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Fanfic page with pictures, music, previews, staff bios and episode listings, all you could want, and more, for Highlander fiction fans. HFS season one is finished, we have a total of 23 episodes, and they're all available if you follow the HFS link.

by Tasha - A Highlander/SG-1 Xover



What was left of some of the buildings was very beautiful, but it had been uninhabited for a very long time. As soon as they walked out of the room that housed the Stargate it was obvious that not a lot lived in the vicinity. Daniel stood there just looking for a while and it reminded him of a scene from some post-apocalyptic movie. Only here the wind whistling through the derelict buildings was real, and the emptiness seemed to surround the team. There were few visual clues as to the culture behind the structures, and nothing really suggested any particular era from Earth's history to explain their origins.

"Nobody's home," Jack said from where he stood slightly to the front of the others.

"This place feels like a tomb," Daniel commented.

"Thank you so much for that happy imagery, Dr Jackson," O'Neill shot back sarcastically.

"This looks much like a city Apophis decimated while I was in his service," Teal'c provided in his normal stoic tone. "I would suggest that this place was destroyed by the Goa'uld a very long time ago."

"And the sixty four thousand dollar question is - 'Why?'," Jack said, obviously as unhappy with this mission as he had been from the first moment it was mentioned.

The world had shown up as dead when the probe had gone through, but some of the pictures it sent back had perked the interest of the scientific side of SGC. Daniel had actually been quite excited by the things he had seen, but then as Jack so often reminded him, his idea of fun was playing in a big sandpit with dead people. The first indications were of an Earth type culture, but standing there Daniel wasn't so sure any more. It was definitely a city, but for some reason he couldn't quite pin down he didn't think it was a human city.

"I'd say the answer is down there," Sam offered her opinion on the problem and pointed to a group of large important looking buildings.

"Well let's get on with the history lesson then," Jack decided and moved off. "Teal'c check out the perimeter, make sure were not going to suddenly have company. You know how I so dislike surprises. The rest of you follow me."

Daniel took one last look around and then headed after the rapidly disappearing Colonel. This place felt old, and as usual anything with age called to him to investigate. Archaeology and anthropology were what he had been born to do and long ago he had decided there was nothing he could do to stop his instincts. He followed Sam into the first of the buildings and just stopped in the doorway, stunned by what he saw. The whole place was open, no supporting walls and no pillars to hold up the vast ceiling. His brain did take a fraction of a second to wonder how it stayed up, but the rest was totally occupied by the paintings that covered every wall.

Some of the paintings were abstract, and some were scenes. There was no longer a question about the alien feel of the city -- the people who had lived here were humanoid, but the crest ridges over the top of their heads and the wide, colourful eyes showed they were definitely not from Earth. The first thing Daniel noted was that the story on the walls showed everything from birth to death, but there was not a solitary battle. This building gave the anthropologist an underlying sense of peace and it was actually quite a profound moment.

"Wow," Sam said as she looked around.

"Wow, maybe, Major," O'Neill responded, "but is this what we came for?"

Daniel forced down the retort that came to his lips and instead walked further into the building. He was getting a picture of the people who had lived here, and he was already almost sure about several things.

"I think we may be looking at a culture as or more advanced than the Goa'uld," he voiced his opinion out loud before Jack could ask Carter any more terse questions. "That looks like a depiction of space flight," he pointed to his right, "and over there, I think anyway, is something like a sarcophagus. In a primitive culture I'd say it was a scene of magical healing, but with the rest of it I'd have to go with some sort of medical miracle."

When he looked back at Jack, the officer didn't look very impressed.

"If they were so advanced why aren't they still here? How were they driven away?" he asked pointedly.

"Daniel has a point, sir," Sam put in her two cents. "Look around," she suggested, "do you see one picture of war? In many cultures it's the warriors and heroes who are depicted in art. If these people were peaceful it's possible they didn't defend themselves. They could have been pacifists like the Nox."

To his credit Jack did glance up at the paintings again.

"Okay, point taken," he said, and Daniel had a sneaking suspicion that the scientists of the group did actually have an effect on their leader even if the Colonel would never admit it.

Daniel took the opportunity to wander off and look around. It was a very beautiful building, even if part of the roof was missing and there was rubble on the floor. He found an anthropologist's dream scratched into the wall behind one of the large piles or stone. It wasn't part of the design of the building, it was scratched into the bright red dress of a character in one of the scenes. Daniel was peering at it so intently that he didn't realise Sam had walked up behind him until she leant over his shoulder to have a look.

"Anything you can translate?" she asked as he finally looked at her. "It doesn't look similar to anything I've ever seen."

"Me either," the anthropologist admitted slowly as he glanced back at the text. "Bits are almost familiar, but in this combination it's unique in my experience."

The two studied it for a while longer and then O'Neill joined them. Daniel tried to ignore him and get on with the job at hand, but Jack had a way of being very present even when he wasn't saying anything. The anthropologist could feel the officer's eyes burning a hole in the back of his head.

"Well what's it say, Danny?" O'Neill finally asked in a totally neutral, but unerringly annoying tone.

"I don't know," Daniel had to admit, and hoped he kept the pique out of his voice.

"We should move on," Jack told them, "there might be more interesting stuff than alien graffiti in some of those other buildings."

Daniel's patience was stretched very thin, but he managed to keep his temper.

"This is interesting," he said and refused to look anywhere but at the writing. "It isn't anything to do with the rest of the design it could be important."

"Whatever makes you happy," O'Neill replied in an infuriatingly off-hand tone. "You can stay here, Carter and I will go and look for other junk."

Daniel chose not to reply and he didn't glance up until he was sure his companions had at least reached the door. He knew Jack didn't really mean anything by what he said, but it was so frustrating some times. Shaking his head the anthropologist went about the task of recording what he had found.

Daniel just stared at the text in front of him, and wondered for the thousandth time what it said. He was supposed to be able to read anything, but this, this language was a total mystery. He had no frame of reference from which to decipher the script, he didn't even know which way round it was supposed to be read. Daniel Jackson, the genius translator, was stuck, totally and completely. The annoying thing was that he was irrationally sure that he had to read what Jack seemed to think was an irrelevant piece of gibberish. His friend's view was a perfectly logical one, but all Daniel's instincts told him that the text was important.

SG-1 had found no other writing on their entire exhibition; lots of pictures yes, but no writing. The current theory was that the indigenous race had been at a point in their history where they had kept all their texts on the machines that had been found destroyed in various places. Daniel had tried to point out that they couldn't always have done this and there should have been some sort of records, but he was a small voice in a multitude. At least General Hammond had given him leave to study the script for as long as it took.

It even looked vaguely familiar in parts; the problem was it didn't actually seem to fit any particular pattern. Some of it was pictographic, some was a little like cuneiform, and certain things almost appeared interchangeable. Bits of the pictographs seemed to contain parts of the symbol-based script, and there appeared to be some significance to the way these were arranged, but it was such a huge puzzle that it just didn't make any sense. It didn't seem to have been designed with anything like the human way of doing things. The alien race that had left it behind was definitely different from anything SG-1 had seen before.

Daniel took his glasses off and sat back in his chair, rubbing between his eyes to try to return the vestiges of distance vision he had left after years in academia. Bookwork just didn't seem to be helping, and the leaps in logic that usually helped him with these things weren't making themselves known. He had been working on this for two weeks, and he was getting nowhere. SG-1 had already been on another mission, leaving him behind so that he could continue his work. They had finally let him take it off the base when he pointed out that he would work far better with all his notebooks and reference texts around him. One over zealous commander had suggested they ship the contents of his apartment to SGC, but thankfully General Hammond had put a stop to that. If Daniel couldn't translate it, it was very unlikely anyone else could, and the military had finally had the sense to see this.

There were books all over the table, texts on everything that Daniel had even remotely thought of when looking at the alien script. He was coming to the conclusion that this race, whoever they were, might actually have been to earth at some point and interacted with the natives. There were things in some of the more obscure ancient languages which seemed to reflect parts of what he was seeing. It wasn't the type of evidence that had led him to the work that had brought him to the Stargate project, but it was convincing to him, even if another scholar would probably come up with an entirely different view.

He picked up one book and turned it over in his hands, opening it and just glancing at the first page to distract his over taxed brain. He read the inscription and smiled slightly: -

To Daniel,
Never let them tell you your work is nonsense, they weren't there.

It had been so long since he had thought of his days before the Stargate program; it seemed so far away now. Travelling to other worlds had rather dwarfed the experience of his academic career. Adam had been a good friend when no one else would even talk to him, a fellow researcher, and the best linguist Daniel had ever met. They had found each other purely by accident at a conference on the use of pictographs in mesa American art.

Daniel had been on the verge of taking off his nametag and trying to be anonymous after two other delegates had tried to pick an academic fight over some of his theories. Adam had popped up out of nowhere and taken the other two anthropologists down a peg or two. They had spent the rest of the conference in each other's company. Daniel remembered Adam having the strangest sense of humour as he laughed at some of the oddest times. They had conversed in letters for ages after that. With a guilty pang Daniel realised that he had never answered Adam's last letter that had been just after the Stargate program took over his life.

The anthropologist just sat there for a while looking at the spidery handwriting before letting his eyes slip back to script he was studying, and then it hit him. Adam Pierson was his answer. If anyone could help him it was his old friend, and as he reached for the phone he never even stopped to think that the military might not like what he was about to do.

"Is the Highlander at home?" Methos breezed into the dojo as if he owned the place, and Richie gave up on his interrupted kata.

"He went DIY shopping about an hour ago," the younger Immortal replied unenthusiastically, "he's planning on redecorating."

Richie saw the smirk work it's way into Methos' demeanour and he had to put down the desire to wipe the expression off the five thousand year old Immortal's.

"Then I chose the right time to pick up my stuff," he announced with completely irritating cheer, and headed for the elevator.

Richie followed--he'd almost finished his workout anyway, and Methos might have been annoying, but he was at least more interesting than an empty dojo.

The ancient man just stood there as the machine took them to the loft and his silence finally goaded Richie into a question. "What stuff?" he asked.

"Books," Methos replied, "I left them here, oh, about two years ago now. I was moving ...I think. Been meaning to come and get them for ages."

Richie raised an eyebrow, if there was one thing he had learned it was that Methos didn't do anything unless he had a reason, and he was curious.

"If they've been here this long," he said slowly, "why now?"

The other Immortal grinned, and for a moment Richie thought he wasn't going to tell him.

"I had a call from an old friend," Methos told him, "and I need them. I'm going on a road trip."

The elevator reached its destination and the two men walked out.

"Anywhere nice?" Richie enquired.

"Nowhere special," Methos replied.

The ancient Immortal made a beeline for a trunk in the corner of the room, and Richie was left to survey the loft. Most of the furniture was covered in polythene, and there were paint drip sheets everywhere. This time MacLeod was serious about redecorating, and Richie just knew he was going to be landed with all the really dirty jobs.

"Why doesn't he just get the decorators in?" Methos mused, changing the subject back to MacLeod. "It's not as if he doesn't have enough money."

"You know Mac," Richie replied, imagining all sorts of tortures the Highlander could find for him, "a man's home is his castle."

"Four walls and a roof if you're lucky," the other Immortal commented cynically, "and castles were not all they're cut up to be. If there's someone else who can do it make sure they do, that's my philosophy. Of course when you get to my age there are some things that you just have to do yourself..."

"Fancy some company?" Richie said on impulse, interrupting the ancient man's flow of words: anything had to be better than gallons of paint and varnish, even Methos.

His companion looked up from where he was rummaging, he expression appeared genuinely surprised.

"If I stay here I'll be sanding for the rest of my life," Richie told his companion, hoping that the puppy dog look would work on Methos this one time.

"You can come if you want," Methos told him, the Old Man was obviously in a generous mood, "but you'll probably be bored out of your tiny mind. Daniel is an expert in ancient languages."

"Anywhere is better than here," Richie replied.

"When the Highlander is on a mission you could be right," Methos agreed. "If that house was anything to go by, you're safer anywhere but here. Stand still long enough and he'll paint you."

Nobody had seen Daniel in days, and even though O'Neill would never tell his friend, he missed him when he wasn't around. Jack kept up the facade of military man, fixed on the mission, no time for talking, but he found Daniel's continual quest for knowledge stimulating. Sometimes he could be annoying, especially when he was right, but the team didn't feel complete without him. When Carter had suggested they go see how their friend was getting on with the translation, Jack had readily agreed. What they had found when they reached Daniel's apartment was a man knee deep in paper, and less than happy about life.

Daniel waved them all through the door and kicked several pieces of paper out of his path as he headed for the table. He was definitely distracted, and Jack was almost sure he'd been wearing the clothes he was in for a couple of days straight. They had that crumpled; we've-been-slept-in look that O'Neill remembered from occasions in his own past.

"Ah, there's fresh coffee on in the kitchen," the anthropologist said absently, "help yourselves. I just have to go change."

Then he turned and left them standing there, almost as if he'd forgotten they existed.

"I don't think I've seen him this spaced since he was working on the gate glyphs," Jack commented and headed for the inviting smell of coffee.

"Looks like he's really into this," Sam commented as she followed her commanding officer. "Wonder how it's going."

Jack just shrugged and tried to find some clean mugs. It looked like everything Daniel had eaten over the past however long was from a packet and there were enough water filled mugs in the sink to fill two cupboards. In the end O'Neill washed a few of them up and Sam dried them.

They wandered back into the living room with four steaming coffees to find Teal'c peering at the mess on the table. Jack walked over and looked down, staring at the hand drawn copy of the alien writing. The first thing he wondered was whether he was looking at it the right way up. Finding it just a jumble of shapes he switched to glancing over Daniel's notes, and was equally bemused. At a guess the anthropologist had been using shorthand, alternatively it could have just been a bunch of tiny little lines. There were two options, keep looking and try and appear as if it was something he could even remotely understand, or admit defeat and just give up. Since the little squiggles threatened to start moving he took the later option and decided to focus on his coffee. It wasn't long before Daniel reappeared. He even seemed to have managed to shower in the short time he'd been away: O'Neill was impressed.

"So how's it going," Jack asked as his friend wandered back into the room.

"Do you want what I've been telling General Hammond or the truth?" Daniel replied wearily.

"That bad?" Sam sounded sympathetic.

"It's so complex," the scientist told her, and Jack recognised the excited look appear in Daniel's eyes: they were in for the works. "I've never seen anything quite like it. It a very beautiful looking language, but there are fifty seven different symbols in what seem like almost random sequences."

O'Neill breathed a sigh of relief as the doorbell interrupted his friend's monologue. For a moment Daniel looked as if he was confused by what had stopped him, but with a shake of his head he walked towards the door. Jack was sure he'd never quite understand intellectuals. He watched as Daniel peered through the spy hole, and saw the younger man's whole demeanour change. The anthropologist's face lit up and he almost missed the door handle in his eagerness to reach it.

"Adam, you made it," Daniel greeted almost before he'd swung back the door.

The anthropologist never really talked about life outside the Stargate project, and he'd definitely never mentioned a friend called Adam. The way Daniel was reacting; it was like his best friend had just come back from the dead. As his friend moved slightly to the left Jack caught his first glimpse of the new arrival. O'Neill was quite surprised to see two people; a tall dark haired man in a long overcoat and a slightly shorter blond man hovering.

"With a puzzle this interesting, how could I refuse," the dark haired spoke and proved himself to be Adam. "This is Richie, I hope you don't mind me bringing him along."

"No problem," Daniel replied, "come in both of you."

There was no logical reason for Jack's hackles to be up, but as he saw Daniel's friends something bothered him. For some reason he couldn't quite explain both men, but especially Adam, set his teeth on edge. Maybe he'd been in the military too long, maybe gating from world to world was making him paranoid, but he couldn't shake the feeling.

When Daniel turned back, it was quite obvious he hadn't thought through the situation to that point and the half-unsure look that so often shaped his expression appeared.

"Adam, ah, Richie," the archaeologist began, "these are some of my colleagues. Jack O'Neill, Sam Carter and Teal'c. Guys, I'd like you to meet an old friend of mine from my purely academic days."

"Nice to meet you," Adam had a disarmingly pleasant smile, and Jack found himself smiling back as the stranger spoke, even before he realised it.

The kid Adam had called Richie hung back looking a little awkward, and the way he scanned the room reminded Jack of a trapped rabbit--the Colonel corrected himself, no he didn't look that helpless, maybe a trapped cat. Now that he was getting over the surprise that Daniel had other friends, O'Neill was beginning to take stock of the situation. His eyes wandered to the papers scattered on the table, and back to Daniel: he had a sneaking suspicion.

"Academic as in also a linguist?" he asked slowly.

"Yeah," the anthropologist replied, oblivious to the veiled question under the one he was answering, "Adam and I met at a conference a few years ago. He's one of the two people in my field who will still talk to me."

The anthropologist was so pleased to see his old friend that it took a few seconds for him to realise Jack did not look equally happy. O'Neill saw the light dawn and Daniel began to look a little sheepish.

"Okay," he admitted eventually, "yes he's here about the script. I can't translate the writing alone, and Adam is the only other person who could help me. He's the best of the rest."

Jack had a sinking feeling.

"Correct me if I'm wrong, but do I sense classified in this conversation?" Adam didn't appear to be very worried.

O'Neill could feel the frown knitting his brows, and he made no effort to remove it.

"I'll take that as a 'yes'," was the stranger's matter-of-fact response.

"Jack, if we want this translated, we need Adam," Daniel tone left little room for argument.

Alarm bells were going off in O'Neill's head, but one thing he did know was that his friend wouldn't lie to him. Daniel was being perfectly honest, which left them in a quandary.

"If it's so vital why didn't you go through Hammond?" he asked pointedly.

"And wait a year until the powers that be come back with a no," Daniel replied, "you may not have noticed this but Adam isn't a US citizen and some of our colleagues get nervous at that."

"Guys," Sam stepped in, "let's not fight in front of the guests."

The sarcasm got to them both, and Jack saw Daniel lose his obstinate look, as he himself tried to reign in his training. He was calming himself down when he noticed that Adam's attention had wandered away from him and was now focused on Teal'c. The Jaffa was wearing his hat as usual since he was off base, and although Teal'c was quite large and an eye catching individual this seemed too slight a reason to be causing what appeared to be intense interest. What made Jack start to feel edgy was that Adam was not staring at Teal'c face, he was looking straight at the other man's chest. When the sharp piercing gaze flicked upwards and peered under the rim of the Jaffa's hat to where a fleck of gold was just visible, O'Neill's alarm bells started ringing.

Something was definitely wrong, and this time Jack wasn't trying to ignore his instincts. He glanced around and everyone else in the room had noticed Adam's interest: the other two human contingent of the SG-1 team looked vaguely nervous and the rest of the room didn't appear too comfortable either. The only person who looked calm was Teal'c and he didn't count because he only had one everyday expression. Daniel looked awkward; Sam definitely didn't like the situation; even Richie appeared uneasy about something and had moved closer to Adam. As for the mysterious source of the tension himself, the dark haired man had a frown rapidly growing on his face. O'Neill was absolutely positive none of this was good.

Richie had felt awkward just entering the apartment; once what sounded like government involvement had been announced he was even less happy; now Methos was acting strangely and everything was going down hill. The guy introduced as Teal'c might have a funny name, and he didn't look like someone you'd want to meet on a dark night, but that didn't explain the ancient Immortal's behaviour. Methos was always calm and collected; Richie had almost never seen him thrown by anything. He was five thousand years old for heaven's sake: what he hadn't seen didn't need mentioning. His dispassionate approach could be as annoying as hell, but Methos' current reaction was far more worrying.

The younger Immortal found himself wishing he was anywhere but where he was, that was, until he actually looked hard at Teal'c. Something stirred at the back of his mind as he let his paranoia go for a second and considered the situation. It was totally weird, and he had no idea what was happening, but he felt something. It was so faint that if Methos had not been acting so strangely he would never have noticed, but part of him knew Teal'c was not all he seemed. For some reason he could not fathom his eyes moved slowly to the bottom of the guy's chest. This whole situation was just too freaky.

To anyone who didn't know him Methos probably looked relaxed, but Richie knew the ancient man was nothing of the sort. If he had not clamped down on his fighting instinct the younger Immortal would have been reaching for his sword. Methos then surprised the whole room by saying one word.


