CHAPTER SIX: OLD FRIENDS
As Colonel O'Neill stormed out of her lab, Sam stood, momentarily frozen in place by his caustic attack. She watched the malignant data flash across the screen. Absentmindedly, she shifted a few of the data tracks, and set it to rerun.
What on earth had gotten into the Colonel? He had attacked her when she had just been trying to help. He had made outrageous claims, outrageous statements. She thought back guiltily to her reaction to his use of her computer.
Yet surely, she had been justified?
He had, after all, been playing with a multi-million dollar piece of equipment. If he had broken it, he wouldn't have been able to laugh it off with one of his little jokes about her doohickeys.
All the same, perhaps she could have handled it better. After all, the Colonel had been badly injured on this last mission, and was still recovering.
Still, for a battle-hardened SF like him to suddenly claim computing and physics skills after years of getting even the most basic things wrong, and phasing out whenever she attempted to explain science - he was clearly seriously disturbed. He needed help.
Shaking herself into action, Sam dashed out into the hallway to chase after the man. She saw him get into the lift, and raced to catch up. As she reached the elevator, though, the doors closed smoothly, but inexorably, in her face.
Sam stood for a moment, catching her breath, and trying to decide what to do.
Colonel O'Neill rarely lost his temper, almost never lost control. He was the most self-disciplined person she knew. But when he blew, he could be extremely dangerous - to both himself and others.
All the same, to call for outside help would be overkill, she thought, even if he had left the base precipitously. After all, he hadn't attacked her physically. Even if it had looked like he felt like doing her harm.
That last mission must really have tipped him over the edge for him to go off like that, she realized. She wondered how Janet had missed the signs. How they had all missed them.
Daniel looked up as Sam came dashing, breathless into his office, grabbed his arm, and literally dragged him with her towards the elevator.
"Come on, we have to hurry. It's the Colonel - he's really lost it this time," she told Daniel. "I caught him playing with my equipment, trying to run some stuff for one of his NORAD friends I think."
"Well, Sam, he has been known to understand your dissertations on occasion," Daniel replied. "Even if he pretends otherwise. "Are you sure he didn't know what he was doing?"
"Daniel! Don't be ridiculous. This is expensive, sensitive equipment we are talking about. You know what the Colonel is like with my 'doohickeys'. Besides, when I offered to do the work for him, he really ripped into me - claimed it was all his own idea, he was fully qualified to do it."
"So what did he mean by 'qualified' Sam," Daniel asked. "Is he claiming to have miraculously acquired a doctorate overnight?" He giggled. "It's pretty hard to imagine Jack knuckling down long enough to do any graduate work unless it was in Playstation Studies. Still, perhaps he has been holding out on us?"
"This is serious, Daniel," she replied. "When we were talking he got that scary look in his eye – you know, like I was a Goa'uld that had just threatened his team. I really thought he was about to attack me before he stormed out."
Daniel sobered abruptly.
"You know the Colonel has been pretty quiet ever since he came back from Thor's ship," Sam went on. "I'm worried about him. I mean one moment he can't keep the names of the planets we visit straight, muddles up any scientific terms I use, and switches off whenever I try and explain anything scientific properly. The next moment the person who calls neutrinos Nintendos is claiming to know how to use highly specialized equipment. He's just not himself at the moment."
Sam was right, Daniel realized. The Colonel had had a tough run, and he had been too quiet of late. Maybe he did need some help to cope with everything that had happened to him.
"If we hurry we should still be able to catch him," Sam continued. "His injuries were pretty serious, and we don't really know much about what happened to him - he really shouldn't be out there in this state of mind."
Daniel followed her obediently, even as his mind raced. When they reached the top, however, it was too late. Jack's truck had already taken off, leaving a trail of dust behind him.
"Oops," Daniel said. "Looks like you were right to be concerned, Sam."
Sam stared at her car in disbelief. It sagged next to the spot where the Colonel's truck had been parked, listing visibly with a punctured tire. How could the Colonel do something like this? The situation was looking worse and worse. She swung around to face Daniel, who shrugged.
"It's no use looking at me," Daniel said. "Janet gave me a ride in yesterday, my car's in for repairs."
Sam looked around in desperation. Then she spotted the base bus. It had already started moving. Quickly, she dashed over towards the road to cut it off, and started waving it down. Her uniform did the trick - it stopped to let them on.
Daniel and Sam climbed into the battered Air Force bus, and she started looking around, frazzled, for an empty seat for the ride to town.
As they walked down the narrow aisle, she watched the stiffening figures - it was unusual for a senior officer, in uniform, to take the bus, she guessed. A row of eyes seemed to follow them both as they walked self-consciously down the aisle of the bus.
As the two officers entered the bus, Methos - no, be Lieutenant Adams, he reminded himself - considered what to do. He was cornered.
