Chapter 3: Coffee and Tea
"The Goa'uld. It's Cronus." Daniel set his breakfast tray and the folder of video footage photos on the table before hiking himself into the seat – not too much of a struggle, but he was a little short to just slide in. "Found out this morning just before my shower."
Jack swallowed before answering, already cutting off another mouthful of the stack of pancakes on his plate. "You woke up and just started doing translations?" He'd forgotten how good pancakes were. Forgotten how good hash browns were, too, and scrambled eggs with bacon. He couldn't remember the last time he'd – no, wait, there was the time with Urgo and the pie. That had been amazing pie.
Daniel's plate had maybe a third of a portion of scrambled eggs and some hash browns on it, which he started digging into without much zeal. "You don't have to sound so incredulous." He sounded offended. "Anyway, the point is this is just proof that he probably never had access to the device. He looks too . . . well, old."
"Did I miss anything?" Jack looked up to see Carter taking the seat next to Daniel, a smile crossing her face a little unexpectedly. She was a cute kid, Jack decided rather arbitrarily, the kind that probably played soccer or lacrosse or whatever the big kid sport was when Carter was twelve years old. Her own breakfast consisted of yogurt and toast with blueberry jam, whereas it might have usually consisted of oatmeal or cereal. And for that matter, when had Daniel started eating breakfast, even that pathetically meager helping? Coffee was present, so the world wasn't completely off-kilter, but still. He jerked his chin at Daniel in response to Carter's query and swallowed.
"I found out the goa'uld who played God on that planet was Cronus," Daniel explained around a mouthful of coffee. "It's not exactly progress, though. I've only got one tape to go and there's nothing scientific on those walls – not a word about how the device works or anything."
Carter looked a little crestfallen, but it might have just been Jack's imagination. "Don't worry, Daniel. I'm sure there's something there we can work with. Maybe Janet's come up with something," she added brightly.
"Sure." Daniel poked at his hash browns, slouching in his seat.
Jack resumed eating with gusto. It was understandable that neither Carter nor Daniel was particularly enjoying this little trip back in bodily time: the Major, naturally an independent person, had required a lab assistant at all times for the last day and a half, and Daniel – well, he had regressed far past puberty. Restarting from the age of 20 wasn't exactly a hardship in Jack's opinion. Restarting from nine, on the other hand, was a bit much. Even twelve didn't sound like much of a consolation prize. He watched silently while Daniel cleared the plate of eggs and went back to pushing his hash browns around the plate. Such a kid, he found himself thinking, surprising himself. Then again, Daniel wasn't the type usually given over to playing with his leftovers.
He opened his mouth to say something, but Carter beat him to it. "Something on your mind, Daniel?"
"Nothing really." Daniel let his fork clatter to the plate and reached for his coffee again. "I was just thinking. I'd really like to go back to the planet, and soon. I wish we'd gone right away."
"Why?" Sam's toast hung forgotten from her index finger and thumb.
Daniel swallowed some coffee. "Just a bad feeling." He sighed, putting down his mug firmly on the countertop. "But I'm probably just sick of being too short to reach anything again."
"That's what big brother Jack is for," O'Neill couldn't help throwing in, which earned him a flashing grin from Carter – and was that a touch of shyness? – but Daniel just scowled at him.
"Don't even joke about that," he snorted, visibly unimpressed.
"Reminds me, though. What were you doing the last time you were this age?" Carter pointed her fork at nothing in particular as she talked, gesticulating a bit. "I mean . . . sir, when you were actually twenty, what were you up to?"
"What brings on this line of questioning, Carter?" Jack asked good-naturedly. His pancakes cleared from his plate, he settled in on the eggs.
"Just curious, sir."
"Well, let's see. Twenty . . . I was in the Air Force Academy," Jack recalled thoughtfully. He decided not to elaborate at the last minute. "That answer your question for you?"
"Pretty much, inside and out," Sam flashed that kid's smile again. "What about you, Daniel?"
At the mention of his name, Daniel blinked, then scowled a little, pursing his lips before opening his mouth for a moment – the classic 'no wait I'm catching up' look Jack had come to recognize. "Ah . . . I'd just gotten to the United States. Got put in sixth grade," he recalled.
"Impressive for nine years old," Carter grinned.
"Not really. Almost got held back on my math skills. Wish I'd known you, Sam," Daniel smiled back. He poked dolefully at his hash browns again, and finally pushed the tray away, picking up his coffee mug again.
