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nightspear ([personal profile] nightspear) wrote2010-02-11 03:28 pm
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Journeys: Part 2 of 5

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

Part I

XXXXX
Part II: Ascension
XXXXX

The debriefing was surprisingly short. Maybe it just seemed that way to Daniel, who parted ways with Oma after promising not to linger long, and then kept finding himself distracted by the flows of energy in the briefing room that he could actually see if he thought about it. He didn't know how long he'd spent playing and drifting along the SGC corridors, following a speck of dust being carried through the vents, before he returned to see everyone leaving the briefing room.

Sam was sad, he could see. Daniel had just touched Jack's mind, and Teal'c had walled himself away so stiffly that he wasn't sure how to proceed, so he turned back to Sam instead.

Daniel found her asleep at Martouf's bedside, where an elderly man slowly blinked his eyes open and stared at her without recognition. When Jacob stepped close to the bed some time later, Daniel wasn't sure if he was there because Lantash wanted to see Martouf, or if Jacob wanted to comfort Sam or if he was hoping she would comfort him instead.

Jacob backed away eventually. "We'll come back after we find the rest of the Tok'ra," he said quietly, though it wasn't certain whether he was talking to Sam or to Lantash. He draped a blanket over Sam where she sat, and, in sleep, she clutched at it tightly.

When he left, Daniel sat down on the bed and experimentally touched her shoulder. He couldn't tell whether she'd felt it or not, because he didn't seem to have hands and didn't know what he was actually doing when he imagined himself sitting, but he thought she looked calmer. Maybe he was fooling himself.

He sighed as he slipped gently onto Abydos.

...x...

"God-killer," people were whispering.

"No," others countered. "Not just a god-killer; a god."

Daniel stood watching his brothers as they guarded the Stargate. The conversation was hushed, subdued, tentative, and everything he didn't associate with his homeland. "There are no gods," one scoffed. "How many times must you learn before you believe it? Only tyrants."

"But not him," Nabeh insisted. "He is no tyrant. You saw it yourself--he died and was reborn into light. He rose over us, went through the pyramid."

"He spoke to Skaara," someone else said.

"I heard nothing. He was not even awake."

"Not aloud; his spirit."

"Yes, it must have been. O'Neill, too. They changed their minds so quickly. He did something."

"God-killer," someone whispered again.

And then, Skaara's voice cut through and said, "His name was Dan'yel."

Conversation halted. The men looked up to see Skaara at the entrance to the pyramid. "Skaara," Tobay said, wary, gentle, like someone speaking to a wild animal and not to one of his closest brothers. "Of course. We know that."

"Then you can say it when you speak of my brother," Skaara snapped, angrily snatching up a gun and opening the chamber. "Our brother, yi shay. You know he hates to be named in the stories. "

Instead, the men stopped talking at all.

"Did hate," Skaara corrected himself quietly. He stared at the gun he was cleaning and oiling with the intensity of someone who knew everyone was either looking at him or studiously not looking at him. His movements were harsh, too jerky, the way Daniel had seen him once after being freed from Klorel, when he had discovered that some of his best friends had died in the first fight against Apophis. The men knew it, too--they were nudging each other and asking with their eyes if someone should make him stop before he shot someone by accident.

"Skaara," Daniel said. "Calm down."

Skaara stopped.

Daniel perked up. "Can you hear me?" he said excitedly. "Can you..." He touched Skaara's hand where it lay still on the barrel of the gun. "I'm right here."

"Daniel."

He turned around, wondering if someone else had seen him, but it wasn't that. "Shifu!" Daniel said, recognizing his wise little brother. "It's you! Look--I think Skaara heard me--"

"Daniel," Shifu repeated, holding up a small hand as Skaara raised his head and looked around. "No. You cannot."

"What?" Daniel said. "Why?"

In answer, Shifu held out a hand. "Come with me."

...x...

Slipping from one place to another wasn't about moving fast, which Daniel had tried to do at first. He wasn't sure how he moved if he was immaterial, but he simply was somewhere and then somewhere else. Space wasn't the same when he could be so many places at once.

And sometimes, it was like he was everywhere, and it was incredible.

It wasn't until Daniel had gone to Earth that he'd realized how small Abydos and its population were in comparison to a planet like Earth. He had slowly come to the realization that even Earth was small, and then, one day, he'd sat in a Goa'uld death glider and stared at the Earth and understood that they were like nothing compared to the rest of the universe. Now, he knew that, compared to everything here, their world, their galaxy, their universe, their whole plane was tiny, barely even a speck from this height.

He couldn't see anything clear in that greater picture--though he could tell that, if he tried hard enough, it might resolve into meaning--and, for now, he turned away from the chaotic patterns in favor of more familiar ground.

He had just not-quite-died, he defended to himself when he felt cowardly for shying away. He was allowed some time to settle before branching out more than he already had.

"Are you okay?" he asked when Shifu finally brought them to some place that looked like Kheb. Daniel couldn't tell whether they were actually on Kheb, in whatever sense they could be on a physical planet, or if it was something drawn from Shifu's mind, or even Oma's.

Shifu folded his hands in front of himself. "Why do you ask this?" he said.

"I was...just wondering," Daniel said. "We never saw you again, and we...we worry. Your mother and I have been worried about you."

"I am well," Shifu said. "Daniel, has Oma not spoken to you of these things?"

"What things?" Daniel said.

"You cannot interfere in such a way as you did just then," Shifu told him seriously.

"I only said Skaara's name," Daniel said.

"Yes," Shifu said, nodding.

"But," Daniel said, confused. "But he was sad."

"And if he begins to believe that you are still present--if he spends his days hoping to see you again?" Shifu said. "He is mourning you. Let him mourn without fighting ghosts, too."

That made sense, Daniel thought reluctantly. He wondered whether he should care more that his brother was mourning him, but it was easier not to feel that when he wasn't standing on that plane and watching it unfold. His mind was clearer this way. And yet, even standing here... "I don't feel very enlightened," he said.

"This is not the end of your journey, my brother," Shifu said. "But you cannot reach enlightenment if you seek always to return."

Before he could ask where it was he was supposed to be--because surely he couldn't just stay here and be--another voice behind him said, "You need to go on."

Daniel turned and saw Oma Desala moving toward him. "On?" he repeated.

"You have reached a higher plane of existence," Oma explained. "It was your journey in life that brought you here, and it is your journey here that will lead you further. But you cannot go back. Learn to accept that, or you will remain still forever."

Acceptance. A necessary part of his job had been to accept new ways and cultures, but it could also be dangerous to accept without thinking. "I still don't understand any more than before," he said. "I don't know what I'm supposed to do."

"Perhaps you try too much," Shifu suggested. "From the moment I was born, brother, you have been trying to find something you could never find on your own."

"I was trying to keep you safe back then," Daniel said. "What else could I have done?"

"Nothing," Shifu said. "You did all you could do, and that is the good that Oma saw within you. Now, you must learn to see beyond the limits of the lower planes."

Daniel felt a flash of frustration. It was oddly comforting, as fleeting as the feeling was, even if he knew he was supposed to be trying to give up the things that had defined his mortal life. At least frustration was still a part of him.

Oma shook her head. "And did I not tell you to wait until I could explain to you?" she chided. "You disappeared as soon as I tried to find you."

"I wasn't hiding," Daniel said. When Oma didn't answer, he added, "Mostly. I had to see them. I had to check on them."

"And what would you have done to comfort them?" she said. Daniel opened his mouth to say he could do plenty, because it looked like he could make Skaara hear him--and Orlin had done it once with Sam, Shifu with Daniel and Sha'uri, and Oma with all of them--but before he could speak, she said, "You cannot interfere in their matters, Daniel."

"Why?" he said.

"Does the SGC meddle in the affairs of other cultures?" Oma said.

"Yes," Daniel said. "We don't try to, most of the time. But it happens anyway."

"And yet," she pointed out, "SGC makes an effort not to interfere with others' lives more than they have to."

That was true. And even so, more than a few thought the SGC did too much. "But I'm from their culture this time," he said. "It's not interference if I'm one of them, is it?"

Oma sighed. "Listen to yourself, Daniel. You aren't one of them anymore. You're one of us. You must accept that and let them live their own lives."

"There is much to learn," Shifu added.

"Okay," Daniel sighed. "I'll try."

...x...

Nonetheless, he found himself standing on Earth again after leaving Shifu and Oma's Kheb.

General Hammond found Nyan in the archaeology office, in front of Daniel's desk. "Are you all right?" the general said.

Nyan's hand hovered over something on the desk but was pulled back before he actually touched anything. He shook his head. "I don't understand what happened," he said.

Daniel stepped around them toward Robert's old desk. It wasn't Robert's desk anymore--it was a place for people to put things when Daniel's inbox overflowed, and it served almost as a filing area, but Daniel always thought of it as Robert's. One of these work areas would have to be cleared soon--they wouldn't hold empty desks in an empty office for dead men. He hoped that whoever was assigned to his desk was warned to stay out of Jack's way.

"I'm not sure any of us really understands it," the general was saying.

"Is Martouf going to die?" Nyan said. The two of them hadn't been close, exactly, but all the aliens on base shared an awareness that they were others, and that they had at least a little bit in common that the Tau'ri couldn't understand even if they tried.

General Hammond pursed his lips, perhaps looking for a tactful way to say 'yes.' "Eventually," he finally said.

"Sooner rather than later?"

"We've never seen quite this case before," the general said. "Martouf is an old man by human standards. But he was in near-perfect health before Lantash left his body, and he's getting excellent care."

"His mind--"

"He's very old, son," the general said, rather than explain that Martouf didn't recognize much of anything when he was occasionally awake.

Nyan seemed to understand not to push further. "And Daniel's really dead?"

"Not exactly."

"Then..."

"We don't know if he can come back," the general said patiently. "But he's in a better place."

"Really?" Nyan asked.

General Hammond nodded firmly. Daniel couldn't tell if he believed that, but the affirmation was for Nyan, anyway, not for himself. "I'm sure of it. And I think the last thing he would want is to have everyone unhappy, including you, Nyan."

Daniel almost agreed aloud, just to let someone hear, but he remembered Oma's words and decided to stay silent. Maybe she would leave him to his own devices longer if he was quiet.

Well, that wasn't what she had meant--listening to advice did not mean avoiding the advice-giver or staying quiet to stay unnoticed--but it was the way Daniel knew best after years of evading complete disobedience rather than truly obeying orders. Jack was the only commander who had understood that fully, and if he had been annoyed by it, he had come to value it, too. Daniel had the feeling it would take longer for Oma Desala to become accustomed to him.

And so, he decided again, the best way was to stay quiet and out of sight.

...x...

Sometimes, though, he couldn't really help it.

Jack was in Daniel's room in their house, methodically packing the books Daniel had accumulated over the years into boxes.

There were photographs on the bookshelf. In the most recent, Sam was scowling at Daniel while he grinned and held her laptop out of reach. In another, Teal'c held two fingers behind Jack's head like ears while Sam tried so hard not to laugh that her face was pink. And then there was an old one from when Daniel had been smaller and a little scared, swimming in a borrowed sweater from Jack and borrowed BDU trousers from base that were held up with a borrowed belt from Sam--Jack stood behind him with Sam and Teal'c on either side in front of a table of dirty dishes from dinner, Sam's arm out of frame as she held the camera out.

As Daniel watched now, Jack picked up the last one and started to put it into the box. Then he stopped and put it back. He started to turn away, then made a face and pushed it over sharply so it fell face-down on the empty bookshelf. He picked it up quickly, as if to check that the glass wasn't broken, then replaced it and turned the other two photos face-down, too, more carefully.

He walked swiftly out of the room, leaving the last box half-empty and still open. Daniel watched the door swing shut and knew Jack wouldn't be coming into this room often. Some people sought the past to reconcile the present; Jack pushed past aside to survive the future.

When Daniel followed him, he was sitting on the roof, nursing a bottle of beer and ignoring the telescope next to him in favor of looking up blankly at the sky. They had sat here together before, sometimes just to relax while Jack played with his telescope and Daniel read a book. Other times, they had come here seeking silence after a friend's wake or a failed mission or, in the early days, a particularly bad nightmare.

Daniel looked over his shoulder, though he knew he might not see any Ascended beings who might be keeping an eye on him. Still...

Jack set his bottle down on the railing. He started to sit back, but Daniel pushed the telescope, very slightly, so that it swung gently in one direction--against the wind--before reversing and landing in Jack's hand.

Freezing where he was, Jack stared at the telescope but didn't move his hand away. "Don't screw with me," he whispered, his fingers curling lightly around the telescope.

Daniel tapped the telescope once more, and then stood aside.

With an exhalation that was less laughter than grief, Jack shook his head and picked the bottle back up. This time, before he raised it to his lips, he tilted it once in salute. Daniel sat with him for the rest of the night and looked up at the stars.

...x...

Teal'c wasn't in kelno'reem.

"Here you are," Sam said when she found him in the gym.

"Major Carter," Teal'c greeted, not looking up from the barbell he was hefting. Daniel knew it was too heavy--no one else would notice the Jaffa lifting more than he strictly should, except maybe Jack or Janet, who kept track, but Daniel had spent enough time in this room with his friend to know Teal'c was pushing just a little too hard. "How is Martouf?"

She shrugged uncomfortably. "Same as before. We've been able to keep him alive--if another Tok'ra symbiote needs a host, it might be able to reverse the increased aging. We don't really know if or how that happens, though, so it might be permanent."

The chances that a Tok'ra symbiote even wanted to blend with a host as damaged as Martouf were low, anyway. She didn't say it, but Daniel was sure Teal'c heard it nonetheless.

"And your father?" Teal'c said.

"Going back to the Tok'ra," she said. "Trying to figure out what's going on, where they resettled, all of that. He'll come back and let us as soon as they know more. He's, uh...been a little testy, though, so...just so you know the next time he comes around."

That wasn't surprising--Martouf had been the cooler head while Lantash had offered passion, and Selmak's wry composure had kept Jacob's crankier tendencies in check. "They are in mourning," Teal'c said as an explanation.

Sam seemed uncertain for a moment. Then, as if she couldn't hold it in any longer, she said, her tone almost belligerent, "What about you?"

"Of what do you speak, Major Carter?" Teal'c answered.

She gestured to him, at the perfectly normal sight of the Jaffa exercising. "You just lost someone, too. I thought there was a three-day mourning ritual for Jaffa on Chulak."

Daniel winced when Teal'c set a barbell back on the pins a little harder than necessary. "We are not on Chulak," Teal'c said evenly, sitting up, "and Daniel Jackson is not dead."

Sam shook her head angrily and began to walk out. Before she could, though, she turned back around. "So that's it?" she said. "No memorial, no body left, so we pretend it never happened? We're not allowed to..."

She stopped, but of all of them, Sam had always been the worst at hiding her thoughts when the look in her eyes screamed what she was thinking.

It was late in the evening, and there weren't many people in the gym. The few who were, however, glanced her way and then away again. She must have noticed, too, and she turned around and walked stiffly out of the gym without another word. It was a long time before Teal'c moved from where he sat. No one bothered either of them.

...x...

"Colonel," Sam said, jogging down the corridor to catch up to Jack. "Colonel O'Neill!"

Jack glanced back at her, so disinterested that anyone who knew him knew that all was not well but that he would pretend otherwise. "Major Carter."

"Could I have a word, sir?"

"Nope," he said, "unless it's about the asteroid heading toward Earth."

Daniel frowned and looked up toward the ceiling, only to berate himself for forgetting yet again that he wasn't really standing here on Earth and bound by the restrictions of being on Earth. By the time he'd decided he should find out what was happening, Sam was saying, "What? Asteroid?"

With a nod, Jack said, "Yep. Breaktime's over."

She stopped walking, looking lost. "But...we just lost Daniel, and..."

...and Martouf and Selmak, and her father was quieter than ever and Lantash apparently vacillating between trying to adapt to his new host and trying not to blame his new host for needing him to leave his old one. No one else had been as close as Sam to all of them, and no one else wanted to admit anything was wrong.

"We lose people all the time, Major," Jack said. "We move on. We've got a mission now."

"Jack," Daniel sighed, reproachful, as Sam's jaw dropped in disbelief.

"He wasn't just anyone, sir!" Sam said. "Couldn't we...isn't there--"

Jack stopped and turned to look at her. "We've got a mission," he repeated, his voice hard. "There's an asteroid heading for our fair planet that might kill us all, and I need you to figure out how to stop it."

For a moment, Daniel thought she was going to retort or even pull him physically to a halt. Instead, she fell silent, her fists clenched at her sides, and followed Jack to the briefing room. Duty came first for Sam, always, even when she hated it.

Daniel slipped away from the post he'd taken up here and looked with a sight he hadn't yet mastered, one that slid and shifted past him in a dizzying whirl of faces and colors and sounds that made less sense, rather than more, simply because there was so much. Taking a deep breath (even that was a construct of his mind, he reminded himself--no form, no lungs, no breath), Daniel focused on what his mind insisted was upward.

"Daniel," Oma said from behind him. He winced. "Look at me," she continued sternly, and waited until he'd obeyed. "If you can't control yourself and listen, the Others make you do so in a less gentle way."

"What did I do?" Daniel protested. "I didn't do anything this time. I'm just looking. Look--I can't even--I don't even know what I'm looking at."

She regarded him solemnly, and he wondered if it was a mark of how badly he was doing that even an enlightened being seemed a little annoyed at him.

"Is this wrong?" Daniel said. "Oma--"

"Don't tell me that you don't understand," she interrupted. "I've told you already, and you insist on disobeying."

"You've told me what not to do," he retorted, "which, by the way, I haven't done--I'm looking and not touching. But I still don't have anything to do. I mean..." He forced himself to back away, until he could see the lower planes, but was immediately confused again by the overload of thoughts and information and had to shake himself out of it.

"You've been on our plane for a very short time," Oma said. "It's only been a few days for them, and, therefore, for you. Give it time."

"Can you show me?" Daniel said. "I was going to see what this asteroid was that they were talking about--I won't do anything," he promised when she began to frown again. "But I have to see, at least. There's no harm in knowing."

Oma seemed torn between the hope that he was trying to adapt to this existence and suspicion of his motives. "All right," she said, and held out a piece of paper.

Confused, Daniel accepted it. "This...is a joke, right?" he said once he'd glanced at it. "Ascended beings get their information by memo?"

She shrugged. "This is your mind, not mine," she pointed out. "You were the one who wanted to know. I'd read it if I were you--it does one no good to ignore one's memos."

Oma Desala, as it turned out, had a very odd sense of humor.

He looked at his memo, which was written on paper bearing a letterhead that looked a lot like the very-familiar Department of Defense ones, until he looked closer and saw:

DEPARTMENT OF ENLIGHTENMENT
DUTIES EDUCATION AND TRAINING
Higher Plane, Universe

"Very funny," Daniel said.

"I thought so," she agreed.

...x...

"We have to do something," Daniel said once he understood what was happening.

"Daniel," Oma sighed. "How many times will I have to tell you?"

He imagined the asteroid moving toward Earth, SG-1 sailing toward it in a half-repaired teltak. "But the System Lords cheated. You saw it--they're cheating and trying to fool the Asgard and break the treaty, and over six billion people are going to die! SG-1 doesn't even know what they're dealing with."

