Jack the Tok’ra and Nbutu’s big mistake

By Biltong

Sent on a political study course to the UN, Jack and Tofu somehow end up crossing swords with international terrorists.

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Jack the Tok’ra was not a happy man. Well, the Jack part of Jack the Tok’ra was not a happy man, to be precise. On the other hand, the Tofu part of Jack the Tok’ra was having a ball - unfortunately...!

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"Diplomatic functions are what you make of them," Tofu cautioned. "Unlike you, I happen to find the mix of ethnic people here in the fair city of New York intriguing."

"They are boring," Jack muttered mentally. "This mix of ethnic people are called diplomats." He made the word sound as distasteful as he could. "to make things even worse, they have absolutely no sense of reality."

"So you kept reminding everyone 'ad nauseum'," Tofu said wryly. "Why don’t you relax and try to enjoy everything?" The tiny Tok’ra hummed happily.

"I know I am."

"I know you are, and I find that a bit schizophrenic," Jack muttered, his eyes trailing the path of some bloated beribboned members of some African country or other.

"No, scratch that," Jack said miserably. "A lot schizophrenic…"

To tell the truth, Jack hadn’t been happy for a week, ever since General Hammond in cahoots (he was sure) with the Tok’ra high council had decided that he and Tofu needed diplomatic 'polishing'.

Precisely how much diplomatic 'polishing' a week of endless United Nations Security Council meetings would give him was debatable he thought sourly, but nevertheless, Jack the diplomat was now in New York like a good boy and he was now officially unhappy.

No, make that suicidal, and it was now day three.

"Stop being such a wimp," Tofu said.

He swore that Tofu’s happy mood was fake. It had to be. This day especially had been long and as about as productive as a Death Valley prostitute, and now, now they had finally been reprieved, all he was treated to was a packed ballroom filled with inane airheads, a room rapidly taking on a greenhouse-like effect due to everyone talking at once.

"Ah come on, it really isn’t that bad," Tofu chided him. "At least we still have our mysterious bodyguard to investigate. Surely that‘s good for something?

Jack sighed, reluctantly agreeing with the resident inhabiting the lower back portion of his brain, a section he swore he had needed at one point in time, before it got snaked out and flattened.

"I flattened nothing. There was plenty of room," Tofu said snidely before regaining interest in the shadow they had gained three days ago, as soon as they had stepped off the flight from Colorado.

"Is he still there?"

Jack sighed again and flicked a glance at a man leaning casually against the far wall. Whoever their tail was, he was rather good looking if in a 'bookish' kind of way.

In fact, if he hadn’t known better, Jack would have sworn that it was Daniel back there, if Daniel had taken to dying his hair light blonde. It wasn’t Daniel, however. Whoever this man was he was far more dangerous than Daniel Jackson could ever be, especially if he were NID.

"Yep."

Tofu paused reflectively.

"Any idea as to who he is?"

"Nope," Jack replied, still smarting about the 'plenty of room' comment. He stared around the large room again and mused about calling Guinness. Surely that amount of hot air being lost by that many people all congregated in one spot would constitute a record of some sort?

Hell, talking of Guinness…

"Can’t we find out who he is?" Tofu asked plaintively, breaking into his thoughts with a very Daniel-like whine.

"Not without tipping our hand," Jack said patiently. "I know you’re curious, as am I, but we’re meant to be diplomats from a newly independent foreign country. Diplomats are long winded and dumb, like the rest of this lot, and not known for noticing tails."

"You are unhappy," Tofu noted.

"Now you notice," Jack snarled. "Besides, he’s probably NID," he continued, looking for a waiter.

"And you’d rather kill than converse with them," Tofu said knowledgably.

"You got it," Jack said his sigh turning into a yawn. The day long session on terrorism and its threat to world peace had been actually interesting, until the ambassador to Mongolia of all places had demanded the floor and had proceeded to drone on about nothing in particular for what seemed like days. After that Jack had simply switched off and allowed Tofu to take over, instructing the fascinated Tok’ra to wake him if there were any pertinent points.

Apparently there had been none.

‘At least you got some sleep and if you dare brave the crush over there, supper is catered for," Tofu said.

"I’d rather have my fingernails pulled off than fight for a weak drink and a soggy canapé," Jack moaned, making Tofu laugh.

"Or you could talk to the ambassador to that African country whose name escapes me," Tofu said encouragingly, turning Jack to face a dapper man with a shining face who was bearing down on him with what looked like serious intent.

"God no," Jack moaned. "That’s President Whatizname, everybody’s favorite tyrant."

"There is actually a President Whatsitsname?" Tofu said innocently.

Jack clucked his tongue in irritation.

"No he’s-"

"Mister Ambassador?"

The voice was lisping and somehow sounded a bit like Jar-Jar Binks, Jack thought sourly. He deliberately turned away from the source of annoyance, scanning the packed room as if looking for someone.

Anyone.

Preferably intelligent.

Fat chance.

Crap.

"I need my P90 and a full clip," he said plaintively, making Tofu snort in amusement.

"And there I thought that cultural efforts were wasted on you," he replied, almost making Jack grin.

"Hush," he said, hearing Jar-Jar Binks again and realizing there was no escape. "I need serious decorum here."

"Oh purleze," Tofu said sarcastically, but nevertheless kept quiet.

"Mister Am-bass-a-dor?"

Sighing softly, Jack turned to face the small dark skinned man and plastered a smile on his face.

"President Nbutu," he said warmly, thankfully remembering the man's name. "What a pleasant surprise."

To his amusement, the man blinked, as if stunned, before he continued a loud voice.

"Are you coming to the CAD banquet tonight?"

"The what banquet?" Tofu asked incredulously.

"The CAD banquet," Jack replied internally, pleased to be one up on Tofu. "It stands for the Central African Democracy. Don’t you watch TV?"

"You cad," Tofu said sounding amused.

"A cad is a dishonest person, and I am not a dishonest person," Jack said haughtily, meanwhile shaking Nbutu’s outstretched hand and restraining the desire to wipe it on his clothes as soon at he got it back.

The only program he watched on television - besides the Hockey that was - was the news, and according to them the toad stood in front of him was a modern day Hitler, feared by friend and foe alike.

"They say he’s mad," Jack mused, blinking into empty black eyes. "They say he destroyed his neighboring country just because they pissed him off."

"He doesn’t look much," Tofu said disparagingly.

"He isn’t much," Jack replied. "His country’s population is starving, his government rife with corruption, and I bet he has a really fat Swiss bank account."

"So why don’t his people get rid of him?" Tofu asked.

"The opposition is far worse," Jack said. "Unfortunately."

"You Tau’ri are strange," Tofu said.

"You’ll get no argument there," Jack said, still smiling down at the man. His internal conversation had taken mere seconds and Nbutu was still awaiting a reply.

"We Tok’ra have no money to spare," he said cautiously. He had quickly learned that all banquets held at, or close to the UN always involved donations of some kind or another, unfortunately.

"Even to rid a brother country of vicious rebels?" Nbutu said persuasively. "Surely, as a new country, just like us, you can find it in your heart to help?"

"The CAD is a rich country," Jack said smoothly. "You are sitting on oil, for cr-, goodness sakes. Why, if you have this to your advantage, are you even bothering looking for donations?"

"Careful Jack." Tofu warned. "You don’t like him, I don’t like him, and sure as anything, half this room doesn’t like him, but he is still the president of his country, and for that reason alone deserves respect."

"Our oil is drying up," Nburu said sadly, making a complete lie of the Shell Oil report that had been distributed to all the diplomats yesterday evening.

"Really?" Jack said dangerously. "I thought…"

"We think that we would be delighted to attend your banquet," a smooth voice said, taking his elbow in a firm grip. "Forgive Ambassador O’Neill; he woke up feeling out of sorts this morning."

It was their mysterious shadow. Up close he didn’t resemble Daniel at all, apart from the general shape, glasses, and square jaw. Up close, looking into eyes as dark as his own, Jack knew that his shadow was just as lethal as he could be, a very frightening thing to have watching your back, especially if he were NID.

"Intriguing," Tofu said, not understanding Jacks caution. "Why now of all times does he make his presence known?"

"Dunno," Jack replied. "Let’s find out."

"I woke up fine," Jack snapped, feigning irritation at the interruption. He was interested in how their shadow would react.

Calmly it seemed.

"No you didn’t," the man said, his face remaining pleasant. "Your behavior towards our colleague is enough proof of this."

"Back off slightly," Tofu warned.

That wasn’t part of Jack’s plan, not with this man.

This man was a man of action, not one who would usually be detailed to watch a boring diplomat. The mere fact that he was made Jack feel cold, an emotion carefully hidden from Tofu. If the NID knew what a Tok’ra really was, and had sent this man in response to this information, they could be in deep trouble.

"Why? He’s gotta be NID," he said, shaking off his misgivings for a while. What would be would be, and there was no use in getting old before his time.

Besides, he wasn’t always right.

Tofu snorted in irritation.

"He seems to know what he’s doing."

"You hope," Jack mused, reluctantly agreeing.

Ignoring Tofu’s reply, Jack turned away from the CAD delegation and stared hard at the man.

"Who are you and what are you doing?" he asked in a low voice.

Anger flared in the dark eyes before being swiftly extinguished.

The grip on his elbow got tighter. "I’ll explain in a moment," the agent whispered. "For the moment I wish you to trust me, okay?"

"Why…" Jack said, only to be effortlessly cut off again.

"Eight thirty, The 'Le Grand' on 52nd? The man asked Nbutu, getting a nod in reply.

"We’d love to attend," he said warmly.

"Wonderful," Nbutu said, almost clapping his hands together in delight. "I’ll see you later then," he said, and trotted off, leaving Jack feeling disgruntled.

"Now’s your chance," Tofu said.

Indeed it was.

"I thought the NID only had a mandate to watch, but not interfere," Jack said not missing the quickly suppressed flash of surprise evident on the agents face. His answer however was as urbane as the rest of him.

"Indeed we do," Mister Ambassador," he said, confirming his employer. "However, I happen to know that President Nbutu has a habit of killing anybody that refuses him, and seeing as you are my assignment, I don’t wish you dead."

"That might be a bit embarrassing," Jack agreed, backing off slightly. Perhaps he was wrong after all.

The agent gave him a tight smile. "Yes sir," he said quietly.

"How do you know this?" Jack asked, suddenly remembering to act dumb, although he had a feeling it was way too late for that.

"He has a reputation," the agent said, before stiffening as if suddenly realizing he had broken cover. "Sorry Mister Ambassador," he said. "I had no choice but to intervene."

"Who are you?" Jack asked cautiously.

"Agent Brent Baldacci, Mister Ambassador, the man said, now looking like the complete civil servant. "I was detailed to guard you."

He shrugged. "I was, well, I was ordered to keep an eye on you by my superiors, and when I saw Nbutu heading your way I knew that there could be trouble, so I intervened."

He took a deep breath, trying and failing to look humble. "I hope you don’t mind."

"Mister Ambassador? Tofu said incredulously "I think this guy has no idea what we are."

"He doesn’t," Jack flashed back, praying that he was right. "No one apart from the President, Joint Chiefs and SGC do - I hope," he couldn’t help adding.

"Really?"

"You would rather allow the NID to know that they have a real live Goa’uld in their midst?" Jack asked Tofu seriously. "We’d be on an operating table before the day was out."

"I guess", Tofu agreed. "But this Baldacci doesn’t look that threatening."

"You wouldn’t know threatening if it came along and bit you," Jack said. "He isn’t as sweet as he looks, but even then, he still isn’t as dangerous as his masters. Of that I’m certain."

"So you finally decided to save my butt?" Jack asked Baldacci, testing the waters.

He was raked with a pair of amused eyes. "Hell no," Baldacci said. "I could have saved your butt days ago, like when you remarked that the color of the ambassador to Mali’s dress matched her eyes, but tonight was the first night that you actively needed my help."

"It was a red dress, after all," Tofu chuckled, still amused by the incident that had taken place days ago. "And boy was she upset."

"Sorry that I ignored you for so long," Jack muttered. Now he was actually conversing with the agent Jack felt like a heel. "It’s just--."

"You feel like you’re out of your depth and looking like a tasty trout in a barrel full of sharks?" Baldacci asked, eyebrows raised.

"Good analogy," Tofu crowed, making Jack grin slightly.

"Yes. That and the fact that I was ordered to do this," he agreed. "As you may gather, I’m not the diplomatic type and I was--."

"Sulking?" Tofu asked.

