Changing of the Guard 2: The Ninth Chevron Ecolea Sequel: Second in series Feedback: Comments, flames, superfluous remarks and vicious character assassination may be cheerfully sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org Disclaimer: Okay, so a few of the characters in this story actually belong to me, but I'm still not making any money off the others. But please, go ahead and sue me anyway. If fact, I'll make you a deal. You help me gain fame and notoriety -- and I'll help your lawyers spend all that retainer money! Author's note: For the sake of readability in most cases modern place names and descriptions of certain artifacts have been used. Purists will cringe, but hey, a cup is a cup is a cup. Note to canon junkies: Yes, I fudged a little in this one -- a couple of minor points -- but if the producers/writers can't be bothered to follow canon from episode to episode and movie to movie why should I? Personal note: Many thanks to Arameth for diabolical and fiendish torment of the author, guidance and without whom none of this would be possible. To Daisy, for just being there. And to Karoshi, for painlessly picking out the nits. Everyone should be so lucky! In Memorium: One more for Estella, who left the way she lived -- with dignity and style. Prologue Reconnaissance Mission: Planet P7X4238 "Well they certainly weren't very friendly," Jack O'Neill muttered sullenly, holding a thick square of gauze to his forehead where a small stone had hit him. "I told you they wouldn't be," Methos shrugged, rubbing his shoulder. The rock hadn't been very big, but whoever had thrown it had put their all into the gesture. A few shots from a zat gun and the attendant electrical show that went with it had frightened the rest of the villagers off, but not before they'd done some damage, however slight that was. "How did you know?" Samantha Carter asked, easing a knot out of her thigh. "Call it deja vu, Major," Methos smiled grimly. "I sort of knew their ancestors." Daniel Jackson looked up from where he knelt over his pack. "I thought I recognized the clothing style. Early Mesopotamian, right?" "Very early," Methos agreed. "Pre-bronze age, in fact." "Must have been caught up in a Goa'uld slave run," O'Neill commented, checking the gauze to see whether the flow of blood had stopped. "Good enough," he mumbled, tossing the pad aside. "Come on, let's get back to the gate. Teal'c!" he called and the dark skinned Jaffa, who'd been guarding the clearing while they saw to their wounds came over. "Take point," he ordered as he stood. "Carter, watch our asses." "Yes, sir," she responded as they moved out. Methos fell in beside O'Neill and Daniel, also keeping an eye out for any villagers who might have gotten their courage back. He doubted it, but there was always a first time. They'd walked about half a mile before Daniel finally spoke up. "Deja vu, huh?" he asked softly. "How many times did it happen?" "Enough," Methos responded lightly. "People weren't very friendly towards strangers in those days. Not if they looked substantially different from what they imagined a normal human should look like. You couldn't even call it racism. It was just otherness that was frightening." "What did you do?" "What any sensible being would," Methos shrugged. "I hid. Found some nice comfy caves and stayed well away from everyone." Daniel looked shocked. "For how long?" "I don't know," Methos admitted with a dismissive shrug. "A few hundred years, maybe more. I didn't keep track. It's all a sort of blur to me now. Just hunting for food and trying to stay alive, mostly." "So you knew you were Immortal?" Methos sighed, finally giving into the idea that the questions wouldn't stop until something else distracted Daniel. "I knew I was different, but I didn't know why. Five thousand years ago I had no memories, remember?" "Right," Daniel nodded. "So, how did you find out?" "The same day I took my first head," he murmured, remembering the moment. "I was fishing." "Fishing?" Jack asked, suddenly interested. Methos grinned. The colonel had been listening, but unlike Daniel never dreamed of asking prying, uncomfortable questions. "Not for sport, for food. The lake wasn't very big and it was close to one of the villages I avoided, but I wanted some water reeds for making rope and I was hungry, so I fished." "What happened?" Daniel asked as they started to climb one of several hills that led back to the gate. "A man showed up. Not much different from the villagers in looks, but he had an ax. A very big bronze ax. He shouted something to the effect that he was going to cut off my head and swallow my soul, which as you can imagine rather shocked me. I was used to sticks and stones -- being driven away -- although one village headman decided he wanted to eat my demon heart which was what made me hide in the first place. But no one had ever just come out and said they were going to kill me without reason. And he wasn't frightened of me, which I found puzzling." Not to mention, he thought wryly, that his stomach had been twisted in knots and his head buzzing so loudly he'd though he'd lose his mind. "Well, he obviously didn't take your head," O'Neill pointed out. "No," Methos agreed. "He might have had an ax, but I had a fishing spear -- and I wasn't shy about using it. Idiot never even got close." "Then you took his head," Daniel surmised. "I'd like to say yes," Methos grinned ruefully. "To say that I stood there all proud and manly thinking, 'Take my head, will you?! I'll show you, pond scum!' But I was just as terrified of him as the villagers were of me." "Why?" O'Neill asked, surprised. "I'd never seen bronze before. And he hadn't been the least bit afraid of me. I knew I wasn't a demon, but maybe he was. When I finally pulled myself together and got my spear out of his chest I stopped to look at the ax. He revived while I was examining it and I was so startled... I mean, he came back to life just like I did and he'd already said he wanted to eat my soul. So, I hit him with it. And that's when my fear turned to anger and I chopped off his head along with some other bits and pieces." "Sounds messy," O'Neill grimaced. "Extremely," Methos allowed. "But then, what did I know? I thought if I hit it enough times it would stay down. And somewhere in there his Quickening showed up and I thought, 'Run!' So I did, but it caught me. After that," he shrugged. "I had some of his memories and I knew what I was. And what I was supposedly supposed to do." "Not a very pleasant introduction to Immortality," Daniel commented softly as they reached the Stargate. "No," Methos agreed, watching Carter punch in the address home. "But it got me out of those damn caves. And no one threw stones at me anymore -- because now I had a big bronze ax and I wasn't shy about using it." To one side of him, Jack was snickering, while Daniel looked appalled. The gate opened and they headed through. Another mission accomplished. Sort of. Chapter 1 "That was great!" O'Neill shouted as they left the arena in Colorado Springs. Behind them a huge neon sign blinked, 'In Concert! Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band! One Night Only!' "Yeah, thanks, Adam," Daniel grinned. "At least this time we didn't have to hitchhike." Methos rolled his eyes, looking over his shoulder to where Samantha and Dr. Fraiser followed. Beside him, Teal'c was still rubbing his ears, but smiling. "I can't believe you've worked together this long and only just discovered there was one thing you all had in common." "It's that close knit fraternity thing we've got going," Jack remarked as he led the way to the parking lot. "Head banging doesn't generally come up at the debriefing." "Guess not," Methos grinned as Samantha suddenly smiled in his direction. A little of the ice between them seemed to have thawed, he thought relieved. It wasn't exactly bribery, but getting his hands on six front row seats to the hottest ticket in town had been a stroke of genius. More importantly, Carter was looking at him as something more akin to human and less like a potential science project. And if watching him dance and scream with 30,000 other music lovers was what it took to get him off her list of things to do, Methos was just as happy to do it. "Food?" Jack asked a few minutes later as everyone climbed into the van he'd borrowed. A chorus of "Yeah!" with accompanying nods greeted his suggestion. "Okay. Where to?" "Let's try that new place," Samantha suggested. "Bellinni's, over on Ninth. One of the techs mentioned they had a great menu." "The one that's got it's own micro brewery?" Methos asked. He'd been meaning to check the place out, but had been too busy getting his new apartment in order between missions. Daniel laughed as Carter nodded. "You never could pass up a beer." "Not a decent one at any rate," Methos agreed. "Or the occasional fine wine. Not to mention a good sherry or glass of properly aged whiskey, brandy, or bourbon." Dr. Fraiser cleared her throat. "Unless someone mentions the words designated driver," she threatened cheerfully. "I'm going to schedule all of you for a liver biopsy." "That's me," O'Neill raised his hand. "Keep your scalpel sheathed, doc." "So it's Bellinni's," Samantha grinned. "Take Main to--" "I know how to get there, Carter," O'Neill interrupted in exasperation just as his cell phone rang. "Damn," he muttered, fishing it out of his jacket. He answered, frowning as he listened. "Yes, sir. We'll be there in half an hour." O'Neill snapped it shut, slipping it back into his pocket. "Sorry, kids," he told them, turning in the opposite direction from where they'd planned to go. "We're back on the clock." "What's up?" Daniel asked. "One of our satellites picked up something in the Egyptian desert," he explained briefly. "Outline makes it look to be a Goa'uld transport ship. But nobody's sure." "Why not?" Methos asked, surprised. O'Neill shrugged. "Guess we'll find out, won't we?" *** "This is familiar," Methos grumbled as he stepped out of the small passenger jet and onto the tarmac at the airfield in Cairo. "That's my line," O'Neill muttered as he came from behind. "God, I hate commercial flights." Methos grimaced as they waited for the rest of the team then followed the other passengers to customs. They'd taken the long route to Egypt. A military transport had left them in Denver where a connecting flight brought them to Chicago. From there they'd flown to Athens, switched carries to board yet another plane to Alexandria and then another, smaller jet to the local airport in Cairo. "I still say we should have flown O'Neill Airlines," he sighed. "But then why listen to me? What do I know about the desert?" "This isn't about the desert," O'Neill reminded him. "It's about following the letter of the law--" "If not the spirit." "--of our little agreement with the Russians," O'Neill finished. "They shut down their Stargate and we share whatever knowledge we gather through ours." "And since this mission technically has nothing to do with the Stargate," Methos added with a wry twist of his lips. "Your government feels safe playing fast and loose with the terms of the agreement. Because, as we all know, the Egyptians are allies of the Russians. I do get it, Jack. I just don't happen to agree. The free flow of information is important for a free society to flourish. " "This isn't about information. It's about tactics. It was a tactical decision to go in undercover. And who says we won't share?" "No one, Jack. Forget I even mentioned it." "Mentioned what?" O'Neill grinned as they entered the main airport building and lined up. Customs was a hassle, but they got through it and Methos was simply relieved to have his sword back and quite content to let Daniel take care of the petty details like taxis, hotels, currency exchanges and what not. An hour later they were safely ensconced in a moderately priced, yet comfortable suite at one of the less expensive hotels. Daniel divvied up the keys and gave out the room assignments. Carter, of course, had her own bedroom, while Teal'c and O'Neill took the back room that overlooked the inner courtyard. He and the Immortal would take the front room with its grand view of the pyramids. Methos tossed his bag on the floor beside the bed nearest the door and threw himself down on the mattress, sighing with relief as a cool breeze from the air conditioner caressed his skin. "You know," he drawled, closing his eyes as Daniel came in. "You might have let Jack and Teal'c take the room with the view. Rank should have its privileges." "Jack hates the pyramids," Daniel said as he started to unpack. "They remind him of what they're bases for. Goa'uld ships. And Teal'c doesn't care. Besides," he added quietly. "I thought you might appreciate it." Methos laughed softly. "Old home week? Not me. Never had much use for pyramids. Interesting structures, but I remember my first view of them when they still had their limestone facings and the priestly caste reigned supreme along the Nile." Daniel paused and waited, but Methos remained silent. "So? What did you think of them that first time?" "Incredible. Huge. Grandiose. Monuments to the gigantic egos of dead men who deserved much less than they thought they were worth. Although," he added thoughtfully, finally opening his eyes to stare at the ceiling. "I did like Hatshepsut. She certainly deserved to be remembered. Even if she did look a bit silly in that beard all the pharaohs wore." "You knew Hatshepsut?" Daniel asked, quietly stunned. Methos shook his head and sat up. "Nope. Saw her once in a procession though. She was fairly old, but her eyes were piercingly bright -- made me think of crocodiles floating in the river on a moonlit night. Beautiful and deadly in a horrific sort of way." In silence, Daniel watched as Methos removed his sword from its travel case and carefully laid it under the bed. "Uh, is there something going on here that I'm missing?" he finally asked. "No more than usual," Methos grinned and toed off his sneakers. Daniel nodded slowly. "Jack won't let anything happen to you, Adam. Not even if he has to risk his own life. And neither will I." "Thank you," he answered sincerely. "That's a lovely sentiment. But I'll warn you now. Never interfere in what I am or what I might have to do." "But it's sick!" Daniel responded vehemently. "Perhaps it is," Methos told him mildly. "But it's our way and I accept it. Now, I'm going to take a very long, very hot shower. Why don't you order everyone up some room service." Daniel shook his head as the door closed behind Methos and he went to the phone. He would never understand how anyone, least of all someone as seemingly well balanced as his friend, could accept genocide as a way of life. On the other hand, what choice did he have? *** An hour later, feeling refreshed and relaxed in a clean pair of jeans and a light cotton shirt, Methos wandered barefoot into the central living room following the scent of food. He smiled appreciatively as he lifted the various tray covers, finding a good mix of traditional Egyptian foods. He filled a plate with spicy lamb stew and flat bread, grabbed a bottle of Egyptian beer then found the remote, turned on the television and started flipping around the satellite. "Anything good on?" Samantha asked as she came out of her room, dressed similarly in jeans and a tee shirt with her hair still slightly damp. "Nope," he sighed and shut it off. "Ten thousand years of civilization and we're left with Leave it to Beaver and I Love Lucy reruns. Whatever happened to art?" "I think it got lost somewhere between Bigfoot: Man or Myth and Big Rigs: The Accidents We Love To Watch." Methos laughed and pointed to the dinner cart. "Try the lamb. It's excellent." She did as he suggested and curled up on the love seat across from him to eat. "This is good," she said after taking a tentative bite. "My mom used to make something similar except with beef." Methos nodded. "Modern Greek cooking." "Dad was stationed in Athens for a year," she agreed. "So, where is everybody?" Methos finally asked as he put his plate aside and settled back with his beer. Between bites Samantha responded. "Colonel O'Neill's at the embassy getting our gear." Methos nodded. That would be the classified stuff and ordinance they couldn't take on a commercial flight. "Teal'c's meditating, and Daniel's off to look up an old colleague whose working on an archaeological dig not far from the coordinates the satellite identified." "Trying to find out if he's seen anything unusual in the area," Methos surmised. "She," Carter corrected with a brief nod. "From what I gather they were pretty close for a while. He's hoping to wrangle an invite for us out to the site." "Whatever for?" Methos asked, getting up from his seat to stretch and make his way over to the tall French doors which dominated the room. The late afternoon sun lit the Nile and across her gleaming surface lay the distant pyramids of Giza. "Cover," Samantha explained. "The colonel wants to rent a jeep to take us out there. As long as it looks legitimate at the start, he figures we can detour and head anywhere we want." Methos nodded absently and stepped out onto the balcony. It was a good plan and he didn't doubt that Daniel would wrangle his way back into his old flame's good graces. The boy could be positively charming when he recollected he was a man and not a human history machine. Behind him, Methos heard the quiet clink of china as Carter put down her plate and the soft whisper of cloth as she joined him on the terrace. For a long time they stood quiet, just watching the sun lowering in the distance, until finally she spoke. "What's it like to watch the world change?" she asked softly. Methos gave her a puzzled look, not quite certain what she really wanted to know. "I mean," she explained, managing to look vaguely embarrassed as well as extremely curious. "I can calculate the changes in the atmosphere, the geological shifts, all the variables and differentials of space until I know what stars were where and when and what it all must have looked like, but to see it all change in one lifetime... It's hard to imagine." Methos smiled kindly. "I'm not sure I can answer that. I'm not sure anyone really can. I guess it's like reading a book. The first page pulls you in and you just keep on from there, absorbing what comes. Some of the chapters are interesting, some of them not, but there's always another." Her brow furrowed slightly as she thought about that. "But what do you see when you look out there?" Samantha nodded toward the monuments in the distance. "Same as you," he shrugged and followed her gaze. "They're a bit more tattered and worn from my point of view, but still essentially the same. And down there," he added, leaning against the rail to gaze into the street below. "Strip away the cars, the buildings, all the modern appliances the world has grown to love and the people are exactly as they were when the pyramids were built. In one sense the pharaohs were right. Egypt is eternal. No matter how many armies have passed through here, none could ever truly conquer this land. As long as the people remain, Egypt lives. And as long as the Nile flows, the people will remain." If she had any other questions the sound of a door opening and closing behind them put an end to it. "Hey, campers! Look what Colonel Jack's got!" They turned as one, smiling as O'Neill set down his bags. "Get over here, Pierson. I need you to take a look at this map." "I am ever obedient to your will, O Great Satan," he responded sardonically, sprawling on the couch. "That's, O Great Satan, sir," Jack muttered absently, tossing him the map. "Now, be a good minion and find us a way around that Egyptian military operation that seems to have sprung up overnight." Methos ignored the jibe and opened the map. "Wonderful," he sighed as he got a look at the latest satellite pass. "Guess we aren't the