Skip Carmichael sat at the desk in the Jettison Salvage office -- the desk he still thought of as belonging to Harry Broderick, even though he'd been running the place for the last five years since Harry had retired to go gypsying about with his friend the Doctor. "The genuine article," the man had described himself with a toothy grin.
"Special delivery for you, Skip." Mack poked his head into the trailer and dropped a smallish box in front of his friend. "I think it might be from Harry," he added with a grin.
"What makes you think so, Mack?" joked Skip as he studied the myriad stamps and stickers decorating the box. "Looks like this baby's been all over the world before it got here."
"Yup -- just like the last package Harry sent you. Looks like it started out in Wales about fifty years ago." Mack pointed to a smudged and faded cancellation. "And from there it went to London -- "
"And then Shanghai." Skip chuckled. "Wonder who Harry knew there? Or maybe I don't want to know." He shook his head ruefully, thinking of the many places his old friend had lived during the last fifty. Wish I could be there with you, old friend.
"Here's one from Tierra del Fuego about the time you guys were down there testing icebergs." Mack pointed to the next postmark.
"This last one's from Andy at the ranch." Skip puzzled over the address sticker that had been pasted over all of the others. He smiled a little as he thought of his cousin, the last person he'd ever expected to settle down at the old Michaels' place. The roving radio man had changed since his marriage to Caitlin and having that passel of kids. Guess Harry knew what he was doing... "Guess I'd better open this sucker."
"Might as well since Harry took so much trouble gettin' it here." Mack perched on the edge of the desk while Skip ripped open the paper wrapper.
Both men remained silent until the paper had been removed and the flaps of the box lifted up. Then Skip gave a low whistle as he stared inside. "My, my..." he murmured, lifting the oddly shaped object out of its nest of tissue.
"What the...?" Mack reached out a hand to touch the circular object. "I dunno, Skip. Harry's sent you some weird things, but this one's got 'em all beat."
"You've got that right -- wonder what these symbols mean?" Skip touched a series of images painted on the device at regular intervals. "They almost look Egyptian." He pushed his chair back from the desk. "I think I might have something here that could help." With a grin, he settled himself at his computer and started up his AOL program. "I was surfin' one night and came across this web site that had something like that symbol on it. This guy was goin' on about how there was cross-pollination of language and stuff in the old days..."
"You have mail," sounded from the computer.
"Uh -- sure, Skip." Mack started to back toward the door. "But while you surf the web, I think I'd better get some stuff taken care of out in the yard." Even though he'd started out life in the aeronautical industry, Mack had never really taken to searching the Internet for all the minutia that first Harry and then Skip had gone in for. "Call me when you find something."
"Sure, Mack, sure..." Totally absorbed in the changing screens in front of him, Skip barely noticed when his friend left the room.
Melanie Slozar Carmichael turned the key in the ignition of her Bronco and opened the door at the same time that one of the cranes at Jettison dropped a huge load of scrap metal. She winced at the noise, but years of time spent at the yard had cured her of any more reaction than that. "Hey, Mack, how're things goin'?" she called as the man came over to join her at the van.
"Just fine, Mel -- hey, you ought to go see the new toy Harry sent to Skip. It's really cool."
"A new toy?" Melanie frowned. The last toy Harry had sent had nearly taken out an entire section of the junkyard when they tested it. Of course they had made a huge profit when Skip sold it to an old buddy at the Jet Propulsion Labs. Profits that came in handy with kids in, and shortly about to be in, college. "What does it do?"
"We don't know," Mack admitted with a grin. "It's just this funny circle gizmo with Egyptian-kinda writing on it. Skip thought he recognized something about it and went right to the Internet. Don't think he can get into trouble that way."
"Not unless I find him surfing the wrong kind of web site." Mel returned her friend's grin, confident that her husband would never do such a thing -- especially when his curiosity was piqued by one of Harry's 'toys.'
"Now that would be an explosion for sure," Mack agreed as he started to walk away. "It's gettin' close to quitting time. Think I'd better start looking like a foreman."
"Right." Melanie waved at her friend and began to pick her way through the piles of junk toward the trailer-cum-office that no one had wanted to replace with a more modern structure after Harry had retired. Just as she reached Skip's parked car, a flash of light nearly blinded her from the window as a scream rang in her ears. "Skip!"
Heedless of danger, she ran toward the trailer. The light vanished as quickly as it had appeared, and Skip's voice was gone. Behind her she heard a siren that warned of accident's in the yard and the clatter of other footfalls, but her whole concentration was on the trailer and Skip.
She threw the door open to a scene of total chaos. Skip's desk lay on its side, papers floating everywhere, the computer skewed on its side nearby. A round object sat on the floor, some of the writing still glowing, but there was no sign of Skip Carmichael anywhere.
Melanie went to her knees by the device studying it intently while tears streamed down her cheeks. "What have you done this time, Skip?" she groaned, a mixture of anger and fear in her voice.
Mack's hands closed on her shoulder trying to bring comfort. "We'll find him, Mel. We'll find him."
"You can bet on it, Mack and then I'm going to give him a piece of my mind he'll never forget..." Melanie's hand fingered one of the cartouches. "Never."
* * *
"What do you mean there was a gate activation?" General George Hammond stared incredulously at the two SG-1 team members in front of him. "There wasn't anyone scheduled to go off-world today, and the Antarctic gate is in storage and unusable. We made sure of that after your little adventure."
"I know that, sir," Samantha Carter nodded her blonde head in agreement, "but nevertheless, there was a gate activation somewhere in North America about two hours ago."
"I need evidence, Captain..."
"Here it is, sir," Daniel interrupted, handing the general a sheaf of papers. "According to the data, the activation occurred in the southern part of Southern California. It'll take some time to narrow down the field."
"Are you trying to tell me there is a Goa'uld hanging out in Hollywood?" If Hammond had had any hair left he would probably have run exasperated fingers through it.
"I don't know, sir," replied Daniel shaking his head. "But I recommend that you send a team out there to check things out."
