The Contest





Daniel staggered in first. With delicate care, he let his hands reach out ahead of him, lightly making first contact with the doorframe. He clung to it for a moment, swaying. Behind his darkened sunglasses his normally expressive face was an unhealthy shade, as pale and taut as the belly of a dead fish.


Numbly he lurched away from the doorframe in an uncoordinated fashion, groping for the edge of the briefing table and missing. On the second swing his knuckles smacked it, and Daniel hissed in pain, swaying as his hand swiftly recoiled, tucking itself under his armpit as he mumbled obscenities in Arabic.


“Shut. Up.” Came a painful croak from behind him. Jack O’Neill plodded in slowly, moving in a deliberate shuffle, stooping against the harsh fluorescent lighting. If anything he was paler than Daniel, with bloodless lips and the pained dignity of a condemned man in his bearing. His hair spiked wildly, and he too, wore dark sunglasses. Gingerly he settled himself into one of the padded chairs, wincing at the roar of the leather cushions.


Daniel felt his way around the edge of the table, fingers ghosting ahead until he located a chair for himself. He too, sat, and for a moment there was peace, albeit of the uneasy, queasy sort. Then a soft clattering sound began to grow, and both men cringed at the authoritative tap of those approaching high heels. Daniel dropped his chin to his throat while O’Neill gritted his teeth hard enough to creak.


“Gentlemen—“ came a sharp and commanding tone. Both men flinched; Daniel seemed to melt down into his BDU jacket while O’Neill shuddered visibly.


“Doc—“ came his raspy plea, which fell uselessly on the rocky ground of Fraiser’s current mood. She strode into the briefing room and crossed her arms, glaring at both men.


“Major Carter won’t be joining you today for the debriefing. I’ve got her on a re-hydration IV in a darkened room,” she frostily announced in a loud voice. Neither man said anything, but Daniel wrapped his arms tightly around his own waist, as though urgently holding his ribcage together. Frasier managed a mirthless grin.


“Hers is the only VALID medical excuse I can authorize, Colonel, so please make a NOTE of that for the General.”


“Noted,” came O’Neill’s mumble. Frasier shook her head and glanced through the big window down at the gate room. Three technicians in level four biohazard suits were spraying down the Gate; another two were taking pictures of the ramp. The twisted metal still hissed and steamed.


Frasier chuffed a breath, making her bangs stir before returning her forbidding glare at the two men. Neither one looked her way, and satisfied with her work, Frasier spun and strode out. Daniel laid his head on the table, moaning.


“Why are the lights so loud?” he croakily demanded. Jack rubbed his own temples and didn’t answer.


“Gentleman—“ came the no nonsense rumble of a Texan on the fine edge of exasperation. O’Neill rose to his feet with all the arthritic speed of a Galapagos tortoise. Hammond strode into the room, his normally benign expression flinty. Daniel tried to lift his head, but could only raise it enough to rest his chin on the table. O’Neill swayed slightly.


“I hope to HELL you have some sort of explanation for the havoc you’ve wreaked down there!”


“I think you mean leaked—“ Daniel muttered painfully, eyes closed behind his sunglasses. Across the table, Jack smirked reflexively in a rictus before he groaned. Hammond smacked a meaty palm on the table, the sound a threat all its own; Daniel sucked in a swallow of air.


“Colonel O’Neill—“


“Daniel’s correct—technically. We leaked and wreaked all in one, sir.”


“Sort of my fault—“ Daniel broke in hoarsely. “Sorry, I just got a bit carried away. Chaka was being a good host, and I was managing to get a lot of cultural and anthological mores down during the feast—“


“Along with about three pints of Hac’tacaj---OY!” O’Neill broke in with a sound like a small sob. “General, I tell you, if that Unas pot liquor was under a hundred and twenty proof I’ll eat a symbiote.”


“I think you did—“ Daniel told him sadly, “--Sort of like the worm in Tequila—“


“Oh shit—sir, permission to go barf my SPLEEN out—“ O’Neill begged, rising with a wobble. Hammond glared at him.


“Sit DOWN, Colonel. Doctor Jackson--?” the invitation to continue was mild, but had a core of steel. Daniel swallowed hard, his Adam’s apple bobbing. Across the table, O’Neill was rubbing his lips.


“We did have Hac’tacaj which is a traditional drink fermented from a combination of—things—and at some point in the festivities the necessity to eliminate it from our systems occurred—“


“--We had to take a leak. Sir,” Jack added, noting Hammond’s scowl. “This isn’t the sort of stuff you want to leave in your bladder unless you like having a major organ turned into a sieve. Daniel and I are lucky to still have esophaguses, never mind any vital plumbing further SOUTH—“


“COLONEL. You were saying, Doctor Jackson?”


“Yes, well at some point, Chaka made it clear that the Unas still, um—scent marked their territory,” Daniel squeaked, rubbing his eyes under his glasses. Hammond blinked. Against his will he craned his neck, turning to glance out the observation window at the Gate. Both Daniel and O’Neill looked on as well.


“—And apparently, since we came through the Gate, Chaka convinced us that we needed to mark it and make it our own. So it wouldn’t be touched by other Unas.”


There was a long painful pause that dragged on.


“Dear GOD. So in your inebriated state, the pair of you dialed up and took a LEAK THROUGH THE GATE?”


“To claim it for Earth and the SGC, yes sir. You have to admit, it’s a pretty big target, and hard to miss, even if you’re—“


“—Stinking drunk.” Daniel finished. He coughed.


“Actually, we were only supposed to leak ON it, but we got a little carried away—“


“Carried away?” Hammond echoed faintly, wincing at the melted metal of the ramp. Jack grunted.


“We’ve learned two things from this though, General.”


“Aside from avoiding alien liquor, colonel?” came his dangerously soft reply. O’Neill nodded.


“First of all, never get into a pissing contest with the Unas. That’s a big one.”


“And the other?”


O’Neill gave a weak smirk.


“I think we have a way of defeating the Replicators.”



END








     
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