Author: Jedi Buttercup
Disclaimer: The words are mine; the worlds are not. I claim nothing but the plot.
Summary: A:tS, SG-1. A mercy mission gone wrong becomes an unusual first contact experience for Daniel Jackson. 4100 words.
Spoilers: All of A:tS including "Not Fade Away" (5.22). Occurs during Stargate SG-1 "Avenger 2.0" (7.09)
Notes: I've pushed the Buffyverse timeline back a couple of years in order to make this plot possible, but otherwise expect all past events to match up with canon.
Daniel squinted through the pelting rain at the MALP. "Still no word from Sam?" he asked loudly, trying to make himself heard over the roar of the weather. Between the water falling from the sky-- which was more lions and wolves at this stage than anything as prosaic as cats and dogs-- and the water rising from the beach below the city, he could barely even hear himself; he had no idea how much was getting through to the SGC.
"To be honest, we should've heard back by now," General Hammond replied, the resignation in his voice coming through more clearly than the words.
A cold weight settled in Daniel's stomach. That was it, then; they were out of time. "We're going to have to abandon the Stargate and move to higher ground," he shouted back.
"Very well." Hammond paused for a second, a world of things unsaid filtering through the static, then ended the transmission with a simple "Good luck, Dr. Jackson."
The Gate disengaged, the 'standing wave' of the wormhole's event horizon evaporating into thin air. Framed in the open ring, the devastation of the lower city was even more apparent; a vast sea of dark, stormy water lapped up through the empty streets, swallowing quake-damaged buildings and abandoned possessions at a steady rate. In another half-hour or so, the Gate platform would be awash; half an hour after that, it would be completely inaccessible to all but determined divers.
Daniel turned his back on the scene and began slogging back up through the muddy streets. At his side, the airman currently assigned to Daniel-watch did his best to keep an eye on their surroundings as he shuffled his feet through the mud, P-90 clasped tight in his arms. Daniel had no idea what the man expected to do if they were suddenly attacked-- visibility at any real distance was pretty much nil-- but he wasn't about to refuse the escort. He'd never hear the end of it from Jack as it was. His personal percentage of innocuous-to-disastrous missions without the rest of SG-1 was already suffering from this trip, and he didn't want to tempt fate even further.
The square in which the remnants of the planet's population were gathered was several hundred yards east of the Gate platform and perhaps three stories up in elevation. There were some four or five dozen men clustered there, left behind to gather and save what little they could while the women, children, and elderly had been sent to safety at the Alpha Site. Gathered around them were the remaining members of Daniel's team: a dozen or so airmen of various ranks and six scientists who'd been assisting the populace and studying the disintegrating orbit of the planet's sole moon.
Seventy people, Daniel thought grimly as he climbed. Seventy people, most of them loaded down with thirty or forty pounds of equipment or salvaged goods; if the Gate didn't clear in fifteen minutes, there wouldn't be time to get them all through. He'd give it that much longer, but then he'd have to get the people moving toward the caves in the hills above the city. They might have a few extra hours, maybe a day left of life if they managed to get that far; it was always possible the SGC could make contact with the Tok'ra or some other ally who could lift them off in ships.
Major Lorne met him at the edge of the square and pulled him aside for a quick conference. The Major was still fairly new to the Stargate program, but after the chaotic mining-slash-first contact mission he'd been part of on P3X-403, he wore the resigned, "we're doomed-- again!" expression as well as any veteran.
Lorne took Daniel's news with a grunt, then gave a series of orders to Daniel's escort, who peeled away and began directing the other airmen in organizing the milling refugees. Then he shook his head with a rueful smile. "I swear, Dr. J, I didn't touch anything."
Daniel chuckled at the reference. The circumstances under which they'd met hadn't exactly been ideal for a good first impression; Lorne's team had taken several artifacts out of the naquadah mines and delayed reporting them in defiance of the SGC's archaeological procedures, artifacts that had turned out to have direct implications for the mission. Daniel had been steamed enough at the time that Jack had warned him to "go to his happy place", but he'd long since gotten over the irritation, especially once he found out half of the instructors had been neglecting to include those procedures in the briefings for new inductees during Daniel's year-long "absence".
"Don't worry," he reassured the Major, wearing a wry smile of his own, "it's all on the other end this time."
Lorne nodded. "Nice to know it's nothing we've done. Still, I wish there was something we could do now besides run and hide."
Daniel sighed. "We've only ever found one planet with controllable weather, and I think these conditions are beyond that kind of interference even if we could borrow the device. I'm sure the SGC is working on the problem with the Gate as fast as they can-- but if they don't have a breakthrough in the next ten minutes, we're going to lose a lot of people by the time they do get it fixed."
"Yeah. I asked around-- half the natives don't know how to swim, and one of your scientists is actively afraid of water."
