Originally published as a standalone fanzine by Criterion Press in May 2001
"Indulge me, okay?"
"Of course, Peter."
"Gosh, yeah, Peter, whatever you say."
"That’s a cheap shot, Peter."
At Winston Zeddemore’s dour comment, Egon Spengler and Ray Stantz pulled themselves together and Egon frowned. Peter Venkman gave the other Ghostbusters a wry, crooked grin that he must have learned at the knee of his con-man father, and plunged on. "Come on, it’s not that bad, guys. Would I try to use you?"
Egon’s eyes narrowed as he studied the man seated beside him in the back seat of Ecto-1. "You would, but perhaps we should hear you out before determining if it is necessary to sic Slimer on you on this particular occasion."
Ray grinned. "And I know all the best ways. Come on, Pete, why are we rushing off to a junkyard in New Jersey?"
Peter Venkman smiled. He had the guys exactly where he wanted them and he knew it. Although they were occasionally inclined to do penance for the Ghostbusters’ run-in with that manipulative demon last month, Egon and Ray had more scientific curiosity than anyone else Peter knew. Even if they hadn’t wanted to play along with his seemingly idle suggestion because the demon had made them hate him for almost a week and toss him out on his ear, they’d wonder what he was up to. Unlike his father, Peter wasn’t a con man, but he could talk the talk when he needed to. "It’s okay, guys, I’m not pulling a scam on you." He winked at Egon. "Spengs here wouldn’t let me get away with it for a second. And Winston up there is the Venkman Police."
Winston didn’t take his eyes from the road or his hands from the wheel, but Peter saw his grin in the rear view mirror.
Ray half turned around in the shotgun seat and hung his elbow over the seatback. "You’re up to something anyway, Peter. Why don’t you just tell us?"
"Because he is having far more fun teasing us." Egon sounded positive. He ought to be. He’d never had the slightest trouble reading Peter. The physicist arched one eyebrow in Venkman’s direction. "Aren’t you, Peter?"
He spread his hands in a gesture intended to be both conciliatory and shameless, and saw Egon’s eyes warm as he interpreted it. "Look, guys, that demon who trashed us all is history—zatted, er, zapped into non-existence, and all the bad stuff with him. We’re done with all that now. Back to normal—or what passes for normal when you’re a Ghostbuster. This is just me, Peter."
"Yeah, I’ve heard that one before." Winston’s skeptical grin widened.
"We all have." Ray pretended to sound stern. He’d never been very good at it. "Tell us, Peter. Now."
"Okay, okay. First, let me ask a question. What’s selenium?"
Egon and Ray stared at him. "Why on earth do you want to know that?" Spengler demanded.
"Oh, no, we’re back to that again," groaned Winston.
"Very well, we shall have to endure it or we shall never find out why he’s dragging us to a junkyard at the unlikely time of eight a.m." Egon’s surprise at Peter’s unaccustomed early rising rang in his voice. "Selenium is a nonmetallic element that occurs in several allotropic forms. It possesses an electrical resistance that varies under the influence of light."
Peter studied Egon thoughtfully for a moment. He’d used that exact same expression in the past—whenever he didn’t have a clue what was being said but wanted to appear well-informed. That demeanor—and the ability to bullshit judiciously—had helped him through several tough classes at Columbia. But his need was too great to play it off this time. So he groaned, rapped Egon on the top of the head with his knuckles, and demanded, "How about trying that explanation in English, Spengs?"
"Allotropic simply means it exists in different forms. It might be an ideal substance for—"
"Wait! Wait!" Ray waved eager hands for attention. "Selenium. The girders of Dana Barrett’s building were made of pure selenium. I remember now. Boy, the structural specs for that place were weird. Nobody ever built like that before."
"We theorized that particular structure was intended to draw in psychic turbulence, Ray." Egon’s mouth pursed. "Ivo Shandor constructed that building as the centerpiece of his plan to draw Gozer to our dimension."
"And Gozer?" Peter prompted like a professor whose pupils were heading exactly where he wanted them to go. "Just what exactly was Gozer, other than a kick-ass babe and a giant marshmallow man who got off on tromping taxis on Central Park West? Talk about your basic shapeshifter."
Egon frowned. "Gozer was a Sumerian demi-god, Peter, as you remember very well."
"Yeah, but I need you to indulge me a little longer."
"There he goes again," muttered Winston. He added, "If anybody’s interested, we’re here," and pulled off the road into the entrance to the junkyard.
"Just straight on back," Peter urged. "I set all this up yesterday on the phone."
"Busting Gozer was our first major case," Egon announced.
"Yeah, we know that," Peter teased. "It’s not like we forgot the first time we saved the world."
"I’m simply pointing out that all of us recall the bust very well," Egon replied. "Why didn’t you just tell us this was about Gozer, Peter?"
"I am telling you. We got rid of Gozer, right? Forced the nasty back to its own dimension and all?"
"Of course, Peter."
"And the Stay-Puft Marshmallow guy in the containment unit. What’s he, then?" Peter persisted.
Ray bounced in his seat. "He’s the residue of psychic energy left behind by Gozer. You know that, Peter. We went over it at the time. He’s not Gozer. We couldn’t have held an entity as powerful as Gozer in our containment unit. But because he was so powerful and because he was here physically, he left a kind of...shadow of all that energy, and that’s why we had to ‘bust’ all that marshmallow creme. Remember how astonished everybody was when it resumed its shape?"
"Yeah, I remember major panic," Peter said with a reminiscent grin. "We were halfway out of there and we had to go back and zap it. Sucked it right into a couple of traps and the unit holds it pretty well. So it’s not Gozer? I knew it wasn’t."
"It’s not even an avatar of Gozer," Egon said. He glanced around at the stacks of crushed automobiles and other debris they were passing and frowned. "Reminding us of Gozer doesn’t explain what we’re doing in a junkyard."
"I’m getting there. Cool it, big guy. This takes some setting up."
"I know where he’s going." Ray still hung over the seatback. "At least I think I do, even if I don’t know why. And you probably do, too, Egon."
"I don’t see what selenium has to do with it," Egon replied, then he frowned. "Ah. Perhaps I do."
"Well, I sure don’t," muttered Winston.
"Zuul," Peter said. "Remember how Dana was possessed by Zuul? I told you guys about it afterwards. Suddenly she was talking like the bass in a barbershop quartet. ‘There is no Dana, only Zuul,’ remember?" He winced. He’d been in love with Dana, their very first official client of the Ghostbusters, and suddenly she was possessed and floating a few feet above her bed, calling him ‘subcreature’. Not exactly the kind of sweet-talk he liked to hear. That near-disastrous night had been a long time ago, but Dana still held a little corner of his heart.
"Zuul was a terror dog, Peter," Ray reminded him.
Peter shook his head vehemently. "No. Zuul wasn’t and neither was Vinz Clortho, the one who possessed Louis Tully. We saw them as terror dogs, but they weren’t. Because when we ran into those terror dogs in the Netherworld when we went over there to rescue Egon that time he was destabilized, they weren’t able to talk to us or anything. That was part of the Gozer thing because Gozer was a shapeshifter, right?"
"It was whatever it wanted to be," Egon agreed. "I don’t quite see where you are going with this, Peter. I mean, I think I do, but I suspect your interpretation is incorrect."
"No, it’s not. Pull over here, Winston. I think this is the spot." He gestured to a hastily assembled shed with one of the junkyard guys waiting nervously in front of it. The guy dithered unhappily, shifting from one foot to the other and casting wary glances over his shoulder as if he expected something nasty to pop out of the shed and attack him.
"This is what you were setting up on the phone yesterday afternoon, isn’t it, Peter?" Egon asked.
"Yeah, most of the time. I put in another call, too, but I’ll tell you about that in a minute. Anyway, back to Gozer. He—or she—or whatever it was—was pretty powerful. Too powerful for us to stop. Think about it, Egon. We couldn’t trap him. We couldn’t destroy him. There was only one thing we could do, send him back where he came from. And how do you think he got here in the first place?"
"He came through a dimensional cross-rip," began Ray.
"He came through a portal," Egon said meaningfully.
"Come on, Egon." Peter bounced out of Ecto with all the enthusiasm of Ray Stantz. "You said it yourself when it was time to force him back. You were wrong, but only in your terminology. You said, ‘the gate swings both ways.’ Well, it did, but only one way at a time. All that structural stuff that gave Ray such a thrill was set up for one thing. Not to draw in the psychic turbulence—sorry, Egon—but to open the portal to wherever Gozer was and to enable the building to bear up under the stresses when it happened. Gozer asked Ray if he were a god. But that’s not really what the question meant. It was simply what Gozer expected humans to think." The light dawned. "No, it wasn’t. He was asking something else entirely and we didn’t get it!" He frowned again. "Guys, you’re gonna probably want to kill me for this, but I can’t tell you anything more about it, at least not yet. It’s classified. That’s what my other call was about."
"Yeah, right, Pete, like you’re into classified," Winston said, and then shut up when the guy waiting at the door came up to meet them. He was about thirty, but his expression was uneasy and he kept darting glances at the makeshift shed as if he expected Gozer himself to pop out and start stomping his way through the junkyard. He wore the name ‘Ponch’ stitched above the pocket of his jumpsuit.
"Got the key?" Peter asked.
"Right here, Doctor Venkman. You gonna need me for this? I’m busy today and I need to do a lot of stuff—over there." He waved his hand at the most distant region of the yard.
"No, that’s okay. We’ll handle it." Peter took the key. "Go on. We’ll drop it back at the office when we’re done. Oh yeah, and if another four people show up, just point them in this direction. They’re with us."
Ponch nodded. "Okay. I’ll head back for the front gate." He trotted off, only pausing to cast nervous glances over his shoulder.
"Another four people?" Egon echoed. Ray shrugged.
"I don’t want to know," Winston groaned. "We’re not gonna like this, are we, Pete?"
"Not sure I like it. But if I’m right, then who knows what trouble it could have caused. I mean Shandor was running around when? The Twenties?"
"Yes, he built the structure, after all, or had it built. His society of Gozer worshipers was convinced society was too sick to survive. They were going to bring about the end of the world."
Peter nodded. "Or mass suicide or something. Like that cult in Guyana or the folks who bought into that comet thing a few years ago. Only these guys had a handle on something a heck of a lot worse. I can’t tell you guys about it—no, don’t kill me, I’m working on getting you into the loop, believe me. When the others get here, I hope you can get some answers."
"You brought us all the way out here to keep us out of the loop, Peter?" Egon frowned. "I know it was difficult for you when the demon made us reject you last month. But I thought we’d come to terms with that."
Peter softened instantly. "God, Egon, it’s not about that. I swear it’s not. You think I’m punishing you because you threw me out? No way, Jose. It wasn’t your fault. We’ve been over that and over it. The demon twisted things around in your minds, so you thought you hated me, but when Janine told you the truth, you worked to get rid of the curse, even if you didn’t think you wanted to. It’s okay. I mean it." He faced them all with total earnestness. "I’m home. That’s what matters. You guys are my buddies again. Makes a guy realize what’s important." He beamed at them. "I swear to you, guys, I’m okay with this. But this Gozer thing, well, that’s something else. It’s connected, but I’m not doing this as a power number, really. I signed all these non-disclosure papers, and the last thing I want to do is spend the rest of my life in a high-security prison because I blabbed. If this is what I think it is, I’ve gotta do something about it. And you can come in here with me even if you don’t understand the implications, because you have the clearance for this part. Soon as I can say anything, I swear, you guys will be the first to know."
He held up the key. "Let’s go in. I’m not gonna wait. I could be wrong here, but the junkyard guy said I was right."
"What’s in there, Peter?" asked Ray. He didn’t sound like he held a thing against Peter. He was just curious.
"When we zapped Gozer, the roof of the building blew up, remember?" He grinned. "They had to rebuild a lot of the top floors and check all the structural integrity of the building, things like that." He poked the key in the lock and turned it. "So the stuff that was up there had to get hauled away, right?"
"With you so far, Pete," Winston agreed. "Yeah, they’d just dump the debris and start over to put it back together."
"So when I thought of that, I did some calling around and found out that some of the stuff was hauled out here. After all, I’m betting your selenium girders don’t just biodegrade in fifteen years. But sometimes they melt stuff down. Only what we’re dealing with here won’t be selenium. I don’t know how it works. Anyway, I found out that some of the debris wound up here and they didn’t do anything with it except stick it on a pile. I know it’s been around fifteen years and I wasn’t sure they could find it, or even if I was right and there was something to find. But they did find it, and I was right. And it’s right in here."
He flung open the door and ushered his friends into the room.
The shed was perhaps thirty feet wide. The roof was simply a tarp nailed into place and there were no windows, but Ponch or one of his colleagues had set up emergency lighting in the place. Peter switched it on and then stood back, gazing in vindication at the item that filled the space.
It was a Stargate.
** *** **
"What’s this all about, Jack?"
"You asked me that twenty times already, Daniel." Colonel Jack O’Neill heaved an exasperated sigh. Daniel Jackson could fasten onto a subject and never let go. "All I know is Peter Venkman called and said he had something we needed to see and maybe take control of. Hammond cleared it."
"A Goa’uld device?" Major Samantha Carter asked.
"It is possible," confirmed Teal’c. He wore a New York Yankees baseball cap pulled down on his forehead to hide his Jaffa tattoo. Teal’c didn’t get out of the base under NORAD for too many Earth-based missions but he’d been on enough of them that he had learned to be as unobtrusive as possible. Humans had tattoos, of course, but they generally weren’t golden ones in the middle of their foreheads.
"Peter knows a lot about what we do," Daniel reminded them. "I know he spent some time going through records and learning things because he needed to know as much as he could to try to figure out what was going on when we were losing it every time we went through the Stargate."
"Yeah, but that’s all classified," Jack reminded him.
"It doesn’t mean he’d forget it the second he left," Carter disagreed.
"He might want to," Daniel said thoughtfully. "Just thinking about it probably reminds him of a bad time in his life. But if he got wind of something, he’d be sure to report it to us. I wonder what he found. Something on a bust?"
"Yeah, if they spend a lot of time busting ghosts in junkyards, because that’s where we’re headed." Jack grimaced. The Ghostbusters were decent guys, but they were civilians, and at least three of them were real loose cannons. Not to mention scientists. They were too geared for independent action without bothering to consult a chain of command. ’course they were brave and heroic and willing to stand up against threats that even Jack might find daunting, but they weren’t trained to deal with the Goa’uld. Who knew what one of their particle throwers might do to a Goa’uld? Jack liked the idea of using it on a couple of the more annoying ones.
That raised an interesting question. Was there any way to configure one of their proton packs to drive a Goa’uld out of somebody?
"I think this is our exit, sir." Carter nodded at the upcoming ramp.
Jack flipped on the signal and pulled off the interstate. Had to say New Jersey drivers were a lot worse than Colorado ones, and he wasn’t yet used to the rental car they’d picked up at Newark Airport. He hadn’t had a lot of sleep on the redeye flight from Denver anyway, and he was inclined to be cranky.
"I’ve been trying to think what he might have found." Daniel’s voice was full of speculation. "It couldn’t be a ribbon device or something like that."
"And why not, pray tell?" Jack asked. Daniel’s reasoning often went in wild fits and starts, off in directions normal human beings couldn’t reach by following the paths of logic.
Daniel flashed him a grin. "Because if it was small, they’d have taken it back to their headquarters and had us meet them there. They’d simply have bought it from the junk dealer."
"You think it’s a Goa’uld ship?" Carter asked. "A small one?" Her eyes lit up. As much as Carter loved going through the Stargate, she’d once had this NASA dream. She couldn’t help being fascinated by the possibility.
Jack shot down her fantasy. "Nah. Spaceship’s pretty obvious. You think a junk dealer would sit on something like that? He’d be selling his story to the National Enquirer or trying to make a deal with Agent Mulder."
"Agent Mulder is a fictional character," Teal’c pointed out helpfully from the back seat. "I have often watched The X-Files."
"Yeah, you’d have made a great member of the Lone Gunmen, Teal’c."
"‘Lone gunmen’ is a contradiction of terms," the Jaffa said dryly. "I do not believe Peter Venkman has located a Goa’uld craft."
"There’s the junkyard." Maybe wanting to be an astronaut gave Carter a real sense of direction. "‘Poncharelli Salvage,’ see."
"Yeah, got it." Jack slowed. "So, think they busted all the ghosts here already?" He craned his neck as he looked for signs of supernatural activity.
"I hope so," Daniel kidded. "After all, Peter called yesterday. They’ve had plenty of time. They didn’t bring us here to help them out. It’s not like you can zat a ghost. At least—can you?" he asked Teal’c.
"That is uncertain. I had never encountered ghosts before I threw in my lot with the Tau’ri."
"Yeah, but we can’t be the only people out there who have ghosts," Jack argued. "A lot of the people we meet came from Earth in the first place. Hey, I wonder if that’s one way this reality is different from those other ones we keep finding with the quantum mirror." He guided the rental Taurus into the junkyard, pulled up before its business office and rolled down the window.
A dark-haired man popped out. "You the guys here to meet the Ghostbusters?" When Jack nodded, the man pointed. "Turn left at the third turn and then straight back until you see Ecto-1. They’re waiting for you." He vanished into the office before Jack could ask any questions.
"Well, he was uneasy," Daniel pointed out unnecessarily.
"Very jumpy," Sam agreed. "What do you suppose Peter found? Some artifact that’s active?"
"Or haunted?" Daniel countered.
"Oh, come on. Last I heard, there weren’t any Goa’uld hanging around the Eastern Seaboard," Jack argued. He made the turn as directed and they spotted Ecto-1 in the distance. Guiding the rental between the stacks of flattened cars, he felt a sudden uneasiness, a gut feeling that he didn’t like but that he’d learned not to ignore. There was danger ahead.
"We didn’t know Seth was hanging out on the West Coast either," Carter reminded him. "Even the Tok’ra didn’t know. It’s possible there may be other Goa’uld lurking on Earth."
"The P.K.E. meter is able to detect my symbiont," Teal’c reminded them.
"So, because they can pick up on Junior, you think they go around with their meters set to check for other little snakeheads?" Jack asked. He pulled up behind Ecto-1. Lot of armament on the roof of that thing. Not your usual style for a Cadillac hearse. They got out of the car.
The Ghostbusters must have heard them because the door to a hastily constructed shed opened and Peter came out. He waved. "Hey, guys. Glad you made it. I’ve got a great present for you."
"What have you found?" Daniel surged forward, eyes alight. He saw the other Ghostbusters behind Peter and waved at them.
Jack cornered Peter. "You didn’t give anything away to them?" he asked.
"No more than they already know," Peter said without taking offense. "But I think they’re gonna need to know more. What I found ties in with one of our major cases. It’ll take a lot of brainy stuff to figure it out. Egon and Ray will be essential there. So you need to have Hammond whip up some more of those little non-disclosure thingies for them to sign, and run through new clearance for my buddies. If I squeaked through with my con-man dad, they should pass with flying colors."
"Let’s see what you have first." Peter’s expression had warned Jack this was going to be big. Hammond had already begun the process for increased clearance for the Ghostbusters and didn’t expect any trouble, but that didn’t mean they should be told everything, just whatever was needed for the current crisis. Hammond had been particularly insistent about that. The Colonel’s eyes took in the dimensions of the shed and he groaned as he realized what might be in there. "Oh, no. You didn’t? Tell me you didn’t."
"I did," Peter said triumphantly. "Come on, guys. Take a look." He waggled his eyebrows at Carter. "Hey, Sam. Looking good."
Daniel shook hands with Egon Spengler and said something to him in one of those weird languages that Jack didn’t recognize. Egon’s eyes lit with delight and he countered it with something that sounded like a totally different one. For half a minute, the two of them went at it, throwing weird words at each other. A couple of the languages made Teal’c’s eyebrows shoot up in surprise.
"Okay, kiddies, enough playing. We’re here to work," Jack reminded them. Egon’s startlement at being addressed as a ‘kiddie’ made him frown at O’Neill.
"Yeah, work," agreed Ray Stantz. "Gotta say, it’s weird to see Peter getting up so early. You guys must have had a good influence on him when he was working with you."
Peter made a face at him. "Thanks, Ray. It’s good to be appreciated." He shot out a hand and rumpled Ray’s hair. Ray grinned.
Jack had to say it was good to see the Ghostbusters on such friendly terms. When Pete had shown up at the base last month, he had looked about the way Daniel looked whenever he thought of losing Sha’re. Nobody should have to look like that. Not everybody won through to a happy ending, but Peter Venkman had. Although the guy was mouthy and irreverent enough to drive Jack nuts half the time, O’Neill had to admit he liked the guy. Course he shared some of Jack’s greatest virtues....
He also possessed a hammy sense of the dramatic. Grabbing Jack’s arm, he guided him to the door. "Here you go, Colonel. Gift from the Ghostbusters. Ta-da!" He propelled Jack into the shed.
The Stargate lay on the floor of the shed, a little dusty but evidently intact.
"Son of a bitch."
"What is it, sir?" Carter crowded in behind him. "Oh!"
Her dumbfounded exclamation brought Daniel and Teal’c into the room. They crowded into position on either side of Carter and Jack, and then just stared.
"A Stargate," said Teal’c unnecessarily.
"We’d come that far already," Jack said with a grin. He turned to Peter. "Okay, so you were busting a ghost and spotted this just lying around, right?"
"Wrong." Peter sounded delighted to correct the Colonel. "I figured out there had to be a Stargate here somewhere and I tracked it down. Brilliant logic." He buffed his fingernails on his shirt.
"Inside knowledge," Egon put in.
Ray added, "Lucky guess."
Peter stuck out his tongue at them. "Brilliance all the way. Egon, we gonna talk here or should we head back to the firehouse?"
"We can’t just leave it here unguarded," objected Jack. "I’ll call in a team to supervise its removal. Until they get here, we’ll have to guard it." He looked around the room. "You could have provided chairs—and breakfast."
Peter snapped his fingers. "Knew I forgot something. I was so busy producing this rabbit out of my hat that I let the amenities get away from me. Sorry about that."
"But how did you find it, Peter?" asked Carter. Her utterly intrigued expression made Venkman rock on his toes and preen himself annoyingly.
"Coming from you, Peter, that is a most illogical statement."
"Gee, Egon, thanks. If your best buddies can’t tell you, who can?" He exchanged the kind of grin with Egon that Daniel and Jack exchanged when they were giving each other a bad time, and then he turned back to SG-1. "It’s a long story. Let’s pull up a piece of floor and I’ll tell it to you."
** *** **
"Right after we started our business, there were suddenly a lot of ghost sightings all through the Tri-State area," Peter said. He loved a captive audience. "We figured something big was coming, but we didn’t know what. A lot of little things added up, and our very first client said she had monsters in her refrigerator."
Jack rolled his eyes. "I bet you believed that." Before they had even started, he’d whipped out a cell phone and made a quick call. Peter didn’t know what he’d arranged, but there must have been a contingency plan because all he’d said was, "Activate Code Six." Well, if he was going to arrange retrieval, he wouldn’t take a chance of mentioning Stargates even on a digital phone. He’d added, "They’ll be here in twenty minutes," to Sam and the others, then he’d turned to Peter and urged him to start talking.
Peter sobered. He hadn’t believed Dana Barrett, even though he was wildly attracted to her. His investigation of her refrigerator had discovered only junk food. "Well, something was going down. There were more ghosts than we could handle. That’s when we hired Winston." He flashed a grin at Zeddemore.
Jack O’Neill shifted position. He didn’t look like the kind of guy who liked sitting on the floor. Well, we was the oldest of the group. Bones getting creaky? Peter carefully didn’t smile at the thought. He wasn’t that much younger than O’Neill.
"Yeah, pitched me in with these three lunatics," Winston muttered fondly.
"Anyway," said Peter, ignoring the terminology with a high hand, "it all came together, and I’d done some checking and found out that this Zuul she said was mentioned in her refrigerator was one of the minions of Gozer. Yeah, Teal’c?"
"These names are familiar to me from ancient legends. All insist that Gozer never existed, that his legends were fabrications."
"Hate to break it to you, big guy, but we got up close and personal with the Goze."
"I remember that," Daniel said with a grin. "I did research on the Gozer legend. I was going to mention it when you were staying with me last month, but...well, it didn’t seem important at the time. There was too much else going on. Teal’c, is Gozer supposed to be a Goa’uld?"
"He is not." The Jaffa shook his head in denial. "He was a legend of a being more powerful than the Goa’uld, one whose name was always spoken in whispers. The Goa’uld would allow no mention of him."
"Yeah, they wanted everybody to think they were the top dogs, not that somebody could come in and ride roughshod over them," the Colonel theorized.
"What about this Zuul?" Sam prodded. "Do you know that name, too, Teal’c?"
"I do. Zuul was a Goa’uld who allied himself with Gozer in the legends. There were several other names, but I do not recall them."
"Vinz Clortho?" offered Ray eagerly.
Teal’c inclined his head in confirmation. "That is correct. There were several others."
"Far as I know, the others weren’t here," Peter said thoughtfully. "Those were the only ones we knew. They talked about something called a gatekeeper and a keymaster. I just put that together with something Egon said when we were busting Gozer, that the gate swung both ways. Only I know that it really...well, it can open from either side. Come on, Jack, I need to tell the guys what’s the issue here. They don’t know why I figured all this out. And Egon took all kinds of readings of Louis Tully."
Teal’c arched a brow. "Who is Louis Tully?"
"He’s our accountant," said Ray.
The members of SG-1 exchanged doubtful glances, and Jack grimaced. "Okay. Okay." He leveled a fierce finger at Peter. "They know about the Goa’uld already, at least that they exist. They have limited clearance. Carter, you whip out those statements for them to sign right now. I want to get a handle on this."
Sam opened the briefcase she’d been carrying and removed three sets of papers. "Yours is still in effect, Peter. General Hammond asked me to remind you of that."
"Gotcha," Peter said. "You don’t know how tough it’s been to keep my mouth shut around the guys."
"Tough, indeed," Egon shook his head tolerantly. "Peter’s natural state is not secretive." He cast a look at Peter that held a combination of amusement and pride then took the form Sam passed him and scanned it rapidly.
"I’d have told you if I could," Peter said, and included Ray and Winston in his words.
Ray nodded and gave him a quick smile. "It’s okay, Peter. We know it’s important. I’ve thought about it a lot, and I’ve got some ideas, but we figured it was better not to say anything about it. You couldn’t compromise national security." Ray grabbed his form and bent his head over it.
"Let’s get back to the subject," Jack O’Neill cut in.
"It sounds like Gozer escaped through the gate, Jack," Daniel reminded him. His eyes lingered on the Stargate. Even though it was lying flat, face down, and didn’t have a DHD, its mere presence made everybody uncomfortable.
"Yeah, maybe, but these other two—we don’t know if they did or not. Zuul and Vince Corleone or whoever."
Peter’s heart plummeted into his stomach as a whole new complication hit up. "Uh, guys. Jack? Danny? Teal’c? I’ve got a nasty feeling the problem’s bigger than I thought it was."
Instantly, seven pairs of eyes pinned him. The other three Ghostbusters hadn’t signed their non-disclosure forms yet. Peter checked them out and realized that. Maybe they knew Teal’c had a symbiote inside him because Egon’s meter had picked it up, but they didn’t know the Goa’uld were parasite beings.
"If Zuul was a Goa’uld," Peter began.... He broke off. "Sign ‘em quick, guys. This is...." He couldn’t even say it. His eyes went desperately to Egon, who stared back in concern, unable to understand his panic. Then Peter turned to Daniel. He knew. It had been so much worse for him. How had he even endured it?
Peter held his breath while his friends signed the non-disclosure statements and handed the forms back to Sam. "You guys put their clearance through, didn’t you?" he asked.
O’Neill responded. "It’s in progress. We don’t think there’ll be any problems, but remember, Venkman, this is need to know. If they don’t need to know, you don’t mention it. You had to know a lot when we had the crisis at the base. This is a little different."
"Maybe not so different," Peter said. "Zuul and Vinz Clortho were there all along, but they must have been in stasis or something, waiting for the time for Gozer to show up. Because they were there before Gozer came through. Then they possessed Dana and Louis. Dana’s voice turned deep and echo-y, and their eyes glowed."
"Shit," said Jack succinctly. Said it all. He reached for his cell phone but he didn’t punch in the number. "What happened to them?"
"So you’re saying those are examples of Goa’uld possession?" Egon was quick, you had to give him that. "As opposed to normal psi possession?" Strange world they lived in when psi possession was considered ‘normal’. Egon frowned. "I don’t see how that can be, Peter. I took P.K.E. readings of both of them after Gozer was forced from our dimension," Egon said. When we first had Louis Tully before Gozer came, he gave off strong meter readings. When I ran additional tests, the image he produced on the monitor screen was that of a terror dog. Afterwards, I detected no such readings from him."
Peter relaxed, but then he stiffened all over again. He’d known Egon had taken readings after the fact, and Dana had seemed completely unpossessed while they were dating. But Peter couldn’t help remembering what he’d heard about Major Kawalsky, who had been in charge of SG-2. They’d thought he was okay, too, but they’d been wrong. Egon hadn’t taken biorhythm readings of Louis Tully before he was possessed to use for comparison purposes. He had only checked the readings of Dana and Louis afterward, and they sure hadn’t had access to CAT scan or MRI equipment to run on the little guy. Once Gozer was gone and the gate evidently destroyed, the only thing for Zuul and Vinz Clortho to do would have been to lie low—if they still possessed their hosts. Any thought of relaxing vanished. Peter felt his muscles clench up tight. He had to be eight miles off base here. He just had to be.
Peter had been with Dana pretty intently for a few months after the defeat of Gozer. No glowing eyes. No unnaturally deep and echoing voice. No sign of Goa’uld behavior, like expecting to be worshiped, like considering herself a goddess. Then they’d grown apart. Peter had consoled himself by insisting that he and Dana had never really had anything in common in the first place. That they couldn’t base a relationship on the fact that he’d saved her life, on her gratitude, or even on simple physical attraction, which had been there by the bucketful. But the breakup had hurt, and he rarely mentioned Dana, even now.
As for Louis Tully, he was still around, still in contact with the Ghostbusters, still the utter dweeb. Anyone less like a Goa’uld was impossible to imagine.
"They turned into terror dogs," Ray said, his eyes wide. "When Gozer was about to come through. Gosh, we didn’t know anything about Stargates then. We thought it was a dimensional portal. Do you think Gozer really came here through a Stargate?"
"It’s possible," Sam said. "I’d like to go over any information you recorded at the time and see what type of readings you picked up with your equipment. I might be able to determine if a Stargate was in use at the time by studying those readings. You wouldn’t have known what to look for, Egon." Her eyes lit up with the joy of physics. Peter knew the signs all too well from his experience with Egon.
"I wonder how much Ivo Shandor knew," Egon mused. When SG-1 looked at him inquiringly, he explained who Shandor was. "I simply assumed he was one of those crazed cultists who had chosen an obscure deity to worship. Somehow, Shandor must have understood more. If he had access to a Stargate...."
"Maybe somewhere in the Middle East," Daniel theorized excitedly. "I’ve always wondered if there hadn’t been additional Stargates on Earth, even though the one at Giza was buried millennia ago. We’ve found Earth-based civilizations that dated from after the ancient Egyptians buried their gate. There might even have been one in this hemisphere. We found Native Americans once on PXY-887. Uh, do you know any more about this Shandor that might help us?"
"Tell them what a Goa’uld is," Peter urged. He was pretty sure Egon was still thinking classic possession, even though the reactions of Dana and Louis at the time had been pretty abnormal.
Sam chose to speak. "This is extremely classified," she insisted. Ray bobbed his head in ready agreement and Egon gestured for her to go on. She took a deep breath. "The Goa’uld are a race of parasitic snakelike beings. They function by taking over the body of a host being, physically injecting themselves into the hosts. The Goa’uld take over the host totally and control its speech and actions. While the host essence remains imprisoned within, it is totally denied control, essentially a prisoner within its own body."
Yeah, being possessed by Watt was like that. Only old Watty wasn’t there physically. Peter controlled a shudder. Bad enough to have a ghost playing marbles in his brain. Worse to know there was something physical inside that wouldn’t let go.
"So you are saying that there is physical possession by a being that takes over the host body, as well as mental control?" Egon looked fascinated, but also alarmed. They had heard a little of this the first time the team went out to Cheyenne Mountain, but that was several years ago and some details had to be new.
Jack groaned. "Okay, Teal’c. Show ‘em."
Peter knew what was coming, but the other Ghostbusters watched in fascination and dismay as the Jaffa opened his shirt, pulled up his tee shirt, and revealed the x-shaped opening to the pouch in his gut. The larval Goa’uld Jack O’Neill had irreverently dubbed ‘Junior’ poked its ugly little head out and made a hissing sound at the Ghostbusters.
"Shit!" muttered Winston. He took a giant step backward before he caught himself.
"Oh, wow." Ray’s eyes widened with utter fascination and he leaned closer to see. He even held out his hand the way he would to a dog he wanted to make friends with. Only Ray....
"Don’t, Raymond." Egon pulled him out of range, his other hand busy extending his P.K.E. meter to study Junior. "How fascinating. These are the readings I detected from you when we first came out to Cheyenne Mountain several years ago. So that is a Goa’uld. But does that mean it controls your thoughts and words, Teal’c?"
"It does not." As Junior withdrew, Teal’c adjusted his clothing. "My Goa’uld is larval, immature. My people, the Jaffa, bear the infant form to maturity. It grants us an immune system in exchange for providing it with a ‘cocoon’ in which to mature. When it is matured, it is removed and injected into a host. The host is generally unwilling to participate, but, to the Goa’uld, that does not matter."
"But something of the host survives," Daniel insisted fiercely, his eyes burning. "Sha’re was aware inside, and very strong."
Peter saw startled realization on Egon’s face as he put two and two together and deduced Daniel’s situation. But there would be time for that later. He held up a hand to silence Egon’s questions.
Jack dropped a hasty hand on Daniel’s shoulder and gave it a squeeze. "Hang in there, Danny," he muttered under his breath, then he turned back to Peter. "Okay, Venkman, I think what you were leading up to before was whether or not whatever happened when you shoved Gozer back through the gate dealt with the Goa’uld in your girlfriend and that Louis guy, right?"
Peter saw the stunned realization on Ray’s face, and knew that Egon had already understood and considered the possibility. Winston grimaced and muttered unhappily under his breath.
"Dana always asked a lot of questions about our equipment." Peter frowned, images of the Dana time shuffling through his memories. "Even right up until we broke up. She knew we found a way to defeat Gozer or at least kick him off the planet. If she were a Goa’uld, maybe she was trying to figure out a way to go home."
"But wouldn’t she have guessed that the gate probably had not been destroyed?" asked Carter. "We’ve seen what the gates can endure."
"It is possible that she would not know," Teal’c offered. His face was impassive. Peter had never quite learned to read the Jaffa’s expressions, but he saw emotion flash in the dark eyes. "Peter Venkman mentioned stasis. An entity as powerful as Gozer is rumored to be would be capable of controlling a Goa’uld. Perhaps not a system lord with the support of his own Goa’uld followers and an army of Jaffa, but certainly an individual bound into his service."
"Gozer would have chosen his own Goa’uld followers, wouldn’t he?" Daniel asked. "Those who would obey him without question if he is as powerful as you say he is, Teal’c. Is it really possible to put a Goa’uld in stasis?"
"It may be, but not, however, by those less powerful than themselves. Were it possible for the Goa’uld themselves, it would be a tactic employed by those as powerful as Apophis or Sokar. A Goa’uld may control another Goa’uld who is less powerful, or enslave him. These facts I learned through observation, and never from Apophis himself. He controlled lesser Goa’uld, of course, who were subservient to them, but always in such a way that it was apparent that the other Goa’uld were more powerful than Jaffa. He did not protect them for their sakes, but to preserve the illusion to the people he ruled that he was a god."
"They would be demi-gods to his god," Daniel offered. He stood up and prowled around the shed. "The last thing the Goa’uld would want to do would be to cause anyone to question the system. The people of Abydos were only willing to rebel when they realized the Jaffa who helped Ra to enslave them were men like themselves. The garb of the Horus Guards was intended to terrify and dominate."
"But Gozer’s only a legend to you, Teal’c," Sam put in. "That means that either he hasn’t been bothering to make his presence felt in the galaxy, that he has been confined, or that he’s dead."
"He had access to a Stargate." Jack O’Neill waved his hand at the device. "And presumably a DHD. Or maybe somehow the gate on this end was blocked. Shandor might have found a way to block it, something like our iris back at the base. Shandor would have wanted Gozer to show up when he was ready, not whenever Gozer happened to feel like it. So what—"
"Back up, wait a minute." Peter waved his hands for attention. "There was this Gatekeeper/Keymaster thing. Some kind of ritual that summoned Gozer, wasn’t it, Egon? You said old Louis was running around asking for the Gatekeeper, and when I went over to Dana’s that night and she was possessed, she asked me if I was the Keymaster. When I said no, she slammed the door in my face and I had to pretend I was to get in."
"What was the nature of the ritual?" Daniel whirled around and stared at Peter. "Maybe we can recreate it or Teal’c may recognize it."
"Uh...." Peter hesitated. He wasn’t sure about that part, although he had a good idea.
"Ivo Shandor had a whole temple up on the roof," Ray volunteered.
"Yeah, and there was a pyramid in there." Peter caught Jack’s eye. "I know about the Goa’uld pyramid ship things. That was another reason I thought we might be talking Stargates, even though I didn’t see a gate or anything like a DHD. Anyway, I think there were a lot of things up there designed to enhance the rituals that old Shandor and his followers enjoyed or maybe just to control the gate. The building even had a special structure, according to Ray here. They were trying to get to Gozer but they never quite made it. Or maybe it all backfired on them. We might never know."
"The ritual, Peter Venkman," Teal’c prodded.
"Uh, I think it was about...sex. I mean, Dana was really coming on to me when she was possessed. And all this gate and key thing—I mean there’s enough innuendo in there for anybody with a dirty mind to take it all the way."
"You mean Dana and Louis...." Ray’s eyes grew enormous.
Daniel froze. "Two Goa’uld who.... The Harsesis."
Peter wasn’t sure what that was. He knew he hadn’t learned everything there was to know about the Goa’uld, galactic politics, and the rest of the stuff that SG-1 took for granted when he was in Colorado last month, but he saw SG-1 share looks of dismay.
"Was Dana pregnant, Peter?" Sam asked gently.
"No, not then. She had a baby later, but it was over four years later and she wasn’t even in New York most of that time."
"If two Goa’uld have a child, it possesses all the knowledge of the Goa’uld," Daniel explained. Peter saw a host of shadows in his eyes and wondered if that meant that Sha’re had given birth when she was Goa’ulded, maybe with Apophis. That had to be tough on Daniel. That wouldn’t apply in this case, would it? Peter wasn’t a Goa’uld; they’d all been tested when they came back from that planet where Jack had gone berserk and shot Daniel and Peter. Anyway, he hadn’t gotten Dana pregnant. They’d taken precautions. And she hadn’t become pregnant during that time from a ritual with Louis Tully. He’d been with her long enough afterwards that she would have had time to start to show.
Dana couldn’t really be a Goa’uld, could she? That had to be wrong. Besides, Goa’uld didn’t change back and forth into terror dogs. And that had been real, after all. He’d seen it with his own eyes. Gozer was gone, but enough of his energy had remained to animate the marshmallow creme he’d worn as Mister Stay-Puft. The shells of the terror dogs that had encased Dana and Louis had remained, too, but they had been dormant or dead. Egon had taken readings and had detected nothing from it.
"Egon," said Peter grimly, "when we went back to the roof of Dana’s building for more readings after we busted the Stay-Puft guy, did you pick up anything weird or unusual?"
Egon frowned as he played with the meter dials. "You mean anything comparable to those readings I detect from Teal’c now? No, Peter, none whatsoever."
"So, come on, what’s that mean?" asked Jack O’Neill impatiently. "That they were trashed?"
"Gozer left residuals," Ray explained. "They were really powerful, but then I think Gozer is still one of the most powerful entities we ever faced. You’d expect his residuals to be powerful. Our own uniforms even came to life as a result of all that energy. Yes, really," he insisted when Jack groaned and rolled his eyes. "And you’ve probably seen those commercials we did with Mister Stay-Puft for the marshmallow company. It’s a relatively benign spirit; there was enough energy left over from Gozer to form an entity but without the mind of the original. It’s really a very simple soul. Too big to allow free, of course since it can be dangerous. We have to keep it locked up."
"But no readings that corresponded with those I took from Vinz Clortho when I tested him at the firehall before the coming of Gozer," Egon replied. "I didn’t take any readings of Dana when she was possessed other than the terror dog readings on the roof, so there were none to compare in her specific situation, but when I tested her afterwards, there was no indication of possession other than the residual energy that covered everything."
"So that means they weren’t Goa’uld any longer?" Daniel asked doubtfully.
"We didn’t think Kawalsky was, either." Jack’s voice was grim.
"I hate to sound alarmist, but since then we’ve made considerable modifications on the P.K.E. meters," Egon volunteered. He altered the settings on the one he held. "Back then, we were very new to busting, and we hadn’t yet learned about biorhythm readings. We hadn’t even dealt with negative valence entities. We’d created broad, general settings to break ghosts down into classes, but we hadn’t yet realized that the meters could detect other forms of unconventional energy. The fact that I read nothing conclusive on the roof of Dana’s building does not guarantee that she was not still a Goa’uld host." He caught Peter’s eye. "I am very sorry, Peter."
"In other words, there could be two Goa’uld roaming around New York?" Sam asked in alarm.
"Dana lives in Boston now," Peter said. "But Louis is still our accountant. He hangs around a lot. For awhile there, he was at the firehall all the time, nearly every day. He doesn’t do that now, but he still pops in every so often."
Egon’s eyes narrowed. "If he were indeed a Goa’uld, he would know that it was our equipment that forced Gozer back through the Stargate," Egon replied. "Peter, you said Dana was very interested in our equipment. I’ve seen Louis playing with various equipment, meters, even the packs and throwers. I thought him harmless and would warn him not to turn anything on. We’ve all witnessed his ineptitude with the throwers on the rare occasions when he accompanied us on busts."
"Which could have been a pose," said Winston darkly.
The sound of a helicopter—no, several helicopters—approaching broke into Peter’s awareness and he lifted his head.
Jack scrambled to his feet and went to the door. "That’s our boys. I’ll go flag ‘em down. Once they crate up the gate and haul it out of here, we can head over to your firehouse and check out those readings. I think we need to meet this Louis Tully character, too. If he’s a Goa’uld, Carter and Teal’c will know."
** *** **
Daniel Jackson couldn’t hold back a reminiscent little grin as they pulled their rental car in behind the Ecto-1.
Jack saw the smile, of course, and understood it without further explanation. "I’d watch that smirk, if I were you, Jackson," he muttered. "It might be your turn to get slimed this time around."
"I suspect Peter coached Slimer carefully to get you when we were here before, sir," Sam suggested as Jack turned off the car.
"Yeah, and that reminds me of the fun and games I’ll have planned for him if he ever goes through the Stargate again."
Teal’c, who had astonished them all by laughing out loud at the sight of Jack dripping in goo, merely said, "Slimer was an intriguing entity."
"You only say that because he was afraid of Junior," muttered Jack under his breath.
"That is so," Teal’c replied complacently. He climbed out of the car and looked around for the ghost. Maybe seeing your commanding officer slimed ranked up there with Jaffa jokes, or maybe the concept of dripping was oddly humorous to the Jaffa. Daniel hoped Teal’c wouldn’t tell any more jokes. He was sure Ray Stantz would think they were hilarious, but he could imagine the perplexed arch of Egon’s brow and the sardonic twist of Peter’s mouth at the first trace of them.
The Ghostbusters piled out of Ecto-1, and their secretary, Janine Melnitz, came to meet them. Her eyes ran over Egon measuringly. Beside Daniel, Sam smiled. She’d pointed out last time that the red-haired secretary was in love with Egon. Spengler wasn’t exactly an effusive, romantic kind of man, so he kept his feelings to himself. He might have been madly in love with her or totally unaware of her very existence; it was hard to tell.
"We’re all fine, Janine honey," Peter teased her. "And we brought company, so get cracking on the coffee."
She shot Peter an absolutely poisonous look. "You know getting coffee isn’t in my job description."
Peter arched an eyebrow at her. Janine had been the only one who hadn’t been violently opposed to Peter under the curse, and she had fought tooth and nail to get him home. Watching them together now, Daniel could scarcely see their underlying fondness in the banter, but he knew it was there.
"I’ll get it for them," Janine murmured. "But not for you. You don’t pay me enough for this." She stalked off in high dudgeon that was only mildly faked.
Peter grinned after her. "I live for moments like that," he said under his breath.
If Janine heard him, she very carefully didn’t let it show.
"Someday, Peter, she will really make you pay for irritating her," Egon said with a half-smile.
Peter’s expression held nothing but anticipation. "Hey, Janine," he called when she reached the coffee machine. "Heard anything from Louis Tully lately?"
Janine shook her head. "No, haven’t heard from him for almost a month, not since that time he came in and yelled at you over the quarterly report, Doctor V."
Peter grimaced expressively. "When it was just old Louis, I could shrug it off," he muttered to Egon. "But now—" he caught himself and fell silent.
That made the secretary whirl to stare at him. "What’s that mean?"
"Nothing," said Peter unconvincingly. He avoided her eyes.
Jack jumped in before Janine could persist. "We need to talk," he said. "We need more information. I suggest we withdraw to—" He hesitated and arched an eyebrow at the Ghostbusters.
"The upstairs lab," Ray cut in quickly with a sideways glance at Janine.
Her eyes widened. She must have picked up on the signals going around, and she didn’t look at all happy about her exclusion from the loop. She shrugged and cast a very dark look at Peter, as if she’d decided it was all his fault then handed each member of SG-1 a cup of coffee as he passed. She even gave one to Egon. Ray and Winston good-humoredly fetched their own, but Peter made the filling of his cup an extravagant protest at the cruelty of fate. The amusement that came and went in Janine’s eyes was quickly masked. Peter saw it, but he didn’t call her on it. There were evidently rules to their game.
When the two teams had gathered in the laboratory on the third floor, Daniel glanced around quickly. They’d only had time for a fast tour last time, but this time he checked the place out with an interested eye. State-of-the-art computer. Bizarre gizmos that had Sam trailing around examining them with a fascinated and knowing eye, the way Daniel would react to a temple of artifacts or walls carved with ancient writing. A row of particle throwers lay lined up for recharging on a table. The place was nothing like the labs back at the SGC, but it met a different need. Jack had complained last time that this place was too bizarre; he didn’t want to believe in ghosts, but Daniel knew, after everything they’d seen out through the Stargate, that ghosts were no more unlikely than the Nox resurrecting them, Thor’s Hammer driving a Goa’uld from Kendra’s body, or the aliens who had passed as tribal spirits on PXY 887.
The Ghostbusters’ pet ghost, Slimer, wasn’t hanging around. Daniel saw Jack note that fact with relief, and hid a smile. Last time, Peter had coached the little ghost to slime O’Neill. They hadn’t been in crisis then. This time, with the possibility of two Goa’uld concealed here on Earth, it wouldn’t be funny, and Daniel hoped Peter knew that.
Egon sat at the computer and turned it on. "I have the records of unusual readings on file," he said. "I’ll pull up the ones I took of Louis Tully and you can examine them. You’ll be able to identify them?"
"I will," Sam agreed.
"The movie had them looking like the outline of a terror dog," Ray put in. "It was like that, but not so strongly."
"I don’t know what the terror dog is supposed to be, but the Goa’uld don’t always need to be in human hosts," Sam explained. "Peter knows about the Unas. If the Goa’uld chose to reside in a terror dog...." She leaned over Egon’s shoulder as he keyed in his information. "I think what you detected must have been the lingering remnant of the past host. Parts of the host will linger. My memories of Jolinar sometimes include fragments of the hosts who carried her."
Ray opened his eyes very wide. "Gosh, you had a Goa’uld inside you? But you’re okay now, aren’t you? That means that if Dana and Louis have them, they’d be okay, too, once we find a way to get it out."
"Not that easy to get them out," Jack said laconically.
"I had a Tok’ra," Sam said quickly. "They’re biologically the same as the Goa’uld, but philosophically different. As a rule, they don’t take hosts involuntarily. Jolinar died to save my life." Shadows churned in her eyes and she banished them. "I doubt we’d be dealing with Tok’ra here."
"Okay, bottom line." Jack studied the screen Egon had called up, even though he probably didn’t have a clue about the data revealed there. "After you got rid of this Gozer dude, did you ever see anything about this Dana and Louis that made you think of the Goa’uld?" He turned expectantly to Peter.
"I didn’t with Dana," Peter said thoughtfully. "She and I dated for awhile after we defeated Gozer. She was...pretty much the same. Kind of reacting to what we thought had been possession. You get possessed, you have some nasty baggage to carry around in your head till you work through it." He shared a very understanding glance with Sam that made Daniel suspect that, if he hadn’t been Goa’ulded, he’d been possessed at some time or other in the course of his Ghostbusting career. These four men didn’t face the Goa’uld, but maybe they came closer than most people to understanding what SG-1 went through out there beyond the gate.
Egon lifted his head and regarded Peter with a glance that seemed impassive but for the understanding in his eyes. In response, Peter’s eyes warmed. He smiled briefly and reassuringly at Egon then went on. "Dana and I dated for about three months after Gozer. It didn’t work out. Part of that time, I found myself doing a little counseling with her. Never a good idea with somebody you’re in a relationship with. I should have referred her to a different psychologist to deal with rather than trying myself, but who else out there would understand possession? Nowadays they talk about MPD and bipolar and things like that, not something the shrinks feel belongs in the dark ages. Sometimes I work with Bellevue on cases that might be possession. We have a reciprocal agreement with them. With symptoms that don’t respond to conventional treatment they’ll call me, and I’ll go over with a meter. If it turns out to be possession, the guys and I can try to get the ghost out of the patient. It doesn’t happen often. Most of those ‘possessions’ in the middle ages really were mental illness. But even today, not all of them are." He shrugged. "I didn’t see anything in Dana to indicate she was still possessed and the meters weren’t giving off anything unusual."