"If they cheat, does that make it right for you to do the same?" she asked.

"But why would it be cheating?"

"There are rules," she said.

"Well, they're stupid rules," Daniel said.

"Should've asked to see the contract before you signed up," Oma said.

Daniel blinked, thinking that that expression in itself was proof that he wasn't the only one who snooped around the lower plane. "I was busy dying at the time," he said, feeling sullen and a bit apprehensive about what else he might have missed in his haste.

She was unmoved. "That's how it goes. Can't change it now."

"So...so we just stand around but can't do anything," Daniel clarified. "Is that it?"

Oma folded her arms and gave him a severe look. "You're making this difficult on purpose," she said. "I used to think Jack O'Neill got so infuriated with you because he was being stubborn. Now I'm starting to understand how he felt."

"Did I...just get insulted by Mother Nature?" Daniel said, thinking that Jack would have been impressed. "What do we do, then, other than contemplating our navels?"

"You don't have a navel anymore," she told him. "If you'd slow down and listen for once, maybe you'd stop leaping to wrong conclusions. You of all people should know that nothing is that straightforward." Daniel looked back, as if he could see the naquadah-loaded asteroid careening toward Earth. "Don't you trust your friends?"

"Well, yes," he said, turning back to her. "But they're...not in the best state of mind right now." And that was true, but in fact, he thought Sam probably worked more efficiently in times like this, when she had a problem to stop her from thinking about worse things. Jack would just be sharper than normal and Teal'c quieter; they weren't in the best frame of mind, but it didn't mean they weren't functioning. Still... "They don't know--"

"How many times have you and they stumbled on something that was previously unknown?" she asked rhetorically. "And how many times have you succeeded nonetheless? Trust them, Daniel. It's their world now, not yours, and it's up to them to stop it."

Daniel sighed. "Okay. Fine. Maybe you're right. So it's, what, against the rules to do anything to help them using the advantages I have from being on this plane?"

"Exactly," she said intently. "Yes, Daniel."

Surprised at the emphasis in her answer, Daniel stopped and thought about what he'd said, and how that was different from what he'd asked before. "Using...the advantages I have now," he repeated, and Oma smiled very slightly. "Oh. So..." He paused again. "But I can't...not be like this. Everything I do would be done as an Ascended person."

"Listen carefully," Oma said, for perhaps the twentieth time since he had Ascended. For perhaps the first time, Daniel shut up and listened carefully. "I didn't make you Ascend."

"Yes you did," Daniel said.

Oma gave him a look.

"I mean...go on," he said.

"You Ascended," she continued. "You. Anyone with the will could have done it."

"Not without knowing it was possible," Daniel said. "I wouldn't have known that without you."

"And if I had been alive on the lower plane at the time," Oma said, "I could still have told you all of that. Teaching about Ascension isn't something that one must be Ascended to do."

"So you weren't breaking the rules by doing that," he said, "because you weren't using any...specially enlightened powers to do it."

She tilted her head. "You're starting to get the idea."

Daniel turned to the side and found another note on his desk, reading, 'Teltak from Revanna was successfully repaired. SG-1 has launched to intercept asteroid. ETA: seven days. Asteroid is expected to collide with Earth in approximately nine days.' Below that was a summary of how and where and when and who, along with the chances of success.

When Daniel looked up, Oma was still watching him. "Daniel," she said, more gently, "it's hard for everyone to accept this at first, but you are no longer part of life as you know it."

"I know that," he said, but he couldn't help a feeling of dejection even as he said it.

"You cherished your life deeply," she said, "even in your darkest moments. You knew every time what the chances were of dying, but it still feels unfair to have lost your life so young."

Daniel swallowed. "I don't regret what I did," he said.

"But you haven't accepted it yet," she said.

"I have," he said, not even sure whether or not he was lying this time.

"It's all right. It takes time--Ascension is a journey, not a single step. Sooner or later, you'll learn to accept this existence and everything it entails. The more you resist, the harder that journey will be."

"I'm not resisting."

"You are," she said. "And now you're lying to yourself."

He didn't answer.

Oma placed a hand on his shoulder. "I know it's confusing. Perhaps it will help to think in terms of what your choices are--what paths you have to choose from. Right now, you can linger and watch your friends in their cargo ship...or you can trust them to do their job and come with me to learn what it is you can do as you are now. There are so many wonders you haven't seen."

Daniel bit his lip and looked down at the desk again. The memo was unchanged. There were more spread around--like an inbox overflowing with things he wanted to read about things going on all throughout the SGC and the rest of the galaxy.

Resisting the urge to reach for one of them, to focus again on what he would have done in life, Daniel turned away. "Okay," he said to Oma. "Teach me."

She smiled. "Come with me."

XXXXX

It wasn't exactly a surprise that stores of knowledge manifested in Daniel's world as an odd mix of the SGC base library and an Abydonian cavern, one of the ones used for the few rebels who had dared to pass on literacy and knowledge during the Goa'uld's reign.

But it was comforting--all the most familiar places to him, filled with books and scrolls and tablets, and he had quite literally all the time in the universe to peruse them. While Oma seemed to spend most of her time on Kheb, either waiting for people seeking enlightenment or simply meditating by herself, Daniel made his library his own safe haven among the strangeness of the higher planes.

Some of the books he found were on concrete topics, the kinds of things he might have read in a physical library, like histories of cultures that the Others had watched over and helped to flourish. Languages, stories, myths, histories, literature...

Most of it, though, wasn't in words at all, at least nothing he could easily grasp, and it was that part that Daniel found most intriguing and most maddening all at once.

"Why does it have to follow this cycle?" he asked Oma one day when she came to see him. "What you teach your people says that something has to go wrong before we can try to make something good happen."

"You're oversimplifying it because you're frustrated with your limitations," she answered.

Daniel sighed. "I guess so," he conceded.

"Nature keeps itself in balance all on its own," she said. "It doesn't need--or want--interference. Occasionally, of course, something will happen. It's usually a coincidental combination of more things at once than anyone on the lower planes can perceive, but we need to give a little nudge then to restore the balance."

"What, like...like a world being destroyed?" he said, not quite able to stop thinking about the asteroid nearing Earth. "Would that warrant interference?"

She gave him a pointed look. "Do you remember the Vorash system? If the Others interfered in matters as small as the destruction of a world--or even a solar system--your team might be dead now and Apophis might be alive. You cannot have it both ways, and we cannot change events to suit only one view, or one planet or one race. Perhaps you should be glad we didn't decide to reset certain balances."

Chastened, Daniel looked away and tried to think of what was larger than that. Maybe it would take...the destruction of a galaxy, or a reality, or a plane. That was the point, though, he supposed--they thought in small terms on the lower planes in comparison to what the Others could do. "Well, how does this nudging work, then?" he asked.

With a smile, she said, "You're not ready yet."

"What, the Others don't trust me in matters of cosmic coincidence?'

"No, they don't," she said. "It's not that simple. It's the very nature of nature: when you perturb it, it perturbs you back, and you're lucky if it doesn't upset something even worse in the process. As it is, the entire collective of Others must decide together when and how to nudge anything at all."

"But there has to be something we can do," Daniel said. "We have all this power, Oma--"

"I seem to remember," Oma said, "a certain dream you shared with Shifu's biological mother--a dream that showed you just how dangerous it would be to have too much power and to deem yourself suitable to decide how to use it. I've watched you, Daniel--I know you took his lesson to heart at the time. Has that changed now?"

"No, of course not," Daniel said, "but...but as long as we know something is happening, choosing not to do anything is just as much a decision as choosing to do something. If you know about something, then inaction is no better and no worse than action; it just takes less effort."

She stared at him for a moment, then tilted her head. "You could say that," she said.

"I am saying that," he said.

"Then you need to be aware that not everyone would agree with you."

"These 'Others' you've mentioned before?" Daniel said.

"Yes," she said. "Other Ascended beings."

"So...if I did something...if!" he added when she began to look wary again. "Hypothetically. If I broke the rules and tried to continue being good instead of evil and actually did something"--she folded her arms--"the Others would stop me? Or punish me?"

Oma nodded once. "Don't give me that look," she said.

"I'm not giving you any--"

"It's not cowardice," she said. "It's not negligence or sloth. It's responsibility."

One of the countless memos spread on the next desk said that a devastating religious war had broken out on a planet--far from Earth, not even in the same galaxy--between peoples advanced even beyond the Asgard. Nuclear weapons like those known on Earth were child's play to those people--civil war could easily destroy all life there. Pointing, Daniel said, "Letting hundreds--maybe thousands of people die when we could save them is being responsible?"

"Fine," she said, crossing her arms. "Let's play. We could stop that particular war somehow--we could find some way to protect the people on the losing side so they won't be exterminated. Let's say we do that. We save those eight and a half million people--"

"Eight million?" Daniel repeated numbly. He hadn't realized there were that many at risk. He looked again at the desk, and suddenly it was filled with notes about plagues and wars breaking out on a hundred planets in a hundred galaxies.

"And now," she went on, "the tide of the war has turned. Which side did we pick, again? Why did we pick them? Because we liked them? Because they were losing?"

"Oma, come on--now you're simplifying it for the--"

"To be honest, that part's not important right now," she interrupted. "We saved their lives, full stop. We stopped their petty little war. It really is petty, isn't it, fighting over whether or not a voice from above told them to fight."

"I didn't say it was petty--"

"And yet you don't think they have the right to fight in the name of their god," she said. "You, who have spent years fighting a war about gods. So if we just add another voice...there's nothing wrong with that, is there? Just another voice for them to fight over."

"I don't accept that there's no hope for them," Daniel said. "People aren't always doomed to repeat their own history to their own detriment."

"You don't even know who they are."

"It shouldn't matter! They deserve to live--"

"And if we help them keep living," Oma said, "and they kill someone else?"

"You can't damn an entire people because you think they couldn't live up to your moral standards," Daniel said. "People have to be given a chance."

Oma shrugged. "All right. Say we step in, and there's peace throughout the land. What shall we do next? Maybe...stop an artificial supernova that would destroy all life in a solar system?"

Since Daniel had been with SG-1 the time that they'd created their own artificial supernova and wiped out the Vorash system, and since Oma clearly knew about that incident, he said, "We were trying to kill Apophis, and we made sure the system was uninhabited first."

"Ah," she said, nodding. "Because the Jaffa killed in the explosion didn't deserve the second chance that, just a minute ago, you were so willing to give to a people you have never met before? Or because the non-human life on those planets didn't deserve to continue living? I would have thought that distance from your human form would allow you to see more objectively."

The thoughts churned uneasily in his mind, but Daniel shook his head. "I don't regret my part in that."

"And if I had been like you," Oma countered, "I wouldn't have regretted stopping you then, to save the lives of thousands of Jaffa and to preserve dozens of species of life that were wiped out--forever--in that blast. Your friend Teal'c has a wife and a son. How many Jaffa lost a father or a husband in that battle? Surely that would be a worthy reason for us to interfere?"

"That's not..." Daniel started, but it wasn't like it wasn't true.

"You should be grateful, Daniel Jackson, that we do not always deem it right to stop the atrocities that mortals commit."

Daniel stared at her, not sure how much of this was what she really thought and how much was for the sake of argument, to drive in a point. "But if you did step in," he said, "those atrocities wouldn't have to happen in the first place. If someone had stopped Apophis from killing people to begin with, there would have been no supernova. You could make things better."

"Better for whom?" Oma said. "When did you forget that nothing is entirely black or white?"

"So...you're saying we shouldn't have destroyed Apophis and his fleet?"

"Not at all," she said. "It was a dispute among the people living on that plane, to be solved by people living on that plane. You and your people did what you thought was right in defense of yourselves and your ideals. The Others and I didn't have the right to judge. Daniel, you're not even the same species as they are anymore, not in any practical sense. In life, would you have stopped a jackal from killing and eating a hare simply because it was a violent act?"

Daniel wished that made less sense. "No," he said. "But. That's nature."

She pointed. Daniel followed her finger and flinched as a squadron of men on Earth was killed by enemy soldiers. She turned his gaze, and he saw a crowd of people on Juna, dancing, laughing. "So is all of that," she said. "Everything in nature is part of nature. Even what mortal beings call artificial technology is simply their slow discovery of the natural rules that we know so well. Who are you to decide you know what is best for them?"

"But," he said, recognizing the arrogance in his line of thinking but unwilling to let go of it completely.

"Think about it," she advised.

...x...

Daniel thought about it.

And then he sought out Oma again and said, "Something's still missing. There's something you're not telling me."

"What might that be?" she said.

"Kheb," Daniel said. "What you did on Kheb couldn't possibly be considered something a human could have done without being Ascended, and you killed about a thousand Jaffa that day."

"I think it was more, actually," Oma said. She folded her arms, raising her eyebrows.

"Well...and then, there was all that...stuff," Daniel said, waving his arms inarticulately. "You made me think I could light candles with my mind and move things without touching them. Even you can't claim that was anything but an Ascended being's manipulation of a mortal to--"

"To what?" she said. "To guide your thoughts toward the conclusion you were already seeking in the absence of a voice you could hear?"

"Oh, come on," he scoffed. "You've talked to me on other occasions without all the subterfuge."

"Yes, I have," she said. "In your mind. When you were three-quarters dead and not even conscious anymore."

Daniel paused. "Okay," he conceded. "Bad example. But Shifu and Orlin have talked to people directly. You even had a disciple at Kheb. You could have talked to me through him."

"I did," she said.

"You tricked me! You made me think I was...powerful enough to protect Shifu."

"You tricked yourself," she retorted. "Don't blame me because you saw what you wanted to see instead of what I was trying to tell you. I didn't force you to do anything; you acted by yourself."

Daniel didn't think Ascended people were supposed to get as frustrated as he felt now.

"Fine, then," he said. "But what about the lightning you used to kill those Jaffa chasing us?"

"Ah, well," Oma said. "You're right about that one, I admit."

"It's not exactly something a human could do just by thinking," Daniel said. "So?"

She took the book he had been reading and carefully replaced it on a bookshelf. "There's a lot about me that you don't know, Daniel," she said, perusing the shelf of things he hadn't read.

"You...have the authority to do things like interfering?" Daniel guessed.

Unexpectedly, she laughed, a soft, short sound. "Not at all."

"Then what?"

"What do you know about Kheb?" she asked. "I don't mean the myth of Setesh hunting Harsesis or the myth of Isis hiding her son Harsesis there. What do you know about the history of the place--the actual planet?"

"I know..." Daniel started, then admitted, "Nothing, really--just old human and Jaffa legends."

Oma gave him another tight smile and pulled a book down for him. "Here's a hint," she said.

...x...

Daniel read the book until he grew frustrated with it. There was a straightforward history in there, stretching back far before Osiris had ever sought Kheb as a refuge from Setesh. He read about Kheb's creation by the Ancients--whoever they were--and the subsequent abandonment of the planet for its lack of material resources, long before the first Jaffa had even been engineered. Still, especially here, a straightforward history was never the whole story, and no matter where he looked, it felt like there was always something missing.

Halfway through, he stopped for a break and turned to look back down on the SGC.

Sam, Jack, and Teal'c had saved Earth from the asteroid.

Perhaps he shouldn't have worried--there wasn't much he could have helped with, anyway. Teal'c had noticed that their teltak wasn't landing properly, Sam had found that their estimates of the rock's density had been terribly wrong, and then they'd discovered the naquadah core hidden within. From there, it had simply been a matter of figuring out how to prevent the collision itself, but Daniel wouldn't have worried about that. They were SG-1. It was what they did.

It was easy enough to check and see for certain that that was Anubis's first attempted attack on Earth. The soon-to-be System Lord was testing the SGC and the Asgard.

Another memo below that said that SG-1 was resisting all attempts to find a fourth member.

Daniel remembered how hard it had been to convince them to take a translator with them before he had joined. The four of them had needed time to figure each other out, but finally, they had fit. Popular belief at the SGC was that the original three-man SG-1 had been saving a place for Daniel, training him to be their perfect fourth, and while it hadn't been a conscious decision, sometimes Daniel thought they had been waiting to complete each other, too.

Nyan volunteered to be next on the list. His skill set overlapped with Daniel's, and SG-1 owed him their lives--maybe he realized that that might give him an edge over other officers who were turned down for the position. Daniel hoped Jack wasn't still yelling at people for not being able to predict his thoughts, because Nyan wasn't the type to yell back and would be more hurt by the hostility than Daniel would have been.

"You were going to school," Daniel said to Nyan, watching the Bedrosian struggle through too much work as he tried to pick up as much of Daniel's slack as he could while training to fit the physical requirements of being a member of SG-1. "You already sent in your applications. You don't have to do this."

"Are you talking to lowers again?" Oma said.

Daniel sighed and turned around. "Would it do any good to ask you to stop sneaking up on me?"

"Are you?" she pressed.

"No," he said, gesturing to Nyan, who clearly didn't hear. "See? Just...talking to myself."

Oma watched for a moment, and then nodded. "All right," she said.

"You know," Daniel said, curious, "I always thought you were sort of...omniscient. You can know everything that's happening. You can see anything. Right?"

"I can see where people are anytime I choose to see," she said. "But it doesn't mean that I know why, or that I'll be able to predict what they'll do, unless I have enough familiarity with them. I can know, but it doesn't mean I understand."

"Wow--I think I'm getting better at understanding the things you say," he said.

She raised her eyebrows. "Don't flatter yourself; it was an easy one. Besides," she added, her tone shifting subtly, just enough to catch his attention, "it's a big universe, and that's just one of the many planes. I can't be everywhere at once."

"Even you, huh," he said.

"Nor can the Others. We can't see everything at any given time."

Daniel frowned, wondering if there was some message in that. "Are you saying--"

"So?" she interrupted, glancing at the book on Kheb. "Do you understand yet why I was able to kill the Jaffa on Kheb?"

"Um..." he said.

"Keep looking," she said. "Figure that out, and you'll get a little closer to understanding the Others' rules."

...x...

"You were exiled," Daniel said when he'd finally figured it out.

"Ah-ha," Oma said.

"You weren't on Kheb because you chose it--the Others exiled you to a planet where they thought you'd find the least life to interfere with. They give you as little opportunity as possible to do anything, but then they turn away and you have practically free rein there."

They were on Oma's turf this time: her temple at Kheb. When Daniel concentrated, for the first time, he could see glimpses of light--barely visible, and gone as soon as he tried to look at them. Other Ascended beings, but not the Others of whom Oma spoke with such warning. Her students, maybe--her allies.

So did that make the Others Oma's enemies? And did that make him their enemy?

"I'd just started to understand Tau'ri politics," Daniel commented. "I didn't expect to find factions among Ascended beings. And this time, I'm not even sure who the enemies are."

"No, not enemies," Oma said, looking contemplatively into her pond. She sat, folding her legs under herself and smoothing the folds on her white robe as if searching for the best way to answer. "Neither we nor the Others are one body with one mind. No two Ascended beings are in complete agreement about what our purpose is and what our role is on the lower planes."

Still, he noticed, she said 'we' and 'the Others.' There were factions here, and while she said they weren't enemies, he had had enough experience with politics that he doubted the groups were entirely friendly, either.

