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Fragile Balance of Politics

 

Chapter 9

SG-1 and their 'additional Daniel', as he amusedly thought of himself, had wasted no time in heading for the storefront that had been shown in Annika's vision. Though they did speculate that knowing the planet where the ship was going to dock was enough, and that they probably didn't need to be in that specific location, none of them were willing to take the risk that their 'starting point' wasn't significant.

Carter had been discreetly holding the small disc, which SG-2 had obtained, in her hand from the moment they emerged from the event horizon. Halfway across the town square it began to softly pulse. "The ship must be coming into range."

The 'ship', Daniel had learned, called the 'Empyrean Loft', was a clandestine 'pleasure ship' that offered every sort of illicit gaming and...well, pleasure...that could be found. Apparently where Annika had been hiding. Given that she wanted to keep on the move, it was the perfect place, he thought.

Jackson's attention was focused on the tiny beacon. Hope surged in his blue eyes. Hope that Daniel could relate to. How many times had his own team thought they were on Casey's trail when Tieel Mogba had stolen her, and delivered her to Ba'al? How many blondes had he seen, his heart speeding up, certain it was her, only to have his hopes dashed each time the woman turned around...her face not the delicate face of his Wife?

Daniel recognized his counterpart's need for a distraction. Doubted that he'd get the archaeologist to think of anything else besides the current situation; he didn't even try. "How did you get the disc?"

Jackson wasn't aware of the torture reflected on his face. "Annika's somehow managed to bypass the daemon's control and send us clues. We're pretty sure she's done it subconsciously. All the evidence points to her being totally oblivious to the daemon's manipulation. She ran because she thinks she's protecting us."

During the search for Casey, Daniel had vented his resentment of the situation...rather violently, if he was remembering correctly. "Have you broken anything yet?"

Having to fight down the mix of emotions raging through him, it took a moment for Jackson to respond to the quiet question. He dragged his eyes away from the pulsing disc. "Broken?"

Daniel nodded. "As I recall I took out my...frustration...on a poor unsuspecting filing cabinet."

"Ah." Jackson's cheeks turned red. "Poor unsuspecting lawyer, a week after Annika ran."

His lips twitched. "No harm done then." He watched his double for a moment. Wanted to offer a bit of comfort. If nothing else, his separations from Casey had made him more than sympathetic to what Jackson was enduring. "I lasted until we got Casey back," he said, needing to reassure his counterpart. Could read the unasked question in Jackson's eyes. "Three months."

Jackson drew in a sharp breath, his blood running cold at the idea of being without Annika for a quarter of a year. "Wow. I guess you have to hold a tighter rein on your emotions because of your position as The One."

He nodded. "I guess I do."

"I do not envy you."

Daniel's eyes acknowledged the comment. He was in a position he'd never asked for. Would give it up gladly in a heartbeat. But as long as he was The One, he'd do his best. Of course, that meant that he'd have to stop screwing up...stop inflicting his morality on beings that operated on an entirely different level, both in thought and existence. He knew, from time spent fighting the Goa'uld, that evil existed, and it had to be destroyed. He could kill Goa'uld without the slightest hesitation, without a moment spent in remorse. The daemons that had 'captured' him and his team, had been responsible for so much agony...they'd caused so much heartbreak for Casey. Yet, like an arrogant fool, he'd refused to destroy them...his indignation at being 'used' blinding him to the reality of the situation. Maybe, he thought briefly, he simply hadn't adjusted to thinking in terms of 'the universe', rather than just his own world. He put his speculation on hold when the team began to move.

Teal'c took point; motioned to an alleyway directly opposite the store that was their destination.

As they gathered in the shadows to keep their presence as low key as possible, Daniel gathered the robe that covered his BDU tighter as they moved, and kept up the quiet, 'distracting' chatter. "How long has the daemon been manipulating Annika?"

"Three months." Jackson adjusted the robe he was wearing in order to blend in with locals, double checking that the zat' hidden beneath was within easy reach of the slit in the side of the material. His other hand ensured the two hyposprays were where they should be in his pocket. The others were all similarly decked out.

