The Planet of Missing People

Matt relanded the shuttle, just lightly kissing the ground of this new planet. Ron knew it had a number designation, but they weren't as strict about using that system as they were back in the Milky Way or Pegasus. Mostly, they called the planets things like "The Ice Planet, The Desert Planet, The Planet of Deadly Lizards," shit like that. Brody had tagged this one, "The Planet of Missing People."

Watching Matt flipping switches and powering off systems, Ron freed himself from his restraint and stood up, checked to make sure his radio was good, and grabbed his rifle. Rush was still in his seat, eyes focused intently on the kino monitor, and Ron wondered if he even realized they had landed. The Doc could be a little oblivious to other things when he was super focused on something.

Ron waited until Matt shouldered his weapon and caught Ron's eye, then they both headed to the back of the shuttle, ready to scan for enemies. The Colonel touched the controls and once the back hatch was open, Ron could see the alien gate looming a short distance away, all made up of angles like it was some sort of freaky attraction at an amusement park. There was a road that led there, fairly broad, and the light blue material it was made of shimmered in the sunlight.

"Doctor Rush, we need a status report," said the Colonel. He was getting geared up, rifle, backpack, radio clipped to his vest.

Rush glanced up briefly at the Colonel, an eager look on his face. "No sign of any aliens or hostile technology, Colonel. I'll keep looking, but we should go." He unbuckled his seat harness and stood up, eyes still glued to the monitor in his hands.

Colonel Young tilted his head slightly towards the alien gate. "Greer," he said, and Ron moved out of the shuttle to take point, his weapon ready, on high alert. Just because nobody had seen the people who lived here didn't mean they weren't setting up an ambush. Telford's team had already been dropped off on the outskirts of the small town, which was only a couple of klicks wide. Ron couldn't stand the man, brainwashed or free of it, but he was a very competent soldier. The team was in good hands.

The sky was a darker shade of blue than an earth sky, a subtle reminder to him to expect the unexpected, cause this wasn't Earth, and this wasn't a vacation they were on from the ship. This planet's yellow sun was still high in the sky, so they should have daylight to finish their scavenging. In the shuttle, Morrison stepped too close to Rush, saying something about the planet they were on, and almost touching him. Rush took a couple of steps back and shot him a withering look; whatever he said to Morrison was done too quietly for Ron to catch, but it fired up Morrison into jabbing Rush in the shoulder while he raised his voice, still arguing. Rush turned away, not arguing back, and if Morrison kept it up as they hiked to the alien gate then Ron would have to shut him up.

It should have been Lisa here instead of Morrison. She didn't complain when things got tough. She never had, and now, when she was blind, she was still always on the lookout for how she could contribute. Just one of the reasons he'd fallen for her.

Morrison was a whiner, and those types never sat well with him.

Didn't mean he couldn't feel for someone when they'd gotten a hard knock. His mother had taught him better than that. To see someone trying to keep a brave face when they were scared to death or grieving, that always got to him. If an arm around their shoulder, or a hug, or protecting them from danger with his own body would ease them, protect them, save them, then that was his purpose in life. Maybe he wouldn't have joined the Marines if he'd gotten that athletic scholarship years ago, but he'd have chosen a profession that would let him be a protector. But it had worked out for the best; the Marines had honed his instincts, and he'd found brothers and sisters within their ranks.

He knew a lot of people he'd met had dismissed him as an aggressive angry man, a shade on the crazy side, and if that was what he saw in their eyes he'd let out what Eli had called his psycho smile. But Colonel Young had never pigeonholed him like that and had found ways to let Ron know that he trusted him, relied on him. The man had looked out for him, too, and had made damn sure he hadn't died like a rat in a cage when Icarus had been attacked.

Matt had stepped up to the plate and confronted the Colonel when he'd been in that dark place in his mind, as dark as the damn closets Ron's father had tormented him with, and Ron had done his part by showing the Colonel that he trusted him to do what was right. Handshakes, not hugs, was how he'd let the Colonel know he was looking out for him. An arm over his shoulder, pulling him into a rib squeezing hug, like he could do with Matthew and even TJ and James and Camile, would reverse their roles too much. Ron supported the Colonel, but he couldn't step up to be on even footing with him, not even when the man desperately needed someone to stand shoulder to shoulder with him.

Camile couldn't do it, either. Her heart was back on earth, and her focus was getting them back there. The Colonel, though, had committed to Destiny's mission once Rush had shared it with him. On that the Colonel and Rush did stand side by side.

Rush could be the one for the Colonel in other ways, too. Ron wasn't a fool, and he wasn't down on people for who they loved, so he wasn't blind to the attraction between Rush and the Colonel. He'd seen the way the Colonel would stand too close to Rush, the way Rush would watch the Colonel. It wasn't always because of disagreements between them. Not his business, though, and since he'd been checking out the road to the alien gate while thinking, he waved the other three men forward from the shuttle. He could multi-task right along with Rush and Eli, although Eli was better at it than the older scientist. Rush, he needed less distractions around him in order to keep his mind on the tasks he was juggling back and forth. Eli could banter, eat a sandwich, and listen to music while still keeping his mind occupied with six different workarounds for handling the ship.

When the group caught up to him, the two scientists in the middle and the Colonel on their six, he moved them out at a brisk pace, lush, tall foliage bordering the colorful road. To Ron's mind, it provided excellent coverage for an ambush, so he kept himself on high alert.

Rush, he was still monitoring the kino, his brow furrowing in concentration and Ron was reminded of their trek to find Simeon on the desert planet he'd gone to ground. Morrison, the ass, had started back up on his whining to Rush, and Ron motioned for him to move forward into Ron's personal space.

Leaning over, once the man was close enough, he said, "Lay off Doc; he's got a job to do."

Hotly, Morrison said, "I'm a exo-geophysicist, and if he thinks he can-"

Ron made a sound that stopped Morrison mid sentence. "You're doing this again," and he brought up a hand and made flapping mouth gestures with it, "when you need to be doing this." He pushed his fingers together in a silenced press. "If you can't manage that I promise I will help you keep your mouth shut. Do we have an understanding, Doctor Morrison?"

Morrison gave him a dirty look, his stubbled face flushed with anger, but he dropped back and didn't say anything else. Colonel Young caught his eye and Ron gave him a small nod, which was returned. Rush glanced once at Morrison, then at Ron, and shot him a curious look before returning his attention to the kino monitor.

Ten minutes later, they'd arrived at the gate, huge and strange with its angular shape and softly hued blue metal. Now that he had work to do, Morrison settled back down and stopped glaring at both Rush and Ron. The two scientists put their heads together and pawed through the equipment Morrison had stored in his backpack, then separated and started running tests of some kind, scanning the gate.

Rush looked elated and would stop what he was doing frequently to pull out a battered little notebook and write something down. Every so often, he would chatter to the Colonel, the sound of his voice carrying, talking about capacitors and Naquadah alloys and subspace. His accent from wherever he was from, England, Scotland, Ireland, was thicker when he was caught up in something. Or when he was fighting mad, but he'd been fairly calm for quite a stretch now, even before they went into stasis.

Colonel Young stayed close to Rush and Ron kept watch over Morrison. The man didn't look comfortable, the way he would stop every so often and stare around him. But it was quiet here, just the sound of the wind and the occasional chirping from an insect that reminded Ron of a cricket. The air felt damp and the clouds hinted at a shower coming their way. Every fifteen minutes, the Colonel would check in with Telford and Matthew and James and share their status reports with him, meeting in the middle between where the two other men were working. So far, they hadn't found any aliens in the town or out in the fields.

Hours went by, the sky clouded up and began a light drizzle but they kept working. Rush pried open a panel at the base of the gate and was probing inside it on his back, his body halfway inside the space. Greer kept himself in that alert state of wary readiness as this planet's sun inched down the sky toward the horizon.

Glancing over, he saw that Rush's legs were no longer sticking out from the base of the gate and that the Colonel held a kino monitor in one hand, his rifle in the other. Rush must have found something under the gate to check out, he guessed. He thumbed his radio and the Colonel confirmed it.

Sometimes Ron almost forgot that they were in the business of space exploration, about learning about and acquiring alien tech. Man, so much of their time was just spent on survival. The Colonel was used to gate missions like this, though, having been a SGC team leader for so many years. He'd watched over the science guys on his team doing their thing like he was watching Rush right now. When Ron had been stationed on PIX-874, the Colonel had brought his team to study the Ancient lab that had been taken over by the Goa'uld. Nice guys, the Colonel's old team. Shame that they'd all been killed by the Alliance when they'd been attacked on the planet, but if the Colonel had formed a new team, Greer would have asked for a place on it. Instead, he'd gone with him to Icarus.

The next time Ron glanced at his watch, he saw that they were down to fifty minutes before Destiny would jump. The Colonel noticed and flashed the fingers of one hand four times. Twenty minutes, then they'd have the shuttle pick them up and they'd head back to Destiny. He shared the plan with Morrison, who looked relieved. The man was just not cut out to be on a gate team, in Ron's opinion.

Shifting the rifle in his hands, watching, waiting, guarding Morrison as he wrapped up examining the alien DHD, Ron heard the Colonel yell, "God damn it, Rush!"

"C'mon," he said to Morrison, and they ran over towards Colonel Young.

x x x

"Be careful out there," David said, finishing up his instructions, and the group of nine, all military, split into three groups and entered the alien town. What appeared to be homes were divided into spiral clusters off a main street that ended in a park like area with large foliage and different, larger buildings surrounding it. He waved for the first team to enter a cluster on the left, the second to investigate a cluster on the right, and Dunning, Barnes, and he headed straight for the end of this street, stopping to check out the cluster nearest the park before doing recon on the large boxy buildings.

They were being cautious and taking advantage of Destiny's tech. So far, the scientists on Earth hadn't been able to duplicate the kinos; they were another one of Bill Lee's projects. Now, if McKay could be persuaded to help, David was certain he'd figure them out. In fact, if David could get McKay on board, he was positive that their ability to utilize what the Ancients had on Destiny would be greatly, greatly improved.

Each group was equipped with four kinos, two to a monitor and the third person to guard them when their attention was on flying the little camera balls. Rush had done a cursory search earlier on a kino, which was still floating in the middle of town. If people were here, they were hiding. He couldn't blame them. They probably did look like marauders.

This place was almost like a ghost town, except there was proof that people similar to their own in some ways had recently been here. Food had been in the process of being prepared, what they assumed were toys were scattered on floors, tech devices were left lying on tables, and windows were half open, letting in the damp breeze. Clothes had been in heaps in one house, dirty and on the floor of what seemed to be a laundry room. Wet clean clothes had been found in the washer, when his small team went in to investigate.

The clothes were made to fit at least one person who was pretty small and very stocky, the colors splotchy tan and brown and green. These people had two arms and two legs. One head. Not that surprising really. Form followed function usually, and evolution had shaped most intelligent land dwellers to exist as bipedals. Even the Gou'ald had gravitated to life forms that had this shape. Probably the real differences between these small people and humans would be in their bio-chemistry.

They finished their search of this house and several others. The colors of the walls and doors had been bland, there had hardly been anything colorful at all in these residences, in contrast to the attractive color of the roads. No pictures of the inhabitants were found, either. Oddly, the furniture they'd seen seemed to be made for both large and small people, but the smaller chairs were grouped around the tables. The doors and ceilings were large in height, and they were not locked. Their doors didn't even have locks, which spoke a lot about the trust these people had for their neighbors. They must not get hostiles coming in, probably because of the shield that made this planet seem empty or, if they were invaded they left through their stargate.

Probably they weren't native to this world, though. The shuttle's sensors hadn't indicated any larger settlements than this one, when it had flown down to the surface. There was a lot more land that was being farmed on the other side of the town, though, away from the Ancient's stargate. They didn't have the time to pick crops from those fields, unfortunately.

This whole setup reminded him of some of the places that had grown Kassa for the Lucian Alliance. An isolated world, hiding their operation from starship scanners? A relatively small group of farmers that were practiced at disappearing in a hurry? Yeah. Except for the bit about the locks. That didn't fit in with growing a drug crop that people would kill their grandmothers to possess.

Well, if their crops put them under the influence, it didn't work on humans. Some of the plants seemed to be ripe enough to eat, and they were being stripped right now by the pickers and packed back through their stargate to Destiny.

Returning back to the main street, by the park, Barnes said, "Sir? There's some tables over there. I'd like to dump our junk on it." Her eyes darted to the side, suddenly, but there was nothing there. He didn't know Barnes that well. Maybe she was naturally edgy.

He nodded. "Let's go." Barnes and Dunning were packing what Rush had referred to as trade goods. Except for a few things, most of it wouldn't have even made it into a garage sale back home.

The tables were tan and made of some material like synthetic stone, plus they were another combination of large and small heights. Really, he wouldn't fit at the small tables with the bench seats, although Barnes did, looking like a high schooler sitting in a third grader's desk. The tall tables, on the other hand, would have made him feel like a five-year-old sitting at the grownups table. Hell, it didn't even look like his feet would reach the ground.

Barnes and Dunning dumped out their packs, spreading out the items, arranging them. The sun glinted off a wedding ring, and he knew that it been Everett's. He was tempted to snatch it up, keep it safe and give it back to the man, but on second thought, maybe it would be less painful for his friend without that ring to remind him of Emily.

