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Fanfiction: Finding Solid Ground - Part III

For disclaimers and author's note see Part I.

 

Finding Solid Ground

Part III: Solid Ground


General Hammond was a brilliant shade of red. Jonas wasn’t certain it was usual and from the worried look on Doctor Fraiser’s face neither was she. Both the General and the CMO had joined Major Davis, Jonas and Teal’c at the agreed neutral base of the Land of Light the day before.

The talks had actually proceeded smoothly that morning while the first of the Tok’ra’s grievances – informing Yu of the intelligence they had on Ba’al – was discussed. Hammond had graciously conceded that the decision to inform Yu had not been agreed with their allies and had served only Earth’s interests in a singular matter. The Tok’ra had conceded in vague terms that there had been no real reason to keep the intelligence from Yu; only that they had now lost the opportunity to have done it themselves at an opportunity of their own making.

It had been a polite and careful dialogue that had taken Major Davis and Jonas days to construct. Both parties had broken for lunch with a faintly pleased air that they would get through the current chill in relations.

However, within moments of resuming for lunch, any positive vibes had been thoroughly stamped on by the arrival of Thoran. His impassioned argument against Colonel O’Neill was the reason why the General had gone so red. Jonas could understand why. He might not have the easiest relationship with the Colonel but Thoran’s accusations painted the Colonel as some maverick rebel who didn’t care who he hurt in the pursuit of his own interests. It was not a description of Jack O’Neill Jonas recognised.

Teal’c vibrated in anger beside him. Clearly Thoran’s words had dishonoured a man the Jaffa considered a brother. Jonas was given to understand that on Jaffa worlds, Thoran’s actions would have allowed Teal’c to challenge him in combat. Jonas was half-sorry they had agreed on neutral territory.

The doctor frowned in concern at the red-faced General and looked across at Davis with a pointed expression.

Davis evidently got the message. He leaned forward urgently as Thoran wound to a halt. ‘Perhaps a short recess is called for before we respond to Thoran’s charges against Colonel O’Neill.’

Garshaw stood up eagerly. ‘I would like to second that idea, Per’sus.’

The Supreme High Councillor bowed his head. ‘Agreed. A short recess.’

The Tok’ra filed out and the small Tau’ri delegation made their way to the private ante-chamber they had been assigned. SG3 immediately moved to guard the door as the rest of them took seats at the small table.

Janet poured some water into a glass and pushed it in the direction of the General. ‘Sir.’

Hammond glowered at her but took the drink and swallowed a large gulp. ‘Options.’

‘We cannot allow Thoran’s accusations against O’Neill to go unchallenged.’ Teal’c growled.

‘And we won’t.’ Davis assured him. ‘I personally don’t believe the Tok’ra High Council believes Colonel O’Neill culpable. I think they are trying to find a way to a compromise.’

‘They’re not making it easy for us, Major.’ Hammond commented dryly.

‘That they even allowed half of what was said to be said...’ Janet sighed. ‘I’m just pleased the Colonel isn’t here to hear it.’

‘Well, some of the accusations are easily dismissed.’ Jonas pointed out. ‘We can show that the Colonel’s record; his pattern of honesty and integrity. The Tok’ra Korra has come forward to provide a character reference following the events where the Colonel helped save his life.’

‘And Shallan is prepared to testify that Kanan told her his host was unaware of the rescue.’ Davis added. ‘The fact that the Colonel followed through on Kanan’s mission and rescued her has to count for something.’

‘Thoran has already used that against us.’ Janet pointed out. ‘He’s argued that it’s a sign that the Colonel was the one who pressed for the mission.’

‘Shallan can testify however that the Colonel found her accidentally and rescued her. He wasn’t looking for her.’ Davis responded.

‘She’s also agreed to talk about the torture Colonel O’Neill endured.’ Jonas added. ‘It may help the Council to set what has happened to the Colonel into context.’

‘You mean for them to realise he’s been through enough?’ Janet said dryly. ‘Let’s hope so.’

‘Any news on Jacob?’ Hammond asked.

Davis shook his head. ‘Garshaw continues to claim that he was sent on a vital mission and can’t be disturbed.’

‘Korra thought he might be able to find out where but he wasn’t hopeful of Jacob returning in time for Selmak to testify on the matter of how much a Tau’ri host can influence a symbiote.’ Jonas murmured, gesturing with a pen.

