By Lorraine Anderson
"So, campers," Jack said, leaning back against the cell wall, "I've been sitting here wondering what hasn't happened to us in the past six years." He felt something, leaned forward again and stared back at the wall.
"Yes, Jack," Daniel said. "The wall is wet."
"You could've warned me."
Daniel shrugged. "I didn't realize that you were going to lean back."
Teal'c sat cross-legged in the middle of the cell, his palms up on his knees. "That is why I chose the middle of the cell."
Jack sometimes wondered if Teal'c's back hurt, now that his snakehead was extracted from his belly. Apparently not—he had been in that position for two hours straight. Jack had thought that he was in kel-no-reem—apparently not. Then again, could Teal'c actually kel-no-reem without the snakehead?
Jack shrugged. He really wasn't that interested in the answer.
"Well, sir," Carter said. "Neither you nor I have been married."
"Regs prohibit that, Carter," Jack said.
Carter blushed. "I meant to other people, sir."
"Although," Jack said, "we came close a couple of times."
"True." They were all silent for a moment.
"Let's see," Jack said. "Daniel's been dead a couple of times. Ascended and returned, postmarked to sender."
"You've been killed more times than I have, Jack," Daniel said.
"Yes," Jack said. "And I remember them all."
"Did you ever see the light?"
"The light," Daniel said, "that most people see when they die and are brought back."
Jack thought a moment. "I don't think I was ever dead long enough."
"It's only supposed to take a second."
Jack shrugged. "No. You?"
"Huh." Jack thought a second. "Never occurred to me before. I win."
"What?" Daniel said.
"I've been killed more times than you." Jack turned introspective. "Which gives new meaning to 'I have but one life to give to my country.' "
Teal'c ignored them. Carter gave them a look that said "men" and turned away, looking speculatively at the cell door. "How long do you suppose the Hafter are going to keep us down here?"
"Well," Daniel said, "they were very apologetic about it when they placed us down here. Said that they needed to contact their trading partners in order to verify our story. And they didn't want to take the chance to see if we were Goa'uld." He looked introspective. "They also said something about a test."
"Yeah," Jack said. "About that."
"About what? The test?"
Jack shook his head. "Most civilizations we see, we seem to understand right away. This one, however, speak only some version of Babylonian or something that only you can understand. Why's that?"
"I'm a linguist." Daniel shrugged. "You remember that you couldn't understand the Abydonians until the second time you went there."
"I know," Jack said. "That was weird. I mean, why are we able to understand the other people? Carter?"
"We're still researching that one, sir."
"My personal theory," Jack said, "is that somewhere along the line, somebody implanted Babel fish in our ears."
Carter grinned. Daniel looked puzzled. Teal'c continued to contemplate his navel—or a bug on the opposite wall. Jack wasn't quite sure which.
"Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Daniel. I'm surprised you don't know that," Carter said.
"So when did the Hafter think we were going to get out of here?"
Daniel shrugged. "The minister was very apologetic, but he wasn't sure when. When we pass the test, I guess."
Jack sighed. "Nice." He looked at Carter. She was roaming around, examining the door. "Carter, you may as well sit down. Escaping at this point is not a very diplomatic solution."
"Since when are you the diplomatic one here?"
"Hey," Jack said. "I can be diplomatic when I want to be."
"It's not nice to smirk at your commanding officer, Carter."
She studied the wall, but Jack could tell that she was still smiling.
"So," Daniel said. "What do you think has been our weirdest mission?"
"Oh, I don't know," Jack said. "The one where Teal'c was going to shave my hair stands out to me."
"I still feel bad that we had to leave Fifth," Carter said. "It still doesn't seem right."
"He was a Replicator; he was dangerous," Jack said. "And you know it."
Carter sighed. "The soldier in me knows that, sir."
"I think we've all been compromised at some point or another," Daniel said.
"When Jolinar took me over," Carter said, "I thought I was compromised, until I realized that she was not Goa'uld, but Tok'ra."
"When I had those regenerations forced upon me," Daniel said, "I was compromised."
"Nothing forced those regenerations on you," Jack said sharply. "You chose those, yourself."
Daniel looked down at the ground. "You're right. I just knew that I felt so much better. It was like an addictive drug."
"When Apophis turned Rya'c against me," Teal'c said unexpectedly, "I was compromised."
"What's a little compromised among friends, I guess," Jack said. He leaned back again, not minding the wet walls. In the back of his mind, he wondered why he didn't mind it now when it had bothered him a few minutes before, but he was getting tired.
