Originally published in Remote Control 21, 2004
a sequel to Goodbye
Set after Lifeboat
Peter Venkman was dozing with his feet up on his desk when Janine shook him hard to wake him. "Doctor V. Wake up. Wake up."
Roused from a great dream in which he'd just won the lottery and a date with Angelina Jolie, Peter heaved a sigh and cranked open his eyes. The sight of Janine's ghost-white face and enormous eyes banished all thoughts of sleep. Janine Melnitz had been secretary to the Ghostbusters since they opened the business back in the 'Eighties. She'd stood up to more paranormal threats than any two hundred secretaries combined and faced them all with aplomb and smart remarks. Peter's heart thudded in his chest at the sight of her distress. Had something happened to one of the guys?
"He's out there," Janine whispered and pointed out to the reception area in front of her desk. "He's standing there."
Okay, so not an accident to one of his buddies. It looked like one for the history books, a ghost that freaked the unflappable Melnitz.
Peter popped up and peered over the row of file cabinets that divided his office from Janine's desk. The sight of the two men who stood there waiting made him drop into his chair again, his heart thudding harder than ever. Ghosts rarely walked into the headquarters of New York's famous Ghostbusters, but this one had, along with his live buddy.
Last year, Daniel Jackson had died, and now here he was, standing out there with his teammate, Colonel Jack O'Neill.
Well, okay, technically Daniel wasn't dead, but he'd been kind of like a ghost. He called it being ascended to a higher plane, but he wasn't physical anymore, and he drifted around as a glowing cloud. He'd set off a P.K.E. meter, a device designed to detect ghosts. So how did he manage to stand out there looking as solid as life? Janine had never heard the whole truth about the ascension thingie. She didn't have the security clearance for the full story. But the Ghostbusters had on occasion worked with the Stargate project, traveled through the Stargate to a couple of other worlds, and generally knew a heck of a lot more than was comfortable about the threat to Earth from the Goa'uld. They all knew Daniel had ascended. Maybe it had been an incredible opportunity for Daniel, but it had been tough as hell for his friends. Jack O'Neill had been devastated, but he'd been devastated in a hard, closed—mouthed way. Over the past year, Peter had called to check up on him every few months. Even though O'Neill's grief had eased enough for him to go on with life, it had never gone away. Neither had he ever quite opened up to Jonas Quinn, the new man on the team of SG—1. Oh, he worked with the guy okay. Peter had met Quinn once, knew he wasn't really from Earth, although nobody ever acknowledged that, and thought the guy meant well and tried hard. But how could he replace the irreplaceable? Daniel had been the heart of SG-1, the way Ray was with the Ghostbusters. If the team lost Ray, they'd have to hire someone to do the job—but he'd never be a real replacement.
Yet here was Daniel, standing at Jack's side, not a trace of transparency or glow about him. What the hell....
"Get the guys," Peter told Janine in an undertone, then he stood up and walked out of his office, conscious of Janine at his back, edging around behind her desk and over to the stairs.
Peter walked over to the two men, noticing they were in civvies. "Jack? Daniel?" he said and stuck out his hand. Never let it be said Peter Venkman was afraid of a ghost, even when it was the ghost of someone he considered a good friend.
Daniel's hand was firm and solid in his own.
Peter felt his jaw drop.
O'Neill grinned as wide as the Cheshire Cat. "Gotcha," he proclaimed. "He's ba—ack."
"Alive?" Peter blurted.
Daniel nodded, and he smiled, too. "Alive. I should have called when I got back, but I had this little, uh, memory problem."
"He forgot who he was," Jack said. "He even forgot me, if you can imagine it."
"The mind boggles," Daniel teased him, and Jack's eyes warmed.
"Let me get this straight." Peter stared at Daniel. "You got to, um, descend? What happened, did you get booted out of Glowyville? Were you a bad ghost?"
Jack's mouth twitched. "Well, ya see, those glowy guys have this noninterference rule—sorta like the Prime Directive, y'know. And Daniel...." He waved a hand at Daniel as if no more explanation were needed.
Peter got the point. "I can't imagine Daniel sitting back and just watching."
