Originally published as a standalone fanzine by Criterion Press May 2003


Food of the Gods


Beneath Daniel Jackson’s fingers, the hieroglyphs were faint indentations in the surface of the ancient stone, visible only at certain slanting angles of the light. The film he had made could be enhanced back at the SGC to aid in the translation, but Daniel found more satisfaction in the tactile experience, seeking out each symbol. Beyond the plaque, the huge pyramid loomed, no mass of smooth lines rising to a fine point but a series of plateaus, each smaller than the next. At the sight of it, Daniel had frozen in pure delight. The pyramid made coming to P4V-689 worthwhile. It seemed like a long time since he’d had a chance to study Egyptian ruins.

Of course that might mean Ra had once come to this planet—or any of the Goa’uld who had been a part of the ancient Egyptian pantheon. That included Daniel’s pet annoyances, Apophis, who wouldn’t conveniently stay dead, and Hathor, who had. Too many Goa’uld, too many threats. But P4V-689 appeared to be deserted, and neither M.A.L.P. nor UAV had detected any settlements near the Stargate other than the ruins the team now explored.

He’d seen the ruins on the film, but they’d had to come through the crumbling city to find the plaza where the lone pyramid crouched in isolated splendor opposite a row of mastabas. "It’s a step pyramid," he blurted, eyes wide.

"Looks like the architect was drunk," was Jack O’Neill’s offering. "Or else the poor guy had an off day." Jack adjusted his sunglasses against the glare of the alien sun and tilted his head to study the jagged structure that rose in a series of ever-narrowing plateaus instead of rising smoothly to a point like the pyramids he was used to, both on Earth and out here on distant worlds.

"No, Jack, this is important." Daniel waved his hand at the unusual pyramid. "Way back at the start of the third dynasty, early in the Egyptian culture, they didn’t have pyramids; the kings were buried in mastabas. Rectangular buildings, low and sloping, far smaller than the pyramids everybody thinks of when you mention Egypt." He waved his hands at row of a dozen or so of them that lined up behind him opposite the pyramid. "The step pyramid was the first leap from those to the Great Pyramid at Giza."

Jack’s eyes glazed, the way they always did when Daniel gave him more information than he felt he needed, but at least he tried to look interested. Daniel had learned over the years to be wise to that particular expression. Sometimes, when Jack did that, it was fun to fling trick questions at him and let him know Daniel was wise to his tactics.

"Transitional," Sam Carter volunteered before Daniel could tease Jack about his inattention. She eyed the bulky shape with interest that didn’t stop her from removing her boonie hat and fanning her face with it. The climate here was completely reminiscent of Giza, not to mention Abydos. Daniel could feel the arid heat drying the sweat on his forehead before it had a chance to trickle down into his eyes. The wind that stirred Sam’s blonde hair carried stifling heat from the glaring yellow sun. Out there beyond the small oasis that hosted the ruined settlement, the desert waited. Daniel spared the lavender-blue sky a measuring look. During his year on Abydos he’d learned to recognize the signs of impending sandstorms. The rolling dunes were undisturbed, but a storm could come up fast, and a smart man developed a weather eye quickly. It was a good thing they didn’t have to venture far from the gate on this mission, even though the sky was tranquil enough right now.

Sam gestured up at the pyramid. "All it would take would be one visionary who liked a smoother look, and who had the power to implement it."

"Precisely," he said, delighted with her insight. "This is incredible. We haven’t seen anything like this anywhere we’ve visited, only the more familiar pyramid shapes. Considering when Earth’s gate was buried...." If he had still been affiliated with a university, there’d have been such a great paper in this. But he couldn’t exactly write up digs on other planets to send to archaeological journals. He did, of course, write up each experience and file it away on his computer and in a print-out log he kept secure at the SGC on the off chance the project would one day be declassified and he could publish. The old academic mentality was still well-ingrained.

Teal’c frowned. "I have not previously observed such a design, DanielJackson." He ought to know. As First Prime of Apophis before he’d seen the light and thrown in with the people of Earth, the Jaffa had visited more planets in his long lifetime than Daniel could even imagine. Even if he didn’t remember the details of every single one, he was sure to remember a jagged shape like this pyramid.

Daniel waved his hands to sketch the outline of pyramid before him. "The ancient Egyptians went on to the design we’re familiar with, that of the Great Pyramid, within a hundred years of this. You have to wonder at the sudden ability. I think the step pyramid rose out of the idea of putting gradually smaller mastabas on top of each other. Later architects smoothed out the concept to what we know today." He gazed up at the step pyramid. "The one on Earth is the pyramid of Djoser, ah, let me see. His reign was from 2630-2611 B.C. and his pyramid was built by one Imhotep."

"How do you know all those dates?" Jack’s question was more protest than a request for information. He hurried on before Daniel could actually tell him. "Wasn’t Imhotep the guy in the movie The Mummy?"

"Well, ah, not the same guy, no." Daniel frowned. "Don’t get me started on the historical inaccuracy of movies about ancient Egypt. Mummies stalking around trailing wrappings and curses of the pharaohs.... Anyway, the step pyramid on Earth was created at the end of the Early Dynastic Period even before the Old Kingdom which began in 2575 BC. The language on this plaque is from the Early Dynastic Period, which would match the Djoser’s pyramid on Earth. Intriguing."

"Oh yeah, sends chills all up and down my spine, let me tell you." O’Neill lifted an eyebrow at the additional date.

"Ja-ack." Daniel made a face at him. Sometimes he had to stop and remember that most people were not as thrilled as he was with linguistics or history, although he thought a knowledge of history would benefit anyone who traveled through the gate and met characters out of Earth’s mythical past. "Cheer up. I don’t think there’ll be another crystal skull here." That wasn’t as cheering a thought to Daniel himself as he made it sound.

Reminded of the team’s last mission, Jack grimaced. "Sweet. So what’s it say?" But his eyes narrowed slightly as he studied Daniel as if for evidence of the sudden onset of invisibility.

Daniel shrugged. "This writing is hard to make out."

Jack squinted at it, and Daniel waited for the expected words. "Yeah, well, it’s Greek to me."

"Egyptian," Daniel ventured to tease him. He wasn’t altogether comfortable finding a pyramid here, either, not so soon after the pyramid of the giant aliens where he had lost his grandfather. Not that Nicholas Ballard was dead; no, he was busy playing ambassador to his aliens and probably having the time of his life. A new pyramid, though once a thrill to Daniel, couldn’t help but remind him of the fact that he’d found his grandfather and come to terms with him only to lose him. Being out of phase hadn’t been fun, either. Invisible to everyone at the base, he’d been unable to interact with his teammates, who had been unaware of his presence. His stomach gave a twitch at the thought, and he sent it a stern message to behave. What would have happened if Nick hadn’t been able to see him and make the point to Daniel’s friends? It was Nick’s experience with the similar crystal skull he’d found long ago in Belize that had enabled Daniel to be restored.

Jack made a dismissive shrugging gesture, but one eyebrow arched fractionally. Knowing Jack, he’d made the connection between the last pyramid the team had visited and this one, even without Daniel’s mention of the skull, and probably had a good idea of Daniel’s tangled feelings. He wouldn’t push it, though. He was good at that. "So what does it say? ‘This way to the treasure?’"

Daniel shoved his glasses into place with a hasty finger and leaned closer, squinting at the faint tracery of hieroglyphs. "It says something about the food of the gods. I haven’t translated it all yet." He brushed the text with his fingertips. "It’s been out here so long exposed to the elements that it’s mostly worn away."

Teal’c stiffened. "What did you say, DanielJackson?" Every line of his body tensed and a muscle bunched in his jaw. "The food of the gods?"

Daniel stared at him. Teal’c didn’t usually radiate such tension. "Yes. Does that mean something to you, Teal’c?"

The Jaffa repeated the words "food of the gods" in Goa’uld, and he sounded so alarmed that Jack stared at him.

"What’s the matter, big fella?"

Carter blinked. "Is that bad?"

"The term, ‘food of the gods’ in Goa’uld lore refers to a substance which was said to increase the power of a Goa’uld a hundred-fold. Rumors of it were spoken in secret, for to acknowledge its existence was to suggest that a Goa’uld without it was less than all-powerful."

"And that’d be a bad image for a so-called god, right?" Jack eyed the plaque as if it held the secrets of the universe. Daniel had to hide a smile. Each such alien text might do just that, hence the thrill of translation. This time, the mysterious words just might mean something important to the SGC, even to Earth’s ability to defend itself against the Goa’uld threat.

"What else do you know about it, Teal’c?" he asked.

Teal’c squinted at the script, then he raised his head. "It was forbidden for Jaffa to mention the food of the gods. Yet we sometimes did, in secret. Master Bra’tac offered speculation about discovering such a substance—and altering it in such a way as to reduce Goa’uld power. Yet, his words were mere theory. It is my belief Apophis sought this substance in an attempt to set himself in ascendancy over the other system lords."

"Presumably all Goa’uld would seek it," Daniel offered. A shiver skittered up and down his spine and a knot of discomfort settled behind his belly button. Thinking of misuse of power like that was enough to make a man feel ill. The idea of Sokar or Apophis possessing such powers was daunting. "How did it enhance a Goa’uld’s power, Teal’c, do you know?"

"I do not. The term was only spoken in secret, and no details were offered. Perhaps it was but legend, yet such an assumption would not be safe."

"The term could be generic," Daniel soothed him. "It might speak of enlightenment rather than a Goa’uld power source, even if there were legends. I’ve heard the term before in general, long before I ever heard of the Stargate."

"Then let’s get in there and see what it is." Jack squared his shoulders. "If there’s really something in there that can produce an uber-Goa’uld, we need to secure it, or if necessary zap it out of existence."

"Or learn what it is and how it works." Sam scrunched up her brow. "I’ve been trying to access Jolinar’s memories, and I feel there’s something I should know but it won’t come clear. I feel a general sense of uneasiness, though, at the thought of it."

"And that’s bad, right?" Jack glanced at his team one at a time, his eyebrows doing a little dance as he pondered the possibilities. "What else does it say, Daniel?"

He traced the symbols carefully. "This text is a variant of the early Dynastic writing of ancient Egypt. But I think it says, ‘The Food of the Gods awaits within, for those with the...the fortitude to gain entrance.’" He leaned so close that his nose almost touched the stone, then he backed off long enough to remove his glasses and squint. Sometimes for very close work that helped, but not this time. He replaced them, shifted to the side, and finally turned on his flashlight and held it at an angle. The resultant shadows produced the desired result. "‘Only he who can...abandon form may pass within.’"

"What the heck does that mean? Abandon form? You mean walk through walls?" Jack stared up at the jagged pyramid. "We just turn transparent and step through."

"The Nox could do it," Sam suggested.

"Well, yeah, but it’s not like they ask how high to jump when we snap our fingers," Jack objected. "Maybe this is some of that metaphysical stuff. Or what about what’s her name, the glowy lady, Oma Tamale?"

"Desala," Daniel corrected involuntarily.

"That’s what I said," Jack defended his vocabulary. "Betcha she could do it."

"She wouldn’t," Daniel said with sudden certainty. The entity they had encountered on Kheb might have taken Shifu to protect the Harsesis child from the Goa’uld, but he didn’t think she would jump if SG-1 whistled for her. "I think it means it takes someone ‘older’ than we are, if that makes any sense."

Jack groaned. "Daniel, if this is another thing we’re too ‘young’ for, I’m not gonna be happy. We can always just blast our way in if there isn’t a door." He took a couple of steps backward and craned his neck to survey the entire structure. Daniel joined him.

Teal’c lifted his eyes to the pyramid. "I observe no means of entrance, O’Neill. Might not blasting a hole in the wall damage the food of the gods, if it does not weaken the architectural supports for the structure?"

Daniel rocked on his toes. "No, wait, Jack. Just because the pyramid on Abydos had such an obvious door doesn’t mean this one will. The pyramids were built as tombs for the pharaohs, and the last thing any self-respecting pharaoh wanted was to make it easy for tomb robbers. They were buried with all the possessions they thought they’d need in the afterlife and they wanted to make it impossible for tomb robbers to break in and make off with them."

"Did it work?" Jack asked. He must have already known the answer, but Daniel felt a surge of warmth to think Jack was actually encouraging him to talk. It took his mind off the slight discomfort in his stomach. He had a very bad feeling about this text.

"Not usually. Most tombs that were discovered were robbed in antiquity and continually since. One of the ways they did it was to bang on the sides of the pyramid with chisels, to see if they could produce a hollow sound; if they heard one, they’d know they were close to a passage."

"High tech," Jack countered. "I like it."

Daniel hid a smile. "Sometimes, the old ways are just as practical as our modern technology."

"So tomb robbers might have found a way in?" Sam fell in beside them and craned her neck to study the top of the pyramid.

Daniel nodded. "Well, ah, yes. Back in the nineteenth century, people traveled to Egypt and a lot of them brought home mummies as souvenirs. Somebody had to find those mummies."

Jack gave a snort of amusement. "‘Honey, I’m home from vacation. I brought you back a dead guy.’ Just the kind of souvenir I’d want."

"It was fashionable, trendy, in those days." Daniel lifted an eyebrow. "A lot of priceless artifacts are probably gathering dust in British attics right now. But not all tombs were robbed. That’s why there was such a tremendous furor in Nineteen Twenty-two when Howard Carter found the tomb of Tut’ankamun."

"Not to mention the fact that the tomb was dripping with gold," Jack threw in, looking smug for remembering that fact. "So does this plaque of yours tell you somebody was buried in there with all those gold treasures?"

Daniel gazed up at the pyramid. The thought of discovering an unrobbed tomb, even here on another world, thrilled him even more than the idea of Teal’c’s reputed Goa’uld booster. He sighed regretfully. "The plaque doesn’t mention it. That doesn’t mean this wasn’t used as a burial chamber, although the pyramid on Abydos didn’t serve that function. Hmmm...." He concentrated. "I wonder...."

Jack’s elbow connected with Daniel’s side. Daniel winced, and tried to cover it up.

Jack didn’t appear to notice. "Come on, Daniel, don’t go off in a daze. What have you got?"

"‘Abandon form’ might mean to avoid material considerations. Or it might be the writer’s means of suggesting we think outside the box. If there really is a substance called the food of the gods and it boosts Goa’uld power, we need to learn about it. Blasting our way in might damage it; it could even set off booby traps. The ancient Egyptians were crazy about protecting their tombs with them. I think we have to reason out another way in. If there really is a Goa’uld enhancer in there, I guarantee the Nox won’t assist us, and even if we knew how to reach Oma Desala, she wouldn’t either. And you know how the Tollan get when we even hint that we’re interested in their technology."

"So you know of a handy dandy way to go transparent?" Jack chopped off the question and stared at Daniel in appalled disbelief. "No. No way. Forget it, Daniel. You are not going out of phase again."

Daniel hadn’t quite reached that point, but an unhappy shiver danced through his stomach at the remembrance of his experience with the crystal skull. He wished he had a Tums. "I don’t know if that would work, Jack," he said far too hastily. "I didn’t exactly sink through the floor when I walked. Still, Teal’c did walk right through me, so I probably could have passed through walls. But the difficulty of interrupting the process and the need to endure the radiation in that pyramid and return to complete the process—that would involve Nick’s giant aliens, and I don’t think they’d like it if we took advantage of the process for our own gain. Even if I could get in that way, I couldn’t bring anything out. Assuming I could even pick it up, it would stop when I tried to carry it through solid matter."

"You couldn’t flit through walls when you were out of phase?"

Daniel shook his head vehemently. "No. Maybe I could have done it if I’d concentrated, but I didn’t. A part of me was half-afraid that if I attempted anything like that, I would fall through the floor and sink down into the earth. I don’t see how I could have passed through one way and not the other." He shivered. It had been bad enough to have Teal’c run right through him like that. He definitely did not want to repeat that particular experience.

Sam’s breathing quickened, a sure sign she was thinking hard. "You were out of phase, Daniel, but you were material in the other phase, not a spirit. You may not have been solid to Teal’c, but you were able to travel through the Stargate to return to Earth, and go back. I’ll have to research the physics of the subject." Her eyes went glassy.

"Not here," Jack objected. "I don’t like that out-of-phase thingie anyway. It’s not like you have clue one how to control it, and it would mean exposure to all that radiation. Not a plan."

Daniel’s head bobbed. "I know, Jack. I didn’t really think it would work. Maybe the Tok’ra—"

"No." Jack’s response was involuntary—and instantaneous. "Come on, Daniel, they’re Goa’uld, in a way. Just because their snakes aren’t into domination, they’ve still got them. How do we know the temptation wouldn’t be too much? They’d want this food of the gods stuff so they could defeat the system lords, but we’d get into that absolute power corrupting thing. I think we should keep this from the Tok’ra. Need to know and all that."

"My father wouldn’t...." Sam’s voice trailed off and vagueness filled her eyes. "I think Jolinar did know about the food of the gods," she said in that remote voice she used when connecting to the trace of Jolinar that still existed within her after her bout with the Tok’ra symbiote. "She may have sought it, not for power but to keep it from the Goa’uld. But she felt it was too risky. You were right, sir, about the absolute power corrupting absolutely. She felt she couldn’t be trusted with the food of the gods." She hesitated. "Maybe we should destroy the pyramid."

Daniel gave a squawk of alarm. "Without even knowing what’s inside? It might be something we could use against the Goa’uld. There might even be a burial there. Or even a sarcophagus." That wasn’t an attraction for him, but there might be times when it would be handy to know where one could lay one’s hands on a sarcophagus. A one-time use shouldn’t harm anyone and could save a life, maybe the life of someone Daniel cared about. The trick would be controlling the use of it, but anything powerful could be abused—and the N.I.D. was still out there. He squelched the shiver that wanted to run through him and jump up and down on his stomach. He hoped he wasn’t coming down with some bug. Fraiser would have him in quarantine in a second. Maybe it was just that pizza at Jack’s last night. It hadn’t tasted quite right. "We need to find out what’s inside before we think of destroying it."

Sam hesitated. "I agree. But how do we get inside without damaging the contents, if the Nox won’t help us—and I’m sure they won’t." Suddenly she stiffened. "I remember...."

"Carter, if this is some weird science thing about changing the laws of physics...." Jack squinted at her in alarm.

Her eyes widened. "I don’t think anything I could do could change the laws of physics, sir. But there is a way to destabilize molecules—"

Jack’s eyebrows shot toward his hairline. "I don’t want to know. You mean there’s a way to make people transparent so they can walk through solid matter? A controlled way to do what happened to Daniel on P7X-377? Give me a break. If there really was a process like that, it would be so classified we’d have to kill each other just for talking about it."

Sam smiled. Daniel wasn’t sure he liked that smile. Jack definitely didn’t. "Okay, Carter," he said, "what’s the deal here? We unmaterialize ourselves and walk right though the walls? No way. Is this what they teach you in Astrophysics One-oh-One?"

"No, sir. In fact, it’s not a process I have ever explored, but I have read the documentation on it. It will require specialized equipment, but fortunately we can have access to it, probably right away."

"Hammond will have kittens over this, won’t he? How many billion dollars will this add to our budget? The last thing I want is Senator Kinsey snooping around. And if any of Maybourne’s honchos are lurking out there, they’ll be hot for this in a second. Who’s got it? The CIA?"

Sam dimpled. "No, sir. In fact, I shouldn’t think we’d need to pay more than transportation and expenses, and perhaps arrange some security protocols for the nuclear materials."

Teal’c’s eyebrows emulated Jack’s. "Nuclear materials? Major Carter, is this not extremely dangerous?"

"It’s been done on several occasions. The first time was an uncontrolled accident in the field, with deleterious side effects. There was a second accidental experience, but one that allowed for testing. After that, another trial was deliberate and controlled. That it had a backlash was due to external factors."

"Okay, hold it right there, Carter." Jack held his hands up, one on top of each other in the classic sports "time out" gesture. "This thing you’re so gung-ho for has only been tried three times and it went wrong all three times, and you want to do it to us?"

"It’s not like that, sir," she said hastily. "We would operate under strict scientific controls at all times, and I’d have the expertise of another physicist and the engineer who helped refine the process. What’s more, they have security clearance already and know about the Stargate program." Her smile widened. "In fact, both men have traveled through the Stargate before."

All of a sudden, Daniel realized he knew exactly what Sam was talking about, and he couldn’t help the blazing smile that spread across his face. It would be good to see his old friends again. "You’re talking about a controlled backlash from a nuclear particle accelerator, aren’t you, Sam?" he asked.

"I am aware of this process," Teal’c exclaimed in sudden realization.

Jack stared at his team as if they’d lost his mind. "You kids know this physics double-talk, too? I must not have been getting all my memos. Nuclear particle accelerator? Come on, give."

"Otherwise known as a proton pack and thrower," Carter said with a grin a mile wide.

Jack slapped his forehead in exasperation as the light dawned. "You’re talking Ghostbusters." His eyes narrowed. "Wait a minute. I know what you’re saying and I don’t like it. They’re gonna zap us and turn us into ghosts?"

"Of course not, Jack," Daniel said with a grin. "We wouldn’t be ghosts, because naturally we’d still be alive. We’d just be like ghosts."

"That makes me feel soooo much better. Are you sure that this food of the gods stuff isn’t just an ad for the best pizza this side of Tatooine?"

"Come on, Jack, you like the Ghostbusters," Daniel reminded him.

"Maybe. When I’m not wanting to rearrange Venkman’s face," Jack conceded reluctantly as if he feared acknowledging Daniel’s words would commit him to being turned into Casper’s buddy. "Okay, let’s get this clear. There might—you hear me, might—be something in this cockamamie pyramid that the Goa’uld would give their eyeteeth for, and the only way to get it without dismantling the place brick by brick is this ‘who you gonna call’ number? Daniel? If there’s something in there, somebody put it there. They didn’t just build the pyramid around it. That’s kind of overkill. Isn’t there always a way in? Like some computer hacker’s back door?"

"You’ve been listening to my lectures. Jack, I’m amazed." When O’Neill made a face at him, Daniel grinned. "Yes, there is probably a way in, but it would be extremely well concealed. Detailed ground-penetrating SONAR scans might reveal it—they do that now, back on Earth to study archaeological sites, even though that works better finding things long buried than producing detailed imaging of surface structures—but there’s no guarantee of that. It’s possible an escape tunnel may have been collapsed on purpose once the pyramid was finished. That’s been known to happen; the only way in is filled with rubble on the way out after a burial. Even if we could find it, it would take weeks of excavation to clear the debris—and it should take more, so as not to damage any potential artifacts. If we went Sam’s way, we could have the Ghostbusters out here in a day or so."

"No way to do this with lasers or something?" Jack’s voice was heavy with resistance. In a way, Daniel didn’t blame him. The idea of turning transparent reminded him far too much of his recent out-of-phase experience. The crystal skull process had not left him with many warm memories, just the gratification of Hammond’s claim that he considered Daniel a very good friend, and the chance to finally reach a resolution with Nick. Being invisible, unable to interact with his friends, had pointed out a very important lesson to him. Always a loner, Daniel had often accustomed himself to the knowledge that he was alone. Since Sha’re, and since becoming a member of SG-1, he’d put solitude behind him. Having it enforced had made him realize how much his team had come to matter to him. He had hated the isolation imposed by invisibility.

This time, the whole team would be, if not out of phase, in a similar condition. You won’t be isolated this time, Daniel. That didn’t warm the queasy knot in his stomach one little bit.

At Jack’s question, Sam wrinkled her brow. "Not without risking damaging whatever is in there. My readings show there’s a naquada compound in the structure that makes it extremely durable. I’m not sure how easy it would be to break through in those conditions. You’ve seen how durable the Stargate is."

Jack stared at her as if she’d lost her mind. "Come on, Carter, the last time the Ghostbusters were involved with the Stargate, it melted. The only reason we have the one we’re using now is because Venkman found us a new one—in a junkyard, for crying out loud."

"Indeed, Major Carter," Teal’c confirmed.

"The gate melted because of the overload of energy from the destruction of Gozer," she defended the Stargate. "He was more powerful than the Goa’uld. He was also one of a kind. I wonder if he hadn’t acquired the food of the gods to boost his abilities, but after the fact like this, we’ll probably never know. We wouldn’t be firing the Ghostbusters’ weapons at the Stargate, or even at the pyramid. I have no intention of allowing anything to melt."

"Anything but us?" O’Neill grimaced. "Nobody make any comments about ‘too too solid flesh,’ or they’ll be sorry."

"Shakespeare, Jack?" Daniel pretended huge astonishment.

"Hey. Just because I don’t go around spouting smart all the time like a couple of scientists I could name.... Yeah, you know who I mean." He grimaced and turned his attention back to the problem at hand. "I don’t like this. Are you sure it’s the only way?"

"No, it probably isn’t the only way," Carter said. "But it’s the quickest way, and probably the most efficient way, and it will enable us to get to the inside in the shortest time with the least amount of damage and assess what we find in there. Daniel will tell you that the archaeological scans he’s talking about take time, not to mention bringing heavy equipment here, and while we could get the equipment, we’d still have to excavate. I don’t say we shouldn’t run some scans while we wait for the Ghostbusters, but I don’t know how conclusive they’ll be. This way, we’d just walk right in. I think it’s the most efficient method. We can perform what surveys we can while the Ghostbusters are en route, but I think this is the best chance we have to get inside."

"Sweet. Think Hammond will buy it?"

"If this food of the gods is something we can use against the Goa’uld?" She glanced at Teal’c, who inclined his head in confirmation. "Yes," she said. "I think he will."

** *** **

Usually, when he hung out in the third-floor lab at Ghostbuster Central, Peter Venkman preferred to do it lying flat on his back on the couch, where he could catch a nap if the spirit—no pun intended—moved him, or offer kidding comments to the more industrious members of his team. Today, the couch was preempted. Ray Stantz, his injured foot propped up on a cushion, lay there in Peter’s place, four or five pillows behind his back, while he worked industriously on his laptop computer. It was just like Ray, Peter thought, to waste a perfectly good injury on work when he could have played on the sympathy vote. If Peter had been the one with the badly sprained ankle, he’d have had his friends waiting on him hand and foot, bringing him sodas, allowing him sole possession of the TV remote, and making sure he was comfortable. Of course a sprained ankle wasn’t good for more than a day of fussing, but Peter would have reveled in every second of that day.

Then there was Egon, thought Peter with a glance over at Egon Spengler, whose attention was not on his injured teammate but on a complex gizmo he’d been working on for the past few days, a device designed to sap the power of Class Seven entities such as demons and make them easier to trap. Peter had to say he’d go for that. Egon’s latest invention, the more streamlined proton pack, had made busting a lot easier over the past few months. It wasn’t that the team wasn’t fit; they couldn’t avoid being in shape, running all over the five boroughs of New York weighted down with packs and traps while they pursued recalcitrant ghosts and ghoulies, but it didn’t hurt to stack the deck in their favor. As Egon had said when he’d patented the lighter packs, only a fool would refuse to take any advantage possible in the never-ending battle against the spirit realm.

Winston Zeddemore had proton pack duty, charging the newer, lighter packs. One of their advantages was that they held a charge longer and needed maintenance less often. They still had to be certified by the Nuclear Regulatory Agency and the EPA and Peter didn’t even like thinking about the licensing fees the team had to pay to operate them. Trust Uncle Sam to get his huge cut every single time.

Any minute now, someone was sure to notice Peter wasn’t working and dream up an annoying, and probably dirty, task for him to complete. Better come up with a job on his own, one that he chose, before Egon looked up and caught him idling. Egon could be a mind-reader where Peter was concerned. Any second now he’d lift his head, pin Peter in a speculative gaze, arch an eyebrow—and make him go to work.

Peter had just opened his mouth to volunteer for a soda run when the phone rang. A quick glance at the clock over the mantle reminded him it was Janine’s mid-morning break time. Right about now, their secretary would be at the café down the block, having coffee and griping about her impossible working conditions with a couple of the neighborhood secretaries. When she left, she always switched the phone upstairs.

Much better than a soda run. Peter snatched up the receiver. "Ghostbusters. They daunt you, we de-haunt you." Someday he had to stop Ray from dreaming up all these stupid catch-phrases. Peter was convinced Ray and Janine spent their idle hours creating the most annoying ones possible in hopes that Peter would have to use them.

"Hello, Peter, may I speak to Egon?"

The voice was female—and familiar. Aha. A woman calling Egon. He’d have to ride old Spengs about that. When it came to the so-called gentler sex—although Peter had his doubts about that—never let it be said that he wasn’t quick. The wheels spun for a second in his brain and shot out the correct name. "Sam Carter. How’s life treating you out in Colorado?"

Three heads came up, three pairs of eyes focused on Peter, every one of them full of eager attention. A call from Cheyenne Mountain might just be a friendly hello; Sam might even be in New York. But it could also mean that Stargate Command had realized they couldn’t go another day without the services of New York’s famous Ghostbusters. With thoughts of government contracts and leasing fees for the team’s equipment dancing in his brain, Peter couldn’t wait to hear her answer. Not that he would object to seeing Sam, even if she always seemed completely impervious to the Venkman charm. And it would be good to run into his buddy Daniel, and Teal’c, in spite of the snake in his belly, General Hammond, and the delicious Doctor Fraiser. Might not even be so bad to see that cocky, smart-mouthed Jack O’Neill. He pushed all thoughts of possible Goa’uld attacks and creatures as nasty as Gozer from his mind. A reunion might be nice. It didn’t have to mean trouble, did it?

"Life might treat us a little better with some help from the Ghostbusters," Sam replied. She wouldn’t explain in detail, not over an unsecured phone line, but anyone might hire the Ghostbusters. Since ghosts didn’t respect high-security areas, Peter and his team had a lot of security clearance and probably knew as much about what went on out at Stargate Command as any civilian could. The team had been involved with the project on three previous occasions and were, in fact, officially members of the project, if on detached duty. If their government called, the Ghostbusters would leap to the challenge, even if the last two encounters hadn’t exactly been fun, especially for Peter.

He’d found refuge at the SGC when a demon’s curse had made his friends kick him off the team and hold him in contempt. The very act of traveling through the Stargate to another world had broken the curse and reunited him with his friends, but the experience hadn’t been fun, even apart from getting shot. Then the whole team had ventured out to Colorado just a month or so ago to deal with the return of Gozer, who had proven to be more than a Sumerian demi-god. The first major entity the Ghostbusters had defeated had turned out to be an alien so powerful that his return had endangered the entire planet. Only with the combined talents and equipment of the Ghostbusters and the Stargate Command had Gozer been defeated.

Peter still felt the backlash of that mission. His old girlfriend, Dana Barrett, the woman he had always considered the love of his life, had proven to be more than just Dana, to have an alien symbiote inside her. It wasn’t one of the nasty Goa’uld but a Tok’ra, but still, it had changed her into someone he didn’t really know anymore. She wasn’t even on Earth now. He’d lost her out there in Colorado. No, that wasn’t true. He’d lost her a long time before that. Her departure from Earth had simply been the final separation.

That didn’t mean he didn’t have fond memories of the people out in Colorado with whom he’d worked. It would be good to see them all, especially Daniel Jackson, who had befriended him at the time of the demon’s curse. Jack O’Neill, now, well, Jack was probably one of the most annoying beings on the face of the Earth. Egon claimed that reaction was probably because Peter saw a lot of himself in Jack. Not true. Peter didn’t smart off all the time the way O’Neill did. Well, maybe he did, just a little, but he was sure he was much funnier when he did it.

No time to drift off on a sea of memories. "You want to hire us?" he crowed. "I think we can clear our schedule. What do you need Egon for? Or is this a case of physics calling to like?"

"I wanted to talk to him about a process involving the throwers, but I’d as soon not speak to him in great detail over the phone. We need you to come out here as soon as possible."

"We? Your whole team?" Peter wanted to make sure this was an official "bust".

"Yes. I want to discuss equipment with Egon and with Ray."

"Okay." He held out the phone to Egon, his other hand clapped over his chest. "She wants you, not me. My heart is broken."

Ignoring Peter’s histrionics, Egon snatched the phone from his hand. "Sam? Egon here. I heard enough to realize you need our expertise or our equipment. We would be honored to assist. Tell me when you need us and what you need us to bring."

Ray shut down his laptop and closed it, his eyes bright. Then he remembered his ankle, and disappointment flooded them as he realized the injury would probably prevent him from going through the Stargate. He’d loved his visit to another planet on the last mission, even if nasty types on the other side of the wormhole had fired lasers at him and Egon. Give him a threatening ghost to bust and Ray was thrilled to the core. Looked like he’d have to sit this one out. Didn’t mean he couldn’t go to Colorado, though, and sit it out in the SGC. If they needed equipment, who better to have at hand than Ray, who had built much of the weird stuff that Egon dreamed up and had invented still more on his own.

Peter leaned over and said, "We’ll need you out there, Tex," in an undertone. Ray’s whole face lit up.

Winston went over to the desktop computer and turned it on. He’d plot out what they needed and make out a list. That was Winston, always thinking.

Egon listened to Sam, nodding occasionally, then he stiffened and paled. "What!"

Uh-oh, that looked bad. Gozer was dead; he wouldn’t come back. Were the Goa’uld about to invade the planet? Sam hadn’t sounded like she was dodging staff weapon fire when Peter had talked to her. He studied Egon, and saw uneasiness in the blue eyes. Egon stared off into the middle distance, his mouth tight as he listened.

"I would consider that to be extraordinarily dangerous," he said tightly.

"What, Egon?" Ray sat up all the way and deposited the laptop on the floor beside the couch. He reached for his crutches, prepared to jump up if he needed to. Peter dropped a hand on his shoulder to keep him from trying.

"Yes, it’s been done," Egon admitted. "The first time it was the result of an accidental backlash, as was the second. Next Ray attempted a controlled version of the process." He gnawed his bottom lip and added with reluctant honesty, "That might have worked if not for external factors; a powerful energy cloud attacked Ray and forced him to retreat from it; combining the cloud’s energy and the ghostly abilities he had been gifted with, it drove him deep within his own mind."

Peter’s gut knotted up. Sam wanted them to destabilize someone, to turn them into living ghosts. Egon’s words reminded Peter of his own experience, the time he had fired the atomic destabilizer at what he thought was an approaching enemy only to realize he’d aimed at a mirror. Drifting around in an unsolid state had not been fun, even though he’d been able to achieve things he could never do in his human form: become invisible, walk through walls, fly. Ray had merely walked around testing the process. Peter had been forced to use it to save Ray, when he had been captured by goblins.

Peter knew that Egon hated the very thought of destabilization. When it had happened to him, it had come within a hair’s breadth of killing him, and he had wound up in the Netherworld, the prisoner of a powerful demon. He had fiercely resented Ray’s later experimentation, and Peter was sure Egon had had a lot of issues with Peter’s accidental destabilization, although they had never really discussed it.

Now the Stargate project required that particular ability. Peter wasn’t sure why, but he couldn’t conceive of a nice, safe reason to need to be invisible or whatever feature of the process was required. Sam must have discussed it with Egon, one physicist to another, at one time. Peter knew Egon well enough to understand that if the SGC needed it, they’d get it, but it would bring to the fore some old issues for Spengler.

"Of course we will come," Egon said hastily. Sam must have picked up on the note in his voice. "We’ll do whatever we can, but we shall need to be fully involved in the process. We have a thorough understanding of the abilities of ghosts, and that should prove invaluable. We also know the equipment. We will be able to train and coach you, of course, but—" He broke off. "Yes, naturally we will explain further when we arrive. What? When?" His brow puckered. "Yes, that should give us time to pack and to prepare our equipment."

He listened a moment longer, then he smiled. "Yes, it will be good to see you, too. And the others as well." Sam might not have heard the lingering uneasiness in his voice, but Peter did, and he was sure Ray and Winston did, too. Never mind why SG-1 needed to be destabilized or to have someone else destabilized. This would be a tough one for Egon. Peter didn’t exactly have tons of fond memories of the process himself. He’d nearly died, too, from overusing the abilities. It was possible that Ray’s modifications in his attempt to control the process would prevent the bursts of savage pain and prolong the destabilization so they wouldn’t have to risk being stranded in a place where they couldn’t reverse the process and cause total discorporation—and death.

"Very well. Until this afternoon." Egon hung up. For a moment he stood there, his knuckles white on the receiver until he realized he was doing it and made a conscious effort to force the tension from his body. A few surreptitious flexes of his fingers completed the process.

"This afternoon," Winston blurted. "We’re gonna be out there that fast?"

"A car will come for us in fifteen minutes," Egon explained. "We’ll be taken to a military plane and flown directly to Patterson Air Force Base, where another car will be waiting to drive us to Cheyenne Mountain."

"When the government wants us, they want us quick," Peter said lightly. "They want us to destabilize them?" Better have it out in the open.

Egon’s brow lowered. "Evidently. Sam couldn’t give much information over the phone, only that she remembered our discussion of the process and her subsequent study of my documentation of our cumulative experiences. We have shared various processes; she went over our work in the hopes of adapting various factors to use in theirs, and she shared with me what she could, that which was not classified. In fact, the pack modifications come from material I obtained from her."

"So they want us to come out to Colorado, zap some people invisible and trek off through the Stargate." Winston’s eyes shone hopefully. "Oh, man, I hope I get to go this time. I’m the one who’s crazy about the idea of space travel, and you’re the guys who got to step on other worlds."

"You’ll have to go in my place, Winston," said Ray with a big sigh. "I bet I’ll be stuck in the command center, regulating what we do." He shot a dirty look at his ankle. "Gosh, I’ll have to do a study on what would happen to someone destabilized in a wormhole. If they need it for something on the other side, we might have to wait till they’ve gone through to complete the process. Egon, have you got your notes on the variables inherent in a wormhole?"

"Encrypted," Egon replied with a nod at the computer. "I’ll put them on a floppy and we can work on them en route. You’ll bring the laptop."

"Tell me what we need, and I’ll set up the equipment," Winston volunteered. Peter was sure he’d have carried it on his back all the way out to Colorado if it meant he’d have a chance to travel through the Stargate.

Peter eyed his buddies. "Guess that leaves it to me to throw a few things in our suitcases." He waited a second for someone to volunteer to help, and when no one did, he shrugged, tried to look put upon, then he hauled out the suitcases, dumped them on each guy’s bed, and busied himself with packing.

They barely had time to tote all their equipment and suitcases downstairs under the surprised eye of the returning Janine when the knock on the door announced the arrival of a couple of Air Force types both captains, who introduced themselves as Mason and Fortnum. Surreptitiously, Peter checked their name badges to make sure those were really their names and not some form of cover-up. Yep, that’s what it read. Had some military wiseass seen fit to assign them together ? And was that why they put Mason’s name first? Winston rolled his eyes at the unlikeliness of Fortnum and Mason. Just what they needed to remind people of a big store in England. Egon didn’t notice. Shoulders tight, he hunched over the clipboard that held his checklist and gave instructions to Mason, who reached for the destabilizer rectifier unit.

"Please be careful with that," Egon cautioned. "It is very delicate equipment."

"Yes, sir," Mason replied automatically. "We have special packing support in the van."

Janine’s eyes widened as Mason and Fortnum handled the supplies and suitcases. Peter saw her recognize the Air Force uniforms and her mouth tighten at the realization.

"Egon, you’re going back to that place at NORAD, aren’t you?" she asked suspiciously. Her grip tightened on his arm. "It’s dangerous. I know it is. I should come along and make sure you’re all right."

Peter winked at her. "Never happen, Janine. You know it’s classified. If we told you about it, we’d have to zap you."

"I seem to remember rescuing myself last time," Janine retorted. "Never underestimate the power of a lethal high heel." She turned to Mason, who returned from loading the destabilizer rectifier unit. "Are you sure you weren’t instructed to bring me, too?"

Mason replied, "No, ma’am," without breaking stride. "Only the four Ghostbusters."

Janine made a face and attached herself to Egon’s arm. "Egon, you better call me and let me know everything’s all right out there."

He blinked at her in surprise. Peter realized his thoughts had been far away; he’d managed the checklist automatically, but he could do them in his sleep. He might have been reliving his imprisonment in Tolay’s keep. As Peter crossed behind Egon with a couple of suitcases, he tucked one of them under his arm and let his free hand rest for a second on Egon’s shoulder. Spengler didn’t say anything, but Peter felt the taut muscles relax slightly under his touch.

Egon turned his head and gave Peter a faint smile before he replied to the secretary. "Of course I will, Janine."

"You better, or I’ll have Slimer eat all your molds and fungi."

Egon pretended to start at the terrible threat. For a second, he and Janine stared at each other, then he broke eye contact to check off the last piece of equipment as Fortnum lifted it as if he were handling Waterbury crystal. "There. That’s it."

"If you would move, gentlemen," Mason urged. "There is a plane waiting for you."

Peter kindly offered him one of the suitcases and headed for the door.

** *** **

"I still think this is weird, y’know," Jack O’Neill told Carter. "Turning ourselves into ghosts? What makes you think we’ll be able to bring this stuff out with us when we come? If we’re ghosts, we can walk through walls, but this stuff can’t. Can it?" He angled a glance at Teal’c. The four of them had gathered in Carter’s lab to await the arrival of the Ghostbusters. He wasn’t sure what he thought of that, anyway. Yeah, they weren’t bad guys, if not for the annoying Venkman. Never mind Venkman was a lot smarter than he wanted people to think he was, and a good man to have at one’s side in a crisis. He just had this annoying and irreverent habit of mouthing off at the drop of a hat. Drove Jack nuts. Ghostbusters! Geez, they chased after spooks and specters; hardly seemed real. Never mind Jack was good buddies with a guy who had a snake in his stomach, and he went to other planets by stepping through a ring of sideways water. One man’s reality was another man’s weirdness, and all that. But still....

"It cannot," Teal’c told him without hesitation. Probably picturing a transparent O’Neill walking up to a wall and through it while the package he carried crashed into the wall and stayed put. Jack had to say the idea had a sort of slapstick feel to it.

Teal’c paused, arrested by a sudden thought. "We do not, however, know the composition of the substance. Therefore, it may be possible."

"Sweet. Either one thing or the other—or both. Do they teach you to cover all the bases in Jaffa Training One-oh-One?"

Humor flashed in Teal’c’s eyes, the kind that strangers always missed. Not a belly-laugh kind of guy, Teal’c, but you couldn’t deny he had a wicked sense of humor. "That is correct. How else is a Jaffa to always be prepared?"

"Be prepared? Jaffa boy scouts?" The mental image that accompanied the concept made Jack grin as he imagined Apophis lining up his row of dutiful Jaffa to pin on a new merit badge. Did they give them for rape and pillage? For global domination? The urge to smile stilled. Teal’c might be on the side of the angels these days but there were far too many of the other kind out there, wreaking havoc across the star systems.

Carter smiled. "Don’t worry, sir. I’ve studied the process thoroughly. I have the documentation and specifications Egon gave me and I’ve gone over them a number of times and run them through countless computer scenarios. I’ve been mapping out possible complications, determining what we might do to improve on the process. After all, we have a far higher research and development budget than the Ghostbusters do."

That made Daniel lift his gaze from the journal he was scribbling in. He’d printed out the text from the plaque on P4V-680 and he’d been going over the translation since he got back. Jack half expected to hear a lecture on the early dynastic version of ancient Egyptian, and he’d been prepared to fend it off, but Daniel was so caught up in it that he hadn’t taken time to lecture.

"What sort of complications, Sam?" Daniel asked.

"There are side effects to the process," she admitted. "And they make me uncomfortable, but I need to talk to Ray when he arrives. Evidently he took the process beyond the accidental and found a way to minimize the side-effects, to extend the process, and to refine it toward safety."

Jack felt his eyebrows lift. "Whoa. Back up, Carter. Toward safety? You’re saying we’re gonna turn into ghosts and there will be complications? Is this food of the gods stuff worth it?"

"Indeed, O’Neill," Teal’c jumped in before Carter could reply. "If it can indeed enhance the abilities of a Goa’uld, the dangers to the galaxy are extremely serious."

"What kind of side effects are we talking here, Carter?" Jack asked.

"Bouts of excruciating pain," rumbled a deep voice from the doorway, and Jack jerked his head up to see Egon Spengler, the other Ghostbusters behind him, under the escort of Sergeant Siler, who had been towing a supply cart, and a couple of armed Marines.

As the Marines retreated, Siler waved the Ghostbusters into the room. "The Ghostbusters are here, Colonel," he reported, maneuvered the cart into the room, and went on his way. The cart was loaded with various esoteric pieces of equipment. Jack didn’t spot any of the particle throwers and proton packs like the one he’d had to wear when Gozer came, but a smaller, hopefully lighter, design might have replaced it, because he saw six of them lined up on the cart. Also present were several bigger, bulkier boxes. Just what he needed, gadgets designed to turn him into the Ghost of Christmas Past.

"Here we come to save the day," Peter caroled, but a tightness in his facial muscles indicated he’d heard Egon and wasn’t happy with the words—or the process. Being Venkman, he was overcompensating in that annoying way he had. Jack recognized the tune from his childhood. The Mighty Mouse theme. He knew better than to mention it. It didn’t do to date himself by acknowledging that he recognized something like that, especially since he was a little bit older than Peter.

"Just like you, Venkman," he groused instead. "Forget it. The press will never know."

Peter’s face fell extravagantly. "Rats, and here I was imagining the ticker-tape parade down Fifth Avenue in my honor."

"You would," Winston Zeddemore said and gave Peter’s arm a cuff.

That was when Jack spotted the fact that Ray Stantz was on crutches, balanced carefully to keep the weight off his left foot. "Whoa. What happened to you? Please tell me it wasn’t a result of this destabilization thingie?"

Ray grinned. "No, it was a Class Seven as big as a midtown bus. It chased me down an alley and threw a dumpster at me."

Jack flung up both his hands. "There’s such a thing as too much information, Stantz. You look like you got off lucky." Flying dumpsters? Sweet.

"Not so lucky." Ray gave a morose grimace. "I’m pretty sure you won’t let me go through the Stargate like this."

"Count on it."

Ray’s face fell. Peter clapped him on the shoulder. "You can be the home team. Sit up there with Hammond in the control booth and run the show. That ought to be right up your alley." He rumpled Ray’s hair.

"Aw, Peter...."

Daniel offered Ray his chair. "Here, Ray, sit down."

Teal’c moved beside Ray, and took the crutches to set aside when Ray was seated. "It’s only a sprain," said Ray. "I’m fine for everything as long as I don’t have to run around. I’m the one who did all the modifications on the destabilization process to put the controls in. It’s probably better if I stay here and coordinate it anyway." He gestured at the supply cart as Winston guided it further into the room. At once, Carter gravitated over and bent over it with Spengler, who opened one of the crates and offered a hasty explanation under his breath.

Jack could see how disappointed Ray was at the timing; he didn’t even pitch in his two cents’ worth about the thingamabobs in the boxes, although he did listen to Egon’s ten-second tour of Ghostbuster tech.

O’Neill wasn’t sure he wanted the Ghostbusters going through the Stargate anyway, although Venkman, Stantz, and Spengler had done so before without bringing the galaxy to a screeching halt. Then there was Zeddemore, practically champing at the bit to be the next Ghostbuster to trek off to the stars. Amateurs on the other side of the gate was sure to be a bad thing, even amateurs with portable nuclear weapons. What if a Goa’uld got his hands on a proton pack and thrower? Definitely not a good thing.

Satisfied—for the moment—with her brief foray into the tools of ectoplasmic physics, Carter waved the new arrivals into chairs. There weren’t quite enough, so Peter perched on the edge of Carter’s desk. Daniel leaned against the wall, his arms folded across his chest. He didn’t really look any more eager for the upcoming experience than Jack did. Egon craned his neck to get a better look at the screen of Carter’s computer, then composed himself for the task at hand.

"Let’s get down to business," Jack said, hauling the meeting into order. He caught himself. "Good to see you guys, and all that polite stuff."

"Too bad it takes a crisis," Daniel said hastily. He gave Peter a smile. Now there was an unlikely friendship. Jack couldn’t understand why Daniel would like such an annoying person as Venkman. You’d think he enjoyed somebody who mouthed off all the time and pretended he didn’t have two brain cells to rub together. Uh, wait a minute. Don’t go there, O’Neill.

They took a minute for everybody to say hello, for them to shake hands all around, and for Peter to smirk at Carter as if he couldn’t wait to hit on her. Jack would have liked to rearrange the guy’s face. Carter, of course, handled it like a pro. She even seemed to enjoy it in an amused, unimpressed way. Didn’t look like she’d take Peter’s bait. Carter had class.

"Do we get to meet with General Hammond?" Peter asked. "I’ve gotta say, I like the old guy."

That was Venkman for you. One minute he’d be driving Jack nuts, the next he’d say something O’Neill couldn’t help but approve of. This program wouldn’t work without a man of Hammond’s caliber and integrity at the helm. Decent of Venkman to acknowledge it.

"He asked us to brief you first and go over the problems we’re up against," Carter replied. "He also asked us to remind you that your non-disclosure statements were still valid."

"Of course," Egon replied. "We’re well aware of the need for tight security and we have never revealed anything we’ve learned here, nor would we." He smiled faintly. "Even if Janine would love to know every detail."

"Yeah, she runs her speculation past us every now and then," Peter said. His grin widened out into a wicked smile. "I love having a chance to ignore her and be in the right."

"Ignore her? You torment her," Ray kidded. "That I-know-something-you-don’t-know attitude...."

Peter produced one of those smirks that drove Jack nuts. "Hey, it’s my attitude and I’ll enjoy it. She knows better than to ask. I don’t know if she uses it for pillow talk with Spengs here—"

"Peter!" Egon objected sharply. Jack watched with interest at the sight of a grown man blushing. He hadn’t been able to get a handle on the Spengler-Melnitz thing when they’d been out here before, not that he wasted his time thinking about romance, anyway.

"Well, you’re the one who said you never reveal anything."

"Nor do I. Nor do any of us." Egon gave Peter a haughty, down-the-nose stare before he called himself to order. "Don’t worry, Colonel. We are well aware of the fact that we have signed non-disclosure statements, and we will, of course, abide by them at all times. Tell us what the Ghostbusters can do for the SGC."

O’Neill didn’t know if he liked any of this, but his team had pulled it together. Made him proud to know the three of them had identified a need and figured out a solution, working together. "Daniel interpreted a text."

Daniel jumped in eagerly. He’d been too caught up in his translations to say much until now. "You’ll like this, Egon. The text I found was early dynastic hieroglyphs."

Egon’s eyebrow arched just like that Spock character’s on Star Trek. "Indeed. I realize you’ve encountered hieroglyphs before, including those upon the planet Abydos. It argues a continuation of cultural involvement after the Stargate was buried. An alternate gate? Ship contact? Otherwise, the unlikelihood of parallel language development...."

Jack frowned. That was a good point, even if he didn’t like the idea that Spengler had spent time brainstorming the possibilities and making assumptions. Non-disclosure only meant not to reveal what they learned here; it didn’t forbid Spengler to speculate. Nothing Jack and his team hadn’t done right here; it explained a few little unexplained matters such as the Shavadai, and the existence of other post-Egyptian cultures the team had encountered. But that wasn’t the point right now.

"I’m running a continuing series of language studies," Daniel said eagerly. "If you allow for cultural drift—"

With the skill of frequent experience, Jack waved his hand to interrupt. "Daniel. Stick to the point."

"But it is the point, Jack," Daniel insisted with a reluctant sigh. "Well, it’s a point, anyway. We can go over it later, Egon. But that’s not why we sent for the Ghostbusters. The text I found on P4V-689 referred to the presence of Food of the Gods."

Ray perked up. "Wow, that sounds great. I’ve found reference to such a term in some of my occult books. I always wondered about it; the explanations were always vague and cloaked in mystery."

That made Teal’c lift an eyebrow. He probably wasn’t used to considering the Goa’uld as "occult". "To what did it refer, RayStantz?"

"Well, that’s what’s kinda neat. It’s a sort of catchall phrase, like a philosopher’s stone—it pretty much means what the writer wants it to mean, but always something powerful. If they’re promoting a certain philosophy, this is the way to achieve it. It’s a booster for whatever the author had going. If you’re trying to meditate, it helps you meditate, if you’re trying to achieve an out-of-body experience, that’s the way to go. But they’re always vague about it. One legend said the food of the gods would turn people into giants, another that they would become invincible, things like that. I sort of got the idea...." he trailed off thoughtfully.

"Go on, Ray," Peter encouraged. "Let’s hear it."

"Well, I wondered if it wasn’t a way for a cult leader to control his followers. You know, like a drug that would induce a euphoric state so they could be conned into believing they were experiencing a religious high. I mean, I never found proof of anything that led me to think it really turned anyone all-powerful. At least nothing I could prove." He favored them with an innocent smile. "Why? What does it mean to you?"

"Teal’c," Jack directed.

The Jaffa collected himself. "Among the Goa’uld, such a substance is said to increase Goa’uld power."

"Yeah, to create a super-Goa’uld," Jack threw in.

Egon’s eyebrow repeated its dance. "Are you implying a Goa’uld who administers or applies this substance would become powerful, to the level of Gozer?"

