Decisions

Hammond leafed through the pages of the folder. It was a very thick folder covering many years of outstanding service, dedication to duty, acts of outright heroism and all too frequent insubordination. He had letters in his in-tray demanding to see that folder. He had phone calls, that he was ignoring, that insisted he do something about it immediately.

      He didn't even know whose folder it was any more.

      Was this the file of the best officer under his command, or simply the epitaph of a man who no longer existed in any meaningful form?

      O'Neill stood before him now, tall, straight and uncharacteristically silent, flanked by Doctors Jackson and MacKenzie. Jackson was edgy and nervous, he kept glancing at the folder and then at O'Neill who refused to meet his eyes.

      Hammond closed the folder with careful restraint.

      "Bastet?" he said.

      Jackson tugged at the front of his jacket which hung casually open as always, as though it was necessary for it to proclaim 'I'm a civilian'. His words came reluctantly, dragged out by the military discipline that he had acquired in spite of himself. "She was the Egyptian cat-headed goddess of sex and fertility. During the New Kingdom period, she became equated with Sekhmet, the lion-headed goddess of war. When I was disguised as Yu's lo'tar at the recent System Lords summit meeting, she was present. Yu didn't trust her at all, but then he didn't trust any of them."

      He still harboured the vain hope that he'd somehow misheard. "You're telling me that Kantele is the son of not one, but two, of the most powerful System Lords?"

      "That's correct," MacKenzie said, neat and precise in his white lab coat. "Kantele claims that the use of Buddhist meditation techniques has enabled him to avoid being dominated by these memories." He looked sideways at O'Neill who glared at him. "It is my belief that he is telling the truth."

      Jack jerked in surprise and MacKenzie gave a half-smile.

      "Colonel O'Neill has a long-standing dislike of my profession and makes no secret of the fact. While I am certain that Kantele could carry out a perfect impersonation if he took control, I believe he would have attempted to convey a somewhat more favourable impression when so much was at stake."

      Interesting to watch O'Neill's face as he struggled to digest that one.

      "You think we're on the up and up, because I'm a pain in the butt?"

      "In essence, yes." MacKenzie proffered a clipboard full of notes. "I do have supporting evidence: I repeated one of Schaffer's classic studies of attention. Colonel O'Neill is capable of audio-typing a message heard over headphones, while simultaneously reading out loud from a text book. Normal humans can't do this without an extremely high error rate. Therefore, I presume the presence of two independent minds in the one body.

      "While Doctor Jackson has provided convincing evidence as to the risks presented by genetic memory, I believe they don't apply in this particular case - provided that certain precautions are maintained."

      "Name them."

      "I do not believe it would be wise to try and obtain Goa'uld scientific knowledge. Kantele's complete lack of interest in that sphere appears to me to be a defence mechanism to avoid dealing with memories that may be dangerous. Regardless of what pressure you may come under to access Kantele's scientific or military knowledge, I recommend in the strongest possible terms that you do not accede to it."

      Well, that was certainly going to annoy half the people who'd written him memos in the last couple of days. It would appear that the only plus of having a Tok'ra in the Air Force was that he could be ordered to hand over useful technology.

      "The only way to win is to deny it battle."

      They all turned simultaneously to look at Jackson.

      "Sorry." He blinked and half-shook his head in embarrassment. "That's what Shifu told me. I agree with Doctor MacKenzie: Jack shouldn't go near those memories, no matter how tempting they may be."

      O'Neill shrugged uncomfortably. "That's what started this mess. Kantele blanked out because he was trying to protect me. He may have been right - if I'd realised at that point whose memories we had, I'd probably have tried to look."

      Because Jack was as keen as any when it came to the chance of gaining alien weaponry. You couldn't fault him when it came to doing his job.

      He dismissed MacKenzie with a glance. "Thank you, Doctor, your advice has been invaluable. I'll expect a full written report by this evening."

      "Uh, Doc." O'Neill held out a hand. "I owe you one."

      MacKenzie took the hand, gave it a brisk firm shake. "Just try and remember, Colonel, my profession has advanced a little since the days when they drilled holes in people's heads to release demons."

