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Alliances

Alliances

Stargate SG1 - Book 2

(ALL Release)

PUBLISHER: Fandemonium Books
FORMAT: Paperback
ISBN-10: 1905586000
ISBN-13: 9781905586004

Find out more about Alliances

Prologue

When does killing become murder? At what point does self-defense become self-interest? When does self-interest become revenge?

And does it really matter?

Dead is dead. The ‘why’ isn’t relevant.

Jack O’Neill tossed and turned in his unquiet bed, dreaming. Remembering.

Alar’s desperate. Bloody. All that plausible suaveness obliterated, the arrogance, the smooth sleek self-assurance. His world Euronda is in flames. You lit the match. Nazi wannabes. The urge to control. Destroy. Expunge what they don’t approve of. Is it genetic? Coded into human DNA?

Alar doesn’t understand. He’s genuinely bewildered. “It could’ve all been yours.”

You look at him, feeling sick. “I wouldn’t follow us if I were you.”

The team’s moving out, the bunker complex collapsing around you. Of course it would be a bunker. All rats hide in a hole, eventually. Daniel dials home. He’s got a brain like a rolodex, all those addresses jotted down in there somewhere. Teal’c’s looking anxious. After all these missions you can read the signs, now.

You want them out of here, safe and sound. “Go.”

For once, Daniel doesn’t argue.

Which means it’s just you and Carter, spraying bullets. Taking down the poor schmucks who think they’re dying for something worthwhile. For a leader who deserves their devotion. For an ideal that’s pure and noble.

God.

Alar staggers in. “Colonel. Wait. I can teach you everything I know. Just let me come with you. Please.”

He’s pitiful. You want to punch his lights out, put the boot in. All these fools dead and dying on the floor at his feet, for him, and all he can think of is himself.

Carter doesn’t even ask you. She just goes.

You stand there, looking at Alar. You’ve told him once, don’t follow. If you tell him again, he’ll ignore you again. Doesn’t he understand you yet? Doesn’t he realize you’re not kidding?

Do you care?

You go through the ‘gate.

Carter’s on the ramp, weapon up, waiting for you. She’s wearing her soldier face. Hammond’s waiting too, and he’s not happy. You know how he feels.

You look at Carter, but you’re talking to him. “Close the iris.”

“Do it,” says Hammond. He trusts you implicitly. You appreciate the compliment, but wonder if it’s earned. This mission’s screwed but good … and you’re the colonel. When your chickens come home to roost on this one there’ll be bird crap everywhere.

Carter’s looking back at you. She knows. It’s her soldier’s face, but different eyes are staring out of it. She knows. She hasn’t said a word. Does that mean you’re right?

Your hands slide off your weapon and you stand there, waiting. When it comes it’s a tiny sound. Bug on a windshield. Death shouldn’t be that small.

Hammond says, “I take it, Colonel, you were unable to procure any of the Eurondan technologies.”

Sweet, sweet machines. Those remote fighters? Awesome. Provided of course your pilots don’t mind ending up with brains like puréed zucchini, but Carter could’ve fixed that little drawback. In her sleep, probably. The fighters. The protective shield. The heavy-water power generation. The cryo-technology. All ours for the asking.

Just help Hitler, and Rabbi Rosenberg would never be your uncle.

“That’s correct, sir,” you tell him.

Hammond’s expression changes. “I’m sorry to hear that.”

You look at him. “Don’t be.”

O’Neill sat bolt upright as the bedside alarm clock exploded into life. Crap. It was morning. He had to get up. Run. Shower. Shave. Eat. Go to work. His heart was pounding, there was sweat in his hair. On his face. His chest. All the emotions he couldn’t afford in the field pouring out of his skin.

God. He hated dreaming.

He’d learned long ago that he couldn’t hide in dreams. Will-power couldn’t save him. Self-control deserted him. The unconscious mind was insubordinate. Dreams came, and there was no way to stop them, or protect himself. He couldn’t even change the channel.

