Jackfic Archive Story

 

"BAAL On The Rebound"

by Dinkydow

Disclaimer: Stargate SG-1 and its characters are the property of Showtime/Viacom, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Productions. I have written this story for entertainment purposes only and no money whatsoever has exchanged hands. No copyright infringement is intended. The original characters, situations, and story are the property of the author(s).


*** "You dare mock me?" "Baal, c'mon, you should know . . . Of course I dare mock you." Baal and General Jack O'Neill in "Zero Hour"

***

President Henry Hayes settled back in his easy chair and adjusted his reading glasses on his face. He'd been looking forward to this all week, a chance to sit back and do nothing but read a good book. He reached for the glass of chocolate milk sitting on the end table, took a sip and sighed with pleasure. It was chilled, just as he'd ordered.

Now to get down to business, he picked up the book, the latest from Tom Clancy, propped his slippered feet up on the ottoman, and nestled into the chair. Just as he opened the book, he heard a strange humming.

He sat up in his chair - no need to get excited, yet. After all, he was fully protected by the Secret Service. Heck, he'd even had to order them outside the room so he could have a bit of privacy while he read his book.

The humming got louder and the door to his private sitting room predictably burst open. Three black suits with fingers pressed to their earphones rushed into the room.

One gestured to his charge, "Please come with us, sir."

"Dammit, what the hell's going on now?" Henry huffed. "So help me, if this is the Air Force dinking around with some new gadget of theirs . . ."

Reluctantly he allowed them to surround him as he stepped away from his chair, and his book. With a stiff grin, he grabbed his glass of chocolate milk and cradled it in his hands. When the black suit gave him a look of disapproval, he didn't lower his gaze.

"Don't want it to go bad," he replied with a charming smile, the same one that had helped win him this last election and had little old ladies simpering into their hankies in all fifty states.

"We're just concerned for your safety, sir," the suit replied.

However, before he could be hustled to the open door, a bright flash of light temporarily blinded him. He stopped, rubbed his eyes with one free hand and wiped the tears from them. A thud by his feet and the sudden feeling of something wet told him he'd lost his prize.

Distracted, he watched the brown liquid spread over a priceless rug, a gift from the Iranians. There would be hell to pay with the housekeepers tomorrow, not to mention what the Iranian Ambassador would make of it if he found out.

The brief diversion won him the time to clear his eyesight, and judging from the sparkles glistening off the overturned glass on the floor, the light was fading.

His mouth hung open when he looked up, for in front of him sat an alien type throne or chair, complete with a naked gray alien. Well, of course, what else would be sitting there?

Three guns immediately appeared and pointed in the alien's direction.

Henry stepped forward. "Wait." Something about his appearance rang a few bells for him. Was it? Maybe? "Do I know you?"

The alien's black eyes opened wide in seeming consternation. He, no - It, blinked and then opened his small mouth. "No, you know of me. I am Thor."

Henry smiled and offered his hand. "Of the Asgard?" Thor nodded and hopped off his chair to take the President's hand. Funny, the little alien didn't feel slimy, more soft and powdery.

"Yes, I presume O'Neill has told you of me and our relationship with the people of your planet."

Henry turned to the Secret Service men standing, guns at the ready and waved them off. "It's okay, men. He's a friend of ours, one of the good guys."

Two of the suits looked doubtful, but the presumed leader nodded, his hand on his earphone. "Identity of intruder confirmed. He's a friendly." Then he turned to Henry. "We'll be right outside if you need us, sir."

Henry nodded and sat in his chair while Thor settled into his. "As happy as I am to finally meet you, I'm sure you didn't come all this way just to say hi."

"You are correct. I have come to warn you of a danger as yet undetected by your planetary surveillance system."

"What do you mean?"

"We have several sensors placed throughout your solar system to monitor all unusual space traffic. In the past months, we have detected several ships of Goa'uld design orbiting your planet."

Henry leaned forward, his eyes wide. "You spy on us?"

Thor blinked. "We have monitored the growth of your species for hundreds of years."

Henry gulped and stuttered awkwardly. "Oh, so the stories about the Roswell aliens . . .?"

"Have some truth to them - yes." Thor admitted.

Henry took a moment to get his bearings and digest the information. "You mentioned danger and Goa'uld ships?"

"Yes, as you are aware, the power of the System Lords was broken at the battle of Dakara. However, some of their leaders survived and have withdrawn to other less-populated worlds to rebuild what was lost. It is our belief that one former System Lord in particular has chosen your planet as his latest refuge."

Henry's mind raced. "And this would be . . .?

"Baal."

"I was afraid you'd say that."

Thor nodded. "I see that you are aware of the particular enmity this Goa'uld holds for the people of your planet - And one person in particular."

"Jack O'Neill."

"Yes. Our race would be greatly saddened," Thor raised a single stubby, admonitory finger, "and disturbed if any harm were to come to a man to whom my race owes a great debt. It is because of this debt that I am here tonight."

"I understand. As a matter of fact, we also value Jack O'Neill and his abilities - and have a plan in place to ensure his safety. Mind if I make a phone call?"

"I do not."

Meanwhile, Henry had punched in a few buttons and was speaking into the phone. "Jumper? I just got a visit from a little friend of ours. Yes, you might say he traveled a very long way. I want you to initiate 'Operation Magic Touch' effective immediately, seems we've got some unwelcome visitors hanging around our neighborhood." He paused. "Good, let me know when it's finished."

The little alien shifted in his chair and the movement grabbed the President's attention, "You will provide for his safety on your world?"

"For the time being, unless we find that doesn't work." Henry looked up, surprised to see Thor standing beside him. "Why?"

"The Daniel Jackson has been placed at your disposal if a safe place is needed." The alien sighed and shook his head. "It is doubtful that O'Neill will be pleased with any arrangements we might make for his well-being."

Thor handed him a shell. "Should you require assistance in providing for the safety needs of O'Neill, I will be aboard the Daniel Jackson and can be contacted with this communication device."

Hayes took the shell in his hand and hefted it. "Sure. I'll keep in touch."

Thor glided back to his chair and sat down. "Make no mistake, we value the safety of Jack O'Neill greatly and wish only the best for him." Then he pushed a button and vanished in a glare of bright light.

Belatedly, Henry waved to the spot where Thor's chair had been. "Thanks for stopping by. I'll be in touch."

Henry shook his head and stuck the shell in his jacket pocket as he padded to the door. "All clear here, guys. But you might want to put on a pot of coffee, it's gonna be a long night."

***

Thirty minutes later in the office of General Jack O'Neill at the Pentagon, Chief of Home World Security.

Jack O'Neill scribbled his initials at the top of the page to indicate he'd read the report. According to SOP, and his combination minder and secretary, Ida Grayson, he was supposed to initial his stamped name to indicate he'd used the stamp. Military red tape, you had to love it!

He closed the folder and placed it in the outbox, ready for Grayson to take it to wherever read and reviewed reports went, and reflected on its contents - The report informed him that Teal'c was having a rough time dealing with the factions that made up the new Free Jaffa. But, reading the report couldn't take the place of hearing it first hand, spoken in the gruff voice and elegant words of Teal'c himself.

God, he missed being at Stargate Command, where the action was, where he was part of a team, instead of hunkered down in a windowless office, deep within the bowels of the Pentagon. A place where general's were a dime a dozen and intrigue was served up on a daily basis right along with the coffee.

The stray thought made him naturally reach for his cup of stale coffee. Taking a sip, he winced and made a face as the tepid and acidic liquid passed his lips.

What time was it, anyway?

When he glanced at his watch, he realized it was later than he'd thought, past midnight in fact. My, how time flies when you're having fun. . . NOT! Still, Grayson would be pleased that he'd made such headway in his daily battle of him against the growing pile of files, all which had to be read five minutes ago.

Then he stilled and smacked his forehead with his palm. "For crying out loud," he muttered as he realized he'd forgotten to call Sam.

He sure hoped she wasn't too pissed, but he'd been trying so hard to clear up his backlog of reports so they could spend some time together. Now he'd have to call and explain as soon as he got home. With luck, she'd answer and they could have an intimate conversation, not quite the same as being there, but better than nothing.

Sam had her hands full right now, dealing with the new general at the SGC and playing surrogate parent to Cassie. Poor kid, she'd been through hell in her short life, losing her first family and her people courtesy of Nirrti's genetic games, and as if that weren't enough, her adoptive Mom, Janet, had been killed off planet, doing her job saving lives. Come to think of it, it was no wonder that she needed someone to be there for her right now. At least this weekend he could spend some time with her - and Sam - especially Sam.

One of the main reasons he'd taken the boot upstairs as gracefully as he had was it gave them the opportunity to finally take their relationship out of the room they'd hidden it in for all those years. Now that he was Chief and Grand Pooh-Bah of Home World Security, she was no longer in his direct chain of command - something that Hammond had pointed out to him with a knowing grin when he'd first offered him the job. Since he'd moved from Colorado Springs, they made a point of calling each other every night, no matter what and saw each other on weekends whenever their schedules permitted. Their growing love made flying a desk almost worthwhile - most of the time.

He'd had Grayson clear his schedule to make this weekend's rendezvous happen. She'd about blown a gasket, but had done it, all while she muttered something about 'flyboy generals who think they can do whatever they want'.

He raised his arms to stretch and then massaged the back of his neck. Ida Grayson, yep, if he didn't know better, he'd think Hammond had sicced her on him to keep him in line. When he'd read her file, he'd noticed that she was a Department of Defense civilian nearing retirement who'd been an Army drill sergeant, among other things. Yeah, she was a smart cookie, used to the ins and outs of life at the Pentagon.

The first time she'd ordered him - yes, ordered an Air Force General - to fix his tie, his face had burned red. For just an instant, he'd been transformed into a raw recruit in his first week of boot camp. What was worse, from the gleam in her bullet-gray eyes, she'd known it. Crap, that was all he needed, a secretary who was the combo of a mother hen and a pit bull.

Funny, the back of his neck still felt itchy and tight, like things were about to go south in a hurry, leaving him stuck with the 'Oh Shit Fairy'. That same feeling that had saved his life far too many times in the past. But this was the Pentagon, wasn't it? It was safe and familiar territory, where the killing shots came in the form of words, not bullets and staff blasts. Right?

No matter how hard he tried to convince himself that he was just imagining things, that spooky feeling wouldn't go away, which was why he'd been coming to work a little more heavily armed than usual. It had been a bitch sneaking the 9 mil past the guards at the entrance, but he could still be charming - when it suited his purpose.

Grayson knew about it though, and from her frown, didn't like it, just like she didn't like it when he wore his olive green BDU uniform to work. He didn't like wearing the Class A or B uniform, although it had been pointed out to him by many that it was more appropriate for his present rank and station; it felt too restrictive and reminded him that he was flying a desk. As if he needed a reminder of that. Oh well, he'd found a way to deal with it, so would Grayson.

A whisper of sound from the hallway drew his attention like the smell of blood draws a shark. He pushed away from his desk, careful to avoid the lumpy electrical wires under his carpet that made his chair wheels squeak.

He slowed his breaths, the better to hear as the surge of adrenalin had his blood singing in his ears. Yep, there it was again, the sound of footsteps in the hallway. Someone was trying to advance quietly, but wasn't doing a good job of it. If it was another anti-terrorist drill, he'd have the clumsy soldier doing extra training on how to sneak up on a target. Clumsiness like that could get people killed.

Free of the chair, he crouched as he crept toward the door that separated him from Grayson's outer office. His 9 mil in his hand, he slipped toward the outer door. It wasn't fully closed; open just a couple inches. Peering through the crack, he saw nothing, just a dimly lit hallway. That in itself was unusual because the Department of Defense, especially the Pentagon, never closed and the lights were always on. No sirree, this was one place that was open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

Another surge of adrenaline made his breath hitch in his throat and the hairs rise on the back of his neck. Something was wrong; he knew it. He disengaged the safety on his 9 mil and eased through the door into the hallway.

And was instantly surrounded by several figures dressed in commando black and flack vests, their weapons pointed at him. It was a Mexican standoff, a little one-sided, but one nonetheless.

He opted for the unexpected. "Hi guys. Whacha' doin'?"

He waved his weapon harmlessly in the air and straightened with a smile that dripped innocence, dimples and all. He took a quick glance around, funny, but there were two circles of men, the inner one facing him, but the second was guarding the entrances to the hall - facing away from him. What the . . .?

The leader shifted his eyes and then spoke. "General Jack O'Neill?"

Jack shrugged nonchalantly. "Who wants to know?"

