Okay. Screw them and their methods!" he said emphatically, taking out his handgun and pointing it at Merrick. "I’m not going until I get some answers."

Merrick merely coughed. On cue, his minders returned to the hall with their far more impressive arsenal; Jack and Teal’c unwillingly took the hint.

So it would be up to Carter to give them the lead before whoever it was tried to kill her, Jack thought a few minutes later, staring at the empty spot where he’d left the car. And she’d better provide it pretty damn quick because for all the favours he pulled in, he’d come up with precisely zip.

********

"Sam, pull into the side here."

Walter perked up. The SGC had been on-line for nearly an hour now and this was the first time he’d heard anything other than the car engine, Major Carter humming under her breath or a maddeningly clicking biro.

"What’s up, Bob?"

Bob, Walter wrote silently on a sheet of paper in front of him.

"There’s no transaction showing for the gas you got earlier."

"Okay."

"If you used our credit card - as you were told to do - then there should be."

Uh-oh, thought Walter.

"Maybe it just hasn’t gone through yet."

"Or maybe, Sam, you used your own card."

"I wouldn’t be so stupid, Bob."

"Sam, right after this I’m gonna go check your account. And it’ll be worse if you’ve been lying to me. Which card did you use?"

Silence.

"Sam? Provincial account number X34-9989-76547, online password SCHROEDINGER; I have hacker friends. Which card did you use?"

Her voice was quiet. "Mine."

A small pause then, "Well, in that case, Sam, I’m sorry for what’s gonna happen next. But you were warned."

"Why? What’re you going to do? You’re not…?"

"Remove his gag." A different voice, very much less emotional, had come on the circuit, along with new background noises of scraping and faint clanking.

"Oh, no, Bob. You don’t have to do this. I’m sorry; please, don’t take it out on Daniel."

"Sa - ah!" Whatever Dr Jackson had been about to say was cut off with a surprised yelp.

"Bob! Please, Bob. Don’t do this."

"Sam? What’s, umm, wha…aah. Oh, okay. Got it now…oow! Hey! Do you mind?"

"Oh, god, Daniel. I’m so, so sorry."

"S’alright. Just a mild…ssshit… burning sensation… I’ll be aaaaahhhh…" More sounds of scraping, and then thrashing too, quickly subdued. "Ow! No - stop… Oh SSSHIT!"

"Leave him alone!"

"AAAAHHHH!"

Major Carter shouted over him, "Stop it! Please! I get the idea!"

But the yells continued, intermittently interrupted by gasping sobs for air.

"Bob? Stop it! You’re hurting him! Daniel, I… oh god. Bob, I’ll do what you say. I’m sorry. Just, please, please, stop it."

No word from Bob.

"What do you want?" Major Carter sounded frantic. "I’m SORRY. It’s not his fault!"

Abruptly the audio switched, cutting the screams off.

"Don’t mess us about, Sam. This isn’t a game. Get into the car in front of you and head for Greenwood."

Walter sat back and realised he was shaking with impotent outrage. Turning, he saw General Hammond had entered the room, alerted by the increased volume level, and now stood rigidly upright, an expression of intense dismay plastered all over his face. He stood like that for several minutes until suddenly turning on his heel and walking stiffly out of the room.

Greenwood, Walter wrote on his sheet, rubbing his eyes behind his glasses.

Wednesday afternoon

But by that afternoon, with Sam secretly dropping hints over the audio, the SGC had managed to piece together enough information to consider intercepting her. SG-3 had been put on a plane to Alabama and Major Davis had been put on alert in the Pentagon.

Jack, who had already relocated with Teal’c to the state, urged caution. "General, we have no idea where Daniel is; if we don’t let Carter deliver the gizmo, it’ll be just like not paying a ransom demand for a kidnap victim. They won’t give him back."

"Colonel, you know as well as I do that most likely they won’t give Dr Jackson back anyway."

"Then why are they keeping him alive, General?" Hammond winced: he hadn’t told Jack how he knew Daniel was still alive. "If all goes well and Daniel gets released, SG-3 will help us intercept the bad guys. If there’s no sign of Daniel, we’ll tag their car to try to track where they’ve stashed him. Simple."

"Jack, in my experience these things are never simple. Are we quite certain it’s safe to let Major Carter hand over this generator?"

"We’ll get it back, Sir, as soon as Daniel’s safe."

Hammond sighed. "Very well, Jack. Latest intelligence suggests that the handover is at 21 hundred hours, which is about when Major Carter is due to run out of road anyway. SG-3 is due at the airport five hours before that. Have your team ready in southern Alabama as soon as you can and I’ll get you more information once I have it."

Wednesday / Thursday night

"Are you wicked?" asked Sam.

Bob thought for a few seconds. "Not really, no. Just misguided at times."

"Are you from America?"

"Yep."

"Umm. Ever appeared on TV?"

"Yes."

"Are you a fictional character?"

"Yeah - getting close, Sam."

"A cartoon?"

"Yes." Now Bob sounded a little defeated.

"Bart Simpson?"

"Okay - you got me."

"My go, then. I’ve got a humdinger for you this time."

"Fine, but first I want you to take the turn coming up for Mobile. We’ll handover your candlestick there." He paused. "So. Are you female?"

***

"Handover’s in Mobile," Hammond reported. "We estimate it’ll take Major Carter about another forty five minutes or so to get there. Will you have all your people in place by then?"

Jack leaned back in the helicopter to assess the situation with Major Lawrence, the team leader of SG-3, who had begun battling with maps as soon as he’d heard the location. "It’ll be tight, Colonel, but we can beat Sam there," Major Lawrence soon told him.

"All sweet at this end, General," Jack reported back up the chain. "We’ll get there first, but it’s a big place so as soon as you know which car park or café or whatever shady place they’re choosing to do the trade, let us know."

"Of course, Jack," Hammond rumbled back.

***

"Sam?"

"Yeah, Bob?"

"We’re gonna have to stop playing games now and get serious. From when I ask you to get out of the car, you’re gonna have to do exactly what I say, exactly when I say it. No questions. If you don’t, it won’t just be Dr Jackson that gets hurt this time. Do you understand? You’re gonna have to trust me."

Sam thought about this. Her intelligence suggested that trusting a crook who had coerced her through a kidnap plot was not a sensible thing to do. But the funny thing was, over the 2½ day road-trip she’d embarked on with Bob, they’d seemed to connect. Bob had gone from a disembodied voice calling her Major Carter and abruptly ordering her about to someone who had kids at university, a dog called Sparks and a dislike of hamburgers. He’d become friendly. And there was always the hope that the SGC was looking out for her should her instincts prove to be wrong.

"Okay - I’ll trust you. Will Daniel be there?"

Bob sounded a little weary. "No. I’m sorry. They’ll return him later if all goes well. Sam, your next turn is coming up here on the right, it should have a viewpoint sign marking it."

***

Jack and Major Lawrence flurried into action as soon as they were given the latest directions.

"It’s the scenic route," Jack gleefully realised as the helicopter put down next to a waiting van. "Loops around the coast before rejoining this highway. No other exits. If we put a team at the far intersection and another at the turning they’ve just taken, we can tag them on the way out. Teal’c and I will try to get close to Sam to rescue her if it all starts looking too dangerous."

Major Lawrence quickly split his team into two and gave each an intercept brief, tracing his finger over the map on the route he thought Sam would take. Jack dug out the tagging devices they intended to attach to the getaway car, activated the SHF beacon and confirmed with Major Davis that the relaying satellite was sending data. That done, he handed them back to Major Lawrence for loading by the marine teams.

"Colonel," he was told, "looking at the map, I’m worried we may have overlooked something. Thanks to Paul Davis, we’ve got these beacons to take care of a land getaway and radar tracking set up in case they use air assets. But, being a jar-head, I can’t help wondering about the possibility of a sea exit. What if they have a boat?"

Jack looked at him appalled. "Oh, crap, it’s the damn coast road she’s on, isn’t it? I didn’t think. What’s the likelihood?"

The marine team leader shrugged. "They may, they may not. Get Paul Davis to give Pascagoula a buzz, but I think it’ll probably be too late to set up anything now, particularly if they use one of those super-speedy little things the drug runners favour. They’re practically impossible to track on radar."

"Crap!" Jack reiterated, frantically dialling, knowing in his heart that the best chance they were likely to get of rescuing Daniel was busy slipping through his fingers.

***

"Stop here, Sam."