Beautiful Emily, tall, dark blonde, and those eyes. She'd been sophisticated in some ways, a little naïve in others, and passionate. He hated that he'd met her the way he had because anything between them was tainted by his having been brainwashed. He'd lied to her about Everett continuing his affair with TJ on Destiny solely to keep destroying Everett's ability to function, so he could hopefully take over. He'd done it for the Lucian Alliance. It hadn't been personal. Except, at night, when he couldn't sleep, he would wonder if maybe it had been personal. That the friendly rivalry between them had shifted into something hard and determined and wanting that was all him, not his messed up head.

Everett had stolen his mission. Hell, when Icarus was attacked he should told Everett to go up in the 302 and he'd see the people to safety. He'd have given the order to evacuate to Earth immediately, before the planet's core had spiked into the red. Maybe he'd have redialed the ninth chevron with what Rush and Eli had figured out then, but he for damn sure wouldn't have brought all those unfortunates with him. God damn the House that had been leaked the information about Icarus. They had shredded to bits Kiva's more reasonable plan to wait and let the Tauri do the heavy lifting. He refused to feel guilty for the way Everett's marriage had finally crashed, though. The erosion in that foundation had happened long before Everett had decided it was a good idea to make love to his wife while wearing David's body.

He felt a hot stab of arousal just thinking about how it had felt to jolt back into his body and see and feel Everett's wife, naked, those sounds coming from her, riding him, and how close he was to coming. He'd orgasmed so hard, confused, and sex-dazed, and feeling a dirty thrill at what was happening because it wasn't his fault. He'd had probably the best orgasm of his life because of that sensation of breaking a taboo, of stealing what wasn't his, and he had the perfect alibi. Everett had made the decision to use David's body in such an intimate way; he hadn't. He hadn't had sex with anyone on Destiny, even though some of the scientists had caught his eye. He liked scientists for the most part, enjoyed being with intelligent people. And there was something quite enticing about seducing them from living in their minds to fully engaging with their bodies. But, he hadn't done that. Hadn't muddied the waters with sex on Destiny. There were plenty of scientists at Homeworld Command and the SGC if he wanted to enjoy himself that way.

At least those disconcerting dives back into your own body because of a FTL jump or going through the gate wouldn't disturb anyone in the future, now that they'd fixed that glitch with the stones.

He checked the time, and then thumbed his radio on. "Lieutenant Scott, this is Telford. Bring the shuttle into town. It's time to pack up what we can use."

Scott acknowledged him, and he gave orders to the other two teams to start stripping the houses of whatever looked useful to pack into the shuttle when it arrived.

His team would check out the larger buildings, see if there was anything there that could be scavenged.

x x x

"This is Telford, status check." David waited for the others to report in.

Young answered first. "Rush and Morrison are still studying the gate. No alien activity. Rush wants to try dialing. I haven't decided if that's a really bad idea or a good one."

"Could be risky. We might let unfriendlies know we're here that way." David thought privately that if Rush wanted to step through that gate to an unknown alien world, he'd let him go. Maybe they could lose him permanently.

"At any rate, I told him if we do, it'll be after our pickers and supplies are back on Destiny. James, report."

"James here. Everything's going great," and despite her professional tone of voice, she sounded exulted. "It's sprinkling now, but the pickers are still stripping the bushes of berries and those seed pod things. We're taking back wood... stuff. Samples of plants, too, a lot of the small ones in the fields. Found what looks like vegetable gardens, also, and we're taking back plants and produce. We've sent another load of stuff back to Destiny. Mostly water cans. Those kino skimmer sleds Rush found have been a great help. And Brody says to let you know that he hasn't had any luck finding the power source for the shield with the ship's scanners."

Young said, "See that you finish up and get everybody back on board in three hours. Scott?"

"Yes, sir. I've just moved the shuttle to the middle of the town and the teams are bringing in things we can use. It's mostly food items, some fabric, tools. Oh, and a couple of balls, about the size of soccer ones. Guess these guys like to kick or throw them around. We can start up some soccer teams on board."

Scott's voice sounded light, relieved. Like James. This crew had been through hard times, not enough to eat, not enough water to drink, their clothes becoming ragged. He'd never tell Everett this, but people at Homeword Command had nicknamed them The Castaways. If David couldn't get these people home yet, at least this was a good start for this new galaxy; morale would pick up just from knowing there would be food for them for the next weeks. Something like weekly soccer games would help normalize these people's lives, let them feel less like survivors clinging to a life boat and more like a regular crew aboard a ship.. He liked soccer, maybe there would be time for a game or two before switching back with Eli.

"David?" Everett said.

"My team is checking out the industrial buildings. So far it looks to just be farm machinery."

"Okay," Everett said. "Check back in fifteen minutes. And keep an eye out for something that might be the shield control, since we haven't seen anything close to the gate. Could be something decorative, we've seen that before, or maybe in a hidden room. If we find it Rush wants to examine it. Young out."

Barnes and Dunning were looking at him, waiting for orders. "Let's keep on checking these buildings out. Stay sharp. We've come across other people that hid their real civilization behind the facade of just being farmers."

Dunning spoke up. "Yes, sir. The Genii, in Pegasus. I lost a buddy to them."

"So use your scanners, look for things that don't fit or don't make sense, wrong dimensions of the buildings, radiation, anything that seems off."

They resumed searching the buildings, but other than finding controls that opened a few large closets that held supplies, nothing twigged any of them.

So David really wasn't expecting Everett to call thirty-five minutes before they were due to leave and report that Rush had vanished from a chamber beneath the alien gate.

x x x

Safe House. Earth

"It's been forty hours since you upped that damned device. Malin's not adjusting to it; he's worse," Mary said, and saw the same concern she was feeling written on Drugov's face. "You have to go back to the previous setting. Or at least take his wrist inhibitor off and let him try to stop the pain on his own."

She dropped her head into her hands for a few stolen moments, then looked at Drugov again from across the kitchen table. He grimaced and pushed a bottle of water towards her, and she nodded. She couldn't afford to let herself get dehydrated. She felt exhausted with trying to soothe Malin; she'd had even less sleep than he had. She'd dropped into unconsciousness on her bed as soon as Malin had fallen asleep, but he'd woken up again only an hour later, miserable, with tears rolling down his cheeks, too worn out to even throw a fit. She was the only one he would let hold him, and her back ached from walking him around with his head on her shoulder.

He was asleep again, thank God.

How she wished that his current dreams were useless remembrances from Doctor Rush's life. Instead, they were the counter-point to her argument to lessen the intensity of the device that was attached to Malin's head. The scientists assigned to studying Malin were adamant that they were finally making real progress in understanding what had happened after Rush had climbed into the neural interface chair and ascended.

Drugov bit his lip. "I already tried both of those things, Mary. When you were asleep."

"Then try an even lower setting on the mind device," she said, "if taking off his wrist inhibitor didn't help."

Most of the staff were intent on watching their monitors as Malin's dream played out in real time and they weren't paying attention to them. In his bed, Malin rolled restlessly over onto his side, curling into a fetal position. He'd be waking up again soon from another nightmare, probably.

"No, I mean, I asked for permission to lower the settings from the doctor who's signing off on all of this, and he said that the scans we've made with that gadget from Atlantis showed no damage, nothing wrong at all. He also insisted that Malin's vitals didn't warrant changing it back. His head, his heart, his lungs, they're fine." His voice was apologetic, his expression tense. "I wasn't given permission to take off the inhibitor and see if he can make himself feel better."

"He's in pain, though. I understand that the scans ruled out nerve damage or anything abnormal, but it doesn't change the fact that forcing his subconscious to regurgitate Doctor Rush's memories is hurting him." She felt her hands clenching into fists and made herself straighten them back out. Rubbed her hands against her jeans until she was sure she could pick up the bottle of water and drink from it, not throw it against the wall. After a long swallow she said, "What about the adults who've used it, did they have this much discomfort with it?"

"Hmm. Have you had access to all of the SGC's reports on the device?" Drugov leaned forward, lowering his voice.

"No. But I heard enough about it to know I wouldn't want one attached to my head." Most of what happened at the SGC was classified above her clearance, but some of the other scientists, like Bill Lee, tended to ramble on anyway about missions and projects, regardless of who was listening.

"General Carter's experience is similar to our little buddy's," Drugov said, in hushed tones. "Did you ever hear that Carter got snaked? One of the Tokra jumped her; it wasn't something Carter agreed to do. She wasn't a host for very long before the symbiote died. Later on, for a mission, Carter had to recall lost memories from her symbiote, ones that she couldn't consciously pull forth. When the mind device was set on high, Carter did remember some things but she also experienced Jolinar's torture before the setting was lowered. I heard it was extremely painful."

Mary grimaced. "Doctor Rush was tortured by the Lucian Alliance and the Nakai." Amanda hadn't said more than that and Mary wasn't sure where she'd learned about it. She doubted Doctor Rush had told her anything. "If Malin starts to feel that, not just this awful constant headache, then the device has to be removed."

"Our little guy's setting is about three down from what Carter used, before Jolinar's memories forced her to drop down the intensity." Drugov studied his knuckles. This was hard on him, too, she knew. He'd gotten attached to Malin, but if he openly defied his orders about the device then at a minimum he would be sent away. The other medics in the project were not on Malin's side. She'd try to shield Drugov from any consequences from protesting Malin's current treatment, but it might end up with him having to choose between being a soldier and being a medic.

"Do you know how Doctor Rush was tortured?" she asked cautiously. "You've had a lot more access to records than me."

Drugov spread his hands out in an open gesture. "I've read everything on Rush Homeworld Command had, but the guy left a lot out when he made his reports, in my opinion. But, I know the Alliance used a pain stick on him. It's like a supercharged tazer. The Nakai cut open his chest to implant a tracker next to his heart and he was assaulted mentally by them. They had him immersed in a tank of water; that would feel like torture to me, trapped like that."

She grabbed Drugov's big hand. "You took an oath, same as me, to do no harm. I know this has been an ambiguous situation so far, but re-experiencing Rush's suffering would cross that line."

"I won't let that happen," Drugov said, and she let go of him. "And I'll back you when you talk to O'Neill."

"Thank you." She glanced at her watch. "He should be at Homeworld Command in an hour, according to his aide. He's been offworld. If he can't be reached then I'm going to the IOA. That's what O'Neill told me to do if he was gone too long."

"I've heard Strom is tight with General Telford." Drugov frowned, his brows wrinkling.

"I know. I know that Strom is considered the heavy weight with the IOA, but Richard Woolsey agreed with O'Neill about having me here. He's got a lot of clout, too. I would talk to him." Woolsey was someone who people had strong opinions about. He could be harsh, she knew that, and rigid, although she'd heard that being in charge of Atlantis had changed him somewhat. She'd heard he'd become more flexible, more understanding of the difficulties the SGC and Homeworld Command faced. Woolsey might consider Malin's well being over his value as an informant. Strom, she knew already, would not.

Drugov said, "I've read all the reports where the memory recall device was used, but Malin's setting isn't as high as what was used on SG1 the times they were captured. Hathor and Sokar used it on them, but Sokar threw in a narcotic. The Blood of Sokar. Man, the Goa'uld were a pretentious bunch with their language. But, that's another reason the doc won't sign off on lowering Malin's settings. There were no lasting effects from their usage."

"What an adult can tolerate does not translate into what a child can handle," Mary said, her temper rising again.

"I agree." Drugov shook his head, then stretched, his arms reaching up towards the ceiling. "I hope General Jack will override Doctor Chang." He shot her a speculative look. "Hey, maybe you could ask for a second opinion from the little guy's usual doctor?"

Her brain felt like mush, such an obvious thing to do and she hadn't considered it. God, she needed sleep. "That's a good idea; I should have thought of that. Doctor Lam was Malin's doctor. She's on maternity leave from the SGC, but I have her home phone number from when I was caring for my last patient. If O'Neill can't order the setting down, I'll contact her." Mary had consulted with Carolyn Lam any number of times about Amanda Perry, and to avoid unnecessary delays, Mary had been told to call Doctor Lam directly if she wasn't at the SGC.

Drugov got up and walked over to the coffee pot and filled a gigantic mug that said, "Instant Medic. Just Add Coffee." He waved the mug in her direction after taking a gulp, but she shook her head. She was hopeful that Malin would stay asleep for a while after her phone call and she could get some rest herself.

Returning, Drugov sat down at the table, the coffee aroma tempting her to give in and get her own mugful. He said, "General Telford, he's still on Destiny, isn't scheduled to return till tomorrow, but you know he won't order us to reduce the intensity of the mind device."

"That's a given. And if I hear one word about the greater good, from anybody, I'm going to punch their ticket," she said, scowling.

Drugov held his hands up in a placating gesture. "Make the call, Miss Mary. But if O'Neill isn't back yet, or says to hold off, we're going with plan D. When he wakes up, Doctor Chang authorized me to start him on an opioid. Maybe it will help."

"Morphine, I suppose." She was tempted to remove the device right this minute, but if she did they would only re-attach the thing and from what Drugov had said, the shock of returning to the higher setting would be worse than just letting Malin keep on adjusting. In fact, it was surprising to her that Malin didn't try to take it off. She didn't have the passcode to his wrist device, either. General Telford kept that to himself, but she hoped Jack O'Neill knew it since Telford was not available.

"Yeah. If it doesn't stop his headache, at least it might put him into a deeper sleep," Drugov said. His expression showing consternation as he obviously thought of something, he added, "Or it might work like the stuff that Sokar forced SG1 to drink; it made their memories seem even more real."

