Disclaimer: I have no claims on the Stargate world and am making no money on this story. I'm just telling the story that's in my head, and hope you enjoy it.
Chapter One - Monkey Wrench:
(idiomatic) a problem, obstacle, or dilemma; something unexpected
(noun) an adjustable tool used to fix things that are broken
Sam was, for one of the first times in her nearly twelve years with the Stargate program, bored. Since turning over the USS George Hammond to Colonel Reynold's command so she could work from Earth again and rejoin SG-1, work had offered its usual ups and downs quite regularly, that was, until almost a month ago. She'd completely reorganized her lab and office, cleaned old files from her computer, updated every report that could use updating, consulted with Cpt. Hailey on some calculations for SG-7's upcoming mission, and hadn't worked an all-nighter in nearly two weeks. Thus far, General Landry didn't even have plans to send them out on a mission for another week. She sighed, surprised that she would ever have to wish for something exciting, and decided to see if Daniel was free for lunch.
She'd barely exited the elevator on sub-level 18 when Daniel came running around the corner from his lab. "Sam! Oh, you're not gonna believe this!" He shifted some folders and papers into his left hand and grabbed her wrist with his right, pulling her back into the elevator with him. He quickly pushed the glowing 27 that would take them to the General's office and turned to her, excitement radiating off him. "Remember PX4-629? SG-13 did a recon mission since the MALP didn't show populated areas anywhere near the gate. Well, they found what looks like ruins of a city, and I finally had time to study the stills they brought back, images of the architecture and writings there." He pushed his glasses up with one finger and started shifting through the folders, pulling out a couple stills to show her as he continued talking. "This is a panel SG-13 photographed; based on location, I'd say the writing is probably some sort of dedication, a formal and traditional statement about the purpose of the building. This building's structure and placement in the area suggests that it holds, or, held a great significance to the society there, much like a temple or hospital, really any centrally important place to the culture there…"
Sam couldn't help but smile when he interrupted himself in his excitement. "And I believe I know who that culture was!" He continued talking as he flipped through to another still, one that looked a little more familiar to her. "This is the wall of writing from PB2-908 that we determined was from the Furlings." Ah, the planet where they'd found Ernest Littlefield and the information about the Four Great Races, yes, she remembered that. "The alphabet is based on these crescents and dots, which might be some sort of diacritical marks or other letter or symbol differentiation. I suspect this large angular symbol could be a form of punctuation, see how it's got three different angles in this sample, but it doesn't seem similar to the other writing? And these lines could be similar to any other ascendants and descendants common in many languages. You can clearly see that these symbols, or rather, these writings share many of the same symbols. There might actually be enough here between the two places that I can fully translate and gain an understanding of the Furling language, not to mention the possibilities of what else we could find out about their history, their, their culture!" The elevator dinged and the doors opened, making Sam realize just how quickly Daniel had been talking to have gone through all that in the short trip of a few floors.
The change in location didn't faze Daniel, though. He continued to talk about his theory, juggling the various papers and files some more as they headed to General Landry's office. He didn't seem to notice the nervous cadets that swerved to avoid a collision with him, or the woman from the admin offices that turned to watch as he and Sam continued down the hall and into the briefing room.
General Landry waved them into his office through the window and moved a stack of papers and folders off to the side of his desk. "Dr. Jackson, I wasn't aware you were bringing the Colonel with you. Do we need to get the rest of the team in to make this an official briefing?"
"No, sir. Well, not yet anyway. I hadn't intended on bringing Sam with me, but I was telling her a bit about my discovery when I ran into her on the way here. If you'd like to get a briefing scheduled that would be great, sir. I'd really like to get out there and take a closer look at this as soon as possible."
Sam smiled silently, amused at the way Daniel's recounting of the past five minutes made her sound more like a willing participant and less like someone who was dragged into an elevator and hadn't been able to get a word in on the subject.
"Well," General Landry leaned forward, clasping his hands on his desk, "why don't you start by telling me what you want a closer look at, and I'll decide if it merits a briefing and a mission."
