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nightspear ([personal profile] nightspear) wrote2009-06-02 10:43 pm
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Archaeology (17/30)

Title: Archaeology (Table of Contents)
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: Nothing you recognize is mine. I gain nothing of material value from this.
Pairings: Gen.
Note: As usual, if conversation takes place in a situation where English is not the primary language, English may be relegated to "italics" while the primary language is in "normal text."

Chapter1 Chapter2 Chapter3 Chapter4 Chapter5
Chapter6 Chapter7 Chapter8 Chapter9 Chapter10
Chapter11 Chapter12 Chapter13 Chapter14 Chapter15
Chapter16

XXXXX

Chapter 17: Personnel

XXXXX

20 February 2001; P3X-888; 1100 hrs

All in all, it was a relief to be away from the Alpha Site, until Daniel remembered that they only had a few days' break and that P3X-888 was next on their schedule.

He wanted to be here, of course. He'd pushed hard for it, and...and...

And that was where Robert had first shown him Casca. And there was the path they'd trampled out on the way to fetch water so many times over three weeks, still visible in the areas where grass hadn't grown out to cover their tracks. The simple barriers they'd set out at the dig sites were still standing. And right here, on the ground by his feet, was the pen he must have dropped when he'd heard Loder fire, which meant that just beyond those trees was where the previous SG-11 had been buried.

"Daniel?"

He turned around to see Jack watching him while Edwards' team and the rest of SG-1 checked the area around what used to be their base camp. "What? Yes. I'm...just, uh...picking up some garbage." He picked up the pen and almost put it down on the table before he remembered the table wasn't there anymore, since SG-2 had cleaned things up.

"Sure?" Jack said.

Daniel nodded. "Um. The Unas must come out of their caves sometimes," he said, "if only for food. We can either stay and wait for an Unas to find us or go to the caves and look for Chaka ourselves."

"The other Unas aren't your friends," Jack said. "If someone besides Chaka comes along, they might not be so willing to deal. We should go find him."

"O'Neill," Teal'c's voice said through their radios, "someone approaches."

Daniel froze.

"Come on," Jack said, tugging him once sharply and heading toward the others. Daniel shook himself and followed, his hands moving to the gun clipped to his chest.

Teal'c and Sam were watching the woods while SG-11 spread out behind them. "I heard movement among the trees," Teal'c said.

"We haven't seen anything yet, sir," Sam added quietly. "But Colonel Edwards thought he heard something, too." Jack nodded and signaled for silence.

Daniel edged out from behind SG-1, who had formed a sort of barrier between him and the woods. Jack's fist shot up. Daniel stopped reflexively, then took a breath and continued moving in front. If the Unas came out, he wanted to see them before people started shooting at them.

A loud roaring sounded in the woods.

Before Daniel could think again, he took a step backward, the sound so familiar his heart started to race. He waited for another sound, another movement, another growl, but there was no warning, this time, before all of the Unas leapt out of the woods at once, four, five, eight, ten, too many to fight.

"Hold your fire!" Jack shouted.

"Ka keka!" Daniel yelled, lowering his gun and pushing past SG-1. "Unas ka keka!"

The Unas weren't moving, but they held their aggressive stance, and the growls were coming from all around them now, the one that started low in the throat and Daniel was pretty sure was physiologically impossible for a human to replicate exactly, but one could get pretty close with a trill from the--

"Stop that; you're freaking me out," Jack hissed from behind him, and it was only then that Daniel realized he was doing it, too, and stopped.

Rational. He could do that this time.

Daniel unclipped his gun, held it away from himself, and set it deliberately on the ground, ignoring the warning hisses from around him. Keeping his arms low and his head down, he walked slowly in front of his team. "Chaka?" he called loudly.

The Unas around them stilled. And then a few of them moved closer. "Pull back," Jack said.

"Chaka!" Daniel repeated. Thinking back to what Chaka had said when Daniel had been brought before the alpha male last time, he called, "Cho'ee'che!"

"A benar!" a voice called from among the Unas. "Cho'ee'che!"

"What does that mean?" Edwards said quietly.

"I have no idea," Daniel said, but he repeated, "Cho'ee'che, Chaka!"

And then, a welcome voice. "Dan'el!"

"Oh, good," Daniel breathed, watching his friend approach. "That's him. Chaka! Jack, lower your weapon."

"No," Jack said, but he wasn't giving an order to shoot or retreat, either.

Chaka stopped in front of him. "A benar!" Chaka repeated. The other Unas lowered their clubs or dropped down to all fours, backing slowly away.

"I think we should lower our weapons, Jack," Daniel repeated, not turning around. "There's a...a reciprocity in their dealings. Quid pro quo. Look, your guns are still close at hand, and they're backing away."

There was a pause, and then, "Stand down," Jack said.

Daniel only realized when Chaka was standing directly in front of him that he was all but kneeling on the ground. "Daniel," he said, pointing to himself. Then, in the odd case the Chaka might have forgotten, he added, "Wok tah?"

Chaka snorted. "Dan'el ka wok tah," he said. "Dan'el ka nay."

"I'm not his ritual sacrifice anymore," Daniel reported over his shoulder. "Which is...good. I don't know what, uh...kel 'ka nay'?" he asked. "What is...ka nay?"

Tilting his head, Chaka bent slightly and reached a hand down to him instead of answering.

Daniel stared at it for a second, then grasped it and let himself be yanked roughly to a fully upright position. "Thank you, Chaka," he said, and then, remembering something else, he turned Chaka's hand over to find unbroken, hardened skin. "Hey, it's all healed now," he said.

"Aka," Chaka said.

"Yeah," Daniel said, letting go of Chaka's hand and reaching into his pocket to turn on his tape recorder, leaving it in his vest pocket to keep his hands free. "So...'ka nay' and 'aka.'"

Chaka gestured at SG-1 and SG-11. "Dan'el ka nay," he repeated, then turned and swept his arm to include himself and all the Unas still there. "Te Unas ka nay."

"I think te is a first person singular pronoun," Daniel said. "Ka nay is a grouping of some sort." He gestured to himself and the SG personnel and said, "Human." He glanced at Teal'c but didn't mention Jaffa; simplicity seemed to be the best way to go right now. "Human."

"'Uman?" Chaka repeated, looking over the two teams.

"Daniel 'uman ka nay?" Daniel tried. "Te 'uman ka nay?"

"Ta 'uman ka nay," Chaka confirmed. "Te Unas ka nay. 'Uman Unas ka nay."

"Daniel," Jack said.

Smiling, Daniel said, "I think ka nay is...clan, or group, or...friends. We just established that my clan is humans, his clan is the Unas, and we're all friends."

"Uh-huh," Jack said.

"Unas ka keka 'uman," Daniel said as firmly as he dared. "Ka nan."

Chaka looked over the SG teams and their weapons, perhaps more wary now that he knew they were capable of seriously injuring an Unas. "'Uman ka keka Unas," he countered.

"Daniel," Jack said.

"We said that no one's killing or eating each other," Daniel said. "Cho'ee'che?" he tried, hoping Chaka would tell them what that meant, too.

Chaka took a step toward him. Daniel leaned backward but held his place. Chaka's hands dropped onto his shoulders and started pushing downward firmly.

"Daniel," Jack said. The metallic sounds of weapons rising sounded.

"Tal bet, tal bet," Daniel said, forgetting what language he was speaking in his consternation.

"Lower your weapons," Teal'c said for him.

Daniel sank down under Chaka's insistence. "Cho'ee'che?" he said again as he knelt.

Chaka let go of him and swiped an abrupt hand at the other Unas. "A benar!" he bellowed at them, then added a loud roar for good measure. The Unas looked around at each other, then slunk back into the woods. Then he turned back and held his palms facing downward. "Cho'ee'che," he said, then sat down, folding his legs under himself.

"Oh," Daniel said, relieved. "I guess he just wanted me to sit down."

An odd growling sound came from Chaka, but while it was familiar, it wasn't the usual one Daniel remembered. He wondered if roars could be parsed into individual phonemes or if they each had some specific lexical meaning--maybe different roars meant different things. Then Daniel remembered their adventures in eating across a fire in a cage and realized what this particular sound meant. "Mmm," he said.

"Rrrr," Chaka answered.

"Daniel," Jack said.

"Stop saying my name, Jack," Daniel said, smiling at Chaka. "Does someone here have an energy bar? A chocolate one, preferably."

"You're kidding me, right?" Edwards said. "You're hungry right now?"

"Jack," Daniel said, "you listened to my recording. It's not for me. Chaka," he added while rustling sounds came from behind him, "nan?" Looking confused, Chaka leaned forward and sniffed him. "No, no. Ka. Ka nan Daniel."

To his relief, Chaka leaned back and chuckled. "Ka nan Dan'el," he scoffed.

"Jackson," someone said from behind. Daniel turned slowly and caught an energy bar as it was tossed to him.

