Summary: This story occurs after The Sentinel but before Meridian in Season 5Spoilers for Seasons 1-5 with special reference to Need, Shades of Grey, Menace, The Light and Summit/Last Stand.


Part 1

Disinterestedly, Colonel Jack O'Neill scuffed away a bit of moss protruding from a cracked stone in the floor of the massive…temple? Palace? Stock Exchange? One-Million-Years-B.C. Shopping Mall?

He blew out a breath of utter boredom and checked out his team. Major Samantha Carter's cornflower eyes were gleaming with intelligence and excitement as her slender fingers danced lightly over the console of the scientific doohicky she'd brought with them to take readings of stuff…what would those fingers feel like brushing delicately over his own willingly submissive body…? Jack immediately averted his eyes to his friend, the ex-Jaffa Teal'c, for such imaginings were a Road Not To Be Travelled.

The huge former First Prime of Apophis was standing rigidly upright with the usual stoicism he displayed in public – he had actually 'unbent' quite a lot in the last half-decade he'd spent as part of SG-1, but only those closest to him would notice any obvious difference in his manner; Jack did now, seeing where most others wouldn't how Teal'c was examining his surroundings with the same keen intelligence and great curiosity displayed by Sam and…yep, there he was…Dr Daniel Jackson, SG-1's archaeologist, linguist and First Contact expert, currently practically kissing a stone plaque in his attempt to make out the symbols on it.

Automatically, Jack glanced up although he knew he would see nothing. The Orbitals had been designed that way, their 'biogenic' pigmentation allowing them to remain hidden in clouds or reflect off sensors as birds or something. Jack had been lost the instant they started flinging words like 'biogenic' and 'chameleon DNA molecular-synthesis' around. Despite his current desire to be fishing in a Colorado lake, Jack's lips twitched into a smile. When the NID had forced General Hammond to resign by threatening the lives of his grandchildren, they had roused a sleeping dragon. Formerly a man who possessed too much of a tendency to 'follow orders', trusting in the Air Force's own internal checks and balances to put the brakes on amoral sociopaths and greedy opportunists like Colonel Samuels, Colonel Simmons, Colonel Maybourne and Senator Kinsey, George Hammond had finally realised it wasn't going to happen and had become a lot more…proactive… in his command style.

Serendipitously, Hammond found a President on his wavelength, their new Head of State's quiet manner fooling many into thinking he was just another politician. The President had in fact been doing some hard thinking and he had just a few days ago ordered a massive change in procedure that had sent shock waves through everyone connected to Stargate Command.

Ignoring the current seismic upheavals caused by the Executive Order (which Jack in the main agreed with), O'Neill turned his mind back to the Rebirth of General Hammond. A shrewd operator and never one to overplay his hand, Hammond had started off with little things and gradually let NID and other foolish types glimpse his fangs and claws. Deciding to use the NID's illicit operations to his own advantage, Hammond had ordered Area 51 to produce as many of the Orbitals' as they could; when NID had balked, Hammond had been backed up by the President who had been a lot less amiable in his orders to the cowed agents.

As far as Jack understood it, the Orbitals, technology found by NID operatives on a long-abandoned planet as opposed to stuff they had stolen from populated worlds, were basically spy satellites but were only the size of a baseball. With minimum moving parts and giving out almost no detectable energy signature, the Orbitals had an operational lifespan of several Earth centuries so could be left in situ. Since a MALP was sent through to every new Stargate address first, Hammond ordered that an Orbital be sent with it, the small ball would immediately "drop off" the MALP upon reintegration on the other side and move high up into the atmosphere where it could map the entire planet and the immediate vicinity of outer space within forty-eight Earth hours.

There had always been a high risk that the Stargate addresses on the Abydos Cartouche, now safely stored in the SGC computers, would lead to Goa'uld inhabited worlds, such as now-dead Hathor's planet. When Jack had had the language of the Ancients downloaded into his brain he had input hundreds of new addresses into the SGC system; after Thor and the Asgard had removed the knowledge, the two data sources had been compared and it was decided to concentrate on those Asgard addresses that didn't also appear on the Abydos cartouche list, to avoid confrontation with the Goa'uld.

This policy had been successfully pursued and the Stargate teams shared discovered technology and new civilisations with allies such as the Asgard and the Tok'Ra. Daniel had previously managed to persuade the Asgard to revive the ancient 'Protected Planets' Treaty preventing enslavement of primitive cultures by the Goa'uld, now known as the Tau'ri Alliance as it comprised of the Asgard, the Nox, the SGC and sundry other highly advanced alien cultures, instead of the original quartet of the Asgard, the Nox, the Furlings and the Ancients. Surprisingly, there had been those on several worlds willing to become a host to a Tok'Ra symbiote, and for the first time in over a century, the Tok'Ra were enjoying population expansion rather than depletion, helped by having a ready made source of new hosts in the Jaffa who joined the Rebellion, since these were already accustomed to carrying a Goa'uld symbiote.

However, in spite of these positive outcomes, ignoring the Abydos Cartouche addresses entirely hadn't always been practical. Also, because some addresses were so far "out", they needed 8 or more chevrons to reach them, which the SGC simply lacked the power for; others were on worlds now uninhabitable or that had been destroyed.

