The Death and Life of General Jack O'Neill
He tried to sit up, but sank back into the bed. Okay, this was enough. He was ready. He had fought the good fight—defeated the Goa'uld, had seen the Ori defeated, fought WashingtonD.C. (which was scarier than the Goa'uld and the Ori combined.) But cancer had defeated him, and he was ready to go. He thought that General Hammond—never could get used to calling him "George"—would be proud. He was glad that the rest of his team had come to see him in these final days. He had just said his goodbyes, and he knew they would be all right.
It was time.
He knew he had died many times before, but this was the very first time he was willing to die for good and forever. God, he was tired. He closed his eyes, waiting for the light—
And there it was, surrounding him. And there was Charlie, reaching out for him. And his father and his mother and his grandparents—and the general—he went toward them—
And he was shunted sideways.
He rose toward the ceiling. He had heard of after-death experiences being like this, but, but, but—where was his body? All he saw was gently collapsing sheets. His team looked up at him, expressions of surprise on their face. He could see Daniel's bald spot, the streaks of grey in Teal'c's hair, the surely dyed hair of his dear Sam, with her tear-streaked face. And there was Cassie, looking strangely exultant. "I told you! I told you …"
He went out into the hall. Big mistake. He was freaking out nurses and doctors and patients. He needed to get out of there, but where to go? He rose up, then felt himself yanked away. Instantly, he found himself on the dock of his cabin, a pole in his hand. But instead of being alone at his lake, the lake was surrounded by a crowd. Men, women, black, white—none of whom paid any attention to him, and most of whom looked asleep—and also somebody he thought he'd never see again.
"Skaara," he said, looking at the pole in his hand. "What the hell?"
"We need you, Jack O'Neill," Skaara said.
"Of course you need me." Jack screwed up his face. "Skaara, I was dying, for Pete's sake. I was ready to die."
Skaara shrugged. "This was the only way I could get to you. When you Ascended, I guided you here." He glanced around. "Is this your home?"
"This was my second home," Jack said. "Don't change the subject. You kidnapped me. But you said 'we' need me? Where are the rest of your people?"
"They're here," he said and pointed. In the forest, around the lake, behind the bored looking crowd, were some of Skaara's people. They were looking at him, longing on their faces.
"I thought you were all right," Jack said, putting down his pole. "I thought you were Ascended. I thought that was what you wanted."
"Oma saved us from certain death," Skaara said. "But I am not sure this is life. Look at them. Look at the Ascended."
Jack looked. There did seem to be a certain amount of inertia? Apathy? Lethargy? around the lake. Occasionally, a pole would go back, and a fly would go into the pond—almost exactly in front of the fisher, then the person would sit back, eyes half closed, slowly drawing the line in. "Actually," he said, "this looks sort of relaxing."
"Jack O'Neill," Skaara said. "We've had many years of relaxing. Oma Desala, we are thankful to her for saving our lives, but—"
Jack sighed. "Intentions, Skaara, such as the road to hell is paved with." He looked longingly at the pole on the dock. "I don't suppose I can cast one …" He glanced at Skaara. "No." He got up, then stared at the chair. "I haven't been able to get up that easily in years. But aren't we really gold glowy things?"
Skaara shrugged. "I don't think about it."
Jack walked around the lake. He looked into people's faces. Occasionally, he poked one person or another. He tickled one particularly comatose looking old man with a blade of grass on his nose. The man brushed it aside and ignored Jack. He reached Skaara again. "So, what do you expect me to do about it?"
"They are not living."
"Neither am I, apparently." Jack stuck his hand in his pockets, then realized he was wearing his favorite jeans—from thirty years ago. "Sweet." He turned his attention back to Skaara. "I understand that if you make a hairy nuisance of yourself, they'll send you back. They certainly did with Daniel, twice."
"But, O'Neill, there are too many of us. They may split our group. Some of us are still children."
"After all these years?"
"Yes." Skaara's fist pounded on the nearest tree. "We do not grow. Our children remain children. Our adults can protest, but they may send us back, with our children remaining here. I cannot live. I cannot die. I cannot marry my love, not really, and I will never join my good father and my sister."
