Vacation, Chicago Style Polgana Rating: PG-13 (for violence) Show(s) involved: STARGATE SG-1, Early Edition, First wave. Summary: SG-1 is finally ordered to take time off. Daniel and Jack decide to spend part of that time in Jack's hometown. And then they meet Gary.... Warnings: Some Danny whumping, some Gary whumping, and the cat could just possibly be a Mary Sue. In a minor role. Spoilers: Minor one for Beneath the Surface, maybe one or two from Legacy. Spoiling the heck out of Early Edition. Some minor spoilers in general for First Wave. Feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org. No flames, please. This is my VERY first fanfic. And I have a fragile ego. If you like this, you have my free and unconditional blessings to post it anywhere! Disclaimer: Much as I would like to claim these guys for my very own, < sob > I can't. Gary belongs to Sony/Tristar, Sg-1 belongs to Showtime/Gecko. And if I forget any one, sorry. But these guys are too good to go to waste. Author's note: I started to post this on the Positivelyscifi list on egroups, then the episode 'The Curse' laid out more canon that would have made my story nonsense. Sooooo, I went back and re-did the first two parts. Just a little. Pray for me. ********************************************************************** Vacation, Chicago Style by Polgana Part 1 Daniel leaned his head back against the cold cinder-block wall in weary frustration. How long had they been down here? A day? Maybe two? All attempts to loosen his bonds had been futile. The ropes were just too damned tight! He turned his head carefully. Any sudden moves still brought spikes of pain to his battered head. On the bright side he didn't feel as bad as his companion looked. The other man was also wrestling with hands and arms rapidly growing numb from restricted circulation, as well as his own weakening body. They had both taken a hell of a beating over the last few hours, but their captors, and fate; seemed determined that he would take the brunt of it. And it had, as always, started so innocently.... ********** "Two weeks?" "Yes, O'Neill," General Hammond repeated. "Two...full...weeks. After your return from that slave pit on P3R-118, Dr Fraiser has reminded me that, except for injury or illness to one of your team, the four of you have not taken any significant down time since your initial return from Abydos with Dr Jackson. She felt, and I have to agree, that all of you need to take some time and just...relax. You do remember how to relax, don't you Colonel? You know, go fishing, hiking, amusement parks, scenery? Ring any bells?" "Great!" Daniel interjected. "I'll finally have a chance to catch up on my trans..." "No!" Janet Fraiser stopped him. "You will be escorted off base, if necessary, Dr. Jackson. With orders not to let you back in except under life and death conditions. You will not stay here and pull a series of all nighters and tank up on caffeine! Re-lax. Resssst. Put your mind on ANYTHING but work!" A chuckling snort drew Daniel's attention. "So glad you find this amusing, Jack," he grumbled. "You can't wait to go to some isolated wilderness and terrorize the local fish population." O'Neill leaned back in his chair with a huge grin. "Sounds like Heaven to me," he agreed. "Wouldn't hurt you to give it a try. Just think about it," he added, leaning forward for emphasis. "Camping under the open skies, miles from civilization, cooking over a campfire, no one shooting at us..." "Sounds just like every dig I've ever been on," the young archaeologist snorted. "Not to mention ninety-five percent of our missions. I thought you wanted a change?" "I, for one, would welcome the chance to spend time with my family," Teal'c intoned. "It has been long since I have seen them." "My brother's been after me to come visit," Samantha Carter spoke up. "I suppose I could spend a few days mending fences, so to speak." She watched the youngest member of their team squirm uncomfortably, suddenly understanding his agitation. He had nowhere to go! "Um. I was reading about a new Comparative Cultures exhibit," she suggested hopefully. "At the Chicago Museum of Natural History. Just started last week." It was like watching a well-trained hunting dog go on point, the way Daniel's spine straightened and his eyes snapped in her direction. "Really? That could be...interesting." Sam had to bite her lips to hide a triumphant grin. 'Got him in one!' "I suppose I could..." Hammond shot her an amused and appreciative look. "Done, then. I want you all off the base within the hour," he told them. "And enjoy yourselves. That's an order!" As they headed down to the showers, O'Neill came up from behind and slipped an arm around Daniel's shoulders. "So, ya going to my old stomping grounds? Like a guide for the first coupla days?" Daniel gave his CO, and friend, a sideways look. "I'm not a child, Jack," he replied with just a trace of annoyance. "I can find my way around the big city just fine." "Have you ever been to Chicago?" "Well, yes, actually..." "Then let me show you my favorite haunts for a couple of days," he offered, " then I'll go molest my fish and you can go admire your rocks." "Artifacts, Jack. Artifacts." **************** Meanwhile, in Chicago... Gary Hobson looked down at his plate as if he had never seen bacon and eggs before. He remembered asking for them, but couldn't think of why. 'Hungry,' he thought wearily. 'That's right. I was hungry. Breakfast. Eat.' He picked up the fork like it weighed a ton, and slowly began to eat. "What time did you get in last night?" his friend, Marissa Clark, asked with concern. "Didn't," Gary mumbled around a forkful of eggs. He washed it down with a swig of orange juice before he continued. "Just got back from giving a statement to the police." He rested his head on his other hand, exhausted. "I think they're getting a little fed up with my 'right time/right place' line. I need a new one." "You can't keep going like this, Gary," the young black woman told him. "How much sleep have you had in the last, what is it now, three days? Less than eight hours. Totaled. You even sound half-dead! I can't believe I'm saying this, but...why not let the city take care of itself for one day? You have to get some rest!" At the sound of paper rustling, Marissa knew she had lost that argument before it had begun. "Can't," Gary responded with a tired sigh. "School bus accident in about thirty minutes. Driver has a heart attack and dies, taking four kids with him." Rustle. "After that is a hit and run just two blocks away. Then there's...." "I get the picture;" Marissa sighed, pushing a Thermos of extra strong coffee at him. "Just ...be careful?" She couldn't see the tired smile, but she could feel it. Gary was the only person she knew that could do that. As he headed out the door once more, she couldn't help but worry. The paper had kept him so busy lately. Between fires, pile-ups on the freeway, shootings and hold-ups, he had been going almost non-stop for the last three...no four days now. Not to mention muggings, rapes, and assaults. How much more could he take before he made a fatal error in judgment that could end up with someone dead or dying? Possibly himself. ******* 'At last!' Gary flopped on his bed without bothering to remove his clothes. It was well after two o'clock, he just wasn't sure how much after. He really didn't care. As long as he got just a few hours of uninterrupted, blessed, SLEEP! ******** "Here you are sir," the elderly doorman told his new guest. "And may I say it's good to see you back. Hope you enjoy your stay as much as the last fellow who lived here." "Thank you, Boswell," Daniel said as he deposited his bag on the bed. "This is fine. I can see why he liked it." He opened the window and looked out at the 'balcony', "It seems...different. Still nice and cozy." "Mr. Hobson thought so," Boswell replied with a sad little smile. "Nice man. A little hasty, though. Always rushing about with a newspaper in his hand. If not for the fire, I like to think he would still be living right here." "Fire?" Daniel asked, turning his attention back to the doorman. "He wasn't..." "Oh, no!" Boswell laughed. "But the poor man lost everything he had. Faulty wiring. That's why this room has been unoccupied for so long. We had to replace all the old wiring and renovate the entire apartment." He shook his head sadly. "Hated to see Mr. Hobson leave. But, in the end, it was for the best." "How so?" Daniel leaned against the windowsill, interested in the story. "Well," Boswell continued, "he ended up owning McGinty's, that little tavern a few blocks from here, before the week was out." Blinking rapidly, Daniel tried to make sense of that statement. "Hold on. He went from being homeless, to owning a tavern in less than a week?" Amazing! "How'd he manage that?" Boswell just smiled and tipped his hat as he headed for the door. "Mr. Hobson is a remarkable man," he said with a wink. "As you will learn, if you stay here long enough." ******** "And it's another rainy day here in the Windy City, folks...." Gary slapped at the clock and finally managed to silence the damned thing. Slowly, he peeled his right eye open and glared at the time. 6:30. Time to start another day. Only, he didn't go to work like other people. No no no. None of that nine to five crap for him! No, his job started.... Mrrrooowr Thunk. ...now. And, if he were lucky, which he hadn't been lately, he would be done before midnight. With a little less effort than it had required for him to climb the stairs last night, he rolled out of bed and made his way to the door. Opened it. Mrrrr? "Morning, Cat," he mumbled, almost coherently. The orange tabby sauntered regally over to its food dish and looked back at him expectantly. "In a minute." He bent down to pick up the paper that had been showing up at his door for the last four years and some odd months. Quickly scouring the paper from cover to cover as he fed the cat, he was relieved to see that most of his work would not start until after ten. Just one hit and run a little before lunch, otherwise his morning was clear. Looking wistfully at his rumpled bed he opted for a shower instead. The way he felt, he knew if he crawled back in, he would not surface in time to save Dr. Daniel Jackson, visiting archeologist, and Air Force Colonel Jack O'Neill from that speeding car. ********* The two men sat in the rented Taurus, waiting for their targets to show up. "I thought they'd gotten rooms at the same hotel?" Man number one grumbled. "What's Jackson doing here?" "Who knows," number two replied grimly. "Maybe he likes the 'quaint charm' of the place. Who cares? If we miss 'em here, there's always the museum." "That museum idea is too chancy," number one complained. "No guarantee you'll get both. I still say we should just grab 'em and toss 'em off a pier." "With about fifty pounds of lead weights each?" Two snorted. "Yeah, that'll look like a 'random act' for sure! Naw, until our client says otherwise, we have to make it look accidental. Like they were caught up in somethin' that wasn't really aimed at them, ya know?" One leaned forward to see the entrance better. "Just makes it harder, is all," he commented acidly. "Accidents are a bitch to orchestrate." ****************** "I don't know why you'd want to stay in that old dump," O'Neill was grumbling. "The Clarion is a classy place! All the visiting academics are staying there!" "Exactly!" Daniel replied bitterly. "If one more of those condescending...asses looks down his nose at me and asks if I've published anything lately...Or makes one more snide remark about sponsoring a dig at Roswell... And the Blackstone is not a dump. I lived here for a couple of years. It's very old, historic, and comfortable." He tossed a wave at Boswell as they carried their discussion out to the street. "Even my room has a history. The guy who was in there last? He now owns that tavern you were telling me was so great." "McGinty's?" "Yeah. That one. Seems like just a few days after his apartment was gutted by fire, and the tavern was sold to developers and..." "McGinty's!?" "The same. Anyway, it was scheduled to be torn down. But, this guy, Hobson, saved the life of the developer who bought it. Hobson was all set to walk off into the sunset, so to speak, but the guy he saved up and gave him the bar. That was about three years ago, and..." Both men were so preoccupied with their conversation, they didn't noticed the squeal of tires, or the young man who sauntered up behind them, stuffing a newspaper inside his black leather jacket. Their minds barely registered stepping off the curb... ...Until strong hands grabbed them by the elbows and hauled them back as a black Taurus sped through the red light. Daniel felt the wind from its passage pluck at his jacket. "Whoa!" O'Neill exclaimed, shaken. "Too damned close! Tha....Where'd he go?" He spun around, not seeing any one. "I don't...He just disappeared." Daniel looked around hurriedly, also a little unnerved. Christ! Go all across the galaxy, getting shot at, shot, killed, and resurrected, and almost get creamed by a Ford Taurus on planet Earth! "Could that be him?" He pointed at the dark haired young man just turning the corner they had originally been headed for. He was dressed in faded jeans and a leather jacket. O'Neill shrugged. "Could be. And I don't see anyone else...Unless you think that little old lady with the walker is that strong. Let's go ask." They ran, trying to catch up with their mysterious rescuer. He was still half a block ahead of them when they saw him enter...McGinty's. The two men stopped in their tracks, Jack's mouth hanging open. He looked at Daniel, only to find Daniel looking at him. "You don't think...?" the younger man started. "Naw." O'Neill shook his head. "That would be too...Just because we were talkin'...Could it?" "Only one way to find out," Daniel shrugged. He strolled up to the door and went in. And there he was. Sitting at the counter, paper in one hand, coffee cup in the other. As the smell of that heavenly brew wafted his way, Daniel almost forgot why he was there. Then he figured to kill two, maybe three, birds with one stone. Casually, he and Jack strolled up to the bar and asked for coffee. They then took stools to either side of the young man. Instantly aware of their presence, he folded the paper and stuffed it into his jacket. "Can I help you guys?" he asked. There was just a trace of trepidation in his voice. "Oh, I think you already have," Jack replied a little too casually. "Do you always yank people from in front of speeding cars, and then run off before they can say 'thank you'?" The young stranger looked from Jack to the clock over the bar. "I...ahm...it was no big deal," he stammered. Couldn't make up his mind who to look at. "I just...happened to see the car and you...didn't." He tried to toss it off with a shrug, but seemed to find it difficult to meet his eyes. "Nothing to get excited about. Um, are you guys from around here?" "I used to be," O'Neill shrugged, sipping his coffee. He had to suppress a grin at the raptured look on Daniel's face as he savored that first sip. "I'm showing Danny around before I head for my favorite fishing grounds. I'm Jack O'Neill, by the way. This is Daniel Jackson." "Gary Hobson." He shook their hands. "The young lady with the big dog is Marissa Clark," he added, wondering at the pained look that flickered briefly over Jackson's face. "Assistant manager of this place. And the one with the bottomless coffeepot is Robin. What, um, what brings you to Chicago, Do...Daniel?" Damn! He'd have to watch that! The slip had obviously not gotten by either man. Jackson was studying him intently over his cup. "You know me from somewhere?" "N-no. I. ahm," he glanced at the clock