Castaway: Adrift by Seawillow
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Author's Notes:
Many thanks, once again, to Maya and Ruth for their Beta services and encouragement.
Colonial Fleet, Celestra, Fleet Academy Life Center:

His throat was dry.

Troy tried to swallow to relieve the dryness and choked a little on his own saliva.

"Sh-sh-sh, Boxey. Easy does it, son."

A strong arm moved behind his shoulder and eased him up just a bit, enough to help him clear his throat. He coughed once more, then eased back down onto the bed. Fingers brushed against his forehead to smooth away a stray lock of hair.

"How are you feeling?"

Troy took a moment to think about the answer. Now that his throat was clear, his head was hurting with an insistent throb. He shifted a bit, and his right shoulder offered a sullen twinge.

"Head hurts. Thirsty." His voice rasped in his throat.

There was a brief pause and a rustling sound, and then his father's voice returned. "I've sent for the medtech. Here."

He felt something cool and wet pressed against his lips and sucked a bit on the spongy material. Cool water flooded his mouth, and he swallowed it gratefully and sighed.

"Better?" Apollo asked. A hint of amusement colored his voice.

Troy nodded. "Hmm."

There was another rustling sound to his right, and the headache receded in a flow of warmth. A thought occurred to him, and he rolled it around a bit in his head as his father murmured his thanks to someone.

"Dad?"

The fingers were back, stroking his hair back from his face.

"Hmm?"

"Are my eyes open?"

"Not right now, no. They've been bandaged."

Troy frowned and reached up with one hand to gingerly finger the pads covering his eyes.

"You took a couple of pretty good knocks to the head, Boxey. There's still some swelling and some damage to the optic nerves. Dr. Tsani assures me that you'll be fine, but it will be a few cycles before the nerves are regenerated enough to be useful. The bandages are just in place to protect your eyes while the nerves are healing. Here, leave them alone." Apollo gently took Troy's hand in his and squeezed the fingers as he drew it away from the bandages. "You're lucky, son. When I was still flying with the squadrons, an injury like this would have left a man blind, if he survived at all. As it is, it was a close thing. It's a good thing Captain Rayne decided to slow down to catch the life pod instead of picking you up on this side."

"I'll have to remember to thank him," Troy said softly.

"Already done, but I'm sure he'd appreciate it from you as well."

Troy thought for a moment. He was sure he wasn't usually this slow. It was like his thoughts were struggling through a thick soup. He drifted for a centon or two on the edge of sleep.

"Life pod?" The words didn't make sense for a moment, and then they did as memory returned with blinding clarity. Troy gasped and surged up in the bed. "Zee! Frack!"

"Whoa! Easy, Boxey! Lay back down, son," Apollo soothed.

His father's hands and someone else's worked to ease him back into the bed. A monitor beeped furiously.

"Captain Troy, lie still, please," a woman's voice said firmly.

Troy gave his head an irritable shake, which only served to set the headache spiking again. He groped blindly and clutched at his father's arm. "Dad! Zee--did he make it into the pod?"

"You were the only one in the pod, son."

"Damn it!" Troy pounded a fist into the mattress beside him.

"Easy, easy," Apollo muttered.

"Dad, I had him in the pod," Troy said angrily. "He was strapped in, and we were talking about coming here for dinner, then that wormhole started... w-whatever it started doing. He was out so fast I couldn't catch him."

His fist clenched in the blanket as Troy fought to control his breathing. He took a deep breath. "Lords! I can't believe I screwed up this badly. Grandfather's going to be pissed."

There was a long pause during which Troy noticed that his father neither denied what he'd said nor tried to assuage his fears.

Apollo squeezed his son's hand again. "What's the last thing you remember?"

"Zee said the wormhole was going to collapse. He threw off the restraints before I could stop him and yelled something about compensating for the disturbance. I climbed out of the pod and went to drag him back into it, but the vessel kept bouncing all over the place, and the artificial gravity couldn't keep up with it. It was all I could do to keep on my feet. I grabbed hold of him at one point, I think. I lost my grip..." He frowned, trying to pull back any further memories, but shook his head slowly. "That's it. That's all I remember, Dad."

"You didn't launch the pod?"

Troy paused, then shook his head again. "No, sir. I don't think there's any way I could have. I don't remember anything before waking up here."

"Then it stands to reason that Dr. Zee must have launched the pod himself. Do you think he planned it, son?" Apollo asked quietly, and Troy tensed at the probing tone.

"Planned what? The wormhole malfunction? No, he was as shocked as I was. I'm certain of that."

"How about being left behind? Commander Adama seems to think Dr. Zee was acting oddly in the cycles leading up to the jump."

Troy paused and moistened his lips before answering. "I don't believe so, sir," he said, his cool tone mimicking his father's slide into command formality. "I agree that Dr. Zee was acting in a manner that was at odds with his usual behavior, but I think it had more to do with..." He trailed off, searching for the correct way to phrase his thoughts.

Apollo allowed him a moment before prompting: "With?"

Troy grimaced and sighed. There was an undercurrent to this particular line of questioning that told him he needed to get this exactly right. It was a bit more than he wanted to deal with at the moment, but he gave it a shot.

"His behavior was no more out of character than it would be for any other fourteen-yahren-old. He was sullen, uncommunicative, and generally resentful of my presence. He accused the commander of not trusting his judgment. Honestly, sir, he was acting like an adolescent, and if he were anyone else, everyone would be rolling their eyes and muttering about rampant hormones. When I realized what was going on, I got to talking to him on that level, and he responded well. I'm confident that, when I had him in the life pod that first time, he was definitely planning on returning with me. He may have been fantasizing a bit about being a castaway on Earth, but I do not believe he intended to actually do anything about it."

