Thicker than water
An untold tale from the Diary of Dr Daniel Jackson
All publicly recognisable characters and places are the property of MGM, World Gekko Corp and Double Secret Productions. This piece of fan fiction was created for entertainment not monetary purposes and no infringement on copyrights or trademarks was intended. Previously unrecognised characters and places, and this story, are copyrighted to the author. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
This story is set a few months after Traitor. You can probably get away with not reading Traitor first - this is a standalone story - but there are one or two references to events that took place in it.
This story is rated PG-15 for language and violence, and falls into the categories of h/c and action/adventure.
Thanks to Ellen for beta reading, to Gill'k for her expertise in BBC Arabic<g>, to MoT for insightful comments, and to everyone who emailed me when I was posting to the lists.
If there is one thing I hate about this job, it's packing up cratefuls of fascinating stuff and shipping it to the NID. Jack, of course, simply reminds me that SG1 is a field unit whenever I complain. He's right of course, and I wouldn't really trade places with the lab-bound guys working under Colonel Mayborne. After all, I'm still hoping that one day I'll find Sha're, and I certainly won't do that stuck behind a desk. But sometimes it's hard to let go of artefacts I've brought back through the gate, knowing that I'll probably never find out exactly what they were, or to what purpose they will now be put…
It was early evening, but the downtown bar had already gained a number of patrons. Workers stopping off on the way to homes they'd rather not return to. Early birds killing time before the real entertainment of the evening began. Normal every-day people enjoying a beer and company, filling the bar with good-natured banter about nothing much in particular.
And then there were the two men who had met, apparently by accident, beneath the TV set. They stood side by side, one tall, one of average height. The shorter of the two was dressed in a heavy winter coat unbuttoned at the front. As he'd ordered his drink, the barman had caught a glimpse of a uniform and a name badge - Colonel Mayborne - and wondered idly what an airforce officer was doing drinking in a place like this. Before he could ask, however, his attention had been snatched away by one of his regular customers. The taller man had attracted no attention at all, and now the two of them were watching the screen in the quiet companionship familiar to strangers bonded by an interest in sports. In the noise of the bar their voices were lost to all but their own ears.
"There's a problem with the first part of the consignment." The taller man spoke without moving his eyes from the screen.
In response Mayborne did likewise. "Problem? I heard everything went according to plan."
"It did. But we didn't take delivery. The operative decided to go into business on his own."
Mayborne's face, fleshy in the manner of a man once muscled but who now indulged his appetite slightly more than physical exertion demanded, quivered with a surprise the TV screen had not elicited. The emotion was buried before any of the other patrons could have noticed. When he spoke, his tone was neutral. "Unwise of him."
"Very. Inconvenient too. You must see to its retrieval."
"Me?" Mayborne reached for his drink, swallowing a mouthful of beer to cover the displeasure that threatened to show on his face. "You have a plan, I suppose?"
"Of course. Use the second part of the consignment to find the first."
For the first time, Mayborne's eyes escaped the screen. He shot his companion a quick look. "That'll never work."
The tall man's expression hardened a fraction. "Make it work! Once they are together another operative will collect."
"One you can trust, I hope." The retort was voiced before it could be stopped. Mayborne swallowed another mouthful of beer as he registered the annoyance his rashness had elicited. It really wasn't a good idea to upset this particular man; people who did so had a nasty habit of disappearing.
The verbal response was crisp. "Just see to your part. I'll see to the rest." The tall man picked up his drink and drained the glass. Moments later he was gone.
Mayborne stood for a while longer, his eyes once more fixed on the screen, but his mind already working out the details of the new project. The uneasiness of the last few moments slid away, and a sly smile crept over his face - perhaps he could make it work.
Jack O'Neill's nose wrinkled as though he had encountered a very unpleasant smell as he entered the SGC conference room and saw who was sitting at the table. "Colonel Mayborne. And I was having such a good day!"
From the far end of the conference room, General Hammond's rebuke was automatic but voiced without weight. "Colonel O'Neill! A little respect for a fellow officer, please."
Totally unchastened Jack took a seat next to Daniel. "So what did we do to deserve a visit from slime ball," he whispered loudly.
Daniel laced his fingers together, his elbows resting on the table, and replied softly, "He hasn't got round to telling us yet."
Across the table Jack caught Sam Carter trying, but failing, to hide a smirk. Only the fourth member of SG1, Teal'c, remained impassive to Mayborne's presence, although Jack was sure even the Jaffa twitched his eyebrows in approval of his insolence.
With a sharp look at his key personnel, Hammond handed the meeting over to the officer in question. "Colonel Mayborne, please."
Mayborne's chest visibly puffed as he became the centre of attention. "I'm afraid I have bad news. The artefacts you brought back from your last mission have been stolen. Hijacked between here and Area 51."
"Hijacked?" Sam's tone was shocked.
Mayborne nodded. "I have already instigated an investigation..."
Daniel interrupted, his expression one of horrified amazement. "Colonel, the glyphs on some of those artefacts almost certainly describe the purposes to which they could be put." He glanced towards Jack. "In the wrong hands..."
"We are aware of the potential risk to security, Dr Jackson." Mayborne curtly snatched the focus of attention back. "We believe the artefacts have been shipped to Egypt. At least intel informs us several well-known *antique* dealers are booked on flights in the next week. We think whoever snatched them is planning to sell them off to the highest bidder."
"I don't see what this has to do with us," Jack said leaning back in his chair to stretch his muscles. "You're responsible for the stuff once it passes our checkpoint. So unless you've come here to brag about your incompetence..."
"I have permission to ask Dr Jackson's help in the retrieval operation," Mayborne said.
"Daniel?" Jack shot bolt upright. His surprise was echoed in Daniel's startled response.
"Me?" Daniel's jaw fell open. He blinked at Mayborne, licked his lips nervously, and then blinked again.
Mayborne focused his attention on the archaeologist. "Yes Dr Jackson. We need to get someone in on the sale. With your knowledge both of the country and the artefacts... Not to mention your talent with languages..."
"Daniel isn't trained for undercover work," Jack protested, his eyes seeking out Hammond's. "He's a... well... he's an archaeologist! And a linguist. Not a spy."
"That's exactly why he's perfect for this job," Mayborne responded clearly enjoying O'Neill's annoyance. "Dr Jackson won't be recognised by the intelligence community. And his interest in Egyptian artefacts and his troubled academic past is all the cover he needs. Together with the alternative history my people have arranged for him..."
"Alternative history?" Daniel asked.
Mayborne fixed him with an innocent look. "Anybody checking into your background will find you have two prison sentences to your credit - both for attempting to bring artefacts into the country without an export licence."
"Prison sentences!" Daniel repeated, eyes widening in horror. "Couldn't we just go with the *troubled academic past*?"
"What's the problem, Daniel?" Jack couldn't resist a tease, despite the fact he was far from amused at what Mayborne was suggesting. "Don't fancy adding ex-con to all those letters after your name?"
Daniel glared at him and then turned his attention back to Mayborne. "So what... I'm... supposed to be some sort of smuggler?"
"Well smuggler is perhaps a rather generous term, Doctor Jackson. We were thinking more... petty thief. One clearly with more ambition than ability."
"You were?" Daniel's question came out as more of a statement.
Jack didn't know whether to smirk at Daniel's hurt expression or slap Mayborne for the sly insult. Daniel, however, recovered his composure before Jack made a decision.
"So all I have to do is go to Egypt, make it known I'm interested in this *stuff* and get an invite to the sale, right?"
"That's it," Mayborne said, making it sound like he was asking Daniel to run to the store for a carton of milk. "Once you know when and where we'll take over."
"What about back-up?" Jack demanded. "Assuming Daniel can be persuaded to accept an assignment from someone as incompetent as you."
Still refusing to rise to O'Neill's taunts Mayborne set a passport and a marriage licence on the table. "Major Carter will accompany Dr Jackson as his wife."
"Woah!" Sam interjected. She picked up the marriage licence and glanced quickly at the two names on it. "Mrs Jackson? Is that really necessary?" She shot Daniel an embarrassed look. "No offence, Daniel. It's just... Wouldn't Colonel O'Neill be a better choice for back-up?"
"Oh yeah. I'd look real cute in skirt," Jack commented.
Mayborne gave them both a sour look. "Trust me - a wife will draw much less attention than..." He waved his hand at O'Neill as though lost for words. "A father."
Now it was Jack's turn to look hurt. He mouthed towards Carter. Father?
Mayborne however was pressing on. "So - Dr Jackson - are you in?"
"You don't have to do this, Daniel," Jack said, his voice low and warning. "Personally I wouldn't touch an operation run by Mayborne with a ten-foot pole. He lost the stuff, let him use his own people to get it back."
"Trying to protect your civilian puppy from a real mission, O'Neill?" Mayborne sneered.
"Hey!" The word came in stereo from both Jack and Daniel. They looked at each other in surprise, then as they both opened mouths to speak, two pairs of eyebrows rose. It was Jack who backed down under the heat of a glare from Daniel.
"I can make up my own mind," Daniel said, adding crisply. "And I don't need babysitting."
Jack was aware Daniel was staring at him to make sure the point registered. He shrugged and shot Daniel a sarcastic smile. "Of course you don't... 007."
Daniel returned the look with a humorless smile of his own, and then continued, "If those artefacts are as dangerous as I think, we don't have a lot of choice. It's imperative we get them back. And Colonel Mayborne's right. I know Egypt. Know the language... the culture. I'll do it." He drew in a breath. "What do you say, Sam?"
Mayborne spoke before Sam had a chance to. "Actually Major Carter doesn't have the choice." With a smug smile, he produced more papers from his pocket. "I have the authority to second her right here."
Hammond snatched up the papers, scanning them angrily. "I don't appreciate this," he said, waving the paperwork at Mayborne.
The colonel shrugged. "Routine, General. Simply routine."
"Routine my ass! You should've asked me for permission..."
"It's alright, Sir," Carter interrupted. "If Daniel goes, I'm happy to provide back-up."
"I can't believe you're letting them do this!" Jack paced in front of George Hammond's desk, anger colouring his face. "And for Mayborne of all people!"
"Sit down!" Hammond said. "Watching you pace is exhausting what little patience I have left."
Jack stopped abruptly, glared at his commanding officer and then complied. "You know Daniel's going to get himself killed."
"Dr Jackson is far more competent then you allow for," Hammond replied mildly.
"We're talking undercover operation here," Jack retorted, his tone suggesting Hammond, along with the rest of the world, had gone completely mad. "You can't let them go."
Hammond's eyes glinted steel. "I don't trust Mayborne any more than you do. But the truth is, I can't stop them. Jackson is a civilian, and those papers of Mayborne's, much as I'd like to stuff them down his throat, do give him authority to second Captain Carter."
Jack's shook his head in disbelief at Hammond's apparent inability to act.
Hammond drew in a breath and continued. "Look, I don't know what the hell is going on. But this isn't just about retrieving some stolen artefacts - no matter how much of a security risk they are. I've tried calling three senators this morning and all of them have been unavailable to come to the phone. Plus the President is in the African bush playing international diplomat, a point I'm sure Mayborne is well aware of. Besides I can't go calling the President just because one of my civilian advisors has been asked to do another branch of the military a favour, no matter how suspicious I am of the reason behind the request."
"Have you told Daniel all this?" Jack demanded.
Hammond looked vaguely embarrassed. "No."
Jack felt his anger rise again. Tilting his head to one side, he demanded curtly, "And why not?"
"Because I don't want to give him a reason not to go. Someone's playing games, and I want to know who. Letting Jackson go to Egypt could be just the thing to flush this person out. And yes..." Hammond held up his hands placatingly. "I know it's a hell of a risk. That's why I've just signed your vacation request."
"Vacation request?" For a moment Jack wasn't following Hammond's train of thought. Seconds later though the penny dropped. "Ahhhh! Vacation. I hear Egypt is nice this time of year."
Hammond smiled humourlessly. "I thought you might have."
For the next few hours everything went smoothly to plan. Well apart from the fact Daniel had turned distinctly pale on discovering the Egyptair plane was called the Hathor Express. Sam had explained hastily to the concerned stewardess that Daniel hated flying, while giving him a none-too-gentle shove through the door of the airbus. The flight itself went without a hitch, and Dr and Mrs Jackson entered Egypt without drawing undue attention to themselves.
Checking in at the hotel didn't cause any problems either, although Sam was paranoid she would forget to sign the register with the right name. She was also trying very hard not to fiddle with the gold wedding band that now adorned her left hand, especially as she had repeatedly told Daniel off for twisting a matching one round his ring finger during the flight.
It wasn't until they reached their room, however, that the reality of being undercover really struck home.
"OK, this is weird," Sam said, her attention unavoidably drawn to the double bed that was the only piece of furniture in the room other than a small closet. She was used to sleeping in close proximity to Daniel out in the field - in fact, there had been more than one occasion when SG1 had been forced to conserve body heat by curling up together - but this... This was a completely new ballgame and she was suddenly embarrassed.
Glancing at Daniel she realised he was feeling the same. His face was distinctly red. "It's no problem," he said quickly. "I'll sleep on the floor." Before Sam could protest, he added. "I did it all the time on Abydos. Not that... You know... I mean... we both did. Sha're and me. I mean there weren't any beds."
Sam returned his nervous grin with an appreciative smile. "Thanks. So... where do we start in the great artefact hunt?"
"I have one or two contacts from when I was last here who might be worth looking up," Daniel replied as he checked out the bathroom. "Just as long as they buy the idea I've gone into the smuggling business..." He stuck his head around the door. "I could use a freshen up. Do you mind if I take a shower? Or do you want to go first?"
"What? Oh no. Go ahead," Sam replied. She turned her attention to her suitcase, wondering if Daniel would object to her taking all the closet space. Normally she travelled light - a spare pair of pants, a couple of blouses, a skirt for evenings. On this mission though she hadn't been sure exactly what the wife of a dealer in artefacts would be expected to wear, and had ended up filling a fairly large suitcase with clothes. Daniel, in comparison, had arrived at the airport with little more than a sports bag.
She watched now as he extracted a sliver of soap and a fresh shirt from his bag before disappearing back into the bathroom. For the next couple of minutes the sound of running water filled the small room. Suddenly though it was drowned out by a loud yelp.
"Daniel?" Sam called in concern. Crossing to the door her hand rested on the handle. Oh please. Don't let anything have happened to him in the bathroom! "Daniel, are you OK?"
"Water went cold!" Daniel called, his voice a tone higher than usual.