There was also the fact that the Abydos Cartouche addresses were more likely to lead the SG teams to worlds populated by transplanted humans who could be rescued from slavery to the Goa'uld, just as they found Teal'c and subsequently rescued many Jaffa, including his mentor Bra'tac and son Rya'c. On several occasions it had occurred that addresses had reached a Goa'uld infested world and the Stargate had had to be immediately disengaged. Undetectable to Goa'uld technology, the Orbital had then slipped off while the MALP was the sacrificial lamb, and simply floated unnoticed in the sky. Programmed to send data through an open wormhole to pre-set friendly worlds, or Earth, whenever the Stargate was activated, the Orbitals had sent vital intelligence regarding Goa'uld worlds and activities. Indeed, two such planets had been liberated from the Goa'uld when the Orbitals recorded the particular System Lord departing and leaving only "skeleton crews" of Jaffa behind. Indeed, when the Stargate teams had been able to demonstrate that their 'God' was nowhere near divine, some of these Jaffa had joined the resistance.

Of equal scientific import was the Orbitals use on worlds like this one upon which Jack O'Neill was even now standing. Despite their mission to "seek out new worlds and boldly go where no-one has gone before", as Jack had theatrically declaimed to a group of impressed natives, the Stargate teams often saw nothing of a planet beyond the immediate vicinity of the Stargate itself and at the very most a two-to-ten mile radius. True, the Ancients had almost always built the Stargates in the optimum position on each particular planet, nearest the hub of most useful activity, but that could and did change over time, as evinced by Earth's Antarctica Gate, apparently the original Stargate built by the Ancients as opposed to the Egyptian one made later by Ra.

Since it was highly unlikely that the Ancients would have deliberately positioned the Stargate in one of the most bitterly inhospitable places on Earth, logic dictated that once Antarctica had been just another lush, fertile continent inhabited by people perfectly unflustered by having a Stargate next to them. Additionally of course, hostile alien cultures such as the Goa'uld were also capable of destroying an original Stargate or moving it to a location suitable for their own ends, and the system was incapable of making the distinction between an Ancients' original Stargate and a later replacement/relocation.

As long as a Stargate was situated on or in synchronous orbit directly above a planet, it could be dialled to easily, as SG-1 had proved when they'd used Daniel's alternate reality co-ordinates to save Earth from Apophis. However, they had instantly lost the ability to gate back when Klorel's ship left orbit, negating the point of origin. SG-1 had also 'gated effortlessly to Tantalus without having to compensate for planetary drift, where they had found Ernest Littlefield, but had been unable to detect that the DHD had been destroyed. The litany of Stargates underwater, in underground prisons, smack-bang in the middle of war zones, et cetera, was surprisingly lengthy.

Jack had heard that it was Daniel – nothing surprising there – who had espoused the theory that Antarctica might very well be the basis for the legends of Atlantis, Earth's lost, first great civilisation. Jack had always tended to equate 'myths and legends' with 'complete fairy stories' but to his surprise a lot of the archaeology boffins at Area 51 and Washington D.C. were taking Daniel seriously. Certainly an advanced civilisation there when the rest of the planet was still inventing the wheel would explain why the Ancients had chosen to build the Stargate there and would back up the claim Ancient Orlan had made to Sam that Ancients had originated from Earth, something Oma Desala had also implied to Daniel on Kheb. The idea that the human species was apparently much, much older than previously thought was still causing all sorts of excitement that Jack didn't really understand but recognised as important, especially after that incident a couple of weeks ago when the normally reticent Daniel had nearly got into a fist-fight with some Area 51 anthropologist who had contemptuously dismissed Daniel's finally public statement of his theory that humans and Ancients were the same thing.

Jack wasn't at all sure he bought that idea. If so, why had the supposedly 'benevolent' Ancients abandoned their less technologically developed fellow human brethren to the ravages of some sort of primordial plague in order to Ascend? Leaving those that survived the disease – if that's what it was - later defenceless against enslavement by the Goa'uld and struggling to exist in a primitive environment when the Ancients had obviously had the technology to protect the entire planet was hardly the nicest thing to do. However, these days Jack found himself listening more intently to Daniel's endless fount of Earth myths because time after time they proved to be not fiction at all, but solid, real facts – albeit fancifully embellished. It was one such obscure myth about a minor Greek demigod called Blind Io, who in fact was able to see everything, that had led the original NID thieves to the abandoned planet where they discovered the Orbitals in the first place.

Once again Jack glanced upwards, though intellectually he knew it was futile to try and spot the well-disguised devices. Orbitals could survey an entire planet, and relay important data back to the SGC, such as: "this continent is deserted, but the one over there has a Goa'uld Mothership sat on it." When the NID had made noises about the cost, Sam Carter had brought the President totally on board by showing him and the gathered Joint Chiefs of Staff firstly the pictures of Cassandra's home world of Hanka and the last pictures the SGC had received from the MALP of Major Henry Boyd and his team. She had then quietly explained to them that if Orbitals had been available back then, Nirrti's Mothership would have been detected above Hanka in plenty of time to save SG-7 and the Hankans, and also Major Henry Boyd's team would still have been alive today, since the Orbital would have detected the infant black hole and connection to that doomed world could have been terminated long before there was any threat.

