A Moment in Time
The alarm blared, seconds later the Stargate's chevrons began to glow.
General George Hammond looked up from the report he was reading. No teams were due back. However, he wasn’t unduly concerned. It wasn’t unusual for a unit to return early. Rising from behind his desk, he exited his office and descended the stairs to the control room.
He might not be worried, but he was curious. It was possible the Stargate had been activated by the Tok’ra or the Tollan. Occasionally, the Goa’uld were known to still test the iris.
The seventh chevron locked into place. The wormhole kawooshed and settled back into the event horizon. In the Embarkation Room, a blue light reflected off the walls.
“It’s SG-1, sir,” the technician revealed, noticing his superior’s arrival.
Hammond nodded his acknowledgment as the sergeant pushed the button to open the iris. Making his way down to the Embarkation Room, Hammond hoped the mission hadn’t been aborted due to an injury. The job these men and women did was dangerous. But it was SG-1, who seemed to have a particular propensity for drawing the most unpredictable missions.
The barrier spiraled open. Four figures emerged from the blue waves. Each was walking unsupported. The only visible explanation for their early return was a slimy substance coating their uniforms. Thick drops of the syrupy matter dripped from the rims of their hats.
Careful to stand clear, Hammond demanded, “What happened, Colonel?”
“Trees happened, sir.”
“As you know, General,” Carter hastily stepped forward, “the Stargate on P81-725 is surrounded by a forest. Apparently, they’re some kind of sap producing trees. We tried entering from several different locations. But each time, we were . . .”
“Slimed.” O’Neill held up his rifle. The dull metal gleamed with a thick coating. “When it rendered our weapons inoperative, I decided to abort the mission.”
Hammond nodded approval. “Wise decision, Colonel.”
“Thank you, sir.” Pulling at his sticky uniform, Jack suggested, “With your permission, sir, we’ll go clean up.”
His nose wrinkling at the pungent odor emanating from his team, Hammond said, “I wish you would. Debriefing in one hour.”
Dr. Janet Fraiser gratefully relaxed into her chair. When the Stargate had powered up, she’d expected a call for a medical team. She was relieved when none came, partially because she was exhausted, mostly because her requested presence meant a team had returned with one or more members injured or dying.
Leaning her head against the back of her chair, she closed her eyes. It felt so good, she ignored the voice reminding her Cassandra would be waiting for a goodnight kiss. Far too often, her daughter went to bed with nothing more than a phone call to remind her of her mother’s love. But the little girl never complained. Orphaned when a Goa’uld System Lord tried to use the child as a Trojan horse to destroy the SGC, Cassie understood the importance of her mother’s work. But her tolerance didn’t make Janet’s heart ache less with each of her imagined failures.
Her eyes snapping open at Major Samantha Carter’s familiar voice, Fraiser couldn’t repress a smile at her friend’s drowned rat appearance. “What happened to you?”
“In Colonel O’Neill’s words, we got slimed,” Carter ruefully revealed.
“All of you?”
“Yes. We’ll be down to have you check us out as soon as we’ve cleaned up. I just wanted to drop this off.” Carter held up a biohazard bag with a sample case inside. “Since many plants on Earth have medicinal properties, I was thinking the same might be true of P81-725.”
Rising from her chair, Janet gingerly took the pouch. “I’ll have it checked out.”
“Thanks.” Her clothing crackling from the hardening sap, Carter waved a farewell. “I’d better get going. We have a debriefing in an hour.”
Fraiser unhappily studied the bag in her hand. She could . . . should. . . give it to a technician with orders to contact her if they found anything unusual. But she wouldn’t. It bothered her that SG-1 had come into such close contact with the substance and in such great quantities. She wouldn’t experience peace of mind unless she did the job herself.
First though, she had to make a phone call.
Toweling himself dry, Dr. Daniel Jackson shrugged into his robe and headed for his cubicle. He had begun to think he would have to use all the hot water on the base before he got the sticky sap cleaned off. His skin was red and raw from his repeated attempts. One finger absently rubbed at the cut on the back of his left hand. He would have to remember to point it out to Fraiser, though it seemed inconsequential. It wasn’t a very deep cut, more like a scratch.