over the bar. God! Where had the time gone? He still had that bank robbery to stop! "It's been nice talking, guys," he hastily excused himself, " but I really have to run. And lunch is on me. Have a nice one!" And he was off! Daniel and Jack exchanged puzzled looks as Robin brought them a menu. "You get used to that," she shrugged. "Gary's always in a hurry. Except for the time he broke his leg. That slowed him down for a day or two." Jack looked from the pretty bartender, to the door, to Daniel, then back to the door. "Strange man," he muttered. ************ "I guess we have to go with the museum plan," Number One sighed. "Too bad. I was gonna take my kid there this weekend." "Let's hold off 'til we see what happens at the bank." ************ Gary was about to get a lot stranger. He had tried since the headline appeared to get hold of either Armstrong or Brigatti. Both were unreachable, and time was growing short. He had tried calling 911 and using the old 'I overheard these guys talking' routine. No good. The headline was still there. "Three Killed In Daylight Robbery." It went on to say that two armed men took everyone in the downtown branch hostage, holding the police off for several hours. They killed two of the hostages before the police managed to kill one, wounding the other. Or, rather, they would. If Gary couldn't stop them. He eyed the crowd carefully. It wouldn't do to attract too much attention. All he needed was to stop these guys, not start a shooting spree. Two men in long coats were hovering around one of the tables, to all appearances filling out deposit slips. But, they kept looking at the front entrance, as if waiting for someone...Oh no! "Just let me cash a couple of travelerís checks," O'Neill was saying as he and Dr. Jackson walked through the double doors. Neither man was expecting trouble, so they were unaware of the look that passed between the two would be robbers. Gary moved up close behind the two suspicious looking characters, with his hand in his pocket. Why not? It worked in the movies. "Don't move," he said in his most menacing voice, just barely loud enough for them to hear. "I know what you're planning and it's not gonna happen. Got it?" He poked the nearest man in the ribs with a roll of pennies. Hard. "Got it?" he grated out between clenched teeth. The two looked at each other. "G-got it, " the one he was poking responded in a choked whisper. "Good. Now, let's just walk on out of here nice and quiet," Gary urged them in a tight whisper. "You two first. I'll be right behind you. Right behind." He emphasized his command with another prod to the ribs. They almost made it to the door...before O'Neill spoke up. "Hobson! Small world!" Ahh sh---! Gary groaned inwardly, as the two gunmen spun around to 'get the drop on him.' Only to find him swinging at the nearest with the roll of pennies clenched in his fist. Pain shot up his arm as he connected solidly with the man's jaw, dropping him like a rock. The other would be killer had whipped his gun out, striking Gary hard on the wrist. The resulting pain caused Gary to fall back a step. He suddenly found himself staring down the barrel of a sawed-off shotgun. The remaining gunman jabbed the muzzle into the tender flesh under his chin. "Too bad, Hero man," he chuckled, an evil gleam in his eyes as his finger tightened on the trigger. The eyes glazed over, however, when Daniel hit him upside the head with his laptop. Gary cradled his injured hand, smiling through the pain at his rescuer. "Thanks," he said in a hoarse, strained voice. "Never thought one of those would come in handy." He looked at the rapidly approaching guards. "Um, I...owe you dinner tonight." Time to make a hasty retreat. He shot O'Neill and Jackson a pleading look. "You never saw me before. Okay?" Still clutching his wrist, he slipped out the doors and disappeared onto the crowded sidewalk. O'Neill tried to follow the retreating figure with his eyes, but, even having seen which direction he had taken, he was unable to pick the elusive Mr. Hobson out of the crowd. "He's good!" Jack murmured. "Weird. But good." ************* "Damn! You just can't hire good talent off the street anymore," Number One sighed, shaking his head sadly. "And my kid was really looking forward to this weekend." ************* The police had come and gone. Daniel had promised to stop by the station later to give his statement. Now, he sat on a bench while Jack finished his transaction, carefully checking his laptop for damage. Fortunately, the metal case seemed to have absorbed most of the impact. Still, it was worth the risk to have evened the score with the mysterious Mr. Hobson. Hobson's actions still puzzled Daniel. The man had just risked his life to foil a potential disaster, saving no telling how many lives, then just...walked away. Almost anyone else would have stood around raking in the kudos. Even the most self- effacing would have stuck around to give a grudging statement. Hobson looked like he was running for his life! "All set." Daniel looked up at Jack's smiling face. "We've got a coupla hours before the game," his friend continued, ignoring Daniel's pained expression. "So let's go take a gander at those rocks of yours." "Artifacts, Jack," Daniel groaned. "They're called artifacts!" "Whatever." ************* Gary sat in the waiting area. Just another face in the crowd. His hand and wrist had swollen to almost twice their size by the time he had gotten to the El station, spurring his decision to stop at the nearest ER to have it looked at. He had been waiting, however, for more than an hour. To take his mind off the pain, he glanced at the paper again. What the...! "Museum Explosion Kills Two!" That wasn't...What had he done to cause this to appear? He quickly reviewed everything he had done today. Once before he had saved a man's life, only to have to stop the man before he killed either his best friend, or a mother of two who just happened to be an assistant DA. The headline hadn't been there before the bank, so it couldn't have to do with either the hit and run or the bus accident. So someone who would have died at the bank had to be the link. Think! Who was supposed to die? One of the robbers, but they were both in jail. Weren't they? And two...tourists. Not Jackson and O'Neill, surely! He quickly read the article. There they were, listed as the casualties. What was with those two? He looked hurriedly at his watch. If he could catch a cab, he might just make it! Jumping up, he pulled out his cell phone and started dialing 911. If he was real lucky, they might listen this time. Big if. ************** "I'm tellin' ya, Daniel," O'Neill was saying, " there is somethin' weird goin' on. I know Chicago has a reputation as a rough and tumble town, but two close calls in one day is still stretching it a bit! Even for us." Daniel listened absently to Jack's grumbling. The exhibit was not quite as exhilarating as he had hoped, but was still an excellent display. He was pleased by the audio/visual aids exploring the way languages had changed over the millennia. Dr. Jordan had done an excellent job, as usual. Unfortunately, his old mentor was out of town. Something to do with artifacts recovered from a shipwreck. They had paused in front of a display of brightly colored scarabs, when Daniel noticed the two men acting strangely. They kept looking at everything but the exhibits, and seemed especially not interested in Jack and Daniel. They had just come from the room housing replicas of Egyptian sarcophagi. Daniel had about decided that he would skip that particular display, but the way the two men kept trying not to look at him was beginning to get on his nerves. Casually, Jack in tow, he headed towards the archway dividing the two displays. **************** Breathlessly, Gary sprinted up the steps and burst through the front entrance. He paused to glance at his watch. Made it! With just minutes to spare! Where the hell were the police? How could he have beaten them here? Gary scanned the directory, heart racing. Sarcophagi. Where would he find...There! Ignoring the outraged cries of the young woman in the ticket booth, Gary raced up the stairs to the second floor. 'God, please! Let me be in time!' ***************** Just a few more feet. Wait. Wait. As soon as they were close enough... ***************** Daniel suppressed a shiver as he looked at a particularly ornate golden sarcophagus. It reminded him way too much of others he had used in the past. Maybe he should skip this part of the tour after all. Dimly, he could hear someone shouting in the other room. He suddenly found himself being flung across the room, an outraged Jack O'Neill right on top of him. From somewhere just above him, he heard someone shouting: "GET DOWN!" Just before the world exploded. ************* Part 2 Gary had managed to scare everyone else from entering the danger zone, but Jackson and O'Neill were less than five feet from what the paper said would be the center of the explosion. He barely had time to think of anything but getting them out of the path of that blast. Launching himself over a distance that would have broken Olympic records, he sent both of them flying almost into the next room, screaming his warning. The next thing he knew, a giant hand plucked him out of the air, flinging him between two stone columns and into...the moss carpeted floor of the Peruvian diorama. Stunned, Gary found himself looking up at a stuffed jaguar. 'Whoa! Nice kitty!' he thought fuzzily. Cautiously, he tried moving. Satisfied that everything was in working order, he levered himself up, looking around for an escape route. Voices in the next room told him that O'Neill and Jackson were being looked after. Now to beat a hasty retreat. **************** "Oh my God! Don't move! Don't move! The ambulance is on its way. My God! How did this happen?" Jack slowly pushed himself up from the floor, ignoring the restraining hands of the people fussing over him. For some reason, he felt surprised that he could still move. His ears were ringing, and he felt slightly...mooshed, but otherwise okay. A stirring at his side reminded him of Daniel. He quickly learned not to make any sudden moves, as pain lanced up his neck and into his brain! Christ! What hit them? WHO hit them? Turning his head very slowly, he saw Daniel trying to sit up. From the way he moved, the floor had smacked him pretty good, too. So why weren't they dead? "How's the head?" he asked Daniel. His own voice sounded tinny and far away "You know that gong they used to summon King Kong to dinner?" "Yeah?" "Like that." "Gotcha." "You?" "The same." He gingerly stretched his neck from side to side. "Not too shabby, otherwise." "Ditto. So...um...you were saying about...close calls?" ************* "Sh---! Where did that guy come from?" "I don't know," Two snarled in answer. "But I'm gettin' tired of his interference. That's three times in one day. Someone's leakin' information, and I want to know who!" "So, we grab 'im?" "Yeah. Before we make another try on the targets, I want to know everything he does." ************* Jack and Daniel found themselves sharing a room at County General Hospital. X-rays and CTs had turned up no broken bones or internal injuries, but the doctor was keeping them for observation. Just to be safe. "It was him," Jack growled, almost to himself. "I know it was him!" He was pacing the room like a caged tiger. "You can't know that Jack," Daniel tried reasoning. "Everything happened too fast! I...I admit, the glimpse I caught looked like Hobson, and that could have been his voice, but..." "It...was...him!" Daniel slumped back against the bed, tired of trying to reason with his CO. What made it even harder was...he thought Jack was right. He, too, was pretty sure the man who had knocked them behind the sarcophagus had been Gary Hobson. The guy seemed to be everywhere! "So, how did he know?" Jack inquired heatedly. "I bought the bit about the car. At first. But, the bank? AND the museum? Either he's psychic, which I'm not buying for a minute, or it's all part of some...plot!" Daniel shot Jack a skeptical look. "A 'plot', Jack? To what? Screw up the first real vacation we've had in almost four years? Why? To what purpose? Are 'they' after both of us or just one, with the other as a bonus?" His eyes widened as a nasty thought occurred to him. "W-what if it's...well, your past that's catching up with us?" Jack stopped his pacing to stare out the window. "Then we have a bunch of pros after us...or me," he answered grimly. "And, if Hobson's not one of them, then he has to be involved somehow. He's showed up too many times, too many places, in one day to put it down to 'coincidence'." "That word ceases to have any meaning," a deep voice behind him intoned, "if you're talking about Gary Hobson." The two teammates looked up to see a tall black man and a short white woman with short dark hair approaching them. The man looked formidable, but relaxed. The woman, on the other hand, looked as approachable as a really p---d off rattlesnake. "And you would be...?" O'Neill asked. "Detectives Toni Brigatti," the woman introduced herself, "and Paul Armstrong. We're...friends... sorta, of Gary Hobson. Has anyone taken your statement yet?" "Yes," Daniel replied, rising to shake their hands. He made quick introductions. "So you're... acquainted...with Mr. Hobson?" "We've...crossed paths on a number of occasions," Armstrong replied. "He has a habit of showing up at the damnedest times, in some of the most incredible situations. So. Tell me how you three met." Jack quickly filled them in on the morning's events. They never batted an eyelash until they described the way Gary had disarmed the situation at the bank. Brigatti's eyes flashed, and her mouth tightened into a grim line. Armstrong, guessing what the other detective was thinking, winced. Hobson was in for it now! Brigatti had a temper that was legendary throughout the force. When they had finished, Jack turned to Armstrong. "Your turn. Tell us about Hobson." "Not much to tell," the big detective shrugged. "He was already well known around the department. Back in '96, it seems, he started...predicting things. A bank robbery was the first, I think. Then fires, buildings collapsing. things like that. He was instrumental, it seems in catching a nut who hid bombs in Teddybears. He always seems...to know when someone needs help." He quickly held his hands up, palms out. "He denies any psychic...powers...or anything of that nature. But, he can't...or won't, say how he does it. All we can tell you is that Gary Hobson is a strange...and remarkable man." "He doesn't like violence," Brigatti spoke up. "I can't even get the big lug to carry a gun for protection! But try to get him to stay out of the line of fire! He has to have more lives than that cat of his!" "Sooo," Jackson sighed, "why haven't we ever heard of him before? I mean...someone who's in the news that much should have attracted the national media by now." "Gary's real camera shy," Brigatti almost snarled. "Somehow, he always seems to either escape before the news crews show up, or shifts the focus on someone else. I think the big jerk would rather crawl in a hole than hear a single 'thank you'." She smiled wickedly. "He got all tongue-tied when you caught him, didn't he?" "Oh, yeah," Jack grinned back at her. "Thought he was gonna pull an 'Incredible Shrinking Man' act on us. And the way he disappeared from that bank? Houdini would've been proud." ************ Another long night had finally come to an end. Gary wearily climbed the stairs to his loft. He made several clumsy attempts before he was able to unlock his door with his left hand. After leaving the museum, he had finally gotten x-rays of his wrist and hand. As he had feared, he had broken two bones in his hand and had a hairline fracture of the radius. Fortunately, the rest of his day had consisted mostly of minor 'rescues'. And he hadn't really needed his right hand to stop that rapist. The cast had come in handy for blocking that knife, though. But the events of the day had taken its toll on him. He was too tired now to even need the pain meds the ER doc had given him. As bad as his arm throbbed, it was paled by the all-invasive feeling of complete and utter exhaustion that made him look at his bed like the gates of heaven. For the second night in a row, he plopped face down on the bed, and passed out. *************** "...Another beautiful day in the Windy City..." Gary automatically slapped at the clock with his right hand, memory kicking in too late to prevent the stab of pain that ran up his arm."Sh---!" he gasped, hugging the injured extremity to his chest. "No, God! Too tired," he mumbled as he curled up in a ball. "Just wanna sleep a little..." "Mrrowrr!" Thump. "Slave driver." ************ The two men again sat outside the Blackstone hotel. Now, however they drove a rented Nissan. "The boss called last night," Number One reported. "Before I could tell him what happened, he said to hold off on O'Neill and Jackson. He's got someone interested in the kid." "What kind of 'interested'?" "Didn't say," One shrugged. "And I didn't ask. He wants us to find that other guy, though. Said to sweat 'im. Then kill 'im." ************* "You can't be serious!" Crazy Eddie looked at his friend as if he had finally lost his mind. 