SPOILERS: 'Children of the Gods', 'The Hammer of Thor', 'Cold Lazarus', 'Hathor', 'There But For The Grace Of God', 'In The Line Of Duty', 'Need', 'Thor's Chariot', 'Seth', 'Point of View', 'Pretense', 'Forever In A Day', 'Foothold', 'Divide and Conquer', 'Entity', 'Exodus', 'Enemies', 'Threshold', 'Ascension', 'Beast Of Burden', 'Proving Ground', 'The Warrior', 'Menace'.
SUMMARY: Sometimes it's all you can do to save yourself.
The young man pressed himself deeper into the alcove as the guards stomped by.
In his chest, his heart beat in time with their marching footsteps, each step one closer to his re-capture.
He always knew his escape would be noticed sooner or later, but he'd hoped he would have time to get to the Chappa'ai.
His mouth twisted as he waited for the squad to pass..
All this effort for a single slave?
But then, it wasn't what they sought, but who they sought.
Once the Jaffa were gone down the corridor, he followed behind them on bare feet. The halls of the palace were frenetic with activity. It would be better to find somewhere to 'lay low' as O'Neill would say.
As O'Neill would have said.
Slipping into a doorway, he activated the door panel and the panels opened with a soft hiss. In the room, odd shapes loomed in the semi-darkness, but nothing moved. His ears told him that another brace of guards were on their way down the hall and he stepped inside the room and pressed the controls to shut the door.
A glance around showed no sign of life and as his eyes adjusted to the dim lighting, he saw that the looming shapes were strange objects and clumps of metal and wire. Artifacts.
The sound of a voice giving orders close by the door prompted him to find some place to hide. Somewhere that he could hide away until they gave up pursuit. Then, maybe he could make his way to the Chappa'ai and go home – if there was still a home to go to.
The air was stale; this room had not been used in many seasons and he placed his feet with care, trying to avoid stirring up the dust. Around him, the artifacts sat squat on their benches and as he looked around, the young man's heart ached. His brother would have loved this room, filled with such treasures of the mind.
His brother was dead.
He turned down an aisle and glimpsed a tall dark object, large enough to provide him with a hiding place in its shadow.
It was larger than a standing man and made of a blue-grey stone or metal. What it was, he had no idea, for the recessed centre appeared to be made of the same material as the raised frame. He stepped into a coil of wire lying nearby to look behind it. Yes. He could hide here. It was dusty, but he had lived on a planet of sand all his life and dust was no stranger to him.
"Right," drawled a voice from just outside the door. "The slave was last seen in these corridors. We're to bring him back to Lord Klor'el unharmed." Terror gripped his heart. If the First Prime had been sent after him, then his chances of reaching the Chappa'ai became even more unlikely.
Turning back to the object, his ankle caught in the loops of wire and he stumbled, losing his balance. Grabbing for any purchase, his fingers latched onto something and he grasped it desperately, only to have it come loose in his hands.
Behind him something crackled and he stumbled back, extracting his foot from the wire and falling against the artifact.
Strangely, the artifact wasn't there.
He was aware of a buzzing noise in his ears as he landed on the cold stone of a floor. Breath whooshed out of his lungs and the thing he grabbed tumbled out of his hands and clattered off to one side. He groped after it, aware he must not make any more noise than necessary...and a pair of booted feet stepped into his vision.
It was then he realised that the lights were brighter and the room around him was empty of objects, but filled with people. Dizzy with the change, he blinked up at the person who stood beside him and was vaguely aware of the click-clicking sounds of guns being primed.
The Goa'uld do not have guns...
That thought was lost as the man beside him spoke, disbelief in his voice, "Ska'ara?"
He scrambled back, looking up at the face of the First Prime of Apophis.
They would take him back to Klor'el, who would extract punishment on his personal slave for daring to attempt escape from his god again.
"Dha vahitha me Klor'el shak tol nar kas, Jack!" he pleaded in the Goa'uld tongue, begging for leniency in punishment. Klor'el would be ruthless, but from the man who had once been his friend there might be a little mercy. Enough remained of O'Neill to grant that much. "Dha me shak!"