Jack and Teal’c’s clean uniforms were missing, indicating they had already dressed. Daniel knew he should hurry. He still had to get checked out in the infirmary before the meeting with Hammond. The general tolerated many idiosyncrasies from his civilian staff. Tardiness, however, wasn’t one of them.
Even knowing he would be facing the older man’s wrath, Daniel couldn’t seem to pick up his pace. He felt as though he was moving in water. This was unusual enough that he knew he should report to Frasier.
A bottle of cologne flew out of Daniel’s hand as he whipped around, searching for the person calling his name. The incident was too similar to another when he’d thought he’d heard voices. Eventually, he’d seen an event horizon in his closet, a Goa’uld larva burrow into the back of Jack’s neck, and a dead Linvris. The hallucinations had led to his being drugged and placed in a mental institution.
Administered in small amounts, the cologne he used had a pleasant odor. The effect of the fragrance from the shattered bottle was overpowering. Sneezing, Daniel threw off his robe and pulled on a clean, black T-shirt.
“What are you doing, Daniel?”
His hands were trembling so violently, he could barely hold his briefs so he could step into them.
“What’s the matter, Daniel?”
He almost fell flat on his face as he scrambled into his pants.
“Cat got your tongue?”
Uncaring what others might think, Daniel grabbed his socks, shoes, and fatigue jacket and hurried from the room. The slapping of his bare feet on the cold, concrete floor echoed down the corridor, following him into an elevator.
His right index finger frantically poked at the button that would lead him to another elevator and eventually outside Cheyenne Mountain. He was thankful the car was empty. No one must see him like this. He wouldn’t. . . couldn’t . . . be committed to a mental hospital again. He’d rather die first.
Colonel Jack O’Neill scratched his neck, before shifting his hand and doing the same to his shoulder. It felt as though some of the sticky sap was still clinging to his skin. He knew it wasn’t, but he couldn’t seem to banish the sensation.
An airman turned the corner and walked towards him. Jack dropped his arm and straightened his shoulders. Even teetering on the verge of exhaustion, he was expected to set a good example for the lower ranks.
The young airman was only a few feet away when his face and body wavered, becoming something grotesque and alien, a cross between an Unas and Sylvester Stallone. Jack tried to conceal his shock.
“Good morning, Colonel.”
“Good morning, Airman,” O’Neill absently returned, staring at the face that had become human once again.
The airman squirmed under the intense gaze. “Is there something wrong, sir?”
“No,” Jack was quick to reassure. He walked briskly away, hoping he’d been successful at hiding his discovery. He was unarmed, a circumstance he would have to rectify before confronting the alien.
A lab technician walked past him. Her pleasant smile disappeared for a brief second into the same grotesque mask Jack had seen on the airman. A small nerve in Jack’s temple twitched, the only indication he had seen the transformation.
He picked up his pace. How many of the SGC personnel had been replaced by aliens? It wouldn’t be the first time the base had been invaded. In the last Foothold situation, everyone except Teal’c and Carter had been replicated. Jack was determined he would not become a casualty this time.
When he neared the armory, he slowed. He didn’t want to alarm the officer in charge or tip his hand if the captain had been duplicated.
“Yes, Colonel, what can I do for you?” The captain came to attention, abandoning the paperwork he was filling out.
Grasping for an excuse to explain his presence, Jack said, “I was wondering if you were able to get that tree sap off our weapons?”
“I haven’t had a chance to touch them yet, sir.”
The officer’s face wavered, taking on the now familiar features of an alien. Sauntering into the room, Jack suggested, “I could give you some help.”
“It’s all right, sir. I--”
The side of a hand struck the back of the officer’s neck, cutting off his reply mid-sentence. Jack caught the unconscious man before he could hit the floor. Dragging him to a corner, Jack pressed a gag into the lax mouth. Using the straps from two M-16s, he bound the officer’s hands and feet.
Satisfied the ties would hold, Jack entered the weapons locker. He wanted to be well armed before staring into the face of his enemy again.
Hammond checked the time. Glancing out the window of his office, he saw Teal’c was still the only member of SG-1 sitting at the conference table. Considering the condition the team had been in when they returned, Hammond was willing to overlook a little tardiness. Half-an-hour was bordering on insubordination.