‘Are you comfortable on how you’re going to respond to Thoran, sir?’ Davis tentatively asked.

Hammond swallowed down the rest of the water in response.

There was a respectful knock on the door and Hammond called for the person to enter.

Major Pierce stuck his head around the door. ‘Sir, they’re requesting your presence in the Council chamber.’

Hammond sighed and put the empty glass back on the table. Jonas was relieved that his colour had gone back to normal.

‘Let’s get back to it, people.’ Hammond ordered.

Jonas fell into step beside Teal’c. ‘You OK?’

Teal’c inclined his head. ‘I will not dishonour General Hammond by killing Thoran where he stands.’

‘Good to know.’ Jonas said under his breath as they retook their seats.

Per’sus gestured at Hammond. ‘You may respond to Thoran’s charges.’

Hammond stood. His uniform provided him with an air of gravity; the formal blue suit such a contrast to the pale beige and sand colours favoured by the Tok’ra. The medals he wore hinted at his own bravery and courage. He was the picture of a leader.

Jonas felt a moment’s pride that he had the opportunity to metaphorically stand beside him.

‘I will respond.’ Hammond stated, his Texan accent rolling through the short, sharp words. ‘We refute every accusation Thoran makes against Colonel Jack O’Neill.’

His pale blue eyes glittered. ‘Colonel O’Neill is a decorated officer who has risked his life several times both on behalf of the Tau’ri and the Tok’ra. There is not a man nor woman nor symbiote in this room that does not owe their lives to the bravery and the courage of the Colonel and the rest of SG1.’ He waited until they all looked away shame-faced and uncomfortable. ‘I fail to understand why these charges are even tolerated.’

Thoran sprang to his feet.

‘I haven’t finished, son.’ Hammond bit out. ‘You had a lot to say.’ He took a breath as Thoran subsided unhappily. ‘Colonel O’Neill does find the idea of blending difficult. Unsurprising, since he saw a close friend taken as an unwilling host and forced to act in a threatening manner to loved ones and colleagues.’ He glared around the chamber and stabbed a finger on the table in front of him. ‘That incident involved a Tok’ra symbiote not a Goa’uld.’

Hammond drew himself up as he let his words sink into the gathered Tok’ra. ‘While Jolinar did eventually save Major Carter, Colonel O’Neill was witness to her struggle to recover in the aftermath; as was I. Believe me when I say that no-one should have to go through that.’

‘Perhaps if you had seen her pain and distress as he did, you also would think twice about blending. And Colonel O’Neill was quite clear: he would not take a symbiote to save his own life.’ Hammond said passionately. ‘We have video evidence we can supply of his conversation with Major Carter if you so wish but I was present and can confirm his refusal. Yet on hearing that a symbiote required a host to impart vital intelligence he agreed.’

Thoran glowered at Hammond. Jonas noticed the studied way Hammond ignored him, focusing instead on the Councillors.

‘This is the type of man Jack O’Neill is: one who puts duty before self, before his own needs and wants.’ Hammond suddenly turned and stared straight at Thoran. ‘That is who he is.’

Hammond let his gaze roam for a moment. ‘Yes, I have seen Jack O’Neill disobey an order; I’ve seen him disobey my orders but never without reason and never for selfish purposes.’

He shifted; his chin going up. ‘Let’s set aside the fact that we were promised, and that both Kanan and the Colonel confirmed that the Colonel spent his time as a host mostly unconscious to prevent the exchange of information between host and symbiote.’ His cutting tone gave away his views on the Tok’ra’s sudden retraction of the fact.

‘You accuse him of pressurising Kanan into going back for Shallan because it was what Jack wanted. I put it to you that he would never have risked the safety of Earth or its allies on such a strategically risky operation and, further, if he had agreed to the mission, he would have ensured he was not caught and certainly not caught alive.’

Jonas let his own gaze roam over the gathering. He could see some nodding; others were looking down as though uncomfortable having been faced with the truth. There were still a few though who looked perturbed and a few who looked angry. Thoran’s supporters, Jonas surmised.

‘But he was caught and tortured repeatedly; killed repeatedly; brought back to life in the sarcophagus repeatedly.’ Hammond stabbed his finger at them with each statement. ‘And this is the man who you now want to put through further torment.’

Thoran stood up suddenly. ‘He dishonours Kanan by claiming he acted against O’Neill’s will. I will not stand for it!’

‘Thoran!’ Per’sus cautioned him but Hammond was already replying.

