Lots of credits for this one: to the rest of the team for all their help, Myosotis for all the technobabble, and for the history lesson (I'm very very bad at history), many thanks to StargateFFWriters for patiently answering my questions and helping me draw parallels! And of course to all of you out there reading and reviewing this :-) we're all very grateful!
Irreparable Differences, pt. 4
A group of Jaffa stood at the centre of the ring platform, struggling to remain still despite the ominous vibrations in the ground. The transport rings finally descended, enveloping them in a bright golden light before taking them back to the Ha'tak that waited in orbit. A mere second later a loud crack echoed across the plains, and a new fissure zigzagged its way along the weather-beaten stones, splitting the ring platform in half.
A hundred yards away, Teal'c and Rak'nor watched the commotion with concerned frowns, before returning to their efforts to take down one of the tents in preparation for all non-essential Jaffa leaving the surface. Other Jaffa and High Council members were helping with similar tasks around the rudimentary camp site.
Teal'c, however, could not entirely focus on the task at hand. "The transport rings are the only way to reach Yat'yir's Ha'tak." He cast another look at the platform. "They must not fail before evacuation is complete."
"If they do, there is still the Chapa'ai." Rak'nor struggled to pull one of the tent pins out of the ground, where it had been secured firmly in place to withstand the quakes and winds. "It will resist for a while longer."
"Perhaps, but many here would far prefer to evacuate to the ship." There was a note of bitterness in his voice – despite all reason dictating otherwise, several Jaffa still opposed leaving Dakara, and viewed remaining in orbit as a barely acceptable compromise. "We should send only supplies on the next transport," he suggested, "to ensure that the damage to the platform has not left the rings malfunctioning."
Kal'el, the Hak'tyl Resistance representative, put down the support pole she had been folding. "I will see to it," she nodded. "We are still having trouble communicating with the Ha'tak, but I will hold transports until we send a message through."
Teal'c bowed his head in silent thanks, and returned to unfolding a portion of the tent as she left them. Still, he looked uneasy.
"Many will wish to return," he said after another moment of silence. "Dakara is the homeworld they dreamed of. Leaving the surface will not be the end of this."
"But it will save the lives of many of us." Rak'nor's expression was earnest. "If you had not come back to address the High Council, we might have lingered here arguing until the planet destroyed us all."
"Instead, I have convinced the council to abandon our sacred world."
The younger Jaffa stopped digging up another pin to give him an honest look. "Indecision is not a virtue, Teal'c. The council may have refused to acknowledge it, but we all knew even before you came that leaving Dakara was the correct course of action."
Yet neither of them denied that it would be Teal'c who would be remembered for the decision … and blamed for it.
The ground shook again, and Teal'c instinctively turned his head, his eyes searching for the familiar silhouettes at the far end of the plains, near the temple ruins.
"Or perhaps Colonel Carter will find a solution," Rak'nor said, noticing the direction of his gaze.
Teal'c sighed. "I fear that even then, some of the council members would resist it."
His protégé's supportive smile dimmed somewhat. "At least now we know what is happening to Dakara," he said. "That might be enough to make even the angriest among us look for more rational solutions."
"To the recolonization matter, perhaps," Teal'c looked grim, "but Latal and his followers will still wish to break ties with the Tau'ri, and separate from all those we call friends."
"Hilk'sha, Tau'ri."As if to confirm his words, a resentful mutter erupted from a small distance away.
Teal'c turned his head and noticed Daniel making his way over past a couple of young, disgruntled-looking Jaffa who, just as Latal, wore the mark of Cronus. The archaeologist held up his hands to signal that everything was alright, and arched his eyebrows as he finally reached Teal'c and Rak'nor.
"Not the friendliest neighbourhood I've ever been in," he said dryly, then looked at the half-disassembled tent that the two Jaffa were working on. "Need an extra hand?"
"Were you not studying the temple ruins, Daniel Jackson?"
Daniel grimaced. "Yeah, that's kind of what I wanted to talk to you about. Sam thinks the Ancients may have planned for an eventual tectonic incident in this area, and might have possibly left behind a way to deal with it."
Rak'nor looked up with sudden hope. "Colonel Carter believes there is a way to save Dakara?"
"Er – I don't know, it's a long shot, but that's pretty much all we have at this point, so…"
Teal'c, too, sounded encouraged by the notion. "Have you discovered anything to indicate that the Ancients could have indeed provided for this set of circumstances?"
"Not exactly…we're still looking, but we need a little extra digging equipment." He gave Teal'c a half-exasperated, half-apologetic look. "Tried asking one of the Jaffa packing up the tents, but I think all our poking around the temple ruins is making some of them a little…twitchy."