Sam pulled to a stop. Moonlight dappled off gentle waves lapping the shore only yards from the road. A small wooden jetty reached out into the bay with assorted dinghies and speedboats bumping gently into it as the wind rocked at them. The beach and road both appeared absolutely deserted.

"Get the candlestick and documents and step out of the car."

Sam reached back and grasped the heavy objects before getting out.

"Walk to the end of the jetty."

She obediently did as asked, wondering what was going on. She couldn’t do a handover if there was no-one here to handover to.

"Put them in that speedboat next to you. Okay, now lie face down with your hands on your head."

Sam complied, still not understanding. She could see dark water below, hypnotically slapping against the jetty piles. The minutes stretched on, a few fish swam by.

"Bob? What’s going on?"

"Shut up, Sam."

She was almost beginning to nod off, the night chill notwithstanding, when the sound of people approaching alerted her. As the steps transferred from the crunchy gravel coast road to the wooden planks, she realised there were two men. One got straight into the speedboat and started the engine. Then the hairs on the back of her neck rose as she realised the other was continuing to walk right up to her.

***

"Davis, don’t tell me you can’t goddam do it! I don’t want to hear can’t. We’ve got word: it’s definitely an aquatic getaway."

"Sir, I’m sorry, but I guess the Navy’s having the night off. Their patrol craft are following a tip about drug smuggling right over the other end of the Delta, so they’re miles out of-"

"How about using some Air Force assets to track the boat?"

"If we could get a sea-search ‘copter or something similar in position when the boat set off, then yes, Sir. But the pilot won’t be able to ID it once it’s only one of hundreds of craft out in the bay: vessels that size don’t have IFF. How long do I have to get something on task?"

Jack groaned. "Five or so minutes…"

There was a pause. "I’ll see what I can do," Davis said unhappily.

***

The man silently knelt down next to Sam, removed the radio and hurled it into the sea.

"It’s me, Sam."

Sam jerked. ‘Me’ was Bob, kneeling next to her and whispering hurriedly in her ear.

"When I tell you, stand up and - without looking back - go and get in the car again. Set off and drive like blazes to get past a hill you’ll see ahead of you. You’ll have exactly one minute from starting the ignition to when the car is set to explode and, believe me, my friend will be watching to make sure you’re part of the fireball. So, sorry, but you’re going to have to jump for it when the car is hidden from our view."

Bob straightened up again, got into the boat and shouted across. "Okay, Major Carter. You can go now. I don’t need to tell you what will happen to Dr Jackson if you cheat us again, do I?"

Sam stood, heart pounding, as the sound of the speedboat revving up filled the quiet night. She took a few uncertain steps and then realised that if she was to look convincing when racing the car away, she had better run now as well. For the first few steps, her progress was alarmingly wobbly as the jetty recoiled from her feet, but once she was back on the road, she was safe to sprint to the car and swing herself in.

She turned off the interior light, undid her watch and hung it from the sun visor. She couldn’t see a quick way to tie off the steering wheel, so decided to rely on Bob to explain any deviation in the car’s course between her jump and the explosion. She pushed the door off the latch, grasped the keys, took a deep breath and started the car.

***

When Hammond reported the lost radio feed, Jack finally accepted that the kidnappers had somehow managed to keep one step ahead. He sank glumly back into his seat, mussed his hair and ordered the driver to cautiously approach the position of the only jetty marked on the map, hoping that they might at least still be able to rescue Sam. They were still a good few miles away when they rounded a bend to see distant car headlights career crazily off the road into the sea and then - for good measure - burst into flames. It was only when the crack of an explosion reached them that Jack remembered the previously staged car accident and the significance of the dental records.

"Oh my god, Carter," he whispered.

The driver pulled up next to the wreckage. The hood was under water, but the rest of the car stuck up into the air, showing Jack another fire-gutted wreck - this time with still gently rotating wheels, ripped bodywork around the fuel tank and acrid smoke rising into the darkness. Teal’c waded out into the water to check inside while Jack sank to the ground and put his head in his hands.

"You know, Sir, Bob wasn’t joking. It’s just as well I did jump."

Jack, wallowing in guilt and oblivious to anyone’s approach, yelled in shock. "Carter! What the hell…?!" He jumped to his feet and embraced her, much to the marines’ amusement. "How…?"

"Bob told me to jump right after he took the radio off." Sam rubbed her shoulder. Jack noticed with alarm that she looked pretty done in, with nasty-looking grazes on her face, hands and shoulder and an ankle she obviously wasn’t wanting to put too much weight on.

He supported her back to the van. "Let’s get you to Doc Frasier," he coaxed. "We’ll debrief en-route."

Thursday morning

It was getting warmer, so Daniel assumed it was morning again - the third morning he’d woken up shivering in this bare cell. At least the blanket helped, but now he had the very sore and tender burn blisters on his leg competing for attention with his stomach, which in turn had long since ceased rumbling and now hurt.

He rolled over, meaning to have a drink and a wash but became immediately aware of how completely out of it he was - as if he was slightly transparent. He rubbed his face and reached for the water. Definitely feeling slightly dizzy and nauseous, he took care to drink small sips but as it was exhausting making even that much physical effort, he lay back down and just stared at a camera staring back at him.

The lock turned and the door opened without the usual warning to give himself time to prepare. He panicked: groping for the blindfold, gag and handcuffs and simultaneously trying to roll himself onto his front, all he succeeded in doing was tangling his feet in the chain. Giving up, he looked into the masked eyes of the two men regarding him, expecting one of their ‘reminders’ about the virtues of obedience.

Unexpectedly, they helped Daniel to sort himself out. He was dimly aware that there was something wrong with being pathetically grateful to be tied up, but he was too tired to care.

He heard the men stand up again. "Well, he’s gonna be no use for Phase 4 like this."

"Shut up, Pete. Few meds’ll sort him out - he’s just low on energy and loopy from that burn. Nyan can make a start on his own."

"If he’s able - shouldn’ta let him get high last night."

"We needed him co-operative. Look, we need this one conscious too; why don’t you go and get the meds or maybe I’ll leave it to you to explain to the boss why both our archaeologists are out of it."

It only took about thirty minutes for the sugars entering his bloodstream to make Daniel feel infinitely better, but he continued to feign exhaustion, not simply because it was quite nice to be able to lie undisturbed but mostly because the sounds surrounding him in the cell were telling him that whatever ‘Phase 4’ involved, he wasn’t going to like it.

Of course, the respite couldn’t last forever. It was Nyan who eventually whined, "Danny, they said you’d be better by now."

"Mmmphf…"

Nyan took off the gag and blindfold. "What did you say?"

As Daniel hadn’t really intended to say anything (‘mmmphf’ had well suited his non-specific requirement), he sat up to avoid answering and stared about in confusion: the cell had been turned into a study of sorts, full of piles of many of his own SGC text books. No need to ask how they’d got here. Come to think of it, if Nyan had nicked his books, it might also explain a few other things such as how they’d known about his line of work and got hold of that picture.

"I need you to help me," Nyan wailed childishly. "They want us to make this work."

Daniel looked at ‘this’. With his first cursory glance he thought it to be a plastic grey candlestick, but as Nyan thrust the object towards him, he realised it had pictures, minute jewels and hieroglyphics covering it too. He wished Nyan would hold it still, his eyes couldn’t keep up with the swooping symbols. Was this what Sam had collected? Hadn’t she called it a generator?

"Danny? I need this…"

So, as he’d suspected, he wasn’t here to be a hostage or a bargaining chip after all. ‘Phase 4’ seemed to be the part where they actually asked him to do something. Still, he felt himself on more solid ground than before: he had a grasp of the rules for ‘captive’.

"I won’t help you, Nyan."

Nyan dropped the artefact and jumped to his feet to begin pacing. "You’ve got to. They promised me more if you did. And they’ll set you free - that’s why they aren’t showing you their faces, so you can’t identify them later."

Yeah, right. Daniel decided to stalling for a bit. "What did you mean by ‘promised you more’?"

"Nothing."

"Nyan! I’m sitting here chained, handcuffed and starving, being asked to make some mysterious generator work - and I’ve just begun to realise it’s because you sold out. So… I’m, uh, curious: what was I worth?"

"Danny, it’s not like that…"

"But you’re helping them?"

"I’ve got to…"

"So what’s the hold on you? Blackmail?"

"No. Please, Danny…"

"Money?"

