Prologue: 3,000 BC- Pegasus System
AFGHANISTAN January 2003
Colonel Jack O’Neill stumbled as the rebel shoved him across the threshold of the cell. He whirled around just as the door slammed shut and reached the barrier as the lock engaged with a loud and ominous snap. “Hey you stupid moron, what part of ‘take me to your leader’ didn’t you understand?” O’Neill stumbled forward, wrapping his fists around the iron bars, banging his forehead, “Stupid Jack, stupid.”
O’Neill spun around, searching the darkness for the owner of the voice.
The colonel’s lips curled into his patented ‘shit-eating’ grin, “Nice little vacation spot, Danny.” Cold, black eyes took in their surroundings. “How’s the room service?”
“JJJJJJJJJJaaaaaaaaaacckkkkkkkk,” Daniel Jackson, civilian member of SG1 pushed his lips forward, sulking.
“Anything good on the menu? Ya know I missed lunch and I’m dying for a big, fat juicy hamburger,” Jack carried on with his tirade as he made his way over to his cellmate.
Jackson rolled his eyes at his friend, “No Jack. Hamburger, steak, nor chicken is on the menu.”
“Bet they don’t have beer either. Darn poor management if you ask me.” Jack smirked, knelling down in front of his teammate. The colonel’s eyes narrowed, his voice low and sober, “You hurt?”
“No.” Daniel replied, getting his first good look at his best friend’s dirty, bruised face asked in return, “You?”
“Oh, you know… peachy… just peachy,” O’Neill declared as he dropped heavily on the ground next to the linguist.
“What are you doing here, Jack?” Jackson’s brows lifted, knowing Jack hated the desert, specially this piece of dust bowl.
O’Neill did a double take. “Excuse me? And just where did you assume I would be? You were due to radio in three days ago, due back at base yesterday. No word from you. No signs of you. ‘No requests for more time’. No ‘This could be the key to understanding our existence. Everyone, everything's existence,’ call.”
Daniel Jackson’s eyes widened as he protested. “I never said that…never…not exactly like that…” he tilted his head and frowned. “Did I?”
Jackson’s hands flew around as if to erase the image of the words. “Okay…maybe something like that. But I’m sure that it was very important.”
O’Neill rolled his eyes at the younger man’s statement before dropping back to lean against the rough textured wall. “It’s always important to you, Danny.” Jack closed his eyes and relaxed.
Daniel watched the older man as he seemed to doze off. It was a testimony to the soldier in O’Neill that allowed the man to nap anywhere. Jackson envied him that.
After several silent moments, Jackson was about the open his mouth when O’Neill spoke. “What?”
Daniel frowned as he questioned back, “What?”
With a sigh, Jack pushed up and turned to the younger man. “Yes, Daniel. What? You’ve been staring at me. What do you want to know?”
The archeologist’s eyes and mouth rounded. “Oh…well…I was just wondering what the plan was.”
“Plan? What makes you think I have a plan?”
Daniel pulled back slightly, his head nodding and his eyebrows rising, “You always have a plan, Jack. Are Teal’c and Sam here?”
Jack shook his head and relaxed against the wall once more, closing his eyes. “Nope. No T. No Sam. No plan. Just hanging out…waiting.”
“Waiting?” Jackson frowned as he studied the older man. “Waiting for what?”
“For someone to notice that I’m missing…that you’re missing…you know…waiting.” Crossing his ankles, Jack scrunched down and crossed his arms across his chest and went to sleep.
Daniel Jackson stared at the man for a moment before copying the man’s posture and trying to rest also.
“It’s okay. Just don’t do it again.”
“Right. Rest. Got it.”
“Thank you.” After a few seconds, Jack’s left eye peeked open, glancing over at the linguistic, checking to make sure he was resting. Shaking his head, Jack checked his watch. Amateur jackass didn’t even take his watch. The colonel settled back down to wait, a wicked grin on his lips. Revenge is so sweet.
Silence descended on the small cell.
Larabee stared at the man in front of him. The base commander stood, feet braced, his hands clasped behind his back, returning the younger man’s gaze with steel gray eyes, overshadowed by bushy gray brows. Though the man was obviously in his sixties, his posture was ramrod straight, the result of the thirty-four years of military service. And he’d be damned if he would be intimidated by some ex-Navy Seal, turned damn enigmatic back ops team leader, ‘I’m here at the direct request of the President’, stony-eyed Commander.
“I don’t understand, sir. You’re refusing to help us go rescue Americans?” the blond team leader asked.
The man drew himself up straight before speaking. “I’ve already told you, Commander I’ve already lost two men. I don’t intend to lose any more. This is not a military action and therefore I am not required to risk my men or equipment to assist you.”
“Sir, we only need one chopper and a pilot. He drops us off and leaves. That’s it.”
The base commander seemed to consider the appeal for a moment and then his head moved sideways in the negative. “I regret that I cannot comply with your request. Now, if you will excuse me, I have a base to attend to.”
As the Air Force commander strode purposefully away from the Special Ops team leader, the six men under that man’s command held their breath. Since the team had been brought together, they had not failed in any mission they had undertaken. The men didn’t have to wait long for Larabee to react.
Chris Larabee stood momentarily stunned by the man’s refusal, considering where the assistance request had come from. He could understand the commander’s reluctance to risk more men, but General Hammond had made the request to the President who had sent the request on to Travis. No way was Larabee going to accept defeat before the battle even started.
As the blond team leader stepped out, the team sharpshooter felt a presence at his shoulder. Turning he came face to face with an Air Force Major. Where the hell did he come from? Vin wondered. Hazel eyes gazed into blue and the two men sized the other up. With a glance in the direction the two commanders had taken, the Major leaned in slightly and said softly, “If you want a ride, meet me on the flight line. Ten minutes.”
Vin frowned slightly, his jaw muscles flexing, as he watched the Major amble away.
Tanner looked around to see the rest of the team watching the Air Force Major move off. “No, I don’t think so.”
The others watched as the ex-Ranger keyed his throat mike. “Brimstone?”
A moment passed before they all heard Larabee respond, “Tracer?”
“Yeah, we got a ride if ya want it.”
The Special Ops team could see their team leader stop and turn toward them. Moments later, the blond rejoined his team, his eyes turned on the young sharpshooter. “Talk to me.”
With a nod in the direction the Major had disappeared in, the Lieutenant explained. “One of the flyboys says he’ll take us in.”
Chris glared at the younger man. “Against the base commander’s orders?”
The younger man shrugged.
Glancing around, Chris considered his opinions. Making a decision, the blond nodded and stepped out, six men following closely on his heels.
