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nightspear ([personal profile] nightspear) wrote2009-06-12 09:35 pm
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Archaeology (23/30)

Title: Archaeology (Table of Contents)
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: Nothing you recognize is mine. I gain nothing of material value from this.
Pairings: Gen.

Chapter1 Chapter2 Chapter3 Chapter4 Chapter5
Chapter6 Chapter7 Chapter8 Chapter9 Chapter10
Chapter11 Chapter12 Chapter13 Chapter14 Chapter15
Chapter16 Chapter17 Chapter18 Chapter19 Chapter20
Chapter21 Chapter22

XXXXX

Chapter 23: Archaeology

XXXXX

19 May 2001; Infirmary, SGC; 0900 hrs

"Don't you have enough of our blood to last you a lifetime?" Jack said as Janet tied a tourniquet around his arm.

"If you don't want me to have to stick you more than once, Colonel," Janet answered, "stop moving."

Daniel paged idly through the list of planets that had been flagged for potential next missions, either from MALP telemetry or another first-contact team's recommendation. "Hey, Daniel," Sam said from the next gurney over, holding up reports she was looking through herself, "are there any non-physical science ones in that pile you want to check out?"

"Uh..." Daniel said. He flipped faster, skimming quickly. "Why?"

"One of my old professors from the Academy asked for someone to give a couple of guest lectures to start off their summer semester," she said. "He's asked General Hammond, since we're supposed to be NORAD, and, well, the general suggested me."

"But you're my scientist," Jack protested. "What if we're off-world and we have to dismantle a..." He paused.

"An explosive device," Teal'c suggested.

"Yeah," Jack agreed. "What then?"

"I'd advise you to run away, sir," Janet said. Jack scowled at her.

"It'll just be a day or two, sir," Sam assured him. "I'm supposed to keep an eye out for potential students, too. I can pick sometime when we're not on the rotation, but just in case a mission runs too long, I figured I should schedule it for when you're less likely to need me."

Daniel tilted his head. "What about P7X-377?"

"Which is...?" Jack said.

Sam thought for a moment, then said, "You want to visit Nick."

"Not visit so much as...check on him and see if we can learn anything about Quetzalcoatl and his--or its--race," Daniel said. "And if we go prepared, we might be able to do a more in-depth survey of the place. Don't you want to know what the pyramid was made of?"

"I want to avoid almost dying of radiation," Jack said.

"You didn't even get irradiated last time," Daniel told him, rolling his eyes.

"Yeah," Jack said, "because I was invisible, which kind of sucked."

"The thing is," Daniel insisted, "Teal'c's the best suited for it, physically, but since he doesn't get moved out of phase, he'd probably just be in more danger than a human, anyway, as long as the humans stay out of phase for the duration. I can request to return with a research team instead of SG-1, which would free up Sam."

"Really?" Jack said. "You want to go out with another team again?"

Daniel couldn't deny he'd been joining other teams more often recently. He wasn't sure if it was because part of him was still trying to prove that he did more than just kill things or if he simply felt secure enough in his place on SG-1 that he wasn't afraid to ask for other assignments, or even if other teams were getting confident enough in him that they would ask him. He supposed that was good, though--his place might be changing all the time, but he'd make his path from that.

One of the planets in his pile had 'SG-5' marked on it as a suggested team for further study. With a pang, he checked the date and decided a new team must have been formed in SG-1's absence.

"No missions yet," Janet said before anyone could answer. "I want you all to stay on Earth for at least forty-eight hours until I'm convinced you're back to normal."

"That'd give us time to get everything together and set our schedules straight," Sam said, holding out her arm for Janet to take a blood sample, too.

Daniel turned toward a disgruntled-looking Jack. "It's a good planet for a relatively new team like SG-11 to see," he said. "Not too dangerous as long as we know what we're doing and very, very alien so they get used to the odd parts of the job. And you can help get Loran settled."

Finally, that seemed to decide Jack. "Fine, if Hammond agrees," he sighed. "But I'm telling Edwards to be strict about safety protocols, and if you don't leave when he tells you to, I'm giving him permission to zat you and drag you back. You know he would."

"Okay," Daniel said, nodding. "I have to ask General Hammond about a few things concerning Nick, anyway."

Teal'c appeared in the doorway of the infirmary with a hand on Loran's shoulder. "Loran," he said, "this is Dr. Fraiser. She will complete your medical examination."

"Hi," Loran said, looking both curious and timid.

"Hi, there," Janet said, smiling. "You just met the general?"

Loran nodded. "Yeah. He was really nice."

"Good," she answered, then gestured. "Why don't you sit up here and we'll get to know each other. Okay?"

He moved hesitantly away from Teal'c and studied the gurney before climbing up to sit on it. "Can I stay?" Jack said.

Janet glanced at Loran first, then said, "Sure, Colonel. But it might be easier if everyone else weren't watching."

Taking the hint, Daniel and Sam hopped down from their gurneys. "Do you need someone to check on Cassie, Janet?" Sam said. "It's chess day. Maybe we could go keep her company until you get home."