"You are saying that your defeat of Gozer can remove the Goa’uld?" Teal’c had been silent until now, but his eyes had been busy, studying the lab, a surprised eyebrow jutting up and down at the sight of the Ghostbusters’ equipment.
Egon shook his head. "If so, it was a byproduct of crossing the streams. It is not a treatment technique I could recommend. Crossing the streams is bad."
That was so clearly an understatement that Jack lifted an eyebrow sardonically. "Define bad."
"Possibly the end of all life as we know it," Egon replied, his voice deliberately dry. "At the very least, major explosions."
"Like when you get hit at full streams with a thrower," Peter said, grinning. "The molecules in your body take separate vacations—at the speed of light."
Sam commented in physics-speak to Egon, who responded in kind. Ray listened with some knowledge, but Peter tuned it right out, and so did Jack. "There they go," O’Neill muttered. "Put Carter with another physicist and it’s as bad as you, Daniel, when you find some of your rocks."
"Artifacts." Daniel grinned. "Come on, Jack, you’re used to it by now."
"Doesn’t mean I can talk archaeologist." He turned to Peter. "So this Dana never did the Goa’uld thing again?"
"No. No more of the deep voice and glowing eyes. She acted normal. Spent weekends with her folks, went back to playing with the orchestra—she’s a cellist. She and I just drifted further and further apart." He heaved an inaudible sigh. "I always suspected she equated all that nasty stuff she’d been through with me. The more I got into busting, the more being a Ghostbuster mattered to me. We grew apart."
"But you saved her, Peter," put in Ray.
Peter shook his head. "You can’t base a relationship on that, Tex. Anyway, she didn’t seem Goa’ulded, just not into the relationship any longer. Then she went off to London for awhile and I didn’t see her for nearly five years." He turned to SG-1. "You guys saw our second movie?"
"I did not," Teal’c put in.
Sam suddenly whirled away from Egon. "You said she had a child." Daniel knew Sam could pay attention to several conversations at once without the least strain.
Jack picked up on that right away and Teal’c came to attention. "You think it means she was free of Zuul?" O’Neill demanded.
"Either that or Zuul was lying low." She shook her head. "The only reason the Goa’uld would hold back would be if she wanted the child to survive."
"We talking Harsesis here, after all?" Jack challenged uneasily.
"That would require a second Goa’uld," Teal’c reminded him. He turned to the Ghostbusters, who all looked blank, even Peter. "For a host to bear a child, the Goa’uld must relinquish control."
"Harsesis?" asked Winston. "You mentioned that back at the junkyard."
"The child born of two Goa’uld hosts," Teal’c explained. "It would possess the knowledge of the Goa’uld."
"And that would be bad," Peter muttered. "The thing is, the second movie wasn’t on the money in a lot of ways. It was a lot more Hollywood than our first one. Janine went up like a rocket when she saw it. She and Louis weren’t into the nookie bit. And Dana and I didn’t get all cozy at the end. The movie studio thought it would look better if we wound up together—nice romantic ending—but we didn’t. She didn’t even want me involved when she came to Egon and Ray for help. She wanted to avoid me entirely."
"You think that’s significant?" Daniel prompted.
"If you’re talking Goa’uld influence, why wouldn’t it have been there all along?" Peter asked. "No, after we met Dana again, she just didn’t get close to me. I liked the kid. I don’t think Oscar was one of those Harsesis thingies, just a normal little rugrat."
"Not unless she found another Goa’uld," Jack put in. He was frowning. "What about this Louis guy?"
"He’s still around. But Dana had Oscar in England," Ray explained.
"All I know is that he couldn’t have been mine," said Peter gravely. "I hadn’t seen her for more than four years when she showed up, and Oscar was just barely learning to walk."
Sam glanced at the computer screen then lifted her head and studied Peter. "And you had no evidence that this Louis stayed in touch with her?"
"I never woulda thought of that," Peter admitted. "She didn’t seem to want anything to do with him after Gozer. She didn’t much before Gozer, but afterwards she avoided him like the plague. I didn’t blame her for that. This Gatekeeper/Keymaster thing would have bugged the heck out of her—at least the Dana I first knew."
"I wanted to study that aspect," Egon admitted. "Peter sounded her out and she refused. Although I was disappointed, we all understood how she would wish to forget, and Peter helped her come to terms with what happened."
Peter grimaced. "When she came back and we were dealing with Vigo the Carpathian, part of why she wanted to avoid me was because I’d been like her shrink, and she didn’t want to remember. But there was something different about her. She was...a lot more distant." He shivered reminiscently. Even if it had been ten years ago, it still bugged him that he’d had so little impact on her, when she’d once mattered so much.
"So you don’t think she’s a Goa’uld?" O’Neill persisted.
Ray waved his hand for attention like an eager pupil in a classroom. "She was different when we saw her again. It wasn’t anything you could put your finger on, just a feeling. I’d really liked Dana before, but when she came back, I was a little uncomfortable with her. She was really good with Oscar, but the rest of the time, she was like a stranger. It wasn’t obvious, just subtle, you know."
"She was definitely avoiding Pete," Winston confirmed. "We all noticed, even if we didn’t say anything about it."
"When Sha’re was pregnant, Ammaunet withdrew and relinquished control to allow the child to survive," Daniel volunteered. Even now, it was difficult to speak of Sha’re. If only things could have been different.... "Ammaunet could have stepped in at any time but that would have aborted the child, and Apophis wanted the child to live, so Sha’re was herself during the pregnancy. Once the child was born, she lost control again."
Sam’s forehead puckered in concentration and she gestured at the screen. "I’ve been checking these readings. After our first encounter with the four of you, I went over the specs for the proton packs and particle streams. I wonder whether the energy involved in crossing the streams might have been intense enough to place a Goa’uld into a form of involuntary stasis much like what Ammaunet did deliberately to allow the survival of the Harsesis."
"So what you’re saying is that when she and I were dating she had Zuul in hiding or out of it?" Peter shivered noticeably. The other Ghostbusters noticed and Egon flashed him an understanding look. Ray patted his arm.
Jack made an abrupt gesture for attention. "Okay, campers, we might have two potential Goa’ulds out there. Maybe not, but we can’t take the chance. We can figure out what their status is after we’ve got containment. Where do we find ‘em?"
"Louis is right here in New York," put in Ray Stantz. "I’ll give you his address." He plunged across the room to the computer station and dug around in some books and papers on the shelf. After a minute, he returned with an address book, flipping pages. He passed it to Jack and put his finger on the address. "There."
"Thanks. And Dana?" He turned to Peter.
"She’s in Boston, playing with the Boston Symphony." He rattled off an address. The other three Ghostbusters stared at him in surprise. Egon’s surprise faded quickest. Daniel felt a flow of sympathy for Peter. He’d be willing to bet that there was still a lot of feeling there—and Daniel knew exactly how it felt to love a woman who was possessed by a Goa’uld.
Jack called in both addresses on his cell phone with the briefest of explanations. "We’ll pick them up on the quiet and have them flown out to the Mountain for examination," he said when he terminated the call. "If there’s no Goa’uld, we’ll have to come up with a quick explanation—some weird X-Files thingie, maybe."
"A Goa’uld musician?" Carter returned to Peter’s earlier comment. Daniel couldn’t help wondering how well the artistry would translate. It was more than technical prowess that made a person an artist. That came from the soul. How could Dana’s music remain the same as it had been before possession? Maybe the Goa’uld was truly gone, and her rejection of Peter had simply been that of a woman who had left a relationship and didn’t want to stir the ashes.
Sam continued, "If the Goa’uld is still in her, it would incorporate the host’s abilities, know what the host knows. If it were cautious, it could deceive almost anyone, especially in a world where people are unaware of the Goa’uld."
"But not someone who knew her extremely well," Egon said gravely. "Which could explain why she was so reluctant to see Peter when she was in trouble the last time—and why she has stayed away ever since."
Peter glanced at him and away again, his usually mobile face unreadable.
"But couldn’t a Goa’uld have handled that Vigo character?" Jack frowned as he stowed away his cell phone. "I saw that second movie when it came out—and I watched it again after we met you guys the first time."
Peter’s gloom deepened. "Well, yeah, you’d think so, but I don’t know if she could do it without giving herself away."
"Yeah, but to who?" argued Jack. "Who’d even care? You’d just think it was paranormal baggage. We didn’t have the Stargate program back then. Our gate was in storage, and we never had a DHD so even if she’d been able to sense it like Hathor could sense our gate a couple of years ago, it wouldn’t have done her any good."
Peter still wasn’t smiling. "Come on, Jack. She starts acting weird, her eyes start glowing, she turns into the bass member of a barbershop quartet, they’re gonna send up the flag for the guys in white coats. It’s not like she’d have had a ribbon device or a staff weapon handy to fight them off. She probably would have stepped in and fought old Vigo if it came right down to it, but we were there to do it for her. If she was a Goa’uld, she’d think nothing of using us to do her dirty work." He started pacing nervously up and down the lab.
"She would maintain her cover as long as possible," Teal’c confirmed. "It would be an automatic reaction."
After a second, Egon fell into step with Peter and halted him with a hand on his arm. "It’s been over a long time, Peter," he said gently.
Venkman lifted his eyes to his friend’s. "Yeah, right, Egon," he said and drew away. He went over to the window and stared out blankly at the sky.
Egon exchanged a concerned glance with Ray and Winston, then he followed Peter over to the window and put a hand on his shoulder. "You know we’re with you," was all he said.
It was enough. Peter relaxed fractionally and didn’t reject the touch. "Thanks, Spengs," he said, then he braced himself and turned to face O’Neill. "What will they do to her?"
"First they’ll run tests to determine if she still has a Goa’uld inside," Jack replied. "They’ll do the same with Tully. If either or both of them has a Goa’uld, we’ll incarcerate them at our base and contact the Tok’ra." He glanced at the other three Ghostbusters. "I don’t have a lot of time for background on any of this. You signed the non-disclosure papers and that’s in effect. The Tok’ra are allies of ours. Carter mentioned them a few minutes ago. Maybe they’ll be able to get rid of the Goa’uld, if the two of them have it. There are ways, but they’re not easy ways. There’s always the Tollans, too. We have a couple of options."
Daniel turned to the Ghostbusters. "Uh, maybe you can tell us about this Gozer. If Teal’c is right and Gozer is more powerful than a Goa’uld, then we need to know where he is, why he isn’t rampaging around the galaxy—and why the Ghostbusters’ particle throwers were enough to force it back through a gate that might not have had a DHD."
"What precisely is a DHD?" Egon inquired. "And why does it make a difference?"
Sam answered for them all. "In order to activate the Stargate, you have to input the ‘address’ for the destination planet. Most Stargates are operated by a device with symbols on it that allow one to enter the necessary code. We call those devices ‘dial home devices’ or DHDs. Without a DHD or an elaborate computer system or an alternate form of power, it isn’t possible to operate a Stargate."
"Yeah, it just sits there like a giant paperweight," Jack put in.
Egon mouthed ‘DHD’ and smiled faintly. He’d probably have enjoyed a far more technological designation for the device. It would drive Jack crazy to hear it. It always did when Daniel spouted off about his artifacts on various worlds. Peter glanced briefly at Egon as if waiting for such a phrase, and amusement came and went in his eyes. He must still be too keyed up about Dana to think past it.
"What I will need," Sam said suddenly, "is an opportunity to study your proton packs and throwers more thoroughly and a scientific description of how you forced Gozer back through the gate. It’s possible there might be practical applications for us."
"You saying we should start wearing busting equipment on missions so we can get home if the DHD is out of order?" Jack asked wryly.
"You could paint the packs the same color as your BDU’s," Peter said with a half smile. "Military colors. I like it. We could let you have a couple of packs—at the standard rate. Those babies aren’t cheap."
"They are nuclear powered," Egon added hastily. "I should not like to consider the potential danger of the stresses they would withstand within the wormhole without designing additional safeguards."
"Hey, let’s not talk about those kind of stresses," Jack said wryly. "I have to go through the gate with my kids a couple times a week. I’m not ready do it with a nuclear bomb on my back. Bad idea, even if we, uh, know we can." He censored himself before he could go into detail on their first mission. Daniel realized it was the need-to-know stuff. And maybe Jack didn’t want to remember that, for him, the first mission had been intended as a one-way trip. Jack had come a long way since then.
Peter looked mildly disappointed. Maybe he’d wanted the money. Or maybe he was angling for another trip through the Stargate.
"What do we do next?" Winston asked practically.
"Once we’ve rounded up Tully and Dana, we’ll head back out to the Mountain," Jack decided. "This might be a good time to run tests on your equipment and see if we can adapt it. Let Carter have fun playing with new toys."
"It’s patented," Peter reminded him with a grin that still didn’t quite reach his eyes.
Jack’s mouth quirked. "I think the budget can handle it. Besides, Carter can probably pull some adaptations that’ll make it work for us. Still not sure how blasting away could activate the gate, though."
"Perhaps it did not," Teal’c interjected. "There are stories of beings powerful enough to activate Stargates with their minds. The Nox...." He censored that when O’Neill lifted a finger and muttered, "Ah, ah, ah." Teal’c inclined his head at O’Neill and continued, "It is possible Gozer is such a being and retreated simply to avoid the effects of ‘crossing the streams’."
"If so, then why isn’t he out there rampaging through the galaxy?" Daniel asked.
"Yeah, it can change its shape and appear as whatever he wants to be," Peter insisted. "Least that’s what Spengs said, that he could be whatever he wanted. If it took Zuuly and old Vinz to open the gate from this end, then you get the idea that Gozer couldn’t come through without somebody opening it up—and the gates only go one way, right?"
"That’s true, sir," Sam told Jack. "A ritual that opened the gate at this end would not have enabled Gozer to come through."
"It would have enabled Gozer to determine which symbols lit on the gate at its end," Teal’c reminded them. "It could then have opened the gate from there. There was evidently a time delay, according to the...movie."
Sam’s face grew thoughtful. "We need a lot more information. All we know for certain is that there was a Stargate involved, that Gozer is more powerful than a Goa’uld, and that at least at the time that Gozer came through the Stargate, Dana Barrett and Louis Tully were possessed by Goa’ulds."
"Kinda makes you wonder," said Ray thoughtfully, his face alight with speculation.
"Wonder?" Jack narrowed his eyes at him. "Wonder what?"
"Whether there are other Stargates on Earth," said Ray. "Because, if there are and you don’t know about them, that could mean a lot of trouble."
Sam shook her head. "If there are other gates, they aren’t set up and operative. But..." Her voice trailed off. "The Antarctic gate...."
"It had a DHD," Jack reminded her. "This one doesn’t. When it was boxed up at Nellis, we didn’t have any trouble with it." He frowned and let that particular subject drop.
"We’d have no way of getting readings from this gate if it weren’t activated," Sam said hastily. "And I suspect that Hathor was able to locate our gate because it was in use, not simply because it was there. It may be possible that unless they came close enough to it to sense the Naquada they wouldn’t be able to locate the gate we found this morning, not when it was simply inert."
"So what happens next?" Winston asked.
Peter glanced from Daniel to Jack and back again. Maybe he’d picked up some of the undercurrents there. He was pretty sharp that way. He didn’t comment on it, though. Instead, he said brightly, "Well, there’s always lunch."
"I’ll go down and check with Janine, see if we have any calls," Ray volunteered. "We better cancel our jobs this afternoon, and maybe for the next few days, if we’re coming out to Colorado with you." He grinned and went over to the nearest firepole. Jack’s eyebrows arched up to his hairline when Ray slid out of sight.
"I’ve always wanted to do that," he muttered under his breath.
Sam’s eyes sparkled with amusement. "You, sir?"
"Hey, go for it, Colonel, sir," Peter kidded. "Indulge yourself." He waved his hand invitingly at the pole.
Teal’c arched one eyebrow. "This is a firepole," he proclaimed. "I have seen them in television programs."
"Yeah, wanna slide down the pole, Teal’c?" Jack challenged. That light still shone in his eyes. Maybe most little boys had dreams of being a fireman. Daniel had always wanted to be an archaeologist, but he could remember a few times when the thought of sliding down a firepole had appealed.
"I shall do so." Teal’c reached out, wrapped his arms around the pole, and launched himself into space. His wordless yell echoed up through the pole’s well after him.
"Now that’s something you don’t see every day," Peter remarked, sotto voce.
O’Neill glanced out of the corner of his eye at Sam. Daniel could tell how much he wanted to follow Teal’c, but he held back. Maybe he was afraid his dignity as the Colonel couldn’t take it. Daniel almost wished he’d give it a try.
"Go on, Jack," he urged.
O’Neill reached out for the pole only to jerk his hands back as a blaring alarm rang through the building.
"Janine!" Egon elbowed Jack out of the way without a second’s hesitation and launched himself at the pole. Peter and Winston followed him.
The three remaining members of SG-1 hesitated only a second, then, one by one, they stepped onto the firepole and vanished.
Jack yelled all the way down. After a stern moment of steeling himself, Daniel went silently, but his stomach swooped uneasily at the process. He would have preferred the stairs. Even though he was holding on, it still felt like he was falling, and only the abrupt jarring of the ground floor beneath his feet and the need to move out of the way or have Sam land on his head brought him to his senses. Now that he’d done it, any urge to ever do it again vanished without a trace.
There seemed to be no lurking Goa’uld or ghosts on the first floor but Ray stood at the secretary’s desk next to Teal’c, and the occultist’s face was white. "He’s got Janine," he blurted as they gathered around him.
Janine’s chair lay tipped on its side, and papers had skittered across the desktop and scattered across the floor in two directions. Her desk lamp hung dangling off the corner of the desk, caught by its cord, and the phone was off the hook. Whatever had happened here couldn’t have been smooth and easy.
The alarm button on the corner of the desk had been within reach of the secretary’s hand, yet she hadn’t pushed it. She was nowhere in sight. It had been left for Ray to push it when he went down to check for calls.
"Who has Janine?" Egon’s voice was tight and alarmed.
Winston went automatically to the Ghostbusters’ vehicle, Ecto-1, and took out the proton packs one by one. He must be a good man in a crisis.
"Look." Ray turned the computer monitor so the screen faced them. They bunched closer to read it.
The computer was powered up and running Microsoft Word. Spelled out in big letters, the message read clearly, "I have Melnitz. If you attempt to interfere with me, I will kill her, slowly and painfully. Ask the Jaffa with you if I do not know the best ways."
It was signed, "Vinz Clortho."
They were moving the Stargate. Since Gozer’s departure, he had known where it was, that it was safe, that no one understood its function, that he would one day be able to use it to escape this benighted would. But now, it was moving.
Vinz Clortho, Keymaster of Gozer, Goa’uld, and, peripherally, Louis Tully, nerdy accountant, seethed with impotent fury. After all these years on Earth, unable to escape this backwater planet, stranded within an annoying, pathetic host that he had, at first, been unable to control because of the energy blast of crossing the streams, he had hoped to use the gate one day to return to the galaxy at large. Now it was retreating, growing rapidly more distant, gone.
When Dana Barrett reappeared with her child, Vinz could tell that she was Goa’uld. He recognized the power in her, the power that she concealed. The child was not Harsesis, but its birth had likely awakened Zuul from the bondage of the crossed streams. Zuul indulged Dana in her fondness for the child, but Vinz was certain that if it came down to the Goa’uld’s survival, the child would be sacrificed in a heartbeat. Perhaps Zuul intended it for a Jaffa one day. Perhaps Zuul even felt fondness for it, the way one might a pet.
Since childbearing was beyond the abilities of a human male, Vinz knew he could not gain freedom that way.
Then came that glorious day when Tully had worked himself, puppy-dog-like, into a ‘bust’. Vinz had nudged at his mind—that little he could manage—and the backlash of the particle stream had grazed him and knocked Tully flat. While the Ghostbusters gazed at him in horror and rushed to his side, Vinz felt his control freed from its bondage, and he flowed out into the accountant’s mind and took control.
At last he was free; he was Goa’uld, and he was dominant.
But he was still trapped on Earth.
Convincing the Ghostbusters he was unharmed had proven simple; he did not want to risk medical science discovering him, even though these Tau’ri doctors were primitive and unlikely to become a threat to him. He simply pretended he was still Louis Tully. They wanted him to be unharmed and accepted his claim. Gullible. Humans were gullible and easily duped.
He stayed distant from the Ghostbusters after that, concerned that their equipment would detect his newly roused power. He allowed them to think that the near miss had frightened him, and went to their headquarters only to do the accounting they had hired him for. All the while, he schemed and planned and manipulated Tully’s finances in his bid to amass a fortune. One day, he would discover a means of escaping the Tau’ri world. Until then, he would give none cause to suspect him. He searched the Internet for Goa’uld references, for Goa’uld artifacts, for any information he could find. The pretense of Tully’s persona annoyed him, but he endured it, convinced none would suspect him if he did not appear to change.
A gate finally became active on Earth, in Colorado. At NORAD. He felt its activation. He traveled to the site to investigate, took a civilian tour, realized that he could not risk himself without a plan. There might be other Goa’uld on Earth, other than Zuul, with whom he might yet ally himself. He sought out Dana. They met. They talked. They resolved nothing. The two of them might be able to break into the hidden facility in Colorado, but they decided to wait, to learn, to gather strength. Zuul did not wish to align with him—even before Gozer’s last coming, they had reached a parting of the ways—but if a chance came to escape, it would be different.
His searches finally rewarded him, not with a control device for the gate that lay unknown and unvalued in the New Jersey junkyard, but with a ribbon device. With that, he could control humans, could defend himself.
He took it with him when he went to Ghostbuster Central after he felt the gate retreating into the distance. They would know nothing of it. They were ignorant. But perhaps it was time to investigate their equipment, to help himself to what might benefit him before he went after the gate.
He walked into the converted firehall—and felt the presence of a Jaffa. And more. Not another Goa’uld, but a human who had once served as host. Now that it was gone, the human would not sense him, not unless he went closer, and both were on the third floor. He was safe from detection if he did not go upstairs.
If they were here, it meant that the Ghostbusters knew more than they had let on. They had known, all this time, and they had withheld information from him. Deliberately. Rage seethed within him.
"Hi, Janine," he said in his best Tully voice.
"Hey, Louis." Janine rose from her desk, her brow crinkled in a frown. "The guys were looking for you."
They did know, even if Melnitz didn’t understand. They had recruited a Jaffa to resist him, perhaps to capture him. She would give a warning. Her hand hovered dangerously near the alarm button.
Vinz whipped his hand that wore the ribbon device from his pocket, raised it, and activated it with the power of his mind. Its energy struck her forehead and she reeled.
"No warnings," he growled in his Goa’uld voice, deep and ominous, and he reveled in the astonishment in her eyes. Not fear. Janine wasn’t easily frightened. For that, he almost respected her. But there was determination on her face, and she fought him as hard as she could. She would have made a good Goa’uld host. Perhaps he could arrange that.
When she collapsed into unconsciousness, he was satisfied. He would leave them fair warning and use her as a shield. Spengler would not wish her injured; none of them would.
He went to the computer keyboard and typed in his message. Then he gathered Janine into his arms and carried her out the back door to where he had left his car. Stowing her in the passenger seat, he drove away, just as the warning alarm sounded inside.
As he turned his car in the direction of LaGuardia, Vinz Clortho smiled.
** *** **
"He knew you were here!" Peter raised flashing eyes from the message. "He could sense Teal’c." Anger flowed through him in a rush. Tully had waltzed right into the firehouse and snatched Janine and they hadn’t even known it.
"He would have the power to do so," the Jaffa replied. "Perhaps he could also sense Major Carter."
"Would he know you have a Stargate?" asked Ray. Automatically, he righted Janine’s chair and gathered up the papers that had spilled on the floor. Mouth tight, Winston bent to help him.
Egon looked stunned at the absence of Janine. Without even thinking of it, he set Janine’s phone into place. "You mentioned someone named Hathor...." Worried as he was, he was thinking. You couldn’t sneak anything past Egon, not with that photographic memory.
"Hathor was a Goa’uld who was stranded on Earth," Sam explained hastily. "She was able to sense the presence of the Stargate."
"So Louis should have sensed it, too," Winston snapped his fingers. "Then why didn’t he do anything about it?" He set his stack of papers on the desk and stacked them neatly.
"Well...." Daniel’s face was thoughtful but his eyes were dark with shadows. "Hathor had abilities to control human males." His mouth was tight. Uh-oh. Sounded like Daniel hadn’t enjoyed the experience.
"Doesn’t do her much good now," muttered O’Neill with satisfaction. Peter vaguely remembered that Hathor was dead and that Jack had been the one to do the deed. If they had a history with her, it probably meant a lot more, like Egon being able to stop the Bogeyman.
"Then, would he go to the Stargate now, and use Janine as a hostage to try to get in?" Ray persisted.
They stared at each other, considering the possibilities. Jack pulled out his cell phone and called in to whoever it was he was giving messages to. Must be a direct line. Maybe it was even the hotline on General Hammond’s desk.
Peter’s theory was proven correct. Jack spoke urgently into his cell phone. "General, we have a situation here. Subject One has taken a hostage.... Yeah, a hostage. The Ghostbusters’ secretary, Janine Melnitz. We think he may be on his way to your location." He was silent a moment, listening. "Okay, thanks, General. If you confirm, we’ll head back there right away. All of us." He keyed the phone off and returned it to his pocket.
"I won’t leave Janine," Egon insisted fiercely. He folded his arms across his chest, as unmovable as the World Trade Center.
"I don’t think you’ll have to," Daniel reassured him. "If Tully knows about our gate, he may have already tested it out and realized it would be difficult to get in. Maybe he’s going to try it with a hostage, like Ray suggested."
"Yeah, like that will work," Jack scoffed. "We give in to that and we’ll have trapped snakeheads coming out of the woodwork, wanting to use us as their personal travel agency. No way, Jose."
"He’ll kill her," Egon returned tightly. He stood right in Jack’s face and used his extra inches to loom intimidatingly. Egon didn’t often lose his temper, but he was seething now. Peter could have warned Jack to expect that response, but he also knew that Jack was skilled in hand-to-hand combat and Egon wasn’t, so he grabbed Spengler by the arm and tugged him back a step. Tough when Egon didn’t want to give any ground.
"Hey, come on, Spengs, he’s not gonna kill her. He does that and he loses his leverage. You don’t know as much about the project as I do. You think they’re just a few scientists and soldiers all on their own. The entire U.S. military will back us up on this one. We’ll get her back." We’d better. Nobody messes with Janine but me.
Egon controlled himself with a visible effort. Jack hadn’t even responded to the threat. Probably understood where Egon was coming from. He’d done no more than tense himself for the possibility of an attack, and that had dragged Carter and Teal’c to his side, not so much to protect him as to stop him if he reacted.
"We don’t let civilians get hurt if we can stop it," O’Neill said levelly. "Right now, General Hammond is setting up a massive all-points bulletin for the two of them. When they’re spotted, we’ll be notified, and no one will try anything unless we can do it without risk to your secretary. It might be better to let them proceed to Colorado Springs unimpeded and just watch them all the way. We can deal with them a lot better on our home ground—a lot fewer innocent bystanders to worry about, and we’d control the situation."
Egon stood his ground. "But that would mean Janine would be in his power all the way."
"Janine? In somebody’s power?" Peter gave Egon a reassuring nudge. "Janine’s the one who took out Proteus, remember, when he’d snatched the four of us? Doctor Destructo didn’t even make her break into a sweat."
"Yeah, Egon, Janine’s tough," Ray reminded Egon soothingly. "She’ll be fine. He won’t hurt her. He needs her."
"Just because she loosed the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse on the world is no reason to think she can’t handle one Goa’uld," Peter kidded.
Egon turned a baleful eye upon him.
"The four Horsemen of the Apocalypse?" Daniel felt his eyes widen. Half the time, he was sure the Ghostbusters were yanking their chain.
Jack rolled his eyes. "Do I even want to know about this?"
"I don’t think so, Jack."
"So, we’re going to Colorado?" Winston asked. "Better throw a few things together, guys. And figure out which of our equipment will be the most useful. The airlines are going to love us. They just hate it when they have to haul our proton packs."
"I’ll help with selecting equipment," Sam volunteered. "Egon and I can make that determination."
"There’s a military flight standing by for us already," Jack said. "Hammond was going to set it up. Won’t matter what you bring; they’ll have to haul it along. Hammond will keep us posted on Tully. Won’t take them long to locate him."
And it didn’t. Once the Ghostbusters had packed for a few days’ stay in Colorado and Egon and Sam had decided which equipment would best serve them on the bust—or job, or mission, or whatever it ought to be called—the eight of them crammed into Ecto-1 and headed for the airport.
They were halfway there when Jack’s cell phone rang and he answered it. He listened without speaking for a long time, then he said, "Confirmed," and pushed the button to end the conversation.
"Janine?" Egon asked as O’Neill tucked the phone into his jacket pocket.
"Spotted the pair of them at LaGuardia. They took a flight to Denver. They had already boarded the plane before they were pinned down, but we managed to place a couple of men on board, and they’ll monitor the situation in flight. They don’t want to risk anything while the plane’s in the air, but the flight will be met, and, if possible, he’ll be snatched at the Denver airport. If Tully’s too alert, they’ll follow him to the Mountain."
"But that means leaving Janine in his power," Egon insisted. "I realize that doesn’t matter to any of you, but—"
The Ghostbusters clamored to reassure Egon of their concern, but Peter saw the point of allowing them to proceed unimpeded. They didn’t know how Tully—Vinz—was armed or how desperate he was. If he’d sensed Teal’c when he showed up, if he knew his own Stargate was gone, he’d be tense and angry, and a tense and angry Goa’uld might even make Saddam Hussein look pleasant. He wouldn’t care how many innocent people he took out if they jumped him. But if he’d taken Janine, it was because he wanted a hostage, and a dead hostage was useless.
"It matters," Jack returned.
"‘sides, Janine isn’t the type to sit and twiddle her thumbs and wait for rescue," Peter pointed out. Winston, at the wheel of Ecto, nodded his head in confirmation.
"If he has a ribbon device, he might be able to control her with it," Sam offered.
That was the wrong thing to say. Egon went ballistic. "Control her? Control her how? If you dare to imply you risk her becoming a Goa’uld while you do nothing—"
"Easy, Egon," Sam soothed. She was crammed in beside him, and she put a hand on his arm. "The odds are astronomically against the possibility that Tully has access to Goa’uld larva. We’ve all had ribbon devices used on us. They are unpleasant but they are not fatal, and, as you can see, they did us no permanent damage. At worst, she will suffer pain, at best, minor control to keep her docile."
"It’d take major control to keep Janine docile," Peter muttered. "Come on, Egon, you know Janine can handle herself. For all we know, she’ll find a way to take him out before the SGC’s SWAT team or whoever has a chance to jump him." He couldn’t help grinning at the image of Janine meeting the plane in Denver with Louis bound hand and foot and probably draped over her shoulder like her first big kill on a safari.
"I don’t like it," Egon returned, but he reined in his temper with a visible effort.
"Well, gee, Egon, none of us do," Ray soothed. He turned around in his seat and offered Spengler a reassuring smile. "But these guys know how to handle the Goa’uld and we don’t. We’ll let them do their thing. I feel kind of sorry for poor Louis. After all, he didn’t ask to get possessed by a Goa’uld. Oh, wow. Egon! Do you think we can use the throwers to separate him from the Goa’uld, the way we use them to free somebody who’s possessed?"
That won him the instant and undivided attention of every member of SG-1. "You could do that?" Jack demanded. Daniel looked suddenly sad and wistful, and Peter knew he was thinking it was too late to do attempt such a procedure for Sha’re.
"We’re talking a physical possession, not an ectoplasmic one," Egon said thoughtfully. Ray’s question had offered him a focus and Peter gave the occultist a surreptitious thumbs-up.
"We can go over the theory," Sam urged. "Once we reach the Mountain, we can research it with your equipment and our computers. If we could discover our own way of removing a Goa’uld from a host, it would make us less dependent on our allies for that process."
Egon frowned. Peter didn’t think he particularly believed in his weird theory, just that he’d been talking off the top of his head. He could no more help spouting theories than Ray could hold off on reading his beloved comics. From the way Egon’s chin jutted, Peter was pretty sure he’d already realized the idea wouldn’t work. It didn’t mean Egon wouldn’t have other great ideas, especially when he learned more.
"Yeah, and we wouldn’t have to go to court over which of them actually gets possession of the body," Jack muttered.
"Who actually gets the body?" Winston blurted. "You’re kidding me, right? Should be the original owner, not somebody who sneaks in and turns Louis into a slave." His eyes flashed.
"Well, that’s what you’d think," Jack replied. "We had to prove it just recently, to get Skaara back."
"Skaara? That’s Sha’re’s brother? You got him back?" Peter couldn’t help grinning. "That’s great." Maybe there was hope for Dana after all.
Jack’s cell phone rang. He pulled it out and answered it, then he listened. Somebody spoke at the other end and then Jack said, "Got it," and hung up. He turned to Peter.
"Dana?" Peter’s stomach clenched up. He thought he’d come to terms with losing Dana a long time ago, but the wary expression on O’Neill’s face told him much more than he wanted to know. "What can I say, so she’s a Goa’uld," he muttered with careful lightness.
"'fraid so," the Colonel confirmed. "They picked her up. She was not happy with the process. But they have her and they’ll meet us at the Mountain."
"What about Oscar? Her son?" Peter hadn’t seen the kid since the incident with Vigo. God, he’d be nearly twelve now. Raised by a Goa’uld? Dana couldn’t be possessed, not and have raised the kid. Why would Zuul have even bothered with Oscar? From what he remembered of that encounter so long ago on Central Park West, old Zuuly had been pretty contemptuous of humans—called Peter ‘subcreature’ and insisted that Dana wasn’t in there any longer. Peter hadn’t known about the Goa’uld then, but that attitude matched everything he’d learned since. Right up there with old Apophis, except that Apophis hadn’t been subservient to Gozer—or anyone else, for that matter. Thought he was a god. Did Dana think that?
"Her son lives with her?" Sam asked. "Colonel, he’d probably have been at school. Would she conceal him? Could he be Harsesis?"
Jack punched in a number on the phone. Programmed for direct access. He reminded whoever answered the phone that Dana had a son. God, if they couldn’t free Dana, what would happen to Oscar? Could Dana’s parents take him? They’d been alive when Peter had been dating her. He’d met them; they were nice folks. Dana had a sister, too, didn’t she?
O’Neill stowed away the phone. "They’ll take care of it."
"This ‘Harsesis’ you mentioned, who would possess Goa’uld knowledge," Egon cut in. "When Vigo came, he chose Oscar to be his living vessel. Could that indicate that Oscar is in fact Harsesis?"
The members of SG-1 exchanged glances. Teal’c’s face wasn’t exactly easy to read, but even he looked concerned. "It is possible," he said. "I do not know the minds of ghosts. I had not believed in their existence before I aligned myself with the Tau’ri. But a powerful entity might sense the powers of a Harsesis."
"Or maybe it was just because Dana worked in the museum and Vigo had access to her mind," offered Ray.
Daniel held up a hand. "Or because he perceived the Goa’uld in Dana as a threat and wanted a hostage to hold over her."
"This sucks," Peter muttered.
"Couldn’t have put it better myself," agreed O’Neill.
Janine dozed and woke, dozed and woke. It was hard to sleep when her head felt like it had been pried open with a crowbar so that Louis could dig around in her brain and tell her how to act. Louis Tully? Only he wasn’t Louis really. He was possessed or something. A ghost, or maybe a demon, had snatched poor Louis and was playing games in his mind. Louis wasn’t the type to gloat. Even when he’d been acting funny before, when they first ran into him and Gozer was making him act so weird, he’d still been Louis-y. Not now. He was cold and hard and nasty, and it was so weird to see the familiar nerdy face twisted in contempt when he looked at her.
He’d gloated on the way to the airport, insisted that he was going to use her to escape the planet. The planet? Demons didn’t need hostages to get away from Earth, did they? And even if they did, why would they need to go to Colorado to do it? Demons could hop on over to the Netherworld no matter where they were. That’s what demon power was all about.
"You will be unable to resist me," he said smugly in that resonant voice. "I, Vinz Clortho, command you."
Harder to take was the sneering contempt in his eyes. She wasn’t his friend Janine anymore, just a tool he could use and toss away. Worst of all, he’d done something to her mind so that she couldn’t fight him, kick him in the groin as they walked to the airport ticket counter, or yell a warning or call for help when she saw airport security. She couldn’t even control her facial features to make herself look weird enough to attract the attention of the woman at the ticket counter or the flight attendant who took their tickets when they boarded. Helplessly, she seethed with resentment. Louis was going to pay. Soon as Egon and the guys caught him, they’d zap this Vinz spook and slam him into the containment unit so fast his head would spin.
The flight attendant offered drinks and smiled politely, and Janine found herself smiling back like an idiot. She hated that.
The flight dragged endlessly. It was non-stop direct to Denver, and the attendant hovered at first until Louis managed to get the point across without even saying so that he preferred his privacy. He had insisted Janine sit beside the window so she couldn’t get out, and when she needed to use the bathroom and asked, Louis let his eyes glow with annoyance before he escorted her there, and waited for her outside the door. She’d been snatched so fast she didn’t even have her purse so she couldn’t write a message in lipstick on the mirror to warn people she was in trouble.
"What are you going to do with me?" she asked him in an undertone when they had returned to their seats.
"You are insignificant," Louis hissed. His voice didn’t rumble the way it had when he’d grabbed her. Probably figured somebody would be sure to notice. "You are merely a hostage, one who will grant me admission into the place I must use to escape this pathetic little world."
"You were born and raised on this ‘pathetic little world’, buster."
The eyes glowed again and his hand came out of his pocket with that gizmo in place. "Do not anger me, mortal."
"Well, all I can say is that you’re a pretty cut-rate demon if you need to use a thing like that to get me to do your bidding."
He would have backhanded her but it would have called attention to them. His free hand lifted but he restrained the impulse. "I am not a demon," he said coldly through stiff lips. "I am your god."
"Yeah, right," she scoffed. As long as she didn’t raise her voice, she could say what she liked. "You’re Louis Tully and I’ve known you for years. You never claimed anything so stupid before."
"Your ignorance betrays you. But you will serve a purpose. These Tau’ri are weak-minded fools and will risk much to spare your life. Don’t think your bosses will save you. Even if they know what I am and have allies to back them, they cannot stop me."
"Oh yeah, well, they stopped Gozer, and from what I remember, he was a lot tougher than you."
She could feel the fury radiating off him. His voice deepened and hollowed out. "You will never mention that name again."
"Gozer. Gozer. Gozer." She couldn’t help it. If she gave in to Louis now she’d always give in, and Janine had never been a quitter. She’d seen more than the average secretary in her years of working for the Ghostbusters, and it took a lot to frazzle her. Anyone who worked day in and day out with Doctor Peter Venkman had learned not to lose her cool.
Besides, that Daniel Jackson was the one who had helped Peter out last time, he and his friends. She didn’t know what they were up to but she’d bet her next months’ paychecks that the O’Neill guy was in the Army or something. He had the look. Whatever Peter had done for that week out in Colorado, it had the military written all over it. So the four who showed up, including that spooky Teal’c with the tattoo, worked for the government. And that meant the government was after Louis Tully. They knew about him. Okay, maybe he really wasn’t possessed by a demon. Maybe it was something different. Little green men or something. Gozer had popped up through what she’d always thought of as a dimensional barrier. Maybe he’d come in a spaceship and that O’Neill—she’d heard Sam Carter call him ‘Colonel’ once—worked for Project Blue Book or something like that. Or the Army version of the X-Files.
"You risk much. I will not harm you while we are on the plane, but once we are away from here, I will take great pleasure in causing you excruciating pain. I will take you with me through the gate and turn you into one such as myself. You will lose your very soul, and Egon Spengler will turn from you in revulsion."
"Shows what you know, buddy." But a thrill of fear shivered through her, although she refused to allow it to show. It wasn’t Louis talking to her. It was whatever possessed him. If she could be possessed like that, it would be the end of everything. If Louis had been like this all along and just pretending not to be Vinz Clortho, then he knew far too much about her, about the guys, about the whole world. And with that gadget he wore, he could make people do what he wanted them to or else cause them so much pain they might even die of it.
"I will not debate it with you." The thing on his hand sent a brief flicker of pain into her skull and then subsided. Maybe those two guys she’d spotted across the aisle who looked like security types had noticed. Janine craned her neck to see them between the seats. They were talking to each other in an undertone about something in a magazine. One of them gestured to his page and they conferred too quietly for her to hear. They didn’t even glance in her direction. Wonderful. She thought security guys were always supposed to be alert, even when they were off duty. She had a second cousin who was in the Secret Service, a communications agent who helped protect the office of the Vice President. He’d been on alert even at their great uncle Morty’s funeral. These guys wouldn’t win any medals for being observant.
"Silence now, annoying woman. You will survive only as long as you are useful to me."
In spite of the icy menace of the words, she forced defiance onto her face. She wouldn’t back down to him, not for a second, but she would bide her time. The guys would find her. After all, she and Louis were on their way to Colorado and that was where Daniel Jackson lived, where all of them must work. This all tied in together; it was part of whatever Daniel did. A coincidence? Cause and effect? Or had Peter learned something out there that had made him suspect Louis? Maybe that was it, or he wouldn’t have sent for Daniel and his friends.
If Louis wanted silence, he’d get it. She couldn’t pull anything on a commercial airliner. Who knew what he’d do with that gadget on his hand. He might be able to zap other people—like the pilot. That would not be good.
Of course the second they were off the plane, she’d make all the noise she could. That would get the attention of those two security guys who liked their Sports Illustrated so much, make them earn their keep.
I don’t have enough information. She turned to Louis, or Vinz Clortho, or whoever he was. "Can’t you at least tell me why you’re doing this?"
"I am doing what is my right, as a god, to leave this world and return to the place where I belong."
"A god? Yeah, right! And I’m the Queen of the Earth."
"Do not mock me." An edge of that weird echo crept into his voice, and his eyes glowed.
"Is Louis still in there?" she asked. She’d always had a sneaking fondness for Louis, nothing like they’d made it look like in the second movie—she hated that movie—but he wasn’t a bad guy. Unless the Louis she had known had always been faking them all out. Wouldn’t Egon have been able to tell, though? He’d taken readings of Louis after the Gozer crisis.
"There is no Louis. Nothing of the host survives."
The host? She hated the sound of that. "You bet it does, buster, and I can prove it. Because you know what Louis knows."
He stared at her inimically. "I was always Vinz Clortho to you. You never knew Louis Tully."
So somewhere along the line Vinz Clortho had possessed Louis again—or reasserted control if it had never really been completely gone. If only she could tell Egon and the guys. They’d figure out a way to unpossess Louis. They’d have to. And maybe Daniel and his friends knew how. Maybe that’s why they were there.
So what had brought Vinz to headquarters today? Was he watching them? Did he know who Daniel and the others were? Did he show up because they had come? Or was it something else, whatever the guys had gone to Jersey for? She’d heard Peter on the phone yesterday making plans, even though she hadn’t understood what he wanted. Something about a big stone circle. He’d lowered his voice so confidentially when he’d mentioned it that she’d listened extra hard.
She didn’t know what big stone circles had to do with anything, probably nothing, but every clue would help her. She had to figure out a way to stop this Vinz creep. She wouldn’t be his hostage. The minute they left the plane, she’d yell so loud that every security guard in the airport would come running.
Louis didn’t let her. When they began the descent and the flight attendant resumed her seat for landing, out came the hand thing and he held it up while pounding waves of pain slammed into her forehead. He didn’t do it long, just long enough to take the starch from her knees and the will to do anything but whimper from her mind. She didn’t whimper. She was not a whimperer. But she had to accept his arm to get to her feet when they reached the gate, and he supported her off the plane with an arm around her waist.
"Is she all right?" the flight attendant asked.
"Flying upsets her stomach. She’ll be all right as soon as she’s had a chance to catch her breath. The motion sickness pill just makes her a little sleepy. Isn’t that right, dear?"
The edge in Louis’s voice was probably too faint for the flight attendant to pick up, but the compulsion in it made Janine mumble, "I’m okay. Louis will help me to the car." Mentioning his name was the only thing she could do. It wouldn’t be enough, but it was a start.
The two men she’d pegged as security came off the plane right after them, and walked past Janine and Louis without even looking at them. She watched them go, unable to raise her voice to call out a warning. Her head throbbed like a jungle drum and everything was fuzzy. If Louis hadn’t held her up, she would have melted down into a little puddle on the concourse floor.
Louis hired a rental car at the nearest Hertz booth. Once they reached the vehicle, he brought out something that looked like handcuffs, only not made of metal—she was pretty sure the metal detector would have had a fit if he’d walked into the plane with handcuffs in his pocket—and secured her wrists together. He put her in the back seat and did something that attached the weird cuffs to one of the seat belt latches, so she couldn’t jump out of the car.
"Now," he said as he slid behind the wheel, "we go to the Chappa’ai."
"Yeah, that was number one of my list of tourist highlights of Colorado," she mumbled.
"You call me ‘woman’ like that again and I’ll kick you in the chops."
"If you do that, I will inflict more pain. I know exactly how much the human body can endure and remain on its feet."
"Hey, when you were Vinz before, you were awfully subservient to Gozer," she reminded him. "How come you’re not doing that now?"
"Gozer is gone. If he can be defeated by humans, he is not worth my service. I am a Goa’uld. Others will serve me as I become a System Lord."
"I thought you were supposed to be a god. What’s this Goa’uld thing?"
"Not for you to know, pathetic human."
"Geez, you must have watched a lot of B-movies when you were hiding out in Louis. You know all the best lines."
"Silence." He raised the thing on his hand and zapped her again, and this time, she let the darkness take her.
** *** **
Jack O’Neill was not a happy camper. Two more Goa’ulds right here on earth and now one of them running around free. Sweet. Course he was running in the direction of the Stargate, where they had enough armed troops to take out a whole squadron of snakeheads, but this one had a hostage. They couldn’t let him get to the gate, but it wouldn’t sit well with Jack if the hostage bought it, especially since she was the Ghostbusters’ secretary. They all looked pretty worried about her, especially Spengler. Ray had told confided to Jack that Janine was in love with Egon and that he dated her. Had to be rough on a guy. What if he’d snatched her so that he could Goa’uld her? Jack was positive Daniel was thinking that. His eyes were full of shadows. Remembering Sha’re. Jack knew the signs.
They’d raced across the country on a military flight and landed at Peterson Air Force Base where a couple of cars waited to take them to the SGC. Jack divided them up, he and Daniel with Peter and Egon, Carter and Teal’c with the other two, for the short trip to the Mountain. They were just approaching the gate when his cell phone rang. "O’Neill."
It was General Hammond. "Colonel, we have Ms. Barrett. She has offered to bargain with us."
And he’d believe that the way he believed he’d win the lottery if he bought one ticket every six months. "Yeah, I just bet she has. What about Tully?"
"He rented a car in Denver and is driving down. We’ve got surveillance on them. He has a ribbon device."
"Son of a bitch," Jack muttered. It just kept getting better and better.
"That was my thought, too," Hammond replied. "Where are you?"
"We’ll be with you in five."
Jack terminated the call and turned to the two Ghostbusters. "Dana Barrett has arrived at the base," he said.
Peter’s face darkened. "I want to see her." That wasn’t open to debate. He obviously meant to do it even if he had to walk right through Hammond and a squadron of Marines to get to her.
"Uh, Peter...." Daniel sounded hesitant, and somehow very sad and very old at the same time. Jack’s gut twisted at the sound. Daniel just never got a break. "Seeing her might not be a good idea."
Peter stiffened. "Oh yeah? Well, you’d have done the same if it were Sha’re."
"Hey!" Jack objected when Daniel flinched. He cast a dark look at Venkman. "Let’s not make this personal."
"No, it’s all right, Jack." Daniel gave a sad sigh.
"Sha’re was your wife."
"Just because Dana was never my wife doesn’t mean I don’t care about her," Peter insisted with a resentful glare at Jack. "Don’t tell me I don’t have any rights here because I’m not buying it. I know Dana better than any of your trained people do. I’m gonna see her."
"Peter, it might be better to wait and let their experts deal with her first," Egon suggested mildly. Peter’s reaction had at least distracted him from his own concern.
"Yeah, Spengs, that comes pretty good from the guy who’s been freaking over Janine."
When Egon flinched, Peter caught himself immediately, contrition written in huge letters all over him. "God, Egon, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that like it sounded. I’m worried about Janine, too. But we’re gonna get her back. She doesn’t have a Goa’uld in her head, and she’s tough enough to handle Tully." He reached over and curled reassuring fingers around Spengler’s wrist. "She’ll be okay. She’s handled Proteus and stood up to the Crime Lord and she never gets in a sweat at the thought of a major demon."
"She hasn’t had to deal with a Goa’uld before," Daniel said softly. "I don’t know Janine very well, but I do agree she has a lot of courage and she’s very stubborn. Vinz Clortho will want to keep her alive to use as a hostage, though. She’d be no good to him dead."
"I still think it would have been easy to overpower him in Denver," Egon persisted stubbornly. "It’s all very well to say he won’t hurt her, but why should she have to remain in his power?"
"Guy’s got a ribbon device," Jack said laconically.
"And that is?"
Peter stepped in and fielded the question. "Goa’uld toy. He straps it on his hand and uses it to focus his power. He can zap people with it. Not like that handy dandy top-secret gun I used on old Mugwump last time, but it isn’t fun."
Egon’s mouth tightened. "And you let him keep her?"
"I’ve had a ribbon device used on me," Daniel replied. "It’s painful, but it doesn’t need to be lethal. I survived it. I wouldn’t wish it on your Janine, but there’s no reason to think he’s used it." He hesitated and added honestly, "Well, uh, at least not to a serious extent. He wouldn’t want her unconscious."
"If he’s hurt Janine—" Egon gritted out, and Peter’s face stiffened, too. His fingers tightened around Egon’s wrist in an effort to reassure him.
