WHAT IF?

By Lorraine Anderson

Jack stood back and looked at the cliff, then looked at Daniel, who was grinning like a Cheshire cat. "You must be kidding."

"No, Jack," Daniel said. "That cliff is the artifact." He pushed up his glasses and looked proudly up at the cliff as if he had built it himself. His long hair fell down his hat, and Jack resisted the temptation to pull it.

"It looked somewhat smaller in the photos," Jack mused. "And no, Daniel, we can't take it with us."

"I didn't figure we could," Daniel said seriously.

"So what is it?"

Daniel glanced at Sam and grinned. "It was in the briefing. I still haven't figured out how you managed to fall asleep during the briefing without General Hammond noticing."

"It's an old Air Force trick," Jack said, reddening slightly. "You learn to tune out things." He sighed. "By the way," he added, "the General wasn't fooled. When he slammed his fist on the table, he knew I was asleep and wanted to teach me a lesson."

Sam looked startled. "Sir? I was certain you were…" She stopped.

"Yes," Major Carter," Jack said. "Stop while you're behind." He noticed her cheeks redden slightly.

"The problem is," Jack continued, "is that when he dressed me down later, he neglected to tell me what artifact you had found."

Daniel grinned. "Well," he said. "It would probably help if we weren't in the rear of the artifact."

'Jack blinked. "So how far is to the front of the artifact?"

"A mile, I would say."

"Really?"

"You'll see."

They walked along the cliff. It curved away and upwards. Daniel said, "You can turn it around now."

He turned around. "Oh." He looked up. "Now, I have to admit that this is awesome."

Daniel grinned, and pulled out his camera. "I thought you'd like it."

"It looks like the Sphinx's big brother." He looked closer. "But much more colorful." He turned to Daniel. "Do you mean that the Sphinx was built by the Goa'uld?"

"I think so."

"Why?"

Daniel shrugged. "One myth is that it honors the God Ra. Another is that it's supposed to be connected to the God Horus."

Jack grunted. "Both are high on my guest list."

Teal'c, who had been silent before this, said "I have seen a similar construction on another planet."

"And what was it for?"

Teal'c hesitated. "I was never told. Apophis did enter one without any of his guards, and, in retrospect, came out of it considerably shaken."

"In retrospect?" Sam said.

"I was very young at the time. I still believed that my god could do no harm and knew everything."

Daniel grinned, then looked at the Sphinx closely.

"No, Daniel," Jack said.

"I didn't say anything." Daniel said.

"I saw the look in your eye. You want to find the door."

"Well," Daniel said. "Yes, of course, I do. I wasn't aware there was a door."

"You want to walk in where a Goa'uld fears to tread?"

"More than likely," Daniel said, "it just affected those with Goa'uld implants."

"Or maybe," Jack said, "the Goa'uld was just trying to save his snaky butt."

"Same thing," Daniel said.

"Okay," Jack said. "Semantics. The Goa'uld was saving his host's butt."

"Are you proposing that we walk all the way around this… big cat mountain?"

"No," Daniel said."

"Why."

"Because I see a door."

"Which," Jack said. "You are not going to open because you've been a bit too curious lately, for my taste."

"C'mon, Jack." Where's your sense of adventure?"

Jack compressed his lips. "I left that behind in Iraq."

Daniel was silent for a second. "I'm sorry, Jack," Daniel said.

Jack sighed. Where did that come from? He didn't need to depress the whole team. "By the way, this planet is nothing like Iraq – or Abydos. Why is that? The Goa'uld either land in someplace like Egypt, or they end up on a place that looks a lot like…" he looked around, "Canada."

"I don't know." Daniel said.

Jack looked up. "You're not going to tell me that a ship used to land on this guy's face, are you?"

"No." Daniel pushed his hair back, and Jack wondered when he was ever going to get it cut. "No, I don't think so." He looked longingly at the door. "Shall we go in?"

Somehow the phrase "you only live once" came to mind. "I don't suppose I can stop you," he grumped.

Daniel stopped and looked at him. "You can," he said. "You can bring a Red Shirt and send him in."

