O'Neill felt something unpleasantly solid in the middle of his back.
"Do keep your hands where I can see them, friend," a pleasantly cheerful voice said. O'Neill wasn't fooled. The cheerful tones just barely masked the steel in the voice. He raised his hands in apparent surrender, his knife in his right.
He didn't get the chance to use it. Someone behind him relieved him of it, and briskly frisked him, finding the other smaller frog-sticker hidden in a leg sheath that he rarely bothered with unless all else failed. He was weaponless.
"Who are you?" O'Neill asked. It couldn't be one of the hill people. They were all non-verbal and uncivilized, remnants of the war. Had another group from another world come through the Stargate while they weren't looking?
"That's the odd thing about it, chap," the voice said. "I don't really know. There I was, enjoying the sun and having not a care in the world. I'd even found a delightfully robust berry bush, so I wasn't even worried about where my next meal was coming from. Then I took a swallow of that rather horrid paste that your fellow with the spectacles enjoys, and here we are, conversing like gossipy old ladies. What do you think of that?"
"I think that's a pretty amazing story. Care to elaborate?"
"Would if I could. My memory seems a bit short term at the moment. I was somewhat hoping that you could explain."
"Not in my job description." Where the hell was Teal'c? O'Neill took a wild guess. "Try Dr. Jackson. The fellow with the spectacles. He likes explaining things."
"Yes, I thought so. We'll be able to ask him soon enough. That is, if your chaps decide to stop shooting up the place."
"My chaps—?" O'Neill picked up his jaw. "You're the ones who attacked us!"
"Did not. Here we come, over the hill, as polite as you please, asking to make your acquaintance, and you start shooting at us. Quite unfair, I'd say, since you have automatic machine guns and all we have are sticks and stones."
"And bows and arrows," O'Neill pointed out. "Let's not forget them."
"Really? I don't remember those."
"Can I turn around? And put my arms down?"
"Why, yes, of course. How rude of me. Please do so."
"Thanks." O'Neill made a show of stretching. The man in front of him was large, a few centimeters taller than O'Neill himself, with a shock of long and matted brown hair that kept falling into his eyes. The cultured voice with which he addressed O'Neill was quite out of keeping with the dirty animal skin that he used to keep warm. O'Neill pushed on. "What do you want? Besides killing us."
"Killing you? Heavens, no. Why ever would you think that? Oh, yes, right, the sticks and stones."
"And bows and arrows," O'Neill reminded the unkempt man. "Uh, you got a name? That's right; you can't remember. How about if I just call you John Doe?"
The man frowned. "Sounds somewhat banal. Couldn't you think up something a little more urbane?"
"It's a tradition, back where I come from." O'Neill declined to explain. He had more important matters to deal with. "How about you get to the point? What do you want?"
"Oh, didn't I say anything about that?"
"No. You must have forgot."
"Probably," the unkempt man said cheerfully, his demeanor totally out of keeping with his appearance. He brushed long and stringy hair out of his face. Something wiggly fell out of it, but John Doe ignored it. "We want more of that horrid paste."
"Yes, we. As in, all of us. You see, we found this bottle sort of contraption that your bespectacled fellow dropped as he was dashing away. Took us at least fifteen minutes to figure how to open it, don't you know, and then we had to think up a way to filter out the broken glass bits that were jiggling about inside after we'd banged it up against a rock trying to pry the bloody top off. About a dozen of us tried tasting that horrid paste stuff, and it had this most amazing effect. All of a sudden we could think again, and it was an absolutely wonderful sensation! You don't know what it's like, living up here in the hills with only babbling idiots to listen to…"
"Oh, I think I have a vague notion of that," O'Neill replied, thinking of all the lectures that Daniel had subjected him to. And Carter. Let's not forget Carter and wormhole physics. He didn't know which one was worse. "You want more?"
"Really? You have more?" John Doe's filthy face lit up. "Yes! Absolutely yes! I know the taste leaves something to be desired, but perhaps if we flavored it with a bit of honey, or put it into a pill of some sort. Now that we've got all this thinking ability it would be a shame to let it go to waste. You say your Dr. Jackson fellow takes his straight?" Doe shuddered. "Ferocious character."