"--wary," Jack finished. "I had no idea as to your intentions."

"I was sent here to watch your back, Mister Ambassador, that’s all, I swear." He hesitated, looking shrewd. "Or should I rather call you Colonel O’Neill?"

"Colonel O’Neill will do," Jack said with a sigh. He snagged a drink from a passing waiter, taking a healthy gulp.

"I’m not really an ambassador," Jack volunteered, before correcting himself. "Well I am, but I wish I weren’t but I have to be, so here I am."

"Tragic, if convoluted," Tofu remarked sarcastically.

"I see," Baldacci said, plainly not seeing at all.

"Now, about Nbutu," Jack said, steering Baldacci through the throngs of people until they reached a relatively deserted spot. ‘What does he want?"

"Money," Baldacci said, his face twisting into a scowl. "I’m no diplomat myself, but from what I can gather he is lobbying hard to get enough sponsorship so he can attack his neighbor to the north, a place called Montaba."

"And we’re meant to say, ‘sure, here, take the money and kill hundreds of people with it?’" Jack asked incredulously. "According to CNN, his neighbors are still recovering from the biological agent his agents placed in Lake Montabababba. What threat does he deem them to be now?"

Jack shook his head in disgust. "In fact, if I’m right, the security council has scheduled a hearing on just this matter for tomorrow."

"You’re correct," Tofu said. "That’s why Nbutu is here in Washington in the first place, and not readying his army - because the UN summoned him."

"You’re right," Baldacci said, unknowingly confirming what Tofu was saying. "According to the briefing we security people get, both he and President Barra of Montaba have been ordered to attend the UN debate scheduled for tomorrow." Baldacci shrugged. "Whilst the UN can’t interfere in the internal affairs of a country, they can try and knock some sense into their leaders. This debate is one way of doing it."

Jack frowned. "You seem to be remarkably well informed, especially for an agent of the NID," he said suspiciously.

Baldacci shrugged. "My father was a diplomatic envoy," he said. "We traveled the world when I was younger, including staying in Montaba for a while." He gave Jack a small smile, unwinding slightly. "I eventually joined the Navy, because after traveling all over the place with my Pa. I found I couldn’t stay in one place for too long anymore."

"You saw the destruction of Montaba?" Jack asked, surprised. The transcript of what had happened to the populace of that country had kept him awake the day before, and the echoes of those dispassionate reports had kept him awake most of the night too.

Baldacci nodded, his face hard. "At first the government thought it was a strain of influenza. It was only when people began to die horribly that the worst was suspected."

"It was in the water," Jack said.

Baldacci nodded, his eyes still trailing Nbutu as he worked the far side of the room.

"Lake Montaba had been seeded with some type of bacterium fatal to humans. Thousands died before a cure was found."

"The world suspected the CAD," Jack mused, remembering the news reports at the time.

"But no one could prove it." Baldacci said.

"That’s why you dislike Nbutu so much," Jack said knowledgably.

"And that I believe is the reason why my bosses detailed me to watch you," Baldacci said. "Because they knew that he would be all over you like a rash, wanting money and anything else you could give him. They didn’t want him getting anything."

"He’s unsympathetic towards the United States?" Jack asked, knowing he was but wanting Baldacci’s take on things.

Baldacci’s mouth twisted. "He wasn’t elected," he said. "The US State Department dislikes people like that. He took power in a bloody coup, assassinating the entire democratically elected cabinet."

"I hear his opposition isn’t so hot either," Jack asked innocently.

"Rejects and fallouts from his own army," Baldacci spat. "They aren’t much of a threat, considering that Nbutu kills any major opposition he finds.

"He doesn’t take rejection well?" Jack asked facetiously.

"Not at all," Baldacci said. "That’s why I had to finally break cover and come to your rescue."

"He was too friendly?" Jack asked.

Baldacci nodded. "Yes. Way too friendly, especially to you." He stopped dead, his face flushed as he obviously realized he had spoken out of turn, but Jack just smiled.

"I have been doing a good job of losing friends and alienating people recently, haven’t I?" he mused making Baldacci smile.

"You have," he agreed. "The way you’ve been going on you need a bodyguard."

"I do?" Jack asked, surprised.

"Yes." Baldacci said, a small smile on his face. "Despite what you may think, not all diplomats are as harmless as they look."

"Then thank you for the rescue," Jack murmured.

Baldacci shrugged. "My pleasure, I think."

"Now what?" Jack asked.

Baldacci shrugged, looking innocent. "We go to a party I guess. Unless your government objects to this?"

"They’ll leave it up to me," Jack said, deliberately avoiding the answer. "I am actually the first ambassador ever. Even so, I don’t wish to attend another damn party tonight."

Baldacci gave him a sympathetic smile.

"Well, about that. You don’t really need to attend. I’ll go on my own and extend my apologies on your behalf."

"Agh," Jack said, abruptly capitulating. Despite his initial reservations on hearing that Baldacci was NID, he was actually beginning to like the man.

"Now that I have you at my side I should hopefully be prevented from donating my shirt. Besides," he said optimistically, "perhaps Nbutu has some great caterers in."

"We can only hope," Baldacci said.

"I think I’d prefer it if he had sent a hit squad after me," Jack said gloomily a couple of hours later, staring around at the tiny room.

"I know what you mean," Baldacci said, looking equally as miserable.

"Do you think that the management of this hotel doesn’t trust Nbutu to settle his bills?" Jack asked, making his companion snort with laughter.

"Would you?" he replied. "After the reaming he’s sure to get from the Security Council tomorrow, he’s gonna be mightily pissed. He’ll most probably skip town immediately."

"I guess," Jack agreed, taking a good look around.

The Le Grand Hotel could never be accused of pulling out all the stops. The CAD delegation had been given what was obviously one of the smallest banqueting halls they had, in which President Nbutu now held court, as if he hadn’t a care in the world. Small in stature with a profusely sweating ebony skin that glistened in the dimmed light, he didn’t seem a petty dictator. It was only his tight ring of bodyguards and fawning aides that gave the game away. They all looked nervous.

There was also very few people evident, apart from themselves, which was a pity in a way considering that the row of tables arranged in a neat rectangle dead center in the room were all groaning under the weight of the assorted food.

"I thought the Central African Democracy had a food crisis, hence the need for donations in the first place?" Jack muttered, making his companion smile.

"They do. Can’t you tell?"

"Of course," Jack replied sarcastically. How remiss of me."

"It happens," Baldacci shrugged. "I long ago came to realize that no politician has a good grasp on reality. Nbutu is no different."

"Perhaps we can leave, before anyone notices us," Jack said hopefully.

Baldacci gave him a long look. "Are you kidding?" he asked sardonically. "We are talking politicians here; they can recognize an easy kill a mile off."

"Uh-uh," Jack muttered, watching as their host peeled away from his group of his advisors and approached, hands outstretched and smile in place. "Chief Hyena at twenty paces."

"We’re doomed," Baldacci said in a high pitched voice, making Jack smile.

"You know, I do like this guy, even if he is NID," Tofu said, and despite his initial reservations, Jack was inclined to agree.

Luckily, as the evening wore on, the small room soon filled up, mostly with the assorted ‘hangers on’ that frequented every party in New York, but Jack and Baldacci didn’t mind. More bodies meant more people for Nbutu to work on, thus effectively leaving them alone, and once left alone, Jack then proceeded to find out as much about his new companion as possible.

"So you’re in the Navy?" he asked.

Baldacci nodded. "Lieutenant Commander," he said.

"So what made you join the NID?" Jack asked. "Ship sink?"

Baldacci gave him an amused glance. "Better pay," he said.

"Enjoying it so far?" Jack asked casually.

"Oh sure," Baldacci snorted. "The woman, the action…"

"The boring people you have to guard," Jack finished, making the younger man flush in embarrassment.

"I didn’t say that," he protested, making Jack smile.

"You didn’t need to," he said.

"If only he knew what you actually were," Tofu said.

"I’d rather live thank you," Jack replied.

"Pardon?" Baldacci replied, and Jack realized he had almost spoken aloud.

"Whoops," Tofu said.

Jack gave Baldacci a grin. "Sorry about that," he said. "I tend to speak to myself a lot."

"Intelligent conversation?" Baldacci asked, making Jack’s estimation of the man go up a notch.

"Not at all," Jack grinned ignoring Tofu’s indignant growl. He snagged an exotic looking drink from an even more exotic looking waitress and smiled at his new friend.

"What say we eat as much as we can, drink as much as we can and get the hell out of Dodge as soon as we can?"

"Sounds like a good idea," Baldacci grinned back.

 

As far as plans went, it was indeed a good idea. Unfortunately for them, things didn’t turn out like they anticipated, and it was all Brent Baldacci’s fault, not that he would ever admit it, of course.

However, it was a case of "long ears", and what he and Jack heard prevented a disaster, and changed Baldacci’s life forever.

Not always for the good, he was later heard to complain.

However, debates notwithstanding, this is where that story begins....

"I gotta go and…" Jack looked around urgently, trying to locate the best way out of the banqueting hall.

"Now," he hissed. "If not sooner."

"Tell me about it," Baldacci whispered, his own voice high and tight. "The problem is, we make a move and we’re fair game."

"Crap, I hate this," Jack said, his face pinched.

They had spent an hour or two following plan A to the letter. They had drunk plenty, stuffed themselves, and thanks to military training, had both somehow managed to steer clear of Nbutu and his goons. The problem was, like with all set plans, it was the little things that threw it off - like full bladders.

"We have got to get out of here," Jack moaned, looking around desperately.

"You lead, I follow, Mister Ambassador," Baldacci said through thin lips. "Just lead fast."

"Count on it," Jack mumbled, already checking out the lie of the land.

What they needed was a route that steered him clear of any of the CAD delegation, just in case. That was proving next to impossible.

"Are they watching me?" he asked.

Baldacci shrugged, his own pinched expression now mirroring Jacks.

"Definitely, seeing as you are the only genuine target in the place," he confirmed. "There is one guard lounging against the drinks table at ten o’clock and another chatting up some ugly broad at about three." He sighed. "All in all I say we head towards the door and we’re toast."

"Again?" Jack sighed, thinking of all the toastings he had had in his life. "I must be singed and as hard as a brick by now." He pointed towards the kitchen, ignoring the odd look Baldacci was throwing his way. "What say we duck through there?"

Baldacci perked up a bit.

"It might work," he conceded.

"It will work," Jack said adamantly. He didn’t wait for a reply, merely ducking down and pushing towards freedom.

 

As bathrooms went, it wasn’t much. Cracked tiles littered the floor and the lackluster attempt at hygiene made Baldacci swear never to eat at this hotel again - ever. Obviously meant for the kitchen staffs use and therefore out of the public’s eye, it was in a shocking state, but it had an intact urinal, and that alone made him a happy man.

No, make that a relieved happy and awed man.

"You know, for an ambassador you really know the moves," he said admiringly staring down at the strong stream of urine impacting the metal wall of the urinal and therefore unaware of how Jack’s face froze for a second before relaxing back into an easy smile.

"Lots of practice," he said, zipping up his fly with a panache the other man swore never to try to emulate.

"Wife?"

"Girlfriend," Jack lied, thinking of unattainable golden hair. "I’ve had many a late night when the merest whisper of sound could have meant my doom." There was truth in that at least.

He grinned at Baldacci.

"Now, seeing as we are free at last, let’s say we blow this joint and get…"

They both stiffened as a harsh heavily accented voice reverberated around their tiny bathroom.

"Where are the monkeys now?"

"Heading for New York as we speak your Greatness," a deferential voice purred.

"Oh Crap," Jack whispered, suddenly realizing the awfulness of his situation. President Nbutu was just outside the bathroom door, with him trapped inside. He felt like a gazelle staring down a pack of lions, all too aware that there was nowhere to run to.

He could, however, hide.

"What happened to Macho?" Tofu said, amused.

"Took the day off," Jack said seriously, stealthily opening the door of the only stall the bathroom had. Seeing it was empty, he yanked Baldacci inside with him, closing the door just in time.

"Holy…"

"Ssh," Jack snapped, all too aware of the awful sight that greeted Baldacci’s eyes. The word hygiene had never been heard of when it came to their new refuge, but that was all they had, and Jack swore to make the most of it.

Besides, he had seen worse sights in his life - right?

"There are at least seven shades of brown here," Tofu said maliciously.

"If you don’t shut up I swear…" Jack said, swallowing shallowly.

"You’ll swear what?" Tofu smirked.