"Mm." Sam polished off her toast and licked her fingers thoughtfully.
"You going to finish that, Danny?" Jack couldn't help asking. He was most of the way through his own food.
"Have at, Jack." Daniel took a long slurp.
Jack immediately took said plate and began to scrape the hash browns into his own pile, which ignited a chuckle from Sam's direction. "What, Carter?"
"Oh, just thinking." Sam took another spoonful of yogurt. "I've never seen you eat so much, Colonel."
"So? I'm hungry," Jack explained around a mouthful of hash browns.
"You're never that hungry. If you were that hungry on a regular basis, you'd weigh two hundred pounds." Daniel practically said it into his coffee cup.
"Yeah? You could probably use the weight, shrimp," Jack grinned good-naturedly.
"Shut up, Jack," Daniel grumbled, spots of color high in his cheeks.
"No, seriously, sir," Carter interrupted their banner. "Janet said our hormone levels are normal for our apparent ages, and hormones have an effect on appetite," she pointed out. "You're probably eating like . . . well, a twenty-year-old."
"Good to know I can eat like a twenty-year-old. Think I'll go pig out on the commissary cookies for lunch and follow it up with the biggest sandwich they've got."
"Already thinking about lunch, sir?" Carter raised her eyebrows, a smile curling on her face again.
"A guy can dream," Jack half-smirked and shoveled the last of his food into his mouth. "Daniel, where're you wandering off to?"
Daniel had half gotten up out of his seat, juggling his printed scans and coffee mug again. "What? My office," he said in a mildly confused tone. "Gotta finish that last tape . . ." he wandered off, apologizing vaguely when he almost bumped into an airman on his way out of the commissary.
Jack watched him go with raised eyebrows. "Mind's always going a million miles a minute."
"Not unlike your mouth, sir," Carter said cheekily.
Ten hours later found SG-1 and Dr. Frasier in the briefing room, facing General Hammond. Sam, having already heard the bad news from Daniel and Janet, knew exactly what to expect – for the most part. They'd spent the last hour being poked and prodded again, Dr. Frasier looking steadily more and more unhappy. She wouldn't tell them what was wrong, though, and that was never a good sign. She tended to tell the good news to everyone in turn. Bad news, she liked to save until everyone was present and accounted for.
Of the members of SG-1, Sam knew she'd seen the most of Teal'c – he'd appeared in her lab yesterday, offering his assistance due to her reduced stature and, embarrassingly, increased clumsiness. She had to admit to a pang of jealousy that Daniel's coordination was the same as ever: never a waver while handling those precious artifacts around his office. She, on the other hand, found her hands unable to complete the complicated work she'd needed to complete on a damaged naquadah reactor. Teal'c had been a complete godsend; his ability to follow orders instantly and without question was almost as perfect as if Carter had been able to do the work herself.
The General surveyed his five subordinates quickly then asked, his head swiveling back and forth between Daniel and Janet, "What's the news, people?"
"Nothing, General." Daniel's voice sounded suspiciously sulky, although Carter was relieved she no longer jumped at his young voice. Her own had gone up a couple of notches, but not so noticeably as Daniel's. "There was a lot of history on those tapes, but nothing concrete enough to give Sam something to work with. The people populating P4C-723 were of Greek origin, though, which was interesting given the desert setting. They . . . er . . ." he trailed off, shooting a guilty look at the Colonel. Sam glanced over as well, and found Jack raising his eyebrows discouragingly at Daniel. "Well, it can wait," he conceded, fiddling with his pen.
"You said there was goa'uld text on those walls as well, Dr. Jackson?" Hammond encouraged gently.
"Ah, yes." Daniel brightened a little at the support. "It seems Cronus was the one that displaced the population – probably not long after their writing system developed. He made two returns in quick succession, and – I'm presuming – early in their history – and a third several hundred years later. I can't be sure without another firsthand look, but the record of his third return is roughly a century older than the last of the Greek text I recorded. I don't know if that's the last of the text, though – I didn't finish my evaluation before we, er . . . regressed."
"That's partially my fault, sir," Sam jumped in. "I found the device without knowing what it was and asked Daniel to come take a look at it. He was reading the writing around it when he – we – set it off, and you know the rest."
