Disclaimer: Stargate SG:1 remains the property of Richard Dean Anderson, Greenburg et al. No money is being made from this fic.
Summary: See Part 1
Jack pushed the slice of pie – pecan and walnut – around his plate desultorily, breaking off little sections with his fork but not actually eating any of it.
He sighed loudly and exaggeratedly. For the last three days SG-1 had been confined to the SGC. Jack had nightly got nine full hours of uninterrupted sleep – which was so unusual as to almost seem unnatural. He lingered over breakfast in the Commissary, having two cups of coffee and reading the paper from cover to cover. Then it was some venting by sparring with Teal'c, followed by another energy-burning workout in the gym, followed by a long shower and then back to his quarters to watch The Simpsons – and then bed.
Bed! He hadn't gone to sleep at eight-thirty since he was in footie pyjamas. At the end of the first day, there'd been a positive report from Carter to General Hammond; despite having no external switches, an MRI showed that the inside of the 'desk-lamp' was packed with crystals and the Nemetae version of circuit boards, a strong indication of 'guilt'. But that had been that. Jack hadn't actually seen hide nor hair or Sam and Daniel, and was increasingly having to fight the urge to stick his head round the door and 'encourage' them. Only the knowledge that he would be able to hear all the names Daniel would mentally call him prevented Jack from trying it.
Jack pushed the pie away. It just wasn't the same without the others. When they were on-duty but not off-world in the SGC, his team had certain habits and routines. Daniel would be in his lab for a while and Carter in hers. Jack would hang out with Teal'c then and take a look-see at what Carter was doing and then go and hover around Daniel, and then he would leave Daniel and come to the Commissary. Jack would make the important selection of pie in the knowledge that shortly first one would arrive, then the other two. They would get pie and coffee and the other three would indulge in a bit of shop-talk and then they would get to the important discussion: the quality of this pie over previous pies. It was a minor little ritual, but an important one to Jack, more important than he'd consciously realised. It wasn't the same; it didn't even taste as good.
Jack looked up to see Walter standing in the doorway. "General Hammond wants you in Major Carter's laboratory, sir, stat."
Obediently Jack hurried out of the Commissary and to the lab. As he approached the doorway he was swamped with a near tangible sense of anxiety but also hope. He went in, finding to his lack of surprise, General Hammond, Dr Fraiser, Teal'c, Carter and Daniel already present. Though he kept his face impassive, Daniel's mental mutter of: 'This has got to work, or I may just have to kill myself', was a sentiment he wholeheartedly agreed with.
"Carter?" Jack asked Sam hopefully.
"I think we've done it, sir," Sam addressed General Hammond. "With your permission?"
"Go ahead, Major."
She stepped back from the desk lamp and Jack saw she was wearing heavy-duty plastic gloves to prevent skin-contact. "Colonel, please lightly press your fingers on the base of the desk lamp on the left hand side and then remove your hand."
Moving forward, and aware that Daniel had moved to a distance of six feet away from him, Jack did as she requested. The alloy was cool to his fingertips, and he fancied he felt a slight 'give' in the metal, though nothing as obvious as a pressure pad.
"Now, Daniel, please…" Carter gestured to Daniel.
The younger man slowly and deliberately walked forward until he was a distance of four feet from Jack. He stopped, his face blank and his eyes a mystery.
"Colonel?" questioned General Hammond.
Jack drew in a breath, and consciously relaxed his muscles. Then concentrated. He concentrated a bit more. And…
"Nothing!" he beamed at Carter, fighting the tremendous urge to whoop and grab her and waltz with her around the room joyously. "Not picking up so much as the weather report, sir!"
"That's all it needed?" Janet Fraiser asked Sam with understandable astonishment.
"Yes, that's how it was designed –"
"Sergeant!" Hammond said and Walter appeared genie-like in the doorway. "I want this boxed and en route to Area 51 tonight. Make sure that the artefact is not touched with bare hands by anyone."
"Yes, sir." Walter hurried off.
"I want a full debrief in ten minutes," General Hammond announced, adding as he left, "Good work, Major Carter."
Hurrying out of the lab as the impulse to grab Carter remained too strong for his liking, Jack was in the unique situation of being early for the first time in the history of the SGC as he entered the Briefing Room and sat at the conference table.
Within ten minutes everyone – including Major Davis, but you couldn't have everything – was present. Still, it could have been worse, Jack realised as he eyed the coffee pots someone had brought and left, he could have ended up telepathically linked to Paul Davisand then he would have had to have just ended it all.
Unusually, both Daniel and Sam immediately reached out for mugs and Jack registered fully their pallid features and dull eyes; clearly sleep had not factored in either of their schedules for the past three days, he acknowledged guiltily.
"Major Carter, Dr Jackson, are you both sure that the negation of the link is permanent and fully severed, rather than dormant?" General Hammond enquired, "I'm remembering Urgo at this point."
"He was on our minds too, General," Daniel said dryly, "but we're sure; the desk lamp was designed for short-term use lasting less than half of one Earth hour. The effect may even have worn off on its own eventually because of that."