only interested parties in town." Chapter 2 It was a long hot drive to Dr. Nazuq's camp. They'd left Cairo right after breakfast, renting a jeep as O'Neill had planned then taken the ferry across to Giza. From there, in the shadow of the pyramids, they followed her directions. There were no roads this far into the western desert and the doctor was not there to guide them, having returned to the site the previous evening with supplies. They traveled north along the river for an hour or so, turning west for the final leg. Not very deep into the desert, but far enough to make the vast ocean of sand around them seem daunting and endless. "That's it," Jack called, spotting tents in the distance when they were a few miles out. "So," he turned to Daniel, who sat behind him with Teal'c and Carter. "What are they digging for?" "A lost Egyptian city maybe," the archaeologist replied. "Doesn't have a name yet, but they've done some good work this season. Two rooms and a small shrine so far." "They won't find much more," Methos advised. "This was only an outpost on the trade route to Cyrene before the Nile shifted eastward. " "Don't tell Yasmin that," Daniel grinned. "You'll spoil her fun!" Methos smiled and nodded. It wasn't so much the size of the discovery, he knew, but the delight in uncovering some unknown bit of knowledge that put the other fragments in place that made an archaeologist's day. "What's that?" Samantha asked as she spotted a large bundle of what looked to be clothing on the ground about half a mile from the camp. O'Neill slowed down then stopped as they pulled even with what was obviously a body. Wary now, they climbed out of the jeep and Methos toed the corpse over, revealing the blood soaked sand beneath the gaping bullet wound in the man's chest. "That's Ibrahim," Daniel said quietly. "He was Yasmin's assistant." "Not anymore," Jack muttered as he reached under his seat and pulled out a small bag, quickly distributing several Goa'uld zat guns. They had other ordinance, but with civilians around, O'Neill wasn't prepared to risk lives. He gestured for Teal'c and Samantha to circle the small encampment from the far side, while he, Methos and Daniel took the near. They found Dr. Nazuq first, sprawled in her jeep then two more bodies inside one of the tents. "How many archaeologists?" Methos asked Daniel, who was still pale from the sight of his ex-girlfriend's body. "Four paid," he responded dully. "Not counting any students who might have unofficially signed up." "You okay?" Methos asked more gently. Daniel only nodded as they moved further into the camp. They found another body near a small generator and another near a second vehicle where he'd obviously tried to run. When Teal'c and Carter arrived they reported three more in the recovery tent, where artifacts were first catalogued then stored. "Look's like thieves," Samantha told them. "There's a few pieces of broken crockery left in there, but everything else is gone." "Not thieves," Methos said. "Real thieves would have stripped the place bare and buried the bodies," he added. O'Neill nodded knowingly. "Equipment's still here." "Yeah," Daniel agreed. "The black market for ancient artifacts is good, but the one for tents, generators and computers is a lot better -- and of much less interest to the authorities." Samantha nodded slowly. "So why were they killed? To keep them quiet?" "Maybe. Or to avoid potential witnesses," Methos responded. "Colonel O'Neill, did you not say there was an army camped nearby?" Teal'c suddenly asked. "Yeah," Jack nodded, walking over to a small pile of carbine shells on the ground. "Intel says it's just a training exercise," he added mockingly. "If that's true, then I don't get it," Daniel sighed, following O'Neill with the others. "The whole team was Egyptian and the Egyptian military wouldn't do this to their own. They're too respectful of their own history. They'd ask them to leave the area, secure the site and escort the team out, but they'd never steal the artifacts." "Wasn't the locals," O'Neill finally said as he crouched, picking up a spent shell and cursorily examining it. "These rounds came from a Kalashnikov. Definitely not standard issue for the Egyptian army." "And thieves are more likely to carry American or German semi-automatic weapons," Methos pointed out. "Much easier to get and far more reliable than Russian guns. At least, in my opinion." "Sounds like the competition just heated up a notch," Carter murmured. Silently, Methos agreed with that assessment. It might be that for the Egyptians this was a simple training exercise, Methos thoughtfully acknowledged. But there were often Russian military advisors tagging along, and their agenda might be far more insidious and unclear to their allies. "Okay," the colonel stood and tossed the shell aside. "Let's leave this one alone for now. We'll report later and let the locals handle it. Move out." They headed back to the jeep, quiet strain showing on everyone's face. If it was indeed a Goa'uld ship sitting out there in the desert, whoever owned that singular piece of technology would gain a great advantage. So far, the Russians appeared to have little or no knowledge of the Goa'uld. And while Methos might have great admiration and respect for the general populace of that particular nation, he was also still leery of its political goals. A single naquada generator could power several major cities for a lifetime, freeing up enough resources to begin a new cold war. And the last one as he recalled, hadn't been much fun for either of the parties involved. They detoured south then turned west again. Dr. Nazuq's camp had been a mere twenty miles from the Egyptian base, while the military camp was a good fifty miles from the ship's coordinates. In terms of this particular desert that was a relatively short distance, though not a healthy one. The average hale and hearty individual could manage perhaps thirty miles in a day walking, but even the average soldier wouldn't risk the fifty. And certainly not just to satisfy his curiosity. It was late afternoon when they stopped some five miles out from the target coordinates. They changed from their street clothes into desert camouflage, making their way across the dunes until they were little more than a mile out. "Busy little beavers, aren't they?" O'Neill muttered as he and the others observed the bustling activity around the ship through their field glasses. "Looks like they've been digging it out," Carter responded. Large earth movers and trucks had been brought to the site, all neatly hidden under individual camouflage netting. "The ship is most definitely Hatak class in origin," Teal'c announced. "But an older cargo ship and larger than any I have ever seen." "Those are definitely Russian uniforms," Carter added. "About fifty, maybe more." "Yeah, sweet," O'Neill said, sliding down a little and sitting back against the sand. "Looks like they aren't camping here," Methos said, joining him. "Seems that way. Just the one command tent and a latrine," O'Neill nodded. "Too suspicious," Methos agreed. "If they stayed one or two nights it might be put down as part of a training exercise. But a large group of Russian military advisors disappearing into the desert would certainly arouse any Egyptian's innate inquisitiveness. They might be allies, but there's an old saying. 'Trust in Allah, but lock up your camel at night.'" "I always liked 'Take the Pepsi Challenge' myself," O'Neill quipped and put away his binoculars. "Okay, kids," he finally decided. "Let's go back to the jeep. We'll set up a base camp there and report in. Return after dark. If they aren't spending the night, they probably won't bother to leave a guard. Missing men would have to be reported." "Very true," Methos added. "Besides, who would expect to find five willing idiots ready to take on the Russian army?" O'Neill grimaced wryly. "It's a good job, isn't it?" *** "That's odd," Carter observed quietly as she examined the code pad for the ship's airlock. "Doesn't look like anyone's gone inside." Methos leaned over and nodded an affirmative. "Sand's still encrusted on it. I'd say they're planning to abscond with the goods before letting their scientists take a crack at it." "Sounds like someone else isn't interested in keeping up their end of an agreement either," O'Neill pointedly responded. "Boys with toys," Methos sighed and Samantha gave him a rare smile. "Shall we?" the colonel frowned, gesturing toward the lock. Teal'c stepped forward and tapped the panel several times. Nothing happened. He tried it again using a different pattern this time, again without result. "Stand back," O'Neill ordered then pointed his zat gun at the lock and fired. The system shorted out and Teal'c took several minutes to pry open the panel and bypass the mechanism. The door slid open a few inches then stalled completely, forcing O'Neill and Teal'c to push it the rest of the way back. "Sand," Daniel explained at O'Neill's annoyed expression. "Fouls the lubricants. If the external vents were open it's probably gotten into everything." "No kidding," the colonel muttered, frowning. "We'll have to clean it before we leave." "Indeed," Teal'c agreed, turning on his flashlight and allowing the others to pass as they did the same. The air inside was hot and dry. Not unexpected, Methos silently noted, but the place was eerie. They moved forward, weapons ready and nearly stumbled across several bodies as they turned into the first corridor. "Goa'uld?" O'Neill asked. "This one is," Carter nodded, kneeling beside a mummified corpse. "I can't tell what killed it though," she said, taking a closer look. "The rest seem to be Jaffa. "Get samples," he ordered. "Of everything. Teal'c. Stay with her." They nodded and Samantha got to work as he and his companions cautiously moved off. There were more bodies the further in they went. Some contorted in agony, others looking as though they'd simply fallen where they stood. They reached the bridge, finding another corpse -- dead in the act of reaching for the lift off controls. "Looks like they were trying to escape," Daniel commented. "Yeah, but from what?" O'Neill asked quietly, moving slowly around the room as he searched for an answer to his question. "There are no outward signs of violence," Daniel responded. "From the look of it," he added, shining his light into the corpse's mummified face. "I'd say poison. Some sort of gas maybe." "It's possible," O'Neill nodded. "No, it's not," Methos pointed out. "Unless they arrived fairly recently. And given this accumulation of sand," he kicked at the thickly covered floor. "I'd guess this ship's been here a lot longer than a century." "Something in the area then?" Daniel offered. "There's nothing here!" O'Neill spread his arms, looking mystified. "That's not entirely true," Methos corrected. "There was a city hereabouts, or so I was told. It was all rumors really. A city built in secret by the pharaoh Shishak," he explained. "Right around the time he made war on the Judeans. A place to send all the treasures of Solomon's temple that he'd gathered from his siege of Jerusalem." "That's just a myth," Daniel said. "We know where Tanis is. And it's never been lost." "This place wasn't called Tanis, but Tanlit," Methos explained. "Sort of the short form of Tanis to differentiate between the two." "Tanis?" Jack asked curiously. "Why does that name sound familiar?" "Raiders of the Lost Ark," Methos grinned. "The place where Indiana Jones found the Ark of the Covenant. Great movie, very weak on history." O'Neill nodded. "Still," he went on as the colonel led the way back into the corridor. "Behind most myths there's generally a kernel of truth. In this case, I was always inclined to believe the rumors. Tanis in the north was held by one faction of the priestly caste -- mostly family related to Shishak, while Thebes in the south was held by another, not counting those in Karnak and other places. Shishak was strong enough to unite them all and by virtue of that, Upper and Lower Egypt under his sole rule. There was quite a bit of unrest even then and sending such revered artifacts, even if they weren't Egyptian, to any of the priesthood might have started another uprising. I wouldn't have done it. And there used to be a fairly large oasis not far from here dedicated to Atum." Methos grimaced wryly as he thought of something. "Atum was usually represented as either a man or a serpent and his worship was later merged with that of Ra. I'm guessing the two are one in the same." "They were," Daniel confirmed. "So, the snakeheads knew about this place and the logistics were good," O'Neill said thoughtfully as they headed back for Carter and Teal'c. "Seem that way," Methos agreed. "But you never saw this city?" Daniel asked as he walked alongside the Immortal. Methos shook his head. "Three thousand years ago I was still trolling for trouble. Somewhere in Anatolia, I believe. I only heard about it after the fact. Though I do remember being quite proud of the Judeans for buying Shishak off with Solomon's gold. Very smart." "But not the Ark," Daniel said. "The bible says it stayed in Jerusalem." "That's one story," Methos responded. "But I know for a fact it went south much earlier." "That's what the Coptics claim. That it went to Ethiopia with Bathsheba and her son for safekeeping." Methos shrugged as they joined Teal'c and Carter, who were just finishing up. "I don't know who the hell they were or where the Ark ultimately ended up, but whatever they had in that box killed the lot of us. The Horsemen raided that caravan. Rich Judean priests and even richer nobles. All guarding what we thought was a great big box of gold sent as tribute. They tried to warn us, I'll give them that. Of course, we ignored the priests and opened it once we'd gotten safely away. The last thing I remember was writhing in agony until Silas closed it up. When we revived it was gone, but we were sick as dogs for weeks after. Got ourselves out of Africa right smart." "You were all sick?" Carter asked, surprised. "What were they symptoms?" Methos shuddered even to remember. "Burns everywhere that didn't seem to heal. Vomiting and bloody stool. We swelled up in places that should never swell like that and both Silas and Caspian lost their hair. I don't know how many times we died after that first time, but it kept on killing us -- and everyone we came into contact with until we burned everything we owned, even our horses, in a great pyre." "You burned everything? Even your clothes?" she asked. Methos chuckled ruefully. "By that time we weren't wearing any if we could possibly avoid it. Our skin was excruciatingly tender." "You know what it is?" Daniel asked her. "Sounds like radiation poisoning. And from the look of these bodies, I'm beginning to think something similar may have happened here." "Naquada does not produce noticeably dangerous amounts of harmful radiation," Teal'c pointed out. "No," Samantha agreed. "But a radioactive substance could have been introduced into the environment." She studied one of her instruments. "I am picking up traces of subatomic particles still lingering in the air. Nothing that could cause us a problem, but it is a little higher than normal." O'Neill nodded. "If we've got everything we need here, let's get back to camp and report in." "Yes, sir," she said. "I can analyze the samples tonight and have a report for you in the morning." "Good." "So, what are we going to do about the ship?" Daniel asked nervously as they made their way to the exit. "We can't just leave it here." "We're not flying it anywhere until we know what killed everyone," O'Neill responded as he paused with Teal'c to clear the door of sand and make sure it was sealed. "Whatever it is could still be on board. We need to know more about what happened." "I might be able to help there," Methos offered. "I thought you said you were never here?" "I wasn't, but I may know someone who was." Daniel cast excited, puppy dog eyes in the Immortal's direction and Methos grinned. "Ptahsennes has been around since the first Tuthmose's reign, and he never leaves Egypt. Doesn't much like the modern era either, except for some jazz recordings and an old record player he liberated from the Nazis during the war. We go back a ways and he might be willing to talk." "You know where to find him?" O'Neill asked. With the hatch now closed he carefully swept the sand to make it look as though no one had entered. "Pretty much," Methos nodded. "He sent me a postcard about thirty years ago with a picture of Alexandria and a note telling me to stop by some time." "Thirty years ago?!" Jack uttered, moving the group back toward camp. "How do you know he's still there?" "Because he's living in my house," Methos explained. "Or what used to be my house when I lived there. It's been a couple of thousand years, but the place is still standing. And this is Egypt after all. Things and people move a lot more slowly here." "Okay," O'Neill nodded. "You can check it out tomorrow. And," he looked over at Daniel, "think you could take him with you? He'll sulk all day in his tent if you don't." Daniel frowned, but gazed hopefully at Methos. "Sure," the Immortal finally gave in. "Why not? It'll amuse the hell out of the old bastard. Just don't be surprised if he calls you a carrion eater," Methos warned the younger man. "He doesn't have much use for archaeologists." Chapter 3 The drive to Alexandria the next morning had been mostly uneventful, except for Daniel's never ending stream of questions. Methos didn't really mind answering them and talking kept the boy from thinking about the loss of Yasmin Nazuq and her erstwhile colleagues. While O'Neill had reported the situation to General Hammond, it had been agreed that at present no action could be taken to remove the bodies. It was doubtful whoever had killed them would come back, but the stakes at the moment were just too high to take that chance. When they reached the outskirts of the city, Methos wended their way up an old road until they came to the outer wall that marked the beginning of the property. The house was set on a hill top and the old stone gleamed a cool white in the late morning sunlight. He sensed Ptahsennes as he pulled into the front drive where the stables had once been, though the mud brick structure was long since gone. Methos got out as a shadow appeared in a window then smiled as he saw his old friend opening the door. "Methos!" Ptahsennes called out as he strode forward. "You son of a diseased camel mated with a braying ass! Welcome old friend!" Methos laughed, holding out his arms as the stout Immortal, older in appearance though a hand span shorter, grabbed his shoulders and pulled him tight. "It's good to see you too," he smiled, hugging him back. "I see you're still shaving your head, you sun shriveled lump of dried beetle dung." The other man rubbed his bald pate. "The old ways are still the best," Ptahsennes grinned. "Now, introduce me to your very pretty boy." Daniel raised an eyebrow at that and promptly introduced himself. "Dr. Daniel Jackson," he said in the same ancient dialect Ptahsennes had been speaking, offering his hand. "It's an honor, revered father. And Methos and I are colleagues." "A doctor who speaks the old tongue?" Ptahsennes asked warily. "Not another tomb robber are you?" "Uh, no," Daniel answered carefully. "I'm currently employed as a linguist." "Ah," Ptahsennes nodded, finally taking his hand. "That is better. The old tongue is still the most beautiful, even spoken badly by the likes of a western carrion eater such as yourself." Methos chuckled at Daniel's confused expression. "Thank the man, Danny. That was a compliment." "Uh, thanks...I think." Ptahsennes guided them into the house past stacks of records piled nearly to the ceiling. "If he is not your current favorite," he murmured softly in Methos' ear. "Pray tell, old friend, how he