"We have orders to take you into custody."

"Orders?"

"Yes, sir."

"From whom?"

"I'm not at liberty to say."

The leader's eyes shifted as a call came in over his radio. "Area secured and hostiles neutralized."

"Roger that." He gestured to Jack. "Come with us, sir."

"And if I don't wanna play?"

"You will be dealt with, sir," he answered quietly, no bark but the promise of a bite nonetheless.

Jack smiled and showed his teeth, all friendliness gone. "Oh - really?"

As they talked, he'd managed to get within striking distance and used it to his advantage as his feet and arms became guided missiles, locking onto their targets. He refrained from firing his weapon, and but used it as a blunt instrument against the head of a soldier in range.

Almost immediately, he felt a stinging in his shoulder and used his free hand to check it out. His questing fingers found the culprit immediately and it didn't bode well for his rep as a 'lean-mean-fighting machine'. A second later, his eyes confirmed it. A feathered barb was sticking out of his muscle. Already, he felt uncoordinated, and missed the next feint, the momentum carrying him to the floor where he stared up at the half-covered faces surrounding him.

"Target has been located and immobilized. Ready for transport, over."

Just before everything faded to black, he was surrounded by a familiar dazzling white light.

*** Lieutenant Colonel Samantha Carter maneuvered her red Mustang into her parking space in the lot reserved for the personnel of Stargate Command and marveled how she'd missed this place. She'd spent so much time and energy at this base the past nine years; it seemed more like home than her house in Colorado Springs.

According to those who knew her best, that was because she spent an inordinate amount of time at work in her lab. People like Cassie - and Jack. Yes, she could finally call him by his first name, and it gave her a thrill every time she did.

Jack - the name had a certain ring to it, and was one of the better choices she'd made recently, it just felt right. Her mind that analyzed everything now shied away from dissecting and examining her emotions from every angle.

Jack had grinned when she'd admitted that to him and had made a comment that this marked a milestone in her life - and that he'd make a domestic diva out of her yet. That comment had earned him a punch on the arm.

The incident hadn't turned out bad. The punch got followed by a tickling match - they'd both ended up on the floor in each other's arms, laughing and happy - happier than she'd been in far too long.

Her hand automatically locked her car door and she turned to make her way through security at the entrance of Cheyenne Mountain Complex. She'd done this so many times that her body performed the actions mechanically, which left her mind to mull over the latest puzzle.

Jack hadn't called her last night, and hadn't answered his phone at work or at home. It didn't make sense. Had she missed something? Had he changed his mind about her - about them?

He seemed happy with their relationship; at least that's what he told her through his actions and words. True, she didn't exactly have a stellar track record when it came to choosing men to have a relationship with, they either died or turned into monsters bent on controlling her every move and thought. Nevertheless, he seemed sincere in his love for her - didn't he?

So where was he? Something was wrong and not knowing drove her crazy. With her body on autopilot, she performed the familiar duties involved with getting to her lab. Her fingers clutched her key card and swiped it through the slot, then stepped into the elevator after a perfunctory nod of greeting to the guard.

Every problem had a solution, her mind argued; one just needed all the pieces of the puzzle. Sam sighed with sudden weariness and chewed her lower lip.

Cassie had known something was up last night and had badgered her until she'd given in and confessed her worries about Jack's whereabouts. The sharing should have helped, but it didn't - it left behind a guilt that she'd added to the burden the younger and more vulnerable Cassie already bore. After all, the young woman knew the dangers of their jobs - intimately.

She glanced at her watch and did some rapid calculations in her head. Although there had been no answer at Jack's Pentagon office earlier, she would try again. With luck he would be there, or at the very least she could worm some intel out of his secretary.

That decided she relaxed and reviewed her work schedule for the day; the morning briefing with General Landry would keep her mind occupied. Yes, that was what she needed - to keep busy if and until she heard from Jack. No, not if--when.

By the time Sam reached her lab, she was smiling again. A short chat with Daniel later, she had learned that a dead Jaffa had been found in Maryland. Another piece was added to the puzzle. Did it involve Jack?

She reached for her phone, dialed his office number from memory and listened anxiously to the rings and nibbled on her lip.

"Good morning, General O'Neill's Office, this line is not secured. May I help you sir or ma'am?"

Sam felt for her chair and sat down. "Mrs. Grayson? This is Colonel Carter. May I speak to the General?"

There was a pause, Sam's heart pounded in her ears. "I'm sorry, but the General is unavailable right now. Can I take a message?"

Sam slumped in her chair. "Can you tell me when he'll be back?"

"I can pass along a message when I see him, ma'am."

Damn, the secretary was proving more of an obstacle than she'd thought. "I - I tried to call him last night after he didn't call me." Her voice broke. "I was worried . . ."

Grayson's voice softened. "I'll let him know that, ma'am. I will be seeing him later; I just don't know how long this meeting will last."

Sam took a deep breath, had to maintain control of her emotions. After all, he was safe - he just had to be.

"Ma'am? Are you still there?"

Sam nodded. "Um . . . yeah, but I'm gonna have to go. Just make sure he gets my message, okay?" She blew out a breath. "And tell him Cassie sends her love."

"I'll do that, ma'am."

Carter set down the phone with a click. Why was she not reassured?

Now she was forced to face the fact that she'd done everything she could, short of going AWOL and driving cross-country to find him herself. Sam admitted the idea had occurred to her, but she hadn't gotten to that point - yet.

In the meantime, she had a meeting to attend.

To borrow a phrase . . . crap.

***

General George Hammond, retired, was escorted into the Oval Office by a staffer and stifled an inner groan when he saw who else was present. All the Joint Chiefs were there, seated in a circle that faced their Commander-in-Chief.

President Hayes smiled and stood, his hand reached out to shake George's. "I'm glad you came, George."

As if I had a choice, he thought. "Of course, Mr. President."

He'd always been a master of sizing up the personnel around him; the room reeked of anxiety and fear, which was in itself unusual. What was up now?

George donned his best smile and sat next to his former boss, General Jumper. "Aren't you ever gonna let me retire, Mr. President?"

Hayes had the good grace to look uncomfortable and the others present found something else to occupy their attention.

Hayes was the first to recover. "I've got another job for you, George."

Hammond narrowed his eyes. Why didn't he like the sound of this?

"It's one that, quite frankly, leaves a bad taste in my mouth." He paused, and then pushed on. "But one that you are uniquely qualified for."

George pursed his lips, but kept silent.

"We received information from an unimpeachable source that Baal has taken refuge on Earth," General Jumper continued.

"You're certain of this?" Hammond's eyes widened.

Hayes interrupted. "Thor himself dropped by to tell me, so yes, we're sure. He was worried about a mutual friend - Jack O'Neill."

"Does Jack know this?" George blew out a breath.

"No, but he was placed in Protective Custody last night on my order."

Eyebrows climbed to meet a hairline that had vanished many years ago. "That's a bronco that won't be rode."

Hayes leaned forward, his hands clasped in front of him. "You think we don't know that, George? But let's face it; his brainpower coupled with his Ancient DNA makes him a resource that we can't afford to lose." He gestured with one hand to make his point. "You of all people should know that."

George's shoulders slumped and he sat silent, with the sudden knowledge he would be the Judas designated to betray his friend.

"We need you to explain our position to him, make him realize that this is for his own good, George," Jumper continued. "Not just his own, but for the good of our world." He paused, and then jutted his chin for emphasis. "You should know that we detained several men near his office last night. We believe they were sent to bring in O'Neill."

Hammond shifted his eyes on Jumper's face. "Have they told you anything?"

"Not yet, but we believe they are a remnant of The Trust and work for Baal now. I doubt we'll get anything useful out of them. This just proves that the threat is very real and needs to be dealt with - as quickly and expeditiously as possible"

George's turned away a look of sadness and resignation on his face. "I agree with you on one thing, Mr. President. This leaves a bad taste in my mouth." He licked his lips. "Are you ordering me to do this?"

Hayes kept his eyes riveted to George's. "I could." He paused and saw his friend stiffen. "But I won't. Jack is your friend - I understand that. If you don't, I won't hold it against you. But someone has to."

"I'll think it over."

"You have an hour. Someone needs to tell Jack something - it wouldn't be right to just leave him hanging in the wind. We owe him that much."

"You're damned right - when can I see him?"

***

He ran, pursued by a monster that would engulf him if he were caught. A quick glance over his shoulder told him it was gaining on him, so he called on hidden reserves and sprinted around a corner.

The maze of hallways stretched out in two directions as he scouted his immediate area. The walls of the maze were painted military grays and tans, which should have reassured him, but all sense of safety had disappeared during the hunt - the hunt in which he had become the prey.

A whisper of sound whipped his head around - they'd flanked him somehow. His brief respite had been his undoing, had given the enemy time to surround him and he was left with nowhere to run.

His breath rasped in his ears as he pivoted, desperate to find a weak spot in the ranks of the enemy. There were none. Sweat popped out on his forehead and stung his eyes. He blinked to clear his vision as the image of the enemy wavered in front of him. Who?

Dressed in black, they had the look of special ops. But that couldn't be right - could it? They couldn't be the enemy; they would know one of their own. So why was he pursued as a cat would hunt a mouse to its den before it was dispatched?

He shook his head to clear it - so dizzy. One of the men stepped forward, the movement familiar. Against his will, he took a step to meet him. A trick of the light revealed the face of the enemy - General George Hammond.

A training exercise? That would explain it. Yeah, that had to be it - no problem there.

Without warning, the eyes flashed white as the enemy spoke. "Bow before your god."

Jack screamed and sat bolt upright on his bed, then quieted as he took in his surroundings. The cement block walls meant he was not in his bedroom. He knuckled the fuzziness from his eyes and winced when his shoulder twinged in pain. An ordinary looking Band-Aid concealed the cause.

That in itself was reassuring though because the last time he'd checked, neither the System Lords nor the Asgard shopped for medical supplies at a local supermarket.

Plus, no self-centered, fashion-crazed, egomaniacal snakehead would be caught dead with such plain furnishings, not even in their prison cells. Since there wasn't a bit of gold in sight, he could rule them out.

So - where was he? That was the sixty million dollar question, he decided. He'd already been able to rule out his home and a Goa'uld prison cell along with as Asgard vessel. What did that leave? Who else would want him badly enough to shanghai his sorry ass right out of the Pentagon? For that, he has no answers so resolved he might as well take stock of what he had right now.

He was lying on a standard issue military bunk clad in his boxers and a t-shirt. Across a nearby chair hung the rest of his uniform and his boots and socks were on the floor beside them. Gingerly, he put his feet on the cold cement floor and stood, then almost fell back onto the bed as another wave of vertigo hit him.

He eased himself back to the side of the bunk and cradled his head in both hands as he searched his most recent memories for clues as to his whereabouts. Gradually, he teased loose the vision of leaving his office, then being surrounded by unknown men wearing the black of special ops.

He rubbed the Band-Aid as he remembered the dart that had knocked him out. His suspicions and anger increased as he surveyed the walls and ceiling of his room. There was only one exit - a closed steel door with a small window. Through it he could see the back of a uniformed guard. In an upper corner was a camera and he scowled to let the watchers know he knew they were there.

Whatever drug they'd administered had worn off, and with it the fuzziness departed that allowed him to think clearly. He needed more intel - with that he could formulate a plan to escape his prison. Until then he would bide his time. Based on his extensive experience with prison cells, his captors would reveal themselves. Then he could use their arrogance against them; needle and disarm them with his smart-ass remarks until they told him what he needed.

In the meantime, there was no harm getting dressed. His uniform and the stars on the collar would give him the illusion of authority and control over his life. An added plus was that when he kept himself busy, time passed faster. Iraq had taught him that, and it was a lesson he'd never forgotten.

Once clothed, he walked up to peer into the camera. "I have just one thing to say to you, whoever the hell you are." He pointed a finger at the camera; never mind which one. "Get me the hell outta here!"

His opinion expressed, he turned and settled back onto the bunk to conserve this strength and energy for the coming confrontation with his captors.

His momentary thoughts of Sam and how worried she must be were quashed with ruthless efficiency. Until he found a way out of here, it was a moot point - besides, he had to stay focused if he were to survive. He'd explain it all to her when he escaped.

***

Baal stroked his goatee and narrowed his eyes as he watched his subordinate squirm. It stank of fear. "Where is the Tau'ri O'Neill?"

The man before him knelt in respect before his god and master and had his eyes on the floor as was proper, but his voice quavered. "O'Neill did not leave the Pentagon last night, my Lord. Those I dispatched to bring him to you have not returned."

