Originally published in Remote Control Goes to War #2, 2001
The Sarcophagus Raid
North Africa, late 1942
A billion sentinel stars stood watch over the nearly-buried tomb where Sergeant Sam Troy sheltered in the recessed doorway that had jutted up out of the sand, his eyes raised unseeingly to the velvet night. Another five hours to first light, when they’d have to shake it to beat the Jerry patrol that was sure to come to investigate their missing half-track as soon as they could see.
Troy drew a lungful of smoke from the harsh Arab cigarette. Lucky Strike Green had gone to war and left the front line troops to make do without when they were on a mission behind the lines. He thought longingly of the pack he had waiting for him back at headquarters, out of reach. Even the tiny glow of a cigarette tip might give away his position in the vast blackness of the desert night, so he didn’t leave the entry. Overhead, there were more stars than he had ever seen.
And Moffitt was dead.
Troy had pulled the first watch. He was too restless to sit in there in the antechamber with Hitchcock or Pettigrew and make stilted conversation until they could curl up in their bedrolls and sleep. It was the dark of the moon and the stars were the best companions he could find.
Yeah, better not to think about the dead comrade, laid to rest deep in the tomb.
What better place for the bones of an archaeologist to come home?
Troy tucked a hand into the breast pocket of his shirt and pulled out Moffitt’s dogtags. Identity disks, Moffitt had called them. Removing them from his friend’s still body had taken almost more resolution than he possessed. Tully, his lips working tightly around the habitual matchstick, had watched him with hooded eyes and said nothing. Not that Tully was a chatterbox at the best of times, and these were the worst. Hitch, too, was still, the red Foreign Legion cap clutched so tightly in his hand that his knuckles had whitened. The two privates stood there, at attention, while Troy laid their companion’s body to rest.
Moffitt had known he was dying. The Jerry bullet had caught the Englishman in the lung and the blood that bubbled up against his lips was shockingly red. Just as his eyes were shockingly aware. He had struggled to speak and only brought up more blood.
With Hitch and Tully standing guard at the machine guns in the backs of the jeeps in case any of the downed Jerries were still alive, Troy bent over the Englishman. "Jack?"
"The...tomb...." Moffitt choked out. He moved a feeble hand at the exposed corner of the buried ruin, the one they’d stopped to investigate, before the half-track chugged over the hill and changed the universe. They’d had half an hour to check out the place, all that Troy would spare. Moffitt had so little opportunity to pursue his civilian career; and Troy didn’t see any harm in indulging him this once. Stupid. In the desert war, there was no time for indulgence.
But they had believed they had the time. The raid had gone well, and they were ahead of schedule. Time for Moffitt to look the place over, scribble notes in his journal, exclaim over the huge, weird coffin thing that he’d called a sarcophagus.
"Egyptian, Troy," he’d proclaimed eagerly. "Egyptian, this far from the Nile. Look at the hieroglyphics."
"Picture writing," Hitch offered in an aside to Tully in the background. "King Tut stuff." He craned his neck to see. "You mean there’s a mummy in there?" He imitated the shambling walk of movie mummies for a second. It went badly with his energetic working of his ever-present bubble gum. Tully poked him in the ribs and groaned.
"This isn’t a standard sarcophagus," Moffitt replied. "It might simply be a sham burial. These canopic jars were never used." He pointed to four ceramic jars that stood on a shelf beyond the sarcophagus, their lids beside them, each decorated with the head of one of the ancient Egyptian gods. They looked vaguely familiar to Troy, although he didn’t know their names. "We can open it," the Englishman continued. "I wouldn’t do that if I thought there’d been a burial, not without preparation. I haven’t seen a sarcophagus of quite this shape before. Some of these symbols are not traditionally hieroglyphic." He pointed to some weird designs. Since Troy’s knowledge of ancient writing matched his knowledge of modern Chinese, he couldn’t say one way or the other. "I don’t actually recognize them as specific to any ancient language, although they look vaguely familiar, as if I had seen them before. I wish I could remember.... I’d like to examine it in greater detail."
"What’s a canopic jar?" Troy prompted. When they didn’t have Jerries hot on their tail, he got a kick out of seeing Moffitt act like an archaeologist.
"They were used in the mummification process. The various organs were removed from the body and stored in them."
Tully grimaced and bounced his matchstick around between his lips. Hitch picked up one of the jars and peered inside in case somebody had forgotten and left a spare heart in there. Moffitt said, "Carefully, please, Hitch," to him, and he put it down again.
The tomb opened weirdly, in two wings, like an insect’s, spreading out at a crazy angle. No trace of a mummy, to the vast disappointment of the two privates. Moffitt had just started to take measurements when they heard the muted roar of an approaching engine, muffled by the stone of the tomb that surrounded them. The sound intensified.
"Move!" Troy commanded and they raced for the door. Even inside this place that deadened sound as it did, he could recognize the engine of a German half-track.
They burst out of the tomb and flung themselves at the jeeps as a half-track breasted a dune. Must have been following their tracks. That would be just like Dietrich.
Like Dietrich, too, was the skill expended on the running fight. The jeeps were faster and could weave in and out, but the half-track’s machine gunner was too good. They took a lot of hits along the bodies of the jeeps, and Troy felt the wind of a couple of near misses a time or two that had him ducking. He didn’t see Dietrich, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t there, or that he wasn’t nearby, maybe in a staff car waiting for the battle to end.
Troy got ready with a grenade and directed Hitch to pull in as close as he could, then he pulled the pin and lobbed the grenade. On the other side, Moffitt flung a grenade at the same time. Direct hit. They rocketed away down the dune as the half-track went up in a furious explosion behind them.
When it was over, the half-track was a burning shell, and the Germans were dead. Troy checked each body personally. Dietrich wasn’t with them after all, and a part of Troy was perversely glad of that. Dietrich might be their nemesis, but Troy didn’t want to be the one who had killed him.
But when he turned from checking out the bodies, he saw Moffitt slumped over the Browning, saw the growing blossom of blood on his chest.
"Fatal...." the Brit had gasped out when Troy had bolted to his side. Talking hurt him, brought up more blood. There was no hope of rushing back for their lines. The jolting ride would kill him in five minutes, and kill him in agonizing pain. Troy wouldn’t subject him to that. If he had thought there was a chance in hell, he’d have gone for it, but they all knew there wasn’t one.
"Bury me...in the tomb...." Moffitt begged. "Tell father...after.... Come back for me...." His fingers curled around Troy’s wrist with more strength than Troy had expected, but not enough strength to indicate that he might survive.
"Come on, Moffitt, we have to take you back."
The fading eyes trapped his. "Troy." He fought for words. "...doesn’t belong.... Only hope...."
Hope? What hope? That the dry, desert air would preserve his body long enough for them to come back and retrieve him when the front lines moved past this lost ruin? That the location of the tomb would be remembered for the sake of his father and for Egyptology?
But, what the hell? It was Moffitt’s choice. Troy tried to speak past the grapefruit-sized lump in his throat. "If that’s what you want, Jack...."
Gratitude touched the dying face. The two sergeants gazed at each other without speaking and then hastily averted their eyes. They didn’t need words at such a time. They both understood. Troy clasped the dying man’s hands and gripped them fiercely. He was still holding them when he felt the life slip out of them and saw the eyes blur into emptiness.
"Is he...?" That was Pettigrew. He closed his mouth over the words so hard the matchstick snapped and he spat out the pieces.
Hitch cleared his throat fiercely and yanked off his glasses to knuckle his eyes. "Yeah."
They carried his body into the inner chamber where the great sarcophagus waited and arranged him in it carefully with his Royal Scots Greys beret on his chest. They’d probably be read the riot act when they returned to HQ for leaving him here, but it was a two-day drive back, two days under the hot desert sun. Two days.... Troy concealed a grimace at the image he didn’t want to imagine and straightened Moffitt’s clothes.
"Oughta say words," Tully ventured laconically.
"Words?" Troy frowned.
"You know. Say a prayer. Isn’t right not to say a prayer."
Hitch bobbed his head in agreement.
Troy cleared his throat with more force than was necessary. Tully was right. "Yeah, I’ll do it." His throat felt gummed up as if he’d been drinking the crummy motor oil they sometimes had to use on the jeeps when they couldn’t get anything better. He pulled off his bush hat as he realized the other two were bareheaded and lined up respectfully as if they were in church. No matchstick, no bubble gum. Not much expression on either face; you learned too fast that people died in war, but the four men were closer than most and Moffitt’s death left a huge hole in their lives. He could see the sorrow in their eyes. The torchlight glinted off Hitch’s glasses, momentarily masking his grief.
"Here lies Sergeant Jack Moffitt," Troy forced out the words. "He was a good man who didn’t deserve this. Should’ve been on a dig somewhere, or in a library, not out here in the desert." Yeah, right. Should-have-beens were the most senseless thing in the world. "He was my friend," he said, "and a good companion. Look after him."
"Amen," chorused Hitch and Tully. They sounded like they’d been using brand-x motor oil, too.
Troy closed the sarcophagus over Moffitt and sealed him away inside. A part of him insisted it was wrong, that Moffitt couldn’t be dead, but he was dead. They’d come back for him when the war moved away from this spot; they’d chart the position and get the word to Moffitt’s family as soon as they could.
By the time they’d finished their impromptu funeral, night had descended with the desert’s usual abruptness and the heat was stealing out of the land. They made a hasty meal of campfire coffee and c-rations that none of them had the heart to do more than push around on their plates and then Troy set the watch. He knew he had to sleep; the desert was too dangerous for him to face the morning unrested. But he knew he wouldn’t sleep yet, so he took the first watch. They wouldn’t be able to fight and run the way they usually did because there’d be no one to man the second fifty if they got into a running battle.... Troy squeezed his eyes closed for a minute, picturing Moffitt so vividly in his mind’s eye that it felt like a hand had reached in and squeezed his heart. He’d lost comrades in battle before; you couldn’t not lose them in war. Why did this seem so different, so much worse? When had their group turned into a kind of family?
The desert was utterly still. A crisp breeze stirred the sand a little, creating a vaguely hazy effect along the tops of the dunes. He took a final drag of the harsh cigarette and spun the butt down at his feet to grind it into the sand. The night was so quiet that he would be able to hear an engine approaching from miles away. He cocked his head, listening carefully, then he turned his back on the guardian stars and ducked into the antechamber to check out the two privates.
Once inside, the glow from the inner fire touched the walls with an edge of light, revealing ancient carvings that might have been made of pure gold. Troy would bet a month’s pay no one had ever found this tomb or the walls would have been stripped and melted down in spite of their historic value. The carvings were continuous hieroglyphics; Moffitt would have been able to read them, but they were only patterns to Troy. Important to someone long ago, someone who had been dead millennia. When a person died, all the things that mattered to him were lost. They weren’t important to the survivors, not in the same way. It was like a man’s immortality was tied up in what he thought important, and only the part of that which would matter to others. Maybe archaeologists would value the symbols on this wall. Maybe that was what made men into archaeologists, a continuing link, a shared sense of values with the men who had left their artifacts behind. Made as much sense as anything did this night, but Troy was getting too philosophical. Wasn’t his usual style.
He ducked into the antechamber and found Hitch and Tully stretched out on bedrolls. Neither one of them was asleep. He could tell that just by the tension in their bodies. They were tired; they needed to sleep. Tomorrow would be a long haul back to their lines and they’d be one gun short. He winced away from that thought.
At the sound of his arrival, Hitch sat up. "My watch, Sarge?"
"Not yet. Just checking...." He wasn’t sure what he was checking—that the two privates were still alive, that he hadn’t lost another one. That he wasn’t alone in a dark, star-filled universe of night. That spirits weren’t stalking these long-buried rooms. Not the mummies of Hitch’s imagination, but the ghosts of those who had carved these walls and left the empty sarcophagus. Had its future owner died far away, unable to go to his chosen rest?
He pushed the thought away and pulled another cigarette out of the twisted pack. Tried not to think of the pack of Luckies back at headquarters. Too bad none of the others smoked; he’d have more of a choice.
Like the Goddamn cigarettes mattered....
He returned it to the pack with a disgusted grimace.
"You okay, Sarge?" prompted Hitch. Tully opened his eyes and regarded him.
He waved away the question. "Nothing moving out there," he said instead. "Like there isn’t anybody else alive in the whole world."
Here in the long-lost tomb, the words sent eerie shivers darting up and down his spine, and he glanced uneasily over his shoulder. If the other two noticed his superstitious gesture, they didn’t say anything. Maybe they felt the spooky atmosphere like he did.
"Quiet enough to hear a convoy miles away," he added more practically. "But they won’t be coming through that wadi we blew up. They’d have to circle around to the north to get past all those ridges." There was a brief satisfaction in the success of their mission—Moffitt’s last mission. Shit.
Tully propped himself up and sat cross-legged on his pallet. "Want some coffee, Sarge?" Maybe it was the only thing he could offer as consolation.
Hitch poured himself a little but he didn’t drink it. He looked like he wanted to talk, but didn’t know what to say. Smart kid, Hitch. Probably because there wasn’t anything to say.
The three of them were silent, listening to the night.
The weird creak of sound from the inner chamber made them grab for weapons. Nobody could be in there. Nobody could have sneaked up on them, not unless one of those Jerries from the half-track had gotten away after all. They’d have heard someone coming after them; the smoke would have been a beacon, but there hadn’t been time for anyone to track it down before dark, not unless they had aircraft, and they hadn’t seen any aircraft for two days.
"What...?" Hitch ventured.
Troy made an abrupt gesture for silence, his hand raised. His finger curled around the trigger as he listened to the footsteps that grated in the drifted sand. If one of the Germans had managed to hide in the temple in the height of the battle, he’d be crazy to come out now. Even Dietrich couldn’t hope to take on the four—the three of them single-handed.
Tully’s lips shaped the word ‘mummy’ in a kind of superstitious doubt and his eyes darted to Hitch, who shrugged. Both of them braced themselves for attack.