Daniel sat down next to her by the water's edge, noting with interest that, in Oma's domain, he wore the simple, pure-white garb of her students--she saw him as one of hers. While part of him couldn't help feeling some apprehension, because he didn't know all that entailed, it was comforting, too, to have a patron while he was still trying to understand this new existence.

"And you disagreed with the Others on something," he said. "Yes? Some rule, or some incident."

She was filling a thin vase with water from the pond and didn't answer for several moments. Only when she had replaced a wilting willow branch in the vase and set it down did she say, "Yes, Daniel. But it is less simple than that. I do not oppose the Others' essential philosophy; it is in the details that disagreements arise."

"Same ideals but different methods?"

"In a manner of speaking," she said.

Sighing, Daniel said, "Could you be a little more vague?"

Oma turned to face him and looked positively wicked.

"No, uh, I was being sarcastic," he said quickly.

For a moment, he thought she was going to laugh in actual amusement, but she settled on a fond smile. As much as she tried his patience--and as much as he surely tried hers back--he took it as a victory that he could make her almost-laugh even while she was being particularly serene.

Not for the first time, he wondered why Oma had decided to help him to Ascension: some logic? Coincidence? A measure of affection for Daniel himself?

He opened his mouth to speak but faltered when Oma suddenly closed her eyes, grimacing as if in pain. "Um...Oma?" he said, worried, not sure whether (or how) one could be hurt while Ascended.

But she only shook her head and gave him a feeble smile without meeting his eyes. "There was a Jaffa I have been watching," she said. "Steadfast in her quest to find Kheb. And near death."

Oh, Daniel thought. "You offered to help her Ascend," he said.

"Her doubt was too strong," Oma said sadly. "Not doubt in herself, like you felt, like so many people feel; in the end, she could not believe strongly enough in this path. The greatest violence the Goa'uld do is not to the body, but to the soul."

"Was...was she--"

"No one you knew, Daniel," she said. "Just a very brave Jaffa."

He looked down at the lake in shame, because that was what he had been thinking, but it shouldn't matter at all that he hadn't known her. Oma hadn't known her, either, but felt the pain of her passing nonetheless. "You're a better person than I am, Oma," he confessed.

Oma gave him an odd look. "I wouldn't be so sure," she said. "I do what I can. So have you done."

"So...this is what you do," Daniel said. "You show people the path to Ascension. You were at Kheb--that's why the Jaffa believe they can find enlightenment there. You are the basis of the ancient Jaffa beliefs."

"Not all their beliefs," she said. "But that particular one in that particular form...yes. Their minds fill in the rest, as with any religion."

"You started to do it with me. And you prepared Shifu for it, and..." He looked around again. "There are other people here. They're all ones you've Ascended?"

"They are ones...to whom I have shown the path," she said carefully. "Ascension happens neither without consent nor without will."

"Meaning that it's supposed to be an intransitive verb, not a transitive one," Daniel said. "You didn't Ascend these people; they Ascended with your help."

She glanced at him. "I suppose you could say that. I encouraged them, nothing more."

"You're pretty defensive about it," Daniel commented, thinking that he understood now. Oma only gave him a sideways look. "That's the rule you're breaking, isn't it? You're not supposed to help people Ascend at all. You do it anyway--you go far enough for the Others to disapprove, but not far enough for them to stop you outright."

"It is considered a very important rule," she said in confirmation. "To some, it is the most important rule of all."

"Oh," Daniel said.

"Yes--'oh,'" Oma said.

"But you do it anyway," he said.

She nodded. "I have to do what I can," she repeated.

"But the Others don't like it."

"No."

"It's a stupid rule," he said.

"It's in place for a reason," she told him. "You cannot always choose which rules you do and do not follow."

He stood up. "I have to think about this," he said. "Maybe I'll understand better if I know more about the history and...and the context in which Ascended beings do or don't act."

Oma gave him a smile. "And to think I tried so hard at first to make you simply contemplate. I should have started with the room full of books."

The only thing Daniel could think in response was that Jack would have known better than to try to give him an order to shut up and expect it to be obeyed so easily. Sam would have known to start with the books--she'd known that instinctively when they'd first met. Teal'c would have known that nothing quieted Daniel better than hearing something that warranted further thinking. Oma could see his soul and still didn't know him as well as a handful of mortals did.

That wasn't fair, though. He had been thinking that SG-1 would be unreasonable in looking for his replacement, but Daniel was still looking for his friends, too, in the moments when he didn't stop the thought in time.

XXXXX

Jacob returned to Earth just after Teal'c exposed the rebel Jaffa leader, Kytano, as the minor Goa'uld Imhotep. Daniel stood in the infirmary until he could be sure that Teal'c would recover without permanent injury, then trailed behind the others into the briefing room.

"We found the remaining Tok'ra reassembling on one of our secondary bases," Jacob said. "A high-ranking operative, Malek, has taken command. Selmak left as much of his memories with me as he could--fortunately, that includes access codes and 'gate addresses."

"We're glad to hear that," General Hammond said.

Jacob dipped his head. In a tight, very controlled voice, Lantash said, "How is Martouf?"

"Not well," Sam said, equally controlled, polite, "but not in immediate danger of dying. His mind wanders when he's awake--he seems confused that he can't find you, Lantash. We've explained, but he never seems to remember...you know...what happened."

There was a brief moment, in which Jacob's eyes glowed brightly, twice, and Daniel could almost see the two of them fighting for control, even as they tried not to fight because it wasn't the way of the Tok'ra. Finally, though his hands remained fisted on the table, Jacob surfaced to say calmly, "George, we have to go back to help the Tok'ra soon--they need all the manpower they can get. But would you mind if we stayed for a day or two?"

General Hammond shook his head. "Of course not. Your old room is still empty, Lantash--you remember your way around this base?"

Lantash resurfaced. "I do, sir," he said, and, with a bow, they left the room. Sam looked at the table and sighed.

XXXXX

"I have a question," Daniel said.

"I am shocked," Oma said.

He rolled his eyes. "I was wondering about how you go about helping people Ascend."

"Really?" she said, a little suspicious. "Why?"

"Well, first of all," he said, holding up the latest book he had been reading. "Some of these pages are blank."

"Hm," she said, glancing at it. "Says a lot for you, doesn't it, when your mind conjures up blank books when it's looking for knowledge."

"Why are you more sarcastic when you come to me than you are when I go to you?" he said.

That was a mistake. He should have learned by now never to expect a straight answer from Oma, and certainly never to provoke her, even a little. When one perturbed Mother Nature, she perturbed one right back. "You see what you expect to see," she said, "and hear what you expect to hear. Are you used to arguing with someone else in this room?" She gestured around at the archaeology office that Daniel's mind had built around them.

For crying out loud, Daniel thought, and firmly did not wish Jack would walk through the door with a sarcastic comment and roll his eyes and take the book away. Clearing his throat, he said aloud, "So. About, uh...Ascending people."

"Why are you so interested in that?" she asked.

"I'm just curious," he said. "I'm not going to go Ascend large populations of people, Oma. It'd just be nice to have an idea of...well, the mechanics. How things work up here." Oma's answer was to fold her arms. "Anyway..." he continued. "Why are the pages blank? Is it a secret?"

"Should it be kept a secret from you?" she retorted.

"Oh," Daniel said, understanding now. "So...this is like the compiled knowledge of all the Others, and some of it's blank because the Others don't want me to know?"

She shrugged. "Can you blame them?"

"I wouldn't do anything," he lied.

"Liar," she said. "You would have already if you'd known how to."

Daniel sighed. "Probably," he conceded. "I have another question. The Others don't want people Ascending other--sorry, encouraging people to Ascend," he added when she looked about to correct him. "So they don't like it when you do it, but they can't stop you, right? Because you keep doing it, so they must not have the power to--"

"Oh, Daniel," Oma said, shaking her head. "You really don't understand. Do you think I'm the only Ascended who's ever wanted to help others reach this plane?"

"Um," he said. "Apparently the answer is 'no.'"

"But I'm the only one who does it, along with a very few of my disciples," she said.

"Because...everyone else is scared?" he said.

"Some, yes. Some others that I knew of are gone."

"Gone," Daniel repeated. "Like...gone? What do you mean by 'gone'?"

Oma raised her eyebrows at him. "Guess."

"Oh," he said. "Really? That's...oh."

He thought about Velona and Orlin again--Orlin, who had tried to help and whose punishment had been more people's suffering--and Oma, who had been exiled, if not for the same reason, then for similar intentions. Being scolded by General Hammond and put on probation for doing something stupid would seem like nothing compared to what Ascended beings could do to him.

"I don't think I like the Others very much," Daniel said, feeling small.

"Daniel," she said gently. "Don't think like that."

But he had never in his life--or afterlife--stopped thinking in some way just because someone told him to, so he asked, "What happens to someone who's Ascended and becomes...gone? The collective Others decide what kind of punishment fits the crime, and--"

"The punishment isn't meant to fit the crime," Oma said. "It's meant to prevent the offender from committing another crime."

Which was...a little unjust, Daniel felt, but probably practical. On the other hand... "They didn't do a very good job with you, then," he pointed out, "because...well, here I am, even though they probably wouldn't like me or my inclinations much."

"I've been warning you from the start," she said. "I do what I can because I must; I can't do more because they would stop me. We walk a fine line, Daniel. If you step wrong or too far, I'll stop you myself to spare you what the Others would do. Otherwise, they could stop my work for your missteps, and I won't allow that to happen."

"Well...okay," he said. "But why didn't you just tell me this before, about the Others and their consequences, instead of just giving me a list of rules?"

"I was foolish," she said. "For some reason, I thought there was a slight chance you would simply follow the rules like most."

Resisting the urge to roll his eyes, he said, "You really thought that would work?"

"I know blind faith isn't your way, Daniel," she said.

"It's my job to question," he said.

"It's your nature," she agreed. "I just thought you might have a little more...respect for the native culture when you first found yourself in this new environment."

"Then," Daniel said, "you were trying to trick me into obeying. Or hiding the truth from me."

She considered for a moment, then said, "I guess I was."

Irritated, he asked, "I was going to find out, anyway. Why wouldn't you have wanted me to know what the Others are really like?"

Maybe it was because he felt so tiny under the weight of the Others' eyes and their judgment at the moment, but Oma Desala suddenly seemed much taller than he. He remembered that she wasn't just the person who insisted on annoying him and whom he insisted on annoying, or the person Daniel at once admired and couldn't understand at all. She was Mother Nature, who protected innocent children and dealt swift judgment with fire and lightning, and she had saved him from death.

"You have no idea what the Others are really like," she said, her voice low.

Daniel heard the danger in her tone but barreled on nonetheless. "I know they punish people for trying to help. Did you... Is this why you were so vague in the beginning, so I wouldn't know I was committing myself to this? To being like them?"

"This is exactly why I didn't tell you, you self-righteous child," she snapped. "How dare you judge our ways and claim to be more right than the thousands and thousands of Others who have seen the things that you still refuse to open your eyes to?"

Stung, Daniel said, "I can't...I don't know what it is I'm not seeing--what I'm expected to do."

"And until you can open your mind to that, you will never reach enlightenment. Until you stop blinding yourself to all the truths that I brought you here to see, you are guilty of judging the Others before you know them fully."

He swallowed hard, wary of the storm he could almost see behind her eyes.

"I didn't tell you because I didn't want you to jump to conclusions," Oma finished coolly. "As I knew you would--as you have. The Others have achieved great things, and if they are deeds that are too big for any one galaxy to see, that makes them no less important." She turned around. "When you can see that, you can ask me your questions again."

Suddenly afraid--and suddenly aware that it was Oma's aegis that had so far been his shield--Daniel said, "Wait--"

Oma stopped before she could step out of his cramped haven.

He cleared his throat. "Uh...I..." With every second that he couldn't think of what to say, he imagined her walking out and leaving him here. "I think maybe you shouldn't have picked me," he found himself saying.

She turned back, her expression softer, but she didn't move. "I stand by my actions," she said. "I promised you a new world, and I'll see that promise fulfilled...but you need to take the first step. Start by thinking about what I've said. Then, we will speak again."

"So you're not leaving?" he blurted.

"No, Daniel," she sighed. "I'm not leaving you. But I can't lead you by the hand the whole way--frankly, I'm not sure either of us would survive the experience if I tried."

Daniel smiled feebly.

"I will not push you," she said. "It took me far longer than this to adjust to my new existence when I first Ascended, so do not imagine that I don't understand your frustration. Find me when you're ready." And then she disappeared.

...x...

"Daniel," Shifu said.

"Hm?" Daniel answered without looking up.

"You cannot stay here forever. He who refuses to look up can never see the stars."

Daniel stared harder at a page he was reading that didn't make any sense. It wasn't the only one, and he'd thought that maybe he if just read a lot of them and fit them together, something would click into place. "I need to understand," he said. "I don't...I'm missing something, and I don't know even know what."

A small hand settled on top of Daniel's. He finally stopped and looked at Shifu, standing at his side and looking up at him with that solemn expression that didn't belong on any child but this one. "You are missing something," Shifu said. "But a man cannot see the water if he fears to near the shore."

"I'm not afraid," Daniel said, but he suspected he was lying.

"Then why have you not looked?"

"I've looked!"

Shifu tilted his head. "And if you look deep enough to see everything that is open to you now," he said, "it will mean you are no longer Dan'yel of Nagada on Abydos, or Daniel Jackson of SG-1 of the SGC. It is wonderful, but difficult, as well, to be something you have never known."

Daniel stared at the book he was reading. He deliberately threw it as hard as he could, just to remind himself that it didn't matter, because it wasn't a real book. With a laugh, he said, "I can't even put aside the simple comfort of turning pages."

"There is no harm in simple comforts," Shifu told him. "But you must remember that there is more beyond them. Let me show you. In these confines is knowledge; but you must see for yourself to understand." He took a step back but, instead of leaving, stood watching and waiting patiently.

Slowly, Daniel stood. "Okay," he said. "Um."

"I once placed great trust in you, my brother," Shifu said. "Will you do the same in me?"

"Well..." Daniel said, and he found that, of everyone here, including Oma, Shifu was the familiar face he trusted the most. "Of course."

For that, Shifu smiled and took him by the hand. "Then let me show you."

Daniel grasped the little hand in his own. His haven of books, walls, and doors disappeared around them, and the abruptness surprised him so much that he immediately pulled the illusion back.

"No--open your eyes," Shifu chided. "I will be here."

So Daniel took a breath, held onto Shifu, and let go.

XXXXX

The Others didn't see in people and rooms, or in planets and galaxies. They didn't see, exactly, but rather experienced in patterns. Paths crossed and diverged, life swelled and ebbed, and they were always surrounded by something--by matter, by energy, by each other, even though he didn't know who or what everyone else around him was.

The first time Daniel thought he had completely lost himself, because there was nothing between where he ended and everything else began, Shifu dragged him back to Kheb, retaking the form in which he usually manifested. "A sun throws away a small flame and does not know," he said as Daniel set his hand on a very solid tree, watching Shifu hold out a candle, "but a man is warmed."

Daniel smiled, remembering his first trip to Kheb, and lit the candle with a thought. "There's a saying on Earth about seeing a forest or its trees," he said, playing idly with the candle's flame and feeding it until he thought he could almost feel physical heat on his skin. "It's all about scale. You can't forget the big picture for the pieces, but the pieces matter, too."

"So Oma teaches," Shifu said, nodding.

"She would," Daniel said. Beyond this was more than could be seen from where one stood on the ground, but Oma's work was for those people who would be warmed by a tiny candle's flame and could not be ignored just because they were small. He took the candle completely and pulled until it crumbled and joined the matter around them. "Can we go again?" he said, bracing himself, at once apprehensive of everything and exhilarated by it.

Shifu nodded to him and gestured away. "Go. I will follow."

XXXXX

It took time for Daniel to be able to understand how everything fit together when he immersed himself into the planes all at once, and even then, he knew he was still only barely grasping what was out there. When Shifu declared him able to continue on his own and Oma was nowhere to be found, Daniel resisted the urge to return to his library and instead dove back down into the lower plane, watching not the SGC or Abydos but rather their enemies.

Anubis was on a hatak that was advanced beyond anything even Apophis had had. Intrigued, Daniel scanned through the corridors, trying to see what was happening here. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary at first--there were Jaffa everywhere, of course, standing guard or working on something else. The flow of power through the ship led him down into the engine room. Experimentally, Daniel slipped into the crystal panels' depths so he could watch and literally feel how everything worked. Sam would have loved this.

And then, when he slipped back out, he found Anubis.

Daniel tried to get his first glimpse of the Goa'uld who had indirectly caused his death. He saw a black, cloaked figure standing in the peltak, and--

Anubis turned around and faced him.

Surprised, Daniel flinched back. A look around showed that the Jaffa didn't see anything. Reminding himself that he was incorporeal and there was no way Anubis could actually see him, he carefully walked closer and tried to see inside the cavernous hood Anubis wore over his face.

Suddenly, Anubis laughed.

Not sure what was happening, Daniel backed away and slipped out again.

...x...

"Having fun?" Oma asked when she found him following the tail of a comet, mesmerized by the second tail that streamed along beside him.

Daniel let himself mingle in the flowing sea of heat and energy and imagined he was grabbing onto the rock as it sped through space. "I feel like I'm flying," he said, fascinated.

She laughed. "What is it to fly if nothing holds you to the ground?"

He rolled his eyes obligingly, then gathered himself and reluctantly let the comet slip past him. "It's easy to get lost here," he said. "And I know, I know--he who is truly one with the world cannot be lost within it."

"You said it, not me," she told him.

With a sigh, Daniel turned back around to the SGC. No matter what he did or where he was, his gaze was always drawn back there. "Do you ever worry you'll forget?" he asked. "What if I lose sight of where I came from, now that there's so much more?"

"You have barely even stepped away from it," Oma answered. "Trust me, Daniel--forgetting where you came from is not your biggest worry. And I promise that I will not condemn you to an existence of doing nothing at all; you simply need to learn some control before we begin."

XXXXX

More than a month had passed since Daniel had not-died. Oma gave him an odd, exasperated look when he said that.

"I'm not still thinking in terms of their time," he said. "It's just...I was watching them, and I couldn't help but notice how much time has passed for them. Earth almost got hit by an asteroid, the Jaffa rebellion almost got slaughtered and then got saved by a System Lord, and my friends discovered and destroyed the origin of the Replicators."

That last one had been rather violent, actually. The girl--Reese--had had a mind and a name, and Jack had barely needed more than a single glance at a Replicator before shooting her point-blank. Daniel tried not to be disappointed in Jack, or even in Nyan for being too afraid to speak up against it.

Oma continued walking along the edge of the pond at her temple. "Time continues passing for us all," she said. "Be happy for them, that they are not crippled by your loss."

"They wouldn't've been," Daniel defended, following her. "And I am happy they're okay. Oma, about the Others, I...I think I understand. A little. I've been trying to see things like they would."

"You've been wandering around more recently," she said, nodding. "You don't confine yourself to your room of books like you used to."

"It's still overwhelming," he admitted.

"That's understandable," she assured him. "In time, it will no longer seem frightening, or even unusual, to leave what you know and to experience everything else. Instead, it will be--"

"Amazing," Daniel finished. "I've never been able to... I never would have thought it possible to see so much all at once and understand where everything fits into everything else. It's like...every path..."