"Really, Dr. Jackson?" The irony in the general's voice was not lost on the scientist.
"Uh -- yes, sir, I do, but I'm sure you had that in mind all along." Daniel flushed in embarrassment.
"Good thinking, son." Hammond almost smiled at the younger man. "Why don't you locate Colonel O'Neill and Teal'c and have them in the briefing room at 03:30?"
"Yes, sir." Still off-balance Daniel obediently turned and left the general's office. Behind him Sam and Hammond exchanged amused looks.
* * *
"Wow, that was some trip." Skip found himself face down on the floor, staring at an elaborately-patterned carpet. Funny, I don't remember having a rug like this in the office. Don't think Mel would redecorate while I was unconscious. So that's got to mean that I'm not in the office any more.
Slowly, carefully, he rolled over and tried to sit up, but a crashing pain in his head stopped him. What the heck...? What happened to me? Try to remember, Skipper. This is no time to lose your head.
Lying on the rug with his eyes closed, Skip ran back over the events as he recalled them. I was in the office with that doohickey that Harry sent. I found Daniel Jackson's website and started to play with the Egyptian letters on the circle.
"And then you must have pressed the correct sequence to bring yourself here to my home." The jovial voice jolted Skip from the calm he had found. His eyes flew open, and he sat up, ignoring the slam of renewed pain in his head. Before he passed out, Skip looked into the eyes of a white-bearded man in the robes of a far-distant time who bent over him with a concerned look on his face. So why aren't I scared?
* * *
"Slow down, Mel, slow down. Tell me again what happened?" Lee Stetson exchanged worried looks with his wife as they both listened to the distraught voice of his cousin's wife. "Skip's disappeared?"
"Yes -- there was an explosion in the office, and when Mack and I got inside, the place was a mess, but there was no sign of Skip or the package he had gotten from Harry. Skip had been on the web, researching some Egyptian writing when there was a flash of light..." Mel's voice faded into a ragged sob. "I tried to call Remington and Laura, but they're out of the country. Andy and Murphy are on the way here already, but I wanted to get you involved. Any kind of technology that can do this has got to be tied into the government somehow." Her tone turned faintly accusatory, despite Lee's current status as an ex-agent.
"Nothing I know about, but I'll see what I can find before we head out there." Lee handed the phone to Amanda. "Talk to her," he mouthed as he hurried toward the small office he maintained at home.
Amanda nodded, then started talking to Mel, trying to get a more coherent story from the woman. "Is Mack there? Maybe he can describe the item more precisely."
* * *
The next time Skip woke up he was lying on a bed -- a soft, very comfortable bed with fluffy pillows under his aching head. "Much better," he croaked.
"I'm glad you approve."
This time when he sat up, his head didn't explode. "Wh-who are you?" Skip asked, studying the being who sat in an armchair near the bed. The man was dressed in a robe of some sort that made him look like a character out of a fantasy novel: long and flowing of a rich burgundy color. His hair was a wiry mass of white that framed a genial face dominated by the bluest eyes Skip had ever seen outside of a Paul Newman movie.
"I am a man of many names, young man." There was something very strange about the voice, sort of like someone speaking through a synthesizer, but his direct gaze offset the effect of the voice. "I have been called Thoth, and Socrates and more. Your friend Harry and his companion knew me as Merlin."
"You know Harry and the Doctor?" Skip almost shouted in surprise, yet maybe he shouldn't be shocked. After all, he definitely wasn't in Kansas -- or even San Diego -- any more.
"Indeed I do. I gave Harry the device that brought you here to my home. He said that you wanted desperately to revisit the one place you had wanted most to see in your entire life. And he felt more than a little guilty at leaving you in the lurch when he decided to -- what did he say -- " Thoth or Merlin tapped a forefinger against his head. "Ah, yes -- he said that you missed the chance to explore, that you wanted to be responsible, but -- "
"But I also wanted the chance to go places where no man had ever gone before." Skip finished the sentence with the old man, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. "I love being with Mel and the kids, but there's a part of me that still wants to be out there finding new places. Yeah, Harry always could read me like a book."
"He still does." Merlin suddenly looked tired. "I think I understand as well. I must go rest, Skip Carmichael. There is food waiting for you in the next room. Feel free to explore -- " he smiled again,"-- while I rest. I think you will be most entertained."
"But, I've got so much I need to ask you, and Mel's gonna be worried about me..." Skip's voice trailed off as Merlin's eyes glowed strangely for a moment. He willed his pounding heart to slow down. Just what was this man?
"I will send reassurances to your mate. Your questions will have to wait. My spirit is willing to share with you; indeed I have been aching for the chance to share my experiences with someone, but my body is tired and needs to rest. Be patient. And enjoy your explorations." The man vanished far more quickly than Skip would have given him credit for.
He stared after the man, his mouth open. It was everything he could ever have hoped for -- but not in anyway he could have ever imagined. His confusion soon turned to delight.
* * *
"Hey, you guys are never gonna believe this..." Daniel Jackson burst into the wardroom with a flimsy sheet of paper in one hand.
"And what might that be, Daniel? Aliens invade Earth?" Jack O'Neill looked up from his lunch tray, a twinkle in his eye.
"Maybe it's something more unusual... like an assignment to visit a planet about to explode," added Teal'c, in an unusually lighthearted mood.
"Thanks a lot, guys... next time I'll remember it's make-fun-of-the-archeologist day. I'll let General Hammond send for you instead of giving you personal messenger service." With a grimace, Jackson threw himself into the empty seat at the table and mooched a french fry from O'Neill's tray.
"Leave the food alone, Daniel. How many times do I have to tell you to get your own lunch?" Jack swatted his friend's hand away from his food.
"Perhaps we should ask Dr. Jackson why he came to join us?" Teal'c's somber voice broke into the banter.
With a scowl for the reminder that duty was about to interrupt the first R&R they'd had in longer than he cared to calculate, Jack nodded as he asked. "All right, Daniel. Just what is it that has you in a tizzy?"