"Think Dana has one of the ribbon devices?" Peter asked.
"Not on her," Jack replied. "They’d have searched her. She’s a prisoner. No way she could sneak anything into the base."
"Uh, Jack...." Daniel’s voice suddenly sounded thoughtful. O’Neill eyed him uneasily. What was that all about?
"Danny?" he encouraged warily.
"I saw the movie about the Ghostbusters. I even showed it to Teal’c after the first time they came out here and worked with us. In it, getting Zuul and Vinz Clortho together summoned Gozer. Now maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think the Ghostbusters destroyed Gozer, just drove him away."
"So what you’re saying is that getting them together again might somehow call Gozer back? Oh, for crying out loud, we don’t need that."
"No, it didn’t happen like that before," Egon corrected, although a series of speculative expressions ran across his face. At least the question had distracted him from his worry about Melnitz. "There was a gradual build-up of power even before they encountered each other. Before the possession, they lived in the same building, just down the hall from each other. We first encountered Dana when she saw Zuul in terror dog form in her refrigerator."
"Hey, that’s not your usual Goa’uld hangout," Jack muttered. It won a faint, fleeting hint of amusement from Daniel.
"Yeah, atypical behavior for a major appliance, too," Peter countered.
Spengler ignored the frivolous remarks. "I don’t know whether Gozer would attempt to pass through the gate at intervals or whether something Ivo Shandor set into place was triggered to activate at such a time. But we’ve had no increase of readings to indicate the levels of power we detected the last time."
"You also didn’t have the Stargate in place," Daniel reminded him. "This time, you’ll have Tully and Barrett together in the presence of a working Stargate."
"So, could that be a problem?" O’Neill asked. You had to just love weird things like this—not. Oh well, it was a form of job security.
In answer, Egon whipped out his P.K.E. meter. The guy loved those meters. He’d even taken readings in the plane, although nothing there had provoked a reaction from the little detector. Carter had asked to play with it, and she and Spengler had whiled away the flight talking higher physics. Wouldn’t be Jack’s idea of first-date conversation, but those two had achieved a real meeting of the minds. You’d think somebody like Carter would be more Spengler’s type than Melnitz. But then, he was a scientist. In spite of working closely with Daniel and Carter for a few years, the scientific mindset was still a mystery to O’Neill.
The meter antennae quivered slightly as their car drew up to allow them to get out. "Hmmm," murmured Egon.
"We’re back to profound dialog," Peter kidded him. "Boy, Spengs, sometimes your vocabulary amazes even me."
Egon arched an eyebrow at him just the way old Spock did on Star Trek. "Hardly surprising, Peter." Peter grimaced in reply, but he looked secretly delighted at getting a rise from the physicist.
"So, what are you picking up?" Jack asked. He saw Carter leave the other car, her eyes on the meter as if it were the winning lottery ticket or a slice of her favorite pizza. She made a beeline for them, with Stantz and Zeddemore hot on her heels. Jack caught Teal’c’s eye over their shoulders, and he and the Jaffa chivvied the party into the Mountain, toward the elevator. They’d go straight to Hammond’s office and check out the lay of the land.
Egon allowed himself to be steered without even noticing. "Fascinating. Although these readings are faint, I see a similarity to those I took at the time of Gozer, before Gozer came through. They parallel those I took of Louis Tully when the police brought him to headquarters, although they are not exact."
"Dana," Peter said with a grimace. "You can read her this far away?"
"We’re in the building, Peter," Egon said as Jack pushed the elevator button. There were armed guards but the blond man never even noticed them.
"Yeah, a lot of floors higher than she is," Peter reminded him.
"So, how far can you set that to take readings?" Daniel asked. "Can we use one as a detector here on the surface to monitor when Tully comes?"
"We sure can," Ray said excitedly. "We need someone to monitor it and let us know when he arrives."
"He’s under surveillance," Jack reminded them. "It’s not like we won’t know where he is every mile of the way."
"True," Egon conceded, "but this will give us an edge."
"I can always send one of Carter’s boys up with a meter if Hammond thinks it’s a go," Jack decided and caught the Major’s eye.
She nodded. "That would work. Lieutenant Simmons should be able to handle it with no trouble. Or Sergeant Siler."
The elevator whisked them down and minutes later they regrouped in the briefing room, since there were too many of them to fit comfortably into Hammond’s office.
"I want to see Dana," Peter insisted. He chose not to sit down but hovered near the door. Jack knew a stubborn attitude when he saw it.
General Hammond entered the room and stuck out a hand to Peter, who blinked in surprise and took it. "Welcome back, Doctor Venkman," Hammond greeted him. "I wish we were meeting under better circumstances, but we seem to have a Goa’uld crisis." The general’s face was grim, although there was genuine pleasure in his eyes at the sight of Peter. Venkman did have a way of getting to people, even if he was also extremely gifted at driving Jack nuts.
"Yeah, I tend to bring trouble with me wherever I go," Peter said wryly. "Good to see you again, General, even if these aren’t great circumstances. Is Dana okay? Is she really a Goa’uld?"
"She’s all right, and yes, I’m sorry to say, she definitely possesses a Goa’uld symbiote. We’ve just run an MRI to determine it, and in any case she admits it openly." He shook hands with the other Ghostbusters and then gestured them all to sit down. Peter edged into his chair reluctantly, and it looked like it wouldn’t take much for him to pop up like a Jack-in-the Box.
O’Neill noticed that there were information packets laid at each place. Hammond started the briefing. "Gentlemen, welcome back to Cheyenne Mountain. Colonel O’Neill says you’ve signed the non-disclosure statements."
Carter opened her briefcase and passed them over. "Here you go, sir."
"All official and everything," Jack agreed. "We ought to make them official members of the team so we won’t have to go this route next time. They’d just be on detached duty until needed."
Ray Stantz actually beamed at the idea of ‘next time’, but Winston grimaced. Peter and Egon didn’t notice. In their own ways, they were still dealing with the personal impact of this new crisis.
Hammond leafed through the sheets in the folder then set it aside. "Excellent. For the duration, you are to consider yourselves temporary members of the SGC. We’ve put you on the payroll. Our analysts are studying the data available regarding the Gozer incident to determine what we can learn of the entity in question, and they’ll be glad of any input you can provide. We should have initial summaries here for you to go over by the time this briefing is over to check for accuracy. We’ll welcome any corrections you can make. We’ve also sent a request to our Tok’ra allies to gain information on these two Goa’uld and to explore the possibility of removing the Goa’uld from the hosts, although that is not an easy process."
"Tok’ra?" Egon echoed. "These are the Goa’uld who take hosts voluntarily?" He opened his information packet and flipped through the pages to see what he could pick up on one quick scan. Guy must be a speed reader.
"They don’t consider themselves Goa’uld," Daniel explained. "It’s probably better if you avoid calling them that, even though they are biologically identical to the Goa’uld. Have they responded, General?"
Hammond bobbed his head in a quick nod. "They plan to send us someone shortly."
"If you took Skaara back, you should be able to save Dana, too," Peter insisted as he glanced at the first page of his information packet. Ray buried his nose in it, fascinated, but Winston didn’t open his yet. After a second, Carter opened hers, too, and started one of her speed reading numbers on it. Maybe that went with being a physicist.
Jack couldn’t hold down a grin at the thought that Skaara was free, but he didn’t want to go through that trial thingy again to have to free somebody else. It hadn’t been easy and the Goa’uld had gone out of their way to make it as tough as possible, not to mention doing their usual underhand, cheat-y kind of deal. But the look on Peter’s face told him they might have to try. What would the Tollans or the Nox make of that? Tell Peter he was ‘too young’ to understand. O’Neill could imagine is reaction that.
How many other undercover Goa’uld were still hiding out on Earth? Did they get together and hold annual conventions at the MGM Grand to plot to take over the Earth?
And did they just keep on changing hosts as they grew old, or was it possible that Zuul and Vinz Clortho had a sarcophagus up there on the roof of that building on Central Park West?
Still, a sarcophagus wasn’t exactly resistant to explosions. The way the Ghostbusters had destroyed the roof of Dana Barrett’s building, any handy dandy sarcophagi would have been blown to kingdom come. Daniel had taken out Shayla’s sarcophagus with no more than a staff weapon.
"We’ll see what can be done, son," Hammond assured Peter in that fatherly tone he could produce when he thought somebody needed it. "Now we have Ms. Barrett under custody and we should have Tully soon. My intelligence reports that he will be here in less than half an hour."
"He won’t simply hand Janine over to you," Egon said fiercely. "You’ve got to take her back."
Ray abandoned his report without a second hesitation and gave him a reassuring pat on the shoulder. "Egon, these guys are really well trained. You think they can’t take on one Goa’uld? They’ll get Janine free. I just know they will, and she’ll probably help."
"Thank you, Ray." Egon pulled himself together. Turned himself into a kind of high-intellect Vulcan right before Jack’s eyes. "General, what can we do to assist in this process besides studying these reports and offering input?"
"I think the best thing you can do, Doctor Spengler, is for you and Doctor Stantz to go over every detail of the encounter with Gozer for our scientist and theorists so that we can determine how to adapt the process for our use here. I’d like you to use your equipment to take readings of Ms Barrett, as well, to offer us comparisons to the readings you took from Mister Tully last time and with the readings you must have taken of both of them after the defeat of Gozer. I also want to make certain that nothing we do here will alert Gozer, if the entity is still out there, to the presence of our Stargate. If he is indeed more powerful than the Goa’uld, we do not want him to be reminded of Earth."
Hammond then turned to Teal’c. "Do you know of Gozer?"
"That is correct, General, although only through rumor and legend. Apophis forbade us to speak of him. Yet stories spread. Gozer was an entity considered to possess powers in excess of that of the Goa’uld. Therefore, they preferred to deny even the possibility of his existence."
"Yeah, it’s pretty tough to consider yourself a god if somebody else can come along and squash you like a bug," Jack muttered.
"Exactly what kind of powers did Gozer possess?" Daniel asked. He looked like he’d shunted aside any reminders of Sha’re to deal with the current crisis. Of course, being Daniel, that was a pain he lived with, but he lived with so many that they hardly even bent his shoulders. Jack gave a faint, regretful sigh on Daniel’s behalf.
"It was said he could shapeshift," Teal’c responded. "Not even the Goa’uld have mastered this ability, but Gozer was said to switch forms and use it for deception. He was definitely not a Goa’uld. Apparently one of the system lords once believed that if he were to take over Gozer, he would become so powerful he could rule the galaxy."
"Oh, now there’s a nasty thought," muttered Winston Zeddemore under his breath. O’Neill had to say he agreed with the guy.
"What happened?" General Hammond asked. "Did the Goa’uld in question make the attempt?"
Teal’c inclined his head in confirmation. "According to legend, when the Goa’uld actually attempted to invade Gozer’s body, it was repelled in such a way that it died in excruciating pain."
Jack couldn’t squish a shiver at the words. "Sweet." He could think of a few ways to inflict pain on an unattached Goa’uld, and Daniel had once blasted a whole tank full of the ugly snakes, but somehow this sounded a lot worse, especially since Teal’c was so matter-of-fact about it.
"Too bad we can’t adapt whatever it uses to repel a Goa’uld," Carter said thoughtfully.
"Goa’uld repellent," offered Peter. "Pick up a spray bottle at your local drugstore, right next to the mosquito repellent."
Carter smiled faintly then she went right back to business. "Egon, you took readings of Gozer, didn’t you? Can we do studies of them?"
"I brought those records with me," Egon reminded her and passed over a little holder for floppy disks. "We can study them together."
"True meeting of the minds," Peter said in an undertone.
Egon rolled his eyes at Venkman and didn’t dignify that with a response.
"The first thing we want to do is take readings of Dana, though," offered Ray. He gave Peter a sympathetic grin.
"Yes, that needs to be done immediately." Hammond glanced over at Peter. "I should tell you all that the Goa’uld Zuul has spoken to me after Ms Barrett was delivered here. Zuul claims it has developed Tok’ra sympathies." From the way his mouth twisted, Jack was pretty sure Hammond believed that the way he believed that a dozen little butterflies could lift Pike’s Peak.
"Yeah, I’ll just bet," scoffed Jack.
"Dana wouldn’t want a Goa’uld in her," Peter exploded. He erupted from his chair and brought his fists down on the table. "It’s a trick. Hasta be. If Zuul has turned into a Tok’ra, let him find a willing host and give Dana back. He’s just saying what he wants you to hear. Last time, he was pretty quick to tell me that Dana didn’t exist anymore. He said, ‘There is no Dana, only Zuul.’"
Egon stood up beside him and urged him back into his chair, and he sat, but with reluctance.
"‘Nothing of the host survives,’" Daniel said in an undertone. "We’ve heard that before, Peter. It’s what the Goa’uld always claim but it isn’t true. When we got Skaara back, even Zipacna finally admitted that the host does remain."
"Yeah, because he was trying to twist it around so Klorel could keep Skaara’s body," Jack objected. "He’d have argued that opposing points were true if he thought it would have done any good. But the bottom line is, the host does survive. We have conclusive proof of that."
"Sitting right here at the table with you," Carter put in, "although Jolinar was Tok’ra, not Goa’uld." She caught Peter’s eye. "If Zuul has developed Tok’ra sympathies, then it may be possible to free Dana if another host can be located."
"But you don’t believe that?" Peter asked her doubtfully. "Come on, Sam, I want to know. What’re the odds here? How many people are gonna line up to have a snake romping through their brains?"
Egon put his concern for Janine aside and turned to the man beside him. "Peter, it is entirely possible that Zuul is saying what he thinks we want to hear. I’m sorry, but from the little I know of the Goa’uld, I would not be inclined to take one’s word."
"Yeah, I got that feeling, too." Peter slumped in his chair. Idly he turned a page in his report. It could have had girlie pictures on it or the meaning of life and he wouldn’t have noticed. His eyes lifted and came to rest on Daniel. "How do you guys do it?" he blurted out. "Deal with this kind of crap every day?"
"Some might wonder how you face ghosts and demons on a daily basis, Doctor Venkman," Hammond said gently. "You, too, encounter the risk of possession, although not a physical possession like that which we face."
Peter flinched. "Oh, thanks. I was possessed once. It’s like that when the Goa’uld take somebody? I couldn’t fight it, couldn’t stop it from trying to open the containment unit. It talked in my voice." He was silent a long moment, no trace of color in his face, then he said, "Shit! We’ve gotta get that thing out of Dana. Spengs, is there any way to do it with the throwers?"
"You mean make it uncomfortable enough to drive it out of a host body? Not without endangering the life of the host."
"No, I meant that little number you did on me, one thrower set to my metabolic frequencies and the other set on Watt’s readings."
"Watt was not a physical entity, Peter. I don’t know how complex the joining is in this instance, but it is a physical one. I think there would be a great risk of brain damage if not actual physical harm to the host body. It would be extraordinarily dangerous. What good to free Dana from Zuul if it rendered her mindless?"
Peter flinched. Daniel did, too, probably remembering Sha’re. Jack grimaced. This whole thing was pushing a lot of buttons for everybody. And they still had to get Melnitz away from Vinz Clortho. How to handle that? Lure him into the base and set the stage against him? Zap him with the throwers and knock him out? Zat him?
"I want to talk to her," Peter said. "There’s got to be a way to get her free because they used it on Skaara. I want them to use it on Dana. I want your word on that, General."
Hammond’s face filled with regret. "Peter, I can’t promise you that. We don’t have the technology ourselves. Even if our allies agreed—and they’re often reluctant to involve themselves in our crises, we’d have to prove that Ms Barrett was the one entitled to the body. After the incident with Skaara, I’m sure the end result would be that both be allowed to live and that Zuul be removed and taken to a place where he could be given a new host. It is not a process that could be completed in a day." He saw Peter prepare to explode into argument and continued hastily, "What I do promise you is that I will take it up with the Tok’ra when their representatives arrive. I’ll begin the initial steps to request the process be done on Ms Barrett. But if there is even a remote possibility that Zuul has switched his alliance to the Tok’ra, that will need to be considered, too."
"So, Dana just gives up her life so that Zuul can be happy?" Peter snarled. He looked ready to bounce up to his feet again, but Egon put a hand on his shoulder to restrain him.
"Only if Dana chooses to do so," Hammond replied. "She has rights, and one of the prime purposes of this base is to protect those rights."
"Yeah, the right to her own body," put in Ray. "Louis does, too. I’m glad you feel that way, General. They didn’t ask to be taken, and I’m pretty sure that Vinz Clortho has never thought of becoming a Tok’ra. He wouldn’t have snatched Janine if he had."
"Maybe we should talk to Dana now." Carter snapped her briefing folder closed. "Until the Tok’ra send their representative, I’m the closest we have to an expert on the subject. I volunteer to talk to her. Let me give someone a meter so they can monitor for Vinz Clortho at the main gate, and then I’d like to see Dana."
"I’m coming, too," Peter insisted. "I may not be a Tok’ra, but I know Dana better than anybody else here."
Hammond’s brow wrinkled. "Very well, but she is in restraints and I’ll expect you to leave them in place, son. There will also be armed guards present."
Venkman frowned. "Whatever. Just let me go and talk to her."
"Do you want me to come, Peter?" Daniel volunteered.
Peter hesitated and studied him. Daniel managed to look incredibly sincere. What would it feel like to see another woman possessed of a Goa’uld, this soon after Sha’re’s death? Jack would have liked to haul his ass as far away from Dana Barrett as he could, but he couldn’t shoot Danny down when he was so intent on doing it. Peter might need someone with him who’d been there, but why did it have to be Daniel?
Jackson sneaked a look over at O’Neill and lifted one eyebrow slightly. Boy, he’d made great strides in reading Jack. "Come on, Jack," he wheedled. "I need to be there."
Yeah, he probably did. Jack didn’t have to like it, but he was sure it was true.
"I’ll get ready for Vince’s arrival," he offered. "We’ll be ready for him."
** *** **
Peter felt his stomach tie up into a nasty knot. He took a deep breath and squared his shoulders. Egon had offered to come along, too, but much as Peter would have liked to have his oldest friend present for the encounter with Dana and Zuul, he knew there was too much for Egon to do. With Carter along to provide Tok’ra expertise, the physics stuff would fall to Egon with help from Ray, as they correlated their readings, compared them to information the SGC could offer on the Goa’uld, and tried to determine how to deal with Zuul and Vinz Clortho. They also had to make sure that bringing the two of them together in proximity to a working Stargate wouldn’t get the message across to Gozer, wherever he was lurking out there, that the Tau’ri had started up gate travel and might now prove a threat.
"She’ll be restrained, Peter," Sam said quietly. "She’ll probably try to plead with you and convince you that she’s in control, that Zuul isn’t a threat, but you can’t let her go. We simply can’t take the risk. Even though I knew Jolinar was Tok’ra when she was in me, I couldn’t convince the others, and they were right to doubt. I could have been misled."
"Sam’s right," Daniel put in. "It’s going to tear you up to see her and know that there’s a Goa’uld in her controlling her, even if it seems like she’s herself. The thing is, Dana can hear you, even if she can’t always show it. It’s important for you to let her know that you don’t blame her for what happened to her."
"Heck no," Peter said, and added in an undertone, "I blame myself." Shit, now where had that come from? "She came to hire us, said there was something in her refrigerator saying the word ‘Zuul’, and I went out there and took readings, and I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. She was our first client and I was trying to act macho and brilliant for her because I wanted to impress her. But I didn’t really believe her story. I could have done more. We all could."
Daniel shook his head. "No, Peter. Because how could you possibly have understood about the Goa’uld? Your equipment was a lot more primitive in the beginning and you didn’t know how to set it for a Goa’uld."
"Yeah, but she was grabbed anyway."
"There wasn’t anything you could have done," Sam soothed.
"There should have been."
"Peter, if you go in there focused on what you couldn’t have known how to do nearly fifteen years ago, you won’t be any help to her now," Daniel insisted. "When I met Sha’re again, she was pregnant, and her host had backed off. I was so suspicious of her that I nearly managed to convince Sha’re that I hated her. Don’t do that to Dana. It can’t be about you right now. It has to be about her situation. I think you can handle it."
That’s right, Daniel had gone through the whole deal, and it was worse for him in so many ways, because Sha’re had been his wife, because she’d died. God, Teal’c had been forced to kill her to save Daniel’s life. Here was Peter, all whiny because a former girlfriend was a Goa’uld. Daniel was right, it wasn’t about Peter, even if she had been the great love of his life. If he went in there worried about himself, he was one hell of a selfish bastard, and that wouldn’t help Dana.
So he mustered up a crooked grin. "Thanks, Daniel." Then he squared his shoulders and marched into the room.
Dana was restrained in a bed, secured at wrists and ankles and with a strap across her waist. She was fully dressed, and her hair was loose and flowing around her face. Her eyes were not glowing; they were shut but they opened when she heard someone come into the room. For the first second when she saw Peter, relief ran across her face like water. The next, it was banished and she regarded him impassively—or Zuul did.
"Peter. They contacted you." None of the deep rumble Peter remembered from that long-ago encounter. He hesitated near the foot of the bed and didn’t go closer, conscious of Daniel and Sam flanking him. Dana’s eyes lingered on Peter’s face, glanced at Daniel and then narrowed on Sam.
"What are you?" Dana asked with the first hint of Zuul. Peter shuddered at the sound of it, so hollow and ominous. "You are not Goa’uld, but you have once been a host."
"You can tell that?" Peter asked. Every word she spoke proved it was all true and not a wild theory that Peter had hoped would be refuted the second he saw her. Dana was a Goa’uld. He’d known she had to be as soon as he’d seen that computer message from Louis, but knowing it and seeing it in her face were two different things. He wished Egon, Ray, and Winston were here. Daniel had become a good friend at the time of his last visit and he liked Sam, but it wasn’t the same.
"Yes, Peter, I can tell that." Weird to be addressed by name when it wasn’t Dana talking to him, but Zuul.
"You don’t know me," he snapped. "Let Dana talk. And don’t you dare say ‘there is no Dana, only Zuul,’ because I know that’s not true."
"Since you’re here in this place, I believe you. You also know that I am not a ghost or demon of the type you combat. But I do know you, for I was dormant in Dana when you were together. I could not then speak or control as I can now, but I was aware. She is...not the only one who was fond of you."
The words crawled over him like worms. Peter shuddered. "Shut up. You’re not human. You’re a Goa’uld. I know what you’re like. I want to talk to Dana and I want to talk to her now."
"Peter, a minute." Sam touched his arm to silence him, then spoke to Zuul. "You know what I once was, but if you know that, you must have known—" she stopped abruptly.
"That there is a Stargate here? Yes, I do know that. I have known of it since you first began to use it."
"Then why didn’t you come here and try to use it yourself, to get away from Earth?" asked Daniel.
Zuul studied him. "You look upon me with horror and revulsion," she said, "even more than Peter does, yet you do not know me. Why is this? I have not harmed you. I have not even threatened you, and I have not come here to force my way into your facility. I was peacefully minding my own business when your Gestapo took me prisoner. I will have answers."
Peter was glad Jack hadn’t been here to hear the ‘Gestapo’ comment. The Colonel would probably have gone ballistic over it.
"My wife was taken by the Goa’uld," Daniel said. His voice was utterly flat and shouldn’t have revealed anything, but it did. Peter felt a shiver of fellow sympathy chase up and down his spine and he heard a shuffling behind him that suggested Sam had moved close enough to offer Daniel a pat on the arm or at least the presence at his side of someone who understood and sympathized. Zuul’s eyes followed the movement.
"I am sorry," said Zuul. It was still Zuul talking, and not Dana. Peter couldn’t hear any hypocrisy in the deeper tone or see it in the eyes that weren’t, quite, glowing.
"If you’re so sorry, how about getting out of Dana and giving her back her life?" Peter demanded.
"Peter, no." This time, it was Dana talking to him, just like that. "You don’t understand."
"I understand that there’s a snake inside you and it’s controlling you," Peter said. "It’s stolen your life and won’t give it back. What else is there to understand? That’s what the Goa’uld do. They don’t care about the hosts, they just take over. It’s like being possessed, and I know what kind of a roller-coaster ride that is. Sorry’s easy to say, but a lot harder to mean."
Dana shook her head so fervently the long hair danced around her face. Behind him, Daniel flinched. Peter had never seen Sha’re’s picture. Maybe she’d had long dark hair, too.
"Peter, it isn’t like that," Dana said. "Yes, it was, in the beginning. When you and I first knew each other, when Zuul first took me. It was exactly like that, and I was trapped and terrified."
"But getting rid of Gozer didn’t work," Peter said. His hands curled up into fists. "Because you still had Zuul inside you."
"Yes, but for a long time, I didn’t know it," Dana admitted. "Not until after Oscar was born. Because, until then, Zuul was stunned into a form of stasis by the process you used to drive Gozer back through the Stargate."
Peter shuddered. The thought of Zuul lurking unknown in Dana’s mind while he and Dana had been together.... God, that made him sick. He wondered if the trapped Goa’uld had gotten his jollies from spying on Dana and Peter, and on Dana in the rest of her life after that. What about Oscar’s father? Dana had never mentioned him. For all he knew, Zuul had stepped in after the kid was born and found a way to get rid of the guy.
"Zuul didn’t abort the pregnancy," Sam put in. "Although it could have. We theorized the chemical changes that occur in pregnancy may have awakened the Goa’uld."
Dana nodded. "Yes, it did cause that. But Zuul lacked knowledge of a working Stargate and had no way to escape so she chose to bide her time. After Oscar’s birth, Zuul came forth again and controlled me. She made me drive away Oscar’s father, but, strangely enough, she seemed to care about Oscar. When I learned more about what was going on, I was afraid she intended to groom Oscar to be her next host. But she said she would not do that."
"So when that Vigo thing happened, why didn’t Zuul take on Vigo? Why did you come to us for help?" Peter asked.
"Because Zuul didn’t want to give herself away, and because dealing with ghosts was what you four do. If you had been unable to help, I believe Zuul would have acted, but you were. It was very close; she was ready to take action when you finally defeated Vigo. But Zuul understood that, of all the Ghostbusters, you knew me best, so she did not want me to interact with you. She made me keep my distance. I remember, when we saw the movie based on that incident, Zuul was scornful of the romantic ending."
"But why is she letting you talk now?" prompted Daniel.
"Because that was ten years ago," Dana explained. She shifted against the bindings that held her but she didn’t try to pull free. "In those ten years, Zuul and I have come to know each other very well. I’m a musician. I don’t know if Peter told you. A cellist. I found that while I could play with technical expertise while Zuul controlled me, the spirit had gone out of my music. It was so obvious, even to Zuul, that she realized in order for me to earn my living as a cellist, that I had to be free to play. But free only to play was not enough, and my music suffered."
"So why didn’t Zuul tell you it was time for a career change?" Peter asked. This was weird. He couldn’t imagine the Goa’uld stepping aside to encourage Dana’s music gift. He suddenly remembered talking to Dana after a rehearsal and telling her, "You’re the best one in your row." God, what a tacky line. But he’d heard her play and she was good. Even though the guys insisted Peter didn’t have a musical bone in his body, he’d been able to tell she felt the music, and could even make him feel it.
"I didn’t understand that for a long time," Dana admitted. Zuul was still letting her talk. Behind Peter, Daniel and Sam listened intently. They were a lot more used to the Goa’uld than Peter was. Hammond had mentioned that Zuul had claimed Tok’ra sympathies. Could that be true, or was it just a front, to con them into believing Dana was harmless long enough for Zuul to make a break for the Stargate?
"Wait a minute," Peter said suddenly. "You keep saying ‘she’. Is Zuul female then?"
"Zuul has always been in female hosts. That’s why she chose me, and why Vinz Clortho chose Louis, because he was always in male hosts."
"But when your voice got deep, you sounded male," Peter objected, then he frowned. Had she really? Or had he just assumed that because so many ghosts of Class Five and up had male voices? The movie had made her voice sound deeper than Egon’s, but that had been an exaggeration. Zuul in a terror dog was sure to sound deep-throated. Zuul in Dana had sounded deeper than normal, but when she’d talked just now she had still sounded female, just echoing. Peter grimaced. He didn’t like to remember Dana talking to him back there in her apartment with Zuul inside her.
Zuul spoke up. "Do I sound male now, Peter? Does it matter?"
She had that weird echo, and Peter flinched. "Do you have to talk like that? Can’t you just let Dana finish talking to us and let us know what’s going on?"
"Of course." Dana closed her eyes and opened them again as herself—as least as much herself as it was possible to be with a snake inside her. "Peter, I’m so sorry. But I’ve changed. I loved you after Gozer was forced back through the Stargate, but that was a long time ago. I’ve changed."
Okay, that was laying it on the line with a vengeance. He’d known a long time now that she didn’t love him any longer. Heck, he went for months and months and never even thought about her, and there’d been other women in his life, even if none of them had ever quite had Dana’s impact. But to be told flat out that she didn’t care anymore hurt. She must have seen in his eyes. "I’m sorry, Peter. I had to move on or go insane. And you—I know that for all you cared, you cared more for your life as a Ghostbuster with your friends than you did for me. You know this is true."
He squirmed. She had him there. Maybe it was easier to look back on a great love than to live one. "Coulda worked," he muttered. He wished Daniel and Sam weren’t listening to every word.
"Perhaps, if not for Zuul. We’ll never know. But I do love you, Peter, even if it is not in the way we both hoped at one time. I want you to know that. Because what I have to say next is true for both Zuul and myself."
He hesitated, then he edged up and took hold of one of her hands; the grip was awkward because of the restraints, but he felt her long, slender fingers close around his with the trailing edge of an old fondness, a moment of something that wasn’t quite love but more like nostalgia. He was conscious of Daniel’s hand resting briefly on his shoulder and of the guard at the door edging closer, ready to intervene if Zuul tried anything. But Zuul didn’t. Instead they held the clasp for a long moment without speaking, and then Dana’s fingers relaxed. Peter let go and stepped back.
"What is it, sweetheart?" he asked, and the words hurt.
"These others know of the Tok’ra," Dana said. "And I believe you do, too. You know them too well for this to be your first encounter with the Stargate."
"Yeah, I know about the Tok’ra," Peter admitted. "And the Stargate, too." What could it hurt to say that?
"And your friends?"
"Not as much as I do, but they’re learning. We didn’t know what we were getting into when we faced Gozer—but our equipment does have an effect on the Goa’uld."
"You don’t need to threaten me, Peter. I am not a threat to you. Not even Zuul is a threat to you."
"Oh yeah, that one’s a little hard to swallow. I know you believe it, but that doesn’t mean it’s true."
"Why is Zuul no threat?" Sam asked.
Dana looked past Peter to Carter. "Because Zuul has come to accept the Tok’ra philosophy. Because she is within me voluntarily and would transfer to a suitable host if I wished it."
Relief flowed over Peter with the force of a tidal wave. "That’s great," he exulted. "We’ll call up the Tok’ra and ask them to find somebody and...." His voice trailed off. Dana’s face had saddened. "That’s not great?"
"Peter, you don’t understand. You can’t. No one who hasn’t experienced it can ever understand. But Zuul and I are one now. We have shared so much that neither of us wants to part. I have made my choice, to remain a Tok’ra host. To keep Zuul within me. To go wherever this will take me. I am not just Dana any longer. I am Dana and Zuul. We are more than the sum of our parts when we are together."
He knew he couldn’t keep the horror from his face. Behind him, Sam sucked in her breath in astonishment, and Daniel moved abruptly. Dana shifted against her restraints. "You do not believe this?" she said to Sam. "You have had a Goa’uld inside you. You feel nothing but revulsion—"
"No." Sam edged into Peter’s line of sight. "I do understand, even if I can’t share your willingness. Jolinar was Tok’ra, not Goa’uld, but I would not choose to be a host voluntarily. I don’t see how you can. I’m sorry. I do value the Tok’ra. But to be a host...." She shivered.
"I can’t understand it at all," Daniel said fiercely. "Zuul has violated you. She’s stolen your body and your life. You have a child. How can you force this upon your son?" A lot of bottled-up feelings about Sha’re exploded with his words. Peter cast him one quick, sympathetic glance before he turned back to see Dana’s response.
He got Zuul instead. "We love Oscar," the Goa’uld/Tok’ra proclaimed. "In a way, Oscar is my son as well. He knows what we are. He has known for several years, once he was old enough to keep the secret. I am told he has been summoned here. Please, all I ask is that you do not let him see me restrained like this. Free in a cell would be better than this."
"You know what joining the Tok’ra would mean?" Carter asked. "Even if you could prove what you say, they would still have to take you on sufferance. You’d have to go and live with them on their world—" Peter noticed she carefully did not name it— "and take your son away from everything he’s ever known."
"Everything except his mother," Zuul replied. "The three of us have already discussed this possibility, but we had no way of knowing if this command knew of the Tok’ra."
"That can be resolved later," Daniel said. "For now, what do you know of Louis Tully?"
Zuul/Dana took a deep, calming breath, then the Tok’ra continued, "Vinz Clortho is not sympathetic to the Tok’ra, or to his host. He would take this base by force and destroy any of you to get to the Stargate. I have spoken with him on more than one occasion, and again after you activated the Stargate. I did not let him see that my allegiance had shifted. He would have turned against me, possibly used Oscar against us." She frowned. "You’re certain Oscar is safe?" Her voice was urgent, and it was Zuul speaking, not Dana.
"We will notify you as soon as we have word of his arrival," Daniel promised and gestured Peter toward the door.
Peter hesitated. "Gotta go," he said. "We’ll see about this. It’s not my decision. I’m not in charge here."
Dana replied. "I understand. I’m glad you came, Peter. I would not have liked to go away to the Tok’ra without having a chance to say goodbye."
The guard watched them through the door and then closed it with himself still inside. Peter took two steps past it and stopped dead, his shoulders slumping. God, he wanted the guys.
Sam slid an arm around his waist. "I’m so sorry," she said.
"Do you believe her?"
She hesitated then she gave one quick nod. "I think I do. But the Tok’ra will want to verify it, and even if they do agree to take her, it will be on sufferance in the beginning."
"And Dana and Oscar go along for the ride?" Peter couldn’t keep the bitterness out of his voice.
Sam closed her eyes for a moment, and Peter was half afraid they’d pop open glowing, but they didn’t. Jolinar was gone and only the remnants of her brief possession lingered. "I’ve tried to access Jolinar’s memories, to see if it is even possible for a Goa’uld to switch allegiance like that. Yet I know it is, or there would never be Tok’ra."
"I don’t understand how Dana can go along with it," Daniel burst out. "She was taken against her will. She was a prisoner in her own body." Like Sha’re. Peter heard the words he didn’t say. "I’d want to be sure we aren’t dealing with the Stockholm Syndrome here, bonding with her captor."
Peter had thought of that, too. "We can’t just hand her over, even if Dana says she wants to go."
"No," agreed Sam. "General Hammond would never agree to that, not unless he’s certain that it’s the best thing to do, and even then, the Tok’ra would have to be convinced and agree to take her. The only thing is, Zuul has information about Gozer and that might be of enough value to the Tok’ra for them to allow the risk."
"So what happens next?" Peter asked unhappily. The one thing that was never going to come out of this was his getting together with Dana again, but what a hell of a way to finally lose her.
"We better go see if the Tok’ra have come," Daniel offered. "And you can let them know what you think about what Dana just told you, whether you believe it or not." He added, "I’m sorry, Peter, I know what you’re going through."
"Nobody better," Peter said ruefully. "Sorry this is bringing back some bad memories for you."
Daniel said inconsequentially, "Sha’re wore her hair like that." Then he held up his hands to stop any attempt at sympathy. "We’d better go find the General."
** *** **
"So, Teal’c, what can you tell us about Gozer?" asked General Hammond. He turned to the three Ghostbusters who had stayed behind when Venkman went off to talk to his old girlfriend. "And anything you can add will be helpful, gentlemen."
Jack had to say that he was glad they had a heads’ up on this Gozer dude. He sounded like one mean mother, and if he was really more powerful than Apophis or Sokar, or any of the other Goa’ulds, then the more they knew about him the better. But it was fifteen years ago that Gozer had been driven away from Earth and he hadn’t tried to come back. ‘Course the Stargate he’d used then hadn’t exactly been accessible in the junkyard, so maybe he’d tried and failed.
"Very little is known of Gozer," Teal’c admitted. His expression wasn’t exactly brimming with delight at the mention of the powerful being, but then Teal’c didn’t exactly bubble at the best of times. This time, there was an unaccustomed gravity in his voice. "His name was spoken in whispers, never to be mentioned in the presence of Apophis. Once one of the Jaffa mentioned him and Apophis had the man slain for heresy."
"Yeah, that’d make you want to keep the big secret all right," Jack muttered under his breath.
"Gozer was one of the deities worshiped among the Hittites, Mesopotamians and Sumerians," Egon Spengler offered. "An obscure deity, but I’m certain Doctor Jackson knows the name. Evidently Gozer spent time on Earth in antiquity. Whether they found a way to banish him or whether he became bored and departed voluntarily we shall never know."
"He didn’t come back until he was summoned, though," offered Ray Stantz. The guy ought to find a way to bottle all that energy. You’d think he was twenty instead of forty. Jack couldn’t help wondering how he did it. If he ever managed to patent the formula, there was one creaky old Colonel who’d be first in line for a supply. "Ivo Shandor devised a ritual. Whether Zuul and Vinz Clortho were here all along or whether there have been other incursions we can’t know for sure, but the Stargate couldn’t have always been on top of Dana’s building. I think Gozer must have been around a time or two after he left Sumeria."
Hammond frowned. "We have established without a doubt that there was a third Stargate on this world. The Egyptians buried their gate, and the Antarctica gate was covered in ice and therefore inaccessible."
"So this probably explains a lot of those folks we met out there who were taken after the Egyptian gate was buried at Giza," Jack offered. "What kind of secrets did they whisper about Gozer, Teal’c? What would we be up against if he decided he wanted to pop in for another visit?"
"Gozer is also referred to as the Destructor and the Traveler," Teal’c explained. "He is able to alter his own form. There are those who claim that he is able to shift the form of others, using the powers of his mind. He would expect worship from captive peoples. When they failed to worship him, he would expect them to select a form for him in which he would destroy them. When I was his first prime, Apophis visited two worlds that worshiped Gozer. Gozer had visited neither world in many centuries. Apophis subdued the populations and took many captives to serve as hosts and as slaves. The captive people of one world revolted and threatened Apophis with the wrath of Gozer. They claimed Gozer would turn Apophis into an insect and force him to crawl in the dung."
"Hey, I bet old Apophis didn’t like that much," Jack said with a grin. "I’d have paid good money to see his reaction."
"He slew with his ribbon device all who made that claim," Teal’c replied.
Winston Zeddemore grimaced. "Gozer may be powerful, but I can’t say I think much of this Apophis dude either."
"Neither do we." Jack glanced around the table. "So, if Gozer gets the word that Earth’s ripe for the taking, he’ll show up through our Stargate and expect us to choose a form for him to assume so he can trash us?"
"That is correct," Teal’c replied.
"Good thing we have the iris, then." He saw Teal’c’s eyes flash and added, "Isn’t it?"
"The wormhole materializes within millimeters of the iris, thus destroying all who impact against it," Teal’c replied. "Gozer would be able to shift his shape—"
"So that he’d be thin enough to fit, and then pop out when the iris went down?" Ray cried. "Gosh, yeah, I bet he could. If he can be anything he wants, he could be thinner than a sheet of paper. Only, he wouldn’t know he had to be, would he? Could he tell that was going to be his destination when he was in the wormhole?"
"It would depend upon his abilities," Spengler said thoughtfully. "I should like to explore the possibilities with Major Carter when she returns. However, the fact that Gozer is powerful, inventive, and able to alter his shape does not indicate that he has any desire to return to Earth, or even to participate in galactic affairs. You have been exploring through the Stargate for over three years?"
"Longer, because the first mission took place a full year before the project was reactivated," Hammond reminded him. "We only reactivated the program because Apophis came through our gate, and we realized there was a threat out there. Until then, we believed the gate only went to the planet Abydos, which we believed had been destroyed." He pursed his lips in thought. "Doctor Spengler, Doctor Stantz, although you are temporary members of this command, there are a great many facets of the program that we will not reveal to you, specifically since it is on a need to know."
"I understand that, General," Egon replied. "But we do need to know anything that may pertain to Gozer, simply because, at this point, we are the only people on Earth who have been able to stop him. We knew at the time that we were not defeating or destroying him so much as driving him back where he came from. Whether he was summoned by the actions of Vinz Clortho and Zuul we can’t be certain, although it seems likely. There was a massive power build-up before he came through the gate, which may have been due to a process set in motion by Ivo Shandor. If it is possible for you to research him for additional information, that might help us. I understand from what Peter said and what SG-1 confirmed that the gate can only operate one way at a time. So evidently opening the gate from this end would serve to illuminate the chevrons which would show Gozer how to come here. Unless, of course Zuul and Vinz Clortho sent a message through with the necessary information. We do not know how long they were on Earth."
Hammond nodded in response to some of Egon’s comments. "If Ms Barrett wishes us to support her claim that Zuul is a Tok’ra, I think she’ll be willing to provide us that information."
Ray’s eyes were wide. "I can’t believe Dana would want to be a Tok’ra. Gosh, that’ll be awful for Peter. I don’t think he ever really got over her."
"He did, in a way," Winston put in. "It’s not like he goes around moping about her. But she was awfully special to him. That’s gotta hurt."
A signal sounded and a tech’s disembodied voice announced, "General Hammond, off-world gate activation."
Hammond hit the intercom button. "Prepare to put up the iris," Hammond replied. "This may be a response to our communication to the Tok’ra." He added to the others in the briefing room, "None of our off-world teams are scheduled to return at this time, although we do have unscheduled returns on occasion."
"Usually with somebody chasing them and firing staff weapons at them," Jack muttered reminiscently.
Ray went over to the window to watch the gate activate, his face eager and delighted. He wouldn’t be so gung ho if he’d been around when Sokar was trying to melt his way through the iris or when they’d been locked onto that black hole. Jack never much liked the unexpected activation of the gate. Nine times out of ten it meant trouble in one form or another.
When the wormhole kawooshed open in that spectacular burst that could dissolve anyone standing in the way, Ray bounced on his toes. A second later, the iris slid closed.
"Getting a signal, sir," announced the tech. "It’s from the Tok’ra."
"Open the iris," Hammond ordered. "Let’s go down and meet them, gentlemen."
** *** **
The Tok’ra had sent Jacob Carter and Martouf. Jack was always glad when it was Jacob who showed up because at least he still had human interests at heart—well, mostly. And old Marty wasn’t so bad for a Tok’ra. Just as they arrived, the others came back. Peter’s expression was grimly forbidding, his mouth in a tight line, no trace of his usual frivolity, and Daniel looked like somebody had waved pictures of Sha’re in front of him for half an hour. His shoulders were hunched and there was a remote, touch-me-not expression on his face that made Jack heave an inaudible sigh and try to catch his eye. Daniel avoided his gaze—he was good at doing that when he was hurting. But some of the tension slid away when Jack went over and parked himself beside the archaeologist.
Ignoring the arrival of the Tok’ra, Egon, Ray, and Winston went to Peter. They didn’t say anything any more than Jack did to Daniel but they stood with him in so obvious a display of support that Peter relaxed fractionally. He still looked miserable but he didn’t back away from their presence. It looked like he could replenish himself just from being with his friends. Maybe that was a given. Jack watched them a second, then he turned back to Daniel. Come on, Danny.
Jackson saw his expression, looked past Jack to the Ghostbusters as they offered up their intangible support to Peter, and made the comparison just like that. The corners of his mouth turned up fractionally and his eyes warmed. Didn’t quite take away the shadows of those memories, but it helped.
Jacob walked down the ramp and stuck out a hand to Hammond. "Hello, George. It sounds like you might have a little bitty problem here." He glanced past the General and his eyebrows soared up his forehead. "The Ghostbusters?" That made Martouf turn to stare at him in surprise.
"You got things that go bump in the night, we’re the ones to put it right," Peter chorused as if he were hamming it up for a TV commercial.
Hammond jumped in and did the polite thing, introducing the Ghostbusters to the Tok’ra. When they were named, Peter’s eyes lit with recognition. Guy must soak up information like a sponge and remember it pretty well—still, it was only a month ago that he’d played around in the base computers, and maybe Carter had told him about her dad.
Jacob nodded to them then turned and gave Carter a fatherly smile. "Sam."
"Dad?" echoed Ray and his eyes went huge. Peter, who already knew, suddenly narrowed his eyes and studied Carter in a whole new way. Maybe she could tell him what it felt like to have somebody she loved running around with a snake inside him. It had saved Jacob’s life, so there hadn’t been much of a choice, but Jack was pretty sure there were times when Carter was far from reconciled to saving her father by turning him into someone else.
"Hey, Jacob. Marty," Jack greeted.
Martouf nodded. Jacob greeted him with a friendly, "Jack," and looked past him. "Teal’c. Daniel?" He studied Daniel thoughtfully for a second and quirked an eyebrow at O’Neill as if he had the key to reading the Daniel hieroglyph. What did that do, make Jack into some kind of living Rosetta Stone? God, he’d been hanging around Daniel too long to think of a comparison like that. He lifted one eyebrow in a minuscule shrug.
"General Carter," Teal’c greeted him. Daniel scarcely seemed to notice.
Jacob’s eyes glowed for a second and faded. That was always so weird. Jack knew about Selmac, but it still felt pretty eerie when Carter’s dad did his Tok’ra routine. Selmac didn’t speak. When Jacob spoke, he was Jacob, not his symbiote. "Well, yeah, maybe you’d need the Ghostbusters. I didn’t make the connection when you asked about Gozer until now, but of course I saw that film."
"Film?" echoed Martouf. He threw a question at Carter with his eyes.
"Visual representation of an incident or a fictionalized story," Jacob explained hastily. He pinpointed Peter as the team’s spokesman. Or should that be ‘spooksman’? "Doctor Venkman, how accurate was that film?"
"Pretty accurate," Peter said. "We couldn’t quite duplicate all the sets and we never actually saw the gate—and wouldn’t have known what it was then, even if we had. But I did see a pyramid in there. And I saw Goa’uld behavior from Dana. The movie had her voice deeper than it is, but then it was pretty hard for me to get across that hollow, echo-y thing to the film people."
"What echo-y thing?" asked Jacob, utterly deadpan, in Selmac’s voice. His eyes twinkled. Peter drew back involuntarily and gave Jacob a wary, doubtful look. Egon stepped in right beside him and frowned sternly at Sam’s dad. Jack caught Daniel’s eye and they shared an amused moment. Look at that. A Tok’ra with a sense of humor. Boggled the mind.
Hammond stepped in hastily. "Martouf, the Ghostbusters trap and contain ghosts as a service. When someone has a problem with an entity, they hire the Ghostbusters."
Marty frowned. "This is an unfamiliar concept." Probably convinced he was being conned, he caught Carter’s eye. "Samantha, is this common among the Tau’ri?"
"Even among the Tau’ri, we’re unique," Peter kidded. He rocked on his toes. He’d have looked unbearably cocky if the Dana thing hadn’t been hanging out in the back of his eyes. "So you’re Marty. I’ve heard about you."
"That’s what O’Neill has been known to call me." Martouf didn’t sound like he wanted to encourage anyone else to.
"We have a problem, gentlemen," Hammond told the Tok’ra. A get-down-to-business guy, Hammond. "We don’t know yet if it will be a major problem—"
"Excuse me, General." Egon’s voice was tight with reproach. "Janine is still a hostage of a Goa’uld. I consider that a major problem."
"You’re right, of course, Doctor Spengler, and I apologize. What I’m trying to prevent is a global problem caused by the return of Gozer. Yes, Ms Melnitz is in need of our assistance, and we should be able to do something about that very soon now, but what we must deal with is the possibility that Vinz Clortho or Zuul may have a means of summoning Gozer, and, if so, we must prevent it."
"Without access to a Stargate?" Selmac asked. "These names are known to us, but we have not heard mention of them for many decades." He switched over to Jacob. "I think it would be back in the Twenties, Earth time."
"About the time Ivo Shandor was setting up his Gozer-worshiping society," Ray chipped in. "He had close to a thousand followers. I don’t know what would have happened if he hadn’t died, but once he was dead, it all kind of fizzled away."
"Did he die of natural causes?" Daniel asked. Jack was glad he was thinking. At least it took his mind off the loss of Sha’re that seeing another Goa’ulded human woman had rubbed in his face.
Ray opened his mouth to answer and then he frowned. "Gosh, I always thought he had, but it didn’t need to be that way, did it? If he had two Goa’uld here, they might have figured they’d derived all they needed from him. They had the building set up so that it could withstand a Stargate, girders of selenium, all that stuff. They obviously had the power to operate a gate, whether they had one of those DHDs or not. So maybe they figured they didn’t need him, that he’d just be in the way. I’m not sure Gozer wanted followers that much. After all, he didn’t arrive and demand we worship him. He showed up and threatened us right away."
"Yeah, Ray, but we told him to go away," Peter reminded him. "And when you asked him nicely to leave, he demanded to know if you were a god. Betcha what he was really asking was if you were a Goa’uld. After all, he probably couldn’t be bothered to remember what human hosts Zuuly and Vinz had taken or know if they might have switched."
"But surely he’d be able to sense a Goa’uld," Carter threw in. "Wouldn’t he? Dad?"
"Yes, he should have been able to do that," Jacob replied. "But from what I remember, there was more in operation there than a Stargate, and the two Goa’uld were present, even if in the form of those horned dogs. He might simply not have fine-tuned his awareness yet. There were Goa’uld in proximity, and you were the one who confronted him."
"Boy, Ray, you were cruising for a bruising," Peter said.
Winston swallowed hard. "Ray, I’m sorry," he muttered. "I told you that if somebody asked if you’re a god to say yes. He’d have known in a second that you didn’t have your own pet snake inside and he’d probably have char-broiled you where you stood."
"Well," said Ray with a big grin, "he sure tried." He added, "Teal’c says that Gozer makes a practice of asking people to choose the form in which he’ll kill them and that’s just what Gozer did with us."
