By the time Jack got home that evening, it was dark outside. He parked the car in the driveway, and outside the front door fumbled around for his keys before letting himself in. There was a small pile of mail scattered across the floor, and Jack scooped them up and began sorting through them as he moved through to the kitchen.
"Bill, bill... circular... junk, junk, another bill... my crappy Valentine's," Jack sighed, throwing the pile of envelopes onto the work surface next to the freezer. Not that he was expecting anything of course - hey, forty-something colonel with greying hair and bad knees here - but still, it would have been nice to have gotten something, if only from Carter. Although... the idea of a Valentine's card with "Sir" written inside it? Maybe not.
And of course, February 14th this time around hadn't been the best that he could ever remember. SG teams 1 and 4 had spent the best part of the morning in a hundred kilometre an hour mad dash across alien countryside, a horde of pissed off Jaffa chasing after them. They'd all made it back to the 'gate and the SGC in one piece and relatively unscathed, but still. It was the principle. Something like that.
Annie'd probably gotten more than a few cards, Jack decided, staring at a half empty packet of cereal in the corner cupboard. The "best before" date read three days ago, which didn't mean it was going to be completely inedible. He set the box on the counter and started rooting around for a bowl. He had no milk, but he could eat the stuff dry without a problem. The bowl - and a spoon - taken care of, Jack's mind wandered again. Yeah, Annie would have gotten more in her mailbox than a couple of bills and a circular declaring she'd won a free holiday to Acapulco or wherever. Definitely one of the better-looking women in the SGC, at least in the "humble" opinions of the Marines. She'd been on the so-called mission this morning, had been helping SG-4 break in their new archaeologist, some guy named Minnow or Marlin or... some kind of fish. He and Annie had been having fun with some Mesopotamian-stroke-Goa'uld ruins until the Jaffa had shown up.
Back in the living room, Jack flopped down on the sofa and switched the TV on. He started flicking through the sports channels while he ate his dry cereal. Bypassed three soccer matches, one football, a downhill skiing event somewhere in Europe and a ten-pin blowing world championship before backtracking and settling for the second soccer match.
For the next half hour or so, Jack alternated between crunching and staring morosely into the cereal bowl, munching and staring blankly at the moving figures on the TV screen. Blinked his appreciation at one little scrawny guy in a yellow shirt scoring a goal. Blinked a couple of times at a spectacular series of fouls at the other end of the field.
It wasn't until the half time whistle had blown on screen that Jack realised he'd been staring blankly into the empty cereal bowl for some time. He got up, and without really paying attention to what he was doing, left the bowl in the sink in the kitchen, and went back into the living room. Stood in the middle of the floor like an idiot before moving over to the mantelpiece. It wasn't anything more than a slab of distressed mahogany effect wood over a fake fireplace, but it was nice enough. And it was also broad enough to be able to hold several photo frames that were each designed to hold three smallish pictures.
Jack ran his hand across the burnished silver edge of the first one. It was a subconscious act of defiance; the first frame held pics of his family. One of Charlie, just after his sixth birthday, then one of Sara and Charlie together, taken later on that same day. Jack smiled slightly, rubbing his thumb over the effigy of his dead son. That was the year he'd really played the doting daddy card - the party had been the talk of kindergarten parents for weeks afterwards. Jack smiled. Not that he was competitive or anything, but... yeah. Okay. He'd give himself that one.
The third photo in the frame was a rear shot of Sara by the French windows of the old house. Early evening sunlight streaming in from outside. She'd looked so beautiful that evening, Jack had felt it was a sin not to use the camera to commemorate the occasion. He smiled one last time and shifted his attention elsewhere before the worst memories started to resurface again.
Picture Frame Number Two, aka the Jaffa, the Nerd and the Geek. Currently three of his favourite people in the world. He'd had all the photos run off from security cameras in the mountain, and the technician responsible for helping him had been made to swear on his great-grandmother's soul that he would never breathe a word of this to anyone. The pictures showed the three other members of SG-1 coming down the gate ramp, all within the last couple of weeks.
Teal'c, looking formidable as ever with the staff weapon held at the ready.
Carter with a case full of God-knew-what and a nice, big scientist grin on her face.
Annie with a camcorder hanging from her neck and a ton of rocks weighing down her backpack.
No. Jack mentally corrected himself at that last one. Artefacts, not rocks. Although... several large chunks of stone with bits of etchings on them that could have come from just about anywhere even though Annie claimed they could be the key to understanding some random aspect of the Meaning Of Life. And yet... to any normal person? Rocks.
Jack picked up the photo frame and stared at his "kids" for a moment. Spent a couple minutes indulging in Hallmark sappiness, then put the frame back down on the mantel again. And it was then that he spotted something. Down by the side of the mantelpiece, the right-hand of the two wooden columns that held everything else up. Jack peeked in closer, trying to figure out what the new something was. It took a few seconds for him to spot it again. A tiny little corner of something, definitely a different colour to the wood and wallpaper behind it.
He reached out for it, but as soon as his fingers got near it, it disappeared. "Oh, for crying out loud," he muttered. But a second later it... whatever it was reappeared down closer to the floor. And more of it this time as well. With an aching precision that he usually reserved for his vocabulary around Maybourne and the other NID cronies, Jack eased the near non-existent nub of the fingernail of his pinkie onto the sliver of something and gradually began working it out from behind the mantelpiece. He got another finger onto it when it came out far enough, and eventually, Jack O'Neill found himself looking at another photograph.
"What the hell...?" That was impossible, wasn't it? Jack turned the photo over, looking for something that could tell him what the picture was. In the bottom corner on the back were a couple of lines of impossibly tiny, neat handwriting, the kind he had to squint to read. *The Colonel and his Archaeologist*, followed by a minute smiley face and a date. It was some time ago. He turned the photo around again. Yeah, that was definitely him, sunning it out on some planet halfway across the galaxy. But it was the person sprawled out next to him that he had the problem with.
Jack squinted at the smallish figure. Yeah, it was supposed to be impossible. Both men in the photo were face towards the camera, even if they weren't actually looking at it, and it was easy enough to make out the basic features of the other guy's face. And that was more than enough to tell Jack's ever-present Little Voice of Paranoia that something was way off base here.
Still holding tightly onto the photo, Jack walked backwards until he reached the phone. Picked it up without looking at it, and dialled in a number, also while not looking at it. His eyes stayed glued on the second figure in the photo. Third ring, the phone picked up.
"Evening, Carter... You okay after the sprint earlier?... Yeah, I'm not so bad myself... Got a hot date tonight?... No, of course, I'm sorry to hear you're all alone on Valentine's... uh, listen Carter, I actually wanted to ask you a favour... uh, yeah, right now would be a good time. Uh huh... uh huh... listen, how soon can you get over to my place?... Twenty minutes, yeah, that sounds reasonable. See you then Carter... Yeah, yuh huh, 'bye."
Jack replaced the phone on the hook. Now he had to figure out how to kill the half hour or so it would take his 2IC to get over to his house - he had learned fairly early on that it was never a good idea to trust scientists when they referenced time. They had a tendency to bring relativity into the conversation, especially when they were trying to give an excuse for tardiness. *It wasn't my fault, sir, it was the fluctuations in time relative to both locations caused by the gravitational forces of the black hole.*
Excuses, excuses. And without realising himself the passage of time, Jack was duly surprised to hear Carter's car pull up outside his house. He got to the front door before she did, and opened it. "Evening, Carter," he said mimicking his greeting from the phone conversation. He stepped aside to let her in. She walked through to the living room. Stopped dead centre between the mantelpiece and the sofa, and executed a smart about-face. "Is there something you wanted, sir?"
"Yeah, world peace and an end to poverty," Jack quipped, closing the front door. He caught the look on Carter's face. "I'm too tired to be creatively sarcastic, Captain," he said. He thrust the photograph towards her before taking off to pace the floor. "Just tell me what you make of that."
Carter took it, and eyed Jack suspiciously. "It's a photograph, sir."
Jack sighed. Stopped by the mantelpiece and the other photos. "Look at the pretty little picture, Carter, and tell me what you see."
Carter did as she was told. "That's P9H-416," she began. "But I don't remember taking anything like that. I remember Teal'c gave me some of the equipment so he could go take point by the tree line, and I took a couple of photos of some markings for Annie, but..." Her eyes widened as she finally took in what she was seeing.
Jack put out a hand to rest on the mantel. "You see the problem."
"Yeah." Carter looked up at Jack. "Sir, who is he?"
He shrugged. "I have absolutely no idea," he replied. "Which begs the next question; how the hell did he get onto P9H whatever to be snapped on camera by you or whoever and sitting next to me, all the while wearing one of our uniforms."
Carter stared back at the picture, and squinted to get a better look at it. Straightened back up, then: "Sir, I think we should show this to General Hammond."
Jack stared at her. "Carter, there is no way that photograph could have been taken."
"Which is all the more reason to take it back to the SGC," she argued. "With all the equipment and technology in the mountain, we should be able to get some answers."
Jack eyeballed Carter one last time, then made a show of looking at his watch. "What, now?"
She stood her ground. "If it's not too late for you to have called me out here, sir, then it's not too late to get back to the SGC."
"Duly noted, Captain," Jack said smartly, sliding back into the role of Colonel with ease. He pulled a jacket off the back of the sofa, and slipped into it. "You're driving."
Even at 2200 hours the Cheyenne Mountain Complex was a hubbub of noise and activity, with a surprising number of people up and about. A couple of walking, talking, lab-coat wearing clipboards were doing a stock check down on the lower levels, SG-10 was due to return any minute from a luminous pink rainforest, two technicians were engaging in an arm wrestle in the commissary over the last bowl of jello, and in the infirmary, there was a full-blown medical emergency - one of the marines had stubbed his toe off-world, and Fraiser's team were trying to work a splinter of alien sediment out from beneath the skin.
And down in the briefing room that overlooked the Stargate, three quarters of SG-1 were present, accounted for and sitting around the table. Jack was reclining in his chair, Carter had just returned from the science labs with a couple of bulky folders open in front of her, and Annie had been found in her office knee deep in print-outs from SG-2's most recent mission; she looked absolutely exhausted in the harsh lighting of the briefing room. Teal'c was currently in the middle of kel'no'reem, and would likely rejoin events in the outside world once he was sufficiently progressed in relations with "Junior".
At the head of the table, Hammond leaned forwards, hands splayed on the smooth surface. "Would anybody like to tell me why we are having this meeting?" he asked.
"Of course, General." Jack said, reaching over for one of Carter's folders. He reached inside, pulled out the offending photograph. "This." He slid the picture up to Hammond's end of the table. The general picked it up, and raised his eyebrows expectantly.
"It's a photograph taken on P9H-416, General," Cater explained. "It's an uninhabited planet we visited four weeks ago."
"No people, no wildlife, but lotsa trees," Jack muttered under his breath.
Hammond heard him. "That may well have been the case, Colonel," he replied, "but who, exactly, is that?" He stabbed a finger at the stranger sitting next to Jack in the photograph.
"That's what we've been trying to find out." Carter reclaimed the conversation thread. "Now, I've run every kind of test I can think of that wouldn't damage the photo. And as far as I can tell it's genuine."
Jack raised an eyebrow. "Tests?"
"Yessir. A specialised form of carbon-dating corroborates the date written on the back of the photo," Cater explained, indicating that Hammond should turn the photo over. He did so, and was visibly surprised when he read the small handwriting in the corner. "I've also had Siler do handwriting analysis," she continued, "to find out who actually wrote that."
"What does it say?" Annie asked, entering the conversation for the first time.
Hammond squinted at the back of the photo. "*The Colonel and his Archaeologist*," he recited, raising his eyebrows slightly.
"So?" Jack asked expectantly. "Who wrote that?"
Carter actually looked embarrassed. "It looks like my handwriting, sir."
"Why didn't you say anything earlier?" Jack demanded before anyone else could say anything.
Carter shrugged. "I don't remember taking any photographs on P9H-416," she retorted, "and the writing's no different to anybody else who chooses to write that small. Plus I've never seen that picture before tonight. But at the same time it couldn't have been anybody else who wrote that or even took the picture because SG-1 was the only team to visit P9H-416."
"And you're certain you were the only people there?" Hammond asked her."
Carter nodded. "Positive, General," she answered. "The MALP didn't pick up any unusual activity, and during the three days we were there the only life we encountered was moss and lichen."
"Which is why you went sunbathing?" Hammond enquired innocently in Jack's direction.
Jack just blinked and dismissed the comment with one hand. "Sure I went sunbathing," he said. "Not much else to do there unless you were a monkey." At everyone else's blank expressions, he sighed. "All those trees to climb?"
"Oh." Carter nodded. "Anyway, General, the fact remains that this photograph should not exist."
"But it does," Jack replied, "which was pretty much the conversation we had back at my place. Now," he continued, looking around at Carter, Annie and Hammond, "are we actually going to do anything about this, or are we just gonna sit around yapping?"
"Can I have a look at the picture?" Annie asked Hammond. He nodded, and passed it over to her. Jack watched her carefully for a moment, gauging her reaction. The archaeologist frowned at the writing on the back, then turned the photo over. Her eyes widened almost comically when she took in the two figures in the picture, and an expression crossed her face that Jack couldn't quite put a name to right there and then.
But it was enough. "Anything you want to share with the rest of the class?" he asked her.
Startled, Annie looked up at Jack, then glanced quickly at Carter and Hammond before going back to Jack. She didn't say anything. "Annie?" Jack prompted.
"Where did you get this from?" she asked him, her voice almost a whisper.
Jack frowned, then stood up, towering over her. He rested his hands on the table and leaned in towards Annie. He picked his next words carefully. "Doctor Cleaver, if there is anything constructive you think you could add that would help unravel this little mystery, then we're all ears." That said, he didn't sit back down, but remained standing, still staring intently at Annie.
"Sir, you're intimidating her!" Carter exclaimed.
"She's a big girl, Carter," Jack shot back without looking at her. "She can take care of herself. Well?" he prompted Annie. "Is there anything?"
Annie shook her head, holding herself defiantly now. "No, there isn't, Colonel." The last word sounded almost like an insult to Jack's ears. She sighed. "Jack, I'm sorry, it's been a long day and there's still some way for me to go before I'm finished with SG-2's translations. If I'm not needed here, then..."
"You get back to what you were doing, Doctor," Hammond told her.
Almost gratefully, Annie got up and left the briefing room. The instant the door closed behind her, Jack sat down, picked up the photograph from where she'd left it, and looked pointedly at the general. "Did anyone else see that?"
"See what?" Hammond asked.
"Annie," Jack said. "That look on her face back there. She looked like she was scared of something."
Carter shot him a strange look, but refrained from forming any kind of response.
Jack stared back stubbornly.
At the head of the table, Hammond watched the tension literally crackle between the two officers. "Captain, do you have the official report relating to P9H-416?" he finally asked.
She nodded, reached into one of the folders in front of her and pulled out several sheets stapled together. Passed them to the general. "Bone dry narration, sir," she said. "I honestly don't see what use it could be."
Hammond eyed the report. "Okay, then," he said. "Colonel O'Neill, Captain Carter, what do you remember of the three days on the planet?"
Jack shrugged. He put the photo back on the table, and picked up a pen instead, fidgeting with it. "Like I said earlier, nothing living, but trees, trees and more trees."
"It's weird, General," Carter said. "But I don't remember some of the specific details of the mission. I mean, I know where we set up camp, the times we sent reports back through the 'gate, and exploring some of the forest. But..." She shook her head. "It's just strange. Parts of it are just a blur."
"Jack?" Hammond prompted. "Anything... similar to your mind?"
Jack thought about it for a minute. "To be honest, General, P9H *was* just a blur of monotonous boredom and greenery," he said seriously. "And once again we're going in circles here."
"In what way?" Hammond asked him.
"I don't know!" Jack replied. "We've been going over this again and again, Carter's tests haven't proved a damn thing, and I think Doctor Cleaver is hiding something from us."