O'Neill tugged at the collar of his robe, the military man clearly uncomfortable with the flowing folds of material that would hinder any quick movements to reach for the gear beneath.

Their choice of armament came down to three items. A zat, sedatives and handcuffs. They had left the guns behind. With the daemon controlling Annika, they didn't want to give the being five lethal weapons for it to use through Annika's telekinesis against them. With a zat pulse they had a chance of 'just' being knocked unconscious. Plus given what they knew of the Empyrean Loft, they figured they wouldn't get past the entry point if they were armed with guns. The sedatives were to be used when they got close enough to Annika. Based on the theory that the daemon couldn't use Annika if she weren't conscious, they would sedate her to transport her back to the SGC and into the isolation room; which had had the shields modified to, hopefully, dampen her telekinetic power. It would also be easier if Annika weren't fighting them, especially if this mission turned into a snatch and grab 'kidnapping'. The handcuffs were a last resort. If they could get her cuffed to one of them, then failing the sedatives working or her coming around after a zat pulse, she wouldn't be able to run away from them without dragging one of them with her.

"She's only been gone three weeks?" There was a touch of surprise in his tone. When Oakey had downloaded the basics of the day to his mind in the infirmary, the Seventh Level Being had been a bit sketchy on the details of what had led up to the current situation. His counterpart, however, had been much more succinct during the discussion held there.

"Only?" Jackson's tone, and his eyes, reflected his anger.

Daniel winced at his choice of words. He held up his hand in defense, motioning that he hadn't meant what he'd said the way it sounded. "I'm not downplaying what you've been through." Pushed away the nagging thought that he'd been without Casey for three weeks. Twice. Three days, three weeks, three months - it was still hell. Been there, pal. And I'm betting your wife is just as tough as mine. "It's just that Annika resisted the daemon's...lure....for over two months. That takes strength."

Jackson gave a small smile. "Mentally she's one of the strongest people I know." He paused briefly. "She'll get through this." His voice wavered with the conviction he struggled to feel.

He saw the doubt begin to creep in. How many times had his faith faltered, when day after day, week after week, there had been no sign of Casey? If not for her 'prediction', and the love of his teammates...his friends...he would have been lost. Keeping that faith was paramount to surviving the ordeal. He knew that from experience. "Yes, she will," Daniel replied firmly.

"She's going to be...distraught...when she finds out. Blame herself for not realizing," Jackson said.

"But if your team is anything like mine, they'll help her, and you, get through it." Daniel smiled inwardly at the immediate nods from O'Neill, Carter, and Teal'c; outward recognition of their support for the Jacksons.

"The demon of guilt is something we all will deal with." Teal'c's somber tone made them acknowledge what they had been trying to ignore since they had discovered the journal.

"But that's tomorrow's problem," O'Neill interjected, before their thoughts could truly start down that path. "Let's stay focused."

"The beacon's stopped pulsing." Carter held the disc out on her palm for all to see. It was now a steady solid light.

As one they took a deep breath, calming themselves, preparing for what was to come. Unsure precisely how the disc would work, hoping that it was similar to the technology they had on base, they reached out to the colonel.

O'Neill's gaze swept over his team, taking in the determination glinting back at him from each pair of eyes. Confirming that everyone had a point of contact with Carter, he gave one final tug at his robe. "Okay, beam us up, Scotty."

Praying the drunk hadn't mixed up the operating instructions, Carter gave the disc a quarter twist.

For a long moment nothing happened, then in a flash of golden light the five found themselves standing in an ornate room, presumably on the Empyrean Loft.

"Smooth ride," O'Neill said. He was already making risk assessments, adapting their plan to their new surroundings. There was absolutely no chance that they would be able to sneak around on this ship.