Baal's eyes flashed in anger. He hated to be disappointed especially when the Tau'ri who had been like a thorn in his side had been all but his.

"Fool! You let him escape?"

His minion was a leftover from The Trust, but like all those of his race, was weak-minded - and expendable. The former System Lord's hand device rose, commanding the attention of all in the room; including the man on his knees before him.

For a moment, their eyes met. As a gold shaft of energy shot from his palm to the forehead of his victim, Baal smiled.

"Observe what comes of failing your god."

The hum from the hand device increased until the victim screamed, as crimson blood streamed from his nose and ears. When the beam stopped, the lifeless body slumped to the floor.

Baal flicked his hand negligently. "Dispose of this offal at once."

***

Jack leaned back on the headboard, his hands cupped around the back of his head. According to his best estimates, as best as he could do without a watch, it had been over an hour since he'd awakened. Thus far, the only company he'd had was the sentry outside his door and the ubiquitous all-seeing camera in the corner. The sentry had ignored him, despite his best efforts to attract his attention - the camera had not - ignored him that is.

He sighed and grimaced with distaste. There was more than one way to catch a fish. Jack did not like to be ignored, and any fish could be caught with enough patience and the right bait. He'd have to dig around in his can of worms.

He needed a plausible excuse, one that wasn't terribly clich - one that might work. That automatically ruled out the idea of the 'I'm sick and gonna die any second' routine. Ditto for the 'I'm so hungry, please feed me at once'. Plus, with the surveillance from the camera, he needed to find a way out of his cell - the right bait for his hook.

A warning tingle from his crotch gave him his answer - the 'I gotta pee' ploy it is, he thought with satisfaction. An added plus was that it was the truth; he really needed to pee. In fact, his nether regions felt unusually sore, as if something or someone had been messing around with his equipment.

He flexed his abdominal muscles - his plumbing felt sore and itchy, like someone had used a roto-roter on Jack Junior. Yep, there was no doubt about it; he'd been messed with. From the feel of it, he'd recently been installed with a catheter - without his permission.

Sure, they'd taken it out, there is no way he would have missed seeing a rubber tube hanging out his wanger when he got dressed - but who the hell had been handling him like that - And why? Crap!

So much for the romantic weekend that he'd planned with Sam. Whoever had installed that catheter would have some explaining to do, not only to him, but to Sam too. And woe be it to anyone who messed with her plans for him - and his equipment. Just the thought of their plans seemed to inspire Jack Junior - unfortunately, the twinge of pleasure turned into pain and he flinched.

Yeah, he knew Sam wanted him for more than just sex, and he liked to cuddle as much as the next guy if they were being honest with themselves. But, since he was being honest about his feelings, he thought she was so hot, and still couldn't believe she would want to be seen with an old over-the-hill codger like him. Just thinking about her in her class A's gave him a woody.

Ow! Think about something else, Jack. Hockey, yeah, that was a safe subject. All that frozen ice - or water. Water? Crap, this wasn't working.

Not only did he need to piss, he was extremely pissed. Someone would pay! He winced in the manner of someone who has one and only one thought in mind.

Jack rose and walked gingerly to the camera. "Hey in there, I gotta piss like a race horse."

He looked around, nothing had changed, and it was time to clarify his needs. "Have pity on an old man with an aging prostate, will ya? I mean it, unless you get me to the can in a hurry, someone's gonna be cleaning it up off the floor, because I gotta go . . . NOW."

Jack cupped his hands around his mouth and yelled. "What do you want me to do, raise my hand for permission? My eyeballs are floating and my spit is turning yellow. In other words, I gotta see a man about a dog, water the begonias, pee, whiz, go wee-wee, drain my lizard, choke my chicken, write my name in the snow, squeeze my monkey, tinkle, and do a number one!"

He cocked his head. "What part of this don't you understand?" Then he threw his hands up in exasperation.

Whoever was monitoring the camera must have gotten his point, because the sentry turned to the window. "Stay where you are, sir. Your escort is on its way."

Jack thinned his lips and crossed his arms across his chest in censure. "For crying out loud, I've done this on my own since I was knee-high to a grasshopper, son. I don't need no friggin' escort to go to the can, just point me in the right direction."

"Sorry, sir. Those are my orders."

"You don't sound like you're sorry," he muttered.

The guard said nothing, probably because Jack was right.

By now, his need had grown so he paced the floor, waiting. He hated waiting - always had. The sound of boots outside the door drew his attention like a Goa'uld to Liberace's garage sale.

Jack shifted from one foot to the other, as the door was unlocked. A grimace of urgency crossed his face as he stuck his hands in his pockets and squirmed. That's it, open the door, little fishy. Come to papa, he thought with grim determination. They'd never know what hit 'em - until it was too late.

***

George Hammond adjusted his seat belt and looked out the window at the rapidly receding lights of the White House. He'd boarded the Marine helicopter soon after his interview with the Commander-in-Chief ended but had been told little about his intended destination. Only that it was one of the more secure underground facilities and that he would meet with Jack O'Neill there.

As the past head of Home World Security, he'd been privy to all those hidey-holes for the VIP's and upper echelons - or so he thought. Chances were good he didn't know about this one though.

The meeting had ended on a note of urgency when they'd been informed that Jack had awakened sooner than expected. He hadn't' really been surprised about that given their history together. The man who used to be his 2IC had demonstrated unusual powers of recuperation time after time while at the SGC and the fact that the President hadn't known about that meant that someone wasn't doing their research.

If George were head of that top-secret facility, heads would roll. But that was not an option, he was retired and planned to stay that way. He owed that to his family - God knows he had neglected them while he was on active duty and now that he had the chance to rectify that wrong, he intended to do it.

His cell phone rang in his jacket pocket; he lifted it out and showed it to the flight crew. After they nodded, he put it to his ear.

"Hammond."

"Sir? It's Sam, I mean it's Colonel Carter," she stammered.

"Yes?"

"I'm sorry to call you on your private line, sir." She paused as if uncertain what to say.

"Go ahead, Samantha," he coaxed.

"I didn't know who else to call, sir. It's Jack. I haven't heard from him and I was wondering . . ." Her words trailed off.

"You don't know where he is?" George sighed.

"No, sir. He always calls me every night and he didn't last night. Since then, I've been leaving messages at his office, but I'm not sure if he's getting them." Her voice trembled, and then firmed. "It's not for me, sir. It . . . it's for Cassie, she's worried and I don't know what to tell her."

"I'll see what I can do, Sam." He smiled. "Is there anything I should tell him if I see him?"

For a moment, there was a hesitant pause. "Just tell him I - we miss him, sir."

"If I see him, I'll do that."

"Thanks, sir."

"No problem."

He clicked the phone shut and replaced it in his jacket. His face creased with a grin. One of the good things that had come of Jack's promotion had been the budding relationship between two of the best officers he'd ever had the honor to command. He'd known about the feelings they'd felt for each other all those years, and had the utmost respect for the professional way they'd handled it. The way he figured it, those two were meant for each other and he'd love to dance at their wedding someday.

Of course, he saw right through Samantha's clumsy attempts to conceal her feelings, but then she'd always been more comfortable around equations and a computer than in a social setting, so he wasn't really surprised about her reaction. Still, she shouldn't have to worry. Someone should have had the courtesy, and balls, to tell her where Jack was - and security be damned. After all, it wasn't as if this country didn't owe both her and Jack for all the times they'd put their lives on hold and on the line for their country.

His face sobered as he considered the task ahead of him. He'd have to be both the former commander as well as the friend he'd come to be to the enigmatic Jack O'Neill. He just hoped to God that the situation hadn't already spiraled out of control by the time he got there.

George looked out the window and noted dawn was on its way, painting the sky a brilliant orange-red. The light shaded the landscape below them in reds and dark shadows and gave him a feeling of apprehension in the pit of his stomach. He just hoped it wasn't an omen of things to come.

Half an hour later, he'd ridden an elevator down into the top-secret facility where he was supposed to meet Jack - and hoped to restore some kind of order to the people whose lives had been so summarily disrupted. The SF who accompanied him on the way down had already updated him on Jack's reaction to his unexpected vacation.

When told that an escort of two had been summoned to escort Jack to the nearest latrine, George had smothered a smile. Knowing O'Neill as he did, he could predict what would happen next. From the calm demeanor of the escort, they didn't have a clue as to whom they were dealing with. George considered enlightening them, but then decided against it. They'd learn soon enough - after Jack had taught them a thing or two.

If he timed it right, he'd arrive just in time for the mop-up. He muttered a silent prayer "God, look out for fools, Irishmen and their friends, amen."

He heard Jack before he saw him and it was clear that Jack was not a happy camper, to borrow a phrase. No surprise there. That seemed to be going around lately.

As for Hammond's escort, the man's smug self-assurance had drained away, leaving behind a look of worry and uncertainty. Chances were good he didn't relish looking the fool in front of a general, even if he was retired.

Hammond schooled his face to the 'I'm in command here, so listen up people'. It was one that O'Neill had responded to well in the past and it was his sincere hope that the situation hadn't deteriorated to the point where it would be ignored. His escort seemed to recognize the look from the way his Adam's apple bobbed nervously above his dark T-shirt that peeked from the top of his BDU shirt.

"Follow me, sir."

This old Texan still had command presence, even dressed in a civilian suit, he thought. No matter how he was dressed, he was still 'Hammond of Texas'.

***

Once he stopped yelling himself hoarse, Jack heard his former CO. Of course, the fact that his face was pressed into the floor and a whole squad of goons was sitting on him might have had something to do with the tone of Hammond's voice.

He would've loved to stand around and chat with his former CO, but with his mouth sucking dust off the floor, that would have to wait. From the tone of George's voice, things were about to get interesting. He'd heard that tone before and still had the scars on his backside to prove it. With nothing better to do, he relaxed and listened to the show.

"What in blue blazes is going on here?" Hammond barked.

"He tried to escape, sir."

"Does that give you an excuse to mistreat him? Let him up, I'll take it from here."

"With all due respect, sir . . ."

"Son, I may not have stars on my collar anymore, but I still outrank you. Stand down, people."

"Sir, yes, sir!"

"And if any of that blood is his . . ."

Hammond was magnificent. He never raised his voice, if anything it became softer, like the soft warning growl from a panther - just before it ripped out your throat. It worked too - Jack could feel it in the bodies holding him down - they were nervous and taut as they climbed off him with awkward disjointed movements.

He waited till all of them were gone before he moved - first an arm, then a leg. So far everything checked out. Then he raised his head and pushed himself up, using the wall to stand. There was complete silence, even the men around him stood quietly.

When O'Neill looked up, the first thing I saw was Hammond's face, he looked worried, but Jack thought he'd never looked so beautiful. "Fancy meeting you here, sir." He tried his best boyish grin.

"Dismissed, men," Hammond ordered.

Behind him, Jack heard the guards leave.

"Man, am I glad to see you!" He took a step forward and winced when his leg buckled from a cramp - the downside of being on the bottom of a pile.

"Easy, Jack," he held out his arm for support. "I've got you."

"That you have, sir." Jack took his offer and leaned on the offered arm. "Thanks."

"You've got blood on your shirt."

"Don't think it's mine, sir," he smirked. "They only sent two guys for an escort and I'm pretty sure it belongs to them."

"I'm not surprised, son." He paused. "You wanna go someplace and talk?"

"Ya think?" Jack looked down as his anger resurfaced. With an effort he tamped down the lid. "Just don't lie to me, sir, I couldn't take that - not from you."

"That's a deal. I think I passed a room where we can sit a spell. You look like you could use it." George returned Jack's grin.

Despite his outward welcome, Jack held onto his doubts about the altruism of his rescuer. He just hoped his former CO hadn't turned on him as memories of his earlier nightmare returned. Hammond didn't act like a Snake and certainly didn't dress like one - but he wasn't ready to trust him - not yet.

"Sure, as long as we stop at the nearest head first." Jack looked sheepish. "I jumped them before I could do my business."

Both men laughed as some of the tension drained away. "I think this should fill the bill then," said Hammond as he waved at the bathroom door. "I'll be waiting outside."

Jack walked stiffly to the door and pushed it open, then stopped. "No guard to watch me pee?"

"Do you need one, son?" George's face was bland, but his eyes flashed with annoyance.

"Who, me? Nah, don't think so." Jack smirked. "I'll let you know how things come out."

"You do that."