"Malin isn't remembering anything when he wakes up though. You know what I think?" Mary scrubbed her hands over her eyes. "We've seen that the memory device can't make him consciously remember his past and I'm betting that's because he was ascended. Who ever did that to Doctor Rush and then turned him into a human child again altered his brain so those memories of ascension weren't accessible directly to him."

"And those are the memories we need. Have you looked at what they're seeing in his dreams?" Drugov's eyebrows rose, apparently thinking about it. "They're incredible."

She shook her head. "No. I've had my hands full."

"You know, Doctor Jackson couldn't remember his life as an ascended being either, not even when one of the Goa'uld used the memory device on him," Drugov said, and yawned. It was contagious and Mary found herself mimicking him, a wave of sleepiness making her limbs feel heavy and her eyes droop.

He said, "Why don't you try to get some sleep for the next hour. I'll keep monitoring his blood pressure and heart rate, everything. If it shifts into affecting his vitals, I will pull medical rank." Drugov dug his fingers and thumb into the skin of his forehead across his eyebrows, looking a lot older than his years. "That rocking chair you wanted was delivered while you were conked out. Maybe that will help him feel better."

Mary stood up and walked over to Malin's bed. His face screwed up suddenly, and she suspected his headache had spiked again. He moved his hand to his mouth and started sucking his thumb in his sleep. She'd never seen him do that before and it hadn't been in his medical records from Doctor Lam. He might be regressing or maybe he'd found it helped to distract himself from the discomfort. "Oh, baby," she said, and stroked his sweat-dampened hair. Jack O'Neill was about to get an earful.

x x x

Stargate Command. Cheyenne Mountain.

"Sir," Walter said on the intercom. "Dr. Lam is here to see you. She said it's urgent."

"Send her in." Hank Landry waved his daughter into his office, and stood up. The paperwork on his desk could wait. Carolyn looked fine, as beautiful as ever, but maybe a little tired since her eyes seemed a little heavy-lidded. He knew the baby wasn't sleeping through the night yet. He also knew that whatever was going on to bring Carolyn back to the Mountain before her maternity leave was up, it wasn't about his grandson. She would have told him on the phone or asked him to drop by her house if it concerned Dylan.

"Carolyn," he said and wrapped her in a warm hug. "How are you doing? How's Dylan and John?"

"John's like me, a little sleep deprived, but Dylan is fine." Her smile lit up her face. "He's nursing well and gaining weight. Come over for dinner tomorrow and see for yourself?"

"I'd like that, honey." He had a second chance to be close to his family, and he was determined to do a better job as a grandfather than he had as a father. Sure, he and Carolyn were talking now and their relationship just kept improving, but it was one of his greatest failings that he'd missed so much of her childhood. He understood why the Ancients had been so obsessed with the notion of time and had tried to go back and fix the mistakes that had poisoned their future, before giving up and leaving this plane of existence. But like them, he had to learn to let those regrets go.

"So, what brings you here?"

"Dad, I have a favor to ask. It's about Malin."

x x x

An hour later, after some shouting on his end, Hank and Carolyn and the equipment she'd requested had been beamed out of the SGC by the General Hammond and deposited at Joint Base Andrews, in Maryland. Malin's safe house was only minutes away, somewhere between the base and Rosaryville State Park and the small town of Marlton. Malin would be brought to the 79th's health care facility, the 779 Medical, for Carolyn to examine.

A tall, thin man greeted them with a salute after the shimmer of the Asgard beam disappeared. Hank returned it, musing over thoughts of the first time he'd been here.

"General Landry, Doctor Lam, if you will come with me, I'll take you to the Medical Group. It's on the west side of the base. Doctor, I'll take that for you." He reached for the large suitcase on wheels and Carolyn let go. She still carried a black bag over her shoulder. She'd told him that it contained her breast pump and a small cooler. Unless they could return in an hour or so, she'd need to use it.

Hank glanced at the name and rank on the man's Air Force uniform. "Thank you, Major Chen. I've been here before, flown in from 'Nam. Of course, back then it was called Andrews Hospital. The 79th does good work."

Major Chen smiled, transforming his solemn expression into a warm one. "Yes, sir, they do. Welcome back. If you don't mind me asking, were you injured in Vietnam? I believe you were a pilot, weren't you sir?" He took a few steps, silently inviting them to follow him and they walked together down the corridor.

"I flew a bird. Got shot down and a little beat up. The 79th did some repair work after I came back to the states." He never regretted being sent to Vietnam. If he hadn't, he'd have never met Kim and married her; they would never have had Carolyn.

"Doctor, have you ever been here before?"

"No, Major," she said, at the same time as he said "Yes." Major Chen looked a little confused.

Hank shot a glance at her. "You were a baby; you wouldn't remember. You had a high fever from a virus, and we lived not too far from here when I was stationed at Washington. You know your mother, she can't stand living in cities, so we had a little house out in the country."

Major Chen's expression showed that he'd figured out Carolyn was his daughter. Carolyn shot the Major a tight, cool smile. She really wasn't big on people she interacted with professionally knowing about their relationship. Anymore, though it was an open secret at the SGC.

"Then welcome back to you also, Doctor," Chen said, and ushered them down a corridor on the right.

When they'd arrived at a large exam room equipped with medical apparatus, Chen touched his earpiece and spoke quietly, just out of hearing range. Carolyn opened the suitcase she brought and took out a jump drive.

"Your patient has arrived, Doctor. They're going through the checkpoints now. He'll be here in ten minutes. I'm going to go escort him and his party to you. If you need anything, hit 113 on the phone and someone will assist you." He nodded to them and strode out of the room.

Carolyn plugged the jump drive into a computer in the corner. She sat down and started pulling up files, flashing through them quickly until she stopped at one and opened it, and stilled. Hank eyed the door and then moved behind her. The name of the file brought up old feelings of guilt and sadness.

"Orlin," he said.

"Yes. I think his experience could be relevant. I'll know more once I examine Malin." She had her poker face on because Carolyn hated losing any of her patients, but she wouldn't let others see how their deaths devastated her.

She busied herself with reading through the file, and Hank ran a hand through his hair. He'd gone to the funeral. So had Carolyn and SG1. Samantha Carter had spoken at the service, and the rest of SG1, Mitchell and Jackson and Teal'c, had closed ranks around her. Vala hadn't rejoined the team yet, he remembered.

Carter had spoken of sacrifice, of selflessness, of the protectiveness Orlin had felt towards the Tauri, and before them, the people he had assisted on a far away planet. Of moral disobedience, and how he'd accepted the consequences of breaking ranks with the other ascended Ancients in order to warn them of the dangers of the Ori. Of his brilliance and creativity, even for an Ancient, apparently. She'd smiled through her tears when she recounted how Orlin, the first time he descended, had built a stargate in her basement with a jumble of parts that included cannibalizing her toaster.

There were no humorous stories about the second time Orlin descended.

"He was a good man," Hank said softly.

"It would be more accurate to say he was a good person, no matter what form he took, ascended Ancient, man, or boy," Carolyn said, and she turned around to meet his eyes. "We failed him after he took physical form as a child. He should have been protected." She pressed her lips together into a tight line. "Instead we allowed him to keep pushing himself to the point of destroying his mind."

Hank recalled the boy's face, the demeanor that seemed at odds with his age, his stubborn determination to help them. "There's no 'we', Carolyn. As I remember, you objected to Orlin's decision to keep trying to retain his Ancient memories."

Carolyn looked bleak. "I should have sedated him until his Ancient memories had vanished." He never understood how some people said that his daughter was cold and not caring. It was so clear to him the pain she felt when she couldn't save someone, her fierce dedication to her patient's health.

"We needed his assistance." Hank added gently, "He saved millions of lives with the work he did on the Ori plague cure."

Carolyn sighed, "After he left notes for us to follow, we should have acted for his benefit. Maybe it was already too late, but I'll always regret not overriding his desire to keep helping."

He remembered Orlin as a blond haired child, a boy of about thirteen. He'd kept discounting the exhaustion he obviously was feeling, and Hank had let him keep on destroying himself. "I was the one who asked him to keep putting his brain on the line by going with me to confront that Prior. And it was for nothing. But I think that strain on Orlin was the last straw."

The damage to Orlin's brain had been greater than anyone had guessed. Not only did he lose his Ancient memories, but his current ones as a human boy had slipped away, too. Finally, he forgot how to do things like feed himself, and ultimately, subconscious bodily functions also faltered.

"He didn't recognize her anymore, but Sam kept visiting him," Carolyn said. "Even after he slipped into a coma and had to be on life support."

"Do you think the same thing might happen to Malin?"

"Yes." Then she made a hedging gesture with her hand. "Maybe. Orlin was an Ancient and had been ascended for countless eons; Doctor Rush's time as an ascended being was only a few years, but we just don't know enough about what he might have learned while in a higher plane. Forcing these memories might damage Malin's mind like Orlin's mind was damaged or he might escape by ascending again."

"That's why you brought the ascendometer?" Carolyn had requested it from the infirmary, where it had been parked since little Malin had been in that coma.

"When some of Malin's previous memories broke through because of the music trigger, we almost lost him to ascension. And that was just his mathematical skill set. Forcing his actual memories as an ascended being could do it, I'm afraid," she said, looking worried.

"Is General Telford aware of this?"

"I sent him my concerns after Malin was put into his custody, but until this latest change in the intensity of the mind recall device, he assured me that Malin only experienced some mild discomfort and a relatively quick adjustment to the devices settings." She gave him a curious look. "These questions aren't unexpected, but I thought you'd want to ask them before agreeing to back me up on my request to see Malin."

He smiled at her. "Seemed like an unnecessary waste of time, honey. If you say you need me to do something for you, I trust that you have a good reason." He put his hand on her shoulder.

"Thanks, Dad," she said and reached up to grasp it.

x x x

Joint Base Andrews, Maryland

Mary followed Drugov and Major Chen down the wide hallway carrying a bag with Malin's clothes and his Rubik's cube and a few other things to keep his attention off his headache. She probably could have left the toys and drawing materials back at the safe house. Malin had been not interested in them during the ride over to the base.

Malin's headache hadn't improved with the liquid dose of morphine Drugov had given him, but it left him very drowsy. He was too sleepy to put up much of a fuss about Drugov carrying him, his head on the big airman's shoulder; Malin's eyes were watching her steadily and she gave him a smile.

"We have a nice surprise waiting for you, Malin," she said, but he just glared at her, the jut of his lower lip signaling his unhappiness. He'd wanted her to hold him, but her back was killing her so she'd reluctantly told him she couldn't carry him right now. He'd refused to sit in a wheel chair, holding onto Drugov like a little monkey.

She was sure General O'Neill would have ordered the mind recall device turned down, if she'd been able to contact him. Unfortunately, he was still delayed off world. But Doctor Lam had been very concerned when Mary had called and had said she'd see what General Landry could do to get her permission to examine Malin. She was grateful to both of them for stepping in.

Malin started sucking his thumb again. He'd been doing it off and on ever since he woke up with it in his mouth. At least the thumb sucking seemed to avert the tantrums he'd been throwing. They could worry later about getting him to stop.

They followed Major Chen through the base until he stopped at a room and pushed open the door. Drugov stepped inside and Mary watched as Malin noticed General Landry, his eyes widening.

"Ms. Dupree," General Landry said, nodding to her. "Jack O'Neill couldn't have chosen a better person to monitor the boy's well being. Sergeant Siler and his wife have been relieved to know you're with him."

"I'm trying, General. That's why I asked for Doctor Lam's help."

Drugov saluted General Landry and Malin shifted in his arm, glaring daggers at the General for some reason, then ignored him when Doctor Lam moved into his field of vision.

"Hello, Malin," Doctor Lam said, and Malin held out an arm to her, his thumb still planted in his mouth and wiggled halfheartedly against Drugov's chest.

She took him from the airman, and Malin put both arms around her neck and hugged her hard, tears starting to fall down his cheeks. Doctor Lam held him for a few minutes, just kind of humming to him, and swaying back and forth until he fell asleep on her shoulder, and Mary remembered that Doctor Lam had just had a baby. She must hold her own child that way, Mary supposed.

Doctor Lam laid Malin down on a gurney and he turned onto his side, not really waking up but not totally asleep either; he resumed sucking his thumb after opening and closing his fists a few times.

"When did he start doing that?" Doctor Lam asked, looking down at Malin and running gentle fingers through his hair. After a moment Malin relaxed back into sleep again and she put up the gurney's railings.

"Very recently. After the mind control device's setting was adjusted upward again," Mary said. "We think he's either regressing or using it to help distract himself from the pain. He's been less agitated since doing it, we've noticed."

"Has he been wetting the bed or having accidents?" Doctor Lam put two fingers against Malin's neck, and glanced at her watch.

"No. But he's been more clingy. He wants to be held more," Mary said.

"Okay. But keep an eye out for any other behaviors that would indicate he's regressing psychologically into a younger age," Doctor Lam said. "Mary, it's good to see you and I'm glad you contacted me. I haven't been able to access how Malin's been doing with the memory recall very much, just a few words from General Telford. I want to know everything. As I understand it, no medication, including the morphine, has eased his pain?"