A hulk of a man stood behind a small control console. A smaller man, without a doubt the designated greeter for the guests, stood beside him with a smile in place. The smile didn't falter as he blinked at the new arrivals. The greeter's gaze flickered to the console screen that, unbeknownst to SG-1, showed an image of the official owner of the disc in the top corner. The main part of the screen showed body scans of the group, taken as part of the normal beam up process. It was designed to pick up any cheating equipment and other 'hazardous-to-your-health' implements. The only reaction he made was to discreetly tap at the box on the bottom of the screen, which suspended any further transports from the planet, and triggered a silent alarm to the security office. Confident in the process, knowing that a security team was on its way, he stepped forward. "Good evening. Welcome to the Empyrean Loft. Did Mr. Voltrin somehow get left behind in the transport?"

"Not exactly." Jackson assumed 'Mr. Voltrin' was the owner of the disc. Hoped that the 'concierge' hadn't given a false name as a test. "He's nursing a nasty hangover from his visit last night."

"I see." The man's smile was still in place. "It's quite irregular for new guests to be brought on board without an introduction."

The archaeologist gave his most apologetic smile. "Well, we're only in the neighborhood for a night and he didn't want us to miss out on the pleasures you provide."

"I'm sure that something can be arranged as soon as your line of credit has been established," the man agreed amicably, wondering what was taking the security team so long. "Which pleasures where you interested in?"

"We've heard your show is really something to see," Carter piped up brightly.

O'Neill was only half listening to the conversation the Daniels and Carter were bluffing their way through. He and Teal'c were trying to figure out, with covert glances, where the hell the exit was. The room they were in was completely closed in, with nothing to indicate where the door was. He supposed it was a pretty good security measure on an illegal ship. Anyone who arrived would only see this room; with no idea where they were in relation to the rest of the ship, and no clue as to what was beyond. From the corner of his eye he saw Teal'c's gaze land on the console. Drew the same conclusion. That console, which was being guarded by King Kong, had to be the 'key'.

King Kong hadn't said a word since their arrival, but then he didn't need to. The man wasn't exactly subtle in his position of security goon. When he saw Teal'c and O'Neill studying the console, he shifted slightly, revealing a holstered weapon. Nope, didn't need to say a word, the message came through loud and clear.

The little guy, whom O'Neill suspected had had his mouth surgically altered into a permanent smile, caught the twitch of Jack's fingers near his side. He turned to smile at the general. "Sir, I wouldn't do that if I were you."

"Do what?" O'Neill was all wide-eyed innocence.

"Move your hand any closer to your weapon," he replied chirpily. "We are being monitored. One wrong move and a powerful sedative will be released into this room. My colleague and I will wake up with a headache and nice bonus in our wages for the inconvenience. You and your companions will not be so rewarded."

O'Neill figured there was no point in pretending anymore. "Alright, let's cut the crap. When is your boss going to arrive?"

As if on cue, a panel in the wall slid open, and a man who could have been King Kong's father entered. But apparently this gorilla had evolved enough to have the power of speech. "Ask and you shall magically receive." He stepped into the room. "The Empyrean Loft is all about providing what our guests desire."

Before the door once again sealed shut, the team caught a glimpse of the elaborate setup beyond, which was already a bustle of activity.

"However, you are not on our guest list," the large man continued. "I’m Veta, the Guest Relations Officer. And yes, that is a fancy title for Head of Security." He strode the few steps to the control console, giving his people a nod. "I'll take it from here." He inserted his key-ring into the slot, which resulted in the opening of a second door on the opposite side of the room. "Come with me."

"Where are we going?" O'Neill asked, looking warily at the corridor the door revealed.

"Somewhere more private."

"Private like a holding cell?"

"Like away from our legitimate customers."

"Time is kind of an issue for us," O'Neill insisted, his glance going unintentionally to his archaeologist's double.

"I'll get them to hold the show," the security boss replied dryly, motioning to the door.

"Please," Jackson said, "we don't want to cause any trouble."

Veta could hear the unfinished words of that sentence, 'but we will'. None of the group had moved towards the door and he heaved a sigh. "We don't discuss family issues in the foyer, and your unexpected arrival is holding up our business. I really must insist."