"No. Look, they said we’ve gotta make this work…"

"Drugs?"

Nyan wriggled out of the question. "I got you your books to help…"

"Drugs, Nyan?"

"I missed you guys, y’know. After you got me refugee status, it was suddenly like I’d disappeared. I’d of liked to be your research assistant…"

"Are you saying you felt cut loose?" The accusation of rejection stung Daniel and he instantly bitterly regretted not visiting more often. But still, Nyan had remained an associate of the SGC. "Why not just call? This is a stupid cry for help, Nyan."

Nyan stopped being defensive and shouted back instead. "You try being abandoned on a strange planet and see if you like it!"

Yeah, done that, Daniel thought - although he’d managed to avoid addiction that time at least. "Look, I need to know what you’re taking."

"Don’t know what you’re talking about."

Daniel had to smile. That was the line he was planning on taking later if - when - they began to pressure him into making the candlestick work. "I’m not that naïve, Nyan, despite what you may have heard. And I can help if you let me: I’ve been an addict too AND got over it."

Nyan had been agitatedly pacing the room, but now he hunched up against the wall and cried, "Why does it matter anyway? If you don’t make that thing work, we’re both dead."

Daniel sighed and looked back at the candlestick: so much for that. "You’ll have to uncuff me then." His wrists and shoulders were aching again anyway.

Nyan perked up immediately. "Okay! Sure, Danny!"

Once he was able, Daniel picked up the candlestick. It was unexpectedly heavy, making him wonder about the core material. He traced the outlines of several all-too-familiar symbols near the base - Ra, Apophis, Seth, Sehkmet. Above the symbols, there was a picture of a young boy standing in an Egyptian representation - Nefertum by the look of the blue lotus flower on his head and the full moon in his hand. Tiny jewels glittered in constellation above the boy and above that again a Goa’uld text read, ‘Those desirous of protection, acknowledge my lineage.’

The text was an obscure blend of art and symbols, and one needed at least a passing familiarity with the mortuary versions of the Memphite triad to complete the first instruction. But if, as he suspected, all that was required was to know Nerfertum’s family tree, then it was simple to select the three correct base symbols: Nefertum, Ptah and Sehkmet. For the second part of the activation sequence he guessed they’d need to identify the pattern of the constellation Orion in the jewels (symbolising the setting of his stars and thus the disappearance of Ptah): he’d probably need the Book of Nefertum he could see in the corner to do that. The last part would presumably involve starting the device itself by pressing the full moon Nefertum was holding - thus signifying the reappearance of the god.

As far as he could see, making it work wasn’t going to be at all difficult to do: as a second year student in archaeology and a life-long devotee of Nefertum, it should also have been well within Nyan’s capabilities.

Still, he couldn’t say that.

"Nyan, we, umm, we can’t do this. I think the thing’s just decorative… nothing more."

"It can’t be." Nyan looked devastated. "I’ve seen it work."

Daniel looked suspiciously at him. "You have? Umm… where?"

Nyan clammed up again, turning away into a corner of the room. Daniel, exasperated, passionately wished the young man would stop being so skittish.

"Nyan, lets for one instant pretend that I actually intend to help you. How do you expect me to make this work when I don’t know its origin? You know as well as I do the importance of placing an artefact in context."

Nyan wavered then backed further into his corner. "Bedrosia. It’s Bedrosian."

Daniel worked through the implications carefully. Nyan may indeed have seen the what-ever-it-was working before he’d fled his planet, but there was no way he’d taken the artefact with him when he’d been pulled semiconscious by SG-1 through the Stargate. Someone - and not an SG team or he’d have known - must therefore have gone back to get it later. And because Nyan was the only person on earth who could possibly have known this thing existed on Bedrosia, he must have told the someone-who-wasn’t-SGC about it.

"You traded Bedrosian technology and SGC secrets for drugs?" he asked Nyan incredulously.

Nyan cringed. "I said I was sorry."

"Oh well, that makes everything all right then," Daniel retorted sarcastically. "What is this thing anyway?"

"A shield generator."

"Great. So the bad guys - umm… who are the bad guys, by the way?"

Nyan shook his head. "They told me not to say."

"Okay, the mystery bad guys just kinda hoped I’d make this tech work for them…"

"Well, I would have tried at first, but everything’s sorta fuzzy. I didn’t want to get you involved, but I got scared…"

"Nyan, y’know, scared or not, I simply won’t turn this thing on. It’s not right. It’s a matter of standing up for what you believe in - not, well… not going down the path of least resistance."

"Danny, you’ve got to." Nyan’s eye’s were huge and frantic. "They’ll kill us. They said."

"Then we’ll die," Daniel said evenly. "But equally they won’t get this."

"But… I don’t want to die. Oh, dear Nefertum, this is so messed up. It was meant to turn out so differently..."

The door clanged open without notice again. Two masked men walked in, shut and locked the door behind them and silently took position facing into the room, every move spelling threat.

Nyan whimpered and scuttled behind a Daniel still trapped by his ankle; not that there was anywhere to hide in the cell anyway.

They went for Daniel first, roughly gagging and handcuffing him, pocketing the key.

"Let you watch, eh?" they jeered.

Daniel stared at them, furiously indignant, while Nyan began to incoherently beg, "More time, he’ll help, I know, he’ll help -"

They adopted soothing voices. "We know he’ll help, Nyan. We just don’t need you to make him anymore. Dr Jackson, we’re opening up some of your books here -" True enough, some of his translation texts were being laid around him on the floor, opened at random pages. "- any time you feel like co-operating, you just start to read and we’ll untie you."

Daniel looked defiantly away.

Nyan screamed. "Danny! They’re going to KILL me!"

The men finished laying out the books and advanced on Nyan. "Relax, kid. This won’t hurt. We’re going to give you everything you want anyway."

"No!" Daniel tried to shout, struggling awkwardly to his feet to block them from getting at Nyan, but the shout came out as, "Mmmphf!" and the men simply walked round the area his chained ankle would allow him to reach.

They laughed at his failing. "Last chance to save your friend, Dr Jackson."

Daniel almost did, his compassionate nature battling over his most basic moral beliefs. But Nyan’s greedy look towards the needle containing everlasting oblivion reminded Daniel that ultimately Nyan had chosen his own fate. So he shook his head and squeezed shut his eyes.

Thursday / Friday night

Jack had sneaked a portable into the infirmary. He was now distractedly watching a documentary on black holes which he’d agreed to see before the hockey game, simultaneously feeding the patient pieces of cookie.

"You know, you don’t need to do this, Sir," Sam said, careful to avoid tell-tale crumbs.

"Hell, that’s okay, Carter. Doc Frasier dug out my favourite chair. Look, even has my name on it." They both looked, Jack did a double-take. Damn, it really did have his name on it: was his team in the sickbay that often?

"Is Teal’c out looking for Daniel?"

"No, he’s kelno'reeming." Jack gave Sam a familiar troubled gaze. "Fact is, Carter, we got zip from all the leads so far and I just dunno where to go from here."

"Nothing from the handover?"

"Nothing. Just you back." There was a pause while Jack cleared his throat. "In fact, think I probably invented some leads. Gotta nice pack of info about the Russians and NID which’ll keep some desk-jockey in work for a while, but it turned out to have damn-all to do with Daniel."

They were both quiet, Jack trying unsuccessfully not to think about what might be happening to Daniel while they remained inactive at the SGC, Sam trying to find clues from her own experience.

"Sir, did I tell you I thought there was snow on the video I saw?"

"Carter, it’s January. There’s snow everywhere."

"With respect, Sir, they headed me south for the drop-off and I bet Daniel wouldn’t be far from Mobile: they’d want him to translate those glyphs. We could check the met conditions on Monday near there."

Jack nodded resignedly. "Okay, Carter, I’ll get it checked out. But I’m telling ya, I think you’re clutching at straws."

He left Carter alone for twenty minutes. By the time he returned, the hockey was in full swing.

"Minnesota Wild in the lead by… Oh my god, Sir, what’s wrong? It’s not…not Daniel, is it?"

"No - Nyan," Jack groaned, sinking into the chair and holding his head in his hands. "The General’s his legal next of kin. Just got a call. Found his body. Drug overdose."

"Oh no, Sir!" Sam was horrified. "I’d forgotten all about Nyan. We were meant to be helping him."

"Well, you were kinda out of the loop, Carter. We all got diverted. The thing is, he is - was - a student in Chicago, right?"

