Chapter 33 – Back to Basics
Disclaimer: Today's episode is brought to you with the aid of caffeine and Green Day.
Treat of the day: Green & Black's Maya Gold (spicy dark chocolate)
A/N: Please don't kill me! No, Sam & Sam do not have a chat in this chapter – that's in the next one, and it's giving me a headache of massive proportions. My aim is to have that one done, and maybe even an "Inevitable Exposure" chapter too, before I go to Australia for two weeks (23rd Sept). My progress while down under will be directly proportional to how much time hubby can take off work and whether he leaves the laptop at home for me to play with. In the meantime, remember my attempt at a subplot? Hasn't been seen for a while, and now is the time for it to bite back..
September 26th, 1998 – Project Quantum Leap
Daniel Jackson's POV
Daniel pinched the bridge of his nose and decided that this must be how Jack felt when deserted by an over-eager archaeologist with a penchant for trouble. Knowing that something bad was bound to happen – fated, for want of a better word – yet powerless to do anything about it. Yet. Somehow they always came out of these scrapes in one piece. It was just a matter of.. waiting.
In a moment of frustration, he kicked back from the desk and abandoned his current reading material: Dr Beckett's thesis for his archaeology Masters. Interesting, particularly considering Al's comments about their run-in with Ptah-Hotep earlier, but really not useful right now. Normally he'd bury himself in work when he was this worried, but all his materials were back in the base. Or maybe not, now. Who knew?
Right now he was in Sam Beckett's old office – still full of assorted personal items, proving that his friends still hadn't given up on bringing him home. That was a comforting thought, given his position as the physicist's current alter ego. Dr Beeks had escorted him here before leaving the base for another assignment, offering it as nicer alternative to the Waiting Room. She was right, and the overflowing bookcases did make him feel at home, but apart for the 'hobby' thesis their contents may as well have been gibberish. Sam Carter, on the other hand, would have had a field day. Maybe she did, five days ago.
Idly Daniel grabbed a sketchpad and tried to replicate the symbols of his latest riddle: the minute and confusing phrase inscribed on so-called 'popcorn machine'. His memory wasn't photographic, but when it came to mysterious writings it might as well be because the detail was what counted. Eyes screwed up in concentration, his pen hovered over the paper as he tried to recall every stroke, dot and inflection that made up the ancient Goa'uld characters. If he couldn't be helpful to the current crisis, the least he could do was to attack this muddle..
"Daniel! There you are! I bring caffeine."
Speaking of helpful.. He took the proffered mug with a grateful smile. "Admiral – any news?"
The other man's grimace said it all. "Nada. We just tried again and couldn't get through – do you think they could be actively trying to block us out?"
The archaeologist bit his lip and tried not to 'self-hug', as Jack called it. "Um, I guess.. if Dr Beckett told them about you, I guess they might.."
"Yeh. Great," Al huffed, pulling a well-chewed cigar from inside his jacket and shoving it into his mouth. "Either way I feel as helpless as a baby."
Daniel's mouth twitched into a half-smile. "Likewise."
"Watcha workin' on?"
Shades of O'Neill.. "A translation, although I can't be certain whether I've remembered the characters correctly, have no reference materials and may never be in a position to make use of anything I figure out."
His voice became strained and he dropped his head with a loud sigh. An unfamiliar hand squeezed his shoulder.
"I hear you, kid," Al muttered, then pulled up a chair. "Tell me all about it anyway – it'll take our minds off things for a while."
Daniel pulled off the glasses Gooshie had lent him and rubbed his eyes (the prescription was close, but different enough to make his head swim after a while). "Are you sure you want to know? There isn't somewhere else you're meant to be?"
"I've been kicked out of the Control Room, ok?" was the growled reply.
"Well, we found a device on our last mission that seems to be quite important to the Goa'uld we, uh, stole it from.." A quick glance at the military man showed that he was actually listening, so Daniel continued. "We have no idea what it does, but there was this one inscription in a very old dialect that may give us a clue. So far every attempt to translate it has sounded like a fortune cookie, and –"
A snort of laughter cut him off, followed by a muffled 'sorry'.
Maybe this wasn't such a good idea, after all. "Admiral."
They glared in mutual frustration until Daniel leaned back and crossed his arms.
"What went wrong here, Al?"
Admiral Calavicci's body language became defensive immediately. "Wrong?"
Debating the value of baiting the project director, Daniel suddenly decided that he really didn't care.
"Your best friend has spent the last few years bouncing around in time, 'fixing what once went wrong', but I really don't think that this was what the Navy was looking for, was it? They're one genius down, Al, and let's face it the Pentagon has always been more interested in weaponry than humanitarian aid." The archaeologist leaned forward, hands flat on the desk between them. "What did they think they were getting, Al?"
The older man scowled. "We are not having this conversation, Daniel."