"Thanks, Sam," Janet said, nodding. "Maybe Colonel O'Neill and Loran would like to join us for chess when we're done?"

"Sure," Jack said easily, punching Loran lightly on the arm. "You can meet your first local friend--she's your age. Whaddaya say?"

"Um...okay," Loran agreed, fidgeting nervously but smiling at him.

Daniel collected his jacket and left with Sam and Teal'c. It was good to be back.

XXXXX

29 May 2001; P3X-377; 0600 hrs

"Phew," Lieutenant Devon said, yawning. "Early, isn't it?"

Stemler looked around the landscape. "It's pretty bare around here, huh. You'd think there'd be...I don't know..."

"Trees," Daniel offered, suppressing a smile.

"Or something besides that pyramid," Stemler agreed, missing the joke. Daniel supposed it didn't seem as funny to the newer SG teams as it had been to the first teams, who'd taken several missions to stop being surprised by the Earth-like environments on so many planets. These days, that was all covered in a few sentences during the new personnel briefings.

"I have a question," Devon said, picking up his pace. "If you can't touch things out of phase, why didn't you guys fall through the ground?" And then, "We won't fall through the ground, right?"

"You can fall through some grounds," Daniel said. "Jack fell through...a step on the staircase or something. Sam thinks it could have to do with a number of factors--material composition, structure, density. There's definitely some interaction with objects in our phase, and possibly even things like gravity, but hopefully, we'll be able to ask about that or figure some of it out while we're here."

They arrived at the pyramid entrance. Daniel looked around the interior, almost expecting to see Nick somewhere, though, of course, he must be out of phase.

Colonel Edwards led the way across the narrow bridge. The crystal skull at the end of the path glittered brightly from the reflected light of the sun.

"All right," Daniel said as they stepped off onto the central platform. "So...should I just...?"

"Go ahead," Edwards said. His hand rested on his gun. Daniel hoped that was just a reflex of some sort, because the gun wasn't going to do them much good here. He wondered what would happen if they got shot while out of phase. Then he wondered if a TER could shoot something out of phase like this, or if it was in a different out-of-phase phase. He made a mental note ask Sam.

Daniel moved in front of the platform. "Don't do anything before it finishes," he warned as he prepared to start. Taking a breath, he bent until his eyes were level with the eyes of the skull.

For a moment, nothing happened, and he thought with a shock of panic that maybe Quetzalcoatl had left and taken his grandfather, too, but then the first flash of color appeared at the edge of his vision. Daniel automatically started to turn to see what it was, but--

"Radiation's increasing."

"Crap, you feel that?"

--there was something too fascinating about the eyes, the way they tunneled deeper into the skull than they looked at first glance, the way light seemed to pool inside them, the way the dancing flickers of light made them seem almost alive... Daniel squinted harder, eager to see past the streaks and heat rushing past him and almost blinding him--

The field collapsed back onto itself. Daniel turned around to see the other members of the team looking around as if to see if anything had changed. "Can everyone see each other? And touch each other?" he said.

A quick ripple of glances and surreptitious pokes and kicks established this as a 'yes.'

"So, did it work or not?" Lorne said.

"Um," Daniel said. He picked himself up and brushed off his hands. "I have no idea. Everything in the vicinity could have been shifted with us even if it did work, so seeing what we can touch doesn't work... Quetzalcoatl!" he called. "Are you there? We're enemies of the Goa'uld."

Nothing happened.

"We can just go back to the Stargate and see if we can touch the DHD," Devon suggested. "Or if our GDO sends the right signal...that kind of thing."

"Whoa, wait," Stemler said, holding a meter in his hand. "Radiation levels are way down. This is lower than any MALP readings have ever reported for this planet."

"I think we got shifted," Lorne said.

"The MALP," Daniel said, jogging down the steps and starting across the land bridge. "It should still be sitting right outside the pyramid. If it didn't get transported with us, we can verify by just trying to touch--"

When he was halfway across, a familiar figure appeared at the entrance of the pyramid. "Hello," Nick Ballard said.

"H-hello," Daniel said, suddenly nervous. He glanced back to make sure no one was raising a weapon, but SG-11 seemed to be staring in something between surprise and caution. "Hi. Nick. Dr. Ballard. Do you remember--"

"Daniel," Nick said, smiling. "I remember you. Where's Jack? And...who were the others again?"

"Um...Major Carter and Teal'c," Daniel reminded him. "Actually, you probably knew Teal'c as Murray. But I came with a different team of people this time, so Jack and the others aren't here, but..." He quickly finished crossing the bridge and gesturing to the approaching members of SG-11. "This is Colonel Edwards, the commander of this unit. They're SG-11."

"Pleasure," Edwards said neutrally.

Nick didn't seem too impressed. "Uh," Daniel said, scratching his head. "So, um...how are you?"

"Good," Nick said.

"Okay," Daniel said. "Well...what have you been doing? Talking with Quetzalcoatl?"