He trailed off, turning his eyes away from where Oma stood guard over Kheb. As he spoke, he could feel anew the wash of elation that had struck him the first time he had dared to slip through planes and across universes, seeing everything and everyone and knowing why. There was a path for each choice, and each one led to a future that seemed just as real as the present, and Daniel wondered if they were as real but in an alternate reality or on another plane...

Oma was smiling faintly at him.

"Is that what you see all the time?" Daniel asked, pulling back into her serene garden. The notion was awesome and, if he was honest, a little frightening, too. He hadn't thought he could ever feel so apprehensive about feeling so big.

"With time, you will learn to see exactly what you seek, not everything all at once--unless that is what you want," Oma promised.

"Everything's just jumbled together," he said. "I mean, it's incredible. But I can't see everything and still understand each part of it. And if I focus enough to see each part, I lose sight of the bigger picture."

She slowed her steps. "It becomes easier, to a point," she said after a moment. "But you can never have all of it at once. We have committed ourselves to guarding all we can see. We cannot see what threatens an entire galaxy or plane of existence if we look so closely at individuals that we forget there is more."

Daniel leaned on a railing and looked into her pond. "Shifu said something like that. The Others don't even look closer anymore, do they?"

"There are...more important things to do," she said. It was an odd thing for her to say, since he knew she didn't believe it, or at least not completely.

"Have there always been Ascended beings keeping existence from falling apart?" he asked. "I mean, it was fine before they got here--surely it'd be fine without them."

"Mm," she said. "Billions, trillions, uncountable numbers of people were fine before the SGC was formed--surely, they would be fine without the efforts of the Tau'ri. And yet the Tau'ri still try to save them."

"We--the SGC has saved a lot of people who would otherwise have died," he said.

"And the Others have healed rifts in many galaxies that would otherwise have collapsed," she replied. "They have, as a collective, helped many to Ascend. They have brought learning to more cultures than you can count."

"Well, there can't be that many rifts that need mending," Daniel said.

"There can't be that many individuals whose lives need saving," Oma returned, looking amused.

Maybe he really did just need to step back and look at a bigger picture. How many SGC personnel would have gone out of their way to save an anthill, after all, when they could do bigger things through the Stargate? It was hard to fault the Others for judging humans on the lower planes to be less important when humans did the same sort of thing all the time.

And yet...

Daniel studied Oma out of the corner of his eye as she watched fish chase each other through her pond. The difference, he thought, was that they had been human once--at least, it seemed that way from Oma and Shifu, and Orlin had said something like that to Sam. Perhaps one plane wasn't any more important than the others, but it was the plane from which they had come. Didn't it matter that it was their home?

Clearly, Oma thought it did.

"I can't just not do anything for my people," Daniel said. "I understand that the Others feel they need to limit what they do, but...I don't always agree with that."

"Ah," she said. "Well, that is a different matter."

He turned and looked at her directly. "You watch our plane as much as I do," he said. "You know what's happening there these days? Why I'm worried?"

She tilted her head. "It's only natural. While I wish for you to look ahead, I would not expect you to turn away from the past entirely. You worry for your friends."

But this time, he shook his head. "It's not just that. I worry that everything they could possibly do won't be enough. There's more at stake now than just them--more than just SG-1, or the SGC, or Earth and Abydos combined."

"Yes, there is," she said, but didn't elaborate. "I'm glad that you can see that."

Daniel sighed and looked at his feet for a long moment. "There's something else," he said finally. "I can tell that Anubis--that's the Goa'uld who--"

"I know who Anubis is."

"Well, he's different. Not right somehow."

Not looking surprised, she asked, "Do you know what it is that feels wrong to you?"

"I don't know," he said. "Something. It's not just that he's a Goa'uld and apparently stronger and smarter than the other System Lords. Something else."

"What?"

"I don't know," he repeated. "Actually, part of it is that I can't...see him like everyone else on the lower planes. It's like something's blocking him from me. I can't figure out what it is."

"You will," she said.

He felt the corner of his lips lift against his will. "Suddenly you have faith in me?"

Oma didn't smile back. "You will learn the truth," she repeated. "I won't be able to stop you."

Daniel watched her thoughtfully. "Is he more powerful than the Others? Is that it?"

"What is power?" she said. She pushed away from the railing. "I will not play a guessing game with you. You'll discover the answer in time. For now, you are to learn and to observe. When you have learned enough, you will find ways to help as you have always wanted to."

"There has to be something I can do now," Daniel said. "You do things."

Oma was watching her temple, where those vague glimpses of light showed that her other disciples were around here somewhere. "Be very careful," she finally said.

He perked up. "Are you giving me permission to--"

"I am reminding you," she said, "that you are not the only one who has ever tried to walk a path like this, and that there is a reason so few dare to try. You're smart, Daniel--find a way to act within the rules, and do nothing that would draw the Others' anger."

"Okay," he said. "I can do that."

"And remember," she said, facing him again, "that anything you do may be meddling in the lives of lowers. You know the dangers of thinking that you have the right to decide the fates of others simply because you can."

"I wouldn't," he said.

"You would if you thought it was right thing to do," she corrected. "And so you must step carefully and watch your own actions more closely than any other."

XXXXX

SG-1 met Jonas Quinn on Kelowna two months after Daniel's not-death. Jonas's enthusiasm was infectious, at least to Nyan--Daniel certainly didn't know many others who could stay that excited about meeting new people even while their own planet was fearing civil war. There was no such thing as too much caution when one's government was building a nuclear weapon.

"No, no," Jonas said dismissively when Sam suggested their nuclear bomb might not be very safe. "Thank you for your concern, but I'm sure you are being overcautious."

"Yeah, well, so were people on Earth," Jack said, "up until they started blowing people up with bombs. And we didn't even have this...naquadria stuff."

"It's for our own defense," Jonas said earnestly. He really believed it, Daniel could tell, and the worst part was that the Kelownan government seemed to believe it, too.

"It always is at first," Jack said, but he didn't look like he particularly cared.

Sometimes, especially when he was very tired and frustrated, Jack thought that if people were stupid enough to do stupid things, then that wasn't his problem. And then someone would remind him about the innocents who didn't have a choice in the stupidity, and then he'd yell at the people in charge, which usually didn't help. That was why he wasn't the only one on the team, though, and certainly not the one in charge of diplomacy.

Daniel waited for Nyan to speak up and tell Jack that. It seemed the rest of the team was waiting, too, because they didn't speak and glanced at him. Nyan didn't notice, though, and continued poring over the historical texts that Kelownan scholars had found.

It was a little painful to see Sam's face twist with annoyance at his silence before she turned away and said, "Sir, maybe Nyan and I could look at the work they've done here since the Stargate was discovered?"

"Yeah, all right," Jack said. "For what little it's worth if they won't listen."

Jonas seemed like a good person, though. Daniel thought he'd do the right thing, so he reluctantly withdrew.

...x...

It didn't take long for him to come back. Just to see, he told himself, not to interfere.

As it turned out, Jonas really thought they needed to build that weapon and didn't believe SG-1 when they told him it would end badly. To be fair, SG-1 couldn't know for certain just how badly it could go.

But Daniel knew, because years ago, when he'd been one of the junior personnel and had mostly gotten attached to Ferretti's team or a research team when safe missions came up, he had found writing about the late Goa'uld Thanos. The Kelownans knew almost nothing of the Goa'uld who had ruled them thousands of years ago; they didn't know they were about to repeat the mistakes that had killed not only most of the people on the planet at the time, but also Thanos himself. From the way Sam, Jack, and Teal'c frowned at the work, they probably suspected something would go wrong.

Not Jonas, though. The man was formal enough when talking to SG-1, as befitted someone tasked with escorting and liaising with foreigners. But he was young for someone holding a prestigious position in his government, and Nyan could relate to that from his experience in the Bedrosian Academy, so the two of them spent much of their time together on Kelowna, one's excitement fueling the other's.

"You get to do this all the time," Jonas said wistfully while Sam was looking at whatever part of Kelownan technology they let her see and Jack and Teal'c reluctantly followed her around. "I wish I could do that. I know my work here is important, but knowing how much more is out there..." He shook his head.

Nyan was quiet for a while and continued scanning over an old text Jonas was showing him. "I don't usually do this," he finally said.

Jonas grinned, the warm, friendly smile he so often wore. "Oh--are you new?"

"In a manner of speaking," Nyan said quietly, but he didn't go on. Jonas proved to be perceptive enough not to press him for more. "Anyway, I'm not very good at it."

"Of course you are," Jonas said encouragingly, but Daniel had been watching and knew what Nyan meant.

Nyan was competent, smart, and braver than he admitted, but his heart wasn't in it. He had other ambitions and didn't particularly want to be on the front lines, and one didn't join SG-1 if it wasn't what one lived for. SG-1 and its missions could become almost an obsession, but it had to be, because they couldn't afford to doubt or to hesitate--if SG-1 wasn't all they had, it meant they had other conflicting interests that could get in the way. Even Sam and Jack, who lived off-base on Earth, had little difficulties justifying their secrets to others because there weren't many others to hide their secrets from. It was how they worked best, and Nyan didn't fit that, no matter how much he tried to do his duty or carry on a friend's work.

"I'm not made for adventures," Nyan confided in his new friend, glancing over his shoulder, "and the others would agree. I think they would rather have their team without me."

"Oh." Jonas was quiet for a while. Then, he said, "Well, I still think it would be fun."

"It would be better than what you're doing now."

Jonas made a face. "You, too? All of you oppose our weapons research?"

Nyan turned to face him completely. "Do you really think a big enough weapon will do anything except kill a lot of people?"

Uneasiness passed across Jonas expression, but he said, "It's not about killing them; it's about preventing them from killing us. You don't understand what it's been like--"

"No?" Nyan interrupted. "My people were at war, too, since before I was born; I know what it is to live with that kind of fear. But think about what you're building and...and about what the only thing you can do with it is. A bomb can never be a shield."

"But the possibility of a bomb can be a shield," Jonas answered, clearly knowing this script well.

"If you believe that three governments looking for a war could have a naquadria bomb without using it, then you will be very disappointed," Nyan said, his voice holding an edge that rarely appeared in him. "I learned the hard way about world wars."

Jonas took a breath as if to answer, then fell silent. "We are only testing the technology now," he finally said. "In its final stages, we will be able to control every aspect of it."

Nyan sighed and went back to reading.

...x...

Nothing was ever certain about any future. From Daniel's vantage point, it was becoming increasingly easy to see the paths available at every juncture, to predict a future based on present factors the way one of Sam's computer models could predict an outcome with a certain degree of error. The problem was that, when there were factors Daniel couldn't know, the error margin became quite large. He could predict what SG-1 and even Nyan would most likely do in response to most things, because he knew them. Jonas, though, and the Kelownans... They were unknown variables.

While Jonas explained to Nyan how the Stargate had been discovered recently, Daniel bent over the text they had just been reading together, scanning through it to find...

There. That would catch Nyan's attention. Daniel found a pen on the table and, while the other two were still turned away, pushed it very slightly so that it left a faint line of ink over the word 'god'.

Finally, Nyan started to pick up his pen, then stopped, still looking at the text thoughtfully. "Jonas," he said, "Colonel O'Neill spoke to you about the Goa'uld, right?"

"Yes," Jonas said. "I'm starting to think that the god mentioned in these texts might have been one of them."

"Do you know his name?" Nyan asked.

"Thanos," Jonas said. "It's mentioned...just here."

"Think, Nyan," Daniel urged silently as his friend perused the text again, brow furrowed. "You've studied all the Goa'uld we know. You must recognize the name."

"Is something wrong?" Jonas asked.

Nyan chewed on his lower lip, and then--"I think we've heard of Thanos before."

Jonas perked up. "Really? Who was he?"

"We've only found brief mentions of him," Nyan said, thinking hard, "and even those were found before my time. I'm sure I could find the references, though. In fact, I can just call base tonight and ask Dan--"

He stopped, looking surprised at his slip. Daniel winced, well aware of how those moments could sneak up on a person when he wasn't thinking.

"Dan?" Jonas asked.

"Uh...n-never mind," Nyan stuttered. "Um. It should be in our records. From what I remember reading, Thanos tried to create something that apparently didn't end...very well..." He paused, looking alarmed, then stood up. "I'll find out what we have in our records."

Jonas was frowning in confusion, but then offered another small smile. "All right. Thank you."

...x...

Nyan called the SGC to ask about Thanos. They were still only partway done sorting through the mess of notes Daniel had left behind, but any mention of any Goa'uld was, according to protocol, noted in a central database. Daniel winced as he watched Cameron Balinsky sift through it for Nyan; there was only a single sentence in their records.

"Not very informative, I guess," Daniel said aloud while Cameron answered Nyan's question across the wormhole and promised to look again for the full report.

"Too bad Daniel wasn't more thorough," Cameron said into the control room microphone. "I'll keep looking, but I'll bet the original writing was shipped to some Area 51 archive."

"That's okay," Nyan answered from the other side. "Thanks, Cameron."

...x...

"I think Thanos did something terrible," Nyan told Jonas and the rest of SG-1 at once. "He...well, we don't know exactly, but the guess was that he was conducting an experiment on a form of altered naquadah and many people died."

He paused as the others seemed to think that over. "But we are not certain that the incidents are related," Teal'c said when no one else seemed to want to.

"You mean the naquadah experiments and the people dying?" Nyan said. "Well, no, but it's a little bit suspicious."

"You don't think... " Jonas said. "But our research couldn't possibly--"

"Your records show an explosion thousands of years ago," Nyan reminded him. "Many people died, around the time Thanos disappeared from your history. That can't be a coincidence."

"You're saying it's the same as what we're doing now?" Jonas said.

"It's certainly a good enough reason to slow down and take a second look at it," Sam said.

"You know," Jack added, "since you're the guy in charge of bomb-building ethics and all."

"I can speak to my superiors," Jonas said, "but there is little I can do without proof."

"If we're right, then this might only be a 'test,' but it could eventually endanger many, many more," Nyan insisted. "At least try to convince them to act with caution."

"I'll tell them about this," Jonas promised. "I can't promise anything."

"Jonas, can you give me the naquadria data you already have?" Sam said. "I'll review it on the SGC computers and see if we can help with improving safety protocols, if your government still wants to go on with it."

"Um...I really shouldn't--" Jonas started.

"People could die," Jack said, stabbing a finger into Jonas's sternum to cut off his words. "Maybe we can help you, but you have to get that test stopped or you'll be one of the ones responsible."

"Your own historical records support our suspicions," Nyan pointed out. "They may not be proof, but surely you can see they merit more study."

Jonas still seemed hesitant, but he nodded. "I'll speak with the ministers."

...x...

Governments in wartime were fascinating. Robert Rothman had made Daniel write a report on the subject once. The assignment had been meant mostly as an exercise in research and writing reports, but Daniel had found it very relevant to their work.

Jonas Quinn had to know all of that; he treated SG-1 with respect, but with just enough hesitation that he clearly felt as strongly about his nation's wartime secrecy as the rest of his government. For some reason, though, he seemed to be under the impression that things like reason and evidence would sway ministers' opinions at a time like this.

In fact, Jonas seemed surprised when he held up the SGC's notes and stood with his mouth half-open as First Minister Velis berated him for giving scientific data to outsiders like Sam.

"This borders on treason," Velis said.

"We cannot trust them," Commander Hale warned.

"But...there is evidence," Jonas insisted, shaking Daniel's reports at them even though they weren't hard evidence of anything but speculation. "I reviewed our own records, too, Minister, and I think they might be correct, after all. Besides, it does us no harm to investigate more carefully if this kind of destruction is truly a possibility. Why would they lie to us?"

"For our naquadria," Ambassador Dreylock suggested. "They have shown great interest in it. And do you not find it suspicious that they bring this...'evidence' to you just after they learned of our testing? Or that Major Carter's first thought was to ask for more data on our technology?"

"I didn't give them everything," Jonas said. "Only enough to make them see the value of naquadria--it could make them more willing to trade with us. Ambassador, you've seen their technology--it's far beyond ours. Major Carter can use that knowledge to help our people. If this test fails like they think it will, millions of our people could be hurt."

Despite agreeing, Daniel marveled that Jonas Quinn had even that much confidence in people who walked through wormholes and appeared in his country, and who were themselves a bit wary of full disclosure. Jack's first question in the same situation--maybe even Daniel's--would have been whether or not it was possible that the newcomers were allies or acquaintances of Kelowna's enemies.

For a moment, Daniel wondered if he had picked the right person. Jonas's eagerness, his loyalty to his nation, his desire to prove himself... They weren't necessarily flaws, but they could be exploited. Jonas might be lost to his government's paranoia, and then what Daniel had been hoping would happen would collapse.

"Millions?" Hale said. "This is only a small-scale test. Even if it were to go wrong, the destruction will be nowhere near that. Clearly, the SGC is misleading you."

Jonas' held up a book in his hands. "No, no--it's not only the immediate effects. This is information compiled by Earth's scientists on what would happen in the aftermath of a nuclear explosion, especially if their calculations are correct. Commander, I think there's enough data to warrant further investigation."

"You are one of our brightest, Jonas," Velis said. "Do you know for certain that what they say is true?"

Jonas hesitated. "Well...no," he said. "We have not seen these kinds of effects before, but they are within the realm of possibility. I do not believe the blast could be nearly as powerful as they suggest, but, if they are right--"

"No," Velis said decisively. "Thank you for bringing this information to our attention, but this test is too important--and the need too urgent--for a few foreigners' unfounded fears to interrupt."

"Sir," Jonas said carefully, "I've examined their data. They could be correct. With so many lives at stake, perhaps it...it would be wise--"

"Our country's freedom is at stake," Vale interrupted again. "We will proceed as planned, and we'll inform the guards that the SGC is no longer welcome here, if this is what they offer us."

"Oh--no," Jonas said. "Minister, don't you see how much the SGC can do for us? It's not only for the naquadria test--they can tell us how to use the Stargate. It's...it's limitless potential--"

"Was our position unclear to you, Jonas?" Velis interrupted.

Jonas ducked his head and frowned at the floor. "No. I understand," he said, bowing slightly. "Minister, please, just give me a few days first--let me speak with them again. Maybe I can learn more about them and their technology--if nothing else, I can learn whether they are lying and try to find more evidence of what they suspect."

They exchanged glances. Daniel wondered whether Jonas could tell how suspicious they were--or, if he could, whether he knew that suspicion was now aimed at him. In trying to remain neutral between Kelowna and the SGC, he had managed to make both sides question him.

"You have our permission, then," Velis finally said, his tone deceptively mild. Jonas brightened. "Go. We will give you and the SGC one more week."

"Thank you," Jonas said, and left.

Velis waited for the door to close behind Jonas, then turned to Commander Hale. "He will be watched," Hale assured him. "We should move the project somewhere else, where he cannot tamper with it."

"Do you really think Jonas Quinn would--" Dreylock started.

"We cannot be certain, now that he is conspiring with the outsiders," Hale interrupted. "Better to make sure he cannot interfere."

Daniel lingered nearby to listen to them talk and scheme and wished very, very hard he could do something more useful. He sighed and carefully resolved to stay away from any more nudging.

His resolve didn't last long.

...x...

