Daniel gazed up at the stars, thinking about the message that had just gone streaking through space to the Nox.
He glanced at his watch, wondering how long it would take the Nox to reply and hoping that his and Omoc's absence wouldn't be discovered. It had taken a lot of talking to get the guards to leave the room so that he could talk to the Tollans in private, and he didn't know how long they'd wait until losing patience.
Daniel returned his gaze to the stars. He sensed Omoc's eyes on him.
"Why is it that you are helping us?" the Tollan asked after a few seconds.
Daniel met his gaze. "Because it's the right thing to do."
"And that is the only reason?"
"Isn't that enough?"
Omoc's head dipped slightly in acknowledgment. "Forgive me, Doctor Jackson. Narim has told me that you can be trusted, that you and your teammates are good and honorable people who only wish to help us, but my experiences with more primitive cultures have taught me to be cynical. I am finding it hard to understand why you would risk yourself to help us when you will get nothing in return."
Daniel thought about how to answer the Tollan. "My people are fighting a war against an enemy of superior numbers and technology. The Goa'uld fight without conscience. They will sacrifice thousands, slaughter millions, to get what they want. We've been lucky so far, but, someday, that luck might run out, and the Earth will be destroyed or enslaved. Because of that, there are people in our government and military who will do whatever it takes to get the weapons we need. They believe that the end justify the means."
"And what of you?"
"I believe that, if we sacrifice what sets us apart from the Goa'uld, our morality and our conscience, then we've already lost the war since we would be no better than the ones who want to conquer us."
Omoc stared at Daniel appraisingly for a long moment. "You show great wisdom for one who is so young."
Surprised by the compliment, Daniel said, "Thank you. I'm . . . honored that you would think so."
They sat in silence for a while.
"What will become of you after we are gone?" Omoc asked. "Will you be punished for defying your superiors?"
"Well, I'm not in the military, so they can't court-martial me, but they could do other things. I could lose my job, be thrown out of the program."
Omoc heard the tension in the younger man's voice. "This would upset you."
"Yes. My wife was taken by the Goa'uld and turned into a host. The main reason why I go through the Stargate is the hope of finding and rescuing her. If I'm removed from the program, I wouldn't be able to look for her anymore."
"I was unaware that this was of such a personal nature for you."
"Well, you had no way of knowing."
Omoc studied him closely. "Is being removed from this program all that could happen to you?"
"I don't know. Jack thinks that I'll be okay, but Maybourne has a lot of powerful connections. I guess there is a possibility that they could try to arrest me, though I'm not sure what charges they'd file against me. Maybe treason."
"Treason. And what is the penalty for treason on your world?"
"Usually either life imprisonment or death, I think, depending on the severity of the crime."
An expression close to horror filled Omoc face. "You would be executed?"
"No, I really don't think so. The chances of that happening are pretty remote. I'd more likely be thrown in jail."
"I did not realize that you risked so much."
Daniel shrugged faintly. "Like I said, Jack believes that nothing like that will happen. I'll just have to hope that, if he's wrong, General Hammond has enough influence with our president to keep me out of prison."
Omoc searched the face of the archeologist. "There is another option."
"You could come with us."
Daniel's mouth dropped open in shock. "Come with you? You mean live with the Tollans?"
Omoc nodded once.
"But . . . but what about the whole primitive cultures thing? I mean, if I was living with your people, I'd be using your technology. Aren't you afraid that I'd steal some of it and somehow give it to Earth?"
"Would you ever do such a thing?"
"No," Daniel replied without hesitation.
The faintest of smiles touched Omoc's lips. "That it why I do not fear making this offer."
Daniel gaped at the Tollan, stunned by the significance of the man's words. "I-I don't know what to say, Omoc. I'm . . . very flattered that you would trust me in that way. Thank you."
"Then you accept my offer?"
Daniel sighed softly. "I can't. It's like I said. I need to keep looking for my wife. I can't give up."
"But if you lose your job or if you are imprisoned, how will you find her?"
"I don't know. I just know that I can't give up and run away yet, not when there's still a chance that everything will work out okay."
Again, there was silence. A few minutes later, a bright streak of light heralded the arrival of a returning message.
"Wow, that was fast," Daniel commented, having expected to be waiting for a lot longer.
Omoc read the message that had been received. "The Nox say that they welcome us to their world and will unbury their Stargate. One of them will come for us."
"Did they say when?"
"No. Any time measurement they would have given would be meaningless to us since we have no knowledge of how they measure time."
"Right. Of course. That's going to be a problem, though. We need to have you in the gate room when they arrive." Daniel thought about the problem. "Okay, wait. I think I've got an idea. It took about ten of our minutes to send your message and receive theirs. Can you send them another message, tell them that, and ask them to come in one hundred and eighty minutes? All they'd have to do is compare our minutes to however many of their units of time passed, and then calculate how long one hundred and eighty of our minutes is. That would work, right?"
Omoc smiled and nodded. "Yes, that would work." He pressed one of the buttons, waited about half a minute, then pressed the button again. He set it on the ground and sent the new message.
