8 July 2000; Silver Creek, Minnesota; 0600 hrs
Daniel sat just on the grass just outside the cabin, so he heard when Jack came around from the back and looked up, feeling embarrassed for no good reason. "Jack. Good morning," he said.
"You shave with a straight razor?" Jack said in an odd voice.
"Do you shave with a curved one?" Daniel asked, looking at the blade he'd brought back from Abydos before rinsing it in a bowl of water, mostly so he wouldn't have to look at Jack.
"Ah...no. But there are safer ways to do it."
"I'm fine," Daniel said.
"Okay," Jack said, then, to Daniel's relief, dropped the subject. "You're up earlier than usual."
Putting the blade away, Daniel said, "You got up even before I did. I can't believe you're awake at this hour on purpose. On vacation, no less."
Jack stretched, looking happily relaxed in a way that Daniel almost never saw him these days. "The great outdoors," he said, gesturing expansively. "You've gotta go out to see them."
"The outdoors will still be here in two hours," Daniel said, amused.
More seriously, Jack stood over him where he sat on the ground. "So you woke up...not on purpose, huh. I heard you dreaming in the middle of the night."
"Sorry," Daniel muttered, embarrassed. "Did I wake you?"
"Nah," Jack said, but didn't elaborate. "What was it about?"
"Um..." Daniel said. He could stall and Jack would back off, but he could say it and Jack would understand, too, so he admitted, "I was, uh...watching you and Sam get eaten by Replicators in the 'gate room." He smiled ruefully at the ground. "I wonder what Dr. Mackenzie would have to say about that."
Jack was quiet for a moment, and then he said, "Did they have stomachs?"
Daniel wrinkled his brow. "What?"
"The Replicators. Were we being eaten or just..." Jack made a clawing motion with a hand.
"I wasn't...really... My attention was otherwise occupied."
"Ah. Where was Teal'c?"
Watching his symbiote get eaten by a Replicator, Daniel thought. "You don't want to know," he assured Jack.
"Where were you?"
"It was a dream," Daniel said, exasperated. "It's really fine."
As he'd predicted, Jack hesitated, but then shrugged and said, "Okay. Come on, lake's waiting."
Daniel shook his head but stood, forcing himself not to make a face when his side still protested a little, because he'd never heal if he kept favoring it. Besides, sitting for hours at a time while waiting in vain for a fish to bite wasn't exactly going to strain anything. He crept inside first to put his things away, careful not to make enough noise to wake Sam or Teal'c, then followed Jack back out.
Once he'd settled himself at the edge of the short pier over the lake, he dangled his bare feet into the water and watched Jack set a chair just behind him. "Why do you like fishing?" Daniel asked, honestly curious. "You have to admit it's not very exciting."
"I get enough excitement from my job," Jack said. "And what do you mean 'it's not exciting?' It's like lying in wait for an ambush, and then you strike." One of his hands made a sharp motion as if to stab something with his finger, then returned to preparing his equipment.
"So you're ambushing fish," Daniel echoed.
Jack paused. "Yes," he finally said, frowning.
"You don't find it boring?"
"Do you really want a speech about philosophy?" Jack said, then flicked his rod to send the line out into the water.
"No, I suppose not," Daniel said thoughtfully, bending to drag the tips of his fingers through the lake until Jack slapped him lightly on the shoulder and told him to stop annoying the fish. He shook drops from his fingertips and said, "Robert called me an adrenaline junkie."
"Compared to him, maybe," Jack said. "Why, does that bother you?"
Daniel shrugged. "I guess not. Maybe a little. It was an odd conversation." He didn't think his parents would have liked his occasional tendency, accidental or not, to run into danger with a gun. Part of him thought they didn't have a right to tell him what he should or shouldn't be anymore, but he didn't like that part of him, either.
A moment later, Jack said, "Well, you're really not. You're not in it for the rush. It's more of a...an unavoidable side effect for you."
"That's what I told him. Well, actually...Janet had given me something for pain just then, and I'm not sure exactly what I said. I think it was something like that."
Jack snorted. "I'm gonna guess that's a big part of why it was an odd conversation." He reeled the line back in, saying, in a very reluctant tone, "He's a good guy."
Daniel raised his eyebrows in surprise. "Robert? Yeah, I know. Didn't think I'd ever hear you say it aloud."
"He's just looking out for you."
"I know," he repeated. He kicked his foot in the lake even though he knew it would annoy Jack. "Nyan wants to go to Tau'ri school or find a career learning and maybe teaching. He wants to learn about the people who were the ancestors of the Bedrosians, and he has to study Earth for that."
"Really," Jack said. "How's that working?"
"He's picking up English very fast," Daniel told him, pulling his feet from the water so he could turn around. "And he's going to take the next few months to get used to basic things about Earth. And part of that includes learning about the planet's history, and enough of your science to pass as Tau'ri...things like that. They're giving him help with records, but it'll take at least another year until he's caught up enough, since he's working for Robert at the same time."
"So, kind of like what you did at first," Jack said. "Earth one-oh-one, getting schooling credentials, all of that."
"Yes, except accelerated--he's very well-educated, you know--and he plans to go far past where I stopped in schooling." Daniel watched Jack prop his legs on a cooler serving as a footstool. "It's odd to say that. I was probably the most widely-educated person on the planet growing up, besides my parents."