The door whuffed closed behind him as Jack approached the urinals with trepidation. He had to go; there was no question about that. The pressure was on, but whether the previously installed catheter would interfere with that was the big question. He knew from past experience how tender his plumbing would be.

He was right, it hurt - burned - but he got the job done. And he hadn't yelled, though his lip was a bit sore from where he'd bitten down.

One job down, another to go; he wanted to believe that the man waiting for him outside was his friend - someone he could depend on - but too much had happened lately to shatter that trust.

He was tempted to stay where he was, surrounded by pristine tiles and white porcelain fixtures - a sterile room that was safer than the world outside. Deep down though, he knew he couldn't. He had to get some answers and the only way he could do that was to tackle it head on - with Hammond.

As he went through the ritual of washing his hands, he studied the face that looked back at him in the mirror. His eyes were shadowed and underlined with dark circles that spoke of fatigue. His suntanned face showed the wear and tear of thirty years of service to his country. Faint scars hinted of trials and conflicts - though only a privileged few knew the story behind them. Blood spattered his face, hands, and uniform. His stars and nametag were dotted with crimson; a stain he feared wouldn't wash away.

As he watched, hypnotized, the red-stained water contaminated the white sink and then swirled down the drain. He filled his hands with water, and then scrubbed his face to wipe away the dried blood that seemed to reach down to his soul. It wasn't his blood - it was someone else's - someone who was supposed to be on the same side as him - so why did it feel like someone had changed the rules while he wasn't looking - like he'd been betrayed?

One thing was certain; he wouldn't get any answers if he holed up in the head - besides, that just wasn't his style. General Hammond had said he would answer his questions - for now that was all he had left. He didn't have to trust him - he couldn't do that yet, but he could listen to him - see what he had to say. After that, he could decide what he would do with the intel he had.

Once his decision was made, it was easier to face whatever waited for him outside that door. Jack took a deep breath and thinned his lips. The man staring back at him looked deadly and determined with cold dead eyes. His armor firmly in place, he wiped his hands and turned to leave the restroom.

True to his word, Hammond was waiting in the hall and waved him forward. He nodded but kept silent as he followed him down the hall.

George opened a door that led into a room with a long conference table and chairs. "I think this will do."

Wordless, Jack followed him in and sat opposite him across the table, his eyes hard and arms folded across his chest. Still, he said nothing, just hiked an eyebrow.

Hammond sighed. "You're not going to make this easy, are you?"

Jack didn't answer.

Hammond leaned forward. "Look, I know you're pissed - hell, in your shoes I would be too."

O'Neill cocked his head.

"Okay, if you're not going to say anything, I might as well start at the beginning. I was called to the President's Office this morning, Jack. When I got there they told me you'd been placed in protective custody because they had it on good authority that Baal was on Earth."

Jack sat forward. "Baal's here?"

"Yes, apparently, Thor himself told The President about that one."

"So, why am I here? I'd think they'd want some help catching that Dirt Baal."

"That's the problem, Jack. They feel you're too valuable to risk."

"You're kidding." Jack's mouth hung open in disbelief. "Right?"

"No, I'm not. And neither is The President."

"But - why?"

George's voice softened. "The combination of your experience and the abilities you have to operate Ancient technology make you an irreplaceable resource." He paused. "You've been declared a National Treasure, Jack. As such they can do whatever it takes to ensure your protection."

Jack drummed his fingers on the tabletop as his eyes flitted from the man in front of him to the camera in the upper corner of the room. "So this gives them the right to kidnap my ass from my office and stick rubber tubes up my dick - and God know where else? Not to mention that Carter is probably sick with worry by now." He gulped air to calm himself.

"They seem to believe so, and they're making the rules now." George leaned forward. "As for Samantha, she called me this morning and you're right, she is worried about you and asked me to pass along her message that Cassie is worried too."

"Sam . . . I mean Carter called you?" Jack's voice trembled.

"Yes, she did."

Jack sighed and then sat straight in his chair. "So, I'm stuck here? Wherever here is?"

"I'm afraid so - listen, I don't like this anymore than you do. I just figured you'd rather hear it from me than some stranger."

"General, with all due respect, you have no fricking idea how much I hate this right now - being locked up like a prize bull when I could be out there doing something about that Snakehead. So thanks, but no thanks."

George's voice rose with anger. "For your information, the threat against you is very real. When they picked you up, they caught several of Baal's goons just down the hall from your office. It's no accident that he picked this planet to hide out on. He has a bone to pick with you and will stop at nothing to finish what he started."

"Not if I get him first." Jack's chin jutted out.

"I'm afraid that won't be possible," answered George with finality. "It's not up to me."

No longer able to sit still, Jack got up to pace. "So, this is it? I stay caged up while the world goes on without me?" He stuck his hands in his pockets and turned to face his companion. "For how long, sir? How long?"

George slumped. "I don't know."

Jack placed his hands flat on the table and leaned to look at Hammond, his face twisted with fury. "So this is the thanks I get for putting my life on the line for my country, not to mention my whole fricking world - a gilded cage and stars on my collar?" He pulled the rank off his shirt and threw them on the table. "Well, they can take these stars and ram them up their asses for all I care."

He stood, stiff as a ramrod. "I quit. If you want me, you can send me a note via carrier pigeon to my cabin and I might answer it - in a month or so."

"That won't change what you are. Listen to me, you earned those stars, they weren't just given to you. I wouldn't have stood for that. You can still do your job - it'll have to be from here though - for now."

"And if I don't want to?" Jack turned away and wiped his face. "I've got a pond of fish I've been neglecting, you know."

"It would drive you nuts in a week, and you know it."

"I'd find a way to deal with it." He walked back to the table and sat. "And what about Carter? Is she supposed to put her life on hold - again? Things were just getting good between us, sir."

"I'll see what I can do, Jack. Of necessity we have to limit the number of people who know where you are."

Jack's shoulders slumped. "Is there anyway they can zap that Ancient crap out of me? Maybe Thor could do it?"

"No, Thor was worried about you too - after all he informed President Hayes. From what I hear, Thor offered to put you up on one of his ships until the coast was clear."

"Yeah, I figured as much," Jack said softly as he traced boxes on the tabletop.

"What about Grayson, will she still be my secretary and watchdog?"

"I believe so. You're still Chief of Homeworld Security, your office location just changed."

"Not to mention my living arrangements." Jack smiled wistfully. "Living like this - it's almost like old times back at Cheyenne Mountain." He looked up. "Could you let Carter know that I'm okay?"

"I'll do my best, Jack." He handed the stars back. "You might want to put these back on, your resignation was disapproved."

"On one condition."

"I can't promise you anything, Jack. You should know that."

"I wanna talk to Sam."

"I'll see to the arrangements myself."

"Then show me my office. If we've got snakes, we'll need an exterminator." Jack picked up the stars and pinned them back on his collar. "And I know just the man for the job."

***

Baal turned from the surveillance view screen. The Tau'ri Carter had just left the building, seemingly none the wiser for her impertinent questions to the blonde woman that stood beside him. He favored her with a smile and she returned it. Her smile held a hint of pleasures to come.

"The Tau'ri did not suspect?"

"She does not. Your masking drug conceals my true nature to all, even those with the ability to sense it," she replied.

"Excellent. Our plan will continue on its course, my love."

Her fingertips traced the outline of his jaw. "Yes, it will."

His eyes strayed around the room, emptied of all others. Together, they'd determined that her true nature should be concealed from all until her safety was ensured, for she was too valuable to be risked. The blonde Tau'ri, Charlotte Mayfield, - formerly of The Trust - was the host to his queen, Anat, and was the method by which his seed would cause the downfall of the Tau'ri home world.

Her host had been the ideal choice for Anat - its own yen for the darker pleasures and power no matter the cost melded together to form the perfect fit for his plans for this planet, which had spawned the irksome Tau'ri. His queen's need had been great as her previous host's body had been mortally injured beyond the ability of her own power to heal it - even beyond the rejuvenating power of the sarcophagus.

For too long his fellow System Lords had scoffed at this race's puny efforts to thwart their god's will - and had paid for their scorn when those they scorned - one by one, killed them. He had learned from his former rival's mistakes and resolved not to repeat them. He'd played the game of seeming servitude to Anubis - and bided his time until his former Master was gone.

The Trust had played right into his hands, had provided the vehicle for their downfall as well as that of their world. When he'd uncovered their plot to subjugate his worlds, it had been a simple matter to turn their strategy to his own advantage by manipulating which symbiotes were chosen as guinea pigs for their laboratory tests. The Trust, along with its vast network of spies and the skills and knowledge they possessed, was his for the taking - and take them he had with all the customary elegant deadliness that was his trademark.

It was time to set the rest of his plan in motion. "What news of the Tau'ri O'Neill from our spy at Stargate Command?"

"You must be patient, O'Neill will be delivered into your hands," she reassured him. "Our spy reports the Tau'ri Carter has made inquiries to many of her friends about his whereabouts. When he contacts her, we shall know of it. The Tau'ri Hammond was seen leaving their White House and our spies at the Pentagon report O'Neill's office is being moved. Have no fear, my love; they will lead us to him whom you seek."

"Then he will pay for his impudence and I will kill him - ONE - LAST - TIME - as I promised before," he smiled grimly and returned her caress with interest.

***

Ida Grayson batted away the hands of the somber soldier when he reached for the schedule book. "Watch it, soldier. No one touches the general's schedule book without the proper clearance." She favored him with disdain. "And I don't think you have what's required."

He seemed to know when he was outmatched and backed down. "Is there anything else you'll need, ma'am?"

Ida eyed the cardboard boxes that had been packed under her supervision. "No, I don't think so." She tapped her chin in thought. "Did you get his personal pictures off his desk?"

"Yes, ma'am. They were wrapped up, just like you requested."

"Exactly where is his new office?"

"I'm not at liberty to say, ma'am." He gestured with his hand and then picked up a box. "If you'll follow me."

She wanted to tell him where to stick his orders, but refrained. After all, he was just following orders and she'd have done - had done - the same in his shoes. Ida would have to do the same for now. Later, she'd get some answers.

Although Ida had only been General O'Neill's secretary for a few months, she hadn't been all that surprised when she'd gotten the phone call from General Jumper. She'd come to realize that her boss, O'Neill, was a man of action, one of those people who seemed to gravitate toward trouble - and those who made it - a problem-solver. With this realization, came her resolution to guard him like a pit-bull, whether he liked it or not.

When he'd turned up missing that morning, she'd blamed herself for not being vigilant enough; after all, one of her unofficial duties was to keep an eye on the new Chief of Homeworld Security. She'd promised her former boss, General Hammond, that she'd keep him out of trouble and on track and failure was not an option in her book.

If O'Neill had been within arms reach when Jumper assured her that he was safe, Ida would've tried to strangle him for giving her such a scare. The rest of the day had seemed to drag on forever as she'd prepared for the move - and made decisions of what to take and what to leave behind as non-essential.

All the while, she wondered about her boss, and his reaction to 'protective custody'. From what she knew of him, she figured he would hate being protected and would do everything within his power to take matters into his own hands. Her job would be to ensure his plans weren't successful.

It'd been especially hard for her to hide her knowledge of her boss's whereabouts to his lady friend, Colonel Carter, but she'd had no choice. Orders were orders, and no matter how long she'd been retired from active duty, some habits never died. First Sergeant Ida Grayson, retired, took her job and orders seriously - after all, she'd gotten her rank in the Army by working hard for a living - not by going to college and becoming an officer. And she was damned proud of it.

She'd give Jumper an earful when next she spoke to him though. What could he do to her if she did? Bend her dog tags? Make her retire? Even the thought of it made her snort. She didn't think so.

It was her opinion that General O'Neill deserved some happiness and his relationship with Carter seemed to be a good match. The way O'Neill's eyes sparkled when he talked of her gave Ida a deep sense of satisfaction and heaven help whoever or whatever tried to break up that match.

As Ida walked down the familiar hallways of the Pentagon, she looked around her, aware that she might not see them for a while. After all, if her boss was in protective custody, she would soon join him there - for there was no other way she could do her job.

The halls had been cleared and all doors closed. Another covert operation and she was smack dab in the middle of it. Her lips curved into a grim smile as the adrenaline surged through her veins. It had been far too long since she'd felt that rush. It was good to be in the thick of the action again.

Her palm shaded her eyes as she stepped out one of the many side doors of the Pentagon. Surrounded by black uniformed SF's as she was, she barely had time to note the black SUV they directed her to before she was chivied into a back seat and her motorcade was on the road to her new office - wherever that might be.