"How did you do that? I mean, how did you record the message?" Daniel asked. "Does it record your thoughts?"
It only took three minutes for the return message to arrive. The Nox agreed to the time Daniel had suggested.
The two men slowly made their way down the mountain through the darkness. As they walked, Daniel filled the Tollan in on the details of the rest of his plan. They were approaching the spot where they would reenter the base when Omoc laid a hand on Daniel's arm. Startled, the linguist stopped and looked at him. The Tollan handed the communications device to him.
"In case you have need," he said quietly.
"W-what? What do you mean?"
"If you need our assistance, contact us, and we will help."
"B-b-but, um . . . you said you wouldn't give our people any advanced technology."
Omoc got another one of those tiny smiles. "I am not giving it to your people. I am giving it to you. I trust that you will use it wisely. Besides, there is nothing within this that can be used to create weapons. It has only one purpose."
Omoc instructed him on how to use the device. "If we receive a message from you, we will know that you are in need, and someone will come through the Stargate to get you."
Daniel looked down at the device in his hand. "Thank you, Omoc. I hope I won't have to use this."
"As do I."
The Tollans were gone, off to the Nox world. The members of SG-1 were all pretty pleased that things had worked out the way they did . . . that is until Maybourne demanded a meeting with General Hammond instead of going straight back to Washington to squawk. Daniel, Jack, Hammond and Maybourne were now all in the briefing room, and nobody was having any fun.
"Doctor Jackson, what you did could be considered an act of treason," Colonel Maybourne said, glaring at the archeologist.
"What?!" Jack exclaimed, staring at the man sitting across the briefing room table. "Oh, give me a break, Maybourne. Daniel didn't give aid to an enemy. He helped prevent a bunch of peaceful aliens from being unlawfully held captive by you NID goons."
"I was acting under the sanction of the president."
"Yeah, right. He probably just agreed to go along with this because you lied your ass off and told him that, if given time, you could peacefully convince the Tollans to give us their technology, and then you'd let them go free." Jack sneered. "Of course, we all know the truth, now don't we."
"What the president did or did not believe is none of my concern. The point is that Doctor Jackson defied presidential orders and helped in the escape of the Tollans. In doing so, he prevented us from obtaining valuable technology that could have been used to protect this country and this planet."
"The Tollans would never have given you what you want, Colonel," Daniel said quietly. "They'd have all died first."
"We'd have gotten what we wanted," Maybourne stated confidently.
"How? By torturing them? Excuse me, but isn't that illegal? Oh, wait. I forgot. You think you're above the law, that laws don't apply to you. What you were going to do was wrong. You had no right."
Maybourne sneered at him. "Oh, please, Doctor Jackson. Don't bother with the morality speech. We're in a war in which morality has to take a back seat."
"Well, it's a good thing that most people involved in the Stargate Program don't agree with you, Colonel. Otherwise, we might as well ally ourselves with the Goa'uld since we'd be just as contemptible as they are."
"Save the speeches for your trial, Doctor Jackson, because I'm going to do everything in my power to see that you go to prison."
"Not gonna happen, Maybourne," Jack growled.
"You can't do a thing to stop it, O'Neill. You should just be grateful that I have no proof that you and Captain Carter had a hand in this, otherwise, you'd both be court-martialed and jailed. And as for your pet Jaffa, he was in the gate room with Doctor Jackson, so there's no doubt that he was involved, but, since he is not under the jurisdiction of this government as of yet, I can't arrest him. So, I'll just have to be satisfied with Jackson."
Jack got to his feet, his eyes glittering dangerously. He leaned over the table until he was right in Maybourne's face. "You listen to me, Maybourne, and listen good. I am not going to let you take your petty revenge out on Daniel. I will stop you, no matter what it takes. Understand?"
"Is that a threat, O'Neill?"
"You bet it is."
"Gentleman!" Hammond shouted. "That is enough! Colonel O'Neill, return to your seat." He waited until Jack has settled back in his chair, then turned to Maybourne. "Colonel Maybourne, I would advise you not to attempt to file charges against Doctor Jackson. The second I leave this room, I will be placing a call to the president and enlightening him about a few facts and suspicions I have regarding you and what you intended to do to the Tollans, and I can be pretty certain that he is not going to be happy, especially if, as Colonel O'Neill said, you pulled the wool over his eyes. In addition, I happen to know that he is a great admirer of Doctor Jackson and will have no desire to see the man who opened the Stargate imprisoned unjustly." The general didn't notice how Daniel's eyes widened at that last piece of news. "Now, please leave this facility before you try my patience any further."
Maybourne did not reply, but the look he gave Daniel was a promise that this was not over. Rising from the table, he left the room without a backwards glance.
Jack looked at his friend. "Don't you worry, Daniel. There's no way we're going to let you go to jail."
"Unfortunately, Colonel, though I have confidence that we can keep Doctor Jackson out of prison, I fear that we may not be able to prevent him from being removed from the program," Hammond said quietly. "There is going to be a lot of pressure to fire him."
