Chapter 21

Sam slipped inside the bivouac hospital, shaking off a feeling of disgust as she did so. She'd just spent the last few hours doing something highly distasteful and she was more than glad that it was over for the day. She only hoped what she'd learned would prove useful.

"Carter!" the colonel said as she approached his bed. "Where the heck have you been?"

"Doing a little clandestine work, sir," she said honestly. "Has Teal'c reported in?"

"Twenty minutes ago. He and SG-8 have found traces of a group of men headed into the hills outside of the University. They're tracking them now."

"Sounds promising."

"Carter?"

She looked at him and fought down a wince. Oooh, he looked mad.

"I wanted to send you with them," O'Neill said quietly. "Why the hell weren't you here?"

"Sir, I apologize. I-"

"Don't waste time apologizing; just tell me where you were!"

Sam took a deep breath. "I was visiting Lyssa and the Rulers."

Jack's expression darkened and his eyebrows shot up towards his hairline. "Why?"

"I was trying to figure out what they knew."

Jack tiltled his head to the side and considered this. "Come again?"

"Well, sir, I've been kind of observing things undercover while we've been here," Sam said in a rush. "The people on this planet may consider me a Wise One, but in case you haven't noticed, men scholars outnumber women scholars by three to one and few of those women are thought to be very good scholars. I figured that I didn't need to disabuse people of their preconceptions about me since I could learn more about this place if I let those misconceptions stand. I can tell that people in the palace think I'm an empty-headed woman because I've been acting like one lately. Everyone I've spoken to in the palace tends to let down their guard around me since I've been cultivating that impression and I think I've learned quite a few things about the true state of this place."

Jack blinked and made a mental note of Sam's subterfuge and its effectiveness. Even he'd been fooled! "You've been acting a little ditzy, I'll grant you, but I thought that was because you were trying to unwind a little!" Of all things he had expected, this hadn't been one of them! He hadn't thought that all the gushing about clothes and jewelry actually hid something important!

Sam smiled. "'Ditzy' is what I was going for. If people think you're a ditz, then you're not someone they need to worry about."

Jack felt a smile starting. "So, Carter, what have you learned?"

Now Sam hesitated. "You might want to sit down, sir."

Jack stood up straight and looked her in the eye. "It's bad, isn't it?"

"Not bad, just disturbing," Sam said.

"How so?"

"Nothing is what we thought," Sam told him, being certain to keep her voice low. "The entire society is practically a sham. The University isn't the only settled place on the planet and a better name for the Rulers would be 'Despots.' Everything, and I mean everything, is under their control. The people who live outside of the University have a barely sustainable quality of life and they're actively engaged in trying to overthrow the Rulers when they aren't fending off their attacks. People who live inside the University are under strict control-the Rulers can even decide who a person marries due to certain bloodlines they want to keep 'pure.'"

At last Jack sat down. Things were starting to fall into place in his head. "Don't tell me-One of the bloodlines they want to keep pure is their own, right? And Daniel was perfect for it?"

"Yes, sir. Looks like Earth isn't the only place to develop the pseudoscience of eugenics, sir."

Jack buried his face in his hands. "Now I think we can safely say who was behind the blast and why Daniel was taken. These people outside the University now have a hostage."

"There's more, sir," Sam said quietly, wishing she could spare him this.

He stared at her. "More?"

"Yes, sir. It's about Daniel's virus."

Space

For the next few days Daniel's world shrank to riding, sleeping on the ground, and pain. His entire body still ached from the blast, his feet hurt from being in the stirrups, and his legs and rump hurt from riding. He could ride, yes, but it had been ages since he'd last ridden and his legs knew it. At the end of his first day of riding he wanted to lie down and die, but that would just piss off Jack and he had enough worries.

"How are you feeling?" Aldis asked that night as they dismounted and began to set up camp.

"I hurt," Daniel said shortly. "When are you going to tell me what's going on?"

"When we get to where we're going."

"And when will that be?"

"A few days, maybe less, maybe more."

"Oh, yippee."