      

      

A nurse was mopping the floor. As though it was some kind of religious rite, he worked carefully around and between every bed whether there was visible dirt or not. The Tau'ri made almost a fetish out of cleanliness, but then they had to. Without symbiotes, they were so much more prone to disease. Maybe that was why so many of them were religious; when life was precarious, people looked for any kind of hope they could find. Some of their religions were good, there was no doubt about that, but the evangelists Teal'c saw on TV with their constant requests for money seemed to bear little relationship to the carpenter's son who had thrown the money-changers from the temple. Was it coincidence that Christianity had emerged around the time the Goa'uld left Earth? He had no opinion on that score. Jesus had spoken well and the Bible was interesting to read as a way of understanding the Tau'ri, but he had no desire to worship again at the altar of any god.

      Rak'nor was pale, his breathing uneven and his hands clasped over his pouch. He was brave, but he was also young and there was so little time to convey what needed to be known. It took a lifetime to learn what it truly meant to be Jaffa, to become one with the universe and to fully become aware of everything around you. It was a process that began by gaining oneness with the symbiote, but with the aid of the right teacher could be taken to a far higher plane.

      "It is time," Rak'nor said. Plunging his hand into his pouch, he drew out his symbiote.

      It hissed angrily, tail threshing around; the short fins that would help it glide towards its intended host were fully extended. It flew nowhere; Rak'nor had his thumb and forefinger correctly hooked inside the gills. He gripped his other hand round the snake-like body, preparatory to breaking its spine.

      Flying down the ward came a diminutive figure in a white lab coat.

      "What are you doing?" Fraiser demanded.

      "I take the life of that which would take mine," Rak'nor replied.

      For the benefit of the doctor, Teal'c added, "It seeks a host, therefore it must die." Whether the host was Rak'nor or another was immaterial; the creature could not be allowed to live.

      "Leave it!" Her outrage was so powerful that Rak'nor actually hesitated.

      "It is Goa'uld."

      "It's an intelligent being," she snapped. "Do you think it has any less rights than Apophis had when he was dying?"

      "I do not believe that the false god Apophis had any rights," Teal'c said calmly.

      "Then we'll have to differ. But while you're here, this is my infirmary and no one, Goa'uld or not, is going to be murdered as long as I'm alive and breathing."

      Not even up to his chin, but she did not allow his size and strength to intimidate her in the least bit. Although he didn't agree with her, she still commanded respect.

      "If it is allowed to live, can you use it to save Rak'nor's life?"

      "I'll do what I can as long as it doesn't cause the Goa'uld any injury, but there may be nothing new - I've already reviewed everything I've ever learnt from your symbiote. I've been up half the night studying every piece of research on parasites and the immune system that I can find, but I don't know if any of it will be enough."

      Make-up didn't entirely conceal the bags under her eyes, nor was she able to keep the fatigue out of her voice. Under any other circumstance, he would have been gentle, but Rak'nor had less than two days to live.

      "Then you must use the information on Maybourne's disc."

      

      

It was hard, very hard, to just sit quiet when Hammond was talking. Kantele missed the other George and the relaxed friendship he'd had with Jacob. Okay, so this George was friends with Jack, but it wasn't the same. The difference in rank affected everything, that and the fact that Jack was in active service rather than retired as Jacob had been.

      Get used to it, Jack said.

      George shuffled some papers on his desk, probably trying to look busy. Eventually, he pulled one from somewhere near the bottom of the stack and studied it carefully. Jack swopped a brief glance with Daniel, who gave a quick shrug suggesting that he had no idea either.

      "Colonel O'Neill, I'm assigning you to an advisory capacity in this command. You will go off-world with teams when it is judged that you or Kantele have knowledge that would prove useful-"

       "Yes!" Oops. "Sorry."

       George glared, but he didn't care. They could still travel the stars.

      "When not on missions, you will assist Dr Jackson with his translation work."

      "How about watching paint dry instead?"

      He was with Jack on that one. Languages were okay when it came to song and story, but who wanted to spend all day translating ancient inscriptions when there were more interesting things to be done?

       "I've got a better idea. Sir."

       "What?" Daniel asked quickly. Maybe he didn't want a stir-crazy Jack annoying him half the day either. Evenings were going to be quite enough as they started getting their teeth properly into the Asgard legal texts.

