[personal profile] what_works
Fandom: Stargate: SG-1
Title: The Analog Myth (3/4)
Author: Em
Rating: PG-13 for language and violence
Word Count: ~40,000 (in 4 parts)
Pairing: Jack/Daniel
Warning: (highlight to reveal) character death (original character)
Summary: While doing routine negations on a planet that might actually be able to help the SGC fight the Ori, SG-1 stumbles upon a familiar technology—the Vinculum, the nanite-based invention that gives the bearer internet-in-the-brain. How did this technology make it from Tekhne, the planet where Jack and Daniel were first exposed, to Aberdone? And since the SGC is negotiating with the Aberdones and forced to unseal the mission files for Tekhne, how long will it be before this invasive technology makes it to Earth? To make matters worse, the Aberdones have recently experienced a religious revolution and are worshipping a new god . . . one, unfortunately, well known to SG-1.

Continued from Part 2.



* * *


"I still can't believe you thought that would work."

"Give it a rest, Daniel." So flashing his rank at the receptionist at Hammel Technologies hadn't gotten them any farther than the front lobby. At least it was less awkward sitting on uncomfortable plastic chairs than it was waking up with Daniel sprawled half across him and morning wood cadets would salute.

"Dr. Thurman will come get us when he's out of testing," Daniel murmured. "We are pulling him away from his work, and he needs to keep his cover." Daniel glanced over his shoulder, trying to keep his voice low so it wouldn't echo through the cavernous lobby.

Jack sighed, rubbing his temple, feeling a headache coming on. "Scientists. Always distracted by their research." He nudged Daniel's foot, earning a tight, quick smile. Once they got to the active Vinculum, maybe Jack would figure out what that meant.

Dr. Thurman came down to the lobby a short while later. He limped slightly, favoring his right leg, and his left hand was stiff and permanently cupped like a mannequin's. He thanked the receptionist and lead Jack and Daniel back down the hall, muttering that she could have paged him that his guests had arrived ahead of their appointment time.

Jack grinned at Daniel—so far he liked Dr. Thurman.

"I still don't know anything," Dr. Thurman said in a grizzled voice. "Departments aren't exactly chummy and my clearance isn't high enough that they'd share much with me anyway." Thurman gave Daniel a once-over. "And it's not like I can charm the information out of them."

Daniel seemed to miss Thurman's insinuation. "Can you take us to someone who knows more or are we better off just snooping around ourselves?"

Thurman grunted. "I can get you in the building and point you to the right floor, but you'll be on your own from there. Well, on your own and with this." He drew a keycard out of his pocket. "I convinced one of the security guards to reprogram it so I could decorate someone's office for their birthday. I have no idea why he believed me."

"You have a very friendly face," Jack offered, though he kept his eyes straight ahead when Thurman turned to scowl at him.

"The labs you want are on Level 5, at the south end. I'm on Level 2 in the West corner. Bring this back when you're done." Thurman handed the card to Daniel, seeming to have a bit of trouble letting go.

"We'll bring it back as fast as we can. We don't want to get caught either."

Thurman nodded deeply and finally let go of the card. "If you do get caught. . . ."

Jack mimed locking his mouth. "We've done this dog and pony before."

Thurman swiped his card for the elevator. "That won't get you in everywhere, but it'll get you on the floor." He squinted at Jack. "I hope you brought something to pick a lock."

Daniel snorted, crossing his arms.

"We've got something," Jack finally said. Despite all of his training, Daniel was actually a better lock pick than Jack. Jack could only blame Carter for that one—she'd been giving lessons on the side for years.

Thurman pressed the buttons for levels 2 and 5. The elevator rose swiftly, the doors sliding open on Level 2 after only a moment. "Good luck," Thurman grunted before hobbling around the corner.

The doors slid shut again and Daniel held up the card, waving it. "An almost all-access pass."

"There are harder ways to snoop," Jack agreed.

"Think we should start in the file room?"

Jack nodded. File rooms, while the bane of his existence, were normally places people avoided. Still. . . . "What's the plan if we get caught?"

Daniel shrugged. "Look casual?"

Jack snorted. "Always a good call."

The elevator doors slid open and Jack immediately grabbed the wall, completely disoriented. For a moment he thought they hadn't even made it to the floor and that someone had tossed a flashbang into the elevator. It was so bright and so loud—but it wasn't the kind of ringing in his ears a flashbang would leave. It was a buzz, like several voices speaking at once and over each other with no awareness there were other voices speaking; information was coming at him too quickly to digest and between one moment in the next he realized what this was.

"I guess their Vinculum is active," Jack groaned

Jack felt Daniel's hands on his shoulders, but Jack's eyes were still squeezed tight, trying to deal with the new assault of information while his brain adjusted.

"Is it?"

Daniel didn't sound sarcastic, which confused Jack. Shouldn't Daniel be squeezing his eyes shut and nursing a headache, too?

"I guess it is," Daniel answered himself. "There's this . . . annoying buzz in my head, and I'm getting a headache, but . . . Jack? Jack?"

Jack slowly opened his eyes, finding that it wasn't nearly as bright as he'd thought. He was starting to be able to sort out the voices, tune them down and push them away—they were still there but more controllable. He could feel Daniel in his thoughts again—the way they had on Tekhne—but Daniel was muted, like he was talking to Jack through a door. Maybe Jack wasn't as readable for Daniel either. "I take it Gerard didn't give you an upgrade."

"Upgrade?"

Jack growled softly, getting his bearings and straightening himself up. "It's the gift that keeps on giving . . . migraines."