Approaching the airstrip, the seven men paused, looked for their mysterious pilot. Their attention was immediately captured by the appearance of the dark-haired major moving out of the shadows of a large hanger. Larabee made a grumbling noise in his throat as he changed direction and headed toward the man.
“I hear you need a ride.”
“General Stafford said ‘no pilot’, so why?”
Major John Sheppard returned the intense gaze from the blond Special Ops team leader, his voice soft as he replied, “The two men that were lost? They were friends-good friends. I don’t want their deaths to be for nothing. If there’s a chance that Colonel O’Neill can be rescued, then I want in on it.”
Chris’ eyes narrowed with suspicion. A tense moment passed before Larabee extended his hand. “Larabee.”
With a slight smile that did nothing to remove the grief in his eyes, the Major grasped the offered hand. “Sheppard.” Nodding at the others, Major Sheppard cocked his head to the side. “Load up, gentlemen.”
The Special Ops team made short work of loading and buckling up. The Sikorsky Black Hawk was a familiar ride for the team and they quickly settled in.
As the seven men settled in the back, Sheppard was quickly preparing for takeoff, his eyes surveying the area as his hands flipped switches. Slowly, the blades began to whine and spin.
“Come on, come on,” he murmured. As the rotors reached full power, he surveyed the area again and caught sight of headlights moving toward the flight line. Turning his head, he called over his shoulder, “Hang on, boys, we’re going up.” Rotating the collective, he pulled back on the stick and the big helicopter shot into the air.
The men in the back grabbed hold as the transport leapt upward.
“Damn” “Sweet Jesus” “Son of a Bitch” could be heard along with a gasp and a chuckle. The chuckle came from Tanner as he watched the security teams roll to a stop on the spot the helicopter had just vacated.
“Ah, latecomers to the party, sorry, boys, the bus just left.” he commented. Smiling, he turned to ask Larabee about the mission only to find him fast asleep. Shaking his head, the young sharpshooter returned his attention to the window and dark landscape below.
The Black Hawk had been cruising for a little over an hour when Larabee yawned and stretched. He glanced around at the team, checking their attitudes and readiness for the coming action. Josiah Sanchez was going over the satellite photos of the compound that they were about to assault. As was the Army medic’s habit, Nathan Jackson was inspecting his medical pack. Vin Tanner was reassembling his rifle, double-checking each piece as he worked. CIA agent, Ezra Standish, was sketching in a small pad that he carried at all times, a relaxing ritual for the man. JD Dunne was checking the radio equipment, probably for the fourth time if the x-Delta soldier held true to form and Chris’ second in command, Buck Wilmington, was harassing the younger man.
Satisfied that his team was ready for the coming fight, the team leader rose and headed to cockpit. Taking the second seat, Larabee slipped the co-pilot’s headset on.
Sheppard glanced over, a smile pulling at the corner of his mouth. “We’re forty-five minutes out.”
Chris nodded as he scanned the dark horizon. “Set down two miles out. We’ll go in from there.”
The Major nodded in acknowledgement as Chris slipped the headset back and keyed his throat mike. “Forty-five out, Wrangler.”
“Got it, Brimstone.”
The Special Ops team leader remained up front, watching as the desert sped past five hundred feet below. The sun was due to rise in three hours; he wanted his team on the ground and in place before red tinged the horizon.
Minutes later, the Black Hawk settled onto the sand. Sheppard shut down the engines and the blades slowed and finally stopped. Larabee had already abandoned the cockpit to join his team in the back and the Major now joined them, adjusting the pistol holster that hung on his hip as he moved.
Tanner noticed the man first and jutted his chin in the Air Force officer’s direction when Chris glanced his way.
“What are you doing?”
Cocking his head to one side, the dark haired pilot smiled as he replied, “Thought I might join you.”
Larabee’s head was already shaking. “Think again,” he growled.
Buck was herding the team out the door as the two men spoke. After a quick glance over his shoulder, he joined the other five men on the sand, waiting for their team leader to join them.
“Commander Larabee, I’m trained in hand to hand combat. I want to help.”
“Good,” the blond agreed. His hand came out to stop the Major as he stepped toward the door. “You can help by staying with the chopper…just in case we need to get out of here fast.”
The younger man’s mouth opened in protest, but snapped closed as the Special Ops team leader stepped closer. “I appreciate what you’ve done for us. I know what this could do to your career.”
Sheppard shrugged at the man’s words.
“But…” Larabee continued. “…this is a seven man team. I don’t have time to be looking out for you.”
“I can look after myself, Commander,” the Air Force officer countered, adding, “Besides, eight gives everyone a wing man.”
The blond Special Ops team leader turned at the sound of snickers behind him and six men quieted and moved away from the open door. Turning back, Larabee confronted the younger man. “Seven man team, trained to work together. I think your services would be better suited to stay and protect our means of escape should the mission not go as planned.”
Sheppard’s mouth opened in protest, but snapped closed once again as the other man turned away, stating, “You’re not coming, Major, so deal with it.” Larabee dropped to the ground and adjusted his pack. Glancing up to see Sheppard standing in the doorway, the Commander checked his watch and then looked up. “If we’re not back by oh-two hundred, get your ass back to base. If you see anybody but us, you take off and head back.”
Larabee saw the defiance in the man’s green eyes and prepared for a fight. But the younger officer’s features softened and he nodded in acknowledgement. Chris stared for a moment before turning and marching away. Four of the men stepped off right behind the blond, falling into step behind him. The two younger members of the team lagged behind as the taller of the two adjusted the rifle case hanging from his shoulder.
John folded his legs up and sat on the edge of the open hatch as he watched. The remaining two team members looked to be the youngest on the team, though the blue eyes of the taller one spoke of age that the features belied.
Once satisfied with his equipment, the lanky man tossed a glance over his shoulder at Sheppard. With a nod, he stepped off after the others. The dark haired youth grinned at the major and tossed a hand up in a half wave before he trotted across the sand to join his team. Within moments, the desert sand hid the seven men from view and the soft breezes swept away any trace of their passing.
John Sheppard sat quietly in the hatchway, whistling softly as he swung his legs from side to side, banging his heels together. The quiet of the desert was soon replaced with the calls of nocturnal animals and the skittering noises of insects moving across the sand. Glancing at his watch, he made a noise in his throat. Five minutes had passed since Larabee’s team had disappeared into the night. Jumping off the aircraft floor, Sheppard closed the hatch, adjusted his holster and set off in pursuit of the black ops team.
The team had spread themselves out at ten-yard intervals with Josiah Sanchez in the lead and Vin Tanner bringing up the rear. They were within a half-mile of the compound when the Marine Sergeant dropped to the ground, signaling contact. The rest of the team dropped and waited. Only Larabee moved as he stealthily joined the older man. The team leader quickly spied the five man reconnaissance team moving toward Sanchez’s position with the east, no more than two hundred yards away. Confident and comfortable in their home territory, the men were moving causally and without much stealth. With a nod at the marine, Larabee slipped back to join the others who had gathered at the base of the dune. Moments later, a course of action had been plotted and the men moved to execute it.