"Mmm," Daniel said holding it up for Chaka to see, laughing when the Unas's eyes went wide. He peeled it open and handed it over. "Nan?"

"Naan," Chaka said, taking it and ripping off a chunk.

"Huh," Jack said from behind. "So when you said he ate your chocolate, you were being literal."

Daniel frowned, then stopped frowning when Chaka looked up in concern. "Is there some metaphorical interpretation of that phrase I should be aware of?"

"Not really," Jack answered. "I just thought you'd lost it by the time you said that."

"And you wonder why half the SGC thinks I'm crazy," Daniel said, stuffing the ripped piece of plastic back into his pocket.

"Who says it's just half?" Jack said absently.

There was a crinkling sound, and then Chaka held the rest of the wrapper out to him. "You remembered!" Daniel said, taking it and putting it away. "See, they're not mindless animals; they know not to litter."

But then Chaka put down the half-eaten bar, leapt to his feet, and ran back into the woods.

"Whoa," Daniel said, holding his place since no one had said yet to stand. "Uh...Chaka?"

Chaka reappeared a second later holding--

"Hey, my forceps!" Daniel said, grinning as Chaka tossed them onto the ground near where he was sitting. Chaka sat back down in front of him and finished eating the energy bar as Daniel turned around to show the others. "Look! He had a bullet in his hand, and I took it out, but I must have dropped these in the cave and he gave them back."

Edwards looked slightly constipated as he said tensely, "That's very nice."

When Chaka tossed back the last of his snack, Daniel turned back around and clasped his hands in his lap. "So," he said. "'Uman ko keka onak. Um. Unas, 'uman, ko keka onak."

Chaka looked over the SG personnel. "Unas 'uman a ka naya ko keka onak."

"A ka naya," Daniel repeated, thrilled with their progress. "Together, as a...as a group. Together, we'll kill the Goa'uld. See, Jack, see, see? We're, we...you see?"

When he turned around, Jack was looking around at the rest of the team as if for an opinion. "All right," Jack said. "I take it back--you're not nuts. How're we going to start cooperating with these fellas?"

"Uh, well..." Daniel said. "Chaka and I can communicate with about ten words, so...this could take a while. And by that, I mean...more than a few hours."

Never taking his eyes from Chaka, Jack said, "We'll stick around for another day. If we're convinced everything will go smoothly this time, we'll report the successful contact to the SGC. And then, Daniel, you'll probably come back here with SG-11 for a long-term study--with daily check-ins--while SG-1 resumes normal duties."

Daniel nodded vigorously. "Okay. Sure. Thank you. Maybe I can ask him to show us the caves."

"Fine," Jack said.

Chaka tilted his head in question. Daniel thought.

"And?" Jack said.

"I have to figure out a few words," Daniel said. "Like...'where,' and 'cave.'"

XXXXX

28 February 2001; P3X-888; 0800 hrs

Between reports, paperwork, preparations for leaving base for yet another few weeks, it was almost a week between their first friendly contact with the Unas and Daniel and SG-11's return to start their studies, but soon after that, they got an invitation to the caves.

"I have to say," Captain Lorne said as he looked around the tunnel, "I'm impressed. This looks like something I didn't read in my high school biology book."

"The Goa'uld life cycle," Daniel said, panning his camera slowly over the artwork on the wall. "The Unas understand their biology, their habitat, and the threat they pose. It's amazing."

"Now, that wasn't something your friend wrote, was it," Devon said, pointing. Daniel following his flashlight to 'DANIEL JACKSON WAS HERE,' faded but still legible.

"No," Daniel said shortly, and reached up to rub out the chalk.

"What, you don't want to record it for posterity?"

"No," he repeated. When he saw that he was getting odd, sideways looks again, he added calmly, "It's artificially introduced. It has no business being there, and our recordings should show what the Unas drew and wrote, not SGC graffiti."

"Not sure I'm comfortable trusting these Unas," Edwards said, looking warily at the Unas at the far end of the chamber.

Daniel glanced up. "Colonel, if we've been picking up their language, there's no reason to think they might not be picking up some of ours, too."

"Is this paint?" Lieutenant Stemler asked, touching something on the wall near him. "Kind of weird that it's only right here. I wonder what it's made of."

"That's human blood," Daniel said. Stemler stopped touching it. "Don't worry; I don't think I have any blood-borne diseases," he added casually as he panned the camera over to that part of the wall, just to make the man look disturbed.

One of the men muttered, "This is weirding me out."

"Chaka promised us protection," Daniel said, because it was the first time they'd been allowed into the caves and Daniel and Chaka seemed to be the only ones really happy about it. "This part of the wall describes what I think is a coming of age ritual. You don't seem to do this where you're from, but plenty of cultures on Earth do or did in the past. Abydonian hunters have to pass a ritual similar to this--they bring back game to prove they can do it."

"They should learn about cacao around here," Lorne said. "Seem to like chocolate. Cacao harvesting for their rite of passage would be better for people's health."

"From the rest of their habits, they seem carnivorous, don't they?" Daniel said, reaching for his flashlight to get a better picture of the cave drawings. "I haven't seen signs of plant cultivation."

"Yeah," Edwards said. "Okay. Weren't we going to collect more water?"

Heavy footsteps from behind made him turn around to see Chaka standing there, holding a necklace of bone in his hand and pushing it toward Daniel. "Onak," Chaka said solemnly.

"Uh...thank you," Daniel said, not taking the necklace. "But, uh...Aka. And ka. Onak...ka nok."

But Chaka made the familiar gesture of scooping water with his hand and drinking. "Onak ko keka," he said, then dropped the bone necklace over Daniel's head.

Daniel tried not to wince as the bones clanked against each other around his neck. "See," he said. "You heard us talking, didn't you. You know our word for 'water.'"

"Wa-tar," Chaka tried, then made the drinking motion again. "Nar."

"Okay," Daniel said, making sure his recorder had caught that. "Nar. Water. 'Uman ko ka cha nar."

"Chaka ko ka cha 'uman," Chaka said.

"Aka," Daniel said, then put his camera away. "Sir, Chaka says he'll come with us to the water."

"Let's go," Edwards said briskly.

As they left the caves and made their way toward the river's edge, Lieutenant Devon said teasingly, "How come Jackson gets a neck protector?"

"Chaka likes my neck the best," Daniel said, pulling the necklace off to look at it. "Are these vertebrae? They look like it." He held it up close to Stemler's back to compare. "They're too big to be human."

Edwards scowled. "That makes me feel so much better."

"Well, sir," Devon pointed out, "at least it means we're being escorted by someone who can kill animals bigger than we are."

Chaka took the necklace out of his hand and put it back on properly. "Ka," he told Daniel sternly.

...x...

"Onak," Chaka warned again when they reached the all-too-familiar river. "Onak."

"Yeah, I got that last time," Daniel said, staring at the surface. "Could I have some of those sample vials, Colonel?"

With Chaka, Colonel Edwards, and the two lieutenants standing guard, Daniel and Captain Lorne together filled as many jars as Janet and the chemists could possibly want before refilling their canteens, too. "Now we know there are parasites in here and it's not just plain water," Lorne commented, "I'm not sure I really want to drink it anymore."

"They're not like tapeworms, sir," Stemler said. "They won't sneak into your canteen."

Daniel paused in packing everything carefully away. "They'd probably fit, though," he said. "Once, Major Carter captured a larval Goa'uld from Chulak by putting it in a thermos."

Lorne turned to give him an incredulous look. "A thermos?"

"They didn't have a better container," he explained. Leaning down to look more closely at the water, he said, "I wonder if we could--"

A hand grabbed the back of his jacket and yanked him away. "Ka!" Chaka growled, and added a clear, "No."

"Right, I remember," Daniel said, eyes wide. "No heads near the water." He pulled loose and scrambled away from the edge to look an angry Chaka in the eye. "Could you..." He made a motion with his hand like someone catching a flying symbiote. "Uh...wok tah," Daniel said. "I want to capture it. Ka keka onak; onak wok tah."

Chaka narrowed his eyes. "Ka," he said again. Clearly, onak weren't supposed to be wok tah.

"Maybe we can just come back sometime with fishing nets or something," Devon suggested. Daniel imagined telling Jack he had an idea for a fishing trip and decided it would be a bad idea.

Edwards lowered a gun that Daniel hadn't even seen him raise. "Well, we don't have one of those right now, so let's stick to collecting water and soil and not the wildlife."

...x...

10 March 2001; P3X-888; 2200 hrs

"Hey, where are you going, Jackson?" Edwards said when Daniel began to walk away from the main camp toward the woods one evening, near the end of their stay.

"Just over there," Daniel said, pointing to the tree line.

"Buddy rule everywhere," Edwards reminded him.

"But..." Daniel sighed. "I'll stay in sight. Could you maybe watch and not...you know...listen? Please, sir."