Dreaming sucked, big time.

 


Chapter One

As he made the long, long elevator trip down through Cheyenne Mountain to Stargate Command Jack O’Neill pressed his fingers against his eyes, hoping to squish his gritty headache to death.

No such luck. The headache stubbornly remained, and now there were little red and black dots doing the rumba in the air before him.

Great.

The elevator bumped to a standstill and spat him out into Level 18’s corridor. Airmen Leung and McCluskey slammed on the brakes and saluted at his appearance. “Morning, Colonel.”

“Unfortunately,” he grunted, and waved in their general direction. They took his place in the elevator, the doors banged shut, way too loudly -- he’d have to tell Siler about that, Siler was a very strange man for whom too much maintenance was never enough -- and he was alone in the corridor. It was early. Normal people were still eating breakfast. Maybe he should take a detour via the commissary. Eat something after all. He was a normal person, wasn’t he?

His stomach rolled queasily, protesting the notion.

He headed along the corridor to see if Daniel was in his office yet. Gently tormenting Daniel was a sure-fire way to get rid of a headache.

“Morning,” said Daniel, looking up from his desk. “You look like hell.”

“And you look disgustingly chipper,” he replied, slouching against the nearest bookcase. “Stop it. That’s an order.”

“Sorry,” said Daniel, briefly smiling.

“So you should be.” For irritation’s sake he leaned over, picked up the nearest ancient stone doodad on the desk and tossed it from hand to hand. Was it his imagination, or did the little figurine’s quasi-human face seem alarmed? “Seen Carter or Teal’c yet?”

Behind his glasses, Daniel’s eyes were intent, their gaze fixed on the dancing doodad. “Sam’s in her lab making love to the naquedah generator. I don’t know where Teal’c is. Jack “

“Daniel?” he said innocently. The most important thing was to keep a straight face. Now Daniel and the doodad’s expressions were almost identical. Cool. “By the way, d’you think it’s wise to discuss Carter in those terms? Last time I looked she was pretty damned handy with that P90 of hers.”

“You’re right, I take it back,” said Daniel. He was holding a pencil, fingers clenched to snapping point. “Now can I also please take back the ancient artifact?” Dropping the pencil, he held out his hand. “Before you ruin its patina? Or break it.”

“Are you calling your colonel clumsy, Dr Jackson?”

Daniel’s smile was edged like a sword. “I’m not calling him anything, but unless he gives me that artifact in the next three seconds Dr Fraiser will be calling him DOA.”

Bingo! With exaggerated care he placed the artifact in the centre of Daniel’s palm.

“Thank you,” said Daniel. “This happens to be an incredibly important archaeological find. Do you have any idea who this figurine represents?”

He looked at it. “Marge Simpson?”

“Close. Shri Setale Devi,” said Daniel. “The smallpox goddess of Ancient India.”

O’Neill nearly wiped his hands down the front of his BDUs. “What are you doing here so early anyway?” he demanded. “We’re in between missions. We can afford to relax for a day or two.” In theory, at least. But practice had taught him that neither Daniel nor Carter would know how to relax if their lives depended on it.

Daniel put the bug-eyed figurine aside, his irritation melting like mist in the sun. “Relax?” he echoed, with an encompassing sweep of his arm that nearly sent seven of his precious doodads flying. “When there’s all this to catalogue?”

‘All this’ was an entire herd of figurines, human and animal, crowded on the desk. Some had faces, some didn’t. They ranged in size from tiny as a thumbnail to bigger than a cat. They were made of baked clay and carved stone and dark weathered wood. What were the odds that the long-dead folk who’d made them had thrown most of them away as junk? Mass-produced kitsch? He’d lay good money the damned things were the ancient equivalent of – of garden gnomes. But to Daniel they were precious beyond measure. Boxes full of the damned things were stacked on the floor against the dangerously overcrowded bookcases. Here a doodad, there a doodad, everywhere a damned dusty doodad.