Daniel's gaze dropped to the table. "Yeah, I kind of figured that," he said with a sigh.
"Hey." Jack waited for the archeologist to look at him. "We're going to fight like hell to keep you here, Daniel. All of us will."
"Yes, we will," Hammond confirmed.
Daniel and Jack left the briefing room.
"You wanna come over for some pizza or something?" Jack asked, seeing the worried look on his friend's face.
"Um, thanks, Jack, but I'm not really in the mood for company right now."
Jack stopped the younger man and placed his hands on Daniel's shoulders. "Daniel, you listen to me. We are not going to let them fire you. You got that?"
"I know you'll try, Jack, but I need to accept the possibility that I will be removed from the program." He looked into his friend's eyes. "That's . . . that's why I need you to promise me that, no matter what, you'll keep looking for Sha're. I need to know that, even if I'm no longer out there, someone will still be trying to find her."
Jack searched the young man's eyes, seeing the desperate need there. "I promise, Daniel. No matter what, we'll keep trying to find Sha're."
Daniel relaxed marginally. "Thanks, Jack." He sighed. "If it's okay, I'm going to go home. I'm kind of tired."
"Okay." Jack gave his shoulders a squeeze. "Everything's going to be all right, Daniel. Count on it."
As Hammond had promised, he placed a call to the president and told him everything, including the things Maybourne had done and said that added credence to Hammond's suspicions about how the NID man had intended to get the information out of the Tollans. As Hammond had hoped, the president was disturbed by this and voiced his regret over having given Maybourne permission to take the Tollans, realizing that he'd made a mistake. He was especially upset about how Maybourne had ordered the men in the gate room to open fire on an unarmed Daniel and Lya. The president assured Hammond that he would not allow Daniel to be imprisoned.
It was that afternoon when the battle for Daniel's fate began. Apparently realizing that he was not going to be able to get Daniel arrested, Maybourne turned his attention to getting the archeologist thrown out of the Stargate Program. Hammond spent countless hours on the phone over the next few days, fighting to keep that from happening. Unfortunately, even the president was having a lot of pressure put on him by certain factions who wanted Daniel out. Things were not looking good.
As the battle was being waged, Daniel was grounded from going on missions. He spent his time working in his office, trying not to think about the very real possibility that he may soon lose a very important part of his life.
The ringing of the phone startled Daniel from his thoughts.
"Doctor Jackson? It's General Hammond. Could you please come to my office?"
Daniel felt his chest begin to tighten. "Yes, sir. I'll be right there."
Daniel made his way to Hammond's office, knowing in his heart that this was not good news. When he arrived at his destination, he saw that Jack was there, too.
The two men went into the general's office, shut the door behind them and took seats. Hammond's eyes met Daniel's, his expression very somber.
"I'm afraid I have some bad news, Doctor Jackson."
"I've been fired, haven't I," Daniel murmured.
"No, not officially. You have been put on suspension for an indefinite period of time."
"Suspension?" Daniel asked, wondering how a civilian consultant for the military could be put on suspension.
"Pardon me, sir, but what the hell does that mean?" Jack asked in an angry voice.
"It means that, for the present time, Doctor Jackson will not be working at this facility or for the government in any capacity. He will receive no pay or benefits."
"That sounds like fired to me."
"Doctor Jackson will still be listed as a consultant, only as an inactive one." Hammond turned to Daniel, whose head was bowed. "I'm sorry, Son, but that's the best I could manage for now. I intend to keep fighting. I haven't given up yet."
Daniel lifted his gaze to the general's. "Thank you, sir. I appreciate all you've done for me." He swallowed tightly. "I, um . . . guess I'd better start packing, huh." Daniel quickly rose to his feet. He met Jack's eyes for a brief moment, then left, shutting the door behind him.
Feeling numb, Daniel made his way to his office and slowly sank into the chair behind his desk. He hadn't realized that this would hurt so much. And it was not just the fact that he'd no longer be out there searching for Sha're, though the thought of that tore him apart inside. The only thing that helped in that regard was his faith in his teammates – ex-teammates – that they'd keep looking for her. They wouldn't let him or Sha're down.
What hurt almost as much was the knowledge that he was no longer going to be part of the most amazing adventure that any archeologist, linguist or anthropologist could ever imagine. There would be no more worlds to explore, no more searching ancient ruins of civilizations that had disappeared off the face of the Earth thousands of years ago or had never existed on Earth at all, no more feeling that first thrill when he stepped out of the wormhole onto a world that no human from Earth had ever seen.
But there was something else as well. Once again, he was losing his family. In these months that he'd been with the program, SG-1 had become his family, his friends. He was going to miss them a lot. Oh, they'd probably come visit him sometimes, ask him to join them for an evening now and then, but Daniel knew that those times would be few and far in between. Their lives would be too wrapped up in the program for them to spend much time with an ex-teammate.
No, his life with SG-1 and the Stargate Program was over, and it was time to accept it, move on, and try to rebuild the shattered remains of his life.