Tanner joined Sanchez and the two of them moved across the narrow valley between dunes to flank the approaching terrorists. Wilmington and Standish waited to come in from the rear while Larabee slithered down the sand from their original position. Dunne and Jackson held back to intercept anyone that escaped and to watch for the approach of any other rebels.
In two minutes time, the terrorists were in striking distance. Like a shadow rising and detaching itself from the sand, Larabee swept in on the first man closely followed by the rest of his team. Chris took his man down quietly and quickly after a brief wrestling match that ended with a snap of a neck. Dropping the limp body, Larabee turned to see how the rest of the team was faring.
Tanner was wiping a bloody blade clean on his victim’s own clothing while Sanchez stood, staring down at the body of a third man. Wilmington and Standish had been equally efficient in eliminating the two men in the back. Nodding at each man as they glanced his way, the blond gripped the man at his feet and dragged him closer to the sand dune. He glanced up as JD slid in next to him and they started digging shallow graves to conceal the bodies on the chance another patrol followed.
Checking the time, Chris signaled Vin to take the lead and Wilmington to drop back to the rear. Seven minutes after sighting the patrol, the SOPs team was on the move again.
The half-mile distance to the compound was covered quickly and within minutes, the seven men were laying on the sand reaffirming their plan of assault. The compound consisted of five outbuildings. Surveillance had determined that four buildings were for storage and one was a garage. All the terrorists and their captives were housed in the main building. The last satellite photos had shown a total of thirty people in the compound. The number had varied by as many as ten over the last twenty-four hour period. There was no way for Larabee to know if the five dead men were a part of the last count, so they based their plans on a confrontation with thirty armed men. Err to the cautious side was the blond’s credo.
After a quick check of communications, the seven men split up to check the outbuildings before attempting an assault on the main structure. Tanner took the roof of one of the outbuildings to cover the others’ advance. Larabee and Standish took one building while Sanchez and Jackson took a second and Wilmington and Dunne, a third. The fourth building was an arms storage building and they would take that one last.
A surprisingly short time later, the team was reunited after securing the outer buildings. Sanchez and Jackson had taken four men down. The two Delta team members entered the building to find three men coming toward them. The three stunned men hesitated for a split second, which was all Sanchez, and Jackson needed. A fourth man appeared moments later and Nathan’s knife prowess quickly dispatched the man.
Dunne and Wilmington had run into three men. Months of rehearsals paid off as the teammates killed the terrorists with ease and without drawing the attention of the rest of the compound. Larabee and Standish took a third building only to find it empty. Each pair of rescuers checked in as well as Tanner. While Dunne and Wilmington trotted to the garage, Sanchez and Jackson took the armory, leaving Larabee and Standish standing guard behind the main building. Finding no other terrorists in the outer buildings, the team reconnected on Larabee’s position with the exception of Tanner who had moved from one rooftop to the roof of the big center building. They figured they were looking at up to twenty men left in the main building with the hostages.
There were two entrances to the building and the team split up, three men through each door and Tanner going across the roof to enter through an access hatch that dropped down into a storage area off the kitchen. The sharpshooter disabled one man there, but the team lost the element of surprise when two others walked in on him. Firing two quick shots, the lanky ex-Ranger rolled under a table and sprinted out the door.
“Brimstone, I’ve been made.”
“Where are you, Tracer?”
“Back of the building.”
“Rock star and I’ve got him, Brimstone.”
“Roger, Wrangler. Mother Hen? Hunter? Check in.”
Sanchez’s deep voice rumbled through the earpiece, “We’re through the door, Brimstone. Three down here, but we have a crowd coming our way.”
“Keep your heads down. Blackjack and me are coming.”
Pointing in the direction of the front of the building, the two men headed toward the sound of the firefight that rang through the halls. Moving down the passageway, a flicking shadow was their only warning as four men ran around the corner. Diving to the floor, Chris and Ezra fired as they hit the ground. Two men went down even as the other two returned fire, seeking cover. Both were cut down before they found that shelter. Larabee pushed up and glanced over at the younger man. With a nod, Standish climbed to his feet.
“We best go assist our companions,” he stated simply. The sound of gunfire still echoed through the building and the two men sprinted forward to aid their teammates.
Buck and JD ran toward the back of the structure, the sound of fighting dictating their destination. Rounding the corner, they saw Vin surrounded by four men. He threw a punch and connected with one man’s jaw, but two others surged forward and took the lanky man down as the third man drew a long knife from under the sash at his waist. He drew his arm back but never completed the thrust as JD fired, striking the man in the chest.
As the terrorist fell to the ground, one of the two holding Tanner released him and leapt to his feet as did the man that Tanner had hit as Buck and JD rounded the corner. Buck started to raise his pistol when something hit his shoulder. Turning, he had just enough time to throw his arm up and deflect the heavy club that was coming at his head. Knocking the club away, the tall man brought his fist around and punched the man in the face. Grabbing at each other, the two men hit the ground, rolling.
Vin wrestled with the man still holding his arm. Kicking his leg out, he connected with the exposed flank and ribs. With a grunt, the rebel rolled away and Tanner followed, wrapping his fists in the loose robe. They began to roll across the floor, each trying to get the upper hand until finally Vin managed to wrap an arm around the man’s neck as they lay face down on the packed dirt floor. Tanner exerted pressure on the neck in his grasp and within moments, the man went limp, but he kept the pressure on for several more seconds. Dropping the dead man, he rolled to his feet and into a squat, scanning the room with his eyes.
JD had brought his gun up to bear on the closest man and fired even as his mind registered Wilmington’s grunt. The younger man chanced a look that direction and saw his partner charging his assailant. By the time he looked back, the last terrorist was on him and they hit the ground hard. The bigger man landed on top of the young soldier, punching him in the face, bouncing Dunne’s head off the ground. JD struggled to get loose from the enraged man on top of him. He wiggled enough to get his arms loose, even managed to block a couple of punches, but before he could land any blows of his own, the man suddenly disappeared. Startled Dunne pushed up on shaky arms in time to see his assailant’s head snap to one side with a crunching sound. A shudder ran through him even though he knew it was a necessary act. Swallowing, he started as Buck suddenly appeared at his side. Glancing once again at the dead man at Tanner’s feet, JD accepted Wilmington’s hand and pulled to his feet.
Vin stood up and moved to the two men. His eyes met JD’s and the younger man nodded.
“No problem, kid.”