The two Orbitals currently orbiting high, high overhead had showed this to be a long-deserted world that had once housed a very technologically advanced race, a race that had apparently wiped themselves out in some internecine war – the ethereal, once beautiful buildings all over the planet, now covered with millennia of foliage, showed the remnants of major blast damage. Every urban centre had dozens of massive craters; entire "blocks" of buildings were twisted and split apart; what had obviously been major roads and some sort of train network were collapsed into rubble. There were signs of atmospheric and submarine damage too, suggestive concentrations of chemical-laden mineral deposits and "heavy" elements.

Alert as always despite his inner musings, Jack scanned the area. No sentient life forms had been detected, the largest animals an elephant-sized herbivorous mammal that vaguely resembled a stegosaurus without the huge horns and skull-plate, but Jack didn't let his guard down for a second. The Tollan had taught him that – even after SG-1 saved their asses again when they had held the trial that freed Skaara from being host to Klorel, the Tollan had still maintained a complacent belief in their technological superiority and defensive infallibility over the Goa'uld; that hubris had resulted in their civilisation being virtually wiped out bar a few, scattered survivors and had robbed Earth of a much needed ally in the fight against the Snakeheads.

Normally, SG-1 focussed on populated planets; indigenous populations or transplanted humans that they could make mutual defence treaties with or trade alliances; that was where SG-1's strengths as the SGC's 'flagship' unit lay. Both the old and new President had come to recognise the full importance of the SGC, and since other countries – namely Canada, Britain, Russia, France, China, Japan, Australia and New Zealand - had been brought 'in' on the Project, funding and personnel were now not the problem that had enabled that slime Senator Kinsey to try and destroy the programme.

SG-1 to SG-14 had been the 'founding' teams, but there were now twenty-five SG teams comprising of military, scientific, diplomatic, medical, archaeological and anthropological personnel from all 'in the know' countries. Some teams were AAP - anthro-archaeo-paleontology – specialist units (try saying that three times fast, Jack mused to himself) who concentrated on researching the lost civilisations they came across. Others were slanted towards botany or marine biology or were eco-system experts. Still other teams specialised in military history and searching for ever more effective weaponry again the Goa'uld/Replicators/Reetu/insert-the-bad-guy-of-your-choice-here; yet others were purely diplomatic: First Contact specialists whose sole aim was to make treaties, forge alliances and create interstellar diplomatic ties.

The decision so recently made by their newest Commander-in-Chief, that was creating such upheaval currently, was the creation of twelve MFC Teams: Mirror First Contact. Their role it would be to explore the many alternative universes in the Naqahdah Mirror that Daniel Jackson had discovered, and which, to General Hammond's complete lack of surprise, the NID had not destroyed as he had ordered.

The SGC Stargate's DHD had long been destroyed, hence their use of the base's computer system (which incidentally had given them much more control over who accessed the gate). Likewise, the hand device that had controlled the Naqahdah Mirror had been destroyed along with the SGC in Daniel's alternate reality. Even nowadays, few people ventured to ask Daniel about it; his curt explanation of how the Dr Sam Carter of that reality had used it to lure a bunch of Jaffa and then killed them all – and herself – with grenades silenced all but the most insensitively curious. Jack had read the full written reports and seeing on paper how his other self, Sam, George Hammond and Catherine Langford had sacrificed themselves to give Daniel a chance to save his world had left Jack feeling uncomfortably…weird.

On a purely practical note, it had taken the boffins much longer to come up with a way to use current earth technology to replace the hand device than it had for them to jury-rig a new DHD. Dr Fraiser had authorised brief trips back to the now irradiated Mirror planet, but the civilisation there had been destroyed before they could log the origin of the Mirror. With no way of knowing where the civilisation had brought the Mirror from, there was no hope of making contact with whoever had built it or obtaining another hand device except by random chance, so the boffins had had to start from scratch.

Moved to a TSE (Totally Secured Environment) at an even lower level – 35 - in Cheyenne Mountain than Stargate Command at Level 28, the Naqahdah Mirror teams and support personnel were tasked with venturing into the alternate dimensions of the Mirror. SG-1's equivalent, MFC-1, comprised former Major, now Colonel, Ferretti and his three hellions – Chen, Morgan and X. Formerly SG2, under Ferretti, all had all chosen to follow their leader on this new path. With Kawalsky dead, Ferretti, Jack and Daniel were now the last surviving members of the original Stargate mission – which seemed to Jack sometimes a million years past now – and as such held a pre-eminent place in the SGC.

Jack would never admit he worried about Ferretti; the twinkling-eyed New York Italian would never let him live it down, but it didn't take a genius to work out that Mirror Travel was exponentially far more dangerous even than Stargate travel. However, Ferretti had been confident, and Jack was perceptive enough to realise that in a deep, subconscious way, Ferretti needed an opportunity to fix things, to have the chance to save some other Kawalsky, some other Sha're, some other Major Boyd; Colonel Cromwell; Cimmuria; Hanka; some other Earth.