Relieved Sam grinned, and added quietly to herself, "It's a good thing I'm not one of Janet's nurses, Dr Jackson."
Jack O'Neill stepped into the arrivals lounge at Cairo Airport and immediately looked for the exit. Spotting it off to his left, he had barely moved ten yards when he heard a voice calling his name. Unease immediately took hold - nobody was supposed to know he was here. He wrestled with the thought of ignoring it for a moment, but then stopped and looked round. The voice, he discovered, belonged to a well-built man of about thirty-five, dressed in a lightweight suit and sporting a subtle, yet healthy-looking tan.
"Colonel O'Neill. I'm Steven Edwards. Welcome to Cairo."
Studiously ignoring Edwards' proffered hand, Jack scrutinised him. "Do I know you?"
"No, Sir. But you will. I'm with the CIA. Been assigned to help you in whatever way I can. Sir!"
Jack grimaced slightly, embarrassed by the forced politeness and suspicious of the welcome. CIA? What the hell were they doing accosting him at the airport and offering him help? "I think you guys must have got your wires crossed," he said. "I'm here on vacation. And much as I appreciate a warm welcome from the CIA and the offer of *help* I can actually find my own way to the hotel swimming pool."
Edwards didn't so much as blink. "Yes Sir."
"Yes Sir?" Jack's eyebrows raised. "That's it. Just 'yes, sir'."
"Yes, Sir," Edwards repeated without a hint of humour.
"Fine," Jack replied as much to himself as to Edwards. He began to walk away, but Edwards fell in step beside him. Exasperated Jack pulled to a halt. "I don't need an escort," he said firmly.
"I've been assigned..."
"To help me." Jack sighed. "Edwards. I'm on vacation."
This time Edwards gave him a calculating look. "Let's cut the crap, shall we Colonel? I'll level with you, you level with me." He paused waiting for agreement. Jack however refused to be drawn. With a frown Edwards continued. "OK, I'll go first. The CIA has intercepted a number of telephone conversations regarding two consignments of goods. And we know several unwelcome characters are either on their way to Egypt, or already in Cairo. We think a major new drug cartel is being set up. What we don't understand is how the US Air Force fits in."
Two consignments? Jack stashed that piece of information away for further consideration, as the unease in his stomach notched up a gear. A CIA man offering information really had his alarm bells ringing, even if the information didn't appear to be totally accurate. "Who assigned you to me?" he asked suspiciously.
"In a round about way - General Hammond."
"General Hammond? Oh I doubt that," Jack said tersely.
"Because, Agent Edwards, I'm on vacation! You do know what that means, don't you? Sun. Sightseeing. Sitting by the pool reading a trashy novel."
"We're playing on the same side here, Colonel," Edwards replied neatly.
Like hell, Jack thought sourly to himself. This really wasn't good. It was possible Hammond had arranged CIA aid while he had been airborne, but somehow he figured the general would've mentioned the possibility before sending him off. And if Hammond hadn't arranged the welcoming committee then there could be real trouble ahead. Just how far did infiltration into the comings and goings of the SGC reach? Damn. He hadn't even left the airport terminal and already things were way too complicated. He peered at Edwards, wishing he could read minds, and then glanced through the door at the mayhem surrounding the taxi stand. Well, if he was going to be stuck with this guy, he might as well put him to some use. "Edwards. Do you have a car?"
"Good. In that case I guess you can help - I need a ride to my hotel." Handing his bag to the younger man, Jack indicated he should lead the way, while mentally working out just how quickly he could dump his unwanted assistant.
"So - where are we heading?" Sam asked as Daniel led the way through the streets of Cairo.
Daniel smiled, apparently relishing the opportunity to act as tour guide. "The Khan el-Khalili. It's the best known market in Egypt - built in 1382 by the Emir Djaharks el-Khalili."
Sam smiled as the strange names rolled smoothly off Daniel's tongue. She had struggled to become proficient in German at college - a necessity for reading science papers - and it never ceased to amaze her how easily Daniel coped with languages. It was almost as though he had an innate ability to absorb new ones effortlessly through his skin. Now though he was in full lecture mode, hands animated, face alive with enthusiasm.
"The Khan el-Kalili and the al-Muski market made Cairo a famous trading center in the Middle Ages. Not only that but they were home to a stringent spice monopoly. Some people believe that's the reason the Europeans started searching for new routes to the East and why Columbus ended up discovering America." Daniel grinned. "Although of course that last fact is now hotly debated. Anyway during its early days, the market was a centre for subversive groups. It must've been quite a place. What passed as the local militia were for ever raiding it. Of course all that changed when Sultan Ghawri rebuilt it in the 16th century."
"Of course," Sam chimed in sagely with an amused smile.
Daniel paused and looked vaguely embarrassed. "Sorry. I'm boring you."
"No. It's fascinating." Sam didn't want to hurt his feelings. "It's just - I'm curious to know why we're going there today."
The smile returned to Daniel's face. "It's home to a very old... friend."
"Friend?" Sam immediately picked up on the uncertainty in Daniel's tone.
"Well not exactly friend. He used to hang around the dig trying to sell us things from home. Things that were hard to come by. American cigarettes. English novels." Daniel smiled wistfully. "Chocolate. After a while we found he was quite useful in getting us other things."
Sam raised an eyebrow as Daniel's expression changed to one of slight embarrassment. "Other things?" she pressed.
Daniel winced. "Permits. Custom forms. Nothing illegal! He just made things move faster. For a price."
"Daniel Jackson! Are you talking bribery and corruption?"
"Err... Not exactly," Daniel said slowly. "It was more... doing business the local way."
Sam laughed. "Perhaps your new image isn't quite so ill-fitting."
A few minutes later Daniel was leading Sam through the brass market of the Khan. A myriad of tiny shops spilled their gold-coloured wares in riotous displays across tables and upturned boxes, frequently exploding far beyond the shop doorways, and in places making the small alleyways almost impassable, other than in single file. Daniel moved confidently through the maze of alleys, eventually stopping to peer into the interior of one of the shops. Almost immediately a voice called out - a sentence of rapid Arabic prefaced by Daniel's name in what appeared to Sam to be surprised affection.
Daniel gave Sam a small smile and entered the shop, greeting the shopkeeper in his own language.
Sam caught a glimpse of a small Egyptian man with skin burnished to a leathery tan clasping Daniel's shoulders and pulling him into a tight hug. A further burst of incomprehensible speech followed, and then the shopkeeper caught sight of her and looked expectantly at Daniel.
Daniel immediately switched to English as he made the introduction. "This is my wife, Samantha. Sam - Sikkit al-Azhar."
"Your wife!" Sikkit beamed at the revelation and executed a neat bow in Sam's direction. "Welcome to my humble shop." He turned back to Daniel. "She is very beautiful, Daniel. You are a fortunate man. Come - you must both take tea with me."
For the next twenty minutes, Sam sat and smiled while Daniel caught up with news about Sikkit's large family and spun him a tale about meeting her at an auction. She even managed to look suitably affectionate as he embellished the tale with the information that he'd *allowed* her to outbid him for a particularly interesting item. Eventually, however, having downed several glasses of mint tea, Daniel turned the conversation around to the real purpose of their visit.
"So Sikkit. I've heard rumours there are unusual artefacts on the market."
A hint of suspicion crossed the Egyptian's face. "Why would you be interested in such things, Daniel? Don't you dig up enough of your own to impress those professors of yours?"
In answer, Daniel pinched the bridge of his nose and looked embarrassed. "I must be honest with you, my friend. I'm no longer welcome at the university. I've had to find other ways to make money." He picked up Sam's hand and played absentmindedly with her fingers. "And my wife has expensive tastes."
Sam smiled sweetly while mentally plotting to add sand to Daniel's early morning coffee.
Sikkit chuckled and nodded sagely. "You keep her sweet, she keeps you happy? I understand well the needs of a man."
"Indeed," Daniel said. He leaned close to the Egyptian and whispered something in his ear. In response, Sikkit broke into earthy laughter and eyed Sam with an expression of fresh respect. OK, Sam thought, maybe sand and a dose of laxative.
Taking advantage of the good humour, Daniel continued. "So - I know someone who would pay handsomely for the *rarest* of artefacts. And I would pay well for an introduction to the seller."
Sikkit frowned. "Daniel, you are like a son to me. Take my advice - set your eyes on a lesser prize. Let me introduce you to my son-in-law. He has some fine alabaster available to a buyer willing to not ask questions about their procurement."
Daniel shook his head sadly. "Thank you Sikkit. But my buyer is a man of narrow tastes. His desire is only for *mysterious* artefacts."
Sikkit's frown deepened. "You know I would do anything for you, Daniel. But in this - I cannot help," he said.
"Sikkit!" Daniel chided softly. "Surely things haven't changed so much you no longer know every secret of the Khan el-Khalili."
The flattery was well aimed. The Egyptian wavered momentarily, and Daniel pressed home his advantage. "My buyer is an extremely wealthy man." He reached for his wallet and revealed a large quantity of American dollars.
Sikkit hesitated, his eyes on the money. "Perhaps I could ask a few questions around the Khan. But no promises, Daniel."
Daniel removed several notes from his wallet and laid them on the seat next to him. "Thank you."
The money instantly vanished into Sikkit's robe as he spoke. "Where are you staying?" He nodded as Daniel named the hotel. "I will contact you there tomorrow. As soon as I have news."
Satisfied progress had been made, Daniel made their goodbyes. Hand-in-hand the Jacksons strolled back through the marketplace - to any curious outsiders, the perfect picture of a recently married couple.
As they paused to admire an ornate brass plate, Sam asked. "What did you whisper to him?"
Daniel pretended not to hear her, instead he pointed at another plate featuring the pyramids. "Look darling. That would be wonderful in our living room. We could put it over the fireplace."
Sam grimaced. "Don't overdo it, Hamlet! And don't change the subject. What did you say to him?"
Daniel had the grace to look embarrassed as he replied. "I told him a man would pay a hundred camels for your skills in the bedroom."
"Really!" Indignation blasted through Sam's comment.
"It was a compliment," Daniel protested as she jerked her hand free of his.
"Was it now?" Her tone was scathing. "A hundred camels?"
"That's a lot of money," Daniel added. He was beginning to feel distinctly uncomfortable now. Boy! It had never crossed his mind Sam would take offence.
"A lot of money?"
"Well, quite a lot of money!"
Sam fixed him with a stern look. "More than a day's rations?"
"Much, much more," Daniel said hastily, wishing the ground would swallow him up. Suddenly Daniel caught sight of the smile tugging at the corners of Sam's mouth. Damn it! The wretched woman was teasing him.
"Good!" Sam managed to say crossly before the impending smile finally managed to explode. "Oh Daniel! Your face!"
"You are a very cruel woman, Samantha Car... Jackson!" Daniel retorted good-naturedly. "Just for that you can buy dinner. And believe me I know of a very expensive restaurant."
Sitting on the bed, Sam's suitcase acting as an impromptu table, the 'Jacksons' were killing time. With a flourish Sam set down the hand of cards she'd been studying. "Gin."
She reached for the pad of paper on the side of the table and scribbled her new winnings down on a very long running total. "I make that $250,632 and 46 cents you owe me."
Daniel groaned. "You know it wasn't fair of Jack to tell you I'm no good at gin. Tomorrow we're buying a chess set."
"Fine by me," Sam retorted. "I was college champion three years in a row!"
Their bantering was interrupted by the telephone ringing. Daniel snatched it up with eagerness, spoke a few swift words of Arabic and then replaced the receiver. "Sikkit's in the lobby."
"About time," Sam commented reaching for her jacket.
Down in the lobby, Sikkit drew them to a quiet corner. "I have what you asked for. But please - you must tell nobody where you got this information. These people... how do you say it, they play in a different arena."
"A different league," Daniel correctly gently.
"Whatever," Sikkit replied impatiently. "The person you seek goes by the name of Peter Marchant."
"Marchant? An American?" Sam asked.
Sikkit nodded, as Daniel asked, "Where will we find him?"
"He likes the company of artists. Try the El-Ghuri Wakala. Tomorrow, late in the afternoon."
"Thank you." Daniel reached in his wallet for another generous wad of dollars. Sikkit took the money without a word and tucked it in a pocket. He turned to leave and then hesitated.
"Daniel. Marchant and those he mixes with, they are dangerous people to know. Be careful my friend."
Daniel acknowledged the warning with a tilt of his head. "I will, my friend. I will."
The El-Ghuri Wakala, Sam discovered, was a 16th century building originally built as a hotel for spice merchants. Well-preserved, it was still impressive with its stone facade decorated with ornate latticed windows, and an inner courtyard entered via a huge arch doorway.
With Daniel by her side, Sam strolled past the artwork displayed in the bright Egyptian sunlight, stopping here and there to admire a particular piece of work. Finally at one stall she was able to engage the artist in conversation. Daniel sidled away to give her room to turn on what he had referred to as 'the Carter charm'.
"You're a lover of the arts?" the man asked as he dipped his brush into a rich red pigment. He smiled at Sam, displaying a set of broad teeth stained with nicotine.
"Not really," Sam replied returning the smile with what she hoped was a flirtatious one of her own. "The truth is I'm hoping to find an old friend. I heard this was one of his favourite haunts. Perhaps you know him? Peter Marchant."
The artist's eyes narrowed. "Peter Marchant. Yes I know him."
"So will I find him here?" Sam pressed, not failing to note the mention of his name had distinctly soured the atmosphere. So much for flirting.
The artist studied her for a moment. "You'll find him in one of the upper rooms." He nodded to a stairway visible across the courtyard, and then added. "Not that it's any of my business, but if I were you - I'd choose different friends."
Sam blinked at the comment. "Oh?"
The artist merely shook his head at her query. "As I said, not my business." He turned away, his action a clear dismissal.
Sam pursed her lips, debating trying to get more information. Judging from the artist's air of determined concentration, however, she would probably just be wasting her time. Disappointed she said a quick, "Thank you," to the man's back, and turned away to look for Daniel.
She spotted him two doors away, peering at a canvas covered in streaks of purple and yellow. Trying to still appear like a casual tourist she moved to his side. "Marchant's upstairs," she said quietly. "And I get the impression he isn't Mr Congeniality."
Daniel grimaced at the news. "Guess that's not exactly a surprise, huh?" He turned the canvas sideways. "Does this *really* look like an elephant in long grass to you?"
Sam considered the painting for a moment and then nodded. One of the joys of having young nephews and nieces was that her apartment was decorated with various examples of bold, but not true-to-life, art. "Absolutely. Look there's the trunk. Four legs. Grass."