"That’s what Daniel said, yes."

"Well, they found his body in Florida."

Friday morning

The newspaper fell within reach, waking Daniel with a start from an illicit nap on top of one of his translation texts. He looked up warily then shifted himself across to the paper and read, brow furrowing as he wondered what the others had wanted him to see.

At first he thought it might be the headline article ‘Bank raid victim is USAF officer’, but then his eyes dropped a little and he saw it: ‘Heroin overdose claims student’. The short, bland words were sandwiched between an advert for language learning courses and the results of a hockey game he’d missed the night before.

The body of Nyan Smith (25), an archaeology student at Chicago university, was discovered yesterday. Mr Smith died of a heroin overdose.

Dr Rayner, archaeology tutor, said, "The death of a student is always a sad affair. I can only hope this incident will warn others of the dangers of drug abuse."

There was no family available to make a statement.

Nyan.

Daniel couldn’t speak. He thought back instead to the eager young man he had first met on Bedrosia and mourned what Nyan had become… had once been.

"So now you see, Dr Jackson," he was told, "we really are ruthless enough to carry out our threats. And just to reinforce that message -" A swift and unexpected kick was aimed at the burn on Daniel’s leg, sending him sprawling, "- you were told not to fall asleep."

Daniel tried his best not to scream into the gag at the pain blasting from his leg, clenching his hands and wrestling with the handcuffs in a futile attempt to seize the injury, for all the good that would do anyway. God, he’d only had his eyes closed for about five minutes.

They gave him time to recover before pulling him up to his knees by his hair. "We’ll make it simple for you, Doctor, we want a working shield generator. You were kind enough to confirm for us earlier that your work is with the SGC Stargate. As we have demonstrated to you, we are fully aware of what that means. These are your translation texts surrounding you, so we don’t need to waste any time arguing over whether or not you can make this work: we both know the issue is will you."

It was cold; Daniel found he was shivering again.

"We’re going to try to help you decide, Dr Jackson. So in a few hours, after we’ve had lunch and you’ve had nothing, we’re going to come back and see whether some pain might induce a bit of co-operation."

The group prepared to leave and Daniel realised this time he wasn’t going to be given charge of the keys to his handcuffs. Instead the blindfold cloth appeared suddenly in front of his eyes. "As an alternative appetiser for you, I thought I’d let Pete experiment with some stress techniques he learnt off cable. I can’t see that they’ll help myself, but I suppose it’s something to kill the time."

An hour later, his captive would have told him differently if he’d been able: Daniel thought he’d never believe leaning against a wall to be an innocuous activity again. His exhausted limbs struggled to support his weight braced by his outstretched, shaking arms, his nose a (blindly estimated) half meter from the floor and his ears assaulted by deafeningly loud and madly annoying white noise.

Trying to keep his thoughts from Nyan, food, pain and generators, Daniel began to compose in his mind the indignant letter he wished he could write to the producer of whichever damned idiot programme it was that had been stupid enough to broadcast this stuff. Maybe they would like to try some of the agonies they’d exposed him to, courtesy of cable-watching psychotic individuals such as Pete.

At least now he understood: the bank raid had been to fool him into admitting he worked for the SGC - because after all, when he’d thought he was just a hostage, he’d behaved quite differently to how he’d been told to behave as a captive. The colouring and Nyan had been to prove to him that they knew how much he knew so that now, when he was obviously heading towards, well, torture, he couldn’t use the usual defence of outright denial.

His hurt leg suddenly shook uncontrollably and Daniel, losing his balance quickly, crashed face first into the floor. As he struggled to get himself back into the impossible stance, Daniel heard the random noise become overlaid with the sound of heavy boots approaching the cell. His last coherent thought before the door opened was just how much he hated cable TV.

********

Back in the infirmary, Jack, Teal’c and Sam read the same fateful newspaper article.

"Goddamn drugs," Jack swore. "What the hell was Nyan doing in Florida, anyway? He was meant to be keeping Cassandra company. Speaking of which, where is she?"

"Janet took her home this morning, Sir," Sam said absently. Then she suddenly sat up straight, knocking against the lap-tray. "Oh my god!"

"Carter!" Jack complained, straightening the breakfast things.

"Sorry, Sir, it’s just… Well, Nyan was supposed to meet Cassandra because we weren’t available, right?"

"Yes, Carter. We were supposed to be romping around in Mountain State."

"Precisely. On an organised team-building course Nyan told us about. You can see where I’m going with this?"

"Humour me, Carter. Or better yet, shoot me now."

"Sir, you followed up NID because you thought they were the only external agency to have access to our whereabouts. But Nyan gave us the hint to go on the course, he’d have known when it was due to be held, and he phoned Daniel to check whether we were doing anything that weekend. I think he set the whole thing up."

Jack and Teal’c looked at her, appalled.

"Nyan’s the bad guy?" Jack said in a confused voice.

Teal’c was equally puzzled, but you wouldn’t have known it from his only slightly raised eyebrow. "Major Carter, what reason could Nyan possibly have to place SG-1 in danger?"

Jack groaned. "Drugs. That’s it, isn’t it, Carter? Nyan traded you and Daniel for a hit."

"It’s just a theory, Sir. But it seems plausible given the circumstances."

"Godammit! That little toe-rag got what he deserved, then."

Sam bit her lip and exchanged a glance with Teal’c who, although hiding it well, was also obviously distressed at the loss of his friend from Bedrosia. "Sir, with respect, we need to focus on how knowing about Nyan might give us a lead to Daniel."

"Gimme a minute, Carter. I just want to hold on this image I’ve got of beating the crap out of Nyan." He exhaled sharply. "Okay, with ya now. Florida: everything’s leading there, right? Snow in Florida on Monday. You hand over on the state border. Nyan pitches up next to Mickey Mouse."

"I agree, Sir. But we need more. On our own we can’t cover the entire state without alerting them."

"Them?"

"The professionals running this op. From getting Nyan involved, through lifting Daniel and making me get that generator, it’s been a massive logistical undertaking. There’s got to be some serious money involved. I’m thinking it all links into drugs somehow - maybe financed by one of the big cartels."

Jack frowned. "Okay, now stop me if I’m wrong, Teal’c, but I think we’ve heard this story before. Transportable alien trophies mixing with drugs: same old, same old."

Teal’c inclined his head. "Indeed we have, O’Neill. At Merrick’s flat."

"I believe it may be time to insist he answers my questions."

Friday lunchtime

Something was wrong. Jack knew it as he approached the reinforced door again only to find it ajar. Knew it even more as he walked in to find the flat cold and abandoned. And knew it for certain as he found Merrick lying on a carpet stained with blood, a gun lying limply in his hand.

"Sonovabitch…"

A copy of the newspaper announcing Nyan’s overdose was lying on a nearby table. Jack could see someone had written over it with a thick black marker pen. He walked across to see: I do to myself what they’d do to me anyway. "Oh no! Not now…" He pounded his fist into the wall in frustration.

Teal’c knelt next to the body. "I will inform the authorities, O’Neill."

Jack ignored him. "Of all the times for a junkie to get a wake-up call, he has to choose now."

Teal’c withdrew his mobile phone and moved out of earshot.

Jack ran his hands through his hair distractedly. "Dammit, Teal’c, we blew it again."

Teal’c began to pass information to the emergency operator over the phone.

Jack pulled out his own phone to pass the bad news to Sam. "Daniel, where are you, for crying out loud?" he whispered to himself.

Friday night

Daniel inhaled slowly. Then he breathed out again.

Breathing wasn’t something to take for granted right at the moment. Same as seeing and moving and speaking really, but it was breathing he appreciated most just now.

He took another raggedly tortuous breath forced past nostrils full of blood and other assorted gunk. And for succeeding with that, he could now enjoy another few seconds of life full of thirst, exhaustion, pain and - gradually forming - despair.

If they’d known where he was, they’d have come for him by now. Didn’t police reckon they usually got their breakthroughs within 48 hours or not at all? And he’d been gone since Monday. Sam had obviously delivered the artefact on, what, Wednesday night? And still rescue hadn’t come. So that probably meant he was here on his own until he gave them what they wanted and / or they killed him.

The badly-tuned-radio noise shut off, leaving his ears ringing and his head pounding. He heard footsteps approaching and tensed. Now matter how bad this stress stuff was, things always got worse when they were in the room with him.

