A Sentinel/Stargate SG-1 Crossover

SCAVENGER HUNT

By

D.L. Witherspoon

[Previously Published in Merged Worlds: A Sentinel Crossover Anthology, May 2002]

(Posted to the Net: 05-31-03)

Chapter One

Men and women in combat fatigues gathered in the huge cargo bay and aimed their weapons at the odd metal ring that dominated the back of the room.

"Chevron Six locked."

"What do we have, son?" General Hammond said as he entered the room.

"It's SG-1, sir."

Hammond smiled. "And on time, too. Open the iris."

"Yes, sir. Chevron Seven locked."

The metal in the center of the ring peeled back to reveal an empty circle. Something resembling rushing water whooshed out of the thin air before settling into a vortex within the circle. A moment later four people exited the vortex.

"All right!" one of the four figures called. "SG-1--on time and in one piece. Let me go collect my winnings!"

"Do not forget my share, O'Neill," another of the newcomers, a large black man with a golden tattoo on his forehead, said in a deep voice. "If I had not--"

"Yeah, yeah, Teal'c. If you hadn't stopped Daniel from--"

"Wait a minute, Jack! I wasn't the only one who--" the bespectacled one of the four protested.

"Tell him, Carter. Tell him that if Teal'c hadn't--"

The group's only female threw up a hand. "I'm not getting into this, sir, although I think both of you owe Teal'c a big thank you."

"I should've known you'd side with Daniel, Major."

"I'm just stating fact, Colonel. You and Daniel could have been seriously injured if Teal'c hadn'd--"

General Hammond approached the arriving team with a good-natured smile. When SG-1 bickered, that meant all was well. "Welcome home, SG-1. How was PX311?"

"Boring."

"I made etchings of an interesting set of tablets."

"I found traces of naquada in the soil at the base of the mountain."

"It was uninhabited."

"Like I said, Teal'c--boring. Come on, let's go show our healthy selves to the medical staff. Teach them to bet on our injuries, huh?"

"I thought we were teaching them not to bet on our injuries, O'Neill?"

"That's what I said, Teal'c. Just--"

A bright light flashed. Jack disappeared mid-sentence.

They all blinked. The general turned toward his aide. "I want this facility locked down now! Major, any ideas?" he asked, turning to SG-1's second-in-command.

"The Asgard, sir."

General Hammond nodded. The Asgard were a powerful alien race, ancient and highly advanced. One Asgard in particular, Thor, had transported the colonel aboard his ship a number of times, and although Asgard technology could cloak a ship when in orbit around Earth... "I'll put a call into NORAD and see if they're reading anything." He scratched his bald head as he walked away. "Why can't they just knock or at least call before they come?"

*****

Colonel Jack O'Neill was thinking the exact same thing as he glanced around the familiar confines of an Asgard ship. He smiled as a being straight out of Roswellian lore appeared. "Thor, my man! What's happening!"

"Something very exciting, Jack O'Neill," Thor replied calmly, taking Jack's greeting at face value.

"Replicators giving you a problem?" The Replicators were--well, they were creepy, that's what they were. They were technological "bugs" that decimated anything metal. The worst part was not that they were destructive, but that they could think and plan their destruction. And the fact that they used the metal to self-replicate better and faster than bunnies didn't help when it came to trying to get rid of them.

"I have not come for your help this time, Jack O'Neill. I have come to honor you and your colleagues."

Jack perked up. "Yeah? Well, where I come from that means presents. You got a present for me, Thor?" Like a warship? The Asgard once had a technologically-advanced ship named the O'Neill. In a bid to save the Asgard from being overrun by the Replicators, Major Samantha Carter, Jack's second in command, had blown it up.

Sometimes Jack's crush on Sam wasn't as strong as it usually was.

"Yes, a present, Jack O'Neill. An invitation."

"To what?" Jack asked warily. Rarely could you kick ass with an invitation.

"A competition. Approximately every one thousand of your Earth years, the contest takes place."

"The contest? How illuminating," Jack said dryly. "What is it, and why do we want to play?"

"The contest is a quest for three objects. The winners move one step forward into being chosen as the Fifth Race."

Jack brightened. Now Thor was talking. The Four Races were an alliance of galactic powerhouses. They put the "K" and the "A" in kick ass. Getting in with that group would ensure Earth could beat the Goa'uld. "We accept."

Thor didn't--couldn't--smile but Jack could tell he was pleased. "That is wonderful, O'Neill. When you have assembled your team of six, I will transport you to the starting point."

Jack blinked, and grinned when he saw the debriefing room with the rest of SG-1 and General Hammond sitting around the conference table. "Hello, kids!"

"Colonel. I suppose this means it was your old friend?"

"You know Thor, sir. Big on the grand gestures. He wanted to extend an invitation."

"If it's to his homeworld, don't eat the yellow one, sir," Sam said with a grimace.

"I take it that Asgardian cuisine leaves a lot to be desired?" Sam had accompanied Thor to one of the Asgard planets to help defeat the Replicators while Jack and Teal'c had taken a more frontal approach to the problem.

"That's affirmative, sir."

"Well, it's not an invitation to a formal dinner. In fact, dinner's probably going to be on a 'do the best you can' basis. No, my dear friends, we have been invited to participate in a galactic event! Forget the Olympics, we're talking about a real prize!"

"What kind of prize?" Daniel asked warily.

"Maybe a chance at becoming the fifth race," Jack answered smugly.

"No shit--um, I mean, no kidding, sir?" Sam asked, blushing in the general's direction.

"No kidding. We just have to win the contest and--"

"Back up, Jack," Daniel cautioned. "What contest?"

"A great big ol' scavenger hunt. Find three objects and bang--you're right at the top of the alliance list. I figured with you and Sam doing the thinking and me and Teal'c kicking the butts that get in your way, we're shoe-ins to win. Oh, we can also throw in a couple of big, beefy Marines. Thor says we should have six on the team. Go Team Earth!"

The General shook his head at Jack's antics and rose from his seat. "I'll go look at the duty roster to see if I can fill that order for you, Colonel."

"Thank you, sir."

"Um," Daniel began.

"Yes, Dr. Jackson?" Hammond asked.

"Could you hold off on that 'order' for a while?"

"Why, Daniel?" Sam asked before the others could.

"Because I think we're going to need every advantage we can get if we're going to have a shot at winning this. And I might know a better option than Marines."

The General sat back down.

*****

"Come on, Jim. Admit that you liked it," Blair cajoled as they stepped out of the elevator.

"I liked it better before you told me what it was."

"It was all natural."

"Yep. That's the part I didn't like."

"You ate worse in the jungle."

"There wasn't a Wonder Burger two blocks away in the jungle." Jim paused as they walked into the bullpen and everyone turned to stare at them. "What?" he asked, turning to his partner with a frown on his face.

"Don't ask me," Blair said quickly. "I haven't done anything. What's up, guys?" he asked his fellow detectives. The two years he'd been a paid detective hadn't been any different from the three years as an unpaid observer. He'd been alternately pissed--he hadn't had to use any of his academy training--and relieved, because not once had he drawn the gun at his waist.

"There's a couple of guys in the Captain's office," Henri Brown said.

"Military," Brian Rafe added.

"And?"

"Ellison, Sandburg!"

They turned toward the office door from where Simon bellowed.

"Maybe I can claim food poisoning," Jim said quietly.

"And you need me to take care of you," Blair agreed. They hadn't really gotten along with any of the government types they'd worked with. In fact, it never boded well when they had to work with anyone outside Major Crime. Jim didn't work well with others. No, actually, it was the other way around. Others didn't work well with Jim.

He reluctantly followed Jim into the office and looked at the visitors in surprise. "Daniel?"

Daniel smiled. "Hi, Blair. Long time no see."

"About six or seven years, yeah. How's it going, man?" He paused and looked at the man standing next to Daniel. Air Force? He noted the wings and congratulated himself. Had no idea of the man's rank, though. "You enlist or something?"

"Or something. This is Jack, Colonel Jack O'Neill, actually. He's sort of my--" Daniel stopped and cleared his throat.

Jack grinned smugly.

"Jack's sort of my...superior officer. But I'm still a civilian. And, Jack, this is Blair Sandburg."

"Yeah, Daniel was telling me you guys met at a conference a few years back."

"Uh, Dr. Daniel Jackson, Colonel O'Neill, this is my partner, Jim Ellison. Daniel and I were at a wild anthro conclave several years ago, Jim. His ideas were even more whacked than mine," Blair said, the smile directed at Daniel taking the sting out of the words. They all shook hands, then stood awkwardly, staring at each other.

Jack finally turned to Simon. "Captain Banks, I know this must seem irregular, but we need to talk to the detectives privately."

Simon rolled his eyes. "Irregular is all I ever get from these guys. I'll be down in Logistics--trying to see if I can get you two an office so I can use my own sometime," he said, glaring pointedly at Jim and Blair. Then his look softened. "If you need me..."

"Thanks, Simon," Jim said.

Blair could tell Jim was edgy, so he turned to Daniel as soon as the door closed behind Simon. "What's going on, Daniel?"

Daniel shared a glance with Jack, who cupped his hands to his nose and turned as if he was going to sneeze.

Jim's hands flew to his ears.

Blair immediately looked around for the danger and caught a glimpse of something metallic in Jack's hand. Angrily, he stomped over to the colonel and batted the hands down from his face. A piece of metal dropped to the floor. A dog whistle.

"You son of a bitch," Blair started.

"Jack!" Daniel yelled at the same time. "Of all the stupid stunts! How are we supposed to get them to trust us now?"

"We don't have time for games, Daniel. You know they were just going to hem and haw and dance around--"

"I could have talked to Blair scientist to scientist--"

"And that would have taken how long?"

"Not as long as it's going to take to regain their trust."

"Actually you never had it," Jim said quietly. "Now you never will. Come on, Chief. I'm sure there's some crime we need to be investigating."

Blair moved to follow Jim.

"Wait!" Daniel called desperately. "Listen, Blair, it's about those whacked ideas of mine. They're true."

"Daniel."

"Shut up, Jack. Blair, I swear to you, I have proof of my beliefs."

Blair's mouth dropped open. "Nah, man. You were going on about aliens building the pyramids and--"

Daniel nodded.

"And what, the colonel here is from Area 51?" Blair scoffed.

Daniel laughed. "I'm not lying, Blair. Just like you weren't in your dissertation."

Blair stiffened. "I don't have a dissertation. I never got a Ph.D."

"But you wrote a dissertation. And you told everyone that you lied in it, that you made up everything about Detective Ellison being a sentinel. Jack's method was crude, but it's obvious the detective heard the whistle."

Blair looked at his former friend and shook his head. "Fuck you, Daniel. Come on, Jim, let's get out of here."

"Please, Blair? Hear us out, okay? It's--it's important."

"National security stuff," Jack threw in. "Isn't that supposed to be your area of expertise, Detective Ellison? Defending the territory and all?"

"You really don't want to remind me of what I should be doing to defend my territory," Jim warned.

"You're not helping, Jack," Daniel pointed out.

"It'll be okay, Daniel. We can still get the biiig Marines."

"One dumb soldier is enough."

"Aw, Danny, you're gonna hurt Carter's feelings."

"Not exactly who I'm interested in hurting at the moment."

Blair had had enough. "As amusing as you two are, some of us have better things to do. Just a friendly warning, though--break one of Captain Bank's figurines and he'll break one or both of you." He reached for the door.

"They're called the Goa'uld. They're parasites. They burrow into the back of your neck and wrap around your spinal cord, taking over your mind and controlling your body. They came to this world through a device called a stargate. A stargate can create a stable wormhole to another stargate, no matter the distance. Well, technically that's not true. Sam could give you the actual figures on--"

"We're talking light years," Jack supplied.

"We've discovered a series of addresses to other planets and Jack and I, along with two other really good friends, well, we go to these planets."

"Just the four of you, right?" Jim asked dryly.

"Well, no. There are several SG teams that routinely go offworld. I'm not even always with SG-1--"

"Doesn't matter, though. We always have to come and save your sorry butt," Jack said with a snicker.

"Let's not get into whose butt SG-1 has had to save more, Jack."

Well, Teal'c has--"

"I'm not talking about Teal'c."

"Carter's a girl. Of course we've--"

"I'm not talking about Sam either. And I dare you to call her a girl to her face."

"Despite the number of head injuries I've had, I'm not that crazy."

"If it's any consolation, I think you're both nuts," Blair said. "This is really a great fantasy you're spinning, but--"

"It's not a fantasy, Blair. It's all very real and very hush-hush."

"Then why are you telling us?"

"Because, Detective Ellison, we need your help and I thought telling you our secret would make up for the underhanded way Jack learned yours."

"Thor won't wait forever," Jack muttered.

"Thor?"

"Yeah," Jack grinned at Blair. "His race is known as the Asgard, but here on Earth we usually refer to his kind as greys."

"Greys? As in--?" Blair air-sketched a form with a big head.

Jack nodded. "I never did ask him what the hell they were thinking, crashing in Roswell like that."

Blair leaned back against the door. "Okay, who put you guys up to this? This is an awfully elaborate joke. What's the payoff?"

"Damn it, Blair! This is not a joke," Daniel said. "We've been invited to be part of a competition which, if we win, will go a long way in helping us get named the Fifth Race. With the Goa'uld on our tails, we need to be in that Alliance. The contestants are in six-member teams. SG-1 only has four members, so Jack wanted to get two Marines to fill out the team. I thought that a sentinel would be a better choice. General Hammond agreed with me. We even have a letter from the President asking for your assistance. And if you're worried that your secret will be made public, don't be. The whole Stargate Program is top secret and any information about your participation would be buried."

"Let me see the letter."

"Certainly, Detective Ellison. Jack?"

Jack pulled an envelope from his pocket and passed it to Jim.

"Well?" Blair asked.

"It's real," Jim said after scrutinizing the document. "And they believe the tall tales they've been telling."

"You can tell if someone's lying?" Jack asked eagerly. "Cool."

"See? I told you we needed them. We have enough muscle with you and Teal'c."

"Is that a compliment, Daniel?"

Daniel adjusted his glasses. "Sure, Jack, whatever. Blair, Detective Ellison--"

"Jim."

"Jim, Blair, we need--hell, the whole planet--needs your help. Come with us, tour Stargate Command--"

"Daniel!"

"Shut up, Jack. Come and see that we really are telling the truth."

"Where?"

"Cheyenne Mountain."

"This is part of NORAD?" Jim asked interestedly.

"Not exactly, but we are a government-funded entity."

"An offshoot of the NID?"

"God no! And once you're under my command, I'm going to make you wash your mouth out with soap."

Daniel shook his head at Jack. "As you can tell, we, uh, we've had dealings with the NID that haven't gone--well."

"NID?" Blair asked, hating to be out of the loop.

"National Intelligence Department," Jim answered flatly.

"An oxymoron?" Blair said, catching Jim's emphasis on 'Intelligence'.

"A bunch of morons," Jack muttered. He sighed and crammed his hands into his pockets. "So listen, kids, is this a go or what? Time's a'wasting."

Blair and Jim shared a glance.

"Back in a sec," Blair said and followed Jim through the bullpen and out into the stairwell. "It's a bit fantastic," he began.

"Which is basically normal for us," Jim said dryly.

"But I always liked Daniel. His theories made a lot of people think he was a flake, but so did mine."

"You mean people didn't believe in sentinels, Chief? I'm shocked!"

Blair snorted. "Asshole. So are we going to do this or what?"

"Your gut says to trust your friend?" Blair nodded. "Then we go."

"What about your trust, Jim?"

"I trust you."

"And if I'm wrong?"

"I'll kick your ass and throw it in your face forever."

"Aw, shucks, Jim, you make me feel so special," Blair crooned as they headed back toward the office.

"Just doing my job."

Chapter Two

"Gentlemen, welcome to Stargate Command. I'm General George Hammond."

Blair reached out to shake the bald man's hand. He didn't look like he thought a general would look. He had kind eyes. "Nice to meet you, General."