"Remember the second Stargate that you and Sam found in the Antarctic?"
Shivering at the memory, O'Neill nodded. "Like I could forget? What about it? Last we heard it was in a bunch of pieces and totally deactivated."
"Seems that there's a third gate here on Earth."
"What?" Jackson now had the full attention of his teammates. "How? Where is it?"
"Try Southern California."
"La-La Land?" Jack raised a skeptical eyebrow. "I've got to give you credit, Danny, you almost had me believing you, but L.A.? No way."
Daniel dropped the same paper he and Sam had shown the general earlier. "Well, looks a little south of Los Angeles, but read it for yourself," he declared, annoyed at his friend's attitude. "I'll meet you in the briefing room." Shoving his chair back, Jackson got to his feet and started for the door.
"Oh sure -- try to be the general's fair-haired boy. We're coming, Daniel." With an irritated grimace on his face, Jack got up and followed his friend, Teal'c close behind him.
* * *
Melanie sat on the old sofa Skip had refused to replace when they had gotten married. "I flew this baby to the moon and back when I was in college, Mel. I can't send her to the junkyard, now that her springs are gone," Skipper had explained, looking more like that long-gone dreamer than he had any right to nowadays.
"All right," she had conceded. "Can I at least have it re-sprung or whatever it's called?"
"Sure." His warm, melting grin had come out in full force. "Tomorrow."
"It's still sprung," she murmured, running her hand along the worn fabric of one arm. "Damn you, Addison Carmichael, I should dump this thing just to spite you for scaring me like this." The doorbell rang, startling her from her mixed thoughts. Gracefully she got to her feet, then frowned as a small object fell to the floor with a thump. "What the...?"
"Mel, it's Andy and Murphy." Mack stood at the doorway of the study.
"They made good time." Melanie stooped down to pick up the object, then joined her old friend.
"What's that?" he asked.
"I'm not sure -- I found it when I got up." She studied the small, pyramid-shaped object, nearly dropping it when a piece of some sort of paper popped out of it.
"Your mate is safe. Do not worry. He will be returned shortly," Melanie read the old-fashioned script slowly.
"What the -- "
"Mel, let me see that," Murphy Michaels stepped into the room, followed closely by Andy.
"Whoa, cuz, better help Mel set herself down before you go into private-eye mode."
The blond man looked sheepish, "Sorry, Mel..."
"It's all right," the woman replied, color coming back into her pale face. "The note just caught me by surprise."
"Can't imagine why -- " Murphy studied the odd script. "Where'd you find this?"
"It fell off the sofa when I got up." She pointed at the battered piece of furniture.
"Man, he's still got it," Andy exclaimed. "I owe him forty bucks. I told him you'd never let that thing stay in your house."
"Andy -- "
"You two sound like some sort of bad vaudeville act," Lee Stetson joined the crowd in Skip's study. "By the way, you all left the front door wide open. Anyone could have walked in here."
"Doesn't look like they had to," Andy poked at the pyramid-shaped object Mel had first found. "Looks like they can beam in and out."
Melanie had had enough. "Before anyone starts looking for Scotty to teleport them out of here, may I remind you all that my husband is still missing under very unusual circumstances and that you're supposed to be here to help me, not to make bad jokes?" A sudden suspicious thought made her ask, "Unless there's something you all know about this that I don't?" Skip did have a reputation as a jokester, but surely he wouldn't do something in such poor taste...?
"I'm sorry, Mel. We're all worried about the Skipper. It's just easier to make jokes when we're in a situation like this." Andy's warm smile came into play.
"Skip's the same way. Harry, too." Melanie touched the pyramid again. "Lee, you've got the government contacts -- "
"I've already got some calls in, Mel. Now we've got the hard part."
"Waiting," she sighed. Waiting had never been her strong suit.
* * *
"It's happened again," Daniel reported as information appeared on his computer screen. "Much smaller this time, but definitely Stargate activity. But -- " His voice trailed off. "This is really weird."
"What is it, Daniel?" Sam leaned over the back of his chair. "The Gate changed location?" Her voice rose a few notches. "How could that be?"
Daniel's hands were busy on the keyboard, and he didn't look up. "We pinpointed the original signal to San Diego, but there's a shift of about twenty miles."
"A portable Stargate?" O'Neill's voice dripped sarcasm. "Right -- someone just picked up a big old stone circle that weighs well -- it weighs more than even Teal'c here can lift and trucked it across town? Tell me another one."
Carter's eyes gleamed. "You might have an idea, Colonel -- imagine the possibilities."
"I'd rather not, Captain. We could have Goa'uld popping in anywhere their little hearts desire. Maybe even the White House? This is definitely not a happy thought."
"But -- if we had control of the technology, sir? No more having to get to the DHD when under enemy fire. Just dial in a few numbers and zap..."
More data had appeared on Daniel's screen, "We've got locations for both events. The first one took place at a junkyard... Jettison Salvage. The police reported a single missing person."
"Any names?" snapped Jack. At least this seemed to be something solid. Something he could hold onto -- better than worrying about portable Stargates. He felt Teal'c's brooding presence behind him, solidly supportive of whatever action might need to be taken.
"One. Addison 'Skip' Carmichael -- Hey, I know him!" Daniel looked up, surprise written on his face.
"How do you know him?" O'Neill felt the tension he usually felt when they were out in the field. "Daniel?"
"He's got an FBI file, Colonel," Sam reported, reading over Jackson's shoulder.
"Of course he does. Everyone's got an FBI file. It's un-American not to have one."
"Nothing bad -- Addison 'Skip' Carmichael, retired Navy... former NASA astronaut dropped when he published a revolutionary theory that would have made lunar exploration much less expensive. People thought he was nuts."
"Gee, that sounds familiar."