In the decade since they'd found Ernest Littlefield on PB2-908, Daniel had been diligently searching and hoping and waiting for more details on the Furlings, the elusive Fourth Race. It hadn't been quite as prominent in his mind since the battle with the Ori had started, but he he'd never given up hope of someday meeting the Furlings or at least finding some kind of anthropological insight into their lives.
Now, with the hopes that he would soon meet this goal, he began repeating to General Landry everything he'd just told Sam and then some.
In retrospect, he wasn't sure how much of his ramblings the General had actually understood, but he was granted a team briefing, and eventually they were given a go for the mission, despite the fact that Teal'c hadn't returned from assisting the Tok'ra with an assignment. At this point, the only thing that would have excited him more was an extended mission to study Atlantis. In fact, considering all they knew about the Ancients, or rather, the Alterans, and the extremely small amount they knew of the Furlings, this may well provide him with more opportunities and a more unique mission.
With their target destination a half day's hike from the gate, Daniel was completely lost in thought as he walked with Sam. Cam and Vala had moved ahead of them, and while he could still hear them if he tried, their conversation was certainly not at the forefront of his attention. He looked over when Sam spoke to him.
"So, is it just me, or does it sound like those two are planning a vacation?" she asked, nodding her head in the direction of the other two.
Daniel turned his attention to the other half of his team momentarily, just in time to hear Cam say something about marshmallows. "Oh, I'm sure they are. I just hope that the possibility of digging and other forms of manual labor won't screw up their plans," he added with a wry grin.
As she had expected, Daniel was spending every waking moment in the ruins. Sam and Mitchell had spent the first evening setting up camp while Daniel had taken a flashlight and gone off to get an initial once-over of the ruins' exterior, with Vala close on his heels. The second day had been somewhat relaxing, most of the team taking advantage of this rare low-stress mission to enjoy the temperate weather and the time away from the base. Daniel was technically working, but they all knew he was more at home and relaxed when surrounded by artifacts and linguistic puzzles than most anywhere else. Sam and the others had found themselves chuckling at Daniel's reactions every so often; he kept finding unusual symbols to decipher or new information to consider. He nearly danced over to Sam that afternoon to show her the ceramic bowl he'd found almost completely intact, chattering all the while about the significance of its rounded bottom and asymmetrical lip in cultural understanding.
They were all relaxing around the campfire later that evening when Vala interrupted their dinner with an exclamation of "Oh! Daniel, you simply must see what I found this afternoon. I know you were busy checking out the perimeter of the… the… ruins or temple or whatever, and I didn't want to bother you, but Colonel Mitchell agreed that this might be a significant find." She dug into the pocket of her uniform. "It's just a small stone, and doesn't look like it's very valuable monetarily - but there were some markings on it, so I thought it might be man-made... or would that be 'Furling-made'? Anyway, here."
Daniel took the proffered stone and turned it over in his hands, trying to find a better angle from the fire-light to see what was on its surface. He silently held a hand out towards Sam and she handed over a flashlight.
"If it is valuable, I'll expect half the profits, of course," Vala mumbled. Daniel either didn't hear her or just didn't acknowledge the comment with a response. Sam rolled her eyes discretely. She'd grown to like Vala, but still wished there could be less focus on monetary gain all the time.
"There's something here, but it's completely different than the writing I've seen before. It could be another language - they could have hundreds for all I know - or it could be pictographic. Vala, I'll need you to show me exactly where you found it. Artifacts often have more meaning in their original locations." His voice lowered and, while he continued talking, it was most definitely for his own benefit more than anyone else's as he muttered about the artifact. "I'll have to document it, and check over my other notes in the morning when there's more light to see by." He stood up and wandered absently towards the tent he and Cam were sharing, flashlight and artifact still in hand.
"You're welcome!" Vala called after him, then rolled her eyes and stuck her tongue out at his retreating back.