'The stress of the last two years must have caused a synaptic overload,' he thought. "Don't you remember the last time you went 'home'?" he asked in exasperation. "You ended up in jail. In the hands of the Gua! They'll be laying for you, man!" In answer, Cade Foster tapped the computer screen. "'When the Guardian of the City of Winds crosses the path of evil men, he must walk the road of Gods to worlds beyond the ancient gate.' City of Winds, Eddie. What else could it mean but my old hometown?" Eddie paced the limited confines of his trailer, trying frantically to come up with a viable alternative. He couldn't. Chicago WAS the Windy City. "So...who's this 'Guardian' we have to find? Batman?" Foster shook his head in bewilderment, smiling at Eddie's snide comments. "I don't know," he replied honestly. "But, I don't think it's a cop. It would have said 'a' guardian, if that were the case. No, I think we're looking for a special person. Someone who...I don't know...spends a lot of time ...helping people. And, when we do find him, he'll be someone in desperate need of our help." Eddie stopped his pacing to give his friend a puzzled look. "What makes you say that?" Foster pointed at the quatrain again. "Evil men, Eddie," he smiled grimly. "He's not being invited to a backyard barbeque. Except, maybe, as the entree." *************** "We're fine, General. Yes, sir. No, sir. Not really, no." Jack listened with growing impatience as General Hammond expressed his concern over yesterday's events. "General, we are FINE. A little shook up, but basically sound. If you call us back, now, we'll never get to...Yes, sir. I DO realize how...Yes, sir. Any word from Carter? Good. So it's just here. No, sir. We haven't had time to run a background...You have? Already? Ah ha. Yeah. So they were legit. Yes. Nothing? Not even...? What about...? You're kidding! How do you get banned from...? His CAT? In the jury box? Stopped a war where? And he's clean? What was that again? What Secret Service...Ah, man! No wonder he's so spooked. Yeah, General. We'll find out what he knows and get back to you. Is this gonna count toward our vaca...?" O'Neill held the phone away from his ear with a grimace. "Yes, sir," he sighed. "Good bye, sir." He hung the phone up, giving the inanimate object an evil glare. Then he turned that glare on Daniel. The young anthropologist threw his hands up in defense. "Whoa, whatever it is, I didn't do it!" "Not you," O'Neill growled. "Hobson! For a guy who checks out cleaner than a boy scout, he's managed to cross horns with the Justice Department, the FBI, the Secret Service, and the C...I...freakin' A! They think he may even have impersonated a Navy lieutenant to stop a terrorist attack on a peace conference!" He paced between the desk and the bed, emphasizing his speech with sharp gestures. "There's even a recording of a call he made to NASA! The guy is into everything!" He stopped pacing and flung himself on Daniel's couch, burying his face in his hands. "Hammond wants us to talk to Hobson," he mumbled dejectedly. "Wants us to find out HOW...he knows so...much...about things that an 'ordinary' citizen couldn't possibly know about." "Well," Daniel shrugged, "we know where he works. Why don't we just...ask?" Jack raised his head to direct a look at the younger man that would have melted steel. "Just a suggestion!" ************** "You take that back!" "No! I say it again. Yer a liar and a cheat!" "Who you callin' a liar! You cheated!" The two old men glared angrily at each other over the chessboard. Heated words screeched from their mouths. A crowd began to gather as the verbal sparing escalated hands and arms gesticulating wildly. The first old man yelled again for the other to 'take it back!', as he brought his cane down towards the head of his oldest friend...and straight across the cast on Gary's arm. The impact did nothing to ease Gary's discomfort. But his howl of pain did bring the two old men to their senses. They began apologizing to Gary, then to each other, then saying things like: "If only you hadn't..." Hostilities threatened to resume. "Enough!" Gary cried as soon as he could get his breath. He pointed his good hand at the first old man. "Neither one of you moved...the pieces. That dog over there," he waved at a mutt chasing a Frisbee, "bumped the table. That's ALL! A couple of...men were knocked over...and the kid put 'em back in...the wrong places." "Ya sure?" the second old man asked in a quavering voice. "I'm sure," Gary told them both. As the two old friends embraced warmly, Gary checked page three again. 'Fight Over Chess Game Claims One', had become 'City Council Approves Budget'. With a sigh, he stuffed the paper back into his jacket. When the old men finally remembered to thank him, he was gone. Fifteen minutes later, Gary was less than a block from McGinty's, when he felt something brush his leg, and heard a familiar 'Mrrrrowwrr'. He came to a halt. This always meant trouble. Sparing the time to shoot the cat a 'now what' look, he pulled out the paper. What could be soooo...oh oh. 'Tavern Owner Kidnapped In Broad Daylight', with a picture of his smiling face! Where did they get that picture? The article stated that two men would grab him as he walked into the front door of McGinty's in, he checked his watch, oops. They must be sitting on his doorstep right now! He looked down. "Thanks, Cat." Thinking quickly, Gary backtracked a couple of blocks until he came to a dead-end alley. He quickly scaled the fire escape, crossed over two rooftops, and entered his loft through the back window. 'After more than four years of this,' he reflected, 'it pays to keep my options open.' After making sure the door was locked, he opted for a quick shower, then called down to the kitchen to have something sent up. This was out of character for him, as he usually loved to eat downstairs at the bar. But that headline hadn't changed. Only the time was different. Were these goons camping on his doorstep? What did they want? A knock at his door was Vadim, bringing him a tray loaded with the day's lunch special: a turkey club, fries, and a large coffee. Gary took the tray and invited the bartender in for 'a moment'. He set the tray on the coffee table. "Vadim," he began, "I know this will sound strange, but, has anyone been asking about me? Or someone who looks like me?" "Ahskeeng about you, Mr. H?" The sandy haired immigrant shook his head, puzzled. "Oh, wait! You had call from man who say your...ex-wife was roommate to hees wife. Her name was... Hannah! He say, he needs you to help heem. Is of GREAT importance! And two men are downstairs now who say you know them from yesterday. At the ...bank?" The...Oh Christ! Jackson and O'Neill! When he hadn't seen them in the paper, he'd thought he was done with them! He should have known it wouldn't be that easy. They probably had a ton of questions. Including the one he could NOT answer! Suddenly he wasn't so hungry as his mind raced over his options. He glanced at the paper spread out beside his tray. The article still said he would be grabbed outside of McGinty's. "Show them up, if you don't mind, Vadim," he sighed, defeated. "Oh, did that other guy leave a number?" "No. He say he will call back this evening. Is very important." Hannah. Marcia had roomed with a girl named Hannah just before they'd gotten married. She'd been hanging out with this guy that everyone else said was no good for her. Then he remembered. Cade Foster. Hannah had married him right out of college. The letters she wrote Marcia had been full of love and praise for how he had gotten his life together. Then, two years ago, he had been tried and convicted of her murder. A murder Gary had been unable to prevent because it had taken place too far away. He had tried, though. Even now he could feel the frustration he had felt that night as he had driven like mad to reach that out of the way motel; almost wrecking the van when the tire blew. Only to get there as they were dragging a screaming Foster out in handcuffs. He was screaming her name ...and sobbing. For some reason, even with the insanity conviction, Gary had never quite been convinced of Foster's guilt. But the opportunity to prove his innocence had never come up. The knock at the door shattered his reverie. Through the rippled glass, he could make out enough to recognize the blurred features of Jackson and O'Neill. He swallowed uneasily and invited them in. O'Neill pushed the door open, casting a glance around the room that seemed casual. Gary would bet, though, that the Air Force colonel could now find his way around the spacious room in the dark. His expression was could almost be described as curious, until you saw the steel in his eyes. He was not here on a social call. Jackson, on the other hand, openly studied the room, as he wandered around the loft, hands in pockets. "Nice," he commented. "Roomy." He ran one hand over the seat of Gary's bike. "Get much use out of this?" "O-ocassionally," Gary shrugged. "Um, can we..." He pulled the chair around so it was half facing the couch, but still where he could watch the door. He indicated the couch. "Ah, have a seat. Sorry about the mess." Wincing, he thought, God! Did I really just say that? He grabbed the tray and carried it into the kitchenette. "Um, Vadim said you...ahm...wanted to talk..." He fussed about, glad he had put on a pot of coffee when he first came in. His private stock was a little more to his liking than what they served downstairs. He knew he was only delaying the inevitable, but he still went about preparing the cups and setting out all the fixings. "I...ah...heard about your close call...at the museum. Th-that was you...wasn't...?" "You know damn well it was," O'Neill drawled, settling comfortably on the sofa. "You ever play pro? That was a hell of a tackle." Gary shook his head as he set the tray on the table, his eyes fixed on the older man. "Too bad. So. What were you doing there? And how did you know about the bomb?" There it was. THE question. Gary was still trying to get his tired mind to formulate a reasonable answer, when he noticed the paper. Still laying there in plain sight. "I'm waiting Hobson," O'Neill reminded him. "I..ahm..." Oh crap! 'What's the use,' he thought. 'They already think I'm crazy. Why not run with it?' Deep breath..."I get advance...notice, sorta of what's gonna happen each day," he said, trying to think on the fly. "It's a...kind of...warning when...things...are gonna go wrong." Hoo boy. This was where Rod Serling was supposed to show up. He took a sip of his coffee to ease the constriction in his throat. "I'm supposed to...change..." Yep. O'Neill thought he was either lying or Loony Tunes. Gary lunged up out of the chair, causing the two men to flinch. He had had enough. And he was too damned tired to argue. Angrily, he walked over and yanked open the door, remembering at the last second to use his left hand. "You had questions," he snapped. "You wanted the truth. Now, you've got it. Get the hell out and have a nice day." Neither man made any move to get up. Instead, as if rehearsed, they both picked up their cups and took a sip. "This is excellent coffee," Jackson commented evenly. "Do you buy it locally? Or is it a special blend?" O'Neill said nothing more, staring at Gary over the rim of his cup. Gary felt like a specimen under a microscope. It was all too much. Too many long nights with little or no sleep, running all over the city saving people from themselves, or the mechanizations of others. He was just so...damned... TIRED! He pushed the door closed and leaned his head against the cool glass. 'And now this,' he thought. 'Military. Not much different than Feds.' Maybe it would be best if they thought he was crazy. "I'm not making this up," he sighed, head still pressed against the glass. "But, the question of my sanity is still open for debate." He looked at his bed. So far away. "I know how this sounds," he told them. He turned, leaning his back against the wall, eyes closed. "I've had four years to get used to this, and I still run into things I don't understand." He let out a brief, high pitched laugh. "Like I ever understood any of this!" He looked up at O'Neill, his eyes pleading. "Imagine being on the world's longest roller coaster. And it rolls non- stop straight down the middle of the Twilight Zone. With an occasional corkscrew through the Outer Limits thrown in to spice things up. There's no stopping it. Once you're on, you're there for life. Until the day...you...die. The only thing you can do, is try to change the destinations of the ones who can get off." Wearily, he raked a hand through his hair. God! He was so tired! Their voices sounded like they were talking two rooms away, muffled...distorted. And he was getting light-headed. "You know, I really don't care if you believe me. I've saved your life three times in one day. I've got goons parked somewhere outside waiting for me to show my face. I've had less than twelve hours sleep this week." He levered himself away from the support of the wall and walked slowly to his bed. "If you guys want to spend your vacation time waiting for me to come up with answers that fit neatly into your world view, that's fine. Go downstairs; enjoy a hot meal on me. Have a nice time while I get a few hours sleep. Or you can sit up here and listen to me snore. It's up to you." "Whoa!" O'Neill held up a hand as he stood up. "Back up a few steps there. Three times? The car and the museum...?" "And the bank," Gary told him. "Oh, that's right. You couldn't < yawn >Those two guys had been there over an hour. They didn't make their move 'til you two walked in. You were supposed to < yawn > be shot as hostages in a foooour hour siege." He eased himself down onto the mattress. Just an hour or so, he promised himself. Just...recharge...the ol' batteries...a...little. ************ Part 3 "They've been in there long enough for three lunches," One grumbled. "So? They can't stay in there forever. Sooner or later, they have to come out," Two reasoned. "When they do, we make our move. Every time those two are threatened, HE shows up. That's when we grab 'im." **************** Jackson peered down at the sprawled figure, doing a mental