"And you chose the Stay-Puft Marshmallow man?" Jack asked in disbelief. "That was for real? Not just humor for the movie?" He wasn’t sure what form he would have chosen but it wouldn’t have been somebody from a commercial, that was for sure.
Peter gave Ray noogies. "Who can tell what goes on in this twisted little brain."
Ray grinned at him happily. Only he would take that as a compliment. Or maybe he was just glad to see Peter acting normal—assuming that passed for normal.
"Wait a minute." Daniel frowned and held up his hand to interrupt. "So you think that somehow these two Goa’uld together can manage to summon Gozer, and that he can come through even if we put up the iris?"
"The iris would stop him," Carter began, then she broke off and frowned.
"If Gozer could anticipate it, he might possibly materialize in a form narrow enough to avoid being crushed against the iris," Egon said to her. "It would be a function of his shapeshifting ability."
Carter’s eyes nearly bugged out. "But that would mean he’d have to materialize in a thickness no greater than three micrometers...."
"Goa’uld crash diet," Jack kidded.
"Let’s retire to the briefing room," Hammond urged and gestured toward the door. "If there is any chance that Gozer means to return to Earth, I want to know about it, and work out a strategy."
"What about Janine?" Egon persisted. "I know the Gozer problem must take priority, but surely we can rescue Janine first."
"Janine?" Jacob asked his daughter.
"Our secretary," said Winston quickly. "Vinz Clortho has her as a hostage."
"We’ll explain all that," Hammond assured the Tok’ra. "And we have him under surveillance. We will be notified the moment they arrive at the surface."
"She had better not be expendable," Egon said tightly.
Peter threw him a quick, startled glance and shook off his own preoccupation just like that. "Nobody’s expendable," he gritted out. "And that means Dana, too." He parked himself at Egon’s side, his face stubborn and determined.
"General Hammond," came a voice over the P.A. System. "Vinz Clortho has arrived at the main gate. He is demanding to see you. He has a hostage."
The Ghostbusters exchanged a glance. So did Jacob and Martouf.
"Jacob, quick, tell me everything you know about this Vinz Clortho," Hammond urged. "We can’t allow him to send a signal to Gozer."
** *** **
"NORAD?" Janine muttered in astonishment as the rental car pulled up at a barrier. "You’re taking me to NORAD?" That was pretty bad. Maybe O’Neill really did work for Project Blue Book or whatever they called it these days. But the security here must be topnotch. There was no way they’d let Louis waltz in here, just because he had one New York secretary hostage. Boy, talk about expendable. Janine felt like somebody had painted a giant bulls-eye on her chest.
"Deep below NORAD, I should think," Vinz replied. She’d stopped thinking about him as Tully when he talked to her in that weird, ominous voice. "I have been here before. There are civilian tours. They do not, of course, allow one to see what is hidden or classified. But I could sense its presence."
"What presence?" she challenged. Tied up with the weird handcuffs, she was very uncomfortable, frustrated, ready to kick Louis right where it would hurt the most.
"Oh, yeah, the chappy eye. Boy, you’ve gotta watch out for those things."
His face darkened. "Silence, woman."
"You call me ‘woman’ like that again and I’m gonna make you sorry."
"You risk much."
"Well, yeah, but I work for the Ghostbusters. The guys have busted worse than you on a slow day."
"Every word you speak expresses your ignorance." She had him mad now. Maybe he’d become so steamed he’d make a mistake and let the armed guards snatch him. There wasn’t much she could do, but she could keep him off-balance.
"And every word you speak shows you’re a pompous ass. Better let me go. Peter doesn’t like to pay overtime." He wouldn’t realize how scared she was. She’d learned long ago that it didn’t pay to let fear show. Not even letting Egon see it helped, because if it was bad enough that she’d want sympathy and comfort from him, it was bad enough that he needed to concentrate on the crisis, not on her. She hadn’t made that mistake since the day their uniforms came to life, and that was only about a month or so after the guys had defeated Gozer.
Vinz glared at her with those eerie, glowing eyes. "I’m going to revel in your Peter’s reaction when he finds out that the one true love of his life is as I am, and holds him in as much contempt as I do you."
"Hah! Peter’s gonna kick your ass. And Egon’s gonna zap and trap you and you’ll only have the other ghosts in the containment unit to boast to."
He pulled that glove thing on his hand again and drove up to the soldier at the barrier. Before the guy could speak, Vinz zapped him with that glowing light that hit him in the forehead. God, his features seemed to blur and melt under it. Did I look like that? She shuddered. Her head still throbbed from what Vinz had done to her. This guy didn’t fold, but he staggered for a second. "I am going through," Vinz told him, and the guy reeled back and raised the barrier. Vinz drove through.
Okay, that had been too easy. She didn’t like it one bit. She liked it even less when Vinz got out of the car, went past the soldier into the control box and picked up the telephone there. "I want to speak to the one in charge of the Chappa’ai," he proclaimed in his weird Vinz voice. "I will kill my hostage if this is not done."
Janine half expected them to shrug him off, but then another car pulled in behind theirs, and Vinz saw it. He ducked back into the car and did a number on Janine’s cuffs to free her from the seat belt. Yanking her out of the car, he backed into the control booth and zapped the first guy with such a burst of power that the guy flew into the air, soared backward for about ten feet, and crashed into a parked car. He didn’t get right back up again. Ouch.
All of a sudden, they were surrounded with armed troops.
"Give it up, Tully," somebody called through a bullhorn. They knew who he was! How could they know that? How could anybody have expected them here? Unless—unless Daniel and his friends were involved with it. Unless those security guys on the plane had been keeping them under surveillance without letting it show. Unless she and Vinz had been followed and the word sent ahead. So maybe there was a Chappa’ai here, whatever that was. And the guys knew about it. Peter probably did. He’d been in Colorado last month. It was starting to look like he’d been here, at NORAD.
"I’ll kill her," Vinz bellowed. "I want to speak to whoever’s in charge. I can take a lot of you down with her."
You couldn’t just drive up to NORAD and start making threats. There were so many guns leveled at them that Janine would turn into a sieve if they decided to cut their losses and take Vinz down. After all, this was the place where they controlled the nation’s first-strike capabilities. Vinz could plunge the whole planet into nuclear war. She didn’t have a prayer.
Janine squeezed her eyes tightly shut and prepared to die. Oh, Egon, I wish I could have seen you one more time.
"Don’t try anything," someone called. Janine was pretty sure that sharpshooters were taking a bead on Louis’s skull. He wasn’t any taller than she was; his skull and hers were waaaay too close together. She held herself as tall and proud as she could, but she was convinced she was about to die. Her scalp crawled.
The tension spun out, and she held her breath. What was going down? Had they sent for the head guy? The Marines? The Ghostbusters? If only she knew what was happening. But it was hard to think when at any moment, a bullet might plunge into her body.
Except, she wasn’t a Victorian lady who had to be protected. All these troops could go ballistic in a heartbeat, and she was just gonna let them? No way, Jose.
She drew up one knee and slammed her spike heel down on Louis’s foot with all her strength.
Not even the entity that possessed him could resist the force of a lethal heel. He screamed in near-soprano anguish and jerked wildly, and for a second, she thought Louis even came through because that yell sounded so much more like the old familiar Tully than Vinz Clortho.
Janine took advantage of his second of weakness—or loss of control—to eel through his arm and fling herself flat on the pavement.
Now, you idiots. Blast him.
She squeezed her eyes tightly shut. She didn’t want to see Louis blown to bits and find herself covered with body parts.
But when they fired—only a couple of shots—and he fell, she cranked open one wary eyelid and saw three red-tipped darts protruding from his chest. They’d tranked him instead of blowing him away.
Two seconds later, someone snatched her up and enfolded her in a pair of shaking arms, and she gasped in stunned disbelief, "Egon!" She couldn’t hug him back, not with her wrists secured, but she leaned into his hug with relief. How on earth had he come here? Never mind, it didn’t matter. He was here, and that was what counted.
"Ya did great, Janine," Peter chipped in behind Egon. He wasn’t exactly bubbling over with joy, but he did sound relieved. He gave her a pat on the back, and Ray and Winston crowded in to make sure she was okay and fuss over her. She had the greatest bosses in the world.
"Are you all right, Janine?" Egon asked in her ear.
"Now I am," she said, "But Louis is possessed by something he called a Goa’uld. And I don’t think it’s a ghost." Okay, time to call herself to order. She loved being in Egon’s arms, but this was too serious a crisis for her to indulge herself. Regretfully, she eased herself free.
"You’re right about that, Ms Melnitz," said an older man in a general’s uniform. There were a couple of other guys there who were dressed, well, oddly, in tunics and layers of weird clothes. Not exactly the latest in Army chic—or even civilian fashions. They knelt beside Louis’s body and checked him out.
"Is he dead?" That was Daniel, crowding over to look down at Louis as the two fashion statements secured wrist binders on him a lot like the ones she was wearing.
"Hey, guys, you know how to take these off?"
The older of the two looked up at Janine’s question, then he came over and unfastened her just like that. Freedom after the drive down from the Denver airport felt wonderful, and she rubbed her wrists in relief.
A petite, auburn-haired woman shorter than Janine materialized from nowhere and knelt to examine Louis. She had on a white lab coat, so the odds were that she was a doctor. "His system is depressed from the tranquilizers. I want to get him down to the infirmary now."
"Not with Zuul," the older of the weirdly dressed guys cautioned.
She met his eyes. "Not with Zuul," she agreed.
Egon gazed down at her to make sure she was all right. "Doctor Fraiser," he said, "will you check out Janine to be certain she wasn’t harmed?"
"I’m okay," Janine said hastily. "He used this thing on me that he wore on his hand, and I’ve got a headache, but I’m okay."
"He used a ribbon device on you?" The doctor frowned. "Don’t worry, it won’t be fatal, but I’ll run tests on you as a precaution."
"Yeah, I’ve had it used on me," Daniel put in.
"And look at you now," O’Neill kidded.
Egon opened his mouth to make a hot remark, and Peter nudged him with his elbow. Yeah, Doctor V would know when somebody was trying to cut the tension.
"You knew he was bringing me here?" she asked.
"You have been under surveillance since LaGuardia, Ms Melnitz," the bald general explained. "I’m General George Hammond, in command of this project. I’m sorry that we can’t give you any further explanations because what we do here is classified."
"Yeah, right." She grimaced. "You’re the ones who took in Peter last month when that demon screwed the guys over, aren’t you? Or is that classified, too?"
Peter grinned at her and patted her head as if she were a little kid. She hated that. "Yep, this is my home away from home, Janine. Come on, they’ll check you out."
"And then," said Senior Fashion Statement, "we’ll need to determine what to do to prevent the return of Gozer."
Gozer? Yeah, Vinz had talked about that, and Janine had pretty much written it off as whistling in the dark. But here were all these military types taking it seriously, and O’Neill had on military fatigues now and so did the other three, even Daniel, who was in the Army the way Janine was a second Martha Stewart.
A gurney arrived and a couple of men loaded Louis’s body onto it. Doctor Fraiser led it away pretty swiftly. With that many tranquilizers in the guy’s system, he could probably croak in a heartbeat, and they were sure to want information from him. Were Egon and the guys in on this classified thing? They were here, weren’t they? They’d known right where to come. So yeah, especially if Peter had been here before. This was where he’d been involved in something that might kill him, where he’d wanted to talk to the guys one last time in case he died. So was there more to Ghostbusting than Janine had ever thought, or were some ghosts important enough to involve NORAD? Maybe the guys could zap Vinz Clortho out of Louis.
They went into the Cheyenne Mountain complex and were shown to an elevator. The doc and Louis were already gone, but Janine rode down in the elevator with Egon, Peter, O’Neill and Daniel. Down and down and down. Top secret base under NORAD. Was Vinz Clortho a little green man? He sure couldn’t be the type to trigger World War III.
She was pretty positive they weren’t going to tell her a thing. Never mind she’d been held hostage all the way across the country and had a weird weapon used on her. They were going to keep her outside the loop for sure. Probably they’d run tests on her and want to cut her up into little pieces to see how it had affected her.
Well, they just had another think coming. After all, they wouldn’t even have Vinz yet if not for her. Here they were at NORAD and all those soldiers out there had more weapons than trees had little green apples, and what stopped him? One New York secretary with a lethal spike heel. That ought to say something about the military budget.
"Are you sure you’re all right, Janine?" Egon fussed over her.
"You bet I am, Egon. I’m the government’s new secret weapon, after all."
Peter groaned. "She’s gonna be insufferable about this for weeks."
"Not possible," chipped in Jack O’Neill. "Because if she says so much as one word about it, we’ll have to throw her in prison and lose the key."
"Oh yeah, buster?" she snapped at him because she could tell that he was kidding. Or mostly kidding.
Daniel raised his hands to deny having any part of it. "Don’t listen to him, Janine. This is a military power trip. We just won’t tell you anything."
"Well, that’s not fair," she groused.
Peter caught her glance and she saw shadows in his eyes that hadn’t been there this morning. "Who said life was fair?" he asked, and for once he wasn’t making light of the situation. Janine suddenly realized they’d mentioned Zuul. Oh, god, was Dana Barrett like this, too? That would sure explain why Peter looked so unhappy.
"So we’ll make it fair," she retorted grimly, and was satisfied when even O’Neill regarded her in alarm.
After all, nobody messes with Melnitz.
** *** **
Loudly protesting her exclusion from the loop, Janine endured an intense questioning session by Hammond, SG-1, the Ghostbusters, and the Tok’ra. Neither Jacob or Martouf let her see their symbiotes in action, even though she’d seen Vinz Clortho do his number and told them about it with a wealth of detail. Doctor Fraiser had examined her to make certain she was all right after her experience with the ribbon device, and proclaimed her well enough to be questioned, although she gave Janine a pain medication and suggested she go to bed early that night.
O’Neill couldn’t help noticing the way the Ghostbusters fussed over her during the questioning. Spengler sat at her side, although he didn’t put his arm around her or even hold her hand. He made sure Peter was on his other side, too, especially since Peter was not at all happy with Janine’s tale of the doings of Vinz Clortho. Heck of a name for a Goa’uld. Sounded like a Mafia hit man to Jack. Don Vince Corleone.
Daniel didn’t look happy either, not that Daniel was a laugh-out-loud kind of guy, but the little Jack had seen of Dana Barrett had made Jack realize that, even if she didn’t look like Sha’re, she had similar dark hair, not to mention the similar situation. Seeing her, hearing her proclaim Tok’ra alliances, had to remind Daniel of Sha’re. Jack wasn’t sure if it would have been too much better if Ammaunet had suddenly switched her allegiance to the Tok’ra. She still wouldn’t have been the wife Daniel had loved so much.
"He kept talking about something called the "Chappy Eye," Janine said. "That’s why he said he was coming here. He didn’t explain what it was, but I figure it’s something classified." She narrowed her eyes. "Is he an alien?" Nobody answered that, of course.
"Did he explain where he acquired the ribbon device?" Jacob asked.
"What’s a ribbon device?"
"The thing he wore on his hand," Carter put in quickly. Hammond frowned, but knowing its name wouldn’t give anything away.
"No, he didn’t talk about it at all, just used it to zap me every now and then," she said darkly. "He was a lot nastier this time. When Gozer first came, back in the Eighties, Louis was kind of nerdy and weird even if he was possessed. This time, he was just cold and mean. He’s been faking us out all along, hasn’t he?" Her bottom lip protruded. "I want to belt him so hard."
O’Neill wouldn’t mind seeing that, either, but it wouldn’t help them with the current crisis. "Did he say much about Gozer?"
"He said if the Ghostbusters could defeat Gozer, then maybe Gozer wasn’t worthy of being served. If Gozer did come and did his power number, he’d probably play ball, but otherwise, I had the idea he was gonna branch out on his own and use this Chappy-Eye thing to—to consolidate power or something."
"He won’t have the chance of that," Hammond said with satisfaction."
"We’ll take him back with us," Jacob volunteered. "He might have useful information about Gozer."
Janine’s eyes narrowed slightly and she studied Jacob and Martouf. She wouldn’t have any idea where they’d come from but Jack was sure she’d pinpointed the way they were dressed immediately. Her mind was working. She was probably adding up one and one and getting forty-seven.
Jacob and Martouf exchanged typical Tok’ra enigmatic glances and then turned to Hammond. "If that’s all she can tell us...." Martouf began.
"What about Louis himself?" Janine asked quickly as she realized she was about to be excluded. "Maybe he’s always been pretending, but he couldn’t have been like that before this Gozer dude decided to mess with New York. If this is possession, the guys know how to unpossess him. And if it’s not...." She let her voice trail off suggestively.
"If it’s not, we may have other options, Ms Melnitz," Jacob told her. "Is there anything you can think of that he might have said that would help out?"
"Well, he said he’d been out here before and took a tour and he could tell this Chappy thing was here." She tried to dig herself in. "I don’t remember everything that happened because I was kind of out of it at first, after he zapped me, but...."
Egon turned alarmed eyes on her as if he expected her to keel over at any second. "You should rest, Janine."
"Yeah, kick back, put your feet up, watch your favorite movies on TV," Peter added.
Janine leaned around Egon to stare at him; this time her addition was right on the money. "Doctor V! What about Dana? Is she like that, too?"
Peter hadn’t expected the ready sympathy that filled her voice, but then she’d been dragged across the country by a Goa’uld and was probably prepared to extend understanding to anybody else who had Goa’uld problems. If she knew about Sha’re, she’d probably start fussing over Daniel. Just as well she didn’t. Daniel was a lot more resistant to fussing than any one guy had a right to be.
"I’m sorry, Ms Melnitz, but that information is classified," said Hammond hastily. "And so must the rest of this discussion be. I realize that seems unfair to you after your ordeal, but we’ll have to ask you to leave now. We’ll assign you a room to rest in the VIP quarters. If you like, tomorrow we can arrange some tourist activities for you in the area. We’d like you to remain here in Colorado until this issue is resolved in case we have further questions."
Janine opened her mouth to give a hot reply. Jack could see the intent in her eyes. Then she snapped it shut and studied Hammond thoughtfully instead. She must have decided he was resolute, because she gave a faint sigh then turned to Spengler. "Egon?"
"You do need to rest, Janine. It’s nearly dinnertime. Let them provide you with a hot meal and then have a quiet evening. I’m sorry we can’t explain in further detail. We would if we could, but national security prevents us from speaking."
"Will you eat with me, Egon?" Jack had the idea she hated the wistful note that crept into her voice, because she flung her head up and faced the lot of them defiantly. Even a feisty lady had the right to a little downtime after being tromped on by a Goa’uld.
"I would if I could," Egon told her. "But right now there are things we must do. I’m sorry." He patted her hand, and that made her smile as she stood up, collecting her dignity around her.
When Janine had been escorted to the VIP quarters, the team regrouped. Hammond frowned after her, but there was respect in his eyes. "A brave woman," he said.
"Yeah, a kick-ass lady," Jack put in. "I like the way she takes out Goa’uld."
Egon shot him an annoyed glance but relented when Peter nudged him with his elbow. "Come on, Spengs, that was a good one. I may even have to break down and give her a raise for it."
Egon arched an eyebrow. "You, Peter?"
"Sure. I’ll tell her it was your idea." He produced a smile that almost touched his eyes but didn’t, quite. Egon pretended to grimace.
"We’ve spoken with Zuul," Jacob intervened quickly, "although briefly. She appears sincere in her desire to join the Tok’ra, although it could be a ploy to gain our sympathy, and it’s too soon to be certain one way or another. She has a child?"
"He’s on his way here right now," Hammond replied. "We expect him within the hour. He’s eleven years old, and apparently in full possession of the knowledge of his mother’s symbiote."
"Do you know the child, Doctor Venkman?" Martouf asked.
Peter shook his head. "Nah. I haven’t seen him for ten years, not since he was a baby, during the deal with Vigo the Carpathian back in ‘eighty-nine. Dana couldn’t take off quick enough once that was all over. The movie had us riding off into the sunset together, but that never happened. Now I know why." He caught himself and shook his head. "No, that’s not why. Didn’t work out, that’s all." He sucked in a lungful of air and tried to look nonchalant. His buddies carefully restrained the urge to fuss over him. "Can’t help you there, but you can’t let her take off for Vorash with Oscar. What kind of life is that for a kid?"
"A child should be with his parents," Teal’c proclaimed. Jack tried not to wince. Teal’c’s determination to free his people meant he had to live apart from his own son. And when it came to Charlie.... O’Neill stiffened and concentrated fiercely on the discussion.
"What kind of life would it be to separate him from his mother?" Martouf demanded.
"You guys are fighting a war," Peter reminded them.
"We all are," Hammond said gently. "I realize you’d rather there had been no Zuul, Peter, but she may be able to provide us with information invaluable to the entire planet. It would seem a poor reward to separate Dana from her child. But we can’t decide that yet. We need additional information."
"Yeah." Ray had been quiet a long time, and O’Neill was sure it wasn’t his way. "Is there any way Vinz Clortho could have contacted Gozer without using the Stargate? Because, if so, I’m willing to bet that the same dial-up code he used last time to come to New York might work for this Stargate." Yep, he’d been using his time well, reasoning out answers. He was an engineer, Jack remembered, among his other talents. Spengler was a physicist. Useful guys. What if Ray was right that Vinz had already contacted Gozer? Because he was on the money about the gate coordinates working.
Hammond’s eyes darkened, but it was Carter who spoke. "At present, this is the only gate in operation on Earth. If Gozer decided to return here, his signal would open this gate, not the one in transit that you found, Peter, since it isn’t connected."
"So any gate on earth is part of a party line?" Peter asked brightly. He wasn’t his usual mouthy self, but then he hadn’t been last time, either. The guy would probably go away hating the Stargate; except for the first time, he only became involved with it when he was facing a personal crisis.
"In effect," Carter replied. "We had that problem with the gate we found in Antarctica—that’s how we found it, in fact—Colonel O’Neill and I were sent there accidentally. Whether Vinz Clortho could contact Gozer without the use of the gate is another matter. Dad?" she turned to Jacob.
It was Selmac who replied. "There are ways, but it is unlikely that a stranded Goa’uld would have access to them on a non-Goa’uld world."
"If possible, Dana might know," suggested Daniel. He’d been awfully quiet, too. Not a good sign. Daniel had this way of just closing up and saying nothing, and Jack had learned a long time ago that this was a bad thing. If nothing was seriously wrong, he’d be going a mile a minute about ancient cultures and his precious rocks, or about historical references to Gozer, but he’d just had a major reminder of Sha’re and that had quieted him. If they wound up losing Dana, it wouldn’t only be Peter who felt it. Sweet.
"We must question her," Selmac insisted.
"I’ll have her brought here," Hammond decided and turned to the airman at the door to give instructions.
** *** **
Dana arrived at the briefing room in restraints. Peter gazed at her as two guards ushered her in and thought she looked as beautiful as the first time he’d ever seen her. Did Zuul keep her young, or did they need a sarcophagus for that nifty little trick? Didn’t matter, he told himself firmly. He’d lost her long before any of this had happened. It wasn’t Zuul who’d caused the breakup. It just hadn’t worked out.
Be honest, Peter, he told himself. She wasn’t the only one who didn’t think it was working. He’d discovered how much he loved being a Ghostbuster about that time. Discovered his life was great exactly as it was. Maybe if Dana had been willing to share that life, or if he’d been willing to stretch his commitment to the guys and the job to include her, too.... It wasn’t like he’d been able to sense the snake in her head. And maybe, if she hadn’t seen him as her rescuer—some rescuer!—or even her shrink, instead of a guy who loved her.... Hell, post mortems were pretty damn useless. He had a great life. He had the best friends known to man—family—and a job he loved. Pretty selfish to think he could have his cake and eat it, too.
Dana registered his presence instantly, and something flashed in her eyes that wasn’t Zuul taking over. Nostalgia? Regret? Irritation? He couldn’t tell. It had been a long time since he’d been able to read her expressions.
Selmac greeted her. "We would speak to Zuul."
Dana’s voice dropped an octave. "I am here. You are Selmac? And you, Lantash?" She looked past Jacob to Martouf. "I am glad to encounter Tok’ra, and surprised to find you allied with the Tau’ri. Much has happened since I was last in the galaxy."
"Uh, when was that?" Jack threw in. "Figure your tourist visa must be up by now."
"Then I must be an illegal immigrant." Zuul smiled. Humor from a Goa’uld? Well, Selmac could do the humor thing. But it felt wrong to Peter, a violation, somehow. He wanted to grab her and shake her and insist Zuul vacate Dana’s body.
"You claim you wish to join us?" Lantash prompted. "You realize we cannot take you on trust."
"Of course you can’t. I wouldn’t expect you to. I will provide all the information I can. I have been here on this world since Nineteen Fifteen. For the first six years I was here, I worked in conjunction with Vinz Clortho to manipulate a human named Ivo Shandor. He was a fanatic and a cultist, and was easily manipulated to worship Gozer. Of course, in the way of megalomaniacs, he believed that his followers would view him as the leader, the way to enlightenment and worship him instead. Gozer was, to him, a tool he used to gain power. He wished to destroy Earth society, and since that was to Gozer’s liking, he assigned Vinz Clortho and me to prepare the way for his coming. Gozer was outraged to learn that his memory had faded on Earth and that he was only known by historians and scholars. He wanted to use Shandor to change that. Shandor knew what Vinz Clortho and I were. At that time, we were in human hosts, carefully selected from among Shandor’s followers. Shandor knew what we were; he called us the heralds of Gozer."
"But you were terror dogs there for a while," Winston interjected.
"No, we were in the bodies of terror dogs. Shandor had contact with the Netherworld, and he—"
"Whoa, back up here," O’Neill interrupted and raised his hands in the classic ‘time-out’ gesture. "The Netherworld?"
"Been there, done that," Peter challenged him.
"Oh, for crying out loud!"
"You can hardly step into a stable wormhole as part of your daily life and then deny the existence of alternate dimensions," Egon reminded him. There he went, stiffening up again. Touchy guy.
They all stared at him. "The Netherworld is an alternate reality?" Carter demanded, fascinated. "We’ve encountered several alternate realities."
"The Netherworld is a form of dark mirror of our universe," offered Ray, eager, as always, to share his information. "Demons live there, and souls that couldn’t make it to higher realms. There’s some suggestion that the legends of hell came from there."
"It was once the realm of the Goa’uld you call Sokar," Dana interjected. "Sokar had the means to switch effortlessly between the dimensions."
"A quantum mirror?" offered Carter.
"Hey, yeah." Peter snapped his fingers. "I remember reading about those thingies. Egon, they’re probably like your trans-dimensional portal. I betcha that’s what Sokar used."
"There’s a demon named Sokar mentioned in Tobin’s Spirit Guide," offered Ray. "He’s one of the ones they equate with the devil. Wow! You mean he was a Goa’uld? Gosh, I wonder if any of the other demons we’ve run up against were Goa’ulds."
"Probably not very many," offered Daniel. "Sokar was also an Egyptian deity."
Ray snapped his fingers. "Hey, that’s right. I didn’t connect them as being one and the same. This is great."
"Not if you’d spent time in Sokar’s handy-dandy little paradise vacation spot," muttered Jack. "Made the Black Hole of Calcutta look like Cancun."
Jacob Carter grimaced reminiscently. "Have to say I agree with you there, Jack."
"We’re getting away from the subject." General Hammond turned back to Dana. "Did Gozer use a quantum mirror to take you to the Netherworld?"
"No, Shandor did. He cloaked it in ritual and called the mirror his ‘scrying device’. Gozer was waiting in the Netherworld. He and Shandor met and planned. Gozer was not above using a human to suit his purposes. He gave Shandor instructions on planning for the Stargate he would use to come to Earth—even though he could have come from the Netherworld, he preferred to use a Stargate as a display of power—and perhaps because he could use it directly from his homeworld. At which time, Vinz Clortho and I were to assist in a ritual to activate the Stargate and send through a message to Gozer that all was in readiness for his coming."
"Something to do with those bizarre rituals you talked about Shandor performing up on the roof of his building?" Peter asked, casting his mind back to the discussion in the jail cell before the mayor had summoned the Ghostbusters to deal with the growing paranormal crisis.
Zuul nodded. "When in the Netherworld, Gozer had modified our physical bodies to resemble terror dogs. In general a Goa’uld does not survive well in an entity that does not possess intelligence. It cannot make a limited brain into one that can reason. But Gozer modified us rather than transplanting us. We would have more impact on the rituals in that form."
"But the rituals didn’t work, did they?" asked Daniel. He looked fascinated, although he was not at all happy to be talking to Zuul.
Ray shook his head vehemently. "I bet that’s when Shandor died, isn’t it, Zuul?"
Dana’s dark head bowed. "Precisely. We were days away from summoning Zuul, but one of Shandor’s rituals backfired. He had intended to punish an unruly follower, one he suspected of betraying the sect. He had found an appropriate ritual in one of his occult books. Vinz Clortho and I were scornful of his ‘magic’ but this one backfired and, instead of striking the follower, it singled out the two of us. We were forced into stasis. As the spell took effect, I saw Shandor reel back from the force of it and die. But it was too late for Vinz Clortho and myself. For many years we stood, frozen, atop the building, thought to be merely decorations like your stone gargoyles."
"Fascinating," muttered Egon, in full Spock mode. "But if it were not the coming of Gozer that awakened you, then what?"
"It was the coming of Gozer," Dana insisted. No. It was Zuul who insisted. Peter could have told it wasn’t Dana even without the altered voice. It was so weird to see an intelligence looking out of her eyes that wasn’t hers. "Because Gozer became impatient. It sought our Stargate and opened it. He didn’t come through, but he sensed us. He saw we were terror dogs. He was enraged and went to the Netherworld to investigate. There, he set loose forces which he knew would eventually awaken us. He could have come to Earth at any time, but he wanted to come with the proper rituals. He meant to set the stage, as Dana would say."
"And that’s why we had all those ghosts coming through right before Gozer’s coming, because he did something nasty in the Netherworld?" asked Winston. "Man, I thought he was coming through a cross-rip or something and the boundaries between our world and the Netherworld were weakened."
"They were," Egon confirmed. "It was simply that Gozer wasn’t what we thought he was. Or perhaps he was precisely what we thought he was. We didn’t know about negative valence readings until he came, but he was a physical entity."
Zuul shook her head. "Physical and more. That was what gave him his power, a...paranormal power fused with the physical."
"That’s why we got such powerful readings when he came." Egon nodded. "Had he been merely a physical entity, the readings would have been different, but he was perhaps a composite. I shall need to study the readings I took on Central Park West." He caught himself. "Oh. Go on."
Zuul didn’t hesitate. "Gozer also set in motion forces that would compel Vinz Clortho and me to await him in readiness for his coming. We transferred ourselves into modern human hosts to learn of the changes in the world so that we could better serve Gozer when he came. Gozer’s transformation of our essences lingered but as a superficial covering. When the time was right, we assumed that form in preparation for his coming."
"But it wasn’t your real shape, even then," Daniel said excitedly. "You weren’t so much shapeshifted as temporarily modified. An appearance, rather than a molecular change, is that it?"
Zuul beamed at him. "Exactly, Doctor Jackson. Which is why, when the Ghostbusters drove Gozer back through the gate and the rooftop exploded, our human hosts were trapped in the shells of that form. As Shandor’s ritual put us into stasis in terror dog form, the Ghostbusters’ weapons affected not our hosts but ourselves, and I was in stasis for years, aware of Dana’s life but unable to make my presence felt."
"We theorized it was the pregnancy that broke through your stasis," said Carter. "We know a Goa’uld must hold apart during a pregnancy or it will terminate the fetus."
"It was the chemical changes of the pregnancy which awoke me," Zuul confirmed. "I could have come forth, destroyed the unborn child, but I chose to wait. When Oscar was born, I emerged and Dana and I have been one ever since."
Daniel had his arms wrapped tightly around his ribcage. Peter knew from prior experience that it was not a good sign. Sha’re had given birth while possessed by Ammaunet, after all. This had to be stirring up all kinds of bad memories. But it was he who spoke. "Uh, excuse me, ah, Zuul, but I have another question."
"Before, when you, ah, summoned Gozer, you and Vinz Clortho were together. I guess I want to know if the two of you in close proximity is enough to summon Gozer this time."
That question won him the undivided attention of everyone in the briefing room. They stared at him and then they turned as one to stare at Zuul.
"No," she replied. "Vinz Clortho and I were mates for many years, but long before the time of Ivo Shandor we had grown apart. We were united only in our loyalty to Gozer. It was that loyalty that drew us together as the time neared for the summoning. Gozer’s actions in the Netherworld triggered the end of our stasis, and we sought modern hosts. Together, we reunited. We did not know each other’s new appearance but we recognized each other when the time came."
"You asked if I was the Keymaster when I came over," Peter remembered. Zuul must have been able to sense that he hadn’t been taken over by old Vinz, but she had been in stasis for more than sixty years. She was probably still getting her act together. In the end Gatekeeper and Keymaster had been drawn together because their actions had been preset by the Goze. He explained his reasoning to the group.
Zuul agreed. "That was part of the ritual. Shandor designed it, but Gozer approved."
"So Gozer still wants to take over Earth?" prompted Jack. "What do we have, a big sign out there at the edge of the solar system that reads, ‘This way to invade the Earth, no waiting’?"
Zuul frowned. "I’m not sure that he would currently have a specific plan to invade the Earth, or even a long-range one. But he wouldn’t mind. It would give him more subjects, and more people to serve as hosts, to provide Jaffa for the infant Goa’uld." She nodded at Teal’c. "And of course Gozer enjoys being worshiped. If Earth is convenient, why not? That’s what he’d think."
"Uh, one more question." Daniel held up his hand like a student in a classroom. "Teal’c says Gozer is rarely mentioned out there in the galaxy, that he is considered a rumor, or a legend. If Gozer’s so powerful, why isn’t he out there, um, wreaking havoc among the System Lords?"
"That was going to be my next question, too," put in Jacob Carter. He lowered his head and raised it, to speak as Selmac. "Among the Tok’ra, we have pursued rumors of Gozer, but we have never been able to locate his homeworld. There has been no mention of him, not even rumor, for many decades. The current theory is that he is dead or has been defeated. We made no attempt to seek him out. We have enough to deal with, and any rumors of activity would have reached us and put us on alert. Not even the Asgard or the Nox know anything of him."
Zuul hesitated. "That was a question those of us who served him were never allowed to ask. But Vinz Clortho and I would speculate to idle away our time on Earth before Shandor put us into stasis, and our theory was that a coalition of System Lords found a means of confining him to a certain area. Something he said to us in passing supported that theory."
"To do that, they would need to prevent him from using a Stargate," Martouf offered thoughtfully.
"Either that or to find a means of blocking him if he tried," Selmac added. "If System Lords controlled their Stargates, they might be able to force even such a powerful entity back. Or perhaps they had devices installed near their Stargates that would vaporize him if he came through."
"Like Thor’s Hammer?" asked Sam. "Set up a scanning device near a gate that could sense his particular energy and attack him if he came through the gate. That would explain why he might have risked coming to Earth, since any such device would have been removed in advance by Zuul and Vinz Clortho."
"Not every world would possess such a device," Zuul replied. "And yes, your theory is correct, Major Carter. The System Lords in the coalition arranged to protect the worlds they controlled. For many years, even centuries, Gozer was limited to a very few planets. He would test different worlds, sending through his minions first. Only if they reported it safe would he risk himself. Even though he is a vastly powerful entity, he can be destroyed."
"Or driven back through the gate," said Ray cheerfully. "Crossing the streams worked. You know what I think? I think he’s been around so long that he’s afraid to risk himself. What we did with the streams might have killed him if he’d stayed, but he didn’t know that. I think he’s the toughest entity we ever faced. But when we crossed the streams, he took off. And that makes me think of something else. I don’t know that he’s really a shapeshifter."
"Why not?" asked Sam and her father in one voice, and Hammond added, "Do you want to explain that, Doctor Stantz?" a beat later.
"Because after it was all over, we had all that marshmallow cream left behind. And the shells of the terror dogs. I think he just created a...a physical illusion, if there could be such a thing, that surrounded his true form."
Sam shifted in excitement. "Then that means he couldn’t materialize just inside the iris at a width of less than three micrometers."
Hammond stared at her. "That surely wouldn’t be possible? When you mentioned that before, I thought it too improbable."
"Well, it would be unusual," Egon and Sam chorused in perfect unison, then smiled at each other in mutual delight.
"Even if he could shift his form to allow for the iris," Sam continued, "he’d have no way of knowing about it ahead of time. He’d know or at least suspect that the coalition hadn’t planted a destruction device near an Earth-based Stargate, but he’d have no way of knowing whether or not you Ghostbusters would be waiting for him. After all this time, he’d have no reason to assume that. After all, human lifespans are much shorter than his."
"Hey, it was less than fifteen years ago," Peter objected and struck a pose. "I’m still in the prime of life." Younger than O’Neill, that was for sure, and not a grey hair on his head. Well, okay, none that he hadn’t been able to yank out so far, without resorting to Grecian Formula.
Ray and Winston made rude noises, but he ignored them as beneath his dignity. It wasn’t as if this was easy, not with Dana sitting there letting her Goa’uld do all the talking.
Egon caught his eye, and his gaze was compounded of amusement and understanding. When he spoke, it was more to the purpose at hand. "General Carter, Martouf. Do you know of any means for Vinz Clortho to have contacted Gozer without access to the Stargate?"
The two Tok’ra pondered the question. "Without the use of the Stargate, a signal would take too long to reach its destination, unless he had extraordinarily complex equipment with him," Jacob replied at length.
"He had a ribbon device and several hand weapons, all of which we confiscated, but they were human weapons not a zat or anything," Jack reminded them.
"Janine said he only used the ribbon device," Egon reminded them. His brow furrowed. Peter wouldn’t want to be old Vinz if Egon got his hands on him. It took a lot to make Egon mad, but he got that way fast if somebody hurt the people he cared about.
"He’s in the presence of the Stargate now, though," Carter replied. "I don’t think he could send a message through without a long-range communicator, even if he had access to the gate. Zuul. It was the two of you in concert who summoned Zuul before?"
"We opened the gate to his world and sent a message through that it was time to come," she replied. "Neither of us was comfortable with it, but we acted as...programmed...." Her voice trailed off.
"Are you programmed now?" Selmac asked.
"I would not have thought I was. But I am very conscious of the presence of Vinz Clortho on this base. I was aware of his approach as he neared the base."
"Nice of you to let us know," O’Neill groused. "You’re gonna fit right in with the Tok’ra. They like keeping secrets, too."
"If she really is programmed, Jack, she would have been unable to tell you," Jacob pointed out with a wry arch of his brows. "We can test her for that and will do so before she would be allowed to return to our base with us."
Peter opened his mouth to object; he wasn’t sure why, but she was still Dana, too, and he hated the idea of the Tok’ra, or anybody else, messing with her mind. Zuul already had, and Dana had apparently come to like it—he’d never understand that. But every echo-y word that came out of her mouth made it clearer that his old dream was dead and could never be resurrected. Get used to it, Venkman.
"I will attempt to cooperate with such tests," Zuul confirmed. "As long as I have guarantees that Dana will not be harmed, and that you will not separate us from Oscar."
"We can’t make you any promises until we have complete information," Hammond told her. "Before we go any further we need to reassure ourselves that you and Vinz Clortho between you have not found a way to signal Gozer and encourage him to come here."
Especially since we don’t have one of those Gozer-zapping gizmos right here on Earth, thought Peter.
An alarm sounded and a tech’s voice came over the P.A. system. "Offworld gate activation."
"Stand by to activate the iris," Hammond commanded. The Ghostbusters migrated over to the window—it was still pretty new to them all—and Hammond came, too.
"Anybody due now?" Jack asked.
"SG-3 is due back in six hours," Hammond replied. "None sooner."
The gate kawooshed and Hammond ordered, "Close the iris." Peter watched it Doppler shut and hoped like mad a super-skinny Gozer didn’t come through and hover on the other side, waiting to force it down.
"I’m getting a signal, sir. It’s SG-3."
"Open the iris."
It opened. After a brief pause, two guys in fatigues squirted through, one of them supporting the other, both of them dripping blood. "Doctor Fraiser, medical team to the gateroom," came the command. Everybody waited for the rest of the team to show up but no one else came through. The gate shut down behind the two men.
The more mildly injured of the two raised his eyes to Hammond in the briefing room. "General, we have a couple of men down. We’ve been under fire, and they’ve backed off, but we can’t risk moving Anderson. He’s sustained a spinal injury. We need somebody with a gurney to come back double quick and haul him out before the natives regroup."
The Gozer crisis instantly went onto the back burner, and Peter leaned back against the edge of the window frame and watched everybody hustle. Janet Frasier hurried into the gate room, neat as a pin and ready for anything. Peter wouldn’t have her job on a bet. She was trailed by a couple of teams, and one of them had a gurney that the injured guy sitting at the end of the ramp declined. He waved her toward the gate.
Armed Marines arrived from nowhere to escort the medical team through the gate. Aides wheeled in a second gurney as the sergeant initiated the dial-up procedure to open the gate again.
"They are very efficient," Egon said in Peter’s ear.
"Yeah, Spengs, they really know what they’re doing. You can’t imagine what a rush it is to step through that. Course it’s cold enough to freeze your balls off—"
"Your descriptions are always so colorful, Peter," Sam said wryly in his ear. In counterpoint, the gate burst open with its impressive wash of whatever that stuff was and sucked back to lie there rippling away like a sideways pond.
Oops. Peter gave her a cocky grin, shrugged his shoulders, and plunged on as if there’d been no interruption. "—and you come out of there wishing you had fasted for a couple of days first, but there’s nothing like it." He shook his head. "Well, it’s not as much fun as busting, but maybe it’s the next best thing."
"I don’t know, I’d take gate travel over facing down some of those weird thingies you face," O’Neill put in.
"Indeed," Teal’c agreed.
Peter noticed that every member of SG-1 was focused on what was going on down there. They’d all been in tight situations like that, and if it weren’t for the current Gozer thing they’d have probably been lining up to zap on over to PDQ-whatever to help in the rescue of the rest of SG-3. People they knew. Part of the team. Friends. Even Daniel, who was probably replaying the monthly Sha’re retrospective in his mind had to be wishing he could help the other team. Peter shivered. He’d met Anderson last time he was here. He wanted to go to the guy’s rescue himself. A spinal injury? That really sucked.
In the end, it was Ray who spotted something that the rest of them were too focused on the downed men to notice. "What the heck is that?"
"What?" O’Neill’s head came up and he followed where Ray’s pointing finger. They all stared.
Peter almost missed it, it happened so fast. A little silver ball, about half the size of a golf ball but without the dimples, zipped into the gate room through the open door, right over the heads of the armed guards that were always present, and before anybody could do anything to stop it, it swooshed right up the ramp, over the heads of the medical team who were about to step into the activated gate and hung suspended for an instant in the event horizon.
Jacob Carter said something in an unfamiliar language that was probably incredibly profane.
"Shut it down. Shut the gate down," the general bellowed. Down below, in the gate room, the medical tech team stopped dead on the ramp just like that, and the activation popped out of existence. The little silver thingie crashed to the ramp and rolled down to land against the foot of one of the armed Marines. He bent down and secured it.
"Dial up the planet again. Let’s get our people home," Hammond commanded, and the med team retreated down the ramp beyond the safety line as the gate began its dial-up procedure.
"Tell me I didn’t just see that?" Hammond said furiously. "What the hell was that?" Peter would hate to have been on the receiving end of his seething anger. He spoke over the mike. "Bring that device to the briefing room."
"That device is called a ven’tar," Teal’c said.
"It is a miniature long-range communications beacon," Zuul offered behind them a second before Jacob or Martouf could pitch in and explain further. "Vinz must have secreted it here on an earlier visit as part of a long-range plan. Or found a way to sneak it into the base. It would have been programmed to react to the next gate activation—and, worse, it would have been programmed to get a message to Gozer, presumably with the symbols necessary to open a gate on Earth."
"Who searched him and let something like that get by?" Hammond was royally steamed. Peter had the idea heads were about to roll.
"But the gate was open to P3B-881," Sam reminded him hastily. "Gozer couldn’t have been at that location." She turned to her father. "The signal wouldn’t have gone anywhere else, would it, Dad?"
"Technically, no, it shouldn’t be able to."
"So, we ought to be okay, then?" O’Neill’s tone was hopeful but persistent. He glanced sideways at the still-angry Hammond. "There weren’t any Goa’uld there. SG-3 didn’t report any, anyway."
"Well, we hope not," Daniel countered.
Hammond turned to the Tok’ra. "Jacob? What kind of damage are we looking at here?"
"I have seen comm gadgets such as this at work. Zuul spoke of devices implanted on many worlds that would restrict Gozer from visiting such planets," the older Tok’ra replied in his Selmac persona. "It is possible that Gozer might have devised a means of adapting them, not to bypass them but to relay information to him when a gate was opened, so that he could determine ahead of time if it were safe to visit a world. He might have programmed such devices to respond to signals and function as a communications relay."
"So we need to find out if there was such a device on P3B-881," Hammond decided. An airman arrived with the ven’tar, and passed it to Hammond, who accepted it warily and squinted at it. Jacob Carter snatched it from his hand and studied it, then passed it to Martouf.
"Well, shut it off," Jack urged.
"There is no on/off function," Martouf replied. "Once activated, it runs until its power source fades."
"When will that happen?" Sam craned her neck to study the device.
"Perhaps in several hundred of your years." He returned the gadget to Hammond, who closed his fingers around it.
"Sweet," muttered O’Neill.
"What would a device like that look like?" Sam returned to the issue at hand. "Would we be able to identify it automatically?"
"Not necessarily." The older Tok’ra looked grim. "If its intent was to destroy Gozer, or anyone else it was meant to act against, it would be concealed. A Goa’uld might send his Jaffa through the gate first to ensure his safety, subdue local resistance, determine if it was safe for him to come through. A readily identifiable device would be easy for Jaffa to locate and destroy. It would be concealed or disguised and the form of concealment would vary from planet to planet."
Daniel spoke up. "The way the trigger devices that affected us last time Peter was here had been concealed in our own M.A.L.P.s."
"Precisely." Selmac favored Daniel with an approving nod. "That does not mean it is not powerful, simply that it would not be readily apparent."
"Would you be able to identify such a device?" Hammond asked.
Selmac bowed his head in agreement, and when he looked up, he was Jacob again. "I could. If Martouf and I could go through the gate quickly, before the medical team returns from 881, we could search and then return with them. If necessary, we could disable the signal function of such a device, and at the very least we could determine if it had been altered to accept signals intended for Gozer. But hold onto the ven’tar when the gate opens. If it’s programmed to respond to an activated gate, it might again try to signal."
Hammond hesitated, then he nodded. "Do it." He went over to the intercom. "Dial up the planet. Major Carter, if you would accompany them...." He took the ven’tar from Jacob and curled his fingers around it tightly.
All of SG-1 moved toward the door. Hammond shook his head. "No, not all of you. We have work to do here. Doctor Spengler, I know you have no experience of the Stargate, but I’d like you to go, too, and take your P.K.E. meter with you. It’s possible you’ll be able to discern readings and determine if there is any evidence of Gozer on the planet."
Egon snatched up his P.K.E. meter as if he’d been promised a trip to physics heaven. Peter started toward him. He didn’t want Egon to risk himself out there without the other Ghostbusters.
"No, Doctor Venkman. I’m sorry, but I need you here to serve as liaison with Zuul," Hammond decided. "Doctor Stantz, you accompany them. Your engineering background might prove useful."
"Wow," Ray breathed, elated. Peter had never seen so much excitement on the youngest Ghostbuster’s face—and he’d seen a lot of excitement over the years. "Come on, Egon, this will be so great!"
Great? Yeah, splitting up the team wasn’t ‘great’ in Peter’s book. Winston must have agreed because he grimaced. "I could go, General. Provide back-up, you know, cover for them?"
"No, son. This will be a quick mission over and back. We’ve got hostile natives over there. Doctor Spengler, Doctor Stantz, I want the two of you to wear your proton packs. Doctor Carter, you’ve made a study of portable nuclear accelerators. Do you foresee any problems with gate travel?"
"Not with the shielding in place," Sam replied. "After Peter was here last time, I requested that Egon send me the specs and I’ve researched them in my spare time."
"Yeah, and we’ve all got tons of that," muttered O’Neill under his breath.
Sam flashed him a smile. "I devised a computer simulation of what might happen to a proton pack in the wormhole, but the pack’s design incorporates a protection field and it was successful in twenty-six straight simulations."
Egon slid his arms into the straps of his pack as the gate whooshed open below. "We designed them to stand up to stresses—electrical fields, radiation, magnetic forces. We didn’t expect a stable wormhole, but the packs are well protected. We’re required to pass inspection by the Nuclear Regulatory Agency on an annual basis, and we do our own checks monthly, or more often if a pack is endangered or damaged."
"Then go." Hammond tightened his grip around the ven’tar. It jerked in his hand. Still programmed, then. Maybe it hadn’t had time to get a signal through last time. At least Hammond’s grip could easily override the control. The general nodded the gate team to the door. "And Godspeed."
When the hastily contrived team of Martouf, Jacob, Sam, and Peter’s two oldest friends stepped through the gate, Peter realized his fists were clenched tight. He’d have given anything he owned to go with them, out there to a place where a good man lay with a back injury caused by hostile natives who might be waiting just the other side of the gate ready to zap his friends. Winston stood at Peter’s side, and his tension rolled off him in waves. He caught Peter’s eye in an understanding look. Nothing they could do about it, but neither one of them had to like it. A quick glance at the rest of SG-1 proved that they didn’t get their jollies from having Sam go off without them, either. Splitting up teams was never a good idea.
The gate shut down and the ven’tar in Hammond’s hands turned into a little round ball again. He set it down, ready to grab it if it came to life, and automatically wiped his hands on his pants legs.
A hand touched Peter’s shoulder. "They’ll be all right, Peter." It was Dana, not Zuul. He turned and saw her regarding him with concern and affection and not one trace of Goa’uld-ness. Somehow, that almost hurt more than seeing her eyes glow.
