Disclaimer: Nothing you recognize is mine. I gain nothing of material value from this.
Summary: After over a year of training, Daniel's restless and looking for a team so he can search for his family. SG-1 needs a fourth member, and Daniel and SG-1 get along. Somehow, though, things are never quite that simple.
Notes: This is the sequel to Diplomacy, which is the sequel to Translations. This installment will likely only make sense if you've read both of those already. Expect specific spoilers for anything from Season 1 through early Season 4 and possible mentions of facts from later seasons.
25 August 1999; Level 26 Corridor, SGC; 0600 hrs
Lieutenant Dean Barber turned away from his perusal of the wall in front of him—he'd only nodded briefly to the two anonymous faces with him—when one of the others spoke up.
"Wish they'd given us a little more information," the woman said, almost to herself. There was a single, subdued gold bar on the woman's lapel that put her a step below Barber in rank, a name that he couldn't make out before she slipped a tactical vest over everything...
All the tests so far had been separate, individual, one person tested at a time with SG personnel standing around and making them sweat, so all Barber knew was that the three people in the room right now were the only ones who'd gotten this far. Along with himself and the other lieutenant, there was a kid who looked like he'd stepped right out of high school and was now standing quietly in the corner of the room that they'd all been stuffed in to wait.
"Well, I guess that's part of the test," Barber suggested, drawing the woman's attention to him. Her eyes flicked over his uniform, cataloguing his rank and name. "If we go to an alien planet, we can't expect to have all the information we'd like."
Alien planet. Jesus. How cool was it to say that?
He carefully suppressed his glee and checked his own equipment again.
"Yeah, of course," she agreed, tucking a stray strand of hair back into her ponytail, "but we're going in with no context at all, aside from some primers and a few lectures on the history of the Stargate. There's only so much you can learn from isolated pieces of data."
"I agree," the other guy spoke up. He really was a kid, Barber noticed when he looked closer. He was a few inches shy of six feet, though his slouching posture made him look smaller, and he looked no older than seventeen, maybe eighteen at a stretch. No insignia, either. "They're not making this a fair test."
"Maybe that's on purpose, too," Barber pointed out, and the kid tilted his head in acknowledgement.
"Do you guys know what we'll be doing?" the woman asked. "Final test and all."
Barber shrugged. "No idea. I guess they'll tell us when we go in, but we might as well get to know each other while they keep us out here stewing."
"Yeah," she agreed, sticking out a hand. "Kristen Astor, Middle Eastern studies with a focus on foreign language."
"Dean Barber," he answered, shaking her hand. "Electrical and computer engineering."
"Daniel Jackson," the kid added. "Anthropology." Jackson hesitated, then eyed them both and asked, "You're both in the military?"
Barber caught Lieutenant Astor's eye and saw her quirk an eyebrow. "Yep," he answered.
"Air Force? That's what the wings mean, right?" Jackson asked. "I mean, of course. Right?"
"That's right," Barber said, bemused. "Where're you from, Jackson?"
"Me? Uh...Ch-chicago. Um, University of." He grimaced and laughed a little. "Sorry. Kinda nervous. I've never done this kind of thing before."
A college grad, then, maybe, and definitely someone worth considering, if the Air Force was recruiting him so young, but then again, a program that had been started to save Earth from alien attack probably attracted all sorts of prodigies—even chronically nervous ones, apparently.
"Hey, don't sweat it," Barber told him, because chances were they were either going to be competing or working together, and someone who was nervous was unpredictable in either case. He watched the kid turn his vest around in his hands, as if trying to make sure he knew which way was up. "You need help with that?"
Jackson navigated his way into his vest by himself, but he let Barber show him which pockets held first aid supplies, which one contained a utility knife, a flashlight, and other tools the SGC had seen fit to provide them. "Well, we're not going to be just sitting around, if they're making us wear these," he said. "I just wish we didn't have to do this so early, for...for crying out loud."
"Not a morning person?" Barber said, offering a smile.
"No," Jackson said emphatically. "Sir. Uh, what do I call you?"
Barber laughed, amused even as he wondered silently why the hell they'd been put into the same group as this kid. "How about you stick with our names. Barber and Astor."
"I wonder why they put us together? Engineering, language, culture..."
"They all could be useful in practice," Barber said. "Some SG teams are deliberately set up to have a wide range of skill sets. Maybe this test will be a team effort."
Astor made a face. "I hope so. If it's a competition, we're not exactly working on the same turf."
"Yeah," Jackson agreed, "I might be in trouble unless it's just a test of Goa'uld artifacts."
Barber frowned, but Astor spoke up first. "Wait, wait, Goa'uld artifacts? I only got the Abydonian language primer and an overview of basic data-display technology."
"Really?" Jackson asked, blinking. "I didn't. They gave me a basic Goa'uld language reference and some material on Goa'uld social structure...no? You didn't, uh...?"
"I didn't get any of that," Barber said, more worried now. "I got a bunch of reading on wormhole physics and interfacing Earth's technology with Goa'uld crystals. No one told me anything about language. Why didn't we all get the same stuff?"
"We must've taken completely different preliminary tests, too," Astor said, frowning.
They'd received the speech about how Earth was at war with parasites with delusions of grandeur called the Goa'uld, and they all knew basic things about the Stargate and the goals of the program, and then...that was it. They would learn more if they got in, they'd been told.