It came out in such a tone of derision that there was totally stunned silence, even from Richie who really didn't know what his friend was talking about. Several faces looked as if they were trying to come up with something to say, but it was Teal'c who spoke.

"How did you know?"

Richie lost the conversation there as Methos said something that sounded to him like complete gibberish. Teal'c just looked at him, and then replied, also in the same incomprehensible language.

"Adam, what do you mean? Why did you refer to yourself as the enemy," Daniel had translated the conversation, but he didn't look as if he understood it.

"What are you doing working with them?" Methos replied, sounding very unhappy and pointing at the six foot something black guy in a way Richie thought was probably unwise. "Tell me they're not back."

The archaeologist looked speechless, and Richie was totally confused. Methos was acting very un-Methos like: he never talked in straight lines if circles would do, but he was being nothing if not plain. Richie might not understand what was going on, but he was sure everyone else did.

"Teal'c is on our side," was what Daniel eventually said. "No they're not back."

Methos' eye opened wide as if he'd just realised something and then he frowned again.

"Please say you didn't help someone open the Gate of the Gods," the ancient Immortal said, and Richie gave up trying to understand any of the conversation.

Daniel seemed to be about to say something, but the linguist's friends did not seem interested in that and Richie knew trouble when he saw it. The O'Neill guy was looking dangerous, and for the first time the Immortal wondered if the other man's jacket might hide more than a shirt.

"What do you know about the Stargate, and where did you find out?" the man Richie was positive was military stepped forward.

"I know it was buried for a very good reason," Methos' voice was angry, "and I know it cost thousands of lives to do it. Putting it back together has to be a particularly modern arrogance. There were wars fought over that thing, and it should have stayed shut."

There was something unnerving about Teal'c and Richie found his eyes drawn back to the big man. It wasn't really his size or his deadpan expression, Richie had faced worse in his short Immortal career, and he couldn't work out why the guy spooked him. However, his scrutiny was rewarded by the view of Teal'c's face actually moving for something other than speech. From the new expression Richie figured Methos' diatribe had sparked a memory.

"The Enemy," Teal'c spoke slowly as if piecing together fragments of thought. "There are legends of the Tau'ri, of men who were not like their brothers. They walked with fallen gods and led humans in rebellion against the true gods. They are forbidden tales. These men were known as the Enemy."

"Are you a part of some secret society?" Daniel seemed to be trying to rationalise what he was hearing. "Are there people out there who know about the Stargate."

Methos was calming down, at least on the outside, and he looked at the others in the room with disdain.

"Don't worry, I'm all that's left," the ancient Immortal said coldly. "No one else remembers."

Richie watched as Methos pushed his way past O'Neill towards the table and looked down at the papers. Since he already knew so much the military man obviously decided it wasn't worth stopping him.

"This is incredible," Daniel had a weird look in his eye, and even though his friends were anxious, he looked of all things, excited. "Where did you learn about the Stargate? Did you know about it before we were at school together?"

"Oh, way before," Methos returned, "let's just say it has a lot to do with my knowledge of ancient languages."

Richie didn't like the situation one little bit, but at least as Methos glanced at the papers on the desk he seemed to relax a little. The younger Immortal was almost beginning to hope they might be able to salvage the situation. He'd thought about making his escape several times, but he wasn't about to leave Methos, and besides, being chased by the very large black guy was not top of his to-do list. He was also curious about what the hell was going on. So far he knew that Methos thought Teal'c was not a good guy; that he was something called a Jaffa; and that everybody here was involved with something called a Stargate. It was a lot of information; unfortunately it was all completely useless without some explanation.

"You can read it?" Daniel had watched Methos scan the transcript of the writing they had found, and it hadn't been difficult to realise the Old Man understood it: even Richie could tell that.

"I'm a bit rusty," Methos told his friend, "but yes I can read it. This is the language of the Lenerai. They were on earth before the Goa'uld and they tried to help humanity when it was invaded. Unfortunately they were a peaceful people, they only evacuated communities in danger from the Goa'uld, and they had no offensive capabilities. Shu and Tefnut wiped out their planet in 1500 BC by our calendar. The last known Lenerai died helping lead the rebellion on Earth, but it's possible some of them are still alive out there. This is from their home, and warns any visitors of their fate, and the danger of the Goa'uld."

Daniel was slacked jawed and Richie had to admit that he was impressed as well. The one person who didn't look at all thrilled was O'Neill.

"Okay, right now I don't care what it says," the man announced to the room in general. "This is all classified information, and I don't know who's telling the truth about what, but I'm going to find out. We're taking this to SG command, and I'm not taking no for an answer."

Richie didn't know what exactly SG command was, or where it happened to be, but the idea of not having a choice but to go there, worried him. The fact that the only other person in the room who looked slightly anxious about the idea was Daniel also caused the young Immortal some concern. Methos for his part just turned around and looked at the military man. The ancient Immortal's anger and momentary lack of control had passed, and he gave the impression that he was totally in charge of the situation.

"If you insist," he said calmly.

Richie just knew he was in big trouble. The fact that he was wearing his slightly longer leather jacket, and hence was carrying his sword with him was no longer as comforting as it had been. He had considered leaving it in the car, but where Methos was concerned you could never be too sure what you were walking into. When they had begun their walk to the apartment it had seemed like a sensible precaution, now Richie thought he might have been wrong.

"Okay, I have absolutely no idea what is going on here," the Immortal finally said.

"Too bad, kid," O'Neill told him, "because you're along for the ride."

It took some effort, but Richie managed to bite back the retort that came to his lips at the "kid" comment. Opening his mouth now would most likely get him into even more trouble, and no matter what Mac might think Richie had actually learnt some restraint over the past few years. The day was turning out to be a very bad one; Richie just prayed it wasn't going to get any worse.

O'Neill seemed to know exactly what he was doing, and with military efficiency he separated Methos from Richie. The older Immortal, Daniel and Teal'c were in one car, and Richie was in the other with O'Neill and Sam. Richie decided it wasn't such a bad arrangement as he found himself in the back seat next to the rather attractive woman. Her whole attitude screamed military, from the way she seemed to be assessing him the moment she sat down to the fact that she kept looking to O'Neill for guidance. Richie knew he had a weakness for a pretty face, and he tried to clamp down on his hormones by reminding himself constantly that she was of The Establishment. It was difficult when The Establishment looked quite so good.

They drove in silence for a good five minutes, but it appeared that Sam wasn't as military as her companion, because she didn't seem particularly comfortable just sitting there not saying anything.

"Where are you from?" she finally asked, and Richie saw O'Neill's eyes flick to the rear view mirror.

"Seacouver," Richie replied--he didn't see much point in keeping it a secret. These people could locate his file any time they felt like it, he knew how the system worked. "It's near Seattle."

"Lived there long?" was Sam's next question.

"As long as I can remember," the Immortal returned hoping his mouth wouldn't run away with him. "I've moved around a bit the past few years, but I always end up back there; bit like a homing pigeon."

His back seat companion smiled at that, and Richie found himself smiling back. Sam seemed pleasant enough, and she wasn't radiating suspicion out of every pore like O'Neill. If she hadn't been part of his escort to what was probably a military base, Richie might even have hit on her. As it was, a mantra started in the back of his mind, telling him she was not to be trusted.

"Home is where the heart is," she said lightly. "If you don't mind me asking, how do you know, Adam Pierson?"

It was obvious that she was fishing for information, but Richie decided it was better here than when they reached their destination.

"We have a mutual friend," he explained, "and we bumped into each other one day. I wouldn't call us best buddies or anything, I'm only here because otherwise I'd be sanding our mutual friend's floor. Redecorating with my friends can be scary."

Sam's grin became wider.

"I have friends like that too," she told him and the little voice in the back of his mind dimmed worryingly.

She glanced forward and Richie tried to look as if he wasn't noticing the silent signals going on between his escorts.

"So you really have no idea what's going on here?" it was half question, half statement.

"Not a clue," Richie replied truthfully, "when Adam opened his mouth he surprised me as much as you. Then again you know Adam long enough you come to expect things like this. Weirdness is a way of life with my friends. For all I know you could have just stepped off another planet."

Sam went quiet, and the Immortal knew he'd said something, but he wasn't sure what. She covered quickly, but her body language spoke volumes even if she didn't. The mantra in his head came back to full volume. Richie began to contemplate what had actually been going on, and he started to think about the things Methos had said. It was beginning to dawn on him that maybe the Old Man's comments about Earth, and different races weren't just figures of speech. Stargate, suddenly made sense and Richie came to the conclusion that it was his comment about other planets that had cause Sam's momentary discomfort. This wasn't about ancient cultures; this was about aliens.

"Do you even know anything about languages?" Sam was just making small talk now, but Richie decided to play along.

"Wouldn't know Sanskrit from Swahili," he replied, and tried to look as relaxed as if he hadn't just had his world turned on it's head, again.

They chatted for a while about nothing, Sam always digging for information, Richie giving it and then steering her away from subjects he didn't want to discus. It was when the Immortal saw the base that he began to feel anxiety again. It was literally built into a mountain, and it had top security written all over it. Richie began to pray that they wouldn't search their "guests": he hadn't been able to come up with an excuse for the sword. He didn't think they'd buy the old line about being a dealer, or a courier. Then again if the worst came to the worst what else could he say.

Okay so the courier line just wouldn't wash, especially since both Richie and Methos had been carrying their swords. Metal detectors were an Immortal's worst nightmare, and the base had soldiers carrying hand held ones. The weapons had been confiscated and both Immortals had been escorted to a locked room where they had been left.

"Way to go on ruining a vacation, Old Man," Richie said sarcastically, and pointedly ignored the camera looking at him.

"Calm down," Methos shot back evenly, "this is more important than just us. They need my help, they'll have to let us out of here eventually, because it's more important than the US military as well."

Richie glared at his companion.

"They'll have to let you out," he said pointedly, "but what about me? Thanks to the swords, Major Carter," the various ranks of their captors had been revealed when they'd entered the facility, "thinks everything I told her on the way here is a bag of lies. They think we're part of a big conspiracy to do with this Stargate thing." He paused. "What is the Stargate anyway?"

"It's a device for travelling to different worlds," Methos told him. "Unfortunately it was taken over by a rather nasty race several millennia ago, and the one on Earth was buried to keep them away. An archaeologist dug it up again in the forties, and the last I heard their experiments had failed. If I'd known the US government had started the program again I would have tried to find out more about it. The Goa'ulds could quite easily wipe this planet off the face of the universe."

Richie let the information sink in, and tried to make himself come to terms with the situation.

"You know," he finally said, "I wish, just once that my life could be simple."

Methos actually smiled.

"Just play dumb and let me do the talking," were the words of wisdom he offered.

The two swords lay on the table as silent accusers, and Richie stood in awkward silence beside Methos. The room was large, and was obviously some sort of conference room. They'd been introduced to General Hammond, and Daniel and company were seated around the table. Richie was beginning to feel like a criminal dragged in front of the judge, and he had never liked that sensation.

"Would you care to explain these?" Hammond said in a bland tone that belied the expression on his face.

Richie just looked at him and kept his mouth shut: this was Methos' party.

"An old tradition," the ancient Immortal said calmly. "The swords are a heritage nothing more."

"To do with your knowledge of the Stargate I suppose," Hammond continued with equal dispassion.

This time Methos just nodded.

"Mr Ryan claims no knowledge of the Stargate, Mr Pierson," the General stated evenly, "and yet he carried a weapon like yours."

Out of the corner of his eye, Richie saw Methos smile, and he tried to appear as calm as his ancient friend.

"Training comes first, knowledge later," the older Immortal told those in the room. "I will need a successor, since I am not going to live forever," Methos' tone was dismissive and Richie hoped his face didn't give the other man away. "I've been lax in finding someone to teach. Richie knew he was joining a fraternity, but he had no idea about the Stargate."

The General was silent for a moment, and fixed Methos and then Richie with his gaze.

"Is this true?" he looked Richie straight in the eye and demanded an answer.

The young Immortal knew he was not a good liar, so he chose to tell the literal truth.

"I really didn't know anything," he said, hoping his voice wouldn't betray just how nervous he felt. "I still don't know exactly what's going on, but I'd be lying if I told you I didn't have my suspicions."

The frankness of the reply had an effect on Hammond, and he nodded as he heard it. He appeared to be a man who respected honesty.

"Colonel O'Neill and his team tell me that you know more about the origins of the Stargate than we do," the General turned his attention back to Methos.

"That's possible," the ancient Immortal replied, "but I don't know what you know so I couldn't be sure. Man's history is very incomplete, and some facts were hidden for a reason. Some people chose not to forget, however, and the knowledge has been passed on. The fact that there were aliens on this planet several thousand years ago is one of those pieces of information, that there was more than one species is another. I could tell you where and when the rebellion against the Goa'uld started, and how long it took, but that's not really relevant at this present time."

Richie watched as Methos swept his eyes around the table, making sure he had everyone's attention.

"What is relevant is what that text you recovered tells you," he continued. "It's a general warning about the Goa'uld, but it's also a warning about the two who destroyed the Lenerai's planet. If I may ask where did you find the text?"

"That information is classified," Hammond replied without hesitation.

"Then let me just say," Methos continued, appearing not at all surprised by the response, "if you found it on a desolated world you've probably found the Lenerai's home, and if so you've probably alerted Shu and Tefnut to your presence. The text talks of a never-ending vigilance for signs of Lenerai survivors so that they may be hunted down. It's possible you may have gained the attention of two very nasty Goa'uld."

That definitely held everyone's attention.

"Just who are Shu and Tefnut?" Hammond was looking at Daniel.

Richie was interested as well, and even though this still sounded like an episode of the twilight zone, so much of his recent life had been strange that he did not even question it.

"The twin lion gods," Daniel didn't appear to have any trouble with the explanation, "Shu the male, god of dryness, Tefnut the female, goddess of moisture and humidity. In the older texts they are the children of Amen the creator, but in later texts such as the book of the dead they are described as the children of Ra and Hathor."

The SGC personnel were looking at each other meaningfully.

"Well there's no way they could get in here," O'Neill said confidently.

"But SG-2 are investigating the site," Sam reminded them all.

Hammond held up his hand.

"Escort our guests back to their room," he instructed the two guards beside the door.

Richie knew his observation of the situation was over.

SG-3 had been through the gate, they had conferred with SG-2, nothing was wrong. There was no sign of life on P3X157, and no sign that anyone was looking for any. SG-3 had returned and that left SGC with a mystery. Four hours after the original meeting, SG-1 and General Hammond were once again around the briefing table.

"But why would he lie?" Daniel felt the need to defend his friend after the General had shown them the reports.

"Maybe to throw us off," O'Neill's answer wasn't what Daniel really wanted to hear, but it wasn't completely impossible either, "gain some time."

The linguist couldn't think of a good answer, and it was unsettling not to be able to trust a man who was his friend.

"Just how well do you know Pierson?" Hammond addressed Daniel directly.

"We spent three years working together," Daniel replied earnestly. "He was the only one who didn't immediately tell me I was insane when I started to form some of my theories. He even backed me up with the funding body once or twice. He's a good friend or I never would have called him in the first place."

The General raised one eyebrow at that comment, and Daniel knew that he had not heard the end of the consequences of that action. At the present time, however, they had other worries.

"Well until we can ascertain the truth of Pierson's statements," Hammond told them all, "I've recalled SG-2. They should be returning on the hour. Jackson I want you to work with Pierson until you have a working knowledge of this new language. I assume you could tell if he was making it up."

Daniel nodded: it would be almost impossible for Adam to falsify the text if he was teaching the syntax and semantics.

"Colonel O'Neill, you work on Ryan," Hammond continued. "Make friends, see what you can find out. Take him to the mess hall or any other low security parts of the base, whatever you see fit. I want answers people, and I want them quickly."

The look on Jack's face clearly said that he wasn't very happy with the assignment, but Daniel saw him bite back his objections. With the mood the General was in, subtlety was the best policy.

"Teal'c, Major Carter, confer with SG-2 when they return, look over their logs and make sure nothing was missed," their commander finished. "Dismissed."

Everyone left the room as quickly as possible.

O'Neill did not like playing baby-sitter, but he could see the reasoning behind the General's order. Pierson acted as if he was perfectly calm and in control of the situation; he would be a hard nut to crack, but the kid let every thought flow across his face. Relax him a little and Ryan might actually let something slip.

Jack was not happy, but he managed a vaguely friendly expression when he walked into the room where Ryan was being kept. He had waited until Daniel had been along and moved Pierson, and he had to admit that the kid was looking a little dejected when he walked in. The background check had so far come up with a juvenile record, an age and a list of foster homes: the young man's recent history seemed to be a little more difficult to track down. That he was nearly 24 had been quite a surprise when Jack had skipped through the kid's file, come to think of it he was going to have to stop thinking of Ryan as a kid. He had the face of a teenager, but he clearly wasn't.

"Hi," Jack opened the conversation when the "guest" looked up, "I suppose you're having a bad day."

"That's an understatement," Richie replied, and O'Neill decided dejected was also an understatement.

"Well, I can't guarantee that it's going to get much better," Jack told him, almost feeling something for the puppy dog eyes, "but I am allowed to let you out of this room. How does lunch sound?"

"You serious?" the question was wary and Jack noted that this guy seemed to have a healthy suspicion of authority.

Ryan's expression was edgy, but he didn't look as if he was going to refuse out right. O'Neill registered the fact that the kid seemed to prefer anything but being locked up. Well even a Special Forces trained Colonel could sympathise with that. Considering his background, O'Neill couldn't blame him. Ryan's file was nothing if not interesting, and his juvenile record had probably given him a lot of experience with The Establishment.

"As I ever am," Jack told his charge. "Now the mess food is as likely to kill you as nourish you, but most of us take our chances."

Ryan grinned at that and managed to look even more like a kid.

"Well I'm just about hungry enough to risk it," the young man replied, "but I warn you when I start to eat I've been known to cause a famine."

O'Neill found himself grinning back before he realised it and decided that maybe he was going to have to watch this kid a bit more closely than he had thought. Ryan's wit and unorthodox manner could be disarming.

"Well this way then," Jack told him and indicated the door, "I'll tell you to close your eyes if we go past anything top secret."

Richie rolled his eyes and Jack congratulated himself on a sharp move as he saw the young man let his guard down just a touch more.

The two men made their way to what served as a mess hall 28 floors down inside a mountain, and O'Neill was surprised to find out that Ryan had not been exaggerating too much when it came to how much he could eat. They talked as they ate and Jack found that Richie was shrewder than he would have given him credit for. He diverted questions with much more skill than O'Neill expected, and on his part he didn't ask any probing questions of his own. He asked the odd thing, but it was all harmless small talk, as if he was making sure Jack knew he was not a threat. Ryan did let slip that he had ridden motorcycles on the professional circuit for a while, and he'd travelled extensively over Europe. O'Neill made mental notes of anything that Intelligence might find useful in a background check, and made small talk for the rest.

By the end of the meal, Jack was actually beginning to believe that Richie was as clueless about the Stargate as he had claimed to be. As they walked back towards the bunkroom cum holding cell, O'Neill had to admit that if the situation had been different he could actually like the kid. Jack was just considering trying to find something else for them to do so he could learn more about his companion, when a Sergeant accosted them.

"General Hammond wants to see you in the briefing room, sir," the young woman told O'Neill brusquely with practised efficiency. "I've been ordered to take the," she almost said 'prisoner', but caught herself when Jack glared at her, "guest back to the secure area."

"Very well, sergeant," O'Neill replied, "treat him nicely."

O'Neill had just reached the bottom of the stairs in the briefing lounge when the klaxon sounded to announce that someone was coming though the Stargate. Everyone in the room, including Daniel, Carter, Teal'c and the General looked through the now-open blast shield towards the control room and the gate.

"Party has SG-2's signature," the controller announced before anyone could react. "Iris deactivated."

The Gate room itself contained four marines on semi-alert, and a whole group of technicians to help with the equipment SG-2 would be bringing back with them.

"At least now we can ask those on the ground exactly what they found," Daniel commented, and Jack realised he had missed an earlier conversation.

"Get SG-2 up here as soon as they've handed over their gear," Hammond ordered through the intercom. "I want to know if what you found, Carter, was a glitch or whether we may have attracted some unwanted attention."