"Ska'ara, what the hell are you..."
"Careful, sir," a woman spoke from one side, "He came through the mirror and may still be carrying Klor'el..." Ska'ara turned to look at the speaker.
There was no mistaking the blue eyes and blonde hair of the woman who came through the Chappa'ai with O'Neill so long ago. Yet her clothing was not the rich silks and linens Ska'ara was accustomed to seeing her in, but the plain material she wore when she first arrived on Abydos; and the voice she used was human.
A man stepped out from behind her and Ska'ara caught his breath.
How long had it been since he saw his brother like this?
What has happened to me?
"Jack...I think you'd better step back."
"He knows me, Daniel. He spoke my name."
"Yes, but he just begged you not to punish him for escaping."
His head spun from trying to sort it out. Then another man entered the conversation.
"O'Neill," The deep voice shuddered through him. "I believe this young man is a slave in the palace of Apophis."
It made no sense.
The man who spoke was dead.
Tired, bewildered and unnerved, Ska'ara of Abydos gave in to unconsciousness.
Daniel scribbled aimlessly on the pad before him, his mind ticking over the issue of his brother-in-law...the man whose counterpart was his brother-in-law in this reality. The unkempt state of Ska'ara, his reaction to Jack and his panicked arrival through the mirror all pointed to a much darker universe than the one Daniel inhabited.
The archaeologist wondered if there were any universes where they had actually managed to beat back the Goa'uld in some way or another or if Dr. Samantha Carter had been right when she said only a handful of alternate realities hadn't been taken over by the Goa'uld. And that had been over two years ago – in two years, how many more realities had succumbed in the fight against the Goa'uld?
It was terrifying to think they walked such a fine line between success and failure and that the road only grew thinner as time went on.
He dragged his attention back to the woman speaking on the other side of the table.
"...don't have any medical data on the system about Ska'ara of Abydos, but the young man who came through the mirror is not a Goa'uld, nor has ever been possessed by one." Dr. Janet Fraiser spoke with her customary assurance about medical matters. "His MRI came up clean and his blood lacks the protein marker and naquadah of a past host. During our examination, he woke and seemed terrified of what we were doing to him." She folded her hands on the table, lips pressed thinly together in anger as she told them of the young man's injuries. "He's got healed scars up and down his back from whippings and beatings and he's severely malnourished. He'd probably be in severe trauma if SG-2 hadn't turned up in the infirmary for their post-gate. Major Ferretti recognised him and came over and chatted with him. Once Ska'ara understood he was in the SGC, it was much easier to work with him."
"So Teal'c is right," Sam said, looking from Teal'c to the Doctor, "He's probably a slave to the Goa'uld of his reality."
"He knew me, though!" Jack declared, hands folded over his chest.
"Well, yes, he did. But I don't think that's necessarily a good thing, Jack." Daniel pushed his glasses back up his nose and regarded his satisfied friend. "He was pleading for you not to punish him for running away. For all we know you might be a Goa'uld in his reality. He mentioned Klor'el – it's possible that Klor'el chose you for his host instead of Ska'ara."
That took the complacent look from Jack's face.
"Rather than speculate, I have asked Major Ferretti to accompany Ska'ara up here. They should be arriving fairly soon. In the meantime, the question of what to do with the young man arises." General Hammond looked to Sam. "Major Carter, am I to understand that since our Ska'ara is alive and well with his father on Abydos, this Ska'ara will soon be experiencing the same phenomenon as Dr. Carter did when she and Major Kawalsky came through the mirror?"
"Yes, sir. Entropic cascade failure." She was willing to leave the explanation there. Jack was not.
"Remind me how that goes again, Carter?"
Sam was evidently in a mood to tug her CO's intellectual leash a little.
"Sir, an individual's biogenetic signature has a certain rate of decay – or entropy – to keep it in synchronisation with the resonance of their universe. When a second, identical biogenetic signature appears in the same universe, it increases the entropy, throwing the resonance off. Temporal physics dictates that the entropy must be brought back in synchronisation or else the universe itself will be torn apart. The way the universe compensates is to phase or cascade the newer signature on a cellular level until the decay rate is once again in resonant balance. This results in the gradual cellular destruction of the second individual."
