Simmons took a sip of coffee and smiled. For the past week or so he'd been feeling much more relaxed and far more secure in his job. He'd shown the footage lifted from the SGC security files to the higher-ups who had been making his life hell for ages and for the first time in a short eternity; they were complimenting him rather than harassing him. Funds had been assembled quickly and the mission planned and now, here he was, dressed in a reproduction of an SGC uniform. All of the resources, specialists and staff the NID had available had been corralled for this mission and if it was a success, why, the sky was the limit.
It would be simple. Make contact with the Furlings, gain their trust, encourage them to make an alliance and then lock out the SGC. For weeks their cultural specialists had been examining transcripts of Dr. Jackson's descriptions of the Furlings and their world and they felt confident that they would be able to put a positive "spin" on the NID that the Furlings would accept. If the mission succeeded then Earth and the NID would gain a valuable offworld ally who would, eventually, open up offworld technology to their new Earth friends.
He and the other people picked to go on this mission would depart on a refitted Gao'uld ship from one of the NID's bases and they would travel to the nearest viable Stargate location and gate to the Furling homeworld. They would be bringing plenty of things to trade, as well, and the scholars in NID's employ were more than willing to spend a lot of time talking with the Furlings. The Furlings were going to gain everything they already had in their trade agreement with Earth but the NID were willing to offer more. In order to obtain that "more" the Furlings would have to give up a little "more" in exchange.
The symmetry of that was so nice, wasn't it?
Simmons finished his coffee, tossed the cup in the trash, and pulled on his jacket as he left the lounge to meet up with everyone else. He was glad that his bosses had decided that he should go on this trip. After all, he had experience with Michael and Michael had seen potential in him. His superiors suspected that Michael had wished to unlock that potential in Simmons and had regretted not being able to, so they were banking on that working to their advantage. It was fully possible that Michael would be willing to spend time with him to give himself a chance to work on that potential, but at the same time it would give Simmons a chance to work on Michael. Simmons had a strong suspicion that if he could get Michael on his side then the rest of the Furlings would follow.
He arrived in command central and grinned as he saw supplies and people getting ready to board the ship. It would be several days at the fastest speeds the ship had available before they got to the Gate they were going to use, but everyone seemed eager to go despite the wait and the inevitable boredom that would follow. They were going into space, after all. That was cool enough to make any amount of boredom worth it.
The man chosen to captain the ship spotted him. "Simmons!"
"Captain," Simmons said, approaching him. "How are things looking?"
"We'll be ready to go as soon as we board," the captain reported. "Me, I can't wait."
"I'm sure," Simmons told him, giving him a clap on the back. "This will be your first time going so far. You feeling up to it?"
"I'm so up I'm in orbit!"
Simmons made a mental note to remind the guy to cut back a bit on the coffee. The guy was practically vibrating with excess energy. Either that or he was so wound up that coffee was unnecessary. Now, if only they could hook the guy up to the engines…doing something like that might give them a power boost that would shave some time off their journey!
A fellow crony from the NID stopped by then, taking him away from the energetic captain. Simmons' colleague congratulated him on being chosen and told him he could expect any amount of support from the higher-ups.
"Oh, good, I'm glad," Simmons said, wondering where that support had been before. "That's good to know."
"Looks like they're boarding," the man said. "Good luck, Simmons."
"Thanks. See you soon."
As he boarded the ship and settled down, Simmons thought about the challenge in front of him and chuckled. Michael had always reminded him of a child in a man's body, despite his strange abilities and perceptions. He doubted it would take him very long before Michael was as devoted to him as he was to Dr. Jackson.
The trip to the Gate took several days as he'd known it would, but once there it took them no time at all to gate to Michael's homeworld. Everyone stood around the Gate, blinking and staring at their surroundings. There were plenty of trees and flowers and a few rocks, but there were no people and no settlement.
"Wouldn't they know the Gate had opened and someone had come through?" one of the scholars asked. "Wouldn't they come to see who it was?"
Simmons thought back to SG-1's first mission to this planet. "SG-1 was here for a few hours before anyone approached them. Let's look around a bit and give them a chance to come and see who's knocking on their door. Setting up a campsite would be a good idea, I think. According to what I've read on this place it'll be night in a few hours."
The captain heard him and began to give orders to those responsible for facilities and supplies. Simmons smiled, glad that things were well in hand.