"You’ll take over." Jack snarled; all too aware of the gagging Baldacci pressing really intimately against places even he rarely touched. Not that he minded. If he pressed his face into Baldacci’s shoulder just like Baldacci was doing to him maybe he could breathe easier as well…

"We Tok’ra don’t just take over a host," Tofu said smugly. "You want autonomy? Then you handle it."

"Thanks," Jack said, swallowing dryly. Luckily for him, the quick conversation outside the door soon took his mind off of the awful stench surrounding them.

"What is the situation regarding the virus?" Nbutu asked. Jack heard the sound of tinkling water and then a strong smell of alcohol mixed with urine wafted into their cubicle, adding to his nightmare.

"The simians have all been injected My Excellency," Mr. Simpering voice said. "If for some amazing reason the United Nations rule against your truly heroic actions against our aggressive neighbors we will release them in Central Park as planned, assuming they are still alive."

Nbutu’s voice turned dangerous. "And if they are not?"

"It will not matter, Excellency. The disease can just as easily be spread."

"Excellent," Nobutu purred. "I have however decided to change my mind."

"You have?" the simpering voice squeaked. He now sounded terrified.

"Yes," Nbutu said. "I have decided that we will infect the dogs anyway, no matter which way the United Nations vote. After all, I have a contaminated ship to dispose of."

"Yes your Excellency," simpering voice said.

"Let the American Coast Guard find the ship. They can be our first victims. They will pass on the virus to their family and friends way before what ails them is known." His voice turned bitter. "It is fair after all that the close friends of that pig-dog Barra be the first to die."

Jack heard the sound of a zipper and wished for nasty things to happen. Unfortunately his wish wasn’t granted.

"At your command, Excellency," simpering voice said.

"Program in a course for New York harbor," Nbutu ordered. "Once this is done, remove and kill the crew. Destiny will assure us the rest."

"As you wish, Excellency."

"Make sure my private jet is waiting at Reagan Airport at six tomorrow evening," Nbutu continued. He chuckled. "It would not pay to be here when the ship finally reaches land now would it?"

Right about then Baldacci vomited.

"Jack?"

"G way." Jack was tired. All he wanted to do was sleep.

"Please Jack, you have to wake up now." Tofu’s voice was urgent, as if he had slept through his alarm and General Hammond was just about to phone him personally. That had happened once before in his life and the reverberations of that incident snapped Jack’s eyes open like he had been prodded with a pain stick.

"Where… what?" He stared around hazily, frantically trying to reach for his clothes. All he succeeded in doing was roll onto his stomach.

Tofu was still yelling at him, trying to get his attention. Finally Jack calmed down enough to listen to what his friend was saying.

"You with me now?"

"Kinda," Jack answered. He still had difficulty focusing his eyes, but now he was beginning to recall bits and pieces of what happened.

"You remember what happened?" Tofu sounded a lot calmer now as well.

"Baldacci hurled, Nbutu screamed, we got flattened?" Jack asked, desperately trying for humor.

"And then some," Tofu said, feeding Jack a graphic picture of a fist the size of Rhode Island heading for his jaw.

"I didn’t know Africans grew that big," Jack moaned, blinking the image away.

"Apparently they do," Tofu said dryly. "Teal’c is African stock as well, come to think of it, and look at him."

"Love to," Jack said miserably. "Is he standing anywhere close?"

"Nope," Tofu said sadly. "Just you, me, Baldacci and a whole heap of rope."

"Ah," Jack said, now understanding why he was lying on his front. "We tied up?"

"Like a turkey in November," Tofu said. "At Christmastime."

"Christmas is in December," Jack said absently. "Thanksgiving is in…"

"Fuck." The voice was low and harsh and definitely belonged to Baldacci.

"Sweet yet somehow oh so succulent," Tofu said wryly, rolling Jack towards where he perceived Baldacci to be lying. It was time these two lovebirds compared notes.

"Baldacci, you okay?"

Brent Baldacci blinked the spots from his eyes and looked upwards, wondering why he was seeing florescent lighting. Finally he shrugged it off and allowed his eyes to drift, taking in the fact that he was lying on his back, tied hand and feet in an impossibly white room.

A small white room at that, one that still smelt of paint.

Such was the massive blow he had taken to the head he still had no worries. That was until someone rolled into his side, painfully jamming his hands under his body.

"Baldacci?"

"Shit. You mind?"

"No. You okay?"

Baldacci looked up into a worried face topped by silver hair. Silver… Oh Shit.

"Some bodyguard I turned out to be eh?" he said ruefully, watching as the older man smiled.

"You’re not bad," Jack replied lightly. "He just got both you and me with lucky punches. S’all."

"Did you see the size of him?" Baldacci said, levering himself semi upright with a lot of effort.

"No, Jack said, a small grin still on his face. "He just grabbed and planted me before I could even blink."

"Me too." Baldacci said. He shuddered delicately. "Oh the embarrassment of being caught hiding in the john."

"We wouldn’t have been caught had you not hurled," Jack said brutally.

"Sorry," Baldacci said meekly, blinking against the harsh light. "I’ll try to do better next time."

"See that you do," Jack said vaguely, staring around their new home. It was white on white.

"Where are we?" Baldacci too was staring around the room, which consisted of nothing more than four metal walls and a roof. Suddenly he felt a slight familiar motion and grimaced. "No, don’t tell me, I already know."

"I believe we’re onboard a ship," Jack said calmly, confirming what Baldacci already suspected. "Tofu said it’s probably the one Nbutu was talking about."

Now Baldacci may have been half killed by a punch he hadn’t been expecting, but he was still astute enough to notice a slip of a tongue. Or the first signs of insanity, and Jack O’Neill looked far from insane.

"Who is Tofu?" he asked.

The hesitation was hardly noticeable, but it was there.

"Nobody."

"I doubt that," Baldacci said, managing to finally focus on his fellow prisoner. "Mister Ambassador," he chided. "If you have a man on the inside I need to know about him."

"Are you implying that I knew about this beforehand?" Jack asked, still cursing his slip but seeing an out.

Baldacci’s gaze was disturbingly direct, despite the swelling above one eye.

"I do," he said. He continued before Jack could open his mouth. "I see a devious plan here," he said, "starting with my orders to guard you."

Jack’s eyes narrowed. "What do you mean?" he asked.

"I was pulled from what was an important surveillance job and told to watch you. At first I couldn’t understand why, and then you got involved with Nbutu, a man I know well and personally detest. Then it made sense. Any other agent would be none the wiser, but I had a history with him. And then you just happened to be in the right place at the right time to overhear his plans."

"I love it when they find their own explanations," Tofu chortled. "It’s so much fun."

"Are you saying I allowed this to happen?" Jack asked.

Baldacci’s eyes flashed in annoyance. "You are much too astute to be taken out by one punch," he said. "You allowed yourself to be captured, didn’t you?"

"I can’t confirm that," Jack said icily, privately wondering where all this was leading.

It was as if Jack had confirmed Baldacci’s suspicions.

"God damn it," he snapped. "Why didn’t you just ask for my help? Why all the subterfuge?"

Jack had had enough.

"Perhaps because I really am an ambassador?" he asked, watching as Baldacci froze.

"You are?" Then his eyes narrowed. "You don’t sound foreign."

"I was born in Minnesota, dammit," Jack snapped. "Nevertheless, I am…"

"An annoyance," a deep voice said, the door crashing open violently and making both men jump. "One that can be swiftly dealt with."

There was only so much one could bound hand and foot, Jack thought sourly. Nevertheless, he rolled onto his side and regarded his captor with what he hoped was an impassive face.

"You are in deep trouble, getting worse by the moment," he chided, hoping the giant at the door had only heard the last of their conversation. If he too thought that Jack had a man on the inside of this operation things could get rather painful, and really quickly at that.

It was the giant from the bathroom, also, incredibly enough, Mr. Simpering Voice.

"I doubt that," he said in the same high almost girlish voice Jack had heard in the bathroom. Then he chuckled, a small titter that sounded almost obscene emanating from his bulk. "In fact, once we have introduced you to our cargo you will never be a problem again."

"What?" Jack asked, but in his heart he already knew.

"The infected monkeys?" Tofu asked, sounding unnaturally calm.

"I guess," Jack flashed back. "We are, after all, biologically similar."

"What would they be infected with?" Tofu asked.

Jack traded a sick look with Baldacci, wishing he could move even a pinkie, but finding it impossible.

"Something very bad," he said, gasping as one of simpering voice’s two henchmen simply grabbed him by his bound feet and started dragging him towards the door.

"Something very bad indeed."

 

 

"Colonel?"

This time it was Baldacci’s voice that woke him, the tone of it instantly snapping his eyes open.

"Damn."

Jack lay for a second, reflecting on the abuse his body felt. His head hurt from the punch he had taken earlier, and one of those damn metal ridges at floor height that all ships seem to have between hallways had done the dastardly deed and knocked him cold - again.

"Guess that was to be expected, seeing as we were dragged," he remarked ruefully to Tofu, only to pause in confusion when his tiny companion didn’t answer.

"Tofu?" There was still no reply. Jack knew he was there, but for some reason he wasn’t responding.

"Tofu!" This time his voice was almost a scream, and he knew precisely how Tofu had felt earlier when it was he who had been unconscious. It was disconcerting, as if part of his body was dead.

"Tofu?" Still there was no reply, and Jack allowed his eyes to once more flutter shut. Finding Tofu was his top priority now. Nothing else mattered, because without Tofu Jack O’Neill was as good as dead.

"Colonel?"

He felt Baldacci shake him, his own voice thick with worry, but Jack couldn’t move. He daren’t, not until Tofu returned to him. Even breathing was difficult without Tofu.

"Tofu?"

He tried again, shouting desperately into the dusty corners of his mind that he now considered Tofu’s personal living space, hoping, no, praying that whatever had happened wasn’t fatal. Even the mere thought of living without the Tok’ra sent tendrils of sheer panic throughout his body.

"Tofu? Come on buddy, don’t do this to me."

Finally there was a groan, and Jack almost sobbed in reaction.

"Those damn bulkheads," Tofu moaned. "Caught me just so. Almost snapped your neck as well."

"But you’re okay now?" Jack asked desperately, seeing reassurance.

"Headache, but I’ll cure it, and then I’ll start on you, okay?"

Jack sighed in relief and finally opened his eyes, only to recoil violently when he saw Baldacci’s face a couple of inches from his own.

"Ambassador, you okay?"

"Good grief," Jack yelled in shock, "do you mind?"

"You okay?" Baldacci asked again, pulling back onto his haunches with a sheepish grin.

"Heart attack, but otherwise okay," Jack said shakily.

"Sorry," Baldacci said, not looking sorry at all. "I thought you were pretty badly hurt there for a moment."

"So did I," Jack whispered, the belated shock to his system finally making itself noticed. "Christ, I’m too old for this crap," he moaned, only to have Baldacci give him a level look.

"Your informant up to getting us out of here?"

"No," Jack said, pleased to find out that they had been untied. "Tofu is a help, but in no position to go around opening doors, especially a door like that." He nodded gingerly at the solid looking steel door they had obviously been thrown through.

"That’s a pity," Baldacci mused. "Because if he can’t help us out, we’re in deep trouble." He did his own nodding at the far side of the room, towards where an equally solid steel workbench was bolted against the wall.

"Smell anything?"

Maybe it was his close proximity to the floor, the oxygen more heavily concentrated at that level, but once Baldacci had drawn his attention to it, Jack couldn’t help but gag.

"Good God."

It was a sickly sweet smell, a smell of death and decay. A smell Jack recalled vividly from hot humid days in countries with names no one could pronounce where one had struggled through oozing mud literally walking on top of the shallowly buried dead.

He shook the memories off before Tofu could comment and shakily climbed to his feet.

Nothing looked better with the advantage of height.

In fact things looked a hell of a lot worse.

"I guess we have found Nbutu’s monkeys then."

It was trite. It was inane, but it was all Jack could think of.

"I guess," Baldacci said, facing what looked like certain death with a small smile on his face.

"I guess so."

The wall above the shiny workbench was hollow, and the recessed area filled with six cages, three below with three on top of them. In fact, it looked like any animal laboratory the world over, with one major difference. Each of the cages contained a monkey, and all of them were dead.

"They look as if they died hard," Jack murmured, at loath to go closer yet unable to stay away. Slowly, on wooden legs almost, he tottered forwards, taking in the sweat soaked fur. "They are horribly contorted," he continued, "and seem to have…blood coming out of every… God."

