by Sheila Paulson

(previously published in New Worlds and False Gods 2)

"I don't get it." Jonathan MacKensie was in full rant. "You've worked with the Institute's Paranormal Unit for more than ten years, you have your M.S. in parapsychology, you have a teaching fellowship at the Institute, and you'll be Dr. Benedek in less than six months — and you're still crazy enough to drag me off to Colorado Springs to track down the ghost of Anne Boleyn, when anyone in his right mind would know that her ghost would probably choose to haunt the Tower of London if it is haunting anywhere at all."

Edgar Benedek, a picture of sartorial 'elegance' in a green and purple patterned shirt under an orange Armani jacket, tilted back his chair and grinned at his shadow chasing partner across the table. "And you're still eating clam chowder and wearing stuffy suits. Come on, Jonny-boy, kick back a little. Okay, Henry VIII's main squeeze wasn't here, but wasn't it great to get out of hot, steamy D.C. in the middle of the summer?"

Jonathan paused, much struck. It was true, the heat wave in Washington had made life in the city miserable. The summer session at the Institute had just ended and Jonathan had no plans to go on any digs this summer. He should have made some. True, he'd brought along a couple of odd artifacts from a dig over spring break to study in his spare time — and getting Dr. Moorhouse's permission to remove them from the museum for study had been rather like pulling teeth. But he'd had something to work on last night in the motel room, at least when Benedek didn't pop through from his adjoining one to bounce around and offer bizarre comments as to the artifacts' function. "You're on vacation, Jack," he'd insisted. "Ix-nay on the ork-way. Once we track down the ghost, I'm gonna drag you up Pike's Peak. Wait till you see that road. Gravel all the way, and not a guard rail in sight." Jonathan had grimaced at the very idea, but he couldn't alter the fact that he was here in Colorado Springs, at a Mexican restaurant that ladled on the green sauce like it was butter, and his mouth was still sizzling from the jalapeρo pepper he'd munched all unsuspecting.

"We didn't have to eat at a place that requires a health warning," he protested indignantly. It might have been easier if he could put those dizzying heights out of his mind. High places did not make him comfortable, and Benny had enlivened the excursion to the top of Pike's Peak by speculating on how long it would take them to hit bottom if they were so unfortunate as to drive off the road. The scenery had been spectacular, but Jonathan had not enjoyed it.

At the next table, someone said in a deep, dry, resonant voice, "I do not understand these tacos." It fit so neatly into their conversation that Jonathan and Benedek shared a grin before they turned to stare.

The party at the next table consisted of three men and one woman, so companionable together they may have been family, except that the speaker was a huge, well-muscled black man who was bald as an egg and who wore a sweat band around his head low on his forehead as if he had just come from working out, the woman was Nordic blonde, and the other two men, though Caucasian, were too different in appearance to be kin. One of them had a haircut that screamed 'military', and the other looked like a scholar behind his glasses and the long hair that had a tendency to slide forward into his face, much as Jonathan's did.

"I know him," Jonathan and Benedek chorused in perfect unison, then paused to stare at each other. "Dr. Jackson, I mean," Jonathan continued, gesturing at the 'scholar'.

"You know Danny?" Benedek grinned. "Okay, yeah, he is kind of into your field. He had all these weird theories about 'cultural cross-pollination and that the ancient Egyptians didn't really build the Great Pyramid, and we wrote them up for the Register as ancient astronaut stuff. We really cleaned up. Jordy still thinks fondly of him."

"He's a serious scientist," Jonathan remarked quellingly. "His ideas might be a bit extreme, but we've hardly room to talk, considering why we're in Colorado Springs."

"Serendipity," Benny said cheerfully and raised his voice. "Yo, Dr. Jackson! I'd talk to you in hieroglyphics, but I don't speak Ancient Mummy."

The people at the other table turned to stare, the military man's eyes filling with instant suspicion, the black man shooting up a stunned eyebrow at the sight of Benny's clothes. But Jackson recognized Benny, a look of dawning horror in his eye. "Benedek," he groaned miserably, looking around for a giant hole to come and swallow him up. Jonathan appreciated the sensation. There were times when Edgar Benedek had produced exactly the same response in him — many times.

"You know this guy, Daniel?" Military asked suspiciously.

"Unfortunately — Dr. MacKensie!" His eyes widened and he jumped up, sticking out a delighted hand to Jonathan, who took it. "What are you doing in Colorado Springs? And with Benedek?" His tone offered commiseration, and a hot flash in his eyes indicated that his opinion of Benny was slightly less than that of pond scum.

"I ask myself that same question frequently," Jonathan replied, amused.

Benedek poked him with an elbow. "Dr. MacKensie and I are colleagues at the prestigious Georgetown Institute of Science," he said with mock-hauteur. "You behold in me the soon-to-be Doctor Edgar Benedek, Parapsychologist extraordinaire."

"Parapsychologist?" groaned Military. "Oh, for crying out loud. Who are these clowns, Daniel?" he asked in obvious resignation.

Daniel turned to him with a wide, delighted grin. "Jack, this is Dr. Jonathan MacKensie, the most brilliant physical anthropologist I ever met. He's the son of a Nobel Prize winner. Dr. MacKensie, this is Colonel Jack O'Neill."

"And Mr. Fashion Plate?" Jack prodded before Daniel could introduce the rest of the people at his table.

"He's Edgar Benedek, a tabloid journalist for the National Register."

Jack's face went through a complicated twist of cold and unhappy emotions then smoothed them away very carefully into bland resistence. The woman glanced at him sideways and interjected hastily, "He said he was teaching at GI, sir." Sir? Was she military, too? She looked vaguely familiar to Jonathan.

"I am teaching there," Benedek put in smoothly, snatching up the woman's hand and bowing over it. "My tabloid days are nothing but a beautiful memory. All it needed to make it perfect would have been a Pulitzer or two, but alas, it wasn't to be."

But Jonathan frowned as he studied the woman's face. "Have we met?" he asked involuntarily. Benedek reacted to the question in surprise, eyes narrowing.

The blonde woman smiled, withdrawing her hand from Benedek's grip and turning to face him. "Once, Dr. MacKensie. I was working at the Pentagon several years ago and we met at a reception at GI in honor of your department head, Dr. Moorhouse. She's my father's second cousin. I think we shared a dance."

"Of course. You're Samantha Carter. Wasn't it Captain Carter? It's good to see you again, Sam. Dr. Moorhouse will want to know how your father is." Hadn't Dr. Moorhouse said something about her father a few months back, that he'd been ill? Jonathan couldn't remember the details.

Sam's face changed, too, going through a series of contortions like the ones Jack had produced a few minutes ago. In the end, she smiled brilliantly. "He's in excellent health, Dr. MacKensie. He's...stationed out of the country right now."

Benedek had been quiet a little too long, which meant he was thinking furiously, adding two and two to produce a series of fives. "Away on a top-secret government mission?" he asked, plunging on before anyone could confirm or deny. The old, journalistic habits died hard. "And who's this?" he persisted, nodding at the muscular black man.

"This is Teal'c," Daniel added.

"How do you do, Dr. MacKensie, Mr. Benedek." Teal'c's voice was a formal bass rumble. He might be military, too; he was stiff enough. The way he held himself suggested a man who was on constant alert, like a security guard or Secret Service agent. Jonathan had seen enough of the type, living in the Washington D.C. area. Teal'c's guardianship of the other three might be unofficial but it was no less real. Even here, in a public restaurant, he was at attention.

"What brings you to Colorado?" Daniel asked hastily. Maybe he wanted to cut in before any questions were asked about Teal'c — and what kind of name was that, anyway? Jonathan had never heard it before and, while that need not mean anything in this day and age when newly minted names among African Americans were the order of the day, he had the feeling there was more to Teal'c's presence than met the eye. He tried to place Teal'c by physical type and found it rather difficult. His English was almost too good, but then maybe he was being on his best behavior.

Jonathan grimaced. "Would you believe Benedek dragged us out here to look for the ghost of Anne Boelyn?" he demanded.

"In Colorado?" Colonel O'Neil's eyebrow did a quick up-and-down dance. "Why?"

"Ask him. He once looked for Julius Caesar in Utah."

"Dr. Jon and I run the Paranormal Investigations Unit at Georgetown," Benedek explained. "Dr. Moorhouse sends us out to investigate mysterious happenings: Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, UFO sightings. Who says ghosts can't head out to explore new territory? Anyway, I ask you guys? Given the choice of Washington in summer or a vacation in the mountains, which would you choose?"

O'Neill looked at him as if it was the first sensible thing he'd heard Benedek say.

"What are you doing in Colorado, Daniel?" Jonathan asked. "I haven't heard of you for several years. No papers, no reports, and you weren't at the annual conference last year — or the year before, as I recall."

"I've been working on a...translation project," Daniel said hastily. Too hastily. Now that was interesting. Considering the fact that Samantha was definitely military and Jack O'Neill couldn't be anything else, the odds were that Daniel had been recruited into a project under military aegis. If it was classified, he wouldn't be able to talk about it. But what kind of project would the Air Force — he was sure Sam had been an Air Force captain — attempt in the Colorado Springs area? Daniel's expertise tended toward Egypt and the Middle East rather than Native American cultures. Translation? Jonathan tried to imagine what written languages he might encounter in the Southwest.

His curiosity must have shown on his face because O'Neill looked definitely unhappy. Ignoring the tensions, Benedek was grinning brightly, flagging down a waitress for help in dragging the two tables together. "This is great. Dr. Jon doesn't get too many chances to talk anthro shop."

O'Neill made an abortive gesture to object the two parties merging, then he shrugged and went with it. Casting about for something to ease the tension, Jonathan remembered his artifacts. "Daniel, I've got something I'd like you to have a look at. You know the ancient Babylonian and Sumerian cultures as well as ancient Persia, and you're an expert at the ancient languages. I haven't wanted to talk to someone at the Institute about a recent find of mine and my other two non-university contacts in the ancient languages, Dr. Beckett and Dr. Spengler, aren't available right now."

"I've never met Dr. Beckett, but Dr. Spengler and I e-mail each other from time to time," Daniel replied as they all sat down, looking intrigued. "What have you got, Dr. MacKensie?"

"Something really unique. Several small tablets with an ancient language on them. They belong to the Georgetown museum; I found them on a dig this spring. The language isn't cuneiform, although it's similar. In fact, it's nothing I've ever seen before, although I can make out several symbols that resemble those I'm used to. I'm not an expert in ancient languages — it isn't my field. But it was brought out of an ancient Persian site. We weren't allowed in there for long; the political climate in the area is too sensitive; and we could only bring out a few artifacts; the rest had to be left with the local government."

Daniel was caught; Jonathan could see it in his face. Forgetting his meal, he plunged on hopefully. "I don't suppose you have them with you?" The tablet was right up his alley. Jonathan was glad he'd brought it. Maybe between the two of them, they could find some answers.

"Does he have it with him?" Benedek countered, ladling green sauce onto his taco. "I think he sleeps with it! Wouldn't be my choice but, hey, to each his own." He took a bite, beaming in satisfaction.

Jonathan didn't even bother denying it. That would only get Benedek going. Pushing aside his plate, he reached into the inside pocket of his sports jacket and pulled out a small, leather box. Opening it, he removed the soft wrapping and took out the artifact, his fingertips caressing it. Not much bigger than a pack of filter cigarettes, it lay in the palm of his hand, a brownish color with finely incised lettering on one side of it. Carbon dating had proven the artifact was from the correct period — but the utter precision of the lettering suggested typesetting, a development that had hardly existed in Persia. The artifact was made of an unknown substance, too, its chemical composition unknown. Dr. Moorhouse theorized the Ancients had carved it from a stone that had fallen to Earth in a meteor. Jonathan had been forced to swear to guard it with his life when he brought it along to study.

Daniel and his friends stared at it in surprise then Daniel reached out and grasped it with gentle fingers, tracing its contour and pressing fingertips against the ancient writing. Before he could comment, Teal'c wiped his fingers with a napkin and took it from him, big hands holding it with extreme care. He frowned at it then turned to Col. O'Neill and bowed his head as if to confirm something he did not wish to speak aloud, and passed it to Sam. At once her expression went vague and she eyed it almost without seeing it as if seeking answers from an inner voice. She nodded, too, and returned it to the big man.

Benedek watched the four of them react and lifted an eyebrow at Jonathan but, for once, he didn't jump in with a comment. Instead, he weighed the silence, trying to get a handle on what was happening, absently pouring more green sauce on his taco. This time, when he took a bite, he paused hastily and sipped his water. Amazing to think he'd actually reached his limit.

"Where did you find this, Dr. MacKensie?" Teal'c demanded in his deep voice.

"In the Irani desert, not far from the border of Iraq. Not a safe location. We only stayed two weeks and then under extreme guard. It was an ancient site, and the more elaborate finds went directly to Teheran. Statues, urns, two larger plaques like this." He spread his hands to sketch the dimensions.

"And were they of the same material as this?" O'Neill asked. He took an absent bite, paying little attention to the food. If questioned, he would probably be unlikely to explain what he was eating.

"Yes, the plaques were. I would have liked to study them in more detail; the script was far more extensive. But the smaller artifacts were all we were allowed, and very few of them. They're currently in the Institute's museum. Of course the potsherds and smaller figures and vases are of a ceramic base. We got a twelve-inch figure of a priest, and three vases besides two fragments of writing. Burial fragments all went to Teheran, including some very intriguing bones. I barely had time to take measurements before they were whisked away."

That made Daniel's ears prick up and he looked like he wanted to ask eager questions but he restrained himself. He sipped his soft drink instead.

"Can you read it, Teal'c?" the Colonel asked him.

He frowned at it. "I cannot. It is an obscure dialect, O'Neill, and very ancient. I can make out several words, no more."

"You can translate part of it?" Jonathan stared at him in eager excitement. "That's fantastic. Would you be willing to work in collaboration with me on it? You'd get equal credit, more if you did the bulk of the translation. What language is it?"

Teal'c closed his lips tightly together as he glanced sideways at O'Neill. "I regret, I cannot give you that information, Dr. MacKensie."

"Could you pinpoint the exact area where you found the artifacts on a large scale map?" O'Neill demanded.

"Yes, easily. But I don't understand. You recognize the artifact. It must tie in to Daniel's translation project."

"It does," Daniel admitted, adding hastily when O'Neill rolled his eyes, "Come on, Jack, it's obvious."

O'Neill's face was decidedly grim. It was the same kind of look he'd worn when the National Register was mentioned earlier. Daniel stared at him, then he said under his breath, "This isn't the same. He's no longer a journalist, Jack." The look he bestowed on Benedek was not a friendly one, but he was willing to offer the reassurance for O'Neill's sake.

"Wave a story in his face and see what happens," the older man replied. "I can't trust that the old instincts won't go away. And you know what happened last time." He had totally forgotten his meal.

"Last time?" Benedek asked. "Hey, look, I keep my hand in with the stories when I get something good, but it's not my main gig these days. I've gone legit. If something's classified, I'm not stupid enough to print it. Just say the word and I'll clam up." He made a pantomime of zipping his lips together.

"You'd have to," O'Neill said flatly. There was no evidence of conciliation in his voice or posture. "Drop the subject, kiddies," he said sternly. "This has gone far enough."

Teal'c had continued to study the artifact during the conversation and Jonathan, afraid they meant to confiscate it, had barely glanced away from it, so he was watching it when a very peculiar thing happened. As Teal'c's fingers slid around the edges of the artifact, it made a faint, almost subliminal whirring sound and the letters blurred for a second, shifted, and solidified again, this time with different writing. It looked like Akkadian, a language Jonathan could read, as long as he had reference materials beside him. He had never seen anything happen like that in his entire life. He dropped his taco in astonishment and it missed his plate, landing with a small plop on the tabletop.

"Whoa! Check it out!" yelped Benedek, then he cast an uneasy glance at O'Neill and lowered his voice to a near whisper. "Okay, okay, I'm careful. J.J, good buddy, what you've got here is a genuine gizmo hot off a UFO."

At that, Jonathan thought O'Neill relaxed fractionally, but he was still tense and wary. He plucked the object from Teal'c's hand. "We'll have to confiscate this," he insisted flatly.

"You can't," Jonathan cried, mopping at the strewn lettuce. "It's the property of the Georgetown Museum, duly assigned to us by the government of Iran."

"Looks like maybe they didn't have the right to give it," Benedek offered, shooting questioning looks around the table.

"It's been buried for over 2500 years," Jonathan argued, dumping the remains of his taco on his plate and pushing it aside. "If they weren't the original owners, I'd say whoever brought it abandoned it a long time ago."

"I'm sorry, Dr. MacKensie," Daniel offered. "It's just that there is restriction on...on...this field," he concluded lamely. "You're investigating it. Before long, you'd have learned things that could be dangerous."

"Talking about it here is dangerous, too," O'Neill put in. He glanced over his shoulder as if to search out enemy agents or disreputable archaeologists. "I'll take the artifact back with us."

"Dr. MacKensie is a recognized expert in the field," Daniel offered hastily as a form of appeasement. "Couldn't he come in tomorrow and work on it with me? He does have ownership. We don't live in a dictatorship, Jack. That would make us no better than the Goa — " He cut off what he was going to say and pretended great interest in his plate.

O'Neill eyed him sourly. Carter looked distressed. Teal'c turned into a statue, neither moving nor speaking.

"The text on that document is vital," Jonathan cut in. "I don't know how it was able to shift the way it did, but I recognize the current writing. Don't you see, if the two, er, pages say the same thing, this could be a veritable Rosetta Stone." He wondered what language started with 'goa'. It rang no bells with him. He'd have to ponder that one but he knew better than to ask. If he pushed too hard, O'Neill would gather up his team and Jonathan's stone and depart, and that would be the end of it.

"What's a Rosetta Stone when it's at home?" O'Neill demanded, hesitating in the very act of rising. He sank back into his seat as if he'd decided he'd better gather information first.

"A stone tablet discovered in Egypt by Napoleon's troops, containing three separate languages," Sam put in hastily. "By using the known one, translation of the others was possible."