"What do you get the General who has everything?" Daniel deadpanned.

"Early retirement." Jack gently pulled Daniel's hand off his shoulder, keeping the skin contact to a minimum. "I'm all right."

Daniel frowned. "Upgraded nanites explains why everything feels kind of . . . distant. This is how it felt on Aberdone, too." He checked the hallway outside the doors and finally stepped out of the elevator. "Looks like SG-4 is off the hook."

"Are we surprised by that?" Jack wasn't stupid enough to think Ba'al and the Vinculum on the same planet were just a coincidence. "Bigger fish? We definitely have a security breach at Area 51." Jack still wished they'd discovered the breach because someone had stolen something simple, like a Mark IX nuclear warhead.

Daniel swiped the card in the door, waited for the light to turn green and then pulled on the handle. "You'll take care of it."

Jack took the subtle compliment in stride and glanced over his shoulder as he stepped into the empty hallway. It stretched both ways with doors and corridors branching off in both directions. His shoes squeaked on the linoleum and Daniel turned to glare at the offending footwear. Jack should have dressed more sensibly than dress blues; Daniel said the uniform wouldn't impress anyone here. Jack unbuttoned his jacket and stepped a little more carefully.

"Hey," Daniel whispered, "do they have the security cameras hooked into the Vinculum?"

Jack pushed, and felt like he'd taken a step off a cliff—the information in the Vinculum rushed at him and through him, the other voices growing louder as he fell. It was easier to get lost in this Vinculum than it was in the one on Tekhne. Jack tried to put on the mental brakes, finding he could still control the Vinculum with some effort. It was organized differently, a little more familiar, and Jack wasn't sure if that was Gerard's doing or Hammel's, but he found he could answer Daniel faster.

"No. The Vinculum is tied into their research, though. . . . There's about thirty people using it right now." Jack squinted his eyes, feeling their voices come at him all in a jumble; some were louder than others, but they were all contributing to his headache. He pulled away from the Vinculum, distancing himself from the cacophony. "We should probably be careful with how we use the Vinculum, or the cameras will be the least of our worries."

Daniel nodded. "So the file room is still our best bet."

Jack shrugged. "I suppose." His gut twisted. "I have a bad feeling about this, though."

Daniel carefully turned a corner. "You haven't been on a mission in a while; you're probably just nervous."

Jack chuckled softly. "Shouldn't I be the one reassuring you?"

"You're not the one in the field anymore." Daniel stopped in front of the first door, swiftly picking the lock. Jack hesitated in the doorway before Daniel hissed at him to close it. He felt sloppy, knew something was wrong when Daniel was telling him to be stealthier. But Daniel was right, it had been over a year since Jack had been in the field, longer since he'd been on a covert mission—he was probably just rusty. Or—Jack shivered—old.

Daniel moved to the file cabinets, looking for hard copy files. He slid open a few drawers, getting the lay of their filing system.

"Can you access anything through the Vinculum without anyone noticing? I have to push too hard to get in—I think someone would notice I'm there."

Jack grunted his assent and closed his eyes, allowing his thoughts to slip more smoothly into the stream. It freaked him out a little, being the one to play online, but this wasn't like the Vinculum on Tekhne. This Vinculum was Jack-friendly and he had no trouble finding the information he needed. It almost made him want to keep using it.

"Well." Daniel flashed a file at Jack after a few quiet minutes. "Their broadcast area is contained. There's shielding through Level 5 that dampens the signal—probably why we didn't notice it before we stepped off the elevator."

Jack nodded.

"The more people who are on the network, though," Daniel explained, "the stronger the signal. I bet if there were enough people it would even be able to broadcast through the—"

Jack waved his hands. "Daniel!"

"Mmm?"

"We're increasing the network just by being here?"

Daniel tilted his head. "Yeah, though probably more you than me since I'm all. . . ." He shook his hand by his head. "Muddled."

"So more people means a stronger Vinculum."

"Mmm, and once the technology's launched, it will grow on its own." Daniel put the file back in the cabinet. "Which basically means it can't be regulated—or at least not easily, or possibly well."

And that was one of the reasons he and Daniel had been so against allowing the Vinculum on Earth. Neither one of them trusted the government to be responsible with the kind of power the Vinculum afforded. Plus the Vinculum was seriously advanced; a sudden culture-changing shot of technology like that was sure to mess up the Earth on larger scales than Jack was capable of imagining.

"We have enough. We should go." Jack glanced over his shoulder, feeling like someone was watching him.

"Look. It's their plan for distribution." Daniel unfolded a flow chart, spreading it out over the table.

Jack couldn't make sense of the whole thing—like the ability to understand the chart was eluding him. "Daniel . . . fold that up. Let's go."

Daniel traced his fingers down the paths. "Jack, they're planning to pass it through the Pentagon and into the IOA. They're trying to have it deployed to SG-teams in six months." Daniel circled his finger around part of the map. "There's something here that doesn't make sense—they don't have the infrastructure yet for global deployment. The Vinculum on Tekhne—"

Daniel kept talking, but it was like Jack couldn't hear him any more. The instinct to leave—to not hear what Daniel was saying—was overwhelming. He needed to ignore what Daniel was saying; he was better off not knowing. He needed to keep his nose out of it; he needed to mind his own business; he needed to leave Hammel Technologies. He needed to leave now!

Jack grabbed Daniel's arm, his fingers tight around Daniel's wrist. "We need to go."

"Jack?" Daniel looked around, his eyes wide. "Is there something in the Vinculum?"