In short order, camp was set up and some of the more adventurous had begun to explore their surroundings, examining plants and such with keen eyes. Simmons himself stayed at camp where everyone could find him.
It took only two hours before something happened. Simmons was relaxing and looking over their supplies when one of the scouting teams arrived, plus one.
"Who's this?" Simmons asked, looking at the newcomer.
"Found him a few klicks down the river," the team leader reported. "Hasn't told us his name, but he said he wanted to see our camp."
Simmons squelched the urge to throttle the man. True, the planet was populated by Furlings, which to all knowledge, were a peaceful race, but there were rules about showing a strange person your camp! "Hello," Simmons said politely. "I'm Simmons, in charge of this expedition."
The man blinked and looked at him. "Why are you here?"
"Ah, we came here hoping to meet you," Simmons said. "We heard all about you from General Hammond and the SGC."
The man looked at him. There was something unreadable about his expression that was making Simmons uneasy. "You're speaking the truth."
"Well, I should hope so," Simmons said lightly, hoping a little humor would ease the situation.
"But you are keeping some things back," the man said flatly.
Simmons felt his eyebrows shoot toward his hairline. He couldn't remember, but could these people read minds when they were in human form? They looked solid enough but that was never any indication of any alien's ability. "I'm sorry?"
The man turned his head and appeared to be listening to something. "You should take shelter. It will rain soon."
Simmons glanced up at the blue-green sky and saw nothing but a clear, sunny day. "Rain?"
"Soon," the man promised, stepping back. "You may stay for the time being, Simmons. This is not the best time for us to have visitors. We will soon know enough in order to decide."
"Decide what?" the scout leader asked.
"Whether or not to let you stay."
It seemed nobody knew what to make of that and as a light breeze blew through the camp, the Furling disappeared where he stood. The scouts looked around for him, but there was no sign that he'd ever been there.
"Cool," one of the young members said. "Do you think he could teach me how to do that?"
"You'd have to evolve for a couple thousand years or so," Simmons said dryly, wondering about the encounter. What had the Furling meant when he said that it wasn't a good time for visitors? Would there be lots of bad weather? Were they about to hibernate? He sighed, wishing he had more information about their hosts. He was about to suggest a lunch break for everybody when something wet dropped on his head. Two more drops surprised him even more before he looked up and stared at the dark storm clouds that had gathered in only a minute or so. "Everyone get under shelter!" he shouted. "Storm!"
For once, everyone obeyed without a problem. Supplies and equipment were put under shelter and people squeezed into their tents. As Simmons settled into his tent for what would later prove to be a five-hour downpour, he found himself thinking about their visitor and wondering if he had all the information he needed.
A week later Simmons wondered if this whole trip had been a galactic waste of time. The scout teams wandered about, taking pictures and samples and filming, but they did little more than that. Rarely did the teams meet one of the Furlings, and usually the Furlings would say a polite greeting and disappear, sometimes literally. More than one exploratory team was spooked by that. Mostly, though, the Furlings would come to the camp to look around, ask a few questions of whoever happened to be nearby, and they would go. It was very hard keeping track of how many had come to the camp, who had asked what and what they'd been told and by whom. Michael did not make an appearance, which annoyed Simmons to no end. He'd been hoping to see the Furling and talk to him and hopefully, get him to trust the NID.
A tall order, yes, but the impossible sometimes came true.
He jumped from his chair and found himself staring at a young woman. "Yes?"
"I am Naiya," she said.
She smiled. "Yes."
"What can I do for you, Naiya?"
"Will you walk with me?"
Simmons had noticed that quite a few of the Furlings seemed to have a need to keep moving. He couldn't remember if Michael had been the same, but every Furling he'd met on this planet so far enjoyed walking around the camp and talking with people. "Certainly."
Naiya did not speak for a few moments as he fell into step beside her. "Why did you come here?" she asked at last. "I can't understand why you came."
How many times would he have to explain this? "We came here hoping to meet your people," he said. "We're hoping to establish an alliance."
"Our people already have an alliance with Earth," she reminded him. "Why do you need another?"
"Well, there are many different groups on our planet," he explained. "Our group would like an alliance, too."
"All of your groups would do better to work together rather than against each other," Naiya told him. "We could teach you."
How could he explain "politics" so she would understand? "It's kind of you to offer, Naiya, but I don't think our people are ready to do away with their groups yet."
"That is sad," she said after a moment.