O'Neill exchanged glances with his team. They knew that they had been identified as 'strangers', but the man's reference to 'family' made them realize that they had actually been recognized somehow. He also noticed that King Kong wasn't trying to hide that he was reaching for his weapon, as was Mr. Smiley. With a curt nod of resignation, he gave the order to follow.

"Family?" Jackson asked, an attempt to garner information as they were led down the corridor.

The man nodded, then his curiosity got the better of him. "Which one of you is Daniel? Myst claimed that twins were not an option."

"Myst?" Jackson asked, hope filling his eyes.

"Yes. Little woman with violet eyes and naturally red hair."

Daniel gave a small smile. "Actually we're both 'Daniel'."

"But I'm the one you're referring to," his counterpart replied. "Myst is my wife. Is she still here?"

"Oh yeah, she's here," Veta confirmed. He had to admit that he had never seen a group of people look so relieved. "But I need some questions answered before you get anywhere near her." The relief was replaced by wariness, but he ignored it, instead answering the earlier question from Myst's husband. "Saving the boss's life has endeared Myst to our little family. We've become quite attached to her, and don't want to see her get hurt."

"Believe me the last thing we want to do is hurt her," Carter insisted.

"Please, she's in danger," Jackson said, his voice filled with urgency.

"Funny, she thinks the same thing of you," was the slightly bemused reply. "What are you all trying to protect each other from?"

For a moment the team was taken aback. From Annika's secretive behavior it hadn't occurred to them that she would have shared her reasons for leaving with anyone.

"A daemon," Teal'c answered, surprising his team by blurting out the truth. It wasn't that they wanted to lie, but the truth was more than a little hard to swallow for the 'uninitiated'.

Veta reacted as they expected. "Do you take me for an idiot?"

"It's the truth," Jackson put as much sincerity into his voice as he could, grateful when his counterpart jumped in.

"Annika is being manipulated by a daemon," Daniel insisted.

Carter added. "It's messed with her head, making her think she's going to be responsible for killing us."

A message must have come through his ear piece, whatever it was made Veta frown. "Have Nic lock down all transporters."

"What's going on?" O'Neill would have had to be blind to miss the tensing of the man's shoulders.

"I'll allow you to take Myst, on the condition that I go with you."

The urgency in his tone made Jackson's stomach churn. "Fine, whatever. Just take us to my wife.".

The man's gaze swept the length of the corridor, looking for the closest exit point to the main floor. He strode up to the door a few meters ahead. "She's trying to run. The quickest way to her is across the gaming floor." Veta paused. "Please try to not freak out the guests."

 

A A A A A A

 

The 'instruction' sounded...strange, but Casey nodded, and studying the image of the flower in her mind, 'stepped' into the very center of the bud. The petals began to close around her, cocooning her. She felt safe...warm...her faith in Oakey strong and unshakable. The 'kindred spirit' had earned her complete confidence in the short amount of time she'd known the Being. If she couldn't trust Oakey...who could she trust?

The darkness of the enclosed space began to dissipate as the petals turned transparent. Casey gasped at the scene revealed 'outside'. The first thing her eyes were drawn to was a nebula that shimmered in multiple shades of purple and blue, punctuated by fingers of fuchsia. "Whoa!"

"Are you well, Guide sapling?"

"I'm fine, Oakey...it's just...wow! I wasn't expecting it to be so beautiful!" She'd been in space. But she'd never been surrounded by the dark void, the sparkle of stars encircling her like brilliant diamonds.

Oakey couldn't help but give a mischievous chuckle. "Welcome to my garden." With infinite care, the Great Being started the journey across the expanse of space, training her senses on the location of the mate of her missing sapling.

"Your garden is breathtaking," Casey said softly, the beauty around her more majestic than words could describe. The pictures taken by the Hubble telescope could never compare to the reality of the grandeur of the universe.

"If you were not bound to a mortal body, I would take you to the plane of existence of my birth...to view this from that level is beyond description."