comes to know of our kind?" "An accident of chance," Methos explained just as quietly. "But he is loyal and holds his tongue." "The two most useful virtues," Ptahsennes agreed, laying the matter to rest. "Come into the garden and see my fruit trees," he offered in a normal tone. "Cool and fragrant after a morning in the hot sun. Girl!" he called to an old woman sweeping the floor who looked to be at least ninety. "Bring wine for my friends and I. And some of those little pastries you sneak when you think I'm not watching." She snorted in derision, though her shoulders shook with mirth as she scurried off. "In the old days," he confided to Daniel. "I would have beaten her for that. But she has been with me many years and good servants without tongues are hard to find." Daniel looked a little pale as he settled on a pillow beneath the shade of an orange tree, but Methos ignored him, sprawling on the grass while Ptahsennes took the stool beside him. Like a proper guest, he waited until the servant had brought their refreshments and his host opened the conversation. "So, why have you come, old friend? Still looking for that stash you think you left behind? I promise you, the pharaoh's guards were very thorough in their search. I had a difficult time putting the place back in order." "Stash?" Daniel asked curiously. Methos rolled his eyes. "93 BC," he explained. "I billed myself as a Phonecian trader. Had a marvelous little business going in costly spices and unguents." "With a most excellent sideline in opium," Ptahsennes interjected, smiling. Daniel's eyes went wide. "You dealt drugs?" "It wasn't like that back then," Methos sighed. "No one cared who was toasted and who wasn't. The entire western world," he raised his cup, "was pretty much sloshed most of the time anyway. The water killed you, so we all drank beer or wine. And it wasn't selling opium that got me in trouble." "No," Ptahsennes laughed. "It was not selling opium! This one," he gestured at Methos. "Sold the drug at a fair price to anyone, but saved his best tricks for the families of his dear departed customers. Such a devout man they all thought when he would come to offer his wares as the priests purified the body. He'd bring gifts of sweet oil and sandalwood then sell them enough dope at half price to last the deceased an eternity in the underworld. Only it wasn't opium in those little bottles he put in the tombs. It was a paste of floured water!" Methos chuckled. "If that whining little bastard Diomenes hadn't robbed his uncle's tomb and found me out, I'd have been a richer man today." "You were a scam artist, too?!" Daniel gasped. "Don't look so shocked," Methos smirked. "And, come to think of it, you should be grateful. Just whom do you think invented the free sample?" Ptahsennes laughed. "Ah," he sighed. "Those were good days." "No they weren't," Methos disagreed amiably. "No cars, no films, no air conditioning. Always worrying about money. I, for one, would not go back there." "If you hadn't spent everything you earned on those damn books of yours you'd have had money," Ptahsennes reminded him gently. "As for the rest... It would be just as well if it never happened. Who needs a car when there are horses, camels and donkeys? Why does everyone these days want to go fast? The business will wait. If not, then perhaps it was not worth the trouble. And films? Bah! Men in blue tights and red capes flying about saving the world. Men could save their own world if they would but listen to the gods. And air conditioning," he shook his head as Methos chuckled, having heard it all before. "Gives me a headache. All that cold unnatural air. Here it is pleasant," he looked with satisfaction around his garden. "And business can be done just as well in the shade of a fruit tree, can it not?" "It can indeed," Methos allowed his old friend. "And speaking of business..." "Yes," Ptahsennes smiled. "I was wondering when you'd get to that, old lion." "Shishak," Methos said, watching Ptahsennes' eyes light up. "A good pharaoh, even if he was of the Lybian line. Don't tell me you're seeking the lost treasures of Solomon this time?" the old Egyptian laughed. "Will you never learn?" "It's the boy," he twitched his head in Daniel's direction, feeling no compunction about lying to his old friend. He was Methos, and it was, after all, expected. "He wants to prove a theory to his fellow historians. That Shishak built a treasure city in the desert, out near the Oasis of Atum-Ra." Ptahsennes nodded. "A difficult business that," he murmured. "So much rivalry between the priests at the time. I remember it well. Tanlit, he called it. And yes, he brought his treasures there." Now Daniel spoke up. "So, what happened to it?" "No one knows for certain," Ptahsennes told him honestly. "The Judeans claimed it was their god who destroyed the city. But why their god would not have destroyed Shishak's army on the spot, before the pharaoh carried off the contents of his temple has never been adequately explained to me. I do know that those who carried the treasure into Egypt later died horribly of disease. As did Shishak within a year of his return. And that the whole area, not just the city, but the surrounding districts as well, were later found empty of people. As if one day all the inhabitants suddenly just decided to leave. But no one came to the pharaoh asking for help against an invading army, so nothing was done. Though Shishak's heir sent scouts to learn the fate of that city. They did not return," Ptahsennes added quietly. "What do you think happened?" Daniel asked curiously. "The Four Horsemen came and stole it all away," Ptahsennes answered bitterly, staring into his wine and not noticing how his companions stiffened in surprise. "Are you certain?" Methos asked gently. "As certain as anyone can be when it came to those bastards. Death and his henchmen," the Egyptian spat in the sand. "Wherever they are may they rot for eternity." Methos looked away, swallowing his pain as he brought himself to speak. "I had heard they were in Anatolia at the time," he said thoughtfully. "And they were not the only scourge in those days. More infamous than most, but only one of many. Besides," he added reasonably. "It would take an army to empty an entire district." "Perhaps," Ptahsennes agreed distantly, his eyes drifting to the little stream that ran through his garden as he remembered his own history. "But long before that they took my wife, you know. And all the children we had adopted." Methos bowed his head. "No. I didn't," he whispered sadly. "I'm sorry." "Mmmm," Ptahsennes nodded. "It was in the reign of Tuthmose III." At that Methos looked up, relief visibly flooding his features. He'd been nowhere near Egypt then, but as so often happened in the past one raiding band of horsemen was much the same as any other. He listened as Ptahsennes told how he had been away on temple business and come home to find the temple looted and burned to the ground, his village destroyed. The men dead, the women and children missing. It sounded like an attack by a rival priesthood to Methos from that description. One thing he and the Horsemen had never done by tacit agreement was to lay waste to holy ground. Not because they feared the consequences, but because they might one day have need of that temple or shrine to protect themselves from others of their kind. "But how do you know it was them?" Daniel asked quietly, having watched both men react to the story. "One of the slaves saw them coming and hid. He alone survived." Methos sighed silently in disgust. He'd heard that one before. Soldiers, slaves, farmers. When faced with overwhelming odds they often hid or ran, forgetting to give the alarm in their panic. When it was all over they would come out and so as not to shame themselves claim it was an attack by the almighty Horsemen. And who could stand against such demons the people would ask and nod their heads knowingly -- ever after kind to the survivors. They had been the bogey men and everyone believed whatever was said when it came to the Four Horsemen -- no matter how preposterous it might have sounded! Daniel looked at his watch and then at Methos. "We have to get back, Adam. They'll be waiting." Methos nodded and Ptahsennes sighed sadly. "Go if you must, but stay a moment, old friend. I have something for you and I must find it before you leave." "We'll be in the house," Methos told him as they rose. Ptahsennes left them in the great room, surrounded by his records as he went to search. They were quiet as they waited until Daniel finally spoke up. "He doesn't know," he stated softly. "Not many do," Methos agreed. "But if he finds out..." Methos sighed, picking up an old album and examining the cover. "Then I shall have to hope he never does." "You didn't kill his family, did you?" Daniel's voice was small with worry. "No," Methos shook his head, putting the record aside. "We were in Mesopotamia at the time." "You should tell him," Daniel advised. "Tell him the truth. He likes you. He'll understand." Methos laughed harshly. "He'd never believe it. Especially coming from me. Death claiming innocence? And how could I prove it?" he smiled sadly. "It would only drive a wedge between us, knowing my real past. He'd feel honor bound to challenge me." "He does!" came the hoarse awful cry from behind them as something crashed to the floor. Methos turned in surprise to see Ptahsennes standing in the door, sword in hand. A look of infinite sadness crossed Methos face. "Go start the car, Daniel." The younger man nodded, hurriedly backing away and a moment later Methos heard the engine turn over. "I won't fight you, old friend," Methos told him softly. "And you have no cause to challenge me. I did not harm your family." Ptahsennes moved forward dangerously, pointing his blade as Methos followed Daniel's path to the door. "You were Death!" the Egyptian hissed. "I was many things," Methos admitted, edging his way outside. "But none I regret more than that." "Regret?!" Ptahsennes shouted angrily, following. "Regret is for oath breakers. Not for such as you." "I can give you nothing else. And the dead need nothing." "The dead cry out for vengeance!" Ptahsennes roared, suddenly lunging forward. With his own sword still in the car Methos dodged to the side, reaching behind his back as he moved to pull out his zat gun. He almost avoided another heavy blow, but it caught his shoulder just as he fired. "Adam!" Daniel cried, leaping over the side of the jeep to kneel beside his friend. "We have to hurry," Methos gasped, clutching his bloody arm. Daniel grimaced and grabbed the gun, firing a second time to kill the Immortal. "We have a minute. Can you walk?" Methos nodded weakly as the younger man helped him to his feet. "I'm impressed," he finally said once they were away and the waves of pain had subsided as his body began to repair itself. "With what?" Daniel asked, keeping his eyes on the road as he navigated traffic. "You've become positively blood thirsty. I wasn't even thinking about a second shot. Just getting the hell out." Daniel shook his head sadly. "More a matter of practicality than a thirst for blood. I didn't want to kill him, even though I know he'll get up again." "But you did and I'm grateful." "And I'm sorry," Daniel sighed. "I should have waited until we were in the car." "Yes, you should have," Methos nodded, carefully checking his shoulder to make sure the skin was knitted up before he ripped the sleeve off his bloody shirt and used it to clean the area. "Do you think he'll come after you?" Daniel finally asked. Methos shoved the bloody rag under his seat. "Maybe. Probably. If I run into him again, certainly. But since Ptahsennes never leaves Egypt, I'm not too worried." "I'm really am sorry," Daniel repeated softly. "He was your friend and I screwed that up." Methos sighed. "I've lost many friends, Daniel, even old ones. To the Game, to my past. It happens," he shrugged. "Give him a few hundred years and he might eventually get over the shock." Daniel glanced at him, surprised at his calm. "It does happen you know. Time heals all wounds. I mean, look at me. Am I not a mellow fellow?" Daniel laughed softly. "Very mellow," he agreed. "Which is probably why I just can't seem to picture you as one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse sweeping across the plains in a storm of fire." Now it was Methos' turn to laugh. "Makes a great billboard, but it wasn't that impressive really. We were the ancient equivalent of gang banging hoodlums. That's all. Purse snatchers and thugs. A little more creative than most, but not by much. As for sweeping the plains..." Methos shrugged. "That wasn't us. Four guys on horseback do not sweep anything. We trotted, we cantered -- sometimes we even charged. But we never swept across anywhere. That's what armies are for." "So what you're saying is that you were just a typical bunch of angry, rebellious kids -- even if you were a couple of thousand years old at the time." An apt description, Methos thought wryly. "Yes, we were very angry. Me more than the others I suspect." "Why?" Daniel wanted to know. "I told you how it was," Methos explained tiredly. "People hated me, so I hated them right back. They tried to kill me, so I killed them instead. If someone didn't want to sell me something because I was different, I took it. I couldn't have a real family, so I sold theirs and didn't look back. It didn't matter that they might not be the ones who hurt me. What mattered was that they had the power to do it again. As I said, I was very, very angry." "What changed?" "I did," Methos said, yawning. "You can be angry for just so long before it eats away what's left of your soul. I wanted more. And then I met someone. Someone who knew what I was and instead of killing me out of hand gave me a second chance." Daniel nodded thoughtfully, looking over at his friend whose eyes were drooping with fatigue. "Here," he said, reaching down to grab a bottle of water. "You lost a lot of blood. I can drive us back. Why don't you get some rest?" Methos drank then settled back against the seat cushions. With an amused glance Daniel watched as the Immortal drifted off, looking more like the college kid he'd first known than the scourge of the ancient world he'd suddenly discovered. Whoever had given him that second chance, Daniel thought, deserved not only Methos' thanks, but his own. What a tragedy it would have been, if that all that knowledge, not to mention the good and decent man who held it, were lost. *** "That's fascinating," O'Neill said after Daniel finished recounting their meeting with Ptahsennes, carefully editing out the bit where he'd cost Methos a dear friend. "Really fascinating," Jack yawned. "But how does that help us?" Carter hid a smile. "It tells us that thousands of years ago someone around here had access to nuclear material, Colonel." "I must have missed that bit." Methos looked up from his chicken in salsa. Whatever anyone said about Napoleon, he'd been right about one thing. An army traveled on its stomach -- and Methos was extremely happy the Americans had decided to take him up on it. "Are we talking actual fissionable material or a stray bit of uranium?" "Unknown," Carter admitted with a sigh. "Although I can pretty much rule out the uranium theory. Whatever killed the Goa'uld was powerful enough to do it in a matter of minutes." "Like Chernobyl," Daniel commented. Methos raised a questioning brow and the archaeologist shrugged. "When the accident happened," he explained. "Those closest to it died within minutes. Just like you and your...friends did when you stole the Ark of the Covenant." "Exactly," Samantha nodded. "Everything around you was contaminated, including your clothes. And everything you came into contact with, like your horses, was then hit by radiation and subsequently died." It sounded reasonable, but... "You're saying the Judeans somehow got hold of something so radioactive it was enough to poison everybody around it, but not them? Then palmed it off on Shishak?" Methos asked doubtfully. "It' possible," Carter speculated. "That they had access to a meteoric site and used some of that stone." "Used it in what?" Jack asked, baffled. "The Ten Commandments?" "Why not," Daniel responded. "Once the original tablets were brought down from Mt. Sinai and smashed they were placed in a special box and never looked at, never touched. It was forbidden under Mosaic Law." "I suppose it's possible," Methos gave a half shrug and nodded. "There have always been stories about stones which fell from the heavens. Stones much sought after by kings and priests as a show of power. And with those myths came a warning. We didn't know about radiation, of course, but the stories often claimed that anyone who handled the stones would die." Jack shook his head, holding up a hand. "Time out, folks. This is great, but you said you stole the Ark, right?" Methos nodded. "You also said it was before Shack Attack got his hands on it, that right too?" Again Methos nodded, though he was smiling now. "So, if the Ark was in Ethiopia, how could Shack bring the Ark here?" "He could," Daniel said slowly. "If the Ark he was given was a decoy." "An exact replica of the original," Carter nodded thoughtfully. "With all the same properties." "But if the Judeans knew what the stone was capable of," Methos insisted. "They would never have kept it in the city. Eventually they all would have died." "Yes," Carter agreed. "Unless it was shielded properly. Encased in lead or stone -- something to absorb the radiation." Methos' eyes went wide. "When I was in Jerusalem the Ark was kept in a stone vault, supposedly never seen by anyone but the High Priest. No one but he and the king would have known if it had been sent out of the city. And the Ark was always a target, even in Solomon's time -- a very powerful symbol. Not only for the warring factions within Israel and Judea, but to their enemies. Still, if Solomon sent the Ark south with Bathsheba, as I believe he did, then what was everyone worshipping?" "The second set of tablets Moses brought down," Daniel theorized. "Or an empty box," Carter suggested. "Except this one had a small bit of highly radioactive material inside it. If anyone did get their hands on the Ark they would die." "But not just because they stole it," Methos surmised. "But because they dared to open the box like we did." "No," Carter said. "There are enough stray atomic particles in both the sand and that ship to say otherwise. Whatever came here was leaking radiation like a sieve. Once the false Ark left its containment unit in Jerusalem whoever came in contact with it would die. Even if they never opened the Ark, it would have killed them within a year." "Wonderful story," O'Neill finally interrupted. "But what the hell does it have to do with the Goa'uld?" "They gave them the Ark," Daniel said. "And why would they do that?" "Think about it, Jack. The Goa'uld land on your doorstep. They say they're sent by the gods. Ptahsennes said the surrounding districts were emptied of people. And what do the Goa'uld do? They take slaves -- and anything else they can get their greedy hands on." "Daniel Jackson is correct," Teal'c agreed. "It is what they do. I have many times seen it happen. The ship will land and those nearest the ship will be forced to provide food and other goods the Goa'uld cannot make, while those in nearby areas will be captured and forced through the gate by the Jaffa. When that is done, the guards will bring those in the host village through, or kill them if they fight." "And imagine," Methos added his own thoughts. "You're an Egyptian priest seeing this happen. Somehow you've come to realize that they are not gods. None of your own magic works against them, but you've got this very powerful box stolen from your enemies. Enemies who've probably told you never to open it on pain of death, which only