Edwards stared suspiciously at him, then glanced in that direction. As if remembering what was out there, he finally nodded. "You stay in view at all times," he ordered.

"Yes, sir," Daniel said, then walked quickly toward the former SG-11's graves and sat near them with his back against a tree, making sure the men could see him. "For the record," he told the graves, "I'm not really trying to talk to you. I'm just going to take notes here."

It was odd being with the others, anyway, since he still thought of Robert and Major Hawkins' team when someone said 'SG-11,' even though they hadn't been the first SG-11 or even the first to fall. He pulled out his notebook and pen and rewound his first tape of the day's work so he could start transcribing while everything was still fresh in his mind.

"You know what's ironic?" Daniel said to the mound where Robert was buried. "I always thought I was better with living people while you preferred dead societies, and now I'm talking to graves instead of the living. Not that I'm talking to..."

But he was still talking, so he shut up and waited for his tape to finish rewinding.

The tape recorder clicked to a stop. Daniel set a small stone on top of each of their graves, just to mark that someone had visited, then pushed PLAY and went to work.

He'd finished half of one tape and was nearing the end of one notebook when he realized his face was so close to the page because it was getting too dark to see. Just as he was about to turn on his flashlight, Captain Lorne's voice said from overhead, "It's getting dark. The colonel'd rather have everyone closer together until the sun rises again."

"Oh. Okay," Daniel said, stopping his own voice on the tape and replacing it in his plastic bag.

Lorne waited until he'd packed his things away and stood, heading back to camp together. "So," Lorne said. "This is an alien planet, huh."

Daniel was surprised into grinning. "With respect, Captain, you probably should have noticed that a couple of weeks ago."

"That's not what I meant," Lorne said, rolling his eyes. "It just looks so normal. Except for the"--he made a claw with his hand--"alien beasts."

"It's more immediately obvious in some places," Daniel said. "If there's a...a giant planet visible in the sky, or a few more moons than you're used to, or the climate...although, I'm told there's a wide range of climates on Earth, too. But a lot of planets were, uh...I've forgotten the word the SGC uses. It means they changed the environment artificially to make it habitable."

"Terraforming?" Lorne said.

"Uh, sure," Daniel said. "Or, possibly, the Ancients just picked planets that could already support life. Teal'c learned growing up that the Goa'uld did the...terra-forming, but since we've discovered planets like this where advanced Goa'uld have never been, and since we don't know what technology did it, that could be an example of the Goa'uld taking credit for something the Ancients did. And not everywhere is this fertile or so deserted of humans--if it were artificial, one might expect more uniformity, given the Ancients' level of technological advancement. Oh--in fact, traditionally, it's the engineering teams that take charge of mining operations, so you'll probably see Abydos at some point, which is just about the opposite of here."

Lorne raised his eyebrows. "Jesus. It's like I'm back in school."

Daniel wrinkled his nose. "Sorry. I do that sometimes."

"Nah, I don't mind the lecture. I just mind knowing that I have to know all of that at some point."

"You think that now," Daniel said, "but then a new team is assembled--"

"--and then they look stupid in comparison, huh," Lorne said.

"Oh. No, no," Daniel said, realizing his faux pas too late. "Not--it's...you absorb it as you go, that's all. You know a lot without trying by the time you've been at the SGC for just a year."

Lorne stopped just before they stepped into earshot of the rest of the team. "I don't know about the older guys, but there's speculation among the newer people that you're not really human."

Daniel coughed. "Um," he said.

"Yeah," Lorne said.

"My parents were born in Cairo and New York," he said. He almost added as an afterthought that his grandfather lived in a different phase with mist-like Aztec aliens who spoke Mayan, but decided he'd unnecessarily needled the newbies enough for a few weeks.

"Or there's something wrong with you," Lorne amended. "That's what most people are saying. Crazy lucky, crazy stupid, or crazy smart. Or all of the above. We can't figure out which, but they're not mutually exclusive, you understand."

"Uh," Daniel said, frowning. "Huh."

"Listen," Lorne said, taking advantage of his confusion. "You're always off by yourself when you can help it. Do you even know our first names? Because mine isn't Captain."

Embarrassed, Daniel had to shake his head. "Not--not...really. I know Lieutenant Devon is 'Mark.' But..."

"Well, I'm Evan," Lorne said, holding out his hand. Daniel stared at it for a moment before taking it cautiously. "I think that was our first conversation, weird as it was, so...you know. For the record, the colonel's name is Michael, but you should stick to Colonel for him."

"Yes, sir," Daniel said.

Lorne looked back over his shoulder. "I get that you probably knew them a lot better, but give us a chance, okay?"

Ashamed of what he'd been thinking at the graves just before, he said, "I didn't mean to--"

"No, s'okay. We get it. But you should at least have dinner with everyone for once."

Daniel nodded. "I really didn't mean to make it seem like I don't like you guys or anything, and to be honest, I didn't know the...your predecessors very well, either, as a whole."

"Well, I can see how the Unas are more interesting than we are, so you've got an excuse for that part of the day, but at the end of the day, you don't want to be that antisocial kid off in the corner," Lorne said. "Come on. Honorary SG-11. There are worse things."

"Yeah," Daniel agreed. "There are." He glanced back once more at the graves, then followed Captain Lorne to the fireside.

XXXXX

19 March 2001; Briefing Room, SGC; 0900 hrs

Daniel found himself relaxing into the atmosphere of being around SG-11, if not quite the idea of being one of them, and he returned to the SGC after their weeks of study with a mixture of longing for more time on the mission and eagerness to return to his own team.

He returned, however, to find SG-1 gone and the general grim.

"Mr. Jackson, you should hear this," the general said at the briefing room table with another team. "Report back here as soon as Dr. Fraiser clears you."

So Daniel and SG-11 were escorted to the infirmary for a quick Goa'uld-check and blood screen, and then he hurried back to the briefing room, where SG-2 was gathered around the table.

"P3R-118," General Hammond said once he'd taken a seat next to Major Griff, before he could ask when in the last couple of months Griff had been promoted and Majors Coburn and Pierce reassigned. "SG-1 went there approximately one week ago after the MALP and UAV showed a large area of concentrated energy among what seemed to be a world too cold to be inhabited."

"That much power means someone put it there," Daniel reasoned, "and if someone survived to build on an uninhabitable world...an artificial environment of some sort?" He knew he'd guessed right by the looks of surprised approval from two people he didn't recognize at the table. SG-2 had undergone some reorganization while he'd been away.

The general nodded once. "The people of P3R-118 built a domed city. They have what seems to be a very advanced and prosperous society, as well as technology we've never seen on Earth. The people speak a language similar to what Colonel O'Neill spoke for three months on Edora, so they were able to begin the establishment of relations and possibly start trade negotiations."

"But they never finished," Daniel guessed.

"They reported back to say they'd opened negotiations and then missed their next check-in," Griff said. "The guy in charge--his name is Calder--said Major Carter was so interested in something about the technology that Colonel O'Neill led the team too far into the snow and the storm, against Calder's warnings."

Daniel frowned, immediately suspicious. "That doesn't make any sense. Jack takes safety much more seriously than technology, and Sam wouldn't risk the team like that, not when she could just talk to the engineers in the city instead. Even if it were true, Jack and Sam would've realized they'd gone too far for their bodies to handle long before Teal'c was too weak to get back--"

"We know," Captain Freeman said. He pointed to one of the new faces. "Lieutenant Simpson's our engineer. He doesn't think there's anything Major Carter would have been so interested in. The rest of us can't find anything, either."

"And I agree about O'Neill," Griff added. "No way would he have let anyone out into that mess."

"So Calder is lying while he negotiates with us," Daniel said. "Sir--"

"We can't prove it," the general said, "and without more proof or another reason, I'm not authorized to cut off diplomatic ties with them, which is what would happen if we accused Administrator Calder of lying about our people."

A surge of indignation rose--Calder or his people were lying about the lives of SG-1, which meant the SGC didn't want diplomatic ties to them, anyway--and then fell, because Daniel knew it didn't work like that. "We can't leave them," he said, thinking furiously. "There has to be something..."

"We're just about to start planning a covert search-and-rescue operation," Griff said. "If we can find SG-1, it'll prove they were lying."

"Or if they weren't lying, they'll be happy for us that we found them," a woman added optimistically. Daniel glanced down at her jacket to see her name--Lieutenant Walker--and remembered that he'd read over her file a few weeks ago and recommended her for field team testing, after she'd spent a couple of months proving she was good at thinking on her feet in a lot of different languages.

"But we're pretty sure they're lying," Griff said. "Now--"

"Hold on," Daniel interrupted, drawing a scowl, but he'd learned years ago that Griff's scowls were relatively harmless. It was his gun one had to worry about. "They think we're still seeking a trade agreement or something, right? If they've been communicating with us and lying in an attempt to keep from antagonizing us, that means they still want something. We probably have technology or supplies to offer them."