"Jaffa, Kree!" the familiar looking man muttered. Methos froze, and glared at the man defiantly, though what he saw rose up from another era. He pulled himself back to the present though, and quickly realized that the command was completely redundant. Even though they couldn't possibly understand the words, as the pair moved down the bus, the other passengers were all stiffening to a pseudo attention. Was this ironic commentary he wondered or something else?
"Daniel," the woman of the pair replied, in a warning tone, responding presumably to his muttered comment.
Methos squeezed his eyes shut for a moment, and pushed back the swirl of emotions he felt. He had already lived for more than 5,000 years. They hadn't all been good years - in fact, many of them had been years of pain and anger. Despite that, he still wanted to live. Not to be, it seemed.
But there were worse things than dying. Maybe he would live - as a Goa'uld host, forever imprisoned in his own body. He couldn't let that happen, he resolved, mentally shuddering.
I must force them to make it quick, he thought, remembering vividly just how creative the Goa'uld could be. Bring on the hemlock. No, better still - bring on Madame La Guillotine. But it was hard to see how to make it happen.
He opened his eyes again, and looked more closely at the pair. Then stared in disbelief as the face of the male of the couple triggered a cascade of memory.
The recognition was mutual, he realized, even as he schooled his face not to react. He could see Dr Daniel Jackson - archeologist and linguist - do a double take. Then Daniel's face suddenly softened.
"Adam!" Daniel said, as he and Sam settled themselves into the seats across the aisle from the young man dressed as a NORAD lieutenant. "What on earth are you doing here?"
Daniel watched as the Lieutenant pulled himself up to sit even more stiffly at attention then he had been, and gulp.
"Lieutenant Michael Adams, Sirs," he said, pointing to his name badge. "Do you know me?"
Adams, Daniel read. He frowned. "Oh," he replied, "mistaken identity I guess. You look incredibly like a colleague of mine, Dr Adam Pierson. Do you know him? Perhaps you are related?"
As Daniel watched the Lieutenant he realized it couldn't really be Adam - the American accent aside, the man had to be ten or fifteen years younger than Adam was now. And he certainly couldn't imagine the shy linguist working for the US military. Although of course, the same thing could once have been said about himself.
"I'm sorry Sir, but no," the Lieutenant replied. "I can't say I've heard of any Piersons in my family tree, but I guess you never know."
He looked somewhat affronted at the idea of a doppelganger, Daniel thought. All the same, he did relax slightly as he spoke.
As Daniel looked closer, he noticed the subtler differences - the light reddish gold hair color where Adam's had always been a dark, chocolate brown; the lean but muscled physique, where Adam had always looked thin and gaunt, draping himself in those outsized jerseys to hide himself.
He was tempted to probe further, and try and find out something of the young soldier's origins, but Sam was glaring at him, twitching impatiently.
"Sorry to bother you," Daniel said. "Just one of those weird freak similarities I guess. I could kick myself - I realize now that you couldn't be my friend - he's much older than you for a starter. It's just that you looked just like him when we first met," Daniel finished.
"Oh, and by the way, I don't rate a Sir - I'm a civilian specialist. Dr Daniel Jackson, at your service. And this is Major Samantha Carter," he added.
Daniel watched as the Lieutenant stiffened, clearly about to salute.
"As you were, Lieutenant," Sam said. "Sorry to have disturbed you," she added, her hand now on Daniel's shoulder, almost forcing him to turn back towards her.
"Ma'am," Lieutenant Adams replied, giving her a slight nod as Daniel, with an apologetic smile, gave in and turned away.
As the couple turned away from him, Methos let out a carefully controlled sigh of relief at this reprieve. As soon as he got back to his quarters, he promised himself, he was going to get thoroughly and completely drunk, and hope that alcohol would bring relaxation - and perhaps escape and enlightenment. Or at least temporary oblivion.
It seemed though, that his life was destined to get more complicated. What an extraordinary coincidence that Daniel should turn up here, able to recognize him. Still, such things had happened before, and it looked like he'd been able to bluff it out. He wondered what on earth Daniel was doing working with the military. While pretending to be politely oblivious, he listened intently to their conversation.
"Anyway, tell me more about what happened," he heard Daniel say.
"He was using my computer to do some data runs. I think he had gotten one of his NORAD friends to look for a way to detect Thor," Major Carter replied. "He was nearly there too, from what I could see, although I think he had corrupted some of the data."
As Carter spoke, Methos noticed that Daniel couldn't help throwing continuing glances at him. Not quite convinced, he realized. Bemused by the scrutiny - and the content of the conversation - he noticed his body had regained most of its earlier tension.
"When I questioned him on it, he claimed it was his own work, attacked me, and ran," he heard Carter say. "By the time I had recovered he was gone. We have to get to him." She shot a glance over her shoulder at Methos. Their eyes clashed: he had forgotten to pretend not to be listening, he realized.