Hearing shots from the other side of the building, the three team members gathered their weapons and took off in search of the rest of the team.
Nathan peeked around the table he was hunkered behind, jerking back as one of the terrorists fired in his direction. His eyes clenched tight as the bullets impacted the heavy piece of furniture, causing the shield to shudder. The medic spared a glance at his companion and sighed at the trickle of blood running down the man’s face. The gash didn’t look bad, but Jackson wouldn’t relax until he could confirm the extent of Sanchez’s injury.
Ignoring the scrutiny of the team medic, the marine sergeant wore a smile on his face as he exchanged fire with the terrorists, though it was not a humorous expression. Sanchez’s sardonic grin was always present whenever the team was involved in a firefight, as if he had no fear of the outcome. His blue eyes cut towards the left as Chris and Ezra bolted into the room and dove for cover and his grin widened.
The two men split at their entrance with Larabee rolling up next to Sanchez while Standish landed next to Jackson. The medic put his hands out to halt the man’s momentum.
“We feared that you and the Sergeant were having too much fun without us,” the ex-CIA agent said, dryly.
Nathan stared at the man for a moment and then, after a shake of his head, returned his attention to the men trying to kill them.
Chris looked closely at the seeping wound on the older man’s head only to have Sanchez grin and shake his head. Chuckling at the man’s bravado, Larabee turned his attention to the fighting and quickly figured out that the number of insurgents was larger than they had seen in the satellite photos. He made a mental note to speak to Travis about the intel before the next mission he agreed to undertake. That train of thought died as one of the terrorists drew back his arm to toss a grenade at the Delta team.
Before Larabee could react, a shot rang out and the rebel was flung back from the impact. His head jerked up to see a dimly lit face in the roof access hatch.
“Sheppard,” Chris growled. The young Major’s eyes flicked toward the downed rebel, forcing the Black OP team leader to turn back. The would-be assassin lay sprawled against the far wall and as Larabee watched, the man’s lax hand opened and the grenade rolled out.
“GRENADE!” he cried out.
The Black Op team hit the ground, covering their heads at the barked warning. An explosion rocked the building, followed by several smaller blasts. When the tremors stopped, Larabee’s team slowly stood and cautiously moved forward. The sounds of men moaning greeted them as they approached the carnage on the far side of the room. Several terrorists had apparently been in the hallway and the first grenade had set off a chain reaction of explosions with devastating consequences. Between the shrapnel and the concussions, the men within ten feet of the explosions were decimated.
“BRIMSTONE! ANSWER ME!”
“Yeah, Wrangler. Go.”
“You boys okay?” Wilmington inquired.
Glancing around first to assure the team’s integrity, Larabee keyed the throat mike, responding, “We’re good. Where…”
His words were cut off as the sound of automatic fire sounded from deeper within the building. The four men immediately moved toward the muffled pops. As suddenly as the gunfire started, it ended and the men froze, waiting. Chris hesitated only a moment.
The Texan’s drawl answered the terse call. “We’re fine, Brimstone. Apparently your fireworks show flushed a couple of birds our way.”
Larabee’s shoulders sagged in relief. Taking a deep breath, the man instructed the three men to coordinate with the rest of the team at the assumed holding cells located on the far side of the building. As Larabee and the other three started down the blood-splattered hall, Jackson called to the blond.
“What about the wounded?”
Chris never took his eyes off his destination. “If they’re still alive when cleanup arrives, they can take care of them. We have a mission to complete.”
Nathan glanced around, torn between his duty and his caring nature. Shaking his head, he moved away, following his teammates.
Malachi stood in the center of the room, listening to the sounds of explosions and gunfire that echoed throughout the building where he and the other members of the archeological team were being held. There were three others in the cell with him, two of them students that Daniel Jackson had recruited to assist him on the dig. The third man was older, a Frenchman by the name of Jacques Lenoir that acted as a guide and liaison with the locals at the site. The sound of running feet drew the attention of all four occupants of the small cell.
At the sound of the lock disengaging, Malachi and Lenoir separated, moving to opposite sides of the door as the two students remained in the middle of the room, frozen with fear. The door slammed open and two armed rebels charged in, their guns coming to bear on the two students. The girl screamed and buried her face in the boy’s shoulder. The two older captives sprung forward crashing into the assassins before they could fire.
Lenoir gripped the rifle with one hand as the other took hold of the man’s throat and squeezed. The Frenchman was not a tall man but he was powerfully built. The two men struggled with neither man able to overpower the other.
On the other side of the door, Malachi had reacted in the same manner but his fight was ended quickly. As he grabbed the rifle and redirected the aim, he reached for the broad bladed knife in the man’s belt. Slipping the weapon free, Malachi shoved the blade into the man’s stomach and twisted. Wide eyes stared at the man momentarily before the body fell to the ground with a soft thud.
Malachi did not hesitate as he stepped over the lifeless body and approached the still struggled duo on the other side of the doorway. A slight smile pulled at the man’s lips as he used the blade to slice through the tendons of the rebel’s forearm as he clung to the rifle. Crying out, the man released his hold on the weapon and Jacques stumbled back as the man’s grip loosened and the Frenchman lost his grip on the gunman’s throat.
As the gunman clutched his arm, Malachi spun the man around and plunged the knife into his abdomen. Dark eyes looked into the eyes of knife welder and fear froze the heart of the rebel.
Malachi smiled as he slowly pulled the knife upward as his other hand gripped his victim’s shoulder. He leaned in close to the man’s ear as pain caused him to bend forward. Whispered words followed the terrorist into death’s embrace. As the body collapsed to the ground, eviscerated, Malachi allowed the bloody knife to slide from the body. Releasing the man’s shoulder, he wiped the blood on the sleeve of the dead man and stood up. Motion drew the man’s attention to the two students. A sneer marred his good looks as he watched the female’s eyes roll back and her form slump to the ground with the male reacting slowly and his hands following her down.
Lenoir stared with narrowed eyes at the archeologist, seeing the same thing the terrorist had, but the Frenchman had seen many things in his life and learned long ago to walk away from the trouble that men like Malachi attracted, or created. Taking the rifle, Lenoir stepped to the door and glanced out. Seeing no one, he took a guard position just inside the doorway.
Wilmington led the way down the hallway with Dunne and Tanner following a couple of paces behind. The man knew the corridor would take him to a junction and the prisoners would more than likely down the left passage. Since the firefight a few minutes before, there had been no sign of any terrorists, but caution was exercised as they made their way to Larabee’s location. As they approached the junction, Buck signaled the two younger men to wait.
Wrangler paused, listening before slowly moving to the corner. He froze as the cold barrel of a pistol pressed against his temple.
“I thought you Special Forces boys were supposed to move quietly?”