The next morning, Daniel decided he was ready to move to the interior of the primary structure in the Furling city. He took in the stone walls and open air room that seemed to serve as a welcome area. Much like the images Sam, Jonas and the others had taken on the Utopian Planet while searching for Jack and Maybourne, the stone columns and ceiling were smooth and flat, built much like a simple shelter or pavilion on Earth, and there were three archways along the rear wall. Daniel noticed that Sam approached the first archway very cautiously, obviously wondering what they might do or where they might transport to. He glanced quickly over the entire wall and realized one major difference. He'd spent hours studying those images and the report on that mission, and this difference was glaringly obvious to him.
"There's no lock."
"I'm sorry?" Sam turned to him, confused, but obviously trying to catch his train of thought. They were quite in tune with each other and more often than not could simply pick up on the unspoken statements that made sense of their verbalized non-sequiturs.
"…a key," she'd caught on just as he spoke. "The key fit onto a 'lock' next to the archway, but there's no similar device here."
"Do you think they work without a key? Or maybe they do something different?"
By this time, Cam and Vala had caught up and observed the conversation for a moment. Vala stepped around Daniel toward the center archway. "Maybe they serve as an opening to get from this entry room into another room that's further inside the structure?" Her tone was almost convincing enough to be pondersome, theorizing, and sincere, but there was just enough sarcasm for Daniel and Sam to realize what she was up to only seconds before she walked through the archway.
"Wait!" Sam and Daniel said at the same time, but Vala was already through and more importantly was fine, standing a few feet inside the next room. She grinned and rolled her eyes at them, then, hands in her pockets and whistling a cheery tune, she proceeded to start looking around at the walls.
"Daniel, you should look at this," she said, "There are more carvings in here like the ones you showed us at the briefing."
He reached up and took off his glasses so that he could pinch the bridge of his nose in frustration for a moment, then sighed heavily, biting back a multitude of cautions about just walking into an alien structure. Then he put his glasses back on, glanced at Sam with a shrug, and followed Vala into the room to examine the walls himself.
The further he got from the archway, the less the light from outside reached the top of the walls, causing him to squint just a bit. The writing, which seemed to cover the entire surface, was very similar to the panel from Ernest's planet, but with some other characters and symbols as well. In some cases it was more pictographic and overall it reminded him of everything from Chinese to Thai. He turned back to the others to tell them that it was indeed Furling writing, only to find that they had stopped just inside the doorway to watch him, and seemed to be trying to hold back laughter.
"What's so funny?"
"You are, dude. Watching you try to resist ancient carvings is like watching the choir director at my granny's church try to resist an extra helping of the communion wine," Cam replied, shaking his head in obvious amusement.
Before Daniel could respond or try to defend himself, a thin red line of light scanned across the room and back again. Vala, Daniel, Sam, and Cameron looked at each other, mixtures of "not again," "what was that?" and "oh shit" on all their faces. Before they could react, however, Vala and Cameron promptly disappeared.
"Daniel?" Sam raised her P-90, ready for anything as she looked around the room and held tightly to her inner calm.
"Yes?" Daniel reached for his sidearm, obviously struggling not to panic as well.
"What just happened?"
"I wish I could answer that. It seems we've been scanned." His pistol in hand, he quickly checked the other side of the room, then began looking around the ceiling and the top couple feet of the walls, trying to pinpoint the source of the scanning light.
"Yes, but Cam and Vala are gone. The scanning didn't do that."
"I don't think so either, but they are probably connected."
"Okay." She stepped cautiously back through the opening. After a few uneventful seconds she went further outside and looked up, trying to catch sight of the planet's moon without any success. Of course, just because the previous transporter arch had sent General O'Neill and Maybourne to a moon didn't mean that this one worked the same way. She looked around to see if there were any markings or symbols they might have missed that screamed "transporter here" or might explain what had happened, but had no luck. Sam briefly considered seeing what was through the other two openings, but decided she didn't need to take that chance, especially not alone.
"Sam?... Sam!" Daniel's voice quickly escalated. She stepped back into the chamber just as he was starting out of it and he grabbed her upper arm with a quick squeeze. "Don't go disappearing on me like that."
She smiled at him, ignoring the odd tightness in her chest when she saw the concern in his eyes. "Sorry. I was just looking around a little more, trying to find something helpful."