‘And because you can’t live with the truth of that, you want to blame Jack.’ Hammond glared at Thoran. ‘I’m here to tell you I won’t let you do that!’

‘And neither will I.’ Jacob Carter’s voice rang out from the entrance of the Council Chamber. He looked around as the Council stirred anxiously, a babble of noise breaking out amongst the members at his unexpected arrival. ‘Just what the hell is going on here?’

o-O-o

He was tired. He was sick of fawning over the pretentious Goa’uld yet he knew he must if Ba’al was to remain unsuspicious and, one day, hopefully to trust him. He knew the information he sought was in Ba’al’s chambers but the question of access remained somewhat sticky.

He entered his quarters and paused at the sight of the woman in his bed; tousled short blonde hair, wide inquisitive eyes and a slim body that he had already explored all too thoroughly for the past week. The firelight cast its gold and red flames across her skin, painting her in the stripes of a feral animal.

Ba’al would kill them both if they were discovered.

He threw off his robes and walked to the bed; she rose from the tangle of sheets and blankets to meet his kiss; their bodies pressing closer...

Carter.’ He whispered her name as his mouth moved to her jaw, suckled on her neck and moved downward.

She gave a sigh and shifted, arching. ‘Kanan.’

Jack woke abruptly, eyes flying open, heart pounding in his chest. He stared up at the familiar ceiling in his bedroom at the cabin and waited for his breathing to return to normal. He rubbed his hands over his face.

Damn it.

That was the third night in a row he’d had the same dream...nightmare...flashback. God, it – he – was a mess!

It was a memory. Jack knew that. It was one of the few memories of Kanan’s that he remembered, and he could remember the exact moment he had recalled it for the first time...

Tell me why Kanan brought you here.’ The whip struck his back; the lance of pain horrific with the acid already burning through his blood. Ba’al almost sounded bored.

I don’t know.’

Why the girl?’ Two strikes.

I told you; I don’t know.’ His voice was little more than a whisper.

What could be so important about her?’ The third stroke drove the breath from Jack’s body and the memory rushed through him in its place; Kanan and Shallan, their bodies entwined, pleasure that wasn’t his humming through his veins. Kanan loved her: that was why she was important, why he had come back for her...she had betrayed Ba’al for him.

Jack sat up in the bed and stared at the shadowy forms of the furniture: the old chest of drawers that took up the wall opposite; the large oak wardrobe that his grandfather had built; a love seat by the window with a view of the lake.

He pushed the covers back and dressed only in his boxers, headed for the kitchen. The small space was lit up by a patch of moonlight and Jack didn’t bother with an artificial light. He pulled out a beer from the refrigerator and knocked the top off using the edge of a counter. He took a long swallow before he wandered out of the cabin and onto the dock.

It was cold. Not as cold as it could have been but cold. He could see the remains of the ice on the surface of the pond. His skin burned with the wind chill but he ignored it and continued down to the edge of the dock. He sat down, knees bent and drawn up, elbows resting over them, his hand dangling the beer with a steady grip on the bottle.

He closed his eyes and breathed in deeply.

Better than a cold shower, Jack mused with some semblance of the wry humour that always accompanied him in the field as one of his survival tools. That he was employing it on Earth at his cabin where he should have felt safe was something he didn’t want to look at too closely.

He picked at the label on the bottle. Every time he considered Kanan’s memory, he felt like a voyeur. He knew what it was like to make love to Shallan as though he had been the one lying in a bed with her yet he knew the memory wasn’t his. He wondered briefly if Carter had felt the same way about memories of Jolinar and Martouf before he pushed that thought away rapidly; he really didn’t want to know, didn’t want to consider Carter and the Tok’ra being intimate in any way shape or form.

Jack took another long gulp of beer.

Of course, the problem wasn’t that he was dreaming about Kanan and Shallan; the problem was that somehow his subconscious brain was substituting him and Carter in the memory.

His jaw clenched. It wasn’t the first time he had dreamed about him, Carter and a bed. There had been times before he had loved her when he’d dreamed about her, fantasises that seemed all too possible when they’d discovered their feelings were mutual, and dreams since despite his insistence on publically being nothing more than friends and team-mates. He was an adult; he was a man; dreaming about sex, making love, was a healthy, normal state of being. But these dreams...