Daniel raised his eyebrows at that. "You're kidding."
"Nope." Lorne chuckled. "I'm guessing he somehow kept it out of his file, but he reacts to the thought of diving for the Gate about how Colonel O'Neill probably would if the Tok'ra asked him to be a host again."
"Ouch." Daniel winced. He didn't recall much of his time among the Ascended, but his encounter with Jack on Ba'al's secret base was very clear in his memories. The SGC had gone to the Tok'ra for help on Jack's behalf, and in return Kanan had taken complete control of Jack's body and then abandoned him at the first sign of trouble. Jack had been wary of the Tok'ra before that, but afterward the only snake he made even a pretense of trusting was Sam's father's symbiote, Selmac.
"Yeah. The scientists say it'll be another few days before the pieces of the moon actually make landfall, but the planet will be pretty unlivable long before that." Lorne glanced back down the slope toward the rising sea and shook his head. Water sprayed from the brim of his BDU cap at the motion. "As if we couldn't tell that already."
"Well, where there's breath, there's hope," Daniel said grimly. "And sometimes even after. So-- let's get these people moving. I'll leave the MALP down there in case in the SGC tries to dial back; we should take everything else with us."
The Major nodded an acknowledgement, then trudged across the square toward the knot of airmen supervising the refugees.
Daniel watched him go, then made his own headcount of the scientists. They all looked fairly anonymous in their uniforms and rain ponchos, but there were few enough of them that they weren't terribly difficult to tell apart. Half were from his own department, social scientists who'd come along to help explain to the frightened or stubborn minority exactly what the SGC was offering to do for them in terms they could understand; the other three were from Sam's department, a geologist and an astrophysicist borrowed from other SG teams and one new physicist who had chosen this mission as her first trip off-world. The mission had been advertised as a cakewalk, given the friendly populace and a lack of any active dangers beyond the environmental upheaval.
Fortunately, Dr. Burkle was a sweet, good-natured woman; Daniel didn't even want to imagine what the last couple of days would have been like with, for example, another Rodney McKay. She'd taken the upheavals of the last few hours well in stride. She was, however, moving more slowly than the others; her slight form and comparatively short stature were to her disadvantage in weather like this, with the rain and wind knocking her off balance and the weight of her gear making her struggle to keep up with the group. Daniel checked the position of the others one more time, making sure they were following Major Lorne's directions, then hurried to Dr. Burkle's side.
"Need some help?" he yelled, reaching out a hand to steady her as she slipped on the muddy stones of the courtyard.
She stilled under his touch and looked down at his grip on her elbow with a puzzled expression. For a fraction of a second, Daniel was struck with an impression of vast age and imperturbable solidity; the image was so at odds with the young woman's appearance, and his acquaintance with her in recent days, that he was completely nonplused. Then soft brown eyes lifted to his, and a warm smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. "Oh, thank you," she replied, her strong Southern accent coloring the words. "It's been a long time since I've been out in weather like this!"
Of course, Daniel thought wryly, she was probably from hurricane country; no wonder she was taking it all so well. He still wasn't sure what to make of the odd impression he'd just received, but he shunted it aside in favor of dealing with more immediate problems. "I'm afraid it's only going to get worse!" he replied, then coughed through the growing irritation in his throat. "Can I take any of your equipment? We really need to get moving."
Dr. Burkle shook her head and clutched at the straps of her pack. "It's not that heavy; I just lost my footing for a second," she exclaimed. She looked like a half-drowned kitten standing there; her hood had fallen back, water streaming from her sensibly knotted hair and dripping from her chin, but she still projected the fierce independence that seemed to be a hallmark of all scientists who chose to work at the SGC.
"Then let me walk with you, in case you lose your footing again," Daniel replied earnestly, glancing up the hill at the obediently retreating backs of the others, then over his shoulder at the still-rising waters creeping ever closer. "We can't afford to waste any more time!"
She nodded, then clutched at his arm and looked down, placing her feet carefully as she took a hesitant step forward. "It would be easier were I not confined by these human limitations," she muttered, almost too quietly for him to hear over the noise of the weather, then set her lips in a firm, determined line.
Daniel nearly flinched at the sudden rush of adrenaline that flooded through his system at that comment; the pitch of her voice had audibly dropped, though the words themselves had been almost inaudible. And yet it couldn't be what it had sounded like: Sam had been watching as the team Gated out to P3L-997 and would have known if any of the members were Goa'uld.
He shook his head and took another step. He could easily have misheard her-- or she might be one of those role-playing geeks who preferred the fictional worlds of their heroic characters to the one they had to live in every day. He really needed to be paying attention to his own footing, not spooking at shadows; his greater height and muscle wouldn't do either of them any good if he went down. The wet and chill were really starting to sink in, slowing reflexes and inducing shivers, and he knew he was only going to get clumsier from here on out.