"They tell me I interfered," Daniel admitted. "I can't really remember what it was like, being ascended. They didn't let me keep those memories, but I got everything else back." He exchanged a buddy kind of look with Jack that Peter knew well from having the three greatest friends known to man.
The other Ghostbusters galloped down the stairs like a herd of stampeding cattle, Janine in their wake. Egon gripped a P.K.E. meter in hand—when didn't he? It wasn't reacting that Peter could see.
"Relax, Egon," Peter told Spengler. "He's breathing."
"He's alive?" Ray's eyes rounded. "He's back?" He let out a whoop of sheer delight, lunged at Daniel, and hugged him hard.
"Don't break the archaeologist, Stantz," Jack cautioned, but he was grinning. You didn't see Jack O'Neill looking like that, so utterly content, very often.
Ray let go of Daniel and Winston Zeddemore crowded in to slap him on the back. "Daniel, my man. This is great. What brings you to New York? Are Sam and Teal'c here, too?"
"Back at the Mountain," Jack explained. "We've got a week of downtime, and we had a little need of you guys and your equipment."
"You want us to go on another mission?" Ray bounced eagerly on his toes. "We're ready."
"He's actually alive?" Janine circled around Daniel as if she had never seen him before. One hand shot out to poke his arm. "You told me he was dead." She glared at Peter, who had been the one to break the news.
"Well, I guess I had wrong information, Janine, honey. Believe me, I'm glad I was wrong."
Janine hugged Daniel, too. She didn't know him as well as the four Ghostbusters did, but she had talked to him over the phone a lot the time a demon had cursed Peter and made the guys throw him out, and she'd been out to Colorado the time the team's accountant Louis Tully had turned out to be one of the Goa'uld. Louis had been back for over a year now, nicely de—Goa'ulded, but a lot quieter than the Tully persona the guys had known. Whatever had happened to him out there on the other side of the Stargate had changed him. He wasn't talking, either, not even to the Ghostbusters, who had the clearance to hear the story. Probably just as well.
"Can we go up to the lab?" Jack asked with a nod at the stairs. "We don't need you for a mission now. What we need can be handled here—I hope." He glanced at the meter in Egon's hand and a frown puckered his brow. He looked greyer than he had last time Peter had seen him, but Daniel's return had put more spring in his step.
"If it's that security clearance thing, I'm going on my break," Janine retorted. Just as well. Peter didn't think she'd sneak up and try to listen, but you never knew. Melnitz hated being left outside the loop.
"Take a little extra time," Egon told her. "We'll let the answering machine handle the calls."
When the Ghostbusters and their guests reached the Ghostbusters' third—floor lab, Jack O'Neill looked around with a grimace. He didn't see any trace of the team's little ghost, Slimer, which suited him just fine, thank you very much. One sliming was enough for a lifetime, and he had no ambition to be coated in ectoplasm. Hard to believe this ghost gig was real, but then he stepped through a circle of shiny water and came out on other planets, planets full of nasty snake types that zipped into a guy through the back of his neck. One man's reality was another man's sci fi.
Besides, here was Daniel, unascended, alive, memory firmly in place, and the guy was happy to be back, smiling about it. Jack had always considered Jonas Quinn's smiles irritating, but every time Daniel's face lit up, Jack found himself wanting to grin in return. His world was right side up, and SG-1 was a team again, a family again. Quinn had turned out to be a decent guy, but he hadn't been Daniel, and that was the bottom line.
Having been gifted with the return of his best friend, Jack found himself protective, maybe overprotective at times. This was one of them.
He looked around the lab, at the state of the art computer system, the Rube Goldberg contraptions, the jar on the mantle that held what looked like a human brain. Weird. Must be Spengler's. The term 'mad scientist' had probably been invented for him, but he was a decent guy. All the Ghostbusters were.
"Spengler, that meter thingie you've got. Can it tell if somebody's possessed?"
"Indeed," said Egon in a dead-on-target Spock impression. He compounded the felony by arching one eyebrow above the round rim of his glasses. "Why, precisely?"
Daniel hesitated. "Well, uh, I...sort of got...."
"Gang possessed," Jack finished for him.
"Ja-ack," Daniel protested. "That's not the best way to put it."