"Sir," Jim said as he shook the general's hand. Blair smiled. The words went with the demeanor Jim had adopted as soon as they had entered the military installation. You could take the man out of the Army...

"Please, have a seat."

They sat around a large conference table, Jack and Daniel on one side of the general, Blair and Jim on the other. It had been just a scant four hours since they'd walked into the station to discover their visitors. A quick discussion with Simon. A hurried trip to the loft to pack and properly lock up. Over two hours in a military plane. The whirlwind pace was exhilarating and frightening at the same time.

"I just wanted to have a talk with you before the rest of SG-1 arrives. You have, of course, been given highest clearance just to make it this far into the facility, and since we don't know the exact schedule--" He looked to Jack to make sure.

"Thor just said to give him a buzz when we're ready."

"We're going to rush you through Stargate 101 and hope that you're quick studies."

"Um, Daniel and Colonel O'Neill gave us the basics on the plane here, on the stargate and the mission," Blair said. "Jim's still a bit skeptical, but he's promised to have an open mind."

Hammond nodded, and looked at Jim. "I had my moments of skepticism too, son. The easiest way to believe is to see. As soon as Major Carter and Teal'c arrive, we'll head down to the gateroom--"

Jim cocked his head. "I think they're here now, sir."

The door to the conference room opened and a slim woman in green camouflage fatigues and short blond hair stepped through, followed by a solidly built black guy with a gold marking on his forehead. He, too, was dressed in the green fatigues.

"I see why Dr. Jackson was so keen on you joining the mission," Hammond murmured, staring at Jim. Then he remembered his manners. "Detectives Sandburg and Ellison, I'd like you to meet Major Samantha Carter and Teal'c."

Sam held out her hand. "Nice to meet you, Detective Sandburg."

"Make it Blair and Jim, right, Jim?" When Jim didn't reply Blair turned to see him staring intently at the man named Teal'c. "Jim?"

"What are you?" Jim asked matter-of-factly.

"A Jaffa,." Teal'c's voice was a deep rumble.

Blair noticed everyone looking at Jim. Another test? "What's different about him, Jim?"

"He's pregnant?"

That brought smiles to all the faces of the SG crew, except for Teal'c's.

"I knew there was a reason I called Junior 'Junior,' " Jack chortled.

"Junior?" Now Blair was intrigued.

"Jack's pet name for the larval Goa'uld inside Teal'c," Daniel explained.

"Teal'c's a Goa'uld?" Blair asked quickly.

"No, what Jim detects is an infant Goa'uld."

"What's the difference?"

"A larval Goa'uld is not a controlling entity. It doesn't affect Teal'c's mind or thoughts. He's merely.... The Jaffa have been genetically-engineered to be--incubators." Daniel motioned for Teal'c to lift his shirt. Slits making the shape of an X marred the smooth, broad abdomen.

"That sucks."

"Indeed it does, Detective Sandburg," Teal'c said solemnly.

"Why don't you just remove it?"

"Because it immediately becomes a Jaffa's immune system. Take it out, and Teal'c dies," Jack answered flatly.

"But, uh, there's a plus side," Daniel added. "It heals Teal'c when he's injured."

"Only because it's protecting its own life," Jack pointed out.

"What happens when it's ready to leave the womb, so to speak?"

"It will find a suitable host," Teal'c said.

"Not you?"

"Not me, if possible. The Goa'uld find us inferior and not worthy to achieve godhood."

"Godhood?"

"The Goa'uld fancy themselves gods. Many of the Jaffa they have enslaved as their army consider themselves in service to their god."

"Religion can make a bitch of a war," Jim muttered.

"You're preaching to the choir," Jack agreed.

Blair looked at the Jaffa curiously. "So what happens to you, Teal'c, when Junior leaves the nest?"

"I do not know what will happen to me, but the standard response is that if the Jaffa is young enough and in good health, he is implanted with another larva. If he is too old or too injured, he dies."

"So you're a slave as long as you live." Blair winced, hoping he hadn't said anything culturally-insensitive.

"You are quite correct. The Jaffa are slaves in both body and mind. But just as I have thrown off my shackles, I hope that all my people will one day," Teal'c said with a touch of zealousness in his voice. It was the most animated Blair had heard him.

Daniel smiled at Teal'c fondly. "Teal'c is shol'va, a traitor. He was once the first prime, first officer, to the Goa'uld, Apophis, one of the most tenacious--"

"Devious," Sam added.

"Determined," Hammond said.

"Evil," Teal'c intoned.

"Hardest to kill son of a bitches you'll ever meet," Jack concluded. "The bastard has done his best to off every one of us individually and as a group."

"Because of Teal'c?" Jim asked.

"Because we keep kicking his ass," Jack said. "The only thing is, is that it doesn't stay kicked."

"They can't be killed?"

Daniel pushed his glasses up on his nose. "Yeah, they can be, but they have this device that resembles a sarcophagus which can heal most injuries if the damaged body is put into one soon enough."

"So they can't be killed?" Jim asked again. "Have you ever seen a really dead Goa'uld?"

"My wife," Daniel said softly.

Jim shook his head sheepishly. "I know, Chief--you can't take me anywhere."

Daniel managed a small smile. "Not your fault. You couldn't know. The short version is that my wife Sha're was captured by Apophis and became the host to his lover Amaunet. She even had--had a child with him. Then she died and I buried her. So, yes, they can be permanently killed."

Jack cleared his throat loudly. "Why don't we just get on with the main event and show you the gate? If you have any specific questions about how it works, ask Carter. If you have any other questions, ask Daniel. Teal'c and I are just hired muscle."

Daniel shook his head. "I wouldn't say that. Teal'c has been a godsend in interpreting both the written and spoken Goa'uld language. I've never believed in the dumb warrior theory--it takes more than muscle to win a fight."

"Thank you, Daniel Jackson," Teal'c said with a partial bow.

"Yeah, thanks, Daniel," Jack said, clapping him on the shoulder as they left the conference room.

"There are exceptions," Daniel began, and the clap became a mock punch.

"Ignore them," Sam told Blair and Jim. "Sometimes I swear Teal'c and I are the only adults assigned to SG-1."

"I totally understand. I work in a place where bullpen and playpen are synonymous at times," Blair said, automatically ducking the slap aimed at the back of his head. He understood perfectly that Daniel's friends were trying to help him deal with painful memories by joking and teasing. It was a lot like the bullpen.

"Well, you should get along fine at Stargate Command, son," Hammond said.

"Hey, I resemble that remark, General," Jack said haughtily.

The joking stopped as they walked into the Observation Room and saw the circle standing in the center of an empty storage bay.

"Is that it?" Blair said, automatically trying to decipher the markings along the edge of the ring.

"That's it," Daniel answered.

"The symbols? Egyptian?"

"About like American is English. Same roots but..." Blair nodded. "They're the dialing system for the ring. Here at the facility, the computer dials the gate for us, but on another--"

"That was a suggestion I was about to make, General," Sam interrupted.

"Go ahead, Major."

"I think Blair and Jim need to see and learn how to operate a DHD, just in case."

"Excellent idea, Major. Do you have a destination picked out?"

"Yes, sir. P8X-583. It's uninhabited and just alien enough to--"

"To get across the point that we are in an alien environment?" Jim finished.

Sam nodded. "Exactly. Working with some of the newer recruits, I've noticed that knowing and knowing are two different things."

"Cool," Blair said eagerly. "Let's go."

Jim nudged him and angled his head toward Hammond. "We haven't been given permission yet, Chief."

"Oops, the hierarchy thing. Sorry, sir," he said politely to the general.

Hammond smiled. "You're not the first to forget." He looked sternly at Jack, who hummed and stared at the ceiling. "Permission granted, SG-1. Suit up and report back here in 0:30."

"Jim," Blair whispered as they followed the others down through the halls to the locker room. "We're getting ready to go to another planet."

"So they say, Chief."

"Don't let me dork out, okay?"

"Given the company we're in, I doubt if anyone would notice. An archaeologist, an astrophysicist, an alien first officer--"

"Spock," they mouthed at the same time and grinned.

"And an Air Force colonel with five pages of awards and honors." Even as quickly as things had happened, Jim had managed to get a background check done on both Jack and Daniel. "We're talking some serious dork power here. If anyone should be worried about not fitting in, it's me."

Blair rolled his eyes. "You forget I live with you. I know what you read just for 'fun' and I still don't know how you manage to beat me at Jeopardy ninety-nine percent of the time."

"That's because you go for the outrageous answer, or worse, you argue yourself out of the right answer. You made me pause the tape for fifteen minutes while you decided whether there was a deeper meaning to the Daily Double question."

"It was the way Alex read the question. I couldn't decide whether--"

"I take it you're familiar with one of these?" Jack shoved a military assault rifle in Jim's direction. Then he handed Blair a pistol.

"Thought we were going to an uninhabited planet?" Blair murmured.

"Think of us as Boy Scouts," Jack quipped. "This is standard traveling gear. And so are the uniforms in the lockers."

Blair took out the green camouflage outfit, his eyes widening when he saw the "Sandburg" written on the front of the jacket. An SG-1 insignia was on the shoulder. "You guys work fast, or were you just so sure of us?"

"Think of us as Boy Scouts."

"I think I know why I never enlisted," Blair said as Jack walked away to a locker further down the row. Teal'c and Daniel's lockers were beside his.

"Play nice."

Blair gave Jim the finger, then picked up the metal chain hanging from a hook inside the locker. Dog tags. He glanced over to where Jim was putting his on. "You doing all right, man?"

"Never thought I'd be doing this again. It feels weird and normal at the same time."

"Any flashbacks?"

"No. You?"

Blair smiled a thank you as Jim untangled his ponytail from the chain. He'd cut his hair for the academy, then allowed it to grow back. "What do you mean?"

"You're back to being an anthropologist. It has to be odd."

He shrugged. "Maybe when I'm staring at some old artifact on another planet. But for now, it just feels like it's just a cover, a way of getting on the inside for a case. Just like putting on this camo."

Jim nodded.

"Ready?" Daniel approached, shrugging into his jacket.

"Ready," they replied in unison.

*****

They watched the event horizon flare out before the wormhole settled into its water-like façade.

"And we just walk through?" Blair questioned doubtfully.

"Wanna walk him through first, Daniel?" Jack asked.

"Maybe you and the Major or Teal'c should go through first," Jim suggested. He cut his eye at their weapons, which were more robust than the pistols the two academics carried. "You're the one who brought up the Boy Scouts, right, Colonel?"

Blair snickered, thanking Jim for getting Jack back for the Scout references.

"Carter, you and I will take point." Jack obviously wasn't happy, but he headed up the ramp beside his second-in-command.

They walked through and disappeared.

"Come on, Blair, it's our turn," Daniel urged.

"Jim?"

"Right behind you, Chief."

Blair hesitantly took a step, and in less than a minute found himself staring at a landscape that couldn't be on Earth. The sky was an odd purple and the grass was a bright, cheery, cherry.

"Definitely not Kansas," he murmured.

"Welcome to the land on the other side of the rabbit hole," Jack quipped. "Where's--here they are."

Blair turned to see Jim and Teal'c come through together. Jack raised an eyebrow.

"There was a brief argument about who would bring up the rear. A compromise was in order," Teal'c said.

Jack shook his head. "Speechless, Ellison?"

Blair grinned. "Can't wait to send the people back home postcards, eh, Jim?" No response. "Jim?" Blair turned and raced back up the platform where the now ordinary circle stood. "Jim?"

Jim stood frozen, his eyes wide and unblinking. Shit. Blair dropped his backpack and grabbed Jim's arm. "Come on, buddy. Come on back."

"What's happening?" Jack demanded.

"He's zoned. Too much input probably. Jim, listen to my voice and find your way back. Jim! Come out of it, now!"

Jim jerked, then lurched off the platform, bent over, and vomited.

"What the hell's going on, Sandburg?"

"The worst case of motion sickness you can ever imagine," he answered, fishing in his backpack for a bottle of water.

"Been there. I have some pills," Sam offered.

"No meds without a sensitivity study first," Blair said as he pulled out a washcloth and wet it. Then he went to Jim who'd finally stopped heaving. "Sip and rinse," he ordered. After Jim obeyed, he carefully wiped his face with the damp cloth. "Better?"

Jim nodded.

"Wanna tell me what happened?"

"Too many colors."

Sam frowned. "Colors?"

"They were too intense, too many, too...just too much."

"When did you see these colors, Jim?"

"The wormhole."

"You saw colors in the wormhole?"

Blair looked at her. "Something wrong?"

She looked confused. "There are no colors in the wormhole. I mean, I barely notice anything anymore, but when I did it was just a sense of dark motion. Maybe streaks of white? Guys?"

"That sounds about right, Sam," Daniel replied. "But you saw colors, Jim?"

Jim nodded. "Brilliant, intense colors. Bleeding into each other like...like really bad pop art. I zoned on them and--"

"Blair said something about that when you did your statue imitation," Jack interrupted.

"When Jim focuses on one sense too much, or there's too much input for his system, he sorta goes offline."

"And that's going to happen every time we gate?" Blair shrugged. "That's unacceptable!"

Blair answered before Jim could. "Colonel, back the hell off, now!" He turned to Jim. "How are you feeling at the moment, Jim? Headache? Residual dizziness?"

"I'm okay, Chief. Not looking forward to the return trip but I'll--do--my--best--not--to--zone." The words were said deliberately and loud enough for a certain person to hear.

"For Chrissakes," Jack muttered. "Dial us home, Carter."

"Thought we were supposed to learn how to use the dialing device?" Jim said as he straightened so sharply that Blair's vertebrae winced in sympathy.

"Why? You're not going to need to know how to use it."

Sam gave Jack a sharp glance before smiling faintly at Jim and Blair. "Come on. Daniel and I will fill you in. We call it the DHD."

"DHD?"

"Dial Home Device. It works on a system of addresses defined by the order of the symbols pushed."

"So anyone can dial into Earth?"

"Yes, that's why there's that titanium iris in front of the gate at Stargate Command. If the shield isn't opened, anyone gating into the stargate will form between the metal and the wormhole's event horizon."

"And go splat?" Blair speculated with a grimace.

Sam dipped her head, in agreement with the assessment. "That's why every team member carries a GDO."

Blair grinned. "Are you going to make me ask every time, Major?"

"Only if you keep calling me Major. The name is Samantha. Or Sam, if you prefer."

"I had a girlfriend named Sam once; she got pissed at me and set off a lab experiment in my face."

"Um, make it Samantha then." Blair smiled. "And GDO stands for Garage Door Opener."

"Why do I think Colonel O'Neill had something to do with the naming of these articles?" Blair asked wryly. Sam gave a non-informative shrug and Blair silently commended her sense of loyalty. "It's all right. Show us what to do."

*****

Jack shook his head as he watched Sandburg and Teal'c help Jim down the ramp and to the infirmary.

"What happened?" General Hammond demanded.

"Ellison has a weak stomach."

"It's more than that, sir," Sam reported. "He sees a stream of colors when he goes through the gate and they disorient him."

"Colors?"

"Apparently his sight is more than just superior to ours. I think he possibly sees other spectrums. I would love to get him in a lab for a few days."

"Well, that's not going to happen. We're just going to ship them out as quickly and as quietly as possible and that'll be the end of it."

"Don't be so hasty, Jack," Daniel urged. "He just needs some adjustment time. I mean, look, he didn't even zone this time."

"He was green, for pete's sake, Daniel!"

Hammond held up his hand for order. "Zone, different spectrums, green? I expect a full report in the war room in 0:15. Understood?" He walked away.

"Why are you being so hard on Jim?" Daniel asked. "You nor Sam did much better on your initial gate ride."

"Because I'm so damn disappointed," Jack answered honestly. "His senses would have given us an edge, but he's virtually useless as he is--and we don't have the time to acclimate him. They won't hold the contest for us indefinitely. And it's not the same. Carter and I didn't zone--nor did we almost totally invert our stomachs. The guy could barely walk on his own."