Two hours later, her desk was setup and so was General O'Neill's. She moved one of his pictures to one side on his desktop. She knew from previous experience that it would get bumped by his coffee cup if it stayed where it was.

The picture itself showed O'Neill with three others - SG-1 presumably. They were dressed in olive drab field uniforms and looked happy. A large dark ring stood in the background - the Stargate - if her own intel was correct, and it usually was. O'Neill had a ball cap pulled low over his eyes and non-regulation sunglasses dangled from a string around his neck. Hair with just a hint of gray spilled from under the confines of the cap and his hand rested on the butt of his P-90 with a casualness that spoke volumes to her. He obviously knew how to use it.

She took a moment to study the others that stood with him. The blonde female looked competent in a brainy sort of way and had eyes only for her CO. That was Carter back when she was a Major, Ida decided.

The mini-mountain with the gold tattoo on his forehead was Teal'c. Despite his smile, he looked even more lethal than O'Neill. She wished she'd been able to worm more info from her boss about him, but when he'd caught her grilling him, O'Neill had smirked and told her not to bullshit a bullshitter - she knew she'd been caught then and had laid off. That hadn't stopped her though and she read all the mission reports that crossed her desk in an effort to know more about her boss and what he did for a living before their paths had crossed. O'Neill seemed to know what she was doing and just shook his head after that but left her alone to do her research.

That left the egghead, Dr. Jackson. She'd had the chance to meet his in passing when he'd visited her boss's office at the Pentagon. He'd seemed friendly enough and had reminded her of some of the wimp recruits she'd badgered through Basic Training - after they'd graduated, and escaped her clutches. Those same wimps had come to her, ignorant and helpless, but left competent soldiers, willing and able to follow orders and act as a team.

A voice interrupted her thoughts. "General O'Neill is waiting for you, ma'am."

She set the picture down and turned. "Good, at the rate he's going, he'll never empty that inbox of his." She picked up the schedule book and cradled it to her chest. "After you, Major."

She followed her guide dutifully through several halls lined with doors that were closed. His ID tag dangled from a chain around his neck and identified him as Major John Smith. Yeah right. She shook her head and wondered who'd been the fool who'd thought that name up? Obviously someone with no imagination, she smothered a smile and said nothing.

A door was finally opened and her guide gestured her inside. "The General is waiting for you, ma'am."

She gave him a curt nod. "Of course he is, son."

He closed the door after her and she looked around. She skirted the desk in the first room when the sound of a television broadcast drew her into the second one, a briefing room from the looks of it. General Hammond and O'Neill sat on chairs in front of the TV and were watching a program. From their expressions, it wasn't good news.

She drew closer and studied the face of the man speaking. He was dressed in an expensive suit, the kind that would cost her a year's salary - darkly handsome with a goatee and fairly oozed confidence. She figured him for a snake oil salesman from the get-go.

O'Neill turned and gestured for her to join them, so she drew up a chair and copped a squat at the briefing room table.

"Although it is a far cry from some of the better worlds I've conquered in my day, this planet is not without its charm. In retrospect, it makes me glad we never succeeded in destroying it."

Ida's eyes widened. "Is he . . .?"

Hammond nodded and whispered. "Yes, he's an alien - a Goa'uld to be specific."

She said nothing, only nodded and listened. She had much to learn about whatever he - or it - was - and what danger it presented to her charge, General Jack O'Neill.

The alien on the screen smiled and continued, "That said, Earth is not without its drawbacks. The foremost being an alarming lack of privacy. My ships have been seized, my armies vanquished. I no longer present a threat to this galaxy. All I ask is to be left alone without having to worry about you, the Jaffa, or any of my former enemies coming after me. So . . . I'd like to offer the following deal: Allow me to live out the rest of my days, here on Earth, in peace, without interference. In exchange for my, ah, freedom; I will follow your laws."

He paused, "You will never have cause to fear me again. I hope that we can put the past behind us."

"That'll be the day," O'Neill muttered.

Ida watched Hammond's reaction, he sat stoic with arms folded across his chest and it reminded her of a poker player who didn't want to give away his straight flush.

"I certainly have no desire to harm you or anyone else on this world. That said; you should know that I have placed a naquadah bomb, somewhere in the United States. Consider it a precautionary measure. If another attempt is made to capture me, I promise you the consequences will be most dire."

O'Neill's reaction was immediate. "Get Landry on the phone, pronto."

"Yes, sir," Ida answered as she turned and left the room.

Half an hour later, she was called into her boss' office. Both Hammond and O'Neill looked angry - and something else. Hammond looked a mixture of seriously pissed off and concerned. She stood speechless in the doorway, unwilling to interrupt such an intense discussion.

"So you see, Jack, the threat against you is very real."

"Then let me do my job, George."

Hammond sighed and leaned in close. "In all conscience, I can't do that - not with the history you have with that snake in the grass."

"You think I couldn't handle meeting up with ol' Bocce Ball? That I'll freeze - or go berserk? Is that it?" Jack's hands wind-milled in frustration.

"What do you think, Jack? Because if anyone knows how bad it was when he had you, you do." He paused. "What would you do?"

Jack's eyes burned dark and his face turned to stone, his voice low and hoarse, but all the more lethal for it. "I'd kick his snaky ass, that's what I'd do," he spat. "And dance on his grave afterwards - if there was enough left to bury, that is."

"It's not up to me, and you know it, Jack." He laid a hand on O'Neill's shoulder. "Let SG-1 do their job." He continued despite Jack's thinned lips. "Let them do the job you trained them for."

The phone rang, startling them all. Ida recovered first. "I'll get that, sir."

As she turned away, she noticed her boss hardly seemed to hear her, so deep was he in thought - or was he lost in memories? She'd seen that same look on soldiers who'd returned from the front lines - they called it the thousand-yard stare.

Unfortunately, she could all too readily identify with his current mood as she had a closet-full of evil memories of her own. Her hand automatically reached for the phone in the next room and was grateful for the distraction it offered.

"Hello, General O'Neill's office." She paused. "Oh yes, Colonel Carter. The General has been expecting your call. Let me put you on hold while I get him."

She punched a button and laid the phone down. Then she went to the door. "Sir, Colonel Carter is on the phone for you." Those words seemed to awaken O'Neill from wherever his dark thoughts had taken him.

"Carter? She called?" His face split into a shit-eating grin as he jumped to his feet and spoke to Hammond. "Sam's on the phone, sir."

"As promised, Jack." Hammond grinned and stood to leave. "Why don't I leave you to your phone call?" He flashed a grin. "We'll talk more later," he assured him as he closed the door behind him.

"I don't know about you, Ida, but I think Jack could use a little privacy."

"I couldn't agree with you more, sir," Ida replied with a smile.

"Then how's about we find someplace to get a cup of coffee? I'm buying."

"After you, sir. That way you can fill me in on what the heck is going on and ID that used car salesman in the fancy suit on the TV."

"I had the feeling you'd ask me that, and once again, you've lived up to all my expectations."

***

Jack settled into the chair and cradled the phone against his ear. "Sam?"

"Jack? It's really you?"

"Ya think?" He smirked.

He heard a gusty sigh. "Oh, thank God! I didn't know what to think when you didn't call."

"I know, hon, and I'm sorry. I got - all tied up - literally."

"What?" She paused. "Are you all right?"

"Yeah, I am now, but I'm afraid our weekend is off. I'm sorry, Sam, I know you were looking forward to it."

"But . . . where are you? Aren't you at work?"

"Yeah, but my office was - moved. To tell you the truth, I don't know where I am - thanks to the head guy upstairs."

"I - I mean - Cassie, she was so worried. We thought maybe you'd changed your mind - about us. Either that or my infamous 'Black Widow' rep had struck again." She laughed nervously.

"Cassie?" he gasped. "Oh crap, this must be putting that kid through hell." He paused to get his thoughts in order. "Tell her I'm okay - that I'd be there with her if I could right now. For that matter, I'd be with you both, for crying out loud."

"I'll tell her. It's just that she could tell I was worried when you didn't call - I didn't want to tell her, but she wormed it out of me." Sam sighed. "She's still not over Janet's death - she of all people knows exactly how dangerous our job can be."

"Just tell her that I'm safe, whether I want to be or not, - and there is no way in hell I'll change my mind about us," he grimaced and raked fingers through his hair and decided to change the subject to a safer one. "You saw the video?"

"Yes, I did. When I realized that Baal was here - oh, my god, Jack - he's here because of you, isn't he?"

"That's what the powers-that-be seem to think. I can't even wipe my ass right now without them watching. You'd think they didn't trust me not to go off on my own after that bastard."

A moment of silence, when Sam's voice returned, she sounded scared. "Would you? Because, right now, I'm scared for you." He heard the sound of nibbling and figured her cuticles were catching hell." Please, Jack. Don't put yourself in danger."

"I can take care of myself, Sam," he soothed. "You should know that by now. It's you I'm worried about - you and Daniel and Teal'c. You're targets out there while I'm here - wherever that is - sitting on my ass twiddling my thumbs."

"You trained us well. We'll get that slime ball."

Jack sighed, he suddenly felt old. When had that happened? "Yeah, you do that, Sam. Just be careful. He's slick."

He squeezed his eyes shut as a memory invaded his mind. "Believe me, I know."

Her voice turned soft and comforting. "I believe you, honey. I know you do."

A masculine voice sounded in the background.

"Is that the T man?"

"Yeah. Listen, I gotta go."

"I understand. I'll be here, waiting for your call." He sighed. "I love you, Sam. Never doubt that, okay?"

"I love you too, Jack. And - I'm sorry for doubting you," she whispered.

"I'll talk to you later - say hi to the gang for me."

"I will - bye, Jack." The phone clicked and nothing was left but a dial tone.

O'Neill hung up the phone and slumped in his seat. As he sat for a moment mulling over the recent events, he knew he had to do something. To sit there and do nothing would be a living death for him, for he was a man of action - trained to make split-second decisions that could mean life or death for millions.

His subsequent actions would affect the rest of his life - and those he loved - especially Sam. Much as it rankled, he would work within the constraints that had been placed on him, if it would make her happy. From his own experience, he knew she couldn't perform her job up to her usual standard if she was worried that he might go off half-cocked and do something reckless.

The whole upshot of the situation was this - as much as the idea of 'protective custody' stuck in his craw, he couldn't see a way out of it. But there was nothing wrong with adding a few of his own 'modifications'. There was more than one way to skin a cat and if you couldn't baffle them with brilliance . . .

He smirked, his Commander-in Chief, Hammond, as well as Baal, would never know what hit them.

Hadn't George said he had an office around here someplace? It was time he earned his keep - even if it meant flying a desk.

***

At the SGC deep within Cheyenne Mountain, an anonymous clerk made a phone call.

"I have the information you wanted."

***

The speakerphone clicked off as the connection to General Landry at the SGC was broken. The generals in the room deep underground had just given the go-ahead to fire a missile containing a special payload to neutralize Baal's compound, and exterminate the head snake himself - they hoped.

Jack O'Neill removed the paperclip from the file in front of him and then looked around the table at the military brass, their Class A uniforms at odd contrast with his own BDU's. He sighed and made a mental note to thank his secretary, and Girl Friday, Ida Grayson, for dimming the overhead florescent lights. If she hadn't he would've been forced to don sunglasses to block the reflection from all the polished stars and medals that bedecked the uniforms of his companions - not that his personal collection of fruit salad wouldn't beat those of his colleagues' - no contest there, he thought smugly.

At least his former CO, General Hammond had toned the group down a bit when he came to the meeting dressed in civvies. He was certain that he saw the ghost of a smirk cross the Texan's face whenever one of the others complained of it being too hot, or surreptitiously loosened a tie from around their necks. At least he'd known better than to wear those things unless forced.

Not that he'd had a choice in the matter given that he was more of an 'invited guest', courtesy of the Big Guy himself, he added as he mentally hooked quotes around the invited part. Studiously, he steered his mind away from that direction. He wanted to savor the opportunity to rid the universe in general and his home planet if particular of a particularly meddlesome, not to mention a pain in the mik'ta snakehead - Baal.

With an eye toward being the perfect host and helping out the poor guys who were strangling on their own neckties, he'd sent Ida with orders to turn up the air conditioning in the room. Truth be told, he felt smothered, as if the air were too heavy to draw into his lungs and briefly considered the effect if he removed his BDU jacket and finished the meeting in his sweat-stained black t-shirt.

On one hand, this cross between a safe house and a bunker was his home, at least for the time being. The least 'the powers that be' could grant him was a little creature comfort, for crying out loud. On the other hand, he had promised George and Sam to behave himself. And it wouldn't suit to have the generals housed with him to get their knickers in a wad - would it?