"Any luck?" He holstered his weapon, obviously relaxing again now that he knew Sam was still there.
"Ah, well, yes… er, well, potentially. That's why I called to you at first, see…" he grabbed her hand and led her over to the far corner of the room where natural light was enough to get around, but not enough to read the markings on the wall. Squatting down, he shone his Mag-lite on a low spot on the wall about two or three feet up from the floor. Sam knelt next to him, preparing herself for one of his usual speed-talking explanations. "I, of course, haven't had enough exposure to the Furling's language to fully translate this yet, but I can see it as an influence to a variety of Asian writings. These symbols here," he pointed with the edge of the light, still holding onto Sam as if to make sure she couldn't go anywhere without him, "are similar to ancient Chinese but bare a strong resemblance to Sanskrit script as well. Most importantly, though, this drawing is what really caught my attention." Sam saw a humanoid figure with a tale and a fighting staff. It appeared he was depicted as standing on a cloud. "This is very similar to Earth images of Sun Wukong, also known as the Monkey King. He's known for wreaking havoc, tricking his way into immortality, and…"
"Daddy?" The tiny, questioning voice that interrupted Daniel confused him, more by its mere presence than by the word itself. He glanced over at Sam and was about to ask if she heard it, too, when the young girl spoke again. "Daddy!"
They both turned just in time to see a blonde toddler running toward them before crashing into Daniel's side, sending them both into the stone wall. Sam, still close enough to touch, was propelled backwards hard enough that she landed on her butt and narrowly missed hitting her head against the wall. Daniel caught the child by instinct, and as the force knocked him over he twisted awkwardly to insure that she wouldn't land on the stone floor or fall into the stone wall. Of course, this meant that he managed to do both while holding her protectively. He grunted as his head rammed into the wall just above the Monkey King's symbols, and winced in pain when he scraped an elbow on the floor as he turned to land under the little girl. He knew she was physically unharmed by the continuing "Daddy daddy daddy daddy daddy" interspersed with tiny little moist lips scattering kisses all over his face. He smiled in spite of himself and found himself hugging her tightly before he knew what he was doing.
"Wait, wait just a minute. Here, stand up now, let me get up so I can see you, okay?" He couldn't imagine where this child had come from, but he thought it best to at least sit up and let her see him properly before he explained that he wasn't her father. She was likely to be scared out of her wits, and if her father had come in here previously, he was likely to be somewhere else, wherever Cam and Vala had been taken, if indeed they'd been taken to the same place.
Sam had watched this entire exchange with a mixed jumble of reactions. She was startled, to say the least, quickly followed by concern for Daniel after hitting his head and arm, confusion over the situation, and – truth be told – amusement and a touch of longing. This little girl vaguely resembled Mark's youngest at around that age, and Sam had often wished she were closer to her niece and nephew. She'd even entertained ideas when she was younger that her children and Mark's children would be close in age and would play together and have a close cousin bond. Needless to say, considering their strained relationship, her career, their geographic distance, and her childless status, that wasn't likely to happen. Daniel caught her attention then, looking over the girl's shoulder in an obvious plea for help. She reached over and tried to gently extract the girl from around Daniel's upper body, but the little girl held on tight and exchanged her litany for violent head shakes and a tighter grip.
"Okay, it's okay," Daniel soothed. "Can you at least tell us your name, sweetie?"
The little girl reared back some at that; her expression was difficult to see in the dim light, but her body language was unmistakable. She tensed in his arms as she looked at him.
"Daddy, you know my name," she said. "D... don't you?" hesitation creeping into her voice with that question. She turned to Sam after a few seconds. "Mommy?" She sounded so hopeful, yet so frightened and lost that Sam wasn't sure what to do. She reached out and let the girl switch over to her arms, gathering her close and giving her what she hoped was a comforting, reassuring hug.
"Shhhh, now. It'll be okay. You're safe, and we'll take care of you and make sure that you get back home." Belatedly, Sam realized that she hadn't actually said that they weren't her parents, although she'd realize it as soon as she saw them out in the light. "Just take some deep breaths, okay?" She felt more than saw the nod against her shoulder.