Daniel frowned and put the painting down. "Think I should stick to archaeology," he muttered quietly. "Not even cave paintings are that primitive."
Sam didn't comment. Instead she led the way to the stairway. They climbed in silence, and reached a narrow corridor down which were several doorways.
"Any idea which door?" Daniel asked.
Sam had barely shrugged before a large figure coalesced out of the shadows and blocked their progress. She caught the flash of a nervous smile on Daniel's face as he began to speak in quick, fluent Arabic.
Whatever it was Daniel said clearly didn't impress. The figure took a step towards them, a pair of dark eyes sizing Daniel up as though looking at a cut of particularly unappetising meat on the butcher's counter. A single word was barked in a deep tone that identified its owner as a life-long smoker.
Daniel hesitated and then gave his name before indicating Sam and giving hers. By now Sam was able to recognise 'miraati', the word for wife, but the rest of his speech was incomprehensible to her. She could only guess he was explaining why they were here. The calculating gaze fixed on her, and then moved back to Daniel who hastily offered more information. In response the guttural voice spat another word, then abruptly the man moved down the corridor.
"He asked us to wait here," Daniel said.
"I take it that's the polite translation," Sam said with a grim smile.
"Yeah, you could say that." Daniel folded his arms over his chest, his face equally as grim.
Minutes later, although it seemed like hours, Daniel was pacing the width of the narrow corridor nervously. "What if Marchant won't see us?"
"Then we'll think of something else," Sam replied calmly.
Daniel nodded. Right. That was easy to say. He began to twist at the wedding band on his ring finger, realising what he was doing as Sam gave him a sharp look. Instead he steepled his fingers, tapping them against one another in a quick rhythm. The action reminded him of Jack running through ten ways to disable a man with one finger. Daniel had always thought that was some sort of black ops joke - the reality had left him feeling slightly nauseous, and Jack had chewed him out for saying he didn't need - or want - to know such stuff. Looked like he was about to prove himself right on the needing to know though - chances were he wasn't even going to get a foot in the door on this mission. This time tomorrow he'd be back on a plane. Daniel Jackson. Licenced to fail...
The large figure of the bodyguard stepped into the corridor, and growled another monosyllabic word at them.
"Seems we've been granted an audience," Daniel said quietly. His relief at having progressed this far was brief though. Now came the tough part, convincing Marchant to do business with him.
With a quick glance at Sam, he led the way down the corridor. Together they were shown into a small, sunlit room decorated with huge, brightly coloured canvases. Seated on a richly upholstered sofa were two men in western-style suits. A Middle Eastern contrast was provided by a low table that held an ornate coffee pot and two small cups lavishly decorated with gold leaf.
Daniel scrutinised the faces, trying to decide which was Marchant. The man nearest to him was young - early twenties - with sandy hair, a round face and pale blue eyes. There was something familiar about his features, but Daniel couldn't quite place what it was. The other man was older by a good twenty years and carrying more weight than his height was designed for. Black hair was turning grey and thinning noticeably, while a narrow moustache made his thick upper lips look even heavier. Both men returned the scrutiny, but it was the younger who rose to his feet.
He stood before Daniel mimicking the bodyguard's act of weighing up a purchase. When he spoke it was in English, with just the faintest hint of an American accent. "Mr Jackson. Do I know you?"
Daniel licked his bottom lip before replying. "No..."
Before Daniel could add further comment, the man turned to the Egyptian. "Search him!"
"Hey! Wait a minute," Daniel protested as a heavily muscled hand dropped onto his arm and the stench of stale tobacco assailed his nostrils.
"You have something to hide?"
"Then you won't object."
Not knowing what else to do, Daniel submitted to a body search that seemed far more intimate than was actually necessary. He shrugged off the indignity as the bodyguard turned his eyes towards Sam, and quickly placed himself in the way. "That really isn't necessary. My wife isn't a threat."
The bodyguard's face creased into an ugly smile, and Daniel swallowed as he saw the man's hands ball into two giant fists. Behind him he heard Sam draw in breath, tensing for the impending fight.
Fortunately the sandy-haired man chose to intercede. "Enough. Let the woman be. But understand this, Mr Jackson. I don't like my privacy being invaded." His eyes met Daniel's, an unspoken threat in their depths.
I get the point, Daniel thought to himself angrily. I enter your inner sanctum, you get your bodyguard to manhandle me. Tit for tat. When he spoke, however, there was no trace of irritation. Instead his voice was placatingly soft.
"I'm sorry, Mr Marchant." He realised suddenly the man still hadn't given his identity, and added, "You are Peter Marchant, aren't you?"
Daniel licked his lips again, relieved to have got at least that far. His tone remained apologetic. "Please believe me it wasn't my intention to offend. Quite the opposite - I'm hoping we might do business. Perhaps I've been over-enthusiastic in finding you, but as I explained to your... associate..."
"Why me?" Marchant interrupted again. "And exactly how did you seek me out?"
Daniel lifted his chin a fraction, trying not to appear uneasy. "As to the how, I'm sure you understand that a businessman never reveals contacts. At least... not on a first date."
Marchant ignored the attempted humor, but allowed himself am acknowledgement of the truth in Daniel's words. "Indeed."
"As for why you?" Daniel continued. "I believe you have something I'm interested in buying."
"Really." Marchant's gaze never wavered from Daniel's face, his tone one of boredom. "And what might that be?"
"A set of rare artefacts."
Daniel watched in satisfaction as his words caused the first hint of a reaction. If Marchant was suspicious of Daniel's purpose though he wasn't going to make it easy for him.
"You'll find artefacts in abundance in the Khan," he replied.
"Not of the sort I'm in the market for." Daniel decided it was time to take a gamble. "What I'm looking for is a bit more 'out of this world'." He raised his eyebrows meaningfully, and this time got a full blown reaction.
"Who are you?" Marchant demanded, studying Daniel's face intently.
"I thought we'd already done the introductions. Daniel Jackson. That's Dr Jackson by the way. Dealer in ancient artefacts." By now Daniel's heart was pounding so loud he figured Marchant must be wondering who had let a bass drummer in the room.
"I know all the dealers in Egypt, *Doctor* Jackson."
"I haven't been here for some time," Daniel replied. "In fact the last time I was here my role was somewhat different. I ran the 1994 dig at Giza. You can check it out if you like."
"Of sorts," Daniel agreed. "Let's just say I've found a more lucrative source of income." That at least was true, Daniel thought wryly. Now that he'd been searched, he was able to slip a hand into his jacket pocket and retrieve a business card without causing trouble. He handed it to Marchant who merely glanced at it before turning to Sam.
"And you Mrs Jackson? What is your role in this business?"
Sam's eyes flickered to the hulk standing just to Daniel's right and then back to Marchant. "Bodyguard," she said.
Abruptly Marchant's demeanour lightened and he let out a snort of laughter. "Perhaps I should've had you searched after all." He turned back to Daniel with an oily smile. "It seems, Dr Jackson, you have me at a disadvantage. Clearly your *bodyguard* and your contacts are superior to mine. But if we're to do business, I need to know you have the money to match."
Daniel produced a pen, and scribbled quickly on the back of another business card. "Swiss bank. Call them. I think you'll be satisfied I can play in the game."
This time Marchant gave the card more attention.
Daniel meanwhile decided his frayed nerves had had enough of role play for one day. Time to wrap this up and get the hell out. He managed a confident smile. "When you've finished checking me out, call. I'd like to see the merchandise before I buy."
"I haven't admitted to having any," Marchant replied coolly.
Daniel however refused to be rattled. "Call me," he repeated. "We're at the Hotel Ramases."
Marchant gave him one more searching look and then nodded. His eyes swivelled to the large Egyptian. "Show them out!"
After leaving the El-Ghuri, Daniel and Sam found a secluded doorway across from the entrance in which to wait for Marchant to depart. The small digital camera Sam had retrieved from her bag was now snugly in the palm of her hand, its size deceptive as to its power.
As they waited, Daniel pinched at the bridge of his nose. "Do you have any Tylenol? I think I've got a headache coming on." He felt totally wiped out.
Sam patted him fondly on the arm before speaking, "You did good."
"Thanks," he said. As Sam began to open her bag, however, he tapped her shoulder to get her attention. "Here we go!"
Marchant was walking through the gate towards a waiting limousine. He was deep in conversation with another man.
"Is that the man from the room?" Daniel asked.
"Yep!" Sam was concentrating on getting pictures.
"I wonder who he is?"
Sam took one last shot and slipped the camera into her pocket. "As soon as we get these pictures to Mayborne we can find out."
Mayborne stared at the first of the two pictures Carter had emailed to him for a long time, trying to get his brain to function around the facts his eyes were relaying to him. Emotions warred in him - concern, anger, confusion. This couldn't be. Of all the dumb, stupid idiotic things to get involved in. And to think he was the one who had sent Jackson and Carter out there.
He paced the room trying to work out his next move. His mind flicked back to the conversation he'd had in the bar a few days ago with the man he'd come to think of as 'the general'. What was it the general had said? 'The operative decided to go into business on his own.' Mayborne groaned silently, remembering his own flippant reply. *Unwise.* Damn it all to hell! If he'd known then... Anger flared. The general had been playing with him, he must've known he'd find out. Hurrying back to his seat, Mayborne grabbed the phone and dialled.
Only one person ever answered this number and as soon as it connected Mayborne let rip. "I've seen who the operative is. Why the hell didn't you tell me you'd recruited my son?" He was almost quivering with rage now."
"I thought it would be a pleasant surprise," came back the smooth answer.
"Pleasant!" Mayborne almost choked on the word. "You could have chosen any one. Why him?"
A soft chuckle came from the other end of the phone, but the amusement was tinged with harshness. "He volunteered. And I needed insurance. You seemed uncertain of your loyalties after our last little game with Jackson and O'Neill..."
"Jackson nearly died," Mayborne spluttered, remembering how a combination of chemicals and subliminal messages had been used to turn O'Neill into a potential murderer with Jackson as his target. What had started out as an opportunity to get revenge on Jackson for letting the Tollans go had quickly escalated far beyond Mayborne's intentions to remove him from the SGC.
The general laughed softly. "You selected him for the project. Just as you did for this one."
The uncomfortable sensation of having stepped into a snare crept over Mayborne. He returned to his main concern. "You hurt my son and I'll..."
"You'll what?" the voice sneered.
There was a long silence as Mayborne visualised what he would like to do to his unwelcome employer. Nausea edged into his unease as he realised just how powerless he was. A colonel in the USAF and he couldn't do a damn thing. Although it nearly choked him to say it, he forced out the answer, sickened by the tone of defeat in his voice. "Nothing."
The line went dead. Mayborne stared at the receiver for a long hard moment, his mind still reeling. What sick game was he caught up in this time?
Nothing! The word taunted him as he replaced the handset, and a fresh wave of anger washed over him. Moving to the drinks cabinet he poured himself a large whiskey, downing the liquor in a single burning mouthful. He refreshed the glass and moved back to his desk, staring once more at the picture on his computer screen. How could he do nothing? This was his son! He snatched the phone up again. Grabbing his organiser he hunted for the number, cursing himself that he'd allowed so many months to pass since speaking to the boy. He shut down unpleasant memories about their last meeting and before he could even think about the consequences dialled - part of him desperately wanting the line to connect, another part - a part he hardly dared acknowledge - hoping it wouldn't, that the mobile he was calling would be too far away or no longer in use.
When the ringing tone began, he took a deep breath, rehearsing his words quickly in his mind. A male voice sounded at the other end, "Hello?"
"You've been compromised," Mayborne said quickly, disguising his voice as best he could.
"What? Who is this?"
"You've been compromised," Mayborne repeated. "The Jacksons aren't what they seem."
"Who is this?" the voice demanded.
Without another word, Mayborne replaced the receiver of his phone. He realised his hand was shaking as his fingers moved back to his computer keyboard and he deleted the email. Taking a deep breath he downed the rest of the whiskey, gathered up his coat and car keys, and hurried from his office.
Daniel woke with a start, surprised that he had actually fallen asleep. Marchant had contacted him the day after they'd met and set up another meeting for midday tomorrow. When Daniel had retired to his makeshift bed that evening he'd been too edgy to immediately fall asleep. Despite his racing thoughts, however, exhaustion had obviously caught up with him. He peered at his watch and discovered it was only 1.30. Almost immediately he realised what it was that had disturbed him - the sound of someone retching.
"Sam?" Dressed only in a pair of boxers, Daniel disentangled himself from the sheet he'd been wrapped in and padded to the bathroom. Yep, definitely the source of the noise. "Sam! Are you OK?"
Dumb question, Jackson, he chastised himself. However, he was rewarded by the sound of the toilet flushing. The door opened and a very white-faced Sam gave him a sorry smile.
"I feel awful," she said unnecessarily.
Daniel pulled a sympathetic face. "Pharaoh's revenge," he said ruefully. He felt Sam's forehead - clammy but not feverish. "I've got some stuff in my pack. Get back into bed while I get it."
As Sam curled weakly under the sheet, Daniel produced several packets from his bag. He tore one open, emptying the powdered contents into a bottle of mineral water, which he then shook vigorously. From another packet he pressed two tablets. He handed both the tablets and the bottle to Sam. "Swallow those and drink as much of that as you can."
Sam peered uncertainly at the water which was now a pale pink. "Daniel, I don't think..."
"Trust me," Daniel said, chewing on his bottom lip. "I've treated more than my fair share of students with upset stomachs. I haven't killed anyone yet."
"Yes, doctor." Sam was too weary to protest further. She swallowed the tablets and forced down half the water.
"You'll be fine in 24 hours, I promise," Daniel said optimistically.
"But what about tomorrow?" Sam asked. "You'll have to phone Marchant. Tell him I'm sick."
Daniel shook his head. "And how would that look? International businessman can't come out because his wife's sick."
Sam peered at him in concern. "Don't go alone, Daniel. It's too dangerous."
"I don't have a choice. I'll be OK," Daniel replied with a confidence he didn't feel. "Hell, Jack rammed enough black ops info down my throat before we left." Daniel made karate-style movements with his hands. As he caught Sam's expression of bemusement, he smiled self-consciously. "Guess that's not exactly me, huh?"
"At least take the gun Sikkit got for us."
"I'll think about it."
"OK. OK. I'll take the gun."
Knowing his reassurance had done little to placate Sam he changed the subject, returning to the current problem. "You just concentrate on getting well. "And drink plenty of that water. Once your fluids are restored..."