count of ten. Hobson was snoring softly before he hit three. "He's out!" he murmured softly. He left the bedside and strolled casually around the loft, checking out the layout. "So, Jack. I take it you disbelieve his story?" The colonel snorted derisively as he stared at the sleeping man. "What? That he's psychic or something? Do you think it's legit?" "I'm open to the possibility," Daniel replied cautiously. He sat down in the chair Gary had vacated. "I know one thing; he wasn't kidding about being exhausted." He waved a hand at the man on the bed. "I'm not sure if he's just sleeping or if we should call an ambulance! If you fired off a gun in this room, you might wake him, but I doubt it. I think he's just too tired to think up a good lie." "So he came up with a bad one?" Daniel shot him a withering look. "Isn't that a bit like the pot calling the kettle black? I mean, look at what we do. Besides, it would certainly explain a lot," he replied. "Like how he's able to know so much about so many different things." Three hours later, O'Neill was chaffing at the proverbial bit. He and Daniel had gone downstairs for awhile, talking with everyone who knew the young tavern owner. Everyone, patrons and employees alike, had spoken highly of him. They also mentioned that he always seemed in a hurry. Often, the pretty bartender told them as she cast not so furtive glances at Daniel, he would be gone from dawn til closing time. Lately, she added, he had hardly been home at all. "Maybe you should wait 'til Marissa gets back," she finally told them. "She's known Gary for years." "And she'll be back...when?" Daniel asked casually, trying unsuccessfully not to fidget under Robin's scrutiny. Robin glanced up at the clock. "Soon," she shrugged. "She had to take her guide dog to the vet. They close soon, so...probably within the hour." "Thanks," O'Neill grumbled, towing Daniel by the elbow. "Would you tell her to come upstairs when she gets back? We need to discuss some things with her boss." He dragged his teammate toward the stairs. "How do you do that?" he groaned. "Do what?" Jackson asked innocently. "That! Attract every female in a five mile radius!" Stunned, Daniel looked back at the young bartender. She smiled and gave him a jaunty kittle wave. "D-don't be ridiculous," he stammered. "She was just being friendly. Besides, I think someone said she was married or engaged...or something." "Yeah. Right." Nothing much had changed. Hobson was still flat of his back, snoring softly. He had apparently not moved a hair. O'Neill was beginning to think he should have called an ambulance, when Hobson began to stir restlessly in his sleep. Indecipherable words and phrases tumbled disjointedly from his lips. His hands began to twitch spasmodically. A soft knock at the door startled them. "Gary?" a soft, hesitant voice called out. "Gary, are you all right?" O'Neill opened the door to find the young blind woman from downstairs hovering just outside. "He's sleeping, " he told her in hushed tones. He quickly introduced himself and Daniel, and learned she was Marissa Clark. "Must've had a rough night," headed, meaning Hobson. "C'mon in." "Thank you, no," she smiled. "Just let him rest. This is the slowest day he's had all week." "Running a bar is that tough?" Jack was fishing, and he could see she knew it. "What has he told you?" "Only that he...knows the future," Daniel replied. "How long has he had this...gift?" "Four years," she told them. "Either he trusts you, or you caught him at a really weak moment." Her smile broadened at his stunned silence. "I've known Gary for more than six years. And I've been in on this from the beginning. Would you like to know what he did the day after it all started? Cleaned up at the track, then gave me the money for a Seeing Eye dog. That was before he realized he could actually change things. He's a good, generous, honest man, Colonel Jack O'Neill," she added. "Trust him." "How did you..." He was interrupted by groaning sounds coming from the bed. Marissa pushed her way past O'Neill and made her way unerringly to her friend's side. Gary was tossing fitfully, mumbling something that sounded like 'Dobbs...Marley..nnoo...you can't...Burning...can't see...my eyes...' Marissa placed a comforting hand on his forehead. "It's okay;" she crooned, like a mother soothing a troubled child. "It's okay, Gary, you're safe. Marley can't hurt you anymore, and your eyes are fine. It's just a bad dream." "No!" Gary shot up from the bed as if spring loaded, just missing a collision with a startled Marissa. Jack caught her as she stumbled back, alarm written all over her face."Gary?!" Hobson just sat there, shaking. His eyes wide and unseeing; breath coming in painful gasps. "Trapped," he gasped. Slowly, he became aware of his surroundings. He was in his own room. Safe. O'Neill still clutched a frightened Marissa. Jackson eyed him with concern. 'Wonderful,' he thought. 'Let's convince HER I've gone off the deep end, too.' "I'm sorry, Marissa," he sighed, laying a trembling hand on her arm. "I didn't mean to...Are you...? God, I'm so sorry!" Marissa let herself be pulled into his warm embrace, knowing the only way he could bury his own fears was to distract himself with hers. "I'm okay, Gary," she assured him. "You just startled me. And you know how I feel about that word!" she added in mock anger, emphasizing her words with playful punches. "Sorry? Ouch! Quit! I won't say it anymore!" he chuckled, the tension starting to dissolve. He gave her a quick hug and let her wriggle out of his grasp. 'You're going to make someone a wonderful therapist someday,' he mused. She certainly knew all the right buttons to push with him! Jack stood back as the little scene played itself out, using the time to study Hobson. The younger man still seemed shaken from his nightmare, but more relaxed than he had been before. Maybe that haunted look was just leftover images from his nap. "I'd better get back downstairs," Marissa told them. "Someone has to make sure Flynn doesn't drink us dry. Are you really all right, Gary?" "I'm fine...now," he assured his friend. "Go on. Your work here is done." He watched his friend exit, marveling again at her self- sufficiency. "I'll let you know what happens." She smiled, nodded, and was gone. Serious again, Gary turned to his two visitors. "Did I, umm...?" "Get a little gabby? Yeah," O'Neill confirmed. He propped himself against the wall, arms crossed. "Towards the end, there. Ready to talk about it?" Gary started to rub the sleep out of his eyes, and almost poked one out before he remembered the cast. That was smart! "I'll never get used to this thing," he mumbled. He glared at O'Neill's smirk. "So glad you think it's funny," he growled sarcastically. He rose from his seat on the bed. "I don't know what to tell you," he sighed as he began to pace. His eyes were drawn again to that article. Why hadn't it changed? He couldn't hide out up here forever! "Try the truth. Works wonders for me." "We tried that," Gary reminded him. "Just before you got that look in your eye like you were ready to call the men in the white coats." He almost brained himself when he brought his hand up to rub the back of his neck. "Let's just say I'm willing to be a little more open minded," he offered. "Then you already know most of what I know," Hobson replied. "It comes every morning. No exceptions. Usually to me. Or...if something...happens...it'll go to someone close to me who knows what's...It's complicated! It's just...sometimes I...get in over my head." "Kinda like...now?" Jackson asked innocently. "Not yet." He sank back in the easy chair with a sigh. "I have to be seriously at risk before that happens. Or trapped somewhere that I can't get out of without help. That's only happened to me twice." "Whoa!" Jackson pleaded. "Let's just...back up a little here. You still haven't said exactly what it is that 'comes' to you everyday. Do you hear voices...have visions...what?" Gary's head jerked up, his breath catching in his throat. "Wh-what?" "Do your hear voices or have visions?" Daniel repeated. Gary leaped up and started pacing again, his steps faster, more agitated than before. He didn't trust himself to speak as flashbacks of a gray haired, lean faced man exploded through his mind. God! Would he ever be able to put that behind him?! "Easy, Hobson! What's got you so spooked?" O'Neill asked. The younger man's obvious distress puzzled him. His face had just gone six shades of pale, and he was shaking again. "S-sorry," Gary apologized. "It's just..." deep breath, "the last guy wh-who ask me that...He, ahm, almost k...Umm, no. No 'voices' or 'visions'," he finally replied nervously, his pace slowing. "I... just...know. And then I spend most days trying to convince people I'm not crazy." Jack shook his head, confused. "You go through this everyday? No wonder you have such a weird reputation!" Gary looked at the colonel suspiciously."We...Who have you been talking to?" Jack described their conversation in the hospital with detectives Armstrong and Brigatti. He went into great detail as to Brigatti's reactions. Gary buried his head in his hands with a heart-rending groan. "Oh man! Did you have to tell her it was me? I mean...you couldn't have seen me that well...could you? Man, she is gonna KILL me! If I'm lucky." "That little thing?" Jack snorted. "After facing two armed thugs with a roll of pennies, you expect me to believe you're afraid of a woman half your size?" "Size doesn't matter with Toni Brigatti," Gary sighed. "I should know. We've been...almost... seeing...each other...the last few months." 'Double ouch', Jack winced in sympathy. "Sorry. I guess the two of you..." 'Maybe I should just go take a walk,' he sighed to himself. He glanced at the paper. 'I might be better off with them.' ****************** Just then, the phone rang. Gary snatched it up on the second ring. "Hello?" "Hobson? Gary Hobson?" "Yeeaah?" "This is Cade Foster. My...wife...used to room with your wife..." "I remember," Gary told him hurriedly. "What can I do for you?" "Look, Gary, I know you don't know me very well, and under the present circumstances... But...you're about the only person left in the city I might be able to trust." Trying to keep his tone casual, and, for God's sake, not look at his two visitors, Gary hesitated. He muffled the mouthpiece against his chest. "Do you guys mind waiting downstairs? This might take a few minutes." "No problem," Jack shrugged. "We've got as long as it takes. All night, if necessary," he added with a malicious grin. He was rewarded by a pained grimace from Gary. "See ya downstairs." As soon as the door was closed, Gary continued his conversation with Foster. "Um...present 'circumstances' being...your current ...status?" "Yeah. What I'm involved in right now goes a lot deeper than what you see in the papers." Gary could almost feel the irony. "I need to find someone. And, since I can't exactly show my face there, I had talk to someone I could trust." "And you trust me. Why?" Foster hesitated a moment before replying. "At the trial...when I really...really needed my 'friends' around me...they vanished. I felt totally alone and...Then there you were, a guy I hadn't seen in years. A guy I barely knew. You didn't judge...or condemn. In fact you seemed...concerned...and genuinely upset at the verdict. And you never missed a day of the trial. Not one. I never understood that." "I thought...everything was just too...," Gary was at a loss for an explanation. "You were being framed. Don't ask how I knew. I...just did. And there was nothing I could do to prove it. So, I felt ...you know, one friendly face..." "It meant something, man," Foster told him. "It meant a lot. That's why I called you. There's someone else who needs you. I don't know who he is, or very much about him, but this guy likes to help people, too. You had this 'thing' about the paper during the trial. Never let it out of your hands. Have you seen, or read, anything about some guy who's always helping people? You know, like...maybe charity related." "Only a few dozen. Narrow it down some." A chill ran up his spine. He had a bad feeling where this was going. "Damn! I don't have enough...Guardian! Have you heard of anyone referred to as the 'Guardian' of the city? A fireman, or policeman? Someone who's been decorated more than anyone else, or in the news more? Someone who, maybe, spends a lot of time actually saving lives?" Gary suddenly felt lightheaded. What was this? Dump on Hobson week? "I...uuh...may know... someone like that. Why?" "He's in real trouble, man," Foster hurried to say. "I can't go into any details over the phone, but I need to meet with this guy. Can you find him and arrange a meet?" Gary looked at his reflection in the darkened window. "Oh, I think finding him will be no problem. Just tell me where you want to meet." He listened a moment more. "Uh-huh. I know the place. Midnight, no problem. And, Cade, be careful." So much for a quiet night. He rubbed his good hand down his face with a sigh. Couldn't he catch a break, just once? His eye was drawn to the paper again. Wait! That wasn't there before! He launched himself up and out the door, not even bothering to slip on his shoes. ************** Forewarned was forearmed, as Granny O'Neill used to say. Jack spotted the two men in the rented Nissan as soon as he stepped out the door. Big guys in a little car. Cute. "Two o'clock, Danny," he muttered softly. "Could be our guys." "Ya think?" Daniel drawled in his best O'Neill voice. Jack shot him a look. "Sorry. What's your pla...ummph!?" A pair of hands dragging him back into the bar cut him off. He turned to find Hobson, an alarmed look on his face, reaching to haul in a cursing Jack O'Neill. "I thought you were gonna wait for me!" he hissed. "We got tired," O'Neill snapped. "We have to catch an early flight tomorrow, Why the sudden craving for our company now? You couldn't wait to get rid of us earlier!" "That was before I knew you were gonna walk into a trap!" "So?" he snarled in a near whisper. "We know about the two guys across the street!" "Peachy!" Hobson snapped sarcastically. "What about the other four in the van around the corner? The ones that are gonna kill you and snatch Dr. Jackson?" "And you 'know' this...how?" O'Neill pressed. Gary just glared at him, defeated. "I can't stop you from going out there," he said. "All I can do is try. And, please, don't ask me again how I know! But, if you step out that door, or the back one, one of you ends up dead, the other kidnapped. Even if you don't believe me," he added in desperation, "humor me. Just like you would any other lunatic." That hit a sore spot that Jack thought he had grown a thick scab over. He glanced at Daniel and saw that he was reliving the flip side of that experience. "Six to two, Jack," he murmured. "And. we're unarmed." "So how do we avoid these...gentlemen?" "Don't worry," Gary assured them, relieved. "I've called a cab." "Won't they just...follow the cab?" Jackson asked. "Not if they don't see you get in. C'mon." Gary led them back upstairs. He snatched up the phone and made a few calls, pausing only to put on his shoes and slip a dark jacket on over his tee shirt. Half an hour later, he led them out the same window he had used to come in. They scaled his escape ladder easily. The only tricky part came when Jackson saw the gap he was expected to jump. "You...um do this a lot?" "Not so much...until lately," Hobson admitted sheepishly. "Knowing you're a marked man makes you cautious." They made the jump easily. And the next one. "Down this fire escape and you're home free. The cab should be waiting at the mouth of the alley." He checked the paper. The article had vanished to be replaced by another human interest story. To his