Carter had mentioned the possibility on the planet. Maybe Gozer took the food of the gods as a bedtime snack and that was why he’d been so powerful. He had been able to control other Goa’uld, at least the two he’d had in his power. One of them, Vinz Clortho, had infested the Ghostbusters’ accountant, Louis Tully, and the Tok’ra had taken him with them when they departed, to see if they could free the nerdy little guy. So far, he hadn’t come back and Jacob Carter hadn’t mentioned him, and neither had Martouf, the last time Jack had seen Jacob and Marty. The other Goa’uld, Zuul, lurking in Peter’s old girlfriend, had been able to resist Gozer’s philosophy and had gone the Tok’ra route. She was out there somewhere beyond the Stargate with her kid, who would probably grow up to be a Tok’ra host—who wanted to a be a Tok’ra host, for crying out loud. Venkman would hate being reminded of that, but it was clear the mention of Gozer had taken him back to his last visit out here. His mouth tightened.

"That is possible," Teal’c replied. "I speak of forbidden legends, but there are moments in our history when such a substance would explain a Goa’uld’s abrupt rise to power."

"You mean there might be some snakeheads out there who have access to it already?" Jack’s gut tightened. He didn’t like the sound of that. From Teal’c’s grimace of near-indigestion, he was far from happy himself. Or maybe it was just Junior, wishing for a dose of his own. Whoa, not good. How much did Junior know about what was going on, anyway? Did he listen to everything that happened around him, know what Teal’c thought, or did he just hang out being a good little immune system? What would happen if Teal’c got into the substance? Would it boost Junior to a mature state and enable him to take control of Teal’c? Definitely not good. It might be better not to let Teal’c enter the pyramid if there was any chance of that.

Unaware of O’Neill’s speculation, Teal’c’s face tightened in concentration. "I do not believe so, O’Neill. At least not at this time. While some Goa’uld are more powerful than others, the difference is one of control, rather than innate physical ability."

"Yeah, got it. I hope." He hauled the topic back where it belonged. Time to deal with that later, if there proved any chance of contamination. They didn’t know what the destabilization thingie would do to a Jaffa who hosted a symbiote. It might not even work on him. "Go on, Daniel."

"We found a step pyramid," Daniel explained, which made Egon’s eyes light up, Ray stare at him, and Winston’s face grow thoughtful.

"Djoser," Egon muttered.

"Precisely." Daniel beamed at him.

"Gozer?" Peter asked.

"No, Peter, Djoser. An early dynastic pharaoh." Egon spelled it for him.

Daniel ignored the sideline. "When you consider the time line, when Earth’s Stargate was buried...."

Jack raised one finger. "Daniel...."

Venkman wasn’t the type to care about ancient history, any more than Jack was, but he picked up on his teammates’ reactions and jumped in before Daniel could argue.

"And this means what, pray tell?"

"We don’t know what it means," Jack cut in hastily to prevent another bout of dynastic history and speculation about cultural contact. "Just that Daniel gets his jollies from things like that."

Daniel gave him a dirty look and muttered, "Philistine," under his breath. "We haven’t completed our studies or analysis, and we hope that later an archaeological team can study the pyramid in much more detail. But the writing I found at the site claimed the mysterious food of the gods was within."

"So this dangerous stuff that can make Goa’ulds into Gozers was announced right out in public, just like a blue-light special at K-Mart?" Peter bounced up off Carter’s desk. "You’d think they’d want to keep it a deep dark secret."

"Depends on who put up the sign, wouldn’t it?" offered Winston. "Maybe it was meant as a warning."

"Well, ah, Jack, it could have been meant as a warning," Daniel confirmed. "It would depend on who the writer of the text expected to come through the Stargate, and we have no way of knowing that. Come to think of it, the writer of the text would have no way of knowing that, either. That is strange."

"The text reported that the food of the gods was within." Egon’s eyes had narrowed behind his glasses. "And Teal’c knew of this substance as a Goa’uld-enhancer. Yet you did not investigate and bring home a sample. Instead, you sent for us and for the destabilization equipment. Therefore, I theorize there is no easy access to the interior of the pyramid." That was Spengler for you, talking like he’d swallowed a dictionary.

"Short of blasting our way in or a lengthy excavation, no," Carter agreed. "We ran tests with specialized equipment while you waited, and we did locate evidence of a passage. It had been collapsed and filled in with debris. It might take weeks or even months just to clear it out."

"So you thought it would be nicer to just walk right through solid stone." That was Peter. Now that he was up, he was restless. He paced up and down the lab. "You’ve gotta realize if we go in like that and grab this stuff, we can’t exactly carry it out with us. I’ve seen Slimer try to haul turkey legs and watermelons through walls. He goes, they crash to the floor and make a big mess. It’s not as if we can interact with physical stuff when we’re destabilized, anyway. I remember when it happened to Egon—he couldn’t even pick up a coffee cup."

"That’s like when I was out of phase on P7X-377," Daniel offered. He gnawed on his bottom lip. I didn’t sink into the floor though, and I remember leaning against things, so I doubt I could walk through walls. I must have been half in and half out of our world."

"Out of phase?" If Egon had been a bird dog, he’d have gone into a classic point. "I should like to see the specifications for this phenomenon. Perhaps a similar effect...."

"Not entirely," Carter threw in. "I’ll go over the theoretical aspect of that later with you, Egon. While we have a way to duplicate that process, it involves complications we aren’t prepared to attempt at this time, as well as exposure to massive doses of muon radiation."

"Radiation?" Peter’s eyebrows both shot up toward his hairline. He must not have the knack of going the Vulcan route like Egon. "Let’s pass on that one. Mama Venkman’s little boy tries to avoid radiation if at all possible."

Jack plunged in. "Yeah, right, Venkman. Running around with portable nuclear weapons on your backs doesn’t count?" He shivered. No way could anybody pay him enough to do what the Ghostbusters did for a living. Not that anybody ever claimed gate travel was a guarantee of a long and healthy life.... He still remembered how he’d felt after exposure to that giant pyramid, and Daniel had looked kind of off-color ever since he’d been out of phase. Had to have been tough. All this must have brought his memories back in Technicolor.

"Our equipment is extremely well-shielded," Egon defended the proton packs. "But I take your meaning about shifting out of phase. Actually, when destabilized one doesn’t sink through the floor, either. Ghosts don’t. They hover. Yet, transition through solid matter would be possible. There is a mind-over-matter component to it. I found, when I was destabilized, that I could become invisible with concentration. When Peter tried it, he was actually able to fly, and to walk through walls, which is, of course, what you require here. It might be possible to design a field that would allow us to transport the food of the gods from the pyramid, or even to destabilize it for transportation. That would take considerable research, however."

"Failing that," Carter threw in, "we could mark the area where the substance is located, and it might be possible to carve our way into the structure without jeopardizing the substance or the pyramid’s supports."

"So, what’s it look like?" Peter asked. Trust Venkman to make the point. "Or will there be a big sign that reads, ‘food of the gods, two for one sale’?" He turned to Teal’c. "You probably know more about this stuff than anybody. If it’s really food, it’s probably crumpled away to dust by now. I don’t know much about ancient Egypt, but I’ve seen my share of mummies on TV. They shrivel. Your three-thousand-year-old food has gotta be either turned to dust or hard as rocks."

"Peter makes an excellent point," Egon agreed, causing Peter to transform his pacing into strutting for a second before he stopped and stood there grinning. Egon continued, "Of course, knowing the abilities of the Goa’uld—not that I do in any detail—or even the Ancients, to whom I have only gained fleeting references, it is entirely possible that in spite of the antique exterior of the pyramid, there might be technological areas within." He waggled that active eyebrow at Carter.

She beamed at him. "There are areas we were unable to scan thoroughly," she admitted. "Not that we had time to send for additional equipment to conduct surveys.

"And we’re gonna be able to just walk through those areas?" Peter persisted.

"Gosh, Peter, why not?" Ray’s whole face lit with enthusiasm. "We haven’t found anything yet that Slimer couldn’t get through."

Peter’s face fell. "Including my pillowcase, my favorite CDs, the rest of the ice cream last Sunday. What about it, Ray? Can he go through lead or how about elements we haven’t even discovered yet, here on Earth? I betcha my entire heavy metal collection these guys have been adding to the periodic table like crazy."

"What!" Egon whirled to stare at Carter. "Is Peter’s theory valid?"

Carter grinned. "Actually, yes, it is."

"Going by the periodic table we found on Ernest’s planet—" Daniel said.

Jack jumped in, one finger raised. "Ah, ah, ah, Daniel. Need to know, remember."

"Oh, well, yeah, Jack, but if—"

Egon raised a hand. "Wait. If you expect us to penetrate the walls of a pyramid which may contain elements which are in general unknown on Earth, we do have a need to know, Colonel O’Neill."

"Okay, yeah," he conceded. "Carter will brief you on the scan results and what we know of the Periodic Table. But we still don’t know how this process of yours works. Once we get in there, we can analyze what we find and figure out if it’s as good as Teal’c says. So let’s go back to this pain thing."

"That was mostly because when it happened to Egon it was an accident, an energy backlash caused by a demon," said Ray quickly. He rubbed his hands together. "I got the idea of working out a controlled manipulation of the energies involved, and I set up a process, filtered out all the negative demon energy and tested it on myself. It did work. It was great."

"No pain?" Jack asked hopefully.

"No pain," Ray said quickly. "I figured out how to filter out the harmful elements of the process so that all the advantages of destabilization are still there: being transparent, unable to be injured by a physical attack, ghostly powers, although those don’t come automatically; you have to concentrate on them. The only thing is, you can’t carry anything with you."

"I hope you can carry clothes with you," Jack protested. This Stantz character might be as smart as Carter but he was a major flake. Jack cast one fond thought back to the days when he’d been surrounded by normal people, then he shrugged. His team might be weird, but he wouldn’t trade them for "normal" any day of the week. When the Ghostbusters were here, they became part of his team, too. He wasn’t as comfortable with their particular brand of strangeness as he was with his own team’s, but he had to admit they’d been good men to have at his side against Gozer. It was just that Stantz sat there glowing with excitement as if he couldn’t imagine anything more fun than being turned into a transparent guy. Jack was not looking forward to it. Ten times worse if he had to run around in his birthday suit, in front of God, Carter, and everybody.

Ray chuckled. "Well, yeah. Even in Egon’s accidental transfer, and Peter’s, they had their clothes. They didn’t have their proton packs, but Egon had his glasses."

"That is the part that confuses me," Sam admitted. "I’d been studying your results, and I am not sure why that is."

"Two reasons," Egon interjected. "First of all, our jumpsuits and undergarments, even our boots, are made of natural products. We learned they do better against ghosts than synthetics. I spent some time waiting in Tolay’s keep analyzing the process." His face was taut, but his voice was controlled. "I had nothing else to do, and it served to distract me from my surroundings."

Jack’s mind went instantly to the Middle East and the "joys" of imprisonment. "I can relate." He saw realization flood the faces of his team and gave a hasty wave for Spengler to continue.

Peter’s eyebrows lifted ever so slightly. Venkman was just too sharp for his own good. Winston, too, registered Jack’s words. Well, the guy had done Nam. No surprise that he’d get it.

Egon added, "I theorized that either a limited amount of extraneous matter could transfer or that an object would need to be actually physically touching skin to transfer. The pack, of course, was worn over my clothing, and was bulky and heavy, not to mention technological. The glasses were against my face."

"And my research wasn’t about what you could carry but how you could use the process once completed," Ray threw in. "By that time, Egon had done his number, and Peter had been destabilized by accident, but he needed to take advantage of the process. Since his was uncontrolled, he went through all the bad things that Egon did. But in the meantime, he learned how to manipulate the process."

Jack turned an eye upon Venkman, who looked as thrilled about destabilizing as Egon did. Oh, that was just great. The experience was so lacking in fun that the two who’d had the worst experiences, and who would need to do it this time, were not exactly lining up to try it again. Jack knew without any words exchanged that both men would do what was necessary and do it without complaint—or at least Spengler wouldn’t complain—but they wouldn’t be happy.

Ray waved his hand for attention. "Hey, I’ve got it all fixed. I’ve even worked on it since my encounter with the energy cloud in Bryant Park. It won’t hurt. I’ve even expanded the length of time one can safely be destabilized to a couple of days. Well," he concluded honestly, "around forty-six hours. After that, the destabilization proceeds at an accelerated pace and the pain thing comes into play. After about fifty-six hours, destabilization is irreversible and you just...discorporate."

"Let’s pass on that," said Jack.

Ray grinned. "You won’t need anything like that much time to walk into the pyramid, map out what’s there, assuming it’s still viable after centuries or millennia, and get out again. Once we have a layout, your team can cut their way in without doing any damage to the substance, and we’ll have an idea of the structural supports, so you can avoid anything that’s needed to hold the place up."

Stantz must have aced Optimism One-oh-One, that was all there was to it. Worse, the guy sat there looking sad and regretful, not for sending his friends into danger, since he was sure it was safe, but because he couldn’t go himself. He couldn’t even go to the planet in case danger showed up, not with a bum ankle.

"I’ll want to go over your specs in more detail," Carter said.

Jack nodded. "Yeah, you do that, Carter. Daniel, I want you and Teal’c to go over what you know about the pyramid and the food of the gods stuff with Venkman and Spengler."

"What about me?" asked Winston hopefully. "Won’t I be coming?"

He wanted to go through the gate so bad he could taste it. Jack could recognize the look. Daniel got that way when the M.A.L.P. images showed intriguing ruins on the other side of the gate. Jack pursed his lips. "Yeah, you’ll be coming, but I think I’m gonna keep you as a control. You’ll be manning the reversal equipment, you and Carter. We might have to need to reverse it in a big hurry, or we may even need to send for reinforcements and I want someone available to do it. You because you don’t have the experience of the process, but you know the equipment, and Carter because if it needs to be worked on while we’re in there, she’s the one who’ll know how to do it. Or in case you need to come in and haul us out in a hurry."

"Who will be destabilized, sir?" Carter asked.

"Venkman and Spengler for their experience, Daniel and Teal’c because between them they’ll know what to look for in there, and myself as team leader." Do you really want to do this, Jack? He knew the answer was no. Floating through walls had never been one of his burning ambitions. On the other hand, neither had jumping through wormholes and battling the snakeheads. There were things a guy just had to do, and this was one of them. Daniel didn’t look any too happy about it, either. He’d been waaaay too quiet. Too reminiscent of P7X-377

"Okay, people," he said. "We’ll break down into groups and go over the process, and after that, we’ll take it to Hammond."

** *** **

"You okay with this, Egon?" Peter asked. Ray and Sam were over across the lab with the computer booted up and weird schematics running across the screen. Winston had joined them. Daniel was hunched over a notebook filled with hieroglyphs. While O’Neill put in a call to the general to explain their progress, Peter had pulled Egon to one side.

Egon couldn’t hold back a frown. The truth was that he had set aside the experience and reasoned that it was past, that it was no longer important, that he would do what needed to be done, trusting that Ray’s work on the process would remove the complications that had plagued him and Peter. Yet it irritated him to realize that a shiver of uneasy anticipation ran through his body at the upcoming destabilization. Illogical as it was, the very mention of destabilization called to mind the hopelessness he’d felt when he was incarcerated in Tolay’s dungeon with no possible chance of escape.

That didn’t alter the fact that he would have to carry on with this mission. He searched Peter’s face for signs of unhappiness, of unpleasant memories. Peter was wearing that cocky, I’m-tough-enough-to-handle-anything look he sometimes wore when he wanted to look like he was cool with major threats, but Egon’s experience of Peter informed him that might be a form of showing off, especially in front of Jack O’Neill, here in a place where he’d once found refuge when a demon had made his team hate him.

But Egon knew well that letting past experiences create difficulties where none should exist was detrimental to success. He would need to do this, so he would do it, and that was the bottom line. "The experience was no better for you than it was for me, Peter. I should be asking you that question." Best to confront the situation head on.

Peter held up a hand. "Wrong, big guy. There was a difference. Yeah, it hurt like crazy and I nearly died, but it was by my choice. I was in control. Just like this time, we’re both gonna be in control. I know you were mad at Ray when he figured out how to handle destabilization but you’re not mad at him now, are you?"

They both turned to Ray, whose face lit with excitement as he gestured at Sam’s computer screen. "Of course not," Egon replied, and meant it. He had come to terms with that incident years ago. "Ray and I have refined the process over the years in case we might have need of it. It will work exactly as he reports it. He has learned some caution. I believe there is a slightly wider margin of safety than he reported, but it is better to keep to the range he stated."

"We’re not gonna wander around some old pyramid for forty-six hours," Peter grimaced. "Unless we find another King Tut, buried with all his gold, we’re just gonna grab this stuff and go, right?"

"Or define its location within the pyramid so that it can be removed safely later." Egon frowned. "I would be more comfortable if we knew exactly what the food of the gods is. The answers we were given have proven exceedingly vague. We don’t know if it is a mineral, a gas, a process, a food."

"That information is not available," Teal’c offered, suddenly joining their conversation. He had stood to one side, waiting while Peter and Egon came to a resolution—at least until such time as the actual destabilization began. Now he and Daniel moved to join them.

"I’ve got copies of the actual hieroglyphs," Daniel offered. "I’ll show them to you, Egon."

"I would like to see them very much." He glanced at Peter, who held out protesting hands as if to ward off such a fate. "When will we be going?"

"First thing in the morning," O’Neill hung up the phone and joined them. "I don’t know about you guys, but as soon as the briefing is over, I want my dinner."

"Yeah, I could eat," Peter agreed. "I didn’t know that when I got up this morning I’d be stepping onto another planet tomorrow, but when you’re a Ghostbuster anything is possible."

"You’ve visited other dimensions, too," said Daniel. He looked fascinated. "Not parallel universes, though?"

"Not like you guys do with the quantum mirror gizmo," Peter replied. "The Netherworld is full of demons. Nasty place. They’re about as much fun as the Goa’uld." He paused. "There aren’t any Goa’uld on this planet, are there?"

"Not that we could see." The colonel gestured at the door. "Hammond’s ready for us now."

Peter at once went to Ray and passed him his crutches. "Come on, Tex, the general wants us." Delight touched Peter’s face at the thought of being important enough to be summoned to confer with generals. He made sure Ray had his balance, then he carefully fell in beside Sam, offering her one of his most engaging smiles. When Sam only looked amused, his face fell.

Egon had met General Hammond on three previous occasions and he had been impressed each time with the commander of the SGC. Hammond must be nearing retirement age, but Egon hoped he wouldn’t think of retiring yet. He was just the right man for such an important job. The general’s ethics and values were exactly what Egon wanted in a man who guarded the entry to Earth against the Goa’uld.

When the two teams entered the briefing room, Hammond rose and came to meet them, offering his hand, first to Peter, whom he knew best.

Peter grinned a mile wide. "Hi, George. How’s it hanging?"

At the greeting, O’Neill arched an eyebrow, and Teal’c registered surprise in that non-expressive way he had that Egon had only begun to learn to read. Egon gave a mental groan at Peter’s words. Only Peter would dream of greeting a three-star general that way. Worried, Spengler studied Hammond to determine his reaction. Was that the faintest glimmer of a hastily repressed twinkle in the older man’s eyes?

The general’s words were formal, almost repressive, but Peter didn’t look the least bit alarmed with them as Hammond released his hand. "Doctor Venkman. It’s good to have you back. At least," he added with exaggerated doubt, "I think it is. Especially at a time when the fate of the Earth isn’t at stake

"I kind of prefer avoiding the fate-of-the-world stuff myself," Peter said. His smile didn’t waver. It dawned on Egon that Peter liked General Hammond very much.

Hammond responded to Peter’s irreverent question. "We’re holding up here," he replied. "It’s good to see all of you." He shook hands with Egon and Winston, and Ray when the youngest Ghostbuster fumbled free of his crutches.

"I see you’ve been to the wars, Doctor Stantz?"

"Just a little run-in with a demon and a dumpster. Nothing to write home about." He settled into a chair and stretched out his foot. "I just wish it hadn’t happened. I’d love to go through the Stargate again—even if they were shooting at me last time I went." He produced a rueful smile.

"We don’t send anyone through who isn’t one hundred percent, son. I’m sorry, especially since I’m told you’re the one who has done the most work on this process. Still, you’ll be with me in the control booth during the mission, coordinating your team’s end of it. We’re setting up a computer station for you."

"That’ll be great, General." Ray subsided into a chair, but Egon knew he was disappointed. If anyone was made for the thrill of stepping through the wormhole onto other planets, it was Ray. Egon was glad Ray was a Ghostbuster instead.

When SG-1 had disposed themselves around the table and Peter had plopped down in a chair and scooped up the coffee waiting for him, Sam Carter pulled up a schematic on the screen. It was divided into two segments, one with the pyramid itself, a grid pattern over it to show the vague outlines of its internal structure. The second part was Ray’s calculations for the destabilizer with a blueprint of the atomic destabilizer, the only one of the proton pack/thrower combinations that hadn’t yet been modified to the new design. They didn’t often need the destabilizer on a bust, so Egon had set priorities to lighten and streamline the ones they used regularly first. They wouldn’t have to engage in a running battle with a demon tomorrow, so that shouldn’t be a problem.

"Go ahead, Major," General Hammond directed.

Sam picked up a light pointer and directed it at the pyramid, producing a red dot of light on the screen. "Sonar scans have revealed an extensive inner chamber here, that goes down an undetermined distance beneath the planet’s surface." She traced its dimensions. This point here—" the light stopped against the wall nearest to the Stargate— "is the narrowest section of wall and should provide us the quickest transition through the stone. We should be able to move through it in less than two minutes if we hurry, which should be adequate if we are unable to breathe during the transition through solid stone."

"Breathe?" Daniel looked up in surprise. "Do we need to breathe while we’re destabilized?"

"Daniel," Jack said with a quick pat on the archaeologist’s arm. "You don’t breathe, you die. You breathed when you were out of phase, didn’t you?"

Daniel blinked. "Well, uh...I must have. I was still real, just not quite in sync with our dimension. I just thought that if we were to be like ghosts...." He grimaced.

"An excellent point," Egon replied. "However, while ghosts can manipulate the physical environment more than beings with solid physical form, they still exist within our environment. We will need to breathe while destabilized. We might need less air intake; we may be able to hold our breath longer, but eventually we will need to breathe."

"Yeah, it’s not like you give it up for Lent or anything," Peter replied. "I remember getting short of breath when I was flying."

The General and all of SG-1 stared at him. Although that particular ghostly function had been mentioned in passing, they hadn’t really dwelt on it. Disbelief ran across the general’s face, then he must have remembered that to command the SGC he would have had to learn to believe far more than six impossible things before breakfast. "How high and how far were you able to fly, son?" he asked.

Peter grinned. "Just call me Superman Venkman. Able to leap tall buildings at a single bound." He gave an exaggerated shudder. "High enough that I’d have been a smear on the ground if I’d been restabilized in the middle of my aerial acrobatics."

Daniel mimicked Peter’s shudder. Another mild acrophobe? Egon filed that possibility away in case the substance they sought required them to soar aloft in the pyramid.

Sam squinted at the display screen. "There is a great deal of room inside the pyramid, some of it at a higher level but far more beneath the surface. You might be required to levitate down to a lower level."

"We can’t try to maybe...work up to this Casper number?" O’Neill asked.

"I thought we’d have a practice session tonight," Ray said. "Maybe half an hour. That won’t cut into our allotted safety net by much, and you’ll be stable all night, which should help. I think it would be the best thing, making sure that everybody was comfortable with their abilities. I’ll coach you through it, and Peter will help. He’s done more than I have. I was so busy with the energy cloud that was zapping people in Bryant Park that I didn’t get to try out many of my abilities."

"I was going to suggest that, Doctor Stantz," the general agreed. "I’d like to know that everyone who will be destabilized will have some familiarity with the process before the actual mission." He rubbed his bald pate. "It is possible, of course, that Doctor Jackson’s translation refers to a religious cult, spiritual fulfillment, or a substance that has since dissipated or become inert, that there will be no payoff on this mission. But we can’t leave a possible Goa’uld-enhancing substance out there where it might be discovered. There may be legends about its location that any Goa’uld could stumble onto. I’d rather be safe than sorry." He gave a nod to Sam. "Go ahead, Major."

"I’ll let Ray take this part of it," she said, and passed him the light pointer.

Ray sat up straighter in his chair and shared a grin with his three teammates. "Egon designed the atomic destabilizer, but we hadn’t used it for more than a few busts before he got hit with a backlash from the demon Arzun. He vanished from sight, and his proton pack fell to the ground. It was only later that he materialized back at headquarters. We thought...gee, we thought he’d been neutronized, that he was dead. It was awful. When we got home he showed up, transparent. We had to bust a zillion ghosts to make enough money to build the destabilizer rectifier unit." He waved the pointer at it. "That’s it. Winston and Sam will be in charge of it on the planet. Its projected energy beam will return anyone who is destabilized to their normal state."

"What’s this disappearing gig?" O’Neill demanded. He shifted back in his chair so he could study the screen. "Doesn’t sound very efficient."

"No, but that was a backlash. I’ve worked it out. You won’t disappear when I zap you, not this time. Well, maybe only for a few minutes. Egon’s backlash, and Peter’s, shifted them into a kind of holding area, a dimension created by the effect, a sort of pocket universe. Once they snapped out of the shock, they found their way home."

O’Neill’s face darkened. "This is getting weirder by the minute."

Ray grinned reassuringly. "No, it’s okay, Colonel. Because I’ve worked hard on it to minimize the shock of transition. You might blink out for a second, but you have to concentrate on where you want to be. A lot of the abilities you’ll be using are handled through mind over matter. You won’t be solid, so you won’t be able to eat or drink unless we can destabilize some food and water to go along with you, or pick things up; another reason why you don’t want to stay destabilized too long. But if we designate a safe area, you’ll go there as soon as you think of it. Really." He grinned. "I know it sounds crazy, but ghosts aren’t limited by the same physical laws that live people are."

Carter practically erupted from her chair. "Are you saying that if you’re destabilized on another planet, you can think yourself back to Earth?"

"Wow!" Ray’s eyes practically jumped out of his face. "Wouldn’t that be neat?" He sighed. "I suppose it’s possible, but I think that would be too dangerous to try. When you get over there and Winston destabilizes you, you’ll need to fix on the Stargate itself or something concrete so that you can use it as a home base. Trying to think yourself across the galaxy might cause your molecules to spread so thin they couldn’t reassemble."

"And that would definitely be bad," Peter and Jack chorused in perfect unison. Startled, they stared at each other.

Ray gave a giggle. "Definitely bad. I’m not saying it’s impossible, just that I think it’s really unlikely—not to mention dangerous. So before the actual process, I think it might be a good idea if we sat down and maybe Peter gave a kind of post-hypnotic suggestion or something to arrange that everybody will return to the same place. When O’Neill opened his mouth to protest, Ray held up his hand. "No, wait. I know a couple of times ago, Peter hypnotized Daniel but thought Jack wouldn’t be a good candidate. I don’t know for sure, but I’d be willing to bet that Teal’c’s symbiote might prevent hypnosis. I just meant a sort of general coaching session. Make sure everybody’s in the same ballpark. It’ll save time if you don’t have to blunder around and find each other."

"I’ll be able to detect you with a modified P.K.E. meter," Winston threw in. He held it up. "Ray and Egon configured it to get readings at the level a destabilized person emits them. So I’ll have this set while we’re over there, so we’ll be able to track you."

"It might not be possible to take readings through the pyramid itself," Egon volunteered. "The meters have never been exceptional at detecting spectral energy through solid matter or at detecting living human biorhythms under any circumstances. On the flight out here, I added power cells to the meter to boost the readings. Sam can use it during our trial run so she’ll be familiar with the potential and the limitations of the device."

Jack jumped in. "Once we’re over there, I’ll need both Teal’c and Daniel inside, Daniel for any translations and for his experience with pyramids, and Teal’c to identify this food of the gods stuff. We’ll need Venkman and Doctor Spengler, for their experience with the process."

"That sounds good, Colonel." Hammond looked around the table at the two teams. "Very well. Depending on the success of the trial run, you have a go for oh-eight-hundred tomorrow morning."

Winston’s eyes lit. "Oh, man, I can’t wait to go through the Stargate."

"Just watch out," Jack kidded him. "That first step is a lulu."

** *** **

Daniel wasn’t sure how he expected the destabilization process to feel, but he knew the original experience had been painful and traumatic for Egon. That wasn’t supposed to happen this time, but there was bound to be a moment of disorientation. Surely a man who had traveled through the Stargate on numerous occasions, lived for a year on another planet, actually died a few times and come back shouldn’t be uneasy at a controlled process that wasn’t even supposed to hurt, but he couldn’t help tensing when Ray aimed the atomic destabilizer at him. What if his bouts with the sarcophagus had somehow affected his molecular structure and the process didn’t work? His stomach tightened, and he willed the sensation away. Delayed stress, that’s all it was, tied in with the thought of going through a version of the process all over again. They needed him on the planet for the translations and his knowledge of Ancient Egypt. He couldn’t wimp out just because he felt a little queasy.

"Everybody get ready." Ray urged. "Teal’c. We’ll have to take really careful readings with you because of the symbiote. Once you’re destabilized, let us know right away if you feel any distress. Winston, stand by with the destabilizer rectifier unit and Sam will take readings to monitor you, and Egon will check those readings."

Sam jumped into place beside Winston as he positioned himself at the controls of the device. She had the P.K.E. meter in her hand. Daniel had noticed that Egon had been reluctant to abandon it, but since he wouldn’t be using it on the planet, he must have wanted Sam to have as much experience with it as possible. Winston already knew how it worked.

Peter and Egon, who were familiar with the process, wouldn’t be destabilized now. There was no need to test their reaction. Peter slung his arm around Ray’s shoulders. "Hold on a sec, Ray. Let me try this coaching thing you’re so gung-ho about."

"Sure, Peter. Go ahead. Better to practice that, too."

Peter grinned, gave his shoulders a casual squeeze and let go. He stood before the three members of SG-1, who stood waiting. Jack grimaced, but Daniel could feel his tension without even turning his head. In spite of all his black ops experience, this was something new for Jack, an experience he didn’t have any control over, and Daniel knew he hated losing control. He might get a kick out of the experience once he was destabilized, and Daniel could imagine him strutting around five feet off the ground and grinning like a little kid, but he hadn’t reached that point yet. None of them had. Teal’c, of course, looked as stoic as the Sphinx. Impossible to tell if he were excited or not. Come to think of it, Teal’c never acted excited, even when he actually was. Daniel had come to know Teal’c very well in the three years they’d worked together, and he knew the Jaffa’s emotions ran deep. He just didn’t run them up like a flag for the whole world to salute.

"Okay, guys, listen up." Peter struck a pose. He was always doing that, maybe because he knew it bugged Jack. As a man who had honed Jack-bugging to a fine art, Daniel knew the temptation might be irresistible. "As Obi-wan Kenobi once said to Luke, you’re about to take your first step into a larger world."

"No, that’s not what he said," protested Ray. "After Luke had used the Force to zap the remote, Kenobi said, ‘You’ve just taken your first step into a larger world.’"

"Thank you, Doctor Nitpicker." Peter stuck out his tongue at him. Daniel couldn’t help wondering if he and Ray had rehearsed that little tension breaker. "Anyway, guys, the first few seconds will feel really weird. You may even experience a slight gap and come out of it and not know where you are. If that happens, no biggie, it’s normal, although Ray has worked on this over the years to minimize the shock of transition. Every molecule in your body will reverse at the impact of the energy stream—isn’t that it, Egon?"

"Precisely, Peter." Daniel would have worried at the momentary flash of dark memories in Egon’s eyes if he hadn’t known the history of the process. Stranded in the Netherworld as the prisoner of a demon had to rank right up there with capture by a Goa’uld on the other side of the Stargate, and Daniel had no trouble imagining how that felt. He shivered at the thought. As Jack would say, "Been there, done that."

Peter caught Egon’s eye and a look passed between them. Just so did Daniel and Jack exchange glances when something happened to remind one of them of the unhappy experiences they’d endured. Egon cast off his memories and nodded for Peter to go ahead.

"So anyway," Peter said quickly, "you might wake up in a vague, weird featureless place, sort of Boring Central. You’ll be able to feel your body, and it will be solid to you if you give yourself a poke in the arm or the chest. You can take a few seconds to move around a little, but I want you to think about this room. Focus on some feature or person. We’ll just stay exactly where we are, but it won’t matter if you pop in on top of one of us because you won’t be solid to us. When Egon showed up at the firehouse, I could poke my finger right through his chest."

"Yeah, chest-poking. One of my favorite hobbies." Jack’s mouth twisted. "Gotta say, Venkman, you Ghostbusters’ idea of fun and games wouldn’t be mine."

"Think about what happens to your molecules in a wormhole, Jack," Peter said with a huge grin.

Jack grimaced. Daniel was pretty sure he tried not to think about that every time he stepped through the gate. Then there were the transport rings. SG-1 had their molecules scrambled on a regular basis anyway. What was one more method?

"We are prepared, RayStantz," Teal’c announced.

"You’ve all got a fix on something?" Peter asked.

Belatedly, Daniel realized he hadn’t. He glanced around the room and saw one of his artifacts, an Etruscan-style vase from P3K-801, sitting on a table waiting for testing. He concentrated on that. He would come right back here so he could check out that vase. Feeling his face contort with concentration, he bobbed his head.

"Yeah, go for it," O’Neill said. "I’d just as soon get this over with." No, Jack was not a happy camper. Only the thought that the mysterious food of the gods would enhance the Goa’uld let him go on with this. If they got there and it turned out the sign was an advertisement for an out-of-business restaurant, Jack would never let Daniel live it down.

No, Teal’c had recognized the term and Jolinar’s memories had left Sam uneasy. It had to be real.

With luck, maybe whatever it was would have decomposed over the millennia and prove useless. That would be far safer for the galaxy at large.

"Okay, ready." Ray raised the thrower. "I’ll do you one at a time, not all at once; there’s more control that way. But I’ll do it one after the other. You’ll feel a shock, but it shouldn’t hurt."

"I’m gonna hold you to that," Jack threatened.

"Begin," said Teal’c and braced himself.

Ray fired at Jack first, probably because they were lined up in a row with Jack on one end and Teal’c on the other. Jack tensed and let out an involuntary yelp as the beam struck him. Light flared up, squinting bright. As it faded, Jack dissolved away before his eyes.

"O’Neill!" Teal’c cried. Daniel gasped.

The beam struck Daniel, producing a weird, tense sensation, as if his whole body felt the way his finger did when he’d built up a static electric charge and touched something. That weird little snap of power zapped his entire body, and an involuntary cry escaped his mouth. He saw Ray gazing at him anxiously before the lab melted away from him, just as Jack had melted away before, leaving him in vast, echoing darkness.

Ray was right, it didn’t hurt, but his whole body tingled with the soap-bubble feeling of returning circulation. He felt lighter than air, yet weighted down by anxiety and his thoughts. The tightness he’d sensed in the pit of his stomach before destabilization ebbed. It didn’t entirely go away, but it wasn’t quite as strong as it had been a moment earlier. He blinked. Why was it so dark? Nobody had said anything about it being dark. "Uh, was it supposed to do that?" Daniel asked. He realized his eyes were squeezed tightly shut and forced them open. Light surrounded him, a translucent, diffuse glow that illuminated the now-bright nothingness that stretched as far as the eye could see in any direction. Maybe he could see as far as the stars, or maybe there was a wall two feet in front of him. The universal sameness of the fog-colored light played havoc with his depth perception. He could hardly tell what was up and what was down.

Intrigued, he stretched out his hands before him and curled his fingers into fists, relaxed them. They behaved perfectly. They didn’t look remotely transparent, either. He tried the poke-the-finger-through-the-chest game and came up against solid flesh hard enough to leave a bruise. If he were that solid, how could he possibly walk through walls? Yet he had felt solid when out of phase, even if he couldn’t interact with the physical realm. Teal’c had walked right through him.

Could he interact with the physical here? Curious, he flailed his arms before him and to the sides, to see if his fingertips would brush against an invisible barricade. They touched nothing.

This must be the pocket universe the Ghostbusters had mentioned. It was fascinating, yet in a way, it didn’t interest Daniel. No evidence of any previous inhabitants lingered: no artifacts, no structures, no signs of habitation. For an archaeologist, this was a nothing place, one that offered not the slightest temptation.

Think, Daniel. You don’t want to stay here. Thus adjured, he recalled his trigger, the Etruscan vase. Pursing his lips, he concentrated on it. It was better than clicking his heels to go back to Kansas. A second later, the lab materialized around him, and he found himself standing a foot away from the table where the vase rested. Daniel blinked excitedly and whirled. The lab looked exactly as he had left it except that Sam had moved up beside Ray, her wrist raised to count off the time on her wristwatch. Peter was speaking to Egon in an undertone.

But Jack and Teal’c weren’t there.

"Uh, I’m back," he announced. What if they couldn’t hear him? What if he was stuck this way, the way he’d been after the crystal skull.

Everyone whirled. Ray, who didn’t have his crutches, put weight on his injured ankle and staggered, and Sam grabbed his arm to steady him. They all stared at Daniel as if they had never seen him before. Sam’s mouth dropped open and she blurted a stunned, "Holy Hannah."

"Hi, guys," he said, intimidated by the intensity of their stares. He glanced down at himself to make sure his clothing had survived the transition. That would be all he needed, to find himself the center of attention in his birthday suit. Thank goodness he was still wearing his BDUs. "Am I transparent?"

"Boy, Daniel, this is no time for you to keep secrets. We can see right through you." Peter ambled over and rammed his finger right into Daniel’s chest.

Daniel tilted his head to look. Now that was strange. He couldn’t see the part of Peter’s finger that thrust into his chest, but there was no pain, and in general, stabbing right through the sternum would lead to a massive injury, if not death.

Peter withdrew his finger. It was odd to see it emerge undamaged and unbloodied from the front of Daniel’s shirt. Sam edged up next to Peter and touched Daniel’s arm. When her fingers sank through the fabric and into the flesh and bone, she jerked back. "It works." She raised the P.K.E. meter and studied the readings on the screen. Daniel reached out and poked his finger into Peter’s chest. He could feel it, feel that he was passing through something, but it wasn’t a solid something, yet more solid than sticking his hand into water.

"Well, of course it works," Egon replied with mock hauteur. "That is why you sent for us."

Daniel ignored that. He had more pressing concerns. "Where are Jack and Teal’c?"

Even as he asked the question, the Jaffa materialized in front of them. To Daniel, he looked completely normal, solid and whole, but from the way everybody else stared at him, they must have been granted the see-through version.

Teal’c stared around the lab. "The process is successful," he reported. "However, my symbiote is most uncomfortable." One hand slid down to his abdomen and pressed there gently. Daniel could relate. Even without a symbiote, his own stomach felt a little queasy. He mimicked Teal’c’s gesture.

Sam aimed the meter at him and studied it. She quickly made a few adjustments, and that drew Egon to her side. "May I?" Without waiting for an answer, he deftly withdrew the meter, performed several more adjustments, and studied the readings he got from Teal’c.

"Due to the presence of your symbiote, the readings are more complex. Yet there is no evidence of damage or a breaking down of the symbiosis that exists between you and, er, Junior." He gave the meter back to Sam, who narrowed her eyes as she examined the readings.

Teal’c lifted his hand away. "My symbiote relaxes."

"It was just the shock of transition," Ray offered. He’d found a chair after his awkward jarring of his ankle, but his eyes were busy as he studied Teal’c. "It wasn’t like you could tell the symbiote what was about to happen. At least, could you?"

Teal’c inclined his head in the negative. "I could not."

Ray’s face wrinkled up in concentration. "It’s got to be used to going through a wormhole and using those teleport rings you talked about. I would think the effect would be similar. How aware is the symbiote in its larval state?"

"I do not communicate with it," Teal’c replied. "I do not know the state of its awareness, but it can respond to sensation. An immature symbiote knows enough to leave a dying body to seek another host."

"Let’s hope it can’t hear what we’re saying and understand the process," Sam said. "Because if it can, we can never allow it to mature and seek a Goa’uld host."

"Where is O’Neill?" Teal’c demanded. "Should he not have returned first?"

Daniel looked around wildly. Jack had been zapped first. Was something wrong? His stomach lurched, and the sensation was so much like the normal, stabilized reaction that he would have doubted the process worked if Sam and Peter hadn’t been able to put their hands right through him.

"‘Bout time somebody noticed me." Jack emerged from the far corner of the lab, his face twisted up into an expression of extreme unhappiness. "I have got to say that this is not fun, campers. What’s with this non-existence place? I’ve gotta say it was almost as much of a kick as Netu."

Daniel hurried over to him, and they stood facing each other. "Are you all right?" they asked in exact chorus, then blinked in amused surprise.

Jack reached out and clapped Daniel on the shoulder, and some of the tension bled from his posture. "Thank you," he said to fate or the universe or whoever at the ability to touch. "I can’t pick up my coffee cup, and the floor is all spongy. I’m not gonna sink through it right down to the Earth’s mantle, am I? I’m not exactly up for a journey to the center of the Earth."

"Well, gee, I never did," Ray defended the process. "It worked for you. You all made it back pretty fast, faster than Egon and Peter did when they went through accidental destabilization. Wow, this is really great!"

"You may think so, Stantz, but I have to say that on a scale of one to ten, it rates about a minus six hundred and seventy," Jack griped. "Okay, it works. Now what?"

Peter smirked. "Come on, Jack, you know what happens next. You get to play super-hero. That ought to be fun. Flying, and walking through walls, and all that good stuff. Able to leap tall pyramids at a single bound—or at least with a running start."

"Sure, like we can do that." A disgruntled Jack could be amusing. Daniel found it was a lot easier to bear the uncertainty of the process because of Jack’s complaining. Did he intend it that way? Peter would probably say that was good psychology.

"Of course we can do that," Daniel said. "That’s what this is all about. Look." He reached for the nearest wall, poked it with a cautious finger, and smiled when the digit sank right into the wall. He couldn’t see through the wall itself, and he couldn’t see the tip of his finger. There was no real sense of resistance, just a faint, tingly feeling as if he were pushing through strong wind. There had to be a way to do this.

Gathering himself, he stepped into the wall. Instinctively, he flinched and ducked his head so he wouldn’t slam his nose into the wall or knock his glasses off. When he lifted his head, he found himself in darkness with a rectangular outline of light to suggest a doorway to his left. Storage room. Not exactly one of his favorite places.

He reversed and stepped back. This time, he didn’t close his eyes, although it took a conscious effort to keep them open. When he burst into the lab, he found himself the center of attention. "It works!"

Jack scratched his head. "I’ve gotta say, Daniel, that is one of the weirdest things I’ve ever seen."

Teal’c inclined his head. "Remarkable, DanielJackson."

It was remarkable. Sam must have thought so because her eyes shone with excitement. "This is so incredible. You’ve transmuted the physical plane. It shouldn’t be possible. Even with the specs in front of me and the research I’ve done on ectoplasmic physics, and even knowing about Daniel’s recent out-of-phase experience, it’s still incredible." She turned to Jack. "Can you do it, sir? That’s what we need to know before we return to the planet."

"You want me to walk through walls?" Jack groaned. "Well, never let it be said that I let my kids do something I wouldn’t do." He approached the wall almost sideways, as if he were wading through setting concrete, one arm out before him to fend off the attacking barrier. When his hand vanished into the wall, his mouth fell open. "Sweet," he muttered.

Teal’c joined him. "I shall accompany you, O’Neill."

"Thanks, Teal’c."

The two exchanged a glance that in Jack’s case was full of stubbornness and reluctance in equal measure and in Teal’c’s determined resolution, then stepped into the wall. Daniel watched them, wondering if that was what he’d looked like when he had attempted the experience. It reminded him of the sight of his team members stepping through the gate ahead of him, en route to a planet, vanishing bit by bit until every bit of them had passed through the barrier—except that they weren’t passing through an event horizon but through solid matter.

"That’s so great," Ray exulted. "Daniel, do you feel okay?"

"I do. I kind of tingle a little, though." He rubbed his stomach gently. Probably just tension. He stared at the wall, waiting for his teammates to return, willing them to return. Even though he knew it worked, he couldn’t help worrying that Teal’c’s unusual anatomy would affect him, or that Jack couldn’t quite manage the mind-over-matter leap of faith it took.

"That’s normal. I felt some of that." Ray beamed at him. Sam wrinkled her brow in the way that Daniel knew meant she was attending to a mental check-list. The team might never need this ability again, and Daniel hoped they wouldn’t, but Sam would understand every bit of it, work out any mental conflicts, probably even dream up a way to handle it on the fly, should they ever need it out there.

Jack and Teal’c erupted through the wall, and the tension in Daniel’s stomach let up a bit, although it wasn’t yet ready to go away.

"Now that was even more not fun than I expected," Jack protested.

Ray gaped at him. "I thought it was great."

O’Neill favored him with a sour glance. "You would."

Daniel struggled not to smile. "Don’t worry, Ray, that’s just Jack. We should have set up a hockey game on the other side of the wall. Or even a fishing hole."

"Smart, Daniel. Don’t push it." Jack came over to Daniel, tried and failed to poke his finger through Daniel’s chest, and produced a complex expression that was part disappointment and part relief.

"Doesn’t work like that," Peter reminded him. He lounged over as if it took waaay too much energy to move, and jabbed his finger into Jack’s chest. Jack’s open-mouthed expression made Daniel long for a camera to record the event. Maybe he could get prints from the lab security cameras later. Peter poked his whole hand in. "You’re solid to each other. Did we know that would happen, Ray?" He withdrew his fingers and wiggled them to make sure he hadn’t accidentally left a fingernail or two in O’Neill’s chest. Jack dusted himself down.

The occult expert scrunched up his forehead. "Well, gee, I didn’t know. It wasn’t as if I had any reason to touch Slimer when I was destabilized. He isn’t exactly solid in any reality."

"Slimer could carry me," Peter remembered. "But he can do that, sorta, anyway." His mouth twisted. "‘Course that involves the spud actually touching me." He gave an exaggerated shudder.

"He slimes you all the time," Egon observed, sotto voce. He’d observed the whole process without much comment, but he’d been entering figures into a Palm Pilot the whole time, except when he’d grabbed the meter from Sam.

"Don’t remind me."

Egon entered a last figure and seemed satisfied. "Perhaps now would be the time to attempt several other abilities. Passing through solid matter is the key requirement for this mission, but it might be necessary to levitate to reach the substance within the pyramid or to render oneself invisible to visual detectors."

Jack’s focus narrowed on Egon. "You think there’ll be surveillance cameras in there? The place is a thousand years old."

"Four thousand, if not more," Daniel corrected.

Jack flung one of his lethal stares Daniel’s way. "Boy, everybody’s a critic."

"No, Egon’s right, sir," Sam threw in. "We’ve found such things before. Look at the device that implanted the knowledge of the Ancients in your head."

"You look at it."

Egon’s head whipped around to study Jack. "The knowledge of the Ancients? What an incredible gift." One eyebrow soared as he measured his analysis of Jack. "You retained none of it?"

Daniel had to hold back a faint smile. "He’s got you pegged, Jack." But he and Jack exchanged a wordless look. The experience had been unpleasant for all of them, but Daniel, as Jack’s only means of communication in that state, had stood at his side through the process—until Jack had to step through the Stargate alone to ride the wormhole to a distant galaxy. Reminded of Thor and the Asgard, Daniel couldn’t help wondering if it might not be a good thing to bring them in once the combined teams had explored the pyramid. Thor might even know how to get in. Suppose there were rings inside. Their Asgard ally might even know all about the food of the gods.

But Daniel knew they couldn’t run to the Asgard every time they encountered a complex problem. Thor and his friends would hardly consider them worthy candidates to become the Fifth Race of power in the galaxy if they couldn’t solve such problems on their own. It might be interesting to see what Thor would make of their solution to destabilize their molecules to enter. Would he consider it a primitive one? Maybe even consider the need to investigate incorrect.

Jack hesitated. "No, the Asgard had to remove it. One of those we’re-not-ready things. Just as well. It felt pretty ‘kruvis’ to me."

"Ah." Behind Egon’s eyes, calculations went on. "So would it to me."

"You know what that means?" Sam stared at Egon.

"Not ‘know’. However, judging from the root words in various ancient languages I assume the word means ‘wrong’."

"We got it." Jack knew from long experience how to fend off a linguistics lecture. Daniel shared a sympathetic arch of eyebrows with the blond man. He hoped they’d get a chance to brainstorm it later. He had taken extensive notes during Jack’s experience. Some of them even now were impossible to make sense of. Maybe with Egon’s assistance....

"We can discuss that later," Egon said. "For now, I want each of you to concentrate. In this form, you can orient yourself to position in all directions. You are not bound laterally, but can go up and down as easily as you would ride an elevator. Tell them, Peter."

"The trick is not to look down," Peter said. He sought out Daniel’s eyes. "Don’t worry about falling, ‘cause you’re not gonna. But that first step is a doozy."

Daniel shivered; he knew Peter shared his mild acrophobia. He wouldn’t have liked the possibility of levitating any more than Daniel did. "How do you stop yourself from sinking through the floor?" Beneath his feet, it felt spongy and unreal.

"Because you know you’re not gonna. It might give a little, but it will remind you that it’s there. You could feel it, sorta, when you tried to poke my heart, couldn’t you?"

"Yes. And I do feel something under my feet," Daniel agreed. "Jack? Teal’c?"

The Jaffa inclined his head. "I am conscious of the floor beneath me, yet it is less than solid." One hand slid down to his belly. Was Junior throwing fits? Even without a symbiote, Daniel could relate.

"Yeah, it’s like walking on balloons." Jack grimaced. "So how do I do this floating number?" He concentrated hard and lifted right up off the floor. As he realized what he’d done, he crashed down and sank into the floor up to his ankles. Mouth tight, he yanked one foot free, then the other and balanced very carefully on his toes.

"Yeah, like that, just not the landing." Peter grinned. "Come on, Jack, you can do it. Flit like a butterfly."

"Sting like a bee," Jack gritted out. He wrinkled his face as a concentration aid and hovered over their heads. One hand shot up to fend off the ceiling. With his fingers poking through it, he looked like he was hanging from his fingertips.

Daniel and Teal’c stared up at him, gazed at each other, then both concentrated. Teal’c’s face grew intense, and Daniel let himself become engrossed in the act. When he felt himself moving upward, shock and disbelief filled him, along with the same sense of wonder he’d felt the first time he traveled through the Stargate. What was that poem? "Or like stout Cortez when with his eagle eyes he stared at the Pacific—and all his men looked at each other with wild surmise—silent, upon a peak in Darien." Never mind that it had actually been Balboa who had first viewed the Pacific. He could feel the wild surmise, all right. A heady sense of discovery flowed through him and he rode with it. While Jack ventured a tentative sideways shift, Daniel let the moment take him and he bounced sideways, up, down, and swam tight circles around Jack.

"Showoff," O’Neill muttered out of the corner of his mouth.

"No, it’s easy, Jack. It’s mind over matter. You can do anything you can think of. You don’t even need a running start. It’s not like taking off in a plane. It’s more like a helicopter. You can hover, go straight up."

Ray beamed at him. "Isn’t it nifty? All you have to do is think about what ghosts can do, and try to do it."

"Well, hey, Stantz, it’s not like we hang out with ghosts all the time, the way you guys do." Jack made it sound like the Ghostbusters made a habit of hanging out in seedy dives. Ghost bars, thought Daniel with an inner chuckle. Did they serve "spirits" there?

Ray ignored Jack’s tone. He never took offense at the colonel’s sarcasm. Maybe he had too much practice with Peter. "Ghosts can be invisible. They can fly. Even when this first happened to Egon, he could make himself look fully solid. That part works better indoors. Out in the sunlight, you don’t have a shadow, and you tend to be fuzzy around the edges no matter how hard you try. But inside, you can look pretty solid, even if you can’t pick things up. Even better, Egon could sense the presence of ghosts. So you might be able to tell if anyone is in there. There probably won’t be, but it’s good to know. Try to turn invisible now, why don’t you."

Teal’c made himself move here and there in the room. Junior must wonder what his host was up to. Would the symbiote try to compensate, to render Teal’c solid? So far, there was no evidence of it. He’d better tell Doctor Fraiser about the possibility once they were finished. She’d need to run tests on them anyway, to make sure there were no aftereffects. Not that there should be. The three Ghostbusters who had undergone the process were alive and well years later, and Egon and Peter had undergone accidental, unmodified destabilization.

"Invisible? Oh, for crying out loud."

Daniel accepted that as a challenge. He concentrated for all he was worth. How to turn invisible? Simply to wish it? To imagine that his destabilized molecules would put him out of phase to human vision? To repeat the experience of the Crystal Skull? Would he be able to see the others if he were invisible? No, being unseen was not an experience Daniel had any interest in repeating.

He stared at Jack and Teal’c. They didn’t change at all. But Egon, who was looking at him, suddenly did a double-take. "Well done, Daniel."

"Daniel?" Jack whirled around. "You’re not invisible. You’re right there."

Carter shook her head. "Actually, sir, he is invisible to the rest of us. This must be part of the same phenomenon which allows you to feel solid to each other in that state. That should prove useful over there."