"What makes you think that?" the general asked.
For a split-second, Jack floundered. "That look on her face," he declared. "The look on her face when she asked where I got the photo from. I think she knows."
"Knows what, sir?" Carter asked.
Jack jabbed his finger at the photograph. "I think she knows who the geek in the picture is."
"That's a very big leap to make, Jack," Hammond warned. He gave the mission report back to Carter. She took it and replaced it back inside one of the folders.
"Look," Jack argued. "There is something very wrong here. I'm not denying it - hell, it's what I've been thinking all evening. I'm an observer, George," he continued, using the general's given name for the first time. "I watch people. It's how I do my job. Annie knows something. I just want to find out what she knows. And in the meantime..." He looked steadily at Hammond, using his best Colonel's voice. "Any chance we could make a return trip to P9H-416?" he asked.
Hammond looked distinctly uneasy. "Talk to Doctor Cleaver first, then I'll make a decision about P9H."
Jack was out of the door before the general had finished the sentence. It took him less than five minutes to navigate the warren of corridors between the briefing room and the archaeology-stroke-anthropology department, and even less time to locate Annie's office behind one of the labs; she'd had to move offices a couple of weeks earlier after a power shortage in one particular area of the base, and had decided she liked the new place much better. Jack knocked on the door twice, but got no answer. He decided to try a different tack. "Annie? Doc?" he called through the door, knocking again. When there was no answer, Jack pulled out his security card and used it to open the door. It clicked open, and he poked his head around.
The usually tidy-ish office was a complete and utter mess, boxes open, bits of tissue paper and padding strewn everywhere. The shelves that covered the whole of two walls were crammed full of random artefacts, rocks and souvenirs from various off-world missions. Jack stepped inside the office properly and closed the door behind him. The desk had caught his attention; he could see the glow from the computer screen even from this angle, and the fabled translations for SG-2 were nowhere in sight. But it was the computer that piqued Jack's curiosity, and he crossed over to the desk to have a look.
He frowned as he took it in. Instead of something like... well, anything to do with work would have been expected here, but on the computer screen Annie had called up the SGC personnel database, and it was Annie's own data that Jack was looking at. Doctor Annabel Jane Cleaver, date of birth, address and contact numbers, archaeologist, rank in the SGC hierarchy, list of credentials, yadda yadda. Even a handy little photograph next to her name in case for some strange reason someone had forgotten what she looked like.
None of this made any sense, and Jack's frown deepened. He closed the database window, and shut the computer down. Left the office, making sure to shut the door firmly behind him, and went in search of one of Annie's geeks. He found one two doors down, poring over a distinctly alien alphabet. Jack poked his head around the open door. "Hey."
The linguist looked up from his work, startled, and jerked around to face Jack. "Colonel O'Neill!"
Jack stepped inside the lab, and held his hands out in front of him. "Woa... didn't mean to scare ya like that." He flashed a reassuring grin at the young academic. "Listen, I was actually looking for Annie. Seen her?"
"Yeah," the man nodded. "She went topside to get some fresh air about five minutes ago, sir."
"Great," Jack replied. "You, uh, get back to whatever you were doing, and I'll..." He motioned at the door behind him.
The man nodded again and smiled slightly in return. "Okay."
Jack passed three security checkpoints to get out into the open air at the top of the mountain, and once outside he was practically swallowed up by the night sky. He borrowed a flashlight off the sergeant at the side entrance, and began systematically searching the immediate perimeter. About forty degrees left of the door, he spotted Annie reclining against a tree, staring up at the stars. He went over to join her, pocketing the flashlight as he went.
His arrival did not go unnoticed. "Hey, Jack." Annie looked up at him and smiled slightly in greeting before redirecting her gaze to the stars. "What are you doing up here?"
Jack sat down next to her, facing the three, mindful of his knees. "Looking for you, actually." He chose his next words very carefully indeed. "You, uh, made a pretty hasty retreat from the meeting downstairs. And I couldn't find any translations in your office, either," he added.
He could just make out Annie's blush in the darkness. "Yeah, well... couldn't concentrate on anything," she confessed.
"You seemed pretty shaken by the photograph," Jack said. He kept his tone light, teasing. "Not an ex-boyfriend of yours, is he?"
Annie started. "What?" She jerked around to face Jack properly. "No, I - he isn't! I've got no idea who he is!"
"Hey, hey, calm down," Jack told her. "I never said you did." As he said this, he watched Annie's face as closely as he could, watching for something... well, anything, really, that would give him something to work on here. He noted with a morbid kind of interest the increase in Annie's breathing, and also her rigid posture - she was usually a lot more relaxed than this. And not forgetting the panic, of course. Both out here and back in the briefing room.
Annie nodded and shifted a little closer to Jack, so that side by side, they were practically touching. She leaned against him properly and laid her head on his left shoulder. "Can't we just forget about this?" she asked him quietly. "I mean, it's stupid. Probably someone in the science labs got playing around with imaging equipment and thought it would be a good idea to... I don't know... superimpose his boyfriend's head on mine or Sam's body and mix it up with mission pics." She laughed hollowly. "It could make sense."
Yeah, it made sense... too much sense. Jack didn't say anything. After all, it was a perfectly reasonable explanation, if you thought about it for long enough. And anyway, who knew that the SGC scientists did for kicks when the fate of the galaxy wasn't hanging in the balance? But then again, the more he thought about it, the more things were beginning to stack up in his mind. He knew Carter, trusted her capabilities as a super-nerd, and if Carter said that the photo was genuine, than the photo was genuine. And anyway, making sense wasn't exactly one of the mandates that SG-1 and even the SGC as a whole tended to operate on; it narrowed the mind, hid it away from the bigger picture.
Oh, yeah. There was a much bigger picture here, one that Jack couldn't see yet, but he was now certain of its existence. And as much as he hated to admit it to himself, he was now firmly convinced that SG-1's archaeologist had something to do with it.
Not it was just a case of figuring out what that something was, exactly.
Colonel Jonathan "Jack" O'Neill had learned, in recent years, to rely both on the voices of the people around him and the voices that resided in the back of his head, remnants from his time in Special Ops. He had come to trust the people around him because of their skill, knowledge and expertise in areas that, frankly, he didn't have much of a clue about. He had come to trust the voices in his head because, invariably, they usually turned out to be right.
The only thing that was bothering him this time was that the little voices in the back of his head were sounding alarm sirens and yelling as loud as they could that something was so wrong with Doctor Cleaver. Not so what she had *done* as something she had *been*, was the best way he could articulate it. And even that didn't make much sense.
Jack was back in his office, a small room in the SGC that he rarely, if ever, spent time in. His computer was switched on, and on screen he'd called up the same personnel file that Annie had had on the machine back in her office - namely her own personnel file. He also had a copy of the mysterious photograph on the desk beside him. Not that he really needed it; Jack had already memorised the stranger's features, or had done so as well as he could given the quality of the shot. And now he was simply staring blankly at Annie's personnel file in the strange hope that it might actually yield some answers. All the while well aware that he was possibly acting on some completely irrelevant tangent here, but still... Jack sighed. He didn't have the faintest idea as to what he was looking for, even less of an idea of why he was looking in the SGC database. And even knowing what he suspected, he hated the idea that he was doubting SG-1's archaeologist like this. Annie was a friend of his, for crying out loud. Surely he should be giving her more credence than this?
Dammit. Jack sighed and leaned forwards, resting his head in his hands. He wasn't going to get anywhere thinking like this. He checked his watch. 0100 hours. He wasn't tired. He was restless, slightly jittery. He sighed again and shut the computer down. He left his office and made his way through the SGC to the commissary, in search of caffeine. In fact, he found Teal'c, to his surprise.
The Jaffa was seated at his own table, apparently observing the quiet flow of personnel in and out of the mess. He looked up as Jack approached. "O'Neill," he greeted.
"Hey, Teal'c," Jack replied. He glanced around at the other unoccupied chairs. "Mind if I join you?"
Teal'c inclined his head. "I do not."
Jack sat down, making sure he could still see most of the commissary from this new vantage point. "So, uh... you and Junior have a nice chat?" he asked brightly, waving a hand towards Teal'c's stomach.
The Jaffa merely raised an eyebrow. "The meditation was satisfactory for both myself and my larval Goa'uld, O'Neill," he replied.
"Good to hear."
After a few moments of quiet, Teal'c spoke up again. "Captain Carter has informed me of the current situation surrounding SG-1."
"Huh?" Jack looked up, surprised. Then, "Oh yeah, the picture. Well," he said, stretching out in the chair, "got anything to add to the mix, Big Guy?"
Teal'c inclined his head again. "I do not believe so, O'Neill. Although there is a small concern I wish to share with you."
"Well, I'm all ears," Jack told him. He knew Teal'c would understand - they'd covered this particular cliché already.
"I have been having trouble reconciling my recollections of the mission to P9H-416."
Teal'c hesitated for a second. "As you are aware, O'Neill, the nature of the Goa'uld I carry within me is such that I have an increased level of immunity to disease and illness."
Jack leaned forwards in his seat. "What are you trying to tell me, Teal'c?"
"I believe I recognise the second man in the photograph that Captain Carter showed me in her laboratory," he said, a slight tone of self-disbelief in his voice that was almost impossible to detect.
"Okay, okay, hold it right there for a second, Teal'c," Jack told him. "Problems with your memory, an explanation of your Jaffa... ness... and now this." He held his hands open wide. "Let's put this another way. What aren't you telling me?"
"I have conflicting memories of P9H-416," Teal'c replied, "ones that have only begun to resurface since viewing the photograph."
"In the last three hours," Jack said sceptically.
Teal'c merely nodded once.
Jack paused for a moment before saying, "What kind of conflicting memories?"
"I recall watching Annabel Cleaver aid Captain Carter in the preliminary stages of the soil sample retrieval."
"On the first day of the mission," Jack finished. It took him a second or two to translate Teal'c-speak into English - Annie had held some of Carter's containers for a couple of minutes while she fished something else out of her pack. "Yeah, I remember that happening too."
"However, I can now also remember watching the man in the photograph perform exactly the same task," Teal'c continued.
"Two sets of identical memories," Jack mused, still somewhat sceptical.
Instead of a verbal response, Teal'c inclined his head. Again. Jack sighed. "Do you remember the *name* of this guy?" he asked. "'Cause that would be handy."
"I regret that I do not, O'Neill," Teal'c replied, sincerely enough. "However, I can verify that he existed at the time of the photograph being taken."
"Which is enough for me," Jack declared. He looked at his watch. "Right. It's nearly 0130. What's betting the general's still up and around somewhere?"
"I believe that he is still debriefing SG-10."
"At this hour of the morning?" Jack asked. "I mean, I can understand the likes of you and I still being up - I think - but George? He's gotta need more sleep than this."
Teal'c stared impassively at him.
"Alrighty then," Jack decided, standing up. "You coming with me?"
"Do you believe that my presence would aid your cause, O'Neill?" Teal'c asked, making no move whatsoever to shift from his seat.
"Probably not," Jack allowed, "but ya never know, intimidation's always been a handy tactic in the past."
Teal'c raised his eyebrow again. "Indeed," was all he would say, but he did in fact rise gracefully from his chair and accompany Jack out of the commissary. Another set of myriad concrete corridors, and without warning it was Teal'c, surprisingly enough, who broke the silence. "Captain Carter also informed me of your suspicions regarding Annabel Cleaver."
"Yeah?" Jack replied absently. "What did she say?"
"That you acted in an overbearing manner towards Annabel Cleaver during the meeting with General Hammond."
"Teal'c," Jack said, sidestepping the comment altogether. "When you were... you know... a young Jaffa back on Chulak, did you ever... uh... play games?"
Teal'c raised an eyebrow at him. "To what sort of games are you referring, O'Neill?" he asked as they reached the lift.
Jack swiped his security card through the machine, and they both stepped inside the elevator. "Puzzles, riddles. Those sort of games," he replied, hitting in the floor he wanted.
"As a child there were many different riddles that my mother would pose to me in order that I would increase my mental acuity," Teal'c said.
"Oh." Jack nodded. "Were you, uh, any good at them?"
Teal'c inclined his head. Again. "I was proficient at assessing and solving the riddles.
The elevator doors opened, and the two men stepped back out into more concrete corridor. "Again, very good to hear," Jack replied.
"And why is that?" Teal'c enquired, ducking his head to avoid some loose wiring.
Jack thought about it for a second. "Well, we've got a real stinker of a puzzle right here and now," he hedged. "Could do with all the... mental acuity going. From what I can see, we've got one honking big jigsaw here. I've got a couple pieces, Carter's got some more, and even you've got one or two hidden up your sleeve." Jack sighed. "Only problem is that Annie might well have the ones we really need to get the bigger picture."
He held up his hand to prevent Teal'c from answering as they finally came to a stop outside the briefing room. The door in front of them opened, and instinctively both Jack and Teal'c took a step backwards. In a military, orderly fashion, four bright pink SGC personnel filed out of the briefing room, and disappeared down the corridor in the direction of the showers and locker rooms.
Mouth open just a teensy bit, Jack watched the last member of SG-10 turn the corner, then turned back to look at Teal'c. It gratified him somewhat to note that the Jaffa's eyebrow was back in its almost customary spot somewhere between its usual location and his non-existent hairline.
"Pink," Jack mouthed silently. "They're... pink."
He stuck his head around the briefing room door. "Uh, General," he said to Hammond, who was standing at the table with a folder in his hands, "was there a change to SGC uniforms that I missed?"
"No, Jack, there wasn't," Hammond replied without looking at Jack. He sounded tired. Finally he looked up and caught the colonel watching him intently. "Come on in, Colonel," he added. Jack duly stepped inside the room, followed by Teal'c who shut the door carefully behind them both. "I've had a complaint about your behaviour on base this evening, Jack," Hammond said seriously, setting the folder down on the table.
"What?" Jack asked.
Hammond sighed. "Doctor Cleaver came to see me - in confidence," he stressed, "and informed me that you've been making threatening overtures towards her."
Jack simply blinked. And did an impression of a fish, mouth hanging open. "What - what did she say?" he asked.
"Colonel O'Neill," Hammond intoned, "a member of *your* team is now almost at the point where she is too scared to talk to you herself about whatever it is that is going on between you."
"Okay..." Yeah, Jack was sceptical. "What is 'going on between us', exactly?"
"Regulations prevent me from being specific," Hammond reminded him, "but the gist of it should be more than enough. You've taken this impossibility of a photograph that you now claim is genuine, and you've been harassing Doctor Cleaver, accusing her of keeping secrets from you!"
"Look!" Jack retaliated. "All I did was ask her a couple of quiet questions under the stars!" And that was all he had done... asked her a few questions - if that. Jack mentally frowned, trying to associate this behaviour with the Annie he knew. It still felt like she was doing everything in her power to avoid a return to P9-whatever, but Jack couldn't for the life of him think why she'd do something like that.
Hammond stared at him and Teal'c for a moment. "Be that as it may, Colonel," he intoned, not sounding the least bit convinced by Jack's reply, "I have decided not to authorise a return mission to P9H-416." He held up a hand to forestall and further comment. "SG-1 does have a mission debriefing at 1030 hours later this morning. I expect to see you, Captain Carter, Teal'c and Doctor Cleaver in here for debriefing then."
Jack was stunned.
"For goodness' sake, Jack," the general continued, "find your other team members, get out of the mountain and get some sleep! And leave the business of this photograph to rest. For everyone's sakes."
"General Hammond," Teal'c interrupted, drawing the surprised attention of both officers, "I believe it would be unwise to dismiss Colonel O'Neill's arguments without further investigation."
Jack could have kissed the Jaffa at that moment... as it was, however, he settled for a suitably innocent yet surprised look and a significant look at Hammond. The general sighed. "Go on, Teal'c."
"O'Neill's belief in the authenticity of the photograph is not completely unfounded," Teal'c replied, dutifully ignoring the face that Jack was pulling next to him.