"And then there was that Antoniek armband that Anise tested on us," Daniel said.
"When we forced to relive all of those bad moments in our lives," Jack said. "That wasn't … pleasant."
"But," Carter said. "We have had some good times."
Was it Jack's imagination, or did Carter's eyes seem bluer than before?
"Yes, we have," Daniel muttered.
"What did you say?"
"I didn't say anything, Jack," Daniel said. He yawned. But I was about to say that we have, haven't we?" He yawned again.
"Rather than thinking of the bad times," Carter said, her eyes drooping, "we should think of the good times?"
"Sha're," Daniel muttered.
"Fifth," Carter muttered. "Martouf."
"Drey'auc," Teal'c said.
Charlie, Jack thought.
"Yes, Charlie," Daniel said.
"Wait a minute," Jack said. "What's going …" Suddenly, the scene shifted. They were not in the cell, but were standing in front of a cave. He glanced to one side. Daniel was dressed as a minstrel, Teal'c was dressed as a knight, and Carter …
Carter was dressed as a lady fair. He looked down. He was dressed in tights, and appeared to have a crown on his head. "Oh," Jack said. "This is so not right."
Carter screwed up her face and lifted her skirts. "Right, sir."
"What just happened?" Daniel said.
"That's my line." Jack said. "The last I knew, we were in a Hafter cell, waiting for them to check us out. Daniel had just said what I had thought. Now we're in someone's medieval fantasy?"
"Not mine," Daniel said. "My fantasies tend more towards Egyptian worlds." He looked sad for a second.
"I," Teal'c said, "have no fantasies like this."
"I certainly wouldn't imagine myself in skirts," Carter said, although she did look a little disconcerted.
"Are you sure, Carter?"
"Well, perhaps when I was a very young girl—," She turned towards Jack. "All little girls go through that phase, sir. Mine lasted a week."
"A whole week?" Daniel said.
"Didn't you ever imagine yourself as a knight, Daniel?"
"For a long time," Daniel said. "I imagined myself as a giant."
Jack raised his eyebrows. "A giant, Daniel?"
"So I could catch the stone that crushed my parents."
The scenery rippled and shifted. Jack found himself staring up at a large square stone, an unfamiliar pressure on his nose. He took the glasses off and looked at them. "Sir!" Carter said. Carter was beside him, dressed in a green jacket with a scarf on her head. He looked up. The stone was falling! He threw Carter and himself to one side—
A huge hand came out of nowhere and pushed the stone up in mid-air. He and Carter were staring up at a giant Daniel, who was staring down at them in shock.
"What is going on here?" Jack demanded.
"I believe," Carter said, "that we were just stand-ins for Daniel's parents."
"Yes, Carter, I got that," Jack groused. "But how?" He felt the linoleum floor. "This feels real."
"But it can't be," Carter said.
"I concur," Teal'c said. He was standing to one side, a clipboard in his hand.
"I don't understand it, either," Daniel boomed down at them.
Jack had a glimmering of an idea. "Teal'c," he said. "Think of a fantasy."
"I do not have fantasies, O'Neill."
"If you had no fantasies," Jack said, pushing the glasses back up, "then you wouldn't be with us. You'd still be a loyal subject of Apophis."
The scene shifted. The four of them were all Jaffa warriors. Jack looked at Daniel. "Don't look now," he said, "but you seem to have a gold tattoo on your forehead."
"So do you." Jack clapped a hand to his face. There was a raised design up there.
"Me, too," Carter said. They looked around. In front of them were images of the surviving system lords, trussed up.
"Yes," Jack said. "I would say that this is Teal'c's fantasy."
"And yours, sir?" Carter said.
The scene shifted. They were all on couches, beer beside each of them, in front of a TV, watching a hockey game.
"Jack," Daniel said. "You already live this one."
"Not often enough," Jack groused. "About all we've been doing lately is going on missions and fighting Goa'uld." He looked around. "But what I'd like to know is what's going on here?"
"I think I'm asleep, sir," Carter said. She took a sip of beer.
"Do you usually think you're asleep when you're asleep?"
"Huh?" Daniel said. "You're in my dream, aren't you?"
"I don't think so, Daniel," Jack said.
"Neither do I, Daniel Jackson," Teal'c said. "I would never dream anything like this."
"Which means," Carter said, "that this is either reality or a shared hallucination."
Jack pointed at her. "Exactly," he said. "How? Why are we living in each other's fantasies? We're in a cell, remember?" He looked around again. "Unless this is a holosuite."