Teal'c pressed his lips together ever so slightly, which for him was a sign of great displeasure.
"Anyway… I figured we shouldn't overtax their hospitality, and I could just ask you and Rak'nor instead."
The Jaffa nodded. "Of course." He paused for a moment, then met Daniel's eyes, his expression "I must apologize, Daniel Jackson, for the actions of those Jaffa."
"No you don't," Daniel assured. "Besides, they haven't really said anything since Vala and I got here. Mitchell just thinks we should be extra careful."
Teal'c looked away. "I feel…responsible for how Colonel Mitchell and Colonel Carter were treated."
"Uhm, I'm pretty sure they don't think you're responsible."
"Nevertheless, I am contrite. If I had not brought them here, they would not have suffered the insults and accusations of the separatist Jaffa."
"Well… " Daniel arched his eyebrows. "You can think of the reception you used to get when we dragged you to villages that had been under Goa'uld rule," he suggested, "and we'll call it even."
Teal'c met his eyes and almost-smiled.
Mitchell sighed as he watched Daniel and Vala get into yet another argument. He couldn't hear what they were saying over the wind, but at this point he had a pretty good idea of most of their repertoire.
The two of them had been in some sort of funk, lately. Push come to shove, Jackson and Vala could work well together, and sometimes they even complemented each other in a way that made the whole team better… but then there were those other times…
As the winds died down again, he began to make our their words.
" –don't see how this is my responsibility in any way." Vala's huff was cut short when she began coughing after accidentally inhaling a lungful of smoke from the nearby fissures.
Daniel waved one hand to disperse the sudden smoke cloud, and he thrust a water bottle at her. "If you hadn't bullied Landry into sending us here, I'd be peacefully working on my – intact –translation now."
"I didn't tell him to send you!" Vala immediately turned to Mitchell, although he was standing a few yards away. "Cameron, please explain to Daniel that I don't control General Landry's decisions."
The colonel rolled his eyes. A small distance away, Sam looked up from her topographic scanner long enough to give him a sympathetic glance.
At least the hostile separatist Jaffa were keeping their distance, giving him one less thing to worry about. It could have been because the High Council had finally decided that they should return to the Ha'tak in orbit, and so they were busy preparing to leave (or in the case of some, arguing against it.) It could also have been because the team was currently surveying the fissure-strewn, murky area around the temple ruins, and no one wanted to spend too much time on a terrain where they ran the risk of being swallowed up by a sinkhole or roasted alive by a geyser at any second.
But Cam suspected the arrival of his last two teammates was at least partly responsible for the Jaffa giving them a wide berth, even if some of Latal's cronies still hovered around the edges of the temple area harbouring menacing expressions.
He gave Daniel and Vala a no-nonsense glare. "We're not exactly winning a lot of popularity votes here, people," he pointed out, "so maybe you two could quit trying to prove Latal's case that the Tau'ri are a bunch of maniacs."
The archaeologist sighed and cast a worried glance toward the unfriendly Jaffa. "I didn't realize things were this bad between us and them," he admitted. "Or with Dakara."
"Yeah, it's been a real picnic." Cam grimaced and lifted the collar of his jacket against the intensifying wind. "Did you find anything useful?"
Daniel shook his head. "There are hundreds of broken off pieces from the temple walls, but I doubt the writings on any of them would tell us how to deal with this." He waved a hand to indicate their grim surroundings.
"We tried to uncover more of the remains of that old pipe system that Samantha found," Vala put in, "but our friends over there seem to get a little touchy whenever we try digging. Which might be a blessing in disguise," she murmured, poking the abandoned shovel with the tip of her boot, "I've never been a big fan of manual labour."
The archaeologist gave her a sideways glance, but said nothing. Her complaints about the tiresome digging were what had sparked their earlier squabble in the first place.
" Did Sam have any more luck figuring out what the pipes were or where they led to?" asked Daniel.
"She said something about a pressure release system… she's trying to map it out but it ain't exactly easy with the ground shaking and shifting every minute." He turned back to where he had last seen Sam. "Carter, any luck –"
He trailed off abruptly, his expression changing to one of concern. The blonde colonel was nowhere in sight.
"Carter!" He ran the small distance to where she had been working only a minute before. "Carter! Son of a –" The place where she had last been standing was now a gaping sinkhole, and it was too deep or too dark for him to even see the bottom. "Sam‼"
It had all happened so suddenly that she had not had time to react, let alone call for help. One second she was kneeling by the shattered remains of a temple chamber, trying to interpret the readings from her scanner, and the next she was plummeting at great speed down to unknown depths. It had been over before she even realized what was happening, and it was a few moments before her brain could process everything.