"Oh, I'd say you're still pretty well educated."
"Robert's happy--about Nyan--but I'm not entirely sure why, since it means Nyan will likely be leaving in a year or two."
Jack examined the hook on his line. "I think Rothman thought that would be you someday. He's just glad to have a convert."
"Probably," Daniel admitted, feeling a little guilt steal over him.
"He hasn't been giving you grief about that, has he?"
"No," he said quickly. "He wouldn't. But...I think he's a little disappointed. We both know I'm not thinking seriously anymore about, uh...structured...'higher education,' as you call it."
Something Daniel couldn't quite identify darted across Jack's face. "No?"
"I can't imagine leaving the SGC. And every time I tried to reach one of you over the phone and couldn't, I'd think you were dead. It's bad enough hearing about trouble second-hand from base, where I can...I don't know, wait for news or make myself useful. Not knowing would be worse."
"Ever hear the expression 'ignorance is bliss?'" Jack said.
Daniel had heard it before, but he shook his head. "Not for me. I couldn't do it."
"Yeah, guess not. Stop worrying about Rothman, then."
"It's just..." He scowled. "You know, between the two of you, it's like it has to be either military or civilian, and there's no way to be both."
"There...is no way to be both," Jack pointed out. "That's sort of the definition."
At the SGC, the civilians were researchers or diplomats or scientists of some sort. Somehow, the word 'civilian' had taken on that connotation for Daniel, rather than the way most people meant it. "Well...okay. True. But that's not what I meant."
"I know what you meant. Those two chains of command you were talking about."
"Yes. It's not that I mind most of the time. I just wish they'd get along better."
"The chains?" Jack said, sounding amused.
Daniel huffed, folding his legs under himself, but didn't answer the joke. "Actually, maybe it's a good thing. The...the priorities and the primary goals are different, sometimes, but we need both sides." Jack wrinkled his nose. "No, I know, we've had this discussion before. I'm just thinking."
"See?" Jack said, tossing his line out again and slipping on his sunglasses. "You think deep thoughts while fishing."
Grinning, Daniel lay back carefully in a position where he could see the lake, Jack, the trees, and the sky all at once. Jack glanced down at him once with a small smile, then went back to what he'd been doing.
He must have dozed off for a while, because the next time he opened his eyes, the sun was higher in the sky, even though Jack didn't seem to have moved at all. Before he could sit up, his hand moved of its own volition and reached to one side to grab his equipment, which, of course wasn't there.
"What?" Jack said, watching him.
"What?" Daniel retorted, feeling stupid for thinking automatically they were on a mission when they weren't and were, in fact, on vacation.
"No, really, what were you thinking just then?"
With a short, embarrassed laugh, he admitted, "I was thinking I should test for the presence of naquadah in the soil. Also, I can't find my sidearm, and Jack is going to yell at me."
When he turned back, Jack had lowered his fishing rod and was staring at him, looking unhappy.
"Don't look at me like that," Daniel said, remorseful for having ruined Jack's mood.
"You're seeing it everywhere now," Jack said. "The job, the...everything."
"I like my job. My life is my job, Jack. And this place is beautiful, I see that, too," he said. "It was just a passing thought. I promise I won't actually collect mud to bring home."
Jack nodded, looking out over the water. "That's what I like about coming here. When else do we get to be outside like this without bringing guns and reactors and whatnot?"
"You did bring a gun," Daniel pointed out, because there was no way Jack was going somewhere and leaving himself and his team completely defenseless.
"But I don't have it on me at the moment. It's the thought that counts."
"Do you think Sam brought a reactor?"
"Wouldn't've made it through airport security," Jack said confidently. "And Teal'c searched her bag."
Flopping back again, Daniel said, "If you say so."
"Oh, by the way--happy seventeenth birthday."
"Yeah?" Daniel said. He checked his watch for the date. "Oh. Thanks." For once, he didn't care about the landmark or what it meant for his duties on base. He could figure that out later, when there weren't fish to ambush. He lay lazily for a while, then eyed the cooler under Jack's feet with some curiosity. "Have you noticed that alcoholic beverages are present in almost every society you've met? Fermented plants--it happens whether you mean for it to happen or not."
"Mm-hm. In fact, I don't remember a time when I didn't drink the Abydonian equivalent of beer with just about every meal. Not until coming to the SGC, of course."
"You know," Jack said, not looking away from the surface of the lake, "most teenagers just ask if they can have a beer." Daniel opened his mouth. "No," Jack said.
8 July 2000; Silver Creek, Minnesota; 1500 hrs
"Relax," Sam said again. This only made Daniel more uncomfortable than before, and she sighed. "Relax, Daniel, I'm not gonna hurt you."
"I know," Daniel said, watching her prod at the place where they'd cut out his appendix. "It feels strange, that's all."
"Well, I can't find anything wrong," she said. Relieved, Daniel sat up carefully and pulled his shirt back into place. "You feel okay?"
"Yes," Daniel said with a firm nod.
"Good. So Dr. Fraiser won't be mad at either of us."