Nick nodded. "Yes."

Daniel opened his mouth, then closed it.

"Where is he?" Edwards spoke up from behind.

"It's a big planet," Nick said, shrugging. "He must have known I would come to meet you and did not come himself."

"I'm sorry we didn't come back sooner," Daniel said. "But between radiation spikes and other--"

"You must be very busy," Nick said, looking unconcerned. "Why are you here now?"

"Well, to check on you, first of all. To learn about Quetzalcoatl and the crystal skull, too, and to ask if...if you're ready to come home?"

"Home?" Nick repeated. "No, no--this is my home." Daniel felt a tiny hope he'd never noticed before drop away. "This world is amazing. Quetzalcoatl has shown me so many things that I could never imagine where I came from. What is there for me on Earth?"

Daniel nodded. "Oh," he said, thinking that he understood the feeling but didn't want to say it, because he didn't want to agree so easily. "But, uh...actually, would you mind...telling us about your experiences here? About all that you've seen--"

"Yes, that's right," Nick said, smiling up at him, "you're a student of archaeology, aren't you? Come with me. I'll take you to Quetzalcoatl. We've become good friends." He beckoned at the entrance to the pyramid and waited expectantly.

"Are we allowed to look around in here, too?" Daniel said, even as he began to inch toward his grandfather and reached for his camera, hoping that whatever he recorded while out of phase would translate properly after they returned to normal. "Maybe take a few soil samples for analysis, measure the skull's emissions...that kind of thing?"

"As long as they do not deface the structures too much," Nick said, shrugging again.

"Should we be splitting up?" Stemler said warily.

"We can keep in touch by radio," Daniel suggested. Just to make sure it worked--he still wasn't very clear on the whole phase shifting concept--he thumbed his radio and said, "Right?" The radios worked fine.

Edwards looked at his watch, then said, "Lorne, go with them. Check in every hour, and remember we're due back for a check-in on base in twenty-four hours. If we see radiation rising, you come back right away without question."

...x...

Nick led them out of the pyramid and immediately began circling around to the other side to go around it. "It's a good thing I am here," Nick confided to them. "He was becoming lonely here all by himself."

Daniel exchanged a glance with Captain Lorne. "Really?" he said. "There's, uh...it's just the one of the...mist...people, just Quetzalcoatl?"

"You are thinking too simply," Nick said, waving a hand as they made their way through what looked like the rather barren planet. "Do you know of teotl?"

"Um...not really," Daniel admitted, thinking furiously to what he knew of Mesoamerican mythology. He'd studied a little extra in the last few days, just in preparation for this mission, but that word was barely familiar..."Oh, wait, kind of. It means 'god,' doesn't it?"

Shaking a finger at him, Nick said, "Not precisely. That is a translation many have used, but it is much broader than that. The being you saw calls itself Quetzacoatl, but he is also teotl, the mysterious and unexplainable of everything."

"Like gods," Lorne said.

"But not just gods," Daniel said, trying to understand. "That's too narrow."

"The giant aliens are very mysterious," Nick said sagely.

"So there is more than one, uh...giant alien?" Lorne said.

"Oh," Daniel said in realization. "I get it. It's everything, so in this context, it's like...one entity that can seem like many. Or many that are part of the one."

"That is closer," Nick agreed.

"Why does he speak Maya, anyway? It's not even related to Nahuatl, as I understand it."

Then Nick grinned, looking truly happy. "He spoke Maya because I did, as he spoke English to you when you greeted him. He wanted to communicate with me all those years ago when I was first searching for them. And the languages are not genetically related, but they share area features. Quetzalcoatl did not restrict himself to watching only the Aztecs. There," he said suddenly, pointing to what looked like the edge of a cliff. "Look."

The air shimmered oddly on the other side--it was like everything was just out of focus, and staring at it didn't make it any clearer. "What is that?" Daniel said.

"Just as we were transported to another world by the crystal skull," Nick explained, "Quetzalcoatl does not live fully in this world. We cannot quite see unless he comes into this world for us to see."

And then Nick tilted his head back and whistled sharply.

"Naturu," Daniel breathed, fumbling in his pocket for his tape recorder. He'd never heard a language whistled before, not like this, and he'd known, of course, that people did it, that whole conversations could be whistled like that, and what better way for an alien of mist who probably didn't have conventional vocal cords to communicate, but to hear it...

An answer came in the form of another whistle in the distance, lilting tones and swooping pitches articulated with shorter pulses, and before Daniel could think again, he was pursing his lips and repeating what Nick had whistled only a moment ago.

Nick turned to him in surprise, then chuckled. "Listen again--pay more attention to the length of each segment. But you have a good ear for pitch."

Daniel focused on his grandfather who didn't know he was his grandfather and whistled the same line with him before he thought to say, "I have no idea what that meant."

"We asked Quetzalcoatl if he would speak with us," Nick said.

"And what did he say?"

Lorne jumped violently. "Holy shit," he muttered, backing up two steps.