After a few moments, Sam shifted so that she was sitting Indian style with her back against the wall adjacent to the one Daniel was still sitting against. An added benefit to this position was the direct view of the door, something every soldier recognized as important. She took a deep breath and locked eyes with Daniel, willing herself to wait patiently for the traumatized child to relax.
Daniel, for his part, was willing himself to breathe, something that had involuntarily stopped when Sam looked at him holding that little girl. He didn't even try to wonder why, just reminded himself that oxygen was important, and turned his attention to the child. It struck him as intriguing, though quite unexpected, to note that she was dressed like any other Earth child of her age. The slightly baggy, elastic waist pants looked like denim, and he'd never seen such a standard Earth-style T-shirt on the other people they'd met in their travels. The little girl slowly released her grip on Sam and raised her head, looking from Sam to Daniel and back again. Finally, she nodded her head ever so slightly and sat carefully on Sam's thigh, tucking her tiny feet into the space between Sam's crossed legs, though Daniel was almost certain he saw a familiar swoosh on the side of those very sneaker-looking shoes. Her left arm was wrapped around Sam, who felt the tiny fingers raking across the mesh of her vest just under the shoulder blade as the toddler, in a clear sign of anxiety, tried to grasp at something. With her free hand, the girl brushed some of the loose shoulder-length, wavy blond hair back from her face. She then rested her hand almost primly on her knees while looking back and forth between Sam and Daniel a few times. She took a deep breath and pinned Sam with a look of amazing authority for one so small.
"Did he hit his head?" she glanced at Daniel as she asked the question.
"Yes, I think he did, a little," Sam glanced and Daniel and received a non-verbal sign that while he had indeed hit his head, he was mostly all right. "Why do you ask?"
"'cause you said hitting a head can make people forget things, sometimes, and he forgot my name."
Something at the bottom of Sam's stomach twisted as she realized that the girl still hadn't noticed they weren't her real parents. When she did, she would get upset again, Sam knew, and wasn't sure what she should tell her. But it would probably scare her much more if they pretended now, and she realized that they'd lied to her later.
Sam had no idea where the idea came from, but at that instant, it seemed like the most natural thing in the world to say, "Oh, honey, he didn't forget your name, did you Da…addy?" She adjusted quickly to avoid startling the girl with an unfamiliar name.
Daniel watched as two very similar faces with two very similar sets of blue eyes turned on him, waiting expectantly. The smaller one was very anxious, while Sam merely nodded, urging him silently to go along with her. "Of course, not. That would be very silly, wouldn't it?" He smiled at the young girl and was rewarded with a slight grin that inexplicably warmed his heart.
"I think he's ok, sweetie. But you see," Sam continued, drawing the child's attention back to her, "he was asking you about your name because that's one of the things you're supposed to ask people to make sure they don't have something wrong in their brain. Whenever people get hurt…" she quickly realized there was no evidence this child had been injured at all, "or lost, it's very important to ask them these specific questions, understand?" The girl nodded seriously, obviously taking Sam's word as infallible.
"So, just to make sure you're okay, why don't we go ahead and get you to answer those questions for us? What's your name?"
"Andrea Sha're Carter-Jackson" she responded proudly, "but you call me Annie, after Grandma Carter I never got to meet."
Sam felt a sudden lump in her throat and a slight shortness of breath. I guess Daniel's name wouldn't be that unfamiliar to her after all, was the only thought she could identify at the time.
Daniel had had better days. Of course, he'd had much worse days, come to think of it. But he'd never had a day quite like this one. Staring at the little girl who was sitting there on Sam's lap and had just announced her name with all the conviction in the world, he forgot about the dull ache radiating from the back of his skull and felt his stomach turn upside down instead. He made eye contact with Sam and, on seeing the mixture of pain and confusion and something unnamable in her eyes, Daniel felt an odd sense of comfort in the knowledge that he could share these emotions with her.
"How old are you?" Daniel asked the question this time.
"I'm almost four." She seemed to be very well spoken for a three or four year old, he thought to himself, but also realized that he had almost no experience with children that age to really know.