First, she felt great surprise at being alive. That was followed almost immediately by equally great concern about how to keep herself that way. Then came all the other thoughts in a rush: the rest of the team, the planet, the Jaffa, and about a dozen different plans of action that began to form at the same time.
Sam shook her head in an attempt to clear it, and took a deep breath. Her shoulder still hurt from the earlier strain, and now her back felt sore, too. Not an unusual consequence of being swallowed up by an unexpected sinkhole.
It was pitch dark, but by groping the ground around her she found the topographic scanner, and luckily she always carried a flashlight in her jacket. It had survived the fall, too, and Sam spared a moment of appreciation for its manufacturers. Then she switched it on, and let out a gasp of surprise.
Instead of finding herself buried in an unlikely air pocket under tons of dirt, she saw the bright beam reflecting off well-polished walls. Old, to be sure, unsophisticated, earthen walls, but undoubtedly man-made. Moving the flashlight in a circle around the space revealed more surprises. Some sort of thigh-high structure sat in the middle of the room, covered by what looked like two feet of dust, and the far wall was covered in writing. Sam couldn't read the symbols, but she bet Daniel would be able to. She grinned to herself – it had been a stroke of luck after all that their last two teammates had arrived unexpectedly, and even Cam would have to admit it.
Thinking of the rest of SG-1 shifted her priorities again, and she reached for the radio in her pocket.
"Mitchell, this is Carter, can you read me?" The discouraging static hiss echoed loudly in the small underground chamber. "This is Carter," she repeated, "can anyone hear me?"
After another few seconds of silence, she rolled her eyes. As Cam was so fond of saying, things were never easy.
She used the flashlight to examine the space further, hoping to see an exit. There were several gaps and holes in the walls, but none of them large enough to suggest a possible escape route. The most hopeful prospect was a pile of rubble near where she had landed, which looked to have once been an exit, but unfortunately it had caved in at some point and trying to make her way out through there would take a lot of desperation. And possibly a bulldozer.
The ceiling was also half caved-in, and Sam realized the geological disturbances on the surface were affecting the underground just as much. She would have to make her way out quickly, before a strong earthquake destroyed the chamber completely. After a minute of struggle and dragging over several rocks, she managed to reach the large opening that she had fallen through. There was no way to climb back up, as the ground was too soft and kept falling through her fingers whenever she tried to get a grip. But the radio signal had a better chance of making it out if it didn't have to bounce off the chamber walls, or take any interference from whatever machinery was in the chamber.
She reached a hand up as far as she could, wincing as her back and shoulder protested, and activated the radio once again. "This is Carter, can anyone read me? Hello? Cam? I repeat, this is –"
Her face broke into a wide grin as Mitchell's voice came through, unclear and hampered by static but a joy to her ears nonetheless.
"Are you okay? Where are you?"
Still stretching her arm up the gap in the ceiling, to make sure the radio did not lose its signal, Sam craned her neck to survey the strange underground chamber.
"I'm fine. The unstable ground must've created another sinkhole... but you're not going to believe what I think I've found…"
"There's good news and bad news." Sam coughed, trying to clear the now-constant smoke from her lungs. Her voice was hoarse, and it did not help that she had to shout to be heard over the wind and the hissing of the steaming fissures. "When we were here last time digging for the Ark, I saw evidence of an underground hydraulic system of sorts, but at the time that wasn't what we were looking for, so I didn't examine it in detail."
She coughed again, and Vala helpfully handed her a water bottle. Everyone else waited in silence, the rest of the team and several members of the High Council all standing precariously among the ever-shifting rocky area around the ruins of the great temple of Dakara.
"But given what's happening now and what the topographic scans show," Sam resumed after a few second, "there was reason to think that system may have been part of some sort of failsafe mechanism that the Ancients installed. We…found an underground chamber" (she exchanged a smile with Mitchell at her casual glazing over how exactly she had found said chamber), "that holds information on a system of valves and pressure equalizers spread out over this entire area. It seems that the Ancients really did plan for the unlikely case of increased tectonic activity, and built a large-scale pressure release system that might be able to control the damage from the hyperactive fault line."
Excited murmurs broke out among the Jaffa. Even Latal was silent, not daring to speak against the Tau'ri at such a time.
"You believe Dakara can be saved?" Kal'el's eyes shone with hope.