"I am still unclear as to the point of creating such a device?" Teal'c said, shaking his head slightly as Major Davis hesitantly raised the coffee pot in silent question.
"It was a medical tool," Sam admitted.
Janet Fraiser paused in the act of adding sugar to her coffee. "A medical device? Are you sure?"
Daniel took up the explanation. "Yes, the house was a gold mine of information. The inventor's name was – as near as I can pronounce it – Sobahay. He was a medical doctor who created many medical devices and found breakthroughs in medicine, and became a bi-global hero on both Nemetae and Uhutac."
"He was the rainbow-coloured statues," Jack surmised, also passing on the coffee.
"Yes." Daniel confirmed. "He kept journals about his work but no personal diaries as such. From what I've been able to determine, he was Nemetae by race but he was born on Uhutac. Apparently he lost his entire family in childhood to a periodic pestilence common to both worlds and then entered a career in medicine."
"That's not an uncommon phenomenon," Dr Fraiser commented. "But what was the purpose behind that desk-lamp?"
"According to the planetary history in the Central Library, Nemetae and Uhutac discovered each other early on in their history via their Stargates." Daniel explained, "They were collaborative rather than confrontational and developed together technologically and culturally. Certain aspects of their society had things in common to our social structure in the Western Hemisphere, one of which was a paradoxical reverence of but also fear of doctors."
"Ah," Janet Fraiser suddenly nodded as all was revealed.
"I'm sorry, I seem to have missed this epiphany," General Hammond said dryly. "How is that relevant?"
Both Daniel and Sam shot Janet glances of desperate appeal that she quite rightly understood as pleas not to make them utter the phrase 'silly macho' in the presence of the male two-star General, full Colonel and a Pentagon Major.
Smoothly stepping in, Janet turned to General Hammond and said, "Sir, in the West, we fear illness. When a person gets sick, they initially react with irritation: I haven't got time for this, etc. They down a few pills and get on with it. But if the illness persists, they start to worry. By the time they're seriously worried or ill enough to go to a doctor they've worked themselves up into a state of great anxiety, and so tell the doctor fibs."
Teal'c's eyebrow went up. "For what reason would anyone deliberately lie to their physician, Dr Fraiser?"
Thank you, Teal'c, Janet said inside her head for the perfect lead in, "It's psychological. Very few people flat out lie, but most do either downplay the pain they're in or leave out what they view to be the most minor symptoms. Since the doctor isn't psychic he or she can only make a diagnosis on what they are told. The doctor assures the patient there's probably nothing to worry about and the patient leaves, rationalising to himself frantically so by the time he's got home he's convinced himself that he was worrying about nothing because, hey, the doctor himself said that there was no problem."
"That's what the desk-lamp was designed for." Sam took up the explanation now the danger of 'uttering unfortunate phrases to superior officers' was past. "Sobahay realised that a lot of time, money and pain could be avoided if doctors had a way to gauge what was really their patients' problem."
"In that case it would be a brilliant invention," Dr Fraiser assured General Hammond sincerely. "The permanent incapacity and-stroke-or death rate from incorrect or delayed diagnoses would drop through the floor if a doctor knew what the patient was leaving out. Then there would be the money saved on any social security system they had because it would be easy to tell a malingerer wanting a week off work from someone genuinely in pain. The savings in time and money would be astronomical."
Sam dipped her head in agreement at this assessment and concluded her explanation, "That's why Sobahay designed the desk-lamp. Basically from his journals it seems that when a patient entered the consulting room, the doctor would make some pretext for him or her to touch it and it would then activate."
"Which explains why I got the whammy even though only Daniel touched it?" Jack put in.
"Yes, sir," Sam nodded. "The physician then knew everything the patient was really thinking and feeling and most importantly leaving out. When the consultation was over, the physician made some pretext to touch the 'lamp' himself and that terminated the link. Apparently Sobahay was acutely aware of the potential for abuse so he severely limited the range of the device to five-and-a-half feet, which is about the size of a consulting room on Nemetae and Uhutac. The lamp activated at Daniel's touch and automatically made the link to the second person in range."
"All I had to do was touch it," muttered Jack grumpily.
General Hammond shot him a brief, quelling command with his eyes. "Can I take it as read that this Sobahay also invented the sarcophagus?"
"Yes, General," Daniel admitted.
"Is there anything that explains why someone so dedicated would create such a monstrous thing?" Dr Fraiser asked with concern.
"Oh yes, it was a mistake," Daniel said ruefully, obviously genuinely regretful on behalf of the long-dead Nemetae inventor. "The sarcophagus was not originally invented as the sarcophagus."
"In what way, Dr Jackson?" Major Davis asked.
"Some of the data I got from Sobahay's residence is damaged beyond irretrievability, despite Sam's best efforts," Daniel apologised, "but basically the Nemetae and Uhutacis developed a joint Space Navy as it were. Unfortunately with the best will in the world, there is only so much maximisation of space you can pull off in even the best-designed space-going tin can."
"That's where the sarcophagi came in," Sam put in. "The Space Navy also wasn't the fastest in the universe and Sobahay realised that inevitably some people were going to die from injuries that they might have survived had they been able to access the full range of medical techniques available on Uhutac or Nemetae that just couldn't be factored into a spaceship sick bay."