He’d never understand it, not in a million years.

“Fantastic, aren’t they?” continued Daniel. If he turned up the voltage on his happy-meter any higher he’d burst into flames. “They came in last night from P8C-316. SG-11 found an entire ruined city with distinct parallels to what we know of ancient India. Can you believe it? 316 is hundreds of light-years away from Earth. It blows my mind! Doesn’t it blow your mind, Jack?”

No. Basically, as far as he was concerned, it just blew. All those stolen people turned into slaves. Or worse, Jaffa. Or the ultimate horror Goa’uld hosts.

But he couldn’t say that. Puncturing Daniel’s perennial enthusiasm for ancient doodads was like kicking a puppy. He’d do it if he had to, but if he didn’t have to, well É and besides. They’d had a couple of nasty moments recently. Confrontations that peeled away the civilized tolerance they often employed with one another, to reveal the chasm of mutual incomprehension that always yawned between them. Seemed it really was possible to genuinely like and admire someone and still want to bash their head against a brick wall at regular intervals.

So. No kicking. Or bashing. At least not now.

“You’re right,” he agreed. “It’s mind-blowing. I’m thrilled, honestly. Couldn’t be more excited if I tried.”

“Uh-huh,” said Daniel. For some reason he didn’t sound convinced. His eyes narrowed. “You know, Jack, you really do look like hell.”

It was a conversation he had no intention of having. Not with Daniel, anyway. Not when the words ‘I told you so’ haunted that empty space between them. He was too tired for ghosts right now. He was too tired, period. “I should let Hammond know I’m here. Have fun playing with your artifacts.”

Daniel smiled. Nodded. “I will,” he said. Then the smile faded. Like a shadow under water, some uncomfortable emotion shifted across his face. “Actually ­ Jack --”

Oh no. He knew that tone. That look. ‘Chipper’ was a relative term. ‘Chipper’ could also be a mask. He should’ve known Daniel was incapable of leaving well enough alone. And he so wasn’t in the mood É

“Sorry, Daniel. Gotta go. The General awaits.” And, shoving his hands in his pockets, O’Neill slouched away. Going to see Hammond, yes, but taking the scenic route.

“Morning, sir,” said Carter, who was indeed making love to the naquedah generator. No accounting for taste É “Could you go away, please?”

“Ah “

She flipped a switch on the generator’s casing, hurried round the bench and shoved him backwards out of her lab, pulling its door closed behind them. “Sorry. It’s just I’d rather not be in there if the circuits overload.”

He stared at her. This morning she was wearing her scientist face. It wasn’t unlike Daniel’s archaeologist face, though to her credit she tended to keep the accompanying hand-waving to a minimum. Now she was staring at the closed laboratory door, eyebrows pinched together as she waited for something ­ hopefully not half the base to go ‘boom’.

Time passed. There was no ‘boom.’ Her frown became a smile. “Excellent! I was pretty sure I had the calculations right but there’s always that .0001% chance of an error.” Dusting her hands together in restrained self-congratulation, she looked at him. “You wanted to see me, sir?”

“Carter É” He sighed. “If I ask what it is you’re doing in there, do I have a .0001% chance of understanding the answer?”

She bit her lip. “Well É”

“Never mind. Good morning. I’m going to see Hammond. Is there anything important I should know beforehand?”

She shook her head. “No, sir, I don’t think so. But if you don’t mind me making an observation É you look like hell.”

“See you later, Carter,” he said, and kept on walking.

He’d long ago come to the conclusion that pretty much the only way to beat General George Hammond to work was to sleep on the base. And even then, nine times out of ten the damned man caught you napping. For someone on the brink of retirement and enjoying the shady side of sixty he had the irritating habit of never missing a beat.