Jack pressed his lips together. "We don't believe in Red Shirts."

Daniel blinked. "Okay," he said slowly. "Bad terminology."

"Kawalsky used to say that." Jack said, after a second. Damn, he wished Kawalsky was still around. Was it only a couple of months ago that he was… killed?

"I'm sorry," Daniel said. He waited a second. "Look, I understand if you don't want to…"

"Go ahead," Jack interrupted. "I guess you can look at the door. As long as you don't…"

The door opened. Daniel lifted his hands. "I didn't do it." They approached the door. Jack raised his eyebrows. Daniel stopped at the door. "Hello?" he called out. "Anybody there?"

"You do realize that you could be inviting somebody to take a potshot at you," Jack groused. He still wasn't sure how to take Daniel; so far, he seemed to take unnecessary risks.

"On the other hand," Daniel countered, "we'll never meet anybody if we don't introduce ourselves."

Carter looked one from the other, then glanced at Teal'c. She walked in the door, in between the two, Teal'c following. Jack thought that if he hadn't been her commanding officer, her expression would have said "boys!" She turned to look at them.

"After you," Jack said, motioning Daniel in.

The door led into a corridor. As Jack walked in, the door closed behind him, and he whirled. The door re-opened, and he relaxed. "Must be on automatic," he said.

Daniel shrugged. "Obviously not too ancient," he said. "Otherwise it might not work." He led the way, walking down the hall.

At the end of the hall was another automatic door. It opened; he stepped through, then grabbed his flashlight, turning it on. But as Jack stepped through, it lit up into a million tiny lights. "Oh, my," Carter breathed. She stared up, breathless.

Jack wasn't far behind. He had seen the Milky Way, but never in this detail. "What is this?"

"Well," Carter said, with a small smile on her face…

Jack interrupted her. "I know the Milky Way when I see it, Carter." He looked up. "I mean, why?"

"I don't know," Daniel said.

"I believe," Jack said, "Earth is over there." As he pointed, the sky zoomed in, and Earth was hanging in front of them. They all took a step back.

"What about Cheyenne Mountain?" Jack said, and the map once again moved fast to show a mountain.

"Where's the Base?" Jack said.

"Go to Egypt," Daniel said. "I want to test a theory."

"Look at Egypt. The pyramids."

They seemed remarkably the same, except… "The pyramids are newer?"

"How can you tell?"

Daniel pointed at the walls. "The limestone covering. Pan out."

"Am I in the magic spot?" Jack groused. "Why don't you…."

"Okay, move over," Jack moved to one side. Daniel moved to the spot and made a motion. Nothing happened.

Jack made a motion, and the scene panned out. "Good grief," he said.

"Thank you, Charlie Brown," Daniel said. He peered at the surrounding land. "Sam, how far away are we from Earth?"

Carter nodded, a rueful look on her face. "Approximately 4000 light years."

Daniel nodded. "Because this is a scene from 4000 years ago."

"So," Jack said. "This is one hell of a telescope." He glanced at Teal'c. "That doesn't explain why this would spook Apophis."

"Indeed," Teal'c said, "I believe I understand why Apophis left the Sphinx." A look of pain came over his face. "My symbiote is… restless."

"Are you all right?" Carter said instantly. "Perhaps you should…"

"It is manageable. I will tell you when it is not."

"Right," Jack said. He suspected that Teal'c was the stoic, stand-any-pain-until-he-couldn't-stand-up type. He shrugged. They all stared up for a moment. "Well," Jack said, glancing up. "This is fascinating and pretty, but not exactly practical."

Daniel was staring up, fascinated. "We'll need a team to stay here and study this."

"And," Jack said. "You can recommend that to the General when we get back."

"But this is very important!" Daniel said. "The opportunity to study day-by-day life of the indigenous peoples almost 4000 years ago?" He ground down into silence.

"And," Jack said sharply, "not on our mission plan. We need to find weapons to use against the Goa'uld, not a fancy TV. And," he added gently, "this does not help you find Sha're."