The Stargate burst into life and flicked with its strange watery sound. What stepped through was not what anyone watching was expecting. Two Jaffa in lion head shaped helmets were the first revealed, and they took down the marines without a second thought. All the alarms sounded and the blast shield started to come down automatically. The last thing O'Neill was able to see were three more figures appearing from the gate. Another Jaffa carrying what looked like the body of one of SG-2, and what had to be two Goa'uld.

With training that had been instilled into Jack over years he took in every detail he could with one glance. One of the Goa'uld was female, the other male. She wore a headdress in the style of a lioness, which framed her cold but beautiful face, he a circlet with two feathers moulded in metal. O'Neill was trying to get a better look as the shield blocked the view completely. Before it finally shut there was the sound of numerous staff weapons being discharged.

The facility was shutting down faster than a turtle into its shell. The sergeant had drawn her gun the moment the alarm had sounded and she had moved Richie into a side corridor. She took hold of Richie's arm and he had the distinct impression that a bull elephant couldn't have stopped her taking him wherever she wanted him to go. Richie didn't even try and stop her, but they didn't make it more than a few feet: The lights dimmed, sparked, and the junction box beside both of them exploded. The last thing Richie felt was heat, and then there was complete blackness.

"I guess, Adam was telling the truth," Daniel said as the fail-safes went into action around them.

"Are we to assume that these are Shu and Tefnut, Doctor?" Hammond asked as he was handed a print out of stills from the close circuit cameras. The surveillance devices had been destroyed, but not before they picked up some nice close ups.

Daniel nodded. "An exact match," he told everyone in the room. "Shu is usually shown with between one and four feathers on his head, and you all saw the big cat touches. Tefnut usually has the head of a lioness." He peered at the pictures the General had placed on the desk. "My god, they have golden eyes."

"All Goa'ulds have funny eyes," O'Neill pointed out.

"No look," Daniel insisted and pointed at a particularly good still of Tefnut, "they've changed their eye colour: it's like a cat."

"And teeth," Sam offered as she leant over, "look at this, they have fangs."

She was indicating a shot of the triumphant looking Shu smiling at the chaos around him.

"These people really like the old lions, don't they," Jack said, his tone more than a little sarcastic.

"Maybe they got caught up in their own propaganda," Daniel mused aloud, "anyway, it doesn't seem that these Goa'ulds have changed their images lately."

The General didn't waste any time.

"Get down there, Colonel," he ordered, "and make sure they don't get out of that room. We have to contain this situation, or this mountain is the last place any of us with ever see."

Just as Jack ran to the stairs yet another alarm sounded.

"Stargate closed," one of the controllers announced, "but they brought through at least another ten people. They used something we haven't seen on the door, they're into the main complex."

It had only been five minutes since the original break through the Stargate, but already there was chaos. The intruders had split into two groups and they were causing havoc. One group seemed to be almost suicidal, and they were attacking anything that moved. This included air conditioning, and cameras as well as the humans they came across.

The other group, which included Shu and Tefnut, were working their way to a goal, which seemed to be anything and everything to do with the control of the facility. The defenders could only guess that someone, possibly members of SG-2, had given them information on the layout of the facility. The marines seemed to be having better luck at keeping this group under control, the Jaffa were protecting their royal commanders as well as fighting, and it slowed them down. They had with them three of the technicians from the Gate room and they were using them as shields whenever the need arose.

Shu was not pleased, not pleased at all. The initial intelligence had revealed that the technology of these humans should have been no match for theirs, and yet they were not winning as swiftly as he wanted. It seemed that maybe Apophis had not been trying to cover his own bungling with the reports he had sent to his brethren. Apophis and Shu had never been friends, although they were not open enemies, and Shu had assumed his royal cousin had been either covering up his incompetence or hiding something about the humans. All the observations from most sources had shown that humans could not match Goa'ulds, but they seemed to be doing just that.

"We must regroup," he ordered suddenly, and stepped over the charred remains of one of the enemy. "This enterprise is not going as planned."

Tefnut turned and her brother saw the momentary anger in her eyes: they glowed with Goa'uld power, but she soon contained her wrath.

"You are right, beloved," she said, calming herself, "maybe we have miscalculated."

There was a groan from Shu's feet and he looked down. It seemed the body on the ground wasn't as dead as it had seemed. His golden eyes scanned the burnt face, and he almost raised his hand to put the creature out of its misery. It wasn't from any feeling of compassion; Shu just enjoyed reminding himself of his own supremacy every now and then. A spark of blue fire stopped him, and something very unexpected happened; part of the injury on the human healed.

"My love," Shu said slowly, "look at the slave."

Tefnut looked down, but there was contempt in her eyes, only when the blue spark appeared again did she really take notice.

"He heals so quickly," she commented. "Our intelligence from Apophis' campaign did not mention this. This enterprise may not have been fruitless after all."

"Jaffa, carry the slave, we are returning through the gate," Shu ordered without pausing.

"As you command, Master," the nearest guards responded and effortlessly threw the charred human over his shoulder.

The other Jaffa began clearing their way back to the gate room, which took the marines by surprise. Taken off guard by the sudden change in objective, the soldiers really didn't stand much of a chance.

"They do not use our technology to activate the Stargate," Tefnut pointed out as the royal party moved towards their escape, "how will we remove ourselves from this place."

Shu smiled and glanced at the three terrified technicians they were still dragging along.

"They will value these lives," the Goa'uld told his companion with a smile, "we will bargain, using them to gain our return home. It is not difficult to fool humans."

O'Neill stormed into the control room.

"They just broke back into the gate room," he told the General, more than a little exasperated. "They just turned around and fought their way back in."

"But that can't use the gate," Daniel pointed out, blissfully ignoring military protocol as usual.

"Quite right, doctor," Hammond concluded, "the question we have to ask is what is their game?"

Command had moved into the control room, and now the whole of SG-1 was gathered there. Hammond had refused to let Carter and Teal'c join the fighting, he wanted their expertise with him, and now that Jack had returned the group was complete. O'Neill couldn't help feeling just a little like it was them against the rest of the universe ... again. Suddenly the com. system hissed nastily.

"What the hell..." Jack never completed the comment.

"Humans, we will speak with you."

The voice was as cold and as ruthless as any Goa'uld Jack had heard before. There was a monster the other side of the blast shield and O'Neill had to swallow his urge to blow up the speaker that issued its voice. Hammond hesitated only a second and then reached for the microphone.

"Why should we speak with invaders?"

There was a laugh from the other end of the communication.

"Because you wish to avoid further bloodshed," the voice returned, "and because we have several of your people. Their deaths will not be pleasant."

"Harm any one of them and there will be no talking at all," Hammond told them very quickly.

The same contemptuous laugh greeted the words.

"However you wish to see it," the negotiator replied. "Call your people off and I will guarantee their safety ... for now."

Hammond looked at O'Neill and they both knew they were being led by the nose, but they had no choice.

"Lieutenant," Hammond turned to one of the soldiers stood at the back of the room, "make sure our people hold their positions, but tell the commanders there are to be no offensives until I tell them differently."

The officer saluted and left.

"I will assume you are negotiating in good faith," the voice from the gate room said. "The deal is this: you will activate the gate for the co-ordinates we give you, and we will pass through, leaving your people and this facility behind us."

"That's impossible," Hammond told them plainly.

"Then you will hear the screams and see the blood of many more of your people," the voice replied. "Bring the woman here." The Goa'uld had definitely left the mike open so that those in the command centre could hear exactly what was going on. "We shall execute them one by one, and then we shall destroy this place."

There was the scream of a woman from inside the room, and the sound of her being dragged where she did not wish to go.

"Wait," Hammond could not let anything happen to his people, and Jack could feel the conflict radiating from him.

Opening the gate, and aiding the invaders would be in direct violation of all protocol, but that had never stopped the General doing the right thing. O'Neill did not envy his superior at all.

"What guarantee do we have that you will not harm our people after we open the Stargate?" the General asked.

"There is none," the voice returned, "only the knowledge that we wish to leave, and disposing of your people would slow us down. If they do not try and obstruct us, we will let them live. Any attempt to prevent us leaving will, however, result in their deaths."

There was no emotion in the voice, it was cold and calculating, Jack did not doubt that it would carry out its threat. Hammond cut the mike and looked at his companions.

"With all due respect, General," O'Neill told him, "getting them out of this facility is our first priority. We may not exactly win if we open the Stargate, but it's a better scenario than fighting it out."

The General looked at him silently for a moment, and Jack almost decided that he had been out of line. Then Hammond nodded.

"I happen to agree with you, Colonel."

He opened the mike once more.

"We'll open the gate," he told the enemy, "but I want our people out of that room first."

"Do you think we are fools, human?" the voice sounded angry.

"You have my word as an officer of the US Air Force, that once our people are free the gate will be activated," Hammond returned sincerely. "We do it our way or not at all."

There was silence from the other side of the communication.

"You give us little choice, human," the voice said slowly. "If your word is worth nothing you will pay with the lives of all your people."

"Colonel, go down and make sure those technicians are safe," the General instructed calmly. "Everyone else, prepare to open the Stargate."

The moment the three terrified hostages walked through the half-open gate room door into the safety of their comrades, O'Neill signalled Hammond and the Stargate jumped into life. The medical team swooped down on the three technicians, and Jack followed as the two men and one woman were whisked off to sickbay. Military efficiency and a desire to make sure none of them had been booby trapped, meant no one was paying much attention to them. Every five seconds someone would ask them a question, and like the good little soldiers they were they'd answer, but nobody really gave them much chance to speak on their own. It was only as they were sat down in sickbay that anyone actually started to listen to them.

"They took someone," one of the two men said suddenly, "they took someone with them."

O'Neill blanched and turned on the spot. Once again the Goa'uld had betrayed any trust in them. Hammond had to know about this.

SG-1, Dr Faiser and General Hammond sat round the briefing table, and no body was looking happy with the world. Sam couldn't help trying to assess how her friends were dealing with this, as they sat in silence waiting for the General to finish scanning the report in front of him. O'Neill looked angry, something nasty had happened on his watch, and he didn't like it one little bit. For his part Daniel was coping better than Jack, and although he looked agitated, he definitely didn't look like he wanted to kill anyone. Teal'c was looking like he always did, but Sam knew him well enough to know that if he ground his teeth any harder there would be squeaking noises coming our of his mouth. Then there was Janet, Florence Nightingale to SGC, and at the moment thoroughly pissed off with the world. If a Goa'uld had appeared at that moment, Sam decided there would have been little between whether Janet, or O'Neill got to it first.

"These variations on the ribbon device they use," Hammond asked in a tone that revealed no matter how calm he looked, he was as wound up as everyone else, "do we have any idea how they work?"

"From the eye witness reports and analysis of the residues left behind," Dr Faiser offered the explanation, "in Shu's case his weapon seems to use some form of energy to remove all water from a body. All that was left of Private Selby was a small pile of minerals. Tefnut's ribbon device is even nastier; it transmits a form of fungal growth. On it's own it's not a danger to human life, but the assumption is that she then uses the device to accelerate it's formation. Once it has a hold on something it decomposes it, reducing it to base substances. Lieutenant Hallow was a small pool of ooze when we found him."

Sam tried very hard not to think about exactly what the doctor was describing, it was just too horrible. Instead of letting her imagination run away with her she just filed the information under the dangerous weapons section in her brain and waited for the conversation to continue.

"Nice people," O'Neill commented as Janet finished her description.

"It's part of their image," Daniel gave his input. "In ancient Egyptian culture, Shu is the god of dry air, desert winds, he holds up the sky. What better way to enforce your power than turn people to sand. Tefnut is his opposite, goddess of moisture, often associated with the corruption of decay. These Goa'uld seem to take their roles very seriously."

"And they're just as slippery and underhand as all the others we've ever met," Jack concluded. "What I want to know is why they took the kid."

"As do I," the General agreed. "Do we have anything on that?"

It had been Sam's job to interview those who had come in contact with the invaders, but she wasn't exactly happy with the amount of information she had gleaned.

"The three technicians who were used as human shields all agree that the Goa'uld seemed to think there was something unusual about Ryan," the Major began her report. "Unfortunately they were under fire at the time and they were more worried about being shot at than exactly what Shu and Tefnut were doing. Private Kilner remembers seeing two bodies when they were forced into the corridor and at the time both appeared dead. It really doesn't make much sense for the Goa'uld to take an interest in a downed man."

"Unless there's something more to this enemy thing," O'Neill suggested with a shrug.

Everyone looked at Teal'c who merely raised an eyebrow.

"I have told you all I know about the Enemy," the Jaffa told the rest of the room. "They appear in legend as Tau'ri opposition to the Goa'uld invaders. The stories mention that they are different in some way, but I have never heard how. It is told in such a way that I do not believe it is truly known. The only one who can answer your questions is Adam Pierson."

Sam swung her gaze towards Daniel, and out of the corner of her eye saw everyone else do the same.

"As far as I knew he was just another linguist," the anthropologist said slowly after a moment's pause, "a very good one at that, but just another academic all the same. I've never noticed anything strange about him. I suggest we just tell him the truth and ask him."

Sam wasn't so sure they'd get a straight answer out of their guest. She hadn't really trusted him the moment she'd laid eyes on him, and whether it had been woman's intuition or a healthy dose of paranoia didn't matter any more: Pierson had too many secrets. The Major suspected that to get any straight answers out of their guest they would have to back him into a corner.

"He's more likely to open up to Daniel," Sam found herself saying. "I don't think he's going to talk to the rest of us."

"You may be right, Major," General Hammond agreed. "We need to know exactly what we're dealing with here. We've lost some good people today, and I don't want to loose anymore. There's no way we can risk sending a rescue party, but at least we can find out why the Goa'uld took Ryan. Will you do it Dr Jackson?"

Daniel nodded even though he didn't look too pleased.

"Of course," he said quietly.

Sam could sympathise with him, sometimes the line between friends and duty could be a hard one.

Daniel walked towards where he had left Adam three hours previously, very slowly. The anthropologist didn't know how he was going to tell his friend about Richie's disappearance, let alone broach the subject of why the Goa'uld might have wanted the young man in the first place.

"What the hell's been going on?" were the first words out of Adam's mouth as Daniel walked through the door.

"We were invaded," the archaeologist told his companion evenly. "You were right, Shu and Tefnut came through the gate instead of SG-2."

That seemed to take the fight right out of Adam, and he sat down.

"What happened," he asked, "were they killed?"

Daniel shook his head slowly.

"They had hostages," he explained, still trying to figure out how to tell Adam the whole truth. "They negotiated passage back the way they came and retreated."

His friend looked him straight in the eye, and Daniel knew he was caught.

"What aren't you telling me?" he asked simply.

"We didn't realise at the time," Daniel finally admitted, "but they had another prisoner other than the technicians with them in the gate room. They took Richie with them, I'm so sorry."

Adam looked totally stunned and the archaeologist watched as the colour drained out of his face.

"But why?" he said very quietly.

"According to the other hostages," Daniel explained, "they found him when they were trying to invade the facility. He was caught in an explosion and was hurt. They remember Shu thinking there was something unusual about Richie. More than that we don't know."

Adam's eyes went totally cold, and Daniel suddenly didn't recognise the man sitting in front of him. The normally relaxed, friendly lines of his friend's face were suddenly hard and Daniel knew Adam was now deadly serious.

"We have to get him back," the man who had become a stranger said with absolute clarity. "This is more important than you could possibly imagine."

Daniel didn't know why, but he believed him instantly. There was one snag, however - he might believe, but how could he convince the military. Hammond had already vetoed O'Neill's request to retrieve Richie. Jack had asked as soon as they'd found out someone was missing, he hadn't cared who it was. The General had refused point blank.

"I have to know why," Daniel said after several seconds' silence. "General Hammond won't let a rescue party through the gate. We'll need a damn good reason."

For a moment the archaeologist almost recognised his friend again as the man took a moment to think.

"Can your General be trusted?" he asked slowly. "If I put my life and the lives of others in his hands will he stand by us?"

Teal'c's situation immediately sprung into Daniel's mind and he did not hesitate. "Yes."

Adam was silent for a moment longer, as if considering a very heavy question.

"How about the rest of SG-1?" he asked.

"You can trust them as much as you trust me," Daniel told him.

"Then I need to see them all," Adam said emphatically, "and quickly."

Daniel had left quickly after Methos' ultimatum, and the Immortal was left to his own thoughts. He had made the decision that these people would have to be told something as soon as he'd heard what had happened, but that didn't mean he knew what to explain. How could he tell military officers about the threat that Richie could pose and not end up with a witch-hunt on his hands? Daniel had been adamant that his friends could be trusted, but Methos had been betrayed before in his life, and he sure as hell didn't want it to happen again.

The problem was, the possibilities Richie's kidnap threw into his head were much worse than most other things he could imagine. The idea of Immortals being pursued by humans was one thing, but the thought of a planet subjugated by the Goa'uld, their minions seeking out every Immortal they could find: it was just too horrible. Goa'uld in Immortal bodies just didn't bear thinking about. The Game would be irrelevant, hell, just about everything but staying alive would be irrelevant.

What choice was there? He'd seen the power of the Goa'uld before, and it had taken many lives and a lot of luck to fight them then. With an incentive like Immortal hosts to back their armies what hope would Earth have at all? It was time to make a stand, whether Methos liked the idea or not. The oldest living Immortal knew he was going to have to reveal what he was and his devious mind began to form a plausible story that would give him knowledge but play down his part in the Stargate mystery. There was no way he was going to admit that he was a commander of a legion in the rebellion.

The only people in the briefing room were Hammond, O'Neill, Carter, Jackson, Teal'c and Adam. The security monitors were off, the room was as sealed as it could be, and the SGC personnel waited for Adam to begin whatever it was he had to say. Daniel watched as his friend made sure he had everyone's attention.

"What I'm about to tell you can go no further than this room," he finally started. "I mean, it can't go up, it can't go sideways, and it definitely can't go down. The one and only reason I am telling any of you any of this is because the Goa'uld took Richie."

He caught each face in succession and Daniel didn't feel very comfortable under his gaze when he reached him.

"Now, Richie is a friend, but that has nothing to do with why we *have* to get him back," Adam continued slowly. "The real reason is very simple: it's possible that Richie could become a very powerful weapon for the Goa'uld, and if he does they're not going to leave this planet alone ... ever."

Daniel was listening very hard. No one chose to ask questions, they knew the answers were coming.

"I'm not exactly what I appear to be," suddenly Adam really was a stranger to Daniel. "I'm older than I look by a long way and some of the people I have known were older. I don't know about the rebellion because I'm the latest in a long line of people who passed the knowledge down. I know because I was mentored by someone who was there."

There was total silence and Daniel tried desperately to rationalise what Adam had said. He thought of the mirror that had sent him to an alternate dimension, and his mind shifted to ideas of alien technology.

"What do you mean someone who was there?" Hammond asked the question.

"My mentor was in the rebellion," Adam replied evenly. "He and several of our kind were recruited by the Lenerai to fight against Ra. He lead a resistance group in the rebellion, he watched the Stargate being buried, and he hoped it would never be uncovered. He told me about it because he knew there was a possibility of exactly what you're doing."

"What was this guy?" O'Neill asked quickly. "Some sort of time traveller?"

Adam actually laughed at the question. "No," he said slowly, "He was alive before the rebellion began and he was still standing when it ended. He was Immortal, and so am I and so is Richie."

Daniel looked at his companions and tried to gauge their reactions. It appeared very much as if General Hammond was caught halfway between laughter at the ludicrous suggestion and anger at having his time wasted.

"Don't worry, General," Adam continued, "I don't expect you to take what I say on faith, I can prove what I say."

Without warning the man reached out across the table and grabbed the pen that was sat in front of Daniel. Much to the archaeologist's horror Adam then rapidly stabbed the object through his hand.

"What in heaven's name ...," Hammond started and O'Neill tried to grab the so called Immortal to stop him injuring himself further.

They obviously both thought they were dealing with a lunatic. Adam just took a step back, and with a grunt pulled the pen out of the wound.

"Just watch," he said calmly, and moved back to put his hand flat on the table.

Daniel had trouble believing what he was seeing as right in front of his eyes the wound began to close. Even most of the blood was somehow reabsorbed.