Daniel turned around and saw the familiar, misty, giant head rising from the depths of something that might have been a chasm if he'd been able to see it properly.

"He said 'yes,'" Nick said unnecessarily.

"Quetzalcoatl," Daniel called. "I'm sorry if we're intruding--do you remember me from when I was here before?"

Quetzalcoatl continued rising until his giant, transparent head hovered unnervingly near Daniel and Captain Lorne's. Daniel carefully kept his camera aimed upward and tried--in vain--to understand the shifting smoke that seemed to make up the being's form. "You are enemies of the Goa'uld," Quetzalcoatl finally boomed. "You came to exchange knowledge and culture."

"Right, yes, that was us," Daniel said. "Except we weren't allowed to stay, so, uh...look, you're clearly very...smart and more technologically advanced than we are," he said fumblingly. "That crystal skull was amazing to study--I still don't understand how it was made--and we can't understand how you built a pyramid like that one... The point is, you probably know from talking to Nick that you're ahead of us in that kind of thing, right?"

This flood of words seemed to have befuddled the alien into staring some more before he answered succinctly, "Yes."

With a glance at Lorne, who raised his eyebrows and gestured for him to go on, Daniel continued, "Well, what Nick doesn't know is how much trouble we've gotten ourselves into with the Goa'uld."

"You travelled with a Jaffa," Quetzalcoatl said.

"No, no, see, the Jaffa you saw was our friend," he explained, looking up and doing his best to look earnest with a crick in his neck. "We've fought Goa'uld alongside him."

The misty head floated even higher. Daniel watched as the rest of the body appeared under it, that same shifting, not-quite-focused form as so much else around here. "He is an enemy of the Goa'uld?" Quetzalcoatl said.

"Yes, very much so," Daniel called. He wondered where its ears were and valiantly did not run forward to see if he could walk through Quetzalcoatl's leg. It didn't seem polite.

Lorne seemed impatient with the pace of the conversation and said, "Since we're both enemies of the Goa'uld, is there's anything you can do to help us? Or," he added quickly when Quetzalcoatl lowered its head slowly toward him as if in curiosity, "you know...give us some tips?"

Daniel looked at Nick to see if the man would help them. Nick seemed to find them funny.

Then Quetzalcoatl's face loomed close to Daniel's. Unable to help himself, he waved a hand through a misty cheek and discovered he couldn't feel anything at all, which made him wish a little bit that he'd been the one out of phase last time, because Jack must have had so much fun running through things.

"You wish us to fight the Goa'uld?" Quetzalcoatl boomed.

"I guess singular and plural aren't important distinctions for you, huh?" Daniel said. Lorne gave him an exasperated look. "I mean...uh...yeah, that'd be nice. We'd like to ask you if you can help us fight the Goa'uld."

"How?"

"Well..." Daniel hedged, because they hadn't figured this part out beforehand. "The Goa'uld don't ever come here, do they? There must be a reason."

Quetzalcoatl stood back up. "They cannot stay for long. They know that this place is poisoned."

A sinking feeling lodged in Daniel's stomach. "Oh. That's how you countered them?"

"You contaminated the planet and then took yourself out of phase," Lorne realized.

"I could help you do this," Quetzalcoatl suggested. "Poison your land as we did ours, and the Goa'uld will no longer desire your land."

"Uh," Lorne said, "I don't think our people would like that. And it's not just our planet, either--there are other people we'd like to keep...interacting with."

"Then how do you plan to escape the Goa'uld?"

Daniel frowned. "We're not just trying to escape them. We're trying to defeat them."

Quetzalcoatl managed to look puzzled with no eyebrows and only holes for eyes. Then he turned to Nick, whistled again in that language Daniel could barely recognize as language yet, and sank into the ground and disappeared.

"What?" Daniel said, looking around himself in confusion. "Did we say something wrong?"

"No," Nick said, shaking his head. "He said that he cannot help you."

"But," Daniel said.

"But?" Nick countered.

"Oh," Daniel said.

Then Nick waved a hand and gestured them away from the cliff. "But that is no matter. Come with me--I can show you where his people used to live, before the Goa'uld came."

...x...

They found themselves well out of sight of the pyramid, standing in what looked like it had been a city once. "What happened here?" Lorne said, stepping tentatively toward a crumbled, stone wall.

"There were people here once," Nick said, walking in much more comfortably, "but they were destroyed by the Goa'uld. I still don't understand why these Goa'uld are so terrible, though. Many civilizations on Earth were destroyed by their own neighbors, but we wouldn't call all humankind evil, would we? No, of course not."

Daniel pushed back a scowl of annoyance and the urge to blurt out that the man's daughter had been killed by a Goa'uld. The Tok'ra and perhaps even the late Linvris, after all, were proof that not all Goa'uld should be painted with the same brush. "Nick," he said before they could go on, "can I talk to you?"

"We're talking now," Nick pointed out.

"I have something to tell you," Daniel said. "I should have last time, but I wasn't authorized to say just yet."