"So the sarcophagi were stasis tubes?" guessed Major Davis.
"More or less, yes." Sam finished her second mug of coffee and looked wistfully at the pot, which Janet Fraiser obligingly pushed within reach. "According to what Daniel translated of Sobahay's initial journals the sarcophagi were designed as stasis pods in which the critically injured could be placed and kept alive until the ship could get back home, at which point the full medical knowledge of their people could be brought into play."
"It was a very good idea," Daniel said sadly.
Except that they make you evil and crazy junkies. There was a sudden dead silence and Jack closed his eyes. "I said that out loud, didn't I?"
To his surprise, Daniel, no less, gave a snort of faint amusement, "That unfortunately was the spanner in the works. Tragically, nobody realised that the sarcophagi contained a terrible flaw."
"How could they miss it?" Janet challenged in understandable astonishment.
Daniel shrugged. "According to Sobahay's research journals, the daughter of the Nemetae Empress was serving aboard an exploration ship on a long-term deep-space mission and was killed outright in some sort of accident. The Captain had her body placed in the ship's sole stasis chamber to return her home in…optimum condition…for want of a better phrase. Apparently the equivalent of two weeks later the crew were terrified out of their minds when the princess came walking down the corridor having woken up, exited the pod and gone back to her duty station unaware she was supposed to be dead."
"But surely previous use of the sarcophagus had clued them in?" Janet persisted.
Sam shook her head, "According to the information on the PDAs, on the few occasions that the sarcophagi had been used prior to that, the ships had been reasonably close to home and hadn't had time to work their whammy on the occupants."
"Wait, two weeks?" Major Davis frowned, "But sarcophagi work much faster than that."
"The version of the technology we know does," Daniel corrected. "The Goa'uld must have somehow souped up the technology into the device we have today, which works a great deal faster than the original version. Once it was realised what the sarcophagi did, Sobahay began to work to make the process slightly faster, unwittingly magnifying the flaws too."
"So the Nemetae and Uhutacis eventually destroyed each other and themselves, I take it?" General Hammond concluded regretfully.
"Unfortunately, yes," Daniel admitted. "At first there wasn't a problem. Both societies used the sarcophagus to eradicate death, and as a result, the birth rate plummeted – as has happened to the Asgard by virtue of their cloning technology; all the Asgard are all the Asgard. Using the technology occasionally was okay but the very old needed to use the sarcophagus frequently to maintain their arrested ageing and consequently became well, OAP hoodlums."
There was a pause while they all digested that image, then Daniel explained, "Also unfortunately, kids are kids everywhere. At some point the equivalent of teenagers jumped into a sarcophagus while healthy and discovered that using a sarcophagus without being injured or dead –"
"Creates an intense feeling of well-being, vitality and energy," Dr Fraiser finished sadly. "And I have no doubt the craze spread amongst the Nemetae and Uhutaci youth?"
"Exactly, that was the beginning of the end." Daniel sighed in regret of the loss of such a potentially great culture. "By the time anyone realised that they had violent, addicted psychopathic elders and violent, addicted psychopathic children the damage had been done. The birth rate had been zero for over a century so there were no younger, undamaged siblings and any new children would have been born addicted to the sarcophagus like their parents, similar to crack-addicted babies born today in this country. It makes tragic reading, to be honest. Sobahay spent the rest of his life desperately trying to fix the problem –"
"But just like Malachi with that Ancient time machine, he couldn't fix the flaw causing addiction and violent personality changes and still make the thing work," Jack stated rather than asked.
"That pretty much sums it up, General," Sam agreed. "By that point, both societies were completely dependent on the sarcophagus technology and the ever-increasing spread of amoral, sociopathic citizens did the rest. Sobahay destroyed all knowledge of how to manufacture the devices in despair but it seems he was killed trying to find food in a riot. Once the technology began to break down and required repair the situation just escalated. Warlords deliberately destroyed sarcophagi and then either enslaved others or extorted vast sums to use it."
"They went to war with each other over control of the sarcophagi and destroyed each other?" Major Davis correctly estimated.
"Essentially yes," Daniel confirmed. "Eventually a group of Nemetae warlords decided to pre-emptively exterminate the Uhutacis and steal all their sarcophagi. Unfortunately for them the Uhutacis had the same idea and their fleets wiped each other out. What few managed to survive the global inferno on both planets had no food, or shelter or the skills to obtain either. Those that didn't die from sarcophagus withdrawal would have starved or frozen to death in winter. At some point the Nimrod Goa'uld briefly found Uhutac but was killed before it could go back and the Goa'uld somehow found the sarcophagi elsewhere but never tracked them back to their world of origin."
In SG-1's locker room, Jack finally finished drying his hair – a task that he had deliberately eked out far longer than normal. He knew what he had to do, but that didn't mean he had to like it.
He sat on the central benches as he pulled on his boots, thinking back to the Briefing Room last week, or rather, as he mentally nicknamed it, 'Daniel & Sam Explain It All'. After relating the fall of the Nemetae and Uhutac civilisations, the discussion had moved on to the sarcophagus as developed by the Goa'uld after they presumably stumbled across the technology. At that point, Carter had tossed in her verbal grenade with the information that the sarcophagus technology was, in fact, exterminating the Goa'uld as a species even as it was a vital component in enabling them to hang on to their galactic power.