The door opened and shut again. Objects were put on the floor with a clatter. The heavy footsteps walked over. Daniel cowered.

"Relax, Daniel," a lilting voice said, "I’m Martin, the one they’ve chosen to play ‘good cop’. You’ve got thirty minutes off being tortured while I’m here with you."

Martin crouched behind him and took off the gag. Daniel took in a deep, shuddering breath. Heaven.

His wrists were grasped gently. "This’ll hurt like hell," Martin warned. Daniel already knew that. They’d used this position once before: his right hand twisted up behind his back and his left passed over his shoulder and down to meet it. The first time they’d made him hold on with his fingertips, but he simply hadn’t been able to this time, so they’d cuffed his wrists in place instead.

The key turned in the lock and his arms were eased back and carefully massaged.

"Okay, blindfold next. The lights are bright, so you might want to close your eyes."

Daniel would have thought this surreal but for the advice Jack had given him. The nice guys were dangerous because they got you to trust them, so you told them things. The way round it: don’t get into conversations. Don’t speak to them. And if you have to speak to them, don’t tell them anything other than the most basic information such as your name.

As Daniel was blinking in the bright light, he realised with surprise that his ankle was being undone. "It’ll be more comfortable for you propped up in the corner," Martin said and, putting his arms under Daniel’s shoulders, he assisted Daniel across the room. "Better?"

It was, infinitely. Daniel sagged into the support offered by the walls, trying to still tremors he could no longer pretend were being caused by the cold and doing his best to ignore the blood he could see splattered around the centre of the cell.

Martin fetched some water from among the objects he had dropped. "Here. Spit out the first mouthful." He helped with the glass. Daniel obligingly swilled the warm liquid round and spat out. "Lets see." A gentle finger probed his mouth. "It’s okay: you haven’t lost any teeth yet. Must just be from biting your tongue. Look, if we pull your knees up, you can brace your arms against your legs and do the glass of water yourself. That way, I can get on with cleaning up some of these cuts and stuff before we run out of time."

As Martin worked, he continued his monologue. "I want to help you, Daniel, gain your trust. Look, you don’t need to worry, I’m not doing this to try and catch you off guard. And I’m not so stupid as to think you’re gonna believe me right off either. But I’m offering you a kind of oasis - a refuge - where you can just step back from what the others are doing to you. Do you understand?"

He stopped, waiting for a reaction. Daniel concentrated on the glass chattering against his teeth.

"I promise, Daniel, I’m trying to be your friend here. You need a friend. You’ve lost Nyan and your SGC friends aren’t coming for you. They think you’re dead: you saw the newspaper article about the USAF officer, right?"

The glass of water slipped from Daniel’s hands. Martin picked it up and crossed the room to refill it.

"Here. Okay? Sorry, didn’t you realise? They torched the car after transferring you to the van; put in some drop-out who won’t be missed, dressed in your clothes and with his medical stats against your alias identity. The police bought it and called off the search. No-one even got close. Daniel, you’re completely alone here: you need me to be your friend."

Beyond his thumping headache, Daniel could tell something wasn’t making sense. He’d seen the newspaper, so that bit must be true, but there was a bit of the logic missing…

"Sam?" He hadn’t meant say that out loud and his voice was merely a very faint croak, but Martin latched on to it all the same.

"Major Carter? She… she didn’t co-operate, Daniel. I’m sorry, but she’s dead too."

"You… you killed her?" Daniel had forgotten all the rules about not talking. He’d been right: no rescue and now Sam dead too. Despair bit a little deeper.

"I didn’t, but someone else did. I’m sorry, really I am. I know this must be a shock… Look, Daniel, this isn’t a good time, but I don’t have long and there’s something I really must say before everything starts again. This next lot of sessions are going to escalate really quickly. So far, everything they’ve done will mend with a bit of time. That’s not saying it hasn’t all hurt like anything: everyone’s been impressed with how brave you’ve been and that, despite the fact that you’ve been conditioned to obey without thinking, you’ve still resisted. But if you’re going to crack, best do it before too long, because soon you’re going to need a surgeon to put you back together again."

Daniel’s words to Nyan came back, glibly telling the doomed man that he was prepared to die because it wasn’t right to take the easy way out. Somehow, back then, he’d forgotten to consider the possibility of torture.

"Daniel, don’t drift off, this is important. Nyan told you what the artefact was, didn’t he? Just a shield generator. Shields don’t hurt people, they protect. This isn’t being done to get a weapon. It’s being done to get a defence. Something for safekeeping. What’s the harm in that? Daniel, listen to me. Don’t get hurt over something that will let us do good."

Daniel shook his head. There was something wrong here too, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it. "No…" he murmured.

"Don’t say ‘no’, without thinking it through, Daniel. Shields can’t be used in an offensive manner. Did Nyan tell you what the generator was being used for on Bedrosia? To protect sites sacred to Nefertum from the Optrican threat. You and I both know how important it is to preserve heritage sites. This device can do that when war threatens our culture - or even our lives. Where’s the moral wrong in that?"

Daniel couldn’t think straight. Why would having a shield generator be a bad thing?

Martin continued remorselessly, "Stay focused, Daniel. Bottom line: this is a defensive device and is simply not worth losing limbs over. Surely you can see it would be best for you to help us?"

"I…" Daniel looked at his bruised, wobbly arms. He needed time to clear his mind and think this through.

The white noise started up, louder than ever. "Damn," Martin swore. "Do you want help to get yourself into position again?" He didn’t wait for an answer, just carefully hauled Daniel back to the centre of the room and knelt him down on the floor. Daniel’s hands were gently placed behind his head which was then bent right forward until his chin touched his chest. The ankle manacle went back on, then the handcuffs and the blindfold. "Ready to start breathing through your nose again?" Daniel checked, nodded. "Okay, here goes." The gag was placed in his mouth and tied on behind. Martin’s steps retreated to the door. "Think about it, Daniel. They’re on their way to really hurt you this time. If you agree to co-operate, all this stops and some poor guy getting shot at suddenly gets a respite. Take my advice and help, it’s the only sensible choice."

********

Five days, Jack thought, opening his front door and heading straight for the ice box, five days of false leads and screw-ups and missing team mates and it’s all led to this complete dead end.

He popped the top off a bottle and took a swig, thinking back to his futile and humiliating argument with the Florida police department. He mimicked the incredulous officer, "You want us to comb the state for someone taken hostage and already found dead in West Virginia? You’ve gotta come hear this one, guys!"

He walked through to the hall, listlessly picking up his mail - mostly bills - and trashing the junk adverts. The answer-phone light was flashing, so he pressed to retrieve his calls. One aggrieved message from his mom was followed by one hesitating and all but incoherent message from Rick.

Jack’s head snapped up. Mer - rick? Ejecting the tape, he exited the house at a run, scarcely stopping to lock up.

Sam took one look at the tape he excitedly waved at them on arrival at the SGC and pointed towards a huge machine with lots of flashing lights. "You’re gonna have to help me out some more here, Carter," Jack complained.

"Here, Sir," she said, taking the cassette off him and then sitting back down to fiddle with levels and filters while Jack hung impatiently in the background.

"I don’t understand how Merrick knew to phone you at home, Sir," she commented at one point.

"Business card in the wallet I gave him," Jack replied tersely, willing her to get on with it.

At last Sam pronounced herself satisfied and played the audio to the audience which now also included Janet, the General and Teal’c.

"John Junior? It’s mom. You forgot your dad’s birthday so -"

Sam went red. "Oops. Sorry, Sir." She forward-wound the tape and hit play.

"Jack it’s…Rick… one good thing I… before I check out… I’ve just… bad news about… like he’s from another planet and I want to know… going to…-venged. You both being… the Air Force… me put the jigsaw together… missing guys is Jackson, right? Try 1106 Broad… Jackson… -rida."

"That’s the best you can do, Carter?" Jack said, dismayed.

"It’s not the recording that’s the problem, Sir. I think it’s the line from Merrick’s flat."

Hammond kept calm. "It might well be enough, Colonel. Lets try working on the address. What did he say again?"

Carter frowned at her notes. "1106 Broad something, Daniel’s name and then rid-ah, Sir."

Hammond looked at the star chart, muttered "Need something larger scale," and headed off for his office, quickly reappearing with an atlas. "Rid-ah as in Florida, Major?"