Tutting, Nick turned and continued walking through the city ruins, saying, "Typical government bureaucracy. Authorized this, authorized that..."

"Nick!" Daniel said, glancing at Lorne and then trotting to catch up to the man. "Wait, please. It's important."

Nick put his hands on his hips again. "Is it about these Goa'uld people?"

"No," Daniel said. "Do you remember how I said last time that I had a lot to tell you about your daughter?"

"You already told me that she was an explorer of alien planets," Nick said, and started off again.

Frustrated, he blurted, "Well, she had a son, and, uh...w-well, I'm her son. So. I wasn't sure whether to tell you before, because it's not like you know anything about me, and then there wasn't time, but there's no reason for you not to know about what she did or anything anymore."

Daniel didn't know what he'd been expecting, but it hadn't been for Nick to frown at him like that. "You don't look like her," Nick said matter-of-factly after a moment.

Lorne had paused several paces behind them. It wasn't far enough not to hear anything, but it wasn't close enough that he couldn't pretend deafness, either, so Daniel cleared his throat and answered, "Uh, well, no, not very much, I guess. I got my hair from her," he offered. "Or, I mean, from your side, anyway."

"Although..." Nick said, moving even closer and look more intently at him. Daniel broke eye contact, feeling uncomfortable. "Jack said my grandson was an alien."

"That's relative," Daniel said. "Born on another planet, but biologically, you know..." When Nick only continued to study him, Daniel said uncomfortably, "So, uh...oh! Also, for legal reasons, I'm in possession of your belongings. There wasn't a lot that they sent over, but I...um, I admit I read one of your expedition journals, but I tried not to disturb the other things, and it's all in my pack back in the pyramid if you want it."

Nick shrugged again. "I have no need for my possessions from Earth. You are welcome to them."

Daniel wasn't sure whether or not he wanted to be welcome to them. "Okay...well, I've also got, uh..." He dug into the pocket of his vest, where he'd stuffed the picture Sam had taken of his parents with the Abydons back in the beginning of the Stargate program. "This was taken almost four years ago. Just before my mother died, actually."

This time, Nick accepted the picture and unfolded it. It seemed to take some time for him to figure out where everything was and recognize--"She wasn't wearing her glasses."

"I never saw her with glasses," Daniel said, surprised. "Did she wear...?"

"She must have broken or lost them very early," Nick said. Shaking his head at the picture, he added, "And here is Melburn Jackson."

"Did you know him well?" Daniel said.

"I never liked him," Nick said.

Defensively, Daniel said, "Why not?"

"He married my daughter."

"Oh," he said uncertainly.

"I suppose I shouldn't have told her that, though," Nick said thoughtfully, surprising a short laugh out of Daniel.

"No, I don't suppose she liked that." Daniel wondered how many other things they'd disagreed about but didn't know how to ask.

Finally, Nick lowered the picture and said honestly, "I don't know what you expect from me."

"I'm not expecting anything," Daniel said quickly. "It just feels like I'm hiding something every time I see you. I thought you had the right to know who I was if I know who you are, that's all."

"I wouldn't be a very good grandfather," Nick told him, though he looked remorseful.

Daniel felt himself nod.

"I'm sorry," Nick added.

"It's okay," Daniel said.

Then again, blood didn't mean so much, not when he'd found families made totally of people with no blood connection. It was like Mesoamerican languages--even with no genetic relation between many of them, their interaction gave them common features. Daniel might never share much of anything with Nick Ballard other than the memory of Claire, but that was okay, too. He had his own families and it looked like Nick had found a place here, too, as odd as it might seem to Daniel. He didn't have a right to expect anything more, and really, he didn't need it.

"How about..." He looked around them at the ruins. "You must have heard a lot about the people who lived here from Quetzalcoatl, yes? I'd love to learn about them. Could you tell us some of it while we're here? I can tell you the kinds of things my mother did on Abydos, too, if you'd like."

Nick hesitated. Daniel wasn't sure whether it was about dropping the subject or not dropping it completely enough, but then Edwards' voice crackled through their radios to ask for an update.

As Lorne answered the hail behind them, Nick nodded and said, "All right. I'll show you the temple first. It's wonderful, being this way--I can walk everywhere without being afraid that I'll trample all over the ground or crush an artifact under my feet." He grinned suddenly and stomped a foot hard on the ground. "See? No tracks. Come with me!"

...x...

Quetzalcoatl's temple in this city looked nothing like the main pyramid near the Stargate.

"Of course," Nick said as they picked their way up the side of the temple, testing each step of the staircase before trusting their weight to it and very aware that a good portion of the temple lay in rubble now, not to mention the parts that their feet sank through without touching. "He built that temple after he transported himself away, but what was built before...well, the ruins still remain."

"How long ago was this?" Daniel said, examining the weathered stone carvings along the side of the temple.

"I haven't figured that out yet," Nick admitted. "He doesn't mark the passage of time in the same way that we do. But all of this is almost certainly older than similar temples from Earth."