makes you want to open it more. Maybe you do, maybe you don't. But these beings are asking for everything you own anyway, so you give it to them. And while you're at it, you ask if they'd like to see what's inside. I'd take that shot." "Or," Daniel countered. "They gave it to the gods as a form of tribute. The Jaffa guarding the ship could have opened it just to see what was inside." "Either way, it makes sense," Jack nodded. "Okay. So, bible study aside Major, there's no danger to us from that ship?" "None that I can think of, sir," she responded. "The priests must have taken back the Ark or the Goa'uld managed to somehow get it off the ship, which is probably how everyone else died so rapidly." "And anyone coming to look would have died as well," Methos nodded. "So where is it?" Jack asked. "Buried out here somewhere," Samantha shrugged. "The sand is a good insulator. By now most of the radiation has leached into the ground, but I'd leave it where it is just to be safe. We're in no danger, if that's what you're asking, sir." "It is," O'Neill grinned. "Okay, kids. Let's pack it up. We're flyin' that baby out tonight." Chapter 4 The sun was sinking by the time Ptahsennes reached the edge of the western desert. He could drive -- after a fashion -- though it wasn't something he liked to admit. One thing he had changed his mind about though, was his concept of time. He now understood why everyone rushed everywhere. He didn't know where Death was, but he knew where he was going. And Ptahsennes intended to be there, waiting. *** "If I never saw another desert again, I could die happy," O'Neill muttered as they topped the last rise and headed down toward the ship. Methos grinned. "It's not so bad once you get used to it. At least it's--" He stopped abruptly as he sensed the presence of another Immortal. "Time to die, Horseman!" Weapons came up as everyone turned. Except for Methos, who closed his eyes and took a deep, painful breath. "Hello again, Ptahsennes," he finally said, turning to face his accuser. "I'm very busy right now, do you mind if we do this later?" "I am not laughing, carrion. I will have your head. Tonight!" "Uh, hold up a minute here," Jack raised his hand. "No one's head is going anywhere. Especially not his," he jerked a thumb at Methos. "Unless you haven't noticed, your friend here is wearing U.S. Government Issue. Which means," he pointed out. "That his head belongs to us -- along with his ass. And we're not fixing to let either of them go any time soon." Ptahsennes stared in disbelief. "What have you done, Methos?! One mortal who knows our secret was not enough? You must tell the whole world?!" "Shit happens," Methos said bluntly. Ptahsennes nodded slowly. "So be it. Then you must all die." "No!" Methos shouted as O'Neill and the others instantly cocked their weapons. The sound of heavy machinery suddenly sounded in the distance and lights from several dozen vehicles appeared on the distant horizon. "Oh, man!" O'Neill complained loudly. "You woke up the Russians!" "It's a bit of a crowd for this, Ptahsennes!" Methos snarled in disgust. "It matters not," the Egyptian said. "Fight me now, coward. Or I will hunt you down -- if I have to leave Egypt to do it!" Methos compressed his lips and nodded slowly. "Get in the ship, Jack. Go! All of you!" he shouted when they made no move to leave. "We are so not doing this now," O'Neill shook his head. "No. We are not," Methos agreed. "I will take care of Ptahsennes." "The hell you will!" Jack told him angrily. Methos frowned deeply. "When I agreed to this I made it clear to General Hammond that I would not tolerate interference in a fair challenge. Well, fair challenge is given and accepted. Now, go!" "Fine!" O'Neill retorted. "But if you're not in that ship in three minutes I will kill you. Repeatedly!" Ptahsennes laughed. "You will not have the chance, mortal. This one belongs to me now." O'Neill glared at the Egyptian then turned to Methos. "Just kill his crazy ass!" he told the Immortal angrily. "Not if I can help it," Methos murmured softly as the colonel stalked off followed by the rest of the team. The lights on the horizon were drawing closer and Methos estimated they had only a few minutes before the place was crawling with Russian troops. "Come, old friend," he finally nodded as he shrugged off his pack and drew his sword from the sheath at his back. "Let's do this where--" Ptahsennes didn't bother to let him finish, rushing forward as soon as his sword was free. Methos back peddled, drawing his old friend away from the oncoming soldiers and around the other side of the ship. "You don't understand what's happening here, Ptahsennes!" Methos called as he hurriedly deflected a parry, answering with a thrust of his own past the other man's defenses which was easily countered. "Just let me explain!" Maybe reason would help, Methos hoped, though he doubted it. "I have all the explanation I need," Ptahsennes growled. "You're in my desert. Stealing. Again!" he shouted. "I saw those bodies you left behind. Murdering rogue!" "That wasn't us!" Methos ducked and Ptahsennes' sword passed far too close to his hair. "Lies! More lies!" The blows came more quickly and Methos no longer had time to think. Ptahsennes had always been good, even in practice. And right now, Ptahsennes wasn't practicing. *** "We up and running yet?" O'Neill called over his radio from where he and Daniel guarded the main hatchway. He fired on a squad of Russian troops as Daniel used Teal'c staff weapon to break up their advance. "Momentarily," the Jaffa called back. O'Neill cocked his head as he heard a dangerously familiar sound. "Incoming!" he shouted as he and Daniel hit the deck. The ship rocked as a mortar exploded against the hull. Then another and another, until it suddenly dawned on O'Neill that the Russians planned to destroy the ship rather than let it take off. "We got any shields?!" he called desperately as he heard an explosion from within the ship itself. "We have nothing!" Teal'c responded a moment later as he and Carter came running down the corridor. "That last round hit the engine core," she reported. "We can't stop the power build up." "We have little time, O'Neill," Teal'c added. "This ship will soon be destroyed." "Oh, that's just beautiful!" the colonel snapped disgustedly. "Sir," Carter said as the ship rocked again. "We can still use the Stargate to get out." "I thought we couldn't do that!" he responded testily, firing several rounds out the hatch. "Only one gate on Earth opens at a time." "Technically, sir, this gate isn't on Earth," she explained. "It has a different address entirely. I'm guessing it's like all the other ship based Stargates we've seen. Its system should automatically compensate for the differential." "Daniel," O'Neill ordered. "Secure the gate. Get ready to dial us home." "What about Adam?" the archaeologist demanded. "We can't just leave him!" "We're going! If he wants to play Knights of the Round Table with his buddies we can't help him." Daniel looked furious, but he headed for the Stargate nonetheless. Another round of mortar fire struck the ship and O'Neill ordered the others back. "Seal that door," he told Teal'c. "Carter, see if you can locate Pierson. Find a hatch close to where he is. If you have to, shoot him and the bastard he's fighting with and drag Pierson's ass on board. You have two minutes!" "Yes, sir!" she answered smartly and took off running down the corridor. *** The ground shook again as Methos felt the bite of Ptahsennes' blade in his thigh. Sand was lousy footing to begin with, but this was ridiculous. Still, his opponent was just as bad off, bleeding from nearly as many wounds as Methos. On the other side of the ship the fight raged on, a strange counterpoint to the ancient clash of steel. End it now, Methos' inner voice told him as he saw another opening in Ptahsennes' defenses. He could make a straight cut to the shoulder and an upward thrust to the neck -- just as Ptahsennes had tried to do to him that morning. Or, he could use this opening to disarm and disable. He lunged to take advantage of his luck just as another mortar exploded behind them. Unable to compensate, Methos flew forward, his sword rising upward to spear Ptahsennes' throat. "No!" he shouted as he saw the light of Ptahsennes' Quickening gleam brightly against the Egyptian's dark skin. Ptahsennes' eyes widened in surprise and Methos shook his head sadly. "I'm sorry," he whispered, furious at the fates which had never meant for two such disparate forms of war to come together. Shutting his eyes Methos yanked his sword free, partially cleaving the neck to let the head loll sideways. Sloppy work, he thought as the body dropped to the ground, but he could do no better by his old friend now. As Methos fell to his knees someone called his name. A woman. Carter, he thought bleakly, ignoring her as he raised his sword and waited to receive Ptahsennes' Quickening. Suddenly, there was a hand in his hair and he flinched as sharp nailed fingers painfully pinched his earlobe. "Move it, Pierson!" Carter ordered, dragging him toward an open airlock. "We're leaving!" If he hadn't been so shocked Methos might have fought, but if she'd meant to get his attention Carter had succeeded completely. Even before he realized he was moving Methos was up and running for the hatch, following his twisted ear. The first wave of the Quickening caught him at the door, knocking the pair forward as it loosened Carter's hold. "Go!" he shouted, shoving her toward the corridor. "I'll follow!" Then he couldn't speak for the pain as the lightening seared his flesh. Staggering forward, Methos rounded the corner to see the others waiting impatiently near the gate. He gasped, falling to his knees as several bolts of energy pounded him in quick succession. Debris rained down as the strikes shot around the room, exploding against every available surface. Dimly through the haze of his vision, Methos saw Daniel punching in the address. The Quickening was dying, he realized gratefully as the last few discharges went wild, dancing across the face of the Stargate. The outer track turned, the chevrons locking into place as Teal'c and O'Neill grabbed Methos, pulling him toward the gate. Then several mortars exploded against the hull, sending most of what was left of the ceiling crashing down. They sheltered as best they could, but it seemed to take forever for the gate to open and when it did, the vortex turned multi-colored, undulating weirdly as the gate crackled with energy. "What the hell?!" O'Neill gasped. Even as he spoke the vortex settled back to normal and another explosion, this time from within the ship, savagely shook the room. "Let's go!" he shouted. And they flung themselves into the light as the world behind them was suddenly blasted to pieces. Chapter 5 Water dripped onto rock, the sound of it echoing in the dank underground chamber. The gateway stood behind an altar set high above the rest of the room. The only other sound, metal scraping and squealing as the ancient wheel turned and light suddenly burst into the room as its center filled with energy. An instant later, five figures tumbled out, releasing harsh groans and quiet cries as they hit the ground rolling. Behind them, the light winked out and the sound of water dripping on rock continued its relentless echoing through the dank underground hall. "Did I not say, 'Dial us home'?" O'Neill asked in complete darkness. "You did," Teal'c stated succinctly. "Thought so." "Guess the general forgot to pay this month's electric." "Shut up, Pierson! I'm mad at you!" O'Neill turned on his flashlight. "Oh, Daniel..." he sang, saccharine sweet. "Pray tell, does this look like the SGC to you?" Everyone turned on their flashlights, cautiously looking around. "I dialed correctly, Jack. You were there. You saw me." "Something happened to the gate," Carter said, getting to her feet. "Major Carter is correct," Teal'c added. "Never have I seen a gate behave so erratically." Daniel glanced over at Methos for more support, but the Immortal merely shrugged. "Don't look at me. I'm the newbie." "There was a lot of electrical discharge around the gate," Carter pointed out as she panned her light over the Stargate above them. "Indeed, we have experienced similar problems with the gate mechanism from unexpected energy surges," Teal'c reminded them quietly. Methos raised a questioning brow. Daniel nodded slowly. "He's right. Remember 1969? Come to the sit in?" "Must have missed that one," Methos responded, training his light on the ceiling and surrounding walls. "Did you make it to Woodstock?" O'Neill asked. "Of course. I was a roadie for the Stones. Great music, rotten facilities," he added with a grimace, catching sight of a narrow staircase against the far wall and ambling over. "Well then," Jack said petulantly. "You didn't miss anything." "Glad to hear it," Methos responded lightly, refusing to be baited. If O'Neill was upset that he'd accepted Ptahsennes' challenge then the colonel would just have to live with it. Some things were more important than following orders. "There're some stairs here," he said, shining his light up into the corner. "Should be an exit, but I think it's blocked." The others came over, O'Neill taking the lead as he climbed the rough hewn steps. "Looks like part of the building above collapsed," he called down. "I can see light though, so it can't be too deep. Teal'c, you wanna give me a hand here?" The big man handed his staff to Daniel then made his way up the stairs. In short order they had enough of the debris cleared for everyone to scramble through the opening. Outside, night was falling and the air was redolent with the heavy scent of rain, green grass and moist earth. O'Neill breathed deeply and sighed. "At least it's not a desert," he said to no one in particular. "So, where are we? Any ideas?" Carter looked around at the tumbled down stones of the structure covered with lichen and vines then glanced at the darkening sky and shook her head. "It doesn't look familiar, sir. But," she added, reaching around to remove the lap top computer she always carried in her pack. "I should be able to triangulate our location from the position of the stars." "That won't be necessary," Methos whispered softly, seeming stunned as he stared off into the distance. "I know where we are. I'm just not sure of when." "When?!" O'Neill repeated, eyes going wide. Methos nodded slowly. "Daniel?" He waved the younger man over to where he stood then pointed toward a not too distant peak. "That's Mt. Parnassus, isn't it?" Daniel peered through his glasses, eyes going round with shock. "Uh, it looks like it. But..." he looked back over his shoulder, past the ruins behind them and into the distance, shaking his head. "Go on," Methos told him quietly. "Say it." "If that's Mt. Parnassus," Daniel shrugged, looking flabbergasted as he pointed southwest. "Then that should be Delphi. But it can't be. The city's missing." "Not missing," Methos sighed, glancing up at the few stars already peeking through the atmosphere. "And it's not really a city. Not yet anyway. It's still just a local shrine with a rather large village attached to it." "What are you saying?" O'Neill demanded. Methos shook his head, turning to look at the building they'd just crawled out of. The cast of the stone and the monumental size of them. Then he looked back at the mountain and closed his eyes briefly as he remembered. "I know this place," he whispered. "Okay," O'Neill said. "That's a good thing, right?" Methos simply stared at him for a long moment then turned to Samantha. "Major, if you'll look to the eastern horizon you will see Andromeda. She's lower in the sky than you're used to, but it's still her, isn't it?" Carter looked where he pointed and nodded slowly. "It looks like the constellation Andromeda, but the position's all wrong." "No, it's not wrong," Methos said slowly. "Or... It's right for the time, but we're wrong." "Wait a minute," O'Neill interjected. "Is he saying what I think he's saying? Carter? Daniel? Tell me we're not doing this again!" "I'm sorry, sir," the major apologized. "But Pierson is right. This is definitely Earth -- probably somewhere in Greece, if that is Mt. Parnassus. But I'd have to guess we're at least a couple of thousand years from where we should be." "More like three," Methos corrected her softly. "Are you sure?" Daniel breathed, swallowing hard as Methos nodded slowly. "Aw, damn!" O'Neill fumed. "I hate this time travel bullshit!" "Well, I'm not thrilled with it either!" Methos retorted, suddenly more angry than startled by the strangeness of it all. "I've been here, remember? Itchy woolen blankets for clothing. Chickens, pigs and goats sleeping in your bedroom," he recounted disgustedly. "And let's not forget the civilized world's favorite pastime -- taking your enemy's head and spitting it on a tall pointy stick as you parade through town at festival time! You never once! Not once!" he complained bitterly. "Said anything about time travel when you coerced me into this Stargate business!" "Guys! Guys!" Daniel interjected, pleadingly as O'Neill scowled furiously. "We can figure a way out of here, just like we did the last time. All we need to do is work out how we got here and reverse the process. Right, Sam?" Carter said nothing, glancing toward the mountain as the others looked to her for an answer. "It's worth a try," she finally agreed. O'Neill took a deep breath and sighed, relaxing slowly. "We," he wagged a finger at Methos, "will talk later. For now," he ordered, moving toward a patch of clear ground beside the ruins. "Let's sort out the supplies and make camp while we try and get a handle on this thing." *** Methos sat quietly, ignoring everyone as he cleaned his sword by the fire. Having lost his pack back when he'd fought Ptahsennes, he'd built the fire using a bit of flint he'd found in the dirt and the edge of his sword, leaving the others to cook their freeze dried rations while he searched through the ruins until he'd found an old whetstone. Nearby, he could feel O'Neill watching him. Worried, Methos supposed, about whether he'd made the right decision in dragging his 'minion' back from Nepal. Then again, maybe not, Methos thought wryly. For all his bluster, O'Neill seemed to like him. More importantly, he was unafraid -- without needing to denigrate Methos' abilities in order to achieve that fearless state. He heard rather than saw O'Neill wordlessly pick up a plate of food and come to sit beside him on the other side of the fire. "I'm sorry about your friend," O'Neill said quietly as he placed the food beside him. "Daniel told me what happened. Why he challenged you." Methos gave a half shrug and nodded. "Ptahsennes was a good man," he offered. "I shall miss him." "Then why'd you do it?" O'Neill asked, squinting into the fire as if he'd find his answer there. "I thought you didn't like challenges." "I didn't mean to kill him," Methos admitted, finally sheathing his sword. "But I knew Ptahsennes. He would have felt honor bound to hunt me. And I thought," he sighed sadly. "I thought if I gave him a good fight, made him feel as though he'd tried his best to defeat me, but I won and spared his life, he would also feel honor bound to let the past go. We might not have been friends, but at least he would have been alive." "But you slipped." Methos gave him a look of surprise. "Carter told me." The Immortal nodded. "I played a dangerous game," he agreed. "And Ptahsennes lost." Another regret, he thought bitterly, added to a list that was already far too long. They sat for a time just watching the fire. "You should eat something," O'Neill finally told him. "Have some protein with that iron," he nodded at the sword. Methos smiled wryly and picked up the plate. He didn't have much of an appetite, but he ate anyway, feeling a little less like a pariah after his outburst. "You