Chapter 17

“'Everybody remember where we parked!'” Jack sang out once they had landed on Cimmeria. He adjusted his staff weapon, content at last in his own life in spite of the tentative nature of the mission that lay ahead of him. Behind him, he heard Carter also singing softly under her breath. The sound barely penetrated the metal of the Jaffa head piece she wore.

Jack smiled, his heart momentarily soaring under his concealing armor. If Shanahan had been humworthy all those months ago, it was thoroughly gratifying to know that he was songworthy. It increased his own happiness tenfold.

They had planned to land the teltac on the planet several clicks from their destination, and keep it cloaked for the duration of the mission in case they needed a place to hide. After all, none of them were really sure what Ba'al's sensor equipment was capable of. He might find and attack the teltac as well as Thor's ship while orbiting Cimmeria, even if they were both cloaked. His cloning capabilities alone had skyrocketed in the last year, and they didn't want to assume that his sensor equipment hadn't improved as well. Better to be overly cautious than dead.

Bra'tac remained behind to man the smaller teltac while the four clanked to the cloning facility, each also adjusting the awkward staff weapon they carried as they went. Pete groaned at Jack's quoted commentary about remembering where the ship was parked, but Jack thought that only Carter would laugh at such a line. He turned to smile warmly at her in spite of the fact that she couldn't see his gesture, but only hear the smile in his voice. “I've always wanted to say that!”

Carter once again rolled her eyes, knowing that Jack would never see the slightly mocking gesture behind the Jaffa headpieces she, Jack, and Teal'c wore to hide their features - Pete was more simply dressed in the more typical Jaffa armor.

Sam may be retired from the Air Force, and Jack may claim that he was, too, but old habits were too ingrained in her for her to be openly insubordinate. Yet she also knew that Jack was quoting bad lines from ancient movies to hide his nervousness of the task ahead. As usual, what he didn't say said a lot.

Bra'tac made certain that the cloaked teltac's door closed behind the four armored people, then turned his attention to monitoring the sensors. “The facility is two clicks from this position,” he said into the communication link that connected the ship to the human's Jaffa helmets. “Proceed in that direction. I will stay behind to 'watch your six.'”

“Thanks. Over,” Jack said softly into the inside of his helmet. With any luck, they would be in and out in an hour, needing no watching at all. The anonymity of the uniforms claimed that they were sure not to need backup... but it was good to know that Bra'tac was available, nonetheless.

* * *

Despite the state of their preparedness, their first problem materialized the minute they stepped onto the harder stone corridor of the cloning facility. Three members of his team walked through the corridors looking like any Jaffa, and the fourth awkwardly smacked the ground and clanked far too loudly, even for a Jaffa. “Stop clanking so loud!” Jack ordered the ever annoying Shanahan. “And for God's sake, keep your head down!”

Pete's reply had as much bite to it as Jack's voice. “I would have a down if you had given me one of those head things to wear!” His silver skullcap glinted in the dull light as he waved his hand over his head and petulantly said, “I could at least look like you guys!”

Jack yanked off his headgear so that he'd be more sure that Shanahan heard every word from him as he said, “How many times do I have to tell you - you don't need..!”

“Yeah, yeah,” Pete interrupted. “I've heard it all before.” His shrug made his cloak swing. “At least I can see, I guess.”

“You can see us getting captured if you don't shut up!” Jack's acerbic tones were accompanied by his moving into the next room which turned out to be the heart of the facility. Teal'c and Carter also removed their headgear so that they could stare unimpeded.

Sleeping Carter clones met their eyes, and weird lights on mysterious panels blinked at them. It was clear that Ba'al had not quite trusted his clone of the real Sam Carter to do all that he had wanted it to do - he must have made these multiple copies of Carter in case he'd need them on short notice. As it was, he hadn't needed more than the first Sam clone. That one clone had done enough damage for all its clone sisters put together. Jack was just glad that the real Sam Carter was clothed in concealing armor at the moment, and not her SGC uniform, as these clones all were. He didn't want to mix them up now - that would be a disaster!