Buck cut his eyes to the right as the gun moved away from his head. Embarrassment tinged his response as he came back, “And I thought you flyboys were supposed to fly. Didn’t Chris tell you to stay with the chopper?”
John Sheppard chuckled as he stepped into the hallway with the other three men. “I figured I could help.” He glanced back to see the two younger men standing back a couple of feet from Wilmington’s back. He grinned at them as the taller one patted a relieved looking younger man.
When JD saw the gun at Wilmington’s head, he sprang forward to help only to be pulled back by Tanner. It was a rash move and the ex-Delta knew it. ‘Think before you react, kid.’ How many times had Wilmington told him that? Dunne tried to remember, but seeing his friend with a gun to his head drove the thought right out of his head. Good thing Tanner was better at listening. Only his restraining grip had prevented JD from plunging right into trouble. Both men breathed a sigh of relief when they saw the Air Force Major step around the corner.
“Boys,” he acknowledged.
“Major,” Tanner said as he moved past.
JD moved to stand in front of the major, frowning, his hands gripping his rifle tightly as his eyes bore into the taller man’s. Finally, he harrumphed and turned away.
John watched the young man walk away, grinning slightly, and finally, shrugged. Apparently the boy took exception to threats against teammates. Still grinning, the major followed the three men down the corridor.
Coming around the next corner, Sheppard drew to a halt behind them. There were four doors along the left wall with one door, the first one, standing open. At the far end of the hall, Larabee and his group were just clearing the corner. With a signal, each group moved forward.
Peeking into the open door, Tanner quickly stepped past the threshold to the far side of the door. He held up four fingers to indicate the number of people in the room. With a nod of acknowledgement, Wilmington took a ready stance with his back to the wall. He indicated to Sheppard and Dunne to back them up and then he and Tanner went in, low, each man crossing to the opposite side, covering each other and the room.
Vin rolled as he moved in and crashed into the legs of an armed man, taking him down. Taking the rifle from the man took Tanner only moments. Pushing the now unarmed man away, Vin rose to one knee and covered the room with his weapon.
Buck had covered the three other people still standing in the room. His eyes took in the two bodies and blood covered hand of the older man. He concentrated his attention on him. The bodies were obviously part of the band of kidnappers and the couple on the floor had to be the students. He figured the man Vin had disarmed was the French guide, judging by the description in the report that left Dr Jackson, Colonel O’Neill, and Dr. Malachi.
After seeing the condition on the two bodies, Wilmington would have guessed the ex-black ops agent, O’Neill, had committed the deed but even that would have been a stretch considering the brutality of the killings. But he knew it wasn’t O’Neill; Wilmington knew what the man looked like. And it wasn’t Dr Jackson-too old. That left a choice between of Dr. Malachi or an unknown.
“And you are…?” Wilmington prompted.
“Dr. Malachi.” The man spoke with a condescending tone that grated on Buck’s nerves. The soldier ignored his gut reaction, it interfered with the job.
He put aside his distaste for the man. “We’re here to get you out, Doctor.” He glanced at Vin and nodded. The man stood and lowered his weapon as Buck called out. “Rock star, we’re clear.”
The two men came in from the hallway at the “all clear” signal and Malachi’s head snapped around as they entered. His eyes studied the two men, watched as they entered only to hesitate for a moment. A non-humorous smile pulled colorless lips tight over his teeth as he observed their behavior.
Sheppard surveyed the room with a frown on his face. He glanced around the room as if he expected more trouble but seeing nothing, he rolled his head and shoulders to relieve the tension. It didn’t really help. He still had an itch that he couldn’t explain. His hand rose to rub at his temple, aware of the sudden throbbing.
JD entered the room and glanced around. He felt his heart rate increase as he moved into the room, a slight sweat breaking out on his brow. At the sight of the bodies, the blood, the condition of the one body, the young man’s face screwed up in revulsion, bile rising in his throat. He swallowed several times, fighting the urge to throw up. Buck’s voice in his ear drew his attention away from the gruesome sight.
“Watch these guys. We have two more rooms to check out.”
“Ah…sure. I can do that.”
Vin stepped toward the three captives. “I’ll take the knife.”
Malachi looked at the extended hand and slowly raised his eyes to meet the intense blue gaze. “The boy might need help…protecting us.”
Wilmington stepped forward. “The ‘boy’ doesn’t need help. Hand over the knife.”
After a moment’s hesitation, Malachi flipped the blade around, offering the handle end to Tanner. Taking the weapon, Vin slipped it into his belt and stepped away to the door.
Buck dropped a hand on JD’s shoulder as he followed. “Keep your eyes open, kid.”
Dunne’s response was a roll of the eyes, drawing a chuckle from the older man.
John started past but paused as he observed JD rubbing the back of his neck and glancing around the room. The major leaned in close and spoke softly into the young man’s ear, “Watch your back, kid…literally.”
JD frowned as John followed the other two out. He took a position at the door, glancing back into the room every few seconds. He couldn’t shake the feeling that something wasn’t right. He just couldn’t put his finger on it.
Jackson and Sanchez took up positions on either side of the door as Standish worked on the lock. When the lock disengaged, Ezra slipped it off and opened the latch. With a nod from each man around him, he opened the heavy door and stepped back. The two men charged in from both sides of the door and quickly covered the occupants of the room. Larabee strolled in behind them when Jackson called an all clear.
The older man in the room leaned back slightly, an eyebrow rising.
“Larabee?” What are you doing here?
“O’Neill.” Returning the favor and rescuing your butt.
“Larabee.” I don’t need any smart-ass remarks, thank you.
The blond team leader’s mouth quirked up on one side and he repeated, “O’Neill.” Who? Me? Smart-ass remarks?
O’Neill cocked an eyebrow at the blond.
“Oh, Daniel. Larabee?” Jack turned to Larabee, his hand pointing to Jackson. “Daniel.” Reversing his stance, his stated, “Daniel? Larabee.”
“Daniel Jackson?” Larabee queried.
“Hello.” The archaeologist smiled, waving.
“We’re here to get you two out.”
Daniel’s eyes widened as he stepped forward. “The rest of my party…”
“They’re fine. We found ‘em a couple of doors down.”
Larabee turned at the sound of Tanner’s voice, both men nodding slightly in acknowledgement.
The sound of hands slapping together drew Larabee’s attention to O’Neill as he said, “Well, then, campers, are we ready to go home?”
Larabee barked out a laugh and nodded. “Yeah. We’ll call in a clean up team as soon as we’re airborne.”
The six men stepped outside to see Wilmington and Sheppard just stepping out of one of the other cells. “Anything?” Larabee inquired as he approached, a frown creasing his forehead and his eyes looking to Buck’s left.