       "Training."

      Jack was with him, running with the idea:

      "Most recruits have no idea of the strength or abilities of a Goa'uld-"

       "If they have to cope with the two of us using Goa'uld technology"

       "like one of those hand devices that you've got tucked away somewhere"

       "then they'll get much better experience"

       "get the crap kicked out of them a few times"

       "and learn to run a mile when they see glowing eyes." He demonstrated for good measure.

      Daniel eyed him dubiously. "And you pick up an award for camp over-acting?"

      "It beats solving anagrams in Sanskrit," Jack replied.

      For a miracle, George looked approving. He nodded once, decisively. "There's always a risk of one of our own people being compromised. Our trainees need to face a Goa'uld who knows all the SGC weapons and protocols."

       "Hey, can we wear a fancy costume and pretend to be a god?"

      Was that a smile George was hiding behind a conveniently placed hand?

      "Just avoid the ancient Greeks," Daniel advised.

      "Why?" Jack asked, with hint of suspicion in his voice.

      "Well, I don't think you'd be seen dead in a toga, and the alternative is um..."

      "Is um what?"

      "They were very keen on male beauty. Their statues show that they often represented the gods in an idealised form."

      "Idealised?"

      "No clothes."

      "Daniel..."

      "Jack?"

      "Any god I choose to impersonate will wear pants. Got it?"

      

      

"I must tell you of Kheb."

      "I know about Kheb. My soul will go there when I die. Kytano lied about many things, but Kheb is real - Bra'tac has been there."

      "Kheb is more than a place. It is a state of mind."

      While still young, he had met Bra'tac and been virtually adopted by him. What had it been about the brash young Jaffa that had made Bra'tac decide to make him his protégé? At the time, he had assumed it had been his strength and fighting skills; now, with older, wiser eyes, he knew that it had been his hatred for Cronus. That desire to avenge his father meant that he was already receptive to the idea of hating a god, of killing one, perhaps even of denying that they were gods at all. He had been ready for what Bra'tac wanted to teach him.

      Not that he had been at all receptive to the message. He had protested that this was a waste of his time, that what he needed to learn to become First Prime was to become the most skilled fighter of all. Bra'tac hadn't argued, he had simply demonstrated that Teal'c was still capable of being knocked out by a practice staff weapon and, when Teal'c regained consciousness, he had begun again:

      "The mind of a Jaffa is as important as his body. You will learn. As my father taught me, so will I teach you."

      And so he had learnt. What had at first seemed nonsense began to gain meaning, a meaning that was so different to that of the System Lords that to grasp it could not help but make one despise them.

       To conduct one's life according to the Way,

      is to conduct one's life without regrets;

      to realize that potential within oneself

      which is of benefit to all.

      It hadn't been a quick lesson or an easy one. Desire and ambition had been strong in the young man that he had been, anger and the need for vengeance likewise. He had done things that he now regretted, but when the time had come for him to abandon all that he had and do what he knew was right, he had been able to take the step.

      As had Rak'nor.

      The virtue of the Way governs all nature.

      Thus, he who is at one with it,

      is one with everything which lives,

      having freedom from the fear of death.

      It was one thing to go fearless into battle, confident of victory and careless of the consequence, when your god told you that you would enter his paradise after death. It was another thing to face a slow death with no glory, when you knew it could be postponed by taking the life of another Jaffa. It was a different thing again to face that death with calm acceptance when you had no certainty of what would come after, apart from an old man's belief that there was something.

      There was a calmness on the young man's face that he had rarely if ever seen in a Jaffa of this age.

      Maybe there was nothing Teal'c needed to teach him after all.

      

      

Blood. Fraiser had blood on her hands and it wouldn't go away. Every screen of information, every detailed photograph and diagram made it worse. Every description she read made her an accomplice to what had happened to Teal'c. Not just Teal'c. Subjects B and C weren't even identified. It seemed unlikely that they had even spoken English; their notes were a mass of numbers and measurements, but nothing gave a hint of them as individuals. They might as well have been Jewish experimental subjects in a Nazi concentration camp. "Subject B showed signs of distress." "Subject C developed breathing difficulties." "Subject A refused food and is being fed via a drip."