Daniel glanced out the window, where Jack was trying to convince Teal'c the mosquitoes weren't really that bad. "It's close to summer solstice, isn't it?" Daniel asked her. "Or midsummer, or whatever you call it."
"Literally?" she asked. He followed her out into the main room of the cabin, where they sat at a table. "We missed the actual solstice by a couple of weeks, technically, but it's close enough. Why, what happens on midsummer?"
Hiding a smile, Daniel said, "Well, some people light a fire by a lake and have everyone take turns jumping over it."
Sam laughed. "Somehow, I don't think the colonel will go for that."
"We could burn some cats."
"I'm joking. No one would hurt a cat on Abydos; it's your strange planet, not mine."
She shook her head. "I won't ask why you know random things like that. That's not what you were reading before, is it?"
"Uh...no." Daniel tapped one of Nick's journals that he'd brought. "Oh. I guess I never thanked you and Teal'c for bringing my--uh, Nick Ballard's things."
"Can't figure out what to call him?" she said knowingly.
"It feels disrespectful enough just looking through his possessions. I'm not even going to try to open the personal journals unless we're sure he's never coming back; this is a record of an expedition to Central America, almost purely facts and observations. I was actually hoping it would be more about the crystal skull."
She looked over her shoulder and out the window, where Jack and Teal'c were still talking, then joined him at the table. "You really didn't know much about him, huh."
Daniel shook his head, paging through the journal again. There was something about the way Nick had written in both Dutch and English at once, the fluency not just in both languages but also in the way he switched fluidly between them, that made this feel almost as personal as anything else in that box at Jack's house could be. "You know," he said, a little bemused, "he talks about the Fountain of Youth in here. He was convinced he'd found it."
Sam made a face that said she wasn't sure whether to be skeptical or supportive. "Oh. The...Fountain of Youth. Well..."
"It's very...it doesn't seem well-supported, actually," he admitted, "and I've been over the published evidence as well as..." He tapped the worn cover of the journal. "But after that skull, it makes you think, doesn't it?"
"If there's one thing I've learned from this program," Sam said encouragingly, "it's that we have absolutely no idea of what's really impossible."
Daniel nodded. "Can I ask you something?"
"Sure, anything," she said.
"Skaara said something...he said that my parents left Earth and stayed on Abydos, and I've left Abydos to stay on Earth, at least most of the time. And now my mother's father has left Earth to stay on P7X-377." He looked up at her. She seemed a little surprised, but thoughtful.
"It's not genetic, if that's what you're asking," she said. "At least, not the way you mean. On the other hand, it may be significant that all of you Ballards and Jacksons have ended up being not only researchers, but researchers who are intensely active in the field."
Daniel thought his experience in the field so far had had to do with weapons as much as with research, but he conceded, "To some extent, I suppose."
"What I'm saying," Sam said, "is that you like to be in the thick of things, where it's most exciting at the time. For your parents, maybe that was Abydos. For you, it's the SGC. For...Dr. Ballard, well, he's probably spent thirty years wondering about what he missed in 1971."
"Some people call that an unhealthy obsession," Daniel said. He'd heard Mackenzie use those words in reference to him once, speaking to another of the counselors who worked at the SGC. It had been about his age and Goa'ulds and something about psychological dependence on SG-1 and unconventional relationships within the team in general. Daniel didn't really mind, though; that kind of crazy was better than most other kinds.
"Well, that's one word for it," Sam said. "But have you heard what the colonel calls my naquadah decay experiments?"
Daniel smiled--he could imagine. "Right."
"In a way, it's part of why we have teams," she said. "You understand what I mean?"
"I wonder," he said, "if someone had believed my grandfather--if he'd had people with him...maybe he wouldn't have been..." He folded his arms on the table. "I mean, he was right, but he was still... He did seem a little...odd sometimes, didn't he?"
Sam didn't answer, but she tilted her head as if to say, 'you've got a point.' "I think he'll be okay, really. Are you worried about that?"
"Not so much," Daniel said. "It's just the way he obsessed over that skull until it was literally all that mattered to him. My parents...were like that sometimes," he admitted, realizing that it was probably the first less-than-positive thing he'd said about them since their death. "Especially as I got older--the Stargate, the...the ruins they found on Abydos...they'd stay there for days and forget everything else. Skaara says I do that, too."
"You do, once in a while," she said without hesitating. When he winced, she added, teasing, "That's what I liked about you at first. It was kinda cute."
"Sam!" His cheeks flushed, and he looked quickly over his shoulder to make sure the others hadn't heard that.
She grinned unrepentantly. "But honestly, working at the SGC is different from academia--your mission schedule would cut you off, and if that didn't do the trick, the colonel would."
"And there seems to be a lot less running for one's life in academia," he observed as a joke. Her smile faltered, though, and he quickly added, "I'm kidding. Well, no, it's true, but I'm not complaining." He'd never be a full-fledged member of a team--because 'exploration' meant 'combat-ready,' too--if they thought he couldn't handle the more harrowing parts.
"I didn't think you were complaining," she said. Then, "Look, Daniel...you need to understand that...it's tough for us, too. We watched you grow up--part of me, at least, is never going to forget the way you were when you were fourteen and shorter than me."
"I grew up a lot before I ever met you," he scoffed.