"This almost makes me wish I weren't bound to a mortal body," Casey whispered, the resplendent sights that surrounded her demanding reverence. This, she thought, was truly the home of the gods.

"We are almost at our destination."

Oakey's announcement was almost disappointing. The ride had been...magnificent. Casey forced her mind away from the majesty of the universe around her, and onto the mission at hand.

As Oakey slowed, Casey became aware of gray tendrils of what seemed to be smoke, marring the beauty of the galaxy they were traveling in. Some patches were just streaks, while others were thick...like a fog. A shiver ran down her spine. "What's that?"

"The tracks of the daemon." Oakey replied, her voice filled with distaste and anger.

"He...or she...has certainly been a busy bastard. It looks as if there isn't a place in this...sector?...that hasn't been slimed," Casey groused.

Entering the galaxy where Annika had been known to be, the entire sector was blanketed in the mist.

Casey shivered again. "What's that...smell? Is that from the daemon?" She didn't even stop to wonder how she could sense the stench that assailed her nostrils.

"Not even the purest rain can cleanse the stench of a daemon's soul."

She gave a small prayer of thanks that her olfactory senses hadn't been so assaulted while SG-1 had been held on the astral plane by the daemons. She'd have been tossing her cookies for sure! Holding her hand over her face helped to block the worst of the foul odor.

Oakey wished she had a physical nose so that she could block the smell; had to settle for simply ignoring it. Honing in on the specific location of Annika's Daniel, she paused near the bulkhead of a large cruise ship. "They are onboard."

"Have they located Annika yet?" Casey strained to see...trying to see 'through' the metal of the ship. As much as she wanted to see Daniel, to know he was all right, she also wanted to see her friend, to know that Annika was there, and that soon she would come home.

Being this close to the daemon, it was easier for Oakey to locate. She frowned when she realized that the sapling team were on the other side of the ship.

Casey could sense the slight rustling of Oakey's leaves. "Is something wrong?" she asked, almost afraid to hear the answer.

The Great Being sensed Casey's desire to see what was going on within. With a sheepish grimace she realized she had forgotten that the spirit still looked with human eyes. It took less than a second for Oakey to alter the shielding of the protective pod surrounding Casey, so that she could see through whatever solid objects she wished with just a thought.

When Casey looked toward the ship again, it was as if the hull was made of glass. She could see each level, and the rooms that lined the outer perimeter. There! She could see him. Knew in a heartbeat that the sandy-blonde archaeologist she watched was her soulmate, and not his counterpart. "No," she whispered, "You're going the wrong way!"

On the far side of the ship she saw Annika, at least she was pretty sure it was her. It was hard to tell because of the dark cloud surrounding her. With her 'enhanced vision' it looked like the cloud was dragging Annika. Before she could voice her question, Oakey confirmed her suspicions.

"The daemon controls her," Oakey said, Her voice quivering with barely contained emotion.

"Seems to be leading her away, doesn't it?" Casey asked, wanting to verify what she was seeing.

"My sapling is heading for the transporter." Oakey said softly. "They will not reach her in time."

"Oakey, we have to do something!"

"I cannot smite it here...it is as we feared, it is connected to my sapling."

Her instinct was to cry out...to try to warn Daniel...and his counterpart, and the SG-1 of this reality that they were heading in the opposite direction of the redhead...who at the moment had bottle-created black hair...they sought. "Well, can we block its path?"

"Yes," Oakey said with steely determination. In less time than it took to blink, the two spirits were floating in the corridor Annika was running down.

On the other side of the massive ship Daniel paused in mid-stride. If he didn't know that Casey was safe and sound at the SGC, he'd swear she was just behind him. He shook his head mentally; hurried on, following Teal'c's broad back.