Buck shook his head. He watched as the blond strode past and came to a halt directly in front of the Air Force Major. “Thought I told you to stay with the chopper.” Though his voice was soft, it vibrated with menace.
John stood with his thumb tucked under his weapons belt buckle and the hand holding his pistol hanging loosely at his side. He shrugged as he told the man, “I got bored.”
A snort from Tanner caused Larabee’s nostrils to flare as he stepped closer to the major and growled, “I didn’t tell you to stay to hear myself talk, Major. That was an order.”
Sheppard’s eyebrows rose as Larabee spoke and he leaned back just slightly. “And you assumed that I would obey your orders after I disobeyed my own commander to bring you here?” John questioned.
Everyone knew the Special Force leader was about to explode and Buck started to step between the two men. They needed the pilot to get them home. Afterwards, Larabee could tear the man a new ass. Before Buck could defuse the situation, O’Neill moved past.
“Now, kids, let’s play nice.”
Both men turned to look at the colonel. Jack smiled, his hands held out in an embracing gesture. Finally, Chris huffed out an exasperated breath and shook his head. Throwing up one hand, the blond pushed past the major’s shoulder and headed down the hall. He called back over his shoulder as he moved away. “Sheppard, go get the chopper and let’s get out of here.”
John waggled an eyebrow at Colonel O’Neill before spinning on his heel and following Larabee down the passageway. Jack grinned and waved a hand to direct the rest of the group to follow.
JD heard the conversation in the hallway and stepped through the doorway as Chris approached. Glancing around nervously, he nodded at the team leader. “Hey, Chris, how about I go with Sheppard and radio base to come sweep up?”
Larabee stopped, frowning at the younger man. “Can’t you do that from here?”
Dunne shifted from one foot to the other, still glancing around as he responded. “Sure…yeah. It’s just… the chopper has a stronger radio signal.”
Chris was good at reading his men and he didn’t like the way his youngest team member was acting. The kid was green, but had proven himself in combat before. The man didn’t understand what had JD so nervous now, especially now that the base had been secured.
Before Larabee could question the odd behavior, Sheppard had joined them. Glancing into the room, John’s eyes ran over the nervous youth before he turned to Chris. “I could use the kid’s help, if you can spare him.” The major moved around Larabee, stopping where he could see into the room behind JD.
Chris noticed that Sheppard seemed to have picked up on JD’s discomfort as the man’s brows drew down and his eyes darted around, watching for some unseen danger. After a moment’s hesitation, the team leader nodded. “Take Buck and Vin with you, JD.” The young man visibly relaxed and trotted off. “Hey, Buck, Vin. We’re going with the major.”
Turning to Sheppard, Chris added, “Vin has a good sense of direction. I’d hate for you to get lost in all this sand, Major.”
Meanwhile, Buck groaned and said, “Great. Another hike. Hey, Josiah, why don’t you go? You jarheads like to march.”
Dropping a heavy hand on Wilmington’s shoulder, Sanchez squeezed. “Excuse me, Brother, but I believe Chris must feel you need to exercise more than I.”
Buck dipped his shoulder, trying to escape the barrel-chested man’s grip. “Yeah,” he puffed. “Point taken, Josiah. Thanks for pointing that out to me.” Buck worked his shoulder to get feeling back once Sanchez released him. A chuckle from Dunne had to big man swatting at the youth.
Easily avoiding the swipe, JD turned and joined Tanner and Sheppard. As they stepped out, he called to the older man, “Better hurry, Buck. Vin ain’t gonna wait for ya.”
“Hey, I can walk twice as far as you two, any day.”
Tanner laughed at this and stated softly, “Sure you can, Buck.” Then raising his voice, he added, “And that would be ‘cause you’re lost and going in circles.” With a grin, the lanky Texan trotted off, the two men with him quickly matching his strides.
“Hey, this ain’t no race. You boys wait up.” Watching the trio disappear around a corner, the mustached man cursed, “Dammit.” He tossed the rifle strap over his shoulder and took off at a trot.
Daniel had stood next to O’Neill, listening, but now that a rescue chopper was on the way, he decided to check on his team. Moving to the room abandoned by Dunne, he leaning in and sighed in relief to see the four missing members of his dig team.
“Jacques? Malachi? Everyone all right?”
Even as he entered the room to check on the foursome, his eyes darted to the splash of color off to the side and the man had to swallow the bile that rose in his throat at the gruesome sight. He quickly crossed the room and helped Zach assist Rosa to her feet.
“Come in, guys, let’s get out of here.”
Jackson escorted the students into the hall, followed by Lenoir and Malachi. Standish and Sanchez scouted the remainder of the building for any surviving rebels and found a room for the group to hole up in and wait for Sheppard and their ride. Zach and Rosa sat huddled in a corner, not speaking to anyone. Lenoir pulled Daniel off to one side and informed him that he planned to take one of the rebel vehicles and drive out. The original dig site was a hundred miles south of the rebel compound with his home another hundred miles from there. The Frenchman assured Daniel that by taking a truck along with a fifty-gallon drum of fuel, he could get home easily.
By the time the sun was coming over the horizon, Josiah and Jacques had prepared a vehicle and Ezra had convinced Rosa to assist him in the kitchen assembling food for the guide to take on his journey. The two had thrown together a buffet of sorts for the remainder of the group. Everyone broke into small groups, eating quietly. Malachi had cornered Daniel and the two men were discussing the items found at the dig. They both stood and moved across the room to where Larabee and O’Neill sat.
“Jack? The kidnappers took the artifacts. We need to find them before we leave.”
“Daniel…” Jack began.
“Jack, these artifacts are very delicate, very fragile.”
“Danny, Danny, we can have trained people come get the stuff. Don’t you want to get home? Clean up? Relax?”
Daniel’s hands were waving before Jack finished talking. “Jack, you don’t understand. Some of these objects… they could be very important.” Jackson’s face lit up as he thought about the items they had unearthed. One in particular was of great interest and Daniel had only gotten a few moments to study it before the attack. The prospect of examining the item again had the archaeologist fairly vibrating with excitement. The hieroglyphics were of a type unfamiliar to Jackson and he was excited to research it. Doctor Malachi was certain that the tablet contained Basque language.
O’Neill threw up his hands, conceding to the younger man. Larabee crooked a finger and assigned Standish and Jackson to accompany the two scientists in their search. By the time the helicopter returned, the two scientists had located the missing artifacts and were busy repacking them for transport. Tanner strolled in, followed by Buck and JD, who were arguing about something. John came in last, glancing around the room before approaching O’Neill.
“I didn’t have a chance earlier, sir, but I wanted to ask about the two men that flew you out?” The major's eyes dropped momentarily, but came back up to meet O'Neill's gaze. "I just wondered...they were good friends...and..."