"Oh yes we are," Daniel scoffed. "And how's this for bonus points – what do they think they still have? Don't get me wrong – I think what you're doing here is great – you already told me about your run-in with Kinsey the other day. There's got to be something special that keeps this place funded."
"Sam," Al replied stiffly. "They want Sam back."
Close, but no cigar, and Dr Jackson's famous stubborn streak was coming out to play.
"Nuh-uh, I don't think so. I'm one of their precious civilian consultants too, remember? They love us, but only when we follow orders. Becoming trapped in the past probably wasn't part of the plan. Sure, getting him back would be a bonus these days, but I don't think that's the only reason these lights are still on after so long. Try again."
Silence from the naval corner.
"I presume that the idea was him to come back, Al, right? Sam wasn't meant to be stuck out there, leaping around, was he? Do they really –"
"IT WAS AN ACCIDENT!"
Daniel's mouth hung open, his focus falling apart at the sight of the Admiral's obvious pain. He lowered his eyes, embarrassed – ashamed – that he'd let himself needle the other man so mercilessly.
"It was an accident," Al repeated softly. "And if you really must know, they want information."
He itched to ask what kind of information Al meant, but figured that he'd done enough right now. If the man wanted to share he would.
Eventually, Daniel looked up and their eyes met. "I don't know what came over me.." he whispered by way of an apology.
This time Al was the one with a half-smile, head cocked to one side. "I do, and I guess I can't blame you. Not completely, anyway."
They sat in silence for a moment, until Al started laughing softly. Not quite what Daniel had expected, but at least he wasn't yelling. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat and waited for whatever was coming, too nervous to even look at his mystery hieroglyphs.
"Visiting the past was always our aim," the other man began, the laughter becoming a self-deprecating chuckle. "Oh yeh. Learn from history, that was what Sam wanted to do: focus on some of the world's most controversial moments, leap into suitably anonymous bystander and find out what really happened, not what the winning side recorded. That was the closest we were going to come to changing things, just re-writing the odd textbook.."
Chewing his lip guiltily, Daniel forced himself to ask yet again: "So what went wrong?"
Al's mouth twisted. "Money, of course. All that time and money building this place, designing the systems, and they suddenly decided that the upkeep wouldn't be worth it. Personally I think they wanted to steal Ziggy, since she's the world's only artificial intelligence.. at least I think she is?"
The archaeologist blinked. Like he'd know? "Uh.."
"Probably. Gooshie and Tina maintain her ok, but they both admit they couldn't build another without Sam's help." Al shrugged. "Either way the powers that be decided to pull our funding, so Sam did the only thing he could think of – he set all the controls, locked us out, and vanished in a flash of light."
Daniel's jaw dropped, but Al wasn't finished.
"I was pissed, but thought hey, at least we get to try this baby out and maybe we can impress the boys in DC while we're at it – but the rest really is history. No focus, no targeting, no predictability, and very little strategic use.. at least not without some really tenuous links in reports submitted by yours truly. Oh yes, and no retrieval, not that the Joint Chiefs seem to care about that these days," the Admiral shook his head tiredly. "And I'm running out of excuses, which is why Kinsey's breathing down my neck."
Aching to make up for his cruel words only a few minutes ago, Daniel reached out. "You do good work here, all of you do."
Al snorted. "Course we do, but the measurable affects are negligible. We know they're there, but we can't quantify them and for the most part there is no military or political knock-on – just enough to keep us alive in fact, and I'm not joking. Which could be why our lights are still on and the SGC's aren't, if you get my meaning."
The Navy ex-pilot looked uncomfortable now. "Every time it looks like we're about to get shut down, Sam's leap seems to brush something important in a 'big picture' sense. Not that we know about it until afterwards.. He broke into an apartment building during one Leap – supposedly to, uh, reunite a young woman with her father – and whoop-dee-do, when we review the records it turns out that in the original history no-one ever went looking for burglars in the Watergate hotel back in 1972."
Daniel, who'd been sipping his coffee, spluttered spectacularly. "Are you serious?"
"As a heart attack. If you like I can show you preserved data files showing that once upon a time Nixon served a full second term. Either way we're still here."
"That's one way of putting it, but it's not as 'wow' as saving the world now is it?"
They shared an awkward glance while Daniel connected the dots, and when he did he wasn't best pleased.
"What are you saying, Al? That whatever directs Dr Beckett's leaps sent him to the SGC as some kind of mystical security breach? That this 'god, time, fate or whatever' you mentioned earlier has sacrificed Stargate Command in order to preserve Project Quantum Leap?"
The other man held up his hands in surrender. "I haven't got a clue, Daniel – truly. All I know is that Sam hasn't Leaped out of there yet. Sure the probabilities say that he's there to save Jack's life, but there could be an ulterior motive. Again. To save this project, or that one, or both, or neither.."