"Jack, Skip joined up with a salvage expert, Harry Broderick a few years later and a physicist, Melanie Slozar. Together the three of them proved Skip's theory by actually constructing a spaceship, going to the moon and returning safely. It was all over the papers." Daniel stared at his friend, arms folded, obviously determined to defend the missing man -- his friend?
O'Neill wasn't fazed in the least. "And you know him -- how?
"Yes, Dr. Jackson, I'd like to know that as well." General Hammond had entered the room quietly during the conversation.
For a moment Daniel stalled. Fiddling with his glasses, then he began to speak, slowly as he went back to a painful period of his life. "Back when I started to promote my theory about ancient Egypt and my professional life began to fall apart, I got a letter from this guy -- he'd been through the same sort of thing; kicked out of the one place he'd ever wanted to be because he'd come up with a theory that didn't fit in with the popular party line. He told me he didn't know if I was right or crazy, but that I should hang in there and fight for my theories. He had done that and was finally proved right."
"This guy was Skip Carmichael?" Jack's voice was much softer now, remembering how he had thought Daniel's ideas were totally cockeyed back when they first met.
"Yeah, we exchanged a few letters after that but then sort of dropped out of touch when I came here to the Stargate project."
"Have you heard from him recently?" Hammond's voice was neutral.
"Yes. He popped into my web site and started e-mailing me a few months ago when he realized that it was my site. According to the logs he was actually online when he -- uh -- zapped out."
"Zapped out?" Jack's eyebrow went up.
"Activated the Stargate," Teal'c translated.
"I knew that." O'Neill glared at the Jaffa. Teal'c gazed serenely back at him.
"Do I want to know what is on this web site of yours?" asked Hammond, crossing the room to stand in front of the archeologist, arms folded.
"Everything's been cleared, sir."
A silence filled the room that was finally broken by Hammond. "Dr. Jackson, we'll have a talk about your web site when you get back from California. Meanwhile, Colonel O'Neill, I want your team en route for the site of the most recent activation immediately."
"And when we get there, sir?"
"You will do whatever is needed to either procure this seemingly portable Stargate or render it inoperable. Any questions?"
"None at all, sir." Jack resisted the desire to sigh. Piece of cake, he thought. A bunch of civilians, maybe some Goa'uld and a missing astronaut? What could possibly go wrong?
* * *
Taking Merlin up on his invitation, Skip wandered through the old man's rooms after he'd eaten, avoiding the chamber where his new friend had gone to rest. Objects were displayed throughout the place from many periods of Earth's history. An old sword was stuck in a stone a la King Arthur -- books and manuscripts lay everywhere he looked. Paintings and drawings -- one, a technical drawing of something that appeared remarkably like a flying pyramid, looked like it had to have been done by Da Vinci, but surely even that brilliant man couldn't have imagined something that far out of the norm.
While he explored, Skip thought over the old man's words -- he said that you missed the chance to explore, that you wanted to be responsible, -- that you wanted desperately to revisit the one place you had wanted most to see in your entire life. What could that have to do with his being in this place?
A wild thought crossed his mind. I can't possibly be on the -- nah! Everyone would know about this place if it were... or would they? He thought about the technology that had brought him to this place. And Daniel's theories about ancient Egypt
"There's only one way to find out." Skip looked around -- no windows in this room. Determinedly he went from one room to the next until he located a heavily draped window. But when his hands touched what looked like a pull, he hesitated. This is crazy, Skipper -- maybe you're crazy, too...
"There is, indeed, only one way to find out, young man." Merlin stood in the doorway. "I hope you won't disappoint me. I've waited a long time for someone like you to visit me."
Skip frowned over those words, a part of his mind wondering what they could mean, then the 'kid' who had always wanted to be in just one place took over, and he opened the drapes, revealing not a country garden or some such place that would have gone with the decor of the house, but a stark, beautiful landscape of rock and craters and mountains and a black, black sky with more stars than he had seen in years. Since he'd stepped on the surface of… "The moon. We're on the moon."
* * *
"There's been a development." Hammond's voice reached SG-1 through a secure com-link.
"Sir?" Jack frowned. Developments tended to be messy in his experience in undercover assignments.
"It seems that Mr. Carmichael's wife has called in a number of his relatives to help in the search."
"Great -- more civilians." Jack rolled his eyes heavenward.
"Not exactly. One of them is Lee Stetson -- an ex-agent for the Agency."
"Scarecrow?" Jack shook his head. "Geez! Not that guy. And he no longer works for the Agency?"
"I believe that the two of you have worked together before?" Hammond couched his words carefully to the fascination of the rest of the team.
"You could say that, sir. I, myself, might phrase it differently."
"I'm certain of that," Hammond said with a raised eyebrow. "However, in the spirit of co-operation, and the fact that his presence will greatly expedite your mission, I suggest you contact Mr. Stetson…" he read off the numbers, "…and let him know your ETA."
* * *
They sat around the kitchen table, listlessly picking at take-out Chinese food. The hour was growing late, and for all the brave talk earlier, the cousins found themselves without even a hint as to how they should proceed. Murphy summed things up, "Unless we can make that thingamabob work again, we haven't got a clue to go on here."
"Or Harry walks through the door with an answer." Melanie dropped her fork on her plate. "Maybe there's a clue in the package that we missed before?"
The phone rang. Andy looked at Murphy who looked at Lee who glanced apologetically at Mel before he scooped it up. "This better be you, Skipper..."
But it obviously wasn't the missing man from the startled expression on Lee's face. "Yes, this is -- was -- Scarecrow." The others knew that Lee rarely used his old code name and exchanged concerned glances. "Yes, understood, Colonel -- 2200 hours. The device is here as well as... yes, we'll be waiting for you." The voice on the phone rattled on, and Lee retorted, "What the he... of course there won't be any reporters. What do you take me...?" An audible click told everyone that the conversation was over.
"Who was that, Lee?" demanded Melanie, standing before the agent, hands on her hips. "Why did they..."
