"Okay, people, we still have no idea at all exactly why Colonel O'Neill was taken?" General Hammond's gaze swept around the table, alighting at last on Sam.
Sam shook her head. "None at all, sir, we can only speculate – we didn't hang around long enough when we went back to actually ask many questions. At least, not questions about their motivation."
There were a few grins around the table at that and Daniel was aware of a few sidelong glances in his direction.
He sat quietly, letting the debriefing wash over him. He had taken little or no part in the proceedings, leaving the dissection of the two teams' tactics to the military personnel assembled around the table, merely tersely confirming his role in the operation at various points. He'd hardly said a word since he'd entered the room, except to enquire after Major Wade's state of health and to reply "Fine, I'm fine," out of deeply engrained habit to any and all enquiries about his own state. Instead he sat silently in his usual chair, painfully aware of the empty chair next to him, which by tacit consent everybody else had avoided sitting in. He was oddly grateful for that even though it hurt him to be reminded that its rightful tenant might never reclaim it.
Strangely, he did feel better than expected today. Against all the odds, he'd had a long and dreamless sleep when he'd gone back to his quarters and finally turned in, although he harboured no illusions about his subconscious' ability to bite him in the ass more than once about his actions yesterday. Once his conscience had finished with him, that was.
The General was speaking again. "Well then, SG3, I guess that just about wraps up your contribution. I expect your final reports on my desk by ten hundred tomorrow. Congratulations on a successful mission, gentlemen. Dismissed. SG1, I'd like you to stay back for the final part of the debriefing. I've asked Doctor Fraiser to join us: I imagine you're all as concerned as I am with the state of Colonel O'Neill's health at the moment, and it will probably prove to be less stressful all round for the medical staff if she makes her report to us all."
SG3 stood up and filed out. Daniel took the opportunity to head to the coffee machine for a refill, only peripherally aware of Sam doing the same thing. When she spoke to him he was startled, some of the coffee he'd just poured sloshing out of his mug.
"Hey... oh Daniel, I'm sorry... here," she grabbed a wad of paper towels and swabbed at the coffee on his hand, "let me help you. Are you okay? That coffee's hot."
"No, it's okay Sam. I'm fine."
Sam looked at him sharply. "Are you sure? You've seemed a bit distracted so far."
"Not distracted, Sam – just nothing much to contribute. I leave the military stuff up to you guys, you're better at it than I am."
And that, he reflected bitterly, was no more nor less than the simple truth. None of them, even Sam, seemed to have any problem with coming to terms with what they had done during the mission. But then, he supposed, none of them had done anything at odds with either their inclinations or their training, so it wasn't altogether surprising.
"I wouldn't say that. You do your share. We wouldn't have been in and out again half as quick without your contribution."
Daniel's mind flashed back yet again to his 'contribution' as she continued to talk and he had to suppress a tremor of disgust. Part of him appreciated what she was trying to do, that she was making the effort as a friend, in Jack's absence, to draw him out, reassure him, whatever: the other part ascribed her efforts to her being the unit 2IC, straight military and by the book through and through, and wondered how somebody so close to him could seem quite so alien at the same time. The two parts together just wished she would shut the fuck up regardless of her motivation. He felt ashamed of himself for the thought, but he would talk about it when he was good and ready, and even when that happened he would talk to Jack or not at all.
He got his wish when the briefing room door opened again, Janet came in and General Hammond called the meeting to order again.
"Doctor Fraiser, I've asked SG1 to sit in on your medical report on Colonel O'Neill in order to save you some time – better that you only have to explain the circumstances once rather than four times over."
Janet inclined her head with a smile. "Thank you sir, that makes sense." Then she was all business again. "Essentially, the Colonel's condition is no different from last night. He's resting under light sedation in an attempt to alleviate any short term withdrawal symptoms from the drugs that he's been given while held captive."
"Are you any further forward with identifying the drugs?"
"We think so. We knew yesterday that the preparation was very similar chemically to the benzodiazepines, but there was some other component that we couldn't identify. We still don't know exactly what it is, but we do now have some idea of what it does. It apparently attaches to the synapses between ganglia in a very specific part of the brain, the hippocampus, and effectively blocks the memory pathways between the hippocampus and the neocortex. The net result is retrograde amnesia."