Another step. Another. Troy ghosted over to the door, ready to act with a gesture at the two privates to move out of the direct line of fire, ready to jump the intruder before he could get off a shot.
The ancient tomb sizzled with tension. Troy gnawed his bottom lip. Had to be one of the Germans from the half-track, maybe a wandering Arab tribesman. What it couldn’t be was a ghost from this long-buried ruin. There were no such things as ghosts.
A ghost walked around the corner of the door and stopped in the doorway not a foot from Troy.
Tully blurted out a stunned, shocked, wordless cry and Hitch said, "Jesus Christ," in the fervent tones of a man saying a prayer rather than a curse.
The ghost of Sergeant Jack Moffitt, as solid as he had been in life, stood in the doorway, blinking at them in dazed surprise.
"Son of a bitch," growled Troy. "Moffitt? What the hell...?"
"Troy?" Moffitt’s eyes were huge, awed, dumbfounded. "What...happened? I...thought I died."
"You did die," Troy replied. Impossible. This was impossible. "You’re dead." He passed his gun to Hitch, who took it numbly, then he shot out a hand and curled it around Moffitt’s wrist to feel for his pulse.
He found it.
As if scorched, he jerked his hand away. "What the hell? You’re dead. We buried you."
Tully and Hitch crowded in close. Hitch slid his hand onto Moffitt’s shoulder and squeezed doubtfully, half afraid his fingers would pass through the apparition who stood before them in the desolate tomb. When his grip tightened on solid flesh, his face blanked and his eyes glistened.
"Moffitt?" Tully edged in, grabbed his hand and pumped it hard.
"You’re alive." Troy grabbed at Moffitt’s shirt and tugged it away from the wound, only to reel back in even greater disbelief. "It’s gone!"
"I know, Troy." Moffitt craned his neck to look. "When I woke up in there in the dark, I thought perhaps I’d reached the afterlife, but I was in the sarcophagus, in the tomb." He shook his head. "This is beyond belief. I don’t understand it."
Hitch nudged Troy. "Sarge. What happened?"
"I don’t know, Hitch." He stared at Moffitt in utter disbelief, in astonished joy, then he grabbed him and gave him an impulsive hug. It wasn’t every day you saw a miracle. Hitch and Tully crowded in with a lot of joyful back-slapping. The Rat Patrol was whole again.
Moffitt emerged from the hug all stiff-upper-lip and British, but he, too, looked dazed and perplexed. He took a couple of steps backward, and held up a hand, not to discourage further familiarity but to take a time out. "Troy. What happened?"
"You think I should know?" Troy yanked off his bush hat and scratched his head. "I don’t know, Jack. I don’t have a clue. You were dead. You weren’t breathing, we didn’t get a heartbeat, and you had a big hole in your lung. Dead’s dead in my book."
"In mine as well. I knew I was dying. I could feel the wound, and I don’t feel a thing now. It’s as if I were never shot." He fingered the bullet hole in his shirt. "Look at this. I was shot. How is this possible?"
"This isn’t some archaeology thing, is it, Moffitt?" Hitch wondered. "Some weird thing that they used on mummies or something?"
"Hardly. Mummification removed organs, heart liver, lungs...." He brushed that away. "I was not mummified, simply placed in the sarcophagus. You insist I was dead. Surely there are some conditions that simulate death."
"Yeah, maybe," Troy countered. "But they don’t heal up bullet holes as if they’d never been."
"Ancient magic?" Tully tossed the words into the conversation and made no attempt to explain them. Tully wasn’t your all-round great conversationalist, but that needed more.
"What do you mean?" Moffitt asked him.
Tully shrugged and worked the matchstick around in his mouth. "You know. Mysteries of the pharaohs. That kind of thing." He shrugged.
Troy and Hitch stared at Moffitt. "Is there anything like that?" Troy asked dubiously. "What about all that Curse of the Mummies deal with that King Tut tomb?"
"Utter rubbish. There was no curse. Yes, Lord Carnarvon died several months after the tomb opened but the rumor of a curse is completely false. My father knew Howard Carter well, and I knew him, too. He died only several years ago, which would be a long time to wait for the curse to take effect. As to mystical means of raising the dead, Ancient Egypt possessed no such thing any more than we do today with modern medicine."
"Well, then, don’t take this wrong, Moffitt, but why the hell are you alive?"
They stared at each other, stunned and confused. Moffitt was here. He was undoubtedly real, and he was breathing. They couldn’t be imagining this. Some kind of chemical fumes in the sarcophagus? It was the only thing Troy could think of. "I think we need to take another look at that tomb of yours."
"That was my idea as well." They turned toward the door.
Out in the corridor, they heard the sound of a dragging footstep.
Moffitt’s approaching footsteps had been slow and doubtful, but human. These scraped unevenly in the drifted sand of the passage, paused, started up again, hesitated as if the feet in question couldn’t lift to take normal steps but shuffled instead.
Like a mummy.
The four of them exchanged wary, suspicious glances. On a night such as this one, a mummy hardly seemed impossible.
Troy’s .45 sprang into his hand. Okay, if that sarcophagus thing could resurrect Moffitt, maybe it had resurrected its original tenant and the guy was still hanging around. He saw Tully and Hitch arm themselves, too. Moffitt went for his gun only to realize it hadn’t been ‘buried’ with him and he didn’t have it.
Troy nodded over at the supplies beside the campfire and Moffitt dove for it.
The steps hesitated outside the door and the four men heard a deep, unsteady, shaky breath. The next second, someone stumbled around the edge of the door and lost his balance to sprawl on his side on the paving stones at Troy’s feet.
It was Hauptmann Hans Dietrich.
He still had his Luger but it was snapped into the holster, not in his hand. Troy glanced at the gun and reached for it, but Dietrich was all but unconscious, and no threat to them at that moment, or as little a threat as Dietrich could ever be. They could get the gun if he made a grab for it. He was also breathing unsteadily and blood caked his uniform at the left shoulder. He’d made a sketchy attempt to bandage it, but the rough dressing was soaked through.
He must have been with the half-track after all. Maybe he’d been thrown clear in the explosion and managed to conceal himself behind a dune. Dietrich was crafty enough to keep himself out of sight. So what was he doing here now?
Troy dropped to his knees beside the man who had been an enemy and yet more. He felt no personal animosity towards Dietrich, but more a challenge, as if the Panzer captain were his own personal nemesis, adversary, and something more, something that stretched across national and political divisions. No Nazi, Dietrich had proven himself again and again to be a man of honor. He could frustrate them, endanger them, drive them nuts, but he was Dietrich, a man who, in spite of the great gulf between them, had become something that was almost a friend. The others seemed to share that strange fondness, although Troy suspected he felt it most. As his team’s leader, he had that in common with Dietrich, even if the German was both an officer and an enemy. It had never once been a personal enmity, and the enemy status had been put aside more than once in the face of a greater need.
He had that need now. The captain was breathing shakily, unsteadily, and under his desert tan, his face was nearly grey with blood loss. Troy had seen that particular skin tone before, and every single time he’d seen it, the man who had worn it had been dead within hours. Dietrich gazed up at him, eyes clouded but aware, and his eyes locked with Troy’s. In the fading eyes was the knowledge that he was dying, just like the expression in Moffitt’s eyes a few hours earlier.
"Sergeant Troy." He gasped out the name.
"Dietrich. You’ve got a bad one."
"Ja. I am dying."
Troy had seen too many men die in this stupid war. He’d just seen Moffitt die.... He didn’t want to see it again, not with someone else he knew, someone else who mattered. So he did what he’d done with Moffitt, he reached out and grabbed Dietrich’s hand. No one, not even the German, should have to die all alone, far away from home, in an ancient tomb.
"You were on the half-track," he prompted.
The dark head bobbed feebly. "I was...thrown clear. I concealed myself."
"And now you’re not hiding."
"I didn’t wish to die...alone in the desert. The sands would cover me and...."
"And nobody would send you home," Troy finished. "We’ll see to that. You have my word on it."
"Danke." His fingers tightened feebly on Troy’s as a wave of pain washed through his body. He muttered something in German that made Moffitt draw a shaky breath, then he focused on Troy again. "Sergeant, it has been...my pleasure to...contend with you."
"Yeah," Troy replied. There was that cheap motor oil sensation in his throat again. "I have to agree with that."
"You and your men are...men of...honor."
"That’s what we always said about you." God, deathbed scenes were always so maudlin. Troy shuddered.
"It is...good." Dietrich’s body quivered and stilled. Just as it had with Moffitt, the light of awareness drained from his eyes.
Troy sat back on his heels and squeezed his eyes shut for a second, then he reached out and closed the empty eyes.
Behind him, he heard Hitch say blankly, "I never thought Dietrich could die. I thought he was immortal or something. He always came back."
"Not this time." Troy heard a harsh tautness in his voice. They were all shell-shocked. "What did he say that time?" he asked Moffitt. "When he spoke in German."
"He said he was commending his soul to God," the Englishman admitted. "And he asked us to tell his mother that he died bravely."
Troy left go of the hand that had tightened around his own in death and laid it on the German’s chest. Yeah. He’d do that. He’d find out after the war how to do it and he’d write a letter to Dietrich’s mother. He’d never been much of a hand at letter writing, but already he knew just what he would say.
"Sarge." Tully leaned down and poked him in the shoulder. "What if we put him in the sarcophagus?"
Troy froze and jerked startled eyes up to Moffitt, who knelt opposite him. Speculation flashed in Moffitt’s eyes and he stared at the Kentuckian.
"You think it was the sarcophagus itself that healed me?"
Troy made a decision. "Hell, it could be. We don’t have all the answers. We don’t have any of the answers. But if that thing has some mystical power we don’t know about, then I say we try. Got nothing to lose." He didn’t even stop to think that Dietrich was the enemy. Out here in the desert, it all came down to the essentials. Dietrich might be a German Hauptmann, but he was also a man. Troy couldn’t hold back, even if meant saving someone on the other side.
They picked up Dietrich’s body and carried him into the inner room. It might not work. Whatever had happened to Moffitt might be a one-of-a-kind miracle. It might be a fluke, have nothing to do with the sarcophagus. But it couldn’t hurt Dietrich to try. They laid him in the tomb. In case they were about to summon a second miracle, they removed his Luger before they sealed the sarcophagus over him.
"You do realize he would have likely radioed our position before the fight," Moffitt said as they returned to the fire. "Reinforcements will probably be here soon after first light."
"Yeah, I’ve been thinking that. We’re gonna have to shake it before then." But he didn’t want to go yet. He wanted to wait just long enough to find out if the sarcophagus would produce a second miracle. It would be tricky finding their way across the desert in the starlight, although they’d done it before and probably would again. They could go now and not know about Dietrich until the next time they faced him over the two fifties, or maybe never know. Or they could wait, and if he revived, take him back with them as a prisoner.
He wouldn’t know about the sarcophagus or whatever it was that had restored Moffitt. He might know Moffitt had been hit, but even if he’d been watching from the top of a dune, all he’d have seen was that the Englishman had been wounded and that they’d carried him into the tomb, not that he had ‘died’. The half-track had blown on the far side of the tomb; the corner of the doorway that had jutted up out of the sand would have blocked a view from that direction. Dietrich wouldn’t automatically wake up and assume he’d discovered a handy miracle cure. If the sarcophagus actually might be one....
If it were, Troy wanted it for the Allies. He didn’t want the Germans to get their hands on it. Maybe he could let Dietrich think he’d been delirious, knocked out, and dreamed the whole thing. He suspected the Captain was too smart to fall for a line like that, but the alternative would be hard for anyone to believe.
"How long was I in there?" Moffitt asked.
"Not that long." Troy frowned. It had seemed like years but had it even been half an hour? He’d gone out to keep watch but he’d only been there long enough to smoke a couple of cigarettes. Dietrich had probably smelled them, known they were still here.
"Then I say we wait that long again and see what happens." He drew himself up to confront Troy. "I have to know. It isn’t just that it happened to me but that it happened at all. I’m a scientist, Troy. I can’t just let it go."
"If we wait, we’ll have to take him prisoner. At least that would keep the information from getting back to the Jerries." He frowned. "Yeah, I can’t walk away until I know, either." He turned to the other two. "Load up the jeeps. Soon as we know, we’re moving. And I want to make sure we’ve got our exact position charted so we can find this place again."
"The desert changes all the time," Hitch put in. "I think this place has been buried for a long time—since it was new, maybe."
"He’s right, Troy." Moffitt bobbed his head in confirmation. "The sand could cover it up again as easily as it uncovered enough of it for us to get in."
"Yeah, but we’ve got a burnt-out half-track out there to mark the spot," he reminded them. "Unless that’s gonna disappear, too. Unless we’re...I don’t know...out of the normal world, somehow." The mood that had touched him as he stood under the stars when Moffitt was dead still lingered.
"Hey, yeah, like in those Amazing Stories magazines," offered Hitch.
"That’s pulp fiction," Troy objected.
"Well, this is pretty amazing, Sarge." He gestured at Moffitt.
Troy had to agree with that. What was worse, he had a feeling he would never find the answer to what had happened, that it would be an unsolved mystery he would worry over for the rest of his life, an itch he couldn’t scratch. If Dietrich came walking out of the inner chamber like a resurrected mummy, the whole world would be different. What if they’d developed a miracle cure like that new Penicillin, better than sulfa? They had to get it back to their lines.
But the sarcophagus was too big to fit into one of the jeeps. They’d have to come back for it. And that meant they had to wait and see what happened with Dietrich. They couldn’t leave him with it in case he figured it out.
So he and Hitch stayed awake drinking coffee strong enough to eat away their stomach linings, and Moffitt and Tully napped. Hitch sat there describing plots from weird pulp stories he’d read before the war that Troy only half listened to. None of them had anything to do with ancient tombs healing people or explained why there was an Egyptian tomb here, so far from the Nile. Moffitt had said something about Carthage ruling this particular area in ancient times. He’d never mentioned the Egyptians spreading out here. Maybe some of them had traveled and built their own temple. Troy wasn’t an archaeologist. He didn’t have a clue.