"Multiple possession?" Spengler sharpened to attention, all Spockness gone. Eyes wide, he stared at Daniel, then he whipped up his trusty meter and attacked the dials. "How did you get rid of them?"
"Mostly classified, Doc," Jack cut in. "But it was through an alien ship."
"We found a crashed ship on a gate mission," Daniel explained. "Everybody was in cryogenic suspension and the system was failing."
Jack held up a warning finger. "Too much information, Daniel."
"I know, Jack, but they have to understand. I don't think there's any residual possession. I can't feel all those people crowding in my head anymore."
"One of the crew had revived, and he downloaded the personalities of the people whose cryo chambers were losing power into Daniel," Jack admitted. "Then, after we found a way to help restore power on the ship, that guy, Pharrin, let them all be downloaded into him, and we got our Danny back."
The Ghostbusters did have the right clearance, and they needed to know enough to make sure there wouldn't be any residual aftereffects. Daniel had been quiet since the incident, and Fraiser had insisted on the week of downtime for the team as a result. She'd scheduled an appointment with Doctor McKenzie, but the base psychiatrist hadn't been one of Daniel's favorite people ever since the time he'd misdiagnosed the presence of the Goa'uld-killer in Daniel as schizophrenia and plopped him in a padded cell.
Jack had asked for a meeting with Fraiser as soon as he heard about her plan. "Come on, Doc, the possession thing was real. Danny's not going gaga here."
"No, he's not. I know that, Colonel. But those people were in his mind, and we both know that while their essence may be preserved awhile longer, the solution to the problem is not a cure. Those people's bodies are dead, including the child. If you don't imagine Daniel doesn't feel bad about him, about all of them, you're making a mistake."
"Yeah, you're right, he does. But that's just Daniel. McKenzie won't make him feel better about it, and you know it."
"No, but he'd be able to sense any residual effects, any lingering possession."
"Lingering possession? They're out of him, right?"
"As near as I can tell from all my scans and readings, yes. But this is not a state of affairs I am familiar with. I can't totally guarantee it."
"Then let me take it to somebody who is familiar with it," Jack had heard himself say.
Fraiser’s eyes narrowed. "You're not talking exorcism, are you, Colonel? This is hardly the same as spirit possession. I'd never have expected that of you."
"Hell, no, I'm not talking that kind of quack shi- uh, stuff. I'm talking...." What was he talking? Then the answer came to him, perfect and ideally suited to the problem. "I'm talking our Ghostbuster buddies."
"You want to call in the Ghostbusters? What could they do?"
"Well, I remember hearing Venkman was possessed once and they did some number with their equipment to get the demon out of him." When her eyebrows lifted, he shrugged. "Yeah, I know, sounds like medieval superstition to me, too, but their equipment does work. It's real, even if I wish it wasn't. Even if this was a techie thing rather than a ghost thing, the end result was the same. Besides, they know Daniel. And y'know what? I bet nobody ever got around to telling them he was back."
"What do you have in mind, Colonel?"
"I want to take Daniel back there for a visit. Get him right off the base for a few days. He's scarcely been out of here since he came back. I doubt he's even unpacked in his new apartment yet. After that multiple possession thing, he needs a break."
"Yes, he does. I think you may have hit on a solution I can approve. Take him to New York. Let the Ghostbusters deal with him. Peter is a very gifted psychologist—even if his brash manner makes it seem unlikely. If he's been through possession himself, he may be the very person to help Daniel, far better than Doctor McKenzie, in fact."
So, with the blessings of Fraiser and of General Hammond, Jack and Daniel had flown to New York. Here they were in Ghostbuster Central, with the four Ghostbusters hovering around in varying degrees of delight and curiosity. Spengler's meter hadn't gone off when he came downstairs. Did that mean Daniel was unpossessed?
Spengler finished adjusting his settings. "We'll be able to tell if there is any lingering possession at this point. However, since you speak of 'downloads', it's entirely possible that our equipment may need more refinement to detect the possibility. You're speaking of a physical and mechanical process rather than the type we usually deal with. True, we can detect situations outside the normal realm of ghosts and spirits, and I do have Daniel's biorhythms recorded. I never deleted...." He let that trail off. "It enables us to make a comparison, which I'd be anxious to do in any event, especially since the return from the ascended state."