"We have to help him," she added. Her voice faded to an inaudible whisper, and Methos couldn't hear any more, no matter how much he strained to do so.
Methos considered what he had heard. Was Thor just the name of some astronomical phenomena that they were studying? Or did the Major mean the Asgard Thor? The latter seemed far more likely given Daniel's knowledge of Goa'uld.
So if they were looking for Thor, were they looking for him as friend or foe?
He wondered what Daniel Jackson was doing here. It would be a terrible irony if Daniel - with his outlandish but true theories on the origins of the pyramids - had inadvertently released a Goa'uld in the course of his excavations, and unleashed it on the world. Yet the more he thought about it, the more it seemed to fit what he knew.
His hand reached up, involuntarily, to touch the skin behind his neck. He wished the buzz worked as a Goa'uld detector, as it did for immortals. Unfortunately, he knew, he would have no warning.
Methos had always assumed that the greatest threat came from the half dozen or so Goa'uld who had survived the great expulsion. For the last few millennia he had used the Watchers to keep track of the few surviving aliens that had been left on Earth, since for most intents and purposes, a Goa'uld was pretty hard to tell from a genuine immortal.
The Goa'uld weren't immortal in the same way that he was. True, the snake-like symbiote - no PARASITE, he corrected himself - did enhance the operation of the human immune system, enabling it to heal wounds and cure most diseases, at least for a time. At the cost of the host's control of their own mind and body.
Eventually though, the host wore out. Still, if the parasite picked a similar looking person, as they frequently did, it was likely to fool the Watchers, at least until the modern age of identikit photos.
And it had. The Watcher's had duly reported on a mysterious military unit that had somehow penetrated Seth's latest cult enclave. Left behind on Earth and apparently content to stay hidden from the other System Lords who had exiled him, Seth had fed on his followers, forming cult after deadly cult around the world.
Methos had seen for himself some of the victims of this latest group. He hadn't, though, seen any evidence of a dead snake. The logical explanation was that he had managed to move hosts, probably to one of the team who had penetrated his fortress. There had been a woman on the team, he remembered, giving the Major a speculative look. When Methos had read the report, and fitted it together with what he'd found about the military's UFO-related activities, he'd thought that he had all the pieces fitted together.
But now he realized there were other possible ways the Goa'uld could arise once more to threaten Earth. If a Goa'uld had access to a sarcophagus, its addictive, healing, brain destroying powers could prolong a host's life virtually indefinitely, provided they were prepared to stay in it. It meant that a Goa'uld could lie in wait on Earth, ready to emerge, even 10,000 years later - at least in theory.
So it had always been a risk that some hapless archeologist would inadvertently release a Goa'uld in the course of their excavations, and unleash them on the world. Is that what had happened he wondered?
Was Jackson himself now a Goa'uld, he thought, his skin crawling.
No, he certainly hadn't acted the part – although a Goa'uld could play a part if he had to.
The blonde Major on the other hand, seemed a much better candidate.
Methos forced himself to relax, and fixed a genial expression on his face. His hand, he realized, had been searching for the stiletto he normally wore strapped to his wrist. Unfortunately, it wasn't there; he couldn't carry it through the Mountain's security.
He started thinking through his next steps. He urgently needed more intell.
As Methos entered his quarters, he groaned. His bags were propped up in the corner, and there was a note under his door reminding him to check out with the base housing unit before vacating his quarters. Today.
In all the excitement, he'd completely forgotten that he was moving house today. Worse still, he had to be at his new apartment at 8am in order to let the movers in. He wondered whether it was worth it - he either was going to have to move quickly now, to deal with the situation or to run, before his manipulation of the data was discovered.
Still, he probably had enough time to see what the analysis of the data - the un-manipulated data that was - actually showed. He pulled out his laptop, and opened the program he had ready that enabled him to hack into NORAD's systems. He quickly pulled up the run he'd set up before he left the Space Control Center. As the results appeared on his screen, he stretched back in his chair, and stared at the ceiling.
Curiouser and curiouser he thought. For, it seemed, hidden in the heavens, a new, very large object had appeared, displacing everything in its wake. It wasn't shaped like a spaceship - or at least, not any that he was familiar with. And if its orbit was anything to judge by, it was out of control - a lot more satellites were likely to be falling out of the sky sometime soon. Judging from its random meanderings, the object had less than a week before it too, would come crashing to Earth.
He considered what to do. Fairly soon, NORAD was going to realize there was something out there, and everyone was going to spin into high alert. Once that happened, someone was going to catch onto his actions - if they hadn't already. Besides, Ferretti was out there already, checking all of the computers for any side effects from that screensaver. He probably only had another couple of days at most. He really needed to know a lot more, and fast. He was going to have to move up his timetable.