"Like the drug Linea used," said Daniel.
The doctor turned to look at him. "Similar in its effects, but completely dissimilar in its composition," she said. "We can't really use Linea's drug as a point of comparison to help us find a cure, if that's what you're thinking."
Daniel pulled a face and fell silent.
"So the Colonel can't remember anything at all?" This from Sam.
"Again, we're not sure. Colonel O'Neill has only had one brief period of consciousness yesterday evening, during which Daniel and I observed him to be very confused and disorientated."
They all glanced across at Daniel, who nodded his head in confirmation as Janet continued.
"If the amnesia presents as I would normally expect, then the Colonel will be unable to remember anything that has happened in his life up to the point he was taken captive and deliberately addicted to the drug. However, this is an alien drug, designed for alien physiology, and it may not be one hundred per cent effective in blocking human memory pathways. Alternatively, it may of course be even more effective, in which case we have a problem."
"To put it at its simplest, Sir, if all the memory pathways are effectively blocked and the hippocampus is permanently affected, the Colonel will be incapable of remembering anything at all, even in the short term, without constant reminders. Which would make rehabilitation to any degree impossible. However, I suspect from the similarity of chemical composition between this drug and Halcion that it had to be administered on a regular basis, that its effectiveness on alien physiology was not permanent. In other words, its effects could be reversed by cessation of treatment, or possibly more quickly by the administration of an antidote."
Daniel leaned forward to interrupt her. "So we should go back there, see if we can scare an antidote out of them?"
Hammond looked enquiringly at Janet, who shook her head with a small frown.
"I'm not that certain of my facts, sir, I wouldn't like to state categorically that there is an antidote."
"But it would be worth a try, surely, in the absence of any better strategy?"
Hammond shook his head warningly at Daniel, and said heavily, "I'm sorry, Doctor Jackson. The rescue mission was a success in that we retrieved one of our own with minimal casualties. But there were
casualties, and I'm not going to risk them being worse. I'm not prepared to sanction a return trip based on speculation. Doctor, you were saying?"
A small voice in the back of Daniel's head, sounding remarkably like Jack's, warned quietly of the advisability of choosing one's battles as he recognised the finality of the General's tone and subsided back into his chair.
"Any amnesia resulting from the addiction might be total or it may only be partial, even in the planet's indigenous population: we simply can't tell from analysis alone what its effects were designed to be. As I've said, we're fairly confident that these effects are reversible in conjunction with alien physiology, but if this mystery component reacts adversely with human physiology we cannot be one hundred per cent sure that all or even any of the Colonel's memories will prove to be recoverable, whether he will recover them spontaneously, or whether he will need professional help. But this is really hypothesising ahead of the facts – we can't make any judgement at all until the Colonel is stable with his current drug regimen and aware."
"And this will be when?"
"I'm sorry Sir, I can only guess at that. He seems to be quite comfortable with the dosages he's receiving, but I would rather he remained sedated until I was sure."
"So, basically, we just have to wait some more and there's not a damn thing we can do except hang around," Daniel said.
Janet shrugged, though not without sympathy. "That's the best I can do for now, Daniel. I'm sorry that I can't be more positive, but..."
Daniel started to protest at this, but thought better of it when he caught another warning look from the General and closed his mouth with a snap as Hammond cut across him.
"We understand, Doctor. You have nothing more to add? You'll keep us all informed of any changes in the Colonel's condition, of course."
"Of course, Sir."
"That wraps it up then, people. SG1, barring emergencies, you're on stand-down for the foreseeable future. Dismissed."
He was detached again, warm, relaxed and distinctly disinclined to change his circumstances. But, he realised with a pang of disappointment, that choice was probably not available to him. Consciousness was apparently returning whether he wanted it to or not, and he felt the moment when he became anchored to the here and now.
More dreams, half remembered as his thinking cleared...