Sam abruptly leapt from the bed and rushed back into the bathroom. "...you'll feel... better." Daniel's final word was drowned out by the sound of retching. Oh boy! It was going to be a long night.
It was early morning but already the streets of Cairo were alive with people. One too many people, Jack thought sourly. He knew he was being watched, but there wasn't a whole lot he could do about it. He folded up the newspaper he'd been reading, laid it on the table where he'd been enjoying a coffee in a bar across from the Hotel Rameses and strolled over to greet the voyeur.
"Edwards!" He gave the young man a feral smile as he approached his table. Did the guy really think a pair of sunglasses was a disguise? "How nice to see you again."
Edwards returned the smile. "I could say the same, Colonel O'Neill." He nodded towards O'Neill's table. "An interesting place to spend a vacation."
"What can I say," O'Neill replied. "I like the atmosphere in here. The local characters are so... colorful."
Edwards turned coolly towards the Rameses. "Funny. I thought most of your attention was on the hotel."
Jack gave a wry smile. "So I'm a student of architecture. It's a hobby. In fact, I'm doing an evening class." He waved his hand at the building. "Classic example of the 18th century."
"Actually it's early 19th."
Jack didn't flinch. "I didn't say I was a good student." As he glanced over at the building he caught sight of Daniel stepping onto the sidewalk. Damn! The archaeologist had to pick this moment to be on the move. And where was Carter? The two of them were supposed to stick together like glue. "Excuse me," Jack said abruptly to Edwards. "Much as I'd love to stay and chat, I've things to do. Books to read. Little sunbeams to catch." Heading back to his table, he reached for his wallet, and extracted enough money to cover his coffee. As he reached the door, however, he found Edwards blocking the way.
Glancing over the young man's shoulder he saw Daniel cross the street. A few more seconds and he'd be at the corner. "Get out of my way," Jack said tersely.
"No more games O'Neill. Tell me what you're here for," Edwards replied crisply.
"None of your damn business," Jack replied. Daniel was almost at the corner. Damn. With surprising speed, Jack slipped his hand behind Edwards and pinched a tiny piece of skin at the back of his left leg. As the man howled in pain, Jack neatly side-stepped him out into the street.
Daniel was no longer in sight. Instantly Jack broke into a run, sprinting to the street corner. Too late. There was no sign of Jackson. Hell! Jack treated himself to a string of expletives, and then turned back to the bar. Still standing in the doorway, Edwards was watching him, his face like thunder, one hand rubbing at his sore leg. Jack headed towards him, rehearsing exactly what he was going to say to him as he walked. None of it was repeatable in company.
A prickle of tension ran across Daniel's shoulders as he approached the meeting place, and it wasn't just because he was alone. He recalled the strained couple of hours he'd spent with Jack before setting off on this mission. Two hours in which Jack had tried to summarise three years of black ops training. Daniel had tried to absorb everything Jack told him, but even Jack had admitted theoretical knowledge couldn't replace practical experience. And they both knew that was one thing Daniel didn't have.
*Listen to your gut reactions.* Jack's words sounded in his mind. *Chances are they're right.* The tension evolved into recognisable fear. Right now, Daniel's gut was telling him something was seriously awry.
Glancing casually around as he walked he spotted someone looking in his direction before stepping into the shadows of a doorway. Damn! They weren't even trying hard to hide the fact they were watching him. Daniel didn't know what to do. For a moment he tried to convince himself he was imagining things, that he should just carry on to his meeting with Marchant. Everything was going to be fine.
His sharp intelligence wouldn't let him fool himself though. No, something had definitely changed - he just knew it. But if Marchant wanted him why not just wait until he arrived as scheduled? Because, his mind argued back, people like Marchant never took chances, they always had a back-up plan. The tail he now had was no doubt ordered to pick him up if he changed his mind about attending the meeting. Abruptly Daniel decided that was exactly what he was going to do. He'd skip this meeting and do as Sam had suggested. Phone Marchant and tell him his wife was sick. Rearrange it for another, safer venue. One that he, Daniel, would chose.
With deliberate abruptness, Daniel crossed the street and turned a sharp corner. Stopping ten yards down the road he did an about turn and was rewarded by seeing a young man running round the corner, only to pull up as he found Daniel facing him.
For a moment the two men stared at each other, then Daniel saw the young man's hand move towards the inside of his jacket. Phone or gun? The question snapped into Daniel's mind, even as instinct told him it was a gun. Not good! Not good at all. He should've brought the gun Sikkit procured for him after all. Daniel spun round and began to walk away as quickly as he dared, trusting he wouldn't be shot in the back. Surely he hadn't as yet done anything to warrant that? Almost immediately one thought surfaced above concern for his own welfare. He had to warn Sam. Trying not to make it obvious he moved his own hand across his body and slowly retrieved his mobile phone.
Praying his fingers were in the right place, he hit the number for Sam's mobile without looking. Counting to ten to allow Sam time to pick up, he moved the phone to his ear. Hell! It was still ringing. Come on Sam. Answer the damn phone.
He saw movement to one side of him. Recognised the danger an alleyway to his left presented.
"Sam. Our cover's blown. Get out..."
Something - no - someone collided with him, pushing him roughly towards the alley. The phone was knocked from his hand and skittered across the ground. Desperately Daniel tried to stop his forward movement, but a second person seemed to appear from nowhere, adding more weight to the impetus. Before he could prevent it he was off the main street and into the shadows of the alley, hands pulling at his clothes, spinning him round and then pushing him roughly against the wall. A sharp pain speared through his abdomen as a fist made contact, and Daniel gagged as his breakfast threatened to make a reappearance. Through the haze of pain he saw a second fist coming at his face. It missed more through luck than judgement as he folded over the agony consuming his midriff. Instinct and a desperate desire to escape made him lash out at his attacker, landing a blow somewhere on a body. He staggered away from the wall, but was immediately grabbed from behind, a pair of strong arms grasped his, pinning them to his sides.
His head was pulled ruthlessly back by an unseen hand tangled in his hair, causing him to gasp and leaving his throat vulnerable. For one horrible moment Daniel believed his life would end with a single slash of a blade, but then he caught sight of a familiar mirthless face inches from his own - Marchant's bodyguard.
"Mr Marchant isn't pleased with you," the man said in perfect unaccented English. "And I simply don't like you."
Even though Daniel tensed for the blow, his tender stomach muscles still screamed at the abuse and his precarious hold on his breakfast vanished. The arms released him and he slumped to his knees, narrowly avoiding falling into his own vomit. As he gasped for breath, a stabbing sensation in the muscle of his upper arm made him turn his head just in time to see the contents of a hypodermic needle being injected. A half-formed protest reached his lips and then unconsciousness laid its claim.
"Daniel!" Sam yelled his name as his voice cut off abruptly. She paced the hotel room with the phone pressed to her ear, desperately trying to catch some clue of what had happened, but as far as she could tell the phone had gone dead. Either that or any background noise was too faint for the phone to relay.
Reluctantly she disconnected. *Get out*. Daniel's last words forced her to move, ignoring the weakness she still felt. Fortunately Daniel had been right about the medication - she didn't feel 100% but she did feel better than she had six hours ago, and at least she could function semi-normally. Shrugging on her jacket she grabbed her bag and started transferring essential items to her pockets - credit card, a handful of money. She hesitated over the camera before deciding to take it - she might need the photographs of Marchant and his mysterious contact. Thrusting her hand back into the bag her fingers curled around another metal object. Damn it, Daniel had gone without the gun after all. No doubt he'd have some stupid argument prepared about her being able to put it to better use. Angry with him for being so pigheaded at times, she shoved the weapon into the rear waistband of her pants.
Satisfied she was as ready as she was going to be, she opened the door of the room, peered into the corridor and set off. Almost immediately two men stepped around the far corner. "Ah, Mrs Jackson..."
Three steps away Sam could see the door to the fire escape. Trying to look casual she moved forward, "Yes?" she said, flashing an innocent smile. One more step. "Can I..." She dived for the door and sprinted for all she was worth down the stairs, one hand reaching for the gun as she ran.
Slower than she would normally have been thanks to the sickness, she nevertheless made it to the ground floor ahead of her pursuers. Pushing open the outside door she found herself in a back alley strewn with garbage and smelling strongly of rotting vegetables. The smell brought with it the return of nausea, and Sam put a hand over her mouth and nose in an instinctive reaction, grateful for the faint perfume of soap on her fingers. She really couldn't afford to throw up now. She did a quick glance to the left, another to the right. Both ways offered an exit to a larger street, but the route to the left provided more opportunity to take cover. Left it was then - she set off as fast she could.
She wasn't sure which happened first. Somebody yelling at her to stop, the sound of the gun firing or the feel of a bullet slicing through her flesh just below her left armpit. What she was sure of was it hurt like hell as the force of the impact knocked her to the ground.
Dazed by pain and shock, she somehow managed to roll, coming up with her gun in one hand. She loosed off two wild shots as she dove behind a trash can, scuttling against the wall and making herself as small a target as possible. Breathing heavily and trying to ignore the burning sensation from the bullet wound, she waited it out, the muzzle of the gun aimed unwaveringly at the space in front of her. If they wanted her, they'd damn well have to come and get her.
Across the street, Jack had just finished describing exactly what he would do to Edwards if the man got in the way of his *vacation* again when he heard the distinctive sound of gunfire. He spun on his heels, trying to locate its direction and instantly realised it was coming from the alley to the right of the Hotel Rameses. Of course, it didn't have to be Carter in trouble, he told himself. But if it was...
Without a second thought he set off, dashing through the traffic with scant regard for his own safety. He reached the top of the alley, flattened himself against the sun-warmed wall, and stopped to retrieve the small handgun he'd procured the previous day. The pause gave Edwards the chance to reach his side.
The CIA man smiled grimly, trying to cover the fact he was breathing heavily from the short sprint across the street. "Still going with the vacation story?"
O'Neill shrugged. "Seems I attract trouble." He risked putting his head around the corner, peered into the gloom for a moment and then stepped fully into the alley, crouching low. Aware that Edwards was right behind him, he indicated movement further down the alley, and then stealthily began to creep forward. Ten steps on, his eyes now accustomed to the shadows, Jack could make out two men standing in the framework of a fire escape. Their attention was on something, or someone, further down the alley. Abruptly one of the men called out, "Mrs Jackson, come on out. We don't want to hurt you further."
Jack's heart did a flip-flop at the casual reference to Carter being hurt. This was turning out to be one hell of a day. He signalled to Edwards, making it clear he, Jack, would take out the thug on the left, Edwards was to take the one on the right. Holding up three fingers he did a quick countdown. Three, two, one...
Jack sprinted the thirty yards between himself and his target and with a single blow took the man out. He straightened up just in time to see Edwards deliver a well-aimed blow to the jaw of the other thug. The man dropped like a stone, his gun skittering across the alley towards Jack's feet.
"Nice work. For a CIA man," Jack commented.
Edwards smiled. "Not bad yourself."
O'Neill pocketed the dropped gun and peered down the alley. "Now for the dangerous part," he said without humour. Reluctant though he was to include Edwards in any of his plans, it occurred to him he really didn't have a lot of choice now. And if that was the case, there was very little point in continuing the charade. "Carter!" he called. "It's me, O'Neill. We got them." He waited for a response but received none. Jack frowned. OK - three choices. One Carter was wounded badly enough to have lost consciousness. Two she thought this was a trick. Three - it wasn't Carter at all and he was going to spend the rest of the day cursing himself for getting caught up in a local gang fight. He slipped his own gun back into its shoulder holster, raised his hands and stepped into the middle of the alley. "I'm coming down. For God's sake, don't shoot me, Carter!"
As he took a step forward he was rewarded by the sound of a familiar voice. "Sir?" A blond head peered cautiously around the trash can.
"Yes, it's me." Jack lowered his hands in relief and hurried to her side, drawing in a sharp breath at the sight of blood on her shirt.
"Nice timing, Sir," Carter managed to say.
Jack's eyes widened in concern as he watched her turn a distinct shade of green. Before he had a chance to move, she ungraciously threw up on his shoes. "Oh yeah," Jack muttered. "Perfect timing."
Jack's patience had long given out by the time Edwards managed to convince the local police to allow them to leave the scene. He glanced at his watch again. Two hours! Two wasted hours! Any trail leading to Daniel would be growing well and truly cold. Not to mention Sam's pale face clearly showed she needed medical attention - something the pompous uniformed idiot heading up this investigation had shown a callous lack of interest in providing.
Jack had just decided the only way out of the situation was to deck the no-good, over-stuffed son-of-a-bitch when Edwards had grabbed his arm and hustled him towards his car. Moments later they were being driven across Cairo to the nondescript building that housed Edward's office.
"I'm sorry it took so long," Edwards said again as he pulled up outside the building. He twisted round in his seat and caught a glimpse of the strained expression on Carter's face. He glanced towards Jack. "We should take her to a hospital."
"We've wasted too much time already," Carter replied tersely. "We've got to find Daniel."
Jack's expression tightened another notch at the mention of the archaeologist's name. The blood on Carter's shirt was evidence enough they were dealing with ruthless professionals. The chances were Daniel was in the hands of someone who wouldn't hesitate to kill him if circumstances dictated. As for what methods might be used to persuade him to talk - Jack didn't even want to start thinking about that. Carter was right. It was imperative they find him.
Edwards led the way into the building, retrieving a first aid box from a medical closet on the way. Opening his office door he ushered them in.
Jack immediately set to work inspecting Sam's injury.
"It's not as bad as it seems," he said with relief as she shucked off her shirt to reveal a deep gash beneath her arm. Jack glanced up to find Edwards staring open-mouthed at Carter. "Eyes right, Edwards!" he ordered suddenly noticing Carter was displaying a white lacy bra. The realisation had also subtly fractured the military protocol that was Jack's safety net in such situations. He took a deep breath as he felt his own skin begin to flush. Damn it, he told himself. It's just a field dressing. Self-consciously avoiding Carter's eyes, he flipped open the first aid kit, unwrapped a large pad of gauze and pressed hard against the open skin.
Sam sucked in a sharp breath, her eyes widening with pain.
"Sorry." Jack said quietly. "Trust me. It really is just a nick. Muscle graze - nothing worse."
"Right," She hissed allowing herself a quick glance.
"You could use with a couple of stitches though," Jack muttered pulling out a couple of Bandaids. "I'll butterfly it with these, but I'm not sure they'll hold."
"They'll do until we find Daniel," Carter replied.