"Compared to my mentor I'm just a kid and Richie's only a baby," Adam told them, "he's exactly who his record says he is, but he's Immortal like me. Imagine a Goa'uld that doesn't need a sarcophagus to heal, one that really is Immortal, who's immune to staff weapons, and at best will only be dead for a while if you fire bullets at them. Imagine what the Goa'uld will do if they think there are more like Richie on Earth."

Most people had their mouths open and were just staring, until Hammond turned to O'Neill.

"Colonel," he said slowly, "we have a rescue to plan."

Richie opened his eyes slowly and tried to focus on the world around him. The last thing he remembered was an explosion behind him, and falling, but he definitely wasn't on the floor now. It took his muddled mind a few seconds to realise he was in a half upright position, strapped to some sort of frame. He began to get a very bad feeling about the whole situation, and when his eyes finally focused it became much worse.

"We were wondering how long it would take you to regain consciousness," the very strange looking man in front of him said.

Whatever was going on, Richie was sure it had something to do with the Stargate. Most military personnel did not go around dressed as if they had just stepped out of the "Mummy's Curse", and they most definitely didn't have golden eyes.

"Who are you supposed to be, King Tut?" Richie retreated to his smart mouth for cover.

For a moment the man just stared at him, and then he smiled. The long fangs he revealed did nothing to calm Richie's disquiet. Then reality took a left turn as the man's eyes glowed white almost obscuring all but the pupil.

"I am Shu, Lion god, master of the dry air, son of Ra" Richie had decided it was a creature not a man, "and I find you most interesting. You heal with a speed unknown before in your kind, and with such completeness as to be almost miraculous. Yes, I find you very interesting indeed."

The Immortal went cold. This thing knew at least part of his secret, and it didn't look as if it was being friendly about the matter.

"I will know the extent of these healing powers," Shu continued, "and if you are satisfactory you will be given the greatest gift of all. You will be made a god."

For some reason Richie didn't find that comforting at all. For the first time he noted a smaller man off to the left, and this individual was eyeing him up and down like a piece of meet.

"Find out all you can, Amar," Shu told the man, "and be careful with him: he is a valuable prize."

"Of course, Master," the man responded and almost prostrated himself on the floor.

Shu, whatever he really was turned and strode out of the room. Richie didn't like the look in Amar's eye as he walked up to him. The man picked up a knife from a table beside the frame to which the Immortal was tied, and Richie knew he wasn't about to carve an apple.

"Now we shall find out just how well, and how fast you heal," Amar said coldly, and lifted the knife.

"Y'know there are easier ways to get answers than this," Richie tried desperately. "I will tell you how well I heal."

"And how would I know if you were lying?" Amar's reply was so logical as to be ice cold.

At some point most of Richie's clothes had been removed, there was nothing stopping the blade as Amar pushed it against the bare skin of the Immortal's chest. The first wound was shallow, and Richie just grunted at the pain, but the second was deeper, and the third deeper still--by then Richie was screaming.

Time was measured in how many different forms of pain Amar chose to inflict. There had been the knife, flames, some sort of energy Richie had never seen before. As the minutes crawled by each successive torture became worse, and the Immortal's wracked body took longer to heal. Nothing seemed to be beyond Amar's twisted imagination, and yet he went about his work like a scientist, noting things as he worked. At one point he had been about to cut off several fingers to see what happened, but Richie's vehement promises that it would be permanent stopped him. It was only later that he finally made a mistake.

Amar was testing the combination of knife wound and quarterisation and the knife slipped: he cut too far and Richie felt the cold, welcoming embrace of death.

Shu stood in front of Amar, his eyes flaming. The body of the slave hung limply from the x frame, eyes closed in death, and Amar trembled beside it. It had taken the Jaffa on guard less than a minute to report Amar's mistake, and Shu had wasted no time in appearing.

"You killed him you fool," Shu raged. "The most interesting find in centuries and you killed him. To revive him could damage the experiment."

"I am sorry, master," Amar tried to get out his excuses, but Shu was not about to listen.

"You have failed me, Priest," he spat coldly, "and I do not accept failure."

Shu held out his arm, and the errant priest looked on the crystal in his palm with terror.

"It is time to die, Amar," he said mercilessly.

The energy ripped out of the device like a ribbon and touched Amar's head: instantly the man began to scream. Shu bared his fangs in a snarl and turned the full force of his personal weapon on the priest. First the man's skin became dry and wrinkled like parchment, flaking off where his hands reached desperately to his face. Then his eyeballs shrivelled, caving in on themselves as his cry rose as a warning to others who might fail their god. All the fatty tissue of his body began to disappear, and his clothes started to hang loosely on a frame close to a skeleton. His fingernails turned yellow and cracked, and the muscles and tendon in his body began to crumble. His scream died as his lungs and larynx ceased to function and slowly what was left of him fell in on itself. As it did so it turned to dust.

Shu stared at his handiwork for a few seconds and then turned his back on it.

"Clean up this mess," he ordered the nearest Jaffa.

He was annoyed, no more than annoyed, very angry. The new human specimen had seemed so promising, and he had been looking forward to taking the advantage over his royal cousins. Now he would have to start again and find a new specimen. Shu moved to leave the disaster behind him and then he heard something. With lightening speed he turned on the spot and looked at the captive. Shu was amazed, the human was breathing, and there had been no outside help what so ever. As the Goa'uld realised the truth of the situation he began to laugh.

Changing hosts was not something a Goa'uld did often, or without serious thought, but this chance was far too good to ignore.

"Prepare him for implantation," he ordered quickly, "today your god becomes truly invulnerable."

The rescue was a relatively simple plan with little or no subtlety. SG-3 and SG-7 would go through first, taking positions and laying down covering fire. SG-1 plus Methos were the rescue party, being the only ones who knew the truth, and whilst battle was joined they would attempt to locate and remove Richie from Goa'uld hands. How to find him would be a problem solved once they were on the other planet in one piece.

In their arrogance the Goa'uld had not expected an attack. They had increased the guard on the Stargate slightly, but the armour of the four Jaffa killed in the attack on SGC had provided enough of a disguise to secure the position. Reinforcements soon arrived, but by that time SG-1 were long gone.

"Y'know I have a bad feeling about this," Methos said as the group moved towards the temple. "Diversionary tactics don't usually work unless the enemy is really stupid."

"Well we have to look for him somewhere," O'Neill countered, "and this is about the likeliest place as any."

"I didn't say we had any other choice," Methos shot back, "I just said I have a bad feeling."

Carter just glared at him. The Immortal was carrying a gun and his sword, which looked rather strange in conjunction with the camouflage gear he had borrowed. Unfortunately for the group his words were somewhat prophetic. They crept towards the outer wall of the large structure and suddenly, out of the undergrowth, like so many ghosts, seven lion helmeted Jaffa appeared.

"We're in trouble," was all O'Neill could say.

Okay, so being thrown at the feet of a beautiful woman might be some guys idea of a good time, but Methos had to side with the fact that it was a bad idea when that woman was a homicidal maniac. Tefnut had taken residence in one of the large halls of what could only be described as a fairytale castle, and there were lion Jaffa everywhere. What had happened to Richie and where Shu might be were both questions the ancient Immortal would rather have answered sooner than later.

In her favour, Tefnut was an incredibly beautiful specimen of the human species. She was the kind of woman who would have made super models grind their teeth in envy. She had a main of jet-black hair which was platted ornately over her scalp and hung in long tresses down her back. The golden headdress that she wore to frame her exquisite face was of the finest craftsmanship and if Methos had been in a whimsical mood he might almost have believed he could hear the lioness roar. The ancient Immortal would also have been letting his own gender down if he hadn't noticed just how few clothes she was wearing. Inside, away from the temperate climate of whatever planet they were on, the air was warm, and the Goddess of moisture was clothed only in a bejewelled bikini and light silk skirts which did nothing to hide her shapely legs.

As the prisoners were thrown to their knees at the base of her throne she looked at them with cold golden eyes. The smile that adorned her face gave her expression no warmth, and her gaze chilled Methos' soul.

"Ah, the invaders," she said, her voice edged with Goa'uld power. "A rescue party, how touching."

She walked down the steps of the dais on which her throne stood and wandered around the prisoners. Watching her could have had fatal consequences, but Methos still had to clamp down on all his instincts to keep his eyes towards the front. Losing sight of Tefnut was something that made the Immortal very nervous.

"How is it you managed to cause Apophis so much trouble?" her voice was as cold at her stare, and the only emotion it contained was amusement. "Your motives are so transparent."

She wandered back into Methos' line of vision and he watched her surreptitiously. Tefnut was every bit the Goddess.

"I must admit that your defeat of Apophis was impressive," she continued as if she had no intention of ever stopping, "but we, unlike the Serpent Lord, think before we act. You will feel the retribution of the Lion Gods."

She moved up one step on the dais and put her hands on her hips, sweeping her gaze over the prisoners. Methos made sure his eyes were down when she came to him. The last thing he needed was to be noticed.

"The question is how should I kill you," the amusement was gone from Tefnut's voice; she was deadly serious now.

There was absolutely no doubt in Methos' mind that this Goa'uld had no compassion what so ever. Her tone only went to confirm that he was listening to something that couldn't even conceive of a conscience, let alone have one.

"I could have you thrown in a cell and leave you to starve to death," she pondered aloud. "Or I could have you tortured in the market place as an example to others who would consider rebellion."

She paused and Methos took the chance of peering up at her again. She had a thoughtful expression on her face; she really was trying to decide how to execute them all. This wasn't a game; it was very real.

"Then again, maybe I should just kill you now," she said and a malicious smile curved her lips upwards. "How would you like to watch as I kill you one by one ... and you'll never know who I'll choose next?"

She moved off the step onto the main floor once more.

"But who to choose first," she said, and Tefnut was playing games.

Methos kept his eyes firmly on the floor; if she chose him they were in real trouble. Two Immortals in Goa'uld hands was a very bad scenario.

"Maybe the woman," Tefnut mused as much to herself as everyone else. "Or should I let you watch the Jaffa die first? You haven't seen anything quite so entertaining until you've seen a Jaffa without his larva."

"Lady, whatever you're gonna do, just get on and do it," O'Neill growled, which wasn't much of a surprise to Methos.

The Immortal knew if anyone would try and attract Tefnut's wrath it would be the Colonel. Surprisingly enough his attempt to annoy her enough to focus her anger didn't quite work. The Goa'uld laughed.

"You would dare to speak in my presence?" she said, amusement tinged with surprise in her voice.

"I'll speak where the hell I please," Jack returned and Methos heard the thud of a Jaffa staff on flesh as the Colonel was rewarded for his impertinence.

"You must think me a fool if you believe you can goad me into a choice of victim," Tefnut said and her tone was once again emotionless. "For that you will see at least one of your comrades die, maybe even all of them, and at some point I will kill you the most slowly of all."

She moved closer to them all, and Methos began silently praying to any and all gods that might hear him as she stood next to him. The ancient Immortal was not afraid to die, but the fact that he probably wouldn't was what worried him.

"You," she said coldly, and stopped in front of Daniel. "You have a face full of knowledge, and knowledge is dangerous. I shall kill you first."

As Tefnut reached out her left hand with its ornate, but deadly ribbon device, Methos saw O'Neill move out of the corner of his eye. The leader of SG-1 didn't even get two feet as a Jaffa hit him over the back of the head with his staff. The Colonel dropped like a stone and didn't move. Tefnut just looked down at him.

"Trying to spoil my entertainment will make his death all the more painful," she said coldly. "Oh well, I'm sure I can save at least one of you for when he wakes up, but I tire of this game. Prepare to die, human."

Her hand moved a second time, and then Methos felt the presence of another Immortal.

"Wait," said a familiar, but horribly distorted voice.

Methos' blood froze as he saw the figure which had just entered the hall behind the thrones. The blonde hair and boyish features were still the same, but that was about all the ancient Immortal recognised about Richie. Emotionless golden eyes flicked over Methos as he stared, and as his one time friend smiled long fangs were revealed. Tefnut for her part looked slightly annoyed at the interruption, but as the newcomer smiled her expression softened slightly. Richie was wearing a short Egyptian style skirt, an ornate collar, and the headdress of two feathers. His skin had been oiled, and he was armed with a ribbon device. With complete certainty, Methos knew he was looking at Shu, god of the dry air.

"I did not mean to upset you, my love," the Goa'uld said calmly and walked further into the room, "forgive me for interrupting."

Methos knew the skilful handling of a psychopath when he saw one, and he wasn't quite sure if he was pleased with this new arrangement. At the plea for forgiveness Tefnut caved, and she smiled back at what had once been Richie.

"Shu, my darling," she said sweetly, "you I would forgive anything."

It might all have been romantic if it hadn't been for the fact that it was two alien parasites talking to each other in stolen bodies. Methos tried to hide any emotion, and prayed that he was not about to be singled out.

"I have an alternative suggestion," Shu said, and walked up to his consort. "I believe it may be wise to save the prisoners. Their deaths will be of much more use to us if our brethren witness it. It would not hurt for the others to know that we succeeded where Apophis failed."

Methos didn't quite believe it, but Tefnut almost pouted. The only way the ancient Immortal could describe her was a spoilt child.

"My love," Shu said and reached out his hand to touch the woman's face, "it pains me to see you so disappointed. Maybe if you just keep one."

It was as if they were talking about toys, not sentient beings. The Goa'uld's eyes swung across the prisoners and settled on Methos.

"That one is not really part of this group," Shu said evenly, "and is therefore of no value to us. I am sure you could amuse yourself with him."

Tefnut's eyes brightened as she too stared at Methos, and the Immortal felt like a slave in the market.

"I would kill him now," the woman said coldly and went to move forward, but Shu caught her arm.

He leant towards her with a conspiratorial grin and whispered something in her ear. Her face went from passive to smiling brightly as Shu spoke to her. Methos definitely didn't like that expression, especially when it was directed towards him.

"You have such wonderful ideas, beloved," Tefnut said brightly.

Without even pausing she barked some orders at the Jaffa and Methos found himself being dragged in the opposite direction to his comrades. Shu had made no mention of Immortality, of Methos being the same as Richie, or anything that would suggest he even knew the truth. Possibilities kept going round in the ancient man's head, and most of them were not good. Even as he was dragged to his unknown destination, the last thing he saw before the door closed behind him was Shu kissing Tefnut.

Tefnut watched her husband as he moved around their private apartments as if exploring them for the first time. She had never seen Shu so affected by a new host, but in a way it made her happy.

"Beloved, this new body pleases you?" she enquired.

Shu turned to her and smiled.

"Beyond words," he told her and walked to where she lounged on a couch. "He is strong and virile. I have not felt this alive in centuries."

He took her hand and she smiled as he kissed her fingers. He moved up her arm slowly, placing his lips a few millimetres up each time.

"There is desire in this body you would not believe," he told her.

She let him kiss her, savouring the taste of the new host and then she broke away. Her own passions could be roused quite easily, but today there were other needs.

"Should we not oversee the repulsion of the Tau'ri, my love," she purred in his ear. "War and then passion."

Shu's smile grew wider as if considering her proposal, but then he caught her under the chin and looked straight into her eyes. His golden irises almost sparkled, and she could not fail to see the desire they contained.

"Let the soldiers worry about the humans," he said and growled at her quietly. "They will be defeated soon, and then we shall enjoy the destruction of any survivors. I want to feel this new body as it caresses my beloved, and then I want to plan some executions."

Tefnut leant into him as he ran his hand down her breastbone. She could control her passion only so far, and Shu's argument was convincing. She let a growl rumble in the back of her throat and curled her lip to reveal her long fangs. After millennia Shu knew just how to react to his wife, and he seized her by the shoulders. He pulled her into a fierce embrace, and kissed her hard on the lips. She responded by running her long sharp nails down his back. She savoured the taste of the new host for a while, enjoying the different feel of this extraordinary male body. On impulse she pulled out of the deep kiss slightly, and quite deliberately sank one fang into the soft lips, which caressed hers. The metallic taste of blood ran into her mouth even as Shu pulled back in surprise.

Tefnut smiled at her beloved and watched fascinated, as the small puncture mark on his lip vanished as fast as she had created it. She laughed, her wonder sparking a new wave of desire. Shu's surprised expression turned into a smile as he looked back at her, and then he pushed her down onto the couch.

Methos was not exactly feeling sorry for himself: the puzzle that was Shu was far too interesting for that, but the Immortal was slightly worried. The ancient man had been dragged to a holding cell, and chained to the wall. He had no idea what his captors had planned for him, and he had been trying to figure out a way in which he could avoid it. It was the fact that Shu didn't seem to know any of the details of his own Immortality that really had Methos' attention. Why the Goa'uld had not denounced Methos for what he was, and for that matter didn't seem to have any idea of the Immortal call sign, were the questions that plagued the oldest living of them all.

If Shu really was ignorant of the truth then it was possible that Methos might get out of this situation with his head. The way to freedom might be very unpleasant, and dying would probably be on the list of things that would happen in between, but it was nothing the ancient Immortal couldn't cope with. He had been pondering these ideas most of the night right up until the point when his royal visitor had arrived.

Shu entered the cell closely flanked by a Jaffa, and just stood there staring at his prisoner. If anything it was the golden eyes which bothered Methos the most; they appeared empty as if where the soul should have been there was nothing. It was an eerie feeling and one that the Immortal did not like.

"How do you like the accommodations?" the Goa'uld finally chose to speak.

Methos decided silence was the better course of action, and just seethed quietly at the alien thing in front of him. Standing up all night chained to a wall was not Methos' idea of fun, but he could think of worse things, and he really didn't want to start a verbal war with the enemy.

"Not full of bravado like your Colonel?" Shu jibed with a superior smile.

"Just better at controlling my tongue," Methos couldn't help himself, which he found quite ironic considering what he chose to say.

Shu laughed at him and stepped closer.

"We have great plans for you," the Goa'uld told him as if Methos really wanted to know, "you will draw quite a crowd in the market place when you are executed. Tefnut wishes to kill you herself, and my Queen is very good at what she does. I always find it best to indulge her whims."

The Immortal bit his tongue to keep the comment that jumped into his head finding verbalisation.

"But before I let her have you I would like to talk to you," Shu continued and then turned to his guard. "Wait outside," he instructed.

The royal Goa'uld went back to staring at his prisoner as the Jaffa did as he was instructed. The superior behaviour of the creature that wore his friend's body was beginning to annoy Methos, so he stared right back. It was probably not the most sensible of actions, but he was tired, and Shu seemed to find it amusing anyway. The arrogance in the face that looked at him just basically pissed him off.

Then as the door shut something changed. Methos had to blink to make sure he wasn't imagining things and he stared at Shu for a long moment and the Goa'uld stared back in silence. Something wasn't quite right here.

"You know you're slipping, Old Man," Shu said suddenly.

It took a moment to realise that the Goa'uld's tone had changed completely and then an idea slowly resolved in Methos' mind. He couldn't quite believe what he was thinking, but he had to find out.

"Richie?" he asked slowly.

"The very same," his friend replied, and actually smiled. "Some rescue party you turned out to be."

Suspicion was Methos' immediate reaction, and he narrowed his eyes at the other Immortal.

"Is this your idea of a game?" he said tersely.

"No game," the Goa'uld replied. "If I ever get a handle on what's happened I will explain it, but let's just say I think it was bad when larva met Immortal."

He sounded so much like Richie, and the expression he was wearing definitely wasn't Shu's. Methos actually let himself hope.

"What happened?" he asked, not quite willing to trust just yet.

"I don't really remember," Richie told him with what looked like total honesty. "They dragged me off to some ritual chamber, tied me down and Shu transferred into me. I panicked like you would not believe, I felt him try to take over, and then everything gets really hazy. The next thing I knew I was lying in the royal apartments with Tefnut hovering by my side. It's funny, but I knew exactly how I was supposed to react, what I was supposed to do. It's like Shu's memory is part of me, but whatever was actually him is toast."

Methos looked thoughtfully at his companion for a moment.

"I suppose it is possible," he said slowly.

His mind continued to muse on the problem, but he didn't voice any of the thoughts.

"Well I figured you guys would like to get off this planet," Richie said to fill in the gap, "so I thought I'd come find you. It shouldn't be too difficult to get out of here with a royal escort."

"What about Tefnut?" the question sprang to Methos' lips before he really thought about it.

"She shouldn't be up for another couple of hours," Richie replied, "it was a long night."

The older Immortal stared at his companion after that comment and watched as Richie's cheeks slowly coloured.