"Wow, it’s great." Ray would have bounced on his toes if his ankle would have allowed it. "Only one of us was ever destabilized at a time. We refined the process, but we never used it after the time I did it in Bryant Park—well, only singly for a few minutes once to check the readings. We didn’t need it, not like this. It was always just something to fall back on if we should ever find ourselves in a situation where we’d need to be destabilized."

"And now we do," Peter said. "Government contracts. You’ve gotta love ‘em." If he’d been a cartoon character, dollar signs would have filled his eyes.

Jack must have sensed it, too. "You think you’re gonna make major bucks off this, Venkman?"

"Hey. We get paid for every bust—and we get mileage if we have to leave the city. How far is it to P4V-689 anyway? At twenty-five cents a mile.... Egon, lend me your Palm so I can figure it out."

Egon tightened his grip protectively on the device.

Jack snorted, "Forget it. No mileage. The government is paying your way out there already, Venkman. We flew you here in a military jet, remember? We should charge you airfare."

Peter ignored that. "Let’s see if you can handle the invisible bit, Jack. I already know I can, and I wasn’t in lab conditions like this with Ray to coach me through it." He tossed Jack one of those Alpha Male looks.

Jack glared right back. It didn’t take quite as well with him fuzzy around the edges. Those two always managed to irritate each other. Daniel knew it was because they probably had some of the same vices. The same virtues, too, when you considered it. Both were reliable, brave, there for their teammates. Irrelevantly, Daniel wondered if Peter liked hockey. He was pretty sure fishing was not Venkman’s sport of choice.

"If I can do it, so can you, Jack," Peter taunted.

"Think so?"

"I know so." He grinned a mile wide.

Jack favored him with a rather obscene gesture. None of the others reacted to it. From the way they blinked in surprise, Jack had gone invisible first.

Daniel gave a sputter of laughter. "Oh, very sneaky, Jack. Don’t forget, Teal’c and I can see everything you do."

"Indeed." Teal’c inclined his head. "Among the Tau’ri, that gesture is considered most improper, O’Neill."

"Hey, he’s gone, too," Peter blurted out. He did a double-take. "What gesture?" he demanded suspiciously.

"Invisibility was the object of the test," Teal’c replied. Several heads swiveled to attempt to locate him. He made no attempt to explain Jack’s use of the finger, and Jack just smirked and made faces at Peter.

The three male members of SG-1 exchanged a glance. Even Teal’c had a wicked sense of humor that could be prodded to attention at a moment like this. Jack gestured at the door, and the three of them tiptoed out in a row, right through the lab door.

It would have worked if Doctor Fraiser hadn’t hurried down the hall and walked right through Jack. He reared back in blank surprise and cried, "Whoa!"

The unexpected cry made Janet stop dead and look around suspiciously. "Colonel O’Neill? Is that you?"

"It is I as well, Doctor Fraiser," Teal’c spoke up beside her. And they said Jaffa had no sense of humor.

"We’re all here, Janet," Daniel added hastily.

Daniel had to give Fraiser credit for handling the surprise of being accosted by invisible members of SG-1. Of course she’d seen a great deal of unlikely weirdness since she had been stationed at the SGC, and she knew what was to take place.

She stopped dead, her hand on the doorknob. "I assume from the ghostly chorus that the test is already under way."

"We started without you," Daniel said.

"I know you were invisible when you were out of phase, Daniel, but you couldn’t communicate. How is this different?" She looked in the direction of Daniel’s voice, but she was just a fraction off, which gave the conversation a weird feel.

He shook his head, then remembered she couldn’t see him do it. "No, I’m not out of phase. My molecules are shifted, that’s all. I don’t understand it any better than you do, but it does feel, uh, peculiar. A kind of tension in the pit of my stomach."

"I can imagine."

The door swung open and Sam poked her head out. She must have heard their voices. "Are my invisible teammates annoying you, Janet?"

The doctor smiled. "Yes, they are, but there’s nothing new about that."

"The only good thing about that is that they’re spreading it around. I have to live with them for days on end on other planets when there is no one else for them to annoy but me. Of course Daniel and Jack know exactly how to annoy one another, and that spares me some of the time." She grinned irreverently.

"We don’t annoy one another," Jack protested automatically.

"Yes, we do," Daniel countered.

"Do not."

"Do too."

"Do not."

Fraiser squinted in their general vicinity, then she smiled at Sam. "You have my complete and utter sympathy."

"Hey," Jack protested. He must have lifted his invisibility because both women directed major glares at him, amusement masked by the pretend annoyance. Daniel wouldn’t have wanted to win a glance like that from either of them, but it bounced right off Jack. He looked as if he thrived on it.

"Perhaps we should remain invisible, DanielJackson," Teal’c said dryly in his ear.

"It might be safer," Daniel concurred.


"No, I want to run tests on the three of you and make certain the process doesn’t cause any long-term ill effects," Janet decided. "Doctor Jackson, Teal’c, where are—oh, there you are. You do look rather transparent." She risked a touch to Daniel’s arm, jerking back her hand before it could pass completely through Daniel’s wrist.

The others crowded into the doorway, Ray balancing handily on his crutches. "They sneaked right out through the door," he complained. "Hi, Janet."

"Ray. Egon. Winston." She saw Peter waving at her. "Peter." The utter lack of enthusiasm in her voice when she spoke his name made Peter’s face fall. Winston nudged him with his elbow.

"Hey," Peter said, wounded to the quick. "Women usually fling themselves at me. I’m a national hero, after all."

Janet chuckled. "And so certain of it." She stepped up to Peter and gave him a kiss on the cheek. "I shouldn’t have done that," she said as she stepped back before Peter could grab her and offer her a more intense kiss. "I know I’ll live to regret it."

"You undoubtedly will," Egon informed her. "Hello, Doctor. Janine asked me to convey her greetings to you. She was quite incensed that she was not allowed to come along. I think she suspects we will use the Stargate, but of course we could neither confirm nor deny the existence of such an artifact."

He said that with such a deadpan expression that Daniel, who had known Egon, if casually, for almost ten years, nearly missed the lurking humor in his voice. It took Peter’s big grin and Ray’s chuckle to alert the rest of them.

For such a small woman, Doctor Fraiser knew how to work the crowd. In less than a minute, she had all of them back in the lab. "I want you to reverse the process now so I can test the three of them. I especially want to make certain there were no complications due to Teal’c’s symbiote."

"It was uneasy, but gradually it relaxed," Teal’c replied. "I shall need extra time for kel-no-reem this evening, however."

"I would advise it." She glanced around the lab. "If you would restore them...."

"That’s my job," Ray proclaimed. With a deft display of crutches, he settled himself beside the device he had named the destabilizer rectifier unit. "The first time I used this, it sent Egon into the Netherworld. But I’ve worked all the kinks out of it now. If you’d line up there. You won’t go anywhere at all, I guarantee it." He waved a hand at them and bent to the device. Egon and Sam crowded around beside him to watch.

Daniel took his place between Jack and Teal’c. He wasn’t sure he would ever come to like the process, but the buoyancy that accompanied it was rather pleasant, even if the memories of being out of phase tightened his scalp and the process knotted his stomach. As long as the transformation was completely controlled, he could cope with it. Jack, on the other hand, had that crawling ants look he wore when he was not entirely happy with something and there was little he could do about it but shift around inside his shirt and wish himself a thousand miles away. Later on, he’d be sure to sound off and let the whole world know exactly how much he’d detested destabilization. He’d probably dream up a silly name for it, too.

Ray activated the device, and a conic projection of energy shot out and enveloped the three of them. Teal’c put a hand to his stomach, Jack braced himself and gritted his teeth, and Daniel rode it out. After the first second, the floor felt very hard under his feet, and his body took on weight. Although it was normal weight, for the first second or two it felt like he was pulling a couple of g’s. He shifted his shoulders and made himself stand up straight, although the process strained taut muscles. Jack muttered a half-audible profanity. Teal’c didn’t speak, but his jaw bunched.

The beam died. Sam whipped up the meter a second before Egon could grab it. The chagrin on his face made Peter grin and poke him in the back. "You’ve gotta pay attention, Egon. You’re getting slack in your old age."

"Old age," huffed the physicist. He cast a hasty glance at Jack’s grey hair and away. "I remind you, Peter, I am not the oldest man in this room."

Winston groaned. "I think the colonel and I can flip for the honor. You okay, Colonel?"

"I will be, once somebody passes me my cane and hearing aid." Jack shot out a hand and grabbed the nearest material object, which just happened to be Daniel’s Etruscan vase. When it responded to his touch, he clutched it against his chest and muttered, "Thank you," to the fates.

"Jack, be careful with that. It’s extremely rare."

"What, this?" Jack pretended to drop it. When Daniel’s stomach lurched and he grabbed for it, Jack secured his grip. "Relax, Danny-boy. I’ve known juggling for years."

"No, you haven’t."

"Have too.

Daniel resisted the urge to say, "Have not." What was it about Jack O’Neill that sometimes made the pair of them revert to childhood?

Teal’c removed the urn from Jack’s clasp and placed it neatly on the table. "Doctor Fraiser, we are whole, and prepared to submit ourselves to your tests."

"Speak for yourself," Jack muttered, and Daniel had to agree with him. Although he knew the tests were mandatory, he had so many less-than-fond memories of time spent in the infirmary that he never looked forward to going there. Might as well get it over with.

Fraiser didn’t hesitate. Her expression said that she could handle the three of them with one hand secured behind her back, and Daniel had no doubt that she could. "I can get General Hammond to back me up."

"Come on, sir," Sam said to Jack with a huge smile on her face. "You ought to know better than to call Janet’s bluff by now."

"Let’s adjourn to the infirmary," Fraiser urged. "Ray, if you like, I’ll check your ankle."

"It’s too bad you can’t use that healing gizmo on it that Zuul had last time." Ray clamped his mouth tightly shut and darted an uneasy glance at Peter. "Oh, gosh, Peter, I’m sorry. I just forgot...."

Venkman grimaced. "‘S okay, Ray," he said in the tone of voice that proved he had not forgotten Dana Barrett, now a Tok’ra, or her symbiote, Zuul. Although Zuul had Tok’ra leanings and meant only good to Dana, Daniel had always been able to sympathize with Peter over the situation. He knew only too well how it felt when the woman he loved had a snake in her head. Sha’re was dead now, free of the prison within her own body, and Dana was free, too, out there somewhere voluntarily, considering Zuul no threat. But Daniel glanced over at Peter, and the two men shared a moment that no one else in the room could quite understand.

If Peter’s teammates couldn’t entirely understand, they didn’t hold back their support. As the group moved in the direction of the sickbay, Egon fell in at Peter’s side. He didn’t say anything, and Peter seemed glad of that. But he was there, offering his silent support, the way Jack suddenly adjusted his stride to match Daniel’s.

** *** **

Janet’s tests proved that the destabilization process had done no harm to the three. If "Junior" was slightly more active than normal, it was more likely due to the Goa’uld larva’s uncertainty about the transformation it had undergone than any actual damage. Teal’c’s immune system appeared to be functioning normally. Heart, respiration, blood pressure, for all three men were within normal tolerances, and Janet could find nothing wrong. The test hadn’t unbalanced their electrolytes. Ray heaved a sigh of relief. He had been as sure as possible that the test would prove destabilization safe, but it felt good to know the team’s primary doctor agreed with him.

"I can detect nothing in their systems to indicate stress or complications from the experience," she reported to General Hammond, who arrived in the infirmary as the test process was nearing its end.

Ray couldn’t help wondering if Hammond stayed at Cheyenne Mountain all the time. This was surely far after hours, and a lot of the people stationed on the base were now off duty, but there was the general, still neat in his uniform after a long day, keeping an eye on his people. Ray thought Hammond was great. In a way, he was like a big, gruff teddy bear, but Ray could tell how much he cared about the people under him.

"We’re fine, sir," Jack said. "I can’t say I liked the experience, though. Pretty hard to make an impact when you can’t touch anything."

"Oh, I don’t know, Colonel. I would imagine materializing in the midst of a group of people and yelling ‘boo’ would make quite an impact."

"Permission to yell ‘boo’, sir," Jack said promptly. Ray liked Jack, too. He was every bit as irreverent as Peter. It was fun to watch the two of them reacting together. If they didn’t kill each other first, they just might one day find out that they could become friends.

Hammond rolled his eyes. "Permission denied." He must be used to Jack. Come to think of it, Jack had to know how far he could go with Hammond, too. "Permission to yell ‘boo’." Ray loved that.

Janet Fraiser detached the blood pressure cuff from Teal’c’s muscular arm. "I have been studying the biorhythm readings taken with the P.K.E. meters during the test," she added. "I’ll put some time into analyzing comparisons between normal biorhythms and the ones taken while destabilized, simply to be safe. As far as I can tell, the differences don’t indicate health problems, simply genuine readings of the body in normal and altered states. Daniel is slightly more stressed than the others, but I assume that is due to the reminder of his experiences out of phase. There’s not enough of an elevated reading to bar his participation in the mission."

Daniel offered up a rather lame grin. "I’m all right." He did look kind of off color. Ray knew it must be tough to go through this so soon after his similar experience.

"If you find you’re not, I want you to speak up, Doctor Jackson," she ordered, and Daniel nodded.

Satisfied, Janet Fraiser turned to the Ghostbusters. "Doctor Spengler, I’m told you and Peter have experienced this process in an uncontrolled format. You’ll know what a negative impact feels like. You may need to remain in an altered state far longer than Ray did in his controlled version. Should you feel any of the dangerous side-effects from your prior experiences, I expect you to report it to Colonel O’Neill immediately. And at that point, Colonel, I want the team to leave the pyramid to be restabilized as soon as is humanly possible."

"Oh, you can believe if I have any negative side-effects, I’m gonna do something about it," Jack said. "I’m gonna tell the whole world about it—as loudly as possible."

Janet took that as acquiescence. "Very well. General, I give them a go. I’d like it better if I could arrange to be on the planet when it’s time for them to leave the pyramid to attend to them at the time of restabilization."

"I’ll take that under advisement, Doctor. They may be in the pyramid some hours, and I don’t want to tie up your time. They may also need to be restabilized immediately without taking time to wait for you to arrive. However, Major Carter, if there are problems, that would require Doctor Fraiser, either use the M.A.L.P. to send for her or bring the team home as quickly as possible." He frowned. "I realize you and Mister Zeddemore can’t carry five people. So, as the mission progresses, Doctor Fraiser, you will be on standby, prepared to ship out at a moment’s notice, and that will all be subject to change as the situation warrants." He looked around at the two teams. "I can only hope the food of the gods is worth the effort—and the risk—and that we can secure or destroy it as the situation warrants."

Ray opened his mouth to protest. He didn’t know what the stuff was, but the thought of destroying it out of hand didn’t sit well with him. Then he shut it. He didn’t know all the ins and outs of galactic politics or the full nature of the threat the SGC faced on a daily basis. Beside him, Egon made an involuntary movement. He wouldn’t want it destroyed without an opportunity to study it, not while his scientific curiosity was aroused. Sometimes, Egon forgot tact in the heat of the moment, so Ray plunged in before he could say a word.

"Uh, can I ask something?"

Peter looked a question at Ray and Egon arched his eyebrow, but General Hammond said, "Certainly, Son."

"Well, it’s more for Sam than anybody. When we were here last time, Zuul used a healing device on me. Somebody said it was yours, Sam. I just wondered, is there any way that would work on my ankle. Because I’m the one who designed all the stuff, and it might be good to be on site even if I wasn’t destabilized. I probably shouldn’t be destabilized, anyway. I should handle the destabilizer rectifier. But I know it best, and I ought to be there."

Sam blinked at him in surprise. "All that remains of Jolinar is the protein marker and random memories that were integrated into my mind at the time of the blending."

Colonel O’Neill grimaced at the word ‘blending.’ Ray could vaguely remember someone had said that he’d once had a Goa’uld implanted in him but they’d managed to destroy it before it could take over his mind. That was sure to leave a lot of nasty memories.

Nice going, Ray. "I just thought it would be nice," he said in a small voice. "But it did work last time, so I thought...."

"No, I’ll try it," Sam said. "I’d feel more comfortable if you could be on site, Ray. But I can’t guarantee it will work. It doesn’t always. I do practice with it sometimes, but Doctor Fraiser can’t let me experiment on seriously ill patients."

Janet went away to fetch the device while Ray hopped up on the diagnostic table Teal’c had abandoned and removed his shoe. He’d brought along his jumpsuit and boots on the off chance he’d need to get into uniform, but he was wearing a pair of old loafers that had stretched out a little over the years because they fit over the ace bandage he wore. "Should I take the bandage off?"

Sam hesitated. "I don’t think it will make any difference. Leave it on, unless you want to examine his ankle, Janet?"

General Hammond lingered. Ray suspected he would like it if Sam developed the ability to manipulate the device consistently; it would be very useful, although her job wasn’t in the infirmary. But she could carry the healing device into the field and help her teammates if they were injured on a mission.

Fraiser passed the device to Sam, then ran gently probing fingers over the ankle through the dressing. "It’s still rather puffy. I can’t authorize you to go through the gate in this state, Ray. When did you injure it?"

"Four days ago. It’s still pretty tender when I put weight on it." The guys would have chided him for describing it so mildly—it had been a very bad sprain, and his ankle would still barely take his weight. If he hadn’t remembered last time—and if he hadn’t wanted to go along on the mission so badly—he wouldn’t even have asked.

Doctor Fraiser poked at it. Her fingers were gentle. "Yes, it would be." She stepped aside for Sam. "Do what you can on it."

Sam’s face tightened in a paroxysm of concentration. With the device on one hand and the other hand supporting it, she held it over Ray’s ankle. He held his breath.

Nothing happened.

Frustrated, Sam gnawed on her bottom lip. "I’ve done this before," she groaned. "I healed Chronos. Why won’t it work?"

O’Neill said, "Probably because you’re not a Tok’ra, Carter. You don’t always remember stuff from old Jolinar. ‘Sides, this isn’t really a crisis."

"Just as well," she muttered. "I’ve got the ability, but I can’t control it." She wiggled her shoulders, and raised the device. "I’ll try again."

Ray wanted to egg her on with a you-can-do-it pep talk, but if she couldn’t do it, it would be all the worse if he encouraged her, so he buttoned his lip and waited. Over her shoulder he saw Peter watching her, probably trying to guess how she felt, although that would be a tough one, mentally egging her on, yet doubtful, too. Probably remembering how Dana had used the device on him. Most of the time he seemed to forget that Sam had once hosted a Tok’ra, but when he remembered, it had to remind him of Dana and Zuul.

It must be hard on Sam, too. What would it be like to know there were uncontrolled alien abilities inside you? Maybe, in a way, it was like learning the ghostly abilities inherent in destabilization. Egon had realized he could detect ghosts in that state. Gosh, if there were ghosts in the pyramid, the team would be able to detect them. Maybe any lurking spirits would know about the food of the gods.

Warmth flooded Ray’s ankle and the device glowed. He gasped and stared at Sam as the lines of her face smoothed out. He wasn’t sure how long she could sustain it, but the dull ache and tightness in his ankle he’d been conscious of, as if his skin had grown too small, ebbed gently. He chewed on the inside of his cheek and willed her on, mostly because he really wanted to go through the Stargate, but for Sam’s sake, too. What a neat thing it would be to heal people by focusing her mind through the device. It would be like finding a part of herself she hadn’t even guessed she had.

Or maybe it would be reminding her of a terrible time in her life. He looked up into her intent face but he couldn’t tell which through the intensity of her concentration.

Sam gasped and jerked, and the warmth went away. She took an involuntary, unbalanced step backward, and Peter, who had been hovering to keep an eye on Ray, caught her shoulders and steadied her.

"I can’t do it," she spat out. "I could almost feel it working."

"I could feel it working," Ray assured her. He gave his foot a cautious wiggle and beamed when the motion was free of pain. "It feels lots better. You did a great job, Sam."

"Let’s see." Fraiser edged in and undid the ace bandage. Ray propped himself up on his elbows to watch, and Egon circled the table for a better view. Ray saw Winston leaning over Peter’s shoulder, while O’Neill and Daniel converged on Carter and guided her away from Peter to where Teal’c waited. She took off the healing device and flexed her fingers while her team fussed over her.

"Try to move your foot." Janet’s voice caught Ray’s attention and he wiggled it. There was still a very mild flash of discomfort but it was minor, more a remembrance of pain than the real thing. Even the swelling had gone down, although the bruising remained, faded now from dark purple to the washed-out yellowish color of an old bruise.


"Is he cured, Doc? Will he ever do the two-step again?"

Janet glanced at Peter through slightly narrowed eyes. "I’m not going to touch that line. And no, he isn’t completely cured, but there is considerable improvement." She poked and prodded expertly.

"Enough for me to go on the mission?" Ray asked hopefully. Her fingers didn’t even make him wince. That had to be a good sign.

Janet’s mouth pursed. "Certainly not enough to be destabilized and enter the pyramid."

"But I wouldn’t be walking on it if I were destabilized," Ray reminded her. He didn’t want to sit this out if there was a way to avoid it. Being assigned a computer station in the control room might be cool, but not as much fun as visiting another planet. He still felt a quiver of excitement in the pit of his stomach when he remembered the last time.

Doctor Fraiser considered it, and gave his ankle a few more prods for good measure. "No, but you’d be walking to the pyramid, which I’m told is a little distance from the gate. And who knows what might occur inside. I don’t want you risking that, or the chance of having to run for it back to the gate." She frowned and poked a final time. "But this ankle is far stronger now. I might countenance your going to the planet, but I’ll want you to go no further than the gate ramp." She secured an ace bandage around his ankle in no time at all and passed him his sock. "No extra walking."

"Gosh yeah, I’ll do that. But I really ought to be there to handle the destabilization. Not that Winston and Sam couldn’t handle it," he added hastily lest they think he was putting them down. But he’d invented the destabilizer rectifier unit and he knew it better than anybody, even Egon. The team would stand a better chance if he were there.

"I’ll make a decision in the morning, after Doctor Fraiser checks you out," General Hammond decided. "And now, people, since you have a busy day ahead of you, I suggest you get some rest. SG-1, if you will show the Ghostbusters to the quarters that have been set aside for them...."

Finished with the sock, Ray took the shoe that Teal’c considerately offered him and slid his foot into it. When he stood up, his ankle took his weight without even a twinge. He stomped it cautiously, risked a couple of quick steps around the room. "Thanks, Sam. That was great." He beamed at her.

Sam smiled back. "I’m just glad it helped."

O’Neill gave her a comradely slap on the back. "Instant healing. Maybe someday you can carry one of those gizmos along on missions. That ought to help when Daniel is tripping over his own feet or winning the undying animosity of tribal leaders."

"I don’t win their animosity, Jack. I’m the peacemaker, remember. You’re the one who usually pisses them off."

"Is that a kind way to talk to your leader?"

"No," Daniel replied, a wicked twinkle in his eyes. "But it’s honest."

Peter fell into step with Ray. "How’re you doing, twinkletoes?"

"Dancing the two-step, Peter? You were going to tell her I’d never been able to dance it before, weren’t you? That one’s so old it’s got whiskers."

Peter pretended hauteur. "Maybe I had a different punch line this time." He waggled his eyebrows in hopes that someone would believe him.

"Not likely," Egon depressed his pretensions as he fell into step with them. Peter elbowed him in the side. Watching the two teams, Doctor Fraiser spread her hands and said to General Hammond, "I wish you joy of them, sir."

"Thank you, Doctor. I needed to hear that."

** *** **

"M.A.L.P. readings are coming through strongly, sir," said the little blond tech guy up in the control room whose name Winston couldn’t quite remember from last time. Donaldson? Davidson? Davis, that was it. He stood at the foot of the ramp, unable to take his eyes off the rippling wall of "water" that led to a totally different world. Ever since Alan Shepard had been the first American to go into space, Winston had dreamed of space travel. He’d followed everything NASA did from the first Mercury mission—how many guys these days could rattle off the names of the original seven Mercury astronauts? Carpenter, Cooper, Glenn, Grissom.... He pulled himself to order. Never mind that now. He’d been an aficionado through good times and bad, from the thrill of Glenn’s first orbital flight, the tragedy that had claimed the three astronauts on the launch pad and the Challenger disaster, but he rode the highs, too; the incredible moment when Man first set foot on the moon. One giant leap.... And to think that Winston himself had actually ridden a shuttle into space with his team. But he’d never had a hope of setting foot on a different world until the Ghostbusters had become involved with the Stargate project. Even the moon had been too much to hope for until that day a few years back when the "haunted" SGC had sent for the Ghostbusters to deal with five ghosts who had followed SG-1 home.

No chance to step through the gate on that first mission, or even on the second one, although Peter had gone to another planet and broken the spell of the demon that had cursed his friends to hate him. Last time around, Ray and Egon had gone, and although Winston had volunteered, General Hammond had denied him the opportunity because he wasn’t required on that particular mission. This time, he was. Even if it was to provide backup for Sam Carter and for Ray, who had been granted permission to go as long as he stayed off his ankle whenever possible, Winston didn’t care. He’d be out there, setting foot on a distant planet. Maybe he’d never be able to tell his dad or his mama about it, but he’d always know. And to think I answered the Ghostbusters’ ad just because I was desperate for a job that wasn’t with my dad’s construction company. Not only had he been granted the three greatest friends he could possibly imagine, now being a Ghostbuster had opened the door to the galaxy for him.

Beside him, Ray practically glowed with excitement. It wasn’t quite the same excitement as Winston, the astronaut wannabe, felt. With Ray it was the challenge, the thrill of a new adventure, the exhilaration of taking on something huge and dangerous. The guy got a charge out of battling powerful demons, the more dangerous the better. He couldn’t help loving a chance to step into the Stargate and come out halfway across the galaxy.

Egon was excited, too, but Egon’s excitement usually just coiled him tighter and sometimes brought such a stoic, controlled expression to his face that a stranger wouldn’t have noticed he was simmering like a pressure cooker. Peter knew. Even though for Peter this was just another bust and the thrill was the fact that it was Peter Venkman who was doing it rather than what he was doing, he understood the excitement that idled beneath Egon’s near-Vulcan facade. He gave Egon a big grin, draped his arm around the taller man’s shoulder, and said, "One small step, huh, Spengs?"

For SG-1, this was old hat, but Daniel caught Winston’s eye and exchanged an understanding look. "I remember the first time I went through the gate," he said. "I couldn’t believe I was actually going to step through. I poked my hand in, then I stuck my face in to see what was on the other side. Next thing I know, I was on an incredible roller coaster ride."

"First time’s a shock," Carter threw in. "Peter can tell you all about that."

"I didn’t do so bad," Peter said instantly, but he avoided his team’s eyes. "They wouldn’t let me name it the Planet Venkman, either. Talk about killjoys."

"I could live my whole life in utter contentment if I never walked upon the Planet Venkman," Egon told him.

"So could I," concurred Jack.

"SG-1 and Ghostbusters." General Hammond’s voice came over the P.A. from the control booth. "M.A.L.P. images reveal no dangers, and the M.A.L.P. hasn’t been tampered with or moved since your return yesterday. You have a go. Report back once the destabilization process has been finalized and the exploration team has entered the pyramid, and at hourly intervals thereafter."

Jack O’Neill sketched an irreverent salute in the direction of Hammond. "Yes, sir." O’Neill might not seem very military most of the time, but Winston had picked up right away that he did respect Hammond. The general let him get away with his laid-back attitude because he was very good at what he did, and because he probably worked better in a more casual setting. Commanding a four-man team might not be the usual assignment of an Air Force colonel, but maybe when that team had the responsibility of first contact with alien species, they needed someone who had been around and had the authority that went with high rank. Jack looked around and corralled his team with his gaze. An expansive gesture with the hand that didn’t hold his MP-5 included the Ghostbusters. "Come on, campers. I’ve got a date with transparency."

"I can see right through that," Peter chipped in. O’Neill made a face at him and urged them toward the gate.

Winston’s stomach knotted, not with anxiety but with anticipation. He knew his smile was a mile wide as he marched up the ramp, the weight of his proton pack on his back. Carter handled the remote for the F.R.E.D. device that carried their supplies. Peter had irreverently dubbed it "Freddy" and made a few references to Freddy Kruger. Did he practice his wisecracks in the mirror when no one was looking? Winston had never caught him at it.

Winston totally forgot about Peter, and about anything else but the looming event horizon. He could almost feel the thrum of controlled power it presented. One more step and he’d set out on a giant ride that would spin him out further than any astronaut had ever gone. Ahead of him, Teal’c, Carter, and the F.R.E.D. vanished, swallowed up in the shimmering wall. Ray and Egon exchanged big grins and followed with Daniel.

"Go for it, Zed," said Peter softly at his side. "You’re gonna love this carnival ride." He produced an affectionate, understanding smile and clapped Winston on the back.

O’Neill, who looked like he wanted to plant his hand in the middle of Winston’s back and push, held back at a glance from Peter and made an encouraging gesture at the gate.

Winston grinned at Pete, nodded at O’Neill, and stepped into the Stargate.

Roller coaster ride, indeed. The swooping, soaring trail of light and darkness caught him up and carried him along. He was conscious of sudden, bitter cold, but not quite aware of his body as if he weren’t sure he were solid any longer. Was it like the transporter on Star Trek, disassembling his molecules and reassembling them at the other end? Only that was instantaneous and this wasn’t. The sensation of movement was very strong, helped along by the rush of patterned light that passed him in a near blur. He wanted to gulp hard, wanted to yell from sheer exultation. Before he could do more than formulate his joy, the incredible ride ended, spilling him out on a sloping ramp of packed earth, the ground spongy beneath his feet.

He nearly pitched flat on his face, but a hasty scramble saved him and he took a couple of wild steps, arms windmilling wildly before he came to a stop, inches from colliding with Egon, who had reached out to halt his galloping rush. He was shivering a little, but he felt too good to worry about that. It had been great.

Behind him, O’Neill said to Peter, "At least he didn’t fall down."

"Yeah, and I bet your first trip didn’t give you a three-point landing, either, Colonel."

"He was already there when I arrived," offered Daniel. "I didn’t see how he landed—and he never would tell me. I think that’s probably suspicious, don’t you?" In spite of the teasing, Daniel looked tense and uncomfortable. Ordinarily, he’d probably be first in line to try new experiences, like Ray, but that out-of-phase thing sounded nasty, and this was too close to it. It had to be tough on the guy.

"And I landed perfectly," Jack said so smoothly that Winston couldn’t tell if he were lying or not.

Winston left them to it and lifted his eyes to study the world around him. O’Neill passed him, weapon at ready, and he and Teal’c secured the site. It reminded Winston of his tour of duty in Nam. He was definitely out of practice for that, and even though he wore a sidearm, he hadn’t been given an MP-5 because he wore his proton pack, and knew that it could stop anything an MP-5 could. Ray didn’t wear a handgun but that was because he’d admitted he really wasn’t that familiar with them and there’d been no time to train him. O’Neill had one of those nifty zat guns from last time, and Teal’c had his staff weapon, but Ray was happy enough just to be here. His thrower would serve if they should come under attack.

Winston let his hand drop to the 9-mm, but didn’t draw it. If anything came at them, he’d rather grab his thrower. Let the official military handle checking out the site. This was his first alien planet, probably his one-and-only alien planet, and he wanted to make the most of it.

Even in his uncontrolled gallop down the ramp, Winston had known he wasn’t on Earth. It wasn’t the savage heat of the desert landscape that did it. It got pretty hot in Death Valley or in the middle of the Sahara back on Earth, and the arid blast furnace, while not particularly fun even for a guy in desert BDUs with a lightweight proton pack on his back, wasn’t beyond his experience. But the air carried an unfamiliar tang, a combination of strange and different aromas he couldn’t even begin to classify, like nothing he’d ever smelled before. Earth’s sky could be a limitless blue like this, but it never shaded toward lavender the way this one did overhead. Only at the horizons did the blue seem anything like certain shades of pure azure you got back home.

The Stargate sat in the middle of an oasis, and the ancient people of this planet had taken advantage of the water hole—he could see a cluster of palm trees that were a yellower green than those back home with far darker trunks, and between them, the gleam of water, off to his right. All around them, near the only water in the area, stood the ruins of an ancient civilization. Looked a lot like what he’d expect to see if he went to Luxor or Karnak back home. If he craned his neck, he could even spot the tip of the step pyramid SG-1 had talked about, rising above the roofs of other crumbling structures to the right.

"Fascinating," Egon breathed, his eyes wide and visible as his glasses slid down toward the tip of his nose, a sure sign of his utter absorption. Once he’d become so excited they had actually fallen off and it had taken a frantic grab to keep them from smashing on the floor of the lab. "It isn’t pure Egyptian, yet it’s close enough that it cannot be coincidence. More of the Goa’uld transferring peoples from Earth?"

"That’s right," agreed Daniel. "The writing I’ve found here is early Dynastic. I found later symbols when I was on Abydos. We originally thought all the people Ra had taken from Earth had been taken to Abydos, but they were spread much further afield than that. And from other cultures, too. Ra couldn’t have been the only system lord to raid Earth. Or maybe the others raided various Earth settlements out here and moved them to other worlds."

"Is there evidence of other cultures on this world?" Egon asked. He hadn’t taken his eyes from the collapsing structures as he listened to Daniel.

"Closet archaeologist," Peter muttered to Jack as the colonel returned from his survey of the nearby structures. There was no surprise in Peter’s words. Egon knew a great deal about any number of unlikely subjects far from his field, and he had a master’s degree in linguistics to go with his physics and parapsychology doctorates, with a specialty in ancient languages. He was one of the world’s leading experts in ancient Sumerian—maybe he’d be the leading expert if he had more time to devote to it. He had once said he’d like to get his doctorate in ancient languages, too, but busting took too much of his time for him to go for the intensive work required to obtain another doctorate, although at this point he was ABD, or all but dissertation. Winston, who had attained a master’s in parapsychology while on the job, knew how tough acquiring a degree while working full time at a very demanding job could be, and writing and defending a dissertation had to be far worse than a thesis.

O’Neill glanced over at Egon with the kind of wary glance he sometimes gave Daniel when he was sounding off about things Jack didn’t know about and didn’t really want to learn. Winston might not know either man well, but he’d picked up on that kind of thing more than once. "Yeah? Does he have a collection of rocks that he fondly calls artifacts?"

Daniel muttered, "They are artifacts," very positively under his breath, which won a hastily concealed grin from the colonel.

"Not old Spengs," Peter said. "He collects spores, molds and fungi. Oh, yeah, and he has a brain in a jar on the mantle."

O’Neill did a double take, then he gave Daniel a very measuring glance as if to acknowledge that perhaps artifacts weren’t so bad after all. "A human brain?" he muttered. "To make up for your lack of one, Venkman?"

Peter opened his mouth to defend his intellect, or decry Jack’s, but before he could say a word, Ray plunged in.

"Wow, this is great!" Face alight and nearly bouncing with eagerness, Ray revolved slowly, studying the landscape. "You guys do this all the time? It’s probably old hat to you, but it sure isn’t to us. I love it."

Carter returned his smile. "I assure you, Ray, it isn’t old hat to me. It couldn’t be to any scientist. When I think how much I’ve learned every time I stepped through the gate, I know I wouldn’t want to be anywhere but here."

"This mission’s not about research, Carter," Jack said, reining her in. "It’s about that mother of all pyramids and whatever’s inside. You think we could drop the meeting of the minds and amble over?" He caught himself and looked at Ray’s ankle.

Ray’s bottom lip jutted out. "I’m coming to the pyramid," he insisted. "We need to do the destabilization right there on the spot; we’ll have a better idea when we see it how much stone you guys might have to pass through. No point in wasting the energy you’ll have by drifting or flying over to the pyramid." Ray wore his proton pack, but he didn’t carry anything else. He hadn’t bothered to unship his thrower. Peter had, but Peter had a suspicious nature, and he’d pulled it the moment he’d spotted O’Neill and Teal’c securing the perimeter.

Wind ruffled Ray’s hair and tugged at the fringe on Daniel’s forehead. Daniel cast a keen and measuring eye at the distant horizon but his face didn’t change. Egyptologists had to know about desert climates. Maybe he was just checking it out to make sure conditions weren’t about to change.

"How’s the ankle?" Peter asked Ray. "Remember, if we have to run for it, it could slow you down."

"It feels even better this morning than it did last night," Ray said. "I can feel it a little, but it’s not bad, and Janet strapped it up for me before we left. It’s only a couple of blocks to the pyramid. I can hack it."

The whole party studied him as he took a couple of steps to demonstrate. No trace of a limp. O’Neill nodded. "You’re with us. Better to set up at the site. But if Carter sends you back to the gate once we’re in there, I expect you to listen to her. She’ll be in charge once we’re inside."

"Okay, Jack." He craned his neck for a better glimpse of the pyramid, and when O’Neill had turned away, a huge grin split his face.

Peter fell into step beside him. "You better not be faking feeling better than you really do, Tex, or I’ll sic Slimer on your Captain Steel collection when you get home."

"Oh yeah? If Slimer touches one of my comic books, I’ll get my revenge. And I know some great ways." He beamed delightedly.

Peter smiled, undaunted, then he reached out and rumpled Ray’s hair. "I know you do." He caught Egon’s eye, and winked at him. Egon inclined his head, and the two of them fell in one on either side of Ray.

Winston would have felt a lot better about the mission if he hadn’t seen traces of shadows in Egon’s eyes and in Peter’s. They weren’t looking forward to being turned transparent, either one of them. Winston just hoped that when it happened, both would realize there was a vast difference between their uncontrolled and painful experiences and the process Ray had modified so carefully. Otherwise, the mission wouldn’t prove fun for any of the destabilization team.

** *** **

Jack O’Neill didn’t look forward to the upcoming destabilization one little bit. He’d had to do a lot of dark and dirty things for God and country, and a lot of out-and-out bizarre ones out here this side of the Stargate, but this one ranked up there with those that hadn’t been remotely enjoyable. Not that it hadn’t been kind of interesting to be invisible, and he could see all sorts of practical joke applications, but the thought of walking through the wall of that honking big pyramid right through solid stone when he couldn’t see ahead of time what he’d be facing—and doing it unarmed—freaked him.

Daniel looked annoyingly gung-ho as if he’d been taking Stantz lessons. The eagerness mingled with a wary stiffness in his posture that probably tied in with memories of his out-of-phase fun and games. The pyramid won out over the bad memories. He was an Egyptologist; he already had a pyramid fetish. He’d be dying to know what was in there, even if it was a sarcophagus. Surely that couldn’t be the food of the gods? Kept ‘em young, kept ‘em going, even if it gave them delusions of grandeur and drove ‘em a little nutso. Nah, if it were, Apophis’ Jaffa wouldn’t have been forbidden to discuss it. Had to be more than that. Daniel needed to be in there, anyway, because he’d be the one to translate any more instructions or clues about this food of the gods stuff.

Food of the gods. What was it, anyway? O’Neill didn’t like the sound of it. Even though thousands of years might have passed since anyone went in there, you couldn’t trust Goa’uld stuff to rot away or pass its expiration date like normal food—assuming the food thing wasn’t just a fancy way of describing whatever the heck the stuff was. Something in the air? Come to think of it, was there air in there? Hadn’t Daniel more than once talked about bad air in sealed-up tombs? It wasn’t as if they could carry oxygen in there, not if the Ghostbusters’ proton packs and equipment hadn’t been destabilized along with them. Ray said he’d had a pencil and notebook in his pocket and he’d been able to use that. As a result, Daniel had crammed one of his ever-present journals down the front of his shirt. Assuming there’d be time to write at all....

Ray and Carter had conversed about the possibility of taking MREs in there. They hadn’t experimented on destabilizing the field ration packs, but each member who would be destabilized carried a couple of the lightweight packs with them. Assuming they destabilized, they ought to be edible. Jack wasn’t as sure about carrying water over, even though Carter had opted for plastic canteens rather than metal on the off chance that would work. They could heat the rations if they had water for the flameless ration heaters, but if the water didn’t make it through and the food did, they’d just have to go with the cold packs.

Better if they didn’t stick around long enough to get hungry or thirsty, and there was enough water on the F.R.E.D. that they could guzzle some before they were hit with destabilization and hope it held them, although in a hot, dry climate like this one, it would be a helluva lot better if the water transported.

And maybe the climate inside the pyramid would be different from the desert heat outside.

The Ghostbusters were dressed in desert fatigues like SG-1 but they carried their proton packs on their backs. Winston and Ray would keep theirs, of course, while they waited outside with Carter, but Venkman and Egon would surrender theirs to the F.R.E.D. before they got zapped, and Winston had volunteered to handle Teal’c’s staff weapon. On the off chance that it might be cold inside the pyramid, they would carry jackets with them that they could set aside if not needed.

The pyramid hadn’t changed from yesterday. O’Neill noticed the wind had stirred their footsteps and drifted a thin coating of sand over most of them. Good to see that there were no extraneous footprints to indicate anyone else had been here since yesterday. P4V-689 wasn’t quite on the same time schedule as Earth; it was midday here, the sun as hot as a blasting torch. Even the sunglasses the team wore didn’t exactly cut it. Egon and Daniel wore prescription sunglasses they would switch for their normal glasses before destabilization.

"There’s the plaque," Daniel told Egon as they neared the pyramid.

Spengler took off for it with a long-legged stride. He was the tallest guy here, even taller than Teal’c, and he could put forth a good burst of speed. He stopped dead in front of the ancient hieroglyphics. Daniel always called them hieroglyphs, and Jack used the longer version because he got a kick out of bugging his buddy. Spengler was an expert in ancient languages, too. Daniel had been comparing Sumerian translations with him for a long time, even before the Ghostbusters had been recruited for their first mission at the SGC. Looked like the blond guy could read ancient Egyptian, too, though, as Daniel had said, not as well as he could.

Egon traced the symbols with a long finger, leaning closer as he read, his lips moving as he sounded it out. Did he know that Daniel had needed to learn how to pronounce ancient Egyptian when he was on Abydos. Something about the vowels being missing. Lazy writing, if you asked Jack.

"Hmmm." Egon’s comment wasn’t exactly helpful. He glanced up at Daniel. "‘Only he who can disdain the physical may pass within.’"

"I translated it as ‘abandon form’," Daniel threw in.

"Yes, that would work. I can see why Sam thought of us. Still, this could be intended metaphorically. To disdain the physical may mean to seek enlightenment and abandon worldly pleasures."

"Or it could even mean death," chipped in Ray. Only he could sound so gung-ho about such a disgusting theory. "You know, ritual death like shamans undertake in their seeking of enlightenment."

"I didn’t sign up for death here," Jack protested. "You think after all this, it only means you have to live the good clean life to get in? Or else croak? Give me a break."

Venkman’s eyes had widened at Ray’s theory. "If it means abandoning worldly pleasures, I’m not going," he kidded with an exaggerated leer.

Daniel ran his fingers over the worn lettering. "I think it has to mean it literally," he decided. "We have an actual structure in front of us and we’re told the food of the gods is within. Maybe it means that to utilize the power offered one must step up to a higher plane, I don’t know. Because I’m not sure if the Goa’uld know of a way to walk through walls."

"It could even mean that one has to ring in," Carter offered. That was Carter. If there were a technological solution, she’d be the one to figure it out. "But we saw no trace of transport rings in our search of the city."

"Yes, yes," Daniel glanced around as if to look for a neon sign that read "this way to the rings". "That would work, but we don’t have rings. We do have destabilization. If we find rings inside, we’ll know that’s what it meant. Maybe it means a Goa’uld could ring down from a ship. We don’t have that option. But this plaque gives no instruction on how to locate rings."

"Perhaps the true seeker would possess the patience to search for such," offered Teal’c.

"Well, I don’t have the patience to set up a major dig here and look for rings that might not even still exist, if they ever did," Jack announced. "This place is on the Abydos cartouche, isn’t it? Means the Goa’uld know about it. They might come here every so often for a little dose of the food of the gods. Better to do a quick and dirty surveillance and see what we’ve got. If there are rings in there, we can ring out and we’ll know where they are."

"Assuming the transport rings would work on us when we’re destabilized," said Egon. A doomsayer kind of guy, Spengler. Never mind Carter would probably have said the same thing if Egon hadn’t been here. The blond squinted at the plaque a few seconds longer as if he half expected it to contain secret messages or cryptograms, then he straightened up. "I think we should proceed. Raymond, if you would set up the equipment...."

Winston and Teal’c passed out water to the destabilization team while Ray shucked off his lightweight proton pack and put on the atomic destabilizer. Now here was the thing; the very name "atomic destabilizer" had a nasty ring to it. Too bad Stantz couldn’t think up a nice name for his gizmo. Transparency Beam, or Instant Weight Loss Device. Both of those sounded better. At least Jack wouldn’t have to consider the "joy" of having his entire body disrupted at the molecular level. Never mind the Stargate probably did that already or that the rings did. That happened too fast for him to dwell on it. This way could last for hours.

He took a long draw of water from the canteen Winston offered him, and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. They wouldn’t use their own canteens now, on the chance that they’d come along for the ride. "Carter, what’s the odds of the walkie-talkies working?"

"Not good, sir. I’m not even sure they’ll transport with you. It seems like the more technological a device the less likely it is to destabilize, and even if it did, the odds are that it wouldn’t work."

"So we can’t call for help, or warn you if something crummy goes down? Sweet."

"Oh, I don’t know, Jack," Peter threw in. "My only regret is that I can’t take a camera and get a few good shots of you hanging upside down in midair."

"What makes you think you wouldn’t be upside down, Venkman?"

"Hours and hours of practice." Peter buffed his fingernails on the front of his shirt. "Ray will tell you how great at it I was, pulling invisibility numbers, aerial reconnaissance, bamboozling hordes of goblins, all sorts of nifty maneuvers. Right, Ray?"

Head bent over the settings on the weird-looking destabilizer thrower, Ray said vaguely, "Yeah, Peter, you did great."

"Much as it pains me to admit it and pander to his colossal ego, there is truth in his rather grandiose claim," Egon said at once. Peter made a face at him and reverted to smugness.

"Your experience will be most valuable, PeterVenkman." Teal’c had a way of taking a guy’s words at face value. Funny thing, the Jaffa’s statement also had the effect of wiping the ego from Venkman’s expression.

"Thanks, Teal’c." Was that actually modesty in the guy’s voice? Couldn’t be.

"I shouldn’t encourage him," Egon murmured under his breath.

"No, and you never do," Peter griped, but it didn’t take a Ph.D. to tell he didn’t really mean it. He took the jacket Carter passed him and gave her his proton pack in its place. When he had draped the jacket over his shoulders to carry through the wall with him, he moved over beside Egon. "It’s gonna be okay, Spengs."

"Yes, Peter. I realize the negative factors I experienced have been phased out of the process."

"We should have had Ray test us last night, just so you’d know that in here." Peter poked him in the chest.

"I trust Raymond completely, Peter. And yourself."

"Funny thing if you didn’t." He grabbed Egon’s pack away from him and thrust it at Winston, who stowed it to one side.

"Carter." O’Neill turned to his second in command. "You’re in charge here once we’re inside. You’ve got a good understanding of the device, so if you need to move Stantz back to the gate because of his ankle, you can restabilize us if you hafta. Don’t forget, Zeddemore’s got combat experience. He can watch your six."

Winston snapped a salute recalled from his G.I. days. "Yes, sir," he said, very military. "Not to mention reining in these two if they get too technical. Knowing Ray, he’ll do it in a New York minute." He accepted the staff weapon from Teal’c.

Ray grimaced cheerfully at Winston, then he sobered. "I’m ready, guys. Is everybody set?"

The five who were to enter the pyramid lined up in a row. Conscious of Teal’c’s stolid, reliable presence at his left and Daniel’s tense-but-eager face at his right, O’Neill glanced at Egon and Venkman in time to see Peter’s hand reach out and clasp Egon’s shoulder. Egon switched his sun glasses for his normal ones and returned the gesture. Would that mean they’d materialize together in the pocket universe? Jack copied the gesture, one hand on Daniel’s shoulder, the other on Teal’c’s. After an instant, both his teammates reached out to him in return. Daniel already had his normal glasses on, eyes narrowed against the brightness of the sun.

"Ready?" Ray asked. "Okay, I need you all to focus, to fix your concentration. I think the plaque with the hieroglyphs is the best thing to focus on. It’s right here, and you’ll be able to step past it directly into the pyramid as soon as you return to this spot."

Carter nodded. "The rough charts we got yesterday afternoon when we scanned the place indicate the open interior is closest to this wall. You’ll have less stone to traverse if you enter right here." She thrust out a hand to display the target wall. "Remember, you’ll be moving slightly downward through the stone. Egon has the directions fixed in his mind, so he will lead the way."

Jack didn’t like that, but they’d found out Spengler had a photographic memory. He’d spent time with the charts last night. Once inside, he and Daniel would attempt to locate and translate ancient writing, and Teal’c would try to identify the actual food of the gods, if it wasn’t readily apparent. Jack had an ugly feeling it wouldn’t be as easy to find as the plaque suggested.

"Got it," Jack agreed. "We’ll also look for transport rings."

"And any useful artifacts," Daniel threw in.

"It’s not like you can pull them out with you, Daniel," Jack reminded him.

"No, but I can jot down information about them and mark their position, and if they’re valuable enough we can send an archaeological team back here. We may even find a way to the outside that isn’t visible except from in there." Given the slightest encouragement, he’d have bounced. Why did Jack know he’d have to keep reining him in once they reached the interior? Wasn’t he nervous at all about the destabilization? He probably was, but the thought of archaeology overrode his nerves. Was it only Jack who worried? Well, and Spengler, who apparently had some kind of complex about his imprisonment in the Netherworld. Jack could relate to that.

He checked out Spengler to be sure. Peter’s hand tightened on his friend’s shoulder. Egon turned to him and smiled. "I’ll be all right, Peter."

"I know you will, big guy."

Jack turned back to Daniel. Under the excitement that had flushed his face, he brimmed with tension. As Jack watched, his mouth twisted in uneasy anticipation and his shoulders hunched.

Teal’c didn’t show it if he felt any tension, unless you counted the active muscles in his jaw. Not that Jack was worried about Teal’c. He was always there for his team. No matter what they faced inside the pyramid, Jack had no doubts of Teal’c.

Then there was Venkman, so smug about the aerial rescue he’d pulled off when he was destabilized before. Overconfidence was not a virtue. Jack resolved to keep a cautious eye on Venkman.

"And keep track of any possible technological equipment," Carter offered. "Remember, we’ve seen evidence of the technology of the Ancients before. The device that implanted the knowledge of the ancients in your mind...." She froze. "Could that count as the food of the gods?"

"Indeed," Egon responded thoughtfully. "Such knowledge could benefit any being, but especially one who intends to set himself up for galactic domination."

"One more fun thing to look for," Jack said. "I remember what that thing looked like. We find one of those, we avoid it like the plague. I want your word on that, Daniel."

"Okay, Jack. Though I do speak some of those languages. It might—"


He caught the glitter in Jack’s eye and bobbed his head in acquiescence.

Jack jumped in hastily before anybody else could delay them and drag out his uneasy anticipation. "Okay, Stantz, let’s get this show on the road."

Egon’s face lit. "You may fire when ready, Ray."

"Smartass," Peter teased him just before Ray pushed the trigger and the energy waves shot out to envelop them.

Jack hadn’t liked the process last night, and it hadn’t grown on him in the interim. The shock of transition hit him like a bullet train and zapped him down into overwhelming darkness. This time, it didn’t take as long to find himself drifting in a void. In spite of the grip he’d had on his kids, neither of them had wound up in here with him. Must be a private show, one man to a dimension.

But he had a mission, so he collected himself, made sure he was right side up—last thing he wanted to do was validate Venkman’s smartass remarks—and concentrate on those crazy symbols Daniel got such a kick out of.

A second later he was standing in front of the pyramid. Venkman was already there, and as he watched, Teal’c popped out, followed instantly by Daniel and Egon. No time for him to even worry about them, just enough to be irritated that Venkman had beaten him to the punch.

Peter looked around and relaxed when he spotted Egon. "Hail, hail, the gang’s all here," he caroled in what he must fondly imagine was a tuneful tenor. Jack hated to break it to him, but he was wrong.

"Spare our ears, Venkman."

"Philistine," Peter retorted, undaunted. He must’ve picked that up from Daniel. What did it take to get to the guy? "You okay, Egon? Better than last time, isn’t it?"

"Considerably." Egon wasn’t relaxed; his muscles were still tense, but not as tense as they had been before Ray blasted them. He glanced over at the other three. "I am intact, Ray."

"See? I told you it would be okay. No pain this time?"

Egon considered it. "None."

"Told you." Ray offered one of those humongous smiles of his. "Gosh, in this sunshine, you guys are even fuzzier than you were back at the base."

"We look fine to each other," Peter said. He whipped off his sunglasses and tucked them into his breast pocket. They didn’t vanish in the process, and Daniel and Egon still wore their regular glasses.

Jack left his shades on for the moment. A quick check revealed he still had the two MREs in his pocket, but the walkie-talkie was lying over there on the ground. Bummer. The jacket that felt like an electric blanket in the heat was still slung over his shoulders, and he had his canteen, too. That was something. He wasn’t sure how food and drink would work in this state—although presumably it was destabilized, too, and should taste completely normal to him. He had a vague memory of the Ghostbusters’ pet spook Slimer in the first movie made about their adventures and how everything he ate and drank fell right through him. If that happened to them in the pyramid, it was gonna be pretty messy.