"You don't know the half of it," O'Neill muttered, then offered, "He does dilute it a bit and drinks it scalding hot. Some people think it's the reason to get up in the morning."
"Hm." Doe didn't seem convinced. "However, on to business. Do you think you could ask your chaps to stop shooting at mine?"
"Nothing easier." O'Neill unlimbered his radio. "Just get yours to stop."
"Yes, well, there's the difficulty. Good fellows, really, but once you get them going it's a bit challenging to move them into a different topic. If yours all just sort of sit down, mine will just howl around for a bit and then simmer down."
O'Neill stared at him, considering. What the hell, someone has to make the first move. He toggled on the radio. "Teal'c?"
"Yes, Colonel O'Neill?"
"Go to ground, big guy. Hide out for a few. I've got new intelligence—" and I use the word intelligence advisedly—"that 'out of sight, out of mind' would work very well here. Stop attacking, and they'll forget all about you pretty quick."
"Very well, O'Neill." O'Neill could hear the disappointment in the Jaffa's voice. Obviously the big guy had been having fun, although even he must have been getting a bit winded. There were a lot of hill people in them thar hills.
O'Neill switched over to where Carter was. "Raslow? Carter?"
"Still here, colonel." Raslow sounded tired and stressed but intact. "We've holed up, waiting for them to come get us. But they're ignoring us. Kind of freaky."
"New intelligence, major. Stay put. They'll keep ignoring you as long as you don't shoot at them. They're after something else."
"Their morning cup of coffee." And couldn't resist adding, "it's a few hundred years overdue."
All right, on to the bunch that he was really worried about. Lts. Abelard and Tarkov were in charge of the foursome, and, however often he broke his own rule, O'Neill really did like to be a stickler for protocol. Especially when it worked in his own favor. Keeping his hands where John Doe could see them—despite all the pleasant bantering, neither trusted the other—O'Neill tabbed on his commlink, breaking radio silence yet again. "Abelard? Tarkov? You there?"
"Colonel!" Pause for a moment while a stone projectile whistled by and smashed on something solid. "You better be calling with good news. We 're about to be over run."
"I am, lieutenant. You can stop fighting."
Another pause, this time for Abelard to wonder unspoken if the commanding officer of this mission had lost his mind. "Say again, sir. Did you say, 'stop fighting'?"
"That's affirmative, lieutenant. Cease hostilities. Lay down your guns. Stop shooting. And above all, take a coffee break."
There was dead silence over the radio link. Then a burst of static. "You're breaking….Say a-… -breaking-…" And, underneath the words, came a contralto shriek of "He wants us to…? Is he out… his f-… gourd?!"
O'Neill could just see the re-enactment to be performed at their court martial: Abelard turns to Tarkov and Malberg: "Can you believe what you just heard? O'Neill wants us to lay down and die?"
Tarkov: "Not a chance, Abelard. You must have heard wrong."
Abelard: "Not me. You heard it, too. What're we gonna do?"
Malberg: "These people are animals! They'll tear us to shreds! The proof is right here in these Sorority House documents. O'Neill is crazy! He wants to kill us."
Abelard: "He's going to sacrifice us to protect himself. He and the Jaffa are going to run off to the Stargate. What're we gonna do?"
Tarkov: "Are you kidding? We fight!"
O'Neill pressed the send button. "I'm not kidding on this, Abelard. This is for all three of you. Put down your weapons. That's an order."
Silence answered him. Obviously he was supposed to think that the radio was out. He stabbed the send button again. "Abelard! Tarkov! Malberg! Answer me, dammit! I am trying to save your sorry asses!" All right, last chance. "Daniel! If you can hear me, make coffee! This is not a joke. Make the biggest pot of coffee that you've ever made, and serve it to the jokers who are trying to turn you into liver pate!"