"Well, I probably don't have the physics background to understand...well, anything other than the fact that Stargate goes kawhoosh," Jackson offered, waving a hand to demonstrate. "It sounds complicated, and they only gave us a few weeks to prepare, after all."
"Yeah, I guess—"
The door of their little room slid open. Barber sprang to his feet, Astor doing the same. A man with graying hair stood in the doorway. Barber recognized the woman next to him as Captain Carter, who'd given him his brief introduction to alien tech before all of this started, which meant that this must be none other than SG-1. And that meant the man behind them both with a glinting tattoo on his head...
"You're a Jaffa," Jackson said brightly, standing belatedly. "That's so cool."
"You are correct, Daniel Jackson," the Jaffa said. Barber had a moment to wonder that the Jaffa spoke perfect English and knew their names already before berating himself for prejudices—big, strong, and alien didn't mean 'stupid,' after all, and SG-1 was supposedly in charge of this round of testing. Of course Teal'c would know their names, and probably a lot more than that, too.
"Listen up," the man in front—Colonel Jack O'Neill, it must be—said. "I'm Colonel O'Neill, this is Captain Carter, and that is Teal'c. You'll be working as a team today. You want to earn a place on an SG team, you finish the task we've set you and don't kill yourselves or anyone else. This is your last test. You succeed, you're in. You fail, you're out. Understood?"
"Yes, sir," Barber and Astor both said.
Jackson stammered, "K-kill? You're not...you mean, like, metaphorically, right?"
O'Neill gave him a hard stare and didn't look away as he said, "Lieutenant Barber, you're in command. You keep your people in line."
"Yes, sir," Barber said. Jackson gave them all a wary look and shut up.
"Captain?" O'Neill said, and Captain Carter stepped forward to take his place.
"In three minutes, you will walk through these doors," she said, then swiped her card through the reader to reveal a long hallway. There were no lights, so it was too dark to make out any details except a few doors on either side of the hall and one at the end. "You are on a planet controlled by the Goa'uld Heru-ur. At the end of this corridor"—she pointed at the door at the far end—"is the Stargate. Your goal is to get home. Any questions?"
Barber blinked. What the hell?
"Wait, what?" Jackson asked aloud. "Just walk to the other end? That's ridiculou—"
"Jackson," Barber warned.
"I'm just say—"
"Not now!" he insisted, adding a glare until the kid subsided. "Sorry, gentlemen, ma'am. Is there anything else we need to know?"
"Nope," O'Neill said.
"I suggest you all get ready," Carter told them, turning and walking away. "In two minutes and...eighteen seconds, those doors will open, and the test will begin."
Barber stared in confusion as SG-1 walked away and the doors closed again behind them.
Jackson turned to both of them. "Okay, but seriously, did that not sound kind of...dumb?"
Astor shrugged, pulling out a flashlight that they'd need to see inside the dark hallway once the doors opened. "There's got to be something more to this," Barber said. "She said it was a planet controlled by Heru-ur. What do we know about him?"
"Heru-ur. Horus the elder. Son of Ra and Hathor," Jackson answered without hesitation, and Barber realized for the first time he should probably hold off judgment on him. He'd gotten this far in whatever tests the SGC had set him, after all.
"No, son of Osiris and Isis," Astor corrected, frowning.
Jackson paused, looking surprised, then shook his head. "In Egyptian mythology, yes, but Goa'uld lineages don't correlate exactly with what Earth's myths say. In any case, it probably doesn't matter who his parents were; Heru-ur is a conqueror, a fierce warrior."
"We're unarmed," Astor pointed out, not arguing Goa'uld pedigree. "They can't be expecting us to fight anyone. There must be some trick, but I'm thinking more along the lines of a trap we'll have to outthink, not a battle."
"All right, here's what we do," Barber told both of them. "As soon as those doors open, we move. Be fast, but be careful of anything that might be a trap. Jackson, your flashlight?"
"Right," Jackson said anxiously, fumbling until he found it and promptly dropping it with a soft, "Ah, crap."
"You okay?" Barber asked. "Hey—stop worrying; it's gonna be fine. Just a test. All right?"
"S-sure," Jackson said dubiously, picking up his flashlight and flicking it on.
Then the doors slid open, and there was no time for anything else.
They shone their lights into the dim corridor and stepped into it together. "What the hell?" Barber said.
There were solid metal blast doors now standing as a barrier between them and the 'Stargate' at the end of the hall. So this was the test—they had to get past the blast doors. A slamming sound made him turn around, just in time to see the entrance close as well.
"Well, I guess this is it," Astor said. "Lieutenant Barber?"
Barber aimed his flashlight at the barrier, then at the walls to either side. "Control panel," he said, recognizing Goa'uld design. "Maybe I can override their programming and get this door open so we can get through."
"Or maybe we're supposed to go around," Astor suggested, directing her own light at the other door to the side of the hallway, a few meters from the blast doors. She hurried toward it and pulled on the handle, but it didn't budge. "There must be more than one path to get to the, uh, 'Stargate.' This side door's locked, but there are hieroglyphs all over it."
"Can you read it?" he asked.