O’Neill’s features grimaced at the memory. “Major, I wish I had known what we were flying into, but I thought I was only coming to pick up an errant Jackson. We took fire just as we were landing. They died quickly, if that’s any consolation for you. The only reason I’m alive is that we were on the ground and I was in back. Friends of yours?”
Sheppard nodded, his eyes downcast.
“I am sorry.”
Looking up, Sheppard met the man’s eyes. “I know, sir. I’ve only heard good things about you. I know you take care of your people.”
In an attempt to lighten the moment, Jack cocked his head to one side, saying, “Good things, huh? And who has being spreading these rumors?”
John grinned as his eyebrows and hands rose. “Oh, I have my sources. But if I told you, then I’d have to kill you. And, well, that kind of defeats the purpose in coming.”
O’Neill smiled. “I understand perfectly; say no more.” Clapping a hand on the younger man’s shoulder, the colonel instructed him to get something to eat before they headed back. With a nod and a ‘thanks’, Sheppard stepped away and went in search of the kitchen area.
“…can’t stay here.”
Sheppard stopped at the heated words, not wanting to interrupt a private conversation.
“Zack, I can’t get near that man. I can’t.”
“Damn Rosa, he isn’t going to hurt you. Besides, there’ll be plenty of people on that plane. You probably won’t have to go anywhere near him.”
A trembling voice responded, “Did you see his eyes? God, Zack, he liked it. All that blood, the…the…”
“Shh, it’s okay, baby. We get back, we walk away, never have to see the man again. Okay? We just have to get out of here. You know we can’t stay. We’ll go back to school and forget all about this.”
The girl’s voice was muffled sounded as she giggled, a slight hysterical quality to the sound. “Yeah, go back and change my major. I never want to see another desert, again.”
The boy laughed. “Yeah, we’ll take up astronomy and study the moon. No field trips, though.”
The two students laughed at the idea.
Sheppard stepped back and looked around. Seeing Wilmington and Dunne headed in his direction, he called out to them. “Hey, you guys hungry? Colonel says we can get something in here.”
Pausing to give the two students time to collect themselves, he sauntered around the corner and entered the large cooking faculty. “Hey, you two, anything left to eat in here?”
Following closely behind the Air Force Major, the two special ops members entered the room noisily with Wilmington shoving Dunne into the room to stumble forward.
“Dang it, Buck, don’t do that.”
“Kid, ya need to learn to be light on your feet, be prepared.”
Rolling his eyes, the younger man moved toward the table to see what he could find to eat. Zach and Rosa were standing on the other side of the table and assisted the youth in locating something he liked.
Wilmington and Sheppard joined the trio moments later. John looked at the young woman and smiled. “I bet you two are ready to get back,” he started. Smiled encouragingly, he continued, “I’ll make sure to give you a nice, quiet lift back to my base. Have you ever ridden in a helicopter?”
Seeing the two students shake their heads, the pilot grinned. “Well, then you’re in for a treat. I’ll even let ya sit up front.”
John had felt a tinge of guilt at eavesdropping on the young couple but not now, not after seeing the looks of relief on the pair’s faces. He had gotten an uneasy feeling around the Professor; he could only imagine the fear of the two civilians.
The three finished their meal and headed back to the secure room to find O’Neill talking to Daniel Jackson. There was a pile of boxes now occupying the room which the Colonel was now pointing at. They watched as the men conversed.
“Danny. Danny. We can’t take all that with this. You know it’s safe. Let the prof…the doc…” Jack’s hand waved around in the general direction of Malachi. “You know…him.”
Sheppard’s eyes cut toward the man that the colonel was referring to and a shiver ran down the pilot’s spine. From the corner of his eye, he noticed Dunne pulling at his tall friend’s arm, eyeing Malachi as he said softly, “Come on, Buck, let’s go see what the others are doing.” Apparently, the young man got the same odd feeling from the doctor.
As the two men walked away, Sheppard watched Malachi through narrowed eyes. The major saw the malevolent look on the man’s face at O’Neill’s dismissive attitude. Suddenly, his expression changed to one of confusion and innocence and John’s attention shifted to see Daniel Jackson looking at the man with an encouraging smile on his face.
“Danny, you can take one or two boxes. That’s it. Now, go pick them so we can get out of here.”
Jackson opened his mouth to protest, but Jack raised his hand, stopping the young scientist’s words. “Danny, I’m tired…I’m dirty…I’m ready to go home, so go pick out your toys and let’s go.”
With a sigh, Daniel pushed to his feet and trudged away. John saw Malachi move to meet the disappointed Jackson and they began discussing which artifacts warranted first assessment.
Sheppard turned to see Colonel O’Neill waving him over. Straightening his shoulders, he headed over to the man gesturing at him.
“Is the ship ready to leave, Major?”
Nodding, Sheppard replied, “All I’m waiting on is everyone to load up.” Bending down, the younger man glanced at the scientists. “You know, Colonel, we have room for most of the boxes.”
O’Neill leaned over to glance past the pilot. “I know.” Smiling, he patted the man’s hand before standing and walking away. Sheppard shook his head at the man before going outside to prepare for the trip back to base and whatever awaited him there.
Sheppard exited the room as Larabee entered from the opposite side, three of his team in tow. As the special ops team joined O’Neill, Daniel and Malachi sorted out four boxes to be transported back for examination. After discussing their options, Larabee had Sanchez, Standish and Wilmington gather and load anything to be transported on the helicopter. Jackson and Dunne did a last check of the base parameter.
The two students had followed the pilot out the door and were already settled in by the time the rescuers and rescued congregated at the aircraft. Everyone loaded up and got settled. O’Neill had come up front only to find the second’s seat occupied by Rosa. Sheppard glanced back and grinned.
“You don’t mind, do you, Colonel? Rosa, here has never flown in a helicopter.”
Patting the young woman’s shoulder, the older man smiled graciously. “I only wanted to make sure the major was taking good care of you, young lady. We’re all loaded and ready to go, Major.”
“Thank you, Colonel.” John eyes met those of the older man, both men knowing the thanks was not for the permission to leave as much as the understanding about the seating arrangements. With a wink and a nod, Jack moved to the back and took a seat next to Sanchez.
Two hours later, the Blackhawk landed back at the base admit a flurry of activity and commotion. The base commander met and escorted his ‘guests’ to their quarters. Colonel O’Neill and Doctors Jackson and Malachi were put in the officer’s quarters. Larabee’s team was given a vacant end of the one of the barracks. The ex-Navy Seal immediately had his team gather for debriefing and rest; thanking, but declining the commander’s offer of sharing a meal with him and the others.