"Isn't that usually known as fraternising with the enemy?" Methos asked with a dead straight face.

The cell was relatively small compared to the one Daniel and the others had seen in their last stay as Goa'uld prisoners. There was a stone lip around the inside of the room, and SG-1 was sat around trying to come up with something like a plan. Ever since O'Neill had recovered from his blow to the head, they'd been talking. Daniel wasn't very impressed with the amount of useful ideas they had between them, but he also realised that saying so wouldn't do them any good.

"But we can't just go back, even if we do escape," Carter pointed out firmly. "We have to make sure that Shu is destroyed and none of the other Goa'uld find out about what happened. If any of them even suspect there may be more like Richie on earth they won't stop until they've found them."

"Which means we have to find Adam too," Jack said with an annoyed shake of his head.

"But how do you stop someone who's Immortal?" Daniel asked dejectedly, they'd been in some pretty bad situations before, but this was right up there with one of the worst.

"I don't know," O'Neill spat back in his frustration. "Drop a mountain on them or something like that."

They'd been stuck in the cell all night, and there didn't seem to be any way out. No one had bothered to feed them; it didn't appear that the Goa'uld believed in a last meal for the condemned. Daniel knew they would have to attract attention some how, but doing so without getting themselves killed straight away was not going to be easy.

Their planning was interrupted by some loud noises from just outside the door.

"Okay, okay, I'm going aren't I," came an unhappy complaint, "no need to shove."

The door opened and the sight of a ruffled but seemingly otherwise undamaged Adam being half thrown through the opening backed up the evidence of Daniel's ears. Following closely on his heels was a Jaffa with the markings of Shu on his forehead and an evil looking staff weapon in his hand. The warrior took up a position just to the left of the door, poised should anyone dare to move. As the next figure appeared in the doorway the reason for the Jaffa's vigilance became obvious, and Daniel had to stifle the thoughts running through his head from leaving his mouth.

The archaeologist barely recognised Richie in the full regalia of a royal Goa'uld and the gaze that scanned the room showed no warmth and only cursory recognition. Daniel couldn't say he'd had much time to really get to know the Immortal before everything had gone straight to hell, but the creature in the doorway wasn't even close to the person he had briefly known. Shu's peculiar taste in altering his host's eyes and teeth made Richie seem all the more alien and on his left hand was a ribbon device and each finger guard was tipped with a black claw.

Daniel couldn't help but stare and he knew his contempt and hatred were probably showing in his face. He'd never been good at hiding his emotions, and as this Goa'uld walked further into the room it was no different. This was the same kind of monster that had taken Shauri from him twice, and if it had been within his power he would have tried to kill it with his bare hands. This was Shu, and Daniel removed Richie from his mind. Behind the parasite was yet another Jaffa, but this one was not heavily armed, in fact he appeared to be acting as a beast of burden.

Shu flicked his hand and the vassal behind him placed the box he had been carrying down on the floor. It was at that point that the morning became that little bit stranger. Shu reached out and to Daniel's surprise as well as that of the Jaffa in question took his servant's staff weapon.

"Leave," he said coldly, "and close the door."

The Jaffa whose weapon Shu had taken looked very startled.

"But, Master," were the only words he uttered before Shu turned on him.

The Goa'uld's eyes were white with anger, and he did not look at all pleased.

"Are you questioning me," Shu said very slowly and deliberately.

His left hand came up a small way with every word, and the Jaffa's expression went from surprise to terror.

"No," he spluttered.

"Get out, and if I see you again before sundown I will have you both killed," Shu said and turned away from his escorts as if dismissing them from his mind.

The two Jaffa no longer hesitated and vanished through the door, letting it slam shut behind them.

Daniel, as the other members of SG-1, was looking astonished, and for a few seconds nobody moved. The tableau was broken by what had to have been probably the most unexpected thing that Daniel could have thought of. Shu handed the staff weapon to Adam and freed of the burden used his right hand to rub the back of his neck.

"Man, these people need a lesson in fashion," he said and his voice was perfectly normal.

Daniel just let his mouth drop open, and he could see all the others in equally obvious modes of shock. The archaeologist looked at Adam who grinned back.

"Unexpected isn't he," the Immortal said almost as if they weren't on a foreign planet at peril for their very lives.

"But how?" Sam was the only one to voice the question.

"Shu and I had an argument over whose body this was and I won," Richie told her with an irreverence Daniel had heard before. "Playing god really isn't my style, so I figured you guys might like to get out of here."

"But you are Goa'uld," Teal'c pointed out what they had all seen.

"Ten out of ten to the man in the corner," Richie replied, "but after you've been possessed by a demon, an alien is a push over. Right now I think we should leave before Sef't decides to tell my beloved sister he's just left me in here on my own."

The Immortal turned quickly and flipped open the box behind him.

"Guns, ammo, and everything else the Jaffa confiscated," he told them. "Your backup teams were forced back through the gate a few hours ago, but as long as we don't bump into Tefnut, no one is going to try and stop me, no matter who's with me. Shu has a reputation for being erratic anyway."

Daniel followed the others as everyone slowly climbed to their feet, and he could tell they were all reticent. The shock over, practicalities were going through all minds. They didn't trust Richie, no matter what he was doing for them. Daniel was right with them on that point: Goa'ulds were trouble, and there were no exceptions. Daniel didn't know Richie well enough to be able to tell if he was really acting like Richie, he appeared to be trying to help them, but Tefnut at least had been shown to have a warped idea of fun, which could mean that anything was going on.

"You'll forgive us if we don't take anything you say at face value," O'Neill said as Richie turned back from the box.

The young Immortal looked a little unhappy at the statement, but he seemed to understand it. He took a deep breath, and Daniel was a little perturbed to see a momentary flash of white behind the man's eyes. This person really wasn't human anymore, he was the same irreverent young man who had walked into Daniel's apartment, and yet he wasn't at the same time.

"Look," Richie said slowly, "I know you don't trust me. Believe me I know all about Goa'uld games. I know I look like an extra from Cats, but I am on your side. I can't explain how I defeated Shu, I can't even tell you exactly what's going on in my head right now, but I do suggest we get out of here as fast as possible. Look at it this way, those guns are loaded, this staff works, so at least you have a fighting chance. Staying here you are all dead."

"That is true," Teal'c observed as calmly as ever.

O'Neill and Richie stood there looking at each other in silence for a moment. Daniel knew Jack was weighing the odds, and the archaeologist realised with unhappy certainty that there was only one decision.

"Okay," the Colonel said finally, "we move out. You step out of line just once and I'll fill you full of holes. I know it won't kill you for long, but I'll make sure it hurts like hell."

Richie looked surprised and Daniel realised that Adam must not have had time to fill his companion in on how much SG-1 knew.

"I told them," the dark haired Immortal stepped in quickly. "This place was off limits until the gravity of the situation was made clear."

"Put that at the top of my 'I thought it would never happen list'," Richie shot back.

That comment might even have been worth a smile if it hadn't of been a Goa'uld saying it. The presence of an alien parasite really put humour off the menu for Daniel. The younger Immortal glanced around the room, as if taking in the faces of his companions for the first time. When his eyes reached Daniel the archaeologist felt as if he was somehow being assessed, he just stared right on back.

"Okay," he agreed, "I go wacko, you shoot me, fine, but to get out of this we need rules. First play prisoners, look dejected, beaten and hide the guns. I'll carry the second staff, if we run into trouble I'll give it to Teal'c. If we meet anyone I'll do any talking necessary, me they'll listen to, you they'll blast into a million pieces."

Daniel watched Jack look at Teal'c who just raised an eyebrow.

"It would seem a logical course of action," the Jaffa replied.

"Great, good, can we go now?" Richie appeared to have an impatient streak which came shining through.

"Okay, now that's the Richie I've come to expect," Adam said, and Daniel had to adjust to the man not just being his grad friend as the Immortal leant past the others to pick up his sword.

Richie hadn't been lying when he'd told the others he wasn't sure what was going on in his head. Ever since Shu had tried to take over his body he'd had a weird second take on the world. At first Shu had tried to squash Richie's will and supplant the control of his physical form, but the Immortal had fought back. Blind panic had taken over as the alien had attached himself to his system and no matter how had he tried, he couldn't remember anything that had happened.

When he had come to himself Shu, as an entity had been gone, which was the only plus Richie could see in the current situation. There was no battle going on inside him, there was just a strange dual knowledge. He knew what Shu had known, or at least part of it. He knew how to behave, what to say, how to use Goa'uld technology. In fact, Richie knew how to be Shu, he could even empathise with the way the alien had thought. His original persona overrode the desires of the Goa'uld, but Richie still knew what they were. He was almost sure there were gaps, things that had been lost in whatever had happened, but most of it was there.

It was almost like stepping into another skin when he became Shu, when he let himself pretend to be the alien parasite. He let Goa'uld instincts rule his actions with his human awareness sitting in the background. It was strange, he had woken in what should have been a terrifying situation, and yet he hadn't panicked at all, in fact he had simply turned it to his own advantage.

At first he had just let things happen, allowed himself to adjust to the new things, and then he had taken control. He had all but seduced Tefnut, and that was one of the things that really bothered him. It wasn't the fact that he had used her that was the problem, when death was the alternative certain actions were admissible, but what he had felt whilst doing it worried him. He really had desired her, even felt a strange sense of love, as if experiencing the echo of what Shu would have felt.

Richie was more than a little confused, but as the party strode through the palace nothing showed on the outside. SG-1 were showing themselves to be very good actors, and nobody gave them more than a passing glance. That Shu was escorting prisoners on his own may have been strange, but people who wanted to live didn't question a Goa'uld, and they were left alone. Sneaking around back passages was not what a royal Goa'uld was prone to doing, and so Richie lead them through the main hallways. Eventually he had no choice but to take them into a part of the building where Tefnut might actually see them. Fate was yet again, against the party and as they entered one of the main antechambers Tefnut appeared with two Jaffa, one of them being Sef't.

"Beloved, what are you doing?" the female Goa'uld asked, frowning at the now still party.

Richie let a smile wander across his face and strode towards her as if nothing was wrong.

"Planning, my darling," he said and gallantly kissed her hand. "I woke this morning with the desire to find you a host such as mine."

He slipped a hand under her arm and steered her away from her guards.

"I did not wish the Jaffa to hear of the plan," he told her conspiratorially, "you never know when one will be captured and tortured to gain information. This discovery is ours to share, and no one else's. This power shall be ours to do with as we wish."

Tefnut looked over at the prisoners who were still doing a good impression of being beaten.

"They are the key," Richie continued calmly, "the key to Earth. Our last strategy did not work, but maybe we were too hasty. What we need are puppets whose masters will not see the strings. The humans shall be our game pieces and they shall open their world for us. Never let it be said that the Lion Gods are not cunning."

Tefnut was beginning to appear a lot happier with the situation. The plan sounded plausible, and it was obvious she liked the idea of having her own invulnerable body. The race for power always outweighed other considerations in Goa'uld life, and Tefnut was no different. She wandered towards the prisoners, leaving Richie to the task he had had in mind in the first place. Tefnut could be dangerous, but the greatest hazards in the room were the two Jaffa. With a slight nod at Methos, Richie revealed his true colours. His left hand shot up and an energy wave flew across the room. Sef't and his companion were flung backwards, and Sef't at least did not get up again when he hit the wall. A single shot from the staff finished off the Jaffa who refused to stay down.

Tefnut was staring at Richie in horror when he finished his task, and by the time she glanced at the so-called prisoners they were all brandishing weapons.

"Why?" she asked almost desperately.

She obviously thought of treachery from her fellow Goa'uld. She looked like a woman scorned, and Richie suspected she had no inkling of what had really happened.

"We have ruled together for millennia," she entreated him, "why abandon me now."

"Shu is gone," Richie said evenly, "you are appealing to nothing. Playing with things you do not understand will get you killed."

If the Immortal had thought Tefnut appeared horrified before, the new expression on her face made that emotion look pale in comparison. She seemed caught between disbelief, rage and terror, but her emotions slowly coalesced into a hard, cold shell of anger.

"I will have you dissected," she said icily. "Shu will be returned to me."

Richie found himself laughing despite the situation. With totally certainty he knew that even if she had been in the position to carry out her threat, it would not do her any good.

"You weren't listening," the Immortal told her almost as coldly as she had, "I didn't say I dominated him I said Shu was gone. He played with fire, it destroyed him, and now we're leaving."

The disbelief was back on Tefnut's face: she seemed frozen. Her Goa'uld sensibilities just couldn't deal with the idea Richie had thrown at her. That her brother's will could have been overcome was almost inconceivable, but that he could be gone forever didn't seem to be in her mindset at all.

"What do we do with her?" Carter asked as SG-1 finally mobilised.

Tefnut looked stunned and empty, Richie didn't think any of his companions would have the heart to kill her.

"We take her with us," O'Neill said eventually. "The game plan has changed, we're leaving here using a royal hostage as passage."

Richie couldn't help but feel relief at the Colonel's decision. On an academic level he knew she was a monster, but in his heart he still felt for her. Maybe back on Earth there may be hope for her yet. The new strategy would bring them into direct conflict with the forces between them and the gate, but deception was not really an option any more. Sooner or later someone would find out what had happened, and this way they had a much better chance.

"Two royal hostages," Richie pointed out and handed Teal'c the staff weapon.

"Yeah well we'd better confiscate those pretty bangles then," O'Neill pointed out, and held out his hand for Richie's only remaining weapon.

Out of the corner of his eye the Immortal saw Carter step towards Tefnut, and he saw his sister goddess move. With a cry of fury the female Goa'uld turned on the Major bringing up her own weapon before the human could react.

"You will all die," she yelled, and energy ripped out at Carter.

Sam screamed the moment it touched her, and Richie knew the woman was dead if he didn't get there immediately. Almost instantaneously, horrible black and green blotches appeared on the Major's skin, there was no time to lose. Forced into action the Immortal never hesitated and he turned, pushing Carter out of the way. Tefnut's power turned on him, but even as the corruption touched his skin it vanished almost as quickly as it appeared. His Immortal body was an easy match for the death touch that Tefnut dealt.

The woman was engulfed in a rage so great nothing could possibly reach her, she had to be stopped or she would destroy everyone. Richie's own hand came up and even as her power poured into him so his poured into her. Within a few seconds she began to scream herself.

There was shock in her eyes as her skin began to flake from her body, and Richie almost stopped, but at least this way she would die quickly. He locked his eyes with hers and turned every ounce of power he had on her. In seconds Tefnut, Goddess of moisture and Daughter of Ra was a dried out husk. Richie couldn't bring himself to destroy her completely. Turning her into a pile of dust was not something he could do to a woman that part of himself had loved for so long and he released her body to fall to the ground.

For a long moment Richie just stood there unable to take his eyes off what he had done, and then a hand touched his shoulder. He looked round to see Methos' understanding face, and Richie knew he wasn't alone. With the back of one hand he reached up and wiped away the single tear running down his cheek.

"Back to plan A," O'Neill said shortly.

Richie turned to see Daniel holding the staff weapon, Teal'c carrying an unconscious Carter in his arms, and O'Neill looking very stern.

"We have to get Sam back to Frasier as quickly as possible," Jack stated firmly, "and that means now."

There was noise from the other side of the room, and all turned to see Sef't on his feet, staff in hand. Every SG-1 member who could raised a gun.

"Wait," Richie said quickly. Grief would have to wait, for now there were other priorities.

With a purpose he didn't think he had left Richie strode across the room towards the armed Jaffa. At he suspected Sef't did not fire, the man was unsure of what to do, and Richie stopped a few feet from him.

"Your gods are dead," the Immortal stated coldly and looked the Jaffa directly in the eye. "You can serve the new order or you can die. It is your choice."

It was an emotionless ultimatum and Richie drew on all his empathy with what was left of Shu to give it. Inside the Immortal was a bit of a mess, but as far as the world could see he was as cool as ice. Sef't looked shocked at the words, but slowly he brought his staff back to its vertical position.

"Good," Richie said evenly, "now we're going to the Stargate."

The deception was easy enough; Shu with prisoners and a Lion Guard were not challenged as they strode towards the gate. Richie walked up to the DHD barely looking at the guards who flanked it. He was met by a priest who bowed to him reverently as he calmly surveyed the podium.

"It is time to send the Tau'ri a message," Richie said coldly: his voice reverberating with Goa'uld power. "I will have them recognise the superiority of the Lion Gods. Open the Chaappa'ai onto their world: I have a gift for them."

The priest obeyed without question and the Stargate began to spin into life. Richie ignored Shu's minions completely and watched the gate impassively.

"Chau'va," he said evenly as the wormhole erupted from the portal, "take the woman through to the other side. Her end will come quickly compared to yours. Remember your Gods when you feel the pain of the traitor's death. Tell the Tau'ri to fear my name."

Teal'c simply stared ahead until Sef't poked him in the back with his staff weapon. Richie had to admire the Jaffa: he was a good actor. Slowly the large man stepped up to the Stargate. Sam had been carrying the code generator and it was Teal'c's job to send SG-1's signal. They had planned their exit through the Stargate carefully and Richie waited for the Jaffa to finish his task. As Teal'c calmly stepped through the gate it was time to forget the charade.

Richie spun away from the priest towards the two Lion Jaffa guarding the gate. He spared them only a cursory thought as he brought up his hand and sent them flying backwards. Ignoring the helpless priest SG-1 and their companions charged towards the gate and ran through the wormhole just before it shut down.

Even though they had given the correct signal the SGC were taking no chances, and as the team materialised on Earth they found themselves surrounded by armed marines. Teal'c was standing very still at the top of the ramp.

"We need a medic now!" were the first words out of O'Neill's mouth.

One look at Carter's face, covered in green and black lines told Richie that she was going to die. Tefnut had gone too far with the damage, and the Immortal knew, without knowing quite how that modern medicine would not be able to save her. As a medial team arrived and Teal'c deposited his burden onto the gurney they brought with them, something stirred at the back of Richie's mind.

It was the first time he had run across one of the blanks he had from his joining with Shu, but he knew he had to act. However, he wasn't on a Goa'uld dominated planet at the moment, and the second he so much as moved a muscle where he stood on the gate ramp, six machine guns focused their attention on him. At danger Richie's eyes flared, but he fought down the need to react.

At the sound of guns O'Neill turned from where he had been anxiously watching Dr Frasier with Sam. Richie knew this was his one and only chance to help Carter and he took it.

"She's dying," he said evenly, "she'll be dead in ten minutes if they don't let me past."

Jack looked slightly undecided, some of Richie's behaviour had been very strange and the Colonel had obviously noticed. He glanced to where Frasier was doing the fastest preliminary examination she had ever managed, and when the doctor's head came up their eyes met. She didn't look hopeful. Jack turned his attention to the higher authority of Hammond standing in the command centre.

"He's on our side, sir," O'Neill finally said.

"Let him through to Major Carter," Hammond ordered almost immediately.

The guns didn't lower, these marines weren't fools, but they did clear a path to the gurney. Richie walked down the ramp slowly trying to seem as unthreatening as possible. This was difficult being in full Goa'uld regalia, but he did his best.

"Excuse me," he said with a tone much calmer than the way he felt.

Dr Frasier obviously knew a dying patient when she saw one, and knowing she couldn't save Sam she stepped aside with only a slightly worried glance at Richie. Not quite sure what he was doing, but knowing that he had to do it Richie reached up to the circlet on his head. He pulled at one of the feathers and it came away in his fingers. As he saw it in his hand he hesitated slightly, not quite sure what to do, but eventually he placed the ornament on Sam's chest.

As he brought up his left hand several of the guns rattled ... all the marines knew what had happened to the technicians, but no one fired. Acting purely on instinct now, Richie let power flow from his hand and onto the feather. At first it glowed mutely, but slowly the golden colour changed to white, making it seem almost molten. As if to prove the point it slowly began to flow and it disappeared through the gaps in Sam's clothes.

Richie really wasn't quite sure what he was doing, but it held his entire concentration. With agonising slowness he let the power flow into Carter, and her skin began to glow with the same light as the feather. The Immortal was dimly aware of the rest of the SG-1 team hovering nervously at his back, but he ignored them. Gradually the foul corruption and open sores which dotted Sam's skin began to fade. Richie lost track of time as he watched the damage heal, and it was almost hypnotising. He had no idea how long it had taken, or exactly how he knew, but Richie let the power stop as he felt it was the right time. Carter remained still on the gurney, but her breathing was even and there was no sign of illness anywhere on her.