"Yeah, like you can know that."
She dimpled in sudden amusement. "I’m willing to bet good money that the natives on P3B-881 have never encountered one of your particle throwers until now."
Peter smiled back involuntarily. He had to give her that.
"Ms Barrett, I’d like to ask you another question." Hammond cut through the tensions in the air. "The device, the ven’tar. Do you have one as well?"
"Yes, I do, although I had not thought of it for years," she replied. "It’s in my jewelry box, back in my apartment in Boston. Without a gate, I never thought to use it again."
"You never thought to use it?" Peter blurted out. He could feel his hostility building. "You mean Zuul never thought to use it. Or are you Zuul now, talking in Dana’s voice?"
She hesitated, but there was nothing of Zuul in her expression. "Over the years, I learned that it was wiser to say ‘I’ and not ‘we’ when talking about the two of us and our joining. I know you can’t understand it, Peter, but Zuul is a part of me, so much a part of me that I can’t conceive of altering now. I would be...diminished without Zuul. We have mutual, common interest, in our son, in our lives. I, Dana, will go willingly to the Tok’ra, as long as we have Oscar with us. He is old enough to choose and he understands. Well, perhaps not entirely, but we saw the character of Dax on Deep Space Nine, the joined Trill. He liked Dax and it helped him to understand that a joining could be a good thing." She shook her head and Zuul came back. "General Hammond, I have several Goa’uld devices in my apartment that could be useful to the SGC. I will turn them over to you. I have a ribbon device; Vinz and I both had them. And a healing device, even a zat’nik’a’tel. Are you familiar with such weapons?"
The General nodded. "We are. We will take advantage of your offer."
"I realize I must prove myself."
"Then, do you have any idea how Vinzy smuggled that tartar thingy into the base?" Jack demanded.
Zuul smiled faintly at the misnomer. "The ven’tar? The way I would have done it, had I not turned to the beliefs of the Tok’ra. I would have planted it on Janine."
"Son of a bitch," muttered Jack. "Did we search her?"
"Certainly not immediately," Hammond replied. "Doctor Fraiser took her directly to the infirmary to examine her." He picked up the device and weighed it in his hand. "It’s very light. It could have been concealed in her clothing. Ms. Melnitz was feeling the effects of the ribbon device. She might not have noticed."
"Sweet." O’Neill started pacing. "So, how long is this gonna take?"
"As long as it takes, Colonel." Hammond turned to the airman at the door. "We’ll want to question Ms Melnitz about the ven’tar. Bring her here."
"She’ll see the Stargate," objected Winston.
"Not if we cover the window," Daniel replied. He moved over to do so, taking a wide detour around Dana. He rarely let himself look at her directly. O’Neill followed his progress and then gave a sigh and followed him. He said something to Daniel under his breath, and Daniel looked up at him. He didn’t smile—Daniel wasn’t your smiley kind of guy—but his face warmed.
** *** **
Ray Stantz burst out of the Stargate on P3B-881 and took a couple of stumbling steps down the grassy ramp before he caught himself. Gosh, that had been weird—and cold. But already he was warming up, and it didn’t matter, not when he was standing on another planet! Ever since that first trip out here to deal with those ghosts who had followed SG-1 home, he’d always hoped he’d get a chance to come through the Stargate, and now he had his chance. He wondered if Peter had felt like this, the first time he’d come through a gate and taken his first steps on another planet. Probably not. Peter had been an exile then, apparently on a pretty serious mission, and he’d been shot, although it was only a flesh wound, thank goodness. Ray hoped nobody would take potshots at them, but then Peter hadn’t been wearing a proton pack to protect him, at least Ray didn’t remember if he had or not.
The sky was a slightly darker blue than Earth’s sky, and the rows of pine trees that surrounded the gate’s little valley were a different shade of green than the ones back home, as if they were all a bluer green than blue spruces. They grew taller and narrower, too, like cypresses, only some of them were huge, almost as big as redwoods. The grass was a more yellowish green, too.
At first glance, there weren’t any natives around, but the Marines who had come through with Doctor Fraiser were all just lowering their guns after realizing it was a party from Earth who had come through and not one of those nasty Goa’ulds. Ray’s party’s Marines fell in with them and they moved out to guard the perimeter. At the foot of the ramp, Doctor Fraiser and her medical team were working on a downed man who must be Anderson while another guy hovered over them anxiously. He was probably O’Neill’s counterpart, in charge of SG-3—he looked worried about Anderson, anyway.
Beside Ray, Egon raised his meter and took readings, his face intent with that kind of fierce excitement that most people mistook for simple concentration. Ray had figured out long ago that when Egon became so focused that his glasses slid down toward the tip of his nose he was every bit as thrilled as Ray himself was. He just didn’t blurt out ‘wow’s every few seconds to make the point.
Ray activated his own P.K.E. meter and glanced at the meter’s screen. It wasn’t nearly as enrapturing to him as his very first new world, but he had to make sure this planet didn’t have ghosts or demons. The Marines could deal with hostile natives but it would be up to him and Egon to figure out if anybody like Gozer had been here.
"I’m setting my meter to detect readings like the ones I get from Teal’c and from Jacob and Martouf," Egon announced. "I’ve filtered out your specific readings, gentlemen, so any response I get from the meter should be of other Goa’uld." He adjusted the dials and then moved the meter slowly in a wide circle, revolving slowly to cover every direction.
Sam Carter watched him a second, then she stepped up beside her father. Gosh, that must be weird to know her dad had a snake inside him. She seemed pretty much okay with it, but then she’d had time to get used to it. Ray didn’t think Peter ever would get used to Dana like that. Poor Peter. Even if they’d broken up a long time ago, this had to bring back a lot of bad memories.
Sam and the two Tok’ra conferred while one of the Marines who had come with them explained to the others what had brought their little party through the gate. Doctor Fraiser was too busy with Anderson to do more than lift her head and glance at them when they first came through. Stabilizing him to get him ready to bring back through the gate.
Out came a little gizmo from Jacob’s pocket. Martouf had one, too. Sam carried something that looked a little like the Ghostbusters’ magnetometer, only more portable. She and the two Tok’ra moved out away from the gate in three separate directions, studying the undergrowth, and even the supports that held the gate upright. Martouf got down on his hands and knees and crawled under that thingy out in front of the gate, the device that had to be the DHD.
Ray would have liked to study it, but there wasn’t enough time, so he lifted his eyes and surveyed the landscape. Except for the gate, the place looked remote with no trace of civilization. No, wait, that wasn’t right. The grass was short and neat, as if someone cut it back away from the gate itself. A hedge encircled the gate area, and the grass within it was all trimmed. Beyond that, a neat, pebbled trail led away up into the forest. Somebody came here, all right. The gate probably was used, unless the natives had turned it into a park or an object of worship, and kept it cleaned up. Somehow, when natives had been mentioned, Ray had imagined aboriginal natives, the primitive kind with spears and maybe blowguns, but it dawned on him that they didn’t have to be primitive. He couldn’t have preconceived notions about a place like this. The Goa’uld had all kinds of nifty high-tech gadgets. Maybe the locals had their share or used the Goa’uld ones. After all, there was a Stargate here. That could mean that these guys traded with, or raided, other planets.
"Anything, Egon?" he asked.
"Nothing to indicate a Goa’uld within range of the meter," Spengler replied. "I’m resetting it now to detect biorhythms. Are the natives humanoid?" he asked the guy who was fussing over Anderson.
The man looked at Egon in astonishment. "Spengler. Son of a bitch, the Ghostbusters are back." He caught himself, took in the presence of Sam and the Tok’ra, and realized that if Egon and Ray were here it was with proper clearance. "They’re human. Probably seeded here from Earth."
"Ah. Thank you." Egon twiddled the dials and stepped out past the line of Marines.
"Don’t go very far, Doctor Spengler," their leader urged. "It isn’t very far to those trees and they have laser weapons."
Egon stopped, startled, and frowned at the tall, spiky pines. "There are a number of people just within the shelter of the trees," he announced. "I would speculate that there are probably as many as forty of them, although it is impossible to be specific. Their readings appear to be human. There may be others at a greater distance. The meters were never designed to detect human biorhythms, and the field is weaker to the meter than classic ectoplasmic readings."
"Whatever. Just don’t get any further away, in case they decide it’s time to attack again," the Marine insisted. Egon must have heard the steel in his voice because he nodded in agreement and stepped back within the circle of armed men.
Ray wished he could see the natives, but it was probably better not to. They had a mission here. Could the P.K.E. meter pick up whatever it was that Jacob said might be here to ward off Gozer? He played with his meter dials. Let Egon check for life forms, human and Goa’uld. Ray was an engineer. Maybe he could help track down whatever it was Jacob was looking for. It would have to be a kind of signal beacon, and if it was lethal to Gozer, it had to tie in somehow with the readings they’d taken of him back in New York on top of Dana’s building. Quickly, Ray made a few adjustments. Egon had already checked for Gozer, but Ray wasn’t checking for Gozer so much as checking for energy that might be inimical to the entity. Not quite the same as reversing the polarity, although that would be a place to start. He twiddled the dials still further.
That was kind of weird. He wasn’t getting a real reading, not the usual kind, but there was a strange fuzzing of the meter screen. The antennae didn’t lift, just hung there, and the tips didn’t blink, but there was an unfamiliar energy present that his settings didn’t quite home in on. He could tell it was there, but he couldn’t pinpoint it.
Ray tucked the meter under his chin long enough to dig in his pockets for a screwdriver. Carefully, he popped the casing and made internal adjustments. Egon spotted him and came over to watch but he didn’t interrupt. He knew Ray would explain when he was finished. Mouth puckered and tongue poked into his cheek to aid concentration, Ray made several hurried adjustments, then he snapped the casing into place and secured it with a few twists of the screwdriver. "Okay, now," he said under his breath and activated it.
It squealed into overload so fast he had to power it way back before it could implode. At the lowest possible setting, it still went berserk, but it wouldn’t bite the big one before he tracked down whatever he was getting. At the shrill screech, Sam, her dad, and Martouf galloped over to join him, Egon gave him an approving nod, and the med techs who were about to transfer Anderson to the gurney jerked to attention for a second, then caught themselves and moved him quickly and efficiently. Poor guy was conscious. He choked back a cry of pain.
"Dial us home," Fraiser said. "I want him back in the infirmary, stat."
"What do you have, Ray?" Egon asked as the others joined him.
"I programmed it for something that might be a reverse polarity to Gozer," Ray said hastily. "I’ll explain what I did later, but right now, we’ve got to move fast. I think—"
As one of the Marines keyed in the symbols on the DHD, a sudden roar from the distant pines shattered the day. Ray jerked his head up from the gizmo and saw what looked like dozens, no, hundreds of armed men erupt from the forest and charge the gate.
"We’re out of time," the head Marine yelled. "Fall back."
"But I’m detecting a signal," objected Ray.
"Pinpoint it and we’ll blast it," Jacob urged.
Ray shifted the meter and it identified the direction. Oh, great! It was directly in the path of the charging natives.
Fraiser directed the gurney to the foot of the ramp, and when the second the gate swooshed open, she started up the ramp beside it. The Marines laid down covering fire, but Ray struggled against the wall of Marines to surge toward the signal. "We have to get it," he insisted. "Otherwise Gozer can find us."
"We don’t know that," Jacob objected.
"We have to go." Sam grabbed his arm. "At least we know there’s something here. We can come back later to check the M.A.L.P. and if the natives have retreated we’ll be able to go right to the device and destroy it."
"But if Gozer tries to come to Earth again...." Ray struggled against her pull.
"She’s right, Raymond," Egon said at his side. "There’s no time. At least we know there’s something here. We can analyze your setting and Sam and I can postulate what might produce them. With the help of Jacob and Martouf, we should be able to determine if there’s any way for it to relay the signal to Gozer."
Zipping beams of energy lanced out at the retreating party. The natives had guns. Oh, great, they were probably some kind of lasers. Ray let out a yelp as one nearly zapped Egon, who flung himself flat to avoid it. His meter shot from his startled grasp, and he scrambled sideways after it like a crab.
"Egon, you okay?"
"Unhurt," Egon wheezed. He must have nearly driven the breath from his body. One of the Marines hauled him to his feet just as he clutched his meter, and dragged him up the ramp.
Ray drew his thrower and unleashed a blast at the advancing natives. The sharp crackle of proton energy made them hesitate a second, long enough for the medical team to shift Anderson safely through the gate.
Okay, that gave him two seconds. Ray fired a blast at the ground between himself and the natives in the direction of the signal. He couldn’t guarantee he’d hit it, but if there was a chance, he had to take it. Behind him, he heard Egon yell his name, the cry broken off abruptly as Spengler was forced through the Stargate.
Two seconds later, a couple of the Marines grabbed Ray by the arms and yanked him backwards up the ramp. Hastily, he shut down his thrower. The final glimpse of his very first alien world was the sight of the last of the Marines retreating up the ramp and the natives advancing again with furious cries. Then he was riding the wild forces of the wormhole, loving every second of it, but disappointed because he couldn’t guarantee he’d stopped the signal beacon or whatever it was he’d picked up.
Then he tumbled backwards out of the Earth Stargate and a second later, Peter and Winston picked him up, dusted him off, and checked him over to make sure he hadn’t been blasted.
"I’m okay, guys," he reassured them. "Gosh, that was great."
Egon, who must have gone through the same welcome moments earlier, turned to General Hammond. "Ray detected something, General. I’m very much afraid it was one of those devices we theorized about."
"Briefing room, ten minutes," Hammond announced. "We’ll go over your reports at that time."
** *** **
Jack O’Neill was glad that Zuul had been removed for the new briefing. Jacob was a decent guy and Jack had begun to like old Marty after going through all the joys of Sokar’s delightful little version of hell with him, but Zuul still made him uncomfortable. They didn’t know she was a Tok’ra; she might be faking them out, and besides, she really bugged Peter, and she made Daniel uncomfortable, too. Daniel hadn’t seemed to mind female Tok’ra they’d encountered before, but then none of them had ever reminded him of Sha’re.
Hammond had ordered her confined in a cell, and she had willingly submitted; well, hell, she’d had to, that or be dragged there kicking and screaming. Same place they’d stuck Carter when she had Jolinar in her. Sweet. More delightful memories. "We’ll have her back for further questioning later," Hammond decided. "And of course when her son arrives, we’ll need to make some accommodation. She’s right, I wouldn’t want the boy to see her in restraints."
"He couldn’t be brainwashed?" Winston asked.
Everybody stared at him. Hadn’t anybody but Jack considered that before? Even if there wasn’t conventional brainwashing, the kid had been raised by a Goa’uld. Who knew what values he’d have, what attitudes? Jack thought of Charlie—not his son, but the child the Ree'Tou had created, who was now with the Tok’ra. Maybe he and Oscar could play together. Jack sucked in a deep, unhappy breath.
"We would be able to determine that," Jacob offered. "But it is not conventional brainwashing if he has been raised to accept Tok’ra values."
"He’ll be scared and worried about his mother," Carter offered. "None of this is his fault, any more than it was Cassandra’s fault that she had a naquada bomb inside her. It’s going to be scary enough for Oscar when he comes without making it worse."
Hammond took his place at the head of the table. "He should be here shortly. Doctor Venkman, I would like you to talk to him. Would you be willing to do that?"
Peter flinched. Poor guy, this was tough on him. Beside him, Egon touched his arm. Then Peter nodded. "Yeah, I’ll talk to him, General."
"I knew I could rely on you."
Peter’s face eased slightly at the praise. Hammond wasn’t exactly lavish in the praise department, but when he offered it, he always meant it.
"All right, people," the General continued. "I want you to explain what you were able to learn on P3B-881."
"I think we should turn it over to Doctor Stantz," Carter put in. "He set his meter to detect something. Unfortunately, we ran out of time and couldn’t stop it."
"Well, I figured that Gozer wasn’t gonna be there," said Ray. He looked a little surprised to find himself the center of attention, but he didn’t hesitate. "So I reversed the polarity of the meter and set to a reading I thought might create a negative reaction to Gozer’s frequency. I figured if anything there had been targeted at him specifically, that might pick it up. And it did. I detected strong power readings—gosh, they were so powerful they nearly shorted out my meter. I recorded them, and you and Egon can go over them, Sam, with your science team. And you too, General Carter and Martouf. If there’s been a major plan by the system lords to confine Gozer only to certain worlds, maybe you can even adapt it, somehow. I don’t know if it could work against specific Goa’ulds, but I think there’s a part of Gozer that’s...." he hesitated, fumbling for a word, "sort of...paranormal. Not a ghost, but an entity, with powers above and beyond the physical. Zuul even said so. That’s why we were able to detect him in the first place, because our original meters weren’t nearly as refined as Egon has them now."
"You’re implying Gozer is a paranormal entity?" Hammond’s brows shot up to where his hair would be if he had any. "I didn’t entirely understand what Zuul tried to tell us before. Are you claiming that Gozer is a ghost?"
"No, not a ghost," Egon jumped in before Ray could continue. "We often deal with beings we term physical entities. The Bogeyman was one of them."
"The Bogeyman?" O’Neill felt his own eyebrows arch. "Next thing you know, you guys’ll be talking about the ‘monsters’ that hide under kids’ beds. Give me a break."
Egon went rigid, all affronted dignity. "Are you accusing us of lying?" Oh, boy. Talk about taking offense. Peter looked ready to go ballistic on his buddy’s behalf. He opened his mouth to blast O’Neill.
Before he could speak, Hammond jumped in. "Doctor Spengler, gentlemen, this is getting away from the issue. I’m sure no one here intends to suggest that you don’t know what you’re talking about. Allow us a few moments to overcome a lifetime of ‘conditioning’."
"Very well," said Egon stiffly. He shot an unfriendly glance at Jack. Peter gave him a nudge with his elbow and leaned over to whisper something in his ear. Whatever it was, it made Spengler snort with laughter. Jacob Carter, on the other side of Egon, arched his eyebrow in amusement. Did being a Tok’ra give him better hearing?
Daniel gave Jack a pointed look and Carter nudged him with her foot. Even Teal’c regarded him impassively. "Sorry," he said. "Okay, maybe I find it kind of tough to believe, but then I get hit with unbelievable things every day."
"I bet," said Winston. Looked like he was his team’s peacemaker, just like Daniel was for SG-1. "If you can put down something weird, it lets you have a little control, right, m’man?"
Jack nodded. "Yeah, you called that right." He caught Egon’s eye. "Look, Spengler, level with me. You have to know how that sounds, the Bogeyman. Am I right? Just because I’ve seen a different kind of weirdness doesn’t make all weirdness believable. Does it?"
Egon relented. "What we do, we can prove scientifically. We can document our results and duplicate them in the same settings. I am a scientist, and I produce scientific results. Simply because what I am saying does not accord with conventional reality does not make it untrue, any more than Daniel’s theories were invalid before the Stargate vindicated him."
"He’s right, Jack." Daniel could do that earnest number so well. He even had that puppy-dog gaze down pat, and he was doing it now. "Out there in the ‘real world’, there are still people who think I’m a weirdo and class me with Von Daaniken, just as I’m sure people class the Ghostbusters with Hans Holzer or that weird journalist who writes all the occult and paranormal headlines for the National Register."
"Hey, that guy’s a friend of ours," offered Ray. He must have sensed that peace was at hand because he offered up a tentative grin. "Benny’s a great guy. And some of the stuff he writes isn’t even an exaggeration."
"Well, that’s more than I wanted to know," Jack muttered without enthusiasm. He caught Venkman’s eye. "Is this the kind of shrink thing you have to work on when you’re not zatting ghosts?"
"You mean the general public not getting it?" Peter’s anger had eased. Funny that he was quicker to lose his temper when his buddies were slighted than he was when it was personal. Come to think of it, Jack and Daniel had been out at a bar once and some professor type had walked in with his wife and had spotted Daniel, plunged over to talk to him, and managed to convey the impression that he thought old Danny was in line for the ‘Fruitcake of the Year’ award. Jack had come damn close to punching out the S.O.B. before Daniel had intervened and dragged him away. Later on, he’d said, "It’s not worth it, Jack. You and I know the truth. Maybe someday he’ll find out he’s wrong."
"It’s not that he’s wrong," Jack had exploded. "The guy doesn’t even stop to consider he might be wrong. Is that the type of scientist we want running around? Whatever happened to open minds?" Sweet. He had just nearly turned into the guy he’d badmouthed.
"Oh, for crying out loud, the Bogeyman is real," he said. "And whatever you claim I’ll buy it."
Peter opened his mouth, probably to claim that President Clinton was really a Tok’ra or that Cher was from another planet, but Egon poked him, and he heaved a disappointed sigh. "Egon won’t claim anything that’s not true," he said. "Just like we have to take the things you tell us on faith. I mean, invisible Ree'Tou guys running around the base?"
"Really?" Ray’s eyes bugged out and he glanced nervously over his shoulder. "Are they good guys or bad guys?"
"Bad. Definitely bad," Teal’c said in his most utter deadpan tone.
"If we can return to the issue," Hammond again intervened. "Doctor Stantz, your settings for the meter detected something. What was it?"
"Evidently a type of beacon or concealed device that was set up to react to Gozer’s presence. I detected an energy field that would probably be dangerous to him, if not actively fatal. Either it would make him retreat through the gate, or immobilize him, or kill him. I’d have to study these readings in a lot more detail and see if it’s something we could duplicate to use against him."
Hammond exchanged glances with Jacob Carter, and Jacob asked, "Could whatever you detected function as a relay to transmit the signal programmed into Vinz Clortho’s long-range communicator? And, if so, was the device disabled?"
"I’d have to find out how the communicator was programmed before I could answer that," said Ray. "I tried to disable the relay by firing in that direction, but the natives were too close and I can’t be sure I blasted it."
"There wasn’t time to pin it down, George," Jacob said. "We didn’t have proper detection equipment with us, and the Ghostbusters’ meters weren’t automatically set to that. The equipment Sam brought couldn’t read it at all. By the time Ray adjusted his meter to pick up on it, we had fallen under attack and there wasn’t time to retrieve or disable the device."
Hammond’s mouth tightened as he prepared himself for the threat. "So what you’re saying is that it’s possible a message could be relayed to Gozer to suggest there is now an Earth gate he can access?"
"I don’t see how that can be, sir," Carter disagreed. "Even if the beacon sent a message to the device, it’s all theoretical; we don’t know that such a device can act as a signal relay, and even if it could it would mean passing along the signal to wherever Gozer is now. And that would require the gate on P3B-881 to open to somewhere other than Earth and forward the signal."
Hammond didn’t look completely reassured, and Jack wasn’t surprised. They’d had a lot of crummy things happen that should have been impossible—but that had never stopped them. "Jacob. Can such a device actually arrange to open a Stargate and forward a signal?" the General asked.
"Well, ordinarily, I’d say no," replied the Tok’ra. He was frowning, though, and Jack figured that was a bad sign. "But the legends we have of Gozer indicate a lot of power. No Tok’ra in living memory has ever encountered Gozer, so we don’t have anything concrete to go on."
"Based on the legends, though," offered Martouf, "I’d hate to rule out anything simply because we don’t know how to do it ourselves."
"In other words, this guy can squish us like bugs?" Jack wanted to get it clear. "We can’t just zap him like the Ghostbusters did last time?"
"We didn’t, er, zap him, Colonel," Egon replied. He was still a little stiff, but not quite as bad as before. "We simply forced him to retreat through the gate. The crossed streams might have killed him if we could have sustained them, but of course the longer we crossed them, the greater the danger not only to Gozer, but to ourselves and to New York. Crossing the streams is an option to be used only as a last resort. Sustained usage might possibly destroy all life as we know it."
"And that wouldn’t be much fun, not when I’ve got library books due next week," Peter said brightly.
Ray turned to ogle him with exaggerated disbelief. "You read, Peter?"
Jacob Carter turned to Egon. "I never gave much thought to you Ghostbusters before I joined with Selmac, but I’m wondering if there might not be advantages in your equipment, whether it could be modified for use to help in the ongoing struggle against the Goa’uld."
"It’s patented," Peter reminded them. It was a wonder dollar signs weren’t visible in his eyes.
"Son, I think the government might just be able to afford it," said Hammond with an amused smile.
"Gosh, yeah, if we can help, we’d be glad to." Ray beamed. "I bet we can work out something based on the setting I used, and maybe we better do it, in case I missed that beacon. I don’t know if the natives would have even known it was there, but they had lasers, so they’re not exactly primitive. Maybe they use the Stargate all the time. Maybe they even know Gozer, but even if they don’t, if that signal could be relayed the next time they use the gate, we better be ready, just in case."
"That’s what I think," Carter agreed. "Ray, if you and Egon would work with me on it, we can try to devise a reasonable facsimile of the device."
"We’ll go over it with you, too, Sam," her father offered. "At least I will. Martouf, you go back to Vorash and see what you can research on Gozer and the possibility of the unknown communication relay."
"I’ll notify you of what I learn," Martouf agreed and rose.
Just then an airman came in, leaned over Hammond and said something in his ear.
"Thank you, airman." Hammond turned to the others. "Oscar Barrett has arrived. Doctor Venkman, I’d like you and Colonel O’Neill to meet with him. Jack, you’ll know what you can and can’t say to him, but I want you to sound him out, see if his mother’s claims are true that he does indeed know about Zuul."
"We’re not gonna send that kid off with the Tok’ra, are we, sir?" Jack demanded. Bad enough they sometimes had to be assholes at the SGC but worse that what they had to do messed with kids. They were gonna let Cassie blow herself to bits to save the rest of them, they’d sent the other Charlie, the one created by the Ree'Tou, off to live with the Tok’ra and turn him into one of themselves to save his life, he’d had to let Merrin go back to her planet and have her brain sucked out, and now they were gonna toss another perfectly good kid off the planet. Sweet.
"That has not as yet been determined."
"We don’t eat babies for breakfast, Jack," Jacob reminded him. "If he comes, if we bring him and his mother home with us, he’ll have a good life. It just won’t be the same life as he has now."
"It isn’t a decision that can be made yet," Martouf added as he started for the door.
"Yeah, well, I don’t have to like it," said Jack and Peter in complete unison, then they stopped and stared at each other in surprise.
"Go and talk to the boy," Hammond urged. "Doctor Spengler, Doctor Stantz, you go with Major Carter and see what you can devise."
"Winston’s good at helping us build equipment," Ray chipped in hastily when Zeddemore glanced around, looking like he was at loose ends. "Can he come, too?"
Carter jumped to her feet. "This way," she said, eager to play with her lab toys.
"Come on, Pete," Jack urged. "Let’s see what we can do for the kid." He was sure Hammond had assigned him because he’d been a father. And wasn’t that just ducky?
** *** **
Peter hadn’t seen Oscar for years, but he’d seen a picture of him that Dana had put in a Christmas card a few years back—they’d politely exchanged cards for awhile but the practice had gradually petered out. Oscar must have been about six or seven when the last picture had arrived, a skinny, tow-headed kid with big blue eyes, a pugnacious chin, and a grin that had evoked answering smiles from all Peter’s buddies when he’d passed the shot around. Dana had always tactfully failed to send pictures of herself, but she’d always done the cards. Weird to think that every time she’d done one, she’d had Zuul in there on her team.
Oscar would be assigned one of the VIP rooms—he’d be taken there as soon as the questioning was finished; Peter had been given one last time he was here, and while they were nice enough in their way, they were basically institutional. No windows, of course, since they were so far underground, but they had television. The room Oscar had been given wouldn’t have a computer to link into the base systems like the one Peter had used last month. For Peter, it was like staying in a motel—at least a motel that linked into a security computer system. For Oscar, it would be sure to feel like a prison.
Instead of his assigned room, Oscar waited for them in a bland, institutional room that might have been an office, except that Peter was sure the big mirror on the wall was two-way. Probably this was where they brought off-world aliens to question them, or locked up Goa’ulds who had strayed into the SGC. When Peter and Jack passed the airman on guard duty and let themselves in, Oscar jumped to his feet, tense and alert, and faced them defiantly. He was wearing a Celtics tee shirt, jeans, and the traditional tennies. The blond hair had darkened slightly but he was still fair, still skinny, his face all planes and angles.
Jack in his fatigues didn’t surprise him, only made his eyes narrow in resentment, but then he spotted Peter and his mouth rounded into an ‘O’ of surprise. "Peter!" he blurted in a schoolboy soprano.
"You know me?" Peter asked involuntarily.
"Mom has a picture of the two of you together—and I’ve seen you on TV. What’s going on? Why am I here? They hauled me out of school like I was a crook. What am I gonna tell the other kids when I go home? Is this really NORAD? What’s going on?"
You’re never going home, kid. Peter couldn’t say that, of course, but the truth of it kicked him in the gut. From now on, Oscar might as well kiss a normal life goodbye. There weren’t any basketball teams on Vorash. There weren’t any other Earth kids, and the odds were that Oscar, for all his typical American boy appearance, would grow up to take a Tok’ra symbiote. Peter hated that.
"Oscar, this is Jack O’Neill," he introduced. "He works here."
"They sent for you? Why?"
"Well, they didn’t exactly send for me." Peter caught Jack’s eye. How much could he safely say? "Come on, sit down. We have to talk."
Oscar didn’t sit. He folded his arms sternly across his chest and tried to look defiant, although he only succeeded in looking scared. "They said Mom was here, too. I want to see her. Is she okay?"
"You think I’d let anybody hurt your mom?" Peter asked in a gentle voice. "I love her. Never really stopped, even if it didn’t work out. I hate this, too, but there’s more going on than we knew about."
"Maybe more than you knew about," Oscar said darkly. "We weren’t hurting anybody. Mom wouldn’t hurt a fly. She’s no threat to anybody."
"Well, you see, Oscar, there are some people who aren’t as sure of that as we are," Peter told him.
Oscar regarded him warily. He ignored Peter’s attempt to wave him into a chair and glared at O’Neill. "What are you going to do with her? I thought we had a free country. Just because somebody’s...." His voice trailed off. He must have been coached to maintain secrecy.
"Maybe we should let him see his mom first," Peter suggested. "What do you say, Jack? After all, they took him out of school and dragged him across the country, and I bet you dollars to doughnuts they never gave him an explanation."
"They didn’t," Oscar insisted. "Not one word. They might as well have put me in handcuffs." He tried to maintain a cocky pose, but he wouldn’t have convinced anybody that he wasn’t afraid.
"They didn’t, did they?" Peter asked hotly. An eleven-year-old boy was hardly a threat to national security.
"No, but they could’ve. I want to see Mom. I’m not telling you anything, not even if you torture me."
"Hey, now, we don’t torture people here, kid," Jack said reassuringly. "We’re not the big bad wolf. We just have to protect the whole country. You’re part of the country, too. We’re not going to hurt you."
"Yeah, I bet." Oscar’s bottom lip stuck out stubbornly, but it trembled.
Peter hesitated. "You hungry, kid?"
"No." It was obviously a lie. All kids were hungry, unless he was too scared to think of eating.
"I don’t suppose the commissary would run to pizza or a cheeseburger?" he asked O’Neill. "How about a soda, kid? Got a Pepsi, Jack?"
O’Neill nodded. He bopped over to the door and gave orders to the airman outside. "We’ll have some food sent down. I’m kinda hungry myself," he said when he closed the door. "How about you, Pete?"
"I could eat." He approached Oscar cautiously, measuring his response. The kid was braced to flee but he knew there was nowhere to go, so he stood there like a trapped animal. His eyes tracked Peter warily, but when Peter clasped his shoulder, he didn’t shrug off the grip. He looked like it would take very little for him to fling his arms around Peter and bawl. Instead, he stood as tall as he could. Dana would have been proud of him.
"I want to see my mom," he persisted.
"I know, and you can, but we’ll eat first and talk a little, okay?"
"You can talk. I refuse to say anything on the...on the grounds that it’ll incriminate me." He produced the line defiantly.
Jack choked back a snort of laughter. "You’re not on trial, son."
"I’m not your son."
No, but he was somebody’s. Peter didn’t want to ask the kid about his father, if he still kept in touch with Dana, paid child support, had visitation rights. Dana had never mentioned him. Something to check with her before any decisions could be made. Better not bring that up with Oscar. Peter could ask Dana later.
"I know," said Jack. "But I had a little boy once, and if he’d been scared, I’d hope somebody would treat him right. We won’t hurt you and that’s a promise."
Peter hoped it was a promise he could keep. "Oscar, your mom is here, and you’ll see her in a little while. She knows I’m here; I’ve talked to her."
"Did she...tell you...." He let that trail off, but the fact that he would even try to ask it made Peter wonder if Dana had talked about him to Oscar.
"She told me about herself, yeah. She said you knew about it."
It was as if a spring had been loosened in the boy. "It’s not a ghost, so don’t think you can use your throwers on her. That won’t work."
"I know it won’t. I’m not going to use anything like that on your mom and I won’t let the other guys, either. Oscar, I know all about this. I’ve got the security clearance to know about it—never mind how." He saw a warning in Jack’s eye, but he ignored it. No matter what was going on here, none of it was Oscar’s fault. He was just a scared kid, and Peter hated it when people treated kids badly. "I know about Zuul, and she’s talked to me."
"Oh, now, why’d you go and say that?" Jack asked, but he didn’t persist when he saw Oscar relax. He shrugged. "Okay, it’s your ball game."
"Jump in when you can," Peter told him. Jack knew a helluva lot more about Goa’ulds and Tok’ra than Peter did; he knew the rules of the game and what the scorecard read. Peter knew what he’d picked up from a quick computer scan last time, from what he’d had to learn to help out with the crisis, and from what Dana and Zuul had told him. Not the same as living the game for three or four years like Jack and Daniel had.
"Zuul talked to you?" Oscar’s eyes pleaded for reassurance. "I never told anybody. Mom and Zuul always said it had to be a secret. I think they were afraid something like this would happen." He waved his hand at the room. "Mom’s great, and she never hurt anybody and Zuul’s great, too. She knows so much and she’s told me great stories. They used to take turns telling me bedtime stories when I was little."
Jack’s mouth twisted as he tried to imagine a Goa’uld telling bedtime stories. But then he smoothed it away. "Hope they told stories to Charlie," he muttered under his breath.
For a second, Peter thought he was talking about his son, but then he realized Jack meant the little boy who’d gone to be a Tok’ra because it was the only way to save his life. Heck of a life; snake in his head before he was even old enough to date. Was that what would happen to Oscar?
"I’m too old for bedtime stories now," Oscar insisted, trying to sound tough and years older than he was. Too bad he wasn’t more convincing. Boy, and I thought I had a crummy childhood.
Peter shot a warning frown at Jack. "Sounds cool," he said to Oscar. "Do you understand what Zuul is?"
"A symbiotic life form that’s blended with my mom," Oscar admitted as if he’d learned the term by rote—or by watching a lot of sci-fi on TV. "Both of them are there. Zuul used to be bad, but she’s sorry now, and she and Mom are really happy. They say anybody who hasn’t been through it can’t really understand it, but I’ve seen it all my life." His attempt to sound experienced and world-weary only made him sound eleven. "I never told the other kids at school, once I found out. But I knew even before they told me; not all of it, but that there were two...people in Mom. I...read some books at the library about, uh, multiple personalities, and Mom didn’t really match that. And I knew that she’d been ‘possessed’ way before I was born. I saw the movie they made about it. So once I saw that and thought about it, I figured out what was going on, but I didn’t say anything. You know, how kids find out Santa Claus isn’t real but for awhile they pretend they don’t know. I just pretended."
"Probably what I’d have done," Peter said. "Kids are great at pretending." I pretended for years that my pop would put me first. "They never hurt you, did they?"
Oscar jerked away from his hand. "No! They never hurt me. They love me. Don’t you dare say they hurt me."
Peter raised his hands in a conciliatory gesture. "Peace. Okay. I didn’t think so. I knew your mom pretty well before you were born. She’s a great lady, the best I ever dated."
Oscar nodded vehemently, then he said something that made him sound even younger than his age, and cut Peter to the quick. "I used to wish that you had been my dad."
Jack shifted uncomfortably behind him. Probably pushing some of the same buttons for him that it was for Peter. "I wish I had been, too," Peter said quickly. "I remember you when you were a baby, and I thought you were a great kid."
"My real dad is dead," Oscar said. "There’s just Mom and Zuul and me. We were fine before the army came and took me away. Right out of school. What’ll I tell the guys? They’ll want to know what happened, when I go home." He stopped abruptly, and the color drained out of his face. "I’m not going home, am I?"
"You’re gonna be with your mom," Peter insisted. He’d find a way to make sure of that if he had to take on the entire SGC, the Pentagon, and the President. Dana hadn’t asked for any of this to happen, and Oscar sure hadn’t.
"You promise?" Oscar demanded.
Jack shook his head in warning, but Peter ignored it. "Yeah, kid," he said, and meant it with all his heart. "I promise."
** *** **
O’Neill hauled Venkman away after the kid’s dinner came. "You shouldn’t have promised him that," he insisted. Who knew if Venkman could keep his promise? Jack didn’t like the idea of separating a kid from his folks, even if most kids didn’t have two ‘parents’ in one body, but he didn’t think it would to be up to Venkman to decide.
"I don’t care. Dana loves him and he loves her, and I’m not gonna separate them. The kid’s lucky. His mom cares what happens to him, and even Zuul cares what happens to him."
"You believe that?"
"Unless it’s the greatest scam that ever happened, yeah, I believe that. I know Dana better than anybody else here does and I could always tell when she wasn’t leveling with me. She is. It’s weird. It’s not what I’d choose for a kid of mine, but it works. I don’t think we have the right to mess with a working system. Last I heard, this was a free country, and I’m pretty sure with all the security in place here, the case won’t go before a judge to determine custody."
Jack tried to imagine that. One claim that Dana had a Goa’uld inside her and the judge would send for the guys in the white coats. Even if it could be proven scientifically, all that would happen was that the top secret agencies with the alphabet names would snatch her. Jack had enough experience with covert ops to know that Dana Barrett didn’t have a prayer if the SGC turned her loose. Maybourne’s people probably already knew about her. The Tok’ra might be her best chance to have a ‘normal’ life, even if it meant taking the kid along. He wasn’t that much older than Charlie....
Thinking of kids reminded Jack of something. "Hey, Pete, this Bogeyman thing. Don’t blow up at me. But that’s for real?"
Peter frowned. "I swear to you. I don’t like the idea, either. Look, lay off on the Bogeyman thing. Egon has issues with it."
"I got that impression. Hey, I never meant to call him a liar or a crackpot. Just that I don’t want to—"
"Buy into something like that? Yeah, I had my doubts at first, too. Hafta say I didn’t like the guy much. He was nasty. Might be kind of fun to put him up against one of the Goa’uld, but why risk it?"
"It’s not like we don’t have enough fun and games already." Jack didn’t like any of this. That signal thingie was a new problem, too. If this Gozer dude picked up the message—and Jack still didn’t know how the guy had smuggled the signal device into the base since he’d been searched before they even brought him inside— Shit! "Did anybody search Melnitz?"
Peter caught on immediately. He remembered Zuul had suggested that was the answer. "You think Louis really did hide the communicator on Janine? Boy, is she gonna be steamed."
"I’ll go remind Hammond," Jack decided. "Come along or grab some dinner, whatever."
"Think I might. And see that Ray and Egon eat, too. Egon forgets about food when you turn him loose in a lab. Forgets to take out the garbage, forgets he has a date with Janine. I think they invented the term ‘absent-minded professor’ to describe old Spengs. He just got Janine back, after all, and now he’s practically forgotten she’s here. Once we’re home, I’m gonna make nice and send her some red roses and forge his name on the card." He grinned wickedly. "I love doing that. Lab’s this way, right?" He gestured toward the elevator.
"Last time I checked. Go for it."
When he had gone, Jack went along to Hammond’s office. The General was there, impatiently going through some papers. He didn’t look particularly happy or welcoming. "We asked Vinz Clortho about the communications relay," he admitted.
"Let me guess. He wouldn’t tell you anything."
"No, he did tell us a little. Smugly. He said he concealed it in a pocket in Ms Melnitz’ skirt. It was lightweight enough that she might not notice it. He programmed it to react to the gate opening, and he says Gozer will get the signal no matter where the gate opens. He threw in a lot of stuff about all of us about to meet our doom."
"Yeah, I got the impression he was a windbag," Jack concurred. "In all the hassles we forgot Zuul said he might’ve used Janine and I was gonna remind you, but you beat me to it." He grinned. "I bet old Vinz wouldn’t tell you anything useful."
"You called that one, Colonel. No explanations about the device. Selmac has managed to neutralize it. I’ve asked Major Carter to put a team to studying it once everything else is done."
"Think they can turn those readings Ray detected into a weapon against this Gozer character, General?" Jack hoped so. He had always thought the Ghostbusters movie was little better than fiction, even though he knew that there really were Ghostbusters even then. But giant marshmallow guys tromping through Manhattan pushed credibility to the limits. Of course honking big spaceships ready to destroy Earth from orbit had been fantasy once, too, and so had zipping around to other planets through the Stargate. Jack shook his head. He liked the world better when it had been safe and manageable—if it ever had been.
"That’s what they’re trying to do, discover a process that should prove inimical to Gozer. They’ve fed into the computer every reading they took of Gozer when he came to Earth before. Doctor Spengler has informed us that some of the readings they picked up match that of a gate activation, which would be proof alone, even if they hadn’t located the Manhattan Stargate."
"So what are we gonna do with this one?" Jack asked with a grin.
"We’re going to store it here," Hammond decided, "where we can keep our eye on it. I don’t want any more covert teams undoing any good we can manage to do out there, just for the sake of a few more weapons. In the long run, our allies are more valuable to us than any weapons we’ve brought back, and we might gain more useful ordnance from them." Hammond shifted in his chair. "How did it go with Oscar Barrett?"
Jack braced his shoulders against the wall and leaned there comfortably, although he really wasn’t comfortable and wouldn’t be until this whole mess was over. "Pete and I saw the kid, sir. He does know about Zuul like his mom said, and he’s, uh, bonded with her. Venkman promised he wouldn’t be separated from his mom. I tried to stop him, but he said it—and I think he’ll do whatever he can to keep the promise."
Hammond pushed aside his papers with an impatient gesture. "I hope we don’t have to separate them, Jack, but that might be a promise we’ll have to break. Keeping kids apart from their folks isn’t a good thing. I know Teal’c still feels it about Rya’c, even though he rarely talks about it."
"Plays things close to the chest," Jack agreed. "I feel for the kid. He won’t have the greatest life on Vorash, if that’s where he winds up. At least he won’t have the life he’s used to."
"I’d like to keep him and his mother together, and it looks like the best solution would be to send them there. At least the Tok’ra could monitor Zuul and determine if she really does side with them. If Zuul has been leading Ms Barrett on, perhaps they could find a way to remove the Goa’uld, although I’d be inclined to believe her. I won’t believe her without further proof, though, and Jacob says the Tok’ra are willing to take the chance. And to take Oscar along, too, if necessary."
Heck of a life for a kid. But then it was better than no life. Jack winced. Too many reminders of his son today.
"Think this Gozer dude is going to come?" he asked to distract himself from his dark memories.
"I can’t ignore the possibility. It seems slight to me, the chance of that device, if a device actually exists, being used as a communication relay. But if there’s any chance at all that it might happen, I have to make preparations for it. Stantz was on the money with his readings. Carter and our team will study that and determine if what he was reading wasn’t simply something that’s always there that was just responsive to the Ghostbusters’ meters. It might not mean there’s a communications relay. I’ve been questioning SG-3 about the natives on P3B-881 to determine if they have any connection with Gozer."
"Do they?" Jack asked.
"Not that was apparent. They’re ahead of us in some areas of technology and behind us in others. Since they have advanced weapons, the Pentagon wanted us to make a deal with them, but since they seemed like they might be dangerous, I wanted a strictly military team first and you and the rest of SG-1 were off world when we made the initial contact."
O’Neill slouched over to the chair and plopped down it with Hammond’s tacit permission. "Yeah, they sound like fun guys over there. But I don’t think they’d be buddy-buddy with this Gozer dude."
"Nor do I think Gozer sounds the type to allow his subjects to develop technology on their own."
"Right," muttered Jack. "Nothing but bowing down and worshiping the guy. Sweet. So, what next?"
"Dinner," the General decided. "We don’t know how long any of this is going to take, but even if Gozer does get the message and takes it for an invitation, I don’t think it can happen this fast. Make sure Major Carter and the others get a meal. They’ll need to work after they eat, but I think we can spare them enough time for that."
Jack nodded and went to track down the rest of his team.
** *** **
Janine Melnitz had never been more bored. Bad enough she had to be a hostage across more than half the continent, and then essentially rescue herself, but ever since then she’d been locked up in a dull, dull room they called the VIP quarters. Sure, she had a TV, but there was only so much cable she could watch before her brain switched off. Something major was going down and it tied in with the coming of Gozer. She had been there through all of that, and knew she could help, but nobody wanted her help. When she opened the door to the VIP room, there was always an airman on duty in the hall—an airman with a gun, as if she was gonna jump him and take him down. He was perfectly polite, and he didn’t even mind if she kept the door open and chatted with him, although he didn’t chat back. He spent a lot of time saying, "Yes, ma’am." Made Janine feel about a hundred years old. He offered her food and soft drinks, even video tapes if she wanted them, but the two things she really wanted, freedom and information, were not forthcoming.
It was even worse when she realized Vinz had secreted some deadly little gadget in her skirt pocket. She hadn’t even known it was there, but it must have zipped out after she’d changed clothes. If only she’d checked. Because she got the feeling from what General Hammond hadn’t said that the device had caused a major problem for the base—maybe even for the whole planet. Nobody blamed her for it, but she was furious that Vinz Clortho had pulled that on her. Janine Melnitz, destroyer of the Earth? Yeah, that would look good on her tombstone—assuming anybody was left to bury the bodies if Gozer came back.
But Gozer didn’t come. No one did. She was sure that Egon wouldn’t spare a thought for her; he’d be doing his science thing with Sam Carter. Janine’s eyes narrowed at the thought. Another physicist, a woman who spoke Egon’s language. That was all she needed.
Janine paced a little. She couldn’t concentrate on the television. All the programs ran together. She was bored, bored, bored. In her boredom, she kept the door open and watched everyone who went past. That was why she picked up on the one useful thing she learned all evening. It must have been about eight o’clock when another airman marched down the corridor escorting a little blond boy. He was wearing a Boston Celtics tee shirt, jeans and Nikes, and he looked wary and more than a little scared. Eyes huge, he stared all around him, assessing his surroundings, measuring them. When he saw Janine in her doorway, his eyes widened in startled recognition.
The kid was a total stranger to her. While the Ghostbusters were famous, it would take a die-hard groupie to know who Janine was—and to recognize her so instantly out of context. She took a step out into the hall. Airman Miller frowned but didn’t gesture her back.
"You know me?"
His head bobbed energetically. "Sure, you’re Peter’s secretary. I saw him a little while ago."
"Do I know you?"
He looked startled as if it hadn’t dawned on him that recognition wasn’t mutual. "No, I guess not. I’m Oscar Barrett." His airman tried to chivvy him along but he dug in his heels and resisted. "Peter used to date my mom."
"You’re Dana’s son!" She should have expected that. If Louis had Vinz Clortho in his head and he was playing power games about Gozer, then why not Dana, too, with, who was it, Zuul? "Is she here?"
"Son, that’s classified information," his airman said. "Don’t answer her."
"She has one of those Goa’ulds in her, too," Janine gasped. "That’ll just kill Doctor V."
"Zuul’s not a Goa’uld, she’s a Tok’ra!" Oscar cried fiercely. "Don’t you dare say she’s a Goa’uld."
Miller and the other airman eyed each other in dismay and then Oscar’s airman gently but firmly took him by the arm and ushered him into the room next to Janine’s. He went in with the kid, and Miller turned to Janine and motioned her back inside. He didn’t raise his gun, but Janine was suddenly dead certain he wouldn’t hesitate to use it. So she raised her hands to prove she didn’t intend anything threatening and retreated to her ‘prison’. Miller pulled the door closed. She was lucky he didn’t lock it.
"Rats," muttered Janine. She had learned a little more, but not enough. Tok’ra? One side of a war, with Louis’s Goa’uld thingie on the other side? Zuul being female—and Oscar liking her? Liking the entity that had taken over his mom? That was scary.
Okay, she knew that the possession had never gone away. Or maybe it had been...dormant or something for a little while. Maybe Vinz and Zuul had a way to summon Gozer. And maybe the Air Force was in on trying to stop him. Nah, it had to do with the big secret project. Janine would bet good money that Gozer wasn’t a ghost. Maybe he was an alien and maybe Vinz and Zuul were aliens, too. Maybe they were just waiting to reenact the chest-burster scene from the Alien movie. Yeah, that would work, and what a coincidence that Sigourney Weaver, who had played Dana in the Ghostbusters movies, had appeared in the Alien ones, too.
Maybe Gozer planned to come back and invade the Earth. Only maybe this time he’d bring a whole army of space aliens with him. Something about him must...resonate with ghosts, or maybe however he’d come had done what Egon had theorized, weakened walls between this world and the one where ghosts lived.
Janine was sure she wasn’t remotely close to possessing all the answers, and even trying to reason it out wouldn’t work. But she knew that Oscar was here. Maybe later on she’d get a chance to talk to him. She didn’t think Airman Miller would like that, but he was sure to have a replacement when the shift changed, and maybe she could get around the new guy. Oscar was just next door. Maybe they could tap out Morse Code messages on the wall.
Yeah, right, Melnitz. Assuming you knew Morse Code.
She switched on the TV again and turned it to CNN. If anything was happening, maybe there’d be word of it.
All she saw was perfectly ordinary news. Not a reference to Gozer in the lot.
** *** **
It had been an endless evening. Unable to take part in the research that had Sam, Egon, Ray, Jacob Carter, and a tech team brainstorming, Daniel had sat between Jack and Peter. Teal’c stood like a sentinel near the doorway, and Winston took instruction from the scientists as they tried to cobble together a facsimile of the device Ray had detected on P3B-881. At least, as near as Daniel understood it, they hoped to design something that would emit the same energy the device did. From the tension on all their faces, Daniel suspected it would not be easy—and that it wasn’t going well. Sam muttered unhappily about backward engineering.