      Sam had been in twice to try to persuade her to take a break, but she couldn't. To leave the screen was to betray the three Jaffa who had died.

      She read the page again, eyes blurring as she tried to take in the details. There had to be something wrong with their method of caring for the symbiote. She'd fed Rak'nor's symbiote the same way Maybourne's people had fed theirs, and Teal'c agreed that it should work, but although the symbiote snatched at its food with every sign of interest, it always spat it out a few seconds later.

      That wasn't all. The symbiote should be producing secretions that could be filtered from the water and injected into the Jaffa. The concentrations she was getting were so low as to be virtually impossible to recover. She had to be doing something wrong, but what?

      The screen went blank as someone leaned over her shoulder and switched it off.

      "Janet." Sam caught her wrist as she reached out to switch it on again. "You're coming with me, and you're going to get something to eat and then you're going to sleep."

      "I can't."

      "You can. You're the one who always tells me that people can't work properly when they're tired."

      "Rak'nor's dying." She didn't have to be in the ward to see the plastic tent erected around his bed in a desperate attempt to shield him from infections, didn't need the latest blood sample to know that his white cell count was falling. Every drug she'd tried had failed to boost his immune system; by this time tomorrow he'd be in a coma, not long after that he'd be dead.

      Sam was saying something, asking if there weren't other people who could help. And there lay another source of pain.

      "Sam, the best immunologist I know - he wrote this report. I cannot ask him for help, I cannot."

      "People aren't always the same in other realities."

      "Some are. Do you think the Maybourne who sent Teal'c to Area 51 is any different from the Maybourne who tried to do that in our reality?"

      Sam took her by the elbow and steered her gently through the door and in the direction of the commissary. "I don't know," she said. "I can't put a finger on him. Most of the time I despise him, and then he'll suddenly do something that makes me actually respect him. He put his life on the line for Sunlight's people - there's no getting away from that. Even in our reality, he helped the Colonel when I was captured by Adrian Conrad's people."

      "They wouldn't have wanted you in the first place, if Maybourne hadn't sold them a symbiote. Life means nothing to him. A symbiote is just something that can be sold for cash."

      "He thought they wanted it for medical research."

      "Should that make a difference? Where's the ethical distinction between experimenting on a Jaffa and experimenting on a Goa'uld? Or a Tollan for that matter. What do you think he intended to do with the Tollan refugees if they didn't give him the knowledge he wanted?

      "You think the Goa'uld are evil? I think they stack up quite well against Maybourne."

      

      

"Eat." Sam plonked the plate on the table and glared at Janet.

      "I'm not hungry." Janet's voice was low, barely audible over the hubub of conversation at other tables.

      After five years of eating in the SGC commissary the sentiment was understandable, but the food wasn't that bad really; the roast chicken she'd selected for Janet actually smelt quite appetising. Okay, so the potatoes were a bit on the soggy side and the broccoli was even more limp than usual, but you couldn't win them all.

      "Eat up some of it and I'll tell you something special." She'd meant to save it until later, until she and Jack were able to tell everyone together, but Janet needed to share in some happiness.

      Janet poked at chicken with a fork, sliced off an uneven lump and put the cutlery down again without eating anything. She stared blankly at the far wall, gaze passing through all the other diners.

      "I can't. All I can see is those Jaffa. They were murdered and he was behind it."

      Sam reached out and touched her friend gently on the wrist. "Forget Maybourne. There's more important things in life: I just saw MacKenzie and he's given the Colonel and Kantele a clean bill of health. Kantele has ancestral memories that he has to avoid, but he seems to have no problems blocking them."

      Janet speared a piece of broccoli and looked at it consideringly. Then she sat up straighter, put it into her mouth and swallowed.

      "Sam, I'm really glad to hear that. And not just for the obvious reasons. I wanted to discuss Rak'nor's problem with Selmak, but your dad's not on the base - I'm hoping Kantele may be able to help."

      Through the doorway behind Janet's back, hitting the appropriate moment as always, came a tall male figure accompanied by Teal'c and Daniel.

      "Why," complained O'Neill, "does everyone want to talk to Kantele rather than me? What's he got that I haven't?"

      "Tok'ra memories, Sir," Janet said.