Daniel Jackson had not attended the official commencement of the MFC programme, as the memories were simply too painful. The way that the alternative Earth he had been inadvertently sent to was brutally conquered by Apophis, with that Sam Carter, Jack O'Neill and George Hammond all killed because they had used their opportunity of escape instead to give Daniel the chance to save his Earth weighed heavily upon the archaeologist, and even now he was given to brooding. Though Daniel was unaware of it, Jack was aware that Daniel's still obvious grief had engendered in the fledgling MFC teams a determination to help out those in other dimensions as much as they were able, for Dr Jackson was immensely popular amongst the SGC personnel generally.

Indeed, as if some cosmic sign of approval, Ferretti's first MFC mission was a resounding success beyond anyone's wildest hopes. The Naqahdah Mirror had still been on the home world of the civilisation destroyed by the Goa'uld in this reality, and even more amazingly, that Goa'uld attack hadn't yet reached them. MFC-1 had stepped out the Mirror in front of their startled lab personnel, obviously a bipedal hominid species and Ferretti was able to convey their friendly intentions. More complex communication had ensued and thus forewarned, the Ulaarem had taken immediate action, deciding to evacuate the majority of the population and arranging defences against the attack. Lieutenant Chen had hit upon the idea of sending the civilians to the Nox world, who of course had been amazed at the arrival of such large numbers along with Ferretti who had beseeched Lya to contact the Asgard. Helped by Thor, the Ulaarem and the SGC had been prepared and thwarted Apophis' attack.

Jack had been present for the conference between General Hammond and General Hammond as the two men talked through the Mirror. It had been a bizarre experience, exchanging exasperated glances with his 'other self' as the two Carters went into scientific rapture and incomprehensible explanations of the 'temporal anomaly'. Apparently the fact that in this reality Apophis' attack had occurred over four years ago, while in that one it had still been four months away when Ferretti and the gang arrived was enormously significant, though Jack couldn't follow Carter's explanation once she got past "'You see, sir, the…'"

There were of course many differences in that reality, just as there had been in the one Daniel originally went to and also the one that Alternate Carter and Kawalsky had come from. SG-1 as Jack, Sam, Teal'c and Daniel had existed there, but their Hammond was only a Brigadier-General, not a Major-General (something the General Hammond had not drawn attention to). In that reality, Kawalsky had never been infested by Goa'uld and was now Colonel Kawalsky of SG-2.

General Hammond had explained to his counterpart that he could not step through to the other side, because the same matter could not exist simultaneously in the space-time continuum for very long without losing structural cohesion. Ferretti and his team had been able to exist easily in that reality without ill-effect because there it had been them as SG-3 not SG-7 that had died on Hanka with Nehrti's other victims, just as the first Alternate Kawalsky had been okay in this reality because Kawalsky here was dead, whereas the first Alternate Sam had rapidly suffered increasingly debilitating problems due to her proximity to this reality's Sam.

Jack had ended up with a blinding headache within the first ten minutes and the absolute knowledge that no language was capable of the grammatical flexibility to deal with this sort of thing. One thing that had become obvious was how the 'four years ahead' status of this reality had given their counterparts a huge helping hand. Forewarned of those slimeballs Kinsey, Maybourne and Simmons and the NID, plus the existence of Seth, Osiris and Isis on Earth had enabled the SGC to make pre-emptive strikes. They'd been able to explain the origin of the replicators to the Asgard, and prevent the Tollan being exterminated. They had sought out the Tok'Ra, including Jolinar and Martouf who were alive and well in their reality.

On a more personal note, the information of the doomed mission here to save Sha're had enabled SG-1 there to kidnap her alive from Apophis's base and also snatch Skaara. The Tok'Ra had killed Ammonet and Klorel, and Sha're was now living on Earth with that Daniel Jackson and their baby daughter, with frequent visits from proud uncle Skaara and grandpa Kasuf from Abydos. That reality was now locked in the Mirror's address system and was forging a strong intergalactic alliance with the Nox, Tollan and Asgard against the Goa'uld. To Jack's inward satisfaction, they also weren't slow to acknowledge the enormous debt they owed the people of this reality, and it had seemed to give Daniel some peace of mind to know that at least in one place, he and Sha're were enjoying a happy life together.

Jack shook off the wool-gathering and looked around his current surroundings with absolutely no affection. Unfortunately,

in this reality, when all was said and done, bacteria still ruled supreme. The NID had done the catering for the highly-classified, quarterly-held scientific brainstorming conference in Washington D.C. (ostensibly a meeting of the American Medical Association), and possibly in a financial swipe at General Hammond, had done so definitely 'on the cheap'. The result was that within twenty-four hours most of the attendees were worshipping the porcelain with Technicolor yawns courtesy of some dodgy chicken. With most of the SGC's scientific contingent prostrate, pallid and weakly begging their respective military-personnel SG team mates to 'just shoot me now', there would be a desperate lack of boffins for at least a week.

Due to being on Abydos for some important political ceremony he couldn't miss because to being Kasuf's son-in-law and a tribal elder in his own right, Daniel was one of the fewer than a score astronomical-IQ types who had avoided the food poisoning. Consequently the few full-strength SG teams were stretched to the limit, which was why SG-1 and not a specialist AAP SG Team were checking out this planet.