"That's only on Star Trek," Daniel said.
The scene shifted, and they found themselves on the bridge. Daniel was the communications officer, Carter sat to Jack's right as the science officer, and Teal'c stood at Jack's back—and seemed to be a Klingon.
"Jack!" Daniel said. "Stop that."
"We're being manipulated," Jack said.
"Well, the Hafter did say," Daniel mused, "that there was also some sort of test. I assumed it meant our willingness to be locked into a cell. But he did say something about seeing what our reactions would be …" He fell silent.
"This is a test to see our reactions?" Jack said. He looked around at the Enterprise Bridge. "This is a hell of a test."
"I wasn't sure whether I had understood him right," Daniel said. "So I didn't say anything about that part."
"Daniel," Jack said. "You know better than that."
"Apparently not," Daniel said. He looked down. "Why am I wearing a red shirt?"
"Most likely to be killed on a mission," Jack said.
"Gee, thanks, Jack," Daniel said.
"But how are they doing this?" Carter said, looking around. "If I were to guess, I would have said they were technologically at the end of the nineteenth century."
"Perhaps," Daniel said, "all this is just in our minds."
"Again?" Jack said.
"He's right," Carter said. "Think about it. Didn't that cell seem exceptionally damp?"
"Well, yeah," Jack said, screwing up his face. "But it was a cell, for God's sake."
"What better way to administer a drug than through the air in an enclosed space?"
"The test," Daniel said. "This is the test."
Jack turned around in his captain's chair. "Why," he said, "do we have to be tested everyplace? Why in the world don't some of these people take us at face value? We're the good guys!"
"We go in wearing guns. We come with—no offense, Teal'c—our very own Jaffa. I wouldn't trust me, either."
"We can't go in defenseless."
"I agree," Daniel said. "But look at it from their point of view."
"Well," Jack said. "I wish somebody would just ask us some days without these tests."
"The only time they haven't, sir," Carter said, "is when they've held the bigger guns."
"Well," Jack sighed—then he looked around again. "What happens if we're in LaLaland if somebody attacks?"
"The Hafter said that the Goa'uld haven't been here in a century," Daniel shrugged, "so I don't think we need to worry about that."
Carter was pushing buttons experimentally. "Carter, you know this is an illusion, don't you?" Jack said.
"Well," Carter said. "You never know."
The screen lit up. On the screen was Balok, in his puppet guise. "You know," Jack said. "I never figured out why Kirk thought that puppet was real."
"I am Retfa of the Hafter."
"Okay," Jack said. "This is new. Balok never said that."
Balok—Retfa—looked at each of them in turn. "You are right. We were running a test on you—which you have already passed, by the way."
"I'm pleased," Jack said with irony, "that we pass muster." He looked down at the yellow shirt. "Now how about stopping this already?"
The puppet stared blankly, and Jack had the feeling that if it could actually show emotion, it would be biting his lip. "That is the problem. The drug we administered was only to relax you into sharing stories you might not normally share in front of strangers. Not precisely a truth drug, but close."
"Yeah?" Jack said.
"It seems that you all have had an idiosyncratic reaction to our testing drug."
"You think?" Jack said. "And, more important, you drugged us without our permission? Do you do this to all of your trading partners?"
"No," Retfa said. "Just those who bring Jaffa." He closed his eyes. "I'm sorry. Our usual airborne antagonist is not working. We're having trouble nullifying the drug's effects."
"No, kidding." Jack looked around. "Well, you had better figure it out. We can't stay like this. Right now, I'm on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise."
"What?" Retfa said. "Is that one of your …"
"It's fictional," Carter said. She looked down at her skirt. "Thankfully." She pressed her legs together.
"Our government would not be pleased to have us out of action," Daniel said, "so while I understand that mistakes happen, we can't stay like this. After all, we can't fight the Goa'uld from a dream world."
"How are you connecting our minds?" Jack said.
"Your minds are connected?" Jack thought that if a puppet could look startled, this one would. "We didn't. You did that on your own."
"Then how are you talking to us?" Daniel said.
"I think," Retfa said slowly, "that you are imagining me in your illusion. I am in the cell with you, with one of our doctors." Suddenly, the Balok puppet was joined by a small person who looked like Clint Howard.
"Oh. Then why are we having a shared illusion?" Daniel said.
"We do not know," Retfa said. "Are you sure you're having a shared illusion?"