"And when's your birthday?" he continued. The more information they had, the better equipped they would be to handle the situation. And perhaps finding out about Annie could help them get Cam and Vala back as well.
"October 29. Aunt Janet said that she'd make me a cake with monkeys on it this year." The little girl grinned ear to ear, obviously enjoying the "game" they were playing and happy at the thought of her cake. The name "Aunt Janet" echoed in his head, though, adding to the sinking feeling he had.
"Monkeys, huh?" Daniel asked, smiling at her the best he could despite the ever-growing knot in his stomach. "I've always thought monkeys were pretty cool."
Annie flashed him a brilliant smile, showing off her little baby teeth and a dimple in her right cheek. "I know, silly Daddy. We went to the zoo and saw them and you got me the fuzzy one to take home..." she trailed off slightly and looked down at her knees, the smile fading as she almost visibly pulled in on herself. "Aunt Janet said you weren't ever coming back though. She s-s-s-said y-you ww... we..." Her eyes teared up and Sam pulled her tighter and mumbled something reassuring into her hair.
"Annie, honey?" Daniel scooted closer, squeezing in next to them so that his bent leg was pressed along Sam's thigh and he could face Annie. He reached out to her, smoothing her hair back gently before he rested his hand on the side of her neck, his thumb unconsciously rubbing at her cheek. When she looked up, Daniel was struck by the sadness in her eyes and for a moment felt like he was willing to do anything in the world to take it away. As one fat tear slid over her bottom eyelid and ran down her cheek, he swiped at it with his thumb and reached out for her.
She launched herself back into his arms suddenly and let loose the sobs that had been threatening a moment ago. He instinctively held her tightly, murmuring wordless reassurances in her ear as he looked at Sam over the girl's head. Sam's gaze told him that she was having some of the same concerns that he was. All sorts of scenarios were running through his head - all of them bad. When so many coincidences piled up, they usually weren't coincidences at all in their line of work, and it wouldn't be the first time that one or another of their enemies had decided to use a child against them. Ancients, Ori, Nirrti, Loki, and even the Re'tu, all ran through his head as possibilities - but he was fast approaching the conclusion that this wasn't just a lost, mistaken child who had made an innocent mistake about the first two adults she encountered.
Daniel looked at Annie's curls, holding her close as she cried, and looked up at Sam hoping she had some idea what they should do. Sam's expression practically mirrored his own, concerned, confused, and cautious. As they both looked from Annie to each other, their thoughts were once again in tune with each other. Their expressions, gestures, and silent shrugs let them both acknowledge the few things that were currently clear: Annie fully believed she was their daughter, she was obviously distraught, whomever had been taking care of her before she appeared here likely had little idea where she'd gone, neither of them had a clue how this could have happened or who she might really be, and neither of them was willing to do anything that might further upset Annie. Obviously, they would have to be very cautious about their interactions with her in order to avoid causing her further distress, but he had to get some answers from her or they wouldn't be able to help her at all.
After a couple minutes the sobs died down and Annie was more whimpering than anything else. Daniel gently eased her away to sit in his lap so he could see her. "Annie, we have a couple more questions we need to ask you, okay? Do you feel calmer now? You're safe with us and we won't let anything bad happen to you, alright?" He placed a finger under her chin and raised her head up to make eye contact. He watched Annie watching him, wondering what she really thought of all this. She blinked at him a couple times, then looked over her shoulder at Sam.
Sam was running her hand over Annie's hair. "We'll take care of you, alright sweetie? Just take a deep breath to stay calm, and it'll be okay," she murmured.
"Okay," Annie said, taking a few great hiccupping breaths as she tried to calm down.
"Okay, Annie, do you remember where you were and what you were doing right before you saw Daddy here?"
"Umm," her brow scrunched slightly as she thought about this, and Sam was struck by how very similar it was to Daniel's familiar thinking expression. "I was in my room coloring. Aunt Janet was making breakfast, 'cause I could smell pancakes."
"Was anyone else there?" Daniel asked.