      Sam jumped in immediately. "Kantele, you're not to say a word until she's eaten something."

       "Okey dokey."

       At the sound of Kantele's voice, people at nearby tables looked around, quickly returning their attention to their meals as she glared at them.

      "Colonel," Janet insisted, "I need to know now. It may be important for Rak'nor."

      "When you've eaten," O'Neill retorted. "Have I got to say everything twice?"

      "I don't know. Does Kantele speak for you?"

      Hammond had seen this coming, had known there would be problems of this kind.

      "Kantele trusts Carter's judgement. So do I."

      "With all due respect, Sir," Janet insisted, "that's not the issue."

      And it wasn't. Everything in the SGC, from General Hammond to the catering staff, ultimately depended on chain of command - that was the problem.

      Daniel moved forward as though to say something, but the Colonel stopped him with a slight hand movement. He grabbed a tumbler off the table and banged on it loudly with a spoon.

      "Right, listen up, everyone."

      Heads turned, chairs scraped on the floor as most of the room gave him their full attention.

      "Is there anyone in this room who is not aware of Kantele's presence on this base?"

      "Who?" asked a young lieutenant seated near the serving counter.

       "Me."

      You just knew Kantele loved doing that. Probably because he couldn't resist throwing in the glowing eyes as well... You could practically feel the ripple of unease running around the room; it showed in hands making instinctive movements towards weapons that were fortunately locked securely away in the armoury, in the carefully guarded expressions of people whom she normally looked on as friends and in the sudden thud of a ketchup bottle hitting the floor.

      Teal'c took a careful step forward, placing himself pointedly at O'Neill's side. A half-second later, Daniel took the other flank. If she hadn't been sitting down on the other side of the table, she'd have joined them, but the movement would have distracted attention from Jack. He had to know what he was doing, and he would also know she'd back him in any way that he needed.

      "Kantele is Tok'ra, he's here, and he's staying. I'm going to answer the most obvious questions and then I expect to hear no further discussion on the topic. Am I making myself clear?"

      Silence. The Colonel rarely pulled rank, but when he did he left you in no doubt as to who the senior officer was.

      "Kantele and I are remaining with this command in an advisory capacity. Kantele has the status of a civilian expert, but I retain the rank of Colonel. At any time within the SGC or on a mission through the Gate, you should assume that Kantele is acting under my orders."

      Ouch. She had a moment's sympathy for the symbiote. She was used to military discipline, but she had had a choice about entering the Air Force. It was necessary though, and she was sure that Hammond had made that very clear to Kantele.

      "In any social setting," O'Neill continued, "we speak independently."

      Apart from the background noise of the coffee machine and the occasional gentle chink of cup touching saucer, the commissary was quiet. As she scanned around the room, she tried to read the mood. People sat too stiffly in their chairs, eyes flicked from face to face as they asked silent questions of those beside them. The way some of them looked at Jack... Would Kantele ever be able to gain full acceptance here? Would Jack be able to retain the fine balance of liking and respect that he had had from almost everyone on the base?

      She caught his eye and tapped at her still-empty ring finger. Do you want to tell them? Will they find it easier to accept you, if they know that I accept you?

      He shook his head almost imperceptibly, then dipped it slightly in the Tok'ra fashion that they didn't normally bother with.

       "The next five minutes are a social setting. You're all wondering, 'Who is this snake?', 'Why did Colonel O'Neill decide to become a host?', and 'Can we trust him?'. Well, the second is none of your business and the third you're going to have to decide for yourselves, but as for the first...

       "This is for all those who've ever had to cope with Colonel O'Neill's attitude towards paperwork. Rather against his better judgement, he's letting me borrow his voice. Don't blame this one on him, it's all me, apart from one line in verse four...

      

'Twas on a Monday morning, the Colonel came to call,
He said: "I need some duct tape; they've run out at the mall."
I said: "Just fill these forms in, it'll take no time at all."
But I had to call the Major in to peel him off the wall.
Oh, it all makes work for a working man to do!

The tune sounded vaguely familiar.

'Twas on a Tuesday morning, the Major came around,
She said: "I need a power source, please earth it to the ground."
I said: "Please fill this form in, to keep my records right."
She said: "Sure, it's no problem." - then out went all the lights.
Oh, it all makes work for a working man to do!