"The problem," Egon offered, "is not merely that we don’t have the actual device to work from, but we are not entirely certain of its function. Ray is correct that it emitted an energy that might be specifically inimical to Gozer. Appearance would not matter; no doubt such a device would be camouflaged and appear different on every planet where it had been seeded—it would be too easy for Gozer’s henchmen to locate and disable otherwise. But we are only theorizing as to the function. Zuul could offer further information."
"Which we could trust just like that?" Jack asked skeptically. His eyebrows arched. "Come on, kiddies, Zuul says she’s had a change of heart so we buy it?"
"Dana believes it," Peter said doggedly.
"And you trust her? There’s a Goa’uld in her head."
Daniel was sure Jack didn’t mean to be cruel; he just wanted to make his point. Peter flinched, and Egon lifted his head from the schematic he’d been modifying and favored Jack with a critical glare.
"We know we can’t take her on trust," the physicist insisted. "But Peter does know Dana well enough to judge her honesty."
"Yeah, more than ten years ago," Jack persisted.
"It is possible that Zuul has gradually come to accept the Tok’ra philosophy," Teal’c interjected. "For many years, I was First Prime of Apophis. I had come to the realization that Apophis was not a god, that he did not deserve my respect, but for a time there was nothing I could do. It is possible the Goa’uld Zuul has been unable to take action until now." He met Jack’s eyes levelly. "O’Neill. You took a chance on me. I have not betrayed you. It is possible to make such a change."
"I know, Teal’c." O’Neill frowned. "And you’ve never let us down. But this time, we have to be cautious."
"Seems to me we are being cautious, Jack," Jacob put in. "Zuul is not at liberty and we are testing her to determine her loyalties."
"Look, I’m not trying to dump on Pete," Jack defended himself. "I’m just saying that with the fate of the whole planet hanging over us, we can’t take her on trust."
Peter stood up and faced Jack down. "She didn’t have to tell us about the protective devices. We wouldn’t have even known to check for the possibility if not for her. Ray confirmed it when he took those readings. So we do know she was leveling with us."
"We also know that the Goa’uld are devious." Jack glanced over at Jacob Carter. "Uh, no offense."
Jacob’s eyes sparkled. "None taken, Jack. I’m used to you by now. But I don’t think Peter is. No one here is taking anything on trust, but the device you are trying to create is a possibility."
"And do the Tok’ra just happen to know how to make it?" Jack challenged him.
"Have a heart, Jack, Selmac never heard of it before today. Sure there have been a lot of theories in the past about why Gozer wasn’t around any longer, but it’s not like the system lords send us telegrams about their plans. Martouf is checking possibilities now. He may return with an actual device."
Daniel wasn’t too sure about that. The Tok’ra were not exactly noted for sharing technology with the Tau’ri. Jack’s wrinkled brow and skeptical eyes proved he shared the same doubts.
Sam just kept on working on the computer. After a second, Egon gave an exasperated little sigh and turned to speak to her in Physics. It was Greek to Daniel, and even more so to Jack, who threw up his hands in disgust.
Peter glared at Jack for a second longer, then the energy caused by his irritation faded away and he sat down reluctantly and went back to brooding about Dana. Daniel wished there was something he could say. He knew Peter’s loss wasn’t the same as his—how could it be when he and Dana were long separated, even if Peter still felt something for her? Maybe she wasn’t his Sha’re, not in the same sense of the word, but his reactions proved that he had still had feelings for her. He would never get her back, any more than Daniel had gotten Sha’re back. At least, if all went well, he’d know she was safe—at least as safe as any Tok’ra could be in times like these.
That would be small consolation. It would have been for Daniel.
Jack settled back in his chair. He didn’t look happy, either with the situation or with himself. After a second, he sneaked a glance at Daniel, and gave a frustrated little shrug that was halfway meant as an apology. Daniel quirked the corner of his mouth in response.
Jack turned to Peter. "Sorry."
Ray spared one glance in Jack’s direction. He jumped up and headed toward Sam and the computer. As he passed Peter, he patted him on the shoulder and kept on going. Peter smiled faintly after him.
Sam and Egon were still speaking the language of higher physics. If something good came out of it, fine. Daniel’s experience of life suggested that if there was a way for Gozer to receive Vinz Clortho’s message, he would receive it. If he’d tried to come back to Earth for revenge after the Ghostbusters had driven him away the last time, he would have been unable to come, since the Stargate hadn’t been set up. How long had he waited before he tried again? The gate must have been buried under other junk in the junkyard very quickly. If Daniel had been Gozer, he would have waited some weeks in hopes of lulling the Ghostbusters to complacency. It was even possible he had been injured in the explosion that hit as he retreated through the Stargate. Could an entity like Gozer be hurt? If he were at least partially physical, then Daniel suspected the answer was yes. On the other hand, he might be able to heal himself the way Teal’c’s symbiote could heal him. And he could be hurt by the seeded devices. Gozer wasn’t invulnerable.
He just came a lot closer than most beings.
General Hammond appeared in the doorway. "People, it’s late. I suggest you get some sleep."
Ray whirled to stare at him in disappointment. "We can’t, General. We have to get this finished."
"It’s my experience, son, that tired people make mistakes. Not only are we assuming that the device you detected on P3B-881 can also function as a communications relay, we’re assuming that the natives of that world have since opened your gate for the message to be passed on. We don’t know that it will even reach Gozer. Even if it does, we may have days."
"Or we might not, sir," Carter disagreed. "I’d like permission to keep working for another hour or two with Doctor Spengler and Doctor Stantz."
Egon raised his eyes. "General, I’ve set my P.K.E. meter to detect any readings similar to the device or to Gozer’s energy. If Vinz Clortho tries anything else, that should pick it up. But we are close to devising a possible protection device. I am accustomed to working late into the night with no deleterious results."
Peter arched an eyebrow, probably at the big word. "Yeah, General," he agreed. "Egon can function fine on about four hours sleep, so long as he doesn’t do it more than a couple of days at a time. He has a bigger brain than most people. That must be why."
"Thank you, Peter." Daniel wasn’t sure whether the gratitude was for the support or for the acknowledgment of his intellect. But Peter’s eyes sparkled in momentary agreement, and Egon smiled back.
Hammond surveyed Carter, Ray, and Egon, and then he shrugged. "Very well, but I want the rest of you to sleep."
"My symbiote enables me to function for long periods of time without sleep," Teal’c offered.
"I think I’ll stick around, too, George," Jacob put in.
Hammond threw a glance around the room. When no one else volunteered to pull an all-nighter, he nodded meaningfully to the door. Peter lingered to exchange a few words with Ray and Egon, before Winston grabbed his arm and pulled him from the room.
Jack fell in with Daniel. "Walk along with you?" he offered.
Daniel sneaked a glance at Jack. He was brooding. There it was on his face, and Daniel suddenly realized why. Oscar must have reminded him of Charlie. If all went well, uh, ‘well’ being the operative word, the kid was going off to live with the Tok’ra. No more middle school, no more hockey games, no more first date to look forward to. No more life as he knew it. Jack’s mouth was tight.
And here was another human woman with a snake inside her. Daniel didn’t like to think how that first glimpse of Dana, her hair full about her face, had brought back his loss with a pain almost as fresh as the day it had happened. He didn’t want to talk about it, either, and he was positive Jack didn’t.
There wasn’t anything he could say that would help, or anything Jack could offer in return to make it right about Sha’re. So Daniel fell into step with Jack and said, "Yeah." Mutually, they formed a pact without speaking a single word, a pact of understanding and sympathy that only needed, for each of them, the presence of the man at his side.
They headed down the corridor to their sleeping quarters without so much as a single word, and Daniel hoped the comfort he derived from O’Neill’s presence and understanding had an equal response from Jack.
They parted at the door to Daniel’s quarters. "Now, I’ve got your word you’re gonna sleep, Danny boy?" Jack arched a brow in question.
Daniel didn’t confirm or deny, mostly because he didn’t plan to lie to his friend. "If I’ve got yours," he countered.
"Well, yeah." They stared at each other, unspeaking, for a long moment, then Jack reached out suddenly and rumpled Daniel’s hair.
"Ja-ack!" Impulsively, Daniel returned the gesture.
They grinned at each other, then Jack gave him a hearty clap on the shoulder and headed for his own room.
** *** **
General Hammond might have the fate of the Planet Earth in his capable hands but, when circumstances permitted, he was a kind and understanding human who knew the meaning of sympathy for a child. Zuul was glad that Hammond had permitted Dana to reunite with her son in a holding cell rather than restrained on the bed in the isolation unit. Oscar had been frightened enough when he came into the room. To see his mother tied down would have alarmed him unnecessarily. It had been horrible enough to face Peter like that. But Oscar was only a child. His world was already in turmoil and would never be the same. But at least the family was together. For the moment.
"Mom!" He flung himself at Dana and hugged her fiercely. "Zuul! I thought I was never gonna see you guys again." He hid his face against Dana’s shoulder, and Zuul knew it was because he didn’t want either of them to realize that he was crying. She didn’t even need to send Dana a warning not to react to the tears. They had shared motherhood so long that what one knew, the other knew.
Between them, they soothed Oscar as best they could, both separately and together, and it didn’t take long for him to unwind and lift his face. He dragged his sleeve across his eyes and then squared his shoulders in manful defiance.
"They can’t do this to us," he insisted. "I’m gonna call my congressman or a lawyer—or somebody."
Dana’s voice held that combination of laughter and tears that was so peculiar to humans at moments of poignancy. "Oh, Oscar, I know you would. But I think it may be all right."
He jerked his hand at the cell. "They’ve locked you up! How can it be all right?"
Dana smiled. "Oscar, sweetheart, we have met other Tok’ra."
Hammond probably wouldn’t care to have the conversation veer in that direction, but Hammond wasn’t here, and the guardian airman near the door did no more than jerk to attention. Dana ignored him, so Zuul only gave him a slight flicker of attention, ready to warn Dana and their son if he summoned backup or notified the General. He didn’t do that. He stood stolidly in the doorway and pretended to ignore them. Zuul knew he was listening to every word. Perhaps he had a tape recorder in his pocket—or maybe the room was simply wired.
Oscar had forgotten all about him. "Really?" His eyes glowed—in the human sense of the term. "Real Tok’ra, like you? Are we going to go and live with them?"
No doubt Hammond would insist that the boy was brainwashed, but the Tok’ra were natural to him. He was a courageous child and would make a fine Tok’ra one day. One of Dana’s griefs had always been that, in her blended state, she would outlive her son. She would not force Oscar to choose to become Tok’ra when he was old enough to make an informed decision, but she would not deny him the right, either. Dana thrived as a Tok’ra host. Zuul could not bear to look back on her earlier savagery with Dana when she had taken her involuntarily. She would never return to her old philosophy. Her only consolation for that behavior was that Dana had come to understand it—and that she had forgiven her completely.
But now, there was a chance to return to the galaxy. Dana was somewhat frightened of that step, Zuul knew, but she had liked Selmac/Jacob very much, and also Lantash/Martouf. Seeing other Tok’ra and witnessing their bonding had reassured her. Like Dana, Jacob was of Earth, and it was clear that he had thrived on his blending.
"We don’t know yet," Dana told Oscar. "We hope we may live with them."
"The Tok’ra must be convinced of my intentions," Zuul explained. "My past history operates against me. I have changed so much that they are right to doubt me. Not that I would ever betray you or your mother, but they don’t know me as you do."
"Peter knows Mom," Oscar said. "He promised we’d be together, wherever we go."
Dana’s heart lurched. "He would mean it, Oscar. He is an honest man. But he may not have the right to make such a promise. This is a military operation, perhaps with connections to the Pentagon. Peter is a civilian, although a very determined one. But don’t worry. I think they will allow us to go to the Tok’ra." She stroked the fair hair back from his face. "Would you like that?"
He bobbed his head energetically. "I always hoped we would. Besides, how am I ever gonna get my own symbiote if we stay here?"
Dana and Zuul shared delight at the question. Oscar had seen the joy of a proper blending. He had no fear of it, no revulsion, as these humans at the base felt it. Even Peter felt it, but Peter didn’t understand, and Peter had seen Zuul at her worst. Never quick to trust, he had to suspect Zuul intended to use Dana to get away.
As if she would choose to leave Dana.... She sent a flicker of love and reassurance to her host and Dana returned it. She might regret the lost chance of Peter, but both of them suspected it could not have worked. Their goals were too far apart.
They spent a few more minutes reassuring Oscar, explaining that they might need to be separated for a few more days, then the airman took him away again.
Oh, Zuul, I am so afraid for him.
He will be well. Selmac and Jacob understand.
Hammond and his SGC did not, but they were allies of the Tok’ra. Zuul believed that would win out in the end.
The voice that roused them in the middle of the night wiped away that reassurance.
+Zuul. Vinz Clortho. Kree.+
Gozer. Gozer flooding her mind, the way he had done on Earth when he had aroused her and Vinz Clortho from the stasis of decades. Gozer could always touch their minds to give his commands.
+Prepare the way for the coming of the Traveler.+
Zuul felt Dana’s surprise and panic as vividly as her own. The only good thing about the summons was that Gozer could only project to them but could not sense their responses. She and Vinz Clortho had never been capable of projecting back. Before her sympathies had shifted, that had not mattered; now it was the only reassurance possible.
Do not fear, Dana. He does not control me. He only communicates. We will report this to Hammond. It will prove our loyalty to the Tok’ra.
Dana shivered. But he knows. The ven’tar reached him. He knows that Earth has an operative Stargate now. He’ll come, won’t he? Her mental voice was full of doubt.
He knows. And he will come. But these humans are experienced. And the Ghostbusters forced Gozer away before. Perhaps they can do it again.
+Prepare for the coming of the Destructor. This time, Earth will be mine to dominate.+
He sounded like a bad B-movie. Zuul felt a flicker of nervous amusement run through the two of them at the Earth analogy. She had been on Earth too long.
What will he do?
Zuul hesitated, waiting for the message to continue, but Gozer would have needed great energy to convey the message he had just sent. He must have attempted to return to Earth after the Ghostbusters forced him to flee through the gate. He would hate them more than any humans because they had done what none but a confederation of system lords had done before—defeated him, sealed him away from a planet. Even Gozer might hesitate before taking on a system lord collective, but he would definitely want revenge on the Ghostbusters, and on Earth. Surely Vinz had not offered him a detailed message. Like Zuul’s, his ven’tar had been pre-set; all it did was relay the gate coordinates of the planet from which the message originated. Gozer would have instantly recognized the message as coming from Earth.
He will expect Vinz Clortho and me to be ready to welcome him and worship him, and to prevent the humans from stopping him.
What will you do?
I will ask to speak to General Hammond and give this information to him as soon as possible.
+I, Gozer, command you to prepare for my coming.+ The force of that communication almost stunned Zuul. Energy pulsed through the Tok’ra. Dana cried out. At the sound, a light came up and the guard outside the holding cell peered at them suspiciously, his weapon at ready.
The savage backlash of Gozer’s threat pulsed through the air and made it smell like ozone. Alarms went off, a second before the light the guard had switched on sizzled, spat fire, and went out.
Zuul and Dana communicated together, faster than human speech would allow. Then Dana spoke. "We need to relay urgent information to General Hammond. The threat of Gozer is real. He now knows that Earth has an active Stargate, and that means he will come here, soon. I need to tell General Hammond everything I can."
The guard stared at them doubtfully, then he raised his voice to carry over the blaring of the alarm. "I’ll contact him, ma’am, and you can speak to him over the intercom. I won’t take you to him now, but you can relay your message. If you mean what you say, you won’t try anything. If you do, I’ll have to shoot."
** *** **
+Zuul. Vinz Clortho, Kree!+
At the command, Vinz Clortho roused into eager wakefulness. Gozer! His signal had worked. Gozer would come and soon he would be free of this planet. All he had to do was prepare for his lord’s coming. He had boasted to Melnitz that he no longer needed Gozer, and that was true, but, for now, he would go along with the ancient entity.
+Prepare the way for the coming of the Traveler.+
Difficult to do when he was strapped down and guarded by two men with weapons, when they had removed his ribbon device. If he did not prepare the way, his lord would crush him; if he tried, soldiers who were here, now, would shoot him. He felt Tully cringing in his mind and he ignored his pathetic host.
+Prepare for the coming of the Destructor. This time, Earth will be mine to dominate.+
And I will be forced to serve again. But service out there is better than incarceration here. My time will come. I will wait for the opportunity. His eyes glowed and he tested the bonds. They were strongly reinforced. They were not simple straps to hold him. Perhaps the Tau’ri had realized they were too weak to hold a Goa’uld. No, these bonds were controlled electronically.
And that gave him his first moment of hope.
Gozer always reinforced his telepathic commands. The bond that existed between Gozer and his minions operated one way, controlled by the force of the entity’s mind. To extend it over such a vast distance required power, massive doses of power, power the Ghostbusters would undoubtedly call psi, although that was only partially correct. When Gozer severed the link, the backlash would give Vinz Clortho the one moment he sought. Then he would be free to act.
+I, Gozer, command you to prepare for my coming.+
There, the final message. Energy pulsed through Vinz Clortho with such force that he could not suppress an anguished cry. The energy sizzled through him, and poured out of him in a glowing wash of light with all the intensity of a punishment rod’s force. The base alarm blared to life. The light that glittered dimly in the corner shorted out in a sea of sparks, and the bonds that fastened Vinz Clortho to the bed released automatically. He yanked wrists and ankles free so backup power would not spring into place and rolled off the bed before the airman who guarded him could do more than drop his jaw in surprise. The gun jerked up a second later but by then Vinz was already lunging for him. His palm hit the man so hard directly in the nose that the Goa’uld felt it shatter beneath his palm. The guard uttered one choked yell, then he dropped like a stone. Vinz didn’t even bother to determine if he were dead. What did one more Tau’ri matter? Instead, he snatched up the rifle—he had taught himself the use of human weapons since he regained control of Tully—and checked it expertly.
No time to change clothes with his victim so that he could blend into the scenery. But before the emergency lights came up, he was five corridors away and two floors down, and he was armed.
Should he retrieve Zuul? Would her conditioning override her more recent traitorous attitudes? He suspected she meant to ally with the Tok’ra. Those two who had questioned him, Carter and Martouf, were obviously Tok’ra. Earth knew of them and had allied with them secretly. No. If Zuul had let her inclinations take her the way she had been going before Gozer’s last attempt to dominate the Earth, she would be worthless to him. Barrett certainly would lack in the skills necessary to take over the base to prepare for Gozer’s arrival.
It was time, he decided, to take another hostage.
** *** **
"But this doesn’t make sense," objected Sam Carter. She ran her fingers through her hair and frowned. "I understand what you’re attempting, but I don’t understand how it can affect Gozer." She glanced over at Teal’c who stood near the door like a bodyguard, in case anything dangerous happened. So far, nothing had.
Ray wasn’t sure if the Jaffa feared Vinz Clortho would break loose or whether it was just natural for him to be at constant attention, but it was reassuring to see him there.
Sam’s father glanced at her, interested, but he didn’t jump into the conversation, either. Instead he waved a hand at Ray, as if to say, "It’s your ball game."
Ray plunged in eagerly before Egon could speak. "It doesn’t make sense if you’re only going by conventional physics. But we’re slipping over the edge into ectoplasmic physics now. Gozer’s partly psi; I think that’s where the power he holds over the Goa’uld comes from. No, this wouldn’t be enough to do more than mildly disrupt him if he were only a physical being. But he has psi abilities."
"But—" Carter frowned. "When you say psi, you’re not meaning the stuff of parapsychology, the precognition, telepathy, levitation, out-of-body stuff." She was trying hard not to let her preconceived skepticism from showing, but Ray could tell it wasn’t easy.
"Major Carter," Egon said, "our field has a built-in disbelief factor. It hasn’t been that many years since we designed equipment that allowed us to prove the existence of ghosts and other entities. Even though we can document what we do, we live in a high-tech age where film special effects can duplicate, at least in appearance, what we do on busts. There are a vast number of people who believe that what we do is false, no more than special effects, a means of, er, scamming people out of large sums of money."
"But what we do is definitely real," Ray said quickly before Egon could gallop off on that particular hobby horse. "You guys know it. You’ve seen Slimer. You saw those ghosts from that other planet, the first time we came out here. We’re not con artists. Don’t you see? The things you take for granted here—the Goa’uld, those invisible Ree'Tou who can phase shift, stepping into the Stargate and out on the other side on a whole new world—that sounds like science fiction to most people and they wouldn’t believe it, any more than most people believe in us."
"I know that," Sam agreed. "I’m trying to be open-minded. I’m not denying what you do. I simply don’t understand how adapting a device to produce energy of the type you detected on the planet can stop a being more powerful than a Goa’uld."
"Gozer is what we would deem a physical entity," Egon explained. "Colonel O’Neill was extremely skeptical of the Bogeyman, and I admit that the very name does induce skepticism in adults. But he was also physical. We couldn’t trap him without the use of the atomic destabilizer, a device that renders physical ghosts temporarily ectoplasmic so that they can be sucked into our traps. But although physical, Gozer is also, for want of a more complex term, partially ectoplasmic. He can do things that ghosts can do, such as alter his appearance—create a physical shell to surround his own essence, such as he did with both Dana and Louis when he turned them into Terror Dogs. They had the appearance of Terror Dogs but when Gozer was gone, they were actually human, confined within the Terror Dog shells. When Gozer departed, the marshmallow cream remained behind; worse, it contained so much energy from his passing that it became animated, a spirit in its own right, although far less powerful than Gozer."
"What Egon’s saying is that Gozer is so powerful that physical means can’t stop him. Our throwers couldn’t even stop him, probably not even the atomic destabilizer, but the traps wouldn’t have held him anyway. All we could do was drive him back through the gate. It was the energy backlash from him as much as from crossing the streams that blew up the roof of Dana’s building. When he interacts with this world, there’s always going to be a lot of spare energy roaming around."
"So you’re saying that the device is geared to function like one of your throwers, only on a higher level?" asked Jacob Carter. Ray wondered how much, as a Tok’ra, he already knew or had guessed. He didn’t look as skeptical as his daughter did.
"Not precisely," Egon replied. "The throwers’ function is to ensnare an entity and allow us to guide it into the traps. The function of the energy Ray detected on P3B-881 was to destroy Gozer."
"But then why haven’t we detected this energy on other planets if it is as widespread as you claim?" she persisted.
"Because it took an extremely individual meter reading to detect it at all," Egon reminded her. "Ray didn’t pick it up until he had reset his meter. He knew in general what he was looking for and set the meter specifically in hopes of locating something within those parameters. Without a doctored meter, it would have been impossible for you to detect the energy in question."
"So the energy from the device attacks the part of Gozer that is non-physical?" Carter frowned. "Judging by these readings you took from Gozer when he came to New York, I can see that the energy Ray detected might have an effect. It just goes against all my training." She grinned tiredly. "But then so have a great many other things since I started traveling through the Stargate."
"So the Goa’uld have been acting as Ghostbusters?" asked Jacob Carter wryly. He didn’t look remotely tired. Selmac must keep him on his toes.
Ray was tired; the day had felt endless. Well, it was around one-thirty, so it was tomorrow already. Teal’c didn’t look the least bit sleepy but maybe his larval Goa’uld really did give him energy. Ray hoped he’d have a chance to take readings of the being O’Neill had dubbed ‘Junior’.
"There have been others throughout history who functioned as—" Egon slipped into lecture mode without the slightest encouragement, but before he could continue, the activated P.K.E. meter on the table let out a piercing shriek that shot up in both pitch and volume toward the inaudible range.
Egon snatched for it, then yanked back his hands to cover his ears. Teal’c whipped up his staff weapon at the first sound. He didn’t emulate the rest of them and clap his hands over his ears, but his face twisted with the pain of the increasingly shrill shriek that stabbed into their brains. Sam gasped and pressed her hands against her temples.
The meter imploded. Good thing Egon hadn’t picked it up or his hand would be a mess. The agonizing noise cut out and they all gasped and blinked at each other. Overhead, the light fixture sputtered, sizzled, shot out a cascade of sparks, and went out.
Abruptly, an emergency siren started whooping. Ray imagined Peter jumping straight up out of a sound sleep, and spared the mental image one fleeting smile before he settled down to business.
"What the hell was that?" one of the techs blurted in the darkness.
"Psi feedback—and it was massive," Egon explained. "I’ve never encountered it at such a high level before."
"Gozer?" asked Jacob Carter. He sounded like someone had kicked him hard. "I felt that. It was a mental communication, directed at any Goa’uld—and incidentally Tok’ra—within radius."
"Gozer is not physically present," Egon said.
Sam’s voice was dazed, labored. "Dad, I almost heard a...a voice in my mind," she admitted. "It wasn’t clear, a little like trying to pick up a radio signal without being tuned in properly, but I’m sure I heard the name ‘Gozer’."
"I did, too," the elder Carter confirmed. "I got specific instructions to prepare the way for Gozer’s coming. He said, ‘I, Gozer, command you to prepare for my coming.’ He didn’t say how, but then he probably figured Vinz Clortho and Zuul would know how. He’s on his way—and I think he’s pissed."
The emergency lights came up, only fractionally dimmer than before. Ray had half expected it to resemble the eerie red lighting of an Enterprise red alert and was momentarily disappointed, only to realize that such lighting wouldn’t exactly be practical. Egon bent to retrieve the wreck of the meter, and gazed sadly at its screen. All the computers in the room were in the process of rebooting.
"I did not receive a message," Teal’c admitted. "However, my prim’ta is extremely agitated. Unless it calms itself soon, I must initiate the kel’no’reem." He still gripped his staff weapon, but he wasn’t aiming it anywhere.
"Kel’no’reem?" Ray mouthed at Sam.
"Meditation," she said quickly.
Teal’c gritted his teeth and slid one hand down to his belly. Ray had asked earlier and found out that Teal’c shared no mental communication with his symbiote. But what affected the symbiote evidently affected the Jaffa, too. He looked like he had a very queasy stomach.
"What was that?" Sam demanded without turning from the screen. "The equipment reacted like we just experienced a major energy spike, but the readings I’m getting don’t match that and it didn’t affect the computers, other than the momentary shutdown from the loss of power. And I felt it in my head. I’ve never experienced anything like that before. I..." She scrunched up her face in an agony of concentration—or possibly with a psi headache. "I can’t find anything to match it in Jolinar’s memories, at least nothing I can access. Dad?"
It was Selmac who answered. "Such a communication is not possible among the Goa’uld. They would lack the ability to communicate telepathically, unless, possibly, the host were telepathic, but certainly not over such vast distances. I do not believe the message was intended for us. It was, however, intended for Earth. This proves that Vinz Clortho’s long-range communication signal got through on whatever relay system he established. The signal must have given the coordinates of Earth and proved to Gozer that there is now a working Stargate here."
"My symbiote responded to it as well," Teal’c admitted. The twist to his mouth eased. Junior must be settling down.
"Then the signal was probably for Louis and Dana," offered Ray. "I mean Vinz Clortho and Zuul. But I bet any other Goa’uld or Tok’ra in the target area would feel it. What did it say? Gosh, I didn’t know Gozer could do that, but I bet there was a message like that the last time. We had readings of something building up, but it all went ka-blooey at once. If Gozer sent something like this first, even if it was in response to a message through the gate from Zuul, that might explain why everything went wrong. When we went up to Dana’s apartment, her apartment looked like it had been firebombed. We’re in a shielded base with a lot of redundant safeguards. That was just an apartment on Central Park West. You think this is what happened?"
Egon jumped in. "Undoubtedly. However, since, in that instance, the message was no doubt relayed through the Netherworld, that would explain why we had the ghostly influx first. This time, the message came direct, and the nature of Gozer’s signal tied in with our own equipment." He displayed the ruined meter sadly. The screen had gone dark. Only Egon’s super memory would recall the exact configuration he’d witnessed before the device imploded. "What I just detected was a long-range psi blast that mimicked an energy spike, with some of the same results. You would be unable to measure it and chart it completely with your equipment since it was psycho-kinetic rather than a form of conventional energy. In other words, a telepathic communication from a powerful entity incredibly far away. There would be no subtlety to such a message, but none would be needed." He glanced with fascination at Sam and her father before he set aside his ruined meter and went across the room to pick up the inactivated spare. He aimed it at the older Carter and his eyes lit with fascination. "You picked it up, General Carter, uh, Selmac, because you are Tok’ra. Teal’c because you have your symbiote, of course. And you, Major Carter, because of the...."
"The protein marker left from Jolinar," Sam agreed. "I couldn’t get specifics, since I don’t currently have a symbiote. All I picked up was the headache and a hint. Dad, were there any exact instructions? Any carry-over or transfer of power?"
"No power transfer that I could detect," the Tok’ra replied. "Simply instruction to prepare the way for the Traveler and the Destructor, but no indication of how. Presumably our two Goa’uld would know. Destructor?" he repeated whimsically and switched back to Jacob Carter. "Gozer is evidently big on fancy names."
That made Sam smile but it faded instantly. "Prepare for his coming? If he got a message through.... Would he have required an activated Stargate?" She hit buttons on her keyboard and checked data that Ray didn’t understand and didn’t have time to question. "This is bad," she murmured, and her voice was not intended to carry to the rest of them.
"Wildfire?" asked Jacob. He could sure switch back and forth fast. Ray hoped he’d get to talk to him about it when all this was over. The Tok’ra cast a wary look at Ray and Egon, who exchanged glances. They might not know all the secrets of the SGC, but they knew what a Wildfire code was. At least, if it was the same thing as they’d faced in the movie The Andromeda Strain; self-destruct of the base. Ray felt tensions crawl up and down his spine.
His daughter nodded. "If this didn’t trigger it, it was a near thing, and I’m afraid if Gozer sends additional communication, it could. The iris isn’t designed to keep out psionic contact, but a bypass of the iris is supposed to trigger it. A gate wasn’t open for the message, but I’m sure Gozer would need the gate to arrive here. I have to go to the control room instantly. Teal’c, you’re with me—are you all right?"
"I am recovered," said Teal’c. Ray was pretty sure he’d have said that anyway, but he did look better.
Carter took him at his word. She paused only long enough to measure Egon and Ray with her eyes. Ray had a glimpse of her lightning brain working in that brief expression. "I want you to collect Peter and Winston and your proton packs—and any other of your equipment you feel might be necessary—and report to the gate room. Egon, I’d like you to join me first in the control room. Hurry. If we go to Wildfire—and I think that might happen with the next communication if I can’t find a way to bypass it—doors will barricade and you’ll be unable to move about. Worse, I’m afraid the signal we just received could immobilize the iris, unless I can design a safeguard protocol before it happens, and that will also trigger a wildfire code. Unless we can stop it, we have major trouble." Dismissing them from her thoughts, she went to the nearest intercom and paged General Hammond.
Egon and Ray exchanged one brief look, then Ray grabbed his pack—he’d set it aside to work more comfortably in the lab—and slid his arms into the straps. Egon did the same. Then they raced through corridors suddenly full of armed Marines, to fetch their comrades.
** *** **
The blaring alarm woke Janine out of a sound sleep and she jumped to her feet in the darkness and fumbled for the light. It didn’t work.
There is nothing darker than an underground room without lighting, but when she glanced at the door she saw the faintest trace of light around its edges. So that probably meant emergency lighting had come into play, and it wouldn’t apply to unimportant areas like guest bedrooms. She remembered seeing a flashlight in one of the drawers, so she fumbled it open and switched on the beam. It produced enough light for her to dress in record time in the plain fatigues she’d been given since she’d come on this trip without a suitcase. Doctor Fraiser had loaned her a skirt and blouse, and she’d worn that earlier, but the fatigues seemed more appropriate in a crisis, although they didn’t go very well with her heels. If she had to go out into trouble, at least she’d be mostly dressed for the part.
When she opened the door, her nighttime guard had vanished. A couple of armed men ran past as she stood there getting her bearings but neither of them spared her a glance. A third man, an officer, paused only long enough to say, "Stay in your room, ma’am, and lock the door," before he thudded away down the corridor without waiting to see if she would comply. His tone was so commanding that she closed it hastily with herself inside and turned the lock automatically.
Okay. That meant big trouble. Maybe Gozer was coming. That’s probably what Louis—Vinz—had wanted. But surely they had him locked up. Unless that little gizmo he’d sneaked into her pocket had been the cause of the current trouble.
"Oops," she said softly.
Here she was without even a proton pack and thrower to face the toughest nasty the Ghostbusters had ever encountered. One little locked door would hardly protect her from the Goze, as Peter had irreverently dubbed the entity. No. The alien. If this Chappa’ai thing Louis had talked about, the Stargate, although she knew she wasn’t supposed to have heard that term, was what it sounded like, a doorway to outer space—a long-distance teleport, maybe, Gozer wouldn’t have to hop in his Flash Gordon spaceship and go into warp drive. He’d just have to pass through a gate the way she stepped through the door into her apartment.
Like he’d done atop Dana’s apartment building on Central Park West.
Janine suddenly felt very much alone.
Where are you, Egon?
She stood with her palm against the closed door, irresolute. If Gozer were coming, Egon wouldn’t need the distraction of her presence. His skill and intellect would be very much in demand. She also didn’t need to make herself a target for Vinz Clortho if he’d used the emergency to break free. That meant her only sensible option was to go to ground and stay out of everybody’s way. Hiding in the VIP quarters wouldn’t be nearly as satisfying as rushing into the heart of the battle so she could be with Egon, but Egon wouldn’t thank her for her presence. He’d have more than enough to worry about already. So she could just wait here, see if she could find herself a weapon, barricade the door....
As she remembered Dana’s son she froze. He probably knew some things she didn’t know—he knew about these Goa’uld guys who possessed people after all. But he was only eleven, and Janine was positive the powers that be wouldn’t permit his mom to stay with him in the midst of the coming battle. Dana might even be on Gozer’s side now, the way Vinz was, even if Oscar didn’t think so. That left Oscar on his own. Automatically, Janine unlocked her door. Snatching up the flashlight to use in case there were other areas without power—and as a weapon—she slipped next door and turned the knob of Oscar’s door. It wasn’t locked.
A flashlight pinned her, and then it lowered from her eyes. "Janine?" The boy sounded doubtful. Like her, he’d scrambled into his clothes and he stood near the foot of his bed. He looked afraid, but he met her gaze head on. "What’s going on out there?"
"Some kind of red alert, I guess," she said. "I don’t know what’s going on, but it doesn’t sound very good. We need to stay out of everybody’s way, and I thought maybe you could come with me and hold my hand when I’m scared."
His wry smile told her he had seen through her ruse without difficulty. But some of his tension melted away. "I thought I’d try to find Mom," he said. "But I was afraid the Air Force would stop me."
"If they do, at least they’ll make sure we’re in a safe place." She extended her hand to him and he slipped his into it. Armed with a pair of deadly flashlights, they picked a direction and hurried down the corridor, just as the lights blinked slightly and main power came back.
** *** **
The red alert awoke Daniel from uneasy dreams of Sha’re as Ammaunet, attacking him with ribbon devices, dying before his eyes. For the first moment, he lay amid the tangled covers while his mind sorted through the dream images to the present reality. Trouble. A dim, battery-operated light provided him with enough illumination to dress to the accompaniment of the raucous alarm and the occasional warning message that detailed a fire team to level twenty-four, and requested additional troops to the gate room. Could it be Gozer?
Daniel thrust his feet into his shoes, shoved his arms into the sleeves of his shirt, and ran for the door without taking time to button it. He didn’t routinely keep weapons in his base quarters, so he couldn’t go out there armed. He wasn’t even sure where he was required to be—usually in a crisis like this he went to the control room unless ordered somewhere else, or he rendezvoused with his team. Jack was just down the hall. He’d just go with Jack.
O’Neill burst out of his room, a hand weapon at ready. He lowered it when he saw Daniel. "Trouble," he said in mimicry of Daniel’s earlier thought. "Hammond wants us in the control room," he shouted to be heard over the blare of the alarm.
They encountered armed troops all the way to the control center, and found Hammond before them, so hastily dressed his shirt was hanging open over a white tee shirt. Daniel had never seen the General less than completely put together before, and he couldn’t help gaping at him in surprise.
The power blinked twice, then steadied into normalcy as they stepped into the room. Sam was there before them, conferring urgently with Sergeant Davis and Egon Spengler, who wore his proton pack, over technical schematics on the computer screens. At first glance, Teal’c was nowhere in sight, then Daniel spotted him in the gate room below with what seemed like a whole squadron of armed Marines and the other three Ghostbusters. Sergeant Siler was in the control room, too, and some of the late-shift computer people Daniel didn’t know by name. Jacob Carter didn’t glance up from his conference with his daughter, who divided her attention between the screen, Spengler, Davis, and Jacob.
"What’s up, General?" Jack asked.
"Gozer knows we’re here," Hammond replied flatly. "He sent some kind of psi message telepathically to Zuul and Vinz Clortho. Zuul had her guard notify me of it. Jacob picked it up, too, and Major Carter had a hint of it. Vinz Clortho used the energy backlash to break free of his bonds and killed his guard. He’s in hiding somewhere on the base. Zuul’s still locked up. We’ve just become a target of Gozer. "
"Aw, and I left my personal bulls-eye in my quarters. Sweet." Jack muttered. They should have guarded Tully better, but they hadn’t expected anything like the power surge that had hit them. He glanced uneasily at the Stargate. "So we’re expecting old Gozer to come knocking any second now. Any chance the iris will splat him like a bug?"
Sam didn’t even turn her head in their direction. "I doubt it, sir. The signal we received was at least fifty percent psi."
"You mean like telepathy? All that kind of crap?" That was Jack, completely open-minded. Daniel tried not to let his amusement show. Not that there was much else to be amused about.
Egon turned to face them. "She means that it is entirely possible that Gozer will be able to phase through the iris as if it were not even present."
"Well, yeah," Jack replied. "Been there, done that." Daniel remembered that the Tollans’ technology permitted just such a thing. Narim had squirted right through the iris without triggering the self-destruct program. This wouldn’t be like the time that Sokar had applied force to the gate to burn through it when Apophis was dying. It would be as if the iris didn’t even exist for Gozer.
"Uh, will that compromise the iris and trigger a fail-safe?" Daniel ventured. He shared an uneasy glance with Jack.
General Hammond spared him one very pointed look and didn’t bother to reply. Daniel was sorry he’d asked.
"There is one other thing," Egon said abruptly. "And this applies to everyone here. Ray will mention it to the soldiers below." He gestured vaguely toward his three friends in the gate room. "If Gozer succeeds in coming through, he will expect to be met by Vinz Clortho and Zuul. When they are not present—I would imagine your Marines would prevent Louis from coming to the gate room even if he is now at liberty—he will expect to be met by a Goa’uld. He asked last time if Ray was a god. Ray said no."
"Well, yeah, that makes sense, not if he couldn’t back it up," O’Neill offered. He rolled his eyes at Daniel.
"As you know, we now theorize he was actually asking if Ray were a Goa’uld. The two Goa’uld were present and in the first moment of arrival, Gozer may have been able to sense them but not to instantly distinguish them, and he would not have recognized their current hosts. That may happen this time as well. He would have no way of telling whether or not Zuul and Vinz Clortho have switched host bodies since his last visit, so we will have a momentary advantage. Or perhaps you could answer him, General Carter."
Jacob arched an eyebrow. "The Tok’ra are not gods, son."
"No, sir, but Gozer would expect you to insist that you are. We’re dealing with his perception here, not your own. However, that’s not the point I want to make."
Jack made urging gestures. "Come on then, Spengler, we could be running out of time here."
Egon didn’t take offense. "Gozer asked us to ‘choose and perish’. When we didn’t understand, he instructed us to choose the form we wished him to wear as he destroyed us."
"Teal’c said something about that at the briefing," Daniel remembered.
"Yeah, kind of high-handed of Gozer. He won’t expect our technology. We’ll wipe the ramp with him."
"Uh, Jack...." Daniel waved a hand for attention. "He was able to send a telepathic message from many star systems away while the gate was still closed, a message strong enough to shut down power momentarily. I don’t think our technology will exactly do more than tickle him."
"Our combined technologies might," Egon said. "I’m not sure of the effect of a weapon like a zat’nik’a’tel on Gozer; perhaps it would do no more than annoy him. But he finds our particle throwers distasteful. We don’t know, even now, if he retreated because they were unpleasant to him and he meant to return later or whether he could not counter them. Based on the readings I correlated and studied later, I suspect the former, and I’m sorry."
"Let’s go back to this ‘choose the form of the destructor’," Hammond said. "Whether or not your weapons were inimical to him or merely an irritant is a moot point. Why is it important that we know about the form selection?"
"Because he will take an image directly from our minds. Last time, we tried to clear our minds when we realized what he intended, but Ray, who meant very well, instead attempted to choose the form of something he believed would never hurt us."
"A giant marshmallow man?" Sergeant Davis blurted out unbelievingly.
"He didn’t realize it would be twenty stories tall," Egon defended Stantz. "He meant well. But it would be better if we could avoid that issue this time."
"Oh, for crying out loud, it’s like being told not to think of a purple giraffe," groaned Jack. "It turns into the only thing in your mind."
Daniel instantly tried to wipe away the thought of just such a creature, but it hovered there in his consciousness, long neck full of purple patches, a wry grimace just like Jack’s upon its face. If only the Colonel hadn’t just doomed them to death by giraffe.
"Maybe we should just think of Gozer himself, the form he appears in," offered Sam. "That way, we’d deny him a psychological advantage. If he took the form of the President, for instance, it might be difficult to shoot him."
"Unless you were a Republican," Jacob muttered irreverently under his breath. Hammond’s eyes twinkled in momentary appreciation before he went right back to business.
"What happened to the device you were attempting to construct that would allow us to repel him?" asked Daniel. The assigned team obviously wasn’t working on it any longer.
"Yeah, tell me you finished it?" Jack glanced hopefully around. "Carter? Spengler? Jacob?"
The Tok’ra shook his head. "Not even close. We might have had it in another two days. Unless Martouf returns with one—"
"What about zipping over to 881 and stealing theirs?" Jack pressed on. "Unless those laser guys are camped in front of the gate, that’d give us a fighting chance. We’d just park it at the foot of the ramp and let it send out its little zapping rays and scare the Goze away."
"We considered that, Colonel." Hammond frowned. "We still have a M.A.L.P. on the planet and we’ve opened the gate at intervals to take readings. The M.A.L.P. was still active two hours ago, when we last checked. The natives had the place staked out. It looked like they had not only several hundred armed troops but they’d brought forth heavy ordnance. I won’t countenance a suicide mission. Each time we opened the gate to check, we reinforced our interest in their world. It’s my belief they left the M.A.L.P. active deliberately instead of destroying or deactivating it so that we could tell at a glance that they were ready for us."
"And if they were aware of the long-range communicator, they may suspect us of being Goa’uld allies," offered Carter.
Jack shrugged. "Just a thought."
"However," Egon said, "We have worked out the most efficacious thrower settings. We can’t entirely duplicate the effect of the anti-Gozer device, but we have made our throwers far more unpleasant to him than we did last time. Shortly, I will join my teammates downstairs. We did bring two extra proton packs with us. Colonel O’Neill, if you would like to join us?"
"Be a Ghostbuster? Cool." Jack waggled his eyebrows sardonically.
"I’d like to try, too," Daniel volunteered. "I may not be a physicist or a weapons’ expert but I’ve studied the particle thrower weapons and I did experiment with Peter’s pack and thrower last time he was here." It wasn’t that he was gung-ho to rush into the line of fire, but it was something he could do that was far more satisfactory than watching, and Jack and Teal’c would be down there. He’d rather stand with them when the crisis began.
"I’ll take that under advisement, Doctor Jackson." Hammond frowned. He’d probably prefer a sharpshooter to handle the other thrower, but Daniel knew from the feeling of the proton rifle in his hands that an expert marksman would have no more advantage with the unfamiliar weapon than Daniel would.
"He does have more experience with a thrower than any of the Marines, sir." Jack cast a sidelong glance at Daniel. "Not sure I’m doing you any favors here, Danny, but I’m used to you in a fight. Looks like Carter will need to be up here, but Teal’c’s already down there."
Hammond scrutinized the two men for a long moment, glanced over at Sam, who had lifted her head from the monitor screen to watch them. Her expertise was needed at the computer. Daniel didn’t want to face this battle standing uselessly in a corner of the control room trying to keep out of the way. Been there, done that, as Jack might say. If Gozer were as strong as everybody insisted, the entity might take them down, no matter what they tried. If this was to be the end, where else should Daniel be but with his team?
"All right, son," the General said. "I agree with Colonel O’Neill that I’m not doing you a favor, but Doctor Venkman did report to me last time that he thought you had a good eye for the throwers."
Daniel wasn’t sure whether to be proud or apprehensive, so he settled for a state midway between the two.
Jack reached over and clapped him on the shoulder. "Hey, it’ll be fun," he proclaimed. "Busting ghosts—well, busting whatever. Someday we can all tell our grandkids we saved the planet all over again." But his eyes held regret.
"It’s not like I’d be any safer up here, Jack."
O’Neill nodded to acknowledge that. No, none of them would be safe if Gozer broke through. The whole planet might not be safe.
"Would Wildfire contain Gozer, Doctor Spengler?" Hammond asked the physicist.
Egon glanced up from his P.K.E. meter. He hesitated, glanced down into the gate room at his three friends, and his face filled with regret and an urgent need to be down there with them. "No."
"That’s what I thought," the General said grimly. "All right, people, carry on."
Jack reached over and grabbed one of the spare proton packs.
"It’s been modified already," Egon said without turning from his view of the gate room.
"Peachy." Jack passed it to Daniel and put on the other one. "God, Spengler, you guys have been busting ghosts for fifteen years and you haven’t figured out a way to make this thing any lighter?"
Egon glanced his way, and momentary appreciation touched his eyes at the remark. "Interesting, Colonel. Peter makes the same complaint half the time he puts his on. I’ll make a point to place your suggestion on my agenda—one of these days."
His tone was so dry Daniel was afraid Jack would miss the humor in his voice, but Jack didn’t. Answering humor touched his own eyes, to be gone again in moments.
Daniel slid into his proton pack and buckled the strap across his stomach. "I’m ready."
"Yeah." Jack held his eyes for a long moment, then turned to Sam. "Make us proud," he told her in a voice that was deliberately light.
Sam turned around from the computer and stared at both of them without speaking for an instant. Then she smiled. "Bag Gozer for me."
Jack sketched a salute. Then he caught Daniel by the scruff of the neck and propelled him toward the door.
** *** **
Carter watched them a moment, then she turned back to the computer. She was conscious of Egon gazing down into the gate room at his friends and knew that his desire to stand with his team was as strong as hers was to join the rest of SG-1. They had to serve where they were best qualified, and Egon was fortunate that he would be able to join the other Ghostbusters soon once the initial programming was completed. But she was stuck here because this was how she could best defend this base. Teams didn’t have to be together to practice teamwork, but a part of Sam was afraid that they might not survive this encounter, and if she had to die, she would rather die beside the Colonel, Daniel, and Teal’c than apart from them.
She and Egon returned to their programming.
"There’s one more thing," Egon said after a few more minutes’ work. "I’m not sure how it will affect you, Sam." She’d stopped being ‘Major Carter’ to him, which meant it must be serious. "But I believe you will be affected, General Carter."
"You mean the effect of crossing the streams on Zuul and Vinz Clortho before?" Jacob nodded. "Selmac has considered that at some length. Neither of the Goa’uld were destroyed by the backlash. They were stunned, placed in stasis. If that should happen here, the Tok’ra can treat it, once I am able to return home. I don’t believe it will affect Sam either, other than perhaps a momentary discomfort, but we’ll monitor her. Teal’c’s larval Goa’uld has no link with him. If it should be affected, we would need to take him through the gate within a day to effect treatment since he requires the symbiote in a functioning state for his continued survival. That of course is dependent on our survival and the state of the gate when Gozer has been dealt with." He glanced over at Hammond. "You do realize you might have one hellacious mess if the Ghostbusters have to cross the streams in such a confined area."
"The force of the explosion was driven outward before," Egon said. He gestured at the gate room. "The walls down there are very thick, but we’re talking a major release of energy. It may well be necessary to proceed. We can’t allow Gozer to attempt a takeover of Earth. When we encountered him before, we were extraordinarily fortunate. We were entirely ignorant of the ramifications of Gozer’s presence. We knew nothing of the Goa’uld and believed him simply a Sumerian deity. We hit upon the one means of successfully driving him back through the gate. He may expect us this time and be prepared for crossing the streams."
"But you’ll try?" Hammond asked.
"It worked before. We can’t let Gozer through if we can stop him. Altering the power of the throwers should make them more destructive to him than before, even though we lacked the time to replicate the Goa’uld device Ray detected on P3B-881." He glanced down at Sam’s screen. "If there is nothing more I can do here, I must join my friends."
The blast door that would shield the control room might not be enough to withstand the force of the explosion crossing the streams might trigger, but it would certainly offer more protection than Egon would receive in the gate room. Yet there was no hesitation in his face, only a grim determination to do what must be done, and the same urgent need to be with his friends that Sam had to squash down.
"No," she said softly. "I can take it from here."
Egon headed for the door, then paused. "One other thing. As a last resort, a controlled pack implosion might destroy Gozer. However, it would leave a blast crater with a quarter-mile radius from where we stand."
Hammond’s face was dark. "I understand, son," he said. "If it comes to that, I’ll give the command myself."
Egon hadn’t sought absolution, but the General’s words brought a touch of light to his eyes. He pushed his sliding glasses into place with more force than necessary, then he stuck out his hand to the General, who pumped it.
"It has been an honor to know you," Hammond told him.
"I concur." Egon glanced around the room, sharing the feeling with Sam and her father. Then he smiled. "If Gozer chooses not to come after all...."
Davis gave a sputter of nervous laughter, but no one else made a sound. With a wry shrug, Egon headed for the gate room.