Each cage contained several monkeys and it was apparent they had indeed all died hard. They were huddled in pathetic clumps, limbs twisted and their faces smeared with bloody mucus.

"Dear God." It was a cry of despair, straight from Jack’s soul, prompting Tofu to immediately take control, as a good friend should.

"They are lying in a pool of their own fluids," he said, keeping his voice low and even and hoping that Baldacci wouldn’t notice the difference in tone. "Including urine and faeces."

"Give me back control," Jack said, disgruntled that Tofu had taken over so quickly.

"If Baldacci could handle this," he said meaningfully, "then I can."

"I doubt he got this close," Tofu flashed back, prodding a simian with a ruler he had found on the steel table. There was no movement, much to his relief, just an increase in stench.

"Any idea what killed them?" he asked, deliberately keeping his voice low, hoping Baldacci wouldn’t notice the difference in tone.

Apparently he didn’t.

"It’s Ebola." Baldacci’s voice was light, almost amused, and Tofu turned to him enquiringly.

"Oh?" Tofu deliberately kept the query short.

Baldacci had his nose buried in a small file he had obviously found on the table.

"Ebola is a sickness?" Tofu asked.

Baldacci nodded, obviously still unaware that he was speaking to a different person.

"Yes. I have seen it before - this merely confirms it." He lifted his eyes to the distant cages again, his mouth twisted. "I have seen this before. In Montaba. Whole villages were decimated by it. In fact the whole situation got so bad that President Barra ordered whole villages firebombed from the air." He shrugged. "He simply wiped them off the map in the vain hope that such drastic measures would halt what was rapidly becoming an unstoppable epidemic."

"Did it work?" Tofu asked.

This time Baldacci gave him an odd look, but answered the question nonetheless.

"It did, or at least no new cases had been reported by the time we left for the States," he replied.

"Until now," Tofu said.

"Until now," Baldacci agreed.

"We cannot allow this disease to be spread," Tofu said, agreeing with Jack

Baldacci’s face hardened. "The monkeys are expendable, Mister Ambassador," he said. "Hell, even we are expendable. The people of New York aren’t."

"You believe this boat is on its way towards New York?" Tofu asked softly. "We’re not there yet?"

Again the odd look.

"It’s a ship, and no we aren’t," Baldacci said. "If you listen closely and keep your body still, you will feel the slight roll of the ocean." He gave Tofu a tight grin. "Remember, I am an ex Navy man."

"You told Jack that," Tofu said, deciding to come clean. "Not me."

Strangely enough, Baldacci seemed to take this in stride.

"I assume you are Tofu?"

Tofu nodded, pleased that someone on this Tau’ri planet finally took him at face value.

"I am. Now we need a plan to get out of here," he said.

Baldacci nodded, and sat Indian style on the floor.

"Indeed we do, Mister Ambassador," he said shortly. "So why don’t you and your multiple personality disorder help me out here."

-

"Damn."

"Tell me about it," Tofu said, staring at the man on the floor. "Any suggestions?"

Jack sighed. "Act Goa’uld-like."

Tofu shrugged. "Works for me."

 

It took mere moments for Tofu to prove he was not in fact, a schizophrenic Jack O’Neill.

It took almost half an hour for Jack to convince Baldacci that HG Wells hadn’t been correct after all.

Finally they had come to some sort of easy alliance. It was shaky, but it would have to do.

"Are you really an alien?"

Jack sighed. "No," he said bluntly, having been asked this question twice already. He thumped his chest. "I am from Minnesota. Tofu is the alien."

Baldacci stared at him; still pale faced from the glowey eyed ‘fear-me-I’m-a-Goa’uld!’ display Tofu had put on.

"Really?" he asked. "What…how?" his words became jumbled again, making Jack smile.

"It’s a long story," he said gently. "One I will be pleased to tell you, assuming we ever get out of here alive."

His words had the desired effect.

"That won’t be easy." Baldacci reinforced his statement by gesturing to the room’s only other escape route, a sealed hatch.

"They didn’t want the contamination spreading," Jack mused, making Baldacci nod.

"I think it’s an air conditioning duct," Baldacci said, and Jack had to agree. "They weren’t taking any chances either," he said.

"Tell me about it," Jack muttered.

Whoever had devised this hell on earth had had the foresight to place a solid looking steel plate over the air conditioning duct and weld it in place, leaving Jack, Baldacci and a whole lot of decomposing monkeys in a no win situation.

"Perhaps…" Jack wiped the sweat out of his eyes, not wanting to know whether it was getting stuffy in the room because the monkeys were rotting or he was getting ill.

"Can you cure this?" he asked Tofu.

Tofu had been wondering the self same thing. "I really don’t know," he answered truthfully. "This is an unknown. I don’t even know the incubation period."

"Perhaps what?" Baldacci asked impatiently, unaware of the internal dialogue. Like Jack, he too was sweating and looking scared.

"Perhaps I can pull the plate free," Jack said. He stood right under the plate and craned his neck upwards, staring at the welds holding it into place. "Tofu gives me extraordinary strength," he mused. "If we can somehow loosen the actual welds…"

"Would a fire extinguisher help?" Baldacci asked, brandishing a large red extinguisher triumphantly.

"Hell yes," Jack crowed, feeling more optimistic. "Thank God for safety regulations."

"May I make a suggestion?" Tofu asked.

"Sure," Jack said, waving Baldacci into silence.

"Use the extinguisher foam to freeze the welds before knocking them free. Extinguisher foam is kept at an extremely high pressure and is usually freezing cold."

"Brilliant idea," Jack said, grabbing the extinguisher from the startled Baldacci. "Tofu says that we should apply the foam to the welds before we knock them free," he yelled. "If they’re freezing cold they’ll crack easily."

"Brilliant," Baldacci echoed, and then his face fell.

"But what of the noise?" He gestured towards the duct. "We knock anything loose and Nobutu’s henchmen are gonna be on us like a rash."

"Really?" Jack drawled sarcastically. "Do you really think so?"

Baldacci shook his head. "I don’t know what to think anymore," he said ruefully.

"Nbutu ordered the crew killed," Jack said, recalling the conversation he had overheard. "Besides," he said brightly. "If you were a henchman and were still onboard, would you want to investigate noises coming from this room?" For all you knew it could be a ruse just to get you in here."

Baldacci grinned. "Why, I would put on my suit and come in and investigate - Not," he said sarcastically. "Silly me. It must be the heat."

"Or the disease?" Jack asked.

Baldacci abruptly sobered. "Not yet," he said. "We’re as good as dead, but there’s still time yet."

"How much time?" Jack asked. He was working out angles. If he stood on the extreme edge of the steel workbench he would just be able to reach the duct. He climbed onto the bench and stared upwards. "Damn, we need a chair," he exploded.

"Damn, we don’t have one," Baldacci snapped back. "And in answer to your question, we have ten days max."

Jack stared at the welds closely. "Ten days?"

"Ten days till death," Baldacci said morosely. He tapped the discarded file with a fingernail. "According to this, the first symptoms will show in three. After that it is a gradual slide towards death"

"Wonderful," Jack breathed, keeping his mind focused on the job ahead.

"Mm," Baldacci said, rustling paper. "Red eyes, swollen glands, bloody noses. Those poor animals."

"Poor us as well," Jack whispered. Trying not to wobble as he stood on the bench’s extreme edge, he moved the extinguisher nozzle as close to a weld as he could, the heavy weight making his arms cry out in protest. "Here goes nothing," he said, aware that Baldacci had dropped the file and was watching him closely.

"Good luck," he said.

"No sweat," Jack mumbled, hoping he was right.

With that he squeezed the lever, using Tofu’s strength to snap the seals. With a whoosh the weld he aimed at instantly turned white.

"Quickly."

Not needing Tofu’s prompting Jack immediately turned the extinguisher upside down and swung at the weld.

Two things happened simultaneously. The weld flew off with a pitang sound and Jack dived gracelessly off of the table, hitting the floor with a painful sounding thud.

The floor wasn’t anywhere near hygienic, he mused.

Baldacci nudged him with his foot. "You okay?"

Jack rolled onto his back.

"Crap," he moaned, accepting the proffered hand. "That was fun."

"So I see," Baldacci said, his eyes full of mirth despite their dire situation. "Next time try the pike and half twist, you’ll get more points that way."

-

"Now what?"

It had taken over two hours to remove the welds and Jack was beginning to worry. Being a pilot himself, he knew that there was only so much distance any chopper could fly out to sea before encountering ‘bingo’, when all the fuel remaining in the tanks was needed to get them home again.

"You reckon we’re close to New York?" Tofu asked.

"I do," Jack said aloud, repeating Tofu’s question to Baldacci.

"I know we are," Baldacci agreed. He stared up at the still solid looking plate, his expression glum. "I think it’s riveted into place."

Jack sighed. "There’s only one way to find out," he said grimly, and leapt nimbly onto the table. As Baldacci watched, he resolutely slid his fingers into the gaps they had made and swung free.

The second painful sounding thud of the day was louder than the first, due to the addition of the steel plate.

"You sure you’re okay?"

Jack glared at Baldacci’s butt, ignoring the question. Yes, Baldacci was an ex Navy man, and as such was the logical choice to go first into the duct, but it rankled that Baldacci would encounter all the fun before he did.

"As in bullets?" Tofu asked. "Are you crazy?"

"Ducking bullets is fun," Jack said, not believing it for the moment, but if the mere thought of him being an insane warhorse could rattle Tofu, then he would go with the flow.

Unfortunately Tofu knew him a bit too well.

"You don’t think there is anyone left onboard, do you?"

Jack ignored Tofu also.

"I’m sorry about laughing," Baldacci called back apologetically. "It’s just that your expression was so classic that, well, with everything else in that room…"

"It’s okay, I understand," Jack said, actually meaning it.

"I hope you’re not hurt."

"I’m okay," Jack said begrudgingly. "You watch out for yourself. If there are people still on this tub they’ll be aiming at you the minute you make a noise."

"I’ll spit at them," Baldacci said darkly. "Actually I expect everyone to turn tail and run - that’s if there anyone left aboard to run. Ebola is lethal, after all."

Jack stopped when Baldacci did, watching over his shoulder as he rammed a fist against a fine mesh grill leading into a darkened room, easily slamming it open.

"Excellent," Baldacci whispered, and slithered out of the duct.

Jack followed like a shot. He had never liked enclosed spaces for a myriad of different reasons, and the stale air conditioning duct had been a nightmare.

"Being infected with a deadly disease is the nightmare," Tofu said seriously. "Get your priorities straight."

"Are we infected?" Jack mused, allowing himself to finally think. "Or is this disease spread through contact? If it is, we could still be okay."

He reached out a hand, stopping Baldacci dead.

"Where are we?" he whispered.

"A forward cabin," Baldacci whispered back. "More than likely crew quarters." He gestured towards a large bed dimly illuminated by the light emanating from under the door. "Most ships have their crew quarters in more or the less the same position onboard ship."

"Do we call it a bed or a cot?" Tofu asked facetiously, making Jack growl. There was a time and place for dumb questions, and this wasn’t it.

"Wait a moment," he said to Baldacci. "We need to plan our attack."

"What’s to plan?" Baldacci said. "If there anyone out there, they’ll run for their lives as soon as they see us, believe me."

Jack sat on the bed - or cot - dammit, his legs suddenly weak. "So you’re sure we’re infected?" he asked grimly.

"I know we are," Baldacci said, his voice equally as grim. "It was all neatly written down in that file I found."

"What is it?"

"It’s definitely Ebola," Baldacci said, finding his own perch on the bed. "Ebola Zaire to be exact. According to whatever bastard wrote that report, it is transmitted by air and has a 97% kill rate."

"Ninety seven percent," Jack echoed.

"Yeah," Baldacci said. "They sent the monkeys into the infected villages and the virus attached itself to their livers, or something. Then they loaded them onboard ship and shipped them here."

"But the monkeys died," Jack said.

"It can take more than ten days to get from Africa to the U.S. via ship, Baldacci chided. "Especially if you take it slowly."

"Those bastards," Jack seethed.

"And then you and I overheard Nbutu’s masterplan," Baldacci said gloomily.

"Simpering voice nailed us both, and then flew us to the ship, thus getting rid of us in one foul swoop," Jack said gloomily.

"He packed one hell of a punch," Baldacci said.

"We were a bit zonked," Jack said, grinning slightly in the gloom. "Good food, drink, methane gas and all."