Turning back to the soldiers the one thing that Richie noticed most was the completely astonished look on Sef't's face. The Immortal was feeling a little confused and he realised he was dizzy. He still didn't really understand what he had just done, but it had obviously taken a lot out of him. He wanted to say something to O'Neill, but as he opened his mouth he couldn't remember what it was. The world was suddenly a lot of effort, and with a vaguely surprised expression in the Colonel's direction Richie gave into an overwhelming desire to sleep.

The cover story was that the Goa'ulds had tried an experimental technique on Richie to produce his healing abilities and this technique had caused his defeat of Shu. Dr Frasier went about her examination with this idea in mind, but she was still amazed by what she found. Having an unconscious patient helped with the scans since there was no way Richie could move and screw up the imaging, but it meant Dr Frasier had to be forever vigilant of him waking up.

She'd given Sam a thorough examination, and the Major seemed to be well on her way to recovery. Carter was awake and although tired was very interested in everything Janet was doing, and kept asking questions. The two women had swapped hypotheses about some of the results, and at other times just bounced meaningless ideas off each other. Carter had seemed to know to whom she owed her life without being told, and Frasier noted that Sam seemed to be siding with the young man in her sick bay.

Janet looked at the computer representation of the scan she had just taken for the sixth time, and she still didn't really know what to make of it. She'd found the Goa'uld larva all right, but it didn't exactly look like it was supposed to. There was alien tissue in Ryan wrapped around the spinal column, but it was no longer the separate parasite Frasier had been expecting. Whatever had happened larva and host were no longer two separate entities that could be parted, they were the same being. The substance of the larva had actually been integrated into the spinal column and the surrounding tissue, fusing human and Goa'uld irreversibly.

"This is just incredible," Janet commented to Sam, "it's as if the larva has actually been made part of his system."

Carter was perched on a chair close to Frasier's desk, and she nodded as she looked at the scan.

"You can barely tell what it used to be," Sam agreed.

"This must be why Richie has control," Janet concluded slowly, "the larva is so far broken down that there is no neural activity to take over the host."

"But how is he still Goa'uld," Carter asked reasonably, "and how did he know everything about Shu. If the larva has been broken down, why do his eyes still glow and his voice change?"

That was a good set of questions; Frasier had to think for a moment.

"It possible that the Goa'uld attributes have actually been integrated into Richie's nervous system," she hypothesised. "As for the knowledge of Shu, it may be residual memories. If some structure still exists in the larva then memory could be maintained, but independent function may have been lost. Why they would risk such a dangerous experiment is what I want to know. I'm assuming that it is the strange energy in Richie's system which causes the healing, but why would they risk implantation with one of their highest ranking System commanders?"

Sam just ummed at that and Janet assumed she was feeling the strain again.

"Why don't you go and lie down," she suggested. "In fact I'll make that an order if you don't accept the friendly advice. You're exhausted, and nothing more interesting is going to happen here, I promise. When something does, I'll wake you."

Carter didn't look particularly happy by the suggestion, but eventually the defiant look disappeared from her eyes and her shoulders slumped.

"Okay, boss," she said and wearily climbed to her feet, "but remember your promise."

Janet just grinned and waved her away.

It seemed as if her guest was going to sleep the day away, as for four hours Frasier checked on her patient at fifteen-minute intervals. He looked so peaceful, and the only thing to remind her that he might actually be a dangerous alien was the guard on the door with his gun slung across his chest. The soldier hadn't moved a muscle in almost as long as her patient, but Janet found it impossible not to notice him. It was about four and a half hours after SG-1 had returned through the Stargate, when, as Frasier lent over Richie to check on something he moved.

The doctor took a slight step back just to be on the safe side and waited to see what would happen next. She was rewarded with a squinting gaze settling on her.

"Oh man, what hit me?" was the quite surprising question.

Janet found herself smiling at the comment.

"Welcome back," she greeted, and couldn't help but notice that suddenly there was life in action man in the corner. "Do you remember what happened?"

Her patient put his hand to his head and nodded at her.

"Yeah, I remember," he told her slowly, "gate room, Major Carter, something to do with a feather."

Frasier frowned slightly at the answer.

"You seem a little unclear on the details," she prompted.

The doctor was actually surprised to see her patient smile at that.

"I was a little unclear of the details when I did it," he told her. "I remember doing it I just couldn't explain it. What I don't remember is the guy with the jackhammer in my head trying to get out."

"Well I could give you something for that if you like," Janet offered, "but I couldn't swear to what effect it'll have."

"S'okay," Richie told her, "I'll just pray it goes away."

Frasier made a mental note that her patient's sense of humour seemed to be in place, and wondered if maybe he was hiding behind it. She hadn't exactly expected him to be in such a good mood, being kidnapped by the Goa'uld could really ruin your century.

"Other than the head, how are you feeling," the doctor asked.

"Fine," was the immediate reply.

It came a little fast to have been considered particularly hard, but for now Frasier took it at face value.

"Well if you don't mind I'd like to give you the once over now you're awake," she said. "I did some tests whilst you were asleep, but there's nothing like feedback."

Richie grinned at that, and Janet couldn't help noticing the fangs. She'd done some x-rays as well as other scans, and from what she could tell the old teeth had been removed and the new ones fused to the jawbone. She put the fangs out of her mind and turned to the task as hand. Pulling out a small light she moved close to her patient.

"Just look straight ahead," she told him with a smile, "and tell me if anything is too bright."

With practised calm Frasier waved the torch in front of her patients eyes and watched the pupils respond with incredible efficiency. The golden irises almost glowed under the light, and Janet was reminded of a vampire movie she had seen only a few weeks before. She wanted to run some more tests on those eyes, she was almost sure they had been changed more than just for aesthetic value.

"Any aches and pains?" Janet enquired as she peered at the little she could glimpse of the retina of Richie's left eye.

"Nothing really," the young man replied, "the headache's going now as well."

Frasier chalked another one up to the incredible healing powers her patient seemed to have gained. She tried a few more cursory tests, but she had to admit that he seemed to be in perfect health.

"Well I'm going to have to give you a clean bill of health," Janet said eventually.

Richie was by this time sitting with his legs over the side of the bed. The soldier in the corner had looked very nervous as soon as he'd moved, but Janet had pointedly ignored the marine's unhappy glare.

"Mind if I stand up and work out some of the kinks," the young man asked as Frasier wrote some of her findings on one of her charts, "or is he going to shoot me?"

"Marine, you're not going to shoot my patient are you?" Janet said and turned to the soldier with a perfectly formed serious expression on her face.

The man hesitated for a moment and so the doctor frowned at him.

"No, ma'am," he finally replied, but looked even more unhappy.

Janet leant closer to Richie.

"Just don't make any sudden moves," she said in a conspiratorial whispered, and grinned at him.

"Never crossed my mind," he whispered back.

O'Neill watched from the door for a moment as Dr Frasier and Ryan animatedly talked about something to do with motorcycle racing. Well that was a new piece of information about SGC's very own doctor that might come in handy. He filed it away just in case he could ever use it.

Frasier had sent up her report that their Goa'uld guest was awake approximately half an hour ago, and Hammond had called Jack into his office immediately. They'd already discussed what SG-1 had seen in a team debriefing, but the General had wanted Jack's private opinion on the matter. They'd talked for a good twenty minutes, and now Jack had been sent down to collect Richie to see Hammond.

The kid really didn't look very threatening sitting cross-legged on one of the medical bay's beds. He was wearing regulation combat trousers, and a green T-shirt, and he didn't look much like a Goa'uld. He seemed to be the same young man Jack had just begun to know before Shu and Tefnut made a house call, and that on the inside Richie might not be what he appeared was not a settling thought. If the safety of his team hadn't been on his shoulders he might just have given in to the urge to trust Richie, but he had to be sure first.

As he finally stepped into the room golden eyes flicked round to stare at Jack, and he was sharply reminded of what Shu had done to Richie. Now he knew more about what Richie really was, and what he had become, O'Neill could see it in those eyes. The windows of that soul showed just about everything, and Jack didn't have to see their colour to know the person he was looking at was not quite human.

"Good afternoon," he greeted as Dr Frasier noticed him as well. "I've just come from General Hammond. He would very much like to see you if you're feeling up to it."

Jack met the strange eyes calmly, the kid probably had enough problems without seeing anything O'Neill might be feeling as well. Richie had all but proven his loyalty to his human friends, all Jack wanted was time, time to find out exactly what was going on in that blond head.

"The doc's the expert," Richie told him with a grin.

"My patient is recovering nicely, Colonel," Frasier said evenly, "and if he comes back on a gurney I will hold you personally responsible."

The smile was trying to force its way onto her face, and to help its progress Jack saluted sharply.

"What ever you say, Doctor," he promised faithfully.

The cheerful atmosphere was not quite what he had been expecting, but Jack was happy to play along.

"One small problem," Richie commented as he stood up.

"What's that?" Jack asked.

The young man looked at his feet, and O'Neill's eyes followed. Richie was barefoot. When they'd brought him into the medical bay all Goa'uld regalia had been taken away, including the boots.

"The floor's getting colder by the second," the Immortal commented.

"Well stop by supplies on the way," Jack promised with a smile.

That, however, wasn't the only problem as he turned back towards the door. As Richie moved to leave the room the soldier stepped into the doorway.

"The prisoner must be restrained during transport between secure areas," the marine intoned evenly.

Jack immediately disliked the idea. Richie had saved his life and the life of his team, he did not want to put the kid through the indignity of being shackled. Military protocol sometimes got in the way of doing things right and Jack couldn't help the bad taste that the marine's observation left in his mouth. If the military had had their way Teal'c would have been treated in the same way when he first arrived and that would have lost them a very good friend. Then the answer hit Jack between the eyes and he smiled slightly.

"I don't suppose it has occurred to you that this whole base is a secure area?" O'Neill said in a triumphant tone, and stared the man right in the face. "We are inside a mountain, there is only one way out. Between here and there are several dozen of you. The prisoner is just fine the way he is."

With that Jack strode purposefully out of the door, and hoped that Richie was following along behind.

Richie was as scared as hell. What he hoped the rest of the world saw, was a nonchalant, happy go lucky individual, on the inside he was anything but. His emotions were in turmoil, and he really wasn't sure whether his life was over. So many possibilities ran through his mind, from Dr Frankenstein to Government games, and he didn't much like any of them. Richie was practical enough to realise that The Powers That Be weren't just going to let him go no matter how he proved he was still in control. He was no longer exactly human, and he knew far too much to be anything less than a security risk. Right about now he'd be a real hit on the Goth scene as well, and there weren't many ways he could change that.

The Immortal laughed and joked with O'Neill as they walked from stores towards General Hammond's office, but inside he was terrified. Then to top it off he was grieving. How could he ever explain to anyone that he had loved what they so feared. They'd lock him up forever if they knew just how much it hurt to lose Tefnut, how much guilt he carried with him for killing her.

"Well here we are," Jack said with half a smile. "Good luck, kid."

The old Richie Ryan would have seethed at that comment, but the new one was far too busy with other thoughts to even care. He smiled back at the Colonel with his best confidant expression, and O'Neill knocked on the door.

"Come in," was the immediate response.

Jack opened the door and entered, followed by Richie and the marine who was their constant shadow.

"Good afternoon, gentlemen," the General greeted as they came in. "I hope you are recovered, Mr Ryan."

"Thanks, I am," Richie replied, and forced yet another smile.

"Thank you, Colonel, marine," were Hammond's next words, "I'd like to speak to our guest alone."

"Of course, General," Jack responded lightly, he had obviously known that the request was coming. "Marine, we can wait outside."

The soldier did not look particularly happy, but he couldn't exactly say anything to a General and a Colonel. The pair left as quickly as they had arrived.

"Please, have a seat," Hammond offered the moment the door closed, and retook his own.

Richie followed the advice, and tried to assess the man on the other side of the desk as he sat down. He didn't know much about General Hammond, but from the few things O'Neill had hinted at, Richie didn't think he was being thrown to the wolves.

"Firstly," the General said calmly, "this is an informal meeting. Nothing here is being recorded, and I will treat this conversation as confidential unless you tell me otherwise. I asked to see you because I can't let you loose on this base unless I'm totally sure of you."

That opening surprised Richie in its honesty, and in its implications. The idea that he might actually regain some sort of freedom hadn't been at the top of his concepts for the day, and it shocked him so much that he actually let his guard slip for just a moment.

"I don't know what you expect of the military," Hammond said, reacting to the expression Richie knew had crossed his face, "but I will do my damnedest to make sure that nothing happens to you, you don't deserve. If you do anything to endanger my people, however, I will make sure you end up in the darkest deepest hole I can find."

Richie nodded slowly: they understood each other.

"I'm not a threat to you or anything here," the Immortal said, and let the cheerful facade fade to seriousness. "I am not Shu, Shu is dead."

The look on Hammond's face said he wished he could believe that, but he was still unsure.

"I know what you did for the team," the General told him evenly. "Without you they would still be stuck on PX 1287, and Major Carter would almost definitely be dead. You've proved your worth, but you do understand that I have to make completely sure you're not suddenly going to turn around and change your mind. You are after all Goa'uld."

"Of course I understand," Richie said with a little more feeling than he had meant, "I know first hand what Goa'uld are capable of. Shu is gone, but I remember lots about his whole twisted existence. I know the way they think, and I know exactly how much human life is worth to them."

The Immortal hadn't expected the outburst, it had sort of just happened, and he didn't like it much. From the expression on Hammond's face he hadn't seen it coming either.

"Sorry," Richie apologised quickly.

"It's me who should be apologising," Hammond responded almost instantly, "I was wading in like a bull in a china shop. Coping with what has happened must be terribly difficult."

Richie let out an ironic little laugh, and then caught his emotions before they could give him away. He was not going to fall apart in this man's office, no matter what.

"Yeah well, I've coped with big revelations before," he said with more certainty than he felt.

Hammond nodded.

"Your Immortality," the General said evenly. "I won't pretend that I know much about it, but Pierson explained what we needed to know for the rescue. That knowledge will go no farther than SG-1 and me."

"Yeah, well it's a bit of a shock when you come back from the dead for the first time," Richie returned, "but it has it's up points."

He tried to hide behind the wise crack, but somehow it didn't come out quite right. Too many ideas were going around in his head, and they were jamming his defence mechanisms.

"I'm sorry to have to bring this up, but I must know," Hammond began again after a moment's silence. "In their reports several of the team noted that you were crying after you killed Tefnut. Was that Shu's emotion or yours?"

Richie looked down at his hands, he had hoped no one had seen that. He was still worried that they would lock him up and throw away the key, but he needed talk to someone.

"I've never had family," he said slowly, "never really known what it felt like to have blood relations. I've been close, but there's always a little doubt when you've been through the system. You may not realise this, but Goa'uld are capable of just as deep love as any we feel. They don't show it very often, and it takes them much longer to develop it, but Shu and Tefnut had been together for millennia. He loved her more than I can explain, and that's part of me now. I know it comes from him and not me, but I can't ignore it completely."

He threw up all his barriers, and clamped down on all his emotions. Richie wanted Hammond to know some of it, but if the General knew how deep that emotion affected the Immortal, Richie doubted he would allow himself to be so sympathetic.

"It was both of our emotion," he concluded slowly.

"I don't mean to labour the point," Hammond continued evenly, "but exactly how do you see Shu?"

Richie had to think about how to answer that. He hadn't really had time to decide what he thought about that, and it wasn't exactly an easy question. Of course he had an advantage over anyone else in that he'd absorbed people before. At least one of those had come back to haunt him, and he was not unaware of the dangers.

"I understand him," Richie said finally, setting aside any emotional reaction for the moment and looking at the situation from a detached point of view. "I know him almost as well as I know myself. I can step into his mind, but it's always me pretending to be him, not me becoming him. I think I may have picked up on some of his instincts, some of my reactions are a little different now, but only on a physical level if that makes any sense."

The Immortal looked at the General to see if he was getting through, and the man nodded for him to go on.

"There are some blanks," Richie continued, "but I can do just about anything he could. I know what he has learned, I can remember things he has seen, but I always know they are his memories, not mine. I could be like Shu if I wanted to be, react like him, talk like him, even think like him, but I can never become him. I'm still me and I always will be--Shu no longer exists."

Hammond just looked at him as he finished his explanation, and they stared at each other for a long moment. There were idea's flying behind the General's eyes, but Richie couldn't tell what they were.

"You strike me as an honest young man," the General said slowly, "and my instincts aren't usually wrong. I'm going to put you in Colonel O'Neill's care. You'll be escorted at all times, confined to base of course, and we'll have to limit your movements, but I don't see any reason to keep you locked up. If you don't mind I'd like Dr Frasier to investigate you physiology some more, but other than that your time is your own."

Richie just sat there for a moment, not quite believing what he had heard. The General just didn't fit any idea the Immortal had of the United States military.

"Don't let me down, Mr Ryan," Hammond said calmly and stood up.

Richie climbed to his feet as well.

"I won't, Sir," he replied, and for the first time his mind didn't quail at the possibilities before him.

Daniel really didn't know quite what to do with himself. Everyone was interested in Richie, including him, but to actually face the young man was going to take more than a simple decision on Daniel's part. Logically the archaeologist knew that Richie wasn't a Goa'uld, well at least he was partially, but not as far as the way he thought and felt. It was getting his subconscious into line that was causing Daniel problems. The moment O'Neill had led Richie into the room, Daniel had had to leave before he said something he'd regret later. He'd seen the man who had saved all their lives, and the one thing he had felt most of all was a desire to kill him.

Daniel was not a violent person usually, but when it came to Goa'ulds it was a different matter entirely. Rational thought had little to do with the way he reacted to them, and reigning in his instincts was not the easiest thing for Daniel to do. Richie had got them out of captivity; he had saved Sam, and yet all the archaeologist wanted to do was throttle him with his bare hands.

Then of course there was the "but why" thoughts going around in his head. The ones that asked over and over why this man was blessed to over come the Goa'uld possession, but Shauri had been doomed to life as one of their puppets and finally destroyed by them. He knew Richie was Immortal, knew he had a gift that Shauri did not, nor never could have, but still the questions continued round in his head.

He needed time to think, needed time to sort out his feelings and come to terms with the new situation. He had come to terms with Teal'c ... eventually, he could cope with this too.

Okay so the first few minutes had been a little awkward as everybody fumbled for something to say. Daniel Jackson's sharp exit hadn't helped the situation much, but a smart-alec quip about "maybe it's the teeth" had broken the ice. They had all been there, and they had all had their questions. Sam had thanked him for saving her life, and them brimmed over with curiosity. Methos had asked a surprising amount of questions, O'Neill had put in the odd comment, and Teal'c had sat and watched for a while.

It was only after they'd grilled him thoroughly, and were just chatting that Richie finally had the nerve to ask a question that had been bothering him for a while.

"What's happened to Sef't?" he said tentatively.

The SG-1 team members looked at each other, and Richie had the feeling that maybe he shouldn't have asked. It was just he was genuinely concerned for the man.

"Well after you passed out on us," O'Neill finally spoke, "he was taken to the med bay same as you. The doc gave him the once over and he sorta went all quiet on us. I'm sorry, but we're not allowed to let you two near each other."

It was a sentiment Richie could understand; after all it was not wise to allow a dethroned god near his General straight after the battle.

"I understand," the Immortal replied, but there was just one thing he had to check. "Just ... quiet how?"

"He won't talk to anyone, won't look at anyone, just sits and meditates," Carter supplied quickly.

Richie didn't like the sound of that as certain things Shu knew about the lion Jaffa hung at the back of his mind. The twin gods had adopted their Jaffa in a similar way to what they had done to their hosts over the centuries, making them slightly different. Shu and Tefnut interacted with Goa'uld society, but they had there own little insular world as well, and what they touched they made their own.

"Was he doing anything in particular?" the Immortal asked, trying not to sound worried.

O'Neill and Carter frowned at each other, they obviously thought that was a weird question.

"He's just sitting there like this," Sam offered and did her best impression of the Jaffa.

When Richie saw how she put her hands he went cold.

"He's going to commit suicide," the Immortal said as he wished it wasn't true. "You have to stop him."

