Chapter 1: I Can't Fight This Feeling
"I have a bad feeling about this." Vala Mal Doran stood staring up at the gate. One hand rested on the zat in her holster, the other tapped her thigh as they waited for the countdown.
"She's got a point." Daniel stood beside her, hands steady on the P90 slung in front of him.
"Oh, everyone, did you hear that? He agreed with me. Mark this day." She turned to him, waiting for a reproachful raised eyebrow
Or, better yet, that look she'd seen on him more and more: It lasted a beat too long, like he was trying to match her face with a name. Something or someone he was trying to remember...
Oh, stop. None of us remembered anything...
Instead, he stared straight ahead, mouth set in a thin line, his gaze fixed on the Stargate. None of this should have surprised her-not her possibly unfounded fears, not his increased thoughtfulness.
Nothing new there, not since they'd returned from the Odyssey after losing the memory of fifty years.
Life is too short, she'd said. The brief, sharp look he'd given her at the foot of the gate had lingered in her mind, teasing her with questions. What had happened for fifty years? What had happened between them?
Teal'c knew. She hadn't asked about Daniel at all, preferring to imagine what might have been. One look from him might have given it all away. That should have answered her question, about how her life had gone from curious to curiouser, but not even a lost lifetime was superseding the butterflies in her stomach.
"What is wrong with you two? You guys have been squirrelly for a couple of weeks now." Mitchell turned to them, wearing that eager grin he got every time they went on a mission.
"Squirrelly? Does that mean my behavior is akin to a small, burrowing creature?" She shook her head and readjusted the back pack she carried.
The movement seemed to rouse Daniel from his reverie. He turned to her in annoyance. "Why is your pack so large?" he said.
"Ooh, I thought you'd never notice."
Mitchell stifled a laugh, Sam looked away discreetly, and even Teal'c smiled. Daniel took two steps to where she stood, then slid behind her, tugging on the back pack until he had it open. Was he just glad to have something to fixate on other than her nerves or his own?
"Hair dryer? Really? Do you have anything of actual value in there?" He rummaged through it, pulled out the dryer then stuffed it back in. "Well, at least here's something." He held up the healing device. "Are you planning on getting hurt?"
"I never plan on getting hurt." The words were more pointed than she'd expected.
"My mistake." Daniel dropped the item back into her pack, zipped it up then took a step away from her.
She turned to face him: Let's talk about it now, right now. How there had to be something in fifty years of time. How there was something that called to her from across a chasm, something she should know…
But he'd turned away, hands back on the P90 like he was hanging on for dear life.
"Ancient tech and a curling iron," Mitchell said. "Never leave home without 'em, I guess."
"Hair dryer," she said. "And, for your information, my dear Colonel, I have no need of a curling iron."
Carter shook her head with a smile. "Oh, ignore them, Vala. Cam, you're as jumpy as the rest of us with that thing out there."
'That thing' was something they'd never seen before, an anomaly that was visible on P3X9726 and had the locals thinking it was the wrath of the Gods. Why not? Given the Ori's propensity for theatrics and pyrotechnics, she wouldn't put it past them. Big, blue, swirly, like a giant tornado… General Landry was more worried about the Ori than anything else.
Mitchell shrugged. "Jumpy? Nah, not me. If she wants to carry all that crap around, let her. Anyway. Vala, what's your guess? Don't you want to wager what that thing is? You like a good bet."
"I'm trying not to think about it." She looked at Daniel. His eyes cut to her once, then he turned back to the gate.
"Sam? How about you?" Mitchell said.
"I like to wait until I have more information. What is it? How did it get there? That sort of thing."
"Indeed," Teal'c said.
Mitchell shook his head. "Y'all are spoiling the fun." He glanced up at the control room where General Landry stood behind Sergeant Harriman. "We're set, Sir."
Vala turned as well, saw General Landry and Sergeant Harriman in deep conversation. She glanced at Sam; the colonel looked perplexed.
"Cam." Carter motioned her head toward the control room.
"General? Are we a go?"
"Just a second, Colonel," Landry said into the mike. "Walter?"
Harriman's eyes were intent on the controls in front of him, then he nodded, looking satisfied. "We're a go, Sirs."