It would also be pretty dark. The flashlight he’d carried attached to his belt was gone, lying on the ground beside his walkie-talkie.

"How’re we supposed to search the place in the dark?" he asked.

Egon produced a glowstick from inside his jacket, the kind you bent to activate. "This will give off a faint glow. Remember, we all have them."

"Just like Halloween," Jack griped. Those things might glow in the dark, but they wouldn’t offer the best illumination going.

"Maybe it’s got its own lights," Peter offered, "and we’ll trigger them just by being there."

"Sure, five thousand years old?"

"I have matches, O’Neill." Teal’c displayed a box of ordinary kitchen matches. "Sergeant Siler gave them to me when I asked. He explained that if a high-tech solution was impossible, a low-tech one might suffice." He returned them to his pocket.

"You know, Teal’c, that smug Jaffa look doesn’t become you."

"I am prepared, O’Neill." But Teal’c’s eyes danced.

Jack always carried a lighter, and it was still in his pocket. He whipped it out and flicked it on. Every time he used it, he remembered Skaara back on the first Abydos mission. Skaara had gotten such a kick out of it, as if it were a fucking miracle. Somehow, after that, the thrill had gone out of smoking, and Jack had given it up. There were times when he dearly missed lighting up. This was one of them. He tucked the lighter away. No guns, no light but basic flame. If they met a lurking Unas in there, they’d have to take him on with their bare hands or with knives. Not fun.

Ray finished his meter check and passed the device to Carter, who verified his readings. When she nodded, Ray spoke up. "Okay, guys, you’re all stable, and your vital signs are normal, according to the biorhythm meter. You’re good to go."

"Right through the wall?" Jack edged up to it. The walls in the SGC weren’t that thick. This one could be how many meters? He didn’t even want to think about it.

"That is why we are here, O’Neill." Teal’c turned to Egon. "Which way, EgonSpengler?"

"Here." The physicist pointed to a spot on the reddish grey stone that didn’t look any different from the rest of the stone to Jack’s untrained eye. "We go in here at a slight angle." He stepped back a few paces and walked up to the wall to demonstrate. "I believe you will be able to see me, if we stay close together."

"We could always hold hands," Peter said with a wicked grin. "We can touch each other when we’re transparent, after all." He stuck out his hand to Jack. "What do you say, Colonel? Want to get cozy?"

"With you, Venkman? Forget it."

"PeterVenkman has an excellent idea," Teal’c concurred with the guy. He wouldn’t like the idea of holding hands any better than Jack did, but it made a crazy kind of sense. If they couldn’t see through the wall from here in their transparent state, there was no guarantee they could see through it once they stepped into it.

"Egon will lead the way," Peter said and offered his hand to Spengler, who took it. Peter stretched out his hand, not to O’Neill, who was already gritting his teeth, but to Daniel, who accepted it without hesitation then reached out his other one to Jack. Better than cozying up to Venkman. Jack grimaced and took it, extending his other one to Teal’c.

"Conga line," Peter called out irreverently. Jack could hear the whistling-in-the-dark note in his voice that the frivolous words didn’t entirely cover. "Lead on, McDuff."

"As I have told you a hundred times, Peter, the actual quote is ‘lay on, McDuff.’"

"I’d rather not lay on McDuff, Spengs. I never even met the guy."

Daniel swallowed a nervous chuckle, and Teal’c arched one eyebrow. O’Neill wasn’t even gonna touch that one. He simply said, "Let’s get this over with. Go, Spengler."

"Good luck, guys," Winston called, and Carter added, "Be careful." Ray waved.

Egon took a couple of deep breaths and stepped into the wall.

It was weird to watch him vanish into it. Think of it as like stepping into the Stargate, Jack. It was like that in a way, seeing the leading part of each man vanish into the wall, followed by the rest of him. Only trouble was, it was more disconcerting than the gate. Jack felt the tug of Daniel’s hand as he stepped up to the wall, and through it. He gulped in air and followed, conscious only of Daniel’s fingers tightening around his, and Teal’c’s steady grip behind him as he waded through a strange, solid darkness.

It was a good thing he’d caught his breath, because he didn’t think he could breathe in here. It was as if he were a strange, liquid substance, oozing through solid matter that felt as solid as walking through marshmallows. Well, if marshmallows could retain their texture without a trace of give.

It wasn’t fun and it went on and on. He couldn’t see Spengler in the lead, or Venkman, or even Daniel. There was nothing but a weird black nothingness that drove him to squeeze his eyes tightly shut. You had to admire Spengler for his resolution in leading the team through the wall with only the confidence in his memory of the admittedly vague charts to go by. Odds were Spengler wouldn’t close his eyes.

"This is weird." Venkman’s voice was curiously muffled. "Hey, Egon, do you think we can develop X-ray vision?"

"That was an attribute of Superman, Peter, rather than a normal ghostly ability." Egon’s voice was even fainter than Peter’s.

"Can Slimer see through walls?" Daniel called.

"Not that I have observed in my studies," Egon called back. He was silent a moment then added, "We should not speak. It is...difficult...to breathe."

Yeah, he’d called that one on the money. Jack realized he was getting air but not as much as he wanted. There was a strange resistance to walking through stone that made him push against it the way he would if wading through deep water. Made it hard for his lungs to expand enough to fill with air. What if the destabilization faded? Would they be entombed in the wall of this weird pyramid forever?

Daniel’s fingers tightened around Jack’s in an encouraging squeeze. Was he uneasy, too, or did the scientific thrill make up for the anxiety of walking in utter darkness toward an opening that may strand them in midair hundreds of feet over an unseen drop? I hate this.

Egon gave an astonished cry, and a second later, Peter bellowed, "Whoa, Nellie." Their voices were clearer, sharper, than before. Daniel breathed, "It’s incredible," and an uneasy note mingled with the awe that touched his voice.

Jack opened his eyes just as he popped out of the wall. For the first second, he concentrated on taking a few deep breaths, then he squinted against the brightness before him. Not that it was terribly bright, nothing like the fierce glare of the alien sun outside, but after total sensory-deprivation darkness, even the dim light made him blink.

Teal’c emerged behind him and his fingers momentarily tightened as he realized what Jack had just realized, that the five of them hovered in mid-air, hundreds of feet above a vast drop that stretched down and down.

"Levitate, guys," Peter urged even though they were already hovering. "You can do it."

Jack felt like the coyote in the Roadrunner cartoons who pursued the smug Roadrunner out over the edge of a cliff, realized he was stranded in midair, backpedaled for a desperate moment, and plunged down and down to splat against the desert floor so far below. No wonder Daniel had sounded a little freaked. Any sane person would. Yet they weren’t falling. Mind over matter? A property of the pyramid itself? Ghostly power? Whatever it was, Jack gave it full points.

"Do we go down there?" Daniel asked.

"Any clues up here?" Jack looked around. No trace of any writing on the walls near them.

"I have observed none, O’Neill."

Daniel produced a piece of chalk from his pocket and drew a huge X on the wall where they had emerged. "So we’ll know where to exit," he explained. "I thought we might have to mark our way, so I brought chalk."

"That was well thought of," Egon lauded him. "Much better than relying on memory over the unusual rock formations. I wish I had thought of it."

"That’s our Daniel," lauded Jack.

Daniel flashed him a faint grin. "We had a chalklike substance on Abydos, and I used it a lot. Once I taught people how to read, we could use it to write on the walls, because they didn’t exactly have a lot of paper. We made some but...." His voice trailed off. "Sorry, Jack, not relevant."

O’Neill didn’t call him on it. He could sense how much Daniel needed a distraction from the vast drop.

Egon gestured with his free hand. "The light is brighter below, Colonel. I believe we may all let go now. However, concentrate on not falling. We shall drift down cautiously."

"I know how," Peter said and released his grip on Egon and Daniel. With a huge, cocky grin, he struck a superman pose, one arm outthrust, and soared out into the middle of the drop. "Pretty good for a guy who hates heights, right, guys?" he called, and there was only the faintest hint of discomfort in his voice, so faint a stranger would probably miss it. The guy would sound even more arrogant if there were press cameras filming his feat.

"Showoff," Jack muttered. Son of a bitch, if Venkman could do it, so could he. He stiffened his shoulders then propelled himself out over the drop. Never let it be said any of his kids—even a temporary one like Venkman—could do something he couldn’t do.

It was too much like a roller coaster just before the big drop, but he was out here, doing it. What a kick in the pants. "Sweet," he muttered.

Egon frowned at Peter, then he began to descend, slowly and carefully, completely upright. Teal’c at once emulated him, and Daniel lowered himself, too, although he stayed very close to the wall. Peter swooped over to join them, abandoning bravado for the so-called safety of Daniel’s position. As if he realized Peter’s acrophobia had kicked in, Egon shifted position to drift beside him.

"You will not fall, Peter."

"I know I won’t. I just have to know it in here." He slapped himself on the chest.

"I can relate," Daniel offered. His muscles had tightened and so had the corners of his mouth.

"I do not like this great height," Teal’c offered. He had "deadpan" down to a fine art.

Venkman glanced over at him. "No shit," he agreed. "Egon, what’s down there anyway? There is a bottom, right?" He wasn’t looking down at all, any more than Daniel was. Even Jack, who didn’t have a height phobia, found it a little tough to glance down into the abyss. He could see the bottom, and it was a long way down. If the destabilization should fail or the power to levitate should vanish, they wouldn’t be more than smears on the stone.

Instead of the drop, Jack concentrated on the walls that passed. If he thought about it being like riding an elevator with the door open to show the walls passing, it wasn’t too bad. Well, he could psych himself into thinking it was cool. Maybe. Spengler, who must not mind heights that much, stared down past his feet. Nerves of steel, the guy had. Maybe he did mind. The grip he had on his bottom lip was sure to draw blood.

Peter saw Jack notice, and he hovered over to join him. "Daniel and I come by it naturally," he said in an undertone. "Egon fell off the World Trade Center once. Things like that stick in a guy’s mind."

Jack could understand that. He shuddered sympathetically. "Ghost rescue him?"

"Nah, Winston did, in Ecto-2, our gyrocopter. He came out with nothing worse than some bruised ribs from the impact." Peter heaved a reminiscent sigh. "Scared the crap out of Ray and me."

Egon must have heard some of Peter’s words, but he was concentrating on the distant floor. "I can see several shapes down there," he observed. "Not living beings, but rectangular, straight-edged. Manmade. Or at least constructed by someone, human or no."

"Containers for this food of the gods?" Jack asked. He was pretty sure it couldn’t be that easy.

"Possibly," Daniel observed. He risked a glance down between his feet. At once he went through a lip-biting routine similar to Spengler’s. "I think I see carvings on the walls. Perhaps instructions for the seeker."

"Instructions?" Peter’s eyebrows arched. "You mean we have to go through a test or something to get the stuff?"

"We don’t even know what the ‘stuff’ is," Egon reminded him as he guided himself lower. "However the inscription outside implies that one must be willing to go through a process of some type to get it. Not just walking through walls, although one would need to find a means of entrance."

"A spirit journey?" Daniel theorized.

"You mean like meditation?" Jack grimaced. He hadn’t expected anything weird like that. His ideas were more like booby traps guarding the treasure, and he was counting on Daniel’s expertise to handle them, if their being transparent couldn’t shield them. "I thought we’d have to pull numbers like Indiana Jones, when he broke in to get that gold statue in Raiders of the Lost Ark."

That made Daniel forego the perilous vision beneath him and stare at Jack. "No, if it’s anything like that at all, I would expect it to be more like what he had to go through to get to the Holy Grail."

"Three tests," Peter remembered. "Hey, I just saw that movie a few weeks ago. I remember how he handled it all."

Daniel shook his head. "Hardly those same three tests, if there are tests at all, Peter. But I believe there will be tests."

"Thor tested us on Cimmeria," Daniel remembered. "Tests of courage, teamwork, knowledge. It took Sam and me working together to translate the symbols on the wall and to interpret them as pi."

"Apple or cherry?" Peter asked. He risked a look down and averted his eyes.

"Surely you know what pi represents, Peter?" Egon challenged him.

Peter caught Jack’s eye and winked. "You bet, Spengs." He struck a pose in midair, and put on an accent that was probably meant to imitate Albert Einstein. He wasn’t very good at it. "The ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. It’s three point one four one five nine, etc. etc. etc." He beamed at Egon. "Not to mention a heck of a great fraternity symbol."

"Well, as anyone learns that in school, Peter, I must say I am not entirely impressed." His tone conveyed otherwise, and Peter beamed.

"We are approaching the floor," Teal’c announced.

"Yeah, wouldn’t do to go sailing right on through." Jack glanced down. The shapes Daniel had observed were there all right. There were a lot of them, boxes, platforms, walls, all of them covered with ancient writing. Light in a soft, diffuse glow shone out of the walls at regular intervals in protruding, translucent globes. Every so often, one of them had gone out, but the majority of them still shone after however many centuries this place had been deserted. From the thick dust that covered everything, Jack knew it must have been a lot of years. There wasn’t the slightest evidence of footprints in the dust.

"No one has visited this chamber for many years," Teal’c said as if he were in tune with Jack’s thoughts. "This chamber is most ancient."

"It’s incredible." Daniel let himself settle on the floor. He sank into the dust up to his ankles, then lifted up slightly so it only covered the soles of his boots. When Jack touched down, he realized that Daniel had been correcting to balance as if he stood on the floor. Heck of a weird sensation. The dust didn’t stir when Jack kicked it. He wasn’t even solid enough to leave footprints.

"Do you recognize anything, Teal’c?" Daniel waved his hand around the chamber.

"None of the immediate objects resembles a sarcophagus." Teal’c turned slowly as he studied the nearby articles. Now that the team had reached ground level, walls that rose to just above their heads blocked off most of the chamber. They had come down near the outer wall so it was possible to see that tunnels curved away from the main chamber, some of them broad enough for three men to walk abreast, others dark and narrow. The larger tunnels possessed illumination, more of the globes in lines along the ceiling. Each tunnel wall was covered with hieroglyphs in gold panels like the ones O’Neill remembered from his experience of Goa’uld ships. Place was worth a fortune, even if you discounted the archaeological value.

All along the walls of the main chamber, a huge vault of a room with an endless ceiling invisible in the darkness overhead, little recessed alcoves held statuary, urns, and artifacts. Some of them were shielded behind a transparent substance that might have been glass or a form of plastic, or a material they hadn’t invented yet on Earth. Amid the boxes and platforms stood towering statues ten feet tall that resembled the ones from Ancient Egypt Jack had seen pictures of, stylized with exaggerated eyes set sideways in their faces.

"It’s a museum," Daniel blurted, his eyes huge. "It would take years to catalog everything here. I’ve got to take some notes." He reached for his notebook.

"Not now, Daniel. Sorry, but that’s not why we’re here."

Daniel’s face fell, then he collected himself. "But Ja-ack, it might be the best way to find out about the food of the gods."

"I think we should read the inscriptions," Egon observed. "I wonder if they are organized in a certain order. The odds are that we would not have automatically come to the starting point." He leaned closer to the wall to the right of the largest tunnel. "Hmm. I believe this is Akkadian."

Daniel levitated to his side in one huge bound. For a second, a startled look flitted across his face as he realized where his leap had taken him. "It’s like walking on the moon," he observed.

"Have you?" Peter asked sharply. "Walked on the moon, I mean?"

"Well, not our moon...." Daniel leaned closer. "Yes, Akkadian. I see some variations, though."

Egon nodded. "Indeed." He stood there stroking his chin and looking very much like a professor in a classroom, if one overlooked the BDUs he wore instead of his jumpsuit and the jacket that hung, forgotten, over his shoulders. It dawned on Jack that he was glad of his jacket. The temperature was cooler in here than it had been out there in the desert sun, although it might simply be the contrast, as it wasn’t really chilly. Egon adjusted his glasses and squinted at the writing. "I see the variants. Possibly a Sumerian/Akkadian blend with elements I do not recognize. Translating this may take time."

"But it says that one must begin the journey. Could it be this is actually the first tablet?" Daniel glanced along the walls. There were a series of similar ones tablets at twenty-foot intervals as far as they could see before a jutting wall intervened.

Egon moved to the tablet on the other side of the passage. "This is a duplicate of that one. Could they all be the same?" He and Daniel migrated in opposite directions, pausing to check.

"No, this one is different," Daniel called.

"As is mine."

"Well, they’re lost in linguistics heaven," Peter observed. He went over to the nearest box, one almost as high as he was, but maybe three feet wide and deep. "This isn’t a tomb, is it, Teal’c?"

"It is not. At least," the Jaffa added cautiously, "it resembles no tomb I have observed. It would not hold a body, not a body in the same general shape as our own, at least not if it were laid flat."

"Some cultures bury their dead sitting up," Daniel called over his shoulder.

Peter grimaced. "Now there’s an image I could’ve lived without. You open a door and Mister Skeleton is sitting there grinning at you. No thanks." He poked at the edge of the box and his fingers sank slightly into the stone. "Is that a lid?"

"Don’t open it," O’Neill cautioned. "Anything in here could be boobytrapped.

"It’s not like I can open it," Peter reminded him. "It’s solid. I’m not." Reminded of that, he drew a deep breath—the air in here must be circulated by the same technology that allowed the lights because it was fresh enough, even though it had a weird oldness to it, probably from the dust.

"What are you doing, Peter?" Egon asked.

"This." Peter took out a book of matches, struck one, then stuck it—and his head—into the stone box.

O’Neill had to give Venkman points for that one. He walked over, well, simulated walking, anyway, and poked his head in next to Venkman’s.

Peter gave a start when O’Neill joined him, and groaned, "Don’t do that. Give a guy a heart attack, willya."

The match gave a faint flicker of light before it burned down and Peter dropped it. The scratch of another match sounded and light flickered.

The box was empty of anything but dust.

The two of them exchanged a rueful glance and backed out. "Nada, zip, zilch," they said in perfect chorus, and stared at each other in dismay.

"You know, Jack, you two will have to stop doing that," Daniel remarked. "Otherwise, you’ll have people thinking you’re a lot alike."

"Alike?" they groaned, again in chorus, which caused Egon to laugh out loud and Teal’c to elevate his eyebrow.

"Nah," said Peter hastily, "no way," right over Jack’s, "Oh, for crying out loud." Relieved to respond differently, they met each other’s gazes briefly and turned away.

"So, have you got anything?" Jack asked. "I didn’t exactly expect a sign that said, ‘This way to the Food of the Gods’, but I didn’t think we’d have to wade through somebody’s garage sale, either."

"The text I read in the first tablet implied that the traveler need gather his resolve, for the challenges would be great," Daniel explained.

"That was my general interpretation as well." Egon frowned. "I had not yet begun to translate the second text. It was, however, written in Early Dynastic hieroglyphs like the one outside."

"So was mine." Daniel beamed. "Different languages, but both from Earth. I wonder if that is significant. I do read Goa’uld, and of course Teal’c does as well, and he knows various other languages. As for ancient Earth languages, I would think that Egon and I, between us, would cover quite a few."

"In addition to Sumerian, I do know ancient Greek and Latin," Egon offered. "Also Aramaic, and a very rudimentary knowledge of Mayan glyphs. And several modern languages as well. Ray knows several mages’ languages and I have exposure to several of them, plus an understanding of Cabalistic symbols. I have, unfortunately, no experience with ancient Far Eastern languages, although I speak modern Japanese."

"I speak twenty-three languages," Daniel admitted. "But many of them are modern, and won’t serve us here. I doubt we’ll encounter anything more modern than several thousand years ago."

"Well, you and Spengler write down your translations," Jack instructed them. "Don’t worry about nitpicky unless it’s gonna be the one thing that can get us killed if we don’t know it." He glanced around the area they could see. There was so much more behind the seven-foot walls. If this food of the gods stuff was in here, it wouldn’t be very easy to find, even if they’d had one clue what it looked like.

"Come on, Jack, we need to be exact," Daniel reminded him." How do you think I figured out the Stargate in the first place? The translators you had working on it before I got there were wrong in a couple of places."

"Door to heaven instead of stargate, right?" Jack frowned. "It’s not like there’s not a lot of similarity there."

"Door to heaven implies passage into a spiritual life, while the other indicates a means of physical passage. They already knew it was intended for transportation, Jack. They’d set it up so that the minute it was solved, you could go through with your bomb."

"Yeah, but you found the seventh symbol. That’s what we need to do here, Daniel. Find whatever it is that will tell us where this food of the gods stuff is."

"And if it really is something the Goa’uld can use to boost their power," Peter reminded them. "Maybe it’s a mineral or even a gas, or it could be some technological thing, that you hook into. That knowledge of the ancients bit, Jack. Remember? I don’t think I’d want a Goa’uld to get hold of that."

Jack knew he wouldn’t. He couldn’t handle it; the human brain wasn’t ready for that. But what about a host brain in conjunction with a symbiote? Scary thought. Who knew what the snakeheads could do to enhance the host to allow for that. Maybe there were a whole bunch of those gizmos here like the one that had latched onto his head. He looked around. Didn’t see any, but that didn’t mean they weren’t here, or other devices that did the same thing. Alien artifacts could be tricky. He still remembered without fondness the orb they’d brought back from P5C-353 that had so sweetly jammed a rod right through his shoulder and pinned him up against the wall.

"Anything like that, we blast it," he said.

"With what weapon?" Teal’c inquired.

Yeah, there was that. Jack had been trying not to think of how naked he felt without a weapon short of the knife he carried strapped to his ankle. If it was still here.... He checked, and yeah, he had it. But trying to stab a physical being with it would be every bit as effective as poking a finger through the baddie’s chest. If they met any nasty characters in here, they’d have to hope their transparent state would resist energy weapons and protect them against a physical attack.

"Well, we bring back a team with a honking big drill and tunnel in here and blast it." He looked around. Egon and Daniel were at the second tablets, both of them scribbling away, Daniel in his journal and Egon in a spiral notebook just like the ones Jack had used when he was in high school back in Chicago. Both men wore the same abstracted expression, and Daniel had poked his tongue into the corner of his mouth to help him concentrate. His shoulders hunched forward, he gave a vaguely hunchback appearance. Spengler’s glasses teetered precariously at the end of his nose—the guy ought to get them tightened—and every now and then he’d raise an impatient hand to shove them into place.

Watching Daniel translate esoteric stuff had never been much of a kick.

This was going to take time.

** *** **

"I don’t like the look of that sky."

Sam set aside the P.K.E. meter she’d been playing with to follow Winston’s gaze across the desert to the west of the Stargate. The lavender-blue sky stretched into the far distance, unbroken by the merest trace of a cloud. Near the horizon, the color darkened to nearly purple, as if a line of heat haze blurred the division between sand and sky and brooded ominously there. Sam’s experience with the open desert was not vast, gathered as it was from quick visits to a few desert worlds, but she remembered the colonel’s description of an Abydonian sandstorm, how fast it had come upon Kasuf’s settlement and how thoroughly it had obscured any landmark, cutting the team off from the pyramid and the Stargate home. A man could die in a sandstorm, the tiny pellets driven in the wind flaying the skin, making it near impossible to breathe, the heat and wind sucking the life out of a stranded traveler. Could that darkening line against the distance be a sandstorm? If so, was it moving in this direction?

"What is it?" Ray fell in beside her. He wasn’t limping at all now, but if they had to race for the gate, could he make it? He’d been running a diagnostic on the destabilizer rectifier unit since the rest of their combined teams had walked into the side of the pyramid, determined the device would be at peak efficiency when their friends finally emerged. They’d been in there nearly an hour now, and Sam had convinced herself that she would not be alarmed until at least six hours had passed. The pyramid was huge. She was willing to bet the food of the gods, if it were actually in there, wouldn’t be right out in the open for the team to find. It would take translations, interpretations, explorations before they even knew what it looked like, let alone found it.

"Sandstorm." Winston’s answer was terse, but the tone told it all.

"It might just be clouds," Ray ventured uneasily. "I don’t know much about desert conditions, do you?"

"Pretty much what I learned from watching Lawrence of Arabia and Rat Patrol," Winston admitted. He spread his hands. "Daniel or Teal’c would know."

"Daniel was checking out the sky yesterday," she remembered. "When we got back, he explained that he was trying to tell if conditions were right for sandstorms. He didn’t see any evidence of any, and he didn’t say anything before they left just now. But he said they could come up fast—and move faster than you’d expect, and I don’t remember the sky looking like that when they went in. If that’s coming our way, we need to make some provisions."

Ray planted his feet. "If you mean going back through the gate and leaving the guys, I won’t do it. What if they came back right in the middle of a sandstorm?"

"It shouldn’t hurt them destabilized," Sam reminded him. "At least...I should think the sand wouldn’t be solid to them. They ought to still be able to breathe."

"But they wouldn’t be able to find us. They’d look, and they might wander off in the sand because they couldn’t see through it any better than we could." He glanced to Winston for support, a pugnacious expression causing his bottom lip to jut out.

"What about taking shelter in one of these buildings?" Winston asked. "Some of them look pretty solid. We could send through the gate for supplies, whatever we’d need to batten down and provide cover."

Sam was fairly certain Hammond would order them back if they mentioned a sandstorm, although he wouldn’t like the idea of abandoning their destabilized teammates any more than she did. But it wouldn’t help the team if the destabilizer rectifier unit was damaged in the flaying sand. Without a means of solidifying them, the destabilization process would continue until they discorporated completely. Unless they could guarantee the safety of their equipment, they couldn’t risk leaving it here.

"Ray, you stay with the equipment," she decided. "Winston and I will check out these buildings to see if any of them are secure enough to offer us shelter. If we can find one that will protect us and that’s near enough to the pyramid that we can watch for the rest of SG-1 and your teammates, we’ll notify the base that we’re going into shelter. Otherwise, we’ll have to send the destabilizer rectifier unit back through the gate. We can’t risk damaging it."

Ray glanced over at the device then lifted his eyes to the distant sky. They stood in a row watching it. In the few moments since she’d last looked, she was sure the purple had darkened—and grown.

Winston spoke the words none of them wanted to hear. "It’s coming in this direction."

"How long do you think it will last?" Ray asked. He grimaced. "They can last for a long time, can’t they? A few hours? Days? A week?"

Winston lifted his shoulders. "No idea, Ray. Might be quick, the way it’s moving, but it might be huge, too. Just because it’s coming at us fast doesn’t mean it won’t park itself right over us and give the pyramid hell. Would it be drawn to the water?"

They looked at each other. None of them were experts on the subject. They only knew they couldn’t be comfortable with the thought of abandoning their friends. If the storm proved too intense and lasted too long, Hammond wouldn’t let them come back. But they had less than forty-six hours before the destabilization process would reach the extreme range of safety and the team would have to be resolidified—or die.

She and Winston moved out in opposite directions, she with her MP-5 to hand and he with his thrower powered up. He hadn’t even considered using the staff weapon. Better to go with what he knew. There had been no indication of life here, other than the palm trees, no trace of people, no tracks of animals down by the water other than a couple of small lizards basking in the sun and a few flies, or the local equivalent. Sam had circled the oasis, made her way down to the shore of the small pool. She’d tested it earlier, discovered it was safe to drink, but they’d stuck with the water they’d brought with them. If there had been animals here large enough to cause them danger, there ought to have been some trace of it near the water, but she had found no footprints, no animal waste. Ray had scanned for biorhythms once the five had entered the pyramid, but after the first few moments, the meter had stopped reacting. The stone blocked their readings, he’d said. Anyone else in the ruins would give off readings, human or no, but the meter hadn’t responded under those settings at all. Sam knew the meter could detect Teal’c’s symbiote. Egon had picked up on that the first time the Ghostbusters had come to Cheyenne Mountain. If there had been lurking Goa’uld or Jaffa, the meter would have warned them.

The UAV they had sent out before SG-1’s arrival had detected no other settlements or ruins within flight range. When they’d returned to the planet, there wasn’t a trace of alien footsteps on the gate ramp. Unless a ship lurked overhead in orbit, they ought to be safe, at least from attack.

Sam stuck her head into a room in a squat rectangular building that might have been one of the mastabas Daniel had mentioned when describing the history of pyramid architecture. The place had two windows, open to the air, but they were small. There was a hinged door to the place, but it hung broken in the hinges. Still, they could send through the gate for tarps and nail them over the door and windows, and the structure was big enough to hold all their equipment and the F.R.E.D. as well. It would serve, and hopefully convince General Hammond it would be safe for them to stay. She prowled the length of it, testing the floor for openings or weaknesses. It was made of laid stone, and the sand had drifted in here to accumulate in the corners, sloping out like the canopy on a bed.

She marked it as the best chance so far and went along the row of structures. None of the others were as complete as this, and some were merely rows of broken columns around a floor area, completely open to the elements. In the end, she went back to Ray’s position just as Winston appeared from the other direction.

"I found a possible," she told them.

"That’s more than I did. There are a couple of places that look secure, but I can’t find a way into them. I could blast my way in, but they wouldn’t be secure if I made holes in them." He holstered his thrower, and the two of them turned to look at the sky.

The dark purple had crept a quarter of the way up the sky.

"Not good," Sam said. "I’m going to the gate to send a message to General Hammond. Ray, you better stay here and pack everything up on the F.R.E.D. Winston, you watch Ray’s back."

"Who’ll watch yours?"

"I will. I don’t have a bad ankle."

Ray looked up and flashed her a huge smile. "Mine’s great, thanks to you. I don’t need protecting. You can both go."

"I’ll go halfway," Winston decided. He had come a long way from his military days; reminded her of Daniel, who had come the opposite way from a purely civilian team member. Funny that the process had made Winston more independent while Daniel was gradually learning to follow orders.

The colonel had placed Sam in charge, but she could see Winston’s point. If he went down to the end of this row of ruins, he would remain in sight of both of them. "Sounds good," she said. "You come as far as that jagged pillar, and watch us both."

Winston fell into step with her, exuding reliability. She hadn’t worked with him much when he’d been here before, and probably knew him the least well of all of the Ghostbusters, but she was coming to appreciate his steady common sense and his dependability. Watching the Ghostbusters together, she could see what a good team they made, how well they fitted together, offering disparate abilities that blended into a cohesive whole. Rather like SG-1. There was a time she would never have believed a stubborn colonel, a career Air Force scientist, a Jaffa and an all-too-independent civilian could ever become a tight-knit unit with an incredible success ratio. Those same people might have doubted a gung-ho engineer, a Vietnam vet with no prior ghost experience, a physicist who retained everything he heard and read, and a cocky psychologist, smart-mouthed as the colonel, who imagined himself God’s gift to the fairer sex, but who was a damned good psychologist when the chips were down, could blend into a team that could move past Ghostbusting and fit in so well with SG-1.

Sandstorms apart, Sam had every confidence in the success of this mission. If the combination of talents somewhere inside the pyramid couldn’t solve the mystery of the food of the gods, no one could.

She activated the Stargate, conscious of Winston watching her from his midway point. When the gate had opened, she sent the recognition code with her GDO. The M.A.L.P. was ready and waiting, and she positioned herself and spoke to its speaker. "This is Major Carter."

After a second, Hammond’s voice responded. His office was close to the control room for good reason. He could keep on top of developing situations that way. "Go ahead, Major."

"Looks like there’s a sandstorm moving in on our position, sir. We’ve found shelter that will protect us, and we’ll go to ground there. But it would help if you could send us some environmental suits, enough for all eight of us, and some tarps to cover the openings in the shelter."

"Coming right up, Major." She heard him giving the order to someone in the background. "We’ll also send a couple of secure tents that you can pitch in your shelter if you need additional protection for yourselves or for the equipment. Is the destabilization team still within the pyramid?"

"Yes, sir, they’ve been in there about ninety minutes now. They were able to pass through the walls completely, but the walkie-talkies didn’t accompany them, as we feared. They’ll send someone out to report to us in about five hours, if they haven’t finished by then. You might want to send us some floodlights, too. Even if we are finished before dark, it wouldn’t hurt to mount them near the pyramid to give some light if they should emerge in the sandstorm."

"Everything will be sent to you as soon as it’s assembled, Major. Have you detected any traces of hostiles?"

"No, sir, no evidence that anyone has been here for many years. We’re on alert, and our secure site is near enough to the gate that we’ll hear it if it activates." If the sandstorm doesn’t drown out the sound. She lifted her eyes to the sky. The storm kept moving, bearing down on their position. It looked like they might have no more than forty to forty-five minutes left. She so informed the general.

"Very good, Major. I don’t want to pull you out of there, not when the rest of your team is still inside. I’d hate for them to come out to a sandstorm with no means of solidifying."

"So would I, sir. We’re prepared to batten down and wait it out, but we’ll rig a signal so they’ll be able to find us if they emerge in the middle of the storm. Ray and I feel that the storm won’t damage them; they’re not solid, so the driving sand shouldn’t injure them. But it would be possible to become disoriented by the lack of visibility. The floodlights will hopefully give them their bearings."

"Are you able to monitor them within the pyramid with the Ghostbusters’ detectors?"

"Negative, sir. Ray didn’t think we’d be able to, and he was right. The meters aren’t exactly designed to monitor living human biorhythms, and he says the readings of someone destabilized are weaker, and since they’re alive, they don’t register ectoplasmically even though they have many of the same properties as spirits. He suspected the rock walls would block them, and they do."

"We’ll have to trust that they know how to do their job, Major." She heard the encouragement and reassurance in his voice. But he was right. The pyramid team consisted of five gifted, uniquely trained individuals who knew exactly what they were doing. If they couldn’t find the food of the gods, no one could.

And if worse came to worst, Ray could always destabilize a couple of squadrons of Marines to go in after them.

Sam signed off and turned to look toward the approaching storm. The purple darkness covered nearly half the sky. Even though the air was utterly still, it held a waiting silence. Under the baking heat of the desert sun, Sam shivered.

She hoped General Hammond would hurry with his supplies.

** *** **

Peter Venkman yawned. He should be excited; here he was, destabilized, on another planet, in the midst of an exciting mission for the SGC that would have made Ray practically sing and dance with the thrill of it. Yet Peter knew that everything, even exciting missions, were filled with a lot of hurry-up-and-wait. Watching Egon and Daniel translate a hodgepodge of ancient languages wasn’t exactly right up there at the top of Peter’s list of thrilling things to do.

Although the chamber was cooler than the desert outside, it was also stuffier. The air wasn’t getting close, he knew that. But the humidity in here was a lot higher than it was outside, and Peter’s scalp was damp, and sweat periodically trickled down into his eyes. Destabilized sweat, but sweat all the same.

O’Neill’s grey hair practically stood up in little damp spears, and even Teal’c’s bald dome glittered with moisture in the light from the globes. First thing on Peter’s agenda when they returned to the base would be a nice long shower and fresh clothes from the shorts out. He wiggled his shoulders in a futile attempt to stop the sweat from trickling down his back.

Daniel’s face looked flushed, although Peter couldn’t be sure in the dim light, and his hair lay plastered in little spiky bangs against his forehead. Egon’s hair rarely got disarrayed this side of a high wind, but even it looked limp and saggy. Of course the damp air made Egon’s glasses slide all the more, causing him—and Daniel, whose glasses weren’t even the slide-able sort, at least not like Egon’s—to pause to push them impatiently into place. Daniel would toss his head in an attempt to settle them. Once O’Neill had given an exasperated snort and stalked over to shove them back so Daniel wouldn’t have to set aside his pencil, but he had done it by planting a finger in the middle of each lens, leaving a smeary print.

"Next time you get ticked at me for pushing your glasses into place, Spengs, remember, I don’t leave fingerprints," Peter told Egon.

Daniel favored Jack with an exasperated glare before he pulled the glasses off and buffed them on the edge of his tee shirt. He then pulled the neck of it up so he could mop his face.

The whole team was down to tee shirts. Peter and Egon had tied the sleeves of their jackets around their waists. When Daniel needed to lay aside his pencil, he had at first tucked it into his pocket, and when he’d tied the sleeves of his desert camouflage jacket around his waist as the two Ghostbusters had, he resorted to tucking the pencil behind his ear like an old-fashioned clerk. Teal’c had cautiously tested the hieroglyph-encrusted box that Peter and Jack had poked their heads into, and when his jacket didn’t sink into it, he’d left it lying there, and O’Neill had shucked his own and piled it on top of Teal’c’s. Every now and then the colonel would sneak a glance at it to check whether they had lost the battle with the physical world and disappeared inside.

"Anything yet?" O’Neill crowded right up behind Daniel and squinted over his shoulder at the tablet. "Come on, Daniel, we don’t have all day for this."

"I’m going as fast as I can, Jack." Both of them sounded shorter tempered than usual, but that could have been the heat, or even their normal interaction, for all Peter knew. They were friends; he knew that. But friends could ride each other and often did. Sometimes he and Egon would rag each other for days, and love every minute of it.

"DanielJackson is correct," Teal’c threw in, and Peter sneaked him a look to see if his defense of Daniel was a pacifist tactic or an attempt to fan the flames. Teal’c had his utter bland attitude down pat, and Peter didn’t know the big guy well enough to judge, although he thought Teal’c’s words were intended to bug the colonel. Yep, he spotted a momentary twinkle in the dark eyes. There was a lot more to Teal’c than met the eye.

"Yeah, well, I’m correct about the time." Jack raised his wrist, then sighed. Technology was one thing that hadn’t carried over—hence Daniel and Egon’s use of pencils—and O’Neill’s watch, while still on his wrist, had bit the big one at the time of transfer.

Peter sneaked a glance at his own wrist. No fancy electronic gizmo for him. His beloved Rolex had croaked a few months ago and he’d replaced it with a cheap Timex because he didn’t happen to have the spare bucks to go for the image. He had to grin at the chagrin on O’Neill’s face when he realized the cheap little number Peter had picked up at a drugstore was the only watch among them that was still keeping time. ‘Course there was no guarantee it was still accurate. Peter hadn’t shared that speculation with anybody. What good would it have done?

"We’ve only been here three hours," Peter announced, more to get a dig in than because he wanted to play timekeeper. That meant they had forty-three hours to go if they stuck to Ray’s schedule. Personally, Peter thought that another forty-three hours in this gloomy, humid funhouse would have him screaming and climbing the walls, but at least he wouldn’t be permanently destablized—otherwise known as dead.

"Only three hours?" O’Neill echoed in a tone of mocking wonder. "Listen up, Venkman, when I want you to give us time reports, I’ll be sure to tell you."

Peter beamed at him. "Just trying to help, Colonel, sir."

"Smartass," O’Neill muttered under his breath.

"Of course he is," said Egon without looking up from his tablet and notebook. "He spends hours a day in training for the smartass Olympics."

"And just what kind of comment is that, Doctor Spengler?" Peter challenged. "I think we’ve got another contender here. I’ll give that one a ten. The crowd roars." He imitated the sound. From O’Neill’s grimace, he might just have to work on that one.

Egon made a face in Peter’s general direction before he turned his full attention on his work, a conscious mantle of dignity and industriousness falling upon his shoulders. Peter saw Jack notice, and couldn’t resist a grin.

O’Neill grinned back before he caught himself and turned hastily to Daniel. "So, Professor Einstein, any progress?"

"Egon can be Einstein," Daniel countered without looking up. "I would settle for Champollion."

"Guy who deciphered the Rosetta Stone," Peter said involuntarily. When all four of the others stared at him as if he had sprouted a second head, he held up his hands to fend off their disbelief. It didn’t do to tell all he knew—he’d learned that fact at his father’s knee. "Egon watched some dreary program on TLC about it the other day, and I was sacked out on the couch. Sleep teaching?"

Egon continued to write industriously in his notebook. "Of course, Peter." Talk about being humored. Peter pulled his head down, turtle-like, and wished he could do the invisibility number for them. Wouldn’t work, not when all of them were destabilized. Too bad.

O’Neill raised one hand and cocked it at Peter like a gun. Busted. So he knew a little about a lot of things instead of just a lot about the things that interested him. He’d gotten tired of the other three Ghostbusters knowing something he’d never heard of because he’d never bothered to find out. Egon wasn’t the only Ghostbuster with a photographic memory.

"I’ve got it. I’ve got it. I think I’ve got it!" Daniel’s excited outburst distracted everyone from Peter’s unexpected knowledge. "No, maybe I don’t. Wait. Ah, maybe. Egon?"

The physicist took several hasty, long strides over to Daniel. "What have you found?"

Daniel pointed to the tablet, then his notebook. "It’s Sumerian," he said. "Tell me what you think."

The two men bent over Daniel’s notes. Egon produced his own, and Daniel studied them. Light from the globes glinted off the two pairs of glasses. Ignored, Peter and Jack edged closer while Teal’c stood guard, prepared to fend off advancing enemy with his bare hands, assuming they were destabilized enough to respond to his muscular threat. Jack arched an eyebrow at Peter, who nodded. He could tell from the very lines of Egon’s body that they were on the verge of a breakthrough.

"They work together," Daniel crowed. "Look. If you take this bit here, and add that—it’s all part of a puzzle. It fits together."

"Precisely." Egon beamed approval upon the younger man. "Not every tablet offers the same information. This is the keyword. Journey. See here. In Sumerian, it would be ‘kaskal’."

"Here it is in Egyptian." Daniel ran his fingers over the tablet. "That means we can ignore any tablets that don’t have this key in one language or another."

"I discovered it in Aramaic on the third tablet." Egon lifted a hand and pointed at it. He flipped through his pages full of copious notes. Egon always took tons of notes. He’d dictate the shorter comments into his pocket PC, but he’d never abandoned the notebook in his pocket for longer, more involved comments. He could have put them into his pocket PC but he said he could write it more quickly than he could tap it in, or set up the portable keyboard, and it wasn’t as if the pocket PC would have transitioned to a destabilized state anyway.

"I found it in ancient Greek," Daniel concurred. "Which means that only the tablets which mention the word ‘journey’ give us our clues."

"Guess we’ll definitely have to call you ‘Champion’ now," Jack kidded him, and rumpled his hair. It promptly stuck up in odd directions and cast bizarre shadows on the walls.

"Champollion," Daniel corrected.

"That’s what I said."

Daniel’s expression said, "yeah, right," but he immediately turned his attention back to the book. He and Egon conversed excitedly, falling into weird languages as easily as Peter used slang. Probably two of the smartest guys on the planet—well, definitely the smartest guys on this planet. Peter got a major charge out of watching Egon strut his stuff. He glanced over at O’Neill, half expecting to see boredom at the descent into linguistic geekdom, but instead he surprised a fond, tolerant expression on the colonel’s face that was probably a dead ringer for the one on Peter’s as he watched his best friend. It gave Peter the first real sense of companionship he’d felt with Jack on the mission.

O’Neill let them confer. "Give ‘em a few minutes," he said to Teal’c. The Jaffa nodded and set off to run a perimeter check. So far, there’d been no evidence that anyone else had ever been here, but the boobytrap thing worried O’Neill. If there were any traps, being destabilized had prevented them from being triggered. Egon had theorized that destabilized molecules were still molecules and it was possible that they might trigger something like an electric eye or security lasers. Without a P.K.E. meter, Egon could only theorize, unable to detect such equipment, and nothing of the sort was visible. But Teal’c moved with the careful, deliberate pace of a man who has survived by his wits for a great many years and knows how to take all the necessary precautions, knows it so well that it has become ingrained in his essential make-up. Teal’c was a warrior, always on alert.

"It’s a labyrinth," Daniel and Egon suddenly exclaimed together.

"What, the place with its walls?" Peter asked. "Like that whatchamacallit on Crete or wherever it was? You know, the Minotaur thingie?"

Egon slapped his forehead in exaggerated disbelief. "Peter, you astound me."

"Because I’m so brilliant?" Peter kidded.

"No, because, being supposedly brilliant, you choose to hide your light under a barrel. Which is remarkable when you consider your love affair with the press."

Peter rocked on his heels. Brilliant wasn’t exactly the image he’d striven to portray. He preferred suave and heroic, dashing and debonair, the hit of the A-list parties. Fame for geekdom? Not his game. Except that he’d always had a thing for smart, classy women—probably why Sam Carter appealed to him so much. Maybe he’d have better luck with them if they knew that Peter Venkman was a smart, classy guy.

"Don’t fight it," O’Neill said in his ear. "You can’t win against ‘em."

"Don’t I know it."

"You are right about the labyrinth," Daniel confirmed. "What’s more, from the information I’ve discovered here, it is possible that the layout of this inner chamber is modeled on the Minoan labyrinth."

"So, anybody got a ball of string so we can find our way out?" Peter asked.

"Better question," threw in O’Neill. "Wasn’t there a monster in the center of the labyrinth? It didn’t lead to a treasure or anything, just this Minotaur character, right?"

Daniel reeled back in mock disbelief. "This is a day for shocks. You know about the Minotaur, too, Jack?"

"Everybody knows about the Minotaur, Daniel," Jack strove for an offhand manner. Peter wasn’t fooled. The guy couldn’t have made it to the rank of colonel without a heck of a lot of smarts. Didn’t you have to have a higher college degree to hold that high a rank? Besides, Peter had recognized Jack’s style of leadership. He could be tough and hard when called for, but he had a more laid-back style that Peter himself wouldn’t have been too uncomfortable with. God, what if Daniel was right and he and O’Neill did have more in common than he’d ever want to admit?

But that could wait. He had another idea. "Wait a minute. Whether there’s a nasty beast in the middle of the labyrinth or that’s where they keep the food of the gods, we don’t need a ball of string. We just levitate and poof, instant solution."

Daniel and Egon instantly shook their heads. "That won’t work, Peter," Daniel said regretfully. "It’s more than solving a puzzle. It’s a test of character. We have to prove ourselves worthy of it."

"Yeah, well, figuring out the most efficient solution is just as worthy as playing the game, right?" O’Neill asked. He glanced sideways at Peter as if for vindication.

"Not in this case." Egon adjusted his sliding glasses and squinted at his notes. "If you will remember, the external plaque spoke of transcending the physical. While we used destabilization to do that, to gain admittance here, we also theorized that perhaps it meant something entirely different. Ritual death, for instance. No, wait." He held up an arresting hand before Peter or Jack could protest. "Ritual death is not the same as actual death, and we don’t know whether that would be a requirement here. But what we do know from these translations is that to successfully complete the process, to attain the food of the gods, we can’t just walk in and grab it. Even if we were solidified and could physically touch it, I don’t believe it would work for us. Were it that easy, the Goa’uld could have found it by now."

"Egon’s right," Daniel agreed. He straightened his shoulders and winced. All that hunching over squinting at ancient text must be bad for the posture, not to mention the muscles. "The very tone of the text we’ve discovered indicates that we have to qualify to receive enlightenment."

Peter grimaced. The important things were always like that. He’d learned over the years when it was okay to take the kind of shortcuts his dad favored—when it didn’t really matter—and when he had to pay real dues. Living with three guys who never hesitated to pay them had been good for Peter. He’d always known he was more ethical than his old man, but most people were. The trick was to be ethical enough to deserve respect from people like Egon, who were so honorable you almost needed blinders to look at them. Egon lived his responsibilities and had never once refused to accept the possibility of his death to save lives. He would willingly sacrifice himself to save the world, and had offered to do just that more often than Peter liked to think about. So far, they’d managed to save the world and skip the death part. Peter would prefer to keep it that way.

But nobody ever said the path to true enlightenment ran smooth. He grimaced. "Okay, what death-defying feats do we have to pull off this time?"

O’Neill heaved a massive sigh. "Oh, for crying out loud. Is this one of those times we have to come back with our shields or on them? I hate that."

"Isn’t it funny you’re so good at it?" Daniel asked.

That startled Jack. The tightness softened around his mouth and he shot out a hand and stirred the sweaty spikes of Daniel’s hair into greater punkdom. "So what do we do?" he asked.

Teal’c drifted back. It dawned on Peter that in their state, they couldn’t hear each other coming: no footfalls. Only a sense of motion and the sound of the Jaffa’s breathing alerted them. "We are still alone, O’Neill," he reported. "I observed no evidence of recent presence."

"We’re gonna trek through a labyrinth," O’Neill told him. "Probably with a monster in the middle."

"With a challenge in the middle," Egon corrected. "We do not know if there will be an actual battle for us to fight or a symbolic one."

"There appear to be three steps to concluding the test set before us," Daniel added. "The labyrinth is the first one."

Peter waved a hand at the seven-foot walls. "When we were coming down, I couldn’t see anything in there except for passages. No secret center, and no monster." Never mind he hadn’t really looked very hard until he’d gotten a lot closer to the floor. He still didn’t remember anything outstanding about the walls.

"No, but it was spread out so far we couldn’t see it all," Jack said. "And nobody says the center of the labyrinth has to be in the middle of all this." He waved his hand at the vast expanse overhead. "So we trek on through. Then what happens?"

Daniel squinted at his notes, then lifted his eyes to Egon, who stared back, his brow puckered. "The test will tell us," he said. "Ah, maybe there’ll be a clue waiting for us when we get there."

"You think just getting there will be enough?" Peter asked. He could handle that, wandering around through the passages. Egon was smart enough to figure out which way to go. He probably knew the layout of the original Minoan labyrinth that Theseus had trekked with help from Ariadne, who had given him the ball of twine. Peter glanced around. No helpful Ariadne waited to bail them out. From what the brain trust had said, it wouldn’t count if they were bailed out. They had to succeed without outside assistance.

Daniel shook his head. "No, it will take more than that. The Labyrinth is the first test. There are two more. We’ll learn what they are as we proceed. We’ll just need to look for the key word to find our answers."

Teal’c went over and retrieved his jacket and O’Neill’s. "We may not return this way, O’Neill."

Jack tied the sleeves around his waist. He scrunched up his mouth. "Onward, campers," he said, and set off in the direction Daniel pointed. The two of them fell into step beside each other, and Peter couldn’t help noting how they automatically suited their pace to match each other’s.

Notebook in hand, Egon fell in beside Peter. The adjustment of his long-legged stride to Peter’s determined one was so utterly routine that Peter wouldn’t have even thought of it if he hadn’t seen the same thing with Daniel and Jack. All the Ghostbusters did that, although Ray sometimes hurried ahead in his eagerness. Winston would make a habit of grabbing him by the shoulders and pointing out that traveling hopefully was sometimes as much fun as arriving. He hadn’t convinced Ray yet.

Teal’c brought up the rear. Watching their six, O’Neill called it. He came behind them, alert, determined, and Peter realized he trusted the guy to do just that. Teal’c might have turned on Apophis and his lifelong training, but he’d done it out of a deep moral conviction. You couldn’t beat that, a guy who lived his ethics at such a great cost, losing his home, separation from his family. That last part would have killed Peter. Thank goodness his friends’ ethics wouldn’t drive him away from them. They were friends and brothers in one neat package.

He glanced sideways and favored Egon with a big grin.

Egon might not know how Peter had reached the mood he was in, but he did recognize the nature of it. He returned the smile, his eyes warm, before he turned his attention to the stone passage.

The area they had to traverse was as long as a football field and probably as wide as it was long. The convoluted walls turned them back on themselves, off to a side, then another abrupt turn until even Peter’s acute sense of direction was baffled. "Which way did we come from?" he asked.

Daniel and Jack instantly pointed—in the opposite directions.

"Sweet," muttered the colonel.

"Ah, ah, well, maybe I’m not sure...." Daniel craned his neck in hopes of seeing over the wall. When he failed, he visibly restrained himself from pushing himself upward to check, and instead consulted his notes.

"We came from there, O’Neill." Teal’c objected and stabbed his finger in the same direction Egon pointed.

Daniel nodded. "They’re right."

"My symbiote aligns me," Teal’c defended his choice. "A Jaffa is never lost."

Peter found himself grinning. He lacked Teal’c’s inner certainty, but his confused sense of direction would have steered him that way if he’d had to levitate up and out.

They plodded on. Funny, but even though they didn’t really have to walk, they went through the motions, one foot ahead of the other, each landing spongy and buoyant as they sank down a fraction into the stone beneath their feet. As they realized it, they concentrated on making themselves lighter and pushing themselves off. Peter curled his toes a lot more than he did in normal walking. When this was over, his leg muscles would ache so much he’d be gimping around for days. Maybe he could borrow Ray’s crutches. Or maybe they should just drift.

"We should be close." Egon stopped as they rounded a turn in the passage and came to a dead end. The sheer disgruntlement in Egon’s face was classic.

"Wrong turn," Peter said brightly. "Come on, Spengs, it’s okay. We were sure to hit a few."

"No, this should be right, Peter. Geometrically, and considering the layout and the route we have pursued so far, the other turn would have doubled back into yet another dead end. I have a mathematical grid laid out in my mind, and this should not dead end. There should be a turn to the left just ahead."

Peter took two quick steps that brought him up against the blocking wall. He spun to the left and stared at the stone before him. "Maybe there is," he said. "We had to turn fuzzy around the edges to get this far. Maybe we need to do it again. Abandon the physical, remember?" He thrust his hand into the wall.

For a second, the weirdest feeling enveloped him, as if the wall had gripped him tightly and frozen him in place. A cold shudder passed through his body. What if he were trapped here, stranded for all time.

"Yikes." A powerful suction gripped him and yanked him right through the wall. As he vanished, he heard Egon yell his name, the sound abruptly broken off, then he was through, and he pitched down to the floor where he crashed against the stones with bruising force.