Hammond ignored Jack as well. "In what way, Teal'c?" he asked. Curious yet still sceptical.
"I did not realise it until some time after Captain Carter showed me the image of Colonel O'Neill and the second man for the first time, but it has since dawned on me that although there are no specifics in my memory, I recognise the second man and can therefore attest to his existence."
Hammond looked to Jack for confirmation. He nodded. "A little more concise than when he told me the first time around," the colonel said, "but yeah, that's pretty much it."
"I speak the truth, General Hammond," Teal'c added.
"You're corroborating Jack's story?" Hammond asked him, clearly seeking clarification.
Teal'c inclined his head respectfully. "Indeed I am, General Hammond."
Hammond took a couple of deep breaths and leaned forwards on the briefing table. "Then just what the hell is going on here?"
Jack felt that now was as good a time as any to speak up. "To be honest, General, we haven't got the faintest idea. I don't know if Annie has anything to do with this, but I certainly did not threaten her in any way."
It took a long few seconds, but... "I believe you, Colonel," Hammond replied sincerely. "But that does not and *can* not negate the current state of affairs within your team, and until such time as those affairs are resolved, I cannot authorise a return to P9H-416 from this facility. I'm sorry, Colonel, it's potentially just far too volatile at this time."
Jack held up a hand, like he was asking a question. "So what you're saying is... as soon as I get things back to their usual hunky-dory self with SG-1 then we can go solve a little mystery."
Hammond smiled cryptically. "I'm not saying anything at all, Colonel, and quite frankly I'm not at any kind of liberty to do so. Now, like I told you, go home, get some rest. You're due in for a mission briefing at 1030 hours, you could do with all the sleep you can get. Now, for the last time... Dismissed!"
"One last question, sir," Jack said. When Hammond nodded wearily, he grinned. "Pink?"
Hammond sighed. "Doctor Fraiser determined that there was some kind of harmless pink sediment in the rainforest on P7X-684 that rubs off and sticks onto another surface upon contact. Until they shower, SG-10 will retain this pink sediment on their skin and clothing."
Jack couldn't help himself. The grin widened. "Sweet."
At exactly one minute before 1100 hours later on that morning, post-debriefing, three quarters of SG-1 were just about ready and waiting in the 'gate room for departure. Jack took one last look inside his pack, satisfied himself hat he'd brought everything he needed, and looked around the room. At the top of the 'gate ramp, a couple of technicians were warily eyeing the power relays between the Stargate and the fuse boxes before they left out of one of the blast doors. Behind him, he knew that Teal'c and Carter were just finishing up checks of their own packs.
And now it was only left for Annie to show up. True to form, she was running a little behind everyone else, even if everyone else was a couple of minutes early this time around. In the control room, behind the protective glass, Jack saw Hammond look pointedly at him, then down at the computer. Jack shrugged in reply. Hey, he couldn't control his archaeologist, much less influence her definite lack of punctuality. He turned back to look at the other two members of his team, just as the blast door behind them opened and Annie came in at a trot.
"Sorry I'm late, Jack," she panted.
"Let me guess," Jack interrupted. "One more thing you had to look up before you left?"
Annie grinned, blushed, and bent down to tie up her bootlaces, which had been trailing. Any alleged tension from the previous night between her and Jack seemed to have all but dissipated, although she did keep some distance away from the colonel.
"Carter," Jack continued, turning round to face her, "you got the uh, stuff we talked about?"
"All in there, sir," she replied, indicating her backpack, now strapped firmly onto her back.
Jack nodded, and turned back up to the control room, holding his arms wide open. "Ready when you are, General."
Hammond nodded, and said something to the technician sat at the computer. The tech began hitting in a set sequence of keys, and a split second later the Stargate began to rotate.
"Chevron one encoded!" the tech called through the microphone, as the first symbol locked.
"Chevron two encoded!" And so on and so forth. Jack let the rest of the announcements wash over him completely, only paying attention again when the backwash vanished back into the ring, and the more stable event horizon established. As SG-1 assembled at the bottom of the 'gate ramp, Hammond took hold of the microphone.
"SG-1, you are clear to go through the Stargate. You have precisely twenty four hours to assess the surroundings, and unless we hear from you before that time is up we will be sending in the Marines after you. Just a precaution, Colonel," he added, obviously catching Jack's sceptical look. "Good luck."
Jack sent sidelong looks to his team. "Okay, kids, time to go." Carter rolled her eyes, and headed up the ramp, followed by Teal'c, leaving just Jack and Annie in the 'gate room. Jack held his arms out towards the Stargate. "After you, Doc." She nodded, albeit a little uncertainly, went forwards and crossed through the event horizon. Jack sent one last dubious look back to Hammond before going through himself.
Five seconds later he emerged on the planet with the ruins SG-8 had found and that they were supposed to be studying. Jack felt a little disoriented, and the feeling only increased when the wormhole audibly vanished behind him. He took stock of his surroundings. They were outdoors, underneath not one, but two suns, blazing away merrily in a cloudless sky. Carter and Teal'c were down by the DHD, and Annie was staring off at the building that SG-8 had identified as being the location of most of the possibly-Goa'uld dialect in the immediate vicinity. Jack pulled his sunglasses out from underneath his jacket collar and slid them on. "Carter," he called out. Time to get things in motion.
Visibly nervous, Carter stepped right up to the DHD and stared down at it, running her hand over the different buttons while she looked for what she needed. Meanwhile Teal'c, complete with staff weapon stepped up onto the platform and joined Annie. All the while saying nothing. As soon as Carter started hitting in a destination on the DHD Annie jerked around to look at Jack. "Jack, what's going on?" she asked. "I thought we were doing translation work." She indicated the building in the distance.
Jack joined Carter by the DHD. "Slight change of plan, Doc," he called out to her. "I'm sure you'll understand. Carter?" he added, quieter.
"Almost there, sir," she replied. She pointed at one of the buttons. "That one has to be the point of origin."
Before she hit it, Jack looked up at Teal'c and Annie. "You two, uh, might want to get out of the way of that thing," he said, indicating the Stargate, "unless you feel today's a good day for getting disintegrated."
With that, Teal'c and Annie quickly stepped away from the backwash that was sure to come, although Annie made straight for the DHD. She looked at the co-ordinates Carter had put in so far and frowned. "That's the address for P9H-416," she said slowly.
"Give the girl a coconut!" Jack declared.
Annie turned on him in an instant. "Why are you going back there?"
"Nuh uh-uh," Jack admonished waving a single finger at her. "Not me - we are going there, and that includes you. After all, if I'm wrong and I really am taking everyone on a wild goose chase here, then you've got nothing to worry about, right? Right?" This challenge was deliberately aimed at her. Jack knew that Annie preferred to avoid direct confrontation when possible, something which even extended to dealing with cranky colonels such as himself. In some way he liked the idea that he could get the better of someone with Annie's intellect using only the sheer force of his personality. Hey, he had to win these kinds of things somehow.
Annie frowned. "Yeah, I guess you're right..." Her voice trailed off as Carter finally hit in the point of origin, activated the wormhole, and above them on the platform the Stargate sprang to life.
Jack grinned, trying to reassure his three subordinates. "Hey, it's just a simple recon mission we're doing here," he told them. "If I'm wrong then we forget all about this and we'll figure some way I can make it up for doubting you," he added with a significant look in Annie's direction, "because there is a part of me that is really hoping that I've messed up somewhere along the line here." He sighed. "Okay, I'm done with the rhetorical crap, let's get moving people. Through the 'gate we go."
One last, long look around at the three Tau'ri, and Teal'c stepped up to the new wormhole, Carter right beside him. Jack watched them vanish, and then turned back to Annie. "Like I said, I really hope I'm wrong here, but I gotta know either way."
"I know, Jack," Annie replied with an almost sad smile, "I know."
Together they stepped through the wormhole. Another five seconds and they emerged in one piece on the other side. The partially familiar landscape of P9H-416 greeted them, and Jack blinked a couple of times. It was early evening here and the sun was beginning to set in the distance. He pulled his sunglasses off and replaced them inside his jacket.
Carter already had some of her tech out of her pack. "I'm not picking up any signs of life aside from the four of us, Colonel," she called out, "and if I'm not mistaken -"
"Which you rarely are," Jack muttered to himself. Nobody heard him.
"- then we should be heading off over... that way." She pointed off towards some felled trees to the northwest of the Stargate.
"That way it is, then," Jack decided. For some time there was no noise except for the sounds of crunching twigs and branches on the ground, Teal'c and Carter were making steady, silent progress to the right of Jack, and on his other side even Annie was being uncharacteristically silent. This unnerved Jack slightly. She should have been putting up more of a resistance to this, even if only a verbal one, at least if last night in the SGC was anything to go by. And it was Annie's silence more than anything else that persuaded Jack that he was doing the right thing here. Not that that reassured him any, of course.
It also became obvious after a little while that there had been some kind of storm since SG-1 had been here last. There were damaged and felled trees everywhere, and signs of varying size fires as well. It made navigating a little more difficult, with fewer familiar landmarks to go by, but Jack still had complete faith in his 2IC's abilities to get them where they - he - wanted to go. And sure enough...
Jack stopped short. Turned back around just as he was about to brace yet another clump of trees. "Yes, Carter?"
She smiled slightly. "We're here, sir."
"We are?" Jack asked, then took a proper look around the clearing they were in. Definitely a lot rougher around the edges than he thought he remembered, but yeah... yeah, this was the place, alright. "Okay," he announced, "let's get set up here. Carter, you did bring that stuff with you, right?"
Curious, Annie turned to watch the two officers as Teal'c, apparently bored with the current situation, crossed the clearing to the tree line and began scouting the area, much like he had done the last time they'd been here. Jack hunkered down on the ground, making himself a little cushion of sorts out of the top half of his backpack, and Carter followed suit opposite him. But instead of sitting on her pack, she set it inbetween her and Jack, opened it and began rummaging around in the main compartment. After a few seconds she pulled out two thick binders and left them on top of the pack while she zipped it back up. Jack reached out and snagged the topmost folder, and started leafing through the contents. He grinned triumphantly when he found what he was looking for.
He took the playing cards out of the pack and began shuffling them expertly. While doing so, he looked up and caught Annie's eye. "Going to join us?" he asked brightly.
Annie raised an eyebrow in an uncanny imitation of Teal'c. "What are you doing?" she asked.
Jack grinned, split the deck without looking at it and began shuffling again. "Teaching Captain Carter here a few things she missed out during her formative years as a military brat," he replied. "So, you gonna join in?"
"Okay," Annie said tentatively, and sat down on the bare ground, cross-legged, backpack behind her. "What are we playing?"
Jack began dealing the cards between the three of them. "Snap," he informed her. "See, Carter here may be a brilliant astrophysicist and scientist, and she may well be the only person in the mountain capable of out-bluffing me in a game of poker, but she's useless when it comes to the really tricky games. Like," he finished, "snap."
Annie looked over at Carter; the captain shrugged sheepishly, and gathered up the cards Jack had dealt her. "It wasn't my idea," was Carter's only defence. Then: "Sir, why here?"
Jack shrugged. "Waiting for the main event - whatever and whenever that's going to be." At Carter's sceptical look he cocked his head to one side. "Hey, my plans ended at arriving in this clearing - and by the way, thank you for finding it for us so quickly. And until whatever is going to happen happens, we might as well make ourselves useful in furthering Captain Carter's cultural education." This last comment was aimed, along with a wink, at Annie. The archaeologist grinned back, but said nothing. She still looked distinctly uneasy, although not so much now. And without any further ado, Jack swiftly dealt a nine of clubs from his stack of cards. Following a clockwise pattern, Annie dealt next, followed quickly by Carter.
They got through several rounds of the game without major incident until, maybe half an hour into the game, Teal'c's shouts grabbed their attention. "O'Neill! I believe there is someone approaching our location!"
The card game was immediately forgotten as Jack and Carter caught up their firearms, checked they were loaded and bounded to their feet in one swift, eased motion. Annie was a couple of seconds behind them, her smaller sidearm at hand almost as quickly.
Teal'c aimed his staff weapon at the source of the disturbance, the direction of the weapon changing every second as the noise presumably zigzagged in the relative cover of the trees. As one, Jack and Carter fell back from Teal'c's position, effectively covering the entire perimeter of the clearing and keeping Annie inside the makeshift "circle".
Less than ten seconds after Teal'c's initial shout of warning, a clump of bush immediately off to Jack's left rustled, and a figure burst out into the clearing, stopped and bent over double, wheezing and panting for breath. Instantly there were two P-90's and a staff weapon aimed at it - no, him. The figure was definitely male, looked human, although wearing unfamiliar robe-style trousers and a long-sleeved tunic. Barefoot, ragged-looking hair not quite down to his shoulders and a thin layer of stubble around his chin. He looked around at SG-1, still with their weapons aimed at him, and inexplicably he grinned at them, still panting, although when his eyes flicked towards Annie he looked warier, less certain.
"Who the hell are you?" Jack demanded, still keeping his weapon firmly trained on the stranger.
The man frowned. "Jack, you don't... don't you recognise me?"
The hairs on the back of Jack's neck threatened to jump right off and make a run for it, never mind just stand on end, and behind him, he sensed rather than saw Teal'c and Carter coming in to surround the man, but still maintaining their distance somewhat. "How do you know my name?" he asked forcefully.
The stranger didn't answer for a moment. But when he did... "Look, Jack, we don't have much time. We have to get out of here."
"Why?" Jack retorted, his resolution not changing one jot.
"Because there are people coming after me, and they'll figure out I'm here before long," the man replied. "They already know you're here - well, they know the Stargate was activated around an hour ago, I don't think they know it's *you* specifically, but they definitely have their suspicions, and -"
Jack cut him off with a grunt and a jerk of his gun. The man was beginning to babble, it was the kind of thing that got right up his ass. "Before we take this little pantomime any further," he grated, "how the hell do you know my name, and who the hell are you?"
The stranger sighed. "I know your name, Jack, because I know *you*. You, and Sam, and Teal'c," he added quietly with significant looks at the other two surrounding him, although they likely couldn't hear him. Jack didn't dare judge Teal'c's sense of hearing, however.
Jack waved the P-90 around for emphasis. "And you are..."
"Doctor Daniel Jackson, SG-1."
When there was no answer from anybody around him, the stranger groaned, and rubbed the back of his neck with a hand. "Gawd, this is just like in the alternate reality," he said to nobody in particular. He looked up again, and looked directly at Jack; for the first time the colonel noticed that the man's eyes were a bright, piercing blue, and within his wild appearance they gave off the air of serious intelligence. Jack didn't know if noticing that made him feel any better or not. "Look," the stranger - Daniel? - continued, "I know this is going to sound maybe just a little strange, but - um, where'd she go?"
"What?" Jack demanded, now confused.
"Your - your *archaeologist*, I guess," Daniel replied, although he pronounced Annie's occupation with some distaste. He pointed to a spot behind Teal'c's shoulder. "She - she's gone."
Indicating that Carter and Teal'c keep their weapons aimed at the Daniel guy, Jack reluctantly turned around. Sure enough, Annie had vanished. "Oh, for crying out loud," he muttered, realising he literally couldn't see her anywhere. He turned back to the newcomer. "You're unarmed, right?"
"Good," Jack decided. "Teal'c, you and Carter go find Doctor Cleaver, wherever she's hiding. You -" with a jerk of his P-90 towards the stranger, "- stay here with me."
"Okay," Daniel nodded, obviously relieved with the new arrangement, so to speak. Jack watched him watch Carter and Teal'c leave the clearing, then watched him look around, much more nervously, to the area of trees he had just emerged from.
Jack slung the P-90 over his shoulder. "People chasing you," he repeated.
Daniel turned back to face him, and nodded again. "Yeah, Jack, that's what I said." His voice was tinged with amusement, with - familiarity, Jack realised.