Yeah sure yabetcha! He grinned to himself as he reached down and methodically unbuttoned his shirt - almost daring one of them to object.

"Crap, it's hot in here," he muttered. "You'd think we were back on Netu."

A combination of raised eyebrows and frowns of censure greeted his action. One of the generals broke the silence. "You think it's necessary to send this missile to destroy Baal's compound?"

"Absolutely," Jack ground out. He said nothing more - out loud - but he thought plenty.

He almost hated the man for the reminder of why they were meeting underground - why he lived like a mole, hunkered deep inside this gigantic man-made foxhole with orders to keep his head down. Orders he'd promised to obey - despite the feeling of distaste that soured his stomach. He'd had no choice; they came direct from the top - from Sam. Well, from the President too, he amended, but the fact that he hadn't tried to break out of his prison was due solely to a promise he'd made to her. Otherwise, he would've blown this Popsicle stand a long time ago - orders or no orders. There wasn't a prison made yet that could hold him.

"That was a great idea, by the way," added General Jumper. "Didn't it come from the SGC?"

"Ya think?" Jack sighed with exasperation and then relented. "Believe me when I say this, sir. We, of all people, know just how high the stakes are. Baal, who is one mean son of a snake, has a foothold on this planet. And there is no way that I believe for one second that he wants to live in peace. Live in pieces, maybe."

"You really believe he's that dangerous?" That came from one of the Marines. Go figure.

"Yes." His dark eyes hooded and glinted black as his lips thinned. He swallowed and tapped his pen on the table for emphasis. "He is."

"I agree totally, gentlemen. Baal cannot be trusted and the only reason he's here is to make trouble for us. Now I agree that it makes no sense of shut the barn door once the horse has ran off, but in this case, we have to strike back - hard. We won't be given a second chance." George's blue eyes turned to steel.

"So, we wait for the fireworks to start," Jack sighed as he ran long fingers through his hair. "The sooner we wipe this SOB and his snaky pals off the map, the sooner I and the rest of the world can get a life."

When had it gotten so hot - And what was taking Grayson so long? She should've been back by now.

He pushed away from the table and stood. "I don't know about you, but I could use a break. Coffee is hard on the kidneys."

As he stood his knees creaked, "Damn, I'm getting too old for this," he grumbled.

As the door swung partially open, he turned. "It's about time, Grayson."

His eyes widened when a shiny globe rolled into the room.

"Grenade!" Instinct kicked in as he yelled and launched his body toward it - though he knew he'd be too late. There was an incandescent flash of light that seared his eyeballs in their sockets - then everything went dark.

***

At the SGC, Lt. Colonel Samantha Carter pounded her thigh with closed fists. She had a hunch something was wrong and that bothered her because she was not in the habit of reaching a conclusion without consulting her data, and if she were honest with herself, there was no evidence to support her supposition - just a gut feeling - the kind that Jack . . . no, General O'Neill had.

She stopped her pacing mid-stride and eyed the seated figure of General Landry through the window of his office. She hadn't been in on the teleconference because she'd had her hands full with the nacquadah building bomb, but once the Prometheus had beamed it out into space, she'd been able to get back to the SGC, courtesy of another instantaneous beam over.

Once back at the SGC, she'd been brought up to speed by General Landry. Daniel was with the clean-up team, and had confirmed that the missile had hit its target. So far there had been no sign of Baal, alive or otherwise. Other than that, everything had proceeded like clockwork. So why was she so worried?

She knew she belonged in her lab. That had been her original plan. The data from Baal's compound would need to be analyzed as only she could do it. Something had stopped her though - and her illogical thoughts were driving her crazy. Yet, every time she started toward the door, something stopped her from leaving the Briefing Room - a little voice that said she was needed here - not in her lab.

The fact that the voice reminded her of Jack did nothing to alleviate her worries; an added factor was the look on Landry's face. He didn't look happy and when the General ain't happy, ain't nobody happy.

Her Dad had given strict instructions that she'd never forget that tidbit of data the day she enlisted into the Air Force. She'd never figured out if he was serious; though she was too intimidated by the stars to do anything but take it seriously all those years ago.

When Landry met her gaze through the window and beckoned her into his office, she was almost relieved. Maybe now she'd discover that her problem was that she suffered from an overactive imagination - and that Jack was okay.

Her fist continued to hit her thigh as she stood in front of the General's desk. He hung up the phone and gestured, "Have a seat, Colonel."

"Thank you, sir," she answered as she sat in the chair, ramrod stiff with worry.

Landry didn't beat around the bush. "Five minutes ago we lost all communication with the Joint Chiefs."

When Sam leaned forward and opened her mouth to interrupt, he waved her silent.

"Before you ask, yes, that means General O'Neill too. They had met in an underground bunker to coordinate the attack against Baal, but soon after we launched our missile, all contact ceased. Ordinarily, we would just send some local teams to investigate, but Commander Pendergast of the Prometheus reported that an unknown Al-kesh was spotted in orbit around Earth. They were cloaked, but just before we lost contact with our people, the ship used a transporter to beam something to that location."

Her eyes widened, and Sam squirmed in her seat but stayed silent.

Landry nodded as if she'd passed a test. "The President has authorized me to send two of our teams to investigate. We have to assume the worst - that the bunker was compromised and enemy forces are in control. Since you have experience in dealing with the Goa'uld, I'm asking for your assessment."

Sam took a deep breath and folded her hands in her lap. She had to concentrate, make her report as succinct as possible. No emotion could get in the way of her report; that could be deadly.

"I'm sure you've realized that Baal has a deep hatred of us, sir. But that's not all of it." She nibbled her lip before continuing. "He especially hates General O'Neill."

Her voice held steady, something she took pride in. "Several years ago, the General was held prisoner by Baal off world. During that time he was tortured and killed - we're not really sure how many times - and revived in a sarcophagus."

She studied her hands, unsure how to continue. "It was only by luck that we figured out where he was. The Tok'ra wanted to give him up for dead, but he managed to escape. Baal never forgot that and took it as a personal insult." She looked into Landry's eyes. "If he has Ja - General O'Neill . . . well, it would be bad, sir."

"I agree, Colonel, and plan to send Reynolds' and Dixon's teams to check out the situation."

Sam all but leaped out of the chair and snapped to attention. "Permission to join the reconnaissance teams, sir."

"Denied." Landry held up a hand when she opened her mouth to protest. "Your skills are needed here, Colonel."

"But . . ."

"No buts, Carter. You're not thinking clearly, and if you were, you'd agree with me. You're too emotionally involved to be anything but a liability."

"Yes, sir," Sam answered softly as she studied the nails on one hand.

Landry sighed. "What would Jack say?"

Sam looked up, her eyes full of worry and swallowed hard. "He'd agree with you . . . sir. But that doesn't mean I have to like, it."

Landry shrugged then seemed to think better of his harsh assessment.

"I want your input at the briefing. If Baal does have Jack, we'll need all the help we can get."

He picked up the phone and punched in some numbers. "Walter? Get SG Teams 2 and 13 up here for an emergency meeting. I want them five minutes ago."

As Landry followed her into the Briefing Room, Sam couldn't help but wonder how successful he'd be in fighting off everyone who'd volunteer for this particular mission once word got out.

At least Teal'c wasn't here; she knew for certain that he wouldn't take no for an answer - not from Landry - or anyone else. Not when Jack was involved. Still, it didn't seem right that SG-1 wouldn't come to his rescue. Not after all the times he'd pulled their fat out of the fire. Orders were orders though, so she might as well settle back and watch the fireworks.

***

Ida saw crimson flashing lights through her closed eyelids and wondered where they'd come from. After all, her radio clock only played country music to awaken her; no lights were included in the deal. The light aggravated her already aching head and harmonized with the bass drum that pounded inside her skull.

The next sense to awaken was her hearing; she became aware of a blaring noise, like a siren. Well, she could definitely cross her alarm clock off the list - no self-respecting country singer would be caught dead with that kind of shrieking in their song.

Though, if her son had been messing around with her stuff again, he might have switched the station to something he considered music - to her it was just noise though - and if she caught him, his butt would be so sore he wouldn't be sitting down for a week. And as for his earlier threat of calling social services on her, she'd called him on that one only once. That was all it took for him to realize that the one who made the money and paid the bills made the rules - at least in her house.

All that didn't explain why she her head hurt some damned much, or where she was though. Briefly, she considered opening her eyes, but that thought made her head pound harder, so she went to plan B.

Plan B consisted of lying as still as possible - wherever the heck that might be - while she racked her throbbing brain for the answers to the what, where, and why of her situation.

Flashes of memory brought back her day, the move to the underground bunker where she'd set up shop. The meeting with Hammond and O'Neill followed close behind with the video starring the used car salesman in the fancy suit. She watched as disjointed pieces of the puzzle began to form a picture until she arrived at the solution.

She'd been on her return trip to the meeting room. General O'Neill had sent her on an errand to . . . what? Oh yeah, now she could remember. It was too hot in the Briefing Room and she'd gone to find someone to turn on the air conditioning.

Something hadn't been right though. The halls had been strangely empty, and her gut instinct had screamed that something was wrong. Since she was supposed to look after her boss, she'd been on her way back there to do just that - right up until she'd been bushwhacked and hit on the side of her face by a stick-like weapon.

From the descriptions she'd read in O'Neill's reports, it'd been a staff weapon. Too bad she'd gotten a personal demonstration on how effective it was.

Harsh guttural voices ricocheted off the walls; faint at first, then grew louder as they seemed to come closer. With an effort, she remained limp. Her breaths evened out until her chest barely moved. The footsteps came closer until she wondered if they'd step on or around her.

Now she was thankful she'd resisted her first thoughts to move and open her eyes. Whoever had knocked her out in all probability were still be around and belonged to whoever approached her position, and she figured she'd learn more if she played possum - for now - or at least until she was up to kicking some serious ass. Much as it grieved her to admit, she just wasn't up to that at the moment. She wanted to hurt somebody - hurt them bad - but her head and body just weren't up to it yet.

When the unknowns stopped, she almost jumped. Someone or something kicked her in the ribs and she rolled with it.

"Leave her, she is of no consequence," a deep voice commanded. When she realized she recognized the voice, she almost gave herself away with a gasp.

"Yes, my lord Baal," another answered. "And the other Tau'ri?"

"Bring only O'Neill. The others would bore me with their pitiful whining."

"As you wish, my lord."

Luckily, the kick had rolled her body so it had ended up facing her foes and, true to her training; Ida took full advantage of it. She watched through slit eyes, her mind racing. Their very arrogance could be used against them. It appeared there were three soldiers gathered around her; two of them had O'Neill's arms draped awkwardly around their necks. The one with his hands free spoke to a man dressed in long black brocade jacket - Baal.

O'Neill appeared to be unconscious as his head lolled forward and his feet dragged on the floor. They shrugged under his weight and he moaned.

Seeing him like that made her blood boil - a man such as General Jack O'Neill should not be treated like a piece of meat. From what she had heard from Hammond and O'Neill during the previous briefing, there was a lot of bad blood between her boss and Baal. She figured O'Neill must have really pissed off that alien for him to risk such an invasion to capture him. Whatever her boss had done, it must have been terrific and she silently applauded his efforts.

But that didn't help any of them at the moment. And from the sounds of it, if nothing were done, things were able to go south in a big way. That was not going to happen though. Not if she had any say about it.

With every moment that passed, her strength returned. She only waited for the right opportunity to move. Not now though, the odds were against her. She must wait until they had passed, then she would make her move. A flex of her calf muscles told her the knife strapped to her ankle and hidden by her pants was still there. She only had to bide her time until she could use it to its best advantage.

When the lead soldier drew his hand back to cuff O'Neill into silence, Baal spoke, low and dangerous, "Harm O'Neill and you shall live to feel my wrath."

The forward motion of his hand stopped and then dropped to the Jaffa's side, as he dropped to his knees. "Forgive me, my lord, Baal."

Shouts and rifle fire interrupted the scene in front of Ida, but due to her position on the floor, she could not see what was happening in the corridor behind her. Though, from the sound of it, she could make a guess - the cavalry was on the way.

When Baal shimmered for a moment and then stabilized she was so surprised that she gave herself away. Without thinking, she gasped as her eyes widened. Too late, she realized what she'd done and froze.