Sam looked away for a moment, and bit her lips. "It's… possible," she said finally. "The failsafe system was designed to provide a release for the eventual build-up of subcrustal pressure, and, in the event of increased seismic activity, to detect the active epicentres and compensate for the force imbalances to prevent the kind of cataclysms that Dakara is experiencing right now."
"Then we must activate the failsafe immediately!" the female Jaffa cried, but her enthusiasm dimmed somewhat when she noticed Sam's grimace.
"Right… that's the bad news." She took a deep breath. "The underground chamber we found seems to be some sort of central control room for the entire system, and from what Daniel could read of its instructions, it was supposed to activate automatically if the seismic activity ever crossed a particular threshold."
"But… it didn't activate." Kal'el frowned, almost in despair. "Are you saying it's broken?"
"It must have been damaged in the Ori attack and the ensuing superweapon explosion," Sam admitted. "The room itself is in pretty bad shape, and the console that was supposed to automatically activate all the pressure release points distributed across this entire area isn't working right."
"Colonel Carter," Tolok spoke in his deep, low voice, "can you fix it? Can you save Dakara?"
Sam swallowed hard. "I don't think I can fix the automatic activation system in time," she replied. "But the information that Daniel's been able to translate suggests that the failsafe network is made out of several control nodes spread out in this area, each of which activates a subset of exhaust valves and equalizers. If we can trigger each node manually…"
"How many nodes are there," Tolok asked, "and how will we find them?"
"The 'user's manual' wasn't that clear on it," Daniel sighed. "But I think there should be about ten - fifteen or so, within a radius of a few miles."
"We don't have a lot of time," Sam warned. "If the seismic activity progresses at a constant rate, this area will become highly unstable in a matter of hours, making it impossible to search for and activate the control nodes."
"Can you show us what to look for, Colonel Carter?" Tolok looked ready to take action, and several other council members shared his enthusiasm. "We will organize groups to search and trigger each node."
Sam nodded. "Daniel found a map of the initial node locations in the control chamber. Unfortunately the terrain shifts might have displaced or damaged some of the nodes, but it's a place to start. We'll have to find a way to get to the nodes that were buried by sinkholes or fissures. And they need to be activated in a particular order, so we'll need to coordinate…"
She paused, and bit her lower lip. There was one last thing she wanted to say, but felt that it was not her place to say it. Teal'c, however, read her mind.
"In order for this effort to succeed," he warned in a serious tone, "we must all work together." His gaze stopped on Latal for a long moment. "Any unnecessary conflict will only delay us, and may cost us the chance to save Dakara."
Latal faced him with a challenging look. "I am well aware of what is at stake, Teal'c. You need not worry that my personal beliefs will interfere with us saving our homeworld." His eyes shifted to Sam. "If this succeeds, I will be the first to express my gratitude, Colonel Carter."
Somehow, she did not feel reassured.
Mitchell felt a droplet of sweat make its way down his neck. The wind had died down completely, leaving the already murky air even heavier with smoke and hot vapours from the every-multiplying cracks in the upper crust of the planet. It was almost impossible to keep his eyes open, as they watered constantly. Breathing was an even bigger effort. Now the heat was unbearable. He did not need Sam to tell him that things were getting worse on Dakara… they were running out of time, fast.
Against all odds, the operation to locate the control nodes and manually activate them went smoothly. Every High Council member, Teal'c included, volunteered for the search, and it was decided that all but two them would lead a small group of Jaffa to one location on the map. Meanwhile, Yat'yir agreed to remain on his Ha'tak and monitor the tectonic shifts from orbit using the ship's superior sensors. Cha'ra, Moloc's former First Prime and one of the newer council members, would remain in proximity to the stargate and ring platform in case an emergency evacuation was needed.
Within a few hours, each group had found (and sometimes, unburied and repaired) a control node, and SG-1, with the advantage of Sam's quick grasp of the location patterns and ability to fix the nodes much faster, had uncovered three. That still left a few nodes unaccounted for. The search had slowed down, and with everyone feeling that they were so close, yet could not quite finish the job, tempers were fraying more than ever before.
"Cam!" He jumped as Sam's raised voice snapped him out of his reverie. She was kneeling by a nearby sinkhole, anchored to him by a thick length of rope, and was currently giving him an odd look. He wondered how long she'd been trying to get his attention. "Everything okay?"
"Yup… just enjoyin' the view." His expression was wry as he nodded toward the smoky wasteland. "How's the plumbing work going?"
"I think I've found another control node, but it's partly buried with this sinkhole so it's going to be tricky to get at it." She frowned, and lightly poked the edges of the sinkhole with a foot-long metal rod, looking displeased when the ground immediately shifted beneath the rod. "The area's growing more and more unstable. If we don't get this done soon we might lose the whole failsafe system itself."