"What?" Is there something in the Vinculum, Jack repeated in his thoughts, rolling it over and over. "There's nothing in the Vinculum."

Daniel's brow furrowed. "Then give me another minute."

The feeling kept nagging at Jack, making him more and more agitated as he watched Daniel casually flip the pages, digesting the file one sentence at a time.

"Daniel," Jack hissed, leaning forward. "We need to leave."

Daniel rolled his eyes. "Just give me a minute, Jack. This is talking about uploading something into the Vinculum, but there's nothing specific mentioned—all the pages are edited." Daniel flipped over one of the pages, showing Jack the document covered in selective black marks. The marks slowly blurred in Jack's vision, covering the whole page.

"Hey, can you find anything in the Vinculum?" Daniel's eyes were back on the page, totally engrossed in what he was reading. Jack looked to the door, wondering if he should just make a run for it and leave Daniel.

Wait. Leave Daniel?

The thought jarred Jack out of his apprehension and he took a step back, grabbing the table for support.

"Jack!" Daniel was suddenly next to Jack and when he brushed Jack's hand, Jack felt Daniel in his thoughts, and having Daniel there helped steady him, helped him see that there were two voices in his head . . . and one of them wasn't his own.

* * *


"Ba'al is in this thing?" Mitchell tapped Jacob's head. Jacob swatted him off with a jerky swish of his arm.

Gerard shrugged. "I guess? I don't know what Ba'al's like but someone is in the Vinculum and he's . . . not nice." The entity in the Vinculum smashed against Gerard's thoughts like a sledgehammer. Gerard winced, feeling a headache coming on. "He doesn't seem to like me, either."

"So few people do," Mitchell muttered. Jacob poked Mitchell's shoulder, eliciting a protesting squawk.

Vaisey nudged between Sam and Teal'c, letting himself into the huddled group. "What's going on? Bridgeman is getting twitchy."

"Not too surprising since he's got a snake in his head," Mitchell drawled.

"He's a goa'uld?!"

"What? Naw, no." Mitchell heaved a sigh and looked over his shoulder. Most of the people passing through the atrium were giving the off-worlders a wide berth. "The person Gerard says is in the Vinculum? Sam's willing to lay down some serious cash that it's Ba'al."

Vasiey looked between them all, his eyes wide. "Why?"

"Whoever it is—even if it's not Ba'al—he's trying to control people through the Vinculum," Sam explained.

Gerard grimaced, not wanting to admit the many ways his invention had been abused. "It can be . . . persuasive."

"He can do that as an upload?" His gaze finally landed on Jacob and he seemed to take him in. Gerard shifted and then stepped forward, drawing the attention to himself.

"They have my notes—speculation really—about what happened. Before. To Jacob." He rubbed his temple, already tired of the constant sledgehammer attack to his mental defenses. "They could have other information—like how it was used on Tekhne."

"I think it's time to intervene," Mitchell said, stepping closer to Vaisey. He rested his hands on the butt of his weapon, appearing casual though Gerard could tell the move was calculated.

Vaisey rubbed his brow, taking a deep breath. "I'd really prefer we not. I still haven't established the kind of rapport I'd been hoping for before discussing their god."

"Whoever's in the Vinculum—whether it's Ba'al or not," Sam said, giving Vaisey a kernel of hope. "He knows Gerard is stronger than most Aberdones. He may even know who Gerard is."

"I believe our collective safety has been compromised." Teal'c stood up straighter, looking over Jacob's head to where Bridgeman was approaching.

"Is anything wrong?" Bridgeman wrung his hands together, his eyes flicking between their faces, including Jacob's. He smiled at a man who looked their way, raising a hand in greeting.

Mitchell glanced at Vaisey before opening his mouth. "It turns out your god left behind a little piece of himself. In the Vinculum."

Sam picked up where Mitchell left off. "We think Ba'al uploaded himself in the Vinculum . . . to manipulate you."

Vaisey held up his hands and stepped forward, into the center of their little circle. "I'm sorry, Ambassador. I didn't want to have to tell you this—we've been looking into some anomalies: that's why we brought our experts on the Vinculum." Vaisey's voice filled with concern. "We didn't want anyone to take advantage of your trust."

Bridgeman's mouth parted and he stepped back, touching his forehead. Gerard felt him access the Vinculum but whatever request he made was gone in an instant, drowned in the deluge of information that flowed on this planet.

"This isn't an easy thing for us to say," Vaisey continued. "Ba'al is an alien who poses as a god. He's taken advantage of the religious faith on hundreds of planets; preying on their trust and seeking out their worship."

"He has made slaves of those who worship him and his only goal is for ever increasing power." Teal'c's voice alone was more convincing than Vaisey's. Bridgeman seemed to listen to him more carefully.

"We want to help you," Vaisey said. He tilted his head, his voice soft like Daniel's, and for the first time Gerard realized it was a technique to persuade someone—that wasn't just Daniel's nature. "We want to put a stop to Ba'al's dishonesty. "

Bridgeman's eyebrow twitched. "I don't believe Lord Ba'al . . . would ever stoop to . . . such dishonesty." He touched his head again, wincing.

"Him bein' in your heads?" Mitchell spiraled his finger by his head. "It's messin' with you! I can see it in your face; he's controlling you—but we can help. Gerard can help."

All eyes turned to Gerard. He gulped.

Bridgeman stepped back, his hands still. Gerard felt another motion through the Vinculum, but just as before it was absorbed too quickly for him to know what it was.

"Gerard and his . . . robot." Bridgeman's gaze turned to Jacob and this time Gerard knew he saw what Jacob really was. There was no mistaking the awareness in his eyes.