"It's not his fault. I can't imagine how difficult it must be for him to interact normally in a world as chaotic as ours. The noise pollution alone must be highly distracting."

"We get that you want to study him, Carter. But the mission is about the contest. Playing doctor with the good detective will just have to wait."

"Sir!"

"Jack!"

Jack sighed. "Sorry, Carter, that was uncalled for. You know I'm a sore loser."

"But we haven't lost anything," Daniel pointed out.

"Just our best bet at winning this thing," Jack said softly and left the gate room.

*****

"How are you feeling now, Detective?" Dr. Janet Fraiser asked as she ripped the blood pressure cuff from Jim's arm.

"Okay."

Janet rolled her eyes. "Try that again, with a little more feeling."

Blair grinned, and Jim sighed.

"My ears are still ringing, but I'm not seeing double anymore."

"What about your stomach?"

"The nausea's gone."

"Your blood pressure is normal and there doesn't appear to be any physical damage. I want your chem data to get back from the lab before I make a final diagnosis, but I'd say your body is highly sensitive to gate travel and until we can ascertain how and why, I'm restricting you from any offworld activities. Lie back and rest for a few minutes. I'll go check and see how the lab's coming with your results."

"Perky but competent," Blair analyzed as Janet left the room. Apparently used to weirdness, the petite brunette hadn't argued when Blair produced his own set of medical records on Jim.

"I can't believe I washed out," Jim said, lying back and flinging his arm across his face.

"It happens."

"Not to me."

Blair flinched at the bitterness in the words. Jim's ego was not a happy camper. "I'm sorry we got caught unawares. I don't know why I hadn't guessed that you'd have a reaction like this. Of course the physics of a stable wormhole would grate against your senses."

"The one thing I'm sure of in the whole crazy mess is that you're not to blame, Chief. It's just that every time I think I have some control over this sentinel business, I get slapped in the face with the truth: it will always control me."

"Come on, Jim. We're talking interplanetary travel here--just how much control did you think we'd have anyway?" Blair asked with a grin.

"At least you can't say I never took you anywhere," Jim teased.

Blair knew the joking was just an act. Jim expected his body to obey him, worked hard to make sure it did. If he wanted to swing from flying helicopters or cross beneath moving trains, his body was supposed to say, "Aye, aye, Captain." But the senses were a command unto themselves, especially in untried situations. And why the hell was he making military metaphors? He shook his head and concentrated on making Jim feel better. It was obvious the man was disappointed in himself. "And I thought you couldn't top skydiving into a drug-infested Peruvian jungle."

"We overachievers strive to excel."

"Brilliant observation, Jim."

"Thank you. Guess we might as well find Colonel O'Neill and the others and give them the bad news. I'm sorry we can't help your friend, Chief. Or that you won't get to go on the scavenger hunt. It might have made up for all the anthropological expeditions you gave up for me."

"Are you ever going to accept that I don't regret the decision I made?"

Jim shrugged. "Let's do this, Chief. There's probably some crime back in Cascade just waiting for us to solve it."

"Shouldn't we wait for the doctor to return?"

Jim stood and slipped his T-shirt back on. "This is a military base. I guarantee she'll know exactly where we are when she needs us."

"For a high security facility, it seems pretty relaxed around here."

"Which means the security is topnotch. The less you see of it, the tighter it is." He walked to the door and turned to the guard he knew would be standing just outside. "Take us to General Hammond, please."

The guard nodded and led the way.

*****

"So it was something more than ordinary gate sickness?" General Hammond asked. There were always a few who spilled their guts the first few times through the gate. Usually a dose of anti-motion sickness medication did the trick.

"He was gone, sir, as in 'no one home,'" Jack explained, running his hand through his silver hair. "It only lasted a few minutes--Sandburg seemed to talk him back into the land of the aware--but you know how tricky a mission can get. A man incapacitated for even a second can become a target--"

"Or worse, make someone else a target," Jim said as he and Blair entered the briefing room.

"It's called a zone out," Blair explained. "Jim had them occasionally when his senses first came on-line. I'm sure he can make the adjustment to whatever freaky things go on in a wormhole, but it would take time and training, and you're not in a position to provide either at the moment. We understand, and Daniel, Jack, Samantha, and Teal'c, we wish you the best of luck in the contest."

The general cleared his throat. "When did I get demoted? I thought I was the commander here at Stargate Command, but everyone seems to be making decisions without me. Let's just take a moment and sit down to discuss this situation."

"General, we don't have the ti--"

"Colonel, there have been times when that statement was too true, but this isn't one of them. You've admitted that you think Detective Ellison can be a valuable asset to the SG-C. Just because--" He stopped. Jim was looking wildly around the room. "What is it, son?"

Jim shivered. "Something's not right. There's--" Before he could finish, there was a bright light and a form coalesced next to Jack.

"I see that you are prepared, Jack O'Neill. You have two more humans who--"

Jack had never seen such a look of shock or surprise on the Asgard. In fact, he didn't even know they could manage such a complex expression. "Thor?"

The little being walked purposely to Jim. He touched Jim's hand, and the huge black eyes widened to impossible dimensions.

By the time the light faded, both Thor and Jim were gone.

Chapter Three

"Jim!"

"Jack!"

"Colonel?"

"Thor!

Blair took a deep breath. Everyone yelling wasn't accomplishing anything. Since both Daniel and Hammond had immediately looked to Jack for answers, he figured he'd follow suit. "Colonel O'Neill, where's Jim?" It was a calm question. No hint of hysteria.

"How the hell should I know?" Jack looked up at the ceiling. "Thor, old buddy, I need a clue here."

Silence.

"Where's Jim?" Blair's tone was more of a demand than a request.

"Thor's one of the good guys, Blair," Daniel said, laying a hand on his shoulder comfortingly. "I'm sure there's a very good reason why he transported Jim away like that. Maybe there was some threat and--"

Blair shook his head. "Thor, or whatever you call him, was looking at Jim like he was a T-bone steak and he hadn't eaten in days.

"The Asgard aren't cannibals," Jack said dryly.

"And Jim isn't Asgard, Jack, so I guess eating him wouldn't be taboo," Blair shot back. Then he paled. "They wouldn't eat him, would they?"

"No," Daniel said quickly. "They don't even eat people on the X-Files," he joked awkwardly.

Blair grabbed the back of a chair and slid into it weakly. "No, all they do is strap them to a table and do an invasive examination. Oh, God, that's Jim's worst nightmare...my worst nightmare."

"Sandburg."

He opened his eyes to see Jack squatting in front of him. "Me and the team have been with Thor several times and he's never once examined us, not even Teal'c."

"Had he seen a Jaffa before?"

Jack frowned. "Of course."

"Then he didn't need to examine him. But Jim may be something new to him."

Samantha flushed. "Even if he does examine Jim, it doesn't mean he will hurt him. The Asgard consider humans, or the Tauri as we are known, to be less advanced, so they treat us carefully."

"A lot like we treat our favorite lab rats?"

Jack sighed. "The Asgard are good people. And Ellison is a soldier. He'll deal with whatever happens, like he did when he was lost down there in the Amazon."

"And like you did when you were a prisoner of war?" Jack looked at him shrewdly and Blair gave a grim smile. Most of the time he didn't mind being ignored by the hard-assed types that seemed to occupy much of Jim's world. Flying under the radar was an M.O. he'd adopted long ago. But there were times when he just got tired of being underestimated.

"Wait just one goddamned minute!" Jack began.

"Colonel! Detective Sandburg!" Hammond said, moving between the two men. "This situation is bad enough as it is. You will both stand down!"

"Blair, the Asgard are basically harmless," Daniel said, approaching Blair slowly.

Blair gave a dry laugh. "Thor. Asgard. I know my Viking history, Daniel. There's nothing harmless about it."

"Listen, son, we're going to do everything we can to contact Thor's ship." Hammond reached for a phone hanging on the wall. "Just trust us."

"None of you understand," Blair said softly.

"Then help us to understand, Blair Sandburg."

Blair looked up at Teal'c. "Being an alien among humans, you're probably in the best position to understand. I'm sure some organization or faction has wanted to study you."

"I was once taken from this facility against my will. At the time I was infected by an insect bite sustained on one of the planets we gated to. I escaped from my captors and nearly died before my teammates found me."

"And how did you feel out there, alone in an alien environment with nothing or no one familiar around you?"

"It was...uncomfortable, but I knew O'Neill and the others would come for me."

Blair nodded. "And how did you feel, Colonel O'Neill, when you were captured by the Iraqis? Did you know there were people working around the clock trying to figure out a way to get you out?"

Jack shrugged. "I figured someone was trying to do something."

"Jim was in Peru for eighteen months. No one searched for him. No one tried to rescue him. If it hadn't been for a stray satellite photo that showed seven graves instead of eight, no one would have given him a second thought. How would you like to come back from hell, only to discover no one cared that you'd been there?"

"Why I chose the Air Force over the Army," Jack muttered.

"But Jim must know you're doing everything you can to get him back," Daniel said.

"I've learned the hard way that betrayal is first in Jim's mind. He wants to trust, he tries to, but his trust issues go back further than his Army career. Distrust is a reflex for him. He didn't trust you two, even before you pulled out that dog whistle, Colonel."

"You didn't!"

Jack crossed his arms. "I made a judgment call, Carter."

"The only reason Jim agreed to come was because I trusted Daniel and Jim trusted me. He shouldn't have."

"Blair, you can't give up. Jim's only been missing for a few minutes. I searched for my wife for a couple of years."

"And how were you rewarded for your diligence, Daniel?"

Teal'c looked at Blair steadily. "Hope sometimes is its own reward. Detective Ellison seemed to be an intelligent man. He will know that you are trying to find him. Is that not better than what he had in the past? Sha're knew that Daniel Jackson searched for her. It gave her peace even as she died. I do not believe the Asgard will intentionally harm Detective Ellison. But even if they do, he has a strong body, and his spirit is enhanced by yours."

Blair nodded. "Thank you, Teal'c. Daniel's right; Jim's only been missing a few minutes. I should save the big drama for later. It could be that this is some quick mistake. Thor didn't mean for Jim to go with him. Maybe Jim's senses somehow latched onto the signals of the Asgard transporting device and he just got sucked into the beam accidentally. Any minute now, your friend Thor will figure out how to send Jim back, we'll pack up, head to Cascade, and wish you guys the best of luck in saving the universe. Right?"

"Right," Jack said, giving him a thumbs up.

*****

Two hours later, everyone was getting anxious. Blair and Daniel decided to try meditation. Jack tapped his fingers on the conference table until Daniel glared at him. The general went to his office to see if he couldn't do something unofficially and without starting a major interspecies incident. Sam headed to the infirmary to see if Jim's lab work showed any anomalies which might explain his reaction to gate travel. Teal'c sat quietly until Jack threw a spitball at him--at which point the Jaffa withdrew a Gameboy from his jacket and offered it to Jack if he promised to play quietly.

"I have a son," he said when Blair stared at him. Daniel howled and fell to the floor.

Four hours later, tensions were high. Blair paced, telling himself that Jim was fine. Jack and Teal'c juggled wads of paper, with an aptitude that told Blair that the activity was a hobby for both men.. Sam still worked on the problem of why Jim couldn't gate, reports and hurriedly scratched notes spread across the conference table. Daniel sat, rubbing his temples as he tried to recall everything he knew about the Asgard, which wasn't much. Hammond was still holed up in his office.

"Greetings."

Blair stopped in mid-step. Paper balls fell to the floor. A pen clattered to the tabletop. And Daniel's chair almost toppled over as he sat up abruptly.

"Thor, where the he--" Jack stopped and took a deep breath. He held up his hand to keep Blair from approaching the petite alien. "Thor, you sorta surprised us your last visit. Left without saying goodbye and all. Took a friend of ours with you, too."

"I apologize for my rudeness, Jack O'Neill. It is not often that I am caught unawares, but when I saw the Child of Heimdalr--"

"Who?" Jack asked.

"Of course," Blair and Daniel said.

"Of course what?"

"Heimdalr was the watchman of the Norse gods, Jack," Daniel began.

"It was said that Heimdalr could hear the sound of grass and wool growing, and that he could see for over a hundred miles," Blair finished. He moved toward Thor. "Is Jim--is the Child of Heimdalr okay?"

Large eyes regarded him solemnly. "You must be Blair Sandburg. Our beloved lost one was quite succinct in securing my promise that I would ease your concerns as quickly as possible."

Blair was familiar with Jim being "quite succinct." That told him a lot about Jim's state--mental and physical. "How is he? Where is he?"

"You didn't eat him or anything?" Jack asked, his tone joking, but wary.

"He says to tell Blair Sandburg that 'everything is not golden.' Those were his exact words."

Blair gave a sigh of relief. Nothing was wrong with Jim's senses and he wasn't overly concerned about his well-being. "Where is he? Why did you take him away?"

Thor lowered his head. "As I stated, I was not thinking clearly once I assessed that he was indeed of Heimdalr's line. I had no right to transport him without asking--"

"You never ask me," Jack muttered.

"But we had thought his kind extinct for many millennia. We have felt the shame for so long."

"Shame?"

"For a thousand millennia we were at peace. Then we found ourselves at war with the Goa'uld. Heimdalr, as head of the First Guard, was one of the first fallen. The war was savage, and the Goa'uld were ruthless in their enslavement of the Tauri. We took steps to preserve the life that we had cherished for so long."

"You made protected colonies, like the one on Cimmeria where we first met you," Jack said.

"Yes. I took a representative of my people, the Children of Thor, and made them a home, safe from the Goa'uld. The other Asgard did the same. But the Children of Heimdalr... At the beginning of their existence, the Tauri considered themselves blessed to have such skilled watchmen. But as the dangers to their survival retreated, so did their devotion to those guarding them. They grew to fear them and the knowledge their gifts gave them. Eventually the Heimdalr were forced to the edges of civilization where they did what they always did--protect."

"What happened when the Goa'uld came?" Blair asked softly, knowing he didn't really want to hear the answer.

"The Goa'uld thought they would make excellent hosts, but although the symbiotes could control the bodies, they could not control the enhanced senses. The senses even made it impossible for them to be modified like the Jaffa, so the Heimdalr were destroyed. Sadly, and to our eternal dismay, we realized that we had not taken any of the Heimdalr to the protected worlds. We transported whole settlements--and since the Heimdalr were not allowed to be part of them..."

"You forgot them," Jack accused.

Thor fluidly hung his head. "Yes, Jack O'Neill. We forgot them. It was the darkest mark against the Asgard, our Hidden Shame. By the time the error was realized, there was not a trace of the Heimdalr to be found. We declared them extinct and have used them as direct lessons in the folly of being careless and the cost of being arrogant."

"Yet you still took Jim without asking," Blair said flatly. "I don't think the lesson has quite sunk in."

"The lost one admires your intelligence, Blair Sandburg. It is a warranted admiration. In my eagerness to herald the news to the other Asgard, I transported the Heimdalr to my ship without regard to his wishes or the feelings of those left behind. I am truly sorry for my actions."

"That's really wonderful, Thor," Jack said dryly, "But where is Ellison now?"

"Sif has taken him to Bifrost for healing."

"Why? What's wrong with him?" Blair demanded.

"The Rite of Heimdalr was never completed, although it is clear that he passed it. According to what he has told us, the only other surviving Child of Heimdalr did not."

"The Temple of the Sentinels," Blair said softly. "It was a test."

"Yes. The gifts Heimdalr bestowed upon his seed were only to be used for protection and defense. He wanted to make sure they were never abused. Those who failed the rite forfeited their gifts and their sanity. Whoever passed was afforded greater responsibility. But the child needed to be prepared first." Thor bowed before Blair. "You have done well in your tutelage of your friend. He speaks highly of your guidance. But because of our error in not providing knowledge in case of a reappearance of the Children of Heimdalr, you could not know of the completion of the rite."