As always, however, there was sting in the tail of this seemingly great news. Somehow in her three-day window, Carter had produced a twenty page report that she had distributed around the table. Jack's brain still hurt but after five or six readings, it had slowly percolated.
As far as Jack understood it the Goa'uld were basically an asexual species with the exception of the Queens, who were definitely female. However, all Goa'uld – with the exception of the queens – produced what Carter described as sort of 'free-floating DNA strands' like twigs in a river. Each queen Goa'uld collected some of this DNA from as many other Goa'uld as possible. They preferred those Goa'uld spawned by another queen, but their own adult offspring would be used if necessary. These DNA strands were then spliced first with each other to create optimum potential and then with the semen of a male of the intended host species once the queen was ready to spawn.
Jack had winced at that sentence, deliberately not looking at Daniel; he could practically feel the humiliated heat of the other man's blush.
Carter had then launched into full technobabble, possibly to distract their attention away from Daniel: "It's why the Goa'uld have such a superb immune system, General. You see, the Queen can store the DNA from the ordinary Goa'uld indefinitely, but what's really important is that she can recombine different DNA strands to her own personal specifications. If Goa'uld 'A' has a bit of DNA for making its tail longer that is unusually good but Goa'uld 'B' has a different bit of DNA, say for making it swim faster, that is unusually good, the queen can attach that bit of Goa'uld 'A' DNA to that bit of Goa'uld 'B' DNA, and jettison the rejected material – "
"Creating DNA strand 'C' which is better than A & B because the new strand has both abilities instead of just one?" Jack had tried valiantly, more to stop the flow than anything else.
Carter had beamed at him with positive ebullience. "Exactly! The queen keeps collecting DNA samples and refining them as better bits come along."
She'd lapsed in Mad Scientist North American dialect again but the basic gist of it (Jack tried so hard not to think about this part) was that when humans or any other 'bi-gender species' had sex, the male released billions of bits of DNA into the female. Sometimes the female got a really cracking bit of DNA – like Albert Einstein's mother, for instance, but most of the time it was Joe Average, and sometimes the mother received a dud bit of DNA, resulting in conditions such as Down's Syndrome or autism. What the Goa'uld queens did meant they ended up with an almost flawless strand of DNA with which to produce larvae.
At that point, Carter had broken off the flow as she looked at Jack's blank expression and realised he was floundering – nor was he the only one. Thinking quickly, she said, "Imagine it as if someone put priceless diamonds, lesser jewels like rubies, and worthless pebbles in a bucket and really mixed them up. When male and female mate, it's like closing your eyes and plunging your hand into the bucket – it's pot luck what you come up with. The Goa'uld queen's process means that she basically is like someone searching through the bucket and picking out just the diamonds. The queen's ability to eliminate flawed DNA and pass only the best on to the larvae is what makes the Goa'uld immune system so damn brilliant."
"So how does the host species come in?" It had been Janet Fraiser who'd asked the question, to Jack's eternal gratitude.
"The queen has to have the semen of a male of the intended host species." Carter had resolutely pretended not to notice the mass flinch of every male at the table – even Teal'c had blinked rather rapidly at that statement. "She then sorts through the DNA of each spermazoa, splicing the best of the host DNA with the DNA she's already collected from the ordinary Goa'uld, thus ensuring nearly perfect compatibility with the host of the nearly perfect larvae."
"Great," Jack had muttered. "So the Goa'uld were genetically perfect on top of everything else before the sarcophagus got near them, so I don't see how we'll never get rid of them."
"Uh, actually sir, the Goa'uld's survival as a species is very precariously balanced, the margin of error that would precipitate their extinction is almost non-existent."
"Carter you just said genetically perfect!"
With dogged determination, Jack had managed to follow her explanation. The basic issue was that the Goa'uld queen's method was labour intensive. In order to prevent inbreeding and degradation of the gnome – no, wait that wasn't right. Standing up, Jack paused and concentrated as he pulled on the blue jacket of his BDUs over his black T-shirt. Green gnome? No, no, gee-gnome, yeah that was it.
Apparently each queen had to produce thousands of larvae at every spawning cycle to ensure a…a…'sufficiently wide DNA resource pool to maintain genetic diversity'…and as Teal'c had suddenly said, though not in those precise words, Goa'uld larvae were pretty much useless at surviving to mature. The larvae needed somewhere consistently warm and environmentally stable during the first year of their life or they died en masse. Even assuming they made it to adulthood, genetically perfect as the Goa'uld were, one in two implantations had failed, killing both Goa'uld and host. Teal'c had grimly reminded those at the table that those facts were the reason why the ancestors of the Jaffa had been genetically modified by the Goa'uld in the first place. According to Carter, the infant mortality rate amongst Goa'uld larvae was still running at 60 even with the Jaffa and it was probably closer to 90 before that.