"It means you've stopped learning. Don't your minds get bored?"
"Ahh, no," he admitted. "We have ways of keeping ourselves occupied."
"There's a difference between 'learning' and 'occupied,'" she pointed out. "The one is preferable; the other is make-do. Eventually your minds will stagnate if they're not challenged."
"Do your people continue learning?" he asked, wondering if he was getting a lecture because her people were more "advanced."
"We are always learning, if not about the universe around us, then about each other. That is something your people must learn, Simmons."
"Well, we're trying," he said, trying to switch topics. "Naiya, the day we arrived here someone came to our camp and told us that this was not a good time for you to have visitors. Is it still true?"
"True, yes," she said quietly. "We are learning a great deal, and we are...afraid."
"Of us?" Simmons asked, very surprised.
Naiya shook her head. "No. We live a long time. We are an old species, Simmons. We don't always realize what changes while we are noting other changes. Sometimes we don't think to look for certain changes because we don't expect them." She stopped and looked around. "Simmons, I have been sent to ask if you have a doctor with you."
Simmons stared at her. "Is someone hurt?" What could a human doctor do for a Furling? The only doctor with any experience treating Furlings was Janet Frasier...
"Hurt, no, but...sick. He needs a human doctor. Our healers have tried all the things we know to heal him, but they have not worked. Please, could we talk to your doctor?"
Simmons thanked his lucky stars that two doctors, three medics, and four nurses had come on this mission. "Of course. You can talk to our whole medical staff, if you like. I'll round them up."
Within ten minutes Naiya was talking to the doctors and their staff and a half-hour later Simmons couldn't believe their luck.
"I'll take you to our village, where most of us are staying right now," she told Simmons and the medics. "That is where your patient is. Simmons, if you like you can come along."
"Thank you, I'd like that," he said, thinking, There's nothing I'd like more.
Once they'd reached the village Simmons couldn't believe how close it had been and he wondered just how the scouting teams had missed it. It was right there, not far from the river and not twenty minutes from camp! If the Furlings had a camouflage technology he hoped they'd share it! Several simple houses shaped like island huts clustered around a central clearing, and in that clearing were a good number of Furlings. Simmons could recognize at least six of them as visitors to the human camp and all of the Furlings were gathered around someone lying down on a bed made up on the ground. The Furlings parted to let the doctors through and Simmons got a good look at their patient.
Simmons circled around the group and made his way to the other side of the bed and stared at the man lying in the bed. "Michael? What happened?"
Michael gave him a wan smile. "I haven't been feeling well," he said. "It's good to see you, though. How are you?"
Jack pounded down the corridor, skidded around the corner, vaulted up the stairs and into the debriefing room.
"The announcement said it was extremely urgent," he said, sliding to a halt, glad to see that the rest of his team were already there. "What's the matter? Everyone okay? Are we under attack? Foothold?"
"None of those," General Hammond said grimly. "The Furling homeworld has just dialled in and we're receiving a radio message."
"Has something happened?"
"I hope not," Hammond said. "Corporal, go ahead and let the audio through."
"...BODY HAD BETTER PICK UP THE PHONE!" blasted over the speakers. "HELLO? HELLO! WHAT ON EARTH IS WASHINGTON PAYING YOU ALL FOR IF YOU CAN'T KEEP AN EYE ON THE GATE?"
"Is that who I think it is?" Sam gasped, staring at the Gate.
"Sounds like it," Daniel said, sounding very confused. "What's he doing there, though?"
"We're about to find out," Hammond growled. "Open a channel, Walter."
A few taps of the keyboard and Hammond took the microphone. "Mr. Simmons, this is General Hammond."
A pause. Then, "IT'S ABOUT TIME! DID YOU FALL ASLEEP AT THE COM OR SOMETHING?"
"Someone didn't have his morning coffee," Jack muttered.
"I must say, Simmons, I am very surprised at your location and that you're calling us," Hammond continued, ignoring Simmons' grouchiness. "Why are you calling?"
"WE HAVE AN EMERGENCY!" Simmons shouted.
SG-1 all exchanged looks.
"Describe the emergency," Hammond said quickly while Walter grabbed a pad and pencil to take notes.
"It's a disease, a plague, or...something," Simmons said, sounding frantic. "So far only Furlings have been affected."
"What?" Daniel gasped.
"How many are down?" Hammond demanded.