 

A A A A A A

 

Annika sprinted down the corridor, her heart thumping madly. Her only thought was to get to the transporter on level three. Barreling around the corner, she sensed a presence. A presence that made her want to scream out in grief and fear. Surging backwards, the panic consuming her, she ran for the closest exit. The guest transport was her only option. She had to get off the ship, get to the Stargate, get away from Oakey! A hysterical laugh echoed through her skull. If Oakey had found her here, where in the universe could she hide? She didn't know. Couldn't form a coherent enough thought to think of a rational plan other than 'get away'. Biting her lip to stop the scream of terror from escaping, she burst through the door to the gaming room, her focus on the smoky glass-paneled walls of the guest entrance.

 

A A A A A A

 

"Nic, be our eyes," Veta spoke into the radio as he led the way onto the gaming floor. "Myst should be in sector two."

"Got her, Boss. She's running like she's got hellhounds on her tail-" He broke off, his eyes pinned to the security camera showing the corridor in sector two. "Scrap that. She's reversed direction for whatever reason...heading your way. Should be emerging at door three....now."

Though seeing through the crowd of guests was impossible, Veta saw above their heads when the top of the door slid open. He spoke over his shoulder to the team behind him. "She's on the floor..." He blinked when he realized he was talking to thin air. "Where the heck did they go?"

"Eyes front, Boss." Nic kept the amusement from his voice at Veta's bewilderment. Thanks to the bird's eye view of the camera, he'd seen where the 'intruders' had gone.

Veta's head swung back to sweep the immediate area. Damn, Myst was right, they move like lightning. All he saw were the team's backs as they fanned out ahead of him. Interestingly, the two Daniel's shrugged out of their robes; while the remaining three pulled their hoods up.

"Boss, what about them?" Nic asked, watching the team spread out among the guests, and the three who remained robed draw their weapons.

"Leave them be," Veta ordered. Inwardly he'd admit to being impressed by how quickly they'd moved into action. Obviously this part of the plan had been devised in advance.

Jackson activated his radio. "Daniel, she's heading your way."

Hearing 'his own' voice whisper in his ear, Daniel's eyes scanned the immediate area. Spied a dark head dodge around a group of gamblers. "I have a visual." He ducked behind another group of guests to remain out of sight...until Carter, who was on his right, or O'Neill, who was on his left...could get behind Annika.

The plan was simple. He and his counterpart would act as a distraction to Annika, hence the reason the two men had stripped the disguise of their robes to have their BDUs on display. The others would hopefully be able to sneak up on Annika while her attention was on him or her husband.

Carter found her way blocked by two guests swapping tables. "Sir, you take it."

"Roger that," O'Neill replied skirting the middle of the floor.

From the corner of his eye Daniel saw O'Neill scoot ahead. His gaze never left the woman heading right towards him. Just a few more seconds... He cursed when the man in front of him bent down to pick up a fallen chip, exposing his position.

Her eyes locked onto him, widening in shocked disbelief; and her violet eyes, already wild, became more so.

Daniel took a step towards her. "Hello, Annika. Time to come home."

Seeing Daniel so unexpectedly shocked her into immobility. How had he found her? Was he working with Oakey? She shoved the questions aside. It didn't matter, she couldn't go back! She raised her hand, intending to use her telekinesis to keep Daniel away; she froze in mid-movement. She couldn't bring herself to use the gift against him. With a flick of her fingers she directed the force to the closest gaming table, sending the chips and money flying every which way. She then spun on her heel, racing in the opposite direction, intending to double back down the other aisles.

O'Neill had been only a few feet away when he saw the chips and money tossed into the air. The resulting flurry of activity from the guests and staff, all scrambling to retrieve the flying currency, blocked his path as effectively as it had Daniel's. "Danny, T, you're up. I'm doubling back around."

Jackson's heart wrenched when he finally got a look at his wife. She looked so damned scared, her eyes darting in all directions, frantically looking for the rest of SG-1. He saw Teal'c emerged from behind a table just at Annika's back. He stepped into her direct path. "My Angel, you'll be safe with us."