"No, nothing." Mary waved a hand towards the gurney. "Look at him. Even in sleep you can see the tension around his eyes, his forehead. I've been using a children's pain scale for him to self report and he chooses the highest setting every time. Usually, he's much more conservative, say, if he hurts himself. He jumped down from his climbing structure a few weeks ago and skinned up his knees and hands and cut himself and he didn't even pick the lowest setting then. He's not an over reporter."

"I have a theory about his pain," Doctor Lam said. "I'd like to consult with General Carter when she's available. She's studied the mind recall device quite extensively and all the spin off devices from it also. Especially after it was used on Vala Mal Doran by the Trust and she lost her memories for a time."

Mary sighed with relief. At last, a medical ally with some clout, one that would have Malin's best interest in mind and not the damn greater good of the world.

Handing a flashdrive to Doctor Lam, Mary said, "We brought copies of his records and some of his dream memories, too. But basically, he's not adjusting to this latest setting; he's in pain, but his vitals are good, and his scans can't identify what's wrong. I'm hoping you can shed some light on it and recommend to the IOA and General O'Neill and General Telford that the device needs to be turned back down, if not taken off entirely."

"Let's take a look. Airman, you're a medic, correct? Get his blood pressure and temp and oxygen level, please. And while he's sleeping, I want to finish setting up the ascendometer."

"The what?" Drugov said. "What kind of name is that?" then looked like he'd wished he'd kept his mouth shut as he went to a cabinet and started pulling out a blood pressure cuff and other things that Doctor Lam required.

General Landry spoke up, sounding tolerantly amused, "Blame Colonel Mitchell for that moniker."

Mary remembered when Colonel Mitchell had joined the SGC. He'd cajoled most of the original members of SG1 into teaming back up and had always spoken to Amanda the few times they'd been in meetings together or he'd come down to the science labs. So many people had not looked Amanda in the face, or acknowledged her existence, and that casual indifference to another human being had always made Mary angry.

Doctor Lam stuck the flashdrive into a computer port, speed reading through the files, then got up and made some adjustment to a machine and pushed it over next to to the gurney. Mary joined Doctor Lam. Drugov also went to assist her and gave her the readings he'd just taken. They were all normal.

"The ascendometer measures how close a human being is to ascending. We're borrowing it from Atlantis. Malin came much too close to ascension when he regained his math skills. I want to make sure he's not in danger of ascending again from the use of the mind recall device." Doctor Lam held a strange headset in her hands, turning it over and over.

Doctor Lam slid the crown like device on Malin's head and adjusted the size.

Once the monitor was set up, Doctor Lam watched it with narrowed eyes, as the readings started to climb.

"General," she said. "I don't like what I'm seeing. He's two/thirds of the way to ascension. I'm turning the mind recall device down to the last setting and let's see if his readings settle down to normal. If they don't, I'm recommending the mind recall device be removed. No, scratch that. I will take responsibility for removing it. Can you get O'Neill and someone from the IOA, Woolsey preferably, on a video transmission? Also Doctor Chang. I'll explain to him exactly why I'm taking over Malin's care, since he's failed to consider the best interest of his patient. Malin's history should have indicated that he be monitored with the ascendometer. In fact, I hadn't realized he wasn't being checked until Mary called."

Landry said, "Consider it done," and stepped out of the room.

Mary smiled a little, relieved that Malin would soon not be in pain.

Drugov moved over to Malin and held up the control to the mind recall device and Doctor Lam nodded. After the setting was lowered down, the three of them watched the monitor. Five minutes went by. Then ten. Then twenty. When thirty minutes had passed with no lowering of the readings, Doctor Lam looked at her.

"Let's take it out, see what we get then."

Drugov removed the device and spread a topical antibiotic over the small punctures in Malin's skin, then put a band-aid on top. Malin kept sleeping but his face smoothed out and he seemed more relaxed, some subtle tension that sleep and morphine hadn't eased now leaving his small body.

General Landry came in followed by a couple of airmen, two manhandling the biggest monitor screen Mary had ever seen into the room and one pushing a cart with sandwiches and drinks into the room.

"I contacted O'Neill. He just got back from a negotiation off world, and he said to give him an hour. He's going to be beamed in and he's bringing a guest. The IOA and Chang will be joining us via video conferencing. How's the boy?"

Doctor Lam said, "I ordered the device to be removed because even with a lower setting he was still on the path to ascension. Now we wait and see."

Mary shot a look at the ascendometer screens. Malin's readings hadn't changed.

x x x

The Planet of Missing People

"Colonel, we're out of time. Destiny's gonna jump in twenty-five minutes," Scott radioed. "I've got the team from town on board and I'm headed your way."

Everett kept his expression stoic. "Acknowledged, Scott. We're still at the alien gate. Young out."

"Sir," Greer said, shooting him a look. "I'll stay. Maybe by the time you drop Destiny out of FTL, I'll have found Rush."

"That'll be you and me, Greer. I'm not leaving him behind." Never again, Everett thought to himself.

"Colonel Young, I've sent all the teams and kino skimmers back to the ship." James' voice on the radio was crisp. Professional. "Except for one skimmer. Sir, with the shuttle back on Destiny, we're gonna need one to make decent time back to the gate once Doctor Rush is found. And he might be injured. Permission to join the team staying on the planet to search for him?"

"Stay there until the shuttle makes orbit, Lieutenant. Maybe we'll get lucky and he'll turn up, late again, before the shuttle takes off and you can gate to the ship." Damn, he wished that would be true. But highly unlikely, given the way most of their planet side missions usually ended up. James picked up on his sarcasm.

"Yes, sir. I guess we're about due for some good luck," she said, with a wry twist. "I'll be monitoring radio chatter. James out."

"Greer, radio Scott, let him know that you, me, and James are staying," Everett said quietly.

"Yes, sir," Greer said and thumbed his radio.

"Morrison, grab your gear. You're bugging out," he yelled. Morrison came running up and shoved the kino remote into Young's hands.

"I've looked at every display, monitor, and what I suppose are keyboards in those rooms, Colonel. My best guess? Rush triggered some kind of beaming out technology. He could be anywhere on the planet."

"What about the life signs detector?" Everett asked, but without much hope.

"It's working. It's clearly showing the rest of us, it's even showing the people in the shuttle. But they're all accounted for, none of those little green blips is Rush. He's either really far away – these things have a radius of thirty klicks – or he's somewhere that's shielded to this tech."

They could hear the shuttle roaring up to their position; Morrison grabbed his backpack and shrugged into it. "What the hell was he doing in there under the stargate anyway, Colonel?" Morrison asked, picking up Rush's backpack and holding it against his chest.

"He was trying to learn more about the alien gate. He was under strict orders to just observe, record what he saw. Not to touch anything."

"He must have done something. It'll be his own fault if he gets left here," Morrison said, sounding angry. And kind of upset, Everett thought. Even if you weren't friends with one another, at this point nobody wanted to lose another crewmember.

"Shut the fuck up," Greer said, leveling an impassive stare at the scientist. "We ain't leaving nobody here, understand?"

The shuttle touched down and Morrison sprinted for it. As the rear hatch opened, Telford stepped out, and Morrison practically bowled him over in his hurry to get on board.

Telford jogged over to him. "Everett, figured you could use me."

He extended a hand, Eli's hand, and Everett shook it, glad for the hard squeeze David gave him. David had been one of the best SGC team leaders when he'd been stationed at Cheyenne Mountain. His expertise would be welcomed. But...

"Eli's due to change back before we're liable to get off this planet." Four hours at a minimum, and once Destiny had dropped out of FTL again, this planet might not be accessible and the ship would have to jump back. That meant possibly eight hours here even if they found Rush in an hour.

"I asked Scott to notify Homeworld Command to keep Eli there until we report that we're back on Destiny. Then we'll switch. Eli wouldn't be much help on this kind of search and rescue mission." Telford glanced up at the sky. "Looks like we've got a couple more hours until it's night."

The shuttle took off, roaring up into the sky. Young made an abortive move to check his watch. He kept forgetting that he'd given it to Rush. Greer noticed. Greer always noticed. He held his wrist up so Young could check the time. The shuttle should dock with Destiny with three minutes to spare.

"Everett, what the hell happened?" David rocked on the balls of his feet, his weapon held ready, his eyes skimming the area.

"Rush removed a panel at the side of the stargate platform," Everett said, keeping his tone of voice controlled. "It held a monitoring station. He took a look, recognized equipment similar to what you find with our stargates. He also saw what seemed to be a hatch, some sort of access to another room deeper down."

David glanced at Greer and gave him a nod. Greer returned it and moved towards them, covering the area that David had been watching. David trotted over to the side of the stargate and dropped down to his knees, peering in where Rush had entered. He looked over at Everett. "Yeah, I see where he removed the inner panel." David looked back inside. "Jesus, how did he fit in here? I couldn't do it."

"He took off his jacket and boots first, but it was still a really tight fit for him to wiggle through." Everett glanced at where Rush had piled his boots and the fatigue jacket. "I think this was designed so that the alien's tech people could check things from either outside or from the inner rooms, which Rush did find. He sent a kino through first. The other rooms were empty. Seemed to be laboratories. Workspaces with monitors, computers, and other stuff. And just like in the town, there were different sized chairs, stools. Lab benches. "

"You were in contact with him the entire time?" David asked sharply.

"Yes. I watched him with my kino remote. And he used his radio, so it's working. Or it was working." Everett sighed. "He was really excited about what he was seeing."

"But he didn't touch anything?"

Everett flashed back to the warning he'd given Rush. And Rush had agreed. I'm not quite as foolish as Eli and Brody were when they were playing around with the stasis pods, Colonel. I've no desire to find myself trapped. "I don't think he did. I didn't see him do anything. The work stations down there were already up and running and displaying readings. Rush took a good look at those and was recording them with the kino he had. Then he walked into a new room through an open doorway. He was looking for the shield controls. I was watching him; I'd just given him a time check that he had five minutes and then he had to come back."

"That's when he disappeared?"

"Yeah." Everett snapped his fingers together. "Like that."

"I'd like to see the footage," David said.

"Sure. Let's see if there's something I missed. I don't recall any flash of light, or any different sounds when he disappeared. There was a soft background humming from the equipment running, but nothing else. He just winked out of existence." Everett relived that moment in his mind. He'd maneuvered the kino to keep Rush in close camera range. Rush had been using his own kino to record the readings from a new alien monitor, and he'd been concentrating, a small furrow between his brows, a pencil in his mouth. Then in one blink, gone.

"A phase shift?" David asked, his eyes thoughtful.

Everett shrugged. "It was just him that disappeared, everything else in the room stayed put. He was as close as he could get to one of the machines, sitting on one of those tall stools, and it's still there. As far as I know the area around him and that stool would have disappeared, too." He handed David the kino remote, after rewinding it back to where Rush first had entered the hidden rooms.

"So, probably he was beamed out. Maybe as a security protocol. Maybe he got tagged as an unauthorized intruder when he went down there." David's eyes were on the small screen, watching intently as on the video Rush made comments out loud to Everett about what he was seeing and learning, sounding thrilled, sounding happy. A scientist in his element.

Rush had been like that the entire time he'd been studying the gate, telling Everett things he was learning, comparing this stargate to the versions in the Milky Way and Pegasus and Destiny. It had been a little strange, considering how usually Rush kept everything he was learning to himself, but Everett had recognized that this was Rush being cooperative and thrilled about his discoveries. He wondered if Rush had done the same thing with his wife, sharing his excitement about his work with her. He'd never met Rush's wife but he'd seen Rush with Doctor Perry quite a bit. There had been something exclusive about the pair of them, off in their own little world, and it had surprised him at the time, to see Rush actually holding long conversations with another human being.

If David was correct... "Crap, he could be sitting in some kind of hidden holding cell right now, waiting for the people who live here to return."

If the inhabitants of this planet came back, maybe they could negotiate with them for Rush's return. Although, the fact that they'd basically just ransacked the town and their fields wasn't going to endear them to these aliens. They might have to do a jail break. Or maybe Rush was working right now on freeing himself. He was an extremely clever guy, knowledgeable in both theoretical and practical applications. He was like Rodney McKay in that aspect, and Rodney had gotten his team out of incarceration numerous times. But if he couldn't... Everett did not want to find himself in armed conflict with these people, these farmers, if the evidence could be believed. But to get Rush back, he'd do it.

"You know, something similar happened on his first mission with me, back at the SGC," David said, and there was something dark in his voice. "We were searching P5X-446. He figured out where Nirti's lab was and got ringed down inside it. By himself."

"He's a scientist, and as curious as a cat. But that's why you had him on the team, wasn't it, David? To find it for you?" Everett asked, remembering David mentioning before they went into stasis that he'd had missions with Rush before Icarus.

"With proper military backup. He emclaimed/em he didn't realize he'd put himself in position to get ringed down alone. At the time, I gave him the benefit of the doubt. He was new to the SGC, never been on a team before, so I let it go. But he did the same thing the next time we found one of Nirti's labs. I think he did it deliberately. He wanted a look at her research, Everett, before we would have shipped it all off to Area 52 and out of his hands. And his actions put the entire team at risk. People got hurt because of him."

"Well, I don't think he whisked himself away this time, David. He knew how short of time we were before the ship jumped."

"Did he have a weapon on him?" David asked.

"No. Just a radio, a kino remote, a pencil and one of those little notebooks he's always scribbling in. There's no signal from the remote, either. And we should be able to pinpoint it over half the planet."