General Hammond looked thoughtful. "I will not authorize furthering relations with them while we suspect foul play," he said, though he seemed to be thinking what Daniel was.

"But if we go in and say we're continuing SG-1's mission there," Daniel pointed out, "we'll be able to get closer and find out what really happened. Even if we sign a treaty of some sort, if we find out they signed under false pretenses or...or something like that, then surely any agreement we made with them would be rendered invalid. And," he added reluctantly, "if they're not lying, and my team really is... Well, then we still need someone to negotiate with them."

"You'd also be taking the risk that whatever may have happened to SG-1 will happen to you," the general said, but Daniel could tell he was sold and only needed the final arguments.

Griff raised his eyebrows. "Well, if they really do want diplomatic relations with us, they need to keep us unharmed and able to report home. No disrespect intended to Colonel O'Neill," he added, looking first at the general and then at Daniel, "but he might've aggravated them if he thought they were hiding something."

"Yeah," Daniel said, remembering Euronda and what Jack was capable of when he disagreed with aliens' morals. "We'll be nicer and make sure they have no reason to do anything to us."

"Besides, sir," Freeman added, "the risks of a covert search-and-rescue, after we've already been told not to try, are probably greater. If we really think they did something to SG-1, they could do the same to us if they think we're suspicious. Their world is uninhabitable; it wouldn't be hard."

General Hammond stood up. "Then I am now authorizing you to continue SG-1's work in establishing relations with the people of P3R-118," he said. "Mr. Jackson, you just got back from a long mission..."

"So it's a good thing we're not planning on initiating hostilities with them, sir," Daniel said, standing with the others and really hoping he wasn't going to be forbidden from going. "I'm not too tired, and I can talk just fine."

The general nodded. "Good. Go get geared up again."

XXXXX

19 March 2001; Domed City, P3R-118; 1200 hrs

"It's freezing," Daniel said in his rusty Edoran; Lieutenant Walker said it matched the language here well enough to communicate. "I did not realize it would be so cold."

He was shivering despite the thick coats they'd worn. The others looked cold but seemed to be faring a little better, perhaps because he had grabbed a particularly big and ill-fitting coat that made him look smaller than he was. That was fine. He was here to play the worried non-soldier, anyway. Griff on a good day wasn't any more diplomatic than Jack, but some people, at least, thought twice before hurting someone when the someone was young.

Not that they were sure SG-1 had been hurt. There were other possibilities. Like prison. Maybe Sam would pick the locks and they'd escape before anything happened.

A woman met them at the doorway, looking oddly distracted, but she smiled, if a little nervously. "I am Brenna," she said, and Daniel automatically began cataloguing away the differences in her speech to try to adapt his own better. "Please, come in and warm yourselves."

"Thank you for your hospitality," Daniel said, fiddling with his glasses and ducking and smiling gratefully in a way that he knew made him look maximally young and harmless. Brenna smiled back at him, and whatever Sam might grumble about gender roles, Daniel had no qualms with appealing to a woman and hoping she would feel motherly enough toward him to be sympathetic.

It was not, for instance, something he would try with the stiff-backed woman taking notes in the corner, or the man coming out into the main hall just now, looking professionally welcoming and not at all prone to sympathy or motherliness.

"Administrator Calder," Lieutenant Walker told Daniel quietly.

"Major Griff," Calder said, nodding to Griff, "and the SG-2. I regret to tell you that we have still been unable to find Colonel O'Neill and his team. I recommend for your own safety that you do not continue your own efforts."

"We understand," Walker said when Griff nodded to her. "We thank you for your efforts and hope that you will be willing to pursue talks with us, as you had been doing with SG-1."

Calder looked surprised for a moment, enough that Daniel began to worry the man was finding it suspicious, so he spoke up again.

"I am a friend of SG-1. Now that they are..." He paused, dredging up enough suppressed anxiety to be sure his expression was real. "Because they are...lost and your city has been so kind, General Hammond allowed me to come here with SG-2. I know Major Carter...very well, and I know she always seeks to improve technology. I did not think my friends would be so foolish as to ignore your warnings, but..." He stopped again.

He had been watching Brenna out of the corner of his eye, though, and saw how she ducked her head and then almost flinched when Sam's name had been mentioned--or was it the technology? Whatever it was, he could work on her.

Walker gave him a deliberate pat on the arm and finished, "Please understand that our sorrow for our friends is great, but we hope our worlds may prosper as allies. And this time," she added, to establish their own safety net, "we will not wander away into the unsafe parts of your world. General Hammond knows we are fully under your protection and that no harm will come to us."

The prospect of putting SG-1's so-called loss aside and continuing relations with the SGC seemed to be enough temptation, and Calder gave them another polite nod. "Of course. Please, follow me. Brenna, I believe you have business that you must attend to?"

Brenna still looked unhappy about something, but she only said, "It is an honor to serve," and began to turn away.

"Wait," Daniel said before she could leave and the rest of them follow Calder, "Brenna? Did you know my friends before they..." He gestured out the window, where they could see heavily-layered snow.

The woman hesitated and glanced at Calder. Daniel held his breath, knowing from her reactions what the answer was but hoping she wouldn't lie and force him to find another way in.

Finally, she said, "I spoke with them, a little. They toured the city with me."

With a glance toward Griff, Daniel hunched his shoulders and said, "May I speak with you?"

Calder didn't seem to think he was a threat or useful to negotiations in any way. "That would be fine," Brenna said when Calder didn't say otherwise. "There is a room this way where we can speak. I will show you the way back to your team afterward."

...x...

Brenna closed the door behind her and gave Daniel an awkward smile. "You do not need to be with SG-2 and Administrator Calder?"

Daniel shook his head. "General Hammond allowed me to return because he knew I wished to speak with someone who had last spoken to my friends."

A flash of unease crossed her face again. "I... I am afraid I did not have that honor. They were on the tour with me only briefly," she said.

But the rhythm of the words was wrong, too halting and disjointed, as if pasted together. Any lies Daniel told weren't obvious in his words--he could always excuse it as a foreigner's accent, but otherwise, a language had a music to it and her lines now sounded off-key.

Searching for some other place to prod deeper, Daniel said, "Oh. Did they seem happy?"

"They..." Brenna said. "I...suppose. J--Colonel O'Neill may have been concerned, perhaps, but...you must understand, I did not know them well."

Daniel looked down at his hands to give himself time to pull his expression back again. She'd almost called Jack...something. 'Jack,' maybe, except that Jack had become so accustomed to being called 'O'Neill' or 'Colonel O'Neill' by all aliens not named 'Daniel' that he always introduced himself as such, not even as Colonel Jack O'Neill--it simply confused people who had different naming conventions. Without Daniel on this mission, it was unlikely Brenna had ever heard Jack's first name.

Still, what did that mean? That Jack had introduced himself differently for once? That Sam had let a 'Jack' slip out, as unlikely as that was on a mission? That Brenna knew Jack--and Sam and Teal'c--better than she was saying?

But something. Something, something...

Daniel was carrying his sidearm and was fairly sure he could easily overpower Brenna and demand an answer. But it depended on how loyal she was to whatever she was hiding and on other things he couldn't tell from here: who was outside, how well they could hear, how far he would have to go, what help he could expect, and what Brenna carried under the plain bulky clothing she wore. Maybe she was a fighter, and he simply didn't know it. Maybe she hid better than he did.

New topic. Sam's name. Brenna had tensed at the mention of her and technology. "Did Major Carter ever tell you what she was trying to discover?" Daniel asked, and then allowed a small laugh. "She must have asked you so much about all the technology she saw around here. Is that what your job is in this city--you know about technology?"

"No," Brenna said, "I..." She paused, just long enough to see through the lie. "...keep records."

"Oh, really?" Daniel said, brightening. "I study records." He grinned, briefly. "You mean stories, history?"

She seemed a bit thrown by the change in mood but smiled nonetheless, relaxing now they'd stopped talking about SG-1. "No--I keep records of the people and the work that they do."

Now that would be useful. There was no way to ask for them directly, though, now that he'd established that he studied historical records.

Instead, Daniel looked out the window, where he could see the rest of the city and the snowstorm beyond. "I have read of many societies," he said admiringly. "Rarely have I heard of places like this, where all your people prosper and everything works so...so well. Efficient."

Brenna's smile became a bit strained, so Daniel pushed harder there.

"Often," he said, as if oblivious, "we find that that means the society either has very, very advanced technological abilities or--"

Oh. This was it. Even as he said it, he knew. What else would have peaked Sam's interest in technology and energy and raised Jack's ire all at once?

"--or they must use a lower class of citizens for labor, just to fill energy needs," Daniel finished, watching Brenna's smile fade. "Oh, but I am not accusing you of using slaves, of course. In truth, the first purpose of the SGC is to fight a war against a race of people who tell humans they have to serve and then use them as slaves."

"Really," Brenna said.