Gerard took in SG-1 with wide eyes: Mitchell turned his weapon slightly, pulling it horizontal and flattening it against his chest. Sam took a step back, flanking Teal'c. Teal'c's jaw tensed.

"He's more than a robot." Gerard turned his head slightly, taking in Jacob's widened eyes. "But I think you already guessed that."

"I had." Bridgeman folded his hands, all the pain gone from his face, the smile gone from his voice. "I was curious that an automaton could use the Vinculum."

"He was—is—my brother." Gerard swallowed down the self-correction. "People can be uploaded into the Vinculum. Ba'al—" Gerard prayed this wasn't a lie. "—is in the Vinculum; and he's powerful, persuasive. It's not your fault he's duped you."

"He is a god." Ambassador Bridgeman tapped his mouth, then his temple, and then his words were all that Gerard could hear. The Vinculum went deadly silent—like Bridgeman's thoughts were the entire network. Gerard couldn't even feel Jacob, just Bridgeman and his complete devotion. "You will not harm our god. You will not harm Ba'al."

Everyone who had been milling around SG-1 stopped and turned to look at them. A woman dropped her coffee, and no one stooped to prevent it from pooling on the floor. There were thirty, forty people who were just staring at the off-worlders, their expressions void, like they were empty.

Mitchell grabbed Vaisey's shoulder and tugged him behind and out of the way. SG-1 stepped forward, forming a wall separating the Earth civilians from Bridgeman. There were people behind them, though, and people to the left, blocking the landing for the cable car, which Gerard could see through the large plate-glass doors.

"All right then, sorry for the misunderstanding," Mitchell said. "We'll be on our way."

"I cannot allow you to leave," Bridgeman said, stepping backwards. The rest of the room moved in unison, everyone taking a step forward at the same time. "Lord Ba'al requests that you become part of the Vinculum."

"Yeah, I don't think so." Mitchell took a step back, bringing up his weapon. The guest suites were behind them, some other meeting rooms, but there was limited access for getting them to the second tier cable car landing.

"I'm afraid, we have to insist." The crowd advanced another step, the crisp movement of a well-trained army.

"Colonel Mitchell." Teal'c adjusted his grip on his weapon. "I advise we seek an avenue of escape."

Gerard punched past Ba'al's control and into the Vinculum and his mind flooded with floor plans of the buildings and possible escape routes. He evaluated them in a flash, the Vinculum responding to his adrenaline rush. "The cable car," Gerard gasped. But there were so many people blocking the door.

"You heard the man." Mitchell fired at their feet, but the people didn't move. Ba'al's control through the Vinculum was total; they didn't even flinch. Mitchell groaned and then swung his weapon up to clock the nearest person. He pushed forward, even as the crowd closed in around him.

"Stop them." Even Bridgeman's voice had become dull and when Gerard spared him one last look, he could see the ambassador wore the same vacant expression as the rest of the crowd.

Gerard nudged Jacob forward and elbowed a woman in the face when she tried to grab him. They were fast—faster than he would have thought given their expressions—and when two of them clawed at Gerard's arm he lashed out with the Vinculum and felt the feedback as their nanites fried.

Teal'c grabbed Gerard's arm and pulled him forward. Jacob was moving through the crowd, mostly unhindered, able to hold them back with his metal arms. There were a number of people who'd fallen in his wake—more people pushed in around him, though, stepping over bodies. There were groans from the floor, but otherwise the Aberdones were nothing more than shells, zombies.

It wasn't far to the doors, but Gerard was panting, his heart pounding. Sam already had the door open and had trapped a number of people behind the large glass plate. They pounded at the glass, banging with their fists hard enough that they were bleeding. They'd once been councilors, ambassadors, mothers, brothers, friends, sons—Gerard hated seeing the Vinculum used to destroy people like this. What had happened on Tekhne was bad enough—this was worse.

A cable car was waiting for them. Mitchell decked the lone zombie who was still on the landing. "Everybody in," Mitchell shouted.

Gerard slid into the front seat, hacking into the operating system through the Vinculum. Gaining full access to the control system was going to take some time and the crowd was already pushing past the doors, starting to spill on to the terrace.

Vaisey clutched the back of Gerard's seat. "Get us out of here," he said through gritted teeth.

"I'm working on it, just—"

Mitchell leaned out of the car to strike one of the hangers-on with the butt of his weapon. A man in a business suit was clinging to the side of the car and moving around to the front. "Gerard! Anything! Just get us out of here!"

Gerard glanced at Jacob and shrugged. "All right." He disengaged the brake release and the cable car lurched forward suddenly, dropping swiftly into the steep decline that would take them to the ground level.

* * *


"Jack. What's wrong?" Daniel flicked his eyes over Jack's contorted face, trying to assess what had changed. Jack had been cagey, trying to get him to leave, but Daniel had chalked that up to nerves. Jack hadn't been out in the field, his knees were worse than ever, the Vinculum was active in his brain—Daniel had just assumed Jack's apprehension was related one of those things, but. . . . Jack's eyes were constricted, his face drawn.

"I, I'm okay," Jack choked out. He shifted his focus, meeting Daniel's gaze and he smiled tightly. "The Vinculum's . . . overwhelming. It's easy to get lost."

"Okay." Daniel took a deep breath. "You had me worried." He pulled away from Jack, trying to ignore the tingle in his fingers from brushing across the back of Jack's hand.