"I, I suppose it could be, Sir, yes." She got up to peer over the General’s shoulder at the atlas. "Oh! I see. Jackson-ville. 1106 Broad something, Jacksonville, Florida. Colonel, there can’t be many addresses which are going to fit that description. We could mobilise and get the rest of the details on arrival."

"General, requ -"

"You have a go, Jack. Just be sure to bring him back safe."

Saturday early morning

Number 1106 turned out to be a mansion set in large grounds and owned by a Swiss bank account number. Discrete security belied the high-tech nature of the defences. Jack assigned Sam to work with the gadget-geek from SG-3 to bypass one section of the fence while he surveyed the terrain with Teal’c and Major Lawrence. A thin layer of snow lay undisturbed as far as the zoom lens of his NVGs could let him see. With luck that meant no external patrols, just surveillance. Natural woodland had been allowed to grow to within only a few hundred metres of the house. With dawn a few hours off, they should be able to cover the remaining distance to the house undetected visually.

"Okay, listen up," Jack said, pulling out the blueprints for the house Major Davis had somehow obtained. "Our objective here is to rescue Daniel and retrieve the gizmo by storming that house. Teal’c’s to take point and get us through the trees without triggering any remote alarms. Lawrence, I want half your team busy setting off a sensor by the pool so that when we rush the house, we stand a decent chance of making it because the bad guys will be looking in the other direction. The other half of your team is to be ready to blow off that side door there but I want SG-1 to attempt covert entry first. Then split up once inside: SG-1 upper levels, SG-3 to regroup and cover the basement and ground floor. Weapons free once inside the grounds. Medical team to remain here until called forward. Any questions or comments?" There were none. "Okay, time to make sure everyone’s fully briefed. We’ll go once Carter’s done."

Sam, it turned out, was nowhere near done. "We’re having difficulty synchronising to the correct phase differential, Sir," she started to explain. Jack edged away.

Sam continued to talk, not realising her audience had long since stopped listening. Meanwhile Jack picked up an interesting looking box, but had to put it down again when one of the marines told him if was liable to blow up if dropped. He wandered over to Teal’c and began fretting that Merrick had sent them on yet another wild goose-chase. Eventually, Major Lawrence took pity on him and suggested they both make a morale-boosting trip into town to fetch breakfast. Jack, after some persuading, agreed. He hated waiting and he knew it made him irritable.

By the time they had returned and breakfast had been consumed, dawn was only an hour or so off and Sam was just finishing bypassing one section of the outer perimeter defences. Away at last, the two teams sneaked into the grounds and set off for their initial objectives, gliding unseen and unheard through the thick vegetation.

They were all in position within fifteen minutes. The marines’ team leader gave the go ahead to trigger the sensor by the pool. Sam had figured out a way to make it look as though an animal might have set it off, but it was still likely that any security guards would come out to investigate. Only one did: he was efficiently and silently rendered unconscious then hidden out of sight while the majority of the SGC personnel took position near to the side entry door.

Sam reached the door only just after Jack and immediately set to work picking the lock. Long before her 30 second assigned deadline was up, she heard a satisfying click and pushed on the door. Inside, the alarm system was easily disabled with three shots from a zat.

"Almost seems too easy, Sir," she whispered.

Jack shrugged, waving the marines forward. "Guess they weren’t expecting shock combat troops, Carter."

They all knew where to go next, so they moved out with a minimum of hand waving. Teal’c and Jack ascended the stairs first, weapons pointed aloft. Sam covered their rear, taking Daniel’s accustomed role. They reached the first landing without challenge and took position against the door to the first room.

Jack held his left hand up, three fingers raised.

Three… Two… One…

Sam flung open the door. Teal’c covered the room.

"Clear."

One room down.

They carried on in this manner for the next twenty rooms. All were empty. All were also lavishly decorated in a variety of styles befitting the room’s purpose; they opened doors onto studies, bedrooms, bathrooms, dressing rooms and a music room. None contained Daniel or any hint of his existence.

With only the end wing to go, the last thing Jack needed was a report from the marines that they had uncovered nothing more exciting than some toast the security guard had been making when the alarm went off. Jack exchanged a look with Carter. If this didn’t work, if they found no trace of Daniel here, then they were back to nothing again. In his heart, he knew that there’d be no further hints: even this one had come when by rights all leads had dried up. They had just these three rooms to go before they could wave goodbye to their friend and just keep hoping that one day, as with Nyan, they might find out what had happened.

They took position against the first door. Three… Two… One…

Sam flung it open. Teal’c looked inside, weapon first. It was an empty bathroom. But it looked ever so slightly lived in: a tube of toothpaste and a bar of soap rested on the sink, a cabinet was slightly ajar.

"The security guard?" Sam whispered.

Jack silently crossed the room, pulled open the cabinet and counted razors and toothbrushes. "Not unless he’s a hygiene nut," he whispered back, beckoning them to take a look.

The next room was a vacant bedroom. But as with the bathroom, it showed signs of occupation. There were sleeping bags laid out on the beds. There were a few personal effects too: pictures of family and pets, an alarm clock set for an hour before, Nyan’s Radiohead T-shirt and a couple of paperback books.

They moved on to the last door. Three… Two… One…

Sam flung it open. Teal’c pointed his weapon inside and fired.

"The room is clear, O’Neill. I am sorry, he was quick to react."

Jack braced himself and looked inside. A man was slumped on the floor and was quite certainly dead. But that was not what caught his attention. The room was packed with monitors: they had obviously found the security office and the amount of surveillance here probably explained why the man had been so alert. "Teal’c, get SG-3, would you?" he asked, wandering inside.

Sam followed him in and bent over the body. "He’s dead," she said unnecessarily. Jack nodded, scanning across the screens. Sam left him to it and pulled open a wall-mounted cabinet. "This is full of labelled keys," she said and started to look more closely at the tags.

Despite the number of screens, Jack found his eye being dragged to the three or four which were displaying movement. There was Teal’c’s back filling one, SG-3 making their way cautiously upstairs in another and a wriggling security guard by the pool in a third. And finally, half hidden under a sheet of paper, there was a bare room with four men in it: one lying feebly struggling on the floor, two holding the first down by the shoulders and the fourth circling menacingly.

"I’ve found an empty hook labelled CELL, Sir," Sam reported.

"Understood, Carter," Jack said distantly, picking up the paper and moving aside to let her see.

She went through the same reactions he’d just completed: a gasp of relief swiftly followed by a flinch of shocked realisation. "Oh my god, Sir. Where is this?"

"I don’t know, Carter. And Teal’c just shot the man who could tell us."

They continued to watch, both mesmerised and powerless as the fourth man began to taunt his blindfolded captive, leaning in close to say something. Even without sound, Jack and Sam could tell the desperate figure’s mouth formed the word ‘no’, but to Jack the body language made it look more like a plea than a refusal.

As the fourth man stood up and moved deliberately towards the ankle chain with what looked like pliers in his hand, Sam looked helplessly away. "Oh god, Sir, what are they doing?"

The two heavies tightened their grip on the figure’s shoulders and Jack realised that, like Sam, remotely watching the torture of a team-mate was more than he could do. He looked instead at the sheet of paper in his hand.

He was still looking when Teal’c stuck his head inside. Jack ordered him to join SG-3 in searching the grounds and Sam visibly shook herself. "Daniel’s in a cell, Teal’c. Three armed guards with him. Keep a look out for a building nearby; you may even be able to follow the surveillance camera cables. I’ll see if I can get anything from up here."

"And keep your eyes peeled for a standby generator," Jack said dully. "We’ll try to take out the lights as we go in."

Teal’c departed, leaving Jack and Sam to their unwilling vigil. Unable to bring himself to look at the screen now he knew what was happening, Jack looked instead at the sheet in his hand.

It had been obvious immediately on looking at it that it was laid out as a timetable. But it had taken him a few seconds to realise that what he was looking at was the schedule the men were following to break Daniel. Monday had been simply labelled ‘Phase 2’ and from Tuesday until Thursday morning ‘Phase 3’ had been overwritten with notes such as ‘Nyan’, ‘training’ and ‘Carter’. Thursday was entirely taken up with ‘Nyan’. It was only when he’d reached Friday that Jack’s stomach had lurched. There was no mistaking the meaning of the words Daniel had endured such as ‘beat up’, ‘dunk’, ‘taser’ and ‘stress’ which stretched on until Sunday night getting more and more severe until ending with ‘give up’. He’d just worked out that Daniel had reached ‘toenails’ when Teal’c had interrupted. Now Jack didn’t know whether to start yelling and throwing things in frustrated anger or to rush to the nearby bathroom and throw up his recent breakfast. As neither was going to help, he was making an heroic effort to stay still and look calm for Sam’s sake: he could see she was struggling as much as he was to retain a professional demeanour.