"You said it." Al took a gulp of his own coffee now, then gesticulated vaguely. "Of course the Navy would prefer that we develop Leaping into an art. We have people here whose entire job description is to come up with ways to target Leaps as originally planned. They think reprogramming Ziggy is the key, but if it were that simple the patch would have been written years ago. And if they get it to work.. I swear I heard someone muttering about assassinating Hitler as a baby, though of course that would be a damned stupid idea."
"Nice idea though," Daniel offered, reviewing what he knew of the grandfather paradox. "He didn't leave any kids."
"Nice idea until you wonder who'd fill his empty shoes. Better? Worse? Who knows? Small-scale is good, we like small-scale. Nice, anonymous feel-good Leaps suit me just fine – even if they can be damned frustrating," the Admiral muttered. "Surgical strikes would give me a headache, let alone the rest of the world."
A bell rang in the back of Daniel's mind. Sentences and full-blown thoughts were trying to form back there, but he didn't know where they were headed – yet.
His companion nodded dryly. "Y'know – like a proper military strategy. Take aim, fire, then vanish. The perfect spy, assassin, saboteur.. whatever's needed."
Wide-eyed, Daniel stared at the symbols he'd sketched earlier.
"Oh my god."
Oops, Al obviously hadn't finished. Never mind.
"What's it, Daniel?"
Grinning inanely, then nervously, the archaeologist picked up the forgotten pad and waved it in front of Al.
"The popcorn machine, Al – that's what it does, that has to be it. I mean, I still don't know what this says, but.. I probably been obsessing over a bit of graffiti! And.. oh my god, this is – wow." His brain was in a whirl, thoughts clicking into place as he remembered Teal'c's brief history of the Goa'uld, Hemuset. "Al, we have to tell them!"
Unsurprisingly the Admiral looked a little perplexed.
"Tell who what, Daniel?" he asked patiently.
But Daniel was already away on his next intuitive leap. "That must be how she does it. She watches from the sidelines and tweaks things to suit her purposes, surgical strikes offered to whomever she chooses, manipulating everything. Al –"
"I know," the other man rolled his eyes. "We have to tell 'them'. Whatever the hell it is that you've just figured out, we have to tell 'them' – I'm guessing you mean the SGC – but the line's busy, remember?"
Daniel's hyperactivity deflated within seconds.
"So you think someone else has a Quantum Leap Accelerator?"
"Huh?" He looked up and met Al's questioning gaze head-on. "Uh, yes – of sorts. Maybe."
His words were rewarded with a disparaging snort. "Oh, well that makes so much sense."
Sheepishly, Daniel gathered his thoughts into a more coherent order. "Sorry Al, it's just that we've encountered an alien with a reputation of knowing what's going to happen ahead of time. Now and then she offers her 'services' – details unknown – to a System Lord facing overwhelming odds, and suddenly they're home free. That and bad things tend to happen to anyone who threatens her. No-one knows how she does it, but they know it's her."
Al frowned, but he obviously got the message. "Sounds.. strangely plausible. And pretty terrifying."
"You can say that again," Daniel agreed enthusiastically, standing up and pacing as he considered the possibilities in greater detail. "And it would explain why she was so desperate to stop us from getting through the Gate." His brow furrowed as something else occurred to him. "If this is true, I wonder where she got it from."
"What do you mean?"
"The Goa'uld are fantastic at intimidation, but their technology tends to be scavenged from other races." He had another thought. "But Dr Beckett Leaped out of Jack and into me when the Stargate became involved.. I wonder if that was due to the wormhole, or maybe the person leaping can only be a certain distance from the machine involved.."
"Or maybe their gadget is more hi-tech than ours," Al cut in, not really wanting to think about the interstellar possibilities when he still had a friend to find. "Look, I have to get back – I have an appointment in the Imaging Chamber. You can either come with or you can stay here and play with your popcorn, your call."
That brought Daniel crashing back to Earth – his knees collapsed. Grabbing the desk to hold himself he called out to the project's director, who was already halfway out of the door. "Al!"
"Daniel!" the shorter man mock-exclaimed impatiently. "Now what?"
Swallowing, the archaeologist stood up straight and prepared to re-state the obvious. "Admiral, we really have to fix this."
"No really. Whether or not you realise it, Al, this just got a whole lot bigger. If I'm right and that gadget is a fully tuned portable version of your quantum leap accelerator.." he took a shaky breath. "It's just been shipped to Area 51, home to some of the least scrupulous scientists on this planet – and even less scrupulous Air Force officers."
Al propped the door open with his foot and leant against the doorframe. "I thought you liked those flyboys, Daniel."
"Yes.. but did Jack ever mention the NID?"
Abruptly the door slammed shut, muffling the Admiral's yell of frustration – something for which Daniel guessed he should be grateful.
"At least he got the point.."