Annie shook her head. "Cassie's gone to coll-edge," she drew out the word, putting emphasis on the second syllable as if to emphasize its importance. "She can't decide if she's gonna be a doctor like Aunt Janet or a," she slowed down, thinking carefully about the word, "a-gro-phys-ical-ist like Mommy, but Aunt Janet says she'll be good at them both."
"I'm sure she will," Sam said, trying not to smile too broadly at the way she'd mangled "astrophysicist" and thinking back on several conversations she'd had with Cassie about that very subject. Cassandra had learned a great deal of medicine from living with Janet for seven years, but early on, she'd also demonstrated a keen understanding of wormhole physics and loved to watch Sam work on her various projects and astronomical theories. Cassie - the Cassie she knew - was currently pre-med. But the little girl was talking about Janet as being very much alive, which meant that whatever was going on, things were different in Annie's memories. The last time she'd seen Janet popped into her head, along with the reminder that it hadn't been her Janet, but one from an alternate reality. Which gave her an entirely new avenue of thoughts regarding what could be going on. The child obviously knew them (or at least, a version of them), but it was far too early for them to know if it was some kind of elaborate hoax, or alternate timelines, or something else all together. While Sam had originally thought the child mistook them for someone else, and then began considering all the possible ways this was a trap, she was now getting the strong feeling that this was something else entirely. As she pondered this, she recognized a sense of relief and joy at the idea that this could be a relatively innocent situation. The idea of Annie being a trap set by their enemies was not sitting at all well with her, but an unexplained transfer from an alternate universe would be much easier to deal with, at least on an emotional level.
"Annie," Sam's consciousness finally caught up with her and she had to ask a very pertinent question. "Do you live with Aunt Janet?"
Annie immediately sobered, and managed, in a way Daniel had thought only Sam could do, to look simultaneously sorrowful and confused. "Yes, Mommy. Of course I do. Mr. General and Aunt Janet made sure nobody could argue with them about it. They said you both had papers, like letters, that said I was supposed to live with Aunt Janet."
Sam and Daniel looked up and met each others' gazes. They obviously had a problem, and she was fairly certain that it involved an alternate reality of some sort, but Sam didn't have the first clue how to deal with it, or how to explain things to Annie. And she desperately wanted to know what had happened to their alternate selves. She glanced down at the wavy blonde hair of her daughter, taking a moment to mentally note how natural it seemed to think of her that way. That was a surprise, and one that triggered a longing she thought she'd left behind. Now that more of it had sunk in, she found herself looking at the little girl trying to see features that might explain further. She certainly had her hair - Sam knew from family photos that her own hair had been curly when she was a small child. And the girl's eyes were blue like hers were. But the shape of her face, and the angle of her nose, where those more like Daniel's? Or was she just seeing things because she thought they ought to be there?
Daniel watched Sam looking at… at their daughter, he supposed… and tried to get a handle on his own feelings. For once in his life, Daniel felt as though he couldn't think. He was so overwhelmed and surprised by the situation and the myriad of emotions and thoughts it was causing, that he couldn't seem to settle on any one train of thought. He did know they would need more information, and he was very curious about that alternate reality anyway.
"Annie, can you tell us why you don't live with us anymore? Do you know what happened?" Daniel asked, and Sam winced slightly. He must have seen it from the corner of his eye because he shrugged a shoulder as if to say "what else did you want me to do?"
Annie looked suspicious, and Sam quickly fumbled for an explanation for the question, silently thankful that she hadn't started crying again. "We've had some weird things happen to us lately, and we don't actually remember all of it. We were hoping you could help us figure things out."
She relaxed a little - still confused, but obviously wanting and willing to believe what they were saying.
"We all went to the mountain," she said to Daniel, "just like always and you dropped me off in Ms. Linda's room."
"My preschool teacher? She's the one that teaches my class, but there's others that have the littler kids and the older kids. And sometimes we all play together. It's cool that we all have moms or dads that work together in the mountain." She paused for a second, then continued. "When it was time to go, you didn't come get me like you were supposed to. All the other kids went home, and I waited with Ms. Linda and then Cassie came and got me and took me to Aunt Janet's house. She said that you had to work longer, like when you go on trips and so I had to stay there with them like I do when you leave, except this time you weren't expecting it."