The minutes ticked by. Jack could almost feel Daniel’s invisible and silent screams vibrating off his back. He realised he’d balled up the timetable in his hand. This was no good, he had to keep a grip on himself. His team needed him.

He coughed. "When we go in, we’ll go in quick. Ignore Daniel. With luck, it’ll be dark to make it easier. Just concentrate on the three men, get them up against the wall. We’ll get someone back here to brief us on their grouping."

"Okay, Sir."

Her voice sounded tolerably steady. He searched for something else to distract. "Any luck with the cameras?"

"Not yet. Most seem to be fixed in place so I can’t pan around to look. All I’ve found is the video library. It seems to take about five minutes for the men to reach the cell from when they leave the house."

"That’s useful intel, Carter. Why don’t you pass it on to Teal’c?"

As she began to speak into the radio, several other voices also came on the circuit. Jack listened to get the sense of what was going on for a few seconds then took charge. "SIERRA-GOLF UNITS, THIS IS SIERRA-GOLF ONE NINER. ALL TEAMS, INCLUDING MEDICAL PERSONNEL, MUSTER BY TENNIS COURTS FOR BRIEFING ASAP. MEDICAL TEAM, SIERRA-GOLF THREE NINER ACKNOWLEDGE." The double chorus of acknowledgements reached his ears even while he joined Sam running out of the house and through the snow towards the courts.

The briefing was short and to the point. The explosives experts on SG-3 were to set charges on the generator which Teal’c had found and also on the electricity supply to the estate. These charges should be detonated simultaneously on cue. Jack chose Teal’c to give the update on the disposition of men inside the room on the (unvoiced) basis that he had the strongest stomach for it. Jack himself would storm the room with Sam and the remaining members of SG-3 to apprehend the men, find the candlestick and rescue Daniel. Janet he told to hang back under cover, near to the building from which SG-3 had heard the yells. Everyone to be ready to go in ten minutes. Once again there were no questions and everyone dispersed at a run.

In the event, everyone was in position within four minutes owing to the fact that the marines had anticipated Jack’s order to lay in the charges on the generator and the electricity supply. As soon as he’d received all the ‘ready’ reports and heard from Teal’c that the three men were still in the centre of the cell, Jack tersely ordered the ‘go’ and ran with the others at the building, up the steps to the deserted foyer and into the adjoining corridor, pulling on his NVGs as he went.

They barely stopped at the door. It was slightly ajar, saving them the problem of working out whether it was locked. He held up his hand. Two. One. The lights went off, Sam lobbed in a flash-bang and flung the door wide open. Jack swung into the room, bellowing at the top of his voice, "UNITED STATES AIR FORCE! BACK AWAY TO THE WALL OR YOU WILL BE SHOT."

With his enhanced vision, he could see the darkness and noise had had the desired disorientating effect. The three men stood uncertainly but offered no resistance as SG-3 piled into them and rushed them up against the wall. The situation was stabilised within seconds.

"Get them out of here," Jack ordered Major Lawrence. "And send in Doc Frasier. Plus if you can find some torches, that would be helpful."

"Way ahead of you, Colonel," Janet’s voice sounded from the door.

Jack bit back the comment he’d been about to make regarding following orders to stay under cover as the light from her scattered cylume sticks began to fall on Daniel. As he took off his NVGs, Jack compelled himself to look, scared at what damage the fifteen or so minutes since he’d last seen the struggling figure would have wrought. The fact that Daniel was a funny colour he put down to the random selection of cylume sticks Janet had chosen to bring. But there was no mistaking that Daniel seemed to have completely retreated into himself: curled up, shivering and moaning with one clenched hand pressed to his mouth, he was totally ignoring Janet’s pleas for him to please let go of his foot and let her see. Jack wasn’t altogether sure Daniel was even aware he’d been rescued.

"Colonel, could you hold him steady?" Janet asked. "And is there any way we could get this chain off him so he can be evacuated?"

Sam moved forward simultaneously with Jack and began to pick the lock at Daniel’s ankle. Jack soothingly warned Daniel that everything was all right and tried to prise his hand away from his foot. He had just time to realise it was slick with blood when Daniel convulsed unexpectedly and rolled away from him.

"I’m done," Sam announced before he had time to try again.

Janet briskly ordered the stretcher bearers over. "Nevermind, Colonel. The light’s better outside." She softened her voice. "Daniel, I’m going to put you on the stretcher. Do you understand?"

There was a slight change in the sound coming from Daniel. Jack decided to take this as a good sign: at least Daniel was aware of what Janet had said.

When the small party emerged into the crisp dawn, Jack’s relief sagged again. Daniel had been covered with a blanket to protect against the chill, but the battered face which showed past the medical team looked completely forlorn. When the filthy blindfold was removed, Jack had to mentally add ‘vulnerable’ to the description.

Janet fussed for several minutes then walked over to find out how soon the CASEVAC helicopter could arrive. Sam stepped out of earshot and began to speak into her radio, allowing Jack to ask how Daniel was.

"Well, Colonel, he’s safe to move. It looks worse than it is: mostly just exhaustion, lacerations and bruising. Everything will heal with a bit of time. But he seems unusually unresponsive, even given what he’s just been through."

"Could it be drugs?"

"No, I don’t think so. All his vital signs are as to be expected so I don’t think it’s anything medical. Well, he’d have had to see Dr McKenzie anyway."

Shrinks. Jack’s heart sank at the thought. Mental hurt always freaked him out because he knew from experience that there was no such thing as a brain Band-Aid.

"Why don’t you come back with us to the SGC?" Janet asked sympathetically. "There’s room and if you stay near to Daniel, I’m sure next time he won’t flinch from your touch."

Jack winced at the recollection. An unwelcome thought occurred. "It isn’t…?" God, that hadn’t been scheduled until Sunday.

Janet cottoned on and firmly set his mind at rest. "No, Colonel. There are none of the usual indications. But - and this isn’t an expert opinion - I think you are on the right lines that he’s mortified about something that’s happened to him here."

And there the conversation stopped, as the helicopter flew in overhead and Janet ran away to see about getting her patient safely inside.

Sunday

Jack woke in his usual infirmary chair feeling stiff and tired. He groaned and stretched.

An amused laugh came from the bed. "Jack, I’m meant to be the one who’s hurt round here. Quit hogging the limelight."

Jack opened one eye towards Daniel. "So, you’re awake then."

"Yeah."

"Safe."

"Seems so."

This was going well, Jack thought sardonically. "How are you feeling?"

Daniel flapped his arm in the direction of the drips. "Dunno, really. Janet’s dosed me up with painkillers."

That would explain why Daniel was managing to appear so bright despite all the evidence of damage scarred across his face and arms. "You get the low-down from Doc Frasier then?"

"Sure. One week bed rest to get over the sleep deprivation, starvation, dehydration, burns, bruising and cuts." Daniel recited his injuries as he would read a shopping list. "And it’ll only take a few months for my… umm…"

"Toes," Jack supplied.

"Yeah. Toes to get back to normal. So, no real problem. They’d only just got on to the really heavy stuff, Jack."

"I know." Jack sighed. He couldn’t avoid what had to come next. Looking down at his hands, he said, "You’ve got an appointment with Dr McKenzie this afternoon."

There was silence from Daniel.

Jack looked up. "Anything you wanna talk about before?"

Daniel swallowed and shook his head.

"Daniel - Janet and I, we noticed yesterday that, that something was wrong. I don’t think you trust McKenzie enough to let him help you, so I’m here if you want instead."

Daniel looked away and answered in a strained voice, "You don’t need to worry about anything. I’m here now. Janet told me the artefact is locked away safe."

Jack looked back down at his hands. "Daniel," he said in a taut voice, "I’ve seen the tapes."

"Tapes?" Daniel whispered back.

"You must’ve noticed the cameras?"

"I…"

Jack waited for a few seconds but Daniel said nothing more. "They recorded everything. Sam found them in an office. Janet and I went through them last night. I’m sorry, we had to. Janet needed the medical info." And he’d needed to see what he might have to help Daniel get over, Jack didn’t say.