"Yes," Jack responded, appreciating the fact she was determined her welfare wasn't going to be placed above that of Daniel's and knowing he'd do in the same in her situation. "So, any clues as to who might've grabbed him?"
Carter quickly told him what she knew. "He was meeting with a guy called Peter Marchant. We think he's the operative who snatched the artefacts. Or at least organised their hijacking."
"Marchant. Marchant." Jack's brow furrowed. "Not a name I recognise."
"I have a photo," Carter said. "Are you done?"
Jack nodded as he applied a final piece of tape to the gauze pad now covering the wound. She moved her arm with a grimace, cautiously stood up and walked to her jacket. Rummaging in the pocket she pulled out the camera, and moved towards the PC sitting on Edwards desk.
"You do have software for this, don't you?" she asked.
"I work for the CIA," Edwards responded with more than a hint of pride. "I've got it all." He held out his hand for the camera, and quickly made the appropriate connections.
Jack gave a low whistle as the image came up on screen. "Well, I may not've recognised the name, but I sure as hell know the face. That, folks, is Harry Mayborne Jr. Colonel Mayborne's son."
"Mayborne's son!" Carter was horrified.
Jack nodded. "I came across him a couple of years back at one of those Washington shindigs. He was building quite a reputation for himself as a fast track officer." The memory made Jack scowl.
"What?" Carter demanded, her tone anxious.
"The reason he was flying so fast... let's just say, when it comes to ruthlessness, Mayborne Junior makes his father look like a saint. I hope to God he hasn't got Daniel."
As consciousness returned, Daniel's first lucid thought was that the smell was wrong. Definitely not the antiseptic aroma of the infirmary. More... spicy. It wasn't exactly unpleasant, but it wasn't a fragrance you'd want to pay money for either. Almost immediately he became aware the sounds weren't right either - no quiet hum, no beeps, no distant chatter of female voices - in fact no sounds at all.
Breathing deeply, as much to test for bruised ribs as to identify the smell, he decided the air was filled with the stuff athletes used to treat strained muscles - that and stale sweat. Turning his head he wrinkled his nose. OK - from its proximity it seemed he was responsible for the second of the two aromas - no surprise considering what he'd been put through.
Other sensations began to assail him now - mainly of the painful variety. His head was pounding, his stomach felt distinctly sore and his arms were hurting like hell. He opened his eyes slowly and took in his surroundings.
He was sitting on the wooden floor of what appeared to be a small gymnasium, his back against a mirrored wall. The source of the burning in his arms was immediately apparent. His wrists were tied to a metal exercise bar a good six inches above his head, and his muscles were complaining at the unnatural position. Well at least he could do something about that. Awkwardly he climbed to his feet, drawing in a sharp breath as his entire body protested at the action, and the rope twisted viciously against his skin. Most dramatic of all though was the stabbing sensation in the back of his skull. OK - perhaps standing up hadn't been such a good idea. He either had full blown concussion or a hangover from whatever chemical they'd injected into him. Whichever it was, he'd gladly trade a month's salary for a soft bed in a cool, dark room right now.
The sound of a door opening to his right grabbed his attention away from just how wretched he was feeling. Four men - two of whom had the kind of bulk that announced they made regular use of the exercise equipment surrounding him - stepped into view. Daniel swallowed as fresh fear made its unwelcome presence known. He peered at the faces, wishing he could see them more clearly - somewhere along the line he'd lost his glasses. One of the slimmer ones he decided was Marchant, but the others - without his glasses he couldn't be sure he'd seen them before.
"Sabaah ilkheer, Duktuur Jackson." As the speaker stepped closer, Daniel recognised it was the Arab who had been sitting on the sofa at the El-Ghuri. Today he was exquisitely dressed in a gellibyya, the traditional costume of the Middle East. "I don't think we've been formally introduced. I'm Afnan El-Aziz. Welcome to my home. Sharraftuuna."
Sharraftuuna? You have honoured us? Right, Daniel thought sarcastically as he shifted uncomfortably against his bonds.
El-Aziz stepped closer now and, as though in response to Daniel's unspoken thought, untied the rope securing Daniel's wrists to the bar. "My apologies for the poor hospitality. Hopefully we can straighten out a few points of contention and then, continue our business."
Daniel eyed him warily as he rubbed at his sore wrists, resisting the urge to hiss as the blood began to flow painfully back into numbed veins. "Contention?"
"Yes, Dr Jackson. See, I've been giving your arrival in Cairo much thought. Now, I can understand how you came to find my associate, Mr Marchant here relatively quickly. I believe you are acquainted with Mr Sikkit - a gentlemen who will sell anyone and anything if the price is sufficiently high."
So Sikkit had sold him out, Daniel thought without bitterness. He had half expected that. Sikkit however knew nothing to incriminate him. Aware that El-Aziz had been hoping for some sort of reaction, Daniel met his gaze calmly as the Arab continued.
"What I don't understand is how you knew about the artefacts in the first place. Or why an unknown person should go to the trouble of contacting Mr Marchant with information concerning your identity."
What? Daniel snatched at that piece of information. Someone other than Sikkit had passed on information about him?
"So - Daniel." El-Aziz pronounced the name with affection and smiled, displaying a set of brilliant white teeth and a glimmer of gold. "Tell me - who you are really working for?"
For the briefest of moments Daniel was taken in by El-Aziz's good-natured question. A small smile of his own reached his lips as he responded, "I'm not working for anybody." He barely got the words out, however, before a ringed fist slammed into his abdomen. He crumpled under the blow, hitting the wooden floor hard with his knees. Two pairs of strong hands immediately grabbed his arms and pulled him wheezing back to his feet.
In the few seconds of lucid thought afforded him as the pain retreated from disabling to merely overwhelming, Daniel desperately tried to think of an option that would convince El-Aziz. "OK. OK." he said quickly, as he saw El-Aziz's hand fold into a fist again. The name of one of the antique dealers Mayborne had said was heading for Egypt flashed into his mind. "Moggach." He sucked in a painful breath. "I'm working for Ernst Moggach."
"Moggach?" El-Aziz seemed to consider this answer. "Why would Moggach employ you?"
"He wanted to get a jump on the competition," Daniel lied as brazenly as he could. "Figured I could go ahead. Maybe cut a deal before the auction."
The smile was back on El-Aziz's face. His fist returned too. This time it was a back-hander across Daniel's face that left a track of blood as gold sliced through skin.
In response, Daniel ground out the traditional Arabic compliment for good hospitality. "Tislam iddeeki!" Yes, he thought, sourly as he cautiously probed the corner of his mouth with his tongue, 'Bless your hands', was a suitable reply in more ways than one. The taste of blood confirmed the blow had cut the inside of his lip against his teeth.
El-Aziz turned away at the veiled insult. "You would be wise not to anger me, Doctor Jackson." He drew in a composing breath before facing Daniel once more. "But let nobody say I'm not a reasonable man. I'll give you one more chance before I turn you over to Marchant." He leaned close and hissed in Daniel's ear. "Trust me - he doesn't know the meaning of the word 'reasonable'." He pulled away quickly. "Now tell me - who told you about the artefacts?"
Daniel sought out Marchant's face, the laceration in his mouth suddenly a minor worry. Even though his vision was blurred he could see the expression of cruel anticipation on Marchant's face. His stomach lurched at the sight. There was little doubt Marchant would not only take him apart piece by piece, and very slowly, but he would enjoy every moment while doing so. Almost immediately though Daniel could see Jack's face before him - the concerned expression that failed to hide the doubt that Daniel could cut it on a covert operation. Well, he might not be able to cut it as a spy, although it was hardly his fault if he'd been sold out, but he sure as hell could manage to keep his mouth shut. He looked El-Aziz in the eye, pulled up every ounce of Jackson stubbornness he possessed, and produced his best imitation of the O'Neill drawl. "Go to hell!"
"So you want to tell me what the hell's going on?" Edwards demanded.
"No," Jack replied smartly.
"Come on. You owe me, O'Neill," Edwards retorted.
"I owe you squat!" Jack snapped, his concern for Daniel making him even more brusque than usual. "If you hadn't got in my way in the first place my team wouldn't be in this mess."
Edwards however refused to be cowed. "Without me, you and Carter would be contemplating the paintwork inside Cairo's police cells." His eyes flicked to Carter's bloodstained shirt. "Or worse - you would've trailed Jackson and she'd be dead!"
"Colonel, please," Carter interjected. "We could really use some local intelligence."
Jack considered for a moment before conceding Carter had a point. "OK." He shot Edwards a sour look. "But you do exactly as I say. And don't expect more than the bare bones." He waited for Edwards to nod his agreement before continuing. "Your little drug cartel? It isn't drugs. It's historical artefacts."
Edwards snorted in disbelief. "Historical artefacts? You're putting me on. Why would the United States Air Force be interested in retrieving historical artefacts?"
"Let's just say we owe someone important a favour OK? Ah-ah!" Jack held up his finger as Edwards opened his mouth to speak. "That's all you're getting."
Edwards glared at O'Neill before looking hopefully towards Carter. She merely shrugged her shoulders, wincing as she did so.
Jack turned back to the image of Harry Mayborne Jr. "So Carter. Assuming this sleaze ball does have Daniel, any idea as to where he might've taken him."
She shook her head. "No. Daniel was supposed to meet him at a coffee shop over in the Khan. Other than that... No wait. It's a long shot, but there is one other possible lead. I have another photo."
"Of Mayborne? Marchant? Whatever he calls himself?" Jack asked.
"No. Some Arab guy. He was with Marchant the first time we met him. Never said a word. Just sat in the background. We've been waiting for Mayborne - our Mayborne - to get back to us with a name." She leaned over Edwards' shoulder and hit the appropriate keys to pull up the image.
"I know who that is," Edwards said smugly.
"Well?" Jack demanded as Edwards held onto the information.
"I'll trade you the name for the answer to another question."
Jack stared at the man in disbelief. Just where did this guy get off messing with him? He pulled himself to his full height, fixed an expression on his face that said he'd eaten bigger men for breakfast, and let rip. "You will tell me the name now, you little shit, or I'm going to put your head through that computer screen."
This time Edwards was suitably chastened. "OK. OK. Can't blame a guy for trying. His name's Afnan El-Aziz. Multi-millionaire. Has a finger in just about every dodgy deal in Cairo, from drugs to white slaves."
"White slaves?" Carter said with horror. "You're kidding!"
Edwards glanced up at her. "'Fraid not. And I'm not just talking girls either. Whatever there's a market for, El-Aziz provides."
Jack grimaced. This was getting worse and worse. First Mayborne Junior and now a white slaver. "Great," he muttered.
Edwards nodded. "He's a nasty piece of work, that's for sure."
Jack glanced at Carter recognising his own anxiety mirrored in her face. "So, we have a name. Can we guess a location?"
Edwards flicked off the computer. "El-Aziz has a ranch a few miles out of the city. Nice secluded location. Chances are he'd take your man there."
"Makes sense, Sir," Carter agreed. "And it's the best shot we've got."
"No," Jack corrected her. "It's our only shot." He turned his attention to Edwards. "Can you get us out there?" Edwards' expression said it all. Reluctantly he added, "Please?"
Edwards got to his feet and moved to the door of his office. "Give me five minutes."
As El-Aziz raised his hand, Daniel flinched away from the expected blow. The Arab, however, merely grasped Daniel's chin, turning his face so he could see the damage his ring had inflicted before announcing, "Fortunately that won't scar." He smiled icily. "Artefacts aren't the only commodities I deal in, Dr Jackson. When Marchant is through, I may organise an auction especially for you."
Daniel's eyes widened as he realised what was being insinuated. El-Aziz laughed softly, released his grip and moved towards the door. "Get what you can out of him," he said, addressing Marchant. "But keep away from his face."
"Of course," Marchant replied dryly.
"I mean it, Marchant. I can't sell disfigured goods."
Marchant made an obscene gesture as El-Aziz closed the door behind him, and then turned back to Daniel. He produced a penknife and used it to neatly halve the rope that had bound Daniel. "Tie him." He tossed the two pieces to the thugs.
Daniel didn't try to resist as the thugs manhandled him back to the exercise bar and once again lashed his wrists securely, this time positioning him standing with his arms stretched out to either side. He blinked in surprise though at Marchant's next order.
"Now bring me the artefacts." The two bodyguards also exchanged a puzzled look. "I said now!"
Before Daniel could ponder that particular order, Marchant moved towards him, testing the sharpness of the knife with one finger.
Daniel winced involuntarily as the blade flashed close to his face. Marchant laughed, and snapped the knife shut. "So, pretty boy. El-Aziz's greed has eliminated that particular line of questioning. But don't be too grateful - there are plenty of others to choose from. His customers don't object to a few bruises. In fact, some of them prefer it."
Already uncomfortable in his new position, Daniel held Marchant's searching gaze defiantly while refusing to be drawn by the conversation. Eventually Marchant looked away. "So... let's skip the crap shall we. El-Aziz doesn't know the whole story - all he's interested in is a nice safe profit. I, on the other hand, already know where you're from. You were either sent by the owners of the artefacts or by the people I was meant to deliver to. Either way I don't really give a damn. See I figure I've got something more important than I imagined. Which makes me wonder - just what is so special about these artefacts?"
Marchant smiled and tapped Daniel's chest. "And since it appears you really are an archaeologist - one with some very interesting theories from what I've discovered - I have no doubt you can answer that question."
The arrival of the artefacts interrupted the one-sided talk. Marchant glanced at the two men who were dragging a large crate between them and nodded curtly towards Daniel's side. "Put them there. Where he can see them."
With the crate in place, he dismissed the men. "So Dr Jackson. Let's get down to business." He moved to the crate and pulled out the first item to come to hand, a metallic oblong about a foot in length, roughly four inches wide and two deep. It was richly engraved with gold-highlighted hieroglyphs. He turned it over in his hands. "Fascinating. Absolutely fascinating." Pulling his attention away from the lustre of gold, he looked at Daniel. "So what is it?"
Daniel was fairly certain it was some sort of record-keeping device. He'd spent a couple of hours translating the surface glyphs when he first came across it on SG1's latest mission. He'd also wasted a whole morning searching for the page-turning device he suspected went with it. It had been particularly frustrating since the glyphs stopped in mid-sentence, part way through what seemed to be a battle plan. Now ever he spoke softly and without interest. "No idea."
Marchant smiled. "Actually I think you have a very good idea, Dr Jackson. At the very least, with your qualifications, you could hazard an educated guess."