Unfortunately, the head of the kneeling Jaffa swiveled like human radar until his eyes homed in on her. Baal smiled, and it reminded her of the expression that her cat, Spotty, had on her face just before the skull of her Aunt Minnie's pet canary was crushed between sharp fangs.

Only trouble was, Ida was the canary - and Baal and his gaggle of goons were the hunters from outer space. How come there was never a good pest control expert around when you needed one? Spotty had been one of the best . . . the mouse population around the farm had rapidly diminished once that cat had taken up residence.

'Go ahead and think I'm a helpless female. I'll get you, you son of a bitch - or my name isn't Ida Grayson!' she thought as she tensed her body to spring.

Predictably, none of them acted until Baal gave the order. Ever the consummate soldier, she mentally filed it for future use. That weakness could and would be exploited. Cut off the head of the monster, and the body would die.

"Bring her," Baal waved a hand in her direction. "Perhaps her repeated demise will cause some torment to O'Neill."

Ida played the role of defenseless female to the hilt and put a quaver of fear in her voice. "Please," she whimpered. "No."

As she scrambled to her knees, her hand brushed against her ankle and she palmed the knife hidden there. As she rose to her feet, she flicked it toward Baal in one fluid gesture as she rose to her feet. Her aim was true - but it passed ineffectually through her target to clatter to the floor behind him.

Baal chuckled. "Ah, she has teeth." He showed his teeth in a humorless grin. "I love a challenge. Bring her."

Without waiting for them, she leaped forward. Her foray ended when she was engulfed in blue lightning that issued from a weapon. She gritted her teeth as her body fell convulsing to the floor. When she opened her eyes, she found herself looking into O'Neill's face.

Since his eyes were open, she made the effort to speak, but it came out more as a stutter. "Sssir?"

His eyes closed and then opened again with no hint that he could see her. "Grayson?"

She nodded.

"Ida? You there?"

His eyes continued to stare blankly ahead.

"Yes, sir." She gasped as her body convulsed again. "It's me." She bit her lip to focus her mind. "And Baal."

"Brings a whole new meaning to 'Take me out to the Baal game', huh?" Jack smirked.

Ida nodded and then remembered to add, "Uh huh."

He tapped the side of his head. "It's only temporary. Shock grenade." He shrugged. "Should be getting my sight back any time now." He paused and squinted. "Yep, anytime."

Weapon's fire rang out again, but the captives were in no position to check it out and were forced to remain on the floor.

"Kree, bring O'Neill and the female," ordered Baal, whose image wavered once again.

"The Tau'ri are attacking, my Lord. Soon our number will be too small for success." He gestured down the hall. "They recovered more quickly than we believed possible."

"Due to the pathetic efforts of the Tau'ri vermin who attacked my vessel, I am unable to use the transporter device. Once they have been destroyed, I shall return for you," the Goa'uld directed. "But know this, my faithful. O'Neill must remain alive and unharmed. Fail to deliver him and you shall provide the night's entertainment in my torture pit."

The three aliens bowed their heads, but not before Ida saw fear in their eyes. Then Baal's image flickered out.

She grunted as she was flung unceremoniously over the shoulder of one soldier and noted how her boss was subjected to the same treatment. The tactics of this were revealed when the three were able to use their staff weapons against their rescuers. However, though she remained unable to control her limbs, O'Neill didn't have this handicap.

Swinging his arms and legs, Jack repeatedly struck the arms, head, and body of his captor which caused the blasts from his staff weapon to hit the floor. O'Neill followed suit.

"For crying out loud, careful with the merchandise," Jack whined.

The Jaffa cursed, "Ha'shak!"

"And don't call me a hassock," he retorted.

"Kree, retreat. The Tau'ri will break through our rear guard soon enough." Then Baal's Jaffa knelt in front of Jack and grabbed his chin in his fist. "I shall not hesitate to harm the female if you persist in this foolishness."

Jack glared back at the Jaffa as an answer.

"Don't give in, sir," Ida pleaded.

She saw the Jaffa nod, and then her arm was grabbed and snapped in one efficient movement - so fast she only had time to gasp and then whimper when her broken arm flopped against the body of her captor, as broken bones ground together.

"All right, I get your point," Jack protested.

Through pain-filled eyes, Ida watched the Jaffa pull her boss to his knees. She managed a smile of triumph as she watched him shrug off the meaty hand and slowly straightened his back with a groan.

"I still can't see, ya know."

"Walk, we shall direct your steps."

"Hey, what do you know, I see a big blur now instead of nothing," he grunted. "You'd think I'd never been hit with a shock grenade before," he commented. "Did I mention how much I hate those things?"

Their captors said nothing, only shoved Jack forward. As for Ida, she was merely along for the ride; she stifled painful grunts as her arm repeatedly jarred against the hard body armor of the Jaffa who carried her. It was a relief when she lost consciousness

***

Baal sat in front of the spherical communicator and ground his teeth. Things were not going as he'd planned. The Tau'ri proved to be tougher than he'd thought. Perhaps they were only reacting with a last futile struggle before succumbing to his vast resources. Of course that had to be it. Soon enough they would see the error of their ways and worship him as became a true god.

He turned back to the communicator and eyed the image of his clone aboard his Al-kesh in orbit above the Tau'ri home world. "Destroy the pitiful Tau'ri vessel as quickly as possible. I have awaited the humiliation and death of O'Neill for too long to be robbed of it now."

"Yes, my lord, but the Tau'ri vessel has unexpected resources," his double replied.

Baal's voice turned silky with menace. "You are willing to pay the price for failure?"

The clone's face froze. "No, my lord. This is only a temporary setback. My Jaffa shall not fail us."

"See that they don't. For if they fail, you too shall pay the price when your host's body melts around you for want of an antidote." He stroked his beard. "One that only I can supply."

***

Jack thought furiously as he was prodded along the hallway. The sound of gunfire receded as they turned a corner, if they wanted rescue they were going the wrong way. Ida didn't make a sound and was probably still recovering from the zat blast and whatever else they'd done to her. Though he hadn't been able to see her get hit, he'd been around enough zats to know what had happened to her.

He was more worried about her mental state - plus the certainty that they'd broken her bones to persuade him to cooperate. Once you've heard the sound of breaking bone, it kind of stayed with you - and he'd heard more than his share.

Sure, he'd given into their demands - for now, but he was by no means broken. He'd bide his time until the time was ripe - then he'd kick ass.

Luckily, he'd landed on her knife when he'd been dumped on the floor, and had hidden the weapon in his boot. He just hoped he'd get the chance to use the blade before Baal came back for them.

When he'd heard the plans that Hair-Baal had for her, he'd been filled with cold fury and felt sick to his stomach. There was no way that he'd allow anyone else experience the living death that he had. He'd kill her - and himself before he let that happen.

A pesky thought intruded. 'But if he has a sarcophagus, he'll just revive you both - over and over again.' With brutal efficiency that suggested years of practice, he shoved the thought away. He'd figure something out, he HAD to.

***

Colonel Dave Dixon squinted through the haze of smoke that swirled in the hall. Emergency lighting colored the haze various shades of crimson and added to the surreal quality of the firefight. If not for the intel that confirmed that General Jack O'Neill had been taken prisoner, he might have been tempted to lob a couple of gas canisters down the hall. That would certainly take out the opposition they faced.

But, if General Hammond said Jack was at their meeting before the sonic grenade took out the entire Joint Chiefs and had been missing since then - he believed him. The top brass might have retired the Texan, but in his mind, he was still General Hammond, the guy who had kept the SGC up and running come hell or high water.

As for General O'Neill, he'd walk through fire for the man and figured every last one of the members of SG-2 and 13 would do the same. The scene in the gate room appeared in his head, the lines of troops in full gear, their faces grim with determination, and the disappointment that characterized those who would remain at the SGC because they hadn't been chosen for this rescue mission.

He took a deep breath and wiped the sweat and grit out of his eyes. Hyped up on adrenaline as he was, everything moved in slow motion - a phenomenon he was all too familiar with.

Images of another battle flitted across his mind - one in which Colonel O'Neill had come to his rescue, and had almost paid for his dependability and loyalty with his own life. As wisps of smoke drifted from Jack's charred flack vest, he'd been certain that the man was dead when he'd hit the ground. The smell of burnt material combined with charred human flesh would stay with him for the rest of his life.

His thoughts narrowed when a shadowy form materialized in the smoky hallway - his finger tightened automatically on the trigger of his P-90. His weapon spat fire; the bullets found their mark as they ponged through the Jaffa's armor. His target went down and all other sign of resistance ended.

A touch on his shoulder startled him and his eyes followed the hand up the arm, to the shoulder and neck. "General Hammond?" From where he knelt against the corner of the wall, his posture stiffened and he refrained from a salute with an effort.

"At ease, son." Hammond hunkered down behind the corner next to him. "You get them all?"

"That's a good question, sir," answered Dixon.

He directed his attention to his teammates. "Wells, Bosworth, do a recon and report back to me."

They nodded and moved through the smoke, their silhouettes low and close to the walls. Minutes later, they reappeared. "We found three bodies - all Jaffa."

Hammond rose to his full height, and Dixon felt the aura of command that oozed like a second skin through his disheveled civilian shirt and pants. "Anyone else?"

"No, sir."

"We've accounted for everyone except for two - Ida Grayson and General O'Neill." He held out his hands. "So if someone would give me a weapon . . ." He held out his hand meaningfully.

Dixon shook his head and looked embarrassed. "Sorry, no can do, sir."

"Why not, Colonel? I may be dressed in civvies but I still outrank you." Hammond's forehead wrinkled with anger and Dixon's weapon moved to cover him.

"Orders, sir." The colonel managed to sound tough and full of regret at the same time. "You were in a hostage situation and have to be medically cleared first."

"Well, if that don't beat all." Hammond slumped against the wall and looked defeated. "Considering that I'm the one who made that policy in the first place, I can't very well complain, can I?"

"No, sir."

"So . . . what now?" The Texan relaxed his posture and stood back from the corner. Dixon, however, maintained his alert stance.

"We wait, sir. You and the rest of the staff here will be beamed over to the SGC by the Prometheus and be cleared there."

"You know, I was the one that convinced O'Neill to come down here, that he'd be safe." He thumped an accusing finger into his chest. "Me. I put him here and look what happened. He ended up smack dab in the middle of trouble. I swear, sometimes I think he's a trouble magnet."

"You had to do something, sir. Everyone knows the history between Baal and O'Neill."

"A lot of good it did too, that snake found him anyway."

"You did what you thought was right, sir. I know you were only thinking of his safety."

Hammond sighed and the sound echoed off the now-silent walls, a sound that seemed filled with regret. "Yeah, sure. What else could I do?"

"He's too valuable to risk," he answered. "We can't afford to lose him. When I think about how he almost died coming after me and my team . . ." He shuddered.

The general grinned. "I used the same argument with him and do you know what he said?"

"He didn't believe you, did he?"

"Nope, he didn't. You know, for someone who has the dumb act down to an art, sometimes he outdoes himself."

"That he does, sir."

The conversation was interrupted when Dixon's radio buzzed to life. "Is your companion ready for transport?"

"Roger that, and he's not happy, Prometheus."

"We don't mind; we'll take him anyway, Sierra-Golf-thirteen." Hammond was bathed in white light. When it faded, the retired General was gone.

***

Jack shuffled slowly down the hall, reluctant to leave the promise of rescue that the weapons fire signaled. One backward glance earned him a poke in the small of his back with a staff weapon.

"Yeah, yeah. I'm going - but I ain't gotta like it," he grumbled.

"Silence! Whether or not you like it is immaterial."

In the past hour, the sound of weapons fire had died down, which meant one of two things. Either the Jaffa that were supposed to be covering their retreat were dead - or their rescue team was. As for Jack, he'd put his money on the rescuers and since the Jaffa with them hadn't been reinforced by their rearguard, he figured he was right.

Trouble was, the three Jaffa with them knew it too. He'd noticed they'd been a bit more jumpy and nervous in the time since the Jaffa had lost contact with their way out of the underground complex. Jumpy Jaffa who had no way out and nothing to lose was a bad combination - they might resort to anything - including going out with a bang.

Jack favored the speaker with a smirk. "Hey Curly, - you don't mind if I call you Curly, do you?" He rubbed the top of his head in pantomime.

The bald Jaffa scowled. "Call me your captor, fool Tau'ri."

"Curly it is then." The corner of his mouth lifted in a sardonic smile. He'd already dubbed the Jaffa that carried Ida as Larry, and the one on their six was Bob. They just didn't know it yet.

As they turned a corner, Ida moaned and Jack cast a concerned look at her. "Hey, Ida. You in there?"