"Does that happen sometimes?" Daniel asked.
"Uh-huh. I have a room there, and Aunt Janet makes things like pancakes and skeksis with sauce and if it's a weekend sometimes she lets me stay up and watch movies with her..." Annie looked stricken for a moment. "Except I'm not supposed to tell you about the staying up late part cause you and Mommy make faces and tell her not to even though sometimes you let me do that too at home and you always know when you come get me, anyway..."
"It's ok, hon. Staying up late sometimes is ok. What else happened?" Daniel gently rubbed her tiny back, hoping it would help keep her calm as she related these unpleasant memories. Sam felt her heart breaking for this little girl who could have been her daughter in another world, or rather, who apparently was her daughter in another world.
"Aunt Janet picked me up early one day, and Ms. Linda looked real sad when she said bye to me. Aunt Janet was crying, and when we got home, she t-t-told me that…" She was quivering now, and tears had begun to run down her cheeks. "that you were d-dead. I asked her what that meant and she said that you were gone away, forever."
The room was silent except for Annie's sniffles and quiet sobs. Sam considered their highest priority questions, presuming there was no malevolent alien trick here: How and why was Annie in their reality now? And just as important, how were they going to get her back home? Sam stubbornly pushed away the thought that she didn't want to send Annie back home, and was thankful to have her thoughts were interrupted when Annie took a deep breath and began talking again, this time rather quickly, almost running some of her words together.
"I told her that you would come back, and that you were okay and that the people making up the stories about you were gonna be sorry, cause Daddy's a space monkey like Uncle Jack said and so he's magic and he can't die, and Mommy can fix anything and you'd take me back home." She stopped to breathe and cuddled back closer to Daniel, who sat there with shadows in his eyes and Sam wondered if he was thinking about the time right after his own parents had died. At least this little girl had been lucky enough to still have people around her who cared about her.
"Aunt Janet told me that I was gonna live with her from now on because of the papers you left, and she said I wouldn't be in our house anymore, and Mr. General came to talk to me and tell me how good you were, and Uncle Jack came to visit and I told him too about how you weren't really gone forever because it couldn't be true and he should know you wouldn't go 'way like that." She paused to take a deep breath, but started speaking again before either of them could formulate a response to her anxious ramblings. "We went home," she looked at Sam now, silently imploring her to understand, "and I got my favorite stuff to take to my room at Aunt Janet's house. And I took the fuzzy monkey Daddy got me from the zoo, and every day I told the monkey that he needed to bring you home, or take me to where you were lost so that you wouldn't be lost anymore, 'cause you always said that if you went 'sploring and we were all together we couldn't really be lost, and that's what love does." She'd gotten excited enough about her speech that her tears had stopped.
Daniel looked around the room, and back at Annie, and finally came to what seemed the only viable conclusion. "We'll have to figure out the rest of this after we get home with her," he looked at Sam, hoping there wouldn't be an argument about taking a strange child home or wondering if she was another System Lord's trap. Oh, the Goa'uld hadn't been a serious problem in quite some time, but Daniel would never forget how they'd found Cassie, and how he'd thought Sam would die with her. Nevertheless, he knew, deep in his soul he just knew that Annie wasn't a trap. She was an innocent child who'd lost her parents much younger than he'd lost his own, and was somehow here in his arms, calling him Daddy.
Sam felt herself release a breath she didn't realize she'd been holding. The tiniest part of her was sure Daniel would find some logical explanation for this child, and though she couldn't bring herself to admit it yet, even to her own consciousness, she deeply wanted to take Annie home and be her Mommy. It seemed like the most natural thing in the world. "I think you're right," she finally said.
Sam unfolded herself and stood up. She held a hand out to Annie and helped her out of Daniel's lap so that he could stand up too. "But before we can go anywhere, we still need to figure out where Cam and Vala ended up-"
No sooner were the words out of her mouth than they all heard an ethereal giggle and the two team members in question reappeared in the room.