"Can you skip this node and activate the others?"
She shook her head. "As far as I can tell, they're set up in a serial configuration. Skipping one will disrupt all the subsequent ones in the system, causing the pressure release cycle to be incomplete." She cautiously shifted back from the edges of the sinkhole before slowly getting back to her feet, clearly wary of repeating the earlier experience. "We can't do it manually, but if we're lucky, the remote activation function on this particular node is still intact, so I can configure a signal to be sent via one of the Jaffa's shortwave transmitters… but we'll still need to change the topography of this sinkhole enough to allow the signal through."
"Alright… how do we do that?"
Sam considered the question for a moment. "I think a controlled weight redistribution in its surrounding area should restructure the sinkhole… I'll need to work out the viscosity coefficient and the oscillatory amplitudes necessary to shift it in the right direction…" She picked up the scanner from where it was lying a few feet away, and entered a few commands into it.
"We'll need more than just the three of us to provide the necessary mass to shift it." Vala was sitting on a nearby boulder, looking disappointedly at her empty water bottle. Her voice, too, bore the same note of tiredness as the rest of them. "We should get some of the Jaffa to help."
Sam nodded in agreement, but Mitchell felt less confident. "Let's wait for Teal'c and Jackson to get back," he suggested.
The Jaffa were not known for their patience, and the wait to activate the control nodes combined with the ever-worsening conditions on the planet was making even the wisest of them irritable and volatile. Two of the Jaffa in Kal'el's group had gotten into a fight and almost caused the node they had secure to be lost in a sudden quake. Some Jaffa had been injured, too, and there had been vicious arguments as to who would have to return to the Ha'tak and who got to stay on. Tolok himself had had to threaten another council member when the younger Jaffa refused to go get treatment for his broken leg.
As for Latal and what remained of his group, they had remained surprisingly silent, but Cam had not missed the unfriendly glares that some of them cast in the direction of him and his team. He sighed as he noticed the Jaffa in question standing just a small distance away, along with some of his followers.
"He doesn't like you much," Vala commented, following the direction of his gaze. "You know, I always got along with the Jaffa." She casually flipped her hair over her shoulder, though in its limp, sweat-drenched condition it missed the dramatic flair she was going for. "I could try talking to –"
"Don't even think about it." Mitchell pulled his cap off in a futile attempt to get cooler. "You're not going anywhere near any Jaffa that isn't Teal'c."
Sam looked up from her work again. "I don't know, Cam. We need to get to this control node," she emphasized. "It's one of the first in the cycle, if we don't activate it I doubt the pressure release will be strong enough to have any impact on the seismic activity. And we don't know how long it'll take Daniel and Teal'c to get back… we don't have any time to lose."
"Alright," he acknowledged. "I'll get Rak'nor, or any of the Jaffa who don't want to throw us down one of those sinkholes. But we're not going anywhere near –"
"Too late," Vala warned in a low voice, and Cam turned to witness a group of four Jaffa, lead by Haakon, marching toward them. Their expressions looked decidedly unfriendly.
"Great." Mitchell briefly considered radioing Teal'c for help, then he fought the urge to pull out his Zat gun. Before he had a chance to actually do anything, the four were upon them.
Vala had slipped off the boulder and was now standing warily at his shoulder. Sam, too, had abandoned the buried node and had come to stand on his other side.
"Alright people," Cam told the Jaffa, "now's really not the time for–"
"You required assistance?" Haakon asked.
" – a playground squ … what?" The colonel shook his head. "Come again?"
The blond Jaffa clenched his jaw. "You appear to be in need of assistance, Tau'ri," he growled. "Latal has sent us to aid you in your efforts." He looked about as pleased with his leader's request as Cam had been when Landry had invited him to go bird-watching.
"Uhm. He sent you… to help us," he repeated for further clarification. Haakon nodded curtly. "And you agreed." Another impatient nod. Mitchell tilted his head. "You do see why we might be a little surprised here, right?"
"I don't care about your surprise, Tau'ri," the wiry Jaffa spat. "We will assist you with this control node! Stop wasting time!"
Sam and Vala exchanged a glance, and the dark-haired woman bit her lips to hide an amused grin. Then Sam looked to Mitchell, shrugged and nodded toward the sinkhole. They did need the help.
Cam shook his head and gave Haakon a wry look. "Well… when you put it that way…"
Daniel wiped the sweat from his eyes for the fifth time, and reached for his radio. "Sam, this is Daniel."