For a project so intricately tied to the internet, there was a lot of hard copy information. Daniel almost wished he had better access to the Vinculum just so he could sort and organize everything more easily. For as many problems the Vinculum introduced, Daniel couldn't argue with its ability to catalogue and index information.

"Uh, Daniel?" When Daniel looked up, Jack had edged towards the door. "Shouldn't we be going?"

"There's still more research to go through. We've got plans for implementation but they're not complete. Don't you want to know what Ba'al's up to?"

Jack glanced back toward the door, his mouth pulling into a frown, and then he huffed. "Yeah. Five minutes."

Daniel tried to get back to reading, but he could feel Jack pacing, the restlessness coming off him in waves and making Daniel nervous as well. It didn't help that the murmur from the muted Vinculum was giving Daniel a headache—it was like sitting too close to fluorescent lights.

Daniel tried to focus himself on the documents. He needed to know what the next step was—how they were planning to move from nanite injections and localized transceivers to worldwide implementation. He skimmed, trying to get back to where he'd left off, his eyes finally finding a key phrase: . . . progressing towards wireless transceivers . . .

Daniel jerked, his eyes moving back to the top of the page, rereading what he'd already been over. The Vinculum was already wireless. That was the whole point of it being in people's heads. Daniel's eyes widen as he took in the sentences he'd originally glossed over.

"They're making the Vinculum wireless. I mean, so it will interact with wireless internet routers," Daniel corrected. Jack's mouth parted slightly, giving him a dazed look. "Any wireless internet network—from a home system to one at Starbucks—will be compatible with the Vinculum. It's how they're getting around securing permission to launch satellites for global deployment. They're just taking advantage of already widespread systems."

Jack didn't blink, didn't say anything. A sick feeling crept up Daniel's spine. He narrowed his eyes and pushed towards Jack with the Vinculum, forcing his way in. Jack, what's going on?

Jack blinked, his whole face twitching uncomfortably. Daniel pushed in harder, breaking into Jack's mind, and looking for the answer on his own. Another force slammed against him, pushing him back out of Jack's thoughts. He recoiled, smacking his hand into the filing cabinet.

"Jack!" He moved around the table, grabbing Jack's arms and giving him a shake. Jack grunted and pulled back.

"Daniel. What? Quit shaking me." He took a step back and his eyes focused clearly on Daniel.

"There's something in the Vinculum, can't you feel it?"

Jack's lip curled in a snarl, the muscles in his arm tensing like he was preparing to throw a punch. "Yes," Jack said through gritted teeth.

"Shit. We have to get you out of here." Daniel looked around, grabbing whatever files he still had pulled out of the cabinet.

"Leave them," Jack snarled, but Daniel knew the score now.

"Are you saying that or is it the Vinculum?"

Jack didn't respond, but Daniel already knew the answer.

Daniel pushed into his thoughts, insistently pressing in and pushing the other entity out as far as he could. He walled up the space behind him, trying to make a place so he could help Jack stay grounded until they were back in the elevator and getting the hell out of Hammel Technologies. "Jack. Focus on me. Come on." Daniel stacked the files together, moving to the door. "Is there anyone in the hallway? Can we safely leave?"

Jack squeezed his eyes shut and Daniel could feel the way his thoughts slid from the safe space Daniel had carved out and into the Vinculum. But Jack was holding back, keeping a tether to Daniel so he didn't get lost.

There's no one in the hall. Jack said, but the voice was doubled, like someone was saying it with him and Daniel wasn't sure he could trust the intel.

"Are you sure?"

Jack opened his eyes. "I don't know. Daniel. . . ." His face contorted and Daniel knew it didn't matter—he'd either risk them getting caught or he'd lose Jack here regardless. They had to go.

Daniel squeezed Jack's elbow, but Jack pulled away. "Stay with my thoughts. I'll get you out of here."

Jack snorted. "Isn't it my job to keep you safe?"

Daniel smiled tightly, appreciating the attempt at humor. "We traded jobs a while ago." Daniel took a deep breath and then slowly turned the knob, inching the door open. He shouldn't have been that surprised when he saw the armed scientists, but his stomach dropped all the same.

"Well, hi." What else was there to say?

They gestured Jack and Daniel forward and someone shut the door behind them. Daniel opened his mouth to start negotiating, but something struck the back of his head and the world went dark.

* * *


The sweeping descent wasn't Gerard's favorite thing ever. He'd never been afraid of heights but after this he was thinking about properly cultivating the fear. He ducked when he heard the report of a rifle. The one good thing about the swift decent was that it seemed to be throwing off the aim of the snipers who'd suddenly appeared in the closest air parks. There'd been a few close calls, but mostly the bullets whizzed through the empty air behind them.

Of course the real problem was stopping, and the time for solving that problem was fast approaching.

"Gerard? You workin' on those brakes?" Mitchell fired over Jacob's shoulder, taking out one of the snipers—the cable car zoomed past before the man fell.

"Working on it," Gerard ground out, his thoughts on the Vinculum.

He could turn on the emergency brakes easily, but slamming on the brakes at this speed wasn't going to solve their problem. What he needed was a manual option, and it wasn't presenting itself as readily as he'd hoped.

While Gerard's thoughts passed through the Vinculum, Jacob was at a virtual console—flicking switches and watching a monitor. It was more comfortable for Jacob to interact with the Vinculum as a virtual reality, but it took concentration to create a virtual world and Gerard couldn't help but be annoyed that Jacob wasted the time to build and maintain the virtual console.

"I'm not . . . finding . . . anything." Jacob's eyes flicked over the monitor—at least he wasn't taking the time to read the monitor and was absorbing the information directly.