"He's got to be shielded somehow. Ah," David said, and Everett watched with him as Rush vanished from the stool he was perched on, recording readings. "Damn, that was quick."

"So, there's no way the rest of us could get in there the way Rush did. Let's leave a kino to monitor and start searching the area around the gate for a hidden passageway into the rooms," Everett said.

David nodded. "We've been through the town, but if we don't find him here," he said, his eyes sweeping the surrounding area, "then we should check again."

"I want the four of us to stay close. If that wasn't an automatic intruder alert beam out, then we're being watched," Everett said, hiding the unsettled feeling he'd just had.

"Agreed," David said. "Until James arrives with the skimmer, let's take a look at the area with the kinos we have."

x x x

Joint Base Andrews. Maryland.

Jack O'Neill steadied Trish Armstrong when she stumbled a little after the two of them were beamed down to Andrews. It was more psychological than physical, that stumble. There was no momentum, no force on a person as they left the ship and landed on the ground, feet still planted under them.

"You okay, Trish?" he murmured, as he let go of her upper arm. She tossed her long hair back over her shoulder.

"Fine, Jack. Let's go. I've waited a long time to see Doctor Rush for myself." Her expression was tight on her pretty face, and tension was evident in her posture. She was angry, and she'd been angry for a long time. He hoped that bringing her wouldn't backfire, and stoke that fire instead of helping to put it out.

"Sir, Ma'am? I'm Major Chen and I'll escort you to Doctor Lam and her party. This way, please." Jack returned the salute the tall man was giving him, and then waved a hand for him to proceed.

Down hallways they walked at a fast clip, until Chen stopped at a room labeled Examination Room Four. He nodded to them and added, "If you need anything, just hit 113 on the phone and I'll see to it that you get it, sir. Ma'am, General, welcome to the 977."

Trish reached out to open the door but Jack put a gentle hand on her arm, stopping her. He waved Chen off and the Major left them. "Just... Hang on a sec, Trish."

She narrowed her eyes at him. "I know exactly why you asked me to come here, Jack. You want me to see Doctor Rush in this misleading form as a child and to feel sorry for him. You want me to use my influence with the president and the IOA to stop David's project. It's not going to work."

"Oh, I'm hoping it will. Because General Telford's probably right about Rush coming to warn us of some huge, honkin' danger, but that person in there is a child. It's time to let him go back to his family."

"Let him be with his family? When my family has been torn apart and my husband dead because of what Rush did?" Her eyes started brimming, the tears that he knew were never too far away starting to slip down her face.

"Malin's not that guy anymore, Trish. And Rush did save your daughter's life. Twice, if my old memory can be trusted."

She wiped the tears off her face with a fierce movement of both hands. "David knows him. Has known him for years and he's sure that Rush only saved her to curry favor with Homeworld Command. He doesn't care about Chloe. He's a horribly selfish man, and his actions were criminal."

"Doctor Rush isn't here, though. This is a little guy who just happens to have some of his subconscious memories. He's an innocent."

"David says you're wrong. Nicholas Rush is hiding in a kid's body and he's going to pay, Jack. He's not going to get away with kidnapping all those people and forcing them onto that wreck of a ship at the other end of the universe. He's going to pay for killing my husband." She looked fierce, and vulnerable at the same time, and he felt for her, but Telford had sold her the wrong bag of goodies. She needed to see for herself what Malin was like, before letting Telford use her influence for his own agenda.

"So what made you decide to accept my offer today, Trish?" he said, keeping his tone of voice mild. "You just want to see him in pain because of the memory device he's wearing? Is that going to make you feel better?"

"Yes," she hissed. "It will make me feel better knowing he's being punished. I know you and Alan were friends, Jack. I appreciate that, I do." Her voice rose with conviction. "Can't you see that Alan deserves justice, Chloe deserves justice?"

Jack said, "Not through Malin, though. And you know as well as I do that the IOA is looking into Doctor Rush to see if he should face criminal charges. I know all about the pressure you're putting on the president and Congress to bring him in for a hearing."

Trish crossed her arms over her chest. "I deserve something, too, since Alan is gone and Chloe lost to me. I deserve to see Doctor Rush, in whatever form he's in, paying for what he did."

Jack sighed. Alan Armstrong's widow had been clamoring for Rush's blood since Rush dialed the ninth chevron. It still wasn't clear to him if there had been any other choice or not. The scientists he'd asked to look into the problem, Carter, Lee, McKay, said there were too many variables to take into account to definitely say Rush had made the right call. Carter, though, leaned towards agreeing with Rush, so in hindsight Jack was willing to give the guy some slack. A decision had to be made within minutes during an attack. At least Trish still had her daughter, could visit her via the stones.

Charlie's face flashed in his mind, and he ruthlessly slammed the door on those memories of his son. Of finding him shot with Jack's own gun. Sarah divorcing him. He'd lost his family and he knew in his gut how Trish felt, but her anger was misplaced. He hoped seeing Malin for herself would make her see that.

"Before we go in, some ground rules. Regardless of how you feel, you will not shout at or try to hurt that kid. Do I have your word, Trish?"

Her lips were a tight line, an ugly expression on her beautiful face, but she bit out, "I won't do anything, Jack. I just want to see him for myself."

"Okay, then. Oh, in case you didn't know or forgot, he can't speak. He can understand you, though, so for crying out loud, watch what you say." With that Jack opened the door and ushered her inside.

Doctor Lam turned from the monitor she was reading and put her finger to her lips, and nodded towards the figures on the gurneys. Mary Dupree, Malin, and an airman all looked asleep.

Lam walked over to them, motioning to follow her to the far corner where Hank Landry was talking quietly on his phone; when he met Jack's eyes, he ended the call and slipped it into his pocket.

"Jack," Landry said, quietly. "Seems we have a bit of a situation here."

"Hank," Jack acknowledged. "Don't we always? How's tricks back at the SGC? How's Walter?"

"That boy is a treasure." Landry held out his hand and Jack shook it.

"Be sure to tell him I said hi; I don't think I would have made it through my first day as head of the SGC without him," Jack said, and turned to Trish. "Hank, this is Patricia Armstrong. Her late husband, Senator Alan Armstrong, was a friend of mine. Trish, this is General Hank Landry. He's the poor S.O.B who took over for me at the SGC when I got kicked upstairs."

"I met your husband a time or two, Mrs. Armstrong," Landry said. "He came by Cheyenne mountain to take a look at the program."

Trish smiled graciously, her professional demeanor hiding the turmoil she'd shown out in the hall. "Taking a look to see that the American people's money wasn't being wasted, you mean."

Landry just smiled like he was Buddha himself. "And this is my daughter, Doctor Carolyn Lam. She's in charge of Medical at the SGC, and she's Malin's personal physician."

"Hello," Carolyn said coolly. "I'd like to know your purpose in being here, Ma'am."

That was Carolyn Lam, Jack thought. Direct as an arrow through a bulls-eye.

Trish didn't answer her, instead she walked over to the gurney where a small form was under a blanket. Jack let her go. She was grieving and angry and really, Jack blamed Telford for exploiting those feelings, convincing her to use her considerable influence to push for his agenda. Still, she was a decent person, and she was a mother. Jack hoped that Malin would be able to make his case for him just by being himself.

"So," Jack said brightly. "What's goin' on?"

x x x

Jack decided that he'd heard enough. "I've heard enough," he said, the talking heads on the monitor all turning to look at him. "The IOA feels its toes were stepped on by Doctor Lam and General Landry getting involved without their permission, yadda, yadda. Doctor Chang is outraged that his patient is now being treated by Doctor Lam without consulting with him, blah, blah, blah. You guys," and he pointed at the large monitor where Strom and Woolsey and Chang had all been flapping their gums for the last thirty minutes, "get over it."

There was a sound of outrage from Doctor Chang, but Jack held up one finger and made the sound that sometimes could stop Daniel from blathering on. Sometimes. It worked on Chang though, and he shut up.

"Now, about the speech from Richard," and he made air quotes, "great strides have been made on discovering what Doctor Rush is warning us about from his days as a glowy being because of switching to the higher settings on the memory device, yak, yak, yak, and for the greater good, it needs to keep happening, bibbidi-bobbidi-boo. I'm putting my foot down about that, and I'm prepared to call in every marker I have, including a few with the president."

He turned to Doctor Lam. "Carolyn, are you prepared to take over medical supervision for Malin?"

"I am," she said, her dark eyes serious.

"Okay, I think we've heard everybody's two cents. Wang, you should be fired. You neglected to have Malin monitored about ascension and as Doctor Lam has explained, the memory device is obviously triggering him onto that path."

He looked at Strom and Woolsey. "The IOA has been charged with Malin Tripp's safety. You've fallen down on the job. You guys owe Mary Dupree and Airman Drugov for contacting Doctor Lam. And yes, I'm aware of how the dreams the kid has been having since the device was upped are showing what looks like his experiences after he ascended."

Woolsey looked troubled. "It was never our intention to harm Doctor Rush."

Strom shook his head. "General O'Neill, you of all people should realize the tactical advantage Doctor Rush has given us by returning to Earth. And Doctor Chang has monitored his situation most thoroughly. To my knowledge, all of Doctor Rush's scans and vital signs showed no problem whatsoever with the device."

"And yet, it still managed to hurt him. I've had one of those things stuck on my head, and I can tell you that it does hurt on the higher settings. And Carter, who is as tough as they come, couldn't take the highest setting for more than a few minutes. She told me she had a theory about why it hurt like that, after we came back from Hell, but I tuned out the technical talk." Jack shrugged. "I was thinking about playing a round of miniature golf with Teal'c at the time. Anyway, I've contacted the Hammond. Carter's in a briefing right now but she's going to call us when she's done, explain that theory again."

"I must protest any changes being made while General Telford is not present," Strom said, but only halfheartedly. If the kid had ascended because of Telford ordering the memory device to be kicked up to higher settings, the shit would have hit the fan because who knows if Malin would have stuck around in his glowy form. No, the IOA knew that it was better to keep trying to find out what Malin's subconscious was trying to communicate while he was still human.

"Oh, I intend to have a little chat with him about all of this when he gets back from Destiny. He can't be pulled from the stones right now," Jack said. And by chat, he meant dressing down. He was going to lobby that Telford be removed from this project; the man had too many complicated associations with Rush.

Strom made a low grumble of discontent. "There is more at stake here than the comfort of one individual."

Jack narrowed his eyes at Strom. "You guys have to know it's better to gamble that Malin's subconscious will find a way to let us know about the threat to Earth, rather than letting him go back to being ascended and watch him flit off to explore the mysteries of the universe. I mean, have you ever talked to Doctor Rush about the nature of Destiny's mission? It's surprising that he even bothered to descend back to human form, and I sure wouldn't count on him, if he does revert back to being Rush, sticking around to help out again once he's a glowy octopus."

Strom and Woolsey looked at each other on the screen. Woolsey nodded and Strom said, "The IOA is in agreement that Doctor Rush should not be pushed into ascension. Doctor Chang's services will no longer be required, as Doctor Lam will be taking over."

Doctor Chang made a sour expression and ended his connection.

"Doctor Lam, what are your recommendations about the memory recall device?" Jack turned to her.

Carolyn said evenly, "No memory device for at least two weeks. In the last thirty minutes his readings are starting to come down about ascension. If in two weeks, if he's stable again, then it can be tried once more, but only at the lowest setting. He will be monitored with the ascendometer and if he starts to become unstable again, or he tells us that it's bothering him, then he's off of it permanently."

Jack looked at Woolsey. "And what about the timetable to return him to his family? I say we send him back now." Sly and Mary Siler had been doing what they could to get Malin returned to them, petitioning the IOA, trying to contact the president. They'd been stonewalled.

Richard Woolsey got a mulish expression on his face. "General O'Neill, you've made your position on this quite clear in the past, but with these new, fascinating memories that have surfaced I'm afraid the boy will need to remain in IOA custody for the entire six months we were granted. We will reserve the right to end our custody before then, if no new results have been obtained. The ban on his seeing his adopted family will be kept. This is not negotiable, General."

Strom smiled, wide and toothy, looking every bit like a mob hit man just given a new, juicy assignment. "Since the memory device may become permanently off the table, General Telford is authorized to use any other means to help Doctor Rush regain his lost memories."

Jack stared at him, suspicious. "What means are we talking about?"

"Nothing that isn't safe," Woolsey said, jumping in. "But for the time being the IOA is not prepared to discuss the particulars. I will say this, though. He will be monitored and if there is any difficulties, that strategy will be dropped. You have my word, Jack."

"Mary Dupree remains with him and will report to me and Doctor Lam," Jack said. "And that is not negotiable."

"Agreed. And now I must take my leave," Woolsey said. "Is the boy still sleeping? If he's awake I'd like to see him."

"He's conked out. Kid's exhausted from wearing that thing," Jack said, turning to make sure that Malin was still asleep. It looked like he was, and Trish was still standing by his gurney. She'd been there since walking into the room, like a crow on the cradle, an omen of ill-will, if the expression on her face was anything to go by.

"Ah," Woolsey said. "Please continue to copy me with all data. General," he nodded to Jack. "General, Doctor Lam," he added, his eyes flicking over to the corner where Hank Landry was standing next to Carolyn. "Mrs. Armstrong, I'm sure we'll be in touch. Ms. Dupree, Airman, your concerns have been noted. Doctor Strom."