"You've grown up a lot since then, too," she said seriously. "It's part of our upbringing--our culture. If I were seeing this from outside, I'd be appalled at anyone who was willing to send a fifteen- or sixteen-year-old into such dangerous territory."
"Well," he countered, "you're not seeing it from outside. It...it's different. And it's higher risk with you three, but I feel safer, too."
Sam shook her head, but not in denial this time. "Now that you've found your family...why not a research team? Why exploration?"
Daniel raised his eyebrows. "You're asking me that? The best physical scientist in the program--the foremost expert in wormhole physics and, well, any other kind of physics there is..."
"Well, I'd never have gotten to participate in the destruction of a moon with, say, SG-5," she said.
"Nor would I, if I'd been on SG-11." They shared a guiltily gleeful grin between them. More seriously, Daniel said, "That's it, isn't it? We miss some research opportunities, but...there's just so much more out there."
"Not all of it's good," Sam reminded him.
Daniel shrugged. "I'll take my chances. And I'll help you convince Jack when you want to take a mission on a planet to set up a research station if you'll help me, too," he offered.
She laughed. "It's a deal."
8 July 2000; Silver Creek, Minnesota; 2000 hrs
Teal'c watched as Daniel dropped a pebble into the lake. "How deep do you think this is?" Daniel asked, trying to track the pebble's progress but failing after only a few seconds. It was dark, even aside from the murkiness of the water.
"I believe it is easily deep enough for any two of us to stand completely immersed," Teal'c said.
"Two people standing on top of each other?" Daniel asked. "Or two people standing next to each other?" Teal'c gave him a look. "Never mind. You wouldn't have said 'two' if you'd meant one."
He leaned forward again, tapping a fingertip on the surface of the lake just to watch the ripples flow away. He wondered if it would be a bad idea to jump in and test exactly how deep the lake was. It didn't take long to decide it would be. The water actually looked kind of dirty, and someone kept using all the hot water in the shower.
"Are you able to swim, Daniel Jackson?" Teal'c said, watching him play with the water.
"Well, I can stay afloat without drowning. Jack took me to a swimming pool to make sure before he let me on the team."
"That was wise," Teal'c said.
An odd thought struck Daniel, and he said, "Hey, can you swim? I mean, does it...bother the prim'ta or anything?" He imagined Teal'c's symbiote pouch filling with dirty lake water, which was a very strange picture that he didn't really want to think about, but now that he'd started wondering, he couldn't get it out of his head.
"Goa'uld symbiotes reside in an aquatic environment before implantation," Teal'c told him. "They live more easily in the water than out of it."
"Huh," Daniel said. He squinted at the lake, suddenly unable to erase the irrational idea that there was a Goa'uld in it.
Teal'c seemed to know what he was thinking and said, "I do not believe there is anything swimming in this lake...including fish."
Daniel grinned, laughing the image away. "I think you're right about that."
A light flickered in the cabin window, but it was only Sam walking past it. "The new danger from the Replicators is troubling," Teal'c said abruptly.
Remembering his dream the night before, Daniel said, "Yeah. It troubles me, and I've never been within twenty feet of a real one. It'd be nice if we didn't have to face more than one enemy at a time."
"We frequently do. There are other threats to Earth other than the Goa'uld."
"Yes, but none so widespread. Most of the other threats we face don't care about us very much or even tend to avoid us. The Replicators know about us now from Thor's ship, and if they start spreading...I mean, spreading is what they do."
Teal'c thought for a moment. Finally, he said, "I am unaccustomed to considering that there is a race of beings more powerful or more dangerous than the Goa'uld."
"At least Replicators won't favor Goa'uld over us--if anything, they'll want to attack the Goa'uld more for their technology--so they won't collaborate against us." Daniel wasn't sure himself whether he was being truly optimistic or simply pointing out the blessings they had, which really amounted to quite little.
But Teal'c frowned. "Quetzalcoatl said that the enemy of our enemy was our friend," he said. "I do not believe that to be true in this case."
"Mm..." Daniel said, wrinkling his nose, "I really hope we don't have to test that."
"As do I," Teal'c agreed.
Daniel thought of a confrontation between a Replicator and a Goa'uld, but, rather than coherent ideas, all he could see were images of a Goa'uld being torn apart by mechanical bugs. He grimaced and pressed his fingers into his eyes to see if he could erase the image that way. "Ugh," he said aloud, knowing that the danger in Replicators lay perhaps more in their ability to consume and affect technology, not just in their mechanical strength. Still... "I wish I'd been there with you," he said suddenly. "On the Biliskner."
"Of that I am aware," Teal'c said.
"Take me with you next time. I'll work harder. I'm strong--usually--and I'm getting better with all our weapons, and I can train more, and then I can help..."
"Indeed," Teal'c said, surprising Daniel into silence. "Daniel Jackson, if we are to free ourselves of the Goa'uld and other evils, we face a long war. You will have your chance."
"I know what the problem is," Daniel said. "I was a few months from being born and raised on Earth, so everyone here wants to treat me by those rules. At least when I'm eighteen years old, no one can claim I shouldn't be sent into battle."
Teal'c tilted his head. "Is this Tau'ri law?"