Okay, so maybe she was tugging everyone's intellectual leash. Daniel had to think that one through a second time and wasn't entirely sure he understood it.
Teal'c's expression was distinctly amused as he looked at Jack, eyebrow raised.
Jack's expression showed he hadn't understood a word Sam had said. But, being Jack, he had a reply: "That makes sense."
"Ska'ara's enslaved to the Goa'uld in his world. We can't send him back." Daniel pointed out.
Footsteps sounded on the stairs leading up from the control room to the briefing room and Ska'ara reached the top of the stairs with Ferretti one step behind him. The young man looked tense, swallowing once as he looked from Jack to Sam to Daniel and then to Teal'c.
"Hey, Ska'ara," Jack drawled with his lazy smile. "Good to see you."
"O...O'Neill," the young man's back noticeably straightened and his chin lifted. "It has been a long time since..." He hesitated, unsure of how to end his sentence.
"...since Klor'el took him?" Daniel offered and earned a glare from Jack.
The young man looked at him with sad eyes, "No, Dan'yel," he said quietly. "Since Klor'el took you."
Daniel blinked. Now that he had not expected at all. From the stunned expressions around the table – and the amused one on Jack's face – they had not expected that either.
"Ska'ara," the General took the initiative. "I am Major General Hammond, commander of the SGC. I understand that you know Colonel O'Neill and Dr. Daniel Jackson, already."
"Yes." The dark eyes rested on each face briefly before returning to the General.
"These are Doctor Janet Fraiser, Major Samantha Carter and the Jaffa Teal'c. Teal'c is a friend in this place. He once served Apophis, but has since changed allegiances."
Another nod from the Abydonian.
"And you've met Major Ferretti. Ska'ara, Major, have a seat." The general indicated the empty chairs down the briefing room table and the two sat. Daniel noted that Ferretti took the seat closer to the General, subtly placing himself between the young man and the rest of the people.
Once they were seated, Sam turned to look at Ska'ara. "Ska'ara, did Major Ferretti explain to you about parallel realities?"
"Do you understand how we are not the people that you know in your world? How Daniel is not Klor'el here?"
"I do not understand it," Ska'ara replied. "But I see how things are different here."
"Ska'ara," Daniel began, "in this reality, Klor'el took your counterpart – the Ska'ara of our reality, as his host. What other things are different here? You recognised Jack to the point of saying his name – but you asked him not to punish you."
"O'Neill..." Ska'ara looked at Jack, "O'Neill is the First Prime of Apophis. He was sent to re-capture me after I escaped from Klor'el's service."
"I'm the First Prime to the snake-head? Aw, jeeze..."
"What happened to Teal'c?" Sam asked. "Isn't Teal'c the First Prime of Apophis anymore?"
"The previous First Prime of Apophis died a year ago in an assault against the armies of Hathor. O'Neill was raised to the position of First Prime in his place."
"Peachy. Hey, how'd I end up as a Jaffa anyway? Don't you have to be loyal to the Goa'uld or something?"
"Teal'c was made to believe he was still in the service of Apophis after the evacuation from Vorash, sir. It's possible that Apophis used the same technology or drugs on you."
"But First Prime?"
It took two attempts before Daniel managed to get out the question he wanted to ask: "What about Sha're? Did Ammonet take her as her host?"
He saw his team-mates' expressions of concern and steadfastly ignored them. He'd had one year with his wife on Abydos before she was taken from him. He spent two more years searching the galaxy to find her, only to see her die. In both the other realities they'd seen, he'd never even met Sha're – never known her, never loved her. That Ska'ara recognised him boded well for his alternative self. He'd been to Abydos and at least met his wife. Now he wanted to know if she'd been taken by the Goa'uld in this alternate universe as well.
"Ammonet? No. Sha're serves Ammonet as I serve Klor'el." The young man glanced nervously at Sam. "Where I come from, you are Apophis' queen."