"It's in the British Museum," Daniel added, holding up his fork to illustrate his point. "Seeing it was one of the most exciting moments of my life."

The colonel cocked an eyebrow at him. "Guess you're easily impressed, Danny boy. You think you can use it to translate the language that was on it at first?"

"Well... we could give it a try. Come on, Jack," wheedled Daniel, brimming with excitement. "Remember the texts we found when we... encountered Dr. Littlefield? If we could make a dent in understanding what they all said, we could..."

O'Neill's voice was fondly amused. "Get a handle on that 'meaning of life' stuff you're so gung ho about?"

Sensing that he was mellowing, Jonathan reached out and took back the artifact, moving very carefully. Wrapping it in its cloth, he put it back in the leather box. "I'm quite willing to meet with you tomorrow and bring the artifact," he volunteered. "I have some rubbings of the text on the larger artifacts with me, as well. I could work in collaboration with Dr. Jackson and Teal'c on it."

Daniel's eyes twinkled. "Come on, Jack, it's how I got recruited. The artifact does belong to Dr. MacKensie, or at least his university's museum."

O'Neill turned measuring eyes on Benedek. "It isn't Dr. MacKensie I'm worried about. This isn't something I want to expose a reporter to. Not after last time."

"Benedek isn't threatening to reveal secrets," Sam told him hastily. "He might even be willing to sign a non-disclosure statement."

"You bet I would," Benedek agreed brightly. "If I can get a promise in return that, if this should ever be de-classified, I'd get an exclusive. Can you spell Pulitzer? Let's deal."

"Can we trust his word?" Sam asked Jonathan.

"If he gives his word, he'll keep it," the anthropologist replied without hesitation. Benedek was good at weaseling out of offering his word but, when pushed, he could be trusted completely.

"I don't like this," O'Neill groused. "What are they anyway but a pair of ghost hunters, without proper clearance? General Hammond will have kittens."

Teal'c raised one eyebrow and said, deadpan, "I do not believe that is a biologically possibility, O'Neill."

The colonel rolled his eyes as Daniel and Sam chuckled.

"When I was brought in, I worked in strict isolation," Daniel reminded him, poking his fork into the remnants of his dinner and then giving it up as a lost cause. "I just did translation. I didn't know what I was translating or why. I honestly believe Dr. MacKensie could help us here. Any non-classified material could go to him. Come on, Jack, I think we need to go with this. If that material is really...what we think it is...we need to know more about it. Remember, there are the bigger pieces in the hands of the government of Iran. That might eventually become a problem for us. I don't think Dr. MacKensie is one, though, and if he trusts Benedek..." Daniel ran down. "Well...maybe I'm not ready to go there yet. He turned everything I said around and printed an article that made me look like a crackpot. It practically destroyed my credibility as a scientist. This came out shortly before I met Catherine, and I couldn't even get the experts to sit through one of my lectures after that."

"Thought you had little space friends, did they?" Jack teased, trying to break the tension. "Come on, Danny boy, you're doing vital work and everyone on the team trusts you and respects what you're doing."

"If it weren't for Catherine, I wouldn't have been able to get a job teaching high school sociology," Daniel muttered, favoring Benedek with a reproachful glare. "I had three papers rejected by prestigious journals after his article appeared."

Jonathan cast a sideways glance at Benedek, who was uncharacteristically silent, pretending great interest in his coffee cup. Usually Benedek jumped in and claimed that the story had been a great one, that it had sold a lot of copies of the Register and that he hadn't done more than bend the truth a fraction. But Benedek had come a long way from the irreverent journalist Jonathan had first met. He was still irreverent and mouthy, of course. That was his nature. But he'd gradually revealed a more serious side that he'd long kept hidden. Jonathan had come to realize that Benedek admitted things to him that he'd never told any other of his many and colorful friends. Of course he'd cover the vulnerable moments afterwards with annoying behavior to distract Jonathan, but after the first few times, Jonathan had gotten a better handle on him. It dawned on MacKensie now that Benedek's carefree attitude in publishing the story had nearly destroyed a good man's career, and he could see Benedek realizing it, too. It wasn't often that Benedek did guilt — usually he was utterly convinced that what he did was right and for the best and if anyone doubted it they were just too ignorant to get the whole picture. This time, his hasty, irreverent action might cost Jonathan a valuable, irreplaceable artifact, not to mention Daniel's entire career.

Benedek said slowly, "Look, I'm sorry. I didn't have a clue about the world of academia then. Well, not many clues. I knew Dr. Jon and I was working on my masters degree but I still had an in with the Register, and it was my bread and butter to pay for my higher education. UFOs and all that kind of stuff sells a lot of papers. And you've gotta admit what you were claiming sounded just like that."

Daniel didn't intend to admit any such thing. "You thought I was a crackpot and that it didn't matter what you wrote about me," he said tightly.

"Okay, yeah, I did think that," Benedek admitted. He slid the cup in little circles on the tabletop, leaving a faint smear of coffee behind. "Looks like I called that one wrong if Uncle Sam buys into what you do."

Daniel's friends didn't interfere. Instead, they waited, watching Daniel, to see what he would do. It was plain meeting Benedek had opened old wounds. "Dr. MacKensie would be useful in the translation," Daniel finally said. "I doubt Mr. Benedek knows ancient languages."

Benedek's shoulders slumped slightly but he straightened them immediately. "Never mind. I'm on vacation anyway. Think I want to spend my time cooped up in a musty room watching Dr. Jon translate? That ranks right up there with watching the grass grow. I'll pass."

Colonel O'Neill surprised everyone. "No, I think he'd better come."

Daniel gave him a hurt look then smoothed it away as if he understood the colonel's motives whether he believed in them or not.

"Are you sure that's wise, sir?" Sam put in hastily, darting a glance from O'Neill to Daniel and back. "I mean..."

"I know what you mean, Captain, and I have to admit I don't care for the guy's type, but I think I'd be more comfortable if he was where I could see him."

"Protective custody?" Benny said with forced brightness. He was definitely not at the top of his form. "I can live with it. Tell you what, I'll bring the brie and you furnish the espresso. I know where I can get some great party hats..."

Benedek... Jonathan suddenly felt sorry for his friend. He started to slip the leather case into his jacket pocket only to have O'Neill reach out and appropriate it. "It will be safer with us than it will be in a motel room," he said. "I'm not saying we'll confiscate it permanently but, for now, that's the way it has to be."

Benedek opened his mouth to offer a hot protest but, before he could speak, Jonathan elbowed him hastily. Not now, Benedek. Don't press your luck. The former journalist subsided. Jonathan didn't much like it himself, but it was a fight he knew he couldn't win and, at least, he hadn't been shut out entirely.

"I think it's time to break up this happy little gathering," O'Neill said, poking the remains of his chimichanga with a noticeable lack of enthusiasm. "Give us the name of your motel and we'll send a car for you in the morning."

"It'll be all right, Jonathan," Daniel said hastily, but his reassurance didn't extend to Benedek. MacKensie hastily gave the name and address of their motel and led Benedek away. The evening had not gone well.

"It's definitely naquadah," Sam Carter said as the four of them regrouped in the lab back at Stargate Command. They'd decided to return there rather than meeting in one of their off-base quarters for security purposes. Deep beneath NORAD in Cheyenne Mountain, the base provided them not only with security but also immediate research facilities. Sam had wasted no time running tests to confirm what they had all suspected. The appearance and texture of the small tablet matched the material that composed the Stargate, an ancient alien artifact that enabled the team to travel to other worlds.

"So you're postulating Goa'uld presence in ancient Persia?" Daniel queried. "We know there were Goa'uld in Babylon. Nem told me that when he was trying to find out what had happened to his mate. This would be much later, I think. Maybe about 2500 years. Long after the ancient Egyptians buried the Stargate." He punched keys on the computer keyboard, bringing up a timeline to show the history of civilization on Earth. The line had been modified to indicate knowledge of Goa'uld presence on the planet.

"Nearly yesterday," Jack teased. He held up the artifact. "Teal'c, you know how the thing works. Are there more 'pages' for us to look at?"

"It is small. I do not believe there would be more than three or four." He picked it up and played with it, causing another shift of text. "There are only three, each with a different language. I cannot read any of them, but I recognize several words. This one means 'slave' in an ancient Goa'uld tongue." He traced over it with his finger. "I recognize it. I have heard Apophis speak it on many planets."

"So, are we gonna find things on this tablet that will give away what we're doing here to MacKensie?" Jack asked suspiciously. He was sure the professor would complain loudly if he couldn't have the artifact back.

"Even if it speaks of the Goa'uld and Stargates, it wouldn't be readily apparent," Daniel put in hastily. "Remember, when I came here, the translators had interpreted 'Stargate' to mean 'doorway to heaven'. I think a reference like that could be interpreted to mean the realm of the gods or the entrance to the afterlife. At least, here, we knew better. Dr. MacKensie won't, even if Benedek fills his head with UFO stories tonight." He grimaced, still seething. Even if his career had taken a turn for the better, even if he had a team who had become his family and had won the respect of everyone involved in the project, Benedek's story still had the power to wound him. Benedek hadn't destroyed his career, but that was just the luck of the draw. What was worse, at the time, Benedek hadn't even cared that what he'd done had hurt.

"We can keep the guy away from here if it'd make you feel better," Jack put in. He had a good handle on Daniel's moods by now. "I just would feel happier keeping an eye on him."

"We are keeping an eye on him," Sam reminded him. "We're having the motel watched unobtrusively."

"And the phone bugged?" Daniel queried.

"The last thing Dr. MacKensie is going to do is report to his boss that we confiscated the artifact," Sam said. "I know her. She's a distant cousin of mine. If it were me, I wouldn't tell her, either. I'd wait and hope to get it back, and cross my fingers that she never find out I'd lost it temporarily."

"Jonathan wasn't the one I was worried about," Daniel pointed out. "If Benedek calls the National Register..."

"He said that he would not," Teal'c reminded them. "He offered to sign a statement not to reveal what he has learned. I believe he regrets what he did to you, Daniel Jackson, and I do not think he is foolish enough to report on a classified project."

"No, he just knows there's a great story here and he wants first crack at it," Daniel said hastily. "The only thing he regrets is not getting away with it." He glanced sideways at Jack, then said brusquely, "Let me see that tablet. I can read Akkadian."

He was aware of eyes meeting over his bent head but he ignored them. What Benedek had done to him had been one of the worst things that had happened to him in his entire professional career. The scorn of his peers had cut deep. Of course, since then, he'd had to face a far worse pain, losing his wife Sha're to the Goa'uld. But he could spare no kind thoughts for the man who had nearly ruined him just to publish a tabloid story.

"What about the fact that he's a known journalist?" Sam asked. "After the death of that reporter in Washington, I can't believe you'd call attention down on this one, Colonel."

"Armin was going to expose the project," Jack replied. "I had to report what he planned. General Hammond assured me that he didn't call down that hit and run on him."

Daniel glanced up. Jack might believe that the General himself hadn't ordered the cold-blooded murder of the reporter who had meant to publish an exposι on the Stargate Project, but Hammond had certainly reported it to his superiors and there was no telling what they might have done. Colonel Mayborne was just the type to pull a stunt like that, and there were political factions involved, too. None of SG-1 liked the idea that Armin Selig had been intentionally silenced but neither could they write off the possibility, and Daniel suspected that Jack still felt bad about it.

"I don't think General Hammond did." Sam voiced their joint suspicion. "But bringing another reporter here, even in the most controlled setting possible, won't sit well. I'm not sure the General would clear it. Benedek knows our work is top secret and I'm afraid he suspects we've found a UFO. He'll want to write it up, and the more we deny that anything of the sort is going on, the more he'll believe it is."

"Well, we can't tell him about the Stargate," Daniel objected. "We can't even tell Dr. MacKensie. But we need to talk to him. I think there was something suspicious about the skeletal remains he found. Possibly they weren't entirely human or they were entwined with the remnants of a Goa'uld. We need that information. And we need to see his tracings of the larger tablets. It could give us invaluable information about the Goa'uld presence on earth in ancient times."

"That makes my heart go pitter-pat just thinking about it," Jack muttered. "I can see why we need the professor. I just want to keep an eye on Benedek. I don't trust him as far as I could lob the Stargate." He grimaced. "What I don't want to do is call down a hit on him."

Even for Daniel, who viewed Benedek with great bitterness, that would be going too far. "I don't, either, Jack. Can't we just have him followed?"

"If we bring him here, we can have him sign a non-disclosure statement," O'Neill insisted. "He said he'd sign one."

"In exchange for permission to write a news story on the project when it was declassified, sir," Sam reminded him.

"If he's still alive then," O'Neill said. When they looked at him quickly, he shook his head. "No, relax, kiddies, I'm not gonna put out a hit on him. I just meant there isn't any immediate plan to de-classify this project and I'd be surprised if there was in Benedek's lifetime."

"I think both of them will have to sign non-disclosure statements, sir," Sam put in hastily. "And, of course, they should be kept as far away from the Stargate itself as possible."

"Ya think?" O'Neill quirked an eyebrow at her. "I'll talk to General Hammond about it before we go any further. You want to lock the artifact up for the night, Daniel?"

Jackson nodded, but he wasn't happy about future contact with Edgar Benedek. He wasn't happy at all.

He would have been far less enthusiastic if he had seen what had happened as soon as SG-1 left the lab for the night, the artifact sealed away in a locked cabinet until morning. At first, it simply lay in confinement, then the letters on the face of the artifact began to glow faintly. One by one, the three screens shifted, the writing growing brighter and brighter until the glimmer oozed out around the edges of the cabinet door and illuminated the entire room.

Several levels deeper, the Stargate quivered, the chevrons resonating in tandem with the glow, lighting up in a certain order but not engaging. The chevrons lit in order six times in rapid succession and then dimmed. A near-subliminal shiver stirred the floor in the embarkation room, but no one was on duty in the control room, and the computer did not set off an alarm. The Gate stilled and, in the lab, the light on the artifact went out. In the control room overhead, the tech on duty didn't look up from his computer screen, where he was checking old reports. No one on the base realized what had happened.

"Does it dawn on you, Jack, that we're being hauled away to a top secret base and that we might never come out again?" Benedek asked MacKensie in an undertone. They were riding in the back of an unobtrusive car, separated from the Air Force driver by a pane of glass. He had picked them up at their hotel with little conversation, just an inquiry into their names. He had helped Jonathan with his briefcase, setting it in the front passenger seat after first looking inside, probably to check for weapons. Benny didn't like this one little bit.

"You're being paranoid, Benedek," Jonathan replied, but some of his friend's suspicion must have rubbed off because he didn't sound at all convincing.

"Are you kidding? It's not paranoia when they're really out to get you. We're not going to a picnic. Jackson would like to slam dunk me through some cosmic basketball hoop, and that O'Neill character wouldn't trust Honest Abe. That Teal'c guy could break me in tiny little pieces with one hand tied behind his back."

"He didn't appear inclined that way to me," Jonathan tried to reassure them both, squashing down his doubtful expression.

"Hired muscle, that's what he has to be," Benedek replied. "O'Neill's an Air Force Colonel. A big shot. I've gotta say we're into a big UFO conspiracy here, Jonny. Don't you ever watch the X-Files?"

"Only to look at Gillian Anderson," Jonathan said involuntarily, biting his bottom lip as if he would have liked to call the words back. "Come on, Benedek, I don't believe in a global UFO conspiracy."

"You bet your bippy that's what this is. Maybe not global. Maybe US Military. You know where we're heading? NORAD, that's where. You've heard of Defcon 1? Ability to launch a first strike? Bingo. Where else would they base a UFO investigation? A lot more secure than Area 51, I can tell you."

"I think you're starting to believe your own paper," Jonathan said dampeningly.

"Then tell me this, then, buds. Why recruit somebody who thinks the Ancient Egyptians didn't build the pyramids to translate all this ancient stuff? The little green men are here — and they've been here since people started walking on two legs and building fires. Maybe they even taught us how."

"And that's why the Air Force is studying ancient languages?" Jonathan frowned. "It sounds ludicrous, Benedek."

"But you can't come up with a better answer, can you?" Benedek challenged. He liked the conspiracy idea. It would sell a lot of papers, and tracking UFO stories was part of his new job at Georgetown, too. Okay, so he probably wouldn't dare write it up for publication, at least not right away, but he'd know. And besides, it gave him something to think about besides the look on Daniel Jackson's face last night — and the disappointed one on Jonathan's afterwards. Okay, so he'd bragged about the article to Jonathan in the restaurant before they started talking to the other four, but that didn't mean he was pond scum. Crackpots usually made great copy, and Dr. Jackson had sounded just like a crackpot to him. Only it seemed his buddies didn't think he was — and Jonathan didn't either. Okay, a wrong call, but it hadn't been obvious at the time.

"The story is more important to you than the people, isn't it?" Jonathan had flung at him in their motel room last night.

"The story is the people," he had defended himself, unexpectedly stung by the look on MacKensie's face. "Come on, Dr. Jon, you'd have thought what I did if you'd interviewed him."

"No, I don't think so. He had validation for what he claimed. As I talked to him at that long-ago conference, I could see that he was a serious scholar and a brilliant man. And, last night, I saw three people who would defend him to the death. Colonel O'Neill didn't look the type to be taken in, and Sam Carter is a brilliant astrophysicist."

"Bingo!" Benedek had cried. "Listen to yourself, buds. Astrophysicist! I knew it was little green men."

Jonathan had made an exasperated sound and given up but Benedek was sure Dr. Jackson had been vindicated because there were UFO's. He couldn't think of many other possibilities, and it wasn't because his imagination couldn't stretch that far. The best other option was a SETI thing, long-range communication from outer space — and maybe the aliens just happened to speak Ancient Persian. He'd heard of language families, but this would have to be the real long-distance kind. No, UFO's made a lot more sense.