But on closer inspection, there was something off in all of the clones if one only looked hard enough. The first clone he stared at in the Sam Carter lineup was actually her second clone, as Jack well knew. The first clone of her had been sent back to the SGC with her team mates. He himself had met 'her' at the bottom of the Stargate ramp where it had asked him the question that had started this whole thing. Jack idly recalled that moment, noting that the typical flood of anger and shocked emotion was lacking now. The real Carter had washed that all away.

This second clone had hair just a shade too dark to be his Carter. The third clone was wearing BDUs that were too light, and had, of all things, freckles. Ba'al had obviously wanted his Sam1 clone to get rid of Jack O'Neill, one of the few men who might recognize it for not being the real Sam Carter. The two other men who would recognize an impostor of Samantha Carter had not had enough military pull for their colleagues to simply take their comments at face value. It was an excellent plan, and had almost worked. The fact that they had figured out the snake's plan was nothing short of a miracle.

Shaking the memories out of his head, Jack walked stoutly passed the Carters without a second look, then began energetically planting his stash of C4 in locations that would do the most damage when the compound exploded. The others did the same. “Quietly!” Jack cautioned when he felt that Teal'c was growing too enthusiastic in his explosive placements. Teal'c became as quiet as it was possible for such a big man, and the placements continued.

At last, they were finished. Jack moved swiftly towards a far console to plant the last of his C4 on its underside. Pete was now so far behind them that it looked like Jack was only talking to Sam and Teal'c as he said, “If we're not careful, Ba'al will come down here and say...”

“Very good, O'Neill!” came the resonating tones of a jovial Goa'uld as Ba'al suddenly cut Jack off. It was so unusual to hear a Goa'uld who was actually happy that the tones immediately sent shivers of dread down Jack's spine. Ba'al stepped from behind the shadowed throne sitting on one side of the room. He had obviously been waiting for them. “You came just as I foretold!”

The thought of Ba'al being able to foretell so much as a rain storm was enough to make Jack give a silent guffaw.

Just as Jack had that stray thought about Ba'al's foreshadowing abilities, several well hidden Jaffa came streaming from around corners and behind strange looking consoles to surround him and Carter and Teal'c, making Jack think that maybe he was wrong about those foretelling abilities. As one, the Jaffa quickly pointed their staff weapons at their prisoners, a sea of glinting Jaffa skullcaps and armor. What had happened to Shanahan by that point was anybody's guess.

Jack and Ba'al eyed each other, one cautiously glancing at the Jaffa surrounding him and his friends, frantically searching for a way out of this mess. Yet even as he grew more and more frantic, he was able to mock, “Still trying to pull off that God thing, huh?” Multitasking had always been one of his fortes.

Contrarily, the System Lord looked positively gleeful at the sight of the team. Ignoring Jack completely, Ba'al went straight to Carter to caress her cheek with one of his oily fingers. “Still brash to the point of stupidity,” he said of Jack's comment, though staring directly into Carter's blue eyes. “I would be disappointed with anything else.”

“I'm honored you like it so much,” Jack said with more bravado in his voice than he felt.

Ba'al gave a sick grin and just fingered Carter's armor as if he were mentally undressing her. “Take it off,” he said softly, his voice sliding through the room. Then he turned to regard the two men. “All of you.”

Jack winced. “But we wouldn't want you to see...”

His bravado was rewarded with an activated staff weapon singing in his face. “Ok,” Jack said, his hands slowly going up. “We'll take it off.”

“We are in constant need of additional armor,” Ba'al conversationally informed them all. “It's so pleasant of you to supply us with replacements.”

The three quickly unburdened themselves of their armor, but if Ba'al had been hoping to be left with three naked prisoners, he was disappointed. All three of them wore a black tank top and matching black shorts. Even their feet were covered by short, tight black shoe-like slippers.

Ba'al's gaze slid to Carter again. “Your clothing is ugly... but functional. Pity.” He sighed, as if the fact that the three were wearing anything at all was truly an inconvenience. “I was so looking forward to seeing this one in her... natural form.”