"What--what damage has Jim suffered because the rite was not finished?"

"None. The incompletion merely hampered his abilities, not his physical well-being."

"And this place, Bifrost, it will help him? I mean, it's been a while."

"Our knowledge never disappears, Blair Sandburg. Jim Ellison will be a full Child of Heimdalr when you next meet."

"And when will that be?"

"If you are ready, we may go now, Jack O'Neill. We will all meet at the starting point of the contest."

Jack nodded. "First I need to inform my commanding officer."

"Of course."

Jack made the call to Hammond, assuring him that Jim was well and Thor was sorry for all the worry. Then he nodded.

Blair blinked and found himself in a cavernous room.

"Is this--?"

"Yeah, Thor's ship. Amazing, isn't it?" Sam said. "When I was helping to destroy the O'Neill, I got a chance to study their engineering--"

"I think all Sandburg cares about is that this is a big mother, right, Sandburg?"

Blair nodded at Jack and just stared at the smooth, metallic walls. So huge...and so empty. "Why so much open space?"

"Most of the space vehicles we've encountered have been this way," Sam answered. "Other than aesthetics, I haven't found an answer yet."

"I think it's an unconscious, or perhaps highly conscious appreciation for the vastness of the universe," Daniel offered. "We Tauri build on a smaller scale because, quite frankly, we haven't even reached the confines of our planet yet, much less the universe."

"Are we moving?"

"You wish to see, Blair Sandburg?" Thor asked as he appeared in one of the expansive hallways. "We won't go into hyperspace until we are out of your solar system."

Blair and the others followed the Asgard to a room that looked like the same one they'd left. Thor moved a shell-like device and a wall seemed to melt away. Blair stared out as planets and moons and asteroids streamed by.

"Oh, shit," he murmured. "Oh, holy shit."

Daniel moved to stand beside Blair. "'There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.' Welcome to my world, Blair."

Blair gave a delighted laugh. "Not too shabby for a lunatic, daydreaming, what-is-he-snorting crackpot, Dr. Jackson."

"So you overheard the conversations?"

Blair shrugged. "No worse than the slurs I got for thinking there were people with heightened senses. Even Jim called me a neo-hippie witchdoctor punk."

"And you call this man your friend?"

"It was the first day we met. And it wasn't half as bad as some of the stuff I was thinking about him," Blair added with a grin. "How long before we get there, Thor?" He was eager to see Jim. Oh, man, what could he see if he were here.

"Sandburg, one rule of thumb when you're under my command--no whines about 'are we there yet?' Because I will sit you in the corner for an hour."

Blair glanced at the rest of SG-1. "Does he know how old we are?"

"Teal'c is just about a hundred, right?"

"Yes, Daniel Jackson."

Blair watched the colonel talk to Thor. "Does Jack know that?"

"Jack thinks more in terms of experience, as opposed to actual age. And Teal'c is about the only one of us who can match him in that. But he still thinks of us as his kids."

"Sorta like Jim and his tribe. I'm down with that."

"Are you always this agreeable?"

"You have to be flexible being an anthropologist or even a cop. So many different lifestyles, people who need understanding, not judgment. Being a cop is like traveling the whole world in one city. Little Havana, Little Russia, Chinatown...and 911 serves them all. I think you'd appreciate being a cop, Daniel, if you didn't already have a front row seat for the greatest anthro show ever."

Daniel stared at the universe beyond the clear panel. "When we first got the gate operating, we thought it only went to one planet--Abydos. I decided to make my home there with a civilization that was loosely built on ancient Egypt."

"Another protected planet?"

"No, the Goa'uld Ra had stolen them from Earth long ago for slaves and hosts. He came back for them and Jack and his team defeated him. Jack went back to Earth and the Abydos gate was closed--until a box of Kleenex came sailing through."

Blair grinned. "Still got those allergies, huh?"

Daniel nodded. "Which is why I don't bother to get contacts."

"Why did you stay? To study them?"

Daniel blushed. "I fell in love. And with Sha're came a family--something I hadn't had in so long. A father, a brother, tons of assorted relatives. I was...happy and content."

"What happened? Or shouldn't I ask?"

"Apophis happened. He and his army of Jaffa came, killed, and stole Sha're and her brother Skaara. Both were taken over by Goa'ulds."

"I'm sorry, man."

Daniel shrugged. "The Air Force needed my skills, so I bargained with them. I'd become a civilian advisor if I was assigned to SG-1. I figured Jack was my best bet on recovering Sha're. But there was no recovery...Sha're was dead long before Teal'c--" Daniel paused and cleared his throat. "Think I need to go ask Thor a couple of questions about this contest."

"It was a question of Daniel Jackson's life or that of the one he called Sha're," Teal'c said as Daniel walked away. "To me, there was no question."

"He knows, Teal'c," Sam said gently.

Blair felt bad about bringing up such a sore topic. "So how did you get involved with SG-1, Major--Samantha?"

"I was in the shuttle program. After the Challenger incident, the program was put on hold. I suppose I could have waited it out, but I was intrigued when I was offered a position on a top-secret project. The theoretical astrophysicist in me fell in love with the Stargate immediately. To be honest, I think the whole shuttle program involvement was for my father. But the Stargate program.... I studied it for years without it giving up its secrets. Then Daniel found the key--and promptly disappeared. Actually, I think Jack lied and said he was dead. The truth came out when Apophis came through the gate at Cheyenne Mountain, killed four airmen and kidnapped one of the women guards. Since we thought the gate was connected only to Abydos.... They put together a team, bringing Jack in from retirement, and I demanded to be on it." She smiled. "I haven't looked back since."

Blair smiled and glanced at Teal'c. "What about you, man? How'd you wind up with these characters?"

"I was Apophis's First Prime, but I knew he was not a god, that my people were merely his slaves. I waited for a sign that it was time to take my freedom. Colonel O'Neill and SG-1 were that sign. At times, the cost of turning your back on what you have, is to have nothing. I was free but had nowhere to go. Jack O'Neill told me to come with him. And I did."

"So you're now family?" They nodded. "I can relate. The guys at the department, they've become like family, too. And Jim, I'd follow Jim to the ends of the earth--which I guess I just did," he added with a smile. "Working so closely with Daniel, I'm sure you've noticed that we anthropologists have a tendency to get a little obsessive."

"Naah," Sam drawled, laughing. "Sure, Daniel can hole himself up in his office for days without eating or sleeping, but we wouldn't call that obsessive."

"Um, Major, I seem to recall mounting a rescue mission to get you out of the lab a time or two," Jack said, joining them at the viewport. He winked at Blair. "Put a scientist in a uniform and what do you get? A scientist in a uniform."

Blair shook his head. "You and Jim are too much alike. That's either going to be real good or real bad."

"Despite my earlier behavior, I'm rather easy to get along with."

Daniel coughed. Sam looked at the ceiling. Teal'c just stared.

"Aw, c'mon, kids. I'm a lot of fun and you know it," Jack whined. No comments. "Thor likes me."

"Immensely, Jack O'Neill," the alien agreed.

Jack smiled. "You just wait, Sandburg. You and Ellison are gonna like me so much, you're gonna beg me to be permanent members of SG-1."

"You think you can put up with two more civilians?" Blair asked skeptically.

"Two? Nah. I don't think Ellison's been a civilian in years. And I've gotten used to anthropologists. Besides, Daniel needs someone to play with. Isn't that right, Danny boy?"

"Jack, you can really be an irritating bastard."

Jack grinned. "Part of my charm."

The view disappeared. "We are out of the solar system," Thor announced. "The ship will now accelerate."

"And we'll be there soon?" Blair asked anxiously. Be all right, Jim.

"Soon, Blair Sandburg," Thor said agreeably. "Soon."

Chapter Four

"We're slowing," Sam said, five seconds before the viewport opened again. A ship hovered outside the port.

"Friends, I hope."

"Yes, Jack O'Neill," Thor said, startling them. They hadn't seen him since the ship shifted into--well, warp seemed like a good enough word to Blair. "The Child is aboard."

Before Blair could make a comment, Jim and two Asgard materialized in front of them.

"Jim!"

Jim smiled. "Hey, Chief."

Blair stood still as Jim's eyes raked over him, checking Blair with his senses. "I should be the one doing that," Blair said patiently.

"I'm fine. Just ask Groa here." He gestured at one of the aliens standing next to him. "She's a healer."

She? Blair couldn't see any difference between her and Thor. "Nice to meet you. Thank you for whatever you did to help Jim."

"It is you the Asgard should be thanking, Blair Sandburg. With little knowledge you have done an excellent job in training the Child."

"Jim," the other Asgard said. "He wants to be called Jim, not the Child."

Jim gave a sheepish smile. "Thank you, Sif. Have you two met the rest of SG-1?"

Everyone introduced themselves.

"The Asgard owe SG-1 much," one of them said--Blair felt a little guilty for thinking they all looked alike, but for the life of him, he couldn't see any differences between the Asgard, Thor included. "As do I personally for the assistance you have given my husband so often."

"Husband?" Jack asked.

"Sif is my wife," Thor said.

"Oh, uh, congratulations."

Wide eyes blinked at Jack. "It has been quite some time, Jack O'Neill. Is the Child fully functional, Groa?"

"Jim is in excellent condition, Thor. Heimdalr himself would be very pleased with this one."

"Good luck then, SG-1"

Blair didn't even get a chance to blink before he found himself in a desert, a hot wind whipping through his hair. "What the fu--"

"The Asgard aren't big on ceremony," Jack said, looking around. "Apparently the contest sponsors take after them. I think the checkered flag just dropped."

"And there's our first clue."

Everyone turned to where Daniel was staring. An obelisk stood in the distance like a finger pointing at the normal-looking blue sky--normal except for the twin suns peeking out from behind fluffy white clouds.

"Not Egyptian," Blair murmured.

"Babylonian, maybe," Daniel hazarded as they walked toward the structure.

"Or Sumerian." Blair guessed. "Both cultures..."

*****

Jim smiled as he watched Blair and Daniel decipher the writings on the obelisk. He wasn't sure what they'd decided the writings were, but apparently they knew enough to drag books out of their packs and start conferring.

"I knew Daniel would enjoy having a playmate," Jack said as he came up beside Jim. He and Teal'c had gone to scout the area, which Carter, before whipping out some kind of device and taking measurements, said meant that they were bored. "He usually tells all that crap to me--like I can interpret anything he says."

"Blair seems to be enjoying himself."

"What about you? I'm half-surprised you didn't take a look around yourself."

"I have. There's nothing alive anywhere near us."

Jack lifted an eyebrow. "You trust your senses that much?"

"Yes."

"I must say I've never seen Thor as flustered as he was when he saw you."

"Guess it was finding a dodo bird on Earth after all the years of being extinct."

Jack gave a wry grin. "I think I would have used the word 'dinosaur' to make the same point, but I get what you're saying. Thor said you needed some fixing?"

"They inconsiderately didn't leave a handbook lying around, so Sandburg and I, and Incacha as well, were just working on instinct."

"Incacha?"

"A Chopec shaman."

"That was the tribe you stayed with while in South America?"

Jim nodded. "They took me in. The Asgard remind me of them."

"But presumably you could tell the boys from the girls with them."

Jim faked a look of surprise. "You mean you can't tell the difference with the Asgard?"

"Shit, I didn't even know the Asgard came in two flavors. They don't even wear clothes and I--"

"All genitalia are on the inside."

Jack grimaced. "A--too much information, and B--please don't tell me how you know that."

Jim laughed. "Then I certainly won't share the dirty jokes Groa and Sif told me. For advanced beings, their sense of humor is on the risqué side."

Jack covered his ears. "Didn't need to know that either. You seem to have learned more about the Asgard in a few hours than we have in years. Even the diplomatic corps hasn't gotten as far as you have."

Jim shrugged. "I think the females are more forthcoming. And then there's the guilt factor."

"Because they let your kind become extinct? Thor explained it to us. Did they figure out why some of you survived?"

"Not yet. But I left enough samples behind to keep them very, very busy. Reminded me of the physicals I was put through when I got back from Peru."

"Sounds like what I went through after Iraq. Just how many bottles do they think someone can fill?" Jack empathized.

A nod. "Body fluids from parts of the body I didn't even know had fluids. At least the Asgard don't use anything as primitive as needles." Jim stiffened for a second, then relaxed. "Teal'c's coming."

Jack grinned. "You're handy to have around. And don't worry about Junior. He's harmless until he matures, and he's saved Teal'c's life more times than I want to count. Of course, it's got us into some trouble, too. Guilty until proven innocent--that sort of thing."

"Because he's a Jaffa."

Jack nodded. "I can understand why he's hated on sight, and he definitely understands it, but..."

"It still makes you want to kick somebody's ass."

Jack arched an eyebrow. "Sandburg said we'd get along."

"Really?"

"Or we'd kill each other."

Jim laughed. "That sounds like Sandburg."

Jack smiled. "Sorta glad we chose the get-along option. Teal'c! Come tell Ellison your Jaffa jokes."

*****

"All they need is a campfire."

Daniel turned to where Jack, Teal'c, and Jim were standing and laughing. "A warrior conclave. Looks like I'm not the only one who got a new playmate."

"Smug bastards, aren't they?" Blair said fondly, before looking back down at the reference book near his feet. The obelisk towered over them, the pictograms along its base teasing them.

"Self-righteous, aggressive assholes on their best days. I've been thinking about getting into therapy so I can figure out why they don't drive me nuts. I mean, I really should be resenting the hell out of the military on principle alone. Yet, I hear myself calmly explaining why we shouldn't nuke people just because their way of life is different from ours."

Blair nodded. "The hell of it is that they actually listen to us. We couldn't even get that from our own peers."

Daniel looked up from his book. "Maybe I don't need therapy after all."

"Yeah, all you needed was a playmate." Blair grinned.

"You think you're so fun--Damn, Blair! I think we got it." He drew a picture in the sand.

Blair looked at it and nodded. "That works, but we have these leftover symbols over here."

"I think I know what they are. Sam!"

Sam did something to the device she was using, then jogged to the obelisk. "Something wrong, Daniel?"

"We think we figured out what this thing is saying, but we have these symbols left over. Could they be--"

"Gate coordinates," she said firmly. "Colonel O'Neill!"

The three warriors hurried to join them.

"Carter, what's up?"

"Daniel and Blair have decrypted the panels, sir. And we have gate coordinates."

"Cool. Now all we need is a gate."

"Three kilometers in that direction." Jim pointed.

Jack stared, his mouth hanging open. "Why didn't you say something?"

"You didn't ask for a report."

"How many fucking years have you been out of the military, Ellison? Defense is lesson number one!"

"I know. That's why I had it all figured out in case something came through the gate."

"'Share' is a verb, soldier! And, oh God, did I really just say that?" Jack shook his head. "I'm starting to sound like a den mother. Oh, hell, I am a den mother. Pack up your toys and let's get out of here."

"Yes, Mom," Daniel and Blair chorused.

"I came out of retirement for this," Jack muttered. "Ellison, since you're the only one who knows where we're going, take point. And here's a standing order for you: tell me everything--and you know what I mean by that, mister."

"Yes, Mom." Jim grinned and started toward the stargate.

"Teal'c, stick with him."

"Yes--"

"Don't say it, Teal'c."

Although the amusement remained in his dark eyes, Teal'c merely nodded and went to join Jim.

"Any orders for me, sir?" Sam asked, total innocence written all over her face.

"Yeah, Carter, the next time Daniel comes up with a bright idea about adding members to SG-1, shoot me."

"Actually, I think it was your idea, sir."

"Shoot to kill, then."

"Aye, aye, sir."

Blair grinned as he hefted his backpack onto his shoulder. Gee, it was just like being on Earth--only not.

*****

"They did something to him," Jack said. He and Sam had automatically fallen to the rear to protect the flank with their P-4's.

"Sir?"

"Ellison. The Asgard."

"Weren't they supposed to? That's why Thor--"

"They were supposed to fix his senses."