It seemed wrong; perverse. He didn’t want to dream about Carter in Shallan’s place; he didn’t want to dream about Shallan. And he sure as heck didn’t want to assume Kanan’s place or dream that Carter called him Kanan.

Jack drank down the rest of the beer and set the bottle aside. The chill cooled his flushed face and made him shiver. He slowly got up, grimacing when his limbs and joints protested with stiffness. He realised he couldn’t feel the wood beneath the soles of his feet they were that numb with cold as he walked back to the cabin.

He burrowed back into his bed and let the blankets warm his body. He closed his eyes. Mackenzie would probably have a field day with the symbolism, Jack thought miserably. Not that he had any intention of talking to Mackenzie about the memory, and certainly not about Carter’s role in his little remix of a dream.

Jack pulled the blankets closer. He wasn’t stupid. He could figure out all too easily why his mind had swapped him for Kanan, Carter for Shallan. The comparison was too stark and he knew, thanks to Ba’al’s memory prompting, that Kanan had only arrived as his insane plan to rescue Shallan after the symbiote had been exposed to Jack’s feelings about Carter; to the memory of Carter being one side of a force-shield and facing certain death with him on the other, and knowing he wouldn’t leave her.

Not that it excused Kanan’s actions but Jack understood the symbiote’s decision to go back for the woman he loved more than he wanted to admit; more than he was ever likely to admit. What Kanan hadn’t been exposed to was the harsh truth that sometimes duty had to come before love; that sometimes actions had to be taken that went against every feeling felt, every desire wanted.

Carter stood in the corridor, hands raised to the ceiling, eyes glaring at him because she wasn’t Carter; not really. His fingers squeezed the zat, firing the shot that would kill her.

He sighed and turned over restlessly. It was a pity Kanan hadn’t seen that memory; maybe it would have made a difference. And maybe not. Jack absently scratched his bicep. He wasn’t sure Kanan would have been dissuaded; the symbiote had wanted to rescue Shallan; Jack’s code of ethics and his own actions in regards to not leaving Carter at the force-shield, had simply given Kanan the excuse he’d needed.

He was beginning to wonder whether his nagging urge to retire wasn’t rooted in the same selfishness that had determined Kanan’s actions.

It was different, Jack thought, pressing his lips together firmly. He’d been through hell with Ba’al; tortured, killed. So what was new, his conscience threw back at him without hesitation. He’d been tortured before; brought back to life before. He’d continued to fight. Why did he want to down tools this time? And what made him so special?

Carter had come through her experience with Conrad; Teal’c had been almost tortured to death by a Goa’uld himself; Daniel by Ammonet; hell, they’d all been tortured by Apophis during their brief visit to Netu.

It was different, Jack thought insistently. But was it, the voice in his argued back. Yes, he’d been tortured and badly with creative techniques that he’d never been subjected to before; it was without question the worst experience of his entire life beyond the moment he’d heard the gunshot that had killed his son. But was it any different really to any of the other times?

Maybe the only difference was that he was older and tired of the fight. Daniel’s death had hit him hard; changed things irrevocably in terms of the team; smashed to pieces the illusion of a secure family unit. He’d concluded once that he deserved more in his life than simply burying himself inside the SGC; had tried to build something outside of it with a warm woman who had been great except for the one problem: she wasn’t Carter.

Jack almost groaned out loud. It all kept coming back to Carter. And perhaps the reason why he was dreaming of her instead of Ba’al and his torture tricks was because he’d spent the last three days thinking about nothing but her.

He wanted her.

He wanted her more than he ever had before. He was tired of pretending he didn’t love her; tired of constantly putting his duty before his feelings for her. He wanted to kiss her; hold her; love her...lose himself in her comfort. He wanted to be with her as selfishly as Kanan had wanted to be with Shallan.

Carter still felt something for him too. He was sure of it. He’d seen more than simple friendship in her expression while she had cared for him during his withdrawal. It wouldn’t take much encouragement to fan the flames, reignite what she had felt for him.

Yet if he went to her right that moment, he would go to a broken man. Carter didn’t deserve that. She deserved someone whole; someone without his insane baggage.

Which left him exactly nowhere.

And maybe, Jack thought tiredly, he was focusing on his feelings for Carter because he couldn’t face the nagging fear that Ba’al had broken him and he was scared he couldn’t function as a soldier anymore; couldn’t be Colonel Jack O’Neill, SG1 leader anymore. And if he couldn’t, who the hell was he? Maybe Daniel had been wrong; maybe he was never going to be OK again. The thought kept him awake until the dawn filtered through the curtains and bathed the bed in sunlight.

o-O-o

The mood in the chamber assigned to the Tok’ra Council was tense. Jacob waited impatiently for them all to get settled so they could begin.