"Skip's disappearance has gotten some military-types concerned. Seems a Colonel O'Neill and his team from the Air Force are going to be here in about an hour. They plan to confiscate that little do-hickey that Harry sent."
"What about Skip?"
"They'll try to get him back, but that thing's the main reason they're coming."
"Well, they aren't going to get it until Skip comes home." Melanie reached over the discarded food boxes and gingerly picked up the circular device. "I don't care if the President himself orders me to hand it over."
"We're with you, Mel." Andy's voice had a "three musketeers" ring to it. "No one leaves the skipper stranded."
"Amen," Lee and Murphy chorused.
* * *
"The moon -- I'm on the moon," Skip whispered in a reverent tone.
"The one place you thought never to visit again," Merlin confirmed, joining his guest at the window. "If you like, I do have equipment that will allow you to 'play' outside." He held up a warning hand as Skip started to speak once more... "But only after I tell you a little story." The old man wavered suddenly, and Skip helped him to sit on a nearby chair.
"Do you want something to drink?" Skip crouched near the man, watching as color slowly returned to his face. "Do you have a doc -- ?" He paused when he realized what the odds might be on having a doctor make a house call on the moon.
"Thank you for your concern, Skip, but I'm afraid there is nothing that can be done for me. This body has nearly reached the end of its usefulness. Unless I can find a willing host..."
Merlin smiled, "I'm feeling better now. Let me tell you that story."
"All -- all right." A twinge of apprehension surfaced in Skip's voice as he settled himself on another chair and made himself comfortable.
The old man caught the nuance and shook his head. "I didn't mean to worry you. You are my guest and perfectly safe here. I promise you."
Somehow Skip trusted Merlin's words as he gazed into the blue eyes that suddenly flared gold. The man's voice changed, grew deeper, more alien.
"Once upon a time I was known as Thoth. I lived in ancient Egypt. My people had learned of the people of Earth -- that they made excellent hosts for our bodies and gave us a platform for an existence far beyond what we had imagined." As Skip blinked at the word 'host' once again, Merlin/Thoth paused, then reached for a drawing of a snake-like creature that made shivers run up Skip's spine.
"This is my form. I dwell within my friend, Merlin, and we work together. I have a way of projecting my intelligence and of building things, he has been granted a long and fascinating life."
The golden flare vanished from the blue eyes and Merlin's more jovial voice returned. "Please, listen to everything before you say anything, my friend. I -- we need someone to know the whole story before..."
"Before you die?" Skip ventured.
"Exactly." Merlin/Thoth nodded. "Your friend Harry thought you would be the perfect choice as listener in return for your chance to revisit my favorite sanctuary, the moon."
The gold flare returned. "Let me continue. If you are truly the right person, you will understand at the end."
Which might not be too far away, Skip thought, watching the old man's chest as he struggled for breath. "Okay, go ahead."
"Thank you." Thoth nodded. "At first we took only willing hosts, but many of my brothers began to truly believe that they were the gods of the people of Egypt and other lands where they had traveled: Ra, Osiris, Apophis and many more. They enslaved the people of Egypt and took many from this planet to other worlds through the Chapa'ai, the Stargate as those of your world call it today. These people were seeded throughout the galaxy to work for the Goa'uld, to be experiments and to provide new hosts for our young." Thoth touched Skip's hand and images unfolded of the huge round stone circle with men and women of all ages being herded through it to world after world.
"This was a sad time for those of us who watched our brothers change. I believe I discovered the reason for the change -- " A picture of a golden sarcophagus into which an aging, sick man was placed appeared, followed by one of a young, vigorous man emerging. Each time this happened, the eyes grew colder, harder, less human.
"What happened next? These Goa'uld aren't on Earth now..." Skip's eyes were wide. "Did the good guys beat the bad ones?"
"I wish I could say that was the case." Thoth sighed, coughed and then made himself more comfortable. "I would much rather be the hero of this tale -- but no, the humans, the Tauri as we called them, rose up against their masters and defeated them. The 'gods' were forced away from Earth, and the gate was buried deep in the sands of the desert."
"And you?" Skip looked around the comfortable room with its view of the moon. "What happened to you?"
"My original host, Thoth, died eventually, but I found a willing replacement, and we continued in many guises throughout human history. I have been a magician, a wizard, a scientist and more. I have known your King Arthur, Shakespeare, Drake, Washington, Edison, and so many more. My last host, Merlin, has been extremely resilient and has lived far longer than I could have dreamed. And we have learned so much together."
"Like how to build a miniature Stargate?" Skip guessed, thinking of the box he had received from Harry.
"Yes -- in my latter days I have found myself happier alone, in the midst of the memories of my many lives. Books, paintings, experiments and the occasional guest."
"Like Harry and the Doctor?"
"Yes, they helped me defeat some less welcome additions to the neighborhood. Cybermen, I believe the Doctor called them. He said they'd been here before. Obviously when I wasn't at home, as it were."
"Were you here when the -- "
"The Eagle landed?"
Skip nodded eagerly.
"Yes -- it was wonderful to see the Tauri reaching out into space at long last. And I watched you and your mate -- wife -- Melanie make your trip to the moon as well. I had an excellent view from this very window, actually."
"Wow!" Skip stood and went to the portal. He could almost see the Vulture landing.
"Would you like to go outside?" Merlin seemed to be dominant now as the eyes that met Skip's were a clear blue, and his voice was more human than Thoth's.
"You know I would." Skip face glowed with the desire to walk on that rocky surface once more. "But I've got a question first."
"You're the one that's dying, right? Not Thoth."
"Then why don't you go find another willing host?" A thought crossed Skip's mind that made him step back from the other man. "That's not why you brought me... no, I don't think that's why."
"No, you have just demonstrated why you are here. You are curious, a little afraid, but not so afraid you aren't able to listen to a story that must sound like a work of science fiction. And you are the person to carry this story back to Earth. There is one in particular I wish you to tell -- a man by the name of Daniel Jackson."
"Daniel?" Understanding grew. "Of course -- his crazy theories about Egypt. They are true after all."