"Don’t mention the methane," Baldacci said, chuckling quietly. "Please."

"Okay, I won’t," Jack said, rising from the bed with a groan. He was feeling slightly light headed. Hopefully it wasn’t serious.

"Let’s hope," Tofu muttered. "Having never encountered Ebola before I have no idea what to expect."

"Let’s keep our minds on the here and now," Jack said firmly, quartering the small cabin for weapons. "We’ll worry about feeling ill later, okay?"

"Use the chair legs," Tofu said, indicating a small table nailed to the wall. "They’ll make good clubs."

"So they will, you nasty snake," Jack said with a smile. "So they will."

There was also a time for stealth, and this wasn’t it either.

The broke the table apart in seconds, and finally, both armed with clubs and thin slivers of wood, they were ready to set out.

 

"This reminds me of a 'B' movie I saw a couple of months ago," Baldacci said half an hour later, his voice tight with strain. "It dealt with a ghost ship in which the heroes did something similar to what we’re doing now; checking out the entire ship for signs of the crew."

"What happened?" Jack asked, peering cautiously down yet another empty corridor, his wooden club at the ready.

"The entire crew had been murdered by a malignant radioactive cloud sent from another dimension in space."

Jack took time out to give his colleague a beady eye.

"Uh-huh," he said dubiously. "How did it end?"

Baldacci shrugged. "Dunno. The phone rang and I never bothered to find out."

"Uh-huh," Jack said again. "Well, in this case, the crew has abandoned ship, and the only things harmful to anyone’s health are us."

"Looks that way," Baldacci said. He straightened with a sigh. "You know," he said. "I am sick and tired of skulking around in this ship expecting a bullet at every turn. If you really think about it, a bullet is preferable to what we’re gonna go through in a couple of days anyway. Let’s just find the control room and turn this…tub away from home."

Jack couldn’t agree more.

He gestured with his wooden club. "Lead on McDuff," he said.

-

The wheelhouse had the most spectacular view. Made almost completely of glass, it offered the Captain and crew a completely unrestricted 360 degree view of the surrounding ocean. Even more impressive to the unwary was the rows and rows of blinking computers stuffed inside this airy wheelhouse, each festooned with a myriad of lights and indicators, indicators that Baldacci was checking closely, a small relieved smile on his face.

"Everything is automated," he was muttering to himself. "This is good."

Luckily he didn’t expect a reply from Jack, because he wouldn’t have gotten anything coherent.

Jack had never been much of a sailor. In fact, had the ocean not been smooth as glass he was sure that he would have been puking his lungs out, preferably downwind. At first, when he had first woken up he had not minded that he was afloat on the ocean, especially faced with the prospect of a horrible death. But now, sat in a soft seat in a control room filled with doohickeys only a sailor could love, Jack could see the ocean, more of it than he ever wanted to see at one time.

Even more distressing, he could feel the ocean, and it was out to get him.

"Oh God," he said finally, sending Baldacci spinning towards him in alarm.

"Ambassador?"

"For Gods sakes call me Jack," Jack said irritably, clutching his stomach. "And no, I’m not ill. I’m just sick."

Baldacci took a second to digest this before breaking into a relieved grin.

"You’re sea sick?"

"Yes," Jack said, swallowing convulsively.

It was a pity actually because it was a beautiful day. The sun was shining in an impossibly blue sky and the sea looked as smooth as glass, reflecting the rays to shine brilliantly off of the metallic rails surrounding the ship upon which seagulls danced and wheeled. There were fluffy white clouds way up high, and…

He was sick.

"Oh God," Jack moaned again, trying not to hurl. Not that he had anything to hurl with. From the angle of the sun they were well into the next day.

"At least there isn’t a sign of land," he said bravely, watching as Baldacci happily pottered around the room.

Baldacci shook his head sadly.

"You really are a landlubber aren’t you?" he said sympathetically.

"I am a pilot," Jack said irritably. "I can also, if you push it, be considered an alien. What I am not is a fish." Tofu flashed him a mental picture of an upside down bug, its legs waving feebly in the air.

"Nor, for that matter, is Tofu," he added for his symbiotes benefit.

"Well," Baldacci said, perching on what looked like a chart table. You’ll be pleased to know that I have managed to turn this ship significantly away from its destination."

"Goodee," Jack said miserably. He really should be more enthusiastic, but somehow couldn’t find the energy.

"And not a moment too soon," Baldacci said seriously, "because those seagulls outside?"

Jack refused to look to where Baldacci was pointing. To hell with the outside world.

"What about them?" he asked irritably.

"They never fly very far from land."

"Oh crap," Jack said, his eyes inadvertently lifting and scanning the horizon. There was a smudge out there, right on the horizon, eleven miles away.

"But everything’s okay now?" he asked. "We’re turning away?" He felt like a child asking for reassurance and this rankled somewhat, but he really hadn’t a clue.

Baldacci’s face was grim. "We are. The problem now is what do we do next."

That Jack could help with, and the prospect of actually doing something sent him leaping to his feet.

"We call home."

"Home?" Baldacci stared at him looking baffled. "Home, as in …Home?"

He pointed a bony finger up at the sky, making Jack laugh aloud.

"Not quite," Jack said, thinking of the SGC and his team. All of a sudden he missed them desperately.

"I have a solution closer at home." His eyes met Baldacci’s, some of the spark of old reappearing.

"One that doesn’t involve the Air Force bombing this ship into pieces, ourselves along with it."

….

General George Hammond had been living in a nightmare.

Missing Colonel O’Neill was bad enough - it always had been, irrespective of which planet the man had last been on. But losing him on Earth was far worse.

Coupled with the fact that he had Tofu connected to his spine and was believed to have been kidnapped, well, suffice it to say his day had been turned into a waking hell as well.

As the President had said, even dead O’Neill could prove a liability, especially if he was autopsied. And alive? If his kidnappers realized what they had, they could hold him for one of the largest ransoms in U.S. history.

George Hammond had never felt so damn stressed before in his life.

"Nothing?"

His voice crackled down the line to Major Samantha Carter who was heading up the investigation in New York, along with a heavily armed SG4, ostensibly to help, but also there to guard her as well.

Jack and his symbiote ‘the powers that be’ knew all about. The fact that the rest of SG1 were also carrying Tok’ra symbiotes only the President knew.

President Hayes had reluctantly given his permission that Carter and Diyonne head up the search in New York, but with one proviso. If she went missing too General Hammond was toast.

Losing one Tok’ra was bad. Losing two would end his career.

"Nothing." Her voice sounded taut with worry. "I have the NID helping out here, because their agent is missing as well."

"He is?" This was a new development. "They say why?"

Her voice sounded guarded. "Not really, but my contacts say he was an expert on middle Africa."

"So?" General Hammond was confused.

"Remember the cover story we put out sir?" Carter asked. "We made the mythical country of Tok’ra sound a bit like Tibet."

"I remember," Hammond said impatiently.

"Tibet with money."

"The Joint Chiefs believed Tofu had more of a chance in dialogue if the other diplomats believed he came from a rich country, Major," Hammond said impatiently.

"Nothing wrong with that sir," Carter soothed. "The problem was that we made him to be a bit too tempting.

"How so?" General Hammond was rapidly losing whatever patience he had left.

"President Nbutu of the Central African Republic was in town, and The NID believed he was going to try to tap the Colonel for whatever help he could give."

"It’s the Central African Democracy, Major," Hammond said, "and I scarcely think that Colonel O’Neill would give Nbutu the time of day if he had asked."

"I know that sir," Carter said patiently, "but the NID did not. As far as they were concerned the Colonel was an unknown from a rich country in danger of being hit on. That’s why they sicced this…" she rustled some papers. "This Commander Baldacci on him."

"I never knew they cared," Hammond said sarcastically.

"They don’t sir," Carter said. "It’s just that President Nbutu’s enemy, President… um Barra from the country to his immediate north, a place called Montaba is also here in Washington, and we have a military base there."

"Ah," General Hammond said, things immediately making sense. "They were frightened that Colonel O’Neill might threaten this happy state of affairs?"

"He does sound American sir," Carter said. "They were frightened that if Nbutu befriended the Colonel President Barra may have taken it out on them in spite."

"Diplomats are like children," General Hammond said half to himself. He raised his voice. "So they ordered this agent to keep an eye on O’Neill?"

"Yes sir," Carter said, her voice tinny. "The problem is, not only did the Colonel vanish, so did Agent Baldacci. That’s why we have so much help this side."

"And?" General Hammond said.

"Sir?" She sounded blank.

"This help. Is it actually helping?"

He could almost hear the smile break out in her voice. "Yes sir. They have traced their last whereabouts to a staff bathroom at a hotel near here. The personnel are being individually interviewed as we speak."

General Hammond sighed. "Do we have any hard evidence so far, Major?" He had to tell the Joint Chiefs something. Not to mention the Tok’ra high council, dammit.

She sounded regretful. "Just circumstantial evidence sir. The Le Grande Hotel was hosting a lavish Central African party at the time of their disappearance."

"Damn," General Hammond spat. "So he might not even be in this country anymore."

Major Carter’s voice turned hollow. "No sir."

Hammond sighed, aware how much strain the Major was under. Not only was she Colonel O’Neill’s subordinate, but Diyonne, the symbiote she carried, was good friends with Tofu. Lord alone knew how much angst Diyonne was emoting.

"Tell Diyonne to calm down," he said, using his grandfatherly voice. "She will do you no good if she…" He broke off as his aide literally ran into his office frantically waving his hands in the air.

"Hang on Major," he said irritably, glaring at the man.

"What is it Collins?" he snapped.

"Sorry sir General sir," Collins rushed. "Colonel O’Neill sir, line two sir."

 

"Hold for General Hammond."

Jack O’Neill felt like sobbing in relief upon hearing the calm steady voice of the SGC operator. Instead he leaned the radio room’s sole chair back as far as it could go and nonchalantly placed his feet on the desk.

"Appearances count?" Tofu asked dryly.

"Always did, even if only for my own benefit," Jack replied.

"Baldacci would approve, I think."

"I think you’re right," Jack mused. "He seems like really a good man to know - even if he is NID."

"It’s a pity that he’s…" Tofu broke off. It was the first time either of them had touched on the deadly disease more than likely carried by them.

"Infected? Dying?" Jack asked. "Are we also dying?"

Tofu shrugged, something Jack always found disconcerting. It was like the lower part of his brain was having a spasm.

"I dunno yet," he said. "At the moment we’re okay."

"Apart from the headache I have," Jack said miserably.

"You have been on your feet for almost twenty four hours," Tofu chided. "You’ve had no food; you’re stressed out, and worried about something we know nothing about. No wonder you have a headache."

Jack looked at his watch in surprise. "You’re right," he said, shocked. "It’s almost dusk." They had been on the ship for well over a day.

Tofu sounded reassuring. "Tell you what. Let’s speak to General Hammond and get thing moving, and then we find some food. Okay?

"K," Jack sighed, listening to tinny music. Did the SGC even know that he was missing?

"That may be a good thing," Tofu said. "If the SGC don’t know, then the NID don’t either, which will simplify things somewhat."

Are you kidding?" Jack asked. "We are on a ship carrying a deadly disease. The minute we open our mouths and yell for help we will be swamped by every acronym known to man, including USAMRIID."

"Colonel Moore? Damn, not her again."

The US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases was based in Maryland and knew Jack and Tofu well. Rather too well as far as they were concerned. The personnel there were forever taking blood from them, hoping that their unique chemistry would someday provide a cure for some of the worlds worst plagues.

"If we can survive Ebola she is gonna kiss us," Tofu said darkly.

"Don’t even think that," Jack warned, staring at the wall. "That is a horrible vision."

Colonel Moore was the USAMRIID’s C.O.

Built along the lines of Martina Navratilova, she had the looks and all the aggression that went along with that, without the gay tendencies. She was married to the second in command of the CDC, who must be forever wondering about where she managed to obtain her mineral laced blood samples.

"Poor Baldacci," Tofu mused. "We know what she’s like. He on the other hand…"

"He must kind of figure we’re calling them in anyway, being ex- Navy," Jack said.

"Luckily he is," Tofu said. We would never have managed to turn the ship around without his help. Hell, we wouldn’t even have found this radio room."

"S’true," Jack agreed, really getting annoyed at tinny music. What the hell was the General doing?

Baldacci had effortlessly led him through a maze of tunnels until they had come upon the small radio room before bidding them farewell. Apparently there actually was a set of flags one could fly to denote a plague ship, and he was hell bent on doing just that.