Not dreams. He knew that now. He was fully aware and something was out of kilter. He was still warm, still comfortable, feeling strangely rested. And that was not as it should be. Why not? With an effort of will he stopped his eyes from flying open until he could assess his situation. He started to run a quick appraisal of his condition, and that in and of itself was strange. That was something he'd not had the thought or energy to do in a long while, not since -- no, whatever that thought had been, it had slipped away from him. Think, he silently urged himself, organise your thoughts into some semblance of order. It might be the difference between surviving and... not. He felt the familiar panic again and ruthlessly forced it down: not far enough though, he could feel it bubbling just under the surface, waiting to spring out and claw at him. For a moment he felt a flash of irritation at his inability to suppress it entirely: time enough for that later, when there was something to panic about. He pushed harder at it, struggled with it, and felt it subside far enough. First things first: how exactly was he feeling? What was the downside?
Okay, he could do this. He was in unfamiliar surroundings, feeling uncharacteristically comfortable and rested. Chest still hurt (still? Sure, it had hurt in his dream, but...). Correction, obviously not a dream. He'd already decided that, hadn't he: stupid to allow himself to be distracted by semantics when he had to concentrate. He was still hooked up to heavens knew what. He felt surreptitiously under him, testing out what his senses could tell him. He was lying on a bed, apparently, a real bed, a bed with real sheets on it, not the usual rough cot like the one in his room. The linen felt a bit rumpled underneath and around him, so he'd obviously been there a while. In contrast, the blanket draped over him felt undisturbed where his hooked-up arm was lying on it, as if maybe it had been recently straightened. So, was he alone or not right now?
He listened hard. He could hear the faint sounds of machinery, soft beeps and somewhere in the distance, a trilling sound, all vaguely familiar but maddeningly strange at the same time. Nothing else.
When he sniffed the air tentatively, he could smell a faintly pungent aroma. Not the usual depressing, pervasive pungency he was used to from the vile bucket in the far corner of his room: this was a clean smell, somehow. Not fresh, not refreshing, but indefinably clean. His mouth was dry and tasted ghastly, in distinct contrast to the smell. Something else was missing: he couldn't smell himself. The thought threatened to unnerve him again as he worked through the implications. Someone had been touching him, working on him while he slept, cleaning him up, and he hadn't noticed. He'd damn well not realised, and they could have done anything to him. The idea made him sweat. Small comfort that they hadn't apparently done anything bad bit it underlined the fact that he was here, that they could do what they liked and he still had no control over what happened to him. He was still disposable, still a thrall. Maybe a gilded cage this time, for whatever unfathomable reason, but still a cage.
Cage? Now there was a strange turn of thought. Where had that come from? He tried to cast his mind back to the time in the room. Much as he tried, he couldn't remember ever thinking in these patterns there. Back there, he'd accepted, not questioned, not recently anyway; he'd just been
. Onyel, in his room when he wasn't working, avoiding Katen when he was, and that was just as things should be. He was Onyel. Katen and his lapdogs were in charge. He couldn't remember ever thinking of his room as a 'cage'. It was his room, it just... was. Naturally. You kept your head down and tried to avoid being noticed, though it rarely worked.
So what was with the 'cage' motif? Damn, there he was, getting distracted again by questions of language. Didn't do much to help him out in his current situation, getting distracted. Better to concentrate on the job at hand, threat-assessing his current predicament.
He was going to have to open his eyes, there was nothing much else his other senses could tell him. Dangerous, maybe, but there it was. He had to know, had to have complete information to formulate a strategy.
Much as he could see the necessity, it took him a while to pluck up the courage. When he finally did summon up the nerve to crack open his eyelids, he almost laughed at himself for being such a craven fool. Nothing to be seen except an expanse of ceiling, painted grey and lined with cracks. He felt almost giddy with relief. No faces gathered around him, no pain in his immediate future. What a schmuck, to let his imagination get the better of him! Imagination, the curse of the good drone.
He slid his eyes over to his left, finally seeing what he was hooked up to: a tube from his arm went to some kind of bag arrangement hanging on a stand beside him and some sort of machine stood beside it with a lead coming from it. When he followed the lead with his eyes, he realised it connected with the metal fingerstall on his forefinger. Didn't seem to be much of an immediate threat, but he would have been happier had it not been there, even though it seemed too sophisticated for a lout like Katen. The other tube, the one leading from his groin, was a bigger worry, until he suddenly joined up the dots and realised the full implications of being clean. He'd been here for a while, he knew that, and he wasn't lying in his own filth. So this tube must be helping him pee. Good thing, right? Right. He dismissed it and went back to his reconnaissance.