Nodding, Daniel said, "We are trained to fight people who would do such a thing. It is terrible, is it not? That is why we look for allies. My friends on SG-1 must have recognized that your people are good and would help us in our fight against such evil deeds."

"Enough," she said, and Daniel shut up.

He'd gotten sloppy. He could sound threatening, moving, or curious if he tried, but perhaps he'd lost the necessary subtlety when he'd tried to use them all at once. If he had moved more slowly, pushed more gently...

"Come," she said tersely.

Daniel didn't move, knowing she knew what he'd been doing.

But Brenna glanced once at the door and said quietly, "Do not pretend. We both know of what you speak, but we cannot speak here. Come." When his hand inched up toward his radio, she said, "Your companions are with the administrator."

He let his hand fall to his side. Calder couldn't know. "Is this what happened to my friends?"

She pressed her lips together for a moment, then said, "Yes. But you will be safe with me. If you stop me, you have no one to help you."

Which wasn't reassuring at all, but Brenna had seemed uneasy from the start. Even if he didn't have any reason but desperation and instinct to trust her...well. Evan Lorne had called him crazy at least two or three times in the space of a few weeks; he might as well live up to the reputation.

...x...

They stepped into another office, one without windows. "Are we beneath the surface?" Daniel asked, looking back at the stairs they had just walked down.

"Yes," Brenna said simply, and closed the door. "I will bring your friends. I would have done so even if you had not come."

Daniel's heart leapt. "They are alive?" he blurted, allowing desperation to seep through in his relief. "Here?"

She looked around nervously. "Understand," she said, "that the people here are...happy. They are happy when they can serve. Our method ensures it."

"And my friends?" Daniel pressed. "Colonel O'Neill, Major Carter, Teal'c? Whatever is it you have done to them, do you claim they are happy?" Brainwashing, that must be it.

Maybe Brenna was just as brainwashed by their society, or she truly believed it was all right to use slaves as long as the slaves seemed happy. But SG-1 wasn't brainwashed, surely, not in a week's time, and Brenna must have seen they weren't happy. It was impossible to pretend an unhappy slave was anything but a slave or a prisoner.

Except that wasn't it, either, not quite.

"Colonel O'Neill and Major Carter are content as they are now," Brenna said. Daniel furrowed his brow, confused--that didn't any sense. "But Teal'c is dying. I cannot watch him die."

"What did you do to him?" Daniel demanded, quietly, mindful that he had no idea how well sound penetrated these walls. "What did you do to them?"

"They were given mind stamps," she said. "It is a chemical that affects their memories. They believe they are loyal citizens called Jonah, Thera, and Tor, and are honored to serve our city. Jonah and Thera have held, but the technology barely works with Tor--Teal'c."

"So..." he said. "So. But. It can be reversed?"

Brenna nodded. "They will remember everything in time. The conditions there, the food we give them, the periodic examinations...they all enforce the stamp, but away from here, once they are reminded, they will return to normal."

"But why is Teal'c dying?" Daniel said, still not fully comprehending how and what.

"I was hoping you might know," she said. "He became weak and ill after only a few days. He does not sleep, and there is an odd wound on his stomach..."

"Kelno'reem," Daniel realized. "He needs to meditate every day to remain in health. But now," he said, unable to help a spike of anger despite the woman's good--if late--intentions, "he cannot remember that he must kelno'reem."

She looked relieved. "I will bring him immediately. Perhaps together, we can find a way for him to leave."

"No--all of them," Daniel said, dropping all traces of his previous act and standing as tall as he could. "You will bring all of my team out here."

Brenna hesitated for a moment, and Daniel wondered suddenly whether she had been mind-stamped, too. How many in this city knew about it, and how many had been chemically conditioned not to argue? "Yes," she finally said, nodding. "Stay here. I will bring them."

...x...

Jack and Sam came first, the former unshaven and the latter with her hair cut short, both of them dressed in the same kind of clothing that Brenna wore. Daniel glimpsed the open doorway and saw nothing but darkness before Brenna disappeared again and it shut behind her.

"Hello," Jack said.

"Who are you?" Sam said.

Daniel winced and deliberately switched to English. "Um...okay. This is going to sound...weird. I'm Daniel. You're Jack, and you're Sam. Uh, Colonel Jack O'Neill and Major Sam Carter."

Jack exchanged a glance with Sam. "I'm Jonah," he said mildly, but he was answering in the right language, even if he didn't seem to realize it. "She's Thera."

"No," Daniel said. "No, you're Jack."

"No, I'm not," Jack said.

"Yes, you--okay, we don't have time for this," Daniel said impatiently.

"You're probably noch-tinn," Jack said. "You should probably lie down."

Noch-tinn...night-sick? What was that?

Sam finally heard the discrepancy, though, and was frowning. "Wait a minute. How do we know this language?" she asked.

"What language?" Jack said.

Daniel resisted the urge to do something uncharacteristically violent, because they were in the bowels of a building under the surface with someone much more powerful who had more than enough followers to outnumber them greatly. "Jack," he said, pointing again. "Sam. Daniel. We're part of SG-1 of Stargate Command of Earth, the Tau'ri, along with Teal'c."

"That's the one who got noch-tinn," Sam said.

"No, that was Tor," Jack said, but they were both looking confused now. "Wasn't it?"

"No, sir," she said, shaking her head. "He said his name was Teal'c, and...didn't he say we were part of SG-1?"

Jack paused. "Sir?"

"Stargate!" Daniel snapped. "SG-1. You're our commander, Jack. Sam, you're an astrophysicist."

"What about Homer?" Jack said.

Daniel pressed his lips together, not letting himself feel the spark of hope that they'd clearly remembered something, because there was no time for that. "I'm sorry to tell you, this Jack, but Homer Simpson isn't real. But there's a guy on SG-2 named Lieutenant Burt Simpson--"

"Really?" Jack said, brightening, then couldn't seem to understand why he found that funny.

Then two men entered, carrying a litter, on top of which lay Teal'c. Daniel barely managed to keep his mouth shut until the two men had set Teal'c onto a table and left, leaving the four of them alone with Brenna.

"Has Daniel Jackson explained to you?" Brenna said.

"He talks a lot," Jack said, and Daniel had to admit had hadn't done a very good job of explaining much, lost in his haste and hope that they would remember.

"I am going to help you go home," Brenna said.

But a movement to the side caught his attention. Teal'c had spent years conditioning Daniel to see and hear his commands, and then there had been recent months of drills interspersed with the blindfold that Daniel hated to wear while Teal'c stalked him. And now he saw.

Teal'c wasn't dying. He was awake and ready and ordering Daniel to be ready, too, and if Teal'c had somehow remembered kelno'reem and Jaffa hand signals on his own, it meant he remembered, and with Jack and Sam still confused, he was in command. Daniel was about to answer when the door opened and Teal'c immediately closed his eyes and lay limp again.

Major Griff walked through the door first. Daniel didn't have to see his hands in the air to know something was wrong, because he'd worked with SG-2 before, when he and Griff had both been the new, and Griff's face only got really mad like that when someone did something stupid that got in the way of a mission.

The point was, though, that Calder was with him, along with the rest of SG-2--Freeman, Simpson, Walker--and enough guards to hold the local equivalent of a firearm on each of them. There was another one pointing at Daniel, too, and he put his hands in the air.

Still...one guard on each man or woman. SG-2 might be able to beat them, if they were coordinated enough, except that this was a new version of SG-2. Daniel wasn't sure how long Griff had been the commander and how long it had been since Walker and Simpson had replaced Pierce and Coburn, but maybe they didn't know each other's body language well enough.

Or maybe they had been hoping SG-1 would be able to help once they got here and had waited so they could all act together--save everyone at once.

Unfortunately, Jack and Sam still looked confused.

Fortunately, Calder knew that but didn't know Teal'c was awake, watching him from behind.

"Brenna," Calder said, confident in the five guards he'd brought with him. "We have been watching you. And I am...disappointed."

Teal'c's eyes flicked briefly to Daniel as he sat up silently, forgotten and assumed dead or dying in the corner of the room. Daniel met Griff's eyes, raised his eyebrows, looked past him to Teal'c and then back. Then he glanced pointedly that way again, until Griff narrowed his own eyes and tensed, very slightly, ready to act. The rest of SG-2 shifted, too, very slightly, alerted by that signal alone, and Daniel realized with chagrin that he shouldn't have underestimated them--one didn't get onto SG-2 and sent on a covert mission without being very well trained.

SG-2 was still watching Daniel, though, because they could only see Daniel and only Daniel could see Teal'c. So when Teal'c was on his feet, Daniel let his fingers sag just a fraction, enough that his hand signaled a sloppy, 'Five...four...three...'

"But now you are no longer useful to me," Calder said, raising his gun, aiming at Brenna.

'...one...'