"Ensign Jera?"

"Recorded, sir," a young man's voice answered -- his father's aide this term, probably. Troy hadn't known anyone else was with them and it rankled.

"Good. Clean it up and get it transcribed, then sign it as attested by Captain Troy, Galactica, Squadron Leader, Blue Squadron and witnessed by Commander Apollo, Celestra, Fleet Academy Commander, by yourself and by Lieutenant Dillon, Galactica, Blue Squadron. Agreed, Lieutenant?"

"Sir, yes, sir," Dillon's deeper voice answered quietly.

Troy's head swiveled towards the sound as his temper flared. How the hell many people were in here? He could hear the sound of Dillon's flight jacket shifting against the wall, now that he knew to listen for it. A boot heel tapped rapidly for a micron or two. The lieutenant knew Troy was pissed with him. Good.

"Send it encrypted to the Galactica, to Commander Adama's attention, eyes only," his father finished.

"By your leave, sir," Jera answered, and Troy listened as the sound of his footsteps receded. He was going to have to pay more attention to the sound of footsteps until he had use of his eyes again.

"That should keep him happy for a while," Apollo commented, and Troy felt the blanket being tugged higher onto his chest. His hand was briefly squeezed again; it was as much of an apology as he was going to get from his father. After a micron, he returned the pressure.

"You know he's not going to consider that a proper debriefing, Dad."

"He'll get over it. You can submit a formal report when you've had a chance to rest a bit. If he wants more sooner, he can send your Uncle Boomer over here to beat it out of you."

Apollo's tone was determinedly light, but still carried the brittle undercurrent that Troy had come to expect when his grandfather invaded a conversation. Troy sighed softly, and his father chose to interpret it as fatigue.

Apollo chuckled. "Well, the lieutenant is here for a visit, and Dr. Tsani is giving me the Aquarian Evil Eye, so I'd better let you get back to recuperating. Get some rest, Boxey," he said fondly.

"Just so you know, Dad, you've used up this sectar's 'Boxey' allotment," Troy said conversationally.

His father laughed softly. "As you wish, Troy. Good evening, Lieutenant."

"Sir," Dillon acknowledged.

Troy listened as his father's footsteps carried him out of earshot.

"How the hell long were you standing there?" he hissed angrily in English. He and Dillon should be the only two people on the ship who could speak the language, aside from possibly Apollo himself. He never knew what his Dad would take it into his head to learn.

"Troy, I swear, I'd just gotten here. He waved me in while they were trying to get you settled back in the bed. I had no idea he was going to do that," Dillon whispered earnestly.

Troy sighed heavily. His head was pounding again and not just from his injuries. He wondered wearily what his father had been fishing for this time; it made his stomach churn. Was Adama actually questioning Zee's loyalty, or were Apollo and the Old Man anticipating trouble from outside again? Or was it something else entirely? It would be nice to know ahead of time whether he was going to be expected to defend the family's position in front of the fleet or referee another one of his father and grandfather's interminable battles of will. Family politics were bad enough without tossing military and interfleet politics into the mix. Unfortunately, in his case, the three were often inextricably interwoven. Apollo had seemed pleased enough with Troy's answers, though.

"Sometimes he's too much his father's son," he muttered.

"Don't let him hear you say that," Dillon joked.

"We alone?"

Dillon paused and the edge of the bed dipped a bit under his weight. Troy knew from past experience that his wingman had moved to block the Life Center surveillance cameras. "We're clear; no one's around."

"So what's the scoop?"

"You've been out of it for about sixteen centars, Troy. Had us a little worried there, by the way."

Troy's mouth quirked up in response. "Sorry."

"Just don't do it again, okay? Warrior heads and bulkheads don't mix well." Dillon sighed and said bluntly, "Three of the ships didn't make it, and if Core Command knows what happened to them, they're not saying."

Troy's heart sank. Three ships full of passengers, gone. Dear Lords.

Dillon continued swiftly. "All flights except the Academy Cadet Senior Squadrons are either out on patrol or in their ready rooms in preparation for patrol. CSS Alpha is sitting in the launch tubes on high alert, and CSS Beta is at ready status to relieve them. We've been flying nonstop recon probes ever since the fleet exited the wormhole."

"Why?"

Dillon's voice lowered to a bare whisper. "Troy, we have no clue where we are. We're way off course and nowhere near Earth, as far as we can tell. And without Earth as a frame of reference, we have no way of telling when we are, either."

"Shit."

"Tell me about it."

*************

Ensign Jera glanced up from his desk in the outer office as Apollo walked through the door.

"Message sent, Commander."

"Good," Apollo nodded distractedly. "It's late, Jera. Why don't you get out of here? You've got an early lecture next cycle."

Jera stood. "Yes, sir. Thank you."

The boy paused as Apollo continued on to his own office. "What about you, sir?" he called out hesitantly.

Apollo glanced back at the ensign, who seemed to be holding his breath, and smiled slightly. "Thank you for your concern, Jera. I'll be calling it a night soon, too, I assure you." He tilted his chin towards the outer door. "Run along, child."

"Sir." The door slid softly shut behind the young warrior.

The lights blazed on as Apollo stepped into his own office and he grimaced. "Lights, fifty percent." He sighed as the lights dimmed to a more tolerable level.

The communication center beeped as it reset itself in response to his presence; the computer-synthesized voice began to recite a list of non-priority messages that had been received over the past twenty or so centars since Apollo had last set foot in the office. Anything truly important had already been relayed via his summoner.