"Hope he got the right flags out," Jack mused. "He wasn’t too sure of the correct combination."

"Aww, leave him be. I bet you he’s never done it before in his life," Tofu said.

"And never will again," Jack flashed back, sobering his symbiote before suddenly stiffening as a familiar Texan voice growled down the line.

"Jack?"

"General?" There was nothing else on Earth more guaranteed to put a lump in your throat than a familiar voice in times of trouble, Jack thought.

"General, I really need you help here," he said, knowing his voice was almost a whine and not giving a damn. If he sounded like Daniel on occasion, who was he to argue?

"You okay?" General Hammond asked, sounding stressed.

"No," Jack said, deciding that bluntness was the best policy. "I’m actually suffering from a deadly disease on board a plague ship headed for New York."

"Woah, talk about telling it like it is," Tofu said.

"O-kay, but I thought you were kidnapped," Hammond said slowly, obviously waiting for the other shoe to drop.

"I was," Jack said.

There was a long pause.

"You’re serious, aren’t you?" Hammond eventually asked, finally realizing that Jack must have dropped both shoes at once.

"Never more so," Jack said grimly. "In case Tofu can’t lick this, here are the pertinent facts. Agent Baldacci and I were kidnapped by President Nbutu of the Central African Democracy when we overheard his plans for biowarfare on the U.N. The mere fact that the U.N. is housed in one of the largest cities on Earth didn’t seem to faze him at all."

"Jack…" General Hammond said only to have Jack override him.

"Let me finish sir, please," he snapped, getting rewarded with silence.

"They flew us to a ship of some kind and locked us up with a large number of dead monkeys, although Baldacci says the monkeys weren’t dead when they started this voyage." He took a deep breath, feeling tired. "According to what information we gleaned, the monkeys were infected with a strain of Ebola called…" Jack rustled papers, knowing that Baldacci had written its full name somewhere. "…Ebola Zaire."

"Christ," General Hammond muttered, shocked out of his usual unflappable calm. "This ship is heading for New York?"

"It was," Jack said. "That’s no longer the case, thanks to my NID friend, who also fortuitously happens to be an ex-Navy guy."

"I know," Hammond said. "Commander Baldacci. The NID are understandably somewhat annoyed at losing him."

Jack’s voice deepened in warning. "He’s gonna have to stay lost sir. He knows about Tofu."

"Damn," Hammond snapped.

Jack leaned back in the uncomfortable chair with a sigh. "Not that it matters anyway, sir. He’ll be dead in ten days."

"You sure you’re infected?" General Hammond was begging.

"I’ll know in three more days or so," Jack said. "I believe the first symptoms will show then."

"I’ll know if I can beat this then as well," Tofu said.

"That won’t help Baldacci," Jack said bitterly.

"It will if we can snake him in time," Tofu said, using Jack’s vernacular.

"Brilliant idea," Jack said, feeling his arms gooseflesh.

"Perhaps," Tofu said. "I have to be able to beat this first before the High Council would even think of such an idea though."

"You beat my cancer," Jack said optimistically. "Compared to that…"

"Don’t be too sure," Tofu warned. "I can feel it, in your body, and I have never encountered anything like it."

"Wonderful," Jack growled.

"Of course, seeing as I would die too, I have a vested interest in this," Tofu said. "I will cure this, don’t worry."

General Hammond was speaking. "Do you want us to send in USAMRIID?"

Jack couldn’t help shuddering. "No thanks sir. Tofu has a better idea, like a symbiote."

"For Baldacci?" General Hammond sounded incredulous. "He’s NID son. The implications of that joining could be disastrous."

"He’s a good man General," Jack said.

"Hmm." Jack heard faint rustling. "It says that he’s a bachelor, which would help his case. I would still have to pass your recommendation on to the President though."

"I’ll have Baldacci steer the ship in circles sir, until they reach a decision."

"You do that son."

Two days and one hell of a tan later, Jack was feeling relaxed, even if he was dying.

"Aah, life on the ocean wave."

Jack grinned at his companion as yet another air drop clattered towards the back of the ship.

"I never would have said so before, but I’m actually getting to enjoy this life at sea."

Baldacci grinned back from his customary position at the wheel, if you could call it that. The ship was so automated it wouldn’t have been out of place in a science fiction movie.

"Most people manage to acclimatize after a couple of days. You’re no different." He stared at the hovering helicopter and made a minute adjustment to a dial or two.

"Are all ship bridges this computerized?" Jack asked, pushing himself out of the chair he had been sitting in. It was getting difficult to find the strength to do so anymore, and despite the tan he rather suspected he looked just as sick as Baldacci did.

"Hell no," Baldacci said, making his own unsteady way towards the stairs. "This one requires a ‘hands on’ attitude. Most don’t."

"You mean they are even more computerized?" Jack asked, astonished.

"Oh yeah," Baldacci said. "This is one old ship. I suspect Nbutu intended it to just plough straight into shore somewhere and then claim on insurance."

"Bastard," Jack said darkly. He had been thinking of Nbutu a lot recently, and hoped the man had a headache from all the rude things he had been mentally tossing his way. A headache at least on par or worse than the one he had.

‘He is at that," Baldacci said. He reached the deck and held out his hand to Jack, helping him down the last few steps.

"We really are a couple of old crocks now," Jack said ruefully, accepting the help.

"It’s only been a couple of days," Baldacci said. "Wait, things are going to get a lot worse from now on."

"So Moore said," Jack said, watching as the Navy helicopter lifted away from the ship, having dropped its load. They never actually landed, merely dropped and ran - not that he could blame them.

"That Colonel Moore sure was specific," Baldacci agreed, shielding his eyes and watching the helicopter clatter back to a long silhouette just visible on the horizon. "She also seems to know you quite well."

"She does," Jack said, sighing. "Too well."

One of the first things air lifted to the ship had been a laptop. When it had been switched on it had immediately booted into a program designed by Colonel Moore, one that listed known daily symptoms and what to look out for. The tiredness and headaches they already had, but had so far avoided the tongue ulcers and bleeding stools. Well, at least he had. Baldacci’s personal toilet habits were his own business.

"Air Force?"

"She’s Army," Jack said. "They always do things to the nth degree."

"Ah," Baldacci said. Everyone knew the Army did things the hard way.

"She’s also USAMRIID," Jack explained. "She and her team are also the only non-Air Force people on Earth, besides the President that is, who know what I am."

"I know," Baldacci said softly.

"In a month from now that won't matter," Jack said bitterly.

"Will she be in charge of… well the, your autopsy when…?" Baldacci stopped and stared out to sea, unable to continue.

-

"Christ," Tofu was aghast. "How can he ask that?"

"Because he wants to know," Jack snapped back, taking a deep steadying breath.

"We are gonna have to take this like men, it’s the only way."

"I can cure you," Tofu said desperately. "It’s slow going, but I’m working on it."

"Tok’ra don’t get headaches," Jack said pessimistically.

"Nor do we have Ebola," Tofu said soothingly. "It’s going to take time, but I think I can lick it."

"You do?" Jack felt a glimmer of hope for the first time in a long time.

"It’s similar to N’itash disease."

"Uh-huh," Jack said dubiously. "And he was?"

"Search me," Tofu shrugged. "It’s a racial memory. But don’t you see, if I can cure you, then we can introduce a symbiote into Baldacci and cure him too."

"We still haven’t had word back from the SGC," Jack warned. There’s no point getting his hopes up only to dash them if someone somewhere says no."

"The Tok’ra high council won’t say no," Tofu said optimistically. "There are always more symbiotes than hosts as it is. I bet they already have one en-route to Earth as we speak."

"That’s assuming they have been told," Jack said gloomily. "Remember, all anyone knows is that he is NID. That isn’t a good pedigree to have."

"Can’t you radio General Hammond and ask?" Tofu asked.

"I could, but I’m not going to," Jack said patiently. "If they agree we will have a Tel-Tac hovering overhead soon enough.

"Perhaps they already have," Tofu said optimistically. "Perhaps that is why that naval ship is so distant - so they can’t see what kind of craft pops out from the clouds."

"Nobody, not the SGC nor the High Council will do a thing without your say so," Jack chided him gently. "As far as they are concerned we are both dying, and God knows, it sure still feels like it."

"Nope," Tofu said smugly. "Like Geronimo, I am definitely on the warpath."

"Geronimo died. Quite horribly, I believe."

"Let me rephrase that..."

-

Baldacci was still leaning on the railing staring out to sea, used to his silences.

"She might do the autopsy," Jack finally conceded. "In fact, knowing her she’d insist on it. That is one tough broad." He smiled at Baldacci, squinting in the sunshine. "Do you know her first name is Matilda?"

"So?" Baldacci said, looking blank.

"She is built like the backside of a bus, and has all the personality of a bitch in season. The name Matilda suits her."

Baldacci turned and gave Jack a long hard look.

"My mother’s name is Matilda," he said shortly.

"Oh." said Jack, his face coloring. "Sorry."

"Hmf," Baldacci said, pushing away from the rail and resuming his trek aft. His mother was actually called Patty, but it did O’Neill good to squirm, especially after a crack like that.

The rear of the ship was covered by boxes and cartons, all dropped by the Navy helicopter.

In the midst of all this stood Jack and Baldacci, staring around with hungry eyes.

"We have phones in this box," Baldacci cried, holding out two items in shaking hands

"Satellite phones?" It had to be, something Baldacci confirmed with a nod.

"Yeah, but they don’t work right," he said, inspecting his closely. "They can only receive, not dial out."

"Gee, I wonder why, mister NID man," Tofu said sarcastically.

"Perhaps they don’t want to hear our dying words," Baldacci mused.

"Perhaps," Jack said, sinking down onto the weather-beaten planking Indian style. "Perhaps."

Most of the boxes had now been reduced to debris, the bubble wrap and brown paper that the Air Force had packed their latest goodies in being blown totally unnoticed against the far rail where it lay flapping for a while before being sucked down into the sea.

"Or they don’t want the media to find out what is happening," Baldacci said, finding his own explanation. "If the people of New York ever found out what Nbutu had planned for them…"

"That would make sense," Jack said agreeably. "The media aren’t stupid. They could easily monitor our calls."

"See, it makes sense," Baldacci said, almost collapsing alongside Jack. "See?"

"No I don’t see," Tofu said. "General Hammond can still call us, and that conversation could be monitored just as easily as an outgoing call could be."

"You know that, I know that, but Baldacci?" Jack said. "The disease is finally taking its toll."

"I know," Tofu said sadly. "Look at him, poor man."

Brent Baldacci was definitely deteriorating by the hour. As Jack became healthier so he was falling apart. His skin was blotchy, his eyes were rimmed with a red crust, and Jack could hear the difficulty he had in breathing.

He needed help, and soon if he were to survive at all.

Staring at the satellite phone, Jack debated whether he should wait for it to ring or head back to the radio room.

"Stay." Tofu commanded. "Don’t give him hope. The powers that be may yet say no."

"He may not want a symbiote in his brain either," Jack said. "I know I didn’t at first. It took a lot of persuading before I changed my mind."

"There is that," Tofu conceded. "If he has reconciled himself for death then there will be no stopping him, but I don’t think that’s the case. Look at him."

"I see what you mean," Jack said.

Despite the obvious pain he was in Baldacci was again tottering around their hoard, opening the remaining boxes at random, a huge smile on his ravaged face.

"Jack," he crowed. "We lucked in good this time. Fresh fruit - look." He indicated a crate and pulled out what looked like an apple.

Jack’s mouth immediately began to water. "Anything else?" he asked, smoothly rising to his feet.

"Pears, Banana’s, um, Peaches…" Baldacci looked up, his eyes shining. "We’re okay now," he said, and promptly crumpled to the deck.

The phone had rung midway through Jack getting Baldacci comfortable in the cabin they had first broken into via the air conditioning duct. At first he had been tempted to ignore it, but the fear that Hammond might assume they had both died and order an air strike was too great.

Besides, it may be the news that both he and Tofu were waiting for.

"Colonel?"

Jack froze, Baldacci forgotten.

"Carter?"

Her voice was like water to a parched man, and he couldn’t help but grin foolishly.

"How you doin?"

"Better than you sir," she said. "I believe you are dying?" Her voice held a question.

"Not anymore," Jack said, pulling the blankets over Baldacci. "My friend on the other hand isn’t doing so well."

Carter’s voice was high with relief. "I am so glad to hear that you’re okay sir," she said.