Apart from the machine and the tubing, nothing but grey painted walls, an empty chair pushed haphazard against the wall at the side of the metal bed and a shut door. Well, as long as it stayed shut, that was okay. Closed doors were good when you were alone. Closed doors gave you space, respite, peace. Closed doors were safe as long as they stayed closed. He opened his eyes fully as he carried on with his survey, finally looking over to his right.
He actually thought his heart was going to stop for the split second before it hammered up into his throat. Damn it, his senses had let him down, he wasn't alone and now he was staring into a pair of blue eyes. The one called Daniel had been here all the time, quietly observing him, waiting to catch him. This was starting to smell bad: one small mistake and as usual, everything was going horribly wrong. The panic that had been hiding just underneath the surface threatened to choke him. Closed doors were a bad thing when you had company, and he was just about to find out how bad. He held himself tense, waiting for the axe to fall.
"Hi. You're awake. Welcome back."
The lopsided grin that accompanied this comment didn't seem threatening, but he knew better than to be suckered. He wasn't about to let his guard down, no sir. He hadn't entirely cracked when they were hitting him, he was damned if he would cave for kindness. So he just kept watching, waiting.
"How do you feel? Are you in any pain?"
What kind of a fool question was that? One that was unanswerable, that was for sure. Yes I am? So glad to hear it, that's as it should be. No I'm not? I can arrange it then. Shafted either way.
He flinched as Daniel got up off his chair and came to the head of his bed, he couldn't stop himself, even though he tried to minimise it, but the man merely said, "What am I thinking of? You must be thirsty; I know I normally am when I come to after sedation. Here, have some of these: it's only ice chips – doctor's orders – which sucks, but they'll help."
The arm that slid under his shoulders to raise his head was gentle, but he wasn't fooled. He was grateful though for this slight improvement in his circumstances, even if he couldn't show it. He tried not to suck at the welcome moisture at his lips too greedily: he was helpless enough as it was, no point in giving this... Daniel another weapon to use against him.
"Is that better? Can you answer me now? Are you in any pain?"
He'd been right again, luckily, at least his instincts seemed to be holding true: not kindness – expediency. And there was still no answer that he could give.
"Jack? Do you understand what I'm saying?" The blue eyes came closer, searching his own. He held himself as still as he could, tried to assume a dull expression. It was the best he could do.
"Actually, I can see that you do. So you choose not to answer for whatever reason."
He obviously hadn't been quick enough to hide the understanding in his eyes. Katen had been a lot easier to fool. But now he had a problem, he had to think quickly. Trouble was, his thoughts wouldn't cooperate, the fear got in the way too badly. Too late. Daniel was talking again, his voice still gentle, but with a slightly harder expression in those eyes.
"Do you know who I am?"
Damn questions, he was sick to death of questions. All those questions, and he never seemed to get the answers right, no matter what he said. Why couldn't they just stop with the questions? Now here was yet another one, and he was going to get this answer wrong too. With an effort he resisted the habitual impulse to curl up small, present less of a target. Could hardly manage it anyway, all these damn tubes in the way.
"Jack, do you know me?"
He was going to have to answer, too risky not to after a question had been asked more than once.
Wrong answer, he just knew it. There was a flash of disappointment in those eyes, quickly suppressed.
"What's my name?"
"How do you know that? Do you remember me?"
He almost shuddered, but caught himself in time thankfully, as he heard a cold, hard voice echo in his mind, 'Listen to me... I'm going to find him...'
"You told me, sir."
"When was that?"
"When you came to my room, sir."
"You remember that, do you? No, It's okay, you don't need to answer that, I was just thinking out loud." Another short pause: Daniel seemed to be thinking again, quietly this time, before he spoke again.
"Actually, I wasn't thinking about that time. I was thinking more before that."
He didn't understand. He'd never met this man before he'd appeared in his room, of that he was certain: another trick then. Safer to say nothing, wait and see where this was going. Especially in light of the sounds he had heard immediately before the guy had appeared in his room.
The pause stretched out. Daniel was seemingly quite content to wait it out with him, just standing there, looking down at him, starting his heart thumping as he waited for the action to start. He was suddenly very aware that the steady rhythmic beeping of the machine he was hooked up to was changing, speeding up as his fear rose up to choke him. Damn it, if they were monitoring him that
closely, what chance did he stand?
