Chapter 2 - The End of Time

Daniel and Sam rounded on Teal'c when they found him alone in his quarters. Although the Jaffa had experienced a long lifetime of confrontation and stress, the waves of emotion emanating from his colleagues took him by surprise, beginning with Sam crashing the door shut and shouldering Daniel aside to stand in front of him.

"Just where do your loyalties lie, Teal'c?" she shouted at him, but his face remained calm. "Why the hell didn't you tell us what's been happening with the Colonel?"

"O'Neill requested that I should not disclose his circumstances or wishes." came his taciturn reply. "I respect him and naturally complied."

"Your respect is going to get him killed, Teal'c!" Daniel interjected. "Why can't you see that he needs our help now, more than ever?"

"Because O'Neill is adamant that his dearest friends should not become involved in a matter that he feels should be resolved by him alone. I too am unhappy that he should end his life in this manner. He will not die well."

Sam's look of pure agony at his statement caused Teal'c to recall the words O'Neill had spoken all those years ago: "I would rather die myself than lose Carter. I care about her - a lot more than I'm supposed to." He realised that she was thinking of the same incident, and that another glittering facet of its full meaning was still, after all this time, becoming clear to her.

Sam slumped down into the adjacent chair, unable to continue the tirade she had intended to deliver a few moments previously. Daniel's cold logic, however, was gaining the upper hand over his distress and he continued.

"Teal'c, will you please help us try to save Jack from himself? Tell us what you know about what's happening."

Teal'c gazed back at him, torn between the promise he had made to his closest friend and the pleas of people he also respected and loved. After a short but deafening silence, he nodded to Daniel.

"I will comply, DanielJackson. I do not wish O'Neill to feel that he is alone. But I warn you, there is little we can do. Tomorrow a nuclear warhead will arrive here to be attached to a roving vehicle. The day after, O'Neill will drive it through the Stargate to T'ban and proceed to the site, where he will ensure its detonation after passing into the vortex."

"So, if he sets a timer with a long enough delay, he could still get clear of the detonation zone?" asked Daniel.

"No." said Sam, her voice leaden. "You couldn't rely on the device remaining stable for long enough to detonate cleanly once it enters a space- time vortex. The force and intensity of the explosion has to be great enough to destabilise the vortex from the inside, while it is still in spatial and temporal contact with the normal space outside on the planet. The driver would have to set a very short delay and drive in with the bomb at some speed. And as a back-up, a hand-release trigger would detonate the device if the driver died instantly on entry.." Her voice trailed off to nothing and she stared ahead, her eyes dull with grief. "Oh Jack..." she whispered.

Conversation came to a halt, the silence eventually broken by Teal'c. "O'Neill will not permit another to carry out this act. His sense of honour demands it."

"But we were the ones who carried out the experiment against his orders, Teal'c." said Daniel. "He must understand that he's as much the victim of circumstances as anyone. There must be another way. Can't you think of *anything*, Sam?"

Her reply shocked him. "No, Daniel. Nothing." But she had decided what to do, and could tell no-one.

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The three of them were prohibited from being present the next day during the preparation of the bomb. That job was left strictly to the expertise of the armourers, with Jack present to maximise his familiarity and understanding of the weapon detonation sequence. And since he was still under arrest pending a Court Martial, the unrelenting military rules saw him returned to secure quarters afterwards.

But that didn't stop them from spending the time persuading General Hammond to allow them to form an Honour Guard for the Colonel's departure in the Gate Room the following day.

To the surprise of Daniel and Teal'c, Sam excused herself from their presence after the General had agreed, and disappeared for several hours. She even stayed away from their quarters that evening as Daniel and Teal'c sat quietly together. Teal'c at least was fully aware of her feelings for O'Neill and assumed that she needed solace before their last meeting in the morning.

Dawn never breaks inside the bowels of Cheyenne Mountain. Just the movement of a clock's hands signifies that the world they were defending can enjoy the glory of another day. At 09:30 hours the three comrades stood to attention at the base of the Gate ramp as Jack O'Neill entered, dressed in BDU's but unarmed - hardly a necessary precaution on this day. He looked up in surprise to see his comrades there, standing next to General Hammond.

He walked over to stand in front of them, and made eye contact with each in turn. He noted that Sam's eyes were red-rimmed, as he'd expected, but there was also a steeliness in them that surprised him even now. He couldn't bring himself to speak, however, and saluted them. "God be with you, son." were Hammond's only words.

He mounted the RV and looking at its deadly cargo a last time, started up the ramp towards the blue ripples. He gunned the electric motor as fast as it would take him into the Event Horizon, and was gone.

What he didn't see until he had dismounted the machine on arrival on T'ban and looked back at the Gate, was that Carter had run up the ramp behind him and vaulted through the wormhole only seconds before it closed. She was now standing facing him with a tight-lipped, determined expression.

"Carter! What the hell..." he started, but got no further as she fired a zat gun at him and he twitched into unconsciousness.

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