"So am I," Jack said, finding the need for cryptic comments to be extremely restricting. He really wanted to blurt out what was happening, but as Tofu had mentioned, the phone wasn’t secure.

"You alone?" Jack asked, staring down at Baldacci. If she was, then he would perform his burial rites himself, just like Teal’c had taught him. Yes, the tradition may be Chulakian, but the way they went about it was so much more dignified than anything they had on Earth. He would require a clean sheet though, the bloodied one Baldacci was lying on simply wouldn’t do…

Her voice was like warm honey.

"I have Teal’c, Dad, and one extra passenger with me."

"Oh thank God." That one extra passenger had to be a symbiote.

She sounded amused. "He means that much to you?"

Jack turned and headed for the deck and fresh air, the bulky phone firmly pressed to his ear. "He’s like a combination of Martouf and Major Davies," he said. "Impossible to order around but a good man to have at your six."

"A rare find, even if he is NID." This time it was the voice of Jacob Carter that spoke making Jack grin happily.

"Hi Dad," he yelled.

"You rescuing strays again sonny?" Jacob replied, his amusement obvious.

"I had no choice," Jack said, abruptly serious. "A bad man kicked him until he was almost dead."

"So I hear," Jacob said, equally as serious. "Never mind, B’Nye will save him."

"Bernie?" Jack squinted into the sunshine, looking for a tell tale dot that would be them. The wind was getting up and small clouds were scudding across the sky and Jack would be pleased to leave this ship. He was no longer sea sick, which was a good thing, but had absolutely no desire to stay a minute longer than he had to.

"That’s understandable," Tofu said quickly. "You had better warn them that this disease is similar to N’itash disease."

"His name is B’Naye," Jacob was saying, spelling it for Jack. "B N A Y E."

"Bernie - so I was right," Jack said, knowing how this would irritate the older Tok’ra.

"If you insist," Jacob said with a sigh, his quick capitulation ruining all the fun. "I believe you have something nasty down there."

"Yeah," Jack said. "Tofu calls it N’itash disease. It took him quite a while to recognize it."

"I’m not surprised," Selmac, Jacobs symbiote said, ignoring the fact that the phones weren’t secure. On the other hand, they were so far out to sea that the possibility of being overheard was slim to none. "We haven’t had an outbreak of N’itash disease in centuries. In fact, not since Ra commanded both the upper and lower Nile."

"So it always was a Tau’ri based disease?" Tofu asked.

"Designed by Ra personally," Selmac answered. "Many hosts and their symbiotes died before a cure was finally found. I’m surprised that you realized what was happening so quickly."

"It was a racial memory," Tofu said modestly. "As it was, Jack got very ill before I finally found a cure that worked."

"Good for you," Selmac said, making Tofu glow with pride. The oldest of Tok’ra symbiotes rarely bestowed praise on anybody.

His voice took on a commanding edge. "We will be arriving within moments. Meet us at the back of the ship."

Tofu wasted no time in obeying.

 

...

"Carter, Teal’c…Jacob, you old dog." Jack fell on them, only realizing when the Tel-Tac door opened how lonely he had been. Military discipline was set aside as he hugged and slapped backs before leading them towards where Baldacci lay.

"I only hope he is still alive," he said, pausing at the door.

"I hope he is as well," Jacob said. He held up a small square case in which the Tok’ra symbiote obviously resided. "B’Naye has been in need of a new host for almost a year now."

"Selmac says that he is a council member with considerable influence," Carter’s symbiote, Diyonne said. "This, and their promise to keep Baldacci offworld managed to sway the Joint Chief’s minds, who were all set on blowing you both to kingdom come with one well aimed nuclear strike."

"Charming," Tofu said pushing open the cabin door. Jack had seen the way Teal’c had stopped at the door, facing out like a sentry, and had seen the situation for what it was. The blending of Baldacci with B’Naye was to be a totally Tok’ra affair. He could go with that.

"Baldacci?" Tofu asked softly, kneeling next to the bed. "You alive?"

It was a dumb thing to say, but justified.

Baldacci had deteriorated in the little time it had taken to greet Jacob and the others, and in truth Tofu had no idea if the Tau’ri was in fact still alive. The bed was soaked with bloody body fluids and as far as he could tell his chest wasn’t moving at all.

"Oh," Diyonne’s hand flew to her face. "This is a terrible way to die." She forced her hand down and peered at the man closely. "I thought that Ebola took ten days to kill someone."

"I guess they were wrong," Tofu said grimly. "Or perhaps the poor man lies like this, neither alive nor dead for a couple of days still."

"I wouldn’t put that particular version of torture past Ra," Selmac said, quickly snapping open the small case. "He always was a particular type of bastard."

As Tofu and Diyonne looked on he carefully reached his hands into the gelatinous liquid inside the case and pulled out B’Naye, pleased to see that his friend was hissing lustily. Not all symbiotes survived the liquid, but it was all they had for transplanting anyone with any degree of success.

"He looks okay," Tofu said dubiously. He reached forwards and rolled Baldacci’s head to one side, exposing the soft tissue at the base of his neck.

"Hopefully he is okay," Diyonne said. She literally sat on Baldacci’s legs, aware that most hosts bucked and squirmed as their symbiotes cut their way through the tender flesh to the base of the neck.

"Seems fine," Selmac said, and lay his friend down on the soiled pillow.

Jacob had seen it hundreds of times, sometimes with a willing human, sometimes with a dying one, and on occasion with a reluctant one, (like Penos of Tyrr, who had a Tok’ra symbiote forcefully introduced into him before the Goa’uld got to his planet and did likewise), but for his two colleagues this was the first time they had witnessed a blending.

"Hang on," he commanded. "This isn’t going to be pretty."

He wasn’t understating his words.

B’Naye took seconds to locate his host and burrow into Baldacci’s neck, and the fun started as soon as he did so.

"Aaaaarrrrrgggh!"

"Christ," Tofu yelled, holding onto Baldacci for dear life. Even with his enhanced strength he was proving to be a handful.

"Keep those legs still," Selmac shouted at Diyonne, receiving a glare back as she was sent bucking into the air.

"I’m trying," she yelled back.

Then, as soon as it started it was over, and three panting Tok’ra slid to the floor.

"Now what?" Diyonne asked.

"We wait," Tofu said, recalling his own transition from dying human into Tok’ra host. He staggered to his feet. "I don’t know about you, but I have a need to get out of this place of disease and find some sunshine."

"Indeed," Teal’c said from his place at the door. "My symbiote is most agitated."

"That’s just because Junior is jealous of being surrounded by such handsome Tok’ra," Diyonne said, patting Teal’c on his pouch.

"I think rather that he is annoyed about curing me," Teal’c said, his brown eyes dancing in his impassive face.

"He can always be pulled out, chopped up and jettisoned over the side," Tofu said shortly. "We can easily find a replacement." He did not subscribe to the popular belief that Teal’c’s immature pimta was sympathetic to the Tok’ra cause. He was a Gou’ald larva, and once a Gou’ald always a Gou’ald.

"Or perhaps he is just sea sick," Diyonne said, suddenly looking green.

"God yes," Selmac said, lurching to his feet.

"Huh?"

Tofu had forgotten his initial reaction to the wave motion and stood flummoxed as everyone rushed by him, Jack’s hysterical laughter echoing in his ears.

The chess tournament had been going on for most of the day, but was finally reaching a conclusion, which would be none too soon for the SGC canteen staff who really wanted the chairs back for their genuine diners. Unfortunately, with the base’s 2IC right in the middle of everything, nobody dared say anything.

"Check mate," Commander Baldacci said, a broad smile on his face.

"Now wait a minute," Doctor Daniel Jackson said, staring slack jawed at the board in front of him, unaware of the awed looks his opponent was getting from everyone else in the canteen. "You used a variation on… aw hell."

"It comes from working at the NID," Baldacci said, taking a sip of his long since cold coffee. "It trains you to be sneaky and strike when everyone least expects it."

"You sure fooled me," Daniel muttered, lifting his clear blue eyes to Baldacci’s dark ones. "Congratulations."

Baldacci smiled, seeming to have sloughed off the depression he had been wallowing in for the past few days, ever since they had been returned from USAMRIID, in fact.

It was a depression that Jack had noticed and had worried about, and now there was a respite, he stirred.

"Brent, can I have a word with you?"

Baldacci nodded, a wary look creeping into his face.

"Sure."

Jack rose to his feet, ignoring the curious looks he was getting.

"In my office," he said.

"Okay," Baldacci said, rising to his feet.

-

Jack wasted no time in putting the coffee on. He had no intentions of grilling Baldacci, but had to know what was going on in his mind. Baldacci in turn took time to wander around his office, investigating the military decorations Jack deliberately hung on darkened walls.

"Wow," he said after a while. "Impressive."

"The Goa’uld," Jack said, waving his hand dismissively.

"Yeah," Baldacci said, sinking into a chair. "Bernie told me about them."

Jack gave a small smile at Baldacci’s irreverent use of the Tok’ra’s name.

"You and Bernie okay?"

Baldacci nodded. "Actually we’re more than okay," he said. "It was surprising, waking up to hear someone talking to you from inside your skull, but he’s okay. A little scatterbrained, but okay."

"Scatterbrained?" Jack asked, intrigued. He has never heard of a scatterbrained Tok’ra.

"He’s really old," Baldacci said defensively. "Almost as old as Selmac, whoever that is, and has been without a suitable… host for almost a year. He has as much acclimatizing to do as I have."

"Selmac you met," Jack murmured. "Although you were unconscious at the time, so I guess that doesn’t count. And as for Bernie and you? I’m just glad that that’s not the problem."

"What makes you think there’s a problem?" Baldacci said guardedly, seeming to hunch down into his chair.

"Ah, cut the crap," Jack snorted. "You’ve been walking around the base looking like your dog just got run over." He pointed a finger at Baldacci. "I know you. Not as well as I’d like, but enough to know that something is seriously wrong here. If it isn’t Bernie, then what is it?"

"It’s the dead thing," Baldacci said capitulating with a sigh. "I don’t want the NID to think I have died. I had a life once. Okay, not much of one, but I had one anyway. If I die I have nothing."

"You are alive," Jack said. "Surely that counts for something?"

"Yeah," Baldacci said, reaching for his coffee. "It does. But not if that means I have to live the rest of my days offworld."

"Oh, I see where he’s going with this," Tofu said. "He doesn’t want to go."

"Do you blame him?" Jack answered.

"But he has no choice," Tofu said. Something in Jack’s demeanor made him hesitate. "Or does he?" he asked suspiciously.

"The powers that be insist that you live offworld," Jack said, ignoring Tofu. "It’s too dangerous for you to stay. I mean, you might give us away. Besides," he said, "no one but the President himself knows we even exist."

"No one but the President and the back end of a bus called Colonel Matilda Moore," Baldacci said with a faint smile. "And if she can keep our secret, then so can I."

"Please don’t remind me about her," Jack said with a shudder.

They had been airlifted straight to USAMRIID for immediate decontamination and had spent the next four days there under Colonel Moore’s attentive eye. Aware, but unable to prove that all her guests were in fact, alien, she had cast a loving beady eye on the one person she knew for sure was, and Jack’s next four days had turned into a nightmare he never ever wanted to repeat.

"You were right you know," Baldacci said, idly toying with a fingernail. "That is one ugly woman." He looked up. "You sure she’s married?"

Jack nodded.

"Must be excellent in bed."

"Must be."

"So you wanna stay?" Jack asked, bringing the conversation back on track. "What does Bernie think about this?"

"He doesn’t mind," Baldacci said. "After a year of floating around in a tank he says anywhere is okay with him."

"The problem I see would be you and the NID," Jack said slowly. "They do not know that there are Tok’ra based on Earth." He settled back in his chair, cradling his own coffee against his chest. "If they ever found out, your life wouldn’t be worth a bent nickel, irrespective of whether you were employee of the month or not."

"They don’t ever need to know, I assure you," Baldacci said his eyes narrowing as he watched Jack.

"Hm," he said after a while.

"Hm?" Jack asked weakly, knowing that he had been zeroed in on. He hadn’t known Baldacci that long, but he was beginning to realize that he was an astute man, one that said ‘hm’ only when he had successfully connected all the dots.

"You have no intentions of sending me offworld, do you?" he said.

Jack looked innocent.

"Do you?" Baldacci pressed, the beginnings of a smile on his face.