They made it about a block up the hill before Daniel allowed himself to look back again. It would still be a little while before the floodwaters actively threatened their progress, but the sight of the Stargate sticking up through the rising storm-surge still tore at Daniel's heart. That way laid their only sure route of escape; with every passing minute, his team's chances of surviving this mission grew worse. He'd always found Dr. Felger a likeable enough guy, if a little out of his depth; he sincerely hoped the man had thought through the possible consequences for this little project of his beforehand, because "Oops" would be a really disappointing epitaph for so many good men and women.
Dr. Burkle's fingers suddenly tightened on his arm, and Daniel turned to her in concern. "Something wrong?" he asked, then made a face at himself. Of course there was something wrong, the question was, what else?
Her features had taken on the stillness and solidity of rain-slicked marble; she was staring up into the sky at nothing in particular, her head cocked to one side in a listening pose. The hair on the back of his neck stood on end, and he found himself unable to dismiss his suspicions this time: there was something alien about this woman. And he was alone with her. Trapped on a dying world, no less. No, he was never going to hear the end of this from Jack.
She turned to look at him, and he was treated to the alarming and disconcerting sight of her eyes shifting color to a vivid, startling shade of blue. The unearthly hue spread through the brown irises like lines of frost crazing over a window, draining all the warmth from her expression and freezing his breath in his throat. "Do you not sense it yourself?" she asked, in perfect seriousness. "This world cries out in pain--"
--and then the world collapsed beneath him, tossing him face-first into the street. He'd managed to keep his balance through the smaller tremors, but this was something else; mud caked his glasses, pressing into his nostrils and his open mouth. He coughed and spat out a mouthful of wet soil, then struggled back up to his hands and knees to ride out the tremors.
The rain slacked off a little as the earth quieted; Daniel struggled to his feet, then stripped his glasses off, fumbling in his pockets for a spare kerchief to clean them with. Not for the first time that day, he wished he'd thought to wear his contacts this trip; they were a pain to deal with on extended off-world missions, but the trade-off would have been worth not having to deal with his glasses in this weather.
Even with his glasses off, Dr. Burkle-- or whatever her name was-- still stood close enough for him to read her expression, or lack thereof. She didn't seem to have been disturbed at all by the quake. The storm winds had blown strands of her hair free of their bun, and he could see that they were now streaked with the same color that had infected her eyes. Even her skin seemed to have taken on a blue tint, though that could have been just the cold.
"Never did I think to see the day when one of the Ancients would kneel before such as I," she said contemptuously, frowning at him. "In the days of my youth, your kind gifted us with language, called us equal, and taught us to use our inborn magics-- then, repulsed at the practical uses toward which we put those gifts, attempted to exterminate us from all the worlds. I was Illyria, god among gods, before whom all lesser creatures were as vermin-- but they were greater yet, and I could not stop them."
Daniel stiffened as she spoke, his glasses forgotten in his hand. She spoke of him as though he were still one of the Ascended; she spoke of herself as though she'd been around when the Gatebuilders were still a living race. "What are you?" he breathed, all thought of the mission that had brought them here subsumed in curiosity and awed fear. For all the deity the Goa'uld claimed, and all the intelligence of the Asgard, neither species had ever struck him as remote from humanity as this woman did now.
She-- Illyria?-- cocked her head to the side, scanning him again from head to toe. "You do not know?" she asked, incredulity dawning in her tone.
"No, I don't," he said, carefully, mind working rapidly. As always, his first instinct was to learn-- but close on its heels was the instinct to protect, to contain whatever danger this woman might pose before it became a threat to the base or the Tau'ri in general. Given the length of time she'd apparently lived undetected in human form, he didn't think there was immediate reason to panic; still, the last thing he wanted was for her to view him as an enemy. At least he understood now why she had slipped up at all; the cracks in her concealment had been a way to feel him out. She must have perceived him as a threat to her masquerade, and had decided to test his perceptions of her. When he hadn't reacted to any of her cues, she'd moved to a more direct confrontation.
"I don't know how much of the story you've heard," Daniel continued, "but I was human before I Ascended, and when they sent me back they erased my memories of the experience." He finished polishing his glasses and resettled them on his nose; he wasn't as entirely naïve as the base rumors would have it, and was well aware that he appeared softer and more vulnerable with them on. "If I had any knowledge of you-- or of your species-- it was taken from me along with everything else."
Her lip curled. "Nothing was taken from you; they could suppress, but never erase what you are. Your shell contains your true nature as poorly as does mine."
Her bitterness was obvious, and the implications of it as disturbing as the suggestion she'd made. He hadn't manifested any of the physical or mental abilities of the Ancients since his return-- that he knew of. What was it about his 'true nature' that she was able to sense, that marked him as different? How could she sense it? And more importantly, did that mean her 'shell' wasn't her true form? Had she, too, once followed the path of Ascension, only to fall afoul of the Others?