Daniel grabbed Brenna and dropped to the ground heavily enough to bring them both to the floor. Yelling, thumps, two gunshots that he hoped were misfires that hadn't hit anyone. "Stay," he said to Brenna, pulling his pistol free.

By the time he rose back to his feet, Teal'c had Calder in a loose chokehold, two guards were unconscious on the ground, Walker standing over both with a stolen gun, Griff and Freeman were holding one guard while Simpson pressed a gun to the throat of the fourth, and...

Jack and Sam had gotten hold of two other guns, too. Jack was aiming his at Calder and Sam at the last guard.

"Jack?" Daniel said, lowering his weapon when it seemed clear he was more likely to shoot a friendly than to actually need his gun. "Sam? Teal'c?"

"I am fine," Teal'c said, smiling smugly as he tightened his grip around Calder's throat for a second before easing off enough to let the man breathe.

"Daniel," Jack said, in his voice that said he was the commander, and that was all Daniel needed to know it would be all right. "Thera--"

"Sam," Daniel repeated.

"Right," Jack said. "Major Carter."

"Jonah?" Sam said.

"No," Jack said.

"Sir," she amended, wrinkling her brow. "Uh, we need to get to...uh..."

"Stargate," Jack said.

Sam nodded. "Right."

"Sir?" Griff said, looking lost. Apparently, no one had told him about the mind stamps yet, but it didn't matter, really, because they were going home.

"Their memories were altered," Daniel explained briefly. "They'll be okay at home, but..."

"All right, first things first," Griff said, still holding onto one of the guards. "Anyone got restraints on him?" Walker took her hand off her gun long enough to extract a pack of cable ties. Griff looked at Jack, but when no one said anything, he ordered, "Jackson, help her get these guys tied up."

Daniel quickly secured a strip of plastic around the hands of the guards, starting with the ones still awake. As Griff rose to his feet and yanked open the door SG-1 had just come out of--the work room?--Calder spoke up. "You will never reach the Stargate."

Jack might been still a little lost in Jonah, but he was still Jack and retorted, "With you as hostage? I think we can make it."

"What is in there?" Daniel asked Brenna, pointing at where Griff had disappeared.

"That is where the workers generate our energy," Brenna said.

"If you used my plans," Sam said indignantly, "it would be much safer and more efficient!" Brenna nodded but didn't answer. So that was how she knew Sam.

"Carter, I don't think that's gonna be our main problem now," Jack said briskly. "There are hundreds, maybe thousands of workers, and none of them even know who they are. We're gonna show them."

XXXXX

23 March 2001; O'Neill/Jackson Residence; 2000 hrs

It took another few days for Jack and Sam to stop calling each other Jonah and Thera, with some odd variations, including Colonel Jonah, Major Thera, and even a Captain Carter and a Jack.

By the time team night came that Friday, things felt mostly normal again--the latest trip to '888 had been finished up, Daniel was back with SG-1, Jack no longer confused Teal'c, Tor, and Thor, and SG-2 was celebrating their first successful mission. Daniel didn't tell them that Brenna had clearly been about to crack, anyway, and SG-1 might have rescued themselves without SG-2 and Daniel's help. The team, new as it was, had done a good job once there.

Daniel shook his head. "I still can't believe you remembered Homer Simpson before me," he grumbled good-naturedly once Sam and Teal'c had arrived. "Hey, uh--"

"What?" Jack said.

Sam and Teal'c dropped into seats, too. "What do you think will happen to them?" Daniel said. "P3R-118. I mean...we did just take away the source of labor that was allowing them to survive at all." Jack blinked at him. "Not that I'm advocating slavery," Daniel said quickly. "I mean, I wouldn't, you know that. But...well. It's a matter of survival."

"They'll survive," Sam said. "If nothing else, they'll all just have to get their hands dirty and start working. I even left Brenna with plans for improving their systems."

Of course she had. Even as Thera, she had still been Sam. "Maybe they'll survive, then," Daniel said. "But their society's been completely turned upside down."

"Because they were enslaving people," Jack said.

"Maybe it needed turning around," Sam said.

Daniel nodded. "Yeah, I...I guess. I just think...maybe...if we 're willing to say we have the right to change their way of life, we should at least be willing to, you know, make sure they don't collapse into civil war or something."

"We stick our collective noses into everything all the time," Jack said. "Personally, I think slavery's a good one to stick our noses into."

"Moreover," Teal'c added, "they had captured our own people."

"Which was wrong of them," Daniel agreed. "But maybe that only gives us the right to rescue our people, not to mess around with theirs."

"They were never going to get out on their own," Sam said. "They were slaves."

"Maybe they signed up for it," Daniel said. "Like...people who can't find a job volunteer and get to earn a living and get stamped with a personality that tells them they're happy. Or maybe that's why they don't seem to have any crime--criminals have their records cleared and start anew."

"Slavery doesn't become okay just because both parties agreed to it," Sam said. "And that's if that really is how people started working in the mines or whatnot. If nothing else, those places are a health hazard."

They were still thinking according to Tau'ri law, though. Still, Daniel didn't argue; Jack was right, to a point--they interfered in everything, they couldn't undo something they'd already done, and if they'd started a civil war, they didn't have the resources to intervene, even if people would agree to do so. Sometimes Daniel wondered if they hurt as many people as they helped.

"Pizza's here," Jack said when the doorbell rang.

Daniel forced himself to smile and stood to get the door before the others could move, reminding himself that their people were safe and that there was another possibility--maybe, freed from slavery, the workers would remember who they were and find a better way of society. Friends alive and a possibility of a better future...most days, that was all they could ask for.

XXXXX

29 March 2001; Control Room, SGC; 1000 hrs

"Receiving remote signal--it's the Tok'ra," the technician said.

Daniel glanced at Sam. "Hasn't Jacob been on a mission for months?"

"Yeah, about half a year," she said, moving toward the stairs as the iris began to open.

Jack made a face and said, "If it's not Jacob, I swear..."

"Colonel," the general interrupted, gesturing for the rest of them to step toward the stairs, too.

Daniel followed Teal'c and Sam into the embarkation room and arrived just in time for Jacob Carter to step out of the wormhole. He started to smile until he heard the familiar sounds of weapons snapping into place around him.

"It's my dad--stand down!" Sam said, turning around as well.

"Belay that order," General Hammond said.

"Sir," Sam protested, looking as confused as Daniel was.

Jacob raised his hands. "Nice to see you all, too."

"Sorry, Jake," the general said to a bemused-looking Jacob Carter. "But you've been on mission since before we started having problems with a certain technology that the Tok'ra call zatarcs. Until we're sure you haven't been tampered with, I'm afraid--"

"Don't worry, George," Jacob said. "The Tok'ra tested me as soon as I got back. You can call them if you need confirmation, but unless you really want to question me again about my activities during six months of laying low near a naquadah mine, I'd rather skip to the part where I give my daughter a hug."

Sam barely waited for the order before she hurried forward to her father. "How was your mission?"

"Vaporized a good chunk of a planet," Jacob said casually. "So not bad. By the way," he added, letting Sam go and giving the general a serious look, "the planet was less than a day's flight from Earth, George. We think they were trying to set up a base to attack Earth at some point."

"But we're protected by the Asgard," Daniel said.

"The System Lords may seek covert ways to circumvent the Protected Planets Treaty," Teal'c said.

Jacob nodded in agreement. "If a minor Goa'uld happened to do something and the System Lords claim not to have known about it... Just watch out. Can't appeal to the Asgard if you're dead. Maybe you haven't had to destroy any motherships lately, but they're still gunning for you."

"Have you heard anything about the Goa'uld Osiris?" Daniel said. "Recently, I mean."

Jacob turned to him, and then Selmak answered, "Not in the last few thousand years."

"Yeah," Jack sighed. "Well, she's back."

"She--Isis?" Selmak said, looking confused.

"No, Isis is dead," Daniel said. "Her skeleton is in someone's lab. Osiris is back. A civilian archaeologist must have opened the jar where he was trapped, and he blended with her, and we didn't manage to stop her before she escaped."

"In this old, really retro ship," Jack added.

"It would be helpful to us to know her face," Selmak said, "in the case that one of the Tok'ra encounters Osiris."

The general nodded. "Why don't you come upstairs. We can talk in the briefing room--there's a lot to catch up with. Or are you here on business?"

"Nope," Jacob answered, following them up. "Just here to spend downtime with the family. Hey, is that a DHD?"

"Like we said, Dad," Sam said. "Lots to tell you."

...x...

Daniel's phone rang just an hour later to call him down to the general's office. Inside, he found General Hammond, Dr. Reeve, and Dr. Jordan.

"Ah...um. Sir," Daniel said, stopping dumbfounded in the doorway. "General. Rick. Doctor."

Dr. Jordan stood up, wearing a coat and carrying a briefcase. He extended a hand. "It's nice to meet you in the proper context finally..."