"He looks almost happy about it," Siler said in a wondering undertone.
"If he dies, he’ll be with his friends." Sam didn’t look up as she spoke. She didn’t want to see the regret on Hammond’s face, since he had to deny her the same opportunity.
Two hands came down on her shoulders. Her father. For an instant, she leaned back against him, giving and taking comfort. Then she attacked the keyboard with renewed vigor.
** *** **
Peter Venkman was not a happy camper. Gozer should have been done with all those years ago, but no such luck. So here was Peter and his buddies, in the middle of the night, under a mountain in Colorado, ready to take out something that was probably ten times as powerful as they’d originally believed. Maybe the Air Force would pay them more than a normal bust rate. After all, if they saved the whole planet, they deserved a lot more than the standard fee. When this was all over, he’d bring it up to Hammond. With any luck at all, the General would be so grateful that he’d give the Ghostbusters a nice blank check.
If they survived at all....
He glanced up at the control room. Egon was still up there. So far, no sign of Gozer, and, worse, no sign of Louis Tully, who was wandering around with a rifle, with a dead Marine in his wake. He’d whacked the guy so hard in the nose that he’d driven bone and cartilage into the brain and killed the man instantly. Peter did not want to think about that. He could remember all too vividly the horror on Ray’s face when one of the Marines had told them what had happened.
"He can’t get in here," the Marine had continued. "And the base is locked down tight. All essential areas are under guard. We don’t know where he went, but we’ll know if he moves."
"I feel sorry for poor Louis," Ray said after a long moment. "He didn’t ask to be taken by the Goa’uld. He’s probably going nuts inside his head, unable to do anything. He’d hate it that his symbiote killed that man."
Winston clapped him on the shoulder. "He already had this Vinz dude in him when we met him, but we didn’t know it. Louis might have been your classic dweeb, but he wasn’t a bad guy. I’d feel better if we could trap him and see if these Tollans or Nox guys or whoever it was could get the thing out of Louis."
Peter would have felt better if they could have taken Zuul out of Dana, but he was positive that would never happen. She had chosen her path. It wasn’t one Peter could ever contemplate, not after the horror of Watt’s possession years ago. Give up control of his mind to an entity? Not if they made him the official recurring winner of the lottery. But he’d seen the truth in Dana’s eyes. Inexplicable as it was to him, she loved Zuul and Zuul loved her. And both of them loved Oscar. Just seeing the kid, realizing he was happy and well adjusted in spite of the really weird upbringing he’d had, proved to Peter that he’d come from a secure and happy home. Peter’s mom had given Peter that, in spite of his father’s unreliability, so he knew how to recognize a good parent when he saw one. Oscar was okay, or at least he would be if this all worked out. Maybe he’d have to finish growing up on Vorash and take a Tok’ra of his own when he was old enough. He’d probably welcome it. Families came in all sorts of weird combinations. Peter’s came in the form of three brothers in all but blood, and he wouldn’t trade them for a billion dollars. So how could he ask Dana and Oscar to change theirs?
"Depends on how it turns out," Ray said. "I’ll ask Jacob. Isn’t he great? I wasn’t sure what it would be like to talk to a Tok’ra, but I like Jacob, and I like Selmac. He’s got a sneaky sense of humor, doesn’t he?"
Sam was another one who had to face major changes in relationships. How did she react when her dad’s voice deepened and someone else’s words came out of his mouth?
Damn it, Dana, we could have had something good.
Then he shook his head. Even before Zuul had awakened, the relationship had been over. Dana was like the fish that got away, the one that was always as big as a whale. Unattainable, she achieved perfection in Peter’s eyes. Real life had to be lived, not dreamed. I wouldn’t change my life, he thought, glancing up at the control booth overhead where Egon gesticulated as he talked, then at Ray and Winston. I wouldn’t change what I’ve had, not even for Dana. It didn’t take the pain away but it made it bearable.
"Yeah," he said. "We’ll see if we can’t save poor Louis. He’s not the one who killed that guard or held Janine hostage."
"You won’t feel nervous if he comes around to do the books?" Winston asked.
Peter had to think. "Heck, we’ve had a Goa’uld doing our books for years and we didn’t know it. Louis as himself will be a big improvement."
Ray grinned. "Think Janine will go for it?"
"Janine can handle the real Louis with both hands tied behind her back," Peter said.
That made Winston and Ray both laugh. "Yeah," agreed Winston. "Just like she handles you."
Here came Jack and Daniel wearing proton packs and carrying zats. If a zat would take out old Mugwump, maybe it would do a number on Gozer. On the other hand, if it had, why wouldn’t the system lords have used them on him and defeated him millennia ago?
And if the ancient Egyptians hadn’t buried their Stargate, maybe there’d be a protective device on Earth and there wouldn’t be this problem now.
‘Course we’d all be slaves of the Goa’uld, and that’s not exactly a better choice.
"Hey, Jack," Peter caroled in greeting. "Lookin’ good. We’ll make a Ghostbuster of you yet."
"Ya think?" O’Neill gave him a mock salute. "Colonel-intern O’Neill reporting for duty. Which of these buttons do I push, sir?"
That made Daniel’s eyes warm with amusement and Teal’c arched one very astonished eyebrow before he relaxed as he recognized the Colonel’s banter for what it was.
Whistling in the dark. Just like I do before a tough bust.
"Heaven help Earth," Peter said irreverently, but he shared an understanding glance with his buddies, and with the male members of SG-1.
"So, what’s the plan?" O’Neill asked as he and Daniel fell into place with the Ghostbusters?
"Well, the throwers are modified, so we’ll try that first, just normal blasting," Ray volunteered. "If that doesn’t work, we’ll have to step it up." He quivered with excitement. Peter shook his head fondly at the sight.
"If we need to cross the streams, Egon will direct it," Winston explained. "We’ll know, if it comes to that. Oh man, this will not be fun."
"Ya think?" O’Neill asked. He drew his thrower and balanced it in one hand, with the zat in the other.
"You’re gonna need two hands for the thrower, Colonel," Ray reminded him. "It’s got a great kick to it."
Jack heaved an exasperated sigh. "Yeah, kid, tell me about it."
Daniel tucked away his zat and drew his thrower, too. He squinted at the setting on the handle, then he nodded. "I never thought I’d do anything like this, back when I was going on excavations."
"Just a simple archaeologist?" Jack kidded him. "Tell me about it."
Egon hurried into the room. "Here I am, guys," he said as he fell in at Peter’s side. "Sam can take the process from here; she’s better adapted to it from this point than I am."
"Glad to have you, big guy," Peter told him. Glad, yes, because it felt right to have Egon at his side and because he was sure they’d need all four of them to defeat Gozer. But sorry in a way because Egon might have been safer up there. This was one time Peter had to squash down the old protective impulses. Stopping Gozer would take all four of them—and any other help they could get. Six throwers this time around. Would that be enough?
Now, all they had to do was wait.
** *** **
General Hammond had thought his years as the commander of the SGC had prepared him for anything. He should have known that was a forlorn hope. At the SGC, something new could always go wrong.
O’Neill and Doctor Jackson had joined the Ghostbusters in the control room and exchanged a few words with the waiting team and Spengler had just arrived when the P.A. system crackled to life.
"This is Vinz Clortho, Keymaster of Gozer. Prepare to meet your doom."
"Track him down," Hammond commanded. "Locate the source of that transmission immediately."
While the techs worked, Hammond responded. "This is General George Hammond, commander of this base, and we’re not yet ready to meet our doom. Surrender to us. You can’t escape, and we are prepared to face Gozer." He saw Major Carter and Jacob staring at each other. Had they all underestimated this particular Goa’uld, based on his particularly harmless appearance? Hammond had never imagined a Goa’uld who styled himself like a dweeb, as Colonel O’Neill would say, before. Yet Vinz Clortho was not harmless, as evidenced by the guard he had killed when he broke free. Hammond’s mouth tightened.
"Then you are prepared without your doctor," Vinz Clortho replied. "I have your Doctor Fraiser hostage. I will not kill her; no, that would leave me without a hostage, and I am not a fool. But there are a myriad of ways that I can inflict great pain on her without doing lasting damage, except perhaps to her psyche. I do not think you want your doctor to be a basket case."
"You will release Doctor Fraiser immediately. No negotiation will take place while you have her." George didn’t think that would fly, but he had to state their position up front. No negotiation with terrorists, that was the unbreakable rule, and even though the Goa’uld was technically an enemy alien, he was behaving in a terrorist fashion. I’m sorry, Doctor Fraiser. Hammond gritted his teeth. Below him, in the control booth, he saw O’Neill’s expression harden and an expression of alarm run across Doctor Jackson’s face.
"No negotiation is necessary." Hammond had been afraid he’d say that. "Gozer will come whether you negotiate or not. If you fight him, he will destroy you so much quicker. I know you will have the Ghostbusters waiting for the Chappa’ai—the Stargate—to open. This time they will not be enough to stop my lord Gozer. They are fools if they think their ineffectual weapons will halt him."
"They stopped him last time," Hammond reminded him. "For a number of years, if my information is correct."
"Gozer is the most powerful being in the galaxy," Vinz Clortho said, but a thread of rage crept into his voice.
"Don’t make him angry, George," Jacob Carter cautioned in an undertone.
Hammond didn’t want to anger him if he meant to take it out on Janet Fraiser, but he did want to keep him off balance while they rushed armed troops to his location. "If Gozer is so powerful, how is it that he was defeated, that he was confined by a few system lords? We will stop him. You will release Doctor Fraiser now. If you release her unharmed we may spare your life."
"To turn me over to the Tok’ra?" The Goa’uld’s voice hardened. "I think not. Gozer is coming. If you attack him, I will kill the good doctor very slowly."
"You’re contradicting yourself," Hammond pointed out. "But if you kill her, you will never step through the Stargate. If you kill her, you will not leave this base alive."
"Gozer the Destructor, Gozer the Traveler, Volguus Zildrohar, Gozer the Gozerian is coming!" Vinz Clortho sounded like a herald announcing the guests at a medieval banquet.
Was he getting one of those psi messages? Hammond shot a wary glance at Jacob/Selmac to see if he was reacting. Jacob interpreted the look and shook his head. "If there’s a second psi blast...." Hammond began.
Eyes glowed. "Understood," confirmed Selmac. Major Carter shivered involuntarily. "I will go into voluntary stasis now," the Tok’ra announced. "Jacob will be able to awaken me when the time is past." He bowed his head and when he looked up again, Jacob Carter’s eyes were hollow and desolate. "Have to say it feels weird. I hope we get this over fast. I’m not used to being alone in my head."
"What about Zuul, sir?" Carter darted a worried glance at her father then turned back to Hammond. "If she really is Tok’ra, shouldn’t she have the same warning?"
"Vinz Clortho’s signal is going base-wide," Hammond explained. "She must make her own choice." He picked up a telephone and spoke into it. He’d been in contact with NORAD through the entire process. All access to the upper levels was sealed in preparation for the possible threat. That was S.O.P. But he had a feeling this would be worse than most of their previous bad experiences. Maybe not so bad as the time the gate—and by extension, the rest of Earth—had nearly been sucked into a black hole, but it wouldn’t be good. He gave a quick warning and hung up.
"Hello? Have you forgotten about me?" Vinz Clortho sounded furious. "I will not be treated this way. I am Vinz Clortho, Keymaster of Gozer."
"And a heck of a lot redundant," O’Neill chipped in from down in the gate room. Hammond saw him at the intercom. "Is there any point to all this rattling off of titles, or can we simply assume you like the sound of the Goze’s name?" Peter Venkman gave him a high five for that one.
"Sarcasm will not aid you when my lord arrives," snapped the Goa’uld. "I offer you proof of my intentions."
A second later, Fraiser’s pain-filled voice came over the speaker. "I’m sorry, General. Do what you must. Don’t worry about—" Her voice chopped off in the middle with an anguished moan. Hammond felt his scalp tighten in fury. Down in the gate room O’Neill’s hands tightened furiously around the handle of the particle thrower he held. Daniel flinched, Teal’c’s muscles stiffened, and Peter Venkman’s mouth traced a hard line. Ray Stantz’s eyes were wide and distressed.
"So, when’s Gozer due to make his grand entrance?" Peter called into the speaker over O’Neill’s shoulder. "We’re getting a little tired of hanging around listening to you boasting. Maybe he decided he wasn’t ready to face us and went to play on some other unlucky world instead."
"Don’t push me, Venkman." Vinz Clortho recognized his voice without effort. "You’ve been condescending and a smartass all along. When Gozer comes, I’m going to ask him to kill you first."
"Talk’s cheap," Peter snapped. He glanced over at Egon.
"You are always a smartass, Peter," Egon said with a note of amused fondness. Hammond heard it over the speaker they had open to the gate room. "As for the other, he’s wrong. You treated Louis no differently than the rest of us did. None of us realized he had stopped being Louis."
"Well, yeah, but...." Peter’s voice trailed off. "Louis is still in there," he reminded them. "All everybody thinks of is zapping old Vinz—well, everybody but Ray."
"Not everyone," said Daniel Jackson. Hammond should have expected that.
O’Neill had. The glance he threw Jackson held not one shred of surprise. He and Daniel stared at each other a moment, one of those looks they shared that didn’t seem to exchange any emotions but so obviously did. Hammond had seen one of them read a blank look from the other with unerring accuracy too many times to doubt its possibility. Sha’re hadn’t been dead that long. It didn’t take an expert in the reading of Daniel Jackson to know where he was coming from. They would most likely have to sacrifice Dana Barrett to the Tok’ra. If Louis Tully died along with Vinz Clortho, or escaped into the galaxy through the Stargate, it wouldn’t only be the Ghostbusters who felt it.
"Yeah, Daniel, sorry," Peter said quickly. "I know. I get hung up on Dana and forget about Louis, and, uh, Sha’re, and I didn’t mean to do that." Hammond wasn’t used to seeing that much vulnerability on the cocky psychologist’s face, and he was pretty sure Peter had only let it show for Daniel’s sake. He moved away from the speaker, back to his friends, and the automatic motion reminded Hammond of sunflowers lifting their faces to the sun. They gathered him into their midst automatically.
The speaker crackled as Vinz Clortho spat out another demand. "Give me access to the Chappa’ai, or else I will—"
Before he could finish, every light in the control room and gate room went out. Energy pulsed through the room, and sparks flew. The emergency lighting flickered back immediately, much dimmer this time. Major Carter clutched at her head and cried out, and Jacob, in spite of Selmac’s voluntary stasis, collapsed to his knees, moaning. Below them, in the gate room, Teal’c gasped, clasped his stomach, and pitched over. He would have hit the floor hard if Jack and Winston Zeddemore hadn’t grabbed him on the way down and lowered him the rest of the way. From the limpness of Teal’c’s muscles, Hammond suspected the Jaffa was unconscious. O’Neill slid a hand under his head until he was level. His face was alive with worry and anger as he pressed fingers against Teal’c’s neck to test his pulse.
There was a breathless pause, then, gradually, the computers in the command center flickered back to life.
The medical team Hammond had ordered to stand by rushed into the gate room to examine the downed Jaffa. "He’s alive," reported the head tech. "We need to move him to the infirmary right away."
O’Neill nodded. "Go."
The team lifted Teal’c onto a gurney with ready help from O’Neill and Doctor Jackson, and hurried him out. Daniel stared after him in alarm. O’Neill’s face was tight, but he lacked the luxury of accompanying them to check on his teammate. At a nod from the Colonel, one of the Marines retrieved Teal’c’s staff weapon, prepared to use it.
"That’s it," Jack gritted out. "Now I’m mad."
In the control booth, Major Carter massaged her temples furiously and shook her head in an attempt to clear it. She spotted her father and went to her knees beside him. Her arm around his shoulders, she talked to him in an undertone. Hammond was glad to see that Jacob was conscious, if groggy.
"Now you will face the wrath of Gozer," chortled Tully over the P.A. system. Whatever had affected the Carters hadn’t fazed him. Gozer must be getting selective—and that worried Hammond.
The Stargate began dialing up.
"Shut it down. Shut it down," Hammond commanded.
"I can’t, sir," Davis cried. "It’s coming from the other side, and it’s not responding to anything I do."
"Stand by with the iris. I want it in place the second the gate activates." He glanced down. "Major Carter?"
"I’m all right, sir. I just felt that more strongly than the last one. I think if Selmac hadn’t been shielded, it might have forced him into stasis."
"Second chevron engaged," Sergeant Davis reported in the background.
Hammond gestured at the speaker. "Then why hasn’t it affected Vinz Clortho?"
"I think because it was directed at him and Zuul," she replied. "It was specific, different from the last message. I don’t know if Gozer was able to detect anything from Vinz Clortho last time, any reciprocal information. I don’t believe Gozer would have been able to take anything out of the mind of anyone he wasn’t attuned to. I felt nothing last time except the vague hint of a message. My father heard actual words. This time, it wasn’t so much a specific message as it was an alert that he was ready to come. At least that’s how I interpret it."
"Third chevron engaged."
Hammond hit the intercom button. "Stand by, people. We’re about to come under attack from an entity more powerful than a Goa’uld. We can’t guarantee the iris will hold it." He directed the military teams to their positions, and had the satisfaction of seeing the armed men and women in the gate room ready and waiting, armed and aiming at the gate. The Ghostbusters looked grimly prepared. They might be largely untried in galactic affairs, and only three of them had ever traveled through the gate, and then briefly. But they were the only ones on Earth who had faced Gozer before—and last time they had won.
Of course Hammond suspected the last time had been as much dumb luck as any particular skill other than an interpretation of the meter readings. Sometimes blind chance was all they had going for them. He hoped they were more prepared this time, with the information they had received from Zuul, from Jacob Carter and Martouf, from the Ghostbusters themselves, and from their own experience in galactic affairs.
And just maybe there was enough dumb luck left to go around.
"Fourth chevron engaged."
George Hammond stood tall. He couldn’t be down there in the heart of the fight. He had to depend on his people, his equipment, and his experience. In the end, that was all any of them could expect. He deliberately chose not to close the blast shield. That might yet come, but he wanted to witness the coming of Gozer first hand.
Major Carter helped Jacob up, and he sat in her chair, rubbing his temples. He looked almost as bad as he had when his daughter had helped him through the Stargate in hopes that a Tok’ra symbiote would cure his cancer. God, was Selmac dead?
"Fifth chevron engaged."
As if he sensed eyes upon him, Jacob looked up. "I’ll make it, George," he said. "Selmac’s still here, but in deep hibernation. I’m not used to being alone in my head. It feels wrong."
It would have felt wrong to Hammond to have a Tok’ra in his head, but then he’d never tried. He hoped he’d never have the opportunity, or that he’d never be forced into the opposite situation, a Goa’uld’s involuntary takeover. What could Gozer do? If he took over this base, would that be enough to subjugate them all? Would he grow to mammoth size and stomp everybody to jelly, the way he’d squashed all those taxis on Central Park West?
"Sixth Chevron engaged."
Daniel Jackson and Jack O’Neill stood shoulder to shoulder, in line with the Ghostbusters at the foot of the ramp. The minute the entity stepped through, he’d see them, and he’d recognize the Ghostbusters from the last time. What would he do? Attack them instantly? Retreat? Right, George. Turn around and go home with his tail between his legs? I don’t think so. Hammond was positive he’d attack. So far, his people hadn’t flushed out Vinz Clortho, even though they’d pinpointed his location immediately and guarded it now. Better not to risk Doctor Fraiser if they didn’t have to. Better to wait on that, hope the iris protected them, and that Gozer would back off long enough for his science team to finish the anti-Gozer device they were still working on so frantically in the lab.
Hammond knew that wouldn’t happen.
"Seventh chevron locked."
The gate kawooshed out and the Ghostbusters, who were a lot less familiar with general gate operation, flinched involuntarily, but not one of them took a step backward.
"Put up the iris," Hammond commanded. Davis activated it before the general finished speaking.
"Now," the General continued, "we wait. Stand by, everyone."
O’Neill said something in an undertone that made Venkman laugh out loud and Daniel stare at him in surprise. Maybe it was just as well that Hammond hadn’t heard it. Knowing Jack O’Neill, it was certain to be highly irreverent.
** *** **
"Wow, that’s the iris?" Ray Stantz stared at the sealed gate. "All that power from the event horizon just kept back by that little thing? Titanium?"
"Something like that," Jack replied with a grin he hoped looked confident. "And it stands up to pretty much anything—like Goa’ulds splatting against it at the speed of light."
Peter grinned. "Bugs on a windshield?"
"At first, they’d try for days." Daniel looked tense but ready. Yeah, right, ready. Jack wasn’t sure how ready he was. The Ghostbusters movie had held a light touch, humor in the face of danger. Jack hadn’t come away from it believing the fate of the planet had rested on these four clowns, but it evidently had. One more thing they had in common with SG-1, who had held Earth’s fate in their own hands on two Goa’uld ships in orbit. And how many times since? Had to wonder how many people since the dawn of time had been given that power. The guys who buried the Egyptian Stargate? Who else? Daniel could probably jump in with a list of names out of history, but history didn’t matter now. What did was that any second a pissed-off Sumerian demi-god/uber-Goa’uld was about to show up, probably walk right through the iris as if it was paper, and start stomping Marines right and left. Sweet.
"Now my lord will come," yelled Vinz Clortho over the P.A. system. His hollowed-out Goa’uld voice rang with triumph.
Overhead in the briefing room, Hammond commanded, "Shut that off." He had the mike open to the gate room because even seconds might count in the battle that was about to come. Vinz’s pipsqueak voice broke off in mid rant.
Jack exchanged a wry grin with Daniel. If only it was as easy to silence a Goa’uld for real.
Abruptly, the air crackled with power, and then, son of a gun, he did it. A figure squirted out through the iris and stood before them on the ramp. Behind the iris, the event horizon shut down, and the iris withdrew. Jack noticed that the disruption of the iris had not triggered the self-destruct program—and interference with the iris was supposed to. He wasn’t sure whether that was good or bad. The only good thing was that they didn’t have to worry about overriding the failsafe and fighting Gozer at the same time.
In the movie, Gozer had strolled out of the gate resembling a babe in skimpy clothes and a voice like Apophis with a frog in his throat, but this figure was androgynous, a face that could go either way, a body that was lean and long and slender in the waist with a head of tight, stylized curls. He reminded Jack of a statue out of antiquity. Daniel would be sure to know which culture.
He wasn’t the only one. "Sumerian," said Daniel and Egon in perfect chorus.
"You locked your door," Gozer sounded like a parent chiding a mildly disobedient child. "That was not nice." The entity frowned at them, focused on the Ghostbusters, and his eyes flashed. "You I remember. You are not gods and you will be the first to die. Who commands this place?"
"I do," said Hammond from the control room.
Gozer studied him in a leisurely manner, completely ignoring the forest of rifles that were leveled at him. Bullets probably bounced off him the way they did the big red "S" on Superman’s chest.
"Are you a god?"
Yep, the Goze had asked that last time. Ray had said he wasn’t, and Gozer’s response, at least in the movie, had been, "Then, die."
"I am General George Hammond and I order you to withdraw from this place."
"I do not take orders from humans, or indeed from anyone. Where are my minions?" The unlined face lifted and his eyes ran over the Marines. He jerked back his hands.
"Uh, guys, look out," Peter had time to warn before the being shot out something that wasn’t fire, energy, or anything Jack understood, and flung half a dozen Marines up against the wall. Their guns popped out of their hands, and as Jack stared in disbelief, the barrels twisted and melted. O’Neill watched only long enough to make sure the guys weren’t dead before he turned back to the challenge.
"Hit it!" Peter yelled.
The Ghostbusters fired in perfect unison, and the energy beams lashed out at Gozer—and passed right through him, through the center of the empty gate where they dug chunks out of the far wall. Jack and Daniel fired their throwers, too, a beat later. Son of a bitch, the thing had a kick to it! He’d fired one once before, and it hadn’t been fun. No precision to it. But maybe you didn’t need precision when you were handling a nuclear accelerator.
Four streams hadn’t stopped Gozer the first time. Would six make a difference?
As he watched, Gozer grew transparent before their eyes. Was that supposed to happen? Then, with an audible pop, he vanished. They shut down the throwers instantly before they could take out the gate. Could the throwers wreck the gate? Nope, they hadn’t last time, in New York.
Some of the Marines cheered, but Egon held up a warning hand. "No. He’s not gone. He did this last time. He simply phased to a new position. He is still here, somewhere. He will return."
"And he’ll be pissed," Peter warned. "He’ll probably decide to squash us like roadkill."
"He will ask us to select his form," Egon reminded them. "It is vital that all of us clear our minds when that happens."
"And will that stop him from trying to zap us?" Jack demanded.
"Nope, but it’ll keep us from having a personal reaction to whatever he uses to squish us," Peter replied. "Kinda hard to blast Santa Claus, for instance, or Sandra Bullock." He threw Ray a fond glance. "Or the Easter Bunny. I’d never get Ray to fire at the Easter Bunny. Had to con him last time."
Ray ducked his head, abashed, although it didn’t stop him from checking the setting of his thrower. "Aw, Peter, you know I’ll blast him no matter what he looks like."
Jack didn’t want to know.
Abruptly Vinz Clortho materialized on the ramp, with an arm tight around Janet Fraiser’s neck and a 9 mm pressed up against her temple. Jack couldn’t see that the doc had any major injuries although one cheekbone sported a new bruise. She was conscious and alert, and her eyes gleamed with intelligence, and no little astonishment as she realized where she was. A second later, Dana Barrett popped in, too, surprise and alarm on her face. She cast a quick warning glance at Peter, who fielded it like a real pro. He turned his head to the control booth and mouthed exaggeratedly, "Play along," with a gesture at Dana to make his point. If she really had jumped on the Tok’ra bandwagon, maybe she could help. Gozer wouldn’t be able to tell, would he, not unless he made a nasty habit of reading minds?
"He’ll know," Daniel said to Peter in an undertone, his face white. "He knew about the Marshmallow man."
"He’s right, Dana," Peter said hastily.
"And I know," snarled Vinz. "She has become the enemy, and if I know it, my lord will know it, too. I will kill this human female if you thwart us."
Fraiser held her head defiantly high in spite of the darkening bruise on her cheekbone. Jack felt an urge to plant his fist extremely hard on the point of Vinz’s nerdy little chin.
"Okay, Janet?" Jack asked.
"Yes." The one word made Vinz’s grip tighten on her, but she didn’t demean herself by struggling. The doc was a feisty lady. She’d be on the alert, ready to slip away at the first chance she had. Jack couldn’t help noticing that the Goa’uld positioned his feet to avoid a repeat of Janine’s little two-step. Maybe it was true, some snakeheads could actually learn from their mistakes.
Venkman ignored the exchange. "You okay?" he asked the Tok’ra woman.
"It’s all right, Peter." The voice was soothing, but it was a Goa’uld voice, Zuul, not Dana. Peter flinched from it. He hardly wanted affection from the Goa’uld any more than Danny Boy would have liked to hear Ammaunet sweet-talking him.
"Yeah," Peter said unconvincingly.
Egon was nose deep in P.K.E. readings but, without hesitation, he lifted his head, studied Peter’s face, and sent him a look that made some of the tension melt from Venkman’s clenched shoulders. They read each other the way Daniel and Jack did.
No time for that now. Egon continued without missing a beat. "Power is building, General. Stand ready. At any second, Gozer will—"
The lights abruptly blinked on and off in a weird, compelling sequence, enough to prove that Gozer had taken complete control of the system. "Chose and perish." The voice thundered through the base. Probably everybody here could hear it—and the Goze could take a form from the head of anyone. Recalling Peter’s earlier words, Jack forced himself to think of anything but Santa Claus—or his earlier purple giraffe. Not that it mattered. They’d have to blast Gozer or cross the streams or come up with some other clever little trick no matter what form the entity took.
Everybody held his breath. Vinz bounced on his toes, his face agleam with obsequious delight. Zuul braced herself to act. Hope to god she really is a Tok’ra.
Jack knew what happened next wouldn’t be fun. He had a sudden vision of Gozer striding through the base in the form of Freddy Kruger or the Terminator, squashing SGC personnel right and left, leaving their broken bodies behind like roadkill. No, damn it, erase that thought. His fingers curled tightly around the handle of the thrower and he wished he had Teal’c’s staff weapon instead. He didn’t even know if Teal’c was alive.... Shit, what if he comes back looking like Teal’c?
The Ghostbusters exchanged the kind of looks SG-1 shared when disaster was about to strike, then positioned themselves in a circle, facing out. They weren’t combat trained in the military style—well, except for Winston—but they were battle-hardened in their own way.
The air sizzled and its very pressure thrust against the skin. Definitely not a good feeling. Could you get the bends from it? The other shoe was about to drop—and it was going to be a size twenty-seven. Beside Jack, Daniel met his eyes. Jack quirked the corner of his mouth. "Showtime, Danny," he muttered.
They gazed at each other another moment, risked one quick glance up at Sam, who was doing something urgent with her keyboard and didn’t see it, then they fell in back to back, like the Ghostbusters. Unaccustomed to the proton packs, they bumped into each other and each of them gave an uneasy sputter of laughter.
"Gozer is here."
In spite of the hollow echo, the voice was familiar to Jack. Too familiar. Oh, shit. Daniel jerked violently and the sound of his indrawn breath filled the shocked silence after the proclamation. Even before Jack whirled to face the entity who stood directly in front of the inactive gate, Jack knew exactly what he was going to see.
Worse, she—he? Whatever—was dressed the way Ammaunet had been the day she died.
"Sha’re." Daniel’s broken voice quavered out the name. Every scrap of color drained from his face. He shot out his hand and gripped Jack’s wrist so desperately that O’Neill could feel the bruises forming. "Jack!" The word was a frantic plea for sanity, for answers Jack didn’t have a hope of providing. The pain on Daniel’s face created an echo in Jack. Hadn’t his friend suffered enough? Why the hell did he have to go through this, too? It wasn’t fair, damn it.
"Yeah, I see," he said. Great answer, O’Neill. He let go of his thrower with one hand. "It’s Gozer," he insisted as firmly as he could. "You know it’s Gozer. It’s not Sha’re. He’s playing with your head."
"Sha’re," Peter muttered in an undertone to his buddies. "Daniel’s wife." He raised his voice. "What’s the matter, Goze, too cheap to do the giant economy size for us like last time?"
Sha’re’s hands lifted and sent a flicker of careless fire at Peter, who yelped and jumped sideways just in time to avoid being charbroiled. "Do that again and I’m gonna come over there and slap you silly," he challenged the entity. Gozer ignored the comment; probably thought it was beneath his/her dignity.
Daniel didn’t notice their shocked reactions—he didn’t even react to the sudden energy or Peter’s whistling-in-the-dark quip. He was focused on one thing, the face of the woman he had loved. Still loved. "Sha’re," he breathed. Then his face twisted into furious rage. "How can you do this?" he stormed at Gozer. "You have no right—"
Sha’re’s hand lifted. "Ah, but I do. I have the right because I can. You cannot stop me. Not even a coalition of system lords could stop me. They could only inconvenience me for a time, and that time is past." How the hell could he know so exactly what Sha’re’s voice sounded like? Well, why not? If he could take her image from Daniel’s mind, he could take that, too. His next words proved it. "Do you doubt it, my Dan-yel?"
Sha’re’s familiar pronunciation made Daniel look like he wanted to be sick. His fingers tightened still further around Jack’s wrist. Any tighter and bones would start popping. Probably just as well. If he wasn’t holding on, what would he do to the entity that wore his wife’s form? And what would Gozer do back? "That’s it," O’Neill gritted out. "You’re going down. Cross the streams, guys."
"I would not advise—" Egon began, but Peter nudged his shoulder.
"Come on, Spengs, we gotta."
"In an enclosed bunker like this, the force of the resultant explosion will destroy us all," Egon proclaimed. How the hell could he sound so calm about announcing their doom?
"You Pollyanna, you." Peter’s voice was full of love for his friend, all tangled up with blanket absolution in case they should all croak in the next few minutes. "Long as it stops the Goze, what choice do we have?"
A certain tension melted out of Egon. "Thank you, Peter." His response held gratitude for the ‘permission’ to risk their lives and an affirmation of their friendship. He was going for it. They were all gonna die. Sweet.
Peter beamed at Egon for a second, widened the smile to include Ray and Winston, then he squared his shoulders, turned toward Jack and Daniel, and said, "Daniel, we’ve gotta."
Daniel jumped when he heard his name. The rest of the conversation had sailed right over his head. "What? Uh...." Clearly not operating on all thrusters. Jack hadn’t expected more.
"So," O’Neill jumped in. "What do we do?"
"Do?" echoed Sha’re/Gozer. "Now you die. Do not think that to ‘cross the streams’ will stop me."
"How about this," yelled the Marine who had picked up Teal’c’s staff weapon. He popped off a quick burst at Gozer and the blast impacted against Sha’re’s chest. Daniel gave a choked-off cry of distress and fought not to move. He knew it wasn’t really Sha’re, but seeing Gozer hit with a staff weapon was not a good thing. God, the memories that would evoke.... Jack realized how he’d have felt if Gozer had appeared to them as his son Charlie. Shit. No way he’d be able to blast the image of his kid. As long as she looked like Sha’re, Daniel wouldn’t be able to do this crossing the streams number on Gozer.
The smoke cleared from the zat blast and Gozer complacently patted down the well-endowed chest. There wasn’t a mark on her—him. Whatever.
"Goa’uld weapons will not harm my lord," scoffed Vinz Clortho. He pressed the gun a little more tightly against Fraiser’s temple. The doctor winced but refused to cry out. She was steeled to snatch the first chance she had.
"Maybe this will." It was Ray Stantz. Jack had noticed him fiddling with his thrower ever since Gozer had phased out earlier. Whatever he’d tried, now he was ready. The glowing ropes of energy shot out and hit Gozer right in the middle of his D-cup.
Gozer flinched and twitched in the stream.
"What did you do, Raymond?" Egon asked.
"I had an idea." Ray beamed. "Gozer, change out of that form. Let’s see you as you really are."
"I am what I choose. Every form I select becomes Gozer. Your human minds are too pitiful to comprehend the scope of my powers. Daniel will not hurt me, because I am Sha’re to him. I am all that Sha’re was, all that he knew of her, because I can take her essence from his mind. I will be Sha’re for him, and all I require is that he turn over this base to me." As he spoke, Gozer concentrated, firming up, growing a little, but not so big that he took away the illusion of Sha’re.
At a signal from O’Neill, the Marines whose weapons hadn’t been twisted out of shape took aim at Gozer and fired. The body jerked with each impact, and Daniel moaned faintly under his breath. It’s not Sha’re, Danny. Damn it, be mad at him for taking her form. Don’t let Gozer do this to you.
When the Marines stopped firing, Gozer tossed the luxuriant dark hair—it was like Dana’s. No wonder Daniel had reacted to the sight of her—and laughed at them. It was Sha’re’s laugh, and it cut through Daniel like a lance. Jack felt it in the convulsive tightening of the deathgrip on his wrist.
"I told you that you could not harm me. It is foolish to try. I tell you now that your crossing the streams will not kill me, either. The last time, I simply retreated to consider my options. Yes, it was unpleasant, but it would not have killed me, had I stayed. I would have come back, had you not sealed the gate. Now that it is open again, I am here, prepared to withstand the impact of the crossed streams. Only you will die, not I. And I will make you die slowly, one at a time." Gozer/Sha’re looked around the gate room and stopped when he saw Dana Barrett. Sha’re’s brows came down and an expression of great displeasure marred the beautiful face. "Zuul? You betray me."
"Yes," replied the Tok’ra woman without hesitation. She stood tall and proud, exuding defiance. Jack had to give her points for her courage. "Because you do not deserve my loyalty. I served you last time against my own inclination, because I knew nothing else, because you influenced me. I will not serve you again, even if I must die of it."
"If? There is no ‘if’. You will die, and your pathetic host whom you love will die, and I will find the boy you try to shield in your thoughts and I will make him into a host. No weak Tok’ra, either, but a Goa’uld determined to serve me. You and Vinz Clortho were never my only servants."
"We have to do something." O’Neill said in an undertone to the Ghostbusters. He gave Peter a poke to distract him from Dana. "Not gonna stand here and take it."
Ray fired again, and this time, Gozer jerked hard. For a second, Jack saw astonishment and pain spelled out on Sha’re’s face. "So, you humans begin to learn. This will not do." He threw fire at Stantz, who blurted out an astonished, pain-filled cry, as he flew back and crashed against the wall. His pack hit first, and the impact jerked his head back. Poor guy would probably have whiplash. He dropped to the floor and lay there, making faint, pained sounds. "Ray!" screeched the Ghostbusters in chorus. The minute he fell, Gozer turned his attention to the control booth overhead, ignoring Zuul, who stood there tall and defiant, waiting for an opportunity to act—or waiting courageously for the death she must have expected.
"Now, you will surrender," gloated Gozer. "General Hammond. You will now turn over this base to me, or I will kill everyone, slowly, and in exquisite agony."
Mouth in a tight line, Peter sprang for Ray and thrust his fingers against the side of Stantz’s neck to feel for a pulse. His shoulders sagged briefly in relief when he felt it; must have been close to normal.
"I’m okay, Peter, only sore," Ray panted. "Take my thrower." He lowered his voice so the entity wouldn’t hear him. Jack divided his attention between Gozer’s grandiose boasts that Hammond kept refuting and Ray’s urgent words. "Configured as close as I could get to the readings I took on P3B-881. I know we set them that way but we didn’t have the final configuration, and then it hit me. Light! When Gozer came last time, it got dark as night. Remember? The whole city blacked out."
Without turning his particle thrower away from Gozer, Jack edged closer to listen, towing Daniel with him. This was becoming interesting. The lights had definitely dimmed, even if the Cheyenne Mountain complex had backups upon backups for all their systems. Was that deliberate? Had Gozer plundered old Vinz’s mind to know how bright it was here, or did he just bring gloom with him in a tidy little circle to fill his personal space? Was the Goze an interstellar vampire hiding from the sun? Sweet.
Ray whispered settings and the other three Ghostbusters attacked their thrower controls. Jack wasn’t sure they would have time to complete it. Gozer was growing awfully suspicious. He glanced at them out of the corner of his eye, then turned away from Hammond altogether.
They had just run out of time.
Jack did the only thing he could to stall. He whipped out his zat and blasted the Goze full in the face.
Should have known it wouldn’t stun the entity. At once Gozer’s hands came up and lightning shot at Jack. He’d thought it felt crummy to get zatted; this felt worse and it kept on stabbing. His breath went out in an agonized whoosh and he couldn’t draw more in. Fire ran up and down his chest, stabbing like tiny cattle prods and making his limbs jerk. The zat squirted out of his hand and bounced off a Marine’s leg. The guy jumped, then he bent and snatched it up.
Ever since Gozer had assumed Sha’re’s form, Daniel had been unable to tear his eyes away from the transformed being. Now he jerked, blinked, and let go of Jack’s wrist as if the energy had zipped through Jack and into Daniel. Energy conductor O’Neill.
A few Marines got some rounds off, but the weapons didn’t have any more impact than they had before. The Ghostbusters were still twisting dials. It dawned on Jack that what felt like five minutes of zapping was probably no more than a second or two. God, why didn’t it stop? He heard pained whimpers trickling out of his mouth and he couldn’t hold them back.
"No!" The terrible screech came from Daniel. Jack saw him through blurring eyes. "Stop it! You’re not Sha’re. You don’t even have the right to look like Sha’re. Stop it!" He lunged at Gozer, tackled him, and actually flung him to the ground. He had time for two quick, furious blows to the face—god, what that must have cost him!—before Gozer retaliated by throwing Daniel across the room without even touching him. He crashed into two Marines, and the three of them went down in a tangle of arms and legs. Daniel landed hard and didn’t move.
The minute Daniel hit Gozer, the zat effect stopped. O’Neill felt himself slide down into a quivering puddle on the floor, and he fought it, trying to force strength into his body so he could go to Daniel. His arms and legs didn’t want to move at first, and then, when they did, he scrambled feebly and barely made it to his hands and knees.
Ray Stantz yelled at the top of his lungs, "Light, Sam! Bright as you can make it! Now!"
Carter let out a yelp that was audible over the mike even though she wasn’t close to it. She threw herself at her keyboard and did something that brought up the lights in the gateroom to agonizing brightness. Jack squinted.
Gozer/Sha’re jerked, cringed, and probably would have done a corny vampire routine of flinging a cloak over his eyes if he’d been wearing one. He melted out of Sha’re’s form into something huge and hulking and covered with a thick coating of black body hair. Maybe it blocked the light.
"You are becoming clever." The voice was still Sha’re’s, and Jack had to say it was really weird to hear it popping out of the monster’s saber-toothed mouth. He wasn’t sure what Daniel thought of that. He wasn’t sure Daniel was even alive. He hadn’t moved since he landed. One of the Marines he’d knocked down was kneeling beside him but the other was still sprawled, unmoving, beside Daniel. A couple of the troops had removed Daniel’s proton pack so he could lie flat but they had moved him no more than that. Doctor Fraiser struggled in Vinz’s grip to go to him. The little Goa’uld simply waited complacently, very careful to make sure the doc was between him and the guns. Typical cowardly Goa’uld.
Come on, Daniel, Jack encouraged mentally, but there was no sign of consciousness. Jack ached to jog over and examine him, but he couldn’t. He was barely ready to try to stand up. First Teal’c and now Daniel. Another one bites the dust. He forced his mind to the crisis. Gozer was going down. He didn’t know how, but he would see that Gozer was stopped, or die trying.
Why was he so sure the latter option was so much more likely?
Gozer had resumed his footing. He didn’t look remotely hurt from Daniel’s attack and he proved it by casting fire at the Marines, who ducked and scattered. The light definitely bothered him. His accuracy was waaaay down. Only thing that saved them.
"Ready," Egon said abruptly.
"Check!" Winston confirmed.
Peter erupted to his feet. "Let’s slam dunk this mother."
Squinting in the brilliant light, the four Ghostbusters lined up in a row. "Maintain standard fire, Colonel O’Neill," Egon instructed.
That made one of the Marines snatch up Daniel’s proton pack and fling it on. Vinz flinched nervously at the sight of it and tried to jerk Fraiser around to shield himself from the weapon.
Fraiser lifted her foot, kicked him hard in the shin, and eeled out of his grip like she’d been taking Melnitz lessons. Vinz made a grab for her, missed, and scuttled over to cower behind his now-hairy boss. Without hesitation, Fraiser flung herself at Daniel and the other downed Marine without so much as a glance at Gozer. Jack envied her. After a beat, Zuul went down on her knees beside them to help. Jack heard her mutter something about a Goa’uld healing device. Janet gestured at the sealed door and shook her head. Shit, did that mean Daniel wouldn’t make it without one? Jack’s stomach knotted.
The Ghostbusters fired in perfect unison, and Jack, who had divided his attention, came in a beat later. All five streams hit Gozer, who was a bigger target in this form and still reacting to the glare of the light. The Marine with Daniel’s pack joined in unsteadily. He’d never fired one before and his stream ran up the far wall, tracing a scored mark on it, before he brought the thrower under control.
The Ghostbusters’ streams looked slightly different, nothing Jack could put his finger on, but the configuration was visibly brighter, the color more golden than before. Gozer shrieked under it and waved his taloned paws wildly, shooting fire in all directions. O’Neill saw three Marines get zapped and pitch over. The ones still standing joined in with M-90s and zats. Gozer kept bouncing the bullets off like he was Superman, but he wasn’t a happy camper. He writhed and growled, and struggled to pull himself out of the beams. Ray’s new setting must really have an effect. Who’d have thought the Goze could be stopped—if he could—by something as innocuous as light?
"Come on, come on," Jack ground out as he fought the unfamiliar kick of the particle thrower. He knew he hit the entity mid-chest—probably would have sent a human being into pieces at the speed of light; hadn’t Venkman said the throwers could do that that? The Goze didn’t like it, but he still wasn’t going down, not even with the radiance of the energy that struck him, not with all the ordnance they could devote to it. Jack wasn’t even sure they could cross the streams now and send Gozer back through the gate. He’d noticed at least one of the chevrons shorting out in a cascade of sparks as Gozer writhed furiously in the streams. That was bad. How much downtime would that give them?
Assuming they were alive to care when this was over.
"Colonel, duck!" That was Hammond overhead, and Jack responded automatically by flinging himself flat. He felt the backlash of Gozer’s attack sparkle through his nerve endings like a zat graze. Urgently, he rolled sideways, only to be caught up against the proton pack he wore like an overturned turtle. At the other end of the ramp, a second burst from Gozer’s talons hit Peter Venkman in the middle of the chest, and he yelped, lost all color, and fell over backwards. His particle stream took out a chunk of the ceiling, ran down the wall, and zapped another chevron as neat as you please before the thrower dropped from his nerveless hands and shut down automatically.
The other three Ghostbusters shouted, "Peter!" in perfect unison, but they couldn’t stop firing to go to him.
Egon’s face hardened. As Jack levered his aching body to his feet and reeled in his thrower, the physicist said grimly, "There’s only one chance."
"Cross the streams?" Ray looked like he’d been rode hard and put away wet, and his eyes didn’t seem entirely focused. He was moving as if just turning his head hurt.
"Oh, man," Winston groaned unhappily. "Been great working with you guys."
"You too, Winston," Ray agreed.
That sounded bad. Jack liked alternatives, and he wasn’t hearing any in their voices. There had to be another way. Cross the streams, and Spengler hadn’t guaranteed it would stop Gozer. What would it do this time except kill them all and bury the Stargate? Gozer would probably survive, dig himself out, and go raping and pillaging across America. Probably eighty feet tall like Godzilla. Shit. Shit. Shit.
"We really gonna do this?" he asked Winston out of the side of his mouth. Across the room, Fraiser dragged Daniel as far away from the throwers as she could while several of the Marines helped the other injured. Zuul—or maybe Dana—knelt beside Peter, her face full of distress. Jack saw her take his pulse. He couldn’t tell from her expression whether she found one or not.
"No!" That was Carter in the control booth. "Don’t cross the streams. Wait."
"I’ll wait," Jack hollered back. "I don’t think Gozer’s gonna wait."
"Close your eyes," Carter shouted back. "Everybody. Now."
Close their eyes? When a huge, shaggy monster was firing at them? Damn it! Carter was good at pulling last-minute miracles. Better than Wesley Crusher. He’d have to trust her. He scrunched his eyes tightly shut and tried to imagine himself as tiny a target as possible.
When the light blast exploded in the room, he could see it even through his closed eyelids. If his eyes had been open, he was sure his eyeballs would be sizzling. One of the Marines cried out in anguish, and he heard blurted surprise from Winston Zeddemore.
Ray Stantz muttered happily, "Yes. Yes! Yes!"
"Perfect," confirmed Egon Spengler.
Then a very frantic, very young, very familiar voice cried, "Dad! Help me, Dad."
Jack’s stomach nearly turned inside out, and he felt his scalp crawl and tighten. Charlie. It was all Jack could do not to open his eyes. He was sure if he did, he’d see his son staggering under the force of the light and the Marines’ blind fire, and he didn’t think he could stand it. Gozer just wouldn’t quit. "Damn it," he ground out. "You’re not Charlie, you son of a bitch."
"Cease fire, people," Hammond ordered. He must have realized how easy it would be for someone to become turned around with his eyes closed and start taking out his own people. Jack could tell where Gozer was by the sounds he made, but if Gozer switched position they’d go down under friendly fire.
More voices cried out in turn, calling people by name, more vivid in the silence after the weapons stopped. An older man, pleading for Spengler’s help, a man’s and woman’s voice screaming Ray’s name that made Stantz gasp, "Mom! Dad!" in stricken tones. Other names Jack didn’t recognize but that won recognition from one or another of the Marines who were still standing. Damn it!
Power hummed in the room, an uncomfortable, itchy power that darted like quicksilver through O’Neill’s veins. The air felt heavy, a thunderstorm-y feeling, and the air smelled like ozone. If the lights died, Gozer would win. If he could build their system to an overload, he’d triumph. How long could he endure the brilliance that tormented him?
"Scopes," cried Ray, and Jack, right next to him, felt him moving urgently. A second later, his thrower hummed to power. Gozer screeched.
"Full streams, Raymond," Egon urged. "Now."
"Got it." Ray Stantz poured it on with his thrower. How could he see where to fire? Jack didn’t know, but he was clearly on the money because Gozer bellowed in fury, voice full of pain. They were doing something. Was it enough?
Several small explosions made Jack duck as a piece of debris whistled past his ear. He hoped Daniel was covered. He hoped he’d live long enough to find out if Daniel and Teal’c would be okay. He wondered where Vinz Clortho was and if he was sneaking around using his Goa’uld power to attack people, undaunted by the light. Jack let go of the thrower with one hand and groped around him. He touched an arm. "Who—?"
"Me," said Winston. "Ray’s got the ecto-scopes on. He can see."
The power hummed to a crescendo. Gozer screeched in pure soprano. The air was so heavy with power that O’Neill’s hair stood on end. A couple more explosions, then Ray yelled, "Down!" and Jack heard the thud of bodies hitting the floor. He landed hard on his knees, then forced himself flat.
The world blew up. Blinded by the light that burned his eyelids, deafened by the impossible tumult that lanced his eardrums, O’Neill lay with his arms over his head while debris rained down on him and bounced off his proton pack. The explosion seemed to last a year. Time went funny and Jack wasn’t sure if he had lost consciousness or simply suffered temporal disorientation. He didn’t think he’d been hit on the head, at least not hard enough to matter.
Gradually the echoes of the explosion died and the clatter of falling objects slowed and finally stopped. Somewhere in the middle of the burst the brilliant light had gone away, and Jack forced his eyes open to utter darkness. The only sounds he could hear were a couple of late crashes as a few final objects fell.
He moved cautiously, pushing something off his right leg. Chunks of plaster trickled out of his hair as he sat up. Not a good idea, O’Neill. Every bone and muscle in his body ached. Even his teeth hurt.
Close at hand, someone groaned. Someone else muttered, "Son of a bitch."
Then light appeared, a flashlight beam, cutting through the dust-laden air. One of the Marines waved it about and Jack flung up a protesting hand as it hit him full in the face.