“Good morning, Jack,” the general greeted him from behind his immaculate desk. “Come on in. Have a seat. You look like hell.”

“Really, sir?” he said, dropping into the nearest chair. “I had no idea.”

Hammond’s lips quirked in a smile, but only briefly and the amusement got nowhere near his eyes. “Should I be ordering you along to the infirmary?”

God, no. The infirmary meant Janet Fraiser, that pint-sized powerhouse of medical interferingness who took shameless advantage of a)having patched him up and saved his life more times than he cared to think about and b)technically outranking him by virtue of her medical degree. He shuddered. “No. I’m fine, sir.”

“I hope so,” said Hammond. “Because you and I are taking a little trip.”

And just like that, the headache was back. “Don’t tell me, sir. Let me guess. Washington?”

Hammond sat back in his chair and laced his fingers across his belly. His expression was grave; never a good sign. “Yes.”

“I know I don’t want to hear this, but É why?”

Hammond let his gaze settle on the ominous red phone; an even worse sign. When the news was good, or at least not dreadful, the general never failed to look him in the eye. “There’s no easy way to say it, Jack.”

That rapidly sinking sensation would be his heart, heading for his boots. “Then let me say it for you, sir. My failure to secure the Eurondan technology as promised has ruffled a few political feathers.”

Now Hammond did look at him. In the office’s harsh fluorescent lighting he looked older, and weary. “I don’t like people who hog all the credit, Jack. Last time I looked the buck still stopped in this office. I could’ve ordered you to disregard Dr Jackson’s concerns and obtain everything Alar promised us, regardless of the ethical implications of that action. I didn’t. Ultimately the responsibility lies with me.”

God. It was tempting, so tempting, to let someone else shoulder the burden. The blame. But he couldn’t do that. It wasn’t the way he lived his life and besides, this was George Hammond. “All due respect, General, but no,” he said, politely uncompromising. “I was the man on the spot. It was my call to send Daniel back here so he could cast doubt on the deal. I could easily have ordered him to stay with me on Euronda and just sent Carter with the request for the heavy water.”

Hammond nodded. “And if you’d done that we’d have all that promised technology, possibly more, you and Dr Jackson wouldn’t be speaking and thousands upon thousands of innocent humans would’ve been slaughtered by Alar and his racial purists. Are you saying now you made the wrong call?”

“No.” He pinched the bridge of his nose, willing away the vicious pounding behind his eyes. “I’m saying I wish I’d engineered a better outcome. Who is it we’re meeting with in Washington?”

“A committee, who else?” said Hammond dryly. “Specially convened and I quote -- ‘to investigate the SGC’s ongoing lack of progress in procuring military and technological assets that can be used to not only defend against the Goa’uld, but advance America’s domestic agendas.’”

O’Neill felt his guts clench and his blood pressure spike. If he wasn’t careful he really would need Janet Fraiser. “Oh, for crying out loud! Haven’t we been through this already, with Maybourne and his NID goon squad?”

“Of course we have,” said Hammond gently. “And we’ll continue to go through it, Jack, again and again. This project is underwritten by taxpayer dollars, which means that as long as there are taxpayer-elected politicians with careers to protect and advance, you and I will be called upon to defend our decisions to them. It comes with the territory, you know that.”

Yes. He knew that. And he hated it. Every time he watched ‘A Few Good Men’, part of him wanted to stand up and cheer Jack Nicholson as he made his famous speech. God, he hated politicians. Most politicians, anyway. Especially politicians like

“Oh, crap,” he said. “General, if you love me, tell me Kinsey’s not behind this.”

“Now you’ve put me in a difficult position,” said Hammond, and this time his eyes did warm. “Jack É”

“Who else?” he asked, feeling desperate. Feeling like hell and hell’s little cousin purgatory. “Do you know?”

Hammond shook his head. “All I can tell you is Kinsey’s chairing the investigation and it has the full support of the President.”

“The President? I thought he liked us!”