They started up the ramp, Sam, Mitchell, Teal'c, Daniel a pace behind.
He turned to her, hand motioning her forward. "Come on."
The other three started their entry into the blue. She nodded, followed him. Glanced over her shoulder. Landry was grabbing the mic. Her foot disappeared into the blue in front of her.
"Colonels! Abort-" Landry's words were garbled then silenced as the wormhole swallowed her up.
The gate spat them out in a tumble of guns and gear. She landed face down at the foot of the ramp-
What were they doing in the gate room?
She was so disoriented she thought she'd vomit. She choked back the sick feeling in her stomach. Being right didn't make it go down any easier.
She braced herself to stand but she was pinned to the cement floor. Someone tore her back pack from her. Someone took the Zat from her holster then searched her pockets, coming up with a lip gloss she always carried.
"What-" Her face was mashed against the floor, ending any protests. All she could see was grey cement and black boots.
Then her hands were tied behind her. She was pulled to her feet in time to see a gurney rattle past her, Teal'c at a fast pace behind it as it exited the gate room. Two men gripped her arms on either side, and two others stood in front of her, Berettas aimed at her. She looked past them at the empty doorway.
Sam was on her feet, dusting herself off while medics hovered around her. She waved them off, then gave Vala a barely perceptible head shake that warned off questions.
Teal'c, Sam, Mitchell...who was on the stretcher?!
"Let me go!"
"What the hell happened?" Mitchell looked at the men surrounding them then glanced up at the control room. She followed his gaze then took one step back.
What had happened?
General Jack O'Neill stood with his arms crossed over his chest, Sergeant Harriman sitting reliably beside him at the gate controls. O'Neill nodded his acknowledgement at Mitchell then clapped Harriman on the shoulder.
"You can thank Harriman for that one, Colonels. That one was weird. We almost didn't get the iris open in time. Things could have gotten messy."
Messy? This wasn't P3X9726, that wasn't Landry and she wasn't a prisoner-Was she? Oh, it had gotten messy all right.
"General, where are Jackson and Teal'c?" Mitchell had his hands on the P90 like he wasn't going to let it go. Vala wished she'd had the same opportunity to hold on to her own weapon.
"Medical." O'Neill put out a hand to calm them. "Daniel looked a little bloodied up but nothing to worry about." He nodded his chin toward Vala. "Nice catch for a routine mission. I'd like to know how that one got her hands on one of our uniforms. Patch and all, I see. Sergeant, put her in the brig."
"Samantha!" She tried to wrench away from her captors but she wasn't getting anywhere with that.
Carter stepped forward, grabbed her shoulders, and pulled her close. "We will deal with this," she whispered, then turned and looked up at O'Neill. "Sir, I'd like to have Vala Mal Doran remain in our custody-mine and Colonel Mitchell's. We should be in charge of the debrief."
"Carter, I appreciate the offer but right now I've got bigger problems than debriefing some two bit con who likes to impersonate two bit gods. Or SG1 members."
Vala took a deep breath. Steady, steady..."General, this really isn't necessary." Her wrists were already starting to chafe, her back hurt, her head hurt… She was sure she'd bruised plenty. "I'm flattered, but all these guns and troops...you really don't need to go through the trouble. I'm willing to cooperate-"
O'Neill folded his arms over his chest and glared down at her. "Get her to the brig. Give her some time to cool her heels."
"They're quite cool, I assure you." Her stomach was doing flip flops but she couldn't be sick now, as much as she wanted to.
Daniel. She had to see Daniel.
"Sir, we can handle it." Mitchell put a hand on her arm.
"Enough!" O'Neill slapped his hand against the glass with a resounding THWAP. "Colonels, we do not have time for this bullshit. No time. Sergeant?"
O'Neill nodded his head and the men surrounded her, pulling her past Mitchell and Carter without resistance.
"Dr. Jackson?" A medic Daniel didn't recognize pulled the exam room curtain aside. Daniel lay on his back, feeling like a ton of bricks had landed on his head. A bump, a bruise. At least he was conscious. Right?
