Chapter 24

Ba'al's revolting smirk broke out on his face as he stared at the Tau'ri in a satisfaction so absolute that it became downright gleeful when his gaze came to rest on Jack. His silent order to force all the Tau'ri to assume the 'bow before your God' position was almost reverent. All around them, anyone Tau'ri crashed to their knees. When the ugly First Prime happily did the System Lord's bidding with Jack, he could swear that he saw Ba'al smile a genuine smile.

As shock waves tore through Jack's bruised knees, Ba'al did some more of his thoughtful pose before stopping to study his prisoner. He leaned in close, and Jack willed himself not to flinch at his proximity. “Surround the enemy at all costs - it is what you always do if you can. I know you so well, O'Neill.” His pause was as boastful as his words. “You may as well surrender now - it is useless to outwit Lord Ba'al.”

Useless my ass! That arrogant son of a..! “You keep telling yourself that if it makes you feel all lordly and lofty,” Jack jibed back. “Since you know us Tau'ri so well, you should know that we'd rather die than surrender any day of the week - so bring it on.” As he spoke, his eyes darted around the room, belying his casual attitude as he ceaselessly searched for anything he could utilize in a daring escape. He'd even take an escape that was not-so-daring right now. But Ba'al's forces had control of all the old and new weapons in the room, and escape of any kind seemed unlikely. How had it come to this so fast? One minute he was talking to Carter about Zatarcs, the next they were...

And that's when it hit Jack that he'd really been the biggest chump in the Universe. He hadn't been talking to Carter. He'd been talking to her clone, a being that he should very well know by now was her, but wasn't in the most important ways imaginable. Like the most asinine man alive, he'd gotten lost in a fine set of eyes. Which is exactly what Ba'al wanted.

His only hope now was that Carter was with the Asgard, and was coherent enough to realize that not seeing a big fireball in the sky meant that they hadn't blown up the cloning facility, and this whole mission had gone South of South in a big bad way. She would then come up with some brilliant plan to rescue them and complete the mission in one fell swoop.

His vision of hope went up in a poof of imaginary smoke when in the next second he recalled how injured she had been. No one hurt that badly would ever be able to complete any mission, to say nothing of this nearly impossible mission in particular. For all he knew, Carter wasn't even alive anymore.

His heart constricted at that thought.

Ba'al didn't notice Jack's internal upset. Jack wanted to point out that as a God, he should have been aware of every one of Jack's thoughts, but a life spent in the military had given Jack years of schooling his expression to reveal nothing personal, even distress. Right then he vowed that Ba'al would learn nothing more from him than he already knew.

Unfortunately, Ba'al already knew quite a bit. “Jack O'Neill,” he gloated as he sauntered closer, hands confidently behind his back once more in his pretentiously thoughtful pose. “How is it that you have managed to plague me for so long?”

“Plaguing morons is my special talent,” Jack sarcastically replied.

Ba'al's ugly First Prime got to try out his moves when he instantly backhanded Jack. “For your insolence,” he menacingly growled, leaving none of the humans with any doubt that much worse was yet to come.

Jack made a show of being hurt for old Ba'al's benefit while thinking that it was better that the violence land on him rather than anybody else. “That's not insolent,” he finally retorted, probing his aching cheek with his tongue. “I haven't even started being insolent.”

It was a comment that only made Ugly Man hit him so hard on the other cheek that Jack's neck almost snapped with the vicious move. Blood blossomed through his mouth in an ever widening swath, and he spit red liquid onto the dirt floor of the cloning room. That's going to leave a bruise - so much for more clones.

Ignoring his prisoner's subtle shows of defiance, Ba'al continued to look thoughtfully superior. “No thanks to you, I finally discovered your DNA marker on my own.” His glance turned joyous. “Yes, I managed to subvert your doctor's generic marker and successfully clone the great O'Neill. My clone is even now working wonders on Earth - all in my name.”

Jack smirked. “Lord Ba'al,” he mockingly said, “I hate to tell you this - and you should already know all about it...”

Ba'al sighed. “I grow tired of this, O'Neill. Kill...”

“I'm retired,” Jack interrupted the expected order for the Jaffa to kill him. “That means snoozing all day, playing all night, doing the dirty when it doesn't wear you out too much... but definitely at the end of your job. As in, gone; as in, no SGC anymore; as in your clone isn't doing anything to anyone on Earth except the retired thing.” And he peered up at Ba'al in mock innocence. “Didn't you know?”

Jack was pleased to see that this news fazed Ba'al for a moment, but only a moment. The oiliness coming back in full force, Ba'al ignored Jack's question to instead suggest, “Perhaps you would like to know how a God initially decided on cloning your girlfriend instead of the others on your team.”

“Not particularly.” Jack grimaced, but not because of the girlfriend remark - because he hated the taste of the blood that was still washing through his mouth. Carter was his girlfriend after all. At least, she sorta was. He'd already established that to himself.