He went out to look around and have another smoke, and stood gazing up at the stars. They were still standing guard, cold, indifferent. Maybe they’d been around when the tomb was built. Only it wasn’t really a tomb. It was the opposite of a tomb, whatever the word for that was. It was the place where Moffitt had come back from the dead.
And maybe he’d hit his head in the battle with the half-track and imagined every bit of it. Maybe he’d wake up soon and find it had all been a dream.
A part of him would have been comfortable with that—well, comfortable if it didn’t mean Jack Moffitt was dead.
The relief that flashed through him at the sound of that accented voice warred with the knowledge that everything in the universe was different.
He turned to face Dietrich, aware of the other three boiling out of the antechamber behind him with their guns at ready.
"I hope you’ll pardon a foolish question," Dietrich said in a dazed, uncomprehending voice. "But I should be dead."
"Nah," Troy said hastily. "You just gave yourself a knock on the head and imagined it all." He knew as soon as he spoke that it wasn’t going to work.
Dietrich’s eyes narrowed. You owe me a better answer than that, his look said.
Troy shrugged in acknowledgment. I wish I had one. Funny, he could communicate with Dietrich without needing words. Had been doing that for months. He just hoped it didn’t go any deeper. He didn’t want Dietrich reading his mind.
"I didn’t imagine the bullet holes in my uniform." The German pointed to his shoulder.
Troy shrugged. "Nah, you didn’t imagine them."
"And none of you are surprised to see me alive. I am astonished to be alive, but you expected it. What is this? A new Allied medical technique? One so common that it can be carried by field personnel?"
That was why they should have taken off. The fact that they weren’t surprised, weren’t staring at him in disbelief, was a dead giveaway. Could they let him think his wild guess was right, that the Allies had developed a new miracle cure, a quick healing proposition? They’d have to. They couldn’t let him start thinking of the sarcophagus. And that meant they had to take him with them. By the time he had either been traded in a prisoner exchange or, knowing Dietrich, managed to escape, there would be time to get somebody out here to haul the sarcophagus away.
So he did the only thing he could to preserve the situation. "Classified." When they took Dietrich out to the jeeps, Troy made a point of ostentatiously moving the first aid kit to Moffitt’s jeep. Let Dietrich think they actually possessed a miracle cure.
They did, of course. One that would change everything. And the only way to preserve it would be to get right away from here. The protruding corner of the ruin would be investigated when Dietrich’s back-up arrived but they wouldn’t take time in the middle of a war to begin an excavation. The tide of the war was sweeping this particular spot closer and closer to the Allies’ lines.
Dietrich’s face sharpened into interest, but he did not push. He knew Troy wouldn’t give him any further answers. He’d probably think of the sarcophagus himself before much time had passed; after all, a secret medical cure wouldn’t mean sticking somebody in an ancient tomb. They’d have had him in here under their eyes if they’d been using an authorized treatment. Unless he was too smart for his own good and figured they’d stuck him in there to cover up what they were doing. Whatever the case, they had to get him away from here before his people came.
"You’re now our prisoner," he added.
Dietrich measured them with his eyes, judging their alertness, and, realizing he was outnumbered and that he didn’t have a chance to get away, gave a resigned shrug and got into the jeep.
"This is not over, Sergeant." The words were a promise. "I will learn the truth."
No. It wasn’t over. It wasn’t over by a long shot. Troy heaved a sigh and tried not to look as confused as he felt.
"Let’s shake it."
** *** **
Colorado Springs, Autumn, 1998
"I don’t believe it. Little Danny Jackson, all grown up."
Daniel jerked his head up from the conference program he’d been studying. It wasn’t often these days that he had the chance to attend archaeological conventions, but this one was right here in Colorado Springs, and he didn’t have a Stargate mission for another week. Archaeology Through the Twentieth Century: a Retrospective. It should be interesting. Although interacting with his peers had been chancy for years and he ran the risk of being scorned and shunned, or questioned about his long absence from previous conferences, digs, and publications, he had been unable to resist. A few judicious questions had proved that his former mentor, Doctor Jordan, was on a dig in Giza and unlikely to attend. Just as well. Daniel might face contempt for his theories, theories that he could prove with a few words if they weren’t classified, but it would be good to be with other scientists. Bob Rothman was supposed to be there, too. Bob had been his research assistant back when he still had a grant, and he’d started to think that Bob might be an asset to the Stargate program. After he saw his old friend, he’d talk to General Hammond about the possibility.
But the comment startled him. He hadn’t seen a membership list yet, and he didn’t recognize the British voice until he turned and saw the old man beaming at him. He must be up there in his eighties and he looked so lean and fit he could pass for a man ten years his junior. "My god, it’s Doctor Moffitt. I haven’t seen you since, when was it? That summer in Egypt right before my parents...."
"I’m sorry about your parents. They were a real loss to science." The elderly man offered his hand and Daniel shook it. "What about you? I haven’t heard of you for several years. I used to follow your career. I always meant to write and encourage you, and then you disappeared."
"Encourage me?" Daniel echoed, startled. His theories about the pyramids and ancient Egypt had been met with such contempt from his peers that the last thing he’d expected was encouragement.
"When I read about your theories, I meant to contact you, but then I had a bout of ill health. My heart." He tapped his chest. "A bypass operation. I came through it excellently, but by the time I was well enough to contact you, you had vanished. I put out feelers and could learn nothing. It was as if you had vanished from the face of the Earth."
I had. Daniel controlled his expression. He could never tell Doctor Jack Moffitt that he’d spent a year on the planet Abydos after solving the riddle of the Stargate, an ancient artifact discovered in Giza in nineteen twenty-eight. That ever since his return, he’d been traveling to other worlds through the Stargate, passing through controlled wormholes to distant planets. It was too classified for him to offer so much as a hint of it. Before he’d come to the conference, both General Hammond, in charge of the project, and Jack O’Neill, in charge of Daniel’s own team, SG-1, had lectured him about not letting anything slip.
"I won’t give the Stargate away, Jack," he had reminded the Colonel. "I never have yet."
"You haven’t been around a bunch of archaeologists who think you’re a crackpot when you could prove different before, either."
"Thanks, Jack. I needed that."
O’Neill grimaced. "You know what I mean. It’s gonna be hard to keep from rubbing their noses in it."
Daniel grinned crookedly. "I don’t have to rub their noses in it, Jack. I’ll know. That’ll be enough."
"Want me to come along?"
"What, and deal with a whole auditorium full of geeks? You’d be tearing out your hair before the first hour was over." Daniel couldn’t help smiling. "I’ll be all right, Jack. I can handle it. I want to hear about Prescott’s new tomb and the latest research on hieroglyphics. You’d be bored."
"Probably," Jack agreed. "But at least you’d have somebody at your back."
Daniel couldn’t help smiling. He knew that. He knew Jack, and the other two members of SG-1, Captain Samantha Carter and the Jaffa, Teal’c, would back him, too. They couldn’t give anything away, though, and the only way to do more than offer moral support was to announce to the world that Daniel’s theories had been no less than truth and prove it with the Stargate. They couldn’t do that, of course. "You can come to the reception tomorrow night if you want. Bring Sam. I don’t think you’d better bring Teal’c, though. Some of them might recognize the symbol in his tattoo. They wouldn’t know he was an alien, but they’d ask questions he wouldn’t be able to answer."
"He could always let Junior pop out and freak the room." Jack’s eyes twinkled. Teal’c couldn’t let his larval Goa’uld out; it would give everything away. But there was satisfaction in imagining the reaction of a lot of stuffy academics to the sight.
The two men chuckled at the image. O’Neill gave him a clap on the shoulder. "Well, you need any of us, you just call. Carter’s gonna be hanging out in the lab playing with her toys, and I’m just hanging out with my telescope at my place."
Warmed by the offer, Daniel had gone to the conference with the knowledge that, among people who mattered, he was valued. Even if he couldn’t prove to the scientists who regarded him as if someone had stuck a rotten fish under their noses that he was right, he knew. That made him able to greet them casually and ask with polite interest about their work. When they asked about his, he simply said he was doing some work with translations for the government. It was true, after all. It just wasn’t the entire story.
Now he turned to Moffitt. "I just haven’t been affiliated with a university," he explained.
"I see. Daniel, I’ve read all your published material. When your more controversial articles appeared in journals, they caught my interest, and I wanted to know more. But for my heart attack, I’d have been in touch with you earlier. I’d have attended that last lecture you gave. After that, I couldn’t find you. Your mail was returned with no forwarding address."
"I appreciate that you tried," Daniel replied.
"I’d like to ask you some questions about your theories." There was a meaningful gleam in the elder archaeologist’s eyes. Had he ever run into Goa’uld artifacts? Did he know something? Be careful, Daniel.
"What sort of questions, Doctor Moffitt?" Maybe he should call Jack, get him over here. No, he’d listen first, find out what this was all about. It might be nothing. Maybe Moffitt had a few wild theories of his own and wanted a sympathetic ear.
The doctor looked around the auditorium. "Not here, I think. Privately. Frankly, I wouldn’t mind skipping this first discussion. I never thought much of Budge’s translations. I knew him; my father worked with him a bit when he was at the British Museum in the Twenties."
"Well...I’d have to agree with you there. I never felt his interpretations were completely valid myself." He could easily say that much. It gave nothing away.
"Then I’ll buy you a cup of coffee. And maybe they can find me a cup of tea."
** *** **
North Africa, late 1942
Troy spat the words, not with real annoyance, but with a kind of fond exasperation. He should have expected it. He had expected it.
The other three were waiting for him beside the jeeps. They’d returned late last night from a successful raid to break up a meeting with a Berber tribesman and a German convoy and were due for some downtime. The sandstorm that had blocked them from searching out Moffitt’s lost tomb had finally blown itself out. Troy couldn’t tell from what Colonel Wilson said whether or not a team had already gone to check it out on their say-so, or whether the blowing sands had come up too soon for an exploration team to near the site. He was also pretty damn sure that if the brass got their hands on that weird sarcophagus Troy’s team would not be first in line to hear the news, even if they were scheduled to go out and hunt for it in an hour.
"You expected that, didn’t you, Sarge?" Hitch must have expected it, too. He didn’t look surprised. None of them did.
"Yeah, Dietrich’s escaped before." A part of him admired the Captain for it, even if the action frustrated him. "He got away last night. He’d make straight for his own lines. Knowing the guy, he probably waited till the big sandstorm blew itself out before trying."
"He might have gone to ground in an Arab village," Moffitt offered.
"Not unless he could be sure they wouldn’t turn him in." Troy brushed that away. "We’ve got an hour. Then we’re off to find the tomb. The convoy’s ready and waiting for us. We grab a bite to eat, and we’re on our way. Colonel Wilson just gave me the word."
An hour wasn’t much downtime after a raid, but they’d actually slept most of last night, so it wasn’t so bad as it could have been. "You get the jeeps gassed up?" he asked.
Tully nodded and Hitch said, "Yeah, Sarge. We did that first."
"Okay, get cleaned up and have breakfast and meet us back here at oh nine hundred hours."
** ** **
Colorado Springs, Autumn 1998
"I’d been out to North Africa many times before World War II," Moffitt began. He was sipping tea, but with slight distaste. Daniel knew from his own experience that American tea was not the same, and Moffitt should have known that by now, too. He made a face over the tea and added inconsequentially, "Still, this is better than the stuff I used to brew out there. Once I made it in Tully’s helmet." His eyes clouded with memories, then he pushed himself back to the subject at hand. "I remember one dig in Nineteen Twenty-eight. I accompanied my father. I was fifteen."
A whole cacophony of alarms rang in Daniel’s head. "That must have been interesting," he said inanely.
"The Langford Expedition," Moffitt confirmed. "One of the reasons I’m here today, so far from home, is that Catherine Langford is going to present a retrospective on her father’s work at the symposium. Do you know her?"
"Yes, I know her," Daniel admitted. The minute Catherine showed up, she would greet him with her usual affection. There was no point in trying to conceal it.
"She was a child on that dig. My father and hers asked me to watch out for her, but she was very good at slipping away from me, just as I was very good at finding my way into the work. Still, Catherine and I have been friends ever since. We sometimes lose touch for a few years, but we encounter each other again eventually. I haven’t heard from her other than Christmas cards since Nineteen Ninety-one, so I couldn’t miss this chance. We found artifacts on that dig that have never been fully explained. I don’t even know which museum got them."
"That must be frustrating," Daniel said. "When you consider how many unexplained artifacts have been dubbed ‘temple relic’, or how many buildings whose function was not understood were simply identified as temples, it makes a lot of sense, though."
"I’m primarily an Egyptologist," Moffitt went on. He didn’t seem suspicious of Daniel’s answer. Evidently the Stargate wasn’t what he was after, unless he was a lot sneakier than Daniel remembered him being. "But the weirdest archaeological site I ever found wasn’t even in Egypt. It was one I stumbled across in Tunisia when I was serving on detached duty from the Royal Scots Greys with an American long-range desert group."
"The ones that went after Rommel?" Daniel’s interest in North African history predated that period by at least several millennia. He was pretty vague about the desert war.
"Yes. It was mostly a British operation but the Americans were new to the war and they set up a unit of their own and put me with it. One day, out in the desert miles from anywhere, we came upon the corner of a lost tomb jutting up out of the sand. It must have been buried for at least a couple of millennia."
Daniel perked up. Maybe he could learn something from this experience. "Did you excavate it?"
Moffitt shook his head regretfully. "We found it while out on a raid. We’d run into a German half-track and battled it out while we were there. We won, but I was hit." He frowned. "I don’t remember the whole story, so I should like to relate it to you, the way Troy related it to me once it was over." His eyes clouded with memories. "Sam Troy. He was the other sergeant in our unit. American. He became a very good friend."
War made unlikely friends. Would Daniel even have come to know Jack O’Neill without the Stargate and the threat of the Goa’uld? Good could come out of war; he knew that. Would he have met Sam and Teal’c? Hard to imagine life without his three teammates in it. "Go on."