Oh boy. Daniel watched his team-mate go white, then red, but even as he reached out to touch her arm, she'd moved her mind past her alternate self's fate.
"Apophis must have come through the Abydos gate earlier than he did in our reality!" It looked like she'd already worked through the ramifications of Ska'ara's statement. "He must have caught us at dinner with the Abydonians and taken me instead of Sha're."
"No. Apophis took my sister also, but Ammonet chose you as host." Ska'ara corrected her. "They took Dan'yel, my brother, for Klor'el and we could do nothing. Then, before the Jaffa began killing the people in the cells, we were taken away at the order of Ammonet – my sister, myself and O'Neill. They made Sha're and I slaves, but O'Neill was taken from us." He stared down at the table, "That was many seasons ago. I was made a slave in the service of Klor'el and Sha're serves Ammonet as lotar."
"A trusted slave?"
Ska'ara looked up at Daniel, "She will not rebel while Klor'el possesses her husband. Ammonet knows this and uses it against her, for Klor'el is the heir of her mate."
"Yeah, we kinda know that already," Jack remarked. "Look, I hate to be the one to break up the 'let's catch up on our alternate selves' session, but Ska'ara's a bit limited on time here."
Sam turned to the young Abydonian, "Ska'ara, your counterpart in this reality is still alive. We've had experience with alternate universes before and when two versions of the same person are present in a reality, one of them will develop a condition known as 'entropic cascade failure'..."
"He doesn't need to know the condition, Carter." Jack interrupted, leaning forward, "Look, Ska'ara, because of some weird quantum physics thingummy you can't stay here because you'll eventually...tear apart. Something to do with the laws of physics...or metaphysics. You don't need to know the details. I don't need to know the details." He shot Sam a reproving glance and she returned the stare, more amused than annoyed. "Basically, we can't keep you here much as we'd love to – it'd kill you. But we're not gonna just send you back to slavery. We'll work something out." He turned to his CO, "Right, General?"
"As far as it is within our power to do so, Ska'ara, you have our help."
"Thank-you, O'Neill, General Hammond." Daniel watched the almost gracious inclination of the head and thought wistfully of the rapscallion boy who had been his brother-in-law on Abydos: laughing and cheerful, undeterred by anything the desert world could throw at him. Then Apophis came and Ska'ara's life had changed – in more than one reality.
"So, people, what are our options – Ska'ara's options?" Jack corrected himself, leaning back in his chair.
"Where were you trying to get to when you came through the mirror?"
"I thought I could reach the Chappa'ai and go home," the young man told them, huskily. "It has been many years since I have seen my father."
Ferretti spoke up: "Could we take him back through the mirror and get him to Abydos?"
"I don't think that's a good idea. We might get him back to Abydos, but he wouldn't be there long," Daniel pointed out grimly. "Klor'el would expect him to make a run for Abydos and that would be the first place they'd go looking for him."
"Earth?" Jack said. "We've got the GDO codes and even if we're not there; General Hammond should still be operating the SGC."
"Wait a minute, sir," Sam looked at Ska'ara. "Ska'ara, didn't you say that Teal'c was killed in a battle against Hathor's armies?"
"Yes. She attempted to take one of Apophis' worlds and defeated his armies in battle."
Sam looked from Ska'ara to the General, after another glance at her CO: "Sir, if Hathor is a player in the Goa'uld hierarchy, then she must have managed to take over Earth after she was discovered in the Mayan temple. Got control of the Stargate, found someone to...breed with and..."
"Okay, Carter, we get the picture." Jack looked sick and Daniel understood the feeling his friend was going through precisely. The incident with Hathor still had the ability to turn his stomach. It had been a close situation and only the actions of Sam and the other women at the SGC had stopped Earth from becoming Hathor's breeding ground. "I guess Earth's out, then."
"The Tok'ra took Ska'ara in among them after Klor'el was extracted from him." Teal'c's statement was a suggestion in and of itself.