“He does like us, Jack. But he’s vulnerable and he’s covering his ass.” Another headshake, slow and resigned. “To be honest, I can’t say I blame him. You know as well as I do this Eurondan business is just the last in a long line of disappointments as far as the acquisition of assets is concerned.”

Disappointments?” Like a fractious four-year old, he was on the brink of a tantrum. “To hell with that! We’ve delivered on our mission statement one hundred-fold, at least! We “

“That’s enough, Colonel!” Hammond snapped. “I’m not the person you need to convince. Save your arguments for the meeting tomorrow.”

With difficulty, O’Neill got his temper under control. Hammond was right about one thing, at least: he wasn’t the enemy here. “Sorry, sir,” he muttered.

Hammond waved the momentary lapse aside. “I know it’s hard being second-guessed by civilians, Jack. Especially civilians with agendas that don’t necessarily do us any favours. I’m not saying we should get down on our knees and kiss their --” A swift, sly smile. “Boots. But, as I said, at the end of the day it comes down to funding. If we want those civilians to continue signing our pay checks, we have no choice but to play the game by their rules.”

He dredged up a smile. “Maybe I should just phone Thor. Get him to beam out the contents of Fort Knox so we can become self-funded.”

Hammond snorted. “Right.”

“Not one of my better ideas?”

“You have better ideas?” Then Hammond frowned. “Seriously, Jack. This isn’t the time for you to indulge your dubious sense of humour, or advertise your contempt for political authority.” He shifted in his chair, then, looking uncomfortable. “I jumped the gun on this one. Claimed we had our hands on significant technology before it was a fact.”

“Really, sir? That’s not like you.”

“No.” Hammond pulled a face. “But there’s been a lot of heat coming down from Washington in the last few months.”

“I know. You said.”

“I didn’t say the half of it,” Hammond retorted. “Didn’t want you to worry. Worrying’s my job, it’s why they pay me the big bucks. The truth is, Jack, we had a lot riding on this Eurondan deal. I was banking on having it up my sleeve for the next round of budget negotiations. They’re going to be É” Hammond shrugged. “Vigorous.”

“Oh.”

“I know it’s unpalatable, but it’s the way things are. And every time we fail to produce a tangible asset we give Kinsey and his ilk another bullet to shoot at us.”

O’Neill knew that. He knew more about the political tightrope the SGC balanced on than anyone apart from Hammond, who’d been trying to protect him, damn the man. Of course he’d kept most of that crap from Daniel and the rest of SG-1. Protected them, as best he could, because that’s why they paid him the big biggish -- bucks. Maybe if he’d been less tender with Daniel’s feelings and more attuned to the temperature in Washington É

As usual, Hammond read him like a cheap comic. “There’s no point blaming yourself, Jack. What’s done is done. Moreover I supported your decision at the time, and I still do. Sometimes the price you pay is just too high.”

“Tell that to Kinsey.”

“I’m going to. And so are you.”

He stared. “Me, sir? But I don’t want to go to Washington. Not if it means rubbing elbows with Kinsey.”

“I don’t want to go either, but we’re not in charge of this train, Jack,” said Hammond. “More’s the pity.”

“What’s Kinsey involved for anyway? We haven’t heard a peep out of him since his screw-up over Apophis. I thought he was old news.”

“You know what they say,” Hammond sighed. “Everything old is new again. I’m no happier about his involvement than you are, Jack, believe me, but I can’t interfere in the civilian bureaucracy.”

“I know, I know,” he said, morosely. “It’s just I’m not Captain Tactful at the best of times, General. Me and Kinsey …” Just thinking about the bastard made him want to hit something. “Maybe I should sit this one out.”

Hammond snorted. “Don’t take this the wrong way, Jack, but I really wish you could. Unfortunately, Kinsey’s insisting on your presence. There are, and again I quote, ‘several points of interest in your mission report he’s eager to discuss with you’.”