There was a brief silence, then…
"Go ahead, Daniel."
"We've got the first node ready to go. Should we activate it, or wait for the others to be ready?"
"Give me a few minutes, please." Even with the abysmal quality of the radio signal, he could tell that she sounded at the end of her patience. "We'll be done here soon, and then I'd like to double check the serial order of the nodes." There was another pause, then she came through again, sounding, if possible, even more irritated. "Can you tell everyone else to stand by and wait for my signal?"
A few feet away, Rak'nor spoke up. "I will personally deliver the message to the two groups outside transmitter range."
Daniel nodded, and spoke into the radio again. "Yup, we're on it. Take your time…" he surveyed the area, which now looked less like an inhabitable planet and more like a toxic swamp, "…ish," he amended.
Her voice came after another second, and he again heard the note of exasperation. "We'll try to hurry. Trust me, we all want this to be done. Carter out."
As Rak'nor left them to convey the message to the others, Daniel put away the radio, silently wondering what was going on on Sam's end that made her sound so annoyed. He briefly considered it may have been Vala, but then admitted to himself that it was unlikely. She and Sam usually got along, and they would probably not have chosen a high-tension, dangerous situation to have a fight.
Not that that stopped Vala when it came to him, of course. Okay, maybe he could have been a little more gracious, but really, she had derailed his plans at the SGC, dragged him along to Dakara and then spent the whole time complaining about the conditions! Well, maybe not the whole time, but still. Anyway, she would definitely not be subjecting Sam to any of that. Alright, so maybe he was normally a little more patient and less sarcastic with Sam, too, but…
Daniel shook his head. That whole train of thought was moot, and the last thing he wanted to spend his time on. He mentally rolled his eyes at the fact that Vala somehow managed to be a distraction even when she wasn't present.
He forced his attention back to Teal'c. The Jaffa was staring silently across the crack-marred plains, concern etched on his face. Daniel again felt a pang of sympathy.
"It'll work out," he assured."Sam's going to get that failsafe network working, and Dakara will be fine in no time."
Teal'c turned a troubled gaze to him.
"But will its people?" he asked softly. "We are divided. Many of the faction leaders do not care to think about the good of the Free Jaffa Nation as a whole, and choose instead to focus on paltry power games and assertions of their own influence." He shook his head, disappointed. "Even as we work together, I see it. Today, more than ever before. We are all Jaffa… yet people like Yat'yir and Latal encourage their followers to be loyal to them and their own interests, rather than to the larger Jaffa Nation."
"I know," Daniel sighed, "it's what tends to happen when you try to make a nation come together from a lot of different factions."
"Colonel Carter once told me that similar efforts have been attempted repeatedly in the history of the Tau'ri." His expression was questioning, and Daniel nodded.
"It's happened several times on Earth. One notable example is actually our own country," he revealed. "The U.S. started out as separate states with their own more or less independent governments… until a few visionary people came along and pushed for the states to band together under a common constitution."
"Were the states' leaders not reluctant to give up their own influence and authority and become subject to a common set of rules?"
"Uhm," the archaeologist rubbed a hand against his neck. "I guess, at first they must have been. But… eventually these few men of vision convinced everyone that uniting into one nation made the most sense economically and politically."
Teal'c's expression was thoughtful. "They must have been great men indeed, to persuade all the faction leaders to rally behind an idea that would restrain their individual autonomy."
"Well, we like to think so. It wasn't easy, I imagine. I guess at the end of the day, it was a matter of showing the local governments that uniting was in everyone's best interests, and superseded the individual interests. It wasn't done overnight. Some of the states took longer to join, and there were still conflicts for decades… but … it worked out eventually." He gave the Jaffa an encouraging look. "It takes time."
Teal'c let out a slow breath, and met his eyes. "We have time, Daniel Jackson. What I am not so certain about is visionary leaders."
"You have those too," Daniel replied earnestly. "I'm looking at one."
The Jaffa dipped his head in acknowledgment of the compliment, and they were both silent for a moment.
"I would like to know more about these Tau'ri men who brought your country together," Teal'c said finally. "And their views on diplomacy in such –"
"Jackson!" Mitchell's voice suddenly came through the radio, breathless. They could hear the sound of shouting in the background. "The node, now!"
Daniel and Teal'c stared at each other for a second, then they both reached for the unburied Ancient device.
From the corner of her eye, Sam saw Mitchell rolling on the ground, his arms clenched around one of the Jaffa. She saw Vala distracting another a few yards away. She didn't know where the third one was, and there was no way to look for him, because all her attention was focused on the tall, sandy-haired Jaffa in front of her.