"That's a trend we see a lot," Daniel said, pausing at a narrow section of the staircase to let Lorne go ahead of them. "We think it's a mixture of the fact that a lot of Earth's architecture was influenced by already-existing alien architecture and the fact that the Goa'uld on Earth would have suppressed human ideas and taken those ideas to use themselves."

"Say, Doctor--" Lorne started.

"Nick," Nick said.

"Nick," Lorne amended, "is it true you never have to eat or drink in this phase?"

"Or sleep," Nick added gleefully. "There is a specific stasis effect in the crystal skull's power."

"That's not fair," Daniel complained, and then it occurred to him to wonder how much of the physical Nick would experience at all--would he die, eventually? It wasn't just a phase change, then, but something more than that. "Do you ever get hurt while you're in this phase?" he asked, interested in what the limitations were.

"Not really," Nick said.

Daniel peered over the edge of the temple. Now he kind of wanted to jump off the top just to see what happened when he landed. A hand yanked him back. "What?" he said when he connected the hand to Lorne.

"What are you doing?" Lorne said sharply.

"When Colonel O'Neill was out of phase, he says he fell down an elevator shaft and wasn't hurt," Daniel explained. "I'm just curious--" Lorne pinched his arm hard. "Ow!"

"Your pain nerves work," Lorne said. "And Colonel O'Neill fell down an elevator shaft that was in a different phase than him. This whole place is weird--we can still touch some stuff. What happens if you break your head open when you land?"

"It would be messy," Daniel agreed reluctantly. " All right, all right. No jumping."

Nick didn't seem particularly bothered by the experiment or its interruption. Instead, he gestured them both up to the top and said, "Look!"

Looking down, Daniel saw more of the city, and something about the arrangement of the faded streets and the crumbled buildings was captivating--it was as if there were some pattern, some organization that made sense, and if he'd been able to see the rest of the pieces or if he could stare at it longer, he could figure it out. He turned in a slow circle, trying to take it in and really hoping that digital footage shifted phase properly with them. There was one area he could barely see, and he reached into his pocket for his monocular to see why there was nothing built there, except that there was--it was a rectangular area surrounded by a stone edge, with just enough rubble lying around it that he supposed it must have been even more impressive before.

"What was that place, over there?" Daniel asked, lowering the monocular to look at Nick.

"Quetzalcoatl told me the people used to play a ball game there," Nick said.

"Did they die when the Goa'uld came? Or did they run?"

"They were taken," Nick corrected, "those who were not killed immediately. The dead were all buried elsewhere."

"It's like...looking at the corpse of a city," Daniel said

"No, no," Nick told him, starting down the side of the temple they were standing on. "The city was never alive; only the people were. What they left behind is neither dead nor living, and that...now, that is something to see."

"Do you ever wish there were people to talk to?" Daniel said, following him down. "Someone more like you, I mean, not just Quetzalcoatl."

"Ah," Nick said, holding up a finger. "The city may not be alive, but that does not mean that it cannot speak. I will show you."

Finally, they stepped back down onto the ground, where Nick crouched down to point at something near the base of the temple. "The humans of this world no longer talk to us," Nick said, gesturing for Daniel to join him, "but the things they left here talk, too--just not in sounds. You simply have to learn how to speak their language...so to speak."

Nick quirked a mischievous grin at him. Daniel shook his head at the wordplay and looked at where Nick was pointing. "Is that an idol?" Daniel said, leaning close to a carving that lay facedown on the dry soil. "For worship of some sort?"

But when he tried to turn it over and pick it up, his fingers passed through it.

"Oh. Right," he remembered.

"Ah, yes," Nick admitted, flapping his hand casually through the carved idol. "That's a disadvantage of exploring like this. But you can find other carvings that were not destroyed by the Goa'uld. Where did people put them? Were they left disorganized or set carefully in place? How were they carved? What do they depict? Why are there so many at this temple and not so many at the others?"

Daniel nodded. These were things he knew--things Robert had taught him to look for and think about, but it was good, once in a while, to see someone else's enthusiasm to remind him. "I understand," he said. Curious, he pushed his hand through the idol and continued cautiously until he touched the temple, where his hand slowed. "Huh," he said, then pushed harder.

"Whoa," Lorne said when Daniel's hand stopped again with his hand buried in the stone. Grinning, Daniel yanked his hand back out, almost expecting to hear a squelching sound as he did, and then did it again.

"You can spend hours doing that," Nick told him in a tone that said he was speaking from experience.

"It feels odd," Daniel said as he touched the pyramid's wall again. "Evan, here, try it."

"I'm good, thanks," Lorne said. "And, uh...can I make a suggestion?"

Nick turned around and looked up imperiously at Lorne. "Yes?"

"Lieutenants Devon and Stemler back there are working on taking every physical measurement possible; maybe we should stick to..." He waved a hand toward the temple and at the idol lying on the ground. "That stuff."

"You're right," Daniel said.

"Well," Nick said, "how long will you stay?"