"Sorry, Colonel." The man—Clark, his name was—lowered the beam. "Are you all right, sir?"
"Oh yeah, black and blue are my favorite colors." He glanced around the room as a couple more flashlight beams penetrated the heavy air. There was Fraiser, a smear of blood on her already-bruised left cheekbone, her hair greyed with dust, pushing herself away from Daniel, who was still out of it. Zuul’s eyes glowed as she knelt beside Peter, who was stirring faintly. She pressed her hand against his chest to keep him flat. Egon Spengler lay staring up at the ruined ceiling, his glasses askew on his face, but he was conscious and it looked like he was starting to think. Zeddemore had struggled up on his hands and knees, his head hanging down, and beyond him, Ray Stantz sat leaning against the wall, a weird pair of Luke Skywalker goggles covering his eyes. He coughed from the dust in the air.
Jack raised his eyes to the control booth where several flashlights were in play. He saw the general, blood dotting his face in several places—god, the window had shattered completely. It was a wonder everybody up there wasn’t gushing blood from severed arteries. Where was Carter? There she was, at the General’s shoulder. She looked a little groggy, but she was on her feet. Jack let his breath go out in relief. Her father was at her side.
On the other side of Hammond, Sergeant Davis, a makeshift bandage around his forehead, struggled to bring up power on the computer. He must have been getting something because faint blue light from the monitor flickered on his face.
"We’re mostly intact down here, sir," O’Neill reported. "We’ve got some casualties, don’t know how bad yet. We’ll secure the situation and check them out."
"Carry on, Colonel." Hammond leaned down to confer with Davis, and Carter whirled back to her keyboard.
"Peter?" Egon said urgently without moving. "Are you there?"
"Yeah, and not liking it one little bit." There were unsteady tremors in Venkman’s voice that Jack recognized. He’d been zapped pretty hard, and Jack had experienced enough of it to know how it felt. "I’m okay, Egon," Peter added reassuringly. "You?"
"Extremely bruised," Egon replied. "However, I appear to be otherwise intact. Raymond?"
"Here," he caroled just like a student at roll call. "Winston?"
"Yo? Anybody get the number of that bus?"
"What about Gozer?" Jack levered himself to his feet. Whoa! For a second, the room swam around him before it steadied. He was getting too old for this.
The lights came up slowly, very dim, then gradually brighter until it reached normalcy. With help from Zuul, Peter Venkman propped himself up against the wall. Jack saw him give her a doubtful, unhappy glance then turn to check out his buddies. When he registered that they seemed largely unhurt, he relaxed. Ray pushed the goggles up on his forehead and grinned at him delightedly before he bounced to his feet and offered Egon a hand up.
The two Ghostbusters joined Jack, and they walked over to the ramp. There were too many people down. Busy doing triage, Fraiser didn’t even glance up as the three men scanned the floor.
"Here," said Ray in astonishment.
The body didn’t resemble any of the forms Gozer had manifested in. Instead, the three of them saw a young man with soft, smug features and downy white feathers instead of hair. Whoever he was, he hadn’t been there before, so he had to be Gozer. Scorched and blackened marks covered much of his body, and his eyes were open and clouded over. The being was not breathing.
Egon whipped out his P.K.E. meter and took a reading. "Amazing," he said.
"You wanna define that, Doc?" Jack prodded. "Is that Gozer?"
"Yes. But all that remains of him is the physical. The psi components, the part of him that possessed near-unlimited power, is gone. He is dead, and his power has dissipated. That was the cause of the explosion, the severing of the psi from the physical. He’s gone."
"That’s not all that’s gone," Zeddemore said behind them. Jack jerked his eyes up and saw the Stargate.
Or rather, what was left of the Stargate.
It had been popping chevrons all along, but now the energy that had dissipated when Gozer...overloaded or whatever happened.
Jack hadn’t believed a Stargate could actually melt.
"Fascinating," Spengler sounded exactly like Mister Spock. "The full force of Class Eleven protonic reversal directed upon a physical object."
"So, is that possible?" Jack asked blankly. "What was it, the naquada?"
Egon frowned. "I would say yes except for one factor. Major Carter is intact, as are Zuul and..." He glanced around. "Where is Louis?"
"Uh, here, Doctor." Clark gestured with his flashlight. "He’s down, but I don’t think it was the naquada or the protonic whatsit that did it. I think he had a run-in with a girder, sir."
"Is he dead?" Ray asked.
"He’s breathing, but I’m not sure how long he’s going to keep doing it," Clark replied. Jack craned his neck. Yeah, he had to say that was bad. Most people didn’t live long with crushed chests. Unless the snake healed the little guy, he was about to bite the big one.
The blast door groaned open to admit a team of med techs trailing gurneys, and Fraiser popped up to direct them to the most urgent victims.
"Doc, how’s Daniel?" Jack asked. He’d kept glancing over there but Daniel was definitely still down.
"Concussed," Fraiser said without looking up from the body of Louis Tully. "He’s coming around. Leave him to my people, Colonel. You’ve got a lot of damage control to manage."
"No shit," he replied. "Danny?"
"Jack?" The voice trembled with pain and fatigue—and a couple dozen dark emotions—but it was definitely there. "Are you all right?"
"I’ll check with my bruises and get back to you on that one," he replied, elated at the response. "You?"
"I’m all right."
Okay, that flat tone was definitely not good. Worse, there was nothing Jack could do about it right now. The Sha’re thing? Shit, that was a tough one. He shot one anxious glance at his downed friend. Daniel lay there, arms curled around his ribs, eyes squeezed too tightly closed to suggest sleep or new unconsciousness.
"You hang in there while I sort all this out," he commanded. "Do what Janet tells you and take all your nice medicine."
Definitely not good. Jack sighed under his breath, then he turned back to the ruin of the Stargate. Shit. It wasn’t like you could pick up back-ups at your handy Five and Dime.
"Peter Venkman to the rescue," crowed an irreverent voice right behind him as the psychologist joined his friends. Jack turned to see him standing on his own, although Ray and Egon hovered on either side of him in case he staggered, and Winston was at his back. "Isn’t it great I found you a junkyard-surplus replacement, Colonel, sir? Do I get a reward?"
** *** **
George Hammond frowned down at the chaos in the gate room below. He could scarcely believe the warped, twisted gate. It was a wonder everyone down there wasn’t dead. Some of them were bound to be; Fraiser hadn’t paused more than a second at the side of two of the victims, and that was a bad sign. She looked particularly alarmed over Captain Hunter, and when her team came running, she sent them to him first. Hammond didn’t want to second-guess the nature of the man’s injuries, but he was a good man. How many good men and woman would need a letter from George to tell their families that their father/son/spouse/sibling had died in the line of duty? God, he hated that part of command. He commanded good people; he sent them into situations that could end their lives. It was at times like this that he wished they had managed to retrieve a sarcophagus, yes, even knowing its addictive properties and the way it would probably be abused by people like Maybourne. Reminded by the sarcophagus, he glanced at Doctor Jackson. He was sitting up now, carefully, supported by one of Frasier’s nurses. O’Neill turned from surveying the ruined gate. He left it to Spengler, who kept on taking readings with his P.K.E. meter, and went over to kneel beside Jackson. Good. How hard it must have been for Doctor Jackson to face the form of his late wife. And then to need to attack Gozer in that form to save O’Neill.... Hammond made a mental note to talk to MacKenzie about that issue if it didn’t show signs of resolving itself.
He made his calls to let the rest of the Mountain know the crisis was at an end, and then put in his report to the President and the joint chiefs. Once that essential business was out of the way, he turned to survey the control room team.
Sergeant Davis already had his screen up and was running a diagnostic. Whatever energy had destroyed the gate—and if Venkman’s in-transit replacement didn’t work, there was always the one at Nellis—didn’t seem to have affected the computers, thank God. Nor had it initiated the self-destruct sequence. Davis’ face sported a smear of blood; he’d put on his rough dressing only to keep the blood out of his eyes. When everything calmed down, Hammond would send him to the infirmary. He looked focused and alert, and probably had no worse than a few cuts from flying glass.
When he remembered Jacob Carter, Hammond turned. Selmac had put himself into voluntary stasis, but whatever happened hadn’t seemed to affect him. George’s old friend sat on the floor, head against the wall, staring up at the ceiling. Like all of them, he had a few cuts but he’d mopped up the blood. Conscious of Hammond’s gaze, he glanced up at him. "Give me a minute, George," he said.
That made Major Carter crane her neck to stare at him. "Are you all right, Dad?" She’d asked that right after the crisis and received an affirmative and there’d been no time for more. She was still busy, but this time she wanted more of an answer, and Hammond didn’t blame her.
"Yeah, I can cut it. Selmac and I have practiced this before. Give me a sec, and we’ll take down the stasis." He scrunched his eyes shut and his muscles all tightened up like a man struggling to lift a heavy weight. Major Carter made a faint, worried sound that she smothered even as she uttered it, and her fingers moved automatically on the keyboard while her eyes lingered on her father.
Hammond took advantage of the interval to check the rest of the techs in the control room. Those of them who had received cuts had simply mopped up and carried on. Siler, a handkerchief bound around his right wrist, had already started directing a clean-up of the glass that crunched underfoot. That panel had been heavily reinforced. They should have put the shield down, but Hammond didn’t regret not doing it. He’d come close two or three times, but the need to observe the crisis had always made him hesitate.
"General Hammond." That was Selmac.
"You made it?" Hammond gazed down at the Tok’ra. For an instant, the eyes glowed, and the voice rumbled, then Jacob lowered his head and raised it as himself. "Selmac is back. He thinks, in retrospect, that the action may have been unnecessary."
"I don’t know, Dad," offered Major Carter. "I got a really bad headache there for a second. I think it would have been a lot worse for you."
"Zuul wasn’t affected," Hammond reminded them.
"No." Jacob frowned. "Until Gozer arrived, he’d have had no way of knowing that Zuul had become disaffected. He would have expected Zuul and Vinz Clortho, and once he realized she’d changed sides, he was under attack and had too many irons in the fire to destroy her. Selmac and I are convinced that her Tok’ra leanings are genuine, and if she still wishes to join us, we will take her, provisionally, until she can pass whatever tests the Tok’ra Council devises." He levered himself to his feet. "I’m glad Selmac is back. I know you people can’t understand that, especially you, Sam, but I wouldn’t voluntarily go back to the way I was before."
Evidently, neither would Dana Barrett. That would be tough on Peter Venkman.
Hammond turned to Sergeant Siler. "Determine the current location of the Venkman Stargate and direct it to be brought here for testing. If it proves undamaged and functional, we’ll use it as a replacement."
"He’ll probably want us to pay for it, sir," Major Carter said with a twinkle of amusement.
"And well worth the price, Major," Hammond said.
Was it? If the gate had remained in the junkyard, none of this would have happened. But there would have been a rogue Goa’uld on Earth biding his time. Eventually, Vinz Clortho would have made a power move; he would have put aside enough money, acquired enough followers, to use the gate himself, even if he needed a dial-up computer in lieu of a DHD. The crisis would have come eventually, and this way they’d controlled it, right here at the SGC with the right collection of people to deal with the crisis.
But he could always allow Venkman to think he’d have to pay for damages.
Hammond smiled faintly. No, he couldn’t do that. But imagining the Ghostbuster’s reaction was the only thing about the current situation that made him smile.
** *** **
Peter Venkman frowned as he sat propped on a diagnostic bed in a cubicle in the SGC infirmary, waiting to be examined to make sure Gozer’s zap hadn’t done anything it shouldn’t. Peter didn’t feel bad, just drawn out and grindingly tired. At first, his muscles had twitched and spasmed periodically, but that seemed to have stopped now. Just as well. The spastic Venkman had not been a pretty sight.
He shared the cubicle with Jack O’Neill, who was there under protest. Every now and then he made noises about going out to see what was going on with his team. Sam had stuck her head in the door a few minutes earlier and reported that Peter’s buddies were being examined and they appeared fine. O’Neill asked after Daniel and Teal’c.
"Daniel has a concussion, sir," Sam replied. "Janet says it’s probably not too bad, though. She wouldn’t let me talk to him yet. I peeked in on him and he was sleeping."
"They didn’t tell me about him, sir. I’m sorry."
Peter watched the two of them exchange a grim and worried look. Then Sam patted Jack’s arm. "I’ll see if I can find out anything, sir, or ask one of the doctors to come and report to you. General Hammond wants me back. I’m sorry."
"No, go. But send somebody to fill me in. I’m quietly going nuts here."
"Not so quietly," Peter muttered in an undertone. Carter grinned.
"I heard that, Venkman."
"Yeah, last I heard you weren’t deaf."
O’Neill glared at him, but it did break the tension—or at least bend it a little.
Carter patted the Colonel’s arm again and went out. The two men waited. O’Neill livened the interval with a string of running complaints. Peter made smart remarks, mostly to keep in practice, but partly to one-up O’Neill.
Winston popped in next to see how Peter was doing, then out again. He had a small dressing on his left forearm and three separate band-aids on his face, plus another on his ear, but he looked fit in spite of it, just tired. Well, why not? It was the middle of the night. "Supposed to let you rest, Pete. We’re all okay. So you hang in there. Doctor Fraiser said what you guys got was a little worse than a zat, whatever that is. Probably that classified gizmo you couldn’t talk about last time. She said it probably messed up your system a little, but nothing permanent. She’ll be in later; it’s chaos out there."
Egon appeared five minutes after Winston left. He stopped in the doorway and surveyed Peter with that comprehensive gaze that could sum up any situation instantly, did a ten-second fuss over him, tilted his head back to study his pupillary responses, and started for the door to take more readings with a few of his other gizmos. That was Egon, all business. Only his eyes spoke of his concern. "Stay there until they come to treat you, Peter," he commanded. "Do I have your word on this?"
He looked frazzled, harried, determined, and he probably figured he needed answers for the questions Hammond was sure to have for him in the morning. Peter didn’t hesitate. He’d have liked to go out there with Egon to do his work even if only so they could reassure each other simply by their presence, but he didn’t want to bug Egon now. "You bet. I’m gonna crash and sleep for a week."
"Or at least until morning," Egon replied with a smile. He would have gone about his business but just as he reached the door, Dana appeared in it, and Egon stopped dead when Peter tensed up involuntarily. Egon stepped aside for her to enter and positioned himself near the door. Peter felt a flood of gratitude to Egon for standing by him.
At the sight of Dana, O’Neill straightened up and squinted at her uneasily. Peter had a good idea Jack had never been comfortable around the Tok’ra, even though he was a lot more used to them than Peter was.
Dana wore a weird gizmo fitted onto the palm of her right hand, and she held it up for them to see. "Peter, Colonel O’Neill, this is a Goa’uld healing device. I’m told you’re familiar with it, Colonel."
"You’re gonna use a Goa’uld thing on me?" Peter couldn’t keep the alarm out of his voice. He would have trusted Dana in a heartbeat, but he couldn’t forget that Zuul had once called him ‘subcreature’. Dana’s feelings for Peter might be the one barrier to her escape to the galaxy, although Peter was pretty sure they wouldn’t be enough to hold her here. Zuul had to know that, but Peter couldn’t quite trust Zuul.
"It belongs to Major Carter," Dana replied. "I’ve been using it in conjunction with Doctor Fraiser’s treatment on some of the more seriously wounded. They’re stabilized now, so Doctor Fraiser sent me in to take care of the two of you."
Fraiser popped in behind her. "Captain Hunter would be dead now if not for Zuul," she said. She looked utterly exhausted, her hair sticking up at weird angles, a few smears of blood on her white coat. The bags under her eyes were big enough to pack for a long weekend and nearly as dark as her bruised, scraped cheekbone. She wasn’t the only doctor on the staff of the SGC. Peter had met Doctor Warner last time and he was sure there were others, but a lot of people were down following the explosion. Fraiser must be running on fading batteries by now. She collected herself with a deep, steadying breath, and continued, "And she did a fine job on our fractures. It’s all right, Doctor Venkman. The Colonel will tell you that this works."
"Yeah," Jack admitted with a wary roll of the eyes. "Sure about this, Doc?"
"Of course. Do you imagine I would have allowed her to work on Daniel if I weren’t."
Jack came off his bed in one smooth rush. "Work on Daniel?" he screeched. "We don’t even know if she’s on the level or not!"
"Hey, she stood up to Gozer," Peter defended Dana. "She could have caved when he threatened her and she didn’t." Never mind that he didn’t quite trust Zuul. That was personal. He didn’t want other people coming down on Dana.
"I know that," O’Neill replied. He didn’t quite sound convinced. "But you let her work on Daniel?"
Fraiser stood her ground. "He did have a concussion, Colonel. She was willing and Daniel himself allowed it. I think he has enough to endure without a concussion on top of it. For the sake of his mental health, I wanted his physical health in the best shape possible." She frowned and pointed at Jack’s bed.
Pugnacious as a bulldog, O’Neill held his ground. "Gonna go see Daniel," he insisted.
"When we’re finished with you," she said. "Then both you and Peter will be discharged. Five minutes, Colonel. Besides, Daniel is sleeping, and I don’t want him disturbed until morning."
"It must be about four a.m. now," Peter interjected, mostly to break the tension. O’Neill looked ready to snap.
"It’s actually just past three-thirty," Fraiser replied.
"Same difference." Peter grinned at her engagingly. "What about my buddies? Egon’s okay and Winston was just in here, but I haven’t seen Ray. I think he did something to his neck when he got thrown into the wall. He was so hyped afterwards he just kept on going in spite of it."
"Yes, that’s true," Fraiser conceded. "He suffered a whiplash injury, and he was in considerable pain once the adrenaline rush faded. Zuul took care of him. He’s fine. I sent him to bed. Only our most severe injuries will require additional care and recovery time."
"My energy is limited," Zuul admitted in the hollow voice that always made the hair rise on the back of Peter’s neck. He wished she wouldn’t do that.
O’Neill froze. "Nobody’s said a word about Teal’c," he reminded Fraiser. His mouth tightened.
Peter had a bad feeling about that. Jack had asked every aide who came in about Teal’c, just like he’d asked about Daniel. Carter hadn’t returned with news, either. Did that mean the news was bad?
"If Jacob’s okay, then Teal’c should be, shouldn’t he?" Peter prompted hopefully. "Wouldn’t it have been the same problem for both of them?" He jumped off the bed; he was only there because he’d been too zonked to do anything more energetic. Over by the door, Egon took a step closer. He hardly knew Teal’c, but Peter had come to respect the Jaffa when he was here last time and appreciate the man’s quiet dignity—and his sneaky sense of humor.
"Teal’c’s symbiote was severely stunned by the impact of Gozer," Fraiser replied. "Selmac had gone into stasis before the psi blast and was spared the brunt of the attack, but Teal’c’s symbiote took no such precautions, as Teal’c is unable to communicate with it. But there was no physical injury. The shock to the system rendered both of them unconscious. We were able to stabilize, er, Junior, shortly before the explosion. At present, Teal’c is in a deep state of kel’no’reem. I don’t want him disturbed, either. But he should be fine."
Peter grabbed O’Neill’s arm when the Colonel’s knees sagged. "Come on, Jack, let’s get ourselves zapped and out of here, and then you can check out your guys. I betcha Janet will let you look in on them if you don’t wake them up." He cast a beseeching, puppy-dog glance at the doctor.
Her twist of a smile let Peter know she was wise to him, but her eyes softened anyway. "Only from the door and then just for a few moments. Even after Zuul treats you, I want you to sleep yourself."
"Do him first," Peter said. He knew his buddies were all right, aside from the band-aids they sported here and there. They’d been on their feet in the control room, and from the sound of things, Ray would be fine in the morning.
Peter watched Dana through narrowed eyes as she moved over to Jack, who stretched out warily on the examining table. She held her hand out over Jack, palm down, and closed her eyes in concentration. The device gave a subliminal glow that continued for a few seconds. Jack made a surprised sound.
"It’s done," Zuul announced. "Your system is balanced, Colonel O’Neill. You will require rest now, but you will be fine."
"Okay, Jack?" Peter asked.
"Yeah." He added grudgingly to Zuul, "Thanks."
"My pleasure." She turned. "Peter? Now you."
Egon crowded closer, P.K.E. meter active in his hand. He caught Peter’s eye for a second and shot him a reassuring glance. A portion of Peter’s heart warmed at the concern.
He wasn’t sure what to expect, but he didn’t watch her hand. Instead he let his eyes linger on the well-known face. Fatigue had put lines there, but she was still beautiful. He sighed, then he gave a little gasp of surprise. He hadn’t realized how weird he was feeling until the twisty sensation went away. For a second there was a strange, fluttery feeling, as if somebody had shuffled a deck of cards in his chest, then it passed and he felt...normal. Exhausted, but normal. "Whoa. If you could bottle that, you’d be one rich lady."
"Peter. Are you all right?"
"Chill, Spengs, it’s okay. I don’t know what she did, but I wish I had one of those gizmos."
"It would not work for you," Zuul told him. She closed her eyes and opened them again as Dana. "You’ll be all right, Peter. I must go now and find Oscar."
"He’ll be okay. He wasn’t anywhere near Gozer."
"Gozer knew about him, though." She shivered. "I had to help with the wounded, but I need to know my son is all right."
"He’s fine," said a voice from the doorway and Janine Melnitz came in, hand in hand with Oscar. "We’ve been hiding out together while Gozer was here, and then, once it was over, we found a couple of people who’d been hurt when the power was doing its weird little number, and so we helped." Her eyes measured Egon as she checked him out for injuries.
Oscar slipped free of Janine’s hand and raced toward his mother. Dana forgot Peter just like that and gathered him in. "Mom! Zuul!" the kid yelled and buried his face in Dana’s shoulder.
Egon’s hand came to rest on Peter’s shoulder. He didn’t say anything, but he was there, and that was what counted. Peter watched the little family of three people in two bodies and knew that Dana was lost to him forever.
** *** **
"Danny." Jack kept his voice quiet; he didn’t want to wake Daniel. Fraiser would nail his hide to her wall if he disturbed the sleeping man. But he couldn’t leave without making sure his friend was okay, even if all he did was tiptoe over and peer down at him for a second while he slept.
He’d already poked his head into Teal’c’s room. The Jaffa was deep in his kel’no’reem meditation and didn’t stir when O’Neill touched his shoulder and muttered, "Hang in there, big guy."
Jack needed to tell Daniel the same thing, to hang in there, that it was okay, that Sha’re hadn’t been here, that all Gozer had done was stir the memories. All? Shit. If Gozer wasn’t already dead, the body set aside for Fraiser’s team to autopsy once everything had calmed down, Jack would have taken great pleasure in being the one to do the deed. He knew a team effort had brought down the Goze; that it had taken more than the Ghostbusters, more than the SGC; it had needed both teams to succeed. But Gozer had made it personal when he assumed Sha’re’s form, and Jack would have loved revenge.
Still, death is the ultimate revenge, and even if Jack hadn’t been the one to pull the trigger, at least Daniel would know that the being who had put him through the emotional wringer would never do it again.
O’Neill crept closer and gazed down at Daniel. Even in sleep, his face was unhappy. Damn it. He was probably dreaming about her. Jack put out his hand to rouse him from sleep, and drew it back again. Awake, Daniel would definitely remember Sha’re. Asleep, he might drift into a different dream, and at least his body was getting the sleep he craved.
Jack stood there looking down at his friend and thinking dark thoughts about Gozer.
"Is he dead?" The voice was sleepy, but a grim thread ran through it. "Jack? Is Gozer dead?"
O’Neill could have sworn Daniel’s eyes weren’t open. How had he known who was looming over him? Had Jack’s soft question awakened him? "Yeah," he said. "Bought the big one. Spengler said all the paranormal part of him was gone, but we’ve got the physical body and Fraiser’s gonna autopsy it tomorrow."
"Good." Daniel’s eyes shot open. Even in the dimness of the darkened room, they seemed vividly blue. He hesitated, fumbling for words, then he exploded, "How could he do that? How could he take Sha’re’s form? I want to kill him myself. I hate him for using Sha’re like that."
"Easy, big guy," Jack soothed. "I don’t blame you. Wish I’d done the deed myself. It was a team effort. We all had a part in it."
"It’s not the same," Daniel said wearily.
"Hey, come on, Daniel, you jumped Gozer yourself. You stopped him from zapping me. You were having a pretty good go at grinding him into the floor when he tossed you across the room."
Daniel’s eyes dropped. Now what was wrong? "He was zapping you—and I let go."
Shit. Jack didn’t allow himself time to think, he just reacted. "Are you kidding? How could you have helped me if you got zapped, too? You jumped Gozer about a second later and stopped him. You think I don’t know how hard it was to tackle him when he looked the way he did?"
"I...hesitated," Daniel admitted. His voice was full of pain. "I knew it wasn’t Sha’re. God, Jack, I hated Gozer so much for doing that, for looking just like her, sounding like her. I never thought I’d see her face again, and there she was, and Gozer was evil. But it was Sha’re’s face, and her voice, calling me ‘Dan-yel’." He brought up his hands and covered his face, too shaken by the experience to go all closed in the way he could—and usually did, at such a moment. "Oh, god, Jack...."
O’Neill reached out involuntarily and pulled Daniel up against his shoulder, his fingers lacing through the tousled hair. "Come on, Danny, what else could you have done with the Goze pushing your buttons like that? You hesitated for about one second, as I remember. He looked like Sha’re, you’d just taken the backlash of the zap that had been pumping into me, and you’re human, in case you forgot that little fact. I might be dead if not for you."
And that was a mistake. Daniel flinched and tried to pull away. Jack tightened his grip and didn’t let him.
"I knew it was Gozer, I knew it was the enemy, but when I saw Sha’re’s face...."
"God, Daniel, what do you think I’d have done if Gozer had chosen Charlie’s form? How could you not want to look, want to hope? And then he said he could be Sha’re for you...."
"No!" Daniel spat. "He couldn’t. He never could. He might have had her face and her voice, and he might have taken things out of my mind so he could mimic her behavior, but he couldn’t have been Sha’re. Sha’re’s dead."
Jack felt a suspicious moisture soaking into the shoulder of his tee shirt. His hand stroked Daniel’s hair. He wanted to do the whole thing over again so that he could dismember Gozer limb by limb.
"He couldn’t have Sha’re’s heart," Daniel said miserably, "or her humor, or her understanding—or her ability to love. Gozer wasn’t Sha’re. It was just—I wanted to...to look and listen for just a little longer." He choked back a sob. "And the fate of the whole world was at stake, because of my self-indulgence."
"Well, that’s a crock of shit. It’s not like you were the only guy there. The Ghostbusters had a handle on it and Carter pushed the button to overload the guy. Didn’t anybody tell you how it went down after you took your little nap?"
"Doctor Fraiser did," Daniel admitted.
"So you think everybody just stood back and waited so you could have an emotional reunion?" Jack knew he sounded tough and unyielding, but he thought it would be better for Daniel than soothing words. Daniel had never been a guy you could soothe that way. "We had the Ghostbusters and about twenty Marines still on their feet, and me, and all the people in the control room. God, Daniel, let yourself be human. You didn’t hesitate when it counted."
"I just got mad," Daniel said. He almost sounded surprised about it. "How dare he look like Sha’re. I had to stop him, Jack."
Honest rage. That was a lot better than any guilt. Let him be mad; it was healthy and it would help him work through the trauma. Jack knew. He’d taken advantage of anger more than once to help him out when the world was falling about his ears.
"You bet you did. After all, he was sizzling your commanding officer."
Daniel gave a faint snort of choked laughter that made a few more tears leak out. He lifted his smeared face and stared at Jack, sublimely unaware of the fact that the sight of him made Jack want to go in and stomp Gozer’s body through the floor of the morgue. With an effort, he collected himself and scrubbed his arm across his face, and Jack realized that confidences were ended for the night. At least he’d had a chance to say what needed to be said, and Daniel could process it in his own time.
"Are you all right, Jack?" He studied O’Neill carefully. "The way he zapped you.... I just felt the edge of it, but it felt bad." He registered the fact that Jack was dressed instead of wearing a handy-dandy hospital gown or pajamas, and a portion of him relaxed.
"Me? Yep. Get this, Zuul used Carter’s healing gizmo on me."
"Really?" The puffy eyes widened with fascination. "How did it feel?"
"Instant healing. You know how you feel after you’ve been zatted, and you’re all twitchy and your system kinda acts like it’s out of alignment. Well, it felt a little like that when Gozer zapped me. Only it lasted longer." Jack wasn’t playing for sympathy, only offering a distraction.
"I knew it was bad."
"Well, one little flick of that healing thingy and it was gone. Just like that. We’re gonna have to make Carter practice with it so she can fix us up when we’re zatted."
Daniel’s eyes flashed momentary amusement. "Okay, Jack, but you get to be the one to tell her."
Fraiser entered briskly. "I said you could look in, Colonel, not hang around for a chat." Although her words were stern, her tone was understanding, and Jack had the idea she had lurked outside the door and allowed them their conversation before breaking in.
"I’m going, I’m going. Geez, talk two minutes to a buddy and get dumped on," he groused.
She folded her arms across her chest and tapped her toe. "Out."
"Doctors outrank colonels, Jack," Daniel said. Was that a smirk on his face? Ordinarily Jack wouldn’t have allowed him to get away with it, but such a normal reaction heartened him. For a second, he stood there grinning. Daniel would be okay. Well, as okay as he ever was.
"And colonels outrank smartass civilians any day of the week." He ruffled Daniel’s hair, winked at Janet, and strolled out. Somewhere, hopefully not too far away, there was a bed with his name on it. Maybe he could sleep for a month.
** *** **
"The psi elements of Gozer’s nature were tied into a number of factors," Egon Spengler said in his best science lecture voice. Peter watched him with pride. You couldn’t keep Egon down for long.
The team in the briefing room included all of SG-1—Teal’c looked a heck of a lot better today than he had when they’d taken him out of the gate room on the gurney—all four Ghostbusters, General Hammond, and Doctor Fraiser. Thanks to the assistance of Zuul, her job had been made easier, and Peter was looking forward to her report. Sam’s dad was here, as Jacob, not Selmac, even if he could switch back and forth with ease. Zuul/Dana was here, too. Peter found that a lot harder to take, and he was glad she was sitting on the same side of the table as he was so he had to turn his head if he wanted to see her.
If he wanted to....
Egon glanced around to make sure he had everybody’s attention. Hammond nodded at him to continue.
"The living and the psi elements of Gozer’s nature produced a generally-beneficial union, beneficial to Gozer, that is. But it was not a perfect melding of the parts because the paranormal and the physical are distinct and separate. Gozer could control it completely, so long as the entity maintained control. But it had weaknesses. We didn’t realize until Ray made the connection that Gozer had a light sensitivity. When Gozer came last time, darkness covered the city. I confess I thought it merely a part of the manifestation, an attempt to induce terror. When Gozer was last on Earth, mankind was primitive—"
"And might react to an atavistic fear of the darkness," Daniel chipped in. He looked a lot better this morning, even if shadows still lurked in his eyes. Had to be tough, being reminded of his dead wife like that. "Primitive peoples used to panic at events as ordinary to us today as solar eclipses."
"Precisely," Egon agreed before Jack could jump in and shoot Daniel down for offering more information than was needed. Peter angled a glance at O’Neill and saw him watching Daniel and smiling a little. Okay, so maybe he was prepared to cut Daniel more slack today than usual. And the point was a good one, after all. Peter probably wouldn’t have thought of it.
"That may have been part of Gozer’s reasoning," Egon continued. "But Ray theorized that the darkness in Manhattan—and the dimming of the lights in the SGC—may have had another motivation."
Ray bobbed to his feet. "Yeah, I thought maybe the light could bother Gozer. After all, the paranormal part of him wouldn’t react the same as the physical. There are various paranormal entities that crave the darkness. Some of them are physically injured by sunlight, such as vampires."
Major Carter looked surprised, but O’Neill exploded predictably, "Aw, come on, vampires?! Give me a break here."
Egon stiffened right up. "Colonel O’Neill, we went through this yesterday over the Bogeyman. Do I question every phenomenon you have encountered beyond the Stargate?"
"Hey, it’s not our fault that Hollywood and tabloids make a lot of the genuine paranormal look like fakes and frauds," Peter jumped in hastily. "They give what we do a bad name. Here we are, out busting our butts to save civilization as we know it, and just like Rodney Dangerfield, we don’t get no respect."
"I assure you, you have our respect, Doctor Venkman," Hammond said in the tone of voice that suggested he was humoring Peter, even as he accepted that the Ghostbusters were on the up and up. "Ignore Colonel O’Neill. I have learned to do so over the past few years."
Daniel nudged Jack with his elbow. "What’s the matter, Jack? You can dish it out but you can’t take it?"
O’Neill grimaced. "If I’d known this was my day to be picked on, I’d have worn Kevlar." But he grinned in satisfaction, not at the zinger but at the fact that Daniel had made it.
"If I may continue." Egon snatched their attention back. "Ray’s theory proved correct. When Gozer reacted adversely to the altered particle stream, it proved that light sensitivity was a factor. We had an experience with a vampire in Germany and were able to compensate with our throwers to simulate some of the properties of light. We made those configurations last night. With Major Carter’s assistance, we were able to overload Gozer’s tolerance."
"Yeah, because the throwers weren’t really enough," Ray admitted. "And Sam’s calling up that really bright light was exactly what we needed. Gozer was strong and he fought it, but he couldn’t go on indefinitely."
"So what you’re saying is that the paranormal element of his nature was photophobic?" Fraiser asked eagerly. "And the melding of the disparate parts of his nature were severed by the overload, producing a photopathic reaction."
"Precisely." Egon beamed at her. "The photopathic reaction induced a severance of the psi and the physical. The physical could not sustain life without the psi, which is why you have a physical body in your morgue. The psi part discorporated violently. It was the backlash of the discorporation that took out the Stargate. I want to record additional readings and correlate the ones we have before I issue a full report. However, General, such an unlikely combination of events is so rare that I doubt your Stargate will ever again be in danger of such an occurrence."
"I have to say I’m glad of that, Doctor Spengler." The General glanced around the table. "Doctor Venkman, the New York gate arrived early this morning and tests have just been concluded. It is functional, and it is being installed as we speak. Your government is very grateful to you for locating it."
"Not sure how grateful we are for triggering all this," O’Neill said wryly. "Good thing you got us a new Stargate or you’d have a whopping big bill from the government. Do you know how much those babies cost?"
"Yeah, and I was kind of hoping for a nice fat check from a grateful Uncle Sam," Peter countered. "It’s not our fault that Vinz snatched Janine and tried to take over the Stargate. Or that he used that message-y thing to call Gozer."
"Of course it’s not your fault, Doctor Venkman," General Hammond insisted. "And perhaps you are entitled to a finder’s fee. Certainly a fee for ‘busting’ Gozer. We couldn’t have done that without you four Ghostbusters."
"What about Louis?" Winston asked. "It’s hardly the little guy’s fault Vinz Clortho took him over. Seems like he gets a raw deal here. I know he was hurt. Is he alive?"
"Yes, Doctor, what’s the status of our prisoner?" Hammond asked.
"He is alive," Fraiser said. "He suffered grave internal injuries, and we could not have saved him without the assistance of Zuul. We have him in restraints now. He is not completely healed, but he will recover physically with the assistance of his Goa’uld. Vinz Clortho still controls him."
"Poor Louis," Ray said sadly. "I always kinda liked him. After Vinz took him over, he was different, harder. We didn’t know why. We’d never heard of the Goa’uld back then. What’s gonna happen to him?"
"We will take him," Jacob said. "We will present his case to the Tollans and the Nox and see if we can arrange to free him the way Skaara was freed. If so, the four of you may be called in to testify on Tully’s behalf. In any case, the Tok’ra wish to question Vinz Clortho at length about Gozer, most importantly whether or not he was unique or if there are more of his kind out there."
"More of them?" screeched Jack. "You think there are more of them?"
"Legends indicate that Gozer was one of a kind," Teal’c offered. "Apophis forbade discussion of Gozer, but we often discussed him in secret."
"That was our take on it, too," Jacob put in.
"I assure you, there was only one such entity." Dana spoke for the first time. She was Dana, not Zuul. Maybe she knew how much it bugged Peter when she did the deep voice number. "For many centuries, Zuul was subservient to Gozer. This blending of the physical and the psi you speak of may have originally been accidental. There were beings who possessed Gozer’s physical form on his homeworld, but none of them had the extra that he did. He killed any others who developed that way, so many centuries ago that the strain died out. We should not need to face more of them."
"Do you know the gate coordinates to his homeworld?" General Hammond asked.
"We were never allowed to know."
"It might be possible to track the signal relay, sir," Carter offered. "If we could go back to P3B-881 and find out where the gate opened to."
"And risk getting lasered?" O’Neill asked unhappily.
"I’ll take that under advisement, Major Carter," Hammond decided. "We might be able to follow up on that at a later date. What about the Tok’ra, Jacob? Do you have any way of tracking it?"
"We might. I’ll have to check it out."
"And what of me?" That was Zuul, not Dana. "Have I proven myself to your satisfaction?"
Jacob nodded. "To mine, anyway. You may return with me to the Tok’ra world. The council will wish to satisfy themselves as to your philosophy, but I saw you stand up to Gozer, and I believe you."
"And our son?" Zuul persisted.
"I’ve spoken with Oscar," Jacob said. "He’s a fine boy. He is eager to accompany us. Not only does he wish to stay with you, he admits to a fascination for our lifestyle. I think he’ll be an excellent addition."
Peter’s heart did a dive toward his shoes. He’d known from the first that Dana was beyond his reach, long before any of this happened. But now, she was so much more than Dana, so far beyond his reach she might as well be on Gozer’s homeworld. This just made it official.
He should have known how much it would hurt.
A hand touched his arm. Egon. Spengler didn’t say a word; he didn’t need to. He was just there for Peter, just like Ray and Winston were.
Hammond must have picked up on Peter’s reaction. A perceptive man, Hammond. "Doctor Fraiser," he said briskly, "I’d like your medical report now."
She started rattling off casualty figures. Two of the Marines in the gate room had died in the explosion. Vinz Clortho had killed his jailer, too, for a total of three deaths. Peter had heard that last night and he felt bad about it. Ray looked positively stricken. His heart was too soft for his own good. Peter hated it that three men had died, but he knew that it could have been so much worse. They could all be dead. Gozer could be out riding roughshod over Earth, a two-hundred-foot tall Sha’re, stomping through Denver and outward.
Time to count their blessings.
Peter sighed. The guys were fine. SG-1 was fine—well, make that nearly fine. Daniel was going to remember Gozer in Sha’re’s form for a long time. Good thing he had his team to stand by him, just like Peter had his. In the long run, the family you chose was what mattered. Like Peter, Daniel had a great chosen family. It would have to see them both through.
** *** **
"I’m sorry, Peter."
He and Dana stood just outside the gate room. Inside, at the foot of the ramp, Jacob Carter waited with Martouf and two Tok’ra guards who had come with Martouf to escort Vinz Clortho through the Stargate. Maybe one day Louis Tully would be free—Peter wasn’t holding his breath—but if not, the Tok’ra would prevent Vinz from doing any more damage, and they might gain some useful information from him. Winston hoped the Ghostbusters would be called to testify on Louis’ behalf. He was still bemoaning the fact that he hadn’t been allowed to travel through the Stargate.
Oscar waited in the gate room, too, gung-ho in his Celtics tee shirt. If Peter ever saw him again, he might not be just Oscar any longer. The kid would be agitating for his own symbiote the second he was old enough. Peter could tell.
"Yeah, I’m kind of sorry myself."
"Even before Zuul and I were together, you and I had grown apart, Peter."
"Yeah, I know. It’s just—I never could forget you."
"Really? Or was it simply that it’s good to have a great lost love? It keeps you safe from risking falling again."
He winced. "You want to kick me harder? I’m already down."
"I’m not trying to kick you, Peter dear. I’m trying to help you. For me, too, you were always the great lost love. Even Oscar’s father didn’t really touch me the way you did. We were wrong for each other, you and I, but we came so close to being right. A couple of degrees off true, and both of us knew it."
Peter did. "Yeah. And I had busting and the guys, and—" He caught his breath. He owed her honesty. "And that’s what I want most, Dana. It always was, and I think you knew it."
"Yes, I knew it. Peter, that was always the best part of you, the way you were with your friends."
He didn’t want to dispute that. He couldn’t dispute it. If it came down to a choice, much as he had loved Dana, he’d have chosen his friends. Maybe those couple of degrees she had mentioned would have made the difference. Maybe his life could have absorbed her instead of presenting him with an either/or choice. So he nodded. "You’re right, Dana. I’m where I belong. I’m where I’m happy. Just like you’re going where you’ll be happy. But it still...hurts."
She put her arms around him. He was glad she was Dana and not Zuul. A part of him was still creeped out by the knowledge that there was another intelligence inside her. "It hurts me, too, Peter. but it hurts in the way nostalgia hurts. Don’t let it hurt more. Don’t keep thinking it might have been. We both know it never would."
"Yeah. I can’t even say I wish it had been different. I love my life. I wouldn’t want it any other way. But I’m still gonna miss you. I always knew you were out there somewhere...."
"And I’ll still be ‘out there’, simply further out. Peter, I need all the courage I have to take this step. Zuul is eager for it, and so am I, but all I know of it I know from Zuul, and it’s centuries out of date."
"Hey, you’ll be great," he encouraged her, his mouth against her hair. "Next thing you know, you’ll be in charge of the Tok’ra Council. You can do it?"
"We’re a pair, aren’t we?" she asked. "Me about to take on the galaxy at large and you, part of a team that saved the planet twice."
"Twice?" Peter echoed. "We’ve saved it more than that. You haven’t been reading our press. I’m gonna have to work a lot harder on my PR skills if you think I only saved the world twice."
The both laughed, the kind of laughter that is too close to tears. Peter kissed her, once, not like a lover but like an old friend parting, and she kissed him back in the same spirit. Then he took her by the hand and led her into the gate room, where he positioned himself between Ray and Egon.
The two men slung their arms around his shoulders automatically and Winston came up behind him and rested a hand on Peter’s back as Dana/Zuul walked up the gate, her hand in her son’s, at Jacob Carter’s side. Martouf turned to smile at Sam, then he nodded to the guards who led Vinz Clortho into the wormhole.
Dana paused at the top of the ramp, smiled once at Peter, then held her head high as she walked through.
"Guys...." Peter said urgently.
"We’re here, Peter," was all Egon said.
It was enough.
** *** **
"You guys owe me big."
"Owe you what, Melnitz?" Doctor V challenged. "You got a free trip to Colorado out of the deal."
"Free trip? You call this a free trip? You are riding for a fall, Doctor V." She lowered her voice and looked around the restaurant to make sure no one had overheard them. "You think being held hostage across two-thirds of the country is my idea of a great vacation?"
"Wouldn’t be mine," Jack O’Neill concurred. Janine wasn’t sure if he were an ally or if he was just being ornery. He had the look of a man who had developed the state of orneriness to a fine art.
The Ghostbusters and SG-1, with Janine, had gathered for a final dinner at O’Malley’s before the New York team departed for home. Janine still didn’t know exactly what had gone down on this unusual bust, but it she was positive it wasn’t good. Gozer had come; she’d figured that much out. Dana was like Louis, with some weird entity inside her, only she was evidently one of the good guys, and she’d had weird healing powers that Janine had seen first-hand when she’d brought Oscar to the infirmary to find his mother.
Dana was gone now. Nobody would say where, but Janine was pretty sure she’d gone—out there somewhere. To another planet. The word ‘stargate’ had been thrown around a few times in Janine’s hearing. She didn’t know what it was, but she had the idea it was a quick and speedy way to zip on over to another planet or two, sort of like a glorified Enterprise transporter. Beam me up, Scotty.
That’s why Doctor V was looking a little glum. It wasn’t like he hadn’t lost Dana a long time ago, but if she was really on another planet now, losing her was final. Knowing she was still around, sending her Christmas cards, thinking about her every now and then might have kept Peter from letting himself fall for anybody else—though the Ghostbusters were so tight there didn’t seem to be room for more conventional lives for any of them. She eyed Egon darkly. He was talking physics with Major Carter and he looked absolutely thrilled with the conversation, if not with the blonde major. Maybe if Janine boned up and could spout Newton’s laws Egon would think it was great pillow talk....
"I want a real vacation," she insisted. "And I want to know what happened and where Louis is. Did you guys use the throwers and unpossess him, or what?"
Ray looked upset. Rats. She hadn’t meant to bug Ray. He was too nice a guy. "Sam’s dad knows some people who might be able to help him," he said hastily. "If they can, we might get him back one day."
"You mean they took Louis out there?" Janine waved her hand toward the ceiling.
Egon captured her hand and pulled it down again. "Please, Janine."
Payday. She beamed at him. He let go at once, of course. It figured. The guy was about as romantic as a rock. At least in public....
She studied her tablemates. Teal’c was waaay phlegmatic. She didn’t have a handle on him; he wasn’t like anybody she’d ever met before. You could pinpoint most people after awhile; they fit into certain types, at least loosely. But not Teal’c. And what kind of name was that, anyway? Was it his first name? His last name? His only name? Maybe Teal’c was from wherever Dana had gone.
And maybe Janine was letting her imagination get away with her. It wasn’t likely that she’d be dining with an alien in Colorado Springs, of all places, was it? Yeah, right. She’d have to call Benedek, that tabloid reporter the guys knew from the National Register, and feed him the story. "I had a dinner date with an alien from Planet Ten."
Daniel was a little too quiet. O’Neill, in a rather hearty way, was fussing over him in an attempt to seem like he wasn’t fussing. It looked to Janine like Daniel knew it, was glad of it, reacted to it, but didn’t let go of the shadows entirely. He was doing like Peter, responding to the presence and support of his friends, glad of it, and probably on his way to being okay, but still sad about something. Nobody would explain that to her, even though she’d dragged Egon off to one side as they were waiting for their table and insisted he tell her everything. He hadn’t, of course. He’d merely said, "Classified." If she heard that word one more time, she was going to scream.
Suddenly Peter raised his glass. "I propose a toast," he announced. "To Ray Stantz, for making the universe safe for democracy."
"Aw, Peter." Ray actually blushed and ducked his head modestly. "I didn’t save the whole universe." You had to love a guy like that.
Everybody raised their glasses. "To Ray," they chorused and drank. Had Ray really saved the world? Looked like it.
"To Sam," Ray offered hastily when everybody lowered their glasses. "Because I couldn’t have done it without her."
"Carter!" O’Neill lauded, and everybody took a drink to Sam.
"To Peter Venkman," said Daniel. "For providing what we needed, in more ways than one."
"Hey, yeah, I’ll drink to that," O’Neill agreed. "To Peter Venkman, for knowing how to find useful things in junkyards."
Peter beamed and reveled in the toast.
"To SG-1 and the SGC," Winston offered next. "Because without them, we couldn’t have done anything."
The Ghostbusters and Janine raised their glasses to the other four. SGC was Stargate Command. Janine had picked that up, along with more information than she probably ought to have. Well, she could keep a secret with the best of them. It didn’t mean she wouldn’t keep trying to find out exactly what had happened, though.
"To the Ghostbusters." Teal’c raised his glass, getting into the spirit of things, and his team drank to the Ghostbusters. Many more of the toasts and both wonderful, heroic teams would be too soused to drive home.
"To Dana Barrett," Peter said softly. "For being brave and loyal to what she believed in and for taking a risk that would scare the socks off Mama Venkman’s little boy." He raised his glass. "Good luck, Dana, wherever you are. I hope you got what you wanted."
"I am certain she did," Teal’c offered. "She seemed most eager for the experience."
Janine wasn’t sure Peter would find that comforting; she sure wouldn’t if Egon had walked out of her life forever and everybody told her he’d be happier there. But Peter surprised her. He smiled. "Yeah," he said. "I just hope she’s happy."
"To Janine," Ray offered, beaming at her. It would have been nicer coming from Egon, but she’d take it any way she could get it. "For handling Louis, er, Vinz Clortho so well."
"And for being Janine," Peter said, nudging Egon with his elbow.
The blond blinked. "Indeed," he said, and raised his glass to her. They all drank.
Jack O’Neill hesitated. "If we’re drinking to great ladies, then I’d like to propose a toast to Sha’re, for Daniel. Because she was a class act."
Daniel’s face paled, and for a second Janine thought the toast was a bad mistake. Memories flooded Daniel’s eyes. Then, unexpectedly, he smiled and accepted it in the spirit it was intended. "Thank you, Jack," he said and raised his glass.
They were silent a moment after that. No one offered any further toasts. Janine didn’t know who Sha’re was, but she had the feeling the woman might have been Daniel’s wife. And she was probably dead. Maybe Daniel had needed the affirmation or the validation of her worth from his friends. Any other toasts would have felt wrong after that one.
The two teams were silent a moment, reflecting. Then a waiter appeared with a huge tray balanced classily on one hand and laid out their plates. The guy had great timing.
"So," said Jack briskly, when everyone had been served and the waiter had retreated, "next time, don’t wait for a crisis to come back. We’re nice people when we aren’t shooting at somebody."
"Yeah, so are we, when we’re not waving throwers around," Winston agreed.
"Well, I think Janine was right," Peter said unexpectedly.
She blinked at Peter. "I was?"
"You said the magic word. Vacation. We’re taking one. Now. For two weeks. Right here in scenic Colorado. So, what do you say, Jack? You guys gonna show us the sights? After all you’ve all got a little downtime until they finish installing, uh, until you’re called back on duty."
"You sure you want to trust him to show you the sights?" Daniel kidded.
"Who better?" O’Neill preened himself. "You’re on, Ghostbusters. One Jack O’Neill special tour coming up."
"Don’t say we didn’t warn you," Carter murmured under her breath.
"You have to watch these four," Janine told Sam. "Believe me, I know. They’re trouble."
"So are my guys," Sam agreed.
"Hey, mind the female chauvinism here," O’Neill said.
"Yeah, we’re great guys," Peter proclaimed. "After all, we’re national heroes."
And Janine grimaced, because, for once, she couldn’t even deny it.