The SG-1 team looked shocked, and Teal'c did not look as if he believed.

"Suicide, is not an honourable death," the Jaffa pointed out evenly. "No warrior would seek to die in such a senseless manner."

"Tefnut liked the idea, okay," Richie shot back immediately. "She liked the idea that she could order them to kill themselves if she felt like it. Sef't probably thinks this is what she would have wanted. He's going to remove his larva, and since it can't be given to anyone else, he'll kill it and then he'll die. The meditation is a purification ritual, once it's over he will kill himself."

The Immortal was deadly serious, and he was relieved when Jack finally moved.

"You stay here," he told everyone, "I'll go and sort this out."

After the incident with Sef't nobody took anything for granted. They'd reached the Jaffa just in time, and although he hadn't said a word to anyone since, he hadn't attempted to harm himself in any way. Jack wasn't sure he liked the effect the recent mission had had on his team. Daniel seemed permanently on edge and was being quiet and distant. Teal'c spent frustrating hours trying to communicate with his fellow Jaffa, and didn't seem to be down the road any further than when he first started. Then there was Carter, buzzing with curiosity about both Richie and Adam, but Jack knew her well enough to know she was hiding her deeper feelings about her brush with death. And as for himself he really didn't quite know what to think. He'd spent some time with both Richie and Adam, but mostly Richie, and he was slowly beginning to get inside the kid's head. He couldn't be sure, then again what about life was set in stone, but he was definitely coming down in favour of the view that in Richie they had just gained a valuable ally.

Three days after the end of the mission something happened which put everyone in SGC in the same corner. On the Tuesday morning, Mayburne arrived. Jack was a soldier, he had killed on several occasions, but there was really only one person he ever wanted to shoot on sight, and this time it was no different. Colonel Mayburne walked in with a senatorial order, a dozen or so nasty looking soldiers and dragged Richie away from the breakfast he had been eating with Jack and Adam. Mayburne had double-crossed, tried to eliminate and plain pissed off SG-1 so many times that their leader didn't need an excuse to get annoyed anymore. After a bit of shouting, O'Neill had half walked, half run to General Hammond's office.

"I know," was the first thing Hammond said when Jack barged into the General's office with as much control as he could muster, "there was nothing I could do. I have Dr Frasier sitting in on any debriefing Mayburne thinks he is doing, and I will have this sorted out as soon as I can."

Everything Jack had been about to say dried in his throat, as he realised that it didn't need to be said.

"Colonel, there's no way I'm letting that animal get his hands on that boy," the General stated firmly. "I'm putting you in charge of making sure nobody from this facility causes trouble. I will concentrate on the President."

"Yes, Sir," was all Jack could find to say.

The first thing Jack saw when he walked into Sam's office was Daniel Jackson, and the look on the anthropologist's face showed O'Neill there were some things in the universe that made Daniel madder than a Goa'uld. If thoughts could have killed Jack realised that Colonel Mayburne would have died in several very nasty ways.

"The General is pulling strings as we speak," he informed all his friends. "Mayburne has pulled another fast one, but he's not going to get away with it."

"From what the others have told me," Adam spoke first, "are you sure Hammond can handle this character?"

"Oh, when he's annoyed," Jack replied evenly, "he can handle anyone."

"What are we going to do?" Carter sounded very unhappy.

"For now we wait," O'Neill told then calmly. "If something happens that we don't like, then we'll act. Janet won't let Mayburne get away with anything."

"Colonel," Dr Frasier's voice could have welded steel, "my patient," she stressed the 'my' with Hippocratic authority, "has been through terrible stress over the past few days. If you insist on trying to give him a mental breakdown I will have you removed from this facility so fast your feet won't touch the ground."

Richie was very glad of the respite, although the goons were far from putting that amount of pressure on him. He had tried helpful, but they had thought he was lying, he'd tried surly and they'd decided he was hiding something, and he was up to cold and dispassionate. It was difficult to keep his reactions under control, and every time they annoyed him to the point when his eyes glowed or his voice changed tenor, it just seemed to make them push harder. If they weren't asking such damn stupid questions he might have been able to help them.

Mayburne growled something in a low voice to the doctor which Richie couldn't be bothered to decipher, and then the Colonel turned his attention back to him.

"Okay," he said slowly, "let's put the attack on Earth aside for the moment, and go back to this weapon."

The man waved the ribbon device he had displayed on a table at the other side of the room.

"How does it work, and how do we make more?"

Richie actually found himself laughing.

"You think we're too technologically inferior to understand your weapons?" Mayburne snapped, immediately jumping to the wrong conclusion.

"That's got nothing to do with it," Richie replied.

He was going to go on, but Mayburne interrupted him.

"You know it would be much better for you if you co-operated," he hissed.

"I don't know exactly how it works," Richie told him for the fifth time that morning.

"Do you take us for fools?" the Colonel shot back.

The Immortal bit his tongue before he sent back the reply that leapt to his lips, and took a deep breath. Suddenly it came to him.

"You're a soldier aren't you, Colonel," Richie said slowly, "you carry a gun."

This caught Mayburne somewhat by surprise.

"Of course," the man replied without really knowing why.

"Tell me exactly how it works, and build me one using an old milk bottle and a light bulb," Richie said bluntly.

Mayburne actually shut up for a moment and Richie scored himself another point, but it didn't last for long.

Mayburne didn't leave until it was nearly midnight, and he left behind several of his lackeys who refused to let Richie anywhere near the rest of the SGC personnel. The General held a council of war.

"I've been talking to the President," Hammond told SG-1 and Methos as they sat in the briefing room.

For his part that didn't fill the Immortal with a whole lot of confidence.

"The only reason Mayburne is here, is because otherwise he would have had Richie removed from this facility to Area 51, something none of us want," the General went on. "The President has assured me that Mayburne will conduct his debriefings and be gone."

"Well if he tries anything he's going to have to go through us," Jack said with a tone in his voice that made Methos believe every word.

"Colonel, we will do this by the book," Hammond reminded his officer, but his voice didn't sound quite as sure to the ancient ears listening. "Is that understood."

"Yes, sir," was the barely contained reply.

"Look people," the General continued, "that man annoys me as much as he does you, but this is a military establishment and insubordination is not acceptable. Unfortunately covert operations attract weasels like Mayburne, but the only way to handle them is through the proper channels."

The officer glanced around the room and his eye met Methos' for a moment. The Immortal let his face stay placid and calm, but his mind was working furiously. If this was going as badly as he thought it was he had one more card up his sleeve, but it was definitely going to be a last resort.

"With all due respect, sir," it was Daniel who spoke, "Richie isn't in the military. He didn't sign on for any of this and he sure as hell isn't being paid for it. If we let Mayburne get away with this, it won't just be unfortunate, it'll be criminal."

Hammond sat down with a sigh, and Methos had to admire Daniel's spirit. He knew that the anthropologist had trouble with Richie's presence because of what he represented, but he was still willing to fight for him.

"We all know it's not that simple," the General replied. "That young man is technically an alien, and a hostile one at that."

"He's also a citizen of the United States," Methos left his voice neutral, and in doing so his message went through loud and clear.

"Unfortunately that's not going to mean much to people like Mayburne," Carter sounded very annoyed.

The fact that Jack did not leap in and agree caught Methos' attention, and the Immortal noticed that the Colonel was looking around at the rest of his team. The officer was obviously considering something.

"What if Mayburne doesn't just go away?" O'Neill asked slowly.

"Well there are several courses of action open to us ..."Hammond began.

"Do any of them definitely come down to a win for the good guys?" Jack didn't give him a chance to finish.

"Most things in this world are not definite," the General replied, "but we are going to do everything in our power."

"If he were a valued member of staff, would that give you better leverage?" O'Neill was not letting this one go.

Methos watched as Sam caught on to what her superior was suggesting, as did Daniel, who looked worried for a second, and then just determined.

"Are you suggesting what I think you're suggesting?" Hammond asked slowly.

"We did it for Teal'c," Jack pointed out. "What could be more useful to an exploration team than someone who knows a large amount of the terrain? Look at all the information he's already given us on the star charts."

Methos watched as the four members of SG-1 all glanced at each other, a silent question going between them.

"We all agree, sir," O'Neill said evenly. "We'd like Richie on our team."

Now Methos wasn't sure his Immortal friend would be thrilled at the idea, but it was a damn site better than his other prospects. The oldest living Immortal smiled to himself and kept his mouth shut.

"I'll keep that under advisement," Hammond finally agreed. "If it comes to that I'll give you my support."

"What about Sef't?" Daniel asked quietly.

"Him I'm not sure how to help," the General told them all. "He's not co-operating, and we don't have the man power here to watch him 24 hours a day."

"If you do not mind, General, I have some thoughts on this problem," Teal'c spoke for the first time.

Everyone looked at him since he usually had something important to say when he did open his mouth. Methos had to admit to himself that he really hadn't given much thought to the problem of the lion Jaffa, but he decided he was interested anyway.

"Go on, Teal'c," Hammond encouraged.

"I believe, Master Bra'tac may be Sef't's best hope," the Jaffa responded calmly. "Bra'tac's name was respected through many systems, and I think Sef't would respond to his teaching. It will also remove him from this facility and harms way."

"You may be right, Teal'c," the General replied thoughtfully. "I'll see what I can do."

"Thank you, General," the Jaffa said sincerely.

Jack caught up with Daniel as they left the briefing room.

"Are you okay with this?" the Colonel asked his companion almost as soon as the anthropologist acknowledged his presence.

Now this was a question Daniel didn't quite have an answer to yet, and he decided to think about it before he gave an answer. Jack took this the wrong way.

"Look if you're not happy I'll go in there and tell the General that we need a new plan," O'Neill told his friend. "If I'd thought you had any doubts in there I wouldn't have pushed it. If Richie is going to be a problem ..."

"Jack," Daniel interrupted him before the officer could get overly worked up about the subject, "it's okay. If I'd really objected I would have said so in there ... I just have to get used to the idea, okay."

O'Neill didn't look convinced.

"You're not just saying that?" he enquired.

"No," the anthropologist promised, and hoped Jack would believe him. "I know I'm having trouble accepting that Richie is around, but I'll get over it. It's not as if he acts like a Royal Goa'uld, it's just my prejudices getting in the way."

He was actually pleased that Jack had cared enough to ask, but he was slowly coming to believe his own answer.

"Jack, it's fine, honestly," Daniel tried once more to shift his friend's dubious expression. "Besides, I'm just like the rest of you, I'll go to hell and back to get Mayburne."

That did it; O'Neill actually smiled.

"Mayburne, put him back now!"

It was seven o'clock in the morning and Mayburne had arrived to cause trouble very early. Hammond was to say the least, furious.

"I have orders to transport the prisoner to Area 51," the Colonel returned from where he was escorting two of his men who had Richie in restraints being dragged between them.

"I don't care about your orders," the General was barely concealing his anger. "Put my guest back in his room, remove those ridiculous chains and then report to my office."

"But General," Mayburne made the mistake of trying to argue.

Hammond's face was eerily calm when he placed it only an inch from the Colonel's.

"This is my facility," the senior officer said evenly, "you are man handling a person who is my responsibility, and you didn't even ask first. Now if you so much as breathe in the wrong place I will personally throw you off the top of this mountain. Is that understood?"

Mayburne's face was pale where he tried to stand his ground.

"Yes, Sir," he said very tightly.

Methos was not a happy man, and he was barely holding onto his composure as he watched General Hammond speaking to the President on the phone. At least he was in good company, because from the look on O'Neill's face the Colonel felt the same way. It was obvious that Mayburne had been hoping to get Richie out of SGC without too many people noticing. The fact that everyone had been expecting such underhand tactics was the only thing that had prevented the evil little man getting away with his plan. One thing that Methos was damn sure about, he wasn't letting any government lackeys get their hands on Richie.

"Yes, sir, I realise this is slightly different from Teal'c's situation," Hammond was saying, "but my team is willing to do this. Colonel Mayburne's initial report is inaccurate and inflammatory, Richard Ryan does not pose a threat to national security."

There was a pause.

"Yes, sir I am willing to stake my career on this," the General responded.

Methos' mood was getting darker by the second. There was another pause.

"But Mr President, if he is removed from SGC it will be that much harder to get him back," Hammond continued.

The General looked about as pleased with everything that was going on as Methos, and his expression didn't get any better in the next pause.

"Yes, sir, I understand, but..." the General definitely didn't want to give up on this one.

To the oldest living Immortal it looked like a loosing battle and he finally made a decision.

"General," he said stepping forward, "give me the phone."

Hammond looked up at him sharply, but Methos stared him down. Looking into eyes that had seen over five thousand years was a daunting challenge and the General was not up to it. Reluctantly he handed over the receiver.

"Good morning, Mr President," Methos said in a calm pleasant tone, "you don't know me, but I have something very important to tell you. This is a Prometheus matter, Mr President."

There was a pause from the other end.

"I'll make the necessary calls," came the reply from the other end.

"Thank you, Mr President," Methos replied, and handed the phone back to General Hammond.

He could see the questions building up in the room, and rather than answer them all at once Methos just turned and walked out. He hadn't really wanted to do what he had just done, but he hadn't been able to see any other way. There was only one person he knew who could sort out the current mess, and he hadn't seen him in fifty years. Methos was one of only a dozen or so people who could call on him for assistance and it was something he would only ever do in a dire emergency.

Jack spent the best part of the next two hours trying to find Adam and ask him what the hell was going on, but it seemed that the Immortal was a master of the vanishing act. When things started happening again as if by magic, Adam reappeared.

"Are you going to tell me what's going on now?" O'Neill asked pointedly as he found the Immortal on the way to the outside.

"Not a lot to tell," Adam replied, and Jack really wasn't sure whether to believe him or not. "I've involved an old friend, most people call him Prometheus, and he solves problems."

"Who's problems?" unanswered questions were one of the Colonel's pet hates, and he didn't like the feeling this operation was giving him.

A few days ago his world had been complicated enough when it involved aliens and Stargates, now it was even more of a nightmare and Jack was beginning to think a lot more things were beyond his control than he had first thought.

"Everyone's," Adam told him calmly.

"Everyone who?" O'Neill was in the mood to push for answers. "What is he, US Black Ops?"

"To tell you the truth I'm not exactly sure about the answer to that question," the Immortal replied. "When I say everyone I mean everyone ... Prometheus handles the problems no one else can fix, for anybody who needs it. I met him in 1937 in Greece and we found it mutually beneficial to keep in contact for several years. Heads of state all over the world do their damndest to remain on his good side, and that's all I can tell you."

They paused as the soldier on duty passed them through to the outside.

"If he's so useful why didn't you mention him as soon as Mayburne showed up?" Jack asked as they moved on.

"Because Prometheus always makes up his own mind," Adam said evenly. "His idea of solving this situation may be to make Richie disappear. He always looks at the big picture and sometimes that makes him a really dangerous man."

O'Neill chose not to ask any more questions.

Methos stood beside Colonel O'Neill and General Hammond as the helicopter landed, and three men got out. They all wore dark suits and carried themselves like people who knew they were supposed to be exactly where they were. The man in the lead looked the youngest of them all, but the familiar sensation of another Immortal just underlined to Methos that he was nothing that he seemed. Clear green eyes scanned the three of them and then Prometheus smiled.

"Michel, how nice to see you again," he said lightly as he settled on Methos.

"It's Adam now," Methos said calmly, Prometheus just smiled again and turned his attention to the others.

"And you must be General Hammond and Colonel O'Neill, I've heard great things about you both," he said in a disarmingly charming manner.

Prometheus reached out his hand and the General shook it.

"Nice to meet you, sir," Hammond said, obviously not quite sure how to take the youthful figure in front of him.

"Please, call me Prometheus," the Immortal said amiably, "every one else does. These are agents Kovor and Davis, my associates."

"Welcome to SGC, gentlemen," the General greeted.

Methos found Prometheus looking at him again, and he stared back calmly.

"If you don't mind, I'd like to have a word with my old friend before we dive into the red tape," the younger Immortal said evenly.

"Of course," Hammond agreed, "why don't we show Agent Kovor and Agent Davis the way in."

The two Immortals waited as the other four men walked away, and then Prometheus' mask of cheerfulness was replaced by an expression that told Methos he was now deadly serious.

"The official reports say Goa'uld technology has created a man with incredible healing powers," the green-eyed man went straight to the point. "I assume he is actually one of us."

"You assume correctly," Methos replied without the least trace of emotion.

"Do any of the mortals suspect?" Prometheus obviously wanted to know exactly what was going on before he moved in.

"General Hammond and the SG-1 team know the truth," the oldest living Immortal supplied, and wondered just exactly what was going through his companion's head. "It was the only way to launch a rescue mission. The information will go no further."

His companion looked a little unhappy at the news, but he didn't comment, just nodded.

"Why when there's big trouble do you always seem to be in the middle of it?" Prometheus asked shortly.

"A talent I've being trying to shift for centuries," Methos replied. "I've led them to believe I'm a little over two hundred years old, I would appreciate it if it stayed that way."

The two men regarded each other for a long moment, and in the end it was Prometheus who looked away.

"Well let's get on with this then," he said with just a trace of annoyance.

He went to walk towards the entrance, but Methos caught his arm. The ancient man looked into his companion's eyes.

"He's my friend," he said calmly, his tone totally neutral, but the expression on Prometheus' face said he understood the meaning completely.

There were many things Richie could have been feeling, but having been dragged out of his room, chained up and then virtually thrown back in he had settled for really annoyed. If he'd let himself he probably would have been terrified of the prospect of being imprisoned at Area 51 for the rest of his life, but he was covering that with seething anger. Hence when he felt the presence of another Immortal he was ready to yell at anyone and that included Methos. His plans fell into pieces, however, when it wasn't Methos who stepped through the door.

The first thing Richie noticed about the newcomer was his bright green eyes, and the second was the fact that he did not look too happy.

"Good morning," he said in an even tone, "my name is Prometheus."

Richie just sat very still trying to figure out what was going on.

"At this moment I am working for the United States government, Adam called me," the stranger went on.

"Are you here to kill me, or help me?" Richie decided to be blunt, he was in no mood for games.

At that Prometheus actually smiled.

"Practical, I see," he said and walked further into the room, "and to answer your question, I haven't decided yet."

Well at least this was going to be an honest conversation. It was something Richie had not seen a great deal of since Mayburne arrived.

"According to one report you are the greatest find since the Stargate itself, according to another you the biggest threat," Prometheus told him. "Once I have decided who is right I'll decide which course of action to take."

The cards were on the table. Richie knew his future was now never going near Area 51. He gazed at the man who held his life in his hands and tried to come up with a plan should this not go well.

"Tell me about yourself," Prometheus said calmly and sat down on a chair next to the door.

"I don't have a god complex if that's what you're wondering," Richie responded trying to think of something useful to say. "I'm just me, which isn't quite who I used to be, but it's pretty close. I have no idea what Mayburne had been saying about me, all I can tell you is he asks really dumb ass questions."

"On that count, everyone seems to agree with you," the other man said, and then fell silent again.

Richie knew this was going to be a very long few minutes.

Sam stood beside O'Neill and General Hammond, and watched with great satisfaction as Mayburne's men loaded everything they had brought with them back into their truck. It had taken over an hour, but Prometheus had emerged from his conversation with Richie and given the Colonel his marching orders. Sam didn't really know who this man was, and she had decided that she definitely wasn't going to ask any questions, she was just pleased he seemed to be on their side. Watching Mayburne get his ass kicked was like a cloud being lifted from the whole base. They were certainly dragging their heels about leaving, but Sam knew she was watching the losers packing their bags.

She was quietly smiling to herself when she caught the approaching figures of Adam and Daniel out of the corner of her eye. The Major turned to greet them and realised that they didn't look like winners.

"What's up guys?" she asked and saw Jack take an interest.

"He's gone," Daniel said tersely.

"If you mean Prometheus," Sam said, not quite sure what her friend was getting at, "I don't think he's left yet. The other two lifted off a few minutes ago, but he stayed to look around the complex."

"Not him," Adam supplied helpfully, "Richie. He's not in his room, and no one has seen him for at least half an hour."

Instinctively Sam looked to where the helicopter had been standing and as she looked around at her companions she realised they were all thinking the same thing.

"Prometheus wouldn't have double crossed us would he?" she asked.

She really wasn't sure enough of the man to know if it was possible, but from the look on Adam' face it seemed that it might have been on the cards.