"Joyful little thing, isn't he?" Maran said. Maran and his brother, Jarlin, were the two men who had brought the horses and Daniel had a strong feeling they were related in some way to Aldis. There was a bit of resemblance in their faces and the two of them usually deferred to Aldis, which spoke of an old familiarity among the three of them. Maran was the more talkative of the two and loved to comment on Daniel's mood. Jarlin, in contrast, rarely spoke.

"Don't tease him," Aldis chided him. "Let's get dinner."

Daniel ate what he was given and settled down in a blanket when told to. For the first time since this whole nightmarish adventure began he was sleepless. From what Aldis and his friends had told him, there had been a blast that destroyed the whole chapel. His friends had been in there, but Maleth assured him that no one had died. Most of the royal family had been injured, though. Strangely enough, Daniel couldn't find much room in his heart to worry about that, aside from Lyssa, and even then she took a sudden backseat to thoughts of his friends. Were they all right? Were their injuries bad?

"Don't worry," Aldis told him when he asked. "Out of everyone, their injuries were the least severe."

Sweet relief flood through him at those words. Knowing his friends, they were all right by this point and probably making life hell for anyone assigned to nurse them. Also, that told him something interesting: Aldis knew who his friends were. Hmmm.

That night over dinner Daniel worked up the courage to talk to Aldis (the de facto leader of this little band of kidnappers) about where they were going and what would happen once they were there.

"Can you tell me a little bit about the place we're going?"

Maran gave him a long look. "You're awfully full of questions, Daniel."

Daniel ignored the jibe. "I just want to know what to expect."

Aldis gave him a kind but sad smile. "I probably won't be able to tell you until we're almost there. How much do you know about the AHROSH?"

Daniel blinked, not understanding. "What do they have to do with this?"

"They haven't been talking to you, have they?"

Realization hit him. This was important, but he just couldn't understand why. "No. They haven't spoken to me at all since I woke up." He looked at Aldis, thinking hard. "Why?"

"The Rulers are most likely still unconscious," Aldis said. "They control the AHROSH directly."

Daniel went cold, an odd sort of buzzing started in his ears and suddenly, he couldn't see anything. The next thing he knew he was being supported by someone and something was burning its way slowly down his throat. He coughed, his eyes watering. What the heck had they given him?

"That'll teach me to drop a big load of news on your head like that," Aldis was saying, putting away a metal flask. "Are you all right?"

Dumbly, Daniel nodded and sat up on his own, thankfully taking the water Rithan handed him. "They control them directly?" he asked once he had control of his voice. "So, the AHROSH talking to me and making my body do thingsā€¦That was Lyssa's parents?"

"The best-kept secret in the world," Maran said dryly. "The Rulers have a specific gene that allows them to process disparate information from each and every AHROSH unit. The AHROSH are designed to mimic a virus and most people think the so-called virus is native to the planet and there's nothing they can do about it. It allows the Rulers to keep a watch over every person at all times."

Daniel fought down a wave of nausea. It all made a great deal of sense. "That's why you won't tell me anything about where you're taking me yet. What I know, then the AHROSH will know, too. I take it they still take in information even while the Rulers are unconscious, right?"

Aldis nodded. "You're right. The reach of the AHROSH diminishes over distance and once you go so far, the Rulers' control all but disappears. They'll be able to get a vague sense of you, mostly how you are physically, but they won't be able to make you do or say anything and they won't be able to get any concrete information. That's another reason why we've been moving so fast. We're trying to get you out of their reach so that their link through the AHROSH won't be able to force you to do anything, like go back to them."

Slowly, Daniel digested this and nodded. "I see." He felt absolutely sick. Not only had the Rulers forced him to do and say things against his will, but they'd been in his mind! Even worse, they'd forced him to do and say things when he'd been with Lyssa! They'd been doing this to their own daughter! They'd been in his head and they knew everything! Whatever thoughts he'd had, they knew them! With a mental shake, Daniel forced himself back to the issue at hand. He needed to learn as much as he could while Aldis was in such a communicative mood. Every bit of information was precious. "Can you tell me why the AHROSH make people become comatose when they leave the planet?"