"Yes," Carter said. "We are." She looked down at her short blue mini-dress. "There is no way I'd be caught dead in this outfit."
"Are you saying you're less efficient in a mini-skirt, Carter?" Jack asked.
"No, sir," Carter said. "But these skirts are hardly practical for camping out in the wilderness or protecting me from a Goa'uld attack."
Jack inclined his head. "You have a point." He turned his attention back to Retfa. "Look, I suggest that you 'fess up to what you've done and talk to our commander. Have her send over the Doc. Fraiser."
"But," Retfa said, "we don't know your address."
"Did you see the device that we brought through the gate with us?" Daniel asked.
Jack looked at his watch. "In about ten minutes, the gate will open. When that happens, you need to have the radios you took."
"Those boxy things?"
"Yeah," Jack said.
"They are like your communication devices," Daniel said, "but not wired to the wall. Anyway, they'll start talking. Press the big button on the side to talk back."
"We will." Retfa looked to one side and nodded. "In fact, we'll have the radios brought to you."
"Wait a minute," Jack said. "Why can we understand you now?"
"Oh," Retfa said, "that was part of our test. We've found that only the Goa'uld understand our native language."
Daniel looked rueful. "Another reason for you to test us. I never thought to mention this before—have you ever heard of the Tau'ri?"
Retfa stared at Daniel. "Are you saying you are Tau'ri? You're from the lands from which we were taken?"
"Would that have made a difference?" Jack said.
"No." Retfa said. "We've been burned too many times." He sighed. "It's been many, many years, but we have a long memory." He turned away. "Excuse me a minute."
Since this is your imagination, can we at least talk to someone besides a Balok puppet?"
"Would you rather have Khan?"
Carter made a noise.
"Yes, Carter, I know what you think about Ricardo Montalban's chest."
Suddenly, Jack felt dizzy, and the illusion faded out slightly. He looked around to see if anyone else was affected. Carter looked as if she were gripping his chair. Daniel was holding his head. Even Teal'c was frowning.
"I think, sir, that …" Carter suddenly slumped over and faded out.
"I'm not much better … I'm passing …" Daniel closed his eyes and faded.
"Oh, crap," Jack said. "Something's going …" The last thing he remembered was Teal'c looking at him while everything went black.
He woke up to find himself looking at the ceiling of the cell—no, the Enterprise sickbay. "What am I still doing here?" he wondered out loud, closing his eyes.
"Oh, good," Fraiser said. "How are you feeling, Colonel?"
"Like two freight trains colliding with my head in the middle. How did you think I feel?"
She sat at the edge of the bed. Or was it a cot? "You were given a very psychotropic drug, somewhat similar to LSD," she said. "You're having a hangover. The drug is still not quite out of your system, so you still might be seeing things."
"Do you mean that we didn't have to send for you?" Carter said.
Jack glanced over at her. She was still in the blue miniskirt, but at least she and the rest of the team were awake and on their own biobeds … cots.
"Oh, no," Beverly … no, Janet! said. He closed his eyes and opened them again. Not only was he seeing Janet as another doctor, he was mixing up his Treks. "I'm glad he did. I was able to advise the doctors here on your treatment. Why, however, it was linking you all in the same illusion is another matter."
"Any good team has to read each other's minds," Jack said. He looked down. He was still in Command Gold.
"Not like this," Janet said.
Dear God, now Janet looked like Dr. McCoy. He shivered.
"Are you all right?"
"Just some leftover hallucinations," Jack said.
They heard a commotion outside. Janet got up and went to the turbo lift. Jack wondered, briefly, if they were still in their original cell. "What's going on?"
"Jaffa!" said a voice. "And a Goa'uld!"
Jack sat up, his adrenalin pumping. "We have to get out there!"
Janet pushed him back down. "Not in this condition, you're not."
Teal'c sat up. "Indeed. I do not believe that they can stop us, O'Neill."
"But," Janet said. "What if your hallucination causes you to see an innocent as a bad guy?"
"She's right, sir," Carter said. "I don't think I could live with myself if I shot a child."
More noise outside. "Doc," Jack said. "I'm not sure we're going to have much of a choice." He grabbed his gun and pointed it at the door. "So I'm going to trust you to tell me if what comes in the door next is friend or foe."
Janet chewed her lip. "I guess that would work." The door burst open. "Foe," she said quietly.
Jack looked. In the doorway were Klingons, and they had native hostages. And they were not the old style smooth forehead Klingons, but the ones with the forehead ridges. One of the Klingons was holding Retfa. Lurking behind them was a Romulan who looked vaguely familiar.