"Communication center, end messages," he said irritably. "Set to out of office reply."

Athena's recorded voice was cut off midsentence. He glanced at his chronometer. She'd be in sleep-period now. He'd have to remember to get back to his sister later with word about Boxey and Zee. He knew she'd been notified as soon as Boxey was out of danger; he could expect to see her in person as soon as the regular interfleet shuttle services resumed, storming through the Celestra's corridors like an avenging angel. He grinned at the thought. It had been yahrens since the current Councilor of Caprica had been considered at all angelic. His baby sister never had been. He knew her temper to be as bad as his own, but it ran cold like Adama's while Apollo's ran hot.

He leaned heavily against the surface of the cabinet along the long wall as he retrieved a short tumbler and a bottle of ambrosa. He could feel himself limping somewhat more than usual as he made his way to the desk to lower himself wearily into the chair. He leaned back and sighed as the sharp pains in his right hip and leg eased somewhat. He fished a packet of mild analgesic tablets out of his desk drawer, and then poured a couple of fingers of ambrosa into the glass. Just a taste, to wash down the pills. The liquor burned in his throat and he closed his eyes as the some of the tension of the last few cycles drained from his shoulders.

His eyes opened and fell on the row of likenesses displayed on the desk: Troy's Academy graduation portrait and another more candid likeness taken two yahrens ago of the newly-minted Captain Troy with his Aunt 'Thena's arm slung around his shoulders stood next to that of the solitary, solemn, tow-headed child that Zee had been when he earned his scientific credentials and the right to the title of Doctor. Apollo's chest ached. Boxey would be fine, though he'd given Apollo a scare he wouldn't soon forget, but Zee...

Lords, Zee.

Apollo pulled the desk drawer open again and shuffled around until he found the likeness he wanted. It had been a while since he'd last looked at it. For a long time he couldn't. The simple candid scene, captured one evening in the Galactica's Officers' Club and later given to him by mistake, tucked between the leaves of a borrowed book, brought back too many memories. It left him too raw. Later, when he could bear to look at it, he found he couldn't put it down. He'd had to force himself to put it away, to move on to other things; not necessarily better things, but different. He pulled out the likeness now and studied it.

Starbuck's head was thrown back in laughter, the wheat-blond hair falling back from his face, his neck arched. Beside him, nearly in shadow, a much younger Apollo leaned toward him, expression oddly intent as he watched his friend with a small grin. He wondered if it was his imagination or if it had been as obvious to the unknown photographer at that time as it was to him now what would be happening later that evening in the privacy of the then Strike Captain Apollo's quarters. He ran his finger down the arched throat, caught forever in a moment of pure joy.

I'm so sorry, Starbuck. I couldn't help you, and I couldn't help him. I've failed you both, again. We all did.

He propped the likeness on the desk between the one of Troy and Athena and the one of Zee. The chronometer showed less than four centars left in the ship's sleep-period. He could go back to his quarters and try to sleep, or he could stretch out on the couch here for a nap before the early-cycle staff meeting. He poured a little more ambrosa into the glass and carried it over to the couch. He was asleep almost as soon as he stretched out.

************

Stargate Command, Cheyenne Mountain, CO, 22 July 2002:

Ezekiel sat at the table staring blankly at the bare concrete wall above the door. Staring at the SF guarding the door would do no good. None of the men or women he had seen would make eye contact with him at any rate. The cup of coffee Captain Hensley had left with him had gone cold while he waited.

He heard the sound of approaching footsteps and focused his eyes on the door once more. The keycard reader outside the door beeped, and the guard straightened a bit more as the door opened.

Ezekiel rose as two men and a woman strode into the interrogation room. The eldest, a large bald man with a major general's stars on his collar, waved him back into his seat.

"Son, my name is General George Hammond. I am the commander of this facility."

Ezekiel moistened his lips nervously and nodded. "I think I've seen you. You were in the observation gallery last week."

"Dr. Fraiser's first physical examination of you, yes," the older man confirmed. "Dr. Adams..."

He paused and glanced over several pages in the file he carried and looked up at Ezekiel. "Which name do you prefer, son?"

"Pardon?"

"For the last two weeks we've all been calling you 'Ezekiel Adams,' but your testimony states that your given name among your own people is 'Zee.' Captain Alonzo's report refers to you as 'Dr. Zee.'" Hammond watched him appraisingly. "I assume you have a preference?"

Momentarily nonplussed, Ezekiel looked from Hammond to the two as yet unidentified officers flanking the general. It was the first time in two weeks that anyone had asked his opinion about anything. He wasn't sure how to answer.

Just answer them honestly and completely.

Those had been the last words Daniel had spoken to him before the questions had begun. They had been the last words Daniel had spoken to him at all, and he'd clung to them throughout the interrogations, the medical and psych exams, the poking and prodding and deliberate violations of privacy.

"To be perfectly honest, sir, my name has been Ezekiel Adams now for longer than it was Zee." He shrugged and a small smile quirked across his lips. "I've grown accustomed to it."

Hammond seemed satisfied with his answer and nodded approvingly. "Very well." He leaned back in his seat. "Now, these officers are Major Davis and Major Cassidy. Major Davis is this facility's liaison with the Pentagon. He has a few more questions for you concerning General Slydell's involvement in your... situation. He will then be coordinating with the AFOSI during their investigation."

Davis nodded once, firmly, with a polite smile.

"Major Cassidy is a lawyer assigned to the SGC by the office of the Judge Advocate General. Her department has handled the legal affairs of a number of our offworld visitors in the past, and the major has been specifically briefed to represent your interests for the duration.