Rising, he stormed into the briefing room. Though he knew it was unfair, he took his anger out on the one person who didn’t deserve it. “Teal’c, where is the remainder of your team?”
“I am uncertain, General Hammond. O’Neill had already left when I finished dressing. Daniel Jackson was just emerging from the shower as I departed for the infirmary.”
“How long ago was this?”
“Approximately forty minutes.”
There was a frown on the Jaffa’s face. This circumstance was unusual enough to set off warning bells in Hammond’s military-trained mind.
The loud clanking of shoes on the metal staircase preceded Dr. Fraiser’s precipitous entrance. The short climb had left her breathless. With what little air remained in her lungs, she asked, “Where’s the rest of SG-1?”
“That’s what I’ve been trying to find out,” Hammond growled, waving a hand to indicate Teal’c.
“General, its imperative we locate them immediately.”
Wiping the perspiration from her brow, Fraiser took several deep breaths before complying. “I analyzed the tree sap brought back from P81-725. It’s a hallucinogen.”
“Are you saying SG-1 has been drugged?”
“It’s very likely, sir. When I saw Major Carter, she was covered from head to foot with the substance.”
“Colonel O’Neill, Dr. Jackson, and Teal’c were as well,” Hammond confirmed.
“Teal’c,” Fraiser turned her attention to the Jaffa, “have you experienced anything out of the ordinary?”
“I have not,” Teal’c solemnly denied. “Although, my symbiont has been more active than usual.”
“It probably absorbed the toxins in your system.”
“That is very likely.”
“Are you saying Junior,” Hammond unconsciously used O’Neill’s term for Teal’c’s symbiont, “is high?”
“That’s exactly what I’m saying, sir.”
“And that Colonel O’Neill, Dr. Jackson, and Major Carter are . . . .”
“High as well, sir,” Fraiser reluctantly finished.
Hammond headed for the nearest phone. Lifting the receiver, he punched in two numbers. “Security, I want you to locate Colonel O’Neill, Dr. Jackson, and Major Carter and bring them to the infirmary on the double.”
Pushing back his chair, Teal’c rose. “I will join the search.”
“Are you sure you feel up to it?” Fraiser inquired.
“The constant movement of my symbiont is irritating but not debilitating.”
“If it gets too,” Fraiser paused, searching for the right word, “active, I want you to report back to me.”
Janet reluctantly let the man go. There was one thing she’d learned in three plus years of treating the Jaffa. He never lied to her, unlike a certain colonel. She knew Teal’c would seek her out if he felt it was necessary.
A worried frown on his face, Hammond suggested, “You’d better return to the infirmary, Doctor. You’ll be getting three new patients soon.”
“Keep me informed.”
To Fraiser’s ears the statement was a plea, rather than an order. These people were more than his subordinates. They were his friends. And hers.
Coming as close to running as she dared in her high heels, she exited the room and managed to catch an elevator just as the doors were about to close. She almost passed her floor she was concentrating so hard on reviewing the tests she wanted to perform on the afflicted personnel and what further analysis of the sample might be beneficial to her patients.
The giggling emitting from one of the labs was unusual enough to intrude on her thoughts. It sounded as though a child had somehow made his or her way through numerous checkpoints and onto the base. Realizing the impossibility of such an action, Janet slowly entered the room.
Her short hair still wet from her shower, Carter was sitting on the floor with an elongated box in front of her. Tittering gleefully, she was pulling out components and replacing them with other parts. If it didn’t fit, she would force it into place.
Janet winced when she heard the distinctive sound of plastic cracking. “What’re you doing, Sam?”
“Hi, Janet.” The smile on the pretty face glowed brighter.
“Hi. What are you doing?” Fraiser patiently repeated.
“A naquadah reactor.”
Though she wasn’t an engineer, Janet had a fair idea of the power the mechanism could yield. She also knew most things utilizing that kind of energy generally self-destructed when treated roughly. Reaching a hand out to the woman/child, Janet forced a smile to her face. “I know where there are toys that are a lot more fun than this one.”
“You do?” Wondering blue eyes met Janet’s.
“Would you take me there?” Carter abandoned the component she’d been tugging on.
“Of course.” Though she hoped Carter didn’t hear the quiver in her voice, Janet couldn’t do anything about her trembling hand.