"We still have almost nineteen hours," Lorne said. "Eighteen, if we include the time we'll need to get back to the 'gate."

"Nick...could I look around the city and maybe ask you a few questions?" Daniel said eagerly.

"Of course," Nick said. He stepped away from the main pyramid and sauntered leisurely through the gates to the ruined city, saying, "Ask me anything. I have all the time in the world. Will you be coming back?"

"Um...I don't know," Daniel had to admit. "The SGC won't think there's much of material value to us here, and if you're not coming back and we know you're safe, it might be hard to justify frequent missions here. It's a health hazard every time as it is."

"So this might be the last time we'll meet?"

Daniel nodded. "It could be."

Nick hesitated, then said, "Then...will you tell me about your mother?"

So Daniel joined Nick and spent the next eighteen hours talking to his grandfather about their shared past and the past of this world, without leaving any visible trace that they'd ever been there at all.

XXXXX

30 May 2001; Embarkation Room, SGC; 0800 hrs

When they stepped out onto the ramp in the SGC, it seemed clear from the level of activity that SG-11 had returned to base directly on the heels of some other team. In fact, there was no mistaking SG-1 standing on the floor of the room with Dr. Lee and another scientist Daniel didn't recognize, as well as someone who had to be a new recruit, although he didn't remember having seen her before.

Jack turned and saw him first and said, "Now, if Daniel had been one of the researchers setting up that moon-station, things might've been different."

"What?" Daniel said, confused.

"Of course," Jack added, in the tone that meant he was currently irritated with the universe in general, "Daniel would've tried to talk to the damn bugs, and then we'd be establishing diplomatic relations with them."

"Bugs?" Daniel repeated blankly. "Why do we want diplomatic relations with bugs?"

"They were actually some kind of energy-based life form," Sam said.

"You've talked to energy-based life forms before," Jack told Daniel.

"Mr. Jackson?" an airman prompted, and Daniel turned away from the confusing conversation to hand over his sidearm and leave his pack for decontamination. By the time the Geiger counter had declared them all safe to be examined, SG-1, with the new woman and two scientists, had already disappeared.

Edwards shook his head and made his way to General Hammond to give him their report. "We gave Dr. Ballard our address and a radiolabeled box in case he ever needs or wants to contact us, but he seems pretty set on staying there, sir, and we don't exactly have a way to drag him away."

"In this case," the general said, "it might be best to let him stay there. He's relatively unconnected on Earth, and if he prefers to stay there there, I can deal with the details of his disappearance."

He still looked indecisive, though, so Daniel put in, "We've brought a lot of information back, sir, about the phasing technology and the people who used to and still do live there. There's really no harm in letting Nick stay."

"All right," the general finally said. "Head to the infirmary, then."

Stemler and Devon were still busy dropping off bits of equipment with the right people, and Edwards and Lorne seemed to be sticking around to keep them company, so Daniel arrived at the infirmary first and wandered over to see what Jack was so pissed off about today.

"Hello," he said, and then saw reddened marks on Jack's arms that looked like they might possibly be from large, fire-breathing mosquitoes. "Yi shay! What happened to you?" He turned to either side to check that Teal'c and Sam were relatively unhurt, noting peripherally that the new girl and the two scientists seemed all right, before turning back to Jack. "What did you do?"

Jack's eyebrows shot up. "Excuse me? What did I do?"

"Is this what you meant by bugs?" Daniel said, leaning close to see the marks on Jack's skin.

"They were not corporeal," Teal'c said.

"I know the feeling," Daniel said. The new girl was looking at him oddly, so he added, "Hi. I thought I knew all the field personnel, but..."

"Oh," Sam said, hopping off her gurney and walking toward them. "Daniel, this is Cadet Jennifer Hailey. Cadet, Daniel Jackson is the other member of our team."

Daniel shook the offered hand. "Cadet?" he echoed.

"She's an astrophysics student at the Academy," Sam told him. "Let's just say I think we could use someone like her in the future. This was a visit for her to see our facility."

"Nice to meet you," Hailey said dubiously.

"So what happened?" Daniel said, looking back at Jack's scowl. "You met flesh-eating bugs?"

"Energy bugs," Jack said sourly as he watched Janet check over Teal'c. "Shocking, zapping, fireflies that you can't swat or kill."

"Huh," Daniel said. "Why were they attacking you?"

"Oh, don't get us started," Sam said quickly. Hailey opened her mouth to speak. Sam gave her a look. Hailey shut her mouth.

"Did you attack them or...trespass on their property or something?" Daniel said, thinking that he would have very little sympathy if someone had started a war with fireflies and got stung for it.

"That was my first guess, too," Sam said. With a glance at Hailey, she added, "But we had a couple of theories, any of which could potentially be correct."

"So someone did do something to antagonize them," Daniel clarified, turning to Jack.

"It wasn't me!" Jack said, glaring at the two scientists in the room. "Why do you automatically assume it was me?"