"Dr. Adams, the President is prepared to offer you temporary refugee status, pending further investigation of your claims and allegations. While these investigations are proceeding, you will remain in the sole custody of Stargate Command. I understand that your experience with our government agencies has been less than pleasant. Please rest assured that no other agencies will be allowed contact with you without direct orders from the White House. Depending upon the outcome of these investigations, he may be willing to offer you permanent legal residency. Do you understand, Dr. Adams?"

Ezekiel didn't miss the slight emphasis on the word "legal," and nodded. "Yes, sir. Thank you, sir."

"Don't thank me yet, son. It's already been brought to my attention that the NID has been lobbying the White House for access. We're doing everything in our power to keep them out of these matters, but we will not be able to block them forever. Eventually you will have to speak with their representatives. However, when that time comes, Major Cassidy will be present for the proceedings."

"I understand, sir."

"Now, is there anything you need right now?"

Ezekiel shook his head slowly. He felt a bit out of step. "Um, may I ask about Colonel O'Neill?"

"Madder'n a wet hen. He sustained some second degree burns to his right wrist and forearm, but he's otherwise unharmed. Although I'd advise staying out of his way for the time being," Hammond answered.

Ezekiel closed his eyes and sighed in relief. "Oh."

Hammond considered the younger man briefly. "I understood from Captain Alonzo's report that the weapon you used was considerably less powerful than he'd expected. He seemed to believe it should have taken the colonel's arm off."

"Along with about half of his chest and possibly his head, had it been an actual Borellian Noman bola," Ezekiel nodded. He shrugged. "I modified the design a bit, made them smaller. I just wanted something that would buy me some time if I needed it. I didn't want to actually hurt anyone. Besides, I didn't have access to some of the materials; the raw tylium crystals used by the Nomen to amplify the explosive charge aren't available here. I had to improvise."

"One of our scientists has been studying the undischarged weapon Dr. Jackson took from you. Dr. Lee would be interested in discussing the design with you in detail."

Ezekiel took a deep breath and clasped his hands on the tabletop to still their shaking. He wasn't certain he wanted to put even modified Borellian laser bolas into the hands of the US military, but he didn't see that he had much choice in the matter at the moment. He wasn't really in a position to argue, so he nodded without looking at the general.

"Okay," he said softly.

"Good," Hammond said firmly.

Ezekiel glanced up into the general's coolly-assessing gaze. He thought maybe he'd passed another test. He looked away quickly.

Hammond took a deep breath of his own and added gravely, "I'm sure I don't have to tell you, doctor, that your continued cooperation is very much in your own best interest."

Ezekiel shook his head and his mouth twisted. "No, sir. You'll have my... cooperation."

"I'm pleased to hear it, Dr. Adams. Now, I have other matters to attend to, so I'll leave you in Majors Davis and Cassidy's capable hands. Among other items, Major Cassidy has a copy of the standard non-disclosure agreement signed by everyone associated with this program, which you will also sign. When you're done with that, we'll see about moving you into on-base quarters. There will be a guard posted at the door to your quarters at all times. You are restricted to this facility for the time being. You will have access to the commissary, recreation areas, gymnasium and infirmary, and limited access to certain parts of the research facilities in accordance with your cooperative efforts with my people, but you will go nowhere without an escort, am I understood?"

"Yes, General."

Ezekiel stood politely when Hammond and his officers did. The general shook his hand and turned to leave. Ezekiel took a deep breath and called out once more, "General Hammond?" His voice was more uncertain than he had intended, and he caught himself raising a hand to tug at his hair.

The older man stopped with his hand on the door with a questioning expression.

"If you could, sir, I'd appreciate it if you'd tell Dan..." Ezekiel stopped himself. He hadn't heard from Daniel since the first day he'd been brought here. Not once. He had no idea where he stood with him. His chest constricted sharply, and he took a deep breath to clear it and began again. "If you'd tell Dr. Jackson..." He trailed off with a wince.

Tell him what? That he wanted to see him? Did he even have that right anymore? Besides, had he ever been anything but an assignment to Daniel? Looking back on that day in O'Neill's house, Daniel had seemed surprised but a good actor could feign surprise. Nothing had turned out as badly as he'd feared so far, but Ezekiel had no way of knowing, even now.

Hammond broke the uncomfortable silence. "I'm sorry, son. I thought you knew," he said, his voice oddly gentle. "Dr. Jackson has been in Washington for the past two weeks briefing the Pentagon and the White House. He has one last meeting this afternoon with the president and the director of the NID. We expect him back tomorrow. I'll let him know you asked about him."

"Thank you, sir."

The door closed silently behind the general, and Ezekiel resumed his seat opposite the two majors.

*****

Washington, D.C.:

"Mr. President, I object to this entire line of discussion. Dr. Jackson has no evidence whatsoever that the NID was involved in the supposed harassment of this...," Colonel Simmons waved a primly manicured hand negligently, "person."

The NID director's nasal voice was starting to grate on the nerves. The man in behind the desk silently cursed General Vidrine for dumping this mess in his lap.

"A person who, if I may remind you, sir, has been living in this country illegally for a number of years --"

"Shipwrecked, Mr. President," Daniel interrupted.

"Or so he claims, Mr. President," Simmons' voice rose over Daniel's before he could continue. "But since Dr. Jackson insists on taking this individual's claims as fact, may I remind the good doctor that the subject also claims to have committed genocide against his entire race?"

A raised hand forestalled further comment from the colonel.

"He has a point, Dr. Jackson. This..." There was a brief pause and a rustle of paper as notes were consulted. "Dr. Zee did say he was responsible for the destruction of what was left of his people."