“Can we go there now?”
The plaintive plea was so like the ones Cassie would use to try to get her own way, Janet found herself relaxing. “Right this very minute.”
Keeping a firm grip on the hand in hers, Janet led her friend down the corridor to the infirmary. When she entered and found two nurses waiting for her, she blessed the efficiency of her staff. “Reynolds, help me put Major Carter to bed . . . .”
“Don’t wanna go to bed,” Carter petulantly protested, stomping her foot. “You said you had toys.”
“Sanchez,” Fraiser ignored the temper tantrum, “see if you can find some toys.”
“Toys, Doctor?” the young woman verified.
“Toys,” Fraiser confirmed.
“What kind of toys am I going to find on a military base?”
“Use your imagination.” Fraiser impatiently waved her away.
“Yes, ma’am.” The bewildered nurse hurried to obey.
Her mouth pinched into a childish pout, Carter tried to pull away from her captors. “Wanna go where toys are.”
“Hurry!” Fraiser shouted after the departing nurse.
On the one hand, now that the naquadah reactor was no longer involved, the situation was laughable. Only Janet wasn’t laughing. She’d seen too many cases of permanent brain damage attributed to hallucinogens from known drugs whose effects were well documented. What was messing with Carter’s mind had unknown properties. It could even be lethal?
“I wan’ toys,” Carter chanted. “I wan’ toys.”
Patting her wrist as he tied it to the side of her bed, Reynolds soothed, “They’ll be here soon, Major.”
“Wan’ toys now!”
“Soon.” Reynolds sighed. “I hope.”
“Doctor?” Hammond’s voice rose above the din. “What’s going on?”
Securing the other wrist so Carter would be restrained but still have use of her arms, Fraiser panted, “I found Major Carter, sir.”
“I wan’ toys.”
“I can see that.” Wincing at the high pitched whining, Hammond demanded, “Can’t you sedate her or something?”
“I wan’ toys.” Carter’s whine rose in volume.
Gritting her teeth, Janet ran a distracted hand through her hair. “I need to run some tests first, sir.”
“I wan’ toys.”
“Reynolds,” Fraiser ordered, “unplug the telephone in my office and give it to her.”
The nurse had only taken a few steps when Hammond protested, “Doctor, that’s government property. Not a . . . .”
“I wan’ toys.”
Nodding Reynolds on his way, Fraiser calmly returned, “It’s a toy now, sir.”
Reynolds quickly returned and handed the instrument to a grinning Carter.
“It worked!” Hammond noted in astonishment.
“For about five minutes,” an experienced Fraiser qualified. “Any word on Colonel O’Neill or Dr. Jackson, sir?”
Distress replaced the wonder in Hammond’s blue eyes. ”That’s what I came to tell you. Colonel O’Neill has barricaded himself in the armory. Apparently, he thinks we’re in another Foothold situation.”
“How are you going to get him out?”
“Teal’c’s working on it.”
“And Dr. Jackson?”
“He went home.”
“He drove a car?” Each word was spoken at a higher octave as the gravity of the incident gripped Janet. In her intern days, she’d treated countless patients who had wrapped their cars around a tree because their skills were impaired by drugs or alcohol.
“It’s all right, Doctor,” Hammond reassured. “I called his apartment building. The doorman confirmed he arrived safely. I’m sending two airmen to pick him up.”
Crossing to the cabinet where she kept a fully stocked medical bag ready for any emergency, Fraiser said, “I’m going with them.”
“Is that really necessary?”
“I think so, sir. Colonel O’Neill is having visual hallucinations. Its possible Dr. Jackson is also experiencing hallucinations. They could be visual or they could be auditory, kinetic, extracampine, gustatory, haptic, olfactory . . . .”
“I get the picture, Doctor.”
“Sir, I just think it would be better if someone Daniel knows confronts him.”
“Very well,” Hammond reluctantly agreed. “In the meantime, we’ll continue to try to extricate Colonel O’Neill. Any idea on how long these hallucinations will last?”
“Unknown, sir. We’re dealing with an alien substance.”
“Somehow, I knew you were going to say that.”