After a moment's examination, she said, "Numbers, random words...maybe it's a code. The glyphs are raised, but"—she pressed one of them experimentally—"not buttons. Could be switches of some kind, and I just have to find the right symbol or combination."
"Here's another door," Jackson said, his light directed at the other side of the hall, several more meters from the others. "It's locked, with Goa'uld glyphs around it. Barber...is this a control panel, too?"
"Yeah," Barber confirmed. "It should slide open, like a drawer."
Jackson tugged hard to no avail, then said, "Maybe the symbols are instructions to open it. I think I can read them with some time..."
"You two work on those," Barber said, pulling open one of the other control panels to start examining the control crystals inside. "I'll work on this barrier. One of us'll figure something out."
He'd just pulled open the control panel for the blast door barrier when he heard Astor say, "Hey, does one of these represent Heru-ur? It's the falcon in mythology, right?"
"Hm?" Jackson's voice answered from down the hall, sounding distracted. Barber glanced back briefly to check on both of them, then returned to his own panel. "Heru-ur? Yes, the falcon is his symbol."
This panel was odd—only the power regulation crystals were in place, and there were empty slots, as if some crystals were missing. It made sense, he supposed; it would be too easy if everything were there already. Each of the twelve empty slots was labeled with a digit from 'zero' to 'nine,' the numeral 'one' repeated and the last one left blank. It must be a test of whether they could configure it properly. Where were the control crystals, though?
"I think..." Astor was saying. "Huh. This one's loose. If I turn this—sir, I got it—"
Barber paused what he was doing and turned to see her twist the falcon symbol next to the door, which slid smoothly open. "Nice," he approved, shining his flashlight into the room beyond, which looked empty. "Come on—"
There was a sound like breaking glass. Jackson yelled, and something flashed at the edge of Barber's vision.
"Daniel!" Astor cried. Barber whirled around to see a spark of electricity fade from the wall as Jackson crumpled to the ground.
"What happened?" Barber asked, running back. Alarms began to blare around them, and then stopped suddenly, taking the few, dim lights with them. Barber waited for the emergency lights to come on, but nothing happened, leaving them in silence and pitch blackness.
Astor reached Jackson first. "I think he got shocked; I didn't see." She glanced up at the wall, then pulled him a few inches away from it. He didn't stir. "He's not responsive, but I've got a pulse." Barber reached their side and crouched beside them. "And something wet...blood—there's a broken crystal up there, he must've cut his hand."
Barber looked up and realized Jackson had found a way to get the control panel open, but one of the crystals was broken, as she'd said, a thin, wet ribbon of red glistening on its side. "Crystal circuits are often linked in a centralized network—that might be what took out the lights and the alarms." More importantly, crystal circuits could go haywire when a single element broke like that... "You see any burns on him?"
"Not that I can see," she answered. "Might be something under this blood, but I don't have anything to wash it off and check. Damn, it's too dark..."
"Hey!" crackled through and intercom on the wall, interspersed with static. "Th...O'Neill. We just lost ... surveillance of your corridor. What ... hell did you ... Lieutenant?"
Barber nodded to Astor to stay there. He glanced briefly at the panel in the wall, where smoke was rising from a crystal, then found his way to the intercom. The first touch sent a jolt of what felt like static through his finger, making him jump, so he took a bracing breath and tried again, letting out a breath when nothing happened.
"I'm not sure, sir," he answered once he'd hit the button. "Jackson was looking at something written in Goa'uld on the wall. He got the control panel open, but there's a broken crystal. It looks like he got shocked pretty bad, and it might've taken out some other systems if everything's linked."
"You call ... keeping your people in line, Bar...?"
"Still can't wake him," Astor said anxiously.
Barber looked back at Jackson, hoping his organs hadn't been cooked by whatever he'd done to that control crystal, and forced himself to remember that, if surveillance had been blown, SG-1 couldn't see what was going on in their corridor—they were lucky to have any communications left at all. He took a breath, then made the call.
"Colonel," he answered, watching Astor try to wake Jackson, "we don't know what that shock did to him—he needs medical attention."
"Sir!" Astor cried, suddenly a flurry of movement. "He's not breathing..."
"What?" Barber said.
"Still got a pulse," she said a second later, carefully shifting Jackson's body so he was flat on his back. "He stopped breathing—it's been no more than...maybe twenty seconds, but—"
Barber dropped to his knees next to them, tilted the head back, watched for the chest to rise, listened for a slow whistle of air through the slightly open mouth. "Dammit," he muttered when nothing happened. "Astor, start breathing for him!" he ordered, surging up again to his feet.
He reached the intercom just as O'Neill's voice was saying, "... stop now, your test ... over and you failed."
Angrily, he jabbed the intercom button and said, "Then I guess we failed, sir! Jackson's in respiratory arrest. We have to get him out of here now!"
There was a pause, and then, businesslike, "We're coming, Lieuten... first aid until we..."
There was a cough, and then a shallow gasp.
"Breathing on his own again," Astor said, a little shakily.
Barber scrubbed a hair through his hair and only nodded, because 'breathing' was pretty much a minimum requirement as far as being alive went. "Make sure he keeps breathing," he said. "How 'bout his hand; is it still bleeding?"