"Um..." Daniel said, leaning back onto his hands. "Jack explained it to me. There are standards that span over a lot of the planet, and this is kind of one of them. In this country, I'm old enough to be in their military but not old enough to be put into a hostile situation. Kind of. But it's not been signed yet. Or it has been, but it's not...really a law yet."
"I see," Teal'c said in that way that meant he didn't see. Daniel had had to have it explained a few times, too, especially the way Jack had explained bits and pieces of it at a time.
"I'm considered adult for the most part," Daniel clarified, "but they can make exceptions. So until I'm eighteen, Jack or General Hammond can still keep me from certain missions based on age alone. And I have to join the first group of new teams and civilian field personnel at the Alpha Site for Basic later this year, after which I can participate...indirectly in hostilities."
Teal'c still seemed puzzled. "Indirectly," he repeated.
"Like translating, I guess. Or...carrying supplies for the team, and if I'm forced to take direct action...yeah, it's a fine line," he said when Teal'c looked skeptical. "The point is, I'm not automatically excluded from certain missions now. It's up to Jack and the general, case by case."
In practice, he was pretty sure he'd still be kept out of the more dangerous missions over the next year unless he was specifically needed, but since he'd agreed to follow this nation's laws, he couldn't argue--they'd made concessions for him already.
Teal'c seemed to find that reasonable. "That may be wise. Tau'ri warriors will be more at ease with your presence when they believe you are of age."
Despite not wanting to complain any more, he found himself complaining, "It's so arbitrary."
"Arbitrary rules are written for a reason, Daniel Jackson," Teal'c reminded him.
"It's just...it's still a year away, and I'm ready now."
"Perhaps," Teal'c said, not revealing whether or not he agreed. "But the four of us are not. We can be strong together, but it is something we must learn."
Daniel exhaled sharply but nodded to acknowledge the logic in that. "I know. I just figure that if I ask people enough, eventually someone will say 'yes' just to make me shut up."
Teal'c turned to him with a raised eyebrow. "Your patience, Daniel Jackson, is far shorter than my own. I do not advise that you test the patience of General Hammond."
"Good point," he conceded, then gave his friend a quick grin. "We do all right, though, don't we, at least when something doesn't go horribly wrong?"
"It may be truer to say that we are particularly proficient when something goes horribly wrong," Teal'c said.
Daniel was about to argue, because it didn't feel that way to him, but then he remembered that most of the time when something went horribly wrong, it meant a team wasn't going to come back at all. The four of them had been in some unlucky situations, but they'd survived them, and if some of it had been by wild strokes of luck, he wouldn't complain about that, either. "True," he conceded. "Still. We make a good team."
Teal'c raised his eyebrow. "We are SG-1," he said, as if that explained everything, which Daniel supposed it did.
14 July 2000; Archaeology Office, SGC; 2200 hrs
Nyan was reading something when Daniel walked past the office. "What are you still doing here?" Daniel said, stepping in.
"Oh--hello, Daniel," Nyan said when he looked up and blinked. "I am reading."
Talking with Nyan was always a little awkward. There was a lot Daniel could learn from the man, but there was at the same time a lot that Nyan needed to learn about the SGC and Earth, and Daniel could never figure out where they both fit into the hierarchy in relation to each other. It was possible, as well, that he'd been so focused lately on examining the nature of various chains of command that he was trying to define something that didn't exist so cleanly as that.
"It's getting late," he said, pointing up at the clock on the wall.
"I will never return to Bedrosia," Nyan said in a small voice.
Daniel tried not to react beyond walking toward the half of his desk that Nyan had been sharing until the storage room next door was finished being converted to an office. "We tried to redial," he offered. "It's possible that the 'gate will be unburied again someday..."
"But I would be...a..." Nyan struggled for a moment, then said, "Khanur."
"A prisoner," Daniel filled in. "Or a criminal." Nyan nodded bleakly. There was really no way for Daniel to deny that without lying, so he said, "I'm sorry. I promise we'll...try to help you make a home. It's really not so bad here--there are good people..."
Nyan made a half-nodding motion and went back to reading, though he was tense and his eyes didn't seem to be moving across the page.
"I'm sorry," Daniel said again. "I wish..." But couldn't quite make himself complete the sentiment. Nyan had sacrificed everything he knew, and very nearly his own life, in the name of the truth. He couldn't imagine Nyan's being happy with the results once he'd reported his findings if the Bedrosians had managed to deny the Stargate's origins even after seeing it work.
"You think that this way is better," Nyan guessed, not looking up.
"Well, I don't, uh...I don't have the right to make that choice for you," Daniel said, then, "Not...that it was necessarily a...choice on your part...completely..." He sighed. "I'm not helping, am I?"
Nyan didn't answer. In fact, he was biting his lips so hard that Daniel held his breath, afraid the archaeologist was about to cry. Instead, Nyan sniffed once and picked up a pencil, rolling it between his fingers.
"Have you been outside?" Daniel said awkwardly. "It feels kind of like a prison down here at first, doesn't it, if you never get a chance to leave."
"Teal'c...um...I went outside with Teal'c," Nyan mumbled, "while you were ill."