Annika skidded to a halt, her mind reeling, her head swinging between the man standing in front of her and the spot where he had been just a few seconds ago. How had Daniel gotten across the room so fast? It wasn't possible! Had the first Daniel been a hallucination? A hologram? She backed away, even as she reached out, instinctively wanting to caress the lines of tension from his face. She snatched her hand back, curling her treacherous fingers into a fist. Became more disorientated when she collided with a solid wall of muscle.

Two arms closed around her from behind; familiar arms that she knew from past experience she wouldn't be able to break free from. She fought against them nonetheless. "Nooo!"

The horror and heartache in her tortured cry caused tears to sting Jackson's eyes. Knowing time was of the essence, he ran the few steps to her, gripping one of the air pressure syringes.

"Please, please, please let me go!" Annika bucked against Teal'c's solid grip, trying to dodge out of range of the sedative Daniel was trying to press to her neck. "You risk me killing you all if you take me back!"

Jackson depressed the syringe, his other hand gently brushing her cheek. "It's worth the risk."

For the barest of moments she stilled, then her thrashing increased, adrenaline from her desperate compulsion to escape making the sedative ineffective.

Jackson fumbled for the second dose he had in his pocket, but before he could pull it out, O'Neill was there, armed with his syringe. The second dose had more of an effect.

"You don't know what you're do..." her head lolled forward, her body going limp in the supporting embrace of the Jaffa.

"Okay, let's get her home," Jack said quietly.

"Let me take her, Teal'c." Now that he had her, Jackson had no intention of having her anywhere but in his arms.

Teal'c gave a nod, then released his hold on his teammate.

It was the moment Annika had been waiting for. The second she felt Teal'c's arms loosen, she propelled herself forward, slipping from the Jaffa's grasp. With speed she didn't know she possessed, she sprinted across the floor, ignoring the concerned yells of her team calling her back.

Carter and Daniel, who'd been making their way to the group, saw Annika's mad dash. They also couldn't miss the widening gap the psychic was making between her and O'Neill, Jackson, and Teal'c, despite the instant reaction of the men who were now chasing after her.

"The daemon must be pushing her," Daniel murmured, setting out at a run to cut Annika off.

"Must be," Carter agreed, keeping pace with the archaeologist. With a sick feeling in her stomach she drew her zat. Though there had been too many people milling on the floor during the initial chase for any of them to use the weapon, they had hoped they wouldn't have to resort to using it in the first place. Now they didn't have a choice. Steeling her resolve, Sam sped up, gaining as much ground as she could, coming in diagonally behind Annika. The moment she had a clear shot she fired.

The crackle of the energy discharge hit the psychic on the shoulder blade, but it didn't have the usual effect. Instead of the blast rippling through her body, only part of it coursed through her torso. The rest of it seemed to arc out to an invisible mass above her head.

The low growl of shock and anger that no human voice could create was drowned out by Annika's cry of pain at the electrical charge shooting through her.

Carter exchanged a stunned look with Daniel, both having the same dilemma. They couldn't risk zatting her again. Even though she hadn't lost consciousness, enough of the energy may have passed into Annika for a second hit to be a death blow. The blonde switched her troubled gaze to the Daniel she had known for eight years, who was barely a few feet away. For a moment his face reflected the same disbelief and sense of loss at what to do next. Then she distinctly saw his blue eyes harden, glinting with determination.

From the moment Annika had feigned the sedative's effects, Jackson had been fighting down a wash of emotions that he simply didn't have the time to deal with, but with every step Annika ran from him, the harder it became to control. Just a few more feet, that's all we need... They had chased Annika across the galaxy, there was no way failure was an option when they were literally within arm's reach. With the failed zat' blast he knew he was fighting a losing battle with his emotions. It was then that he struck on an idea. He wouldn't even try to control them. He focused on the bond he had with his wife and he shoved all his of love, all his of anger and frustration, determination, guilt, heartache and pain of the last three weeks down their invisible link.