"There's also the problem that they've put all their reproductive eggs in one basket, so to speak," Daniel had chimed in at the point, despite that his ears had still been slightly pink and his face Hathor-haunted after Carter's talk of sperm and semen. "The primordial Goa'uld on the Goa'uld/Unas homeworld were originally self-locomoting predators who exhibited primitive sentience, like the Unas. I believe that they would have developed into a bi-gender species eventually, but the introduction of naqahdah to the species via that meteorite strike in one of the Goa'uld pools sent their species development off in a wildly different direction. The naqahdah enabled the Goa'uld intelligence to develop by leaps and bounds but the change from a self-propelling, self-determining species to a limbless, physically helpless form during the development of the symbiotic parasite/host relationship led directly to their current danger of extinction."
Nobody had set anything for several moments after that, mainly Jack suspected because they had been giving him time to decode Daniel's explanation. Carter, bless her, had laid it out more slowly and clearly for him. The upshot was that the Goa'uld's highly specialised way of procreation had given them an enormous tactical advantage in their nearly invincible immune systems, but the lack of reproductive diversity meant that their species was always balanced on a knife edge.
Carter had explained, "The massive loss of life amongst larval Goa'uld means that theoretically we could exterminate the species in a generation if we could kill what few do survive, relatively speaking. Besides that, very, very few Goa'uld queens exist in comparison with the total number of larvae. A Goa'uld Queen's greatest desire is to produce a daughter but most never do. Many queens spawn again and again and again, producing millions of larvae, without ever producing a new queen."
"Indeed," Teal'c had spoken again at that point, his face thoughtful. "Neither Isis nor Hathor ever spawned a queen to my knowledge. The queen who spawned Ammonet was indeed ancient in Goa'uld terms, and during all her lifespan, I believe Ammonet was the only queen she ever produced."
"If Egeria had spawned a queen while birthing the Tok'Ra, they too wouldn't be facing extinction. If I were to die tomorrow –" Sam Carter paused as Jack, Teal'c and Daniel visibly flinched in unison, "- the death of a single human woman of reproductive age isn't even a blip on the genetic radar of the human species. But the death of a Goa'uld queen is a disaster of unimaginable proportions. Goa'uld queens are very rare, and very rarely produce a daughter. From what I remember of Jolinar's knowledge, the number of Goa'uld queens has been steadily declining for millennia."
"Yet they still rule the galaxy!" Jack had pointed out to everyone with some asperity.
Jack closed his locker and double-checked his reflection in the mirror for safety: fly zipped, etc. According to Carter, that was where the sarcophagus, amongst other things, had come into play. The Goa'uld had essentially – or so it would seem at face value - lucked out. There were proportionally far less Goa'uld in contrast to billions of humans and Asgard and Nox, etc., but the only reason the Goa'uld were in their present position of power was because they were 'lucky' enough (Carter had made inverted speech marks with her fingers at that point) to somehow come across useful technologies like the sarcophagus in their early travels from their homeworld. Without the sarcophagus, the Goa'uld death rate would be even more astronomically high than it already was.
Earnestly Carter had said to them all, "Doesn't it strike you as odd that most of the system lords are old Goa'uld? Lord Yu is over 7,000 Earth years old in his current host and he's going senile, so it's safe to push his age to nearer 20,000 Earth years. But, the Goa'uld who would normally come up and step into the shoes of their elders just aren't there. If not for the sarcophagus, the Goa'uld would have become a galactic footnote millennia ago."
"I'm not seeing that, Major," Jack had growled, having by that point a serious headache.
"The Nemetae and the Uhutacis showed what would happen, Colonel," Carter had simplified as best she could. "The system lords are a dead end because they can't contribute to the next generation of Goa'uld. The sarcophagus heals at a terrible price. Any Goa'uld who uses it is guaranteed immortality at the cost of irreparably damaged DNA which is useless to a Goa'uld queen. The queens themselves face the same choice – if they use the sarcophagus, they have immortality, but their ability to reproduce is severely compromised and there will be no new queens."
"Hathor didn't seem to have any trouble" Jack had instantly and bitterly regretted the comment as soon as he made it and from the glance General Hammond shot at him it was a good thing looks could not literally kill.
Daniel hadn't blanched, though his eyes had hardened. "I did some checking after…Hathor was one of the few system lords who had rarely used the sarcophagus – she actually changed hosts rather than use it, which is highly unusual since a Goa'uld will retain a chosen host almost beyond reason. Even though she'd only used it a few times, her chances of producing a daughter were knocked down by about 90."
Interposing quickly in the conversation, to Jack's inner gratitude, Janet Fraiser revealed that she had tested the remains of Hathor's larvae and other queens' larvae against that of other Goa'uld who didn't use the sarcophagus, like the Tok'Ra and specimens taken from the lakes on the Goa'uld homeworld. There was a significant degradation of quality in those Goa'uld born of a sarcophagus-using queen and those spawned of a queen that didn't or had no access to one. Nowhere big enough to be of use to humans at this point in time, true, but it made a colossal difference to the Goa'uld. In short, according to the good doctor, it would certainly have been a miracle if Hathor had produced a daughter.