Daniel seemed suddenly to become aware of it too, glancing over at the machine before stepping back a pace or two, saying, "I'm sorry. Standing too close, huh? I didn't mean to frighten you. It's okay, I'll keep my distance."
That was a pace too many, now he had to squint down his nose to keep an eye on him. The effort was too much though, he had to give it up and go back to looking at the ceiling again. It made him even more tense when he couldn't see what was coming and he had to fight hard for control.
Daniel must have been watching him quite closely, because without missing a beat or making any comment he moved further away and slightly around the bed, coming back into his comfortable line of sight as he continued, "Nobody's going to hurt you here, I promise. You're home now, and safe. Guess it didn't quite sink in when you were awake before, did it?"
The sound of the door opening saved him at least temporarily, before that calm, steady gaze unmanned him entirely, even if it did give him a whole new direction to worry in. The eyes flicked up for a moment or two, acknowledging the presence of the other, before they sought out and held his again.
"You really are
okay now, you know. You're safe, and you're going to get better. You look a lot better already in fact, and you've only been here a few days."
That pulled his mental processes up short. Days? How did it work out to days? Hours, surely – he hadn't been here that long, couldn't have been. Although maybe, thinking about the state of his bed and the way he was feeling physically, maybe it was
"Daniel, he's awake again? You should have called me."
"He's only been awake for a moment or two, Janet. I was just about to do that."
"Colonel, how are you feeling now?"
Another face came into his line of sight on the other side of his bed. A short, pretty, brunette woman with large, expressive brown eyes, face arranged into an expression of warm concern. He remembered her as well from the last time he'd been compos mentis, hers had been the second face in what he'd taken for a dream. A pleasant enough face, a pleasant enough expression, but he wasn't fooled. He was still on dangerous ground here; he couldn't afford to relax for a moment. Again, he held his peace.
"Daniel? Has he spoken at all since he recovered consciousness?"
"Yeah, some. He's answered a couple of questions."
The woman was busying herself at the side of his cot, readying some kind of equipment. He held himself rigid, waiting for he didn't know quite what, as she turned back to him with something in her hands. The damn monitor started to speed the pace of its beeping again, giving him away despite himself.
"Well, that's good. That's an improvement." Her face assumed a different expression as she glanced at the readout and continued, "Colonel, calm down. I'm not going to hurt you, I just want to take your blood pressure."
The smile she threw at him as she said this struck him as falsely bright and did nothing to dispel his tension. The beeping of the machine sounded insane, manic, echoing the way his thoughts were bouncing around, underscoring the simple fact that out and out panic was being held at bay by the merest thread of self-control.
"Jack. Jack, look at me. It's okay, really. Look at me."
He really didn't want to, but he saw no alternative. Reluctantly, he dragged his gaze towards Daniel, instinctively started to relax a little as he read the expression in those compelling eyes. He saw a spark there, something... what? He couldn’t put a name to it even though he recognised its effects. Damn, he was further gone than he'd thought, he'd need to guard himself against this, this could be his undoing. It was different from what Katen had inspired, no inherent loathing in it: it was insidious, worming past his carefully constructed defences, dangerous. The eyes didn't deviate from his as Daniel held out his arm and spoke.
"Janet, take my blood pressure first. See, Jack, this is nothing to worry about, there's no pain involved, just a feeling of tightening around your arm. A bit uncomfortable maybe, but that's all. It's not designed to hurt you, it's going to help Janet make you well. She has to know how you feel inside to help her to help you. Look, I'm fine and she's all done. It doesn't hurt, it helps. Will you let her do it to you now?"
Despite his misgivings, despite his dim sense of grievance at being spoken to like a recalcitrant child, he nodded eventually. It seemed to be the right response: Daniel smiled encouragingly, as did the one called Janet, and in truth once he gave in, relaxed a little, it was nothing really. He didn't show it, he wasn't that green, but relief flooded through him just the same. Score one to the underling, he'd pulled that one off okay.
"I need to take a blood sample too."
The eyes flicked away from his for a moment as Daniel asked, "Is it essential?"
The woman looked sympathetic but determined as she nodded her head. "Yes."
Daniel shrugged slightly, then sought his own eyes out again as he asked gravely, "Will you allow it? You do have a choice. You can say 'no' if you want to."