surprise, so had the one involving him. "You'll be okay...for tonight. The cabby's a friend and knows how to lose a tail." He looked closely at the two men. "I haven't asked what kind of work you're involved in, and I'm not going to. Just...You might want to go somewhere else for your vacation. Here's a map to a little cabin I know. It's isolated, well stocked, and the fishing is great. There's a generator for lights, a gas stove for cooking, everything you need." He hesitated. "E-even some hunting rifles. Lots of ammo...I-I hope it doesn't come to that." "It won't," O'Neill assured him, accepting the map. "You've done all you can. The rest is up to us. Go home and get some rest, kid." Gary shook his head wearily. "I've got other places to be," he said with a half-hearted smile. He briefly shook hands with both men. "In case we don't meet again before you leave. Keep yourselves safe." He turned and vanished into the darkness. They soon heard a muffled thump as he landed on another rooftop. "Strange man," O'Neill muttered. "Very strange." ******************** Part 4 "I don't think they're gonna come out tonight," Two growled. "Did anyone check for a back door?" "We've got two men on it," One replied. "And on the fire escape. No one's seem 'em." He picked up the radio. "Send a man in. See if the targets are still present," he ordered. "Roger that," a quiet voice responded. A minute later, a lone figure walked into McGinty's. Half an hour later, he walked back out and around the corner. The radio cackled. "Targets vanished an hour ago. No sign of their guardian, either. But, he was seen talking to the targets earlier." "Sh---!" One slammed his palm against the dash board. "How does he do that? They were on their way out, man! He had to 've been in there and warned 'em! How the hell does he know?" ********************* Cade Foster hugged the shadows as he watched the entrance to the zoo. Even though it had been almost a year since his last visit, the events were still too fresh in his mind for him to feel comfortable this close to what used to be his home. And his unending battle with the Gua had him seeing enemies in even the friendliest faces. Whoever met with him tonight would have to be tested. He just hoped he understood. Just before midnight, a lone figure slipped over the wall. A few minutes later, Cade heard his name called in a hushed whisper. "Hobson?" Why was he here alone? Where was the Guardian? "Over here. Did you find him?" The sound of muffled footsteps announced the other man's approach. "Yeah," he replied softly. "As I said, no problem." "So, where is he? I have to talk to 'im tonight!" Gary stepped out of the shadows less than three feet from the fugitive. "I need to know what you want with this...'guardian'...first," he said. "He's been real busy, lately." Cade studied the man before him. It was hard to tell in the moonlight, but he seemed to have changed very little, physically, over the last two years. But there was wariness about him that he could not recall having noticed before. Of course, he'd had very little contact with the man at that time. Now, he looked ready to bolt at the crack of a twig. And he looked tired. "It's been a lousy week, Foster," he said, as if reading his mind. "Can you just tell me what you need?" "Don't take this wrong, Hobson," he apologized, "but I'll have to search you." 'And make sure you're still you,' he added to himself. The taller man held both arms up in acquiescence. Stepping forward, Cade rapidly patted him down, not really surprised to find he carried no weapons. With their superior strength and agility, the Gua didn't really need them to handle one man. And, if Hobson was who he claimed...Snatching up the back of Hobson's jacket and shirt, he quickly brought the knife down, creating a shallow gash along the base of the other man's ribs. Gary leaped forward, biting down on words his mother would have been shocked he even knew. He spun and shot Cade a venomous look. "What the hell was that for?!" he hissed, maintaining the presence of mind to keep his voice low. "I thought you wanted my help!" "Turn around!" Cade snapped. "If you're really Gary Hobson, the wound won't be healed. If you're not..." He waved the knife menacingly. Hesitantly, Gary complied. He was sure he could outrun the other man, but he wasn't sure how well he could throw that knife. Cade looked at the cut. Blood was starting to soak into the top of his jeans...and it showed no signs of healing. He quickly flicked the knife closed and stashed it in the same pocket he pulled a field dressing out of. With practiced ease, he began binding the wound he had inflicted. "Sorry. Didn't mean to cut so deep. But you jumped." Gary glared at him over his shoulder, turning his gaze ahead at the quiet hiss of "Hold still!" "Who wouldn't jump while someone's tryin' to slice out their kidney!" he grumbled. "I didn't think donor cards went into effect until after you died. So what's so urgent you can't wait 'til morning to talk to this 'Guardian'?" Foster gave an extra tug to the ends of the bandage, eliciting a grunt from his reluctant patient, before tying it off. "How about his life?" Gingerly tucking his shirt back in, Gary turned to face the man who had just recently attacked him. "What is with all the interest, all of a sudden? I-we've done pretty good, keeping as low a profile as we could, considering. And I've been threatened, and questioned, more in the last twenty-four hours than I have in the last four years! You wanted to know how fast I heal?" He waved the cast on his right arm under Foster's nose. "Why don't we just go down for another x-ray! I could've saved you getting your knife all bloody!" He turned and stalked away, angrily muttering under his breath. "Call me out...middle...night...slice...damned turkey..." Foster caught up with him just inside the gate. "Wait, I have to tell you what you're up against," he pleaded, clutching at the sleeve of Gary's jacket. It was snatched away as Gary spun to face him. "Besides you?" Foster held his hands up in a placating gesture. "I admit the initiation to my little club is kinda rough..." He tried to ignore the sarcastic 'ya think?' look Gary shot at him. "But just hear me out. I need to talk with the Guardian. It really is a matter of life and death. There's someone I need him to meet. And stuff he needs to see." He was practically dancing with frustration. "Look, I've got a car hidden a hundred yards down the road. Just give me two hours of your time. That's all I ask." Shifting his weight from one foot to the other, Gary considered his plea. Two more hours. And another hour or two to get back home after that. Damn! Why couldn't he have one good night's sleep? 'Ah, what the hell,' he figured. 'This night's shot.' He marched determinedly towards the gate. "Let's get this over with," he grumbled. "I've probably got insomnia by now, anyway." **************** Gary sat with his head buried in his hands, slowly rocking back and forth. 'Hang on folks,' he thought, 'as we travel from the inner mind to...The Outer Limits.' He felt sooo out of control. "So...these...umm...Gua? What would they want with this...Guardian?" "I don't know," the man Cade had introduced as Crazy Eddie told him. "We just know that they're interested in him. Or will be. That's what's so frustrating about this one. Usually we can get some kind of...of time frame. You know...some kind of event to watch out for. That tells us when to act, or react. This time...zip." He turned his chair to face Gary. "Who is this guy? And, when do we get to talk to him?" Gary shifted in his seat, embarrassment coloring his face up into his hairline. "You are. I'm...what you said...it pretty much describes my life for the last four years," he confessed. The two men looked at him as if he had grown an extra head. "You?" Eddie laughed. "What makes you so special?" Why did everyone ask that? "Nothing," he replied bitterly, angered at his attitude. "Up until four years ago, I was a happily married, mediocre, dime a dozen stock broker. Just another average Joe. And I'm getting really tired of explaining how my life got turned upside down." He stood up and paced the narrow confines of the trailer, much as Eddie had done a few days before. "Look, I help people. Sometimes it's a little risky, sometimes not. At times it even gets kinda...strange. And...and sometimes," he added, shooting Cade a brief, guilty look, "sometimes...I fail." Stunned, the two alien hunters stared at their reluctant guest. What was he saying? Locking eyes with Gary, Cade had a sudden insight. "You knew? How? Are you...?" "No! I...am...not...psychic!" Gary asserted forcefully. "I just...I got the warning just a few hours before you was arrested. And, halfway there, my tire blew, I almost wrecked...By the time I got there, it was...too late." Cade couldn't breath. He knew! He knew before it even happened! But, what could he really have done to help? "It's okay," he finally said, swallowing the bitterness that welled up in his throat. "In spite of what the ME reports say, Hannah was dead hours before I was arrested. If you'd gotten there any sooner, I'd have been charged with a double murder. L-let's get back on track, here." He pointed at the monitor. "The second line of the quatrain says you 'cross the path of evil men'. Have you crossed anyone lately? Maybe rescued someone more important than they appear?" That stopped him. Gary stared at the monitor without really seeing it. He swallowed. "Three times yesterday," he said in a raspy voice. "And once more a few hours ago. One of them is an...Air Force Colonel. The other is an archeologist. He's...a...ahm...consultant. Or something. This...this afternoon, I kinda...ended up...I guess I didn't keep my 'profile' low enough! Crap! I knew that three times in one day was stretching it!" He finally noticed the uncomprehending expressions of the other two men. "Don't you see?" he laughed, a hint of hysteria creeping into his voice. "They just want to know the same thing everyone else does: How? How do I know, and how to turn it to their advantage." He slumped down in his seat, flinching as his wound touched the back. "So, h-OW ...do I get out of this fix?" ******************** Hobson had gotten them a very nice suite at the Four Seasons. And had even put it on his own card. The man was serious about keeping them safe. An hour after they had checked in, under the fake names Gary had used to make the reservations, another cabby arrived with their things from their previous lodgings. O'Neill offered to pay the meter. To his surprise, the cabby refused, graciously. "You're friends of Mr. Hobson," he shrugged. "It's covered." "Hobson sure seems to have a lot of friend," Jack commented dryly, as the door closed behind the cabby. "I imagine that happens," Jackson shrugged as he sorted their bags, "when you spend all your time helping people. So. What's the plan, Jack? Do we stick around and try to find out who's behind this? Or are we recalled to base?" "Personally, I'd like to stick around," the colonel replied evenly. "Bu-ut, Hammond has other plans. He's already sent for Carter. I guess he figures Teal'c is okay in the Land Of Light. Anyway, we're on the next flight home. So, hit the sack. Wake up's at seven." Daniel looked at the alarm clock between the beds. "Well, I've gotten by on a lot less," he shrugged. "I take it you're not entirely convinced Hobson's telling the truth." "Oh, c'mon, Daniel! What did he really tell us? That he 'knows' the future? Puh-leeze!" "Whatever. I just have this feeling that we're not done with Gary Hobson." *********************** Part 5 Gary and Cade sat at a folding just outside the trailer door, sipping coffee and staring out at the rising sun. Gary had finally found the inside of the vehicle too confining. He was too wound up to try to sleep, anyway. 'God!' he thought, 'how much more screwed-up can my life get?' "You seem...okay...with what we've told you," Cade ventured. "Is what you do so...strange...that the idea of aliens from space doesn't seem...unbelievable?" "Foster," he sighed, "you haven't seen strange...yet. I still haven't told you how I know...what I know." He looked at his watch. Six thirty. Any minute now. "Let's just sit here a few minutes longer and enjoy the view." "But, we have to make plans," Foster protested. "We have to figure out whom..." "Just enjoy the sunrise, Foster," Gary advised calmly. "There's not a thing we can do until the cat gets here." The alien hunter looked at him like he had lost his mind. Gary just quietly sipped his coffee. He was used to those looks, by now. They still bothered him. He had just gotten a lot better at not showing how much it hurt. "What the hell has a..." "Mrroowwrr!" Thump. "...cat...?" Turning slowly in his seat, Cade Foster looked down to see an orange tabby curled up on top of a copy of the Chicago Sun-Times. It looked very smug. Without so much as turning his head, Gary reached down and nudged the cat off the paper. "Got any milk?" he asked as he began to scan the headlines. "Oh! And a can of tuna would be nice. He's a long way from home." Speechless, Cade got up and went into the trailer, his eyes never leaving the cat. Eddie was still seated at his computer, trying to dig up information on Jackson and O'Neill. The expert hacker hated to admit it, but, so far, he had managed to find very little. As Cade wordlessly opened a can of tuna, Eddie filled him in on what little he had. "O'Neill is a spook, man," he told him. "Air Force, military intelligence, Black Ops. No details. Just shadows. He took early retirement, then was called back for temporary duty in '95. For Project Bluebook." Cade paused. "Bluebook? Isn't that...?" "Yeah. Disinformation about extraterrestrials, mostly," Eddie shrugged. "Anyway, a few weeks later he was retired again. BUT, a little over a year later, he was again called back to active duty. Been with Bluebook ever since. As has Dr. Jackson, about whom I can find very little. He caused an uproar in the scientific community a few years ago with his theories on alien influence in the development of ancient cultures. Then, in '95, he just...disappeared. Tax records show him as legally dead during that time. Then, he surfaces again in '96 about the time that O'Neill...Christ! Why didn't I see that? Bluebook! Aliens! Ancient cultures! They've found evidence that Dr. Jackson's theories are true! Th-this is...! Do you smell fish?" He finally noticed what Cade was doing. "Tuna...for breakfast?" "It's not for me," Cade assured him hastily. "Or for Gary. It's for his...cat." He finished emptying the can into a plastic bowl. Then turned to the fridge. "Eddie...it was so...It came out of nowhere! I swear to you, that cat was not there one second, then...then...practically at my feet! And Hobson didn't even blink! He expected it! Just reached down, pushed the cat off the paper and..." "Whoa! Wait. Hit rewind, Foster. What paper?" "The Sun-Times," he told Eddie impatiently, as he poured the milk. "He just picked it up and..." The door burst open and Gary called out excitedly. "We gotta run, Foster!" he snapped. "O'Neill and Jackson are in trouble. Again." "Wait!" Eddie called as Foster handed him the two bowls. "What about the cat?" "Just feed him and let him out," Gary said hurriedly. "He knows the way home." ******************* Gary was hard pressed to hold on to the paper and read, as Foster sped down the interstate. The headline still read: 'One Dead in Daylight Abduction'. It went on to say that Colonel Jack O'Neill was critically wounded while coming to the aid of Dr. Daniel Jackson. Jackson was assaulted and dragged into a dark mini van with Indiana plates. Witnesses reported three men in the car that grabbed Jackson, while two or more provided cover fire from across the street, wounding O'Neill in the chest and abdomen. O'Neill was later pronounced dead on arrival at Cook County Hospital. Gary tried, again to reach then by phone. Still no answer! "How much time do we have?" Foster asked. He had not asked about the paper...yet. The urgency in Gary's tone had left no room for doubts. Gary was the Guardian! He no longer had any doubts on that score! Gary glanced at his watch. "Just a little over thirty minutes," he said. "There! That next exit, then left. We need to come at them from the north." "Can you tell if it's..." He shook his head. "Your Gua are too smart to be caught out in the open like that. They're probably using local muscle. Another left up here, then a right two blocks down." He looked at the paper again. It had changed! O'Neill was going to live! But... He read the article silently, his heart sinking. Jackson was still abducted, and... Foster, glanced briefly at his passenger, alarmed by his sudden pallor. "What's wrong? Are we too late?" "No!" Gary snapped. He closed his eyes. 