Moffitt closed his eyes to recollect his thoughts. "One thing Troy always said was that he had never seen so many stars before...." He began to talk, his voice low and compelling as he related a story that grabbed Daniel’s utter and absolute attention the second he mentioned the word ‘sarcophagus’. When Moffitt described his own ‘death’, Daniel knew every muscle in his body had gone rigid. If the Englishman had not been so deep in his memories, he would have noticed Daniel’s shock.
A sarcophagus right here on Earth! Was it mislabeled in a museum cellar somewhere? Daniel was sure that if he’d ever seen it, he’d have remembered after the first Abydos mission and his own resurrection in the sarcophagus aboard Ra’s ship. The restorative powers of the sarcophagus had been documented. It had saved Daniel’s own life more than once; on Abydos, on Klorel’s ship in orbit over Earth. And his repeated exposure to it on P3R-636 had created an addiction that had been no easier to overcome than a drug addiction. Daniel knew he would never use a sarcophagus again. But they could save lives. Maybe scientists could determine how many times it would be safe. One or two resurrections had not harmed him. It was just that constant, daily use that was addictive. Or was such a thought proof that he hadn’t really licked the addiction, that it was still inside him, the way an alcoholic was always an alcoholic, even if he’d been dry for twenty years? He didn’t like that thought, but he faced it. If Moffitt’s sarcophagus could be found, wherever it had been taken, it might help to save people fatally injured on missions. Just because Daniel Jackson could never use it that way again didn’t mean that he could refuse to save those other lives.
"I know it makes no sense," Moffitt concluded. "We couldn’t understand it, but it worked, not once, but twice. It saved me, and it saved a German captain named Dietrich. I don’t know if there’s any connection, but I’ve lived a very healthy life, up until my heart attack, and that was actually not as bad as it could have been. Since the war, I’ve occasionally been in contact with Dietrich, mostly by letter, and once, when I was in Heidelberg for a symposium, we had a reunion. Since the war, he developed an interest in archaeology. He didn’t become an archaeologist. At first, he was more concerned with doing anything that would help his country to rebuild. Dietrich was never a Nazi. But later, archaeology became an avocation for him. Like myself, he wanted answers."
"I know of a Hans Dietrich," Daniel admitted. "It could be the same man. He occasionally wrote to my parents with questions about Egyptology. I remember he sent me a condolence letter after my parents were killed. I still have those letters somewhere...." He frowned. "I remember there was a card from you, as well."
"Yes. You recall I knew your parents. Most of us who worked in Egypt had at least a nodding acquaintance with each other. Dietrich wanted to come to this conference," Moffitt said. "But his age prevented the long flight from Germany. Once the war was past, we had a joint interest--to recover the sarcophagus and study it."
"Who actually did recover it?" Daniel was sure his own excitement must have showed. Not that he wanted to recall his own experience with the sarcophagus. The artifact wasn’t for reuse because of its cumulative, addictive properties. But he knew some of the medical staff at the SGC wished they had one, not only to study and try to understand, but because it might have saved a life or two.
"It was never recovered."
"What? But if you charted its position by the stars...."
"We reported our experience when we got back to our lines," Moffitt admitted. "We faced...considerable disbelief. I later came to believe that the disbelief from the higher-ups was feigned and that our story aroused even greater interest. The front lines of the war made it impossible to stage an expedition to the site for three weeks. Just as they were ready to mount the expedition, a major sandstorm arose in that area. It lasted for three weeks. When it had blown itself out, the tomb had vanished into the sand. We went out looking for it ourselves. Dietrich managed an escape about that time, so the fear always was that he had led his troops to the site and retrieved it himself. After the war, he admitted he had tried but had been unable to find it, either. At that point, he would have had no reason to cover up. I went out there myself three times after the war, the last in Nineteen Sixty-one. Hitch came into money after the war, and he financed that last dig, came out with me. So did Troy and Tully. Old home week. It was good to be out on the desert again. We wished Dietrich might have joined us."
"But he was your enemy."
Moffitt shook his head. "No, son. He was never an ‘enemy’, although we mostly thought of him that way back in ’forty-two. He was simply on the other side. Not everyone who fights against you is evil, you know."
Daniel thought of the Goa’uld and wanted to disagree with the elder archaeologist, then he remembered Teal’c, who had for many years served as the First Prime of Apophis. Teal’c had once been on the other side, until his considerable ethics drove him to rebel against everything he had been raised to believe.
"I believe you do."
"But you haven’t staged a search for the tomb lately? With modern search and detection equipment...."
"I know it might be possible to succeed in this day and age," the Englishman confirmed. "And I would like to find an answer for the greatest question of my life before I die. How could an ancient Egyptian sarcophagus bring two men back to life?" His eyes narrowed suddenly. "No protests? No disbelief?"
Daniel had been so fascinated he hadn’t even thought of attempting to mislead the other man. "I wouldn’t doubt anything you say, Doctor Moffitt. I don’t understand how such a device could work, either." And that was all too true. He knew what it did, but he didn’t understand how it did it. Had the Ancients created the sarcophagi as they had created the Stargates? The Goa’uld evidently used them frequently; a partial explanation for their ‘inhumanity’. But what made the devices bring a person back to life? Daniel couldn’t answer that, either.
"Everyone else has, all through my life." He frowned. "You’ve communicated with Dietrich. Perhaps he mentioned it to you?"
Daniel shook his head. "No. I haven’t communicated with him directly. He wrote to my parents, not to me. This is the first I’ve heard of your wartime experience. Did you ever tell Catherine of it?"
Moffitt frowned as he cast his memory back. "Do you know, I don’t believe I ever did. Those of us who where there, who experienced that eerie night, knew it happened. We could never prove it, and, in the end, when our separate armies couldn’t locate the tomb, we were rather politely mocked for our ‘imaginations’. I sometimes wondered if the powers that be didn’t know more than they were telling us and felt that we didn’t have the necessary clearance to learn more, that perhaps the sarcophagus had been found and that we had been stonewalled. Such things happened."
Daniel bobbed his head in agreement. He knew that better than most. Catherine had been forced out of the loop on the Stargate project for a time, simply because she was a civilian with no ‘need to know’. Daniel had a chance to examine most of the artifacts that were returned through the gate but every so often, something would simply vanish without explanation. After making a fuss two or three times and getting nowhere, he had learned that someone higher than Hammond would occasionally override the General.
It was Jack’s voice. He’d come after all. Daniel glanced up and realized that O’Neill had Catherine Langford on his arm. Maybe he’d volunteered—or been volunteered—to escort her here and make sure she didn’t give anything away.
"Jack. Catherine, it’s good to see you."
"Always good to see you, Daniel. Why, Jack!"
Moffitt leaped to his feet with the grace and energy of a man in his sixties and wrapped his arms around her. "Catherine. You look wonderful. What have you been doing with your life? When will I get to meet your Ernest?" He kissed her on the cheek and she flushed with delight.
"This evening; he’ll be at the reception." She pulled free of his embrace and studied him. "You look marvelous, Jack. I was afraid your heart attack would slow you down, but I see it hasn’t, not one bit."
O’Neill mouthed the name ‘Jack’ at Daniel, who said, "Doctor Moffitt, I’d like you to meet my friend, Jack O’Neill." Since O’Neill was in civvies, Daniel didn’t mention his rank.
O’Neill and Moffitt shook hands with each other, then Catherine, her eyes dancing with fun, said to the Colonel, "I’ve known Doctor Moffitt since Nineteen Twenty-eight in Giza. Seventy years. He and his father were on a dig with us then."
"Giza in ’twenty-eight?" Jack’s eyebrows shot up in astonishment and he darted a questioning glance at Daniel, who shook his head hastily. "Old home week," Jack concluded easily, but speculation filled his eyes. If he hadn’t known about the connection, or at least some idea of her presentation about her father’s work, then he must have come along with her to make sure no one treated Daniel badly after all. Of course he was probably also here to make certain she didn’t give anything away, but Daniel couldn’t help the warmth that ran through him. He didn’t need a baby-sitter. So far, no one had been actively rude to him, although a few had unobtrusively moved out of his way. Those who had talked to him were more interested in what he was up to these days and why he hadn’t published in the last few years. Daniel had finally convinced Hammond that not publishing was more open to speculation than actually appearing in print and he’d begun to submit cautious articles that gave away nothing of his Stargate connections. Each one was carefully vetted to make sure that it could not be construed as a continuation of his work. That he couldn’t submit the necessary examples to back his work since his ‘digs’ had all been off-world would serve to weaken his arguments, but it would keep his name from being conspicuous by its absence, and some of it might make a few people think.
"Our fathers were on that dig together," Catherine explained.
"A big dig," Moffitt added. If he could sense the undercurrents, he didn’t reveal it, but then the little Daniel remembered of his long-ago contact with the Englishman suggested he knew how to keep his own counsel.
A frown puckered the space between Moffitt’s brows. If he were in a comic strip, a light bulb would have switched on above his head. Daniel felt his heart sink.
"The inscriptions on the sarcophagus...." he murmured.
"Yes, Jack...." Catherine urged. The light of excitement illuminated her eyes. She’d been up to her neck in archaeology since she was a child, even though her later work had been all tied up in one artifact—the Stargate itself.
O’Neill echoed, "Sarcophagus," under his breath and caught Daniel’s eye. Daniel could tell he was torn between writing off the topic with a high hand in hopes that Moffitt would drop it and whisking the elderly archaeologist away to question him. "Oh, for crying out loud."
When Moffitt looked at him in surprise, Daniel tried to retrieve the situation. "Sorry, Doctor Moffitt. Jack gets a little tired of hearing about archaeology all the time."
"Then an archaeological symposium is an odd place for him," the Englishman countered. "Catherine, I found a tomb during the war that had a sarcophagus in it. Most of the writing on it was standard hieroglyphics that I didn’t have the time to translate, but there was a row of other symbols that looked familiar to me. Until I saw you, I didn’t make the connection, but I realize it now. They were similar to those markings on that huge stone circle your father excavated in Giza."
"Really?" Catherine said in a faint voice.
Jack muttered, "Shit," succinctly.
Did Catherine know about the restorative properties of the sarcophagus? Yes, she did because she’d had access to some of the reports from the first Abydos mission. He saw her make the connection and her brows arch. She leaned closer to Daniel and murmured, "Here, on...." and stopped before she could say the word ‘Earth’ and give anything away to Moffitt.
"Yeah," Jack muttered.
"Doctor Moffitt found it during World War II," Daniel inserted hastily. "He was stationed in North Africa. Not exactly a hotbed of ancient Egyptian civilization. He had no time to excavate the site, and was unable to locate it after the war ended."
"You mean there is an unexcavated Egyptian site out there?" Catherine sounded thrilled. It must have been decades since she did any field work. Daniel could imagine her signing up to investigate the new dig, especially since there might be ties to her father’s dig and the Stargate. It had been her baby for years.
Jack groaned. "I know the sound of that. Once an archaeologist, always an archaeologist."
"Ya think?" Daniel said lightly in unconscious imitation of the Colonel. O’Neill gave him a nudge in the ribs.
A man of late middle years came up to Moffitt then and pumped his hand enthusiastically. Daniel recognized him as Marshall Tucker, an Egyptologist from Columbia University, who also greeted Catherine. Daniel stepped back to allow Moffitt his reunion and spoke to Jack in an undertone.
"He’d told me about the sarcophagus but not about the gate symbols on it. I don’t think he made the connection about that until now. It was never retrieved, unless the government found it and didn’t let Moffitt know."
"Hammond can check that part out," O’Neill agreed. "I’ll phone him in a minute. So, what’s gonna stop your friend from coming out with this when Catherine gives her little talk?"
"The need to be the one to make the discovery?" Daniel suggested. "Jack, is there any way we could...."
"Go off to North Africa on a dig?" He hesitated and then ventured on with what, for Jack, was unnatural delicacy. "You don’t want...."
Daniel shook his head vehemently. "No. I never want to use one again. There isn’t a residual...craving. I’m not sure what I’d choose if I were fatally wounded. Would one more use...add to the cumulative effect, or is it like...."
"Being zatted?" Jack suggested. The alien zat’nik’atel weapons, when used twice in a row could kill and three times in succession could completely disintegrate a body. Used once and then not again for months, it would merely stun. The effect was not cumulative over a long period.
"I don’t think I want to take the chance. But I don’t believe we can leave an artifact like that out there where it could be exposed again at any moment and wind up in a museum."
"Do we need this Moffitt to show us where it is?" Jack nodded his head at the Englishman.
"It might help. I think they took sightings by the stars, but it still might be difficult to find the exact location later. The deep Sahara changes constantly, Jack. Landmarks shift, become buried by the sand, new ridges are uncovered. After a few weeks, it might be easy to return to the same spot. After fifty-six years, it might be impossible."
"Or not. I’m sure we’ve got some nifty little toys that would make it possible."
** *** **
North Africa, late 1942
There was something about the desert that endlessly fascinated Sam Troy. It wasn’t like the farmland back home where you could recognize landmarks from decade to decade and give directions like, "Turn left at the Millers’ cottonwoods, and keep going till you get to the bridge over Ryder Creek." Except for a few known wadis and Arab settlements, and some major ridges rising like U-boats out of the sand, everything was in constant flux. You could fight a running battle with a panzer or a couple of German Kubelwagens all through one area and two weeks later drive through and not recognize a thing. The sands shifted, the dunes grew and waned, and the traces of last week’s battles were smoothed away by the endless wind and sand. It was as if Nature kept tiring of her canvas and smudging it away to start over. The desert sometimes made Troy philosophical. Not that it was a thought he shared with the others, although one night over a campfire, he’d tried with Moffitt, only to find the Englishman completely understood what he was saying. It had led to a sense of pleasant comradeship, out there in the vastness under all those stars.