"Oh. Well. That's, uh...well, good." He looked around the room, desperate for something to say. Then he took a breath and sat down at Robert's desk, across from Nyan. "Nyan, how much do you know about this program? About the SGC and Earth's Stargate?"
This seemed to catch Nyan's attention. "It was found in Egypt. They say that is from where Bedrosians--and Optricans--originated many years ago."
"Yes. And it took people many decades to understand how it worked--"
"Uh...ten years equal a decade," Daniel said. "So...it took many ten-years." Nyan nodded. "Eventually, the archaeologists who were close to understanding it were told by other scientists that it was impossible, and they lost...others' respect, their jobs, everything. They finally went through the Stargate and stayed on another planet. It's not exactly the same as it was with you," Daniel amended quickly, "but I always thought people like that were very courageous. And that's what you did, for us."
Nyan shuddered. "I have had too much courageous already."
"Too much...excitement," Daniel suggested. "I'm just saying I really admire that...that kind of strength, and what you did for Teal'c, and for us."
He stood self-consciously, plunging his hands back into his pockets and wondering if he should leave. Nyan was frowning thoughtfully. "I cannot do what you did on Bedrosia," Nyan said.
Honestly, Daniel said, "If I ever have to face something like you did on Bedrosia, I only hope I can do what you did. So...thank you. And if you need anything, just tell the general or Robert or anyone on SG-1. Teal'c likes you a lot, you know, and no one will bother Teal'c, so..." Daniel wrinkled his brow. "That's really not what I was going to say."
"I cannot find all of the words," Nyan said, saving Daniel from saying anything more as he pointed at the book he'd been reading. Daniel took a closer look and saw it was a broad text on ancient history, as well as an English dictionary.
"Oh," Daniel said, grateful for something he did know how to handle. He searched the shelves, then pulled down an Abydonian to English dictionary. "This isn't complete, but it might help."
"Thank you," Nyan said, opening it to see its format.
"Don't stay up too late," Daniel said absently as he moved toward the door, and then froze at his presumption. Nyan gave him a startled look, then laughed, reminding him who was the elder between them. Daniel returned an embarrassed smile. "I mean...good night."
22 July 2000; SGC, Earth; 1700 hrs
When SG-1 was off the mission roster but was one of the teams on duty through the weekend, SG-6 sent word to the SGC to request backup. Daniel waited from the control room as Jack led Sam and Teal'c to help, wishing irrationally that the emergency involved translating something so he didn't have to stay behind.
SG-1 and -6 both returned an hour later, though, with only a few scratches between them. Daniel always had trouble getting used to the way time seemed to rush past in the thick of a battle and seemed to slow when he was left behind. The general gave him an understanding look when he voiced it aloud.
They settled later around Teal'c's room, reading or writing reports while telling stories about what each of them had missed in those few odd months when they'd been more or less apart. Apparently, SG-1 had managed to chase off Heru-ur's army on some planet and convinced the people there that the Goa'uld weren't gods, which was usually something accomplished only with great difficulty. And then there was Urgo.
"...so they opened our heads with a giant can-opener," Jack was saying, "and scooped him out with a big scoopy-thing..."
"Jack," Daniel complained.
"Well, that's what was going to happen according to Urgo," Sam corrected. "We're pretty sure that's not actually what happened."
"That makes sense," Daniel said, "because how would they know what a Tau'ri can looked like, much less a can-opener?"
"Uh," Sam said, looking like she was suppressing a smile, "actually, I was thinking more along the lines that Janet would've noticed if we'd been opened up like that. Hey, speaking of that incident, something interesting came up about Urgo. What do you think about--"
"Oh, no, not that again, Carter," Jack groaned. "Teal'c, back me up on this, will you?"
"I just want to see what Daniel thinks, sir," she insisted. Curious now, Daniel leaned forward as she said, "Now, Urgo was a...a program, basically, like something you'd create for a computer, just a little more advanced."
"Okay..." Daniel said.
"But there was something wrong with the program--not a bug so much as a...an evolution. In this case, we think the shared hallucination of Urgo was a mistake; he--"
"It," Jack said firmly.
"--it wasn't supposed to show itself at all. Most likely, it was supposed to observe us for a while, and then it would be removed later without our even knowing it had been there. However, the Urgo we met was terrified of the idea of going back to his homeworld and getting removed from our brains as his--its--creator had intended."
Daniel tilted his head, thinking back to what he knew about the time SG-1 had spent with the so-called Urgo in their minds while he'd been on Abydos. "So it wasn't doing what it was programmed to do," he said. "So--"
"It screwed up," Jack put in. "Its one mission was to stay quiet, and it failed."
He thought that over for a moment. "But the programming defines what a program does. Right?"
"Yes," Sam said, her eyes lighting up. "But when it comes down to it, even life forms like human beings can be broken down into components, all of which are produced and regulated by our genetic programming. It's just complex enough that it allows for a lot of latitude in terms of our possible responses to external stimulation. So--"
"So what makes Urgo so different from us? That's what you mean," Daniel finished, understanding now, although he wasn't sure he liked the idea of humans as nothing more than a mass of molecules. He supposed it was certainly true, though, at least to some extent.
"Hey," Jack said, stabbing a finger at them both. "My genetic program doesn't get bored and make people sing Row, Row, Row Your Boat."