Daniel nodded. "Yes, sir, I've also read the transcripts of Ez -- Dr. Zee's interviews, and I know that he does blame himself for the destruction of the Colonial Fleet, but he has also testified that that was never his intention. He was trying to save them."

“By sending them through an unstable temporal wormhole?"

"Yes, sir. They were trying to escape from an enemy and had discovered that Earth was incapable of offering support at that time. The plan was devised as much for Earth's protection from these enemies as their own."

"Enemies they led to our planet, Mr. President!" Simmons interjected.

"They had hoped that, by simply disappearing from the area without a trace, their enemies would be thrown off the scent and leave the area. Apparently all of his simulations had been flawless, but something went wrong during the actual implementation. The fleet entered the wormhole, but when it came time for the wormhole to reopen, they never emerged."

"And these enemies... these 'Cylons?'"

Daniel shrugged. "That part of their plan seems to have worked perfectly, sir."

"Small favors," Simmons sneered.

"At any rate, the Cylons seem to have departed. We've been traveling through the Stargate and have had numerous visits from off-world allies both by Stargate and by space-faring vessels for the last five years. None have ever mentioned a race called Cylons."

"A race which, as far as we know, may not exist at all except as a figment of the alien's imagination."

"Ah-ah, Colonel Simmons," the president admonished with a wave of his finger. "Either the threat exists or it doesn't. You can't have it both ways."

“My point, sir, is that we really have no way of knowing whether anything this alien--if he even is an alien--tells us is true. There's simply no evidence to support any of his claims or allegations, and frankly, sir, I don't feel that Dr. Jackson is in the best position to be negotiating on behalf of a man who has been his paramour for the last two months!"

The President sighed. The headache that had been gnawing at him for the last couple of hours spiked behind his right eye.

"Dr. Jackson?"

Daniel straightened and looked the president directly in the eye. "My relationship with Ezekiel Adams was never a secret, Mr. President. It is, however, irrelevant to this discussion."

Simmons gave a disgusted snort, earning him a warning look from behind the desk.

"Is the man an alien?"

"Yes, sir. Dr. Fraiser's examination confirms that his physiology reflects small but significant differences from that of Earth humans, and the DNA test results indicate that his mitochondrial DNA shows considerable variation from any strains known to be native to this planet. His Y-chromosome information reflects a similar change; he's been identified with no known Y-chromosome haplogroup, although with the higher rate of mutation on the Y-chromosome... The bottom line, sir, is that he is human, but wherever he's from originally, his ancestors seem to have been isolated from Earth's population for many generations."

"Is he a threat to this planet?"

"No more than any one of us, sir."

That earned Daniel a sharp look.

Simmons sputtered, "What exactly are you implying, Jackson?"

"Only that, time and again, our experience has proven that anyone anywhere can be a threat to the planet at any time. If you are asking if I think it's possible for Ezekiel Adams to be a threat, then yes, it's possible. If you are asking if I believe that he does now or will in the future constitute a conscious threat to this world, then absolutely not."

He sat back in his seat and contemplated the painting on the opposite wall. He looked back at Daniel.

"How old was he when this whole thing started?"

"Fourteen, sir."

"And he's been on the planet how long?"

"Twenty-one years."

"During which time he has been free to commit who knows what actions--"

"Save it, Colonel. He's been running free on the planet for twenty-one years; if he hasn't done any damage by now, I seriously doubt he'll be able to do so while in the custody of the SGC. Gentlemen, I have already agreed to offer refugee status to Ezekiel Adams. I have already spoken to General Hammond and see no reason to revoke that order at this time."

"There is the matter of the reporter's disappearance," Simmons commented through stiff lips. "Dr. Zee filed a missing persons' report for Jamie Hamilton with a falsified statement to police."

"A matter which I'm inclined to leave to the City of Arlington. Let them sort it out," he said decisively. "Dr. Jackson, while I understand Dr. Zee's reluctance to speak to representatives of the organization he believes has been harassing him for several years, if some rogue element of the NID has been doing so, Colonel Simmons is well within his rights to request such an interview. I expect the SGC to comply with any reasonable requests so long as Dr. Zee remains in SGC custody. Colonel Simmons, any interviews with Dr. Zee will be conducted at Cheyenne Mountain base within the confines of Stargate Command, will be requested with at least twenty-four hours warning, and will be observed by members of the SGC.

"Now," the president said jovially, slapping the leather-padded arms of his desk chair for emphasis, “are we all dissatisfied? Good. My work is done. Now, both of you get the hell out of my office."

Two more years of this. Whoever's next is welcome to them! Thank God for term limits. He smiled wickedly. I think I'll call Henry Hayes. He could use a little encouragement.

******

Stargate Command, Cheyenne Mountain, CO:

General Hammond leaned back in his chair. He studied the blank surface of the file folder in front of him silently before returning his gaze to the officer seated across from him.

"Just how much help do you think Dr. Adams will be able to give us, Major?" he asked.

Sam Carter nodded with an unconscious bounce that told him just how excited she was by what she'd been reading in Dr. Adams' notes.

"The two of us have been unknowingly working opposite ends of the same basic question for years, sir, in his case, decades. I've been trying to work out how the Stargate functions and what that means about subspace wormholes while Ezekiel has been trying to figure out how to create and also predict and guide the behavior of subspace wormholes. You could think of it as two hikers on opposite ends of the same trail. One is starting at the summit and trying to figure out how to get down, while the other started at the base, trying to work out the best ascent. Between them, they know quite a lot about the trail itself, if they can pool their information at some point."