"Don't talk us to death, Spengler. Cut the crap and do it."
"Oh. Yes. Of course." Egon flipped a switch and aimed the meter at Daniel. It beeped.
Jack's heart plummeted to his stomach. Son of a bitch, they weren't gone. That transfer whatsis to draw the consciousnesses of the Stromos people into Pharrin hadn't completely worked. No wonder Daniel had been so quiet. He might not have known consciously but maybe his subconscious had clued in.
"Wow, Egon!" Ray blurted. "You're getting something." Then his face fell. "Oh, gee. This isn't good, is it?"
Daniel's face whitened. "I was sure they were gone."
Peter's mouth tightened and he took a step closer to Daniel. "There's not much reaction there. Come on, Spengs, fill us in."
"This isn't an actual possession, not a complete consciousness of an entity or entities." Egon squinted at the meter screen. It looked like a hash of gibberish to Jack as he craned his neck to see past Spengler's shoulder, but the big blond guy had been doing this for nearly twenty years. He ought to be able to make sense of it. High tech had never been Jack's bag.
"I haven't felt like they were really still there," Daniel admitted. "When they were, they were in control. I was still...aware, sort of, but as if I were asleep and dreaming, and the dream was out of control."
"Like you'd been pushed off in a corner of your mind, and couldn't make your body do what you wanted it to?" Peter asked.
Jack shot him a glare. It wasn't fair to give Daniel a lot of nasty lack-of-control issues to think about.
But Daniel relaxed. "That's it exactly. Thank you, Peter. It wasn't like your experience you told me about with that demon, though. You wanted to fight it. You knew it could do damage and so you struggled against it."
"And you didn't?" Peter asked. For a smart—mouthed guy, he could do a soft and sympathetic number that made McKenzie look like he'd gotten his degree out of a cereal box.
That tone got to Daniel. Of course he trusted Venkman. Unlikely as it seemed, Daniel had bonded with the guy. You'd think he liked guys who smarted off all the time.
Well, if you put it like that....
Daniel nodded. "I knew them, Peter," he said. "Even Martice, the Sovereign, who was probably one of the most arrogant, annoying beings I ever met—and I've met my share," he added with a twinkle.
"If that's a slam, Jackson—" O'Neill jumped in.
"I didn't mean it that way, Jack, but if you want to take it like that...."
Jack made a face at him, then said, "Go on."
"They were people, Jack, people who wanted to live. They had a dream, to reach a new world where their civilization could survive. I think I knew, even then, that they were never going to make it, that their bodies were dead and they couldn't be reintegrated. I couldn't fight them, knowing that if I won they'd be gone forever."
"Oh, for crying out loud. You wouldn't be killing them, Daniel. It was just the luck of the draw that those freezing chambers or whatever were the ones to go first."
"I know. I know it wasn't my fault, Jack, but don't you see? I could let them live a little while longer. They knew. They knew inside what was happening, even if it was so confusing for them to be in me. If I let them have a little bit more time, they could maybe come to terms. That's what I thought."
Only Daniel would consider it that way. And the fact that he could feel that way when his beloved wife had been 'possessed' by a Goa'uld, dominated and controlled, said so much for Jack's friend. God, Jack had missed him while he'd been gone.
"So you didn't try to fight them," Peter said. It wasn't really a question, but Daniel looked at him in surprise.
"No, well, not entirely. I know I came through at least once. I know everybody was afraid I'd be lost in there and never come back, but I think I knew there would be a chance somehow, that eventually they'd be lost and I'd come back. I was separate from them, at least my consciousness was. I didn't understand it, but I wasn't, uh, blended with them, even if I could sense their thoughts. Even if they are lost, if there's no hope to bring them back, I gave them a chance to...well, ah, to find some closure."
"That meant a lot to you, didn't it?" That was Peter, still into his psychology mode. Beside him, Egon fiddled with dials and levers on the P.K.E. meter. He was listening to everything that was said, but he was working away the whole time.