But Ba'al just had to continue. Nothing short of planetary Armageddon could stop a good Goa'uld gloat fest. “You squealed for someone named Daniel while under torture.”

Jack doubted that he had 'squealed' about anyone in his entire life, but if Ba'al wanted to delude himself like that, who was he to stop him? Besides, it was just too much fun to play with this posing idiot to stop now.

And as he watched, Ba'al's pose of pensiveness purposely deepened - Goa'uld thoughtfulness was as fake as everything else they did. “However, I quickly realized that this Daniel you spoke of was far from desirable bait for you.”

The fact that he was dead at the time was a bit of a deal breaker Jack said to himself. But of course, Ba'al being a God would already know that, so there was no use in vocalizing it. Yet the way Ba'al continued, he had no idea that Daniel had ever died... in the Ascended way, or course. So much for Godhood.

“The way you so casually mentioned him in your gravity cell...” Ba'al didn't stop, but did pause when he saw Jack do an infinitesimal double take. “Yes, your cell was full of listening devices, as you should have guessed.” He took a moment to peer closely at Jack, studying again. With a disappointed expression, he noted, “For a human who has eluded capture for so long, I expected more of you.” His contemplative circling continued. “But this Daniel, whoever he was, wouldn't do as bait, obviously.”

Oh, obviously. “As if you know.”

Ba'al simply gave his creepy smile. “Of course I know - I am a God.”

Ah, a God - they were back to that again. “Don't give me that 'It's obvious, I'm a God' crap again,” Jack injudiciously blurted. “You guessed, and you know it.” It was a statement that only earned the threatening promise of another punch from the First Prime. To his credit, Jack didn't even flinch.

Ba'al stayed the hand of his First Prime before he could bruise Jack for a third time. “Believe what you will,” he taunted Jack in a flat voice. “When I am finished with you, you will be begging for the truth.”

“Delude yourself much?”

“I am your God!”

“You are a mistake of the Universe,” Jack insisted. “Just because...”

And there came the third slug from Ugly Man, this time across the back of Jack's neck. Jack fell to the floor with the strength of the blow, but if he unnerved old Ba'al, it was worth any amount of pain. He slowly rose back to his knees, warily watching the First Prime from the corners of his eyes.

Ba'al's arrogance was now all encompassing. “That mouth of yours will truly get you into trouble one of these days.”

This wasn't trouble already? “My mouth has a habit of saying whatever the hell it wants.”

Ba'al's smile burst forth, causing chills to cascade down Jack's spine in spite of his bravado. “Then perhaps I will have it sewn shut.”

The threat had its desired effect - Jack didn't say anything more. But his silence wasn't due to threats, as Ba'al was sure to convince himself. It was more because if he kept quiet, then Ba'al would get done doing his mandatory gloating thing all the faster, and the real fun could start. Though now that he thought about it, real fun had the tendency to either get him tortured into unconsciousness, or get him really tortured into unconsciousness. Either way, it was still better than listening to another of Ba'al's incessant lectures on his Godly superiority. As the System Lord went on, Jack idly wondered what McKenzie would do with that information.

“Daniel was someone you spoke of too often.” Ba'al was being irritatingly all-knowing again. “Though a member of your team, and deemed hasshak...” and he spit the Goa'uld word, “after careful study, I could see that he was enough to bring you out in the open, but not enough to bring you out unthinkingly.”

Not to mention the dead thing. Ascended thing, Jack corrected himself. Carter had tried to explain the difference to him, but had quickly given it up as a lost cause. According to him, the Ascended thing and the dead thing were an awfully lot alike, no matter what Carter had said about 'planes of existence.'

Jack was distracted from his two-year-old memories by Ba'al. Here the System Lord got right up in Jack's face again, searching his eyes for something in particular. “I wanted you unthinking,” he casually informed as if it no longer mattered if Jack knew. “Men who don't think are hurt much more quickly.” Ba'al resumed his circling. “I next considered the Shol'va - you did rescue him from Apophis. There must be some redeeming quality about him.” Teal'c's growl of defiance was barely discernible. Ba'al ignored him to go on, “But even if I managed to kill the Shol'va, I was sure to turn him into a martyr for that band of misfit warriors he has, and I did not want to do that.” Again came his greasy smile. “Why don't you tell us what happened next?”

Jack sighed a sigh of supreme aggravation. Was he ever gonna finish? “Frankly, I don't give a damn.”

Ba'al went on without missing a beat, as if he'd known ahead of time that Jack would refuse to play along with him. “You have three members of your team: Daniel Jackson, the shol'vah Teal'c, and... Samantha Carter.”

“Wrong,” Jack had the pleasure of announcing. Ba'al stood before him, implacable. He didn't remark on the wrong comment, behaving as if he wasn't astounded by it at all.

But Jack wasn't fooled. This was all some grandiose acting job.