Just a bruise and he was lying here in the infirmary, the rest of the team God knew where. Vala…? There'd been a scuffle off to the side of him as he'd lain on the floor…Had he seen her there too?
I have a bad feeling about this...She'd never been more right.
The medic pulled the curtain further and Teal'c came into view, hands behind his back. He looked worried. Not a good sign.
"Is there something else?" Daniel said to the medic who was lingering at the foot of the bed.
"General O'Neill wants to see you both in the conference room if you're ok, he says."
"Fine. We are great." Daniel sat up slowly, letting the dizziness settle itself in the pit of his stomach. He took a deep breath.
Teal'c held out his hand "Can I assist you?"
"No. I'm good. Airman, you can let the general know we're on our way."
The young woman nodded and left, closing the door behind her. He pushed up from the bed. Reached for the pitcher of water and glass beside him, poured some, took a drink. It didn't help at all.
"Mitchell and Carter? Vala...? What's the last thing you remember before here?"
"Entering the Stargate."
Daniel nodded. "Me too. Vala was lagging behind…" He shook the thought away. "Any idea how we got here? What happened?"
"I do not know. Daniel Jackson, this is not the SGC we know. General Landry is not here. It appears O'Neill is in charge."
Daniel put on his glasses and got to his feet. "What? How...? That medic didn't seem too surprised to see us here-"
Teal' shook his head. "I do not know the answer."
"She is here as well." His voice had taken on a more somber tone.
"I believe O'Neill has taken her prisoner."
Prisoner. He let that wash over him for a moment. Jack O'Neill, Vala a prisoner...he rubbed his fingers over the tender spot on his head then went to the door. "Let's see if we can get to the bottom of this-"
Teal'c grabbed his arm before Daniel could open the door. "Daniel Jackson. Before we say anything, perhaps we should consider what O'Neill has to say first."
The halls and walls were familiar from the infirmary to the elevator ride to the conference room. The flashing lights once they hit the gate room level told a different story. Personnel were stationed outside the control room and the conference room as one of the guards stepped forward to open the door.
Seated around the table before them were Mitchell and Sam, both looking disheveled and a little worse for the wear. Jack sat at the head of the table, his hands folded over a mission brief in front of him. His expression was a combination of relief and amusement. The room itself looked the same: Table and chairs, a computer screen mounted on the wall, the familiar SGC logo glowing from it on a blue background. But, at the base of the triangle were three letters: IOA.
That was new and not at all an improvement. "Where's Vala?" He closed the door behind him but didn't move from the doorway. Teal'c stood alongside him.
"She's alive, Jackson," Mitchell said. "Safe and sound and ready to cooperate. That's all you need to know." He gave one quick nod.
Jack frowned. "'Vala'? What's with the first name business?"
Daniel glanced at Sam, trying to read her expression but she was keeping it neutral.
"I knew we were onto something," he said. Was that ambiguous enough? "With Vala...Mal Doran." With Vala and what? What had happened to her, to them all? "Why all the flashing lights out there?"
"The Lucien Alliance seems to think they have the means to bust in here. And since you've brought home their big catch, we figured better safe than sorry. But that's small potatoes. Sit down. IOA will be here soon and I'd like to get this over with so he can claim plausible deniability or something."
"IOA?" Sam echoed what was already going through Daniel's head.
"Carter, you've heard of them. Bunch of neck-tied bureaucrats who like to pretend they're in charge here. We have a situation." He slid the mission brief to Sam-Sam, not Mitchell-then reached for the remote and clicked it at the computer screen. The logo changed to a series of aerial photos.
"This crash landed in the Ivory Coast. We've got reports that there was someone or something in the craft. We've gotten it secured and transported to Area 51. There were three occupants. We've retrieved one."
Sam and Mitchell started talking over each other, both with a mix of questions and incredulity. Daniel was about to add his own but Jack held up his hand to silence them.
"In a minute. There's this. Some swirly thing. Prometheus was able to get this image to us but we're having some issues with communication so we don't have much else right now." Jack hit the remote again, bringing up another image. This one was more familiar but no less concerning. More, as a matter of fact.
Sam pointed at it. '"Swirly thing?' Sir...?"