Daniel closed his eyes and shook his head. "You fight dirty sometimes, you know that, Jack?"

"Just trying to keep you on focus."

Daniel took one last glance upwards. "Let's move on."

As if the structure had heard Jack's words, another door opened in the other side of the room. Teal'c took point, his staff weapon pointed ahead of him. The door led to another hallway with a number of doorways – each of which opened as they passed. "Bedrooms," Daniel said, peering into each doorway. "It almost looks as if they just left."

"Who are 'they'?" Jack said.

"Don't know yet," Daniel said, bemusedly. He stepped in one of the rooms and picked up a tablet. "This looks vaguely electronic, doesn't it?" He passed it onto Sam.

She turned it over and over. "I don't see an 'on' button – oh, wait a minute." She pressed something, and Jack's heart sank into his boots.

"What, sir?" Sam said, looking at him.

"What if that ended up being a bomb or something?"

"A flat bomb?" Carter said.

"Or emit deadly x-rays," Jack said. "Either way, you probably shouldn't have touched it."

She held it up. It seemed to have print on the screen. "Or," she said, "it could just be a book."

Jack blinked and took it. "You mean, like the Padds on Star Trek?" As he held it, it blinked and went out. He pressed the button again. It flickered, then went out.

"Well," he said, handing it back to Sam, "I guess I wasn't planning on reading that book, anyway."

She stored the tablet in a backpack.

They moved back out into the hallway. "I still haven't figured out what the hell this place is for," Jack said.

"It's not Goa'uld," Daniel said, looking at Teal'c for confirmation.

Teal'c nodded, then grimaced slightly. "You okay, Teal'?"

"Indeed, DanielJackson," Teal'c said. "But I will admit that I will feel better when we are out of this place."

"Any ideas, people?"

"Observation post?" Sam said.

Jack raised his eyebrows. "Isn't it rather conspicuous for that?"

She nodded. "Sometimes the most conspicuous place you can find is the best place to keep a secret."

"Who told you that?"

Sam shrugged. "Stargate Command is a secret base," she said, "under Cheyenne Mountain and NORAD."

"Like," Daniel said, "who would think of looking for a secret base under an obvious base?

Jack blinked. "I suppose – that's logical. So that's why somebody put the sign for Stargate Command on the janitor's closet upstairs? But there are no people here now."

Daniel sighed. "There were," he said simply.

"There were?" Jack said. "How could you tell that?"

"There were tors in the distance." Daniel said.

"Tors?"

"Burial mounds. You see them in England."

"Tors – and Sphinxes?"

Daniel shrugged. "We're speculating, anyway."

They came to the end of the hallway, and the door opened quietly. Sam peered in. "Another chamber. A cafeteria, I think."

"Is there another door?"

She started to get out her flashlight, but then the lights came back on. "Over there," she grinned.

Jack rolled his eyes. "Thank you, Carter. I think I can see that far."

They crossed the space. The tables seem to be randomly placed. Sam looked around. "I wonder why the walls are so blank."

"They almost look like TV screens," Jack said.

A light flickered in one of the walls. Some came on; the others remained blank and gray. They could see a picture of the surrounding forest.

"Cool," Daniel said. "It would be like having a picnic inside."

"Without the bugs," Sam said.

"What's the matter, campers?" Jack said. "You don't want a little protein in the diet?"

Daniel shrugged. "Had some, plenty of times. But if I'm eating bugs, I would rather eat selected ones individually, rather than accidentally."

"Hmmmm," Sam said, a look of distaste on her face.

They moved to the farther door. This one didn't open so easily. Then when it did, Sam gasped and backed up a step, as a skull rolled out.

They peered in. The room was filled with skeletons. Large ones, small ones, leaning against walls, lying down, in some cases, leaning on tables, apparently held together by clothes. "Oh," Sam said.

Jack walked into the room. He knelt down before one small skeleton. Sam stood over him. "Couldn't have been more than three." She turned towards Daniel. "How long do you suppose they've been here?"

He had gotten his camera out and was recording the room. "I – don't know. I have no frame of reference." He looked around. "The power still works."