Her body tingling with pain, Annika kept running. Now her team was trying to kill her! Run, run, RUN! the voice screamed in her head. She was almost at the transporter room. If I can just make it there... The thought was cut off when suddenly she felt a tidal wave of emotion collide with her heart. The force of Daniel's feelings made her knees buckle and her sprint became a drunken stagger. She almost fell to the floor, but then the sea of people parted, revealing the doorway she had to get to. Gritting her teeth she stumbled forward. Her life, as well as those of her team, depended on her getting there. She almost sobbed in relief when Veta stepped into view. "Veta, help me!"

To her horror she saw the security guard raise a pulse gun, aiming it right at her. "I am," he said grimly, pulling the trigger.

In that split second it took for the orange beam to hit her, Annika was swamped with a sense of disbelief and betrayal. Then she felt a burning pain explode in her chest and she knew no more.

Carter and Daniel were the first to reach the now unconscious psychic. The blonde immediately pressed her fingers to Annika's neck, searching for a pulse.

Less than a second later, Jackson...with O'Neill and Teal'c on his heels...skidded to the floor, scooping his wife into his arms.

"What did you hit her with?" O'Neill demanded.

"It's a mix of photonic energy, set to stun," Veta explained, holstering the weapon. "The effects last longer than those Goa'uld toys you have, and can be used repeatedly."

Brushing a lock of hair from Annika's pale face, Jackson looked up at the burly man. "Thank you."

"I sure hope the rest of your plan runs smoother," he drawled, catching sight of Mahj'arc, who was his best friend and the public boss of the Loft, hurrying towards them. Sachee, Mah'j'arc's daughter, was trotting beside him.

The little girl streaked ahead of her dad, tears running down her cheeks.

"Sach', Myst is okay," Veta tried to reassure her, but the little girl ignored her 'uncle', sliding to the floor where Jackson was still cradling her friend.

"The nasty thing is stuck to her. It can't break free." Her red-rimmed eyes skittered from Jackson to his counterpart, who had crouched down on the other side of Annika. She blinked for a moment to determine which one she needed to speak to. Her eyes returned to the man who looked as tired and pale as her friend. "You need to get her to let go."

"I will," Jackson promised. It didn't take a genius to figure out that this small girl was the fledgling seer who had 'eavesdropped' on Casey and Oakey. "Thank you for helping us get here."

"Myst taught me that helping is what we psychics need to do." She tossed a glance at her dad and uncle, noted their raised eyebrows at Jackson's comment, then lowered her voice so that only he would hear. "Even if it means breaking a few rules." She turned to the other archaeologist with a slight frown, as though she was trying to work out a puzzle. Then she smiled shyly at him. "Your lady, who's like us," she gestured to herself and Annika, "she's really nice."

"Yes, she is," Daniel agreed, giving the child what he hoped passed for a smile. At the moment, the guilt he was battling prevented him from feeling much like smiling.

"Don't be mad at her for coming, okay? She and the tree only wanted to help."

"Casey was here?" The archaeologist wasn't the only one startled by the comment. I did feel her behind me! The full import of that realization didn't hit him in that moment. But the information was tucked away...to be dealt with after Annika had been returned safely to the SGC.

"And Oakey?" Carter asked, shaking her head in bewilderment.

"They were," Sachee gave a nod.

"We should get moving," O'Neill butted in quietly, before the child could elaborate.

Daniel agreed silently. With the daemon in control, there was no telling how long Annika would remain unconscious. They had to get her to the SGC before she came to.

While Sachee had been speaking with SG-1, Veta had been quickly relaying his 'ultimatum' to Mahj'arc. "I'll meet up with you at Feronia Prime, or at least send word."

Mahj'arc nodded. His eyes rested on the woman who had changed his life in so many ways in the short time he'd known her, then swept over the family who had come to claim her. "I hope everything works out. When Myst has...recovered...we'd like for you all to come back for a visit."

The smiles he received back were taut as they helped Jackson to stand with his precious cargo.

Veta strode into the transporter room, issuing an order to the controller. "Put us down as close to the Galaxy Portal as you can."

In less than a minute, SG-1 was dialing the DHD for home. The first part of their mission was complete, they all sent up a silent prayer that the second would be just as successful.


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