"Manual, manual," Gerard muttered, going through the coding as quickly as he could. Was it possible they hadn't put in a manual brake? Did they rely so heavily on their technology that they forgot something as simple as a manual override? (That kind of thinking reminded Gerard a little too closely of Tekhne.)

"Gerard!" Sam shouted. "We're going too fast. We need to start decelerating!"

"I can't find the manual override!" Gerard snapped back. He pounded on the smooth dash in front of him, wishing he'd had time to pull back the cover and go directly into the wires; he might have been able to find the right wires to trigger the braking system.

The car shook and there was the sound of tearing metal followed by a screech and a lurch as Gerard was thrown forward against the dash.

Were we hit? Jacob asked through the Vinculum. Gerard almost laughed; in the Vinculum Jacob was holding on to the console like the virtual world had also been shaken.

The screech came again and the car lurched, like a hiccup on the cable, except this time Gerard noticed their speed had decelerated.

"Ha ha! Nice one, big guy!"

Gerard turned. Teal'c had punched through the roof and was manually applying the brakes to the cable. Gerard blinked—no way he could have come up with that solution.

"Manual braking was required, Colonel Mitchell." The car lurched again as Teal'c applied the brakes once more. "I am merely doing as Dr. Price requested."

"Sam, watch for snipers on the left. Slower target means easier target."

Sam smiled tightly, sighting down her weapon. She squeezed the trigger and Gerard watched as the bullet connected and the gunman's head snapped back. He could never get used to warfare. Despite the way he'd survived on his own planet, he hated watching people die.

We're in trouble; there are guards at the stargate.

Of course there were guards at the stargate, Gerard thought, who said this was going to be easy?

He'd been ignoring the sledgehammer in his brain but it hit him harder now. Gerard guessed Ba'al had figured out he was about to lose two valuable assets—that is if he even really knew who Jacob and Gerard were.

"I hope you have a plan for what to do when we get out of the car," Gerard said over his shoulder. Teal'c was doing an excellent job of slowing them down at a good pace, but they were still speeding through the air.

"Don't get shot," Mitchell advised.

"That's not much of a plan," Vaisey remarked. He tugged on his tie, slipping down the knot until it was loose enough to pull over his head. The tie fluttered in the wind behind them.

"Stay behind Jacob," Gerard muttered. "He can provide some cover. We'll have to trust SG-1 with the rest."

"You find that easy to do?" The ambassador's eyes were wide and Gerard thought, this must be his first firefight, and how odd that shouldn't occur to Gerard until just now.

"Easier to trust them than the Aberdones," Gerard said instead.

"Teal'c! Hold the brake until we reach the end of the cable," Sam shouted. "Then let go—we should still have enough momentum to break the cable."

"Break the cable?" Mitchell squawked. "That sounds like a bad idea."

Sam gripped the front dash. "Almost as bad as riding a runaway cable car as a method of escape?"

Mitchell was quiet for a moment before muttering, "No need to get snarky."

"Gerard, hold on," Jacob said through his mouthpiece.

Jacob's claws latched into the dashboard, the cable car station rushing up to meet them. Gerard grabbed on to his brother and let out a breath, trying to relax. He felt Teal'c let go of the brake and for a moment it was like they were on a swing and they hovered for a second. But then they reached the highest point of the arc and the cable stretched, bowing out, and then something broke. Gerard didn't know if the cable snapped or if the braking mechanism sprang loose from being overtaxed, but their car swung free and they flew sideways a few feet before it hit the ground and skidded.

Gerard was pressed up against Jacob, Sam pushed against him. Gerard heard Vaisey grunt when they hit the ground, but the passengers were mostly silent through the entire crash. It seemed like everything had stopped except for the car.

Finally their skid stopped. There was a second in which Gerard breathed and then everything was moving as SG-1 kicked themselves out of the vehicle.

"Everyone all right?" Mitchell belatedly called.

"Just get moving," Gerard coughed. He felt Sam pull away and he helped push her out through the opened door. Jacob pushed against him and soon Gerard was out of the cable car, turning around to stare amazed at the thirty feet of scraped concrete between where they were standing and the edge of the cable car station. It was a good thing the station wasn't walled in.

The firing started almost immediately—or maybe it had never stopped—Gerard was having trouble cataloguing all the action, everything was happening both at once and in sequence and it was like trying to explain the Vinculum to someone who'd never experienced it before. Jacob stepped in front of Gerard and Gerard suddenly wished he'd thought to make Jacob wider and not like his lithe human body—of course when he'd been building Jacob he hadn't thought he'd be using him as a shield.

It's practical, Jacob reminded, and Gerard wasn't sure if his thoughts had slipped into the Vinculum or if Jacob had just been thinking something similar.

They moved toward cover, keeping the DHD as the ultimate goal. However, just as on Tekhne, the DHD was the lone structure in a kind of courtyard; dialing wouldn't be easy.

Once Gerard and Vaisey were safely behind cover, Jacob strode out into the courtyard, the weapons fire fixing on him.

"What are you doing?" Gerard made a swipe for Jacob, but Teal'c pulled him back, using enough force that Gerard's feet were knocked from under him.

It's practical, Jacob repeated. I'm bullet-proof and the rest of you aren't. He reached the DHD, and Gerard watched through the Vinculum as Jacob's clawed hand dialed the familiar address for Earth, their still temporary home. The vortex rushed outward and settled into the event horizon, stray bullets causing ripples in its surface.