Definitely familiar. A couple of the audience were singing along with the chorus line.

'Twas on a Wednesday morning the Jaffa, Tea'lc, came,
He called me Sergeant Sanderson, which isn't quite my name,
He filled out all the paperwork in fluent Linear B,
So, I needed Dr. Jackson, to decipher it for me.
Oh, it all makes work for a working man to do!

'Twas on a Thursday morning, that Daniel came along,
With his glasses and a dictionary and an Abydonian song,
He wanted some wax tablets, which really aren't our norm,
And then I found he'd signed his name in perfect cuneiform.
Oh, it all makes work for a working man to do!

The audience were with him now, smiling, laughing at the parts that amused them.

'Twas on a Friday morning, I finally made a start,
I dived into the paperwork, I tackled every part,
Every row and every column, but when Hammond came along,
I had to say: "It's hopeless, I've been cursed with SG-1!"
Oh it all makes work for a working man to do.

On Saturday and Sunday, we do no work at all,
So, 'twas on a Monday morning that the Colonel came to call...

      Why should she be surprised at the audience's reaction? Hadn't Kantele lived a thousand years as an entertainer? He bowed with an exaggerated flourish, accepting the applause. "I now return you to your regular presenter."

      O'Neill shook his head. "Just be glad he didn't do the one about Ra and the priestess's daughter. It's got thirty-eight-"

       "thirty-nine"

       "-verses and is totally obscene. He says he does weddings on request, but I've told him no way-"

       "-except-"

      "-for one."

      And now, it was the right moment. Now there were people who might feel happy for her rather than pity her. And if Kantele can't overcome his hang-ups? Who'll pity you then? She stomped ruthlessly on the thought; they'd always found solutions in the past. They'd find one now.

      She came round the table to meet him, lightly touched the hands that Jack held out to her, and flowed into his embrace. Wolf whistles greeted her from several directions and a barrage of cheers.

      "Sam," Janet said from close beside her, "you're absolutely crazy to take on that pair of clowns, and I'm so happy for you, I can't..."

      So she turned round and gave Janet a hug as well, and felt as much as saw the tears flowing.

      

      

As the former SG-1 clustered themselves loosely around the tank holding Rak'nor's symbiote, it struck Fraiser that between them they represented every stage of the Goa'uld life cycle. Daniel, the uninfected human staring at the alien in the tank; Teal'c with his larval Goa'uld; Jack/Kantele; and Sam, the former host. If she couldn't find a solution with the aid of these people, then maybe there was no solution to be found.

      O'Neill bent down and looked curiously into the tank. The symbiote, as though sensing the presence of an adult of its own kind, swam forward, fins splayed out, mouthparts snapping wide open in some kind of threat display. For a moment, Frasier thought the Colonel was going to start pulling faces back at it, but apparently some level of military decorum was still surviving his engagement announcement. He and Sam appeared to have mastered the knack of walking on air whilst keeping their feet firmly on the ground.

      "Got any fish food?" the Colonel asked, tapping a finger on the glass.

      "It has already been fed," Teal'c replied, as the symbiote wasted another attack on O'Neill's finger.

      "What's it eat?"

      "You do not wish to know."

      "Yes, I do."

      "You do not."

      "Do."

      Daniel caught her eye, gave her a rueful smile.

      "Very well, O'Neill," Teal'c said, "it is fed on scrapings from the lining of Rak'nor's pouch."

      "Yeuch! Teal'c, I've only just eaten."

      Teal'c said nothing, merely gazed with abstract interest at a monitor several feet behind O'Neill's head.

      "Teal'c."

      "Yes, O'Neill?"

      "Remind me to listen to you when you're right."

      Teal'c gave a gentle incline of his head and Frasier reminded herself sharply that giggling was non-professional. Besides, there were things she needed to know before the effect of the food and the euphoria wore off and she fell fast asleep on her feet.

      "If I understand Maybourne's notes correctly-"

      "Maybourne?" asked O'Neill

      "Long story," Sam said hastily. "The other Maybourne gave a disc to our Maybourne, who gave it Teal'c, who gave it to Janet."

      "And was anyone going to tell me when they'd finished playing pass the parcel?"