I think it would be best for me to talk, Selmak pointed out dryly. He assented to his symbiote without a word. He was too furious to speak and if he did speak he was only likely to say something that would be detrimental to Selmak’s standing on the Council. As it was many of the Council members were clearly avoiding his stern and accusing gaze.

Per’sus gathered his robes around him and held up a hand. The quiet murmur of voices petered out. He cleared his throat. ‘Jacob, Selmak. We had not expected to see you here.’

‘That much is evident, Per’sus.’ Selmak responded caustically. ‘Tell me: have I been voted off the Council?’

‘Selmak...’

‘Because I do not understand why such a major issue which affects our relationship with our ally, the ally to whom I was appointed liaison, would be decided upon without my opinion being sought and my vote counted.’ Selmak spoke over the Supreme High Councillor without remorse. Jacob’s eyes flashed as she vented her anger.

Maybe I should have been the one to speak, Jacob noted as he registered that Selmak was vibrating with rage.

Selmak ignored him and continued to glare at Per’sus. ‘Have you all taken leave of your senses?’ Inwardly Jacob winced; he really should have been the one to speak.

‘Selmak,’ Per’sus sighed, ‘we believed that this matter would be a conflict of interest for you...’

‘And what about Thoran’s conflict of interest?’ Selmak retorted.

‘We are aware Thoran had a close relationship with Kanan,’ Per’sus began.

‘He was his brother.’ Selmak corrected frostily. ‘His accusations are rooted in his grief.’

Mardok, a younger Councillor with bright red hair and a crooked smile, raised his hand. Per’sus recognised him and waved for him to speak. ‘Selmak, perhaps some of Thoran’s arguments are without foundation but the central concern is valid.’

Selmak looked at him evenly. ‘And what would this central concern be exactly?’

Mardok smiled as though Selmak had walked unknowingly into a trap. ‘That our alliance with the Tau’ri leads to nothing but trouble and death; that we cannot trust them as hosts.’

Jacob was as stunned as Selmak as they assimilated the accusation.

Well, that is new, Selmak murmured inwardly.

Do you think they all feel that way, Jacob asked concerned.

Selmak sighed. We shall see. She sat forward. ‘You all feel this way?’

‘No.’ Garshaw gave an apologetic smile to Per’sus but stood. ‘I believe our alliance with the Tau’ri has been beneficial and I see no evidence that they cannot be trusted as hosts.’

‘The evidence is before your eyes.’ Mardok claimed. ‘Shallan has admitted that Kanan told her he was influenced by O’Neill’s belief that no-one should be left behind.’

‘Hosts and symbiotes have been influencing each other for centuries.’ Selmak countered. ‘It’s hardly an argument that the Tau’ri cannot be trusted as hosts. And as we all know, it is possible for a symbiote to resist the wishes of a host; it is impossible for the host to resist the wishes of a symbiote.’

‘But if Kanan was so heavily influenced that he acted against his own beliefs...’ Mardok continued.

‘Then he was weak.’ Selmak stated baldly. She gestured. ‘Based on Thoran’s evidence, either Kanan lied about O’Neill being rendered unconscious which was the stated wish of the host, and so was influenced unduly during the blending, or O’Neill was unconscious and Kanan was influenced only marginally and still used his host’s body for his own purposes.’

She looked from Mardok around the rest of the assembled Council. ‘We cannot have it both ways, and in either case, whether Kanan was influenced or not, it does not matter: the hard truth is that Kanan broke our highest law: he acted against the agreement of the host and O’Neill suffered for it.’

Per’sus inclined his head. ‘You are correct, Selmak.’ He looked chagrined. ‘I regret to say that we had not followed Thoran’s evidence to its proper conclusion in regards to Kanan’s actions.’

A murmur broke out around the Council.

‘And perhaps in which case, we can put this matter to rest.’ Garshaw jumped in. ‘I believe that the original decision was flawed and we should withdraw the charges against the Colonel.’

‘There is still the matter of how much a Tau’ri host can influence its symbiote.’ Mardok said quickly.

Selmak levelled her gaze on the young Councillor. ‘I can assure you, Jacob influences me no more or less than any of my previous hosts.’