"Yes -- and he is a collector of stories. He will save mine so that, in time, people will know that not all of my people were evil tyrants -- bug-eyed monsters as they are shown in your films." Merlin's face grew a little sad. "As for searching out a willing host -- Thoth and I have been together so long we are almost a single being. We have chosen to end together."
For a moment Skip wanted to protest the waste of so much knowledge, to volunteer to be that host so that the knowledge would continue. Then he recognized the love that these two -- Thoth and Merlin -- shared and couldn't bring himself to insist that one should go on without the other. "I see."
"I think you do." Merlin pressed a button and a closet opened with a wide variety of space gear in it. "You will find all that is needed for your excursion in here. Enjoy your walk on the moon. It is not given to many to return to the place they have dreamed of the most."
"Tha-thank you. I wish there was something I could do for you," Skip almost stammered in his eagerness.
"You already have by listening to my story and not turning away in horror. And I have something else to request, but first, go, enjoy yourself. I'll explain when you come back in." Merlin turned away but paused by a single doorway, "This is the airlock that will take you outside. I - I must rest now."
"Thank you again, Merlin!"
"Go." The old man seated himself again in the chair and closed his eyes. "I need to rest."
* * *
After selecting a suit and making himself ready, Skip entered the airlock Merlin had shown him. I'm shaking. Skip stared at his hands then at the controls that would take him out into the lunar day. I guess it makes sense. After all the last time I was here -- he stepped away from the memories that threatened to overwhelm him and pressed the button. Silently the inner hatch sealed and the outer hatch opened, revealing the rocky, crater-marked surface of his dreams. I'm really doing this. Oh, Mel, Harry, I wish you guys were here to share this with me.
Skip stepped out of Merlin's retreat and reveled in the sharp contrast between light and shadow, the sky filled with an impossible number of stars and the burning sun that gave life to his home planet. He remembered the words that Jim Lovell had read so many years before as he turned to see the beautiful sight of planet-rise.
"It's everything you and Mel told me it was, Skip."
"Harry!?" Startled Skip turned clumsily in his suit to see his friend, similarly clad, standing by a tall British police box. "Harry, it is you!" With a huge grin on his face, Carmichael leaped across the space between them. "How..."
"The Doctor and Merlin were in cahoots, Skip -- we're going to be your ride home."
"What do you mean?" Skip turned back to look at Merlin's home. "Merlin...?"
"Let's finish our walk, Skip. Then he'll explain it all to you."
"He wants this for you, Skip."
Reluctantly Skip nodded, and the two old friends took a stroll in the lunar day, occasionally leaping over huge boulders and skirting craters while they took turns catching up on their lives.
* * *
Lee Stetson stood silently by the front window as the minutes passed inevitably toward one-hour mark. His grim face reflected his divided self -- on the one hand he had spent most of his adult life as part of the establishment. He'd once been a career government employee. If the military felt the need to confiscate their one link to Skip, he should be willing to follow procedure. But Skip was his cousin, close as any brother -- how could he abandon him?
"We'll figure something out," Melanie spoke softly as she touched his arm. "Or Skip will -- he's always been good at coming through just when you'd think it was impossible." She smiled even though a sheen of unshed tears filled her eyes. "He got us back from the moon, you know."
"I know -- It's just -- O'Neil and I were forced to work together once. It wasn't pretty."
"The worst -- Amanda..."
"They're here," Mel interrupted as a dark-colored van pulled up in front of the house.
Andy and Murphy appeared at her shoulder. "Didn't waste any time, did they?" muttered Andy, already looking belligerent.
"Keep cool, guys," Lee snapped. "We don't want this to escalate out of our control."
"And since when have we been in control?" asked Murphy sardonically. Nothing had been remotely under their control since Skip had disappeared.
"They want what we have." Melanie patted the deep pocket of the robe she had put on to hide Skip's 'gift'. "We're in control." She felt more like the person who had gone to the moon and back than she had in years. "All for one..."
"And one for all," the cousins replied.
* * *
"I really think you ought to let me go in first, Jack," Daniel repeated for the umpteenth time since Hammond had told them that this 'Scarecrow' was in possession of the gate. "I'm sure I can explain things"
"There's no reasoning with Stetson, trust me." Jack studied his weapons but decided not to take anything overt when he caught Teal'c's questioning look. "Okay... okay, I know, the guy works for the same side as we do, but..."
"But you do not like him?" the Jaffa cut to the chase as always.
"What's not to like? Hey -- good-looking agent running around with a beautiful civilian in the middle of a fire fight? Gee -- he and I were like..."
"You and Apophis?" Daniel looked innocent when O'Neill tossed him a withering look. "C'mon, Jack -- you go in like this, and we're going to be about as inconspicuous as -- as --" the archeologist stumbled as he searched for the safest description of his friend.
"I think Captain Carter has taken matters into her own hands," Teal'c announced, shrugging toward the house as the physicist started up the front steps.
As the men watched, Sam rang the bell. The door opened revealing a tall blonde woman accompanied by several men. The two women exchanged words, then Sam waved back toward her teammates, gesturing them forward.
"This is going to be so much fun," complained O'Neill as they trailed up the path to the house.
* * *
After he and Harry had reluctantly returned to the compound following their stroll on the moon's surface, Skip changed back to his own clothing. Then, with a growing sense of urgency, he went in search of his new friend.
"In here, Skip." Thoth's voice was weaker now -- for a moment Skip wondered that he could speak at all.
"There's less time left than I thought." The Goa'uld's golden eyes glowed much more softly now. "I told you there would be a price for your walk on the moon. Are you prepared to make payment?"
Skip hesitated only a moment. "I am," he replied resolutely.
"Thank you, my young friend." He indicated a nearby chair. "Please, sit."
When he was seated in the cane-backed chair, Skip found he was eye-to-eye with Thoth. "I want to thank you for my trip -- "
The old wizard lifted a weak hand to stop him. "I know, Skip. I know. But we haven't much time left. Let me explain your task." The younger man nodded. "The price for your walk has two parts. The first requires some trust on your part."