"On top of that, the sarcophagus turns the Goa'uld psychopathic, so they don't even protect their own young," Daniel had finished off. "The Goa'uld population dropped below sustainable levels probably centuries ago, but the System Lords still think nothing of slaughtering a rival System Lord's Jaffa by the thousands."
"You are correct Daniel Jackson. Instances such as Cronos murdering my father for failing to win an impossible battle that had already lost him over 5,000 Jaffa were a common occurrence amongst the System Lords," Teal'c had confirmed.
"Yes, and also killing just as many symbiotes along with them." Daniel had pointed out. "The System Lords are so locked into personal power and self-survival at all costs that they just don't realise their species is in serious trouble."
"The Goa'uld are a doomed race." Carter's voice had quiet but nevertheless attention-grabbing to everyone at the table. "In order for a Goa'uld queen to maintain her position of power as a System Lord's consort, she must resort to a sarcophagus or face the vulnerability of seeking a new host every couple of centuries."
"Taking the latter course of action creates a very high risk of injury or death to the queen given the unpredictability of successful blending," Teal'c had announced with evident satisfaction.
Sam Carter had continued, "Right, however, the former action guarantees personal safety but renders the queen effectively sterile since she can only produce poor-quality asexual larvae and not the daughter she needs to carry on her lineage. Basically, General Hammond, it's a great pity that humanity needs the Goa'uld destroyed as quickly as possible. If we had the luxury of being able to just sit here and watch for about 500 years, the problem of the Goa'uld would take care of itself."
Carefully, Jack exited the locker room when he was sure that there was nobody else around. That had indeed been a bittersweet treat; if only Earth had the wherewithal to protect the planet from invasion by the Goa'uld, they could spend the next five centuries fishing and watching The Simpsons until the Goa'uld imploded on their own. Typical of SG-1's luck.
Jack walked along the corridors until he got to the junction of Daniel's lab. He really wasn't looking forward to this, but the onus was on him to set things right as he bore the major responsibility for this mess. General Hammond had been satisfied with SG-1's results; he'd also been able to have everything shipped to Area 51, including the sarcophagi, without it being an insult to Daniel. All the secondary teams were now on Nemetae and Uhutac, doing their egghead best to figure it all out. As yet nobody had found a working, or more importantly, working and occupied sarcophagus on either world and it didn't look like they would – the devastation on both planets was total.
So on the surface it was BAU – Business As Usual. Everyone was polite and pleasant, amicable and affable, serene and smiling. It was also a total crock. Daniel was still currently demonstrating all the personality of a fence post. He was like how Margaret Thatcher's hubby had described his role when she was Prime Minister in an interview segment Jack had once caught on News At Eleven…oh yeah, "always present, but never there." Daniel's body was present and correct but for the animation he showed everything that made Daniel, well, Daniel, had shipped out to the moon.
Jack had never needed to be good at the 'talking about feelings' thing; he knew that and knew it was a failing, but that didn't mean it was any easier to overcome. As the only child of two loving parents, he'd grown up in a close-knit family where his parents lovingly made sure they knew what their child was thinking and feeling. Sarah had likewise been charmed and understanding of his hesitant courtship, finding it a refreshing change from the arrogant bombast of too many military males who thought the mere sight of a uniform was enough to get them laid and mistook a pained wince as a winsome invitation. Sarah had had military relatives; she understood Jack couldn't be around all the time and that he had to go into dangerous situations he couldn't talk about.
Jack gnawed at his lip, aware that sooner or later someone was going to come past and enquire why Colonel O'Neill was dithering in a corridor. Wouldn't that be humiliating? The fact was Sarah had ended their marriage because Jack couldn't or wouldn't communicate. Even as she handed him the divorce papers, she had assured him that she in no way blamed him for Charlie's death. Sarah had grown up with guns present in her own family home without incident and harsh as it sounded for her to say, Charlie had been more than old enough to know right from wrong and understand fully his wilful disobedience in picking up the gun expressly forbidden.
She had told Jack that she was divorcing him because after Charlie's death he had shut down and shut everyone and everything, including her, firmly out. Jack had buried himself with Charlie, and Sarah had grown sick and tired of bashing her head against the towering wall he had erected. She had determined that she could either move forward with her life and the healing process, or she could jump into her son's grave along with Jack. The divorce was her way of choosing the first option.
Now Jack could see that this whole thing with Daniel was going the same way. One day somebody might succeed in destroying his team from without, but SG-1 was far too important not to just to the planet Earth but to the entire galaxy to be allowed to disintegrate from within. Saving his friendship with Daniel was far more vital on several levels than preserving his marriage to Sarah had been and Jack knew that he needed to learn from his massive mistakes then to save his and Daniel's relationship now.
Jack had lost his parents to the inevitability of old age when he was an adult, but Daniel had been ripped from the sheltering safety of a loving family by tragedy. As an officer supposedly proficient in leadership, Jack knew that it was important to give appropriate commendation and encouragement; it did far more than medals sometimes in boosting morale and esteem. Daniel looked towards Jack as the closest thing to a sibling he had and Jack had to admit he'd fallen down on the job. He was far more likely to use deflating sarcasm and point out when Daniel had got it wrong than to even try and look at things from another angle.