The hand didn't look too bad at first glance, but Barber knew electricity was tricky like that—you couldn't see the internal damage. If there'd been enough current flowing through Jackson to knock him out and screw with his breathing, the electricity must've done something to his insides, and the human body was like a sack of conducting fluid with a heart that beat—or stopped beating—when electricity told it to.
Then Captain Carter's voice said, "Stand by ... working on it."
Working on it? What was that supposed to mean?
Astor pulled out a field dressing from her vest pocket, tucking her flashlight between her jaw and her shoulder to illuminate what she was doing. She winced in sympathy when Jackson flinched as the cloth pressed the cut. "Daniel? You with us now?"
A moan answered her.
"Sorry, I know, I know," she said as she worked. "You awake? Daniel."
"Lieutenant," Carter hailed again, and Barber's attention was redirected to the intercom, "we can't get ... door... our side. Whatever Jackson ... something else, too. Are ... able to see the aff... circuit?"
This was turning into one hell of a shitty day.
"Can we have light back, ma'am?" he asked.
"I'll try ... reroute some ... backup ... that'll take a while," Carter answered, sounding frustrated. "... sequestered that corridor ... tests, and we're not linked to ... but communications. Barber, the crystal ... broken—is it one ... programming crystals?"
"No, ma'am, it's the power regulator," he said, shining his light into the panel where Jackson had just been standing.
"Do you smell that?" Astor said sharply. "Is that smoke?"
Barber frowned. After a moment, he smelled it, the sharp, acrid smell of something burning—plastic?—but he couldn't tell where it was coming from. And then he raised his flashlight and realized it was coming from right in front of him—
Carter was saying, "We didn't account ... would break one of ..."
"Down!" Barber managed, and he threw himself to the ground just as a spark leapt from around the intercom and crackling sounds emerged. Turning his face away, he saw Astor plant her body in front of Jackson's as well as she could, instinctively protecting her head with her arms. A louder crack above made him roll back up to a crouch, looking up to see a spark of flame disappear, leaving them in the dark again, smoke surrounding them.
Barber aimed his flashlight back up at the blackened plastic that had previously been the intercom. "Goddamn," he muttered. Carter had said something about sequestering the corridor, and now that he thought about it, of course it made sense that they would have isolated the testing area's systems from the rest of the base...which meant it was possible that these few panels all drew power from the same local source. Overload one and damage others...something was going to go. Or everything was. "Everyone okay?"
"Yes, sir," Astor said.
"Ngh," Jackson said, then coughed weakly.
"Sir," Astor said, shifting so she could see Jackson better. Barber took another look back, decided to panic about losing communication later, and hurried to their side. Astor rose to her feet as he took her place, and she hurried away to see what they could do from there.
For a brief moment of insanity, he almost thought that this might be part of the test. Then Jackson shuddered and tried to roll away when Barber touched his shoulder and stopped partway with a pained whimper, pulling his hand toward his chest. People who regularly fought alien parasites might be a little crazy, he figured, but he was pretty sure these tests weren't actually designed to injure or kill.
"Jackson—Daniel?" Barber said. Daniel opened his eyes halfway and then let them fall closed again, shivering. "No, no, no, stay with me. Daniel, open your eyes, huh?"
Daniel obeyed, slowly. "What..." he breathed, then winced. "B-Barber?"
"Yeah. Yeah, that's right. How're you doing?"
"Where's it hurt?" he said, thinking of internal damage, internal burns, who knew what else...
"I don'...feel good."
"Sir, " Astor called from the end of the corridor where they'd come in. "We're sealed in from this end. We might as well check the room I got open just before Daniel got hit."
Barber turned to see the open door again. "They'll get in to us eventually," he thought aloud, but Daniel made another sound of distress, and he stood up. "Right, no reason to wait. Astor, keep an eye on the kid."
Without waiting for her response, he hurried into the other room she'd opened, which he found almost completely empty, except for a bundle of cloth on a table. He touched the cloth and heard a faint clinking sound, so he unwrapped it quickly to find six control crystals. Fine—this must be what was missing from the panel outside.
From outside, Astor's voice could be heard saying, "You all right, kiddo?"
"Mm," Daniel's voice said, almost too soft to hear, "s'it...c-cold?"
"Hey, stay awake," she said sharply.
Focusing back on his task, Barber wrapped the crystals again and picked them up. Next to them was a small, stone tablet and something that looked like a wireless mouse. Remembering something from the reading he'd been given, he picked up the last one and ran it over the tablet, gratified to see the displayed text change. It was in hieroglyphs, though, so he scooped those up, as well.
"Can you read this?" he asked Astor, handing her the tablet and the device. "I think this was the puzzle we were supposed to solve in there."
"Uh," she said, squinting at the tablet. "Yeah, I think so."
"Figure out what it says," Barber said, putting down the control crystals to watch Daniel while she did that. Astor had stripped off her tac vest and jacket to spread over him. Worried about having to deal with the other kind of shock on top of electrical shock, Barber took off his own vest and stuffed them both under the kid's legs before checking the dressing. The bandage was wet, but not saturated, and it looked like whatever bleeding there was had stopped, or at least slowed a lot. "How're you holding up?" he asked, glancing at where Astor was reading silently, her lips moving.
"Can't...stop sh-shaking," Daniel gritted out, and he was indeed still shivering despite the extra covering. "Hurts..."