"Twenty-five in the local village," Simmons reported. "So far that's been the hardest-hit location. Others have been reported in surrounding locations. Our medical staff has been working on the problem but we don't have the resources to..."
"I'm getting the picture, Simmons," Hammond said quickly, cursing silently that once again, the NID had put the SGC into a tight spot. "We'll be calling again in..."
"Look, we need Janet Frasier," Simmons interrupted. "She's the only human doctor who has any expertise at treating Furlings and none of the Furling healers can do anything! They've already tried everything they can think of!"
"Not to mention Janet's the best doctor on Earth and Simmons is hoping she can stop this plague before it spreads to him and his little camping buddies," Jack snarled.
"It sounds more like we gave something to Michael and the others caught it from him," Daniel said bleakly. "From my talks with Michael I know that the Furlings are great healers...if they can't take care of something, then..." He trailed off, clearly reluctant to say what he was thinking.
"Understood, Simmons," Hammond said. "I'll contact you in fifteen."
"Understood. Simmons out."
Hammond stared at the Gate as the event horizon faded before turning to his team. "What do you think?"
"I hope Simmons catches it," Jack said.
"That's not helpful, colonel."
"It's honest, though," he said. "I think we should send help, sir. I mean, the Furlings are now our allies, and that's pretty awesome. We never thought we'd meet them and they've been pretty good to us several times over. They didn't have to help us, but they did. I figure we owe them one."
"It's not like we're helping Simmons; we're helping an ally," Sam pointed out. "There's a world of difference."
"We have to help them," Daniel said, sounding worried. "Please, general."
"I concur," Teal'c said, at his most impassive. "We must do all we can to help the Furlings."
Hammond surprised them all by putting an arm around Daniel's shoulder and hugging him. "I know, son. Don't worry, we'll help them. SG-1, are you willing to lead the mission? This is not an order, but a request."
"You'd have a hard time keeping me from going, sir," Daniel said quietly.
"I agree with Daniel Jackson."
"I'm more than happy to go," Sam said.
"You'd have to retire me to keep me from going, sir, and even then it wouldn't be a sure thing," Jack added with a grin. "How soon can we move out?"
"I'll brief the doctor and then you'll head out, and I'll notify Maya about the condition of her homeworld," Hammond said. "Gear up."
Simmons was there to meet them as they went through the Gate. "It's about time you showed up," he muttered. "What took so long?"
"You couldn't expect us to come without our luggage, now, could you?" Jack said lightly.
Janet came up right behind Jack. "Mr. Simmons, how long has everyone been ill?"
"Since before we came," he said. "They didn't tell us until yesterday evening and once our doctors said that they couldn't do anything we called you."
"Boys and girls, this is an example of when you should tell the teacher as soon as something goes wrong," Jack said, glaring at Simmons.
"Spare me, colonel," Simmons snapped. "You follow your orders; I follow mine."
"Enough," Daniel said, seeing the two of them getting ready to square off. "Just...lead the way, Simmons."
Simmons looked like a mother duck leading three ducklings in yellow hazmat gear and a Jaffa through the woods toward the village. The village that had looked so busy and vibrant with life on Jack and Daniel's last visit now looked quiet and subdued. Patients were laying on beds set up under the open sky, and Daniel quickly found the one person he'd been dreading to find.
"Hello, Daniel," Michael said, smiling up at his friend. "It's good to see you."
"It's good to see you, too," Daniel said. "I just wish it were under better circumstances. How are you feeling?"
Michael gave a wan smile. "I've been better," he said honestly. "How is Maya?"
"She's worried about you and she said to tell you that if you don't get better soon she'll be really upset."
Michael chuckled. "Sounds like she's just fine; that's good."
Daniel sat down on the ground next to Michael's bed. "Michael, how did this happen?"
Michael shook his head. "I don't know," he confessed. "One day I was fine and the next day I was like this."
Janet appeared at Michael's bedside. "Michael, everyone told me that you were the first to become ill," she said. "Can you tell me what your symptoms are?"
"Terrible fatigue," Michael said. "I'm amazed I have enough energy to talk. I didn't know a person could be this tired and still be alive."
"Don't talk like that," Daniel said, clearly frightened for his friend. "We just have to figure out what's wrong with you and fix it."
Michael smiled. "Don't be afraid, Daniel," he said. "If I die, then that is how it's meant to be."
"You're not dead yet!" Daniel choked, distressed.