When they arrived at their destination, it was NORAD. Escorted by what felt like a hundred MP's but was really no more than eight, they were taken to an elevator and two of the armed guards rode down with them, one of them standing in front of the elevator buttons so Benny couldn't tell how many levels they went down. He counted it off mentally to make a guess and figured they had to be at least twenty floors down if not more when the elevator stopped, maybe even thirty. There was no lighted panel over the door to help him out. He was trying to imagine what kind of secret research was carried on down here when the elevator doors slid open and there were O'Neill and Teal'c waiting for them. Today Teal'c wasn't wearing his sweatband, and Benedek got a good idea why he'd been wearing it at the restaurant. He had a stylized gold tattoo on his forehead that looked like a snake in an oval; it was a raised tattoo, and it didn't look like it had been glued on. Jonathan noticed it and tried, politely, not to stare, although his eyebrows shot up, almost as if in recognition. Okay, so maybe it was some ancient symbol, but why would an Air Force guy wear something like that? How could he get away with it?

On the other hand, his fatigues had no rank insignia, and the Colonel's did. Was Teal'c a civilian like Jackson? And if so, how did he get here? What did he have to offer?

Trailed by the armed guards, Benedek and MacKensie were escorted to a very high tech laboratory. Benny could imagine what kind of powerful mainframe the computer was connected to. Some of the equipment was so esoteric he didn't have a clue, and he kept himself up to date with as much as he could — you never knew when knowing the game could save your bacon. Dr. Jonny used computers — he'd come on a lot since Benny had first met him — but Benedek had taught himself everything he could. Information was the key to everything.

Jackson and Sam were waiting for them in the room, Jonny's confiscated tablet on the table. The anthro prof gave a 'whew' of relief at the sight of it even before he greeted the others, and Benny understood that. Now that he was working for Dr. Moorhouse, too, he had to have a little healthy respect for the Dragon Lady, but he played it cool, never let her know she could make him sweat, especially since he could drive her up the walls without even trying.

Also on the table were two folders with official Air Force stamps on the cover. "Non-disclosure statements," O'Neill explained, pointing at them. "If each of you would read them and sign them, we could get down to business."

"And then we get to hear about the UFO's?" Benny asked, reaching for his folder and popping it open.

"There are really no Unidentified Flying Objects involved in this," Sam said promptly. She looked like she was telling the truth — more or less. Had she put a slight stress on the word 'unidentified', or was that wishful thinking? If they knew the aliens came from Alpha Centauri or Vulcan, then the little space ships were not unidentified. Benny decided not to say so. He could play it cool if he needed to.

Beside him, Jonathan read the document thoroughly. "It seems rather arbitrary. You determine what information I can share."

"Your artifact ties into a classified military project, Dr. MacKensie," O'Neill explained. "We're not being arbitrary. We're talking national security here."

"It's little green guys, isn't it?" Benedek asked, eyeballing his own sheet.

Teal'c shook his head. "I assure you, Mr. Benedek, there are no 'green guys' involved at all, and there have never been."

"He has a UFO fixation," Daniel muttered, disgusted.

Jonathan signed his statement reluctantly, probably knowing Dr. Moorhouse would probably come down on him like a ton of bricks for assuming the responsibility that should really be hers. If his statement was like Benny's, it said that the artifact would be returned to the Georgetown Institute if that proved feasible, and that information on reading the language would be allowed to be shared. That probably meant a lot of samples of it weren't lying around in archaeological sites around the world. It was the best deal they would get, though. Benny could imagine himself languishing in a military prison if he didn't sign. Not good. Besides, he wasn't crazy enough to print classified information.

"Relaxovision," he said, gesturing reassuringly. "I'll sign it." There were guys with guns outside the door. He figured he had no choice.

When O'Neill took the folders, Daniel turned to Jonathan. "We didn't do much translation last night but Teal'c discovered that there was a third page to the artifact. It was in Early Phoenician. I can read that, but I didn't begin the translation. We can work on that together."

"I've studied it, but I'm not as fluent in it as I am in Akkadian," Jonathan replied. "I've studied the various cuneiform languages. I do a lot of work with paleoanthropology so ancient languages isn't especially my field, but I like translations. You said you knew Dr. Spengler?"

"We e-mail each other. And he and his team came here once."

"He and his team?" Benny jumped in. This was great! "You had the Ghostbusters here? NORAD was haunted? I love it! I suppose that's classified, too? That'd make a great story — or even a report for the G.I. paranormal unit."

"Classified," O'Neill replied with utter finality.

"Hey, Colonel-baby, I bet you just loved Peter Venkman."

O'Neill's face tightened slightly, but it was at the appellation. "They were all right, a good team. Daniel knows Dr. Spengler through his ancient languages."

"He's one of the world's leading experts in Sumerian," Daniel said hastily. "And he knows various other ancient languages. I wish we could call him in, but you were right, Jonathan, he is unavailable. We checked last night. The Ghostbusters are in Norway, of all places."

"Ice ghosts," Benny said knowingly. "Dangerous." O'Neill grimaced.

Jonathan sat down in front of the artifact and picked it up. He must have been itching to handle it from the moment he walked in and saw it. He ran his fingers over it, seeking out the way Teal'c made it do its little song and dance last night. After a few seconds, he got it and the artifact's text shifted. Benny would have loved to know what caused it to do that — and whether Teal'c had expected it last night or if it had just happened. This wasn't exactly the technology they usually had in old time Persia, was it? Hey, suppose it was magic, used in some religious ritual?

"Whoa, check it out, maybe this is a little occult toy," he volunteered.

O'Neill groaned, but Teal'c said flatly, "It is not."

"Occult toy?" Daniel didn't quite look at Benedek as he asked the question. He'd been deliberately avoiding meeting his eyes since they had arrived. He wasn't inclined to be forgiving.

"You know, mystical stuff. For ancient rituals."

"The rituals are possible, O'Neill," Teal'c confirmed. Was he an archaeologist? He didn't look the type, but the others listened to him with respect.

"What kind of rituals are we talking about here, Teal'c?" the colonel demanded.

"Rituals to select those who would be taken away to serve as hosts," Teal'c replied, choosing his words with care. Hosts? Hosts for what? "Depending on the state of the enslaved populations, sometimes it was cloaked in ritual."

"Instead of just grabbing the likely candidates and running?" O'Neill countered. "You mean, make the locals think it was some kind of big honor so they'd send along their best and brightest." He grimaced.

"The G — they did not usually bother to go through such rituals, but sometimes they did. It would depend on the System Lord involved. Perhaps he might enjoy the panoply." He hesitated. "Is that the correct word, Daniel Jackson?"

"It's right. And I think that would make a lot of sense, Jack. Pomp and ceremony would add to the religious factor. In Ancient Egypt, where the Pharaoh was considered the living god, rituals were in place for all facets of life. We saw some of that ourselves on — " He paused so abruptly that Jonathan lifted his head from the fascination of the tablet and stared at him.

On? Benny frowned. "On PBS? On Main Street?" No, on a UFO. That as it. Maybe they'd actually been on an alien spaceship. This was going to be a better story than he thought.

"On our last archaeological expedition," O'Neill said with wry amusement. "Did you think we meant 'on Mars'?" He was mocking Benedek's imagination, but there was something going down here. And archaeologists didn't usually see rituals at digs. The ancient folk who had performed them were always long dead by the time Indiana Jones arrived on the scene.

"I assure you, Mr. Benedek, we do not have a spaceship available to us and I know I have never used one to go to other planets, nor has one landed on Earth," Sam replied. "We have seen a few ancient sites, that's all. This isn't NASA."

Daniel sat down beside Jonathan, who opened his briefcase and passed over a two folded sheets that proved to be rubbings of the larger tablets that had been found on his dig. Benny wondered if they were novels, with a lot more pages than this little gizmo. How could a piece of stone have a power source? A buried computer chip? No, they would have been tough to buy at the Old Persian Radio Shack.

"System Lord?" Jonathan said abruptly. "You used that phrase, but I see something on this tablet that might refer to a similar person."

"What? Where?" Daniel sat beside him eagerly and bent over the tablet, staring down at Jonathan's pointing finger. "Beware the System Lord," he read slowly, pausing to think. "And prepare attack? To strike?"

"Strike before the prisoners? Victims?" Jonathan frowned.

"Become slaves." Daniel continued translating. He glanced up hastily at his teammates. "Jack, it sounds like an incentive to revolt." He squinted at the lettering again. "The snake god..." His voice trailed off. "Apophis."

"But Apophis is from Egyptian mythology," Jonathan objected. "It was a huge serpent who was the enemy of Ra, the sun god." His eyes lifted and he frowned at the tattoo on Teal'c's forehead. "Your tattoo — it's the symbol of Apophis. I've seen it before, in ancient papyri."

For a second, none of the others spoke, then Daniel said hastily, "Well...yes, that's right, Apophis is from Egyptian mythology."

"I've seen that symbol before," Jonathan persisted. "The Ophites were a Gnostic sect in...Syria, I think. They worshiped the serpent. Was it Apophis? I think they claimed that the snake was the personification of wisdom. I haven't thought of that in years, but I think I came across that symbol when I was reading, only more stylized. It was one of their religious sigils."

"What's a sigil when it's at home?" Jack demanded, an eyebrow elevating at the word. He added in an undertone, "He talks like you, Danny."

"It's an occult symbol that represents a supernatural entity or being," Daniel volunteered with growing excitement. "Jack, this could be. I've heard of that but didn't make the connection. It could be a remnant of the same thing, from the time when Apophis — " He stopped abruptly.

"You know," Benny slid in, grinning, "The way you talk about this Apophis character, it sounds like you know him personally and have him over for tea every now and then. I bet you have great parties. Do you invite Thor and Pan?" Whoa! Check it out! All those people avoiding his eyes at the same moment. Maybe they just had mass hysteria. The last thing he could buy was that they chummed around with ancient gods.

"I have never had Apophis over for tea," offered Teal'c in an utterly dry voice.

"Besides, this tablet refers to a religious revolt against Apophis in ancient times," Daniel cut in. It would have sounded good if he didn't act like he was covering something up by talking fast. "It's about a religious conflict, a temple revolt. I want to see if the other 'pages' say the same thing." His fingers found the portion of the tablet that let the writing shift. This time, when it changed, Benedek could have sworn that, for a second, the letters glowed.

"Did you...see that?" Daniel asked warily, raising his eyes to his teammates.

"What, the little reading light?" O'Neill frowned. "Did it do that before, Dr. MacKensie?"

"Never. Could it be a trick of the light?"

As if to prove him wrong, the letters suddenly brightened to brilliant intensity. Beneath his feet, the floor began to quiver, and a P.A. system suddenly blared out, "Off-world Gate activation."

"Dammit, the P.A. System was supposed to be off in here," O'Neill swore, jumping to his feet. He looked like whoever screwed up would find his head on a platter.

Jonathan and Benedek exchanged doubtful glances, but the others headed for the door at a dead run. "Stay here," O'Neill called over his shoulder. Gate activation? Benedek wondered what that meant. Off-world? This just got better and better.

"Could the naquadah in the tablet be resonating with the Gate?" Sam asked urgently as they left the room.

"Come on, Jonny, we're missing the fun," Benedek insisted and started after them — only to come to a dead halt when one of the MP types blocked the way, weapon in hand.

Behind them, the tablet shone so brightly they had to squint against it.

"You think because it's made of the same substance as the Gate it would do this?" Daniel asked as they raced for the control room. "It shouldn't be powerful enough to do that, surely."

"It did light up just when things started to get interesting," Jack pointed out. "One minute we're sitting there about to give everything away to Super-snoop and the Prof, and the next we've got the tablet turning into a beacon and then we've got an incoming traveler. I don't like the sound of this."

They burst into the control room to find General Hammond before them, his face grim and intent as he watched the Gate and the technicians who manned the stations. "There's no confirmation signal from SG-3, and they are the only team off-world at the moment," he said. "But the Gate has been activated." Below them, the heavy door swung shut to seal off the room, while armed troops took up a stance, weapons aimed at the Gate, prepared to take out the threat the moment it appeared.

"You don't know who it is?" Jack asked, registering these details automatically.

Hammond shook his head. "No. But the Gate powered up much more quickly than usual, as if it used the accelerated activation program."

"It was as if it had been pre-set and kicked in at a given signal," the technician offered, "and encrypted to work at the fastest possible speed. I couldn't bypass the program."

"How could that have happened?" Hammond demanded. "Captain Carter..."

Sam was already at a keyboard, pushing buttons. "Sir," she said as she worked, "the naquadah artifact we brought back last night suddenly lit up as if it were illuminated from within. It's possible something in its frequency resonated with the Gate, but I'll know more soon..."

"Brighter than a Christmas tree," O'Neill confirmed, staring down at the activated Stargate, its surface rippling with energy. "And the minute it did, we heard the off-world activation warning."

"It's highly possible there is a connection, sir," Sam confirmed. "I'm finding evidence of a trace reading that matches this setting," she added, nodding at her screen. "And those coordinates do not match any of the destinations on the Abydos cartouche. If this were somehow caused by the artifact, it would seem to have activated itself not five minutes after we left last night and then shut down again until now. No one was traveling at that time. The Gate didn't open. But the coordinates were recorded in the computer. Since the Gate didn't open, no alarm sounded. That shouldn't be possible. I can't understand why it happened."

"Close the iris," ordered Hammond curtly with a nod at the technician. "I don't like this. That artifact could have been left on earth as a time bomb, in case we ever had a working Gate. Now that it is in close proximity to our Gate, it did what it was intended to do." Daniel knew that was speculation, but the General could have hit the nail on the head.

Jack's face tightened. "And we've seen what happens when various forms of naquadah come too close to the Gate. Look at Cassandra. Do you think we should move the artifact to — "

"Sir, it won't close," the technician cried in alarm. "I keep trying but something overrides me every single time. It's as if it's been coded away and we don't have the password to activate it."

Daniel gazed down at the armed troops waiting in the Embarcation Room. Whoever came to the base would have to face them, but would they be protection enough? It might be a System Lord with Jaffa. It could even be Retu rebels. Whoever was coming was likely to be unfriendly — but maybe... The tablet had spoken of revolt against the System Lords. Could the traveler be a potential ally? He glanced down at Sam, who was frowning at the readings on her screen, at O'Neill, whose face was taut and angry, and at Teal'c, who had picked up his staff weapon on the way and stood with it ready in his hands, prepared to defend the base if necessary.

"Incoming traveler now, sir," the technician offered, and a second later, the wormhole's surface bubbled and shifted to allow one man through. The minute he stepped out onto the platform, the Gate closed behind him.

He was tall and dark-haired and bearded, hair and beard elaborately styled in waves, clad in a draped and pleated tunic that would not have been out of place in ancient Persia, gold bracelets around his upper arms and a circlet around his head. Daniel stared at him in disbelief. He looked rather like wall paintings Daniel had seen of Zoroastrian priests or magi. An arrogant face sported a Roman nose, and his mouth curled in a contemptuous smile as he surveyed the base, eyes lifting to take in the guards who stood ready to fire at the first command. One hand lifted indifferently and all the soldiers dropped their weapons, gasping in pain, turning up reddened palms to indicate the guns had suddenly become too hot to hold. "Put them away," he said scornfully. "You need no weapons against me." Although his words seemed to be in English, the accent was unfamiliar. Then he turned his full attention to the people in the control room. For an instant, his eyes narrowed on Teal'c and cold fury came into them. "Jaffa," he said and pointed at Teal'c, who dropped his staff weapon, staring down at it in surprise.

"You serve the evil one," snarled the man who stood there. His hair flowed in stylized waves down to his shoulders and his fingernails were tipped with gold.

"I am no longer in the service of Apophis," Teal'c replied stolidly, surreptitiously examining his hands for burns as he leaned in toward the microphone.

"I am General George Hammond, in control of this base," Hammond called into the speaker mike. "Who are you and what do you want with us?"

"You are not a System Lord?" challenged the dark man, his voice full of skepticism.

"No, I am not," Hammond denied. "We fight the System Lords. They are our enemies."

"So you say. I do not believe you, not yet. Why have you summoned me here?" He picked his way down the ramp on sandaled feet, never lowering his guard. The soldiers lined up in front of him, ready to take him on physically, now that they had been deprived of their weapons, prepared to jump him the moment Hammond gave the word.

"Summoned you?" asked Daniel, blinking in astonishment. "We didn't summon you. At least we didn't mean to. We don't even know who you are or why you came here."

"You lie."

"We have no reason to lie," Jack called. "We didn't expect you, and you overrode our computers."

"Computers?" The stranger frowned, testing the word upon his tongue as if he had never heard it before. "Yes, this place does not speak of Goa'uld technology. And yet, you have a Jaffa." He pointed whimsically at Teal'c, who cried out once in pain and staggered backward, his lips closing tightly over the possibility of future sound.

"Let him go!" Jack yelled. "He hasn't done anything to you." He whirled and slid his arm around Teal'c's shoulders to support him. The Jaffa sagged into the hold, his teeth digging into his bottom lip hard enough to draw blood. Daniel took his other arm, casting a contemptuous glare at the stranger.

The man's face darkened with scorn. "I beg to differ. He has hurt me and mine many times. I know who he is. He is Teal'c, First Prime of Apophis."

"No longer," Teal'c gasped, writhing in Jack's grasp. "I am no longer in the service of Apophis. I have rejected the Goa'uld and all they stand for."

"Where is he who summoned me?" the being demanded, his upper lip curling contemptuously, ignoring Teal'c's breathless claim. His eyes traveled the room as if the person he sought was hiding behind a panel. "Is he a coward, afraid to confront me? Summon him into my presence or I shall kill the Jaffa."

"Look, no one summoned you," Jack argued, his face furious. His arm tightened protectively around Teal'c's shoulders.

One of the troops in the Gate Room grabbed up his gun, wincing in pain, and fired directly at the intruder. The gun flew from his hand and the bullets stopped in midair before the stranger then clattered to the floor.

"Jack, he's got a personal shield," Daniel cautioned under his breath.

"Ya think?"

"I demand the one who summoned me," bellowed the alien. He put out his hand, palm outward and the soldier who had fired flew threw the air and hit the wall hard. The thunk of sound as his head struck echoed sickeningly through the chamber. Sliding down the wall, the man lay unmoving and the two men nearest him bent to examine him.

"He needs a doctor, sir," one called, raising his head to the control booth.