A new voice cut in. "They will learn," it said.
Jack whirled. He couldn't tell if the voice were male or female, young or old. And when he searched the faces of the people, they were statues, as usual.
"They don't want to be here!" he yelled.
"They will learn," said a different voice.
Jack wondered what would happen if he started pushing random people into the lake. Probably the only thing it would do would be to de-Ascend him, leaving Skaara in the same predicament. "Oh, hell," Jack said.
"I think I know what we need to do."
"What's that, O' Neill?"
"First, we need to find Oma Desala."
Suddenly, Jack was in the temple at Abydos. He had a quick look around. Skaara and his group were still with him, but the rest of the Ascended had disappeared. "O'Neill. Oma Desala is lost to us. She is battling Anubis. They are locked in combat forever."
Jack raised a finger. "They must get tired every once in a while."
Skaara smiled. "I haven't slept in years. I don't eat, either. There are advantages to being ascended, but many disadvantages, especially with Oma gone." His smile faded. "This is not life. This is not death. This is non-existence."
"You said that." Come to think of it, he hadn't felt tired since he died. "Well, I'd like to see this for myself. Where are Oma and Anubis?"
"I do not know."
Jack, who had been exploring the temple, looked back at Skaara. "Not even a hint?"
"They told me that it was on 'the astral plane,' " He shrugged. "Wherever that is."
"Well," Jack said, "let's go looking for it." He led the way out of the temple.
Just like on Abydos, there was sand, sand, and more sand. "Which way, O'Neill?" Skaara said.
"Hey," Jack said. "I've been ascended for all of what, fifteen minutes? And you're following me?"
Skaara looked thoughtful. "You are right, O'Neill. I shall lead the way right now. However, in spite of being the host to Klorel for many years, I am not a warrior." When Jack started to open his mouth, he held up a finger. "Even though you led us against Ra when we defended ourselves valiantly—you need to be our leader. We are not versed in the ways of war."
Jack blinked. "I really hope we're not waging war."
"O'Neill. Oma is battling a god."
"Not a god, a Goa'uld."
Skaara shrugged. "Same difference. We may need to defeat Anubis."
"So," Jack said. "If we're killed here, where do we go?"
Skaara looked grim. "Does it matter?"
"I suppose not."
They started walking, Skaara's people following them. Gradually, the sand gave way to a flat plain. "Hmmm …" Jack said. "I take it this is the astral plain?"
"I believe so."
"At least it's not an airplane," Jack muttered. He looked across the meadow. Two figures were on what looked like horses. He squinted. They were what?—jousting?
"Skaara, what do you see?"
"I see two figures on animals—horses," he corrected himself. "They are pointing sticks of wood at one another."
"They're jousting," O'Neill said, distracted. "It's a British sport. Why …?"
"All this," Skaara said, "is coming out of your mind. That is what Oma told us. Because we were helped to Ascend, Oma said that this is our way of understanding this world. It is the same with you."
Jack blinked at him. "You didn't Ascend me?"
Jack wasn't sure he liked the implications of that, then shrugged. "Okay, if I can change the scenery, here is what I want …" He closed his eyes, concentrated, then opened them. The sounds and crashes of a bowling alley reached his ears. He smiled.
Oma Desala and an overweight man in a turquoise bowling shirt were bowling side-by-side in the lanes in front of them. They took turns bowling, but between balls, they glared at each other. "You bowl like a human," the corpulent man said.
"Anubis, I assume," Jack said, approaching him.
"O'Neill," Oma said. "You should not be here. Especially with Skaara and his people."
"I agree," O'Neill said affably. "Can you do something about it?"
"I am in combat with Anubis. He must not be allowed to interfere any more in the affairs of humans." She looked at him closely. "But I would have assumed Daniel would have told you that."
"He did. Years ago."
Anubis looked at Oma and grinned. "Time goes fast when you're having fun."