Jack eyed Teal'c with bored disfavour. Teal'c had attended the conference as the SGC's resident Goa'uld expert, despite persistent paranoid grumbles from NID/bigoted Senator-Kinsey-type clones. 'Junior', the maturing Goa'uld larvae he carried, had reacted with vehement disapproval to the chicken dish after Teal'c had taken a single mouthful, and the big Jaffa had simply avoided it. What he had not done was mention this to anyone else!

It transpired that the strict diet followed by Jaffa was not entirely religious in nature but designed to alleviate stress on the symbiote they carried. Since joining the SGC, Teal'c had largely jettisoned the ritual diet imposed by Apophis, but apparently Junior had definite preferences and dislikes and could make these known to Teal'c, usually when the big Jaffa entered the meditative state of 'Kel Na'reem', or more instantly via violent movement in the nurturing 'pouch' when it recognised an immediate problem. Like Carter, Junior was a chocoholic and a caffeine addict, though Jack rebelled inwardly at anthromorphasising the snake.

Jack watched as Daniel began to scan images of some of the statues into his camera, and wandered over curiously as Daniel had that thoughtfully puzzled expression on his face that tended to mean he was onto something significant. Jack raised an eyebrow when he realised that Daniel was concentrating on those statues most recent, since usually Daniel's interest zeroed in on whatever was the oldest part of a site. SG-1's archaeologist was now looking from one statue to another intently.

"You got something?" Jack hated that feeling in the pit of his stomach that had recently been stopping him adding one of his usual nicknames to the end of the question.

Though on the surface everything was okay, Jack was acutely aware that in reality there was an underlying constraint between himself and Daniel Jackson, and indeed had been ever since Jack had managed to catch the NID thieves by virtue of his undercover gig for the Tollan and the Asgard. Unfortunately the haul had including SG-3's Colonel Vincent Makepeace, who rather surprisingly considering SG-3 were Marines, had developed quite a friendship with Daniel Jackson, along with his three men.

That event had led to seismic upheaval within the Stargate programme. The sheer number of personnel who were found to be colluding with the NID and those who had resigned/transferred out of the programme as a show of support had been shocking and disturbing. The Air Force brass had responded with a typically knee-jerk reaction of flooding the SGC with stereotypically military 'goon' orders-are-orders-are-orders idiots and the result was an unprecedented level of tension and friction between the civilian and military personnel. This was particularly true between the 'boffins' and the 'warriors'; the new Marine units treated the scientists with open contempt, the scientists responded with the obvious view that the soldiers were testosterone-overloaded morons.

Although Jack's reluctant mission at the personal behest of Thor had occurred a good eighteen months ago now, subsequent missions had only served to crank up the stress levels for the SGC and within the flagship team of SG-1 itself. There had been his own – admittedly – unconscionable attitude on Euronda; it still made him shiver to realise how close he came to helping a bunch of Nazis destroyed half their planetary population – would have without Daniel's persistence, and okay he hadn't handled it well.

However, Jack had no regrets about taking down the robot-girl, Reese; otherwise the SGC would have been overrun with replicators. However, he also couldn't forget Daniel's grief – and rage. Many people underestimated Daniel Jackson's ability to hate or to react with vicious and cold-blooded physical violence if provoked sufficiently enough, but Daniel had never aimed that venom at Jack – until that point. You stupid son-of-a-bitch…Recently, whenever Daniel got heated over something, those words had echoed in Jack's mind, and he recalled all too clearly the vicious fury in Daniel's voice and eyes as he'd spat the words at him. Jack remembered how grateful he'd been at the time that Daniel didn't have a gun on him.

The underlying tension that permeated everything these days was becoming increasingly wearing to Jack's nerves. Quite often – like right now – Jack struggled to keep his tone even and not allow a subtle aggression to show, his instinct being to push Daniel into 'letting it go' and getting back to the way things should be. He was getting damn tired of this churning feeling in his stomach all the time, and pretty soon he would sort things out with Danny-boy once and for all if Jackson wouldn't get over his snit. It had been nearly two years since his undercover mission for crying out loud!

Daniel shrugged, "I think that all these most recent statues are the same 'Cardassian', which means he, she or it must have been a planetary leader, or someone who had a colossal impact on their culture."

Jack looked at the statue; what he knew about archaeology could fit on the back of a postage stamp, but after a while you picked things up. Over time things got a "patina" on them, a layer of grime and weathering that could be used to determine authenticity or age. The patina on these statues wasn't as dark as a lot of the others, indicating more recent creation. Very tall, completely hairless bipeds with prominent noses and uniformly small, almost vestigial ears, depictions of the race seemed to show that the species had bony ridges of cartilage that ran from just under each earlobe to the end of what in a human would be the scapula or the top of the arm where the shoulder ended. That vague similarity had been enough to get PX-whatever and it's extinct populace nicknamed Cardassia and Cardassians after the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine aliens. Only geniuses like Carter remembered the binary codes used by the computers to record these planets anyway!

"Look at the stone these statues are made of." Daniel said softly.

"Multi-coloured." Jack spotted immediately, giving Daniel a significant glance.