Daniel watched as Marchant casually laid the artefact to one side and selected another.
"This then? Looks a bit like a weapon to me. Some sort of gun?"
It was a zat gun. Damn! How had that got into the shipment? This could be an awfully short interrogation if Marchant figured how to activate the weapon. Daniel concentrated hard on keeping his expression neutral. "I really couldn't say."
He tensed as Marchant turned the zat over in his hand, his fingers brushing over the trigger mechanism. Abruptly though he placed it next to the other artefact. "Two artefacts, doctor. Twice the options. Tell me what one of them does." He moved to stand in front of Daniel, his intent to escalate the method of questioning clear.
The threatening stance made Daniel's heartbeat move up a gear and he felt a bead of fear-induced sweat trickle down his face. He knew without doubt whatever was coming next was going to hurt like hell, and his discomfit was worsened as nausea rose in anticipation of pain. God! He had to find something to focus on. Something other than an artefact covered with hieroglyphs that his brain was automatically translating. He needed...
Daniel screamed as pain flared up his forearm. Marchant had twisted his arm forward and was ruthlessly applying pressure to the nerve.
"I don't know," he choked out. Even though it was a lie he was furious with himself for giving Marchant the satisfaction of any sort of vocalisation. Jack would never have... Jack! Yes. Oh God! It hurt so much. Focus on Jack. And say NOTHING!
For the next twenty minutes the battle of wills played out the sick game, Marchant moving ruthlessly from one pressure point to another while Daniel met each fresh assault with nothing more than expressions of pain torn from him involuntarily.
Finally frustrated, Marchant slapped Daniel hard across the face, filling his mouth with fresh blood. "Tell me want I want to know!"
Daniel knew that there were times in his life when, for all the PhDs he had to his name, he indulged in moments of complete and utter madness. For some reason he just couldn't stop himself. Now, in the twisted game they were playing, Daniel recognised Marchant's action for what it was - an admission he, Daniel, still had the upper hand. It was a moral victory he just couldn't allow to pass. Straightening his legs to lift his weight off the ropes that were cutting viciously into his wrists, he softly taunted Marchant. "Not the face."
"Oh you think you're so tough, don't you, Dr Jackson," Marchant snarled. "Well El-Aziz may have put protection on your face, but he didn't mention anything about the rest of you."
With horrified fascination, Daniel watched as Marchant reached towards his bound right hand and prised the little finger free from his fist.
"You have 206 bones in your body Dr Jackson. 206 bones that can be snapped and broken." Marchant gripped Daniel's finger between his own thumb and forefinger and began to apply pressure. "I'll stop breaking them when you start talking."
Jack glanced at his watch again and paced towards the door. "Where the hell is he?" Flinging the door wide he peered down the corridor. "Edwards?"
Nothing. The other offices had been empty when they arrived, and now there was absolutely no sign of life. An uneasy feeling crept into the pit of Jack's stomach. He glanced back at Carter. "Wait here."
Carter, her face now beginning to regain some of its natural colour after the exertion of the past couple of hours, nodded. Her expression however vocalised exactly the same worry Jack was now feeling. With a grim frown he stepped into the corridor and called Edwards' name again.
Ten minutes later he was back, his mood completely black. "The bastard's ditched us."
"What? Why?" Carter's face was horrified.
"I don't know." Jack slapped his hand against the wall. "Hell. It's my fault. I ticked him off. He's probably gone to find Daniel and claim all the glory for himself."
"So now what?" Carter looked to O'Neill for the next move, but then her eyes went to the computer. "We have his files!" She flicked the computer back on and tapped impatiently as it began to boot up. "El-Aziz's address is sure to be on here."
"And you can find it?" Jack asked.
She nodded as Jack moved to her side and watched the screen with barely restrained impatience. He swore as a password request flashed up on the screen.
Carter however didn't even blink. "Don't worry Sir. Lieutenant Simmonds has been teaching me a few hacking skills. Just give me one minute..."
"Simmonds?" Jack asked in astonishment.
A hint of a blush crept up Carter's neck. "Don't!" she said quickly.
Jack shook his head. "Wasn't going to say a word. Other than God bless Lieutenant Simmonds!"
Oh please God, no! Daniel tried to grasp the fast fading comfort of the darkness that had surrounded him, but just as the Abydonian sand always escaped from his curled fist, it dissipated, leaving him defenceless against the pain of his injuries. Almost immediately though his academic training came to his rescue - taking him outside of himself. The dispassionate observer. Recording. Logging. Noting.
Don't move. If he didn't move, it wouldn't hurt. Well at least it wouldn't hurt *more*. Nightmare memories assailed him, but he herded them ruthlessly behind the shield of scientific interest. How many fingers? All four on his right hand? One - or was it two - on his left? Dr Fraiser was going to have a field day splinting all those - she hated doing fingers. Then there was his right arm - both ulna and radius. Well at least she'd be proud of him remembering the correct names. Of course he had reason to remember. He'd shattered the ulna in his left arm a few months back - or rather Jack had. Broken a couple of fingers too - including the one on his left hand that was throbbing painfully. No! Don't go there. Those memories were too sharp to handle now.
Think of something else. What about bruises? Yes it would take a while to list all those. In between breaking things Marchant had taken great delight in trying out various other ways of inflicting pain.
The sound of male voices speaking Arabic snapped Daniel out of his shock-induced inventory-making, back to the reality of his situation. He was lying on the floor of El-Aziz's gym, curled fetal-like around his broken arm. At some point Marchant must've cut him lose - no doubt for some cruel intention of his own rather than out of pity for Daniel. Fear and panic crashed over him at the thought, almost causing him to give away the fact he had regained consciousness. No! Mustn't do that. OK Daniel. Keep calm. Don't let them know you're awake. Don't give them a chance to start over. An hysterical laugh threatened to rise up his throat. Very funny, Jackson. They couldn't *start over* could they? *Start* implied a beginning, didn't it? He was way past any beginning. Hardly a blank canvas. More like that damn painting of an elephant - a startling display of purple and yellow. Damn it! He was losing it here. Get a grip. Find a focus.
Voices. Yes, concentrate on the voices. What were they saying? Something in a language that wasn't English. Even better. Translation required more effort. Yes! He'd just keep his eyes shut and concentrate on translating!
"He told you nothing?" The voice clearly belonged to El-Aziz.
"You're losing your touch, Marchant."
"The hell I am. I'm telling you he's tougher than he looks."
"Indeed." El-Aziz paused. "It would seem both the Jacksons are full of surprises."
"The two men I sent for his wife ended up unconscious in an alley. And she's now keeping company with the CIA man, Edwards, and some American called O'Neill."
*Jack!* Daniel felt a surge of hope shoot through him. And Sam was safe. Thank God. The moment of relief was ruthlessly short however.
El-Aziz's voice sounded again, the tone merciless. "Make him talk."
"That may take some time."
"That's something we no longer have. Take him to the stable. The farrier was here this morning - the brazier will still be hot."
"I thought you didn't want any permanent scars?"
"Things have changed. The CIA I can handle. But I want to know who else is in the game. Seems you've dragged me into something much bigger than the sale of a few artefacts. I don't like this, Marchant. I don't like it at all."
Daniel heard the soft sound of leather-shod feet moving away from him across the wooden floor and then El-Aziz's voice spoke once again, chilling him to the bone.
"Make him talk. Then kill him."
It was all taking too long. Jack drove as fast as he dared through the streets of Cairo, but he was painfully aware precious minutes had been wasted retrieving El-Aziz's address. Add to that the time it had taken to retrieve his rental car and Edwards had a clear twenty minutes on them - probably more since he knew Cairo. Jack pounded his fist on the steering wheel as a cyclist swerved in front of the car causing him to stamp on the brakes. Beside him Carter gave a soft groan as she was jerked forward in her seat.
"Sorry." Jack shot her a concerned look. "You OK?"
She nodded. "You?"
He hit the gas again and frowned. "Me?"
Carter sighed. "It won't help Daniel to kill us both on the way."
"Sorry," Jack said again. "It's just..."
"I know. I'm worried about him too. But look. Edwards went ahead right? Chances are he and Daniel are sitting in the back of a police car sharing a joke right now."
"Ya think?" Jack was unable to keep the sourness out of his voice.
"No. Not really." Carter's voice was small, and she lapsed into melancholy silence.
Jack glanced at her again. "He'll be OK," he said determinedly. He caught the sideways look she gave him. "I've been practising optimism," he added dryly. "Daniel said it wasn't good for me to always concentrate on the worst case scenario. Reckoned I'd give myself an ulcer or something."
Carter didn't comment other than to repeat softly, "He'll be OK."
From his secluded vantage point, Edwards watched as a rear door to the house opened and two large men stepped into the courtyard pushing a slimmer man ahead of them. A fourth man followed them out seconds later. Grabbing his binoculars, Edwards studied the small group as it crossed the open courtyard towards the stable block. He didn't know the two thugs who were acting as herdsmen. The man to the rear he recognised as Marchant. And that meant the guy who was the centre of attention had to be Jackson.
Edwards adjusted the focus on the binoculars to get a better look. Well Jackson was clearly alive, although from the way he was cradling his right arm, Edwards suspected a broken bone. There was blood on his face too, as well as a livid bruise on his right cheek. Somebody had hit him hard. Well, at least he was still capable of making his way across the courtyard under his own steam.
Then again... Edwards sucked in a breath as he saw Jackson stumble. The young man lurched forward, tried to compensate but hit the ground hard as he twisted to protect his right arm. Almost immediately Marchant was standing over him. Even from this distance, Edwards could make out the verbal abuse Marchant flung at his victim, abuse that quickly became physical as a foot swung in the direction of Jackson's ribs.
Edwards flinched, knowing that had to hurt. Quickly though the two henchmen pulled Jackson to his feet, eliciting a cry of pain as the journey continued with them half dragging the injured man between them.
Edwards rocked back on his haunches contemplating his options. OK so Jackson was hurt, but he was alive. And chances were he would stay that way for a while yet. In which case, his priority was clear - he would collect the artefacts first. Edwards slipped the binoculars into his jacket pocket, added a silencer to his gun and checked it was loaded, then headed towards the house.
He smiled as he stepped through the back door. This was too easy. The burglar alarm was off and the large house sounded deserted. Gun at the ready he began to search meticulously, moving from room to room with a stealth that suggested years of practice. Kitchen. Living room. Dining room. Hallway. He neither found what he was looking for, nor was intercepted until he reached the centre of the house - the library. Pushing open the door he came face to face with El-Aziz.
Instantly Edwards' gun was aimed at the Arab's heart. A cold smile played over his face. "El-Aziz. Fancy meeting you here."
The Arab stood motionless with shock for a long moment, but then recovered himself. "You would break into a man's home in broad daylight?"
Edwards laughed softly. "Such indignation. As if you wouldn't do far worse. I've come for the artefacts."
El-Aziz swore in Arabic, then switched back to English. "Take them. They have been more trouble than they are worth."
"Where are they?" Edwards demanded.
"In the gym."
Edwards used his gun to indicate El-Aziz should lead the way. Together the two men moved through the house, Edwards poised at any moment to take out El-Aziz's bodyguards. The Arab had apparently been overly confident of his own safety - the house was empty.
Opening the door at the end of a corridor, El-Aziz entered the gym and pointed at the crate. Cautiously Edwards moved towards it, his gun never wavering from its target. A quick glance satisfied him that he had found what he was looking for. He looked up and smiled. "Thank you. Now I have a message for you. You messed with the wrong people."
There was a tiny whisper of air and a soft phut as Edwards squeezed the trigger of his gun.
El-Aziz looked down in shock at the small red circle that had appeared on the white cotton of his robe, just above his heart. One hand moved to touch it as his knees gave way, then he crumpled silently to the floor.
Callously Edwards moved closer, took aim and finished the job. Without further ado he began to drag the crate from the room.
O'Neill and Carter were in no mood to worry about finesse. Pulling up beside the white-washed wall that ran around El-Aziz's home, Jack climbed onto the roof of the car and peered over. The wall afforded a good ten foot drop, but he didn't want to spend time looking for a different way in. Besides, sometimes quick and dirty went unnoticed. He offered up a silent prayer to whatever saint watched over archaeologists and then held out a hand to Carter, helping her up to the roof of the car.
"You going to be OK with this?" he asked.
Carter peered at the drop on the other side of the wall, but didn't flinch. "I'm fine."
Not for the first time since he'd known her, Jack was grateful that he had the no-nonsense captain at his side. Offering her his cupped hands he helped her shin over the wall. Moments later they were safely, if somewhat breathlessly, ensconced behind some neatly pruned shrubbery.
"Now where?" She asked her attention on the house and the numerous outbuildings.
"I guess we have to search," Jack replied. He double checked his gun, waited as Carter mimicked his action with her own weapon, and then nodded towards the nearest outbuilding. "What do you reckon? Start there? Or go straight to the house?"
As Carter opened her mouth to answer, the peace of the garden was shattered by the sickening sound of an agonised cry.
Jack was already on his feet, running for all he was worth towards the stable. As he flattened himself against the outer wall, he was aware Carter was only seconds behind him. He paused for breath, and waited for her to catch up. Gun ready he allowed himself one glance into the stable, shutting down on the emotion of the sight that greeted him. He looked back at Carter, held up three fingers, and nodded as she mouthed Daniel's name at him.
Pointing to himself, he indicated he would aim left. Another signal told Carter to go right. Ready? His expression made it clear that she had better be. As Carter nodded he launched himself into the stable.
"Back away!" he screamed at the instigator of the sick tableau. Behind him he sensed Carter move into position, her gun trained unwaveringly on the figure to his right as he repeated the order. "Back away!"
The figure turned, revealing the cruel face of Peter Marchant. He held the cool end of a glowing metal brand in one hand.
"Drop it!" Jack ordered, not daring to let his attention be distracted by the figure bound to the wooden post behind Marchant. The hot metal clattered and hissed as it contacted with the damp stable floor and rolled to one side. "Now hands on your head. You too!" Jack's gun took in the heavy set man to his left. "Down on the floor!"
Only as the three men lowered themselves reluctantly to the wet concrete did Jack allow himself to look at Daniel. Naked from the waist up, his hands tied above his head, Daniel was clearly unconscious. Jack only needed a quick glance to take in the ugly collection of bruises on Daniel's torso, and the fact his face bore signs of at least one hard blow, and a nasty scratch stretched from high on one cheek to his lip.