The scene changed. The two were wrestlers, facing each other. "I wouldn't call eternal combat 'fun,' " said Oma. They ran towards each other. First one went down, then the other one went down. As far as Jack could see, the match was even.
Jack looked at Skaara, then motioned him away from the fighters. When they were far enough away that he didn't think they would be overheard, he said, "Huddle around, campers." The group surrounded him and Skaara. "Look," Jack said. "As far as I can see, these two are evenly matched."
Skaara nodded. "Yes, O'Neill. They are. Oma is preventing Anubis from interfering with us."
"And Anubis is preventing Oma from interfering with us," Jack said. "But, we need Oma to send us back."
"Unless someone else will."
Jack laughed. "Have you seen that bunch of stiffs—" He sobered immediately. "Of course you have." He glanced at the two wrestlers—except now, they were boxers. Oma glanced at him and took a blow to the chin. "Hey! You coward! Hit a woman in the chin?"
Anubis actually stopped and looked at him, then was knocked back to the ropes by a series of punches to his ribs. O'Neill got into the ring and approached Anubis. "So, do you have a glass chin?"
"O'Neill," Oma said. "I wouldn't …"
Jack looked at Oma. With a push, she relocated him behind Skaara's group. "You're not strong enough!" she said loudly. "This is my fight."
"No," O'Neill said. "It's our fight …"
"O'Neill," Skaara said. "She's right."
O'Neill stared at him. "I don't back down from …" He stopped. He motioned to the group. "I have another idea. Follow me."
In a second, they ended up in another plain … no, a cornfield, Jack thought. He looked down. They were on a yellow brick road. He grinned crookedly. "I always knew it," he muttered to himself.
Skaara looked confused. "I don't understand. Where are we?"
"Well," Jack said. "I wasn't there, but I heard about this one." They rounded the corner. A woman, clothed in red flame, was fighting another woman, clothed in white cloth. "Morgan Le Fay, I presume. We have a mutual friend."
"I'm busy," the lady in white said shortly.
"And Vala's … um … daughter."
"Don't mention my dear—mother," the woman in flames said.
"Her dear Adria," Jack continued, ignoring her. He went up to Adria. "What a disappointment you were to her."
"I don't give a damn about—" she said, turning around. She took a hit from Morgan. Adria whirled and struck back.
"And Morgan—you aren't nearly the fighter that Daniel said you were."
"O'Neill," Skaara said.
Jack ignored him. "I never saw such a wimpy fight."
"We're not fighting for your entertainment," Morgan said, distracted, as Adria punched her. "I'm fighting to keep her from causing trouble on your plane."
"Well," Jack drawled. "That other fight … it looks like Anubis is about ready to clean Oma's clock. And if he gets to leave before Adria does, then I'm not sure there's going to be enough left for Adria to rule—or whatever the hell she wants to do."
"The universe must follow Origin!"
"Well, if you don't watch out, the universe is going to follow Anubis."
Jack grabbed the two fighters. He felt a terrific jolt go through his very being, then he felt himself go insubstantial. With an effort, he concentrated, made himself substantial again, then pulled the two to Anubis and Oma. He let Adria and Morgan go, then shouted. "Hey, Anubis. Adria thinks that she's going to win and get to my universe before you will."
"O'Neill …" Oma said.
Jack ignored her. Skaara and his followers appeared behind her. "I am sorry, Oma, I tried to …"
Anubis glanced at O'Neill, then at Adria. He gave a contemptuous look at Adria. "You would be the better opponent than this little slip of a thing. She's not even a Goa'uld. I see that even Baal rejected her."
Adria flushed, but kept punching at Morgan. "At least," she said, "I'm not a corpulent being who couldn't Ascend properly."
"She's got you there," Jack crowed.
Anubis' eyes flashed. "Your mother wears Army boots," he growled.
Jack blinked. He hoped that he had misunderstood the meaning, because surely these two could think of more creative insults.
"Your mother was an earthworm," Adria said.
Really? Jack stepped back. He saw Anubis' face flush. He turned toward Adria, leaving Oma with a punch to his side. With a roar, he rushed towards Adria, who was forced to back up. She rallied, throwing thunderbolts at Anubis.