She hoped Daniel had given the signal to activate the control nodes that came before theirs, but just in case he hadn't, she planned to make sure the buried node would only be triggered on her terms, damn it.
"Give me the remote transmitter, Tau'ri or I'll make you regret it!"
Haakon's face was streaked with dirt from the scuffle, but he was more than ready to tackle her and get the shortwave transmitter that would trigger the node. She had been lucky to keep it from him when he had made an unexpected grab for it… before all four of Latal's followers had decided to suddenly break their uneasy truce.
"You can' t activate this node first," she yelled for the tenth time, "it'll break the cycle! We need to wait for all the other –"
"You have no right to keep us waiting!" he shouted back, and tried to get past her again. Sam managed to trip him and keep the shortwave transmitter away from him, but he was back on his feet and even angrier than before. "You'll pay for this, Tau'ri!"
"The control nodes have to be triggered in order, or the failsafe network won't go online all at once!"
"You lie!" he roared.
"I'm not lying!" she was desperate. The blond Jaffa had lost patience as soon as she had confirmed that the node was now able to receive remote commands, and had begun to insist that they activate it. "I thought you wanted to help us! This will only make things worse!"
She noticed Mitchell was now facing down two opponents. Vala had moved out of her line of sight, but she could still hear the other woman somewhere behind.
" Please, we still have one more node to find, it can't be much longer, just wait!"
She could hear shouting in the distance, and hoped that help was on the way, but she did not dare take her eyes off Haakon. He was advancing on her again, and she backed up a few steps, but was afraid to move too much on the unsteady terrain.
"Stop!" she urged him again. "You'll destroy our only chance to reduce the seismic activity!"
"I don't believe you! You're just trying to stall to do more damage to our sacred world. Latal is right, you only wish to –"
"That's enough!" Sam finally erupted, sick of trying to reason with him. "All I've been trying to do since I got here was help," she accused, "and because of you and your arrogant, paranoid, dense friends we've gotten to the point where the planet's falling apart right under our feet and I am running out of patience!" She noticed him trying to come at her again, and picked up the only weapon she could find, one of the discarded shovels, but did not pause for a moment in her enraged tirade. "I've had enough of your attitude, and I haven't spent all this time trying to fix things only to have you come along and undo it all, so stand down," she all but roared, "or so help me God I will do all of us a favour and put you down!"
He didn't listen.
With a loud grunt, he came at her again, and Sam swung the shovel and caught him in the solar plexus. It slowed him down some, but he still slammed into her, his momentum throwing them both off their feet. By some feat of will, she managed to hold on to the shovel, and brought it down on his back as hard as she could as soon as they hit the ground. He let out another painful grunt, but still managed to keep going and yank the shortwave transmitter out of her hand. She kicked him hard, and they rolled over, this way and that, Haakon slowly getting the upper hand, smiling down on her smugly…
With one final effort, Sam clenched her fingers around the wooden handle of the shovel, and hit him hard in the stomach when the angle was right. It caused him to momentarily let go, and she pushed herself backward and away from him. He began to crawl after her, but she put an end to it with a well aimed kick, which may have been a little more vicious than strictly necessary, but had felt most gratifying. When the Jaffa looked like he was bracing himself to get back up and come at her again, she slammed the metal tip of the shovel into the ground two inches from his face, and gave him a murderous glare when he lifted his head to look at her.
Haakon flopped back down with a resigned grunt.
Sam let out a long breath, clenching her teeth as every bone in her body hurt, and her shoulder felt like it had been ripped out of its socket. She finally noticed Daniel, Teal'c, and half a dozen or so Jaffa running toward her as fast as they could…
… but they were still a good distance away, while standing right there, barely a few yards away, next to the spot that held the buried control node, was Latal…
… and to Sam's dismay, he was holding the shortwave transmitter in his palm.
She couldn't keep the expression of horror off her face.
"Stop," she rasped. "You're going to cause the pressure release mechanism to only partially activate. It might not be enough, Dakara could continue this way for hundreds of years."
He gave her a dark look. "You attacked my men."
"That's not how it happened, and you know it." She was not in the mood to be diplomatic any longer.
Latal squeezed the transmitter in his palm. "I knew nothing good could come of your presence here." He sounded almost sad. "Even when you try to help, things go wrong. People get hurt."
"None of this was our fault."
"It is your fault that you did not listen. You should have gone back to your own planet." He cast a look around at the desolate, apocalyptic landscape. "We just want to be left alone. It is our decision. It is our right. We have lost enough." His expression grew angry. "And the Tau'ri have no right to be a part of any decision we make!"