Worst though was the single brandmark which stood out red and angry on the tender flesh just above Daniel's left hip. For the briefest of moments Jack took comfort in the knowledge they'd arrived just in time to bring a halt to what was obviously a new, but particularly sickening, round of abuse. Immediately though he swore at the thought. It was hardly *just in time*. He handed his gun wordlessly to Carter, and pulled a Swiss army knife from his pocket. Moving to Daniel's side, he sliced through the ropes and gently eased the unconscious body to the ground. God, Daniel! Add a broken arm and a collection of shattered fingers to the list.
Hastily Jack slipped off his jacket and tucked it as best he could around Daniel.
"How touching." The voice was Marchant's.
Jack's eyes moved from Daniel's face to the vaguely amused expression on Peter Marchant's. Correction - Mayborne Junior! Cold rage flooded through him along with the knowledge that he was going to kill the bastard for what he'd inflicted on Daniel. Right here. Right now. He climbed to his feet... and heard the unmistakable sound of a safety being released from a gun that wasn't in Carter's hand.
Jack glanced at the open door of the stable and found himself looking at Steven Edwards. "Where the hell have you been?" he snapped.
As Edwards stepped into the stable Jack suddenly realised he was looking down the barrel of a CIA gun. Almost immediately Carter swung round, only to have Edwards snarl at her. "If you value the life of your Colonel, you won't do that!"
"Sir?" Carter asked uncertainly, one gun now on Edwards, the other on the three men on the floor.
"What the hell are you doing?" Jack demanded of Edwards.
"Collecting the second part of my consignment." Edwards' eyes flicked towards Daniel. "Is he able to walk?"
"He's unconscious!" Jack really didn't want to believe he'd found Daniel only to have him snatched away again. "And he needs medical treatment."
Edwards, however, was clearly enjoying himself. He turned his attention to Carter, his gun never wavering from its aim at Jack's heart. "If you wouldn't mind dropping your weapons, Captain Carter."
"Do as he says, Captain." Jack said as a low moan warned him that Daniel was coming to. Shooting Marchant a look that held a deadly promise, he turned his full attention to Edwards. "I take it you're not CIA."
Edwards thanked Carter with mock politeness as she placed both guns on the floor in front of her before answering Jack. "You know, I'm disappointed in you, O'Neill. I figured you would've worked that out earlier. Actually I am CIA. But I also *freelance*. And right now - I'm being paid far more to deliver both the artefacts and Jackson to my other employer."
"Daniel's not going any where other than to a hospital," Jack retorted. Painfully aware of the gun aimed at him, he slowly lowered himself to his haunches at Daniel's side. As he'd suspected, Daniel was indeed conscious, his face grey with pain. Reaching out Jack rested one hand on Daniel's shoulder. "Easy big fella."
"Jack?" The voice was barely more than a whisper. Shock was setting in, and Daniel's teeth were chattering painfully together. Got to get him off this damp floor, Jack thought as he desperately tried to assimilate more facts than he was comfortable with.
"It's OK, Daniel," he soothed. "Nobody's going to hurt you any more." Jack vehemently prayed that he wasn't lying. His eyes tore away from Daniel and watched as Edwards moved towards Carter.
"Don't do anything foolish," Edwards said as he indicated Carter should move away from the weapons. Cautiously he retrieved the guns, placing them on a small table to one side before pointing towards the leather bridles hanging neatly on one wall. "Can I trust you to tie these three idiots up?"
Carter nodded, and moved towards the wall.
Meanwhile, apparently oblivious to his surroundings, Daniel had summoned up the energy to force out words between the tremors. "I... screwed up... good, huh?"
"No!" Jack's voice was harsher than he intended. Oh to hell with it. Ignoring the gun that was still pointing at him, and aware that his next action was going to put him at a serious disadvantage, Jack knelt beside Daniel. Slipping one arm under Daniel's shoulders, he lifted the archaeologist's upper body off the cold concrete and awkwardly began to manoeuvre back towards the wooden post. Despite being as gentle as he could, Daniel groaned, causing Carter to drop the leather strap she had just unbuckled from the bridle. The gun swung from Jack to Carter and back again. "What do you think I'm going to do," Jack snarled. "Throw him at you?"
The gun didn't waver as Jack continued to manoeuvre both himself and Daniel until he was finally sitting with his back against the wooden post, his arms wrapped protectively around Daniel's upper body, offering both warmth and physical comfort. Giving Edwards a sour look he leaned close to Daniel and whispered. "You didn't screw up, Daniel. The deck was stacked against you."
He felt Daniel shift his weight and then more words were squeezed out against the pain and shock. "I didn't... tell them... anything."
Oh God! Did he really think that was a concern right now? More to the point - did Daniel really think he would believe otherwise? Jack tightened his grip on Daniel's shivering body. "I know, Daniel! I know!"
Jack's attention was once again dragged from his wounded team-mate. As Carter finished her task, Edwards motioned her towards Jack and Daniel. "Time to go," he said coolly. "And Jackson is with me."
Sam didn't consider herself to be a risk taker, but moments earlier she'd weighed up the situation and decided a gamble was the only chance she and the colonel had of getting out of here with Daniel. It was certainly clear from the expression on O'Neill's face that leaving without Daniel wasn't an option - not that she would've considered it for a instant herself.
Her eyes moved to the archaeologist now and a fresh wave of anger caught at her. Damn it! Daniel's bruises and broken bones looked all too familiar to her, the unwelcome memory of finding him barely alive on the floor of his office a few months back fuelling the anger she felt now. There was little consolation to be gained in the fact that this time it seemed his right hand and arm had taken the brunt of the abuse. Her sharp brain had already put two and two together. Somebody had blown their cover to Mayborne Junior and she would happily take a second gamble on the someone in question being Mayborne Senior. Which meant that once again that slimeball was responsible for Daniel being hurt.
She swallowed down the anger. There would be time to deal with that later. Right now she had to concentrate on getting out of this mess. Her eyes moved from Daniel to O'Neill. The colonel was still sitting with his back to the post, his arms wrapped tightly around his team-mate in open defiance of Edwards' statement that Daniel was going with him. Edwards, however, had moved towards Marchant rather than Daniel, and as O'Neill glanced towards her, she grabbed the opportunity to give a barely imperceptible nod in the direction of Marchant. At the same time, she circled the fingers of her right hand around her left wrist, twisting her hand back and forth in signal.
Come on Colonel! Get with it! She held her breath as O'Neill frowned at the gesture, his eyes drifting towards Marchant. Almost immediately though she saw him realise that not only were Marchant's bonds loose, the man was almost free of them.
Even as O'Neill's face registered his surprise, Sam saw him whisper something to Daniel. In response Daniel eased his weight off the colonel.
Sam's attention snapped back to Edwards as he spoke, his words directed at Marchant.
"Before we leave, I have one other message to deliver." He aimed his gun at Marchant's head as he addressed him. "You were being groomed for the very top. Getting greedy and taking the artefacts for your own purposes was a big mistake. My… *our* employers are most displeased. And unfortunately for you, they are also totally unforgiving."
As Edwards' finger tensed on the trigger of his gun all hell broke loose. Marchant suddenly kicked out at Edwards, simultaneously pushing himself to his feet as the leather straps fell free from his wrists. Instantly Sam was moving, throwing herself towards the guns Edwards had confiscated from her.
She was never sure what happened in the next few moments. One second there was mayhem, with O'Neill and Edwards scuffling on the floor, and Marchant's body ricocheting into her own. The next she was staring at the wrong end of a gun in Marchant's hand. With horrified fascination she watched as his finger began to squeeze the trigger. Oh God! This was it. She was really going to die.
Sam screwed her eyes shut as the crack of a bullet filled the stable. One last breath was dragged into her lungs as some insane part of her brain coolly observed that her scream sounded far too deep. A grunt of pain sounded right in front of her. What the hell?
Her eyes opened just as the gun clatter to the ground and Marchant clutch his blood-covered hand to his chest. Instinct took over. As Marchant let out a howl of anguish, his eyes riveted on the gory mess of skin and muscle, Sam sprang forward and decked him with a single blow. He hit the ground, twitched once and then slumped into unconsciousness.
Taking a deep breath of satisfaction, Sam looked up just in time to see a swaying, but vertical, Daniel collapse to his knees, falling awkwardly forward, a gun still clutched in his left hand. How on earth he had not only managed to get to his feet, but retrieve a gun and fire it she couldn't imagine. All she knew at that moment was how grateful she felt that he had. As O'Neill finally got the upper hand over Edwards, she didn't hesitate. Rushing to Daniel's side, she helped him roll onto his back, his breath coming in pain-filled gasps. As gently as she could she eased the gun from his swollen fingers, wincing at the damage and amazed he had managed to grip it, let alone fire it. It dawned on her that the scream had in fact come from Daniel as he pulled the trigger. Her hand rested affectionately on his cheek as he slowly got his breathing under control.
"Since when did you become a left-handed marksman?" she asked gently.
Daniel gave a hollow laugh. "It went off on its own. You're lucky I shot him, and not you."
Sam decided not to dwell on that thought. "Whatever. It was a hell of a shot. Took the gun out right out of his hand."
Daniel closed his eyes and drew in a shaky breath. "I was aiming for his head," he confessed somewhat shamefaced. "I wanted…" He hesitated, opened his eyes and searched Sam's face. "I wanted to…"
"It's OK, Daniel." She slipped her arm around his shoulders and helped him to sit up, sucking in a breath of her own as he winced at the pain. "Considering what he did to you, he would've deserved it." It suddenly struck her that Daniel was missing a vital piece of information. "Mind you. It's probably just as well you didn't kill him. He's Mayborne's son."
"Mayborne's son!" Daniel expression was unreadable as he absorbed the news. "God, Sam! What the hell are we tangled up in?"
"That is just the question I was going to ask," Jack said. He was sitting on Edwards' chest, his arm across the man's windpipe. He applied more pressure now, watching with calculating coldness as Edwards gasped for air.
"Please…" Edwards could barely verbalise the word.
Easing off just a fraction, Jack made his demand. "You tell me everything you know, or I swear I'll kill you." Behind him, Jack heard Daniel raspily speak his name. He twisted round and saw the archaeologist was now leaning shakily against the post he had been tied to earlier. The emotions from that memory still needed addressing, but not now. Jack shut down on everything except the job in hand. His voice was rough as he held Daniel's gaze. "If you don't want to witness this go outside. I'm not leaving until I get some answers." Suddenly aware of Carter, he quickly added. "Better still. Carter. Get him to a hospital."
"Jack, please." Daniel's voice was so soft it was barely audible. "There's been enough… torture."
For a moment Jack didn't know whether he wanted to hug Daniel for his humanity or berate him for being so stupid. Either way he knew he couldn't ignore the appeal in Daniel's eyes. He looked back down at Edwards for a long moment, then swore. Removing his arm, he pulled the man to his feet. "Much as I'd like to take you apart, Dr Jackson here seems to think we should spare you. I guess I'll just have to settle for turning you over to that nice chief of police. With any luck he'll beat the crap out of you instead."
Jack accepted Daniel's look of gratitude with mixed feelings. One day the archaeologist was going to get himself killed trying to help others. Hell, he had gotten himself killed on that first mission to Abydos jumping in front of a staff weapon without a second thought for his own safety. They really had to talk about this habit, but right now, Jack decided the first priority was a hospital. He wasn't sure what Daniel had in his veins, but it was clearly something that defied gravity. Judging by the lack of colour in Daniel's face he should, by all natural laws, be horizontal.
Picking up a stray leather strap, he made short work of tying Edwards' hands behind his back. Carter apparently seemed to think this was a good idea, and she snatched up a piece of rope to ensure that Marchant didn't cause any further trouble.
As Jack pushed Edwards roughly forwards, however, the agent twisted round to face Daniel. "Wait! Please!" He gave an almost hysterical laugh. "If you hand me over, I'm as good as dead. You have to protect me."
Shakily Daniel took a step forward. "Jack? Can we do that?"
Jack grimaced. "Why the hell would we want to?"
"I know about the goa'uld," Edwards added desperately.
Jack and Daniel exchanged quick glances, before Jack replied. "We're listening."
Edwards continued quickly, his eyes still on Daniel. "I have a name. It's not much I know. I was told to collect you and the artefacts for someone known as the Tollan."
Carter moved to Daniel's side having ensured not only that Marchant was securely bound this time, but that he wouldn't bleed to death before justice could be meted out to him. Her eyes widened in surprise at the admission. "The Tollan?"
"You know him?" Edwards asked.
Jack watched as his teammates exchanged a look, and guessed they were both thinking the same as him - that Edwards clearly didn't realise the Tollan was a race of people not an individual. Before he could comment though Daniel was pressing for more information. "Who told you to make the collection?"
Edwards twitched nervously but then continued. "There's a group - high-up in the military. Not just air force. Navy too. They don't believe that you - that the SGC - can protect earth from the goa'uld. The artefacts were meant to help this Tollan person set up some sort of powerbase. They've done some sort of deal. I don't know what. You have to believe me." His eyes held Daniel's. "All I know is that you were needed to translate the glyphs on both these artefacts and some others. The pick-up was out in the desert. The coordinates were very precise."
"Well that would make sense," Carter commented.
Jack raised his eyebrows in question, but as Carter opened her mouth to launch into an explanation he waved a hand to silence her. "Wait. Let's discuss this later." His eyes moved to Daniel. Any second now, he thought and stepped forward just in time to catch the archaeologist as his knees finally buckled beneath him.
He really had to get an engineer in to look at his heating system. That humming noise was way past being just irritating. Not to mention the fact that it was now causing some rather nauseating vibrations that were travelling right through his mattress. Either that or someone had played some practical joke and replaced his bed with a waterbed. Oh no! Perhaps he was in an X-files episode!
Daniel sighed and slowly opened his eyes. Oh hell! Somebody had painted his ceiling a disgusting shade of grey too. He blinked, moved to pinch the bridge of his nose and smacked himself in the face with a plaster cast. "Ouch! What the…"
"Hey, take it easy." A firm hand caught his arm and gently lowered it back to the bed.
"Jack?" Daniel recognised the voice, despite the fact he had the distinct feeling somebody had removed his brain and replaced it with cotton candy.
"How you feeling? The painkiller hasn't worn off, has it? They promised me you wouldn't feel a thing until after we'd landed."
Landed? "Jack? Where are we?" Daniel managed to turn his head towards O'Neill's voice, and was rewarded by a blurred image of the colonel peering at him with concern.
"Right now? 30,000 feet over the Atlantic."
"In a plane?"
"No. Hot air balloon." O'Neill shook his head. "Yes Daniel. In a plane."