"Wha...." He couldn’t heave his way through the floor. It was solid—or else he wasn’t destabilized any longer.

How could he ever get out of here?

Pushing himself to his feet, he concentrated on levitating up to see over the wall, but all that did was bounce him up in a jump. When he landed, he was so used to being destabilized that he didn’t think to flex his knees, and the impact ran up his spine and jarred his whole body.

"Egon!" he yelled at the top of his lungs. They’d be able to hear him over the wall.

The sound echoed back at him, hollow and flat. No one answered.

Peter put his palms against the wall he’d just passed through. No give. His stomach knotted up tight. He was trapped.

A hand emerged from the wall, followed by a long arm, and a second later, Egon careened through the wall and collided with him with enough force to fling both men to the floor.

"I’m gonna be black and blue all over if this keeps up," Peter muttered, hoping his voice didn’t sound as shaky as he thought it did. "Egon, Egon, we’re restabilized."

The wall spat out Daniel next, followed instantly by a grimacing O’Neill. "Daniel, I said, wait," he bellowed the minute he was clear of it. He caught Daniel’s arm and yanked him sideways just in time to prevent a collision with Teal’c, who followed a second later. Daniel winced and shivered.

Egon hauled Peter to his feet and the five of them bunched together.

"Ah, Jack, the floor is solid," Daniel said at once. He stamped on it cautiously to prove his point. "We’re solid."

Jack instantly pressed his hand against the wall. Just as well he didn’t try to punch it out or he’d have skinned his knuckles. "Son of a...." He whirled to Egon. "Okay, Spengler, what the hell happened?"

Egon stared at him. "I don’t know."

Peter shifted uneasily on his feet, feeling the full weight of every one of his one hundred and seventy-five pounds. Who knew what this weird place could do? Nobody ever said it would be easy. He grabbed Jack’s wrist and turned it so he could see the colonel’s watch. He felt his eyebrows arch. "It’s not running."

Egon snatched O’Neill’s wrist away from Peter and studied the watch. "Hmmm."

"And that means what?" Grumpily, Jack reclaimed his wrist. "Come on, Einstein. What’s going on here?"

"We were sucked in through the wall when Peter touched it," Egon said slowly. "The passage had to come this way, but as we needed to be destabilized to enter the pyramid, so did we need to be destabilized to progress to the center of the labyrinth." He gestured around. "I believe we have reached it. It may not be destabilized in the same manner that we are—without my equipment I am unable to test for certain—but I believe the center of the labyrinth serves a similar function. Here we are physical—or perhaps this location is non-physical, enabling us to match it. As we are physical to each other, so are we physical to the non-physical."

"And that makes sense?" Jack rolled his eyes at Peter, who shrugged. Egon could spout that kind of scientific double-talk in his sleep. If he said it, it was probably true.

Ignoring, Jack’s reaction, Egon turned to the Jaffa. "Teal’c, do the Goa’uld possess the ability to destabilize themselves?"

"They do not." For an instant, the Jaffa looked doubtful. "Such an ability was never displayed before myself or any Jaffa I know. However, recalling DanielJackson’s experience in the pyramid on P7X-377, it is possible that external factors might have produced a similar effect."

"You mean some of the Goa’uld might have found a way to replicate what happened to Daniel when you interrupted the process on that planet?" Egon couldn’t have looked more fascinated. His glasses slipped a bit. Not all the way, but Peter realized it didn’t feel so muggy in here. The air was dryer, the temperature more comfortable. He had to say he liked that part of it. Peter gave his friend’s glasses a push into place, but Egon was too caught up in the experience to do more than flash a grimace of mild irritation in Peter’s direction before he returned to his scrutiny.

Teal’c concentrated. "I do not know," he admitted. "Such may be possible. Apophis was secretive of his abilities. He would use his power to control Jaffa, but it was his desire that we believe his abilities came from his supposed godhood, not from external factors."

"Come on, T, those body shields they use that keep you from zapping them with a staff weapon aren’t exactly a projection of godhood," O’Neill objected.

"They are not. Yet a Goa’uld controls a glove weapon with the power of his mind."

"That just means he can use his mind for stupid Goa’uld tricks," O’Neill muttered.

Peter let himself imagine a series of Goa’uld appearing on Letterman to show off their special abilities. He couldn’t help grinning. "So, Spengs, is this the center of the labyrinth?" he asked and took his first good look around.

Opposite the wall they had walked through to reach this place stood an arched doorway, the keystone of the arch practically crawling with alien writing. Beyond the door gleamed a brightness that could have been daylight. Peter could have sworn the opening hadn’t been there when he’d first come through the wall.

Egon and Daniel homed in on the keystone the way bird dogs pick up on pheasants. Jack ignored it and gestured for Teal’c to approach the door. They all crowded close behind them. Whatever was out there, the five of them were weaponless, unless Egon and Daniel could jab the Minotaur to death with their pencils. Or didn’t Jack have a honking big knife?

Teal’c reached the doorway and stopped, his entire body rigid. "O’Neill," he called. The shock in his voice drew them to stand at his shoulders.

Beyond the door they saw a beautiful sunlit glade, complete with drooping willow trees, a stone pavilion in the center of the ring of trees, with a couple of benches stretched out beside the pool that marked the center of the pavilion. A gentle breeze carried the scent of flowers, sort of halfway between roses and lilacs. Peter had given flowers to enough women to be an expert on the subject; well, on the scent if not on growing them. He’d leave the cultivation of roses to Nero Wolfe or whichever detective it was in Winston’s favorite books who grew them. Or was it orchids he grew? He’d have to ask Winston when they got out of here. Yep, there were the lilacs, a true deep blue, and there were the roses, rows of bushes, some brilliant red, some deep warm pink, some yellow with slashes of red along the edges of the petals. The air was heavy with the hum of insects, and Peter could see a few yellow jackets hovering above the plants, not to mention a hummingbird or two.

Overhead, a limitless blue sky, the blue of Earth, stretched out before them, and off to the right, a row of Doric columns rose as tall and simple as the Cypress trees that backed them. Songbirds in bright parakeet colors flitted from branch to branch and over near the water, a peacock spread its vast tail in the sunlight. Between the color of the light and the familiar birds and plants, this had to be Earth.

"Whoa, did we take the wrong bus?" Peter blurted out.

"It looks like Earth," Jack said accusingly. His brow puckered.

"Is it real?" Peter pressed. "Or is it some kind of weird illusion? We shouldn’t be on Earth."

"You mean a holographic projection?" Egon took a step out onto the floor of the stone pavilion. His boots rang out against the stone. It was solid to them, just as the little entry chamber was. Or they were solid to it?

"Is this where we find the food of the gods?" Jack wanted to know. He ventured out onto the stone and went over to the water, but his eyes continued to search the perimeter. Teal’c followed him out and instantly set off to the left to do a sweep, to see what was behind the trees and bushes.

Peter approached the pool, knelt down beside it, and dipped a finger in. It felt real and wet, a perfect temperature. He’d have loved to shuck his clothes and dive in for a refreshing swim, but who knew what nasties lurked here? Maybe the Minotaur was a connoisseur of the good life, and kept this little bit of paradise to tempt his victims. No time for a swim, but he bent low enough to splash water on his face and to run wet fingers through his hair.

Daniel joined him, removed his glasses, and copied Peter’s actions. "This is incredible." He splashed water on his flushed face, mopped it with the tail of his tee shirt, and scrubbed the glasses clean before he put them back on.

"You think it’s some projection?"

"The wall served as a transfer medium," Daniel said thoughtfully. "Not like transfer rings, and not like the Stargate, but a means of transitioning us."

"Like the time on Cimmeria?" Jack asked. He stood behind Daniel as Daniel trailed his fingers through the water.

"Possibly. That did transport you and Teal’c."

"If Teal’c had gone first, I could have seen it," Jack replied. "It wasn’t set up to block Goa’uld, or he wouldn’t be here, and if it was arranged to isolate them, he’d probably have gone through differently."

Peter stood up and craned his neck to see past the roses. "Maybe this is the prize for figuring out how to find the center of the labyrinth. I wonder what happens next."

"We look around for clues, of course," Egon responded. He sloshed his glasses in the water, the dried them on his tee shirt. Egon might be sweaty and tired, but his hair wasn’t very much disarrayed and already, in this kinder climate, it was fluffing out. How did he do that? Mind over matter?

"If Thor shows up, in a hologram I’m gonna be pissed off," Jack muttered.

"We have to find the key word," Daniel said. "Look around for some text. It could be in any language as long as it contains the word ‘journey’." He repeated it in a language that could have been any of the ancient ones they’d been bandying around so glibly back in the pyramid. Sounded like ‘kaskal’. What had he said that was? Sumerian? Babylonian? Gibberish?

Light shimmered around them so brightly they had to fling up hands to shield their eyes. When it dimmed and Peter lowered his fingers, he tensed up with shock at the sight of the man who stood across the pool from him. He could have been a dead ringer for one of those old Egyptian pharaohs, in one of those cute little skirt things Peter wouldn’t be caught dead in, and wearing a weird crown on his head with a center domed part that looked a heck of a lot like a bowling pin with a jutting up straight part behind and a little curlicue thingie in the front, and holding some gizmo that looked like a shepherd’s crook in one hand and some kind of tasseled whip gadget in the other. Not your standard weapons but they’d do a pretty good job against basically unarmed guys.

"The double crown of upper and lower Egypt," Daniel blurted out. He scrambled awkwardly to his feet. "And carrying the symbolic crook and flail. They were signs of the majesty of the kings of Egypt."

Jack stared at the newcomer in surprise. "Are you saying this guy’s a pharaoh?"

"Well, ah, he’s dressed like one." Daniel took a step forward. "Hello. I’m Daniel Jackson. We’re peaceful travelers."

"Welcome, travelers," the pharaoh said. Peter heard the words perfectly in modern English but after a second, he realized there was a weird echo, and that what he was hearing wasn’t exactly what the guy was saying. His mouth moved in tune with the echoes, not the translation.

"You have solved the riddle of the labyrinth," the pharaoh said over Daniel’s attempt to introduce them.

"Hologram, Danny," O’Neill muttered out of the corner of his mouth.

Egon’s eyes lit up. "How intriguing. Our presence here triggered it."

"No, I think it was Daniel saying the magic word," Peter threw in. "Remember, it was the special password to get us here."

"Solving the mystery of the labyrinth is the easiest of the three tests you will face," King Tut rattled off. "Your understanding of the purpose of your testing has brought you this far. You are brave and resolute, and you have mastered the physical realm. By summoning me, you have begun the passage for your next step in the journey."

"You were right, Peter," Egon said quickly.

Peter started to draw himself up in a cocky pose but changed his mind. It didn’t matter who got the answer as long as one of them did.

"So what’s the next step, your pharaoh-ness?" Jack asked. Daniel gave him a warning glare.

Old Tut didn’t react at all. Programmed, that’s all he was, a hologram recording, not even a here-and-now one like Al from Quantum Leap. They’d made it here and said the right word, and this was what they got. Egon turned his notebook to a fresh page, prepared to write down the answer.

"Here, you are solid, real. You found your way to the heart of the labyrinth with knowledge, wisdom, and courage. All of these shall be required for the next step of your journey. You must cross the flame-plain of the cursed gods."

Ice water trailed down Peter’s spine. That sounded bad. He opened his mouth to ask, "What’s behind door number two?" in case Tut was willing to offer them options, but he shut it before he could speak. Probably not a good idea, even if the guy was just a recording. Something had triggered it, and that same something might be able to recognize an attempt to wheedle their way out of trouble.

"The food of the gods await the diligent pilgrim," the pharaoh continued. "To survive the fires, you will be endowed with a touch of its power. All of you, please drink." His hand waved, and five glasses materialized on a platform that hadn’t been there a second before. Peter noticed uneasily that they’d been counted and numbered. Did they have any control of the situation at all? And what the heck was a flame-plain anyway? Did they have to walk through a volcano? Last he heard, the human body didn’t react well to fire. Being destabilized might help, but it wouldn’t make it any easier to withstand the psychological impact of such a disaster. Even though it was comfortable here at poolside, he shivered.

O’Neill rolled his eyes at Daniel. "We’re supposed to drink that?" he asked. He couldn’t have looked more "delighted" if he’d been offered a cup of hemlock.

"We have to," Daniel replied. He picked up one of the glasses and rolled its contents around. It sparkled in the sunlight. "I think we need it to survive the next test."

"We will be endowed with the power of the gods?" Teal’c asked.

The hologram guy bowed his head at Teal’c. "Indeed, Master Jaffa."

Yikes. Maybe he wasn’t a hologram, after all. Or maybe the real thing was watching them from somewhere on the local equivalent of closed-circuit TV, able to alter the image’s speech. Peter caught Egon’s eye and saw fascination in the blue gleam.

Teal’c picked up his glass and sniffed the contents. "It smells somewhat like pra-tal," he said.

"Gesundheit," Jack muttered.

"Pra-tal is a drink only the Goa’uld may drink, O’Neill. Apophis savored it."

"Did it grant him extraordinary powers?" Egon asked. He raised a glass and sniffed it as Teal’c had, and swirled the contents in the glass like a wine connoisseur. Next thing Peter knew, he’d ask to sniff the cork. "Hmmm. This is unfamiliar to me."

"Apophis had his powers. I did not note a marked difference after he drank."

The hologram guy turned his head toward Egon. "It will not harm your species, scientist."

The rest of them lifted their glasses. Peter took a whiff. It might not smell familiar—he couldn’t think of anything he’d ever smelled to compare it to—but the aroma made his mouth water. This could be a big trap, and they might be about to be poisoned for presuming to challenge whoever had designed it, but Tut gazed at him reassuringly as if he’d guessed Peter’s doubts.

"Fear not, skeptic." He extended a hand toward Jack. "Nor you. There is triumph in every success. None have come here for centuries uncounted. You are very welcome. Please, drink."

Daniel raised his glass and took a cautious swallow. His eyes brightened. "I don’t recognize the taste, but it is excellent." He finished his glass.

O’Neill hesitated, watching him, waiting for him to keel over or grab his stomach. When he didn’t, Jack downed his own glass. Teal’c hadn’t hesitated. Now Egon drank, too. Well, never let it be said he’d leave it to his team to handle alone. Peter lifted the glass to his lips and drank.

It was incredible, sweet yet tangy, heady and invigorating. He could feel bubbles of energy zipping up and down his veins and knew that if he had wanted to, he could jump up to the sky or grab the pool up out of its bed and carry it across the pavilion. Deep down inside, a sense of contentment, fulfillment, completion, made him want to sing and shout. Instead, he grabbed Egon and gave him an exuberant hug before freeing the astonished physicist.

He spotted O’Neill watching him. The guy would probably put him down. But O’Neill didn’t. Instead he grinned at Peter in the most genuinely friendly overture he’d made yet. "I can relate," he said. "Where’s this fire field? Let’s go! I could take on ten system lords right now with one hand tied behind my back."

"Ah, ah, ah, Jack, let’s not get overconfident," Daniel chided, but he couldn’t hold back a huge, delighted smile of his own. The tension that had thrummed through his body all along eased away. Was that a bad sign? Did the stuff affect a guy’s judgment? Or did the stuff work on post-traumatic stress, or whatever it was that had been bothering Daniel?

"It’s not overconfidence," Egon ventured. He removed his glassed and glanced around the pavilion. "It’s a different level of well-being. I can see without my glasses. Everything is most incredibly clear."

"Indeed." Teal’c stretched out his arms in the most spontaneous gesture Peter had ever seen him make. "I am experiencing a tremendous sense of well-being."

"We could, uh, all be high, you know," Daniel said. He was coming out as the voice of reason. But he took off his glasses, too, and a dazzled smile transformed his features. He straightened from the slouched posture destabilization had granted him and squared his shoulders.

Peter shook his head. "I don’t think so. Being high wouldn’t let you guys see without your glasses. This is a touch of the food of the gods, just like King Tut over there said."

Teal’c’s brows came together. "I do not agree, PeterVenkman. Apophis often drank pra-tal. Yet his powers were commensurate with those of other Goa’uld."

"So it’s pra-tal with a difference," Peter insisted.

"The drink is not pra-tal, Jaffa. It is merely flavored similarly."

Peter glanced over at the pharaoh type. "Maybe Apophis doctors his pra-whatsit with a little boost of this food of the gods thing. If it makes us feel this good in a couple of minutes—and I was pretty beat before I drank it, and now I feel great—think how much a concentrated dose would do for a Goa’uld if he had it at every meal and a big bedside glass of it."

"Doesn’t bear thinking about." Jack grimaced, but he couldn’t sustain it. He, too, stood straighter and looked ready to leap the nearest tall buildings like Superman. "We better get on with this test."

"It will not prove difficult," Teal’c observed. Uh-oh, a little overconfidence there? Peter had to say that even feeling like he’d just popped a handful of uppers, he didn’t look forward to a plain of fire. Maybe Jaffa had to listen to Goa’uld pep talks every day so they always had to sound positive and upbeat. Nobody was paying Peter to be cheery, and that mention of cursed gods had a bad sound to it.

"On the contrary, Master Jaffa," said the pharaoh. "It will indeed be difficult. You will retain the physicality you experience here at the heart of the labyrinth. Only should you complete the final task will you return to the non-physical realm. At which time, you may choose your final option."

"Yeah, I kind of figured that." Jack gave Teal’c a doubtful glance, mouthed "final option?" to Daniel, who shrugged, then turned back to the guy with the crook and flail. "So, when do we start?"

The tranquil glade vanished in the middle of Jack’s last word, tumbling them into boiling, seething darkness. When the light cleared away, the five of them stood on a vast, desolate plain that would have been right at home in the Netherworld. Jagged rocky spires soared up like spikes to pierce the troubled sky that churned with brooding clouds that scudded across the vast dome overhead as if they were zipping along the Autobahn with no speed limits enforced. At the team’s feet spread a boulder-strewn dusty ground, dry as old bones, split with jagged crevasses that glowed redly. Smoke and ash spewed out of holes here and there, or chunks of lava belched up out of round sinkholes, bringing with them the delectable aroma of rotten eggs.

"So," said Peter with a determined grimace, "this is the fire-plane of the cursed gods. I can buy the ‘cursed’ part. I hafta say they really play for effect. And what the heck is that crummy smell?"

"Sulfur," Egon observed. "When Mount Vesuvius erupted and destroyed Pompeii, many people who might have survived the fire and lava died from breathing sulfur."

"Good thing that kickapoo joy juice back there enhanced us so we don’t have to worry about that," Jack said quickly. "Right, Daniel? Right, Spengler?"

Daniel took a cautious sniff of the air. "It may have enhanced us," he admitted, "but I don’t think even that would protect us from a chunk of burning lava landing on our heads. The ground is awfully solid under my feet."

"Boy, Jackson, you think of the sweetest things." O’Neill made a face. "Cross the plain, right? So where are we heading? Come on, you guys. You’re the brain trust. Which way?"

"We are facing this direction, O’Neill. Would that not be the most logical route?"

Peter sneaked a glance at Teal’c. Talk about overconfidence. He knew he didn’t want to move a step until Egon figured out which way to go. He and Daniel must have something in all those notes that would explain it. There weren’t any neon signs marked, "This way to start your ‘journey’." Peter had a good bump of direction, but that was in a place where there was a reason for it. Here, the clouds were too thick to give a hint as to the location of the sun, but it wasn’t dark in spite of the heavy, dark clouds, so it was probably midday. Not easy to tell directions when the sun didn’t cooperate.

Peter scrunched up his face and concentrated. Old Tut had given them the happy juice to enable them to succeed—and possibly to encourage them to continue, letting them know what it was they were trying to achieve. Sort of like a free sample to get them to buy. Peter loved the way he felt right now, even here in the heart of Volcano-Land. And that was nuts. Nobody in his right mind should be bouncing with delight in a place like this. Course if the stuff made a Goa’uld so much more powerful, maybe he could just flick a finger and send the boiling lava away from him—or maybe even cool it with a frown.

Nobody should possess that kind of power.

He glanced up and saw Daniel looking at him with realization, as if he’d read Peter’s mind and knew what he was thinking. Weird. Peter could see the truth of that in Daniel’s eyes. It was almost as if they could read each other’s minds. Could he do that with Egon? Heck, yes. He could almost do that anyway. Now, he turned to Egon, and saw his friend nodding. "Precisely, Peter. That is why we are here."

"Huh, what?" O’Neill did a double take, performed a kind of mental playback. "Yeah, right. The Goa’uld don’t get their snaky paws on this, not for one second."

"You are wrong, O’Neill." Teal’c’s voice was firm and determined, but an ominous note ran through it that Peter didn’t much like. Jack didn’t, either, and Peter didn’t need to see the minute contraction of his eyes to realize it.

"How am I wrong, Teal’c?" he asked with deliberate mildness.

"This power was created for a reason. To destroy it would be to destroy our greatest weapon in our fight against the Goa’uld."

Well, the guy did have a need to free his people from direct Goa’uld domination, Peter had to give him that. But surely he could see that this kind of power was way over the top. Even if it felt good, if it made them all think they could do the superman route without having to be destabilized first, it wasn’t a good thing. A guy got too powerful, he forgot what really mattered—his friends, the people he cared about, the world he lived in. It was megalomaniac city. Not good at all.

"No, Teal’c." Daniel nearly stomped his foot in frustration. "No, no, no. It doesn’t work like that."

"Is that not how the Tau’ri maintain a balance of power, with equitable weapons?" Teal’c challenged. "Or do you hold separate rules, depending on which side one is on?"

"Come on, Teal’c, that’s not fair."

"Is it not, O’Neill? You know that your government expects the Stargate program to produce powerful alien weaponry. What is this if not a different type of weaponry? We shall become all-powerful and the Goa’uld will not stand against us. Will not your government reward us highly for achieving the food of the gods?"

"Yeah, right," Jack muttered uneasily, and Peter understood the unease perfectly, even without the unexpected awareness that had sprung up between them. He knew there were elements in his government, in any government, that would do anything, no matter how despicable, to achieve the power of the food of the gods, to use for their own personal and private advantage.

Jack nodded at Peter’s thought. "Listen up, Teal’c. You want Maybourne’s friends at the N.I.D. to get their hands on this? You want Senator Kinsey to find out about it? The last thing we need is to put something this powerful into their hands. That’s what would happen if we solved this, finished up our challenges, and took the stuff home."

"That would be to allow them control, O’Neill. We shall not do that." Teal’c stood there, a Jaffa Mister Clean, as big as a mountain and as tough as a Class Seven demon, and Peter’s stomach did an uneasy seesaw. Something was wrong. He didn’t know the big guy as well as Jack did, and Jack’s unease was as bright as a flare soaring up toward the sky. In the nearly-shared consciousness of the group, Peter could feel it inside him as if it were his own.

"Daniel...." the colonel muttered out of the side of his mouth.

"I see it," Daniel agreed.

See what? When Egon’s fingers grabbed Peter’s arm and tightened, Peter saw it, too—the gaze of a stranger in the depths of Teal’c’s dark eyes.

Jack turned his gaze away from Teal’c and mouthed, "Junior," with exaggerated lip movements to make the point.

Peter’s heart slid down into his boots. Could the substance in the drinks have worked on the larval Goa’uld Teal’c carried to enable it to take control over him? Wouldn’t it have to leave the pouch and zip up to twirl itself around the Jaffa’s brain stem? Could it do that? Was it mature enough to dominate Teal’c? Wasn’t it only a couple of years old? Didn’t they have to be older than that to possess a host? Peter couldn’t remember all the details of something he’d only skimmed casually on the computer months back. But from the alarm in the eyes of the other two members of SG-1, and from the certainty of the weird sharing of awareness the food of the gods had gifted them with, Peter knew his anxiety was well-founded.

"You don’t think the Goa’uld should have control, Teal’c?" Daniel asked cautiously. He shifted an involuntary step closer to Jack.

Teal’c’s face twisted. "They do not deserve control if they are unable to take it."

"‘They’ meaning other Goa’uld," Egon said in Peter’s ear. His forehead tightened into wrinkles, and Peter realized he felt a tickling in his brain, a tickling that bore a familiar aura. He reached for it—how did he know how to do that?—and "heard" Egon speaking to him, mind to mind. Peter, Daniel, Colonel, the Goa’uld do not ally with one another as a species. They fight each other for control. What we are seeing here, I believe, is the rise of Teal’c’s symbiote, accelerated by the food of the gods. I do not believe it yet has taken full control of his brain, but it acts to influence, and to dominate that way.

I hear you, Egon. Even in the midst of the Teal’c mess, Peter got a thrill from that mental contact.

I am here, too. Peter knew that mental voice. It was Daniel. The archaeologist had known Egon for years and he and Peter had become friendly when Peter had fled to Colorado when the demon had driven his friends to reject him. Jack, are you with us? Daniel asked.

What’s with this telepath number? Yep, Jack was here, too. Weird how easily they all managed to communicate. If they could do it, couldn’t Teal’c do it, too?

Peter frowned and nodded at the Jaffa, who glared at them. "You seek to betray me," Teal’c snarled. "I shall not permit this." He raised his hand, palm outward, just like he meant to throw fire at them, the way major demons could. Peter had to brace himself not to duck, but he looked around wildly for a weapon, even a rock. They were solid here, King Tut had told them.

Teal’c was way ahead of him. A rock the size of a softball jumped right up off the ground and into Teal’c’s waiting palm, and he curled his fingers around it. Light flashed there. Eerie.

Teeth gritted so tight he’d probably need caps, O’Neill yelled, "Fight it, Teal’c," and launched himself at the Jaffa to knock away the makeshift weapon before he could use it on one of the colonel’s "kids". Teal’c swung up his other hand and backhanded Jack across the face. He went flying and landed on the very edge of one of the glowing crevasses.

"Jack!" Daniel lunged for him, grabbed his wrist, and yanked him away from the drop. Behind him, lava simmered and sputtered and gushed out over the edge in the very place where O’Neill had sprawled a second before. Even in the weird, glowing light, Daniel’s face lost color. He tugged at Jack’s wrist and O’Neill sprang to his feet.

"You saved my bacon there, Daniel."

"Well, ah, I had to." He met Jack’s gaze for a fleeting second, then both men whirled to confront the controlled Jaffa. Peter saw pain run across Jack’s face and knew it had nothing to do with any bruises he’d sustained in his dramatic fall but rather with the possible loss of a friend. If Egon had been the one to go berserk, Peter would probably look just like that. Daniel’s mouth twisted and he put a hand against his stomach. He looked sick at the sight of Teal’c.

Egon leaned in closer to Peter and spoke in an undertone. "He has compressed the stone. It will fly true when he throws it."

"Yeah, Spengs, I kinda figured that. What do we do?"

"The symbiote is giving him additional strength."

"No shit, Sherlock. But there are four of us and one of him. Do we jump him?"

Daniel and Jack joined them, and they formed a line, their eyes darting to Teal’c to make sure he wasn’t trying anything. "Come on, Daniel, what next?" Jack asked. "It’s not like I want to brain my buddy with a rock."

Daniel’s face twisted. "We might have to, Jack," he said, and the pain that ran through his voice and shadowed his eyes was the only thing that kept O’Neill from exploding in six directions at once.

"You think to conspire against me," Teal’c yelled. His voice was different, not quite the hollow, echo-y level Peter had heard in Dana’s voice when Zuul popped out for a conversation, but shading in that direction. Could Junior control him from that pouch in his gut, or was the snake migrating? Once that happened, they’d lose Teal’c forever.

Somewhere off to the left, a firepit gave an obscene belch and a burst of flame and lava shot into the sky. Ash fell around them like fluffy flakes of snow, shadowy against the red glow of fire that reflected off the lowering clouds.

"We can’t breathe all that in; it will contaminate our lungs," Egon warned them. "We have to make masks." He fumbled with the bottom of his tee shirt and tore off a strip of it, twisting it awkwardly a time or two to finish the process. Once he had it, he wrapped it around his face to cover his nose and mouth. Peter nodded and copied him, and so did Daniel.

"I’ll make masks, but who’s gonna do it for Teal’c?" O’Neill asked as he mutilated his tee shirt.

Fresh fire belched from the hole, and Peter sidled up to Egon. "Spengs, we’ve gotta move. Standing here talking isn’t the answer. If that thing explodes like Krakatoa, we’re goners."

"I know, Peter. However, I think more is at stake here than our survival." He secured the strip of tee shirt into place and lowered his hands.

"I agree." Daniel’s voice was muffled by his makeshift mask, but it rang with intensity. "This is a journey, but it’s more a spirit journey than actually moving from location to location. The pharaoh identified Teal’c as a Jaffa. He must have known this could happen."

"Figured he didn’t mean well by us," Jack groused. His eyes never left Teal’c, who lobbed his smoothed-off stone neatly from hand to hand like a juggler with only one object to keep aloft.

"I don’t believe he meant us either well or ill." Egon’s brain was ticking away. Peter could feel it, even though he wasn’t communicating mentally with words. "He was impartial, like a judge. He presented us with the next test. Crossing the fire-plain need not mean moving from one point to another, as we find ourselves in the middle of said plain, not at an edge. I believe it means to deal with the crises the fire-plain offers, and not merely the lava."

"Dealing with Teal’c," Daniel said, and reinforced it with a thought. No specific words, but knowledge came through from him. It wasn’t about crossing actual physical distance that mattered. It was about the way they coped with the challenge presented them. Would they kill Teal’c to save themselves? Would they elude him and run? Would they attempt to help him and wrest control back from "Junior"?

"That’s the second challenge?" Peter asked. "Taking on a crazed Jaffa? I liked the labyrinth better."

Jack snorted and gave Peter a disgusted glare. "Right, Venkman. I should have known you’d be no help here."

"Come on, Jack, get with the program. He’s your friend. You don’t want to lose him to this. You think I don’t know how that feels? If it was Egon’s life on the line, I’d be hurting just like you are right now. It’s all our lives on the line, and it’s about how we cope with it. We want to save Teal’c—goes without saying. Can we? What about the larger picture? That N.I.D. you mentioned, and Maybourne and all those nasty power-hungry types?"

"So we kill Teal’c out of hand and pretend none of this happened?" Jack glared at him, and they squared off against each other like boxers waiting for the round to begin.

"I believe you are missing the point," Egon said in an undertone. "Colonel, listen to me. Peter’s not trying to provoke you, although he seems to do that without trying. He’s trying to reason it out. We all want to save Teal’c. I believe we must do it as a team, all of us working together, not pulling in different directions, not squabbling over it because we have separate agendas."

"Egon’s right, Jack," Daniel said. "Maybe the conditions on the fire-plain aggravate the substance we drank, and it might be worse for Teal’c because of Junior. We’re still destabilized even if everything is solid here. Teal’c said his symbiote was not comfortable with it. So it was probably in a fragile state to begin with. Now we’ve been dosed with something King Tut claimed was the food of the gods. We don’t know that’s what we got. It might even be some hallucinogen that works differently on Jaffa. It’s enhanced us, enabled us to communicate mentally. Come on, let’s work together."

O’Neill’s jaw was tight as he glanced over at Teal’c. The Jaffa stood lightly balanced on the balls of his feet, hefting his rock, the glow of the fire making his bald head gleam and his tattoo shimmer. His biceps bulged, and his jaw did a number as he gritted his teeth. An unfamiliar gleam, not quite a glow, lit his eyes. Was there anything of the real Teal’c left in there, Peter wondered? Could they get through to him?

The crevasse rumbled ominously and the ground rocked under their feet. Peter had never been in a volcanic eruption, although he’d gone through an earthquake or two. He didn’t like the feel of that. Weren’t there sometimes earth tremors before a major volcanic eruption? Lots of steam and fuss and sulfur and all that good stuff? He’d seen the movie Dante’s Peak. When the mountain finally erupted, that cloud thingie had run riot in all directions, shattering trees and buildings and eighteen-wheelers, leaving utter devastation in its wake. This was not a good place to be.

"We have to move," Jack said with a sudden grimace. "Teal’c, listen to me. This thing will blow up hotter than the fires of Netu any second now. I don’t know what’s going down with you, if Junior’s trying to take over, but I’m talking to Teal’c. My friend, Teal’c. If you can hear me, you know we have to move." His face twisted. "You’ve gotta come, too. We’ll sort this other thing out when we get away from here, but right now, you’ve gotta come."

"I do not obey your commands, O’Neill."

"Neither does the volcano. You might be more powerful than before, but not even you can stand up against that." He jerked his thumb at the lava that spewed from the bubbling sinkhole. Already streams of glowing lava crept in their direction. Peter braced himself to run like crazy.

Teal’c studied the lava, and for a second, a flash of the familiar darted through his eyes and right out again. "I depart only because I choose my battles," he announced and stalked away from the lava without looking back.

"Follow him," Jack said and sped off in rapid pursuit.

Teal’c lobbed the stone at him and it was only with a wild twist that would be sure to leave his back aching in the morning that O’Neill prevented it from bopping him on the head. "Hey!" he yelled in protest.

Another stone sprang neatly into Teal’c’s hand and flew back at his pursuers.

They scattered into a long, spread-out line, but kept moving doggedly after the hurrying Jaffa. Far ahead of them in the distance, an unbroken ridge of mountains jutted far higher than the jagged granite spires that thrust up around them.

As Peter stared in disbelief, a spire off to his left quivered and shook, then it sank down into the ground, faster and faster, until it vanished from sight. At once a shower of sparks rose up out of the hole it had left behind.

"That’s not good," Peter groaned. "Not good at all."

Another rock soared back at him, and Egon yelled, "Peter!" and flung himself at him, knocking them both to the ground. Peter felt Egon flinch as the rock bounced off his back.


"I’m not hurt, Peter."

Pain ran through those words, and Peter felt it, almost as if it were his own, a fierce ache in his left shoulder. Daniel, stooping to help them to his feet, gasped as if he felt it, too, and Peter realized that Egon must be inadvertently broadcasting his pain to the group. The telepathy might not be fun at the moment, but at least it kept Egon from going all stoic and pretending he was fine.

"Come on, can you move?" Jack asked. He rolled his left shoulder automatically then helped Daniel drag them to their feet. "Teal’c’s getting away and more of these pillar thingies are dropping through the ground. Next thing you know, it’s gonna give out on us altogether."

As Peter looked around he saw two more of the spires slide down and surrender to the earth. Lava crept up silently out of the nearer hole, and the sky grew redder as the clouds reflected the earth’s torment. Another tremor nearly threw them to the ground, but the four of them reached out automatically, in perfect synchronization to steady each other.

In the distance, Teal’c kept on going, getting further and further away from them.

"Come on," Jack urged. He exchanged one quick, worried glance with Daniel and hurried in pursuit of his controlled friend.

Daniel shared a rueful moment with Peter and Egon. "Teal’c is my friend, too," and set off after them in a loping run that was all knees and elbows. No points for form in the Olympics for him.

That Daniel could make such a claim when it was Teal’c who had given his wife to Apophis to turn into a Goa’uld host and who had actually killed her not that long ago to spare Daniel’s life said a lot for the character and integrity of Daniel Jackson. Then there was Teal’c, a prisoner of the substance he had ingested and of the snake that controlled him.

"What are we waiting for?" Peter asked and set off after SG-1 at a dead run, conscious of Egon’s long legs pumping at his side.

Some days, it just didn’t pay to get out of bed.

Another pillar, just to the left of Egon, gave way and crashed down through the fragile crust, and Peter grabbed his friend and yanked him sideways, just as the earth crumpled away where he had been standing. The hot glow of lava turned the day red. Jack and Daniel scrambled after them and tugged them toward safety.

When the four men regained their balance to continue their frantic run, Teal’c had vanished without a trace.

** *** **

The sandstorm had hit with the force of an atomic blast, or so it seemed to Ray Stantz. He, Winston, and Sam were all dressed up in bright orange survival suits, the kind they wore for disease control in contaminated areas. Sam said the suits were pretty durable and ought to hold up against the force of the sand, but the wind that drove the millions of stinging pellets before them was so strong it would be difficult to maintain one’s balance. The Marines who had brought the supplies with them had taken time to secure ropes between the pyramid and the shelter mastaba, so that anyone who ventured outside could move along gripping the tether line to keep from losing direction. Bright floodlights, securely mounted, their bases driven deeply into the ground, barely offered light through the thick wall of driven sand. Ray had peeped out the transparent covering that had been secured over the windows of their shelter, and he could tell where the more distant lights were, but only because the darkness was fractionally lighter there. The one right outside the mastaba only illuminated a churning wall of sand. In spite of the sealed windows and door, sand still found its way in, drifting in long spreading arms from the doorway, reaching for them.

Ray was glad the Marines had brought the secure tent. He’d sealed the equipment up in it, packed in cases they’d also furnished, to protect it from the insidious force of the sandstorm. No way could the sand reach it, and Ray felt better about that.

They had put up one of the floodlights right where the others had vanished into the wall of the pyramid, and planted a sign at its base, spelled out in big letters, "This way to shelter," with an arrow pointing to the double set of ropes that led across to the mastaba. Ray wasn’t convinced that was good enough, so he’d spent time alternating with the Marine guards and Winston, tethered to additional lines, gripping the support ropes, waiting. The Marines would shoo them back inside after twenty minutes or so, but after a while, he and Winston would turn and look at each other through the faceplates of their protective suits, and head out once more.

Sam shared their concern; Ray could tell. She ventured out with them a time or two, once the six-hour minimum survey time had passed. None of the guys had come back to report as originally planned, and that worried them all. They could communicate via suit mikes, but no other way because the roar of the wind that drove the sand was so ferocious that it would have taken shouts at close range to be heard. The suits protected them from the sand and the harnesses they wore to attach the lines to were sturdy enough that they wouldn’t be blown away even if they lost their balance. The Marines were tolerant of the three of them, tolerant, yet protective. They were members of the SGC, of course, and shared the concern for Colonel O’Neill, Daniel, and Teal’c. Ray felt like he and Winston had to be there to stand up for Peter and Egon. They might be temporary members of the team, but they were still outsiders.

"Hungry?" Sam asked. Inside the shelter, they removed their helmets for brief periods, mostly to avoid the claustrophobic feeling of being confined. If they sat against the northern wall, the stray sand particles that worked their way inside didn’t score their faces.

Ray wasn’t, not particularly. He knew it was because he was too worried about his friends to eat. Sure they were good at what they did, and Peter had been incredible the time he’d been destabilized, and had come over into the goblins’ realm to rescue Ray. He was clever and inventive anyway and the bravest guy Ray had ever met. Egon was just so smart there was no stopping him, and Ray liked the members of SG-1 and trusted them. They had plenty of time before there was even a remote danger from the destabilization process, more than a day and a half. That didn’t allow for the dangers they might encounter inside the pyramid, especially when they had no way to communicate with the outside team.

"I’ll take something," Winston said quickly, and Ray was sure he meant that to egg Ray on to eat as well. Ray held out his hand for one of the MRE packs. Cajun rice and sausage. That should be pretty good.

The older of the two Marines sharing the shelter grinned at him. "Back in the Gulf War days we used to say MRE stood for ‘Meals Rejected by Everyone’. But these aren’t so bad."

"Beats Ray’s cooking," Winston kidded him. "He actually made haggis for us once, if you can believe it."

Sam wrinkled her nose. "I ate haggis once. Maybe it wouldn’t have been so bad if I hadn’t known what it was."

"What is it?" the other Marine asked. He was a young guy, probably in his early twenties with Latin good looks and a crooked smile.

"You don’t want to know, Mendoza," Winston said hastily.

Ray didn’t let that stop him. "Well, you take the stomach of a sheep, and you fill it with oatmeal and—"

Mendoza flung up protesting hands. "Never mind. My mind’s having enough trouble with the sheep’s stomach without even trying to imagine what the rest of it is."

Ray set his meal to heating and gave the others a grin. "I thought it was good. Slimer liked it."

"Slimer would eat our boot soles if you told him they were food," Winston challenged him.

Ray smiled. "We should have brought Slimer with us. We could have sent him into the pyramid to tell us if the guys needed help." He knew it could never have happened. There was no way the little green ghost could have received security clearance to come to Cheyenne Mountain, let alone go through the Stargate. It was possible that the N.I.D. Ray had heard about, that nasty covert agency, could have gotten their hands on Slimer and forced information out of him. Offered pizza and other goodies, Slimer would have babbled instantly and only later realized he should have kept silent. He’d be terribly sorry, of course, and trail around wringing his hands and mourning his slip—but in the same circumstances, he’d do the same thing. He just couldn’t help himself. No, they didn’t dare risk Slimer, even if General Hammond had countenanced his presence. Ray gave a quiet sigh. He missed the little spud, even though he knew the other guys probably haven’t given him a thought.

Both Marines eyed him doubtfully. "That little green blob? I saw him on TV," said Calvert, the older Marine. "I wonder if he could go through the wormhole."

"Why not? Those ghosts came back with SG-1 the first time we were out here. The only reason we came here first before destabilizing the exploration team was so that they’d be spending less time in that state and have more time for checking out the pyramid." Ray glanced over at the windows. No change in the storm’s fury. "What do you think they’re doing right now?"

"Doctor Jackson’s probably found something to translate," Calvert said with a smile. "He can translate anything."

Ray grinned back. It was nice to think that the military contingent of the SGC respected Daniel. He’d been a little afraid the hardened military men would resist civilians, would consider the Ghostbusters geeks and would probably pull pranks on Daniel because he didn’t fit in. Maybe that happened, but Daniel was a great guy who must have proven his worth in short order. They wouldn’t even be traveling through the Stargate without his translations that had enabled them to use it. Maybe somebody else would have figured it out, but Ray remembered hearing they’d been working on it for two years before Daniel showed up and polished it off in record time.

Maybe Egon could have done that, too. Ray shook his head. Egon could read hieroglyphs, but not as easily as he managed his favorite Sumerian cuneiform. Just as well. The Ghostbusters needed Egon.

They needed the whole team. As Ray went to work on his Cajun rice and sausage, his thoughts were with Peter and Egon, deep within the ancient pyramid. What were they finding in there? Was the food of the gods real? Why hadn’t they come back? It was well past the six-hour deadline for first contact. Couldn’t one of them have popped out with a report?

They’re okay. I know they’re okay.

He saw Winston looking at him, and couldn’t help noticing the same worry he felt in Winston’s dark eyes. Winston wouldn’t anguish over something that might not be a problem at all, at least not publicly, but he’d still feel it.

They stared at each other a minute, then looked over at Sam, who was eating chicken. Her head came up under the force of their gaze. Sam was just as ready as they were to step in front of the atomic destabilizer and venture into the pyramid in search of her teammates.

Ray knew they couldn’t do it. He and Sam had to stay here because they were the ones who understood the destabilizer rectifier unit. They had to maintain it, keep it secure and ready. Besides, if they rushed to the rescue when the other team didn’t need rescue, they would be jumping the gun. Ray could see Peter grinning at them as he stretched out comfortably watching Egon and Daniel translate wall after wall of ancient text. That was sure to take time.

Why did Ray feel so utterly positive his friends were in trouble?

** *** **

"Wait a minute, where did he go?" Peter demanded.

Daniel blinked. Teal’c had been just ahead of them, running away from them, throwing rocks over his shoulder with deadly accuracy. He had to be hiding behind one of those pillars, but that wasn’t safe. The way they were dropping through the less-than-solid crust beneath their feet, he could have fallen into a pit of lava already. Teal’c was a huge mass of solid muscle; he weighed more than any of the others. In spite of the heat of the lava field, he shivered and wrapped his arms around his chest. Maybe he had fallen. Maybe he was already dead.

One glance at Jack’s taut face made it clear he shouldn’t even suggest such a thing. Jack had that military, brothers-in-arms bond with Teal’c; it would just kill him if they lost him.

"Knowing Teal’c, he’s gone to ground," Jack muttered. Definitely he was not a happy camper.

"We have to get through to him, Jack," Daniel said softly. "Maybe he can fight it."

"Think so? How?" O’Neill’s eyes raked the landscape, checking out the most likely places of concealment. Behind him, Daniel could see Egon, one hand raised to shield his eyes as he measured the distance between the various pillars and coordinated them with Teal’c’s last known position. Probably he could locate him with sheer scientific logic. He might not be experienced as a tracker—but why not? He tracked ghosts daily, ghosts who were better able to hide than one crazed Jaffa. Ghosts could become invisible, and in spite of the trace of the food of the gods they had all ingested, Daniel doubted that Teal’c could become invisible.

Or could he? They were destabilized, after all. They could become invisible in that state. Yet not here—and not to each other. The entity or projection Peter had irreverently dubbed King Tut had told them they would be solid within this part of the test, just as they had been in the glade. Maybe all that meant was that the glade and here were projections, not entirely real. Yet five destabilized men weren’t entirely "real", either. If they were injured here, they would probably die here. This was a genuine peril; the test would have no value if they were guaranteed to emerge from it without a scratch.

Even if they could find Teal’c, what was the answer? When Jack had been given the Goa’uld a year ago, the Tok’ra woman had told him to hold out as long as possible because the cryogenic process would kill it, and if it hadn’t been able to bind itself to Jack, he would be safe. Jack was probably the most stubborn man Daniel had ever met—even if Jack wanted to assign Daniel that title. He’d held out. Would the techniques he’d used to maintain his identity in the face of an overwhelming attack help Teal’c now? Wasn’t his symbiote really too young to take over? It had almost been too young to be implanted. It couldn’t have matured enough in two and a half years to physically maneuver itself up to Teal’c’s brain stem. And from everything Daniel had ever heard and read, a larval Goa’uld shouldn’t be able to control Teal’c from the belly pouch.

The food of the gods was said to increase a Goa’uld’s strength exponentially. It had certainly helped Daniel. The stomach distress he’d been feeling off and on since the first destabilization last night had eased once he had drunk the substance. That nagging pain and slight queasiness had vanished entirely. He let his hand press gently against his side. It didn’t even feel tender any longer. He didn’t need his glasses here. The substance must be a massive cure-all. If the food of the gods could cure the destabilization sickness he had been feeling, could it mature Junior enough to allow takeover? Or could it take over from the strength of its will without leaving the pouch? Maybe it was simply influencing Teal’c’s behavior without Goa’uld-ing him? They had to find out, and fast. Whichever way it was, they needed to work together on this.

"Teamwork," Daniel said under his breath.

"Huh?" Jack didn’t take his eyes off the landscape as he searched for Teal’c.

"We’re here to achieve something," Daniel said, doggedly pursuing his thought.

"Precisely." That was Egon. "Simply escaping from the lava requires no great skill, simply the luck of avoiding the pits and the ability to run. The fire-plain is simply an obstacle course, a giant game board on which we solve the problem. Once our team was in an auto race, using our skills to design vehicles with various abilities. We were sucked into an alternate dimension where we were forced to play the game. In the end, we worked together to ensure our survival. It wasn’t a question of winning except to the entity that manipulated us. It was about the way we worked together."

"Yes!" Peter grinned a mile wide. "It’s always about the team. Sometimes we get so caught up in the problem we forget that. I betcha it’s also to teach us a lesson, so we can see what this stuff can do; then we make a choice whether or not we want it."

Egon’s eyes lit with pride at Peter’s assumption. "Exactly, Peter. And you are definitely right, too, Daniel. We have to help Teal’c. That is far more important than simply crossing a plain, even one as dangerous as this one is."

"Okay, that sounds good, but what do we do? The big guy’s still out there somewhere, ready to brain us with rocks. He already got Spengler."

Reminded of that particular blow, Peter stared at Egon, who shrugged painfully. "I am all right, Peter, simply bruised. I assure you it won’t hold me back."

"Egon, a broken leg wouldn’t hold you back," Peter said. "Okay, guys, this might be a job for the famous Doctor Venkman, your friendly neighborhood shrink. If Teal’c’s still in there, we’ve gotta get through to him. Means we have to grab him and maybe even restrain him so he can’t bop us with rocks."

Jack made a sound that was halfway to a snarl. He had to be going nuts over Teal’c’s condition. Jack had always been protective of his friends and his team, and Teal’c was both. Let anyone threaten Teal’c, Daniel, or Sam, they came up against the full strength of O’Neill’s wrath. Jack might get on all their nerves at times, and there were moments when he absolutely drove Daniel crazy when he wouldn’t listen to something Daniel considered vitally important, but Daniel had always known, even from the first when he was just learning to understand Jack, that he could trust the man utterly when it came to preserving his friends.

"Means we have to find him first, Venkman."

"Well, you’re a big-shot colonel, and probably forgot more than I ever learned about stealth techniques. Go for it."

Egon thrust out his arm toward the thickest of the pillars before them. "He’s there," he said with utter certainty.

Realizing Egon had identified his position, Teal’c popped out from behind the pillar and flung two rocks, one at Jack and the second at Egon. Both men jumped sideways to avoid being struck. Thunder rumbled in the sky and a jagged bolt of lightning stabbed down and struck the hills in the distance beyond Teal’c. The Jaffa jumped out of sight.

As Daniel watched, the fat pillar wobbled slightly. "It’s going to fall," he cried.

At his shout, Jack gave a yell of exasperation and lunged. There was no time to wait. Behind them, another pillar crashed and a cluster of sparks shot skyward. Some of them fell on the team, but Jack didn’t even notice as he ran. Peter jumped at Egon and pounded him on the back to smother a small blaze. Once Daniel saw he had it under control, he went after Jack. A second later, he heard the two Ghostbusters pelting after him.

The huge pillar wobbled harder. Wouldn’t Teal’c notice, or was he so crazed with the effects of the food of the gods that it wouldn’t make any difference? O’Neill glanced over his shoulder, saw the others, and performed one of those esoteric hand signals that military men seemed to grasp without effort but that Daniel had finally mastered once Jack realized he didn’t magically know their secret key and sat him down to learn. To the left, Jack told him. He glanced back at Peter and Egon and broadened out the signals, sending Peter with Daniel and motioning Egon to come with him. Even as Peter fell into step with him, Daniel realized that Jack had automatically worked out the best dispersion of forces. Peter was fitter than Egon—he had to work out to develop those muscles he was so proud of, and Egon was much more of a lab rat. He was in shape for busting, but this would require different physical attributes. Peter also had a tougher edge than his teammate. Not as tough as the black ops-trained Jack, but better suited to back Daniel than Egon would be.

"It’s about to fall," Egon called.

"No, ya think?" You could have cut Jack’s sarcasm with a dull knife. He circled around the trembling pillar and lunged. Peter galloped up from the other direction and passed Daniel with a surprising burst of speed. The two men converged on the crouching Jaffa, who flung rocks at each of them so quickly that they barely had time to duck, then they grabbed him, one to each arm. Jack jerked his head southward, at least the direction Daniel assumed was southward, and they hauled the struggling Teal’c away from the quivering pillar so fast he lost his balance and they were forced to drag him. He kicked and fought against them, and tried to dig his heels into the crusty earth to retard his pace, but Daniel and Egon joined them and helped to steer him away just as the giant pillar toppled. This one fell sideways instead of plunging straight down into the subterranean lava, and the ground rocked with the force of its massive impact. As Daniel glanced over his shoulder, he saw a chunk of the plateau’s crust give way beneath it, dropping away to reveal a vast pit of lava. The edges of it collapsed as it expanded—right for the team.

"Run!" bellowed Peter and quickened his pace.

Teal’c struggled savagely, his body writhing and heaving, and Egon gestured abruptly to Daniel—it seemed the Ghostbusters had developed their own esoteric signals—and grabbed for one of the Jaffa’s legs. Daniel went for the other. Teal’c managed a firm kick to Daniel’s chin that jarred his neck and exploded a shiver of stars before his eyes—no, maybe it was just sparks from the volcano—before he caught Teal’c’s ankle. His side resumed its dull ache from the exertion. Probably a stitch from all that running.

Once they had a firm grip on the writhing Jaffa, they quickened their pace, racing the collapsing crust of ground as its collapse chased them, the surface layer falling deeper and deeper into the volcanic pit. Teal’c cursed them in Goa’uld, and it was probably just as well Jack couldn’t hear the creative and profane names Teal’c invented for him. The air reeked with sulfur that their tee-shirt masks couldn’t filter out, and Daniel felt woozy and coughed painfully. The stench in the air made him want to vomit, but he swallowed hard in a desperate struggle to control the impulse. He didn’t think the others could feel any better. Their footsteps weren’t quite steady, but they kept going. They had to. If they stopped, they would die.

Teal’c resisted them every step of the way, jerking at their grip, arcing his body in a savage struggle, tautening his joints to make it harder for them to carry him. "Leave me," he snarled. "I shall destroy you all."

"You can try," Jack snapped breathlessly around another cough. "Shut up, Teal’c. You’ll thank me for this once you get it out of your system."

"I will never thank you for incarcerating me. Pitiful Tau’ri, release me. As your god, I command you."

"Hate to break it to you," Peter panted, "but you’re no god."

"You will worship me, or die."

"Sorry, neither," Egon denied.

Daniel saved his breath for running. His jaw throbbed from the force of Teal’c’s kick, his stomach ached, and his eyes fuzzed. He didn’t know whether that was a result of the kick or the poison in the air or even of the destabilization problems he’d had from the first. All he knew was they had to keep running and they couldn’t let go. If they abandoned Teal’c to save themselves, he was sure they would fail the second test and "King Tut" would not return them to the pavilion for step three.