"Summon Dr. Frasier, but tell her to wait outside the Gate Room until I give the order," Hammond said in an aside. The tech obeyed.

Teal'c went limp in Jack's grip, nearly pulling O'Neill down on top of him. Together the Colonel and Daniel broke the fall, lowering him to the floor. Although the Jaffa's eyes were open a crack, there was no gleam of awareness in them. He was unconscious. If not for the slight rasp of his breathing, Daniel would have been afraid he was dead. If they couldn't solve this problem, he would be. "Jack, I think he means Dr. MacKensie," the anthropologist breathed softly. "He was handling the artifact when it lit up. And he had it in his possession longest. Maybe our 'friend' out there could tell."

"I heard that, Dr. Jackson," Hammond answered. To the alien he said, "That man has no clearance to come here."

"Then you have a dead Jaffa." He folded his arms across his chest and tapped one toe impatiently. "Your soldier will surely die without treatment. How many will you sacrifice in denying me what I seek? Such arrogance deserves punishment. I shall kill your people, one at a time, until I get what I want."

Jack was like a coiled spring, ready to jump. Carefully he straightened Teal'c's limbs, his mouth drawn in a tight line. Daniel had seen that look on his face before, and he knew it didn't bode well for the newcomer. "Careful, Jack," Daniel muttered.

"If we bring Dr. MacKensie down here, we're condemning him to death," Sam said under her breath. "He isn't part of this project. We can't ask him to die."

"I'm not gonna let Teal'c die," Jack ground out. "Watch him," he told Daniel and stood up again, shifting closer to the microphone as he glared down at the intruder. "What do you want with him? What right do you have to come in here and start hurting and killing people? You say you are not a Goa'uld or an ally of a Goa'uld, but you act just like one. You use your powers to hurt people because you can. I don't see one sliver of difference between you and Apophis."

For a moment, the stranger's face tightened in cold fury, then his lip curled. "Oh, how little you understand. Such small minds you possess. I owe you no explanations. Go and fetch Dr. MacKensie — yes, I heard what you said. I know his name. If you do not fetch him, I will bring him here myself, and you would not like that."

"No," insisted Jack. "Guess you never heard of words like 'please', did you? Forget it. Dr. MacKensie didn't summon you. He doesn't even know who you are. So why not dial up Planet Ego and go home?"

"I will not leave this place until I have what I have come for." He wiggled careless fingers and three of the troops in the Gate Room fell down, writhing on the floor and moaning in agony.

Daniel popped up. "What are you going to do with him?" he demanded angrily. "He's a good man. He never harmed you."

"Like you, he has stolen from the dead. But that can wait. Bring him or I will attack you next. I will cause you such pain you will remember it for weeks when I have stopped. Your muscles will cramp and twist for, although the pain I give you is illusory, you will feel it and fight it as if it were real." He smiled, displaying a set of very predatory teeth. "Try a sample of it, now." He wiggled one finger at Daniel, who sucked in his breath sharply as a sparkle of agony ran through his entire body, causing his muscles to jerk and twitch against it. The finger lowered and the pain passed, but Daniel stood braced, gnawing his bottom lip, hands curled tightly into fists. Somehow, Jack's arm was around his shoulders the way it had been around Teal'c's. When had that happened? He let himself sag into the grip as his taut muscles cautiously relaxed. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Sam frantically typing away at her keyboard.

"Hang in there, Danny boy," Jack chanted in his ear. "It's okay. I'm not gonna let bully boy do it again."

"You can't give him Dr. MacKensie, Jack," Daniel faltered. "It's not right. None of this is right. He's a terrorist and we can't give in to him." The alien wiggled his fingers again and Daniel flinched, twisting into the circle of Jack's arm only to realize there had been no pain this time.

"You see?" the stranger said. "You see how easy it is for me to assert my control? Now you will bring Jonathan MacKensie to me."

"But he didn't summon you," Daniel cried in exasperation, erupting out of Jack's grip and pressing both palms against the glass that separated him from the Gate Room. "Why, why, why won't you listen?"

"Cool it, Daniel," Jack cautioned in his ear, yanking him backward. "Don't make him any madder than he is."

Dr. Frasier arrived on the run and knelt beside Teal'c, feeling for a pulse in his wrist and lifting an eyelid to gaze at the pupil of his eye. "He's in shock, General. I'll need to transport him to the infirmary."

"Yes, take him away," the alien said with a dismissive gesture. "He has wearied me utterly." Frasier and Teal'c vanished without a trace, leaving only am empty section of floor where they had been a second before.

"He can teleport people," Sam blurted involuntarily.

"You better hope that was just a teleport," O'Neill muttered under his breath. He gave Daniel's shoulders a quick squeeze before surging forward to stand at the window, glaring down at the newcomer. "Are they safe?" he demanded.

"Oh, very well, if it bestirs you to grant my request, they are in the area where your medical team operates. Now, bring Dr. MacKensie, or I will send someone else to a place beyond retrieval. I could teleport you to a world with an atmosphere of fire, or into the very depths of space." He strolled arrogantly around the room, smiling when the soldiers shifted away from him. When two of them lunged at him from behind, he held up a hand, palm outward and they fell back, gasping.

Daniel saw the General look down at Sam, and she nodded quickly and pushed a button on her computer keyword. Gas hissed into the Gate Room. Soldiers staggered and began to drop. After a second, they were all out cold. But the dark-haired man merely strolled through the room, stepping over bodies, untouched. His personal shield must have protected him from Sam's attempt to render him unconscious.

"Clever and resourceful," observed the alien, gesturing at the gas that billowed around him. At once, it dissipated. "But annoying. Now we will get my wish — one way or another." He wiggled his fingers.

Abruptly Daniel found himself and Jack standing before the alien. Enough of the gas still lingered that Daniel felt vaguely lightheaded for a second, then the effects passed. "Jack, what — " he began when abruptly Jack whirled to face him, his movements jerky like a puppet dangling from its strings, and wrapped his fingers around Daniel's throat, tightening them cruelly.

"Ja-ack!" Daniel sputtered, pulling at his hands. He knew, even before he saw the desperation in his friend's expression, that the colonel could not fight the control the alien exerted over him.

"I'm sorry," O'Neill gasped, the words forced out from an extremity of need. "Don't make me kill him," he yelled at the alien. "If you do that, I'll find a way to stop you, no matter what it takes — and I'll enjoy it."

"But not this? Interesting." He stood watching, his face bland, while Daniel clawed at Jack's hands, fighting to break the grip of steel that was slowly cutting off his air. Spots danced before his eyes and the only thing keeping him on his feet was the tightening deathgrip around his neck. He could hear Sam and General Hammond yelling over the P.A. system, but the sound seemed distant and unreal.

"Daniel, I'm sorry." Jack could barely speak. His muscles bunched and his face twisted into a rictus of fierce determination as he fought the alien mind control, trying to lift his fingers. "I can't — "

"Bring Dr. MacKensie here," Hammond called from above, voice filtered through the P.A. system.

"N-no," Daniel struggled to object. "General, d-don't." The words were breathless and raspy, audible no further away than Jack, who tightened his grip, fury, helplessness, and self-loathing filling his eyes. Daniel could see the terrible struggle in his face as he strove to resist, to jerk his hands away and free Daniel, to protect his friend from the alien, but his hands didn't release their grip. The colonel always defended his team from danger, but this time, he was the danger, and he hated it. Daniel sagged, batting at O'Neill with fading strength. Jack might be his closest friend, but Daniel knew he'd rather be punched out than know that he had committed murder, the murder of a friend. Forcing his fingers into a fist, the anthropologist raised it to slam Jack, feeling the room fade around him, consciousness narrowing down to the horror on O'Neill's face.

"Stop what you're doing," Hammond called urgently, his voice full of contempt for the alien. "We're doing as you ask."

Jack's fingers flexed and let go, his body jerking abruptly as the control slid away. At once he grabbed for Daniel again, who couldn't help flinching at the sudden movement, afraid the grip would be reinstated. When Jack's face changed and twisted, Daniel stomped down the instinctive reaction. He knew his friend had never meant to hurt him. As he hauled breath into his tortured lungs, the room focused around him, dizzying, painful, and real, but he didn't tear his gaze away from O'Neill. "I'm...sorry, Jack," he wheezed and let himself sag into O'Neill's reassuring grip, offering his helplessness as proof of trust. They went down together, Jack gently breaking his fall and sitting on the floor with a gasping, panting Daniel sprawled beside him his head leaning against the colonel's shoulder. Muttering under his breath, O'Neill held him steady and stroked his hair the way he might have stroked Charlie's. His eyes were shadowed, and Daniel suspected he wouldn't throw off what had just happened very easily.

"I know you...couldn't help it..." he insisted. Talking hurt but he had to talk. "It wasn' I was...afraid of. You...have to know that. It was...what he might...make you do."

Jack shuddered. Daniel could feel it through his entire body. "Damn it, Daniel," he grated out disgustedly. "I couldn't control it. I fought it with everything I had and I couldn't control it. I might have killed you — Are you sure you're okay?"

"Positive." Never mind that his throat was tender, that Jack had been only seconds from killing him. They had to stand together against the threat because standing together was what mattered most. He sucked air into his greedy lungs. "It was not your fault."

"You see," smirked the alien, gazing down at them the way Daniel might regard a promising papyrus. "You are helpless before my powers." He prodded Daniel gently with his toe, and Jack lashed out with one hand and batted angrily at the sandaled foot.

"Leave him alone!"

"I'm all right, Jack," Daniel reassured him. It was growing easier to breathe and the spots that had danced before his eyes were gone. He knew he could get up, but he made himself lean against Jack for a moment longer, reassuring O'Neill with his body language that he hadn't been at fault for what had happened, that Daniel didn't blame him. Not that Jack would be happy about it. He was the type to hate the loss of control the alien had inflicted on him. The thought of a being powerful enough to make him hurt his own team would get to him in the worst way, and he'd blame himself for not helping Teal'c, too, even though there was nothing he could have done then, either. Daniel lifted his eyes and favored Jack with the most trusting smile he could produce. It wasn't at all difficult.

"Aw, Danny," Jack groaned, not quite able to meet the younger man's eyes.

"This grows tedious." The alien snapped his fingers, and suddenly Jonathan MacKensie and Edgar Benedek appeared before him, blinking in dazed surprise at the abrupt change of scene and at the sprawled bodies of the troops that littered the room. Jonathan staggered and would have fallen if the reporter hadn't shot out an automatic hand and caught him, steadying him until he had his balance. Benedek's eyes fixed upon the Stargate and he eyed it with fascination. It wasn't the UFO he must have expected to see, but he was clever enough to realize it was the focus of the Gate Room. Daniel could see frantic calculation in his eyes.

"Whoa!" he chortled, fascination filling his voice. "Beam me up, Scotty! No! Cancel that. It's not UFO's after all. It's time travel. Has to be."

"Is this guy for real?" Jack muttered under his breath.

"So who's the guy who's having a weird hair day?" Benedek persisted.

Dr. MacKensie, after one quick glance at Daniel and Jack to reassure himself they were all right, then he focused his attention on the alien. "Do you speak English?" he asked eagerly.

"I speak what I speak. You hear it as English, Dr. MacKensie. Come, we have little time. You summoned me. Now, I require your, albeit limited, assistance." He shot out an arm and curled it around Jonathan's wrist. "We go."

"No way! Hold it! Not so fast!" Benedek launched himself at the alien. "You're not taking him anywhere!"

"Oh, but I am." Amusement lit the dark eyes. "Do you remotely imagine you can stop me?"

He put up his free hand palm outward and aimed it at Benedek.

"Watch out, Mr. Benedek," Sam cautioned from above. "He can control a person's actions just by waving his hand."

"Not mine, he can't," Benedek growled. Closing his eyes for two seconds he muttered a few words hasty under his breath in a language Daniel didn't recognize — and he spoke twenty-three of them — then the reporter walked right up to the alien and punched him out. The traveler reeled backward a step or two in utter disbelief, then he caught himself and surged back, his face darkening with fury. He had not loosened his hold on Jonathan, who grabbed at the clutching fingers and tried in vain to pry them loose.

"Son of a bitch!" Jack deposed Daniel gently but urgently and lunged to his feet, grabbing Jonathan to yank him away from the alien, but the palm came around to him and he reeled backward and nearly fell. Muttering profanity under his breath, Jack braced himself to try again, halted by Daniel as he jumped to his feet and caught O'Neill's arm.

"Look out, Jack. He can do the same things a Goa'uld can do with the ribbon devices. Don't let him attack you." Jack didn't answer. He simply took a position between Daniel and the alien and planted his feet firmly, determined offer what protection he could. Daniel edged around beside him, falling back when O'Neill favored him with an urgent, impatient, near-desperate frown.

"Let him go," Benedek hollered, cocking his fist to strike again.

The alien drew back the controlling hand and rubbed his jaw. "Fascinating. Who would believe such a little worm could resist my might. This will require further study?"

"Be careful, Benedek." Jonathan tugged at the grip that still enclosed his arm. "He's going to attack you."

Benedek bounced smugly on his toes. "I had 'em all beat at the Fitness Factory, and I've got him beat now," he crowed. But Daniel saw something in the tabloid journalist's eyes that stunned him — desperate concern for Jonathan. He hadn't expected that any more than he'd expected the sucker punch.

"Hardly," said the stranger. He lifted his hand and curled his fingers — and he and Jonathan vanished from sight as if they had never been there.

"Dr. Frasier to the Gate Room," the technician ordered immediately. General Hammond unsealed the massive door and fresh troops burst in, along with the medical team who carefully loaded the man with the head injury onto a gurney and rushed out with him, already working on him.

"Jon-boy!" Benedek wailed, whirling around in a futile search for his friend. Failing to discover him, he lunged at Jack and grabbed him by the front of his shirt, so high on adrenalin that he could actually shake him. "Where is he? What did that character do with Jonathan?"

O'Neill firmed his stance. "If I knew that, I'd tell you. He can teleport people." He pried the man's fingers loose, shot one quick, measuring glance at Daniel to make sure he was okay, then lifted his eyes to the control booth, spreading his hands to indicate there was no trace of MacKensie or the intruder.

"Back to ancient Persia?" Benedek's question indicated he knew enough about the period to recognize the clothing involved. "That guy was no ancient dude in spite of his Halloween getup. So, he popped in through that magic circle thingy? But that's not where he took Jonathan."

"Magic circle thingy?" Jack echoed tightly under his breath, shaking his head. His face flashed with frustration and alarm. Daniel knew that look. If someone crossed him now, the fool would wind up flat on his back, nursing a badly bruised jaw. Jack wasn't a patient man at the best of times — and these times were a long way from the best.

Benedek was very quick, but Daniel had known that already. He intervened hastily. "We don't know who he is," he said tightly. "He didn't identify himself." That wouldn't give anything away, but Benedek had seen the Stargate. He might not know what it was, but that wouldn't stop him from inventing fourteen different theories, each more bizarre and ludicrous than the last.

Sam raced to join them, fussing over Daniel's throat to make sure he was all right. He batted her hands away, giving her a quick, reassuring smile, expanding it to include Jack' whose mouth had tightened at Sam's inspection. "I'm not hurt, Sam, just a bruise or two. Don't worry about me. Is there any word on Teal'c?"

"Dr. Frasier said he received the equivalent of a mild electrical charge through his system and it stunned the symbiont, and that knocked Teal'c out, too. He should be all right soon. He's coming around already."

"I've got it," Benedek muttered, but without his usual spirit. "Teal'c's a Trill. Whatever happened to his spots?"

"You're not living in a Star Trek episode," Daniel complained before Jack could explode. "You're not helping. Why don't you just shut up and let us find out what just happened?"

"Touchy!" Benedek returned. "Look, Dr. Jackson, I know you hate my guts and probably with reason, but that doesn't matter now. That creep in the kilt just made off with my best buds, and I want to know what you people are doing to get him back?"

He had a point, although Daniel didn't want to admit it. A groan from one of the reviving soldiers distracted him and he glanced around to see that more of Frasier's staff had arrived and were giving oxygen from portable packs to the downed men. Two or three of them were conscious already, albeit groggy, and were sitting leaning against the wall.

General Hammond strode into the room, casting a measuring eye at the downed men. One of the medics said quickly, "None of them are injured, sir, barring the odd bruise or two and a few minor first degree burns on the palms of their hands. What happened to them?"

"We pumped knockout gas into the Gate Room," Hammond replied, and they nodded. Sam had developed it as a contingency plan if there should prove no other method of dealing with a threatening incoming traveler.

The general turned to survey Daniel consideringly and nodded, satisfied that Jackson was on his feet and capable of thought and action. "I'm glad you're all right, Dr. Jackson," he said. "Benedek, I remind you that you signed a non-disclosure statement and that it will be enforced should you reveal anything of what you have seen and might yet see today. SG-1, I want you in the briefing room in thirty minutes with theories on what happened to Dr. MacKensie and possible solutions for dealing with the intruder should he come back. Mr. Benedek, your presence is also required."

"A take-charge kinda guy," Benedek said, then he lost his patience. "You mean you're just gonna sit on your butts for thirty minutes while Jon-boy could be anywhere?"

The general frowned, conceding the point. "Then the briefing will be held in five minutes!" he snapped. "Reports will be brought to us there." He stalked out of the room.

O'Neill flashed Benedek a resentful glance that held a hint of sympathy. "If you tell me where to start looking, Benedek, I'll go there now. He didn't return through the Gate to his — to where he came from. Right now troops are searching this base to see if he is still here. Further afield, it will take longer unless anyone has an idea where the intruder might have taken him."

No one responded to that, and O'Neill nodded curtly. Sam gave the reporter a pat on the shoulder and urged him out of the Gate Room. He went reluctantly, his chin on his shoulder, trying to see what might happen next.

The minute he was gone O'Neill muttered savagely, "Damn it."

"There was nothing you could have done, Jack."

"There's supposed to be," O'Neill snapped back. "It's my job to protect my team. He had me throttling you but that Benedek clown just walked up to him and decked him. If he could do that, I should be able to. How did he do that?"