Daniel glanced at Teal'c for confirmation. In answer, Teal'c gave the scientist whose name he couldn't remember a disgruntled, sideways look. "Okay," Daniel said to Jack. "Sorry. I shouldn't have assumed." Still, Jack was very grumpy and not fatally injured, so Daniel felt obligated to say very seriously, "You see what happens when you go on a mission without me?"

Sam didn't quite manage to smother a laugh. Jack glared.

"I'm healthy and you're stung," Daniel continued. "Last time, you got your memory replaced. The evidence speaks for itself. You need to stop getting yourself into trouble, Jack."

"You really want to talk about past evidence?" Jack said. He held up his fist and stuck out a thumb as if to start listing off events.

"Never mind," Daniel said quickly.

"Hey," Sam said, nudging him with an elbow. "So what about you? Did you find Nick?"

"Yeah, uh...we talked," Daniel said, folding his arms. "Quite a bit, actually. He's staying with Quetzalcoatl, though. He says he's barely been able to see two of the ancient cities in depth, much less other ones all over the planet. He's really happy there."

Jack frowned. "He's not coming back? I thought you were going to tell him about the whole long-lost grandson thing."

"I did," Daniel said. Sam took on the expression people wore while delivering condolences. "No, well, I didn't expect him to come back just for that. He's happy on '377. And we had a good twenty straight hours of talking about, uh, whistled variants of Nahuatl and the significance of each visible element in the architecture of Aztec pyramids. And other...stuff."

The clomping of boots announced SG-11's arrival in the infirmary. "Baggage on every planet, huh, Daniel?" Lorne said.

"I made sure not to leave any bags there," Daniel assured him.

"Your turn," Janet said, stepping in front of Daniel and standing with her hands on her hips until he moved toward a gurney. "SG-1, Dr. Lee, Dr. Hamilton, and Cadet Hailey, you're all free to go. Not you, Daniel," she added sharply when he tried to use the umbrella of 'SG-1' to escape. "I don't care what the safety assessment said; five minutes of being bombarded with muon radiation is still unhealthy."

"Muon--?" Hailey repeated, looking interested, but Sam steered her firmly toward the exit. Janet glared at Daniel. Daniel sat obediently on a gurney.

XXXXX

30 May 2001; Nyan's Office, SGC; 0930 hrs

"Nyan, I think these are yours--Rick must have dropped them on my desk by accident," Daniel said once he'd had a chance to shower and glance at his desk. He shuffled through the misplaced papers again as he wandered into the office next door. "This is a lot of tests you're taking."

"I'm going to apply to a school next year," Nyan said, looking excited and apprehensive. He hooked his foot around a chair and pulled it out in invitation. "The SGC is filling in some of my record, but I still need to take a few examinations to prove my ability."

"Oh," Daniel said, then handed over the forms in his hand and took the offered seat. "That...that's great. I didn't realize...well, you've been here almost a year now, haven't you."

"Dr. Jordan has offered me advice," Nyan said, nodding toward his computer. "I spoke to him when he came last time, and we have been writing to each other. It's very helpful."

"Really," Daniel said. "Well, good. I'm glad someone's... Good."

Nyan grinned at him, then said, "Daniel, if I'm going to a school...are you also going to--"

"No," Daniel said.

He looked surprised at the quick answer.

"I mean...not now," Daniel amended. "Leaving my team to go to school isn't a possibility. For now."

"They would let you," Nyan protested. "I'm sure they would."

"I know," Daniel said. "This is the path I've chosen, myself. Maybe in the future. I don't know."

"There's value in learning just for the fact that you like it. You know that, right?" Nyan said. "Not everything has to be about saving someone's life."

"I know," Daniel repeated. "I don't actually spend that much time saving people's lives."

Nyan looked like he wanted to say something in answer to that, then dropped it. "Okay," he conceded. As much as each of them had been trying to fill part of Robert's void, neither was Robert. If Daniel said 'no,' Nyan wouldn't argue the way Robert had done for years. "Anyway, where...oh, you went to the crystal skull planet! Did you learn anything? Did you find Nicolas Ballard?"

"Um...yeah," Daniel said. "Yeah, I found him and learned a lot. It's amazing--you have to see the pyramids, Nyan. The main one is...like nothing we've ever seen. And then there are entire cities, and I just checked and the camera captured all of it, even the parts in a different phase..."

"I want to see," Nyan said eagerly. "Do you have the footage with you now?"

"I'll go get it," he said, grinning back and deciding that he could like this path just fine if it sometimes led him to these things, too. Maybe Nyan would make a name for himself among the Tau'ri and Daniel could visit him sometimes, or maybe things would change and he could take a new path then, but for now, Daniel's place was here. "You'll see. It's incredible."


From the next chapter ("Points of View"):

"It's hard to know exactly what it was doing," Carter said, "but it branched out through very specific areas before power was cut off--it went through network and language software and databases, and then system and applications software."

"Learning to read, to listen, to talk," Daniel said optimistically. "Whatever this is could be trying to communicate with us."


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