Whispers of suspicion followed Jonas around in the days after that. Daniel watched him talk to SG-1, apparently oblivious to the shifting political winds around him. Maybe it was because he was preoccupied in comparing notes on science with Sam and Nyan that he didn't have time to check on the bomb project in person. He didn't even seem to notice when the testing site was discreetly moved to another building and his access revoked.

"It'll be too late by the time you notice," Daniel said, tempted to say something audible when he followed Jonas to his home one evening.

Jonas sat down on his bed, opened a book on nuclear winter that Nyan had found for him, and began to read.

"It's true, you know," Daniel said. "Everything SG-1 has been saying...they mean well. I know Jack's not very nice sometimes, but you could do a lot worse than--"

"Hello?" Jonas said, looking around.

Daniel froze and held his breath. He looked nervously over his shoulder and was a little relieved not to see Oma there with a disapproving look on her face. Oops.

Shaking his head at himself, Jonas put the book down, picked up a stack of papers, and began to write. Daniel waited a few more minutes, until he was certain no one was coming to yell at him, then moved around to see what the man was writing.

Jonas had sketched a picture of the Stargate, with notes all over the page about things SG-1 had mentioned. On one of the other sheets, there was another picture of the 'gate, this one with the kawhoosh depicted in the middle. There was another sheet with equations, some of which Daniel vaguely remembered from the packet of information Sam gave to all new SGC physicists. Jonas had scribbled questions all around those, too, about why this was necessarily equivalent to that, or why this set of equations implied the next step...

"It really is that incredible," Daniel said, watching him eagerly compile all the information he'd learned. When Jonas paused for a moment to stare into space, Daniel looked around, took a breath, and said, "Really, you can trust them. SG-1's not the people you should be worried about right now. They can help you."

A touch of remorse followed when Jonas stopped again to frown at the door, as if a bit of suspicion had snuck in and he wasn't sure where to direct it.

Daniel backed away. He wasn't supposed to be talking to people who were still alive, even subliminally. Even as he backed all the way out of the room, though, he found he wasn't as sorry as he probably should have been; he was doing the right thing, after all. Jonas was still trying to do the right thing, and relations between him and the SGC could be a huge benefit to both planets--not to mention the lives that might be spared if the Kelownan government could be made to open its eyes. There was nothing wrong with nudging that along a little.

He just had to make sure Oma didn't find out.

...x...

Some time later, perhaps a week--it was getting harder for Daniel to keep track these days--Dr. Balinsky called Kelowna to say that they'd had the original reference about Thanos shipped over from Nellis. "Do you want to come to Earth and see for yourself?" Nyan said eagerly to Jonas.

"Can I?" Jonas answered.

"No," Jack said.

"But, Colonel--" Nyan started.

"No, Nyan!" Jack snapped. Nyan shut up and looked at the floor. Sam cleared her throat and looked hard at a blueprint. Teal'c looked at Jack. Jonas looked like he was considering leaving the angry people alone. Jack sighed. "Not," he amended grudgingly, "until the general gives us permission."

Nyan, a little more subdued and still quite wary around Jack, called General Hammond to say that Jonas might be more convinced of the dangers of the naquadria bomb project if he saw more evidence. At least, it might convince him of the benefits of listening to SGC advice when he saw how much more technologically advanced Earth was. Besides, he was wanted to know about that thing with Thanos out of purely academic curiosity, too, and since it was against policy to take a report out of base and bring it into a very fragile political situation, they could just bring Jonas to it, couldn't they?

Jonas wouldn't try to sabotage them or anything, Nyan insisted, really, General, he wouldn't.

Jack told the general privately that he didn't have a lot of confidence in Nyan's judgment of character just yet, but regardless of his intentions, the rest of them had judged Jonas to be a low-level threat. He was an academic, not a trained fighter, and SG-1 would accompany him everywhere, not to mention that SFs would be watching him.

"You don't have to worry," Daniel said from where he was perched on the arm of Jack's chair in the general's office, knowing they wouldn't hear. "He has good intentions."

"You're sure about this," General Hammond said.

"Yes, sir," Jack said. "We can keep an eye on him."

In fact, they kept such a close eye on him that Jonas seemed rather nervous. Jack wasn't exactly trying to be subtle about standing guard.

"This says 'naquadria,'" Jonas said as he read Daniel's old report. "Yes, this is the same word, but the person who translated this must not have known it."

"I did note that it was different from the word for 'naquadah,'" Daniel said defensively.

"Then you must see the connection," Sam said. "Mentions of Thanos in two places, the same mineral, experiments resulting in massive destruction..."

"These equations are wrong, though," Jonas said.

Daniel sighed. "That was the best I could do at the time with the text I found," he said. "I never claimed to be good at math."

"The person who translated this had probably just finished learning algebra," Sam said, looking on with Jonas. "Nothing nearly as complex as your experiments. Besides, if this was a slave's interpretation of Thanos's work, it could easily be less accurate than your calculations."

"All right," Jack said irritably. "Someone get to the point."

"Sir," Sam said, "this is just more support for our theory that the Kelownans' naquadria research could have the same results as Thanos's research."

"Which would be...boom," Jack summarized. Jonas winced.

"Yes, sir," Sam said.

"But it's still not solid proof," Jonas said. "There are no details here, and even the type of naquadah used on this other planet could have been different from naquadria."

Jack raised his eyebrows, looking like he was rapidly losing what little patience he'd had to begin with. "How solid do you need your evidence to be?"

This time, Jonas looked uncharacteristically grim. "You must understand, Colonel O'Neill," he said. "My government will accept nothing less than proof that is impossible to refute. They might even claim that this document was forged."

"Of course," Jack muttered.

Looking a bit reluctant--and more than a bit nervous--Jonas said, "But I...believe that I can trust you and your people."

Nyan perked up. Jack exchanged a glance with Teal'c and Sam, then said, "Okay...and?"

"I was hoping you could help me," Jonas said, reaching into a pocket on his uniform. He froze as SG-1 all took a step back and the SFs at the door raised their weapons. "It is only data," he said, slowly pulling out the Kelownan version of a disk and holding it out to Sam. "If you can read it with your..." He glanced at Daniel's old desk.

"Computers," Teal'c filled in.

"If you can read it with your computers, maybe you could learn enough about naquadria to better predict the consequences of the test, or suggest a better protocol," Jonas finished. "Please."

Sam accepted it, frowning. "I thought you already gave me your people's data."

"Very little of it," Jonas admitted. When Sam looked resigned rather than surprised, he said, "I wasn't supposed to. My people need to build that weapon, and I knew you would only..." He stopped. "But I have been reviewing what you told me, and my government does not think my conclusions are enough to allow further study before the test."

"Oy," Jack sighed. "I take it you've tried talking to the brass."

Jonas opened his mouth, then closed it, looking confused.

"Your superiors," Teal'c explained.

"Oh," Jonas said. "Yes, I have. And...and they believe they are being subtle, but I found out that I am being watched." Daniel straightened, revising his opinion of the man. Not completely naïve or unobservant, then; just a little too hopeful. "They suspect me of...of conspiracy with you, perhaps. I don't know, precisely. But if I have something to show our scientists, they, at least, can stop this testing and give us time to learn more."

With a glance at Jack, Sam said, "I can try, but I don't know if it'll help. If you had enough data to model exactly what the bomb would do, then, well, we wouldn't need to have this conversation now."

"Your knowledge of this science is far more advanced than ours," Jonas said. "That is one of the reasons I truly believe our peoples can benefit from each other--we have a resource you do not, and you have so much you could teach us, especially now that we are facing an attack from hostile nations. I just need a way to prove to my government that you mean well."

Jack stared at him. "We can't intervene in your politics," he said.

"But I can," Jonas said. "All I ask is technical advice."

"There is more that endangers your people than simply technical matters," Teal'c said. "Once you have built a bomb, there will be nothing to stop your people from using it."

"There might be, if I can give them a reason to slow down," Jonas replied.

"It won't be easy, even if you think it will be," Nyan said. "Sometimes, even irrefutable evidence isn't enough for a government ready for war. If you oppose them alone, you're giving them someone to blame."

Jonas didn't answer. His expression was troubled, though, either because of Nyan's persuasion or Daniel's suggestions or simply his own morals.

"What's it gonna be?" Jack said, challenging. "Save your own skin, or try to help hundreds of people on your planet, like you claim you want to do? Your government looks ready to turn on you--you wanna trust them or trust facts?"

"All right," Jonas finally said. "Please help me, and I will see what I can do when I return."

Kelowna wasn't more important than Earth or any of millions of other planets. Daniel knew that, and he couldn't even claim to have a stake in it for his friends, because his friends were on Earth and safe from the naquadria project. But saving Kelowna would mean something, too--maybe it wasn't part of the bigger picture, but it was hundreds of thousands of lives, and that still meant something. And it would mean there was something Daniel could do as an Ascended being--that he hadn't Ascended and left his friends behind for nothing.

While Jonas and Sam sat down around a computer, Daniel slipped away from the SGC and into Kelowna.

...x...

As soon as he arrived, Daniel knew he was too late.

The test had already begun, ahead of schedule, miles away, in an effort to distance it from the suspicions Jonas had raised. The device was overloading, and the results would be devastating. He could see it, could see the heat and everything wrong building up, and he knew that, if it exploded right here, the entire facility was going to be destroyed and a whole country or more could be poisoned. More than that, there were deep veins of naquadah beneath the planet's surface, and the damage could be hundreds of times worse than anyone had predicted.

The particles being emitted now were of a type that Daniel didn't think even Sam would know much about--they were high enough in energy to begin converting the planet's naquadah to naquadria. If the reactor overloaded, the blast might be enough to detonate the already-formed naquadria, which would only speed the conversion reaction even more, and eventually--sooner than later--there would be nothing to stop the heat and pressure of the planet's core from detonating the naquadria veins. Nothing on the planet would survive that.

Scientists were lying on the ground, stunned or worse. The ones who could still move were reaching for the device.

Daniel followed their movements and the energy radiating from the device and found himself staring at the main power source. Someone had to remove the core before everything was lost, but they couldn't--they were too weak, they were dying...

He closed his eyes, then turned toward the scientist who was closest to the device--a Dr. Philon Silas, one of the head scientists Daniel had seen working on this project. "Get up," he ordered loudly. The man's eyes fluttered open. "Get up!"

He wasn't going to make it. Daniel watched him struggle toward the bomb and knew it wouldn't be enough. Another shockwave rippled through the room. The radiation penetrating the inadequately shielded walls of the building was already affecting others in the vicinity, even if they didn't know it yet. If nothing was done now, the entire planet was doomed.

Making the decision, Daniel bent down to the weakening scientist, grabbed his arm to force him to his feet, and--

Something ripped Daniel away from the scientist he had been helping toward death and spun him around. Oma Desala's furious face was the last thing he saw before the device overloaded and Kelowna disappeared around him.

XXXXX

Kheb was dark this time.

It was the same temple, the same garden, the same pond, but the sky was black with storm clouds. Lightning crackled just outside the walls, and, even while immaterial, Daniel had to resist the urge to clamp his hands over his ears at the roll of thunder that followed on its heels. Even if the lightning couldn't do anything to him, Oma could.

"How could you be so foolish?" Oma roared, like the sound of wind pounding against rocks.

Daniel stared at her, frozen, scared of her for the first time. Lightning flashed again, closer than before, and this time he flinched. "I-I couldn't just--" he started, his voice almost drowned out by the storm of Oma's anger.

Without warning, the storm quieted, until it was completely silent. There was no sound of birds, though, or even of gentle splashing in the pond. The wind was still, but the sky remained black.

"You couldn't," Oma repeated, a whisper, but piercing in the silence. "You simply could not leave things as they were."

"But..." Daniel said. Despair washed over him as he wondered how many people were dead already, and whether all the rest were doomed to death soon, too. "Oma...an entire world--"

"An entire world, Daniel," she said, and even though she hadn't moved, Daniel found himself taking a step back. "You wanted to take the fate of an entire world into your own hands!"

He swallowed, then said defensively, "So what if I did?"

Oma still didn't move, but her gaze sharpened. "What did you just say?" she asked softly.

"They were going to kill everyone in that country--on that whole planet--out of ignorance!" Daniel snapped. "Why did you stop me? Do you realize how many--"

"Why Jonas Quinn?" she said. "You chose to save him."

She didn't sound mad anymore. Daniel knew she still was, though, and didn't know what to make of this sudden calm. The calm in the eye of the storm, he thought, and remembered the last time he had seen Oma Desala as Mother Nature in full fury.

"No, I didn't," Daniel protested. "It wasn't about him. I was trying to keep his world safe, and he...he was--"

Now, she took a step toward him. "You used Nyan to speak to Jonas Quinn, you planted ideas in his mind, and so he was on Earth during the test instead of observing as he should have been. He would have died, but perhaps he would have been able to stop the massive destruction."

So there had been destruction. Daniel glanced back, but she was holding him here on Kheb and not letting him out of her grasp, even just to look. "And perhaps he wouldn't have changed a thing," he said. "I wasn't trying explicitly to do anything to Jonas--"

"But you did!" she yelled, silencing him. "Your actions have consequences, Daniel Jackson! You didn't mean to make the Kelownans accelerate their plans, but you did. You didn't mean to save one man from certain death, but you did. You chanced an entire world on a hope you didn't have to right to impose on them, and you didn't even realize it--you still don't!"

"Why are you allowed to help people one at a time, and I'm not?" he burst out. "You slaughtered an army to save the lives of six people on Kheb. Why couldn't I pick Jonas to help them if you could pick me to...to...whatever it is you want me to do? I thought they would listen to him. I thought that would be enough to stop the testing. I was just--"

"--using him," Oma said. "For your own ends."

"For good," he said.

"Who are you to decide that?" she said.

"They would have lived, all of them, if you'd let me finish," he said. "How can that be bad?"

"You manipulated events in an attempt to save the lives of people willing to ignore reason to pursue world-wide violence," Oma said dangerously. "You would have allowed a weapons testing facility full of people be exposed to a form of radiation that, among other things, would increase their state of paranoia, and then you would have made them live."

"How can you decide they're not worth saving?" Daniel retorted. "Being wrong doesn't mean they deserve to die. I didn't do anything I couldn't have done in life--even the information they used was something I discovered years ago, not something I learned after Ascending. It was barely anything, Oma. They might have even done it without me."

"But stopping the bomb was more than that. You, not they, would have done it."

Bitterly angry, he said, "Except you stopped me."

"And that," she said icily, "may be only reason the Others have not punished us both already."

"For that?"

"And you thought Jonas Quinn was naive," Oma said, no trace of kindness or compassion now. "If they had seen, they would have stopped you. Worse, they would have punished Kelowna."

"Wh...what?" Daniel said.

"What if you knew that circumventing the rules would end worse for the people you were trying to help?" she said. "What better deterrent could there be?"

The implication rendered Daniel speechless for a moment. When he regained his voice, he said, "But...how can it be wrong, what I did? I miscalculated at first, but I would have fixed it."

She didn't answer. In spite of the clouds still covering the sun, Daniel could see her clearly, her figure shining--burning angrily--as she stared at him without moving. "Time has passed for them," she finally said. "Look down."

He looked down.

Abnormal MALP readings had stopped Jonas from returning to Kelowna, just in time for SG-1 to grab radiation suits first before they barreled through the wormhole. The city where they had carried out the test was in pieces, and only the Kelownans' paranoia about Jonas's allegiances had ensured that it hadn't been the capital city; it was a smaller town with fewer people, far enough that the Stargate hadn't been caught in the blast. Radiation poisoning had affected many more than that city, though, and the consequences were spreading.

The earthquakes were starting. No one knew exactly why or how--even Sam seemed shocked at just how great the damage was--but it didn't matter; the planet was falling apart. None of the Kelownans was denying it now, not even the government officials who had been far enough from the testing site to survive the first blast.

The Tiranians and the Andari were, of all things, celebrating what they considered a step forward in the cold war with the Kelownans...at least, they had been, until SG-1 found a way to contact them and tell them that the naquadria below the surface of the planet was rapidly becoming unstable.

"You have to evacuate," Sam was saying from what sounded like a long way away. "We can offer our assistance in finding a suitable planet whose current inhabitants are willing to help you, but you've gotta start moving now before it's too late!"

Daniel tried to lean in closer to hear the rest- -

"What is it you think the Kelownans will do now?" Oma said, dragging his eye away before he could see what happened next. "Or even the Tiranians or Andari?"

"Learn from the mistake," he said. "Make things better."

Oma smiled, but there was no amusement in it. Stepping aside, she gestured toward the doorway to her temple and said, "Think on it for a while."

Daniel didn't follow her. "Think on it," he repeated. "That's all you have to say? Millions of people there are either dead or dying and millions more are in grave danger, and you want me to meditate?"

He turned, ready to leave and watch the relocation effort, even if he didn't dare to lend a hand again, but he found himself trapped, unable to move, as if he were truly human again and bound to the land on Kheb. "Yes," Oma said calmly as Daniel struggled futilely against her. "Think. And then I will allow you to watch. Perhaps then you will see just what your actions have taught them."

XXXXX

By the time Oma let him leave, the surviving people of Jonas's planet had been transported to Madrona.

"They've got that Touchstone," Jack said irritably. "If the Kelownans start up a stink, the Madronans can make it rain on them."

"Sir," Sam chastised, but halfheartedly, "the idea is that the Kelownans--and their rivals--are starting from scratch, and good rainfall and weather conditions will be vital for initial survival."

"Still," Jack said. "I'd make it rain on them. Maybe a little hail."

Sam looked like she wanted to take the high moral ground, but admitted, "I might, too."

The relocation had barely ended when Jonas tumbled back into the SGC, looking like he hadn't slept in a week as he said, "Please. Can I stay here?"

It only took a quick call to Madrona to figure out what had happened.

"You have accepted a thief and a traitor," Velis radioed across the wormhole. "A murderer."

Jonas closed his eyes where he sat inside the SGC control room, and even Jack looked like he felt a little bad. "Mr. Quinn came to us for help to stop you from killing your own people," General Hammond said. "If you had listened to him or to us in the first place, a lot of tragedy could have been avoided."

"It is interesting that you claim that this happened," Velis said, "only after Jonas gave you the plans for our device and then sabotaged our project before reporting to your facility. We saw your personnel taking naquadria from our planet in the days before it was finally destroyed."

"Oh, right," Jack said, "sorry for picking up a few rocks on the way back from saving your asses."

"I didn't sabotage anything," Jonas said, sounding thoroughly betrayed.

"Dr. Leed told us everything," Velis snapped.

"Tomis Leed?" Jonas echoed. "What does he have to do with anything?"

"He saw you tamper with the device. You ran just as we were about to initiate the test--you knew full well what the consequences of your betrayal would be: a city of people killed, hundreds ill, millions ripped from their homes..."

"He is lying!" Jonas protested. "I didn't even know the testing date had been changed. I showed you the data and told you what was going to happen, but that wasn't because of anything I did to the device. How could you think I--"

"They don't think that, Mr. Quinn," General Hammond said, his tone hard. "They know the truth as well as we do, but they've made up their minds. It's easier to blame you than themselves."

Daniel stood in his corner and felt like a disobedient child all over again.

Once the wormhole had closed, Jack said, "Hey, so, uh..." He cleared his throat. "Sorry, Jonas."