"True," Sam said. "So I would think no more than twenty or thirty years."

Jack accidentally brushed against another skeleton as he straightened up. The skeleton fell into dust. "What the hell?"

"Or," Daniel said. "Maybe considerably older."

"Could be some sort of biological weapon, too," Sam said. "From the positions they're in, they seemed to die quickly."

But why," Jack said, "would they all go to one room to die?"

Sam looked at the walls, then looked at the doorway. "Maybe they were under attack."

"By what? Goa'uld?"

"Um, Jack?" Daniel said. He had moved to the far wall.

"Daniel?"

"You might want to come here."

Jack moved to the far wall. "Oh, hell." There, against the back wall were specimen jars. Over the years, any liquid had evaporated out, leaving a pile of small bones at the bottom. "Goa'uld." He looked around. "Was this a laboratory?"

Sam was leaning over some more bones. At the bottom of each pile were more small bones. "I believe that many of these people had Goa'uld implants."

"Deliberately?"

Possible," Sam said, looking at the specimen jars. "This doesn't look like a Goa'uld outpost, though."

"God," Jack said, looking at the jars.

"Sir, consider this. The Goa'uld are evil. But perhaps these people were attempting to implant Goa'uld in an attempt to extend their lives."

Teal'c, who had stationed himself along one wall, looked quite uneasy. "The Goa'uld do offer an extended lifespan beyond that of a pure human."

"Could this be where the Goa'uld came from," Daniel speculated.

Sam shook her head. "I don't think so," she said. "These seem to be specimen jars. Perhaps they had come from someplace else."

"Indeed," Teal'c said. "I do not believe that larval Goa'uld were bred here." He looked at the skeleton closest to him. "This is was the neck, not in the stomach. These are not Jaffa."

Daniel was clicking pictures as fast as he could. "We need to record these before…"

Another skeleton crumbled, followed by two more. "… They crumble."

"Why," Jack said, "are they crumbling now?"

"I suspect that the skeletons are far older than we thought," Daniel said, from behind the camera. "They've been in a still environment for many, many years. They haven't been buried, so they would not fossilize. Skeletons outlive soft tissue…" Jack blinked at that simile. "But any organic matter has its limits."

"Okay," Jack said. "Here's a question. Why were they all here when they died?"

Sam was at a computer. "I think I might have that answer," she said. A screen lit up, and a beautiful red haired woman started speaking. Behind her was a crowd of people, in just the same poses as the team had found them. He sat down in the chair that was in front of the monitor, and it leaned back automatically. "Woah," Jack said. "Was this their television."

Sam grinned. "Not exactly a comfy chair."

"More like the Spanish Inquisition," Jack said. He placed his hands on the rests. "I don't hear anything," he said, looking at the picture, then the sound started.

The woman looked around, tension on her face. Clearly, she was trying to communicate who had attacked them. Jack couldn't understand her, but the tone was desperate. The picture rocked.

Jack looked beyond the woman. "Those people were all sick." As he looked, a child started coughing, crying in its distress. Another, older man in another corner was doing much this same thing. The ones tending them didn't look much better.

Clearly, the woman was pleading, then looked around again. Disappointment was on her face. She bowed her head, closed her eyes, then opened them again. She spoke another couple of words, then went to sit down next to a man who seemed to be around her same age. He looked at her, smiled, then slumped against her, clearly dead. She started sobbing against his head.

Other people looked up, but it was clear that they were too sick to move or even to care.

Jack looked around, and saw the two skeletons, jumbled together. Sam's big eyes got bigger, and she looked sad. "God," she said, under her breath.

"What do you suppose killed them?"

"And why were they implanted with Goa'uld?" Jack said. "That's just plain spooky. And who attacked them?"

Daniel shrugged. "If the Goa'uld weren't evil, the advantages would be great. The Goa'uld grant better health and a longer life in exchange for a protective symbiotic relationship. Perhaps these Goa'uld weren't evil."

Jack and Teal'c stared at him. Sam looked speculative. "Teal'c, have you heard of a non-evil Goa'uld?"