His hands pressed against the window, Daniel stared down at the traffic slipping and sliding through the new snow covering the street. His hot breath struck the cold window, fogging his view. The voice had remained blessedly quiet on the long drive to his apartment. He curled his toes, trying to warm them against the plush carpet. He should put on his socks or at least his slippers. February in Colorado was no time to be going barefoot.
“This is boring, Daniel.”
Daniel didn’t bother to look around. Resting his forehead against the cold glass, he pleaded, “Go away.”
“Anywhere except in my head.”
“But your thoughts are so interesting.”
The name of someone else who’d found his life boring whispered through Daniel’s lips. “Urgo?”
“Don’t you dare call me by that dweeb’s name.”
“Then what should I call you?”
He was talking to a voice in his head. For the first time, Daniel questioned his decision to leave Cheyenne Mountain. There, he could ask for help. Here, he was alone. At one time, he’d been accustomed to working things out by himself. Not anymore. Now, he had Jack or Sam or Teal’c to bounce theories off. He needed their support more than ever.
“You don’t need them. You have me.”
“I don’t want you.”
“Now I’m hurt.”
Daniel backed away from the window. Pacing, he put his fingers in his ears.
“Getting a little childish here, aren’t we?”
Pushing a hand through his hair, Daniel implored, “How do I make you go away?”
Returning to the window, Daniel stared blindly at the Christmas card scene below. “There’s got to be a way.”
Hammond instinctively ducked at the chatter of automatic gunfire echoing down the corridor. Though the danger to himself should be minimal, he cautiously made his way to the doorway Teal’c and Colonel Roberts had turned into a command post. Hammond wasn’t a novice when it came to doped up soldiers. He’d seen his share in Vietnam. He knew a crack head was unpredictable which made them twice as dangerous. Add firearms into the mix and it was a volatile situation. Worried that drugs would be responsible for taking the life of another man he called a friend, Hammond softly ordered, “Report.”
“No casualties so far, sir,” Roberts said. “Colonel O’Neill hasn’t tried too hard to leave the armory.”
His voice sober, Teal’c added, “O’Neill has almost unlimited ammunition. He could, conceivably, remain barricaded for days.”
Rubbing tired eyes, Hammond revealed, “Doctor Fraiser doesn’t know how long this drug-induced high will last.”
“Sir,” Roberts worryingly regarded his superior, “what if Colonel O’Neill decides to leave and comes out shooting?”
Though he hated himself for even contemplating the action, Hammond knew there could be only one response. “You do what you deem necessary to protect your men and the personnel on this base, Colonel.”
“Is there any way to hit him with a tranquilizer dart?” Hammond desperately demanded.
“The weapons fire you just heard was in response to that attempt,” Roberts solemnly replied. “Colonel O’Neill is an exceptional strategist.”
“For once, I wish he wasn’t,” Hammond muttered.
“If we could lure O’Neill out,” Teal’c said, speaking so low it was almost as though he was talking to himself, “we could have access to a zatnickatel. A far more effective weapon in a case such as this.”
Hammond patted the Jaffa’s shoulder. “Contact me when you come up with a plan.”
“Understood, General Hammond.”
Though he wanted to stay, Hammond knew he couldn’t. There were other crises waiting for his attention. While minor in comparison, he had his job to do. He trusted Teal’c and Roberts to do theirs and find a solution that would bring this episode to a safe conclusion.
Teal’c’s inquiry stopped Hammond from leaving. “Yes?”
“May I inquire into Daniel Jackson’s and Major Carter’s status?”
“Major Carter is in the infirmary in restraints. She was found playing with a naquadah reactor.”
“Playing?” Roberts clarified, his face paling. “As in toy?”
Apparently unfazed by the revelation, Teal’c prompted, “And Daniel Jackson?”
“Dr. Jackson drove home. Doctor Fraiser is on her way to evaluate his condition and bring him back to the base. I’ll keep you informed as the situation develops.”
“Thank you, General Hammond.”
Silently cursing the delay, Janet pulled out her military ID and showed it to the doorman of Daniel’s apartment building.
The old man read the name on the tag. Checking it against a paper secured to a clipboard, he shook his head. “I’m sorry, Major. You’re not on Dr. Jackson’s approved entry list.”