"You've given me no cause not to trust you since I've been here, sir."
Thoth nodded his gratitude. "I wish you to take these journals with you and give them into the hands of Daniel Jackson alone."
"If I can find him, it will be my pleasure." Skip's glance flickered to the waiting stack of books. He wouldn't mind a chance to study them himself.
Merlin took control of his body as he chuckled. "You will have no problem there. Even now Jackson is at your home with his companions. There is a formidable argument taking place..." He started to cough and when he opened his eyes, they were once more the gold of Thoth.
"Your wife and cousins are quite adamant, but we must get you home quickly."
"Isn't there anything that I can do to help?" Skip felt inadequate -- this man had done so many things -- and now...
"Nothing, but thank you for your offer. Dying must be accomplished alone. Harry?" Thoth's eyes glanced past Skip to the older man who waited in the doorway.
"Thoth?" Broderick stepped closer, the light revealing the concern on his craggy face.
"Is the Doctor prepared?"
"He's coming now." Even as Harry spoke, a whirring sound filled the chamber as the blue police box appeared.
"Excellent timing. I wasn't sure he had it in him."
"I heard that -- " A tall man with curly brown hair and a large mouth that normally curved in a smile exited his 'craft'.
"As you were meant to -- " For a moment Thoth closed his eyes as he struggled for breath. "Time is running out for me." He turned to Skip. "The Doctor and Harry are here to see you safely home, but before you go, you must make the second part of your payment."
"And that is?" Skip had a sinking feeling he knew what he was about to be asked and every instinct told him to refuse, but the logical side of him knew that Thoth's request would be honored.
"Once I am gone, the protections for this most-loved home of mine will begin to fail. It must be destroyed before that happens." Thoth raised a weak hand at Skip's indrawn breath. "There are good reasons for this - there are many other Goa'uld who would use what I have collected here against the people of your world. And -- " He turned a sorrowful eye on both Harry and Skip. "Once the authorities of your world learn where you have been, and they will, they will send explorers here to salvage whatever they can. Your people are not ready for what some of my weapons can do. They would so easily be seduced as my people were long ago to use them in ways that would make them evil as so many of my people have turned. This place must be destroyed." He looked up at the tall Doctor, dressed in somber burgundy, a hat now squashing some of his unruly curls. "You brought the charges?"
"Of course," replied the Time Lord somberly.
"Then do what you must. But, quickly."
"Thoth -- " Skip hesitated, then spoke quickly, "Thank you again for my gift. I'll treasure the memory of it always. I'm sorry we have to destroy this place."
"I know you are." Thoth patted Skip's hand as if he were a child needing comfort. "The world turns not as we will -- and Harry," he looked up at Broderick, "No souvenirs without checking with me first."
"Once a junkman... you can't blame a guy for trying." Harry pulled a jeweled ball from his pocket.
"No, I can't and that you may take, but nothing else..." Thoth's hand fell limply away from Skip's as the gold of his eyes faded away to a blank blue stare.
"Thoth -- Merlin!" Vainly Skip tried to call the man back. A firm hand clasped his shoulder as he tried to hear a heartbeat. Carmichael looked up into the brown gaze of the Doctor.
"We must hurry now. He was correct. His protections were a part of him, and we must finish before this place can be spotted from Earth."
Sadly Skip placed Thoth/Merlin's hand on his chest. He'd only known the man briefly, but he'd made a huge impact on the one-time astronaut's life. "What do you want me to do?"
* * *
Sam made the introductions as Jack glowered at one of the civilians in the Carmichael living room. "Thank you for seeing us so late at night," she concluded with a questioning tone in her voice. That must be Scarecrow, she thought, glancing at the well-dressed man, who stood out in contrast to the other men who were more casually dressed.
"That phone call made it seem like we didn't have much choice," said a second man, who'd been introduced as Andy Travis.
"We'd like to think that as good citizens you'd want to -- "
"Oh, please --" Andy exploded, "Don't give us the 'good citizen' line. We know what you're here for. We also know you don't give a hoot about Skip or any of us as long as you get the gadget you lost or stole or..."
"Andy." Melanie made a shushing motion with her hand.
"All right -- all right." Tired of the slow diplomatic dance, Jack stepped forward, his eyes narrowed as he looked from person to person, stopping on Melanie.. "We don't have time for this nonsense. Mrs. Carmichael, we have intelligence that you have in your possession a piece of hardware that belongs to the government of the United States. We're here to collect it."
His choice made for him by the military man's belligerence, Lee left his post by the window, but before he did more than clear his throat, Melanie surprised them all as she stood tall and stared at Jack until he broke the contact. Her voice when she spoke was the voice of the woman who had dared a dictator to save a friend not so many years ago. "Colonel -- O'Neill, was it? Colonel, as a good citizen of this country, I will not be treated as an enemy or a fool by anyone. My husband is missing. We don't know how he was taken from his office at the junkyard. We don't have an inkling what this has to do with the government in any way shape or form. For that matter, we don't even know that you really represent the government. So what makes you think I might turn anything over to you instead of people I have worked for over the years or my husband's cousin, Lee Stetson? I know he has this country's best interests at heart."
The cousins exchanged thinly veiled grins at the discomfort Melanie's words gave the colonel as she continued. "Unless you are in the habit of bugging private residences these days, how would you know anything about my activities recently?"
Daniel and Sam stepped in as Jack bristled defensively. Daniel spoke quickly, hoping to keep hostilities from escalating. "Mrs. Carmichael -- uh, Dr. Slozar, a device was activated at the site of your business, Jettison Salvage, yesterday morning. Very sensitive equipment at our base recorded this activity as a matter of course. According to police logs, your husband, Skip Carmichael, disappeared at the same time. Later that afternoon a second activation, weaker than the first, was recorded here at your home."