"Since they couldn't stop people from going to other planets, The Rulers added a fail-safe into the AHROSH programming. Whenever someone with the AHROSH goes through the Gate, the fail-safe clicks on and the effects get worse as long as the person is away from the planet. Once that person returns, then he is fine."

Daniel nodded. As much as he wished he could call Aldis a liar, he knew the man was telling the truth. He'd seen enough around the universe to know that unethical people who had power would do anything to keep it, even if it involved hurting others. As much as he wished others could be as concerned for the good of people as he was, he knew that it wasn't always possible. To his regret, people hurt others for the sake of power all too often.

"Once we get to where we're going, we'll settle you in and explain what's expected of you," Aldis promised him. "We can swear to you that you won't be harmed or mistreated or locked up. Understand?"

Daniel nodded. "I understand, thank you."

They let him alone then, and Daniel was certain they realized he needed to think about everything he'd learned. The only times they interrupted him was to give him his supper and to take his empty plate when he was finished. He didn't really feel like eating, but Aldis said that the hunger caused by matteliri could linger, and it was evident that that was the case with Daniel as he practically demolished the food in front of him. Shortly after the meal ended Aldis insisted that Daniel lie down and try to rest.

"You've had a bit of a shock and shocks can exhaust you," Aldis said by way of an explanation. "It's best if you get some rest."

Daniel didn't say anything and curled up in his blanket. He could hear Aldis and his companions talking around the campfire and usually their quiet talk helped lull him to sleep, but tonight it wasn't working. He shifted around a few times before laying on his back and looking up at the stars. Although he was used to seeing new and strange constellation patterns due to his frequent travels through the Gate, seeing them tonight only emphasized how far from home and his friends he was.

"Lad? Daniel?" It was Aldis, crouching beside him and looking at him with concern. "Ah, lad, I'm sorry."

"It's all right," Daniel said quickly. "I'm just tired."

"Do you always cry when you're tired?"

"I'm fine," Daniel insisted. The absolute last thing he wanted to do right now was talk about anything.

"All right," Aldis said, perhaps sensing that Daniel was in no mood to talk. "Try to go to sleep."

Space

Jack stormed into the Rulers' hospital room, determined on getting the truth out of them. He believed Carter when she said that Daniel's virus was really a form of nanotechnology designed to help the Rulers control the population, but he wanted as much information as possible on the people who now had Daniel. He knew for certain that Daniel wouldn't do anything stupid while he was in their hands, but that didn't guarantee that he was safe. These people were an entirely unknown factor in his book, impossible to predict or control. If anything happened to Daniel, then those Rulers' days would be numbered and the number would be very, very small.

"Hello, Stane, Mara," Jack said as politely as he could. "How's things?"

Both of them stared at him. "Colonel? What does this mean? You couldn't even wait to be announced?"

"No, what I have to discuss with you is pretty urgent," Jack told them calmly. "It concerns Daniel."

"We've been told that the head of our security already has search parties out looking for him," Stane said. Of the pair of them, Stane's injuries looked worse since bruises and gashes covered most of his face. Jack hoped so much they would scar, even if the medical facilities of this planet could remove them later. Any inconvenience for the Rulers, however small, made him a happier man.

"We also have our own search parties out," Jack told him. "What I'm here to talk to you about is Daniel's virus and how it isn't a virus."

Again, they stared. "Colonel?"

"You can drop the innocent act," Jack snapped. "We know what the virus really is. We know that you've been using it to control the people of the University and we know that your society is fake. How many people have been marginalized and made into second-class citizens because they don't fit into what you think is proper? What, their bloodlines weren't good enough or something? They didn't do what you told them to without questioning you? What was it?" He knew he was stepping on some major political toes, but it had to be said. That statement was only winding up for the pitch. "Those same people are the ones who set that blast in the chapel and they're the ones who've kidnapped one of the most important archeological minds of our world!" Sam had told him that they would respond better if he emphasized Daniel's importance as a scholar so that was what he was doing.