John Doe surveyed O'Neill with a quizzical look. "Sounds like your chaps follow your orders about as well as mine. Shall we get over there and see what they're on about?"
O'Neill gave him a wordless growl.
"Now you're starting to sound like I used to."
Raslow suddenly perked up his head. He sniffed the air. "What's that smell?"
"I don't smell anything," Carter lied. What she really smelled, stuffed in the back most corner of the small cave with Raslow gallantly in front of her, was a strong odor of fear and sweat, both of which emanated from her fellow major. Since she suspected that she didn't smell any better, she politely chose not to make it an issue. At least not until they'd both had a shower.
"No. Take a whiff, Carter. I smell something. Smells familiar." He peered around, looking for the source. "And all the hill people are heading in that direction."
Carter poked her head out over Raslow's brawny shoulder. "They're ignoring us. Is that a good sign?"
"I'll take it in lieu of any other." He thumbed his nose. "Let's follow the hill people and find out what's going on."
The hillside was suspiciously peaceful as O'Neill, Teal'c, and John Doe approached. Every hillock and mound boasted a hairy rump sitting upon it, with the owner of said hairy rump conversing calmly and politely with his neighbor. Doe greeted several with a 'hello there, friend. Your name again? I've quite forgotten mine,' and received similar salutations in return. Even Teal'c found himself hard-pressed to avoid wrinkling up his nose at the odor of unwashed human.
The most remarkable thing about it all was the quietude. Each and every one of the men, in between witty bon mots, sat with a chunk of wood or clay busily fashioning a crude drinking vessel with a fervency quite out of character for the sense of calm that pervaded the area. Some of those who had apparently had more time to work on their project were actively involved in carving some sort of identifying mark onto the cup, an activity that O'Neill found somewhat obtuse since none of them seemed to remember their names.
At the bottom of the hill grew a long line of those unkempt men, all with serviceable cups clutched in their grubby hands. An occasional shoving match broke out, only to be quickly quashed by their neighbors, and the errant parties then hung their heads in shame as they resumed their places in line, gentlemanly gesturing for the other to precede them.
O'Neill didn't know what to think. So he walked toward the head of the line.
One man tried to stop his party. "Excuse me, sir. The line forms back there."
"It's all right," Doe assured his fellow hill man. "He's their employer."
"Oh. That's all right, then. Carry on. Fine job. Keep it coming."
O'Neill looked at Doe. "'Keep it coming'?"
Doe grinned and pointed.
The line ended at the bottom of the hill, in front of a small cave-like affair with a broken rickshaw on its side perched precariously in front. The rickshaw had several boulder-sized holes in it, and a few of those boulders could be seen in the interior, having smashed through the outer walls of the rickshaw to end up sitting on a cluster of splinters and dirt. Little tinkling bells danced in the gentle breeze, a reminder that the vehicle once belonged to the Sorority Sisters.
A portion of that defunct rickshaw was being used to fuel a fire as well as create a convenient lean-to from which to hang a soot-blackened pot. Daniel Jackson was presiding over that pot from his comfortable seat on a stump hauled over to the spot for the occasion, stirring the brew and sending the most delicious odor of freshly prepared coffee through the air. O'Neill found his mouth watering despite the circumstances.
Captain Malberg had the situation well in hand. Her Sorority House gown was stained and torn, she was barefoot, and her hair nothing short of a disaster, but she served the coffee to the hungering men with all the aplomb of the mistress of a five star establishment so upper-class that the proletariat never knew it existed. Abelard and Tarkov were her serving men at arms, keeping the line orderly and people waiting their turn for a bare half cup of Daniel's high octane caffeine packed drink.
"That's it, you're next, do hold your cup out so that Dr. Jackson can give you your share," she said. "Drink it down, you'll be pleased at the effects. No, I'm sorry, you can't have seconds yet, not until everyone has had their opportunity. Believe me, if we can, we'll be bring back a great deal more very soon." Malberg glanced up, did a double take. "Oh! Colonel O'Neill. I didn't see you standing there." She looked around with a guilty air, and shamefacedly held out a cup. "Coffee, sir?"