The two jeeps moved around the slower convoy, providing cover in case of an attack, on alert for danger. From his position at the fifty, Troy’s eyes roved over the rolling dunes, searching for something familiar, something specific. More of the tomb might have been exposed by the sandstorm. And there was the burned-out half-track to serve as another marker. The Jerries would hardly have retrieved it, even if they’d had time. The storm was already kicking in when the two jeeps had returned to HQ with Dietrich as a prisoner. They hadn’t even gone out again until two days ago and that because it was urgent to stop that convoy. Even then, the trailing edge of the storm had made travel unpleasant, if not actively difficult.
Dietrich couldn’t stage a retrieval mission for the sarcophagus this fast. He wouldn’t even be back at his lines yet, and then he’d have to convince someone that the unlikely, impossible story he had to tell was true, or at least worth investigating. Even now, Troy wasn’t sure Colonel Wilson believed the story. Unless there had been word of such things before, he had a feeling everybody thought they’d been spooked by the ancient tomb and imagined the whole thing. Not even the bullet hole in Moffitt’s uniform had really convinced them different. Still, here they were, out to find the sarcophagus and bring it back, and Troy was sure it wasn’t that the top brass had indulged in a fit of archaeological fervor. Did they know something they weren’t telling? Or did they simply want to keep a possible secret weapon out of the Germans’ hands?
Whatever the case, the convoy stretched out six trucks and another jeep long. One of the trucks was big enough to support the sarcophagus and it had a winch in it for hauling purposes. Moffitt was the official ‘archaeologist’ on the mission, but there were a couple of types in spectacles along with Colonel Wilson in the lead jeep who might have been scientists or doctors, or experts on ancient tombs. Moffitt hadn’t recognized them, so they probably weren’t Egyptologists.
"Swing around to the front again," Troy called to Hitch. "I want to see what’s over that dune. We ought to be close."
"All looks the same to me, Sarge," Hitchcock called over his shoulder. "You don’t think we should be maybe a mile further south?" He popped is bubble gum.
"We’ll probably be all over the place looking for it. South? You think so?"
Hitch’s shoulders jerked in a shrug. "Not sure. But you had your eyes on Dietrich all the way back. Who was driving, Sarge, you or me?"
He had a point. When you were at the wheel, you paid more attention to your surroundings. Hitch and Tully had proven adept at getting to their destination and back. Ordinarily Troy was just as alert, watching for even the slightest of landmarks—or anything that could serve as cover for the enemy. But this time, he’d never taken his eyes off Dietrich. The German was too crafty to ignore even for a minute. Not that Troy hadn’t been paying attention on the way to the buried tomb, but so much had happened after their arrival that he knew he wasn’t as clued in to its location as the two privates were.
Hitch gestured over at Tully and the two jeeps sped forward and breasted a dune. Beyond them were a long series of sandy ridges, no more distinctive than the ones they had come over so far. Surely there’d been a couple of really steep dunes just in back of the tomb.
He shouted for Hitch to stop and when he had pulled up along the ridge, Troy got out and walked to the edge, binoculars at ready. He scanned every inch of the terrain between them and the furthest dune he could see. Nothing broke the rolling sand, no jutting corners of buildings, no twisted wreckage of the half-track.
Moffitt came up beside him in the second jeep. "Anything, Troy?"
"Zip. Not sure this is the area."
"It’s close. The general area, at least," agreed Moffitt. "But I think we’ve had a lot of sand move around. The desert can swallow whole cities, and has. They still find places like the tomb we discovered, emerging intact and preserved, out of the desert. If we could get a fly-over, we might have better luck. I’m told that aerial surveys have led to discoveries and I’m sure planes will be used for searching even more when the war is over."
"You think Dietrich will haul out his Panzers and come looking for the tomb, too?"
"I think he’ll be able to convince his superiors without any difficulty at all. I’ve heard rumors that Hitler himself is interested in artifacts—art, of course, but religious and occult artifacts interest him. Dietrich only has to make it sound like something Der Fuhrer would want pursued and he’d have everybody swarming around."
Troy frowned. "Somehow I get the feeling that Dietrich isn’t exactly the first one to jump when somebody says ‘seig heil’."
"No, he doesn’t strike me as a rabid Nazi, either. But that doesn’t mean he will want the sarcophagus to fall into Allied hands. He’s very loyal to his country, if not his country’s politics. It’s entirely possible for him to be a loyal German and not subscribe to Hitler’s more rabid views."
"Yeah, I know." It was one of the things that Troy admired about his desert rival, that he didn’t mindlessly toe the party line.
Colonel Wilson left his jeep and walked over to join them. "Any luck?"
"No, sir," Troy replied. "It could be down there, under the sand. Hitch thinks we might be a little too far north. If you want to pull up here and let us run a reconnaissance south, we can be back in fifteen."
Wilson pondered it. "Do it. We’ll run along the top of this ridge as far as that dune." He gestured. "We can see if there’s anything over there. We’ll rendezvous back here." He hesitated. "I want one of your jeeps to come with us to provide cover."
Troy nodded to Moffitt and Tully. "Go with them. I’ll let Hitch follow his nose."
When they had left the convoy behind, Troy with his binoculars slung around his neck, his hands on the Browning just in case, he gave Hitch his head. "You say you’ve got a feel for this. Prove it."
Hitch pushed his Foreign Legion cap back and wiped a hand across his forehead. It was a blazing day. "I’ll give it a shot, Sarge. Who can tell if the sand took it back?"
Something about the way he said that made it sound like the desert had made a conscious choice. Even out there in the burning sunlight, a touch of the mystic sent a shiver up Troy’s spine, reminding him of the strange, eerie mood of the tomb. That was nuts. Here he was, an ordinary G.I. Why was he thinking about ghost stories in broad daylight?
Moffitt and Dietrich had been dead. After that, he wasn’t sure he could ever again take anything for granted.
Hitch pulled them over another dune. Nothing in sight except a distant spot against the sky that might have been a plane. It passed across the far horizon and vanished without coming any closer.
They got out and surveyed the new series of dunes. These were even flatter than what they’d left behind, and a lot of rocky ridges were exposed. Off in the distance was a darker spot against the sand that might have been a wadi. There hadn’t been one that they’d picked up on when they’d been out before.
Hitch spotted it and gave a wry shrug. "Looks like I was wrong. This is worse than the other place. Maybe...." He let his voice trail off and pursed his lips like he wished he had Tully’s matchstick to give them something to do instead of talking.
"Maybe...." Troy prompted.
"Maybe it wasn’t really...in the real world. Or only sometimes in the real world." He shrugged uncomfortably at Troy’s instinctive grimace. "Sorry, Sarge. I know that sounds crazy. But you felt it, too. Like we’d somehow stepped out of...." He let his words trail off.
Troy knew what Hitchcock meant. He wished he didn’t. "Yeah," he conceded. "Whatever it was, it was...different." He had to be glad of it. They wouldn’t have Moffitt any longer if not for that tomb and that sarcophagus. Even Dietrich.... Dietrich was a shrewd man and a dangerous adversary but Troy knew him, knew what to expect from him, knew when he could trust him. He’d rather face Dietrich than some of those SS clowns any day of the week.
"We struck it lucky," Hitch said. He was smart, a college kid, but he wasn’t any more articulate than Troy when it came to talking about the improbable. "Maybe a guy doesn’t get that kind of luck more than once. We had our turn. Maybe we’re not meant to find it again."
Troy lowered the binoculars. They weren’t picking up anything anyway. "You believe that?" he asked.
Hitch met his gaze. The sun glinted off the lenses of his glasses. "Yeah," he admitted reluctantly. "Guess I do."
"Well, you might be right." He threw one more glance at the desolate terrain. "Hell, you’re probably right. Coming up on the rendezvous. Let’s shake it."
They searched all through that day and the next two, and they never found a trace of the ancient ruin or even the burned out half-track. The desert had revealed the tomb for a little while and then it had gently covered it up again.
"Only good thing," Troy said to Moffitt when they returned to HQ, "is that if we can’t find it, Dietrich probably can’t find it, either."
"I thought of that," Moffitt agreed. "I don’t think he’s the kind of man who gives up, though."
"No, he doesn’t give up," Troy agreed.
"In that way, Troy, he’s a lot like you."
Troy made a face. "Thanks. I think." But he understood what the Englishman was saying. "What about you?" he prompted. "You’re as motivated to find the thing as he is. And you’re a professor, a scientist. Can you let it go?"
"I have to, for now," Moffitt replied. "I do what I’m instructed, go on the missions we pull. But I don’t think I can leave it forever. Perhaps after the war...."
"Tell you what, Jack, if you ever want to come out here and look for it after the war and need another man, let me know."
"Thanks, Troy. I just might do that."
** *** **
North Africa, Autumn, 1998
Jack O’Neill thought he’d never seen so many stars. Not that he hadn’t been in his share of deserts, both here and out there on the other side of the Stargate. On other worlds, there was always the mission to contend with, and no time for star-gazing. But here, in the middle of the Sahara, they couldn’t do much at night but wait. He was sorry he hadn’t brought his telescope with him.
To find the long-buried tomb, they’d resorted to satellite surveys, special checking through NASA equipment. Hammond had made some calls, including one, Jack suspected, to the President himself. It wasn’t forty-eight hours later that aerial surveillance film had been delivered for Carter to pore over to her heart’s content, full of weird, techie details that Jack couldn’t be bothered to understand but which indicated objects or structures concealed beneath the sand.
The minute Carter had pinned down a couple of sites in the correct area that could be the tomb in question, Hammond set up a team to come out here and look for it. They went to each site and started excavations and it didn’t take long to hit pay dirt. The first of them proved to be too small, and nothing to do with Egypt. It was more recent; Roman, Daniel insisted, probably dating from the first century A.D. The second structure was older than that, but was probably a villa that had ties to Carthage. It created a lot of interest among the archaeologists who especially liked a corner of mosaic floor, and they noted it and covered it up again for future excavation for anyone who might be interested.
The third site seemed much more appropriate and that was when SG-1 arrived on the scene. Archaeologists, including Daniel, of course, thought that the newly exposed portion of the structure was of Egyptian design, so everybody congregated on site. Security people. Some guy who had to be part of a covert agency, who watched them all from behind reflective sun glasses. The diggers, who were Army Corps of Engineers. Doctor Moffitt had been invited along, although he didn’t understand all the implications of the project. He would recognize the site once uncovered, though, and be able to tell if the tomb was the one in question. Of course if there was a honking big sarcophagus inside, that would pretty much clear up any mystery. A little digging had found the rusted out remains of the half-track the afternoon before SG-1 and Moffitt arrived to confirm that they were in the actual location.
Jack realized he’d heard Daniel approaching and recognized the steps. Teal’c would have been far more silent, and Carter’s steps were a different length than Daniel’s. "Nah," he said without turning. "Not with armed guards all around the perimeter. Not unless the locals are more interested in what we’re doing than they claim to be."
"You think they really buy that we’re looking for a downed World War II plane?"
"Probably not, but they’ll politely pretend to buy it, as long as they don’t think they’re losing out. Once we haul the sarcophagus out of there, we can turn the tomb over to them, long as there isn’t any more Goa’uld technology inside." He gestured back at the tents down in the valley below. "Your old professor friend is getting awfully suspicious?"
"He’s a shrewd man," Daniel admitted. "He already figured out that there are gate symbols on the sarcophagus, and he was there when they found the Stargate, so he was able to tell. Of course he doesn’t know we’ve got the Stargate or what it’s used for and he can’t interpret what he’s seen. I don’t think he’s considering ‘ancient astronauts’. He’d laugh it off the way serious scholars used to laugh off Von Daaniken’s theories." He grimaced. The reflected glow from the searchlights below glinted off his glasses. "The funny thing is, Von Daaniken was on the money more than he knew, but for all the wrong reasons."
"Chariots of the gods?" Jack hazarded. "Read one of those years ago. I was laid up with a bullet wound—never mind from where—and that and Harlequin Romances were the only books around. So I took the lesser of two evils."
Daniel grinned wickedly, probably trying to imagine O’Neill curled up with a love story, and failing miserably. "I don’t blame you."
Okay, so he’d never in a million years admit he’d finally gotten desperate enough—and bored enough—to read one or two of the love stories. Some things were better if they were never shared. He studied Daniel thoughtfully and switched mental gears.
"You gonna be okay with this?" he ventured.
"The sarcophagus?" All traces of humor drained out of Daniel’s eyes. "I don’t have an urge to jump in, if that’s what you mean," he said honestly. "I never want to go through anything like that again. Now that I know what can happen, it’s not gonna be a problem. I’m okay, Jack."
O’Neill weighed his words. He meant them. No hidden anxiety, at least no more than natural when forced to remember a nasty part of his past. Sometimes they all forgot how strong Daniel could be, how much he’d endured and kept on going. Sort of like the Energizer bunny. Or whatever it was that took a licking and kept on ticking.
But all Jack said was, "That’s good."
Daniel’s face relaxed and the stiffness went out of his shoulders. "I came to tell you dinner’s ready," he said. "What’re you doing up here, anyway?"
"Checking out the stars. Wish I’d brought my telescope. Get a few ridges away from those spotlights and it’d be great."
He fell into step with Daniel and they retraced their steps down to camp in companionable silence.
** *** **
North Africa, late 1942
The long-legged stride of the Arab moving toward him through the cluttered souk of Bib al Howa made Hauptmann Hans Dietrich hesitate in the shadow of an awning, watching him through narrowed eyes. Because the supply dump whose move he would supervise in the morning was particularly vulnerable, anything that broke the pattern merited his attention. Possibly he had noticed the man subliminally over the past several days, but the mental alarm that stood him in good stead sounded noisily and he measured the man’s pace and stepped out directly into his path. The Arab growled a guttural apology and meant to step aside, but not before Dietrich saw his face.
Recognition was instantaneous—and mutual.
"Dietrich." He made no attempt to deny it, even though he must have seen several of Dietrich’s men within hailing distance. The captain had long been aware of the Britisher’s innate dignity. He would not lie. He might watch and gauge the situation for an opportunity to flee, but he would not resort to the indignity of pretending something other than what both men knew was true.