"It's not your culpability, Colonel," Jonas said numbly.

"Fault," Jack corrected.

Jonas finally looked away from the Stargate and blinked up at Jack. "What?"

"Ah...never mind," Jack said awkwardly. "We'll work on it."

"Sir," Sam said, looking at the general, "we will be granting Jonas asylum here, won't we?"

"Of course," the general said. "You're welcome here, son. Colonel, if you and your team could help Mr. Quinn get settled?"

"There's an empty office you could probably use," Nyan told Jonas.

Jack's sympathetic expression dropped rigidly away.

"Um," Nyan said, a bit nervously, but when no one told him to stop, he went on, "The reports on Thanos would be there, too, and lots of other materials. Mostly social science things, if you're interested. I just thought...I know you like to study, and that might be a good place to start. It's right down the hall from the base library, too, and next to my office."

"All right, fine," Jack said briskly. "We'll find somewhere for you. Carter, go make sure all radiation checks are done, and get whatever naquadria we picked up into a shielded lab."

"Wait," Jonas said before he could be led away. "General Hammond?"

"What is it?" the general said.

"If I am to stay here, then let me help," Jonas said, just a step away from pleading. "I'm smart, I'm strong...I can help."

Daniel knew that feeling.

Perhaps SG-1 was also remembering those times years ago when Daniel had begged for the same--to help, because he was very capable and he couldn't go home--because Sam swallowed hard before she said, "We'll see, Jonas. Come on, this way."

"I will show you to your quarters," Teal'c said, and led the way out.

XXXXX

He could feel Oma Desala watching him over the next weeks. It would be a long time before she stopped watching him so carefully again, now that he had shown what he would do as soon as she turned her back. It didn't matter, though. He wasn't doing anything, so as long as Oma didn't yank him away again, he was going to stay and watch and see what was going on.

He glanced past Robert's desk, and then took a second, closer look: there was something on the surface of the desk, and one of the drawers was very slightly ajar. Daniel stepped closer and looked at it. It was covered with mission files, SGC history, three textbooks and piles of other papers littering the surface, with an orange peel in the nearest trashcan...

This was Jonas's desk now.

Perhaps in an attempt to stop thinking about Kelowna and the fact that his people had nearly destroyed themselves and then blamed him for it, Jonas had dived straight into it everything, from textbooks to histories, to mission records.

As Daniel watched him now, he was curiously reading an old note from Robert Rothman in the margin of a book that said to please not write in the margins of the books, Mr. Jackson, and if it was really necessary, at least to do people the favor of writing in a language that more than one person could understand. Daniel had answered with lines of gibberish in ancient Ancient. Robert must have actually tried to translate it before realizing it was nonsense, because he'd written 'Not funny' under it.

Jonas huffed a bemused laugh, and Daniel could almost see him cataloguing the names and the kinds of things that little notes in book margins implied about the people who used to work in this office.

"There aren't many people on off-world teams," Jonas said to Nyan once. "Proportionally, I mean. Is that because it's hard to get onto an SG team?"

Nyan made a face. "Yes, but some of us would just rather deal with a semi-monthly chance of death by autodestruct instead of a more present form of danger off-world," he explained. "It's not always a matter of being more or less capable; it's about being right for the job. The teams have to fit. There are better archaeologists and interpreters than me, but SG-1 rejected them all."

"They must like you, then," Jonas said, smiling.

"They feel like they owe me for helping them once," Nyan corrected.

"Oh, right, P2X-416--the place where Bedrosia and the Optricans were...well, I guess you don't need me to tell you," Jonas said. Nyan gaped at him. "I've been reading the mission reports," Jonas explained, as if everyone remembered details like that.

"Right," Nyan said, rolling his eyes. "But anyway, that won't protect me forever. Colonel O'Neill isn't very patient about mistakes. None of them is--they can't afford to be."

"So you don't like it? Why are you still on the team, then? I heard someone say you were leaving the SGC."

"Someone has to do it," Nyan explained. "Anyone else would be trying to prove himself or work toward promotion, so they'd take more risks or question the SG-1 tactics more, and that's dangerous, especially if it distracts the main team. If I go with them and stay quiet...well, at least I'm not actively messing up." He sighed. "I just hope I stay not-dead long enough for them to find someone who can take my spot and actually wants it."

"Huh," Jonas said thoughtfully.

Nyan looked up and blinked. "Oh! Hey," he said, pointing at Jonas. "Are...are you thinking..."

Looking hopeful, Jonas said, "Are you?"

Nyan grinned. "Yeah. I'll see what I can do. The trick is to make sure they like you first, because then they'll train you and help you get better. If they don't like you to begin with, they'll just kick you off."

"Sounds fun," Jonas said.

...x...

"Major Carter, please move away," Nyan's voice said.

Daniel peeked around the hallway to find Sam standing in the doorway to Nyan's office while Nyan was clearly trying to get out, paper in hand.

She hesitated for a long moment, and then stepped aside. "Nyan," she said, "are you sure you want to do this?"

"Yes," Nyan said. "I'm just filing the paperwork now so you can start looking for potential replacements before I leave entirely." A little hesitantly, he added, "I was accepted to the University of Chicago. Classes start in the fall, and...and I'd like to go."

"Of course we wouldn't force you to stay if you don't want the job," Sam said, though she looked tired already at the idea of fielding new applicants for the position. "Uh, congratulations."

"I won't leave before you find someone else. But I'm not meant for SG-1."

"You're doing...you know...fine."

"I can't be Daniel," Nyan said.

Defensive, Sam said, "Well, no--we don't expect you to be."

"But you want me to be," Nyan said. When Sam's expression began to look guilty and she opened her mouth, he added, "It's okay. We all know it. But I can't."

She nodded, and even though the corridor was clear to let him pass, he didn't move. "Nyan, if we ever said anything that made you think we don't...value your skills or didn't want you on--"

"No," Nyan interrupted. "Mostly. No. Just... You all wait for him to finish your sentences. Colonel O'Neill doesn't make as many jokes anymore, because no one answers. I know--I keep expecting to hear him, too." He ducked his head. "I think you should find someone else. Maybe...it will be easier for you."

"I don't think it will be," she said quietly.

"Jonas wants to help," Nyan suggested.

"'Help' as in SG-1?" she said, looking skeptical.

Nyan shrugged. "He actually wants to join a team. And he's really, really smart."

"I don't know..."

"Look," Nyan said bluntly, "no one is going to be Daniel. At least Jonas won't feel like he has to try."

Sam glanced to the side, toward Daniel's--Jonas's--office. "Maybe," she said reluctantly. "We'll see."

...x...

"Seen enough?" Oma said.

"No," Daniel said, not turning to see her and instead watching Nyan explain to Jonas the requirements for joining a team.

"I think you've seen enough," she said.

"I don't," Daniel said.

There was a pause, during which Daniel imagined Oma Desala trying her very best to restrain herself from slapping him over the head. "Too bad," she said, and yanked him away.

XXXXX

"There's something you need to see," Oma said when she appeared next to him.

"What?" he said apprehensively, looking around to find himself in his library.

"I don't think you understand the consequences of crossing the Others," she said. Daniel finally looked up at her. She disappeared for a moment, then reappeared in a bright flash that made him move back, and then--

XXXXX

"Why are we on Abydos?" Daniel said when he recognized where she had taken him. This wasn't Nagada--it was relatively far from there, a place where some of the migrant tribes often came to trade--but when he looked around, she was nowhere to be seen. "Oma?"

Someone screamed. Daniel turned until he could see a woman pulling a child along behind her as she ran. And then he looked again and saw more and more--the entire settlement was panicking, a few men and women packing and others running, running...running from--

A prickle made him turn away again, until he saw the approaching cloud of dust and sand blowing violently toward the people, followed by an angry, dark storm cloud. They weren't going to make it--or, if they did survive, their belongings, their livelihood, their homes and food would be lost. This was Nature at its fiercest, and that wasn't something that could be fought.

Unless...

"Oma!" Daniel yelled into the gale. No one answered. "You can save them!"

But even Mother Nature was only a name she had taken on; if she could do it, surely he could, too. Daniel stood in front of the storm and could feel the charged atmosphere, could see every individual speck of dust and the lightning forming behind it, and because he knew, he could make it all stop--

Oma appeared beside him, and his control broke, like a taut string suddenly cut. "What--what are you doing?" he said as the storm front moved past him. From within the gale itself, Daniel watched Abydons abandoning their homes. "Oma, you can't do this--"

"You can't do this," she countered. Daniel closed his eyes and tried again, but Oma understood this world and its rules so much better than he; as soon as he started, she stopped him.

"Oma, please," he begged as lightning struck. A tent in the distance was burning already. "You can't just let them die!"

She didn't answer.

"Don't punish them to teach me a lesson!" he yelled, wishing he could grab her and shake her.

"Why not?" she said sharply. "The Others would."

"I thought you weren't like them," he said.

Run, run, someone yelled. Go, keep running, don't stop, leave it, run.

Making up his mind, he tried to leave, to get away from her until he could do something, and she pulled him back to watch. "This is not my doing," she said, evenly, easily audible even over the sound of wind and scraping sand and screaming as he struggled to free himself from her. "But neither is it mine to end."

It was hours before it was over.

Some of the people had made it into a nearby cave; others hadn't and were being pulled in now to be treated as well as was possible when everything had been lost. It didn't really matter, though; the tents they had used for shelter were gone, and so were most of the animals, the food, the water. The closest town was Badari, on the river, and most of these people wouldn't make it there before they died--of thirst, for many, or from the heat sickness, or from some injury or infection.

"How...how could..." Daniel said, drained and tired in a way he hadn't felt since he had lost his physical form. "Oma..."

"You are not their god, Daniel Jackson," she said, toneless and expressionless. "Nor am I."

"We could have saved them," he said. Like we could have saved Kelowna, he wanted to say.

"And what would happen," she said, "when this planet--where false gods are no longer welcome--began to stir with word that the gods have returned, especially after the talk that your Ascension caused? What would happen when this tribe met another storm--would they be careless? Would they stand in front and pray to their savior?"

"They would be alive," he said.

"The host to a Goa'uld is alive," she said.

"I'm not a Goa'uld!" he shouted at her. "I'm not controlling them! Goa'ulded hosts--it's their body and the Goa'uld have no right to them!"

"And this is their world," Oma said, sweeping a hand out to encompass everyone. "You have no right to it. Even the Asgard, who themselves are worshipped as gods, do not interfere in natural occurrences. The Goa'uld are false gods, and if you continue this path, then so are you."

Daniel watched a little boy who had been scraped half-raw, coughing raggedly into someone's torn robes. "But we could have saved them," he whispered.

Oma didn't answer at first. When she did, she said, in an odd voice, "And what about these?"

All at once, the sound of a hundred dying breaths filled Daniel's ears. He felt himself shudder as a hundred on Abydos breathed their last.

"Or these?" Oma continued, and Daniel clamped his hands instinctively over his ears in a mannerism his mind hadn't yet forgotten, as he heard a thousand, a billion, countless people dying on countless planets...

Form disappeared as he was drawn into the enmeshed everything that he still hadn't quite learned to deal with. Struggling to hold himself in one peace and not be drowned by everything else, he tried to close his eyes and instead saw a dizzying whirl of images speed past him. There was a war in one country, a plague overtaking another; a father murdered in his bed, a child drowning in a river, a mother crying as her village was ransacked; humans, Asgard, Unas, species he didn't even recognize, but all people nonetheless, screaming in pain, in anger, in grief, in wars, in sickness--

It wasn't until he was pulled back from them with a jolt that he realized he was screaming along with them.

"I'm sorry, Daniel," Oma whispered. The sound of death faded from his ears, warmth enveloped him, and the white of her robe filled his eyes. "It's gone now. Look at me." He quieted, but it felt like whatever it was that made him who he was in the absence of a body was trembling, unsteady. He looked at her. "I'm sorry," she repeated.

"I don't want to watch," he said. "Please?"

"We'll go now," she said, her expression once again gentle, the face of the mother to whom he had given his baby brother. "It's all right. Come with me."

XXXXX

"It's like that all the time for you?" Daniel said quietly when she brought him back to Kheb.

She was watching him carefully. "Everyone needs time to adjust to what we can do--what we can see, what we can hear," she said. "I should not have forced that on you before you were ready. I opened you to pain, because I was trying to make a point, but if you truly look at everything, you will see great beauty as well."

"You've been...blocking it for me?" he said.

"Not quite," she said. "You are still only beginning to understand the scope of what you can see. Until you can truly see all of it, you are your own barrier."

"I've been trying," he said dully.

She offered him a smile. "A year, five years, five hundred...that's nothing to the Others. You need time. The Others understand that, too, and that's why they don't punish harshly for the small mistakes that everyone makes in the beginning. At least...not if I do it for them."

Daniel fell silent and stared at the candles she had lit around her temple. Like so much else here, they were set in some pattern that he could recognize as a pattern but not quite understand.

"Do you ever wonder, Daniel," Oma said, "how your life would have changed if I--or one of the Others--had chosen to interfere when Apophis attacked Abydos? I assure you, I have kept aware of news of the Goa'uld, and I would have picked your side as the one that seemed most right in that instance. What would have happened then?"

With a sinking feeling, Daniel said, "My parents would be alive. So would Bolaa, Ide, Mriyu. My brother wouldn't have been Goa'ulded and forced to lead Jaffa armies. My sister wouldn't have been made Apophis's queen. And I..."

"You wouldn't have been captured and then taken to the SGC," Oma finished. "Even if the Stargate had remained open, you wouldn't have left your home then, not for months, probably years, if ever. When was Hathor's attempted invasion of Tau'ri?"

"A...few months after Apophis went to Abydos."

"After you went to the SGC. If you hadn't been on Earth, researching your late parents with the help of Tau'ri technology, would it have been too late before anyone tried to stop Hathor?"

Daniel pulled himself tighter, feeling like a ball of disperse energy that he wanted to make smaller. "That wasn't...someone else might have found out and stopped her."

"Perhaps," Oma agreed. "We can't know. But even if the SGC survived Hathor, if you hadn't been on the planet of the Unas with SG-11, Robert Rothman might not have died." Daniel shrank himself down further. Oma turned to look at him. "And if he hadn't died, there wouldn't have been a funeral only minutes away from where Osiris was rising to power. Without the SGC, exactly the way it has been these last years, the galaxy would be...different."

"I would have done anything," he said, and wasn't sure if he meant anything to save his parents, or to keep Abydos in its safe bubble of the galaxy, or to stop Robert from dying for him, or any of a hundred other things.

"And now you could," she said. "Now, it would be easy, and that is why you must not. The Others could have saved your parents that day, Daniel, and the SGC might have been lost. The SGC has helped billions of people and caused the destruction of billions of others, some of them allies. If we were to choose--the individuals for millions, or one solar system for another, how could we decide one was worth more?"

"You couldn't," Daniel said. The SGC had done a lot of good, but they'd also caused a lot of pain--there was no way for the Others to judge its worth, much less predict what it would be worth even before it had started. And that was only one thing, stemming from one decision on one day on Abydos. There was so much more, if only he opened his mind enough to see...

Steeling himself, he let himself fade into the lower planes, merging into everything, straining to see--

"No," Oma said sternly. "Don't."

Ignoring her, Daniel called back to mind the feeling of watching millions of people die and spread himself as far as he could imagine, forcing himself to see everything and everyone in his view, all at once, all the dying and fighting and laughing and playing and living--

Oma pulled him back just as he felt himself about to teeter off some edge he hadn't realized existed.

"I have to see," he explained unsteadily, the screams of pain and of laughter still ringing in his mind. "I have to know what's there. I can see so much, and--"

"You could change so much," she said.

"If the Others helped, then if we made a mistake--if one action led to something worse--we could fix it. We have the power to fix things."

Oma shook her head. "What would life mean, then, if people were nothing but pawns to be manipulated by those like us? As you are now, you could see it all, destroy it all, remake it all exactly the way you want it."

Daniel looked down at the lower plane, focusing when he saw a Jaffa First Prime about to execute a rebel soldier. "I could change it," he said.

"Would you?"

He flinched as the staff weapon discharged and wondered what would have happened if that particular rebel had lived. Nothing, maybe; or maybe he would have been another Teal'c or Rak'nor, a leader, or maybe a traitor to the cause. Maybe he'd had a family, or close brothers-in-arms. It mattered to someone. "I dreamed once that I would change everything," Daniel said.

"Shifu's lesson wasn't your dream," Oma said. "It was your nightmare."

"But how do I know where to stop?" he said, pulling back to look at her. "How do I know what's crossing a line?"

She shook her head. "You can't, because there is no line. Once you start meddling, there will always be a reason--an excuse--to do just a little more."

"So we do nothing," Daniel said, dejected.

"Everyone feels as you do in the beginning," she said. "It is that purity of intention that has brought you here, but here, you must gain understanding. You may have good intentions, but that means nothing to those who suffer the consequences. If you had been on the mortal plane and knew that other beings were taking your free will from you in order to do what they considered 'right,' you would have fought against that, wouldn't you?"

He felt himself nod. Choices were important. He would have fought to the death for the right to his own will. "I can never save them all, can I?"

"We try to maintain balance. If we tip that, it would destroy all we have striven to do. That is all we can do."

"You saved me," Daniel said. "I was only one person, but you saved me."

"And for that, I am an exile," she pointed out. "I help those who desire Ascension, but I'm limited to those who seek me out. Even then, I do not help people Ascend without knowing their soul. There are too many who need help, and I can't help them all at once."

"So I'm your newest project," he said.

"I chose you, Daniel Jackson," Oma said, "because I saw your potential."

"I haven't done very well so far," he said.

"You...are an arrogant, impatient child," she said, but almost fondly. "And even if you do nothing for the greater good, then I will have helped a good soul toward peace."

"I want to help people," he said. "I only...I thought I could do more here."

She tilted her head to catch his eyes when he started to look down again. "Life is for the living," she said. "Their world is theirs, not ours to play with. But when they pass from one realm to another...that is in our power to ease. Do not underestimate the value of that last kindness. You can choose to save a life, Daniel, or you can choose to save a soul."

XXXXX

Anubis finally attacked Earth directly, as they had been warned. What they hadn't expected was that the attack would come through the Stargate--that Anubis would have somehow built a weapon that could destroy Earth by catastrophically destroying its Stargate.

Daniel didn't worry (much). This was the kind of thing at which his team and the rest of the SGC excelled. Jonas Quinn, in fact, was the one who came up with an idea to launch the overheating Stargate into space to save Earth. Sam figured out how to do it, Jack flew the X-302 to carry it out, and Teal'c recruited Bra'tac and his own son to help destroy the weapon Anubis was using. Nyan looked like he wasn't sure whether to feel left out or relieved.

Dr. McKay probably helped a lot, with the calculating thing, but mostly he complained and suggested things like sacrificing Jack just because it might save most of the rest of the world. The look on Sam's face said that idea was ludicrous, especially when they weren't going to give up on him yet, McKay; we still have other options.

McKay's response to this was something like, No you don't, you blonde bimbo. Sam pointed out that McKay's solution had almost blown them all up even without Goa'uld help and that they could still ship him back to Siberia if he didn't have anything productive to add.