Jack wiggled his fingers in a half-hearted wave as Woolsey's image vanished.

"I, too, must take my leave." Strom said, and also ended his connection.

Landry's phone rang, and he headed into the hall. Honestly, Jack was surprised he'd been able to ditch the SGC for this long.

"Well," Jack said, stretching, "I could use another sandwich. Anyone else feeling a little peckish?"

They took a break for snacks and drinks, and Jack asked about how Malin's last week had gone, listening, but also watching Trish. It had been a gamble to bring her here, but her influence had helped the IOA gain custody of Malin. He figured she should see for herself the consequences of that.

Drugov said, "He's starting to wake up, General."

Trish leaned closer to the gurney, and Jack walked over to her. "Give him some space," he murmured. "You're a stranger to him."

He gently tugged her back from where Malin was slowly blinking himself awake. Malin replanted his thumb in his mouth as his eyes opened fully. Sitting up, he saw Jack and wiggled out from under the light blanket and pulled off the ascension monitor from his head one handed and tossed it away from him with a disdainful look. He then elected to use both hands to boost himself over the railing, even as Mary said, "Wait, we'll take them down."

Grabbing Jack's leg he started to try to climb him like he was a tree, so Jack just swooped him up and felt small arms around his neck.

"Hello," Jack said and Malin leaned away and signed back to him, his hands rapidly making shapes and then reshaping them.

"A little help?" Jack said to Mary.

"He says hello, that he doesn't like that thing on his head and that he's been feeling very bad in his head and tummy, but now he feels better and can you buy him more ice cream?"

"That's up to Doctor Lam, kiddo. Let her check you out, okay? Also, cool PJs." Malin was wearing light blue pajamas decorated with characters from a nursery rhyme.

Malin sighed, but made the okay sign with his fingers, and then tiredly made more gestures.

Mary translated. "He says the PJs are a secret from General Telford because the general wouldn't like him wearing pajamas with cows jumping over the moon. Also, Malin says that cows can't really jump over the moon and that cats can't play the fiddle, but he likes his PJs because they were a present from the people in the house."

"I think we should get Daniel some like that, whad'ya say, Malin?" Jack said. He squeezed his arms around the boy a little tighter, like maybe he could keep him here on this plane of existence. He flashed back to Daniel dying, to his best friend asking Jack to let him go, to let him ascend. He'd had to let Daniel go; he wouldn't let Malin get all glowy.

Malin bobbed his head, a grin breaking out on his face. Then he finger spelled a word and looked expectantly up at Jack.

Jack laughed. "Yeah, we'll get some extra, extra large ones for Teal'c."

He deposited Malin back down on the gurney. "Let's have Doctor Lam take a look at you. If she says okay, you can have that ice cream."

Trish had been watching him and Malin the entire time, one hand covering her mouth, the other fisted over her heart.

Carolyn busied herself doing medical stuff, checking the kid's vitals, listening to his lungs and heart and belly. Mary got him a bottle of water from the snack cart and handed it to him when Carolyn was finished and talking to the medic. Malin drank it down eagerly, and Mary fished out clothes and a few toys and books from the bag, spilling them on his gurney.

Mary said something quietly to Malin and he nodded and slid off the gurney. She handed him his clothes and they walked over to the bathroom. He stepped inside and shook his head when she asked if he wanted any help and shut the door firmly.

She looked over at Jack. "It's a good sign that he doesn't want me to help him in the bathroom like I've been doing for the last two days. He's usually very independent."

There was a muffled snort from the big guy, the medic. "Ah, sorry, sir," he said. "Just, that last bit is an understatement."

"I want him to try to eat something. Applesauce, crackers, juice, and if he can hold that down, then a sandwich. We'll see about ice cream after that," Carolyn said.

"I'll call in it," the medic said and picked up the phone.

x x x

Landry walked back into the exam room and stood next to Jack, watching with him as Malin sat cross-legged on the gurney playing with a Rubik's cube, the ascendometer apparatus on his head. Half a sandwich was on a plate next to him, with a bite out of it.

Malin looked up when he'd solved the puzzle in record time and his expression darkened when he saw Landry. His lower lip jutted out and suddenly he wanged the toy at Landry as hard as he could.

Landry caught it. Malin had crossed his arms over his chest and was glaring as hard as a six-year-old could manage at Landry.

"Hey, what's up, buddy? Are you mad at General Landry?" Jack asked.

Malin glanced at Jack and nodded forcefully.

Landry raised his eyebrows. "I did order him to be zatted when he came through the gate," he murmured softly. "Maybe he heard about that."

Mary hurried over from where she had been conferring with Carolyn. She crouched down in front of Malin and began talking softly to the boy, who kept right on giving Landry the stink-eye while he signed to her.

After a few moments, Mary straightened up. "It's not because of being zatted, General," she said, looking at both him and Landry. "Well, he's a little mad about that, but that's not why he threw that thing at you."

Landry walked closer and handed the toy back to Mary. "So, let's have it out, man to young man. Why are you angry with me?"

Malin's fingers flew for long moments then tears started to overflow, and he stopped signing in order to wipe his eyes with both hands.

"Oh," Mary said, and her eyes were full of pity. "He says that he's mad at you, General Landry, because you told him he could go home with his daddy and mom, and then you gave him to General Telford instead, and his daddy got hurt trying to keep him from having to go away. He says that you're his daddy's boss, his C.O. and if Malin is bad you'll put his daddy in jail." Malin nodded, more tears running down his face, and tried to wipe his runny nose with the bottom of his T-shirt. Mary stopped him and handed him a tissue.

"Son," Landry said, dropping down so Malin could look him in the eyes. "It wasn't my idea for you to be away from your family. I know it's hard for you to understand, but the people in charge over me, my bosses, said that General Telford could keep you for a while. It's because of your dreams; they think what you dream about can help us fight an enemy."

"Where did he get the idea that if he acts up Siler is going to be put in jail?" Jack asked, but he was pretty damn sure he already knew the answer.

Malin looked scared, and shook his head, not meeting anyone's eyes.

"Malin, who told you that your daddy would go to jail if you were bad?" Landry asked, and put a hand on Malin's shoulder. "It's okay, you can tell us. I promise that Sergeant Siler will not be in trouble."

Malin glanced at Jack, who nodded back encouragingly, he hoped, then the boy looked at Carolyn and Mary, before dropping his eyes. His hands started opening and closing.

"Is it supposed to be a secret?" Carolyn asked, moving closer to the gurney.

Malin nodded, and moved his thumb to his mouth, but didn't put it in, the edge of his thumbnail lightly touching his lips.

"Son," Landry said, taking Malin's hand and holding it. "You're right. I am your daddy's C.O., his commanding officer. Now, when your daddy fought General Telford taking you away, he did break a rule. But I've already dealt with that. Your dad got a written reprimand, that's all. And I made sure that every last detail of why he struck a superior officer was listed. He was defending his boy, and the only reason I gave him that reprimand was so that General Telford couldn't bring up charges later. I promise you, your daddy is not going to jail, not even if you throw a huge tantrum."

Malin's face crumpled up and tears started again. He pulled his hand free from Landry's and started signing, Mary translating.

"Malin says that he wants to go home and see his mother and daddy and his brothers and sister. He's tired of playing at the house even if he does like some of the people and he loves me and Drugov, but he doesn't like things being stuck on his head that hurt. He says that General Telford doesn't like him and told him if he's bad his daddy has to go to jail. General Telford said if he tells anybody then that's being bad, too, and his daddy wouldn't like going away for a long time to a jail."

Malin's breath was hitching, and his shoulders were shaking with silent sobs; he dragged an arm across his eyes.

"You did the right thing telling us, Malin," and Jack gently pushed Malin's hair out of his eyes. "You still need to follow the rules at the house, stuff like picking up your toys, okay? But don't worry about your dad; he's going to stay at the SGC, and in a few months you will be going home," Jack said, and Mary handed Malin another tissue. God damn David Telford anyway for blackmailing a six-year-old like that. His eyes caught Trish's as he picked up Malin and patted him on his back. She was frowning, but whether it was because of learning that her charming good friend was a bully, or because she still didn't believe Malin was a kid, he didn't have a clue.

When Malin had stopped shaking and trembling against him, he swung him around to his hip and asked, "Hey, feel better now?"

Malin shrugged listlessly. His hand started to go to his mouth again, but Jack caught it. "How about some ice cream instead of a thumb? I want chocolate."

Looking a little interested, Malin pointed to Drugov and Mary and Carolyn and then, almost hesitantly, at Landry.

"You think we all should have some ice cream?"

Nodding, Malin looked curiously at Trish for the first time. Jack said, "She's a lady I know. She heard you were really smart about math and great at doing cartwheels, and she wanted to meet you."

"No cartwheels today," Carolyn said firmly. "I need to readjust the ascendometer headgear, too. I need absolutely accurate readings."

"Back down you go, kiddo," Jack said and put Malin on the gurney. Mary handed the little guy the Rubik's cube after twisting it around so it was jumble of colors. While Carolyn fiddled with the ascendometer and the medic got Malin's vitals, Landry played waiter and took ice cream flavor orders and picked up the phone.

"His readings have come down two points," Carolyn announced. "That pain that was so overwhelming but didn't affect his vitals and couldn't be helped by medication? I think, and I want General Carter's take on it, that pain is akin to phantom pain from a missing limb. Especially memories from being ascended, since Daniel Jackson also experienced similar pain when the memory device was being used by Osiris on him."

"I remember," Jack said. "Danny had a hell of a headache afterwards. Malin seems better, though."

"He's a kid. His brain is probably more resilient than an adult's, there's a lot more white matter, for example," Carolyn said, and smiled as the reading changed again to show another point had dropped.

Malin held up the puzzle cube, looking straight at Trish. Conflicting emotions rippled over her face before she schooled herself to a calm, almost stoic look and walked slowly over to the gurney.

When she was right next to Malin, he touched the watch on her wrist. Mary said, "He's asking you to time him while he solves the Rubik's cube. He's very proud of how fast he can do it."

Trish started to back away. "Oh, I don't-"

Jack interrupted her. "Kids are like that, aren't they, Trish? Wanting an adult's attention? Now, Doctor Rush, he could care less about asking for someone's approval." Although that wasn't quite true, Jack remembered. He'd wanted Jack's approval for solving the Ninth Chevron. Still, Rush kept that part of himself tightly locked down for the most part.

"David assured me that the boy was only a child physically; he's pretending-" she began, but hesitated when Jack caught her eye, glancing meaningfully towards Malin.

"Pfftt. Do you see Doctor Nicholas Rush on that gurney?" Jack asked. "Seriously? Rush couldn't act his way out of a paperbag. I've seen him try. Believe me, his attempts to suck up to people like Alan fooled no one. Alan thought it was funny and I know he talked about that with you, on some of the occasions Rush met with him."

Malin rolled his eyes and dropped the cube on his lap to sign, his hands flashing. Mary said, "He says that he isn't Doctor Rush. He doesn't know why people get them mixed up all the time, because Doctor Rush is a grown up and he isn't. He doesn't know why he dreams about Doctor Rush, but he'd like to go see Doctor Rush's space ship."

"Okay," Trish said, her expression uncertain, as she shot a glare at Jack. "I'll time you." She glanced at her watch and said, "Get ready, get set... Go."

Malin's fingers flew as he configured the puzzle, and Jack thought he'd probably gone as far as he could with changing Trish Armstrong's mind.

x x x

The Planet of Missing People

"Check the remote," Everett ordered James. Destiny should have dropped out by now, he thought. In another few minutes the last dregs of sunset would darken down into twilight, and then darkness. And they hadn't found any trace of Rush.

James spun the dial. She looked over at Everett and shook her head. "Sorry, sir. This gate must not be in range."

"Four hours, then," David said. "Until Destiny can jump back and make contact."

"Let's keep searching," Everett ordered, and James moved the kino skimmer down the street, Greer taking point and David and himself on either side of the skimmer. They'd held this pattern for hours, James sweeping for life signs and using the kinos, checking the video footage while the rest of them swept through buildings and houses.

Another hour passed, then two more. The town was eerily dark, and the sky thick with stars, a wide band of this galaxy's spiral arm taking up most of the middle.

"How long, Everett?" David asked quietly, shining his flashlight around the room of the small house they were checking. "Before you decide Rush is gone for good."

"We'll burn that bridge when we come to it," Everett said, using his rifle butt to tap on walls, checking for hidden passages.

David made a sound between amusement and annoyance. He walked over to face him and put a hand on Everett's shoulder. "Mangled Tauri-Jaffa sayings aside, it's time to start making a time table. Destiny can't stay here forever, Everett."

"Maybe he won't have to," Greer said from the doorway, and Everett spun around. "A light just came on inside that building over there."

"Sir!" James voice came over the radio. "We've got a human life sign."

x x x

"Sir," Greer said behind him. "I'll go."

Everett shook his head and stepped inside the building. On the far side by a wall, someone was prone on the floor. Someone with bare feet and shaggy hair. They'd found him, but Everett felt no sense of relief. "Watch our six, Sergeant. I'll take point."

Cautiously, Greer and David covered him while Everett moved carefully towards where Rush was lying face down on a roughly textured floor. He was alive, according to James' scan, but he hadn't responded when David had tried the radio.