Daniel had asked the two students to stay and rest, but a short talk punctuated by tears and quivering requests had the two kids loaded onto a plane and headed to Germany and then back to America and home. Jackson had apologized to both for the disaster that the expedition had turned into. If he had known of the danger, he would have never brought them in and that he hoped the experience would not deter them from further work in their chosen field. Jack had stood next to the archeologist as he saw the pair off, his hands in his pockets and his lips sealed.
As the plane lifted off, they turned back to head to their quarters and some rest. Daniel thrust his hands into his pockets, mimicking the older man’s posture. Pinching his lips together and pushing them out, Jackson mumbled to himself, “They’ll never go on another dig. Ever. Will they?”
Jack took a deep breath before replying, “Nope.”
“Yeah, I didn’t think so.”
O’Neill extracted one hand and patted Daniel’s shoulder. “Good work, Danny.”
The two men split as they entered the building and headed to their rooms. While close in proximity, their rooms were down adjoining halls. Malachi was waiting as Daniel approached his door.
Jackson sighed. He had hoped to rest before dinner that evening and while he found the doctor to be a highly intelligent man, he could be, at times, condescending. Daniel wasn’t sure he was mentally up to verbal sparring with the man.
“Doctor Jackson, I was going over your notes…”
Daniel stood unlocking the door to his room, his eyes closed, while the man talked. Typical of the professor, no preamble, just jump right into the subject.
“…and I hope you don’t mind, but there are a few words that you have misinterpreted. Even the smallest word could have a profound effect on the translation.”
They entered the room and the young linguist made himself comfortable, slipping his glasses on as the other man seated himself and continued to talk.
At dinner that evening, O’Neill and the others found out that Larabee and his team had flown out a couple of hours prior, headed for Washington.
“Damn. Wish I had gotten the chance to say thanks again,” Jack lamented. “What about that Major? I like to thank him also.”
O’Neill didn’t miss the expression that passed quickly across the man’s face before the commander schooled his features into a pleasant countenance. “I’m sorry to say that Major Sheppard’s tour was up and his transfer came through. He left earlier this evening.”
Cocking an eyebrow, the colonel looked at the man. “I see.”
The evening meal was a short affair with little conversation. Soon, the three remaining people involved in the incident were once again in their rooms. Daniel knocked on the door of O’Neill’s quarters and entered at the man’s call.
Jack was in the small bathroom so Daniel made himself comfortable on the bed, lying back on the pillow, his ankles crossed. “You know what I think? Stafford had Sheppard’s transfer ready before they landed in the desert last night.”
“You think?” Jack answered back.
“You figure he’s in trouble?”
Jack stared at his reflection, knowing the answer to that one without even thinking about it. But he responded, “Maybe. A little. But he’ll be okay.”
“I heard someone saying that Larabee asked Stafford about Sheppard, wanted him on his team or something.” Seeing Jack lean back to look at him, Daniel smiled slightly. “That what you were thinking about, also?”
“Oh, yeah, that’s just what I need-someone else that doesn’t follow orders.”
“I’m telling Sam you said that.”
Daniel rolled away from the towel as it flew across the room to land on the bed. He pushed up as Jack came into the room, wiping his face down with a second towel.
“So, Jack, where did you meet Larabee?”
“Larabee…” O’Neill yanked his shirt off and tossed it across the back of one of the chairs and propped himself up at the foot of the bed, leaning against the metal framework. “Well, let’s see. It’s was long, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away.”
He chuckled at the eye roll Daniel graced him with. Jack sighed as he began. “It was years ago, during Desert Shield. I was involved in a black-ops mission to retrieve some civilians still in Iraq. Larabee was a baby faced Navy SEAL back then. His team went in with bad intel.”
O’Neill swung his legs off the bed and leaned over, rested his weight on his arms. “They were captured…four of his team were killed.” Pushing up, he moved across the room, slowly, just wandering, not really looking at anything. “The remaining two men were held for three days before we got in.”
Jack turned and gazed at the younger man. “It wasn’t easy for them. Operation Desert Storm was starting the night we went in.”
“But you got him out.” Daniel rose and moved to a chair, flipping it around to straddle the back.
“Yeah, we got them both out. But it wasn’t easy. We had to call in an air strike to give us cover.”
Running his hands through his short, gray hair, Jack clasped his hands behind his neck and stretched. “God, it…it was bad. One of two planes covering us took a hit and had to break off. The second guy,” Jack dropped his hands, moving back across the room. “he stayed with us. Damn, he just stayed and stayed… covered us all the way out.”
“He…ah, get back okay?”
Jack turned and dropped onto the bed. “Yeah…yeah, he got back. I checked when we got home. He got back fine. So did the other pilot.”
“So, did you ever meet him?”
Chuckling, Jack shook his head. “No. Don’t even know his name. Call sign was Talon, but that’s all I found out. Then it was off to another job and…” He shrugged, vaguely lost in the past.
They sat silent for a few minutes. Finally, Daniel said, “Jack, I need help with that tablet.”
“Which one is that, Danny?”
“The one that I called Professor Malachi in about.”
Jack sat on the edge of the bed, looking at the younger man. “Why?”
Blinking rapidly, Jackson explained, “This tablet is written in a language that is beyond my expertise. He’s the expert in Basque.”
“So, what are you telling me?”
“I… I need him at SGC.”
Jack jumped up. “Daniel, no.”
The young man stood up, flipping the chair back around and moved around to stand in front of O’Neill. “Jack, I can’t read this piece. There’s no telling what we could learn from this artifact.”
“Danny…” Jack paused, his head down. “Danny, what do you know about this guy? I mean…does he even have a first name?”
The young face frowned as his eyes flicked back and forth. Finally, he said, “Well, I’m sure…I guess…I don’t know…”
“Come on, Danny. Leonardo, Marco, Paolo, Vito, do any of these ring any bells, Daniel?" Jack said sarcastically, waving his hand for added effect.
“I… I don’t know him that well. He’s a colleague, Jack, a Professor of History at Queens University in Belfast.”
O’Neill threw up his hands. “This you remember but you don’t know the man’s first name?”
Jackson’s mouth opened and closed several times until he simply shrugged.
With a sigh, O’Neill shook his head. “I’ll see what I can do, Daniel.”
The younger man smiled brilliantly as he said, “Thanks, Jack, you won’t regret it.”
“I said I’d try. No promises.”
Holding up his hands, Jackson slowly backed away, saying, “I know you can do, Jack. Thanks. Now, I think I’ll go get some rest before the trip back tomorrow.”
“Night, Jack. Thanks.”
The next day, O’Neill, Jackson and Malachi boarded a plane to begin their trip to Cheyenne Mountain and the SGC.