"Our equipment is calibrated to record a certain kind of energy, Dr. Slozar," Sam added hurriedly. "Only one kind of device is able to release that energy so far as we know."
Jack decided to re-enter the fray. "And the government is the only holder of that type of device..."
"Evidently not, Colonel O'Neill," Lee stepped into the conversation, standing beside Melanie. "And since Skip and his family are all upstanding citizens, I seriously doubt they've been burgling any government facilities lately."
"Still working with civilians, Scarecrow?"
Before Lee could reply a new voice spoke from the doorway, "Hey, Mel, if I'd known we were having company tonight I wouldn't have worked late."
Eight pairs of eyes turned to stare at the lanky figure of Skip Carmichael leaning against the opened front door, a duffel bag dangling from one hand, his house keys in the other.
"Skip!" Melanie was across the room before anyone else could react. "Oh, Skip!" She gave him a hug, then a whirring noise from the yard caught her ear. "The Doctor and Harry?" she whispered.
Skip buried his face in her hair, whispering back, "They gave me a ride home. But I think our company might be better off not knowing about them."
"Right." Melanie broke away from her husband, her tone of voice changing. "Where on Earth have you been? I was there at the junkyard when that light flashed and you disappeared...!"
"Actually, I wasn't even on Earth." Skip gave her a lopsided grin which he turned onto his cousins and then he pushed himself away from the door. "Daniel, good to see you. How're things going these days?"
"Uh -- uh, well, pretty good, actually, thanks, Skip. How about yourself?" Jackson gave Jack an appraising glance before stepping forward. "If you weren't on Earth, where were you?"
"Long story. I'll tell you all about it later. Your people will want to debrief me, I'm sure. You might want to look through this stuff first." Skip tossed the duffel at the archeologist who caught it deftly. "You're getting out more than you used to. Must be those gates."
"Gates?" Jack found his tongue again. "Who said anything about gates?"
"Mel, you got that device I left behind?"
"Give it to the colonel. Don't worry. It's inactive. He won't disappear in a flash of light."
"Too bad," muttered Andy to Murphy, ignoring the looks given him by the woman and the third guy from the military.
Reluctantly Melanie pulled the device from her pocket, studying the symbols one last time before handing it to Lee who dropped it in O'Neill's hand.
"We're not finished Carmichael," Jack began only to be interrupted by an exclamation from Jackson.
"You guys are not going to believe what's in this bag! This looks like a history of the Goa'uld on Earth..." He looked up from what looked like a journal of some kind, looking like a kid on Christmas morning. "Skip, where did you get this stuff?"
"Like I said, it's a long story, and I'll be glad to tell it after a good night's sleep." Skip looked suddenly tired, and the bruise on the side of his face seemed to darken.
"I'm sorry, but you'll have to come with us for debriefing, Carmichael." Jack gestured to Teal'c to take charge of the man.
Scarecrow blocked the Jaffa. "Not tonight," he spoke firmly. "I'll stand responsibility for my cousin tonight."
For a moment Jack looked ready to do battle with the agent, but then his gaze drifted around the room from the exhausted Carmichael and his wife to his cousins and then to his own teammates. Sam nodded encouragingly. Her instincts were usually good. Teal'c lifted one quizzical eyebrow, but Daniel gave him the best reason to yield. "You've got the device. Where's he gonna go? Besides, I need to study this stuff before we'll know what to ask."
"All right, all right! Stetson, he's all yours tonight, but we'll be back in the morning."
"I wouldn't expect any less." Lee nodded before turning to his cousin. "Skip, you look like you need to sit down before you fall down. I'm sure the colonel and his people can find their own way out." He ushered Skip out of the living room toward the family room with Melanie, Andy and Murphy close behind.
Jack broke the silence as he faced his team. "What are you staring at, boys and girls? Let's go find a place for Daniel to pull an all-nighter."
"Yes, sir, Colonel." Sam reached for the device in Jack's hands.
"Uh-uh-uh, Carter -- later."
"Yes, sir," Sam sighed and led the way back to their van. A few minutes later they were gone.
* * *
The house was dark and almost silent when Skip found himself wide awake in the pre-dawn. Beside him Mel slept peacefully, the lines of worry that his disappearance had caused eased away while she dreamed. He slipped from the bed and went to the kitchen where he quietly found some snicker doodles and milk for a late/early snack. His mind buzzed with the events of the last twenty-four hours and what would happen in the next twenty-four because of his little gift from Harry.
He remembered all too well the doubt on the faces of his cousins when he told them what had happened and where he had been. But then warmth spread through him at Andy's loyal assertion, "Hey it's no more unbelievable than that story about some people who built a rocket in a junkyard and sent it to the moon awhile back."
Mel had squeezed his hand reassuringly and then Lee had shushed them all, turning up the sound on the CNN Headlines he'd been mostly watching in silence. The announcer had read a report of a mysterious explosion on the moon that astronomers were putting down to a hitherto untracked meteor of considerable size that had crashed onto the moon instead of burning up in Earth's atmosphere.
After that the cousins had broken up the gathering, heading off to the guest bedroom and living room to sleep away what was left of the night. Skip and Melanie had gone to their own room. But now -- "Hey there, can't you sleep?"
"Too much goin' on in here," he replied as he hugged his wife with one arm while his free hand pointed to his head.
"Moon's still up," she observed softly. "Why don't you show me where it all happened?"
"Sure." Quietly they slipped from the house and stared up at the sky. "Just about there." Skip pointed. "Just a short distance from where we landed. It hardly seems real, Mel, 'specially when I'm standing here with you, but I swear it really happened."
"I know. And it's not over yet."
"Nope. Daniel and his buddies'll be back."
"I wonder how they're connected to all of this?"
"Don't know, but I bet it'll be one heckuva story."
"Then we'll save it for tomorrow." Mel hugged him tightly. "You'd better get some sleep."
"Did I ever tell you..."
They returned to the house, leaving the moon with its enigmatic new crater staring down at the sleeping Earth.