Mara looked like a beached fish and Stane was beginning to stutter. "Colonel-I-I-"

"You two had better have a good explanation for all of this. A very, very good explanation."

The silence that followed seemed frozen and Jack knew that he had gained the upper hand. Let them wiggle their way out of this. He was ready.

Space

"Thanks be," Aldis said a day and a half after his big bombshell. "We're there. See that smoke, Daniel? That's where we're going."

Daniel looked, wishing his glasses hadn't been broken. "What is that?"

"That's our village," Aldis explained. "It's a good size, as you can see."

Daniel wished for an optician. He missed his glasses.

"A few more hours of riding and we'll be there."

Daniel couldn't blame them all for being happy at getting home; he just wished he wasn't with them. Since Aldis had made the nature of the virus clear he'd been depressed and he knew it, but it was hard to drum up enough energy to really care about the direction his mood had taken. He let his mind wander while his horse stayed in line behind Aldis's. He wasn't really thinking about anything in particular when he began to feel very...odd. Very, very odd. There was something wrong with him. "Aldis-"

Before he could say anything else he was off his horse and pelting back the way they'd come, spooking the horses and startling their riders. He didn't know how far he'd run before he heard hoofbeats behind him. There was impact and he was facedown in the dirt, struggling to get away and he didn't know why.

"Looks like the Rulers are awake at last and trying as hard as they can to get you back," he heard Aldis grunt as the older man wrestled with him. "For the sake of the stars, Rithan, give me some rope and something to use as a blindfold!"

Within five minutes Daniel was tied and blindfolded, still struggling, but he wasn't about to go anywhere.

"Amazing they could reach this far," Maleth said. "Do you think they were both concentrating on him?"

"That's the only explanation I can think of," Aldis said wearily. "Daniel, we know that this attempt wasn't you. We know that the Rulers are the ones who forced you to do it, so it's all right. Once we get to where we're going, we're going to hand you over to our healers. They can stop this virus and keep the Rulers from tormenting you with it, all right?"

'Tormenting' is a pretty accurate description for this, Daniel thought as his body fought against the ropes holding him. All of his muscles ached and burned so much that he wanted to scream. Dearest God, he hurt.

"Aldis, he has to be in pain," Jarlin said quietly. "It isn't easy to fight the AHROSh in any way and when you're actually unable to do what the AHROSH demands, then the pain gets even worse."

"I know, Jarlin," Aldis said just as quietly. "Get me my pack."

A bitter, acidic mouthful of liquid made its way past his lips and burned its way down his throat. He gagged at the taste and coughed. "What was that?" he rasped around the burning in his throat. His entire mouth tasted as if he'd just chewed a bottle full of aspirin!

"Something to kill pain," Aldis said. "It'll also make you extremely fuzzy-headed, which is all to the good in this situation. If you can, try to sleep. We'll be there soon."

Daniel didn't sleep, but he did doze. He had vague memories of being placed back on his horse and being belted into the saddle and riding what felt like a long way. Then, suddenly, his blindfold was gone and he was surrounded by buildings in the middle of a village somewhere. People were coming out of the houses and they were all talking at once.

"Demne!" Daniel heard Aldis shout. "Demne!"

"Here I am, Aldis! I have to tell you, it's very good to see you! We'd all thought that you'd been caught!"

"We're fine," Aldis assured him. "Unfortunately, this young man isn't. He's been given the AHROSH and we're keeping him from obeying the compulsion. I gave him some thalat when we first came into sight of the village-"

"You dangerous madman!"

"But I don't know how long it will last."

Hands helped Daniel down from his horse and supported him while fingers opened his eyes wide and a light was shone in them. "Aldis, you've made this poor lad fly higher than the birds themselves! Remind me to kill you later. Maleth, help me get him inside and settled. Hopefully the effects won't last too long."

Daniel didn't really take in anything else he heard and shortly after that he was lying down in a bed that was blissfully still. It was quiet, he was comfortable, and it wasn't long before sleep took him and carried him beyond the reach of the AHROSH.