The two story building was still the only one that had a light spilling out its windows, a brilliant blue-white, and they'd found Rush in a cavernous room that had what looked like vehicle parts stacked up on large shelves and oily looking stains on the floor. There were tools scattered on benches, again, some tall, some shorter, again as if to accommodate beings of different heights.

David said into the quiet, "He could be bait, Everett. Whoever took him wanted us to find him here. Watch yourself."

Everett dropped to one knee beside Rush and felt for his pulse. It felt slow to him, and a little fluttery, like butterflies had when he'd trapped them in his hands as a kid back in Minnesota. Shifting his hand from Rush's neck, he rolled him over. Rush's eyes were closed. Everett frowned and felt Rush's forehead, alarmed at the heat he could feel.

"He's unconscious and he's got a high fever. Pulse is kind of weak," Everett said. Greer started towards him, but Everett held out his hand. "Stay back. Whatever's wrong with him might be contagious. I'm already exposed, so I'll carry him. Tell James to do what she can to make more space with the skimmer between him and me and the rest of you." He swung his rifle around so it rested against his back, and slid his arms under Rush's knees and back.

Grunting, he hefted Rush up, the other man dead weight in his arms, his head falling back against Everett's arm. He stood up, staggering a few steps as he got his balance. David covered him, his stance watchful, stepping away from the door as Everett approached. Greer had already gone back into the street.

James was reconfiguring the skimmer, panels unfolding and locking into place, making it longer. Like that it couldn't maneuver very easily in Destiny's corridors, but she could make it go back to its default shape of fairly short and narrow once they were back on board.

He walked as fast as he could to the skimmer and laid Rush down at the back of it, then boosted himself up next to Rush. Greer settled next to James, and took the kino remote from her. David dropped into a crouch behind the two in the bench seat, facing Everett, his eyes checking the area, a grim expression on Eli's face, weapon ready. David had been right. Whoever had released Rush had wanted him found.

"James, head for the gate," Everett yelled, and slid Rush's greenish-brown T-shirt off, hoping to cool him down. Rush was still wearing that dingy long sleeved shirt, trapping the fever heat, and he worked on freeing Rush's arms from it.

The skimmer rose in the air a few more feet and then made an arc as James headed them back to the gate. Their gate. The alien gate and surrounding area was still under surveillance from kinos. One more hour, and they'd be able to gate back to Destiny. He hoped TJ could do something to help Rush. He didn't much like the way the other man was breathing; it was too shallow, too irregular.

The skimmers had the same anti-gravity tech that allowed the kinos to float along, but were much, much stronger. They were fast, able to go about thirty miles an hour and James yelled to hang on as she floored it. Everett pulled Rush up mostly into his lap, holding him securely. The last thing they needed was Rush falling off and breaking his neck.

Rush's bare skin felt like the outer rock walls on Icarus had felt, dry and hot. Not even the breeze created by the skimmer's movement or removing some of his clothes had cooled him off. He needed water, but giving it to him while he was unconscious wasn't going to work.

"Everett," David called to him. "James said there's a thermometer, and alcohol and soap in the first aid kit. Wash your hands with water and soap, and then rub a little of the alcohol on your hands. Don't put the alcohol on Rush, she said. It won't stop the fever." David lobbed the kit towards him, and it landed just inches away from Rush.

He unzipped the pack, small enough that James could carry it in her tac vest, and took out the thermometer, an old fashioned one that didn't rely on batteries, and debated shoving it in Rush's mouth. Shaking his head, and with memories of his mom taking his temperature, he put it under Rush's arm instead, cursing to himself when he took it out several minutes later. He used his flashlight to see, Rush caged within his arms. 104 degrees, which meant his actual temp was at least a point higher. "Damn it, Rush," he growled. But Rush didn't open his eyes to roll them or look at him like he couldn't believe Everett had even graduated from high school.

He pulled Rush up higher in his lap and pinned down his Rush's jean clad legs with his own, making sure Rush was secure before wetting his hands and scrubbing them with that precious sliver of real soap. He poured some of the water on Rush's chest, but he knew it wasn't going to be enough.

He shouted to David, "We've got to cool him down. Tell James to take us to where the crew got the water. His fever's 105." He dribbled a little of Brody's strong alcohol on his hands. This was probably futile, especially if whatever had caused Rush's illness was airborne, but he'd do what he could. Memories surfaced of missions on the Milky Way planets he and his team had gated to where the Priors' plague, that little gift from the Ori, had decimated the populations. Just another flavor of nightmares, for those hellish times in the middle of the night. What had Rush called it? When he'd been so sweet to Everett and had comforted him after another of his repeat nightmares? Ah, the Witching Hour. He hoped that today wouldn't end in more nightmare fodder, with Rush dying in his arms.

David nodded, turned and relayed the message to James. She veered the skinner off to the right towards a bank of treelike plants, dim in the headlights.

x x x

"Keep back," Everett warned once the skimmer had settled close to a line of what Volker had named in Eli's honor as Trees-ish. James had told him there was a large pool of water just past them. "Anybody else feeling bad, feeling feverish?" He shifted Rush so he was lying on his back next to the edge of the vehicle and began unbuckling Rush's belt. Rush's feet were already bare, since he'd taken his boots off before sliding into rooms below the stargate.

"No, sir," James said, projecting her voice. "What about you, sir?"

"I'm fine. Greer, David?"

They weren't experiencing any problems either. Everett unzipped Rush's jeans, yanked them down and off him. He unbuckled the watch on Rush's wrist. Then he made short work of unlacing his own boots and took off his flak vest, jacket, trousers, and shirt. He left his boxers on.

"Sir?" James said, shining her flashlight for him so he could see. "Are you going in the water with him?"

"It's fairly deep, right? I'm going to need to hold him up. And I can fight in wet clothes, but they can slow you down, bind you." He gave her a nod. "Keep checking for Destiny's return, watch the alien gate and town. I don't want any surprises at the last minute. Greer, David-"

"We got your back, Colonel," Greer said. "How's Rush?"

"Not good. Still burning up. Still out of it." After slinging his rifle onto his back, Everett stepped off the skimmer, and James caused it to rise so it was easier to scoop Rush up, his head falling back against Everett's arm, his body limp. "I hope you wake up soon with this fever gone and give me hell for stripping you down to your boxers," Everett murmured.

Rush didn't respond. Everett felt his chest tighten and hoped like hell that the crew who'd returned to Destiny were all right. He started walking under the tall foliage. Rush felt heavy, like responsibility, like guilt. Like regret.

David shone a light so Everett could pick his way to the edge of the pool. He supposed it was pretty, since there were all kinds of flowery shrubs around him, but he was more interested in the rocky ledge that bordered this side of the pool. He could hear the water gurgling into it, hear some kind of night insect trilling in the dark. There were patches of something that had a golden glow on some of the rocks, but he avoided stepping there. The air was thick with the sweet scent of those night blooming flowers, and there were trails of vines hanging down from the sort of trees that surrounded the large creek. They were lit up with a rosy phosphorus glow, so he could see somewhat in the dark. He knew from James' reports earlier that this pool was much deeper in the center, and the water had tested pure. He hoped like hell that there was nothing lurking there that would attack them.

Rush was so god damned hot against him. The son-of-a-bitch had better not die or be brain damaged from this fever. He lowered Rush down, the man's arms and legs falling into a graceless sprawl, and Everett positioned his rifle on the wide flat rocks. He sat down and swung his legs into the cool water and cautiously lowered himself into it. It came up to his shoulders but the bottom was flat here. He pulled Rush carefully into the water and held him tightly against him with one arm and with his free hand he began scooping water over Rush's head until his hair and beard were drenched. Rush's head lolled back against his shoulder, his feet and legs floating free. Everett made sure his own feet were well planted on the rocky bottom, not wanting to lose his balance.

The coolness of the water was refreshing but not frigid. At any other time, Everett would have enjoyed the opportunity to swim around a little, feel real water against his skin instead of the warm mist of Destiny's showers. Instead, his mind was on the crew, wondering if anybody else was sick like Rush. Whatever this was, the fever and unconsciousness had happened in the last seven hours. Unless Rush hadn't reported feeling sick so he could continue to study the alien gate.

His lips next to Rush's ear, he said, "Would you do that, Ace? Ignore a fever and getting sick, keeping it to yourself so you could have a few more precious minutes to be like a kid on Christmas morning with all that new, shiny alien tech?" He could hear the low growl of suspicion in his voice, the accusation that Rush had put them all in danger, including himself, the reckless bastard, in order to selfishly satisfy his curiosity.

Rush hadn't seemed sick, though, and Everett's eyes had been on him constantly. He hadn't looked flushed, or rubbed his head like a headache was blooming. He hadn't become irritated and snappish, although he had frequently prodded at his neck and upper shoulder muscles, but then, he did that all the time. Everett remembered the hard knots of tension he'd unraveled for Rush during their honeymoon week, before the rest of the crew were released from stasis. He probably needed someone to massage his muscles every night; obviously he was shit at doing it for himself.

Still, no one else had reported being sick, and after the hard lesson they'd learned from drinking the contaminated water from the ice planet, Everett thought he could trust the rest of the crew to act responsibly. Maybe even Rush. Watching countless crew members die on Eli's kino footage had shook him up, too, because Everett had seen the expression on his face when Rush hadn't realized he was being observed.

What if this wasn't a virus or some kind of bacterial infection? What if Rush's body was reacting to the beam or whatever it was that had transported him out of the underground rooms? What if it had so damaged his mind that he wasn't going to be able to recover?

"Christ, quit worrying me to death and just come around, will you?" Everett whispered into Rush's ear and tightened his hold on him. "Recite a few algorithms, spout off some code in Ancient, or sing something in Gaelic; hell, give me a report on your analysis of the harmonics in the shields, okay?"

Rush didn't respond. The silence from him was unnerving. Even when Rush wasn't talking, everything about him, the way he held himself, his expressions and body language, his eyes, communicated his opinions, at least to Everett. He missed all that, and it bothered him to see Rush as a limp, lifeless doll. Like he'd been in the neural interface chair. Or that coma.

Everett put a hand up to Rush's forehead. Still too hot, but, maybe, not as hot as before. He dribbled more water over Rush's head, and in the dim pinkish glow from the vines he watched the rivulets make wayward paths down Rush's cheeks.

x x x

It was Greer who came to tell him that Destiny was late. Against him, Rush had been starting to come to for the last five minutes, moving his arms and legs on his own, his eyes fluttering. Everett had felt a little relieved, by that, but just a little. He'd feel much better if he knew Rush hadn't fried his brain.

Greer crouched down, his eyes on Rush, staying back from the edge of the water.

"How late?"

"Half hour, sir. How's Rush?" Greer shone a light on Rush's face. "Hey, his eyes were open but he shut them again. He's reacting to the light. Has he said anything?"

"No. I think his fever's down a little." Everett put a hand on Rush's forehead. Yeah, he was pretty sure his fever had dropped. "No sign of any activity from the alien gate or in the town?"

"None. James has started recalling the kinos. She's leaving one between the gate and town for now. Man, those little balls can really fly."

"Greer, grab Rush's shirts, and my shirt and bring them back here, we're going to need them," Everett said. A sound of pain escaped from Rush, his body tightening up under Everett's arms.

"Got it," Greer said. "Something wet to keep him cooled down once we're headed to the gate." He jogged back towards the skimmer and returned in a few minutes, dropping the clothes on the ground..

Rush lifted his head from Everett's shoulder and a high panicked sound escaped from him. "No, oh, no, oh, no," he chanted, and then began struggling to free himself.

"I've got you, settle down," Everett said, but his efforts to reassure him were a dismal failure. So what else was new about dealing with this man, he thought to himself. "Damn it, Rush, stop it." He wanted to take Rush to the ledge, sit him up on it for a moment, let him calm the fuck down, but it was all he could do to keep his footing with the way Rush was moving.

Rush was twisting and using his elbows, kicking out and his breathing was rapid.

"Need a hand?" Greer said. "I bet he thinks he's back with the Nakai. You know, being in the water like this."

At the mention of the aliens who had taken him, Rush put on a new burst of energy and managed to twist away, making Everett lose his footing and fall under the surface. He came back up, and shook the water out of his hair and wiped his eyes. Rush hadn't stood up, he was floundering and his movements were taking him towards the deeper water.

"Rush, you're okay," he called, but Rush kept awkwardly fumbling toward the middle of the pool. "It's Young and Greer, not the Nakai. Swim back, okay?" He didn't want to panic Rush by grabbing him if he could avoid it. Let him get his own bearings first and maybe they could avoid him fighting Everett. Rush didn't acknowledge him, just kept moving further away.

Everett sighed. Jesus Christ, he was a lot of work, but then Greer shone the light on them and Everett could see that Rush's eyes were panicked and his mouth was at the water's level. He was bobbing, but not making any progress towards coming to the shallower side.

Fuck! Everett dove under the water towards him. Rush was drowning. It wasn't like the movies with someone yelling help, and splashing to call attention to themselves. Drowning was almost always a silent process.

He fell back on old training and turned Rush by his knees, well below Rush's grasp, then surfaced, his hands controlling Rush's movements and put him in a carry hold. Since Rush was Rush, he locked his arms together and just kicked their way back to the ledge and stood up. Rush was still trying to fight his way free, but Everett had him this time and he was not letting him go.

"He okay?" Greer commented, still shining the light on them.