"They'd be pretty hard to find in that other reality, Teal'c. And even if we could find them, they'd probably be suspicious of us. We'd be known to them as Goa'uld – or Goa'uld sympathisers."
"Our little grey buddies the Asgard?"
"Well, we still have the co-ordinates for the Asgard home world, but we don't have the booster device anymore," Daniel reminded his friend, "We used it to help Dr. Carter and Major Kawalsky when they came through the mirror."
"And both device and co-ordinates are useless if we don't have the Earth Stargate and it's computers," Sam pointed out.
"Colonel O'Neill." The stern tone of General Hammond's voice drew all eyes to him as he looked at his 2IC. "Ska'ara has a limited amount of time and much as I would like to help, I will not authorise any mission back through the mirror that does not stand a reasonable chance of succeeding. The last mission through the mirror was prompted by Dr. Jackson's comment that we owed another reality this help. I consider that debt to be paid and if we are unable to formulate a plan that is not a suicide mission, then I will have no choice but to send young Ska'ara back through the mirror to his own reality without help."
Suddenly, Jack snapped his fingers, pointing his index finger at Daniel. "Cimmeria!"
Understanding dawned in Daniel and with it came hope. "Of course!"
"Thor's Hammer would indeed provide Ska'ara with protection from the Goa'uld," Teal'c stated. "Both Goa'uld and Jaffa would end up in the labyrinth below the Stargate plateau."
Daniel caught Ska'ara's expression of blank incomprehension and tried to explain. "Ska'ara, in this reality, we have allies from other races who occasionally help us out. We're trying to work out somewhere for you to go."
He saw the dawning understanding in the dark eyes and smiled. As friend and brother-in-law, Ska'ara had been energetic, mischievous and occasionally a source of annoyance to Daniel and Sha're; but he had never been slow or stupid. Daniel made a mental note to use his next downtime to visit Kasuf and Ska'ara on Abydos – it had been a long time – nearly a year – since he saw them last. Seeing them brought up old, painful memories of Sha're, but they were still family.
"See, there are these little grey guys called the Asgard and they have this planet called Cimmeria which has protection against the Goa'uld arriving. You could go there and be safe."
"Little grey guys?" Ska'ara's expression was a study of uncertainty.
"The people of Cimmeria are human – but they worship the Asgard as gods..." Daniel trailed off at the prospect of explaining to Ska'ara how the Asgard impersonated gods in much the same way that Ra and the Goa'uld did. Maybe leave that for later. "Umm...at any rate, that's somewhere that you could go to escape the Goa'uld."
"Right, we have a destination," Jack declared. "Cimmeria, here we come."
"What about Sha're?"
Sam glanced at General Hammond's face which had darkened at the increased complexity of the situation. "Sir, Ska'ara's right. Sha're is also a slave in the service of the Goa'uld – if we can free her..."
The General looked at her as if he couldn't believe what he was hearing. "Major, this is enough of a risk as it is! I'm allowing you to accompany this young man back through the mirror and into the heart of a stronghold of Apophis to get him to a Stargate that will take him to a protected planet."
"Sir, it is a reasonable addition to the plan. A servant as trusted as a lotar would be allowed to walk freely through the corridors of the palace. It would be little extra trouble to get her through the gate to Cimmeria."
"Assuming she'll leave...ah...her husband," Daniel reminded them. It was a strange idea to talk about Sha're and 'her husband' as if Sha're's husband was someone else. Truthfully, in this Ska'ara's world, another man was Sha're's husband – Daniel's own counterpart.
"Look, why don't we put that in the mission as an optional extra, huh? If we can get a hold of Sha're on the way to the gate then we'll take her with us – otherwise she'll have to be left to her own devices." Jack held up a hand, "Daniel, don't argue with me."
"I didn't say a word, Jack."
"You were about to." Jack glared at him. "Right. So we take Ska'ara back through the mirror, get him to the 'gateroom' in the snake-head's house and send him through to Cimmeria. If we can somehow pick Sha're up along the way, then that's a bonus." He tilted his head as he looked to his CO. "Do we have a go on this mission, sir?"
"You have a go, Colonel."
End of Part One