"They didn't?"

Jack shrugged. "You'll have to ask Sandburg about that. He seems to know Ellison's previous limits."

"Then what, Colonel? What did they do that they weren't supposed to do?"

"Ellison laughed at Teal'c's jokes."

Sam looked at her commanding officer in confusion. "That doesn't mean--"

"He understood the jokes, Carter. As in he knew the specific headgear worn by the various Goa'uld guards. He laughed at the dripping beak of Horus' guards." To intimidate the people they conquered, the Goa'uld had their armies wear headpieces designed to match the god they represented. Apophis was the Serpent God, so Teal'c had worn headgear that resembled a cobra head. Horus' symbol was the Ibis.

"You think they've done something to his mind?" she asked worriedly.

"Not exactly impossible, you know." Jack had stuck his head into something he shouldn't have and ended up with the knowledge of the Ancients in his head. But his head hadn't evolved enough for so much knowledge and he'd barely kept from going insane before the Asgard managed to remove the information. "So keep your eye on him. If he starts speaking in an unknown language, sound the alarm."

"Immediately, sir."

*****

Blair increased his walking speed until he caught up with Jim. "Hey, Jim."

"Hey, Chief."

"So, you've been fixed?"

"I sincerely hope not."

Blair frowned, then untangled what he'd just said. He gave a sheepish smile. "Sorry about that, Jim. You know what I meant."

Jim smiled in return. "Yeah."

"So what did they do to you?"

"Gave me that same crap Alex did, put me in a water-filled tank for a few hours."

"So they redid the whole ritual?"

"Yeah. Then I was given another foul-tasting concoction and placed in a room where the walls were like television screens or something because they were just rapidly-changing images. And there were smells and sounds and things brushing up against me."

Blair shuddered. "Deliberate sensory overload. You didn't zone?"

"No."

"Then what happened?"

"Then Groa came and I underwent some standard testing--reflexes, blood work, etc. A lot less painful than my usual check-up, actually. So stop worrying."

"You just disappeared, Jim," Blair said defensively, which was stupid because he understood Jim was just trying to reassure him--and not knock him for caring too much.

"I know, Chief. That's why I made sure Thor returned to tell you what happened as soon as possible. He did, didn't he? How long was I gone before he came back?"

"About six hours."

"Damnit. I'm sorry about that. But we were too far out to turn around by the time I--"

"By the time you what?" Blair knew he wasn't going to like it.

Jim shrugged. "I had a bad reaction to Asgard transport technology."

"How bad?"

"A couple of seizures."

Blair snagged Jim's arm and turned him around. "A couple of what?" he asked angrily.

"Seizures, okay?" Jim shook his arm free and continued walking.

"Fucking not! And when exactly were you going to get around to telling me this?" He walked ahead of Jim and turned so he could look at Jim.

"Eventually. Don't have a coronary. They fixed me, okay? When I left Bifrost I transported to Sif's ship without any problems. And you yourself saw I was fine when I boarded Thor's vessel. My senses were--out of alignment like tires on a car. I just needed to be recalibrated."

Blair took a deep breath. Jim wasn't a fucking car, but what was done was done. "So all they did was some fine tuning? Cool."

"Uh-oh. I see the little hamsters in your mind gearing up in their tiny wheels. I take it this means there'll be tests when we get back?"

Blair gave an evil chuckle. "You can bet your ass on that one, Ellison."

Jim grimaced, then said brightly, "Look! We're here at the gate already. What was the message on the obelisk--other than the coordinates?"

"That's something we'd all like to know," Jack said as he and the others caught up with them.

Daniel pushed his glasses up on his nose. "Something like, 'Find Odin's ring.'"

"Something like?" Jack asked incredulously. "All those symbol-ly looking things and all you got was something like, 'Find Odin's ring?'"

"According to legend, Odin's ring, Draupnir, was an emblem of abundance and power," Blair said, trying to be helpful.

"Power? It blew things up?"

"No, Jack. The word power is not necessarily interchangeable with weapon," Daniel explained patiently.

"I know that, but you can't blame a man for hoping. So what does Drapnip do?"

"Draupnir makes eight copies of itself every ninth night, symbolizing Odin's dominion over nine worlds."

"Are you sure there isn't a Goa'uld named Odin?"

"There isn't," Jim said matter-of-factly. "Who's doing the dialing?"

Blair caught an interesting glance between Jack and Sam, but didn't say anything as Daniel stepped up to the dial home device. As the circle roiled and settled, he sorta wished that it was exactly that--that they were going home.

Chapter Five

"Whoa," Blair hissed as he gaped at the world they'd just entered. So not Earth. Dark red sky with streaks of white lightning giving a strobing effect. Trees, dark and forbidding, blocked the line of sight. A moaning wind oozed through the thick branches and fondled those on the gate platform. Blair shifted closer to Jim, then remembered. "Jim! You okay?"

"No problems, Chief."

"Great googly-moogly," Jack remarked as he stepped away from the gate. "I had a nightmare just like this not too long ago. Didn't like it then, don't like it now."

"Anybody else getting flashbacks to our delightful stay in Hell?" Daniel asked, shivering.

"There was nothing about that in the brochure," Blair accused.

"Wanted to limit the crowds," Jack shot back. He turned to Sam. "You sure we got the right address?"

"Mostly sure, sir."

"We head that way," Jim said and started walking.

More glances this time, Daniel and Teal'c included. They knew something about Jim that Blair didn't. That was unacceptable. Before he could open his mouth, Jack spoke.

"Ellison!"

"Sir?"

"Standing order, mister."

"An array of wildlife, nothing large. Although the sky looks dangerous, there's no evidence of any lightning strikes in the recent past. No other threats detected, Colonel."

"Where are we heading?"

"To an area of significant power."

"How do you know?"

Jim shrugged. "I can feel it."

Jack sighed. "Carry on." He nodded to Teal'c and once again he took point with Jim.

"You guys want to tell me what's up?" Blair asked calmly as they fell in behind the two leads.

"Uh, what do you mean, Blair?"

"What I mean, Daniel, is the reason behind all those pointed looks when Jim does something. What is it?"

Daniel looked at the others. "I think we're concerned that--that Jim knows more than he should."

"Meaning?"

"Jack had an encounter with an alien artifact. It downloaded a lot of information into his brain. Too much information."

"It made me nuts," Jack said. "I couldn't speak or think in English. Only Daniel could barely communicate with me."

"It had its good points, too. The Colonel came up with the solution for saving Teal'c and me when we were stranded on a planet that was about to roast us," Sam pointed out. "And he figured out how to use the eighth chevron on the gate."

"But?"

"But it was killing me, Sandburg. Thankfully, it figured that out and helped me use the gate to find the Asgard, who got my brain working right again. If they hadn't taken all that stuff away from me..."

"And you think Jim has received a download like that?"

"We think the Asgard deliberately did something similar."

"Why?"

"Why they did it or why we think they did it?"

"Both, Daniel."

"We think it was done because Jim seems to have knowledge that he shouldn't have--like information about the Goa'uld, and the way he just knows where to go. There wasn't a hint of indecision about him."

Blair shrugged. "That doesn't mean anything. When Jim makes up his mind.... Okay, fine. Say that I agree that the Asgard did this to him. Why?"

"To give us an edge, maybe. It's not a big secret that Thor really likes and admires Jack. Maybe he just wanted to stack the deck in our favor."

"Or maybe it has nothing to do with the contest. Maybe it's their way of making up the past to Jim," Sam guessed.

"Or maybe they're just playing the games that all the big, intelligent races seem to like to play on us primitives," Jack stated dryly. "Sometimes it sucks to be in the remedial class."

"Bottom line," Blair demanded. "Is Jim in any danger?"

"So far we've seen no signs of a negative reaction. We're just concerned, Blair."

Blair nodded. "Fair enough. It's just that I should have been told. I know Jim better than any of you. If there's something going on with him, I'd be the first to know, you know?"

"For what it's worth, Sandburg, we hadn't even told Daniel or Teal'c about it yet," Jack confessed. "They just seemed to know what Carter and I were thinking."

Blair glanced up to where Jim was blazing their path. "Yeah, that seems to happen when you work with people long enough. Listen, guys, I wouldn't worry if I were you. I've seen Jim under--outside influences, and this is nothing like it." No pulling away from human contact. No hair-trigger temper. He wasn't even being unreasonably territorial. Nothing like the weeks of Alex-hell.

"Just be aware," Daniel warned.

"I always am."

*****

Jim held up his hand, signaling a stop.

"Sit rep, Ellison."

"It ends, sir."

Jack frowned. "What ends?"

"There's a hundred meter space between here and the next piece of solid ground in the direction we need to move."

Jack blinked, looking at the forest he could clearly see. "Ellison--"

Jim picked up a small branch and tossed it in front of him. He watched the others watch it fall. He also watched their faces fall when the branch didn't land harmlessly on the ground. Instead, it just kept falling.

"Nox technology, sir?"

"That'd be my guess, Carter."

"The Nox?"

"One of the Big Four Races we talked about, Blair," Daniel answered.

"Do you know all four of them?"

"Just the Nox and the Asgard. The Nox can manipulate matter--make things appear or disappear at their whim."

"So they could make a forest that isn't a forest?"

"Exactly."

"You people do realize you're nuts to want to have anything to do with these whatevers, right? God, I thought the sociopaths Jim and I have to put up with were bad enough."

"The reality of the situation, Sandburg, is that not only do we know of their existence, they know of ours. We're in the game, so we might as well play to win." Jack looked at Jim. "Suggestions?"

"Whatever we're looking for is on the other side, Colonel. We just have to keep going until we find a place to cross--unless you packed jetpacks or something," Jim added with a wry smile.

"Damn. Ain't that always the way it happens? The one thing you forget to pack is the one thing you need. Last time it was my toothbrush. Oh, well. We'll try to do better next time. Carry on, Ellison."

Jim moved surely through the brush, smiling faintly as Blair caught up with him. "Hey, Chief. Come to see if I'm speaking in tongues yet?" he asked softly.

"You heard? Of course you heard. What's your opinion?"

"The Asgard didn't do anything without my permission."

"Do I want to know what that means?"

"Probably not."

"But you're going to tell me anyway."

"Eventually. But I will tell you that I haven't been harmed and that I'm in no more danger than the rest of the team."

"Just tell me you haven't done anything 'sacrificial'."

Jim didn't answer.

"Oh, God."

"It'll be okay, Chief. Trust me."

"Whoever said those were the two most dangerous words in the English language must have met you somewhere along the way."

Jim chuckled, his eyes scanning the terrain. "Thanks for the compliment."

"Yeah, right."

Jim froze.

"What is it?"

"A natural land bridge."

"Great!" Blair paused when Jim frowned. "Not the yellow brick road, I assume?"

"It's not even a foot wide." Damn. It was going to be a bitch getting them all across it without them actually being able to see it. "Ellison?"

He told the others what was going on.

"So we play follow the leader. Not a problem, right, kids?"

"And we can rope ourselves together as a precaution."

Blair nodded at Daniel. "Mountain-climbing without the mountain."

"Okay. Ellison, followed by Sandburg, Daniel, Carter, myself, and Teal'c."

Jim nodded. Teal'c was a good choice for the anchor person. While they tied themselves together, he tried to give them a visual of the space they would be crossing. In some places it was considerably less than a foot across. It was going to take a hell of a lot of focus to get across with no major tragedies.

"Step only where the person in front of you stepped," he warned as they started across. "It's going to get pretty tricky near the middle."

For several long minutes they trudged carefully across the narrow causeway. Just when Jim thought they might just make it, he saw it. "Fuck," he muttered. "All stop," he said louder.

"Jim?"

"A three meter gap. Easily jumped, but..."

"We can't see it."

"Can you see another place for us to cross, Ellison?"

Jim looked out in both directions. He didn't see another bridge for kilometers. "No, sir."

"Then we continue on this route. How do you want to play it?"

Jim wiped his hand across his forehead. "We have to untie ourselves." They did so without complaint. "Now, I'm going to jump across." He landed easily on the other side. It would be so easy if it was just him and Blair, but there were four others.

"Teal'c, I need you up next. O'Neill, Carter, you need to take one step to the left. Teal'c, stay close to them as you pass. Jackson, I want you to spread your stance and stay perfectly still. You're on a very narrow strip. Teal'c, you're going to have to step around him. Put your hands on his shoulders to steady yourself, then make sure your foot lands directly between his. Good. Move your other foot closer to Daniel's. Now, do the same again. That's it. Chief, shuffle a half an inch--no! No further. Good. Okay, Teal'c. I need you to jump across to me."

Jim looked at the solid wrist in his hand. "You're going to have to be the mark for the others while I keep moving ahead. Got it?"

"Yes, Jim Ellison."

"Everyone take two steps forward. Okay, Chief, you're up next. Jump to Teal'c." He held his breath until Blair landed safely. He moved back and motioned for Blair to take his place. "Okay, everyone move two steps forward. Jackson, jump."

Daniel's jump was a half inch too short and as he started to fall backward, Teal'c's large hand shot out and latched onto his wrist, dragging him safely onto the bridge. Jim heard each individual sigh as Daniel rested his head against Teal'c's chest.

"Thanks, Teal'c."

"You are welcome, Daniel Jackson."

Jim wondered if anyone else could hear the faint tremor in the Jaffa's voice. Feeling his heartbeat slow to something akin to normal, he took two more steps and told the others to do so as well, with Blair taking his place, and Daniel moving into Blair's spot. Two more shifts and everyone was safely across.

"Break out the rope again," Jack ordered.

Twenty minutes later, they were all firmly planted on visible ground and Jack told everyone to take five minutes for sanity's sake. He came and sat beside Jim. "How close are we?"

"At the top of the hill." That he was making a mole hill out of a mountain was pretty obvious. But lying for morale purposes was only a minor sin.

Jack looked at the tall, dark shape looming over them. "Thirty minutes?"

"About."

"Do you know what's up there?"

"Power. Lots of power."

"Can you get any more detailed than that?"

"No. I can feel the energy crackling across my skin, but it's not telling me anything specific."

"What about lifeforms?"

Jim concentrated. "None that I can recognize as such."

"Good. The Air Force charges us per bullet used, you know."

"So I heard. Why I joined the Army."

"Yeah, but while the Army can show you the world, we at the Air Force can show you more than just one."

Jim laughed. "Can't argue with that."

Jack stood, brushing off the seat of his pants. "You did good back on the bridge."

"Thank you, sir."

"Okay, troops, let's move it out. We're burning daylight or nightlight or something."

"And we were just getting ready to toast marshmallows," Daniel whined.

"Save them for the hot chocolate at the next stop."

"Only if you're not making it."

"What? A fellow gets his teaspoons and tablespoons confused one time and all of a sudden everyone's a critic."

"You had to peel Daniel off the ceiling from the chocolate rush, remember, sir?"

"Ah, so I did. Why didn't it affect you, Major?"

"I'm a woman, sir. We know how to assimilate chocolate properly."

"You know, if I'd said that, it would have come out as sexist."

Sam shrugged. "Well, sir, we women have to get our jollies some way."

"A hike up Mount Crumpet here ought to do the trick, Major. Now, only if we had our little dog, Max...."

"How the Grinch Stole Christmas? When it comes to esoteric references, I think he has you beat, Jim, " Blair said as they started up the mountain.

"I've been taking it easy on you, Chief. Just wait till we get home."

"That sounds like a threat."

"It is. I'm going to pull out the Trivial Pursuit game."

Jack grinned. "Can I come over?"

Blair just groaned.

Chapter Six

"Damn," Jack drawled.

Daniel was in awe that the man could speak at all. He himself was shocked speechless. Nine of them. Nine stargates laid out in a ring like Stonehenge. Nine open stargates, their liquid mother-of-pearl surfaces reflecting an internal light. If he were any more poetic, he'd say that the portals beckoned, called to his soul.

"This is incredible," Sam whispered. "I don't think these ever disconnect. It's some kind of nexus."