Data from the Orbitals and UAV flyovers of the planet's surface had indicated that commemorative statuary played an enormous role in 'Cardassian culture'. Even small, isolated villages had had several small clearly ornamental stone sculptures prominently placed. These statues also seemed to be colour-coded. Military-looking ones were always carved from a granite-like stone that had a lot of pink and red striations; agricultural type statues seemed to have green striations, others had blue and yellow, etc. In some cases, even in very small towns that presumably didn't have a lot of money, the stone for a particular statue seemed to have been shipped there from the other side of the planet, indicating a profound importance to the type and colour of stone used. The statues of this individual all seemed to be of a very rare rainbow-hued stone.


Jack hurried over to where Sam had shouted, aware of Daniel and Teal'c following him, hearing the excitement in her voice. She was standing at the doorway to a massive skyscraper type building, which was now open – dim lighting flickered to life in the hallways as even as Jack approached. He barely glanced at the way Carter had rearranged the small geometrically shaped crystals in the small panel on the wall. A surprisingly large number of alien cultures – the Asgard, Nox, Tollan, Ancients and Goa'uld for instance – used crystals as part of their technology, and since Carter had been host to Jolinar and worked one-to-one with Thor's Asgard scientist colleagues, plus the Tollan, she had developed an affinity for crystalline-based technologies.

Several of the science types at Norad had theorised that Earth's plentiful supply of quartz and other minerals may have been what drew at least some of these alien cultures to the planet in the first place, since Earth was, in cosmic terms, an insignificant backwater or an unimportant hamlet in the boondocks. To the Goa'uld for instance, their Holy Grail was Naqahdah and Naquadriah, of which Earth possessed not a drop in either case, yet they had gone to the tremendous effort of trying to conquer the planet or at least part of it. Systems that utilised crystal-based technology were now being invented based on alien prototypes and experimentally used on Earth. Since the collapse of communism in Russia, the country had been in terrible financial straits, and the Russian government was surreptitiously using cheap, long-lasting, non-polluting crystal technology to maintain its power stations, hospital equipment and so forth; so far the experiments had all been completely successful.

Jack nodded his head once and the four fell into the familiar pattern. Teal'c took point, his staff weapon ever ready, Jack covered the left flank and Sam the right with Daniel guarding their 'six' or back in civilian parlance, the foursome making a near perfect diamond shape - ◊ - as they advanced cautiously into the building, spread out just enough for each to cover the other while not being bunched so close together that an assailant could cut more than one of them down at once. Lights obviously powered by motion sensors were flickering on haphazardly ahead of them, mostly very dim as if the system were on emergency lighting back up.

Jack O'Neill distrusted it all immensely. Crystal-based technology was small, durable, cheap and completely non-polluting, but tended to last for millennia instead of decades or even centuries, and that wasn't necessarily always A Good Thing. On Earth today, French farmers were still getting blown up by landmines planted in World War I nearly ninety years ago; Daniel had ended up in the loony bin and Teal'c almost in his grave after SG-1 inadvertently triggered one of the anti-Goa'uld booby traps set by the long-dead Machello decades earlier. There had been that damn six-hour time loop that had gone on for months and months before they'd managed to break it, and that Goa'uld 'opium den' with the addictive light-show that had seen Daniel Jackson spaced out and ready to try and fly off his own apartment balcony. Jack had thus learned the hard way that all too often 'dead civilisations' were really just dormant, and could bite you in the ass if you hit the wrong button.

The people of this world had destroyed themselves in a particularly vicious civil war. Had this building escaped largely unscathed due to happy coincidence, or had it been preserved because it harboured some nasty little Doomsday device that the 'other side' had been intending to get their hands on? Were they in danger of accidentally triggering some countdown that would disintegrate the planet – and them with it?

There was only one way to find out. Oh well, that's why they pay us the big bucks. "Spread out and search – never more than twenty metres apart from each other, five minute voice checks if we're out of line of sight." Jack ordered.

They drifted away from him, scanning the variety of rooms that seemed to be laboratories and offices. Automatically, Jack tried to keep a weather eye on Daniel, acutely aware – and finding himself deeply resentful – of the fact that these days the archaeologist was obeying him to the letter, whereas at one time within two minutes Daniel would have been enthralled by some new discovery and oblivious to his surroundings. Jack knew that on the surface his attitude would appear petulant since he was finally getting what he wanted after years of complaining. However, Jack was aware that Daniel's obedience stemmed from the wrong motive: lack of trust.

He bit back the urge to sigh as he explored his surroundings. Going undercover and pretending to be one of Colonel Maybourne's cronies had been hard enough, but the hardest part had been to throw Daniel's efforts back in his face when the younger man made a special effort to visit him. Jack certainly hadn't bought that 'we drew straws and I lost' claim after all the dust had settled. But Jack had had no choice – he knew his house had to be bugged, and even outside in his back yard couldn't take the risk that there wasn't some NID guy sat out of sight with a parabolic microphone trained on him.

Carter and Teal'c had been upset, but in the end it came down to their military training and understanding of the 'chain of command' – they were aware that there were certain things they wouldn't be cleared to know and they simply got on with it once the truth was revealed and Jack was back in charge. To Daniel Jackson's civilian mind, however, things were much more black and white: either he was trusted or he wasn't. He viewed things like 'codeword clearance' and 'need to know' as merely sophistry, mealy-mouthed attempts to weasel out of deceit and lies.