As for Dietrich himself, he did not raise his voice in a call for assistance. Where one of the Rat Patrol was, the others would not be far away, and their presence in Bib al Howa could only mean one thing, that they intended to try to sabotage the supply dump. He had little time before he must act.
But the urgency inside him that had driven him these past weeks would have voice. He hesitated. "Moffitt. You endured it, too, didn’t you?" He had seen the bullet tears in Moffitt’s uniform, yet only unmarked skin showed beneath. The moments after his revival, the first moments of his captivity had hardly been the time to speak of what he had instinctively understood, but an inner portion of himself had been glad to know that the incredible thing that had happened to him had created for him a comrade.
He expected subterfuge, not because he had cause to doubt Moffitt’s honesty, or his intelligence. The war made for subterfuge, and his respect for the man who stood quietly facing him was no proof against the need for secrecy.
Moffitt hesitated, then he bowed his head in confirmation.
They stared at each other, and Dietrich saw traces of his own awe and boundless curiosity in the Englishman’s eyes. What they had shared, in their own times, out there in the deep desert, was practically unspeakable. Dietrich wanted that mysterious sarcophagus for his own men, to save them after the war battered and destroyed them. He had dutifully reported his experience, expecting doubt, expecting to be reviled, but he was not reviled. He was treated with some suspicion—at first. Then the word came down from on high that he was to lead an expedition to recover the sarcophagus.
That made him uneasy. He wanted the healing powers of the sarcophagus to save those whose shattered bodies continually littered the desert. What he did not want was something he could never speak aloud. He did not want to add the mysterious device to the power base of madman. Duty versus honor, the old conflict that dogged his footsteps ever since the rise of Nazi Germany, plagued him yet again. Yet he could do nothing but retrace his steps into the desert, as soon as the dying sandstorm made such an expedition possible.
But the sandstorm had made the expedition impossible. He was positive he had returned to the correct place, but even the lay of the land was different. The desert sands had reclaimed their prize.
"Yes," Moffitt said in low tones. "I endured it as well."
"Do you understand it?" Dietrich persisted.
"No more than you do."
In that moment, the bond that existed between them transcended their countries’ ideologies. It created a pact between them, unspoken in the present-day urgency of the moment.
"Someday," Dietrich spoke softly. "Someday, I will understand it."
"I have to say I agree with you."
"Did your people find it?" Dietrich had not meant to ask the question because it revealed too much, revealed that he had not.
Moffitt did not miss that. For an instant, calculation lit his eyes as he tried to reason out whether the words were a bluff, that Dietrich might want to conceal a successful expedition, then he came to the true conclusion. "The sands reclaimed it. Didn’t they?"
"Unfortunately, they did. I’m inclined to wonder if perhaps that might be best."
Moffitt didn’t pretend to misunderstand that, either. He was an archaeologist in civilian life. He might already know of Der Fuhrer’s interest in such objects, objects of art, objects of religious power, objects of occult mystery. He didn’t speak of Hitler. Neither man needed to. "Perhaps...although, after the war...."
"After the war...if it is possible, perhaps, that we will speak again."
"Perhaps," Moffitt agreed.
"And perhaps what the desert takes away it will give back," Dietrich said quickly. There was no time for this conversation. He had his duty, a duty more clear-cut than the retrieval of the sarcophagus. But, for these moments, he and Moffitt were not enemy soldiers but two men bonded by a common experience, even united in a common purpose.
"We may never learn to understand what happened to us."
"I mean to understand, one day," Moffitt replied. "I’m a scientist. I have to know. Do you understand that?"
"Completely. I share your drive."
The explosion came first as a subliminal tremble in the hard-packed earth beneath their feet that both men felt. Recognition touched Moffitt’s eyes so quickly that Dietrich had time to acknowledge it even before the roar of the first explosion shook the day. Moffitt gave a wry shrug—so very English—and murmured, "Sorry." Not for fulfilling his mission, never that, but for the way his success discommoded Dietrich. The raid was not personal, had never been personal. Only an Englishman might have spoken in that particular tone, but all of the Rat Patrol would have felt it.
Dietrich bowed his head once in acknowledgment, then he turned and ran in the direction of the explosion. No time to attempt to subdue Moffitt. But possibly time to contain the situation, to retrieve as many of the supplies as possible. It was not so satisfying as raising his voice in betraying shout and imprisoning the Britisher. But that moment of unspoken bond between them would have made such an act...distasteful. There would be another day, another chance at the Rat Patrol, and if he roused his men now, there might still be time today. His long legs took him into the heart of danger, as they always did.
Perhaps, after the war, he thought as he ran, shouting for his troops. Perhaps, one day, I will learn the answer.
Do I truly wish to know?
He had no answer for such a question.
** *** **
North Africa, Autumn 1998
"This is it," Moffitt said in a voice that shook. "You can’t imagine how many years I’ve longed for this moment."
Daniel caught Jack’s eye and nodded at the elderly archaeologist. Sam and Teal’c interpreted the look. Moffitt caught the exchange of glances and cast himself back in his mind to a time when his own team of four could communicate that easily. He hadn’t enjoyed the fighting, and a part of him had always longed to return to his own work, but he had never before nor since known comradeship like he had felt in North Africa in those days. He couldn’t help envying this team called SG-1. He could tell, just watching their interactions, that they had been under fire together, the four of them: the Colonel; Daniel, who was so obviously a civilian, even if he’d acquired a sort of grafted-on edge; the lovely Samantha, who knew how to interpret high density satellite surveys and who was said to be a theoretical astrophysicist; and Teal’c. Just Teal’c, with his weird tattoo, his formal speech, his stoic face, and the passionate sense of purpose that lurked below the surface.
Moffitt had lived a great many years, worked in a great many distant sites, mingling with different societies and cultures, and in all those eighty-six years, he had never once encountered anyone like Teal’c. While he did not know every society on Earth and while Teal’c’s English was accented only with formality, Moffitt could not place him. He could sense nothing in the man to disrespect. However, the same curiosity that had never quite allowed him to cede his search for the sarcophagus prodded him whenever he looked at the big man with the unusual tattoo. They weren’t going to tell him about Teal’c, none of them. If he asked even one question, they would close ranks, even if it was as simple a question as one about the function of the elaborate staff he carried. Was it a weapon? A tool? A scepter? Moffitt didn’t know.
The exchange of looks complete, Daniel beamed at Moffitt. "You go first, Doctor Moffitt. You’ve earned the right."
One of the other archaeologists opened his mouth as if to protest, but O’Neill waved a hand at him and he subsided. "Yeah, go ahead, Prof," he encouraged. "This is your baby."
"Thank you, Colonel." It is only my ‘baby’ until the time comes to crate the sarcophagus and take it to your top-secret base, he thought. But he didn’t refuse the honor. Accepting a torch from Teal’c with a murmured ‘thank you’, he stepped into the tomb, flashing the beam ahead of him. Some of the archaeologists lit the old-fashioned flaming kind of torches to mount on the walls, and someone else carried a bank of lights. The old and the new.
Last night he’d peeked in the door and confirmed that the site was the right one. But no one had gone in further. Now, with SG-1 hard on his heels, Moffitt stepped into the corridor. He was aware of heightened tension from Daniel that he didn’t understand, something more than simple archaeological fervor. He’d think of that later.
I wish you could be with me, Troy. I wish all of you could. Worse, I wish I thought they’d let me tell you. The last he’d heard, all three of his comrades were still alive. Dietrich, too. All of you deserve to know. He was positive none of them would be allowed to find out, not even himself. Because Moffitt’s lifelong question had already been answered, somehow, somewhere else. Perhaps there was another magical, mystical sarcophagus that the United States government or the United States Air Force knew about, and they were determined to locate a second one. They wouldn’t tell him. When he’d asked, he’d been fed that ‘need to know’ comment that spoke of top security. He could understand that. And he would feel better if he thought that being granted the privilege of entering the tomb first was anything but the gentle humoring of an old man.
The antechamber where the others had waited and drunk bitter coffee was untouched. An empty C-ration tin lay in the corner, proof of that long-ago meal. Moffitt went into the room and picked it up.
"Some archaeological find, Prof," O’Neill commented. His eyes scanned and measured the room.
"It is just that, no less important for being so recent," Moffitt returned. "Because I knew the men who used it."
Daniel tore his eyes away from the hieroglyphic-encrusted walls. "It takes you back," he said, eyes clouded with memories. "I still have a few artifacts my parents found. When I touch them, it’s as if I’m reaching back across the years." The rest of Daniel’s team seemed to understand that, and O’Neill gave a quick smile that Daniel didn’t see.
Moffitt blessed him for his understanding. "The night this was left here was the night when I realized anything was possible, that incredible things could happen." He pocketed the tin as if it were as great a treasure as the death mask of Tutankhamen. That long-ago night when Troy, Hitch, and Tully sat here mourning his death was as vivid in his mind as if it had happened yesterday.
"Indeed," Teal’c spoke softly. Daniel nodded fervently.
"So, where’s the sarcophagus?" O’Neill cut in. Moffitt didn’t think he’d spoken to shatter the mood deliberately, but to get them back on track. Daniel shot a fondly exasperated glance in his direction. O’Neill caught it and added, "Daniel hasn’t had a chance to find any rocks yet."
"Artifacts." It was standard banter. Moffitt closed his eyes for a moment and thought longingly of the camaraderie of decades past.
"It’s this way," he said, and led them out of the antechamber and down the gold-lined corridor to the inner room.
The sarcophagus sat where they had left it when they had placed Dietrich’s body inside. It was closed; had Dietrich done that when he awakened in disbelief and scrambled out, or did the panels retract automatically? Questions hit Moffitt with the strength of a flash flood, questions he knew none of SG-1 would answer.
"Jack, it is," Daniel breathed, awestruck. "It is a sarcophagus."
"Well, we kinda figured that, Danny-boy."
"I know. But...." His voice trailed off. In spite of his interest, he was repelled, too. When Moffitt went to the sarcophagus and ran caressing fingers over it, Daniel hung back, near the entrance. Yet his eyes devoured the lettering on the sides. Moffitt recognized the exact moment when Daniel saw the bizarre symbols, the same markings that had been on the great stone circle discovered on the Langford Expedition of twenty-eight.
Sam saw them, too, and homed in on them like a gun dog that has scented its prey. "Colonel, take a look at this."
Moffitt got down creakily on one knee beside her and ran his fingers over the strange symbols. They were enclosed in a cartouche; six of them were. The seventh was just outside it, a pyramid shape with a circle above it.
Daniel edged over as if afraid the sarcophagus would leap at him sideways, and squatted down beside Sam and O’Neill. "Do you know this ad—this one?" he asked Sam.
Ad—? Moffitt frowned, trying to guess what word Daniel had censored.
"Not without reference."
"I’ll do a tracing." Daniel whipped out paper and charcoal, and began to copy the markings.
"We can film it," O’Neill reminded him.
"I know we can." Daniel looked up with an endearing, boyish grin. "Humor me, Jack."
The Colonel’s eyes warmed and he raised his hands in surrender. "Pig out."
"You have seen one of these before," Moffitt ventured.
He had never seen four faces close up so quickly. O’Neill glanced down at him. "Ah, ah, ah, Prof. Sorry. No can do."
"Classified. I know." He heaved himself creakily to his feet and stood for a moment, his palms resting against the lid. "Ever since that night, I’ve longed for this moment. Daniel will tell you that an archaeologist has to know and to know right now."
Daniel nodded automatically without looking up from his rubbing.
"Yeah, I kinda noticed that," O’Neill conceded with a touch of fond exasperation, "the six hundred times I had to pull him away from ancient ruins." Daniel grimaced, flashed the Colonel a grin like one of Tully’s, and returned to his work.
"This sarcophagus brought me back from the dead." Moffitt stroked the stone—or whatever it was made of. "It gave me more than fifty years I wouldn’t have had otherwise. While I should like answers to share with my wartime comrades, and even with Dietrich, I do understand the purpose of secrecy. If the American government announced it had found a device that could resurrect people, there would be chaos. Greed. Religious protests. Denials. I know it must be kept secret. More, I know there are other reasons I have not imagined for you to keep this secret."
"Well, yeah, you called that," O’Neill agreed.
"Were there markings like this on...?" Sam began and censored herself. Moffitt completed her sentence in his head. ‘...on any other sarcophagus you encountered.’ Proof that the device and its function was known already, understood, or at least recognized.
Daniel frowned. He was trying to remember. Of all of them, he would have been fascinated by the hieroglyphics. He was a linguist, a specialist in ancient languages; modern, too. He’d spoken in Arabic to one of the locals they had shooed away from the site. A versatile young man. Stubborn and determined to vocalize his beliefs, even if they went contrary to accepted doctrine. Of course he was Nicholas Ballard’s grandson, too, and Nick had espoused an unpopular and unbelievable theory himself. It must run in the family.
"So, this is what we think it is?" O’Neill said abruptly. "We crate it up and take it out of here."
"You can’t just instantly move an artifact, Jack," objected Daniel. "It has to be studied in situ, measured, monitored, recorded. We could do untold damage if we just whipped it out of here. We don’t usually have the luxury of time when it comes to moving artifacts."
Moffitt’s head came up at that comment. Why not? Where were they working where they had to snatch and run? He couldn’t imagine it? Iraq? Sites plagued by terrorists? No, something more. Something connected to those weird markings, an alphabet Moffitt had seen nowhere else but here and on the stone circle. Catherine knew more than she was telling, too. She’d been remarkably circumspect at her retrospective on her father’s work. The dig in Giza had been skimmed over and she’d managed—extremely skillfully—to divert questions on the subject. Wary and warned by Daniel’s reaction to his story of the sarcophagus, Moffitt had not asked the question he most wanted to ask: what had happened to the stone circle and had its function ever been discovered? He was certain it had, and that it was every bit as classified as this particular dig. Why?
O’Neill nodded at Daniel’s comment. "Yeah, I know," he said with a wary glance at Moffitt. "You don’t have to move it this second, but I’d feel a lot better if we weren’t hanging out here in front of god and everybody."