know," he told Jack, between bites. "I really should have guessed about the time travel." "How's that?" "Because Tok'ra said something to me before he disappeared," Methos began slowly. "Actually, it was the very last thing he said. I didn't know what it meant then. I wasn't even sure I'd heard it right. But now, after what happen in Egypt, I'm beginning to wonder." "That's...interesting. But utterly meaningless. Since I don't know what the hell you're talking about." Methos grimaced, knowing O'Neill was probably not going to be very happy with him once he explained. "The last thing Tok'ra said to me sounded like, 'The ninth symbol is Time'. I mean, it may have absolutely nothing to do with what happened to us, I just thought I ought to mention it." For a long moment O'Neill simply stared at him then turned to the others. "After Daniel punched in the address," he asked tersely, "did anyone else see a bunch of stuff fall on the DHD? And maybe a couple of extra key pads lighting up?" "I didn't see the pads," Daniel cocked his head, looking perplexed. "But like you said, the ceiling was caving in. Some of it must have hit the DHD." "I didn't see it either, sir," Carter admitted. "But I thought the outer track took a long time to lock into place." "It did," Teal'c nodded. "What I thought," O'Neill sighed tiredly. "Pierson here says Tok'ra made a death bed confession. Only he didn't get it. And someone," he glared at Methos, "didn't bother to read the memo on what constitutes a debriefing. Like, reporting the little things all-powerful beings tell us before they vanish into the space time continuum." "Sir," Carter asked. "What did Tok'ra say?" "Oh, nothing much. Just some stuff about the ninth chevron representing Time." They all stared at Methos, who merely shrugged. "I thought he was just being profound. You know, something I'd figure out in a few thousand years. It's not like we even use eight." "Actually," Daniel said uncomfortably. "The eighth is used for intergalactic travel." "Apparently, no one sent me the memo on that one either," Methos glared back at Jack. "I'm not sure any of this really matters," Carter interjected. "The number of variables needed to come up with an exact address for returning to a specific point in time are astronomical. Just hitting the keys randomly won't do it." "But we have seen the gate used as time travel device before," Daniel pointed out. O'Neill shook his head. "1969 was an accident, Daniel." "Yes, but the time loop incident wasn't. That was a deliberate attempt to alter the fabric of Time." Carter nodded. "True. But the Ancients themselves failed to make it work. If they knew it was possible to use the gate for time travel, why would they have gone to the trouble of creating a separate device to send their whole world back in time? Why not just send someone back to change history?" "They might not have known it was possible," Methos interjected, though the others looked doubtful. "The Ancients who designed the gate system might not have given that little piece of information out to everybody. It's not the kind of thing I'd put in the manual. Too easy to abuse. I'd keep it for special circumstances, if I even used it at all." "Yes," Teal'c said quietly. "It would not be prudent to disseminate such information. And there are many symbols on the gates we have seen which do not correspond to any known star systems. If only one represented the aspect of Time we would not know it." "But you'd still need an awful lot of power going into the gate in order to make use of it," Carter pointed out. "Ptahsennes' Quickening," Daniel theorized. "It could have charged the gate enough to make it possible." "It could have," the major admitted. "But that doesn't explain why the wormhole changed color and undulated." "Maybe it was confused," Methos said softly, drawing stares. "Look," he said. "From what I gather, the technology the Ancients used was vastly different from ours. Tok'ra implied they were beings who didn't really need bodies anymore -- they were essentially all mind. And from what you've told me, at least some Goa'uld technology requires an element of thought control to make certain objects work." "Like the hand devices," Carter nodded. "Exactly," Methos went on. "Suppose the gate was accidentally set for time travel mode, but needed the mental input to really make it work? Maybe it got something from one us. The last historic date we all thought about in common was the year Shishak went to Jerusalem. Well, I hate to tell you this, but if we aren't pretty close to it I'd be awfully surprised." "Maybe," Carter tentatively agreed. "Or maybe it just went to the nearest available gate in time at the same location for which it had been programmed." "The nearest available gate was at the SGC," O'Neill pointed out. Carter took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I'm not sure it was, sir. I've been going over the data I took from the ship. If my calculations are right..." "And they usually are," O'Neill muttered. "...I don't think the gate in Colorado exists anymore." "Run that by me again." "Sir, I'm sorry. But when I said the ship was safe I was working from a misconception. I neglected to take into account the effect of the radiation on the naquada used in building the ship." Daniel drew a horrified breath. "She's right, Jack. Radiation and naquada don't mix well. Or, they do, but the result is more dangerous. Remember Ra?" "Yeah, I remember," O'Neill nodded soberly. "Together they make a bigger bomb. But you said there was no radiation left in that ship, Carter." "There wasn't," she admitted. "Because it was all absorbed by the naquada in the hull. Over time, it must have changed its molecular structure, making it unstable." "But they've got shields for that," O'Neill said, looking to Teal'c. "Don't they?" "Not," the Jaffa pointed out, "on the inside. Radioactive material is strictly prohibited aboard Goa'uld ships, on pain of death." "Are you telling me," O'Neill asked slowly. "That when that ship blew it became the world's biggest bomb?" Carter bit her lip and nodded. "I think so, sir." "You think so?! You either know or you don't, Major. I need an answer!" O'Neill demanded. "Yes, sir," she said quietly. "But there's only one way to know for sure. We need to find a way to dial out and see if anyone's at home." *** "That's the sequence," Jack said, pointing to the key pads on the DHD inside the ruins. Carter shook her head. "It might work. But we still need the same kind of power Ptahsennes Quickening provided. If," she added dubiously, "that's what caused us to jump in the first place." "Uh, Sam. If your calculations are right and this is 926 BC," Daniel said softly. "Then this is the sub-Mycenean period. It's a Dark Age in Greece. We're just not going to find that kind of power here." "I might be able to help with that," Methos smiled. O'Neill gave him a wry grimace. "I may be pissed at you, Pierson, but I'm not going to cut off your head just to see if this works!" Methos' eyes went wide. "I wouldn't even suggest it!" he insisted. "But older Immortals do have some control over the planet's electrical field." Daniel shook his head. "We need the equivalent of several bolts of lighting, Adam. Not just a random electrical discharge." "Come," Methos smiled, ushering them up the stairs and back outside. The morning was bright and clear, though it had rained on and off during the night. There was a chill in the air, but the sun was warming the land as it drew high. Methos shooed them all away. "Stand back, children. I'm about to scare the dickens out of you." O'Neill rolled his eyes and found a seat on some fallen stones as Methos strode into the open closer to the tree line. This probably wasn't the wisest thing to do, he silently admitted as he set himself with feet apart, threw back his head and closed his eyes. Still, there was no help for it if he wanted to go home and not spend the next three thousand years quite literally reliving the nightmares of his past. He took a deep breath, reaching from within himself for the power he remembered. In the distance, thunder roared as he raised his arm and called the lightening to him. It crackled above, refusing to be tamed. Then he focused his will with a shout of triumph and pulled down the power of the heavens. It came in searing waves and strikes, burning his skin until he pointed his other arm, throwing the lightening into the trees. Again and again, he did this, having forgotten the joy of this particular venture. So many years in hiding, so many gains forsaken. Immortals played with lightening. With the power and the willingness to simply be a conduit. When he'd finally had enough, Methos eased back and lowered his arms, enjoying the last caress of the static discharge as it traveled across his skin. With a sigh of pure pleasure he opened his eyes to find his mortal companions staring in open mouthed horror. I might have overdone it just a tad, he thought with chagrin as he rejoined them, sprawling on the grass near Carter's feet. "Think it'll get the job done?" Silence greeted him until Jack frowned and spoke up. "Show off." Methos laughed. "God!" he sighed, falling back in relief. "I haven't done that in ages. I'd forgotten how much fun that was." "Fun?" Teal'c asked, clearly appalled. "Power like that is what made the Goa'uld evil." "True," Methos admitted quietly, slowly sitting up and stretching. "But then the Goa'uld don't have any limits placed on them by an outside agency. I haven't been able to do that freely in over two thousand years. Repercussions and consequences tend to keep one honest." The Jaffa nodded thoughtfully. "Then you must have such fun more often." "Sure," O'Neill shrugged. "We'll take him out to Area 51. He can have all the fun he wants there. In the meantime, Carter?" She finally closed her mouth and nodded. "If he can direct it at the gate, sir, it should work." "Good," O'Neill said, then looked around at Daniel to see how he'd taken the whole fireworks display. Methos nervously followed his gaze. "You okay, Danny?" The archaeologist said nothing, simply staring at the smoking, splintered trees across the clearing. "He's speechless," O'Neill grinned appreciatively. "Which is actually a good thing," he added, suddenly quite serious. "Because none of you ever saw this," he looked at the others. "No one needs to know, because it never happened. Understood?" Teal'c and Carter nodded in agreement, then O'Neill gave Daniel a little shove. "You gettin' this, Danny?" "Uh, yeah," the younger man nodded. "You sure?" O'Neill asked. Finally, Daniel looked at Methos. "Yeah, I'm sure," he answered softly. Then, "They'd take you apart for that, wouldn't they?" he asked, no doubt reminded of Methos' unceremonious and painful introduction to the SGC. Methos only smiled wistfully at his innocence. "No, Danny," he said quietly. "For that," he pointed to the smoking ruin of the trees. "They'd kill me." Chapter 6 O'Neill shook his head, looking around the heavily wooded area while they waited on Carter to finish running another simulation. The Stargate was rigged with fishing wire from their survival kits and attached to Methos' sword in place of a lightening rod to create a focal point for the energies he would call. It should work, the major insisted, but just to be sure she wanted to run a few models. "There's something I just don't get," O'Neill finally muttered. "What's a Stargate doing in the middle of Ancient Greece? And why hasn't it been active until now?" "It's probably from the original Shrine of Pythias at Delphi," Daniel responded. "Oh, now that's helpful," O'Neill rolled his eyes. Methos smiled wryly. "In mythology," he explained. "The god Pythias often took the form of a python." "Another snakehead," O'Neill grimaced in disgust. "Very likely," Methos agreed. "According to the legend," Daniel explained. "Pythias fought Apollo and lost. Only to be trapped in his lair at the center of the earth. The passage down was supposedly at Delphi. After the battle, the Omphalos, or passageway, was sealed over and another temple erected on the site, where the Sibyl, a sort of mystic cum fortune teller priestess, became the Oracle of Apollo." "Supposedly," Methos said, taking up the story. "Pythias' breath came from a hole left in the ground and inhaling the fumes gave whoever sat on the stone above the Omphalos the ability to see the future. Bunch of drug addled bimbos muttering nonsense, if you ask me," he snorted derisively. "You never went to the Oracle at Delphi?" Daniel asked, surprised. "Oh, I went," Methos nodded. "257 BC," he recalled. "It was great fun. Sort of like going to Vegas. You know it's going to cost a fortune and everything's in favor of the house, but you go anyway, just to see what all the hype is about." "So what did you ask her?" "When I'd die, of course." O'Neill laughed. "What'd she say?" "That I was mocking her and to get the hell out," Methos smirked. "Woman had no sense of humor." "She knew what you were?" Daniel asked, astonished. "Of course she did," Methos grinned. "She was Immortal. Liked to play handmaiden of the gods. Kept her safe on holy ground for centuries. I did run into her again a few years back. Owns an occult book shop in New York. Still no sense of humor," he sighed. O'Neill grinned and shook his head while Daniel looked vaguely shocked. The colonel finally sighed. "That's...interesting, but what does it have to do with the gate downstairs?" "Nothing," Methos shrugged. "Except that some of the original Pythians probably survived and brought the gate here in the hope that one day the god would rise." "When most of Greece was leveled by a series of earthquakes," Daniel added, glancing at the ruins. "Maybe only the gate survived." "My guess," Methos commented. "Is that it will soon be buried in another one. Much the same as every other gate the Goa'uld might have left behind." "That brings to mind another problem," Daniel said softly. "If this doesn't work, what are we going to do? We can't stay here." "It'll work," O'Neill insisted, refusing to give up hope. Methos nodded. It had better work, he thought, because right now they were running out of options. Most of all, he didn't fancy spending the next three thousand years avoiding the Horsemen. Especially since he'd also have to avoid himself in all those places he'd been avoiding the others. Behind them, Carter emerged from the ruins, Teal'c trailing beside. "We're ready, sir." Methos rose with the rest of the team, but stayed at the entrance above. This would be tricky, he knew, to call the Quickening and not lose himself in the power as he waited for the gate to open then to grab his sword as he ran and leap through the gate before it could close once the current died. But then, the simplest of plans were often the most dangerous and if he missed his chance he would be stuck here unless the others could find a way to get him back. "Okay," Carter murmured, checking the connections one last time. "Let's do it." They moved back against the far wall watching as Methos raised his arm and called the lightening, directing it to his sword and from there to the gate itself. With enough power energizing the gate, Carter darted out and programmed the DHD. They got ready to run, watching as the outer track turned and the chevrons locked. Then...nothing. A moment later, when it was obvious they weren't leaving O'Neill called to Methos telling him to stand down. Exhausted, he fell to his knees, blearily watching as Teal'c gathered up his sword and the others joined him above. "Well, that was a big bust," O'Neill muttered, leaning down to grab Methos under the arms and haul him outside. "You okay?" The Immortal nodded. "Bitterly disappointed," he admitted. "I was so hoping Major Carter was wrong." "I too am unhappy," Teal'c stated, offering Methos his sword. "You're not the only ones," Daniel said, sinking to the grass beside his companions. "Well, there is another option," Carter pointed out, joining them. "We find a place to live quietly and in three thousand years Captain Pierson makes sure we don't ever go to that ship." Methos raised his brows. "Thanks for the vote of confidence in terms of my continued survival, Major, but what in the world will I do for the next three thousand years while I'm waiting to pull your asses out of the fire?" "Whatever you did for the last three thousand," she said calmly. "Once you warn us and we don't go, history will have changed and this will have never happened. The timeline will correct itself and the original Methos will still be part of the SGC never having gone back in time." "So, I will simply cease to exist," Methos surmised. "How kind of you to offer me that option." "It's just an idea," O'Neill told him. "We can try something else before it comes to that." "Like what?" Daniel asked. "If that ship explodes again the chain reaction is still going to rip the atmosphere from the planet. We need to find a way to stop it." "What about the Tok'ra?" O'Neill asked. "Even if we knew where some of them were this far back in time it still wouldn't do us any good," Daniel pointed out. "We need to prevent that ship from exploding." "Then we must go to Egypt and await the arrival of the Goa'uld," Teal'c stated blandly. "Once there, we will find a way to prevent your world's destruction and utilize their gate to return us to our own time." A stunned silence greeted his suggestion, until Methos finally nodded. "It might just work. I mean, we've got two years to get there." Chapter 7 By late afternoon they'd succeeded in setting up a more permanent camp next to the eastern wall of the ruins with a hastily constructed shelter made of tent halves and emergency blankets. Layering on their street clothes underneath their thin desert uniforms had added extra protection against the sudden drop in temperature the rains had brought. A large fire warmed the area sufficiently, though the looming cloud cover atop Mt. Parnassus foretold more bad weather to come. A quick inventory of their supplies had revealed enough freeze dried rations, energy bars and candy to last about two weeks, if they were careful. But Methos had plans to supplement that by hunting as well as to go shopping. "Shopping?" O'Neill asked, obviously surprised at the suggestion. "Yeah," Methos grinned. "Shopping. We need stuff. Like clothes, food, blankets, a donkey. Daniel's right, O'Neill. We can't remain here indefinitely and leave for Egypt when the time comes. We've got to move now." "Why now?" Methos gave a quiet sigh. How could he expect these children of the modern age to truly understand? "First," he explained patiently. "It may be winter and travel is limited, but there are still people moving around out there," he gestured toward the forest. "The locals may be superstitious about this place and not come here, but others might. And being afraid of something doesn't necessarily mean you're afraid to fight the evil demons who've suddenly sprung up in your backyard. Quite the opposite, in fact, believe me." "Okay. We need to move. Got it," O'Neill nodded. "Next?" "Second," Methos went on. "We can't run around dressed in these clothes and not expect to be challenged. The Dorians never were a placid bunch, even once they got settled hereabouts. They're a tribal people and still very suspicious of foreigners. We need to look like them as much as possible, so that even if they know we're not from around here they'll think we're not too distantly related. Following the forms and customs is always a good idea." "Great," Jack grimaced. "We all get to wear itchy woolen blankets for clothing." "I'll buy some linen for linings," Methos smiled, wondering vaguely why he hadn't thought of that three thousand years ago. "I promise, you won't get a rash." "Gee, thanks, Dad!" O'Neill rolled his eyes. "And the donkey?" "A donkey and cart to start. Eventually we'll need horses. These," he held up