Jonas seemed to agree with her sentiment, and then he blurted 'naquadria' and said something like, if this goes wrong the world will explode, but if it doesn't, Colonel O'Neill will live, and so will everyone else (probably). That seemed to be all Sam needed to get back to work.

Well, as long as Nyan was scheming to get Jonas to take his place, Daniel decided the Kelownan would fit in just fine with SG-1. Sam was even beaming at him, which could only be a good sign.

...x...

The SGC might have prevailed against Anubis, but there was still something wrong about all of it. What bothered Daniel the most was how Anubis had done it; it didn't make sense.

"I don't suppose I'm allowed to just ask him how he's doing it," Daniel said the next time he saw Oma.

"No," she said. "Don't worry about Anubis."

"How can I not worry about Anubis?" he said. "He wiped out the Tollan, he got me killed, he tortured Thor, and he tried to destroy Earth at least twice so far, and once more indirectly. Maybe even more than that, if there's an incident I've missed."

"Don't worry about him, because you can't do anything about him," she said. "This isn't one of my rules, Daniel. The Others will stop you if you try, and then we'll be left with Anubis still free while you're lost to us."

Daniel sighed. "Well, I'm going to look, anyway," he said.

"Anubis is personal," she said. "There's no reason to tempt yourself."

That sounded suspiciously like 'I don't trust you,' but sometimes Daniel wasn't sure he should trust himself in that way, either. "I'll go look at something else, then," he decided, "and I'm not going to avoid Anubis forever. I won't let him see me, okay?" He left before she could answer.

...x...

While looking around, he found Nirrti performing more genetic experiments, the kind she had done on the people of Cassandra's planet. Bastet was feuding with Morrigan again, but neither of the armies seemed to think it would last long.

Yu was...in his sarcophagus, interestingly. Daniel waited for him to come out, curious about what he was doing, but it was a long time and Yu only came out once, and then only for a very unproductive few hours in which he grumbled a lot and then went back to sleep. With a suspicion blooming, Daniel walked through Yu's homeworld, listening to the gossip about senility among his Jaffa and storing the rumors away for future reference.

He could feel Oma watching him even more than usual, so he didn't go directly to Anubis and instead went exploring around the ruins of the weapon Rya'c had destroyed.

"Huh," he said aloud as he examined the technology. He snooped curiously around the rest of the base, carefully looking at everything Anubis had been doing before he left and wandered toward Earth again instead.

XXXXX

As Nyan had promised, Jonas was very smart.

He wasn't simply reading everything; he remembered it, too. If he didn't always pull conclusions together as effortlessly as Daniel had, he also didn't make as many rash mistakes, and his eye for detail was flawless and his memory near-perfect. It wasn't long before he began volunteering to fill in when a team was missing a scientist, the way most civilians did before securing a permanent field position. His academic background and ability to learn quickly meant that he wasn't as expert in theoretical physics as Sam and not as good at translating Ancient Egyptian as Nyan, but he was decent enough at both to be useful in more than a few situations.

And he loved it. Daniel was pretty sure no one grinned as much as Jonas did.

Then again, it was possible Jonas's smiles were meant partly to disarm. It made Sam warm to him: he followed her science well enough, and he filled silences in the lab with harmless musing and grins until she decided it was okay to like him and smiled back. Teal'c mostly ignored him, perhaps a little wary of the cheeriness, but Jonas kept talking at him while training in the gym, so Daniel suspected it wouldn't be long before he cracked, too.

Jack was a bit of a problem. He stopped scowling at Jonas, as much as Jack ever stopped scowling at scientists, but he didn't know the man, and Jack didn't trust aliens he didn't know. Jack didn't trust anyone he didn't know, but being an alien didn't help.

"Give it time," Nyan told Jonas.

"I don't have to join SG-1," Jonas said. "There are other teams with openings."

Nyan grimaced. "You probably don't realize it, but they--all of them--like you a lot more than most other potential fourths. Just keep the possibility open, okay?"

It was good, Daniel decided. SG-1 needed a fourth, Nyan wanted off, and Jonas wanted on. It would be fine. He was happy for them.

XXXXX

"Tired of watching your friends?" Oma said.

Daniel shrugged, staring at the now-inactive Ancient repository of knowledge on P3R-272. "I was watching," he said absently. "They were rescuing Thor from a computer in a Goa'uld mothership. Even Jacob and Lantash, Major Davis, and Jonas got to play."

"I must not have been paying attention to that part," she said. "A Goa'uld mothership?"

"Mm-hm. I didn't realize how much time Major Davis must spend studying Goa'uld technology, because he's pretty good." She raised her eyebrow, and he added, "Jonas isn't bad, either. He's quick." He'd gotten a little anxious when they'd first found signs of Jaffa guarding the ship, but he'd handled himself decently without getting in the way of the action. "I think even Jack's warming to him."

"Perhaps that's because Jonas Quinn doesn't argue when he's given an order."

"He'll learn," Daniel assured her. "They're doing okay for now."

"How is that friend of yours, the former Tok'ra host?"

Surprised, he said, "Martouf? You... Exactly how much attention do you pay the SGC?"

"I watched you die," she reminded him. "He and his symbiote were involved in those events, if indirectly. You rarely mention him when you talk to me."

"Oh," he said. He looked away from the repository he had been studying just long enough to check and see that Martouf's condition was still unchanged. "I guess...there's not a lot to mention. To be honest, I think that five years ago he would have chosen death over some...some suspended life in which he's had too much brain trauma to remember the last two years and is starting to suffer from a lot of other physical problems, too."

"I'm sorry to hear that," Oma said.

Daniel turned to her. "Why does that happen, anyway? Having a symbiote would have prevented him from most illnesses, but why is he getting so much sicker so quickly?"

She started to answer, then gestured with a hand. "Can you see for yourself? Everything in a human's body is matter and energy. If he is struggling with memories, even those are also simply the result of certain material configurations that allow for correct passage of signals."

Focusing, Daniel dropped onto Earth again and looked more closely at Martouf as the man slept. Then he looked closer, and closer, and closer until--

"There are...tangles in his brain," Daniel said, intrigued. "It's like...like his brain's not as full as it should be." Oma nodded. "And most of his organs aren't as strong as they need to be."

"That can come with age as extreme as his," she told him. "Some of it is because his body has undergone a lot of trauma that he has always been able to rely on a symbiote to hold at bay."

"He's sad," Daniel said, peeking into the man's confused dreams. "Can I fix him?"

Oma touched his arm, and suddenly, they were back on the Ancient planet where she had met him minutes ago.

"You could, yes," she said. "The science of the mind is one that even the Tok'ra have not mastered, but reforming connections, restoring or removing or altering memories...that is relatively easy for us."

Daniel touched a finger to the Ancient repository and sighed. "But if I did...what makes him more deserving of being cured, yes? Even his age isn't artificial; he's naturally that old."

"So what will you do?" she said.

"Yi shay." Daniel stepped back and determinedly refocused on the technology of the Ancient repository of knowledge again. "I won't do it. Do I pass your test?"

"I wish I could help," Oma said, sounding sincere, but her tone said, 'yes.'

"Anyway. I guess my friends don't need me haunting every step. That's what I was doing here."

There was a short silence, and then, "Something caught your attention and made you stop moping about on Earth? Quick now, tell me--I have to remember it for next time."

"I wasn't moping," he retorted.

"What are you doing here?" she said.

"This was made for humans," he said, examining the device in the wall.

"Yes, Daniel, it was," she said, in a tone that strongly implied she would have been rolling her eyes behind his back if she hadn't been incorporeal and lacking in actual eyes.

"But why?" he said.

"So foolish colonels could have their heads sucked," she said.

It didn't surprise him anymore--or even bother him much, honestly--that she knew so much about him. That was the way of things here.

"It was sort of the opposite of sucking," Daniel said, remembering something Robert had said about it once. "Un-sucking. Downloading."

"Is there a point to this latest trip of yours?" Oma said.

"I don't know," he said. She sighed. "I didn't make you come, Oma," he pointed out.

"Why are you so interested in the Ancients these days?" she asked.

He tried looking into the viewer again, and again, nothing happened. "Something about Anubis's weapon just reminded me of..." ...Ancient technology, he almost said, but stopped. It was a ridiculous thing to say, given that he wasn't any sort of expert on Ancient technology, but he was sure that was right, anyway. There was something about Ancient work that tingled at the back of his mind, like the answer to a puzzle he couldn't put together just yet.

"You spent so much time flitting from planet to planet in every universe I could find," she said, "and suddenly you only care about ones where the Ancients left traces behind?"

"Well, that's not very hard," he said. "The Ancients left bits of stuff everywhere--configured, by the way, for humans to stumble on and accidentally get their brains scrambled. But there's no trace of them," he went on, building steam. "Bodies, anecdotal--or written--evidence of descendants, uh, uh...no people who know how to use their technology, no way to trace any sort of logical evolution of their writing system to modern writing, despite the fact that their language is clearly a precursor to the Tau'ri reconstruction of Proto-Italic and the fact that, if my theories were right, they interacted with Tau'ri humans in the form of gods long after they disappeared everywhere else. They're just...gone."

When he turned around, Oma raised her eyebrows. "Ah," she said. "Is that all?"

"Also," Daniel said, pointing to the circular inscription on the ground, "I can read that."

"Congratulations," she said dryly. "I know how you've always longed to be literate."

"It's Ancient," he said, determined to be as unfazed by her as she was by him. "I know what it says. And it's not just because Jack once...told me what it says."

"You studied Ancient for years," she pointed out.

"It's more than that. I wasn't fluent in Ancient. But this...it's like... See, a simple translation, like the kind I used to churn out for Ancient, will give you one meaning of a word or a phrase, and even that doesn't often cover it fully. But now, I know all the secondary meanings, the connotations, the implications...just by looking. It feels easy. I feel like I've been speaking Ancient all my life." He grinned. "I love being able to understand so much."

"Hm," Oma said.

"Well?" he said.

"What," she said, "you can't figure it out on your own?"

"Yes I can," he said quickly, then, "What?"

She raised an eyebrow. "I could tell you everything I know about the Ancients," she said.

"Wait, wait...no," Daniel said, excited at the idea of an intellectual challenge that he could actually figure out on his own, this time, with a combination of study, research, observations, and thinking. "I'll figure it out."

Oma shrugged. "Okay," she said. "Besides, even if you did want me to tell you--and even if I wanted to--I suspect the Others don't want that."

"Why wouldn't the Others want me to know about the Ancients?" Daniel said, confused and not a bit indignant.

"Think about what the SGC has found left behind by the Ancients," Oma said. "Do you want someone with impure intentions understanding so much about such a powerful people?"

"I don't have impure intentions," he said.

"Think of this as your probation period," she said, kindly not mentioning Kelowna or the shouting matches they'd had in the past.

"How long will that last?" he said.

"How long do you have?" she said. "Oh, that's right--an eternity."

"Wh--well, but, wait--"

"Don't worry," she said. "I'm sure the Others will start trusting you before you hit infinity...that is, if you show yourself capable of a modicum self-control between now and then."

...x...

Despite being among a collective of energy-beings who apparently knew everything, as far as Daniel could tell, he found very little information about the Ancients, which seemed to confirm Oma's words that the Others didn't want him to know.

Somehow, Daniel found himself constantly diverted when he tried to slip into a world that might have been dominated by Ancients, and there wasn't much on the Ancients that Daniel could find in his room of books that never ended. Rather, there was a lot of vague history, and all of it stopped before the Ancients disappeared off the face of the galaxy.

And then, he took a peek on Earth, only to find that SG-1 had discovered an Ancient--a real, live Ancient called Ayiana--where the Antarctica 'gate had been buried. That was when he learned that Ancients were human, or at least very humanoid.

"I guess that explains why their technology all seems to have been made for humans," he said to Shifu, who had come along to watch with him.

And then, Jack got sick with some Ancient illness that no one could heal.

"I could heal him," Daniel said.

"No," Shifu said, and even though he still appeared to Daniel as a small boy, there was no mistaking which of them had more authority and more power here.

Of course not. Daniel knew it, too. "But it's Jack," he still said.

But Shifu only turned to him with eyes that looked like Oma's, even though they were the color of Sha'uri's, and said, "No, Daniel. Do not ask to do what you already know is wrong."

It wasn't fair, Daniel thought, that he'd lost his life but the thought of his friends' dying could still make him feel as if he still had a heart pounding mercilessly in his chest. "Then Jack's going to die," he said.

"If he dies," Shifu says, "it is only the beginning of another journey."

A thought struck him. "Could I Ascend him?" Daniel said. "He's a good person, Shifu. He's done so many good things--he has a good soul."

"He also has the right predisposition."

Daniel frowned. "He has what?"

Shifu tilted his head. "Physically. Genetically. It is not necessary, but it brings him closer to the first step."

"What..."

"If Jack O'Neill possesses the willingness to Ascend," Shifu said, "then I myself will help you to help him. But be certain, my brother, that you are offering this for the sake of Jack O'Neill, and not because you long for his company again."

"I wouldn't want him to die just so I won't be lonely," he said defensively, except there was a piece of him that would have called that a silver lining to the cloud of Jack's death.

"I know that," Shifu said. "And Daniel...look."

So Daniel turned back to the scene. "He...he's taking a Tok'ra symbiote so it'll heal him," he said, stunned. "What? Jack?"

Shifu nodded. "Have faith in them, brother. Their problems are theirs to solve, but they are well able to solve them without help from above."

Daniel was still staring, though, disturbed. "Do you think he's okay?" he asked.

"He will be healed," Shifu said simply. "He is taking the symbiote."

"That's my point--he's actually taking a symbiote," Daniel said, reminded that being wise didn't mean a person was all-knowing. Shifu didn't know Jack.

"That is good, is it not?" Shifu said. He looked up. "Come. We have lingered here quite long already."

Staying alive was good, Daniel told himself, and it wasn't like they were talking about implantation with a random Goa'uld; it was a Tok'ra. Jack would be fine.

XXXXX

There was no way to match a myth to Ayiana, since Daniel didn't know her real name. The first name of an Ancient he stumbled across in a book, in fact, wasn't Ayiana but rather Myrddin. Finding in a second book that Myrddin had been a madman who might have had the power of prophecy, though, was not particularly helpful.

It took an embarrassing amount of time--and another name that had later been conflated with Myrddin's--to link the name to Tau'ri legend. Camelot had been relatively late in Earth's history compared to what Daniel usually expected from aliens, so it wasn't something he had studied extensively, but he could hardly have lived on Earth for five years without having at least heard a little of the stories, especially when he'd spent so much time in libraries of ancient texts.

It was also through studies of Camelot that he began to meet some of the Others.

For a long time, Oma and Shifu had been the only ones who sought him out. But once he had started reading quietly instead of constantly sticking his glowing nose into mortals' business, he found himself occasionally looking up to see one or two Others sitting near the corner of his room, reading quietly and never so much as acknowledging his presence. Daniel suspected they were still watching him to make sure he behaved.

"She wasn't a fairy, you know," someone said one day.

Daniel looked up and found a woman with dark hair watching him from where she sat at another desk. "What?" he said, surprised that someone was talking to him.

She nodded at the book he was reading. "Morgan. Morgan Le Fay, according to that book you're reading. And Merlin wasn't a wizard, either, except metaphorically."

A little bemused but not bothering to wonder how the woman knew what he was doing, he said, "No, I...didn't think Merlin was an actual, magical wizard, or that Morgan was a fairy, 'le fay' or not. It was probably a convenient explanation for the things they did, though."

The woman folded her hands on the desk and turned toward him. "Such as...?"

He looked around, wondering if there was someone else there--Oma, maybe, or even one of the Others--then shrugged. "Well, Merlin was an Ancient, as far as I can tell, and I'd guess that Morgan was one, too. I just found out that the Ancients were essentially human, and while I don't understand everything about them and their race, it seems they worked most of their 'magic' through technology."

"Not an inaccurate assessment," the woman said.

When she only continued to stare at him, Daniel said, "Sorry--who are you?"

The woman smiled and stood up, making her way to join him at the table where he sat. "My name is Ganos Lal. I know who you are, Daniel Jackson," she added when he started to introduce himself.

Daniel was feeling impulsive after a very long time of speaking to no one but Oma and Shifu and knowing no one else wanted to speak to him, so he answered, "You know, when I was alive, I could never figure out whether it was a good or bad thing when people said that, but now, I'm pretty sure people mostly know me because they're annoyed at me."

Perhaps Ganos Lal found his frustration as funny as he found it frustrating, because her smile seemed to grow warmer. "And here you are," she said, "reading about Morgan, of all people."

He shrugged. "Morgan's interesting. Besides, I'm having some trouble, but I've been trying to pick out names of people who might have been Ancients."

Ganos Lal tilted her head. "What do you mean?" she asked.

"I think the Others aren't letting me see everything I'm trying to see," he explained, "which means I have search through Tau'ri legends that they don't have any reason to stop me from seeing since I'm sort of Tau'ri by adoption and could've read those in life--"

"I meant about Morgan, child," she said.

"That's another thing," Daniel said. "Do you know how long I worked to stop people from calling me 'child?'"

"Only a child could call a handful of years a long time," Ganos Lal countered.

Daniel snorted. "This is what happens when I get stuck with a plane full of very old people."

Then he froze, and if he had had a flesh-and-blood tongue, he would have bitten it. Ganos Lal smiled even wider.

"Uh," he coughed. "Not that you're...well, chronologically, you are old. Which is a...a good thing, in your case, being...incorporeal and wise and all, and not senile."

Ganos Lal stood, still amused. "You have a right to your opinions, Daniel Jackson," she said. "Good day, and good fortune to you in your studies. Perhaps," she added, pulling a book from the shelf that he was sure he'd never seen before, "this will help you."

"Are the Others okay with your giving me information?" Daniel said, both itching to take it and also reluctant to get someone else on the Others' bad side.

"It's simply another account of Morgan's time," Ganos Lal said, still holding out the book. "There are no great secrets in here, but you may find her stories--and those of Merlin--very interesting."

Daniel accepted it. "Thank you," he said sincerely.

...x...

"I don't want you talking to her," Oma said as soon as Ganos Lal had disappeared.

Daniel raised his eyebrows. "You're...kidding, right?"

"Ganos Lal is one of the Others," she insisted. "Do you know the first thing about her?"

"She was just talking about Morgan le Fay," he said.

"Morgan," Oma said, shaking her head. "She would."

"Uh...why?" Daniel said.

"Daniel, this wouldn't be the first time the Others have sent her to watch someone whom they think might be causing trouble," she said.

"Wh...I...I was reading a book," he said, annoyed because he had finally met someone else who seemed interesting and interested in talking to him, and she might turn out to have been pretending. "I'm not doing anything for once, and you think the Others picked now to send a spy to watch me? The Others have spies?"

"Just remember that you're not the only one at risk if they catch you doing anything," she said.

"Look," he said, "I'm not exactly eager to be punished by the Others. I won't do anything you wouldn't do."

"That is the most ridiculous thing I've heard since the last time I talked to you."

"Oh, come on. Now what is it you think I'm going to do?" he said, and as soon as he saw her slight hesitation, he said, "What? What happened?"

She glanced at a nearby table, where one memo's urgent words caught his attention.