He nodded to himself, then commented, "You are aware, Major, that Area 51 has expressed... considerable interest in acquiring Dr. Adams' services for their own projects. Many of them are far more long term than we are able to manage at this facility."

"I think that would be a big mistake, sir," Carter said earnestly.

"You mean aside from the fact that he'd probably never see the light of day again?" O'Neill snorted from his position near the far wall. "That'd make Daniel pissy."

"Aside from that, sirs, yes. I think Ezekiel is far more valuable to the Air Force if he remains here at the SGC."

"Why is that, Major?" Hammond asked.

"I've been going over his records of the original wormhole that he used to transport the Colonial Fleet. I'm not entirely sure, but I think I know what went wrong."

"Oh? What was that?"

"Us, sir."

"Us?" O'Neill straightened. "We happened?"

Carter turned to address the colonel.

"Yes, sir. 1969."

"The wormhole malfunction that sent SG-1 into the past?" Hammond asked. "How could that have affected a wormhole in 1981?"

"Like I said, sir, I've been studying Ezekiel's original data. There was nothing wrong with it. It should have worked flawlessly and would have, except that we introduced another variable, one he couldn't have predicted. A second temporal wormhole operating in the same time and space as his own."

"You think we hit them? A temporal fender-bender?" O'Neill asked incredulously.

Carter nodded. "Something like that, sir. Not actually hit, that would have been mutually destructive, but I do think our wormhole affected subspace in the area in such a way as to send both of us off-course. We were less affected because we had the Stargate to act as an anchor on each end. The Colonial Fleet, however, only had one anchor, at the origination point."

"I thought when your wormhole ended up in the future, it was because you entered too soon? Wasn't that what Cassandra told you?

"Yes, sir. But that could have simply been the story she was told, or what she was told to tell us at that time. After all, knowing about the second wormhole--"

"Would have affected our future. Yadda," O'Neill said, rubbing at his temples. "You're giving me a headache, Carter. Cut to the chase."

"I think they're alive, sirs. I think the Colonial Fleet's still out there and that they'll emerge from the wormhole largely intact, if they haven't already. And I think that, with Ezekiel's help, we can pinpoint where and when."

******

Ezekiel waited until the guard had closed the door before taking a look around his new quarters. They weren't as Spartan as the holding cell, to be sure, but he certainly wasn't in the lap of luxury, either. A double bed covered with an Air Force blue coverlet dominated the room. There was a tall wood-veneer cabinet containing a television, DVD player and several board games on the wall opposite the bed and a bureau on the long wall opposite the door. Between the bed and door, there was a round table with three straight-backed chairs. A fourth chair stood against the wall next to the door. Two doors proved to lead into a small bathroom with a shower stall and a closet, respectively. Everything he owned was stuffed into his Army surplus backpack, which had been left resting on the table.

Major Davis had been very sorry to inform him that someone had cleaned out his apartment before SGC security could get there on Saturday. Not even the furniture had remained, which really was a shame since it didn't actually belong to Ezekiel. The apartment had been rented furnished. Ezekiel was assured that Mrs. Watkins would be reimbursed for her loss.

A soft cough made him turn, and his breath caught. Daniel stood framed in the doorway, head ducked, arms folded across his chest. When Daniel reached up to adjust his glasses, Ezekiel felt something give and drew a breath once more.

"So, do you want me to call you Zee?"

"Do you want me to call you Dan?"

Daniel grinned in spite of himself. "Ezekiel it is, then."

"You gonna come in?" Ezekiel strove for a negligent tone.

Daniel licked his lips quickly and nodded.

"I could do that," he said. He stepped into the room, closing the door softly behind him.

Ezekiel stared at him for a moment, uncertain, then waved toward a chair. "So, have a seat. I'd offer you something, but..."

"A little low on stuff at the moment," Daniel finished for him.

"Yeah," Ezekiel said, subdued.

The two men looked at anything but each other for several long minutes, before the silence became too much for either of them to bear.

"So, how was--"

"So, how are--"

They both stopped, embarrassed.

Ezekiel pulled a chair around and straddled it, resting his elbows on the back rail, trying to cover his discomfort.

Daniel gave him an odd, sad look and sat down in the chair opposite.

"How are you, Ezekiel?" he started again, his tone softer, more intimate than before.

Ezekiel nodded. "I'm fine. Better than I thought I was going to be," he said with a soft mirthless laugh.

"They've treated you okay?"

"Now that they've established that I'm a person, yeah," Ezekiel said, just a hint of bitterness coloring the humor in his tone.

Daniel winced. "I'm sorry. They... We have to be careful. There's a lot at stake."

"Yeah, I get that."

"Do you?" Daniel asked earnestly.

Ezekiel looked up, ready with a sharp retort, but swallowed it when his eyes met his lover's. He nodded. "Actually, yeah, I do. I've been where you are." He laughed again. "I grew up there."

"There's a briefing tomorrow," Daniel said. He ran a finger along the faux wood-grain on the surface of the table.

"I know," Ezekiel said archly. "So I can start 'cooperating.'"

"Damn it, Ezekiel." Daniel rose and paced restlessly, putting some necessary distance between himself and the other man. The last couple of weeks had been tense and Daniel hadn't had a moment to really rest since the day his lover had been taken into SGC custody. The unrelieved strain and fatigue were combining into a simmering anger. He spun back around. "You know, none of this would have happened if you'd just--"

"Just what, Daniel?" Ezekiel's temper flared, fueled by Daniel's, and he spun to his feet to face him. “What would you have had me do? Just tell you? Just like that? When was I supposed to do that, Daniel?! After dinner, over coffee, at the bookstore? During sex? 'Oh, by the way, did you know that I'm an alien scientist who's been trapped on your planet for the last twenty-odd years?' You'd have thought I was insane! And what about you? Linguist for NORAD?"