The pause wasn't completely obvious, but his intonation said he hadn't finished the sentence--trying to figure out what to call Daniel, perhaps. "I don't have a title," Daniel said. "Or a rank or...um. You can call me...pretty much anything. Or Daniel Jackson, which is what a lot of aliens call me. Except Martouf. Which is a...you probably haven't met him."

By then, the general was looking at him strangely. He didn't get nervous like this anymore, not in the home territory of the SGC. Dr. Jordan nodded politely and shook his hand.

The introduction couldn't have taken more than twenty awkward and uncomfortable seconds. Not like it had been when he'd met Robert at the SGC years ago, when it had been indignation, offense, surprise, fascination, admiration. With Dr. Jordan, there was wariness and a sense of expectation that Daniel suspected neither of them would fulfill.

"I didn't realize you were working here now," Daniel said.

"I'm still in Chicago, but I'm now officially an employee of this organization," Dr. Jordan said. "Looking for SGC business in the normal world and scouting potential recruits for you."

The normal world. It was odd to remember that, to most people, this world was not normal. The SGC was as normal as anything had ever been to Daniel.

"In fact," Jordan continued, glancing at the general, "I understand you were the one who suggested this arrangement, Mr. Jackson."

General Hammond spoke up. "It was originally his idea, yes, because of your prior contact with what we do around here. Even if you won't be here most of the time, however, it is best for you to see the SGC first hand and speak with our personnel."

Dr. Jordan hefted the briefcase. "Dr. Reeve has given me some files to read, and I've been given a brief history and the official mission statements."

"Oh," Daniel said, wondering what they needed him for, then. If the man had been joining an SG team, that would have been a different matter, but for deskwork, especially part-time when he was still entrenched in academia, there wasn't much Daniel could say that Dr. Reeve--or anyone else, for that matter--couldn't or hadn't already said.

Except, of course...

"Dr. Jordan has asked if he could speak with you, Mr. Jackson, about a few personal matters," the general said.

"You mean Robert Rothman and what happened in Chicago and Cairo," Daniel said, glancing at the general again.

"He has full clearance to hear about it," the general assured him. "And you'd know better than anyone if the doctor has questions about how his work will be applied in practical situations."

"Do you mind?" Dr. Jordan said. "I understand you're busy around here."

"No," Daniel heard himself say. "No, of course--we owe you the full story, at least. Um. If you're done with everything here, you can come with me up to my office."

...x...

"I thought I was going to be arrested when they called me," Dr. Jordan said, taking a seat in the chair Daniel dragged over to his desk.

"Huh?" Daniel said, wondering if he'd missed something.

"When they called to offer me a job," Jordan explained. "After what happened with Steven Rayner and Sarah Gardner, I found Robert's old research from when he was a student and stumbled onto a paper by Melburn Jackson." Daniel bit his lip. "And that reminded me of you, so even though it seemed a long shot, I kept looking until I realized he and Claire Jackson had been recruited by the Air Force, too. I admit I wasn't brave enough to dig as far as I apparently need to to find out anything about you, and there wasn't much to find about the others I met that day."

"I'm that Jackson, if that's what you're asking--their son," Daniel said. "At least some of their work--and Robert's early work--really was correct, but I guess you know that now." He settled awkwardly into his chair. "You weren't supposed to keep looking."

Jordan gave him a look. "I had insufficient data that didn't fit my observations, and I had no conclusion. You didn't really expect me to give up and not wonder, did you?"

Daniel shook his head. "No. That's why I suggested hiring you to begin with."

"It wasn't because of my impressive résumé?"

"That helped," Daniel said, almost smiling and then stopping before he did. Then he wondered why he didn't want to like Dr. Jordan and decided not to probe that any more than he had to. "So. Um. How much do you know about...us?"

"I heard the orientation speech and I've read the recommended seminal report summaries," Jordan said, "as well as a few others I could get my hands on."

Which meant, essentially, a scientific description of the Goa'uld and the Stargate mechanism, the Goa'uld pantheon, Abydos '82 and '97, Chulak, all invasions that had touched Earth or this solar system (except the foothold incident--that was a sealed file), the meetings and treaties of all major allies or hostile races, and the defeat of any System Lords and major Goa'uld.

"Then you understand now what happened to Dr. Gardner and Dr. Rayner," Daniel said.

"Osiris," Jordan said, nodding, only his tightly clenched hands showing that his calm expression was a façade. "The others I've talked to weren't very clear about what that really means, though. Your goal now is...what? To kill her?"

Daniel straightened and took a breath, glad now that he was Mr. Jackson to this man and not Daniel. "We have two principal goals concerning her. The first is to kill Osiris, and the second is to save Sarah Gardner. Unfortunately, while the two are not mutually exclusive, that is the order of our priorities."

Jordan looked surprised at the bluntness. Perhaps Daniel had seemed more sympathetic that time months ago, compared with Jack, or perhaps Dr. Reeve had been less frank with him about the details. In fact, perhaps Dr. Reeve or whoever else he'd talked to disagreed with that ordering and had mentioned it.

"But you'll try?" Jordan said.

"I...don't want to give you false hope," Daniel said, because they always tried--or told themselves that they did--but they'd only saved Skaara and Sha'uri so far, and even then, Sha'uri had practically saved herself while Skaara had managed to land in Tollan space. The SGC had rarely, if ever, been able to save another Goa'ulded host.

"Does that mean 'no?'" Jordan said.

"Look," Daniel said, pushing up his glasses, "there's a chance. It's just very small. In the most likely situations I can imagine, trying to save Dr. Gardner would significantly reduce the likelihood of stopping Osiris and would also risk many other people's lives, both at the time of the operation and also after it if we failed."

"But if a risk assessment were made," Jordan pressed, "and it were deemed possible...?"

("I'm not asking you to pray for him, Teal'c," Daniel said. "Just don't kill him, either."

"I may be forced to do so," Teal'c said. "I cannot promise you such a thing."

"Well, promise me that you'd try if you could.")

Sometimes the practicalities and other responsibilities had to take precedence over what they would have preferred to do. He understood that now.

"We'll try," Daniel said, and promised himself that he, at least, would try to save Sarah Gardner if he could. "We truly will. But that's all we can promise."

Jordan looked at the other desk in the room, as if he knew who used to sit there. "Robert wrote to me sometimes. He couldn't tell me what the dilemmas were, but I knew he wasn't just studying satellites in NORAD. He said it was difficult to accept the...rules of engagement, I suppose, and reconcile them with the morality we learn as a society outside military life."

"That sounds like him," Daniel agreed with a renewed pang. "We used to talk about that a lot." He had more than enough of those arguments with people like Jack, but not with people who would sit against a tree and talk about actions and motivations and not just consequences.

"Of course," Jordan said more lightly, "now that I know about the SGC, maybe I should ask which society's morals he was trying to adhere to. Those must vary from planet to planet."

"No one's ever right, exactly," Daniel said. "Not when one action means murder and another means allowing murder."

"No, I suppose there often aren't any right answers in a war," Jordan said.

Daniel hesitated, then said, "Have you talked to the others in these offices? Each of them would give you a different opinion on where to draw certain lines. Please don't think that we don't consider everything we can."

"Well, I'd assume there are differences in opinion, with civilians and combatants collaborating so closely."

He shook his head. "It's not just that. The university where you work doesn't teach students what to do about symbiotic, parasitical tyrants any more than the Air Force Academy does."

Jordan raised an eyebrow. "True. Your supervisor seems to be rather skeptical about some of what happens out there, but he also seems to think the right people are out there making those decisions. Ah...I don't mean to offend, but I do find it odd that one of those people is..."

"...me," Daniel filled in ruefully. "Yes? I hear it a lot. It's understandable."

"I suppose you're not the oddest oddity found around here, though," Jordan said, his tone saying it was another attempt at some levity.

"Oh, no, I'm...pretty odd as oddities go," Daniel said.

"Something of a legend, to hear people talk," Jordan said, raising an eyebrow. "Or, at least, the loosest of loose cannons, though I can't tell if that's meant as a compliment or insult."

Daniel grimaced. "That depends on who said it, and in reference to what," he admitted. "The major decisions aren't up to me, if that's what worries you. My commanding officer allows me a lot of input, but he's still, ultimately, my commander with plenty of experience. Our whole team has the 'loose cannon' reputation, to some extent--"

"I've noticed."

"--but in the context of our environment, that means we tend to adapt when we find something our experience doesn't cover. Sometimes we have no choice but to bend a few regulations to do that. Don't, uh...that's not the official policy, though," he added quickly. "I didn't say it."

"Then what would happen to Sarah if someone else--not you or your team--found her?" Jordan asked. "I assume they all know by now she's Osiris, and that regulations say to take the...more expedient route."

"It depends," Daniel said. "If she were alone--which is unlikely--they'd try to stun and restrain her, and then take her to have Osiris extracted. But even alone, many System Lords, including Osiris, carry at least one weapon that makes them...not invulnerable, but hard to injure or capture. If she were with her Jaffa, our people would either try to collect intelligence and return or look for a way to cause as much damage as possible to her forces."