Before any of them could even react to such an insidious comment, the butt end of staff weapons predictably slammed into the backs of their knees, sending them crashing to the floor. The pain that shot up Jack's legs upon landing was significant, but there was no way he would give Ba'al the satisfaction of seeing him wince.

Ba'al sensed Jack's discomfort anyway: his chuckles brought out goosebumps on Jack's arms. “Brash... and stupid,” the Goa'uld said, his teeth gleaming as he smiled. He had rerouted his attention from Sam to Jack at the non-wince episode, and now his gaze turned to Teal'c. “Ah... Shol'va.” His smile disappeared as Teal'c growled at him. “You shall be the first to die as your clone infiltrates the Free...” his sneer was unmistakable, “... Jaffa.” His chuckle again sounded his low opinion on the subject. “My First Prime will like nothing more than to wipe out that insignificant rebellion.”

Teal'c didn't even deign to say something snotty in Goa'uld to the System Lord. He simply snarled.

Ba'al only gave a maddening laugh, showing how he was hardly frightened at the intimidating gesture from Teal'c, particularly as three strong Jaffa held down the struggling captive. “It has teeth,” he said in oily tones. “How nice.” His amused expression vanished. “I will rip them out through your ears,” he promised.

His gaze landed once again on Carter's two legs. Or more to the point, on the fact that Carter even had two legs to look at. “I see that Tau'ri medicine is more advanced than I had first suspected.” His greasy tones coiled around her like the snake that he was as he leaned in close. “How unfortunate for you that you were recaptured.” His gaze slipped aside to take in Jack, giving the impression that her capture wasn't so unfortunate for her as it was going to be for him.

Carter's gaze followed Ba'al's, and hardened when it landed on Jack. “Go to hell,” she injudiciously retorted.

Ba'al laughed a second time, and roughly grabbed Carter's chin in his hand. Her struggles were efficiently and quickly subdued by the Jaffa on each side of her as they grabbed hanks of her hair and pulled her head back so she had no choice but to look at Ba'al. His dark almost good looks made her grimace even more as he seemed to be carefully considering her comment. “I've often heard of this 'Hell.' I know it to be a horrifying place.” He leaned in even closer until he could say right in her ear, “We'll see it together.”

Jack knew what that meant - torture, and a lot of it. He specifically knew what 'torture a la Ba'al' meant, and instantly began a mighty wriggle, hoping to at least get the demonic alien's attention off Carter and onto him, pronto. But his efforts were stilled by the abrupt smack of a staff weapon to his jaw. At least the weapon wasn't activated this time.

Despite Jack's wriggling, Ba'al's attention hadn't wavered an iota. He looked at Carter's two working legs in morbid interest. “I admit to being curious as to your new leg... how well does it work?”

“Well enough to escape from you!” Carter spat, still injudicious, perhaps, but Jack was glad to see the old determined sparkle in her eyes. As long as he saw that special Carter-glow about her again, he didn't care how she taunted old Balsey-boy.

Instead of enraging Ba'al, Carter's resistant statement made him chuckle again, a sound that definitely made Jack writhe just to hear it. A well placed zat blast from a nearby Jaffa put an untimely end to Jack's wiggling as he slumped to the floor, unconscious.

“Pity,” Ba'al said, studying Jack, now lying prone on the floor. “He might have proven entertaining.” He straightened. “Throw them all in with the others prior to...” He malevolently grinned again. “... his cloning!” His sick smile only grew when he concentrated on Sam. “She can watch.”

Sam glared defiantly at Ba'al. Ba'al was unperturbed.

The Jaffa leader simply answered, “Yes, my Lord,” then he and his counterparts grabbed Jack under his arms and Sam by her hair and Teal'c by whatever they could touch on the struggling man and hauled them in the opposite direction from the way they'd entered.

Carter and Teal'c were shoved ruthlessly into the same midsized cell that had housed the many SGC prisoners captured over the last month, Jack unceremoniously dumped at their feet just rior to the door slamming shut and locking. He finally jerked awake 30 minutes later, groaning. Hands connected to arms clothed in the green of the typical SGC field uniform helped him to a sitting position as he struggled to say to Carter, “Should have come up with a plan B.”

Chapter 18

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