Jacob waited for the others, the bullets bouncing off Jacob's metal body like rain on a tin roof. He barely moved with their impact but Gerard could see pockmarks forming, little dents in the sheet metal that covered Jacob's torso and arms. There were exposed wires at Jacob's neck that could suffer from a stray bullet, but none of the Aberdone security guards seemed like they were sharpshooters. Jacob, in his inhuman shell, was the safest of them all.

"We're coming in hot," Mitchell reported into his radio. He jerked his head, signaling for Gerard and Vaisey to step up. "We'll provide covering fire. Sprint. Now!" Mitchell pushed Vaisey forward and Gerard followed behind him, running as fast as he could.

Jacob met Gerard as he ran towards the stargate, keeping one side of Gerard blocked from the gunfire.

For the first time I don't mind the body. Jacob smiled, the lights on the side of his face growing bright.

I was thinking the same thing, Gerard said, because explaining his conflicted thoughts would need to come after this was all over.

Gerard stepped through the stargate without Jacob, forgetting that once he arrived on Earth his connection to the Vinculum would be severed. The unexpected disconnection left him empty and cold.

"Are you all right, Doctor?" The ambassador put his hand on Gerard's shoulder, guiding him down the ramp.

Someone else came through the stargate and Gerard turned at the sound, expecting Jacob, since he'd been just behind Gerard, but it was Sam followed by Mitchell. Gerard held his breath, his eyes flicking over the event horizon, wondering if it had malfunctioned and if Jacob was somehow trapped inside it or if something else had happened.

The stargate finally deposited Teal'c and Jacob. It shut down a moment later, the warning klaxons silencing as well. The general called them up to the debriefing room, but Gerard's eyes were on the robot he'd built for his brother, and the way its shoulders didn't heave from lack of breath and its body didn't sag in relief. Jacob stood there, rigid and lithe, the pocked mockery of the man he'd been built to resemble.

Mitchell touched Gerard's shoulder. "Come on," he said, and Gerard finally turned and followed SG-1 up the stairs to the briefing room.

* * *


Jack came to slowly, but he was already thinking, We should have been able to take them. Jack knew that. Somewhere in the back of his mind he knew that he and Daniel should have been able to take three scientists armed with nine-mils. But Daniel's hands were full—literally—and Jack couldn't do much more than frown and hold on to Daniel.

Just let go, there's no need to struggle.

The voice in the Vinculum was getting stronger, more confident, oddly familiar, but Jack didn't want to linger too long on why it felt familiar . . . or whose voice it sounded like.

Daniel leaned his head back against the top rung of his metal chair, sighing. "At least they were nice about tying us up." Jack couldn't see his fingers, but he heard one of the knuckles crack and assumed Daniel was trying to pull his wrists out of the zip ties.

There were fluorescents overhead, a filing cabinet to Daniel's right—it looked like they were in another file room. "Comfortable," Jack muttered.

Very comfortable, the voice in his head agreed. Just relax, O'Neill. Let me take your worries away.

Jack recoiled, moving so violently he tilted up on three legs of the chair, tottering for a moment, dangerously close to falling over before he shifted his weight and came crashing back down with an impact that he felt through his clenched teeth.

"Jack!" Daniel's chair scraped across the ground as he shifted closer. "Jack?"

Jack squeezed his eyes and shook his head, trying to ignore the voice in his brain, repeating over and over that Jack should relax, calm down, let go. . . .

"Jack!" Daniel pushed into the Vinculum savagely, ripping his way into Jack's thoughts. On Tekhne Daniel could move fluidly. The way he used the Vinculum was a reminder that Daniel was always in Jack's thoughts anyway; the Vinculum just let Jack be in Daniel's thoughts as well. But the way Daniel pushed in now hurt, like he was insinuating himself where he didn't belong.

Fight, Jack. Don't go down like this.

I'm not . . . going down, Jack said with some effort. He struggled to stay with Daniel, trying to anchor himself to Daniel's life in the way he thought they were entwined regardless of geography.

Jack felt Daniel reach through the Vinculum and touch his face. Fight for that, Daniel said softly. If that's what gives you strength.

Jack pushed away—or maybe he was pulled away by the voice—but Daniel suddenly wasn't there. It felt like Daniel had never been there as the world grew dark around him and Jack felt more and more alone.

Jack slumped forward and he felt himself hit something solid. Part of his mind was still aware enough to know there was a table just in front of him and he'd probably hit it. He shifted his shoulders, trying to find some leverage against the chair, and his right arm swung free. He carefully opened his eyes and blinked against the bright yellow light—light that hadn't previously been filling the small windowless room at Hammel Technologies.

The walls were a brownish orange and Jack was slumped against a bench seat. He was on his knees. How did he get here and on his knees?

His hands were unbound so he pushed himself up, looking around the orange room. No doors, just the bench, some weird arrowhead artwork, and a few inset windows—there was something familiar about this place, like a dream he'd forgotten after waking.

He looked up, a hole in the ceiling stretching up and into an open shaft. He must have been lowered inside . . . while unconscious? He didn't remember being unconscious, though.

He rolled his eyes. Didn't remember being unconscious, he scoffed at himself, great observation, O'Neill. Gah, Daniel would give him hell if he'd said something like that in front of—

Jack's heart clenched—Daniel. It was best not to think about him. Especially not while he was here. He needed to keep his focus and thinking about Daniel lead to . . . not focus.

He searched the walls, trying to find some way to climb up, but the walls were smooth, and even if he could pull himself up from the ledge of the arrowhead sculpture—there was nowhere to go from there.