“He’s read my mission report?”

“The entire committee’s read it, apparently. And the President.”

That sat O’Neill up, alarmed. “Already? General, how long have you known this was coming?”

Hammond went back to avoiding his gaze. “I knew there’d be trouble the moment you said the mission had failed. Half an hour after telling the President we’d not acquired the technology as promised I got a call from Kinsey’s office warning me of an official investigation.”

“But that was four days ago, sir. Why didn’t you say something before now?”

“To what end?” said Hammond, shrugging. “You had enough on your plate. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof, Jack. I don’t believe in crossing a burning bridge before I have to.”

“I’m sorry, General,” he said, after a small silence. “I let you down on this one. I should’ve found a way to make the Eurondan deal happen.”

“That would be water under the burning bridge, Jack,” said Hammond, gently smiling. “Let’s not waste time and energy on the past.”

In the privacy of his own head, O’Neill could admit it. He loved this man. Loved, admired, respected. The thought of disappointing him was a sharp knife between the ribs É and he couldn’t remember the last CO for whom he’d felt that. Hammond was Old School, in all the very best definitions of the term. He’d been there, he’d done that. Hell, he could open a tee-shirt shop. He fought for his people against his own side as hard as against any enemy. Harder, sometimes. Because sometimes your own side was the enemy, like now, and nobody can kill you deader than a friend.

“What time do we have to be in Washington?”

“Eleven a.m. I’ll pick you up at your place at seven, we can go direct to Peterson from there.”

Depressed, he nodded. “Yes, sir.”

“Cheer up, Colonel,” Hammond added, leaning back in his chair again. “It might not be so bad.”

“No,” he agreed, and pushed himself to his feet. “We could crash en route and miss the meeting altogether.” Then he held up a hand. “I know. I know. My humour is dubious. Sorry. Just getting it out of my system before tomorrow.”

Hammond shook his head. “Close the door on your way out, Jack.”

Restless, at a loose end, O’Neill headed to the control room. With any luck some massive crisis would throw them all into chaos sometime in the next five minutes, necessitating his urgent relocation off-world, for a long, long time …

The massive crisis uncharitably refused to materialize. Teal’c was there, though, working through some language-related gobbledegook with one of the technicians.

“O’Neill,” he said, standing. “You “

He raised an emphatic finger. “I swear to God, if one more person tells me I look like hell I will punch them on the nose!”

All around the control room, gazes were hastily averted.

Teal’c’s head tilted slightly. “Indeed.”

Come to think of it, that wasn’t a bad idea. “Teal’c, are you busy?”

Teal’c indicated the technician. Laura Somebody. O’Neill couldn’t remember her last name. They came and went all the time, he could never keep track of them. Just a bunch of lab coats babbling in too many syllables about things that made no sense … “I am assisting Ms Hill with --“

“Great. Let’s box.”

“Now?”

He rolled his eyes. “No, next week. Of course now. You don’t have anything better to do, and neither do I. Come on. It’ll be fun.” He thought about that for a moment. “Okay. So maybe not so much fun, as therapeutic. Come on. Healthy exercise, just do it.”

Teal’c hesitated, then nodded. “Very well. I will join you in the gym momentarily.”

“Okay,” he said, rubbing his hands together. “But don’t keep me waiting too long. Because the longer you have to think about this the harder you’ll be shaking in your shoes.”

“Indeed,” said Teal’c again, after a moment.

He presented himself in the gym ten minutes later, pulled on his sparring gear, and they got down to business.

“Since you are already endeavouring to punch me on the nose, O’Neill,” Teal’c said, easily blocking three quick jabs in succession, “I will now tell you that you do look like hell.”

“I know,” he said, breathing hard, the sweat pouring between his shoulder blades. “I’ll get over it.”

Teal’c evaded what would’ve been a brutal uppercut. “I know.”