"Electricity can mess with your muscles," Barber told him, not mentioning that it could mess with your brain and everything else, too. "Don't worry. We're almost there. How's your hand?"
"Hm..." Daniel said, closing his eyes again.
"That wasn't permission to go to sleep, Jackson," Barber said, not frantic at all, Jesus Christ, why couldn't they have gotten someone from the medical corps assigned to join them? "Open your eyes and...and just keep talking to us, you hear?"
Astor spoke up. "It looks like...it says we need to solve the...uh, secret, mystery... The riddle, I guess. It says, 'Solve the...riddle of the stones to open the gate.' I think these are instructions."
Barber looked toward the blast door. "There are crystals missing from that control panel over there," he said. "If the 'stones' are 'crystals,' I'll bet that tablet tells us how to configure it properly to open the door."
He started to gather the crystals and move toward the panel when she said, "Daniel's out again, sir," she said. "Pulse is steady, but we've gotta get him out of here."
There was a second when he wondered if this had been rigged somehow to take out so many systems at once when someone screwed up, and then discarded the thought. It didn't matter how, at the moment, or even if it had been rigged, because the point was that they were cut off, there was someone unconscious on the floor, and they had to get him out, test or not.
"I think I know what this is," he said, staring at the numbers written on the panel next to the slots. "We have to figure out where to plug everything in. That must be the 'riddle.' Astor, how're you doing with that tablet?"
"I, uh," she said, then passed the odd device over the tablet again. "I can read what it says, but I don't know what it means. There's that introduction, and then it gives a list of six colors."
"Colors," Barber repeated, poised to start working at his panel. "What—yellow, red, et cetera?"
"Like the crystals. Are they associated with numbers or anything?"
She shook her head. "There's a... It says something like... I don't know, this doesn't make any sense. Uh...a...circuit above two—" She stopped.
Barber raised his eyebrows. "A what and what?"
"I mean, there are a bunch of possible meanings...with a little time, maybe..."
"Might not have that much time, Lieutenant," Barber said, looking toward Daniel and watching the shallow rise and fall of his chest in the beam of the flashlight. She turned, too, then closed her eyes briefly and nodded.
"Okay. First word, 'the circuit.' Second, 'above, over, on top.' Then two of something... this could mean 'phrases,' uh...or...certain other meanings, like triangles, or a radius."
"'Radius' like the bone or 'radius' of a circle?" Barber asked, still not getting it.
"It's geometry, sir; radius of a circle," she said. "Wait, you don't think...circuit. Circle. Circumference?"
He stared at her, and then turned to the panel. "Oh, that's...no way," he said in disbelief.
"Circumference over two radii...that's pi. If I know the first few digits of pi..."
"And," she continued, "we know the order that the crystals go in by color... Do you know the first, um...we need six digits."
"Yeah, I know them. What's the first one?" he said. Carefully, hoping this panel was isolated from whatever else had already been screwed up, he removed the power regulator and set it aside, relieved when nothing shocked him.
"Red," she said, and he slotted the red crystal into the slot labeled '3.' "Then white. Uh, what color is malachite, green, right?"
"Sure," he answered, hoping she was right, slotting a colorless crystal into '1' and a green into '4.'
"Then white, then...I think this is...is there a purple one?"
"Hold it," he said, still on the second clear crystal in the second '1' slot. Purple in the '5.' "Okay, yeah, got it. Last one?"
Barber plugged the yellow into the '9.' He picked up the blue power crystal again but hesitated with it poised over the slot where it had been before. That was the wrong place now—it wasn't even connected to the others. There was another blank spot that made more sense, though, so he slotted it in carefully, bracing himself for whatever might happen if he'd configured this wrong...
A loud alarm made him jump back, but the next moment, the blast door began to rise. "Yes! That's it." Astor appeared beside him. The other side of the corridor seemed empty, too, so he started for the 'Stargate' door at the other end, calling, "Is anyone there? Colonel O'Neill?"
Without warning, the lights came on all around them, making him blink to let his eyes adjust.
"What?" Astor said. Barber stopped, turning around to see her look up, mystified, at the lights that had been cut off only minutes ago, which was why he was facing the right direction to see Daniel sit up, brushing off the jackets they'd lent him and waggling something that looked like a remote control before he slipped it back into his pocket.
"Daniel?" Barber said in confusion, making Astor turn as well.
"Hey, guys," Daniel called back. He shrugged. "You win."
The sound of another door sliding open made them turn yet again to see SG-1 and General Hammond walk in calmly.
What the hell—they'd been had!
Barber stared at SG-1, still trying to work out exactly how everything fit together.
"You pass," Colonel O'Neill said to both of them, then walked past to point an accusing finger at Daniel. "You're not actually supposed to bleed on them, you realize that, right?" O'Neill asked, pulling the hastily bandaged arm toward himself but loosening his grip when Daniel flinched.
"It's not that bad. Not even bleeding anymore," Daniel said, then nodded to Barber and Astor, offering a smile that turned into a wince when O'Neill started unwrapping the dressing.
"If your hand gets infected from testing recruits, I'm gonna laugh," O'Neill threatened while peering at the cut.
Daniel frowned at him. "She found the switch faster than we'd expected, so I had to hurry... Sorry, sir," he added in their direction. "I didn't mean to mess anything up."