Making a mental note to have Daniel rectify this oversight, Janet presented her case. “I’m a doctor. I have reason to believe Dr. Jackson is gravely ill.”
“Gee, Major, I got my orders. You’re in the military; you should understand what that means.”
“I do,” Janet sympathized. “But I also know an order isn’t as important as a man’s life.”
“I could lose my job.”
Despite the protest, Janet could hear the man was weakening. “I could lose a friend.”
“All right.” The doorman pressed a button, allowing them to enter. “The doc is a good guy. I’d hate to see anything bad happen to him.”
'You’re too late', Janet inaudibly revealed. Memories of numerous wounds both physical and mental danced through her mind like sugar plums in the famous Christmas poem.
“Doc’s on the second floor, number three,” the doorman said, oblivious to her thoughts. “The elevator is around the corner.”
Knowing how slow elevators in apartment buildings could be, Janet asked, “Where are the stairs?”
“Next to the elevators.”
Waving for the two airmen to follow her, Janet ran around the corner and up the stairs. Panting, more from fear than exertion, she paused at the top of the stairs to get her bearings. The muffled sound of breaking glass reached her ears. “No!”
Already knowing what she would find, Janet raced to the door with a three on its face. Turning the knob with one hand, she pounded on the solid wood with the other. One of the airmen gently pulled her aside as the other raised his foot. It took several well-placed kicks before the lock finally broke, and the door swung open.
Pulling free, Janet ran into the apartment to be greeted by an ice cold wind and shrill screams. Blood glistened on the jagged edges of the broken window. Her heart in her throat, she crossed to the gaping hole. Glass crunched under her feet as she peered out.
Sprawled on the sidewalk below was a man dressed in a black T-shirt and fatigue pants. Red stained the snow near his head. His right leg was twisted at an awkward angle. Tears blurring her vision, Janet gasped, “Oh, Daniel.”
Jack ducked, retreating when bullets struck the doorframe. What had at first seemed like an advantageous position was quickly becoming untenable. He had enough ammunition and fire power to hold off the alien invaders for months. But he had no food or water. Both were as necessary to his survival as the weapon in his hand.
Stiffening his back, Jack curled his finger around the trigger of his MP-5. He’d recognized the voice as belonging to Hammond. Was the general, or rather the alien posing as the general, going to order an all out assault on O’Neill’s position?
“I just received word: Dr. Jackson has been injured. He’s being brought to the infirmary.”
“General Hammond,” Teal’c requested, “please keep me informed concerning Daniel Jackson’s condition.”
“As soon as I hear anything more, I’ll let you know,” Hammond loudly agreed.
His back against the wall, Jack slid to the floor. Daniel was hurt. This was the first word he’d had regarding his teammates, other than Teal’c. Jack had hoped the Jaffa would be immune to the alien altering technology, as he had been the last time the SGC was invaded. Jack’s hopes were dashed when Teal’c rescued the armory captain. When Jack saw Teal’c’s brown face waver into the grotesque mask he’d become accustomed to seeing, his finger had twitched against the trigger. Despite his revulsion, Jack couldn’t bring himself to disengage the weapon’s safety. The alien looked too much like Teal’c. Too much like his friend.
But now Daniel was hurt. Hammond had said he was being taken to the infirmary. Was it possible Daniel hadn’t been taken over by the aliens? Had he been wounded fighting them? Jack knew the only way he would get answers to his questions was to go to the infirmary himself. It would be a dangerous journey, but the alternative was to stay put and let Daniel be changed. Eventually, Jack would have to leave the armory or be starved out. An attempt to rescue Daniel was by far the more agreeable plan.
His decision made, O’Neill rose to his feet. Locating an ammunition belt, he secured it around his waist. On the right side, he added a pistol, to the left, a zat gun. He opened a box of grenades and filled his pockets with the explosive devices. He was ready. If Daniel was still his friend and not an alien, Jack would save him. Or die trying.
Janet gripped the edge of Daniel’s stretcher as the ambulance turned a corner a little too sharply. It had been a long time since she’d treated a patient in a moving vehicle. From now on, she’d try to stick to wormhole travel. It was much faster.