"I bet that's why General Hammond wants him at the briefing," Daniel replied. "Come on, Jack. We can ask him then." He nodded toward the doorway.

"Easy," Benedek answered in the tones of one announcing a coup. "I recited a spell against mind control."

Colonel O'Neill slapped his palm against his forehead as if he should have thought of that, his lip curling in scorn. "A spell!" he complained, disbelief written large upon his features. "A spell! Don't try bullshitting us. What really happened?"

"No, wait, Jack," Daniel objected hastily. He had been watching Benedek as General Hammond assembled them and everyone took their seats. Teal'c was present, no longer shaky on his feet, claiming that he was fine, although Dr. Frasier had escorted him to the briefing room and checked him over quickly one final time before giving the general a reassuring nod. Teal'c had glanced at each of his team in turn and then inclined his head.

"I am well again," he had claimed, ignoring the fascinated gazes Benedek had bestowed upon him as he clearly remembered the mention of Teal'c's symbiont. It hadn't taken a psychic to tell he believed he was seeing his very first genuine alien. Or, knowing Benedek, his forty-seventh.

"Wait?" O'Neill asked Daniel. "Wait for what? He's talking mystic mumbo-jumbo. You don't believe this clown, Daniel?" Even in spite of his skepticism, the look he turned to Jackson was wary.

"There might be something in it," Daniel objected slowly, although he was the last man alive to want to accept anything the former tabloid journalist had to say. "The intruder was dressed as an ancient priest, a kind of Zoroastrian magus. I'm sure most of what they did to impress their gullible followers was sleight of hand, but...maybe some of them really did have a kind of power. If they did, then what Benedek used might actually work, although it seems nearly as unlikely to me as it would to you. The only thing is, I don't think it would work a second time. The priest would be ready for him the next time."

"You honestly believe he used the powers of his mind to walk in here and control the people of this base?" General Hammond demanded. Since taking over the SGC, he had been forced to admit to a far wider reality than he'd known so far but this was pushing it.

"It's not out of the question. We have experienced mind control before. Hathor easily controlled the minds of the men on this base, sir," Sam reminded him. "Nem also found ways to control our thinking and made us believe Daniel was dead."

"Yeah, but Nem used technology to program us, and Hathor was a Goa'uld," Jack argued, reluctant to give ground. He clearly expected nasty powers from Apophis and his kind, and so did Daniel.

"I know some Goulds in Brooklyn," Benedek put in brightly, his eyes reflecting a very busy mind behind them. "Nice folks. Linda Gould is the best channel I ever met. Not to mention drop dead gorgeous." He sketched an hourglass figure in the air.

Jack threw up his hands in utter disgust. "Do we have to have this character in here?" he demanded.

"I believe we do, sir," Sam put in. "He's the only one of us who was able to stop the priest. If nothing else, we need to understand more fully how he did it."

Benedek ignored their exchange. "Come to think of it, Hathor was an Egyptian goddess," he muttered. "Okay, you're talking gods here? Your big circle out there goes to Mythology Heaven? That's better than UFO's. More original. I like it."

"Oh, shut up, Benedek," Jack burst out, exasperated. "If you don't have anything useful to say, let us get to work on what happened to your friend and how to get him back."

"And how to stop the priest, if he really is a priest, from maintaining his control," the general added. "Could he have been a Goa'uld, Teal'c? Captain Carter?"

"I do not believe so, General Hammond."

Sam shook her head. "I don't think so, either, General. I didn't sense anything like that, but I can't always be sure."

"Yeah, we didn't see any of that eye-glowing stuff or the weird voice," Jack confirmed. "Besides, I never saw a Goa'uld who'd show up here without his Jaffa escort. Okay, I concede this guy had some kind of power but I don't like mind control."

"None of us do, Jack," Daniel said hastily. "But it happened and we have to find a means of avoiding it next time. I suspect Benedek's system worked because he believed it would. From what I know of him he is a genuine believer in the occult and paranormal."

"Ghosts, goblins, and things that go bump in the night," Benedek confirmed with a nod. "Though if I plan to go bump in the night, it doesn't usually have anything to do with spooks and mind-controlling priests."

Sam covered up a smile at the comment, but Jack only looked more disgusted than before. He was only a hair's breadth from ejecting the man from the room and locking him away for the duration — and beyond.

"I don't think a spell is going to work for any of us," General Hammond cut in quickly, frowning. "It goes against our entire training and sense of discipline. Do any of you have any other ideas? I'm open to suggestion at this point."

"I've got one," Benedek chimed in, although he had to know Hammond didn't mean him. "I know you people don't want to hear from me and you didn't believe me about the spell. That's cool, but the bottom line is, my buddy's in trouble, and I want to get him back. I've got an idea."

"Tell us, Mr. Benedek," Sam urged.

"Okay, and it's a doozy. Hypnosis."

Jack lifted a scornful eyebrow. "Okay, so tell me how that will keep us from being thrown across the room or prevent electrical charges running through our bodies. And I don't see that being hypnotized will stop bullets in midair," he concluded sarcastically.

Benedek gave him an exasperated frown. "I just said I had one idea, not the solution to world peace. This guy can make you think guns are too hot to hold but if they were that hot they'd have probably been damaged and they weren't. Sure, they were hot, but not enough to do more than minor reddening. No blisters, even. And he made you choke out Danny-boy here." Jack flinched but didn't comment, his jaw flexing. "If we can stop him from making us do nasty things to each other, your science types can figure out how to get through the shield that keeps the bullets out, or get a shield of your own before he comes back. He's messing with your minds. If you're hypnotized to believe he can't do that, he won't be able to. Been there, done that."

"It might even work, Jack," Daniel admitted reluctantly, unwilling to concede that anything good could come from Edgar Benedek. His bitterness toward the man had faded slightly, mostly because the reporter was so worried about Jonathan, but it hadn't gone away. The journalist had hurt him and Daniel couldn't quite forget that in spite of his apology of the night before. In the heart of a crisis, he couldn't discard a valid suggestion, no matter the source. "We're already working on those other things, but we need to stop him from making us attack each other." He saw Jack nod in agreement.

"I've been through hypnosis before," Sam reminded them. "Daniel, the time we thought you were dead on P3X 866, hypnosis let me see past Nem's conditioning and know you were still alive so we could come after you. The enemy is powerful and we need all the help we can get. I think hypnosis is a good idea."

"Just not our only idea," Jack persisted. "Okay, I'll buy it. But we've got no way of knowing if he'll ever come back."

Daniel saw Benedek's muscles clench up at the suggestion, but he didn't say anything. The journalist was thinking fast, probably realizing if he called too much attention to himself he'd be ejected from the strategy session. But his worry for his friend was genuine.

"I think we need to reason out why the priest believed Jonathan summoned him, and what it was he thought Jonathan could do to help him," Daniel offered. "If he didn't go back through the Stargate then he's obviously somewhere here on..." He let his voice trail off before he could complete the sentence. Benedek didn't need to hear that. Jack, who had jerked his hand up as a warning, lowered it again. Benedek had to have guessed already that they'd visited other worlds.

"So what would be different about Jonathan?" Sam asked, answering her own question immediately. "He had the artifact. But we handled it last night. If it was reacting to the proximity to the Gate, why didn't the priest come last night when we first brought it here and Teal'c was shuffling through the pages instead of waiting for now?"

"Could it be because Teal'c is a Jaffa?" Daniel theorized. "If the device could somehow send a signal, maybe it could reveal who was using it. Or maybe the fact that Jonathan was carrying it around for a considerable time and actually uncovered it at the dig had something to do with it."

"Were you on the dig, Mr. Benedek?" the General asked.

Benny shook his head, raking hands through his hair. "No, I didn't go. I'm working on my doctoral dissertation and I had two meetings connected with that. I couldn't get away. Besides, I'm not an archaeologist. Had to let Jonny head into danger on his own, but he came back in one piece. I never thought he'd be in danger right in the heart of one of the most secure places on the entire continent." He gestured to include the entire Cheyenne Mountain facility. "But if baddies pop out of that Stargate of yours very often, maybe it's not as secure as I thought it was."

"You don't know anything about the Stargate," Hammond reminded him sternly. "You would do well to remember that whatever you have learned here can go no further than this room. There are those who would like to make sure of your silence should you prove to be a security risk. No, Mr. Benedek, I am not threatening you. I'm warning you."

"Look, I don't want to write this up — well, yeah, I do, but I'm not crazy. Dead or in prison isn't the way I want to spend the rest of my life. I won't write it up and I won't tell anybody about it — but you've gotta get Jonathan back."

Sam reached over and patted Benedek's arm. "That's why we're trying to figure out why the priest would want him. If we could do that, we might be able to understand where he took him."

"I have an idea," Daniel said slowly, trying to reason it out as he spoke. "The little we've interpreted from the small artifact makes it sound like the ancient equivalent of a political throwaway leaflet. You know, the kind that get dumped on a place or left for people to convince them of a certain viewpoint. A propaganda handout. From what we could translate, it was anti-Goa'uld. The purpose it might have served in ancient times is over. There's no Goa'uld presence on Earth now."

Jack's mouth twisted. "That we know of."

"That we know of," conceded Daniel. "But Jonathan said they found some larger tablets and he wasn't able to bring them back. They belong to the government of Iran, and the last I heard, Iran is not wildly friendly toward America. The dig was probably allowed through some kind of political manipulation, and the good stuff didn't leave the country. Maybe the priest is after the bigger tablets."

"That's possible, isn't it, sir?" Sam asked General Hammond.

"It's one possibility. We don't know it's the correct one. Do you think the priest teleported Dr. MacKensie to Teheran to retrieve the large tablets?"

"If he could control our minds he might have been able to read them. He did know our names," Daniel persisted. "He might have been able to tell from Dr. MacKensie's mind where to find the tablets, and took him along to make sure he could recover them."

"Then the large tablets might be important in fighting the Goa'uld," Jack argued. "I'm not saying we should grab them ourselves but if we could get a look at them, copy them..."

"Forget the stupid tablets," Benny argued. "Jonathan's more important than any tablets."

"Fighting the Goa'uld is also important," Teal'c said in his measured tones. "This world and many others might be protected by what is in those tablets."

"Many others?" mouthed Benedek, then he shook his head, stomping down his journalistic instincts. "If the Goa'uld are the bad guys and the tablet Jonny had was meant to incite a riot against them, and this priest guy is P.O.ed at us, then maybe he's an ally of the Goa'uld." He was clearly willing to believe the worst of the alien who had kidnapped his friend.

"He did not like Jaffa," Teal'c reminded him. "He suspected those on this base worked for the Goa'uld."

Jack frowned. "Looks like this isn't a case of 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend'. Not that I'd trust the guy even if every System Lord out there wanted to drink his blood." He cast one of the fussy, protective looks at Daniel he'd been producing since Jackson had collapsed in his grip in the Gate Room, making sure he was still breathing.

Daniel couldn't keep reassuring him, except by continuing to live, but he flashed a smile at Jack anyway. "We don't trust him, but maybe he simply can't trust us either. All he knows of us is that we control a Stargate and have a Jaffa on our team. I'll admit the priest isn't the nicest guy I ever met, but we don't know what he's up against, or what he's been through. Machello was an enemy of the Goa'uld. He hated them with every fiber of his being. But he still thought there was nothing wrong with stealing my body. He turned out to be not so bad in the end."

Jack's sarcasm was as thick as molasses. "Oh, yeah, after nearly allowing you to die, he was a swell guy, all right." His mouth tightened as he remembered he'd nearly caused Daniel's death himself.

"You live interesting lives, don't you?" Benedek grinned faintly. "Okay, friend or enemy or whatever, this guy's got my buddy. Do you know how to get him back?"

There was a momentary silence, then General Hammond said reluctantly, "No, Mr. Benedek, we don't. I'm sorry."

Benny slumped back in his chair, his face full of distress while the General sent for a hypnotist to give them all the advantages they could get.

Jonathan MacKensie struggled in the grip of the man dressed like an ancient priest, experiencing an odd, tickling sensation in his mind, as if the stranger could read his thoughts and tear free anything that he wanted. The grip on his wrist was unbreakable. He believed it was unbreakable and a portion of his mind wondered if that was what he was meant to think, but he couldn't stop fighting to break free. When Benedek lunged in and punched the guy, Jonathan could feel the man's surprise as vividly as if it were his own emotion. General Hammond had said the stranger could control minds. He might have rendered all the sprawled soldiers unconscious that way. But Benedek had waded in where angels feared to tread, the way he always did. Jonathan barely had time to caution him before he experienced an even stranger sensation than before, as if he stood in an elevator that dropped away beneath his feet. He couldn't yell in the dark void that abruptly enclosed him. He couldn't even breathe. Helpless to fight it, he didn't know how long it went on — it seemed to last for years, trapping him mid-gasp. Then, he and his captor materialized — there was no other word for it — in a darkened room, the only light coming from a high window set in one wall, and that dim and yellow, like a street lamp.

But it had been mid-morning in Colorado....

Jonathan staggered before he caught his balance, his head throbbing with excruciating pain. The man in ancient garb let him go as soon as he was steady. For an agonizing instant, MacKensie could not focus his eyes, could scarcely think. Groaning, he gripped his head in his hands, half-convinced he was having a stroke. Gradually, the sensation eased, and he blinked wildly, trying to focus his eyes.

"Do you recognize your location, MacKensie?" the intruder asked.

"I — " His voice came out hoarse and shaken and he paused long enough to clear his throat. "I recognize a dark room. Where are we? Why is it night?" Had he been unconscious? Had their transition taken as much time as it had felt like?

"We are many, er, time zones away from Colorado right now."

"Time zones?" Jonathan struggled to concentrate, remembering Benedek's bizarre UFO theories. In spite of the UFO he had once encountered in Blueberry, Minnesota, he had always been reluctant to buy into Benny's wilder theories about UFO conspiracies. They sounded much too X-Files, and he knew Benedek watched that series religiously. But he doubted Earth science had matter transportation that could shift a person to another time zone as easily as that. Earth science? Was he even on Earth? Oh, God, was Benedek's attitude rubbing off on him? And where was Benedek? Was he safe, back at Cheyenne Mountain? Was he dead? Were they all dead? He pressed his hands against his face for a breathless moment, then he lifted them and looked around.

As his eyes focused and adjusted to the sudden dimness, the room sharpened around him and he recognized, at least in general, where he was. This was a workroom in a museum, or even at a university. From the computer and testing equipment along the far wall, there was a good deal of technology applied, yet, on the other wall, shelves held artifacts labeled with tags, boxes with similar labels or stencils, and packing crates. Opposite him was a gigantic stone statue that vaguely resembled his companion in its style of dress, its hair arrayed in tight stylized curls. Other statues and artifacts littered every available surface.

A sign on the wall near the doorway was lettered in what looked like Farsi in huge, red letters. Obviously not a United States lab, then. Beyond the door, footsteps approached, two voices talking away in the same language as the sign. Jonathan froze, positive he was not supposed to be here, then he looked around wildly for a place to hide. He knew a few words of Farsi, but he couldn't be said to speak Iran's official language. There was no way to explain his presence here to the government of Iran, and he had an idea no one would listen. If the men came into the room, he could be arrested and locked up, or simply shot out of hand. Jonathan stood frozen, unable to risk making the slightest sound.

Scornfully amused, his captor wiggled his fingers slightly. The voices neared, hesitated outside the door, then passed along the corridor, voices and footfalls growing fainter in the distance. Jonathan's shoulders sagged in relief, then he tensed again. Mind control, that was what the stranger practiced. Mind control that hadn't stopped Benedek! Jonathan couldn't help but feel a flush of pride at his friend's ability to resist, even as he suspected Benny based it on a crazy occult ritual one of his weird friends had taught him. Still, if it actually worked...

When the voices outside faded completely, Jonathan sucked in his breath, pushed his hair out of his eyes, and turned to the dark-haired man. "You want the larger tablets." He realized he had known from the minute he had seen the sign by the door. "You've brought me to Teheran to get them."

"Wrong, Dr. MacKensie. I have brought you to Teheran to steal them. You would be advised to touch nothing. You might leave, er, fingerprints, and that would be regrettable — for you. It would not, of course, matter to me, once I had the tablets in my possession."

"How could you have come here like that?" he demanded, outraged and intrigued. He was sure he had been in this very room on the last day of his stay.

"Does your head ache?" When Jonathan stared at him, surprised at the non sequitur, the dark man laughed softly. "I drew knowledge of its location from your mind. You do not know its exact location in relation to the latitude and longitude of the earth, at least not with conscious awareness, but such information is there to be taken, by one who understands the ways of the mind as I do. I have brought you to the last known location of the tablets. Where are they?"

Jonathan blinked. No wonder his head had ached so badly, if the stranger had played around inside it. Who knew what damage he might have caused?

"Why do you want them?" Jonathan countered stubbornly. "If you want them to hurt this planet, I won't help you find them."

"This planet? Ah, your consciousness expands. You are, after all, a scientist, capable of adding up facts and coming up with a total that makes sense. When I drew this location from your mind, I drew other things, enough to understand that you are trustworthy."

Jonathan winced. "You read my mind?" he accused hotly.

"Not as you mean it. Specific facts did not come through, simply a grasp of your character. Perhaps you gained some knowledge of my own." He smiled faintly. "No, Dr. MacKensie, I have no malice for this world. My own ancestors came from this world, long ago, not by their own choice."

Jonathan thought back to his brief time in what must have been the base's control room. What had been said. Daniel had mentioned something, what was it? A Goa'uld device? He didn't know what that meant but it had sounded important. "Does this have anything to do with Goa'uld..."

The man's eyes narrowed. "What do you know of the Goa'uld?"

"I never heard the word before today — except that..." His voice trailed off. "I think I may have come across it a mention of them in my studies, a long time ago. And today, there was something about System Lords? That ...ties in." He could scarcely remember. What he'd read was a copy of a copy of an ancient stone tablet from — where was it? — Babylon.

"The Goa'uld are powerful and evil, that is all you need know of them," snarled the dark man. "I have no patience with ignorance and with those who try to thwart my purposes."