Though Jack had seen all the files on Daniel Jackson, a lot of the archaeologist's pre-SGC life had still been 'unknown', but after the Major Kerrison thing blew up last month, it had become clear to everyone at the SGC that Dr Jackson had not had a happy life before the first Abydos mission led him to Sha're. For several days after Kerrison had been sent back to Washington with a flea in his ear, Jack had found that his dreams were of the virtual reality scenarios he and SG-1 had experienced on the Gamekeeper's planet, and his dreams replayed in accurate detail the brief glimpse he had had of the day in the New York Museum of Art when eight-year-old Daniel Jackson had horrifically seen his mother and father crushed to death by a collapsed exhibit.

Daniel Jackson was very much a sharp-eyed observer, standing on the sidelines and taking it all in, rather than an active participant. While physically unpretentious about 'personal space', he rarely let others into his life in an emotional sense, and more rarely still actively reached out. However, he had done so to Jack and Jack was aware of the tremendous damage his apparent bad attitude had inflicted on their friendship. Theirs had never been an easy relationship – they had very different personalities, and had had to work on finding common ground, unlike Jack's immediate and close bond with Teal'c with whom he had shared an instant warrior 'rapport' and still very much did.

Daniel was wary now, closed off. Jack was beginning to be increasingly resentful of Daniel's cautious attitude, as if Jack was some dangerous animal at a zoo that was only safe from a distance, though admittedly he wasn't the only one to be so marked; in the past month there had been two separate inter-alliance meetings with the Asgard and the Nox, neither of which Daniel had attended. On both occasions the representatives had commented on Daniel's absence, but Jack had succeeded in brushing them off with a joking reference to Daniel 'still being sore about not being told' about Jack's secret mission to destroy the NID artefact-stealing ring. It was obvious that Daniel had clearly tarred the Asgard and the Nox with the same brush. Unfortunately, with almost two Earth years having elapsed since the mission, Daniel's continued avoidance of alliance meetings was getting harder and harder to excuse, plausibly and otherwise.

Cautiously peering around yet another corner, O'Neill had to admit to himself that part of his aggression came from the fact that he was feeling just a bit on the defensive. He had never been enthralled with keeping the mission a secret from the rest of SG-1 anyway, but what had shaken him – and a lot of other people including the new President – was the amount of support ex-SG-3 Team commander Colonel Vincent Makepeace and his ilk had received. Only a minority of those involved were like Colonels Maybourne, Simmons and Senator Kinsey: operating out of selfish amoral greed or bigoted fanatical terror of the unknown. Makepeace and several others had been court-martialled for treason, but the President had commuted their sentences to life imprisonment, rattled like a lot of the other top brass by the sheer volume of their comrades who clearly agreed with their opinions.

Jack had been astounded when Vincent Makepeace pleaded 'not guilty', but the harrowing and complex Courts Martial had proven explicitly that a lot of the NID operatives were not criminals, but genuinely believed in what they were doing – Newman certainly had for instance. Vincent Makepeace considered himself to be a loyal member of the SGC and a 'patriotic' Earthman. He had no beef with or dislike of the Asgard, Nox, Tollan, Tok'Ra or any of Earth's other allies, but by the same token he had no faith in them – not so much their ability, but rather their willingness, to aid Earth when the chips were down. As he freely admitted at his own Court Martial, Colonel Makepeace had become part of the NID's artefact theft operation because in his opinion Earth seemed to be doing all the work, while the Asgard just sat there and metaphorically patted them on the head as if they were clever pets that had learned a new trick.

Certainly those involved in the thefts could have had a field day incriminating or outright framing subordinates, superiors and colleagues, instead of which many had gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure that the innocence of comrades, friends and family was proven, even when it had heightened the risk of being caught. Despite the fact that their career and promotion prospects could be seriously affected, many Air Force personnel and others continued to send letters, gifts and to visit the now life-imprisoned NID thieves such as Vincent Makepeace. Some psychobabbler had claimed that the entire SGC had suffered a 'profound psychological trauma' and Jack was beginning to agree.

The other three members of SG-3: Chen, Morgan and Michaels, completely unaware of what Makepeace was doing, had resigned from the Air Force after Makepeace's Court Martial and in so doing robbed the project of a total of nearly half a century's worth of experience and knowledge. Their reasons had been blunt; they agreed with their commander's worldview, and had they known of his activities, would have been first in line to volunteer their help. Dozens of experienced Marines, technicians, scientists, pilots and others had also either resigned their commissions or requested transfer away from the Project as a show of support. An unpleasantly large number had made it very clear by their attitudes that in their opinion, Makepeace and the NID were persecuted heroes trying to protect Earth's interests, while Hammond, O'Neill and the SGC had 'sold out'. It had been the various Courts Martial that had revealed, to Jack's surprise, how Daniel Jackson had been on very good terms with all four SG-3 team members and in truth, nagging at him constantly these days was the question of just how much did Daniel agree with Makepeace? Or even more sinisterly, support him?

Oh, Danny-boy was far too honourable a man to countenance for a second something like stealing the Touchstone from a living culture that needed it like Princess Lamora's people, but if you looked at it in a certain way, wasn't archaeology in many ways perilously close to legalised looting? Daniel certainly had no qualms about utilising technology left behind by long-extinct civilisations and hauling it back through the Stargate wholesale if he thought it would benefit Earth, which same had formed a large part of Makepeace and the NID's self-justification and defence counsel arguments.