She groaned and then moved her head. "Yeah, guess so."

Curly signaled with an upraised hand. "Halt. The female is conscious and shall walk."

"As you wish," shrugged Larry as Ida began to slide from the height of his broad shoulders.

Jack reached out to stop her decent with a hand. "Hey, is that necessary?"

Larry didn't dump her on the floor, but neither did he do anything else that might be construed as helpful - which was probably the whole point. Still, he couldn't just stand by and watch Ida be mistreated, could he? Damn Skippy, he wouldn't.

"The female exists only to ensure your torment and cooperation," admonished Curly with an upraised eyebrow.

"So, humor me," Jack cajoled with a sardonic smile and upraised eyebrow. "She won't be very much use to you dead, now will she?"

Curly hesitated and then nodded. "Very well, but we will not be delayed by your foolish indulgences."

"Here, let me help." Jack ignored the Jaffa's barb and reached out to help ease Ida to the floor. "We won't delay you for long," he promised in a dry voice.

"Thanks, sir," Ida said with a shaky voice as she knelt on the floor, one arm cradled to her chest.

"Wait a minute, maybe this will help." Jack shrugged out of his BDU shirt and knotted the arms together to form an impromptu sling. Bare arms showed below the black sleeves of his standard issue black t-shirt as he knelt and gently eased Ida's arm into the sling. His emergency first aid was finished when he drew the knotted arms over her head.

As he leaned into her shoulder, Jack's lips brushed her ear. "Got the knife. You wanna show these goons what we think of them?"

Her head bobbed as she adjusted the sling.

"Good, then on my signal, we go."

In preparation to standing, his fingers squeezed into his boot and he palmed the knife.

"Feel better?" He patted her shoulder and helped her stand.

"Just wonderful, sir." Ida gave him a wan smile. "Thanks."

"No problem," then he added in a loud voice. "It's the least I could do while we're standing here in the hallway with three Jaffa. By the way - meet Curly, Larry, and Bob," he said as he gestured to each Jaffa in turn.

"Bob? What about Moe?" Asked Ida.

"He looks like a Bob," explained Jack with a smirk. "Don't cha think?"

Ida answered in a loud voice. "Absolutely, General O'Neill."

"Silence," warned Curly. "Kree!" He lowered his staff weapon until it pointed at Jack's chest.

"Hey, I get your point." He used the tip of his finger to move the staff weapon away.

"Fool Tau'ri," muttered the Jaffa behind the staff weapon. He produced a pair of manacles from a pouch. "Perhaps this will fetter your hands as well as your tongue."

"Touchy, touchy."

When the staff weapons of the other two Jaffa swung to point at Ida's head, Jack offered his hands, palms together and gave Ida a wink. She nodded back and tensed.

"Hold him," ordered Curly and Bob the Jaffa moved to comply.

Jack's hands thrust upward and the knife blade flashed silver in the light before it sheathed itself in the base of Curly's throat. The Jaffa's eyes widened in surprise as rose-colored bubbles frothed from his lips. His mouth opened to scream, but no sound emerged. Unnoticed, Curly's body hit the floor with a thud.

With a jerk, Jack withdrew it and then lunged toward Bob. He easily parried the staff weapon, and then stuck the blade in Bob's side. As the body stiffened and then went limp, Jack removed the only impediment to gravity's natural law, the gory knife still in his hands.

From behind him, grunts announced that Ida had taken on Larry. By the time he turned to her, the battle was over - Tau'ri three, Jaffa zip. The three Jaffa lay on the floor in various poses that signified defeat - or in the case of at least two of them - death. From the way Larry's body laid curled on the floor in the fetal position, Jack could guess where Ida's initial attack had landed, and that it had been extremely effective.

Jack bent down to wipe the knife blade on the pants of Curly and then stuck it back in his boot. Then he liberated the zats from the Jaffa's belts and offered one to Ida. The others he stuck in his pants.

A noise from the direction they'd come swept the grin of triumph off his face as he waved Ida to flatten against the wall. He followed and crept to the corner and then turned to check on her.

As the footsteps came closer, he swung around the corner, aimed his armed zat with one fluid movement - and came face to face with a wide-eyed Lieutenant Wells.

"Don't shoot, sir!" stammered Wells.

Jack grinned and lowered his weapon. "It's about time you kids showed up. I was beginning to wonder if I'd have to pull your asses out of the fire too."

Wells keyed his mike. "Colonel Dixon? We found General O'Neill and Ida Grayson." When he saw O'Neill's raised eyebrow, he amended his message. "Or rather, they found us."

"That's better, son."

Wells kept his weapon raised. "If you'd drop your weapons, sir?"

"What?" Jack's zat started back up and Ida popped away from the wall, her zat raised in her one good hand.

The sight of Wells sighting along the barrel of his weapon stopped him. "I wouldn't do that."

Jack looked puzzled, and then slowly lowered his zat to the floor. "You too, Ida."

Ida looked at Jack and then one-handed put it on the floor.

The weapon didn't move away from him. "All of them, sir."

"Oh, for crying out loud."

Additional armament had shown up by now, wielded by Colonel Dixon and the rest of SG-13.

"You heard the man, sir," threatened Dixon, his P-90 at the ready.

"Dave Dixon? What the hell's going on here?" Jack crossed his arms belligerently.

"Orders, sir. You can't be trusted until you've been medically cleared." Dave paused. "Sir."

"You think I've got a snake in my head? Me?"

"We have our orders, sir," The Colonel answered stubbornly.

Jack broke eye contact and muttered, "Oh, for crying out loud." Then he reached back for the zat he'd stuck in his belt. When Dixon and Wells tensed, he added. "Hey, don't get your panties in a wad, just reaching for my spare."

With two fingers, he pulled it out of his belt and then set it down. Then he stood with hands raised. "There. Satisfied?"

Dixon nodded and keyed his mike. "Dixon to Prometheus. Two to beam up."

***

After being told she couldn't go with the rescue party, Samantha Carter had gone to her lab with the hope that she could bury herself in her work. It had always worked before, but this time it'd failed abysmally.

On a professional level, she understood and even agreed with the reasons why she couldn't be part of the search-and-rescue mission. On an emotional level though, it was killing her to have to wait.

She'd gotten as far as opening the file of her latest project on her laptop. After that, it was a no-go. No matter how hard she'd tried, she couldn't focus and concentrate.

With a frustrated sigh, she closed the file and shut the laptop to take up the much more productive task of wearing a path in her lab floor. NOT.

Holy Hannah, she was even beginning to think like Jack.

Sam ceased her pacing and dived for the phone when it rang and held the phone to her ear. "Colonel Carter."

Landry's voice sounded excited. "Colonel. They got them!"

She suspected that her shout of relief could be heard all the way to the gate room.

***

Like a royal court, there were four look-alike men and a woman present in a well-appointed room. And like a god, the original Baal watched television with a calm and unworried atmosphere from his seat on the couch while his clones were arrayed in various positions throughout the room.

Baal listened to the explanation for the disappearance of the building in Seattle: A gas explosion.Using the remote he clicked off the television and rose.

"Over 600 channels and nothing to watch," he commented with a small-amused smile on his face.

"Think I'll turn in." He started out of the room. "We have a big day ahead of us tomorrow," he said with sardonic smirk on his face.

He paused in the doorway to his bedchamber. His queen would keep watch over the copies. Though he had lost some to the unexpected luck of the Tau'ri and the fool Gerak, they had not died in vain, for they died serving their one true god - him.

The loss of his way off the planet of the Tau'ri, his Al-kesh, was greater. Another would be sent, of that he had no doubt. As for the fate of the Tau'ri they too would fall - eventually. And would come to know and worship him, as was his due.

He had all the time in the world to set the rest of his plan in motion. Revenge against O'Neill would yet be his and it would taste all the sweeter.

***

Sam stood nervously next to General Landry, Daniel Jackson, and Walter in the control room. Seconds later, their wait was rewarded as they watched a bright light appeared that heralded the arrival of the latest rescued victims ferried from the underground bunker to the SGC courtesy of the Prometheus transporter beam - General Jack O'Neill and Ida Grayson. However, Sam knew that these were the ones that were most important - to her at least. But she would be willing to bet that many of the other personnel felt the same way.

Instead of applause of returning heroes, though, raised weapons of the assembled SF teams greeted Jack and Ida.

Judging from the frown on his face, Jack was not happy and Ida didn't look much better. In fact, she looked downright miserable as she stood there holding her arm, a grimace of pain deepening the lines of her face.

"Oh, for crying out loud, not again," muttered Jack. He threw his hands up in the air, and then allowed them to collapse against his thighs with a slap.

The aim of the weapons didn't waver.

He raised one hand to shade his eyes. "General Landry?"

Landry bent down to speak into the mike. "We apologize for the inconvenience, if you'd follow your escort to the Infirmary, we'll get this over with as soon as possible."

Jack shrugged. "Sure. Why not? If that's the only way I can convince you guys I don't have a snake in my head . . ." He did a deliberate double-take. "Hey, long time, no see, Carter. Miss me?"

Sam beamed and ducked her chin. "Of course, sir."

Landry glared at Sam and then at Jack. "If you too are finished . . ."

Jack returned the glare and then slid an arm around Ida's shoulder. "This way, Ida. I could find the way in my sleep." He smirked. "No, wait. I HAVE found the way in my sleep, not to mention god knows how many other conditions I might mention - like having my head sucked, being stuck to the wall like a bug. Did I mention that I've had a crappy day?"

Like the waters of the Red Sea, the wall of SF's parted to allow Jack O'Neill to shepherd Ida gently toward the blast door.

Sam smothered a smile, but said nothing. Oh, yes, there was no doubt in her mind; this was her Jack. From the looks on Walter and Daniel's faces, they thought so too.

"We'll be able to talk to them from the observation room while they're in the isolation room."

Daniel's eyebrows hiked upwards. "Isolation room?"

Sam answered. "The MRI in the Infirmary is backed up from all the extra traffic. We couldn't very well make the Joint Chiefs wait for General O'Neill to clear first."

"Try telling Jack that," answered Daniel with a smirk. "If I know him, he's not making himself popular right now."

"General O'Neill is a soldier, first and foremost, Dr. Jackson." Landry admonished. "He of all people will understand why protocol must be followed."

By the time they arrived in the observation room, Jack had settled Ida on a nearby bed, and now hovered over her like a protective hen over its one surviving chick, or a bear guarding its cub.

Sam glanced uneasily around the small room, and swallowed the sudden lump in her throat. The room reminded of how helpless she'd felt as her father died in front of her.

Jack had been there for her then and had promised her then that he always would be. His presence and that promise had been the only things that had kept her going through those dark days.

Landry spoke into the mike. "General O'Neill?"

"It's about time," answered Jack. "Ida could use some help here, you know."

Sam couldn't resist. "You splinted a fracture, sir?"

"Ya think? Did a lot better job than you did too, Carter."

Landry gave her a frown. "We'll get you all the medical help you need momentarily, sir. We have a backlog of people waiting to be cleared."

"Jumper didn't like being told he might have a snake in his head either?"

The CO of the SGC smiled at that. "What do you think?"

Jack seemed mollified and settled down on the corner of a nearby chair within arms-reach of Ida. "Oh, by the way, you might want to tell Dixon that his Jarheads need more practice."

"Why is that?"

For an answer, Jack bent down and slipped the knife out of his boot.

"They didn't find this," he smirked.

This time they all smiled.

"I'll do that, Jack," promised General Landry.

"Could you bring us up-to-date?" Jack waved one hand in their direction. "I haven't been getting my memos lately."

Landry nodded. "According to the Prometheus, an Al-kesh believed to be piloted by Baal entered hyperspace soon after they were spotted in orbit around our planet. It hasn't been seen since then."

"Good riddance, then." Jack grimaced. "At least we got that Slime-Baal off our planet."

Sam exhaled. At Landry's nod, she continued, knowing Jack would prefer to hear the bad news from his old team. "That was the good news, sir."

Jack's face looked guarded. "And the bad news?"

"We found a lab in the basement of Baal's compound."

"And? Therefore . . .?" Jack's hands waved in frustration.

"It was filled with cloning equipment," finished Sam with an apologetic look his way.

"Oh for crying out loud, you mean . . .?" He took a deep breath.

Ida's eyes popped open and she tapped Jack with her free hand. "More Baal's than you could shake a stick at?"

O'Neill groaned and sent her a dour look before he directed his gaze at the occupants of the observation room.

"Crap."

The end?

24


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