"Oh god." Jack didn’t look at Daniel: he had a horrid feeling the man was desperately battling with tears.

"It was almost five days, Daniel."

"You saw Nyan?" Daniel’s voice quavered.

"Yes." Jack kept his voice deliberately even and calm. "We saw Nyan. We saw Nyan high as a kite tormenting you. And we saw Nyan dying of an overdose in front of you."

"It was… I…"

"Daniel. He chose to start taking drugs. They led him to somewhere he wouldn’t have wanted to go. But it was Nyan’s choice to start."

A long silence before, "You saw me…"

Jack waited. Yes, he’d seen Daniel, but he had a feeling that wasn’t what the sentence was about.

"…tie myself up."

"Yes." Jack mentally applauded himself for saying that calmly. The first few times he’d watched his team-mate’s complicity in the cell, he’d all but screamed at the figure on the screen for capitulating to the victim control technique so easily. But ultimately he’d seen, as Daniel had, that there had been little to lose.

"That stress stuff was awful."

"Yeah. I know." There’d been sound on the tapes. It had been turned down in the mansion, maybe the bad guys hadn’t liked to listen to the maddening random noise, screams and choking gasps for air or whatever, but at least Janet and he had had the advantage of being able to fast forward through most of it. Still, Daniel was prevaricating. "Daniel, what about Martin?"

There was a pause. "I’ve got a letter prepared to the guy that produced the documentary. Soon as I can type, I’m going to send it."

"Okay. But what about Martin?"

Daniel shrank back into the pillows and turned a beseeching look at Jack: please don’t go there. "Did you, umm, get any of my books back?"

"Those were yours? Aw, crap, we never even noticed they’d gone missing…" Daniel relaxed a little at the successful change of subject. Jack was reminded of the scene Daniel had played out with Nyan trying to get him to admit the drug abuse. Sorry, Daniel. "Would you prefer to chat about Martin with McKenzie? I can give him the tapes."

It was a low blow. Daniel recoiled as if slapped and turned his face away. "You wouldn’t…"

"I wouldn’t want to. But it doesn’t help bottling everything up inside of you."

"You never talk about stuff."

"Yeah. And look where that’s got me. Do as I say, not as I do, Daniel. You know Sara left coz I just kinda checked out of my life for a long, long while."

"I don’t want to talk to McKenzie."

"So tell me instead."

And surprisingly Daniel did, slowly and haltingly at first as he described the conversation with Martin when he’d been told the artefact was harmless and rescue hopeless. A little more lucidly as he told how despairing he’d been when Martin had walked out the door and he’d been left ineffectively trying to think for endless motionless, dark and freezing hours knowing all that awaited him.

"… and when that noise shut off and I heard them coming again, I still didn’t know what I should do, Jack. I couldn’t think of one single reason not to tell them how that, that thing worked. I knew they’d kill me once I did, but if you weren’t coming to get me, then I just wanted to die and be done with it. And then when they started and I could see that that was just, umm, the beginning of all that was to come, I, I, umm,"

Daniel was looking fiercely at the ceiling. Jack waited: Daniel had to say it himself.

Finally, Daniel managed to whisper in a voice most unlike his own, "I told them I’d tell them what they wanted to know."

It had almost broken Jack’s heart watching the tapes earlier. Daniel must have cracked while he and Sam were studiously ignoring the feed in the surveillance office. If Daniel had held on even ten minutes more, he’d have survived with his self-respect intact. Ten lousy minutes. No wonder Daniel had been so isolated when they’d rescued him. For such an idealistic and intelligent man, to realise he’d despaired when SG-1 had been coming to rescue him, that Martin had lied and he’d fallen for it, must have been unbearable.

Still, Jack was here to help his friend through this.

"Janet reckons she’d have told by then too."

"But not you?"

Jack thought to the timetable. "Maybe a few more hours. Difficult to say really. I lasted out before, but then again, I always believed that what the bad guys were doing was wrong and that the good guys would arrive eventually if I held on long enough."

"I didn’t."

"No. Martin was convincing. Don’t beat yourself up over this, Daniel. I know it’s easy for me to say and not necessarily so easy for you to do. But just because you were lied to in this situation, doesn’t mean if you were leant on again, you’d buckle under. You’ve survived worse before."

Daniel swallowed, unwilling to be absolved so easily. Jack spoke softly, "Danny, look at me." Daniel looked up and met Jack’s eyes properly for the first time that day. "This will be okay in time. Really. You’re still a vital member of SG-1. We wouldn’t be the same without you. Keep that thought and you’ll get through this mental fallout no problem."

"What about Dr McKenzie?"

"Feed him some crap about worms infesting your mind. After last time, he won’t be able to sign you off quick enough."

Daniel smiled faintly. "Okay."

They sat in companionable silence for a time. Then, just as Jack had known he would, Daniel began to ask questions.

"What do you think they would’ve used that thing for?"

"The shield generator? Somehow I doubt it would have been to protect sacred sites."

"No, sitting here now, I can see that. It was more difficult to think clearly there."

Jack made a face at that. "Carter guessed some kind of invisible snare like that bounty hunter used. Teal’c thought maybe they’d use it to protect one of their HQs or whatever that we’re bombing the hell out of. I was thinking maybe you could use it for a terrorist weapon - you know, use the reflective power of the shield to bend the explosion back to the ground, or something, you know, to increase the yield... Carter’s department really. Anyway, doesn’t matter now. You held out long enough for us not to have to find out."

Daniel shot Jack a grateful look. "I don’t understand how they managed to manipulate Nyan so well either. I mean, obviously towards the end he was an addict and would do anything, but, well, how did they get hold of him in the first place?"

Jack thought. "Y’know, I don’t suppose we’ll ever know. I’d guess he was addicted well before being caught in West Virginia. Maybe he talked too much to one of his dealers or maybe Maybourne’s crowd just figured him a likely weakest link and Merrick took it from there. Such an ungrateful brat, we should’ve left him to Rigar."

"That’s not fair, Jack. He told me he felt abandoned when he didn’t take up that research assistant position we promised him. We should have looked after him better."

Jack shook his head firmly. "Daniel, that still does not justify what he did."

Daniel winced. "I told Nyan that too." After a minute, he continued thoughtfully, "Y’know, the whole thing seems so unnecessarily complex: Nyan, the bank raid, both those car crashes. If they were able to do stuff like fake military records, surely they could liberate a few artefacts from a museum without difficulty?"

"You don’t know the half of it, Daniel," said Jack who had spent days wondering much the same thing. "When your friend Steven got access restricted in Chicago, your Florida pals suddenly found they couldn’t get in any more even though, until then, the gang’s courier - Merrick - had regularly been adding bits and bobs the NID had exported from other planets. I guess that, while the gang could’ve blown in the front door and lifted all the stuff, it wouldn’t’ve been very discreet. But if they made you, Sam and Nyan disappear, then no one would have made any connections as to how this magical tech suddenly appeared."

"And what happened to, umm, to the people holding me?"

"They’re being detained in a maximum security prison pending a trial which will probably never happen - with the exception of Martin who lost in a shoot-out with Teal’c. Bob vanished into thin air and I don’t suppose we’ll ever catch the big cheeses behind the op either."

"Oh." Daniel leant back and closed his eyes with a sigh. "I feel terrible, you know. Like someone’s just beaten the stuffing out of me."

Jack stood as he heard Sam arrive for her bedside shift. "Believe me, you looked worse yesterday. And if you can improve this much in one day, I’ll have you running about on Peltacs or something within a week."

"If you say so, Jack. But no more undercover stuff. It’s just asking for trouble."

"Daniel, you’re in SG-1! Asking for trouble is in the job description."

The door pushed quietly open. "Is Daniel all right?" whispered Sam, tiptoeing into the infirmary.

"No," answered Daniel truthfully. "Not yet. But I guess I will be eventually."

The End




Author's notes: Thank you to my lovely betas, Skip and Loopybird.



© September 13, 2002 The characters mentioned in this story are the property of Showtime and Gekko Film Corp.
The Stargate, SG-I, the Goa'uld and all other characters
who have appeared in the series STARGATE SG-1 together with the names,
titles and backstory are the sole copyright property of MGM-UA Worldwide Television, Gekko Film Corp, Glassner/Wright Double Secret Productions and Stargate SG-I Prod. Ltd. Partnership. This fanfic is not intended as an infringement upon those rights and
solely meant for entertainment. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author.