"If you activate that node –"
"Then that is my decision!" he shouted. "And right or wrong, at least we will know we brought the consequences on ourselves!"
"You can't make that call for all of your people!" Sam argued.
"Neither can you!" His eyes were bloodshot. "Neither can the Tau'ri! It is our right to decide! Our homeworld! Our lives!" He met her eyes with a fervent glare. "Listening to you has only brought our people to disaster. But much as you try to stop it, the Jaffa will make their own path." He lifted the transmitter.
"No!" Sam's eyes widened.
And with an abrupt gesture, Latal threw her the transmitter.
Sam's hand automatically went up to catch it.
Once she had it in her palm, she almost did not know what to do with it, so unexpected was this turn of events. She looked at Latal in utter surprise. His eyes held the same dark gaze, and his grim, low tone held an unmistakable note of warning when he spoke again.
"Finish your work here, Tau'ri," he told her, "and remember my words."
Then he walked right past her and leaned down to help Haakon up. Sam was still staring at him in shock when Daniel, Teal'c and the other Jaffa arrived a few seconds later.
The plains around the former Dakaran temple looked just as gloomy as before, with deep cracks extending from one end to the other, as far as the eye could see. Ash and other residue stained the ground and clung to the rocks. The sky was still an ominous, leaden grey.
But there was a light breeze, and a noticeable change in the air. The smoke had mostly cleared, few fissures were still steaming and no new geysers had formed since the Ancient failsafe mechanism had been engaged. It was still hotter than normal, and every now and then a dull vibration could be felt in the ground, but Dakara was no longer being torn apart by the abrupt tectonic activity.
"We are in your debt." Tolok grasped Mitchell's hand near the elbow in the traditional Jaffa gesture. He then gave Sam a deep bow, his eyes filled with gratitude, and pulled Teal'c aside to say his goodbyes before heading toward the ring platform.
The rest of SG-1 watched as the last of the Jaffa prepared to leave the surface.
"Good to see you're not moving in 'til renovations are done," Mitchell joked. In all honesty, he was not feeling particularly humorous, but he supposed a pleasant goodbye beat stalking off through the stargate in a huff when it came to upholding diplomatic relations.
Rak'nor seemed to be thinking along the same lines, and smiled and skirted around the thorny issue of Tau'ri - Jaffa tensions with the same grace. "The High Council has agreed that there is no reason to attempt recolonization before the failsafe relieves the tectonic pressure build-up. After all, we have waited hundreds of years to reclaim Dakara, we can wait another…" He gave Sam a questioning look. "Six months? Eight?"
"Give or take." She sounded even less inclined to make small-talk, but she smiled nonetheless. "We engaged the failsafe mechanism much later than the Ancients had intended, so the recovery process will take a little longer."
"It does not matter. We are all grateful that you were able to find the mechanism at all." There had been a lot of that, too. Every other Jaffa was professing undying gratitude. Of course, Latal and Yat'yir were conspicuously absent from those heartfelt declarations. "We will leave a small contingent on a nearby moon, so they can check periodically and inform us when the planet is ready for recolonization."
Sam gave another slightly-forced smile, and Cam felt for her. She looked exhausted. When Rak'nor turned to talk to Daniel, he leaned toward her, close enough to whisper.
"You're a trooper." She turned her head slightly, to give him a questioning glance. "I'm surprised you aren't out there chasing all of them around with that shovel," he quipped.
Sam sighed tiredly and shook her head. "Any chance we can leave that part out of the mission report?"
"Are you kidding, that's my favourite part," Cam whispered back. "Well, that and the John McClane style warning you gave the guy beforehand." He arched his eyebrows. "Now I know not to make you mad."
That earned him a small but genuine grin, and she gave him a sideways glance. "You mean you didn't know already?"
They exchanged another amused glance. A small distance away, Teal'c shook Tolok's hand one last time, and slowly made his way back to the stargate, nodding his goodbyes to other Jaffa as he went.
Finally, he said goodbye to Rak'nor.
"Come back to us soon," the younger Jaffa urged again. "You have seen today how our people need you."
Teal'c's expression grew pensive, and he made no comment. He had indeed seen much that day, and he was not sure how much of if it he liked. "Until I do return, I trust you to speak in my name, as always, my friend."
"It will be my honour."
They exchanged another few words and at last, Rak'nor stepped back from the platform. Mitchell turned to Daniel, and could not help a long sigh as he said the words he had been waiting to say since the second they had set foot on Dakara.
"Dial us home, Jackson."
And he could swear there was a collective sigh of relief from everyone involved.