"Okay," he said, "let's cut the crap. You claim that your name is..."
Daniel held up a single finger. "One, I didn't claim anything, it was merely a statement of fact. And two, it's Daniel. Daniel Jackson." He studied Jack's face intently. "That - that doesn't ring any bells at all?"
"Well, if it did then I guess we could sit down and have milk and cookies together," Jack shot back caustically. "No, I don't recognise that name. I don't recognise *you*."
Daniel sagged. The disappointment was obvious. "Maybe it's the glasses," he said suddenly.
Daniel smiled slightly. "Well, I usually wear glasses," he replied.
Jack stopped mid-sarcastic thought and stared at Daniel for a moment. Tried to imagine this man with a pair of glasses on, and maybe a more... "Oh God."
"What? Jack, what is it?" Daniel asked, now sounding concerned.
Jack's mouth went dry. It was the man from the photograph. Daniel freakin' Jackson - whoever the hell he was - was the guy in the photograph that Carter had brought with her...
"There - wait there for just one second, would you?" Jack asked, already turning around. He didn't know why, but he trusted that Daniel was unarmed, and the guy was weedy enough that if he *did* try anything, then Jack would be more than a match for him.
There was Carter's pack, still in the middle of the clearing, with the playing cards now scattered on the surrounding grass. He ignored the cards, went straight for Carter's backpack. Behind him, Daniel took a couple of steps closer, evidently curious about whatever was going on down there. Ignoring him, Jack rifled through the contents of the backpack, a small part of him insanely grateful that Carter didn't have any, well... any... *feminine* stuff with her. It was the kind of thing that always made him squirm anywhere when he came across it any more. "Gotcha," he muttered in triumph, pulling out the small folder he'd also requested his 2IC bring. He stood up, and turned to face Daniel again. "First of all, you gotta realise just how strange this is right now," he told Daniel, distractedly leafing through the folder as he spoke. A second later he pulled out the photo and showed it to the other man.
Daniel frowned, took the photograph from Jack. He studied it intently for a second, actually *squinted* at one point, then smiled, before turning the photo over and reading the small note on the back. He grinned again, although this time it was a little more sheepish. "Well, they could have written worse, I suppose," was all he would say.
"What do you mean?" Jack asked.
"Well," Daniel began, "they could have put *Spacemonkey* instead of *Archaeologist*. I suppose that's a start."
What? And the expression on Jack's face must have gotten that one across because Daniel's sheepish grin re-emerged. Then faded just as quickly. "You really have no idea what I'm talking about, do you?"
Oh, for crying out loud. Jack resisted the urge to say anything, but simply shook his head, staring pointedly at Daniel as he did so.
Still holding the photograph, Daniel motioned towards Annie and Carter's packs. "You mind if we sit down for this?" he asked.
Jack wondered briefly if this kind of situation was covered in *Intergalactic 'Gate Travel for Dummies*, wondered equally briefly where the hell the other three members of his team had gotten to, then wondered even more briefly if he'd remembered to set the VCR to tape the hockey game on the sports channel. Then he shook his head at Daniel. "Sit away."
"Okay." Daniel sat, and Jack followed suit. "Look, Jack, I've had a lot of time to think about this, and..."
Before he could say anything else, a couple of things happened at once. First, Carter, Teal'c and Annie re-emerged at the other end of the clearing. Second, from the other side of the clearing, from where Daniel had appeared, came two men in identical outfits to him. Both were armed, and both looked fairly tough. One of them aimed his weapon at Daniel, while the other stared in open-mouthed shock at the SGC insignia on Jack's sleeve. Then he caught sight of Annie, and his reaction was... well... the best way Jack could think to describe it was disbelieving recognition - he should know, he'd been experiencing much the same kind of thing over the last day or so.
Upon seeing the two armed strangers, Teal'c immediately aimed his staff weapon at them, and Jack's fingers inched oh-so-slowly back towards the strap of his P-90. Carter already had hers at hand, although she didn't know who to aim at - Daniel sitting next to Jack, or the man with his own weapon aimed at the former.
It was a stalemate. Slowly Jack stood up, and held his arms up in front of him to show that he wasn't holding his gun. Yet. He'd done the threat assessment, and frankly the newcomers' weapons didn't look like they'd stand any kind of a chance against Teal'c's staff weapon, although for the moment he kept this information to himself. He still had no way of knowing what the two guys' weapons were actually capable of. Appearances being deceptive, and all that. "Okay," he said out loud, in as placating a tone of voice as possible. "Come on, I'm sure we're all reasonable people here. Why can't we just -"
"You are not supposed to be here!" the guy not aiming at Daniel barked, interrupting Jack. "And he -" with a jerk of his head at Daniel, who by now had also gotten to his feet and was now standing quietly with his arms folded over his chest, "- is not meant to be here, either."
"Right," Jack shot back instantly, "couple of things in that sentence I'd like clarifying - if you don't mind. 'Here' can have different meanings, so how about you specify for me exactly what you mean."
The man stared back at him with obvious disdain. But still he answered. "You are not meant to have returned through the chaapa'ai - you and your colleagues," he added forcefully with glares at Carter, Teal'c and Annie. "And this one should never have left the confines!"
"The confines of *what*?" Jack retorted, partly out of sheer morbid curiosity, partly out of a desire to keep the stalemate from erupting into anything else.
"That is none of your concern."
Jack jerked around in surprise. Surprise, shock, anything else in the thesaurus that didn't immediately come to mind. Everyone else jerked around as well - Daniel, the guards, even Carter and Teal'c.
Because it was Annie who had spoken.
"Annie?" Jack said. "What was that?"
Expression blank, Annie drew a deep breath. "I said that Daniel's confines were none of your concern." She marched over to the guard who'd been aiming at Daniel, got right into his face, and hissed, "I *told* you this course of action would fail!" quietly enough that only Jack and Daniel could hear her words. Jack was now more confused than ever, and quick glances to his immediate right and then behind him told him that Daniel as well as Carter and Teal'c mirrored this emotion. Not something that was very reassuring. Unaware of the silent communication behind her, Annie continued, louder this time. "You wanted answers about P9H-416, Jack," she stated calmly, still glaring at the guard in front of her. "If you want them..." She sighed. "If you want those answers, you'd best come with me."
And just like that, she stepped backwards, away from the two guards, picked up her pack from the centre of the clearing and walked back the way she had just disappeared, taking a path through the tree line opposite to where Daniel had come out. A nod from Jack, and Teal'c was hot on her heels, charging his way through the dense undergrowth. Carter was a couple of seconds behind, grabbing her pack and the loose binders on top of it. The playing cards were left behind on the ground, forgotten, as Jack and Daniel followed Carter. The two guards came last; neither of them were willing to let Daniel out of their sights, so it seemed.
The motley group of people trooped through the forest for a few minutes, and it was so dense in there that it was all Jack could do to keep his eyes on Carter and Daniel in front of him as well as making sure he didn't trip over anything like roots or branches or whatever. After a short trek, Jack and Daniel, with the two guards right behind them, emerged in another clearing. But with a big difference.
"Woa," Jack muttered, and a little way ahead of him he heard Carter echo him. that definitely wasn't here last time around, they'd have detected it surely?
Ahead of them, and in the centre of the clearing, there was a settlement. More of a town, really, in Jack's opinion. Bunch of similarly-designed buildings all clumped together, a few people wandering in, out of and around those buildings. Yeah, this one counted as a town. But still shivers started travelling down Jack's spine. How the hell had Annie known about this? And speaking of strangely-behaving archaeologists, where the hell was she?
And then he caught sight of her. Speaking and gesticulating angrily to a newcomer out of the town's perimeter, encompassing the rest of SG-1 and also Daniel in her motions. Beside him, Jack heard Teal'c and Carter approach. "Captain?" he asked quietly. "Any ideas as to what's going on here?"
She shook her head. "No, sir. When we found her after she left the first clearing, she seemed more angry than upset," she explained, although she sounded as confused as Jack felt.
"Carter," Jack said, even more quietly now. "Can you, uh, sense anything that would indicate a Goa'uld presence?"
Again, she shook her head. "I'd have picked up on something long before now," she replied with conviction, and Jack let that particular theory rest.
"They call themselves the Mnori," Daniel contributed from out of nowhere. At the surprised looks of Jack and the others, he shrugged back at them. "As far as I've been able to tell, they're human, brought here at least two thousand years ago, although I can't of course be specific."
Of course. Jack pulled a face at the new information then, checking that the Mnori folks weren't paying them any special attention at the moment, turned back to his team members. "Carter, Teal'c, this is -"
"Daniel Jackson," Teal'c interrupted, looking Daniel in the eyes.
"Yeah." Jack looked between the two men a couple of times, then looked back at Teal'c. "How did you know that?"
Teal'c paused for a moment, thinking. "I believe that some of the memories I described to you yesterday are becoming clearer to me, O'Neill," he replied.
"Of course," Daniel said. "That would make sense. Assuming that whatever it is that they've done to the three of you is reversible, it would make sense that the larval Goa'uld would be able to negate any of the effects... but still that begs the question of why it's taken so long for Teal'c's symbiote to act."
Throughout the little monologue, Jack had made plenty sure that both Carter and Teal'c were aware of his own scepticism about the matter. And the other thing that was unnerving him more and more as time passed was the level of familiarity that this Daniel guy seemed to have with the members of SG-1. It was the kind of familiarity that, when you thought about it, really shouldn't be there.
But before Jack could do anything to voice these opinions of his, one of the Mnori, a male, was approaching them. Beside Jack, Daniel swallowed nervously, and took a step closer to Teal'c and his staff weapon.
"Daniel?" Jack asked him.
Daniel didn't say anything, just shook his head. He looked very wary of the Mnori guy, very wary indeed. Jack wasn't sure what this piece of information meant, exactly. He turned back around to face the new person.
The man had stopped just a couple metres away from SG-1 and Daniel, and he inclined his head in greeting. "I am of the Mnori," he said simply. He eyed Jack's P-90, still slung over his shoulder. "You will have no need of your weapons here."
Jack mentally grunted. At least the name was one thing Daniel had been right about. "Colonel Jack O'Neill," he returned.
"Yes, yes," the Mnori mused. "We know that."
Jack ignored the *obvious* question, instead tried a different one. "What about you?" he asked, sounding a little gruff. "What's your name?"
The Mnori looked puzzled, said nothing. And beside him, Jack heard an increasingly familiar voice pipe up. "The Mnori don't have names, per se," Daniel muttered to him. "Well, not in the same context that we use them, anyway. It's something I haven't quite been able to figure out."
"So what do I call him?" Jack asked in return, still keeping both eyes on the Mnori.
From the corner of his eye, he could just about see Daniel smirk. "Jack, what's the first name you think of when you hear a name derived from 'memory'?"
Jack thought about it for less than a second. "Johnny," he replied. "as in Johnny..."
"Mnemonic," Daniel finished at the same time as him.
The hairs on the back of Jack's neck started to play merry hell again. He raised his eyebrows at the Mnori. "Mind if I call you Johnny?" At the Mnori's blank expression, he sighed and nodded. "Yeah, the whole no name thing," he muttered to himself, shooting a careful look at Daniel. Jack was feeling absurdly like Alice here, tumbling further and further down the damned rabbit hole.
He could just about see Carter's expression in the darkness. *Sir, this is whacked.*
Hey, this way his own internal musing, he could take artistic liberty. He pulled a face at her. *Ya think?!*
She smiled thinly.
Jack turned back to face "Johnny" head on. "What's going on here?"
Johnny smiled apologetically. "It is regretted that matters have reached this point when perhaps they should not have done. With your permission it is also something we would like to rectify."
Jack stared at him "What?" he demanded.
Johnny sighed. "Perhaps it is better explained by somebody else," he said somewhat enigmatically. He stepped aside to let Annie join the little circle of people.
Relieved, Jack turned to her. "Doc? Mind letting us in on what the hell's going on here?" He didn't miss Daniel's wince beside him, but neither did he pay any attention to it.
"I'm sorry, Jack," Annie said simply. The other three SG-1 members stared at her for a moment before she continued. "And for what it's worth, I didn't want things to come to this, either."
"Look, who *are* you?" Daniel demanded, butting in before Jack could.
Annie looked at him for along couple of seconds. "Daniel, my name is Annabel," she told him. "And as far as your colleagues are concerned, I'm SG-1's archaeologist."
"What do you mean, *his* colleagues?" Jack demanded, Carter nodding in agreement with his question. He went on. "And for the last time, what the hell is going on here?"
Annie drew a very, very deep breath. "I'm one of the Mnori, Jack," she replied, calmly ignoring Jack's spluttering. "I... it's difficult to explain."
"What's so difficult to explain?" Jack countered. "Cause from where I'm standing, it's all so damn simple. This guy Daniel claims to be the archaeologist on my team, and even knows who Carter and Teal'c are, not to mention Junior. What could otherwise be a simple case of Goa'uld gossip is cancelled by the photograph that set the whole goddamn mess off in the first place. *You've* been acting strangely ever since we showed you the picture," he added forcefully, glaring at Annie, "and I do think we've been here before."
"Sir?" Carter asked him.
"Ooh!" Jack grunted. He knew by now the jigsaw was completed, but he couldn't see the picture that the fitted pieces were supposed to be showing. It was so frustrating!
Johnny watched Jack with an interested expression. "Perhaps," he began, "it is time that we rectified this situation, returned your colleague to you and -"
"Excuse me?!" Jack interrupted. He then calmed down. Visibly, at least. "Oh, I get it, I get it. Let me see if I've got it. Daniel here really is a member of my team, meaning he's been telling the truth for the last hour or so. Last time we were here something happened and you... kidnapped him, replacing him with *her*." A finger-stab in Annie's direction. "Now, my only concern is how exactly you got away with doing that, because as far as I and everyone else back home are concerned, Annie's been a part of the Stargate program since the beginning." Johnny opened his mouth as if to say something in return, but yet again Jack got in there before him. "One last thing," he said. "Are you actually telling me you want to *undo* all of this? I mean, whatever the hell you've done here - is it even reversible?"
Johnny's expression was unreadable. "We made a mistake," was all he would say. "It was an error of judgement, allowing matters to progress unchecked this far."
Jack blinked a few times. And did another sterling impression of a fish, mouth open. That seemed to be happening a lot lately. He reached for his P-90, not intending to actually use it, although the idea was becoming more and more attractive to him by the second. And when he spoke his voice was deadly calm. "Are you telling me that you're offering to go out on a limb here, to change everything that is real to me, my team and everyone else we know, all because you made an *error of judgement*?!"
Johnny nodded. He looked relieved. "Essentially yes. A mistake. As I told you, we made a mistake. It will take some time to rectify, but we will do it."
Before Jack could jump back in with some brilliantly biting comment, he felt a tug on his arm. It was Daniel. "Actually, Jack, uh, I made the first mistake, not them. They're really not to blame here."
Jack wondered briefly if Daniel always behaved like this - that is, if he really was one fourth of SG-1. Personally Jack couldn't really see that kind of thing working. "Daniel?" he asked. "Not now. These... kind people... look as though they're about to mess with some very important parts of my brain - for a *second* time, if I've been following this conversation so far. Now, if you are really are my friend and a member of SG-1 - which looks as though it's actually the case, then I'm sure you'll understand that sentiment."
Daniel smiled slightly. "Yes, yes I do understand that."
"Well, good," Jack replied caustically. He turned back to Johnny. "What now?"
The guards long since gone, Jack, Carter, Teal'c and Daniel were led to one of the outermost buildings of the town. Artificial light was coming from somewhere, and it took Jack's eyes a little while to adjust to the brightness. He hadn't really been following the three-way conversation between Johnny, Annie and Carter, but he'd still picked up on and noted the most important bits. Namely that everything that was going on here was linked to some kind of memory virus that the Mnori had developed. Also concerning to Jack was Teal'c's relative silence. The Jaffa had said nothing since the conversation with Daniel, and there was still a part of Jack that was wondering just how much of Teal'c's memories were still affected by this. But on the other hand it was also something to consider - if Junior could do something about it, then the virus thingy was definitely curable, which was definitely reassuring.