Teal’c kept on shouting out his commands for them to stop, to acknowledge his godhood. Jack just ran, his face tight with tension, his eyes hollow, reddened from the irritation of the ash that fell around them thicker than snowflakes, and concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other. This had to be tearing him up. Daniel knew it did him. His history with Teal’c had required some hard resolve to overcome the bitterness that could still strike him when he remembered Teal’c’s staff weapon blast killing Sha’re. He had worked past that; Teal’c had freed Sha’re from enslavement; he could never have lived with himself had he allowed the Goa’uld who dominated her to slay Daniel. Knowing that did not absolve Teal’c from the guilt he felt over his actions, but Daniel had made peace with him.

Listening to him rave now, a treacherous portion of his mind couldn’t help wondering if his earlier resentment hadn’t been the wiser choice.

But no, that was wrong. In his right mind, Teal’c would deplore his current behavior, resenting the symbiote’s control. To fault him now was to imply that the rest of SG-1 should have given up on Daniel when he had been addicted to the sarcophagus. They hadn’t, none of them. He couldn’t give up on Teal’c.

Peter gave a wild glance over his shoulder. "It’s gaining on us, guys. Think we could pull that levitation number here?"

"We’re solid here, Venkman," Jack reminded him. "It’s not like we can fly."

Egon shook his head. Daniel got a glimpse of the furious calculation going on in his eyes. "No, we’re still destabilized. None of this is any more solid than we are."

Peter didn’t slow his running, but a blaze of sudden hope illuminated his face. "Does that mean it won’t really hurt us?"

"I shouldn’t count on that, Peter." Egon’s face twisted in thought. "If it is destabilized in the same manner we are, it would affect us; as we can touch each other in this state, so can the lava. I felt the rock Teal’c threw at me, and Daniel felt his kick. Not only that, Teal’c was able to manipulate the rock."

Peter kept running, but he shook his head. "Yeah, but we are destabilized. And we’re boosted with this food of the gods stuff. I don’t think Teal’c was the only one who got a dose, or we couldn’t have pulled that telepathic routine. Come on, guys, what do you say? Let’s fly."

"Is he nuts?" Jack demanded of Daniel.

"No, he’s thinking." Could they levitate? They had better do something fast. The whole plateau quivered beneath their feet as more and more of it fell away into the lava chamber. They had only moments to go unless they reached a sturdier footing.

"Concentrate," Egon cried. "Remember how it felt when we drifted down into the pyramid. We must do that now."

Daniel couldn’t close his eyes to focus his concentration. He needed all his attention to avoid stumbling into an unexpected pit. But the collapsing surface was catching up with them; it would be here in moments. What had they done before? Their minds had linked; they’d been able to communicate telepathically. That meant either the destabilization or the food of the gods had caused it. They had two separate chances to survive.

Float, Jackson, he instructed himself and pictured himself floating. Egon’s face tightened and Jack’s mouth traced a hard line. Peter yelled, "Up, up, and away," and abruptly shot skyward like a drunken Superman, half-tugging the others with him. A second later they were about twenty feet above the ground.

The place they had been running seconds earlier caved in, then the entire surface of the plateau in a great whoosh of sparks and ash. Lava gurgled up, spitting flame at them that drove them higher still. For once, Teal’c fell silent, no longer ranting or spilling out his claims of godhood. He lay perfectly still in their grip. Maybe Junior knew that false gods could die just like ordinary mortals.

"Don’t let go," Jack warned them. "I can’t trust him like this."

"I am myself again, O’Neill," Teal’c said. His face was tight and his jaw muscles bunched. Daniel wanted desperately to believe him, but he didn’t. Common sense? Lingering bitterness over Sha’re’s death?

"Hang there and don’t fight us," Jack snapped. "I hope you’re leveling with us, big guy."

"I wish I could take a reading," muttered Egon. "I think we should aim for the mountains. Once on solid ground, we can determine how best to restore Teal’c to himself."

"Yeah," Peter threw in. "Hate to break it to you, Jack, but it hasn’t worn off. He’s faking you out."

"Oh, and you know this how, Venkman? Ghostly power? ESP? Wild guess?"

Peter adjusted his two-handed grip on Teal’c’s muscular arm. "Because we’re still flying. And I can still sense Egon in my mind. Betcha you and Daniel can do that, too. And they don’t need their glasses. If we can do that and we couldn’t just from destabilization, it’s because of the food of the gods, and if it hasn’t worn off for us—"

"Gotcha." Jack’s chest heaved in a deep sigh. The air was clearer up here, though not much.

"Do not think you can restrain me indefinitely," Teal’c snarled, proving Peter’s theory. Daniel wished he’d been wrong but he hadn’t let himself count on it.

"Just long enough to get you back," Jack retorted. When Teal’c snarled at him, he averted his eyes. "Come on, campers," he continued and aligned himself to tow their captive toward the mountains.

"Well reasoned, Peter."

"Thanks, Egon."

With an animal-like growl, Teal’c struggled, tugging and jerking to test their grip. "Release me."

"So you can splat in the lava?" Peter challenged him. "No way. Go with the flow. Cause I just know the real Teal’c’s in there, kicking and screaming to get out." He sniffed cautiously to test the air, risked a couple of deep breaths. "Well, maybe not screaming," he said. "Kicking, yeah. You’ll owe Daniel a good punch in the jaw once you’re back to yourself. And you’re gonna be. I may not know you as well as O’Neill and Daniel do, but this isn’t the real you."

"You never knew me. None of you did. I am your god."

"No way," Jack said, but he sounded unhappy. What if they never got Teal’c back? What if one dose of the food of the gods was enough to change him for all time? In spite of the heat of the volcanic air, Daniel shivered. He wasn’t cold; if anything he was too warm as if he had a fever, but that didn’t stop him.

The mountains loomed closer, like a row of broken fangs, fierce and deadly. Could the team land among all that jagged rock? Too much of it shot up, utterly perpendicular, and no matter how he squinted through the smoke and ash, Daniel couldn’t spot a safe landing area. Worse, tugging Teal’c about in their destabilized state was starting to tell on him. His arms ached with the weight and it took fierce concentration and the savage clenching of his teeth to prevent the Jaffa’s leg from slipping through his fingers. His muscles weren’t designed for carrying powerful Jaffa through the air. His ears rang, and his stomach wanted very much to twist up into a tight knot; he wasn’t sure whether the symptoms were a result of his acrophobia, which had been shrieking at him all along, or from the kick to his jaw, or maybe from destabilization. Egon had said the uncontrolled destabilization had sent him bouts of pain. Even with the food of the gods boosting him, Daniel hurt. Whatever the cause, he felt more than a little queasy. He only knew he couldn’t let go and allow the other three to carry his share of the burden. If the food of the gods offered a cure-all, it was a short-term one.

"I believe it is wearing off." Egon made it sound like an intriguing scientific observation, not a sign for urgency or panic. If he could keep his cool in the face of major demons, maybe this was natural to him, too. He was the type of man who didn’t wear his emotions for all to see.

"Man, Egon, I don’t know how you do it," Peter returned, although concern flashed in his eyes as if he could see—or maybe sense—the fear Egon’s brave words must conceal. "You didn’t turn a hair when we were falling toward those spikes the time the guy made a deal with a demon to get rid of all the chickens in the world, and you aren’t now. Nerves of steel."

"Not necessarily, Peter. How would screaming ‘we’re all going to die’ assist in this situation?"

"All the chickens in the world?" Jack echoed in disbelief. Daniel would have said nothing could distract him from their immediate peril, but that did. Somehow, in his disbelief, Jack seemed lighter in the air. They all did. Peter had a knack for coming up with smart remarks, just like Jack did. It always helped, even if it only served to make the one he spoke to ache to punch his lights out. Jack had displayed that kind of an attitude to Peter more than once, but Jack was a smartass type himself. He might not enjoy being upstaged.

On the other hand, he might see all his worst faults in Peter—and refuse to face the fact that, just maybe, they weren’t really faults at all.

"Get Ray to tell you about it when we get home," Peter said with a grin. He shifted his grip on Teal’c’s arm. "Listen up, Teal’c, just in case you can’t fly without the rest of us, you might want to quit shifting around. I bet a god can splat just as easily as an ordinary guy can—and lava’s not very forgiving. Unless you want to end up like Darth Vader in a black suit with a breath mask, just lie there and don’t give me any trouble."

"When I come into my power, PeterVenkman, you shall be the first to die."

"Whoa, major honor. I’m sooo impressed—not."

"Don’t provoke him," Jack cautioned. "Teal’c could break you in two with one hand tied behind his back."

"You don’t have to sound like you’d enjoy watching," Peter griped. "What about that place over there? Think we could set down there?"

"Yeah, if you were a Harrier jet," Jack scoffed. Daniel had a sneaky feeling he’d have taken the idea better from anyone else than Peter.

Peter made a face. "Well, you pick a place, Mister Air Force Hotshot."

"Over there." Jack nodded at a spot just to the left of the one Peter had chosen. Daniel couldn’t see anything different between the two.

He squashed down his physical discomfort and jumped in. He was used to serving as a target—or at least an irritant—to Jack, so why not now? "Jack, I hate to say it but we have to work together."

"Ya think, Daniel?"

"We’re here for a test," Daniel persisted. "Uh, I’m pretty sure one of the things we’re being tested for is the way we function together. If we can’t get along here for something this simple, how can we get along at any time? We already decided the test wasn’t to prove we could run across a burning plain."

"Nor is the test based on whether you or the colonel is the alpha male here, Peter," Egon added. Daniel realized that was the role both Peter and Jack served, whether consciously or unconsciously, in their respective groups. Of the other Ghostbusters, Egon and Ray would hardly care, and Winston would simply do the job with no need to prove himself. On SG-1, Teal’c had submitted himself to Jack’s leadership, Sam followed the chain of command, and Daniel—well, Daniel always challenged Jack, not for the sake of leadership but because he couldn’t shut down his brain for something that seemed detached from the reality of any given situation. He wouldn’t embarrass Jack in front of other SG teams; he owed Jack more than that, and Jack far outshone him in matters of strategy and tactics anyway. Daniel’s alpha-male style regarded the intellect, as did Egon’s, and the reason he and Egon got on without conflict was that their areas of expertise were, in general, utterly different, and only abutted in the ancient language field.

"Alpha male?" Jack tested the sound of that, and his mouth twisted.

Teal’c bucked in his grip. "You are not the leader here, O’Neill," the Jaffa spat. "Soon you will learn to bow to your god."

The effort with which Jack ignored him was painful to see. Instead he glanced from Daniel to Egon and back before shooting a sidelong, measuring look at Peter—who was shooting one back. "You know all the answers, don’t you?" He drew a deep breath, sputtered a cough, then pulled himself together. "Okay. Whatever you say. We’ll do it as a team." He added under his breath, "‘S not like I don’t know how to work with a team."

Peter heard him; he could hardly help it when they were bunched so closely around the hostile Teal’c. He reined in his own hasty temper and said, "Call it. You’re the colonel." And while the words could have been misinterpreted as sarcasm, Daniel didn’t think he meant them that way. Jack was in charge of the mission. Not even Peter could question that. What he had wanted to question was Jack’s way of rubbing it in.

Jack threw him a suspicious glance, then he relaxed. "Over here." The landing area was a compromise, midway between their first choices, and probably better than either of the original selections. As Daniel watched, it seemed as if the ground smoothed away before them to offer them safe haven. Peter and Jack, at the leading edge of their "wing" steered down as if they’d been flying—and flying together—for years. Over Teal’c’s bucking knee, Daniel caught Egon’s eye.

"It takes a great deal of effort sometimes, doesn’t it?" Egon asked. "Cocky leader types, the care and management thereof."

In spite of the ash in the air, the struggling Jaffa, his own physical discomfort, and the tension that hadn’t entirely dissipated between Jack and Peter, Daniel smiled. Not that Egon could see it through his tee shirt mask, but maybe he could sense it through the telepathic edge they all still shared.

Peter certainly could. "Hey, Spengs," he caroled out. "No talking about me behind my back."

Egon lifted his eyebrow in his best Spock manner. "You acknowledge being cocky?"

"Heck no. I acknowledge being a leader type," Peter said with a huge grin that was apparent even though they couldn’t seen his nose and mouth.

"Watch that ego, Venkman," Jack warned, but without the hostility he’d displayed a moment before. There wasn’t much amusement in his eyes, not while Teal’c was controlled by his symbiote and Jack couldn’t be sure it would wear off. But in that moment, he appreciated Peter’s comment.

"Takes one to know one, O’Neill."

"Watch out for that rock, Venkman," said Jack without offense.

"Yes, sir, Colonel, sir."

And even though Teal’c still squirmed in their grip and muttered dire threats against them, the other four found that they could work together perfectly well, and that even Peter and Jack could get along when they needed to. Somehow, Daniel’s spirits lifted. There had to be a way to free Teal’c from the domination of his symbiote.

Maybe if Peter and Jack could get along, even if for this one small task, even that would be possible.

Behind them, the entire plateau roiled with spitting lava. For a breathless pause, the rumbling stopped, then the lava field exploded with a savage fury, belching up roaring energy that churned and writhed as if it were alive. A huge seething cloud boiled up out of the troubled Earth and expanded outward in all directions with hurricane force.

"Look out," Peter yelled, and Egon cried, "Get down," but Daniel gasped as he realized there was no shelter to protect them from the savage, superheated cloud that bore down on them. There was no time, no chance.

As one, the four who still controlled themselves flung themselves over Teal’c and raised hands to cover their heads. The reek of sulfur hung over them like a million rotten eggs, and the wind driven in advance of the cloud whipped their hair and nearly blew away their makeshift masks.

With a sound like a hundred approaching death gliders, the cloud raced at them. Daniel felt Jack’s hand come to rest on his shoulder. "Daniel...."

"Egon, I...." Peter blurted out, his words nearly drowned out by the ear-pummeling roar.

A second before the cloud would have hit them, the sound vanished, just like that, as if a switch had been flipped. The heat of lava that had been borne before the cloud was gone and Daniel felt a cool, balmy breeze toss his hair, bearing with it the scent of roses and lilacs. He blinked and risked lifting one eyelid. It offered him a view of Peter’s face, not more than a foot in front of him, his eyes scrunched tight, his shoulders braced, one hand curled urgently around Egon’s wrist.

For a second, Peter held the pose, then he froze, sniffed the air. "Huh?" he uncoiled himself and opened his eyes. "What the heck?"

"We’re back!" cried Daniel. "Back at the pavilion." Relief made his muscles lax, and he was content to simply lie there and savor survival.

Jack let go of Daniel’s shoulder and pushed himself up on his knees. His other hand didn’t break the hold he had on Teal’c’s arm, though. He glanced around, yanked away the breathing mask, and a wonderful smile lit his face. "Way to go, King Tut!"

Peter scrambled to his knees. "Egon? You okay?"

"I shall live, Peter. Although it was very close." He removed the breathing mask and used a corner of it to mop at his reddened eyes. Daniel did the same. He was too used to his glasses; it still felt strange not to wear them.

Teal’c bucked between his captors. "You believe you are safe, foolish mortals. You are not safe. I am glad to see you kneel before your god."

"Rats." Peter made a face. "I thought he’d be okay." He darted a measuring glance at Jack, and kindly averted his eyes at the pain they all saw flash there.

"Now you see the power of the food of the gods," said a familiar voice and "King Tut" materialized before them.

"Yeah, like it would have been nice to have some warning," Jack snarled and launched himself to his feet with a fluidity that belied his bad knee. They were still solid here in the pavilion, and when Daniel quested after the telepathic link he’d shared with the others on the fire-plain, he could still sense the awareness that lingered in the background. Would that last as long as Teal’c’s state? Had they possessed that ability all along and simply didn’t realize, or was it an enhancement created by their drugged drinks? Better to judge by the improved vision he and Egon shared. When that returned to normal, they could assume that Junior’s powers would fade. Daniel hoped so, anyway.

"A test is a test. To describe the inherent dangers would invalidate the journey."

Egon’s ears pricked up. "He poreia, the journey," he said, and Daniel realized the guy had switched over to ancient Greek. What was stranger was that Peter and Jack, two men who weren’t likely to know any ancient Greek—except possibly for fraternity symbols—hadn’t failed to understand. More telepathy from Daniel and Egon to their teammates? A mental translation from the projected being? Or part of the same thing that enabled them to understand nearly everyone when traveling through the Stargate?

"Greek to me," Peter and Jack said in another of those involuntary choruses.

Egon and Daniel exchanged delighted grins. "Precisely," Egon agreed.

"And the sign that we are proceeding with the test. The keyword." Daniel let go of Teal’c’s leg and stood up. He didn’t know what was to happen next but he suspected the being could deal with Teal’c in his state without raising a sweat.

"You have detected the pattern of the test." King Tut beamed upon Daniel. He waved a hand at them as they stood there, grimy with caked ash, bleeding from minor cuts, aching and exhausted. Egon rotated his left shoulder and winced. "Not without some small price."

Jack ignored the blood that trickled down toward his left eye from a cut at his hairline except to scrub at it with the back of his hand. "I’d say we were talking a big price here, buster." He jerked his thumb at Teal’c, who had arisen and stood watching them through narrowed eyes, his knees slightly bent, his hands curled into fists. "That’s my friend over there. Any way you can reverse what you did to him?"

King Tut surveyed Jack, then his eyes moved to Daniel. "And do you wish this also, you to whom this Jaffa has done great harm?"

Daniel blinked. King Tut could read minds? Well, they’d had reason to suspect as much before. Maybe he lived on the food of the gods. He might be powerful enough to crush them simply by pointing a finger at them. Could they possibly trust a being who had the ability to do whatever he wished, regardless of the consequences? Wasn’t that why they fought to stop the Goa’uld, for their terrible abuse of power?

"We will save my motives for my own tests," the being said gently. "Do not think that I am any more immune to them than you are." He nodded at Daniel. "Answer my question."

Daniel gazed at Teal’c, who might as well have spoken in a resonant voice while his eyes glowed. All the arrogance and contempt of a true Goa’uld radiated from his pose, the curl of his lip, the scorn in his expression. From the way he stood, Daniel knew he could lunge at any of them and snap them like twigs. The image of Teal’c firing his staff weapon, Sha’re falling—Sha’re, who had become a Goa’uld though Teal’c’s intervention in the first place—flashed before Daniel’s eyes, the pain as fresh and new as the moment it had happened.

Forgive Teal’c. That was what Sha’re had asked him as she died, and he had done it. He could refuse her nothing, not even that, although it had been so nearly impossible at first that he had feared he would fail her. But he and Teal’c had again become friends, and if Daniel sometimes remembered and looked at Teal’c with momentary doubt, Teal’c had endured it, allowing his broad shoulders to bear the weight, refusing to abrogate his guilt. He lived as if he owed a debt, several debts, to "DanielJackson", and he accepted that responsibility. Without Teal’c, Daniel would be many times dead.

"Yes," he said, and not only for Sha’re’s sake but for Jack’s, whose bond with his brother-in-arms ran deep, for Sam’s, who was not here to defend Teal’c, and for his own, because to do any less was to invalidate not only Teal’c’s ethics but his own. "Free him."

He could feel the approval in Jack’s eyes, warm as a blessing against his aching shoulders, but he didn’t turn his eyes away from the being who tested them. "Reverse the process," he said, and knew his words were a triumph, no matter the answer.

Jack slapped him on the shoulder, his presence warm and reassuring at Daniel’s side.

King Tut inclined his head. "Your wish does you great credit, Daniel Jackson." He glanced over at the Ghostbusters. "And what of you? You have no real ties with the Jaffa. Would you spare him, or risk the danger he poses to each of you?"

Peter looked at Egon, who gazed back. The need to protect each other was as real in them as was Jack’s protective urges for his team. Through the remnants of the telepathic link, Daniel knew that the two of them would willingly die to protect each other and the rest of their team. They had looked death in the eye, challenged death, faced it down on its own terms. The urge to protect, to save a friend out of chaos was so strong it was nearly visible.

Egon nodded at Peter, who squared his shoulders and fell into place beside Jack. "Danger’s our buddy," Peter said. "We’re used to it. Teal’c’s not like this usually. Maybe I don’t know him as well as Jack and Danny do, but I know he’s normally a guy you can trust to go to the wall with you. Doping him up like this was a tacky thing to do. Where we come from, you don’t go around drugging innocent people. They arrest you for things like that."

"Ah, yes." King Tut elevated his eyes. "I see that recreational drug use is common in your culture."

"That doesn’t mean it’s right," Peter challenged. "Back when I was teaching, I saw a kid I knew die of an overdose. I’d do anything I could to stop that."

"And he does," Egon explained. He stood at Peter’s side, as if he had always been there and always would be. "Peter does anti-drug commercials for television." He didn’t bother to explain what television was. "He doesn’t just believe drug use is wrong. He tries to do something about it."

"If this food of the gods can mess up a good man like Teal’c, we don’t want any part of it." Peter folded his arms across his chest and glared at the entity.

"Indeed? Do you not revel in the mental contact you share with your closest friend?"

Peter glanced sideways at Egon. They smiled at each other. "Come on, now you’re testing me." Without taking his eyes from Egon, Peter said, "A drug high is supposed to make you feel good, otherwise nobody would shell out all their money to get it. That doesn’t mean it’s right."

"Very true, Peter," Egon returned. Jack nodded.

"So here’s the deal." Peter shot out a finger and stabbed it at the being who tested them. "Egon and I are friends. He’s the best friend I ever had and he knows me better than I know myself. Yeah, the telepathy gig is great, and I’ve gotta say I loved it. But I don’t need it. I’ve got my friend and he’s got me, and that’s what matters. Take it away. You won’t change one thing between him and me, or between any of us Ghostbusters."

"I concur." Egon rested his hand on Peter’s shoulder. "I am very proud of my friend. That will never change, even if you remove the artificially induced mental contact. We have managed for many years without it."

"I could give you knowledge, Doctor Spengler. The answers to the mysteries of the universe, the secret to destroying the ghost threat you face daily."

"You could. But I would prefer to continue as I have done before. Where is the triumph in having the answers given to me? If I do not find them through the use of my own intellect, I am not worthy of them. You don’t tempt me."

Daniel suspected the temptation was there, all the same, simply that it was not a bargain Egon would value. What scientist, what scholar, would not wish for all the answers? But only an ethical man would choose to find the answers himself, through his own research, his own intellect, his own abilities.

Peter beamed at Egon. "I knew he wouldn’t. You’ll figure all that out one day, Spengs. Just like you always come up with the answers now—I can’t count how many times your smarts have saved the day. This guy hasn’t got anything we want."

Daniel hoped King Tut wouldn’t take that as a challenge and realize he could manipulate them by threatening one or the other of them, just as he could manipulate Daniel by threatening Jack. He didn’t do that. Instead he turned to O’Neill. "And what of you? You claim this Jaffa as your friend, when he holds you in utter contempt. He will not thank you for any intervention on my part."

"Not now, maybe," Jack said, "but you don’t know Teal’c. Strongest guy I know. If anybody can beat this, he can."

"And what will you do to help him?" King Tut wondered. He folded one arm across his chest, rested his other elbow on it, and tapped at his chin. "What can you do? When it comes to the intellectual department, your companions dwarf you. Or so you would have us believe."

"Even Venkman?" Jack said involuntarily, and Daniel realized he was stalling for time.

"Hey," Peter objected, but awareness flashed in his eyes. A casual acquaintance might not realize how smart Peter was, any more than they would Jack, but Daniel knew that for all his facade, Jack O’Neill was an intelligent man. If he weren’t, Thor wouldn’t have been so impressed with him. It was to Jack that the Asgard had suggested that humanity might one day become the "Fifth Race," willing to stand up there with the wisest ones. They weren’t there yet, or people like the Nox wouldn’t keep telling them how "young" they were, but they were growing.

Jack must have realized the trend of Daniel’s thoughts. More telepathy. He squirmed. "What can I do?" he said hastily. "I can do what it takes to get Teal’c back to himself."

He would, too, if it were humanly possible. "The way you stood by me when I was addicted to the sarcophagus," Daniel said softly, "even after I’d reveled in the power while the three of you slaved away in the mines. You never gave up on me, not once."

"Well, yeah, but...." Jack glanced over at Teal’c. "I’m not giving up on him, either," he said.

"That is your weakness, O’Neill," Teal’c scoffed. His eyes flashed with contempt, but the muscles in his jaw quivered. Was he in there, fighting it?

"No, it’s his strength." To Daniel’s surprise, he wasn’t the only one who spoke. Maybe it was the telepathic thing, but Peter and Egon joined in the chorus, then blinked in surprise.

Jack must have felt the bond the food of the gods had forged, or maybe, even better, adversity had forged, between them. His shoulders squared. "Okay," he said. "You got me. What do I need to do?"

King Tut rubbed his chin as he studied each man in turn, his eyes intent, holding their gaze until they couldn’t help becoming uncomfortable. Peter fidgeted, but he stood his ground, every line of his body radiating stubbornness. Egon simply waited, as if to say, "Here I am." Jack glanced sideways at Daniel and waggled an expectant eyebrow at him. Both of them looked at Teal’c, who stood, hands fisted so tightly that the muscles of his arms bulged. He’s fighting it, Daniel thought, but he didn’t say it aloud. He just let it show in his eyes—and in his mind.

Jack sucked in a breath that lifted his chest. "Yeah," he said. And let Daniel take whatever meaning he could from the one word.

"Yeah," Peter echoed, and his word wasn’t defiance but unity.

The entity who surveyed them smiled gently. "It is fitting," he said. "Your journey continues now. You must bring the Jaffa back from the dark place where he has gone. The clues will guide the way."

He rippled, thinned, grew transparent. A second later, he was gone.

"Well, that wasn’t much help," Peter called after him.

"He can’t help us, Peter," Egon pointed out. "We must complete the third test on our own. He could only point us in the right direction."

"Well, in case you didn’t notice, Spengler," Jack snapped, "he didn’t point us in any direction at all."

Egon didn’t take offense at his tone. "Perhaps not, Colonel. But we came from there." He pointed over at the far side of the grove. There had been nothing but trees around them when they returned from the fire-plain, but now a stone archway appeared. "Back through the labyrinth, perhaps?" the blond suggested.

"We did the labyrinth already," Daniel returned. "I think that doorway leads...somewhere else this time."

"And it’s time to find out what’s behind door number three," Peter chimed in.

Teal’c bunched his shoulders and faced them, his eyes glittering. "I will not accompany you," he spat.

"Yeah, you will." That was Jack. If Senator Kinsey had ever seen that look, he’d have run for cover. "Teal’c, listen to me. I know you’re in there. You’re gonna fight this. It can’t last forever."

"Little do you know." At least his voice didn’t echo. What did that mean, that Junior didn’t control him, only influenced him? Would the influence fade on its own? The telepathic touch hadn’t faded yet. Would Teal’c need to fend off Junior before the food of the gods’ power faded in order to win? Waiting for it to wear off might not work—and it might take more time than they could safely remain destabilized.

"I think we have to see him through it, Jack."

"No, ya think?" The sarcasm wasn’t meant for Daniel, but for fate. He glanced at Venkman. "We bring him," he said.

Peter didn’t argue and he didn’t protest. He simply said, "You got it," and reached for Teal’c’s arm.

The Jaffa fended him off with a blow to the chin that would have sent him sprawling to the stone pavement if he hadn’t been so quick on his feet.

"You do that again, I’m gonna come over there and slap you silly," he retorted. "Come on, guys. I think this is another of those team things."

They converged on Teal’c in a body, two men to an arm, and they fell into the same pattern as before, Jack and Egon to one arm, Peter and Daniel to the other. Teal’c struggled and cursed them in the language of Chulak, which was just as well Peter didn’t understand. He wouldn’t have liked Teal’c’s aspersions about his mother.

Egon didn’t speak the language, either, but he might have picked up enough of the root language to get a word every now and then. Or maybe he simply inferred the savage profanity from the tone and from the evil glare Teal’c threw them. One eyebrow soared.

"Come on," Jack urged, tugging. "We’ve got one more test to go."

They stepped through the arch. Daniel had an ugly feeling it wouldn’t be fun.

** *** **

Winston turned away from the shielded window and gave Ray and Sam a thumbs’ up and a quick grin. "I think the sandstorm is easing. I can see the other floodlights a little better."

"That’s great!" Ray bounced up. His ankle didn’t protest the sudden motion—at least, nothing showed in his eyes.

Sam watched the two of them gazing out the window and felt a surge of relief. The sandstorm had been so confining. Perhaps there had been nothing for them to do to fill the interval but test the equipment and wait, but the enforced confinement had sat poorly with her. Who knew what scientific knowledge might be required inside the pyramid? She wanted to conveniently ignore the fact that Egon Spengler was a physicist, too, and better suited to deal with the destabilization than she was. But her three teammates were in there without her, and she not only worried about them, she missed them. In their own unique ways, they might be three of the most difficult men she had ever met, and sometimes she wanted to beat the colonel’s and Daniel’s heads together for their everlasting stubbornness, their stupid bickering. There were even times the weird and unlikely bond between them made her feel like she was on the outside of a glass wall, looking in. Teal’c was both approachable and remote, bonded to the team with their more than three years of shared experience, distanced from them by his alien perspective and his fierce determination to free his people. Even though he could at times descend to a dignified silliness with the colonel, there were moments when Sam was pulled up at the thought that Teal’c might be no less than a Jaffa messiah.

Incredible that in spite of their nearly insurmountable differences, SG-1 had become not only a team but a family.

Right now, she felt isolated from her family, even though they were all here on this planet, this side of the Stargate.

Ray and Winston at least had each other. Their team was more obviously a family than SG-1. They had a joint purpose; protecting the world from the paranormal threat. They’d been together for years, and even if they’d maintained their individual differences, oddities, uniqueness, they’d blended, too, merging like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. If they no longer had any ghosts to bust, she was sure they’d still be a family.

Ray squinted out into the driving sand. "Yeah, it does seem lighter, doesn’t it? That’s great. We can go out, take readings, in a little bit." His brow wrinkled. "I sure hope it hurries. I’ve got the weirdest feeling, like they’re in trouble."

Winston jerked around. "What kind of trouble?" he asked as if he expected Ray to know. Sam felt a frown wrinkle her forehead. That was odd. The discomfort she felt was so subtle, so subliminal, that she had convinced herself it was simply impatience with the storm and normal concern. Wasn’t it? What more could it be?

"Uh, I’ve been thinking about...volcanoes." Ray tossed the word out as if he expected to be shot down for it.

"This isn’t the area you’d expect to find volcanoes," Sam corrected him. "Our UAV surveys didn’t reveal anything like that in range of the gate. There can’t be any volcanoes around here."

"I know. But it’s like it’s not here." He turned away from the window and faced them, his body tense. "I know it sounds crazy, but I just can’t help thinking they’re in big trouble."

"It might sound crazy, but I’ve been thinking about eruptions, too." Winston took a couple of turns around the small mastaba, circling the tent with the equipment in it, oblivious to the doubtful glances Mendoza and Calvert shared with each other.

Sam couldn’t dispute it. There had been volcanic eruptions in her mind, too. Volcanic eruptions and more. "Teal’c," she said.

"Goa’uld," Ray countered.

"Yeah." Winston stopped his pacing and faced them. His eyebrows crawled up his forehead. "What does it mean? Ray? Is this some weird destabilization thing?"

"You mean an ability being destabilized gave them? Like mental communication? Wow! What if it did? What if they’re trying to communicate with us?"

"It doesn’t feel like communication," Sam objected. She could hardly refute the possibility. Since her first gate mission she had seen so many bizarre and unlikely phenomena that her concept of the possible had expanded to include peculiarities she would once have laughed to scorn. Quantum mirrors, symbiotic beings, naquada reactors, all danced in her head with the possibility of ghosts and demons and the spirit realm. Was anything impossible? Well, obviously the laws of physics....

Wasn’t the destabilization process a violation of the laws of physics?

No, it was simply a different means of interpretation. Ectoplasmic physics was a field Sam had never once considered remotely valid until the first time the Ghostbusters had come to Cheyenne Mountain. She hadn’t had the time to give it an in-depth study, but since that first visit she had gone over the specs of the Ghostbusters’ instruments and equipment and browsed through the textbook in the field Egon had written that was in use at any university who offered degrees in parapsychology.

How much of what she had learned since the day she had stepped through the Stargate and landed on Abydos would she have once believed impossible?

Danger! Danger! Danger!

Stark urgency ripped through her as, with her mind’s eye she saw an endless field of seething lava burst upward in a massive explosion that compressed in on itself for a breathless impossible second before it exploded outward in a mass of tumultuous clouds that raced toward her with the force of a thousand tornadoes. Even though she knew it wasn’t real—at least not here and now where she stood, she couldn’t avoid flinching from it.

Ray yelled, and Winston grabbed them both to shield them from it with his body.

Only dimly conscious of the two astonished Marines leaping to their feet, Sam ducked her head against Winston’s shoulder and flinched at the expected destruction—at the deaths of her teammates?

The image shut off, one minute there, the next totally gone, as if it had never happened, and the three of them uncurled themselves from their tight little knot and stared at each other, eyes wide, dazed, disbelieving.

"Was that a pyroclastic cloud?" Ray ventured in a shaky voice.

"Looked like it to me." Winston shivered. "Volcanic debris," he said in an aside to the stunned Marines.

Sam heaved a sigh and asked a question she didn’t really want answered. "We saw what they saw, didn’t we?"

They fell silent, and so intense was the shock of the moment that neither Marine opened his mouth in spite of the slew of questions that leaped out of their staring eyes. A volcanic eruption? An explosion, a potentially lethal cloud—and the end of the communication. That could only mean.... No! She refused to conceptualize the thought.

Ray sucked his head down between his shoulder blades, misery hovering hugely over him like buzzard wings. "Are they...dead?" When Winston opened his mouth and produced not a sound to refute the horrible question, Ray plunged on. "It erupted and the cloud came at them—it could have torn through solid walls, ripped trees up by their roots. And all that lava.... Oh, gosh, they’re dead. That’s why we stopped seeing it. I know it is." His arms curled around his chest and he hugged himself, an attempt at comfort that Daniel sometimes tried when things got too much for him. Sam had seen him fail to find consolation in it time out of mind, and Ray found none now. He huddled in his lonely grip, at bay, exuding shock and misery.

Winston froze, his eyes glazed like a deer in the headlights, then he grabbed Ray up under one arm and pulled him in beside him. Ray went, his arm around Winston’s waist. He looked utterly shattered but he was the one who turned to Sam and held out his other hand to draw her in.

She knew she had no telepathic ability. Not even Jolinar had so gifted her, when the Tok’ra inhabited her mind, except with Jolinar herself. She certainly felt nothing now, no contact, no awareness. That might mean they were dead.


"No," she said hotly. "I won’t give up on them. I won’t believe they’re dead."

"But we saw—" Ray lifted his head and stared at her. His fingers savaged her hand. "What? You know something, don’t you?"

"I know there was no volcanic eruption anywhere within range of where we stand. We would have felt something that massive through the soles of our feet, even if it were miles and miles away. When Krakatoa erupted, they could sense it in San Francisco. It affected tides in the English Channel. Something as massive as that...that vision would have rocked the foundations of this place."

"She’s right, Ray." Winston struggled to maintain his equilibrium. His wild grasping after common sense steadied him. "Maybe it was only an illusion. Part of some test inside the pyramid."

"Or maybe they got transported far away." Sam couldn’t hold back the unwelcome theory. "If there really were transport rings inside the pyramid, and that was the way to transcend the physical Daniel’s plaque referred to, they could be on the other side of the planet right now. There’s no way we could sense a massive volcanic eruption that far away."

Ray shivered. She was sure he favored Winston’s theory over hers. She favored it herself.

Either of them could be right. Maybe there were rings inside that had enabled the combined teams to leave the pyramid. She’d never had a good opportunity to study ring technology. If a Goa’uld came here by ship, a ship possessing rings, the Goa’uld could ring down inside the pyramid without need of a door—or of destabilization. There might even be rings concealed within the city, buried under the collapsed building, hidden by a coverstone, even drifted over by the encroaching sand. An archaeological expedition or the right technical equipment could have detected it. The SONAR tests they’d performed on the pyramid hadn’t been looking for something like that.

"But Peter and Egon aren’t telepathic," Winston objected. "And I don’t think O’Neill or Daniel are, either. I’m not sure what Teal’c can do, but he doesn’t know either Ray or me well enough to send us ESP messages."

Ray didn’t bounce; he was too worried about his friends for that. But an edge of excitement touched his downcast features. "Gosh, maybe they found the food of the gods and it made them telepathic. If it would make a Goa’uld so much more powerful, it would probably boost a human, too. When I first tried the controlled destabilization, a huge energy cloud tried to suck away my life energy. I used the destabilization ability to shield myself inside my mind. It was a crisis and I had to save myself. Maybe ghosts can communicate like that in a crisis, or maybe they were exposed to the food of the gods, whatever it is."

"So they could have sent us an image?" Winston said. "An image of-"

"Of danger," Sam said hastily before Ray could voice the real fear that what they had just witnessed was the means of their friends’ deaths. "If they thought they were about to die, maybe that added strength to their destabilized abilities and we saw what they saw."

"It just stopped." Ray’s voice was faint. "It just stopped."

"That doesn’t mean they’re dead." Sam knew Ray wasn’t the only one she wanted to convince. Skepticism darted across Winston’s face. She pressed on. "If they were safe, the urgency would be gone. There’d be no need to use that form of telepathy."

"So either they’re safe or they’re—not." Winston squared his shoulders and braced himself like a man about to face up to a punch to the jaw. "What do we do about it?"

"Destabilize ourselves and go after them," Ray cried.

Sam frowned. She wanted to do that herself, but she didn’t think it was the best idea. If the possible rings transported them into a lava field, they would die. That wouldn’t help her teammates. They might explore the pyramid and stop short of the rings, but there was still Winston’s theory. Maybe it actually was an illusion, a testing process. A sign directly in front of the pyramid announced what might be found within. But the plaque did talk about the seeker’s fortitude. "We all want to rescue them, Ray, but if Winston’s right, if they’re in the midst of a test, we might interfere with it. It’s got to be difficult on purpose. If it were easy, every Goa’uld system lord would fight for dominion of this planet, and we found no proof it was inhabited."

"You think that plaque meant that somebody had to be tested in order to get the food of the gods?" Winston scratched his head. "That there’s some kind of program in there that’s still running after all this time?"

That clarified it for Sam. "There could be. We’ve encountered long-running programs on other planets left over from the Ancients. Colonel O’Neill accidentally triggered one and had the knowledge of the Ancients implanted in his mind. It wouldn’t be impossible to find such a scenario running."

"If that’s true," Ray persisted, hope in his eyes, "maybe the volcano thing was an illusion, and the guys had to face it but they’re all right now." He pursed his lips. "I sure wish we could find out."

Winston backed up a step to lean against the wall beside the door. Outside, the slowly fading wind drove the sand against the mastaba in a scritch, scritch, scritch that sent annoyed prickles up Sam’s spine. "If there is a test running, we can’t go in and mess it up," said Winston. "We have to trust the guys to handle it right. You think Egon and Pete can’t handle it, Ray?"

"Not a volcano," Ray said involuntarily. "A test, though, yeah, they can handle it, and I bet Jack and Daniel can, too. And they’ve got Teal’c." That made his voice trail off thoughtfully. "Except I kept getting this feeling that Teal’c was."

"A Goa’uld," Sam finished when he let the words run away. She’d had that sense, too, but she knew his symbiote was too young to take control of him—unless the food of the gods could boost its abilities. Would that be why she had no sense of Teal’c, although there had been a strong sense of the colonel and Daniel, and even, fainter, of Peter and Egon? If Teal’c had been corrupted by the test, it seemed too much for them to need to deal with that as well as volcanoes.

Winston bobbed his head. "I got that, too. Only now, I’m not getting anything."

They stared at each other. "What do we do?" he asked.

Ray opened his mouth, probably to insist they have the Marines destabilize them so they could rush to the rescue, but he didn’t say anything. He was silent for what seemed a long time, and when Mendoza opened his mouth to speak, Sam held up her hand to silence him. The destabilization was Ray’s baby. He had to reach that determination himself.

Finally he spoke. "If the volcano was real, there’s nothing we can do." She could hear the pain that threaded through his voice at that realization. "If it’s a test and they passed it, they don’t need us to do anything. We’d only interfere with it. It’s been how long?" He glanced at his watch. "Maybe ten hours. They’ve got a whole day and a half before they’re in danger from the destabilization process. I think we have to wait."

Winston clapped him on the shoulder. "Good man. I don’t like it any better than you do, but if it’s a test, we have to let them finish it." He didn’t add what they all knew and were better for not hearing it, that if it were real, it was too late, that their friends were dead.

Outside, the sand still whipped past the window, but the force of it was dying. If the daylight hadn’t already died during the course of the storm, she would have been able to see the buildings opposite through the decreasing sand. As it was, the pellets glimmered under the floodlights like snowflakes in a blizzard. Sam nodded and found her voice. "We wait."

** *** **

The arched doorway didn’t lead the team back to the labyrinth after all. Jack O’Neill swallowed a curse. Why should it make sense? Nothing else on this crazy mission had made sense yet. Wandering around half invisible, watching Daniel and Egon translate boring stuff for hours and hours, walking through walls, talking to Egyptian hologram guys, and fighting volcanoes. Not exactly what he’d signed on for.

That wasn’t the worst part, though. The worst part was Teal’c. Look at him, his muscles tight as he periodically tested Jack’s and Venkman’s grip. He’d probably like nothing better than to punch them out, enslave them, and make them bow to his will. At least that was Junior’s plan. Jack kept hoping Teal’c—his friend Teal’c—was still in there, trying to fight off the effects of the fast food of the gods. Every now and then Jack thought he caught a glimpse of the real Teal’c in the dark eyes, but it was always gone before he could be certain of it.

Jack frowned. "Where the hell are we now?"

Instead of the stone walls of the labyrinth to indicate they were back within the pyramid, they found themselves in a huge room with soaring walls, maybe twenty or twenty-five feet high. Light came from no specific source, just a general diffuse glow that filled the entire chamber. Jack saw no doors except the one they’d entered through, and no windows, although the paneled walls could conceal any number of openings. Each wall had four massive panels, probably ten feet wide, extending up into the shadows near the ceiling, separated by narrow columns that bulged outward about the width of a man. In fact they vaguely resembled stylized statues in bas-relief, with smooth, bland features, and the vague imprint of robes like you’d expect to find on Greek or Roman statues that had been worn smooth with time.

The panels were encrusted with writing in what looked to Jack’s untrained eye to be a whole ton of different languages.

Daniel drew in reverent breath and headed for the nearest one, his eyes alight with eagerness, his body more sluggish from exhaustion and pain. Not that exhaustion and pain would slow him down in such a linguistics paradise. Jack groaned. He’d be hearing about this for weeks.

Of course his rushing off like that meant that Venkman had to secure Teal’c’s left arm without backup. Nobody ever said Teal’c wasn’t sharp. The second he felt Daniel’s hands loosen their grip he braced himself, and before Jack could open his mouth to yell a warning at Daniel, the Jaffa jerked his arm so fiercely that Venkman went sprawling. Being Venkman, he maintained a grip like a pit bull and refused to let go, so he hung on Teal’c’s arm and bounced to and fro until he finally pulled the Jaffa off balance. Jack let out a protesting yell and planted his feet, and Daniel, appalled at what he had done, gave a penitent gasp and rushed back, a shamefaced grimace on his face.

Before he could fling himself eagerly, if ineffectually, into the battle, Teal’c lashed out with his foot and caught Spengler a nasty blow to the left knee. The physicist yelled, staggered, and let go, although he tried at once to compensate by shifting his weight to the other leg and grabbing for Teal’c. He missed. Probably stiffened up from the rock attack.

Peter yelled, "Egon!" and launched himself at Teal’c in a tackle that proved he’d once played college football. Unfortunately, his gridiron experience had to be more years behind him than he’d like to admit. He hit Teal’c hard around the hips in an attempt to bear him to the ground. Jack knew from his sparring experience with Teal’c that it had to be like tackling a tank. With Daniel still grabbing for Teal’c’s lashing arm and Venkman futilely trying to reclaim the past glory of the Columbia Lions, Teal’c had an arm free. Between his game leg and bruised back, Spengler wasn’t that good with his balance yet—Jack could relate—and couldn’t offer as much help to Jack as he would certainly have liked.

With a massive heave, Teal’c wrenched his hand free of Jack’s grip and used it to give Venkman a hard chop to the exposed back of his neck. The Ghostbuster dropped like a stone and sprawled unmoving on the stone tiles of the floor.

"Peter!" Egon gave up the fight to maintain his balance and dropped at Venkman’s side to check for a pulse against the side of his neck. In the weird glow of the mysterious lighting, he had paled alarmingly, and Jack was willing to bet his entire pension it was concern for his friend and not his bruised knee that had drained the color from his face.

Daniel struggled to recapture Teal’c’s left arm. Teal’c evaded him handily, sidestepping with a grace that his solid bulk belied, and swung out that hand to backhand Daniel across the face. Jackson reeled backward in another, tripped over Peter’s inanimate feet, and sat down very hard on his bottom. His glasses erupted from his pocket and soared across the room. "Ow," he blurted, more surprised than badly hurt. One hand lifted to his cheek, the other pressed against his side. He looked like a little lost puppy who couldn’t believe anyone would be mean enough to kick him.

Jack couldn’t spare the time to fuss over him, nor could he count on help from Spengler, whose leg might not even hold him, and certainly not from the unconscious Venkman. A lot of workouts with Teal’c in the gym had taught O’Neill the Jaffa’s weaknesses, but alas, it had also taught the Jaffa his, which included the years that went with his grey hair, a pair of creaky knees, and the fact that he didn’t want to hurt his friend, just to stop him. Teal’c—or Junior—had no such compunctions. He threw a roundhouse punch that, if it had connected with Jack’s chin, would have put him down for the count. Jack ducked wildly at the cost of his back muscles, which would hate him in the morning, and the punch only grazed his ear. That smarted, but it didn’t put him down.

Forget about the Marquis of Queensbury rules. He feinted left—Teal’c knew he had a very solid left—and when the Jaffa raised a hamlike hand to block it, Jack yelled a wordless threat, followed up the first blow with his right—and used it to mask the motion of jerking his foot up in a kick right to Teal’c’s family jewels. Junior might have the strength of ten Goa’uld from the snack food of the gods, but not even a Goa’uld could endure such a blow without enduring the excruciating pain of the host.

For the first time during the entire fight, Teal’c uttered a sound, the agonized bellow of a wounded animal, and folded in over himself, his face a weird grey color, his mouth tight.

"Now would be a good time," Jack said to his less-than-sterling allies. With a groan Egon pushed himself up awkwardly from Peter’s side, and a penitent and wincing Daniel crowded in to help. They mobbed Teal’c, took him down at probable cost to Spengler’s knee, if the whiteness around his mouth and the stark lines on his face were any indication. Daniel looked sick to his stomach and there were tight lines of pain around his mouth, but he clung like a bulldog. While Spengler held the Jaffa down by sitting on his chest, Jack whipped off his belt and used it to secure Teal’c’s feet. They rolled him over on his belly with small consideration for his pain and used Daniel’s belt to secure his hands firmly behind his back. Daniel sat back on his heels and leaned forward, breathing hard before he pushed himself up and plodded over to retrieve his still-unneeded glasses. Jack rolled the Jaffa over on his side and parked himself beside him, ready to make sure he didn’t work his way free of his bonds.

"That’s what we should have done all along," Jack gritted out when they were finished. "Daniel, what the hell were you thinking?"

Fumbling for his glasses in the dust, Daniel paused to look at O’Neill. A reddened place on his left cheekbone would probably darken into a spectacular bruise. He secured the specs and pushed himself wearily to his feet. "I’m sorry, Jack." He looked so drained and achy that Jack almost abandoned his reproaches, but he made himself stay stern. They’d nearly gone to hell in a handbasket. Daniel didn’t get any points for that mess.

Egon, who had hobbled back to the still-unconscious Peter the second Teal’c was secured, lifted his head for a second and frowned at the sight of the miserable Daniel. He still looked weird without his glasses, but their absence gave Jack a better glance at the shadows in the scientist’s eyes. As if he realized Jack had observed his dark mood, Egon spoke swiftly. "Recriminations will serve no purpose. Daniel no doubt saw, as I did, panels that might indicate a solution."

"I did," Daniel admitted. "I saw the word qyzxd, ‘journey’ in Aramaic. I thought the answers we need might be there. Something to help Teal’c." He waved a vague hand over at the panel he’d started for. "I didn’t mean for Peter to be hurt, or you either, Egon. I’m sorry."

His repentance was so sincere he might as well have hung his head or held out his hands for the teacher to slap with a ruler. What he’d done was so...so Daniel that Jack heaved a mental sigh. Once they got home—assuming they actually did get home, he’d have to sit Daniel down and read him a lesson on securing prisoners, not to mention common sense. Once he’d had Fraiser check him out to make sure Teal’c hadn’t rattled his brains with that backhand. He sure didn’t look up to par. Fraiser would probably take one look at the team and secure them in the infirmary for the night. In the meantime, they had too much on their agenda to dwell on their aches and pains, or even on their performance.

Time to rate their status.

"You okay, Daniel?"

Daniel glanced up at him and shifted uneasily from one foot to another. He looked a little green around the gills. No wonder, being thrown across the room like that. He must have a lot of aching muscles from that and the fun and games in the realm of the cursed gods. Look at how he stood there warily hunched over as if his head might explode if he moved. "Well, just a little tender," he admitted reluctantly. "I’m all right."

After screwing up like that he’d probably say the same thing if bones were jutting out of his flesh. Jack let him get away with his obvious fib, for now, since there was not one little thing he could do about it.


Egon didn’t look up from Peter, but the careful way he had stretched out his leg without putting any weight on it told its own story. "Apart from my knee, I am undamaged, and it will support me if need be." He wiggled his shoulders and winced slightly, but he chose not to mention Teal’c’s rock attack. Jack made a mental note to let Fraiser know, if they ever got home.

"How’s Venkman?"

"Feeling like he’s been run over by an elephant stampede," Peter muttered wearily without moving so much as a millimeter. "What the heck hit me?"

"Teal’c," Jack admitted.

Peter opened his eyes and squinted around the chamber, making sure Egon was okay, and that everybody else was still in one piece. "Sweet," he said in the exact tones O’Neill would have used, either in conscious or unconscious parody. "Did you get him?" He propped himself up on one elbow and noted the bound Teal’c while Egon fussed at him and planted a big hand on his chest to keep him from rising further.

"Wait, Peter. I want to be sure your pupils are equal and reactive before you move around."

"Well, aside from the fact that I see three of you—"

"There are actually four of us for you to see, Peter." Egon relaxed at the sarcastic tone, even as he must have studied the guy’s eyes to make sure there was no visible sign of head injury. He did allow Venkman to sit up, supporting him all the way.

Peter gritted his teeth, allowed Egon to work an arm around his shoulders, and leaned into its circle. "What about your knee?" he asked. No memory loss, either. He’d only been out a minute or two; it had just seemed longer. He was lucky. Teal’c could have snapped his neck like a twig. Come to think of it, that feel-good rush from the food of the gods seemed to have deserted them all. Didn’t free Teal’c from domination, but the team’s experiences were beginning to tell on them.

Egon moved it cautiously. "Sore, but I can walk on it if I must."

Peter narrowed his eyes at him. "Come on, Spengs, level with me. We don’t have Sam here to do that mystical healing number she did on Ray’s ankle. We better check it out. Anybody have an ace bandage on them?"

"Actually, Peter, I have medical supplies in my pockets," Egon admitted. "The fact that we were destabilized did not preclude injuries." He went into a fishing expedition, pulling out this and that and passing it to Peter and Daniel to hold. A box of band-aids. A small bottle of alcohol. A little clattery gizmo that Jack realized must be an abacus—probably to make up for the absence of the Palm Pilot he’d been playing with back at the base. Another pocket produced one of the MRE packs that no one had taken the time to eat, and three very small notebooks. Daniel received the supply onto his lap absently, his attention on the walls, one hand rubbing his side. The abacus was the only object that interested him. He flipped a couple of the little beads with an expertise that suggested he could perform major calculations on the thing without even thinking about it.

When Egon fished out an ace bandage in a neat roll, Jack grimaced and held out his hand for it. "Better let me. I’m the battered knee expert around here."

Teal’c watched them in brooding and scornful silence as Jack poked and prodded Spengler’s bony knee. It had swelled up a bit, but it didn’t look sprained, just tender at the point of impact. The mother of all bruises would darken by the time they got home. He’d probably get along okay with the support, but Fraiser would have at him the second they got home, and probably insist on sticking him in the infirmary overnight—along with Daniel, who looked like he needed it, and Venkman, who, from the way he leaned woozily into Egon’s shoulder, might have a concussion. The doc must be lonely in there and want plenty of company, the way she pounced on SG-1 when they came home from missions bloody but unbowed.

"These bonds will not avail you," Teal’c observed. His hands moved surreptitiously as he tested them.

"Shut up, Teal’c." It just killed O’Neill to hear that supercilious, contemptuous note in his buddy’s voice. That wasn’t really Teal’c. That was Goa’uld influence. Without the glowy eyes and the rumbly voice, Jack had hope that Teal’c wasn’t permanently controlled.