"Draupnir," Daniel finally managed to say. "Draupnir and its eight copies--the gateways to the nine worlds of Norse mythology."

"Nine different planets with permanent wormholes?" Sam said with awe. "The power source would have to surpass that of even naquada..." She dropped to her knees and opened her pack.

"Well, we've lost Carter for a while. Anybody want to take a shot at what we're supposed to do here?"

"I think maybe this will help."

Daniel turned to where Blair and Jim were standing near what looked like a DHD. Instead it was a smooth stone tablet.

"Watch," Blair said, and held his hand over the stone. Etchings appeared.

Daniel peered at the words. "Hmm. Seems easy enough...Scandinavian roots. Okay...it's some sort of nursery rhyme."

Jack snorted. "Figures. Just as long as it's not Goodnight, Moon."

"Goodnight, Moon isn't a nursery rhyme."

"Just translate, Daniel."

"In nine exist three and three and three; Three worlds, three options, three clashes be. One will select, one will elect; One will retrieve, one will receive; One will defend, one will attend. No one may do an act twice; To each a different role thrice. Then to the Aesir who patiently wait-- Enter quickly into the holy gate."

Jack sighed. "Still waiting on the translation."

"Hmm?" Daniel asked, busy reading the words Blair had written down. "Oh. Apparently we have to go to three of the worlds, choose something, and fight for it. That fits with what Thor told you, right?"

"Yeah, a big scavenger hunt. But what's with all the rest of it?"

"All six of us have a role to play, but we can only play the particular role once. Say, you make the choice of which world we go to first, then you can't choose the second or third world."

"Well, the only part I get is the defend part and that's going to be me, Ellison, and Teal'c. You, Sandburg, and Carter will select the worlds. You guys can do the electing and the attending, too."

Blair scribbled everything down and tossed his notebook to Jack. "This look okay?" World 1 World 2 World 3 Select World Daniel Blair Samantha Elect Object Samantha Daniel Blair Retrieve Object Jim Teal'c Jack Receive Object Teal'c Jack Jim Defend Object Jack Jim Teal'c Attend Object Blair Samantha Daniel "Excellent. Everyone has their assignments. So what world, Daniel?"

"Some of them I don't think we'll like. Jotunheim is a land of frost giants. Hel is the realm of the unworthy dead. Svartalfheim belongs to the dark elves."

Jack shuddered. "Definitely a no."

"Asgard is the home of the Aesir, and that's already been determined as the end of the contest. Um... Let's go to Alfheim."

"Alfheim being?"

"Land of the Light Elves."

"And that would be gate number...?"

Blair pointed. "Gate Four."

"Departures are now at Gate Four. Everyone check their luggage."

Blair and Daniel picked up their heavy packs.

"You gonna tell him, man?" Blair asked.

"That elves are tricky bastards, no matter what they're called? It's a moot point. None of these worlds can be considered safe by any stretch of the imagination. Let's just go and get this over with."

*****

The world was beautiful, which was Jim's first clue that it was probably dangerous as hell. Bright blue, cloudless sky. A rainbow arcing in the distance. His second clue was the faint giggling he heard. Childish. Mischievous. Sinister.

"Carter, you're up at bat."

"Yes, sir. What are my choices?"

As soon as she spoke the words, three holograms appeared before them. A sword. A gold ring. A scroll.

"Any of these look familiar to you, Daniel? Blair?"

"I don't think we can help, Sam."

She nodded, then squared her shoulders. "The sword."

Jim heard Jack cheering under his breath.

The holograms disappeared and something fluttered to the ground. Sam picked it up and handed it to him. "A map."

Jim scanned the map, shuddering when his sensitive fingers told him that it was drawn on something's hide.

"You okay, Jim?"

He folded the map and stuck it in his back pocket. "I'm fine, Chief. Be careful while I'm gone, okay? They're all around us."

"The elves?"

"Uh-huh."

"Ooookay. Hurry, but you be careful, too. And Jim?"

"Yeah?"

"Maybe you ought to be--nice--to the natives."

"I'm always nice." Blair raised an eyebrow. "Right. Nice to the natives. Got it."

Jim deliberately tuned out his comrades as he left the gate area and focused instead on the other sounds around him. Which is why he wasn't startled when a figure popped out on the trail in front of him and floated in mid-air, his legs crossed beneath him.

"You be a mortal on a quest," the tiny being said. Standing, he'd probably barely come past Jim's knee and although he had the pointed ears always associated with elves, he wasn't dressed in green tights or anything. Jim waved goodbye to another myth.

"Yes."

"Can I go with you?"

Jim shrugged. He walked forward and the creature floated backward. "It's your planet."

"Yes, it is. Why are you here?"

"On a quest, remember?" Nice to the natives. Nice to the natives.

"I'm an elf."

"So I see."

"You're bigger than I am."

"That's true."

"But I can kill you with a snap of my fingers."

Jim wondered if that was a threat. Considering he was on a scavenger hunt on a planet of elves because little green men could help save Earth from snakes with wings that took over human bodies... Hmm. Not much different from the covert missions he'd taken in his other military career. "You probably can."

The creature twisted around so that it lay reclined in the air. "You believe me?"

Jim nodded.

"The other didn't."

Other? "Another mortal has been here recently?"

"Part mortal, part other. A conjoined sort of fellow. Called himself a Tok'ra. I didn't like him. He thought himself better than the Elven. Do you think yourself better?"

"No."

"Why? You are much bigger, and you have the weapon that you cradle. Would it not be simple to destroy Alfheim?"

"I don't believe in destroying something for the fun of it."

"You are a warrior."

"And I will fight if necessary. But I don't believe in war for war's sake."

"You are in search of a sword."

"Swords can be for defense."

The elf studied him for a long minute. "My name is Pippenpoppenpoopenalfheimler, the Third, but you can call me Pip because I like you."

"Pleased to meet you, Pip. My name is Ellison."

"In a single beat of your heart, Son of Ellis, I can place the sword in your hands."

His first assumption was correct; different planet, same players. "In exchange for...?" Jim took out the map and consulted it for a minute before making a slight adjustment in his walking.

"Your weapon?"

"No."

"One of your companions?"

"No."

"The dangly things around your neck?"

The dog tags? "No."

"A single hair from your head?"

"Nope. Don't have enough to spare."

"One of the claws from your extremities?"

A what? Oh, a fingernail or toenail. "No."

"Why not? You do not need these things."

"I know how this game works, kid. If I give you something of mine, I will belong to you." Between the fairy tales he'd read to Steven and the fairy tales the Army had told him, no wonder he was prepared to go undercover anywhere.

And, God, if this didn't send him to a shrink's couch as soon as he safely touched back on Earth, nothing would.

"You've already given me your name," Pip pointed out smugly.

"After you gave me yours. A fair exchange."

The elf sat up and drew his knees against his chest. "You have honor, Son of Ellis."

"Thanks."

"Want to see the rotting carcass of the Tok'ra who aimed a zat'nik'tel at me because he said I was annoying him? It will take the xenophages a very long time to strip his bones dry and clean."

Jim tried to hide a shudder. "Sorry. Don't have time. You know, that's why a lot of people fail quests. Too many side trips."

The elf nodded. "Wise words. I shall help you with your quest. There's a dragon ahead."

Weary lack of surprise. "Thank you for the warning."

"Your weapon will not work on him."

Again the lack of surprise. "What will?"

"A magic potion."

Sure, why the hell not. "Can you get some of this magic potion?"

Pip stopped moving. So did Jim. "You are not scoffing at the idea of a magic potion?"

"Trust me. A magic potion is the least of things I'm going to scoff at right about now."

Pip frowned. "Do you think I'm a dream?"

Jim smiled. "You're kinda cute, but sorry, you're not my type."

Another frown, then something brushed Jim's mind. He shivered, but Pip laughed. "You made a joke. Elves love jokes. And you truly believe that I exist, that magic exists."

"We'll just keep that between us, okay?"

"Can I ask you something?"

"Sure."

"We're friends?"

"We're not enemies."

Pip performed a mid-air somersault. "I'm friends with a mortal. I used to have mortal friends long ago...until they stopped believing."

So Peter Pan flashbacks now. No worse than seeing jaguars and ghosts, right? "Sorry about that. Sometimes we can outsmart ourselves." Jim's nose crinkled and he picked up a peculiar odor. "What's that?" He hoped it wasn't the dead Tok'ra.

The elf disappeared.

Jim shrugged. He had several friends on Earth just like that. Before he could trace the foul odor, the elf returned. He shoved the sword into Jim's hand. "Run, Son of Ellis! The dragon comes!"

Jim ran.

*****

"This is worse than a stakeout of a suspect's third cousin's house," Blair muttered as they lounged around the gate. Well, everyone lounged but Samantha, who was busy taking readings of the open gate.

"Why would you stake out someone's third cousin?" Daniel asked.

"Because nine times out of ten, a fugitive heads for family. They'll usually head for a parent or a sibling's place first. But you still have to put surveillance on the distant relatives, too."

"Sounds like loads of fun."

Blair threw his arms out, indicating the surroundings. "You should know."

"Do you like being a cop?"

Blair shrugged. "Probably more than I should."

"Ah. The guilty pleasure of being glad that some immoral or amoral bastard is dead or defeated. The little thrill you get at times when you feel the weight of a weapon in your hand. The lack of feeling anything at all when you walk among a field of dead."

Blair stared at him.

"So you haven't gotten to the field of dead yet, huh?"

"Not yet."

"But you feel it coming, don't you? And you know Jim has already experienced it and you've often wondered how he gets through it without being insane. But you know how he's done it and you're going to follow the example he's set. Then you're going to wonder what that says about you."

"It says you are a survivor, Daniel Jackson."

"But at what cost, Teal'c?

"Some things don't have price stickers on them," Jack said.

"Which doesn't mean there's no cost associated with them," Blair argued. "It might just mean we don't want to see the price. But we end up paying the bill anyway."

"So why do you do it, Sandburg? Daniel here made promises to his wife. Teal'c has made promises to his people, that he will help the Jaffa be free. Carter is the daughter of a general. This has always been her life. The same basically goes for me. I've lived this life for so long that I actually missed it when I retired. Damn, it hurts to admit that, but it's true. There is no such person as Mister Jack O'Neill anymore. I'm Colonel O'Neill, and I'll take on anyone who says otherwise. So why are you here, or there at your police department?"

"You would think that after all this time, I would know better," Blair mumbled.

"Know what?"

"That looks and actions can be deceiving. Never thought I'd get blindsided by you, Colonel."

Daniel laughed. "It's Jack's favorite game: 'Let's Play Stupid.' He had me fooled for a while, but I don't go into all those elaborate explanations just to hear myself talk. Jack's mind is a good thing to have around in a pinch. I, myself, prefer the obfuscation game, misdirection and all. Sorta like what you're doing at the moment, Blair."

Sam laughed and sat beside the guys, only Teal'c still standing. "Give it up, Blair. These guys will tag-team you until you spill. Trust me."

Blair shrugged. "In all honesty, I can't tell you why I am who I am. At first it was all about my thesis. It soon became about friendship. I was jumping out of airplanes and leaping off of waterfalls because a friend was in trouble and a closer friend was in need of the help only I was qualified to give him. Now, it's something stronger, something more powerful. I am--linked to Jim, bound to him and his mission."

"The 'guide' phenomenon you talked about in your diss?"

Blair's eyes widened. "You guys read a copy of the whole diss? Damn, I was hoping everything had been trashed."

Daniel gave him a sympathetic smile. "The government's a bigger packrat than my grandfather. So is the 'guide' a genetic trait, as well?"

Blair tucked an escaping tendril of hair behind his ear. "I haven't done any studies, but I don't think so. I think it has something to do with proximity and familiarity. A sentinel is such a slave to his senses."

"So, you think Jim imprinted on you?" Sam guessed. "It does have possibilities, but I think something about you made him pre-disposed to such imprinting. I mean, he's been around others. Doesn't he have a brother?"

"Just like you do," Blair said.

Sam blinked. "I'm starting to worry about the state of our security."

"Does appear we have some holes that need plugging," Jack agreed.

"Anyway, that's exactly what I mean, Blair. I have a brother and it's hard growing up together without being close. If it was just a mixture of proximity and familiarity, then Jim would have imprinted on his brother. And from the information we have, that's not the case."

"Maybe it's having the knowledge as well," Blair said. "But as I said, I haven't done any studies."

"You could if you became a permanent member of the SG-C."

Blair stared at Jack, but before he could form a reply, Teal'c was raising the strange weapon he carried. Aptly named, the staff weapon appeared to be just a smooth walking stick, but since Teal'c preferred it to the powerful machines of war Samantha and Jack carried, and the fact that Jack didn't seem to have a problem with that, Blair figured a staff weapon had to be pretty formidable.

"Someone's coming, O'Neill."

Jack cradled the P-4. "I'm defense, remember? You just be prepared to take whatever Ellison has. Identify yourself," he yelled.

"Ellison, sir!" Jim skidded into the faux camp. He flipped the sword he carried and handed it hilt-first to Teal'c. "I think you should know, sir, that I have a dragon on my tail."

Jack raised the P-4, then paused. "A dragon dragon?"

"Yes, sir."

"Head through the gate. I'm right behind you."

"Problem, sir."

They all looked at Sam, then at the gate that was just an empty circle.

"It closed? I thought you said it didn't close?"

"It was open the entire time, sir. I don't--"

"You have to win the prize you wish to carry through the gate."

They all stared at the small figure which floated just behind Jim.

"Duck, Ellison!"

Jim shook his head. "It's okay, Colonel. This is Pip, a friend."

Pip leaned forward and rested his elbows on Jim's shoulder. "A friend to this one, yes. Who is to defend?"

"Colonel Jack O'Neill," Jack said proudly.

"Arrogant," Pip pronounced.

"Not really. Just scared," Jim said helpfully.

"Oh. That is understandable. Fahrenheit will be hard to defeat."

"Fahrenheit?"

"Yes, here he is now."

Blair looked up...and up. It was a dragon. Big sucker about the size of Godzilla. Iridescent scales. Long tail that ended in a point. Gorgeous wings made of a thin, colorful membrane. And fire. It was actually breathing fire. Hot fire. Fahrenheit. Heh. If he wasn't so terrified, he'd be laughing.

In the second it took Blair to realize there was a jet of fire headed in his direction, he was on the ground and listening to words that almost scorched as badly as the flames.

"Of all the--God, Sandburg, it's a fucking dragon," Jim ranted, sprawled atop him protectively. "They spit fucking fire. Didn't you ever read anything but National Geographic when you were a kid? Hell, even a two-year-old would have more sense--"

The rest of the words were drowned out by the sound of machine gun fire.

"Get to cover," Jack yelled as he laid down another spray of bullets to distract the dragon. Because that's all he was doing. The bullets were merely bouncing off the scales.

Blair had no option but to follow Jim into the woods. He saw Samantha tugging Daniel on the other side of the clearing. Teal'c stood where he was, the sword somehow attached to his belt.

"Five on the mortal."

Blair turned around to see Jim's little friend exchanging money with another of his kind. An elf. Jim was friends with an elf. That was going to take a shift in thinking before it settled.

Jack tossed the P-4 aside. "Teal'c!" The staff weapon sailed through the air. Jack caught it and fired in one smooth move.

"Eight on Fahrenheit." More elves coming from behind trees.

The staff weapon must have stung because the dragon staggered back a step. Jack shot again. The dragon screamed and headed into the sky.

"Oh, shit," Jim whispered.

Blair looked and saw a distant spot that could be the dragon dive-bombing back toward Jack. He looked at Jim's expression. Yeah, he was pretty sure that was exactly what Jim was seeing.

"Pip, what about the magic potion?" Jim yelled.

Pip looked up from the money he held and grinned at Jim before turning back to his companions. "See? I told you they weren't all stupid." He handed off the money and floated toward Jim. "Anything for my friend."

Something resembling a water balloon formed in Jim's hand.