But back to the building. On the outside it looked much the same as the other buildings in the vicinity; made of stone and not that impressive. On the inside, however, it looked like something out of a mad scientist's wildest dreams. It was one of the most high-tech medical facilities that Jack had seen in a long, long time. And given his relativity short time with the SGC, that really was saying something. In Jack's mind the obvious place for the Mnori to do their mind voodoo thing would have been in the first room they entered - it had several hospital-style beds, each with different kinds of built-in restraints. But they were led straight through that one and into another room. Then another, and another, the building more spacious inside than it had seemed outside, or maybe it was just the dimensions and direction changes playing tricks on Jack's mind. He was also interested to note Daniel's reaction to the third room - this was one knitted out with only a single, adjustable bed and a series of serums and concoctions in glass cases along one wall, and Daniel's only visible reaction had been a quickening of his pace to keep directly behind Teal'c (Carter was bringing up the rear, right behind Jack).
Finally they stopped in what could well have been the waiting room of this place. Several low-slung chairs lining one of the walls, and some ominous-looking cabinets along the wall opposite the chairs, set at about shoulder height. Silently the four of them were directed to sit in the chairs while Johnny opened up one of the medical cabinets and began rooting around inside. Jack checked his watch while they waited. He had a little under twenty hours to send word back to Earth before General Hammond sent out SG-3 in search of them - and if Jack didn't send the word back, then the Marines would be sent to the wrong planet altogether. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Carter watching him, and he mouthed back the word, "Twenty." She nodded, but didn't say or do anything.
Jack stared down at the P-90 in his lap for a few seconds, only looking up again when he heard the cabinets close and footsteps approach his location. Like the good little soldier he was, he was back on full alert immediately, and warily regarded the familiar-looking needles and syringes in Johnny's hand. Carter, Teal'c and Daniel were watching them with the same kind of looks on their faces as well.
Johnny held up one of the syringes in his hand, and showed it to Jack. "Do any of you have experience administering these?" he asked.
Mutely, everyone shook their heads. Nobody wanted to be the one injecting their friends with an unknown substance, thank you very much. As if picking up on this unspoken thought, Johnny smiled slightly - the first time he had shown any real emotion to the humans. "These needles contain the antidote to the mnemonic retrovirus that the three of you were injected with," he told Jack, Teal'c and Carter, "The effects will be almost immediate, although the effects of the initial retrovirus will not wear off for approximately twenty hours."
Jack felt like he could handle those odds. "Me first," he replied confidently. If the stuff in the needle *was* in any way harmful, then at least it would be him going down, and not someone from his team.
Silently Johnny nodded, and indicated that Jack take off his jacket and pull the sleeve of his t-shirt right up to the shoulder. A little cleaning and preparation, and the needle went cleanly into the muscle. The only sensation Jack felt was a little prick, followed by a strange feeling of prickles all the way up and down his arm. "Woa," he muttered, automatically flexing the muscles, just to make sure that he still had mobility. Without warning the prickling sensation disappeared, replaced by a slight migraine. "Oh, great."
Carter went next, and Jack watched her face mirror the same reactions to both the prickling and the headaches, although instead of flexing her arm like the colonel had done, she simply stretched it out, making a fist with her hand before relaxing again. After her, Teal'c. Jack was guessing that Junior would negate any of the injection's side effects without any bother at all, and a few seconds later he was proved right. The big Jaffa simply blinked at the needle's entry into his arm, and thereafter his expression was guardedly calm. As Johnny stepped back from Teal'c, Jack jiggled a little on his seat. "Well, I don't feel any different," he remarked cautiously. He turned back around to face Carter, and suddenly...
*Captain Carter, the new arrival, stared steadily at Jack. "Colonel, I was studying the 'gate technology for two years before Annabel Cleaver made it work and you both went through. I should have gone through then. But sir, you and your men might as well accept the fact that I am going through this time."
Jack blinked a couple of times at her. She really had *no* idea. 'Gate travel was not something that could just be learned from a book, and he opened his mouth to say so...*
The flashback ended, only to be replaced by a similar memory. Too similar...
*Captain Carter, the new arrival, stared steadily at Jack. "Colonel, I was studying the 'gate technology for two years before Daniel Jackson made it work and you both went through. I should have gone through then. But sir, you and your men might as well accept the fact that I am going through this time."
Jack blinked a couple of times at her. She really had *no* idea. 'Gate travel was not something that could just be learned from a book, and he opened his mouth to say so...*
And back in the room. Jack stared at Carter, now wearing her military fatigues and sitting on a chair next to him in the Mnori medical facility. "Woa," he muttered, leaning in on himself and resting his head in his hands. "Talk about a head trip."
"You've got the same thing, sir?" Carter asked, evidently concerned.
Jack nodded. "That was... it's messed up," was all he could get out. "So," he continued, not looking up, "uh, Johnny, is that supposed to happen?" There was no reply, and Daniel's reminder about the no-name thing came back to Jack's mind. "Yeah, that figures," he muttered to his boots.
He heard rather than saw Carter take over the conversation with the Mnori. "So, how exactly does the serum work?" she asked and inwardly Jack groaned. Science talk at 6 o'clock. He had to get out of there, and fast. He raised his head up from his hands, and caught sight of Daniel, sitting the other side of Carter. Again the conflicting memories - just like Teal'c had described them back at the SGC, he thought dimly - assaulted his senses, and it was a couple of moments before he could refocus on Daniel, let alone try and say anything. But the message was in his eyes, or so he wondered. *I'm outta here.*
*Almost* inexplicably, Daniel seemed to understand what was going through Jack's mind. "Uh, I think Jack needs some fresh air," he volunteered to Carter and Johnny. "Are we going to be missed at all?"
Surprised, Johnny shook his head. That was all the cue Jack needed. He was out of the door in an instant, with Daniel right behind him. They were out of the facility proper in seconds, and Jack took several deep, appreciative gulps of the cool night air. He heard footsteps behind him. "Jack?" It was Daniel, naturally. "Are you alright?"
Without turning around, Jack shook his head, and started walking to the tree line, all the while trying to ignore the fact that those four words had just opened yet another deluge of memories - ones featuring Annie, and ones featuring Daniel. The man was no longer a mystery to him, no longer a stranger, and although he didn't want to admit or even acknowledge it, he was confused. Confused and not a little scared right now, either. Jack reached the first tree, and after dumping his pack and weapon on the ground, flopped down himself and leaned back against the tree. Daniel, rather more delicately, sat down next to him. He didn't say anything. He didn't need to.
Jack looked up and met Daniel's eyes. "You know what the strangest thing about all of this is?" he asked. Daniel shook his head, but it was a rhetorical question anyway, so Jack went on regardless. "When I think about it, every memory I ever have - had - of Annie is almost exactly the same as the ones I now have with you in them." Jack laughed out loud, but the sound was hollow and empty. "Anyway, the strange thing is that when I do think about it, I'm more inclined to... I guess *believe* the memories of you."
The question: "Why?" was written all over Daniel's face, although he didn't say anything.
"I mean," Jack continued, "for all I know Annie could be the real deal, and this is some elaborate deception to get a spy inside the SGC. But," he added, noting the mixture of shock, fear and resignation that flashed across the other man's face at much the same time, "it doesn't feel like that. You remember back on the Gamekeeper's planet?" he asked. "When the resident people came out and started trashing the flowers? We *knew* it was the real thing? That's what it feels like now."
"It feels like people picking all the flowers?" Daniel teased gently, a small smile appearing on his face.
Jack glared at him. "I'm trying to get all deep and meaningful here, Danny," he retorted, slipping back into the nickname with unnerving ease. "I'd rather you *not* spoil the moment." He leaned forwards, away from the tree and groaned. He pinched the bridge of his nose with a forefinger and thumb. "Why do I get the feeling something's not right here?"
"What do you mean?"
"I don't know!" Jack grunted. "It's just that none of this makes sense. Why would these people go to all the trouble of apparently rewriting my memory, rewriting the memories of just about *everyone* back home, and then suddenly go back on that and offer to undo everything? It just doesn't make sense."
"Well," Daniel began, "there are lots of reasons why the Mnori would possibly want to do something like this." At Jack's sceptical look, he pulled a face. "I have had some time to think about this, Jack."
Okay, that he guessed he could deal with. Jack nodded in response and motioned for Daniel to get on with whatever long-winded explanation he'd come up with this time.
"Well, first of all you have to bear in mind that the Mnori are in fact human," Daniel stated calmly. "And from what I've been able to determine, they were brought here by a Goa'uld posing as the Greek goddess Athena."
Jack blinked. The name was familiar. "Athena being..."
"The goddess of wisdom, at least by the late Classical period. A couple of the larger buildings in the town have her representations as murals. It's possible that she brought the original group of humans here to experiment with the human memory and knowledge reserves. It would certainly explain the level of technology here - a lot of it looks like it's been developed in a relatively short space of time. Now, with that in mind, it's not unreasonable to extrapolate that the Mnori would conduct this kind of mnemonic... experimentation as perhaps a means of research or their own kind of exploration."
"Hang on a sec," Jack interrupted. "Exploration?"
Daniel shrugged. "Think about it, Jack," he said, beginning to sound more enthusiastic. "Instead of sending out teams into the unknown via the Stargate, like we do, you send out one or more of your own people already integrated into the species or group of people whose society you want to study. I'm not condoning it!" he added, clearly catching the deeply cynical look on Jack's face. "I'm just saying that if you think about it from that kind of perspective, then it begins to make sense."
"Daniel, why are you doing this?" Jack asked.
Daniel frowned. "Doing what?"
"You're making excuses for these guys *kidnapping* you!"
Daniel flared up. "I'm just trying to give you an alternative point of view, Jack! You think I've *wanted* to be kept here against my will for the last month?"
Jack stared at him, and finally he saw the bigger picture. Dimly he recalled both Annie and Daniel dressing him down in a similar way in the past, an argument on the plant planet, and once again the sensation of the dual memory triggered another brief migraine. He winced, prompting a worried, "Jack? You okay?" from Daniel before the flare-up disappeared again.
"Memo to self," Jack muttered. "Try not to think too much." Another minute or so, and Jack's head felt sufficiently recovered for him to think about attempting conversation again. But before he did so, it suddenly occurred to him that for all the talk about other points of view, there was one very important one that so far, he'd neglected to investigate. "Danny," he said softly, "what happened to you?"
"What do you mean?" Daniel asked again.
Jack forced himself to smile. "You were scared back in the clearing when those two guys showed up, you were almost as bad in the medical place." He looked up and met Daniel's gaze straight on. "You wanna tell me what went on here?"
After a few long, tense moments, Daniel nodded silently. And after a few more seconds of apparently gathering his thoughts, he took a calm, measured breath and began to speak.
*Four weeks earlier...*
"Campers, campers, campers!" As always, Jack ensured that his entrance into the gate room did not go unnoticed. For once he was also the last person to arrive; Daniel, Sam and Teal'c were kitted up and ready to go. Well, almost. Daniel was still bent over double, trying to finish tying his bootlaces. They were tricky little devils, and something he always hated doing. Finally he'd double-knotted them successfully and stood up, sliding his backpack on at the same time.
Jack paused at the bottom of the gate ramp and looked around at the rest of his team. "My, aren't we a cheery bunch this morning. Carter, Daniel, you two should be happy! Three days of nothing but mineral samples and possible ruins." He groaned theatrically and looked up at the control room. "Wouldn't you agree, General?"
Daniel hid his amusement and indeed, Hammond's only reaction was, "Dial up the planet, Sergeant," with the microphone still switched on, and a very pointed look at Jack.
A few minutes later, SG-1 arrived uneventfully on the planet oh so callously designated P9H-416. Daniel had long since given up trying to persuade either General Hammond or the other militaristic Powers That Be that naming planets by something - anything - other than a set of computer-generated letters and numbers was a good idea. People in higher echelons of the military tended not to listen to lowly civilians (even if said lowly civilian was the reason those codes were being generated in the first place) when it came to sensible, practical ideas like that. Although... despite his best intentions, Daniel had found himself referring to the planets visited by the SGC by the computer codes - both in reports and mentally.
But no matter. And for what it was worth (probably not much), P9H-416 seemed to be reasonably average, as uninhabited planets went. Familiar-looking green foliage, nothing too alien to the immediate eye. Daniel hopped down off the 'gate platform, followed closely by the others. He'd already caught sight of some markings in the grass about thirty metres away. Hand on his trusty camcorder, he started forwards.
"Hey, hey, hey, not so fast, Daniel," Jack called out. Daniel turned back to face him, with what he hoped was a challenging expression on his face. Jack smiled slightly. "We've got three days here, remember. Walk!" he declared, making little walking motions with his fingers.
Daniel resisted the quite frankly immature urge to stick his tongue out at his friend, although he did in fact slow his pace down to reach the patch of grass his mind had marked out. He knelt down, a hand on the ground for balance. And grunted in frustration. It wasn't as obvious closer in to the ground, so Daniel started randomly pulling clumps of grass out and tossing them behind him. The makeshift mowing soon revealed rivets, little more than formed dents, really, in the hard soil, maybe a centimetre deep, the same width and five or six long, the line running off into the grass again at either end. Daniel pulled out the camcorder and quickly filmed a few seconds' footage of the line, muttering under his breath, just loud enough to be picked up by the camera's microphone. He shut the machine off, and stared back down at the lines. There were three of them in total, and the way they'd been impacted into the soil looked as though they'd been supporting something heavy at the time - Daniel pushed the corner of the camcorder into a fresh patch of soil, but couldn't even make a dent.
He got back up, having mentally mapped the precise location of the rivets for later reference. There was now no doubt left in his mind that they were anything but man - or alien - made. No animal he knew about could create markings like that in soil of those conditions. Daniel positioned himself so that, with his back to the Stargate, he was facing in the same direction that the rivets - assuming of course that they continued along in a fairly straight line - went. He looked. His direction carried on away from the 'gate, out of this clearing, through some fairly dense trees and foliage, and carried on towards what looked like another clearing some way off in the distance. He couldn't tell how far it was, but it didn't look that far - maybe five or ten minutes' walk? He didn't know.
There was also no sign of the ruins that had been indicated by the MALP. Frowning, Daniel turned back and rejoined the others. Jack had taken residence against a tree at the other end of the Stargate's clearing, while Sam was getting out sample kits for soil surveys. Teal'c... wasn't anywhere. Daniel assumed he was scouting. He carefully deposited his backpack next to Jack's and sat down.
"Well?" Jack prompted.
Daniel shrugged, taking a couple of clear containers that Sam handed him. "It's only been ten minutes, Jack," he replied. He pulled the rim of his hat down to cover the increasing glare of the sun.
"Aw, come on," Jack declared. "I'm bored, and I'll probably regret asking this, but - tell me."
"Well, I found some tracks in the grass that definitely weren't made by animals, and -"
Jack interrupted him. "So, people?"
"It looks that way," Daniel replied, giving Sam back her containers. Watched her trot off and looked back to Jack. "I was thinking," he began earnestly, "when Sam's finished with the first samples, could we -"
"Follow the tracks?" Jack asked, finishing the question for him. "See where they lead us, see what new and exciting things we're gonna find out as a result? Sure," he said. "Okay."
Daniel was about to protest Jack's choice of phrase, when... "Okay?" he repeated, even hearing himself the disbelief in his voice. Jack rarely agreed to anything Daniel suggested without at least a little teasing on the subject - he'd given in unusually quickly this time.
Jack simply shrugged - infuriating, really. "You're the anthropologist around here, Danny, not me," he said. "Tell you what. I'll radio Teal'c, get him and Carter to come after us when she's done here."
"Okay," Daniel said slowly, "but what happened to not taking things so quickly? Three days?"