'Not again,' he thought. 'Please, God! Not again!' "J-just keep going. Drop me off at the end of the next block. Then get out of town as fast and quietly as you can. You'll have to sit this one out, Cade." "Are you crazy?!" he cried, incredulous. "There are five, maybe six armed men up ahead! And you don't even have a gun!" His mind racing almost as fast as his heart, Gary tried to explain. "We don't have much time, Cade! Just believe me, this is the way it has to be," he told him. "Sometimes...I have to do something that may seem...stupid. Even suicidal. But, it puts me some...place...or sets up some series of...of events...to make things come out okay." Damn! That didn't even make sense to him! "Just do it! If you try to jump in, you could get us all killed. Then there'll be no one to save the human race from the Gua!" "You can't do this alone," Cade reasoned. "That paper says O'Neill is shot coming out the entrance to the hotel," he pointed out, "while Jackson is grabbed by the taxi stand. That's not a lot of distance to cover, but whom do you cover first?" Thinking quickly, Gary outlined a plan that would keep both Cade and O'Neill out of the line of fire, and put him where he had to be. Close to Jackson. He just hoped it didn't blow up in his face. Literally. ******************* It all went pretty much as Gary, and the paper, predicted. Daniel sauntered out to the cab with the luggage while O'Neill dropped off the key card at the desk. As Jack turned for the door, Cade 'accidentally' bumped into him, knocking them both to the floor. He began apologizing profusely. Meanwhile, a van was pulling up next to the taxi. Gary, cringing inwardly at what he knew was coming, dashed out from the shrubbery to aid Jackson. They were ready for him. The moment he stepped past them, two men who had been 'arguing' a few feet away pulled out their guns. The one closest to Gary struck him at the base of his skull. Both men caught him by the arms as his knees buckled. Dazed, he found himself being shoved on top of a frantically struggling Daniel Jackson. His last coherent memory was of a sleeve-clad elbow, just before it connected with his left eye, blinding light, and the distant wail of sirens. ********************* 'Damn it!' O'Neill cursed inwardly. 'I can't turn my back on the kid for one second!' He shoved rudely past the man who was still apologizing for knocking him down. "Daniel!" he bellowed helplessly as the van sped off. He was forced to duck as a bullet shattered the glass door by his head. Hands pulled him back as more bullets flew in his direction. "Get down!" a voice yelled in his ear, followed by the loud report of another gun. The man who had bumped into him was firing back at the assailants across the street. What was going on here? Just before the first squad car appeared, the shooters faded into the bushes. O'Neill grabbed his rescuer by the sleeve of his jacket. "Not so fast," he growled. "We've got some talking to do." The shorter man wriggled frantically out of his grasp. "Later," he hissed. "I'm to tell you to meet me two hours from now at Gary's place. Upstairs." He backed up warily. "I can't stay. I can't be seen by the police." "What do you know of all this?! Where are they...?" "Later! Gary trusts me," the stranger pleaded. "If you want to find your friend, you'll meet me there. Two hours. No cops." He turned and was gone. Once, on a really boring mission, Jack had persuaded Daniel to teach him to curse in twelve different languages. He was able to recall at least eight. And used them. Vehemently, and with great relish. He was pacing the length of the lobby, just starting in on Croatian, when Armstrong arrived with two armed uniforms in tow. He quickly assessed the situation. If O'Neill was able to carry on like this and not get shot, he figured, the perps were long gone. He instructed the officers to establish the perimeter, then turned to the agitated colonel. "O'Neill! Calm down and tell me what happened! In English, please," he added with a wry smile. Which he quickly dropped as the colonel filled him in on the events up until his arrival. Omitting only the mystery man, who had blocked his path, then saved his life. Armstrong took down everything, then had him go back over the finer details. Several times. Then, to O'Neill's surprise, he asked: "Have you seen Hobson?" "Pardon me? He was here?" The detective looked uncertain. "I expected him to be," he said, bewildered. "He's the one that called this in. Usually, if he's not actually in the middle of things with a gun at his head, he at least hangs around to give a statement. You haven't seen him?" O'Neill buried his face in his hands. "Maybe," came his muffled reply. He dropped his hands as he faced the detective. "He must've been the other guy." "Other guy?" Armstrong did not like where this was going. "What other guy?" "The one I told you I only caught a glimpse of," the colonel sighed. "The one they dragged to the van and threw on top of Daniel." He began massaging his temples, a headache beginning to form behind his eyes. "He's in deep sh---, Armstrong. I can think of only one kind of...enemy...that would want Daniel. And they are NOT nice people!" ********************** Daniel leaned his head back in frustration. How long had they been down here? How much time had passed between being grabbed at the hotel, and waking up in the room upstairs? He vaguely recalled two men grabbing him. As one clamped a hand over his mouth, the other had jabbed home a syringe. The rest was a blur as he was shoved roughly into another vehicle, although, he did seem to remember giving someone a black eye. When he came to, he had found himself lying on the carpeted floor of the room upstairs, his hands cuffed behind his back; Hobson, still unconscious, beside him. Then had come a lively little game of 'beat the crap out of the prisoners'. Daniel was asked a number of questions about his part in 'Project bluebook'. Which assured him that these men had no real knowledge of the Star Gate program. And poor Hobson was asked, over and over again, who his informant was. Sometimes, they would even let him mumble, 'I don't...' before they started pounding on him again. He looked over to where Hobson was rubbing the ropes around his cast against the rough cinder block wall. There was a large swelling under his left eye, and numerous bruises on both sides of his jaw and forehead. He winced occasionally as he kept moving his arms up and down in a sawing motion. Sore ribs, maybe? Gary had not mentioned why he was even here. By comparison, Daniel felt in pretty good shape. "How long do you think we've been down here?" he finally asked. "A few...hours," Gary grunted. "Less than a day, for sure." He looked around the empty basement, hoping to find something...anything, to cut their bonds. "How can you be so sure?" "When did you eat last?" "Less than an hour before...ah. Yes. My stomach isn't...complaining," he surmised. "Right," his cellmate agreed. "I was trapped on a scaffolding in this old theater once. Stretched out, flat of my back for a couple of days. If I so much as twitched, it threatened to collapse...and it was a looonng way down. By the end of the first day, my belly was talkin'...loud. They haven't bothered to feed us, and, while I'm kinda hungry, I'm not hurtin' yet. So, more than four hours since we were taken, but less than ten." He nodded toward the sunlight pouring through a tiny window at the top of the wall Jackson was leaning against. "The sun is still pretty high." He paused, calculating. "Looks like about...two, or a little after. If that window faces west." Daniel looked at his companion with growing respect. That was a pretty good piece of deductive reasoning! "So...you find yourself in this kind of...situation...often?" Gary shook his head. "You?" "A few times," the young scholar shrugged. "I'm afraid I'm not...universally loved," he added wryly. "Um...any ideas on getting out of here?" Gary made a face and shook his head, wincing at the ill-advised motion. "Nothing immediately springs to mind," he said. "You?" "Nothing that doesn't involve getting these cuffs off, I'm afraid." Gary went back to work, slowly wearing away at the cords. 'This would go so much faster', he thought, 'if only I didn't hurt so damn much.' "Sorry," he panted after several minutes of silence. "This isn't working. We're gonna have to wait." "For what?" "For the cat to get his act together." Silence. Then... "Gary?" "Yeah, Daniel?" "That made absolutely no sense whatsoever." "Yeah. I know. You'll get used to it." **************** After spending half the morning talking with the police, the FBI, Military Intelligence, and on the phone with the general, to say O'Neill was p----d would be an understatement. To say he was ready to storm the Gates of Hell with a bucket of ice water would be a little closer, but still short of his real state of mind. He wanted to kill. Anything. Anyone, as long as it was one of the bad guys. And he still wasn't sure where the mystery man from the hotel fit in. He had said he was a friend of Hobson's. Big freakin' deal. Half the town seemed to be friends with the guy. And he still had not gotten a straight story of his involvement with all this! O'Neill burst through the back door of McGinty's and made a beeline for the stairs to Hobson's living quarters, ignoring outraged cries at his intrusion. He didn't even bother to knock, just charged in...to find the mystery man standing in the middle of the floor, staring at an orange tabby curled up on the bed. The expression on his face was two parts astonishment to one part fear. He glanced up briefly at O'Neill's dramatic entrance. "Oh. It's you." He pressed his cell phone up to his ear. "Eddie, is the cat still...? How long...? The wha...? No, I see it. Yeah, right in front of me not two minutes ago. I know it's impossible and you know it's impossible, but I don't think anyone's managed to convince the cat, yet. Yeah...I'll let you know as soon as I know something. Later." He turned to O'Neill. "How much has Gary told you?" "Squat!" he snorted. "Don't tell me you believe that he can 'see' the future?" Cade walked slowly over to the bed, as if afraid to startle the cat. He bent down to retrieve a small object the animal was playing with. The cat just 'mrrrr'd and let him take it. "Early this morning," he said in a stunned voice, "this cat showed up at my camp, practically at Gary's feet. Gary didn't know he would be there, and he never had a chance to call anyone. He never left my sight...all...night. Less than five minutes ago, the cat disappeared from the camp." He looked up at O'Neill. "That camp is over fifty miles away from here." O'Neill looked at the cat. The cat just returned his stare, and the colonel was absolutely sure the damned thing was smiling. "That's not...that's not possible." Then he noticed the object the cat was pawing. Cade picked up a pair of glasses. Daniel's glasses. "Don't tell me. Tell him." Flipping out his cell phone, Jack began to formulate a plan. First, he needed Carter and a surveillance van. Pronto! What had Hobson said? His life was an endless roller coaster ride through the Twilght Zone? Well, he hoped the Cat was channeling Rod Serling! ********************* Part 6 They came for Gary a little before sunset. Daniel spent a restless night alone in the dank, musty basement. Then, an hour before dawn, they tossed a bruised and bloody Hobson back into the room. His jacket was gone, shirt and jeans almost torn to rags, and both eyes were now swollen almost completely shut. He lay where he had fallen, his labored breathing the only indication he still lived. Bracing himself against the wall, Daniel struggled to his feet. He fell, rather than knelt, down to get a better look at Hobson's injuries. Up close and personal, he decided the man looked like hell. Avery exposed inch of skin was either bloody, starting to darken into colorful bruises. He was reminded of a worker on a dig he had worked on with Dr Jordan. A tomb had collapsed and buried the man under half a ton of rubble. His body, when they had dug it out, had been a battered, bloody mess. He had still looked better than Hobson did at that moment. "You must've really p---d these guys off, fella," Daniel murmured. "Tha's me," Gary mumbled past bloody lips. "Mis'er Pers'nal'ty." Struggling to suppress a relieved smile at Gary's forced humor; Daniel tried to do as thorough a visual exam as he could, under the circumstances. "This may sound like a dumb question, but where does it hurt?" "Ask where...doesn't," was Hobson's reply. "Shorter...list." He ran his tongue across a cut on his lower lip before answering. "Teeth 'kay. Ribs...sore. Hurts...pretty bad on ...left side. Umm, head hurts. C- can't see." This last statement held a barely constrained note of panic. "M-my eyes?" "Hard to tell," Daniel admitted gently. "It's still pretty dark in here. Maybe when the swelling goes down." "Tha's 'cour'ging," Gary sighed. "Seen...cat, yet?" "Mmm, no. What is the deal, there? Why is a cat so important, right now?" Gary rolled onto his right side to take the pressure off his sore ribs before he tried to speak again. "Uhn! Tell you...later," he gasped as the movement aggravated several sore spots. "when we're... safe." ********************************* Carter and the surveillance team arrived in the wee hours of the morning. As soon as possible, O'Neill began to set his plan in motion. The biggest obstacle being the cat. It flat out refused to wear the collar. After a fruitless hour of chasing the elusive animal around the loft, he and Carter plopped side by side on the sofa. "This is nuts!" O'Neill exclaimed heatedly. "What was I thinking? That a cat was gonna lead us to Daniel?" "No," Foster chuckled from his post by the door. "He'll lead you to Hobson, who is with your friend." He sauntered over and, taking the offensive collar from O'Neill's hand, laid it on the floor. The cat looked at it, sniffed, then took it into his mouth and bolted for the window. Which Jack had been positive was not open during the chase. "I think we can track him, now." "Wait," Sam said, "What if he drops it?" "If that cat can deliver a...never mind," Foster sighed. "Just...well, If you can't trust me, trust in Hobson. It's his cat." "I've never even met this guy," Carter was muttering when her cell phone beeped. "Yes? What? That's impos...Great! We'll be right down." She turned to her CO. "They're getting a clear signal and have the...subject moving north-northeast," she reported, incredulous. "It's already twenty... miles...away." O'Neill looked like he wanted to say something, then thought better of it. Shaking his head, he led the way down the stairs. Foster brought up the rear, thinking 'What the hell has Hobson gotten mixed up in?' Foster stopped at the kitchen entrance. From there he could see the flashing lights of police cars out front. Not good. "Umm, this is as far as I go, O'Neill," he said. "I can't explain right now, but...maybe Hobson can ...when you find him." Jack looked at Foster, then the squad cars, understanding. He tossed the fugitive a jaunty little salute, as he dragged a puzzled Carter in his wake. "Let's go help that cat catch some rats," he said. ********************************** "Mrrrooowrr!" Silence. 