They staggered out of the Stargate like drunks out of a bar on a Saturday night and the wormhole shut down behind them.
Daniel was aware of the clatter of his boots on the ramp, but only when they hit solid cement did his stumbling gait cease. His knees gave way and he crashed to the floor. Someone collapsed next to him, her hand gripping his shoulder as she tried to slow her descent. Sam winced as she hit the floor, but apart from shifting slightly, she seemed okay – if a little shell-shocked.
Daniel knew exactly how she felt. His arm slung around her shoulder, both support and reassurance. She was warm, real; he could feel the faint quiver of tension under his arm. The glance she gave him was startled but grateful and she leaned ever so slightly into his side.
We were held prisoner by Zipacna... I saw Sarah...and Rya'c...and Jacob...
Jack spoke for them all as he sat down on legs that were distinctly unsteady. "What the hell just happened?" There was a note in the older man's voice that Daniel had never heard before. A harsh rasp that betrayed shock and fear.
Teal'c was leaning heavily on his staff weapon, alone of the four, he had managed to keep his feet – but only just. The expression on his face was no less shocked than those on the faces of his team-mates and the openness of expression was unusual to the Jaffa.
"Zipacna crushed my symbiote within me..." One large hand touched his belly cautiously. "I remember dying..." The big man shuddered.
I remember dying, too... Daniel quivered with the memory of the ribbon device boring into his brain – familiar and hated.
"I think..." Jack paused and swallowed, then continued, his voice shaking a bit. "I think we all remember dying...except..."
"Medical team to the gateroom!" The voice blared through the speakers and they looked at each other, startled by the sudden noise.
"We're not dreaming again, are we?" Sam said, her eyes betraying her uncertainty. "We are back in the SGC?"
"I believe we are." Teal'c dropped to his knees beside his team-mates. "Although I do not understand what has happened here..." His hand groped blindly for Jack's shoulder and as he gripped it, Jack's hand shot out and closed around the Jaffa's wrist.
"I'm not dreaming..." One hand raked through pepper-and-salt strands, "I'm not dreaming..." There was a dazed expression on Jack's face and he kept swallowing as if his mouth was dry.
"Sir?" Sam reached one hand out, then hesitated, but Jack caught her hand, his fingers winding into hers in a grip so fierce she winced.
"I had to..." Jack shuddered, "I watched you guys die...and then they sent me back down to a Stargate with my GDO..." He swallowed again, convulsively.
"Colonel O'Neill? SG-1?"
Their heads jerked up in unison and if Daniel hadn't been so shaken, it would have been funny.
"SG-1, where the hell have you been?"
Jack looked around at them all and as he met Daniel's gaze, Daniel shrugged. Jack looked back up at the control room and the personnel standing there staring down at them. "We...we have no idea, sir."
Janet watched her favourite SG team carefully as she followed them to the briefing room. They'd all come up clean in post-gate without a trace of anything in their blood work. The only thing they were high on was adrenaline and that was swiftly fading. As far as she could tell, they'd had a routine mission – except that she knew as well as any personnel on the base what had happened eight hours ago when they left. The wormhole intended for Abydos ended up somewhere else and SG-1 were missing – until an unscheduled wormhole had appeared and SG-1 had emerged from it, physically intact but emotionally shell-shocked.
After SG-1 had vanished, General Hammond dialled Abydos and found that only Kasuf arrived there, a little surprised to be the sole traveller from the gate. General Hammond had promised to keep him appraised of the situation.
Neither sight nor sound of the old man had been found, either on Abydos, or in the SGC.
SG-1 were more contact-oriented with each other than usual, she noted as they walked down the corridor. The Colonel – usually the most tactile of the four of them – was very physical with his team-mates. Teal'c and Daniel presented no trouble for him: the Colonel was taking every opportunity to pat or poke them, clap his hand on their shoulder or slap their hands away from something. Sam was a more problematic matter, but as he directed his team through the door, Janet saw his hand touch Sam's shoulder, guiding her into the room. She was pretty sure that he'd touched Sam in the small of her back as well, but the General walked out of the office and the Colonel dropped his hands.
More surprising than the physical tactility was the fact that his team had not yet protested the contact, indeed, as they seated themselves, they were reassuring themselves with the presence of each other in their own subtle ways. Sam and Daniel were leaning on the armrests closest to each other, their positions uncannily mirroring each other, a scant inch between their shoulders. Teal'c seemed self-contained physically, but his eyes lingered on his team-mates faces, while the Colonel now seemed almost shy, fiddling with his pen and the pad of yellow paper on the desk before him. Janet had the sudden urge to check under the table to see if he was playing footsie with anyone.
Whatever had happened to them in the eight hours since they'd gone through the wormhole, it had given them enough of a shock for them to require physical certainty of each other's presence. And whatever had happened, it had also invoked their concern about both Rya'c and Jacob. Requests had come from Sam and Teal'c for messages to be sent to the off-world members of their families and Daniel had tagged a request onto Sam's message to the Tok'ra regarding the Goa'uld Osiris – and presumably its host, Sarah Gardiner.
As she seated herself, Janet made a mental note to keep them all on base this evening. If they were going to go into post-traumatic shock she wanted them where they could receive instant medical attention.
"Colonel O'Neill, would you like to explain where you and your team have been for the last eight hours while we've been searching the galaxy for you?"
"Well, that's a bit of a problem, sir, since we don't actually know where we've been..."
The General's eyebrows rose, "Colonel?" In the tone of his voice was an invitation – or maybe an order – to detail what had happened from the moment SG-1 stepped through the wormhole.