"Well, I should hope not," Daniel said, imagining the three of them singing a song about boats. "But still, a program like Urgo is literally trapped inside his, uh...his physical..."
"The software is confined by the physical limitations and location of the hardware," Sam said.
"Right, so when the hardware got put into you, Urgo didn't really have much choice but to interact with you to pre...serve...huh," Daniel realized, thinking that over.
She grinned at him. "You see?"
"He was trying to preserve his own life," he mused. "Apparently, he had a personality"--Jack rolled his eyes to express how much he'd liked that personality--"and he had free will, of sorts."
"Daniel Jackson," Teal'c said, "Goa'uld symbiotes can also be said to possess those attributes."
"So can the Tok'ra," Sam countered before Daniel could think of an answer. "Not all symbiosis has to be primarily parasitic."
"It was a machine," Jack said in a tone that said there was no discussion needed beyond that.
"What about..." Daniel said, trying to think back to an incident during the time when he he'd been just the orphan who followed SG-1 around, not part of any team yet. "Wasn't there a planet...a couple of years ago, where you were all copied into robots?"
"PX3-989," Sam said, nodding. "Yeah, that's a good example."
Jack didn't seem to want to talk about that example, but Daniel pressed, "I know you were sleeping for most of that, but I remember a big commotion here on base. Apparently, they thought they were the real you. I mean, I don't think you can get closer to life than that."
"They ran on batteries," Jack said flatly, as if that ended the argument.
Sam tilted her head. "Well, sir--"
"No," Jack said.
"Well, Jack..." Daniel said.
"No," Jack said.
"What of the Terminator, O'Neill?" Teal'c said.
Jack paused as Daniel tried to figure out what that meant, then said, "No."
"Replicators," Sam put in.
Daniel opened his mouth to add his view of that, but a look from Sam made him wait for Jack to mull that over. Wearing a look of distaste, Jack said, "They're still machines."
"Does it matter?" Daniel said. "What makes them different--a soul?" He sounded disdainful even to himself and frowned, not sure if or when he'd stopped thinking of organisms as bodies with minds and souls and begun thinking of them as molecular masses with neural networks. "The point is, if they have characteristics of living beings, why should the fact that they're made of metal disqualify them from being called alive?"
"Well, you could argue that they're made of non-living material," Sam offered, to be fair. "Metal won't grow the way living tissue does..."
"Like hell they don't grow," Jack said with a shudder. "They grow out of every scrap of metal they touch and chew up."
"Whose side are you on, anyway?" Daniel asked him curiously.
"Perhaps our definitions must be adjusted to accommodate our growing experience," Teal'c said.
"This is all your fault," Jack said to Daniel. "We never sat around doing the meaning of life thing before you came along."
"You're welcome," Daniel said. Sam glanced at him when Jack looked away and gave him a quick smile--he could imagine one of these conversations with Sam not really willing to disagree too much with Jack while Teal'c watched, more or less quiet until he had something important to say.
But then she sighed. "How do you beat something like Replicators?" she said seriously.
"Shoot every last one," Jack said simply.
"Easier said than done, sir," she pointed out, "especially if they're always becoming better than they were before. If we thought Urgo was an evolution, that was nothing compared to what the Replicators are capable of doing."
"If the Replicators are capable of consuming any conceivable technology and learning from it," Teal'c said soberly, "then their capacity for advancement is indeed unlimited."
Daniel pondered that for a moment, remembering the way Thor's model of a Replicator had responded to their actions. "I think that's why Thor called them even worse than the Goa'uld," he added. "They have no qualms about literally changing themselves to adapt to the enemy."
Teal'c inclined his head. "The Goa'uld learn, as well. However, they also live for thousands of years and are unwilling to change the core of what they are. Perhaps that is their weakness."
"Well, good thing we're here to come up with brand new stupid ideas, then," Jack said. "I don't care how advanced they get; they're still just juiced-up piles of metal, and someone we know will have a bomb big enough to kill them."
Sam nodded but said, "Let's hope so, sir. We don't know how advanced they can get. Trying to outsmart them might work once or twice, but soon they might start outsmarting us, and they'll have the technological advantage on their side, too."
"Okay," Jack said, waving a hand sharply. "We're not worrying about mechanical bugs right now. They're not even in this galaxy at the moment. We've got enough problems right here at home without giving ourselves another one before we have to. Everyone got that?"
"Indeed," Teal'c said. "We have many battles of our own to fight before we join the Asgard's."
Sam shrugged in reluctant agreement. "You're right."
"What about the Russians?" Daniel said.
Jack gave him an odd look. "Davis must've really gotten you spooked about that."
"It's not just Major Davis. I mean...they're going to find out eventually, right?" he said, directing the question as much to Sam as to Jack. "If it's not the Russians, it'll be some other nation that draws a few connections between events. I mean, a chemical spill? There was a fireball in the sky, and Russia, at least, detected the ship before it exploded."
"Maybe, eventually," Jack admitted. "But that's"--he waved a hand in a straight line from himself--"down the line."
"It'll take more than that to make the leap to the Stargate," Sam pointed out. "And there are always delicate diplomatic situations that'll make other nations wary of accusing us of too much with no concrete evidence."