'What?' Gary mused. 'No 'thump'? What happened...? Never mind.' His fuddled mind gradually recalled his situation. To his relief, he could make out lights and shadows in the predawn light. So his eyes were not damaged as badly as he had feared. Something warm as furry rubbed up against his good hand. 'Yes!' "Daniel?" "Hmm? Oh, sorry, Gary. Must've drifted off." His voice was suddenly filled with concern. "Is something wrong? Are you...?" "Fine. I'm...okay," he hastened to assure the young scholar. "Remember what I said about the cat?" A short pause. "Yeeaah?" "Look behind me." There were sounds of a body shuffling around, a few grunts, then the sound of unsteady footsteps. "Oh, wow. Where'd he come from?" Gary had to suppress the urge to chuckle. How many times had he asked himself that same question? "Originally? No idea. Most recently? I'll bet your friend O'Neill could tell us that." He felt the object the cat had dropped into his open hand. It felt like...a collar? He had never been able to get the cat to submit to a collar! It had to be from O'Neill. "Can you reach my hands?" "I think so. Why?" "I think you need to hang on to this thing," Gary replied. "In case we get separated." Daniel took a good look at the collar, recognizing a very sophisticated tracking device he had seen used once before. It could be tracked by satellite. "Why don't you hang on to it?" "Please take it." Gary began to shift uncomfortably. "I heard them talking upstairs when...when they thought I couldn't hear." When he had been beaten nearly unconscious. "They plan on moving us shortly. They're gonna take us to someplace in...Colorado, I think. After that, you get taken someplace else. Some...mountain named after an Indian tribe, I think." 'Cheyenne Mountain!' Daniel thought. They were going to try to use him to get into the SGC! "Wait. What about you?" he asked, alarmed. "What happens to you?" "They, umm, they haven't gotten the answers they want from me, yet," he hedged. "Besides, the cat can find me anywhere." He really didn't want to think of the plans he had overheard concerning himself. It had been bad enough just reading his own obituary. It was no fun at all hearing them write it. "Please. Just bend down so I can slip this in your pocket." Jackson didn't move. "Daniel, please," he begged. "Your work is too important to let these bastards compromise it. If it comes down to only one of us being rescued...then it has to be you!" Daniel backed away, suddenly angry, and wary. "I don't buy that!" he snapped. "Besides, what do you know of my 'work'? What have they told you?" "Nothing," Gary sighed, his head drooping in apparent defeat. He nudged the collar back to the cat, surprised when it was gently lifted from his hand. "But, it has to be important to attract this kind of attention. And I don't want to know what you do!" "What?" Daniel snorted. "Not even curious?" "Now, I didn't say that," Gary chuckled wryly. "I'm worse than the cat when it comes to curiosity," he admitted. "But, I also know when not to press the issue. When I'm better off not knowing. When, maybe, the world is better off not knowing." Visibly relaxing, Daniel eyed his companion. He recalled many times when his own desire for knowledge had led him, and his team mates, into serious trouble. Jack would find Gary's attitude refreshing. "You are a strange man, Mr. Hobson." "So I've been told." ********************************** Part 7 A couple of hours had passed when the men returned to drag them both from the musty basement room. They were hauled bodily up the stairs and out the back door of what appeared to be a farmhouse. Daniel dug in his heels a little to slow their progress to the van. Every time Gary tried to impede his captors, he got a painful jab to his sore ribs. Because of this uneven attention, Gary was the first to reach the vehicle. He renewed his struggles as the back doors were opened. Without a word of warning, a heavy fist connected with his jaw. Stunned, Gary was scooped up and thrown into the van. Daniel was still several feet away when... ...the cavalry arrived in the form of three unmarked cars, and two black and whites. All with lights flashing. The young scholar was grabbed roughly by the elbows and dragged the rest of the way to the van. One of Gary's escorts had run to the front passenger seat and ordered the driver to start the van, while the other leaned out the back to help load Daniel. Gary saw his chance...and took it. Lying flat on his back, he brought up both feet and landed a solid kick to the kidnapper's backside. At the same time, the driver panicked and threw the van in gear. The combined impetus of the kick and the forward lurch sent the man flying out on top of Daniel and his captors, landing the four of them in an ungainly heap....and the van sped off with tires squealing. For Daniel, it was all but over. The three men were quickly hauled off of him, cuffed, and loaded into squad cars. Jack and Sam were there, freeing him from his bonds and checking out his injuries. "No permanent damage," O'Neill judged, turning Daniel's head from side to side. "How do ya feel?" "Never mind that!" Daniel snapped wearily. "They still have Gary!" "Don't worry," Sam promised him. "That bug in the collar will help us find him before they get too far." Reassured, Daniel felt the tension of the last few hours start to ebb. He quickly relayed what Gary had overheard about the kidnappers plans. As he spoke, dust kicked up by all the activity began to irritate his nose. He put a hand in his jacket for a handkerchief...and stiffened. "Umm, Sam?" "Yes, Daniel?" He withdrew a small, leather item from his pocket. "Do you mean...this collar?" *********************************** The last thing Gary remembered clearly was the van doors slamming shut. Then a crashing blow to the back of his head turned everything to darkness. When he finally awoke, there was no way to tell how much time had passed. He was no longer in the van. That much he was sure of. The vibrations were different, and he was sitting upright...more or less. As he opened his eyes and got a good look around, Gary found himself in the cabin of a small passenger plane, possibly a private jet. Both arms were strapped tightly to the arms of the seat and the lap belt was snugged painfully tight. He hurt everywhere. The plane gave a lurch as it hit a patch of turbulence. The unexpected jolt sent pain shooting throughout Gary's body, forcing a groan past his battered lips. His hair was seized in a rough grip, yanking his head back. The added pain brought tears to his eyes, further blurring his vision. "You've been nothing but trouble from the get go," a voice snarled into his ear. "The people we work for had big plans for Dr. Jackson. He was worth a lot of money. You just better pray they're willing to pay as much for you, pretty boy." The hand released his hair, at the same time slamming against the back of his head. Keeping his head down, Gary made no reply. The only reason he was alive, he knew, was because they thought he knew the identity of a traitor in their ranks. All he had to do to live a little longer was keep silent. 'Please, God,' he prayed. 'All I wanted was one good night's sleep. Was that so much to ask?' Exhausted in spirit, as well as body, Gary gradually sank into unconsciousness once again. Which is why he didn't notice the yellow tabby curled beneath the seat in front of his, or the leather collar clutched in its paws. ****************************** "It was right here!" Sam opened drawers, shifted files, and even had everyone check their pockets several times. It was nowhere to be found. Frantically, she jumped from the back of the surveillance van to search the ground around it. Which was how O'Neill and Jackson found her when they came back from getting Daniel's wounds dressed. "Lose a contact, Carter?" O'Neill asked. Startled, Sam just missed hitting her head on the bumper as she jumped to her feet. "No, sir," she replied ruefully. "It's that collar. It's missing. And I know it was here a few minutes ago!" Puzzled, Daniel and Jack joined in the search, only to admit defeat half an hour later. "You didn't by any chance put it on the cat, did you?" Daniel asked innocently. Jack and Sam shot each other a stunned look. "The cat!'' they cried in unison. "Hobson!" Jack added. "The cat's...Get that computer back on line, Sam," he ordered. "We may still have a shot at saving his bacon, for once!" ************************************** The tiny airstrip they landed at was barely long enough for the jet to land. All Gary was sure of was that mountains surrounded it on all sides. 'The Rockies' Gary thought fuzzily, vaguely recalling the conversation he had reported to Jackson. They had mentioned something about...yeah, Colorado. Cherokee...? No, Cheyenne Mountain. As soon as the plane rolled to a stop beside a small shed, Gary was unstrapped and dragged from his seat by the scruff of his neck. He was then more or less flung through the door to the ground, missing the steps entirely. Dazed, battered, and well into the tenth level of exhaustion, Gary just lay there. Maybe he wasn't all that interested in living, after all, he mused. Lying there just felt so much better than moving. Dimly, he became aware of four pair of feet encircling him. "This is not Jackson," someone stated. "Who is this?" The tone was of someone asking the identity of something he found on the bottom of his shoe. "The other guy," his kidnapper told them. "The one that kept popping out of nowhere and messing things up." Silence. Then..."The Guardian. You've done well." "And we expect to get paid well," his other captor growled. "The same as you were gonna pay for Jackson." "Very well." Another moment of silence as something exchanged hands. "Now, go. Don't bother trying for Jackson again. His people will keep him well guarded for some time." "Like he ain't guarded like freakin' Fort Knox, now" his first captor muttered. Two pair of footsteps faded out as they returned to the plane. The two remaining men dragged Gary roughly to his feet. Not a word was spoken to him as he was hauled to another vehicle, an olive green sedan, this time, and tossed into the back floorboard. The frame creaked as two people got into the front seats. Dimly, Gary realized they had left him unbound...and alone...in the back. Maybe... "The doors won't open from the inside," a voice stated emotionlessly from the front. "There is no escape that way." Cautiously, suppressing the painful groans movement brought, Gary levered himself out of the floor. Whatever happened from here on, he would face it on his feet. He leaned back and closed his eyes as a wave of dizziness swept over him. Fighting to stay awake, he managed to push the darkness back awhile longer, and take stock of his new situation. He was in the back seat of a large, four door, sedan. As he was told, there was no way to open the back doors. Or even roll down the windows. Two men occupied the front seat. The driver was a white man of average height and build. The passenger was a very large black man. Even just seeing him from the back made Gary uneasy. "So...umph!...what d'ya want...wi...with me?" Might as well give it a try, he thought. "Wh-what's this 'guardian' crap?" "Foster didn't tell you?" Feigning innocence, Gary asked in a weary voice: "Foster who?" The large black man in the passenger seat smiled, a cold...evil smile that sent chills down Gary's spine. "If you lie to me," he said, meeting his eyes through the rearview mirror, "your death will be long...and painful." Refusing to be cowed, Gary glared back. "I don't know which 'Foster' you've been talking to," he said, taking care to make his words clear, "but, I think he steered you wrong. I own a bar. I serve drinks and food to people for money. The only thing I'm 'guardian' to right now is a massive headache. And an empty belly. Don't you people even feed your prisoners?" "We'll leave that to the...'People'...at your next destination," he was told. Before Gary could ask the obvious question, the man continued. "During the course of our...research...we have uncovered rumors, or legends if you like, of individuals who are...chosen...as protectors of certain areas of the world. They are very few in number. Which may be why it has taken so long to find one of you. Otherwise, you would have been 'subject 118'. Now, however, you are to be part of a treaty that will help us take a measure of revenge on the creature who ravaged our home world. Perhaps we might even gain enough to make our invasion of your pathetic world unnecessary." 'Yep,' Gary thought to himself, 'Time to break out the waders. You are in deep sh-- now!' This had to be that guy, Kane, that Foster had warned him about. "So, umm, I'm the sacrificial lamb, huh?" "An astute way to put it," Kane chuckled, enjoying his discomfort. "Your life could well mean the lives of nineteen million others. Innocent men, women, and children who will never know of your 'heroism' on their behalf." "Wh-what happens if I'm not...?" "Does it really matter?" Kane turned his cold, predator's eyes ahead. "The one you are to be delivered to would never know the difference. No matter how much you beg, or protest your innocence, he will merely believe that you are a most stubborn species." *********************************** After more than an hour of driving, the sedan pulled up in front of an isolated cabin. Gary was dragged from the car by a woman in green camo's who had only half his size, but more than twice his strength. She tossed him into the back of an olive green 'deuce and a half' truck like he was a rag doll. His forward flight was roughly halted by the pile of crates he met with painful force. "Careful," Kane snarled. "They want him alive." He looked straight at Gary for the first time, with an evil, predatory smile. "You can't learn the future from a dead oracle." His smile grew broader at the young human's barely concealed terror. "Too bad the assembly is so hot for this treaty," he almost purred in his deep, rumbling voice. "Perhaps we could be using you to counter the prophecies of Nostrodamas." The rather athletic young woman jumped nimbly into the back of the truck with Gary. In spite of his frantic struggles, she had him bound, gagged, and stuffed in a crate in a matter of moments. From then on, Gary traveled in complete, suffocating, darkness. The bumping and jolting ride seemed to last forever, but finally came to a brief halt. There was an exchange of muffled voices, then another, shorter drive, then the truck seemed to be backing up. The crate, which held Gary, was lifted and tossed onto an unyielding surface with a bone-jarring thud. 