‘Frankly, I’m more bothered about their continuing reluctance to be hosts.’ Garshaw added.

‘That is also a concern.’ Per’sus agreed. ‘While I doubt Kanan was influenced entirely by O’Neill, I wonder if blending with such an unwilling host didn’t contribute to a,’ he struggled to find the words and paused, ‘to an imbalance in his judgement.’

‘The Tau’ri value freedom and independence.’ Selmak said. ‘They have no recollection of Ra’s rule; they do not know what it is to be born and live under the rule of a Goa’uld.’ She gestured at the assembly. ‘Our hosts have usually known only slavery. They see a blending as an opportunity as a way to gain freedom. The Tau’ri see symbiosis as a loss of freedom; as a loss of independence. And they will do much to protect that freedom. It is why they fight against the Goa’uld.’

‘And perhaps that obsession leads them to fight the Goa’uld recklessly.’ Mardok asserted. ‘At a cost of Tok’ra lives.’

‘One could argue our alliance has led us to recklessly endanger the lives of the Tau’ri when it has suited our purpose.’ Selmak pointed out coldly. ‘And when they see our symbiotes take hosts by force and use their hosts without regard perhaps it is no wonder that blending with us remains an anathema to them.’

Per’sus held up a hand. ‘Let us vote: all those in favour of continuing to charge Colonel O’Neill with unduly influencing Kanan?’

There were a handful of arms raised but a small minority. Jacob felt something inside him unwind with relief.

‘All those in favour of withdrawing our protest?’ Per’sus nodded at the vast show of hands. ‘So be it.’ He stood up.

Selmak stayed seated as others followed Per’sus. ‘There is still the matter of the Tau’ri’s formal protest at O’Neill’s treatment.’ She said loudly over the rising voices.

Silence descended abruptly.

Per’sus blinked and sank back down. ‘What do you suggest?’

‘I would suggest a full apology.’ Selmak replied evenly. She looked at him coolly. ‘Perhaps in our grief over Kanan some have allowed their feelings to cloud them to the fact that at present Earth is our only ally; the only place we have to run to in the immediacy of Anubis’s continued attacks; the only one who provides us with weapons and supplies.’

‘Actually, Selmak,’ Garshaw said with a darting look toward Per’sus who had flushed a bright red, ‘I think perhaps it was all too much in our minds how reliant we have become on the Tau’ri.’

Politics, Jacob thought derisively; it seemed the Tokra were just as susceptible to posturing as the Tau’ri.

‘We will issue a full apology.’ Per’sus said tersely. ‘Is there any other business?’

Selmak bowed her head slightly. She stayed seated as the others left.

Garshaw paused beside her. ‘It is good to see you, old friend.’

‘And you.’ Selmak replied. It was Jacob who took control and placed his hand on Garshaw’s preventing their friend from departing. ‘We wish to speak with Thoran.’

‘I will arrange it.’ Garshaw promised.

Selmak let out a slow breath as the room emptied and they were finally alone.

Well, that went well, Jacob mused. A frisson of the anger he’d felt when they’d arrived fluttered through him again and he didn’t know if he still felt aggrieved or whether it was Selmak.

I don’t know either, Jacob, Selmak admitted with a sigh. Her confusion and hurt at being cut out of the original discussions lingered.

A soft knock disturbed the thought.

‘Enter.’ Jacob called.

Hammond walked in alone. He nodded at Jacob. ‘I saw everyone else leaving.’ There was a question in his voice.

Jacob waved at him to sit. ‘They’re going to drop the charge against Jack and issue an apology, George.’

His old friend slumped into a seat with a huff of air. ‘I can’t tell you how relieved I am to hear that, Jake.’

‘I’m just sorry that it took so long for the news to reach me.’ Jacob sighed. ‘I was buried in a science project in the Risa system.’ He looked at Hammond. ‘How is Jack?’

‘He’s alone at his cabin, recovering.’ Hammond noted.

‘You really think he’s going to come back from this?’ Jacob asked pointedly.

Hammond sighed and Jacob noticed for the first time how tired George looked beyond the facade of his uniform and parade ground posture. ‘I hope so, Jake, because we can’t afford to lose someone with his skills.’

‘It never seems to get any easier, does it?’ Jacob noted with a sigh.

‘No.’ Hammond grimaced. ‘It never does.’

Continued in Part IV.

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