"I am a linguist, Ezekiel. That's my job here."

"Oh, give me a break!" Ezekiel said derisively. "You're just another linguist, are you? And the SGC -- whatever the hell that stands for -- it's just one more military program padding out the federal budget? You've got ranking officers from every goddamned service branch I've ever heard of genuflecting every time you walk by, so come on, Daniel, tell me another one!"

"They don't genuflect," Daniel snapped.

"They might as well."

Daniel paced the end of the room for a few minutes in silence. Ezekiel was right about the reaction he could have expected, of course -- or rather, as right as he could have been with no knowledge of Daniel's own experiences. If Daniel had been the person he was forced to pretend he was -- and to a certain extent, Ezekiel was right about that as well -- Ezekiel couldn't have told him anything. Ironically, the fact that his lover was right only served to frustrate Daniel more and he was ashamed of the reaction. He took a deep breath.

"What were you going to do?" he asked, helplessly.

The question jarred Ezekiel out of his own thoughts. "What?"

Daniel strode back to the table and stopped just an arm's length from him. Ezekiel stared into his lover's angry blue eyes in confusion.

"What were you going to do?" Daniel repeated. He waved an arm around him, indicating the room at large, or maybe the world itself. "Wha-what? You think they're all dead, the NID is chasing you. You do know you were never going to shake them, right?"

Ezekiel nodded slowly. "Yes."

"So - what?"

"I had to know," he whispered. "I had to know what had gone wrong, why they all died." He shook his head and looked away, no longer able to meet Daniel's eyes.

Daniel nodded. "And what then?" he asked. "What were you going to do with it? Nothing you could do would bring them back. Could it?"

"No," Ezekiel answered with a small, humorless laugh.

"Then, what?" Daniel whispered, almost too softly for Ezekiel to hear.

Ezekiel closed his eyes against a sudden stinging sensation. He swallowed painfully.

"I suppose you've read the transcripts of my interviews with Dr. Lee?" he asked.

Daniel cocked his head and reached for the chair he'd vacated earlier. "Yeah? Well, parts of them..."

Ezekiel smiled fondly without looking up. "The parts about the Nomen, I'll bet."

"Of course," Daniel said with a small smile of his own.

"I was fascinated by the Borellian Nomen when I was a boy, you know. Read everything I could find about them in the Fleet's library and archives, and when that ran out, I took to pestering anyone I could find who had had dealings with them. I'd've gone directly to them, if I could have."

Daniel nodded. "You mentioned that they were a clannish people. They kept themselves separate from the rest of the Fleet's population."

"Yes, but that's not why," Ezekiel said.

"Oh?"

"You see, there were no more Borellian Nomen in the Fleet by the time I was old enough to learn about them. There had been a small enclave of Nomen aboard the freighter Borella for a time, about fifty souls, but they were a proud people, nomadic on their own world, fiercely independent. The Fleet was too confining for them. Their culture simply couldn't adapt to their new situation." He looked up, then, and met Daniel's eyes. "You know from your own world, a people like that can't be confined. It either destroys their culture or it destroys their souls."

Daniel nodded thoughtfully. "I can think of a few examples, yes."

"Commander Apollo--he was Colonel Apollo when I was young, my guardian's son--he'd had some dealings with them himself, briefly. Early in the Great Flight, a small clan had attempted to enact a blood trail through the Fleet. They were hunting a man who had cheated them in a business deal. He said that at the time he was more interested in keeping them from killing anyone than in discussing their culture and belief systems..."

Daniel laughed softly.

"...but he was able to tell me a few stories. And of course, he was privy to the results of the final investigation."

"That doesn't sound good," Daniel commented.

Ezekiel frowned. "Well, I suppose that depends on who you ask," he said thoughtfully. He reached out and touched the worn deck of cards that lay in the center of the VIP suite's table.

Daniel watched Ezekiel shuffle the cards absently and waited for him to continue.

"The Nomen knew that they couldn't continue to preserve their way of life while living in the Fleet, and they couldn't honestly expect to survive on their own outside of it. They couldn't abandon their Code and preserve their honor; they couldn't live in the Fleet without abandoning their Code. They chose another option."

"What was that?"

"About eleven years following the flight from the Colonies, the remaining Nomen--they were down to almost half their number by this time--secluded themselves in their enclave and enacted a ritual honor battle. The last survivor, a man named Bara, was charged with performing their Rite of the Honored Dead. He then took his own life in the prescribed manner." Ezekiel shuddered slightly. "Apollo said he understood why. He didn't agree with their decision and would have tried to stop it if he'd known what they were planning, but he understood it."

Daniel nodded sadly. "They preserved both their culture and their honor, which they deemed more important than their individual lives." His head snapped up as he made the connection between this tangent and the earlier conversation. "You son of a bitch!" he whispered angrily.

Ezekiel nodded to himself, not looking at Daniel's suddenly flushed face. "I suppose you could say that finding out what happened was my Rite of the Honored Dead," he said calmly. "It was the very least I could do."

He didn't look up as Daniel left the room. The door slammed behind him and bounced back open, but Ezekiel made no move to close it.

"Everything okay, Dr. Adams?"

Ezekiel raised his head and looked into the craggy face of SG-5's team leader. He'd met the man briefly at O'Neill's house and had to search his memory for a moment before he found the name.

"Yes, thank you, Major Griff," he said softly.