He watched as the woman made an instinctive movement of protest and Daniel's hand came up to forestall her, waving her back in peremptory fashion. He noted the momentary annoyed tightening of her lips and the moment in which she capitulated, and filed the information away for future reference without even thinking about it. Who knew, it might come in useful.
Daniel was still talking. "You'll feel a little prick in your arm, nothing to worry about though. Just a couple of seconds' discomfort, that's all. I'll have it done first again, if you'd like, just to let you see it's okay. Would you like me to do that?"
He felt another spurt of irritation. Damn it, he really wasn't a child. He shook his head before he could stop himself, before he could wonder where this odd, yet oddly natural, irritability was coming from. Wherever, it was making him reckless, something he'd have to guard against.
"Then may I? Thank you, Colonel. This won't take a moment, just a little prick now... and that's it. All done."
For now. The phrase hung in the air between them, it seemed to him, even though it hadn't been spoken out loud. Her hands had been gentle though, and that was another puzzle.
"Now, let's see about making you a little more comfortable." The woman was moving as she spoke, towards the head of the bed and he tensed up again, the damned machine ratting him out once more as he did so. She paused and looked down at him.
"It's okay, nothing to worry about. I'm just going to raise the head of the bed, let you sit up and see exactly where you are."
He schooled himself not to show any curiosity about his surroundings as the mechanism whirred into action: even though he was relieved to finally be able to see exactly where he was, he kept his face carefully blank. The room was sparse and utilitarian, and it turned out that he'd seen most of what was in it from his position on the bed anyway. But at least now he could see the door, and through the observation window in it a small square of wall on the other side of the door, though whether that was for the better or not remained to be seen.
The woman turned to Daniel again and smiled. "I'm finished here. I'll get this sample off to the lab. In the meantime, I'll leave you to it. Don't stay too long, Daniel – or at least, don't talk too long." She smiled again, and this time included him before she turned on her heel and crossed to the door. As it swung open, he noted with a brief prickle of excitement that it wasn't locked before he caught a glimpse of the man standing at parade rest just outside it. So he was guarded then: no way out that way, even if he'd been in a fit state. And then he wondered at his boldness. Sighing internally, he turned his attention back to Daniel, who hadn't moved from his position in his line of sight but out of arm's reach.
"Well, this is weird. I've never, uh, never had to do anything quite like this before. I mean, where do I start?"
This question didn't seem to require an answer, as Daniel continued, running a hand through his hair and cupping the back of his neck before snagging a chair and sitting down, "Well, we've already established that you don't remember anything about before you were held by the Geans, so I suppose the obvious thing is to tell you who you really are.
"Your name is Jack O'Neill, you're a Colonel in the United States Air Force, serial number USAF 66-789-7876-324, currently working out of Cheyenne Mountain under the command of General George Hammond..."
He listened for a while before he tuned the words out: they had no possible relevance to his current situation. Instead he wondered about Daniel's motivation in spinning him this yarn, tried to work out what possible good all this preamble could do, wondered why these people didn't just cut to the chase and get on with whatever they had in mind for him this time.
"You're not really listening any more, are you?"
The comment cut across his reverie, startling him back to full attention. Damn, that had been a silly mistake to make, to forget how well Daniel could apparently read him, how acute he was. A silly mistake that was about to bring its own retribution, if he was any judge, and he was just going to have to suck it up, again. Nothing he could do to avoid it, nothing at all: if Katen had taught him anything, it was that resistance only prolonged the agony. He forced himself to stay still enough to get it over with quickly, struggling with his instinct to protect himself at any cost.
Daniel was looking at him closely, trying to gauge his reactions, before he smiled again, a small, rueful smile that didn't quite reach his eyes and said, "Yeah, well, that's probably enough to try and take in for now. We should leave it there for a bit. You think over what I've told you, and try and get some more rest, huh? I'll come back later."
And that was it. That was all. Daniel got up, put the chair back against the wall and turned for the door, smiling once more before he went through it and closed it carefully behind him.
He could feel the cold sweat of reaction trickling down his sides as he sighed and closed his eyes. If he was waiting for the other boot to drop, it looked like the wait was going to be a lengthy one. He wasn't sure that he could stand it.