"In other words," Jordan said, "assassinate her."

"I don't know what to tell you," Daniel said. "If you know a better way... I wish there were a better way, but sometimes, I don't think there is."

"Mr. Jackson, you've been honest with me," Jordan said suddenly. "So I hope you'll allow me the same." A little wary, Daniel nodded. "You were a child when you started this."

"Well..." Daniel started, familiar arguments springing to his tongue.

"Let me finish," Jordan said in the tone that he must use to tell a class full of students to settle down. "You don't act like one, I'll grant you, and from watching you and talking to others, I have the feeling you're good at your job. But, knowing now what your job is, I'm...a bit appalled at the United States government for allowing you to do what you do, and it doesn't give me reassurance about what else is allowed."

You'd get along well with Dr. Mackenzie, Daniel thought. "If you knew how much it took to convince them that they weren't misusing a child, you'd understand," he said staunchly. "And just so you know, I'm now older than some of your own country's military recruits."

"According to the reports, you were much younger when you started," Jordan retorted. "I simply don't see that there's any excuse for that. Your culture might not believe the same, but you've been acting for years in the name of an organization whose written laws you broke every time you went on a mission."

Daniel looked down at his desk. He wasn't used to having to argue about this anymore.

Resentment nudged sullenly at him, but he wasn't sure if it was because this man had no right to ask him to prove himself yet again, or if it was because Robert had accepted him within minutes and put him to work with few questions. He had imagined, for some unfathomable reason, that Robert's professor would believe the same, though, of course, Dr. Jordan was talking about combat, not translations like it had been with Robert.

Jack had warned him about this, though. Some new employees would accept him because the veterans did or because they'd worked with him; others would be harder to convince.

"Well," Daniel finally said, "that's something we'll have to disagree on. You can disapprove of my work if you want, Dr. Jordan, but don't presume to know or judge me and the SGC until you can claim to know everything that's brought us to where we stand today. We are...doing our best. With the exception of complaints about my age, I'm usually the one who says the things you're saying now. But that's because I usually have the luxury of knowing my teammates will take the more realistic point of view and allow me to say what we'd all prefer to do if our people weren't dying."

Footsteps made him look up past a startled-looking Jordan, where Jack and Teal'c were standing in the doorway. Jordan turned, too. Jack stopped with his mouth open as if to speak and raised his eyebrows in question.

"Jack," Daniel invited tightly in answer.

They stepped inside and seemed to decide Jordan must have clearance if he was in there. "Message from Bra'tac," Jack said.

Daniel stood in alarm. "What happened?"

"Thus far, nothing," Teal'c said, standing at rest and folding his hands together to signify that Daniel could relax and sit back down. "He spoke of a Jaffa called Rak'nor who commands the loyalty of many on Chulak."

"But you're not sure," Daniel said, because if Teal'c had been sure, he would have been on his way already, or there would have been a formal briefing.

"If Bra'tac is convinced of Rak'nor's commitment to our cause, then I will go to seek his alliance," Teal'c said.

Jack shrugged, but he was watching Jordan out of the corner of his eye, as if suspicious that the archaeologist would do something. "Should hear in the next couple of days, and then Teal'c's going on his own. So keep your schedule clear for next week."

Just in case, he meant. In case something went wrong and Teal'c needed backup of some sort that they could provide. Daniel nodded, though if Teal'c were captured or worse on Chulak, there wasn't much that a few men and women could do against a planet of hostile Jaffa.

"So," Jack said, glancing more pointedly at Jordan, "Daniel?"

"Dr. Jordan's starting to collaborate with us," Daniel said. "He had questions, and we're discussing how things work in theory and in practice at the SGC."

"So...?" Jack said again.

"We're fine," Daniel said firmly. "Is there anything I should do about this Rak'nor thing?"

"There is not," Teal'c told him. "Do not overly concern yourself. The mission should take me no more than a few days."

"We'll leave you to discuss, then," Jack said, backing toward the door again. "Daniel--"

"Clear schedule for next week," Daniel said dutifully. "Yes, Jack."

"All right," Jack said. "We're going to Carter's place with Dad when she's done with some whatchamacallit in the lab, so..."

"I'll meet you after work."

"You will meet me in the gymnasium at 1530 hours," Teal'c reminded him.

Daniel glanced up at the clock. "Right. That too. I'll remember."

Once they'd left again, Dr. Jordan looked like he was trying to think of something to say but couldn't figure out what.

"So," Daniel said. "We were talking about, uh..." He stopped, thinking.

"Perhaps I shouldn't have spoken," Jordan said.

"No--it's...morality is always a valid concern," Daniel said. "I apologize for snapping at you. And it's not...exactly like that. It's not a line between...between what's right and what's necessary, and I'd like to think they overlap more than some people are willing to risk. But--"

"I don't mean to judge you," Jordan said.

"Yes, you do," he had to say. "You've been judging since we showed up at Robert's funeral."

Jordan didn't deny it. "I wasn't trying to criticize or offend."

"Well, that's kind of you, but criticism is good for us, especially those of us who have been here longer," Daniel said, "so I apologize for being rude about it. I don't want you to get the wrong idea--one of the things we insist on is to keep an open mind. You're entitled to your opinion."

"I'll make sure I have all the necessary evidence next time, then," Jordan said, sounding like he'd back down for now but still wasn't completely sold on all the arguments.

Daniel scratched the back of his head. "I understand what you're feeling about Dr. Gardner, and I'm sorry for that--as I said, we'll do our best. As for the other... I still don't understand why your people have such rigid and arbitrary dates for when a child becomes an adult and can make his own decisions."

"Arbitrary though they might seem," Jordan said, "we draw rigid lines in hopes that they'll protect us from falling down a slippery slope."

"Then you may be glad to hear that the line has been drawn with me," Daniel said. "Believe me--you're not the only one who thinks the SGC made a mistake with me, but it's not one they can fix by sending me to a civilian school. You'll notice that there are no other underage aliens working here, but for me...it's already happened, and this is my choice."

"I'm sure it is your choice," Jordan said. "But what if you discovered, eventually, that you wanted something else?"

"I can't imagine doing anything else," he said honestly.

"Because, in a sense, this is all you've known," Jordan said. "I wasn't trying to imply that you can't think for yourself, or even that you can't make good decisions in combat...but from what I hear, you weren't given the chance to choose the way our people believe a child should be."

"You need to understand that, if the SGC hadn't let me do this, I would have gone off on my own, and I'd probably be dead by now. I was given a lot of choices; this was the best one."

"I can think of other choices," Jordan said. When Daniel opened his mouth, he added, "But there are legal justifications for your post here. I've said my piece, and I'll stop there."

"I know you mean well, Doctor," Daniel said awkwardly, wondering for a fleeting moment if this was what it would have felt like if he'd had a teacher who wasn't a colleague or someone who fought beside him.

Jordan seemed to think for a moment, then said, almost apologetically, "Robert was very excited to have a skillful assistant, from what I could tell, but he must have had those same concerns."

"Yes," Daniel admitted. Robert had accepted him before anyone else but had also remembered, when others sometimes forgot, that he hadn't been an adult quite yet.

"He meant well, though, even if you might have argued with him. So do I."

"And so do SGC personnel, in everything we do. That's something the reports can't tell you."

"I'm sure you all do your best, and I don't claim I could do better," Jordan said. "But I'm glad I won't be one of the ones sitting in this mountain and making those decisions. You probably find it cowardly, that I'd disagree from a distance--"

"No," Daniel said. "We need people to see from all angles and say when they disagree, or we've lost already." He chewed his lip, then said, "You, uh, probably have a lot to think about." Jordan let out a short, rueful chuckle. "How about this--you've done a lot of reading and listening, so if you'll be here for a while yet, I'll show you some of the work we're doing. And you can see the archives, too, or whatever else you're curious about. Then, if you think of any questions..."

Jordan nodded and rose to his feet. "That sounds fine, Mr. Jackson. I'd appreciate it."

"That's Robert's desk," Daniel said first, because they'd been so stiff with each other that he felt like he should extend some sort of an olive branch. "Well, was. No one ever sits there anymore."

"Superstition or tribute?"

"Neither. Both. I don't know--maybe they just don't want to share an office with the weird alien kid."

"It's neater than I imagined," Jordan commented, wistfully, perhaps remembering another desk Robert had sat at once in another lab.

"Well, it didn't used to be," Daniel assured him, sharing his first, brief smile with the other man before leading the way out. "Please, follow me--I'll give you the tour. We can start here in Nyan's office..."


From the next chapter ("Collateral Damage"):

"As we said," Selmak continued, "Heru-ur has amassed a strong army, and Apophis, as you know, controls all of Sokar's forces as well as his own. A war between them would kill or severely weaken both sides and return the balance of power to the System Lords."