"No."

"Ah."

"Or," Daniel said. "I could be wrong." He glanced at the screen, at people dying. "Still, they don't seem evil."

"But," Jack repeated. "Why were they dying?"

Teal'c looked uncomfortable. "My symbiote is under distress."

"That's what I'm saying. If these people built this place, why would they make it so they couldn't live here?"

"Obviously, sir," Sam said. "Something had changed. Something was brought in. Perhaps they were trapped in here by something until they died."

"Something that attacked them," Daniel said.

"But whatever is bothering the Goa'uld is still here," Sam said, looking at Teal'c.

As Jack looked, Teal'c started slowly to collapse. Jack pushed out of the chair and was at his side in an instant. The room vibrated, and Jack looked around. "T, we're getting you out of here,"

Teal'c grabbed his stomach and didn't object. Jack took one arm over his shoulder and muscled him out the door down the hall, to the room of the planets. The lights flickered, and the floor… jumped.

"Stay close, campers," Jack said. "I think we're under attack." Sam and Daniel were close behind.

They reached the outer door, and the door stopped halfway open. Behind them, they could hear tunnels collapsing.

"Shit," Daniel said, under his breath.

"Did we do that?" Jack said, "by opening the door and letting fresh air in?"

Jack and Daniel musicled the door open and Teal'c pushed outside. He stood up tall,

"Feeling better?" Jack said, panting slightly.

"I feel much better. The symbiote has settled down," Teal'c said.

Jack turned around. "I'm sorry, Daniel, I don't think we'll be going back in."

"I have enough footage, I hope, for a while."

Sam looked in the doorway with a regretful look on her face. "What a shame."

Jack sighed. "Well," he said. "Unless any of you saw anything that looked like a weapon, I suspect we won't be coming back here."

Daniel looked into the doorway regretfully. "Damn," he said with a sigh. "I would have loved to take that room home."

#

Eight years later:

Daniel skidded to a halt outside of O'Neill's office. Jack looked up from his paperwork. Not that it took much to distract him from this paperwork. He didn't know how General Hammond – George – handled it.

Because he had too, he supposed. But Jack wasn't quite as old. Was he? His knee gave him a twinge. Well, George hadn't been on the missions that he had; he supposed that counted for something. Oh, George had seen his share of active duty. But the headaches that he had traded in for active duty…

But he was woolgathering again. Just like an old man.

"Yes, Daniel?"

"We have to go back."

Jack blinked. "Where?"

Daniel shook his head. "I was revisiting some old footage. I can't believe it. When I think of what we were looking at there…"

"Slow down, Daniel. Where?"

"The planet of the Sphinx."

Jack blinked again. "Where?"

Daniel finally focused on him and shook his head. "Remember, Jack? It was one of our first missions. It was right after we were all turned into Neanderthals."

"Yeah, Daniel," Jack said. "One of my favorite memories."

"You remember the room with the solar system."

Jack thought a moment. "Oh. Yeah. Well?"

"That had to have been an Ancient outpost."

Jack looked askance at him. "How do you figure?"

"Remember when each of us tried to control it, but you were the only one who could?"

"Yeah. So? You don't think it was my natural mojo?"

"I think," Daniel said, "It was your Ancient genes."

"But the lights came on…"

"Because you were always with us." He took a deep breath. "Think of it, Jack. The timing was right. Things always came on when you approached."

"But, Daniel," Jack said. "Those people were snakeheads."

Daniel shook his head. "We don't know that. They could have been Tok'ra." He thought a moment. "Actually, I think they might pre-date the Tok'ra and The Goa'uld. Maybe that was where both races came from."

"But," Jack said, "the whole thing came crashing down on our heads, almost literally."

"I know. Probably because we drained the power," Daniel said. "But that's why we have to excavate it. We can defeat Anubis by driving away his Jaffa."

But Jack was already shaking his head. "Daniel, we can't."

"But…"

"One – there is a ton of collapsed Sphinx on top of anything in there. Who knows if anything is still intact?"

"The Ancients built stuff…."