When Ba'al didn't respond in any other way except to stare more chillingly, Jack finally responded himself, “We had a fourth member - or perhaps you're forgetting about Jonas Quinn.”

Ba'al replied predictably. “No, I foretold him.”

Jack rolled his eyes. “Of course you did.”

Jack O'Neill was one of the few people ever to do something as insolent as roll his eyes at Ba'al and get away with it. Jack suspected that Ba'al only allowed it because he secretly enjoyed Jack's mouthiness. In fact, Ba'al's next words were surely meant to put him firmly in his place. “He was not from Earth, and did not stay for more than a year.” His superior mein now turned smug. “Samantha Carter, on the other hand, was very accessible, very much on the planet, very much a part of SG-1, and according to my intel, very much a part of you.”

Jack didn't like where this was going. Another chill snaked down his spine at the way the alien purred out Carter's name. He wanted to tell Ba'al to leave Carter out of this, but that would just call everyone's attention right where he didn't want it. So Jack taunted instead, “Yeah, tell us all something we don't already know, why dontcha? Now, can we..?”

But Ba'al had only just begun. “You mentioned her once in your gravity cell. Just the one time, speaking I assume about some mythical rescue you erroneously hoped would come about.”

Jack sneered. “As I recall, that hope wasn't so erroneous, was it?”

Ba'al didn't let Jack's pointed barb derail him. “I studied you and your team every time any System Lord came in contact with you - if the information fell into my hands, I dissected it, looking for..?” His voice trailed off, clearly expecting Jack to finish his comment.

But Jack remained stubborn, refusing to finish anything started by Ba'al. “Why don't you tell us, as you so obviously want to.”

Ba'al chuckled in delight. “As you wish, Tau'ri.”

Jack wasn't deluded into thinking that he could wish for anything in this scenario.

“You mentioned Daniel several times, but too often to give me the idea that you would blindly rush to his rescue. The shol'va could be martyred, and I did not wish that. But Samantha Carter...” Ba'al paused as if he found just the thought of her to be succulent. Jack didn't like that at all, as he suspected that Ba'al knew. The System Lord was goading him.

When Jack didn't give him the violent reaction he clearly hoped for, Ba'al simply continued, “Admit it, O'Neill. You always had a soft spot for the woman.” Ba'al looked like he didn't blame O'Neill for any positive emotion concerning Carter, especially of the physical kind.

Jack didn't want Ba'al to be appreciative of Carter at all. So again he said nothing.

If this irritated Ba'al, he didn't let on. “I learn so much from listening to prisoners in their cells,” he pleasantly informed. “They tell me far more when I am not torturing them than when I am.”

Jack wouldn't let even this thinly veiled challenge get to him. “Congratulations, Snake Boy.”

Such an insult would have incensed any other Goa'uld in a nanosecond, but Ba'al shrugged the words off. “I know that I should be offended...” And he smiled again. “But I know what is coming.”

“Oh, here we go.” Jack's mumbled remark was mocking again, and annoyed. “Here's where you tell me that it was my fault Carter got the full Ba'al treatment.”

“But it was,” Ba'al drawled in enjoyment as Jack's discomfort visibly increased. “You are a man highly trained in the art of subterfuge.”

“Recognized a fellow con-artist, did you?”

Ba'al made a show of tolerance. “As I know this about you, the fact that you only mentioned this Samantha Carter's name once told me much more than you were actually telling me.”

A niggle of complete understanding suddenly zipped through Jack's mind. It was so fast that even he didn't have time to cover up the realization from sneaking across his face before Ba'al saw it.

“Yes, I can see that you begin to understand.” Ba'al sounded beyond pleased now, and whispered his next words in Jack's ear, “I have you to thank for choosing my next victim for me.” Satisfied, he leaned back to watch the play of realization again mix on Jack's face with his typical military blankness. “It was only luck that I simultaneously found this Ancient cloning device.” His smile of fake congeniality vanished. “It was then that I decided that it would be much worse for you to hurt you than to bait and capture you. Torturing this Samantha Carter wasn't enough - I knew that she was similar in makeup to you - she would resist. And why waste time with a resistant female?” He said the last word as if it was a dirty thing. “I could send her clone to Earth, hurt you, and keep the real Samantha Carter for my plaything until I tired of her, and you would never know.” He lifted his hands in a gesture to encompass the cloning room as well as the current situation where the Tau'ri were his prisoners. “At last, it would all be possible: you - hurt. Your puny little planet - part of my domain. All these insignificant Tau'ri - captives. And it is still very possible.” His eyes widened in pleasure. “It is, in fact, happening right this moment. It is positively inevitable.” Ba'al cockily flashed his eyes. “I. Win.”

In an abrupt burst of light, Carter suddenly stood beside Jack, fully mended again, just in time to reply to Ba'al's last words. “If you win, then why can I do this?”

Chapter 25

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