There was a sound, like slowed propeller, and Jack felt a tugging on his back grow to a pull and then Jack was falling backwards, smacking into the opposite wall like it was the floor and not a wall. And then he remembered where he was, but not how he'd gotten there. Again, a voice in the back of his mind amended, but he couldn't quite remember being here a first time.

Two guards advanced—goa'uld livery—and Jack scrambled upright. They were ready for him with zats, though, and Jack didn't stand much of a chance. He was in front of Ba'al in no time, intense gravity holding him vertically against a metal grate, watching the familiar sneer grow on Ba'al's face.

"It's good to see you again, O'Neill."

"Always good to see you," Jack replied with a grin. "We really should consider meeting somewhere else, though. There's this restaurant in D.C. that makes the best crepe suzettes. I bet you wouldn't think I'd go for something like that, but I just love a good suzette."

Ba'al smiled tightly. "I doubt you care much for . . . Suzette."

Jack's mind flashed to Daniel—an image of him tied to a chair in a cramped windowless room—but the flash was gone before Jack could remember where that was or what it meant.

Ba'al's smirk widened. "You do not remember why you are here. How . . . interesting." His fingers swept over a few glass vials; some of them lightly clinked together. Jack remembered there was acid in one of the vials; the burning pain he couldn't quite remember.

"I did not expect to see you again so soon, though. I was very surprised when I discovered I already had access to your thoughts." Ba'al picked up one of the vials, holding it up and examining the greenish-gray contents. "I've been making plans for this, I'm sure you understand. I knew at some point you would be made aware of my hand in all this—I prepared for you."

"Not to break your heart, but I've moved on," Jack said, trying to lift his arms.

"Ah, the classic Jack O'Neill wit. I'm glad to see you haven't lost that after your inevitable reassignment."

Reassignment? Jack's brain rushed to make that comment make sense, but it was like he was straddling two points in his life and he was trying to see between the two rather than make just one come into focus.

Ba'al withdrew the stopper of a vial, sniffed it and pulled a face. "Though despite the pleasure, you are a nuisance. I expected you to be wary of the Vinculum, to try to put a stop to it, but I thought we'd be in the implementation stages by then."

Vinculum—the word broke through the haze of memory but Jack couldn't quite put his finger on why it was so important.

"I have the best for humanity in mind, of course."

"Of course. I hardly doubt that." Jack tried to keep the grunt out of his voice. He was already braced for the inevitable pain, but Ba'al seemed to want to monologue.

He put the stopper back in the vial, cocking his head. "I'm going to solve all your problems, O'Neill. All you have to do is trust me."

"Easier to do without the torture." Jack made a fist and squeezed, wishing he had Ba'al's neck in his hands.

"All right." Ba'al set the vial down and turned, seating himself carefully on his throne, his hands resting on the armrests, a commanding pose, Jack guessed. "Assume one person had the resources to compile all the knowledge of a given technologically-advanced race. That knowledge could—theoretically—be used to solve a problem, such as . . . an impending alien invasion."

Jack felt a headache forming right between his eyes—a quick pinch to the bridge of his nose would fix it, if only the intense gravity wasn't holding down his arms.

"I'm merely implying that one such individual—" He splayed his fingers over his chest. "—need not make global domination a purely selfish pursuit. I plan to save the Earth with this . . . wonderful Vinculum."

Jack's headache spiked again. "Can you get on with the torturing me part? Listening to you spin a yarn is worse than the acid."

Ba'al's mouth closed in a thin line. "I will break you. Again." He stood up and picked up the vial of acid. "And when I do you will thank me for coming to your aid with all the advanced technologies I've gathered. You'll thank me for saving the Earth from the Ori. And you will worship me . . . as your god." His eyes flashed gold and he raised his arm, the vial in his outstretched hand. He tilted the vial slightly so that a drop formed, pulled, and flew to Jack's shoulder.

He felt the burn before it touched him, the memory of the pain blossoming in his shoulder. He vaguely remembered a conversation with Daniel—Daniel didn't remember what the pain had been like as he lay dying from radiation poisoning, his skin coming off his body, bandages stuck to open sores with blood; he just remembered it was the worst pain he'd had in his life. With a rush Jack realized he was remembering a conversation that hadn't yet happened.

Nothing Ba'al had said had happened yet, either—the Ori, Ba'al stealing the Vinculum. This was a memory. This—being here, being tortured—was a memory of something that had happened to Jack years ago. Why was he stuck in a memory?

Ba'al let another drop fly from the vial, this one striking Jack square in the chest. It burned through his shirt, eating into his skin, and Jack lost his train of thought. The pain was overwhelming, burning through him, the center of his being was pain.

He had been thinking about something important. Daniel. Things that hadn't happened. Pain.

Another drop struck Jack's wrist and he couldn't hold back the yell. Fire raced up his arm and he couldn't tell if the acid had gotten into his bloodstream or if it had just hit a nerve or if he cared either way.

Ba'al was saying something, but Jack couldn't listen to him any more, all he could do was feel. He remembered dying like this one time before—Ba'al let the acid spread through his veins, burn him from the inside out . . . eventually. Jack knew he'd die like this again and then Ba'al would bring him back, and this would start over. This Jack remembered—that there would be darkness, waiting, and then more torture. And Ba'al would never let him die, no matter how much he wanted it.

Somewhere in the back of his mind Jack remembered wanting to live, to fight for something he believed in. He remembered Daniel's voice telling him to find strength.

But that memory had faded and this one had become his reality. In this reality, Jack wanted to die.

* * *



~Continued in Part 4.
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