"Yeah," It was amazingly well-built for as old as it was. But I saw how those skeletons collapsed into dust whenever we just breathed on them."

"That's because they were organic…"

"True. While it was a remarkable find, and I agree that it should be excavated some day, we simply can't right now." He put down his pen and gestured to the other chair.

Daniel sat down. "Why?"

Jack looked at him. In some ways, Daniel had grown up, but in some ways, he remained the same man when he started the program. "Can you imagine the manpower it would take to excavate such a thing? The Stargate program is still top-secret. If we start getting in those kind of contractors, we would we might as well advertise in the newspaper."

"Then we recruit from other planets…"

"And pay them in what? Quatloos? Federation credits?" He shook his head. "Most planets I wouldn't want to handle a delicate excavation, and those who are friendly," Jack said," like Jonas's planet, have major problems of their own."

"But the technology could help us face the Goa'uld and Anubis..."

"Yeah? I don't remember seeing a one of those magic chairs in there, and I have a feeling that those chairs can't be moved too far from the drones." He blinked. "There was a chair in there. I sat in it."

"And then the room rocked, and we felt that earthquake."

"A drone," Jack said. "Damn it."

"Hmmm…" Daniel slumped. "It just drives me nuts to realize what we had in our grasp and didn't know it."

"If wishes were horses…"

"…. Beggars would ride."

"You can't let 20/20 hindsight get to you," Jack said. "How were we to know what we stumbled into? All we knew was that it was neat."

"All of those bodies…" Daniel stared at him.

"I was thinking of the solar room."

"Oh, yeah."

"The forest fire that drove us back to the gate…"

Jack raised his eyebrows… "You think – but drones don't start forest fires…"

Well," Daniel said. "You did sit down in the chair and a drone was launched. It probably crashed."

"Drones don't usually start fires," Jack said.

"Yeah, but a crashing… would."

"You're speculating," Jack said.

"We could send a team to see if…"

Jack closed his lips. "Much as I would like to… Daniel, that was almost eight years ago. You know the likelihood of us finding anything is slim to none.." When Daniel opened his mouth, Jack raised a finger. "And… we don't need it now."

"Of course we do."

"Well, yes… But we can find something different easier than sifting thought a ton of rubble or looking for a chair. You know I'm right."

Daniel closed his mouth.

"You just hate to admit it," Jack said.

Daniel looked out the window. "Yes," he said, disappointed. "I do."

"We just can't spend the money to retrieve something that we suspect was destroyed." Jack was beginning to sound like he was trying to convince himself. He picked up his pen. "But… that doesn't mean we can't give the job to the Russians," he speculated to himself.

"Huh?"

"Well," he said. "It would give them something to do, wouldn't it? Keep them out of our hair. And who, knows… they might actually find something."

Daniel started to grin wistfully.

"Besides, aren't you trying to find the Holy Grail or something? Indiana Jones?"

Daniel snickered. "Oh. That's next week's job, Sallah."

"I always figure that Teal'c was Sallah."

"He definitely doesn't talk enough," Daniel said, "to be Sallah."

"And I don't think that Sam really thought that she was Marian Ravenwood."

"Something about her screaming too much. When I pointed out that it was better than being Willie Scott, the showgirl…"

"Well, at least she has the right color hair."

Jack studied Daniel closely while bantering with him. He seemed to have calmed Daniel down. Yes, Jack regretted the lost opportunity that more Ancient technology would bring, but the Sphinx was in the past.

But, some voice whispered in his brain, what if there were more sphinxes? And more Ancient outposts? Could they pass them up?

Damn if he didn't want to get out there and try to find them. He shook his head. He was as bad as Daniel.

But, what if…

"I can't deal with these kinds of what ifs," he said out loud.

"Agreed," Daniel said.

""I'm sorry, Daniel."

"I know, Jack," Daniel said. "I am, too. I am, too."

"Maybe someday…"

"Yeah."

But both of them knew that the someday may never come. Jack turned back to his paperwork, focusing on the here-and-now instead of the could-have-beens.

End