"I don't know. I don't know if he has a clue about what's going on." Maybe if Rush could see his face, it would help him settle down. In one swift move he released Rush and grabbed him by his biceps and turned him so they were eye to eye and then relocked his arms around him. Rush seemed too startled by Everett's actions to keep trying to twist away.

"Rush, do you know who I am?" he said, and relaxed a little when he saw comprehension fill Rush's eyes.

"Colonel, ah, God. I tried to radio you, to warn you," Rush said. "You didn't respond. Did they take anyone else off the ship?"

"The Nakai," Greer said, and it wasn't a question.

"Aye, them. They boarded the ship and they were hunting me. I tried to warn you, I did," Rush said. "I, I don't remember what..." he sighed and started to go limp and his eyes turned hazy.

"He doesn't seem to realize I'm here," Greer said. "I bet he's talking about when we had those damn ticks on us. He said in the infirmary that he thought the Nakai had come through the gate and gotten on the ship and were looking for him. He never said he'd tried to radio you, though," Greer added thoughtfully.

Everett shook Rush a little. "Stay with me. You're okay, the Nakai aren't here. You're safe."

Rush's eyes glazed over again."We have to go," he said, his breathing rapid. "We have to get out of this tank. I can hear them; they're coming and they will shred your mind, Colonel."

"He can hear them? Maybe tell when they're around?" Greer said, scanning the area. "Do you suppose they've tracked us again to here?"

"No," Everett said. "The insects, the racket they're making. That's what's reminding him of them." He remembered the chittering, hissing sounds the Nakai had made when he'd been on their ship in a Nakai body.

Greer shifted the rifle so it rested easily in his arms. "Well, just in case, Doc, I won't let the bastards get us."

"We're on a planet, Rush. Remember the planet with the alien gate?" Everett asked, and loosened his hold on him, putting the man's arms around his neck to help him keep his balance. "Hold on to me. I'm going to get you out of here." He couldn't risk just pinning Rush's hands to the ledge while he boosted himself up. Rush was flashing back, not in his right mind, and Everett didn't trust him at all. He might try to break away and get himself in trouble in the water again.

If he could avoid Greer breaking their semi-quarantine to give him a hand lifting Rush up, he would. TJ would put him and Rush into an isolation room, no sense in having Greer be stuck there, too.

Rush stared at him as Everett stooped a little to grab Rush's hips. "Colonel?" he said, with such doubt in his voice. "Are you...?"

And then Rush kissed him, tightening an arm around Everett's neck, one hand grasping Young's hair. His face felt hot against Everett's, his lips soft. Surprise, a flush of longing, and then for one or two seconds he was kissing him back because he'd wanted this and Rush was giving it to him, but then all the reasons why he emcouldn't/em do this flooded through him and he pulled away.

"I think you're real, aye?" Rush said, his eyes narrowing. "They aren't so good at skin to skin tactile hallucinations, and they don't understand why humans put their mouths on each other. I think you're real."

"Damn straight I'm real." Behind him Greer had choked.

"We have to escape before they come back," Rush whispered.

"Rush, can't you see we're on a planet? There's tree...things here – Jesus, he sounded like Eli or Brody – ;this is just a deep place in the creek where we got water for the ship."

Urgently, his breath hot in Everett's ear, his voice whisper soft, he said, "They can fool your mind, Colonel. In reality, we're in a tank of water on their ship. Try to see past the illusions, all right? You can do it once you know the truth." Out of his head with a fever or not, the man managed to sound both disdainful and condescending.

Everett was torn between irritation and worry with a touch of amusement at the ridiculousness of this situation. "You're sick, do you understand that? You're running a high fever and I don't know if this is a fever hallucination or just you having one hell of a flashback induced left turn away from reality, but we're going back to Destiny very soon. You want out of the water? Hang on, I'm going to boost you up."

His attempt was futile because Rush wrapped his legs around Everett's waist. "No," Rush said, and his expression, Jesus. Framing Everett's face with his hands, he said firmly, in hushed tones, "We can't be separated. We go together."

Everett sighed and let his forehead rest against Rush's. He felt a warm kernel of something growing in his chest, fondness, maybe. Admiration at how determined Rush was to escape. The Nakai scared Rush shitless, he knew they did, but he never stopped trying to escape from them or fight them off. Even when they were only in his head.

"Greer, I think we need a moment. Check back in with James and see if Destiny's address is showing up yet. Oh, and bring back the thermometer."

"Yes, sir," Greer said, and jogged back towards the skimmer.

Cautiously, Everett said, "Doctor Rush? How are you feeling?" He wanted to roll his eyes after he said it because using Rush's title was doing nothing to stem that warm feeling. He'd felt something like it before, of course. There'd been plenty of times that Rush being Rush had amused him, or he'd been full of gratitude for the man's ability to pull something off and save their bacon. But, still, this felt different. Not the lust of the bond resurfacing after he and Rush had starved it out, but undeniably, he felt a connection to Rush.

He'd keep that to himself, though. Rush wanted distance between them, or his logical, non-fevered mind did. This time right now? It didn't mean anything. Rush was out of his head, and Everett would just humor him until he could turn him over to TJ.

He'd put his arms around Rush, partly because he didn't want him to suddenly let go and fall under the water and partly because it had felt like where his arms were supposed to be. Rush sagged a little against his chest, and Everett had a flash of memory of them in the stasis pod, how Rush had trusted that Everett wouldn't let him go and make him lose his balance. Smiling a little at the memory, Everett asked again, "Doctor Rush, I need you to tell me how you're feeling."

"Never mind me," Rush said tiredly, "what have they done to you? How long ago did they take us from Destiny?"

"One, they haven't done anything to me, and two, no idea. But Destiny is coming back for us. For you."

"Are you sure?" Rush sounded wistful, his eyes wide and – fuck.

"We weren't... I wasn't going to leave you behind. Now, how are you feeling? How about drinking some water?" He shifted so he could reach the water bottle Greer had brought him, and twisted the lid off, his arms still pressing against Rush. He didn't trust him enough to let him go.

Rush shrugged against him. "I've felt better. Hot. Cold. They must have interrogated me again. I no can remember, though."

"Here. You need water." He managed to get Rush to take it and he emptied the bottle. Everett took it back and tossed it on the rock ledge.

"Thank you," Rush said, and in the dim glow of the vines Everett could see him grimace.

"Any pain? Your head, anywhere?"

"Aye, the bad heidache. And I'm a bit knackered, actually," and he closed his eyes, his head coming to rest on Everett's shoulder. "We should go before they come back, Colonel."

Everett tightened his arms around Rush, who had let his own arms drop down. "You let me worry about that, Doctor Rush. Just rest for now."

He was asleep or passed back out in less than thirty seconds.

x x x

"How late are they?" Everett asked Greer, and pulled the thermometer out from under Rush's arm and handed it to Greer. He stretched his back, shifting Rush a little. James had passed along that there were some rocks further down that acted like natural steps, and he'd moved Rush to there, where the water only came to their waists, so the reading would be accurate.

Greer glanced at his watch. "At least an hour and twenty minutes, sir. Destiny will be popping out of FTL any time now."

"They've run into trouble," Everett said.

"Well, sir, with Rush here and Eli back on Earth, they're a little short of manpower on the Science team. But Lisa and Brody and Volker, they'll figure out whatever needs to be done."

"At least they've got a full tank of gas." He knew Greer would know what he meant by that. If they had to fight there should be plenty of power for the shields and the weapons system.

Greer was shining his light on the thermometer. "103.7."

"You add a degree, so it's more like 104.7. Damn it. It's gone up again." The last time he'd taken it, about twenty minutes ago, it had dropped to 103.4 including the extra degree. Stepping into deeper water, he started scooping water back on Rush's head.

"How are you doing, sir?"

"I'm not sick. I'm inclined to think it was only Rush who was exposed to some virus or pathogen or whatever."

"Telford and James are fine, too. But, uh, you've been in much, much closer contact with Rush than them or me." Greer's voice held a slightly teasing tone, and Everett rolled his eyes.

"Sergeant, he was out of his head."

"My lips are sealed, sir. Only, I'd enjoy telling him what he did just to see the look on his face. Permission to do that, sir? In private, of course."

Everett's lips twitched. "Permission granted, but wait till he's better. And I wouldn't be averse to having a kino nearby, as long as the footage was destroyed after I see it."

"Got it," Greer said, and shot a wry look at Rush, who had gone back to sleep against him again after waking up for a few minutes a half hour ago. "What was he mumbling about earlier?"

"Something about a door in time, a door of time. He was speaking in Ancient a little. He seemed to be having a debate with himself about opening it or not." Everett remembered something similar had happened in the dream simulation where he'd taken advantage of Rush sleepwalking. TJ or actually, Destiny, had translated it for him. A door of time. He looked down at Rush's sleeping face and wondered if there were secrets Rush was keeping from him. Correction. There was, in terms he'd heard Rush use before, a non-zero probability that Rush had secrets he kept from Everett. But then, the reverse was true also. He hadn't told Rush the truth about what he'd done to him in that dream simulation from hell.

Rush didn't like sharing speculations. He preferred to have conclusive data before coming to Everett. And questioning Rush about a vague suspicion Everett had wasn't going to help maintain the trust that had been built between them. Maybe he'd ask Eli to search the data base for anything regarding a door of time. Discreetly.

Being here, in the water, listening to the night sounds in the dim light of the glowing vegetation, especially when Rush was quiet or asleep, he'd been doing some thinking. Rush had been one of the crew who'd had a tick jump to him back before the Lucian Alliance had invaded the ship. He'd run through the ship from his hallucinations of the Nakai; he stabbed Camile and attacked Greer and Scott, thinking they were aliens intent on capturing him again. But he'd apparently tried to reach out to Everett, to warn him the Nakai had boarded the ship.

He'd turned to Everett for help. He'd also come to him, and not directly to O'Neill, about having Telford's memories show up in his dream. Those things together seemed to mean that Rush had been trying to cooperate with Everett, maybe even that he trusted him. And then Everett had screwed things up when the Alliance had taken Rush and later boarded the ship.

Truth was, Everett hadn't trusted Rush at all when he'd come to him about Telford's memories. It had all fallen into place, he'd thought. Rush was the Alliance mole, and the sneaky bastard had thought of a way to discredit Telford and report back to whatever House he'd joined, with Everett as his patsy.

He stood by his decision to keep Telford in Rush's body, though, once Rush was clearly shown to be innocent. There was a lot more to consider than Rush's life, and if the Alliance had wanted to kill Rush immediately, they'd have shot him dead before leaving Earth. No, he'd known the Alliance had found a use for Rush and would try to exploit him, keeping him alive.

Everett had bungled their defense against the Alliance. He'd wanted so badly to not lose anyone, Telford and Rush, to start with, that he'd put them all in danger. He should have stuck with the plan and vented the air immediately in the gate room, disabling the Lucians if not outright killing them. Maybe they could have resuscitated Telford. He should have taken the chance, but he'd dithered too long before giving the order.

Later, in the control interface room, Rush had only said what Everett already knew, but didn't want to have to accept. In order to take back the ship, they were probably going to lose some of the crew. Rush hadn't deserved Everett's attempt to put a fist in his face for pointing that out; luckily, the rest of the science team had stopped him long enough for his better sense to come back.

Greer motioned towards the skimmer and Everett nodded. After Greer had disappeared, Everett whispered into Rush's hair, "You know, you open your mouth and say things when anyone else with an ounce of self preservation would keep their mouth shut. But what you tell me, you're not wrong, even if I don't want to accept it. I'm going to try to remember that in the future, and not hold it against you for telling me what I already know and don't like."

Rush, of course, didn't say anything.

"You're going to be all right. Destiny is going to be back any minute and TJ's going to make your fever go away. Your brain is going to work just fine, and we're going to have that professional relationship you wanted. You just wait and see, Rush."

x x x

James came running up, and dropped to her knees next to the pool.

"Sir," she said. "We've got company." She turned the remote so he could see it. The monitor showed a ship, graceful with its bullet shape, in the distance hovering next to the alien gate. "They just came through."

"And Destiny?"

"We're still locked out. Sir, there's three other addresses we could dial." She switched screens so he could see them for himself.

He said calmly, "Destiny might not be in range of those planets and lighting up our gate might alert the aliens that we were here. Destiny might jump back and send a team in to investigate when we don't dial them. We might set them up for an ambush."

"And we might get caught, sir, if we stay." She looked at Rush. "If we go to another planet, we take a risk of not being able to keep him cooled down. Greer said his fever was still too high to leave the water. Also, since the aliens have gate tech, they can probably tell where we gate to and follow us, if they wanted to find us."

"Well, Lieutenant, sounds like we're in a pickle," he said, and something in his tone must have reassured her, because her expression relaxed.

"You've been in pickles like this before, sir?" she asked, a small fleeting smile crossing her face.

"Oh, thirty, forty times." He shifted Rush in his arms a little. Rush was most at risk here. He needed medical attention and Destiny had locked out other worlds when they'd dropped out of FTL for a reason. He wasn't sure these new addresses were even the same ones. At least here, in the water, they had kept his fever from climbing to the point of definite brain damage or death.

"Sir, what are your orders?" James looked at him, steady, trusting him to make this work. Rush stirred in his arms. What would Rush say, Everett wondered, if it was one of the others sick with a fever instead of him. Stay, or go?

Stay or go. Risky both ways.

"Here's what we're going to do, James," Everett said, with one more look down at Rush.

x x x