Before he could ask another question, the radio clipped to his vest sprang to life. "Dr. Jackson! Dr. Jackson, do you copy?"
He frowned and keyed it with a thumb, keeping his eyes on Illyria as he did so. "I'm here," he replied.
"We were starting to think we'd have to tell Colonel O'Neill that we'd lost you," Major Lorne responded. "What's your situation?"
"Knocked around a little by the quake, but otherwise in one piece. How's everyone else?"
"Pretty relieved," Lorne said. "I don't know if you can see the beach from where you are, but it looks like a fault line just opened up right under it. The water's back down below the 'Gate and draining fast."
Daniel whirled around, staring through the steady curtains of rain at the Stargate, still standing proud in a damp, emptied square. The MALP had been washed away, but the naquadah ring and DHD both still stood. "I see it, Major," he replied. "I'll go back down and try to dial out again. Hold your position until I report back."
"Understood," Lorne replied.
Daniel dropped his hand from the radio, still ticking over possibilities in the back of his mind as he turned to walk carefully down the hill. "You're a Furling, aren't you?" he asked suddenly, glancing quickly back over his shoulder at the transformed physicist.
She narrowed her eyes at him as she followed. "It is the name by which they called us, though we were not all of one species. It means 'Dimensional Traveler' in the tongue of the Nox."
Daniel shook his head in amazement. "Why not come to us openly? Why the disguise? We've met the Nox and the Asgard, and we know the Furlings were the fourth race in the ancient alliance. We would have welcomed you."
She snorted. "I have seen much of your world since my rebirth, and found it much as it was in my day. The accumulation of power is the central goal of each being; betrayal is nothing but a word, and all that matters is victory. I did not believe it possible to find another such as my Guide in this place; I sought only a means of escape, to find amongst the stars a remnant of my former kingdom."
"Then you're not coming back with us," he realized aloud, and suddenly her dragging steps in the courtyard held more meaning. She was having no trouble, now; she'd been trying to fall behind, to be forgotten. To be thought lost in the cataclysms, to escape when no one was left to look for her. And it might have worked, had the Gate system been functioning.
"I am no one's pet," she spat behind him.
Daniel fell silent as he carefully crossed the last distance to the DHD. He understood the impulse. He'd helped free the Tollan from the very threat she apparently feared, and surely she would know that; many of SG-1's more exotic mission reports were required reading for all new inductees to the program. And then there was her manner-- she was clearly used to a commanding position and unhappy with her present form, despite the cheery human demeanor she'd worn like a mask on all other occasions he'd seen her.
"Why talk to me at all, then?" he finally asked, bending over the keypad to enter the first of the sequence of symbols that defined his chosen destination.
"My Guide is dead, and the grief is like ashes in my mouth," she said, bracing herself next to him as the earth shook again in a minor aftershock. "I desire someone to remember me when I am gone."
Daniel pressed the last symbol, then poised his hand over the central crystal. "Are you a threat to the Tau'ri?" he asked, quietly.
"I wash my hands of them," she said. "Pestulant slime, who dare to think they are better than those who came before them."
Tell me how you really feel, Daniel thought, and grimaced. "Is there any assistance you could give us against the Goa'uld?" he asked, pressing for confirmation of the conclusion he had reached.
"They were not even as worms when I entered my long slumber," she growled, with an expression of disgust. "My kingdom has perished, and my army with it; I have neither knowledge not might in this weak flesh with which to fight them."
Daniel sighed, then pressed down hard on the DHD crystal. The whoosh effect of an opening wormhole leaped from the rain-slick Gate, then settled into a vertical, undulating surface; it looked as though Sam had managed to save the day at last.
"Go then," he said. "This will take you to a world where the people welcome visitors without a past or fixed destination; you can Gate elsewhere from there. I'll have to report this conversation, but I won't tell anyone where I sent you."
Daniel didn't really like the thought of letting her go like this, without persuading her to come back and fill them in on the history of the Alliance. They knew so little about that time period; any physical evidence not constructed from naquadah or trinium had long since fallen to dust. He'd learned to trust his instinct in matters of first contact, however, and rarely did they lead him wrong. This woman 'creeped him out', to coin a Jack-phrase; he didn't think pushing for more answers now was going to do any good, and this way he might be able to make contact again one day when she was more receptive.
She stared at him a moment, blankly, as the blue color began melting back out of her eyes. "You are not Wesley," she said finally, "but you will do." Then she leapt forward, moving faster than he would have thought possible, and dove into the wormhole.
Daniel let the Gate disengage, then began punching in the sequence for the Alpha Site. He wasn't sure what she had meant by that last, but one thing was certain: he'd remember this mission for a long, long time to come.
Just another day in the neighborhood, he thought, and keyed the radio to call Major Lorne.