His worry must have shown in his face because Peter, hindering the bandaging by fussing over Spengler like a hen with a battered chick broke off, sat up straighter, and glanced past Jack to Teal’c, then back at O’Neill’s face. "He hit me?" he asked. "I thought it was a Mack truck."

"Whopped you on the back of the neck," Jack admitted. He didn’t like the telling; it was almost as if it gave Venkman a hold over him.

But Venkman didn’t see it that way. Instead his eyes lit up. "And I’m awake and only a little sore? Hafta say, the food of the gods did a good one there."

"What, Peter? No insistence on being waited on hand and foot?" Egon asked lightly without taking his eyes away from Jack’s bandaging.

"Heck, no. That’s for when we get home and I can have Sam and Janet do it. You guys don’t even have any soda to give me or grapes to peel—MREs aren’t the same—and I don’t see any pillows for me to laze about on."

"He really does all that?" Daniel ventured to ask. He still sounded tentative, but Jack was glad he’d said it. O’Neill might be pissed off at Daniel’s actions, but that didn’t mean he held any grudges. He’d do his colonel number when they got home, but he didn’t want to cow Daniel, just teach him sense—and make sure he was okay.

"Whenever possible." Egon smiled at Peter to show he wasn’t genuinely complaining, simply amused at his friend’s far-too-transparent foibles.

Peter waved his hands. "That can wait, guys. I can always hit people up for the sympathy vote later. Right now I’m trying to make a point."

"So, make it already, Venkman." Jack finished wrapping the ace bandage and secured it. "There you go. Stay off it while we figure out this part of the test." He turned to Peter.

"Think of this," Peter said. "Junior’s doing a tap-dance in Teal’c’s mind, making him act like a tin-plated dictator with delusions of godhood, right? So the last thing he wants is for us to tie him up. That’s not what you’re supposed to do with your god."

"Not in any religion I ever encountered," Jack agreed. "And your point is?" Knowing Venkman, he had one. He just had to talk their ears off about it first.

"Okay, so we’ve got a guy who’s under the influence of this food of the gods—and we can get to how that works later—but he wants to dominate us. So what does he do? Break us in half like we all know he could? Nah. He gives me a tap that puts me out for a minute or two, gives Egon a wracked-up knee that even I can tell isn’t serious, and Daniel’s sporting a bruise that’ll make everybody back home think he’s been brawling but he’s intact. I don’t see any marks on you, Jack. I’m just saying, if the real Teal’c wasn’t in there pitching, we might all be in pieces on the floor. It’s not just the food of the gods giving us personal body armor. It’s Teal’c, resisting."

Jack had wanted to believe that, but hearing Peter say it helped convince him it might be possible. Maybe Teal’c wasn’t beyond saving. He couldn’t be. Anyway, why should the junk food boost Junior without helping out Teal’c, too?

Daniel’s eyes widened in realization. "Jack, I think he’s right. You know how strong Teal’c is. Even with four of us, I think he could have taken us out." He hesitated. "You might have had to really fight to stop him, but I don’t know if the rest of us could have once Peter was down." He whirled, his excitement superseding his aches and pains. "Teal’c. I know you’re in there. Can you give us a sign?"

"If he says ‘there is no Teal’c, only Junior’ I’m gonna make him pay once we get home," Peter observed. He massaged his neck with cautious fingers. "Come to think of it, I might do that anyway. I’m gonna be soooo sore tomorrow." He sneaked a glance at his watch. It might have taken a licking but it was ticking away. "I think it’s tomorrow now." He ventured a grin. "How about I take a nice little nap while we turn the brain trust loose on the walls? The answers have to be there."

Daniel frowned. "I already found the word ‘journey’ there, Peter."

"Which weird language this time? Kurdish? Pig-Latin?"


"And Russian over there." Egon stabbed a long finger at the next panel.

"Russian’s not an ancient language," Jack protested. Pig-Latin? If one of these walls read "ourney-jay" he would have to punch out Venkman for being such a wiseass. "For crying out loud, what is this, the Tower of Babel?"

"It might be a veritable Rosetta Stone," Daniel breathed. There went all thought of physical discomfort in his excitement. If he were dying, Daniel would drag his bleeding body over to a promising translation and work on it until he gasped out his last breath. "I see writing I don’t recognize on several of the walls."

Egon pushed himself to his feet and limped over to one of them. He moved better with the support bandage, but he wouldn’t win any Olympic medals for either speed or form. If they had to run for it, he’d slow them down in the worst way. Good thing they were already done with the fire plain. On the other hand, levitation was still an option, even in a realm where they seemed solid. As long as Daniel and Egon didn’t need their glasses, they were still influenced by that drink, and even after they finished the test and found themselves back in the pyramid, they’d still be destabilized. Nobody would have to run for it. They could fly.

"Hmmm." Egon squinted at the wall, not nearsightedly, just for the thrill of it. If he’d had a magnifying glass and a deerstalker hat, he could have done Sherlock Holmes proud. Not that Holmes had ever wanted to make such a weird fashion statement with his hair. "I do believe this wall contains text in proto-Elamite."

"What?" Daniel flung himself at Egon and stopped beside him, all arms and legs. Daniel would never win any points for grace. He leaned in close, face flushed, breathing hard in his excitement, and ran his finger over the weird script. He looked like he’d completely forgotten his aches and pains. "This is incredible." He called over his shoulder, "This writing is perhaps as old as the earliest Sumerian writing. It’s never been fully deciphered. If I could take a sample of this and compare it with the Aramaic, which I do understand, we might actually make giant strides in the translation. Egon, if you copy this, I can copy the Aramaic and we can do comparisons."

"Sorry, no." Jack hated to squash that glowing enthusiasm, especially after he’d been forced to rake Daniel down, but he did it anyway. "We’ve got Teal’c acting like an Apophis wannabe, we’re working on a schedule; who knows when King Tut will expect us to finish up. Venkman’s looking sort of green around the gills and Spengler can hardly walk, and if you tell me you’re not hurting, Danny-boy, I’m gonna call you a liar. This is no time for playing that Champion guy you were talking about before."

"Champollion," Egon and Daniel spoke as one.

Peter rolled his eyes at Jack. "Guess we’re not the only ones who can pull this Greek chorus number, huh, O’Neill? Egon, Jack’s right." Bet it half-killed him to admit that. "We have to solve this thing. We’re here for a reason. We’ve gotta save Teal’c. What if this stuff is cumulative or feeds on itself? We don’t want Junior getting any more powerful than he already is."

"We’re on a mission, kids," Jack confirmed.

At that, Egon turned and studied him. "You do realize that the substance in question may be too dangerous to loose on the galaxy."

"If we don’t, someone else will," Jack challenged. "We have to secure it."

That made Peter wave a hand. "What’s this, a balance of power thing, Colonel? Keep it so we can stop them in case they get it? Yeah, that’s always worked so well back on Earth. Teal’c’s been around a long time, and far as he knows, nobody is using the stuff. We take this back home, even if we find out what it is and how to carry it out of the pyramid when we’re not solid enough to transport anything and somebody is gonna find out. You think that Maybourne guy or the N.I.D. won’t have ways to know? There’s always somebody who will tip them off, no matter how tight security is at the SGC. You could have a couple of sleeper agents lurking around who would pass the word, and the baddies will think that using this stuff is the way to take on the Goa’uld."

"Maybe it is the way," Jack said slowly. He could see Peter’s point, and he knew that the word of the mission might have already reached the ears of dangerous people. He had too much experience of covert ops to doubt it. Peter was probably speculating after reading too many Tom Clancy books or watching too many James Bond movies, but Jack knew more about that kind of scenario than he liked. Even if the N.I.D. claimed to have the safety of the planet at stake, Jack knew it was really about power. This stuff that had transformed Teal’c’s immature symbiote to a power-mad, obnoxious bully could do far worse with a mature Goa’uld already implanted in a host. He’d been uncomfortable ever since he’d seen what had happened to Teal’c. Yet he had a mission to fulfill. He’d been ordered to secure the substance.

"You can’t believe that?" Daniel exploded. "Jack, we’ve seen what it can do. I can’t think Teal’c could have even gotten very much of it in that drink. We got a little power from it, the telepathic gig, but we have to concentrate on that, and on the flying bit while we’re solid. But it affected Teal’c far worse."

"It must be designed to work upon a Goa’uld," Egon agreed. "But if any of your espionage people learn it affected us, they will want to use it for possibly nefarious purposes, even back on Earth."

"Nefarious?" Peter echoed. "Only you would use a word like ‘nefarious’, Spengs."

"I am trying to make a point, Peter."

Venkman spread his hands. "Yeah, and it’s a good one, big guy. Listen up, Jack. It’s more important that we free Teal’c and get out of here than it is to take home a whole supply of whatever it is. Because I bet you dollars to doughnuts this Maybourne’s buddies will want to see how it works—and they’ve got Teal’c just ready and waiting to experiment on. They’ll already know he’s susceptible once we report what happened. You think you can control this? I might not be up on all this secret agency spy Man from U.N.C.L.E. stuff, but I can see this going bad in a big hurry."

Jack could, too. "The thing is, Venkman, we’re just a field team. We’re not competent to make that kind of decision."

"Ah, Jack, that’s a cop-out," Daniel said regretfully. "We’re always competent to make ethical choices. We have to make them. I don’t want to be responsible for making this substance available to anyone who would misuse it. We can’t do it."

"We don’t even know what it is or where it is," Jack objected. He could see what the others meant and he knew better than any of them how the N.I.D.’s agenda would accept the food of the gods without hesitation and how they’d use it to their own personal advantage. It would be one more weapon in the world’s continuing power struggle, not just against the Goa’uld but against anybody who got in the way. Yet the ongoing mission of the SGC was to bring back weapons to fight the Goa’uld. What if they could bring it back, doctor it up so that it had the opposite effect than expected and plant it for the Goa’uld to use? "We might be able to turn it around."

"Poison the Goa’uld?" Peter was quick, Jack had to give him that. "Could that be done?"

"We don’t even know what it is yet, except that it’s soluble in liquid," Jack pointed out. "Is it a powder, a mineral? It might even be liquid. Food of the Gods soft drinks. Label it Ambrosia. But we wouldn’t know the stuff if it walked up, tipped its hat, and wished us a nice day."

"Well, I would be pretty surprised if it did that," Peter said to Egon. "Okay, here’s what I think. I think we should translate one of these tablets. Sorry about the proto-element stuff, Spengs. Look at it, save it in that photographic memory of yours and play with it once we’re home. King Tut might have a timetable. Last thing we want to do is find ourselves back in the pavilion without being any further ahead."

"No, wait, Peter." That was Daniel, arms waving in his excitement. "I know why we were transported back to the pavilion."

"You know?" Without turning his back on Teal’c, Jack marched over and grabbed Daniel by the upper arms. "You don’t think that maybe, just maybe, we’d like to hear this?"

"It was teamwork," Daniel said. He winced and Jack let go. Better not manhandle the guy. "Even knowing we were about to die, we were trying to shield each other, and Teal’c, although he was fighting us. King Tut questioned us all about our motives, our reasons for what we did. Don’t you see. We can’t just mindlessly secure the food of the gods because that was why we were sent here. We have to make a conscious decision and be able to justify it."

"To this King Tut guy? We don’t even know who he is." Jack glanced over his shoulder to make sure the guy wasn’t lurking, eavesdropping on them.

"Do you think he might be an Asgard just assuming the appearance of an ancient Egyptian?" Daniel asked. "Thor appeared on Cimmeria in a form Gairwyn’s people would expect. What we’re experiencing is more complicated than what Sam and I experienced on Cimmeria, though we faced illusions there, too. Or maybe he’s even one of the Ancients?"

"Could he be a super-Tok’ra?" Jack theorized. He didn’t like that idea much, but a Tok’ra might not want the Goa’uld to find the gods’ munchies. On the other hand, the Tok’ra might go for the power to shoot down the Goa’uld. They sure wouldn’t tell the Tau’ri about it, if they did.

Egon lifted a questioning eyebrow. He didn’t know as much about SG-1’s history as Peter did. "Whoever he is, he represents a great deal of power. It would be intriguing to learn more about him, once this is over."

Daniel nodded. "He’s a hologram, so even if he did respond to us directly—"

"That means they’ve got a way of watching us." Peter’s eyes narrowed. "Surveillance, right? I figured that. Do you think that applies to the Goa’uld, too, and maybe that’s why none of them are pulling this super-power number because they couldn’t get to it?"

"You mean because they couldn’t pass the tests?" Egon turned away from the text he’d been committing to memory. "That the substance, whatever it is, isn’t just here for the taking? King Tut regulates it? We have to succeed, not merely survive."

"Merely?" Peter rotated his head and winced. "I’m black and blue, my head is about to fall off, I’ve got burns and cuts, I bet my lungs are full of volcanic ash. Egon got whacked with a rock and his knee’s about to turn twenty shades of purple. Daniel looks like he’s been to the wars. I think it’s the word ‘merely’ that gets me."

"Good point," Jack agreed. God, he was agreeing with Venkman. The world must be ending. "So you guys think that we have to solve whatever this test is about to even get a chance at the stuff."

"Ah, maybe more than that, Jack." Daniel gazed at him, all sincere and earnest. Pain flickered in his eyes, but it was nearly drowned out by the sincerity. "Maybe we have to make the right decisions. Maybe that’s part of the test, too. The first test was simple, the labyrinth."

"Not so simple," Peter objected. "First we had to figure out what all those clues said in order to get to the labyrinth. That took smarts. And we have to be brainy enough to understand there was a test to take, to recognize the pattern of it and then do it."

"Second, we had to practice teamwork." Daniel gave a cautious bounce as if he didn’t have the energy for a more eager one. "Don’t you see? It’s saying that intellect is not enough. We had to work together, for the common good. There’s a progression here. Now we have to solve this one—but the questions we’re asking ourselves are good. Maybe we have to be able to prove we’re ethical, trustworthy."

"How can we do that?" Jack demanded. "You’re all worried about the N.I.D. We can’t be answerable for everybody on Earth. No one could." He had a bad feeling about this. If King Tut or whoever the controller of this place really was had been listening, he already knew that, knew there were elements of the government back home who would be sure to abuse the food of the gods. He knew that Jack had held out for grabbing the stuff and running because acquiring useful weapons and technology was SG-1’s purview. Maybe they’d already failed the third test. Assuming that was even what it was about. It was a nice thought, and it made sense, considering what they’d done so far.

If working for the common good was what Test Number Two was about, how could obtaining the substance be for the common good—unless they could guarantee it never fell into the hands of the Goa’uld? Could they do that? Jack didn’t see how.

Peter crossed his hands over his chest and reached up to massage his shoulders. "Maybe we should let the dream team over there translate one of the panels and see what it says before we decide what to do. Egon’s big on not acting without as complete information as we can get."

"It is logical, Peter."

"Yeah, go for it, Spock," O’Neill decided. He glanced over at Peter. "What are you gonna do? Put your feet up and coast?"

Peter’s eyes narrowed, then he forced away the urge to give Jack a little lip. "I thought you and I could see what we could do for Teal’c," he said. "Poor guy’s still in there fighting, or I’d be like the end result of the guillotine instead of just wishing for Tylenol Number Sixty-seven."

Jack drew a controlling breath. No way would he let Venkman show him up, not when Teal’c was his friend, not Peter’s. "So how are you gonna pull that particular rabbit out of the hat, Doctor Miracle Worker?"

Peter flashed him a cocky grin. "Hypnosis?" he ventured.

Daniel’s head came up, and he studied Peter a second before he went back to jotting things in his notebook. Egon inclined his head at Peter in approval and left him to it, not a shred of doubt on his face.

"Can you hypnotize a Jaffa?" Jack asked.

"You know him, not me. What do you think?"

"Not on a bet." He shrugged. "Go for it. It’ll help pass the time."

"You know, Colonel, you’re a real nay-sayer, aren’t you? Would it just kill you to give me a break? We didn’t do so bad before when we were flying." He didn’t wait for an answer, but he went over and sat down just out of range of Teal’c in case the Jaffa bunched his muscles and ripped free of the bonds. Wasn’t gonna happen. Jack didn’t have any weapons, but he knew the others would rush to help if Teal’c tried anything.

"Your primitive Tau’ri techniques will not work on me," Teal’c spat. That cold, haughty note in his voice was so at war with the normal stoic tones or the quiet humor that sometimes danced beneath the formal English. Not so much as a glimmer of awareness or recognition showed in his eyes, although Teal’c knew who they were. Did Junior? Or did the nasty little snake simply know they were Tau’ri, and therefore the enemy?

"Maybe, maybe not." Peter rubbed the back of his neck. "You nearly took my head off, so you’re gonna listen. Besides, I don’t think you have it easy. Teal’c’s fighting you, isn’t he?"

"Nothing of the host survives."

"Well, that’s one stupid lie we can dispose of right away," Jack threw in. "We got Skaara back, so we know the host survives very nicely, thank you very much. You were there when Daniel had his reunion with Sha’re last year. So the host does survive, and your ‘host’ is stronger than you’ll ever be."

"I have nothing to say to you, O’Neill. You are beneath my contempt. Your ‘concern’ sickens me. Leave me."

"Ain’t gonna happen." Jack sat at Venkman’s side. "Teal’c knows I won’t give up on him. Just like I know he won’t give up. You’re a cut-rate snakehead anyway. You’re not controlling him. You’re influencing him, and that’s different."

"You bet it is," Peter concurred. It was like they could read each other’s intentions. More of the telepathy gig? "But he’s fighting you. That’s why I’m not dead, and believe me, I’m grateful. I’d give the guy a great big smackeroo on the tip of the nose if I thought it would help."

"I trust you will restrain yourself."

That was pure Teal’c, and Jack’s heart leapt in hope, only to fade as scorn curled Teal’c’s lip.

"Aha!" crowed Peter. "You’re losing it. You’re losing control. I knew it. I knew you couldn’t handle it." He gave Jack a nudge with his elbow, and another one with his mind. Let me take this.

What do you want me to do?

Watch and learn. Peter grinned, and his voice softened, grew so lazy that a guy wouldn’t expect him to find the strength to lift a finger. "Hey, Teal’c. Betcha you wish you could give Junior a case of major indigestion about now."

"I do not suffer from...indigestion."

"Yeah, right. You weren’t up for destabilization. We all saw it." He curled his mouth into a smirk that would have made Jack long to wipe it off with his fist if it had been directed against him. "You know what I think...." His voice slowed still further, trailed off as if he’d forgotten what he was talking about.

"I have no doubt that you will tell me." Impatience rang in Teal’c’s voice. Was Junior actually nibbling the bait on the hook?

Peter blinked. "What? Huh? Oh yeah." Really making Junior work for it. "You’re in there, and suddenly you get this stuff and it boosts you, so you do a Goa’uld power play number, ‘cause that’s what you guys live for. Wouldn’t be my choice, but, hey, whatever works. You’d have jumped right out of the pouch thingie and swum up and glommed onto him—’cept you couldn’t. And you know why?" Again he went off into a fit of abstraction—or a quick nap, for all Jack could tell. It took every ounce of willpower he could drum up to keep from jumping in.

"I am certain you mean to bore me with your foolish theories."

Peter let out a snore. Head turned toward Jack, he lowered one eyelid in an exaggerated wink.

"You will speak, human. I command you, as your god."

"What was that you said?" Peter yawned widely. "Hafta say, gods shouldn’t be so boring. Why not let me talk to Teal’c for a while?"

"The host cowers within me, afraid to speak."

"Boy, did you call that wrong," Jack exploded, unable to let such a slur pass by. "Bravest guy I ever met. You snakeheads always say that, but the real cowards are the ones who are so afraid they have to hide behind excuses and mock the hosts they couldn’t survive without."

Over beyond Venkman, Daniel gave Jack an encouraging nod.

"I want to talk to Teal’c," Peter said. "I know you’re in there, Teal’c." Again with the soothing voice. God, he sounded just like Garfield the Cat, so laid-back as to be halfway to catatonia. "I don’t want to talk to you. You are weak. You’re pathetic. Even with the power of an uber-Goa’uld, you can’t handle it. And you know why?"

"You will tell me," bellowed Teal’c. Or Junior. Or whoever.

"Because you’re not even solid," Peter announced, his voice full of pity for the poor fool who needed to be told. "You’re no better than a ghost right now. You freaked when it happened. You didn’t understand. There’s no way you can take over Teal’c permanently. It’s impossible. Believe me, I know the minds of ghosts. Never happen. You can only do this little bit because of the stuff we drank. Soon as it wears off, you’ll be one sick, sorry symbiote." He rolled his eyes in Egon’s direction. "How’s that for alliteration, Spengs?"

Was it true? Could the destabilization help them? Or was Peter just trying to confuse the issue? He was too damned clever for his own good. But if it worked, Jack would have to say it would be worth it. He wouldn’t take Peter’s words to heart about planting a big smackeroo on the guy’s nose, but maybe he could actually admit there was more to Venkman than mouth and attitude.

"You lie," Teal’c spat.

"Do I?" Peter grinned. "Listen to me, Junior. I kind of like that name. Means a second-hand copy, did you know that? Pale imitation of the real thing." There went that lazy voice. "Teal’c, big fella, you can handle Junior with one hand tied behind your back. With both hands tied behind your back. Because you’re smart and you know what’s going down. You’re strong. Jack says you’re the strongest guy he knows, and he’s been in this man’s army—uh, Air Force—so long his hair’s gone white. He ought to know."

"Grey," Jack countered. "This is grey."

"That’s what they all say—senior citizens, I mean." Peter spared him another wink. Play along.

I’ll play along—as long as Teal’c needs me—then I’ll get my own back. He produced a shark’s grin.

Peter’s eyes twinkled wickedly before he turned back to the restrained Jaffa. "Teal’c, listen to me. I want you to focus on my voice. Use it to ride out of there. He’s got you stuffed away in a corner of your mind. Believe me, I know what that feels like. It’s like being possessed, and it’s not fun. Been there, done that. But you can take back control. Throw him out of there. Stick him back where he belongs, your immune system. That’s what he’s for, nothing more. Just glom onto my voice and slide right on past him. He can’t block you, not if you remember he’s destabilized." Never mind that Teal’c was, too, that they all were. He ignored that with a high-handed grin, and Jack tried to shove the thought away in case Junior was into the mind-reading gig, along with the rest of them.

Peter kept on talking. "That’s right, Teal’c. Time to kick some Goa’uld ass here. Sort of an oopsy-daisy thing. We’re gonna wash that Goa’uld right out of your hair."

"You’ve got a hair fixation, Venkman," Jack threw in, matching the tone of his voice to the psychologist’s. "You think mine’s white, and you think Teal’c has hair."

Peter ignored that, but Jack had seen him fussing over his hair a couple of times already on the mission where it couldn’t possible matter how he looked. Venkman was busted. He made a face at Jack and continued, "Come on, Teal’c. I bet you’re just dying to come out and shut me up." He let a faint mocking edge filter through his voice. "Come on, Teal’c. Up and at ‘em. Jack would love it if you snapped out of it and put me in my place—upside down in a drain, probably, right, Colonel, sir?"

"Too good for you, Venkman. Unfair to drains everywhere."

Behind them, Egon snorted with laughter, quickly suppressed. Without breaking the cadence of his taunts, Peter lifted a finger and made a chalkmark in the air, then stabbed a thumb at Spengler, promising payback for that amusement. "Come on, Teal’c," he coaxed. "Latch onto my voice. I know I’m not your good buddy like old Jack here—and I do mean old Jack."

"Hey, I’ve only got a few years on you, Venkman."

"And you show every one of ‘em." His lips curled happily. "Teal’c, Teal’c,, he’s our man. Junior can’t stop you. Nobody can."

"Did they teach you that at Columbia?" Jack scoffed.

"Natural talent."

"Now there’s a scary thought."

Talk to him, Jack. Do like I was. Coax him out. He can do it. He’s close.

Close? How did Venkman know that? Jack squinted at Teal’c, and this time the inimical glare was gone from the dark eyes. In them O’Neill could see evidence of a titanic struggle for domination, one moment cold and Goa’uld-ish, the next full of the powerful determination that characterized Jack’s friend.

"Hey, T," he said with a big, sloppy grin. "I hate to admit it, but Venkman’s right. You can do this. You can handle it. I never saw anything you couldn’t handle. You wouldn’t want to leave me on my own against Venkman, would you?" He glanced up, sought Daniel’s gaze, and realized that Daniel had foregone the translation and was standing nearby, his arms curled around his body, his face taut with encouragement.

"You can do it, Jack," he said softly.

"Ya think?"

"I know it." He didn’t come any closer. Maybe he thought it would come better from Jack than from him. Maybe he didn’t want Teal’c to have to look at him and see the darkening mark on his cheek that Teal’c had put there and dump any guilt on him while he fought for control.

Teal’c’s body strained against his bonds, and he writhed furiously. "O’Neill...." he cried, and that was pure Teal’c.

Jack leaned over and grabbed his shoulder. "Right here, big guy. Come on, you can do it. You can force this transparent snake right back where he belongs. That stuff’s gonna wear off any minute now, but you don’t need to wait for that. Time to kick Goa’uld ass here."

"I already said that," muttered Peter, sotto voce.

"It was a good thought. Hey, Teal’c. That’s you, isn’t it? Come on, you can pull this off."

Teal’c’s muscles bunched and he heaved back and forth a couple of times, arching his back right up off the floor. Face contorted, he waged a fierce internal battle. Jack didn’t let go. He had no sense of touching a Goa’uld when he gripped the taut arm, just a feeling that his friend was still there, still alive, still fighting.

"Way to go," Venkman said in that lazy, Garfield voice. "Just keep it up, Teal’c. You get the gold star for this. We’re gonna hire you out to teach all those hosts how to get rid of their unwanted passengers."

"Do you think...." Daniel cried excitedly, then he clapped his mouth shut. Probably wondering if destabilization would affect a normal symbiote. Would it be worth it to get one of the atomic destabilizer gadgets and bring it on missions?

Teal’c’s body arched one final time, held tight and bowed, then he sagged, and his eyes slid shut. He lay so utterly still that for a shocked moment O’Neill thought he had died. "Teal’c? Come on, Teal’c, answer me."

A hand rested on his shoulder, and he thought Daniel, only to realize Daniel still stood opposite him, his eyes enormous, his face flushed, his breath caught. It was Venkman, beside him, offering his support. Not a bad man in a crisis, after all. If he wasn’t just so damned annoying....

Teal’s body shifted in reaction to Jack’s touch. His eyelids lifted cautiously. "O’Neill," he said, and this time the familiar tones rang with his identity, full of warmth and relief. "I am myself again," he said, and this time Jack could hear no deception in his tones the way he’d heard over the fire-plain. It was his own Teal’c gazing out of the dark eyes, not a stranger, not an enemy.

Peter’s grip tightened on Jack’s shoulder, and he threw the colonel a blazing smile. Then he let go and pushed himself to his feet to allow Jack privacy for the reunion and made for Spengler. He held his head carefully to allow for his stiff neck, but there was a pride in his step that the casual motion didn’t cover. Deserved, for crying out loud. Strange guy, Venkman. Maybe tolerable, after all. A good guy to have at your side.

Jack turned back to Teal’c, all the while prodding at the edges of his mind for that edge he’d shared with the others. Daniel at once prodded back as he knelt on the other side of Teal’c, and the two of them helped him sit up.

"We’re glad to have you back, Teal’c."

"I am relieved as well, DanielJackson." Teal’c spotted the forming bruise on Daniel’s cheek and lifted a hand to it only to jerk back at the realization of the bonds that held him. "You have my regrets." He nodded at the restraints. "These were well done, O’Neill."

"Let’s get them off," Jack said and bent to the buckles. Daniel at once went to Teal’c’s feet.

"It’s all right, Teal’c," Daniel said. "It wasn’t you. It was the food of the gods at work."

"The substance is dangerous, O’Neill. I heard your conversation earlier, that the reasons for our behavior should be evaluated. My behavior was dangerous to the team. I have regained control of my symbiote. Even now, it fights me, but its struggles grow weaker. The substance fades. It will not control me again."

Jack gave a telepathic poke at the others. Daniel responded with a flash of awareness, and over there where Venkman urged Spengler to take a load off his bum knee, Peter’s head came up, but as if he weren’t sure what had attracted his attention. Teal’c was right. It was going. If they’d waited, it would have worn off on its own.

Better they hadn’t waited. That would have denied Teal’c his victory. Jack was glad they had done it the way they had. For an instant, he felt the fading weight of Venkman’s approval of his rationale, then it was gone. The understanding with Daniel lingered a second longer, until, with an almost audible pop, the sensation he’d never been able to define burst and left him alone in his own skin.

A guy could get to like that.

Daniel’s eyes narrowed. He squinted and he reached into his pocket for his glasses. "Everything blurred," he said in surprise. At his motion, Egon put his own glasses on.

As Daniel settled them into place, he blinked. One of the lenses had a crack across it. "Well, that’s annoying," he muttered to himself. Brief revulsion flashed in his eyes along with weariness and pain. His body sagged, then tautened into discomfort. As if he’d read Jack’s mind without benefit of the food of the gods, he said softly, "The sarcophagus was like that."

That said it all, put the whole experience in perspective. "It’d be like drug addiction," Peter added, clarifying it still further. Not that drugged-out Goa’uld wasn’t a bad thing, but they were already into this absolute power thing, convinced they were those tin-plated dictators Peter had mentioned—the guy must have watched waaay too much Star Trek—all power-mad and convinced they were gods.

"Indeed, O’Neill." Teal’c flexed his fingers and massaged his wrists. "There is no advantage to this power."

Jack shoved firmly out of his mind the thought that it had been nice to be able to understand Daniel so well without going off onto one of their disagreements, but he shook his head. Half the time, he loved the disagreements, although he’d never admit it to anyone even under torture. The rest of the time, well, it was just the way he and Daniel interacted. If they started using the gods’ junk food for crisis situations, eventually they’d be wanting it all the time.

The others were right. They couldn’t let this stuff loose on the galaxy.

"So, how do we stop the Goa’uld from ever getting this?" He offered a hand to pull Teal’c to his feet, but the Jaffa forestalled him, rose with his customary strength of purpose, and hauled Jack up instead while Daniel scrambled up awkwardly on his own, elbows all over the place. Jack had to say, his knees were grateful for Teal’c’s intervention. "Egon? Anything from the translation?"

At the reminder, Daniel plodded over to the panel he’d been working on, just like an exhausted puppy who had been offered a doggy treat, and grabbed up his notebook from the floor. He straightened up slowly as if walking the short distance had taken the last of his energy.

Egon turned. Already his glasses were slipping down his soot-streaked nose. "I have committed this wall to memory," he said, "as well as the Latin text to my right. I shall write out what I have read, but of course it may be unwise to attempt translation of anything that refers to the food of the gods. Even linguistic scholars who know nothing of the Stargate might be located by N.I.D. operatives."

"Good point." Jack was surprised Egon had thought of it, but maybe he shouldn’t be. The guy was a certified genius like Daniel, after all. "So, what’s it say?"

"While I cannot perform a literal translation of the proto-Elamite, I have read the Latin text thoroughly. I can give a translation of the pertinent bits now."

"That would be good." O’Neill gestured impatiently. "Does it finish the test for us?"

Egon lifted his shoulders in a faint shrug. "The text reads, ‘To the traveler upon the journey who has reached this point. A decision awaits you. Your strength and resolution—’"

"‘—shall determine the course of your actions,’" Daniel threw in.

Egon nodded. "Precisely."

Peter squinted at the Latin wall. "Something about ‘choose well,’ right, Spengs?"

Venkman knew Latin? Or was he just showing off? As if he sensed Jack’s skepticism, Peter turned and threw Jack a glance brimming with mischief.

"Show-off," Jack muttered under his breath.

"Hey, I try." He spread his hands. "Okay, so I don’t read it like these two language fanatics, but I remember a little of it. Mostly stuff like ‘dominus vobiscum’ and that kind of stuff.’"

Venkman as an altar boy? Now that boggled Jack’s mind.

Teal’c went over to the wall with the proto-whatsit language and squinted at it. "I do not recognize this dialect."

"It’s never been fully translated, Teal’c," Daniel explained. "We’ll try to translate it when we get home. Go on, Egon."

"It is simply this. We are instructed to make a decision. Once we make it, and not before, the atlas or telamon figures between the panels will serve us to validate our decision."

"Huh?" Peter stared at the nearest one. "What’s an atlas? I thought it was either a guy holding up the world or a book of maps."

"It’s a male figure used as a support," Daniel threw in. "A female figure would be a caryatid, such as the ones on the famous temple on the Acropolis in Athens."

More information than Jack wanted, but that was just Daniel’s way, and if he hadn’t said it, Spengler would have. "Okay, so what does that mean? How can a bunch of statues validate our decision?"

Egon lifted a questioning brow. "That is not explained."

"Decision about the gods’ grub?" Peter asked.

"Evidently. The whole setup is meant for that." Egon settled his migrating glasses. The guy ought to get them tightened. What if they fell off in the middle of a bust?

"It’s about ethics," Daniel said. Behind his glasses—they were sliding a bit, too—his eyes gleamed. "I like that. Maybe that’s the reason no Goa’uld is running around totally dominating the galaxy."

"Why?" Jack asked.

"Because—because they couldn’t pass an ethical test." A smile of genuine delight brightened Daniel’s face. He didn’t even wince from the darkening bruise there. He was hurting; Jack could see that. He looked like he felt sick to his stomach. But the thrill of the text’s message overrode it.

Teal’c couldn’t help spotting that vivid reminder of his loss of control. His lip quivered. "DanielJackson, I apologize for the attack upon you." He turned to the two Ghostbusters. "PeterVenkman, I rendered you unconscious."

"Yeah, but I’m all better now," Peter said brightly. He hesitated. Maybe he knew that wouldn’t reassure Teal’c. "So, when we get home, I’m gonna bill you for it. One neck rub. I bet you’re good at neck rubs."

"I am," Teal’c countered. He must have seen in Venkman’s face that he didn’t hold the attack against Teal’c. Peter might be suspicious of Junior, and by extension the Goa’uld, but that was good. He hadn’t had a lot of direct contact with the Goa’uld, anyway, only Zuul in his old girlfriend, who turned out to be a Tok’ra, and that Vince Corleone guy, Vinz Clortho, who was lurking around in the Ghostbusters’ accountant. The Tok’ra were working on freeing him from the Goa’uld, now that it had healed him from the massive injuries he’d sustained in the defeat of Gozer. Maybe the geeky little guy would be back one day. If Peter had a better idea from this of the Goa’uld threat, so much the better. Jack still had a longing to see how a Goa’uld would react to a particle thrower at full streams. Would a Goa’uld’s personal shield hold back that form of energy?

Satisfied by Peter’s answer, although probably still considering himself to owe Venkman a debt, Teal’c turned to Spengler. "I injured you as well, EgonSpengler. How may I repay you?"

"Repayment is unnecessary," Egon assured him. "Your actions served to convince us of the nature of the threat, and that is important. Without the attempted domination of your symbiote, we might not have realized the full impact of what we faced here." He gave Teal’c a nod. "You were able to overthrow it, with the help of the team. A full Goa’uld would possess no such incentive and many hosts would lack your strength."

"He’s right, Teal’c." That was Daniel. "You overthrew it before the power faded. That’s what matters. Now all of us know what the food of the gods can do. We can’t risk bringing it back with us." He leaned wearily against the wall and wrapped his arms around his stomach. Yep, he’d be one for Fraiser when they got home.

Jack glanced around the gloomy chamber with its towering walls. "We don’t even know where it is. Or even what it is, so even if we had equipment to test for it, we couldn’t find it."

"Doctor Fraiser might be able to detect remnants in our systems," Egon suggested. He tucked away his notebook, evidently satisfied with what he’d jotted down. "But I should be inclined to doubt it. It worked on us in a destabilized state; we have no guarantees it wouldn’t work even better were we solid."

O’Neill had almost forgotten he wasn’t solid; the world around him had been solid to him since the first visit to the pavilion. And that was clue number one. "There’s a power in this place that’s stronger than the Goa’uld," he said. "I don’t know what it is, but maybe it’s something left behind by the ancients. We’ll have to assume it can go on protecting the food of the gods the way it has been all along. Maybe Apophis or Sokar or Heru’ur or one of the other snakeheads can come along and get in here. There might be rings somewhere that a ship could detect."

"That might even be the way to abandon the physical," Daniel agreed.

"Even if they do," said Peter, "I betcha they’re no match for King Tut. He’s not solid, either, so they can’t do their nasty stuff with staff weapons on him. I say let him go on playing watchdog. He can keep the food of the gods."

"You’re not tempted?" Jack asked.

Peter’s brow wrinkled. "Sure I am. You think it wasn’t a kick to pull that telepathic number?" He glanced over at Egon and a look passed between them, the kind of look two people shared who knew each other inside out. "But I don’t need it."

"We withstood that temptation back in the pavilion," Egon agreed. "And I concur. I vote we make no attempt to retrieve the food of the gods."

"And tell them what back home? That we screwed up?" O’Neill frowned. "What’s Hammond gonna say to that?"

Daniel met the question without hesitation. "You know if Hammond understood what we had here and how it’s protected, he’d be glad we didn’t bring it back. We’d be tempting all the wrong people with it, and maybe prove the Nox and the Tollan were right when they said we were too young as a species. I don’t think we’re ready for it. We only got the faintest hint of what it does, watered down. In that strength, it enabled Teal’c’s symbiote to control him. I don’t want to take any chances with it. I vote with Egon."

"And I as well." Teal’c glanced around the room. "This substance would alter the power in the galaxy. I do not believe even the Tok’ra could be trusted with it."

"Ya think?" Jack didn’t trust the Tok’ra anyway. Maybe Martouf wasn’t so bad, and he positively liked Jacob Carter, but Lantash and Selmac were another story. They might be all right—but maybe not. No, this had to stay a big secret from them.

Peter glanced around like a guy who is hunting for a hidden camera. When he didn’t find one, he shrugged. "I’m in. My old man would probably disown me for passing up such a great chance to make major bucks, but I don’t care. We gave it our best, but, heck, the stuff was long gone, right?"

"Jack?" Daniel turned expectant eyes upon him so that he could almost read the unspoken you can do it in his gaze. Jack and Daniel didn’t always see eye to eye—it had to say a lot for their friendship that it stood up to the knocks of viewpoints that were sometimes diametrically opposed. This time, though, Jack understood exactly what Daniel, Teal’c, and the Ghostbusters meant. One glance at his Jaffa friend, restored to himself and all the more determined to stop Goa’uld domination, finished up the process.

"I vote with the rest of you," he said. "Heck of a way to come back from a mission, with nothing to show from it."

Daniel opened his mouth to disagree, but Peter held up his hand. "Ha. Beat you to it, Daniel. You think we came away from this with nothing? Are you kidding, Jack, buddy? We won. I don’t care what old King Tut says, but I think this is a pretty decent victory."

Egon’s face lit with pride at Peter’s words, and Teal’c inclined his head in agreement. Daniel just beamed at Jack. Felt good.

A loud clicking noise ran through the chamber that made all of them look around wildly. Weaponless but for Jack’s still-unused knife, they moved closer to each other, automatically placing themselves back to back, facing out.

"The atlases!" Egon cried.

Every single statue shifted, the front of it popping open, one after the other, revealing cavities within. There were twenty of the statues spaced around the room, and each held a man-sized cavity. Many of them were empty, but seven of them were blocked with a shimmer that could have been an energy barrier or force field. Behind the transparent shield in each of the glimmering openings stood a body. Some had become completely skeletal, others desiccated and dried like mummies. Each of them was twisted and distorted to suggest he had been sealed up within the pillar alive. A shiver of distaste played tag with itself up and down Jack’s back.

"Look!" Daniel pushed himself up and dragged over to one of the skeletons. "There’s a symbiote skeleton intertwined with the body." He pointed to it, his finger stopping just short of the energy barrier. "This was a Goa’uld."

"Perhaps they all were." Teal’c marched up to the next skeleton. "This one possessed a symbiote as well."

"So does this one." Egon adjusted his glasses and squinted, fascinated, at the skeleton near the panel he’d worked on.

"Mine’s too solid to tell." Jack could hear the grimace in Venkman’s voice without even seeing it. "Freeze-dried Goa’uld. Couldn’t think of a nicer guy to have it happen to."

"Because of your choices, this will not be your final resting place." King Tut materialized in the middle of the room in his usual showy blaze of light. "Those who found this place were few—fewer still were those who overcame the temptation of absolute power and declined the offer. Had even one of you held out to retrieve the food of the gods, all of you would have remained here in this less than illustrious company."

Jack gulped. They’d been right. It was a test of ethics. But it was also a test of teamwork, consensus, intellect, motivations, all those good things. What would he have done on his own, without Daniel to play conscience for him? He didn’t want to think about that, but he hoped he’d have chosen the right thing. Going all out for power wasn’t the smartest thing in the world. Sometimes a guy had to step in the muck for the sake of the larger goal. Jack knew he’d have to do that again, probably soon. But this one time, he could be satisfied that he’d made the right choice.

"We did good, huh?" Peter beamed at King Tut.

"Yes, Doctor Venkman, in spite of your ego, you, er, did good. All of you did. Your forgiveness of the Jaffa also played a role in the final outcome. You will be returned to the pyramid now, and you may depart as you entered."

The atlas figures snapped shut over their decaying inhabitants, and King Tut melted away in the weird way that he had, followed immediately by the paneled walls and the chamber.

The five of them drew together, looked around, and realized they were back where they had first landed when they’d drifted down to the floor of the pyramid chamber. The floor beneath their feet had resumed its spongy consistency through its layer of undisturbed dust. End of test, return of transparency. Although they looked solid to each other, they weren’t solid. Jack poked the wall to prove it, and arched his eyebrows when his fist vanished into the stone.

"Just don’t forget and try that when Ray restabilizes us," Daniel reminded him.

"I won’t."

"Will too.


"Not that again," Peter said. He rotated his shoulders and lifted a hand to massage the back of his neck. "Can we go home now?"

As one, they raised their eyes to the roof so far above them it was invisible in the shadows.

Jack groaned. They had a heck of a long way to levitate to get home.

"Time to accumulate some frequent flyer miles," Peter said. His shoulders sagged with fatigue.

Egon drew a deep breath, then arched his back, only to straighten up when he caught Peter looking at him. "What time is it, Peter?"

"Probably about five a.m." Peter glanced at the durable Timex. "‘Course that’s New York time, so it’s probably morning up on the surface. I swear if we don’t zip right home for real food, I’m not gonna be a happy camper."

"Don’t tell me you don’t like MREs!" Jack snorted in disbelief.

"Don’t tell me you do."

"In case you have forgotten, we have eaten no food during the entire time we were in here," Egon reminded them.

"No, but we had the food of the gods," Jack reminded them.

As one, they grimaced. O’Neill gritted his teeth and concentrated on levitation. He wouldn’t be sorry to see the end of the pyramid, or P4V-689, either.

Daniel sagged, his feet sinking a couple of inches into the floor of the pyramid. Even under the smoke and soot that streaked his face, he looked pretty bad. He hadn’t been out like Venkman had. What the heck was wrong with him? Teal’c’s kick to the chin? The blow that had knocked him down? He hadn’t really looked good for a long time, but, knowing Daniel, he’d probably ignored it and carried on. Jack edged over to him as they lifted up toward the chalk mark on the wall that would show them the way out. "Okay, Daniel?"

Daniel blinked at him. "I don’t feel well," he admitted. Must be bad for him to open up about it.

Jack glanced wildly at the others, and Egon drifted over. "I have been wondering. Daniel, are you in pain?"

"Uh...yeah. It went away for awhile, after we drank the stuff, but it’s been coming back." His mouth twisted.

"What’s it mean?" Jack demanded, alarmed.

Egon frowned. "You remember that when I was destabilized, I suffered bouts of uncontrollable pain. I am very much afraid that the various periods of seeming stability, perhaps even the food of the gods, has affected the destabilization. We need to get out of here and be restabilized as quickly as possible. Daniel is reacting much as I did when I was destabilized accidentally."

Jack took hold on Daniel’s arm to steady him. He hadn’t felt any of that pain himself, but Teal’c hadn’t whacked him a couple of times. Neither Spengler or Venkman looked very comfortable, either, but Daniel was the worst. Just a magnet for trouble, that was Daniel. Flushed and uncomfortable, he hunched over, his arms curved around his middle.

"We’ll get you home," he said, and Teal’c zipped in at Daniel’s other side to help support him up to the surface.

** *** **

Ray blinked the sleep out of his eyes and wiggled free of the sleeping bag where he’d been curled up fully clad. He hadn’t expected to sleep, or wanted to, either. There had been no more sense of communication from the rest of the team, not since the volcano images. Even a confirmed optimist like Ray could find no hope in its absence. Peter and Egon couldn’t be dead. They just couldn’t be.

But what if they were?

He glanced over at Winston, who was stretched out in his bedroll, snoring softly. Better not wake him. Let him rest; he wouldn’t have to worry while he was sleeping.

Wrapped in a blanket against the chill of the desert morning, Sam had awakened before him, and now she sat sipping coffee. The sun had already risen; the temperature would rise very quickly. But for now, the mastaba held the nighttime chill.

No sign of Mendoza or Calvert. Maybe they had gone out to check the perimeter. Maybe they’d gated to Earth for reinforcements. Ray craned his neck to see out the door. No trace of the sandstorm out there, just another day that would soon be as hot as Death Valley. The storm had finally blown itself out in the middle of the night and fits and starts of trailing wind had periodically roused the sleepers. In the hours before dawn, the wind had stilled completely, and Ray had awakened enough to pull off the bulky environmental suit and curl up in a sleeping bag instead. He must have slept another two hours. Not enough to be rested, but enough to get by on.


He jumped at the sound of Sam’s voice and accepted the cup she held out to him. "It’s fresh. Hammond sent us supplies. We’ve got a team out there going through the city ruins to make sure we didn’t acquire company under cover of the sandstorm. They haven’t found anything yet."

Ray didn’t ask her if the guys were back. She’d have told him immediately if they had emerged from the pyramid. Avoiding Ray’s eyes, she picked up her own cup and took a healthy swallow.

Chilled fingers curled around the cup, Ray wandered over to the open door of the mastaba and glanced over at the looming step pyramid. So close and yet so far. The guys hadn’t even been in there a full day; the destabilization wouldn’t have begun to break down yet. He didn’t think he could justify destabilizing a rescue team yet, not until a full twenty-four hours had passed. Would General Hammond even authorize it? The general would do what he could to protect his teams, but would he risk more men without proof that the guys were even alive?

Ray stood in the doorway sipping his coffee, glad to have it wash away the morning taste in his mouth, conscious of a stirring behind him that meant Winston was rousing. Sam offered him coffee, too. A second later, he joined Ray, rubbing a hand across the bristles on his jaw with the hand that didn’t clasp his mug. "Anything?"

"Not yet."

He lifted his eyes to the taller man. Worry slid to the back of Winston’s eyes in an attempt to present a brave face. Ray acknowledged it with a slight bob of his head.

They stood in companionable silence, their fears unspoken. Sam came over and joined them. She would be worrying about different people than they were, but she was one of a close team, too. Her pain would be the same as theirs, maybe even worse since she was the only member of SG-1 left, and he and Winston still had each other.

Ray gulped the rest of his coffee. "I’d better set up the destabilizer rectifier unit and have it ready for when...." When they returned. If they ever returned....

"I’ll help you," Sam volunteered hastily. She understood the device as well as Ray did; she was used to adapting alien technology, and while the Ghostbusters’ equipment wasn’t alien, it was still foreign to her. But Sam was smart. Ray had enjoyed brainstorming with her yesterday.

He wasn’t ready to enjoy anything more, not since the image of the pyroclastic cloud.

Come on, Ray, there was no volcano in the pyramid. Maybe it was an illusion.

And maybe they found a set of transport rings in there. Who knows where the guys went after they stepped through the wall?

He turned away from the pyramid and went for the secure tent. It promised to be a long day.

Once the destabilizer rectifier unit had been mounted and was ready, Ray realized he had nothing to do but wait. Waiting wasn’t good. He really wanted to have someone destabilize him so he could rush to the rescue. Maybe the guys didn’t need rescue, but he wished it hadn’t taken this long. What could they be doing in there that would take so long? It all came down to that. If the images he, Sam, and Winston had shared were real, Ray couldn’t see much hope, not after such a long time. From the brooding tightness of Winston’s mouth, he looked like he was every bit as reluctant to sit here staring at the pyramid as Ray was. He had to share Ray’s gloomy suppositions.

Sam looked all stiff and military, conferring with the Marines, who’d reported back from checking the perimeter, and running endless P.K.E. meter checks. Ray could see that she’d set the meters to give warning of the destabilized biorhythm readings they’d recorded the day before. Every time she tried it with no result, her mouth would tighten or a muscle would dance in her cheek. Once she muttered to herself, "Forty-six hours," and sneaked a peek at her wristwatch. They were nowhere near that deadline. The guys could stay safely destabilized for a long time yet.

Destabilized? Abruptly, Ray perked up. "Oh, gosh, why didn’t I think of that."

Winston and Sam converged on him like cops on a doughnut shop. "What, Ray?" Winston demanded.

"They’re destabilized. That means the physical realm can’t interact with them. Even if they were in the midst of an erupting volcano, it couldn’t hurt them."

"But that feeling we got...." Sam’s voice faded away. "Maybe it was instinctive. They’ve been solid all their lives and only destabilized a few hours. I know I would be extremely upset if a pyroclastic cloud came at me, even if I weren’t solid."

"I sure would." Winston rocked on his heels. "I think you’ve got something here, Ray."

"Yeah, but...." He suddenly saw a new problem. "To get to a volcano, they must have used transport rings—and isn’t it great that the rings would work on their molecules even when they were destabilized—so they’d be a long ways off. They might be on another world now, or halfway around the planet. And if the volcano destroyed the rings...."

Winston’s shoulders sagged.

Sam frowned. "I’m not sure how the rings would work on destabilized molecules. Whether or not the rings would replace the destabilizer rectifier unit, when it reassembled them at their destination, would it reassemble them in their natural state or the destabilized one?"

Ray hadn’t thought of that. Bad enough to imagine them stranded half a world away. Even destabilized, the guys couldn’t fly fast enough to go halfway around a planet before the forty-six hour deadline. If the rings that had taken them to the vicinity of a volcano had restabilized their molecules—and he wasn’t quite sure that would happen, but it was possible—they could still be dead of the volcano. If they weren’t stabilized, they might have no way home.

"Hey, Ray, don’t give me that wounded-puppy look," Winston challenged him, even though the hand he rested on Ray’s shoulder offered encouragement, support, and understanding. "I don’t know about you, but I won’t give up on Pete and Egon. Never met a guy as stubborn as Peter, and Egon’s nearly as smart as God. Between the two of them, I’d feel sorry for the volcano."

Winston sure knew how to whistle in the dark. Ray lifted his eyes and ventured a tentative smile for his friend, his friend who might be the only other Ghostbuster left. Both of them glanced at Sam, whose knuckles were white on the meter she held. Her whole team was gone. No matter how military and pragmatic she could be, she must be bleeding inside just like Ray was.

She must have jogged the dials, for the meter gave a sudden shrill wail. Meters didn’t usually make sounds like that. The antennae shot upright so quickly she had to jerk her other hand away to keep them from snapping her fingers. "I don’t think I—"

"We’re over here, kiddies," came Jack O’Neill’s impatient voice. "How about you quit playing with that gizmo and make us solid."

"Colonel!" Sam blurted.

The meter fell through her nerveless fingers and clattered on the ground, but Ray paid it no attention because the next voice was Peter’s.

"Isn’t anybody going to say ‘welcome home’?"

"Peter!" Ray whirled. "Egon!" He couldn’t even grab them and hug them until they were restabilized but he had to make sure they were all right.

There they were, all five of them, looking a bit worse for wear—Egon was limping, Daniel sported a bruise on his cheek and one of the lenses of his glasses was cracked. He looked a little green around the gills, like he’d been eating too much spicy food, and he was hunched over to suggest he’d been hurt. Peter didn’t have any obvious injuries but he held himself as if he ached and didn’t want to risk sudden moves. Teal’c was more consciously Teal’c-ish than Ray had ever seen him, stiff and rigid, his mouth tight. And O’Neill looked stiff and battered, not to mention ready to sleep for a week. The whole team’s clothing bore small scorch marks, rips, and a healthy layer of what looked like volcanic ash. Soot left clownish black marks around their noses and mouths. From the way Jack hovered beside Daniel, he’d picked up on his friend’s discomfort. No surprise there. Peter had a grip on Egon’s arm to steady his balance. That was what friends did.

"There was a volcano," Ray blurted. Now that they were all right, it was okay to remember and let the excitement flow through him.

Egon, Jack, and Peter focused on him like dogs on dinner. "You knew about the volcano, Raymond?" Egon asked. "How—"

"We felt it. All of us felt a mental communication from you. Like you were in terrible danger from a volcano. We had a mental image of a pyroclastic cloud."