the torn wrapper of an energy bar, "do not exist. Everything comes in sacks, baskets or clay jars. Which means we'll need pack animals to carry our supplies. And once you add them into the equation the logistics have to be proportionately enlarged. Grain and food stuffs for us, oats for the donkeys and horses. And we'll need travel supplies. Tents, bedding, cookware, and items to barter when cash money won't suffice. There aren't any inns yet, Colonel, and we can't just wander into town looking for the familiar golden arches." "Did you have to say that?" O'Neill complained, staring miserably at his energy bar. "Damn! Now I want a burger and fries." "That's something else you won't see much of for a while," Methos told him softly. "Meat, especially beef, is very expensive. Most people make do with fish and the occasional fowl. Pork and goat are available, but usually only eaten after they're sacrificed. And in Egypt most meals, even in wealthy houses, consist mainly of bread and beer. Of course, we'll supplement that with cheese, fruit, fish and as much meat as we can afford, but don't expect the quality to be as good as you might like." "Sounds yummy," the colonel grumbled. "So, when do we leave for the mall?" "I'm leaving. You're not." "Are you ashamed of us?" Methos grinned, looking around the fire at his companions' bemused expressions. "Maybe later -- when you all start scratching in public," he smirked. "For now though, not one of you is safe beyond this clearing. Teal'c," he nodded at the big Jaffa. "Is far too exotic without the appropriate entourage. Major Carter and Daniel," he shook his head as he looked at the pair. "Let's just say blondes are rare in this part of the world and highly prized. As for you," he looked at O'Neill. "I'd feel a whole lot better if you stayed to guard them while I'm gone." "We can take care of ourselves," Samantha insisted. "He's talking about slavery, Carter," O'Neill pointed out. "Or worse," Methos sighed. "Let me be blunt, Major. You're both not only blonde, but your skin is fair and you're attractive. Tell me, Danny, you know the times. With a combination like that where would you expect to end up?" The archaeologist flushed deeply, but nodded. "Probably a brothel -- if we were lucky. Personal pets of some local ruler if we're not." "Lucky?!" Carter asked, horrified. "Lucky as it gets," Methos shrugged. "You'd be better off in a brothel. If it's a good house the owner's less likely to beat you if you're bringing in good money -- which you certainly would because of your hair and eyes. And the customers would give you gifts. Eventually, you might even get enough money to buy yourself out, but not until you were used up by the amount of trade you'd be forced to endure. And then what would you do?" he added pointedly. "You have no useful skills like weaving or sewing. And no one would be likely to marry you because you wouldn't have a dowry, or a family line which could be traced. The fact is," he told her honestly. "This world is not friendly to those without the means of survival, Major. There are no social services, no charitable organizations and no international movements rallying to free the slaves. They are, quite simply, appliances. Human washing machines and industrial cogs." Samantha grimaced, looking obviously disgusted. "So, we all just sit back while you to take care of us?" she finally asked, very much annoyed. "Just for a little while," he said gently. "Once we're on the road things will be different. You'll all have your parts to play in our little charade." "Don't tell me," O'Neill grimaced wryly. "You've got a plan." "Don't I always?" Methos smiled widely. *** "Oh, this was a great plan," Methos muttered angrily as he wended his way through the forest. He was cold and wet and desperately hungry, since he'd refused to take what little supplies the others had. Just a canteen for water and some strips of rabbit he'd caught the night before. In his pocket he had twenty-two copper pennies, the total sum of useful coinage they'd had among them. He had other coins, but the metal being unknown might not go over well with the locals. They'd probably take it, but not at a fair exchange rate like the copper -- it being used in combination with tin to make bronze. And much of it, he knew, would go towards their immediate purchases. He would have to think of something else to help them survive. Had, in fact, already thought of it, but it was an idea he knew none of them would like. The scent of burning wood caught his attention and he made his way toward whatever little hovel he might be lucky enough to have stumbled upon. There were few roads this far into the back country and dressed as he was he didn't dare travel on anything more established than a goat track. He was surprised then when he reached the edge of the forest to find a fairly large farm house on the outskirts of what appeared to be a village. But then he'd spent most of his time during this period in Greek history in Africa or Asia Minor. Civilized places where the cities and towns were more to his liking. He and the Horsemen had been through here a few times, but they'd never stayed longer than a few decades at most. The Myceneans had been far too eager to fight and after the collapse of their civilization there wasn't much gold to be had anyway. The Dorians, who now dominated the area after taking advantage of that collapse and successfully invading, might have been less organized, but they had also been far less acquisitive than the Horsemen had liked. He moved through the woods, carefully screening himself in the foliage until he'd edged around toward the front of the house. Inside, two women were chatting and he could hear their laughter drifting in his direction. There were no men about, Methos smiled to himself, imagining that they were probably in the village gossiping and drinking wine with the rest of the farmers. This being the rainy season there wasn't much to do on a farm after the animals got fed and the goats got milked. Only a single male slave watched at the door and an old one at that. A sop to convention that said the women must never be left alone and unguarded. He didn't see any children, but they might be in the village as well, running wild with the rest of the urchins until a slave was sent to call them home. Methos pulled out his zat gun and carefully moved out toward the side of the house. Staying close to the wall he edged around the corner to the front, where the slave seemed to have nodded off. He fired once then caught the man before he could fall into the mud beside the door. No alarm came from the house and Methos easily pulled the man inside. Without thinking about it twice he quickly stripped the man of his tunic and sandals. Good wool, he thought. Not, he was glad, simply a threadbare, cut down castoff of the master's. Likely made new by the women of the house because the slave been with them a long while and they were rather fond of the old fart. He bundled the clothes and sandals inside his jacket and turned to leave, pausing for a moment to look back. The man was old by the standard of the times and would certainly be punished for the loss -- even if no sane man would give away his only clothing. Still, masters as he well knew, did not have to be rational in their ire. Cloth and leather were expensive and quick replacements might not be easy to find. With a silent sigh he pulled a penny from his pocket and put it on the floor beside the old man. Far more than the items were worth, but whatever excuse he gave the family that owned him at least now they could afford not to beat him too hard. He ran for the woods, moving swiftly through the undergrowth, still feeling the tiny rush of adrenaline his little adventure had caused. It sustained him until he deemed he was far enough away from the village to stop and make use of the things he'd bought. Well, not exactly bought, Methos thought wryly as he changed his clothes. Still, it was close enough for his scruples to suit even the Highlander's morals. Well, maybe not his, Methos thought, with a grimace of distaste. Not unless he'd found a warm blanket for the old slave and tucked him up safe for the night before running off. On the other hand, he knew what most people in this day and age were like. And he didn't doubt for a moment that if he'd offered the same money to the women they'd have thought nothing of stripping the old, much favored slave bare on the spot. Feeling less like a hunted man than he probably should have without his sword, though he did have a pair of daggers strapped to his sides, Methos rolled up his own clothes, wrapping them inside his uniform jacket. His combat boots would have been better for this terrain, he sighed in dismay, but they just wouldn't work with the chiton. Pity, he thought, but he'd just have to put up with mud between his toes and the occasional rock. "Now for the donkey," he muttered with a disgusted sigh. At least then he could ride. Chapter 8 He was an odd looking slave when he rode into Delphi, but they were used to that. Even before the rest of the country was back on its collective feet in another century or so, the Oracle still had visitors coming from far and wide. Not as many as it would eventually have, and not nearly as often, but enough to mask his presence and for Methos that was all right. They didn't ask where he was from, or care much about him at all except to remark on the fairness of his skin. What concerned the small shopkeepers was the weight and purity of his coin. And none cared at all how he came by it. He was obviously a trusted slave to be deemed so responsible at such a young age. He was also well mannered, though not disgustingly servile. So they sold him a small cart and some ready made clothes at exorbitant prices and counted themselves lucky even if his master was an idiot. No one bought clothes made ready to wear except foreign fools and motherless bachelors. With eight pennies left in his pocket Methos went on a shopping spree, but this time he bargained hard. When he was done both the cart and the donkey were overloaded with jars of foodstuffs, chests of linen, leather and bolts of lesser quality wool cloth along with numerous household items. And with his last penny he purchased another sword. Hiding a smile he urged the donkey forward and with a gentle flick of the reins he started back. When spring came and foaling season arrived he'd be back to buy the horses -- and maybe a little something more. *** "He said it could take a week or more, so no, Daniel, I'm not worried." O'Neill scooped another handful of clay from the stream into the sack he'd made out of his rain poncho. "Not yet, anyway." "Well, I am," the archaeologist muttered. "Adam's out there alone and virtually unarmed. What if he runs into another Immortal. Damn it! He wouldn't even be in this mess if I hadn't recommended him for that translation job." "Feeling a little guilty, are we?" "Maybe I am," Daniel admitted. "It's just... It can't be easy for him. Look at us. I don't know about you, but this isn't my idea of a good time." "You managed well enough on Abydos," O'Neill pointed out. "That was different. I had Sha're to think of and for the first six months I barely felt the culture shock. Then reality set in and I had to go into the fields with the others, even if I was teaching most of the rest of the time." "You did good, Daniel. And Pierson will be fine. He's been here and done that, remember?" "That's not the point," he muttered, turning as Carter came part way down the path. "Colonel!" she called urgently. "Teal'c just radioed in. Someone's coming." O'Neill handed Daniel the clay filled rain poncho and went to meet her. "Is it Pierson?" "He thinks so, sir, but he can't be sure. He's still a ways out." O'Neill nodded and strode back up the path toward the hills behind the temple where they'd built their new camp. The day after Methos had left it had rained so long and hard that the temple had flooded, so they'd moved to higher ground and dug in for the duration. More importantly, it had a good view of the land on all sides. A short while later he reached the top and joined Teal'c in their observation post, easily climbing up the rope they'd secured to a tree and into the branches above. "Which direction?" O'Neill asked the Jaffa, who lounged comfortably several feet away. "From the south," he pointed. "One man leading a beast and a cart." O'Neill pulled out his binoculars and had a look. A tall thin man completely wrapped in what looked like a blanket trudged along leading a donkey and cart up the narrow, overgrown path that led to the temple. The man paused in his journey long enough to push back the cloth that covered his head to take a drink from the canteen which hung from the side of the cart. "It's him," O'Neill grinned. "Shall we go meet him?" Teal'c asked. O'Neill shook his head. "Nah," he smiled. "He looks okay from here. And besides," he added as he felt something cool and wet splash against his cheek. "It's starting to rain." *** "Come on, girl," Methos urged the donkey. "Just a little bit further and you can have a nice rest and something to eat where it's toasty warm and dry." The animal balked again at the up slope in the path and Methos sighed in despair. He missed cars and buses and floor board heating, and right about now he wouldn't even mind getting one of those annoying telemarketing phone calls. He moved up the path in the dark, tripping as his long chiton, soaked and heavy with rain water, wrapped around his ankles pulling him down into the rocky mud. God, he thought miserably, shivering as the wind whipped him cruelly, he'd forgotten just how awful it was. "Need some help, soldier?" he heard as the brilliant glare of a flashlight beam suddenly blinded him. Wincing, Methos shielded his eyes with his arm. "Christ, O'Neill! It's about fucking time! Just how long have you been watching?!" Strong hands helped him to his feet as he heard the colonel chuckling from above. Teal'c, he realized with relief as the big man threw an arm around his shoulders. "Couple of hours," O'Neill told him as the Jaffa practically lifted him the rest of the way up the path. "You were doing okay until your friend there decided to stop." Ah, he thought, suddenly understanding. This was his punishment for not revealing Tok'ra's little message at the proper time. So be it, Methos thought, too tired to argue. The light went off as he sensed two figures moving past him in dark. "Glad you're safe, Adam," Daniel murmured, laying a hand on his shoulder. "There's warm food back at camp," Samantha added. "Why don't you go dry off." He nodded tiredly in response, barely noticing when Teal'c turned back to help take charge of the donkey and cart and O'Neill led him past the ruins. "We moved to higher ground a week or so ago," he informed Methos as he helped him up the path. "It's a little rough, but we're working on it." A structure loomed against the dark and for a moment Methos thought he was seeing an old style barracks. Then he was inside and his tired eyes grew round as he got his first look at what these children of the modern age had wrought. It was indeed a barracks of sorts. A little rectangular house made of rough hewn logs with a clay floor covered in straw. In one corner of the room granite blocks from the ruins and field stone had been used to create a huge hearth with a small opening in the ceiling just above to draw the smoke out. To build the roof they'd obviously scavenged timber from the old temple's ceiling. Good seasoned wood originally coated in pitch and meant to last a dozen generations or more. The cracks had been filled in with more clay and probably covered over with sod for extra warmth. "Like I said," O'Neill shrugged. "It's rough, but it keeps the rain off." Rough? Methos thought, astonished. "I've seen rich men living in worse," he mumbled, staggering towards the fire. "Hey! Hey!" O'Neill called. "You're dripping on my floor!" Methos sighed exhaustedly and briefly closed his eyes. Modern children, modern sensibilities, he thought wryly. With a shrug of his shoulders the himation, his cloak, fell to floor, quickly followed by the chiton. With practiced fingers he unlaced his sandals, walking away from the nasty wet pile dressed only in his dignity and sank limply to his haunches by the hearth. Behind him, he could hear O'Neill muttering as he picked up after him, but didn't bother to pay attention. He was chilled to the bone and starving. The packet of bread, cheese, fish and olives he'd bought in Delphi had run out the day before and opening the wax seals on the jars would have ruined the contents. "Carter mentioned food," he whispered tiredly. O'Neill came up behind him and laid a uniform jacket across his shoulders, dropping a dry pair of jeans and a tee shirt beside him into which Methos hurriedly scrambled. "In here," Jack said, shoving aside a large flat paving stone from the front of the hearth. Inset into the blocks they'd left an opening, lined it with clay to hold the heat and built an oven. Methos grunted in surprise. "Clever," he murmured, then moaned softly as he inhaled the marvelous aroma of the food inside. "Carter's idea," O'Neill grinned, grabbing a plate and fork from a stack nearby. "Me? I'd have just gone with a spit. Barbecue style." Methos nodded. So would he. But trust a woman to design a better, more serviceable hearth. O'Neill speared a couple of small birds onto the plate then used one of the camping cups to ladle some vegetables beside it. "You've done well," Methos said appreciatively, noting the wild onions, turnips and mushrooms that now graced the plate O'Neill handed over. "Just the basics," he responded, watching Methos savor his first bite. "The Air Force requires survival training for all its pilots. This is just Foraging 101. At least we didn't have to resort to eating bugs. Oh, and there's fish and pork smoking in the shed out back." Methos' eyes went wide. "You guys took a boar?!" "Just Teal'c. He didn't know what it was. Found it rooting around the latrine and used his staff on it. Too bad you missed it, we had ribs last night." "Well save me the tongue," Methos insisted, refusing to hide his delight. "I haven't had a decent boar's tongue dinner in over six hundred years." "It's all yours," O'Neill told him, glancing past Methos as the door behind them opened. "We got it all up," Carter informed them. "Daniel's securing the donkey out back under the tent." Methos shook his head. That donkey would be living better than their neighbors down the road if the children had their way, he thought sardonically. "Good work," O'Neill told her, getting to his feet. "I'll give you a hand getting everything inside." They left Methos to his dinner and he watched, much bemused while with military precision they quickly stacked the goods he'd bought against the opposite wall. "Think you got enough stuff?" O'Neill asked sarcastically as Teal'c, Daniel and Carter brought in the last items. "Not as much as I would have liked," Methos told him honestly. "But enough for five healthy individuals to get by for a time." "Sir," Carter said, glancing worriedly at Methos as she discreetly showed the colonel something she'd carried in. O'Neill frowned and held up the old slave's tunic he'd first worn. "What the hell is this?" he asked angrily, obviously referring to the bloody cuts and tears in the cloth. Methos shrugged. "A handful of street toughs tried to divest me of my goods on the way out of Delphi. I simply disabused them of the notion that I was harmless." "Right," O'Neill nodded briefly. "From now on, you don't go anywhere alone. That's an order." "An order that cannot be carried out," Methos told him bluntly. "None of you speak the language, and even Daniel doesn't speak it well enough to make himself clearly understood in the market. You don't move like proper Greeks and you don't