"That's all right, Mr. Jackson, you did fine," General Hammond said with a smile. "Lieutenant Barber, Lieutenant Astor, we'd be happy to have you join this command."
Astor exchanged incredulous looks with Barber. "But," he said feebly, then glanced back at Daniel, who was currently bickering with Colonel O'Neill. The general was still looking at them, and so were the other two members of SG-1, so he said, "Yes, sir. Uh, thank you."
"General," O'Neill said, walking toward the door and shepherding Daniel with a hand on his back, "I'm taking Daniel to Dr. Fraiser."
"Jack," Daniel complained, then tried futilely to sidestep. "Jack, c'mon, I can go on my own!" Barber watched, bemused, as Daniel was dragged bodily out of the room by O'Neill and called back to them, "Thanks for taking care of me!"
O'Neill continued herding him out. "And what did I say about trying to make Teal'c laugh during—"
They rounded a corner and disappeared from sight. Barber snuck a glance at Teal'c. The Jaffa raised an eyebrow at him. He looked away.
"Holy sh—schnitzel," Astor murmured.
Hammond smiled again and didn't rebuke her for language. "Come with us to the briefing room. We'll explain, and once Colonel O'Neill and Mr. Jackson are finished, they'll join us."
25 August 1999; Briefing Room, SGC; 0730 hrs
O'Neill walked into the briefing room alone a few minutes after they did.
"Sir?" Captain Carter asked as she and Teal'c turned immediately to him. "Daniel?"
"Went up to the office," O'Neill said, taking a seat. "He'll be down with Astor's orientation files, General." Carter had already given Barber a binder of things to study and forms to fill out; he'd assumed Astor would be getting the same from another research department.
"All right," Hammond said, then turned to Barber and Astor. "As I said, Lieutenants, your skills were not in question today. That scenario was set up primarily to make you feel a sense of pressure while you attempted to solve a problem that you'd never expect to see on Earth."
"We did think of a couple of other possibilities," Carter explained, "including putting you in a combat situation, but I've had trouble trying to engineer Goa'uld weapons to fire duds without it just looking silly."
"I wanted to use paintballs," O'Neill said.
"Which would've seemed even less real than blanks," Carter went on smoothly. "The special effects were easier to rig up, this way—you might've noticed if Daniel had gotten 'shot' and started leaking fake blood. We were monitoring the entire time to make sure nothing went wrong in reality."
Of course they were. These were professionals—the best professionals. They would've had contingency plans for when their contingency plans went sideways. Barber should've known. He had known and had still let them manipulate him into believing exactly what they wanted.
"And," O'Neill said, leaning back in his chair, "we had to know how you'd interact with other military personnel and with civilians. Some of them know what it's like to work on an SG team; some don't. Now, Daniel laid the 'helpless' thing on a little thick, but you might end up working with someone who really is completely inexperienced."
"I was afraid you'd suspected that it was an act," Hammond said, "but I assume from your reactions that you didn't."
"I almost did, sir," Barber admitted, "but I didn't think there was any way someone like Daniel could be in on this." Or should it be Mr. Jackson?
O'Neill snorted. "Yeah, we figured. That's why we use him as our plant. He's gotten it down pretty well these days, don't you think?"
"So," Astor spoke up, "there wasn't actually any sort of urgency, sir?"
Daniel walked in then, holding a thick folder, the blood washed off his arm and a clean bandage visible on his left hand. "Sorry I'm late, sir," he said to the general, then took a seat by Teal'c, who gave him a stern look. Instead of quailing, Daniel leaned closer with a quick smile and muttered something that sounded like, "Chel nak, Jaffa." Teal'c's lips twitched as if he were about to say something, but he only raised an eyebrow.
Carter continued, "Actually, we've run that same scenario before, Lieutenant, and others have failed. There was a time limit. The first group waited for help to find them instead of trying to get out on their own, and Daniel 'died' during the wait. The second group was too flustered to figure out the riddle fast enough and he 'died' again."
"One of the guys taped Daniel's mouth shut," O'Neill added. "Not that I don't understand the temptation sometimes, but it's really unbecoming in an officer."
"You get the idea," Daniel said, shooting a scowl at O'Neill. "Anyway, you two were the first to make it all the way through to the end."
"If you hadn't passed," Carter said, "you might well have gotten a position on base, but not as active field officers, at least not right away."
"Huh," Barber said, peering more closely at Daniel with a mix of irritation that they'd been led to think they'd almost let him die under their watch, and relief that they hadn't and that they'd apparently passed. "And you're..."
"...standing in for Dr. Robert Rothman at the moment," Daniel said, handing the folder to Astor and not actually answering the question Barber had been asking. "His team's been on a long-term research trip. I'm sure he'll want to talk to you, Lieutenant Astor, when they check back, um...in two days, I think. But for now, you get me."
"Unscheduled off-world activation!" someone called. Barber and Astor both started in their seats, but the rest of them jumped to their feet, Hammond moving toward the control room with SG-1 while Daniel followed them to the periphery of the room and watched.
"Close the iris," Hammond ordered.
Barber turned toward the briefing room window to see the metallic shield closing over the Stargate—now, that was a pretty cool piece of engineering—but, a moment later, the technician at the console announced, "Receiving Tok'ra IDC."