"We’ll move it carefully, Daniel," Sam cut in. "But we need to remove it to a secure site."
"We don’t know how it got here or when," Daniel persisted. "Or who brought it here."
"Oh, I think we can guess," O’Neill said dryly. He shook his head at Daniel, possibly afraid he’d blurt out a classified answer. The only thing that came to Moffitt was the ‘ancient astronaut’ theories that had been nosed about in the ‘70s. Come to think of it, Daniel had espoused some unpopular theories himself four or five years ago. Then he’d dropped out. Moffitt hadn’t realized until now that it had been a long time since he’d seen any published work from Jackson. If objects like this sarcophagus proved his theories, maybe the United States government had clamped down on his work, recruited him. It was the only answer that made sense.
But this was a major project for a few artifacts. They surely wouldn’t have teams like this ready on a moment’s notice simply because they’d discovered the healing properties of a certain type of sarcophagus. There’d be no guarantee that any more would ever be found, especially since Moffitt had encountered plenty of the standard variety that didn’t bring people back to life—well, at least they hadn’t resurrected the mummies in them.
The only way this made any sense at all was if there were still ancient astronauts out there, beyond Earth. Maybe it was a sign of galloping senility that he was so willing to espouse the theory so easily, but Langford’s stone circle had dropped off into oblivion awfully quickly. There should have been mounds of articles written, controversies, wild theories. There had been none of that, and there should have been a furor. Only six years after the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamen, when the public was hungry for exciting news of ancient Egypt, there should have been headlines around the world.
Moffitt frowned. His own father must have been involved in the cover-up. He hadn’t even realized it until now. At the time, he had been a teenager, too young to be included in the loop. But Catherine knew. Her father had taken the stone circle with the weird markings, and arranged to do what? Turn it over to the American government? And how had the Egyptian Department of Antiquities liked that?
All right. This wasn’t as much an ancient miracle as it was an ongoing puzzlement. No one here would tell him if his wild theories had any basis in fact. He was only here on sufferance anyway, perhaps because they believed him too old to make trouble. Daniel may have needed to argue fiercely on his behalf just to permit him to come along.
"We have to make sure it’s safe to move it," Daniel persisted with his argument. "Whoever put it here might have arranged...protection."
"Ya think?" O’Neill squinted at the sarcophagus. "We talking little Goa—little booby traps here?"
"It is possible, O’Neill." Teal’c was frowning, but then, the big man’s face appeared to wear a permanent frown, although he did not radiate bad temper. "I shall examine it." He strode over to the sarcophagus and proceeded to explore its base.
Rubbing completed, Daniel tucked the paper into a leather folder he had with him. "You can check it out when we get back to the...when we get back." He handed it over to Sam.
"I will." She looked as if she were just dying to speculate. Yet she was not an archaeologist. Astrophysicist? Did that fit with his improbable theories? What kind of team needed both an archaeologist/linguist and an astrophysicist? And O’Neill, who was like Sam Troy, in that he was a soldier, in charge militarily. As for Teal’c, who prowled around the sarcophagus, checking out its edges and the hieroglyphics on its base, he was not a scientist. Moffitt still couldn’t place him. He had no frame of reference for the dark man.
"I just don’t understand why this site is here," Daniel persisted. "We’re outside the Egyptian area. Once the star...." He trailed off and added obscurely, "Perhaps when the Egyptians buried...you know, someone was trapped and chose to remove to a remote location."
Jack glanced at Moffitt and registered the confused frustration on his face. "You’re talking system lord here?" he asked carefully.
Daniel shook his head. "They aren’t all system lords," he pointed out.
That was a term Moffitt didn’t recognize. He knew he should offer to remove himself so they could confer, but he was too fascinated by the tangle of wild theories running through his head to back away.
"I knew that," O’Neill returned. "Okay, so where did he go? He had his sarcophagus."
"In several millennia?" Moffitt exploded. "I don’t know what a system lord is but unless he could live forever or...or use the sarcophagus to prolong his life... That’s it, isn’t it? It doesn’t just heal. It prolongs life."
"It’s not a miracle cure for aging," Daniel replied. He took a deep breath, glanced at Jack for permission to speak, and said, "It could have...side effects if used for that purpose."
Moffitt shuddered. "But it healed me."
"You only used it once. And you’ve lived a long, normal life ever since. You don’t have to worry."
"Repeated use would be the problem? Physical changes? Addictive properties?"
"He’s good," O’Neill muttered. "Okay, enough of this. Sorry, Moffitt, but you already know more than is good for you."
"None of which I will reveal," Moffitt replied stiffly, very British and dignified. "I did agree to that. My word is good."
"We know it is, Doctor Moffitt," Sam said hastily. "It’s simply that you don’t have the security clearance for us to go any further."
"I understand that. A part of me wishes to send off telegrams to Sam Troy, to Tully and Hitch, and even to Dietrich, and tell them the sarcophagus is found, but I know I can’t do that. It may not be fair, but life is generally not fair." He thought of something. "They all experienced this. They know about what happened. If...will they be endangered by that knowledge?"
Daniel turned to O’Neill. "Jack?"
"Nah. They’ll just be kept out of the loop. After all, it’s not like anybody out there is gonna cross-reference those old wartime records, if there even are any. Besides, they may know something, but they don’t know what they know." He leaned back against the carved wall and produced a wry grin. "We may be good, but we’re not that good."
"Not even someone like Maybourne?" Carter asked.
"Oh, now, you had to go and mention him." O’Neill grimaced and pushed himself away from the wall.
The wall pushed back.
Whether he’d triggered something with his motion or Teal’c’s fussing around the base of the sarcophagus did, the section of the wall that the Colonel had leaned against shot out after him, revealing an inner section paneled with lighted segments that looked technological. It slammed him to the floor with vicious impact, and then snapped into place, leaving a shattered, broken figure in its wake. Dear lord, his head had gone a queer shape, and surely both legs were broken. Moffitt felt his stomach heave and he swallowed frantically to keep his breakfast from coming up.
"Jack!" Daniel screeched and the color flowed from his face so fast he nearly pitched over onto the floor after it. Sam sucked in a horrified breath and scrambled after Daniel like a competitor in a relay race.
"O’Neill!" Teal’c erupted to his feet and lunged after the other two to the Colonel’s side.
Daniel dropped to his knees with such force that it had to hurt, but he didn’t appear to notice. He stretched out a tentative hand and touched O’Neill’s forehead. His fingers came away bloodied. "Oh, God," he groaned. "Jack...."
"D-daniel?" Moffitt would have sworn the man was dead already, but there was no strength in that frail voice. He was fading fast. People didn’t recover from injuries like that. It was a miracle he was even conscious. His body shuddered with each breath. The effort to draw air into his lungs was too much for him. He wouldn’t be able to keep breathing more than a few minutes. Moffitt had seen too many men die in this very desert to believe any different.
Daniel gripped the fingers of O’Neill’s closest hand in both his own and squeezed them so tightly that it should have hurt them both. O’Neill’s face was so knotted with pain that he probably wouldn’t have noticed a steam roller running over him except as one more fragment of agony. Daniel’s face was as tormented as his, and Carter was horrified, her eyes enormous in her face. The guards who had stood in the doorway thundered over to the section of the wall.
"Don’t touch it," Moffitt heard himself warn them. "It’s booby-trapped. I think all the walls will be. We never touched them when we were here in the war."
"Daniel?" faltered the feeble, dying voice. "Carter.... Teal’c...."
"Right here, Jack," Daniel soothed in a voice that quivered with shock. "I’m not going anywhere. We’re all here with you. Hang on. You can do it."
O’Neill squinted at him vaguely. "Gotta say...been a good run...."
"It’s been the best," Daniel said shakily and Carter murmured a subdued affirmative. Moffitt could hear the breaking of Daniel’s heart in his words, of Sam’s, as she struggled against the wail that wanted to emerge, just as he’d heard it in Troy’s voice when he had died. How did people endure this kind of pain? How did they find the strength to live with loss? It never got any easier, and these four people were as close as his own band of four had been, maybe even closer. Moffitt shuddered.
But Daniel and his teammates didn’t have to endure it. O’Neill didn’t have to die. They were right here in the chamber of miracles. They could save him, just as Moffitt had been saved, just as they’d resurrected Dietrich.
Sam reached down and touched O’Neill’s hair. "Sir, it’s all right," she soothed even as she gestured to the people bunched around them to open the sarcophagus.
"Indeed, O’Neill." That was Teal’c. He looked all broken up, too, but he also accepted without question that there was a solution. They knew. They had never needed to take Moffitt’s story on faith.
"It’s okay. It’s gonna be okay." Daniel heard what he was saying and suddenly his face went even more tense and rigid than before. Dark emotions stiffened his entire body. "Jack, it’s really okay. Can you hear me? We’ve got a sarcophagus. It’s okay." He should have been happy about it, should have brimmed with relieved elation, and most of him did, but another part of him was cringing.
"It should be all right, Daniel," Sam soothed. "It’s only the once. Several times shouldn’t...."
"I know," Daniel replied hoarsely. "I...I didn’t want to come here.... but if Jack needs it...."
"It’s okay, Jack." Daniel gazed down helplessly at his broken friend and stroked the hand he held.
"We’re saving you, Jack." Flat and final. No argument. He tucked his own personal issues inside and shut them away without the slightest hesitation. Only the set of his jaw and the hollowness of his eyes reminded Moffitt that he had ever had any in the first place.
"Hope...so...." A paroxysm of agony wracked the Colonel’s body and he cried out in incredible pain. Daniel turned ghostlike in his pallor and Sam bit her bottom lip so hard that she drew blood. Teal’c, his face as stoic as an ancient statue, stood rigid, the muscles dancing in his jaw, then he turned away abruptly and moved past the dithering archaeologists to open the sarcophagus himself.
"...can’t...see...." Jack groaned. "...all...dark...." He suddenly cried out again, and then, frantically, "Oh, god, Daniel."
And then the last breath slid free and his body stilled.
"Jack!" Daniel yelled.
"Quick," said Carter. "We have to put him in the sarcophagus."
They moved together to lift him with aching caution, the security men and archaeologists helping them. Once he was inside, they straightened his crushed body as best they could. Carter ran her fingers over the bloodied forehead and Daniel gave the cooling hand he held one final squeeze before he drew back. The panels slid closed over O’Neill’s body, and Daniel abruptly turned into jutting angles of knees and elbows and sat down on the floor, his face tortured.
Sam dropped down beside him, blinking hard to fight back tears, and Teal’c dropped a huge hand on Daniel’s shoulder, both to give and receive comfort. The three of them were so united in that moment, even if Daniel seemed a little apart even from them, that Moffitt felt more like an outsider than he had ever felt in his life. Even the security people and archaeologists backed away. The torches in the wall sconces danced and flickered and cast shadows on all their faces that the one bank of artificial lighting couldn’t entirely wash away.
"He’ll be all right," Sam said gently. "Daniel, this isn’t like what happened on P3R-636. You went through it several times with no ill effects before that."
"I know," Daniel replied. His voice was thin and strengthless. "I know that, Sam. I know it won’t addict him, not just this once." He wrapped his arms around his chest and held on as if afraid his heart would shoot out through his sternum. "God, Sam, I can’t help remembering, but...."
"It is natural that you recall your experience, Daniel Jackson." Teal’c’s bass rumble was so reassuring that a part of Moffitt expected Daniel to release himself from the protective embrace and smile in gratitude. He didn’t, of course. He only rocked harder.
"He died," he reminded the other two. "Jack died."
"And he will soon be well again," Teal’c replied with utter confidence. "You must remember that."
"I do." Daniel shivered. He wasn’t keeping himself warm. "It’s natural to you, Teal’c. Yeah, I’ve been through it, on Abydos, on Klorel’s ship. I know it works. It’s just...sometimes it’s too much."
"I know," Sam agreed with him. She slid her arm around his waist and leaned against him. She wasn’t the leaning type, but then most folks didn’t have to see people they care about squashed flat by a booby-trapped wall. Even after surviving the experience himself, Moffitt was still shocked by the suddenness of O’Neill’s death. He didn’t believe deep down inside, the way these people did, even though he’d been resurrected himself. He didn’t even want to speculate on the possibility of failure, that the sarcophagus had sat abandoned too long to go on working.
"I couldn’t help it," Daniel said slowly, the words dredged from deep within. "Well, the first time, I thought I could play along with Shayla and get the rest of you out of the mines, and after that, I didn’t even let myself think about what was happening to me. I was up there living in luxury and you could have died--" He broke off and stared at the sarcophagus with revulsion. "You could have died," he repeated. "Because I wasn’t strong enough to resist."
"That is not true, Daniel Jackson," Teal’c rumbled. "You did not understand what occurred. If the Goa’uld cannot resist, how could you?"
"But I should have...."
"No, Daniel," Sam said quietly. "Because it changed you, too. It made you want the wrong things. It’s more powerful than we can imagine. I know we were pretty resentful when you came to gloat over us, but we didn’t entirely understand. Besides," she concluded, "you overcame it. You don’t have any urge to jump into it now, do you?"
"No!" exploded Daniel, horrified. "I didn’t even want to...." His voice trailed off and he averted his eyes. "A part of me didn’t even want to...to put Jack...." He brought up shocked hands and covered his face. "Oh, God...."
"That’s instinctive, I should think," Moffitt ventured. "You wouldn’t want to expose your friend to your unfortunate experience."
"He said he knew what it was like...." Daniel began, then he closed his lips over the words, appalled. "We have to save him. We can’t let him stay dead. I’d do anything to save him. But this is the worst...."
"It is a tool, Daniel Jackson," Teal’c rumbled, "like a piece of Doctor Fraiser’s equipment, no more. It is not evil. It is neutral. It is the usage that may be good or evil."
Daniel peered at Teal’c over the tops of his fingertips.
"In just such a manner, a zat’nik’atel may be good or evil," the big man continued. "To protect a friend, its use is good. To kill wantonly, its use is evil."