Jack twirled a finger in the air. "Swirly thing. Wormholey thing, giant blue tornado-y thing. I don't know. That's the problem you're going to solve. Carter, like I said, we have one of the craft's occupants. You and Mitchell are going to Africa to deal with getting us the other two. Once you've secured the objectives, we'll beam all of you to Prometheus."
"Wait," Daniel said. "Prometheus?"
Sam shot him a warning glare but the warning was a few seconds too late.
"Yes, Daniel, Prometheus. How a big hit did that noggin of yours take anyway?"
Daniel shook his head quickly. "Fine, fine. I'm fine. Sam?" He raised his eyebrows at her and nodded toward the file.
Sam nodded in response then flipped through the documents. Paused over one then closed the file. She looked from Mitchell, to Daniel, to Teal'c then, finally to Jack. "A wormhole? And no gate. Are you connecting that-" She pointed at the computer screen. "With the craft? You think it came through the wormhole."
"Sure looks that way. NORAD caught the ship on radar around the same time we did. We didn't actually see it come through. It was more like it...materialized."
"Like an Alkesh. It has a cloaking device?" Sam still had her gaze fixed on the screen.
"No, not like that. Just like..." He snapped his fingers. "Like that. Not there. There. And fast, like there was some big invisible hand pushing it. By the time we scrambled, it had hit the dirt." He paused. "I know this doesn't make the scientist in you happy, Carter, but it's the best I've got."
Daniel held out his hand. "Can I see that?"
She handed the file to him. There wasn't much there-a brief description of a wormhole, the same aerial views showing an object that couldn't be anything but a spacecraft sitting on bug-like legs in the middle of a clearing. He couldn't make out much else. "These occupants you're talking about…Who or what flew it here?"
"Saved the best for last." He fumbled with the remote in his hand until the image lit up the screen.
Sam leaned in, studying it. Mitchell's eyes widened. Teal'c was still. Daniel clamped his open jaw shut.
"What the hell is that, Sir?" Mitchell said.
"That's what you're going to find out as soon as you and Carter get down there and retrieve its traveling companions."
Daniel pointed at the screen. "Do they look like that? Getting them back here won't be easy." It was clear to him that the being in the craft had been alive. It had a shell shaped head, four arms that ended in claws. One claw rested on what appeared to be controls. Its eyes were closed and its coloring was a sallow grey green. Its image took up most of the screen.
"All I know about its companions is that they look human. The Africans haven't provided any other information. They wanted the craft and the, um-that guy out of their backyard. We obliged, but the other two got tangled up in some political mumbo jumbo."
"Look human?" Sam said.
"We didn't get close enough for DNA samples. They've agreed to let us see the others, but we've not reached any agreement on actually bringing them back here." He wheeled his chair away from the table and stood up. "Mitchell, Carter-Africa. Daniel, Teal'c, Area 51 for that, um...the pilot there."
"Come on, Jack," Daniel said. "You and I both know you've never seen anything like this. Not the wormhole, not that ship. Not the being in it. It'd be better if Teal'c and I got down there with Mitchell and Sam-"
Jack held out his hands. "Stop. Area 51. I'm not asking for your opinion. Mitchell, Carter, I want this to look like official business. Right up to the time that you're beamed out. The political situation there is already a tinderbox and visitors from above aren't going to help it any."
"So you're going to strike the match?" Daniel shook his head.
"This goes higher than me. We need to get a lid on this before it gets out of control." He checked his watch. "That IOA pain in my backside is meeting me in my office in half an hour for an update. Can't keep him waiting." He gazed around the table and shook his head. "I don't know what's wrong with you people today."
"Sir, before you go..." Carter stood up. "I'd like to take Vala Mal Doran with us."
"And why would I agree to that?"
Daniel saw his frown-again- but Sam remained composed, her face set. "Sir, she's been around the universe. She deals in... in exotic merchandise. And I have reason to believe she may have some intel relating to this wormhole."
"'Reason to believe'...she doesn't steal those things too, does she? Are you planning to share this with me, Carter?"
"Not at the moment, Sir."