'If I get out of this alive,' he thought, 'I'm gonna be one giant bruise.' The crate was lifted and placed on a hand truck. After several more minutes of jostling, jolting, and minor collisions (which Gary was sure was deliberate), he was again dumped to the floor. With a screech of nails, the lid was ripped off, and Gary was again being manhandled by the pretty 'soldier'. She quickly sliced the ropes off his ankles so he could at last walk on his own. Taking a moment to steady himself, Gary looked around to find he had been brought to a huge...cavern? Hangar? What?. There were huge double doors to either side, and a glassed in balcony overlooking everything. There was someone in the balcony. What were they...? Suddenly, alarms were blaring, lights flashing, and sounds on the other side of both sets of doors as it someone were trying to break through. A rumbling sound behind him caused Gary to turn in his pretty captor's grasp. What he saw stunned him to immobility. A huge...ring. No, a double ring. The inner one was turning. As he watched, what looked like a blunted triangle slid down over one of the symbols that covered the inner ring. As it locked in place, it lit up. Soon, another symbol was locked in, then another. The inner ring kept turning until the seven visible locks were lit up. Gary could only watch in slack-jawed amazement as a shimmering blue...wave, for want of a better word, billowed out almost to the end of the ramp. Then it was apparently sucked back the other way. Finally, he was looking at a pool of...radiance. A rippling surface of light and energy. Like nothing he had ever even imagined could exist. It was... beautiful. The grip on his arm tightened painfully, bringing him, gasping, back to the here and now. The Herculean strength of the young woman still surprised him. And, if she didn't ease up a little, she was going to 'surprise' his arm off. "Easy!" he gasped, trying to pull loose. "I'm supposed to be in one piece, remember?" "Not necessarily," she smiled at him sweetly. "Just alive. Now move!" she snapped, shoving him up the ramp. Gary stumbled and hit the ramp hard on his right side. More bruises. A new gash on his upper arm, too. At this rate, he'd need a transfusion. Tired, hungry, parched with thirst, and really p---d at the way this whole week had gone, Gary waited until the arrogant Gua was almost in grabbing distance again. Then he quickly rolled onto his back and let fly with both feet right to that pretty face! Caught by surprise, she staggered back a few feet. She recovered quickly, but it gave Gary enough time to scramble awkwardly to one knee. Not an easy feat with both hands still bound behind him. The female Gua glared at him as she wiped at a trickle of blood from a cut on her cheek. As Gary watched, the shallow gash inflicted by his sneakered foot seemed to glow, then...it was gone. Healed right before his eyes. And she was p---d. Not good. "Insolent human," she sneered. "Did you really think you could hurt me?" "Couldn't hurt to try," Gary shrugged, only his eyes betraying his fear. He swallowed, trying to force a little moisture into his suddenly dry mouth. "I won't go through that thing." "Yes. You will." She leaped forward with incredible speed, grasping him by the throat. He found himself being lifted off his feet and sent flying through the air. At almost the same moment, the double doors at one end of the cavernous room slid open and camouflage clad soldiers burst in. The last thing Gary heard was a call for surrender, then gunshots. Then he was on a whole new roller coaster. ************************************ Conclusion "Keep it open!" Hammond shouted. "Get a MALP in here, now!" He turned to the spot on the floor where the 'infiltrator' had...vanished. "I want to know what's on the other side of that wormhole before I send anyone else through." As technicians hurried to comply, the three earth bound members of SG-1 came barreling into the embarkation room. "Hold up!" the general ordered. "Wait for the Malp readings." "Hobson could be dead by then," O'Neill snapped, adding a belated, "sir!" "He could be dead, now, colonel," was the grim reply. "I don't want any more deaths if I can help it. Use the time to gear up." No one noticed the small orange streak heading for the wormhole, until it disappeared. "Sir," the airman spoke up. "I think a...cat?...just went through the Stargate!" O'Neill and Jackson exchanged looks. "He's alive!" they exclaimed together. Understanding at once what they meant, Sam sent the MALP through the wormhole. She was really curious to meet this Hobson guy. If even half of what she had been told was true...Strange was putting it mildly. ************************************* The trip though the wormhole was exhilarating. Blurred patterns of light and dark, a kaleidoscope of colors flashed before and behind him. Infinity stretched before him like an open highway. Then... ...cold! God Almighty, he was freezing! At that same instant, he was shot from the other end flying through the air to come slamming against a stone wall. 'Oh man,' he thought. 'My bruises are gonna have bruises.' For the next few minutes, he just lay there. Waiting for the room to stop moving, his gut to stop churning, and his body to stop aching. Well, two out of three... "You are not Daniel Jackson!" The voice had a curious 'dual' tone to it. Like twins saying the exact same thing at the same time. Slowly forcing his abused muscles to obey, Gary managed to rise as far as his knees before a blow across his back knocked him flat of his face. He was really getting tired of this. Stubbornly, he tried again, only to be knocked down once more. "Enough, dammit!" He rolled onto his back, and launched his feet out blindly, hoping to connect with the guy's stomach. The guy was a little taller than he thought. When the MALP trundled through the event horizon, the first thing it recorded was a wide-eyed, slack jawed Apophis...with Gary's right foot planted firmly in his groin. ********************** "Way to go, Hobson!" Jack crowed as he saw the image. He turned to the general. "C'mon! We can't let a guy with that much moxy fall into Snake-boy's hands." Hiding a grin of his own, General Hammond merely said: "SG-1, you have a go." The moment they left, he turned to the technician. "Can you have that blown up into a poster?" ************************* The two serpent guards grabbed Gary by the upper arms and hauled him to his feet. 'At this rate,' he sighed inwardly, 'I'll get use of my arms back in...oh, a month or so.' He was set on his feet before the 'man' in the elaborate gilded outfit, who was still clutching himself and trying to get his breath. 'Not good' Hobson thought. 'I think I just committed suicide.' The attack on their 'god' had been so swift and unexpected, the guards had been almost literally blinded to all else. To be fair, they were several yards away, from the ramp, the cavern was unlit except for the glow from the event horizon and a few torches. Still, Apophis would have words with them later as to why no one notice the Tau'ri device. Best excuse would live a little longer than the runner up. When the creature Gary had kicked finally straightened up, his eyes were glowing. Gary wasn't sure if it was a trick of the dim light, or a physical characteristic. He just knew he was as close to death as he had ever been in his life. "Umm...sorry. I-it's been a lousy week," he stammered. "Look, you've obviously got the wrong guy, and I just wanna go home and get some sleep. You're people have been beatin' the crap outta me all day, and I finally got a little payback. Let's just call it squ...urk!" Apophis had his hand clasped around Gary's throat, lifting the helpless human until his feet barely no longer touched the floor. As the blood supply was cut off from his brain, Gary thought he heard a familiar sound. "Wrrrooowwrrrr!" Gary was flung to the floor with considerable force, knocking the breath out of him, again. As he labored to draw air into his tortured body once more, Gary could hear a horrible screeching and yowling. Someone had one ticked off kitty, he mused. When he could finally open his eyes, Gary saw a familiar orange shape making mincemeat of a certain gold clad alien's face. Every time one of the guards reached to grab the enraged animal, he got a vicious slash across the hand or arm. And they couldn't fire their staff weapons without hitting their 'god'! This was the scene that greeted SG-1 when they stepped through the wormhole. Apophis trying vainly to lay hands on the cat, the guards trying to aid Apophis, and poor Gary just trying to get to his feet. The cat suddenly broke off its attack and disappeared as the wormhole disengaged, plunging the chamber into near darkness. Dazed and bleeding, the goa'uld lord noticed the new intruders. "Jaffa, kree!" he roared. Figuring that re-enforcements had just been called, SG-1 acted quickly. Jack kept the goa'uld and his jaffa covered while Sam hurried to Hobson's side. The younger man looked to be on his last leg. He was looking around, dazed and confused. "The cat," he mumbled. "Where's the cat?" It was Sam's turn to be confused. He was worried about his cat at a time like this? "It's okay," she tried to reassure him. "It's..." "Mwrowwr?" "...over by the gate," she finished with a smile. This was getting too weird for words, she thought. "Good. Can we go home, now? I don't wanna play any more." Smiling, Sam took him by the arm and guided his weary steps toward the ramp. Daniel had just finished dialing in the co-ordinates, and the 'Gate' whooshed open. Gary looked up at the glowing pool and seemed to wilt. "Ah, man?!" He looked at Sam. "Do we...?" "Yes, Gary," she chuckled. "It's the only way home from here." Gary repeated the word 'home' in a tone of reverence. Then he looked at Sam again. "Do I know you?" "Not yet, " she replied mischievously. "Right now we're going to meet my friend Janet. You'll love her!" "Really? That's nice," Gary mumbled as he was led up to the wormhole. "I like meeting new people." ********************** Epilogue "Incoming signal! It's SG-3!" Gary sat in the conference room, sipping at his coffee, and marveling again as the Stargate disgorged its passengers. To travel across the galaxy! He still found it hard to believe. Looking down at his fading bruises, he believed. He had made it down the ramp, with the assistance of Daniel and the woman he learned later was Major Samantha Carter. Jack had followed with the cat. The moment his foot hit the concrete floor, he became aware that the room was full of people in uniform. And they were all staring at him. Puzzled he looked at Daniel. The young scholar's mouth was stretched in a huge grin. He led Gary to the middle of the room and, reaching back, cut his bonds in one swift motion. "Ladies and gentlemen," he intoned, stepping forward with upraised hands. "Allow me to present the hero of the hour. The man who had the gall to do what every one of us has dreamed of doing. And our new poster boy for 'defiance'." He stepped aside with a grand gesture. "Gary Hobson. The man who, for one brief moment, really got Apophis where it hurts!" The room broke out in thunderous applause, whistles, and cheering that was heard two levels up. Dazed, Gary just stood there, like a deer caught in a spotlight. Until Jack stepped forward and raised Gary's cast enclosed hand in the air, proclaiming him ' the winner!' And the room spun away into blackness. That had been three days ago. For more than forty-eight hours, he had lay in the infirmary. A number of tests, probes, and exams had been performed on him during that time. Thankfully, he remembered none of it. Some of the things O'Neill described to him didn't sound very pleasant. Yesterday and part of today had been spent in...less invasive examinations. Finally satisfied that Gary was not a subversive or some other type of threat, he hoped they were getting ready to send him home. Although those guys from NID had seemed a little too interested in him... Two more Gua had been found. One in maintenance, another on the technical staff. They had managed to capture one alive. The NID had that one for testing. Fortunately, none of them had been with the program for very long. No signs of sabotage had been uncovered, and they had only limited access to information. He looked up as General Hammond and the three human members of SG-1 gathered around the conference table, taking seats across from him. Uh oh. This did not look good. General Hammond at least had the grace to look uncomfortable as he cleared his throat to begin. "We've been made aware," he said, "of an incident you were involved in concerning an attempt on the president's life a few years ago." Gary set his cup down, bile rising in his throat. Christ! How long would he have to live before that was finally behind him? "I can't talk about that," he stated flatly. "Not to you. Not to anyone." "Why not?" O'Neill pressed. "You weren't the villain. You almost died saving his life." "I still can't talk about it!" Why couldn't they just let it die? He pushed himself away from the table, and walked over to the window overlooking the embarkation room. 'I've been to another planet,' he thought. 'And I'll never talk about that, either.' "You'll never understand," he sighed, staring out the window. "A lot of...things...have happened to me I can't talk about. Some...like this. Others...I'm not ready for that rubber room, yet. And the most important thing I can't discuss...I guess isn't technically a secret. But...I still can't tell you how I know things. And that's what this is leading up to, isn't it." He turned sad, tired, brown eyes on the four at the table. "Yes," Jackson sighed. "The...um...'powers that be', so to speak, feel that it's way too much... responsibility for just one man. They want to oversee it. To use it more 'wisely'. To..." "Control it," Gary finished for him. He shook his head sadly. "And that's why I can't tell you. I was chosen for this. I didn't ask for it. I even tried to deny it...at first. To run away. But...I couldn't. I still don't know why I was chosen. I was never consulted about it in any way. Still, it's my burden. My responsibility. And...yes...it's sometimes too much for one man to handle. But...somehow the right help will show up at the right time. Usually." "And you're...okay with this?" Major Carter asked hesitantly. "Knowing you can't tell anyone what you do? Or how?" Gary shot her a sad little half smile. "Oh, there are a few who know," he told her. "Very few. It's not an easy secret to keep. I don't have a mountain to hide under, but less than ten people living today know how I do what I do. How many people outside this complex know your secret?" O'Neill shifted uncomfortably. "Too many." "Soo," Jackson mused aloud, "if you think about it, our secret is safer with Gary than it is with the NID, or any other government agency. We certainly didn't learn about that 'Marley/Dobbs' incident from Gary. Not even when he was confronted with it." "Could we...just...drop that particular subject?" Gary pleaded. "That was pretty decent coffee, but I don't think it'll taste as good on the return trip." "Rrright," Daniel agreed. Point taken. ********************** Sam and Jack waved at the retreating form of Gary Hobson. He had finally been cleared to return home. And a presidential order had been issued that various agencies that had shown a sudden interest in him were to 'back off'. Hobson was still a free agent, but he had been given a few contacts that might make the job easier. "You still haven't told me about your trip," Sam reminded Jack. O'Neill shrugged. "Nothing much happened. We almost got run over, almost got shot, almost..." Sam cast another glance Hobson's way. Strange man. Very strange. But sooo cute! ****************** Gary rolled onto his stomach, bunching the pillow up underneath him. It felt good to lay in his own bed, in his own loft. Mom and Marissa had both understood why he couldn't talk about where he had been for four days. Bernie was another matter, but he would eventually realize that his son could not tell him everything. And as always... "Good morning! It's another beautiful day in the windy city..." Slap. "Mwrrowwr!" Thump. It was so good to be home. *fin* Do you like? Feedback to Polgana@bellsouth.net.