"Jack!" Jim lobbed the squishy orb to the colonel, who in turn lobbed it toward the dragon.

The dragon caught it in its mouth, but didn't stop its dive. Just as its mouth opened to swallow Jack like it had the balloon--its head exploded.

"I thought magic potions just made things go to sleep," Blair murmured, stunned, as he watched the goo drip down Jack's body. It wasn't pretty.

The elves behind them were cracking up, especially after Jack began cursing and stomping around. Blair turned his head sharply when he thought he heard a snicker from Jim. A straight face greeted him.

"I have baby wipes, Colonel," Sam called as she hurried to her commander's side.

This time it was a definite snicker and Jim didn't even try to hide it. A snort. Daniel succumbed to temptation. Blair gave up.

He was wiping tears away before he got himself under control. "You okay, Colonel?" he asked, pleased that he managed not to smirk.

"Peachy, Sandburg, just peachy."

Daniel took one of Sam's wipes and pulled a chunk of goo out of Jack's hair. "It's a shame about the dragon, though. I hope he wasn't a member of an endangered species or anything."

"Forgive me if I don't weep," Jack said disgustedly.

"No need for weeping," Pip said, riding proudly on Jim's shoulder. "Fahrenheit is a silly nobbinhead, but he will be fine. See?"

They cautiously peered at the dragon carcass--and the carcass peered back. The head had re-grown.

"Silly nobbinhead!" Pip chided as he leapt from Jim to the dragon. "He always falls for the exploding potion. When will you learn?" he asked, patting the scales.

Fahrenheit purred and a long tongue snaked out to lick the elf.

"The gate has re-engaged."

"Thank God," Jack mumbled at Sam's announcement. "Let's head out!"

"Thanks for the help, Pip," Jim said.

Pip floated close and kissed Jim on the cheek. "Come back for a visit, Son of Ellis. You are always welcome here in Alfheim." With a final wave, he disappeared.

"So about Pip," Blair began just as they stepped through the gate. "Some of the mojo the Asgard worked on you?" he finished when they entered the red sky world again.

"Just part of my natural charisma," Jim said casually.

Blair narrowed his eyes. "That doesn't explain your acceptance of Pip."

A shrug. "He sorta reminded me of you. He talked constantly, but came through when I needed him."

"Oh."

Jim cuffed the back of Blair's head and joined the others at the tablet.

Chapter Seven

"So how much of that was real?" Jack asked. "Dragons named Fahrenheit who have exploding heads that grow back? Sounds like a dream I had once after some bad Thai takeout."

"What are you thinking, Jack?" Daniel questioned. "That we're still on Thor's ship and that this is just happening in our minds?"

Jack gave Daniel an odd look. "Well, that wasn't exactly what I was thinking, but, yeah, okay, could we still be on Thor's ship and this is just some really cool video game with the details pulled from our subconscious?"

"There have been precedents," Sam said with a frown.

Blair looked at Jim. "Can you tell?"

"Is Tok'ra another name for Goa'uld?"

SG-1 stared at Jim.

"What do you know about the Tok'ra?" Jack demanded.

"According to Pip, one was on the planet before us--apparently taking part in the contest."

"Damn," Jack said bitterly. "Should have known they'd have their duplicitous hands in this. Allies, my ass."

"Duplicitous, Jack?"

"You don't agree, Daniel?"

Daniel grinned. "It's not the description, but the use of the word. Four syllables, Jack? I'm impressed."

"It's one of the words in this month's Readers Digest vocabulary. It's been a bitch trying to use it in a sentence."

"So the Tok'ra are allies? Pip's description seemed to match your description of the Goa'uld," Jim said.

"Basically, the Tok'ra are a different branch of the Goa'uld," Daniel explained. "They refuse to take unwilling hosts."

"They use volunteers? Who'd be that stupid?" Blair asked.

"My father for one," Samantha said. Blair cringed. "It's okay. I know it sounds bad, but there are benefits for the hosts. A strong body that lasts an awful long time for one. My dad had terminal cancer. By co-joining with Selmak, he was healed."

"And it's worked out okay?"

"Yes, I've been in contact with him several times. As allied races, we help each other out on occasion."

"Yeah, when the Tok'ra need help. The whole alliance thing is a bit one-sided for me," Jack griped. "One of the reasons I wanted to do this contest. We need the leverage. But now that I know the Tok'ra are involved--"

"They aren't a concern any longer."

"What does that mean, Ellison?"

"Apparently the Tok'ra tried to brush Pip off, and the elf didn't take it too well."

"What'd he do? Pout?"

"Your Tok'ra was currently being devoured by something called xenophages."

"Stranger-eaters," Daniel automatically translated. "'Beware the Jabbowock, my son...'"

"That's the thing you had riding on your shoulder?" Blair said, horrified.

"You're the one who told me to be nice to the natives. And it worked. Pip gave me the sword and he saved us from the dragon."

"I'm betting that the damage from Fahrenheit could have been serious if Pip had wanted it to be. Damn, Jim, you really know how to pick your friends."

"Present company excluded of course," Jim said dryly.

"Of course. So it's my turn, right? To choose where we go next?" Blair said eagerly.

"No more elves," Jack warned.

"How about dwarfs?" Blair offered.

"There's a difference?" Jack sounded as if he was already convinced there wasn't.

Blair took the question literally. "Well, in Norse mythology, which most of this seems to be based on, the dwarfs were friends to the gods, creating treasures and magical talismans. Very much the artists. Nidavellir has to be a better choice than Niflheim, which is at the bottom of the world."

"I thought we just came from Niffleheimer," Jack said, confused.

"That was Alfheim, you nobbinhead," Daniel scolded.

Jack scowled. "Heaven save us from Daniel learning a new language. So, which gate, Sandburg?"

"Number Seven."

Jack looked pleased. "Always was my lucky number."

*****

They arrived in a spot that resembled the dry rocky desert of the American Southwest. Long ago waters had cut through the location exposing areas that now towered above them.

"Look at the number of strata revealed," Daniel said in awe.

"Is that a fossil?" Blair asked, moving forward.

"That looks like naquada." Sam lowered her pack and pulled out a gadget.

"Nerd Mecca, apparently. Kids, let's keep focused on the mission. Daniel, ask for your selection of objects, please."

"Menu, please," he called out.

Three objects coalesced in the desert heat. An elaborately-etched spear. A gold necklace. A tablet that looked similar to the one at the nexus.

"The necklace," Daniel chose with confidence.

"Sure, you don't want the spear?" Jack said enticingly.

Daniel shook his head. "It has to be the necklace."

"Can I ask why?"

"I don't think so. The answer would influence the next choice and that's probably illegal. I choose the necklace," Daniel said loudly.

A light appeared in the sky.

"I take it that is my map?" Teal'c asked as he wiped the last of the dragon goo off his staff weapon. "I shall return with your necklace, Daniel Jackson," he said and strode confidently toward the light.

"I think I see why the Goa'uld like Jaffa armies," Blair said in admiration.

"Teal'c is one of the best," Jack said proudly. "He'll be back in no time. Hey, Major, got anymore of those wipes? I think I have more entrails in my ears."

Sam tossed him a package, then went back to her calibrations/measurements/whatever. Blair and Daniel also returned to their study of the exposed layers of sediment. Jack looked at his companion in arms. "So, Jim--I can call you Jim, right?"

"Sure, Jack."

"How's this working for you?"

"This?"

"'Exploring strange new worlds, seeking out new life and new civilizations, boldly going where no man has gone before.'"

Jim shrugged. "It's okay."

Jack nodded. "You seem to make friends easily. The elf. And the Asgard treat you like a long-lost child."

"According to them, I am a long-lost child."

"True. Took you to a hospital, did they?"

"Something like that. I didn't get the Cook's Tour or anything."

"But you did get something."

"Completion. I was an unfinished sentinel. Now I'm finished. I'm curious what the differences will be when I return to the real world."

"This is the real world. Do you actually think you can go back to your smog-free city and not remember what's going on beyond the city--planetary--limits?"

"I have a history of extraordinary repression."

"Lucky you."

A look of sympathy. "You really wouldn't want to forget about your son."

Charlie, who'd picked up his father's gun and died. "Is that something you got from the Asgard?"

"The Asgard aren't the only information brokers around."

"Someone else has been fucking around in your brain?"

Jim laughed. "And I thought I was paranoid. Geez, Jack. I was talking about normal, black market info. Cell phone numbers you memorize, but don't write down, messages sent via coded matchbook covers, etc."

"Oh. Sorry. Sometimes I get a little caught up in my work."

"Occupational hazard."

"Yeah. So, do you know the entire history of the galaxy?"

"No."

"Why did you ask about the Tok'ra? Trying to cover?"

"I was given information about Tauri enemies. The Tok'ra aren't in that number."

"Wait till you meet them." A short pause. "Your brain isn't about to explode, is it?"

A grin. "Like Fahrenheit's?"

"Stupid name for a dragon. I'm serious about your head."

"I'm fine."

"So about these Tauri enemies--"

Jim held up a hand and stared into the distance. "Teal'c is returning. He's hurt."

Jack scrambled to his feet. "Carter, Daniel, Sandburg!"

They looked at the two men aiming their P-4's and reached for their own weapons.

"Colonel?"

"Teal'c's back and he's hurt. Ellison, take point."

Jim led them to where Teal'c was moving toward their camp. He was limping, with one hand curled protectively across his abdomen and the other clasping the gold necklace. Beads of blood covered his hands and face.

"O'Neill." The dark, bloody hand gravely held out the necklace.

Jack took it, shoved it into a pocket, then reached to support Teal'c. "What happened?"

"I apparently wandered to closely to a flora species."

"A flower did this?"

"Nettles," Daniel said, pulling one out of Teal'c's jaw.

"Careful, Daniel Jackson. I think the tips may contain poison of some kind."

"We need to remove them so that Junior can start his repairs." Jim took Teal'c's other arm and they got the Jaffa back to the gate--which had closed.

"My show," Jim said quietly.

Jack looked around and saw a group of dwarfs headed their way.

*****

"Single combat, Tauri," the lead dwarf said in English. "No weapons."

Jim nodded and handed the P-4 to Blair.

"I take on a dragon and he gets to do dwarf-wrestling? The universe just doesn't like me," Jack muttered.

"Here is your opponent, Tauri."

Jim stared at the man entering the clearing. Great. A giant dwarf. If he had to be confronted with an oxymoron, he would have preferred 'jumbo shrimp'. He winced as he thought about fighting an eight-foot shrimp underwater. Okay. Maybe a giant dwarf wasn't so bad. He was taller than Jim, but still awkwardly proportioned like his companions.

"Sindri's mother was a frost giantess. The Tauri killed her," the English-speaking dwarf said for what Jim considered to be purely psychological reasons.

As if I could be any more scared. A gasp--and Jim turned toward Teal'c, who was apparently in a lot of pain. Damn. "Any rules? Is death the required endgame?"

"Defeat is the purpose. Death can be a consequence."

Hesitant respiration from Teal'c--and the weakening of the life within him. "Let's get this over with," Jim called to Sindri.

The giant dwarf rushed him and Jim moved easily out of his way. Sindri was obviously uncomfortable in his body. Jim used that to his advantage to keep out of his reach as they danced around the clearing. If he could tire Sindri just a little....

"Hang in there, Teal'c."

Jim stumbled as he heard Jack's whisper. Desperation was in the words. No time for anything but defeating Sindri and getting the hell out of dodge so they could figure out what was wrong with Teal'c.

He went on the attack, feeling satisfaction as he landed powerful blows. But also feeling pain as Sindri's blows made contact with him.

"Well, if we can't figure out an antidote, how about pain relief, damn it!"

"That might make it worse."

"I'm not sure it can get any worse, Daniel. Just squeeze my hand, Teal'c."

No, Jim thought as he overheard the conversation. Just...no. Something shrieked and he looked to his left to see the black jaguar running toward him. He ducked a blow from Sindri and braced himself for impact. He vaguely recalled merging with the jaguar before, but it was--never--like this. There was a burning in his blood. It coursed through him and settled at some spot just behind his stomach. The fire grew and spread along his spine until it reached his neck and bloomed into his head.

He knew no more.

"Jim!"

Jim blinked...and realized he was on his hands and knees, looking at Sindri's fallen body. The giant was unconscious but breathing.

"Jim, the gate's open," Blair said, lightly touching his arm. "It's time to go."

Jim nodded and got to his feet. "Teal'c?"

"They've gone through already. It doesn't--it doesn't look good."

"I may be able to help him." Jim looked back at the dwarfs who stared silently, looking neither pissed nor pleased. Just--looking.

He stepped through the gate with Blair at his side.

Chapter Eight

"We may as well head to the finish line, now," Jack said, as he, Sam, and Daniel knelt beside Teal'c, who was flat on his back near the tablet. "We need all six to complete this thing properly, and maybe the Asgard can help Teal'c."

"Why didn't we think to pack the Goa'uld healing device?" Sam asked wearily. "I could have--"

"I may be able to help," Jim said. "It's the nettles. There are others. Open his jacket." Jim stared at the black T-shirt underneath. "Some of them were small enough to penetrate the fabric. Remove the shirt and hand me a pair of tweezers. Chief, I need gloves."

"Here."

He shook his head at Sam's offer, and reached for the pair Blair held out. "Latex and me don't get along."

Using his enhanced sight, Jim pulled four tiny nettles from Teal'c's abdomen. When there was no overall improvement in his condition, he scanned closer. "Shit," he mumbled. "Two penetrated his...pouch. I'm going to have to--" He shoved his hand into the slits. Closing his eyes, he focused on feeling through the glove. "One's embedded into Junior. I--stop moving, Junior. I'm trying to help. There!" He pulled out a slimy sliver and shook it off his hand. "One more." Grimacing, he plunged back into the incubating chamber and with a triumphant--Ugh!--he withdrew the remaining nettle.

"How long?" Blair questioned.

"Depends on how long it takes for Junior to heal," Daniel explained. "The symbiote heals itself first."

"Damn snakes. Teal'c, can you hear me?" Jack patted a firm brown cheek.

Black eyes opened. "Quite well, O'Neill. I am feeling better." The eyes wandered until they found Jim. "Thank you, Jim Ellison."

"You're welcome."

Teal'c squirmed, indicating he wanted to sit up. Jack and Jim assisted him. "I believe the choice is yours, Major Carter."

"Teal'c, are you sure?"

"Yes, Major."

"Daniel and Blair filled me in on my options, and I choose Vanaheim, gate eight."

"Vanaheim," Jack repeated. "Who lives there?"

"The Vanir, sort of cousins to the Aesir, or as we know them, the Asgard."

"Thor's cousins, huh? We can handle that, right?"

"Actually, Jack, the Aesir and Vanir aren't exactly best buddies. See, they were both branches of a family of gods. The Aesir were younger, but strong. The two fought and the Aesir won. As a gesture of peace, each sent a group to live with the other."

"A god exchange program. Sorta like a summer in France or a year at a crappy U.S. school where the only thing you learn is how to make out under the bleachers in the stadium."

Daniel pushed his glasses into a better position on his nose, trying hard not to look confused--or amazed. "Yeah, Jack. Anyway, the Vanir got ticked at the exchange students--I mean gods--they got, so they cut off the head of one of the Aesir and sent it back to their cousins."

"Nice way to negotiate family harmony. So, are we going to be walking into a war?"

Daniel shrugged. "Legend and fact aren't always synonymous, nor even in the same neighborhood. I just thought the warning was necessary."

"Warnings are always good." Jack held out his hand. "Up and at'em, Teal'c," he ordered gently as he helped his friend to his feet. "Junior knows better than to sleep on the job."

"The symbiote is not known for its obedience, O'Neill."

"Who under my command is?" Jack commented dryly.

*****

"Sandburg, call for your choices," Jack ordered as they stepped off the stone gate platform and onto the loamy soil of Vanaheim.