"What other symptoms have you had?" Janet pressed, wrenching them back to the topic at hand.
"Headache and the fatigue. Aches in my joints. Trouble hearing things that aren't heard with my ears."
"That last...you're saying that it's affecting your Furling senses?"
Janet began to examine Michael, inordinately pleased that he was in his solid form and she could touch him. "Daniel, could you go see what's the hold-up in my workspace? It looks like a traffic jam over there."
Daniel hesitated, reluctant to leave his friend's side.
"Go, Daniel," Michael said. "You can come back right after."
"I am not sorry he came, but I am sorry that he is so afraid for me," Michael said.
"Daniel wouldn't want you to try to shield him from anything," Janet reminded him. "He wouldn't thank you for that."
"That is why I did not try."
"I'll need to get a blood sample," Janet said, taking out a blood-draw kit. "Hold still, okay?"
His blood looked red like a human's but Janet knew that as soon as she looked at it under her microscope it would be all alien. "Okay, I'm going to go examine this and you get some rest, all right? Call one of us if you need anything."
"I will, thank you."
Janet went to her field lab and found her assistants at their assigned posts and everyone else clustered around. "I'm done examining Michael for the moment, Daniel, if you want to keep him company," she said.
Daniel was out of the shelter like a shot.
"Good idea," Jack said. "He's so wound up I was getting worried."
"Having him here as a bundle of nerves wouldn't do anyone any good," Janet said. "It's better for him to be with his friend so he feels he's doing something." She prepared a slide and stuck it under the microscope before increasing the magnification to examine what she had. Once she got a good look she sighed. "I have a feeling this is going to be a long, hard slog, guys. I'll have to run some more tests to be sure but this appears to be a virus. Looks like a textbook example."
"Crap," Jack muttered. A bacterial infection would have been much easier to treat. Even he knew that.
"Any ideas on what it is yet?" Sam asked.
"Aside from 'nasty,' no," Janet said. She stopped and looked at her patients. "Did anyone tell you why they're out in the open like that?"
"Daniel says that the Furlings believe sunlight during the day strengthens the body and starlight at night heals it," Sam supplied.
"What do they do when it rains?" Jack asked, furrowing his brow.
"Daniel Jackson says they erect a barrier."
"Good to know," Janet said after a brief mental image of her patients being rained on. She glanced at her assistants, who were busy examining blood samples from other patients. With luck, they might have an idea of how to formulate an anti-viral drug that would be effective for them. Without luck...she didn't want to think about it.
Three days later and they were no closer to an answer, nor were they any closer to finding a drug to treat the disease. No one's condition had worsened, but no one had gotten any better, either. Janet didn't want to admit to herself how frustrating she found that.
"Doc? Shouldn't you get some rest?"
She also didn't want to admit just how annoying Colonel O'Neill had become over the last few days. He fussed over her like a mother hen and it was so irritating that she was close to stabbing him with a scalpel.
"I just had one, colonel," she said, taking another look in the microscope. "How was your recon to the nearest village?"
"Two more have gone down with this bug and reports say that there are at least fifteen more who have caught it in the other villages."
Janet groaned. "Perfect. Just perfect. I've come up against a brick wall, here, colonel. I...I...I can't think of what to do for this or how I can treat it or even what it is beyond a virus! What are we going to do?"
Jack looked as if he'd expected the mini meltdown he'd just witnessed. "What we've been doing so far, Doc. One step at a time. You've been doing all anyone can expect from you. That's all you can do."
"Exactly," she sighed. "That's all I can do, and they need more than that."
Janet looked past the colonel and smiled at the Furling woman. "Hello, Naiya. What can I do for you?"
Naiya shifted from foot to foot. "I think you had better come quickly. Something's changed."
Janet grabbed her medical bag and darted after her, her heart thumping in her chest. If someone had taken a turn for the worse...she didn't want to think about it. She followed Naiya to where a small group had gathered around someone lying on the ground. When they pulled away she froze and stared down at her newest patient.
"Hi, Janet," Daniel said from his supine position.
"Daniel, what happened?"
"Mmmn. Tired. Thought I should lay down."
Janet hurried to examine him and took a blood sample. She rushed back to her field lab to examine it and fought the urge to start swearing. Sudden fatigue was the first symptom of this virus and she could see several viruses in the sample of Daniel's blood. She turned around to see Colonel O'Neill watching her and she didn't know if there was even anything she could say.