      Frasier put on her 'Air Force' face. "Yes, Sir. The next time I get a report on Goa'uld physiology, I'll send a copy straight to your desk. I'm sure you'll find the contrast in morphology between the larval and adult forms to be absolutely fascinating."

      "Doc." O'Neill affected a weary pose, leaning on the plastic top of the fish tank. "You're giving me a headache."

      That made her one point up on today's game, but only by a whisker.

      "Do they differ in much besides appearance?" Sam asked with an obvious interest that gained her a despairing look from her fiancé.

       "Shall I tell her?" Kantele asked.

      O'Neill shrugged. "You're the expert."

       "When we're fully mature, we can't digest food any more. Instead, we absorb nutrients directly from the bloodstream of the host. This involves-"

       O'Neill stuck his fingers in his ears. "I'm not listening. I don't want to know what he's doing to my body."

      Unfair! Daniel was grinning widely from behind the Colonel's back, while she had to maintain a straight face.

       "I can't tell you much," Kantele said with a grin of his own, "I absorb stuff through the skin. I filter waste through Jack's kidneys. At least, I think that's where it goes."

      Frasier grabbed a clipboard. "Can you tell me what the critical amino acids are?"

       "I might if I knew what an amino acid was."

      "Uh." Daniel worked his way around the fish tank and came to sit on a corner of her desk. "I think we've got a translation problem here. Kantele only knows the English that Jacob and Jack know, and they're neither of them biologists."

       "Hey, I'm with Jack on this one. I'm not a biologist either. Do you know how your body works?"

      "But," she said, "surely you have-"

      Daniel touched her on the forearm. "Don't follow that line," he said quietly. "If he doesn't know it from his own experience, then don't ask. The ancestral memories are too risky. Wait until Selmak returns."

      She recognised a warning when she heard one. With someone else, she might have argued, but Daniel knew what was at stake here. If the symbiote died, then any hope of using it to save Rak'nor died with it.

      Maybe what Kantele had given her was enough. The change between larva and adult had to be as great as that between caterpillar and butterfly. The butterfly could no more eat leaves than the caterpillar could drink nectar. No wonder Rak'nor's Goa'uld rejected food; Rak'nor had said it was already over-mature.

      "If I put low concentrations of sugars and amino acids in the water," she said, "then we can measure the concentration after a few hours and see which ones are being absorbed. The catch is that we'll have to work through them one at a time in case any of them turn out to be toxic."

      "Makes sense," Sam said. "Make up a list of everything that's essential for the human body in dietary terms and I'll get one of the lab techs to start making up solutions as soon as you've gone to bed."

      Schoolboy-like, Daniel raised a hand. "I think you may be able to go one step better. The original Goa'uld hosts were unas. Take a look at the blood samples you've got and concentrate on anything that unas and humans have in common."

      Even to her tired mind, that made sense. It also raised a series of new questions.

      "Why did they change host species? And how? Two thousand years is a short time in evolutionary terms, especially for a species as long-lived as Goa'uld."

       "We evolved to match the unas. Their bodies are not that dissimilar to your own, but far from identical. When the Goa'uld started to use human hosts, they had to develop the Jaffa - when larvae grow inside a human Jaffa, they adapt gradually to human physiology. Before the Goa'uld had Jaffa, only half of the larvae were successful in taking a human host - the rest died."

       "But why humans?" Sam asked. "Why not stick with the unas? They're stronger after all."

       "Several reasons. You breed much faster. You're more agile and dexterous. But the main reason is that the sarcophagus works particularly well on you."

      "That's what Ra said," Daniel added. "He said we were easy to repair."

       "The sarcophagus allows... " Kantele paused. "What we Tok'ra give to the host is mainly improved resistance to disease and a slowing of the effects of aging. Improved health in turn leads to improved reflexes and a slight gain in strength."

      "I've seen Goa'uld break free from restraints that a human couldn't manage," Sam said. "I'd say it can be a pretty big gain in strength."

       "No. It's an illusion. Or rather, it's real, but it damages the host. Feats of strength can be done only by risking tearing muscles and damaging the bones. To a Goa'uld, that doesn't matter. They can repair the host using a sarcophagus. That's another reason why we Tok'ra don't use the sarcophagus. Its use implies a willingness to disregard the host's welfare."