Ahh. That would explain the noise, and the vibration. And - thank goodness - the grey ceiling. Daniel relaxed slightly, also figuring that if Jack was being sarcastic, his condition probably wasn't life-threatening. Painkiller or not, he was still aware that his entire body ached, and his hip was particularly painful. As he carefully raised his left arm to see if that was also encased in plaster - no, only three fingers strapped together - he realised Jack was still talking.
"…air force special. Had to pull in a few favors to organise it. But I figured you wouldn't want to spend longer in that Cairo hospital than you needed to. Trust me - there was this Canadian nurse, Judy something. Seemed to think you'd cracked some vertebrae in your back. I kept telling her she'd mixed up the X-rays." Jack shook his head. "I couldn't understand why she was so insistent about stripping you buck naked either but her students seemed to be enjoying it."
"What!" Daniel felt himself turning red. He frowned desperately trying to recall the previous few hours. "You're kidding me right? I don't remember any of that."
Jack looked at him with fresh concern. "You don't? What do you remember?"
Daniel raised his right hand, frowned and then carefully used his left hand to pinch his nose as he concentrated. Boy - he hadn't realised what a habit that had become. If he wasn't careful he was going to end up with a seriously bruised face all of his own making. As to what he remembered? His brow furrowed with concentration. Cairo. The hotel. A gym. God! The gym! Then what…
An image of Marchant approaching him with a glowing brand exploded into his mind. No! No! Please, God. He had to get out of here.
Jack's voice yanked him back to the present, the feel of a strong hand reassuringly squeezing his shoulder. He drew in a shuddery breath. "Sorry."
There was nothing humorous in Jack's voice now. "You don't have anything to be sorry for. It's to be expected. What you went through…"
Daniel nodded, knowing that Jack had lived through this sort of hell himself. Lived through it and survived. And if Jack could, he could. He held on to that thought as he once again tried to recall what he remembered.
"Edwards," he said slowly. "He was telling us something. About the Tollan."
A female voice cut across the conversation. "Daniel! I thought I heard you. How are you feeling?"
Daniel smiled as Sam's face came into his line of vision, her brilliant smile and bright blue jacket brightening up the dull décor of the military plane. "Sore but alive," Daniel replied truthfully.
"Captain," Jack said. "I thought you were clocking up some flying hours."
Sam smiled ruefully. "I got bored. It's a bit tame compared to the F15." Her face quickly brightened again. "I am going to land it though."
"Oh, terrific." Jack grimaced at Daniel. "Just remember Danny-boy here has a cracked rib, and he definitely doesn't need any more bruises."
"Sir!" Sam protested. "I'll put her down like a baby."
Jack's eyebrows twitched. "I'm looking forward to it already."
Daniel smiled at the bantering of his team-mates, glad of the lightheartedness after the past few days. His mind though returned to the conversation he'd been having with Jack.
"Jack, what did Edwards say about the Tollan?"
"Carter's the best one to answer that," Jack replied. "She has a theory."
Sam perched herself on the edge of Daniel's narrow bunk. "Yeah, well it is just a theory. When Edwards first referred to the Tollan he was obviously implying it was a single person. At first I figured he just didn't realise the Tollan were a race of people. But then I thought - what if it was us making the assumption. What if it really was just one Tollan? A renegade, maybe. Someone fed up with living as a guest of the Nox. Someone willing to go out and take on the goa'uld."
"Isn't that a pretty big assumption?" Daniel asked.
"Maybe. But if the Tollans were working together I don't think they'd need you to act as translator for them. No offence. But they were pretty advanced. A single Tollan though wouldn't necessarily have all the skills needed to build what Edwards described as 'a powerbase'. He…"
"Or she," Jack commented.
"Or she," Sam agreed. "Would need to get assistance from somewhere. And if not from the Nox, then why not from us?"
Daniel considered for a moment. "They were a pretty arrogant bunch. Well Narim was OK, I guess." He shot Sam a quick look, enjoying the hint of pink colouring her cheeks at the mention of that particular name. "I'm just surprised any of them would consider dealing with us - or rather this mystery group of *us*."
"Well, it's just a theory," Sam said with a shrug.
Jack looked at her with a pointed expression. "A theory that you will run past General Hammond when we get back."
Sam nodded. "Yes Sir."
Daniel sighed, trying to get his head around the idea of being the target of such a plot. Another thought assailed him. "What happened to Edwards?"
Jack nodded his head to the back of the plane. "He's flying baggage class. Trussed up like a Thanksgiving turkey. Hammond is really looking forward to meeting him."
"I'll bet," Daniel said. His expression darkened. "And Marchant?"
"Oh we tied him to a wing."
Daniel smiled ruefully at Jack's straight-faced reply. "Seriously, Jack…"
"Seriously? He's in custody on an alternative flight. General Hammond didn't trust us…" He gave a tight smile as Sam raised her eyebrows. "OK - didn't trust *me* with him. Don't understand why - I only asked if the guy had ever tried free-fall."
This time Daniel didn't smile. He closed his eyes and pressed his head deeper into the lumpy pillow. Underneath the humour, Jack's admission struck too close to home - way too close to his own thoughts for comfort. It still stuck in his throat that Colonel Mayborne had somehow managed to wriggle out of his responsibility for what had happened to Jack - and indirectly to him - a few months back. Lying stiff and sore on the narrow aircraft cot, he still couldn't quite believe he'd been on the receiving end of yet another dose of violence - this time thanks to a Mayborne double act.
"Daniel?" Jack's voice was concerned.
He drew in a breath and opened his eyes again. "I'm OK. Just thinking."
"He will pay for what he did," Jack said vehemently.
Daniel studied Jack's face for a long moment and nodded even as he acknowledged to himself that if there was one lesson in life he'd learnt, it was that things weren't always fair.
Woah! He stopped himself before his thoughts tumbled him head first into a pity party. A childhood memory flashed into his mind - his mother leaning over his bed after he'd complained bitterly about some major drama in his seven-year-old life. *Remember Daniel there's always something to be grateful for.* Yes, he thought - there was always something. He looked at the concerned faces of Sam and Jack and allowed himself a quick smile. He was still alive and he was with friends who cared deeply about him. And - unless he was very much mistaken - he could smell freshly brewed coffee.
George Hammond's expression was grim as he read the file on the desk in front of him. SG1 were back together once again, but they wouldn't be going through the Stargate as a team for some time. Not until Daniel Jackson was fully fit, and Dr Frasier was apparently quite determined neither she, nor Jackson, were to be rushed on that point. Hammond's eyes fell on the medic's neatly written comment as he read her report again - 'very light duties only'. Frasier had underlined it three times to ram the point home.
As he read on, his expression grew even darker. A possible skin graft to repair the burn damage caused to Jackson's left hip. Three weeks at least until the cast came off his right arm, followed by a strict regime of physiotherapy to ensure he didn't lose any mobility in his fingers. Even then, there was no guarantee the injuries he'd sustained wouldn't have repercussions in the years to come. Frasier was also insisting Jackson avail himself of the counselling service in an attempt to pre-empt the possibility of post-traumatic stress disorder. Hammond had fully backed the idea, but he didn't want to think about the reaction the petite doctor would get when she made that suggestion - he suspected it might be an event at which Jackson would put his linguistic talents to full and colourful use.
Hammond sighed, suddenly feeling weary as he tried to push free of the guilt weighing on his shoulders. He'd known the risks when he'd allowed Carter and Jackson to go on this mission. A sour thought crossed his mind. No. Actually there were risks he hadn't allowed for, risks he hadn't ever dreamed of. The thought brought him back to the present and the man waiting outside his office. Oh well, he'd kept him kicking his heels long enough to make a point of his displeasure. He pressed a button on his desk phone and spoke into the speaker. "Show Colonel Mayborne in."
He watched as Mayborne entered and walked across the office, his uniform as pristine as ever. Anybody would think the man never got his hands dirty, Hammond thought sourly. He'd been hoping the long wait outside his office might have resulted in the colonel looking suitably chastened, but he could see immediately he was going to be disappointed. The expression on Mayborne's face was, at best, resentful. A more accurate description was probably angry. Well that suited Hammond fine, because he was more than ready for a shouting match.
He deliberately left Mayborne standing as he tapped the file in front of him. "You'll be pleased to know Dr Jackson is expected to make a full recovery from the treatment your son meted out to him."
Mayborne's expression didn't alter. "How fortunate." His tongue dripped acid. "Perhaps *you* will be pleased to know my son is unlikely to ever recover the use of his hand."
"He deserves no sympathy." Hammond's voice was icy. "And neither do you." The personal attack caused Mayborne to flinch as Hammond continued. "I know you gave away Jackson's cover."
A sly smile tugged at the corners of Mayborne's mouth. "You'll never prove that."
"Won't I?" Hammond held Mayborne's gaze. "Trust me. I have enough evidence to drum you out of the airforce in disgrace."
"You're bluffing," Mayborne said quickly.
Hammond didn't give him the luxury of a reply to that. Instead he pulled another file out of his desk drawer. "And what about my influence over your son's future? Do you think I'm bluffing about that?"
Mayborne's bravado visibly crumpled. "I don't understand…"
"All it takes is a word in the right ear to arrange a prison transfer. I understand his current accommodations are quite pleasant compared to those of some other facilities."
"You'd blackmail me!" Mayborne looked horrified.
Again Hammond ignored his comment. "See I've just discovered a particularly nasty boil. A boil I intend to lance - completely. Unfortunately I need your full and complete co-operation." He repeated the words slowly. "Full - and complete." He held Mayborne's gaze ruthlessly. "Now - do we understand one another?"
"Yes." Mayborne stared at him for a moment, defeat on his face. "But I don't think you know who you're dealing with."
Hammond merely smiled. "I think I do! I've had some very interesting conversations with Steven Edwards. So let's start with what *you know* about the renegade Tollan."
Mayborne paled and broke protocol by sitting without permission. "There's really not much I can tell you."
Hammond fixed him with a stern look. "I'll take all you can, Mayborne. Just as long as you stick 100% to the truth."
Mayborne nodded and swallowed nervously. "Her name is Osham. But she's no renegade. She grew tired of Omak's domineering control after Jackson helped the Tollans join the Nox. Unlike the rest of them, she *wanted* to stay here."
"As a guest of the NID?" Hammond's lack of belief showed in his tone.
"Yes! Jackson may not have convinced the Tollans we had anything to offer them, but I did."
"If this is true, which I very much doubt, she could've stayed. No one made the Tollans leave. Although your little escapade with that armed guard in the gateroom was quite persuasive as I remember."
Regaining some of his composure, Mayborne snorted. "Water under the bridge, General. The fact is, after Osham left, she became totally disenchanted with both Omak and the Nox. She believes the Tollan should've offered Earth their protection against the goa'uld."
"Really?" Hammond's suspicions were buzzing. "And what price is attached to this *protection*?"
"You make it sound like she's part of the mafia."
"Stolen artefacts. An attempt to kidnap one of my personnel! Her actions haven't given me reason to think otherwise! If she has our best interests in mind, why all the secrecy and double-dealing?"
"You need to ask that after the way the Tollans were treated in the SGC?"
Hammond bristled. "They were treated with respect and courtesy until you arrived. And as I recall, Dr Jackson put his career on the line for them. Some repayment!"
Mayborne wasn't cowed by the outburst. "Well apparently Osham doesn't see things quite the way you do, General. Otherwise she would've made contact with you, won't she?"
"I have no doubt you found some opportunity to feed her a pack of lies, Mayborne. So who did she contact? You?"
Mayborne looked away. "I really can't say."
"You will tell me now!" Hammond roared.
Mayborne looked back at him. "I can't because I don't know. No doubt Edwards has already told you it's a group high up in the military. I don't know any more than he does." Mayborne wasn't affected by Hammond's expression of disbelief. "It's true. All I have is a contact who gives me orders."
"Orders that you obey without question." Hammond's tone was one of disgust.
Mayborne snapped back in response. "Yes, I obey without question. And I'm proud of it. I run a tight ship, General. You won't find any free-wheeling civilians and unruly officers in the NID."
Hammond glared at him. "And from what I can gather I wouldn't find a whole lot of integrity either."
For a long moment the two men glared at each other. It was Hammond that broke the silence. "Understand this Mayborne. The next time your *contact* gives you an order you relay it to me. Word for word. Nuance for nuance. Is that clear?"
"And if I don't?"
Hammond's eyes flicked to phone on his desk. "I start making calls. First to tell the President exactly who is responsible for Dr Jackson's current physical condition. And then..."
"Alright! I'll do as you want." Mayborne's lips tightened. "But you won't stop what is going to happen. Earth will be protected from the goa'uld. Without the SGC."
Hammond glared at him. "You're dismissed, Colonel."
As Mayborne left, Jack O'Neill entered the office. Closing the door behind him he removed a small earpiece from his ear. "Way to go, Sir!" His tone was admiring.
Hammond let the comment pass as he took the listening device from him and switched off the associated microphone hiding in his desk drawer. "You heard everything?"
O'Neill nodded, his face instantly grim. "Yes Sir. Quite a tangled web."
"Indeed. But at least we now know which spider is sitting at the middle." Hammond drew in a determined breath. "And so help me, I won't stand by and watch some secret society sell us out in exchange for *protection*."
"I'm with you there, Sir."
Hammond allowed himself a quick smile, grateful for O'Neill's steadfast support. "Good. As soon as Dr Jackson is fully fit, we'll make plans. I'm in the mood for a little spring cleaning. Time to rid ourselves of a few cobwebs."
Jack O'Neill returned the smile with a humorless one of his own. "You can count on SG1, Sir."
Well now I know just how difficult it is to get through daily life with just one good finger and a thumb. I swear I'm going to go crazy if I have to put up with this for much longer. One-finger typing is so frustrating. And I can't even tie my own boot laces. Jack doesn't understand the problem - he says I never remember tie my bootlaces anyway. Which reminds me, I also can't get back at Jack when he does that finger thing to shut me up. I'm trying to persuade Sam to try out that goa'uld healing device she brought back from Cimmaria on me. She's not very keen though. She's still pretty uncomfortable with the whole Jolinar thing. But if she tried and it worked, she'd have my everlasting gratitude - especially since I've sneaked a look at my medical file and seen the possible long-term prognosis of broken bones. Not a pleasant scenario to look forward to.
Besides, the sooner I can get Janet to declare me fit for duty the sooner SG1 can make plans. I still can't quite believe all that we uncovered, but one things for sure. This isn't over.
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