"Then it's time you learned some," Jonathan replied, irritated. "You said you believed I was trustworthy. So are my friends. If these Goa'uld are bad guys, my friends at the base won't like them either. Would it have been so hard to just ask for help?"

The stranger narrowed his eyes, his nose flaring and his lip curling. "You test my patience," he snapped. He was arrogant, but his arrogance warred with what he had learned from Jonathan in the mind link. He must have felt his secret extremely vital.

Jonathan knew he was pushing his luck, but something inside him wouldn't let him stop. He'd never thought of himself as a defender of the Earth, but if Fate had thrust him into that position, he knew he couldn't back down. "I don't see any sign of patience."

"I do not see the tablets. I will have them, or I will be forced to — "

Jonathan found himself growing angry. "To what? Kill someone? How will that help? If the tablets belong to your people, maybe you're entitled to them, but the government of Iran won't see it that way."

"Do you know where the tablets are?"

"Right this minute? No." He pointed. "I last saw them on that table, but that was months ago. If they light up like the smaller ones, they might have been taken to a more secure location for testing to find out if there's any benefit to them. They'd be locked up safely, and we might never find out where." He eyed the room nervously, trying to see any hidden cameras or sensor devices, although he wasn't sure he'd recognize the latter. "We can't stay here. We could be captured. We could be hostages for years. Don't you get it? This is a bad place to be." Someone could burst in at any minute. They could be shot as spies. He strained to hear anything outside the room. Benedek might have enjoyed the experience, but Jonathan was not happy.

"Then you are of no use to me." He folded his arms against his chest. "Prove to me that I have a reason to let you live."

"Short of common humanity?" Jonathan looked him right in the eye. It was like staring into a dark abyss, filled with vast and awesome powers and concepts beyond his understanding. He could become lost in the strength of that glare. Right now, the alien — Jonathan was positive he was an alien — was probably trying to decide if there was anything worth sifting through in Jonathan's mind. "You said I was trustworthy. If I am, what's the point of threatening me. Try to look past being so bloody superior and fill me in so we can get out of here." He was vastly uneasy about being here, but his fear of the stranger had faded away. Had he been able to read that in the man's mind? Was he all sound and fury? Or was he as dangerous as Jonathan had first thought. All he knew was that he could not back down.

The stranger edged over to the nearest door and opened it, peering out for a second, listening. Then he closed it silently and moved back to face the anthropologist. "There is a race of beings who have powerful machines that can do what you fear," the stranger said. "They can track obscure facts that a person once knew and has since forgotten, and bring them to the surface. If the data is buried deeply enough, the probe can damage a mind — or kill the subject. I do not need machines to do the same thing, for I use a far greater portion of my brain than do the Tauri." He paced up and down the room, spending his impatience in furious activity. Jonathan winced and motioned for him to be more quiet. Somebody could be outside, listening to them right now. The stranger slowed his pacing, then stopped.

Jonathan opened his mouth to ask who the Tauri were and then thought better of it. He glared at the stranger. "All that proves is that you can take what you want, when you want it. But it doesn't allow for deductive reasoning. I might be able to guess where to find the tablets, but I won't find them, or try to reason out their location, until I know what you want them for. Maybe you can kill me, but I won't be party to the downfall of my world." He was certain the stranger could see how frightened he was, but he stood his ground. The thought of the pain of the mind invasion made him flinch when the dark man took a step closer to him, but he didn't back away. He had no other options, and he wouldn't back down, not when he was representing the people of Earth. Maybe he was the only one who could save the people of Earth. It scared him, but in a deep corner of his mind, he could hear trumpets sounding and see pennants unfurling as he girded himself for battle. He couldn't back down now.

To his surprise, the stranger walked around him in a slow and steady circle. It felt like a cattle inspection, but Jonathan held fast, chin up. When the circle was complete, the man leaned closer, peering at Jonathan's face. "So you possess a loyalty to this pathetic little planet?" he asked, and, somehow, his tone was less condescending. "Perhaps it is deserved, when four from your world were able to defeat two Goa'uld ships in orbit and save this planet from certain destruction. Four Tauri held off the invasion of two System Lords. I should have remembered that."

Benedek would have loved this, Jonathan thought, wishing his friend were here. Then he canceled the wish, reluctant to draw him into danger. He could tell Benedek about it later — if there was a later. They could be captured at any moment. He discovered that was far more frightening to him than this cold, threatening man.

"I don't know anything about that," he replied. Maybe, if there had actually been an invasion force about to strike planet Earth, the knowledge had been withheld from the people. "But I do know if you are the enemy of the people who tried to invade us, then you share a common enemy with us." That's it, Jonathan, convince him to talk. You need to find out whatever you can.

"You share a common enemy with the ants and insects of this world. They, too, would die, were the Earth destroyed. But you would not ally yourselves with them. You kill them indiscriminately."

Jonathan threw up his hands in exasperation. "They're not sentient," he challenged. "We are. If you are so superior, why did you need my help to find the museum where the tablets were to be housed?"

"I am losing patience with you," snarled the man. "You do know I could compel you to take me to the tablets."

Jonathan shook his head, trying to ignore the faint flicker of pain that darted back and forth behind his eyes. Was it a mind-probe? Was he being controlled? "Stop it!" he hissed, grabbing the stranger by the arm and shaking him in exasperation. "I don't know where they are. You could compel me to take you to possible locations, no more. What are the tablets? Why are they so important?"

Maybe the alien knew that Jonathan could offer no more than theories now. Detaching his arm from Jonathan's grip, he ran his eyes over the shelves, boxes, and crates as if he could see through the coverings to the contents within. "They are a stolen Goa'uld plan for universal domination," he admitted as if he had finally decided to go with trust.

Jonathan heaved a sigh of relief, then he lifted a skeptical eyebrow. "Then the Goa'uld are awfully slow. Those tablets are over 2500 years old. They've wasted a lot of time, haven't they?" He gestured at the room as if to encompass all of history.

"So limited a mind," the stranger said with the tolerance of a wise man speaking to a fool. Jonathan grimaced in annoyance. "A pity," the stranger continued. "You almost have the ability to reason." The he smiled. "But, perhaps, you simply lack the knowledge. You were unaware of the Goa'uld — or their enemies. There are a number of races in the galaxy who can stand up to the Goa'uld. Not all of them are willing to fight. Some have even found peaceful means of threatening Goa'uld might."

Jonathan stared at him, his mouth falling open. He hadn't expected that much. He hadn't expected anything but condescension and threat. Maybe something good had come out of that mind probe, if the man had finally decided to trust him.

As if he understood what Jonathan was thinking the man shrugged his shoulders. "You must see why this is important. We have little time to waste and being here is far too dangerous. There is a race of beings called the Nox. I find them too simple, too gentle, but they have a power that one such as I does not have. Less than a year ago, as you would reckon time, the Goa'uld plan came into being. The System Lords often conspire against each other. Even their own young will engage in power struggles with their parents. If not for this propensity, the galaxy might have been enslaved long ago. But there are several System Lords who realized that cooperation, at least for a time, might enable them to defeat their enemies, even the Asgards."

Jonathan struggled to commit everything the man said to memory. He would have to repeat it to the people back at the base, assuming he ever got back. "How would this work?" he ventured, hoping that the question would not cause the man to clam up again. He glanced nervously at the door. They couldn't stand here talking much longer.

"None but the System Lords involved knew the plan, and not all of it was known to each. The plan was divided into two sets of instructions that would not function without each other."

"The tablets?" Jonathan asked blankly. "But they're 2500 years old."

"You are a fool. What I tell you now, is secret, to be spoken to none but those on the base from whence I stole you. There is a sect of the Goa'uld who have renounced their evil ways. They are called the Tok'ra. An undercover Tok'ra stole the tablets, which were written in a very ancient style and technique to make them less accessible if discovered, and coded into several ancient languages. At least one of them was an ancient language of this world."

"Two of them," Jonathan corrected. "Two of them were languages of this world."

"One, two, no matter. I speak one of those languages. When the Tok'ra put the two tablets together, they realized the danger of the threat. I do not know the details myself. I only know that, should the tablets fall into the hands of the wrong Goa'uld, the devastation that would follow would be overwhelming."

Jonathan shuddered. He didn't even want to imagine it. Earth would be defenseless against an attack from space. Even if four humans had defeated an attack before, that would only make the Goa'uld more cautious a second time. This was nearly impossible to believe. Could he be dreaming?

The Tok'ra gave the tablets to the Nox," explained the alien. "The Nox used their abilities to hide the tablets in a place the System Lords would never think to search — the past, the past on this world."

"The Nox can time travel!" Jonathan exploded, stiffening with excitement. It was actually beginning to make sense. Two ships destroyed in orbit around the Earth? Could that be what Benedek had claimed was a space battle between UFO aliens? Some months ago he'd gone on and on about it. Hadn't the newspapers claimed that what was seen had simply been a meteorite burning up in orbit? He couldn't really remember because he hadn't believed Benedek's wild theories. It sounded as if, this time, they might have been true. "Tell me," he added, remembering the dig, "Did one of the Nox die there, on Ancient Earth? Are they a small people with slender bone structure?"

"Why do you ask?"

"Because we found skeletal remains buried with the tablets. They were — not entirely human, I thought, but I was not allowed to study them. The other archaeologists insisted they were the bones of a child, but I know about skeletal remains and I saw that the bones were developed, what would pass as an adult's skeleton, because of stage of development." He made a gesture to indicate what he meant.

The alien nodded. "Yes, we lost one at the time. The Nox are very powerful but there was no way to save that one without calling attention to the tablets and that we did not wish to do."

"He sacrificed himself to fight the Goa'uld?" Jonathan shuddered at the thought of dying not only unimaginable miles from home, parsecs from home, but millennia from home. It was far worse than dying half a world away but that wasn't good either. Jonathan's eyes raked the corners of the room, expecting hordes of armed guards to pop out.

"Yes. The tablets were spirited away and the Nox placed them here, on this world, because, at that time, there was no existing Gate on this world. The people called the ancient Egyptians had buried Earth's Stargate long ago."

"But it can't be buried any longer," Jonathan objected, "Because they have it where we just came from." He was certain of that although no one had ever admitted it.

"It is not, but that is not why I am here. With the two large tablets were placed two smaller ones, meant to warn if they should ever be activated by those with the ability to do anything about them. The tablets are made of — "

"Naquadah," Jonathan replied. "I don't know what that is, but I heard the term in passing. The Stargate — it's made of that, too?"

"Ah, he learns quickly." He bestowed upon Jonathan the approving look an adult might bestow upon a bright, precocious child. "The smaller tablets were designed to activate if they were in reasonable proximity of a Stargate. Reasonable proximity being a number of, er, miles. When in much closer proximity, the tablet would ready the Stargate for instant access. For centuries, millennia, this did not happen. Those of my people who had been removed at the time the tablets were hidden grew to maturity on another world, expanding our talents, standing by to return to retrieve the tablets, should the time come and keeping the language alive in our minds in case the tablets should one day be found and need interpretation. We were trained to do so. We expected the day to come in the future if all, not as soon as this. If you reach into your pocket, you will find your small tablet inside."

Jonathan stuck hands into various pockets, and finally found it in his trousers pocket. He hadn't put it there. One minute he and Benedek had been idly playing with it while they waited for the others to return, the next, they had been in the Gate Room. The alien must have done it.

"You will now use it to take you to the larger tablets."

"No, I won't," Jonathan replied. "You said the Tok'ra fought against the Goa'uld and so did the Nox. You said the people of this world fought them, too. Yet when you arrived, you started attacking people right and left. You didn't explain, you just attacked. Why should I trust you? For all I know, you work for the Goa'uld and you want the tablets to take over the whole galaxy."

"Nearly the first thing I saw when I came through the Stargate was a Jaffa, the one called Teal'c, the one who has been First Prime of Apophis," explained the alien. "The Jaffa serve the Goa'uld. They protect them, they even worship them as gods. I have never before known a Jaffa turn away from what has been conditioned into him from birth. The Jaffa even bear the larval form of the Goa'ulds in their bellies. Without the larval Goa'uld, they would die. For this Jaffa to have defected means that he would face the fact that, one day, his infant Goa'uld would mature and take over his body, the way the Goa'uld always take over their hosts."

"Hosts?" echoed Jonathan uneasily. That sounded bad. In fact it sounded just the kind of story Benedek used to invent for the National Register — except that the alien was dead serious. Here was this man talking about Apophis as if he were alive right now. This was crazy.

"The Goa'uld are a parasitic race, snake beings of great power. They physically possess a host, then entwine their beings into the brain stems of the hosts, and control the physical body. Thus can the Goa'uld live for many centuries, even millennia, by changing hosts when the old one wears out. The hosts survives intact, but trapped. Many go mad. It is extremely rare that a host can survive the possession and win through to freedom."

Jonathan shivered. The idea of a snake being penetrating his body and controlling his mind made him sick to his stomach. He gestured for the man to keep talking. They had to hurry, to get out of here fast.

"Once I had a chance to consider, I realized that Teal'c may have access to younger larvae in his travels through the Stargate. The people of the Tauri appear to value him. And what I saw in their minds confirms it. He does not support the Goa'uld. Still, his presence made me uneasy. My task is too urgent to risk it on the chance that I might make a mistake. I saw that the Tauri were weak and easily controlled, but I gradually realized they possessed strong loyalty to each other. In my urgency to fulfill my mission, I did not take the time to understand that. Perhaps, now, I do."

"I don't understand it all, even now," Jonathan argued. "Why couldn't the Nox, or the Tok'ra, simply destroy the tablets? Wouldn't that have been the safest course?"

"Naturally, it would, and I may still do that if there is no other alternative. But it was felt that unification was still possible among some of the System Lords and that, as a last resort, the System Lords who were not involved might believe the tablets and fight against their rivals to gain their own domination. A battle of Goa'uld against Goa'uld would serve all peace-loving people of the galaxy."

"I don't think the, er, Tauri are ready to trust you," Jonathan argued. "One of those injured soldiers looked like he was in a bad way. I think he had a head injury and might die. I don't know what you did to Daniel Jackson, but he didn't look well, either. You hurt people from this world. That won't make you our new best friend." He stood foursquare and stubborn, unwilling to back down, even knowing this man could zap him, too.

"I can heal them all," the man said. He wiggled his hand in a casual gesture. "Only the one with the head injury needed my assistance; he is now beginning to mend. If you will verify the time when you return to your base, you will see that I have done as I promised. Now, if you would activate the tablet, it will guide you to the larger ones."

Jonathan stared at him, deep in thought. He didn't know anything about the Goa'uld, the Nox, or the Tok'ra, and he hadn't yet become accustomed to hearing himself described as a Tauri, but if this were all true, he had a responsibility to the people of the planet Earth. He could find the tablets, be transported back to Cheyenne Mountain and, if the soldier was truly healed, then maybe he could give grudging trust to the stranger. The Stranger?

"What's your name?" he asked.

The alien blinked at him in surprise, then, abruptly, he grinned, exposing predatory teeth. That alone might have put Jonathan off, but there was a gleam in his eyes that was not predatory. "I am Xarias," he said. "None asked before. Well? Will you assist me to save the galaxy from the Goa'uld, Jonathan MacKensie?"

"Yes," Jonathan replied. If all this were true, he could do no less. He wasn't sure why Xarias couldn't do it himself. Maybe the small tablet was attuned to Jonathan, or maybe he felt it would be better if one of the Tauri did it. "But I must have your promise that you will return me — and the tablets — to the place where you took me from. Once I'm sure everyone there is all right, and once you tell them what you just told me, then what happens to the tablets will be your choice — and theirs."

"The people of the Tauri may be ignorant of galactic politics," Xarias replied, clapping Jonathan on the shoulder. "But they are not all fools. I would have respected no less — and I agree."

Jonathan glanced uneasily at the door."Then let's find them and get out of here before we trigger every alarm in the building." He didn't like this at all. Benedek would have been thrilled by the experience, but Benny was back at Cheyenne Mountain, nursing bruised knuckles from the blow that had left a reddened patch on Xarias's jaw. Smiling faintly, Jonathan pressed the marginal indentation in the small tablet that powered it up.

To his surprise, the whole page didn't glow at once. Instead it lit from within, starting at the bottom and running up to the top, repeating the process over and over.

"Excellent," Xarias purred in contentment and relief, pointing in the direction of the movement of the lights. "They are close at hand. That way."

Jonathan caught on and plunged forward to the shelves. The tablets were easy to find, after all. They sat gathering dust in one of the many boxes on the shelves, with a page of notes in Farsi lying neatly on top of it. Sketches of the tablets proved the box held what they sought, and it was the right size. Tucking the notes into an inner pocket, Jonathan stood aside for Xarias to lift the cardboard lid.

Inside lay the larger tablets, their texts glimmering in synchronization with the smaller tablet. Lifting them out carefully, Xarius frowned, tracing a beringed thumb over the chips and worn spots caused by many centuries of aging.

Then he bowed his head over them before offering them to Jonathan to hold for the transition back to Cheyenne Mountain — maybe he needed his hands free to do his little finger waving. The anthropologist clutched them awkwardly against his chest, the smaller tablet gripped precariously in one fist.

Without warning, the door burst open and two uniformed soldiers burst into the room, holding semi-automatic weapons. They must have tripped a sensor after all, maybe when they opened the box. Nothing had ever interested Jonathan less than firearms so he didn't have a clue what they were, but he was positive they were dangerous. Suddenly, nothing interested him more.

One of the soldiers barked out a command that neither man understood.

"We go now," Xarius said under his breath and reached out to grasp Jonathan by the arm, waving his other hand in a gesture that was growing familiar.

The man shouted his command a second time just as Jonathan felt the tug in his mind that preceded teleportation. "Hurry, Xarias," he urged under his breath. "We're in trouble."

The soldiers opened fire. Jonathan felt a hard blow against his chest, a sharp pain in his arm, then the room faded away in a jagged explosion of light and sound that blinded and deafened him before it took consciousness away altogether.

As soon as the hypnosis was over, Benedek headed stubbornly for the Gate Room, a pugnacious expression on his face. Jack watched him go, then nodded at Teal'c to follow him. Staff weapon in hand, the Jaffa fell in with the human, and Daniel heaved a sigh, caught Jack's eye, and indicated that he meant to go, too.