There was a muted growl from behind her: some several hundred coffee-starved men objected to someone cutting ahead in line.
O'Neill got the point. "No thanks, Malberg. You keep going. You and Daniel seem to have the situation well under control. I take it you got my message, Daniel?"
"Yes, sir, he did," Malberg interrupted. "Have you ever listened to that man talk when he wanted you to do something that you didn't think was the right thing to do?"
"He wouldn't stop," Abelard chimed in from his place as line monitor.
"Kept on talking until we gave in because we couldn't stand listening to him any more," Tarkov chimed in. "You put up with this all the time, colonel?"
O'Neill gave Daniel a sardonic look. "Just the joys of having a civilian archeologist on my team. Nice work, Daniel."
The younger man tried not to glare. "Thanks. I think." The glare finally came out, trying not to whine. He finished pouring his current cup of coffee, handing it to the filthy specimen in front of him, and turned back to his commanding officer. "I'm three days behind on both coffee and sleep, Jack. Can we go home now?"
Raslow was bewildered. His men were likewise bewildered, so he spoke on behalf of them all. The air-conditioned air of the SGC was all around them, with showers and coffee and comfortable beds for both the men and the women of the base. Both SG teams had taken full advantage of those facilities prior to the debriefing held by General Hammond.
"That's right, Major Raslow, I'm sending SG-14 back to P6292 with a turn-around time of forty-eight hours. I realize that won't leave you much space for R & R, but Dr. Frasier tells us that we have a time window. We have to provide coffee service for a thousand before Dr. Jackson's remnants wear off, and we're back to square one." General Hammond leaned back in his comfortable chair and observed the effect of his pronouncement.
"You're asking SG-14 to become a… restaurant service, sir?" Raslow tried not to sound dismayed.
"Sorry, major, but there isn't any Starbucks that's cleared for off-world duty." The general's tone was tart, even if his words were not. "I know you have your heart set on becoming a general, son, but for the moment you'll have to settle for general manager. At least until we can get a permanent trading post set up."
"And Captain Malberg, sir?"
Hammond turned to look him squarely in the eye. "Colonel O'Neill recommended that she head up the negotiating team. Seemed to think that she was the only one who could handle it. That the rest of the SG teams were somewhat persona non grata with the ladies of the Sorority House." He shuffled the papers in front of him, not letting Raslow see what was written there.
"O'Neill recommended her?" Raslow refused to let his jaw hang open, though it clearly wanted to. Yeah, there was O'Neill's signature on the bottom of the papers in front of General Hammond, upside down to Raslow's eyes but still unmistakeable.
O'Neill cleared his throat. "That's Colonel O'Neill, major. And, yes, I did."
"But…" O'Neill could hear the rest of the question die in Raslow's throat: what about the court martial?
"It was a toss up," O'Neill said easily. "But I finally decided that it would be a waste of a good archeologist for her to languish in a cell. Think you can keep her in line, major?"
"Yes, sir!" started to snap out. Then Raslow hesitated. "I think so, sir."
"Well, sir, Malberg seemed pretty taken with that John Doe fellow. She went native once. She might do it again."
"Is he worthy of an SGC captain, son?" That from General Hammond.
"Pretty plain, major. Is the man acceptable to become a part of the family?"
Raslow considered. "Yes, sir, I'd have to say so."
"Then, here." O'Neill tossed over a small sack of something hard and round.
"Open it," O'Neill invited.
Raslow did so, pouring out dark brown orbs onto his hand. A familiar scent stole out. "Coffee beans?"
"You're going to need a supplier, major, if you expect your coffee house to succeed. I hear it takes a while to grow coffee bushes, and sending bags of coffee through the StarGate on a routine basis sounds a bit wasteful. You'll be in charge of the coffee plantations; I suggest that you might want to consider giving it as a wedding present to Malberg and her intended. SGC is just giving you a little seed money to start the process." He thought again. "Then again, it's not really money. But they are real seeds." O'Neill smiled. "Enjoy."