That self-admonition in no way made this any easier to do; he sucked in a controlling breath as he looked at the door. Daniel did not have an open lab now; Jack knew that the closed door was a warning system, a way to give Daniel a few seconds of alert that someone – say a crazed Colonel – was entering the room.
Stepping forward, Jack grasped the handle and made sure he made plenty of noise as he opened the door, stepped inside the lab and allowed the door to swing shut behind him.
At the centre workstation, Daniel had immediately looked up from the dusty, heavy textbooks that were his usual reading material. Apart from a fractional widening of the eyes, his expression was blandly enquiring.
Heartily wishing he was doing something less traumatic like single-handedly charging a Jaffa gun turret, Jack said, "We need to talk."
Daniel blinked slowly as if momentarily uncertain that he had actually heard those words issue from Jack O'Neill's mouth, then his face set. "I think that would be a bad idea. I'm very busy," he denied curtly.
Okay, so this was going to be totally agonising. Feeling himself started to sweat, Jack ploughed on while sternly lecturing himself to be rational and logical and not to yell, "Look, Daniel, this whole situation got out of hand, I'll admit –"
"I'm not interested, Jack," Daniel cut him off.
"Damn it, I need you!"
"For what? To be your whipping boy of choice–"
"To stop another Euronda!" At last he'd shut Daniel up, though doubtless not for long. He needed to get his point across, and Jack realised he was going to have to peel back his flippancy to reveal some painful honesty. Slowly he admitted, "I've spent all my adult life in the military, Daniel. Sometimes I get a little too much tunnel vision."
"Yeah…" Daniel was less aggressive now but his entire stance was practically screaming, so why should I grant mea culpa?
Choosing his words carefully, Jack confessed, "I depend on you to be the voice of reason when I'm blinded by the glittering gadgetry dangled in front of us. I rely on you to spot the inconsistencies and deceptions. I know I don't always act like I appreciate it, but I do value you and what you do for us, even though I admit I'm often very loud –"
"- Obnoxious," amended Daniel, folding his arms.
Gritting his teeth but acknowledging the shot, Jack conceded, "and stubborn -"
" – obstinate –"
" – and okay, a bit irritable -"
" - boneheaded –"
Daniel immediately shut up but his lips twitched infinitesimally and something inside Jack relaxed. Slight thought it was, the sign that he could restore Daniel's good humour indicated that he was at least 'forgiven' on some level.
"What I'm trying to say is that I know I'm usually very…brusque…" Jack managed to remember the snazzier way of saying 'dismissive' at the last minute, "but you have to know that I would never deliberately set out to denigrate your contribution. It's just that sometimes I have to make unpalatable choices, like with Reese –"
Despite standing with his arms folded forbiddingly across his chest and bearing a highly sceptical expression on his face, Daniel had been relaxing and even nodding slightly at Jack's speech, but now he went rigid again, his eyes hardening as he closed off and warned, "You don't want to go there, Jack."
"Damn right, but it looks like I need to," Jack shot back with burgeoning re-irritation. "Contrary to your fond imagining – and we'll leave aside the debate about where you get off thinking yourself qualified to make that judgement – I wasn't exactly laughing with maniacal glee as I happily murdered that poor helpless, oh yes, homicidal android."
"It was about the only thing you didn't do!" Daniel retorted. "I was the one who promised her we would help her only for you to burst through the door like some Rambo rip-off and gun her down like you were trying to make your getaway from a bank heist. You never gave her a chance from the start-"
"Of course I didn't! Don't you get it, Daniel?" Jack discarded his good intentions as he yelled, "I can't give anyone a chance, if I did I'd be dead and the Earth would be ruled by assholes with glowing eyes!"
"What!" Daniel was completely taken aback by the venom and vehemence Jack displayed.
"This is important, so stay with me," Jack snapped harshly but then drew in a deep breath and plonked himself down on the nearby lab stool. He stared at Daniel for a long moment, and then began to explain the world in which he lived with slow reluctance. "Daniel, I'm a military officer. When you serve in the military the focus is always on the mission. It has to be, otherwise you get distracted; if you're distracted you make mistakes, and when you make mistakes, good men and women, people of intelligence and courage and wit and humour and far more talent than you, often end up dead."
"Jack…" Daniel began, upset in his own right and intending to placate and get rid of Jack with an acquiescing homily.
This was too important to be sidetracked, so Jack simply ignored his attempted interruption. "Whenever and wherever we go as SG-1, in the back of my mind I know that there is always the possibility I will have to kill someone we meet out there – or sacrifice them for the greater good."
As he stopped again, Daniel remained silent and Jack said a quick prayer of thanks for the fact that Daniel was for once really listening to him.
"Of course Reese was a real child, regardless of how she was constructed. I don't know why her 'father' designed her that way; maybe you were right and he downloaded the consciousness of his own lost little girl into a robot body. What I'm trying to say is that I didn't and I don't have the luxury of considering such possibilities because they are detrimental to my duty to protect and defend my team, the SGC and the whole planet." Jack sighed, "Danny, my son shot himself with my own gun – how could I ever have pulled the trigger if I'd admitted to me that Reese really was a little girl in all the ways that counted?"