"Teal'c can watch him," Jack pointed out, his manner stiffer than usual.

"I know he can, Jack. But I have some unfinished business with him. I'd better go, too. I can't work on the scientific part of this. I don't know how to design shields, and the small tablet is gone. Jonathan must have had it on him when he was taken."

"That may be what the alien came for," Jack agreed. "You do know the odds are great that he won't be back?"

"He will if he wants to return through the Stargate," Daniel pointed out stubbornly.

"And that means the first place he'll head is the Gate Room. I'm coming with you. I'd like another chance at that character, if this hypnosis thing will really work instead of having me suddenly running around clucking like a chicken."

Grinning, Daniel gave his arm a quick, reassuring pat. "I really am all right, Jack. And I know it wasn't your fault. You don't have to atone for it. And if you start clucking like a chicken, then I hope the base cameras record it for posterity."

O'Neill's face was taut but Daniel's words made it ease slightly. "The pair of us are good at getting into trouble," he said. "I'm not sure either of us should be let out without a keeper, at least until this is over."

Daniel realized Jack would just be a lot more comfortable if he could keep his eye on him for awhile.

"Besides," O'Neill concluded, "I'm not a scientist. But I am a military man and I should be down there protecting the Gate." He paused. "Unless you'd rather I took off for awhile so you wouldn't have to look at me?"

He really was disgusted with himself. Instead of pointing out that the Gate was well guarded and didn't need a Colonel to do it, Daniel said quickly, "Come on, Jack, I don't think that. You know I don't."

"I hope you don't." He shrugged. "I'm coming, and I'm in charge of SG-1, so that's the bottom line." Falling into step with Daniel, he led the way after Teal'c and Benedek.

By the time they reached the Gate Room, Teal'c had already provided the former reporter with a chair and he was sitting in it, but he erupted to his feet a second later, too wired to sit still. "He won't hurt Jonathan, will he?" he demanded of O'Neill.

"I'm not the man to answer that," Jack replied. "He had a go at hurting the rest of us — and making me throttle Daniel. Wish I could say I thought he meant us well, but it's pretty clear he doesn't." Benedek's face fell.

"Colonel O'Neill?" It was General Hammond's voice over the P.A. system. Glancing up, Daniel saw the General in the Control Room. "Dr. Frasier has just reported to me that Lt. Malloy, the man who sustained the head injury, has abruptly regained consciousness and she can find no trace of the skull fracture he had only moments before."

"How could that have happened?" Daniel blurted involuntarily, exchanging a doubtful glance with Jack. If Sam had ever learned how to do healing with the Goa'uld ribbon device, it might make sense, but her efforts to gain control of it hadn't progressed very far and she wasn't even in the infirmary; she was working in the lab to design a means of penetrating the alien's shield.

The general shook his head, looking as perplexed as Daniel. "Dr. Frasier doesn't know how it happened, but she's running tests right now."

"You think it's something to do with our little uninvited tourist?" Jack asked. "Could he have been a Goa'uld after all?"

"He could not," Teal'c replied. "The Goa'uld cannot heal from a great distance." He might not have known. He hadn't known when Jolinar had possessed Sam. But Daniel didn't think the priest had been a Goa'uld either.

"We don't know how great the distance is," Jack replied, frowning. "General, I recommend we do another check of this base."

"Good idea, Colonel," Hammond replied and ordered it.

Benedek returned to his chair and slumped in it. "We've gotta get Jonny back. Why aren't you doing something?"

"We already have people 'doing something'," Jack pointed out. "Sam is working on a shield that might protect us from that character if he comes back. We all went through that parlor game hypnosis routine you dreamed up. Computer experts are trying to block out the destination so he can't escape through the Stargate." He caught himself and muttered disgustedly, "Oh, for crying out loud. You don't need to know any of this."

Benedek sprang up again. "Okay, Colonel O'Neill, think of it like this. If it was your best bud, Daniel here, that the alien dude snatched, you'd need to know. I met Dr. Jack in 1985. He's the best friend I ever had. I'm not gonna write this up and pass it to the Register, no matter how much I want to. Look, I've been working on my doctorate a long time. Sure, I like to keep my hand in, but I signed that paper you rammed down my throat. I don't break my word when I give it. I need to know." He jerked a thumb at Daniel. "Now tell me what you'd be doing right now if they'd snatched Dr. Jackson?"

Jack's mouth tightened and he glanced involuntarily at Daniel. "You're here, aren't you? That's the best we can do. One thing I've learned is that waiting's rough. I don't have any better answers for you. So far, we can only guess where they went."

"Try Teheran," Benny said. "That's what Daniel said, that they'd go after the bigger tablets. Why mess with the paperback version when you can have the deluxe hardcover?" He started pacing, so hyper he couldn't stand still. "Call over there and see what you can find out."

"If we call over there and tell them an alien teleported Dr. MacKensie to their museum, they're gonna think we're nuts and they're gonna want to know why we think that. The Stargate is classified and even if other countries had clearance, Iran wouldn't be one of them. We call over there and they'll wind up in an Irani prison, and I don't think Dr. MacKensie would like that."

"What if the alien guy grabs the goodies and leaves Jack there?"

"He might be able to travel around the planet, but he won't be able to go back where he came from without the Stargate," Daniel pointed out. If you'd asked him yesterday if he'd ever feel the urge to offer reassurance to Edgar Benedek, he'd have laughed out loud. Now, seeing how troubled Benedek was about his friend, his anger at the man had abated slightly. He still resented him, but he could control it.

Benedek must have heard some of that in his voice because he whirled, parked himself in Daniel's face and said, "You still hate my guts, don't you?"

"Yes." No point in denying it. "What you did to me nearly destroyed my career. If Catherine hadn't come along when she did, I wouldn't have a job now. I wouldn't be here. I'd probably be teaching in junior high school, if I was lucky."

"Catherine Langford?" Benedek asked in astonishment, his eyes widening when Daniel nodded involuntarily. "You're kidding me, right?"

Daniel stared at him, utterly floored. "You know Catherine?"

Benedek's eyes started to twinkle. "After my article was published, Catherine phoned me. I'd interviewed her a long time ago about her father's work and she knew I got a large charge out of the Mummy's Curse and other fun things from the land of the Pharaohs. She wanted the bottom line on the article. 'None of that Ancient Astronauts garbage,' she said. 'I want the material you don't print because it would go right over the head of your average readers.' She's a tough lady. Doesn't take crap from me. I like that. So I gave her the scoop, the way Jonathan would have wanted to hear it. Shut her right up. She was quiet for a long time, then she said, 'Thank you, Benedek, that will do,' and hung up. But I could tell she was thinking."

Daniel's jaw dropped. "You put in a good word for me with Catherine?" he blurted. "When was this?"

"Bet you good money it was right before she recruited you for the project." Jack struggled not to grin. He wasn't totally at ease yet, but he was trying.

The dates matched. She had contacted Benedek one month to the day before she had come to Daniel's aborted lecture. Of course, she had inside knowledge and didn't care about her reputation the way the other members of the audience had. Would she have even heard of him without the article? Had she planned to contact him already? Had Benedek actually helped him?

"She wanted somebody who wasn't afraid to take an unpopular stand," Benedek offered. "Betcha the cost of funding this place for a year that I'm right."

"That still doesn't justify that article you wrote, Benedek, and you know it," Daniel retorted, but not as angrily as before. That something good had come out of it didn't change the fact that it had been a hatchet job, that it would have damaged his career if fate, in the form of Catherine Langford, hadn't stepped in.

Benedek resumed his pacing. "I did you good," he said. "I did both of us good."

"Come on, Benedek, it wasn't as if you meant to do him good or harm, either one," Jack interjected. "You just wanted a story. Sometimes when I read the paper, I think the media is throwing this country down the toilet. Celebrity scandals, wars fought for publicity. It's a crock. Last night you were gloating about your great story to Dr. MacKensie. I heard you. You weren't sorry about it, you were just glad to clean up on it. You can apologize all you want to, assuming you want to, and it won't change the fact that you don't believe it was wrong to destroy a good man's career."

"At least I didn't leave bruises," Benedek retorted.

Dr. MacKensie would probably have recognized his remark for self-defense, but Jack didn't. His face hardened. "Okay, that's it, you're out of here," he snarled.

"No, wait, Jack," Daniel said hastily, catching his arm. This wasn't going well. "You've got him up against a wall. I just want to ask him one question before you leave bruises on him." He tried to catch Jack's eye to apologize to him for the words he'd had to speak. The last thing he wanted to do was to hurt his closest friend.

O'Neill drew back and he didn't look happy, but he didn't lose his temper. "Ask it."

"Benedek? If I gave you the same information in an interview today, would you write the same kind of article about it?"

Benedek opened his mouth to answer, but before he could say anything, the air in the room quivered as with electricity and the lights flickered. A second later a disturbance churned at the foot of the ramp that led up to the Stargate, materializing into two forms that collapsed to the ground in a heap. Fragments of stone tablets exploded out around Dr. MacKensie in pieces, making Daniel duck involuntarily. Either the teleportation had shattered them or something had impacted against them a split second before teleport. Someone in the control room must have hit the alarm klaxon because it blared around them.

Jonathan sprawled bonelessly on the floor, his face lax, his eyes shut, the vivid red of blood on the sleeve of his jacket and on the front of his shirt. Beside him, the alien struggled to rise, small cuts on one side of his face, more blood on the white, pleated skirt just above the knee. He was conscious but in pain, his mouth working as he struggled for control.

"Jonathan!" yelped Benedek in horror and flung himself down at the professor's side so hard his knees were sure to be bruised. "Come on, Jonny, don't do this to me." He lifted anguished eyes to Jack. "Get Dr. Frasier, right — "

Hammond's page of the doctor cut across his words and he stopped speaking, whirling back, tugging at the shirt buttons to examine the bloodied chest. They heard the General ordering troops to the Gate Room, and running feet followed the command as men swarmed into the area, guns at ready.

Daniel knelt and turned his attention to Jonathan's arm, leaving Jack to examine the alien's leg.

The traveler looked up at them, conscious and aware. "I apologize," he said in a pain-filled voice. "I used you ill, and it was not meant. I did not understand, and the sight of a Jaffa here, moreover the First Prime of Apophis, misled me." Then he got a look at Jonathan and his eyes widened in horror. "The tablets?" he cried.

"I think they're in pieces all over the floor," Jack put in, pressing a folded cloth against the wound in his leg. "Kinda hard to read that way." Daniel heard an edge of satisfaction in his voice that all had not gone well with the priest.

He was disappointed at the alien's reaction. An eyebrow lifted consideringly and his mouth twisted. "Destroyed? Ah. That was always one solution. I accept it. What of Jonathan?"

"He's been shot," screeched Benedek. "You let somebody shoot him! Or did you do it yourself? I'm gonna do more than punch you out this time." He was too busy fussing over Jonathan to suit his action to his words.

"Irani guards shot him. I tried to teleport us to safety but they came upon us without warning. I had a choice between heating their weapons and removing us from their range, and not enough time to do either effectively. I chose to bring us here."

"I think you better tell us what this is all about," Jack ordered in the kind of voice that few would dare to disobey. "You owe us that."

"Yes, I do owe you that." He flinched at the pressure against his wound. "But care for Jonathan first. He does not deserve what happened to him." The use of MacKensie's first name interested Daniel. There was surely respect in the stranger's tones when he spoke of him.

"You called that one," Benedek snapped.

Dr. Frasier arrived at a run, checked for a second at the sight of the bloodied bodies, then hurried forward. "Which is the worst wound?" she asked, eyes busy, then answered her own question. "The leg. The bullet is still imbedded."

"Jonathan was shot in the chest!" howled Benedek. "Take care of him first, not the creep who got him shot."

"No," spoke the priest in hasty reassurance. "He held the tablets against his chest. The bullet triggered an overload that shattered them but did not strike him. That blood is from chips of the tablets. Superficial."

"Dr. Frasier speaks the truth, Mr. Benedek." Teal'c's rumbling voice reassured the kneeling man as much as anything could, and the reassurance was completed by a faint voice below him.


"Jon-boy!" He caught his breath when his voice faltered, then plunged on, outraged. "When are you gonna learn how to duck? Dodging bullets when you should be home watching PBS! This is crazy."

Daniel glanced over at Jack, fully understanding the relief that was covered by the anger. O'Neill nodded.

"We'll take you to the infirmary now, Dr. MacKensie," Janet Frasier reassured him. "Also, the prisoner."

"No, wait," Jonathan said, catching her arm as she fastened a makeshift bandage on the priest's leg. "Did the soldier with the head injury suddenly recover a little while ago?"

Everyone stared at him in total surprise. "Yes, that did happen," Dr. Frasier replied. "And I'm at a loss to explain it. He had a skull fracture, a very serious injury. Suddenly, he — didn't, and his vital signs returned to normal. He's conscious now and alert, with full mobility. How did you know?"

"Because Xarias healed that man," Jonathan insisted, his voice weak but determined. "He shouldn't be a prisoner. He's here on Earth to repair something done in all ignorance, to stop a Goa'uld plot. That's what the tablets are, part of a Goa'uld plot for domination of the galaxy. The Nox hid the tablets here on Earth in the past right after you stopped the two Goa'uld ships in orbit. It was believed they would be safe in Earth's past."

"We did not allow for archaeologists," the priest, Xarius, said, smiling faintly.

Jack lifted his eyes to General Hammond, who had deserted the booth and come down to the Gate Room the moment he'd paged Dr. Frasier and ordered the troops in. "Sounds like somebody just had a crash course in galactic current events, sir," he said as orderlies lifted Jonathan and Xarias onto gurneys.

"And we'll debrief you once you're up to it, Dr. MacKensie," Hammond agreed.

"Whoa! Wait a minute! Back up!" exploded Edgar Benedek, sketching a hasty 'time out' gesture with his hands. "If this Xarias guy can heal soldiers from halfway around the world, let him heal Jonny right now!" He spun to confront the alien. "You got him into trouble. You heal him!" he challenged, as aggressive as a pit bull.

"I regret, I cannot," Xarias replied, lowering his eyes. "I would, if I could. Until my own wound is stable, I cannot use my mind powers for healing. And, while I am weak, I cannot fully heal myself."

"Sounds like a major design flaw," Jack muttered under his breath.

"Then it's up to me to help the healing process begin," Dr. Frasier said. "Dr. MacKensie's not badly hurt, General. I'll have him in good shape very soon, but the bullet in this man's leg will have to come out." She nodded a direction and the two injured men were whisked away. Benedek trotted after them, positioning himself beside Jonathan's gurney. It would probably take an entire squadron to pry him away.

"Damn it," Jack complained. "Toss us a tidbit like that and then take off."

"The Nox time traveled to bring the tablets here?" Daniel was awed. "I didn't know they could time travel, but it fits in with everything else they can do. I bet they can even come here without a Stargate."

"They're one of your four races from Ernest's planet," Jack reminded him. "It doesn't surprise me, either. Ever remember when everything felt safe because we didn't know any better? Come on."

"Where do we go, O'Neill?" Teal'c asked, ready to fall in at his side.

Jack grinned. "The infirmary. I don't want to wait for the debriefing to find out what's going on."

They found a very impatient Edgar Benedek waiting in the observation room, his face intent as he stared down at the doctors working on the two patients. He was almost vibrating with tension. Daniel could tell he'd far rather be down there than up here. A quick glance revealed that neither patient was unconscious and that the alien, Xarias, was fully aware and interested in the removal of the bullet from his leg, craning his neck to see. Sound was off so Daniel couldn't hear what he was saying, but Dr. Frasier appeared fascinated by his comments. A second doctor worked on Jonathan, cleaning the graze on his arm while a nurse applied small dressings to the shallow cuts on his chest.

"I was surprised to see the tablets shattered," Daniel said to Jack. "Naquadah is awfully strong. But if the control that made the pages switch shorted out, that might explain the explosion. Sam will be fascinated."

"Sam will be fascinated by what?" Captain Carter asked, hurrying into the room. "I heard what happened, but not all the details. Fill me in."

Jack told her as much as he knew, including Jonathan's comments about the Nox, time travel, a Goa'uld plot, and healing the injured soldier from a distance, and her eyes widened. "It sounds like the hypnosis plan wouldn't have worked after all, Benny," she told the journalist, who hadn't paid one bit of attention to their words. He jerked at the sound of his name and threw her a questioning glance.

"Because it was evidently not mind control but physical manipulation. Maybe not all of it, but most of it. Why can't he heal his own wound?"

Daniel and Jack explained in chorus while Teal'c put in a word or so when required. Even with as Jack stiff and uncomfortable with him as he was now, Daniel couldn't help realizing that they could still function almost automatically as a team, and that gave him reassurance. Fascinated, Sam leaned closer to watch the operation. Usually a patient didn't tell the doctors how to perform the actual surgery but it looked like Xarias was doing just that. Daniel couldn't help wondering how soon he would be able to expedite his own recovery.

The doctor and nurse finished with Jonathan, who lay wearily, resting. His eyes lifted and sought out Benedek, and he gave a faint, reassuring grin and lifted his good hand. Benedek waved back, so delighted it shone out of his face. Satisfied that his friend was on the road to recovery, he turned to Daniel. "Yo, Danny, you asked me a question down there just before Jonathan got back."

Daniel nodded, remembering very well. It was a question that had meant a lot to him at the time the article had been printed; once it would have had everything to do with whether he would ever speak to Benedek again or accord him so much as an iota of respect. While the answer still mattered, it mattered in a different way. His life had not been ruined, and the academic embarrassment of the article had faded under the very real tragedy of losing Sha're to the Goa'uld. Maybe, without this annoying man, he wouldn't have even met Sha're and, in spite of the pain of losing her the way he had, he wouldn't sacrifice one instant of that if the alternative were never having known her and loved her.

"I remember," he said.