"I know what it's like to die," Daniel admitted. He cast one quick glance at Jack and then away, as if he'd seen more on Jack's face than either of them was comfortable with. "When I was dying, before I, uh, ascended, there was so much I tried to come to terms with. It wasn't easy. At least I had a little time to do that."
A little time? With the radiation eating him away, flooding him with constant pain? Jack shuddered.
"So you wanted to give them a little time, too?" Peter clapped Daniel on the shoulder. "Totally different from what I went through. But in the end, you lose a part of yourself. You have to work to——to feel comfortable inside your head again. It does come, Daniel. Believe me, it does come."
"I know. It wasn't a good experience, not really—but parts of it were. Jack kept watch over me. I think I was always sort of subliminally aware of him, watching out for me. It made the difference."
Damn it, Jack knew he'd been right to stay with Daniel. Daniel had stayed with him when the knowledge of the ancients had been downloaded into his head. How could he have done less?
"So what we need to do now," said Peter, "is figure out what Egon's getting and make sure there isn't a problem with it. Spengs?" he prompted.
"As I said, I cannot detect the presence of any complete consciousness within Daniel. The biorhythm readings I get from Daniel are actually not all that different from the ones I recorded several years ago. Part of the difference could simply be that in a sense he is different. Ascension is not a field I have ever had opportunity to study in anything but theory. The meter is reacting to virtually residual energy. It's not typical of possession, but it could easily match a lingering residue of what Daniel went through."
"You mean parts of them stuck with him?" Jack asked suspiciously.
"Like Sam having Jolinar's memories?" Daniel asked quickly.
"You have those people's memories?" Jack exploded. Egon and Ray leaned closer, their faces full of fascinated curiosity. Peter's hand tightened on Daniel's shoulder.
"Well, uh, no. Not memories, at least not conscious memories. But every now and then I get a flash."
"A glimpse of a life that isn't your own?" Egon asked.
"Yes, exactly. Not enough of one to make sense of, but it has happened three or four times since it was over. I thought maybe it would just fade away."
Typical Daniel, holding that in, hoping it would go away on its own. Maybe even afraid of being sent off to McKenzie. He should have known Jack wouldn't have let that happen.
"And I believe it will fade away," Egon said hastily. He held up the meter. "What you're seeing here—" he pointed— "is clear evidence of residual energy. Residuals fade, and I theorize this, too, will fade. However, as such residual flashes can be disconcerting——and could come at inconvenient times——I believe one option would be for me to draw the residuals off you and make certain they are gone."
"You can do that?" Jack asked.
"Indeed. It would be easy. By adjusting the power level of a trap and configuring its grid, I can direct it to pull off the residual energy."
"You can trap memories?" Daniel blurted in astonishment.
"No, Daniel. I can draw away energy that does not match your own."
Daniel just stood there. Son of a bitch, he actually looked at bay.
It was Peter, who had also been possessed, who made the leap. "You won't be killing them, Daniel. What's left is not a conscious person. It's only flashes. You aren't the keeper of their souls. The guy who drew them off you has that responsibility now. All you're doing is letting go of the residuals. And I bet you half my savings that's what the gorgeous Janet Fraiser thought we'd do when she sent you here." He angled a glance at Jack. "She did send you here?"
"Well, uh, it was my idea," Jack admitted reluctantly. "But Doc Fraiser seconded it. Besides, we knew you'd want to see Daniel."
"You called that one," Winston agreed.
Egon picked up a ghost trap. Weird that a little thing no bigger than a shoebox could actually hold honking big ghosts as tall as a high rise. "Daniel? It's your call. I believe this would be the best action. Peter's right. You don't hold those people's souls. What you hold is no more than a shadow. Even that Sovereign you spoke of, the one you said was arrogant, couldn't hold it against you that you freed yourself. No one could. They're all better with one of their own kind."
Daniel hesitated. Peter was probably dead on the money that he was afraid that to let go was to damn their souls. Was he remembering Sha're, trapped and dying in Ammaunet? Or did he remember the lost little boy, Keenin, who had been one of the souls that had taken refuge inside him. That made Jack think of Charlie. What would he think if Daniel held a remnant of Charlie's soul?