"Toke what? Was that part of the lectures?" Barber said quietly, but Astor only shrugged in answer. Captain Carter was grinning, though, and SG-1 put their heads together with the general briefly before she walked back into the briefing room.
"I apologize," Carter told Barber. "I'll take care of your orientation myself, but SG-1 needs to be here for this. Daniel, do you mind bringing the lieutenants upstairs, maybe answer a few of their questions and send them where they need to go? I'm sorry, Lieutenant Barber, but I'll come to Daniel's office to get you when I'm done, and then I'll bring you to the physical science labs."
Daniel turned toward the opening iris, looking disappointed, but agreed, "Okay. Can I meet him later?"
"Yeah, 'course," Carter said, without explaining who he was.
SG-1 and Hammond hurried down the stairs into the embarkation room, and Daniel turned to Barber and Astor. "Hi," he said. "Uh. So. I guess we're supposed to go upstairs."
"We'd really like to change the format of these scenarios," Daniel confided to them in the elevator, rocking back on his heels. "It's easier for me to act as a faux-applicant if you don't know anything about the SGC's missions, but it'd be more realistic if we could come up with other ways so you could at least put everything in more context. You'd get to read more of the reports, for one; it's important to be able to learn and draw from what you or others have done in the past. We've talked about opening up the whole base—that'd be kind of fun."
"It is a bit confining," Barber agreed, studying him curiously and wondering at the implication that knowing more about the Stargate program would mean knowing more about him, too. Daniel was probably a member of an SG team, then—not military, judging by his interactions with the others—or else someone so prominent that his name would have come up in past reports. For the life of him, Barber couldn't imagine how or why that would be the case for someone so young.
Astor scratched the back of her head, then said, "Okay, no offense, but...pi? Really?"
That earned a lightning-quick grin that disappeared almost before they'd seen it. "We actually had to do that once, on a world called Cimmeria," Daniel said. Field operative, then, Barber decided. "For the scenario, we just replaced the Norse runes with Egyptian hieroglyphs and the geometric shapes with crystals. And, uh, the talking Viking hologram with—" He stopped. "You know, it...really makes more sense if you know the background. You can read the report if you're interested."
The elevator stopped at the eighteenth floor, and Daniel led the way out, still talking. "This level is where most of the social scientists and language specialists work. The main physical science labs are on Levels 19 and 20, so you'll probably join one of the labs there, Lieutenant Barber. They're interested in you for general research as well as fieldwork."
Daniel's nervousness before might have been faked, but his penchant for talking lots and fast clearly wasn't. He stepped into an office, made a beeline for a coffee pot, and opened the can of grounds sitting next to it. "This is Dr. Rothman and my office—come in. Coffee?"
"You weren't lying about not being a morning person, huh," Astor said.
"Your sleep schedule can get very odd if you go off-world a lot," Daniel explained. "You're both on teams, which is, uh, better in terms of scheduling and work shifts. Only a little better, mind, but they at least try to set up reasonable rotations. It's the temporary attachés who have really irregular schedules."
"Like you," Astor guessed.
"Like me," Daniel confirmed. "I, um. I dunno, should I be giving...a tour or something? Feel free to look around."
Barber studied the office. It was cluttered in a way that almost hid the fact that it was actually also a lab, clearly used more for desk work than for chemical analysis or—or whatever archaeology labs usually did in a wet lab. "So this is where we come if we need advice with some language or culture?" he said.
"You can, yes," Daniel said. "Someone in here will have an idea of where to look or whom to ask if we don't know the answer ourselves, and we keep communal reference materials here. But you'll learn which people specialize in different fields, and you can go to them directly."
Daniel glanced distractedly out the door as someone rushed past and recited, "Um, temporary bunkrooms are scattered on Levels 12 through 15—the ones on 15 are used by civilian personnel. Security's on 16—talk to them if you have any questions about access if your direct supervisor doesn't know. In emergency situations, you may be called upon to bolster their numbers, and there are occasional drills, so I'd familiarize myself with their setup and personnel. Indoor ranges are on 17—two generally for projectile firearms, Earth or alien, one for experimental and energy weapons, but check with the RSO for specifics—"
Oh, man. Barber couldn't quite contain a grin. There were facilities meant for shooting experimental alien energy weapons.
"—medical facilities and gym are on 21—oh, someone set up a basketball room on 20. Mess and commissary and low-level isolation rooms on 22. Um. Level 24 is used for servicing equipment and storing most of the unmanned probes we send through the wormhole, and you're familiar with 27 and 28. Those are the—whoops—"
"'Scuse me, Jackson, you mind if I grab this?" an airman said, running in and snatching a book from the shelf. "Coburn wants a quick check on—"
She was back out the door before she even finished her sentence. Daniel watched her go with a raised eyebrow but didn't seem concerned. "Right, anyway," he finished. "Those are the main areas. There are also permanent and VIP quarters on 25 and 26 if you ever need to...uh, crash."
"Assigned quarters?" Astor asked. "I don't remember being told that. Are we required...?"
Barber had a girlfriend who was planning to move in with him two weeks from now. He assumed Astor was thinking along the same lines that he was—living at work would not only make it harder to have an outside life, but it would also make his cover story for family and friends more complicated.