"I was just passing by. Dr. Jackson was sure in a hurry. Just about bowled me over."

Ezekiel smiled a little and looked down at the cards in his hands. "I don't think Dr. Jackson is very pleased with me at the moment."

The man nodded and scratched his head, embarrassed. "Y'know, my wife gets like that sometimes. I get her those little shell chocolates, y'know, the ones from Belgium," Griff commented helpfully. "Does the trick every time."

Ezekiel laughed softly. "I think we're a bit beyond chocolates at the moment, but thank you, Major."

"Yeah. Well, have a good night, sir." The man walked out the door, then ducked his head back in. "You keep those chocolates in mind, doc. The little shells." He winked and waved and moved off down the corridor.

Ezekiel nodded. "Little shells."

Twenty-third of July.

He'd missed Daniel's birthday, he realized. He'd always been going to miss Daniel's birthday. He shuffled the cards twenty-three times and cut. Ace of Spades.

Any spade: leave immediately.

And how do you suggest I manage that?


******

O'Neill gave him about a half hour before heading down to the gym to find Daniel, then he just watched for a while. Daniel had fallen into a pattern at the heavy bag. Left, left, right. Right, left, right. Right, right, left. He thought about waiting until his friend was finished for the night, then commented, "So, is it because he's a guy?"

Daniel's rhythm faltered, and his head snapped around. He was red-faced and his hair stood up in sweat-soaked spikes around his temples. "What?!" he hissed.

O'Neill raised his eyebrows at him. "You heard me. Is it because he's a guy?"

Daniel shook his head slowly, open-mouthed. "I have no idea what you're talking about," he said slowly and returned to battering the bag.

"'Cause, you see...," O'Neill stepped into Daniel's space and crowded him away from the bag, “when it was the Destroyer of Worlds up there in that VIP suite, it seems to me you cut her a lot more slack than you're willing to cut ol' Zorro."

Daniel threw one last left-handed punch around O'Neill's side and into the bag, then turned away. He stripped off the gloves as he stalked away a short distance, then turned, frustrated. "What the hell, Jack? You hated the fact that we were together, now you're unhappy because we're not?"

"No, no... Not unhappy. And for your information, Daniel, I didn't hate that you were together. I didn't know the guy, aside from that really sweet lefty swing of his... suppose he'd be willing to play for the SGC in this year's softball tournament? That guy NORAD fielded last year couldn't pitch worth shit to lefty batters."

Daniel shook his head, not looking at O'Neill. "I wouldn't know, Jack," he answered softly.

O'Neill shrugged. "It's a little late in the season..." He trailed off and waited.

"Damn it, Jack! You have no idea--," Daniel shouted furiously.

O'Neill cut him off with the ease of long practice. "As a matter of fact, yes, I do. Security called me when you went to his room." He paused for a moment to let that sink in. "You should know, Daniel, his place is wired for both video and audio. We heard the whole thing. Mackenzie's office has been notified. Mental Health will be keeping an eye on him."

"I don't know what I'm supposed to do," Daniel admitted.

"I've been where he is, Daniel," O'Neill said. "So have you."

"I know."

"So you know, he's gonna have to climb off that ledge on his own," O'Neill finished. "You just need to decide whether you're gonna be there to pull him in the door."

*******************

Spain was a truly lovely country. Vernon had been absolutely correct, as usual, Rhonda Slydell thought fondly as she worked her way along the rose border. The countryside was just as lovely as across the Pyrenees in France, but the cost of living was so much lower. With Vernon's military pension and her own modest Social Security and savings income, they were able to live so much more comfortably than they would have if they'd stayed in the States.

Still, sometimes she wished she were closer to her sister and the rest of the family... Rhonda sighed. Lorraine had written inviting them back to Virginia for Thanksgiving. She'd talk to Vernon this evening. It would be nice to see her sister and nieces again. It was hard to believe Megan and Andrea were in college already.

If she could get Vernon involved wtih his old cronies, maybe she'd be able to steal a little time to visit with Tommy and the children...

The crunch of tires on the gravel drive caught her attention and Rhonda straightened and pushed back her straw sunhat. A black sedan had stopped in front of the house and a young man was talking to the housekeeper; Ana motioned toward the garden where Rhonda stood and the man began to walk toward her. She went to meet him.

"Mrs. Slydell?" he called politely.

His accent was Mid-Western American, unusual in their sleepy part of the world. His bearing and gait were military, though he wasn't in uniform. This was either a social call, Rhonda thought, or very important business, indeed.

"Yes, I'm Rhonda Slydell. What can I do for you, Mr..." she allowed the sentence to die with a hint of a question.

He smiled as he approached.

"My name is Agent Malcolm Howard, ma'am. I'm with the NID; your husband contributed to one of our projects in the past. I'm actually here to see the general. Is he in?"

It was a business call, then, although she didn't recognize that particular bowl of the Washington alphabet soup. Well, Rhonda had been an officer's wife for more than three decades, now. She knew how to be both gracious and discreet. She pulled off her heavy canvas garden gloves, tucked them into the pocket of her chambray skirt and offered her hand to Agent Howard.

"Vernon takes a walk every day after lunch, Agent Howard," she said as Howard smiled again and grasped her hand. "It's been about an hour. He shouldn't be gone much longer. Can I offer you a cup of coffee?"

"Yes, ma'am, I'd appreciate that," Howard answered.

He wasn't as young as Rhonda had thought, maybe in his mid-forties, but he was reasonably good looking with short-cropped blond hair and grey eyes that crinkled with laugh-lines when he smiled. He took her arm like a gentleman and led the way back up the path and into the house.

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