And the Colonel did so.
One by one his team detailed what had happened to them once they'd emerged from the Stargate at the other end of the wormhole. From capture to interrogation, from interrogation to the deaths of the people they loved, to their own deaths and the Colonel's final act.
Colonel O'Neill wasn't quite shaking as he described being transported down to the planet from which he had come, but his voice was very low and slightly husky. His eyes were fixed at an invisible point on the table as he spoke and his hands were turning a pen over and over in his fingers.
"...next thing I know, I'm back in the SGC and...and the gang's all here."
There were a few still seconds when General Hammond looked completely at a loss. His gaze locked briefly with Janet's in stunned amazement.
An airman ran up the stairs with a message for the General who glanced down at it and his expression eased a little. "Good news. We've received word back from the Land of Light, Teal'c. Rya'c, Drey'ac and Bra'tac are safe, and Tuplo and his family are well. As far as they know, the situation remains the same: no Goa'uld has come to the planet in generations."
"Have we heard from the Tok'ra yet?" That was the Colonel, glancing across at his 2IC and seeing the fear in her eyes.
"While you were in post-gate, Colonel. The Tok'ra reported that they had only just received a message from Jacob – he's located the last few Tok'ra and is headed back to base." General Hammond nodded at Sam, sitting to his right. "I extended an invitation for him to visit the SGC for a few days of downtime."
"Thank-you, sir," Sam said, her shoulders relaxing slightly.
"As for the Goa'uld Osiris..." General Hammond looked down the table to Dr. Jackson. "The Tok'ra reported that as of a week ago, Osiris was headed for a distant part of space – they're trying to determine what her purpose is there."
So everyone was safe and well...sort of.
Janet made a mental note to get them into at least a couple of sessions with Mackenzie. Sure, they all loathed 'headshrinking' – as the Colonel termed it – and particularly with McKenzie, but what they'd been through would leave scars on them as surely as if it had actually happened. To all intents and purposes, they had experienced the torture, seen their loved ones die, felt themselves die...
She was surprised they were still sane.
"Has there been any sign of the Returned One?" Teal'c inquired.
"None. I sent SG-4 through to Abydos to search for the Returned One, they found no sign of him. We're did a sweep of the base with TERs in case he has the ability to become invisible – and still no sign. It's a matter of some concern since he's seen the workings of the SGC up close and then vanished..."
"General..." Daniel began.
"Daniel..." The Colonel interrupted warningly.
"He isn't a danger to us."
"And how do you know that, Daniel?"
"I just know!"
"And I 'just know' that he had something to do with what happened to us!" Reaching into the breast pocket of his shirt, Colonel O'Neill produced a small fold of paper. "I found this when I was emptying my pockets in the locker room – and I know I didn't have it in there before we left."
Janet craned her neck to glimpse the note. She saw the curlicued writing for a brief second before the Colonel passed it to General Hammond.
The General glanced over the sheet of paper Colonel O'Neill handed him and passed it to Sam who passed it to Daniel. "Dr. Jackson?"
Adjusting his glasses, Daniel peered at it, his eyebrows moving up and down as he blinked. "The style of the language is familiar...but not the language itself. I'll have to do some research to see if there's a comparable language..." He glanced up at the Colonel. "You're sure this came from San y'kel?"
"Daniel, I don't carry notes written in alien languages around in my pockets! So unless you've been passing notes in the locker room..." Daniel gave him a single exasperated glance for the levity and the Colonel lifted one shoulder in a faint shrug. "Didn't think so."
"And we have no idea how you were made to believe all this happened?"
Sam looked from Daniel to Teal'c, then across at the Colonel before she spoke. "Sir, I think we have to take it that everything we experienced on the other side of that wormhole was the result of a...a virtual-reality device. Something that enabled us to interact with each other – rather like the interface on P7J-989 – and making it all seem real. Given that nothing we experienced there has happened..."
The Colonel grated out, "Then why put us through that, Carter?" After his experience, the Colonel was a edgy – and no wonder. Knowing the Colonel's protectiveness towards his team, Janet could see how deeply the supposed loss of them had affected him – would affect him. Because although 'it was all a dream', SG-1 had seen it, lived it, experienced it. They'd definitely need therapy.
"I don't know, sir."
"Perhaps it was some form of an experiment."
The Colonel swivelled his chair to stare at Teal'c, who merely returned his gaze calmly. "A pretty cruel one," he snapped.
Yep, Janet would definitely be keeping an eye on Colonel O'Neill over the next few days.
"A test?" Daniel suggested.
"Testing for what?"
"Well, you tell me, Jack."
General Hammond headed off an incipient clash of wills. "If it was for loyalty, both personal and professional, I'd say you passed with flying colours."
Janet watched them as SG-1 looked uncertainly at each other, weighing up the possibility in their minds.
Teal'c spoke first, "Perhaps the paper O'Neill found will explain why we endured such an ordeal."
Daniel's gaze dropped back down to the sheet of paper he held in his hands.
"I hope so."
End of Part Six
End Forged Steel
END NOTES: This was written as the second episode of one of two Virtual Seasons for Stargate SG-1 Season Six. The premise was that Daniel didn't 'die' in 'Meridian' and things continued on from there. However, after eight episodes, we were unable to get anything more from our writers, and the Virtual Season ceased. This story works as an individual one, but the mysteries of san ya'kel will forever remain unplumbed since we were going to expand on his presence in the VS. Apologies if you're intrigued - some questions are never satisfactorily answered.