"Okay," Jack muttered and lowered his gun. "That's not right. Klingons and Romulans working together."
"Ba'al," Janet said lowly.
"O'Neill," the Romulan said smoothly. "How—interesting to see you here on one of my planets."
"Ba'al," Jack said. "You were in the neighborhood and decided to drop by? How friendly of you."
"Jack," Daniel said. "Why does he look like Nils Baris?"
Jack looked again. The Romulan did look like Nils Baris – with pointed ears. "Really?" Jack drawled. "I was working on Arne Darvin."
Carter looked over at the two. Teal'c managed to looked dignified, but confused, and Jack glanced at him, bemused, wondering how he did that. "So why are you here after all of these years?"
Ba'al waved the comment away. "I am the god of this world."
Jack looked over at Retfa. "It doesn't seem like he knows who you are."
Retfa looked at Ba'al. "Our legends tell us that the Gods brought us to this world. One of them was called 'Poppy.' He and his Ball."
Jack barked a laugh. "Poppy and his ball." He looked over at Ba'al. "Yeah, I can see that. So you and your buddy Apophis brought them here?"
Ba'al ignored that. "Well, I was here to check on my territory. But now that I found you here, I believe I'm going to bring you back as my guest."
"Oh, I've seen your hospitality," Jack said. "I don't think so." He stood up and Ba'al's guards straightened up.
"Colonel," Janet said. "I don't think you should …"
"What?" Jack said. "It's not exactly like I can throw tribbles at him." So, he thought, they were connected, huh? He tried to project his thoughts. Campers, he thought. Can you hear me?
Like one, the other three nodded.
Bizarre, Daniel thought.
Don't know how long this is going to last, so listen up. Here's what we're gonna do …
In the back of Jack's mind, he wondered why the inhabitants of this world didn't shoot Ba'al when they first saw him. On the other hand, they had let his team walk right into town without challenging them. Of course, maybe they figured that their apparent lack of technology would keep any invaders away. And they obviously hadn't seen any Goa'uld in centuries.
Ba'al smiled. "How, exactly, are you going to stop us?"
"Oh," Jack said. "Just like this." Now!
Daniel threw himself behind the two guards on his hands and knees. Teal'c whipped both arms forward and pushed the two guards in the middle of their chests, startling them into releasing their hostages and throwing them off balance and over Daniel's back. Ba'al, distracted momentarily, took his attention off of Jack, and Jack threw an uppercut while Carter jammed her foot sideways into Ba'al's knee. Then Teal'c and Carter grabbed the guard's staff weapons, arming them and pointing them at the guards and Ba'al.
Janet blinked. "Are you sure you're still under the influence of those drugs?"
Jack looked at her. She had turned into Christine Chapel, but suddenly, as he looked, he could see flashes of Janet. "Yes and no."
"This is only a stalemate, O'Neill," Ba'al growled.
"I'm thinking," Jack said, "that these two guards are the only ones you brought with you."
Ba'al remained silent.
"Retfa," Jack said. "This is Ba'al. Now, this is a Goa'uld." He looked around at his team, who were, reassuringly, appearing in their usual green uniforms. "We are not Goa'uld. Memorize the Goa'uld. Note the funny outfits?"
Retfa, no longer "Balok" but a mousy looking man with a sharp nose, looked abashed. "I see that."
"Let's get rid of this vermin for you," he pointed at Ba'al, and Carter and Teal'c raised their staff weapons.
Ba'al made a sudden gesture, and his personal force field came up. "O'Neill …"
"I see," Jack said. "Well, since we don't want peripheral damage, let's just walk you out of town and through the Stargate."
Janet said. "I wouldn't recommend you go very far …"
"Doc, the drugs have worn off," Jack assured her.
She looked at Daniel, and he nodded.
She rolled her eyes. "Fine. But I'm following you."
"Colonel," Retfa said.
"May we talk after you …?" he gestured at Ba'al.
"That's why we're here," Daniel said. "In fact, how about if I stay here with you?" He looked at Jack. Jack nodded, then hesitated. Can you still hear me, Daniel?
Barely. Daniel nodded.
You and I are going to have words when we get back to Stargate Command.
What did I do?
Why in the world do we always have to do what the natives tell us?
Because we're the good guys and we want to gain their trust? Daniel's thoughts faded out.
"He's got you there, sir," Carter said out loud.
"Did I just miss something?" Janet asked.
The team laughed.