Though she’d only done so a few minutes ago, she lifted Daniel’s eyelids to check his pupils. They were still equal and reactive. Without more sophisticated equipment, the only injuries she could treat were the numerous cuts and the broken leg. While she suspected there was a concussion, it wasn’t as severe as she’d first feared when she looked out the window and saw Daniel on the sidewalk. It turned out the blood on the snow near his head had come from a cut on his scalp. It had bled a lot and would need a few stitches but it wasn’t life threatening. Her main worry now was the chemicals in his system from the tree sap. How long would its effects last? Would there be permanent brain damage?
One of the airmen put a hand on her shoulder, gaining her attention.
“ETA to base is five minutes.”
Hammond pressed the button on his radio. Keeping his voice low, he said, “Teal’c, report.”
“O’Neill has made no move to abandon his present location,” the Jaffa informed his superior.
“The corridors have been cleared. Everyone is in position.”
Hammond nervously watched the security cameras set up along the route from the armory to the infirmary. He hoped Teal’c’s plan would work. He had learned quite a bit about O’Neill in the last three years. Jack wouldn’t abandon a friend - and he wouldn’t give up without a fight.
The door to the weapons locker burst open. Red flashes of gunfire obscured the figure emerging at a crouch.
“Roberts, return fire,” Hammond ordered.
This was another thing Hammond had learned about O’Neill. The man wasn’t stupid. If they made his escape too easy, he would smell a trap.
Bullets impacted the wall near Jack’s right shoulder. Cement chips dotted the green uniform like dandruff. Roberts retreated as lead chewed into the doorjamb where his head had been moments before.
As O’Neill progressed down the corridor, Hammond cued each soldier. Some of the near misses were a little too near. Hammond wasn’t sure, but he thought he saw blood on O’Neill’s pant leg. However, even wounded, he was moving faster than anticipated.
One of the security screens revealed Teal’c materializing from the abandoned weapons locker with a zat gun in his hand. “Hurry, Teal’c,” Hammond pleaded.
More gunfire erupted in the corridor. Though it wasn’t possible in his haven, Hammond could swear he smelled gunpowder. He was getting worried; O’Neill was already closer to the infirmary than they planned. Making radio contact with the last guard set to ambush the drugged colonel, Hammond ordered, “Pelosa, slow him down.”
The lieutenant swung into action, spraying bullets with deadly precision along the corridor’s walls.
Unlike his opponent, O’Neill wasn’t fighting under a restraint. He wanted to hit his target. As far as he was concerned, the man firing on him was his enemy. Pelosa’s body jerked as lead burrowed into a soft shoulder. His rifle fell from nerveless fingers. O’Neill kicked it away.
His good hand raised, Pelosa meekly surrendered.
“Sorry, no time for prisoners.” O’Neill swung the butt of his rifle and struck the man in the back of the head.
Seconds later, O’Neill entered the infirmary.
Janet gently wiped away the blood staining the pale face. The strong odor of the astringent made her nose twitch. This was a duty she normally left to her nurses, but she needed to keep busy while she waited for Daniel’s x-rays. Whenever her mind had nothing to focus on, the image of Daniel sprawled on the bloody sidewalk would fill it. She’d thought he was dead.
Her hands trembled as she involuntarily relived the horrible minutes until she was kneeling at Daniel’s side, and her surprise and joy when she’d felt the carotid artery pounding gently against her fingertips.
Once again, she blessed the efficiency of the two airmen Hammond had sent with her. They procured an ambulance and had Daniel on a stretcher inside it before Janet could formulate the order.
Now, all she could do was clean and stitch the numerous cuts while she waited for the x-rays to be developed. All Daniel’s vital signs were strong, pointing to a full recovery.
“Don’t move,” Jack ordered, swinging into the infirmary.
Shocked, Janet immediately disobeyed the order. Coming around the bed, she put herself between her patient and the demented officer.
Almost sounding normal in his exasperation, Jack growled, “What did I just tell you not to do?”
“This is a hospital, Colonel.” Janet held her hands up. “You don’t need a gun in here.”
“If you weren’t all aliens, I’d agree.” Motioning with his rifle to emphasize his request, Jack commanded, “Move away from Daniel.”
Though inside, her nerves were vibrating as though she’d been shot by a zat gun, outside, Janet showed no fear. “Daniel is hurt. I need to treat him.”