He ducked, then he moved toward her again. She struck again, he retaliated, then Oma Desala stopped, glanced at Morgan LeFay, then they both stared at Jack.
Jack shrugged. "I thought maybe you would need a break."
Oma smiled. "The fool is wise in his own element."
Jack frowned. "Oh, come on, quit that Confucius crap."
Oma glanced at Morgan. "We know you only did that for your own self-preservation."
"Well, you're still going to have to watch those two Ding-Dongs fight." Jack motioned Skaara forward. "But I didn't do it for me. My time is over. I've died. Cancer. I did it for them."
Skaara lowered his head. "Your pardon, Oma. We are grateful that you saved us from death, but we find that being ascended is worse than death for us. We wish to move on."
Oma looked solemn. "Are you certain?"
"We have felt that a useful life, well lived, is more fulfilling than existing and doing nothing." He looked sharply at each of them. "I mean no insult."
"No insult taken," Morgan said. "We do not feel like our fellow Ascended."
"I realize you cannot send us back to Abydos."
"No, I can't," Oma said. "But I do have a place for you." She smiled, then grinned at Jack.
"Wait a minute, what are you …?"
He looked around. He was in the Stargate chamber. Before him was Skaara. Skaara was—naked. He looked down …
Well, so was he.
But. His heart started thumping. He was alive.
He looked up. Walter was gaping down at the group. "What are you staring at, Sergeant!?" he bellowed.
"Um … nothing, sir!"
"What is going on …" Landry strode into the gate room, surrounded by an armed squadron. "Jack?"
"Hank, you'll never believe what just …"
Landry closed his eyes. "I'll get your debriefing after you get some clothes on."
Jack looked around. He could see some of the younger members of the squadron trying and failing to keep their eyes averted from the prettier members of Skaara's party.
"You heard the man, Walter," he said, looking up at the sergeant. "Get us some robes or something."
"Yes, sir!" He could see Walter yelling through the halls, then calling somebody.
"Hank, are the guns really necessary?" Jack tried to look at the situation from Landry's point of view. "Yes, I suppose they are."
"Until we identify your DNA, yes."
Skaara moved forward. "Thank you, O'Neill."
"When we're through with the formalities, we'll relocate you wherever you want. We owe you."
"O'Neill, I owe you my life many times over. I owe you. I will do whatever you wish, if you relocate my people."
O'Neill could see a woman coming up to Skaara's side. "I believe you asked me to be best man at your wedding, once upon a time. So get married. Have kids."
Medical personnel and soldiers started bringing robes into the room. O'Neill took one gratefully—he was starting to get cold.
Then he realized who was handing him the robe. "Daniel?"
"I thought you were in WashingtonD.C."
"Yeah, we were comforting an old friend who was dying." Daniel pursed his lips. "Said friend suddenly shows up naked and apparently healthy at Stargate Command. The President gave us special permission to be beamed over." He turned to Skaara. "It's so good to see you, my brother-in-law."
"Danyel!" Skaara looked him up and down. "You look older!"
"You've been ascended for awhile." Daniel grasped Skaara's arms. "I'm glad to see you." He turned back to O'Neill, who was being hugged by Carter, and having his hand shook by Teal'c.
"Sir," Carter said. "How did you convince the Ascended to send you back?"
"I'll wait for the briefing to explain everything," Jack said, "but I just did what Daniel always said I did best."
"You were being an ass," Daniel said.
"I was an ass," Jack agreed. "So Oma sent me back. And I hope to be an ass for a long time yet."
Daniel smiled and Carter hugged him again. "You were kicked out of Heaven."
Jack held up a finger. "No, I was kicked out of Purgatory," Jack said. "If that was heaven …" He shivered. He raised his gaze upwards. "Thank you, Morgan and Oma."
A lady in a lab coat walked up. "You must be the doctor," Jack said. He looked around. "Come on, campers, we're home!" He made a grand gesture and the crowd followed him out of the gate room.