And then he knew. Charlie wouldn't have wanted to linger like that, and neither would Sha're, any more than Daniel had wanted to linger when he was dying horribly of radiation poisoning. Sometimes a person simply had to let go.
Jack displaced Venkman and hung his arm around Daniel's shoulders. "You have to let them go, Daniel. You know you do."
"I know, Jack," he said and sucked in a huge breath. He let it out slowly, then he turned to Egon. "I'm ready."
Egon bent his head over the trap, and Ray held out a couple of tools as if they'd done this kind of thing before and perfected the routine. Jack watched them carefully. Carter would love this. He'd have to get the specs from Spengler for her to play with—special souvenir of New York, physicist style.
"There," said Egon. "I'm ready. If you would stand back, Jack."
"Hit the road, Jack," Peter said irrepressibly and hauled O'Neill away from Daniel. Jack grimaced at him, then turned to watch.
"Close your eyes, Daniel," Ray warned hastily. "Don't look directly into the trap."
"Yeah, that's one of the things Egon says is bad," Peter warned.
Daniel scrunched his eyes shut, and Egon let the trap's trigger pedal drop to the ground, and stomped on it with his foot. Brilliant white light shot out in a wedge, and Jack shifted so he could watch Daniel without blinding himself.
Bathed in light, Daniel stood, shoulders hunched, fists clenched, eyes squeezed shut. It glowed around him as bright as the light of ascension, and Jack's stomach clenched reminiscently at the sight. He'd had to endure a whole year without Daniel. If the ghost trap messed with him....
Peter's fingers curled around Jack's wrist. "It's okay," he said under his breath. "We do this all the time."
"Yeah, and you've gotta wonder about guys who do this for a living," Jack countered.
Daniel gasped and jerked. Jack erupted from Venkman's grip and lunged for him, just as the trap's twin doors slammed shut, leaving Jack to blink the dazzled spots from his eyes as he reached Daniel.
"You okay, Danny boy? Talk to me."
Daniel shivered, then he opened his eyes. "Jack?"
"Right with you."
Egon whipped up the P.K.E. meter, and Jack angled an eye at it. Not a trace of beeping or blinking. It just hung there in Spengler's hand.
"Excellent," Egon remarked. "The residuals are gone." He spun the dials and tried again. "Perfect. Daniel, your biorhythms are back to normal."
"'Normal' being the operative word for a guy who just came back from the other side," put in Peter.
Jack made a face at him then turned back to Daniel. "Come on, Daniel, talk to me."
"Oh, now, that was a mistake," Venkman pitched in. "I thought you complained that he talked too much."
Peter instantly parodied See-Threepio from the first Star Wars movie. "Shutting up, sir," and sketched an irreverent salute in Jack's direction.
Ignoring the snickers of Peter's buddies, Jack patted Daniel on the shoulder. "You okay here, Daniel?"
Daniel lifted his head and his eyes were clear and normal. He scrunched up his forehead in a frown, then his whole body relaxed. "It's different," he admitted. "I feel...free."
"And you're okay with this?"
"Yes, Jack, I'm okay with this. Egon was right; it was just a shadow. I had to let go of it."
Jack let go of his own tensions. Daniel was all right.
"It was incredible, Jack," Daniel burst out. "All those people, all those lives. I need to get it all written down, tell the whole story of the people from Talthus. It was fascinating. A whole alien culture...."
Peter gave Jack a nudge with his elbow as if to say, 'see what I mean', but he was grinning a mile wide. The other Ghostbusters looked delighted, too.
"You bet you'll write it up," Jack said. "Mission reports never leave us."
"What? I thought you put yours off as long as you possibly could so that Hammond had to track you down to force you to do yours."
"Would I do that?" Jack countered.
"Every single time."
"I think he's back to normal," Peter said with pure delight. "Egon? No research on those readings now. They can wait. We've got company, remember? I swear, Daniel, Egon here is just the opposite of Jack. He gets so hung up with his reports and experiments he forgets to take out the trash."
"Well, uh, Jack can forget that, too. You've obviously never come to his house after a couple of long, intense missions. I swear, you need to hire a major cleaning service."
"Yeah?" Daniel parodied Peter's earlier tone perfectly.