Benedek looked at him seriously, no longer in concealment behind his smart-mouthed facade. "Yesterday, I thought it was one of my greatest stories. But yesterday I didn't know you like I do today, and yesterday I didn't know about all this." He waved an extravagant hand to indicate the SGC and everything it represented. "I'd like to claim that maybe this would all be different if not for me, but that wasn't why I did it. I did it because it was a hoot and it would sell papers. Now I'm working for a doctorate, and I'd probably brain somebody who did that to me." The corners of his mouth curled. "Course, if somebody wrote me up that way, it'd be true." Then, abruptly, he gave a crow of laughter. "Think of it, Danny-boy, what I wrote about you was true, too. Only none of us knew it."

That made Jack and Sam sputter with laughter. Teal'c's eyebrow shot up at the amusement in their faces.

"No," Benedek continued solemnly. "Today, I wouldn't write the article that way. Word of honor, Danny. And I'm not writing this article, either, though it'll half kill me to sit on it."

"It'd do more than half kill you if you wrote it," Jack replied, but he didn't mean it as a threat, just a caution.

"Gotcha. But that's not why." He glanced down at Jonathan again to make sure he hadn't suddenly worsened in the moments since his last check. "Dr. Jackson. I'm sorry."

"I know," Daniel replied, feeling the remnants of his anger slide away into the past, where they belonged. "So am I."


"And you say a union of enough System Lords could mean a major problem for us?" General Hammond asked Xarius who, neatly bandaged and already much further along on the road to recovery than an Earth human would be, sat at the table in the briefing room with SG-1, SG-2, Dr. Frasier, MacKensie and Benedek. Two security guards stood at the door.

"We know that already, General," Daniel intervened. "Until now, the power struggles for dominance among the System Lords have prevented them from bringing a massed force against their enemies. They fight and dominate other planets, but not in a unified fashion. If they were to team up and stop their own power struggles, they'd be far more dangerous to us than they are now."

"Dr. Jackson speaks the truth," Teal'c confirmed. "When I was First Prime of Apophis, he struggled against other System Lords, such a Heru-er, or Ra. Had he worked in concert with even one of them, other than Klorel, when he attacked Earth, we might not have stopped him."

Hammond's face was grim. "And you honestly believe that, without the plans that were destroyed as you left the museum, this unification will not take place?"

"The plans were stolen shortly after Apophis tried to destroy Earth," Xarias replied. "In the time since then, no attempts at unification were made. Thanks to the tireless intelligence work of undercover Tok'ra, each of the System Lords involved was made to believe that the disappearance of the tablets was caused by another Goa'uld. Trust was scarce to begin with. Now it has been replaced by suspicion. Only the return of the tablets in a way that revealed our efforts would have reunified the System Lords in question. I meant to retrieve the tablets and return them to the Nox for concealment but their destruction serves the same purpose. I am glad to see you followed my advice and moved the fragments as far away from the Stargate as possible."

"But what about the small tablets?" Jonathan asked, spotting a flaw in the argument. "I dropped mine when I was shot. That's going to cause trouble. If it's found, it will be recognized and the museum people will know someone from the dig was there." He rubbed his arm idly. As Xarias's wound mended, he had the strength to do some healing of his own. He had accelerated the healing process in his own leg and in Jonathan's arm wound. The cuts on Jonathan's chest were too minor to bother with, but his arm felt much better now, and he'd been able to dispense with his sling. At his movement, Benedek looked at him sharply, then relaxed.

"I tried to bring it with us when I teleported us," Xarias replied. "I know I carried it out of the museum. I believe I lost it in transit."

"You did not," Teal'c replied. "It was lying amid the fragments of the larger tablets. It is safe with them at this moment."

Jonathan felt a surge of relief. He was still uncertain of how he would explain its loss to Dr. Moorhouse when he came home without it.

"Jonathan must take it back with him to his museum when he departs," Xarius said surprisingly.

"Now you know I can't let that happen," General Hammond objected. "For what purpose do you intend it be returned?"

"Because when the museum people realize the larger tablets were taken, the first thing they will do is check on the smaller ones. Without the bigger tablets, the smaller ones serve no purpose. The destruction of the larger ones destroy the small tablets' function. They will not shift pages. If the Irani government demands them back, they must both be returned. If they are not returned, the Irani government will be suspicious and will believe those involved with the dig removed them." He saw Jonathan's disappointed face and added, "The Tauri are indeed a primitive people, to maintain so many different political factions on one planet. But I will not be responsible for more war here on this world. Or create, er, diplomatic incidents."

"If the tablets won't function anymore, maybe he's right, sir," Sam put in. "If necessary, Daniel could go to study them when he has some free time. We can create three-dimensional computer projections of them for our study here before they go."

General Hammond still looked unhappy. "So let me get this straight," he said. "By coming after the tablets and inadvertently causing their destruction, you prevented a Goa'uld war? What about the information on the larger tablets?"

"The Nox still possess the information. They can prevent it from ever being found," Xarias reassured them. He straightened in his chair, shifting his injured leg. "General Hammond, although apologies are not my way, I do apologize for my behavior in this base. Tensions were high when we learned the small tablets had been activated so soon after their concealment. Some of us realized that the world of the Tauri may not have been a secure hiding place after all, especially since a number of System Lords are aware of this place and of your Gate."

"That sounds bad, kiddies," Jack complained. "Anybody else feel like we just had big targets glued to our foreheads?"

"They will not come soon, and many will not come at all," Xarias reassured them. "Most Goa'uld feel superior to all other races. They do not take you seriously and those who know of the destruction of Apophis's ships in orbit here believe their destruction a fluke. Those who do not will come in time to attempt enslavement or destruction, but you know that already."

Hammond nodded. "We do know that. We know we're in a race against time to ready ourselves for the threat that's out there. We've already allied with the Tok'ra, and have made other contacts." He frowned at Xarias. "Next time you need to come to Earth, ask the Tok'ra to contact us. It would be easier on all concerned."

Sam nodded, looking so anxious for the contact that Jonathan couldn't help wondering what caused her eagerness. "It would be a lot easier that way. And I'd like to see my father again."

Her father? Could Jacob Carter be on a mission to the Tok'ra? An ambassador, maybe? Sam had been secretive about him earlier. Positive he would not be told about it, Jonathan resolved to not to discuss his theories with Dr. Moorhouse. After all, Sam was related to Jonathan's department head. If she wanted Dr. Moorhouse to know about her father, she would tell him herself. The information was probably classified.

Benedek shifted in his seat. He had kept his mouth shut against all inclinations. Jonathan could recognize the signs. As for Jonathan himself, he wasn't sure what to say that might add to what was being said. The universe was a far more dangerous place that he'd ever dreamed it could be, and he missed his comfortable ignorance. But what he'd learned today was so fascinating it was well worth his minor injuries. He would give anything to have the right to study this fascinating new field, but he knew he would have to go home and pretend for the rest of his life that it had never happened. Returning to his safe niche at Georgetown was the only thing he could do — and he knew it was what he had done, because of Laurie from the future who had given him brief glimpses of his life in the next century, still at Georgetown Institute, still working with Benedek. But maybe Laurie had not known about classified work done on the side. Jonathan could only hope that was the case. He hadn't given away the secret of the time travel device invented in the future, and he wouldn't give this secret away either.

"If there's anything I can do to help, I'd like to volunteer," he said.

The SG teams exchanged looks with General Hammond, as if the possibility had already been discussed among them, then Daniel spoke for them all. "We can't take you into the project right now," he said. "But since we often deal with cultures who were taken from Earth in ancient times, we might find it valuable to use you as a consultant, from time to time. General Hammond has checked on your background and there is nothing in it to prevent that."

"I'd be honored," Jonathan said.

"We both would," Benedek chipped in.

Jack groaned in protest. "Not so fast."

"Jon-boy and I are a package deal," Benedek insisted. "Okay, so I don't know as much as he does about life in Sumeria or Ancient Egypt but I'm Dr. Jon's agent. Besides, the second this project gets declassified, I want to write it up. Not the Register this time, even if Jordy will have my ears for it. Major publications, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Scientific American. My very own find-out-about-the Goa'uld website. Fame, glory. I love it. I can keep a secret with the best of 'em, but who better to write you up when the time comes?"

"Oh, for crying out loud!" Jack exploded in disgust, but Jonathan relaxed when he noticed that Daniel and Sam were laughing.

Jack O'Neill was sitting on the roof of his house three nights later, staring through the lens of his telescope, idly watching the night sky, when he heard a hail from below. "Can I come up, Jack?"

Daniel. Since Xarias had gone back through the Stargate and the shadow chasing duo had returned to Washington to restore the small tablet to the museum at the Georgetown Institute, Jack had been uncomfortable with Daniel. SG-1 had gone on one quick mission to a primordial world, and had reported back on some mineral deposits with great potential.

It hadn't been a dangerous mission, not at all. There were no savage animals, no poisonous plants. But Jack found himself being ultra-protective of the younger man, to the point where everyone noticed. Teal'c lifted an eyebrow but said nothing, while Sam tried to distract O'Neill with the readings she was taking. Daniel, who enjoyed new missions even when they didn't tie into his specialty fields, ranged far and wide, calling out enthusiastically when he discovered a new plant or rock formation. No matter how many times Jack hauled him back to the group, he would set off again immediately.

O'Neill gradually reached the conclusion that Daniel was going out of his way to avoid him. No matter how much he'd insisted that Jack hadn't been at fault when he choked him, the Colonel through he saw a slight wariness in Daniel's eyes whenever they turned in his direction. He even went so far as to mention it to Sam when she cornered him beside a vivid red tree and insisted she wasn't moving until she knew what was wrong.

"He's avoiding me," Jack blurted out, regretting it immediately.

Surprised and concerned, Sam shook her head. "No. He's not, sir. He's just...being Daniel. Think back to every mission we've ever been on. He gets so carried away he goes rushing off to see everything. It's just his way."

O'Neill shook his head. He wanted to believe her; he wanted to believe Daniel was his normal self and held no grudges, but there was that expression on Jackson's face. It wasn't his normal look and it only showed up when he turned his eyes on Jack. That proved it. He'd get over it eventually, Jack was sure but, for now, it hurt. Even before he and Daniel had become friends, he'd known he had the younger man's trust. If he had lost that...

Nothing on the mission had called for Daniel's particular expertise, so he had departed after the debriefing and wasn't due back at the base until the day after tomorrow when SG-1 had their first briefing for their next mission. Jack wondered if he had gone deliberately, avoiding the SGC. Avoiding him. He'd even said something about talking to Jonathan MacKensie; maybe he'd flow to D.C. But here he was, scrambling up the ladder in a flurry of knees and elbows. It was a wonder he didn't fall down half the time just walking across a room.

"What brings you here, Daniel?" It wasn't the most friendly of greetings, but it was the best he could manage. Okay, he knew Xarias had manipulated him and caused him to attack Daniel. He'd done it to get what he wanted, but he'd been able fetch Dr. MacKensie on his own, so why hadn't he done that in the first place instead of jeopardizing lives? Jack still remembered Daniel sitting in the briefing room after his return from P3R 190, bruises stark above the neckline of his black tee shirt. Noticing Jack watching, he'd hastily pulled the collar of his fatigue jacket a little higher to conceal them, shooting an him apologetic glance. But the colonel had turned away, avoiding his eyes. Sam had watched him knowingly but when she'd tried to broach the subject again after the briefing, Jack had fobbed her off. He hadn't known quite what to say, and he wasn't ready to talk about it. Sam was a good officer and a good friend, but she was also a woman and women tended to analyze things in far more depth than Jack was ready to contemplate. At least Teal'c had granted him his privacy, even if his eyes had been far too knowing. The team didn't feel...right any longer.

"What do you think brings me here, Jack?" Daniel challenged him, glancing around the little platform and moving as far from the edge as he could. Daniel wasn't very thrilled with heights.

"What do I think brings you here?" O'Neill countered. "I think you're here because your best friend tried to kill you." There, he'd said it, and it couldn't be unsaid.

Daniel grimaced, but something warmed in his eyes. "You're wrong, Jack."

"Wrong? How could I be wrong? It's my job to protect my team. To make sure nothing happens to you. To make sure you're safe. But instead of that, I came within an inch of killing you. How do you think I feel about that?"

"If I were you, I'd be feeling pretty pissed off," Daniel returned surprisingly. "How do you think I felt when the Orb we brought back from P5C 353 pinned you to the wall and nearly killed you? I was so excited about it, and it nearly killed you — and everybody on Earth."

"We brought it back as a team. It wasn't your fault," Jack insisted instantly. How could Daniel always remember the planetary designations like that? He had every one of them down pat.

Daniel's face lit with triumph. "No! And this wasn't your fault, either. It's a big galaxy, and there are a lot of things out there more powerful than we are. You're not God, Jack. All you can do is the best you can. That's all any of us can do."

How did he do that? Daniel could twist anything around, even platitudes, and make it sound the way he wanted it to. Especially when they were the words Jack wanted to hear.

"Besides," Daniel plunged on, determined to finish before Jack found a way to interrupt him, "I talked to Xarias about it before we sent him home through the Stargate. He said he kept the control on you for a long time because you fought him so hard. He didn't think he could have made you kill me, even if he had actually wanted me dead. But if you hadn't fought him so well, I'd have been unconscious."

Jack's jaw clenched. "The way I remember, you nearly were."

"That doesn't matter, Jack. It wasn't you. You didn't want that." He hesitated, then spoke more softly and a lot more self-consciously. "You just called me your best friend. That goes two ways. Don't you think I know my best friend well enough to know how much I can trust him? You do protect me on missions, Jack. You're always hauling my butt out of trouble. Just once, let me haul you out. I trust you. In spite of what Xarias made you do, I still trust you. I'd probably be dead a hundred times without you. So cut it out. Stop wallowing in guilt that doesn't have to exist. I know you wouldn't hurt me. You helped me when I got addicted to the sarcophagus. I saw how it tore you up when you thought I was dead, the time Nem brainwashed all of you into believing it. And I saw that look on your face when you had to leave me behind on Klorel's ship. You even shot Skaara to save my life. Come on, Jack, don't do this to yourself. Let it go."

"Have you let it go?" Jack challenged. "I saw the way you reacted to me on the last mission. Every time you took off — it was like you couldn't stand to be around me." There, he'd said it.

Daniel's mouth fell open in astonishment. "That's not it, Jack," he insisted, shaking his head so vigorously his hair tumbled wildly about his face. "I take off on every mission. That's the way I am. That's how I find out things. But usually, you charge over and haul me back, and you enjoy it. Even when you yell at me, there's something in your face that tells me it's part of the game. This time, that wasn't there. I kept hoping I could push you into acting normally again, yelling, 'for crying out loud,' when I took too many risks, or getting on my case the way you usually do. But you never did. You were so grim about it, and waaaay too protective. Come on, Jack, I'm fine. You didn't hurt me, and I trust you." He hesitated then plunged on. "I want my friend back. I don't want you to push me away like this because you think it's safer. It's not safer. What's safer is the way we usually are, all of us as a team. More than a team, Jack. A family. I need that, especially with Sha're out there where I might never see her again. I need you to — to be you again."

He meant it. He meant it all the way down to his soul. It was so vivid on his face he might as well have put it on a sign. Deep inside O'Neill, the tension he hadn't been able to fight finally eased away. All along, he'd known in his head that Daniel was right, that it wasn't his fault, but now he started to feel it inside, where it really mattered. For a moment, relief made him weak-kneed. "Aw, Danny..."

This time, Daniel lunged at him, wrapped his arms around him, and hugged him with sheer exuberance. Jack hesitated; he'd offered Daniel comfort before, but he had never been as good at taking it when he was the one in need. "All right, Space Monkey, I'll handle the mushy stuff around here," he said as he closed his arms around Daniel for a long, relieved moment, tightening his arms around his friend both to reassure himself that Daniel was really alive and well and to hold himself upright. When he drew back, Daniel was smiling, and the old, familiar expression was making a hopeful reappearance in his eyes.

Jack reached out and tousled the long hair. He felt so good he couldn't help himself.

Daniel wailed, "Ah, Ja-ack," and fended him off good humoredly. O'Neill found a smile and crisis was past, the world right side up. They were themselves again and the incident was simply one more bit of nastiness that they'd conquered along the way.

"Come on down, and have a brew with me," he offered. "I kinda want to unwind a little."

"Great idea, Jack."

"And don't fall down the ladder," he said sternly.

Daniel shot him a questioning glance then he heard the old, familiar note in Jack's voice and chuckled. "I never fall down ladders," he proclaimed extravagantly, and scrambled down without a single mishap. Jack hurried down after him.

"So, all we have to worry about is now Edgar Benedek's next article," O'Neill offered, remembering how Daniel had felt about the last article the former tabloid journalist had written the last story. "You okay with that, Danny? You okay with him? I can see why you want to bash him over the head. But he was trying, there at the end."

"Very trying." Daniel's grin widened to show he didn't entirely mean it. "I talked to Benedek about it the other night," he admitted. "We made a deal right before he and Jonathan left for the airport. I got his word on it, and Jonathan says he'll make sure Benedek keeps it. This time, he can't print a word of the story without my approval!"

"Thank god for that," Jack agreed.

"I only wish I could have talked to Xarias longer," Daniel said with huge regret. "Just think, Jack, an actual Zoroastrian magus. He said his people still practice their religion on their new world. Isn't that incredible? I've think they've substituted the Goa'uld for the demons they would have fought on Earth — Angra Mainyu and his minions, you know."

"Well, no, I don't know, and I think I'm just as glad," Jack replied. "Don't mention demons around someone like Benedek or he'll be back. And I've had all of him I could take."

"But I really wish I could have heard more about him, where he's been, whether they kept their Earth culture, how he got chosen to come here..."

"It's not like he was your most outgoing guy," Jack reminded him. "He wasn't gonna open up about himself, just because you wanted him to."

Daniel nodded, but he couldn't repress his enthusiasm. "I could have learned so much." He heaved a regretful sigh and let it go. "Maybe, when we hear from the Tok'ra next, we'll be able to find out more about Xarias's people and why they were removed from Earth. It was so great, Jack."

"Yeah, just great," Jack said with a tolerant smile at Daniel's boundless enthusiasm, then he draped an arm around Daniel's shoulders and steered him into the house.

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