Daniel lowered his eyes and mirrored Jack's example, hooking a boot round the nearest lab stool and slowly sinking onto it as if too weary to stand. For a moment he contemplated Jack's tired face but insisted softly, "She stopped the replicators, Jack."
Jack inclined his head, acknowledging the point, but emphasised, "Daniel, I may have been telepathic these last few days, but clairvoyance has never been in my repertoire. I and my friends were being attacked by swarms of replicators, my CO was about to blow us all up, Carter radioed that Reese was losing control of at least some replicators just as I got inside the Gate Room in time to see the crazy super-android way too close to my crumpled friend whose wrist she had clearly just broken and who looked as if she was about to attack again. That was the information I had available and I acted accordingly. Sure if I knew now – but I didn't know."
"I get that." Daniel conceded the point quietly, obviously having never considered the tragedy from the perspective of what it must have been like from Jack's viewpoint. Jack had had no way of knowing what had transpired in the Gate Room. Daniel stared at his hands as he had to admit that had he been the one to get in and seen Reese standing over an obviously injured Jack with possible intent to further harm or kill he would probably have reacted identically – protect his friend first and sort out the whys and wherefores afterwards.
Jack interrupted his mental revelation, "Do you? Do you really think that's all it was, just because I 'had it in' for Reese? It's hard Daniel, to have to be prepared to do the unthinkable. I spent days half-convinced I was going to have to kill Loren."
"Loren?" Daniel blinked in confusion over the boy Jack had taken a liking to at the Goa'uld 'opium palace', who was now in the care of a security-cleared USAF family.
Jack shrugged, "Yeah, it was obvious from the start he was hiding something big time and when I found you about to take a swan dive off your balcony I half-assumed that Loren was a budding psychopath who'd killed his parents with some weird poison and was now trying it on us. Same with Cassandra; Carter wouldn't leave her because she was awake, so if that device of Nirrti's had actually gone nova we'd have heard Sam being obliterated too."
"But you…could have left her."
"Yes," Jack clearly heard Daniel mentally use the "w" instead of the "c" that actually came out of his mouth. "If it had been necessary, I could have walked away, because that's my job. My mission is protecting the planet, but what I do is make sure my people make it home alive at the end of the day."
"I do get it, Jack." Daniel found himself trying to reassure Jack, finding himself perturbed by the despondency so visible but never before displayed in the man sitting opposite him. He'd never really registered the completely grey hair and the tired eyes. It always caused a faint resonance of shock to remember that Jack had been retired when General Hammond recalled him; you were so deeply involved in his energy and vitality that you completely forgot Jack O'Neill was half-a-century old.
Jack drew in a breath. "It's a terrible responsibility, Daniel. When I served in Desert Storm, we had 6 year old Iraqi boys smiling and waving at us and then diving into the nearest alley to whip out a cell phone and tell insurgents where to ambush us. When the terrorists did that, half of them were the 6-year-olds' 10-year-old brothers. These kids should have been thinking about Little League and instead I had 4th and 5th graders brainwashed by mad mullahs trying to cut my people in half with Kalashnikovs. If I wanted to survive and I wanted my team to survive I couldn't acknowledge that they were biologically children. I have to be able to do whatever it takes to ensure that my people, my team, make it. Occasionally I make mistakes like Euronda. You understand what I'm saying?"
"Jack, I do understand what you're trying to say…Euronda…well, I was dazzled by the shiny baubles they were dangling in front of us at first too. I'm not talking about what you did, Jack. I'm talking about the way you changed on me. I freaked out because I saw you turning into that sorry excuse for a Colonel, Frank Simmons in front of me."
"No way," Jack protested instinctively.
Daniel nodded solemnly, but decided he needed to drive home his point once and for all, so he went in for the kill. "It's the first time I was ever scared of you, Jack."
Bingo! Direct hit in the middle of Jack City. For an instant Daniel was petty enough to let the moment hang as Jack twitched in recoil, his eyes flaring with visible distress at this statement, then he told his friend firmly, "But it's not going to happen again. What makes scum like the NID so bad is that in all the ways that count, they're Goa'uld, only we can't cure their psychopathy just by taking a snake out of them. Euronda was the top of the slippery slope to that sort of mentality, Jack, but I'm not going to let you end up like Simmons and Maybourne. I am not going to lose you to the Dark Side."
"Thanks…I think," Jack added dryly. "So we're cool?"
"Yes, Jack," Daniel confirmed equally dryly.
"So I don't have to do this emoting thing any more? Great." Now that everything was back to how it should be, Jack's natural ebullience bounced back to full chipper annoyingness.
"I need to get back to work, Jack, if I'm to make this presentation tomorrow to that new delegation –"
"Ah, piece of cake." Jack practically bounced of his stool, deciding he'd try the pie in the Commissary again. "The Kellogs seem eager to trade for anything we'll give 'em!"
Suppressing a chuckle, Daniel couldn't help but smile as he corrected gently, "Kelowna, Jack…"
© 2005, Catherine D Stewart
The Cure, the second in this loosely-linked trilogy of stories, will be posted in the future.