“What you need to do is to get away from him,” Jack corrected, lifting his rifle to his shoulder.
A blue streak of light blasted through the open door, enveloping O’Neill. The weapon fell to the floor with a loud clatter. His body quivering uncontrollably, Jack crumpled beside it.
“Dr. Fraiser, I am sorry I did not arrive sooner,” Teal’c apologized, appearing in the entranceway. “O’Neill traveled more quickly than predicted.”
“You should know by now Teal’c, Colonel O’Neill is totally unpredictable.”
Tilting his head in acknowledgment, Teal’c agreed, “Indeed.”
Hammond tried to hide his smile as O’Neill tested his restraints. Though the man appeared to be back to normal, Fraiser wasn’t taking any chances. The bonds would stay on until tests showed no trace of the drug in his system. Considering how the last twenty-four hours had aged him, Hammond readily agreed with her decision.
“General,” O’Neill pleaded, “I’m all right. You can let me go.”
“You’re making your case to the wrong person, Colonel.”
A soft moan from the bed next to Jack’s drew both men’s attention. Though Daniel’s face was still pale, his eyes were clear. The demon that had compelled him to jump out a window was gone.
“I don’t know what you’re complaining about, Jack,” Daniel jealously chided. “At least your leg isn’t encased in plaster that weighs a ton.”
Jack wagged a finger at his friend. “That’ll teach you to stop listening to strange voices.”
“Then I’d have to stop listening to you,” Daniel smirked. “At least I didn’t try to shoot my friends.”
“It was better than trying to blow up the base and a good portion of Colorado along with it.” Jack’s gaze shifted to the young woman across the room.
A soft flush coloring her cheeks, Carter defended, “I didn’t know what I was doing any more than either of you.”
Hammond knew if he didn’t leave, he would lose control. Not a recommended reaction for a superior officer in front of his subordinates. “If any of you need anything, let Dr. Fraiser know and she can contact me.”
Tugging at his restraints, Jack growled, “A sharp knife would be nice.”
Janet stared at her new phone. It was time to call Cassie and wish her goodnight. It was a task Janet usually looked forward to. Tonight, she desperately wanted to alter their routine. Maybe the little girl had always been sensitive or maybe she had become so after she was orphaned and her planet devastated. Janet only knew Cassie would hear the fear in her voice. She didn’t want to burden her daughter. Cassie had suffered enough pain in her short life.
Colors flashed in a kaleidoscope of black and green, overlaying white and red.
No matter how hard she tried, Janet couldn’t banish the image of Daniel lying motionless in the blood-stained snow.
If they’d been one minute sooner, they could’ve stopped the drug induced jump out the window. Strange how a single digit in time could change your life, how lucky they were Daniel’s apartment hadn’t been one floor higher.
Janet’s head jerked up in surprise. She hadn’t heard Hammond open her door, much less come inside and close it behind him. “Sorry, sir,” she said, shooting to her feet.
“At ease, Major.” His voice soft, sympathetic, Hammond asked, “Aren’t you off duty, Doctor?”
“I just sent some blood samples down to the lab. I thought I’d better wait to see--”
“Go home,” Hammond firmly, but gently, ordered. “The results will be the same when you come back in the morning. Dr. Warner is capable of running the infirmary in your absence.”
“Yes, sir, of course he is, sir.” Janet avoided her superior’s eyes. One hand fiddling with the report on her desk, she admitted, “I can’t get the image of Daniel lying motionless in the snow out of my mind. I was sure he was dead. If I’d been one minute sooner--”
“And if you’d been one minute later,” Hammond interrupted, “in stopping Major Carter’s attempt to rebuild that naquadah reactor, you wouldn’t be worrying about Dr. Jackson.”
“You’d be dead. We’d all be dead.” Hammond smiled encouragingly. “You did a good job, Doctor.”
Janet attempted to smile back. “Thank you, sir.”
“Now go home. Soon there’ll be another crisis to make us all forget this one.”
“Yes, sir.” Fraiser obediently responded. Her military training gave her the ability to outwardly accept the general’s recommendation. To herself, Janet realized it would be a long time before the events of this day were forgotten, when she could look at snow and not see it glistening red with blood.
A very long time.