Jack raised a single eyebrow at him, and pulled a face. "I'm bored. Roll on with the new program."
Never mind the new program, Daniel merely rolled his eyes and watched as Jack got himself onto his feet and began making preparations for moving SG-1's base location to wherever the rivets in the ground led Daniel - and when he made it sound like that, Daniel really did sound like one of those geology quacks on the History Channel. He hid a chuckle, and helped Jack gather most of the moveable stuff they'd brought and store it next to the MALP, which was still sitting, inert, off to one side of the Stargate. Everything else went into the two men's backpacks.
Daniel led Jack over to the first set of rivets and, without speaking, pointed through the undergrowth to where he thought they headed. Jack shrugged, and motioned for Daniel to lead the way. The walk through the trees was mostly in silence, Daniel and Jack occasionally making sure the other didn't trip over or walk into anything. It took a little longer than Daniel's original 'gestimate' of ten minutes - it was closer to twenty minutes before he and Jack finally emerged into another clearing. Daniel immediately dropped down to the ground and began routing around in the grass, and... oh yeah, there they were. Exactly the same rivets as before, only this time a lot wider, about as wide as his hand. They'd carried on in more or less a straight line from the other clearing, but this time they just stopped, about three metres into the new clearing.
"Carter and Teal'c should be about an hour behind us," Jack said, interrupting Daniel's thought process. "Apparently there's something close to resembling minute naquada deposits in the soil, Teal'c says she's practically over the moon about it."
"Uh, Teal'c said that?" Daniel asked. 'Cause somehow he doubted that one.
"Well..." Jack pulled another face. "Something to that effect. Filled in the blanks."
Of course. Daniel smiled to himself and redirected his attention back to the markings in the ground. If he was completely honest with himself he wasn't entirely sure what he was looking at here, only that he was now more certain than he had been before that there were people involved in this, not animals. By the time he looked up again Jack had pulled a folding stool out of his pack, and was now sat on it, blithely watching Daniel while still keeping an eye on the surroundings.
"Well?" Jack asked him, holding his hands out. "Do those lines mean anything?"
Daniel shook his head. "Well, for all I know, they could be anything. Some kind of... terranean map, routes for people to follow - assuming that there are any people here, which from the information the MALP gathered seems to be pretty unlikely although we of course have no way of knowing for certain. Then of course it could just be a phenomenon natural to this planet, maybe a factor of the environment, or the weather, or -"
Jack held up a hand, stopping Daniel mid-sentence. "Basically, you have no idea."
"Not at the moment, no."
Jack let his hands fall back onto his knees, and rubbed his thighs for a few seconds. "Three days," he said out loud, but mostly to himself.
Daniel ignored him with ease born of lots of practice, and instead reached inside his backpack. He drew out the camcorder, and after checking that the footage of the original rivets was still on there, he filmed the new set of lines, showing both the lines themselves and the trail they led back the way he and Jack had come through the trees. He wasn't sure what exactly he was going to do with the footage, but he never knew, he told himself firmly, it could maybe come in useful at some point. Probably when he'd figured out what had made the markings, no doubt. He prodded the untouched soil next to the rivets, and wasn't surprised to find that once again he couldn't make any impact in the ground.
Daniel carried out a few more rudimentary tests, but after a few minutes found himself less able to concentrate on the markings in the ground in front of him. It was something he couldn't quite shake off - the feeling that he and Jack maybe weren't quite alone here.
"Uh, Jack?" he called out, not looking up. "Do you get the feeling we're being watched?"
"What do you mean, Daniel?"
Oh, for crying out loud... bemoaning the fact that his inner voice was taking on a distinctly Jack-like personality, Daniel instead replied: "Exactly what I said." He looked up, over at Jack. "Like that sixth sense... it just feels like there's someone watching us."
Jack sighed, picked up his firearm and got up off the stool. He made sure that Daniel was watching him, and then made a big show of walking to one edge of the roughly oval clearing, then checking for any unwanted guests Jack continued to walk around the rest of the clearing, obviously seeing and hearing nothing that shouldn't have been there. As Daniel watched, Jack completed the perimeter, and then made a beeline straight for the stool again. Didn't say anything, didn't really need to.
*Yeah, maybe I am just overreacting.* Daniel looked back at the rivets in the supposedly non-malleable soil. *But to what?*
The remaindering three quarters of an hour or so until Sam and Teal'c arrived was passed mostly in silence. Daniel continued to glean what information he could from the rivets (admittedly, not very much at all), while Jack for his part seemed happy enough to just sit on the stool and soak up the sun - the only indications that he was still alive were occasional stretchings-out of his legs, probably for the sake of his knees and the odd grunt as he did so.
Teal'c greeted Daniel and Jack in his customary fashion, and offloaded some of the tech he was carrying next to Jack. Jack said something to Teal'c that Daniel couldn't quite make out even from this relatively short distance, but he could easily enough guess what is was; the alien made a half bow in Daniel's direction, boomed out, "I will check for any... intruders, Daniel Jackson," and promptly disappeared into the trees. Sam meanwhile had plopped down next to Daniel.
"The colonel said you'd found something?" she asked him interestedly.
Daniel nodded. "Something being the operative word here," he replied dryly, pulling apart some of the longer grass and showing Sam the rivets in the ground. She pushed her finger into one, and traced part of it up and down in a straight line.
"I'm impressed," she commented, after failing to impact the soil herself. "What do you think they are?"
"I have absolutely no idea," Daniel admitted, shrugging. "All I've come up with so far is that they could either be the result of either environmental factors or people."
"People?" Sam repeated. "But this place is uninhabited."
"That doesn't necessarily mean anything," Daniel replied, relieved that he could at least debate the subject out loud now. "I mean, there could be people living here but actively concealing themselves from outsiders, through whatever means. But on the other hand, it's not a smart idea to assume that we're the only people using the Stargate as a means of travel." He waved a hand at their surroundings. "As far as people coming here are concerned, this place could be some kind of place of pilgrimage, a meeting place or maybe even a vacation destination." At that last one, Sam's face cracked up into a grin. "We just don't know," Daniel concluded, "and without any other evidence, we'll probably have no way of knowing."
"Okay," Sam acquiesced. "Have you got recordings of those?" she asked, indicating the rivets.
Daniel nodded, and held up the camcorder, which was hanging from a thin cord around his neck. "Both here and back in the clearing where the Stargate is," he elaborated, "although like I said, it's not exactly useful at the moment."
Sam smiled at him. "Give it time, Daniel," she reassured him, patting him awkwardly on the arm. "You always figure these things out. Right?"
"Right," Daniel echoed faintly.
"Great!" Sam got to her feet. "I think there's a disposable camera in the pile of stuff Teal'c put over there, I'll take a couple photos if you think they'll come in handy."
Daniel stood up as well. "Okay, thanks Sam."
"Hey," Jack called out from his stool, "is the Geek Association meeting finished for now? 'Cause lunch is up," he told them, waving some MRE packs around in the air.
"Reconstituted chicken breast," Daniel muttered. "Yum."
Sam grinned in response, and Daniel joined Jack, Sam a couple of minutes behind him, having taken the photos for him. A couple of minutes later, the three of them were eating what passed for lunch on an alien planet halfway across the galaxy. And personally Daniel was just relieved that he couldn't taste the E numbers and preservatives that were probably made up more of the chicken than the chicken itself. Actually, it wasn't that bad - for an MRE.
"Carter," Jack said conversationally, mid-chew, "please tell me that there's so much naquada in the soil that we're all gonna get some kind of contamination poisoning, so that we get to go charging back to the SGC at warp nine and inject some action into people's day."
"Sorry, sir," Sam said, stifling a grin and shaking her head. "There's barely a trace amount, but it's enough that I can work with it back in my lab."
"You know, Jack," Daniel offered, a sly thought entering his head, "maybe this is going to be one of those missions where nothing happens to endanger us, and we can just spend the time peacefully in pursuit of greater knowledge and understanding. Hey Teal'c," he added, as the fourth member of SG-1 joined the group and sat down.
Teal'c inclined his head towards the others, but before he could say anything, Jack butted in first. "Tell me, Teal'c. Are we being covertly watched by a group of Jaffa who are just waiting for us to keel over from food poisoning from these things -" he waved his MRE around, "- so they can drag us off to their god, play hell with our lives, and wait for the Marine cavalry to come save our asses?"
"Jack's bored," Daniel clarified. Understanding dawned on Teal'c, who had looked mystified at Jack's little speech. "He really wants something to do."
"I see," Teal'c replied, before turning back to Jack. "O'Neill, it is my regret to inform you that there are no other persons in the vicinity of this clearing, for the intent of kidnapping us or for some other purpose. We are quite alone."
Daniel laughed quietly into his meal, while Jack simply smiled, the motion looking somewhat strained. "Thank you, Teal'c," he said dryly. "See, Daniel?" he went on, twisting around to face the archaeologist. "Nobody else here. You must be drinking too much coffee."
Daniel didn't deign to respond to that last comment; instead, he quickly finished the last of his lunch and got to his feet. "I'm going to take a look around the rest of the clearing," he told Jack and the others, "see if I can find any more of those markings."
"Do you want someone to go with you?" Sam asked him, making as if to get up herself.
"No, thanks," Daniel replied his head. "I'll be okay. I'll, uh, let you know if I find anything." He pulled his backpack onto his back, and checked that he still had his camcorder with him. And the radio. Couldn't forget that one now, could he?
"Okay," Sam replied, taking a swig of water as she nodded. "Have fun," she added, smiling at him.
Daniel grinned in response and headed for the edge of the clearing. He could easily tell where the second set of markings was, because Sam had pulled some of the grass aside and even out from the earth altogether in order to take the photos for him. The strange thing about this end of the "line" was quite literally that; it was the end of the line. And if they had been made by people, then the fact that they ended here had to mean something, right? Hmm. Daniel began walking around the edge of the clearing, looking for... okay, so he still wasn't sure what it was exactly that he was looking for, but he was pretty certain that there would be something somewhere, and there was something, then it would probably be fairly close by. He turned his back on the clearing and ploughed into the woodland. Within seconds he could no longer see the clearing he had started from, nor could he hear SG-1. And all the while he still couldn't shake off the feeling that there was someone was watching him. It was the same feeling as earlier, only this time it had come back with a vengeance. Daniel just couldn't shake the idea that there was someone out there - someone not SG-1.
No. Daniel shook his head, mentally shook the whole of his body. This was just him being stupid. There was not anyone out here, otherwise Teal'c would have spotted or heard them.
And it was almost exactly that moment that Daniel saw - and heard - it. Movement in the row of bushes along his right, and the sound of - something - coming at him from behind. Daniel didn't even have time to yell before he felt a fierce prick - like a needle or even a dart - in his upper arm and the whole world went black around him.
When he woke up again, Daniel groggily found himself in a white room. And not the kind with padded walls, either. No. This one was... new. Yeah, that was it. New. And from what he could make out, it was also very high tech. He didn't know what exactly told him that, it was more of a general impression. And it was only then that Daniel realised he couldn't move. Okay, so he could move and twist his neck about three centimetres in either direction, but the rest of him was strapped down fairly tightly - tightly enough that he could move none of his main limbs. Well, moving his little toe inside a sock inside a boot was hardly noteworthy; it wasn't going to get anything accomplished, after all.
Suddenly Daniel heard the sound of footsteps coming up behind him, and instantly he closed his eyes, feigning unconsciousness. Too late he wondered if the person or persons behind him would have noticed already that he'd woken up. But in the end it didn't matter.
"Has all of this been approved?" someone asked. Female. Speaking English with a slight Mediterranean-sounding accent, Daniel noted, although the exact origin was indistinguishable. Most interesting.
"What? Oh, yes, yes, of course," a second person replied. Male this time, and he sounded older. The voice was also brisker.
"Then why is it happening so quickly?" the female asked in return.
The second voice sighed. "Because in this instance there is a time limit. Come, come on. The others are this way."
As silence fell again, Daniel wondered to himself just what on earth was going on around here. And where Jack and the others were - they'd have noticed he was gone by now, surely? And how long had it been, anyway? He had no way of knowing. And mention of a time limit. A time limit for what? And what had been approved? Daniel's mind started racing through the possibilities, but after less than a second he gave up on it. He cautiously opened his eyes again, gratified when nothing untoward immediately made itself known to him. He drew a couple of experimental breaths, relieved when nothing hurt. And he waited for the blurry vision - probably a side effect of whatever had knocked him out in the first place - to clear up.
Where were his glasses?
Although, on some level, Daniel was kinda grateful that he didn't have them. Maybe he'd dropped them back in the forest somewhere. He vaguely recalled Jack on Hadante, telling him to keep the glasses hidden, as they were a sign of physical weakness. So the no-glasses situation was a little relieving, but only a little. He'd still have trouble focusing on things that were more than about six feet away from him - damn myopia, he thought to himself - although in the long run it wouldn't be much of a problem. Then the man's words hit him fully. "The others," he'd said. The others what? Jack, Sam and Teal'c, were they the "others" he'd meant. Given his current predicament, Daniel sincerely hoped not.
"Hello?" he called out before he could stop himself. "Is, uh, is anybody there?"
There was no answer, and in all honesty Daniel really wasn't that surprised. In all the movies Jack had made him watch, the Evil Villain didn't exactly walk up to the guy he had captured and tell him everything, did he? But... Daniel was surprised a few seconds later to hear footsteps coming back in his direction. Quickly he closed his eyes again, deciding that playing asleep was preferable to anything else right now, even if he had just yelled out - hopefully to an empty room. And he tried not to tense up when he felt a set of hands loosening the straps keeping him on the bed - whatever it was that he was lying on.
"I know you're awake," a quiet male voice told him. Too shocked to do anything else, Daniel's eyes shot wide open. He found himself looking up at a man, maybe Jack's own age in terms of general appearance, wearing some kind of plain white tunic.
Daniel swallowed, the noise practically echoing around the room. "Who are you?"
Instead of answering, the man simply shook his head. "Come with me."
Maybe playing along would be the better idea right now. Daniel made as if to get off the bed-thing, not really surprised when his arms and legs were stiff almost to the point of them hurting. So he'd been out for some time, then, although...
"Hey," he said, calling out to the other man who was already moving away from the bed, "how long have I been here?"
Once again the man shook his head, and mentally Daniel shrugged. Here was a kind of behaviour he could deal with, if not understand; he started listing up questions in his mind, in case he found someone later who was more willing to talk than this guy. And once again, where on earth were Jack and the others?
Moving slowly at first, Daniel followed the stranger out of the room, and through a series of other ones, further reinforcing his belief that this was some kind of medical facility - more like a hospital with all the extra rooms, although of course there was little basis for comparison. This place could equally have been some kind of laboratory for all he knew. The door at the end of the fourth or fifth room led straight back outside, and immediately Daniel winced and covered his eyes from the glaring sunlight. The man ahead of him caught this reaction, but didn't say - or do - anything that would have indicated he'd even seen it. All kind of confusing, really.
Daniel was led through some sort of town settlement to another of the buildings, a simpler one-room affair this time, although he stopped outside the door for a few seconds - he'd caught sight of something on the wall of a larger building at the other end of the settlement, like a mural, almost. But he still followed the "guide". And once inside he was silently directed to take off his jacket and BDUs, although, bizarrely, he was permitted to keep the t-shirt and underwear on - and oddly enough that was the thing that confused him the most. He'd been in seminally similar situations before, long before he'd joined the SGC, and in each instance they'd always demanded *all* the clothes be removed. But hey, Daniel wasn't going to argue with the arrangements this time around, although he did check all his pockets first. He wasn't quite sure what to make of the fact that all his pockets were empty, when there should at the very least have been the camcorder, a radio and his GDO. He handed over the clothes, and received a pair of trousers and a tunic in return, almost identical to those worn by the man who'd brought him here. He was again directed to put these clothes on, and Daniel complied, trying to hide the sudden wave of self-consciousness he felt at being in this situation.