know the cultural forms. Gossip and chatter being the only entertainment around, taking even one of you to town right now would be suicide." "So we learn," Daniel said, accepting Methos' expert judgment. "But Jack is right. It isn't safe for you to go alone." Methos shook his head and smiled. "I'm tougher than I look, Danny. And I've been at this quite a bit longer than any of you have." "That may be true," O'Neill told him. "But you're also our ace in the hole. And if we have to spend the rest of our miserable lives here, you're going to be right there, miserably spending yours alongside us." "All right," Methos offered, smiling with pleasure at the oddly comforting sentiment, and willing now to compromise. "How about this? I will teach you what I think you need to know if anything should by chance happen to me. And in addition, I promise to take no risks that I have never undertaken before. Anything else, I know how to survive or endure." "Fair enough," O'Neill nodded. "Now get some rest," he gestured toward the sleeping bags rolled up in the corner. "Tomorrow you can help me start on a bedroom for Carter." Chapter 9 The sound of hammering woke Methos early the next morning and he sighed, rubbing his eyes as he sat up. He didn't know whether to curse or praise a military that believed hammers, nails, pliers, saws, spades and axes should be considered part of the basic survival package. Still, he thought, having awakened warm and dry for the first time in nearly a fortnight, who was he to complain? He got out of bed and rolled up the sleeping bag, disdaining the himation and chiton someone had hung by the fire to dry and went to find his boots and socks. They were neatly stacked with the rest of the team's gear and he gratefully put them on before going outside. "Morning!" Jack called as he banged away at a wooden frame that looked to be more scavenged planking. "Just making some shelving for all our stuff," he explained at Methos' quizzical expression. The Immortal merely nodded. "You know, we're leaving in a few months." "So what?" O'Neill said, putting aside his tools as he stood up. "We're not gonna freeze our asses off living in a tent just because we're not sticking around that long. Why should we? Besides, what else is there to do around here?" That was true, Methos nodded. And why not? Everyone ought to have a hobby. "Where is everybody?" he asked curiously, looking around the empty camp. "Carter and Daniel took the cart down to the stream to get more clay for the major's flooring. And Teal'c's decided to try his hand at wood working. He's out looking for trees that speak to him -- although I've never liked a chatty dining room table. Too annoying, don't you think?" "Only if we haven't been properly introduced," Methos responded drolly. "Come on," O'Neill grinned, leading him over to the side of the little house where a new foundation was being laid for an extension. O'Neill reached behind a pile of timber and pulled out a small thermos. "Saved this for you," he said, tossing the item to Methos. "It's the last of the coffee." "Thanks," he smiled gratefully, taking a seat on the logs before pouring out the contents into the lid cup. "I'm definitely going to miss this," he sighed, taking a sip. Even freeze dried the stuff tasted heavenly. "We'll get back," O'Neill said with certainty. Methos only nodded. He too was hopeful, and yet remained pragmatic about the situation -- already planning ahead to where he might have to take them if they didn't. Certainly out of the way of any invading armies. Though that might be difficult in this day and age. "So, you want to give me your report?" O'Neill asked quietly. "Nothing much to tell," he shrugged. "I walked to Delphi, spent your pocket change and came back here. Other than that rabble in town I didn't have any trouble." "No one in the area knows we're here?" Methos shook his head. "I passed through several villages on the way back. The nearest one to the south is a day and a half from here. And given the amount of rain we've had the north is probably flooding. Like I said, there's not a lot of movement during the winter months, but come spring someone might show up. I saw signs of Dionysians in the woods further down the slopes. The women probably use the ruins for their ceremonies. We should definitely leave before the Great Festival." "What? And miss all the fun?" O'Neill grinned. "It's not fun," Methos told him curtly. "If they're using the ruins they're probably also using the hills for the wilding. I've never actually seen the ceremony. That was forbidden. But I have seen the results. They drink a lot of wine mixed with hallucinogens to bring on visions and race through the woods in praise of Dionysos. If they find a male, any male," he stressed, "even a small child, they'll tear him to pieces. Bare hands, bare teeth. And it's all legal." "You've gotta be kidding?" O'Neill whispered, appalled. "Not even a little," he answered in deadly earnest. "It's a wild cult that came out of India a few centuries back and took hold among the women. Remember, Greek females are suppressed by their men, not just oppressed. As you can imagine," he added wryly. "Dionysos, even if he is the god of wine, isn't much favored by the male population. But they seem to feel that letting the girls engage in a little ritual madness once a year is a small price to pay for quiet in the house all the rest." "Okay," O'Neill nodded thoughtfully. "I'll put out a memo. No partying with the local women." "Don't worry," Methos grinned. "We should be well away from here by the time the grapes are harvested and the new wine is ready for the festival." "Sounds good to me. Now that's settled," he smiled. "You wanna give me a hand here?" Methos glanced in dismay at the building materials. Construction was not a trade he'd ever really been interested in, and he'd done it only when absolutely necessary. "Actually," he offered brightly. "I thought I'd go check your snares and reset them. Those birds last night were marvelous." "Gee, thanks!" O'Neill grinned. "But I didn't use any snares." Methos gave him a confused look. "Then how...?" The colonel shrugged and whipped out his zat gun, firing once at the nearest tree. A dozen or so birds dropped to the ground as Methos sat staring in amazement. O'Neill put the weapon away and moved to start working. "You wanna get lunch, Pierson?" he gestured grandly at the decimation. Methos rolled his eyes and sighed. "You have a fast food mind," he muttered disgustedly, putting away the empty thermos. "Teach you to try and wriggle out of duty, Captain Pierson. Oh, and by the way," O'Neill smirked as he walked away. "He who cooks also cleans. You police the cabin today. And don't forget the latrine," he ordered cheerfully. "I know Teal'c will be grateful." With a wry grimace Methos saluted. "Thank you, sir!" he called to O'Neill's retreating figure. "Glad to be back, sir! I'll fetch a good price at market, sir! I hear they're having a sale on minions!" "Not a chance, Pierson!" he shot back. "The Great Satan likes you right where you are. Under his thumb and happy about it!" "On a cold day in hell," Methos muttered as O'Neill rounded the corner. "Bloody ungrateful bastard!" he sighed, glancing at the fallen covey. Still, he'd known what he was getting into when he'd signed those papers back at the SGC. If everyone else was working, he'd be expected to as well. He got to his feet and took off his jacket to put the birds in. Ah, hell, maybe it wasn't so bad. He who cooked might also have to clean -- but then he usually got to eat the most heartily. Chapter 10 Daniel shook his head slowly. "You can't be serious, Adam?" "We need money," Methos insisted. "And lots of it. For the passage to Egypt. For bribing officials to look the other way when we get there. For food and clothing. Not to mention life's other little necessities -- like transportation and housing costs. It's the only way!" "No," Daniel said, refusing to listen as he got up from his grinding to add more flour to his bread mix. It was his turn to cook today and Methos had taken the opportunity to come by and pitch his idea. "It's bad enough we had to take stones from the ruins to build the foundation for this place. I won't be a party to it!" "A party to what?" O'Neill asked as he came in, taking off his rain poncho and muddy boots before going to the hearth for a cup of wild mint tea. "Adam wants to rob the tholoi we found last week." "The what?" O'Neill asked, taking a seat at the table. Teal'c had done a fine job, Methos thought absently. He'd leveled the wood to perfection and polished it with some of the bees wax Methos had bought for sealing jars and making candles. It would be a shame to leave it all behind, the Immortal thought, but leave they must. After three weeks up here everyone seemed to be settling in and he considered it his job to remind them why they could not. "The tombs Sam and I came across when we were out foraging," Daniel explained. "I knew that," O'Neill said hurriedly. "Those mounds you raved about, right?" Daniel nodded and O'Neill gave Methos a curious glance. "So, what's in them, other than the dear departed, that's got you're interest piqued?" "Gold," Methos told him, crossing his arms as he leaned back in his chair. "Enough to get us to Egypt and then some." O'Neill nodded. "He's got a point, Daniel." Jackson put down the bowl he was using to for bread making and turned to stare. "Those tombs are valuable historical evidence from an important period in Greek history. We can't just strip them because we need the money!" Methos gave a wry twist of his lips. "So speaks a man who robs tombs professionally." "That's different and you know it!" Daniel shouted, incensed by the accusation. "Is it?" Methos asked coolly. "You do it for the sake of the historical record. For knowledge," he added mockingly. "But those people didn't want to be known. They didn't care whether or not you understood them. They wanted to be left in peace on their journey to the underworld, whether you accept their religious practices as valid or not. And the last fate any of them would have chosen was to have their bones and their grave goods on display for hordes of curious gawkers. They would have wept with shame to be so disrespected. There was a reason for cursing anyone who entered a tomb." "But you want to," Daniel stated quietly. "They're dead, Danny. They don't need that gold and we do." "We can find another way," he insisted, looking to Jack for support. The colonel sat quietly for a long moment, staring into his cup. "If those were my loved ones out there," he said softly. "I'd be really pissed off if anyone, for any reason, dug up their graves. But," he added with a quiet sigh. "You both have a point. Knowledge versus necessity. Daniel," he said with finality. "You have a week to come up with an alternative. Then we start digging." *** Methos hoisted the deer he'd bagged over his shoulders and started heading back to camp. Now that the cabin was finished to everyone's satisfaction there was more time for him to enjoy the simple pursuits he'd once considered a normal part of life. Not that he'd ever made an effort to go hunting when professionals and butchers were available to do the job for him -- and he was just as content to buy his meat at the supermarket. But there was a certain amount of gratification involved when he brought something big into camp. And, shallow, egotistical man that he was, Methos admitted ruefully, he quite liked the applause. A while later he entered the clearing, surprised to find the place nearly empty. With the exception of O'Neill, who sat under what had become the all purpose work tent -- and he seemed to be occupied with something other than building this morning -- no one else was in evidence. Teal'c, having gotten the carpentry bug was probably out chatting up the trees again. Carter was likely working on some project or other. And if he knew Danny, which he did, the boy was probably down by the tombs trying to document as much as he could before O'Neill gave the okay and let Methos rip into them. The Immortal hid a smile at the thought. Poor Daniel had not been able to come up with a single alternative that wasn't either too time consuming or too dangerous. Methos was still silently laughing over the preposterous notion of the entire team traveling through the countryside as itinerant soothsayers and dealers in healthful potions. They'd all be dead inside a week! Such things might seem possible to the modern mind, but the ancient way of thinking was far too different. In this part of the world, strangers were not only unwelcome, but those with magical abilities were feared and hated. The first child that took sick, or mare that died in foaling would be blamed on them -- even if they hadn't been anywhere near the injured parties. The very rain that fell in the same amount and at the same time each year would be considered a curse of the gods and fingers would be pointed at the newcomers. It wouldn't matter if they gave good advice on when to plant and what to plant in overtaxed fields. If your ancestors planted beans on the third moon of the second month after the first crow cawed as you were getting out of bed then you did the same. And anyone who said different was a renegade and an agitator who ought to be dead. No, Methos knew, there was no other way than the one he had suggested. Which meant Daniel was sulking and being a general pain in the ass whenever he was around, but so be it. It was time the boy looked past the articles of history and saw the people behind them. Warts and all. The pot might be beautiful, but the slave who was forced to make it and beaten if it broke was at the heart of its history. The living, breathing artist who painted it more important than the sum total of his work. For all that Daniel loved history, he did not yet know how to love the people who had lived that history. They were as strange and unaccountable to him in their thoughts and ideas as the members of SG-1 would be to them. "Hey!" Methos greeted O'Neill as he came over, dropping the deer on the ground. "Hey yourself, great white hunter," O'Neill grinned. Methos shrugged, reaching for his canteen. "Just thought we could use a change from fish and poultry," he said with studied nonchalance before drinking. O'Neill nodded thoughtfully. "Did you check the duty roster this morning?" he asked, equally casual. "Yeah, I did," Methos said, not bothering to hide his annoyance. "I'll go to the stream a little later. Although I don't see why we need more clay. Carter has her separate bedroom -- as per regulations -- what do we need more for?" "Because we need a kiln." "For what?" Methos asked, truly curious. "Carter wants to run some experiments to separate something from something else in order to do whatever it is she's doing, and I," he smiled. "Am going to use this." He held up a rather crude potter's wheel. "Teal'c made it for me," he grinned. Methos cocked his head. "Well, it's nice that you have a hobby," he answered tartly. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to get a bowl -- so I can properly dress the deer we are all going to eat." That was it, he thought disgustedly, stalking towards the house. Tomorrow, when it was his turn to cook, he was definitely going to make a deer blood stew -- with heart, liver, tongue and kidneys. Maybe even throw in a few lengths of innards just to watch the children squirm as it wriggled and slid across their plates. He opened the door to find the major up to her elbows in bowls -- every last one of them from the look of it -- spread over the table and every available surface. She wasn't cooking -- O'Neill had that duty today -- and she was never very happy when she got it. Then again, neither was anyone else. So then, what was she up to? Methos went over to the table and glanced down. "Rocks?" he asked, angrily wondering when they would learn that this wasn't summer vacation. "You're collecting rocks?" he repeated. She glanced up looking perfectly innocent and content as she sorted another stone into the correctly classified bowl. "Actually, I'm looking for iodine crystals in the rock formations." "Were you planning to dye something?" he asked, surprised by her response. She smiled and shook her head, running her scanner over another rock looking for the substance she sought. "Colonel O'Neill put me in charge of the medical kit," she explained. "We're also going to run out of water purification tablets eventually and iodine is a naturally occurring antibacterial. Two drops in a gallon of water will purify it completely. And, given the number of cuts, scraps, burns and blisters everyone's been getting I thought it might be prudent to plan ahead. Which reminds me. I need alcohol for the kit and to process the crystal once I've smelted it out of the rock. How much of our grain can I have?" Methos stared at her dumbly for a long moment. "As much as you like," he finally murmured. Now it was her turn to look surprised. Methos had been placed in charge of the food supply and as they'd all learned in the past few weeks he was notoriously tightfisted with it. Foraging to supplement their stores had become a way of life for almost everybody whenever they were out in the field. "I don't need much," she told him carefully, obviously unsure of his reaction. "Maybe a couple of sacks." "Did I ever tell you I was a doctor in a former incarnation?" he suddenly asked, picking up a large bowl and sitting down in the chair on which it had been placed as he held it in his lap. "Several times, in fact." "Colonel O'Neill mentioned it," she nodded dubiously. "One of the reasons I started this project was because I considered the possibility that one of us might be injured severely enough to require surgery at some point. I think we'd all like it better if you had sterile equipment to work with. I know I would." Methos smiled wryly, absently running his fingers over the rocks. He would never have thought to make iodine or alcohol, he realized. Wine and vinegar both purified water and he'd already purchased some of each, which they used exclusively for cooking now. But later... He would have had them carry about several jars of the stuff wherever they went. Methos gave a tiny shake of his head. Leave it to the modern mind to micro-miniaturize even that! Why carry gallons, when a few ounces will do? Leaving more room to carry other equally valuable supplies. And he knew how to make several good salves, but none with the potency a proper surgery required. Why they could even make aspirin and refined penicillin if they wanted! "It's a brilliant idea, Major Carter," he told her honestly. "I'd no clue you were a chemist as well." "Sort of comes with the science geek territory," she shrugged, giving him a self-deprecating smile. "And if there's anything you can think of that we might need, I'd be happy to give it a try." "I'll make a list," he said, glancing down at the bowl as he moved to put it aside. "What's this?" he asked curiously as something familiar caught his eye. Samantha leaned forward to look as he held the stone up. "Carnelian probably. That sample came from an area where it's common in the rock." "Carnelian," he repeated, utterly stunned. "What else is in these?" he waved a hand across the table. "Besides that?" Carter shrugged. "Mostly quartz, a little hematite and tigers eye, maybe some amethyst. Why?" "Those are all semi-precious stones," Methos told her, but her expression remained only vaguely curious. With a wide grin he leaned forward impulsively and kissed her on the nose, laughing softly as she fell back, completely startled. "Forgive me, Major, but I think you just found our ticket to Egypt!" Chapter 11 Methos sat by the hearth hand tooling a long strip of deerskin into a sword belt. It was delicate, painstaking work, but after two months in this place he finally had the