In the aftermath of the NID's fall, there had been a lot of senior-level meetings that inevitably degenerated into shouting matches about 'loyalty'. Jack had nearly punched out one NSA suit who had harped on about Dr Daniel Jackson's spectacularly bad reaction to Jack's mission and its fallout, especially as pertaining to SG-3. The jackass had actually used the term 'security risk' twice in the same sentence and a lot of the Pentagon brass had sat there like a row of nodding dogs; some of the Pentagon dinosaurs had never been happy about mixed civilian-military teams and were trying to seize on the opportunity to make every SG team like SGs 21-25, who were all various military Special Forces units.

Jack had dealt with the situation; he found that leaping out of your chair, yelling more loudly than anyone else and interspersing your diatribe with vicious sarcasm (such as warning people about the dangerous levels of gas in the room) tended to get people's attention. He had succeeded in the majority of his 'damage control' – mainly because Jack O'Neill was the combined 'pet' of the Asgard, Nox and now extinct Tollan. Being close friends with the Supreme Commander of the Asgard Fleet really helped sometimes…

Nevertheless, Jack found himself almost continually filled with disquiet these days - he often found himself furtively watching Daniel when the young archaeologist wasn't looking and trying to convince himself that he had total faith in Daniel, but it wasn't working. Worry preyed on him constantly – it hadn't actually happened, but if Daniel had been forced into a position where he had to make a choice, would he have come to Jack – or gone over to Makepeace's side? Jack found he was no longer certain of a question that once upon a time he would have confidently answered without hesitation, and it was driving him nuts

A wave of dizziness washed over him and instantly he snapped up his gun. What…? Jack swept the room, automatically ascertaining his team's positions. Teal'c was in a room ahead looking at some inscribed wall plaques, Sam directly ahead about fifteen metres down the corridor was checking rooms as she passed; to the right he could just see Daniel in a room examining what appeared to be a large, rather ugly looking desk lamp. Nothing, no threat – he looked down at himself and did a quick inventory. He felt fine, except that he was a bit warm, but certainly no fever.

Relaxing infinitesimally but still ready for anything, Jack continued his sweep. It was clear that the fighting had gotten in here. The high-rise building appeared to be similar to MIT or CAL TECH in layout and thus presumably function. Though now faded with the inexorable march of time, blackened streaks from weapons fire were gouged into walls, doors, the ceiling and the floor, and there had been significant destruction of fixtures and fittings.

Thankfully, there were no remains. While under the right conditions a human being's skeleton or mummified corpse could remain intact for centuries, it seemed that Cardassian physiology 'comprised an endoskeleton of softer cartilage that was exceptionally biodegradable' as one of the boffins had put it. While the Cardassians certainly had memorials to their dead roughly equivalent to human cemeteries, graveyards as such were unknown, as if the Cardassians saw little point in erecting a permanent marker over a spot that would be devoid of any trace of the dead one within a few months.

Funnily enough, the memorial sites seemed to come to an end a good while before the archaeological estimates for the destruction of the civilisation itself, which meant either that the Cardassians had stopped dying, or that they had ceased to memorialise their dead for some reason –


Daniel Jackson's yell rang like a crystal bell in the silence, and O'Neill responded instantly. Similar to that cheesy movie Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey, in which the furry alien made one word, 'Station', mean anything, so Daniel Jackson could imbue Colonel O'Neill's Christian name with entire paragraphs-worth of subtle meaning. There was his enquiring "Jack?"; his puzzled "Ja-ack?"; his you-are-annoying-me-but-I-don't-really-mind, "Jaack"; his you-really-are-pissing-me-off "Jaaack!"; his downright angry "Jak". The nuances went on and on and on with barely detectable shifts in tone, pronunciation and pitch that Jack O'Neill nevertheless understood as if they were writ large in neon on the Las Vegas strip. This particular "Jaaaaack!" actually meant: 'I'd be really pleased if you'd come here right now with the biggest gun you happen to have on you'.

Feeling something close to actual alarm, Jack raced down the corridor, aware of Carter and Teal'c flanking him. Certainly not foolish enough to run headlong into what could be major trouble, Jack slowed as they saw Daniel standing in an open doorway, looking back at them, clearly physically unharmed.

"Dahnyul." Jack could likewise imbue his utterances of Daniel's name with exquisite shades of meaning depending on how he pronounced and elongated (or didn't) the syllables.


"What have you found, Daniel Jackson?" Teal'c asked, possibly sensing the two could go on like this for quite some time.

With a deep breath, Daniel swept his arm out towards the inside of the room like a doorman at a posh hotel bidding guests enter. Automatically Jack looked inside. He instantly saw that this room was much bigger than all the others they'd found, almost like a warehouse floor, and his second impression was that it had suffered much more fighting damage than some of the rest combined, but these understandings grasped in the first few seconds were swept from his mind when he saw what the room contained.

Rectangular boxes; each one was over six feet long, at least three feet deep and three feet wide. They ranged in hue from white to metallic silver in colour, and all lacked the ornate gold casing, jewels and hieroglyphics of the Goa'uld, but it was obvious what they were.

To be continued…

© 2004, Catherine D. Stewart