"What're they gonna say?" Jack said. "'We know you're walking through a stone circle to other planets and fighting aliens'?"
Teal'c raised an eyebrow at this. "I assume that sounds much more ridiculous to the general public than it does to people here," Daniel said. "Can I ask...maybe this is obvious to everyone else, but I don't understand is why the program is secret at all."
"Oh, that's a complicated question," Sam said. "Part of it is politics that don't seem to have much to do with us, but there are very serious practical considerations. A lot of it's security. Well, not just--"
"Basically," Jack explained, "I trust people here. I don't trust everyone else."
Daniel frowned. "That's a... That sounds pretty xenophobic to me."
With a look at Jack, Sam explained, "Even without taking foreign governments or illegal organizations into account, here's an example: the naquadah generators we've been experimenting with would be an incredible source of energy at a time when our country is looking for efficient ways to produce energy without damaging the environment."
Wishing for the umpteenth time that he understood more about these things, Daniel said tentatively, "Does blowing things up count as damaging the environment? Because I remember you did that once."
"There is that potential. There's a reason we use them for weapons development--at this point, they're much too dangerous to be putting in people's homes or even other commercial areas."
"Basically," Jack said again, "we don't trust people to be smart enough not to blow them up, and if they are smart enough, we don't trust them enough not to blow them up on purpose."
"And that's not all," she said. "Where are we getting naquadah?"
"From off-world," Daniel said, "so if we just told everyone there was a Stargate..."
"Opening the program to more public scrutiny opens a whole new can of worms--who gets the weapons technology? Remember, when we went to Tollana, Travell said she thought we'd be more likely to use alien technology against enemies here on Earth."
"I disagreed with her, for the record," Jack said sourly, "but that doesn't mean I want zat guns on the streets of America or one of those naquadah...bomb...things in the hands of a terrorist."
Unexpectedly, Teal'c spoke up to say, "Moreover, that would only increase this planet's dependence on alien technology. I believe there are Goa'uld who would take advantage of this, and some Tau'ri could be persuaded to betray our cause for that reason."
Swayed by their arguments but not quite willing to concede yet, Daniel said, "I don't know of anyone here who'd be persuaded to help a Goa'uld in exchange for technology or for anything."
"Then you don't know people well," Jack said.
Daniel almost said something like 'good thing I'm your anthropologist, then,' but refrained.
"Robert Makepeace screwed up," Jack continued. "One of the most trusted officers here, and he helped make a royal mess. We're still interviewing the rogue agents and piecing together everything they did. Now imagine someone like Makepeace but who doesn't hate the Goa'uld as much as he does and who isn't under as much scrutiny as he was."
"Huh," Daniel said. He'd disliked Makepeace quite a lot by the end, but he admitted that had had as much to do with replacing Jack as it had to do with Makepeace himself. He'd spent a couple of years respecting the man's work and his courage, too, and he knew very well that not everyone was nearly as honorable.
"And if people know about the Stargate, they're going to wonder why we've got the Beta 'gate tucked away. Someone will want it, and we might not have control over who that is."
"You only need one or two people--out of six billion on Earth, remember--to slip up," Sam said. "It doesn't even have to be out of malice; it could be a simple mistake, like someone thinking a Goa'uld was a Tok'ra, or a journalist trying to get that extra edge in a story..."
"Huh," Daniel repeated, reflecting that he was, ironically, relatively sheltered here at the SGC, protected not from danger but rather from much of the rest of the planet's complications by the secrecy and by the general's aegis. He'd never even known much of Abydonian politics--he'd been happy to leave that to people like Kasuf and Sha'uri--but he had a feeling that Earth's politics were more confusing still.
"You have seen the worst of the Goa'uld, Daniel Jackson," Teal'c told him. "Others have not. There are those who may argue as well as you without knowing all that you have seen."
"Yeah," Daniel said, promising himself to think more about this but willing to accept their explanation for now. "All right. I understand."
"Good," Jack said, standing to stretch. "And, ah...just in case, if the Pentagon or someone comes along, don't ask stuff like that in front of them. Ask us first if you're not sure. I'm not giving anyone any excuses to call people on my team a security threat."
"It was just a question," he scoffed. "That should hardly be a threat to anything."
Jack gave him a hard look. "I'm not giving anyone any excuses," he repeated.
Remembering how he'd felt back when Jack had been undercover, when he'd realized they were all under suspicion and that he and Teal'c had likely been prime suspects, Daniel nodded. At least, he decided, this meant that, while the suspicion of people like him and Teal'c might never be completely gone, he could always trust the people in this room. "Okay," he said more seriously.
"Good," Jack said again. "Now, anyone want to--"
"Unscheduled off-world activation! Security team to the embarkation room!"
They stood, stretching their legs and moving out the door. Jack gestured them all toward the elevator. "Duty calls," he said.
Whoo. Thanks much for getting through all of this one! This one, more than the ones before, was a struggle in some places, and it was great to hear feedback and discussion.
As I mentioned at the end of the last book, there is one more long novel covering season four (titled "Archaeology"), which is now posted. I'm considering that the 'end' of the main bit of this series, but there will probably be a short story/novella (depending on how it turns out) after that to cover one more story arc before I call this series more or less closed. Thank you for reading!