"It doesn't make sense," the Immortal said after a pause. "He's a devious son of a bitch, but he's never lied to me like this before."

There were other possibilities of course, and Sam didn't want to be the first to voice them.

"Is it possible that he could have escaped on his own?" the General had to put forward the counter argument.

"Richie is many things, General," Adam replied, "but he's not stupid, and he doesn't let his friends down. He wouldn't run out on us."

The Immortal sounded so sure, but Sam couldn't quite bring herself to totally believe him. The fact that these people lived their whole lives pretending to be what they were not bothered her a little, although she could see exactly why they did it.

"I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to make this official," the General said and snapped Sam out of her reverie. "Where ever he is we have to find him."

Adam opened his mouth to reply and then shut it again, looking back the way he had just come. There was a vague hope in his eyes and Sam realised the Immortal thought he might be about to see Richie. Over the past couple of days the younger of the two had been quite open about his own Immortality, and had explained that he and Adam could feel each other coming. As it was the man who appeared in the entrance was Prometheus. He walked directly over to the group, covering the few feet in only a couple of seconds.

"I hear we're missing a piece of the puzzle," he said almost before he stopped.

Sam's immediate reaction was to ask how Prometheus knew, but she bit her tongue as her senior officers got there first.

"How did you find that out?" Hammond asked pointedly.

"I have spent a very long time keeping an eye on things, General," Prometheus replied, "I notice these things. Before you ask, no I did not have anything to do with it. If I had you wouldn't have noticed yet. That leaves two options ... our Goa'uld has gone AWOL on his own, or someone on this base has kidnapped him."

There was nothing like stating the obvious, but Sam held on to her reaction to this unsettling man. On the whole Carter believed she could get on with most people, but Prometheus gave her the creeps.

"I assume that if one of you gets close enough you'll be able to find him," she eventually heard herself say.

Prometheus frowned slight, he didn't seem to like the fact that she knew his secrets, but he nodded, as did Adam.

"Then lets divide into two teams and start looking," Hammond decided firmly.

Richie awoke to find that his head hurt. This was not an unfamiliar sensation from over the past few days and he wished it would just go away. A fraction of a second after this he opened his eyes and found that it was very dark and there was very little space around him. He was lying down, and he seemed to be in some sort of box. Following this his memory clicked in and he remembered how he came to be in his current predicament. Mayburne and one of his goons had come into Richie's room and shot him with something. When the Immortal moved he found that his hands and ankles were chained in a similar fashion to when the Colonel had tried to remove him earlier that day.

Goa'uld's were not known for their patience, and Richie had a hot temper of his own. His current predicament made him very angry, and as Mayburne's gloating face filled his mind's eye rationality stepped out of the picture. With a roar that came from deep in his chest he took hold of his chains and pulled. No one really knew how much stronger a human could be with a Goa'uld symbiant living inside him or her, but Richie managed to push the envelope. There was a satisfying clink as more than one link gave way and then he forced his arms upwards. Wood splintered as his hands connected with it and light flooded into his world.

The prisoner bursting out of his captivity was obviously something that had not crossed the mind of the soldier guarding the box. If Richie had been in anything but his current frame of mind he might have actually felt sorry for the man as a look of sheer terror crossed his face. As it was the Immortal took one look around himself, noted that he seemed to be in the back of a truck and then grabbed the shocked soldier before the man could react. One good throw and the unfortunate individual went flying out the back of the vehicle and Richie quickly followed.

"Mayburne!" the Immortal yelled at the top of his lungs, barely noticing that his voice held the Goa'uld edge to it.

Anger was the only emotion coursing through Richie, and with it came the thought of retribution. His gaze swung around the loading area and he found his quarry with very little trouble. The Colonel was looking surprised and a little afraid; he obviously hadn't expected his captive to be awake let alone free. It was almost as if everything was in slow motion as Richie took a step towards Mayburne. He felt the touch of an Immortal presence, but didn't bother to wonder where it was coming from. All that mattered was venting his fury.

Then quite suddenly pain shattered his incoherent state of mind. He came crashing back to himself and looked down stupidly at the front of his shirt as it slowly turned red. It seeped into his brain that someone had shot him and then his legs gave out and he was dead before he hit the ground.

Sam stopped running as she saw Richie fall to the floor; it just didn't seem quite real. One minute the General had been dividing them into two teams and the next people had started drawing guns. Her logical brain told her that Richie was Immortal, that he would get up again soon, but the rest of her was screaming that some bastard had just killed her friend.

Carter shook herself out of the shock and realised that there were now two groups out the front of SGC and they were pointing guns at each other. There was Mayburne and his men, and the SGC soldiers including O'Neill. It looked like a war about to happen.

"I'm going to count to ten," General Hammond's voice reverberated off the mountain, "and if anyone is pointing a gun at anyone else by the time I am finished I will have you all court marshalled."

At first Sam wasn't sure anyone was going to take any notice of him, but as O'Neill put away his sidearm, others followed suit. Slowly the war was being averted. Daniel and Adam were the first to run to where Richie had fallen, but it was Prometheus who caught Sam's eye. There was an expression on his face that could have killed all by itself.

"Colonel Mayburne," he said, and he wasn't shouting, but his voice carried everywhere.

He had the officer pinned down with his gaze, and he walked over slowly, closely followed by Hammond. It seemed that the General was leaving this to the really big guns.

"Would you care to explain what you think you were doing?"

It was a simple question, but it caused Mayburne to make like a goldfish. Prometheus had stopped half way between where Mayburne was and where Sam was, and he just stood there.

"Come here, Colonel," he said in a completely neutral voice.

It was almost like watching the condemned on the way to the executioner's block as Mayburne turned his back on where several people were trying to find out if Richie was alive, and walked to where the other Immortal stood. Sam found herself edging closer, as if her limbs had a will of their own.

"Well?" Prometheus prompted again.

"I ... I was under orders," the Colonel spluttered.

"Orders to kidnap an American citizen," Prometheus said slowly, "orders to shoot him? Orders to destroy what could be the most incredible discovery next to the Stargate itself?"

Mayburne seemed to discover at least a little backbone as he pulled himself to his full height.

"Orders to remove the deadliest threat to a neutral place," he said, a little foolishly as far as Sam was concerned.

Prometheus lifted one eyebrow.

"Who's orders, Mayburne?" he asked evenly. "They weren't from the President, and they weren't from the senatorial sub-committee. Is there another player in this game you would like to tell us about?"

Finally the Colonel appeared to discover that silence was the best course of action.

"I know all the players, Colonel," Prometheus said eventually, "and I have a pretty good idea who would have put you up to this. Believe me when I say that they will leave you out to dry. I could have you court marshalled for this, and they wouldn't lift a finger to help you."

Sam was morbidly fascinated by the Immortal's verbal deconstruction of the officer in front of him. Mayburne actually seemed to shrink a little. Then Carter realised that the activity behind the Colonel's shoulder had ceased, and she moved slightly to see what was going on. Her eyes opened wide at what she saw.

"Then again there are worse things I can think to do with you," she heard Prometheus say, just as a hand reached out and tapped Mayburne of the shoulder from behind.

The Colonel turned and before he could even react he went flying backwards as Richie's fist connected with his jaw.

Daniel was hovering, he knew there were plenty of other places he could be, but he really couldn't help himself. He'd seen someone come back from the dead without the help of man or machine, and it had been quite an incredible sight. Of course he'd been a witness to the powers of a sarcophagus before, but this was entirely different. A marine had ripped the front of Ryan's shirt and tried to put some life back into him, and it had given Daniel a view of the healing process. Watching flesh and bone actually knit back together without leaving so much as a trace of an injury was incredible.

After Richie had decked Mayburne, knocking him cold, both men had been taken to the sick bay. The Colonel had woken up en-route, and Dr Frasier had sent him away as soon as possible with two aspirin. Janet had then turned her attention to Richie who was doing a good impression of someone surprised to be alive. SG-1 all knew that he was Immortal, but as far as the others were concerned he'd just been a fast healer. Daniel was actually quite surprised that the Immortal had the presence of mind to pretend, it had, after all, been quite a morning.

Somehow, watching Richie hit Mayburne had changed Daniel's attitude towards him. Goa'uld's were capable of incredible violence, but they tended to express it slightly differently. The Immortal's reaction had seemed so human, even if his eyes had been bright white at the time. Daniel wasn't sure why he was hovering in the sick bay as Dr Frasier finished the examination of her patient, but he couldn't quite bring himself to leave. The more he looked at Richie the more he was beginning to see more of the man and less of the monster.

"Not even a trace," the doctor said as she examined the x-ray that she had taken of Richie's chest.

The Immortal himself was sitting on one of the beds, bare torso available for inspection.

"So even if we have the technology it's irrelevant, he can rebuild himself," Richie quipped.

"Did you watch too much TV as a kid?" Janet shot back with a grin.

"I'm a product of my generation," he replied.

Daniel found himself smiling. To begin with there had been other people hanging around as well, but Jack and Sam had been dragged away to talk to General Hammond, Teal'c had gone to see Sef't and that left just Daniel and a nurse. No one seemed to object to his presence so the anthropologist had decided to stay. He wasn't sure exactly why; he thought he probably wanted to talk to Richie at some point, being the only one of SG-1 who hadn't really done so yet, but he wasn't certain he wanted it to be now.

"Are you going to hover in my doorway all day, Dr Jackson, or are you actually coming in?" Dr Frasier suddenly took an interest in him.

Daniel coloured slightly and tried not to look too embarrassed. He took a few steps into the room.

"Um, I ... ah ..." he tried to think of something to say.

Janet just smiled at him.

"Well I want to get these results into the computer as soon as possible," the doctor announced to the room. "Daniel would you mind making sure no one steals my patient while I'm gone? He keeps disappearing these days and I'm almost afraid to leave him alone."

"You could always handcuff me to the bed," Richie offered with a wicked grin.

"Don't give me any ideas, kid," the doctor returned with a twitch of her eyebrows.

Daniel was laughing as the woman walked passed him towards her office. The nurse who had also been in the room a couple of seconds earlier had vanished, it seemed that people were conspiring against Daniel. In this case he came to the conclusion that it might be a good thing. An awkward silence fell as the anthropologist tried to find something to say, and he took to staring at his hands.

"Jack told me about Shauri," it was Richie who spoke first and his tone was quiet and serious, "I'm sorry."

Daniel's head came up sharply and he gazed directly at his companion. The Immortal's face had lost its playful expression, and had gained a youthful sincerity.

"I'll understand if you never want to lay eyes on me," Richie told him.

They looked at each other for a while, the Immortal had obviously said what he wanted to say and was waiting to see what the reply would be.

"No," Daniel finally said, "I'm not quite fine with you here yet, but I'm getting there."

A relieved expression emerged on Richie's face, and he relaxed a little. When he didn't have a serious frown the Immortal actually looked very young, and Daniel found himself wondering about the person behind the revelations for the first time.

"How old are you?" he heard himself ask.

"26," was the somewhat surprised reply, "27 in the summer."

"You don't look it," Daniel commented.

"19," Richie replied with a resigned sigh and a grin, "I will always look 19. You have no idea how irritating that can be."

Actually, Daniel thought he had and he smiled.

"I looked about 18 until I was 24," he told his companion, "I can sympathise. I lost count how many times I was carded."

The anthropologist wandered over to one of the other beds and sat down.

"So you'll never age at all?" he asked, trying to understand the other man's condition.

"Never," Richie confirmed, "I'll be like this at 500 if I make it that far."

That caught Daniel off guard a little.

"Why wouldn't you make it?" he asked.

Richie looked a little awkward for a moment, as if he wasn't sure what quite to say, but after a moment his features cleared.

"I can die," he said honestly, "but I hope you understand if I don't go broadcasting how."

Daniel actually smiled; he could see the reasoning behind that one. The anthropologist walked further into the room and perched on one of the empty beds. He did not want to miss this conversation.

The entirety of SG-1, General Hammond, Methos and Richie sat round the large table in the briefing room. The meeting had been called once Mayburne and his people and Promethius' team had all left. The base once again belonged to the SGC staff and they alone and it was time to deal with the leftovers. Richie knew it was crunch time, but he felt a great deal more comfortable knowing that his fate was in the hands of the people around the table rather than those he had met that day.

"Mr Ryan," the General greeted after everyone had sat down, "I believe you realise we have a problem here."

Richie simply nodded; it was mostly a rhetorical question.

"We cannot in good conscience simply let you go back to your life," Hammond continued in a sympathetic tone. "Although you have continued to prove that you are not under the influence of the Goa'uld larva which took residence in your body you are in possession of knowledge which could be damaging to the security of this planet. If our enemies were to find out about you, you could become a powerful weapon against us."

This was not news to Richie; he had been expecting a speech like this. Part of him had dreaded it and part of him was coldly analytical about the whole situation: after all it could have been worse. He did not think that Hammond was going to have him dissected.

"To allow you to run loose on this planet is not an option," Hammond concluded firmly and paused. "However," he continued shortly, "we have two possible suggestions to resolve this issue."

Richie was impressed; he couldn't even find one.

"We are allies with the To'kra," the General told him calmly, "and although they know nothing about you yet, we are willing to contact them for you. They are probably the closest people to your own situation and I have no doubt that the information you possess would be of use to them."

The name To'kra caused Richie a moment of distaste as Shu's prejudice against them made itself known, but he put it aside. It was after all an option and one that did not have him locked up for the rest of his life. It would mean leaving everything Richie Ryan knew and all the people he cared about, but it wouldn't be the first time his world changed. He nodded for Hammond to go on.

"Our second option is that you join the SGC," Hammond said and actually surprised Richie. "Your knowledge of the system lords and the rest of the Goa'uld would be invaluable to us."

This sounded so much more appealing than the To'kra that Richie couldn't keep the interest off his face, however, there were a couple of questions.

"What would I be doing other than acting as a fount of knowledge?" he asked, trying to sound calm about the whole subject.

"We'd like you to join SG-1," O'Neill said before Hammond could answer and grinned brightly at the younger man.

Now if the offer to join the SGC had surprised Richie, this simply stunned him. Jack looked as if he was enjoying the effect as he simply beamed at what Richie knew was a slack jawed expression on his own face.

"You're serious," he said, not quite sure what to say.

"Kid, you saved our necks once already," O'Neill said after letting him suffer for a few seconds. "I for one would feel very safe with you at my back."

"Your knowledge would be invaluable every time we go through the gate," Sam added with a warm smile.

"It would be an honour to serve with you," Teal'c put in stoically.

That left Daniel who simply looked at him for a while

"No objections here," the anthropologist said calmly.

Richie couldn't believe it: what they were offering was better than his wildest dreams. He looked at Methos who simply appeared smug.

"You knew," he accused and that drew an even smugger grin from the ancient man.

"Then I take it you accept our second solution," Hammond said cheerfully.

Richie grinned and then set his face in a very serious expression.

"Just one suggestion," he said earnestly.

"And what would that be," the General asked, sobering his own expression.

"Could we tell Dr Frasier the truth, please," Richie said lightly. "If she x-rays me every time I heal I'm going to glow in the dark."

Jack was the first to crack and he seemed to find the comment extremely funny.

It seemed that when General Hammond wanted things done he could make the wheels of officialdom move very fast. Before Richie really knew where he was it was a week later and he was on the payroll. He had official quarters on the base, security clearance and everything he needed to be part of SG-1. That left one loose end when it came to the SGC and as soon as Hammond gave him permission he wandered into sickbay.

"Hi, Janet" he greeted as he found the person he was looking for checking her supply cabinet.

"Hi, yourself," the doctor said cheerfully, "and what brings you to my domain?"

"Well actually I really want to get you in your office alone," Richie said with a suggestive twitch of his eyebrows.

"Down boy," Janet laughed.

"Seriously," Richie said with a grin, "I would like to talk to you somewhere private. Since I'm going to be a permanent resident there are a couple of things you need to know."

"Come into my parlour said the spider to the fly," Janet said cheerfully and indicated her office.

They both walked into the smaller room, Janet shut the door and they sat down.

"Now what was it you wanted to tell me?" she asked with a smile.

Richie took a deep breath.

"Don't be mad," he opened his gambit, "but you know all that surprise about being alive after I was shot."

Janet nodded, obviously not sure where this was going.

"I was acting," Richie admitted honestly, "I wasn't surprised at all. The story about the experimental technique Shu was trying out on me is a cover. The Goa'uld didn't make me Immortal, I already was."

The doctor didn't look as if she knew how to take that one.

"There are people on Earth who don't die and don't age," Richie hurried on. "We're normal until we're killed for the first time and then nature just stops for us. I'm who my records say I am, but I died for the first time seven years ago. I'm for all intents and purposes, immortal."

"That's why they had to rescue you," Janet said slowly as if this finally explained something that had been bothering her. "If Shu had managed to take you over he would have been unstoppable."

Richie nodded.

"The only people who know are you, SG-1 and General Hammond," the Immortal said calmly, "if this got out ..."

"There'd be a witch hunt," Frasier finished for him, then she smiled. "Thank you for the truth," she told him, "I'll keep your secret happily."

Richie sighed with relief, he had had faith in Janet, but he had still been just a little worried. Some people did not take the news of Immortals very well.

"So tell me more," she said with a huge grin. "How many times have you died before?"

Richie grinned back: he knew there was a reason he liked Janet.

Seven days and two hours after Mayburne had been given his marching orders there was one more departure going on and it was a sadder one. His time at SGC had been a little more exciting than he would have liked in Methos' opinion, but then life became boring without the odd adventure. The oldest living Immortal was packing the few things he had acquired in his stay into a bag when Richie knocked on his door.

"Nearly ready to go then?" the younger Immortal said in what was supposed to be a nonchalant tone.

Richie didn't fool Methos for a second and the older man couldn't help but feel guilty about leaving him. They had decided that he would return and smooth everything over at home since Richie couldn't go. Methos was going to keep in touch, but for both of them to vanish would have MacLeod on the warpath looking for them. The Stargate was top secret and they had solemnly agreed to keep it that way even among their closest friends. Richie had taken a job at the research establishment where Daniel worked as far as the outside world was concerned. Methos was going to drop some hints about a member of the opposite sex and large amounts of money paid for computer skills that Richie had picked up over the last few years.

Suddenly Richie had a secret identity as a hacker he had not shared with his friends, and which was now coming in very handy. It helped that Richie did know something about computers, and he was pretty sure he could bluff Mac into the ground on the subject. The Highlander used modern technology out of necessity; he did not like it anywhere near as much as he pretended to.

"Didn't arrive with anything, so I think leaving with a bag is an achievement," Methos said lightly.

"Stealing the towels then?" Richie replied with a grin.

"They'll never notice they're missing," the older man said mockingly, "military operations are always the same. If they just kept track of their stores the US government could halve their defence budget."

That made Richie laugh, but he sobered quickly.

"Tell Mac I'm sorry to desert him like this," the younger man said quietly. "I'll call when I can."

"I'll let him know," Methos promised and he meant it for once.

He felt just a little guilty for getting Richie into this mess, after all it was his fault they had entered the SGC in the first place. Methos had been around too long to let the idea get him down, but he couldn't escape it entirely. Richie may only have been a toddler compared to himself, but the kid had seen far too much in his short life. The oldest living man did not envy his younger brethren.

"I'm sorry," he finally said, unable to just dismiss this problem.

"Not your fault," Richie said slowly and looked him straight in the eye. "You couldn't have predicted what was going to happen, and we both know that this is more important than either of us. You were there the first time round, now it's time for us younger ones to have a go."

Methos grinned at that as Richie smiled at him irreverently.

"Yeah well I expect you to keep me up to date," he said pointedly. "I know the military and they're never going to tell me everything. If you need me I'll be around."

"I know, Old Man," Richie said calmly and Methos could see age in his eyes that did not belong to the younger Immortal.

The Richie Ryan Methos had involved in this fiasco no longer existed and the older man knew he had had a hand in killing him. Yet the new Richie was just as earnest, just as brave and a damn sight more interesting. Methos hoped the new Richie Ryan would be better than the old one could ever have imagined.

"The universe is the limit," Methos said quietly. "Stay whole, Richie."

Richie smiled at him again and then before Methos could say anything else he turned and left. The ancient man was left with a feeling that either the galaxy was on the verge of something exciting or in really big trouble.

The End