That was the great thing about Teal’c. He just É got it. No navel-gazing, no anguished self-examinations, no well-meant amateur psychoanalyzing. Crap happened and you got over it. End of discussion.

An hour later, after totally failing to knock Teal’c senseless to the mat, dammit, O’Neill’s dodgy knee held up a white flag and he had to stop. The headache was gone, replaced with the pain of burning lungs, burgeoning bruises and the tedious overall reminder that no, really, he wasn’t as young as he used to be.

“Thanks,” he said, lightly tapping gloves with Teal’c. “I needed that.” His stomach rumbled. “And hey, now I need food. Is it lunchtime yet?”

Teal’c gave him a sidelong look as he pulled off his gloves. “It is a large galaxy, O’Neill. Doubtless it is lunchtime somewhere.”

He smiled. “I like the way you think, big guy.”

By the time they’d showered and dressed it really was lunchtime in their little corner of the Milky Way and the commissary was half-full. Sauntering in with Teal’c, seeing Carter and Daniel already in the chow line, O’Neill noticed SG-4 was back from P9D-882, sporting the very latest in nifty bandages. Nothing serious, though. Everyone still had their arms and legs. He’d catch up with Brugel later to find out what happened. Whatever it was couldn’t be too bad, because they were all laughing and using their forks as catapults to hurl peas at each other.

Once his tray was loaded with chicken-fried steak, mashed potato, gravy and green beans, with a honking great piece of pecan pie for after, he joined his team at their usual table. “I didn’t eat breakfast!” he protested, as they stared disapprovingly at his lunch. “And I just boxed the snot out of Teal’c. I need feeding up.”

Daniel turned to Teal’c, who’d decided to live dangerously with salad. “Really? He boxed the snot out of you?”

“No,” said Teal’c. “He did not.”

“Didn’t think so,” said Daniel.

“Daniel, would you like to eat that pumpkin soup or wear it?”

“I’ll eat it, Jack, but thanks for asking,” said Daniel, still grinning.

Carter grinned back. “You sure about that? Orange might be your colour.”

And so it went, tease and bicker, bicker and tease. No pea-throwing, but then they were the flagship team. They had an example to set. An image to maintain. Besides. Peas were for pussies. Real soldiers used mashed potato. With extra gravy. And if he wasn’t so busy eating his, he’d happily launch the first attack.

“So,” he said. “I’m off to Washington in the morning. To meet with Kinsey and a bunch of other stuffed shirts. About the Eurondan mission.”

“Why wouldn’t it be wise?”

“Well because the last time you and Kinsey sat around the same table you tried to beat him to death with it?”

He raised his eyebrows. “Now, now, Daniel. Don’t go trying to be subtle. You’ll sprain something.”

Teal’c examined a tomato as though he’d never seen one before. Saying nothing. He knew there was nothing to say.

“Just you, sir?” Carter said quietly. “Because I’m not doing anything urgent. If you want back-up … some moral support …”

Their eyes met. He let himself smile, just a little bit. “Thanks, but that won’t be necessary. Hammond’s going too. He’s already promised to pack his whip, chair and gun. And handcuffs, in case I get antsy.”

An awkward silence fell then, covered up by the background noise of a cheerful commissary. Daniel dropped his spoonful of Jell-O back in the bowl. His expression was troubled. “Look … Jack …”

“Daniel, forget it,” he said briskly. “The past is another country and my passport is currently expired. I just wanted you to know where I’m going. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got paperwork to catch up on. Adios. Arrivederci. Auf Wiedersehen. Bon Voyage. Goodbye.”

He could feel their eyes on him as he headed for the door, pecan pie in hand. Could feel their concern, warm like flames on a cold winter’s night. They were good people.

What a shame he couldn’t say the same about Kinsey.

A tiny flicker of nerves prickled the base of his spine, and he shivered. Then he scowled. Screw Kinsey and his committee. He took a savage bite of pie.

Screw them all.