"I'm not interested in placing blame, Major." Hammond spoke with a tone he might have used for a child, and Carter tried not to puff up with indignation. "What matters is that we find a solution for this mess. Is there anything important we need to know about Cronus, Dr. Jackson?"
"Well . . . provided that's in fact the last of goa'uld text, Cronus hasn't been to the planet in just over two thousand years," Daniel explained, giving Sam a sympathetic look. "Or if he had returned, there wasn't anyone present to record it. If you want my opinion, sir, I think the people that populated those ruins abandoned them around the same time they recorded the first use of the device."
"I have an explanation for that, sir." Janet jumped in, drawing everyone's attention. Her mouth was grim as she spoke. "I don't believe the ruins were abandoned. The population died."
"Died? How do you know?" The General sounded like he was dreading what was coming as much as Sam was. The Colonel opened his mouth to say something, but at the last minute he seemed to catch it on the tip of his tongue and swallow it.
"I can't explain the specifics, sir, but I've been looking at SG-1's blood samples. Their DNA is fraying at the ends; it's rather similar to the way DNA begins to lose it integrity in the later stages of the human life cycle." She darted a quick look at the members of SG-1, and her words were dismal. "This often leads directly into diseases such as cancer, or simply death. Sir, unless we find a way to restore SG-1 to their original state, I'm afraid I'd have to give them a life expectancy of no more than six months to a year."
There was dead silence.
Sam's mind whirled. Six months? She was supposed to only live six months? Even Jack seemed to be at a complete loss for words. Teal'c's lips were turned down more severely than usual, and Hammond was frowning at Dr. Frasier as if a change in her diagnosis would somehow change reality.
To Sam's surprise, it was Daniel that broke the silence. "That would explain it. The population would have largely perished before they could give birth to another generation, or raise the children to self-sufficiency . . ." he trailed off, his eyes never lifting from the pen spinning in his fingers. "But that would mean the entire population was exposed to the device. Maybe the younger half of the population was kept clear, but after burying their dead, they left . . ."
"Doesn't do us any good now, though," Jack said flatly. He turned to Hammond. "Sir, in light of the fact that it doesn't look like we have long to live one way or another, winking out of existence doesn't sound like such a bad plan after all. Permission to return to P4C-723 for another look at that device."
"Granted." Hammond shot the word out almost before Jack could finish his sentence. "Thank you, doctor, and thank you, Dr. Jackson. Quickly, son, what's your assessment of the goa'uld threat?"
Daniel's eyes widened like a deer in headlights, and he froze for a second. "Uh . . . well, the information's incomplete, so I can't be absolutely sure. If Cronus returned to find none of his worshippers survived, then he's not likely to return to the planet. But if that third trip was in fact his last one . . . I'm hesitant to say he won't be back. I mean, I thought he was long gone from Juna, but he proved me wrong . . ."
"I see." Hammond pondered the information gravely.
"Sir, if I may, I'd rather not expose anyone else to the device if we fail to deactivate it or reverse it." Sam resisted the urge to swing her feet.
"The chance of Cronus' return while we are present on P4C-723 is very slim, General Hammond," Teal'c said, speaking for the first time since he had entered the room. "Should a situation arise in which a hostile force presents itself, I believe that O'Neill and I would be enough to handle the threat. Also, although they are children, Daniel Jackson and Major Carter both retain the knowledge they have obtained in adulthood. Their skills must not be underestimated."
"Thank you, Teal'c. I'll take your opinion into consideration," the General nodded his head at the big Jaffa, whose bulk was still considerable. "SG-1, you'll embark tomorrow at 0800 hours. Colonel, I'm considering sending SG-3 with you. Major, I want you and Dr. Jackson to decide what essentials you'll need, since you're going to have to carry reduced packs."
The General was clearly thinking back to their first return from P4C-723, which hadn't been the most dignified of arrivals; Teal'c had been carrying Daniel's pack, and Daniel and Sam had been huffing and puffing together with the sheer effort of joint-shouldering Carter's gear. They'd ended up dragging it through the Stargate a minute after the other two members of their team, sprawling on their backs when the 'Gate spat them back out into the gateroom. Sam colored a little, a rueful smile on her lips as she met Daniel's gaze; his own lips were curled up in a hesitant, self-conscious smile, his cheeks bright with embarrassment.
"Dismissed!" Hammond finalized, and Sam wondered how on she was going to sleep tonight, knowing that without a visible solution on the horizon, she likely would not live to see . . . well, thirteen a second time.