"No, no; senior SG officers and team members can use the rooms on 25 and 26, but it's just for when you can't get off base," Daniel assured them. "Sometime we get...well, guests—refugees or diplomats—and they stay in those rooms while they're here. If there's a widespread base lockdown and there happen to be too many people who need a bed, those rooms get allocated according to seniority, so, sorry. But everyone's pretty good about making space when necessary, and the general bunkrooms aren't bad. And if we're locked down, you'll probably be too busy trying to help resolve the situation to care very much, anyway. Whether it's okay to stay in the Mountain in non-emergency or -medical situations depends on your cover story. Teal'c and I are the only ones who have permanent quarters, and that's just because we don't have regular Earth homes."
A-ha. That would explain things.
Astor raised her eyebrows. "You're...not from Chicago, are you."
"I made that up," Daniel admitted. "I'm actually an alien. Oh, that's not derogatory," he added when he saw their faces, though Barber was pretty sure they were both stuck on 'alien,' not the social connotations of the word. "Not in and of itself, anyway. It's about tone and context, yes?"
Astor took this in stride—or hid her surprise well; maybe that was why she was being assigned to a diplomatic team like SG-14—and said, "But you're human, right? Or...like, do you specialize in undercover work? You look young and harmless enough. Is that an alien...thing?"
Daniel straightened from pouring a mug of coffee. He blinked several times, looking unsure whether to be offended or amused. "I...that's not... I'm human. My parents were from Earth. And I'm sixteen years old by your calendar, so if I look... But, uh, I really do work in this department. As a translator. Mostly."
Someone stormed loudly past the door, calling something about the something from PF3-586 before he disappeared from sight. "Geez, is it always this busy?" Barber asked.
Daniel hesitated, then shrugged. "You'll hear about it soon anyway—it's all people are talking about. People have been a lot more tense than usual lately, because there was a...an incident at Area 51 about two weeks ago."
Astor turned away from scanning the bookshelves and said, "That sounds ominous."
When no reassurance came, Barber decided it was ominous. Daniel sipped thoughtfully at his coffee and said evenly, "Someone got into one of the most secure areas of the facility. There was a lot of damage, but it looks like the objective was theft of a certain item."
"But Area 51. Are we talking...stolen alien technology?" Barber asked.
"Well...yes," Daniel said. "It's very, uh...powerful, you could say. Dangerous."
"A weapon?" Astor asked, alarmed.
"An enormous healing device," Daniel corrected. "And some explosives and energy weapons and things, but mostly, we're worried about the healing device. We can deal with the rest. If SG-1 seemed a little brusque earlier, that's why—they've been heading that investigation."
Before Barber could ask exactly what it was about a healing device that was dangerous, they were interrupted by voices approaching their position from the hall, and they all turned.
"—on Earth," a man's voice said. "It's a long shot, but we figured it'd be the best place to start."
"Well, our head Egyptologist isn't here," Captain Carter's voice answered, "but why don't you just tell us what you know. Maybe we can come up with a few ideas."
When Barber looked back, Daniel was putting down his mug. "Excuse me," he told them, but before he could take more than a step, Carter entered, followed by an older man dressed in something that looked like a cross between a shirt and kilt and leather armor. Barber would have found it hilarious if the man hadn't looked so serious and also kind of scary. And given the nature of this place, he might actually be an alien, and laughing seemed impolite and probably kind of ignorant, as someone who'd only ever seen Earth-wear. O'Neill and Teal'c followed right behind.
The man took in the office quickly, his gaze sharp, and Carter told him, "Dad, this is Daniel Jackson, Dr. Rothman's assistant and an Ancient Egyptian specialist. In fact, he's the reason I'd heard of Setesh before today. Daniel, I'd like you to finally meet my dad."
Barber saw Astor twitch minutely, and it was taking conscious effort not to let his own jaw drop open. Dad. Right. So. Not an alien. Unless Captain Carter was one, too, which would be weird. Then again, if Daniel was an alien, and Teal'c the Jaffa obviously was...
This was going to take some getting used to.
Daniel extended a hand to the man and said, "General Carter, I've heard a lot about you—I've been hoping to meet you and Selmak."
Carter—the other one, the alien general, apparently—looked as thrown by Daniel as Barber himself had been, and he turned to Captain Carter to ask, "Is this a joke?"
"Dad!" Captain Carter hissed as Daniel stiffened and withdrew his hand.
O'Neill said, "Why don't you give him your information, Jacob, and see what comes up. In the meantime, someone should show these bright young officers where to go, hm?"
"Lieutenant Astor," Daniel said, sounding displeased about being called a joke. "Please go to the office down this hall and ask Captain Hagman or Lithell if you need help. Everything you need should be in that file; there's some paperwork on top you'll have to fill out."
With a final warning glance at her father—Jacob? General? What?—Captain Carter said, "Lieutenant Barber, I'll take you to the engineering department. Dr. Lee can show you around some of our current projects while I'm dealing with this issue down here."
"Hey, congrats, by the way," O'Neill called as they were both ushered out of the room before they could speak. "And good luck. You're gonna need it."
From the next chapter ("Jacob"):
"Well," Jack said once Lieutenants Barber and Astor had gone, leaving Teal'c, General Jacob Carter, and Jack alone in the room with Daniel. "Good first impression."