"Huh. Vala Mal Doran. Not sure I like this but, for you, Carter, I'll make an exception. She can wait for you on Prometheus. Not much she can do there."
"Right," Daniel said. Sam shot him another look but Jack ignored him.
"If there's a problem, I'm beaming her out and plopping her into a cell in Area 51. Make sure she's clear on that."
"Understood, Sir. Thank you, General."
"Just remember. If this doesn't pan out, it's both our asses."
If this doesn't pan out, it's all our asses, Daniel thought, but he said nothing.
Jack gave them a nod. As the door shut behind him, it was like a collective breath had been exhaled.
"What the hell is going on, Sam?" Mitchell stood up and pointed at the computer screen. "IOA? General O'Neill? What the hell am I doing here if he's not in Washington? Where's Landry?"
"At this point, I think we just need to be grateful that we all came through in one piece."
"Yeah, well, I guess that's still up for debate." Mitchell folded his arms over his chest. "This is the same wormhole we were going to check out, isn't it."
Sam nodded. "I have to believe it is."
"I believe it may be the reason for our presence here," Teal'c said.
"Yeah, I agree," Sam said. "Daniel?"
"One piece. Vala's in the brig, we're…here, and you call that one piece." Daniel tried not to sputter.
"Send her to the Prometheus," Mitchell said. "That's a good one."
"I'll keep her out of trouble." Sam didn't appear as convinced as she wanted to sound.
"Yeah, thanks. That's what I always say too." And that didn't bring him much comfort.
It didn't matter what reality you were in, or what planet or what ship. Jail was jail.
Vala sat on a hard mattress and scratchy blankets in a cell that appeared ready and able to hold her for a long time. It was sparse, as cells were wont to be, save for the sink, toilet and bed. There was also a solid steel door, its tiny window the only thing that might provide her a glimpse of the outside.
They'd made her change out of the SG1 gear she'd been wearing and into what she considered a prison jumpsuit, the same olive drab that they'd given her when she'd first moved into the SGC. Between the bumpy landing and the manhandling (not in good way), she felt like she was a hundred years old.
Daniel was...she had no idea, but she was here and he was elsewhere. Unfortunately, she'd been given no information. She knew all she needed to know. As far as Jack O'Neill was concerned, she was Vala Mal Doran, or Qetesh, or a member of the Lucien Alliance. A wanted criminal-whichever it was, none of it was good for her.
All this was clearly not as it should be. Was it a false memory? Certainly it was possible. Wasn't it? All this, a false memory to lure in-Who? Not Adria. Their enemies no longer had a personal connection to her, unless...
She didn't even know if he existed here, if the Ori were a threat, if she'd ever been pregnant at all...
She shook her hair back, trying to shake some sense into herself. Samantha had made a quick plea for her at the foot of the gate. Perhaps she was arguing her case right now. She pushed herself to her feet, took four strides to the door then peered through the window. The corridor was empty.
She lifted her hair away from her neck. Buried in its mass was her ticket to freedom: a bobby pin. It was completely worthless in any hair related way but that had never been the point. She held it in front of her then crouched down and jiggled the doorknob with her other hand, listening for the movement in the cylinder, hoping for a weak spot...
The pounding on the door caught her by surprise. She fell back as Mitchell and Sam stepped into the room. They were alone.
"A rescue!" She clapped her hands together. "How very Han Solo of you."
"Don't get ahead of yourself, Princess." Mitchell grabbed her and pulled her to her feet and into the corridor. The look on his face didn't make this look like a rescue at all.
"Where are we going? Sam?"
"We're on borrowed time." Mitchell pulled her along as she tried to match his long strides. "So don't say anything and don't do anything."
"Where's Daniel? And Teal'c?"
"We're all here," Sam said. "Cam's right. You're going to have to let us take the lead on this. And if anyone asks, yes, I injected you with a tracker."
"But...what? I already-"
Carter held up her palm to Mitchell. He stopped. Sam looked her in the eye. "Vala? You're with us on this, right? No fooling around?"
Vala nodded, more vigorously than she intended. "Right, right."
"We're going to fix this," Samantha Carter sounded every bit the Lieutenant Colonel. "And then we're getting us all the hell out of here."