"What!" Egon took a couple of hasty "steps" in their direction that made Peter reach out automatically to support him only to draw back when he realized they were all floating an inch or two above the ground. "You received our telepathic images?"

"We sure did," Winston agreed. "Scared the heck out of us. We’ve been trying to figure out where you found a volcano, and if the rings would have solidified you, but you’re still destabilized."

"Rings?" Jack O’Neill echoed. "What rings?" He waved an impatient hand before anybody could answer. "We didn’t find any rings down there. Never mind rings. Whip out that gizmo and make us solid. Daniel’s hurt." He flapped his hands in the direction of the destabilizer rectifier.

"I fear the destabilization process is losing its control," Egon said hastily. "It’s affected Daniel worse than the rest of us, possibly due to his out-of-phase experience such a short time ago."

"Uh...will we feel everything worse when we’re restabilized?" Daniel asked. He sounded reluctant to ask such a question at all, and that only dire necessity had forced him to speak. They’d all looked a little the worse for wear, with Egon leaning cautiously on Peter’s arm, and Peter holding his head as if he were afraid it would go flying off, but Daniel sagged, ready to drop.

The question made Jack stare at him through narrowed eyes. "What aren’t you telling us, Danny boy? How bad is it?"

"Well, ah, I’m all right. Just...sore."

He couldn’t have sounded more lame if he’d been caught with his hand in the till. Jack’s eyes narrowed still further and his mouth traced a hard line, but his hands were gentle as they gripped his arm. "Give."

Daniel hesitated. The general weary achiness of the team must have made them miss the fact that Daniel looked a lot worse than they did. From the battered state of their clothes, they’d been solid for a while, even if they weren’t now. There’d be time for that later. Ray noticed Daniel’s flushed face, his hunched-over posture and the way he pressed the heel of his hand into his lower abdomen and recognized the signs from the time Peter had displayed the same symptoms. "Oh, gee, is it your appendix?" he blurted.

"Appendix?" Jack grabbed Daniel by the other arm. The movement must have jolted him because he moaned faintly and hunched over still further. Jack let go as if scorched, then took the arm back, very cautiously, his other hand slapping against Daniel’s forehead to test for fever. "Why the hell didn’t you say anything? You let us think you were just sore from Teal’c whacking you, but it’s more, isn’t it? Damn it, Daniel...."

"Well, ah, because...." Daniel risked cautious shallow breaths. "What good would it have done? We were in there...." He waved his free hand vaguely at the pyramid. "Besides, I thought it was the destabilization at first...."

"Appendix?" Egon’s eyebrows shot up, not just the Spock one but both of them. He flashed a horrified glance at Ray. "I, too, assumed it was destabilization sickness, Raymond. I didn’t take it any further. I’m sorry, Daniel."

"When did you notice you were having problems with it?" Sam asked practically as Ray flew at the device.

"Well, ah...." Daniel blinked at them. "I had a twinge or two when I was out of phase, but it went away, and I thought it was just something that went with what the crystal skull did. And after I was destabilized I felt a little off, but I thought it was a side effect, or else maybe the flu." He doubled up still more.

Jack’s jaw tightened. "Oh, for crying out loud. You knew something was wrong with you and you still came on the mission? I swear, Daniel, you need a keeper."

"No, I don’t, Jack," Daniel argued through gritted teeth without straightening up. Carter hovered near them, unable to help. "I didn’t know.... It wasn’t bad at first. And I told you back there in the chamber with the atlases...."

"I’m ready," yelled Ray, to get their attention. "Sam, move away. I don’t want to destabilize you in the process."

Winston hauled her away from her rescued teammates, and gave Ray a hasty thumbs’ up.

"Make sure you’re actually standing on the ground," Ray urged them, and Egon lowered himself cautiously so that his good leg would take his full weight. Lucky they’d been solid to each other on the mission. That had to help, even if they could levitate. It would be scary to be molecularly challenged and know that no one could carry you if you were hurt.

Teal’c moved in on Daniel’s other side, ready to support him if the molecular reversal affected him adversely. Ray was afraid he’d feel the full effect of his appendicitis, if that’s really what it was, when he became solid, and was glad to see them supporting him. Somewhere behind Ray, Sam gave urgent orders to the lurking Marines who had been goggling at the transparent members of SG-1 to hurry back and open the gate, to send someone through immediately to make sure Doctor Fraiser was waiting. As Ray activated the destabilizer rectifier and the beam shot out to envelop the five men, he could hear the fading footsteps of the running Marine. Good. They could rush the guys home the second they were restabilized.

Peter tightened his grip on Egon as the beam struck while Jack and Teal’c worked together to bear Daniel’s weight. He must have suffered in silence until now, or maybe his pain had been assumed to be part of their collective battering. Ray had an idea Daniel wouldn’t have complained, would have held out against it as long as possible. He was the type to suffer in silence and hope nobody noticed. Peter did that with the big things; it was only when the guys knew he’d be fine, or when his injuries were minor that he performed his wait-on-me routine. It dawned on Ray that Peter intended an element of reassurance in his comfort-loving behavior. The guys weren’t as likely to worry about how desperately injured he was while wanting to wring his neck.

As the beam flowed over the five men and rendered them solid, Daniel drew in a sharp gasp of breath and his face went an even funnier color. He sagged in the grip of his teammates, and Sam breathed, "Daniel...." just behind Ray, her voice tight.

Egon caught himself and straightened up as he solidified, the bulk of his weight on his right leg to take weight of the other. Peter slid his arm around Egon’s waist to balance him.

In Jack’s and Teal’c’s grip, Daniel bent over nearly double and he vomited. O’Neill and Teal’c eased him down, and Jack knelt beside him to support his head.

"Get him back quick," Peter urged. "We’ll follow."

"I can run, Peter," Egon said.

"Yeah, right, and I can sing grand opera. We’ll take the next gate, guys. Daniel can’t wait."

"No way." Winston lunged at them. "Equipment can wait. You guys can’t." Teal’c gathered Daniel up into his arms the way he’d carry a child—with those muscles, he was the only one who could manage that and a fireman’s carry would probably jolt him too much—and Jack settled him in fussily, one hand touching his hair before jerking back. Winston and Ray lunged for Egon, and made a chair with their hands to carry him on. Peter moved to help, and Egon waved him off. "No, Peter. Not until Doctor Fraiser examines you."

There wasn’t time to ask what had happened to Peter, but he was holding his head awfully carefully. A head injury? Once they made it back and Daniel had been placed in safe hands—and probably on his way to emergency surgery—someone else in the infirmary could take care of Peter and Egon.

Teal’c, with Jack and Sam hot on his heels, had just vanished through the gate when Winston and Ray carried Egon up the ramp. The remaining Marine ushered Peter before him.

Ray would normally have enjoyed the tumultuous ride through the wormhole, but he was too worried about Daniel and about the less serious problems with his two teammates to pay much attention. At least they were intact, alert, and didn’t seem to have anything permanent or life-threatening wrong with them. Everything else could wait.

They spilled out onto the ramp at the SGC to find Daniel being lowered onto a waiting gurney while Doctor Fraiser hovered over him, testing his blood pressure and probing gently at the lower right quadrant for signs of reaction. Ray got one quick glimpse of the pain that contorted Daniel’s face when the pressure was eased. That was what it had been like for Peter when he’d had his appendix nearly burst a few years ago. Their amateur diagnosis was probably right. Fraiser spoke to the orderlies and they hurried the gurney from the gateroom with Doctor Fraiser keeping pace the whole way.

"Welcome back, SG-1 and Ghostbusters," General Hammond greeted them over the p.a. system from the control room above. "You are all dismissed to the infirmary. Debriefing for everyone but Doctor Jackson will take place in two hours."

He must have noticed what Ray had seen but hadn’t thought of at the time, that there was no trace of the food of the gods in the guys’ possession. Not that they could have transported it while they were transparent. Maybe they’d be mounting an expedition back to retrieve it.

Hammond didn’t mention it, either, but Jack, before he followed Daniel’s gurney out of the gate room, raised his eyes to Hammond for a moment, and gave a brief shake of his head. Teal’c marched in his wake. They didn’t get it? After volcanoes and other nasty surprises, Ray hated it that they’d failed. That was so unfair. Yet, apart from their obvious concern for Daniel, Peter and Egon didn’t wear the look of men who had been denied a triumph. Peter helped Egon into the wheelchair that had been waiting for him, clapped him on the shoulder, shared a grin with him, before he fell into step. Egon returned the smile. It was muted out of concern for Daniel, but it was real.

Egon wouldn’t have looked like that if he had failed.

Well, there was the briefing to come. Ray would have to wait and get his answers then, just like General Hammond did.

He fell into step with Winston—Sam had already gone after Daniel. "Now what?" he asked.

Winston shrugged. "I’ve been in the army, Ray. I know exactly what happens next. We wait."

** *** **

Jack O’Neill was not a happy camper. Looking back on the mission, he could remember a number of signs that Daniel wasn’t quite himself. The first time Jack had consciously noticed him favoring his side had been after the slapstick fight with Teal’c in the paneled room. But Daniel hadn’t been quite as eager and persistent as usual before that. It wasn’t a big difference, so subtle that Jack hadn’t even conceptualized it. If anything, he must have thought it was the destabilization process that affected him, probably reminding him of the "joy" of being out of phase.

That out-of-phase thing had been a weird one. To think that the whole time, Daniel had been right there, while Jack badgered Rothman, took out his frustrations. Had Daniel seen Jack try to get up out of his sickbed when he was suffering from that muon radiation stuff and had fallen on his face. Would Daniel have chuckled when Teal’c had effortlessly hauled Jack up from the floor of the infirmary and tossed him face-down on the bed?

Daniel had kidded him later about going tamely off to bed in the middle of the crisis, but Jack had heard a faint note of regret in the casual tones. Teal’c had related the story of the way Daniel had stayed up all night working to rescue him and Carter when they’d been stranded in Antarctica, when he should have been in the infirmary recovering from a head injury. It was thanks to Daniel they’d been found in time, before they turned into permanent popsicles. And what had Jack done when Daniel was "missing"? Gone tamely off to bed.

Well, he was sticking this out for Daniel. Hammond and the briefing could wait.

Fraiser was busy with Daniel, but other medical personnel had converged upon the team right away. It didn’t take a genius to add up their occasional coughs and the soot around their mouths and noses and to put them on oxygen for a while to clear out their lungs. Each member of the team suffered an examination, and except for breathing in that volcanic stuff, Jack was okay. Teal’c, too, passed the test. He didn’t need oxygen like the rest of them did. Now that Junior was cowed and in his place, he’d snapped back to immune system duty.

Jack decided it wasn’t worth it.

Doc Warner said the smoke inhalation thing wasn’t as bad as he’d expected from the look of them. Maybe the food of the gods had protected them from permanent lung damage. They only wound up sucking down oxygen for half an hour. Not fun, but Jack found breathing easier afterward. He still felt a little creaky, but he wasn’t twenty. Went with the territory.

Peter took advantage of the downtime to claim the neck-rub payment he’d demanded of Teal’c. While they talked, he sat there, body limp and relaxed, letting the Jaffa’s strong fingers ease away the aches in his neck and shoulders.

They killed the wait by discussing the experience in the pyramid—and wherever else they’d been—with Carter, Ray and Zeddemore, while Teal’c added a word here and there. Teal’c made no attempt to excuse his behavior under the influence of the food of the gods. He wouldn’t. The big guy always took full responsibility for his actions. Look at the debt he believed he owed Daniel, even though Daniel had forgiven him for all of it, even Sha’re’s death. When he finished Venkman’s neck rub, he took a seat and sat in silence, his face tight. It would take him awhile to get over his guilt about what had happened.

Wasn’t his fault. Jack planted himself ostentatiously at Teal’c’s side. Carter picked up on that right away, and sat on Teal’c’s other side. She hadn’t been there, but she had always been good at picking up on O’Neill’s signals.

Over in the other corner of the waiting room, the Ghostbusters formed a tight circle, opening up to admit Peter when his neck rub was over, as they waited to hear about Daniel, whom they had to like and respect, but giving the other members of Daniel’s team their space. Even Venkman, who probably longed to jump in and pull his psychologist number, stayed firmly with his team.

Spengler’s knee wasn’t sprained; he’d suffered a deep bruise and Doc Warner had suggested he stay off it as much as possible in the next few days. The bruise on his back had darkened dramatically, but he’d been lucky. Aside from the inevitable stiffness and tenderness, it wouldn’t cause him any real trouble.

Venkman wasn’t concussed, just stiff and sore; all his tests had come back okay. Even he didn’t hold Teal’c’s "bad trip" against him. It was Ray who had stared at his battered friends and at Teal’c in open-mouthed disbelief.

"Come on, Ray, he couldn’t help it," Peter said hastily. "That stuff our old ‘buddy’ King Tut gave us sabotaged the guy. It was kinda nice for the rest of us. That’s how we pulled that telepathic gig you guys picked up on when we were about to make ashes of ourselves. It wasn’t Teal’c, anyway, it was Junior. Too bad Teal’c’s stuck with the ugly little snake."

"Indeed," Teal’c said, making Ray jump as he hadn’t realized Teal’c had been listening. "I have offered my apologies to PeterVenkman and EgonSpengler. If I may atone for my actions—"

"That’s unnecessary," Egon replied quickly. "The actions of your symbiote were beyond your control—until you were able to work past them. It says much for your strength of character that you could override its domination."

Teal’c glanced pointedly at Egon’s knee.

"Come on, T-buddy," Jack jumped in. "You’re only human—well, Jaffa, anyway."

"What he means," Carter said quickly, her eyes sparkling, "is that you were fighting your own biology."

"That and the fact that my symbiote is still very young," Teal’c replied. He didn’t look as if he had accomplished anything remarkable, but Jack knew he had. He’d felt the power of a snake inside his head once and it had taken reserves he hadn’t known he’d possessed to fight it off for just a couple of minutes until the cryogenic process could finish it off.

"I’d still count on you to back me," O’Neill said, and gave Teal’c a comradely punch on the arm.

After that, the two teams withdrew to their sides of the room to wait for news of Daniel. Jack refused to budge. Hammond knew they hadn’t acquired the food of the gods. He could wait. The time for the briefing came and not one of his team, or the Ghostbusters, suggested he move. Maybe they were all thinking of Daniel’s flushed face and the way heat had radiated off his curled-up form as they wheeled him away. A ruptured appendix could make a guy damned sick; people even died of it. Although Daniel’s appendix hadn’t burst at the time they’d taken him into surgery, Jack suspected it was so close they might not have got him prepped and opened up before it could happen.

"I thought I’d find you here." Hammond hurried into the room. "I’m told the surgery is proceeding well, and is, in fact nearly over."

"They haven’t told us anything." Jack’s outrage at that fact rang in his voice.

"They will soon, Colonel. Doctor Jackson is a fighter, a survivor. You know that."

Jack hesitated. "Yeah, I know that." He glanced up at the clock on the wall. "Uh, looks like we missed the briefing. Sorry, sir."

Hammond measured each member of SG-1 with his eyes, allowed his gaze to move past them to the Ghostbusters. His shoulders lifted in an infinitesimal shrug. "You failed to get the memo, Colonel. The briefing location has been shifted to here and now, and is subject to interruption for medical bulletins."

"Thank you, sir," Carter said hastily.

You had to give credit to Hammond. Jack had never served under a commander he could respect more. He nodded in agreement with Carter—the General would see his gratitude in his eyes. Teal’c inclined his head.

At Hammond’s announcement, the Ghostbusters migrated over to join them. An infirmary aide had found Egon a cane, but his limp wasn’t as pronounced as it had been in the pyramid. They all shuffled around into chairs and Peter dragged up yet another so his buddy could prop up his foot.

"I know you didn’t secure the food of the gods, Jack." Out of the formal briefing room, with the concern about Daniel solid enough to be a ninth member of the briefing, Hammond must have decided to let the formality go a bit. Jack saw Peter note that. Bad sign. Better give him an example.

"No, sir. I’m not sure it would be possible for anyone to get it."

Hammond frowned. "Do you want to explain that?"

"Daniel would have explained it best," Jack returned. "But the stuff was guarded. We got a taste of it, and that’s what affected Teal’c’s symbiote. We thought it was probably set up that way as an example of what the stuff could do."

"The substance enabled my symbiote to control my speech and behavior," Teal’c admitted. "It was I who injured PeterVenkman and EgonSpengler, and I struck DanielJackson across the face. Perhaps I jostled him in such a way as to aggravate his appendix."

"You didn’t strike him in the abdomen," Egon said quickly. "I observed no such blow. We all were forced to partake of strenuous activity at the time of the volcanic incident. In retrospect, I can see that Daniel felt progressively more unwell during the mission, but I was a poor one to judge."

"How is that, Doctor Spengler?" Hammond prompted.

Venkman’s mouth dropped open and he stared at Egon in utter disbelief. "You? A poor one to judge? Give me a break."

"No, Peter, I mean it. My original experience with destabilization was accompanied by disorientation and by increasing bouts of severe pain. Even knowing Ray had modified the process to prevent such responses I went into the experience fearing that they could return. Ray was not destabilized in Bryant Park for as long a period as we endured in the pyramid. Expecting negative results, I put Daniel’s reactions down to destabilization backlash. I even offered that as an option when the symptoms were too strong to overlook. I watched him to see if I should urge us to withdraw, if he showed signs of fading more quickly than the rest of us, and I attributed his reaction to the fact that he had recently been out of phase—having endured that such a short time ago, I theorized that perhaps he was more susceptible to the problems inherent in destabilization than the rest of us. Before I could insist we remove him, we completed the test and the point became moot. But if I had looked past my own reaction...."

Spengler had one thing in common with Daniel—well, apart from the ancient language fetish, that is. He could ramble on indefinitely.

He proved that by continuing. "During the encounter in the room with the tablets and the, er, deceased Goa’uld, I observed that Daniel’s condition had begun to deteriorate. When we completed our final task and began the journey home, I was pleased with the timing for Daniel’s sake. I watched him and monitored him all the way up to the passage out."

"And you didn’t think that just maybe I might want to know about this?" Jack demanded, outraged.

"You did know," Peter reminded him. "Egon said as much and Daniel admitted he felt crummy. What more could you have done?"

Egon blinked at him in surprise, and gave his glasses an impatient shove as they took a ski trip down his nose. "I was the mission team’s expert on destabilization. We were nearly back to Ray. Had it occurred earlier in the mission, it would have been necessary to abort, at least on Daniel’s behalf. At that point, I knew he would be back to Ray within minutes. When I realized I was wrong—"

"It’s not like you’re a doctor," Peter said hastily. "Well, not a medical doctor, anyway. You’ve never had your appendix out."

"No, but I remember when you had yours out. I should have made the connection."

"I think you were practically programmed not to make that connection, Egon." That was Carter. "From what you informed us about your first experience, you experienced pain so debilitating it doubled you up. What else could you assume but that Daniel was having a bad reaction to the destabilization? I think that connecting it with his being out of phase such a short time ago is the assumption I would have made as well."

"Gosh, yeah, Egon." Ray frowned. "I know you hated it when you were first destabilized; it was a crummy experience for you, and you didn’t even have a purpose like Peter did when you went through it. If I’d been you, I’d have thought the exact same thing. You went with what you knew."

"In any case," Hammond cut in, "Doctor Jackson is in competent hands right now and they got him to surgery before his appendix could burst. Let’s return to the briefing. I confess hearing mention of volcanoes and dead Goa’uld has stirred my curiosity."

Peter caught Jack’s eye and jumped in to describe the events of the mission, while the others filled in or offered corrections and more detailed explanations when necessary. Peter finally concluded, "It was all a test. The plaque outside was the bait. Somebody, who knows who—maybe even the Ancients I’ve heard you guys talk about—wanted to make sure that the power of this gods’ snacks didn’t fall into the wrong hands. If you were smart enough to get in there and figure out what to do to initiate the test, you got a free sample."

"Rather like a beta test of new software?" Carter suggested.

Egon beamed on her with approval. "Exactly. Not the entire weight of the substance but enough to produce results. Teal’c’s symbiote, although remaining in its abdominal pouch, was able to exert control over him. The rest of us experienced a mild form of mental telepathy, mostly subliminal, and the ability to continue to use the abilities inherent with destabilization even while within a simulated environment in which everything around us was solid."

"That’s how we all got these burns and scrapes." Jack pointed to his forehead where he had sustained a few small burns from the shooting sparks. "Once we completed the first step of the test, we were in a physical environment until the end."

"The test possessed three phases," Teal’c explained. "Knowledge and the ability to acquire information and act upon it, the ability to function as a team in stressful situations, and the most important part, the ability to evaluate what we had learned and make a conscious choice to reject what the food of the gods offered us."

Hammond’s eyes widened. "You mean you could have had it but you chose not to have it."

"It’s that ‘absolute power’ thing," O’Neill admitted. "We’d seen what it could do. We’d seen how hard it was to get to the point where we had a shot at it. But we all agreed that it was too dangerous to risk."

"It was an ethical test," Egon explained. "We felt it would be a violation of our individual codes of ethics to attempt to attain the substance at that point."

Hammond frowned. Maybe he could tell there was a lot more to it, that they had been challenged, tested, tempted. Jack still felt good that they’d all rejected it. But would Hammond see it that way?

"The thing is, sir, the stuff is too dangerous to risk in the galaxy. The second somebody like the N.I.D. finds out about it, they’ll try for it." He grinned. "Even if they had their own tame linguist so they could work out how to get into the pyramid, it’s not like the stuff is just lying around with a sign that reads ‘Special two-for-one sale’. It protects itself. If we’d chosen to go for it, we wouldn’t even be here. A bunch of guys had been there before us. We saw their bodies."

"Do you want to explain that, Colonel?"

"I will," Egon offered and described the atlas columns that were in fact tombs of those who had been too greedy and self-serving to make the correct decision. "I can’t state the actual cause of their deaths, but I believe that we would be there now had we chosen wrongly."

"He’s right, General. Those of the bodies we saw that were skeletal had Goa’uld skeletons inside them." Peter shivered. "I hafta say, we wouldn’t have been in very good company if we’d screwed up." He heaved a sigh, while one hand automatically massaged his stiff neck. "Good thing I can’t tell my old man about this. He’d be scheming for a way to rig the test in a heartbeat."

Hammond regarded him with interest. "Do you believe the test could be rigged, Doctor Venkman?"

Peter hesitated, maybe wondering if Hammond had asked him that because he was the most likely to think along those lines. Then he shook his head. "Nah. Not saying somebody might come in there and find a valid reason for making off with the stuff, but I don’t think any Goa’uld would. I can’t think of any reason we’d qualify, either. Having it just to keep the Goa’uld away from it wouldn’t be good enough. It’d wind up being too tempting." He poked his tongue around in his cheek for a second. "My old man’s a con man. I’m used to knowing how he thinks. He can fake himself out, make it sound like he’s doing something for higher principles when he’s really doing it for the money. All it would take would be one person willing to reason like my pop and we’d have major problems. I know about this Maybourne guy and the N.I.D. They’d wind up in the atlas pillars, I betcha."

"Daniel would probably say it was good we had an example. The test wasn’t unfair." Jack frowned. At times it had felt awfully unfair: when the volcanic plain decided to blow up in their faces, when Jack’s buddy Teal’c was sneering at him and demanding worship. But in the end, the symbiote’s power had convinced Jack. And, damn it, he should have noticed about Daniel sooner. No matter how good he felt about making the right choice, he was a son of a bitch for not picking up on the fact that his buddy was in major pain, even if said buddy was doing his best to cover it up.

"Do any of you believe the test results could affect whole planets instead of simply individuals?" Hammond asked.

Jack hadn’t thought of that. He glanced sideways at Venkman and Spengler.

Peter shrugged. "I hope not. I’ve had the fate of the world on my shoulders waaaaay too many times already."

"Peter Venkman, savior of the Earth?" Jack tilted his head and studied the man who annoyed him. "No way."

"What, shall I give back my Nobel Peace Prize?"

He was kidding. Wasn’t he?

"Peter!" Jack would give anything to be able to reproach the guy with one word like Egon’s. "You don’t have the Nobel Prize."

Peter only smiled at his friend. "Well, I heard I was up for possible consideration for taking out Nexa."

"Close only counts with horseshoes and Goa’uld shock grenades, Venkman," Jack told him. He turned back to Hammond. "Guess we blew the mission. Sorry, sir, but it was the only way to go."

The General frowned. "While I don’t like knowing there is a substance out there strong enough to enhance Goa’uld abilities, I have to say it appears to be very well protected. If the process you went through could manipulate the physical environment, transfer you into test scenarios, and end the lives of those who failed, we will have to trust that it will go on doing so."

"It might even be bait, y’know." That was Venkman. It figured. "Luring in greedy suckers and weeding out the ones that couldn’t handle it. It let us go, even knowing what we did. That means we can’t let the knowledge get out."

"Not to the Tok’ra, either," Jack insisted. "I don’t trust those guys. They’re always keeping stuff from us. Here’s something we can keep from them."

"Your information doesn’t leave this room, people." Hammond still wore a frown, but no distrust or disappointment showed in his eyes.

"Of course not, sir," Egon spoke for the Ghostbusters.

Naturally Venkman had to have the last word. He made an exaggerated pantomime of zipping his lips. "You got it, George," he said and grinned. "Now, if they’d just come and tell us about Daniel, we could get out of here."

Smartest thing he’d said all day.

** *** **

"He’ll be perfectly fine," Doctor Fraiser reported to the team half an hour later. "It was close. If the mission had lasted much longer, his appendix would have ruptured."

"I assumed his reactions were caused by side effects of destabilization," Egon threw in. Poor old Spengs just wouldn’t let go of responsibility. Peter gave him a nudge with his elbow.

"Which would have been a valid assumption, based on your experience and the situation," said the doctor. She noticed Peter’s elbow and was sharp enough to figure it out. The look she bestowed upon Peter was friendlier than usual. "In actual fact, I believe that both Daniel’s out-of-phase experience on P7X-377 and the destabilization inhibited the deterioration of his appendix. He tells me he had the first mild symptoms shortly following his return from the encounter with the giant aliens. At the time of the mission, he felt such a mild malaise he didn’t mention it, simply because he believed translation would be a vital component of the mission. Once destabilized, the deterioration slowed, but it did not stop. Possibly even the substance you ingested inhibited it. Daniel reported that the pain eased substantially when he drank it. Once that wore off, the symptoms returned, notably the pain that he assumed was an upset stomach until it migrated to the right side. He would have felt unwell. Whether the lingering traces of the food of the gods in his system prevented symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea, I can’t determine at this point."

"He did vomit once he was restabilized," Jack reminded her.

"Yes, but I’m told just the once." Fraiser said. "But he was feverish and in severe pain when we took him into surgery."

"But he’s gonna be okay, right?" Jack persisted. Even though Janet had said he’d be fine, he wanted to hear it again.

"Yes, he’ll be fine. But he won’t be going on missions for some time. I’ll keep him in the infirmary here for several days at least. Since he lives alone—"

"Once you spring him, he can stay at my place," Jack volunteered. "I’ll look after him."

"And allow him to drink too much coffee and bore him with hockey matches. I know." But she smiled when she said it. O’Neill tried to look totally innocent as if he would never dream of doing such things. He didn’t even convince Egon, let alone his own team, who knew him better.

"When can we see him?"

"He’s sleeping now. The rest of you might seriously consider showers and clean clothes while you wait. The rest of us have to look at you—and smell you." She shook her head. Even Sam, Winston, and Ray still wore their rumpled clothes from the planet, although they were cleaner and didn’t exactly reek.

Jack looked down at himself as if he’d suddenly realized he wasn’t exactly fresh as a daisy. Peter didn’t want to think about what he smelled like, if his friends were any comparison. He remembered how sweaty they’d been in the pyramid. Then there was the lingering rotten-eggs aroma that clung to their clothes. He probably looked like a street person. One hand surreptitiously rubbed his unshaven chin.

"Go on." Fraiser waved a dismissive hand at them. "You’re cluttering up my infirmary."

"Would we do that?" Jack demanded.

Janet saw Peter watching her and delighted him by winking at him. She planted herself in front of the colonel, who towered over her—it would be interesting to see her standing up to someone as tall as Egon—and poked him in the chest. "Every single time."

** *** **

"Colonel O’Neill? A word with you?"

General Hammond had to say that O’Neill looked better clean—and reassured about Doctor Jackson. He’d suspected the colonel wouldn’t put himself anywhere near Hammond, so he’d gone looking for him and run him to ground in the infirmary. No surprise there. He beckoned him away from Doctor Jackson’s bed and into Fraiser’s office; she wasn’t there to use it.

O’Neill came warily. "What’s up, sir?"

"I want your opinion of the food of the gods—away from everyone else. They all appeared to feel that you made an ethical decision there, that the substance would protect itself, and that it was safe from the Goa’uld. Just between you and me, is that true?"

Jack grimaced. He’d had to do some tough and dirty things for the sake of his country and the mission over the years. He still bore emotional scars over his undercover work to expose the renegade SG teams. Hammond wasn’t sure whether he had a moral right to ask O’Neill to circumvent the decision of the mission team. But he had a duty to know if it were possible, feasible. And it never hurt to test his people’s resolve.

"Off the record, sir?" When Hammond nodded, he went on slowly. "I think if we’d gone for the gold, we’d be moldering inside pillars right now. Not to say the right person couldn’t go in there and choose to take the stuff—with proper motivation. Maybe the Nox could manage it. I’m not sure we could. I’m definitely sure we shouldn’t."

"Why is that, Jack?" If this was to be off the record, he wanted to encourage O’Neill to talk, and that was often like encouraging a clam to emote. Some of the reports Jack O’Neill had turned in over the years had been bare minimum stuff, not one syllable beyond what was absolutely required. His report from the first Abydos mission had contained an out-and-out lie. Hammond had lived with it because O’Neill and SG-1 were far and away his best team, who had made enough positive impact out there to enable Earth to number the Asgard and the Tok’ra as their allies. Never mess with a working system. Just keep a firm hand on the controls and trust his instincts.

O’Neill’s eyes flashed. "You didn’t see Teal’c out there, General," he said, and Hammond realized the flash was of remembered pain. "Most honorable guy I know, strong as a tank, and he’s telling us he’s our god and that he despises us." He shivered, made an attempt to control the gesture, and finally shrugged and gave it up as a bad job. "Hell, General, it’s not even that he’s my friend. It’s that the stuff was powerful enough to override everything Teal’c believes in. He’s still wanting to do penance for using us as punching bags. He’s off doing his kel-no-reem thing now, trying to put his head back together." He took a couple of urgent paces around the room before he could rein in his tension.

"The thing is," O’Neill finally continued, "if just a few swallows of that stuff could mess with Teal’c like that, what would a steady supply do to a Goa’uld who already is up for galaxy-wide domination? I can think of a few of them that I’d blow away in a second before I’d let them anywhere near P4V-689. Even if we could figure out a way to use it against them, I’d be thinking of Teal’c and the way he looked at us. We can’t use it, sir. It’s a no-brainer. And it’s not just because Daniel is taking one of his ethical stances with Spengler backing him. Even Venkman backed him. But it’s because this one thing is just too dangerous to risk."

"If it could be controlled...."

O’Neill’s head shook fiercely. "No, sir. Even if there were a way, it would be too risky. You want to imagine the Tok’ra getting it? What’s to stop them from throwing over their Tok’ra-ness and wiping the floor with us? Maybe Jacob would be okay—but maybe not."

Hammond winced. Jacob Carter had been his friend for more years than either of them would like to count. Condemning his old friend to becoming a Goa’uld host wasn’t something he’d want to consider. Truth be told, he hated the very idea of the substance. But he needed something he could give the President on this.

O’Neill took a couple more restless steps, his attention already back at Doctor Jackson’s side. "Bottom line, sir, even if we wanted to mass-produce the stuff, we don’t have a prayer of getting it, because we’d be going in there for the wrong reasons. Whoever set that up, probably the Ancients, or somebody else with that much power, could read our minds and our motivations. Even to use it as a defensive weapon wouldn’t cut it." He shrugged. "We don’t know what it is. Even if we blasted our way into the pyramid, we might never find it. Half the time, I think we were somewhere else. Egon says we might even have been hypnotized to react the way we did, although he admits it’s not likely. Venkman says if hypnosis can make people telepathic it’s the first he’s heard of it. He volunteered to hypnotize me to test it."

"He would." Hammond had to smile. In some ways, Peter reminded him of Jack, but not across the board—just enough that the two men rubbed each other the wrong way. What mattered was that they were both brave and loyal to their friends. "All right, Jack. That was what I thought. I’ll find a way to reassure Teal’c that we don’t hold what happened against him. I’ll let Doctor Jackson know we won’t make any attempt to retrieve the substance. And I’ll straighten it out with the President—somehow."

"Thank you, sir." Jack didn’t let go of his tensions just like that. Having one of his closest friends throw it all in his face had to hurt. Hammond was glad he hadn’t been there. But, he never was there. He had to send his people out into a galaxy they really weren’t ready for, watch them come back broken and bleeding, or broken inside where it didn’t show on the surface. At least his people had returned safe this time, and had begun the healing process. Hammond would be glad when Doctor Jackson woke up. That would be exactly what Jack needed.

"Go back to your vigil, son," the general said, and he rested his hand on O’Neill’s shoulder for a second before he returned to his duties.

** *** **

Ray had looked all over the base for Egon, but he had vanished after his shower. Peter and Winston were in the mess hall, having dinner with Sam, and Ray could tell that Peter had just realized Egon was missing. He had instantly jumped up and offered to come with Ray to find him.

"I think I better, Peter. I’m the one who refined the destabilization process. Egon was awfully mad at me for doing it in the first place."

"He got over that, homeboy," Winston said hastily. "I was a little teed off at you, too. But it helped us out here."

Ray shook his head. "We sat out a sandstorm and everybody else went through all those nasty tests—and we didn’t even bring home the stuff. Maybe I shouldn’t have...."

"Hold it right there, Ray." Peter jumped up. "You did it and it helped us out. Better to know that stuff is safe and no Goa’uld can get his snaky little paws on it than to wonder about the threat. Anyway, Egon had a successful destabilization. When he’s had time to think, he’ll realize that. It might put all that nasty stuff about being a prisoner in Tolay’s keep behind him." Worry shone in Peter’s eyes, and Ray knew what it meant. Egon probably still felt bad that he had misinterpreted Daniel’s symptoms as destabilization reaction. But for all they knew, Daniel had believed the same thing.

"I know," he said. "I just want to check with Egon."

"Want me to come?" Peter volunteered, and Ray could tell he wanted to, but he held back.

"I’ll bring him back here when we’re done," Ray volunteered and resumed his search.

It dawned on him as he wandered the corridors of the SGC that his ankle felt totally well. He hadn’t even thought of it once he’d returned from the other planet. Wow. That was so great.

Would the healing device work on Egon’s bad feelings? He’d have to ask Sam about that. He could imagine Peter’s astonishment at the thought of using a healing device to ease someone’s mental pain. Probably complain it would put him out of a job. Well, only if Sam could master it and hang out at the firehall with it. Besides, no gizmo could ever replace Peter—or any of Ray’s friends.

He finally ran Egon to earth—literally—on the surface. An airman told Ray he’d escorted Egon to the surface and that he’d been instructed to call when he was ready to come down. He volunteered to take Ray to join him.

To Ray’s surprise, it was night when he got up there. Where had all that time gone? He’d sure lost track of time when he was over there on P4V-689. Down so far below the earth, he couldn’t tell by glancing out a convenient window

Egon sat on a rock gazing up at the stars. When the airman left, Ray stood beside Egon, his own eyes lifted. He’d always liked looking at the stars. Now when he looked at them, he realized he’d actually been out there, twice. Hard to imagine a kid from Morrisville who had grown up loving superhero comic books and horror films had taken his first steps on two other planets. Who’d have thought when Peter dreamed up the idea of busting ghosts for fun and profit that it would come to this?

"Hi," said Ray.

Egon jumped, then he scrambled to his feet. "Oh. Ray. What are you doing up here?"

"Looking for you."

"Should I be somewhere?" The fact that he asked the question—and sounded so distracted—made Ray glad he’d come. "No, but the others are eating, and we ought to go and have something. I know you guys didn’t eat in the pyramid."

"Nothing but a drink of the food of the gods," Egon admitted. He returned his gaze to the stars.

"Egon, are you mad at me?" He blurted out the question so Egon would think it was spontaneous, but he’d planned it carefully. He wanted Egon’s instinctive reaction.

Egon whirled and stared at Ray in utter astonishment. "Mad at you, Ray? Of course not. Why on earth would you assume I felt anger toward you?"

"Well, you weren’t happy about destabilization and when I figured out how to control it, you were really furious. I guess I was just scared you were feeling bad about it, and since I was the one who worked the bugs out of it...."

"Oh. No, Ray, of course I’m not mad at you. I was at the time, but that was because my own experience had been so unpleasant. When I realized what Sam had called about, I was shocked to discover I still had...unpleasant feelings about my experience."

Ray stared at him. "Gosh, Egon, anybody would have bad feelings about getting captured by a demon and not knowing if he’d be rescued. I sure would." He wished Peter had come with him after all, but he’d known both Peter and Egon for so long that he knew just what to say. "Peter’s gonna be so pissed at you."

Unused to such tactics from Ray, Egon blinked at him. His glasses started their trek to the tip of his nose and he shoved them sternly into place. "Why do you say that, Raymond?"

"You know how he gets. He’s always telling you that you’re not supposed to do this Spock emotion thing. And you did."

Egon frowned. "Bottle up my emotions, you mean." Maybe it was the darkness and the isolation here on government property where no stranger would wander by and interrupt, but Egon made no attempt to dissemble. "I was not aware that I had. Until Sam called, I thought that incident well behind me. I was shocked to realize how much it still bothered me."

"Peter sure has his work cut out with you." Ray grinned. "Gosh, Egon, that’s just human. You think I don’t have stuff that bothers me, even years later? Most of the time, I’m cool with things, but if something reminds me how I screwed up in Morrisville and was ready to quit the team because I was so sure I was a failure, I just want to curl up and hide. Peter would say some memories pop out when we’re reminded, and sometimes that’s good. It made you ultra-cautious on the mission, didn’t it?"

"Not cautious enough." Egon’s voice rang with bitterness. "I understand what you are saying, Ray, that we learn from our experiences. But I didn’t learn. I was the only one who observed Daniel’s gradual deterioration, because I was looking for signs of your process failing."

"Well, gee, I’m not offended that you did that. I wanted you to do that, so that if I’d screwed up on the timeline you could pull everybody out of there. I half expected Peter to go all macho—you know how he gets—because he’d be in competition with Jack. I figured you’d be a better judge of how bad it was."

"I felt no such symptoms myself," Egon admitted. He looked at Ray in mild surprise. "You reasoned all that out?"

"Well, yeah. I had to, Egon. It was my project, my responsibility. I had to think out all the bugs, everything that might go wrong, how you guys would react. I hated having to send you, but they wouldn’t let me go—and it really was better for me to be in charge of the destabilizer rectifier. You guys think I’m too gung-ho, but people’s lives were on the line. I had to think of everything."

"You reasoned it well, Ray. I’m proud of you."

Ray felt like singing in delight, but he squashed the impulse. "Come on, Egon, you know you’re not to blame for Daniel. I bet you were monitoring him, thinking all the time, making sure he could get out before he displayed major symptoms of destabilization breakdown. Weren’t you?"

"I was. I could see no evidence of fading, and while I could tell he was in discomfort, I believe now that he was concealing the worst of his symptoms. I didn’t realize that at the time, however. So it wasn’t until we were ready to go that I realized we should expedite our departure. By then, we were already leaving."

"So, not being a medical doctor, and not being a mind reader, you failed to realize Daniel was having an attack of appendicitis instead of a mild destabilization reaction. Gee, Egon, shame on you. The telepathy had worn off and it wasn’t like it gave you the ability to read minds, just to communicate deliberately. And shame on you again. You wasted your time in grad school studying physics and parapsychology and linguistics instead of medicine. What on earth were you thinking?"

Egon stared at him, and abruptly he smiled. "Perhaps Peter should hire you to, er, kick my ass from time to time, Ray. You do it superbly."

"Well, it was kinda my place to do it." Even in the starlight, he could see peace settling across Egon’s features. "You okay now?"

"I believe I will be. Thank you, Raymond."

"Any time."

"Come on. I don’t know about you, but I’m really hungry. Looks like they were having pork chops and dressing. It smelled great."

As Egon fell into step with him, Ray couldn’t help the smile that spread across his face.

** *** **

Daniel yawned and shifted warily. His side felt a little tender and it pulled slightly when he moved, but the awful grinding pain and the nausea that had accompanied it was gone. He just might make it.

Little beepy sounds that he recognized as infirmary monitors sounded subliminally around him, and he knew the antiseptic smell from too much experience of the place. He hated hospitals, not a generalized hatred but one caused by far too much familiarity, both from his own illnesses and from injuries to his team. No, the infirmary wasn’t his favorite place.

So what had led up to this stay? He kept his eyes shut. If he opened them, someone would loom over him and make him talk, and he wasn’t sure he was ready for that yet. Not that he couldn’t talk at the drop of a hat, but he felt too weary, too lazy, too disconnected, to try to put together a coherent sentence.

Infirmary. Pain in his side. Appendix?

There had been a pyramid, too, a massive pyramid with a crystal skull—no, that was the first pyramid. There had been another one later, a step pyramid. Djoser.

The food of the gods.

The Ghostbusters.


The test.

His eyes shot open to reveal Jack O’Neill, in fresh clothes and clean-shaven, sitting beside his bed. It must be night because the lighting was dimmed, and Jack had slumped down on his chair, his chin against his chest, his eyes shut. He was snoring softly. Even sleep hadn’t erased the lines of fatigue and worry from his face.

Daniel knew if he moved or spoke, Jack would jolt to awareness in a heartbeat. He’d protested when out of phase that he would have pulled an all-nighter for Jack. Now here was proof that Jack was pulling one for him. Daniel couldn’t hold the doze against him; he could tell just by gazing at his friend that it was a light one.

He ought to let Jack sleep, but he knew that it would be kinder to rouse him, reassure him. That’s what he’d want—no, demand—if the situation were reversed. He’d want that reassurance and want it instantly.

So he said, "Wake up, Sleeping Beauty."

Jack erupted from his chair in one smooth surge that brought him up against the bed. He blinked sleep and confusion from his eyes, and gazed down at Daniel, his face ablaze with relief. That look alone made up for so much that Daniel felt the warmth of it pulse through his veins and arteries.

"Sleeping beauty?" Jack demanded in mock outrage. "I didn’t know you thought of me that way, Danny boy."

"It was a...considerable exaggeration," Daniel countered. "More like an outright lie." He let himself smile. "Why aren’t you in bed?"

"Because I like sleeping in uncomfortable chairs. It’s a fitness thing. And if we’re gonna get into this sleeping beauty competition, I should bring you a mirror, Doctor Wiseass."

"Is this another macho competition, Jack?"

O’Neill gave a snort of laughter. "I see you’re your usual self."

"Only sleepier," Daniel agreed. "Is everybody else okay?"

"We’ve got our bruises and scrapes, but you win this round. Appendicitis? You didn’t think that maybe we’d like to know about it?"

"I thought it was a combination of being out of phase and destabilized and maybe breathing in that ashy stuff. I didn’t know it was my appendix until right there at the end." He hesitated. "I’m sorry, Jack."

"You better be. Giving your colonel heart failure is not a good thing."

"But I’m not in the military, Jack." He hated worrying his friend, but there was nothing he could do about it except get well fast. Maybe even let Jack take him home for a few days to render his recovery hideous with too many sporting events on TV. He’d do it, and be glad of it. There had been a time, after Jack’s undercover work to root out Maybourne’s secret cadre, when he’d thought he’d never again be close to Jack, but those feelings had gradually faded. Now it would be worth the sports, the inevitable disagreements, just to know he had a place to go and a friend to watch his back.

"No kidding." Jack shook his head. "Janet will brain me if I keep you talking. Everything’s okay. Hammond thinks we did the right thing about the food of the gods. It’s now so classified that if we talk about it to ourselves we’ll have to kill ourselves."

"Sweet." He couldn’t resist. He managed Jack’s exact tone.

Jack rolled his eyes. Then he reached out, curled his fingers around Daniel’s. It was the other hand that had the IV in it. "Go ahead, sleep," he said.

"Are the Ghostbusters still here? I want to see them before they go."

"Yeah, they’ll stick around and talk to you. They’re heading off in the morning. It’s okay. Get your rest. Soon as your better, I’m gonna give you a real treat."

Daniel pretended great dismay. "Not—fishing?"

"Ya, sure, you betcha."

Daniel groaned. "My life is complete."

Jack made a face at him.

Halfway through a yawn, Daniel thought of one more thing. "Jack! We need to go back to the planet. Even if we don’t want anything to do with the food of the gods, we ought to try to find out who King Tut was."

Jack groaned. "Not a good idea, Danny-boy. I don’t know who he was, but I’ve got the feeling he could squash us like bugs if we messed with him. He let us leave. Whoever he was, we better leave him alone."

Daniel wanted to know—mysteries like that fascinated him—but maybe Jack had a point. He’d wait, bring up the subject when he felt strong enough to battle it out. Until then, that rest Jack had suggested sounded like a very good idea.

He heaved a sigh that only hurt a little and settled himself against his pillow. Maybe he’d never solve the mysteries of the step pyramid, but he fell asleep content to know that everything was all right and that Jack was there to make sure it stayed that way.

** *** **

Over the years, Winston Zeddemore had spent far too much time in hospital waiting rooms, and in visiting his friends when they’d been injured in the line of duty. This time, his teammates’ injuries had been mild; after a good night’s sleep, Peter only complained a little about a stiff neck, and never in earshot of Teal’c, who hadn’t meant it, poor guy. Egon was limping a little, but the cane helped, and he’d be fine. Even better, Winston thought he’d finally found a way to look past the trauma of his first accidental destabilization. He’d done well on this mission, even with those dark memories looming over him. Apart from his annoyance that he hadn’t been able to accurately diagnose Daniel’s appendicitis, although Peter wouldn’t let him dwell on that for a second, he looked great.

Ray was bouncing around, overjoyed to have everyone home, thrilled that the destabilization had worked so well. When he’d first dreamed up the idea of a controlled destabilization, Winston had threatened him with a leash to keep him from running off and doing something crazy. Took more than threats of leashes to keep Ray down, and he had a lot to be proud of this time. He’d made the mission possible. Even if the team hadn’t returned with that magic stuff to make them all more powerful, they’d triumphed; they’d worked as a team, they’d survived—and best of all, they’d proven themselves to be the kind of men Winston had always known Egon and Peter to be. He didn’t know SG-1 as well, although he’d grown to know Sam better during the long night of the sandstorm, but he realized they were good people. General Hammond’s reaction to the outcome of the mission reassured Winston that the right people were in charge of the Stargate.

"Yes, you can all go in," Janet Fraiser told the Ghostbusters. "SG-1 is already in there. Ten minutes; I don’t want you to stay longer than that. Daniel’s still weak and will tire easily. But he didn’t want you to go back to New York without saying goodbye."

"Come on, guys." Peter led the way into Daniel’s room. The patient lay nearly flat, looking pale and weary but content with life and with the presence of his team hovering around him. Winston liked the sight of that. The Ghostbusters did that when one of their own was down. They’d practically written it into their charter that no one wake up alone in a hospital if it were at all possible, and they took turns visiting so the teammate didn’t have to lie around alone and defenseless against the nurses. Not that Peter ever considered himself defenseless when a woman was around. He always came home from the hospital with a pocket full of phone numbers.

"Hey," said Daniel with a smile when he saw them. His voice hadn’t regained much strength yet, but he was making progress. Jack, who was perched at the foot of the bed where his weight wouldn’t disturb the mattress much, nodded at them then returned to his game of annoying Daniel by poking at his toes through the cover.

"Hey," Peter said in return. "What’s up, Jack? Playing ‘this little piggie’? I would have thought you’d like more mature games than that."

Jack snatched his hand away and his brows came down in a near-lethal glare. Peter only grinned.

"What is ‘this little piggie’?" Teal’c asked. "I do not recognize this term."

Sam smothered a snicker, and Peter didn’t bother to hide his grin. It was left for Ray to explain. "It’s a game. Parents play it with their little kids." He grabbed for Daniel’s foot, since it was the only one without shoes, and demonstrated. "‘This little piggie went to market, this little piggie stayed home. This little piggie had roast beef, this little piggie had none. And this little piggie went wee, wee, wee, all the way home.’"

Daniel endured it with an expression of exaggerated dignity. When Ray finished and beamed at Teal’c as if to say, "See?" Daniel asked tartly, "Are you quite finished?"

"I wasn’t doing that," Jack said lamely.

"No, you were just being irritating," Daniel told him.

Teal’c’s brow arched. "This makes no sense, RayStantz. Is this indeed a human game?"

"Oh, yeah, Teal’c. I wouldn’t make it up."

"It is a way to stimulate infants, to make them smile. A form of parent/child bonding," Egon said in an utter deadpan voice.

That made Peter whirl around and stare at Egon. "And did your mom, by chance, do that to you, baby Spookums?" he asked.

Jack’s eyebrows shot up, and Egon, reminded of his mother’s baby name for him, went as red as flame. If Jack had been Egon, he’d probably have brained Peter, not that he wouldn’t have enjoyed an excuse to do that at any time.

Daniel saved the day. "Mine did," he admitted. "Except that she did it in Egyptian. Shall I say it to you in Egyptian?"

"Yes," urged Ray, grinning.

"No," said Jack instantly. "I’ve had enough ancient languages in the past few days to last me the rest of my life."

"But, Ja-ack. It wasn’t ancient Egyptian. It was modern Egyptian. Arabic."

"Like that makes a difference," chorused Jack and Peter in perfect unison.

Both of them instantly fell silent, glanced around sneakily in the hopes that no one else had noticed, and groaned, again in unison, and in exactly the same tone.

There was a long silence while everyone else there tried to think of the most wicked responses they possibly could while weighing how safe it would be to utter them.

It was Egon who broke the silence. "Does anyone but me feel the tone of this gathering has degenerated into utter silliness?"

Sam grinned at him. "I don’t know, Egon. I’m very much afraid that this is an example of what passes for normal on my team."

"And on mine, as well," Egon admitted. They smiled at each other as if physics elevated them above such nonsense. Winston knew perfectly well that it didn’t. Egon could be every bit as silly, even if it was a dignified kind of silliness.

"Is that any way to treat your commanding officer?" Jack asked. He contrived to look utterly put out.

"Yes, sir. The only way, sir," she returned.

"I don’t get no respect," Jack groaned in a decent imitation of Rodney Dangerfield.

"Hey," Peter protested. "I’m the showman here. Impressions are mine."

"No, no, no," groaned Ray. "Anything but that."

Peter glared at him just the way Jack had glared at Sam. Then he turned to Jack. "What do you say, Colonel? Truce? I think we’re stuck with each other."

"Yeah. Sounds good to me. After all, you live more than half a continent away."

"He’s gonna miss me," Peter proclaimed dramatically and slapped a hand against his chest. "Be still, my beating heart."

"Why not just be still?" Jack challenged him.

Peter appeared satisfied with the comment, although Winston knew it wouldn’t shut him up. He’d never figured out a way to do it, and he doubted Jack O’Neill could manage it any better than the other three Ghostbusters ever had. Instead of responding to Jack, he bopped over to the bed. "Hey, Daniel. You hang in there."

"I will. You guys are leaving now?"

"Ghosts to bust, what can I say. When a guy is in demand—"

"I’m glad he’s in demand in New York, and not here," Jack persisted.

"You have to watch that, Jack. Anyone would think you didn’t value me as you should."

"Oh, but I do, Venkman. Exactly as I should."

Peter chose to interpret Jack’s carefully ambiguous statement in exactly the opposite of his probable meaning. "He loves me," he remarked to the room at large and took his life in his hands to enrage Jack to the full extent of his range—which Winston suspected was quite a lot. He lunged at the colonel, who put up his hands involuntarily to stop him, grabbed him on either side of his face, and planted a big, goofy smooch on the tip of his nose. Then he stood back, folded his arms smugly across his chest and waited for an eruption of volcanic proportions, a condition he’d learned to recognize on the mission.

The utter silence following this indignity was broken by a sputter of unrestrained laughter from the bed, followed by a wailed, "Ow, ow, ow. Peter, I could kill you."

"Moi?" Peter struck a hand against his chest. "What did I do to you?"

"You made me laugh." Hands pressed against his incision, Daniel battled with amusement and pain. "Don’t you dare do that again."

Everybody who had ever had surgery winced in sympathy, even Peter, who angled a shamefaced grin in Daniel’s direction, although Winston would have bet a week’s pay that Peter didn’t regret the teasing of Jack for any other reason.

"Don’t worry, Daniel," Jack said in the tones of a man who fought for patience because without it he would have to spring in several directions and commit grievous bodily harm. Winston thought he saw a faint glint of humor in the very back of Jack’s eyes and halfway hoped Peter wouldn’t notice it, but of course he did. Jack instantly pretended it hadn’t been there at all. "You’re safe. I’m not a guy who learns by example."

Daniel looked him right in the eye, then past him to wink at Peter. "Thank goodness for that."


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