      Fraiser nodded inwardly. It made sense, except for one point. "So why are Jaffa stronger than normal?"

       "Because the larva releases hormones that accelerate muscle growth. It's to our advantage to have a strong host to protect us when we are too young to take control of the body."

      "But there's a trade off?" In biological terms, a gain was almost always at the expense of something else.

       "Reduced fertility."

      "Hey!" O'Neill yelped. "Uh, okay, belay that."

      Not hard to guess what that internal conversation had been. How did Teal'c feel on that score? Was he even aware of the problem? It night help explain why he had only one child that they knew of. At an age of ninety-five, he should rightly have hordes of children and grandchildren.

      "According to my studies and the data on the disc Teal'c gave me, when a Jaffa reaches puberty, his immune system deteriorates and soon fails to function at all. Correct?"

       "Yeah. Because a Jaffa could refuse to take a symbiote otherwise. That way, he has no choice in the matter."

      "So there's no way Rak'nor's immune system can be restored."

       "Not without a sarcophagus."

      "But then how did the Tok'ra manage to remove Klorel from Skarra without killing Skarra?"

       "In a human host, the symbiote takes over the task of the immune system and the original immune system atrophies. If you remove the symbiote, then the host dies of the first infection that comes along. But it is possible for the original immune system to recover over time. The Tok'ra sustain the host through that period by giving a gradually decreasing dose of the substances secreted by the symbiote. If you have enough Tok'ra, then we can all produce a little extra, allow it to be extracted from our hosts' blood and injected into the former host."

      Then the adult form presumably secreted a similar mixture of substances to the larva, but tailored to a human rather than a Jaffa. A magic bullet. A cure for everything. Given enough symbiotes and a method of keeping them alive, you could eliminate all diseases. The implications were staggering. The scientists working for Maybourne had shown that secretions from the symbiote had greatly extended the period during which a Jaffa could survive without it, but the process had not been perfected. The secretions were a complex mess of chemicals and most were too complex to synthesise. Perhaps Kantele...

      "Could you produce enough to keep Rak'nor alive? You supplied us with antibodies against the plague."

      The Colonel's face screwed into a grimace. "You're going to hate me for this, but it has to be no. One specific disease for a short period of time is possible, but the Tok'ra disallow anything else and there's good reason. I've known Tok'ra who died as a result of trying to help too many people. In trying to save Rak'nor, you'd risk losing Jack. I can keep one person alive, not two."

      Maybourne's 'experiments' backed that up. They'd tried swopping one symbiote between two Jaffa. Within twenty-four hours both had become delirious, their vital signs had started decaying not long after. One had died before the experiment was abandoned. The symbiote had also come close to death.

      She couldn't ask Kantele to take that risk.

      That left only one possible approach. Maybourne's studies showed what kept a larval Goa'uld alive; if she could get the nutrient feed for an adult correct quickly enough, then there was a reasonable chance that it would produce the same immune boosters that it would when present in a human host. As long as they could get the balance right while there was still time remaining for Rak'nor.

      Even as she mentally ran through the necessary list of minerals and amino acids that would need to be tested, she knew that it would take too long.

      She was tired, so tired. Sitting down, she stared at the computer screen, her eyes focusing almost at random on the medical logo that acted as a header for every document. Something about it was nagging at her. She touched it with a finger.

      "Daniel, tell me."

      "The caduceus? You must be aware of the mythological relevence?"

      "Tell me anyway."

      "This is a fairly abstract representation, but of course it represents the serpents of Ćsculapius entwined around the winged rod of Mercury. Obviously the wings on the symbol must actually predate the addition of Mercury to the mythology, as they should be on the serpents, but the association with the god of healing has remained to the present day."

      "It represents a Goa'uld?"

      Daniel blinked. "Of course. I thought everyone knew that. It's the Goa'uld wrapped around the spine of the host."

      "Why the spine?" She answered her own question. "Because there's more nerves and blood vessels. We don't need to mess around with amino acids. Set up an artificial spine with blood flowing through a semi-permeable membrane, and I think the symbiote will wrap around it and help itself to exactly what it needs.


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