"Stop," Jim countermanded. Five pairs of eyes stared at him. "Teal'c can't defend in his condition."

Blair nodded. "We have to switch. Teal'c, you choose the object."

"Just a minute, Sandburg."

"It's either me or Daniel, Jack. You and Jim have already defended, and Sam has already done her part for this leg."

"Ellison?"

"I'd go with Sandburg, sir. He's had combat training."

"They teach that stuff at the police academy?"

"I teach it at the home academy, sir."

Blair gave a rueful smile. "Once upon a time, I complained about color-coded Tupperware. Didn't know when I had it good. No disrespect, Daniel, but I've been a cop for the past two years."

"No disrespect taken, Blair."

"Okay, Teal'c, make it happen." Jack's voice was sharp with tension.

"I wish to decide," Teal'c commanded. Three more objects. A crossbow. A gold belt. A book. "The book," he said without hesitation.

"The book?" Jack echoed.

"I believe it is the required object at this time, Colonel."

"Nice call, Teal'c," Daniel praised.

"So where's my map or guide?"

"Look at the ground, sir."

Something was drawing in the dark soil. Jack looked at the picture. "A maze? Hell, I can't even do those in the newspaper." A wind came and blew the etch away. "Tell Junior I said you better be completely well by the time I return, Teal'c."

"I will pass along your orders, O'Neill."

*****

"So, want to tell me what happened?"

Jim took his eyes off Teal'c who had settled into Kelno' reem, the meditative state he went into instead of sleep. "When?"

"When you kicked that giant's ass. One minute you're losing--spectacularly, I might add--and the next you were completely lethal."

"I merged with the jaguar."

"The jaguar's here? Well, of course he is. He is you and vice versa. I--Damn, he's a mean son of a bitch, isn't he? That poor giant didn't stand a chance. What made you call on him? The last I heard, you weren't admitting that he existed except every third Thursday that followed a second Wednesday. Or to make that clearer--never."

"Teal'c needed help. The jaguar showed up. I let him inside. End of story."

"You do know you're acting fucking weird on this mission, right?"

"I'm a soldier on an assigned mission, Chief. I do what it takes to get the job done."

"I think I'm starting to understand why Colonel Oliver wanted to get rid of you so badly. You're like a dog with a bone."

"The jaguar takes offense at that. He insists you use the term, 'cat with a rat.'"

Blair rolled his eyes. "You know that Jack's determined to keep us at SG-C when this is over with?"

"He loses points for subtlety."

"So what are we going to do?"

"You are going to kick ass as soon as Jack gets back, and we'll go home and figure it out without all this drama going on around us."

"Jack's going to be adamant about learning what the Asgard told you."

"I know. He's already tried to worm it out of me under the guise of being worried about me."

"Maybe he is."

"Maybe. But foremost, I'm a strategic powerhouse, and I don't fault him for that. It's the way I'd be thinking in his position."

"You like him."

"It's a good team. Nicely balanced. The fate of Earth is in good hands."

"Even if it's not yours?"

"There has to be a limit on tribal size, Chief, and I think the whole world is stretching it."

"Does it feel like a limit to you?"

"Don't ask me that now. What about you? Are you feeling in over your head?"

"Surprisingly, no. Even with this whole defense thing waiting to happen. Thanks for the support, by the way. It's nice to know you have confidence in me. I mean, I knew you had confidence in me because if you didn't, I certainly wouldn't be your backup, but it's nice to hear it out loud every now and again."

Jim licked at a knick on his upper lip. "Between you and the jag, I think I'm covered adequately."

"If we were home, I'd get you a bag of peas. You swelling anywhere else?"

"Just everywhere he hit me."

Blair chuckled. "Only you would get into a fight with a seven-foot tall dwarf."

"Just remember: the bigger they are--"

"The longer their reach. Got it."

"Good. Because Jack is on his way back." He held out his P-4. "You want this?"

"Why? I couldn't aim it."

"Doesn't need to be aimed. Just point it in the general direction of your target and I guarantee target destruction--under normal laws of physics, that is."

"Always a loophole. Jack running from anyone or anything?"

Jim's eyes became unfocused for a second. "Nah. He's just muttering something about he can't believe Teal'c sent him to find a book, that he knew hanging out with geeks was bad for both of them--"

"Guess it's a good thing we know he loves us," Daniel said dryly. "I take it Jack's on his way back?"

Jim nodded. "He's alone. At least at the moment."

Two minutes later, Jack appeared, a large yellowed tome in his arms, a tome he thrust in Jim's direction. "Here, Ellison, take this thing. Don't know why they couldn't have the Cliff Notes version. Hell, I would have settled for the abridged edition."

"See any, um, people?" Daniel asked.

"No, but if these are Thor's cousins--"

A flash of light and a familiar creature appeared before them.

"--then you can expect them to just pop up whenever," Jack finished with a glare at the newcomer. "Hey, there."

"I am Njord. Has your defender been named?"

Blair raised his hand. "That would be me, Blair Sandburg."

Njord waved his arm. A giant cube the size of a small skyscraper and made of some transparent material appeared. Blair would have called it plexiglas if this was Earth, but it wasn't. The cube had at least ten levels/floors.

"Place your avatar," Njord commanded.

Avatar? A semi-transparent Vanir appeared on the lowest level. Ah, Blair thought, as understanding hit. It was going to be like a video game. A high stakes game of Donkey Kong. He grinned. Jack was about to learn to appreciate geeks.

A vaguely human form coalesced in the opposite corner. It was slightly rotund, dressed in blue overalls, and wore a red hat with an "M" on it. He heard laughter behind him and turned to flash his companions a confident smile.

"We shall begin," the Vanir said tonelessly.

In the beginning, the pace was slow, the obstacles predictable, and the tasks easy. But each level grew more and more difficult. Although movement was caused by thought, Blair felt his hands move as he remembered all the hours wasted--or so Naomi's friends had declared--at the video arcades or in front of someone's TV. Jump. Punch. Roll. Strike. Grab the key. Race up the steps. Duck the twirling sword. Leap over the poisonous snake. No, not that door. Pick up the token. Where did that axe come from? Back flip. Roll. What the hell was that? Take the elevator. Run. Turn.

When he found his avatar safely on the roof, he was so startled that he just stood panting. Njord disappeared. The cube disappeared. Blair turned, pumping his fist and yelling, "Yeah, geeks rule!"

Daniel gave him a high-five.

Jim bopped him on the back of the head with the book. "Way to go, Mario."

"Impressive, Blair Sandburg." Teal'c nodded in respect.

"Nice work, Blair," Sam said with a grin.

"Yeah, yeah," Jack said dryly, then patted Blair on the back. "Good job, Sandburg. Now, let's get out of here before we land in Myst or somewhere."

"Myst? What do you know about Myst, Jack?" Daniel asked. "You been holding out on us? You wouldn't happen to be a closet geek, would you, Jack?"

"Look, gate's open," Jack said quickly. "All ashore, etc."

"Jack is a ge--ek," Daniel sang as they stepped through the gate.

*****

At the nexus, they entered the gate to Asgard and instead of regular gate travel, a light engulfed them. It deposited them into a large chamber.

"The Asgard High Council," Jack said, and the room was so big that his words echoed.

"Jack O'Neill."

They followed the voice to an Asgard high above them. He was seated in a chair bathed in purple light. Other Asgard sat next to him. They each wore pendants.

"Hey, Freyr, what's shaking?" Jack called casually.

A solemn blink. "You have successfully completed your quest?"

"You don't have to sound so shocked," Jack teased since there was no inflection in Freyr's voice at all.

"Present your trophies."

Blair took the sword Teal'c held out and stepped forward. "Your sword, Freyr. Able to fight giants on its own. Once lost in a bid for love, now returned."

Sam moved to stand beside Blair, holding out the necklace Jack had carried in his pocket. "The Brisingamen necklace. Coveted by your twin, Freyja, symbolizing the fruits of the heavens."

Daniel pushed his glasses up and juggled the book. "The journal of Mimir, wisest of the Aesir and murdered by the Vanir. His words as he sojourned with the Vanir before his death."

"We bring you weapons," Blair said.

"Wealth," Sam added.

"And the wisdom to use them," Daniel concluded.

The objects floated up toward Freyr. "You have done admirably, Tauri. Your accomplishments will not be forgotten."

A flash of light and--

"That's it?" Jack asked as he recognized the wide spaces of Thor's ship. "We go to all that trouble and all we get is a compliment and a vague, 'we won't forget you'?"

"The High Council was indeed impressed with you, Jack O'Neill," Thor said as he joined them. "As am I. Know that what you have done will have repercussions that will change the fate of your people in ways you cannot comprehend."

"So we're closer to a real alliance with you?"

Thor nodded. He walked to Jim, who knelt before him. "Your very existence, Child of Heimdalr, has given the Asgard hope, and reminded us that we are as capable of error as those who are less advanced. You have humbled us--a gift we can never repay." Thor's hand caressed Jim's cheek, then lay lightly against the top of his head. "We are forever in your debt."

"And I am in yours," Jim said, staring into the large eyes that were on the same level as his.

Thor blinked and stepped back. "Thank you all, SG-1."

The SG-C war room surrounded them.

"Home sweet home," Jack said, laying his P-4 on the conference table and stretching. Ignoring the airman standing at the door talking into the intercom, he looked around at Teal'c. "The doc's gonna want to see you, you know."

"I am fully recovered." Jack stared at him. "I will report to Dr. Fraiser when General Hammond dismisses us."

"You may report to Dr. Fraiser now if you need to, Teal'c," Hammond said, overhearing as he strode into the room. "You're injured?"

"I was. But both I and the symbiote are completely healed."

Hammond sat and the others followed. "I'm glad to hear that, Teal'c, but you know how the doctor is. Go see her as soon as the debriefing is over."

"Yes, General."

Hammond smiled. "Welcome home, SG-1. Your mission was successful?"

"Other than dripping dragon goo, flowers from hell, a giant dwarf, and a visit to Super Mario Land, the trip was okay," Jack quipped.

"Sounds like quite a story. But before you begin, it's good to see you back with us, Detective Ellison."

"Good to be back, sir."

Hammond pushed back his chair and crossed his legs comfortably. "This sounds like quite a tale, SG-1. Shall I order popcorn?"

Epilogue

"You gonna tell me now?" Blair asked, as they relaxed on the loft's balcony, the sky so clear that even Cascade's light pollution couldn't stop the stars from shining. After the debriefing, Jim had been checked over by Dr. Frazier and pronounced perfect--Jim's word, not hers. The rest of the night and most of the morning had been spent discussing offers and saying goodbyes that really weren't goodbyes as much as they were see-ya-laters.

"Tell you what?"

"Well, let's start with the sacrificial thingy you wouldn't admit to earlier."

"Oh. Nothing really. Just that the senses are no longer a choice."

"What do you mean? They haven't been a choice for quite some time, right?"

Jim shook his head. "Before, I had to concentrate if I needed or wanted to focus on a particular object. Now, the senses are 'on' twenty-four seven. I mean, if you want the thread-count in your shirt, I can tell you with just a glance. Want me to tell you what everyone in the building is watching on their televisions? What everyone is cooking for dinner? I know. I will always know."

Blair stared at him. "And it's not driving you crazy?"

"Automatic filters in my head. Like a really good email program."

"And you're okay with that?"

Jim shrugged. "Not like I had much of a choice."

"Did the Asgard threaten you?"

"No, but hell, Chief, I knew I was out of my league with them."

"Acquiescence was the only card you had to play," Blair said, understanding.

"Yes. My only bid for any semblance of choice. Being the control freak that I am, I took it."

Blair nodded. "So what were your orders?"

"Huh?"

"What the hell mission were you on? 'Cause I don't think it was the same as the one the rest of us were on."

Jim raised an eyebrow. "You that smart or you know me that well?"

"Both. Spill."

"SG-1 thinks their greatest enemy is the Gou'ald."

"And their real enemy is?"

"The internal conflict within the Asgard. The Tauri know to hate the Goa'uld, but they trust the Asgard. If things don't go well..."

"You're going to have to spell it out for me, Jim."

"Thor is the Supreme Commander of the Asgard Fleet."

"Really? Cool." He thought for a minute. "Are we talking a coup or something?"

"The High Council considers the Tauri too primitive to be allies. In fact, several of them are in favor of withdrawing protected planet status from Earth. We're too much of an 'enticement' for the Goa'uld."

"SG-1 one has saved their gray asses how many times?"

"Which is why Thor and his people don't agree with the High Council. It's becoming very messy as the general Asgard populous becomes aware of the conflict."

"Civil war?"

"Possibly. Which means Earth will be ripe for the picking."

"Where do you fit in?"

"I don't. I was just a convenience."

Blair tipped the brown beer bottle up to his lips. "You're definitely going to have to explain that one. In fact, why don't you just start with what happened after Thor took you away."

"I don't remember much of the outgoing trip due to the seizures. To get back to you--at my insistence--Thor called Sif. The two ships rendezvoused and I was transferred. I was met at Bifrost by Groa, who deemed herself my personal physician. I went through the temple ritual and then I was back on Sif's ship where she and Groa told me of the political problems."

"Why?"

"The contest was devised by the High Council to show how unsuitable the Tauri are. We were supposed to fail miserably."

"You were a ringer!" Blair exclaimed

"Actually, more of a wildcard. My existence truly was a shock to them."

"They downloaded stuff into your head so SG-1 would have a fighting chance."

"Nothing was downloaded into my brain. Instead, a dormant part was activated. We would call it racial memory, I think. I have the knowledge of the sentinels in my line before me. It was always there. I just didn't know it."

"So you have access to thousands of years of knowledge?"

"Stop salivating, Sandburg. 'Access' is not exactly the term I'd use. It's like Yahoo on the internet. If I can find the proper key words, I find what I need to know. If I don't, then it's basically gibberish."

"I'd love to have a PET scan of your brain."

Jim laughed. "If you sounded any hungrier, I'd lock you in the bathroom and run like hell."

"Sorry, man, but this is so--"

"Still the anthropologist, aren't you? Guess that answers one question."

"Which question is that?"

"Whether you'd like working for the SG-C. You know they have the means for you to be awarded your doctorate."

"Just a piece of paper."

"One you should have had long ago. I was impressed by the way you guys figured out what the Asgard were aiming for with the objects. "

"You can thank Daniel's reference materials. Once we figured out it was all referring to Norse legends, it was pretty simple. The only dicey point came when Teal'c and I switched tasks. Didn't know if he saw the path we were on or not. But of course he did. He's really quite remarkable. "

Jim nodded. "They all are." He trailed his fingers along the railing. "Simon's going to be pissed. He's just gotten us broken in the way he wants."

Blair picked at the beer bottle's label. "Don't do this just for me, Jim."

"I'm not." Jim smiled. "Dad always accused me of not being ambitious enough. But I'd say considering being the guardian of an entire planet is pretty damned ambitious of me."

"Thought you said there were limits."

"One of those helpful little lies I use to convince myself of things I'm never going to believe."

Blair nodded his understanding. "So, are we going to be part of SG-1?"

"We'd do turns with several of the SG units to see where we'd fit in, but General Hammond ultimately wants to name us as the head of a new SG unit."

"A non-military head of an SG unit?"

"If we agree to this, they're going to do some fiddling around with my records."

Blair snorted. "One hell of a scavenger hunt, wasn't it? Found things we didn't even know we were looking for."

Jim held up his bottle in a toast. "To infinity and beyond, Woody?"

Blair matched his gesture. "You got it, Buzz."

"You know, Woody is older and wiser..."

"But Buzz is the guy in the uniform, Captain Ellison, sir. And besides, he's always in that dorky helmet. Probably hiding a receding hairline."

"Sandburg?"

"Yeah?"

"One of these days you're going to need me."

"And you'll be right where you should be. It's nice to have constants in this increasingly bizarre world, don'tcha think?"

Jim smiled and contemplated the heavens. "When you're right, Chief, you're right."

THE END

Comments? D.L. Witherspoon