"No," Jack said, wincing as Tofu whooped loudly. "At first the Tok’ra high council was all for it, especially Selmac, but when we pointed out that having a Tok’ra operative in the NID hierarchy would be a good thing, they were persuaded to leave you be."

"How do you know that I won’t betray you?" Baldacci stuttered.

Jack leaned forwards, abruptly serious. "Because your symbiote won’t let you," he said. He placed an adamant finger on the desk tapping lightly. "Never forget, from now on you have the Tok’ra race to think of. It is no longer I, it is we, and when the High council summons you, you go, no arguments."

"Is it like that with you?" Baldacci asked, making Jack smile.

"Hell yeah," he said. "Although in my case, being the official Tok’ra Ambassador to Earth I have more leeway."

Baldacci stared at him with wide eyes. "You really are an Ambassador?" he asked.

"I am," Jack said, grinning. His smile faded. "An Ambassador a madman called Nbutu thinks he killed, along with his bodyguard."

"He must still be wondering what happened to his ship," Baldacci said with a smile. "He must have been mightily pissed off when it never reached New York."

General Hammond had been quick to inform them about the Navy’s enthusiasm in using their new Kootchar torpedoes, fired from a nuclear submarine ten miles away with pinpoint accuracy. Even the atoms themselves had been vaporized, he had told them.

"I bet," Jack said.

Baldacci was back to picking at his fingernail again.

"I would have thought that with all the evidence stacked up against him he would have been in jail by now," he said.

"He’s back in the CAD lands," Jack said sadly.

"Pity," Baldacci said, watching him closely. "However…?"

"He is due to return for the WHO conference on infectious diseases in middle Africa, scheduled for Washington for later this month."

"And he’s coming?" Baldacci asked incredulously.

"By then, once he sees that nobody is hurling up blood, he will figure it’s safe to return," Jack said.

"Only, for him it will never be safe again," Baldacci said. "Not if we have anything to say about it."

"You got it," Jack said, stretching his arms towards the ceiling. "Now, what I want you to do is this - go with the Tok’ra." He held up a hand when Baldacci made to object.

"Let me finish. Go with the Tok’ra, meet everyone of note and show off Bernie. Enjoy yourself, stay clear of Anise, and be back here ready to resume active duty at the NID in two weeks."

"So the NID don’t think I’m dead after all." Baldacci said.

Jack smiled, loving this part. "No, they think you’re still kidnapped, along with me. The ship part? The SGC just kinda never let the NID know that we were onboard."

"No wonder they hate you," Baldacci said.

Jack gave him a glare. "They are 90 percent corruption and 10 percent good folk," he said. "That is not a reassuring ratio."

"I know," Baldacci said, staring at the carpet briefly. "I’m not blind."

"Now you will be in a position to do something about it," Jack said encouragingly.

"Yes," Baldacci mused. "But only after disposing of Nbutu, right?"

"We aren’t going to kill him," Jack said, quickly. "Merely…frighten him."

They shared a meaningful look; one both hoped the obtrusive base cameras never picked up on.

"Of course we are," Baldacci murmured. "Silly me."

It eventually turned out that Jack and Baldacci were sent off world together, General Hammond adamant that neither of them be seen as they were meant to be held for ransom somewhere.

So it fell on Jack to show the new Tok’ra around, get to know Bernie, (who had a wicked sense of humor) and successfully avoid Anise, although Baldacci showed an alarming tendency to want to actually talk to her.

Two weeks and many near misses later Baldacci and a relieved Jack O’Neill were back on Earth and ready for action.

"Gentlemen."

General Hammond was in his customary position to one side of the metal ramp, Jack’s team right behind him.

"General, kids," Jack replied, giving everyone a wide grin. "God, it’s good to be home."

"Tell me about it," Baldacci muttered. He was dressed in the standard light brown clothing all Tok’ra preferred, but Jack knew for a fact that he was aching to wear something else.

Anything else but brown, he had confided in Jack.

"Tell the quartermaster that Commander Baldacci is en-route and needing a change of clothing," he called up to the control room as Baldacci headed off at a fast trot, startling the gateroom guards. "Give him some BDU’s in Air Force blue."

"Yes sir," Sergeant Davis called back, just before General Hammond asked the inevitable question.

"Something happen?"

"No sir," the olive dressed Colonel O’Neill replied, before quickly reconsidering. This was gonna be good. "Well, actually, yes sir. You see, it was brown…"

"I get the picture Colonel," General Hammond said, shaking his head sadly. "I guess gate travel has that effect on some of us."

Two days and one apology later Jack and Baldacci were ready to take down President Nbutu.

"Any idea as to how we are going to do this?"

They were sat in the briefing room, surrounded by the rest of SG1, General Hammond in his usual spot at the head of the table.

"I have an idea, Brent," Jack said slowly, looking at the man he was rapidly considering to be a good friend. Having a symbiote onboard seemed to be having a good effect on him - he was looking fit and bronzed with clear eyes that asked more than his words did.

"No, we won’t kill him," he answered, replying to the unspoken question.

"That’s good," Baldacci said with a sigh of relief. "Bernie wasn’t too happy about the prospect."

"Bernie giving you a hard time?" Daniel asked lightly.

"I don’t condone murder," Bernie replied, the laconic gravelly voice emanating from Baldacci’s mouth so different from his own.

Daniel let Arran, his symbiote answer.

"Even if the Tau’ri in question is guilty of mass murder?"

"You have a justice system in place should he be found guilty of such crimes," Bernie said patiently.

Jack had spent two weeks with the two B’s debating just that, and was reluctant for the debate to continue, especially not with Arran who, like Bernie, could happily take days to debate something into the ground.

"We will not kill him," he said to both Tok’ra. "That is a given. Instead we are going to frighten him to death."

"How so?" General Hammond asked curiously.

Jack smiled, unveiling his masterplan.

"He thinks we’re dead, killed horribly by a malignant incurable disease, right?"

Everyone nodded.

"So what happens if we pitch up and shake his hand?"

"He’s gonna 'wet himself'," Carter’s symbiote, Diyonne said.

"He’s not going to know what to do," Carter said, taking over. "You could be cured, but he couldn’t guarantee it. The thought that he could be infected is going to drive him insane."

"He’s going to be in the same situation we found ourselves in," Baldacci said grimly.

"He is at the Central African Democracy Embassy at the moment, and will be there for the next few days until the WHO conference begins," General Hammond said, peering at some notes he had made. "He tried to make his visit an official state visit, but President Hayes told him to go hang himself."

"He did?" Daniel asked, eyes wide.

"Well, maybe not in so many words," Hammond said, making them all chuckle.

Teal’c held up his hand, requesting and getting their attention.

"Perhaps O’Neill and Baldacci would have more chance of achieving their objectives if they were to meet this Nbutu at his embassy." He looked at them gravely. "From what you have said, Nbutu’s entire country is just as bloodthirsty as is he. Is this correct?"

Baldacci nodded. "That is correct," he said, his tone equally as grave.

"Then I believe you should meet him at his embassy, informing as many personnel of his as you can as to what he did to your person."

"You mean tell them we are infected with Ebola?" Baldacci asked after a small hesitation, obviously using Bernie to translate Teal’c weird syntax.

Teal’c inclined his head. "Indeed. It would then be advisable to vacate the premises as quickly as possible."

"Brilliant," Jack crowed. "That’s a true Chulakian revenge plan. His people will tear him apart."

"It might work," Baldacci said, his eyes gleaming. "In fact, I know it will."

"General?" As with all plans, it needed the blessing of a superior officer.

Hammond leaned back in his chair, a broad smile on his face.

"Major Carter?"

Carter stiffened. "Sir?" she asked cautiously.

If possible, General Hammonds smile got broader.

"Major Carter, you are hereby ordered to return Lieutenant Commander Baldacci to the NID. Take Ambassador O’Neill along for the ride."

 

 

DIPLOMATIQUE RESIDENCE DE DÉMOCRATIE AFRIQUE DU CENTRAL

(Diplomatic residence of the Central African Democracy)

"Excellency?"

His esteemed President for life Chadrick Chuluka Nbutu glanced up irritably from the latest copy of XXX Bunny Girl to espy his aide, Msweti cringing in the doorway, his face pasty in the light from the hallway.

"Yes, what is it," he said irritably. It was getting on towards evening and he had an important banquet to go to. He just couldn’t figure out if he should gatecrash the one the Chinese were giving, or the South Africans. The Chinese, he guessed, seeing as those South Africans had made it very clear the last time that he wasn’t welcome. It was a pity really, seeing as they always catered in their local indigenous food, and he was rather partial to that spicy sausage they had, something called Boerewors.

"Excellency…" Msweti had his hand covering his heart, as if frightened to utter another word.

"Spit it out man," Nbutu snapped, hating it when Msweti turned to jelly. His high voice, incongruous in that hulking body, always seemed to fade to nothing, leaving its owner shaking and mute.

"There are two gentlemen wanting to see you," Msweti said, visibly trembling now.

"They are the white men from the ship," he whispered, moving his hand from his heart to his lips in the age-old tradition of warding off evil muti.

Nbutu froze for a minute, the fear of the unknown his elders had drummed into him at an early age also rearing its ugly head before his common sense triumphed. The white men were dead many days ago. Msweti was obviously deluded.

"Really?" he said, proud of the iron control he was exhibiting. "Send them in."

Whoever they were, he would soon reduce them to quivering wrecks, and if they defied him on his own turf, well, accidents happened, as his staff knew well. Selective violence ensured loyalty, and a steady stream of willing ladies into his bed.

He reluctantly slid the magazine into his desk drawer, resolving to stay seated until his massive erection subsided. What was it with these western women, posing so lewdly like that? It was pure smut.

Someone rapped on his office door.

"Come," he said, and then froze in shock, his heart fluttering in his chest like a dying fish. It couldn’t be.

"Noooo," he screamed, finally aware that the elders had been right all along.

"No," he screamed again, his wail turning into a choking sob as his blackened heart finally gave up the fight to live and burst in his chest.

'The House of Buns' was situated precisely opposite the UN building and was a nice place to eat - that was if one didn’t mind risking life and limb trying to cross the busy road to get there. It also had one hell of a queue, Samantha Carter mused, a queue that Jack O’Neill had easily jumped. Sometimes being a bona-fide diplomat paid off, she thought, trying not to notice the glares directed their way.

"He had a massive coronary," Jack was saying, picking at his food. "It was most unfair."

"Oh, I don’t know," Baldacci replied. "I thought it was most poetic, the way he did a swan dive like that."

"His dying has had a positive impact sir," Carter said, eyeing his almost untouched sandwich and wondering if he was going to eat it. It was pastrami on rye, and looked delicious. "The people in his country are calling for free and fair elections."

"They might just get it as well," Baldacci said. "They actually asked for the U.S. for help, and we are flying people and equipment across from Montaba even as we speak, with President Barra’s blessing."

"I believe so."

Jack pushed his untouched food across to Carter, watching her eyes light up. "It’s just the way he went." He snapped his fingers. "Quick, like that."

"You wanted him to suffer?" Baldacci asked.

"I wanted him running scared," Jack said despondently. "As, oh, I don’t know, punishment if you will for what he put us through. What he put everyone through, even those poor monkeys."

Baldacci nodded soberly. "I know where you’re coming from Jack, but if he hadn’t kidnapped us like he did, you and I wouldn’t be sitting here."

Jack looked up, confused. "What do you mean?"

Baldacci smiled. "For every bad action there is an equally positive reaction," he said. "My Momma told me that many years ago, and if you think about it, it makes sense."

"How so?" Jack asked.

"Nbutu kidnapped us, poisoned us - or whatever you call it - and left us for dead, right?"

Jack nodded.

"Then the following happened. I got snake… ouch," He clapped a hand to his head, making the others laugh.

"They hate the word snake," Jack whispered theatrically.

"No shit," Baldacci groaned, making them laugh. "But as I was saying, from Nbutu’s bad deeds, something good arose. I met you, got introduced to Bernie, and now you have an agent on the inside at the NID."

Jack tugged at his arm, making the younger man look at him quizzically.

"We," he said warmly. "We have an agent on the inside. Never forget that Brent. You are part of a bigger family now, and families stick together."

His eyes flashed - an eerie sight had anyone been looking his way and definitely not something any mere human could do.

"Sorry," Baldacci whispered. "It just takes some getting used to."

"You’ll manage," Jack said comfortably, and reclaimed his sandwich.

EINDE

Beta Tested by CiGiK - Cape Town - South Africa (Home of Boerewors!) -

30th April 2004