time. He listened to the rain pattering on the ground outside and wondered how Teal'c and Daniel were getting on. They'd gone out early to check the rabbit snares he'd put out and had yet to return, while Jack was happy in his little potter's shed making more ceramic beakers, test tubes and other items for Carter's work. He glanced up as Samantha accidentally dropped the tool she'd been working with trying chip out another good sized stone. That too was painstaking work and everyone took a turn at it, because they didn't dare try to smelt it out of the rock. Their control over the kiln's temperature wasn't that good and they'd already ruined several precious batches of stones. "Damn it!" she hissed as she bent to pick up the implement, angrily pushing back the hair that now constantly fell in her eyes. Except for Teal'c they were all looking a bit shaggy these days. Methos was about to offer her one of the many ribbons he'd bought for her use -- things which she'd glanced at and then ignored -- when she turned to him and started to speak. Methos held up a hand and shook his head. "In Greek, please," he told her quietly. As promised, Methos had been working with the team on language skills and custom. Daniel, of course, was almost completely fluent in Greek and in contemporary Ancient Egyptian, rather than the hybrid dialects of Abydos and the Goa'uld. Teal'c was also doing well, though Methos didn't think he'd have to do much talking on the journey. All he'd need to do was stand there looking dangerous and most people would give him anything -- until of course they got to Egypt, where he'd just naturally blend in. O'Neill and Carter on the other hand were problem students, and he'd already given up on ever getting them past the basics in Egyptian. As for their education in Greek -- which he considered an absolute necessity --- neither was very musically inclined and Ancient Greek was an inflected language where the pitch, lilt and tone of the spoken word often determined its meaning. To improve their skills Methos had decreed that they speak only Greek when they were alone with him. Jack chafed, but went along with it. Carter simply forgot -- constantly. Samantha frowned, but nodded, asking her question with the most atrocious pronunciation he'd heard from her yet, completely changing the meaning. Feigning affront, Methos glanced at his crotch then looked her in the eye. "No," he told her indignantly. "You may not borrow my fat man!" Appalled, Carter covered her mouth, blushing fiercely until she started to laugh. Which of course set Methos to laughing. "I'm sorry," she finally choked, gesturing at the table. "It's just that I'm so frustrated!" Another horrified expression of embarrassment crossed her face as his eyes went wide and Samantha realized she'd done it again -- and in her own native tongue! Eventually, they both stopped laughing. Methos put aside his work and stood up, stretching the kinks out of his muscles. "Enough," he told her gently. "I'm giving you the afternoon off. I think we both need it at this point." She nodded gratefully and sighed, again brushing back the annoying locks of hair. "Would you like me to do something about that?" Methos asked kindly, finally taking pity on her plight. "Don't tell me," Samantha smiled tiredly. "You also do hair and nails." "After a fashion," he agreed. "Come on, instead of language what do you say to working on cultural assimilation for a change of pace?" She glanced guiltily down at the stones. "They'll keep," Methos insisted. "And besides," he added, trying to alleviate any embarrassment she might be feeling. "I was planning this for everyone later in the week. Maybe it'll be easier to remember to speak the language if you look like one of the people," he suggested. "Well, I obviously need a break," she finally nodded. "Okay, you're on. What do I do?" Methos grabbed a chair and set it by the hearth. "All you need to do is sit," he told her, going to the corner as she moved. He opened one of the smaller chests and pulled out a box of toiletries containing all the things a woman of some status would require daily. Then, going back to the hearth he laid out the items he needed, putting the rest aside. "What are those for?" Samantha asked as Methos rested a pair of hollow, tube shaped clay implements with bone handles near the fire. He told her and from the expression on her face, for a moment he thought he'd get slapped. "You had curling irons?! And you didn't bother to tell me?!" she accused, voicing her ire. Methos smiled impishly. "You never asked." "What else have you got in there?" she said, reaching for the box. Methos grinned. There was a woman under that uniform after all, he thought with relief. "Perfumed oils, scented wax, combs, ribbons, cosmetics and a few pieces of jewelry." "Cosmetics?" she repeated hopefully. "Not Revlon, I'm afraid. Or whatever it is girls wear nowadays. But it gets the job done." Carter opened the box and looked at the confusing array of tiny jars and unmixed powders. "Looks complicated," she said a little wistfully. "Takes a bit of practice," he agreed. "But you'll get the hang of it eventually." She gave him a long considering stare then handed over the box. "Okay, Pierson, let's see what you've got. Make me pretty." Methos accepted the challenge with a grace born of centuries. "Too late for that I'm afraid. Your parents got there long before me." *** It was with some trepidation a few hours later that Colonel O'Neill approached the house. The windows, covered in thickly waxed linen, glowed brightly in the late afternoon shadows which harbored more rain for the night. But that was typical. Wet in the morning, again around lunch and sometimes in the evening the skies would open and the deluge would start all over again. What was not typical was the sound of music and laughter coming from inside. By this time of day everyone was usually too tired to do more than practice their language skills or listen to Pierson's lectures on proper Greek etiquette. Which was never too onerous since he generally interspersed these talks with amusing anecdotes and stories of his own social gaffs and faux pas. So, he was more than a little surprised when he opened the door to find everyone dressed in blankets. The beds Teal'c had made had been moved and set into a half circle at the side of the room -- and in the center Methos and Daniel were line dancing to the sound of the Jaffa's flute. Nearby, Carter lay on one of the beds, a wine cup in her hand, looking spectacular. Hair curled up in an attractive do and set with decorative combs and ribbons, she giggled as Daniel tripped over his feet when Teal'c suddenly broke off his tune. "You guys decided to have a blow out and you didn't invite me?!" O'Neill complained, pretending to be hurt, but in truth secretly pleased to see his team relaxed and happy for the first time in months. "Uh, sorry, Jack," Daniel apologized, faintly embarrassed as Carter stood, nervously putting aside her cup. "We kind of got lost in the moment." "Apparently." They stared guiltily at him, except for Methos, who showed not the least bit of remorse. O'Neill frowned, looking them over one by one. "Well, don't I get a bed sheet?" he finally asked feigning annoyance. "Right this way, Colonel Satan, sir!" Methos grinned as he bowed O'Neill toward Carter's bedroom. The colonel gave Samantha a surprised glance. Her room was strictly off limits unless the door was open and the man inside had her express permission to be there. "It's okay, sir," she told him, blushing faintly. "Getting these on..." She absently touched one of the many folds and draperies of her chiton. "Well, it gets a little...personal." O'Neill paused as he digested her words. "You mean you're not..." He couldn't even bring himself to say it as he stared at their faces. "None of you?!" Methos chuckled as the others stood there looking clearly uncomfortable. "You want to be authentic, don't you?" O'Neill grimaced. "I was kinda hoping that was all just a nasty rumor." "Afraid not," Methos shook his head. "And with all due respect, Colonel, underwear is highly overrated. But not to worry," he grinned widely. "You're fat man is safe in my hands." Carter unaccountably burst out laughing, while O'Neill turned red and stalked into the bedroom. "You leave him out of this, Pierson!" The door slammed behind him and Methos sighed. He was definitely going to have to add alum to their list of supplies. His chances of getting O'Neill into a public bathhouse, he suddenly realized, had just taken a nose dive. Chapter 12 The morning was bright with sunshine and birdsong. A perfect spring day, Methos thought, inhaling deeply. He didn't know what lay ahead and at the moment he didn't really care. Now, that was not entirely true, Methos suddenly realized with a touch of chagrin. He did care. About these people, about the future, and about his own place in this crazy, screwed up universe. Okay, so he cared, Methos admitted silently. But not, he grinned, enough to spoil his pleasure at the first truly beautiful morning since they'd been here. There would be no rain today, he was certain of it. Behind him, the door opened quietly and he heard O'Neill's soft greeting. The others were probably still sleeping, today being everyone's day off. A special allowance the colonel had made as long as they all shared in the housekeeping chores. Methos returned his greeting with a nod. "We should leave in a few days, a week at most," he said quietly. "We?" O'Neill asked curiously. "Yes," Methos nodded. "You and I. We. Go to Delphi. Buy horses. Drink beer. Wine. And get arrested for loitering." "You had me up until the horses," O'Neill sighed, sitting down on one of benches Teal'c had placed to either side of the door. "But," he finally nodded. "I'd definitely like to recon the area. So, what's the plan?" "Same as before," Methos shrugged. "We walk. We shop. We come back here. Only this time it's safe enough for you to go with me." "How's that?" O'Neill asked. Methos opened his arms wide as if to encompass the world. "It's spring!" he exclaimed enthusiastically. "I take it that's a big deal around here," O'Neill responded, unimpressed. "Only if you're alive," Methos rolled his eyes and sat down beside him. "Listen, in a few days the roads will be dry. The mares have already started foaling and the yearlings will be coming to market." O'Neill gave him an odd stare. "I'm a little fuzzy on the whole Son of Flicka thing, but keep going." Methos sighed and did his best to try and convey the true meaning of spring to a child of the modern era. "Don't you get it, O'Neill? Farmers who need seed and tools will travel to the markets to sell the extra cloth and flax their women have woven during the winter. Knowing this, spice merchants, potters, arms makers, dye makers, perfumers and jewelers from everywhere will come to the cities. It's the one time of year when strangers are not only welcome, but expected. In the villages, on the roads, it doesn't matter. And most important of all, you can look at anything and everything and no one will question why." "Good cover," O'Neill nodded slowly. "I like it. But why don't we all just leave now?" "Because it's also the time of year that most slaves are bought and sold. And when the wealthy come to shop -- or take what they want if they can't make a price. They're bored from being cooped up too long. Thinking of getting that new slave that will entertain them for the rest of the year before discarding him or her to the fields or the kitchens. They make the laws, so they can do what they like and they know it. The others aren't safe yet, and they won't be until we get back with the rest of our disguise." "The horses?" O'Neill asked, surprised. "Them too," Methos nodded. "But I was thinking more along the line of oxen..." *** "So what do you think?" Methos asked as they reached the hills overlooking Delphi. For three days they had walked, talking little as O'Neill contemplated the land and its people. To say he wasn't impressed would have been an overstatement. He was, in fact, quite clearly disappointed. Now, looking down on the untidy sprawl of fieldstone houses and wooden huts with thatched roofs that was Delphi, O'Neill had to shake his head in amazement. "I thought this was supposed to be the cradle of Western Civilization," he commented. "Give them another three centuries and they'll be well on their way," Methos responded lightly. "Right now, they're about a half step up from subsistence farming. No written language to speak of and no concept of modern economics." "I thought Daniel said they had a pretty high level of sophistication just a few hundred years ago?" he asked as they started down. "Those were the Myceneans. You know, the guys who fought at Troy," Methos explained. "They lost control of the country when the big earthquake hit about three hundred years ago. God, that was a nasty piece of business," he shook his head, remembering. "Not a stone left standing for hundreds of miles in every direction of the epicenter. People just sat on what was left of their homes until they keeled over and died. Starvation and disease took thousands more and the aristocracy could do nothing for them. They were just as bad off as the rest. Took another century before it was all gone and the Dorians had everything, but what you see here is the end result of that collapse. A tribal, agrarian society just beginning to feel settled enough to start exploring the world around them. In a quarter century or so they'll actually start trading with their neighbors." O'Neill nodded. "Looks pretty much like every other piss poor, pathetic little dirt ball we've been to," he murmured as they reached the road and joined the steady stream of travelers moving toward the town. "All they need is a gate and a few snakeheads coming by every so often." "True," Methos agreed quietly. "But this is your world and these are your ancestors. Not some strangers who might be descended from a handful of kidnap victims left on another planet. These people will eventually have living, breathing children. Some of whom might watch the same television shows, listen to the same music and dream about owning the same kind of car you do." "You really know how to take the fun out of it, don't you?" O'Neill commented. Methos smiled kindly. "I tell you this, because there is no gate to run back to when things go wrong. No back up, no SGC, no escape -- at least for the moment. You will see things here. Things that are so unconscionably cruel that you won't be able to fathom how you could ever have been born of such stock. Even if none of your antecedents spring from this place, somewhere in your past there is one just like it." "If you're trying to tell me not to be Daniel, running around trying to save the universe then you're preaching to the choir, Pierson." "That's another thing," Methos pointed out. "It's time you started calling me by my proper name." "Piersoneaus?" Methos hid a smile. "Come, Yanos, son of Neleus, there's something I want to show you." O'Neill grimaced at the name Methos had given him before they'd left. The same way he'd named the others. Samantas, Danaeus and Teulokos. He hated it, but he'd thought Cornelios was worse, so he'd finally accepted it. A little while later they'd reached the town's outskirts, entering with the rest of the morning rush. There was no gate, no outer wall, and no means of defense except the swords and daggers everyone seemed to carry. The streets were narrow and cramped. Only wide enough for a tall man to stretch out his arms and touch the walls on either side. The place was noisy, claustrophobic and oddly enough, both strange and familiar at the same time. O'Neill had seen dozens of villages not too unlike this one in his travels on Earth. And they all pretty much felt the same. Though he'd never had that same feeling on any of the other worlds he'd been too. But then, this was his sun and his world, and somehow, his mind and body knew it. "Something smells good," O'Neill murmured as they passed a shop with an open front. Methos paused in his step. "This town is big enough to have a real bakery," he explained. "I see the proprietor has just put out some fresh baked loaves. Hungry?" "Oh, yeah," he nodded. "For fresh bread and not that flat, pasty stuff you and Daniel make? Anytime." "Good," Methos grinned. "Let's see if he'll take a nickel for a couple of his finest." There was a little haggling, but the man seemed very taken with the unusual coinage, smiling when he bit it and throwing in an extra loaf because he was certain he'd just robbed the two strangers. Methos led him over to an alley around the side of the building, hunkering down against the wall out of the flow of traffic to sit and eat. O'Neill shrugged and joined him. With the first bite Jack simply closed his eyes and savored. Warm, fresh, soft delicious bread. A little more grainy than wheat bread and made with honey instead of sugar, but it was still wonderful to the taste. "This is great!" O'Neill exclaimed after another two bites. "Glad you like it," Methos nodded. "Want to see how it's made?" O'Neill gave him a quizzical look. "Sure," he finally said as Methos stood and led the way to the back of the house. "I can give my compliments to the baker." The rear entry to the courtyard stood open and Methos looked inside then stepped back, twitching his head at the doorway. "You're in luck, Yanos. The baker is in." O'Neill moved around him, standing stock still as he laid eyes on the baker. No big shouldered, round bellied, happy stereotype in a white apron covered in flour dust stood to meet him. But a pair of thin, wretched looking women bound in thick, heavy leather collars that covered their necks up to their mouths knelt on a hard stone floor kneading and pounding. "They will never taste the bread they bake," Methos' voice was a dark whisper from behind. "Never do more than crawl from their corner to the wash basin, so that they cannot even lick the flour from their hands. They get the dry crusts that no one wants to use even for feeding geese and hens. And when they cannot lift their arms to knead they'll be sent into the streets to sell the bread and never dare to try and eat it for fear of being sent to the mines." O'Neill looked pale and disgusted as he stepped back out, tossing the rest of his bread aside. "Point taken -- Methos." The Immortal sighed as he watched O'Neill walk away. He shrugged and picked up the bread, not bothering to dust it off as he quickly ducked back into the kitchen. Over in the far corner a pile of straw served as bedding for the slaves. Too weary to do more than glance at him, the women hardly looked up from their work until he tucked both his loaf and O'Neill's half eaten one as well as the extra loaf they'd been given under the straw. Then their eyes went wide with fear and consternation. No doubt, Methos thought, they were afraid the master might think it stolen. "Good bread, little one," he gently pinched the cheek of a girl who couldn't have been more than twelve. "Wait until they're all in bed," he warned. "Then fill your bellies." She couldn't even nod in her collar, so she blinked her eyes to show she understood. Shocked by his own actions Methos left hurriedly, wondering what in the world had come over him. He should never have given them hope like that. Never have given them food which might prolong their lives and their suffering by another minute. It was an act of kindness completely inconsistent with the times. And he knew better! Especially after his lecture to O'Neill. Yet, without thinking, he'd done it. "Just couldn't resist, could you?" Jack accused as he rejoined the colonel. Methos only shrugged, hiding his own internal quandary. It had been a cruel thing to do to the man, but... "You had to understand," he explained gently. "Not that," O'Neill shook his head. "The bread -- you phony!"