Assuming that Jack and the others were still back in that other clearing and therefore probably didn't know where he was, then until he did something about the situation, Daniel was definitely on his own here. And first on his to-do list was get the hell out of this place and find the others. He could deal with losing the tech and equipment, although it would be more than just a little inconvenient. But he couldn't really deal with losing the others. Once he was redressed again, the other man looked him up and down. He nodded. "Much more appropriate."
Daniel took half a step forward. Step one, assess the situation. "Appropriate for what?" he asked.
Infuriatingly so now, the man didn't answer, and again indicated that Daniel follow him. Sighing, and resigned, Daniel did as he was bid, and the two of them exited the building back out into the bright sunshine. But, instead of heading towards any of the other buildings (which Daniel had actually been expecting at this point), or even finally stopping and telling him what was going on here (which would have been even better, in his opinion), the man led him back to the line of trees and into the undergrowth, every few seconds stopping to make sure that Daniel was still following him closely. Of course Daniel was following him, it still didn't feel like he had any leverage at all at the moment. They walked through the forest for several minutes, skirting not one, but several clearings here and there, all of different sizes, before eventually they came upon one that was very, very familiar to Daniel. The other man led him to a spot directly behind some bushes, where they could safely watch proceedings, although they weren't exactly hidden from said goings-on. Daniel took a proper look at the clearing. And stared in shock. And he stared some more.
Almost right in the very centre of the clearing, the Stargate stood sedately on the platform, the DHD in front of it, and a MALP next to it, loaded with enough backpacks and general equipment for four people. There was movement from a cluster of trees and bushes at the far end of the clearing from Daniel and his now-silent "companion", and in spite of himself - and the growing pit of nausea in his stomach - Daniel craned his neck forward to try and see what it was. But in the end he didn't need to do that, because almost immediately after the movement, the rest of SG-1 came out of the trees and gathered around the 'gate. Jack, and Teal'c, and Sam, all looking as though they really didn't have a care in the world right at that particular moment. Although, when Daniel got a closer look at Jack's expression, it spoke more of stupefying boredom than complacency. Daniel made as if to go forwards, but found himself held back by the other man, suddenly in possession of an iron-tight grip. "Do not call out to them," the man murmured, and for a second Daniel stared at him like he'd just said the stupidest thing in the universe.
"What?" he asked in return, before turning back to the clearing, and SG-1. "Hey, Jack! Sam! Teal'c! I'm over here!"
None of the others heard him, or if they did then they did a damned good job of concealing their reactions to it. In fact, right in the middle of Daniel's yell, Jack had slowly turned on the spot, taking in the clearing in one long look. And his eyes had raked over the spot where Daniel and the other man were, without seeming to notice him. It was as if Daniel was completely invisible. He sagged. Turned back to the guy who still had his arm in his iron grip. "Tell me what's going on here."
The man regarded him for a second before apparently taking pity. "Some things need to be believed to be seen," he answered cryptically. "They will not see or hear you."
Daniel stared at him. "What's going on here?" he repeated, louder and more forcefully this time. He took another look around at the rest of the clearing, and noticed for the first time that there were nearly a dozen other people at various spots around the clearing, all of them wearing the same kind of tunic as him. They were all staring intently at Jack and the others, although, as with Daniel himself, none of SG-1 seemed to realise that they were being watched. And the nausea in Daniel's stomach only increased when, circuiting the clearing for a second time, Jack once again swept right past Daniel without pausing or showing any kind of reaction to the fact that he was right there.
"Carter," Jack called out to Sam. "Where's our archaeologist?"
Yes! Although this time Daniel kept the reaction to himself. Now Jack had noticed he wasn't with them.
"She should be right behind us, sir," Sam answered, and Daniel's mental fanfare came to an abrupt halt. Huh?
"Oh, for crying out loud," Jack muttered. He crossed over to the area of trees they'd emerged from, and cupped his hands around his mouth. "Would all tardy archaeologists please make their way to the Stargate, as we are late for departure!" The last three words were stressed out for emphasis.
Daniel's confusion and sense of disorientation only increased when, a few seconds later, a youngish woman around his own age burst out of the wood and came to a stop next to Jack. As she got her breath back, Daniel managed to get a reasonably good look at her. A little shorter than Jack, mousy brown hair tied back, and - here Daniel couldn't quite believe it - and she was carrying Daniel's backpack, and he was pretty sure that the camcorder hanging around her neck was his own one.
"Sorry about that, Jack," she replied, standing up straight again, straightening her backpack out as she did so. She motioned back towards the trees. "I... just..."
"S'okay," Jack replied, grinning slightly. "Although *what* you found to look at, I have no idea... Carter!" he shouted. "We ready to go yet?"
"Yes, sir," Sam called back, staring down at the DHD in front of her. She began to hit in a destination, and once the wormhole was established, used the GDO to open the iris at the other end.
"Okey dokey, then." Jack motioned for Sam and Teal'c to go through first, he and the woman right behind them. All the time Daniel had simply stared at them, trying to figure out what was going on. It didn't feel like a hallucination, that was for sure, and he would have noticed by now if this was some kind of moronically stupid practical joke (although that was stretching the possibilities somewhat...).
Within seconds, and without turning back around, Jack and the woman stepped through the wormhole, and another few seconds later Daniel found himself staring at the inactive Stargate. Gone. They were gone. Just like that... gone. Dazed, Daniel didn't even notice when Mr Iron Grip next to him let go of his arm. He didn't need to keep a hold of it any more... nowhere left for Daniel to run. At least for the moment.
Time seemed to move in rather a disjointed fashion after that. Daniel would later recall feeling far too confused to protest at being taken back to the town-slash-settlement, and simply standing outside one of the buildings for some length of time, watching the quiet flow of people. After a while, the faces blurred into each other, and he couldn't keep track on how many people there actually were in this place. It wasn't helped by the fact that they were all wearing identical clothes to himself, in varying shades of grey and beige, close enough to each other in shade that they all looked the same from a distance. Not one person came up to Daniel, either to speak to him or for some other purpose, and quite frankly he preferred to be left alone right now. His mind eventually started racing once more, trying to come up with some explanation as to just what on earth was going on around here. Assuming that all of this was real (and how were you supposed to tell if what you saw or heard was a hallucination, anyway?) then Daniel had to explain why Jack and the others had left the planet and gone back to the SGC with a complete stranger as their fourth. Why they hadn't heard him when he'd called out to them, and why Jack especially hadn't seen him despite staring directly at - through? - him twice.
After some time, Daniel began to notice two recurring faces - two men apparently loitering beside what looked like a classic well structure about fifteen metres away from him. Their behaviour struck Daniel as odd precisely because although there was a fair amount of other people wandering into and out of the other buildings, they all appeared to have specific agendas. These two men did not.
Daniel decided to try an experiment. He'd already noted the exact location of one of the whitewashed buildings he'd seen earlier, the one with the murals along one of the outer walls. Keeping an eye on what was going on around him - and those two men - Daniel casually made his way through the makeshift "streets" and veered towards the mural building, which was right at the other end of the cluster of dwellings. After about ten paces, he turned a full circle on the spot before resuming his route. Yep, they were following him, alright. Refusing to allow himself to dwell too long on the why's and wherefore's of that particular situation, Daniel finally reached the building. Promptly forgot all about being left behind by Jack and the others and also wished he had his camcorder with him. Current circumstances aside, this was amazing. Not quite up to the level of some of the things he'd seen before, but still amazing. And it wasn't a mural in the traditional sense of paint and painted artwork but rather tiled on to the side of the wall. Coloured tiles rather than one big set that had been individually coloured after the application to the wall. Daniel stepped right up close to the wall, wondering if anyone would intervene to do or say anything to him if he actually touched the mosaic. He didn't really know what to expect if they did, or then again if they did nothing. In the end, he pulled his outstretched fingers away from the mosaic, took a step backwards and simply studied the piece with his eyes, committing as much of it to memory as possible. All the while aware that the two men were still keeping him in their range of vision, and he was pretty sure that nobody else was around.
Until someone stepped right up next to him, of course. "It's quite marvellous, isn't it?"
Daniel jumped. Literally. And as his attention was ripped away from the mosaic, he realised guiltily that he'd forgotten all about the real situation at hand. But he turned to face the speaker nonetheless.
The young man standing beside him was wearing exactly the same shade of grey as himself. He didn't look to be any older than eighteen or nineteen - although, Daniel reminded himself firmly, appearance was not a sure indication of age.
"You, uh, you scared me there," Daniel said hurriedly, automatically putting up a hand to keep his glasses in place before realising that they weren't there.
The man simply smiled. "It was not my intention to scare you."
"Right..." Daniel replied uncertainly. It then occurred to him that this was an ideal opportunity. "Do you... uh, do you know what's going on around here?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well..." Daniel began. "I don't... belong here..." he floundered, indicating himself and the town around them.
The man made a sympathetic face. "Who does?" he asked somewhat enigmatically in return.
Daniel frowned at that and looked back at the mural on the wall briefly, but when he looked back to say something the man was gone. Just like that. Either inside the building or somewhere else, it was almost like he'd never been there at all, which was just plain weird. Even given everything else that had happened today. Daniel stood where he was for a few moments, just thinking. Then without really thinking about, he spurred into action. He ran, ignoring the few other people he nearly barrelled into, and without really thinking about how stupid this was. Daniel ran back through the town and into the trees, relying on instinct and a very sketchy instinct to tell him where he should be going. He didn't know if those two men from earlier were following him again or not, and right now he didn't really care, either.
After a couple of minutes he came back out into the clearing where the Stargate was, all evidence of SG-1's presence there gone with the team. Panting heavily, Daniel still managed to smile at the sight of the DHD less than ten feet away from him. And after a few seconds he'd gotten enough breath back to move across the clearing and in front of the DHD. Began hitting in the co-ordinates for Earth and the SGC, but by the time he was about to hit in the point of origin, Daniel knew he was being watched. His hand hovered over the seventh button. "Give me one good reason why I shouldn't do this," he called out defiantly, not turning around, and trying to stop his voice from shaking.
"There was a reference to the NID," a man's voice replied, and instantly Daniel placed him as the person who'd been standing over him when he'd woken up. "And a place known as Area 51."
Daniel's arm fell to his side. Yeah, he got the meaning behind those two names, and the words that hadn't been spoken. Still facing the dormant Stargate, Daniel began to *think* properly for the first time, letting everything come together in his mind. He didn't have a GDO, and with no GDO and no code, he'd go splat against the wrong side of the iris in the 'gate room. Jack and Sam and Teal'c had all taken some woman back through the 'gate with them, with no apparent sign from any of them that anything at all was wrong, or even slightly out of the ordinary. And then... Daniel shivered. Even if he could make it back to Earth, what were the chances that Jack and the others would even recognise him? He remembered what had happened to him in the alternate reality, and that was him coming through the 'gate *with* a GDO and all his equipment. He swallowed, all of his earlier resolve gone. And underneath his hand, the nearly-completed Stargate address disengaged altogether, a good metaphor for the disappearance of most of his hope as well, the scholar part of him noted cynically.
Daniel turned away from the DHD, from the 'gate and quietly took in the three people who had chased him here: the two men who had been loitering and following through the town - armed as well, now - and the first man, watching him warily and with something else, a little more unidentifiable in his expression.
He stalked past all of them, back into the forest and in the direction of the town, determinedly ignoring all of them, and trying not to let his own emotions get the better of him. There was a small, tiny, almost insignificant part of him that was terrified he was going to cry, but Daniel managed to successfully quell that urge before it started to grow. Tears would not get him anywhere. A clear mind and an idea of what was going on and what to do next would.
That was the first day. Still keeping the act of defiance up, Daniel had spent the night outside, sleeping under the alien stars with just the tunic and trousers for warmth. Had denied offers of food or water from the first man until the end of the second day, when he reluctantly admitted to himself that he'd probably collapse otherwise. The second and third nights were spent sleeping outside again, until a cold snap on the fourth day, and he accepted the offer of shelter from the first man. Through the light hours of the first few days, Daniel spent as long as possible avoiding the company of anyone else in the town, and for the most part, the people seemed happy enough to leave him to his own devices - except when it came to him wandering off on his own, or anywhere, come to think of it. The two men he had labelled Guard One and Guard Two rarely let Daniel out of their collective sight, although every so often there would be just the one of them watching him.
So the fourth night was spent on a spare bed in the first man's house. He lived alone, so it seemed, and Daniel had joined him for an evening meal; through careful questioning, just about all the information that Daniel could get out of the man was that his people were referred to as the Mnori, and the concept of names seemed unfamiliar to him, although the names themselves weren't. It was still kind of confusing to Daniel, but he got around the problem by simply creating private names for the people he actually spoke to in the town, and more general labels for the others that he could remember. Like Guards One and Two. After the first night in his house, Daniel mentally named the man Johnny, after 'Johnny Mnemonic'. He couldn't remember when it was exactly that he'd seen the film, probably one weekend at Jack's house when there was nothing watchable on the sports channels. Daniel still didn't know what he was going to do about getting home - at the moment there was no way of getting back to the SGC intact and in one piece, and really, Daniel could only hope that there was some kind of follow-up mission back to P9H-416, as that would be the only way he could hope to establish contact with anyone. Unarmed himself, Daniel was still threatened with guns when he made signs of going near the 'gate clearing, and after the first half-dozen attempts, all of which ended with Daniel being man-handled to what quickly became Daniel's very own detention room, it kind of lost its fun. And not being allowed near the Stargate at all without getting shot also ruled out the possibility of 'gating somewhere like the Land of Light or Cimmeria and contacting Earth from one of those places.
By the end of the first week, Daniel had still not "moved out" from Johnny's house, and there was no indication that he would be kicked out any time soon. He'd also managed to procure some basic writing implements from his host, and had begun making notes on the mural at the other end of the town. As much as he still wanted - needed - to get back to the SGC, Daniel couldn't help but let himself be drawn into the puzzle of the origins of these people, these Mnori. There was no doubt in his mind that they were human, taken from Earth like the other transplanted cultures they'd encountered. He'd managed to figure out who had done the transplanting in this particular case, another Goa'uld, this time posing as Athena, one of the major Greek deities from their mythology.
Two weeks into his forced stay here, and there was still no evidence that anyone was using the Stargate to come to this planet. Johnny was still pretty much Daniel's only point of contact with the other Mnori here, and it was a status quo that seemed unlikely to change. Daniel's research on the history of the settlement continued to grow and expand, and if he was honest with himself it really was the only thing that was stopping Daniel from folding in on himself, diving into the metaphorical sea of self pity and never resurfacing again.
Three weeks went by, and the monotony and continued inactivity of the Stargate were starting to get to Daniel. He'd been having dreams - nightmares - about SG-1 coming back to rescue him, but they all ended with the jeering face of either Apophis or Amaunet - or even the face of the unknown Goa'uld Athena, the one responsible for bringing these people here in the first place. Too many times over the past weeks, Daniel had found himself in the middle of the night, laying on his back and staring at the ceiling, trying to think of a way to get himself out of this situation. It seemed almost unfair to him that after all this time of dodging and surviving death, and everything else he'd faced since opening the Stargate, that this was where it all could end, separated from the team and everything and everyone else he knew, simply because, as far as he could tell, he'd been in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Six days into the fourth week, and Daniel was woken up a little before sunrise by the sound of an alarm blaring through the settlement. Like one long, very loud foghorn. The house was completely empty, Johnny nowhere to be found. Daniel raced outside, wincing immediately as the foghorn noise got louder, and looked around him. Nothing. There was nothing. Literally, nothing. The few other people up and about seemed wholly unperturbed by the alarm - indeed, they showed no indication that they had actually heard it. Although Daniel noted rather grimly that Guards One and Two were back within chasing range of him. Instantly his mind made the near-impossible connection - this had to do with the Stargate.