"You didn’t know what might happen," Sam reminded him.
Daniel took such a deep breath his entire body vibrated. "Ignorance can’t be an excuse. I know now. And Jack...." He took his hands away so he could look at the sarcophagus. "If Jack...."
"O’Neill will not become addicted with one use," Teal’c pointed out. "You did not, on Abydos, nor on Klorel’s ship."
"No, but if we take this back with us, someone will remember what happened to me, someone like Maybourne," Daniel argued. "If he gets his hands on this.... Better if we had never found it."
"But we have found it," Sam said quietly. "We have to trust General Hammond to make certain it isn’t abused. What we can’t do is leave it here. If we could find it, someone else could."
"They wouldn’t know—" Daniel’s voice chopped off. "Someone would find out, wouldn’t they? All these people involved in the mission. One of them could tell Maybourne, or sell the information."
Teal’c nodded. "Indeed." He glanced pointedly at everyone else in the room, even Moffitt, who had to stiffen his spine not to look away from the intensity of that dark gaze.
They were so caught up in the moment that Moffitt felt compelled to break the mood. "Did anyone else see the instrument panel behind that section of wall?" he asked.
Everyone stared at him as if he had been invisible until now and suddenly materialized in their midst.
"Instrument panel?" Sam asked, her eyes intrigued.
"There would need to be something to run the booby-trap," Daniel offered. "This is more than a standard tomb, with a sarcophagus here."
Perhaps his words had conjured up trouble. All at once, a subliminal vibration troubled the soles of Moffitt’s feet. He saw the others react to it, their expressions changing.
"Teal’c!" Sam cried. "Could this be...."
They stared at each other in horrified realization. Moffitt didn’t know what it was they feared, but Carter erupted to her feet. "Get out of here now," she commanded the other archaeologists. "Hurry. You too," she added to the security guards. "Doctor Moffitt, I’m going to have to ask you to leave as well."
He planted his feet stubbornly. "Why?"
"I don’t have time for this. Daniel, how much longer...." She nodded at the sarcophagus.
"I...I’m not sure," he replied. "It’s too soon."
The archaeologists went for the door, their heads turned back to watch. Teal’c gestured with the staff he held and they hurried from the chamber as if half afraid he would attack them with it. The security team lingered a moment. Moffitt assumed a stubborn stance. In a sense, this was his tomb. He might never learn the truth, who the Goa’uld Teal’c had mentioned and O’Neill had started to mention were, where Daniel had become addicted to the healing properties of the sarcophagus: the talk of a ‘ship’ didn’t make Moffitt think of ocean-going vehicles. And that led to a speculation that he didn’t want to think about. The Goa’uld they had mentioned...there was no race or political party on earth by that name, not that Jack Moffitt had ever heard tell of in his nearly eighty-six years of living. If they were not ‘on earth’....
The vibration intensified. Abruptly, one of the archaeologists plunged into the room again, the tall one named Davison. "It’s changing," he blurted. "It’s changing its shape."
"The booby-trap," Daniel breathed. "Go. All of you. I’ll stay with him."
"You mean it’s going to explode?" Moffitt queried in shock. Their faces turned to him in surprise. That was not what they meant. But what else could it be? That the place would seal itself forever with them trapped inside?
"Go, Doctor Moffitt," Daniel urged. "I have to stay with Jack, but the rest of you need to leave now."
"We will wait for O’Neill," Teal’c insisted. "You will need me, Daniel Jackson."
"And me," Sam concurred. "I won’t leave the Colonel, either."
Moffitt didn’t think they meant that they would choose to be entombed. No, this was something else. What? He remembered his earlier Von Daaniken theories and his glimpse of the instrument panel. "This couldn’t possibly be a spaceship?" he ventured, half afraid he had made a blithering idiot of himself in front of the others.
No one scoffed. Worse, confirmation flashed in three pairs of eyes.
Before anyone could erect an official wall of silence, the walls of the chamber retracted into the floor, leaving four glowing banks of instrumentation. Teal’c went to the nearest section and studied it.
"That should answer your question," Daniel said in the tones of a man who is trying hard not to laugh hysterically. He went over to the sarcophagus and touched it with a mixture of revulsion and desperation. "Come on, Jack," he murmured. "Come on, Jack."
Carter flung herself at the instrumentation. "I’ll see if I can shut it down. Teal’c, help me."
Forgotten, Moffitt stood his ground. He was an old man with a long fruitful life behind him. His wife was twenty years dead, his children grown and happy with their lives, his grandchildren virtual strangers. One last adventure, he thought with a wistful recall of his days with Troy, Tully, and Hitch. One last adventure, perhaps the greatest of them all. If only I could share this moment with Troy and the others.
Sam and Teal’c worked frantically, she with her scientific knowledge and he with something else, a touch of familiarity, of experience. Was Teal’c so different because he came from—out there? Surely impossible. No, Jack, he told himself. Is anything truly impossible? You came back from the dead in this very room. Is it so inconceivable that it is an alien spacecraft, disguised? Is it so impossible that Teal’c first saw the light of day on another world? So impossible that finding that stone circle started a chain of events that led to this moment?
"It will not shut down." Teal’c’s voice held concern. "It has been programmed to accept no countermand."
Daniel glanced at them wildly as he hovered over the sarcophagus. "Then I have to stay," he insisted. "I can’t let him wake up out there, alone, and I won’t." Any lingering remorse or guilt he felt over what he’d been through before faded in the face of the new crisis. He radiated strength and purpose as he stood there. It would take ten of those mysterious ‘Goa’uld’ of his to drive him away.
"I can’t get to the power supply to shut that down," Carter agreed. "If I did, it might conceivably affect the sarcophagus. I can’t endanger the Colonel. We’re armed and experienced. If we must go—"
The creaking groan of the twin wings of the sarcophagus interrupted her. "Yes!" Daniel exulted. "It’s opening. Jack?"
The wings parted to reveal O’Neill, lying still, eyes closed. Moffitt leaned closer and squinted at him. His head looked the right shape and the crushed legs were straight. Even better, Moffitt could see the rise and fall of his chest as he breathed.
"Jack!" yelled Daniel.
Teal’c left the control panel and strode to Daniel’s side. "O’Neill."
"Colonel?" Sam hurried to join them.
O’Neill shuddered and blinked, then his eyes shot open. He stared at his friends blankly, almost as if he were dazed by the fierce blast of relief they projected at him, then he quirked his mouth in a crooked grin. "Guess it worked, huh?"
"Are you all right, Jack?" Daniel fussed as he reached out to help O’Neill sit up.
The Colonel cocked his head at that tone. "Yeah, I’m great," he said. "And I’m still in control. I don’t want to hop right back in. It’s okay, Daniel." He locked eyes with the younger man for a long moment, and the tension gradually trickled out of Daniel’s shoulders. He looked like he wanted to grab the Colonel and hug him, but he didn’t. Instead he stepped back to allow him room to climb out of the tomb, but his hand shot out and steadied O’Neill.
It was left to the Colonel to initiate the hug that both men needed. "Thanks, Daniel. I know how it must have felt," he said.
Daniel leaned into the embrace for a second as if it offered him the balm of healing, then he remembered.
"This isn’t a tomb, sir, it’s a Goa’uld ship," Carter intervened hastily. "We have to get out of here. The booby trap activated it, and I think it’s about to take off."
The Colonel stared at the banks of instrumentation with surprise but also with recognition.
"Indeed, O’Neill. We must depart immediately."
O’Neill straightened up and stomped on the floor a couple of times with his booted foot. Momentary satisfaction flashed in his eyes but he banished it because he didn’t have time to revel in his resurrection. "You’re still here."
"None of us must stay here," Sam said, tugging him toward the doorway.
They ran, pelting down the passage. O’Neill started out shaky but the increasing vibration beneath their feet shook him out of his dazed trance in double time. Sam and Daniel stuck right at his side. Teal’c paced himself beside Moffitt, prepared to snatch him up and run with him if Moffitt’s age prevented him from keeping up. His heart thudded in his chest as he hurried and his breath grew short and whistled out in shaken bursts.
The doorway was closing ahead of them. He saw the light from the desert day narrowing. Teal’c made an exclamation and grabbed Moffitt up, slinging him over his shoulder and quickening his pace.
O’Neill shot through the narrowing gap with Daniel and Sam hard on his heels, and Teal’c leaped through just as the door started to close. Moffitt felt it brush his bushy white hair as it sealed itself. Then they were staggering away, O’Neill yelling a warning to the rest of the party, his arm gesturing them away.
The ground pitched beneath them like a ship on a stormy sea and slowly, slowly, the tomb—now shaped more like a small pyramid, rose from the desert with a sucking whoosh of sound. Sand sprayed out in all directions the way it did in explosions, and more trickled in to fill the space the ship left. Who could ever imagine a ship shaped like a pyramid? Moffitt, upright now, as Teal’c stood him on his feet, simply gaped at it, a hand raised to shield his eyes from the fierce glare of the day.
"Look at that, sir," Sam said unnecessarily. There wasn’t a person present who wasn’t staring openmouthed. The alien ship—it had to be alien; the ancient Egyptians had possessed their own form of technology but it didn’t run to interstellar travel—suddenly spouted a tail, or a trailing rudder, Moffitt didn’t know which, if either. Then it simply leaped into the sky, shooting skyward in a smooth, soaring trajectory.
"It was programmed for automatic recall," Sam said.
"Using the sarcophagus in itself wasn’t enough to trigger it," Daniel offered. "It couldn’t be, not if it was used twice in Nineteen Forty-two."
"The trigger device that attacked O’Neill would have initiated recall," Teal’c explained. "The owner of the ship would have known what to avoid touching."
O’Neill raised his hands defensively. "Oops."
Daniel lowered the hand that had shielded his eyes and turned to Jack. "Maybe it’s better like this," he offered.
"Ya think?" O’Neill looked himself up and down.
"I didn’t mean that," Daniel defended himself. "You know I didn’t. Even if I hate what a sarcophagus can do if it’s misused, I’m glad we had it for you." He floundered to an awkward stop. "You know what I mean. It’s just...."
"The capacity for misuse," Sam agreed. "We know, Daniel. We wouldn’t misuse it, of course." Her automatic inclusion of Daniel in her ‘we’ made him relax slightly. "But there are people who might, who might even inflict its improper use on others. It would have been good to have it for those true emergencies, like...." She shivered and glanced at O’Neill. "Like the one we just experienced. But it would be so easy to abuse." She shrugged. "It’s out of our hands now."
Daniel lifted his eyes to the blazing blue sky and then returned to rest on O’Neill. He didn’t look like a man who had been denied his ‘fix’. Instead, there was great relief in his eyes, and Moffitt suspected that he had two reasons: O’Neill’s survival, and the realization that he hadn’t craved the sarcophagus after all. A wary, relieved peace trickled into his eyes.
"Just as well," O’Neill said in a careless tone that didn’t deceive anyone. Moffitt knew how he must be feeling; returning to life was utterly awe-inspiring. He was still alive after all those years and the dash for freedom hadn’t kicked his heart into overload. Already its pace was slowing.
"Just as well," Daniel echoed. "Though I hate to imagine the look on General Hammond’s face when we tell him we let it get away."
"Sweet," muttered the Colonel. "You do have a way of cutting through the crap, Daniel." He slung a carelessly affectionate arm around the archaeologist, and produced a big, sappy grin for Sam and Teal’c. Another of those team moments Moffitt remembered so well from the old days. Then O’Neill turned the hug into a headlock, knocked on the top of Daniel’s head and let him go.
Moffitt took that moment to stride over to Daniel and stick out his hand. "Doctor Jackson. Allow me to apologize to you."
Daniel’s mouth dropped open. "Uh...what for?"
"For doubting you over the past few years. When I heard your theories, I went along with the rest of the archaeological community and condemned you in my mind, even though I had far less reason, even if I could understand how you might espouse an unpopular cause. Although I tried to find you to encourage you, a part of me scoffed at your theories. I see now that you were absolutely right and I was completely closed-minded."
"Oh. Uh, that’s okay." Daniel beamed like a child at Christmas.
"You do realize, Doctor Moffitt, that you can’t make any announcements about the validity of Daniel’s work, or anything you’ve seen today?" Sam asked smoothly.
"I agreed to that before I was allowed to accompany you," Moffitt reminded them. "While I wish with all my heart that I could telephone Sam Troy and tell him the whole story, I know it’s not possible. I also suspect he wouldn’t believe a word of it. The elderly tend to grow narrow in their beliefs. He would believe me senile. Alien spacecraft? Technology beyond Earth?" He nodded toward Teal’c. "Visitors from other worlds." Teal’c inclined his head in return but did not speak aloud to confirm the theory. "And, I suspect, I find myself in company with those who have found a way to step beyond the confines of this earth."
"Can’t imagine what you’re talking about, Doc," O’Neill said smoothly. "The United States Government cannot confirm or deny the existence of any such things."
"Of course not," Moffitt replied. He would visit Troy, once this was over, two old men together, and they would talk of the old days in the way of old men everywhere. Maybe they’d even call Tully and Hitch to join them for a long-overdue reunion. Moffitt could never mention alien spacecraft or ancient astronauts to them, but there was one thing he could say, that he had found answers. That there were answers to be found, even if he were not allowed to speak them. He would walk with Troy out to a hilltop under the stars, and they would look up at the night, as they had done so often in the desert, dwarfed by immensity. For Troy, it would be as it always had been, a verification of his mortality. Now, for Moffitt, it would mean so much more. The night sky was not the limitation of man’s aspirations. It was a door to wonders Moffitt had never imagined and would not live to see. But he had seen wonders enough both in 1942 and today to make his life worthwhile.
O’Neill studied him carefully, his face thoughtful, then he nodded in acceptance before he turned back to his team.
"Okay, campers," he urged, beckoning his team toward the waiting jeeps. "We’re outta here."
Moffitt smiled faintly and spoke to the ghosts of his past in words he’d heard so many times before. "Let’s shake it."