"Colonel Jack O'Neill of SG-1 has been captured by Ba'al," he read with a sinking feeling of dread as he plucked the sheet up and stared at it. "Location unknown...status of symbiote Kanan unknown...motive unknown..."

"Read on," she said.

Surprised at her encouragement but needing no further prodding, Daniel skimmed the neatly-worded report until he saw the words 'torture' and 'sarcophagus.'

"Do you understand what that sarcophagus will do?" Oma said, ripping his attention away and back to her. "You understand what happens to a man when he's tortured to death over and over, only to be revived each time in a device that slowly poisons his soul?"

"Yes," he said, and the feeling of apprehension began to blossom into something much, much worse. "Oma..."

"What?" she said, but with an intensity that meant she had an idea of what he was going to say but she wanted him to say it.

"Ba'al," he said. "I could--"

"No," she said. "You won't touch him."

"But--"

"Find another way," she said.

Daniel resisted the temptation to kick his desk. "I could... SG-1 doesn't know where he is," he said, staring at the report. "'Location unknown.' If I told them--"

"No," she said. "Look at where he's being kept."

It only took a moment to see that the place was impenetrable. There was no way SG-1--or even two, or five, or all the SG teams--could get in, much less achieve their objective and come out alive. He thought he might have risked it, and so would Sam and Teal'c, and maybe even Jonas, but the general would never approve that kind of mission. "If I told them where he is," he said, "and then helped them--"

"No," Oma repeated.

"Then he's going to die!" Daniel said.

"Yes," she said, making him fall silent. "Barring some fate that I cannot see at this moment--and which neither of us has the right to force--he will die."

"I don't accept that," he said.

She turned her coolest look upon him. "Why not? Because you'll--"

"Because he's Jack," Daniel snapped. "Because there's always another way, and I'm not talking about intervention from people like us."

"How?" she said.

He scanned over the information he had one more time. "I don't know," he admitted. "Yet."

"I don't see another way," Oma said. "Jack O'Neill will be killed. And then he will be revived and killed again, until there is nothing left to revive." It would destroy his mind and everything that made Jack who he was outside the boundaries of flesh. And this time, there was nothing Daniel could do about it.

Except...

"Why?" he asked. "What does Ba'al want with him?"

But Oma shook her head. "I don't know. Do you have any idea?"

Daniel shook his head, too. "Maybe Jack knows. Maybe...I could help him figure out why? Just guide him through his thoughts."

She studied him for a moment, then nodded. "Do not touch Ba'al, do not tell the SGC where he is, and do not leave any physical trace of your presence, or the Others will stop you and Jack O'Neill will be left to suffer. They will use his suffering as your punishment, Daniel, and I will not intervene, do you understand me?"

"Talking," Daniel promised quickly. "That's it. I won't touch him, I won't fight Ba'al, I won't do anything but...but offer a friend some comfort."

"Go," she said.

XXXXX

There were rules to this. Oma had laid them out for him very clearly, and the ultimate message seemed to be that the more he wanted to interfere, the more he needed to handicap himself to limits approaching those of humans so that the interference seemed less like interference. He could slip into the cell to see Jack, but under no circumstances could he slip Jack out. He could talk to Jack and make suggestions, but he couldn't take any direct action to affect Jack's state of existence, whether it was to be death or otherwise.

So Daniel was waiting impatiently inside Ba'al's cell instead of doing something useful when Jack was tossed back inside.

"Oy," Jack said hoarsely when he'd landed.

"Jack," Daniel said, and couldn't believe how good it felt to say it and know that Jack heard him.

As it turned out, Jack was still a little unsteady--and fighting a bit of a high from the sarcophagus, if the look in his eyes was anything to go by--so he nearly overbalanced when he whirled around. "Daniel?" he breathed.

Daniel managed a smile. "Hi, Jack."

This didn't seem to explain anything, and Jack repeated, "Daniel?"

"I go away, and look what happens," he said, amazed that he didn't sound as excited or maybe horrified as he actually was.

Jack gave him a suspicious look and, without taking his eyes away, sat down across from him.

Calm. That was a rule, too. Daniel had thought that was some stupid thing Oma and the Others insisted on to make themselves look enlightened and unflustered, but he could see, too, that it was necessary. Now was not the time to be panicking or angry or frustrated; someone needed to be calm for Jack.

"It's good to see you," Daniel said.

"Yeah...you too," Jack said. "It's a shame you're part of a delusion."

"Jack," Daniel chastened, and wished that Jack weren't in the process of being repeatedly tortured to death, because he missed this kind of stupid, circular conversation they had had all the time. "I'm really here. Actually, I'd have thought it would be easier to convince you, after all the things we've seen that--"

Jack threw a shoe at him.

Daniel watched the shoe tumble to the ground. "You could've just told me to shut up," he said.

"I just tossed my shoe through you," Jack said, with the deliberateness of someone trying very hard to stay focused and in control of his own mind.

"Well, it's not like we've never been immaterial before," Daniel pointed out. "And that was before I became energy and Ascended to another plane of existence, so..."

Jack's dulled eyes lit up very slightly. "Oh..." he said, looking torn between hope that this was real and fear that he was making it up after all. "Oh."

"It's really me, Jack," he said. "You know. Without the body, but still me."

The first thing Jack said was, "Are you okay?"

"I'm, uh. I'm good," Daniel said, nodding determinedly. "Fine. But I'm not here for me--how are you?"

Shrugging, Jack said, "Well, you know. Getting killed and brought back to life...takes time for the color to come back."

Bravado. Daniel had hidden his fear behind a screen of curiosity and frantic thoughts, and Jack always did this. "You don't have to pretend with me," he said. "About anything. I know this has been...uh...terrible."

"All right," Jack said, with the air of someone who only cared a little bit, because he wasn't sure that he wasn't insane. "So since you're really here, do your thing--bust me outta here."

"Well...I can't," Daniel said.

"Darn," Jack said, snapping his fingers. "I was hoping I'd make up a better excuse."

"Jack, I'm really not a hallucination--"

"Then why can't you?" Jack said.

"I'm not allowed to interfere," he said.

He was so used to that concept these days that, while it still chafed, it didn't feel quite so ridiculous anymore. The expression on Jack's face--like he wanted to scoff but was too tired to do so--reminded him of the part he hated about Ascension. "You're interfering now," Jack said.

"No, I'm not," Daniel said quickly.

"Yes, you are," Jack said.

"No, I'm...I'm sitting with a friend," he said.

"Interfering," Jack pointed out.

"There are, uh...sort of like loopholes," Daniel said, feeling stupid. "But they're really small holes, and the Others...watch the...you know...loopholes. Really closely."

"You are so not enlightened," Jack informed him.

"That's...it's...it's complicated," he said.

The look Jack gave him in return was scornful and a bit incredulous, with just enough betrayal and resignation that it hurt, too. "Can't you...zap all of these guys? Like that thing on Kheb? What good's all that if you can't spring an old friend out of jail?"

"I can't," he repeated. "I mean...I can, technically, but I...can't."

Jack looked like he was about to say something else--something brave and caustic and self-sacrificing--and then deflated. "Why are you here, Daniel?" he asked.

"I saw you with Ba'al," he said, "and the...you know..."

"Torture by acid," Jack filled in, caustically flippant. "Sharp objects. Et cetera."

Daniel didn't flinch. He supposed he should be thankful for his lack of physical existence for that. "Well, I couldn't just not do anything."

"And yet," Jack said pointedly, "here you are. And here I am."

Calm, Oma had warned him. Comforting.

But Jack wouldn't respond to comfort, not now; he needed someone to be direct, to lay out what they had and what they needed and what had to be done to finish the mission. He needed to know what the mission was, because, as of this moment, he still thought it was escape, through force or stealth, and nothing that simple would ever work. "Ba'al is going to keep doing this to you," Daniel said evenly, "until you tell him what he wants to know."

After that, Jack would be killed. A deeply embedded part of Daniel rebelled at the idea of pushing Jack toward that under any circumstance, but when the alternative was eternal torture and the destruction of his soul...in any case, a little more knowledge might make some sort of escape plan more viable.

"Well, that's not gonna happen," Jack said, "because I don't know what he wants me to know."

"Nothing?" Daniel said. There was a Tok'ra symbiote, he knew, and it had done something, but that was all. "There was a symbiote..." he prompted.

For a moment, Jack looked about to laugh hysterically. "Yeah," he said instead, mostly calm, though the mad (angry, Daniel thought, not...mad) glint in his eyes didn't completely disappear. "I let them put one of those things in me. I didn't even let them put one in you, and that was when it was Lantash."

"That was different," Daniel said. "I would've been Goa'ulded and crippled for life, which means Lantash would've been, too, because he couldn't be unimplanted, and then Jacob wouldn't have a symbiote. You were only supposed to have Kanan for...a few days, right? Or however long it took for Ayiana's plague to be cured and another host to be found."

Jack narrowed his eyes. "You have been watching," he said, but it was accusing, because if Daniel had been watching and had known about this and hadn't done anything...

"I couldn't do anything," Daniel said. "There are too many consequences I can't predict." Jack rolled his eyes, so Daniel insisted, "The worst part about the way I am now is that I can see all of it happening, and I know how to help you, but I can't."

"Can," Jack countered. "Won't."

"Jack," Daniel said, then stopped and refocused. "Okay. So. You really don't know what the Tok'ra symbiote was trying to do? You couldn't tell just from being blended?"

"I don't know!" Jack said, but a second later, he thought about it again and said, "Uh...something to do with one of Ba'al's slaves. I got a visual, but I've never met her before."

"Which means Kanan must have known her," Daniel said, thinking through the possibilities. "'Her.' Female, then. Old, young? Human? Lo'taur? Do you have a name?"

"What the hell is a lo'taur?" Jack said blankly, because he never remembered foreign words he didn't have to as long as he had people on his team to remember them instead.

"It's the slave...the... Remember me with Yu?"

"You with me what?" Jack said.

"The rank of slave I was dressed as when I died!" he said, impatient. Jack froze with his mouth open. Daniel winced. That certainly broke the calm rule. "Sorry. I mean. It could tell us something about what she was doing, or what she might know or might have revealed. Is this person Ba'al's personal, favored slave, or one of many lower-ranked slaves?"

"I don't know," Jack said.

"What about..."

"Look, Daniel, just zip through there and do some recon for me," Jack said, as close to wheedling as he ever got. "That's all I need."

"I. Can't," he repeated, mostly because he already knew what was out there and it wouldn't help to have confirmation that it was hopeless.

"Why. Not?" Jack said again, stiffly.

Instead of answering, Daniel said, "Jack, no one knows you're here. The Tok'ra sent a guy to the SGC, and he doesn't know where you are, so Sam and Teal'c have no idea where they should even start looking. Now, General Hammond's--"

A sensation shivered through him and made him think of being pinched everywhere at once, but it was chased by a sense of dread and warning. There was a fine line between interfering and not, and Daniel was starting to step off it by giving Jack information that Jack had no place knowing. If he stepped wrong, Oma would stop him herself and Jack would be lost.

"Hammond's what?" Jack said.

"Well, you know the general," Daniel said, instead of what he had been about to say, which would have been leaked information about what was happening at the SGC. "You're in a fortress. The entire SGC couldn't take this place without massive casualties, and even then, they might not be enough, not against Goa'uld technology. You can't fight your way out this time."

"I could if you'd help me!" Jack yelled, waving an arm in the air, desperately uncontrolled the way he never got even in his angriest times. "You know what Ba'al is doing to me! Take him out! For cryin' out loud, make him stop!"

"The Others would stop me first," Daniel said. "And...and I don't have the right to manipulate people any more than someone like Ba'al does."

"Then go away and let me be tortured in peace!" Jack spat.

"I won't let Ba'al keep doing this until there's nothing left of you," Daniel said. But if Jack really didn't know, then that was what would happen. Unless...

"Yes, you would," Jack was saying. "You are!"

Unless he Ascended.

Daniel could Ascend him.

"I can't get you out of here," Daniel said, "just like Oma couldn't heal me when I was wounded. But...I can help you Ascend."

Jack sat back against the wall of his cell.

There was a long moment in which Daniel thought that Jack might have just decided he was talking to a hallucination, after all, because no answer came for an awfully long time. "Jack?" he said. "Did you hear me?"

"You want to be my Oma," Jack said.

"Uh...well," Daniel said, his mind twisting as he tried to deal with the imagery that conjured up. "I suppose you could think of it that way. I mean, I wouldn't, because, uh..."

"Daniel," Jack said.

"Let me help you," Daniel said. "Jack. I can help you."

Jack eyed the shoe lying on the floor in front of Daniel, as if he were considering picking it up and throwing it again, because it might prove once and for all that Daniel was merely a hallucination. He left it alone, though, and said, with the air of someone collecting all the intelligence he could before starting out on a risky campaign, "And then what happens?"

"And then...I don't know," Daniel said.

"If I'm catching the first plane of existence out of here," Jack pointed out, "I'm going to need a little more than that."

"Well, I'm not all-knowing," Daniel said. "I really don't know. All I can tell you is that it'll be...incredible. Your journey is your own to take as you will, and everyone's path is different. But first, you have to release your...burdens."

Daniel barely managed not to wince. He was actually starting to sound a bit like Oma.

"You sound like Oma," Jack said.

"No," he said defensively. "No, Oma would've said, uh...something like, uh...if you know the candlelight is fire, then the meal was cooked long ago."

"Why?" Jack said.

"To open your mind," Daniel said, wanting to explain that he couldn't just tell Jack what the end result was. The point was the journey, and knowing the end before exploring it wasn't the same. Jack had to be willing to take the journey, not use it as a means to an end, or this wouldn't work. The burden they all bore was life and their instinctive need to hold onto it and all the troubles that came with it. It was hard to decide willingly to let go of it, but it was necessary.

"Though a candle burns in my house," Jack said, mocking, "no one's home."

"Okay," Daniel said determinedly, "let's...take this one step at a time."

"One at a time," Jack repeated. His eyes had dulled, perhaps from despair or from that odd, temporary focus that came with the sarcophagus and then faded away again.

"Jack," Daniel said sharply. Jack looked at him again. "This can all be over. You can't get out the way you want--"

"A distraction," Jack said. "Give me a distraction."

A sound made Daniel look up to see the sealed doorway above them start to open. "They're coming," he said.

"They'll see you," Jack said, his voice lowering in volume but becoming more panicked. "We can use that!"

They needed another plan, that was all. He should have remembered that plan A almost never worked; he needed a plan B or C, just in case this went wrong. It was something about a slave woman the Tok'ra symbiote had known. Even that was more than the SGC knew. They had to look for something else--something about a female slave. "I'll be back," he promised.

"A distraction, Daniel," Jack said, almost begging, turning to look up at the opening doorway that meant he would be tortured to death yet again. "That's all I'm asking for!"

Daniel determinedly slipped back out of the cell before anyone else could see him. The last thing he heard before he left the plane entirely was Jack's voice, calling, "Daniel?"

...x...

Oma was waiting for him. "You're treading a very fine--" she started.

Daniel hurried away from her, too.

...x...

"--motive has to be personal," Jonas was saying. SG-1 had migrated to his office soon after he'd volunteered to join the search, since there were more references, translation materials, and empty space there. Daniel settled himself in the corner of his office, watching Jonas read over something on his computer, Teal'c looking over his shoulder, while Sam stared hard at another computer on the other desk.

"For what reason?" Teal'c said.

Nyan looked up. "He's right. If all of Kanan's missions were really a success--"

"Exactly," Jonas said, nodding. "He went back to that planet for something, and if it wasn't because of a mission..."

Daniel stopped listening as they continued to talk. He looked around the office, taking note of what everyone was doing and what they hadn't begun to look at yet.

By the time Jonas finished talking, he had spotted something.

"Looking at schematics won't solve your problem," Daniel said in Sam's ear.

"Hm," she said.

The others stopped what they were doing. "Major Carter?" Teal'c asked.

"What?" Sam said.

"Did you say something?" Nyan answered.

"Uh...nothing." She shook her head. "Just thinking." A moment later, she said, "You're right. It was something personal to the symbiote, not a...a mission failure on the part of the Tok'ra."

"Not sure what good that does us, though," Jonas said.

"I don't think looking over this stuff again is going to solve our problem," she declared. "It won't be in the schematics and mission reports. What else did the Tok'ra send us?"

"Uh...Kanan's history...his notebook..." Nyan said, sifting through the materials.

"His personal notebook?" Jonas said. "Not a...a mission log?"

Pushing away from Robert's desk, she said, "Hand me that one. Maybe I'll find something in there--something that would tell us why he'd walk out with Colonel O'Neill."

Teal'c nodded. "If we knew Kanan's reasoning," he agreed, handing the notebook to her, "we might be able to find where he ultimately went."

Daniel slipped back out.

...x...

This time, Oma stopped him when he tried to rejoin Jack in his cell. "Daniel..." she warned.

"What? What did I do?" he said. "You think they needed help from me to brainstorm?"

"You're speaking to them," she said.

"Sometimes I talk to myself when I'm on the plane, you've seen me do it," Daniel said stubbornly, knowing she knew exactly what his intentions had been. "If I'd shown myself to them, someone would've mentioned it, don't you think?"

Not Sam, though. If she'd heard his voice, her reflexive response would be to explain it as a normal thought that something else must have triggered. Even if he'd shown himself to her briefly by accident, she wouldn't have believed she'd actually seen him, so nothing in her reaction would confirm it to the Others. Her skepticism was his shield.

"I know what you're doing," Oma said.

"I'm encouraging certain thoughts that they would have had on their own anyway, and you know perfectly well they would," he retorted. "Maybe no one even heard me. Anyone who knows anything about them knows they come up with this kind of thing on their own all the time."

"What matters in this case is what the Others will think," she said.

"Why would the Others think SG-1 needed help?" he said. "Sam decided to pick up a notebook. I didn't make her. I didn't even push it toward her or anything. Now, if you'll excuse me..."

"Ascension is not something to take lightly," she said.

"I don't care," he snapped. "It's better than the alternative. Let me offer it to him--like you offered it to me, Oma, just like you've been teaching me." A thought occurred to him. "Wait. The way you showed up and told me about Jack... You...you want me to do this, don't you?"

"What you do now is your decision," Oma said.

"But this is what you do. You help people Ascend. You've been teaching me the difference between interfering in life and interfering at the moment of death--this is why I'm here, isn't it?"

"You are here because you sought enlightenment and because I thought you deserved to seek it," she corrected. "I walk my path, and if you so choose of your own free will, you may take the same course."

"Then I'd be helping in your cause by helping Jack," Daniel said. "Nothing more."

"Nothing more," she repeated. "It has to be his choice. Anyone can make the journey, but it has to be his choice."

"I know," he said.

Oma studied at him closely. "All right," she finally said. "Daniel--"

He stopped, impatient. "What?"

"If you begin on this path, the Others will see you as one of mine, committing the same crimes that I commit," she said. "I brought you here, but how far you follow me is your choice alone. I will never condemn you if you choose something else, but once you take this first step, you cannot turn back from it in the Others' eyes."

Daniel paused, but there was no question. If there was anyone for whom he was willing to spend his eternity under a veil of suspicion, it was Jack. "Fine," he said.

"I'll be watching," she said. He couldn't decide whether it was meant to be an encouragement or a warning, but he decided he didn't really care.


Continued in Part III: Enlightenment


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