Without pausing to think, Daniel once again made a run for the tree line. As soon as he plunged into the forest, he could hear the two guards behind him crashing through the undergrowth. But this time Daniel had the slight advantage of knowing the layout of the forest, even if the two guards did as well. He began to weave through the trees, taking a much longer, circular route not to the Stargate clearing, but to another one, a little further away from the 'gate itself. The ploy seemed to work; behind him Daniel could hear the two guards veer off towards the Stargate, leaving him to run, a little quieter now, so as to attract less attention to himself, to the other clearing. It was the one SG-1 had begun to set up camp in before Daniel had wandered off. He slowed down the nearer he got to the clearing, and looking down at the ground, Daniel noted that the markings he'd seen in the ground when SG-1 had first come here were heading in the exact same direction as the clearing, although he himself was coming in from a different direction from that of the Stargate clearing. Roadmaps. Daniel stored that one piece of information in the back of his mind, and kept making his way through the undergrowth. He knew it wouldn't be long before the guards knew they'd been tricked, and Daniel knew that he only had a short time before he'd be able to sneak back to the Stargate undetected by either One or Two.
But the closer he got to the second clearing, the more Daniel could hear sounds. Voices. He didn't dare to think who the voices belonged to, but then he heard a male voice yell out for Teal'c to take point, Daniel's hopes climbed right back up again. Had to be Jack, couldn't be anyone else - there wasn't anyone else in the SGC who would dare order Teal'c around like that.
A few seconds later, Daniel emerged into the clearing.
And found two guns and a staff weapon aimed firmly at his chest and neck.
"Who the hell are you?" Jack demanded, both confirming Daniel's worst suspicions and cementing his hopes at the same time.
He frowned. "Jack, you don't... don't you recognise me?"
Instantly, Sam and Teal'c came into surround him, and behind them Daniel could make a fourth person; the woman who had gone through the Stargate with Jack and the others nearly four weeks previously. "How do you know my name?" Jack demanded, bringing Daniel's attention back to the here and now.
Daniel paused for a moment, trying to think. "Look, Jack," he began earnestly, "we don't have much time. We have to get out of here."
"Because there are people coming after me, and they'll figure out I'm here before too long," Daniel said, forcing himself to remember the situation with the two guards. "They already know you're here - well, they know the Stargate was activated around an hour ago, I don't think they know it's *you* specifically, but they definitely have their suspicions, and -"
Jack cut him off with a grunt. "Before we take this little pantomime any further," he intoned, beginning to sound annoyed, "how the hell do you know my name, and who the hell are you?"
Daniel sighed. Now or never, he guessed. And after all, there had to be some kind of cure for what had been done to Jack and the others. "I know your name, Jack, because I know you. You, and Sam, and Teal'c."
Still sceptical, Jack waved his weapon around in some kind of Alpha male effect. "And you are...?"
Daniel steeled himself. "Doctor Daniel Jackson, SG-1," he declared softly.
They'd only been gone for seventy minutes, according to Jack's wristwatch. He and Daniel had walked back to the town in silence; neither of them had said anything more after Daniel'd recounted his side of the story, so to speak. And as far as that went, Jack was now officially on the wrong side of the line separating normality and general confusion. He hadn't said anything to Daniel, hadn't exactly wanted to stop him once he'd started. Then again, Jack also knew by now that there wasn't much short of a full-blown Goa'uld attack or archaeological whoosit that would have stopped Daniel mid-flow of something like this. He shook his head again. Damn, this dual memory thing was getting confusing.
And once again Jack tried not to think about it too much. He'd been told that eventually whatever viral crap they'd offloaded into his bloodstream would undo all of this, and that sooner or later he'd be left only with the Daniel version of events, so to speak. Yeah, that would be good.
Just before they got back to the outskirts of the town, Jack grabbed Daniel by the arm and pulled him off to one side. "Are you okay, Daniel?"
Daniel frowned. "What do you mean?" he asked.
Jack stared at him. "I don't know, you've just spoken at me for more than an hour about being stuck on this planet and not being able to get anywhere. Don't you feel *anything* about that?"
"Well," Daniel began carefully, "like I said before, I made the first mistake - and before you start telling me off, yes I'm pretty sure it was me. We interfered in whatever they've got going on here just by showing up in the first place, and since I'm certain now that they were watching us throughout the first few hours, it stands to reason that it was me who encroached upon them and whatever interests they had by making the fuss about the markings in the soil."
"The... roadmaps?" Jack wondered out loud, trying to remember what Daniel had called them.
"Yeah," Daniel replied. "And don't ask me about any significance they have from an anthropological point of view, because I simply don't know. The Mnori aren't exactly... forthcoming with information."
"Amen to that," Jack muttered, before something else altogether occurred to him, and he turned back to face Daniel again, throat dry. "I did it again, didn't I?"
"Did what, Jack?" Daniel asked, the concern evident in his voice.
Jack took a couple of deep, shallow breaths. "I left you behind again."
To his surprise, though, Daniel was actually smiling. "Well, technically speaking you didn't leave anyone behind, you took all the members of your team home with you to the best of your knowledge at the time."
By this time even Jack could tell that Daniel was trying to reassure him, but it wasn't working. It didn't come anywhere even remotely close to working. He still wasn't entirely sure if this kind of behaviour was typical of Daniel, since there were still some grey areas in his memory where the virus was apparently still doing its job in fixing things and rewiring other synapses, but then again it didn't stop Jack appreciating the small olive branch, however inappropriate it was under the circumstances. None of this was Jack's fault, and really, none of this was Daniel's fault either. And oddly enough, that was the thought that comforted him the most, that the both of them, and Carter and Teal'c as well, were just innocent-*ish* victims in this whole mess.
"Tell you what," Jack said suddenly. "We forget the whole blame game, except for blaming these antisocials for the mess in the first place," he added, managing to elicit another small smile from his friend, "and when we get back to the SGC I make it up to you for letting myself get duped into thinking I did all those crazy things on Abydos, and since then, with a woman and not you."
"Or we could just forget about the whole thing, sort this mess out and try to figure out a way to stop this kind of thing from happening again," Daniel replied with a shrug.
"Yeah," Jack allowed. "That too. And Danny?"
Daniel blinked owlishly at him. "Jack?"
"You're definitely coming home with us this time," Jack said brightly.
Daniel simply smiled and led Jack the last few metres through the trees to the edge of the town. They'd not gotten more than five metres into the clearing before something green made a beeline straight for Daniel, and it took Jack a second to process what - who, it was. Yup, that would be Carter, making straight for the Spacemonkey and attaching herself firmly to him.
Jack blinked. Did Carter just *squeak* their archaeologist's name? 'Cause it sounded just a little higher pitched than it should have been.
"Hi, Sam," Daniel replied awkwardly, returning the hug and patting Carter a couple of times on the back; Carter simply looked as though she'd not seen Daniel for years - which, Jack reasoned mentally, given the virus and all, was pretty much the case in relative terms. Behind them, Jack caught sight of Teal'c and his staff weapon, and nodded to the big Jaffa, smiling sheepishly. In response, Teal'c simply inclined his head, and offered Jack the not-quite-a-smirk-but-still-the-allusion-of-a-smile before stepping over to Daniel and Carter, and offering his own, much more restrained greeting to the former of the two. It was one of those expressions, and Jack echoed the sentiment fully. And what he'd told Daniel earlier in the other clearing rang true, as well. While he still had a basis for comparison with the memory thing, there was no way that Annie could have cut the mustard as SG-1's archaeologist. Danny fit the bill. Danny *was* the bill.
And before Jack got any mushier with these fine thoughts of his, attention turned once more to Daniel and the Mnori. Carter had long since relinquished her grip on Daniel, and now the four members of SG-1 stood in a group a little way apart from the Mnori. Annie and Johnny were among the small group of five who had assembled there. With all the members of his team standing either side of him, Jack stared straight at the Mnori. "So, what do we do now?" he asked quietly.
"Get the hell out of Dodge," Daniel muttered immediately, eliciting surprised looks from the other three, although each for slightly different reasons, probably.
"Sounds good to me," Jack replied, still not taking his eyes off the Mnori. "Carter?"
"How much do you know about the virus?"
There was a definite smile in Carter's voice. "Enough, sir."
"Good," Jack said. "None of this will make it to the debriefing, but while we still have recollection of this happy little time, I'd appreciate a watered-down version of it all."
"Yes, sir," Carter replied.
"Good," Jack repeated. "Daniel? Anything here you want to take back with you?"
"I don't think so," Daniel began, before: "Actually, yes! I'll be right back!" He made a start for one of the buildings in the town, and before he vanished altogether, Jack motioned for Teal'c to follow him. That left him and Carter staring down the Mnori who hadn't yet moved or made any sound. This was one hell of a staring contest. For the sake of something to do, Jack readjusted the P-90 across his shoulder, then shifted it again. After four or five quiet, tense minutes, Daniel and Teal'c reappeared - Daniel back in his BDU's and even with his pack, and carrying a couple of weird-shaped notebooks in one hand.
Jack blinked at the two of them. "We about ready to go now?"
"I believe we are, O'Neill," Teal'c replied, casting one long, imperious look at the silent Mnori.
"Okay," Jack nodded. He turned back to the Mnori, ignoring the itch in his trigger finger at the same time. "OK, given what you know about us, I think you'll appreciate it if we say that you ever come near our facility, you'll be very sorry for doing so. Ditto approaching any of our enemies. Not to say you *would*, just that... well... don't," Jack finished, wishing this could be one of those times where he said something nobly heroic or perfectly fitting for the situation. Oh well. This would have to do.
Johnny took a step forward. "Never return here," he said simply.
"Gladly," Jack shot back brightly. "And stay away from us. Kids?" he asked, a little louder, without turning around. "Let's go."
The walk to the Stargate clearing was carried out in silence, or until Jack judged they were far enough away from the Mnori to at least attempt conversation. "Carter, virus."
"Yessir," Carter replied. She paused for a second before continuing. "At its most basic level the virus interacts with molecules both on a biological and metaphysical level, manipulating anything it comes across to suit its own design."
Jack decided to see if he was following the technocrap correctly. "So when we get back to the SGC..." he began, prompting Carter to finish.
She did. "When we get back to the SGC, the virus in our bloodstreams will spread from us through the base and the rest of the planet. In common terms, it'll basically erase anything to do with Annie, leaving only evidence of Daniel instead."
"Like rubbing someone's name out at the top of something and writing someone else in there instead," Jack said, trying to figure out the finer points of the analogy his mind had just created.
"Yessir," Carter replied with a grin.
"What sort of timeframe are we looking at, Sam?" Daniel asked. "For the, uh, you know..."
Carter nodded at him. "Honestly, I don't know. Anywhere between immediately for close proximity, and I think up to a week for the further away places. We won't know for sure until you step through the 'gate."
"Um, okay," Daniel nodded, although to Jack's ears the archaeologist sounded a little more uncertain this time.
After that, SG-1 carried on in silence, until they reached the clearing with the Stargate and DHD still standing exactly where they'd been a few hours ago, although to Jack it suddenly felt like it had been a lifetime ago. He shook off that feeling, and motioned to Carter to start dialling up. While she did that, he pulled Daniel off to one side. "Well?"
"Well what?" Daniel frowned.
Jack motioned to the pack. "They just gave you everything back, just like that?" he asked.
Daniel shrugged. "They probably want us here just as little as we want to stay," he said evasively, and Jack nodded, satisfied for the moment with the answer as it was. "Is everything in there?"
Daniel pulled a face. "Maybe. It certainly *feels* heavy enough," he added with a wry grin, shifting the backpack around slightly on his shoulders. "I'll do a check back at the SGC, and make something up to the supplies people to get replacements."
"Okay," Jack nodded, just as the Stargate whooshed into life. He also made a mental note - one that would stay there, hopefully - to make sure the GDO codes were all rotated ASAP. "And Daniel?" he asked, just as they started to head towards the 'gate, where Teal'c and Carter had already gone through, "before I forget everything that's happened here, I'm glad we got you back."
Daniel smiled. "I'm glad you've got me back as well, Jack," he replied carefully. "But don't count all your chickens before they've hatched." He indicated the Stargate.
"Aw, c'mon Dannyboy, you'll be fine," Jack said brightly. He and Daniel stopped right in front of the wormhole, and he turned slightly to face his friend. "You think they're watching us?" he asked quietly.
"More than likely," Daniel replied equally quietly, clearly not seeing where this was going, if anywhere at all.
Jack grinned. Best not to give *everything* away. With one hand behind his back, he motioned for Daniel to step through first, Jack himself only half a step behind the archaeologist.
And during the split second before his entire molecular structure was disassembled for the five second journey home, Jack wondered just how many of the Mnori understood the good old-fashioned one fingered salute.
And before he knew it, they were back in the SGC. Carter and Teal'c were at the bottom of the ramp, waiting patiently for him and Daniel, and up above them, Jack could see General Hammond leaning on the table behind the bullet-proof glass. Hammond reached for the microphone. "Colonel O'Neill, Doctor Jackson," he intoned, "welcome back. Colonel, dare I ask why you're back more than fourteen hours ahead of schedule?"
Jack blinked, trying to think of a semi-plausible explanation. He couldn't, and instead he shrugged. "But aren't ya just glad we didn't make it back dead this time?" he asked brightly, spreading his arms wide, and smiling for the benefit of the general. Hammond simply sighed, and picked up the microphone again. "Report to Doctor Fraiser, then to debriefing."
Jack mock-bowed before shooing Daniel to the bottom of the 'gate ramp. When they got there, Daniel pulled Jack's arm - and him - back a few steps behind Carter and Teal'c. "Jack," Daniel said, casually enough. "Can I ask you something?"
"Sure," Jack replied.
Jack frowned for a second trying to think when he'd heard that planet designation before. Then he grinned. "P9H-416," he repeated. "Trees, trees and more trees. Monkey heaven. Why d'you ask?"
"Oh, no reason," Daniel replied with a small smile. "I, um, I think Janet's waiting for us," he added, motioning to the blast doors."
"Oh fun," Jack muttered, falling into line half a step behind Daniel. Doc Fraiser and big hypodermic needles. What a wonderful way to end the day.
By the time Jack got home that evening, it was dark outside. He parked the car in the driveway, and outside the front door fumbled around for his keys before letting himself in. There was a small pile of mail scattered across the floor, and Jack scooped them up and began sorting through them as he moved through to the kitchen.
Why was it never people he actually *liked* who wrote to him any more, he wondered, dumping the pile of envelopes on the side in the kitchen. He poured himself a glass of milk and moved back into the living room. Stood in the middle of the floor drinking the milk and staring at the mantelpiece. It wasn't anything more than a slab of distressed mahogany effect wood over a fake fireplace, but it was nice enough. And it was also broad enough to be able to hold several photo frames that were each designed to hold three smallish pictures. Jack smiled to himself. Even from here he could see the middle photo frame, with the run-off pictures from the SGC security tapes. The Jaffa, the Nerd and the Geek. Three of his favourite people in the world at the moment. Teal'c, Carter and Daniel.
And boring missions aside, the four of them made one hell of a team.
Meanwhile, deep in the depths of an underground military base about 30 minutes' drive from Colonel O'Neill's house, two technicians were developing the proofs from SG-7's latest mission. The first technician picked out one of the fully developed photographs, and stared at the image for a moment, deep in thought. A second later, he pulled a ballpoint out of his pocket, and scribbled a few lines of neat text so tiny you could almost miss it - if you even knew to look for it in the first place - in one corner of the back of the photo, followed by a smiley face and that day's date before replacing the photo in its correct pile amongst the other images.
Sometimes the annotated photographs would get discarded, other times they'd be shoved in a bag or pocket, make it to somebody's home and be completely forgotten about until the next blue moon.
Either way, nobody would be any the wiser to his involvement in proceedings.
|Summary:||A single photograph, hidden and until now forgotten behind the mantelpiece. Jack realises there is something very wrong with SG-1's archaeologist.|